(* indicates a bid has been supported, expanded or opposed)
1 point bid: Just Union activity in Gulliver
The Just Union has been increasing its membership greatly amongst the dockers and common sailors of Gulliver, known for their toughness. The more iron-fisted Gulliver captains and first mates are starting to get worried about the democratic sentiments being voiced in the dock taverns.
*1 point bid: In the mists
Through the gauzy veils which surrounded Zehazel, Something was moving. Amongst the Mist Isles there was a noise, a buzz, a disquieting shiver, almost like ice about to crack and melt, life-giving liquid where there had been only death. Minds reached out, feeling towards Zehazel, surprised by the life and the joyous confusion there. And a focus.
The city remained oblivious to their presence except for a few individuals. On the dockside lookout Tam the Hare, leaning in a back alley like a sleepy rag doll jerked upright as if a puppeteer had pulled all her strings taut. Her brother's face appeared at the window opposite and breathily whispered, "Tam? What's up?"
"We should get out of here. Hurry."
The face leaned out and quickly glanced up the alley both ways. "City watch?" he asked.
"I don't know, I've just got a bad feeling, like we are being watched," she replied.
He retreated back into the darkness of the building again, returning quickly to climb out, bag over his shoulder. "Nothing much in there anyway. I said Mick the Mouth was all mouth. I said, didn't I, I said 'Captain O'Brien don't look rich to me'. Stupid idea in the first place, if he had anything worth anything he'd keep it on 'is ship.'
Deeper in the city, Garath Chant stopped still to give a glance of surprise to the skies. A few moments of still tension passed before he started on his way again, murmuring into the wind; "You again. So you have found your way here, too." Images returned to him of a broken world, where the sunlight no longer shone, and all that remained of the people were the broken temples and arches. "This will make things more interesting", he murmured again, and smiled to himself.
1 point bid: A temple is built in Caliban
The temple is chapel rather than cathedral-sized.
The front boasts large columns of strategically placed white marble, but is mostly made of granite. The doorway is a large norman arch which presently has only a rough wooden door, closed at night. There are no windows on the ground floor.
Ornament on the sides is still almost entirely bare. Doubtless decorations will appear in time. The back is a jumble of wooden buildings that didn't need to be in stone, a kitchen, and what appears to be some kind of smithy.
The inside is made up of three sections.
The main room. This is the largest, taking up most of the ground floor. This is dominated, walls and ceiling, with mirrors - big ones, small ones, etc. Immediately facing the entrance is a large mirror - some eight feet high and five feet wide. It reflects all who come in. Around the entrance arch on this side are a number of mirrors made to the shape of the arch - i.e. they are in twisted curving arcs that distort the reflections of all who pass under them. Where there aren't mirrors there is white stone. Most of the walls are lined with mirrored alcoves. This distorts the real dimensions of the room, although a patient man could work them out. The floor is polished marble. There has been great difficulty in getting it to keep its shine with people walking on it all the time. Despite Kali's strict instructions, the marble of the floor isn't really of an even colour - there are distinct patches and shades. This upsets her quite a lot. A large deep well in the ceiling acts as a skylight, and there are candelabras high up on all four walls.
Exits. Two doors (hinged mirrors) are obvious. The left hand one leads to a short corridor running along the inside of the left hand wall of the building. It ends in a set of stairs going down to the cellars. The right hand one leads to a short corridor running along the inside of the right hand wall of the building. It has stairs going up on the near side, and a small door to the back outbuildings at the end. Less obvious is the small entrance in the far left hand corridor. This door is simply a mirrored alcove where one of the walls swings into a second mirrored alcove. Because both are mirrored, the entrance is not easy to see when looking directly at it. Only a close examination of the alcove will reveal it. Having said that, it isn't that hard to find if you are looking for it, and certainly anyone standing in the alcove will probably notice it. It leads into a tiny room above the stairs going down. This ante-room is entirely black - no mirrors. It contains a few coat hooks, and a door into the sanctum. Due to the hinges, it is not possible to open the door from here to the main room while the door to the sanctum is open, or vice versa.
The sanctum. No-one is generally allowed in here apart from Kali...
1 point bid: Beautification of the Bartholomew GardensVal Tannen and Ivory have been further commissioned to beautify the Bartholomew gardens, at the express command of the First Librarian (and leader of the Allegiance), Selmor Farrow.
[Digression - Selmor Farrow. The designated First Librarian of Bartholomew, Farrow is a scholar of remarkable powers - expert in a myriad of academic subjects, including history, economics, sociology, literature, art, music, languages and some science, he has spent his entire life within the confines of academia and has risen to his prominent position as a direct result of his voluminous knowledge. Farrow is by now a very old man, and it is known that he regularly visits the Gethsemane for medicinal treatments - he is close with Sophia, and some suggest that she has advised him on the secrets of longevity. Like Sophia, Farrow is required to attend the Emperor - this is the result of the tradition that the First Librarian served as Chamberlain for the Imperial Council].
1 point bid: Daedalan crystals 'The Daedalus apprentice looked rather doubtful. "Professor Lonergan... I don't mean to sound foolish, but... it looks like Copper Sulphate." Ernest Lonergan smiled conspiratorially and cupped his hand over the little metal spatula... "Glow in the dark Copper Sulphate?" Now, he looked a little disappointed. "I'm sorry, professor... what is it?" Ernest clearly was waiting to be asked... "Magic," he said, trying to sound impressive.'
1 point bid: The sword
Ah yes, the sword.
After lying in a lead and iron casket for weeks, it had lost none of its potent aura of otherness. But it had done nothing untowards, of itself, and continued to look as harmless as a sword can look. It was high time, Salomolas concluded, that she found out what it was and where it came from.
Handling it with all the caution that befitted a gift horse, she lifted the naked blade out of safekeeping and carried it down several twisting stairways to an experiment hall. Around a food-laden table sat a tableau of men and women, sumptuous delicacies suspended from motionless cutlery before their breathless mouths.
She selected a heavy-set and scarred man, took some stone bricks from a pile in the corner, and began to build the foundations of a narrow wall around where he sat.
Holding the sword at the ready, she carefully nudged the final stone in the ring into place. At once, the man's fork began to travel towards his mouth, only to stop again as he suddenly noticed the change in his predicament.
With alarming speed, the man stood and span around, and
at Salomolas. Even though she was expecting this, she could not quite avoid an
that slammed into her cheek. She reeled and ducked, half-remembered instincts
only just out of harm's reach. The sword in her hands wavered ineffectively,
opponent treated it with
But soon she had positioned herself back where she needed to be. Foot braced against brick, she thrust the sword straight into the man's ribcage, and kicked her stone circle open again.
And as the sword hung poised in the act of slaying, she stood back and watched...
1 point bid: The makeover "Well I don't know" she twittered. "I mean I thought you'd just do everything by magic. Just sort of wave your hands and ..." she giggled.
"We could" the girl admitted, "but would you really want us to? What's beautiful is not what you wear, or how you dress but you. Why disguise it?" She bent over again to add another layer, wielding her brush with practiced skill.
The matron made a face "Lady Matheus always says I could ruin any fashion."
"Well now she'll have to eat her words. You will be the belle of the ball. There. What do you think?"
"Oh yes.... with the red silk do you think?" She was too focused on her reflection to notice her helper's reaction.
"I... uh ... I think maybe this one? The blue sparkles so .. like your eyes."
"Oh.. well the blue then." Her brow crinkled into a practised frown. "Isn't it a bit .... plain?"
"Oh but we need that. We wouldn't want your dress maker's skill to distract from your own beauty."
"Well I suppose.... but it does sparkle so.."
The end was near, she coud tell she was softening. "Everyone will sparkle." she said fussing with tapes and ribbons. "You must be special. Like a pearl on a sandy beach. All around is gritty sparkle, but you, you must shine!"
"Yes...." the matron replied gazing into her own reflected eyes. "I must shine..."
