This chapters are a mix of humour; sub-plot concerning a group of enterprising crooks led by the astute ‘Guv’nor’ Master Silc ; action of various sorts concerning the three central characters Trelli, Karlyn and Medician Beritt.
(Feel free to release your inner critic, this is a free-zone)
‘I’m telling you Master Silc whatever it is, it’s not right!’
Old ‘Oily’ Klee had been so long in his craft and trade as a Mechanical that everyone had quite forgotten what his first name was. By appearance he should be seen as a wizened, worn-out, white headed, old fellah, but the sharp eyes, the constant aura of activity and the thick belt holding various screwdrivers, pliers, coils of wire and other instruments of his trade indicated quite the opposite
And anyway, not many people could lean over Silc’s desk knuckles pressed onto the surface and get away with it.
‘Tagburt Myrdle and Jysh Grivens both had narrow dodges when their storages blew the brackets! Karlgeh Whin had a channeller melt before his very eyes!’
Silc got the message none of this was good news, even if the detail was lost on him.
‘Now. Some of this I admit is the risks we take, but three together in one decan? Not right Master Silc. Not right at all!’ he paused to gather breath ‘And that’s not the half of it! Twice our Weather Predictions have badly, very badly gone wrong. The Fisherman’s Guild is giving us severe petulance over the damage done to the herring fleets; the way they’re carrying on, you’d think we caused it. But they pay us well for the forecasts, and they lost five ships in storms off the Southern Bay, where storms had no business being! It was supposed to be soggy over all of Decoryx not all dropping in that one patch of sea!!’
Silc took definite notice; he had his own very important understandings with The Fisherman’s Guild with regards to smuggling.
‘So. Decoryx you say,’ Silc looked passed Klee, calling towards an outer room where several of his men awaited for summoning ‘Oi! Rhoney! Bring me in that coastal map of the Uppers will you?’
In short interlude a young man with the air of one ready to please came rushing in, nodding respectfully to Klee and handing Silc a rolled map.
‘Open it out son, will you?’ came the patient response. The young man eagerly did so.
‘Now then Oily. Where in your opinion do you reckon a fuss might exactly be
‘’Ullo Merk’. Quick question. Has the City Council or Guild of Trade any recent problems of a deoryxish port Prendaelyn? Y’know, swift dealing by them, too sharp undercutting, signs of better bribes than we can offer?’
Merklin Silc slipped into the chair. Younger, slimmer and possessed of either a winning or knowing grin. In the wake of The Red Decan this brother had opted for a political career, his principal weapons being guile, sharp insight for the deal and the appearance of an easy-going nature.
‘Oooh bruv’ now that’s, as we say in Council a moot point. Prendaelyn may look like a fussy little port-town where sailors can only arse-blast with the correct permit, but their Guild of Trade,’ he sucked in breath and shook his head ‘Made themselves big favourites of the prince’s grandad and dad, played very nicely with all the right respectable people in Decoryx, then started setting up networks all along the coast. Rumours are they might be trying to get a toe-hold in our dear sister city,’ he oozed sarcasm ‘Lucher. Ever since that trouble with its three mayors in a year business it’s trade guild is weak,’ Merklin studied his brother ‘You haven’t got strong words that they in Prendaelyn haven’t been trying to push any of the five different sorts of Imperial Investigations into our commerce businesses, have they? Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard such stuff. There would have been rumours about them in playing along with The Custodians, or the Taxation for mutual benefit by making accusations about other towns, cities or guilds,’ Merklin seemed to thinking on his words ‘It’s what I’d do given half-chance,’ one finger raised in warning ‘But you got to be very careful, one wrong step and,’ he pushed his thumb onto the table ‘The imperials will squish you instead,’
His older brother remained silent, lips pursed, Merklin sat and waited. After the Red Decan the survivors had become careful folk; ones to leave things to simmer looking for the right circumstance.
‘It might be Merk. Just saying that’s all. That if this is so, then it might be, just might be this Prendaelyn might have got some trained Jordisk to smooth its work along. Old ‘Oily’ Klee was in here earlier on. S’why I called you. There’s odd stuff going on and he reckons there could be whychery involved, and points a finger right at Prendaelyn. I’ve a mind to send a good mercenary Seek and Snatch crew, apparently, you can trace Jordies and their stuff . See if we can find someone, bring them back here, and make the best of it, either turn them or manufacture confessions. What I’d like you to do is spread some muck about Prendaelyn in advance. Any problem there?’
Merklin took on a wolfish smile
‘Not all. Won’t need much convincing,’
‘Dunno why you don’t run for mayor Merk’’
‘Wot? Me being Chairmain of Civic Ways and Means. Secretary to Fiscal Appointments, and Advisor to Guild of Noteables? Why give up all that power just for big chain and a funny hat?’
‘Course I’ll have to use Jerreli’s ships,’
Merklin’s face clouded.
