This is the first chapter of a novel I’ve since cancelled writing any more of. I intend to cannibalise parts of it for future Fels short stories. Put it to good use!
The entrance to the tomb was precisely how Ioja of the Octagon envisioned it. Years and years of augury, searching, divining…years more of fruitless and frustrating dead ends, stale leads and worthless clues. But there now, he stood on the cusp of fulfilling a lifetime of ambition. All the drudgery, the torment, the anguish and worst of all, the fear of failure: they were swept aside in this moment of triumph.
Ignoring the avid talk of the villagers, Ioja sat on a rock and stared in anticipation at the square polished basalt door. His azurite-blue eyes narrowed in triumph as they took in every inch of the featureless door. He steadied his breathing and willed his heart to slow down. For behind this nondescript slab of stone lay the ultimate prize to one of his kind.
The Triocular. The mythical eyeglass given to Alais Gera centuries ago by Cydain. The Triocular. Ioja mouthed the name silently, savouring it like a gourmand would savour the finest oysters.
With it, Ioja would gain mastery of all odylicism. All magic. All sorcery. Nothing arcane would be insurmountable. All mysteries of odylicism would be laid bare. For with the Triocular at hand, he could see into the Fabled Third World where all answers lay clear. It would be like wiping the world of a nefarious fog that kept one squinting and purblind.
Smiling to himself, Ioja rose and put a hand over the red jewel hanging at his neck. Its warmth inspired him further and he chuckled loudly, causing those behind him to quieten.
‘What do we do?’ asked one, a youthful fellow with stringy yellow hair. His ruddy round face stood out against the oceanic grey at his back. Ioja disinterestedly saw the wind had picked up and dark clouds were coming in swiftly. The weather mattered not to him as those of his ilk needed not travel through storm, lightning or rain. They took much higher roads. Still, he was a denizen of a warmer clime, and he hugged his fur-lined cloak closer.
‘What you are to do,’ he began, every word emphasised with a cut of his hand, ‘is use your augers and borers. I want holes at each corner like so. Nightfall comes quickly at this latitude and season, so work speedily. This door must be open before dark.’
‘The storm is coming,’ says another.
‘You must pay us more to work through storm and gloom,’ says yet another, a calculating gap-toothed grin on his face.
Ioja raised his chin slightly and a smile came to his face, a smile devoid of humour. ‘I promise you this much. You will leave this cliff-face alive.’
Ten men went silent. Already they had seen Ioja’s capabilities on the trek up to the cliffs from Kuvasuda. When one of their fellows haughtily challenged this mysterious stranger, he was greeted with a wave of the hand and then hideous death as his life was crushed out of him by some dire invisible agency. After that demonstration, the remainder had given Ioja no trouble.
Sullenly, the villagers went to work on the door. Ioja watched them, biting down on impatience. Then again, he thought, after all these years what is a few more minutes? Supernal power lay beyond and a future…he dared not to think about the future. Not while the present was so pressing.
He had devoted his life to the study of the arcane, forgoing leisure and ease in pursuit of the logical and puissant. Ioja of the Octagon, lord of the Attuned Wind, practitioner of the Field of Creation, a man of many masteries and subtleties, a fecund mind, a vast and active intelligence and an ambition that lacked limitations.
Born to unknown parents somewhere on the savanna of northern Forosth, he was reared as a foundling by priests of the Hermetic Society of Solace until he showed magical aptitude by bringing a ton of volcanic rock into existence above the head of his most revered teacher. Afterwards, he was given over to the Attuned Wind, who kept a fastness off the howling west coast of Forosth. There, mainly in solitude, he learned the intricacies of creation. His talent was overt from the start, and he rose rapidly through the stratified ranks of the Attuned Wind, going through each facet, from Point, to Line, to Triangular and so on until he succeeded the old Octagon.