The girl emerged, wrapping a cloak around her at the unexpected cold. A cloaked figure emerged to greet her, and held out an arm.
"Walk with me?" he said. The voice was a whisper, harsh on the ear. A voice unused to the light of day. The girl was used to it. She nodded. They started off down the street.
"How did it go?"
She managed a tired smile. "Well enough. She has the taste of a magpie. All that glitters..."
"But you managed to help her?"
She sighed. "Up to a point. I couldn't do anything about her jewelry, but when she appears at the party she will _not_ be wrapped in a ghastly pink cocoon with enough frills to sink a battleship." he ran her fingers through her hair. "I'm exhausted. I thought you said this would be easy?"
"No... I said we have to make it look easy. Did she like it?"
A grimace "She said she looked ten years younger."
"That would be forty two." The voice sounded puzzled.
"Hey I did the best I could! You still carrying that brandy?"
The silvered flask was passed with obvious reproach. "It is not seemly for girls to drink spirits."
"Like you care." She resealed the bottle and handed it back. "So what happens now?"
"You go home and get some sleep - or whatever else, your time is your own."
The harsh tone suggested activities of which the speaker was unlikely to approve.
"And the lady?"
"Your subject will make a dramatic impression, wherever she is seen. She will cause comment. She will tell her friends. We will handle the rest."
She stood watching him fade back into the shadows. She could just make him out in the darkness as he strode quickly round the corner and out of sight. Clearly a few sticks short of a bundle. One of these days, she promised herself, she would find a steady source of income that didn't involve people too obviously weird to do their own dirty work. Which would mean leaving the theatre business... She shrugged and headed off downtown. Not too far was the theatre bar. Alcohol might not be the cure for all ills, but she had a hard day in a perfume choked boudoir that she desperately needed to forget.
1 point bid: Bruno the Bogeyman
Tatterdemalion mothers are invoking a new name to keep their children in line: that of Bruno "The Bear" Brown, enforcer for the loanshark Samuel Reynard, whose penchant for excessive brutality has brought a reign of terror to the ranks of the city's poorest and most defenceless citizens.
1 point bid: Condemnation of the Just Union by the Hierophant
The Hierophant of Mordecai has stressed support for the sentiment of succouring the poor of Tatterdemalion, but is disturbed by the misuse of the name 'servants of Grell' within a recent pamphlet. Jerome is concerned that no inhabitant of Elsewhere, however corrupt, deserves this appellation, for it should only be genuinely applied to those branded heretic by the Curia, who are shown to worship the powers of the Void.
2 point bid: The ranks of the Just Union swell
Several prominent Bartholomews have joined the cause of the 'Just Union'. The last pamphlet released by Father Smoth was printed on Bartholomew presses. Notable individuals who seem to have allied include Joreth Becks, who is a noted social historian, well versed in the past development of Elsewhere, and Kerril Utgar, who is a scholar of economics. They have been seen involved in protests on behalf of the union, and are in regular contact with Father Smoth. Second Librarian Lokunin is said to be giving his tacit support to these activities.
2 point bid: Albrecht Fleischer addresses the Council
Lord Fleischer announced to the Council that he would shortly be recruiting and training more men, giving as justification for this the fact that "those rogues in Vermiform" were being lax in their duties, drinking and whoring while crime was rife.
2 point bid: The challenge
Notices have been posted city-wide promising a reward to anyone who can get through the front gates of the Imperial residence and leave a message on one of the mannequins guarding the inner palace - WITHOUT killing anyone. The sum offered is a generous one, but the notices are anonymous and some sceptics have observed that even if someone did breach the Emperor's defences and live to tell the tale he would have no guarantee of receiving his prize...
*2 point bid: The wooing of Therese de la Quintesse
The inhabitants of Elsewhere will become uncomfortably aware over the next few weeks of the propensity of Meymian to turn up beneath the balcony of the de la Quintesse household every second night to sing majestic love songs of the ancient days. These include 'The Lay of the Sundering', 'The Ballad of Ilred and Feluree', ' Sweet Rose of the Morning' and so forth. Dionysian seems to be broadly supporting the endeavour (heartily amused by the romance of it all). In some circles, questions are being raised, however, as to whether this behaviour is quite seemly, and Garan Beaujoly, a prominent member of the Sardanapalus Trading Guild, has complained (loudly) to Titus Ruen about it. Whether Therese is at all impressed is open to question...
According to some stories, a century before a thief had dared to enter the grounds of the de la Quintesse mansion, tempted beyond endurance by tales of the family's wealth. He had grappled his way over the high wall at the perimeter of the garden, leaving grubby prints on the white marble where he had scrabbled for a toe-hold. He had slipped from the shadow of one great yew to another, taking care to avoid the little gravel paths that ran between the tiny, ornamental bridges. He had evaded the long, yellow fingers of light that spilled from the windows of the great hall, and had finally reached the side of the de la Quintesse residence, and placed his foot against the great creeper that scaled the wall. As he did so, as if the quiet marble had woken at his touch, there had sounded a great banshee howl from all sides. The thief had heard the rasp of heavy breath, and the sound of undergrowth parting, and had taken to his heels, for it was known that the lord of manor had bred himself a pack of semi-feral hounds which he released, half-starved, into his grounds at night.
His footprints, dark stains in the dew-silvered grass, had later told the tale of his desperate flight. So violent was his haste, that the thief had lost his sense of direction in the darkness, and had found himself entering the great maze at the heart of the garden. With his lordship's beasts at his back, he had little choice but to plunge on into the labyrinth, and pray that he could evade the many dead ends.
By the fountain at the centre of the maze he had been borne down by one of the dogs, and tumbled across the grass. He had succeeded in dispatching it with his dagger, and left the little fountain brimming red with the animal's blood. Faint from a bite-wound to his shoulder, he had staggered onwards to the perimeter wall, which he had scaled with difficulty, leaving splayed, bloody handprints on the white page of the stone, like scarlet flowers in a child's painting. Swinging his legs over the wall, the thief had attempted to drop to safety, but was brought up short as a chain about his neck hooked upon a protruding section of the wall. All attempts to sever the chain had been vain, and the thief had been left to throttle helplessly, the baying of the frustrated hounds in his ears. The next day his body had been discovered, still dangling from the chain that had caught upon the claws of the great stone griffin which perched at the top of the wall, staring with cold marble eyes out across Zehazel as if challenging further intruders to try their luck. Since that time, no further interlopers had decided to take up the challenge.
Now, after a little more than a hundred years, there is once again an intruder in the grounds of the de la Quintesse mansion. The intruder moves across the unruffled lawns, without crushing a single blade of grass, passes across the moonlit croquet pitch without casting a shadow, and approaches the house without startling the waiting hounds with an unfamiliar scent. This is an intruder that may even enter the hallowed premises themselves without opening window or door, for this time the intruder is not a man, but a voice.
"We ought to set the dogs on him," Vathekus says for the third time. He has opened one of the windows of the great hall, and through it the evening breeze is carrying the sounds of Meymian's latest serenade.
"He is still outside the garden. We can scarcely throw the dogs over the wall at him."
"We can release them out through the gate. I can whistle them back when they've chewed the presumption out of this fellow. For God's sake, do you really think anyone will take his side? This man is a nobody, a newcomer."
"He has connections, Vathekus. If he enters the garden, then our four-legged friends will give him the appropriate reward for his impudence."
Vathekus shifts uncomfortably. Usually, Meymian's irreverent behaviour would simply have amused him, and perhaps even stirred him to become an accomplice. However, at this time, he has his own reasons for hostility towards the other man's suit. He has been waiting for the right time to admit to his father the full extent of his gambling debts, and with the desperate cunning of the intellectually limited has guessed that the blow would be softened if at the same time it were possible to inform him of a good match for Therese. With this in mind, Vathekus had already resolved that, since Therese herself seemed incapable of summoning enough initiative to net herself an appropriate husband, he would find some way to arrange the matter, and thus raise himself in his father's regard. His scheme has advanced little beyond this, but he has come to regard the persistence of Meymian as an obstacle to his tentative plan.
