The art and architecture that has survived the Churn in the Halcyon Fold is connected to a forgotten past …
“Which have you chosen?”
Renae cast a wry smile at Tomasso’s familiar voice as she opened her studio’s courtyard gate. “You know I won’t tell.”
Two years before the ministerial elections, the colleges and wine bars of Aullerium were abuzz with speculation. There were a handful of high-born contenders but everyone knew the next minister would be one of the Claudii siblings, a querulous sister and brother whose political maneuverings delighted and disgusted the people in equal measure. Both had petitioned Renae, the silver-braided master sculptor, to create a statue that would inspire the people’s votes. It was rumored that they had offered her exorbitant sums that she had refused; her normal salary kept her hungry like she’d always said an artist must be. Still, she had hosted the siblings in her salon one at a time to take their measure in body and in spirit and had ushered them away without promises. The sculpture, she said, lived inside the marble, and all she could do was reveal it.
“I won’t tire of asking.” Tomasso’s arthritic knees cracked when he stood and he knuckled the small of his old back, but his eyes were as startling blue and free of guile as they’d been thirty years past when he’d first held their son Caius. He waited at the cobbled street’s edge while Renae locked the courtyard and patted the gate guard on the shoulder. “You used to tell me your secrets.”
“Secrets are best kept in stone. I am too old for political hysteria at any rate. I may die before anything comes of it.” She linked her arm through his and they walked in step down the street, escaping the afternoon heat under fruit tree branches heavy with pears, figs and pomegranates. Fresh-eyed students gathered by the doors and windows of the street’s tea houses to stare. Renae, in her man’s style trousers and boots, covered in marble dust, her fingers and palms calloused from axes, chisels, mallets, rasps and rifflers, was the the city’s most unwitting prized political pundit.
Tomasso shook a small cloth bag so that the insides rustled. “No need for riposo today. Let’s boil these and spend an afternoon together as we used to.”
Renae’s eyes widened; she grasped his wrist and pushed the bag away. “You wave your contraband around as if it won’t put our old bones in front of a magistrate.”
“It is a ridiculous sanction motivated by greed. Besides, you are my cover. Around you, I and my contraband are invisible.” To prove his point he waved the bag at a gaggle of students huddled in an art school doorway; they paid him no mind. “You see?”
She slid a key into the heavy door to her apartment and climbed the stairs; Tomasso followed. “You got them from The Watchers, I suppose,” she mused as she started a fire in the kitchen.
“I can hide nothing from you.” Tomasso moved through her home as though he lived there, bringing out cups, bread and oil. “You judge them too harshly. Their research is salient.”
“They are not scientists like you are; they are a cult, and cults skew their findings to suit their conspiracies.” Renae snatched the bag and loosened the drawstrings, and for a moment both of them paused to inhale the rare and bitter fragrance of the roasted beans.
“Their geological digs have revealed what I suspected is true. The well’s power has overflowed in the past. This place was once a jungle full of monsters, and it may be again.” His voice was grave. “I fear it is happening far quicker than I first suspected. The harvests have come weeks early, the crops far bigger than any in the library’s almanacs. There is geological proof of quakes and storms. Footprints… Renae, Cai and I are considering moving north, to join the people settling on the islands inside the obsidian crater. They are calling it Gythia; have you heard? We think you should come.”
He assumed from Renae’s silence that she was taking his news with the proper gravity, but when he looked over to the fire, he saw her shoulders shaking in quiet laughter. She hung the kettle and turned with her fists on her hips. “Of course, you and Cai have cooked up a downside for a bountiful and early harvest. He is so like you, seeing only plots and monsters in the stars.”
“The moon,” he corrected. “It is the placement of the planet along with the moon and sun. It is called syzygy. Is it so difficult to believe that the moon pulls at the well as it pulls at the tides?”
“Do not misunderstand me, my old friend.” Renae sat at her little table beside him, placed a palm on his knee. “Apocalypse has come and gone; it will come and go again. Like the tides do. And no amount of coffee will keep The Watchers awake when it happens.” She lifted his chin and smiled. “Logic dictates that if apocalypse is inevitable as that cult says, then nothing can be done for it. If it is not inevitable, it is not worth considering, and we should in either case drink prohibited coffee and make art and die as late as possible.”
“And kiss more,” crooned Tomasso.
Renae patted his shoulder. “No, darling. I used to fear old age, but now I find it is good to be past all of the kissing, and the wanting of kissing, and the worrying when there is no kissing. Now there is just art and naps and sometimes, an old friend surprises me with coffee and I feel like a little girl getting away with some misdemeanor.” She did kiss his cheek, though, and turned to the fire. “Mm, smell that bubbling? You are correct about one thing at least: it is a ridiculous sanction …”
A great jolting interrupted her, a movement of the floor that shoved Tomasso from his chair and upended the kettle over the fire. Renae grasped the table for balance and, after a beat, coughed out a nervous laugh. “And so we are punished for breaking the law with a quake. I could never get away with …”
But the ground shook again, and this time there came with it a deafening cracking sound from the wall and screams from the streets, and instead of a single jolt the floor rolled in waves. Tomasso scurried under the table and Renae covered her face with both arms when the window exploded into shards. The shaking lasted for ninety seconds that felt like half a lifetime, and when it had finished, her apartment wall had rent in half down the wall across the floor. She and Tomasso were separated by the fracture and for a terrified several moments they could only stare at one another.
“Cai,” gasped Tomasso.
“My sculpture,” whispered Renae, and in that moment, all of the old things that had torn them apart decades before flooded into Tomasso’s guileless blue eyes before they rushed down the broken stairs to the street.