This is the sixth chapter of my novel, “Ainadamar, or The Fountain of Tears: The First Flight of the Madrugada.” It details the adventures of a spaceship called the Madrugada, crewed by a Bulgarian space vampire, a lady barbarian, a 17th century French mountebank, a shape-shifting chef, a giant kitty, an empath, Morgan La Fey, an octopus surgeon, a cowboy, and the early 20th century Spanish Republican poet and martyr, Federico Garcia Lorca. I publish a new chapter each week. To read other chapters, click on the category Ainadamar.
In a City on a Planet in the Perseus Arm
Stratsimir stood before the mirror, applying foaming Harris soap to his face with his ivory-handled Kent badger-bristle shaving brush. He wasn’t a particularly hairy Bulgarian vampire space captain, but he was Bulgarian.
He couldn’t see himself in the mirror, of course, but he thought it good form to shave in front of one. Plus, it was just over the sink. It had the additional benefit of a quicksilver monitor in the upper right-hand quadrant. So, when the knock came at his ready room door, he wiped off the steam with a squeak to see who had come calling. The monitor showed the entire crew standing massed at the door, shuffling their feet.
“Well, this can’t be good,” he said to himself. He grabbed a damp towel and walked through his private quarters into the ready room.
“Do come in,” he said, toweling off the remaining soap. The crew filed in and he pointed to the seats around the map table. “Have a seat, everyone.”
Patches, Weekiebye, Dem and Slim sat down at the table. Stanislaus took the shape of a Betelgeusean chickadee and fluttered to the top of one of the captain’s bookcases, while the doctor, reeling slightly, scrambled onto the freestanding globe. Red Mona and Nimue remained standing.
The captain turned to the sideboard and unlocked his Tantalus. He poured himself a cassis. “How can I help you?” He drank. “Oh, and help yourself if anyone’s thirsty. And off duty.” The captain was due to come back on duty soon, but then of course he was also the captain. And a vampire.
Nimue spoke. “Tell us about the book.”
Stratsimir raised an eyebrow. He took a drink and looked over the crew. Some knew some of the story, most knew very little. He sighed and put the glass down and told them what he knew. He told them about Karl the Weasel and the Order, the Resistance and the Exegetes. He told them about his vision in the river of stars and the words about the fountain of tears. Or Fountain of Tears, maybe. And then he picked the glass up again and took another drink.
The crew absorbed the story and pondered the implications according each to his own concerns. Nimue peered at the captain. Mona put her hands on her hips.
“Not profitable, not profitable,” complained Weekiebye. “Slows us down, attracts attention! Explain, si‘l vous plait, mon capitaine, how this puts silver into the much-admired pants of Weekiebye.”
“But Johnny, baby, when did you get it? Where did you get it from? How did it come into your possession?”
“I…” The captain hesitated. “There was…” He dropped his glass on the carpet and stumbled slightly. Dded grabbed his arm with a tentacle and set him upright. “I don’t know. I can’t remember. Not exactly. It’s no good. I’ve tried. It’s like I’ve always had it. It feels part of the castle library. But for some reason I don’t think I had it at home. I don’t think I brought it.” Stratsimir was pale. Well, paler and his brow was covered with a light sheen of cold sweat. He laughed and daubed at his face. “Pardon me.”
“A lot of things have changed,” said Nimue, her hands held tight inside her mated sleeves, “since Origin.”
“What about this…ehh…telepathie?” asked Weekiebye, finding the pattern of the rug suddenly compelling.
“It’s not telepathy,” said Stanislaus weakly. “Telepathy is a myth.” Others nodded.
“Something is ‘appening!” insisted Weekiebye tossing up his ‘ands. “Sometimes I can ‘ear your thoughts. All of you! No. No, Weekiebye’s thoughts were not meant for others ‘earing.”
