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The Destiny Mask

an extract from the novel
by Martin Sketchley


The Chamber of Visions,
Oracles' Cloister, Seriattic Palace

The Destiny Mask by Martin SketchleyOracle Entuzo -- the most senior of all Seriatt's seers -- entered the chamber, accompanied by her six, young vilume attendants, the hem of her heavy outer robe trailing on the floor. The attendants lit lamps that cast pools of cream light across the brick walls, polished wood, and brass, and candles beneath small glass bowls filled with scented oil. As the liquids warmed the air became rich and intoxicating.

Oracle Entuzo shed her robe and handed it to Coulieq, her senior attendant. Like all Oracles, Entuzo was taller than other vilume, and without her robe she looked brittle and fragile, her limbs and neck appearing a little too long, and slightly out of proportion.

She lay on the smooth black couch in the centre of The Destiny Mask by Martin Sketchleythe room, her movements slow and precise. Its sleek leather skin undulated gently as it changed shape to accommodate her. "Are you certain you wish to do this?" asked Coulieq. "The lack of a focal consciousness concerns me."

"Calm yourself, faithful Coulieq," said Entuzo, her voice soft and warm. "There is no specific individual or event on which to focus, that is true, but perhaps this will make the visions easier to interpret, more accurate than the usual possibilities."

"Or perhaps it is not possible at all and your individuality will be in danger. Can you afford to take such a risk? We should inform the Administrators."

"Did the mask not predict the Great Plague? The Denessil Catastrophe?" Entuzo challenged, her tone gentle but firm. "It is true that sometimes it cannot be relied upon, but given the current crisis we need some indication of what the future may give us. As for the Administrators, they need know only if I see anything of importance. If I see anything at all. Leave me now, Coulieq. I must open my mind to what may come."

Coulieq nodded. From experience, the vilume knew that entering into an argument with Entuzo was futile. Prompted by a slight movement of Coulieq's right hand, the other attendants stepped back to take up designated positions near the circular room's wall.

As she lay, Entuzo glanced at the circle of plush seating overlooking the Chamber, where the Administrators and other Oracles would normally sit during important projections. She felt some uncertainty at using the mask without their approval, but knew her reasons were valid.

Entuzo relaxed, her pure black eyes reflecting the intricately carved wooden ceiling above her as she stared. Her breathing began to slow as she relaxed completely, but her eyes remained open. A few moments later, when Coulieq recognised that Oracle Entuzo had entered the dormant state of transcendence, on the cusp of departing the physical world and entering the spiritual environment beyond, accessible only to the Oracles, the senior attendant slowly turned to face the wall behind her. She touched a small square button and a panel slid to one side. It revealed Seriatt's most precious artefact -- the Destiny Mask.

Ancient and of unknown origin, the mask had been discovered by archaeologists in one of Seriatt's most barren regions, but was believed by many to be non-Seriattic. Bearing the appearance of polished golden glass with a slightly metallic quality, it was delicately fashioned from a substance scientists had been unable to identify. Covering the front of the upper head when worn, the mask's features possessed androgynous characteristics similar to those of Seriattic vilume, yet there was something nonetheless different about it, a subtle otherness to the facial expression and distribution of the features, as if modelled on an ancestor of modern vilume. The wide, oval eyes conveyed innocence, wisdom, pity, and also great sorrow, as if continually dismayed by the ineptitude of those who wore it.

Coulieq picked up the soft black leather gloves that lay in front of the mask and put them on, then reached out and lifted the artefact carefully from its cradle. She turned, carried the mask towards the couch, and carefully placed it on Oracle Entuzo's face.

Despite its apparently solid construction, as Coulieq backed away, the mask briefly emitted a very faint, high-pitched whine, then became slightly luminescent. Entuzo's lips parted, her fingers began to twitch slightly, and her back arched a little as if she were anxious or aroused, the couch moving with her body. Oracle Entuzo licked her lips and swallowed. Her fingers gripped the sides of the couch. She seemed tense, disturbed, mumbling softly. The mask seemed to glow more brightly, and then its edges began to soften, losing definition and extending down the sides of Entuzo's face, until the strange substance started to merge with the Oracle's skin. As it hardened across her ears, eyes, and the top of her nose the bond with her pale flesh was seamless.

Then, a few moments later, Oracle Entuzo began to see the future.

Some time later Entuzo seemed to relax. The mask darkened, and separated from the vilume's skin, returning to its original, solid form. Coulieq stepped forward and gently removed it from the Oracle's face. It felt warm to the touch even through the leather gloves, and Entuzo's skin was slightly pink where it had made contact with her.

Coulieq placed the mask back in its cradle and closed the panel. When she turned she saw that Entuzo was already awake, and had gratefully accepted a drink of iced water offered to her by one of the junior attendants.

As Coulieq walked towards her, Entuzo sat up on the couch. "What did you see?" asked the senior attendant, recognizing the elated expression on the Oracle's face. "The projections in the chamber were unclear."

Entuzo reached out and touched Coulieq's wrist. Her fingertips were icy cold. "I have some wonderful news, faithful Coulieq," she said softly but with clear elation. "I have seen something marvellous. I have seen the coming of Seriatt's Saviour."



© Martin Sketchley 2006.

The first two novels in Martin Sketchley's Structure series, The Affinity Trap and The Destiny Mask, are currently available from Pyr in the US and Canada, and Simon & Schuster in the UK. The third -- The Liberty Gun -- was published by Pyr in November 2006, and in February 2007 by Simon & Schuster.

The Affinity Trap by Martin SketchleyThe Affinity Trap by Martin Sketchley
The Destiny Mask by Martin SketchleyThe Destiny Mask by Martin Sketchley
The Liberty Gun by Martin Sketchley The Liberty Gun by Martin Sketchley

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