|A Felony of Birds|
|Stormcastle: And Other Fun Games With Cards And Dice|
Timothy O. Goyette
Heaven's Light shut the book, sighed, and heaved it open again. He searched his scattered papers, looking, looking. He muttered as he looked. "Build up, leads upward, up, up, up."
Sacred Brevity glanced at him. His small, pale eyes narrowed. "Heaven's Light, I trust all is well?"
Heaven's Light regarded him for a moment, as if in a trance. He pulled nervously on his chin protrusions, which were webbed and the same gray color as the rest of his body. "We ascend, Brevity. To the heavens." He scampered over to Brevity's desk, making the other feel uncomfortable with his proximity. His grey skin shone in the flickering candle light, his hunched, sharp shoulders reaching almost to the low ceiling. His head jutted out horizontally from his shoulders, and his large white eyes scanned the desk in front of him.
"Light, I assure you there is nothing here on ascension, merely coal reports."
The two of them sat in a dank cellar, surrounded on all sides by mounds of grimy paper, rusty with age, dusty with disuse. Their desks were hewn from the black walls around. Both of them sat, their bodies eternally hunched like cripples, on clumsy stone stools.
Heaven's Light's long, spidery arms searched the reports, while his small clawed legs and feet danced apprehensively. The papyrus was filled with incomprehensible amounts of numbers and figures, which Brevity was proud to understand. He was a Reader, along with the strange but tolerable Heaven's Light. The both of them sat in this room, deep within the underground city, and read the endless reports given to them. Sacred Brevity often handled the numbers, and Heaven's Light the history. For there was much of each to read and understand, as the Miners outside dug all day, and as the Scribes recorded the histories and numbers all day. Readers interpreted it all, and passed that knowledge down to the next Reader, and so on. Being a Reader was not a prestigious position, in fact, the others in the city avoided the topic completely, preferring to shower praises on the Miners and the Speakers.
Now Heaven's Light was being ridiculous, rummaging around in Brevity's records.
"Light, restrain yourself! Hearken! I had arranged those piles most painstakingly!" Light stopped, and whirled around to face Brevity.
"Have you not seen, Sacred Brevity? Have you not read these?" He waved a stack of papers in Brevity's face.
"I have read! I have seen!" Brevity snapped. "Though what you see in these reports is yet a mystery to me."
"Numbers, Brevity. There are many numbers."
"I am aware."
"Increasing numbers, Brevity."
Heaven's Light wrung his hands, waiting for Sacred Brevity to realize what he was speaking of. Brevity was clueless.
Heaven's Light suddenly exploded in motion, skipping around the room like he was participating in the Wondrous Spiral. "Up, Brevity! As the coal is made, we cannot collect it fast enough! We are rising, rising!"
Brevity was skeptical. "Rising, Light?" He shook his head. "This does not make sense. The coal would merely spread over the vast expanses outside the city. It is endless there, and no light pierces its malice. The coal will merely settle out there."
Heaven's Light seemed crestfallen. "You speak the truth." He shuffled back to his desk and sat dejectedly. The cruel candle flickered on, revealing Heaven's Light's silent misery.
Brevity fidgeted for a moment. He'd never seen Light so excited before, and certainly never so disappointed. He rose and walked over to Heaven's Light. "Light," he said. "Light, perhaps we should make sure that the darkness does not end."
Heaven's Light set his papers down and turned to Brevity, eyes wide. "Do you jest with me?"
Brevity smiled. "No. Let us go and be sure."
Heaven's Light burst out of his seat and ran, his long arms and legs propelling him through the tunnels. Brevity kept up, but only just. He could glimpse up ahead the zealous Reader ducking around corners and dodging Miners.
Before long, they had reached the top. Darkness, deep, eternal, stretched out everywhere around them. Stifling silence, like a bag over the head, and horrible emptiness. It was always unsettling for any of Sacred Brevity's people to breach the surface. A ways off, a fresh pile of green slop radiated a sickly light. The green stuff was called Divine Glow. It was the sustenance of his people, and they all worshiped it, along with the defender-gods far above. No one knew why, no one knew how, but at times, the Glow fell in great storms. The Glow, after a period of settling for ten days, formed coal, which the Miners sent up to the gods in an elevator. No one ever went up inside the elevator. Brevity's people collected the Glow in a great basin and filtered the impurities out of it, which were ground up by the wives and used as food. The Glow continued on underground, forming coal beneath the surface, and, at times, on top.
Heaven's Light thought the Glow was piling up, slowly, but still piling. He thought that the entire underground city, with its criss-crossing tunnels that went miles deep, was slowly rising.
