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Authors: Rjurik Davidson

The Stars Askew

BOOK: The Stars Askew


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To the memory of Jolyon Campbell and Michael Arnold—taken too soon



If we roused the peoples and made the continents quake …

began to make everything anew with these dirty old stones,

these tired hands, and the meager souls that were left us,

it was not in order to haggle with you now,

sad revolution, our mother, our child, our flesh,

our decapitated dawn, our night with its stars askew.

—Victor Serge (1890–1947), “Confessions”




The cataclysm broke the world, but the death of Aya brought the age to a close.

The overseer, Panadus, roved from god to god, for he had lost his center, like a distraught child.

“What shall we do? Where shall we go?” Panadus asked. “This, our world, our utopia—gone.”

Few responded, for the cities had been smashed, the palaces thrown down, the pleasure gardens spoiled. The forests had burned, and mountains had been thrown into the sea.

Alerion stood aside, his haunted eyes darting to-and-fro. His anger was unabated, but his despair was yet greater.

In the end, the gods chose to leave. The Aediles begged them to stay and rebuild the world, but the gods would not hear them.

So Panadus led the gods away and they abandoned the world.

Only Alerion chose to stay. Bereft and alone, he traveled to Caeli-Amur to revisit the scene of his greatest triumph. Yet his will was gone. Without his greatest enemy, Aya, Alerion was broken.

As his vitality leeched from him, the Aediles caught the last of his strength and bound it into a prism. And so the last of the gods was gone.

And Aya laughed from the Other Side.

The Legend of Aya



A revolution is a festival of the oppressed. Caeli-Amur was alive with color and energy. Demonstrations coursed along the thoroughfares. Chants reverberated among the buildings. Everyone seemed involved in that carnivalesque atmosphere. In the crisscrossing alleyways, hardy washerwomen debated the new world; in the redbrick factories, committees discussed the conflict between the vigilants and the moderates; on street corners, avant-garde theater acts performed bizarre agitprop. At the university, students held endless parties, breaking into orgies or fisticuffs before returning to their dwindling stocks of flower-liquors and their nasty Yensa fudge. Love affairs were begun; hearts were broken; new ways of living invented. Life itself seemed to have taken on a new intensity, and time itself expanded so that each moment seemed to last forever. And yet, everything was moving at such a pace!

In the grand Opera building's northern wing, the moderate leader Thom pressed a letter into Kata's hand, his eyes wild. Barrel-chested, his beard sprouting in all directions, the second-in-command of the moderate faction possessed an artist's sensibility. He was nowhere more at home than in the Quaedian Quarter's galleries and theaters. Kata had always liked his unrepressed romanticism, and he was popular with the citizens. His strengths were suited to the moment of liberation.

Now, in the Opera, Thom's passion seemed to have taken a dark turn. His eyes were those of a haunted man. “I was meant to meet Aceline here earlier but was held up. Take her this letter. Guard it though.” He turned his head, eyed Kata with a piercing sideways glance. “I must attend to something, something…”

As she slipped the letter into her jacket pocket, Kata felt a cold rush over her skin. Thom often acted extravagantly, but there was something different about this request, a desperation she had never noticed before.

Kata had become a go-between for various moderates. She spent most of her days scurrying up along the alleyways, across the white-topped cliffs, from Opera to factory to university. Most important, she carried letters between Thom and the moderate leader, the bone-white, childlike Aceline. It was a lowly role that suited her.

Thom grasped her arm, pulled her back. “Be careful.”

it?” asked Kata.

Thom adjusted the large bag that hung from his shoulder. A shadow crossed his face as he looked at it. “Go.”

Then Kata was on her way, through the corridors, past the stream of people, and out into the square, where Dexion waited for her. The minotaur was like an image from ancient times, standing against that background of the red sun setting over the ocean. For a moment the rays blinded her, and all she saw was a magnificent silhouette: a creature too large to be a man, its bull's head outlined against a ball of fire. Kata was mesmerized by his explosive energy, the scent of his spiced hide. The inky blackness of his eyes always captivated and frightened her, but occasionally his joyfulness would shine through and she would breathe again.

