Lore:Achilles Weaves a Cocoon
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He comes to Europa almost the size of an Archon priest, but hollow. He needs Ether. If touched, he fears he will crumble into nothing. His arms will dock themselves, his skin will shed. He has nothing except his armor and the thousand-year-old loom clutched in his four arms.
They mockingly name him "Namrask," which means "empty weaver." Like naming a Human "Norman," which, he understands, means "not really Human."
Eramis separates all the newcomers so they will not retain their old pre-Dusk loyalties. Namrask is shoved into a little warren carved beneath the ice; the moon's surface is so radioactive that not even Eliksni can live there for long.
The little Winterdrekhs are kind to him. Namrask realizes that they think he is too weak to earn the huge Ether ration he needs. He has been put in this warren to die.
"I can work," he rasps. "I can make bandages, capes, armor lining, eggcloth, supsoak, prayer matting, watercloth. I am a weaver!"
"Tall friend," one of the Winterdrekhs says soberly. "No one your size is a weaver. Why not volunteer to fight for Eramis?"
"Bring me broken eggs," Namrask begs, "and I will make eggcloth. How will the hatchlings be swaddled if no one weaves the eggcloth for them?"
The Drekhs watch as he uses his teeth to separate the eggshell from the thin, fibrous membrane beneath. He tears it into long fibers and fastens them to his loom as the warp—the threads that run top to bottom. With two hands, he holds the loom in his lap. Carefully, he chisels open the warp with a third hand; moving too quickly will snap the eggthread.
His life depends on this. His fourth hand swiftly passes the shuttle through the warp, drawing the first weft across. The thread does not snap; he has woven.
"Watch me," he tells the Drekhs. "When Eramis is done conquering our enemies, we must know how to make things."
When it is done, he gives them the little scrap of eggcloth. They murmur in wonder and rub their cheeks against it. "Bring that to the camp Captain," he tells them. "Tell them that Namrask can weave if he is fed and given fiber."
It is the first time he has ever made anything without ruining it on the loom.
When Namrask has the strength, he uses nonfluid loop cutters to help the Drekhs join their icy tunnels with other habitats. He weaves hollowhot matting to insulate the tunnels, and soon, some places are warm enough to remove a little armor. A clutch of eggs is hatched, and the hatchlings are raised in the warren.
For the first time since he fled the Tangled Shore, Namrask can think of more than his own survival.
Then the warrior Phylaks, a lieutenant of Eramis, comes recruiting.
"This is the future of all Eliksni. Who among you would wield this power?" she asks.
He keeps his head down.
Namrask looks up, carefully. Phylaks's shock pistol is pressed to his brow. She puts the weapon down between them, a sign of truce, and makes the ireliis bow of respect. "You have the size of an old fighter. Why not come forward?"
He is afraid his voice will fail. It comes out strong, but like another's voice: "I saw what happened the last time Eliksni reached for new power. And the time before that, and the time before that. I will not be part of it."
Shrugging, Phylaks takes up her pistol and walks away. "There are many others who will take your place."
Later, Yriks tries to change his mind, but Namrask refuses again. "Eramis derives authority from her ability to grant this power. She cannot give it to everyone; if she does, her authority is lost," he says. "Has she destroyed Servitors?"
"I think so," Yriks says quietly. "Drekhtalk says that she broke a Servitor during a ritual to give power. To show that the old ways are done."
Will society always be based on violence? Where the basic worker is not the weaver, the farmer, or the healer, but the Drekh: one pistol, one knife, one unit of labor. Employed to steal what it can—the value of a Drekh life.
And Namrask helped make that law.
He rumbles. "She preaches salvation, but she cannot save everyone. She keeps Ether scarce. More than we can get alone, but not as much as we need. It is the way to rule."
"You have a mind for strategy," Yriks observes slyly. "Who were you before you became our empty weaver?"
