Actions

Work Header

The Artificers

Chapter Text

“The ancient red rock has been passed down through the ages. From it, a magic pendant and a knife were made. We embody Melchior’s dreams, sealed, within the knife…”

– Masa


In a sense, the dream that would one day be called the Masamune began the day the Mammon Machine was completed.

Melchior, the Guru of Life, stood at the foot of its dais. He cupped the Dreamstone pendant that served as its key in his hands and inspected it. He didn’t see any errors in the engravings on its surface, but he checked again all the same. One could never be too careful.

“How’s it look?” Belthasar called out absently. Up on the dais itself, he and Gaspar looked over the Machine, one checking the front, the other the back.

“I don’t see anything wrong,” Melchior said, “but we’ll trade places when you’re done.”

Melchior was pretty sure Belthasar didn’t hear him. The man just liked to talk. He was too far gone in his work to hear the response.

After a few minutes the three of them rotated. Belthasar took the pendant, Gaspar took his place, Melchior took Gaspar’s. No one found any mistakes. They rotated again. When all three had vetted everything, they gathered to confer, and Melchior took the pendant back.

There were six people in the room. The Gurus themselves, Queen Zeal, her daughter Schala, and a scribe. The scribe was not common; everyone present was perfectly capable of spelling words on to paper. But Melchior didn’t want any magic in the room except that of the Mammon Machine itself.

“We’re ready,” Melchior told the Queen.

She nodded. “Good. Schala?”

“I’m ready, too.” She reached out a hand, and Melchior placed the pendant in her open palm. She hesitated, then bowed her head and looped it around her neck.

Melchior looked at the scribe briefly.

“I am also prepared, Guru,” the man said, gesturing with his quill.

“All right. Test number one, activation without use. Schala, you can proceed.”

Schala’s voice rose, clear and precise, and Melchior felt her reaching out to the Machine. It was like moving a mountain exactly an inch; this would take both powerful magic and a deft touch. Queen Zeal couldn’t have done it. Power, she had. Skill? Sure. But caution and care weren’t really her style, in Melchior’s charitable opinion.

The queen had laughed when Melchior told her that.

The pendant began to glow, and the Machine woke. Schala’s voice settled into a rhythmic cadence. The Machine’s Dreamstone heart pulsed in time with it.

Melchior felt the magic stabilize. So did Schala. She ended her chant. The Mammon Machine kept running.

“Fellows,” Melchior said, nodding at Belthasar and Gaspar. The three of them verified that it was working properly, then continued.

“Second test, connection. Schala.”

Speech again. Melchior felt magic stretch out from the Machine, stretch down, through the floor, through the stone beneath it, through the miles of sky and storm beneath that. Into the ocean, and still down, down, down.

Down there, buried in the earth, the creature called Lavos slept. It hadn’t moved in millennia. Yet any mage that took the trouble to inspect it, even at this vast distance, could feel that it thrummed with power. Ancient, untapped. Usable. Zeal needed a power source. Something to replace the Sun Stone, aging and diminished. Something to maintain their home above the clouds and the eternal storm.

Lavos suited. It was life, of a sort, though not a kind the Guru of Life had ever seen. He thought it might not be of this world at all.

Connection. Everyone in the room took a step back. The invisible cord of magic reached Lavos, and Lavos’s magic flooded back up its length, as if drawn by a water pump. Out of the ocean, to the floating islands of Zeal. Into the Mammon Machine. Melchior felt the Machine’s spellwork straining to contain it. Schala’s voice developed a touch of urgency. He put a hand on her shoulder. She glanced at him, but couldn’t stop the spell to express appreciation.

The Mammon Machine held. The flow calmed. It was still vast, but it was steady. The Machine’s heart began to glow.

“It’s working,” Melchior said.

It was indeed working. The Dreamstone heart bore all the power that came in. Unlike the Sun Stone, it was limited in what it could hold, but that was okay. It would do well enough.

Schala fell silent again. She smiled at the Gurus, tired but triumphant.

“Third test, usage,” Melchior said. “But if you need a moment to rest, feel free.”

“Melchior,” Queen Zeal said, “If you’ve no objection, I’ll do this part.”

Melchior considered. “Sure, if you want.”

Queen Zeal stepped up on to the Mammon Machine’s dais. It wasn’t necessary to touch the Machine to use it, but she reached out anyway, rested a hand on it. Her face…twisted, as if in pain. She didn’t say anything. Melchior frowned; he was the only one in a position to see it.

The queen raised her other hand and summoned a ball of light, shining blue and silver. It was a simple thing, but it served well enough as a test. Melchior and the others could see her channeling power from the Machine, expending Lavos’s magic instead of her own to fuel the spell.

Belthasar applauded, grinning. “Well done, us,” he said.

“Yes,” Melchior said quietly.

“Don’t look so grim, Melchior,” Schala said. “You really have done well. You can celebrate a little.”

Melchior let his lips twitch into a smile, and Schala hugged him. He eyed the Queen over her shoulder. She didn’t say anything about that moment when she’d touched the Machine, didn’t mention it hurting at all. Her face was flat. For some reason, that bothered him.

Lavos was powerful. That, of course, was what made it useful. Dangerous, too? Not to them, supposedly. The Enlightened Ones of Zeal had left the frozen wastes of the earth for the clear bright blue of the sky. An entire people that walked on air and thought it an everyday thing: of course they had nothing to fear.

Melchior felt a touch of fear anyway.

The dream that would one day be called the Masamune was conceived in Queen Zeal’s expression.


Three weeks after the Machine’s activation, Queen Zeal summoned her Gurus to a private office. It was crowded; six seats around the table, of which five were filled. The Gurus Melchior and Belthasar occupied one side of the table. The Queen’s daughter, Schala, and her aide, Dalton, sat across from them. There was a chair for her son, Janus, but he sat in the corner instead, silent and watchful.

The Queen herself was at the head of the table. Melchior eyed her as carefully as he dared. Was there something wrong in her eyes? He couldn’t tell.

Why isn’t Gaspar here? Melchior thought. Such meetings had been called before, but the Queen invariably kept all her advisors in the loop. The Guru of Time was missing.

Between them all, at the center of the table, were two diagrams. The first was the design for the Mammon Machine. Melchior knew it well; he’d drawn most of it. The second diagram was a chart of a deep ocean trench, far away from any continent. The depths, distances, and markings were all written in Belthasar’s incomprehensible scrawl. The ink was still wet in some places. Well. Now Melchior knew why the man had been so hard to find recently. But why a sea chart?