Now he was arguably the most powerful practitioner of odylicism in the world, but that was not enough. Creation demanded new things. Novel ideas. To look at the past was anathema to those of the Field of Creation. Reminiscence was the enemy of innovation and innovation would flow like bounty from a cornucopia once he had possession of the Triocular.
Thinking this brought his inward-looking mind back to the present. The villagers had bored two holes along the top of the door and were inserting metal pins. One brought a chunk of basalt across to Ioja. ‘What’s this rock? It feels…’ The villager screwed up his pale face. His large ears jutted from the side of his head like two semaphores.
‘Feels like it’s not of this world, maybe?’ Ioja answered. ‘To the untrained eye – yours – it is basalt, formed in the fire of a volcano. That it is but no volcano on Fels created this stone. No sirrah, it is from beyond the Epirozethium, the ultimate barrier between this universe and that of the Fabled Third World. This rock was formed in the deeps of the Fabled Third World and none like it exists naturally on our world, or any other you can imagine.’
What he was not going to tell these simple folk from a forgotten corner of the Three Rivers was the door was proof against all magic. Material from the Fabled Third World could not be harmed, changed or manipulated in any odylic way. Like throwing a pebble at the ocean, it had no effect. Of course, this property made it prized to those who did not want interference or prying by the magically gifted. As Ioja reflected on it, there was an emperor’s ransom twenty times over in this door alone. And from what he knew of the tomb beyond, it was lined with the same rock…
But basalt is basalt, no matter what its origin, and it could be worked by the manual hand of man. Whatever its innate properties, it was not immune to chisel and auger. Now the workers had secured two pins in the bottom of the door. They fastened stout ropes to all four pins. At Ioja’s command, the ten braced themselves against an overhang and pulled mightily on the ropes. Ioja bared his teeth as the door grated and groaned in its frame.
‘Again!’ the magician roared, his voice drowning out the rumbling coming from the sky.
With taut faces, the villagers pulled and pulled. The door moved a fraction of an inch, and Ioja felt the first sweet taste of victory.
‘More effort!’ he screamed, his eyes blazing. He was mere moments away from the greatest triumph any mortal man had known in hundreds of years. ‘Pull, damn you all!’
With a sharp snap, the door cracked in the middle and collapsed in on itself, spraying dust everywhere. An inky black rectangle stood where the door once was, and cool ancient air wafted out to meet the turbulence of the open sky. Ioja raised his arms to the heavens and yelled in exultation. It was done! The Triocular was his. The greatest artefact that had ever existed was within his reach.
He took several deep breaths and let the cool touch of logic calm him. He tapped the crystal that surmounted his staff and it burst into white light. Like a conqueror in a new world, he confidently stepped across the sundered door, to go within the tomb of the world’s most revered man.
A tunnel led down ten feet to a simple round chamber lined with wrought slabs of otherworldly basalt. A squat stone coffin sat on a long metal catafalque. The room held nothing else. The walls were bare and the floor was unadorned basalt tiling.
‘Who is buried here?’ a villager asked, making a sacred sign.
Ioja turned to ten wondering faces. ‘I’ll tell you. Alais Gera. The Questioner Impeccable. The one who built the New City and brought peace to the nations of the Three Rivers. He who was favoured by the gods of Exa. The wielder of the Triocular.’ Touching the gem at his neck, he added, ‘and the consort and husband of Rolinna.’
‘This is the Questioner’s tomb?’ the villager with the big ears asked. He came up to the coffin and rapped it with his knuckles. ‘Ow!’ He stood back, sucking his hurt hand, a guilty expression on his crude face.
‘Fool!’ Ioja snapped. ‘I do not lie! Back to your compatriots before I forget my promise.’
While the villagers watched on spellbound, Ioja deftly removed the stone lid off the coffin, its falling reverberating ominously in the small tomb. Laughing, he lifted a brown and wizened thing out of the coffin: dusty bones and old tatters of once-fine clothing falling to the floor. With a contemptuous sneer, he cast down what was once the noble form of Alais Gera.
