K. Ryan, 2005
To be the Axe-Guard of the Clayr was a most grave and solemn responsibility. For almost seven years, Erimael had stood at the heart of the glacier to perform her task, slowly ageing and defending and—so she hoped—gaining the strength of the Sword-Guard; always the best in all things.
The two women spoke seldom, but Sword-Guard, adjusting how her pommel rested against her calloused hand, shining slightly with the Charter marks carefully wrought to give warmth and keep her fingers limber, smiled at Erimael then. Just briefly. They understood each other well.
Sanar and Ryelle, golden stars, white robe and jewelled hair-nets casting a thousand tiny reflections on the cragged walls of ice all around them, could be seen walking up towards the Entrance. The last and most powerful number of the Nine Day Watch—to close a full Fifteen-Sixty-Eight for, they hoped, the last time for at least another generation. The twins' hands were entwined so fast that their knuckles had whitened; the silhouette of their clothing, always so exquisite, drawn over-tight.
But their smile was warm and lovely as they approached the Guards, as it had always been.
"I See you, Voice of the Nine Day Watch." The formal words, the formal voice, rolled easily off Erimael's tongue. "You may pass." The Sword-Guard echoed her words, the ancient, impossible brightness of her weapon flaring higher still.
Sanar and Ryelle inclined their heads. They passed. All was as it should be.
"Let us See!
"Let us begin!"
Wands clashed together, Charter magic a warm, glimmering presence all around, redolent with the combined Sight of the amassed Clayr. There was a triumph in this: Orannis bound and split whilst the twinned Voice awoke—yes, awoke; there were subtle perfections everywhere—the fragmented visions of her sisters and made them into a fluid ribbon. Made them whole.
Kirrith was to be Centre tonight, standing between Sanar and Ryelle. Not for the first time, the other two had wished that it was they who could stand in that spot, and be the conduit for all, but they were Voice still, and there was no point in argument. Besides, it was appropriate that the Clayr's Guardian of the Young should see an Old kingdom's new future.
Handclasps broke and arms were upraised. Circle after circle had the pulsating, burning Charter twine through them, directing it forward and up toward the three.
"Look." Ryelle felt her wand change to bottle, and looked Kirrith full in the face. She felt more than saw Sanar's Charter pattern at her back.
"Learn," she said.
Liquid was thrown, ice was made. Firmly, Sanar tapped the translucent pane of ice above Kirrith wish her wand, watching as it turned the familiar warm blue.
When she tapped it again, the ice cracked.
Kirrith, sister of Arielle, screamed, pushed back with some invisible force, slamming against an Observatory wall. She Saw nothing.
The ice, split into two equal parts, fell between the Voice and into the place where Kirrith had been. Sanar and Ryelle stood frozen, faces blank, wand and bottle still upraised. Below them, the Watch could do nothing. Saw nothing. Were nothing.
The left fragment shattered, and the noise it made was not that of ice. Instead, it was the dull, tearing sound of flesh being slowly dragged apart.
Sanar crumpled, suddenly bending double and falling to the ground. Blood began to leak from her nose and ears. It seeped from her clenched hands, and across her chest, the whiteness of her robe became slowly red.
And Ryelle was screaming, eyes wide; bleeding from all the places herself, her sister, but still standing, eyes open, and she spoke. She shrieked.
"Perfection reached, the height of heights
Eight bare Witness, the Beginning of Sights.
All is done, done is all
Now there is only space to fall.
What is good now will only decline
Blurred now will become the line
Insidious wars of flesh and mind
Bring the Others of their kind
Relax not, change your Role
Else all that's Whole shall collapse to Hole.
New Ages kill the complacent."
Silence fell, and so did the Clayr. All of them, slipping to the ground until the concentric circles of women were a crushed, open flower of white petals, leaving only the children not yet Awoken bewildered and alone.
At the Entrance, Erimael was cradling the body of the Sword-Guard, lifeless in her arms before ever Seeing the young Clayr who would have become her successor.
Ryelle was the only Clayr left standing. Severed, alone, and blind. The Voice split and broken with her words.