The Waking Engine(192)

By: David Edison

Why had Chesmarul stolen him away from his life? What had he done? He hadn’t conquered the Undertow, or opened the Dome, or killed the Cicatrix. Not really. Was he just a witness, or was there more?

Behind him, Prama deferred to Chesmarul, who turned to face the crowd. More accurately, part of her spun toward the assembly—her eyes were portals to a plane of red electricity, a vital energy that was her true self. They brimmed with her.

“She was my mother too, you know. Before my little cousins became the aesr, she was my mother. I do not know who or what gave birth to the worlds, you gathered People of Remembered Skies, only who gave birth to me. We swam down the waters of the river Sataswarhi in the redshifted dawn of things, my mother and me. Long before the worlds knew the counting of time, I swam out with my mother through a sea of light and music, and we were whole.”

The crowd was frozen, the birds hung still in midair, and the waterfalls had become sculptures of broken glass. Cooper stood alone in a spot of shadow with Chesmarul, and he felt the tendrils that were her true self drawing a circle of stillness around them; he reached out with his own self and felt the boundaries of her spell—a simple thing, now that he noticed it, that didn’t so much stop time for the rest of the worlds as speed up its passing within the circle she inscribed.

It struck him. “Oh, it must be Tuesday. For a whole week I didn’t need to know what days were. Isn’t that strange? Do you know about Tuesdays, or is that like me knowing what ants call the increment of time it takes for crumbs of my cake to fall from the table to the floor?”

“I know Tuesdays, and this a Tuesday.” Her dress faded in and out of existence, showing the ruby lights crawling up the sides of her body. Lining her flat stomach. Coiling around her small but perfect breasts. Portals, just like her eyes. “Another fucking Tuesday.”

“We’re stuck in a loop, aren’t we?” He looked at his hand. “It used to be that I was caught in a world of weekdays, and Tuesdays were my worst enemy—the second day, not as universally dismal as Mondays, but a depressing reminder of the rest of the week and month and year ahead. Now I’ve whole lives to contend with. Endless fucking lives, not to mention a seemingly endless number of overpowered beings who like to give me new powers that don’t quite stop other overpowered beings from cutting bits of me off.” Cooper nodded to himself and looked out into the vastness. “We are well and truly stuck.”

Chesmarul shook her head; her pure red eye-holes left streaks trailing to either side like afterimages. “We’re the opposite of stuck, now, Cooper. In fact, you might consider the thought that travel is the closest thing left to oblivion. You cannot cease to be, but you can cease to be here. Now that we cannot Die, we can only learn. Only voyage.”

He made a noise that was half laugh and half sigh, and looked at her with a flat expression. “What the fuck are you doing with me, Chesmarul? I have a little experience now, a few tricks up my sleeve. But I’m still nothing compared to you, or even compared to Asher. Christ, Sesstri can outfight me and outsmart me, and now she’s a half-elf. I know I’m not here just to stand up to monsters in a rising gold bubble, or give Lallowë Thyu a little finger. What are you up to with me?”

She reached out with one hand to stroke his cheek, running her knuckles down the week-long growth of beard. Her skin felt like paper fire. She looked at him sorrowfully with her arm still outstretched; he smiled.

Chesmarul seemed to hesitate, then she commanded, “Cooper: voyage.” And in one deft motion she snapped his neck.

The waking current swept him away. Somebody who feels just like him smells menthol cigarettes and opens his eyes to a brand new sky.

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