‘I know Merk. I know. But the lad’s been bending my ear for lunations know because I don’t give him any work,’
‘That’s cause he’s blimpin’ useless bruv! He maybe our nephew. Lyai,Goodlawdgawd rest her soul. But he’s only good fluffin’ up and down the imperial side of the Centrus Sea stealing off fishing boats and pirates worse than him! He’s the one in the family who didn’t get out and about defending the Silc body and bricks during the Red Decan!’
‘Yer, I would have expected him not to be found hiding under a bed. He was ten I suppose,’
‘Norwyn’s twins were only six but they still went at that fellah with knives and forks!!’
‘I can’t have him grumbling anymore. Grumblers are prone to offers from Others, and this is just a ferry job. I’ve short list of very good groups who know the snatch business, and if I can get the top one, who are tuscatalians by the way, then they should be enough to scare him into doing things properly,’
‘Alright bruv’’ Merklin sounded fatalistic ‘I’ll leave that side of things to you, and sort out the civics,’ he mused and his face brightened ‘There might be a way to make a trading profit on this. Of course we’ll need to work slow and steady,’
Thus, happier in his own realm Merklin Silc got up bade his elder brother a good morning and set off.
The elder Silc’s thoughts drifted back to the Red Decan; little folk, the rats of the city had tried to take down the Family Silc, sheer numbers against the Silcs, it had been a close thing, but the little rats had quickly learnt to regret their mistake. As the eldest survivor of the Paternal Line he’d take swift control and carefully built back. And not just relying on the name either; that had been the mistake which led to the Red Decan, not paying attention to any little chancers. Elinid was now Silc and no mistake. Now for the next move and no one was going to spoil that.
Merthyl was feeling somewhat peeved. He had not been surprised that his efforts had summoned up those four creatures. When he had read back over the few volumes he held, it was obvious, to him, that he held a natural talent for this art. The creatures though were of the lower orders with little sense or perception; their craven loyalty to him was useful, being content to inhabit the cavernous underground rooms of the small castle; content to amuse themselves then feed on whoever or whatever he caste down there. As they prospered so did their ability to fly, although he only allowed one at a time out at deep night.
This was all well and good, but the next step was proving to be annoying to achieve. By all rights and rites he should now be able to make some direct contact with one of the more intelligent creatures that lived in the Zerstorung, and yet despite the obviously best and correct effort this was coming to naught. He believed there was something or someone blocking him. At first he had suspected one other member of the Obsidian Council either threatening him or playing at mischief, this notion did not stand up to examination; neither the brutish Silc nor the austere Karutorm displayed any great enthusiasm for the more complex aspects of contacting or using The Zerstorung, Uraxch’s party tricks were not up to such efforts. As for the Mage Hysterical, Merthyl reckoned he would be able to sense the old fool’s incoming babble and outrage. No, this was something new.
He examined the runes caste upon dark red Board of Knowledge; they indicated nothing specific upon the silvered lines, the many hued shapes the lines made, or the arcane symbols within the shapes. Definitely new.
But he was not done yet, he had other weaponry, with a gloved hand he took a handful of pale emerald dust and scattered it over the board; instead of drifting downwards, it moved to the south and west as if moved by a soft breeze, ending up in one small layer. Carefully Merthyl brushed the layer onto a clean metal plate, covered that with one similar and made his way down to where his creatures awaited him. They were, as was their custom either flapping about the confines or squabbling over bones, all of which stopped when he arrived and they turned to capering beasts eager to please. Merthyl saw this as only natural, after all he had brought them from the Zerstorung, given them form, sustenance and amusement. Now he intended to give them purpose.
‘Come my warriors,’ he called, he was quite pleased that he’d thought of such a title, made them feel as if he personally valued them above others and not as simple devices. He held out the tray ‘Can you trace a scent from this dusts? ‘ the group gathered about shuffling and hoping, then thrusting snouts into the tray inhaling and gabbling amongst themselves.
‘Hagh! Good Master!’ growled the one with the most pronounced canine features and seeming leader ‘You have found prey for us to hunt?’
‘Tell me what you know?’ urged Merthyl ‘Show me your worth!’
‘Creatures of flesh, bearing fire and metal. Bold. Bold. They bar the way to softer meat and make barriers,’
‘We find them!’ cried out another clawing and beating at the air; at once this was taken up by its three companions, the sound rising to a clamouring ragged chant, each in its excitement rising as the tempo of its wings increased.
To Merthyl it was quite obvious that he was now in tune with the forces seeping through from The Zerstorung and bringing them slowly under his own control. No doubt his years spent in practicing and finessing the arts of cruelty into an art form had also made him adept at the skill of harnessing that which others only dreamed of. Smiling, he led his four to the door, to the tunnel from which they were usually allowed to use only at night.
‘Once loose,’ he told the eager band ‘Fly fast and high, then once you have traced these who would dare, swoop down, and have you fill!’
And as he expected like the good faithful hounds they were they did as told. Although he had to admit the speed of their ascent until they were but dots in the sky was quite surprising. It would have been rather interesting if he’d had the confidence for them to capture and bring back these characters, but that might be too complicated and could draw attention from folk he had yet to evaluate. You should not give way to too much, too soon. After all, this was better than he had initially expected.