“I’ll get straight to the point,” Queen Zeal said. “I intend to move the Mammon Machine closer to its source, that we may improve its output. Belthasar has surveyed the relevant parts of the ocean. We are going to build on its floor. Belthasar, if you would.”

Belthasar, the Guru of Reason, cleared his throat. “Very well. To begin with, Lavos is under here.” He indicated a large red dot on the map. “It’s around ten miles deep. Well, deeper than the ocean, anyway. The floor itself is almost five miles down. Almost makes me wonder if Lavos didn’t want to be found. If we’re going to get the Machine as close as possible, that means setting up shop on the sea floor. It’s a long way down so hold your breath.”

Dalton snickered. Belthasar smiled at him. To Dalton, the smile said “Thanks for appreciating the joke.” To Melchior, the smile said “That was bait and you are easily amused.” Melchior saw rather more of the Guru than Dalton did.

“A modified Skyway can get a man down there, of course, but not keep him alive afterwards. So the first order of business is to construct a reception room. A structure of a few hundred square feet, bolted to the rock, would be enough to set up a Skyway. It will need to be temporary and disposable, as we haven’t a hope of placing it accurately; we’ll be sinking it from the surface. We start by attaching a magically-reinforced metal cable to the structure. I’d like your help with that part, Melchior. It needs to be as close to indestructible as we can make it, and it needs to be long enough to reach the surface.”

Melchior grunted in acknowledgement. It was fair; he had been a metalsmith before he was a Guru.

“Once the Skyway is ready, that’s how we get personnel down. We get additional components down by attaching them to the initial cable and sliding down it. Further cables can be deployed by the staff as needed. Breathable air can be extracted from the water with proper spellwork. From there, the plan is to extend a tunnel – or dig one, if it turns out to be easier that way – from the landing site to the intended primary chamber. We run a new sink cable and Skyway there. After that it’s a simple matter of construction.”

Melchior chuckled at that one himself. Dalton didn’t. He probably hadn’t understood the joke. It was, indeed, as simple as construction; but such construction would be anything but simple. Under all that pressure, in an overwhelmingly hostile environment, with everything too large to transport by Skyway having to be dropped in from the surface…Melchior himself would have dismissed the idea as impossible. But he was a smith, a philosopher, a botanist, a biologist. Belthasar was an engineer in spirit, and Melchior had seen Belthasar do many impossible things. No doubt there was a third diagram, only partially complete, specifying just how this impossible thing could be accomplished. That diagram would not have been included at the meeting, nor shown to anyone as yet; it undoubtedly existed, but it was drawn only in the mind of the Guru of Reason.

“Once construction is finished and the site is safe, there are a couple of options for transporting the Mammon Machine. We can sink it inside a container, or we can attempt to build a Skyway capable of moving it. Or we might come up with something else. In any case, it can be done, and we have time to work out how. Years, no doubt.”

“How many years?” Zeal asked, in a voice of anticipation.

Belthasar shrugged. “Until I have the design complete, I couldn’t say. Ten years, perhaps.”

Liar, Melchior thought, amused. You’ll tell her eight when you have the design complete, and you’ll actually finish in five.

Zeal just nodded. “How soon can we start?”

Belthasar shrugged again. “You know I can’t answer that. I’ll be ready when I’m ready.”

“How soon?” she snapped. Harshly.

Taken aback, Belthasar stared at her. He frowned. “Maybe six months?” he said, in a tentative tone. He was clearly disturbed, and well he should be. Zeal had never treated the Gurus with disrespect before.

She was eager, Melchior realized. Belthasar saw it, too.

“Drop your other project and start on this at once. Melchior, nothing is required of you for the time being, but you will be needed to advise on the safe transport of the Machine and its appropriate use at such a distance. Make yourself available when needed.”

“All right,” he said. “A question, if I may?”

“Yes?”

“Why isn’t Gaspar here?”

Zeal looked confused. “Why would I need him? His expertise isn’t relevant to this.”

“Never mind. I’ll let him know what we are doing.”

“If you must,” she said, irritated at the distraction. “Now, let us discuss the manner of magic that will be needed, and who should be brought in on the project….”

Melchior, as the other Gurus, existed to advise the Queen. So, he advised. But he was increasingly uncomfortable, and glad when the time came to stand up and leave. They filed out one by one, Dalton in the lead. He enjoyed being in the lead. It was one of the reasons Belthasar disliked him. Truth be told, Melchior didn’t care for that sort of ego either.

The Gurus followed. Schala left the Queen’s offices last. Her face was sad as they parted ways in the hall outside.

Melchior realized as he was leaving that the Queen’s daughter, holder of the key to the Mammon Machine, hadn’t said anything at all.

“Schala!” he called out to her. She turned as he approached.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

She motioned Janus away, and spoke softly. “Not entirely. Mother…she has been strange, lately. Driven. I see why she wants the Machine moved, but…she cares entirely too much about it. Maybe you can talk to her?”

“I’ll try, child. But it seemed in there like her mind was set.”

“It bothers me that she didn’t invite Gaspar, too. She’s not wrong, just…”

“It’s out of order,” Melchior finished for her.

“Yes.”

“I’ll see what I can do. Keep that pendant safe.” And keep it to yourself, he privately thought.

“I will. Good day, Melchior.”

“Good day.”


Melchior headed to Gaspar’s quarters without delay. The Guru of Time was there, as usual. His study was a mess of books, scrolls, and magical tools. He was writing in a book of his own when Melchior entered. His script was as neat as Belthasar’s was careless, and it made for an amusing contrast with the heaps of unknown stuff that occupied the room as a whole. Precision in his work matched by indifference in his life: that was Gaspar.

“Hey,” he said. “Are you back from the Queen’s meeting already?” His tone was mild. It was always mild.

“You knew about it already, I suppose.”

Gaspar dipped his pen in an ink pot and continued writing. “Belthasar came to get me beforehand. He didn’t realize I wasn’t invited, and thought I would have forgotten.”

“Understandable. That’s happened before.”

“Right. So, what brings you here?”

Melchior sat down and described the meeting and his reservations. Gaspar continued his work, but they had known each other for far too long for that to be offensive. Melchior gave as complete an account as he could, and when he finally petered out, Gaspar set down the quill and turned around. To an outsider it would have looked like he was just beginning to pay attention. Melchior knew he just hadn’t been ready to speak.

“What do you plan to do?” he asked.

“I don’t know. There’s nothing wrong with her plan. Nothing I can find, at least, and if it really couldn’t be done, Belthasar would have said as much.”

“Belthasar doesn’t believe there’s anything that can’t be done,” Gaspar said.

“Has he ever failed to make something he set out to create?” Melchior asked pointedly.

