Mythos

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Talishi’s party had nearly completed the descent of the Wall of God on the Catwalk. Only about a thousand feet of vertical distance remained. But no one let their guard down just yet. That thousand feet was still perfectly fatal.

On the final afternoon they arrived at a section of the Catwalk that Bayard called “problematic”. It had been damaged somehow, perhaps in a quake, and for nearly a mile it had become no wider than a toehold. But there were steel pitons already pounded into the rock ready for them to snap brass carabiners and sling ropes.

By some quirk of fate or baronic contrivance Victoria was next in line after the Bayard. He said to her, “Talishi calls you one of the B’nei Elohim, yet I know almost nothing about them. Can you tell me more, or is it some sort of divine secret?”

“There are some things about us we may never reveal,” Victoria said, “but what I can tell I will. The most important thing is that we are a family, one big unruly but mostly loving family with the usual family squabbles.”

“Then are you noble born?”

“Not in the way you are royalty, Baron, as the son of Queen Aurra. In a real sense we would be considered nothing more than common folk here.”

Victoria did not know that was precisely what she needed to say to raise Bayard’s interest level in her to eleven. Still, Bayard wanted to test that. “And yet you can fly. Some say you are demigods, which would make you far greater than royalty.”

“I can fly, that is true, but it’s not on account of something innate to me, to my body. For all practical purposes, it’s nothing more than a magic trick.”

Applause and cheering broke out on the line ahead of them on the Catwalk. Lady Talishi had successfully traversed the broken portion to safety on the other side.

“And our foe, this woman Joy, is she also B’nei Elohim?”

“She is one of us, and that is what I alluded to when I mentioned family squabbles. Some of us have removed themselves to the camp of the enemy.”

“And the way she controls the dragon, is that another magic trick?”

“More trick than magic,” Victoria said. “Neither we nor the Elohim that we serve hold the supernatural realm to be real. So call it a holy deception.”

“The House of Sala has also dabbled in the same sort of thing,” Bayard said. “When the gods of Earth first brought people to live in Haaretz, the Gold Beards feared that many of them would sail west across Thalury and make their homes in our ancestral lands. We sought to discourage that, so we spread a tale among them that the world was constructed like a stair, and the Wall of God was but the second of many such awesome barriers. We told them another wall existed to the west, and Thalury tumbled over this step in a bottomless cataract.

“We went on to tell them that from the beginning of days sailors heeded the divine injunctions of all the Elohim never to sail out of sight of Haaretz, lest they meet the edge and fall over it. We made the claim that so rigidly was this law observed that if any sea captain captain, drunk or otherwise, steered his ship such that the land of Haaretz faded from view, it was cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain overboard. No such crew returning to port ever faced punishment.

“And the story contained a warning that went something like this: In the fullness of time King Ravenmaster was put to death. It was the days of the revolution in the ancient kingdom of Kurgan, when the union of loosely-united city-states known as the Saiph League was born, and many of the laws established by the Elohim were overthrown.

“‘Reason’ reigned supreme, and when time was ripe seamen were found to man two ships, sailors who were willing to disregard the divine warning never to sail out of the sight of land. Such was the rebellious mindset of the men of the Saiph League that it never occurred to them the gods issued their commandment for the safety of mariners.

“Instead, there were rumors of yet another land far in the west, a choice land the Elohim created for their own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, and the divine prohibition was to keep this land from being despoiled by mere mortals.

“The two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries were Will O’ The Whisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the current with sails unfurled. After two days, the dark line that was Haaretz could no longer be seen in the east, and some of the sailors shuddered, for the tradition was deeply embedded within them.

“And their fears proved more than superstition, for one night after about a week underway the lookout in the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea!

“Captain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O’ The Whisp that he was raising his sails and turning back. Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will didn’t follow suit until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too strong for her sister ship. In short order she was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again.”

By a strange coincidence Baron Bayard slipped off the Catwalk just then and screamed. Victoria pushed her nose into the wall of the Sacred Cliff, resisting the urge to fly after him, since it would be as useless as her attempt to save Aliwe. But Bayard’s fall was arrested by the ropes, as they were intended to do.

When he had been hauled back up, and had recovered enough that his voice had steadied, Victoria begged him to continue his story again. Or his meta-story, his story about a story that had been told to the Israelite colonists in Haaretz to keep them from sailing to the lands of the House of Sala.