Karlyn was maintaining what she thought was a thoughtful silence. She’d told Meradat that the bees were very confused and she’d encountered a few very cross butterflies. She was now looking at the clouds, trying to make out which way they were actually going, never mind the way the wind was blowing, because that didn’t count. She wished that the Meradat would stop looking at her in that hound peering way; it wasn’t her fault that the Time was all skewiffed.
And she still reckoned that they should have burnt that wobbler back in Lump-Town.
Meradat had accepted the girl’s observations concerning Time. In his dealings with the Stommigheid and the Jordisk he had learnt and experienced enough to know what might be plausible. So despite her obvious volatility and intent to infuriate or intimidate she was showing a potential for doing some good, even if she was not aware she was. Keeping her under control was going to be the principal problem.
Migran had not previously endeavoured to have his oculator work at such an intense level, each gem set to its limit, but he would prove to Trelli. He would. By Ven of Numbers he would!!
Frib! There’s that damn particular hue!!
Beritt had correctly estimated she had not earned the right to call him ‘Sarge’; hence her very precise but respectful tones.
Even if his response was his signature grim and also indicating for disapproval at the messing up the balance of his file, it was better than having to put up with the claims to injuries and could she kiss ‘em better of which troopers Norvan, Trex and Dell just did not weary of.
Three days of very trying journeying but thanks to Poseydale she was finally used to getting to balance the oculartragen while riding. Captain Dekyria had been most insistent that she scan the locality for anything untoward every three thousand and report to him. He was obsessed the time, kept questions about her notion of what part of the day, or night. Of course this meant much broken sleep, a great deal trying to get the colour and shape right to form the signals, trying to read the code book correctly even in the dark and after all that fribbin’ about she ended up getting replies which indicated nothing except that he would be in contact. She reckoned by the time all this was over she’d have a fayre inclining about what the anguish of Confusions inflicted in the Second Hell.
But this time, she saw a hue about the all the colours; in the form of a thin line of orange which slithered into the sort of green wounds turned before she had to saw someone’s leg off.
‘I’m seeing one of those hues I was warned about!’
Erzns being as wise in matters of the Astatheia as Beritt swung his mount about rode alongside her and peered at the screen, when he spoke he was calm and strangely affable.
‘Do you know where?’
Beritt ruffled through the code book, peered back and forth between it and the screen, and very glad it was still daylight.
‘According to the code book, not more than a thousand at the fast trot,’
‘Alert Captain Dekyria now. Don’t hurry yourself. Get the report right,’
By now there was a huddle of troopers, their concerned expressions giving her the luxury of a brief smugness.
Karlyn was sure that cloud was going the wrong way; she sat straight in the saddle to sniff the air, her nose wrinkling up in disgust,
‘Blurgh!! There’s ripe splosh-pit somewhere! Yurgggg!!’
Meradat could smell nothing in particular to account for the girl’s agitation, now causing her to turn from one direction rapidly, to another while she scratched frantically at her thumbs with index fingers, alarm spreading across her face twisting her features into wide-eyed and teeth-barred ire.
The horses grew agitated, both riders more accustomed to being foot-solid dismounted, hauling off packs of their choices
A sudden sharp creak upon a branch of the wayside trees, followed by another and another. Meradat aware of the thick, slow slap of flesh upon flesh, looked up to see four shapes perched above them, large bat-like wings slowly folding. Slack jowled human faces stretched by dogs snouts and elongated ears, fever-yellow eyes bright with cruelty.
‘Live meat and souls’ one croaked deep and malicious, ending in a paradoxical high pitched laugh.
‘A fine time for feasting,’ added another and raising one leg, voided a stream of thick and foul excrement, in Karlyn’s direction, causing her leap backwards, while screaming in angry fear.
‘A female,’ breathed the third and standing tall revealed extended male organs beneath folds of flesh landscaped with ruin. ‘The feasting will wait,’
Merthyl had brought out a scrying dish which he had stolen form The Manse, and was busy with an incantation which was intended to allow him to view the progress of his pack, when he was assailed by a sudden sensation of falling, had caused him to clutch at the arms of his chair, gasping for breath quite at a loss to understand, his eyes flooding with tears; clearing abruptly to look into…
A wood, from four slightly different positions, down upon a tall thick set man in the ugly dark tunic and robe of one of those wretched Custodians. He was drawing a very unsubtle axe. Merthyl was trying to focus, assuming he was seeing through four set of eyes, when another figure almost danced into his view; a rather slender creature he might have thought a city urchin but that they were rather tall for that sort. Neither of them seemed the least bit afraid, defiant, and for one spasm of time Merthyl thought the slender being was looking at him; at which juncture he realised this was a girl as did his pack, whose intentions with her he did not need to wonder about. Sitting back and gathering his sense he prepared to enjoy the show.
Meradat was slightly satisfied with the girl having the sense to close ranks as she drew a long and clean slightly serrated blade of a knife and positioned back to back with him. Although he would have preferred prayers to the muttering of curses and oaths.
There was more of the thick slapping sounds as another one of the creatures alighted upon nearby trees, obviously all ready to enjoy the anticipation of the horrors they were about to inflict.
