Sees the Past

An Agemonia story by Mike Pohjola

Drenosh Eight-Songs ran in fear. The Sunshine Legion was heavily armored in gilded scale mail so they moved slower, but there were so many of them, the undulating blades of their lances blue with blood, the blood of Drenosh’s family. The Houses of Eight-Songs and Four-Dawns had just been butchered in the halls of the Senate, leaving only Drenosh alive. For now.
Drenosh did not stop to look around the narrow side lanes and multi-layered piers of the harbor. The young ignisaur had sometimes come here to look at ships with Shodan when they were both younglings, but only a few times since then for business reasons. The streets were busy with sailors, merchants, beggars, slaves, and tourists of all peoples. Peoples who had no love for the Solar Temple or its armed wing, the Sunshine Legion. Perhaps Drenosh could simply vanish in the crowd?
Drenosh took a quick glance backwards, and sure enough, the Legion was coming. The Legion was led by heavily armored soladins. Behind them, riding a giant red salamander, was a priest in a golden mask which only left her gray horns and her red eyes visible. It was the very priestess that had led the attack in the Senate. She was the one responsible for the death of Drenosh’s family.
Drenosh vowed to kill the priestess, but right now, figuring out how to survive was the only goal. The crowd was mostly fellow ignisaurs, but with sporadic xi-noq slaves, korallian merchants, and nihteegri sailors. The chaotic bustle of the harbor should aid the escape, Drenosh hoped.
The gold-masked priestess ordered the Sunshine Legion to stop and disperse. The legionaries started mingling with the crowd and stopped any ignisaur they came upon. Eventually, they would find their way to Drenosh, who, wearing the family crest, was easy enough to recognize.
How could Drenosh buy or steal a change of clothes without attracting attention?
“Heaven protect, friend,” said a soft voice, suddenly. A nihteegri looked at Drenosh appraisingly with her feline eyes. “You should do something about those horns. You look like an ignisaur who’s trying not to draw attention to itself. In my experience that’s the best way to draw attention to yourself.”
Drenosh had no idea who this person was. She was dressed well enough, so clearly not a slave. She had inquisitive blue eyes, and a sarcastic smile accentuated by a small snout. Perhaps a cosmographer or a traveler? But why was she helping Drenosh?
Rather than wait for questions, she grabbed Drenosh by the arm and started heading towards the pier.
“This way. I assume you don’t want to stick around and explain it was all just a big misunderstanding?”
“Not really,” Drenosh replied.
“Then follow me,” the nihteegri said.
Still wrapped in the gray cape and left with no other choice, Drenosh followed her up a plank and onboard a raft. Not a frigate, galley, airship, or submarine, but a large mercantile raft with three tall masts, and decks below the sea level as well as above it. The raft was under the banner of Shiver Retreat. Many onboard were Amethyst Order merchants, clerks, and guards, but the sailors themselves seemed to be working for another company. The captain and most of the crew were korallian.
“We better make haste,” said the mysterious nihteegri to her Guild Master, an old korallian. The Guild Master looked at the harbor and saw the legion approaching the pier. The gold-masked priestess pointed straight at Drenosh and barked orders at the legionaries. The Guild Master raised his webbed palm to the ship captain, making a signal Drenosh did not recognize.
The captain whistled through her gills and the crew jumped to action. As the Sunshine Legion approached the pier, the ropes were untied, sails raised, and many Korallians in the water propelled the raft to movement with powerful kicks of their webbed feet.
“In the name of the Burning Sun, you are ordered to stop at once!” cried one of the legionaries at the pier.
“Sorry, soldier boys,” Drenosh’s nihteegri rescuer yelled back, “these sailors are from under the sea and the Sun has no authority there!”
A stupid thing to say as it only made the legionaries angrier. And there were plenty of Megeian boats in the harbor they could easily commandeer. In fishing boats and small junks, legionaries pursued the large raft, while others were preparing to board the ships of the Sunshine Fleet further off at the Solar Pier. They would never make it out of the harbor.
“Are you rich?”