“Well, it ain’t mind readin’ in the traditional sense,” said Slim, pushing his hat up on his head. He pulled out one of his Colts and ejected a bullet into his hand. He swung the chamber shut and put the gun on the table. He passed the bullet quickly from hand to hand. “What hand is holding the bullet?”
The crew concentrated. They looked at each other. Nothing.
Then, Slim focused on the gun. He thought again about it, how he wanted it to rise. He felt the minds of the crew start to exert a kind of gravity on his thoughts and, holding in his mind’s eye his thought of the gun rising, he looked across the table, into Weekiebye’s eyes. The gun flew up off the table and hovered two and a half feet in the air. Calmly, he reached up and took the gun and holstered it.
“What in the sam hell have we gotten ourselves into?”
Stratsimir rose again, dreaming, out of his coffin, out of the ship, into the river of stars. As before, he was not alone.
You have survived.
You did not give It over.
“To that creepy priestess? No. I don‘t like bullies. What is it? I understand its power. I don’t understand what to do with it, besides keep it. And I don‘t want to keep it. It is significantly cramping my style.”
There was a pause in the universe and Stratsimir was alone again, alone in the beauty but without worry. Then he was no longer alone and the voice spoke.
I must tell you now what few men have known for 5,000 years, something which used to be common knowledge before this common era.
There was silence again. When the voice spoke it sounded almost like it was reciting.
When the Creator made the worlds, he left the final form to be fixed by the Created peoples. Not just once, but throughout time. For eons the Created, who were few, did their duty, fixing the form of the Creator’s work. Then the Created became many and priesthoods grew up that retained the special knowledge and rededicated the form of the worlds. The Created grew more numerous still, and spread over such a large portion of the Creator’s work that the priesthoods decided to fix the knowledge itself in a final form that would be accessible to anyone with the basic knowledge.
“The form of the book.”
A spiritual and physical acrostic of nine leaves arranged in two ‘volumes,’ an ‘inner’ and an ‘outer.’ The volumes were separated and each entrusted to a different group. Then, in time, one was lost.
Now it has been 5,000 years since the whole of creation has been properly fixed. It has been fixed only in places, only at times.
Stratsimir floated and thought.
“But doesn’t all this fixing mean there is no end? No conclusion?”
Fixing is not ending. Fixing is rededicating. Each rededication reshapes creation toward its ultimate end. Fixing is part of the story, it propels it. Your part, the part of the Created, has been neglected. Make the book whole again…
Stratsimir began to fall backward, become substantial.
They were a week into their journey to the Orion Arm of the Milky Way when they first spotted the two Order corvettes. They were gleaming, angular ships, bristling with weapons. Mona sounded the red alert and they led them on a merry chase, traversing half the breadth of the Cygnus arm over the course of two days. The Madrugada was tough and extremely fast, but the Order had resources the independent ship lacked. Patches’s strategy to burn out the corvette’s engines was proving a bankrupt one.
Slim perked up and spun the nav screen to face Dem. The pilot nodded and grinned most unwholesomely.
“Captain, we have an idea…”
Dem slowed the Madrugada enough to allow the corvettes to close, but not enough to get flanked. He wanted a clean line to target. On pilot’s prerogative, he doused the overheads and cocked one leg back like a barrel-house piano player, his back end maintaining only a nodding acquaintance with his seat. He pointed the ship at an obvious gap between two yellow giants. They both pulsed in high luminosity with occasional clouds of stellar matter drifting out from both stars to effect a gauzy curtain across the gap. Dem read the rhythm. He powered up the slip drive and mapped the gap with just a enough transparency in the encryption for the Order ships to read it.
But instead of tearing through the gap in the yellows, Dem popped it, flashing out into the high end of the nearby Belknap gravity trench and teetering on its crest above the two stars. The leading corvette tried to stop its slip too late and wound up dead, adrift in the E.M. wash of the giants. The other hot-stopped and flashed after them on a mag-plasm charge that was too great for the space. It wound up keeling bow over stern down the trench ahead of the Madrugada. Steering through the trench with an out-of-control corvette a quarter of a light year away was like running down a burning stairwell trying to avoid a bouncing shopping cart.