"Do you know hollowhot's secret?" he asks and abruptly places some on the ground for a chattering little hatchling to play gathering-games without freezing to the ice. "Why it is so valuable as insulation?"
"What is hollowhot's secret, Namrask? Why is it so valuable?" She mocks him.
Namrask shows her one thread of the stuff, end-on, so she can see the little bubbles of vacuum that fill the center.
"There is nothing inside it," he says. "But if you pry too hard, you break the nothing. And then it is useless."
Europa is colder than the void because the ice steals heat faster than raw vacuum. Locally made Ether tastes of ice and radiation, of metal and blood. Namrask realizes this is not a new Eliksni paradise; it is a very old one. And it always falls.
"Do something," Yriks begs him. "We will all die here if you do not."
"No," Namrask grunts, picking at his loom. He is afraid that if he goes near Eramis, he will accept her gift.
"Do something," Eoriks begs him. "Find us a protector. You must have known great warriors, when you were great."
"No," Namrask says again. He holds a hatchling to the heat lamp so it can bask in the warmth. He fears that anyone he calls to Europa will join with Eramis.
"Do something," Oeriks begs him. "Find a way off Iiropa. If what you say is true, then Eramis will damn us all. What are you afraid of?"
"Fine," he snaps. "Then I will find us a traitor."
For the first time, Namrask makes the long walk to Riis-Reborn. It is built in the ruins of an old Human city and the angular, crowded architecture makes him growl in fear and bloodlust. He remembers when the Eliksni broke the walls of the Not-Quite-Last City and took what was within.
"Don't say it," he growls. Not that stolen name. "I'm not here for Eramis. Where is Variks?"
When Variks, the old judge, sees Namrask, he laughs. "I thought you would be in that hole forever."
"You put me there, didn't you?"
"Not I, sir." Variks claps two hands crosswise, one pair, then the other. "It was the day-Captain, who had no idea who you really are. Does it suit you to be forgotten, old Smokesword?"
Namrask grinds his teeth. Laboriously, he lowers himself on all four arms. "I come to beg a favor."
"No." Variks comes closer to whisper. "My judgment stands, woe-of-the-masses. You gave no mercy and you will get none."
"You make a habit of serving queens who will abandon you," Namrask whispers back. "Eramis is doomed, Variks. She is Whirlwind-touched. As I was, once."
"She knows what she risks. Why else would she have sent her mate and children to another star?"
"Athrys is gone?" Woeful news; she was Eramis's guiding glint. "You always have a way out. I want a part of it—"
"Now you run from battle?" The judge's voice is light, unmocking; a sincere question. "When Eramis could make you mighty again?"
"I survive now as a Drekh survives. I have hatchlings; I would see them spared."
"There were hatchlings on the ships you abandoned at Riis. Human infants in London—"
"I am no longer the killer I was then!"
"Yes, you are."
"But I do not want to be! When I was on the Reef, I—" Namrask struggles. "I saw the beast Fikrul. Before that, I saw the Devil Splicers. But this debasement of our form, this revenge—it must stop, Variks. Please. Help me."
"No favors," the judge pronounces. "Not for you. However…"
Variks's prosthetic hand scratches letters in the snow. It takes Namrask several blinks of his second eyes to understand that it is Human script: MITHRAX.
"I will make your name known to him." Variks wipes away the letters. "But this is not a favor." His metal hand touches the tattered blue banners around his waist. "In exchange, I want these redone in fresh bannercloth. I will send you the thread. You will weave for me, 'Namrask.'"
Namrask tries his best. But the bannerthread is too fine, the weave too dense, and he cannot complete his task before word comes that Variks has summoned the Guardians—the Machine-spawn—to Europa.
Namrask thunders into the warren on all sixes, crying out, "We must go! Death walks the ice!"
Oeriks, Eoriks, and Yriks spread the word. More come than Namrask dared to hope. He warns them, "We must hide close to the Machine-spawn and steal supplies, or radiation and Ether-lack will bring us down."