‘That was the pong then!’ she said ‘Where the scraith?’
‘Zerstorung,’ he replied ‘They are not calling out a name. They must have strayed into through a rupture between the worlds, no doubt caused by that meddler,’
‘So what do we do?’
Meradat picked up his axe settling it tight in both hands
‘Rely on the Lord God for our strength and forbearance,’ he said ending his words in a soft low chant.
‘That’s the knobbling death hymn!’ she objected.
‘One must always be ready,’
‘Oh dongers to that!’ she dropped into a crouched, one hand beckoning at the creatures, forcing herself to smile ‘C’mon if you think you’re hard enough!’ she chanted at them.
Meradat had been ready to explain to her that he was conducting a pronouncement of fortitude, preparation for death being a requirement. If all had gone well a slight and temporary but nonetheless effective barrier brought by his faith would have offered some protection to him and the girl and injury to the creatures. This might have eased the odds slightly, but that was all supposition as with a collective screech the fel things spread wings and descended, taloned feet and clawed hands eagerly outstretched.
‘’Ware your face!’ Meradat warned, diving to his left and dropping; a pair of filthy limbs brushing through his hair, a swift glance revealed a pair had landed close in front, beginning to advance, slowly, unevenly and bunching, allowing him the time to scramble up into a crouch. From there he hurled himself forward, hands gripped to his axe as he swung the weapon backwards, then pivoted on one foot whirled the blade towards his assailants. One took to the air with a mocking screech, but the other let out a howl of pain as the axe ripped across one limb, an odorous sickly green ochre spilling froth.
Merthyl winced in surprise. He had felt that!
Karlyn, badly pressed by the other two had been dodging with all of her street honed skills from one grasping claw to another. She caught sight of wounding and found time to grin. One of her attackers hopped and landed before her with a screech, which annoyed rather than scared her, so anger fuelled she brought her knife blade down into its foot, through flesh and bone and into the ground beneath, pinning the beast. At once a smouldering began about the wound, thick oily smoke and flickering of flame following. The creature shriek of pain gave way to a series of yelps of terror, wings flapping in panic as it scrabbled to try and free itself from the purveyor of the sudden incineration.
‘Shit yourself away of my lovely roasting knife!’ she cried, diving to the right to avoid the grasp of its comrade, then thrusting her right hand into a pocket pulled out a small oiled bag. She, danced back from the one assailant, tore at the bag with her teeth, spitting quickly, and then dashing forwards under clumsy failing claws slammed the ripped packet upon the injured limb, its powdery contents spilling out. At once there was a sizzling, and the smell of burning detritus, swiftly followed by a burst of flame, which travelled up the things’ limb flames licking upon the tips of the wings, Karlyn rolling away whooped in savage glee ‘Ooh you bright little fosfer powders!! Give it a roasting!!’
By now Merthyl had fallen from his chair in the shock of the pain from blade and flame, curled upon the floor, grasping and clawing the air. The visions were now no more than fire coloured flare of pain, mixed with oil think smoke.
The one wounded by Meradat, howling and leaking its essence had flapped to a nearby tree. the other much alarmed by the sight of one of their own threshing and burning gradually tuning into wholly into a thing of oily flame and smoke joined its colleague and together they huddled and temporarily uncertain of their next action. Karlyn stumbled and chortled her way to Meradat who having wiped his blade upon the grass was now once more couched ready for the next assault.
‘Them’s easy!’ she gasped in heady victory.
‘What were you using this time?’ was the stern demand.
‘Not giving away my secrets,’ was the smug reply.
It was at this stage the one wounded by Meradat whimpered and tumbled from the tree, completely empty of life.
‘Bled to death from that weedy wound!’ the girl cried ‘Oh this is gonna be fun!’
‘There are still two of them, cautious now,’ warned Meradat and gesturing to the one pinned and burning now a writhing screeching mess of wings and limbs. ‘And that one is as unpredictable as a pack of mad dogs,’
As if to support his point of view the thing gave vent to screech which caused Karlyn to slap her fingers to her ears; the beast with a frantic flapping of its wings broke for the sky tearing loose from the burning foot, and trailing a stream of the vile ochre. Uncertain in its motion it still set a baleful glare upon Karlyn and pointing one clawed finger at her gabbled a stream of incomprehensible stuff which she took to be uncomplimentary and the precursor to a maddened attack.
To see it twist and tumble to the ground a pile of burning offal leaving the others to seem to rally for another attack when there came sudden shrill sounds overhead, faint metallic glows marking some sort of passage, ending in explosive impacts upon each of the creatures, tearing their bodies and scattering debris over the area.
One white and steel coloured flash and the sudden scent of a furnace and Merthyl was free of pain, left panting for breath, and terrified.
In this unexpected violence Both Meradat and Karlyn had part dove, part been knocked to the ground; she was the first to look up
‘And now there are none of them left. All blowed up now,’ she turned to Meradat current engaged in sitting up and brushing fragments of the wayside from his clothing ‘Did you cause all that to happen with a really big pray?’
