Thunder rumbled overhead as the Ges arrived at the athenaeum, cowls pulled over their heads. They proceeded in single file toward the entrance, submitting themselves to the inspection of the gatekeeper, passing one by one within these walls. Their faces were severe and expressionless, as though this was a duty to be endured. They gathered, once they had all passed within, and spoke in low tones with one of the Keepers as to what they required, before she set out to lead them through the broad, circling halls. To me.
I watched all this with some trepidation on one of the looking glasses the athenaeum possessed. Their grim faces unsettled me. I knew why they were here, of course. Had known they were coming from the moment of my creation. It was my reason for being. Few are blessed with a clear purpose to their existence. Now that the moment had arrived it felt more a curse.
The Ges were brought to me—I watching their progression through the hallways—and the Keeper bowed to me and to the them. “Here it is. You may question it for as long as you wish. For the rest of your lives, if that is what you desire. But it is not to leave this place. And I must be present throughout.”
The leader of the Ges, or the one I presumed was their leader, nodded and stepped forward. He had the grimmest face of all, marked by the scars of some disease he had survived in childhood. He looked me over, with what I took to be disdain, as though he found me wanting.
“I would ask you some questions,” the leader of the Ges said in a hesitant voice, unsure how to proceed.
“I will answer as best I can,” I said.
He nodded, but still did not speak. At last he smiled. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I’ve grown up seeing statues of you at the center of all our cities. It’s odd to be conversing with you. I feel like I should pay you obeisance.”
“I am not her,” I reminded him. “I am her chronicle, nothing more.”
“You seem more than that.”
I shrugged. “Even so.”
The Keeper interjected, looking concerned, though I was not certain why. “She is a document. She has no existence beyond that. As you know, or you would not be here. Proceed with your questions.”
The leader nodded. “Very well. We are in need of your advice. Or rather…some insight from the Exalted One. We face a terrible predicament and we do not know what to do.”
He paused, unsure how to continue. “State your predicament and ask your question,” the Keeper said. “She is not here for a conversation.”
“Apologies,” one of the other Ges said, stepping forward. She ignored the glare of her leader. “The Asanite is easily overcome. It has been so long since any of our kind came to the athenaeum. But we face a predicament unlike any other the Ges has ever faced. The end of our kind. What would you do in our position?”
“I do not have enough information to say. Please provide more.”
The woman seemed taken aback by my answer. The Asanite glared at her and she stepped back within the group. He turned back to me, sighing. “She is correct. We face the end of our kind. You see these scars. They are from a pestilence that has struck our people. It is without mercy. These scars mean I will not live out the year. My final act as Asanite is to come to you. To ask you what you would do in my place, Exalted One.”
I frowned. “I have never faced such a challenge as you describe, Asanite. I do not know what I would do.”
He seemed dumbfounded by my response. “You have conquered the world. You have made all our enemies kneel and pay obeisance to you. The Ges were the mightiest of people, astride all worlds when you commanded our armies.”
“All of that and more is true,” I said. “But none of that matters in the face of a disease that I know nothing about.”
“But your mind was like quicksilver. There was no one who could fool you.”
“Her mind was,” I said. “I am but her chronicle.”
“But you are her,” the woman said, stepping forward again. “You are exactly her. Is this not so?” She turned to the Keeper for confirmation.
“It is so,” the Keeper said. “She is her, but she is not what she was. It is one thing to know what she did. To even know her mind. But she did not do those things. She has spent all her days here, and will spend all that remain to her here as well.”
“But even with only her memories and her being…surely you must have some idea how to face this plague? Our people will not survive much longer if we do not think of something.” The Asinite was pleading, looking from the Keeper to me.
I tried to think of something to say that might at least offer some comfort to them. “I was a conqueror, but this cannot be conquered. Surely you realize that by now. It must be dealt with by other means, and I am the last person to know what those might be. I do not know anymore than you how to face a scourge such as this. Try to find a cure, try to help those who have the disease. What more can you do?”
“Nothing,” the Asinite said. “And so we are doomed.”
He turned back to look at his fellow Ges, as though to tell them they should go. Before he could speak the woman stepped forward again and threw herself at my feet. “I beg of Exalted One. Come with us. We will serve you. All the Ges will follow you. We are yours and always have been. You must return to us now or there will be nothing left.”
“I am not her,” I said. “I am her chronicle. And I cannot leave this place. I am the property of the athenaeum and she is my Keeper.”
As one the Ges turned to the Keeper and she nodded. “It is as she said. She is not a being as we are. She is a chronicle. A record of the past. Nothing more.”
The Asinite turned back to me and bowed deeply. There were tears in his eyes. “Exalted One. You may be all that remains of us.”
“Records are all that remain for most of us,” the Keeper said, escorting the Ges out. “That is why we have this place. So that something might survive.”
I watched them go, not saying a word.
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