ONCE, IN AETULLIA
Exclusive to Machivarius Point - here is an unpublished short story set on the world of Arddn.
Once, in Aetullia, a miniature green Cliffghul flew into the dayroom of Marrik Ban Portia’s retreat. The merchant was mesmerized by the iridescent blur of its tiny double-paired wings. The world warped around their beating, casting fragile tantric spheres, and thus the ghul seemed buoyed up on airborne foam.
Directly the elderly merchant burst into tears. For so long he had traded in fine Great Slothskin goods - Chandlery, straps for hauling, harnesses for the warghuls in the far west of the Empire, unwieldy robes for gentlemen of status, and shaggy cloaks for the Soul-less. But as a young man sailing out to the Isle of Orn from the frozen southern islets of Xoss, cast like lead jacks from the long fingery peninsulas of Rhux, Marrik had projected a quite different prospect upon his future.
In flitting panicked loops the Cliffghul threaded a weave of glittering etherwork about the cylindrical space before breaking its neck against a windowpane. Tears doubled their number, racing worms of moisture hugging the contours of the old man’s puffy cheeks, peppering his spruce and perfectly white beard in a salty dew. He sniffed back snot, hauled in broken breaths between lips that fluttered against long yellow teeth. His beard undulated and trembled like stroked fur along the spine of a Katten.
He cupped the fading warmth of the ghul in deeply creased palms, felt the prickle of the last paradoxical spheres snagging the reality of his flesh. The iridescent green faded until soon it was a dun and dusty brown, but the black globes of its eyes bulged fearful still with a promise of life that was merely an echo.
The metaphor was complete.
There was an amendment within him, years late in the coming. Marrik Ban Portia walked south out of Aetullia. He had an etherwork purse secreted in subtleties about his neck, a pouch of ockbread bitter-sweetened with Porthalia seed, a horn of butterwine. Clear of the town gates an acquaintance summoned him from a seated and cheery congregation outside The Ornisbach Inn, but in the waning light, having gained no riposte, he thereafter imaged himself in error.
Globes of ether had been the thing, the inspiration – it set his teeth in a fixed grin once, maniacal. He could feel those energies, the art Lazrus Machivarius used that brought dazzling light to Duhn in criss-cross beams that seemed to crudely join the stars, a child’s facimile of the Kiamus. That faded, repudiated and forgotten art was more to Marrik than words and essence, the dry obsolete babble of ill-informed tutors. In his mind he tied the spheres to the sea and registered in them an ebb akin to tides, a paranatural behaviour linked to the stars and the earth, and no doubt all things. He found he could draw variations from the hot bubbling mud-spars of the Rhuxish mainland, yellowish and sulphurous and possessed of an explosive quality. He could raise them, without the formal mapping, from hot springs, and draw them down from storms with whispers he barely understood, channelled instinctively through rocks, wind and long southern night light.
But his parents were unimaginative and hankered after comfort – scant enough on the isles, but acquired with ruthless barter and a generational reputation for cruelty. Marrik would of course appreciate this soon enough, and the memory of his beatings would always be there to reinforce that. The Ban Portias had forged their own trade routes across the continent and the Isles of Gan, Orn, Ork and the isolated far eastern crescent kingdom of Khuul. They had built roads with their fortune, manned these with permanent contingents of Soul-Less Ornish mercenaries. They stood alone, untouched by the wars and politics of their world, too dangerous, too far spread, too bent to revenge, and too cruel to tame. They were merchant kings with might to rival the Emperor it was said.
It took the boy two years to formulate and make good his escape.
He headed to Tantrix-Alumnae, intent on learning. But none of the wealth he bore could steal him a place in the college there, and his acquired identity was soon under suspicion. It was not long before Marrik found he had to flee the city that had called so long to him across iron oceans on toothed winds. So too, he found, the arts he cherished were now feared and shunned, warloquery drawing persecution about itself - the paranatural a carcus, rotting and flyblown.
But he was a Ban Portia, and he knew how to trade.
In the forest that lies south of Aetullia a small spring wells. Here, lit by a full and waxy moon, Marrik drew a tantric sphere barely larger than an eyeball and wept anew for paths un-walked.