“Well…no,” Gaspar admitted. “Not since before he was Guru, anyway. There’s things he has set out to understand and failed, though. Like the Siblings.”

Melchior smiled wryly in acknowledgement. The Three Siblings – Masa, Mune, and Doreen – were an enigma that none of them had managed to crack. They were not human. They had magic, and so the Enlightened Ones never minded their presence. But no one could remember a time when they hadn’t been around. They had no family besides themselves, belonged to no species Melchior had ever found record of, and never said anything substantiative about their past and origins. They did not bow to the Zeal monarchy’s authority, but never made a point of contesting it either.

Melchior knew little of Doreen, but he knew the two brothers well. He liked them, and was pretty sure they felt the same. He could not claim to understand them, however.

Melchior wished to know what they were. Gaspar wished to know what they’d seen. Belthasar just wished to know what they knew. None of them got what they wanted. It was just something they had learned to live with.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any advice for you,” Gaspar said.

“That’s all right. I just wanted to keep you informed. It bothers me that she didn’t invite you.”

“I don’t feel left out.”

“You mean you don’t mind being left out.”

Gaspar acknowledged him with a nod.

“Any relevant history?” Melchior asked.

“That’s difficult,” Gaspar said. “Lavos is a new entity to us. The closest comparison would probably be the discovery of the Sun Stone itself. Without it, we could never have pulled up the bones of the earth to make this place.” Gaspar motioned vaguely with his hand, but Melchior understood; he meant Zeal, as a whole. “But knowing that now is different than knowing it then. It wasn’t that one day we thought ‘Well, we can’t rise above the clouds, and that’s a shame,’ and the next day we realized we were wrong and tried it. Back then, we never would have considered the possibility. For a long time people didn’t realize there was anything above the clouds.

“So, too, here. We just used Lavos’s power to raise a new island, but that’s almost irrelevant. Adding one more island is quantitative, not qualitative. If you want a prediction, here’s one: Whatever true change Lavos brings, it’s going to be something we haven’t thought of yet. And it will be as drastic and unexpected now as living above the clouds or beneath the seas would have been, to the men and women who first unearthed the Sun Stone.”

“I wonder,” Melchior said, “If we could use Lavos to stop the winds entirely. Break up the clouds and let the sun shine through.”

“You’ve been thinking that for a while, I take it.” Gaspar said.

Melchior nodded.

“The Earthbound Ones would love us for it, at least. Right up until we all realized that without the clouds, we don’t have snow. Without snow there’s no fresh water. Without fresh water, we all die. For all our magic, we still can’t make water out of nothing.”

“Maybe. But the cloud cover hasn’t been there forever, has it?”

Gaspar frowned. “You have a point. There are prehistoric cave paintings on the surface that show the sun in the sky. I wonder…I wonder what they drank.”

“New project?”

“I think it just might be,” Gaspar said. “We know very little about what came before the eternal storm. I think I’ll try to fix that. Thanks, friend.”

“You’re welcome. Enjoy it.”

“You know I do.” The Guru of Time began to dig among one of his haphazard piles of books. “Now, let’s see…”


A year later, Melchior was called upon to seal the Sun Stone away, and he began to understand just what Gaspar meant, about things that one simply didn’t consider.

Here it has stood, he thought. For thousands of years, the power of the sun and the elements has borne our weight. Now it peters out, and we discard it.

And something about that felt wrong.

The Sun Palace’s architect had been lost to history; even Gaspar didn’t know who built it. But Belthasar had been using it for inspiration in the design of what was now dubbed the Ocean Palace. Melchior could see why. The building was beautifully made, a work of art. Zeal’s ancestors had worshiped the Sun Stone as a gift from the heavens, and they had built a fitting shrine for it.

That shrine would be closed today.

Janus, the Queen’s son, had been sent with him. Melchior knew a bit about why. Janus wasn’t happy about the Stone being closed away. His mother felt he had silly, sentimental ideas about it, and thought taking part in the sealing would banish them. Melchior doubted it. He didn’t think the boy was being silly, either.

“The wind is silent, here,” Janus said as they entered.

“Of course it is,” Melchior said. “The storm is far below us, and this place was built to keep the noise of the outside world away.”

“That’s not what I mean.” Janus’s tone was sour.

“Sorry,” Melchior said, and didn’t inquire further. He was always a bit cautious around the prince, mostly for fear of hurting him. The boy, though nearly ten, had never shown a speck of magic. Most among the Enlightened Ones began at six or seven, and their power could be sensed well before that. Janus was of royal blood, and the others of his line were as powerful as wizards came. It was puzzling, and to many, shameful.

Janus never seemed overly sensitive about it, but he was taciturn. He didn’t seem to like Melchior much either. Or anyone else. Melchior had never seen him speak warmly to anyone but his sister and his cat.

The Palace was empty save for the Sun Stone. The Stone was perfectly spherical, and held in a bowl-topped pedestal to keep it from rolling. The bowl was deep, and shaped such that the light from the Stone angled upwards. It reflected off the vaulted roof, which diffused the light perfectly across the inside of the palace. The effect was like daylight indoors. It heated the building, too. There were gated openings in the roof that opened in the summer to let the heat out, and closed in the winter to keep it in.

“Well,” Melchior said, “Let’s do what we came for, I suppose.”

“This is stupid,” Janus said. He thought a moment, then added: “And you’re stupid.”

“That’s rude, boy. But I think you might be right.”

There were two things that had to be done. The entrance had to be sealed shut. And a guardian of sorts had to be erected, an elemental, to guard the stone in case someone made it in. Both spells would be linked to the Sun Stone for power, so that they wouldn’t fail until the Stone itself failed. After that it wouldn’t matter. Zeal just didn’t seem to want anyone using what little was left of the Stone’s power against her. She had become, in Melchior’s opinion, quite paranoid.

“Want to have a look first?” Melchior suggested.

Janus blinked. “Can we?” he grinned. It was the closest thing to enthusiasm Melchior had ever seen from him. He wasn’t sure if it stemmed from the idea of looking at the Stone, or just breaking the rules.

“Sure, why don’t we?” Melchior said. “But if you look straight at it, it will blind you. Hold still while I spell your eyes.”

“Okay.”

Melchior did so for both of them, and the light surrounding them seemed to dim significantly. Melchior walked up and looked over the side of the pedestal’s bowl. He had done this before and suspected he would not have an opportunity again.

Despite its name, the Sun Stone wasn’t much like its namesake. It was a foot across, shaped like an orb, and entirely made of some kind of translucent black glass. It looked like a huge obsidian gem. The light it radiated made Melchior’s eyes hurt, even with magical protection. He glanced over at Janus. The boy stared at the Stone, mesmerized, and something about him looked wrong.