But Dem did it, dashing around the corvette without getting side-swiped and skidding out of the trench three minutes after he entered it.
As they slowed, yawing hard a-port to clear the bottom mouth of the trench, Slim spotted another ship, a cruiser, sliding out from the gravity shadow of a red dwarf. The pinwheeling Order ship, supercharged with the extra gravity of the trench, spun straight into the converging cruiser, sheering off its tail section. A plume of red and green plasma from the cruiser flared off into the vacuum of space as the corvette folded itself up into a ball and wobbled out into the stars of Cygnus.
Mona juiced the sensors and threw the read to the main viewer. The cruiser had shielded its breached hull but was dead in space. The rear CBM intakes were crushed. It wasn’t likely to be speeding off anywhere soon.
“Weapons are all live on the cruiser, Johnny.”
“Let’s keep our distance,” said the captain. “All hail, please Nimue.” No response from the ship, though whether that was damage or policy was impossible to say.
“Captain!” said Weekiebye, “look at the ship’s escutcheon.” Mona magnified the ship’s bridge. Below it was a silver crescent, bisected by a blue ray. “That’s an Exegetic Guard ship.”
Mona focused in on the bridge. The impassive face of Mihrdatkirt, Chiliarch of the College of the Exegetes, on the plague planet, the mother of clouds, Pandema, stared back at them blackly.
“Well,” said the captain, “it’s not necessity alone that makes for strange bedfellows, it seems.” He evoked a glass of wine and leaned back with a sigh.
The Madrugada’s systems began to go haywire just as the ship passed into the Perseus Arm. The Milky Way was a minefield anyway, so Dem and Slim had been alternating between short slips and fast magplasm pitches. One slip had been mapped to bring them out on the lee side of the Crab Nebula. Instead, they slid out several hundred light years inside the supernova remnant’s cloud, venting gasses all around the anterior CBMs and burning half the film off.
“Good God!” cried Stratsimir. Flash. Crack. “Shit!”
“What happened, Slim?” asked the captain.
Slim scanned the navigation data.
“Something’s funny in the plotting software, Captain,” he said. “It reads us several hundred point-0 outside atmo.”
“Very slowly, Mr. Pilato.”
“Aye, Captain,” said the pilot, easing the craft clear of the stellar gasses.
As they glided out into open space, the captain stood up. “Let’s go on magplas until we figure out what’s balking the ship. Gentlemen, get with Patches and get it sorted.”
That afternoon, as Nimue and Weekiebye took their ease in the mess, a small fireball blew open the doors to the galley, propelling Stanislaus, now in the form of a charred and nearly hairless Boötes sea monkey holding a spatula, into the far wall.
All systems were beginning to be effected and over the next several days of slow running, they were plagued by systems failures large and small. The toilets would void violently upward, as a completely freaked out Dded could personally attest. The engines would drop out of drive for no reason. For one 15-minute period all bridge commands were routed to the environmental controls in Mona’s bathroom.
Patches, Slim and Nimue poured over the ship’s operating systems and sub-systems in search of a corruption. Quantum computers with entanglement logic resolvers such as the Madrugada’s were prone to near-awareness at the best of times. But with all the juicing the crew had done, the Madrugada’s brain was positively contrary. Sussing out what could be wrong was proving to be closer to cognitive psychology than mathematical diagnosis.
As frustration reached a fever’s pitch, Slim and Nimue had to bodily restrain Patches, who was 100% committed to ramming a polarized shunt into the thing’s core vent.
“’Nyah, nyah, nyah!’ That’s what it said. I swear it. I’ll freaking kill it. I’ll kill it! Meow! Pfft!” He grabbed at the edge of the main programming console and rabbit punched it so hard it left grooves. He had to be taken away and petted and fed a saucer of milk before he could look at it again without a knee-jerk clutch at a non-existent sabot.
