See the introduction for more information.

This story © Keenan Cross, 2022

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[present]Dandec’s worry that there would be nothing to eat in the northeastern forest is allayed when he discovers, following a little exploration, that the undergrowth contains many edible plants.  One strain of a local wheat grows abundantly amongst the waist-high bushes that cluster among the feet of the high trees, which is quite odd but especially welcome.  Harvesting the heads from some, he thinks he should have noticed mention of these in the few studies he has been able to find of the region.  Perhaps he did, years ago.  He has had to leave many of his own notebooks behind, in order to travel as he must on foot.The great trees also bear fruit, he knows.  He finds one by chance when his left eye turns to the ground at his feet.  He has seen drawings of these: round, a little larger than the joint of his thumb, a bold, glimmering blue that reminds him of Goldenhill’s canopy.  He pries it apart and finds that, as he had expected, it is no berry but an aril, its spiky cone encased in a thick, aromatic meat.  Do the illustrations he has seen note this?  He cannot recall.  He thinks that they must, if their creators observed the arils closely enough to draw them.Dandec peels a little meat away from the cone and tastes it.  It is mild and earthy-sweet.  He has no reason to suspect it is poisonous, but he will ask the locals before he tries to collect them.  He sketches this one inside and out, and leaves it where he found it.He feels a raindrop strike his arm, another land in his hair.  Dandec has not thought about it, but the canopy is not thick, there is plenty of room for rain to reach the floor.  It is no matter: he folds his notebook’s protective cover tightly and returns it to his leather pack, and now he welcomes the rain.He has come far from his camp, though.  He thinks he knows the way back, but his errant eyes disorient him, even as used as he is to them.  He stumbles in the soil, which seems to come loose and shift in rivulets rather than become soaked, and has to lean against one of the giants to wait until he can find his bearings.The rain grows heavy, though there is still sunlight.  It creates a shimmering fog of gold and red that dances like wood spirits, against the uneven ground.  For the first time since entering the woods, Dandec cannot hear the odd breath of the trees.  He sits against the western side of a tree, which is as good of shelter as a house, and listens to the spirit dance, and waits.  Rivulets roll across and around his feet.When the rain thins a long while later, Dandec is not as sure he knows his way back.  The undergrowth is dense but it leaves many paths that all look alike.  He did not intend to come far enough that he needed to mark his oath in any way.  That was foolish.  In the light rain, still accompanied by the golden mist but more distantly now, he explores in search of a familiar bush or knee or sapling.In one clearing, he finds a marker.His right eye catches it first, when he is twisting his neck to aim that one forward.  It shows him what at first he thinks is a sapient of some kind, standing in the rain with one arm outstretched.  When he passes his focus to the other eye, always the stronger one, he recognizes a stack of gray stones, a little taller than he himself.  Pinned between two, at shoulder height, a skeletal arm.Dandec smiles to himself when he realizes what he has found.  He wishes for the rain to cease so that he can bring out his notebook and draw the marker, but he will have to make do with committing it to memory now.The rocks are granite, heavy, and rounded.  Dandec has seen no other rock here; he suspects it has to have been brought from elsewhere, or bought from a traveler.  They fit together carefully, forming a shallow cone.  The slot to fit in the arm is cut precisely to hold but not crush it.  The arm itself is not actually bone, but cast in plaster.Dandec cannot fathom the meaning of it.  He imagines a language of symbols: granite to mean this, plaster to mean that, an arm to mean something else.  Or simply the suggestion of death in that direction.  He hopes he will have the chance to ask its builder.While he does not know where this marker is relative to his camp, he knows it will help him navigate in the future.  Keeping within sight of it, he begins to explore again.#[satellite university during the fall, 16yo]The clatter of a tray on the stone floor of his cell woke Dandec briefly.  The clunk of the slot being opened, the light skittering sound of the previous tray being removed.  Dandec could not remember if he had taken anything from the tray that had been slid in this morning.  He didn’t think he had, even though he was so hungry.  Always so hungry.He lay curled on his cot, blanket held tight despite the heat.  