The Asclepius Pact poured over the hills, arriving amid a clamor of drums and trumpets. The air trembled with the beating wings of many strange flying species. Brightly colored exotic birds, winged reptiles and winged monkeys careened in grand procession. The flying creatures were followed by trailing vines, fluttering in the wind, festooned with purple flowers. A pale parade of hounds loped behind. There were swaying red lanterns, and burning censors of honeyed incense. Wagons trundled over the shell craters. Photos of heroic surgeries adorned the sides of the wagons, along with souvenirs of many amputations– limbs preserved with taxidermy, femurs and scapulas polished and carved, and brown severed human ears sun-dried to leather. The wagons were manned by warped individuals, deformed survivors of horrific wounds, alive, but disconnected from themselves, like ghosts imprisoned in flesh. Harnessed teams of racing lizards, swift as cheetahs, pulled the wagons over the battlefield. The lizards had tough skin which seemed impervious to the surrounding coils of barbed wire. Here and there, they would bound over the places where the wire had been piled too high, pulling their wagons through the air to land with a jolting thud.
She threw back her head and laughed, tears or serum drooling from her bandaged eyes. “You’re wise, sir. And deep. But you have much to learn, still. You’ve seen perfect beauty, but yet you don’t understand what an awful thing beauty can be.” She shuddered briefly and then shook off what had been a deep revulsion, obviously recalling some by-gone personal tragedy involving beauty and its consequences. Wootin could only imagine. She seized upon a tangled heap of necklaces and hung them around Wootin’s neck, adorning him with shattered opals and tarnished empty silver sconces. Adjusting the golden chains and knotted strands like a hangman tightening a noose, she slid her clenched fist toward Wootin’s neck. “Let me give you a lesson in magic, sir. Imagine these treasures as they once were, glittering pinnacles of the jeweler’s art, perfection itself rendered through gold, pearls, and diamonds. Suppose I were to tell you that I removed these very items from a corpse that had died of the plague. They would still be just a beautiful, yes? Nothing in your immediate experience would have changed, but you’d be terrified none the less.”
Due east of Kamchatka, the weightless isles had originally been settled by a sect of hermetic monks. The monks consecrated the islands by erecting cathedrals of healing. Somehow the enterprise had given birth to the Pact.
The region was draped with shimmering mercurial mists, which would rise in clouds, or sheets, or droplets, making the air as reflective as polished chrome. The wandering silver mists could pass through solid surfaces like ephemeral phantoms, and emerge as translucent mirrors. He had often seen his own face suddenly appear, distort momentarily, then dissolve, then reappear, then shimmer away into brightness.
He would have found one compelling reason after another to abide on the stony shoals that defied gravity, misted islands floating unnaturally above the sea, ascending plateaus adorned with jungle flora, gradually rising like a series of gigantic steps into what seemed like heaven itself– if you discounted the gigantic meat eating plants that caught animals and bugs and even whole planes in their sticky maws, or the hordes of pestilential flying monkeys. Or even if you did consider the flesh-eating plants and the obnoxious simians, the place still seemed like heaven due to the effects of Ttii. Or maybe it seemed like Heaven because it was life enduring on the boundaries of death.