At a cross of gloomy caverns a many-eyed seer weaves a tapestry out of tattered wings. Hir handiwork, while not always even or neat, catches the light and glints like a web of pearls in the ‘neath. For now, ze is content to do nothing but weave, for a seer sent to watch a lonely crossroads in a cavern without candle or lamp is a seer without sight. Ze weaves alone, except for the little scuttler who slips pockets of news into hir pouch each week and the rare traveller who crosses from the ‘neath to the land of a thousand lights above.
Today is one such rare day where a traveller has crossed hir path. However, it is clearly travelling in the wrong direction.
"Where are you wandering, little spirit?" ze asks softly, from behind hir loom.
It simply walks on, without a glance.
"I only ask out of concern," the many-eyed seer adds. "It is easy to get lost in the gloom. Many walk paths they cannot return from in the dark."
At that, the spirit turns to hir and looks directly into hir many-eyes. On closer inspection, the spirit is a small thing indeed, dressed in moth-eaten scraps and weathered boots. It has no wings to speak of, nor feathers, nor a set of horns. But it holds the many-eyed seer's gaze as if it is a creature thrice its size.
"I am looking for the court of the Great Scarab," it says, firmly.
"Are you, now?" says the many-eyed seer, leaning down from hir perch. "Perhaps I can assist. What is your name, little spirit?"
"It is no business of yours."
"On the contrary, it is my business indeed. I am the watcher, the regarder, the seer of this place. I look for all kinds of things. I see what goes forward and what leads back. I know which path before you leads right and which leads to ruin, which goes to where light breaks and water sings and which falls deep, under the ‘neath, into the silent places from which few return. And I would like to know your name."
The spirit listens intently, without a word nested inbetween. Then it says:
"I have none. I tore it from my tongue when I left my last master."
The many-eyed seer blinks slowly.
"Then you are very, very lost indeed." Ze lowers herself from her perch with her loom and her tapestry of torn wings and lost horns and scuttles towards the spirits. "The spirits of the depths. All claws and mouths and saliva, dripping. They hunger for ones like you, nameless one. Your wills are the easiest to bend. In the dark where you the light cannot reach, it would be simple," and ze lifts a long, distended weaving-finger, and taps it on its shoulder. "As this."
The spirit is silent for a moment. Its eyes glow faintly in the gloom, and the many-eyed seer wonders if it has ever blinked at all.
"Do you seek to frighten me, seer?" it asks.
"No. I seek to warn you of how foolish your task is, because clearly you cannot see yourself. You will be devoured. Turn back."
"I will have to take the risk," it says, with finality.
It motions to move forward.
It moves one pace. Two. Four paces. Then six.
The many-eyed seer shrieks: "Wait!"
"Little spirit. Please. If you cannot tell me your name, tell me that of your old master. In exchange, I can tell you a whisper of a way I have heard. I can trade you what you need."
The spirit considers this. And then it walks back to the many-eyed seer, and whispers a rich name, thick and coarse with old power, on hir ear.
"Ah," says the many-eyed seer. "He is a harsh task-master, or so I have heard. I am sorry."
"I do not need your pity," it says.
Sniffing at this, the many-eyed seer tears off a corner of silk to spin a route that spirals around the dark edges of the ‘neath, full of twists and turns. "It is longer," ze explains, "And more treacherous. Because you cannot fly or swim or climb, I take it? No claws or wings from what I can see." And the many-eyed seer could see much, when it was this close. "No matter. It will take you where you need to be. Follow this," and the many-eyed seer presents the map to the spirit, who snatches it into their hands quickly. It peers at the instructions with narrowed eyes, and then folds them into its pocket without a question. It says nothing as it departs.
It walks. It walks down into the ‘neath, where glowlights dim to almost nothing. It walks through old paths in fungal forests without a lick of light, where strange whispers fester. It walks along crimson falls in the deep reaches where cracks of light begin to sizzle. It walks through narrowing tunnels and thinning paths that appear to disappear and curl out of sight, through which it has to pull, stone by stone, hand by hand, the path out into the open. It is then, and only then, it sees the light for the first time since it left.
She has forgotten how splendid it feels.
I am a she, I am she, that is me , the spirit thinks in that moment, and it is like a little spark leaps inside of her.