The emptiness, the cold void that tugs from his breast into immaterial realms made him want to claw at his sternum, to grip at it and tear.  Thus he clutched whatever else he could; the blanket, the cot’s metal frame, his hair.  He had not escaped wounding himself.  The cuts he had given himself about the chest and the thighs were healing, but still scabrous.Someone had come in and bandaged his wounds—a few days ago, longer?  But his restlessness had torn the linen away.  The dressing had been poorly done, anyway; everyone was equally wounded, even the medical staff.Dandec expected to drift again into painful sleep, but it did not come.  He lay, facing close to the stone wall, unbearably conscious, and he wept again.  The tears were of sadness, true, but moreso fear.  What had happened?  Why did it hurt so?  Would this never end?For the first time in what feels like months, he sat up and out his feet on the cold concrete floor.  A heavy husk of something came with him, clinging to his shoulders and back and arms.  He thought at first that he had hurt himself so badly that his thorax was encrusted with dried blood, but then realized that it was only a husk.  He had molted while despondent, the thick, horny skin of his back and arms and legs splitting apart and tearing loose as it did once every few passes of the moons, and not even noticed.  The new skin underneath was not fully hardened, but far from as thin and weak as it was when fresh.It occurred to him to be disgusted by the husk, enough that he stood for the first time in days to shake it off himself and nudge it under the cot, out of sight.  Standing, he felt some measure of clarity begin to creep, however slowly, back into his senses.He had been in a lecture at the moment that the World Heart died.  The professor, a wizened crow with a gravelly voice and a penchant for theatrics, had become suddenly silent while diagraming the interior structures of a developing fruit for their assembly, left the drawing unfinished and leaned with one hand against the board, scraping slowly down.  In the same moment, Dandec had felt something, but could not have described it.  A simple, quick change, as though the air in the room had thinned.  Long moments ensued, which forever he would remember as the most awful of his life, as he and the other students sat in quiet shock.The indescribable agony had such depth, such reach within him, that it was almost impossible to detect.  It felt as though his lower half had been sheered away from him, and the fractional moment before what was left of him toppled to the floor lingered interminably.Soft weeping arose somewhere within the lecture hall, punctuated by confused, despairing cries.  Dandec fell against the rail in front of his seat, clutched it like he would drown without it.  He did not weep then, he was too confused.In that moment he could not know that it was the same across the entire satellite university—across all of Esor Asel—everywhere in the world.He was only dimly aware of it now.  Within a few hours of the event, there had been hurried meetings among greatly weakened administrators and mages, followed by attempts to communicate with the suffering students.  Dandec knew that contact had been made with others in distant lands, and the magnitude of the unknowable disaster had been confirmed.  Whispers had proliferated about the World Heart: it seemed absurd to think that the machine at the center of the world could die, but deep within Dandec he had no doubt at all that it was true.The pain had grown worse and worse, the despair more inconsolable.  The university had tried to operate on some level for a day or two, but it had become clear that no one, or nearly no one, could work.  Let alone learn.  Somewhere in that time, Dandec had taken to his cell and sunken into the hole in his own heart.Well, he was standing up now.  The urge to weep had passed.  The absence of the World Heart hurt, almost physically, yet it was different now.  It was familiar.  It was a feeling he had felt before, i’d never at such magnitude.  In the days before leaving Alu Hechak; the final night among the traders.  The feeling of knowing a fact, a fact of terrible ill, that would have seemed impossible earlier, but that was now true, all-encompassing, and inescapable.He almost laughed at the thought that that might be reassuring.  He didn’t; it would be some time still before he would feel mirth again.  But it was something.  It was ground to stand on.He ate, and decided that he had probably not eaten in days.  Eschewing utinsels, he dug his fingers straight into the porridge, briefly remembered having done so at least once before without leaving his bed—the cell was small enough—and senses that it was a long time ago.After devouring the porridge, the pile of berries, the vegetable mush made surely by a despairing cook, he placed the tray back on the ground and slid it to the slot that would open again later.  