Blind Eyes all seeing,
white in the snows of Terminal reality.
Pupils of Ice that envision colors but see them not.
Blind, and blind and blinding, can they see the Dark?
The Damned, the Dark, the darkness.
The Darkness, the Creator and the Destroyer,
where are your Minions in my Visions?
–Tomes of the Touched
14 Days to the Eve of Snows
Glimdrem sat stoic in a seat life-sculpted from living oak on a ridge high above the forested floor of the Vale of Resting Winds. Green eyes shown with hints of sparkling silver in the beams of sunlight that slipped through the forest’s canopy, and in a moment of weakness his foot tapped a rhythm of impatience. He caught himself and sighed. Patience was a blood-born virtue for the Trelelunin, but having returned home to Eleris Edan just a month ago, after a decade in the sweltering and dangerous jungles of Sutan, he had hoped for years of reprieve from the whims of the rulers of Eleris.
The Lord Chancellor of Knowledge herself had sent him here without a word of explanation, leaving him with only cryptic glances and smiles to assure him of its importance. Glimdrem was Trelelunin, not Edan, and life in their service reminded him of this truth at every step. All he knew was what he needed to know: travel to the Vale of Resting Winds and wait for instructions. All he had gotten thus far was empty air.
He stretched and meandered to a narrow path leading to the floor of this legendary site. The Vale was a place of secrets that defied even his keen Trelelunin eyes and ears; a shifting haze disfigured everything below into a soundless blur. There wasn’t a discernible sign of life visible through the haze, but lore dating as far back as the Age of God Wars spoke of treaties forged and other heated negotiations won and lost in its shade. It was a place in which history happened.
“Denfelu Glimdrem Liljyu?”
Muscles jerked in start. The use of his formal Trelelunin name startled him as much as being snuck up on. He saw a human when he turned, but the impression faded as he took in the details. The man had pale yellow eyes with large pupils, and when he smiled he revealed rows of small, shark-like teeth. Glimdrem had traveled four continents and uncounted islands in the five centuries since the last Forgetting and he had never seen anyone like this man. He most resembled the vile Boboru, but his skin and eyes were wrong.
“I’m at a disadvantage.” He failed at a false smile.
The stranger approached and offered his hand in a human gesture. “I had assumed the Chancellor mentioned me. Uvin Lo.”
Glimdrem shook his hand before a chill passed from neck to toe. “The Archangel?”
Uvin huffed and withdrew his palm. “An unfortunate mistranslation, I assure you. When first we met the peoples of the Hundred Nations, we did not share a language, and it was some time before we realized the mistake. Walk with me.”
Uvin strode past him to take the path into the Vale, and Glimdrem followed, albeit with hesitation to tread on what was forbidden ground. “Mistranslation of what, exactly?”
Uvin glanced back at him with a wry smirk. “I’d rather not say, which is why the moniker stuck.”
The Archangels, or as some called them, the Twenty-Five, were so little seen in the world that their existence had passed into legend for most mortal peoples. Glimdrem couldn’t name more than five, and yet this one’s name felt familiar. It struck him, a blow to his ego so hard his gut hurt.
“The Oxeum Codex, you found it.” Glimdrem’s journey to Sutan had been predicated on finding the ruined city of Oxeum.
Uvin nodded, but continued his descent from the rim of the Vale without offering a word. They passed through the haze of Elemental energy and Uvin glanced with a grin. “I hope you don’t blame me for your trip to Sutan.”
Glimdrem smiled as he realized Uvin had walked into the silence of the Vale before speaking. “The Chancellor deserves the direct credit, but if you’d told her where Oxeum was, it would’ve saved me a few thousand bug bites.” And dozens of lives.
Uvin stopped with a turn and laughed, the man’s sweet-sour breath striking Glimdrem’s nostrils. It was difficult not to cringe. “I am sorry for that, but I hope the Chancellor wasn’t too upset by your failure.”
“Who says I failed?” Archangel or whatever he preferred to be called, the man was grating.
“I do. If you did, you may have achieved the impossible.” The man winked with a humorless laugh. “The city is more likely under the waves of the Sea of Tempests than resting on Sutan.”
“So you never found it?”
“Heaven and seas, no. I found the Codex in a small temple, or perhaps the remnants of a large one, but Oxeum itself? Ah! If only the fates could be so generous.”
From that moment until they reached the bottom of the Vale, Glimdrem stewed in irritation, not allowing himself to speak until he could control his tone. “We lost thirty-two Trelelunin in the search for a destroyed city? I nearly died… suffered poisons.” The memory of the Œzjet’s deadly bite, of friend’s lost, and the lengths he had gone to save his own life left scars yet to heal.
Uvin’s tone oozed a sincerity Glimdrem couldn’t believe. “I apologize for misleading your Chancellor. But Sutan was fascinating, don’t you think?” He winked.