"Connections? No connections with blood behind them. Everyone that matters is complaining at that caterwauling every night - if we don't put an end to it, they'll think we're encouraging him..." Vathekus tails off, aware that his father is staring at him with something approaching a query in his unblinking, unspeaking gaze. De la Quintesse's eyes are a pale, clear yellow-white, like marble stained by time. They seem to change colour with his swings of temperament. In his more animated moods they take on a frantic golden gleam, like the deathly vividness of an autumnal leaf. In darker, melancholic times, his eyes take on the eery yellow-grey light of a storm-warning in the sky. At other times de la Quintesse appears rational, serious, but distant and stilted, and at these times he has a gaze not unlike that of the griffin on the wall, stony, ancient and incalculable. In these moods his stares are intolerable, as if a stone-hearted, marble-veined thing were trying to comprehend with its mind of flint the warm fallibility of flesh.
"I believe, Vathekus, that on numerous occasions you and your friends have seen fit to entertain the neighbourhood with songs deep into the night, including, if I remember correctly, a song about the merry Mordecai monk and all the fishmongers' daughters. I find your sudden concern for the opinions of the 'people who matter' very encouraging but not a little peculiar."
"A fellow has a right to sing in his own front yard," snaps Vathekus defensively. "It's something else to go yowling at the moon outside the house of your betters night after night, keeping them awake and making them a laughing stock. I've half a mind to go out with some of the men and give him a damn good thrashing. If he keeps this up, I will." The heir to the de la Quintesse estate strides out, still feeling his father's cold, quizzical gaze upon his back.
In her chamber, despite the lateness of the hour, Therese is sewing. Her window is ajar, but it is not clear from her posture whether this is to let in the music, or merely to cool the room. From beyond the garden, the music makes its insidious entry, its pure and ethereal quality reminiscent of the moonlight that accompanies it. Once or twice Therese appears to pause in her work and listen for a time, but her face is serenely inscrutable as ever.
Attracted by her candle, a moth flings into the room, the light flaming on its wings of ash-coloured velvet. It executes a frantic spiral about the flame, then expires in the heart of the light. Therese gives a little tut as the candle sputters, and shakes the wreckage of the moth from her sampler frame. She continues to embroider the image of the griffin onto the fabric under her hand.
"Mister? I got a letter from you. A private letter." The small, scruffily dressed boy who has whispered to Meymian from the corner of the road gives an exaggerated wink, beckons, and backs around the bend.
Meymian follows the child. At last - a billet doux from Therese! The boy moves ahead of him, beckoning him to private corner of the street, and then gives him a letter, before holding out a hand for a coin, expectantly.
The letter is a simple scroll with no seal, bound with a simple red ribbon. When opened it reads,
"You would be well-advised to stay away from Therese de la Quintesse."
*3 point bid: A great mirror is brought into the City
The box was opened and there it was. A great mirror, some 15 feet tall and 8 feet wide, bound in a black steel frame. The frame is carved with strange sinuous shapes, that seem to writhe around each other, with neither beginning nor end. The reflections in the mirror are bright, almost as though the mirror was reflecting with its own light. Towards the edges the mirror becomes distorted, as though the surface was curved. The mirror is worn and smooth and cold to the touch.
"What is in it?"
"Its a box - ours not to reason why..."
He always said that. She hated it. She wanted to reason why. Anything to make for a safer life. She adjusted the sword belt to mask her irritation.
"So when are we moving it out?"
"Now." He gave his most insincere smile.
"Now? But it's almost dark!"
He sighed. "I know. But they don't want to pay for storage for another night, and truth be told it will be less safe here than it will with us."
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Loosen your sword my, dear. We have five soldiers good and true in our company. No-one in this stinking city knows we're here. It should be an easy run."
"We don't get paid enough for this. Why don't they use their own people for escort?"
He smiled, another limp grin that set her teeth on edge "Politics. whatever that-" he indicated the box with a jerk of the thumb "-is, no-one wants to tell everyone they own it."
"It's probably a vampire that will rise up and consume our souls," she said sourly.
"I doubt we're that lucky."
"Just promise me, we don't guard duty any more."
He looked pained. "The last for a while, I agree." He narrowed his eyes into the gathering gloom. "We deserve better than street duty."
The figures drew closer in the starlit street. The dim light had concealed their hiding places, but couldn't conceal their numbers. His heart sank as he saw ten, twenty, thirty people. His lieutentant sidled up "We're not going to make it," she whispered.
He shifted his grip on his shield. "Yes we are. Form them up. One tight charge and we're out of here."
She frowned. "We can't take the box with us."
"We're not going to. You were right. No more guard duty." The others gathered around him. A nice tight formation, he couldn't help noticing. Best men he'd had. Damned if he was going to lose them. "We're breaking out. On the count of three...."
3 point bid: Mordecai condemnation of Antioch-Palatine conflict[As declared by Hierophant Jerome VI from the Temple of St. Patria at the centre of Mordecai]
'Brothers and Sisters In Turumak, I gather thee together to inform thee of the great displeasure with which the present conflict between our Brethren of the Sword fills us. Are we not reminded by the Holy St. Abderus that to kill a man is to kill ourselves, but to love him is to pave the way to our own redemption ? I say to thee, condemn these murders, embrace thy fellow man with joy. If blades remain unsheathed, the wrath of the One shall be cast down upon thee, and thou shalt become the Scorned of the City. Realise that the Lord Himself has spoken !'.
Independent observers have interpreted this announcement in various ways: most are agreed that it announces the prelude to excommunication of both allegiances if the violence does not cease. This could be a severe attack upon the livelihoods of both Palatine and Antioch, as it would enforce all believers in the One to boycott relationships of any sort with inhabitants of either allegiance, until the crisis reached resolution.
Melmothian political experts have been hard at work analysing the likely developments - they suspect that the Hierophant may soon send a delegation directly to Sir Guillome of the Palatine to prevail upon his religious sentiments to end the conflict. Davan Mirless has become a minor celebrity within Melmoth for daring to suggest that the Hierophant himself looks to be on his last legs - the announcement remained short, and throughout, Jerome looked likely to collapse. Mirless has noted that ,should the Hierophant die, the whole Allegiance of Mordecai will be thrown into confusion as vested interests vie within the College of Cardinals for the election of the new Hierophant...
3 point bid: Kavan Hypher at the marketplaceOn the first day, Kavan sold a jewelled ring for a handful of silver coins in the bazaar. With this money he bought trinkets, which he proceeded to exchange for further goods throughout the market. All the while, smiling, chatting to storekeepers, learning how to sweeten a deal, experimenting and categorising, feeling the shape of the market cautiously but confidently. Haggling and promising and rewarding, honestly but shrewdly, trading one item for another for another.
At the end of the day, he had lost all he had made but for a handful of peppercorns, which he traded for food and gave to a beggar. But on the second day, he sold a jewelled ring for a handful of gold coins.By the end of the week, he could not remember the names of all the merchants he had spoken with, but he was confident that many of them remembered the name Kavan Hypher fondly.
3 point bid: Free Schools in Tatterdemalion
In many quarters of Tatterdemalion changes are noted as 'Free Schools' are set up by the Just Union: their purpose to teach Tatterdemalion children and adults to read, and to think for themselves, rather than rely on the advice of their 'betters'...
3 point bid: The mercury elemental
In the holds of the Symbole Jaune, a great vat is being prepared. Following various complex alchemical processes and spells life is given to the philosophical mercury in the vat. Strange shapes are hesitantly assumed by the new entity that is born... the first mercury golem is created!
Samedi tries to speak to it in elemental languages...
3 point bid: A guest in Jugurtha
Beyond the first mountains, in his cavernous lair, Aliack swilled his koumiss, and spat.
