Book of Tauro
After that idiot Tae embarrassed us all by shambling up onto the dais and rambling nonsense for half the afternoon, we all breathed a sigh of relief when he finally left with Bollikin and Xyl on the quest to find Dracnoris. Well, not all of us sighed with relief. There were a few bemused looks from some of the Seventh Circle. And I suppose I didn't sigh exactly when he left - it was more of a very loud snort.
"Tauro!" Loboshi barked with laughter, giving me a playful nudge.
We were sitting next to Loboshi's mate Volkh of the Seventh. Surrounding us were Volkh's creation of wolves, who seemed to have bonded more to Loboshi than him, earning her the nickname Pack Mother. Sensing Loboshi's mood, the wolves opened their mouths in wide toothy grins and would have started to howl if Volkh didn't shush them.
"That's rather interesting," said Loboshi, nudging me to look over at the Golden Circle.
At least we called them the Golden Circle, a small group of Second Circle members who were at the beck and call of the First Circle. The rest of us in the Second Circle considered them to be a closed clique and rather snobbish. Perhaps there was a little jealousy involved, but Loboshi did point out something interesting. There they were: Hajamin, Terentia, Morgfyre, Krokano and Orlachmar, and it seemed they were arguing with the Firsts!
Apparently, the Golden Ones still weren't happy with Amberle leading the Firsts on a mission to meet the Heralds of Magnora. They were practically insisting on following them. Then, Fain glided forward, his mate Lisaera on his arm, and deftly deflected the conversation to finding the other primal gods.
The Fifth Circle of Thinkers were insistent of the necessity of finding Keph of a Thousand Eyes, a Third Circle primal god. I vaguely recalled her being extremely large and ugly, not unlike some of the abominations of the void that the Second Circle hunted. But Dynara had chosen her to be one of the first of her creations to have a soul, so she must have been alright. It was the Fifth Circle who insisted that Keph may hold the key.
"It is said her mind once touched that of Magnora," said Mugowumpois of the Fifth. "If any of the primal gods may know these Heralds it would be her."
"Her insight has always been legendary," said Roark of the Fifth. "Her perceptions appear to extend beyond the veil of time itself, and she is able to follow along the lines of probabilities unequal to any other."
"But do we know where she is?" asked Aslarn of the First. "Does any one know?"
I looked at Loboshi, who shrugged. Her mate Volkh scratched his hairy jaw, and called out across the chamber, "Viravain! Viravain may know!"
All eyes turned to Viravain, a small goddess with flowers woven in her hair. Butterflies and birds followed her around. I always thought she looked like a startled bird myself.
"Me?" she asked.
"Yes," said Volkh. "You once told us of strange songs of Keph that some of your creations mimicked."
"Ah, yes that," said Viravain, looking around as if trying to find a way to fly out. "That was many decades ago. And it was from some insects that travelled underground. I'm sure I don't know where to look."
"Well, that is better than the rest of us can manage," said Fain. "Viravain, take Mugowumpois of the Fifth and search for Keph."
I thought Viravain was going to faint, she had such a look of horror on her face. But a dark figure quickly strode forward to stand next to her. It was her brother Shikari. He was of the Second Circle like me, but was considered a loner. Whereas most of us hunted the abominations of the Void in groups, Shikari preferred to hunt alone. There were rumours that he never made his kills cleanly but liked to...play with them first. Though he was a loner and rather disreputable among us, it was known that his one soft spot was for his young sister, Viravain of the Seventh Circle. Volkh once told me she was one of the Seventh's prodigies but she squandered her talents on inconsequential creations.
"There is nothing I cannot track down," said Shikari. "I can find Keph for you. Viravain, I will go with you."
"Thank you, brother," breathed Viravain, finding some courage to stand taller. "But it would be difficult even for you to track. The insects who heard her songs were deep crawlers, who live within the deep mazes beneath the earth."