“Are you rich?” the nihteegri repeated.
“I have some gold, yeah,” Drenosh replied.
“Have you any agura?”
“Only two crystals.”
“Are you willing to part with one of them to save your… I suppose you don’t really have a skin to save.” The woman smirked at her own joke. “To save your scales?”
“Sure, of course!” Reaching into a bag, Drenosh gave her one of the agura crystals.
“Captain,” the nihteegri yelled, and threw the crystal at the korallian. “Let’s pick up some speed, shall we?”
“Sounds like a good idea,” the captain mumbled through a flabby mouth. There was a metal tube protruding from the deck. She barked orders down it and then dropped the crystal in afterwards.
“Everyone, hold on to something!” the captain cried.
Some passengers sat down on benches or hugged masts, while others grabbed nearby ropes. Drenosh was not sure what was going to happen next except that the Sunshine Legion would board the raft at any moment. The nihteegri directed Drenosh to sit on a wooden log bench and tied a piece of rope around them.
The raft began to shake slightly. Drenosh could see a turquoise light emanating from under the sea, like lightning illuminating clouds, but beneath the water. Suddenly the raft started moving much faster even though there was no wind. In fact, the captain told the crew to strike the sails as they were slowing down the raft which was being propelled by some unseen force from below. Clearly this was the work of the agura crystal.
Looking backwards, Drenosh saw the Sunshine Legion getting smaller and smaller, fishing boats tumbling in the high waves sent by the fast-moving raft. Even the Megeian capital of Kruesol seemed small now, its pyramids, necropolises, and temples all visible at once. Having never been away from Megeia before, Drenosh wondered, “Is this the last time I’ll see home?”
Drenosh had grown up a scion of the proud house of Eight-Songs. Consisting of Megeian senators, priestesses, officers, and admirals, its members lived in a fabulously decorated pyramid in the best part of Kruesol.
Eight-Songs were closely allied with the Four-Dawns, a union cemented by multiple marriages, business partnerships, and common goals within the Senate. It was no wonder that Drenosh Eight-Songs’ best friend since childhood was Shodan Four-Dawns.
They shed their first skin almost at the same time and grew into vigorous younglings together. Playing games, learning to read and write several languages, coming to temple for the first time, they did everything together. Their scales had hardened and their horns had grown.
Adulthood approached quickly and, as with all ignisaurs, the third shedding of the skin is when the younglings must choose their sex. Men would then go on to become mathematicians, soldiers, sailors, healers, and officers. Women would become builders, artists, farmers, and priestesses. In theory, each ignisaur could make the choice for themselves, but in practice their families often had major stakes in whether a youngling would become a him or a her.
Their families had agreed that if Shodan and Drenosh chose different sexes, they would be married. The thought seemed alien to both as they were platonic friends, not lovers.
“It will change when you have your sex,” their parents had told them, smirking.
Shodan was always interested in religion and had expressed an interest in being a priestess of the Sun from a young age. If Shodan chose to become a she, then Drenosh should become a man, a military officer, perhaps.
However, the plan was complicated when Drenosh’s holy gift first appeared; the ability to channel fire. Not uncommon among ignisaurs, it was typically considered a woman’s gift. It was not unheard of for a man to have this power, but it was certainly unusual.
When the time of their third shedding was upon them, Shodan and Drenosh entered the Solar Temple together. The men of both families were standing on the right side, the women on the left. At the front waiting for them was the priestess. The old woman wore flowing red robes and a golden mask, which perfectly reflected the rays of the sun shining through the prisms in the temple roof. Her face shone in all the colors of the rainbow. Shodan approached first and stood in front of her.
The old priestess spoke with a frail voice. “Shodan Four-Dawns! Under the Burning Sun, in front of your family, and in honor of the Emperor, I ask you this: Which sex have you chosen?”
“I will become a woman,” said Shodan.
“Then shed your skin and a woman you shall be!” cried the priestess. Shodan turned towards the temple goers, ripped open her old skin, and stepped out, a woman. Her family members yelled in happiness and excitement. Drenosh could hear her father crying proudly.
