THE BLIGHT OF COLEMAIGNE
“Everything has its own vortex,” said a deep male voice.
Whoever spoke must have been right at her back. Leodora glanced behind herself but saw only a great expanding gyre, a white-scorched tunnel stretching all the way back to the span of Colemaigne–to the hexagonal Dragon Bowl on which she stood... still stood, surely. Diverus and Soter must be there even now, and all of this a dream.
Someone else’s dream that had scooped her up and carried her off. “Wake up,” she said, but nothing changed, and she wondered if anyone could hear her.
She had no sense of motion; she hadn’t taken a single step, and yet the Dragon Bowl shrank until it was like a pinhole at the far end of the gyre, so she had to be moving, carried, transported... somewhere. She looked down at herself–at her legs stretched a thousand wyrths down the tunnel, as long as a full spiral’s length from one coiled end to the other, which was farther even than she had traveled with Soter from Bouyan to Colemaigne. She kicked her feet but they were so distant in this dream that she couldn’t see them, or her ankles. The view of her impossible legs fascinated her.
The disembodied voice spoke again, solemnly, beside her now. “The Traveler thro’ Eternity has passed that ﬁrst Vortex. She enters another.”
She glanced up, facing the source, but once again no one was there.
As if cooling, the tunnel surface lost its white-hot glow, and the duller orange light left in its wake revealed the walls of the structure: intricately linked geometric shapes in a state of constant ﬂux. She rushed along beside the bright geometries, diminutive satellites whirling in interlocked orbits. “I’m past the world,” she said.
“Thus is heaven a vortex passed already,” replied the voice.
“I must get back,” she told it.
“You haven’t been
anywhere yet,” the voice answered her.
“And where is it I’m going?” She thought she sounded remarkably calm.
The voice didn’t reply. Behind her now the tunnel appeared to have no end point, unspooling forever. Her legs, however, had come unstuck from the distortion and had returned to their proper proportions. At least I am myself again,
Slowly, a vinegary stink stole upon her, a foulness as of a few unwashed bodies that grew until it was like the stench of a crowd, as if a mob coated in ﬁlth pressed in against the glowing tunnel. Her eyes watered, it was so noisome. She put out a hand as though to repel the odor, and her palm penetrated the spinning geometries and brushed something solid, moving. Alive. Another’s hand tried to grasp at her ﬁngers, but she snatched them free of the greasy grip. This motion propelled her away from the stink and the unseen thing and through the tunnel wall of spinning stars and globes, triangles and trapezoids, which washed over her body without sensation, passed through her like ghosts–like the bizarre phantoms that had paraded with her across the span of Hyakiyako and toward the end of time, the end of everything.
It had never occurred to her before to wonder what the end of everything might look like, how different it might be from the inﬁnite bridge spirals of Shadowbridge. Perhaps that was where she was now, and this wasn’t a dream. Had she, perhaps, died?
Outside the tunnel, separated from it, she stood on solid ground and watched it twist snake-like, as if alive, away from her. The glow of its spinning geometries dimmed like a cooling ember, until it was a golden thread of beaded sparks that ﬁnally ﬂickered out, much like the red lamps on the black, silent ship that had passed hers on her way to Colemaigne and so terriﬁed Soter. She must remember to ask him about it, when she returned. Or woke up. Or... where exactly was she?
A thick fog swirled out of the blackness to enclose her. Beneath her bare feet lay an unseen and uneven ground of hard rough stones. It was cold, and she wished that before she’d started walking through Colemaigne she’d put on her boots or the sandals Tastion had given her back on Bouyan.