Nimue, leaned back in her seat in the computer room, pale and blank-eyed with exhaustion. She leaned forward, holding her head in her hands. Then she sat up.
“No,” she said quietly, shaking her head languidly. “We’ve been going about this all wrong.” Slim had been leaning over her shoulder looking into the monitor. She waved him away. Her figured filled with light like a jar with seawater and she blurred slightly. She leaned into the monitor and out of the corner of his eye, Slim could see the “true” Nimue parting slightly from the “real” Nimue. He heard a voice, as though from down a long stairwell but as close as if someone were speaking into his ear. He didn’t recognize the language but the voice was Nimue’s. She was talking with someone. Or something.
The light rushed out of her and she was one Nimue again, the spell breaking against Slim, who had to steady himself on her chair back.
“I found it,” she said.
Nimue stood in front of a wall-mounted projection vellum in the captain’s ready room. The captain, Weekiebye, Slim and Patches watched. One glyph filled the majority of the screen.
“Ba-shi,” said Nimue. “The most powerful sigil-glyph I’ve ever seen.”
The glyph consisted of a diagonally-crossed T with a sharp downward serif on the high arm, surmounted by two dots.
“It’s a signature and a word of power,” said Nimue. “I’ve seen it before.”
“Where?” asked the captain.
“In my father’s house, in an historical glyphiary.”
Weekiebye laughed. “You are not saying we ‘ave ‘ere a glyphomancer’s signature?”
Most people thought of glyphomancers as confidence men, as tricksters at carnivals, if they thought of them at all. Aside from their effect on a credulous visitor’s wallet, they would probably be described as harmless. If the person in question had slightly more education they might think of them as proto-scientists. Glyphomancy is to psychology as alchemy is to chemistry, that sort of thing. In folk tales, the more principled among them were praised for helping a customer understand their own desires and fears. The worst of them, and there were far more of those, were people for whom a shell game was entirely too much work.
“Glyphomancy, though degraded now, was at one time a real magic,” said Nimue. “I knew one once. And like all magic it has a potential side and a kinetic side, an apprehending side and an active one. In certain hands that latter side becomes a dark one, a Cold one.” She looked around at them, a dark silver light in her hair. “The Glyphomancers are back. And they want the book.”
Many planets had a tradition that a powerful and dangerous group of mages changed the history of Created life in the universe using glyphomantic magics. At first, they helped the newly Created. But eventually, as the power consumed them (power always extracts a price), they grew dark and despotic, eventually, in most traditions, becoming devils and demons. They turned against one another, fighting cataclysmic battles whose end result was the destruction of the work they had done to change creation. Broken, they dwindled and passed out of understanding. And the universe returned to its original path.
“The Glyphomancers are back,” repeated Nimue. Little remained in the knowledge of Created beings of their true nature or power. Whispers. They were masters of symbols and systems, she said. Of music and mathematics.
“Of computer programs?” asked Patches.
“During their time of power, computers as we know them did not exist,” said Nimue. “But computers run symbols in systems.”
“First, the Centripetal Order was after us,” said the captain. “And then the Exegetic Guard. And now you’re telling me we are being attacked by glyphomancers?” He pointed at the screen and looked at Nimue. “Get rid of it. Whatever it takes. We’re late for Earth.” And he strode from the room.
Everyone else followed him, except for Nimue, who remained standing and looking at the glyph.
“COLDFIRE,” she said, under her breath.
Nimue fixed her robe. It was a night-coloured job, given to her by Emrys, back when they were going out. It had been woven, by Emrys himself, out of starlight. Well, and Balwen wool. She twitched it shut and fastened the belt in a large, blue enameled buckle.
She was standing in the small cosmic chorography lab at the top of the ship’s stern. It was dark. She ran her pale hand across a rather complex, dome-shaped actuator. The walls faded, except for a grid of plotting lines, and starlight filled up the room.
