The Serenity Calibration Opera

The Fallen City

A Three Day Opera and a Tale of Immortal Sorrow by Spinning Pyramid

The performance takes place in a massive circular arena, with raised platforms in various places; awareness distorting crystals establish a propeocularisation matrix (commit one mote on entry) allowing any member of the audience, who sit around in a huge semi-circular ring of tiered seating, at will to see any performer as though they were standing a few feet away. Dancers and performers fill the space in the middle (the orbus), while (generally) the orchestra are conducted around the outside (the circumference).

Even the dialogue in the opera is not sung in words, instead the skill by which the instruments are played, the clever composition, and metaphoric staging evoke each part of the narrative. Mortal songs may have words, but the works of Heaven need nothing so one dimensional and base. This entry for the Cerulean library focuses on the story that will be told, rather than technical details (a lot of which were composed by my colleagues), see the memory-crystal’s recording of the performance, to be added later, for further details.

Day 1

The piece opens with the ascent of the gods to their position ruling Yushan. Joyous music plays in sublime celebration and brightly coloured gods swarm around the outside of the orbus, casting image globes* into the air on regular beats. The carnival-type, primal music involves the resounding ancient thrum of giant drums intermixed with glorious trumpeting from the orichalcum section. The audience will not be able to stop themselves tapping their feet, those with lower temperance, or who are more inclined to, will find themselves rising up and joining a dancing circle. Streams of victory, relief and astonishment at the beauty of the heaven now theirs stream through the air.

Gradually the drums start to play a more regular rhythm, but no less powerful, and the brightly coloured gods’ movements become less chaotic, until, in time, they find others of similar colours. These lines of colourful gods, blue gods - azure and aqua and cerulean – and red – scarlet, cherry and ruby, these lines of gods flow around each other, winding past and along until, a whole spectrum of colour from white to deepest purple is interwoven and dancing in harmony: the music changes to show the divine bureaucracy’s efficiency and perfection.

The second piece then centres around the strands of glorious order, where the gods to their duty. The music and ripples in the dancers show information, skill and loyalty travelling up and down the bureaucracy, a strong beat representing the understanding and glad performance of each member’s position. If a dancer falls out of time the neat crossing past and around them of so many others quickly sets them right again, when at one point the music grandly pauses, humming to themselves, without even a conductor, the dancers continue perfectly.

During this piece an alien clicking sound would sometimes replace the drums and towards the end of this piece if begins to overlay them, growing louder until it drowns out the music. Suddenly there is a sound, the light flickers a moment, and every single one of the brightly coloured gods turns dusky white. Then the chorus enter. Strange dark shapes begin to appear right in the distance, across from the audience, shapes that even with the propeocularisation it is difficult to make out at first. And then the pattern spiders enter.

Most, if not all, are not really pattern spiders, the audience will quickly begin to see. Those two appear to be wood elementals dyed; you can see the stitches holding on that one’s extra legs… Still they have an uncanny similarity and it is enough to make most gods nervous seeing so many pattern spiders away from the loom. The spiders creep through the dusky white dancers, who are now still, winding slowly through the wide bureaucratic net. Fate is in every dancer, fate is in the structure that they dutifully maintain, fate is what gives gods their power and keeps Yushan free from the Wyld, these spiders are its keepers. Soon the spiders reach the centre of the web, there is a platform there and they gather on it and begin to weave a story.

Accompanied by twisty music played by strings, swinging from platform to platform, on strands of what appears to be some sort of star-metal alloy, the spiders show that the loom has foretold the rise of a beautiful city, the greatest that there will ever be. As the music builds to meet this revelation the dusty white dancers slowly climb onto each other’s shoulders, or swing out away from one another, to suggest the great height and strength of the buildings that might one day exist in this city.