Of course, I respected Shikari for standing beside his sister and for hearing the call of duty. Duty was one of the Second Circle's greatest precepts, as we pledged ourselves to be honour bound to protect the First World and our kin. Shikari knew when duty called to him. And I knew when duty called to me.
"I shall accompany you then also," I said, standing up. "There is not a maze in existence that can trick me."
"I do not need any help," Shikari glared at me.
"I did not ask if you needed help, Shikari. I said I would accompany the party that seeks Keph. Remember that the Cauldron of Juciad's Blesh could not stop me from hunting down the Scourge of Mejora, even though it hid the Scourge from others - including you."
"Oh, that's fine," said Mugowumpois drily. "The more, the merrier! Besides, I wouldn't mind having two members of the Second Circle with us. It is said that Keph has quite a temper!"
I imagine that Shikari would have argued with me further, but Viravain whispered something to him. He glared at me but only shrugged and turned away. Thus was our company formed.
Without much fanfare, I bid farewell to Loboshi and Volkh, the wolves circling around me. From the Crystal Towers, Viravain led us through meandering paths through the mountains. Shikari walked next to her, studiously avoiding me. Trailing behind them I walked with Mugowumpois, who told me scandalous stories of the other Elder Gods. I never realised what a sense of humour she had!
Eventually, Viravain stopped in front of narrow crack in the mountains that led to passages. Though she and Mugowumpois had no problem sliding in, Shikari and I had to break some of the rock apart to widen the mouth so we could squeeze through. A small swarm of crawling insects met Viravain, and she cooed and whispered to them.
"They hear the song of Keph!" she cried.
I certainly heard nothing and glancing at Mugowumpois, I figured she didn't either. But she smirked and rolled her eyes. Shikari, of course, didn't question Viravain - but just ambled off after her. So we descended down into the deep depths of the world. I did not feel comfortable below the surface, though Mugowumpois did not seem bothered by it.
Left on her own, Viravain would have spent too much time playing with the bugs and crawling things here, as she was so easily distracted. Shikari, however, kept driving her forward and his very presence seemed to keep her focused. When Viravain took a wrong turn, or at least started to take a turn that would have led to a dead end or turned back on ourselves, I immediately sensed it and corrected the direction. Though neither of us admitted it, Shikari and I worked together well together with Viravain.
Even so, Shikari and Viravain preferred to stray further ahead of us. I'm not sure what they talked about between them but they would fall silent whenever we caught up to them. I asked Mugowumpois what she thought of this pair.
"Oh, they hold many secrets," she said, but would not elaborate.
My mood was becoming as foul as the dank and stifling air in the tunnels, and I wanted nothing more than to end this search. But they definitely needed me here, for these tunnels were a maze, and I think there were latent magics infused into the rocks that made them twist directions. At least helping navigate the mazes kept my mind occupied. I was rather surprised when Shikari brought us up short and raised a hand in warning. He pointed to his ear and motioned for us to listen.
Keph was not asleep.
There were voices coming down the tunnels before us. It sounded like multiple voices. Had others gotten here before us? As the thought crossed my mind, anger flushed through me as I began to wonder if we had wasted our time on this journey. Slowly we crept forward, and before us opened an enormous cavern, the ceiling lost in darkness. The cavern was lit by an undulating greenish light cast from pale lichens that grew on the walls. In the centre of a cavern was an underground ocean, the waves crashing against a beach of black sand.
Keph rose out of the sea, only half of her monstrous body revealed, the rest remained submerged. She was a primal god, one of those first few whom Dynara recognised had a soul within. But being a primal god, Keph was unlike the rest of us. She had many segments sprouting hundreds of chitinous appendages that were her arms and legs. And of course she had two large orbs containing a thousand facets that were her many eyes. Her mouth was framed by four pairs of mandibles which dripped fluids.
At first, I thought she was talking to herself but then I saw at her feet on the cold beach standing were three figures that stood before her. It was Mugowumpois who whispered who they were.
"The Fates," she said. "She's talking to the Fates!"