“You summoned me here to speak of Sutan?”
“No.” Uvin stopped in the middle of the Vale, and gestured to the horseshoe-shaped table that swallowed them. A silver-laced cloth covered its entirety, but only this close did Glimdrem notice bulges beneath the fiber.
“Perhaps a little.” Again with the aggravating wink. “When I heard they had sent a party to Sutan, I felt bad. For you, and those lost. I should have admitted the truth rather than playing coy. Pride is a pitiable trait, don’t you agree?”
Glimdrem did not agree, nor did he trust Uvin’s explanation. The man wanted something. “What little do you wish to discuss?”
“A later time, a later time! Then we will pore over maps and discuss the wonders we have seen. I asked you here as an apology of sorts, so you might witness the fruits of the Codex.” Uvin stepped to the end of the table and pulled back the cloth to reveal an exquisitely crafted khopesh.
“It’s beautiful,” Glimdrem murmured, but he caught himself. What he should have said was, impossible. The entire hilt and the wire wrapping the grip were crafted from Ikoruv and polished to a black sheen that would challenge the finest melanite jewel, while the blade was smoke-hued Latcu, the so-called unbreakable glass. The two materials were unable to be forged together, always working apart. He stammered. “This, from the God Wars?” He had heard of such artifacts, but never thought to see one.
“Yes and no. The pieces date from the Age, but they were a gift from the jungles of Sutan, and the Codex held clues of how to reconnect them… safely.”
It was no doubt the pitiable trait of pride making the man point out he had a hand in the weapon’s reconstruction, but Glimdrem couldn’t hold this against him. The result of his labors was impressive and worthy. “Stunning. How long have the pieces been together?”
“Over two years, and no sign of separation. I gnawed that bone for months! But other clues from the Codex are what bring us here this evening. So I might finish, truly finish, this weapon. A Celestial spirit.”
Uvin stared with a shark’s grin as if Glimdrem should know of what he spoke. He liked this strange man less and less. “Celestial spirit? Some say that is what you are.”
“Chatter and pratter! Spirits from the Celestials, like the gods themselves bound to weapons.”
Glimdrem thought to take his turn at laughter, but managed to stifle the outburst with a grin. “You think you’ve unlocked the secret to binding spirits? Are you mad?” He regretted the latter, but there was no rescinding the question.
Uvin poked him in the chest, hard. “Maybe, just maybe. But even if I made this discovery, I’d need help. That’s why we will bind spirits, just as the priests of the God Wars before us.”
The “we” caught Glimdrem off guard, and he opened his mouth to protest before realizing he wasn’t part of this we. He cast his eyes around the arc of the table and quick-counted the lumps in the cloth. Twenty-four, plus the khopesh. All the Archangels were coming.
“An alignment of the Celestials is nearly upon us, peaking upon the autumnal equinox. And you will be one of the few to witness this history. Ah, ah! I want you to meet my good friends, Gornit and Xanesu.”
Glimdrem turned and stumbled backward, his heart skipping a beat as it jumped to his larynx. Two Archangels strode his way, huge white felines, with silver-gray and black leopard spots. The male was eight feet tall, the female a few inches less. Their tails twined with affection as they approached. He didn’t recall their names until they were spoken, but the reputations of these two as deadly foes were renowned. Seeing them in person left no doubt.
Gornit loomed over him, golden orbs studying him. Like Uvin, Gornit was fluent in the Edan tongue, but his voice was deep and full of gravel. “We need two of these two make a proper dinner.”
Xanesu gasped and giggled, a strange twitter with a rumbling purr. “Love, be nice.” She looked to Glimdrem with green eyes bordering on luminescent. “Ignore my man, we only eat Trelelunin on holidays.” Her tail swatted Glimdrem in the face and Gornit rumbled with laughter.
Gornit spoke to Uvin. “I’ve seen antelopes less nervous than this one.”
Glimdrem pursed his lips and cursed himself, and at the last Uvin chimed in.
“Five years on Sutan, I’m sure he’s survived worse than your wit.”
Gornit’s whiskers twitched. “Modostrok Yodostrok.” He shrugged.
“Excuse me?” Glimdrem asked.
“The kitten has claws, or so say the Ilu-Silvstro.” The great cat swatted Glimdrem on the back with what he interpreted as respect before turning to Uvin. “Two weeks to the equinox, who’s here?”
“If we’re missing a couple, it won’t diminish our initial ritual. But I expect everyone.”
Uvin walked the length of the table, lifting the cloth to reveal an armory of assorted weapons one by one. Most were weapons for close combat, a wild variety of swords, axes, and maces, and even a couple halberd heads yet to be fitted with a haft, but a few were bows and crossbows fashioned from composite materials. Some bore traditional designs easily attributed to Edan or Kingdomer craftsmanship, but most of their origins were beyond Glimdrem’s expertise in arms. One, however, was a recurve bow that took Glimdrem’s breath away. It was legendary amongst the Edan.
