In the madness of Aton-Re he called out to God. He said: set a new order on this world. Bring us a new covenant.
In his dreams he walked in windy places.
He saw a shape that was not a shape. He heard sounds that were not sounds and dwelled in light that was not light.
Slowly Aton-Re comprehended that he looked upon something larger than the world. He heard strange noises: like the clicking of locusts, like the crackling of fire, like the searing of flesh, like great brass trumpets.
He said: God articulates his name in so many ways because I cannot understand any of them. He is like the parent speaking to a child of death, saying, “It is sleep. It is going away. It is stillness. It is cold,” when it is not.
All these sounds and lights and changes, concluded Aton-Re, were a hundred groping attempts by the world to show Aton-Re a thing that Aton-Re could not comprehend.
The shape beyond them was ineffable.
And Aton-Re said: a man goes to sleep in darkness, and rises in the dawn. With such disparate acts and choices does he articulate a single will. Though my vision is not what others have seen before, no less shall I articulate the will of God.
Then his dreams fell into darkness. He saw the shape of God no more. Instead he saw the twining of worms and the sequencing of DNA and endless lines of code, and, every night and with white heat, a vision of Calandra, whom Aton-Re would love.
Certain Firstland visionaries spoke from time to time of “the pink mist,” by which phrase they referenced the descent of enlightenment from Heaven to the philosophers and Princes of that place. This color meant to them an enlightenment too subtle to be red: the pink of the dawn, of the aurora, of blood diluted by water and by soap. The pink mist was a sacred vision and much beloved by the depictional artists of the time.
In the remains of Foreston it was not so. Pink mists, or pinkies, referred to the nematodes they used to turn their soil—despised and filthy for their resemblance to the worm. The term had all manner of unpleasant connotations; it featured frequently in ribald poems and certain raucous songs. This prompted a certain belligerence towards Foreston in Firstland, which eventually culminated in Foreston’s annexation and the taking of its people as sacrifices and as slaves.
Calandra is born to civilized folk. She’s raised as a farmer, with her brothers and her sisters and her parents and a handful of stockbeasts. She loves her life and she doesn’t really get that there’s anything more to the world than a handful of farms and the little town nearby where the blacksmith lives.
Then the Sapphire Tribe comes.
Twenty-two of them walk the hills outside her farm. She sees them coming. She calls out to everyone. But when her family rushes out to see what’s going on, her father dies. Her mother dies. Her siblings start falling over dead.
One of her brothers falls on her, and she topples under him—she’s not very big—and then, unable to scream because he’s heavy and she’s scared, she just lays there.
The people of the Tribe come down the hill.
“Think there are more of them?” one guy asks.
She can see him. He’s got stubble and he’s only got one hand. He’s carrying a revolver of lumpy metal that, as it happens, he made himself.
“Doesn’t matter,” says another. His name is Zachary. She’ll kill him later. “Em’?”
Em’s the leader. She’s the one with a real weapon—one of the guns from the end, that just kills whomever she wants it to.
“Take what you need. Kill anyone who jumps out at you from hiding. There’s enough food here to get us to Sixdock.”
There’s a dissonant outrage in Calandra now. It’s burning in her.
She squeaks, from under her brother, “I’m still alive.”
There’s a slight pause.
Em’ squats down. She rolls Calandra’s brother Edward off of Calandra. She stares at the girl, who has now fallen silent again.
“Is that a problem?” Em’ asks.
Calandra doesn’t even breathe. She’s horrified that she spoke at all. Then Zachary kicks her. She coughs. She casts a frightened glance sideways, catches his expectant eyes, and realizes he’s demanding that she answer Em’; so Calandra says, “You’re acting like I’m not. Alive.”
“She’s calling you out, Em’,” laughs Zachary. “Think you can take her?”
“I bring the end of everything,” says Em’. “I bring the tide that will drown humanity and the sword that will kill it and the fire that will destroy this world forever.”
“Oh,” says Calandra.
Em’ licks her finger. She sketches a mark on Calandra’s forehead with it. The mark turns red like meat. It burns like a brand.
“Those that live, shall serve my purpose.”
Then she strikes Calandra on the head, shoves her in the barn, and locks the door.
The lock holds for seven hours before it breaks.
There is a strange fever that takes Calandra. It is not all physical. It is principally grief and rage and hate. For weeks it lasts, while the Sapphire Tribe murders Sixdock and seizes the Silver Temple as its own. She is broken, nonfunctional, drifting through the farm like a tormented ghost while that fever consumes her.
At night she dreams of Aton-Re.
Then one day she sets out east, to the lands of the Sapphire Tribe. She is very thin and somewhat older when she gets there. She is ragged and almost unrecognizable. But the mark burns on her forehead and the men who find her treat her well.
They teach her murder. They teach her ruthlessness. They teach her destruction.
They do not ask her what she will do with these skills. She finds it funny that they do not ask. They simply assume that she will join them, that she will take her place as one of the acolytes or warriors of the Sapphire Tribe. When in her rage she wounds her instructors this is seen as a sign of a prodigy. When she screams at Maton-E, the man who instructs her in the faith, when she descends into mad howling at the cruelty of it, he does not flinch.
“It is difficult to understand the worm,” he says.
He gestures towards the sky.
“We are adrift in a world greater than anything we can know,” he says. “We are small. We are pitiful. We are pawns. But we may seek the good.”
“How is it good?” she demands.
“Why is anything good?” he responds.
She sputters at him.
“We did not find the worm,” he says, “through ‘how’s and ‘why’s. We cast our eyes in the direction of good. We looked towards those things we find good—pleasure, family, peace, honor, love. Then we looked beyond them. In the immeasurable distance down that line we drew towards goodness we saw the twisting, heaving bulk that is the worm. You ask me how, but I can only say ‘where’: it is the virtuous beyond. It is because the world is hollow that we do not understand.”
“I will kill you,” she says.
“All of you,” she says. “All of your Tribe, and Aton-Re. I will leave you as corpses for the worms to eat.”
Maton-E looks up at the sky.
“You dream at night—”
Calandra flushes brightly. She turns her head away. “That is not relevant,” she says.
“Ah,” says Maton-E. “You deny it.”
Calandra grits her teeth. Then, slowly, she relaxes.
“My dreams are my dreams,” she says. “My path is my path.”
“Your path is hard,” he says.
And she is sobbing; and he holds her; and the moon is bright. This is the beginning of Calandra’s procrastination, for she does not kill the Sapphire Tribe that night.
Articulation will conclude tomorrow or Wednesday.