rating: +67+x

The famine-winds blew east towards Kalefheit, and the Golden Regulator followed.

The stars whispered faint portents of famines and plagues to come. Once, they had been louder, yet now they were a strain to hear.

Once, they had not whispered alone. Once, in a lost age, the Golden Regulator had listened to the hubbub of the crowds, heard the data-song of electrons through metal and glass, felt smog-stained portents as wind upon their face. Once, the Golden Regulator had balanced the echelons of power in the Old World, sat among the secret councils of the New World Order, drank at the tables of Night and Dark. But no longer.

In the Old World, the Golden Regulator had been a fulcrum, a thousand fingers balancing a thousand scales. But now the contracts that had once borne their multitudinous names were no more than worthless paper. The people worshipped Geyre and Kalef and Drakgin – names that had crossed their desk in ages past, now exalted. They had nothing left past conjurer's tricks; they were little more than a soothsayer.

The sun was carving a lazy arc across the sky when the Golden Regulator arrived at Kalefheit, a blossoming city of commerce. A den of thieves and idle rich, where fortunes were made through spinning lies to sell trinkets.

They were familiar with such places. Kalefheit reminded them of old Memphis and Ur and Daxia, and later, of New York and London and Hong Kong. The people dressed differently and ate worse and died earlier, but Kalefheit was a city of mayfly people in a long line of the same.

They made their way to a modest storefront on Kalefheit's main thoroughfare. A dusty sign named it "Picar and Gold: Wealth Preservation." A wooden windchime clacked as they pushed open the door.

Behind a desk was Picar the Counter, one of the many business partners the Golden Regulator had had through the years. Time had treated him well. Though his once-dark skin was turning pale, and there were crow's feet besides his eyes, he was well-fed and healthy.

The Golden Regulator had expected no less.

"Regulator," said Picar, looking up to the windchimes. He blinked with surprise. "I wasn't expecting you to return. You haven't aged a day."

The Golden Regulator smiled. "You remain in good health."

They had only met Picar briefly a few times, over the course of almost half a century. The first was when Picar was but a boy, helping his father with simple ledgers. Picar's father had owned the shop previously and displayed a remarkable resistance to double-entry bookkeeping despite his willingness to innovate in other ways. Picar, however, had taken to the method like a bird to flight, and in the course of a month had redone all of their shop's accounts.

The Golden Regulator had departed shortly after, certain that Picar would revolutionize the commerce of Kalefheit.

For twenty years, they wandered the edges of Australia, visiting a hundred scattered business partners. They sailed as far north as what was once Taiwan before they saw no more reclamation, and turned back around. After twenty years of journeying, their path brought them back to Kalefheit.

When they returned, the main thoroughfare of Kalefheit bustled with merchants hawking their wares, but it was organized. Cleaner. Safer. The opulent rich and wretched poor remained, as they always would, yet there was a burgeoning mercantile class – merchants who had escaped being mere middlemen, who sold more than the products of their cottage industry or the scavenged garbage of the Ceitus. The very beginnings of a healthy market economy. And making a living, balancing books for them all, was Picar.

The Golden Regulator spoke to Picar then, told him of the faint pulses of the future. Of humans reclaiming the world once more. Picar had doubted their words at first, remembering the Golden Regulator as nothing more than a specter from childhood.

"There will be a heavy rain in three days' time, and the northern bank will overflow. Delay your purchase of the villa until next week."

Picar had protested, saying that he'd been planning the purchase for many moons, and this final contract signing was but a formality. The Golden Regulator said that it was more than a formality – it was faith and credit, a proof of the ascendency of laws and regulations, a symbol of the power conveyed through social surrender. And if the river did not flood, then the purchase could go forward as planned.

In the end, Picar had listened. Three days later, the northern bank had overflowed, and the villa was destroyed.

"Did you cause this, or did you see it?" Picar had asked later.

"I am powerless to cause," the Golden Regulator had said at the time. "I can see the faint outlines of history, of cause and effect, of risk neutrality, but I act through others."

And before they left, they told Picar of the future, and Picar began to offer insurance against such disasters.

Now, twenty years hence, they had again returned.

"I must say," the Golden Regulator said. "I am surprised you still work from such a small establishment."

"Travelers don't think there's anything worth robbing here," Picar said. "And there isn't. Just paper that most of them can't read, praise Kalef."

"And yet the most valuable things are those we cannot see."

They gestured towards the papers, and Picar passed them over. Day turned to evening, and still the Golden Regulator studied twenty years of Kalefheit's financial history. The trends they predicted had largely come to pass. Exploring the Ceitus remained as dangerous and profitable as ever, for as the people of Kalefheit gained the knowledge to safely traverse the upper levels, they stripped them of the easily accessible relics of the past. Injury levels remained roughly constant, though mortality rates had dropped.

The world was recovering, one generation at a time.

"I am returning home for the night," Picar said, as the last rays of sun started to fade. The streets outside were starting to come alive with torchlight and the bustle of the night markets, but it has long been a tradition for bankers to close early. "Will you visit?"

The Golden Regulator waved him away. "I see not the need. Leave me a candle."

They pored through papers and grew annoyed once more at the fickleness of mortals until dawn stirred.

Picar returned at dawn, with a young woman no older than twenty in tow, her dark hair in a simple bun. "Good morn, Golden Regulator. This is my daughter Lutia. My heir. And for you, the finest of cakes."

"How are you with figures, child?" the Golden Regulator asked as they accepted the cake.

"Fine," Lutia said. She did not elaborate.

