Thick braided cords of light snaked from me to the thing on the table. Where a cord touched my left hand, something written on it, “Remember your name.”
I was not supposed to say it out loud in case someone was listening, or so the legend went. I thought it with all my heart, “My name is Vycta Franks.” The thread glowed brightly and flowed into me like water. This was death.
“What are you doing?” I whipped around, a small dagger of dim gold light in one hand and a buckler in another. I faced what looked like a petite woman in a white silk robe with a harness that seemed to be made of steel and beaten gold clasped about the chest.
Her features were hidden under a sleek helmet that obscured all of her face except the jaw.
We seemed to share a language, I replied, “I’m gathering up my things.”
“What things?” it asked.
“My power, my energy,” I said. “To get me through the transition from here to wherever I will go.”
“You,” the woman moved forward, stopping at the edge of what appeared to be a faint circle on the floor. “You should not do that. You are changing yourself.”
“I’ve been getting ready for this for a long time, ma’am,” I replied. “I got permission from God and everything.”
“Permission,” its incredulity was palpable “To practice sorcery?”
“Sorcery?” I snorted. “I stuck to Christian themed invocations: God, Jesus, angels. Outside of that, this is all my work, just meditation and pulling power and learning how to shape it. It’s not like it was easy or even encouraged.”
I stopped talking, suddenly giddy. I did it. I was dead. I didn’t fizz away or go to hell! I used the giddiness of the moment. I pulled in the stores of “faith” or “energy” I kept at home, stored and built up over decades of varying degrees of obsession with this very moment. They came from various points of my life and honestly, some of them I forgot, but in this moment, I remembered everything.
“Help me,” I prayed. “Help me make this work.”
“That is really only for when you are alive,” a voice responded, “but just this once.”
The woman’s voice went squeaky, “What? No?”
“We only determine the presence of faith,” the voice responded.
“And how it is used,” she replied.
“Only if he plans to go in,” the voice said. “And this one does not, but the faith cannot be denied. Bring him across when I say…”
Something touched me, “You have been faithful to the Lord but you have chosen a difficult path. Is this something you are sure of.”
“Then…” The power from all of my hidey holes and sources jerked into me. I felt my self swell, toughen and thicken. The final empty cable to my corpse fractured and snapped free.
The barrier fell. The woman stepped forward and pulled me through a thick, viscous membrane that seemed to go on forever. There was no tunnel of light. There was light everywhere, a dull abyssal glow suffused the “walls” of the bubble we traveled through. I tried to make out the edges, and I realized that It was less a bubble and more of a thinning around us.
The harness at the woman’s back’s had sprouted metal veins that cradled around us, emitting a barely visible bubble that sorta felt like faith, but there was something different about it and while we traveled I became uneasy. I did not want to go to Heaven, I wanted to be a wandering spirit, to see a world I could not afford to when I was alive.
I had gotten to the death part. I am at the remembering part. But I did not think the “hobo spirit” thing had worked out as I thought.
“Do not worry,” the woman said. “The vagabond life you so coveted shall be yours.”
The membrane thinned, and for a bit it felt as if we were flying through nothing and briefly I realized that I wasn’t breathing.
“Brace yourself,” she replied. The nothingness was violently replaced by hot dry air and below us was a plane of reddish-brown earth and the heat lessened as we passed into the vast shadow of what looked like a huge tower that stretched into the sky as far as I could see.
Something occurred to me, “Is that a…beanstalk?”
The woman tensed, “As in the nursery rhyme?”
“As in the orbital elevator,” I countered.
She replied,”Oh, well yes, yes it is.”
“Neat,” I said, demonstrating a complete lack of ability to comment.
I glimpsed a smattering of buildings shadowed at the base, but they were blocked from view by a massive segmented platform, the outer edges marked with platforms marked by bright, glowing concentric circles.
My guide banked gently and we circled the construct. Each platform had a wide plank that led to an area enclosed by a transparent carapace reminiscent of a nautilus shell.
We landed on one of the platforms, where we were met by a heavyset man of indeterminate age with black curly hair, a full, elaborately curled beard, clad in heavy white brocade robes trimmed with heavy gold braid, “This is he?”
“I did not stop and pick up another zealot if that is what you mean,” she replied.
“Zealot?” I asked.
The man quickly wrapped me in a hooded floor length robe of undyed wool. He covered my head and took out something that looked like a large book, but it opened to a featureless black surface. Pictures and text appeared, all of me at varying periods of life.
“He’s in here,” the man said just avoiding maniacal laughter. “He is in here! He never renounced his pledge in his church.”
“I told her that it wasn’t mutually exclusive,” I replied. “Hell, I was raised by people who did everything European ceremonial magicians or some Vodoun clerics did ritual wise, the invocations of powers were just different.”