‘No,’ she couldn’t understand why he sounded displeased. Maybe custodians didn’t like to be rescued, made them feel not fearsome enough ‘This was another agency. I daresay they will make their presence known soon enough,’
He then began to rummage amongst the bodily remains, scowling, kicking a part with his boot here grunting, crouching at any piece there, poking it with a stick and muttering, quite deaf to Karlyn’s loud complaint that the horses had gone.
When her initial outrage died down she supposed it would make sense, as the poor things would have been scared witless by those nasty creatures. Next, when another wave of composure washed over her, she wondered just who had fired what and why. Starting to shiver, and not wanting to admit an aftermath of fear or danger of losing the benefit of her last meal she made herself active stepping carefully away from most of the foul waste and carefully puling free her knife. At once beginning to clean it, administrating from a small clay bottle an astringent liquid and using a very rough rag.
‘Uh! Degenerated humans!’ Meradat said ‘No wonder we had this easy! Foolish wretches lapsing into sinful blasphemous ways and sucked into the maw of the Zerstorung to receive just punishment in being absorbed into its vile ranks. They either took advantage of a rending in the barriers, or were summoned here by some wretch,’
‘I thought I saw a face on one of them before it burnt away. Sort of youngish, all twisted up of course,’
Meradat did not look surprised, just thoughtful.
‘Regrettably we have no time to discuss that now, we shall soon have visitors. So be quick and tell me about the burnings you affected,’
‘Fosfor,’ she said simply ‘S’ stuff that burns when you slap it on someone, all their sweat and stuff starts it off, an’ it feeds and feeds so it does. The knife’s teeth has it rubbed in y’see,’
‘You tore open a packet with your teeth! Why did you not burn!’ suspicions rising.
‘ Ah, that’s like those comets. Safety and speed. That’s the trick, two layers on bagging, you tear open the stronger one, then holding onto its remains slap hard, and the second bag ruptures,’
‘Seems uncommonly dangerous,’
‘Yeh,’ she drawled, her grin unhinged.
‘Foolishness is a sin Karlyn Nan-’
He stopped; the sound of horses from the fields, in steady approach signifying riders.
He turned to Karlyn one finger raised in warning.
‘When they arrive, say nothing unless I tell you to,’
‘Who? They the ones what blewed them beasties up?’
‘Say nothing,’ he repeated.
For someone as turbulent as Karlyn this was a bit of a challenge; there again she was experiencing a wave of curiosity over the whos, whys and what-have-yous of the approaching party.
Seven riders approached from the cover of another tree line, two leading Meradat and Karlyn’s horses; their garbs were the variety of tough practical travel worn types, each wearing headgear of some sort. Apart from the smallest of the number who was hunched forward, the others held weapons the length of throwing javelins although twice as thick, where a metal point should be was a small oblong, rounded at each end. At the opposite location, a box shape, the top of which catching the sun’s light betrayed the glinting of four separate jewels, the fingers of one hand of each rider not far away.
Meradat stiffened, his grip tightening about his axe at the confirmation of Stommigheid usage. Apart from that small one, the others seemed accustomed to scowls of disapproval. Their leader moved closer, a gaunt, stubbled faced man surveying Meradat with a thoughtful gaze, which settled on the custodian’s chest.
‘Your Diligence,’ he greeted the custodian with the customary correct honorific followed by a casual gesture at the badge of office hanging loose from his coat ‘It seems you’ve had something of a nasty event,’ he glanced back, five of the riders continued to survey the area, a small one in the centre was hunched over something set upon the saddle.
‘All clear of evil Sergeant!’ the latter pipped up, evidently relieved.
‘You are not in the usual uniform, but I would believe by your efficiency poise and access to questionable weaponry that you are of the LifeGuard regiment. Also, you are here for some particular reason,’
The last was a definite statement.
‘Sergeant Erzns,’ came the stony reply ‘Beyond that Your Diligence, I am not authorised to further information,’
The custodian assumed the rest to be all troopers because apart from the small one, there was lack of any display of respect. The LifeGuard were notoriously difficult to intimidate. You could bribe the occasional trooper, but Meradat could foresee a communication with an officer to get this group to divert from their current course. As with Karlyn, he would have to bide his time, only in this case in hundreds rather than days.
One man with a friendly grin leant over his horse and whistling softly looked at the debris, his sing-song kymric accent lightening the mood.
‘Not nice at all, see. No one said anything about beasties directly did they sarge?’ he turned to Meradat ‘Pardon me your Diligence, but do you think you attracted them like? Just asking, that’s all,’
‘These fel things arrived through the meddling of others,’ Meradat pronounced ‘It is my duty to hunt this miscreant down,’ he set his attention on Erzns, the hundreds were running out ‘You may well have to consider the authority vested in my rank by The Sacred Edict of Laheldae, Year of Remorse 275 to summon all-’
‘-Available resource to your purpose,’ Erzns concluded for him ‘I am aware of the edict Your Diligence,’
At this juncture Karlyn let out with a sudden high whimper and one leg gave way causing her to tumble, knocking her face against a tree, in turn releasing a burst of language that at least one trooper seemed impressed by. The smallest of the group, secured whatever they had been lurking over, and slipped from their saddle, hauled off a sizeable oblong leather sack from their saddle and ran over to Karlyn.
