Something had happened.
Nizzin had made his way from the library holding the copy of The Ecstasies of the Panopliant under one arm. As the hall swung down to the right he could see guests drifting outside onto a wide balcony forested with tall potted trees, from the balcony descended two flights of curving stairs. Nizzin thought he might make his way out to the grounds, escape through the garden – no one would give him a second glance.
After the cloying airs of the library, the wind out on the balcony refreshed Nizzin. His brain, still freighted with the synergy between the passages he’d read in the book and the treasure he had stolen (heavy in his pack) cleared some. One more glass of wine wouldn’t hurt though. He claimed one, the bell of it sweating, from a tray on a small table there between two of the potted trees. He sipped and strolled towards the stairs casually. No one considered him.
‘Ooo!’, cried a woman pointing up with a new smile scrawling itself across her broad face. Nizzin reflexively looked, as did all those on the balcony. Above, the sugary stars encrusted the night sky with the wrecks of constellations, dispersed into senseless arrangements. Writing itself over them, turning into view like an array of mirrors, the Starhenge arrived. There was light applause. Nizzin gave his gaze over to it, wondering.
It was then that something slipped. Cries came up from the main room below. Nizzin recalled the woman gesticulating, narrating some story that had captured the attention of the guests. The cries that he heard though were those of spreading shock as if some corruption had been discovered floating in the punch bowl, some untoward bone in the food. The house, Nizzin was sure, swayed with some new softness. Partiers around Nizzin lost their footing; golden wine was written across the balcony; he watched, inside a unrushed moment, the wine in his glass sway as his own footing remained only very slightly troubled.
He reflexively looked up to the Starhenge, as if that enigma might illuminate his mind the way it threw is strange light down on the island. But his gaze was cut short as the young woman he had seen across the lagoon his first in town stumbled into his periphery.
She was slim, a sleeveless dress of burnt orange blazed against her dark skin and her eyes were very very large but Nizzin could only see the panic of what was happening written in the slit between her lashes.
Nizzin’s soul, for lack of any better term, was a compound thing utterly incapable of processing through it the full spirit of empathy, instead only shards and facets of sympathy might wink: a half smile, a kind look, the helping hand he extended to the young woman knowing she needed it but not knowing quite what he might do.
A fountain next to them shot out an arch of liquid into spreading pool on the balcony before Nizzin realized it was a guest vomiting. He helped the young woman out of the way as the vomiter tried to apologize as more wine forced its way up through his teeth. Nizzin took the young woman’s arm over his shoulder and began to help her down the curving stairs towards the solace of gardens. Her gaze rolled past him and up to lock on the eerie sigil of the Starhenge. Her face so close to his he could smell the wine on her breath, could see her eyes like deep cups of tadpoles vibrating in their new vitality.
Managing her down the stairs he wondered out loud at what he’d read from The Ecstasies of the Panopliants, ‘What do we become beneath the gaze of the stars?’