No. Felt wrong. The Stone’s magic echoed throughout the chamber. Melchior could feel it on his skin, sense its absorption and reflection from the walls.

Janus’s features stood out as sharply as anything else in its light. But magically…Melchior should have felt the Stone’s power, absorbed into Janus’s body, radiated back out, like it did with everything else. Instead…nothing.

Melchior, curious and disturbed, took a finger of magic and probed him directly. To an adult it would have been immensely rude; to a child it was barely acceptable.

Janus suddenly took his eyes off the Stone, alarmed. He whirled to face Melchior, shouted something incoherent, backpedaled, then tripped over his own feet and fell down. He lashed back at Melchior’s spell instinctively, cutting it off, but that just confirmed what Melchior had already discovered.

Janus wasn’t magically inert. Had he ever been? He was just hiding it. Janus was stronger than his mother, and his sister, and the Gurus. His talent was immense, but nobody had eyes to see it.

“Boy,” Melchior said, “what on earth have you been doing? How long has it been?”

“Nothing!” Janus said, the instinctive lie of a child who hasn’t yet learned to make his lies believable.

Melchior sighed, and sat down. Janus glared at him. Melchior just waited him out. People with secrets always, deep down, wanted to tell them. Children especially. He didn’t have long to wait.

“Last winter,” Janus said. “A little bit after the Mammon Machine finished and Mother went crazy. That’s your fault, you jerk.”

“And nobody knows?”

“Well, I guess you do,” Janus said sourly.

“Why did you hide it?”

“Because Mother is nuts!” Janus said, tears held back in the corners of his eyes. “And she’s making Schala do all these things with the Machine, and that’s just making her more nuts, and sooner or later it’s going to take Schala too! And me!”

“You don’t want her ordering you to take Schala’s place.”

“I wouldn’t!”

“No, I guess you wouldn’t. But she’d try. And then…what?”

Janus really did start crying, then. “I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s what I’m afraid of.”

Melchior sighed. “I suppose I can’t really blame you. Well, I won’t tell her.”

“What am I supposed to do?” Janus blubbered.

Awkwardly, Melchior patted his shoulder. What did you tell a child who couldn’t trust his own blood?

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll make it better.”

It sounded stupid and didn’t help. But Janus did stop crying, after a while.

“I’ll come up with something,” Melchior said, and then had a thought. “Tell me. You’re almost never alone. Have you done anything with magic before?”

“Not really. Just hide it. I don’t know how to do anything. I tried to fix some of Alfador’s scratches when he got in a fight with another cat, but I couldn’t do it. I can see the future a little bit – like, if someone’s going to die, I can tell. But I can’t do it on purpose. Nothing I try to do on purpose works.”

“Want to help me with this?” Melchior gestured vaguely at the Stone.

“I don’t know how,” Janus repeated, miserably.

Nothing buoyed a talented person like using that talent well. It would help the boy’s mood, and it would be good for him to learn something anyway. Melchior thought for a moment, and decided that he would make the Palace guardian out of fire. It suited a place consecrated to something that burned like the sun.

“Just follow along with me,” Melchior said. “And do what I do.”

When they were done, Melchior observed as Janus reformed his magical cloak. It was a sink, of sorts. Magical emanations touched him, were drawn in, and dissipated silently.

Melchior’s interest was professional curiosity; nothing more. But the dream that would one day be called the Masamune was given form by Janus’s strange power.


“You’re not seriously going down alone,” Melchior said.

“Sure I am,” Belthasar said, grinning. “I want to be the first to walk on the bottom of the ocean.”

“What if, what if, and what if,” Melchior said, his tone wry. It was a regular joke, and he didn’t need to fill in the predicates; Belthasar never listened to What Ifs.

They were on the bridge of the Blackbird, flying towards the rising sun. They both adjusted their weight as it banked into a wide turn.

“We’re about there, looks like,” Belthasar said. “Anyway, yes, of course I’m doing it myself.”

“One of these days, ‘something new’ is going to get you killed.”

“It’s not like someone else wouldn’t have to run the same risk,” Belthasar pointed out.

If someone else dies, the project doesn’t die with them, Melchior thought in response, but it was pointless to voice it. Belthasar loved adventure; he would not be persuaded.

The Ocean Palace was six months behind schedule; only now were they sinking the Skyway room. The geology and geography of the ocean floor were inhospitable. It had taken longer than expected to design and spell a container that could withstand ocean pressures. Melchior’s metal-strengthening had taken longer than expected.

On purpose.

It was a secret he hadn’t even told the other Gurus: He no longer trusted that his creation would do good, and the more Queen Zeal’s fury at the delays mounted, the more his concerns seemed confirmed. Melchior didn’t know what to do about it, so he worked slowly. The more he could delay things, the more time he had to work out the correct action. There had to be a way to retain the Machine’s power, restore the Queen’s proper dignity (he did not use the word “sanity”, even in his thoughts), and withdraw from Lavos’s influence; for Melchior was now convinced that it was contact with Lavos itself that was the problem. The creature was in some way malevolent.

Perhaps he could modify the Machine to let its power through, but hold back anything else….

The Blackbird began to circle above Lavos. Nothing could be seen, of course. The clouds were beneath them, the sea beneath that, and miles of rock beyond separated them from Lavos. But they were in the right place. Belthasar had almost single-handedly invented navigation, just so that he could usefully employ a flying machine. He would not be mistaken now.

“Well, time to go be a crab,” Belthasar said. “I’ve been a bird already. Let’s try something new.”

He left the bridge, and he did not waste any time. Minutes later Melchior felt the Blackbird shudder and lift up as the Skyway container detached from its underbelly. It came into view off to starboard as they circled. Despite its size, it fell slowly. Belthasar, now inside the container, was holding it up with wind-magic. He was perfectly safe, for now.

After a while it disappeared below the clouds, and Melchior could see no more. He left the bridge and headed down to the makeshift Skyway room set up in the cargo hold. Once Belthasar reached the ocean floor and established himself, he would appear there. Melchior did not expect him for several hours. It may well take all day.

He found a surprise in the hold.

“Hey, old man Melchior! What are you up to?”

It was the Siblings. The two brothers, at least: Masa and Mune. They were curious creatures. They were not human, but stood upright, about five feet tall. They had pale, yellowish, hairless skin, and both their ears and their noses were long and pointed. They each wore a long white smock and a short scarf, and nothing else. They appeared to be twins, although they always referred to Masa as the elder brother. It was difficult to tell them apart, and so they wore the scarves in different colors; Masa in green, and Mune in blue.