“Computer, lose the lines, please.” The lines faded. She turned toward the bow. Even at a crawl the Madrugada, using mostly inertia, was hurtling through the stars. She saw a ribbon of yellow form at the limit of her sight, growing larger and more distinct as the ship approached it. As they closed the distance, she could see it clearly, the tail of an ancient star.
As they made to pass above it, she balanced on the balls of her feet and held her arms out from her side. When they passed directly over it, she stepped out and down onto the firmament with no more trouble than a normal person might have stepping off a slow moving tram onto a familiar street.
She stood on the great tail of the unraveling star, watching the Madrugada recede into the distance. She turned and began walking up what looked like nothing more than a road, up a long hill toward a great column of light that might at some point have been the star’s core. As she walked, the star changed, shifting from a great mass of supercharged gasses suspended in space into a grand trunk road leading to a bright yellow gate in the walls of a mighty city.
As she strode up the great road, she saw others going about their business. One sat astride a black horse with remote blue stars for eyes. Another cracked a whip above the heads of oxen whose horns were fashioned out of waning moons and who pulled a wain built from the bones of planets, heaped with thousands of new suns. Or melons maybe. Others walked, singly or in groups, carrying hide backpacks fashioned from the skin of eons, tapping the road with their staves.
As she approached the city she saw, from the corner of her left eye, the carved marble escutcheon over the gate. It flashed down the nerve of her eye, touching her spine and shoulder with the profound cold of pre- creation, the cold that stood before anything moved over the surface of anything else, the primordial cold, the material from which the Creator compelled creation. Her knee buckled but she caught herself, closing her eye until it faded. The escutcheon contained the same sigil-glyph as the Madrugada’s computer.
She touched the sword hilt at her hip in the same way another might check for their wallet. She had worn Caledfwlch, the sword that Emrys said was not hers to wear. But then Emrys had always been a gigantic pain in the ass.
Nimue looked at the gate. On one side, in a guard house, stood an armed woman in a steel helmet with a nasal guard. On the other, four guards in black scale mail tunics checked a wagon driven by a large, florid man who advertised his need to get to the palace and insisted he was already running late. One guard was reading over the manifest while the other raised up the tarpaulin. The cargo was primordial darkness. In brick form.
She slipped in the gate amid a company of apparent small tradesmen. Within the walls, the city was the same as any wealthy hilltop town on any of a hundred worlds. Narrow streets and alleyways ran off from the high street, which itself led to the palace. Plazas and other open spaces dotted the city, forming a network of dense blocks, pathways and larger spaces.
Here, her Second Sight was gaining on her first. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw nodes of electrically- and magnetically-charged particles flowing along ionized pathways, occasionally changing charge. Radio silence alternated with patterns of cosmic information and interference. It gave her a headache to track the movement and the further into the city she went, the more that reality faded. But it never disappeared completely. It continued to sizzle right on the skin of things, barely above the level of her hearing.
She looked around at the inhabitants of, and possibly visitors to, the city, milling at shop fronts, unloading at back docks, gathering to slap backs and down drinks at plaza-side taverns. Units of the palace guard moved on slow circuits around the city, breaking up the occasional fight, giving newcomers directions, helping little old ladies cross the busy high road and reuniting lost children with anxious parents.
The people, beings, here were not fae, thought Nimue, and this place no part of Faërie, though clearly not of the mortal worlds either. She ducked behind a pillar of a colonnade in a small agora under the palace acropolis and looked at the traffic again. She looked at the problem out of the corner of her mind this time, instead of her eye. Her intuition drove her and she let it.
Constructed! She gasped. This was a Construct, a world fashioned in an unused, unmade portion of pre- creation. Once she realized it, she could see the liniments of the making. She could see, as it were, the adze-edges of construction. How was that possible? Who had made it? Even the great mages at the dawn of creation did not have this kind of power. The worldlets they are said to have made were mere bubbles, lasting only moments before collapsing. Could this mage be so powerful? So much more powerful than the other she’d known?