‘Me ankle,’ she wailed ‘Hurts sudden like scraith,’
The trooper knelt by her, picked up Karlyn’s foot, placed it on their knee and without comment began to ease off Karlyn’s boot, Karlyn was about to pass comment when they looked up at her, displaying a face, small, round and as far as Karlyn was concerned far too dam’ pretty by half; stray wisps of blonde hair making the whole sort of perfect, for a solider anyhow.
‘What-cha?’ she began, as her boots and sock were drawn off and fingers lightly ran over the swollen area.
‘Medician Beritt,’ the young woman said ‘Nasty little sprain, must have come down heavy. Been fighting then?’
‘Naw,’ came the sour retort ‘I was skipping ‘round the daisies when I tripped over a toadstool,’
Beritt shrugged; there were always the tetchy ones.
‘It happens,’ she said, infuriatingly affable, then stopped eyes narrowing on a growing dark stain along the left leg of Karlyn’s trousers. ‘Hey! Open wound!! C’mon, out of sight of these eager dogs, I want to look at that,’ she pointed, Karlyn’s eyes widened ‘It’s a nasty little beast planning on being dangerous,’
And despite the disparity in sizes she lifted Karlyn up, swung one of the injured girl’s arm around her own shoulder and dragged her off into the cover of the trees.
‘If y’all lucky missy, she’ll kiss it better for you!’ someone called after the duo.
‘Never mind,’ Beritt warned to a curious Karlyn.
First there was a stinging astringent, followed by a pungent salve and finally a bandage expertly administered around the leg wound, accompanied by a gruesome lecture about fatal blood losses, then Karlyn was obliged to sit still without her trousers while something equally smelly but cooling was applied to her ankle and then another bandage wrapped tightly about it.
‘Going to have to watch that wound for possible late poisons and suchwhichs, and need to change the bandage on the foot regularly too,’
Karlyn’s nose twitched; the stinky from the spikies was clearing, and suddenly she could smell, Clean, and Flowers!…with a touch of oil. She goggled at the small soldier, head down at their business. Oh. This is gonna be interesting. But keep it to yerself for the presently, these are funny ol’ times.
‘Well thanks Flaxi,’ Karlyn said casually on pulling up her trousers ‘Just tell me how it’s done and I promise to be good,’
Beritt frowned, she’d been called more insulting or denigrating things than ‘Flaxi’, that was not the issue.
‘It’s not as simple as that,’ she cleared her throat, time to cite the texts ‘A wound incurred in the proximity of a fel creature must be subject to qualified medical supervision, lest extreme infections or possible possessions take place,’
Karlyn screwed up her face and sniffed
‘I gotta custodian with me,’ she said primly.
‘Well I’ll have to exam him for wounds too,’
‘I’d like to see you try,’
‘He’s got no option,’ she cleared her throat ‘Edict of Jurghen in the year 237, On Precautions and Exclusions of Evils,’ she looked back to the general area of where the men might be ‘Custodians wrote it…annnddd,’ she drawled out ‘When LifeGuards and Custodians meet there is a very strong chance that the Lifeguards whether they like or not will end up trailing in the custodian’s holy presences,’ another shrug ‘Or so I been told,’ a bright irreverent smile that Karlyn liked ‘So he’s stuck with me nagging him about Year 237. Anyhows I think he’s set upon having us trail along so your stuck with me!!’
Both women started at the swift and sharp summons, Beritt recovered with a weak grin and a scramble to her feet
‘And that introduces me! Medician Arketre Beritt! And is Sergeant Erzns sounding very unhappy. Which means I’ve got other work to do,’
‘He’s got wounded too?’ Karlyn asked.
‘Only his sensibilities. No, I got lumbered with a clunky thing that communicates over long distances, and I can’t tell you anymore. Yet, I suppose,’
‘Oooh secrets!’ she trilled ‘I’m Karlyn Nahtinee, and have been chosen by Custodian Meradat to help him track down some Jordy wobbler. As you can see, whoever they are they’s causing all sort of problems!! And you work with devices too I thought I could smell oil on you,’
Beritt decided any questions she might have on that score would have to wait.
Somewhen following Karlyn and Beritt’s meeting…
Trelli was sitting up, gasping and wondering if she had really screamed or whether the sound had only been in the dreadful nightmare. A hideous midnight scene of ugly flapping creatures cackling obscene threats. Leering at her. Then thrusting into her face their own features; twisted versions of men. She had threshed, begged for help, stumbled, felt the thick flap of bat-like wings upon her head, knew she was doomed unto a hell, when there were sudden eruptions of noises, then screams as thick bloody stuff fell upon her, she trying to scrambling away.
Into the blessed familiar shadows and shapes of her room.
As the soothing sound of the night-time sea swept away the memories and brought her into the comfort of the reality of a simple, cold night, fear gave way to relief. But things kept disturbing her sleep and there was precious little of it anyway.
