Chapter Four Factorial
Scene Five: Are You Ready?The ceremony didn't entertain Denario with the sort of violent, magical shows he was accustomed to seeing in big city temples. Instead, Ruffina created ovals within ovals, first with pre-arranged candles around the edges of the room, then with bowls of water, then with a trail of red dirt. Her magic seemed geometry-oriented. Finally, she gestured and whispered, “Here.”
Half of the candles snuffed themselves out. Rosy-silver smoke billowed.
“Thank you, Ruffina,” she said. But her voice had changed. Her expression had, too. Denario became aware that she wasn't really herself. The magic had worked. Someone else had taken control of her body.
“Ruffina?” Denario said even though he was pretty sure that it wasn't her behind those grey-blue eyes.
“Mortal.” The woman straightened. Denario hadn't noticed it before but Ruffina had hunched her shoulders. She often bowed her head in thought. She had seemed plenty strong before but she hadn't seemed taller than Denario. Now she did.
“Onuava?” he guessed.
“Thank you, Melcurio.”
“I'm, uh ...” he started to tell her that he wasn't Melcurio. However, it seemed unwise to contradict her.
“And you, accountant,” said Onuava.
“You're welcome.” He bobbed his head. “But for what?”
“For the delivery from Glaistig. That was your decision. When we received that, the knowledge of three hundred years snapped into place. The actions before and since fit properly.”
“Are you saying that you acted on the knowledge before you got it? How does that work?" The idea of a timeline came from wizards, not accountants, but Denario trusted it. He used the same concept when working on proofs. The idea that one event caused the next seemed self-evident. Long ago, he gathered, it had not seemed as obvious. Primitive people had seen only that things happened. The reasons were mysterious, often attributed to the gods. The concepts of cause and effect had been vague. Now they were well defined. “How could you have known the message before it arrived?"
“I see the mistake the accountant makes. Should we just tell him it's magic or should I explain?” Onuava seemed to be talking to someone else. “In some ways, it's better for him to think like a human.”
“You can see inside my head?” He hadn't said anything about time.
“Not normally, no. Thank you, Melcurio. I don't want to ruin the accountant's ideas of cause and effect even if they're wrong. Tell me, accountant, does time have a single direction for you?”
“Yes, it's ... forward. Forward-ish. Events seem to lead one to another. We call that forward.”
“Reality is different from what mortals perceive. Possibly it's different than gods perceive, too, but that's irrelevant. We know that an event 'before' doesn't simply cause one 'after' it. An event 'after' also causes the one 'before.' Human perception is limited about this point. 'Before' and 'after' events can't exist one without the other. They aren't separate. All things depend on all other things.”
“I'm not sure I understand.”
“You don't. You would have to ride on the mind of a god to have the barest concept. You'd make yourself smaller than you can imagine and larger than the sum of all that you've seen. Then you would begin to triangulate on the concept of time.”
The words conjured up an image in Denario's mind. “That much, I think I almost understand. You need at least two vantage points for triangulation.”
“You are owed a favor. For one such as you, an understanding of the scale of life, large and small, might be a welcome payment."
“Yes, I expect so.”
“But you haven't earned that kind of understanding. For bringing us a message, you get a blessing on your next journey.”
“That's nice, too,” he said. An image of his apprentices waiting in front of the counting house came to mind.
“We would be willing to bestow something more if you let us borrow your body.”
“Sure.” Then it occurred to him that he was conducting a bargain and probably doing it badly. “Um, what does that entail?”
“You won't be hurt. You'll be witness to everything in your usual, limited way. Are you ready?”
He threw up his hands. “Am I?”
Next: Chapter Twenty-Four, Scene Six
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