With that spark dancing through her, she begins to walk through breezy leaves and shrouds of rain, up towards a forest clearing next to the clouds. She passes spirits with bright eyes and spiralling horns and strange feathers, spirits five times as tall as she. Along the stone-carved steps, there are clusters of chattering silk-spinners pulling alliances together on strange looms. The hum of busy work can begin to be heard, of gentle sighs, after the drum of hammers and stone, that sound almost like a home, and it makes her own spark want to dance with each thrum.
When she approaches the Great Scarab, whose horns seem to pierce the skies and whose head is alight in a brilliant flame of a hundred scarlets and ambers, she does not bow. She does not offer splendid gifts. She only brings a voice of her own, quiet as it may be.
The Great Scarab, whose voice is so strong that it could carry all the stars-yet-to-be, says this to her:
“With what purpose do you approach our court, little one?”
“We seek to join you, Great Scarab.”
A smile breaks on his lips. “We?” he asks, with interest.
“I represent many others who could not make the journey to your court. We broke away from our old master, and wish to serve you directly.”
“Serve me?” He looks amused at this. “For what purpose would you do that?”
A murmur spreads throughout the crowd, which Lorkhan silences them with a wave of his hand.
“That is rather bold,” he says. “To leave and come here, with no guarantee of sanctuary, on the back of whispers and hearsay. Others might say foolish, even. But I would not dismiss you that easily, not after you have travelled all this way by yourself.” The Great Scarab pauses for a moment, his brow crinkling. “Tell me, little one. What could you bring to our court?”
“We were tool-carriers, Great Scarab.”
Around him, a cascade of laughter falls from the other courtiers, from all the winged spirits with bright eyes and heavy voices.
“And,” she adds, louder, trying to cut across the noise, “We are resourceful and we know how to make, and make-do, with so little. And we want to build. We want to use the tools we have carried for others, for ourselves, for once.”
At this, the Great Scarab motions for the laughter to stop.
“And I may have been but a tool-carrier before,” she adds, “But even I know you are constructing something here, something big, something grand indeed. It might even be spectacular . But what use is a grand spectacle when a spirit my size could fall down the cracks? Your sense of scale is lacking perspective.”
The Great Scarab does not laugh at her.
“You would question the plans of my Architect?” he asks.
“Has he ever made anything using his own hands? If not, then yes. We would.”
The spirit does not flinch from his gaze. She has not looked away, not even once.
“Hm. Come closer, little one.”
At this, excited chittering breaks out amongst the crowd around him. The Great Scarab looks on, eyes unreadable, expression still.
“You may call me Lorkhan,” he says to her. His voice is now without an echo, without noise, and now she can almost hear a gentle, teasing smile behind each word. “What is your name, little one?”
“I have none.”
His features crease into the slightest frown. “No matter. Come,” and he beckons her to approach closer still, to climb upon his shoulder.
“What can you see from up here?”
She is perched higher than she has ever been, and looks at all the strange lights and new colours sewn from the grey, she watches the leaves and wings flutter in new winds, and listens to the faint sense of music, drifting in and out like a tide.
“I can see the foundations of… a magnificent palace, perhaps?” She pauses. “No. Not as grandiose. Bigger, but…” She shakes her head suddenly, glancing back at him, a touch of disgust on her features. “It needs more rhythm to it. It needs a tool rack.”
Lorkhan laughs now, and it is a big, bellowing thing that sends her insides aflutter.
“I believe, then, that we could make something work,” he says, with a gentle smile. “Yes. We definitely could. Welcome, tool-carrier.”
… Kagrenac wakes suddenly. It is dark. She is alone.
She pulls blindly at the surrounds, her fingers grasping at her arms, her hair, at the warm sheets, at a bed that is missing the shape of another person.
She lights a lantern with a crackle of sparks and begins to stumble around their home under the flicker of that little bulb. It was once such a bare place, now stuffed with all kinds of trinkets and ornaments and books - a natural accumulation of stuff over two hundred plus years of cohabitation, she supposes.
There is another lamp still shining, and her lover - her co-conspirator - her partner in all things - is still stood at her desk, poring over plans, making adjustments, making alterations, to the preliminary designs of Anumidium.
Kagrenac, half-awake, wraps her arms around her waist and buried her head into her neck, and says softly, “Come to bed, darling. Please. I miss you.”
Her shoulders tense up. There is a sharp intake of breath.
Kagrennac lets go – immediately – concern bleeding into her voice when she asks: