On the Origin of Song

Issue #131, Fifth Anniversary Double-Issue

(Named to the 2013 Locus Recommended Reading List; reprinted in Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2014, ed. Rich Horton)

Note: Doyen-Générale, enclosed is the full catalogue of documents pertaining to the individual known as Ciallah Daroun, as per your request. I only ask that you keep the card registries intact, so that they may again be archived in a timely manner.

—Commissaire de l’Académie, Aveline Duvachelle

Envelope 32-R (Reichstagg’s Report):

Stamped with Gold wax and Phoenix of the Sunrook solarium.

1117th turn, 4th moon.

Chercheur-Commandant Dupont,

The Sunrook Conservatory had received reports of a large stranger harassing citizens for three weeks. This giant was dressed in grey-black rags, with his face covered in the way of highwaymen. He was estimated to stand at a height of twenty-one hands, with a wide frame, though other physical features were obscured by rough cloth. His voice was not of this world, and was, as one report mentioned, like two fists of shale scraped against one another.

The individual was first confronted by Conservatory marshals outside the solarium, at which time Lecteur-Marèchale Ericcson charged him with the illegal hunting of solarium sunbirds. I commanded the stranger to identify himself, and he gave the name ‘Chala Darune’, then remarked that he was not a hunter but a naturalist. He cited the sixth and tenth Academy commandments before requesting that he be allowed to continue on his way. The marshals and I issued a warning but complied.

Later the Cartographer Brecker sent word of the individual Darune and further aberrant behavior. After observing the Cartographer’s griffins, Darune had asked to buy inks and vellum, paying with foreign iron ingots. Subsequently, without any use of Song, the stranger Darune swallowed the inks and stamped his foot upon the vellum. According to the esteemed Cartographer’s testimony, writing had filled the vellum in the colour of the imbibed inks, all while the stranger remained silent.

Though these actions were not illegal, they were deemed deviant, and so Lecteur-Marèchale Davisson, Chanteur-Marèchale Redwyn, and I set off in pursuit. Darune left the city of Sunrook by dusk and disappeared beyond the Shore into the Desert. However, he left deep footprints in which we observed rich printed text. The marshals and I immediately made plaster casts rubbed with charcoal and copied in triplicate, all of which have been delivered to you with this letter.

Salut,

Connaisseur-Captaine Reichstagg

Charcoal scratching,

Package 32-R (Reichstagg’s Plaster-Casts):

Original plaster in Le Conservatoire de l’Académie.

Note: Observe how the letters are formed in such a way that it appears to have been printed from a Press. The font has not yet been identified.

Commissaire-Aspirant de l’Académie, Jean Lamarck

          though I have seen the phoenixes from my home on the mesa, they are quite something else when observed from close by. They seem to be wholly domesticated here in Sunrook, though this Mountain is their native, wild ground. I saw one hunt a small desert mouse outside of my home-tent on the mesa, though here in the city they are fed by the solarium’s keepers. It appears they are used for the delivery of messages. The ever-present constantly shifting lights in the night sky, I surmise, are correspondence flown between all the solariums of the world.

This phoenician Song seems to be composed of augmented chords in the high-to-mid octaves, and is associated with their sun-bright light. Jaanbab Al-Marack would have us believe that these traits are passed on in the blood, but I find it curious that the other wildlife on this Mountain is possessed of the same traits.

The gryffones, both captive and wild, also Sing with augmented and major chords, though they are lower in octave, and they too spit hot, bright light. The peoples of Sunrook mirror these sounds with flutes and Woodwinds, and much of their Music is focused upon production of warmth and illumination. Even during nighttime, the Songs of the population keep the Mountain lit as if it were high noon. Behavior seems to be shared among the people and their Singing beasts, as well: all seem haughty and highbrowed, and lend themselves easily towards arrogance.