The thought of which nudged her into crossness.
Which in turn set a certain clarity of perception into her head. What or who else would be giving her cause to have such nightmares? She couldn’t say how, but she just knew it! She spifflin’ well knew it!!
‘Ooooh you! You!!’ she muttered as she slithered out of bed, pulling on her coat against the chill. She was going to box Migran’s ears she was! Enough was enough!!
‘Migran!’ she hissed tapping his door ‘I know what you’re up to in there! Now stop it at once!!’
It says much for the purity of Trelli’s heart and the fire of her anger that it never occurred to her, not for one heart-beat, of this being a most unfortunate statement to make outside of a young man’s room at night time. Migran was taken aback and a’feared that a latent ability to see through doors had suddenly blossomed in Trelli. Composing himself and also wrapping on a coat, he stumbled to the door.
‘Trelli! Go back to bed! This is most……improper!’
‘No! You’re doing things you’re not supposed to! And they’re affecting my sleep! Great looming things in my face!!’
Migran’s initial agitation vanished, puzzled, somewhat he carefully eased a crack in the doorway; at once her face filled the gap.
‘Now you just open this door!!’ she ordered.
It says much for his own confusion that in turn it did not occur to him, not for one heart-beat that young men all over the town were dreaming of such invitations. Whereas in his case puzzlement growing into bafflement, which made him ready to do as she commanded.
And was nearly toppled over as Trelli entered by means of shoulder.
‘I asked you not to be doing this!’ she was saying, to which he was about to ask for clarification, when she spun on her heels towards the slight glow upon the screen.
‘There!’ she announced with triumph ‘Knew it!! You’ve been fiddling again!!’
His thoughts were mixed between the sincere hope this conversation was not reaching the ears of his parents, albeit at the other side of the house. He was sure he’d switched it off after that last success in probing new distances. On reflection, he knew he had switched it off. So here was the sudden realisation that his device was coming into life on its own. He looked to Trelli. He looked to the brightening screen. He looked back to her.
‘Not with- I mean I had set the device to be inert. It shouldn’t, cannot become alert by itself,’
Trelli sniffed with all the superiority anyone of the fairer sex can bring to a situation of male haplessness.
‘Well it doesn’t seem to have listened to you has it now?’
He moved around her and sat at the desk, moving fingers over the jewels. His mind catching up with all of her accusations.
‘Dreams? What dreams?’
‘Horrible monsters!’ she said ‘And I knew it was all to do with your dabblings with forbidden stuffs!’
‘How did you know?’ he asked, feeling a bit more confident as the screen soothed by his administrations settled into a soft pale blue background light
For herself Trelli stopped being confident and resorted open-handed waving of her hands.
‘I don’t know! I just did!’
His eyes widened, and he swivelled his chair so he faced her, studying her with much interest.
‘Empathetic- ‘he began, interrupted by Trelli’s slight gasp and her spinning about her back to him.
‘Master Migran,’ she began formally ‘Will you tighten that coat up please. This is the second time you’ve been forward! Don’t give me an easier cause for complaint to your father and mother !!’
In the excitement Migran had been quite unaware of the malfunction of his attire, so with babbling apologies did as he was told, followed by an action which would have surprised many a young man, he shooed Trelli towards the door; she having had far too many shocks and surprises for one young woman in one night did not resist.
‘We’ll talk about this in daylight!’ he urged.
‘Well you just put that away!!’ she retorted and fled.
Leaving him not too sure just what she had exactly been referring to. Aside from matters Ethereal, there was this unfortunate occurrence in relation to ‘his’ and Trelli,
He glanced back at the device, idly gnawing on his thumb. Spontaneous activation? Empathetic resolution?
This was exciting stuff! Trelli with his machine could break barriers!
There was no time for sleep, or anything else for that matter; he tided away his copy of ‘The Lustful Revenge of the Scorn’d Princess N’Y Hishleal of Old Roder’ and set to work…
At the persistent buzzing from the oculartragen Beritt awoke and at once felt a sudden affinity with housemaids and maidservants all across the realm. One of the Good Lord God’s given rights of soldiers was to complain about anything to hand. Over the past lunation or so Beritt had been indulging this. Did no one do anything important in the daylight these days?
On the previous night after Custodian Meradat had insisted on everyone listening to his version of what they had already been ordered to do. Then while the girl Karlyn got to sit about the campfire with the file swap jokes, ribald remarks and improbable yarns, Beritt had been stuck with listening to both the custodian and Erzns. So after the custodian, had gone through a quick ceremony of Hopeful Purification over the oculartragen, he and Erzns had agreed the messages should be minimal and prompt, but carried out in secrecy. The result being settled against a tree Beritt had set about the long and bothersome intricacies of despatching a detailed report of events to back to Captain Dekyria and the unavoidable request for permission to accept a custodian as commander. She was obliged to work by a moonlight made variable by skittering clouds, sourly thinking herself lucky they’d not expected her to put a blanket over her head to cover the dim glow of the device.
Of course Dekyria had then kept her way past snoring time with a whole host of questions which Beritt reckoned were selected for the need to supply difficultly constructed responses.