'This is bad!' He took another mouthful and spat with deadly accuracy at the hapless serving wench, a slavegirl daughter of another allegiance. Her tangled blonde hair flew as she tried to avoid the fragrant mare's milk.
'The most civilised people in the world, with the most beautiful treasures and fearsome warriors, and you bring your leader bad koumiss! Pah!'
His urbane guest, perhaps a leader from another tribe, perhaps - well, Aliack was a little too drunk to think about it quite clearly - stepped up to the golden, bejewelled throne placatingly.
'Chief Aliack, might I suggest this new liqueur? From deep in the mountains, where we breed our mares with the sons of dragons. I'm sure you'll find it more to your liking. And then perhaps we could speak further about you taking these goods of ours further into the City. Carefully. It's quite strong.'
Grumbling, Aliack took a sip from the leather flask which the man offered him, and then paused as the tears started to seep from under his eyelids and the dragonfire bit his throat. If he registered the taste at all, it was not to compare. There was no comparison. His muddy green eyes turned to his guest in simple wonderment, and he smiled as he had not smiled since braiding the betrothal beads into the hair of his first wife, his childhood sweetheart Kourma, long since dead in childbirth.
He sipped again, and carried on smiling as the man who held the dragonfire told him what was required of his tribe...
*5 point bid: The Eye of Thunn
Captain O'Brien and his trusty first mate, Udo were in whispered conference in a darkened corner of an unnamed inn near the docks.
"I was searching through the guild's library, Cap'n and I found this map!"
"You found a map in a library. You never cease to amaze me."
"But Cap'n!" hissed Udo, "This map claims to show the location of the Eye of Thunn!"
"Again, Udo, you never cease to amaze me. One question - what in blazes is this "Eye of Thunn"?"
"A jewel, Cap'n!"
O'Brien's nose began to twitch. Udo knew he had him hooked. He began to reel him in.
"Aye Cap'n. A jewel! A ruby - as big as your fist!"
"My fist or your fist? I've got delicate hands for a man my size."
"Mine sir! At least!"
O'Brien considered Udo's shovel-like mitts for a moment, before making his pronouncement.
"Make ready. We sail on the dawn tide."
It was a long journey, although uneventful. The winds were fair and The Gentleman Loser cut through the misty seas like a newly whetted knife. The captain piloted the vessel skillfully into a hidden cove indicated on the map. On landfall, he assembled his men on the deck.
"Right lads. From what we can tell of the map, this island's deserted, but for the temple that we'll be visiting. So they won't be expecting any trouble. I think it's best if I take only Mr. Udo with me. The rest of you, gather provisions, and be ready to leave at a moment's notice. If all doesn't go to plan, we'll be making a speedy getaway. If all goes well, we'll make enough to pay the crew's bar tab in every inn in the city."
A murmur of laughter passed over the assembled crew. A king's ransom indeed.
Later that night, O'Brien and Udo stood, gazing down at what lay on an altar, in the centre of an overgrown, half-ruined temple.
"Not exactly a jewel, is it, Udo?"
"Well, no. I wasn't to know. I mean, The Eye of Yys, that was a jewel."
"Whereas this is an eye."
A bloodshot, fleshy orb gazed back up at them, from where it lay on the altar.
"Well, I was right about it being as big as my fist."
"Well, that's a great comfort."
"I think it's looking at me."
"Don't be ridiculous Udo. It's dead. We've come all this way for a piece of offal we could have picked up at any slaughterhouse..."
At this slight, the Eye's pupil dilated, and a baleful red glow arose within.
"Now that's something you don't see every day, Udo. Maybe this actually is the eye of a god!"
Udo saw the captain's nose twitching, and didn't like the looks of it.
"You're not saying we should take it?"
"Well, it's quite a rarity Udo. Might be worth a pretty penny on the collector's market."
"And who collects eyeballs?"
"Fleischer, for one, I shouldn't be surprised. But no, think Udo - a unique magical curio!"
"I feel sick."
"Well we'd better make our decision soon, those priests we knocked out will wake soon..."
Without waiting for a response, O'Brien gingerly swept the eye, into a velvet lined box he had brought for the jewel. With a last look around, the pair fled into the night.
When dawn broke, no sign of the Loser, or its motley crew was to be found on the island. The high priest of the Temple held counsel with his assistant.
"I suppose the two acolytes on duty last night will be punished master?"
"No need, my son. They know the price the world will pay for their failure. They will carry that guilt to the End of Days. I can think of no greater punishment."
"The End of Days? Will that surely follow?"
"Thunn's influence is now abroad in this world, among those who lack the training to resist its wiles. Rack and Ruin must surely follow. We can only hope that it has fallen into the hands of a strong, stern individual, of the most serious intellect. Such might be the world's only hope."
"Stop poking it Udo."
"I don't like the way it's looking at me."
"Shut the box then."
"You really think this will bring us some gold?"
"Mark my words Udo. Zehazel is a varied tapestry. There will be someone with the right combination of riches and weirdness."
Down the long North corridor of the Crooked House, Master Kalgravex walked slowly, peering through each window with slitted eyes. These windows did not look out onto Zehazel, nor into other parts of the Crooked House. Some of the windows did not really look into places at all, but instead into ideas or emotions or people.
Kalgravex stopped at one of the windows. The light from his lantern seemed to seep back towards him from further up the corridor, as though it had been walking ahead of him and had only just noticed he was no longer moving. The Master of Revenant focussed his attention on what lay beyond the dirty glass. Events had been put into motion. He extinguished the lantern, so as to more clearly make out the pattern.
Beyond the window was a view of tangled branches. Beyond the branches, Kalgravex saw a great throne rising high above the trees. But, where the throne had long stood empty, a huge shape was now sitting in it. The thing had no discernible features yet, but Kalgravex knew what it was - what it would become.
Half an hour later in the depths of his laboratory, Master Kalgravex opened a great polished metal pot and with a cruel-looking metal hook, probed the contents. The pot was still full, the Heart of Thunn was still beating. So, the view from the window could mean only one thing... someone had disturbed the Eye!
*6 point bid: A walker in dreams (opposed with 4 points)
As the sun sets below the mists, the spires cast long shadows across Zehazel. Slowly, the city falls into its nightly slumber. But this night, something is changed. Many dream strange and unsettling dreams and someone or something walks through those dreams, speaking with the secret thoughts of the people, searching for a clue that will bring vengeance. And if the criminal is not found, the city may sleep a very long night indeed...
Many years ago, the mask had been made in a distant land beyond the mists. It was formed from lumps of dried flesh and the scales of fish and from old copper jewelry and woven cords of silk. Its inner surface of polished wood was worn smooth from years of use by sorcerors unknown. Now it rested upon the head of Master Kalgravex of Revenant and he swiftly fell into a shallow and troubled sleep, as all its wearers did.
Most places change when one is dreaming and become something entirely else. With Zehazel, however, matters are different. It too changes, but what remains is quite easily recognised. The famous towers appear almost unchanged. Most striking of all, though, is the palace, from which the blazing light of the Emperor's dreams illuminates half of the city. The other half is cast into deepest shadow.
Kalgravex could see clouds of dreams fluttering like moths around the light of the Emperor's presence. He had no time for such things now and would in any case not have dared to approach that fierce brilliance. The object of his search would be a dark thing: a hatred.
It is a truth known even to children that things work differently in dreams. So it was that the Master of Revenant had recourse to few of his arcane talents as he searched the dreams of Zehazel. There was a trail, however and trails are meant to be followed. Lurking off to the sides were those who rejoiced in the events of Gargoyle Court for the damage done to Revenant. Kalgravex cared little for them save for the fact they were a clue that his quarry was near. Then he saw what he sought - a rolling dark cloud of nightmare illuminated by lightning flashes. This was a mind more vivid and powerful than the petty, never-to-be-acted-on fantasies of the average man.
