WHAT ALES YOU
In a corner of “For What Ales You,” a quiet argument was transpiring between three Elderbrin. It gradually grew more animated (and less comprehensible) as the combatants reverted to their native language, replete with gestures, glottal stops, and incongruous transformations. Having had enough, one of the Elderbrin left with a dramatic flourish and a gesture that was as foreign as it was emphatic (and, perhaps, uniquely comprehensible, at least in its rudeness). As the Elderbrin left, he flashed a friendly, cheeky acknowledgement to the vislae who recognized him, from a few tables over.
Enkidu procured from the serverless magic table: a bourbon, chilled with ginger candy ice cubes; Naranth held a cup of liquid lightning, twisted with orange rind citrus over a scotch base.
A largely-sleepless Enkidu and Naranth reviewed the destruction, fire and overall plans of the night before‘s raid on the Undersling’s Red Market front for the Charnel Heart.
As the details surge and rise between them of who wanted interventions, and who banished their only evidence to the Blue Sun, who was responsible for murdering innocent johns and whores and setting fire to the Undersling, their perky server brought tea for Naranth and almond cookies ‘on the house’ to the pair.
Arriving fresh and early of hour, not only restored, but guided by Enkidu’s Aunt Crystal, Zerah joined them at the table, fresh beverage arising for him by magic.
“In less than 12 hours you did… that” was the most fitting tribute to their accomplishments of the night – and direct from Zerah’s mouth.
They spoke of their challenges to that point and their need to find Belladonna Bellanoir, as Naranth’s magic sparked intermittently into the metal bands of his chair.
They were beginning to consider their next steps – perhaps heading to the Confederacy of Cloisters to Goetic Hall to see about getting some help retrieving the records from Red Lantern Nights (the front for the Charnel Heart, if Boudon the Fisherman was to be believed).
Naranth found the label on the tea bag to say “Could have been arsenic” and the bottom of his cup bore a maker stamp of a broken heart. The blue haired waitress – in a shop renowned for its lack of human staff – was nowhere to be found. Before the vislae could decipher whether this was the warning of some hidden benefactor or a taunt by the Charnel Heart, the alehouse accepted yet another visitor, though this one not a patron.
A Strangeglass civil servant named Claret, with steel-grey hair and dressed in a pale mandarin coat, introduced himself to the vislae, and then requested Enkidu’s presence on behalf of the Viscount Dranian L’Strange, to answer a filed complaint. Deciding that honoring the request was the most practical response – particularly with the Thah waiting outside, the three vislae decided to answer the summons together. Claret took them to Memorial Park, with its floating gothic tower. With a flourish, and producing a key much similar in appearance to the wicked ones so sought after each keyfall, the elder gentleman let them inside.
The light from high windows in the tower was warm and bronze; the furnishings dark wood and leather and spare. The vislae were led before a man… looking almost comically like an evil wizard in picture books from the Grey, fully equipped with robes and a cape and curly Arabian shoes. Holding a scroll partly open, he acknowledged the vislae and dryly recounted the “complaint”: the woman whose pocketbook Enkidu had liberated and replaced with advertising, was, somehow, upset!
His patience at apparent triviality expended, Zerah left the office of Gerent L’Strange while he and Enkidu worked out whatever civil recompense was needed; Naranth followed. But before the two could exit the tower, minister Claret ushered them into his side office where, for their benefit, he pulled the corners of a tiny window, literally stretching the view like a magnifying glass over the park they had just passed through. Barely visible, Claret had to bring their attention to a slight discoloration of someone (or something) disguised by some sort of clearly magical adaptive camouflage, hiding behind a Cypress tree. He explained that they had had a stalker since the alehouse, who apparently was still waiting outside for them for some undiscerned purpose. Naranth and Zerah thanked him sincerely for his warning; he simply requested that, should they “handle” the interloper, they do it with sufficient discretion and distance from the Viscount’s tower.
Meanwhile, the Viscount himself, now alone with Enkidu, offered the vislae a commission. Allovox the emotion miller had been investigated by Aurora Tidal, working on the Viscount’s behalf, who had determined that Allovox was most definitely not involved with a group called the “Shadows.” L’Strange made plain that he believed Aurora’s analysis, while sound, suffered from a lack of sufficient nosiness to uncover the truth. He offered Enkidu the chance to prove his value by uncovering Allovox’s association to the Shadows… and also to earn the Viscount’s appreciation should Allovox “happen to fall down some stairs.” With a final serious admonition not to pick any pockets … at least here in Strangeglass, the Viscount sent Enkidu on his way.