And now that I narrowed my eyes to look, indeed there were three figures, the presences known as the Fates: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. As always, their features were blurred and they wore flowing robes that covered their bodies.
"The Fates," whispered Viravain. "What are they doing here?"
Before Viravain's question could be answered, Keph noticed us. Her thousand eyes glittered in the greenish light as she turned towards us. She did not look pleased.
"Ah, they arrive," said Keph, her mandibles clicking around her maw as dark water running down her hard shell in gleaming greenish rivulets. "As predicted."
Plumes of foaming water spouted around Keph's body as she rose higher out of the water. She pushed herself forward towards us, and blasted the Fates aside. Her mandibles clicked and a freezing wind rose up around her.
"Leave me alone!" she screamed, unleashing the winds which blew us backwards.
Viravain screamed as she fell to the ground, the force of the wind sweeping her towards the entrance. Shikari cursed, driven to his knees, as he watched his sister tumble out of Keph's cavern.
"This is a waste of time!" he hissed at me. "I leave you to it!"
And with that he ran out of the cave following Viravain. I dug my feet into the earth and stood my ground as Keph bellowed louder. Was this the end of our mission then, having found Keph that she would toss us back in a tantrum? Were we sent by the Council to be so dismissed? Was our journey here for naught? No!
My anger welled against the force, both magic and physical, trying to drive me backwards, and I began to slowly walk forward. Step by step, I slowly advanced, my own magic raging deep within me, each footfall echoing in the cavern. Keph's many eyes swivelled together and her thousand pupils focused directly at me, and suddenly a mental force cleaved through my skull.
:LEAVE ME ALONE: her mental command pierced into me.
Though every fibre of my being yearned to follow her command, I merely stopped amidst the mental onslaught. I would not be forced to turn and leave! My rage could not be so thwarted.
"I will not be denied!" I boomed, and then charged.
Hurtling forward, my feet carried me directly into Keph, smashing into her massive snout, the impact driving her backwards into the waters. Immediately her attacks stopped, and I stood erect before her. She slowly sank back beneath the roiling waves. I raised a fist triumphantly.
"You shall not dismiss me, Keph of the Thousand Eyes!" I shouted. "You are called upon by the Council of Elders to give us your wisdom, and give it you shall if I have to beat it out of you!"
Keph continued to submerge until only her topmost eyes peeked out of the water. At this point, I noticed the Fates were floating high above us. Was I left alone? I stretched out my senses and felt Mugowumpois still hovering just beyond the entrance. Shikari and Viravain had fled beyond reach, damn them.
"Keph, do not hide from me!" I said. "If I have to go into the waters and drag you to the Council to answer them, I will!"
Keph partially rose back up, leaning forward until her mandibles were inches from my nose. But I would not be intimidated and I lowered my horns. Keph backed off, settling back down into the waters.
"That will not be necessary," Keph said, then let out a long clicking sound which I finally realised was laughter. "Ah, Tauro, of all the Star Gods who could oppose me, only you are stubborn enough to succeed. What do you want of me?"
"Information," I said, my anger cooling down. "The Heralds of Magnora come, and we need to know what they want. As a primal god, you are closer to them than any of us."
"Indeed," said Keph. "I know them. Perhaps better than you know. I was briefly held by Magnora once upon a time, until Dynara released me. I had thought to be chosen as a Herald but she merely held me in some game between her and Dynara. But I was near her long enough to touch her thoughts, which has always given me a...unique perspective."
"Then share with us your knowledge and wisdom! What do these Heralds now want?"
"That is not the question to ask, Tauro. The question is: what does their appearance mean to us?"
"Don't try my patience, Keph!" I said, getting annoyed. "Don't make me play this game!"
Keph merely cocked her head, and the Fates sank back down to the ground. They suddenly seemed menacing and untrustworthy.
"Very well," I said, "what does their presence mean to us?"
"Let us ask them!" Keph said, pointing one of her limbs at the Fates. "Well, Clotho? What does it mean? The gods want to know! Atropos, why are you so smug and ecstatic these days? Tell the gods! Lachesis, will you not reveal your great revelations to all?"