The dreamer dreams of the terrible past that led to him taking up his Cause. It is a past that is confused, fragmentary - in many ways he is of less than sound mind, though Kalgravex considers him is no less dangerous for this.
He dreams of his youth in some infernal factory, weaker than most of the labourers and often deprived of food... his uncle, who is a great source of inspiration to him, and instils him with a sense of "justice" and "independent thinking", which to the Master seems as little more than an unreasoning hate of all authority. He dreams of a revolt, cries for better conditions unanswered, a bloody uprising, his uncle impaled on a masked guard's bayonet. Friends dying with bullets in their heads, others boiled alive in the suicidal sabotage of their machines in the 23rd Northeastern Mill.
He dreams of wandering down forgotten passages and abandoned underground warehouses, the tunnels changing in style from blackened functionality to the weird carvings of the Undercity of Zehazel.
The walker in dreams becomes confident that this is his man. He reaches into the dream to pluck out his sense of identity - to learn his name.
Then - the unexpected: the man is nameless. He no longer has a Self, but takes on identities and mannerisms of others as this becomes appropriate to his Cause. No matter, Kalgravex seeks out the names of his alter egos to uncover his masquerade.
But Kalgravex senses himself being watched. Turning, he sees a small cloud of disembodied eyes floating behind him - some other magic has discovered him ! The dreamer must have had the danger he is in communicated to him, as his nightmare begins to dissipate, frustrating hopes of achieving the goal. The eyes break formation, darting off like birds in all directions.
The old Master's extensive knowledge of magic leads him to believe that the eyes were the servants of some magician other than the dreamer himself. As he wakes, lifting the mask from his face, he sighs - weak from his exertions. So his enemy has allies. This will be no threat to be idly brushed aside, then, but instead another obstacle to be surmounted. The sun begins to rise in Zehazel, but within the Crooked House, all is still in darkness. Now, Kalgravex must sleep, for soon there may not be chance to do so for many weeks.
6 point bid: An address to the people of Melmoth
"The sun sank beyond the edges of the walls of Zehazel, the shadows of the buildings finally chasing its golden reflection off the whole city but for the tops of the towers, glittering an unearthly blaze seen from the darkness below. The streets of Melmoth, usually tranquil and still, began to fill, as its population gathered in the central square. An atmosphere of charged curiosity gripped them; the Mages for which Melmoth was known, their servants and the others who lived here, scribes and barmen, bakers and a blacksmith, all gathered together. Whispered questions of confusion brushed the air from all except the Magi, who either knew something more or wished to appear that they did.
"As the square filled to capacity, a figure rose to stand on the feet of the old, obsidian statue, dressed in a tattered cloak over worn leather with long dreadlocks draped across the shoulders and flowing down his back. Standing there among the expensive many coloured robes of the assembled wizards he looked as out of place as the obsidian statue did in the territory of light and colour. His voice rolled out across the crowd..."
*6 point bid: Night Terrors
She knew she was dying. The midwife had ripped her bloody, crying newborn from her arms and from her sight, and if her husband knew or cared that he had traded his wife for a son, he had not returned to tell her. The life that had begun on her wedding night, sired in sweat and drunken breath by a man whose only love was for himself, had struggled into this brutal world at the cost of her own. And as the last of her strength bled away, she could not find the will to care: she sent the midwifes and the serving girls away, and closed her eyes, and waited for the gift of oblivion.
Into these last moments, something had come.
The night air carried with it the sweet, cloying stench of decay, a black tide of putrescence that filled the tiny room with its overpowering strength. She was surrounded by the dank heat of rotting flesh and the chill of life's adversary, and she gave herself to its black embrace with a willingness born of despair.
And later, in the winding alleys and backstreets, where the rats feast on the scraps cast down by the crowds of human vermin....
Disease has claimed another lover, and amongst a bed of his own filth, choking on his last foul breaths, he stares up into the bleak, pitiless sky and curses every moment that brought him to this lonely grave-
-and finds his gaze met by eyes brimming with sorrow, whites shot with crimson, pupils black windows onto the illimitable gulfs that lie beyond the rim of this shallow universe.
Death comes quickly. And is not the end.
And later still, a body still full of youth and strength chokes out its last, given to the void when the anguish of this solitary existence conquers the last of his illusions. The rope pulls tight around his neck, the tree's limbs creak in a bitter dirge, his breeches splash with urine.
Death finds him, but not in the way he planned. He's cut from the tree and thrown to the ground, and brought through slashing fangs into a world undreamed of: a world where his master sleeps beneath the soft earth, surrounded by the bodies and spirits of the dead, and calls the night his own.
They had brought the dead to the very gates of the Garden, but within the garden, Death was not allowed to come.
Sophia, her wasted, broken body supported by two of the younger acolytes, rests a moment at Salvation Gate, looking out over the corpses. The slight, sad smile she always wears fades. The two youths exchange worried glances, for their charge this day had been to take her to the Palace, to the Emperor.
'We will travel further today.'
And they take her to the Palace, where she walks a few faltering steps to reach the point where Gatekeeper meets her, supports her, escorts her the rest of the way to the Emperor's Garden. The acolytes of Gethsemane wince as she walks unsupported, feeling the pain which doesn't show on her face. And they wait.
The moonflower is doing particularly well this year. Luminous petals stretch above most of the other flowers in the Emperor's garden, reaching to caress the sun which is always its counterpart.
Legend had it that the moon had been tricked into lighting the night skies by Elde, who was jealous of the love which existed between the moon and the sun, celestial bodies which moved hand in hand, in harmony. The moon had never been asked to do anything to help before, and when Elde asked him to take responsibility for ensuring that the earth never lived in blackness again, he was sufficiently honoured that he agreed at once, not knowing that the darkness in which he would live was inimical to his love's survival, that they would never meet again. When he found out, he gave much of his love and his light to this fond creation, the moonflower, which drank in the light of the moon at night and gave it back to the sun in the daytime. It is said that a moonflower can never die, it can only sleep for a time before awakening again to the love of the sun.
Sophia tends the plants, whispering to them, caressing them. Motes of light and of magic drift through the petals and branches. In his sleep, the Emperor stirs, murmuring as though suffering from a nightmare, and with a glance towards the corner where those of Gatekeeper watch invisibly, Sophia goes up to him and touches his forehead. The almost imperceptible frown disappears, and the Emperor subsides into quiet sleep.
'I know,' she murmurs, 'the city is in pain. Your subjects are dying, a death brought about by a disease of the soul. I will cure it, I swear.'
Although the Emperor is now sleeping quietly, his eyelids flicker, and Sophia puts a hand to her chest and kneels before him. She stays there for long moments before rising and leaving the Palace.
They take her to the places where Death walks. She speaks quietly to those who have lost friends and family, she pauses and concentrates for long moments, getting the taste of the pain and the suffering and the disease which causes it. She lets those who fear know that Gethsemane is there to help them, that they would never be turned away from the Garden in time of need. And those who hear her fear a little less, trust a little more. She tells them that the Emperor cares for their anguish, and they listen.
And she has the feel of the illness now, the diseased part of Zehazel which needs to be purged and cleansed.
Sophia concentrates, and starts to hunt the hunter.
*X point bid: Pelegrin Waspis' tourney (3 points in support of Antioch chances)
The day of Pelegrin Waspis' long-anticipated tourney had finally arrived. Large areas of the vast market square of Sardanapalus had been cleared of their usual stalls and booths and now played host to a number of makeshift arenas, in which all manner of contests of strength and skill would take place from noon till evening. The two main events of the afternoon, preludes to the contest tha would end in the crowning of Elsewhere's finest warrior, were trials of archery and mounted combat. The former contest was taken by a foreigner, Hihoto Kawahara from the World of the Perpetual Warriors, marginally outshooting Saikendo of Mordecai and Hob of Tatterdemalion. The latter suffered from the participation of Lord Albrecht Fleischer of Antioch himself, who slaughtered three men and seven horses, and permanently maimed or traumatised a number of others, with the help of Reeva (his axe and best friend). Fortunately for the organisers of the tourney he was soon called to deal with matters in Antioch-Vermiform "disputed territory", taking his trophy and a number belonging to other events along with him.