“’Will ‘O’ The Whisp had indeed fallen over the edge of the world,” he said. “For not far away from Haaretz the sea poured over a great cataract, an infinite waterfall. For days the ship fell partially submerged within these waters, which had become a vertical sheet.

“The crew found they had no weight, they floated freely, and some floated far away from the ship. Winds eventually broke the sheet into globes of water, ranging in size from a man’s head to the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in some of these spheres of water, and when the food aboard ship ran out these fish provided the only source of food. There was no thirst, for Thalury was a freshwater sea, always replenished every few thousand years by comet-fall.

“As the crew continued to fall, the black underside of the world became visible overhead and the doomed crew could see that the warnings were true, the world was indeed a vast stair.

“The eternal winds blew the globes of water further and further apart, and the heat of the day caused them to slowly evaporate. One day none of the water globes which remained near the ship contained any fish, and the men began to starve. Thoughts of killing each other for meat crossed their mind, but by the time they were desperate enough to act, they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than moan pitifully.

“Then came the final week, when they passed away one by one, according to their remaining strength.

“But the story we told them didn’t end there,” Bayard told Victoria. “We said that when human beings die in Haaretz they find themselves resurrected on the rim of the Wall of God, where they wait for a ship to carry them across yet another sea that lies east of the rim.

“The dead people atop the wall can hear voices upon the winds of Haaretz through a trick of reflecting sound. Ever they walk the ramparts, hoping to hear their loved ones. When they do hear their name it is bittersweet, for they find their friends and loved ones have soon forgotten them and moved on. The more famed a person was in their life, the more fragments they hear, so they linger a while more. The humble accept the truth sooner. It’s really all about letting go.

“But there are always the dummies at far end of the bell curve, and firmly anchored there was Captain Skulldagger, captain of the Will o’ the Whisp. To this very day the shade of this infamous captain is still standing on the rim of the Wall of God waiting for his name to be heard once more as the story of his voyage was retold, just as I have told it once more to you.

“But Skulldagger notwithstanding, at length almost all the dead come off the precipice and rest on the lawn behind it before the Upper Sea, waiting for a white ship to come and take them east to an unknown destiny. The Talishite priestesses who attend them always refuse to speak of their final fate, and only say to them, ‘Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings.’”

Within twenty years all the members of Captain Skulldaggers’s ill-fated crew passed east across the Upper Sea, or leaped from the rim to a more permanent death, but the captain alone remained. For he had attained a form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passed but that his name was spoken aloud by someone far below in Haaretz with a shudder as the story of the Will ‘O’ The Whisp is told to yet another generation. The sound of his name is carried aloft to the rim, and he savors it.’”

When Baron Bayard finished telling his story, Victoria began to see a glimmer of how she could see the way through to loving this man. He was strong and essentially kind, and more important than that, he was interesting.

After everyone had survived the rope traverse the Catwalk became much wider and safer, but their journey began to be slowed by the presence of many blown-down trees which had been knocked over recently in a storm and lay directly across the trail. Sometimes they could roll over them, but other times they had to crawl under them, which was exhausting work, and they could not avoid getting their clothing soiled.

The fearsome cliff under the Catwalk came to an end, and became a normal slope.

The company entered a small stand of fat virgin trees that draped the slope down to the bottom, and here the character of the journey changed dramatically. Victoria thought it was a magic place that had escaped the ax in the first, second, and third waves of cutting from Wazol, as though by an oversight.

After that they reached a large outcropping of stone that Bayard called Picture Buttress. It offered a marvelous view to a forest glade below. Victoria thought it was beautiful but still dangerous. The trail actually wrapped around the parapet here, and a thoughtful person, probably Bayard on his journey long ago, had provided a rope for each of them to hold on to.

They passed a large duckpond so serene that it reflected the sky and the branches of the trees above the water like a mirror. The trail skirted the edge of this pond with a small but calm diversion before resuming its course.

“It’s going to be a little rough going here,” Bayard said, plowing through prickly Mastema’s Club and bidding Victoria to trust him. The route was flagged with orange and black ribbons. “Not many people know about this trail. Those of us who do know of it use it and we maintain it but we don’t fully connect it anywhere.”

And finally the Catwalk ended ignomiously in some poor old man’s back backyard in the city of Wazol.

He was tending his garden and shrugged as one hundred forty people tramped through his property and went out the side gate to the front of his house to reach a city street.

“Where do we go next?” asked the Baron.

“Victoria knows,” said Lady Talishi with a smile revealing her awareness that Vic had spoken to a living Aliwe. “Menkant. Then Joy and her dragon will come to us.”

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