The two of them were like kids, sometimes: irreverent and irrepressible. Melchior liked them, but they never took him seriously. He liked them because they never took him seriously.

It was Mune who had spoken. Melchior smiled at him. “Hello there, Mune. Are you the wind yet?” Wanting to become the wind was Mune’s personal obsession.

Mune grinned back at him. “Pretty close today, old man. I went and peeked out one of the hatches and nearly fell.”

Melchior laughed. “You haven’t changed, I see. I’m surprised to see the two of you here.”

“It’s all his fault,” Masa said. “He heard you were taking out the Blackbird and insisted on stowing away.”

“So what are we out here for, anyway?” Mune asked. “I felt Belty going down, but nobody’s screaming so I guess he’s all right.”

“He’s taking down the first piece of the Ocean Palace.” Melchior said. He kept his tone neutral.

“And you don’t like that.” That was Masa.

“Let’s just say I have my reservations.”

“So, what, he’s flying down in that big box that was hanging under this bird?” Mune asked.

“Yeah.”

“And he didn’t invite me?” Mune said, indignantly. “Doesn’t he like us anymore?”

“Maybe he didn’t want to listen to you blabber for hours while it sinks.”

“Hmph. I do not blabber.”

“True,” Masa said. “You blather. There’s a world of difference.”

“Can I throw him over the side, old man?”

“No. He might land on somebody.”

“So if he wouldn’t land on somebody, then I can throw him off? Aren’t we over the ocean right now?”

All three of them laughed. Melchior leaned up against the wall and sat down, crossing his legs. There were worse ways to spend time waiting than chatting with the Siblings. They were better company than the Queen’s retinue, that was for sure. Her dark moods appeared to be contagious; Dalton and his people were more abrasive, these days.

“How’s the Queen?” Mune asked suddenly. Melchior looked up. Mune’s eyes were as transparently innocent as always.

Instead of answering, Melchior asked: “Can you read my mind?”

“No. If I could read your mind, I wouldn’t have to ask. But I can guess real good, and you’re not happy.”

“She’s just awfully insistent on getting the Mammon Machine down near Lavos. She’s never been so…driven before. I don’t like it. She’s been odd ever since we started it up.”

“I never did like that thing,” Masa said. “You humans were never very good at handling power.”

“Hey,” Melchior objected, “we’ve done pretty well for ourselves, I think. Zeal is a wonderful place for all of us.”

“Not all of you,” Masa said darkly.

The Earthbound Ones. Of course he was right. Zeal was a land of clear lakes, green grasses, bright sunlight and marble cities. It was eudaimonic if you were born with the power of magic…and wholly out of reach if you were not. The Earthbound still lived on the surface. Their world was huge, but barren and cold. They could go anywhere, but had nowhere worth going.

“If Lavos and the Machine produce as much power as we hope,” Melchior said quietly, “we might be able to bring our life to the rest of the human race.”

Masa nodded in something close to approval. “You dream good dreams, old man.”

“Now you sound like your sister.”

“I got that one from her,” Masa admitted. “Just remember that not all dreams turn out well.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of. And the Queen’s behavior isn’t doing much to ease my worries.”

“So let’s throw her over the side!” Mune suddenly crowed. Melchior flinched and looked around. Hopefully no one heard that.

Masa didn’t rebuke his brother. “Perhaps Schala could step in, if her mother really isn’t well.”

Melchior sighed. “That makes sense but it wouldn’t work. Schala…well, she’s a good woman, if young. But her idea of responsibility is doing what her mother tells her. She may be royalty, but she serves.”

“Isn’t that a good trait in a ruler?”

“In a ruler, yes. In a leader, no.”

“And those aren’t always the same thing,” Masa finished the thought, grinning. “You’re too wise for me, old man.”

“Oh, stop making fun of me, I’m serious. Anyway, stepping in as a regent just isn’t something Schala would do, even if the possibility were handed to her.”

“What about you, old man? Do you serve?”

Melchior thought about it. “I suppose I do,” he said.

The brothers waited for more.

“For now,” he added.


Melchior’s office was effectively a greenhouse. Normal people kept their plants in pots filled with soil. The Guru of Life kept himself in something like a pot, and the rest of the room was lined with soil. A glass ceiling let the light in. Small bushes grew on each side of the door. The walls were lined with tightly-planted trees interspersed with rooted vegetables. Vines crept up and around what passed for his desk. The desk itself was a single piece of living wood, rooted in a pair of separated soil pots, its growth guided by magic to produce a surface as flat as any cut with steel. Similar magic kept the plants from starving each other or growing beyond their bounds. A few small animals explored among the plants. Another spell kept them from wandering outside uninvited. The end result was a room that looked like wild growth but was actually carefully managed.

Melchior sat at his desk, observing a small rodent. He murmured some soft words under his breath, extending a whisper of magic. It looked at him, its eyes heavy, and it lay down. Within moments its breathing slowed with sleep. Melchior positioned a looking glass over it and inspected. Complex spells embedded in the glass focused light and magnified images; it could also see through objects at a slight depth, so one could, say, inspect internal organs. Melchior had invented the device in his youth, to displace vivisection – which nauseated him – but that was not what he was using it for today. He was studying the structure of fur. Furred animals were rare in Zeal; most species from the surface couldn’t survive above the clouds without magical assistance. Too warm.

He took notes on parchment as he went, in plain ink. He could have spelled words on to the paper, but that would have diverted his attention; he could write by hand without thinking much about it. He worked steadily, patiently. The stuff was remarkably like human hair, which was not really all that surprising in retrospect.

When he was done the page was covered in notes. He nudged the creature gently with one finger, and it woke. It looked at him, snorted, and scampered back into his strange indoor garden.

“Thanks,” Melchior said.

He heard footsteps outside, and listened for a knock that didn’t come. The door swung open, and Queen Zeal stepped in. Schala was with her, a step back, and so was Dalton. They both looked irritated.

She always knocked before, Melchior thought. The thought stuck with him more than it really should have. What did she want?

“Melchior!” Zeal said, her voice high-pitched and angry, “what’s this I hear about you turning off the Mammon Machine?”

Oh. That.

“Maintenance,” he said. “Tomorrow in the early afternoon, when no one is scheduled to tap it. The flow of energy isn’t as smooth as I’d like; I think the work at the Ocean Palace is disrupting the connection. I need to make some adjustments.” His tone was carefully neutral.

Zeal frowned; he got the distinct impression she was looking for something to complain about. “Why do you need to turn it off for that?”

“It’s unsafe not to.” Simple. To the point.

“You should have discussed this with me!”

“You were busy when I noticed the problem. It didn’t seem necessary to wait.”