The Golden Regulator focused the weight of their power upon her; they could see flashes of her possible future. They were so deeply diminished from the height of their power, feeling little more than faint impressions, whispers tickling the soul. In ninety out of a hundred she lived to a ripe old age, but in nine others terrible fates befell her. And yet in one of every hundred she excelled beyond what she could imagine now.

"Humor an old traveler," the Golden Regulator said. "Suppose I have two ropes. One of flax and one of silk. Each will take from noon until midnight on the summer solstice to burn away. How would I measure three fourths of the time from noon until midnight?"

She looked at them oddly, before going over to her father's desk and grabbing a quill and a sheaf of paper. The Golden Regulator turned to Picar again.

"You have continued to finance the Temple of Erits," the Golden Regulator said, neither edge nor tension in their voice.

Picar crossed his arms in front of his chest. Lutia pause her scribbling, listening in. The Golden Regulator suspected that the younger generations were finding the priestly duties of the Temple of Erits less and less necessary, or even distasteful, but they could only tell through chance encounters and observations and the endless whispers of the tides of probability.

"The last time we met," the Golden Regulator said. "I told you that the priestly duties of the priestesses of Erits would fall out of favor in the public eye, and those who supported them would become pariah."

"Your exact words, Regulator," Picar said, harshly, "were that they would fall out of fashion one hundred years hence. One hundred years. Twenty of those have passed, and I will not live for even half the remainder. Would you rather the priestesses fund their festivals from the moneybags of usurers? I lend to them fairly, and they do not starve."

Lutia had pressed her lips into a thin line, staring at her father silently.

"I will not sway you," the Golden Regulator said. "But this is my warning; know that time judges us all."

They looked to Lutia. "Have you an answer?"

"I would set both ropes aflame," Lutia said. "One on both ends, and the other on just one. When one is burned away entirely, half of a day will have passed. Then, I would set the remaining rope on fire from both ends."

The Golden Regulator smiled approvingly. "Clever child. You are a worthy heir. We shall speak when I return once more to Kalefheit, in twenty or so years."

For another moon, the Golden Regulator stayed in Kalefheit. They explored the city by day, observing what had changed in the past twenty years and what had stayed the same. By night, they meditated upon their observations, drawing equations in a box of sand, their hand guided by the stars. When dawn came, they spoke to Picar and Lutia about their theories of the future, before setting out again.

The Golden Regulator spoke of the promising glassmaker toying with drawing salt from the sea; the baker who studied hardtack and the brewer whose drinks were fabled to keep for years on end; the cellars being dug in the south of the city, where ice would store through all the summer. They spoke of how food might keep even in the famine years, when the priestesses of Erits would fall from favor.

Food and salt were wealth and power, and in lean years, insurance against joining the Temple of Erits, not just for oneself, but for others.

When the day came for them to set out once more from Kalefheit, Picar and Lutia followed to see them off. The Golden Regulator was certain that Picar would be gone by the time they returned, but Lutia would flourish in the wake of his passing.

The father and child stood before him at the gate, dressed in finery.

"Twenty years," they said to the two of them. Lutia gazed at them, a question dancing in her dark eyes.

"Tell me, Regulator," she said, addressing them as her father had.

"Lutia, don't—" Picar said.

"You say you wander this world, and where you stride you bring secrets that lead to wealth. You brought my father a bargain twenty years ago, and he defied your terms. And yet we have fed you and housed you far better than any other guest, and given you all you need for your journey. A bargain that at this moment favors you."

"You speak truly," the Golden Regulator said, smiling. "I look forward to seeing what you have achieved by the time I return."

"Tell me, Regulator," Lutia said, undaunted. "Are you Kalef, wandering this world, striking your bargains wherever you might? Or York, perhaps, with your endless riddles?"

"Oh, Geyre's mercy," Picar muttered.

Her odds were far better than when they'd met her. She would almost surely live a long life, and most likely a good one.

"She's braver than you," the Golden Regulator said with a chuckle. "But no. I am no god."

"Nor are you a man."

They smiled, and departed from the gates of Kalefheit. They would return.

The Golden Regulator had been known by many names over the years. Cowrie Finder. Wealth Sage. Saltbearer. Every nomadic tribe, every city, every clan knew them by a different title.

Every name reminded them of the Old Times, back before the world had ended, and the hundred thousand names they'd borne then, a different name for a different city, until the world was woven together into one.

Nebu-Wosir. Soter Aurarius. Balancer, of Londinium. Goldbaker.

The Golden Regulator remembered the thousands of names as they glimpsed the distant firelight of Kalefheit.

The surrounding fields lay fallow, and the natural grasses were brown from drought. Yet Kalefheit bubbled with urban life, even in the darkest hours of the night.

The Golden Regulator wondered, idly, if anyone dreamed of protecting against the flames that would inevitably erupt should a thunderbolt hit the dry and matted fields.

The guards let them through the gate without issue.

Kalefheit had changed; their predictions had come to pass. With every generation, the world restored itself.

They made their way down Kalefheit's torchlit thoroughfare, filled with laughter and casual revelry even at the late hour. They felt mild bemusement at the sight of stumbling drunkards. Humanity, it seemed, had rediscovered drinking games and the associated increase in mortality.

They wondered, perhaps, if they might be better off camping in the wilderness until morning but saw a sign, newly painted, at the end of the road.

"Lutia and Gold: Wealth Preservation."

A seashell windchime clinked as the door opened, and a dark-skinned woman, with the faintest seeds of wrinkles illuminated by candlelight, looked up from a folio of parchment.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License