The appointed time for the start of the grand contest arrived shortly before twilight. Twelve individuals had met the rigorous selection criteria, and stood in a line for the approbation of the crowds. Baron Gustave Fleischer and Earl Meinhardt Gessner of Antioch, slapping each other on the back and confident that the result was a foregone conclusion; Sir Bernard de St Larell of the Palatine, haughtily aloof; Krum the Jugurtha, a gigantic hulk of a man; the foppish "Lucian" Duquensay, known by some to be a Vervain noblewoman behind the mask; Hihoto Kawahara, still exultant from his victory in the archery; Red Gleaming Fur, an Upright Beast from beyond the mists, half man and half fox; Jacob Stedding, a Vermiform watchman, keeping well out of the way of the Antiochenes; Saikendo of Mordecai, the very model of centred poise; D'Arctagnan the musketeer, a spindly black-clad figure, his face concealed under a floppy hat and swathes of scarves; Flute of the Caliban, looking somewhat incongruous amongst his armed and armoured peers in his light robes of electric blue; and Venn, a sellsword, who as the lots were being drawn for the pairings stepped up to address the crowds, announcing that after his impressive performance of tonight he would be available for hire at highly competitive prices.
*X point bid: _SeHT of Meraeanos resolves to deal with the harbour plague
Even as _SeHT wanders the lonely wards of the hospital in the base of his great spire, his mind continues to work. Fed as it is without ceasing with the image of the dead and the dying, he ponders over the image of the "ratman" and what it can mean. Not for the first time does he wish he were come here earlier, that his connections were greater and more sound - and that a certain one were with him, whose presence would have aided Val Tannen a million times more greatly than his.
He walks over to the chief nurse on duty. //I must go out for a while,// he says, and the nurse nods. //I shall not be too long. You know wherethe liquid is kept - but, for the sake of pity, use it but sparingly.// Again the nurse nods, tired past endurance, and _SeHT presses his right hand on the man's left shoulder and gives him some of his energy as his hand glows a gentle blue briefly. Then he claps the man's shoulder twice and heads towards the back of the hall, stopping here and there to offer a word of comfort and support, before disappearing through a set of medium-sized doors set in the back wall at the rear of the dais.
Climbing the stairs rapidly, he begins to disrobe and, by the time he arrives in the antechamber before his living area, he is naked to the waist.Stripping rapidly, he takes a brief bath, the hot water making him draw his breath and bare his teeth in a feral smile of pleasure, before he leaves and dries himself before dressing once more. Not, however, in his finery: now he dresses as one of the low-caste, the Tatterdemalion. If his goal is to be achieved, he must make himself as invisible as possible...
"Watch out, you Tatterdemalion scum!" roars the half-drunk Palatine who cannot himself walk in anything even approximating to a straight line. Lashing out at the man in ragged clothes with his fist, he almost brains him, but his blurred vision enables the object of the knight's anger to duck back sufficiently far out of reach that he is left with a gash on his left cheek. Blood runs down his face as he steps into the shadows and watches his aggressor stagger back to the barracks. Blood dripping down, seeping from his face and running like a turgid river to stain his clothes. Blood... so much blood, so red...
The man begins to wander the streets, drawing no gazes from any who see him; he is just another low-born, another nobody in a sea of nobodies, gazing up from their dark places to stare into the blinding light cast by the society above which refuses to see them. Those that he meets who are like him smile and nod, and exchange a word with him; a greeting here, a race tip there, a promise of a beer elsewhere. The man smiles and nods and laughs and moves on, watching, walking the darkest corners of the streets with the air of one who has lived there all his life.
And, as he laughs, so too does he feel near to tears. The hovels he sees, and so often the death within, which beckons to him from yards away: the scream of the baby who is dying, uncomprehending the malady that afflicts it but still cognisant of the pain it feels, and the mothers soft shushing sounds, the "There, there, bunny... rockabye, rockabye" murmurs that float through so many doors like a desolate fanfare for his passage. The glimpses through broken windows and half-hanging doors of mothers in rags, of a single candle on the table and bread two days' old, hard on the table yet pride of place, for there is nothing more to replace it; tomorrow it will be staler still.
The man curses under his breath, damning the thing which he hunts so avidly; these people are wretched enough, why should they suffer more? As he walks he asks after the "ratman": some have seen him, they say, a rat five feet tall, on its hind legs like a man; some have not, but have heard "'is footsteps a-pattern' by in the night"; and some, despite the afflictions of the plague, refuse to believe, giving credence only to what they see or hear themselves.
After wandering the streets a long time, the man returns towards the new spire on the outskirts of the city. Night is falling; the sun's light, meagre at best among the shanty-dwellings of Zehazel, is fading away, trickling away with the effluent which courses thickly along the middle of the narrow, winding streets. The moon is beginning its ascent, the ghostly white light changing the entire aspect of the city as he approaches the newest addition to the glory that is Zehazel.
It was late in the night. The moonlight provided a wan, mellow light in which the city of Zehazel seemed somehow to glow and even the poorest area of Tatterdemalion became in some wise equally as beautiful as the richest quarters, even unto the level of Arbiter or Sardanapalus. Night: the great equaliser.
Val Tannen was returning to the new, as-yet-unnamed sixth spire of Zehazel. He was tired beyond belief and unsure how much longer he could continue to push himself; at the behest of his friend, the mysterious owner of the spire, he had taken a few hours of rest, but even for that short time he felt guilty. It was his duty to heal the sick; that his usefulness decreased as he became more and more tired was immaterial.
Approaching the great arched entrance to the cavernous hall which provided temporary shelter as a hospital, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that a shadow stretched across the ground in an unusual place. Investigating further, he found the body of a male, dressed in tattered clothes, slumped in a position which suggested he had been trying to reach the safety of the spire before he had lost his strength to the weakness and dragged himself a few more feet before passing into unconsciousness. Summoning his reserves of strength, Tannen lifted the man and carried him into the hospital.
Once lit by the flickering ochre light from the torches, Tannen examined the man's body as it shivered in the first stage of the fever. Apart from the illness, he had been attacked by something, for there was a large bite on his left side, as if he had been savaged by a large rodent. "A _very_ large rodent," muttered Tannen to himself as he summoned healing magics to restore the flesh.
As he did this the man gasped, and Tannen blinked in surprise; the front teeth of his patient were very slightly pointed. Everting the lips, the healer made the discovery that almost all the teeth were similarly shaped.
"In the meantime, however," Tannen thought, "I must tend the others." He began the healing work on the new, unknown arrival and then moved away, looking around before being struck by something - or rather, its absence. Waving over an orderly, Tannen put a question to him.
"I don't know, Master Tannen, and that's the truth. The orderly on the last shift said he was going out, and that he might be some time. That was afore noon, now, and nobody's seen hide nor hair of him since."
"Strange," thought Tannen. "But doubtless he has his own errands to run." The young healer continued his work among the poor and the needy of Zehazel, comforting where he could, giving solace to those who could see the lives of their loved ones ebbing away. Consequently, it was not for some time that he returned to the side of the newcomer, and as soon as he saw him he was struck by a panic so fierce it froze him rigid.
The man, who two hours ago had been in the first grip of the malady, had now progressed almost to the point of death. His skin pale and clammy, he called out and muttered in strange, unintelligible sounds which made no sense to Tannen, no matter how he tried to twist them into words. Once he had overcome the shock, however, he called out to the orderlies to "find _SeHT! find him at all costs!" They ran to the dais and disappeared through the doors at the rear of the hall, the doors which led to the antechamber and the private quarters of the private, mysterious individual who made them his home. Simultaneously, Tannen used his magic to search for _SeHT in the city. "If he is there, he will be found," he thought as he turned his attention to the individual before him.