“Why is it a problem at all? Did you make a mistake when you built it?”

“Yes,” Melchior said mildly.

She blinked.

“The design did not account for the presence of unrelated, very strong magic located between Lavos and the Machine. In part that’s because the Ocean Palace wasn’t under consideration at that time. But it is still a condition that I should have taken into account. So, yes, I made a mistake, and I am fixing it. Gasper will assist me. I thought it best not to ask Belthasar, since he is otherwise occupied of late.”

“Mother,” Schala said from the door, “let Melchior do his work. He knows what he’s doing. We’ve done without the Mammon Machine all our lives. We can stand to lose it for a day.” Her face still betrayed irritation – behind her mother’s back, out of her sight – but she copied Melchior’s tone exactly. Not conciliatory or defensive; that would have invited argument. Just calm.

“Very well,” Zeal said. “Just see it done.”

She strode from the room. Schala glanced after her. It looked like she wanted to stay.

“Schala!” Zeal called behind her, not turning her head.

“I’m coming,” she said. She met Melchior’s eyes for a moment and silently mouthed “Sorry,” at him, then turned and followed the Queen.

Melchior went back to his work, but his heart wasn’t in it. Eventually he gave up and went looking for Gaspar. The Guru of Time was in his office, reading, as usual. Melchior sat and waited for the Guru to reach a good stopping point. Eventually Gaspar looked up.

“You look troubled,” he said.

“Did you mention tomorrow’s maintenance to the Queen?” Melchior asked.

“No. But I did let the staff know to expect us. Perhaps one of them passed it on. She certainly doesn’t seem very happy with us right now.”

“She came to see you, too?”

“She left just before you got here.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I told her I agreed with your assessment and that it is necessary. Both of which are true. She was angry.”

Melchior stood up and paced, feeling uncharacteristically restless. He started reading titles off the bookshelves, realized he didn’t remember any of them, then sat down.

“What are you reading?” he asked. The question was irrelevant and they both knew it.

Principles of Chronomancy. First century. Melchior, it bothers me too. I’ve just been too busy to do anything about it. She said something strange as she was leaving. You should probably know about it.”

“Oh?”

“She said ‘Hurry up. We can’t afford to wait for immortality.’”

Melchior bit his lip. “There’s a lot of people who believe Lavos’s power will bring immortality to the Enlightened. Her, too?”

“It seemed like it. She may be right, of course. Remember what I said, about dramatic, qualitative changes?”

“I do. But I don’t like it.”

“Really? I could do without death, all things considered.”

“That’s not what I meant. Do you believe the same?”

“I don’t ‘believe’ anything on the subject. It’s a possibility.”

“That’s the right way to look at. But she’s already acting based on that assumption. She never asked me about it. Or you. She’s taking it for truth, but hasn’t bothered to ask the experts – who are also supposed to be her personal advisors.”

“She’s hardly the first to believe what she wants to be true.”

“Sure, except…Queen Zeal? That’s out of character for her. It’s exactly the sort of assumption that she would check, before acting. And she always talks to us. Or did.”

Gaspar was silent for a while. Melchior shared the silence with him.

“You’ve worked all that out already, haven’t you?” Melchior asked eventually.

Gaspar smiled wryly at him. “Yes. I wanted your opinion but didn’t want it tainted by mine.”

“Fair enough. Maybe we’re being overly critical. She’s spent a lot more time with Belthasar than us recently; perhaps she’s talked to him about it. I’ll ask him. Maybe he’s figured out something we haven’t. Wouldn’t be the first time.”

“All right. I know I’ve been keeping to myself recently, but if you need anything, let me know.”

“Thanks.”


A nightmare. He was trapped in a frozen prison of magic, far away from anywhere, unable to move, unable to think. His consciousness was strangely split. One part of him was in stasis, sleeping dreamlessly. The other part of him was a dream-self, observing without interacting. He did not know where he was, but he knew how he had gotten there: He had been imprisoned. Cast out. Away from Zeal.

He had spoken out against the Queen’s plans for the Machine, but he had opposed her on such matters before. This time she hadn’t taken it well. Criticism was no longer welcome. Doubt was treachery. Lavos was all she cared about.

Zeal was no longer Zeal. Her mind was poison and she had cast him out for trying to save her. His work had somehow been discovered; that damned prophet knew everything.

Everything, what everything? What was this dream?

He had hidden the knife, at least. There was that. For some reason, they had been looking for a sword.

He still couldn’t move.

Melchior woke.

He was chilled, goosebumps making their presence known so strongly that it was painful. His breath came in gasps. In his waking he felt as if he still could not move, and was momentarily terrified.

The feeling went away. He sat up. Proper memory flooded back in.

He was in Enhasa, the City of Dreams. The project no longer needed him, not for now. He wanted to get away from the palace and have some time to think. Enhasa had a way about it. Something in the air triggered dreams – potent, vivid dreams that reliably stayed with you when you woke. Here, you could think clearly in a dream, sometimes. You could control it, make your imagination become reality for so long as you were asleep. Here, you could think clearly about dreams, all the time. Here, the window into your own soul was wide open.

His chambers at Enhasa were comfortable. The residents were relaxed and peaceful. Melchior liked it here. It was a good place to come and collect his thoughts.

“You dream bad dreams, great student of Life.”

Melchior didn’t let himself jump. “Good morning, Doreen. Your brothers say hello. Also, knock before you come in, please.”

“I did. And then I came in.”

Doreen had the same alien look and wore the same white smock as Masa and Mune. Visually, one could barely tell them apart.

“You have the look of one who has had a future-dream,” she said.

Melchior reflected. It happened sometimes, in this place.

“I was trapped, somewhere,” he said. “Imprisoned by the Queen.”

“I see. What are you doing to earn such a thing?”

Melchior looked sharply at her. “Nothing…yet. Have you been talking to your brothers about me?”

“Do I need to speak to them to know their thoughts?”

He sighed. He should have known better than to ask. “Fair enough. I have certain doubts about the Queen’s actions. I have not yet decided what to do about that. But there is a reasonable chance I will do something. So yes, it’s possible I might earn imprisonment one day.” He did not hesitate to share his thoughts with Doreen. The Siblings were all as discreet as any man might ever want. Masa and Mune delighted in secrets but never shared them. Doreen just never answered questions.

“She is not known for abusing her authority.”

“That’s true. She isn’t. I’m going to get dressed. Walk with me afterward.”

He dressed simply. As a Guru, he was a natural focus of others’ curiosity. There was no need to draw more attention than necessary.

