Thursday, 20 October 2011

An Article by Jonathaniel Aspick

Well! It's simply been an outrageous time since one posted last on this so-called "weblog". The world building review series has been somewhat put on hiatus (although a second instalment focusing on the world of P.G. Wodehouse is slowly being assembled backstage). Nevertheless, even though over a month has passed since the last post, we needn't declare Ethereal Gears wholly moribund just yet. In lieu of anything topical or philosophical to spew out, I thought I would relay an article written by a dear friend of mine, the Rt. Hon. Jonathaniel Heimdall Aspick, from the city of Goemagot.

Goemagot, as everyone knows, is located on the northern shores of the Bay of Belaine, situated on the Mittelmarian Peninsula. The Herzogdom of Goemagot, which is really little more than a city-state with a minuscule surrounding fief, nevertheless exerts a rather potent cultural and political hegemony over the rest of the scattered duchies, bishoprics, electoral microstates and monastic polities that make up Mittelmaria. As such, the herzogdom's premier paper of news, The Goemagot Scrutator, is read far and wide, not just on the peninsula, but across the whole continent of Japhety. As far as the southern tip of sunny Sapardas, bordering the sultry desert realm of Saracay, The Scrutator can be regularly seen unfolded before the old morning cup of tea or whatever the regional equivalent may be. "The Premier Wellspring of Magotian Opinion and Fact" the paper proudly proclaims on its broadsheets, as well it might, considering how those two substances are so often indistinguishably intermingled on its pages. Mr. Aspick's columns, while firmly relegated to the Opinion pages, has been snarkily remarked by certain liberal-minded critics and radical phronistery-types (c.f. the Terran 'university) to on average contain more facts than the average Scrutator editorial. Perhaps they keep him on merely to provide "balance" to the otherwise markedly conservative slant of the publication, or perhaps it's the way his sharp quill and debonair wit, coupled with a marvellous breadth of scholarly insight for such a young author, have simply captured not only the Magotian public but in fact the Japhetic as well to such an extent that sacking the fellow would prove truly disastrous to subscription numbers. At any rate, owing to the recent sensational capture of the Lexagonian ex-general Leonapis Benesect following his second failed uprising in Mittelmaria's troubled neighbour to the south, Mr. Aspick penned this little meditative piece, which was published in the Archday edition of The Scrutator:

* * *

On the Dreams of Empire,
In Light of the Recent Imprisonment of “High Consul” Leonapis Benesect for Causing Civil War in Lexagonia and Attempting to Take Over the World

By Jonathaniel Heimdall Aspick

Three thousand two hundred and sixty-nine years before the present day, the Antediluvian Empire held sway over most of Japhety. From the furthest stretches of civilized Aursalia in the west all the way to the easternmost tip of the Politanian peninsula and Sapardas, overlooking the endless leagues of the Inclement Ocean, the Empire ruled supreme. To the south its provinces even spread beyond the Mesiochoric to touch the northern shores of Saracay. The reach of the will of the Prelapsarchs, Antediluvia’s fearsome, mystical god-emperors, extended as far to the north as beyond the bounds of inhabited Codanonia, past Variagard’s remotest outposts and onto the uncharted waste of the Fimbulwinter Plains.
We know the Empire, even though it lasted for millennia before the Metastrophe struck, was ruled by madmen almost from the very beginning. The twisted clerics of the Order of the Briarean Hand, which comprised both its supreme religious authority and its elite military organ in the form of the nightmarish Centimani, controlled the population with fear and plague and fell alchemics. Although the Prelapsarch was its nominal leader in both secular and spiritual affairs, almost as dreaded as his authority was that of the Archimandrite of the Briarean Hand, at whose command a thousand legions of ruthless zealot warriors and hundreds of towering Centimani would march and obey without question. Beside the Archimandrite stood also the High Augur of the Empire, arguably third in power within its borders. The High Augur was the president of a college of seers and soothsayers in the Prelapsarch’s personal employ, and in the lands of Antediluvia prophecy ruled as law.
It has been variously theorized and debated among historians as to what extent the Empire orchestrated the Metastrophe and thus fulfilled the ancient prophecy of its own demise, spoken according to Antediluvian lore by the first High Augur in primordial times. It seems fantastical to our modern minds that an empire could last for such extraordinary lengths of time, never dissolving, barely ever contracting, its millions of subjects held utterly under the sway of a small, fanatical ruling caste. One must imagine that whatever gnosis and art went into the execution of the Metastrophe had also throughout its history sufficed to keep the Empire’s multitudes fully in thrall to the Prelapsarch and the Briarean Hand. Whether the population was cognizant of the horrific designs its overlords had in store for what amounted to the entirety of Japhetic civilization we shall never know. The records are too cryptic and fragmentary by far even to begin unmasking the nature of the Metastrophe itself, much less to shed any light on the minutiae of its circumstances. What we know stems mostly from records only recently retrieved from the Empire’s former Saracaean provinces, where apparently the breadth of the Mesiochoric Sea helped to stave off some of the more devastating effects of the Metastrophe. Yet even these reports speak only of inhuman and ineffable horrors, their descriptions shrouded in a vexing mingle of riddles, nonsense and hoary apocalyptics.
The Psechentine scholar Eljar Rafinzuwartur records in his Apostasies (ca. 30-50 PI) how the city of Alcassandar fared after what scholarly consensus agrees must be a reference to the Metastrophe, but which Rafinzuwartur calls simply “the birth of death”. He writes, after a translation into New Classician by Vetus:

