‘Rana and Ayah’
A different kind of Churnbeast slithers between Idris and the book he seeks …
Adagio gazed into the mists. He knew well what lay at the center of the ruined city, for he had watched the Churn overtake the desert before; the earthquakes had crumbled the crystal peaks to the dust that mankind would later name The Shimmer. He had seen to the building of the Fabled Well himself, had set it in a place so hot and desolate that he’d thought it would be safe from civilization. And yet the people had come, drawn to its power. They had created beauty within the desert. He had dared to hope that the people’s ingenuity would triumph, and in the end he had been wrong.
Hope was such a silly thing. And yet he looked into the mists, hoping that the desert warrior would return.
“Adagio sent a man to take our work,” said one of the serpent sisters, and her eyes twitched over to a single book preserved under a glass case.
“Rana and Ayah,” Idris said, sliding his spear from his back, “The book of mechanical devices must be brought to civilization, so that the horror that has overcome you can be defeated.”
“Horror?” mocked Rana.
“Civilization is the horror,” crooned her sister.
“And if we are a horror, then so are you,” said Rana.
“The Churn is within you now, ” said Ayah, and they advanced together on him.
Idris felt the Churn streaming along with his blood, power and chaos pumping through his heart. Reflected in the visor, he saw his eyes glowing. The Churn was swallowing him… and he did not wish to resist. The Churn sang of evolution; it beckoned to him from the very center of the world. A Churnbeast sprouted within and begged to be born.
Shaking his head with violence to be rid of the evil song, he lunged for the glass case. The serpent shot forward, rising up between Idris and the book, hissing. The women reached for him with their clawed hands and fanged mouths opened wide, and Idris threw his bladed chakram, leaping away, twisting mid-air to land behind the beast. In his visor he saw the chakram returning and caught it behind his back while steel scales crashed to the ornate tiled floor.
Rana and Ayah screamed in rage and reared up again to strike; Idris threw the chakram again, set his gaze on the book and willed himself there. The chakram followed, slicing off one of Rana’s arms, which bled an unnatural green while she howled. The sisters whipped and coiled in their confusion. Idris did not pause; he rammed the butt end of his spear into the glass case and it shattered. The engineers attacked again, their powerful metal tail lashing with so much force that it crashed through a wall. Idris somersaulted aside with a fraction of a second to spare and landed under the women, so that Ayah’s spine loomed above him. He thrust upward with his spear and felt the engineer’s vertebrae separate and crack. Holding the spear inside her while she howled, he threw the chakram again and swung upward, using the spear as leverage, and watched the blade’s return flight through the visor as it sliced through Rana’s neck and crashed into the serpent’s eye.
The tail of the serpent thrashed without control. Idris scooped up the book and ran through the broken wall, leaped through one of the astrological rooms’ observatory windows and landed by the fountain.
For a moment he paused, wavering, hearing the song of the Churn thrum. It came from the Fabled Well at the center of the city. Stay, it whispered. You are home.
He focused the djinn in his mind as an anchor point, let all of the fumes out of his lungs, and returned.
The man who stumbled to the shimmering sand before Adagio was not the same man who had left. Adagio caught Idris into his arms and felt the wild thrum of the Churn inside his pulse. “Has it turned you?”
“I am myself,” whispered Idris, and closed his eyes. The book fell into the sand.
Adagio sighed. How annoying it was to care for humans. From his hands burst the gift of fire; it flooded into the dying man, radiating beneath his skin. “This will revive you, but not even I can draw the poison from your blood. The Churn will always call to you.”
Idris’ shining eyes opened and he grasped for the book in the sand. “But I have this. Now we can win.”
“Oh dear, no.” Adagio laughed, but then he met Idris’ steady, glowing gaze. His tone softened. “Your people are brave, but how will they engineer the devices in this book? With spears and goats and campfires? No; this book must go to those around the world who can use it. I suppose I can take you to the Technologists.”
Idris shook his head. He tried to sit up. “I will not leave my people to this horror.”
“There is no hope for your people without help from the rest of the world.” Beneath his hands, Adagio could feel the conflicting forces fighting for dominance: the gift of the seraphim and the curse of the Churn.
Idris clenched his fists. “I will go with you, then. But I swear I will return, with warriors and technology to fight this evil horde.”
“You are… almost impressive in your naivetè,” said Adagio. He drew up the reviving warrior into his arms, spread his great wings, and took flight.
To be continued …