I inquired as to whether much intermating occurs between the Men and Beasts of the region and was immediately reported to the Conservatory authorities for speaking deviant words and causing a disturbance. As it was taken as an insult, I believe it can be fairly inferred that no such mating occurs, and that these Musical traits are not passed in blood lineage.

My hypothesis remains that an environmental factor inspires the abilities of Song, perhaps in the weather or geography. I am convinced that it must relate to sound: it cannot be sheer coincidence that the mesa of Benihajr is dry and in the still and silent doldrums, and that my people cannot Sing.

Testimony Thirty-Three:

Spoken by Seer Halldën.

Stamped in Court, with Ash wax and the Dragon of Gjallihöll.

Transcribed by Chasseur-Ècrivain Aimée.

1117th turn, 7th moon.

O, he came past the Cave-Gates in black robes and stood like a stormy mountain, but he told us he was a scholar. Though he didn’t have the look of you Academy men. Too humble. Too hushed. And you letters-men never feel the need to cover your face—but he did.

He paid Hunter Gudrun with gold bars he called dinars—and that was enough to buy old-fashioned Gjallihöll trust—and even though the stranger wasn’t man enough to show his head, he did give us his name: Çal Darwun. That was enough to convince the hunter band to take him down past the Chamber-Gates and Smoke-Gates on their expedition to bring back a Dragon’s tooth.

When offered a lyre or horn, he held it like a leg of ham to be inspected and handed it back, saying he needed no such weapons. Though he did want the hunters to demonstrate its use, which they did, proudly Singing smoking fireballs and arrows of earth into the cave walls. During camp he would scribe some words with those feet hidden under his robes, using some strange Song that none of the hunters had heard of but assumed was some smart scholar-Music that could even be played silently. Whatever the Song was, he could write a page a second and make copies quicker than lightning. Most of the men couldn’t read, but he gave them some calfskin pages as a gift, which of course they took graciously.

It was four days until we reached the Hindrunlands, where the salamanders stop lighting the tunnels with their tails and where the shadow dances with the light. That’s where the Dragons live. But Çal told us that he’d continue on into the dark, if we wanted to join. We laughed, of course. Höllmen don’t go into the dark—that’s a place fit only for the skuggaver, crawling blind and praying to their slinking shadow gods. We would not go, we came for Dragons, not to visit the stinking Skuggstað. Skugg-sty, more like. He offered more dinars, but we wouldn’t step a foot where the salamanders won’t light the way.

That’s when the big gaurrin pulled out a jar of salamanders and tickled them on their heads, shining light in twenty different directions. He’d been taming them while we were busy scouting tunnels for ash piles and claw sharps, the mad fool. Somehow, his hands never burned, and he never shouted when he poked their flaring little bellies.

But no. We had come for Dragons, not shadows. We would not go. So he disappeared into the dark alone. Half the men were mauled by a big brute Drake after the next sleep, and we ran back home. Some of the men blamed the stranger Darwun, said he was a bad Song and a bad omen; even went as far as to ask help from the Academy’s nearest Conservatory. The big man came up from the tunnels after some of the hunters had already sent a sunbird from the solarium, with more of that inked-up calfskin written so evenly with his feet. Me and a couple of the others who meant him no ill took the gifts and thanked him.

It was only ‘till after he left that I could read the words, and then I realized.

You know, most Höllmen don’t read, but I’m a Seer. I fill our Libraries with our Records, and I know ‘em all, too. We don’t let anyone take our Memories, even you schoolboys who stooped so low as to come into our caves to take ‘em. They just get better hid.

In Gjallihöll, our books still remember the Slave-Men even when we don’t. Our books still know the man-mountains your stinking Academy sent to the Desert Table, and I know who this Darwun is. Should’ve known it the first time he talked in that cracklin’ brimstone voice.

The question is, what’ll you do to help me forget?

Note: Unfortunately, I could not conduct further interviews. Seer Halldën tragically succumbed to a lethal heart tremor a few days past. His family was generous enough to donate some of his belongings to the Academy, including several books and documents.