"You ascribe to us feelings we do not have," said Atropos. "It would not be wise for us to inform the gods of our discussions. We only speak to you of these things because your own meditations have led you to these esoteric understandings."
"What would it matter if they know?" asked Keph, rising higher out of the water.
"Premature enlightenment," said Clotho, "creates unforeseen dangers that carry probabilities of reality's obliteration beyond the scope of predictive acuity."
"When a probability is avoided," said Atropos, "you create repercussions, the reverberations can lead closer to oblivion."
"Oblivion totters upon a knife's edge," said Lachesis. "Beware shaking the hand that steadies the blade."
"You see, Tauro?" said Keph. "The Fates wish me to withhold knowledge from you. What do you say?"
"I say the Fates could bloody well go to oblivion!"
"Ah, astute," Keph laughed. "I think I agree with you!"
Suddenly, one of Keph's legs shot out of the water and skewered Clotho through her torso, ripping her apart. Atropos and Lachesis fled above, floating beyond her reach.
"You know the consequences of your actions!" shouted Atropos. "Beware, Keph!"
With that, the Fates faded away. Keph sank back into the waters, chittering happily to herself.
"They are right, you know," Keph sighed. "If the council knows too much, none of us may survive."
A noise startled me from behind, and I turned around to see Mugowumpois cautiously approaching. I smiled broadly at her, glad to see her courage and duty did not make her flee.
"Great Keph," said Mugowumpois. "Pardon me, but what are the Fates exactly? It has always be debated. And why did you destroy one?"
"They are similar to the spirits awakened by the Sixth Circle," said Keph. "However, they were awakened by either Dynara or Magnora, or both, and they are manifestations of the last vestiges of Yudhe's will. They cannot be destroyed, at least not by physical means. I merely scared them off. Clotho will reform, and the others have retreated to some higher plane, where they will probably stay hidden until after the outcome is decided."
"Outcome of what?" asked Mugowumpois.
"The outcome of whether reality enters the next stage of its evolution. The Fates are mostly superfluous now, they always have been. They record what they can but the vibrations of the gods are too strong and high to weave or record, and most especially to influence."
"As I said, they are the manifestations of Yudhe's last consciousness. They will say they only are here as chroniclers, but I wonder if Yudhe is not as asleep as we might believe. Don't you?"
"Fantasy," I said. "What do they chronicle then if not us? The creatures created by the Seventh Circle? Those awakened by the Sixth?"
"No, those spirits are too inconsequential," said Keph. "Which is why they have been doing nothing but waiting."
"Waiting for what?" asked Mugowumpois.
"Reality exists to experience itself. The smaller the awareness, the greater the experience. That is what the Fates await for. To see if reality survives long enough to narrow its own awareness, to see if the strands of consciousness become fine enough so they could weave them together."
"Fascinating," said Mugowumpois, taking out a book and making notes.
"How does this help us?" I asked. "A philosophical discourse is not what we came here to engage in. It is said you can follow lines of probability and see clearly into the future. Give us something concrete to bring back to the council."
"Futures are never clear, dear Tauro, but I can give you something concrete if you really wish it. I can tell you many things I see stretching out from our likely future path, at least if we take the path of survival. Shall I tell you this? Even if you won't understand a single word?"
"Yes," whispered Mugowumpois and looking into her eyes I saw it was not courage or duty that made her stay, but greed. Greed for knowledge.
So thus we stayed in the cavern of Keph as she whispered her secrets to us. Mugowumpois wrote them down in her book. After it was done, she sat back and regarded the book with trembling hands.
I never knew what happened to that book, for I never saw it again. Keph was right about one thing though. I didn't understand one word of what she said, and promptly forgot it all. But one thing was burned forever into my mind that day.
"What shall we call it?" asked Mugowumpois.
"Call it the 'Verses of Magnora'!" said Keph, laughing grimly to herself.