“Drenosh Eight-Songs!” the priestess continued. “Under the Burning Sun, in front of your family, and in honor of the Emperor, I ask you this: Which sex have you chosen?”
“I have chosen neither sex,” said Drenosh. The crowd gasped at this strange proclamation.
“You better decide fast,” the old priestess said. The crowd laughed nervously.
“I have decided,” Drenosh said. “I wish to remain the way I am. Neither man nor woman.”
“Would you defy the Burning Sun, shame your family, and dishonor the Emperor?”
Drenosh kept speaking while the old scaly skin was falling from their body. “I would venerate the Burning Sun, serve my family, and honor the Emperor. Not as him nor her, but as them. As Drenosh Eight-Songs.”
There was no smiling or crying this time, only shocked silence as Drenosh walked down the aisle and out of the temple.
The sea voyage was long and blissfully uneventful. Drenosh had only limited experience with sailing and they marveled at the grace with which the korallians and other crew members climbed ropes, hoisted sails, swam around the raft, and deftly kept their balance during storms.
For someone accustomed to the warmth of Kruesol, the open sea was cold, even on the hotter days. And when the winds started blowing, Drenosh felt all the warmth dissipating from their scales and their muscles growing thicker and slower. No, sailing was not for them.
When the power of the agura waned, the ship had to use its sails to keep a steady pace, but it could never reach speeds even close to what the crystal offered. The journey lasted for weeks.
On the way, Drenosh got to know their nihteegri savior rather well. Her name was Astria and she was a collector working for the Amethyst Order. She had come to Kruesol on business to collect a debt from a Megeian senator. There had been some trouble and her pattangan bodyguard had been injured and was now recuperating in a Kruesol spa.
“Which is why,” Astria had explained, “I’m looking for someone big and strong to help me. And on that day the stars truly shone upon me since there you were!”
They had agreed Drenosh would be temporarily hired by the Amethyst Order and Astria would help them get settled in Copperton.
“Land ahead!” cried the korallian lookout from atop one of the masts. Sea birds and fishing boats had already alerted them of the approaching settlement. Astria took Drenosh to the fore and they could see the magnificent hillside domes of Copperton, the monorail leading to other cities on the continent, the airships hovering above the city, the towering construction works, and the ancient agura powered machines rising here and there from the sea.
The harbor was in a narrow valley. It was surrounded on all sides by hills covered in buildings. “The higher up you live, the more important you are,” Astria explained. “We’re going to the Amethyst Palace.”
“Is it high up?”
“Top of the world,” Astria grinned.
The ship reached the harbor and unemployed harbor trash ran to greet them. If Drenosh had thought the Kruesol harbor had all sorts, Copperton was something else. Stone men with agura crystals on their backs, antlered people with thick white fur, beaked quothians who were considered ill omens back home, and many more peoples seemed to consider the place home.
They were not immigrants or tourists or visitors, they were simply Coppertonians. Perhaps Drenosh would become one, too. He would be far from the only ignisaur in town. Some of the passengers immediately boarded smaller vessels taking them to various places along the shores of the valley, others took rickshaws or carriages, or started walking towards the monorail and airship stations. Boryot stevedores unloaded the ship of its cargo with their strong furry hands.
Astria instructed Drenosh to follow her to one of the carriages.
“Where to?” asked the driver, a fat pattangan who was dressed in a drab cape more like a nihteegri, or as Drenosh was starting to learn, a Coppertonian.
“The Chamber of Commerce,” Astria said.
The driver took a stick in one of his four hands and prodded the enormous black beetle he was sitting on. The beetle spread its wings and flew up. The chains keeping the carriage attached soon tightened, and Drenosh felt an odd tug as the metal carriage lifted up. Drenosh and Astria sat next to each other, being dragged by the beetle across town.
At first they looked down to see the bustle of the streets below them, but then they realized the air was just as busy, with carriages, airships, beetle-pulled rickshaws, and the domes of some very high buildings and other buildings in very high places. One tall tower seemed to be devoid of life or business, even though it stood at the highest point of the central hill.
