The Shape of the World
by Epidiah Ravachol
The schism began when Eyslre hammered a sheet of brass into a rough sphere upon which he painstakingly etched a map of the known world as recorded by Queen Sof in her once celebrated, but now obscure, Twenty-Three Hundred Forays into Realms Strange and Familiar Beneath the Shifting Sky. With will, a thread of silver, and an imperfect cantrip, Eyslre suspended the globe above a grand table made of azure glass in the largest of the dining halls in his spire. Roasted lamb, honeyed pastries, and heady ales joined vine-fruits freshly plucked by imp claw and carried upon batwing from every known clime at Eyslre’s table where he hosted a collection of dignitaries, sorcerous scholars, and traveled adventurers whose paths only crossed here, at the nexus of the world: the City of Fire and Coin.
The affair lasted a week and a day, stretching from somber mornings punctuated with curiosity-seekers pretending to appreciate the sum of all accomplishments this humble globe represented to nights filled with the orgies of ecstatic sycophants driven to wild frenzy by the revelation. At the heart of it all stood Eyslre in his alchemically preserved youth, a lithe and beautiful man, a boundless host with unblemished charm, who — to the ceaseless amusement of his guests — clothed himself in fashions stolen by magic from the world’s most secretive societies.
On the eighth night, Eyslre, whose buttery skin betrayed no shade or scar earned by worldly travel, drifted from a bed of writhing pleasures to slake his thirst at his azure table. A small crowd of scraggy sea captains, weathered caravan masters, and wizen astrologers gathered there to moot on the nature of his discovery. The world — Eyslre would explain to them, highlighting his now well-rehearsed lecture with simple enough tricks of light and noise — is not, of course, a sphere. Were that the case, those unfortunate people encamped halfway around the world from the City of Fire and Coin could only hope to cling to the steep arc of the globe and dangle over the abyss below. The world, instead, was flat, but of a unique and heretofore unknown shape of flatness that could best be represented only by a globe. Here, nearly directly across the globe from where they stood stand now, a place that could only be reached after months of hard ocean travel, is one of the seams in the brass sphere dividing two small islands. Here, the shape of the world is such that, were it drawn out in its properly flat fashion, an unassailable gulf would sunder these two islands. And yet, Queen Sof, in the twenty-second volume of her Forays traveled back and forth among these islands seventeen times in a single day to secure a royal marriage between the local peoples and the right to build an idol to one of her forgotten gods. So it was not possible for the islands to be so sundered.
Awe descended on these travelers and knowers of the world, who had on many occasions been led astray by their own charts and maps. Each of them coveted the globe and fell to silent contemplation on how to best wrest it from its gaudy, floating perch and put it to real work. In their silence, a single scoff echoed and struck Eyslre as a real and tangible blow. He covered the rage in his violet eyes with a smile and sought out this guest of his who so flagrantly announced their doubt.
Hunched Vulenthuwanhu leapt upon the rippled plane of azure glass with a shocking spryness. Her body had been aged decades beyond her youth by her eldritch studies. She was a speaker with the dead and had learn more secrets and paid more tolls in her fifteen years than most families have in as many generations. There she stood, peering up at the brass globe as if she meant to pluck it from Eyslre’s sky with her withered brown hand. In front of these academics and adventurers, where she was unknown by sight, her apparent age stretched well beyond that of Eyslre’s and lent her gravitas as she counter-posited that the origin of the spherical illusion was not in the nature of the world’s flat shape, but in the very orbs through which we view it. The eyes were, of course, globular. So anything so vast as the horizon witnessed through them would obviously tend toward a natural curve. Careful to catch each navigator and stargazer by eye, Vulenthuwanhu asked “Do we not see the stars and those who wander among them as spheres? The moons? And the sun, who travels across the world each day in a long arc when such a journey would best be served by a straight line?”
Thusly satisfied, she turned from the globe and shuffled from Eyslre’s hall and spire. As the dark hours faded into morning, the rest of the guests slowly followed suit and the embers of the eight-night conflagration cooled in a gray dawn.
