Summary:Spring probes Winter in an attempt to discover his secret weakness.


< The Stars Are Right | Sol Invictus Logs | The Slate Chamber >

`Spring lifts his head slightly.

Spring finds himself not in his bed, but somewhere very different.

The ground beneath him is rough and jabs into his back like shards of volcanic glass. Around him, blackened leaves fall intermingled with ash from the sky, settling onto him and the surrounding earth like a thin coating of warm snow. Behind him, he hears the occasional crack and pop, like well-burnt wood whose internal gasses still expand from the remaining radiant heat.

Around him, in a massive circle, pale, ephemeral ghosts move in concentric circles, an elaborate and unholy dance in which they weave in and out in fluid yet mechanical precision, their voices joining together in a musical, wordless, and beauteous -- yet chilling -- keen that seems to fill the air in every direction.

And standing over him, looking down on him curiously, is Winter.

`Spring "Good morning?"

`Winter bends down over him, looking curiously at the prone Spring. "Here we are again."

`Spring "But where is here?"

`Winter "You just died, didn't you?" He grins.

`Spring "So it would seem." Spring carefully lifts himself to his feet, cocking an ear at the circling ghosts.

`Spring "Friends of yours?"

`Winter "No," he says, "friends of yours." He spins around in a circle with his arms outstretched, and as he does Spring catches the subtle hints -- the style of walking, the shape of their plasmic bodies, the tone of their voices -- that mark this legion of ghosts as the dead Spearfolk. "You must admit there is some wonder in such a thing," he says, his gesture complete.

`Spring "In eternal and hopeless suffering?"

`Winter "'Suffering.' Everything is about suffering for you people." He shakes his head. "There is a wonder and a beauty in beings freed from the trappings of flesh, the oppressive shape of living, the need to wind one's days out through the inevitable decay of a failing body. Now they are freed to be only themselves." He takes a step closer. "You still can't see, can you."

`Spring "I still cannot."

`Spring "Do you claim that this is who people truly are?"

`Winter "Perhaps. What else is the nature of a person, if not their soul?"

`Spring "Are these souls free?"

`Winter snaps his fingers and the elaborate weaving dance around them comes crashing to a halt as each soul falls to its knees, its keening growing louder and more intense. "Now they are free."

`Spring "Sometimes I think you are deliberately contradictory and unhelpful."

`Winter "The world is a complicated place," he says, "and those who see for themselves are far greater than those who take without question only what they are told. But... let me help you out." He pushes a small, smooth, cool glass sphere into Spring's hand.

`Spring feels it and shakes it carefully.

`Winter It rattles very faintly. In his hand, it weighs exactly as much as his now long-gone eyes.

`Spring touches it, with some trepidation, to his face.

`Winter The dream explodes into a world of sight, with full-circle vision filling Spring's mind -- the whitish-blue fog of cold and death, the frozen vines that carpet the ground outside their circle -- the tiny specks of embers burning in the blackened husk of the massive world tree that rises up behind his back.

`Winter Far above, black and grey stormclouds churn with incredible intensity, ashes and dirt blowing across the sky, while below, the ephemeral souls still sit on their knees, almost motionless in comparison to the sky above.

`Spring steps back, reviewing the area with a calm gaze, and glancing down finally at the huddled souls.

`Spring "It looks much as I expected."

`Spring "And do they look happy to you?"

`Winter "Now who is being contradictory?" he says. "I thought you were concerned about them being free."

`Spring "Both are preferred states."

`Winter nods. "You asked to see the stars."

`Spring "I did."

`Winter "There are the fates of the living and the dead," he says, and waves both hands -- one white and pasty, one blackened soulsteel -- through the air. The clouds far above part violently, and peel apart to reveal a clear and open sky above, one split in half by a jagged black bolt.

`Winter On one side of the sky, a bluish-purple sky lies dotted by brilliant white stars; on the other, a bright reddish-orange sky is dotted by stars of black. "But I am not bound by either." He brings his hands apart and the sky breaks in half along the seam in the center, both halves pulling down into the horizon.

`Winter In their place, a greenish sky dotted by gray stars -- only five of them -- fills the whole of the space abovehead.

`Winter sfivefour/

`Spring "Yes, I see."

`Winter "It is here that my future is written," he says, his voice quieting to almost a whisper.

`Spring "By whom?"

`Winter He gets even quieter. "The creators of the world," he says, "or some force even greater than they. But" -- he brings his hands together in front of him in two enthusiastic fists -- "is the source of destiny truly more important than its destination?"

`Spring "It might affect its reliability."

`Spring "I know a few long-lived characters who like to write destinies of their own for friends of mine."

`Winter shakes his head. "There is destiny... and there is Destiny," he says, emphasizing the latter very carefully. "I deal only in the latter."

`Spring "What is my Destiny, then?"

`Winter "Maybe you don't have one," he says, and grins.

`Spring "Is that why you stopped to talk to Fierce Red Star?"

`Winter raises a finger and makes a smiling "ah ah" gesture. "Perhaps," he says. "That does seem plausible, doesn't it?"

`Spring "It is certainly one possibility. Were you worried about Zinnobia's plan?"

`Winter scoffs. "She knows nothing."

`Spring "That is gratifying to hear. We were."

`Spring "How do I kill you, Winter?"

`Winter laughs, first slowly, then more loudly, until it's a full-throated guffaw.

`Spring "Well. I suppose it was worth a try."

`Spring "How do I wake up?"

`Winter "I'm going to live forever, Spring," he says, grinning in a not-altogether-non-manic fashion. "Me... and me alone." He crouches down next to Spring. "Are you ready to wake up? I don't think we'll be seeing each other again.... not like this, anyway."

`Spring "I suspect I am as ready as I will ever be."

`Spring "Goodbye, Winter."

`Winter "Goodbye, Spring," he says, and turns his back.

`Spring ....

`Spring lifts his head slightly.

`Winter This time, Spring is actually awake.

`Spring drops the pen from his stiff fingers and feels the note he wrote during his sleep. The first few words, "Varanim: I have become possessed again. Be prepared..." have been crossed out, and the remainder filled with various cryptic notes.

`Spring thoughtfully folds the paper and swallows it.


< The Stars Are Right | Sol Invictus Logs | The Slate Chamber >

Page last modified on April 25, 2011, at 08:15 PM