They leave. But not an hour later, a rifle round punctures Namrask's armor. He barely staggers, but the jet of air and Ether exploding into vacuum thrust him backwards. "A Guardian," he warns. "It will call its kin." Guardians love to gather like carrion eaters over easily slain and looted foes.
Another round hits Namrask's helmet. "Those with scattercloth, give me your capes!" In exchange for the first cape, Namrask shoves his loom into a Vandal's arms. "But this is priceless," she protests. "You cannot give it!"
"I will return for it," he promises. Feverishly, Namrask stitches the capes into a blanket as blood trickles down the inside of his armor.
He fires his shrapnel launcher into the ice to kick up steam: "Like this!" he shouts. "Make a cloud and run!" They shoot into the ice and flee. As the ice storm settles in Europa's low gravity, Namrask crawls towards the Guardian under a blanket of invisibility. Occasionally, he emerges long enough to be seen, so that the Guardian will hunt him instead of the others.
The Guardian comes for him.
Namrask huddles against the ice, slowly freezing. The Humans are such gangly mockeries of the Eliksni form: two arms, two eyes in a smooth, lifeless doll-face, stubby little teeth. He remembers the Guardians he has killed—eight times. He has never revered Ghosts.
He remembers the smell of burning flesh. Ordinary Humans, young and old. Their gardens and structures; their star and world. Forever remembering giving that long-ago order: Burn it. Burn it. Burn it.
The Guardian nears.
Namrask melts a puddle with his armor's radiators. The Guardian uses a sword tip to test the ice at the edge of Namrask's cover. Namrask makes one small sound: I do not want to die yet.
A shock pistol burst scatters off the Guardian's armor. They whirl, sword down, rifle up; sights on Yriks. Foolish, brave Yriks, scurrying on all sixes, like a Drekh. She has saved him.
The Guardian mocks her, saying, "Ooh, bonyenne, tu m'as tiré! Tu voulais mon attention? Ben tu vas l'avwère!"
Their vehicle appears; the Guardian mounts it and pursues Yriks. Namrask never sees her again.
A few members of his group return and find him half-frozen to the ice, his limbs flexing in delirium as he calls for Yriks. As they free him, a ship lifts in the distance, shimmering into stealth, and is gone. They are stranded.
"Why did you come back?" Namrask groans. "Imbeciles. You should have stayed with the others…escaped…"
"I had to give your loom back," the Vandal says. She drops it on his wounded chest. He bellows.
As days pass, the radio shrieks with distant transmissions. Encrypted tactical data between Servitors. Eramis's sermons. The song of the red world overhead. And occasionally, the bray of Human tongues, as a Guardian brags of a new conquest, or curses some obscene glory-trial amusement.
Phylaks is dead; Praksis too.
The Priestess Kridis is dead—Sniksis and Piksis with her—and the Prime Servitor is destroyed.
Eramis is dead, consumed by her own power. One of the old Riis-born. Never will there be another.
Namrask knew it would end this way. He has seen this every time. His fallen people have learned defeat so well that now they defeat themselves. He rages and claws at the ice.
For his band of stranded survivors, he fashions shelters of watercloth: synthetic skin with thick bladders pumped full of ice to block some of the radiation. When his wound pains him, he numbs it on the ice. Turrha sees him but says nothing. He is grateful.
"We must find a transmitter," he says. "We must call for Misraaks to return."
But survivors are still on Europa. They seek out Namrask, bringing their hatchlings but not much Ether.
And if they can find Namrask, so can those who hunt them.
"My father will come for you," the voice on the radio promises. "His ship is swift, his navigation sure. He studies the motions of the Light, and that Light travels even to you."
There is not enough Ether. They all agree that the hatchlings should get their full supply. Everyone else receives a thin trickle.
But still, they die.
Namrask clings to the voice on the radio; he makes the others listen. "She is as young as some of you," he says one day. "Not much more than a hatchling."
"My father will return for you," the voice says.
