It began in Light.
Lord Gore awoke that morning as he awoke every morning: to the tuneful strains of Air Supply. “Lonely rivers flow to the sea,” he murmured. “To the sea.”
He rose. He smoothed the crisp white sheets. He stepped into the sanitary closet and his body was cleaned coolly and efficiently by the vibrating cadences of tubular crystal bells. It was his own design.
He donned his white silk kimono and padded barefoot down the silent white-stone halls of Luna. He would spend this morning, as he had spent every morning for seven years, in the crystal gardens. The tinkling chimes and refracted silver light soothed him, and took his thoughts away, and left his mind a smooth, pleasant, blank place. He listened to Luna’s strange, silver-winged birds, and the agreeable nothings that they sang. He watched the Earth rise, huge and gravid and sapphire above the silver dunes, and was content. This would be a simple day, a good day. Just like every day on Luna.
He broke his fast on vacuum-chilled water and hydroponically grown boiled grains. He used a tiny silver hammer and tongs to prune the zirconium trees in the crystal garden. He rearranged his collection of still-life daguerreotypes. He meditated on the infinitely complex lyrical symmetry of Russell Hitchcock. He conversed with the native Lunar birds in their odd pidgin tongue, and took down meticulous notes on their grammar and slang. He… stopped.
Something was not right. For the first time since he had built his fantastic, perfect, empty city on the Moon, there was a note of discord in the halls of Luna. It was in the soft hissing growth of his quartz bonsai trees. It was in the chirrup and squawk of the argent birds. It was in the very granite and marble of the smooth, featureless halls. It was even curled around the dulcet tones of Unchained Melody, which reverberated from victrolas placed in every room in his palace.
Lord Gore was shaken.
He rushed to the library and spent the remains of the morning in study, but he could not find an answer in any of the silver-bound tomes that contained his wisdom. He consulted with the birds of the garden, but despite the beauty of their moon-song they were all twittering idiots. He listened to the growing of the trees, but despite their ancient wisdom, they had no memories that matched this newly false note. Finally, and in desperation, he donned his breathing apparatus and left his alabaster city to consult with the drakes, the only other native species of the moon. The enormous reptilian moon-drakes were both outrageously arrogant and vain to the point of distraction, but they were widely traveled any new many strange secrets. It took a day and a night to convene a parliament of preening drakes, and another day and a night before they would cease shunning him long enough to listen to his question, but their answer was swift and prompt and eager.
They told him that the source of the discord was on earth, and that it was the clarion cry of war. They told him that not only were prophecies coming to fruition, but that vast oracular apparatuses were slowly grinding into position, and would soon snap shut like a bear trap. They told him what the future held, and what it might hold, and what could be coaxed, with infinite patience and care, to unfold.
Lord Gore returned to Luna a changed man.
He removed his pearl and filigree armor from storage and donned each piece with solemn care. He took down his sword Joyeuse – six feet of razored diamond blade, cultured from the charred hearts of a thousand energy-lobbyists – and tested its edge. Still sharp. He seated his helm firmly on his head and stared at his reflection in the still surface of a garden pool.
Yes, it would do.
When he had fled to the moon all those years ago – his armies routed, Florida in flames around him, the screeching hordes of the Mad King drawing closer by the moment – he had built Luna to be a kind of hermit’s lair; somewhere to go to retreat from the world and heal his wounds and pursue a life of quiet contemplation. It was to be his sanctuary, his private retreat, and possibly his tombstone. But that hadn’t lasted: despite its remote location, other Beltway Lords had found their way to Luna. It eventually became a kind of bolt-hole; somewhere to retreat to in order to lick your wounds, gather your strength, and then leap back into the fray. Most visitors, under Gore’s watchful eye, stayed only long enough to splint their broken limbs and pour on the styptics before moving on again, but a few had opted to stay. These permanent residents were the true casualties of political discourse; the broken, the beaten, and the damned. Every one of them was, in their own way, a pariah or leper; every one of them had been betrayed by the process itself.
He would need their help.
The first room he came to was spartan and unadorned. Bleached wooden floors and pale paneled walls bespoke a life pared down to the bare exigencies. The man inside sat cross-legged on the floor, sharpening his swords by the careful application of mineral oil and three grades of porous river stones. The short blade was called Aequitas, the long blade was Ultio Ultionis, and together they made the daisho Libra: the Scales of Balance. The high will be brought low, and the low will be made high. With every scrape of stone against steel, the man’s hands moved blindly, mechanically; he wasn’t watching his work, he was staring fixedly at the rooms only ornament. A painting: a coronation portrait of King George the Mad, which looked as if someone who owned a switchblade hadn’t liked the man very much.