“What’s that place?” asked Drenosh.
“Oh, it hasn’t been in use since stars know how long,” Astria said. “Every now and again they try to tear it down, but can’t. Worry not about it.”
“What do you mean they can’t?”
“Magic,” Astria said with mock theatricality. “Or something. People say that warlocks used to convene there.”
“I know not. People say a lot of crazy things nowadays. Only the stars know for sure.”
They were drawing near to what was clearly the Amethyst Palace. As big as the Senate or the Solar Temple back home, but with majestic domes and twisting spires. The palace was ornamented with amethyst mosaics and, even though it was daytime, lit with agura lights. An endless stream of butterflies flew from the palace windows into nearby buildings and back again. Many of the insects flew to a slightly smaller and much busier place, next to which vehicles of all sorts were constantly landing and taking off.
The Chamber of Commerce!
Having renounced both sexes, Drenosh was shunned by their family.
Shodan entered the Solar Academy to be educated as a priestess. That would be a good starting point for a career in the church, but also in politics, or as a merchant or a missionary. She was well on her way to becoming an influential woman and would often attend parties, ritual sacrifices, and premieres amongst the elite of Kruesol.
Meanwhile, there was no proper place for Drenosh in Megeian society. At home, they would eat with the children, and in public buildings they had to stand at the back. They would often be sent to deal with slaves, workers, and foreigners. Lower class ignisaurs found them strange, but were not in a position to make comments. The nihteegri slavers and korallian merchants could not tell one ignisaur sex from another, so Drenosh could take care of their house’s business deals with them. All of this was work not deemed worthy of highborn men or women.
Sometimes Drenosh tried to practice their holy gift, but while they could make fire appear, there was no one to teach them. It remained a way to entertain children or to frighten foreigners, but nothing more.
Shodan still kept in touch even though her years in the Academy drew them apart. They would see each other at family gatherings and sometimes at temple. She would tell them of her education and try to inspire them to become a woman. Drenosh would direct the conversation to other matters and talk about the agura machines that were powering themselves up after having lied dormant for ages. Or about the politics of the Senate, and rumors of foreign influence amongst some families, particularly the house of Three-Birds.
Years passed, and Shodan was ordained into the priesthood. Drenosh’s life stayed much the same. Both found themselves interested in politics, even if Drenosh could never become a senator.
The houses of Eight-Songs and Four-Dawns had been allies for generations and had never had an amicable relationship with the Three-Birds. With rumors of the Three-Birds working to advance foreign interests in the Senate, Drenosh and Shodan knew something would have to be done. Both spoke to their parents and to other elders of their houses, and together they organized a grand cabal, a secret meeting to discuss their actions.
It was agreed that after eight days, all grown members of both houses would come to the aisles of the Senate. There they would surprise and kill all the Three-Birds senators. A pact of secrecy was made and solemnly sworn to under the Burning Sun.
Soon they would cleanse the Senate!
Working for the Amethyst Order came easy to Drenosh. Most of the time they just had to stand next to Astria and look big. Sometimes the debtors were entrepreneurs down on their luck, begging for a little more credit, other times they were gamblers or drug addicts. Astria explained that the Order would not lend money to people if they did not think they would get it back with interest. But there was always a risk involved and if it were realized, the debt would be transferred to collectors such as Astria. If that wasn’t enough, Drenosh would hit them in the stomach once or twice. They had no moral problem with that; the debtors only had themselves to blame. Only once had they had to use their holy gift and just seeing the fire was enough to scare the debtor into paying.
Drenosh could see themself eventually becoming a collector, too, if they proved capable as a guard first.
Copperton had been built on top of a much older city, once home to the Ancients, the same people who had built the agura magicanisms many millennia ago. The streets of the old city had become the sewers of the new city, and attics had become cellars. But in the Belly, as the old underground city was called, many people still lived: the poor, the decrepit, escaped prisoners, addicts, revolutionaries, and some artists who felt more alive when mingling with those sorts of people. This was one of those times when Astria’s job took them down into the Belly.