She spent several more hours of walking around the city, building a passable map of it in her memory. But as she remained longer in that place she began to notice something strange. When she passed near to anyone stationary, a guard before a public building, the owner of a tavern, she felt an odd fission. She could start to feel herself being tuned in to, remarked upon. Her otherness was coming to the attention of the worldlet’s mind or minds. She needed to leave. Quickly.
Nimue strode nonchalantly back to the main gate at the bottom of the city and fell in behind a group of women who looked dressed for a pilgrimage, fluttering and chatty but well-prepared with two pack-mules. Those exiting the city lined up to move through the gate. As the line formed it shortened, as lines do everywhere in the universe. She saw the woman in front of her stiffen and turn slowly around. She saw Nimue and her face darkened. The other women’s heads snapped around as one and the group’s leader, a tall hawthorn-haired woman with a white staff pointed at her. Nimue’s hair began to stand on end, as though electric currents were rising in the air around her. Several of the guards at the gate formed up to flank her, as several more swung the great thing shut. No getting out that way.
The edge of the dry goods store Nimue stood in front of lit up and hot splinters of granite peppered the back of her hand. One of the watchmen had fired a weapon, a kind of staff. She didn’t stay behind to find out how quickly he could make his mark. A stone stairway ran up between two buildings opposite. She ran for them, to the accompaniment of several more flashes that left flowers of scorch marks behind.
Dashing up the steep steps, she was protected first by the walls of the buildings on both sides, then, as the stairs turned 90 degrees, a marble balustrade with a channel carved into it that carried cold water down to the basin at the bottom of the street. The stair leveled out and she ran out across an exposed stretch. The watchmen’s fire traced her movement on the packed earth of the hillside behind her. By the time she found cover again she was suffering slightly from dozens of small shrapnel wounds that bled into her gauzy white robe. She checked the impulse to run back down the stairs and poke the teeth of the first watchman she could find down his throat. The robe wasn’t magic but it cost an obscene amount of money and she couldn’t just bleach the damn thing out in the utility sink of Patches’ workshop. No, someone would pay for this.
She ducked under a low wall as the stairs resumed again, running at an angle up a kind of shelf in the natural rock, and tried to get her breath. The next course of the stair led up onto a rampart of the city wall. The stair faced the gate yard but was screened by the flowering branches of a thick vine. As she ran up the steps she tried moving first closer to Faërie, then closer to the mortal worlds, but neither affected her unfortunate and definitive solidity. Looking up the rampart she saw a second group of watchmen running toward the point that her route would meet the gate wall, hoping no doubt to block her egress from the narrow tunnel of blossoms.
She drew Caledfwlch. To her surprise it flared a hard white light. The group of watchmen now on the stair below her and the second group on the walls both hesitated, stumbling briefly to a stop. Somewhere a bell began to peal urgently. The silent shock at the sight of her blade broke into a clamour as the two groups of watchmen leapt back into pursuit again. She ran.
Ahead, where the pathway constricted to run between two boulders. The leading pair of rampart watchmen edged nervously through to confront her. She faced them, holding Caledfwlch high above her head in both hands. A quick glance told her the first watchmen were only halfway up the steep stairs below. This upper group could only come two at once, and only then if they were willing to risk each others’ swords.
The first guard was dark-haired with cornflower blue eyes and a spidery scar along his left jawline. He affected the charm of a best-in-class sadist. His partner was a squat, muscular man with a matted mane of red hair. Black drew a short, thrusting sword, ideal for the limited space He smiled a smile he had probably been told was devilish. Red reached overhead and drew a falc from a scabbard across his back. The falc had a long handle but a narrow head, perfect for controlled overhand chopping.