“Motu Ensa. The Distant Rain of Limereu, how did you come by this?” It was beautiful, Life-Shaped from Eternal Oak, and inlaid with rare infused woods to enhance its Elemental strengths. Legend reported its construction extended over five centuries. “The finest example of Eternal Oak craftsmanship I’ve seen.”
“I knew we had the right Trelelunin for the task. A keen sense of history.” Uvin put a hand on his shoulder. “Limereu herself gave that bow to her friend, Zimpœyo, whom you will meet soon, before Limereu left the Eleris for Elerean.”
The histories spoke of Limereu growing weary of the cycles of Forgetting and leaving the Mother Wood for the Father, but nowhere did it speak of her bow remaining in this world.
Uvin’s grip tightened on his shoulder. “The core is a thin bar of infused alloy, with the oak Life-Shaped around it, which will allow the binding of spirits. Bet you didn’t know that.”
Glimdrem shook his head in disbelief. He had been a Life-Shaper before the Forgettings robbed him of the knowledge, but he knew how difficult it would be to achieve. Five-hundred years indeed. “And these others?”
Gornit raised a flamberge sword from the table, the waved length of its blade polished with hints of blue-gray swirl, similar to some patterned steels Glimdrem had seen, yet clearly so much more. The hilt and guard were solid black, the grip wrapped in silver wire. With a blade over four feet long, it was a two-handed sword for most, but for this giant cat single handed was an option.
“Ikoruv?” Glimdrem asked.
Gornit smiled. “Alloyed with Listulen and Thelsinit, we believe. Perfectly balanced to seem light in the hand, but as you swing, the more weight shifts to the fore. Watch the colors closely.” He swung the blade through the air, and the whorls of blue and gray shifted, slipping down the length of the blade towards the tip. “The force of a strike is uncanny.”
For the second time, Glimdrem wanted to say impossible, but instead he shook his head, and unable to form a word, only a breath escaped his mouth.
Gornit lay the weapon on the table with care and turned to Xanesu as she held forth a heavy-bladed rapier with an intricate swept hilt design and long, filigreed quillions. Unlike many rapiers from the Gorotan, it was a cut and thrust sword. The bulk of the weapon was the color of polished and blued steel, but the weak of the blade and point were Latcu, and clear as icy waters. She smiled and pointed the rapier at him, and the end of the blade disappeared. In a duel, one might not even see the sharp piercing your heart.
“The core of the weapon is pure Latcu,” she purred, “plated with what we believe to be an Iigrom-Toltogu alloy of some sort.”
“Where did you find all of these? A collection such as this, there are no words.”
“Indeed there are words! And you will write them,” said Uvin. “Instead of digging in the remnants of the past, you’ve an opportunity to be history’s witness. To record these events for posterity.”
Glimdrem scoffed. “You wish me to be your scribe?”
“Historian. Listen to what we say, see what we do… and later, write them down at your leisure. Then present them to your Lord Chancellor of Knowledge. Simple for a man of your reputation.”
And a request impossible for me to deny if I want to stay in the good graces of the Chancellor. There was no way the Lady had sent him here without this precise purpose. He was her eyes where she would not go. The temptation to defy the will of the Edan, and the arrogance of Uvin, were strong, but curiosity and sense of duty were stronger. “What would you have me do?”
Uvin clapped his hands. “You’ve already begun.”
Glimdrem’s three hosts guided him to each weapon, describing them in detail and providing a history for several, and noted which of the Twenty-Five the weapon belonged to. The names of Infused-Metals and alloys he had only read about in books flowed from their tongues. Theret, Timou, Ofdolus, Ermolen, Meheroki, and others were common place, and the tally of times he recounted “unknown alloy, perhaps of” one infused metal or another, came to eighteen. His mind was so trained to this memorization he didn't notice when several of the Twenty-Five arrived, and by the time they finished he turned to find half of them were here.
The Archangels were an odd assortment of peoples: feline, canine, rodent, lizard, vaguely human, but none were exactly like the mortal beings who shared these superficial similarities. Uvin rapidly introduced him to these newcomers, but their interest in him was less than the two great cats had shown. Left alone for a moment, an awkward smile straining his lips as they ignored him, he strode from the group to find Uvin, the most familiar oddity in a world gone exotic. Uvin was eager for his company, and as the sun set behind the trees he unrolled parchment maps of Sutan across a table, and the two bantered about those wild, violent jungles and the mysterious ruins each had discovered.
Glimdrem stood stunned at one point to find himself laughing about the experiences of his exploration, momentarily forgetting the pain and losses. Perhaps discussing the wonders and horrors rather than merely writing about them was the catharsis he needed all along, and it ended too soon.