The cellars and stores of the Chamber of Commerce wound down many stories until finally becoming the back doors of middle-class stores and houses. There was a whole underground network of tunnels inside the hills that led from house to house, serving the functions of sunlit streets in a Megeian city and eventually leading down to the Belly. Higher up, the tunnels were lit by agura powered lamps, lower down, by foul smelling oil lamps. Towards the Belly there were agura lights again, strange bluish flashes and radiations from agura machinery that was still working or, even stranger, had started working again. Astria told Drenosh many old machines had suddenly powered up, but nobody knew why.
They reached the Belly and were immediately surrounded by beggar children. The urchins tried to sell counterfeit agura crystals, cut their purse, or act as guides. None of which they wanted. Astria had an address and a map of sorts and they found their way to the Used Goods Emporium, something between a run-down shack and a cave. Next to the curtain that served as a door was a sign which promised: “See the wonders of the world! Spy on your neighbors! Reveal the truth of the powers that be! Price: 1 agura.” Drenosh pulled the curtain aside for Astria who walked in through the doorway, her long tail standing alert.
The room seemed less an emporium than a junkyard. No evidence of a truth of any kind was visible. An old ignisaur man was sitting by a makeshift desk.
“Heaven protect. Is your boss in?” Astria asked.
“Sun’s fire!” the old junk dealer cursed, staring at Drenosh, “are you a man or a woman?”
“None of your business,” Drenosh growled. The old man’s horns were blunt and his arms thin. The fire in his eyes had long since died. He was dressed in gray robes in the Coppertonian manner, but they were dirty. He posed no threat.
“Alright, alright,” the shopkeeper said and gestured towards another curtained doorway. “She’s in the back.”
They walked into the adjoining room. This one was dominated by a mirror covering the whole wall. But Drenosh did not see themself in the reflection. No, it was like the eye of an insect, showing a million images at the same time. Distorted and shrouded in mists, creatures were moving in the reflection, a nihteegri couple in a clearing in a dark forest, three xi-noq on a shore, several ignisaurs in the Megeian senate, and yet others in some underwater abode of the korallians. The mirror was disconcerting, like the all-seeing eye of the Sun, but tempting, as well. They could imagine themselves staring at it forever.
It took Drenosh a while to realize that in front of the mirror there was someone else staring at it, a nearly naked quothian with sad, molting feathers and a moldy, unfinished mushroom on a plate on a chair next to her. She simply stared at the mirror, bewitched.
“We’re here about the debt,” Astria said with uncertainty.
The quothian did not look away as she cawed her answer. “Go away.”
“No, I’m afraid we won’t,” Astria said more assuredly. This was a familiar reaction, something she often dealt with. “Look, miss, why don’t you look at me.”
She did not. “What do you want?”
“We loaned you twenty agura crystals. With interest, that’s twenty-four you need to pay us back.”
“Well I haven’t got it, do I?”
“Where did it go?”
“I used it to power this.”
“You used twenty crystals to see these dream images?”
“They’re no dreams, lady. They’re real.”
Drenosh could not help but look at the mirror from time to time. It was as if they could see into other people’s lives. The reflections kept changing, the places and the peoples always new. No, not always. Sometimes the same place and the same people would reappear, like this one, a beautiful white city with tall towers, inhabited by nihteegri. Just then they saw an ignisaur soldier with a familiar crest. The House of Four-Dawns, allies to their house, but surely dead just like the rest of their kind. Or were they? What if one of them was still alive in that strange city like Drenosh was alive here?
“What is that place?” Drenosh asked, but the reflection had already shifted.
“Focus, friend,” Astria said testily.
“That place,” Drenosh insisted. “A city of your people with white towers.”
“They’re all like that. The towers are observatories for cosmographers.”
“Starhaven, they call it,” the quothian debtor said, “The capital of the nihteegri’s Republic of Benem!”
“Those reflections, do they show me my hopes and dreams?”