Caledfwlch was so ensorcelled it verged on sentient. It would take care of even an inexperienced swordsman, requiring only willingness, and Nimue was far from inexperienced and quite willing. But Red and Black were powerful and knew how to fight. Black made a thrusting stab, pushing her. Red slashed and chopped. Together, they pressed her back past the stairwell. They were physically distressed by the sight of her blade though, avoiding looking directly at it, acting almost vertiginous when they did.
Out of the corner of her eye, Nimue saw a cascade of flowering wisteria flowing down the wall to a cistern on a lower path. It spooled down the corner where the round wall of the cistern met the flat stones of the wall. Below it was a switchback path that led to the back yard of a stable on the plaza. But halfway down, a low-walled viaduct ran out over 300 yards of plain air to an open platform of uncertain use.
The platform was about a dozen feet wide and circular. The low retaining wall of the viaduct continued around it and a low drum of stone stood at the center. Above it Nimue could see the skin of this bubble world was thinner than anywhere else. The silvery light of the Perseus Arm shone clearly through the provisional sky. It was an observatory, where the inhabitants of the city could observe space outside their world.
“No one visits the City without papers, miss,” said Black. “Other cities, perhaps. But not this one.”
“Would you like read my papers then?” asked Nimue. He grinned for a split second before she brought Caledfwlch down in a lightning fast slash that split his buckler to the hob and fetched it out of his hand. The accompanying flash of white light spread across the City like the shock wave of a bomb, momentarily blinding its inhabitants, who cried out. She thrust forward, smashing Black’s buckler into Red’s face and knocking it off her sword, then she leapt nimbly over the wall. Using Caledfwlch as a brake, and with a silent apology to the plant, she rode the splitting vines to the stone-paved path below.
The squad of watchmen below changed direction, running toward the small plaza where the switchback met the viaduct. Above, another squad of guards helped Red and Black to their feet, then hove, one after another, over the wall, clambering down the distressed vine. She was being pincered in from top and bottom. They knew she would turn toward the platform if they didn’t catch her up before she got there. She was trapped. And yet there was an element of panic in their redoubled pace.
The watchman on point, a woman, broke ahead of her fellows in a stupendous burst of speed. She would make the turn before Nimue did.
Nimue stripped off her robe, spreading the white material out and threw it with a spinning motion. It flew like a weighted game net, settling onto, then cinching across, the watchman‘s shoulders. She sprawled headfirst in the path and Nimue jumped, springing off the guard’s back onto the path to the viaduct, just as the two guard squadrons from above and below met up. Several stopped momentarily in a vain attempt to tug Nimue’s tangled robe off their cohorts.
The drum at the center of the observatory was incised with glyphs of all sorts, in a complex grammar that she could feel but not read. The top of the drum, though, had only one. Engraved in a cartouche at the center was the COLDFIRE glyph, the same at the gate of the City and the same that had compromised the Madrugada. She held Caledfwlch up toward the bit of the universe outside the City, then hesitated, looking back at the drum. A cry went up from the converging squads of watchmen who doubled their speed down the viaduct.
“Get her!” they yelled at no one in particular. “Don’t let her corrupt the script!”
She knew what to do. There should have been sudden illumination and fanfare. There was just Nimue.
She raised the sword high above her head, set her teeth and plunged the blade into the glyph. It squealed like metal sheering as it bit deep into the stone of the drum, pumping its light down into the bones of the city. The ground slipped sideways without moving. It was like standing on the roof of a collapsing house without losing your footing. There was a sense of movement, of plummeting. But nothing visible changed at all.
With the tonic glyph destroyed, the bonds that held the City together dissolved. The logogrammatics, alphabets, syllabaries, abjads and abugidas lost their cohesion and the elements of the City they had Constructed and sustained began to collapse. Pale blue fire leaked from the seams of the Construct
Nimue leapt up onto the low retaining wall of the observatory and thrust Caledfwlch up into the sky, past the bubble, through the thin film that separated the City from the stars. Caledfwlch sunk the tip of its blade into the river of stars, and the river’s current pulled the sword into it and Nimue with it.