“Who did you call on?” He asked.
“Yahweh and Jesus mostly,” I replied. “I did fall back on classical elemental notions but I refrained from summoning spirits. I built my own constructs.”
The woman replied with blistering fervency, “They must have considered you insane.”
I guffawed, “Hell yeah, if I had shared with people. I did not tell anyone. Besides, I would have scuttled my deal.”
“What deal?” The old man asked. He looked down, “Oh, that deal. As long as he did not deal with demons, or start his own cult or congregation, he was given freedom to explore his faith,” the old man replied. “He did not abjure his God or his Savior. He abjured the church.”
“One and the same,” she replied.
“Only if that is a tent pole of your belief,” he said.
“Then we put him in the sun and see what happens,” she replied.
“Nothing’s going to happen,” the old man said. “He’s been pulling power from here for decades. The only thing we have to do is…” he put his hand on my forehead and I suddenly could not move. My left hand clenched into a fist.
“This is going to hurt, young man,” he said, opening my right hand with his.
“What are you doing?” she shrieked.
“He may not want to come into the Principality now, but that may change,” he replied. “I am taking his sacrifice.”
She stepped forward, but he flipped open the book and began reading from it, “To come into Heaven in addition to faith one must sacrifice a small bit of it,” he intoned. “To give is to be part of us. Your gift becoming part of the very foundations of the city above us. Do you wish to give the minimum or the maximum?”
“Minimum!” I thought, since talking was beyond me.
“As expected,” he said spreading out my right hand and producing a thick, short sword that tapered into a narrow edge. For a moment I could see dim light pulsing in line with my body and I tried to pull it to me, hoping my hand would move with it.
Instead my hand went to sleep. And he chopped off the first joint of the index finger of my right hand. He wrapped it in cloth and removed my cloak, and he and the woman stepped back as the platform swung into direct sunlight.
Vitality flowed back into my hand, and the wound was already cauterized somehow. My hand came to life in time to feel something akin to Texas heat on my naked back. The pain of the cut lingered but the trauma seemed to stop there. No blood, no wound to get invaded by bacteria.
The heat became somewhat comfortable actually. I stood up and stared into the sky shielding my eyes with a hand, “Just like Summer” I thought…and then it began to hurt.
The sun’s rays soaked into my skin prickling like thousands of tiny probing needles. My hair sizzled away, only my eyebrows and lashes remained and after fifteen minutes, my skin became chalk-white and then darkened to a medium brown.
My penis began moving on its own, shuddering and changing, the glans sealing over the urethra while the shaft became rings of muscle that moved snake-like in the fear of my surprise.
The pain subsided and then the sun was only hot.
The woman took a step forward, but the man beckoned sharply for her to hold her place.
The sun moved off of the platform and they came forward, the woman staring at my crotch and handing me a robe.
“No hair and I guess it is a prehensile penis,” he said making a notification in the book. “That is an interesting mark.”
Penis schmenis, it was still there. I looked at the remains of my right index finger. “Why did you take my finger?”
“It was in the liturgy,” she replied. “Ascendants donate a piece themselves putting a piece of the Faith that built their heavenly bodies into the pranic cycles of the cities to keep them functioning without resorting to raiding parties and war.”
“Okay,” I nodded. “I think I’m in shock because I’m completely okay with this.”
“Subconscious choice really,” the old man replied. “We have varying degrees of ourselves here. You’re still completely human aside from your adaptations, just better. Everyone who ascends is human but ‘better.’ Let’s go to the elevator.”
“Wait a minute please Primate Dion ” Another harnessed, white-robed figure said landing on the pad. He was unequivocally male, taller than the woman who had brought me across.
The new arrival’s face was hidden behind a very Roman inspired helm, complete with crest. “Control says that you have taken the Foundation Sacrament from a new arrival.”
“Control is right,” Primate Dion responded. “He is written in the Book. Which is more than many of our recent entries attest to.”
“What is his name?” The new arrival asked, as the woman who brought me stepped out of the group to circle around.
“It has not been chosen,” Dion replied turning to me. “What do you wish to be called, boy?”
“That’s not…” my guide began…
“We are doing things the Old Way today,” the old man replied.
“Prelate Sivar has been notified,” the new robed figure replied.
“Hmph,” Dion sniffed, turning to me. “Then you better get your wits about you.” And he pushed me off the edge of the platform. It wasn’t as much a push as a sudden investiture of rearward momentum.
I windmilled in the air for a moment and then I felt firm ground beneath my palms and feet. My skin sang as faith welled up through my extremities forming small disks upon which I was suspended. I stopped falling.
Dion’s mocking theatricality echoed of the metal surfaces, “Praise be!”
I had flown before in my dreams. It wasn’t quite like this, awkward, stomach in my throat; I’d used these “disks” in my dreams.
