Crossing the Seven
by Jay Lake

When Halcyone was queen in Cermalus the blackstar first came into the sky.

With the coming of the blackstar, tradesmen and civitors alike cried for protection from the throne. The working people of the city paid no more attention to the shouting on the hill than we did to the lights in the sky. The end of the world might be at hand, but there was still bread to be baked and dogs to be fed and gutters to be cleaned.

I myself was most concerned with the state of the tiles on the roof of the villa belonging to the first mistress of the Civitor Tradelium. I was called Andrade, slave of the city.

The civitor was not an unkind man, in that he sometimes managed to remember his slaves and servants were human beings with needs and desires. It was more than most of that august class could keep in mind, who had been borne amid a cloud of attendants and would die there, either of old age or bloody assassination.

Kindness or no, his sweet mistress had experienced an inpouring of water, ruining a set of silk sheets and some quite expensive leather intimates brought at significant cost from decadent Oppius. This had sent her into a rage of epic proportions. In turn, the Civitor Tradelium experienced no little irritation as the mistress had accosted his wife.

In accordance with the fundamental principle that feces flow downward, all became my responsibility for having failed to divine in advance of the need for repairing the roof. And thusly, while the second sons of the wealthy were rending their garments in the streets for fear of the blackstar, I was up on the roof resetting glazed tiles across my carefully built grout-and-plaster. I had no intention of coming down from my perch for the sake of flood, fire or barbarian invasion, not after the civitor’s mixture of threats and promised bonuses.

I was standing on that roof with the long-bladed file in my hand, balanced on the slick curved tiles, when the high priestess of the Temple Regina rode astride her white ass down the cobbled street below. She wore only the three veils of propriety and the seven beads of virtue. Her Worship being about ten stone and forty years to the far side of lissome, the three veils were as effective as a sneeze and a promise. It was a large ass. Both of them were, in fact -- the one attached to her and the one beneath her. The high priestess’s avoirdupois was of no moment as all good Cermalians knelt in prayer facing away from her line of procession. The bad Cermalians turned away too, out of a sense of good taste or possibly sheer self preservation.

Even her temple guard marched with their eyes averted.

So it was that when the blackstar discharged its bolt of unholy violet lightning, mine were the only eyes hers chanced to meet.

Given that I stood a good fifty feet above her on the roof line, limned from behind by the blinding light -- and I thank the stars themselves I was not looking into the bolt -- what the high priestess saw was a purple angel descended from the heavens, harbinger of the blackstar.

What I saw was her great maw opening for a shriek. I figured it was me for a goner, on account of profaning the sacred form of the high priestess by casting my base eyes upon her. I’d have gladly given that vision of pulchritude right back to the pond from whence it flopped, if I had the chance.

She yelled, a second bolt struck the long-bladed file, my hair caught fire, and I was blown off the roof.

After that, things got bad.

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