He could not imagine who was preparing and serving food at this time.  Though he was thankful, after a fashion.His cell was small, only affording enough space for his cot, his writing desk, and a single trunk.  A slit window in the wall opposite the door showed a blue sky, which normally gave enough light to study by.  It illuminated a stack of papers on the writing desk, only a few words written on the first.  Dandec could not even remember what he had been assigned to write.He had spilled his inkwell at some point.  The dark ink was dried on the unstained wood, tracing the outline of a book that lay next to the papers.  When Dandec touched it, it was not even tacky.  Dandec sat back on his bed and hugged himself tightly.  The weight in his chest tugged so hard.  Some moments he felt robust to it; others he thought he might weep openly.Even so, he did not retreat to his cot.  At the moment the thought of sleep offered no comfort, only several days of suffering to revisit.  He thought, maybe, he might open his door.Images tormented him when he moved for the handle, images that he realized he had harbored all this time but not recognized.  He imagined that the demise of the World Heart—however it had happened—would be the demise of the world: that outside his dormitory cell would be a lake of magma, the world collapsing into itself.  Or else a litter of bodies, millions dead from despair and pain, twisted and bloodied wherever he looked.  Or that he would open the door and step out into the firmament, that the world was entirely gone and he was the last to deny it.It was the tray at his feet that reassured him.  Someone was preparing the food and bringing it to the dormitories.  There had to be a world, Dandec thought, for there too be a kitchen, and a hallway, and a cook.He tested the door first.  Part of him hoped to find it locked from the outside, as if he were a first-year attendee if the university, confined to quarters each evening with only books and notes.  But it was unlocked, and he steeled himself to exit.There was no cosmic void beyond, only the plain stone hallway.  Hot; condensation clinging to the walls and floor, and to the parallel rows of closed doors.  Silent, though Dandec was certain most cells were occupied.The world beyond the dormitory portal was still there, too.  The wet-season sun transformed small clouds and cobble walkway alike into blinding novae that sliced into the student’s eyes like thrown knives.  He squeezed them shut as he stepped out onto the university’s grounds, arms folded and shoulders hunched.  How could it be so lively out here, when there was no more World Heart?  The grass was lush and thick, the trees dense with broad, many-lobed leaves.  Little birdsong, but gnats buzzed as thickly as springtime pollen.  It felt almost insulting.The satellite university was a subsidiary institution of Esor’s.  Many miles northwest of the legendary city-state, it was small and rural, not much bigger than a nobleman’s country villa.  Even so, it was centuries old and venerable in its own way.  A cluster of buildings constructed from the same dark rock that comprised much of the landscape, hewn into humbly simple shapes but still well-appointed with real stained glass windows and thick tiled roofs.  The complex had been designed to imitate a southern Plains Machinist monastery, with its tight and dark cloister, its temples, and its recreational structures all opening onto a central garden and surrounded by wilderness for miles around.  In this case the temples were lecture halls and laboratories and libraries.Dandec followed the path from the back of the dormitory to the garden.  It was lavish in a peasant way, tightly grown with dark yews and banks of goddessbreath, around a fountain carved in the likeness of Ti Esor, the deity of wisdom.  All was a little overgrown, and the fountain’s flow was feeble.  The student sat on the lip of the fountain and stared at the earth.  He had not seen anyone else in the complex yet.Sitting with his eyes closed made the hole in him feel much deeper.  Dandec stood to pace.  He fell into the inner circular path and walked it again and again.  Bushes, trees, flowers arced past him in an ethereal promenade, and he recited to himself what he knew about each.  The Anedis birch and the Green Cliffs acacia.  Dioecious Gitier’s heretic shrubs blooming with bold blue flowers that lolled cavernously to the floor.  The tiny ridges encircling the leaves of this tree allowed it to breathe at higher elevations but hampered its growth here.For an immeasurable interval, Dandec was only his legs and his botanical knowledge.  A hand materialized when he reached to pluck a needle from a shrub, but vanished when his eyes would not face the needle to examine it.  