It was a long, weary night for Tannen as he watched the nameless figure writhe and sweat and moan on the pallet before him. Towards morning his moans had become whispers, and the writhings of his body had become just the occasional twitch of a muscle in spasm. His mouth opened a little and he would whisper the same curious sounds that he had made all night and which still made no sense at all to the young healer.
He was dying.
He was dying, and Tannen, for all his powers, could not save him. Whatever he did made no impression on this case, and somewhere inside him a cold fist clenched, and squeezed: this could mean a new strain of the virus was now loose in the city, one he was powerless against. Leaning his head against his staff for support, Tannen stared at the man and prayed with all this heart that this was not the case.
The man's eyelids fluttered briefly, and Tannen glimpsed the pupils for a second, but not long enough to make a proper examination. He leaned forward and opened the eyes, and was startled to see that the pupils were not only dilated, but pointed, like those of a cat. Letting the eyes close, he gazed thoughtfully at the figure on the pallet for a moment before lifting on of the man's hands.
It was cold, and clammy, and shivered with the ague, but its nails were slightly pointed and curved in very slightly. It appeared a natural occurence, and no malady Val knew would cause such a change to the nails. Tannen allowed the hand to fall limply back to the bed and lapsed into a reverie, watching the dying man twitch and murmur, impotent, unable to heal him.
_SeHT could not be found. While Tannen knew where the healing potion was kept, he was loathe to use it without his friend's consent; something inside him baulked at what he considered tantamount to theft, even though the orderly to whom _SeHT had spoken earlier had returned and confirmed that _SeHT had told him it was there to be used, if sparingly... Tannen shook his head. He could not bring himself to do it.
The man's eyes opened, staring up in an expression of utter fear and terror, and he shook his head from side to side: no, no, no... too weak now even to whisper his fear. Tannen reached down and grasped his hand. "It's all right... you're safe. Everything's going to be all right."
The man looked up at Tannen and smiled a smile which cut the young healer to the heart, a smile which said the dying man knew the lie which was spoken, but understood it and appreciated it, appreciated the efforts which had been exerted on him.
Tannen smiled down at him through his fatigue, nodding comfortingly and patted the man's hand -
- whose eyes rolled up into his head as his body went limp and he breathed no more.
Tannen pulled the sheet up over the man's head, disgusted at his own inabilities and afraid at the new danger which, it seemed, was about to strike at the heart of Zehazel. None would be safe from this new threat, which killed in a fraction of the time of the current strain of the disease. With a heavy heart, the young healer whispered a prayer that the spirit of the unknown dead man should have an easy passage through the Gates of Heaven.
He stared at the shrouded figure, and then turned to walk slowly away.
He did not see the chest rise, nor the cloth pucker over the mouth as the dead body took a long, sobbing breath of air. It was not that which caused Val Tannen to turn around, but the whispered plea which came next.
Tannen's head swung around as if he had been slapped. His eyes were drawn to the figure under the shroud that was moving, lifting its hands. He blessed himself, muttering a prayer for safety against whatever demon it was that had possessed this man's corpse; was it not enough that he had died, but now his remains must be controlled? Taking a tentative step forward, then striding resolutely towards the bier, prepared to take any action he could against this evil thing, Tannen watched as it tried to raise itself.
The plea came again, more strongly this time. "Water... water..."
Tannen was not amused. Pulling back the shroud, he glared down at the figure, whose eyes were open, if bright from the illness which had so recently caused its death. "What do you want?" he demanded.
The voice was firmer, more recognisable now.
//For the love of pity, Val Tannen,// it said in an accent the healer knew well, //get me some water.//
Val stared down in shock at the raggedly-dressed man who half-lay, half-reclined on the pallet before him. The shock had deprived him of the power of speech, and he could do nothing except work his jaw for a long moment before he finally cried, "Orderly! Bring me water!"
The man on the bed - "It is _SeHT, not some unknown man," Tannen told himself, but he could barely find the similarities between his noble friend and the Tatterdemalion who lay before him - smiled, showing pointed teeth, and his pointed eyes twinkled a little, tiredly. The orderly arrived with a ewer of water and Val poured some into a basin, and handed it to _SeHT, who drank deeply and with evident thirst.
Val refilled the bowl, and watched as the colour returned to his friend's cheeks, the fever-brightness in his eyes faded away and his breathing became normal. He stared at the man, awestruck, speechless.
//I owe you an apology, do I not?// came the quiet question. _SeHT tried to lift himself from the bier, but failed, falling back with a grunt. //Ooof... I'm weak yet.//
"Lie still," commanded the healer. "And yes, you do owe me an apology. I was worried about you; I didn't know where you were. And I thought we had a new strain of the virus on our hands. I didn't think for a moment it would be you lying there."
//And if you had known?...// _SeHT made a second attempt to sit up, and this time he succeeded, albeit weakly.
"And if I had known... I would have been even more frantic," confessed Tannen, trying not to let a rueful grin creep across his features and not quite succeeding. _SeHT smiled.
//Let us go upstairs awhile, Val,// he said, offering his hand for support, which Tannen took as _SeHT eased himself to his feet.
//We need to talk.//
Tannen and _SeHT talked long into the night in one of the many rooms in the middle of the spire which made up _SeHT's personal quarters. A fire burned cheerily in the large hearth set in one wall, and the two men sat near it in comfortable armchairs, sipping their drinks.
For a long time they talked of inconsequentials. Then Tannen changed the subject.
"Why did you do it, _SeHT?"
The other male thought for a moment before answering. //I did not think it was enough to study the disease from outside,// he says. //We were making progress, true, but we were fighting cautiously, treating individual symptoms and not the infection itself. So I decided that the best way to learn how to cure the disease would be to obtain a specimen and trace the stages of the virus, from infection to death, and see how it affects the organism.//
"A reasonable idea. But why yourself? you are almost irreplaceable here."
//I could not take the responsibility for the death of another,// he said. //My life is my own - for the most part, at any rate. And my mate was there with me in the shadow worlds; she it was who kept my spirit from leaving when my body ceased to breathe.// _SeHT grins ruefully. //I am sorry if I caused you upset when I returned to life,// he says. //But I am not quite ready to die yet - not yet - and it was vital that I follow the course of the disease through all its stages.//
"And what _have_ you found?" asked Tannen. "Have you any idea on how to proceed?"
//Indeed. In fact, I believe we can cure this illness completely. We shall require a decoction of...//
Over the next few hours, as the fire continued to blaze, _SeHT told Tannen his discoveries, and they discussed and arrived at a considered optimum formula for a cure. Tannen resolved to have as much of the herbs necessary grow and flourish within the garden of Gethsemane as he could possibly arrange. It was decided that the antechamber behind the dais in the Great Hall would serve as a production facility and storage centre, since the constant cool temperature would be best to prevent the delicate potion from being spoiled.
As they talked, Tannen experienced a curious mix of emotions. He was angry with _SeHT for risking his life, but felt a strange admiration for the bravery of this individual, a newcomer to the city who was doing all he could to help those whom the majority pretended to ignore. Even though the disease had reached members of the lower-middle classes and had, at times, threatened to climb even higher in the social strata, very few other than the Gethsemane had seemed even to notice that the plague existed. And, despite both his anger and his admiration, the healer could not help but feel a certain creeping curiosity as to _why_ the mysterious male should do all this. Perhaps the experiences of his life had coloured his perceptions, but, _SeHT's generosity and kindness notwithstanding, Tannen still experienced a gnawing feeling of doubt.
By the time they had finished their preparations, the sun was rising over the plains outside Zehazel. The two men had risen from their seats and stood by the long mica-glass windows, looking out over the plains and watching the stars fade as the sky lightened to grey and then white-blue as the sun rose. Tannen turned to _SeHT. "It's beautiful," he said. "So different from up here."
