Flight of the Eagle
by William Garth Hopkins

Don’t let it get you uptight.

     “Dad, this is dumb.”
     “Jacob!” Aldo took a deep breath and tried not to scowl. “I’m telling you the world changed that day and you need to know.”
     “Everybody knows it changed the world, so what?”
     “Not the world you mean. The world, the cosmos…the totality changed that day, at that one moment.”
     He tried harder to relax, to take the edge off his voice. He concentrated on the way ahead of them, his hands moving confidently as he guided them through the night. It was hard work, but he was still strong enough to mask most of the effort from his son. “The one I am taking you to see tonight will tell you, he can show you just what changed. He will help you understand how it changed and why it can never be the same again.”
     “Sure, Dad, whatever.”
     Aldo watched the night sky. Everything was so clear to him. It troubled him that his son couldn’t sense any of it. He turned and looked over his shoulder at the moon rising behind them. He shuddered as its light began to obscure the stars around it. The balanced archer slowly faded from view; the crown of the queen of heaven split in two, disappeared point by point.
     “Watch where you’re going, Dad!”
     Aldo turned around quickly and saw that they’d drifted perilously close to the tops of the trees. He could hear the wind whipping through the branches. There was little enough left now, but he could feel something. A faint touch of the old strength, a hint of the old ways. “Jacob, do you feel it? Can you feel it? There is still the dark energy of the night forest there. You can hear its voice.” He glanced over at his son and was surprised to see him concentrating, eyes closed and swaying in time with the shifts in the wind.
     “No, Dad, I feel nothing. I don’t know. Maybe a little.”
     He smiled. “You’re a good boy, and gifted. The traces are very faint now. Only one of the True could feel anything at all. What a master you would have been…” His voice broke and he covered his face with his hands.
     “Here, Dad. Let me drive for a while.”
     Aldo gave up the reins and fought to control himself. It was so hard to believe how much had changed in a few meager decades after all these centuries of certain and complete power. Seated beside his son on the Masters’ traditional night mount, it was all too easy to dream of the old times and the way it’d been before the great change. “Jacobishni, you know how the seal was broken? How the contamination began?”
     Jacob nodded.
     Above them, a meteor streaked across the night sky, followed by another, then another. The big Earlrie shrieked and  began to fly faster.
     “Hush, it will all soon pass.” Aldo turned to his son. “He can sense the damage, feel them tearing through the fabric of our world. He cannot sense the other, though, the mirror thing. He cannot sense the darkness leaking out from us here and slowly pervading the spheres. Decay began here and now it spreads through all creation.  Do you know what they have done, Jacob?”
     “Hush, father, they’ve followed their hearts and minds. They’ve reasoned that these things must be.”
     “No! They’ve dreamed that such things might be, and they’ve torn creation apart to make them so. They’ve changed the world, Jacob, and they never knew what it was they threw away. Their minds are small and their dreams soulless. They embrace the chaos and attack corruption with entropy. They are very great fools. They’ve damned all of us. They call it ‘The Eagle’, Jacob, and they deemed themselves heroes.” He fell silent and lay back against the high saddle, drawing his cloak around him. Jacob said nothing more. His father was ancient and talked of nothing but the old days now. Old days and old ways. But he meant well, Jacob knew, even though he’d never been able to adapt. And Jacob knew more than his father thought. He knew that despite what his father said things had begun to change many hundreds of years ago. Before the eagle, before the bicycle builders, even before the thinker with the telescope. There had always been something in mankind that had sought to stretch beyond this world, to take this changeable reality and make it the only reality. The only real difference was that there used to be many men like his father who dreamed of the perfection beyond and strove to protect, embody and teach it.
     Life was now about change. Jacob watched the lights of an airliner passing through the higher regions of the atmosphere. Its lights blinked steadily and the vapor trail was just visible in the spreading light of the moon. There was no reaction from their mount and Jacob thought how even the Earlrie had learned to accept much. But then Jacob wasn’t sure they were really smart enough to see that the world was in any way different now than when the masters first brought them into being. In a way, he supposed, they weren’t really real now. They couldn’t truly exist except in a world of silent, complete acceptance.
     He guided the great creature lower as they swept out over the ocean. He even dared to glide over a large vessel churning slowly throughout the dark oily waters of the great northern sea. Jacob smiled. If even half of what his father told him was true, there were still things hiding in that primal seething chaos that would scare the scientist out of any man. He laughed out loud and drove the Earlrie faster and faster until they swept over the face of the dark waters like a divine wind. It wouldn’t be long now. At times like these, Jacob could almost feel the old world, sense the power he might once have commanded. It felt good. It felt very good.
