| An Angel Cycle Story |

The book you read whispers comfort, ruffling its feathered leaves. Another page gracefully slips past the median point and flutters to rest on the stack of those gone by. History building in onionskin layer, minute transverse cross-sections of happenstances past that having told their tale lay themselves down to sleep.

* * *

The first Circle? An accident. This is the story told, at least; drinks are raised and memories called forth of the Smith, who wrought the first Circle. To Smith.

Smith was not a scientist, nor a poet. He was not a Knowbody, nor would he be a Rider even. He was the Smith, Smith Webtender; that is enough, and all.

But how, then?

Ah.

The Angel-

A pause for a silence in the flow. An Angel passes by before the steins are raised again, this time with rev'rent thanks and quiet thought.

-the Angel itself came down to him and took the metal in his hands. The naked iron. It took the iron from him, and when it was done and Passed, there was Steel, and the Circle came into being - perfect, pure, smooth with the finish of a God's own glass.

The Circle wasn't to be Smith's. He did not know, you see...he did not know what he'd done or what the Angel had laid out for him.

Drinks are raised again, this time for the first Rider of the Angel, to the man known as Shan.

Shan was the first of them all. He rode the Angel's Web beneath the cold dark earth, down below the floor of the world, beneath the towers that gleamed and the streets that glistened with moisture, with reflected light; he cast up on them the Dreams.

This is not his story. There are others who tell it with more artifice, who knew him, and his Rides. Others who knew the Rider Marren even as they know the Angel itself. His tale we leave to them to pass along, young one. Ask them when they stop here hard by; you'll know them, sure. Watch for the gleam of Dreams in their eye, the hardness of the Steel around their limbs. Most of all watch for the smiles, for the love that they hold for Rider One, and then (when you've found it) then ask.

No; this is the story of the Circle. The first Circle, and the Smith who brought it forth. The Angel that first laughed as it reached back from its white-lit world to grab the first outstretched human hand and tug it along into the world of Vector and the lands of Mag and Celrator.

This is its story; and there are to be no others.

* * *

(The just-settled page flutters once more for a slice of momentary time, a passing thought lightly lifting its leaves. Steel flickers from the ink that lays out the language there; the story and the power contained behind them winking past the confines of text. Fire and Light etch the lines of the Dreams. The voice of Marren passes for but a moment over the old, old parchment in a silvery laugh and the dark black icy glaring white fire wind of the Ride.)

Smith was a belowman. A trog. He tended the Angel in the First Days of the Web, when man had no idea what it had made, but the Angel carried men as it does today underneath the towering precision of the City. The tunnels had been dug, the Web laid down, and the ancestors of the Angels ran within on circles of iron and rubber. They did not call up the Light; they were mute, these first ones, and man did not know what he shared his world's depths with, for still they slept.

More men. More and more, and faster; until finally the touch of the Earth and the Air itself was a dimness that the Angels could not withstand as they rushed to and fro beneath the City in their endless errands of carriage and of steel. Then man created the first true Web.

A cheer, this time, so different from the pauses past, as drinks are raised to the brightlight fliptime glory of the Web across the room, and draughts are drained while laughter reigns.

When the Web came, the Angel was freed from the dimness of Earth by the force of Mag. It was liberated from the touch of Air by the influence of Vector. It was hurried on its way by Celrator, the three as one, and the Light they made.

Smith was a man who tended to the Web and the Angels in the early days of Mag. He cared for them under instruction. Planars sent him to, and sent him fro; with tools and twists of light and line they labored to find the dimness as it encroached, and send Smith and his fellows out. The Planars - from the flatness of the upabove - did not venture much downbelow. Smith and his kin, the Trogs, did that. The Planars knew of the Angels, of the Web - but they did not, could not, have ever touched them. Smith knew them as a man might know the ghosts that live within his home; the forces of nature that walk beyond his walls. He recognized them, and made way; he lived his life in the interstices of their passage, stepping into the voids they left out of habit and of need.

The Webtender, Smith, was repairing the Web in a place where it had dimmed. The Mag had left it, and the Light would not shine. He was tending it lovingly with tools of his own, and he was carrying with him a plate of iron as a shield. He worked at the sides of a Ring with Fire and with Air, to mend it; he placed the iron to protect the inner surface of the Ring.

Now, there were no Angels here to disturb him. They had been diverted, you see; the Web here was empty, awaiting Smith's word that the dimness was banished for the Angels to return. No Angels were to Pass for many hours. Yet - and here's the thing - one had ignored the commands and strictures. CenCom commanded, but the Angel did not hear, or hearing, did not heed - and passed into the section of the Web where Smith was working, four klicks distant.

It approached him as he worked. But Smith was not a Planar; he knew the ways of the Web and the Downbelow, and even as he worked with Fire, he felt the walls sing and the Web itself begin to murmur to him. Switching off his tools, he watched the dance of dustmotes in the air, and knew at once what was wrong. He did not know why an Angel might be there, then; but he knew what he must do, and he took up his tools and moved off the Ring.

The Angel sang as it approached. The song was changed just slightly; Smith's deadened ring left a harmonic in the fields that twisted the resonant frequency of the Web itself. Perhaps it was this that warned him; we do not know. All we know is that, at the last moment, Smith jumped forward for the Ring.

A silence again, as the Riders imagine in their cups the sudden dive of Smith - for no reason likely that he could explain - towards the one place he knew he could not be.