Chasseur-Ècrivain Aimée

Halldën’s vellum;

Printed by Ciallah Daroun.

         in the magma vents located deeper down. I am familiar with desert monitors, but based on the bones I’ve glimpsed in the Gjallihöll long-halls, Dragons are of a completely different family. The legs are oriented underneath the body instead of splayed to the sides, and thus they walk in a manner closer to four-legged birds than to lizards.

However, there is nothing avian about their Song. It is a strong major chord that evokes an explosive flame, a kind of roaring trumpet that clearly inspired the Gjallihöll hunting horns. A similar mood is produced by the Salamanders I have used to light my path through the darkness and down into Skuggstað. Though they employ a different methodology: they pluck membranes on their skin to produce the Music. I believe the lyres and lutes endemic to the magma-city are inspired by this finger-plucked Songstyle, and all the sounds employed suggest power and confidence. Fitting, for a place as industrial as Gjallihöll.

As of yet, my voice is still unable to carry any of the chords or melodies I have learned of; nor are my hands delicate enough to handle any instrumentation. Al-Marack would say this is due to my inherent disability: a child of the Benihajr makes no Music. They may build material objects and more Benihajrin, but not Song.

But I am closer to gathering evidence for my hypothesis that Song is inspired in animals and Men by their environment. I have noted that the volcanic activity that surrounds the Höllmen produces, mostly, the same major chords (of all octaves) observed in the local wildlife.

The same is the case in the deep ice caverns of the Skuggstað. A phenomenon similar to Benihajr freeze-trays occurs in these caverns: deep ground water is heated to a boil in the upper rock strata by magma, and the thin water layer below is cooled and frozen by the quick evaporation. When this ice slips through the porous limestone of the Skuggstað, it appears as if it is snowing underground. The cool air causes a chill wind to stream through the stalactites, producing a very gloomy minor chord.

This is the same chord hummed and chanted by the skuggaveri peoples who reside here, as well as the whitebats and centipedes. Their Song seems to be able to sap vitality in the same way Sunrook Songs may restore it; for when I approached their village for the first time, their cantos drained the life from my Salamander lantern and left me in weary darkness.

Their language was similar enough to Gjallish that I could understand them, and I gathered that their existence was one of scavenging and worship. I asked them why they chant so much and so often, and they replied that it is in tribute to the Music that has always blessed the Skuggstað.

Every moment of their day rests in somber prayer. To whom or what, I cannot say, though I did notice a curious phenomenon: the chants of the skuggaver are able to freeze water. This suggests that the snow from the ceiling may be produced on the power of their Song alone, and not by my theorized evaporative cooling. The implication, then, is that the gloomy minor chord echoing through these halls may have been here long before there was any wind, or any deep village.

The source of this sound, I’ve not yet deduced.

Official Statement of Resignation,

Emissary-Chevalier Donall,

Dispatched by Runner from the Exile’s Plateau.

Delivered 1117th turn, 7th moon.

Doyen-Générale Lenoir,

I cannot in good conscience continue my tenure with the Academy.

We have imposed an immoral exile upon the Benihajrin for far too long. It is not permissible to punish an entire race of thinking creatures solely because they appear to defy one hundred years’ research. It would not be permissible even had we collected one thousand years of research.

The Plateau-Men are an honorable folk, with much industriousness, kindness, and genius. I have seen burn-engines rivaling those that bear the höllmark, created from scarce iron pulled from the mesa. I have seen reagents not unlike linren medicines made from the lizards and shrubbery, and I’ve borne witness to their vast and rich Living Libraries. The lifetime of a Plateau-Man always goes recorded; for instead of some limbs, most have fashioned movable presses that work and create without the slightest use of Song.