The third piece depicts, through the complex movements of the dancers and the rising of the instruments, the curiosity of the gods for this place that will be the pinnacle of the mortal world. The simple humans that dwelt on the site of the future city began to have busy dreams as each god sought to have a stake in the greatest of purviews. The rustic farmers (a jade banjo is plucked) discovered irrigation one day and the lyre the next. Elaborate battle plans would be laboriously drawn up when they had no enemy (scene where dancers try to challenge the audience). The immortals continued thus until one day when a contest between a lava elemental and a trade deity scarred and injured a goddess of great delicacy and beauty when her sanctum was crushed. Her gentle tears rang in the ears of her kind and they saw themselves, bargaining in the dust. The gods ceased to bicker over mortals and began to return themselves to their noble, rightful places.

Here the clicking begins again and the spiders, long silent, begin to move. But rumours about the city, apparently from the loom, still spread and so the gods watched over the developing city. If gods interfered, they were more circumspect about it and more subtle, gifting favoured mortals with the skills to create, rather than forcing man full of ideas he was not ready for. Even the gods seeking to hold sway in the city, did not interfere with its growth, however and it rose and rose.

Agrarian to gregarious, rustic to urbane, the city indeed flourished (at this point certain selected musicians play their own ballads written to reflect the developing and ultimate magnificence of this blessed place. Some involve more than a little political satire, often about members of the audience sitting reasonably near the front; all in good humour of course). The greatest craftsmen, inventors who created entirely new purviews, the most beautiful artists and musicians, politicians who bore blade-like intellects and the most glorious warriors dwelt within the state’s blessed walls. The gods loved this city, the pride of their world, and the inhabitants of the city loved the gods. Life and prayer were rich.

*That cast pictures a few feet long into the area around them. These jade spheres help illustrate certain parts of the tale, add depth and bring in more beautiful spectacle.

Day 2

The dancing gods are spread around the outside of the orbus, the wire-web accompanied by the pattern spider chorus still grows out from them to the centre, but now it is much higher in the air because the central platform is the highest point in a large representative scale-model of a city.* With enough awareness it is possible to see that a lot of the details are painted on, but the art is breath-taking and at first sight it appears a stunning thing to have built over-night.

The second day opens in the glorious city with the birth of a tawny-haired hero. The chorus of pattern spiders hum his birth and they each hang a single crystal on the web strands they are squatting on. A great musician once described wind instruments, especially those with reeds, as the instruments that sound most like the human voice; he had never heard an accomplished musician play Tear Crystals. To celebrate the hero’s birth they tap, in union, the crystal they have added and it sings (the only appropriate verb) an achingly beautiful note that calls with the perfected voice of a child. They add other crystal bells, of different sizes and shapes, playing out his tinkling childish laughter, his fear of the storm slowly overcome and his curiosity until a great sea of noise rises up from the spiders’ web.

As the hero grew, he became greater than any other man, beautiful and brave, wise and good. The gods lavished gifts and attentions on him – sometimes in person – and he had great skill with the sword, hammer and lyre. When he hunted, or fought the gods protected him and quickly he rose to great fame and led the city. A bell, not yet played, is struck now and all the image globes the dancers cast above them are combined – an effect activated by the tonal wave – with the propeocularisation and in front of every member of the audience seems to stand an image of this leader, but it is not merely an image of him but it also forms the Old Realm glyph for leader. As the bells, the Tear Crystals, are played the glyph shimmers and glows, colours streaming through it, evoking the essence of what it is to be a leader.

The audience need no biography of this man, the music plays of his experience and his development, but this glyph speaks of his soul. His worry for the hunter who had lost a leg, his love of a certain food, even his most glorious deeds, all these are summed up by an understanding of his spirit. He was a leader, that is enough. Men see the actions of one another, but music speaks to the soul. Respect this man and, be you god, elemental or exalt, admire him, because you have looked into his very being and it was as beautiful and simple as song.

In time the leader he married the noble, orphaned daughter of a great household: so pure and kind that her touch could heal mortals and release them from pain. They cared for each other dearly and the people of the city loved the goodness of their beautiful leaders and were inspired by it. But however good they were and however pure the leader’s wife, she could not use her healing gift to benefit herself and as the years passed she never could receive the blessing of children. The couple remained as close and caring as before, but this disappointed them both, one single imperfection in their glorious lives. Finally, as the bloom of youth was leaving her cheeks, she bore a single, tawny-haired son.