“My faith is my sword,” the thought came to me. “My faith is my shield.” Those things I had made before…many many times.
“Is that what you are?” I thought. “My faith re-purposed?”
I hesitantly moved about. It was like trying to walk, but not engaging my legs directly. The disks moved and I went with them. After several awkward minutes, I executed a long arc back up to the platform repeatedly thinking “my Faith is my rock, my sword, my shield, my will and, apparently, my means of travel and protection.”
The new arrival was livid, “Damn it all Primate, A Zealot? You allowed a Zealot of all things to miss Orientation?”
I landed as Dion delivered his retort, “It would have bored, frustrated, and disillusioned him, Legionnaire Destine. Besides it is not as if he is planning to go into the city. He’s going ‘out there.’” Dion finished with a broad sweep of arm. “Besides, the acclimation he needs comes from the Rangers and I can get one of them to take him. In the City he would probably wind up in the Legion. Which is not a bad fate in heaven, mind you.”
“Then why did you make the decision yourself?” A handsome, dark-complected woman with black, wavy hair bound loosely with platinum netting and wearing a flowing white empire waist silk gown embroidered with a stylized golden chest harness replied, striding purposefully out towards the landing pad.
Once I was standing steadily, the planes on my hands had become something to play with. Swords, shields, tower shields, hammers, capes and other toys shaped into and out of existence, all of dim light.
The new person ranted, “This is a society! Everyone contributes to make a greater whole and sometimes sacrifices must be made!”
Primate Dion dropped to a knee and presented her with the silk wrapped finger, “Sacrifices have been made and with no regret Prelate Sivar.”
Sivar looked at me, the disk material on my right hand faded and I showed her the missing tip. Her lips pursed, “That was barbaric. In the city we could have excised flesh without openly maiming him.”
“You would have also forced a name on him,” Dion replied. “Now he can choose his own. How do you want to be called, boy?”
“Choose well,” yet another new voice added. Another man in a harness, integrated into a scorched and worn looking cuirass, dun-colored pants tucked into laced leather boots and boots and a Greek inspired helmet like the man who met us on the pad. Metal phalanges spread out from his metal back and gently glowing gold tinted light formed great bat like wings. “It’s going to be the name you are known by for eternity.”
Don’t tell anyone your real name, the thought repeated. “Yrek,” I replied.
“How Teutonic,” Sivar said dryly. “Given your background, I would have expected something…Biblical, North African, or Celtic.”
I smiled, “I will live with Yrek.”
“Definitely won’t guess his True Name from that,” Dion murmured.
“Well,” the new arrival drawled, “Would one of your divine eminences please tell me why I was summoned?”
“Legionnaire Ranger Paulo,” Primate Dion said gravely. “This is Yrek. If you are willing, he is to be your eromenos. Teach him to survive in the wastes beneath our Heaven.”
The collective gasp was as loud as a jet engine.
Sivar frowned, lips thinning to a line, “Dion, I think you have left your intelligence in your meditation chamber.”
With a surprisingly oily tone, Dion said, “I mean no disrespect Prelate, but this is the proper disposition of a Zealot who asked for this. He was born to this. Let him visit the Principality later at a proper time when he is comfortable in his state.
The two clerics, who were apparently so close in rank that they could not (or were too polite to) outright override each other, stood in silence. Finally Sivar said, “Let me see his Book.”
Dion handed it over to her. She opened it, light lit her face. “This is not all that impressive.”
“The Faith is there,” the Primate said. “He has sufficient Grace to exist in the sun without mutating into a monster or just dying. I think he will adjust better if there is a time of hardship and adventure before the more… sedate life of being parsed and settled in the city.”
“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “But why do I feel somewhat laissez-faire about this?”
“Shock,” the woman who brought me here said. “You just died. Things will be less dreamlike when you sleep and wake up.”
“We still sleep?”
“Oh yes,” the Prelate Sivar replied. “How else would those of us… who aren’t Primates… dream?”
I was about to say something else and she shushed me and said, “Legionnaire Paulos come here and read this passage. This is what worries me. If you can still agree then we will allow it until you deem him ready to function as a Ranger.”
The metal pinions folded in disappearing into the harness and Ranger Paulos hove down, touching the ground. She showed him the book adding, “Do not worry. It is a specific change he recently underwent that may sway you.”
I saw what was visible of his face and neck flush slightly and his hands balled and unfurled, a brief muffled conversation ensued and he turned to me. “You will be with me for seven years,” he replied. “I will teach you how to survive and make the most of the meager skills you drug with you across the Divide. We spend the night in the city, and the next day, Eternity begins.”
“Praise Be,” Primate Dion said piously.
“Shut up you meddling bastard,” Sivar growled. (by Hank Cannon)