And now the blasted thing was starting off again. What now?
‘Hi Flaxi! Thanks for the ministrations!’
Beritt had thought it the wind through the branches, but when the upside down face appeared, she discerned the noise was all down to the young woman she’d patched up earlier.
‘What the frib’ you doing up a tree, with a nasty sprain to your foot?’
‘You must be very good at your healing stuff ‘cos it’s all better!!’
Beritt had to admit that someone swinging from a tree by the crook of her legs was unmistakeable evidence of recovery. Interesting. Must be more lithe and athletically healthy than first thought. The long beaming face swung closer.
‘You like trees then?’ Beritt asked, feeling just a smidge uncomfortable as the girl blew at her fringe
In her two years, three lunations, one decan and nine days in the LifeGuard Beritt had a sufficient experience with the eccentric and disturbed. Since this one frowned at her unruffled question, Beritt concluded here was a girl that simply liked to unsettle people. And judging by the way she alighted in a deft drop and roll, also somewhat athletic. Damn! I must have been on good form when I bandaged that ankle up!
‘Yeh! Trees is safe, no one can sneak up on you when you’s perched high. And their friendly too,’ she made cradling motions with her arms ‘Hold you snug and secure, if you know the branches. And they’re great places to sniff out what’s going on in the stormhiggle,’
‘Yeh that!’ the girl shuffled over to Beritt, and hunched up, hands around knees. ‘You do the fiddling with dire devices then?’ the question being accompanied by a mock hideous face.
‘Yes, that I am. Medician and currently in my spare time working at Assessment and Evaluation. And that’s all I can say,’
Beritt returned to scowling at the mirror’d screen, then became aware of the reflection of a wide-eyed inquisitive Karlyn peering by leaning on her shoulder and pointing
‘What’s them squiggles mean then?’
Beritt was about to make a terse statement to the effect that she was not very sure when there came a summoning from Erzns. He was standing of course with the custodian.
Realising that whether she liked it or not Karlyn was in her wake, definitely none the worse for her previous day’s injury, or so it seemed. Beritt approached, saluting, slight bow to the custodian. Erzns of course did the initial questioning.
‘Reported in medician?’
‘Yes Sergeant. During the commencement of the Deep Night Watch. No reply though,’
‘She’s got the squiggles though,’ Karlyn volunteered, Beritt noted Trex and Norvan just would have had to have heard that, wouldn’t they? ‘There were these four like circles of light,’ extravagant finger gestures began. ‘And then they went into all sorts of skinny oddly lines, some tangled, some dancing about,’ the gestures continued after the words ceased, since no one was replying she felt inclined to add ‘Very pretty they were too,’
‘From what I was told, I think it was some sort of interference caused by rogue Astatheia,’ Beritt then turned to Karlyn ‘Stormhiggle,’ she said, pointedly; the effort was wasted.
Meradat stepped forward, despite the four handspan difference in height Beritt did not feel loomed over, just seriously addressed
‘And Medician Beritt, just what is your assessment?’
‘Err…my assessment Your Diligence?’
‘Yes, Medician Beritt. The Lord God has passed this burden unto you. It is your duty to honour Him with your response,’
‘Oh,’ Beritt hated it when several people looked at her, unless she was up to her wrists in gore, then she didn’t care ‘Well, I suppose, because this is not the usual patterns and codes, then I am guessing we might be closer to whatever we’re looking for and it’s up to…errr..something?’
Meradat nodded and then directed his attention at Karlyn, who was more concerned with the overhead passage of a moth, until Beritt nudged her in the ribs.
‘Custodian’s looking at you,’ Beritt said
‘Thank you Medician,’ he said
‘Ass-sniffer,’ Karlyn joshed; to Beritt.
‘Clear you mind of impurities young woman!’ he announced, ‘In view of the circumstance of the conjoint nature of this task, you will now need a title, so that the LifeGuard may address you properly,’
The term ‘squirrel-head’ occurred to Beritt, but since no one was asking her initial medical assessment of the girl’s statement of mind, she kept it to herself.
Meradat meanwhile made a solemn passage of his right hand from the centre of Karlyn’s temple to her brow, then splayed index and middle fingers in opposite directions.
‘As instrument willing of the Lord God, I entitle you Tildelte Nahtinee,’
‘’Til what, who when?’
‘It’s an ancient northern word for ‘alloted’. Means the Good Lord God has set you a task,’ Meradat looked quizzically at her ‘I was a novice devoted in a Libratery for two years, before being selected by The LifeGuard under the Morgevan Convention,’ he made further sounds of approval then took Karlyn’s right hand and placed in it a small staff-shaped iron medallion.
‘Wear this in realisation of the journey you must take in The Lord God’s purpose. And The Lord God remain with you medician,’ he added. Karlyn made obvious comic sniffing sounds but was led away by the custodian for further instruction in the solemn procedure of her duties.
‘Well you got him on our side medician,’
‘Thank you sergeant. But I don’t suppose that’s of much comfort, is it?’
‘Not on this jaunt medician. Not on this jaunt,’