He did not recognize the aging human groundskeeper who appeared in his path after many revolutions, until the old full-human’s eyes drilled into him.“Sunstealers,” the groundskeeper muttered, eyes on Dandec but words only for himself. “They take the Heart away from us.  They’ll do anything.  Bankrupt.  We could have gotten in front of it if we didn’t saddle ourselves with the halfshits.”The old man was advancing on Dandec, and in his hands were his shears.  The demihuman fell away by a step—but the groundskeeper only pushed past him.  The shears rose to trap the stem of a large bloom Dandec had just passed.“No room for anything beautiful anymore,” the man continued to mutter.  “Sunstealers.  They take the Heart away from us.”The groundskeeper glared at Dandec briefly, then continued to mutilate the garden, growling to himself all the while.  Dandec breathed deeply and jogged back to the cloister and his cell.Inside, he felt unsure that he had ever left.   Only the pain in his eyes and the comparative dimness of everything he saw after returning from the bright garden proves that he had exited the room at all.  The stone walls, the cot, the books, the unwritten treatise—the context of his entire life, it seemed.  His inner being screamed with rage at their sight, and at the thought of going back to sleep.  Any alternative filled him with something much worse, though, something indescribable.  He lay down.Thoughts danced in his head, about the possibility that the withdrawal of the World Heart was a trick by Esor’s rival city. It was a comforting thought; perhaps, rather than the utter catastrophe it seemed to be, Has Asel’s metaphysicists had merely developed a method to mask the core of the world from the breasts of their enemies.  Perhaps the weapon would fade in its intensity, or perhaps Dandec could abandon his studies and begin to walk north, and soon be free of its radius.  And then maybe other lands would learn of the atrocity and look on it in horror, and bring collective vengeance on the aggressors who had made the Esori feel like this.Who had made Dandec feel like this.#When he slept, Dandec dreamed of the groundskeeper.  Shears opening and closing, parts of Dandec falling away like the flowers that offended the old man now.  At each cut he could see that inside him was not blood and bone, but soft, smooth amber.Again the replacement of his tray woke him, late in the evening.  Dandec retrieved the new tray immediately, downed the gruel and the bread, and even the pile of tasteless ground meat.After scooping the meat up in his hands, Dandec could not clean them sufficiently with the meager towel he had available.  Wiping them obsessively, he realized that he was filthy all over.  His skin was slick with oil and a waxy substance unique to his physiology, fringes of dried blood traced the backs of his hands and arms like borders on a map, and a haze of dirt covered his legs.  It had been some time since he had bathed even on the day of the disaster; he could not say for how long now.  He wanted nothing more, suddenly, than a bath.A rare luxury for a working child in Alu Hechak, Dandec had enjoyed access to a bath house since arriving at the satellite.  Perhaps not the main one, but he and the several other demihuman students were permitted use of the secondary bath house, when it was not in use by the servants.Both were deep in the recreational building, beyond the mess.  Dandec approached the entrance to the servants’ bath singlemindedly, but stopped before he opened the door.  There had been some sounds of rustling and movement along the way, but the university still seemed abandoned.  He entered the students’ bath instead.It was large and empty, a single wide room built all of sealed wood of dark brown.  Benches lined the outside and six pools, one for each stage of a thorough bath, yawned in two rows in the floor.  Three of those were filled, now, clean but inactive.  The hot bath was not heated, nor the fragrant one scented.  Nevertheless, Dandec took a folded washrag from a bench and, quietly, lowered himself into the first pool.Submerging himself fully and then sitting with the water up to his nostrils, Dandec felt for the first time that he could perhaps imagine life without the presence of the World Heart.  Denying himself no luxury that was available to him…burying himself in his studies…The feeling did not last.  After considering it for only a few minutes, he sank into the pain again.  That absence would not cease.  It would tear him away from his studies and it would throb through any peace and pleasure.Unless it was only an attack by Has Asel.  Oh, he hoped.The first pool was lukewarm.  In Alu Hechak the metropolitan hot bath had been warmed by magic or magicomechanism.  That was one reason Dandec had turned to this satellite of Esor: it was an old, old place, not yet changed by the last few centuries’ developments in hardlight-powered machines.  