It would make sense, thought Sacred Brevity. The city had tunnels extending down into the black rocks that no one had used for so long... It would make sense that we abandon them as we unwittingly move up. The tunnels that made up the city, those dark veins and arteries, constantly had to be Reconstituted, rebuilt, and it would really all make sense. But it was impossible.
Heaven's Light kept running and running, shouting, "We will see if it ends! We will see, yes Brevity?"
Brevity was able now to keep abreast with Heaven's Light, now breathing heavily. They had already covered much distance, the glowing pile of Life far behind. Brevity was sure that they were now farther than any had been before. The green light grew fainter and fainter in the distance every time Brevity looked back.
"Light! We will be lost soon! Cease! There is nothing out here! Nothing, Light, please, let us return!"
Heaven's Light skidded to a halt, and Brevity could not stop in time. He slammed face on into a wall of darkness, hard as the earth beneath them. Brevity was on the ground, moaning.
Heaven's Light sprinted to where Sacred Brevity had fallen, and he himself struck the wall. He pummeled it with his fists, and went up and down its length a ways.
Brevity whispered, "What is it?"
Heaven's Light gazed at him, his eyes huge in the utter blackness. "It's curved!"
Brevity rose and felt the rock himself, running his hands awhile down its length. Even though he was a Reader, his people still had a natural affinity for detecting anything to do with earth. It was indeed curved, and as Brevity closed his eyes, he realized that the curvature would easily encompass the entire city.
"It will be us, Brevity. Maybe not now, maybe not for millenia. But we will reach the sky."
Sacred Brevity shook his head, slowly. His eyes were distant. "There is no sky, Light. We are in a massive tunnel, just another cavern beneath the ground."
Light shook his head. "No, Brevity, no. Do not say that. Let's return now." They began to walk back toward the tunnels, the great city underneath. "Often have I lain here, Brevity, in the void. Sometimes, I think I hear horns and great commotions above. Whether it be the Lords of the Air or my own imagination, I am unsure. The Life rains down sometimes, and it is beautiful. It all runs downhill towards the basin, and then through the funnel in the Grand Chamber." They were now at the entrance to the tunnel. Heaven's Light whispered now. "And, Brevity, sometimes when all is quiet above, I see a glimmer, just a faint sparkle. It is white, and it is light. Not like our lamps, Brevity, but sky light."
Brevity was silent.
"We must tell the Speakers. They will know what to do, Brevity."
Brevity did not speak, but nodded.
They made their way to the Convocation Chamber, which was a small tunnel off of the cavernous Grand Chamber. There sat the three Speakers on thrones of coal like obsidian. They were the spiritual leaders, and they alone held most of the knowledge of the skies. They were adorned with pieces of armor sent from the Sky-Lords above, gifts to the priests. Most of this armor was held in the Shrine of the Grand Chamber. Only the Speakers could wear such powerful clothing.
The enlightened ones listened carefully as Heaven's Light repeated his calculations, and related how it was possible as there were great walls all around for the coal to pile up.
The Speakers were silent for a while. "Heaven's Light, long have we known of such happenings."
Heaven's Light looked confused and was silent. Brevity was stunned and said, "How? How could you know?"
The Speakers spoke as one, deep in pitch, as they always did, dividing the sentences among themselves so that no two subsequent words were uttered by one Speaker. "There were many before innocent Heaven's Light. There was Holy Virtue, Upright Wariness, and Valiant Darkness. All were smote. This knowledge is dangerous, Sacred Brevity, dangerous because the people would be hopeful. And hope, Sacred Brevity, hope is folly. In this paradise, there can be no hope of another, better paradise." Here all three smiled. "It would ruin us."
All at once, a guard produced a black, sharpened rock from his pouch and grabbed Heaven's Light's neck. Brevity could only stand in horror as Heaven's Light, joyful Heaven's Light, who dreamed only of the skies above, and who now gurgled in terror, had his skull smashed in with one blow from the guard.
The Speakers sighed as one. "For the good of all. Now for the other. Sacred Brevity, do you swear to bear this knowledge yourself? To guard this secret for as long as you live? If not, you shall meet the same fate as Heaven's Light."
And Sacred Brevity looked at Heaven's Light and remembered the hope he had shown, the valiant courage and innocence. He could uphold his memory, Heaven's innocent memory, only if he stayed alive. Yes. Sacred Brevity would guard this secret, this secret full of hope and light and wonderful joy. It would be terror at times, and it would always be difficult. But every time he started to waver, started to feel his resolve weaken and his willpower fade, he would remember this broken corpse before him.
Broken Heaven's Light.
Sacred Brevity looked at the elders, bloated dictators of this dark realm. "I swear."
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