Author : Aldous Mercer

Septu’s core-temperature rises as soon as he steps out of the wind. But he keeps his eyes to the ground. The trembling of his father’s hand has nothing to do with the heat and everything to do with gathering other Master-Miners every sevenday.
“Greet the Heptarch, child,” says the Priest behind them. His father’s fingers tighten around Septu’s for a moment. But then he lets go and Septu walks forward till a pedestal, waist-high, enters his field of vision.


His first glimpse of the Heptarch is of the Heptarch’s feet: bare and dusty, they don’t look any different from miner-feet. But higher up, molded perfectly to the shape of the Heptarch’s ankles, are two metallic cuffs. Pyramidal extrusions of copper rise from their surfaces to form a miniature stalactite-forest of copper spikes. Septu is so absorbed in counting spikes that the Priest has to prod his shoulder till Septu leans forward, kisses the Heptarch’s feet and darts back.
“Your son will make a fine Priest.” The Heptarch’s voice is strong, like Septu’s father’s.
“You didn’t think we came all this way to quell a rebellion, did you?”
Septu’s father is silent.


Septu travels in the Heptarch’s own chariot. The jolting motion has upset his balance often enough that the Heptarch’s hand now rests permanently on Septu’s shoulder. Sometimes the bumps make the Heptarch’s wrist-cuffs dig into Septu’s skin. One such bump draws blood. The Heptarch hisses and removes his hand. Septu, who has been absorbed in twists of the ore-road, looks down at the single drop of blood blossoming on his shoulder.
“Blood,” says Septu, “carries the heat-beneath-skin…”
“…from extremity to center, and back again,” finishes the Heptarch. “I am surprised you memorized such an obscure syllogism.”
Septu knows others. “The heat-over-head begins at–”
“Not now,” says the Heptarch. “Concentrate on balance.”
Septu returns to watching the road that carries ore from the mines to Church, and copper back out again.


The suns rise, limiting Septu’s ability to radiate heat. The chariots rumble to a stop, and Septu wonders how they will survive outside the dark of the mine-caves. Then a Priest takes him aside and drenches his body with a bucketful of glasslike green unguent. Septu feels the heat within him recede; he feels like running and jumping, without worry that it will raise his temperature, that he will collapse gasping to the ground.
“Temporary,” says the Priest, whose loins and upper-arms are girded with copper spikes.
Septu has to be drenched with unguent–gel–three more times till they reach Church.


The Heptarch takes gel-covered Septu to a table with small pieces of copper-spiked jewelry on it. Septu cannot help but stare at the glittering green-and-copper web of a tiny neckplate—too small for a Priest.
“Septu,” says the Heptarch, “do you know what the Heptarch does?”
“He drains the heat-within, and the heat-without.”
“So today the son of a rebel becomes Septarch. Do you understand?”
Septu shakes his head.
“You will, eventually.”


The Heptarch places a knuckle under Septu’s chin and draws his face upwards; Septu sees the Heptarch’s face for the first time. He is younger than Septu’s father, his head framed with the green-and-copper spikes of the Heptarchy’s crown.
“Pulse Points gather the heat-under-skin.” Septu remembers all syllogisms he has ever heard.
“Yes,” says the Heptarch. Then he reaches over, and picks up a tiny crown from the table. Septu stands still, not daring to breathe.
The Heptarch grins down at him. “This,” he says, “is called a Heat Sink.”

Discuss the Future: The 365 Tomorrows Forums
The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows


%d bloggers like this: