By Dan Wells
“The planets, as you can see, are coming together perfectly.”
The farmer peered through the telescope, squinting, as if that would help him to understand the constellations better. After a fruitless moment he pulled away, and looked at Tlalli with concern. “Perfectly for what?” he asked. “I’m no astrologer; I’m a man with fields of failing wheat. I don’t need a lesson in planets and con…fl…—”
“Conflux,” said Tlalli, still trying to be helpful.
“Whatever,” said the farmer. “Just tell me if my crops will face a famine or a blight.”
“The planets are coming together,” said Tlalli again, “perfectly predicting a bountiful harvest.” She had lived in Stavros only a short time, but she spoke Greek almost fluently. “Tomorrow will be a full moon, and these points of light I showed you—the planets—will draw together in a line with it. They are almost lined up now. Spill water on your wheat at midnight tomorrow, and perhaps a little blood as well, and you will have the plenty that you seek.”
The farmer peered back through the telescope. “But what about the stars?”
Tlalli stifled her groan. If she tried to educate the locals they griped at her for her needless academic complications—hadn’t this man just told her he didn’t need a lesson? But if she answered their questions without the lore behind it, they questioned and doubted and complained. She allowed herself a brief inward sigh, then opened her mouth to speak.
And then stopped again, seeing the guardian Agathe in the doorway to the observatory.
“I wish I could explain further,” said Tlalli, “but it appears the city watch has need of me.”
The farmer looked up from the telescope and frowned, first at Tlalli and then at Agathe, but after a moment he stopped to pick up his sack. “Just as well,” he said. “I have to be getting home.” He took a step toward the doorway, only to stop and look back at the astrologer. “But I have your word? A bountiful harvest?”
“Capable of filling your fondest desires,” said Tlalli.
The farmer grumbled, but less pessimistically than he had before, and left the building. Agathe stepped aside to let him by.
“These peasants will drive me to madness,” said Tlalli.
“It’s because you’re a foreigner,” said Agathe. “They’re accustomed to Greek astrology, not Mayan.”
“The planets are the same,” said Tlalli. “It doesn’t matter who points it out to him—the heavenly bodies are still in the same positions.”
“It’s not you,” said Agathe, “it’s the way you say it. They like hearing about the stars, so just mention them a few times. Put the farmers at ease.”
Tlalli sighed again. “Perhaps. But I assume you are not here to talk about my manner with the farmers.”
“I am not,” said Agathe, and pulled a medallion from under her breastplate. The golden icon was in the shape of a triangle, surrounded by tentacles, supporting an oblong eye at the top. Tlalli pulled a similar medallion from the neckline of her dress, and held it up.
“So this is Circle business,” whispered Tlalli. Agathe nodded. Tlalli looked around at the observatory, with its tall pillars and open walls. “Not the best place for a clandestine meeting, but I do have a storage room in the back. Come.” She led the guardian past her telescope and her planetary charts, to a low stone shed near the back of the building. The observatory needed to be as open as possible, so she could study the skies at will, but storms were common on the coast of the Mediterranean, and this room helped keep her charts and scrolls protected from the rain. She ushered Agathe inside, and closed the door behind them.
“I’m confused,” said Agathe. “I thought you had summoned me here.”
“I did,” said Tlalli. “But I didn’t expect you until later. I’ll get right to the point: I think we have a traitor in the Circle.”
Agathe narrowed her eyes. “That’s a serious accusation.”
“And I do not like to make it,” said Tlalli. “Our ritual is tomorrow night—when the planets are aligned, the entire Circle will gather. But I have been studying that ritual in preparation, and I have found something ominous in the ancient records: a second ritual, to summon the same great kraken, but capable of being performed by only one person.”
Agathe frowned. “Why would someone attempt such a thing?”
“There are five in the circle–”
“Six,” said Agathe quickly.
“Six,” said Tlalli, “counting your brother—but he is gone. Murdered three months ago, and why? Nobody knows. We thought someone had found our Circle, but there have been no murders since. The five that remain have not been attacked or even approached by hostile outsiders. So if nobody else knows about our plans, who is left to kill your brother but a member of our own Circle?”
“None of them would dare,” said Agathe. Her teeth were clenched in fury; Alekos was not just her brother but her twin, and his murder still burned at the back of her mind. “They are our friends—they would not turn against us.”
“There were six of us,” said Tlalli again, trying to calm the young warrior. “And the power of the kraken, while great, was to be split six ways. Now five. Still an immense prize, but think of it: if it were possible to summon such power and not to split it at all—if an alternate ritual exists that would allow a traitor to hold all of that power by himself—can you truly say that none in the Circle would be tempted?”
Agathe glowered at the floor. “It should not be possible.”
“I agree,” said Tlalli. “But the records, if I’m reading them correctly, are clear.”
“How is it done?” asked Agathe.
“I do not know,” said Tlalli. “But…I know who probably does.” She paused, and the silence hung in the air for a long, heavy moment.
“Nicolaos,” said Agathe. “The librarian.”
“Nicolaos,” Tlalli agreed. “We must visit him tonight.”
That brings us to the end of Part 1. Click here for Part 2, The Library
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