They have advanced much since the days they were created. The old accounts describe dumb husks that followed Sung commands, but now they speak and write as well as any man in Voix Royaume. It is time to accept that the Histoire Naturelle is incomplete or incorrect: the Song of life is not reserved just for Man and Beast. It was not bestowed by a favoring Cosmic Composer. It can take form in sand. It can manifest upon the Silent Mesa. It can fill rock Plateau-Men with souls and much wisdom.

They are languishing in isolation, and the doldrums here doom them to perpetual quietude. Many are more frightened of Academy retribution than they are tired of the silence and loneliness, but there is one who is ready to defy you.

I have had no qualms helping him slip past the Banished Gates, and once he has seen the whole of the world, I will have no qualms welcoming him back to his people.

—Emissary-Chevalier Donall

Formal Complaints for the 2nd week, 9th moon, 1117th turn.

Stamped in Verdant wax with the Mill of Port Falsa’s solarium,

Compiled and sent by sunbird by Connaisseur-Captaine Marethari.

Dawnday

Daly O’Shea: Today some more bhaidinmenn sailors came into my bar and caused a disturbance, damaging the property in an amount summed to more than 200 keys. It was again the Captain Oisin Niall and his first mate, Conor Darragh. I am calling upon the Falsa Conservatory marshals for their immediate arrest or fine.

Actions taken: Visit to the City Inn, issuing of debt papers to the Captain of Oileand’s Oar, Oisin Niall.

Mornday

Merrill O’Donnel: Bhaidinmenn have played violin and cello all night, bringing seawater and wind into the coastside tenements and flooding several rooms. I couldn’t see any of their faces, but they sounded like the seamen under the command of Captain Niall.

Conor Darragh: I’ve heard that some lily-livered cathairmenn have been filing complaints about us, so I’d like to complain a little, too. One, I’d like to complain about these cathairs being gutless bastards who’ve settled on foreign coasts instead of keeping on the search for the homeland. Two, I’d like to complain that they seem to have replaced their bollocks with windmills and waterwheels. Three, I’d like to complain that they use the Menn Songs of the high seas for their bleeding farms and bakeries. Last, but most definitely not least, I’d like to complain that they’re all twats.

Actions taken: Attempted confiscation of bhaidin instruments, resulting in a small skirmish and stand off. Captain Oisin Niall has agreed to pay further damages as well as 100 extra silver keys in exchange for the right to keep all Musical tools, citing that they are necessary for sailing and thus the men’s livelihoods. The marshals accepted and the matter was closed.

Noonday

Cashel McBride: The fugitive of the Academy is being harbored by the bhaidinmenn on the docks. I and several other witnesses had seen him without his mask as he tried to board a ship out of the bay. The sailors would not allow us to collect him and our bounty, and hid him on their ship.

Captain Oison Niall: The unruly citizens of Falsa have attempted to illegally board my ship this morning, looking after some stone-armored giant they believe is on my boat. Three sons of the McConnels and one from the McBrides were caught trying to force open a porthole after midnight.

Conor Darragh: The cathairmenn are a bunch of bell-ends.

Actions taken: Reminder delivered to both cathair houses and bhaidin boats that the complaint filing system is not to be abused.

Duskday

Kayla McKinley: Oileand’s Oar is housing the criminal posted on Academy bounty, and they won’t release him. He’s a wanted criminal, marshals. I don’t want him so close to my children.

Douglas O’Brien: Oisin Niall is protecting that stone-knight giant from the Plateau. The academy-men have done told us he’s some kind of dangerous monster, but the bhaidin are keeping him in their hold!

Conan McOrrin: I heard the bhaidin arguing yesterday morning with a giant stranger, and they made him show his face and tell them his name. He was clearly the rock-armored beast from the herald’s speeches, the one from the Desert Table. But after, they let him stay in the belly of their ship! I call for the immediate arrest of the captain of Oileand’s Oar, and any crew that are directly involved.

Conor Darragh: Yep, still twats.