“No, young one. They show the truth.”
“Is there a Four-Dawns alive in Starhaven?”
“If that’s what you saw, then that’s the truth,” replied the quothian.
Astria looked at Drenosh quizzically and then made up her mind. “Look, we’ll be back next week, but you better have the crystals by then,” she said weakly to the debtor. “Twenty-six this time.”
“Sure, sure,” the quothian said and turned back towards the mirror again.
Astria pulled Drenosh out of the Emporium and scolded them all the way back to the Chamber of Commerce. But Drenosh’s mind was somewhere else: A Four-Dawns alive! Perhaps there was still hope!
Everything was ready. All the women of the houses of Four-Dawns and Eight-Songs gathered in the left-hand aisle overlooking the senate hall, the men in the right-hand aisle. Drenosh had to wait in the lobby with guards, slaves, and children, since they could not enter either aisle.
They expected soldiers, senate guards, and household guards, but not so many Sunshine legionaries. That seemed unusual for the Senate as the Legion was mostly stationed in the religious quarter.
In the lobby, Drenosh saw senators walk in, climb the stairs, and then disappear inside the building. From pictures and blueprints, Drenosh knew they would enter the antechamber and then the Senate hall itself. The hall was rectangular, with the Emperor sitting high in one corner with members of the court. Opposite the Emperor would be the sandstone benches on which the senators sat. On a pedestal in the middle would be the holy orb representing the Burning Sun.
No one knew what metal it was made of or when it was made, but rumors said it was older than the Megeian Empire itself. The Supreme Priestess would touch the orb, an ignisaur slave would be sacrificed, and all would pray to the Burning Sun. Then the Emperor would open the session. And that’s when Four-Dawns and Eight-Songs men and women would assemble their smuggled crossbows and shoot all the Three-Birds’ senators.
Standing in the lobby, Drenosh could hear a commotion upstairs. It had begun. Guards were summoned and ran upstairs. Drenosh noticed the Sunshine Legion had left the lobby earlier. Why? Where had they gone? What was going on?
Suddenly Drenosh’s father ran down the stairs, his silver toga stained blue with blood. His blood! He tried to run to his child, but was caught by a legionary who pushed their lance into his back just as he was about to reach Drenosh. Their father fell to the floor, dead. Drenosh looked at the sight in horror and then at the murdering legionary. Drenosh could feel their inner fire burning, their eyes ablaze, and flames in their palms. The legionary turned to face them, but had no chance. Drenosh attacked the murderer, wrestled the lance from his hands, and beat him to death with two burning fists. Like all ignisaurs the legionary was immune to fire, but not to the terrible blows he received.
Eventually the legionary stopped struggling and fell lifeless to the floor. Only then did Drenosh let the flames dwindle to a flicker in their hands and die. Like their father had died. How could this have happened? Had the Three-Birds been alerted? What was going on? How can their father really be dead?
Then they saw the figure of the gold-masked young priestess descending the stairs into the lobby, followed by the Sunshine Legion and dozens and dozens of soldiers. The priestess pointed at Drenosh and barked, “That’s the last of them!” The legionaries ran towards Drenosh and Drenosh ran from the Senate.
In the days following the meeting with the strange quothian debtor, Drenosh was preoccupied with finding out more about the mysterious Four-Dawns in Starhaven. The Amethyst Order had vast records of all transactions and some of them were right there in the Chamber of Commerce, on the fourth floor.
Drenosh still did their duties with Astria, but their mind was not on them anymore. Any free time they had they spent on the fourth floor, or in the Amethyst Archive, an adjoining building only focused on record keeping. The Archive was an odd place which smelled of sweet flowers and dusty paper.
Carrier butterflies would come and go, delivering letters, manuscripts, contracts, deeds, parcels, and stocks within Copperton. Post from other cities was delivered on carriages straight from the airship and monorail stations. Archivists, bookkeepers, clerks, postal officers, copiers, and scribes of all peoples were busy with reading, writing, ordering, delivering, searching, and filing. They all wore white aprons, armbands, and, when necessary, bandannas to keep their hair, fins, or antennae from messing with the ink. Their aprons were constantly being smeared with red, blue, and black ink, and were washed daily.
