Aphella followed Shaenyll up the spiraling stair. The light from Shaenyll’s focus lit closed walls on either side of them, causing the ancient stone to sparkle from a multitude of tiny crystals. The rounded flight ended in the middle of a wide stone floor of a circular room. Round portals framed with glass ringed the room, looking out into the darkness above and the dim lamps of the town below.
Shaenyll flicked her wrist and a ring of clear crystal lamps leapt to light, illuminating the carefully woven carpet, the pattern of which was a large ever-growing spiral tessellation of a creature with only two legs and a strange set of wide, clawless arms. At the far end of the room sat the chronolathe, the magical machine of odd-shaped crystal spheres and bone set in bronze that the time-master used to precisely measure the turning of the world and of time. Most people had a smaller clock inside their home, but they routinely had to check the time against the town’s time machine, finding that their mechanical devices were often slow, or fast, or broken, or had been forgotten to be wound.
“The chronolathe,” Aphella said softly, staring as the crystal balls pulsed. The smallest slowly rotated around the center of the bronze machine. She wanted to hold out her hand and feel the flows of light swirling around it, but held herself back.
“Your first time seeing it, yes?” Shaenyll said, raising an eyebrow. Aphella nodded. “It’s a delicate machine, but you won’t hurt it with a little feel of the flows,” Shaenyll said, seeing Aphella’s tentatively raised fingers.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course.” Shaenyll drew the backs of her hands in front of one of the largest spheres, and a trail of light emerged from her fingers.
Aphella smiled and copied her, dragging the backs of her fingers a few inches above the softly glowing green-blue sphere. She turned her hand letting her finger tips do the same motion, pulling across an invisible membrane. It tickled her subtly, and she could feel vibrations and the memory of light crawl up her arms, giving her goosebumps.
“This is a much stronger light vessel than you are used to,” Shaenyll said. “They will leak what is put into them far slower than water or crystal. I could neglect this machine for an entire year and it would be no less functional.”
“And yet you give the impression that keeping the time is an exceptionally difficult job,” Aphella said, smiling. “Perhaps I should apprentice to you.”
“Don’t be silly, child,” Shaenyll said. She smiled back at Aphella, dispelling the edge her voice imparted. “Keeping the spheres charged is such a small thing. Even monitoring the motion of the chronolathe could be done by a layman. It is the reading of the flows that is of the utmost importance. This machine, like the beacon in the other tower, is linked to all others like it. This chronolathe – and each chronolathe that I know of – was made at one time, possibly by one hand or a small set of hands. When some other one drags in its time, it will try to drag this one. When one dies, it will pull the on the light powering all the others.”
“Why? Why did they – whoever made this – link all the machines together?”
“Interesting that you ask the why, and not the how. The how of it I have not puzzled out in my life, and I know of no others who have, though of course I have my own inklings, but the short of it is that these spheres and this machine are linked no matter how great the distance. The why? Well, that is clear to me, I think. It enforces a relatively accurate keeping of time. They all pull on each other, so the average of their inaccuracies likely keeps the time stable. That, and because a linking of time keeps us all on the same clock. Travelling, using the links, coordinating trade… all take an understanding of the constant passing of time.”
“When mention flows, what exactly are you talking about?” Aphella said. “I see the light in the spheres, I can sense the light in the spheres, but nothing flows from one to the other. They just… sit there.”
“Each sphere is flowing to each other sphere like it,” Shaenyll said. “But each one of these,” Shaenyll drew her hands to one of the smaller spheres on the back of the machine and drew out a few pale pink ribbons of light, “is different from its neighbor. The flows between its neighbors cannot be seen. They must be felt, in the void and what I call the illusion of space.”
Aphella thought about asking about the illusion of space, but instead she renewed her focus and pushed her palms onto the invisible vibrating barrier surrounding the sphere. She whispered an small incantations, and found that the sphere drew in the light greedily. Quickly, she searched the exterior of the globe, looking for the ley lines that had drawn in the spell. The feelers of her mind, her strong in-born sense of lightweaving, found nothing in the vessel to disturb; no clear entrance for light nor any flaw.
“You not find the ley of the crystal in that way,” Shaenyll said, sensing Aphella’s attempt. “The light is not within, but between.”
Aphella frowned and renewed her efforts. Sweat began to bead her brow.
“Always onward without a care to listen,” Shaenyll said with a chuckle.
“I have it,” Aphella said. “I… I can feel it, I think.” She felt something within the sphere, or outside it, or both. A river of power, both infinitely long and the width of a finger, in blackness and void. Vaguely, she became aware of other vessels that seemed both near at hand and yet very faint. She reached out further, and felt the light coursing through her, invigorating and bright. She realized that her eyes were no working. At least, she realized she could no longer see the room she had been in. All she saw was light and darkness, dim and blinding, cold and hot. She breathed in and let the river of the ley flow fill her, and she shuddered.