‘This, my peasants, is what I came for.’ He took an oblong golden box from the coffin and showed it to the disbelieving villagers. Opening it, he gently removed a pair of golden-rimmed pince-nez spectacles, the lenses shimmering with layers of unnatural colour. Several of the villagers gasped.
Ioja held the spectacles by the rims, admiring the sublime craftsmanship. There was awe at the knowledge no human crafted this – no human had the skill. This was an artefact of the divine, a device created by transcendent hands.
Tucking his staff under the crook of an arm, Ioja reverently placed the Triocular on the bridge of his nose. His research had told him the lenses merged into one large glass, enabling a view into the Fabled Third World, hence their name. Two lenses into one – three.
But all he saw was ten enthralled Kuvasuda villagers watching on, distorted into psychedelia by the coruscating colours.
Concentrating, Ioja willed the lenses to merge. Nothing. Confused, he removed them and peered closely. There was only one way they fit. Thinking he had overlooked something, he inspected the box but found nothing more.
‘Ah, I’m inside with this rock surrounding me,’ he said. Briskly, he walked out of the tomb into driving rain. Facing the west and the storm, he donned the Triocular. Nothing. With a word, he accessed the scytae, the magical current that flowed through the world, and obtained a minim of pearlescent fluid. Rubbing it between his fingers, he uttered an incantation.
Nothing. The lenses were as before.
Ioja removed the Triocular and frowned down at it. ‘Why?’ he asked brassily. He took the gem from his neck and held it before his face. Inside the bauble, an image of an aged woman sat on a chair, her hands on her lap. Her long grey hair limply hung down, hiding the melancholy of her face.
‘Rolinna,’ Ioja said sharply. ‘I demand your presence.’
The head turned up and two hollow eyes stared back at Ioja. ‘Speak,’ croaked a voice, seemingly coming from some cold place beyond the raging wind.
‘I have the Triocular.’
‘Then I will have peace.’
‘No. There is one barrier to supremacy. I wear it yet I cannot see. What remains to be done?’
The mouth on the lined face broke into what could have been a smile. ‘It was made for Alais Gera alone.’
‘You lie!’ Ioja hissed, his grip on the gem threatening to break it. ‘It existed long before he was spawned! I know this. Others have worn it in the past. Do not speak falsehoods or I will leave you next to the mouldered corpse of your beloved for all eternity.’
‘Then you must ask Cydain.’
Ioja suppressed the rage that was fomenting inside. With a measured voice, he said, ‘Teach me the summoning cant for Ge Diomala and I will grant you peace.’
‘You have the Triocular,’ Rolinna’s voice said. ‘You promised to free my spirit once you have it. You have it now…’
‘Ge Diomala’s cant and now!’
‘Why has the Attuned Wind fallen so low?’ asked Rolinna, ‘Why has the noble turned savage? The lofty now aspires for the abyss.’
‘Don’t bore me with your poesy. The summoning cant or I will leave you in yonder tomb where you will exist in tedium until the world falls to dust. It is your choice, Rolinna. Come, my patience wears thin.’
‘May Chon crush you in his fist,’ Rolinna cried. ‘May the winds of Cydain blow you to the Subterrane. May the demons of Hjoll tie your living bones in knots. Here…here is your cant.’ Rolinna spoke four sibilant words that made the hair on Ioja’s neck stand up.
Ioja replaced the gem around his neck, and went purposefully back into to the tomb. He stopped and spoke over his shoulder at the villagers. ‘Out, fools! If you place any stock in your sanity, you will not eavesdrop on what comes next. Or do eavesdrop. Your choice.’ Without waiting for responses, he crossed over to the coffin and the desecrated body. Taking a deep breath, he spoke the summoning cant.