Uvin tapped a point on a map. “And here sits a buried temple I called the Blind Monkey, for a statue whose eyes had been—“
Xanesu’s sultry purr interrupted. “The time approaches.”
“So easily I lose my senses when in study!” Uvin clapped his hands and spoke to Glimdrem. “We will speak more, this ceremony shouldn’t take long.”
The Archangel strode to the table, belting out greetings and salutations to the rest of the Twenty-Five, then requesting they step to their weapon.
“Tonight begins a journey! Of history! Of discovery!” Uvin snatched the khopesh from the table, strode to the speaker’s podium and placed the sword on its surface. “Each has before them a weapon with some small amount of an alloy the Oxeum Codex names Reledinit, and experiments have proven that it is this alloy which allowed the gods to capture elementals and spirits. Tonight we begin our reach into the Celestial Realms, so upon the Equinox, we may bind spirits to our weapons as the gods have done before us.”
Glimdrem folded his arms across his chest and gazed at the stars, uncertain of any alignment they foretold, but walking any path the gods once took chilled his skin. The Vale brightened and his attention drifted back to Uvin. On the pedestal sat a globe glowing with a writhing array of colors.
“Place your hands upon the weapons before you, for tonight, we link our souls to these weapons, and make our first contact with the Celestial.”
Uvin glanced to Glimdrem and winked, to which he could only smile, despite not knowing how to interpret the gesture. Moments later reality entered a time of legend, a time when the gods walked the lands, a time they could only read about in a few surviving books: the air surrounding Uvin wavered as a mirage in the desert before fingers of the distortion stretched from the metallic globe to envelope the Twenty-Five and their weapons.
A twitch here and there and side-long glances indicated a few nerves reached an edge, but not a single Archangel broke their weapon’s touch.
Visually startling, but completely silent, the effect didn’t hinder Uvin’s speech. “Now, focus upon the twelfth star in the Eyes of Ledvereun, will your spirits to greet the Celestial!”
Glimdrem looked to the Ledvereun constellation, knowing there shouldn’t be a twelfth star. Yet there it was. Where the hell had it come from?
But there was no time to consider this phenomenon; the Vale wavered as if reality were passing through the thousand ripples of a rain-struck pond. This universe was beautiful, but not the one he should recognize. He realized he hadn’t breathed in some time, that he didn’t need to.
“And lower your eyes, our first contact is finished!” The voice was Uvin’s, but through this liquid-warped world the man himself was nothing more than a colorful blur.
A rumble grew from the center of the Vale, akin to a distant thunderstorm, so slow did the thunder reach them, but when it arrived, the rolling clap pained his ears and a quivering force lifted Glimdrem and threw him to the ground.
He crawled to his knees, his ears ringing so loud they deafened him to any other sound, but he could still feel the vibration of earth and air in his bones. Through the world’s waves he could see a stroke of silver-light rising into the sky, reaching for the constellation. Waves of reality buffeted him, and he didn’t move, wasn’t so sure he could if he wanted to. He closed his eyes, willing it all to go away, and when he opened them again the silver-light was shrinking back to the Vale.
But this was an illusion. The beam was turning black, matching the night sky, blocking out stars. Something was horribly wrong. The black gained speed even as Glimdrem crawled forward, hoping to find Uvin, to assist in any way, but every movement was like swimming through mud. He screamed the Archangel’s name but couldn’t hear himself over the ring in his head. He looked to Uvin and froze. The silver beam was gone.
The globe went dark.
Glimdrem came to his knees before he felt another explosion: slivers and needles drove into his body and he screamed in pain as the ripples in reality surged into waves, throwing him to the woods at the edge of the Vale in an instant that felt like a candle. His body collided with a tree and he crumpled to the turf, slow as if his body oozed to the ground. He blinked, still ringing-deaf, but his vision revealed a world returning to normal.
There was blood and pricks of pain all over his body, and he’d hit his head on the tree, but he was alive. In the Vale nothing moved. He rose and lumbered back to the clearing, his head pounding with every beat of his heart. Beside the podium lay Uvin, but all the others had disappeared, the weapons with them.
Glimdrem collapsed to hands and knees beside the man. Uvin’s hands were burned to charred black bones, but his chest rose and fell in rasping breaths.
“What happened? Uvin, what happened?” He stared into Uvin’s eyes but the Archangel bore a fading gaze that traveled straight to the stars.
Uvin took a great breath, then in a muttering rasp said, “Impossible.” His body went limp and he died staring into the dark of night.
Glimdrem bowed his head in sorrow, and his temples throbbed. He stood and his head swam. His knees buckled before his skin went cold, and his vision shrank to a point of light before darkness took him, collapsing him into unconsciousness with a singular thought: Shouldn’t have stood.