‘It was his time to go,’ the Guildmaster said. ‘It was a good funeral.’
Perhaps, in the old days, scattered ashes would have painted sparkling diamonds across the Core. A glittering inward trail as the deceased was drawn into the galactic heart by powerful gravities. There to join with the majestic span, to last, to be held for uncounted years until the great stellar forges fell dark.
A ritual of wastefulness that would be repugnant to the Kin of today, where even voice and breath were carefully conserved in the ancient Spakeronde, council-chamber of the Hold. The ghost of debate had long faded. No echo of dissent remained. Only tired eyes, drawn faces, and the low hum of strained recyclers spooling down. The spirit had gone from them, atomised in the reclamation tanks as surely as the Stonespeaker’s body had been only hours before.
And now they looked to her.
It was too soon.
Every Kin knew their duty. They came to life in the skeins knowing, a brand on the helix of their DNA. Every Kin was proud to serve: their Hearth, their Forge, their Fane, their Crucible. Born proud. Built proud. None would shirk their duty any more than they could shed their skin.
And still, it was too soon.
‘I see your father when I look at you,’ the Guildmaster said, a sad smile cracking the weathered bronze of his aged features. ‘I see his back straight, returning from the Fane. ‘My kin,’ he would say, ‘I have glorious news.’ How it would gladden our hearts to know he carried the Ancestor’s wisdom.’
‘I know you will honour his legacy.’ A gentle squeeze of her arm. ‘We would not ask if our need was not great.’
The need was always great, these days. And if fear would not drive her—if honour would not, if legacy would not, if duty would not—then need would. A need to know what had taken her father. A need to know what he did behind the violet veil that separated Ancestor from Kin. A need to know the purpose of her birth. Needs, as they say, must.
She mounted the stairs, conscious of how well the threadbare robes fit, the alterations made while her father’s corpse still cooled. She drew back the Fane’s shroud, and what little conversation remained in the Spakenrode was silenced as it fell behind her.
The Ancestor’s domicile was something from a fantastic tale, something out of Old Historia when the Hold’s coffers overflowed and gold-threaded banners hung on every wall. When tribute and diplomats came in equal measure. When the Core had been home rather than bastion. What wealth remained was cloistered here at the Fane. Techno-marvels bartered for with the very marrow of the Hold. Great engines and devices served to power the Ancestor, to feed fuel to the deliberations that kept the Hold from final, ignoble ruin.
Within the tangle of mechanical artifice, the thrumming pipes and thigh-thick cabling shone a warm, violet light. More than merely physical: she saw it in the momentary darkness when her eyelids fluttered. A beacon that would not be occluded by something so simple as mere lack of sight. It rang like a bell in the back of her mind. It tolled to her need. It drew her on—a lighthouse to one so long lost at sea.
It was almost disappointing to be held back short of the ultimate goal—almost a relief. The heart should not be seen by untrained eyes—not even the Grimnyr would dare it. The connection was modulated by a simple console, age-old, half-hidden in the gilt of the Hold’s greatest treasures.
Here was where her father had lived and died. Hunched over a technological altar, divining wisdom like blood from stone.
What had the Ancestor said to him? What had he learned, here on bended knee?
She brought the console to life, clever fingers dancing on the keys. Strange that the communion between mortal and semi-divine should be so easy. Had it always thus to speak to the Ancestors? When had things changed? She would know. All the things she had ever wondered, they would be here. She had only to ask.
QUERY: COMMUNICATIONS LOG.
She scrolled the logs. Pages and pages, each date of activation, every time her father had come to the Fane. Every time the Hold had sought the Ancestor’s wisdom, and every action they had taken on obtaining it—the endless questions.
The endless silence.
The Votann was degenerated, dead. It had been so for centuries—perhaps longer. She could not bear to look. Her eyes would not leave her father’s pleas, prayers, and threats. The syntax of his begging. The fading of his hope. He had not so much as activated the console for the last dozen times he had entered the chamber. He had sought no guidance. He had gleaned no wisdom.
Yet each time, he had emerged smiling.
The Hold did not know how he had passed. She had discovered his body. She had raged at the time—it would have been easy to think that he had simply reached the end of his span. The skeins built imperfectly, on occasion. The poison he had swallowed would never have been detected, and he would have known the body would be reclaimed without examination. Particularly so if his daughter maintained the lie, and kept her silence.
That was her duty, as it had been his.
And every Kin knew their duty.
So she composed herself, gathered her robes, and swept the tears from her face. She waited the appropriate length of time.
And when she drew back the veil of the Fane and stepped out into the dim light to address the waiting Hearthspake, she was smiling.
‘My Kin,’ the new Stonespeaker said, in a voice that lifted every heart that heard it.
‘I have glorious news.’
About the Author
James is a long-suffering tech-priest from Hive Victoria, Australia. Between performing the Ritual of Cycled Power and adjusting for noospheric interference, he has found some small measure of peace in creative writing. Ave Omnissiah!