It is idiotic to reply, but he does. "Who is your father? How can he study the Light, when the Light is denied to us?"
She does not answer for a long time, but perhaps this is not her fault. The receiver is damaged, so he stitches a patch for it from superconducting threads.
When she answers, she sounds annoyed. "I am Eido, daughter of Misraaks, Kell of the House of Light. He is close to the Light because he is close to the Lightbearers. My father walks beside the Guardians of the Traveler."
Namrask kneels, frozen in horror. He tears the patch from the radio and stalks away. "I cannot go with them!" he snarls.
Oeriks calls after him, but Namrask is too full of rage and fear. The Guardians surely will recognize him if he stands beneath the Traveler.
VII: Time Is a Fabric
"This is Misraaks." A name without title.
"To those who renounce the violence of House Salvation and seek refuge in the House of Light, I will be landing a Skiff near Asterion Abyss. Bring only what you need. We must prioritize survivors over their possessions. Trigger message repeat."
"Astiirabis," Turrha says. "I know that place. We can hide in the nearby caves."
"Fine," Namrask says. He seizes his loom. Everyone stares and he realizes: survivors over possessions.
"I am nothing without it," he protests.
Oeriks and Eoriks pull it from him. "Yriks did not die to save a loom."
They have been in the cave for two days when Namrask sees that their heat is sublimating the ice. Curious, sluggish with Ether-lack, he crawls over to the nearest wall and stares.
Namrask looks into another cave. And another, and another. The infinite caves reveal an infinite number of Namrask, Oeriks, Eoriks, Turrhas, hatchlings, and survivors—only—here, they are frozen dead to the ice—here, they are cooked by Cabal—here, they spill in panic from the cave as Guardians gun them down.
"Get out," rasps Namrask.
"Up!" he bellows. "GET UP! WE HAVE TO GO!"
At the raw fear in his voice, they bundle up the hatchlings and run. As if the Light has arranged it all and the Great Machine truly does watch over them again, they hear a transmission: "This is Misraaks. I approach under stealth. I will be at Asterion Abyss in five minutes. If you seek sanctuary, come to me. If you still swear to House Salvation, then in the name of the old laws, I ask safe passage. This is a mission of mercy."
Namrask hunts for the twinkling distortion of camouflage against the black sky—there! Misraaks comes from Jupiitr, using the planet's emissions as backdrop.
"We should disperse," he tells Turrha. "It is unwise to crowd together at a landing zone—"
Their radios shriek—a horrific emission. A Vex maser beam catches the incoming Skiff, smashing it onto the ice. Propellant, air, and Ether burst into flame.
Namrask is not surprised. The Light does not reach them; the Great Machine does not watch over them. "We need to move," he says. He reaches out to Turrha, to touch her. "We should go to—"
A white mist envelops her. Tiny electrical discharges cover her armor. She looks up at him and gasps. The Vex teleport delivers a Goblin inside her, shattering her body. The machine, with its indifferent red eye, raises its weapon to fire.
Oeriks dies almost instantly, shot by slap fire. Eoriks leaps to him and tries to capture the escaping puff of Ether—what old faith would call the passage of his soul—as if this will keep Oeriks alive. But Eoriks is killed too.
Namrask puts himself between the hatchlings and the Vex. If he can only buy them one more moment, one more breath, then that is a better legacy than he ever hoped—
"TO ME!" a young voice cries. "Eliksni, to me!"
Misraaks comes after all. And he is not alone. The Light is with him.
And a Guardian.
VIII: And Also Light
They are going to the Last City beneath the Great Machine.
"What are you afraid of?" Misraaks asks Namrask.
"Why are you NOT afraid?" Namrask demands. The young one bewilders him. "What life could we possibly have there? They will take their revenge on us. And wouldn't we deserve it?"
"Is there something I should know?" Misraaks asks dryly.
"No," Namrask snarls, rubbing his bare knees where they protrude from his shell. "Yes. I was—" He stops. "No. I cannot tell you, because then you would have to tell the Humans. And I will not make you lie."