The clicking interrupts again as the spiders weave and hum another tale. Again striking the bell that sounded so much like a child’s voice they relate how the loom has foretold that a great change, an era that will define the glorious city in memory eternal, is approaching. Seeing the blessing of the young heir and hearing the prophecy about the great future the child’s birth had brought the city, the gods rejoiced.

The bells sing again of the growing of a man. As a child the leader’s heir would sit at the feet of his father and mother while they dispensed advice, his father would often rest a hand on his shoulder and he would wrap a small palm around his mother’s ankle. One day a rich young boy was presented, an orphan (like his mother), seeking the protection of the state for he had no guardian, and he chipped in, suggesting they should adopt him. Smiling the leader handed the boy his staff – a symbol of his office (of course, there is always a symbol) – and suggested his heir should decide whether the boy’s finances would be better suited to farming or the jade trade, considering the current market. His mouth open, the boy handed the sceptre back to his father, not interrupting again.

Even so, after that the boy was invited to study with the young prince. They trained side by side, reading to each other in the evenings and, when they were older, hunting together.

The second piece begins with the dancers in the complementary grouped colours of the bureaucracy. Drums and trumpeting orichalcum play a heavenly tune, but the clicking of the spiders seems to cause dancers or members of the orchestra to occasionally fall out of time. The reds and blues and greens of the gods are now interspersed with shimmering, twinkling gems and hearthstones: everyone is doing their job, but their wealth and experience make their dance seem smug rather than simply joyful. The innocent amazement at the beautiful duties of a new domain has gone. As they go about their tasks the dancers, on certain beats, do keep turning their eyes to the city.

Ambrosia collected from certain special mortals is traded for more, for this reason alone and everyone seems able to shape-shift into a form with tawny hair. The gods were preparing themselves for the golden age of the heir and they make time in their bureaucratic schedules to try and place themselves in the best possible position for the future.

At this time the gods bargained and tussled over propitious sites for sanctums in the city and manoeuvred the links they had been forging, since before the city’s foundations were laid, to try to bring a follower to the leader or his son’s notice, or get him into one of their retinues. Some spirits, desperate in the knowledge that they did not have the contacts or resources to place themselves well for the future, went further and arranged for the favoured of others to fall in battle, from sickness or during childbirth. In suspicion and revenge those who thought they had lost out this way would strike back against those they believed responsible, or, even just to make sure no other could move against them.

Such incidents multiplied until one day, in bitterness and revenge, a god of madness, a god of little intelligence, lacking great resource or power, possessed the mind of the heir’s companion. The lads were young and the companion was his dearest friend, some say lover. This god could only seize his mind for a moment, but when he did a hazy cloud descended over the boy’s mind. He was wrestling with the heir, but he thought he was fighting a boar with demonic red eyes and razor-sharp tusks. The leader’s heir saw his friend’s eyes widen in shock and fear, he stopped struggling to win the bout and reached a hand up to his friend’s face. At that moment, raging, possessed, the boy broke his neck.

In a moment he blinked his eyes and realized what he had done. He touched his dearest friend, whose glassy eyes lay open and whose pale chest was still, and then he fled, blinded by tears, clutching his gut with grief. The boy was found soon after by his mother. Too late to heal.

The third piece then begins: the gods are gathering, meeting in heaven (using the platforms to mimic a smaller version of the tiered seating the audience are sat in; the dancers facing the audience; who is watching who). Heaven is in chaotic turmoil; the future of the gods’ blessed city in doubt.

Once they were all assembled, different voices spoke up, some advocating one course, some another. Some argued that the best friend, who had trained with the heir, might be redeemable and even a potential future leader, to lead the city to greater glory, and others thought they could use him to buy time, or even to rule through him; some argued that it would be best to destroy the boy’s mother – now past child-bearing – so that the leader could take a new wife and have a new heir; others, tired of the politics or because this was their purview, advocated the immediacy of war.