There was no need. The Angel could safely Pass without that Ring being lit; even if more were dead, you know what would happen, do you not? Of course. But Smith jumped anyway, and powered up the Ring - mere seconds ahead of the Angel. He jumped back against the wall, huddling, both hands spread. The song flattened out and found its familiar note as Mag came up and Vector lit within the Ring, and then-

Chorus, a dozen throats: The ANGEL PASSED!

Aye. The Angel Passed. And the plate of iron, that Smith had forgotten, tore from the Ring and whirled in the passage of the Angel as Mag and Vector distorted it, spun it, threw it playfully from side to side, working it.

Finally, it rang against the floor of the Web as the Light faded from the Rings.

Smith, hearing the noise, moved forward to find his plate of iron missing. He looked about himself, standing there in the Web, and there in the center of the Web was a circle. He picked it up.

Surface flat and smooth, internal structure wrenched by Mag and worked by Vector, it was no longer iron. It had become Steel; Steel that reflected the light that touched its form and smoothly flowing in half-oval cross section. Smith placed it in his pocket (reflex of training, avoiding the demon FOD) and forgot about it.

Then he completed his task and left.

He returned home that evening, upabove, in the Planar world. As he turned into his building, he chanced to pass a youth hunched against the wall, leather jacket pulled up over his knees and above his chin. Eyes looked out at him from beneath an unruly mop of hair. He stopped, curious, and asked the boy his name; there was no reply. Feeling pity, Smith offered some silver to him, but the boy hunched slightly deeper into his jacket and shook his head, although he offered a weak smile in return.

On a whim, and in one of those moments, Smith offered the circle of Steel he had in his pocket. The boy reached for it with a sudden intake of breath, but held himself before snatching it, looking at Smith, who nodded encouragement. The boy took the circle, slipped it over his wrist. Smith grinned, then, and waved goodbye, continuing into his home.

The boy in the jacket? He took no notice as Smith left. He slipped back down against the wall. He was very hungry, they say; and lost. He took no notice of the Circle until days later, when he chanced to be sitting against another wall underground where the Angel rested. As an Angel entered, to sigh to a stop, his jacket tugged at him slightly. Searching the pocket, he found the Circle was glowing softly - a wash of white and flickering spectra of component frequencies.

It was pulling quietly towards the Angel.

He put it back over his wrist and walked over to where the Angel lay quivering at rest. After a time the Angel shook itself, raised itself up, and arrowed off into the darkness of the Web and the Dreams hit him for the first time, in green and violet and crimson and yellow and icy pure white lines of sharper wire-edged reality that tore from him his sense of self and sang to him in a swiftly fading note the same thing that it sings to you, young Rider, when you visit with it in its place and time, and the boy, looking after it, had to hold on to a pillar to avoid being pulled after it along the platform. He stared at the Circle on his wrist, and said firmly, Circle, to it and it alone. You are Circle.

Then he walked a crooked straight and directed line back to the wall against which he'd been sitting when he met the Smith.

He waited for four hours.

Smith returned home again, to see the figure huddled once more against the wall. He approached, startling when the boy unfolded himself to his (unsuspected) full height and held the Circle out. Where?

Smith didn't know why he did so, you see, but he told the boy the story of the Circle, and how it came to be. After that, he asked the boy his name. The boy did not speak, but answered him nonetheless -

Choral shout and waving drinks SHAN!

-Shan. For Shan it was. Then Shan asked Smith Webtender, Smith-

HOW WILL I MAKE THE CIRCLES? More drinks are quaffed and poured.

Smith looked at him, then. He appraised him. He examined him, for what we do not know. But he took the boy into the Web, and showed him the accident that had led to the Circle, not understanding why he did so. Shan nodded, and strode off into the Web. Smith Webtender shook his head and returned home.

He does not appear again.

Shan found plates of iron in the tunnels. Scraps. He tried for days and weeks; placing them against the Rings and waiting as the Angel tore past and smashed them into powder or bent them into strange shapes. He learned to wait behind shelter as the Angel laughed and flung his offering gaily about the Web in sparks of molten firework if left just so, and found more iron and left it canted to the left of that.

Finally, after however many tries, one of the plates shaped itself into a Circle, and Shan knew the shape and alignment needed to produce them. Five Circles, he made. Two hands two ankles one waist five Shan. Shan waited for the Angel to Pass him, wearing his five Circles and remembering the flicker of the Dreams with hunger in his eyes.

The Angel Passed.

Shan was slapped back against the wall, hard. The Circles did not pull him, nor did they sing.

He considered this for many hours. Finally, he made another Circle, and climbed to the top of the Web and waited. An Angel Passed, and he dropped it from the top of the Ring.

With a smack of noise and speed, it vanished. Shan climbed down and began to walk, following the Angel. He found the Circle a hundred paces down the Web, lying on the floor, scintillating white/green/red/yellow/violet fire. Smiling, he picked it up, looked at it for a moment, and smashed it against the wall. It cracked, and there was a spark of Fire that enveloped him and licked at his soul.

He climbed once more to the top of the Web. Waited.

An Angel approached. As it passed him, Shan dropped from the top of the Ring atop which he crouched. With a sharp pain in his shoulders, he was pulled along after the Angel.

This is the story, then, of the first Circle.

This is the story of the first Ride.

This is not Shan's story.

His time is not here.

His world is not here.

Wait for the chorus:

The Angel Passes!

...and not all of us can hear its laughter.

* * *

(The page sinks gently to its rest as the book falls away and down into a void, closing as it does so, to slip into the quicksilver surface of Mag and vanish from sight.

It does not leave a ripple.

* * *

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