Captain Oisin Niall: The cathairmenn will no doubt be coming to the Falsa Conservatory with more complaints about me and my ship, so I want to make a few things clear.

One: No, I don’t think that the citizens of Falsa are a bunch of coward-bred, artless swine that have given up on the search for Oileand and deserve to be scraped and stabbed upon the reefs; Two: I don’t want to wreck all the cathair farms and take their windmakers and seasingers before they can ever use them again for their safe and landlocked mills; Three:  I’m not harboring Ciallah Daroun upon my ship and most certainly am not shielding him from prying Academy pig-dog jailors; and Four: Oileand’s Oar will definitely not set out across the Dividing Sea at eventide.

Poems From Across the Dividing Sea.

Delivered by Blue Bird of Paradise to Voix Royaume,

Stamped in Marine wax and Anchor of Port Hearn,

Attached to sunbird by Connaisseur-Captaine Jamaira.

1118th turn, 2nd moon.

1.  Mottled green and rippled light

2.  shine through the leaves of Lùguo

3.  tonight, the giant

4.  trees and cascade falls

5.  make a man feel small when he

6.  comes to the port across the Dividing Sea.

 

7. The poet’s breath fights the Forever Storm,

8. that rages and threatens to blow away

9. this page and its brothers

10. the fast wind it smothers and covers

11. his hands with flown leaves so his works

12. are slathered with lemon and lime.

13. Pink blossoms fly too and then comes

14. the rain, so he builds a red fire to

15. Heat up the words

16. that have frozen shivering in his throat

17. and by the light of that warmth, he leans

18. to see the truth hidden here

19. in the wind-whipped air.

Note: The meter and structure of the verse suggests that this letter was a cipher from an embedded agent across the Dividing Sea. The actual message lies in every third line.

—Commissaire-Aspirant de l’Académie, Triame Puissant

Copy of hidden text, from Poems Across the Dividing Sea.

Written in Lemonbleed ink, Uncovered by the heat of a flame,

Copied by Commissaire-Aspirant Triame Puissant.

1118th turn, 2nd moon.

The Benihajr fugitive came to the Linren port by way of a bhaidinmenn ship, and stayed for a period of weeks. He has now set off for the floodplain village of Shobdtho but has left several copied texts among the natives. Some are even in the local Linwen language. By my best estimation… this Ciallah Daroun is no threat. Your messages made me expect a violent revolutionary, but by all accounts he is just a researcher, like the Academy’s best. I suggest that you hold off on your invasion of the Exile Plateau—the escapee seems largely innocent. Here is a sample of his writing:

Time aboard the bhaidinmenn ship Oileand’s Oar has been educational, for the sailors themselves agree that the power of their Song comes from their surroundings: the Sea. The waves in calm and stormy conditions produce sustained chords, and the seamen add to the rhythms with cello and violin. The wind and waves shaped by this concerted Music propel the ship at remarkable speeds. This constant velocity is what allows the bhaidin to be such successful trawler fishermen and continue to search for their lost home island in such a systematic manner.

I would have enjoyed visiting Oileand, but the bhaidin say that it disappeared while the fleet had left to do battle with the armies of Voix Royaume in the 1000th turn, as though some maelstrom had swallowed it up overnight. More likely, some of the civilians on the island used the Sea Song to move it while it came under a flanking invasion by the Royaume Navy.

After three moons of us combing the oceans, an attack by roving Sea Serpents caused damage that could only be repaired in dry-dock. The creatures were unlike anything I’ve ever seen: slick skin that shone in the sun, and an attack with such coordination that I’m almost certain they could speak to each other. There were no visible heads, though the bellies of the beasts were covered in sucking discs, and sometimes hook teeth. They damaged the keel of the boat and punctured the starboard side, forcing us to begin an immediate tacking course towards the Linren port city of Lùguo.