Hunt the Hunter
The three vislae planned an ambush; respectful of Claret’s request and mindful of the tactical advantage of home turf, the three resolved to trap the figure in the alley outside Enkidu’s office (conveniently, where Enkidu had to change anyways). Zerah ducked into the soup kitchen run by the R’zzat clan of vespids; with some effort he managed to surreptitiously extricate himself from their eager welcomes. As their dark stalker passed into the alley, Zerah stepped back out, conjuring a golem living from the mud and Brock of the alley to trap the stalker between the three of them.
Things began to very quickly get equal parts strange and disturbing.
Shifting its gaze among the three of them in physical shifts that were as impossibly quick as they were deeply unnatural, the figure was more fully revealed as Zerah ordered his Golem to move forward and snatch the camouflaging robe from the figure’s shoulders. He almost immediately regretted this decision; under the robe was a creature of black, withered flesh, looking very much like the emaciated Dickensian spirit of Want. Its feet were bare; its obscenely long hands and fingers perpetually dripped with blood; its face had no resemblance to that of a human, with bruised flesh pulled and stretched around permanently elongated eyes and a mouth set into an eternal scream.
Once revealed, it glanced around and adopted the pose of a man who had fallen and broken his back on the edge of the building. It greeted and treated them, particularly Naranth, in admiring tones; as it did so, it cracked itself into positions of continued violence and death.
Though the vislae had never seen such a horrific sight (or, perhaps, in blissful ignorance of it, if they had), they immediately recognized its origin for what it was: a creature from the Dark outside the Suns. That was enough for Zerah, who proposed to destroy it and return it to sender. However, the others wanted to hear what it had to say for itself.
It offered them its service and, more disturbingly, its approval. It had witnessed the events of the previous evening and had reveled in the Vislae’s capacity for destruction, and most importantly…murder. It only wanted to help, it said. Zerah, still in favor of its destruction was outvoted by the others. Enkidu enjoined it to assist them in finding the one who had poisoned Naranth and to bring her to them that they might find the one who crafted and sent the toxin. Then, they insisted, it might be allowed to accompany and assist them… perhaps. It was overjoyed to be given a task and, after retrieving its robes (for which all of them were grateful), melted back into tattered invisibility and slunk away.
The High Cost of Filing
The three returned to Enkidu’s office and considered their options in retrieving the files stolen from the Charnel Heart from wherever they were, lost in the light of the Blue Sun. Enkidu proposed summoning an emissary of the Blue Sun and treating with it to assist them. However, as he prepared the summoning circle… something, again, went terribly, terribly wrong. He began to scream and scream… and scream. The other two leapt into action to save their companion. Naranth applied a chokehold to render Enkidu unconscious (and, mercifully, ending the endless screaming); Zerah then, for the second time in as many days, stepped into dreams to attempt to save a friend…
On the other side, what greeted him chilled him to his core. Enkidu’s disrupted summoning had taken him in dreams to the Blue Sun, but the Nightside of it. A glass dome sheltered (if that can be the word) them from a seething storm of nightmares that were unable to reach inside directly. Strange numbers floated in the air. Beneath his feet was a crystal floor, which turned out to be the face of a massive clock, with many hands and many numbers, all of them 13. Zerah could make out strange glyphs below them, and living creatures trapped in cells being tormented. He was brought out of this nightmare induced reverie by a screechy, squelching sound, like wet flesh dragged across glass.
A “woman” covered with enormous, sagging breasts, dragged the remains of a dismembered body. To Zerah’s horror, she pulled open her cavernous vagina and inserted the pieces of the body inside her, devouring them.
Across the wide dome, a pale azure crystal dais lay, with a massive blue throne sitting atop it. Enkidu lay upon the dais, and on the throne sat a massive figure in cobalt blue armor, from head to toe and armed with a giant hammer, who, to Zerah’s immediate horror (did that word even have meaning anymore in such a place?) recognized as Nimrigal… guardian of the Nightside of the Blue Sun… a figure he knew, if he did not precisely remember.
Nimrigal was, at that moment, adjusting his codpiece, having just visited incredibly viscious indignities on the dismembered corpse that Zerah saw previously, the sight of which had no doubt been the cause for the terrifying sound Enkidu had been making all the way in Indigo. Zerah knew better than to use the power of his spell to lay hands on this dreaming. This place was real in a very deadly way.
Instead, by calling, Zerah managed to wake Enkidu and call him forth. Nimrigal prevented him from leaving, but made the vislae an offer: if Enkidu would bring his “other friend” with him next time… he’d be appreciative. He did so very much want to meet Naranth… and then, the clock hands swirled and the two of them fell upward through the dome into the nightmare swarm that rushed forward to devour them….