Vulenthuwanhu also maintained a spire within the City of Fire and Coin — a modest, but foreboding structure with high, window-sparse walls. Though many of this strange city’s sorcerous denizen held far older residencies that gather dark rumors about them for centuries, few had gathered so many as Vulenthuwanhu. The spire had been built only on moonless nights and the laborers appeared only as flickering shadows casts by the City’s many torches and lamps. Some claimed, in whispers, the insides of the walls were engraved with rune and sigil to bar against the dead and deviltry that Vulenthuwanhu’s art was known to attract. Others alleged, in softer whispers yet, the thick walls were made from stone stolen from ancient tombs and arranged just so to bar against the escape of the dead and deviltry that Vulenthuwanhu’s art surely summoned.
The City of Fire and Coin was not overcrowded with spires, but to stand anywhere within the City and to look beyond the monkey-haunted rooftops in any direction was to see a handful of towers stabbing the sky. Rare were the spires that were found together. Most stood alone among neighborhoods that sprouted beneath them to support the studies, pleasures, and whims of their masters and mistresses.
So when a tide of ten thousand crustaceans clamored from the City’s harbor and washed Eyslre’s tower of carved marble and delicately colored glass away as an undertow pulls castles of sand from a beach, only to redeposit it but four bowshots from Vulenthuwanhu’s own dark spire, observers of the incident were more troubled by its portent than by its execution.
The top of Eyslre’s reborn spire was now fixed with cyclopean lenses of rippled glass that reflected the ocean glare into the depths of Vulenthuwanhu’s chambers by day and obscured her view of vital stars that danced along the northern horizon by night.
By feathered beast, by night creature, by drugged laborer, and by regretful prayers, the seclusia grew over the course of a year in response to each other until they stood to rival the gleaming palace of the Shining Lord himself. By day, Vulenthuwanhu’s tower of stone and iron cast a sweeping shadow that we of the City never willfully crossed. Fires lit nightly shone through the glasses in Eyslre’s spire to shower the district with rainbows and wills-o’-the-wisp. These were, as historians would come to name them, the Seasons of the Spires. Little was seen of Eyslre and Vulenthuwanhu during these months. Yet the those of us who resided near each tower were eventually possessed by wicked meddlesomeness. When the summer heat should have driven sober folk to midday naps in cool shade, makeshift militia claiming allegiance to one or another of the two wizards clashed in the streets, eventually drawing the attention of the Shining Lord’s tigerback guard whose savage attempts to restore order were met with stone, blade and cudgel.
On one red morn, as a riderless tiger dragged a casualty from the night’s skirmishes into a nearby alley to feed undisturbed, Eyslre left his spire accompanied by a retinue of seven beautiful and serene thugs — led by tall, fair-bearded man more pleasing than most to Eyslre’s eye — and crossed the city to the foot of Vulenthuwanhu’s abode. She met him with a company of her own cutthroats kept secreted within the shadows of her spire — chief among them a dark, broad and powerful woman taller yet than any in Eyslre’s employ.
Separated only by the shadow’s edge carved by the rosy dawn, the two sorcerers spoke for the first time since the insult in Eyslre’s hall. “I have dreamt, dear Vulenthuwanhu, of us, tangled in green sea tendrils, unable to face each other. As I swam, so would you in opposition and as you struggled, so would I, unwittingly, against your course. Every attempt to free ourselves only tighten our bonds further. I fear we are the tide, pushing and tugging upon the ocean waters, all the while building an alien shore, weaving a spell beyond our comprehension. And I do not trust that our wills are our own in this matter.”
Here a length of silence bound them as a new and unaccustomed chill poured through Vulenthuwanhu. For she had dreamt of a long, silvery web draped between and penetrating their spires and their flesh so that the delicate strands were tied with gentle care around their teeth and bones. There was no movement she could make, however mundane, that did not pull taut one thread and let slack another and so command his movements. It had pleased her to think that she seized control over such a wizard as he. But now, as the shadow of her spire retreated from the rising sun, she could not recall if he danced to her tugs or she to his.
“Bah, you bring me theories of hedge-wizardry! You believe me a child only capable of souring her neighbor’s milk? What you do not understand about the shape of your own will is what you do not understand about the shape of the world. All you have done has been as I wished and allowed. Your entanglement is my amusement and you can expect freedom from it when I tire of the distraction.”
The hot blush of dawn filled Eyslre’s cheeks, and with fury-strained grace he said, “Your confidence is as unearned as your knowledge and neither is accompanied by the experience to know the storm you are soaring in. You have soured more than milk this day. Take your leave of the City while you still have the will to.”
