Nekel rose early, and after dressing in silence, went out to the courtyard behind the house. It was still dark, and rather cold, though not nearly as cold as he was used to in his northern home. He performed his daily rituals, and practiced his martial arts for an hour with one of his companions. As the sun rose, he went back into the house to bathe and prepare for the day. He laid out his clean clothes for the day: a black shirt, black loose trousers, and a stiff black waistcoat. He saw the jacket that hung in the closet, and knew that it must have been intended to go with the waistcoat, but decided to leave it behind for the day. Nekel wanted to see the fabled city, and it would be somewhat easier not to be noticed if his clothing was more casual.
After a short cold bath, he dressed, and noted again the discomfort of the metal in the wasitcaots. How do the Kedonese stand it, he wondered. Perhaps it was something one got accustomed to. After dropping a few coins into the purse he wore on his belt, Nekel set out into the city.
The sun was fully up, and the streets were already crowded. He had forgotten how quickly Kedon grew how in the morning, and wiped a trickle of sweat from his brow. He wove through the crowded streets, ignoring vendors who accosted him with the virtues of their wares.
The streets were as narrow as he remembered, though the architecture had changed much over the intervening millenia. Nekel thought the roads must be original, however; they were worn but solid, and they seemed well-maintained.
He paused by a small corner booth, and beckoned to the shopkeeper.
"I have heard that the great temple of Ancient Perzelsis can still be seen. Is this true?"
The shopkeeper nodded, smiling broadly. "Oh yes, indeed! It is one of our great historical buildings. If you follow this street, and take a right at the end of it, you will soon find the temple. There is a marvelous library right across the street from it, and I believe they have a great deal of literature about the temple, if you need it. The librarians are quite knowledgeable about the history of our great city. If you don't wish to walk, I would be happy to summon a mechanical carriage for you!"
Nekel shook his head, remembering the lurching smoking monstrosity from the day before. "No, thank you, I do not mind walking. Thank you again for the directions."
He continued down the street, and as he turned the corner, he saw the temple. It was still magnificent, enough to take one's breath away, but as he got closer, he could see that while some of the original building had been maintained, much of it had been reconstructed. He called up the memories of Veren, traveling monk of the ----th millenium, and looked at the temple in his day. Yes, the dome had collapsed at some point, and been rebuilt; the builders had made some attept at accuracy, it appeared, but their own aesthetic had crept in along the way. He suspected that the stone structure had been reinforced with metal as well. It would be at lewast another fifty thousand years before these people would learn to project themselves backward into time, fifty thousand years before they would learn about true historical accuracy.
Nekel entered the temple, and found himself standing in a large room; it bore many smilarities to the temple he had seen on Veren's journey, but much still was changed. He could see the bright casing of th machinery that adjust the great mirror in the dome, an an attendant stood by to assist visitors with the operation of the mechanism. When he and the other monks had stopped by on their way to the village of Kemal the temple had been full of worshippers and priests, the air heavy with incense, and the subtle tingling of power, for those who knew how to sense it. Now it was quiet and dim, the few tourists present speaking in hushed voices as they examined the legendary architecture, the great mirror, and the dias where the priests had performed their rituals.
He felt a momentary sense of loss; he had despised the religion of the Kedonese; it was nbarbaric, earth-bound, primitive. But the temple was a grand thing, meant for more than the casual inspecting eye of visitors who had no belief in anything but their own place and time. He gave thanks inwardly for his own beliefs; the Temaltans had held their ideas for over two hundred thousands years; changes had come and gone, civilizations had risen and fallen, and in this time he occupied, the Temaltans had been beaten back; but soon Kedon would fall under the weight of its own hubris, and the warrior monks would rise again. He smiled at the thought, and left the cool of the temple for the library across the dusty street.
A pleasant chime sounded in the suite, and Gehne went quickly to the door. A servant stood there with a metal trolley; he bowed sharply, pushed the trolley into the room, saying "Here is your breakfast, ma'am! Oh, and this letter was delevered as well." He handed her a thick cream-colored piece of paper, and exited swiftly, closing the door behind him.
Suka walked sleepily into the sitting room, wrapped in a thin silky robe. "Good morning, Gehne. "Is that nbreakfast?"
She pressed a small button and one side of the cover of the trolley slipped back, the metal plates sliding under each other until it lay folded like a dragon's wing at the side of the cart. Steam rose swiftly into the air into a cloud, and Suka looked over the repast. There was a bowl of hot roasted gidics, and roasted fish, along with a loaf of freshly baked bread, and a small jar of seasoned oil. She pressed the button to uncover the other side of the trolley, and condesation rolled off the metal as th plates slipped back. There was a bowl of sliced fruit, and a bowl of chilled gidics under an insulated lid; cold boiled eggs were in another bowl, and a selection of juices were arrayed in clear glass carafes.
"This looks lovely," exclaimed Suka, pulling a plate out from the tray that hung below the trolley. "Did you order this in for us Gehne?"
The older woman caught Suka's hand by the wrist, and took the plate away. "No, I didn't, and let's make sure it's not a mistake before we eat anything, and they make us pay for it. This letter came with the cart; it's addressed to you." She handed over the thick parchment; Suka unfolded the letter, and read:
Dear Miss Loedi;
Allow me to once again beg your pardon for disturbing you in the parlor; in the future I shall be more careful, I assure you! However, that happy accident did allow me to make your acquaintance, for which I am grateful. It would do me a very great honor if you and any of your friends would join me at my table for lunch. The maitre'd knows me, and will be happy to escort you to the correct table.
P.S. Please do enjoy the breakfast; lunch is served rather late on this fine ship, and it would do to have you faint from hunger before the meal!
The name was a wild scrawl beneath the wax impress of a house seal; Suka examined it, but did not recognize the heraldry.
As soon as Suka's eyes left the page, Gehne snatched it, and quickly scanned the letter. "Tihs is the man you met in the parlor? The one who escorted you home?" Suka nodded, quicking filling a small plate with the food. "Have you ever heard of him, Suka?"
The young woman looked up for a moment, and shook her head. "No I don't think so. Why? Whould I have?"
"He's an airship captain, something of a daredevil, I believe. I know that I have seen his name in the newsppaers. He often enters airship races, and he once dropped a Shadka wreath on the top smokestack of the Amalgamated Kedonti factory. The wreath was shirveled within moments, of course, but that wasn't the point. Suka, be careful with this man. He is a part of society, but he is not predictable, he is not nobility, and he is not safe."
Suka's heart sank, and she lowered herself into one of the cushioned chairs. "I take it, then, that I am not to join him for lunch today?"
A smile twitched at the edges of Gehne's mouth, and she handed the letter back. "No, I think you can go; it would be rude to reject the invitation after he has sent us such a fine meal. But please, take Kedi with you. I would fele better if it was a full luncheon party, and not just the two of you."
A whooshing sound swept through Kedi's suite, followed by a faint chime. Her mother stepped lightly over to the message tube, and pulled out a thin canister. She twisted the top open, and looked at the scroll of paper. "Here, Kedi, it's for you. It has the Loedi seal on it, and I imagine it’s from Suka.” The elegant woman handed her daughter the roll of paper; Kedi took it and broke the seal, unrolling it quickly.
“She says that she received an invitation for lunch, and that she would like me to join her. I’m to meet her at the top of the grand staircase at two o’clock.”
Her mother took the parchment and examined it. “Well, that’s nice! I wonder who she received the invitation from? You’ll have to tell me all about it when you get back. It’s ten o’clock now, let’s see, what dress will you want to wear?”