And back in Enkidu’s office, as if nothing horrible had just happened in the Nightmare Palace. And with a look of pure Indigo, the two Vislae agreed to keep that between them.
Abandoning the plan of summoning assistance without a more experienced hand to guide them, the three took a moment to recover themselves and then set off to speak with Charles Ember, or was it Imbir, or was it… to speak with THEM, anyways, to hopefully shed some light on the other thread of their troubles.
At the Strangeglass Ephemera Emporium, Naranth interacted with the Proprieters Joaquin, and found the package Charles had ordered ready to go under the names of several would-be couriers. Wrapped in twine and paper, it was large and substantial.
Curious, Naranth unwrapped the package to discover within an artifact of the Grey Sun: the bright, big type Big Blue Book of Riddles. It had fanciful illustrations, and inside a survey of the world’s famous riddles and childish jokes. It did not seem like the sort of thing one might bring on an “adventure” at all.
The Snake, the Monkey, and the Dead Princess
Enkidu does not recall the Hall of the Goetics – something probably due to his current standing in their number if not the overall loss of detail from harboring in the Grey.
They take a jipnee to the Roseate Arch which stands in the Confederacy of Cloisters, at the end of the Avenue of Suns – a great plaza where each of the suns is represented by a great tower with a glass oriflame atop it and each designed so it seems to have an aura of appropriate light. The twisting paths and cunning walkways and patterns and labyrinths in the ground all around them bore testimony to this being a place Goetic.
At the actual palace of the Goetics, topped by a great, low, green glass basilica dome, they found their destination. The dome spoke to Enkidu of secrets, of slotted whorls of place and substance that reach out into the suns. Enkidu was fairly certain that such knowledge by a person of his standing was utterly forbidden. Not to mention delicious.
The snake and the voracious monkey demon that were part of the door’s lintel interrogated them, but half-heartedly, while the snake hissed and combed palpably through strange corners of their minds. The were admitted, but not before Snake had a chance to eye them conspiratorially.
The bored aspirant at the Calling Desk heard Enkidu’s queries for something that might help them with a little trouble with the Blue Sun, a little getting of lost things.
They make their way to the Open Library of the Goetics up a great, wind of blue stairs in the Goetic Palace. They find Master Palafrey sitting in a pool of sunlight by the windows overlooking the Avenue of Suns, reading an ancient tome.
He agrees to find a way to get information on their Belladonna Bellanoire for them from the files from the grey. In exchange, after eyeing Enkidu up and down, he offers to trade that work for Enkidu’s assistance with a ritual calling forth an ancient princess from the Pale Sun – and should it work, and should she be amenable, sleeping with her.
Clearly, Enkidu agrees.
The Problem of the Thah
At Ember’s Leap, Charles awaits them behind the Thah and the protective gates.
The Thah tell the Vislae that they are only there looking for information on those who disappeared at the party, and what may have happened to them. If they cannot convince the garrulous Apostate to leave his Estate to speak with the Thah, perhaps the Vislae can gather the information for them?
The Thah seek:
- Eru – reported missing by the Order of Vances
- The Ambassador of the Red Sun – by some accounts…discorporated?
- The Widow Threnody (who lives in a giant hive as the queen of some… unfriendly bees)
- Valomir, a lacuna, and an old man going by the moniker “Wink”
Assuring the Thah they would at least try, the Vislae move through the tori gates of the estate. Charles, watching the whole conversation from the front terrace, greets them, exuberant to see them, and hopeful they are ready to head off to Czechoslovakia (which isn’t getting any closer or more pleasant, the longer they wait!). He is utterly pleased that they have the “most important supply”, and after checking the Big Blue Book of Riddles reverently, like an early bible, he urges them to put it away, and to take some food and rest, and that he would go out on the town and fetch the rest of their supplies to begin a journey the next day.
Dodging the curious Thah camped out beyond the estate’s boundaries, he headed off into the gathering evening.
The Way Begins to Open
In the garden, surveying the slowly-recovering topiary, they sit to have some repast with Imbir. They tell him that the Thah are seeking those who seem to have gone missing from he party. Imbir eyes them, stroking his long mustaches, sweat in the warm evening across his tan, bald skull. His gold robes are still as secrets.
He tells them he has realized he is finding a way out. He begins by confirming for them the state of the guests they did not already know. Val and Vink left early at his suggestion to await the Vislae down the road once things started to go awry. The Widow Threnody left the party with a man 40 years her junior (a small smile). The Red Ambassador was most definitely murdered here in the garden, in such a way that there would be absolutely no remains.
Imbir tells them in a soft voice that hides pain and a spark of hope, that something of a paradox seems to have happened to him, and he is only beginning to understand the edges of what has happened.
