Excerpt From "The All-Seeing Ear"
In the rain-washed darkness, the thing that had lately been a man stared blindly into the invisible sky. All concept of pain had vanished, perhaps along with the sensation itself, and now sanity remained as tenuous as life. Though hearing had vanished, the creature’s very body still sensed the dreadful siren song that had bound him to that place, and even now the echoes of the monstrous noise kept his limbs as numb as stone. He fought to cry out, or at least to make a sound, but nothing more than a dull rasping cough escaped his lips. He could no longer feel the dripping of water that had washed his broken body clean, and a terrible feeling of vertigo drove shudders along his spine.
In the rain-washed darkness, the thing that had lately been a man stared blindly into the invisible sky, and died.
As the highest section of the city, Layer One was open to the boundless sky. Like a vast wall of milky gray vapor, the Unending Ether stretched off in all directions toward the furthest reaches of infinity. It was even written that the Ether’s distant places led all the way to the gates of Heaven itself, and to the dreaded outskirts of Hell. Curious organisms drifted, swam, and in some places even tunneled through the sky. Many were monstrous arthropods, with feathered limbs and chitinous flesh and eyes too numerous to count. There were strange polyps and animate fungi that floated through the ether far beyond, and even some creatures that might be labeled fish or birds by an abnormally charitable zoologist. While these were common enough sights for sailors who plied the shipping lanes between the distant floating cities, panic and chaos inevitably followed when one drifted into a place of habitation.
Clouds of ether drifted across the open streets like a billowing fog, but the cover was light enough to maintain visibility. All around, the glass spheres of the streetlights had dimmed to signify the onset of evening, but the commercial lifeblood of the city paid no heed to the arbitrary concepts of day and night. Out in the distance could be seen the shapes of countless ships flying in and out from the ports on the city’s middle layers: wooden-hulled sailers passed under the watchful eye of ironclad Legion patrollers, whose flags bore the emblem of the great seal fluttering in the spectral breeze. It was almost an inspiring sight, offering the illusion of the City of Salmagundi triumphant: the mighty master of its own destiny. To counter this tempting dream, the massive shapes of steel-hulled Alliance warships pulling in and out of the city's military docks served as a grim reminder of the political reality.
The Sergeant nodded to the nearest Legionnaire before turning to look off into the distance as if frightened of what the sheet concealed. The policeman he addressed had much the same reaction, turning away with a visible cringe even as he raised his side of the sheet to reveal what lay beneath. There was a long moment of silence as Cerys and Wilde peered into the bright shadows, their eyes searching for where one line ended and the next began.
Cerys remained impassive, expression hardened by years of experience, betraying only a dark scowl of fury at the violence that had been wrought upon an innocent man. It was Wilde who reacted, face paling in horror as his hand feebly lifted to cover white lips and a slack mouth. Turning away, he gasped for air, fighting his rising gorge. Hand clutching at his stomach, he leaned over and coughed violently in an effort to resist his body’s urge to vomit.
“Heaven’s!” he cried in horror. “Heaven’s Beyond! His skin! What’s happened to his skin?”