"The problems being faced by your Wheel are being duplicated in isolated regions all over the world," Amonwelle told them without preamble. "Until a successor to the Dreamwright is found, we can only conjecture as to the current magnitude and exact location of the troublings, but we are quite certain as to their cause. The Shadowsmith is attempting to subvert the energies of the Wire to his own uses by establishing a new and separate link to its boundless power."
The Wire. Hitch had heard it mentioned before, in the refectory at Paddifraw's Repose.
Amonwelle scanned the blank faces before her with a sigh. "I see that I must add my own brief history lesson to the one that Pomponderant has already delivered," she said. She settled one knee against the edge of the green couch and wiped grease from her fingertips with a tattered rag. "Humans have been on this world for a long time—yet our earliest traditions tell us that we did not originate here, but were brought as a gift from somewhere else. The Elucidaries state that a vast flower lay floating in the darkness above the worlds at the beginning of Time, releasing small seeds that drifted far on a wind warmed by the stars themselves before they found their new homes." She gave a small smile. "I suspect a much more prosaic tale of colonization falls closer to the mark, but beauty deserves its place in memory. Suffice it to say that when I was born, the world was still ruled by the Guardians, powerful beings claiming descent from the ancient folk who had ferried humankind here, by whatever seed or vessel, from our distant home. The Wire connected us with that home, and leashed us to it, an intangible conduit of incredible power that both nourished and dominated us. During the time of my late youth a war was fought that shook the very roots of the world. At its conclusion, humanity found itself free for the first time to do as it would upon this world—still blessed with the ability to wield the Wire's vast energies, but no longer fettered by its chain of control and obedience to far-off masters.
"New guardians came into being among the rebels. As time flowed by, the power of the Wire allowed the Wielders to alter their minds and their bodies, to lengthen their life spans and bring forth children that were also gifted with marvelous abilities.
Instrumentation was developed and put at their disposal that enabled them to harness ever more potent energies. We were idealistic in those days, dedicated to serving others with our power . . ." A shadow fell on the small woman's features as she paused in reflection of a bygone age. "With the passage of time," she continued, "some among the Wielders chose to marry themselves irrevocably to these instruments, becoming from that day forward part machine themselves and no longer fully human. One of these was called Dubiel, and it was ever his way to drink too freely from the Wire's well of might. Once drunk, his thirst was never slaked. And so it happened that not long after his melding with the machines, he became corrupted.
"In those days the forces of the Wire were available to all of the Wielders, to be shared equally and employed to the benefit of all humanity. Dubiel quickly grew dissatisfied with the portion allotted him. In an attempt to draw more power to his own being, he mounted a secret war against the other Wielders, destroying fully half our number through deceit and treachery before those of us who remained could unite against him and drive him back to his foul hole in the utter South." Amonwelle's eyes smoldered with cold fury. "He festered there," she went on after a moment, "wounded but alive, cowed but not beaten. Twice more the Shadowsmith—as he was now called by the heart-darkened men and women who were drawn to his service— made war upon his former comrades, and each time he was defeated, though at a heavy cost to both sides of the battle. Ages passed in relative calm. The remaining Wielders grew apart from one another, each concerned with private goals, and humanity was left to prosper or wither as it would. With access to the Wire forbidden him as judgment for his many crimes, the Shadowsmith's energies began to dwindle, until at last his sinister might had been reduced to the stuff of children's tales.
"Then this past year fiery winds and heaving ground, as well as other troubles of the air and earth, were reported— not only at the Wheel, but scattered far across the land. The Dreamwright watched and noted and slowly a pattern began to emerge. Always when the earth trembled or the clouds rained fire, it was near a place which in the ancient days had been a repository for the great flow of power from the Wire. Now in olden times each Guardian had a talisman, an instrument through which the energies of the Wire were channeled. But all such instruments were lost long ago, and without them the building of a new connection has been all but impossible. Still, the Dreamwright and I began to suspect—hoping always that we were misled by our own fears—that the Shadowsmith had gained some new source of weaponry and strength, and that he was once more striving to establish his own link with the Wire. The recent grievous attack upon the palace of the Dreamwright itself served to confirm our worst apprehensions. The workers you have seen since your arrival have been engaged for weeks in a feverish attempt to fortify the power of the Unseen Wall, in order to prevent the success of another such attack. Indeed, we seek to magnify the scope of the Wall's protective boundary so as to include the town filled with supplicants that wait at our doorstep, lest they be crushed by the blow that is aimed at us."
"And what is this new source of weapons and might?" muttered Welleck the wagoneer, drawn into the discussion in spite of himself.
"An ally," Amonwelle replied bitterly, "of most unexpected origin." She turned to lay her hand upon one of the twinkling panels that leaned in above the green couch. "Little more than a year ago, the Dreamwright recorded an event of unparalleled significance to the inhabitants of our world."
The great walls had continued to flash in a riot of color and mad images; now a grouping of half a dozen disks cleared abruptly, combining to present a dim view of a steamy, swamplike landscape through which dark figures prowled. As they watched, the dark lurkers came upon a pool of shadowed water, where they halted, gesticulating. A cone of dull black metal protruded upright from the steaming muck. It loomed huge in comparison to the human figures who stared up from the floor of the swamp, towering the height of a large hostelry, and its exterior was blazoned with unreadable crimson symbols. Attached to the front of the cone and suspended some twenty feet above the murky surface was a smaller structure, this one a black cylinder perhaps twice the height of a man.