There came a noise, like sails being torn apart in a hurricane, and the chamber was suffused in a dull blue glow. A manlike being appeared across from Ioja on the other side of the coffin. Seven feet tall it stood, and it was resplendent in its long crimson robe. Underneath that finery, there was a powerful and honed figure, gold of skin, heavy of muscle, noble of brow and grim of mouth. With one hand huge hand, it pushed snowy white hair out of its unearthly and beautiful face. ‘And who are you to call me so?’ it asked in a voice deep, clear and cultured.
‘I am Ioja of the Octagon, paragon of the Attuned Wind. I have a boon to ask you.’
‘A boon.’ The being chuckled. ‘I could do one of two things, Ioja of the Octagon. One: I could kill you outright. Two: I could simply leave.’
‘You would find me hard to kill, Ge Diomala,’ Ioja declared.
The being knitted its brows. ‘How do you know my name?’
‘I am well-studied. I know that for many years, Alais Gera held you captive after the fall of your fair city Nelucium. You, a mighty being of Exa, held in thrall by the cruelty of Alais Gera and his paramour Rolinna. Forced to do his bidding, a slave and a helot, a-’
Ge Diomala bellowed, cutting Ioja off. ‘So you know my history, Ioja of the Octagon. It displeases me to have that recounted. You say you are hard to kill? Let us see how hard.’
Unhurried, Ioja pointed downward. ‘What do you see here?’
‘A husk. A human husk.’
‘It is Alais Gera.’
Two glittering violet eyes widened in their sockets. Ge Diomala stepped around the coffin and glowered at the corpse on the floor. ‘And so it is,’ he said breathlessly.
‘The husk is yours. A souvenir, perhaps?’
Without taking his eyes off the body, Ge Diomala asked. ‘What is this boon?’
‘How may I wear and use the Triocular as if it were made for my purposes?’
‘You ask much,’ growled Ge Diomala. ‘But you have given me much. This human relic will be on display in my palace where my sylphs will dance and cavort about it. Now, how to tell you what you need to know without incurring the ire of the Three Who Walk. The Triocular needs to be re-attuned so it can meld with your persona.’ The golden face broke out into a smile. ‘You’re a clever man, so I will give you a riddle. Where the mountains encircle, dwells the ancient elegy in a misty land. A sad song for all time. Look for the boy who would woo the song’s pale keeper. The song sings of the realm where the creator of the Triocular once abided.’ The being pointed a long finger and Alais Gera’s bones vanished. ‘Such a smug and feckless man, he was.’ A swift glance at Ioja. ‘I can smell the taint of the undead here. What is it you have?’
‘I have Rolinna reborn, encased in this,’ Ioja said, showing the gem.
‘Ah, and how did you ensnare her, and not Alais Gera?’
Ioja, for his part, was not of a mind to retrace the long and arduous steps he took to raise Rolinna from her grave, some of which involved forays into various demonlands and dealing with unsavoury necromantic practitioners. ‘Alais Gera is a construct, and cannot be raised to undeath. He will stay bones.’ Ioja said.
‘Rolinna was a kindly soul,’ Ge Diomala said equably. ‘Though she was steadfast and refused my advances. I also cannot forgive her for being allied to Alais Gera. What will you do with her?’
Ioja plucked the gem out and stared down at it. ‘I will keep her for a while longer. She has been most useful.’
‘A fitting fate for one who blindly followed such a fool. Now you have your boon, Ioja of the Octagon. If you call me from Exa again, I will annihilate you, whether you believe you are hard to kill or not.’ And with that, Ge Diomala disappeared.
Ioja replaced the gem under his robe, but not before he heard a faint cry of despair.
After a few moments of thought, he walked out of the tomb into a darkening world where a storm blew violently and rain assaulted the grey stone of the cliff-face. The ten workers stood huddled under the overhang, resentment carved into their faces. Ioja came up to them, his lips etched into a pleasant smile. ‘I did promise you would leave this cliff-face alive.’ With a flourish he uttered a quiet enchantment. A broad area of rock in front of the cave crumbled into dust, sending ten screaming villagers plummeting down hundreds of feet to a certain and grisly death.