In their gray cloak embroidered with purple, Drenosh stood out, but their Amethyst Order credentials and Astria’s friendship to some of the archivists allowed them some access to the filing cabinets. Eventually they found letters from Copperton directed to various Four-Dawns’ merchants in Starhaven. And, using these as a reference, they came upon letters and contracts written by those Starhaven merchants.
One of the contracts, an agreement on a business loan, was signed by Shodan Four-Dawns. Seeing their old friend’s signature made Drenosh feel a bittersweet nostalgia, the pain of losing a friend again fresh in their mind.
Then they saw the date: It was only a week old. The blue ink had barely dried. How was this possible? Was Shodan still alive and hiding in Starhaven? Had she also managed to escape the massacre in the Senate?
Shodan would have been standing in the women’s aisle. Did the gold-masked priestess decide to spare her life? Or had she made a miraculous escape like Drenosh? Or had Shodan simply not been there at the time? No, she had definitely been there, of that Drenosh was sure.
The happy news was accompanied by mystery. Before writing to their old friend in Starhaven, Drenosh had to find out how she had survived. Perhaps even their own kin was alive somewhere!
There was only one way to find out the truth.
Drenosh made their exit from the Amethyst Archive, entered the tunnels inside the hill, and descended down to the Belly. Avoiding beggars, peddlers, and thugs, they entered the Used Goods Emporium.
The old ignisaur looked at them, frightened.
“Sun be ever warm for you,” Drenosh greeted him.
“Look, I don’t have anything to do with this,” he said.
“Relax, I’m not here on business. Is she in?”
The old man nodded, fear still clear in the pink eyes set deep in his scaly skull.
In the mirror room, Drenosh found the old quothian. But the mirror was black, only reflecting a glimmer of a candle burning in the room.
“You’re back already?” croaked the quothian.
“Yes. Is the mirror broken?
“Not broken, but broke.”
“You mean I have to pay you?”
“Do you want to see the future? If you do, I can tell you your fortune without a mirror.”
“Do you take me for a superstitious fool?”
“So, it is the truth you’re looking for. You want to know what is happening somewhere else right now?”
“Can I see the past instead?”
“It’s no good dwelling in the past like the grandmothers of Heartwood. Let go of the past and look at the present. Today, not yesterday.”
“I’ll pay you double.”
“The past it is,” the quothian quickly agreed.
“How much?”
“Two agura crystals.” The seer held up two black-feathered fingers. An absurd price and one which Drenosh could not pay.
“I only have one,” they said. “I’ll give you some gold stars instead.”
“Why don’t you wipe my debt clean?”
“Come on! You owe the Order twenty-four crystals!”
“Twenty-six. Bring me all the copies of the contract and I’ll show you whatever you want.”
“Can you show me what happened in the Megeian Senate, fifty-three days ago?”
The corvine seer nodded.
Stealing the documents was easier than Drenosh had imagined, but they knew they could never return to the Order after this and that Astria and some of the archivists might get into trouble. But this was more important, Drenosh told themself. They must know the truth of what happened to their family.
The next day they returned with three copies of the contract showing that the old quothian, called Kalma, had borrowed the twenty agura crystals. Drenosh had packed all of their belongings, knowing they had no way of going back.
“Here are the papers,” Drenosh said. “Now show me.”
“The crystal first,” Kalma cawed shrewdly.
“No, we agreed that this would be enough.”
“I told you the mirror is broke. It won’t work without the crystal.”
“Sun’s fire,” Drenosh cursed in their mind. They knew they were being swindled, but they had no other choice.
Kalma slid the agura crystal into a receptacle by the mirror’s side. The crystal glowed pink for a moment and was then sucked inside the mirror’s frame. Soon a faint reflection appeared, divided into small clouds of mist, which then showed visions like those they had seen before.
“Can you direct them?” asked Drenosh.