But all was left as threat that morning. Both wizards had prepared delicate machinations that they wished not to see spoiled by bloodshed. For the leader of Eyslre’s guard was a rogue of Vulenthuwanhu’s choosing. She knew that his fair, northern complexion and ear for poetry would prove a temptation too far for Eyslre’s appetites. She charged him with seducing Eyslre’s confidence as insurance against violence the warlock might plan against her.
So he did, by laying bare Vulenthuwanhu’s plan before Eyslre upon introduction. Esylre, mistaking this honesty for trustworthiness, implored him to recruit just such a rogue to infiltrate Vulenthuwanhu’s house. Thus he came to recommend to Vulenthuwanhu a woman of fearsome stature and silent footfall to be the captain of her guard.
Between the rising of the moons on the third night after the wizards spoke, each commanded their rogue to bind and steal the other from their spire and carry them to lands unknown. Instead, the two rogues chose to rob their own magi of jeweled tomes, forbidden numbers, bottled vapors, stores of sweetmeats and wine, and the very globe from Eyslre’s hall before fleeing by ship to the port of Daninuah.
In the seasons since, those rogues have returned to the City many times, as have two of the forbidden numbers, but the globe was forever lost to the corrupting influence of the sea air.
The two spires fell silent in the months following the theft. Unnatural, but not altogether repugnant, odors wafted down from high windows. A fever crawled through the still air. Malformed beasts and other unwelcome omens gathered at the base of the towers. Those ill-fated souls who haplessly wandered between the spires found themselves evermore severed from their dreams and the restfulness of sleep. The City drew back from them as cautious travelers retreat from great bears circling each other.
We were soon to learn that Eyslre and Vulenthuwanhu toiled those days and nights, seeking ancient aid to end the parade of insults and indignities. In their adyta, they each called upon gods so long forgotten that their tales no longer echoed in the arcana. Gods from when the world was but endless, roiling sea and sky. Gods so fitting to their temperament, so perfect for their rage. Gods who were witness to the true shape of the world.
As the spires themselves had been erected, vessels were prepared by sorcery in the form of two beautiful men, thrice the size of any mortal. Eyslre crafted his out of sodalite and azurite malachite with opal eyes and teeth and crowned it with a mane of same shifting hues of the sunset. Vulenthuwanhu built hers from night stone and draped it with a web of silver and stars. Prideful of their wondrous arts, they both employed teams of servants to drag the massive statues into an abandoned market that sat betwixt their spires so that they could publicly anoint their works with oils and ocean foam. Neither acknowledging the other’s work or presence, only a few strides away.
At sundown, the gods awoke. Only once before had the fires gone out in the City, though this time none cried out in shock. Terror had struck all our tongues, even Eyslre’s. All our tongues, but Vulenthuwanhu’s, for she was inured to such horrors.
“Speak, creature before time, of shape of the world so that this dabbler’s shame would be known before all.”
Against the violet of a twilit sky, the god in night stone stood as a silhouette dressed in a map of the cosmos. He spoke in a language that commanded comprehension, looking only into the other’s opal eyes, “Since the coming of the horizon and the sundering of our world, I have longed to reunite with you. From above, I have mourned as the arid land rose from your depths and gave birth to the beasts that walk and fly. I have conspired with my stars to shape the orb of their vision so that when they look upon the plane of the world, they would see a globe and drag us, inevitably, to this moment.”
Waves thundered against the shore as the god in sapphire laughed, “Oh love, since the fleeing of the stars and their wanderers, I have longed for you. From below, I have called forth the steppe and the mountaintop to grant vistas to these creatures that could see farther in the world. I have thrashed my currents and storms against their shores to carve this plane into a shape that could only be mapped as a sphere in the hopes that I could arrange for this very moment.”
The giants embraced and world tipped over. That which once held fast to the ground, rose. Comets fell into the sea. Waves leapt the shores, flooded the City and cast sea foam against the night sky. Senseless, we gibbered into the night, clinging to what we could until, finally, silence and darkness.
By morning, the fires were lit. For the love of these gods, and the scorn of these wizards, we had lost many in the night. Homes, fortunes, and family washed away into ocean or flung into the sky. The two great spires had been washed out into the bay, where they lay as mur against inattentive navigators at low tide. The fates of Eyslre and Vulenthuwanhu remain unknown as none cared to search for them. Their final works, those two exquisite statues, have long since been plundered from the City of Fire and Coin. But on a clear night, if you wander far enough away from the glow of the city, you can still see the stain of the ocean across the sky.