Enhasa was one of the oldest cities of Zeal, and like most cities from the early era it was built as one large continuous structure. Gaspar had once told Melchior that the design was an anachronism, a holdover from the times when Zeal’s people still lived beneath the clouds. Down there, exposure to the elements could kill you. Men lived in caves and, if they built on the surface, built everything together under one roof. It minimized the need to go out in the wind and snow. When humanity founded Zeal, its people kept the mindset for a time, and with magic they made grand cities that were wholly indoors.

Melchior wanted privacy, and here that meant going outside. His chambers were not far from an exit, so they left Enhasa proper and went out into the fields. The grass was short and bright with life. To the north, a wide road connected Enhasa to other, smaller communities on this floating isle. To the south, less than a mile away, the island ended in a sheer drop. Far below, the endless sea of clouds churned.

Melchior and Doreen walked in that direction. The cloud sea that was so violent on the surface looked beautiful from up here. He wasn’t afraid of falling. A magical barrier at the edge of the cliff kept anyone from falling off, while leaving the view clear and unspoiled.

“All right,” he said at last. “The Mammon Machine. I built it; or at least, I designed it and led the construction. Now Queen Zeal is obsessed with it, and I don’t like that.”

Doreen grinned toothily at him. “You put your hand in a fire and wonder why you get burned. Are you as wise as these people claim you to be, Guru?”

“Maybe not.”

“What will you do?” she asked.

“Are there self-fulfilling future-dreams?” Melchior asked in return. Doreen knew more about dreams than anyone.

“Are you dreaming now?” she responded.

Then she vanished.

Drat. I should have known better than to ask her questions.

Melchior trudged along the cliff edge, thinking. If I wanted to stop or destroy the Mammon Machine, how would I do it?

It was just a hypothetical, but going by his nightmare, thinking it was treason. The thought itself was prompted by the same nightmare, of course. If Zeal would be willing to imprison him, she had changed so much as to be someone else entirely. If she had been malevolently altered by her contact with Lavos, then Melchior was perfectly justified in breaking that contact.

Hence the nightmare could create the conditions required to fulfill it.

But not the conditions that justify such an act, he mused. It just showed me what already is. Believing it doesn’t change anything about the real world.

If I wanted to break it…

There were two requirements. The Machine’s power, through its connection with Lavos, was self-sustaining; as long as the magic was flowing it would not stop however badly damaged. The first step, then, would be to sever that connection. The second was to permanently damage the Machine by shattering the stone at its heart. That stone was Melchior’s own work; no other had the skill to reproduce it.

He could do it, he thought, even under his own power. But not quickly. Not quickly enough. He would be noticed. Stopped. Arrested. Imprisoned.

He needed a better way to achieve the same goal. A sharper, more violent way than simply applying his own magic. Well, he wasn’t as familiar with history as Gaspar, but he knew a few things about the bad old days before Zeal. He knew about weapons.

Melchior was a smith at heart. He needed to make a weapon.

The dream that would one day be called the Masamune was dreamed in the fields of Enhasa.


He slept in Enhasa. He meditated in Kajar. He visited the Sun Palace, closed though it was. He watched the North Palace from a distance, where ancient weapons were kept, long unused, and wondered if there was anything within it he could use. A futile hope; it had been sealed for years, and he could not break that seal without it being known.

He traveled restlessly from place to place. Weeks passed. A month. Two months. Somewhere, miles away beneath the sea and ice, the Ocean Palace was taking shape. He only had so much time. But if his future-dream was any indication, he only had one chance to get this right, too.

These things, he needed:

A blade. Something to pierce the physical Machine. Something to reach its heart of stone and destroy it.

An explosive. Not a physical one, though Belthasar knew how to make such things. A magical one. Melchior had created the Mammon Machine with care, and the knowledge that it would have to withstand immense forces. But not sharp forces. He had designed it to handle a continuous flow. A sufficiently large burst of magic could stress it beyond its limits, breaking said flow.

A counterspell. The magic surrounding the Machine was considerable. It would resist penetration. Melchior himself could pierce it, but not quickly enough. It had to be weakened, neutered. Only then could the weapon do its work.

Melchior was a smith; he could make a blade. It did not need to be fancy. A long knife would do. His choices of substance were limited; it had to be made of something that could bear magic, most likely the same red rock he had used for the Machine’s heart.

For a counterspell, he thought he could make use of Janus’s magic sink. The boy had been inventive but not subtle; his spell didn’t truly hide his magic so much as tuck away any nearby power, diffuse it into the environment. Melchior was certain he could improve upon it. Rather than diffuse magic, the weapon would absorb and then nullify it.

He did not know how to create a sufficiently powerful explosion of magic, so as to shatter the Machine’s remaining shell and allow the blade to penetrate. That did not mean Melchior could not do it; merely that he had not worked it out yet.

He passed through Kajar while Gaspar was studying there. The Guru of Time had withdrawn even further from public life in recent days, leaving events to take their course. Melchior did not know what occupied him; he had troubles of his own. But troubles that he thought Gaspar might be able to help with.

Gaspar habitually warded his door shut when he was busy. The ward was very light, not really meant to keep anyone out. It was a courtesy of sorts; it meant “I’m occupied; please don’t enter without good cause.” Melchior waited outside, but the ward remained up. Eventually he decided he had shown enough patience. He canceled Gaspar’s ward and opened the door.

Gaspar was reading. He didn’t notice Melchior enter. Melchior eventually tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. Gaspar started, then turned his head. He blinked his eyes blearily.

“Um,” Melchior began, at a loss for words. He suddenly felt guilty for stepping in. “Are you all right, my friend?”

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Just…tired. I’m sorry, have you been waiting long?”

“Not really.” It had actually been well over an hour. “I was looking for some old books and thought you might be able to help me. But it can wait for tomorrow, I think. You look as if you haven’t slept in…well, far too long.”

“Yes, well, my own fault,” Gaspar said. “I’ve been cheating a bit, to get more hours in a day. What time is it?”

“Midafternoon.”

Gaspar nodded slowly, his exhaustion mixed with satisfaction. “I got up this morning as usual, but I had some work I wanted to get done today and I’ve been at it for nearly twenty hours.”

“No wonder you look like hell warmed over.”

“Yes, well. I must admit it didn’t occur to me that it would feel like twenty hours. On top of maintaining the spell that long. Well. Oh well. I suppose it is still useful. What can I do for you?”

“Well, you can sleep, for one thing,” Melchior said. “I wasn’t kidding, you look like you could kneel over any second. Go sleep. The other thing you can do for me is to point me to any books you have on the Northern Palace.”

Gaspar blinked. “That place is a museum. Oh. Of course. That’s why you need me. Um.” He scratched his head. “What exactly is it you want to know?”