“I can,” the quothian replied.
She picked up some old tree branches from the floor and stuck them into holes in the mirror frame. Clearly the mirror was meant to be used by the Ancients using their technology, but this makeshift steering mechanism also seemed to do the trick.
Kalma moved, rotated, and shook the sticks, making the reflections do her bidding. The vision of Starhaven appeared again, growing bigger until it filled the entire mirror. Nihteegri cosmographers walked the marbled white streets with their telescopes and scrolls, the sky blue behind them. The ignisaur was nowhere to be seen.
“Is this what you want to see?” Kalma asked.
“No. Take me to Megeia.”
“What is that?”
“It’s the ignisaur Empire. Where your business partner is from.”
“I see…”
The reflections changed in rapid progression until finally they showed the Senate in Kruesol. Not just the building, but the actual senators as well. The Senate was in session that very day. The Emperor sat in the middle, above all the rest, but below the holy fire. Behind the senators, men and women stood in their aisles with imperial guards on both sides. Amongst the senators, Drenosh recognized Shodan’s aunt, an old Four-Dawns priestess. Had she, too, survived?
“This is the place,” they told the seer. “Now show me what happened here earlier. Show me the massacre.”
The quothian said nothing, but did as she was bid. The senators sat up from their seats and walked backwards out of the hall, first slowly, then faster and faster. Soon the reflection was moving into the past too quickly for Drenosh to make out what was happening. Then it slowed down again, to show battle and blood and betrayal.
Drenosh could see the Senate chamber, with the old, fat, dried-up senators sitting on their benches. Above them, the aisles, men on one side, women on the other. Drenosh could see their parents there with the other Eight-Songs and all of the Four-Dawns.
There was Shodan next to Drenosh’s mother, giving her the handle of a crossbow. Another woman gave her the string, the lock, the trigger, and other parts, as she kept assembling it. Eventually, she had a fully working, loaded crossbow in her hands.
Drenosh’s mother made secret signs to other women and then nodded to her husband in the other aisle. He had his own crossbow assembled and he nodded back. Everything was ready. They were about to strike.
Many Sunshine legionaries were standing behind them in the aisles, where they absolutely should not have been, as the aisles were meant only for the nobility. Yet they were there, but there was no sign of the gold-masked priestess.
Why would the Sunshine Legion protect the Three-Birds so fiercely? And would Drenosh and Shodan really be the only survivors of their houses?
Drenosh, standing in the Emporium watching it all play out, stopped for a moment to wonder how they could see all this. There was no agura technology in the senate hall, but it was as if they were standing right in the middle, between the Emperor and the senators, looking at what was happening right in front of their eyes. Standing right where the holy orb was! Was it possible that the black sphere was some ancient device, created for spying? The worrying thought distracted Drenosh for a moment, but their attention was refocused when they saw their mother pointing a crossbow at one of the enemy senators. Everything seemed to be going as planned.
Drenosh watched as Shodan raised her arm and give a signal to the Sunshine Legion. A legionary pushed his wave-edged lance into Drenosh’s mother. Other legionaries simultaneously did the same to the other women of the House of Eight-Songs while all the Four-Dawns were left alive.
The same horrifying sight happened in the other aisle, with Drenosh’s father barely escaping. A legionary ran after him. They would both die soon after in the Senate lobby at Drenosh’s feet.
Drenosh looked back towards the image of Shodan as she put on a golden mask.
Betrayed! Drenosh could feel hot tears flowing from their red eyes and disappearing between the scales on their face.
Shodan had been their friend, but had turned her back on them. The entire house of Eight-Songs murdered by Shodan. No, not the entire house. There was still Drenosh left.
And Drenosh would stop at nothing to avenge the murders. Shodan had moved to Starhaven and would not expect Drenosh to find her there. But they would show her.
They had left the Emporium without even noticing, and exited the Belly somewhere near the bottom of Copperton. The harbor was not far.
Drenosh would board a ship, sail for Starhaven, kill Shodan, and every last member of the House of Four-Dawns.
That was their future.

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