The trees here are unlike any I have ever witnessed. Some resemble giant 300-hand willows with leaves dangling down to the ground, studded in pink blossoms and swaying in the constant wind. There are many that are simple wooden spires that spike into the sky, but closer inspection makes it evident that these are man-carved constructions that make up the bulk of the vertical Lùguo city.

The locals have learned to use Music to stitch skin and bind flesh, using sustained chords of the latter octaves. Exploration of the surrounding forest revealed the presence of a colossal waterfall that they call Ryuzu, which produces the same chords at a constant rate as the water thrums against the bottom rocks. Determined carp can be seen leaping in pools alongside the tributary cascades, splashing a rhythm to accompany the Music. Some of the local monks lead meditations among the boulders and add the power of their throats.

The same chords are apparent in the Mushigong tree-spider population, as they halt the dragonflies and giant wasps in the air with their sustained Song while on the otherwise silent hunt. A satellite village called Tiánzhong also uses the chords, but in a version much bassier and lower than that in Lùguo. Their Musics appear to condense water vapor and cause storming and lightning. According to the Tiánren who live in this cloud village, the Forever Storm in the northeast rainforest is caused by a giant black and white bear they call the Dai-de-Shiong, constantly Singing brontide beats into the earth with padded paws and clicking claws.

Though amazing, the peoples of this forest tell me far more spectacular creatures inhabit the border of the jungle and the floodplains. I hear tell of blazing jungle cats and perfectly beautiful Birds of Paradise, and wise elders of the Shobdtho village. At noon I will gather

General Request regarding Ciallah Daroun.

Drafted by Doyen-Générale Lenoir for the Esteemed Board,

Stamped in Murex wax and the Book of the Academy.

1118th turn, 4th moon.

I understand there is some talk that the Golem from the mesa is no danger, and I would like further your education. The Histoire Naturelle is quite clear in this matter:

“Hypothesis speaks of a heartbeat’s Song and the soul’s ringing Music that flows through the veins of all men and the beasts and the trees, though hard Theory from these hundred turns show the clear lack in the sand, rock, and earth; and so our Conclusion must focus on building histoire naturelle of the moving and breathing and all the combined Musics of the beauty we call Life.”

—Observations 1:11

We have built our entire natural history upon the breathing and dying, and would have continued at peace if not for the invention of the Stone Slaves. They produce the illusion that dead rock and ash can be as ensouled as a man and cause our libraries to crumble as the foundations are jerked from beneath.

Their very existence causes a questioning of the Academy’s teachings and thus our authority. If the public realizes even once that this Ciallah Daroun is not just some giant in stone armor or black cloaks, but a seemingly thinking and feeling thing made from earth, where will we be?

The hunt for him must continue, and we must go forward in sending Orchestral Marches to invade and clear the Plateau. Without Music they will be an easy target and we will suffer minimal casualties.

By the power vested in me by the Convergence of Scholars, I ask as Doyen-Générale for full control of our Military Symphonies and the right to march North past the Shore into the Desert. It is a course as clear as physics and as simple as astronomy:

“For the path to the solution follows the star of Parsimony: it is the quick and easy, the simplest of all the choices that are set before you; and with this guide in the mind and eye, you may walk forward with palms raised and faith that the laws of nature will ease your way.”

–Recommendations 2:15

Salut,

Doyen-Générale Lenoir

Dialogue With A Boulder.

Written on Jungle Broadleaf,

Discovered during Royaume-Shobdho Exchange.

Found in the 1213th turn, 7th moon,

Estimated to be written in 1118th turn, 5th moon.

The elder stretches out, and the honor guards shift to allow entry to the guest.

The elder begins to speak in characteristic slow, creaking lilt.

Elder: You have been waiting to speak with us for several weeks, now.

Visitor strides to the center of our Orchard, just beyond the reach of our limbs.

Visitor: I have. I am a traveler, learning as much as I can about the world.

The elder considers this weightily.