Zerah and Enkidu leap upon the assertion and ask whether Charles has something to do with it, and whether his obstreperous ignorance of the Actuality is involved. Imbir assents through silence.
They tell Imbir their current plight (Naranth’s poisoning, the possibility of the Charnel Heart already being after them). He considers it, and says that it sounds like a fine time to go on Charles’ adventure, which will certainly get them out of Satyrine for a few days.
The eat, they drink, and further talk is interrupted by a bell ringing in the square before the house.
When they emerge from the Leap, the sight in the square freezes them and impels them to action simultaneously. They run down the steps, taking several at a time, throwing open the gate.
Murder waits for them in the square, his dark robe rustling like lost waters around him. And Murder has a pet. An iron chain joins Murder’s waist to an old man’s neck. The old man has dark fire in his eyes. He wears only a loincloth and carries a massive butcher’s cleaver. He is spattered with blood and pale bits.
Assuming the attitude of someone begging for their life while being hacked and dismembered, Murder responds to their demands for explanation, saying he has found the bad woman who hurt Master Naranth. (The appellation sends a chill through them all.)
The Vislae demanded the spirit unchain the seething, unhinged man crouching at his feet. “But I had only just found him and set him free… as you wish….”
As the Vislae attempted to interrogate the man, who quickly lost interest in the cleaver, they found him a befuddled, sad creature who had clearly lost his wits. As they turned back to confront Murder, the old man wandered away muttering about dinner.
“Oh, he had such work left to do!” Murder purred, “and he had done such things before a sickness took him.” Shrugging, rewinding the chain about its waist as a belt (perhaps to forestall his robe being removed again), “I found him and restored him to his former self for our … work.”
The square was empty, and there was too much blood on the stones by the Thah’s dugout for comfort.
Murder told them how he had freed the man, and had followed the taint of attempted murder he had picked off Naranth to Belladonna. The two subdued her, and went to work on her, and well, the old man’s hungers were such that Murder could not deny him what he wanted after so long being lost in the Noosphere….
“But of course, I did not allow her to expire before we learned the truth: a Vislae made the poison for her, one called Allovox the Maker. Shall we go now to find him? Shall we end him this night in some ecstasy of unmaking?”
Zerah could contain himself no longer and demanded the thing be destroyed. Naranth confronted the thing, hurling invective, asking how he could kill Belladonna? Why he would do such a thing.
Its answer was the most chilling yet, “But… Master Naranth, this is what you made me for, what you called me out of the Dark to be. I only long to get the chance to participate in your holy work. To be a shadow beside you as you set yourself to glory.”
Perhaps it was the poison. Perhaps it was the lightning at work. Perhaps it was the sinking in of a terrible truth, or the glimmer of responsibility.
Naranth unleashed his lightning. Into Murder. From his arms and fingers it burst like angry eels, lashing into the dark robes of the spirit. Silent, it screamed. Although agony or ecstasy were difficult to piece apart.
The dark dreams that had haunted the skies all day swirled overhead. Like an indictment, lightning gathered like the bloodshot of a drunk’s eyes. It fell from the sky like a hammer, lifting Naranth from the ground, illuminating him in glory and terror.
The Sky and the Land of the truth were, for a long moment, joined. And then, all that power arced into Murder, whose name had been Dolor. The spirit of the Dark was lit from within by unfathomable power. Its eyes burned with the voice of the heavens and the earth, as Naranth’s did in terrible echo.
Their voices were a wail and a victory combining, a suffering and a longed-for release.
It was Murder that broke before Naranth. The spirit fell, and its shadow fell to the cobblestones beside it.
Smoking, Naranth fell to the cobbles a moment later. The sky cleared, no tatters of the disturbing dreams remained.
Shaking, breaking, trembling, falling, they rose together: Murder, and the new Murder Naranth had made with all his power, trying to erase his past.
Aghast, the 2 waking Vislae prayed they were asleep, and the Dark Blue had somehow still a hold of them.
It was not in the realm of Nimragal where the 2 Dark spirits paused in the attitude of the hanged at the edge of the square before Ember’s Leap.
Aghast, the Vislae watched them go….
It was as they dragged Naranth onto the terrace of Ember’s Leap, that he woke, the knowledge of what had happened, of what he’d done, alive in his eyes. “I…” and perhaps “can’t…” he whispered, as he faded out in a downswirl of grey light into the surcease of the Grey Sun.
Enkidu, with questionable kindness, went out and let the old, bloodied murderer whose name and home they did not know, into the patisserie he seemed to think was his home.
“Come inside,” called Imbir from the candle light of the hall. “Come inside now, and we will have a drink and you can … restore yourselves….”