Hitch's eyes and mind strained to make some sense of the odd design. A shelter of some sort, definitely—but to what purpose in those swampy depths? As he watched with the others, the lesser cylinder split evenly down its upward length, the two halves peeling slowly backward to reveal the crouching image of a humanlike figure silhouetted blackly against a blaze of licking flames. The figure stepped forward and gestured sharply with the black staff it clutched in its left hand. Abruptly the image faded from the disks and the wall swirled into madness again.
"The black and red object fell to earth not far from the lair of the Shadowsmith and was met by his agents," Amonwelle said. "That much we know, but little else. Since the events which you have just witnessed, the Dreamwright has remained blind to an ever-growing region of the south, with this swamp as its center."
"Fell to earth," Hitch echoed. "Fell from where?"
Amonwelle's ruddy countenance darkened. "From another sun, or so we must assume, one where human folk also strive—for the object was a vessel for traveling between the worlds, and its occupant wore a form not unlike that of a human being."
Hitch glanced at Welleck, standing close by his side. Both turned to inspect the silver-clad figure posed still as a statue by one of the flaring metal arches.
Amonwelle followed their gaze. "Pomponderant has told me of your hatchling and his golden egg. For some reason still unknown, his own arrival on our world was neither observed nor recorded by the Dreamwright. Though some connection between the two newcomers seems inevitable, we cannot yet say what it may entail. Assuming his unresponsive state is unfeigned, we have no means to judge whether the hatchling be friend or enemy to the thing that now allies its might to the dark goals of the Shadowsmith."
Hitch looked back at the hatchling once more, his expression broadly skeptical. "Anyone can see he's not the sort to promote an evil cause," he murmured to Welleck. "What breed of monster almost expires during his first few minutes on the world he plans to conquer—all because his flying egg falls into the lake and he doesn't know how to swim?"
"I have a question for you." Diligence had been standing off to one side during Amonwelle's impromptu lecture. Now she peered up along one curving leg of the sleek sculpture. "Why are the little lights only shining on the silver portion of the device?" Her voice was cool and flat. "By comparison, the three remaining sections appear lifeless."
"That is because they are," Pomponderant responded. He moved to Diligence's side and pointed upward. "The instrument is divided into four discrete parts—four chambers, if you will, like the human heart. The silver chamber is in use with the activation of the primary Dreamwright function— the retrieval of images anywhere in this world."
"And the others?"
Amonwelle made her way around the end of the empty couch. "This instrument is extremely old and extremely powerful. It is from the time of the original Guardians. The second chamber turns the wall-eyes into portals, similar to the mirror in the cavern of the green moths, but restricted to this planet. By employing this chamber, one may simply step through to whatever location is depicted in the image." She ran her hand along the machine's blue iron flank, moved on. "The third chamber, long unused, brings images of other worlds."
"The fourth?" Diligence breathed.
"The power to visit them, as the ancient Guardians did freely, and as the insect scholar did eight hundred years ago through his hidden mirror."
"Does it still function?" Hitch asked. "Could you truly walk to other worlds from this room?"
"Once you could have, long ages ago," Amonwelle told him. "Now only the first chamber is operational. The third and fourth chambers were rendered inoperative by consensus of the Wielders shortly after the rebellion against the Guardians. As for the second chamber ..." She walked out from beneath the twists and curves of metal to regard the distant ceiling. "The attack that devastated the crystal palace represents only the second occasion in two millennia that the enemy has successfully breached the protections of the Unseen Wall. The first time, Dubiel and his creatures actually gained entrance to this room for a brief time and attempted to comandeer the instrument for their own employment. Dubiel was defeated, but that victory was so narrow that it was decided to restrict the functioning of the machine to that of observation post in an attempt to prevent control of its more powerful attributes from ever falling into the hands of the Shadowsmith. Over the centuries the activating node for the second chamber was misplaced or stolen. Now, when its power might prove the deciding factor between our victory or utter defeat, we have reason to fear that the Shadowsmith may have obtained the node, and that he seeks to re-enter the Hall of the Dreamwright so that he may ultimately find the way to spread his black dominion to other worlds. And that is the chief reason why we work night and day to fortify our Wall against the next attack, which we know must come soon ..."
So, what I don't really understand is what happened to the original Guardians. A war? Against what? The Kreegans? The local humans? Why are they called rebels? How come the rule of the Ancients is referred to as a "chain of control and obedience" - after all, from what we know, their rule was always the Time of Wonders, and not a form of slavery (although HC:WOTW shows Bracaduun as rather tyrannical as well, but I'm not sure they are the same as the Guardians here, those wizards look more human to me).
By the way, try not to spoil things for me, I'm still reading the book, you know!
P.S.: Wow, this forum sure is also a gold mine of discussion about the MM universe of all sorts! While searching anything related to the Dreamwright posted on this forum, I ran into some really awesome discussions about lots of things related to this, like:
http://www.celestialheavens.com/forums/ ... php?t=8158
http://www.celestialheavens.com/forums/ ... php?t=7773
http://www.celestialheavens.com/forums/ ... php?t=8569
http://www.celestialheavens.com/forums/ ... hp?t=11680
http://www.celestialheavens.com/forums/ ... hp?t=11350
It's awesome to revisit old threads like that, they still have a lot of insight to offer (and Cepheus's insistent Colony terminology ).