These divisions in heaven echoed across the city and lines were finally drawn. With divine support and mortal greed the boy, best friend of a murdered prince, found himself at the head of an army: malcontents or rebels and those they could make come with them, or those whose patron gods had taken his side; the leader raised another army, a great and numerous force, to sweep vengeance on the killer of his son.

The heavenly groups backed action as the armies equipped for war. The leader’s wife survived, protected by powerful forces, and as soon as a deity cast a love spell over her husband, in the hope he would beget further children, another god would break the effect. The city, the glorious city, prepared with its unparalleled resources, wealth, and population, for civil war. The loom trembled (end with the mother’s lament).

*Scale model means not the size of a city; it looks more like the size of a village, but with more buildings. It is by no means small.

Day 3

The model of the city is still standing, but space has been killed for groups of war tents (again very realistic), one is outside the city walls and the other inside the city walls but towards the other side of the city. The divine dancers take the place of soldiers for military scenes.

The one (and only) piece begins. The war has arrived and mortals fight, weapons clashing and flashing with the light of the sun. The gods watch the battle from a distance – healing gods from time to time perform miracles, war gods do their best to bless their chosen side and spirits of air whisper strategic ideas to great generals – but for the main part they just watch, awaiting the outcome, their usual duties almost forgotten.

The war the mortals fight is not like the heroic battles of the past. This is civil war: neighbour versus neighbour, friend against friend. It is as easy to kill your own side as the other. At the close of one day a man received compensation from his commander for having to kill his brother; another was refused it when he found his unit had slain his father. Sometimes a hand to hand combat would pause, when two figures recognised one another in time, and they would just step around each other, butchering the figure behind.

Noses were crushed into brains, elbows snapped with broad swords, battle axes lopped limbs off like firewood. At dusk of each day the fighting would cease so that corpses could be collected and then, the next day, they would begin all over again. Fighting for their two sides. And the gods looked on.

Then the sun rose on a day when everything changed. A young woman, a talented huntress before the battle, was felled by an enemy spear. Screaming divine wrath her patron rode onto the field and carried her, on a carriage drawn by baying hounds, to safety. The other gods, many of whom had cradled the dwindling essence of their own favourites, as they lay dying in the dust, their patron’s hopes for glory along with them, watched this and rage grew strong in their hearts. This was the day when everything changed; this was the day when the gods entered the fray.

Armies of mortals in desperation fought giant warriors hewn from stone or clad in black jade, they battled deer-headed huntsmen and their commanders were picked off by bloody assassins. On both sides divinities struck down men and punished each other, their divine ichor staining the rusty ground.

Archery gods shot plague after plague that brought down armies and gods of healing wrenched wounds with clawed hands, tearing them further apart. The sky crashed with thunderbolts, the earth rocked, the rivers burst their banks – choked up and poisoned with bodies, whole forests were felled for weaponry or to starve enemies and the smoke from the corpse-pyres blocked out the sun. Death was swallowing the land.

And still the fighting continued, the leader consumed with the need for vengeance, his city beginning to burn.* His wife was killed in her bedroom when the citadel collapsed. She had not tried to evacuate, she had nothing left. The leader dug for her body, scraping through his hands as he grabbed at rock, but he found nothing.

A vengeful spirit had already delivered it to the boy leading the opposing army, a bargaining tool, it suggested. The boy sat in private and gazed at the broken body of the mother of his dearest friend and longed for the war to be over. But there was so much relying on him now, so many had died for his cause and what could he surrender to: he was fighting for his life. Yet, he could not accept this new act. After the sun had set he ordered some of his most trusted or predictable men to travel in secret to the enemy camp and return the body to her husband.