This pool would, under normal circumstances, be heated by a simple brazier.  Without its heat Dandec cleaned himself as best he could, and rinsed himself in what would have been the cool bath next to it.Overcome with worry that he might be caught at any time—someone still tended the baths, after all—he dried himself and dressed, and slunk back out.  His shirt and breeches were dirty still, and he had few spares.  He did not worry about that now.When he was clean, there was a crispness to Dandec’s thoughts that was blunted otherwise.  He did not know if this was a matter of demiformity, or of illness, or a common phenomenon he did not know of.  Like cool, clean air cut across his mind.  Not altogether pleasant, but welcome after the haze he had experienced for so long now.The garden had been ransacked again.  It appeared the groundskeeper had dug his shears deep into the shrubs this time, not content to remove the flowers but destroying the rest of the plants as well.  Dandec took a branch off the ground, from a thick-stemmed highland rhododendron.  It ended in a cluster of seed pods, already fertilized.  He took it with him.When he returned to his cell, he sat at his writing desk and took up a pen to draft the practice treatise he had begun before his fugue.  For several hours, he was only his hand and his botanical knowledge.  And though the ache in his heart tugged at both, he was not compelled to retreat to his cot.By evening, he had written twelve pages on the topic.  It was a simple topic, on which much had been written, intended only for learning the art.  Dandec looked to the branch he had brought in from the garden.Dissection was a long and frustrating process, as he had to wait for his eyes to turn to the subject for each brief moment of cutting and examination, and he could not rely on the muscles of his hands to guide him as with writing or sketching.  After several days, though, he had gathered many plants from the university grounds, dissected, thoroughly examined and illustrated them.  He referred to none of the texts he had available, but wrote his observations from only what he saw, and at great length.When he had his own treatise, his cell was stacked with limbs and leaves and seeds and nuts, fronds hung from its walls, soil scattered about the floor.  It was pleasingly pungent, a cushion of earthy aroma to welcome him when he returned from his walks and his baths.Others had emerged from their tormented retreats by now.  Other students walked the halls nervously, and Dandec could no longer use the fullkind bath.  There was still no semblance yet of normal academic life, only a slow return to communal life at its most basic.  Suffering students moped alone or huddled in small groups, watching others with weariness in their eyes.  Venerable professors were no different.  Dandec made no effort to interface with any of them, especially since he had not seen any of the other few demihumans yet.  He heard whispers of blame: it was the Sunstealers—no, the Machinists destroyed their World Heart—no, demihuman births sapped it…Other whispers suggested that it was Machinists who suffered the most.  That their worship of the World Heart as the vital center of all things and the enactor of the Prime Mover’s design had made its disappearance a much sharper, heavier blow.  Dandec could only wonder—if it were in fact a global phenomenon—what must be happening in Alu Hechak.  Indeed, there were cells in the cloister that were beginning to emit an unnerving smell.[maybe start this section here?]The satellite’s botanical philosopher was a barrel-chested ptericeryne, as large and as gregarious of one as Dandec had ever seen.  In his lectures he spoke with a booming voice, laughed loudly and often, and frequently led his pupils through the woods and hills surrounding the university.  It was a surprise that Dandec had not seen him at least somewhat recovered from the disaster yet.He lived in another cloister, among professors and administrators.  Dandec had not visited it, assuming that he was not welcome, or at least that he should not draw attention to himself.  Under very different circumstances now, the demihuman came with two manuscripts in his hands.After Dandec had rattled the door several times, the botanist finally opened it, only a sliver.  A dark cervid eye glared through the gap, blinking and betraying no response except impatience.“I am…I am a pupil of yours,” Dandec stammered.  It had not occurred to him that he would need to speak aloud, for the first time in multiple passes of the moons.Deep Ochre Seven Nineteen huffed, not unlike an animal stag, shifted beyond the door.  He did not respond except to move to grip the handle with his teeth.“I have written my treatise,” Dandec jammed his heel into the opening while the ptericeryne struggled with the mechanism intended for species that bore hands.  “That we were all to write…and also another one, of my own.”“I am retired from professorship,” the voice was reedy and gruff compared to its usual broad timbre.  “I think everyone here is.  Leave me be.”Dandec did not withdraw his foot, though he could not summon any more words.  He was already thoroughly exhausted and wanted only to be back in his own cell, waiting for his eyes to let him cut another plant.“Are you still drawn to flora?” Seven Nineteen snapped.  “What interest can it possibly hold?  I wish never to see a blade of grass again.  Or a dandelion.”“I don’t much wish to see anything but grass and dandelions,” Dandec said.  He told himself it was in jest. “At the moment I am very tired of seeing only my door and my ceiling and the backs of my own hands.”Seven Nineteen growled and swung his head away from the opening, then finally moved away from the door so that his pupil could come in.  Dandec lingered at the threshold, suddenly very nervous at the sight of someone else’s hermitage.  His professor occupied a cell maybe half again larger than his own, stacked with books and papers surrounding a quadruped’s crouching mattress and a floor-level desk.  The desk had been thrown onto its side, books scattered and trampled and chewed.  Loose papers flung to the walls suggested that Seven Nineteen had unfurled and flapped his accipiter wings.  The state is the bookshelves agreed.The professor himself was equally disheveled.  His short, burnt-cream fur was matted, dark eyes rheumy, feathered wings unkempt.  His hooves and antlers were chipped and cracked.  He stood with his head low, mouth frozen in a weary scowl.“I have noticed you,” the professor said lowly.  “You are my demihuman.”“I am.”“You are the one who came to our school with no one’s leave.  Dandec.”Dandec was quiet.  Most of the other demihumans who attended the university were slaves from Esor proper, sent with the instruction to learn a subject of use to their masters, or otherwise free demihumans from the Plains similarly studying to better serve someone else.  Convincing the headcouncil to admit Dandec had been a matter of long correspondence and then a grueling, pleading interview when he had arrived.  Word of the latter had surely spread.“So you think that, with the World Heart gone, the plants will not die?  That there will be trees alive and grassy hills in another year?” the ptericeryne shoved a stack of books off a second cushion with his antlers.  “You think there is any use studying at all?”Dandec did not know if he was reassured or wounded to hear someone else state the fear.  He knelt across from his professor’s cushion, as properly as he knew how.  His eyes looked at opposite diagonals, and he did his best to face one at the deer.“I would like my papers read either way,” he managed.Seven Nineteen was working at a tea kettle shaped for his teeth and hooves.  It boiled the water with a tinderbox and decanted it into bowls with a small magicomechanical engine that made Dandec wince lightly.“I hadn’t heard your accent,” the ptericeryne noted.  “You are from Alu Hechak.  Or the Rays?”“Alu Hechak,” Dandec nodded.“Students come from around the continent to learn in our vaunted university.  That is almost as far as one can.  Most demihumans know better.”Dandec said nothing to that.  Even after more than a year studying in Esor he stung from the betrayal in transit.“But you avoided enslavement.  And you did not go back home.  You know, there are Machinists who think of Alu Hechak as a holy place.”Dandec had noticed—because his right eye would not turn away from it—the pile of springs and cogs and rods against the inside wall, the remains of a Machinist shrine kicked and stomped apart.  Seven Nineteen had never mentioned a history in Machinism in his lectures.“Alu Hechak builds the grandest machines in the world, to hold itself to the shore,” Dandec agreed.  “I used to clean and maintain those machines.”“Then tell me: how long can a machine run, even the very grandest one, without its engine?”Dandec’s mind returned to his long days in isolation since the disaster, his fits of terror at each new supposition of what may have happened and what may come next.“Have you heard what people are saying?” he asked.“Pah, I’ve not left this cell since the dry moon was in the north.”“Some are saying this is an attack by the Sunstealers.  Has Asel has created a device to cut Esor off from the World Heart.”Deep Ochre Seven Nineteen rolled his eyes.“There is nothing in this world that is more meaningless than the rivalry between Esor and Has Asel,” he grumbled.The Esor Asel word he used for meaningless carried connotations as well of offensive.“Oh,” the ptericeryne looked back to him.   You were told your choice between the two would be of moral significance, yes?  