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First we lift our swords to heaven

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The steel skyscrapers spanned as far as the eye could see. The multi-layered roads between them were lit with the lights of a million cars. Rocketcraft sparked through the night sky once every few seconds. It never rained in the High City.

Yas Delit turned away from the window in disgust. Outside the High City’s dome, beneath the lowest level of road, was the Undercity, full of the undesirables. The downtrodden masses survived, densely huddled, on the scraps of charity they received and stole from the wasteful rich and the middle classes desperate to turn a blind eye.

In the High City, life was a party. It was a scant few hours past midnight; the Crown Prince’s bash would be going on still. A hymn to excess.

Yas started her night’s project, inspired. She had always been a good smith of catchy songs, and even an adequate poet. Her contributions to the cause would always go through editing by those of less talent in song, as well as better wordsmiths. Still, the contrasting of decadence and plain anger in the tune was delightful. The Prince Drinks to Nothing might catch on, or it might not, but for now, it was a prime example of the creativity brought by constraints.

Through an anonymous network, she sent it. She did not know if her contributions to the cause ever arrived, or were ever put to use, but she knew the value of music in shaping public opinion. She had bored of creating yet more empty, vapid symphonies in praise of the monarchy. She had tired of suppressing her screaming conscience.

She had but one skill, and thus she used it.

The hour of the wolf had set in yet again. Sleep would elude her until such a time that the Crown Prince might even consider resting. She poked at her variations on a mazurka. Perhaps if she made variation no. 4 more distinct by shifting its key…

 

When the Sun rose, she slept.

 

When the court convened near dusk, she was awake and in her court uniform. She had never gone for the frankly gauche displays of colour and drape so favoured by most recipients of royal patronage. No, she was making a statement with her all-black gear, with a high-collared shirt tucked into straight trousers and covered with a tailcoat, all of a cut slightly off from any fashions of recent memory.

With long practice, she presented her Variations on a Mazurka to the conductor of the Royal Orchestra, a woman by the name of Iseult Serre whose fashion statements were limited to which of her myriad tailcoats, in every colour of the rainbow and every cut beneath the sky, she chose. Today’s tailcoat was of gothic style, buttoned closed at the front, and came in a brilliant cerulean blue.

As Yas flittered about, playing the dance of the artist grateful of her patron, one of the prima sopranos of the Royal Opera walked to her.

“Esteemed Delit,” Godeleine Rouzet said, fiddling with the LED lights entwined in her long hair, “do you have any operas under composition? I so enjoyed the Rites of the Solstice.”

She must have fallen out of the Crown Prince’s favour. Yas was tempted to compose an opera with no soprano parts out of spite. On the other hand, Rouzet was one of the few to have made it this high primarily on talent, rather than on scheming. The girl would eventually crash and burn, but for now, her spectacular voice and youthful good looks were enough to paper over her utter and complete lack of social cunning.

“I must first start with an idea, and whilst I have kept open my ears and eyes, no-one has come to me with an idea fitting for an opera. I do, however, have a choral symphony under pen,” Yas added, not entirely truthfully. She had toyed with a fifth symphony, but she had nothing more to say in symphonic format that was acceptable to her patron. Indeed, she was running out of acceptable ideas that did not ring fake.

She knew the value of music in shaping public opinion.

Perhaps it was time to compose a symphony of rebellion, martial and unrelenting, Fate knocking at the door of the monarchy, Nemesis at her heels.

“If you’ll excuse me, Miss Rouzet,” Yas said, kissing the back of Rouzet’s hand. “Fair Inspiration has come a-knocking.”

Rouzet’s delighted blush reflected off the polished marble walls.

 

Yas had a vision of a symphony in four movements, and knew how each of them would feel. The opening, she composed in a mad fury, and the ending would be a choral crescendo, the rage of the masses at the gates of the palace, there to execute the royals and all who received their patronage.

She needed but a suitable poem to put to music.

But first, she set about with the slow work of plucking out the correct notes to quiet the cacophony in her head.

 

She did, occasionally, compose the ditties of resistance, mocking the high and lamenting the low, and even more occasionally the divertimentos, quadrilles, and the like that kept her place of privilege, but her labour of love was the symphony. It began as rebellion, and kept that tone throughout: the first movement a staccato burst of doom and determination, the second a requiem for the people oppressed, the third the rise of the rebellious spirit. The fourth movement called back to the first, but richer and more jubilant, recapitulating the themes in the relative major, before erupting into the crescendo that was Clélia Adnet’s First we lift our swords to heaven set to music, a poem in the voice of Praxidike and her nymphs coming to kill the swindler ruler of the cities, from Adnet’s magnum opus of poetry, where Praxidike sent her beloved Ammit the souls of the unworthy so she could eat.

 

A year of insomnia and compulsion later, the Fifth Symphony of Yas Delit was finished. She ritually handed the notes over to the conductor of the Royal Orchestra, who was this time dressed in a mylar tailcoat of classic cut, and waited.

 

The première was soon enough. The day before, Godeleine Rouzet materialised at Yas’s door in the garb of Praxidike to express her thanks in person.

“There is no need to thank me,” Yas said.

Rouzet objected, and the fact that she pushed Yas to her bed was evidence enough that the thing had been hard at work learning to play the game. Yas let her have her success.

 

The night of, Yas arrived in her court garb, her hair scraped back even more severely than usual. The cacophony that pressed at her mind quieted in knowledge of coming music. She chittered politely with the assembled royalty, court nobles, and artists under patronage. She had rehearsed her lie of motivation: Adnet’s First we lift our swords to heaven simply required a symphony around it, no? Oh, why, of course she could be persuaded to toy with an opera around Adnet’s poetry cycle; the King merely need to ask! He did? Well, Yas Delit was happy to be commissioned.

She brushed aside her preliminary ideas for later examination. Her mind would be quiet for a while yet, and for that she was grateful.

Iseult had done an excellent job, as always. Yas would bring her her favourite gin tomorrow evening as thanks. It was all steps of a dance Yas and Iseult had polished to perfection between them. It was how the game was played.

The music washed over Yas, who felt all the emotions she’d hoped to evoke. The switch in the fourth movement from C minor to E flat major flowed perfectly, changing the tone from tortured discord to victorious elation.

Of the audience, no-one would guess that the symphony was anything more than a stretching of compositional muscles inspired by poetry. Only Yas knew the true inspiration.

Even her moment of triumph was poisoned by the reality: This symphony would do nothing for the masses. If only she knew a sequence of notes that would kill all in the audience.

If only.