Razor Mountain — Chapter 22.1

Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.

God-Speaker paced between the rooms of his newly expanded home. He tried to focus, to appreciate the small details of each room and the sheer amount of clever engineering and human labor that went into the construction. Instead, he kept forgetting his inspection, catching himself standing in one room or another, eyes glazed. His mind was a buzzing hive of thoughts, distractions heaped upon distractions.

A hallway connected the rooms of his apartments in a long line. During the day, light was piped in from above. Now, as evening deepened, the faintly flickering natural gas lamps illuminated the rooms from hidden recesses. The walls were cut directly from the stone, smoothed and polished to reveal the natural strata and variations of the mountain. In some places, they were carved into delicate arabesques and geometric motifs. The floors were tessellated stone tile in every color that occurred within the mountain, stylized depictions of the local wildlife, perfectly interlocked.

At either end of the hallway was a balcony. One faced outward from the mountain, offering an unparalleled view of the surrounding landscape. The other looked inward, down on the perpetually growing city within the mountain itself. God-Speaker made his way to this inner balcony and looked down on the main street from the peak of the man-made cavern. His vantage point was only ten feet above the low rooftops, but it was still a marvel that this had all been solid stone only a few lifetimes ago.

He felt the rumbling in the distance as much as he heard it. The excavators would be working sixteen hour days until the latest expansion was done.

God-Speaker stretched, trying to straighten his stiff spine. His body was rapidly losing the suppleness of youth, and once again he felt the aches and pains of age creeping in. It was a familiar pattern, but no less irritating for it. In a few more years it would be time to finalize the replacement.

The sound of the entry doors unlocking came from down the hall. It was a the sound of stone mechanisms sliding and thunking into place, not loud, but designed to be audible from any room. Even with a key, nobody could enter without him knowing.

He left the balcony and walked to the entryway. A stone face was carved into the wall next to the doors. Its jaw hid a mechanism that could bar the doors from within. The doors were already open, and he could see beyond, to the winding staircase that led up from the caverns below.

Sky-Watcher stood in the doorway. She wore her long black hair in a loose braid that fell to her shoulder. Her eyes were such a dark brown that there was no discernible separation between the iris and pupil. Those eyes were wells of mysterious darkness in her otherwise expressive face.

“Are you going to let me in, or must I stand here while you admire me?” she asked.

He moved aside to let her in, but he continued to admire her. Her olive skin was freckled with deep brown moles. Her nose had a slight crookedness, where it had been broken when she was a child. But as she passed him, he saw an unfamiliar gauntness, her cheekbones more prominent than usual.

“Have you been eating well?” he asked.

She shrugged. “I sometimes have some trouble keeping the food down,” she said.

“Have the herbs helped at all?”

“They lessen the nausea a little. But you said yourself that they do not treat the problem itself.”

“No,” he said. “They do not. I have spent days consulting the voices of the mountain, and there is no natural remedy. There are things we could make, but…it would take machines. Skills and practice. Time we do not have. We won’t be able to do these things for many years.”

She sighed. “As you have said.”

“There is only one way,” he replied. “You need to hear the voices. You need to do what I do. Did you try again this morning? Did you feel anything more?”

She shook her head. “I hear what I have always heard. Faint murmurs, and nothing more.”

His brow creased. “You can’t be complacent. They are there, if only you can hear them.”

She shrugged again, irritatingly indifferent. “It is not my place to hear the voices, my love. It is your place. You speak to the spirits, and I watch the stars.”

“The oracles hear the voices too,” he said. “You can do this.”

“The oracles cannot do what you do,” she replied.

“It is different,” he said, “but not so different. My connection to the voices is clearer. I can know what they know and see what they have seen. I can cast my mind out in the current moment. I can touch other minds. The oracles cannot reach out to other minds. They can only find themselves. They send their minds back along the thread of time and find themselves. They can send back important messages. As long as I can send messages through the oracles, no disaster can befall us. We can send a warning back to ourselves.”

“But you’ve never sent a warning,” Sky-Watcher said.

“I will send one about your condition,” God-Speaker said. “Or rather, my future self already sent the message.”

She shook her head. “I still don’t understand. You say you sent the message because I died. But if we find a cure for me, that won’t happen. Things will be different. The message will be different.”

“I can still send the same message,” he replied.

“But things will be different. It won’t happen the way it happened before.”

He shrugged. “Even the voices don’t completely understand how it works. We cannot send messages forward, the way we can send them back. It may be that there are many threads of time.”

“Then there may be another God-Speaker out there who is alone.”

“Perhaps. But he has given me the opportunity to save you.”

“If I could do what you do.”

“I know you can,” he said. “I will help you.”

“Very well,” she said. “I have energy enough for one more try tonight. But you must promise me that afterward we will lay beneath the stars.”

“Of course.”

She turned and took his hand, leading him out to the staircase as the stone doors slid closed behind them. The path was long and winding, but the stairs themselves were shallow and punctuated by wide landings. Eventually they came to another, smaller door. After they passed through, this one closed seamlessly into the smooth wall behind them, almost perfectly hidden, and they came out into the mazes of hallways that ran among the living spaces on the outskirts of the larger caverns.

They walked briefly down the central avenue, passing stores and workshops. A few of his people passed and nodded respectfully or pressed a fist to their chests in salute. Then God-Speaker and Sky-Watcher entered another branching series of hallways, this time on the opposite side of the cavern. A concealed door at the back of this hallway opened onto a small room with a low, narrow exit into darkness.

There were no gas lights, no cleverly engineered mirrors to channel sunlight into the depths. This was a hidden path, and he wanted it dark. It was a sacred place, and the walk through the void seemed somehow appropriate. It was the way he had first come to this place.

There was no real danger. The floor of the path had long ago been smoothed, and the cracks and crevices filled in. With hands on both walls, one only needed to walk forward. The glow ahead was so faint at first that it was impossible to tell if it was even there. With each twist and turn, it intensified.

Finally, they came to the cylindrical chamber. The light was still weak, but somehow hit the back of his eyes with an uncomfortable intensity. It left streaks of blue in his vision when he blinked. The room seemed to rise endlessly above them, where the light faded into darkness before it could find a ceiling.

God-Speaker stepped into the chamber and turned as Sky-Watcher entered. She raised a hand to guard her eyes from the harsh light, but she tripped at the small lip at the threshold. God-Speaker jumped forward to catch her.

“I’m fine,” she muttered, but God-Speaker felt the way she sagged in his arms, the effort of standing up on her own feet again. Instead, he gently lowered her and himself to their knees.

“You are not fine. You’re getting worse.”

She sighed. “You said yourself that I would.”

“All the more reason to do this,” he said.

“Tell me again what I must do,” she said. “Lead me with your voice.”

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Author: Samuel Johnston

Professional software developer, unprofessional writer, and generally interested in almost everything.

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