"You do not want to be who you were before," Misraaks guesses. "Would you learn a new trade?"
"I would like to weave," Namrask says. "I am not good at it yet. But I might be."
"Weaving is a little like splicing," Misraaks says thoughtfully. "Splicers work in metal and flesh, not warp and weft. But the goal is the same: to nurture life with art, and nurture art with your life."
"I distrust Splicers," Namrask grunts and rubs his chest. What would a Splicer do to him? Fill him with machine cancer, to make him strong again? Give him the corrupted Ether, the undying madness?
Misraaks's primary eyes shine. "I am an older kind of Splicer. Those who look for the Light in all things. Maybe the right kind of Splicer can weave two peoples together. As the Awoken tried do, in the Reef."
"But the Light is NOT in all things. It has left us. Why look for the Light when you can see so clearly who it favors?"
"It was in us once," Misraaks reminds him. "It could be again."
Namrask remembers such a time, across a vast and blood-soaked distance.
"Riis…I was there, you know," Namrask whispers. "At the Whirlwind. After Chelchis fell, I sent ships to follow the Great Machine. I abandoned all those Houses that could not make war. I ordered my fleet to hunt the Machine. Many rallied after us. Each ship began its own war with the Humans. But maybe, I was first."
Misraaks stares at him. Finally, he says, "I understand. Our people fear the Saint too. But I doubt the Saint ever knew them by name."
Namrask settles in the area of the Last City that has been given to the Eliksni. By day, he shares a loom with others. By night, he whispers the names of those he has lost until he falls asleep.
He sleeps well until the day a Human shouts at him: "Baby eater!"
Namrask turns away. But he wants to shout back. About the closed air, closed life of a spacecraft. About the hatchlings who survived and the hard decisions about those who did not. He wished now they had been depraved enough to think of devouring Human young.
But he sees the young Eliksni, like Eido. He wants to wail at their promise, at their hope. Eido dislikes and avoids him, which is for the best.
Eventually, Namrask learns to weave for the Humans. His favorite task is making felt, but he also learns to work in silk. He likes the silkmaker, and runs it manually sometimes, pulling the thread from the spinneret with one hand and then another, maintaining the steady, even tension, which makes the best fabric.
He wishes that he could weave in Light, like the Guardian Warlocks, who make fieldweave in a secret way. Maybe Misraaks will learn how to do that.
One day, a machine comes to his market stall. He combs at his shell nervously. The machine-Humans are called "Exos." They remind him of the Vex; it is easier to look at their armored shapes than the unsettling softness of the Humans and two-souled Awoken. This Exo wears a colorful mantle.
"I recognize you," the machine says.
He quails. "Namrask sells fabrics," he croaks, pretending not to understand.
"Namrask." She laughs quietly. "I am old, empty weaver. Almost as old as you, I think. But unlike most of my kind, I remember London—and you."
He holds a bolt of fabric between them. She catches two of his hands: her machine flesh is warmer than his.
"Timelines are born from each moment—we live on one thread woven into a vast tapestry. But what has happened between us, on this thread, is fixed. You cannot run from it. You are a butcher. You and I are still at war," she rasps.
She releases his hands. He stares at her, breathing hard. Ether smokes from his mouth.
She playfully taps on all four of his hands. "I am named for an ancient goddess," she says, "with as many arms as you. In her hands are dharma, kama, artha, and moksha. Law, desire, meaning, and finally, liberation. Freedom from the war of death and rebirth. Are you freed by your rebirth as Namrask?"
He repeats, "Namrask sells fabrics."
"Maybe." There is laughter in her voice. "But I do not think moksha has granted you true rebirth."
"I have not forgotten what you did when you were Akileuks. And I never will," she says quietly.
He stole that name, like any other plunder, and used it. A Human hero's name, a great warrior and famous runner: Achilles, which means "woe to the enemy."