“Lord Kerry?” Gore whispered.
Kerry whirled. The length of cloth draped over his brow concealed the missing eye, but did nothing to hide the hideous scar climbing down his face. “What do you want?” he snarled.
“Come,” Gore said, “and see.”
The next room was not small, but its owner made it seem so. Books littered the floor, and lined the walls, and occupied every square inch of available furniture. Some attempt had been made to use the books as furniture, and there was an abortive bookshelf made out of the sturdier and less interesting volumes of the Encyclopedia Americana. Maps lined the walls, and every one of them was covered with notations concerning supplies, troop movements, and terrain: all in the same neat, rounded handwriting.
The room’s occupant was so large he seemed to wear the room like a turtle wears its shell. He was bent closely over a leather-bound tome, the huge book dwarfed by his massive hand. The man clearly had entish blood in his veins; wrinkles and whorls had etched themselves into his mahogany face, and coarse, silvery hair clung like moss to his huge skull.
“General Powell?” Lord Gore asked. The General glanced at him, eyes like deep loam peering over rimless spectacles. “Come, and see.”
After due consideration, the General reached underneath his mattress and unearthed a rusty leather scabbard.
Gore’s last visit technically wasn’t to any part of Luna. Years ago, after Lord Gore had finished construction of his alabaster city he had discovered that he was not the first person who, in desperation, had stumbled across the metasubstantive pathways to the Earth’s distant moon. He had run across, on the very edge of his territories, a meager orchard and a small but well-built house that predated any other known human occupation. They had been old before Gore’s own birth.
Lord Gore tentatively knocked on the wooden door. It opened with a creak.
The room was dark, and filled with shadow. In one corner lay a fine lathe, and a sawhorse, and several wood-working tools. The walls were lined with various faming implements, and botanical diagrams of hearty legumes. And over everything, over everything, lay a thick stratum of dust and cobwebs and the papery-thin shells of dead spiders.
“Lord…” Gore trailed off. Something was watching him. Something unutterably complex and intelligent and charged with the weight of eons. He gathered his wits. “Lord Carter?”
A skeletal hand appeared in the gloom, and clawed at the thick fabric of cobwebs. Pale, rheumy eyes regarded the intruder with unfathomable understanding. A voice like a pair of rusty shears asked, “Why do you wake me?”
“Come,” Gore croaked. “and see.”
A figure unfolded in the darkness, shedding an avalanche of dust and dead silk. It reached out and pulled a double-curved weapon off of the wall.
Well why not? Gore thought, inane with terror. He used to be a farmer, didn’t he?
The four of them gathered in the stables, where a surprise awaited them. The lunar drakes had sent their representatives; the four largest, strongest, and most powerful of their kind had chosen to serve as mounts for the Lords. They had all turned out in their finest and spikiest war-barding.
Gore chose a white beast. Its scaly hide gleamed clean and pearlescent as he sat astride it. He strapped Joyeuse to his back and in his hands he held his favored weapon; a recurve bow made of Greensung wood.
General Powell chose the largest: a massive crimson drake with scales like gleaming blood. On his right hip, the General wore a holstered revolver forged to his own size, and on his left a cluster of grenadoes. In his hands he bore a huge two-handed sword; pitted and dented and rusted red, it had all the style and romance of a meat-cleaver.
Lord Kerry selected a slim, black drake with glossy ebony scales. Both swords were thrust through the sash of his loose silk hitatare, and his fingers clenched and unclenched on their hilts. His single eye was filled with murder.
Lord Carter rode a pale, nearly-skeletal drake. Its scales were nearly translucent with age and its eye were dull and leaden. The ancient Lord had donned a black traveling cloak; with one hand he clutched the folds around his thin frame, while the other clung to his reinforced war-scythe.
They faced the earth. With some ceremony, Gore donned his crystalline crown. Then he reached out, found the ancient path, and twisted, until the lanes between the worlds were open once more. They saw the earth laid out before them; saw a land divided into battlegrounds. They gazed at each side with calculation and sadness and fury and joy. Gore wept for the burning of forests and the fouling of streams. Powell made careful note of the areas where vast power was being brought to a point. Lord Kerry chose his targets and ground his teeth. From the depths of his hood, Lord Carter’s pale blue eyes gleamed with reflected earth-light. He gazed at the huge world with the inimical love that the harvester bears for the harvest.
They rode forth. They did not look to see what followed behind them.