_SeHT smiled. He had washed himself clean of the blood and grime of his nocturnal encounter and stood once more in his traditional black silken clothes, his cape with the dragon on its rear flowing from his shoulders, his scabbarded sword at his side. //That it is,// he said, still looking outward.
//And now, let us hope we can keep it that way.//
Tannen nodded, and together the two men left the room and returned to the cavernous Great Hall below. The sunrise might be beautiful, but there were still many lives left to be saved.
X point bid: A scene from the Arbiter courts
The courtroom was packed. Scholars jostled with barbarians at the top end, whilst an aisle led down past thieves, priests, warriors and mages to the wealthy aristocrats and plutocrats on their plush cushions in the front row. In two boxes above the stage, suspended by an elaborate system of pulleys and levers, hovered the feuding families. In a throne at the fulcrum sat the large figure of Judge Helena Sempertine: stark, plain clothing contrasting with the ceremony around her.
Before everybody's eyes, the two masked advocates began to plead their clients' cases. The green clad advocate slid balletically around the room, entreating and pleading with his audience that the Lascari clan above him were malicious and degenerate monsters who had spun misbegotten half-truths about his noble clients. The scarlet advocate senatorially proclaimed the evil deeds of the Sardanapalus family in long sonorous tones. Six jurors looked on, trying to control their emotions.
"Oh, yes he did!" roared half of the crowd. "Oh, no he didn't!" jeered the rest. The subject of this debate stood in the center of the stage, mirrors focussing light on him, sweating nervously. Rico Luchenzo, in the latest twist of the trial, had been named as the kidnapper of Lippoto Veterian, daughter of the self-styled businessman Madieros Veterian. He vigorously denied it, as did the other Luchenzi.
"I have seven Vermiform witnesses who will attest to your guilt!" shouted Madieros. Rico answered with a chuckle that was only slightly forced: "Why, I was lunching with a captain of the Vermiform at the very time that this alleged crime was supposed to have happened."
"We will resolve this in a civilised fashion," said Helena in a clear voice that filled the chamber. "Rico Luchenzo, will you submit to the sorcery of Salomolas?"
"Of course I will," replied Rico after only a moment's hesitation. "I have nothing to hide."
Muttering filled the auditorium. The jurors conferred with their six comrades who sat in a soundproofed room isolated from the trial. After a minute, all but the rowdiest group of sailors at the back hushed themselves as Salomolas came in.
Like a cloud of boiling white silk surrounding an obsidian pillar, she walked briskly into the room. She nodded briefly to the judge, smoothing her ceremonial robes, before turning to the accused man and handing him a silver disk.
"I prick my thumb on this, don't I?" asked Rico. Without waiting for an answer, he squeezed the disk between thumb and forefinger. Taking it with his other hand, he found a drop of blood in the centre of the disk. He gave this to the sorceress, who tasted the blood and closed her eyes.
"Should I do anything else? Say an oath? Cross your palm with silver? Paint myself blue?" He rattled on, falteringly, while preparing the nonsense rhymes and number patterns in his head that he had been taught to ward off mind tricks. "Are you ready to read my mind?"
"I do not read minds," said Salomolas, speaking for the first time. "I read what is, and what was. I follow the path your body took through your life, and look through your eyes as if they were the glass eyes of a cadaver."
Rico looked up at her shadowy face and saw that her own eyes were wide open, and within them he could see a doll-like reflection of himself, running and climbing and fighting and loving and laughing and eating and crying and talking and ... suddenly the vision went. He looked around, unsure of exactly how much time had passed.
"He did not do it," said Salomolas. As the crowd gasped, Rico came to his senses and hissed, "My lady, have you seen my whole life, everything I have done?"
"It is unimportant," she replied, and began to walk away.
"Wait," said Judge Sempertine. "Who did abduct Lippoto then?"
"Yes, I must know," agreed Madieros, and he started ushering a young girl out of the Veterian cage towards Salomolas.
"I don't want to cut myself," wailed Lippoto. "I don't want to be in a spell."
"Don't be foolish," chided her father. "You know Salomolas needs blood to do her magic. If you don't know what happened to you, then we have to use her spell to find out. Are you sure you need her blood, my lady?"
Suddenly Salomolas darted towards the pair and seized the child from her father, bundling her in her cloak and hastening to the other side of the room before the Veterian family guards had their blades half out of their sheathes, by which time a wall of men-at-arms had formed between them and Salomolas. Maderios' shouting echoed around the room, which erupted into momentary chaos, until Salomolas spoke again.
"The abductor was Dolian Grey, an enchanter of Melmoth." The child was standing by her side now, white faced, with blood welling in a cut in her earlobe, but otherwise unharmed.
"That's it? That's the spell done? Are you alright, my daughter?"
"Yes, reenacting the act of abduction gave me the power to see who committed the original deed."
"But why did he do it? What grudge does he hold against me?"
"Mr Veterian, let me say again that I am not a mind reader. Give me this enchanter's head, and I may be able to tell you what was inside it. Otherwise it is out of my hands."
"Then what did he do to my daughter when he had her?"
"Let us discuss terms outside of the courtroom, not within it. My job here is done."
She bowed once more to the judge, and left.
The horizon is brighter on the worlds which hang within the Circle of Air. On one such world, Garathrim stood silently, his milky eyes staring upward at the red-tinged skyline, his single hand clasped tightly about the shaft of his inscribed polearm. Initially, he had barely sensed that the Long Watch was coming to an end; there had merely been an eager nagging at the back of his head - an insistent dull pain, which served to remind him that somewhere in the Void, all was not well. As recent days had passed, however, encroaching danger became steadily more evident; at this moment, the Allfather was entered into conclave with the Ducal Sentinels, seeking to discover whether the time for Conjunction with the long sundered Sisterhood had finally arrived. Garathrim had begged leave for himself to stand once more upon the Farthest Shores, there to project his essence out into the Unknown Darknesses. Now, he reached outward with his mind, his figure outlined against the shining sea and towering mountains, and clear omens from the past were laid open to him. Garathrim saw himself, youthful and whole, but wearied beyond endurance, wreathed in the smoke rising from a thousand burning bodies. His polearm lay in his hands, bloodied along its entire length, his armour hung battered and scarred, scarlet pools welling through gaping holes in the plate. Garathrim that Was fell to his knees in a puddle of flowing fat and gouged mud, imploring the protection of his soul and his people. Garathrim that Is wished desperately to reach out towards his once - self, to change what had always been, but the impulse was stilled by the knowledge of long training (for only the gods can alter the decisions of Time, and even they cannot control Him). Garathrim that Was stared outward with anguished eyes towards the mighty host which still stood bold before him, and watched transfixed as his own cousin raised the obsidian sword high. Felurias's words echoed in the silence which had fallen upon the smouldering field. In the darkness beyond the flames, something yet darker began to stir. Garathrim that Is issued a piercing scream of fear, bringing several fellow Wardens running. Felurias, millenia gone, caught the glint of ire in his eyes, kissed the blade, and crowed ' I am the beginning !'.
Across the Mists, Tessera was sitting slumped in the shade of Great Menetah, the First of the Crystal Beeches. The High Priestess had long since acclaimed Tessera a Sight - Singer, for she had been born by her mothers in the Sisterhood for that purpose. Her talents had been acknowledged since the moment of collective conception. But now, Tessera lay still, her body stiff, her mouth flaccid, rivulets of dried blood, which had tumbled from her eyes, still crusting her pale cheeks. When one of the Sisters at last stumbled across her (for she had not been expected to return to the Great Tower for many days), the shock amongst the White Women was profound. The True Matriarch Ilreda was said to have cried at the news, an event unknown since the Time of the Sundering. Within Tessera's lifeless mind were discovered the final visions she had been permitted to see before the blood had begun to flow and they were swiftly transferred to bark:
'The sails across the night shall fly,
The Beast with reddened club arise,
The Ancient Ones form hosts anew,
Black Suns illumine the thousand skies.
This is the End.'