They carried it out of the camp, laden on a cart, wrapped in a bundle of spears. Fate, or a benevolent spirit, led them to the leader’s tent. They returned hours before sunrise, but still the boy could not rest. He jumped at each sound and a deep grief ate at him. Longing for his joyful friend and the days of his boyhood gnawed deep in his chest, but it all seemed impossibly long ago now. He did not think he could really imagine a time before this grey cloud had descended on him.

All he heard was a swish of air and a cold metal blade was pressing against his neck. He did not jump this time. The audience will wonder if perhaps this had been what he had been waiting for. Maybe this was the reason he had sent the body back, knowing his men could be followed. The leader looked at the boy lying awake in bed and frowned as the boy slowly moved to open the neck of his shirt, holding it apart for him to strike. Looking at the pale, hollow desperate face of the boy he had thought to love as a second child he felt suddenly sick. He had not paused even to examine his wife’s body for more than a moment when he found out who the men delivering her body were. Now, gazing into the boy’s hungry eyes his arm jerked the blade away, almost of its own accord, when he realised that this boy, the ungrateful person who had taken from him the thing he loved most, the person who had killed his son with his bare hands, this was the only living person who seemed to know that no amount of blood could quench a man’s grief.

His magnificent grief, that had so fascinated the watching gods and that they had used for their war, this grief did not need vengeance. Its only relief lay in time. But where would this time be found now, now that they had armies fighting for them. Too late.

The leader sheathed his sword and went and sat by the fire. In time the boy rose, dream-like, from his bed and sat across from him. They sat in silence, staring at the flames. Then the leader spoke. He told the story of a mighty tree. It grew so tall that it could no longer see the ground and, because it could not see it, it thought it could stand without it. As it reached ever higher towards the sky, it no longer extended its roots and soon the tree tumbled down. The leader’s tears are dried by the heat of the flames.

The boy cannot cry at the leader’s words, perhaps he is empty of grief. He speaks, eventually, apologetically, for him there is only the safety of the deathly emptiness inside him, an unchanging peace where his tangled spirit can find some kind of rest.

The leader is silent a moment. No pity crosses his face. He pours a glass of wine, the colour of blood. He holds it up to the firelight: men are not eternal in anger, nor even in grief, even if they believe they wish to be; they are shaped most truly by time. It is this that means that even in their deepest grief they must still eat, must drink. This is their hope. Even when wounds are so deep that they will not live to see the time to heal them, they are not permitted to dwell on their sorrow all the time. It is this that the leader explains by pouring the wine. As he does so blood red wine fountains down before the audience, there are goblets under their feet, the music continues.

The boy kneels down at the leader’s feet, tears finally beginning to flow, and he begs the man to kill him. The leader merely hands the wine out towards him and bids him drink. The boy takes the wine, drinks a toast to the dead, and hands it back. The leader drinks from it in turn. They sit a moment longer like this and then the leader reaches out a hand and slowly lays it on the boy’s shoulder. Then he rises, quickly, and leaves.

The next day fighting commences again. That day the city falls and both armies are practically destroyed.** The leader is overcome by the boy’s young troops, fighting as he falls, but then the greater force of his army prevails and the boy is executed, smiling.

The city is left in smouldering ruins and the divided gods are left to themselves. They have nothing but their former roles, and the chance to try, perhaps in vain, to put back the pieces and reclaim gifts they had in their miraculous duty, their sublime bureaucracy, their rule of heaven.

A great city had fallen, a city inhabited by the greatest beings that will ever dwell anywhere. An imbalance of strife and avarice had wrought its downfall, forcing like to turn against like, until friendship, unity and order were lost. What was gained but grief and misery? Only by rising together will the ashes from the city finally fall away.***

*The model city, the beautiful paint-work, begins to burn.

**The model military camps begin to burn and the crashing of the model buildings as they dissolve in the flames forms part of the music.

***Lights raise up onto seat behind the orchestra that could not be seen before – thanks again to the propeocularisation matrix – and for the first time the audience can see who sits there. Some free tickets were given out to gods from the slums. They have sat opposite the audience all this time and now know that their ‘betters’ can see them. They can look into each others’ eyes as the music draws to a close.