Small groups watched the immense creature carefully, turning away quickly if he glanced in their direction. An old man kneeled in supplication—many of the older citizens still worshipped the minotaurs. Even farther away, a group of young women watched Dexion in awe, yearning to approach him yet held back by fear. In the corners of the square, shadowy figures lurked, looking on from under dark hoods. Kata thought of the black market, of the demand for minotaur parts, of the sound of a saw cutting through horn and bone, of her own dark past.

“Aceline is at Marin's water palace,” she said.

Dexion's eyes gleamed. Still young for a minotaur, he was forever ready for new adventures, which pleased Kata no end, for the minotaur's exuberance helped bring her out of her bleak moods. He was a good, if unreliable, companion.

Together they charged along the streets, cutting across the unused tram tracks and over the tiny bridges that spanned the canals running between Market Square and the Northern Headland, where Caeli-Amur's famous water palaces and steam baths were built. A stench drifted over from piles of refuse banked up against the walls.

The sound of a protest march resounded in the streets ahead. First they heard chanting echoing between the buildings, drums setting the march's rhythm. “Down with the Houses, down with the hoarders! Bread! Bread! Bread!” The protest turned a corner onto the long and narrow Via Trasta. For Kata, such marches were a joy, for she found herself dissolved into them, at one with the other demonstrators and their passions, calling out spontaneous slogans, the energy surging into her from the seething mass. There was something intimate about a march, and for that reason they were frightening, too.

Yet there was an increasingly strident tone to the recent demonstrations and open-air meetings. The blockade by the remnants of the Houses was taking its toll. House Technis had been crushed, but Marin had withdrawn its ships to the Dyrian coast, and the House Arbor villas to the south were refusing to ship goods—corn, wheat, grapes, anything—to the city. Varenis had joined the blockade, and Caeli-Amur's machinery was slowly breaking down without the parts that would normally come from that great northern city. Now some of the marches bordered on riots; there was always some desperate cause, some grievance to be heard. A dark presence lurked in the free air.

Now the crowd pressed up against the walls of Via Trasta and reached a boarded-up bakery, where it milled around, engaged in conversation with lots of gesturing, and then a couple of men came forward and began levering open the bakery's shutters. There was a crack of wood accompanied by splinters falling onto the ground.

A distressed-looking man burst from an alleyway between the buildings and rushed up to them. “Citizens! Please! There must be some kind of order!”

A woman in the crowd yelled back at him, “Hoarder!”

By the time the shutters had been broken open, Kata and Dexion were close to the doors. Several in the crowd glanced at the minotaur, alarmed, and for a moment Kata wondered whether she should intervene. But what would she do? This was no way to organize a city, but the citizens must be fed.

In any case, the tone of Thom's voice urged her on, so she pushed through the milling crowd, Dexion beside her.

A squad of black-uniformed vigilant guards rushed down the street. Kata glanced back as the guards reached the crowd and pushed their way through to the bakery.

The baker cried out, “Finally I—” but a second later one of the guards had the man's hands behind his back. He protested, “But I'm the owner!” The vigilant struck him anyway, and the baker slumped to his knees.

Kata pulled at Dexion. “Come on.”

Had it been just weeks since the seditionist movement had overthrown the three Houses? Events moved at a breathtaking pace. The Insurgent Assembly (though they had risen to power, they still called themselves seditionists—it seemed old habits die hard) was nominally in charge. Already it was divided. On one side, the cold Northerner Ejan led the vigilants, determined to use force against any resistance. On the other, Aceline and her moderates argued for freedom for all to express their opinions and take their own actions.

Kata aligned herself with the moderates. Like so many, the city's transformation had reshaped her, too. After the overthrow of the Houses, Kata had begun to learn about friendship. It was the moderate leader, Aceline, who had opened her to this strange and frightening possibility. Kata approached it like a cat entering a new room, ready to flee at the slightest danger, but Aceline sat patiently, allowing Kata to come to her at her own pace. Together they spent long evenings discussing the philosophy of the seditionist movement. They both felt that the movement itself should embody the kind of values they hoped to bring into being—a world of justice and freedom.

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