“A catalogue of the contents, if possible.”

“Sure, I have that,” Gaspar said, and began looking through one of his voluminous bookcases. “I kept a copy when it was sealed last century. Superstitious nonsense, sealing it; it was a treasure trove of ancient knowledge, even if none of it has any use today. It’s not like anyone was going to pick up a pre-Zeal sword or axe or something and start using it. Same for the Sun Palace. No offense.”

“Actually, I agree with you. But what’s done is done.”

“I suppose. Ah, found it.” Gaspar pulled a particularly thick book off the shelf. It was quite old, but in good condition. Gaspar took good care of his various collections. “This one is just a list of everything that was in there. Is that enough?”

“Maybe.” Melchior had a sudden thought. “I found some old spellwork down on the surface that I think might be pre-Zeal. I’m studying it, and I’m mostly looking for information on how the early mages constructed their spells. But the only things we have from that age are the weapons in the Northern Palace, and I can’t just go look at those. So if you have something that’s more than just a list…say, that goes into detail on what we’ve discovered about the magic enchanting them…that would be helpful.”

It was a flat lie, of course, but Gaspar’s eyes lit up. He lived for that sort of work. “Sure.” He dug out two more books from the same shelf. One was titled First-Century Spellwork, the other Artifacts of the Northern Palace. “Try these. Spellwork is from the early third century and it’s the best reference I have for anything earlier. Artifacts is actually one of Belthasar’s books; he spent a few years studying there off and on, even after it was officially closed. Will you bring whatever you’ve found back here soon? Maybe I can help.”

“I might, but I’d rather not move them until I know what I’m dealing with. I’ll let you know what I find out, though.”

“Please do. Nobody’s found anything older than about the fifth century in quite a number of years.”

And that was that. He had Gaspar’s help, he had an excuse that would hold, and nobody liked to visit the surface except Melchior himself, so the lie was unlikely to be discovered. He would never have to cough up on his promise to share his discoveries, which was good because there were no discoveries to make. He just wanted a look at how magic weapons were made, from a time when they were still used. Now he had it.


“You have a determined look to you today, Melchior of Life,” Doreen said.

“Not a sad one?”

“That, too.”

They were walking among the fields of Enhasa again, months later. Melchior’s plan had taken shape. A knife hewn from Dreamstone. A magic sink developed based on Janus’s inverted shield. And…a form of magical attack. Melchior had not solved that yet. Nothing he could produce could strike hard enough, fast enough. Not to disrupt, in a few seconds, spellwork that he and his companion Gurus had spent years constructing.

He couldn’t do it.

But he thought he knew someone who could.

“You realize, of course, that I am contemplating treason,” Melchior said matter-of-factly. He did not hesitate to speak freely to Doreen. She shared nothing.

“I am not blind.”

“I need help.”

“I will not help you. Your dreams are your own.”

“I know. Actually, I was looking for your brothers. I know a few things, from watching you three. You have more power than any human mage I’ve ever known, but you don’t use it.”

“You think to study us.” She smiled. She did not sound surprised.

Melchior sighed. “How could I not? You three are a mystery of life. Are you offended?”

“No.”

“Do you think they’ll help me? Perhaps that’s a silly question. If I know them at all, of course they’ll help me. But I don’t know what you are. I don’t know what kind of risks they will be taking.”

Doreen stared at him, expressionless. Melchior waited; he was used to this sort of behavior from her. But after a while it seemed that she had never waited so long, nor had her face been quite so…imposing.

“If you believe you know them, then you are being foolish,” she said at last. Melchior was shocked to hear such blunt words from her, but she continued before he could speak: “Nevertheless, you are correct. They will do as you ask, if you ask it. As far as your concern for their well-being goes, it is unfounded. They will not die until the world dies, any more than the rocks or the wind or the seas can die.

“But know this, you who have seen them as well as any man who ever dreamed: If you would wield them, they will in turn wield you. As well grasp in your hand a force of nature. They may well accept binding for a time, but it will be on their terms, and may not be for your ends. You will be laying hands on a power you may understand but can never truly know. Treat that power with all the respect it calls for.”

Without so much as pausing, her customary smile returned. “What regard should those flies have for you, when they enter your open mouth?” she asked. And then, of course, she vanished.

Melchior closed his mouth, with some effort. It was perhaps the longest speech Doreen had ever spoken to him. He wondered if he might be mistaken in his course.

“And where are your brothers?” he asked the empty air. “I’ve been looking for them and can’t find them.”

“Behind you, old man.” Mune’s voice was soft. Melchior turned around. The twins faced him, sharing a single grin.

“You look for us, we wait for you,” Masa said.

“You don’t approve of the Queen’s dreams,” Mune said.

“We don’t, either.” Masa.

“Are you done serving, old man?” Mune asked, at last.

Melchior relaxed. “All right,” he said. “Here is what I need you to do.”


It was perhaps six months until the Mammon Machine would be transferred to Ocean Palace. Construction was nearly finished. The Queen was itching for it. Truth be told, everyone was itching for it. Magic took effort, but the flow of power that came from Lavos through the Machine only needed to be channeled. New islands were being torn from the ground to join Zeal’s floating archipelago, and work that once required hundreds of mages working together could now be done with mere dozens.

Melchior did not think he had been unjustified in hoping they could use it to stop the eternal storm. Maybe it could be. But he was quite sure that it wouldn’t be. Zeal – both the Queen and the People – dreamed of immortality. That was what they wanted. As dreams went it wasn’t a bad one, but it was a cold one. Immortality for them. At the expense of anyone, and anything, else.

Queen Zeal was not herself, and that was terrifying. Power was not the only thing being channeled by the Machine. The device the Gurus had built was not under their control. And the Thing on the far end…innocent? Cooperative? The Queen’s behavior suggested otherwise.

Dalton had long since taken over the last of the construction; Belthasar had turned to safely getting the Mammon Machine down to the sea floor. Gaspar had disappeared into his studies, no longer needed, no longer wanted.

Melchior, too, disappeared. It was time.

He readied his tools in a hidden smithy, in a cave near the Earthbound Village. As far from Zeal as he could get. He had his hammer. Anvil. Tongs. And that strange red rock, which men called Dreamstone, ready to be worked.

“We’re ready, old man,” Mune told him. He and his brother hovered in the corners of the room, watching intently. They would change today. Become something new. Something dangerous.

Melchior’s magic infused the room. Mune’s and Masa’s joined it, intensified it, all focused on the anvil and its charge. Melchior raised his hammer.

Brought it down.

Again.

Again.

Beneath the hammer of Melchior, the dream that would one day be called the Masamune was given life.