The putrid stench still hovered, near but less intense, blended as it was with an odor of food, of something meaty frying with onions. And distantly, or else close but mufﬂed by the fog, she heard a rhythmic knocking noise of something hard upon the stones, getting louder as she focused on it, a clop
-clop that drew her to it, louder and louder every second and behind it, beneath it, a growing roar. The noise swelled, almost on top of her. She raised a defensive hand as a monstrous dark shape erupted out of the fog, giving her not even time to scream as it bore down on her. In that instant something grabbed hold of the hood at her neck and yanked her to one side. The fog roiled where she’d been and a huge creature with a great snout and a black glass eye surged past her so closely that she could see the sheen of its coat. Behind it came a large black carriage with curtained windows and skinny, wiry wheels thundering over the rough ground. Animal and carriage swept by and were swallowed in the fog as quickly as they appeared.
“Do you want
to be squished?” asked the voice as Leodora’s hood was released.
She turned about. The ﬁgure stood behind her. He was tall, and the fog abstracted his features until they were smudges, like the features of the Coral Man that lay in her puppet case back on Colemaigne.
that thing?” she asked.
“Your demise if you don’t learn to get out of the way. Standing in the middle of the road is never a good idea. You can be knocked down from both
directions. As for what that was–surely you know.”
“A palanquin, yes, but what monster led it?”
“Oh, no monsters here. Then again, here
is itself monstrous to you. We’re quite the world apart.”
“This is Edgeworld, then?” Brieﬂy she glimpsed wet gray paving stones under her feet.
“I think it most unusual that you’ve transported here. That’s not how it’s done generally. Seems your gift wasn’t determined. I can’t recall the last time that happened...at least, not at our
particular terminus. Who can say what’s
gone on in Babylon? May-my, that could be a song title.”
She tried to steal nearer the speaker. “Do you write songs?”
“I’m thinking about taking it up. ‘Oh, what’s gone on in Babylon,’ late Enkidu inquired. ‘For I’ve been dead,’ is what he said, ‘and missed...’ Drat, I have no idea how to complete that rhyme.”
“I would offer to help, but I don’t know the story.”
it? How Enkidu died and the hero Gilgamesh went into the underworld and brought him back?”
She shook her head, then realized he probably couldn’t see the gesture any better than she could see him. “No,” she replied.
“Well, there’s a wonder. What are they teaching you in... where were you just now?”
“Oh. Never mind, then, they don’t teach anything there. Others build moments, minutes, hours. Not Colemaigne, not ever. Land of honey and surfeit.”
“What happened to it?”
“Hmm? Oh. Not surfeited anymore, is it? Blighted by Tophet, was Colemaigne. He, in the guise of Chaos, placed one hand upon the wall of a building, and from his imperishable ﬁngers spread the web of decay. Sum and substance cracked and spilled out bitterness, in shoals of torment.”
“Who is Tophet?”
“More like, what
is Tophet, if you’re going to ask. He’s done away with the who.
For Colemaigne, he was the Destroyer, come from the far side of the world seeking vengeance.”
“But he didn’t destroy all of it.”
“Yes, and lucky the span was, too. He became distracted. Else it would have been a silent place forever.”
“What distracted him?”
“Something. Something to do with you,
it was. Something to do with death.”
“Me?” She edged still nearer. “But it happened before I was born.”
“True. And false.”
She puzzled at that. “You
know, though, don’t you?” she said.
“Goes without saying, dear heart, goes without saying.”
“Then why can’t you explain it clearly?”
“Why? Because. It’s necessary for you to ﬁnd the answers to the larger puzzles of life yourself. They can’t be handed out, providing information that would change the pattern you have to walk. The maze. The labyrinth. It’s yours, I can’t go about altering its shape just as a courtesy.
Your mettle is to be tested and no one’s to interfere in that. Besides, you won’t remember a thing I say.”
As he spoke, gesturing with caped arms, she stole ever closer, and before he noticed she’d slipped up beside him. When he looked down, she saw him clearly.
It was Soter’s face.
“Taking a peek at eternity, are you?” he asked, amused.
“No, I’m not. This is a false body, an incrustation over my immortal spirit.” He winked. “For your
beneﬁt, I should add.”
From deeper in the fog came wailing, as if a chorus stood beyond the limit of her vision, responding to his words, ans...