You heard the story that the sun pivoted over Esor, and Has Asel stole it?”He stood to snatch a page from Dandec’s hands, and dropped it to the stone floor.  With a silverpoint pinched carefully in in a forehoof he scratched a wavy line across the page, with two dots and two X marks.“This is Esor, and this is Has Asel,” he indicated the dots.  “A millennium past, the sun’s pivot point was directly above here, and in eight centuries it migrated to here.”The current pivot was, according to Seven Nineteen’s crude map, at least a hundred miles from Has Asel—and over the Safe Sea.  Esor’s pivot was some few hundred miles due east of it, nearer to Esor than it was now but far north-northwest from the city.“The sun’s pivot point migrates because the world does not rotate in a perfect circle.  This is well known, and has been since prior to the feud.  Do you imagine that the Aseli are some phenomenal technologists, making these incredible devices to terrorize us with once and never again?  Easy for a Hechaki to think a single machine is the cause for all concern, and another for all succor.  And did your fellows who proposed this also suggest that Esor only falls behind because of our satellite universities, where we allow students we would not in the city?”Dandec was quiet.  Part of his manuscript was now trampled into the floor and scribbled over.“But it is pleasant to think,” the deer continued.  “That if you rode far enough away from here you would feel it again.  You won’t.  The World Heart has died.  You know it as well as I.”“Please read my treatises.”“Why?”“Because the science of beauty is the underpinning of peace.”Seven Nineteen snorted.  “Who told you that?”“It’s my own revelation.”“Such poetry.  Dandec the wise.”Dandec tried to hide his frustration.  He felt ridiculous kneeling formally and twisting his neck to meet the ptericeryne’s eyes, who made no similar effort.“I would like to think that the World Heart is not gone,” he said slowly, measured.  “But I had a realization that, if it is, and I will never feel it again, there is at least still the beauty of the natural world to see and to know.  And when I went out to the gardens and I looked at them closely I did not feel so…stricken.”Deep Ochre Seven Nineteen took a long drink from his bowl, eyes studiously not on the demihuman.“You’ve not answered my question,” he said.  “About a machine and its engine.”“If the Prime Mover’s machine fails and life ceases to flourish, I would rather spend my last years knowing the beauty it had.”One hoof settled gently on the defaced page on the floor, slid it slightly in Dandec’s direction.“What do you envision?  Communication among botanical philosophers, discussing what we are losing as it withers before us?”“I would say, our discussion of it is a way it would continue to exist.”Another snorted laugh, but Deep Ochre Seven Nineteen kept his eyes downcast.“Leave me your treatises,” he said.  “And I will read them.  I can guarantee nothing.  I cannot guarantee that I will have the will to wake up tomorrow morning.”Dandec nodded.  He could not guarantee that of himself, either.  He lay his stack of paper atop the vandalized one, and left his professor to himself.News would come from Esor proper after several more long days, confirming that the disappearance of the World Heart was a global event.  Apparently the university city had been swallowed by violence these past months, despair driving its populace, both academic and lay, to fury.  Order had only just returned recently, when a new king and council had emerged from the fighting.  No word yet, if any of their policies regarding the satellite universities would change.The tentative clusters of disheartened students leaving isolation had grown bolder and were now everywhere, sharing their suffering and discussing the disaster according to their various disciplines.  Sometimes even led by a professor bravely returning to the role.  The mess staff ceased to bring meals to every door.  By then Dandec was writing furiously, and also stealing books and journals from the now-disused library to research further.  He talked to no one except to obtain a meal or an obscure monograph.He received his treatises through the food slot in his door in the night eventually.  The pages were crinkled and showed signs of having been read, but Deep Ochre Seven Nineteen had written nothing on them.  In the morning, Dandec found the deer’s cell empty.  Even by the time the university had returned to a version of its former routine, there was no sign of him.The students of botanical philosophy were gathered together to meet with an administrator, and given the names of masters of their field with whom they could continue their studies.  Most of those operated from within Esor.  Some in Has Asel.  One in a satellite of Has Asel’s own, which similarly allowed demihumans.  Dandec agreed to complete his studies there.


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