Elder: We are of a kind, then. Though we cannot travel, we would always like to learn.

The others shift eagerly as if buffeted by the wind, leaning in to listen to the words.

Visitor: What would you like to know?

Elder: What is your name? What is your nature? Where do you hail from? What is it like? Why are you here?

The guest reels his head, overwhelmed, but begins speaking calmly.

Visitor: My name is Ciallah Daroun. I am a scholar and a traveler from the mesa of the Benihajr, a dry silent place far across the Dividing Sea, at the center of a distant continent. I have come here to study. Animals and peoples, I wish to learn of them both.

The silence hangs heavy for some minutes.

Elder: Animals and peoples? Ah, but we are neither!

Visitor: Perhaps not animals, but you are surely peoples. You think. You speak. You are like me in many ways—I have even learned that you maintain libraries like that of my homeland, recording all that you speak and hear!

Visitor brandishes columns of steel and rock in the place of legs, showing the typed letters that shine there. A wooden groan escapes from the Orchard as we all shift to see.

Elder: Yes, our lives are writ upon our leaves, as yours are pressed upon your pages.

The elder’s branches curve and his bark softens, as he observes the strange guest.

Elder: Thank you, for this learning experience. What is it you wish to ask?

Visitor pauses.

Visitor: I want to know how you Sing.

The Orchard regards this silently.

Visitor: The venomous Jholbagh and fiery Rabikhan, you keep them at bay simply by Singing. The floods that threaten to kill this forest, you dam them solely with Music! But you are like me. Where I am made of rock, you are wood. I believed that Song may be inspired by the symphonies of nature, but I’ve been away from my quiet home for more than a turn, and I am still silent! I have been beginning to think that it’s true, that my people are stone and that stone cannot Sing, that they’ll forever be cursed to wallow in dusty tents while the worlds of men rose ever-upwards, but then I saw you. How do you do it? How can a tree make Music?

The wind rustles our leaves as the visitor breathes heavily.

Elder: You have already lost hope?

The guest sinks to his knees.

Elder: Yet you have no reason to. We can feel it inside of you.

Our roots grow tender and lick the vibrations from the soil.

Visitor: What do you feel?

The Orchard sighs a happy, knowing sigh.

Elder: The beating Song that pulses with the slow confident rhythm of a mountain range. The Music that streams from your soul.

The bark creaks as the elder mulls hard truths.

Elder: It will take hard-fought struggle and strife to truly set it loose—and much sacrifice. The first Singer amongst the Trees lost his heart of Oak to a lightning storm, and the first man to Sing in the southern reaches swam to the top of an enormous waterfall. But perhaps your trials are nearly done?

We shake consoling leaves upon the boulder guest’s shoulders.

Elder: Reach deep inside, Scholar Daroun, and brace yourself. You’ll find your Song, somewhere.

Note: Are you sure you want to read this, Doyen-Générale? It may be distressing to see your grandfather’s death recorded in such a clinical fashion. No one truly has a heart of stone, sir. Think on it.

Commissaire de l’Académie, Aveline Duvachelle

Coroner’s Report 55-D.

Signed by Docteur Depardieux, Senior Investigator.

Stamped in Black wax and Knife of l’Hôpital,

Sent by crow from the field.

1119th turn, 1st moon.

On the morning of Duskday on the Second Week, the Hospital had received word from the Palace chambermaids that an investigation would likely be required in the second-last chamber-room on the northwest side of the building. A short time afterwards, the death of the patient had been reported to the Hospital and to the Conservatory of the Academy.

Location: Chamber-room marked ‘3’, northwest corner of the Voix Palace.

Witness Statements: Palace residents Elizabeth Curvoire and Lilian Verve had first seen a team of five strange men dragging a large black sack into the room. They commented that muffled moans had been heard emerging from the bag, before it was taken behind the door. They had also heard speech while outside the chamber and deduced that some sort of violent interrogation had been occurring inside. Mademoiselle Curvoire testifies that a discordant Song was heard as well as a series of terrible screams. Lilian Verve paraphrases the interrogation thusly:

Q: Why have you left once more? This was no mere stroll past the Banished Gates.

