Chapter 3

The Passages of Beckamain

When Sasha the Builder was old, she would sometimes forget where she was, and for a moment become as the Momentor and stare into space and clutch her hammer to her chest.  Then we children would squirm and not know where to place our next nails and the Architon would come.  He would say to us, “A Builder knows the best place to build is not here, but in a world all your own, where you alone stand responsible.”  And then we would all hush, quiet; some were silenced by the Architon’s strangeness, others were impatient but respectful, others dreamed of dinnertime in a few hours.  None of us were wise.  If we were, we would have used the time before the Builder returned to fashion a hammer in our minds from the matter we were observing, and thus obtain the first tool.

–Kyria Navo, Semantor-Elect of Beckamain, Eulogies for the Dead of the 1030th Year of the Rule of Beckamain, “Sasha the Builder”

In later years, Sasha the Builder was appointed to become the Interlocutor, tasked with guiding each new penult through the stone walls that guarded Beckamain.  Within them were a maze of passages, yet one could not get lost; one always emerged from the other end, with or without a guide.  But a guide helped soothe the minds of those who passed through, and occasionally to offer a word of comfort as walls sprung up around those who entered those narrow passages.

There was something disconcerting in the way this great wall contained within it what seemed like more walls.  Indeed, it was philosophized by the great Interlocutors that there were an infinity of walls within the great wall, and were one to carve a passageway in any of these infinite walls, one might find another infinity of walls waiting for a guide, and someone to be guided.

But these were not later years, and Sasha had not learned of the fivefold chambers, nor that the lights that flitted against the walls represented the genius of a millennial attempt to make some mark of the Chiastic Concord against this old stone that had stood since the time of the first builders.  She did not know that this wall was itself a philosophical insult to the current regime at Beckamain, that they had finally and through pain cast the enchantment upon it that embedded lights in the stone.

The lights that did not bear to be observed, and so when Sasha cast her eyes on them they would flee away, and suddenly the stone would be dark again save for the sense of light that came from some invisible source that existed everywhere yet beyond observation.  Her eyes were both delighted and disturbed.  Wherever one looked one would find not light, but a memory of light, and that was something like what Sasha saw in this woman’s eyes, those same eyes that now saw Sasha’s eyes furiously pursuing the light.

“You won’t catch them, young one.  The lights are made to flee from you.  The chamber you are now walking through is the oldest in Beckamain.  Even before the Shattering and the Chiastic Concord, this passage stood.  There is something in the stone that prevents it from changing.  It has given the Architects headaches, especially since the Shattering.  “For to become in change is to change,” and the best anyone has been able to do since the start of the Concord has been to make the lights respond to us, to our eyes, to hide from us when we seek to look.  Learn from them if you can.”

Sasha knew the contours of what the woman said, but only so far.  The lights were responding to her, and, she thought, perhaps she was responding to the lights in return.  She thought this was rather a good thing to learn.

But suddenly she felt herself becoming cold, a cold that stood primordial, constant; a chill that sprung from the very stone, yet never deepened and never waned.  It did not seem appropriate.  It seemed forever, and nothing was forever.  Or so her grandfather told her once.

She looked up at the woman, who suddenly seemed distant.  It was as though they were growing farther apart, and the woman’s words were flung across a great distance.  “Good-bye, Sasha!  I will meet you on the other side…the five-fold chambers will not harm you.  Good-bye!”

*

A strange ice, impossibly cold yet distinctly pleasant, had settled into Sasha’s skin and eyes.  Had she been able to appreciate the feeling as a feeling, it would have frightened and scared her, but it seemed to touch her distantly, as if she observed it from above herself, floating as a being above her soul, transcendent above the immanent space that was her body.  She perceived the light fading around her, and when it rose again she saw a pair of bloody eyes coming towards her.

Suddenly the eyes seemed to grow, and in their place was a snarling beast, a war-axe in his hands.  The metal of its monstrous head seemed to catch the light suspended in the chamber and shatter it to pieces.  The beast roared and stumbled forward, grasping for her with another hand, its cry like a wounded thing.

