The Universe as seen by Bernodine

1. The Tower of Braganze

That rises from the ocean’s bed


Pyramus was blessed with his fifteenth birthday in the year 42(Ex93)(RmZ)(N) of Universal Creation. Therefore the weapons Cleric on watch had sent him down to the twenty-third floor, a kilofathom beyond the lowest limit of the Tower, although he was hardly awake, to seek out new duties and announce his availability for service to the Domestic Order. The Dom Clerics already knew his nature and accordingly how he could be best deployed. So it was late in the day before he was allowed to return to his cell and the fresher air of the highest levels of Braganze. Here in the common areas there were windows that looked out into the ocean and in this long day of summer it was not yet all blackness beyond. Although the depths below were infused with profound darkness even before pressing around the roots of Braganze, about these loftier stations there were shades of green in the water and even shifts of white light that came like ghosts through the sheltering ice above. In winter the thickening ice-roof would have crushed the Tower had it not been protected by its thermal spire. Although not visible from where Pyramus looked out it was this convecting prominence that held the great frozen cap at bay and sculpted out a huge dome of rippled ice that caged a wash of clear, fresh water. The Braganze Lagoon. If you swam up to the very cathedral apex when the ice above was at its thinnest you could sometimes sense, from the flickering whiteness, the everlasting storms that raced across the dry side and tore mercilessly away at its exposed bones. Sometimes those strange upper places cracked and surrendered their structure in a low rumble of thunder that made Braganze shiver.

Now that Pyramus was of age he would be able to enter the lagoon without the supervision of the Perimeter Clerics and in this thought there was joy. The fertile, dead cold waters that fed his nation through the great catch-sumps nevertheless carried many varieties of more mobile game. Fairest amongst the sport were the fat, blind dolfish that sometimes circled the Tower and played at crossing the fluid limit between the salt and fresh waters, although they were several miles from the nearest breathing hole. This abandon would at times allow them to be herded up into the Lagoon dome, penned there and so drowned, even though the shimmering blue dolphins, their frequent companions (and yet so dissimilar in appearance) would attempt to shepherd them away to safety. Pyramus, thanks to his Tower status, had been admitted into the hunting gangs since he was eleven and had immediately loved that power to bring terror and death, even though he was not permitted to inflict injury directly. After his thirteenth birthday he had joined the Outspan gangs. Here they were equipped with long lungs and electric prods for beating the dolfish towards the Cleric shooters. On special days it was possible to occasion a more spectacular game.

In some twilight times the colossal deep-water squid could be found resting and hiding, buoyed up into the up-turned valleys of the ice pack with huge round eyes ever swivelling for opportunity. If the prey creatures could be driven within reach of those barbed tentacles then it was possible to watch them being drawn slowly into the squid beaks. Through the exquisite audio properties of the densely cold water he could hear the shattering of bone and tearing of sinew. Favoured among the sacrifices were again the furry and blubbered dolfish with their stubby fins and open mouths, though too dim-witted to fully understand their demise. Pyramus’ pleasure was as much because the attendant dolphins, failing in their shepherd duties, would circle to watch and he was sure that they comprehended their failure. He could sense the horror in their black eyes as they swam past him, so close that he could nearly use his blade. He delighted in their vain attempts at rescue, foolishly encouraging their doomed companions with demonstrations of the sleek power that would shoot them through any ocean tide. And their cries! The dolphin sounds, made either in disgust or dismay, caused his heart to fill and his eyes to widen. He would smile then and watch every detail to the end of the carnage. He imagined one day being able to send the dolphins themselves into a similar gorgeous trap, for he despised their beauty and their intelligence. It was a hatred that he did not analyse lest that might diminish its intoxicating rush.

As Pyramus looked out from the Tower on his birthday with his fingers pressed against the glass he felt satisfaction with his life. He did not mind being hated and to hate. Even when the flaming orange boys from the Bowels recognised him by his green and black collar for a Braganze fop and tried to blind or castrate him he took a deep pleasure from their detestation. When he used his blade on them he was almost grateful for the opportunity of ecstatic hatred. And indeed he loathed his own kind too, especially all those branches of the Clergy who tried to instruct him with their ceaseless words and perversions. Pyramus felt in balance between hating and being hated, floating without rise or fall in a scattered green light of hidden eminence like the giant squid, simply waiting to kill and feed.

In all his assurance and complacency there were only two things that disturbed Pyramus’ peace of mind. The first was the knowledge that when he reached his seventeenth birthday he would be sent out to spend time in the Camps where he would have to come face to face with the Females. He had heard the stories and they turned his stomach.

The second was his dreams. They had become ever more persistent and so powerful that he had not shared them with any Cleric. It wasn’t the visions that worried him most. It was the sounds. They came in strange patterns of amplitude and pitch that almost made sense. And sometimes they gathered into great masses like shoals of fish moving in swirls of harmony. He could not tell whether they were hunting or fleeing. Often they seemed to circle around him and threaten to lift him bodily into the ice storms above. He wanted to take them and craft them, to drive them in new directions. He suspected that he had that power to arrange and elaborate and create variations. Perhaps even to give birth to completely new movements. Always his eyes would fill and his heart would grow as if it might break the bones of his chest. And the sound, that tremulous timbre, that rose above all the rest and moved in magnificence as if simply attended by all others was one he recognised well.

It was the dolphin’s cry.