     The moon set before Aldo woke and said, “Jacob, we must be near.”
     “Yes, Father, you can just see the island on the horizon.”
     “We must arrive before the dawn. Today is the last day of the great festival. There will be no day when his power will be greater, and from this day forth he will fade and become as if he had never been. Hurry, he must teach you, you must learn. It is essential that someone know…to tell and show them if the cycle returns.”
     “Is the change reversible, then, despite all you’ve said? Can their work be undone?” He felt strange hope.
     “I no longer know the answer to even such a simple question. I do not know if any of this can be undone. The fools here have stuck their heads into the very heart of the flame and I think we all shall burn for their bravado.” He stood suddenly, balancing easily on the saddle despite his great age as he raged at the first light from the rising sun. “It should have been enough to know that such things could be. You could have stopped before you pierced the sphere and let the darkness out. You fools! Can you not see what you have done to us all? The natural world recoils in horror, the balanced cosmos shakes. Cacophony replaces harmony as the spheres shatter and fragment, spinning awash in the tide of decay released by you and your mindless missile.”
     “We’re here.” Jacob spoke softly and tried to draw his father down into the saddle. Aldo shook him off and reached over and seized the reins. He guided the Earlrie smoothly down to the mountainous top of  the island below them, allowing the beast to alight on a craggy point just above the dwelling of the one they’d come to see.
     “Come, Jacob,” he said as he stepped off the beast and dropped straight down to the ground below, landing without effort despite the great height. With a gesture from one raised hand he allowed his son to alight safely on the ground beside him. He met the eyes of the Earlrie and held them; it cooed and became the rock above them.
     A figure shimmered into existence beside them. Aldo tilted his head with a smile. Jacob bowed on one knee in the traditional greeting, unable to resist the ancient ways in the presence of two that carried so much of the old powers. The great master stood between them and took their hands. All three knelt and waited for the coming of the sun.
     As the sun crested the hills ringing the Great Master’s isle, Jacob could feel the power surging through them from this oldest of men. The light grew slowly all around them until they arose and stepped up into the radiance, and drank of the strength of the visions they found there. They saw the ancient days when each man still heard the music of the spheres inside his own head, and saw the perfect light of the heavens pouring through the openings of the stars. They saw the days when the sun was known to be the perfect embodiment of the purest living matter, and when each golden ray carried nectar to those hungry for life immutable. And they saw the days when the scarred but unchanging face of the virgin huntress, the ashen mournful face of the moon, marked the boundary between corruption and perfection. Imperfect and immortal, forever out of reach. Seen by all men, yet touched by more.
     And they saw a cloud arise, a dark and clinging one. Out of the cloud came a pillar of fire, ridden by men who had taught themselves that all things must suffer change. They rose up and went away from the body of their mother, and the swirling desolation of their fierce conceptions followed them as they tore through the outer mantles of their noisome home and pierced the heavenly barrier, noisily shattering the ancient dreams of holy man. And then silence as they drifted slowly down, as gently as a leaf falls, to touch lightly the goddess’ face.
     Houston Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed. With those crackling static-filled words, the vison ended, and Jacob now stood alone in the full light of the morning sun. He walked across the top of the small island and stepped down onto the old stone wharf. He held on to one of the mooring posts and leaned out and could just see the stone outcropping that had once been the flying thing. It was his dad’s and he’d had it forever, ever since the Vikings found the ‘new world’. Or so he had said many times. Jacob smiled and shook his head. His dad had been pretty old, and just before the end came it had become hard to know how true some of the things he said were. He might have had the beast for only a couple of centuries. It didn’t matter now. That was the past.
     He turned and looked out to sea. He could just see the outline of an approaching ship on the horizon. It was one of the new ships that relied mostly on sail, using its diesel engines only when there was no wind. It was rare now, but Jacob could see that it would become much more common in the next millennium.  Jacob figured that his father would have liked it, not as much as traveling by Earlrie, but better than a Concord. He tilted his head and focused for a second as a huge fire broke out behind him in the abandoned lair of the great master. Enormous clouds of rich black smoke poured forth into the clear cold air of the bright new day. Jacob could already sense that the ship’s crew had spotted the fire and were turning to investigate.
     He looked up into the sky and watched the shifting of the smoke in the wind. He pondered the meaning of the way that the last two old ones had chosen to pass from this world. It made no sense to him yet, even though he could feel their power coursing through his veins. He hugged himself and tried to think of other things. There was no sense in dwelling on the past. He’d miss his dad, of course, but it was time to move on.
     Jacob felt that it was time for a change.