Chapter 8 Into the Past Medwick sneezed into his cup of coffee and drank it anyways. He stowed the thermic-warmed cup into his backpack. Mountaineering up a sheer face was hard; pioneering a thousand times harder. Deconstructing his hammock each time he took a rest was exhausting, and the sun was already at high noon by the time he finished. One hundred steps above he saw the vanishingly thin slits that peaked into the observation turret. Right underneath the turret there was a wooden trapdoor. The man-made underhang was the closest he would get to death in this whole ordeal. His breath bounced off the cliff face and fogged his eyes. Carval clung to the rocks like a woodpecker, his size belying his weightlessness. His aux scrambled up the face. In a way, it shamed Medwick that he could not perceive the paths up this last stretch, and had to rely on a hidden part of his soul, given flight by his aux, to guide him onward. Eirene passed the next day and two inside her prison. She ate and slept well. But up here she was blocked from governing her city - no, her nation. Her Archonship granted her special powers, but the Council and the Inner Sages could suppress her with a supermajority. So she was first pleased, second surprised, and third admonishing when Medwick's frost-encrusted hair popped up through the trapdoor. His punishment was to struggle through the opening unaided while warm air howled past his ears out into the barren mountain ranges. The Archon waited for him to sate his hunger and gather his breath and to speak. "I need answers." He folded his knees before her, hands clasped and back straight. "I brought back the Libras Sphere. After nearly a year abroad I brought back the transmutation relic that left its shards in dragons, whales, and everything in Sunne that eats and shits." "Why was I not given a hero's welcome? Why is the Sphere nowhere to be found? Why is nobody studying it? Why have we forgotten about it?" Medwick was not complacent. He was sharp. In effect, he was asking: what happened to the prevailing attitude in Barvelle? "The people decide whether you are a hero or a pariah, Medwick." Eirene managed to look regal in her winter endurance wear. She smoothed the furs. "The Ghoul Sage paid us a visit. It was decided that it was not worth our interests to dig into the past." "What is the Ghoul Sage? And why does he hold such power over Pegulis?" "The Ghoul Sage ... " Good Morning, Eirene. She gazed into the infinite abyss in the hood, from inside a coffin similar to the Utandis Cradle. "Without him, we would not have thermic gems." Velkan has deserted me. "When I journeyed deep into the Barvelle mountains he was there ... a capsule preserved from the Cataclysm." Arktus has convinced me that you'll be different. Something seemed to be blocking Eirene's memory. Her forehead was pinched and her knuckles were white with fistfuls of fur. "I'm going to get to the bottom of this." Eirene recognized that same look on his face the day they laid out the plans to journey south to recover the Libras sphere. The weight of responsibility that rapidly boiled down to fatalistic determination. He shouldered his backpack and dropped back through the trapdoor. A minute later, a hand reached up and palmed the spell circle, activating the ethereal tether along which he would zip line down the edge of the mountain. At least he had the courtesy to close the door after him.