A: I have seen too much of the world to stay locked away.

Q: Would you like to suffer more of this minuet, instead?

A: I have suffered dragon’s flames, shadows, sea monsters, and a host of things in the rainforest that would make your skin crawl and your blood curdle. Your torture is nothing.

Q: What were you doing, hunting in the Royal Forest?

A: I needed more stretched hides.

Q: Why?

A: That my people might be free, even if I will never be able to hear it.

It was at this point that there was only more screaming, and both ladies sent a crow to bid me to the Palace.

Scene Description: Guest bathroom number 3 of the Voix Palace. Decedent is lying supine, with head pointing north. A series of chamber pots have been emptied over his head, and their shattered remains lie in piles to the left and right of the body. White scratch marks in the hardwood follow the body from the room’s entrance to the location of death.

Body Exam: Body is positioned as described above, with several pots’ worth of human waste emptied atop his head and chest. Body shows signs of late rigor mortis, as the limbs and torso are stiff to the touch. Body is cool throughout, and initial measurements show it is already at ambient temperature. Erratic etchings in the hardwood floor at the place of death suggest severe seizures, and when correlated with Mademoiselle Verve’s testimony, indicate use of a Minuet of Pain. Patient is wearing rough-woven black cloth, much weathered and very well used. Most of the robes appear grey due to wear and sun bleaching of the dye. An incision was made with 2″ scalpel to completely remove the cloak, and it was revealed that the body is not quite human. Its segments consist of several boulder-like pieces hewn into the shape of a man, though they now appear cracked and broken by repeated trauma. Some iron is incorporated with the stone body in the lower segments and implanted with a series of sliding block type-letters arranged in various formats. Face is frozen in the expression of a pained shout.

Evidence: In haste, the offending interrogators had left behind a single desert flute, carved only to hold discordant notes.

Notification: Academy Conservatory immediately contacted after conclusion of the report. Investigation handed over to Chanteur-Marèchale Corvais.

Gold-level Resource Request,

Sent by Runner from the Banished Gates,

1119th turn, 1st moon.

 

PUSH AHEAD WITH ORCHESTRAL MARCH.

DRUM BEATS HEARD FROM ATOP THE DESERT TABLE.

EARTHQUAKES WRACKING THE DOLDRUMS.

WHOLE MESA BEATING LIKE A DRUM.

 

STONE MEN ON THE WARPATH.

Note: Doyen-Générale, the history of the war can be found in the Military Records outside the Academy campus. I’d ask why you bothered to comb our archives when you can simply leaf through the Living Libraries, but I suppose I already know your answer. As you say: we must always see things from another point of view. It is a lesson I’ve learned well, and for that I am grateful.

As thanks, perhaps you will accept an old, dusty gift from an old, dusty curator. A hand-drum of Naturalist Daroun’s personal make, in the central glass gallery of the Conservatoire. As far as I can recall, it is the very first.

—Commissaire de l’Académie, Aveline Duvachelle


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Naim Kabir is a novice who was lucky enough to get noticed: by Clarkesworld, The Journal of Unlikely Stories, and of course, Beneath Ceaseless Skies; "On the Origin of Song," his first BCS story and first published text story, was named to the 2013 Locus Recommended Reading List and reprinted in Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2014, ed. Rich Horton. If you're feeling generous with your time, you can follow him on Facebook, on Twitter, or at his site at KabirCreates.com.

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  1. […] Here on Beneath Ceaseless Skies. […]

  2. […] myself a novice—and so I’m still actually riding the high of my first publication! It was “On The Origin of Song”, published by Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Even now I’m incredibly grateful to Scott H. […]

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