Sasha stumbled back, falling against the wall, and the beast did not stop its advance.  Its eyes were now murderous, but Sasha could not scream, perceiving the moment as she did above the moment.  As the cruelty of this monster bore down against her, she watched removed from the moment, as her tiny fingers hewed at its eyes with her hands, even as it brought its axe down against her frail body.

As the axe struck, she perceived a new chamber, where she was no longer present as a body observed from above, but rather floated suspended in the new locus of herself.  She saw women and men toiling in the center of the room, as some sort of conveyor belt run by an unseen energy derived from under the floor wended up and around a massive furnace in the center of the room.  Though monstrous and squat, its form belched forth no foul vapors, but the men and women around it tended it like a brazen idol.

They were studiously forming images out of the raw matter of the air, waving their hands about in strange patternings, muttering stranger incantations, and before their faces would form the image of women knitting, while another would form the image of knitting needles, while another would form Women.  And then another would whisper a word and before them would spring to life an enormous quilt, while another summoned Summer, and another a single half-second of a winter day where a traveling salesperson knocked at someone’s door, offering a few old needles and a single, burnished copper kettle.

And the people would pour onto this conveyor belt all these images, millions at a time, a neverending torrent of all that was and could be.  Sasha recalled in her later years that she even saw one woman muttering forth from her belly the very image of that same scene, the image of men and women tending to the Image Furnace with care, but she never knew if she remembered it truly or if it had been a dream born of her later philosophie.

As the light faded, Sasha saw a spigot extending from the furnace, and it was turning slowly and was about to pour forth one single solitary drop of the violence done to all images, all the possible permutations of reality, but before its essence could spill forth she was gone again.

And then Sasha was a teapot.  She could feel in her full extremities the curve of her belly, the delicate spigot, the handle that was held just so in a careful hand.  As she realized what she was, she realized that she was the Teapot, the essence of a perfect teapot, and observing herself as such she could see the essence imposed against all her vision, and she was blue and white at once, contiguously dyed and unfired, at once merely a leafy bowl that caught condensation from a dandelion in the cold waters of the dew and dripped the most delicate tea onto the earth below, then an ornate bowl fired in the finest kiln, gilded by hand in the Queen’s own workshops, then an enormous chalice lifted by six men for the amusement of the dinner party, and then an earthen vessel with scarcely a handle, and to be the Teapot was to be all these images at once, and this frightened her more than did the great beast that once assaulted her.

*

The woman held her close, soothing.  “All see things, all do who come through it.  They may frighten you, but I want you to know that you cannot be hurt.  Come now, come back to me.”  The woman was running her fingers through Sasha’s hair, and Sasha realized she was crying.  Sasha did not know why she was crying, though, and she stopped immediately; she could not remember why she felt the need to cry in the first place.  The woman continue to rock her slightly, perched on her hind legs in a squatting position, then she pulled back and regarded Sasha silently.  After a long moment, she said, “What are you?”  Sasha did not understand.  In later years, she realized the woman did not understand either.  Sasha learned to ask the same question when she was Interlocutor.

Then they were at another door, in another wall, and before it was set a dais with two objects: a wand, like that the woman carried, and a hammer.  “Now choose,” the woman said, her arms waving out to gesture at the object.  “And tell me why you so chose.”

Sasha looked at the objects.  “Is it a test?” she asked.  She did not know whether what she chose would matter.

“Yes,” the woman said, “and no.  What you pick matters, but only to you.  Pick as you wish, and tell me why.”

Sasha examined them for a moment, and then without thinking too hard reached out and picked up the hammer.  The woman paused, and said, “You have chosen, but to choose is to reflect, and to reflect is to become.  Why did you choose the hammer and not the wand?”

Sasha considered the hammer for a moment, but her answer came easy. “Because I know how to use this one.  The other one, like you have, I do not know how it works.”

The woman smiled, raised her hands, and said, “Then enter into Beckamain, Sasha, Daughter of Garrett, Son of Theos.  You have chosen, and may your choice become the best.”

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