Tilomabah – an Aether Nomad short story by Martin Livingston

Illustration by Martin Livingston
Illustration by Martin Livingston

[ One of the strengths of the concept of the Aether Nomads is their tendency to travel through dimensions and occasionally, through time. This makes them ideal to add into any Steampunk narrative as visitors, or as the vehicle through which a tale can be told, or a way of linking multiple stories set in different conceptual Steampunk worlds. It is my hope that many more writers (of stories, songs, events) and creators of many kinds might take up the concept and become part of the AN Project. Let the spirit of the Rhuk take you on new adventures! I am delighted to present a tale penned by my dear companion.   ~ The Navigatrix ]

 » When they tell me to ‘Sit and be still, Tilomabah’ or ‘The wine is stretching out your stories Tilo’ or ‘Beware how tall your stories become lest they obstruct your Brothers’ Rhuk’, I give them my special look of contempt. The one I reserve for those too narrow of of mind to have travelled and seen the world in something more than dances and tales. Few riders have taken wing as far as I and my brave and beautiful Anjizar, may his beak forever shine. »

« My own contribution at this Sky Festival has always been to caution those children under my wing, until the Symbologists ring the chimes and the Vibrancers dance for Nomads and Foreigners alike. » The desert sighs and the Rhuk shuffle on their perches, wind ruffling their plumages.

« Each year I try to caution those whose free spirit and wanderlust may carry them far on wing and foot, though little can I hope they heed me, yet… »

« Those who see the world know each culture struggles to find and chart a path through the Aether, which even our Aethermaticians cannot tame with any amount of scrawling or trial, though they try. For every triumphant Foreigner, delighting in the ease of air travel with their cunning dirigibles, they have a folly of over-ambition dogging anthers’ footsteps. Don’t get me wrong, even Foreigners learn eventually, but they resist lessons often. »

« You want an example? Well, yes, young Habah, of course. Why else am I talking? That which the Aether moves and allows a spirit and will, that can be dangerous air to navigate. Let me tell you of these things certain Foreigners remember as ‘Ghostbots’. Drop that name to an upright gentleman of whiskered face and dress uniform, or even a be-dressed priest of Rome and see how they flinch! »

« There was a time when people called British had their Empire in disagreement with another empire of Africa the Great, the mighty Zulu. They had much knowledge of Cogs and not a few thinkers of Lightning, but little of the customary caution of Aether-plotters, like our ‘Maticians or the memories of our Symbologists. In their single-minded goal of war, they first conceived the Ghostbots. Some insanity must have gripped them, using great mechanical forms to entrap the wasted souls of those in their jails, but still, at first it worked for them. »

« Great iron and brass golems, metal soldiers ten feet tall, who defeated two great Zulu armies set against them. Fine for their Queen’s satisfaction, until the tortured spirits within their shells went mad from being in the wrong place in the Aether, unable to flow to where they should. The British made a terrible mistake and lost their own armies to these maddened,rampaging souls, but at least they learned. They undid what they’d done and freed the poor devils, never creating such iron soldiers again. »

« Those Romans, the Vaticaners, the red priests, well they saw this unfold but did not learn. What the British rejected as a failure on their part, the Vaticans’ Order of the Holy Iron Fist revisited on the world, mostly at their own cost. »

The Rhuk caw and croak to each other, as if mumbling comment on the story, as the children listen, eyes wide, to Tilomabah’s rasping old voice.

« The Vatican has this punishment you see, which all their kind fears the most. They call it ‘Excommunication’, like they are throwing all a spirit’s fates and good chances away, forever-like. See, the Holy Iron Fist fools had looked at the British failure and told themselves, ‘Those heretics failed because they did not use righteous souls’, whatever that means. Foreigners! They thought that by using the spirits of innocents and the pure, so would their iron warriors be pure and righteous!  »

« You see even as children how this made them, worse and more foolish than the British scientists, trapping souls, fooled, tricked or murdered into being their ‘Holy Fists’! For what truly innocent soul can choose life as a mechanical killer, to enforce the will of their religious order with the force of metal fist and blazing cannon? Even going so far as to entrap the purist souls they could find eh? Like yours! »

The children huddle together, shivering in spite of the warm evening air passing across the mountain. « Of course, these mechanical monsters went madder than the British ones, caused mayhem in the very halls of the Vatican city and in the streets of ancient Rome. Hunted down, melted, cast into the sea from cliffs, crushed and melted by dirigibles from many nations. »

« The Holy Iron Fist, well that order was disbanded, scattered and excommunicated by their own Pope. Anyone insane enough to want a cold, hard body of dead metal should heed the warning. And remember also…no Rhuk could even conceive such insane thought or carry those who do. »

Tilomabah leans forward to his now warmed tea and winks at his beloved Anjizar, who cocks his head to one side, to cast a shining golden eye over the gaggle of seated children.

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