“There are no memories left. There are only scars. There are places in the city which are no longer city (sic) not even places. We saw the sky turn inside out like a water skin, and empty its terrible innards over our heads. There was no darkness anywhere. There was no depth. Everything was terrible and bright and we knew Everything, and the All was horrible. Minds screwed themselves shut with lids of fear and now we will never open again. A neighbour down my street, Master Besq, he can only sing now. His wife cut the ears off the children with a bread knife and then she went and drowned herself in the Iteru River. I do not blame her. He sings such terrible songs, Master Besq, and he dances such terrible dances. There are hundreds more like him, thousands even. There are no patterns. All the madness is disgusting (sic) unique. But even though they are not true memories, there is strange knowledge, and we all share. It is especially apparent at those times when we walk in amongst the worst of the ruins, making our fruitless attempts at salvage. We try to rebuild things sometimes. The city recoils. It is not here anymore. It is Other. There is a scream in the paving. People suffer, and never learn- Sometimes, a whole crew of three dozen citizens will all stop dead in the midst of digging and carrying out the impossibly maimed and twisted dead, and all will gasp and look about. Everything will cease. Things are different. We will not recall, but we will know, that sometimes sometimes (sic) whole worlds turn on their sides and awful pale things caper and twirl across the lands, and the unborn neverborn (sic) slither slither (sic) from the deep and from up high, from corners and crevices and the eyes of lovers and songs that were never meant to be sung are given voice and children scream and scream and scream and wish for the simplicity of hell. Then we see them smiling. But not with mouths.”

Alas, these recondite ramblings constitute the most lucid account to have survived of that baffling event. Perhaps its nature shall never be revealed to us, and some scholars have argued that may well be for the better. The science of stargazing was born in Codanonia, and it has been said that was where the Metastrophe was originally born, to then spread south like brushfire to engulf the entirety of the continent. What we know of the Antediluvian Empire tells us, that from its architecture and religious life, to its social structure and its technological paradigms, it seems so vastly different from the Japhety we inhabit now that it appears almost an entirely different world. Its relegation, either partly or wholly, to the realm of myth by certain historians is perhaps understandable.
Yet even if it was only that, a Fiddler’s Green draped in the language of a fallen empire, it was certainly one that left a deep impression on a huge cluster of cultures. All our sciences, the Classician language, the great canon of Antediluvian drama and poetry, are attributed, wrongly or rightly, to this elliptical realm. While it may never be completely settled whether the sinking of Lost Belaine was actually a consequence of the Metastrophe or not, and thus whether the Achanes Gear that drives our whole city is really an artefact of the Antediluvian Empire, it is nevertheless true that the Herzogdom of Goemagot has built its entire sense of civic pride from this assumption. In fact, if one stretches the matter a bit further, so have really all the great Japhetic nations of the last three millennia. From the Classician Empire that was founded only a bare century after the events of the Metastrophe all the way up to the monomaniacal dreams of conquest that lead Leonapis Benesect to unleash his Grand War upon the continent, the shadow of Antediluvia has always hung like a brooding cloud over the heads of Japhety’s states. Its vision of total domination, unimaginable power and glory must be a dazzling prospect to every lord and cleric from the lowest junker to the Bathyspex in Amorarte himself. The fact that its achievements, if indeed they are more than the stuff of legend, were owed to strange faculties and powers which we not only cannot even begin to understand in our age, but which also apparently led to its catastrophic (or rather, metastrophic) downfall, seem generally to be swept under the rug when present-day rulers invoke the heritage of the Prelapsarchs to bolster their claims to earthly or sacral power.