Author Topic: Chapter 15  (Read 5356 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Online Daen

  • Administrator
  • We Don't Care
  • *****
  • Posts: 519
  • Karma: +1/-0
Chapter 15
« on: April 08, 2022, 02:01:15 AM »
Chapter 15

Night had fallen on Tellek patch. Crickets chirped a little chorus of their own, and the moon rose high and bright over the city wall. Jaas barely remembered that the distant sky was just an illusion. The real moon could be anywhere, but this one had its own sort of beauty.

Pretty soon Arico would be leaving—he’d mentioned some kind of mission with Sabra, and it was no doubt a risky one if he was bringing the giant along. Jaas wondered just how many times her friends would end up risking their lives before this was all over.

Friends. Arico had been very forthcoming about his past, but now that she had a chance to think about it, it made sense. He certainly couldn’t talk to the Hauld or any of the dwarves about falling in love with a Sustained lady. Alzhi and Endu were probably the same story, and the Fishbowlers had left to escape the Sustained. Sabra was very new to the group, and given his coarse humor, might just mock him. That left her.

Trying not to think about that, she unfurled the parchment containing most of her notes on the kitchen table. They’d gotten a bit mixed up since she’d last put pen to paper. She resolved to rearrange everything, possibly in chronological order for once, whenever they finally took her back to the Fishbowl. Not that she was complaining at this vacation, though. Otrul couldn’t force her into those ungodly morning runs if she wasn’t there to be forced.

At her insistence, Arico sat down at the table. “Are you sure you want me to do this? I’ve never been very good at writing, and I have to get going soon.”

Jaas put the quill in his hand. “Trust me, this won’t take long. The Imbued will definitely want a description from someone who actually lives here in the city. And they’ll want more information on the threads as well. You’re perfect for this job.”

Arico sighed. “If they can read my writing, that is. Regardless, it’s your mistake to make.” He dipped the quill in the inkwell, and then got to it. Jaas read over his shoulder.

I am Arico, of Tellek patch here in Patchwork. I’m a navigator, and Jaas has asked me to describe what that’s like to you. Whoever you are.

Jaas gave him a wry look. His handwriting wasn’t as bad as he claimed, but he could do with a little less attitude. “Go on. Explain how it works.”

Arico was hesitant at first, but warmed up to the task pretty quickly. Navigators have the ability to move through the threads separating the city as if they’re not there. What would kill anyone else has no effect on us. With training, we can even… the word Jaas used was ‘teleport’… to other places in the city. We can bring other people along, as long as we’re touching their skin at all times.

As for objects, each navigator can move things, too. This is what Jaas wants me to explain. Each of us has a bubble of sorts around our body. No one can see it, not even us, but it’s there. With training, navigators can learn to expand that bubble out from ourselves. Usually, about as far as we are tall. Any object we’re touching within that bubble, we can take with us. Anything outside is left behind or destroyed.

The bubble’s size depends on who’s making it. I tested my own strength years ago and found I could bring almost four spans of rope with me.
He hesitated, but then dipped the quill again and continued. I’m told that’s particularly powerful for a navigator, but then I’ve never actually tested my ‘strength’ against anyone but Alzhi and a few others.

As he wrote with his right hand, his left hand traced the list of topics she’d written for him to follow. Oh, and weight means nothing in the threads. I could move an anvil as easily as I could a feather pillow. He added that note which wasn’t on her list, but she didn’t complain. It was perfectly relevant.

When I enter the threads alone, I vanish completely. No one can see or hear me, and I can’t be followed. I am perfectly safe until I choose to leave. In fact another navigator could even be in the exact same place at the same time, and neither of us would know it.

But if I’m touching another navigator when I enter, it’s a different story. If we choose to go to different places, then it becomes a battle. The stronger one always wins, unless they let go of each other. That’s why the Ascendant Guards are always trained the same way. If an Ascendant has to force another navigator to go somewhere, they either knock him out first or they make sure they’re the stronger one. Navigating with more than two at once gets very complicated. It doesn’t happen very often.

Arico paused, and Jaas nodded as she read over his description. “That’s good. That’s exactly what they’ll want.”

“Good.” He rose with obvious relief. “Still, I think I’ll let you do all the chronicling from now on. I’ll stick to my strengths.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Jaas warned him. “I’ll be asking you to do this at least a few more times.”

Arico groaned at that, but Jaas continued. “It’s just as much for your benefit, you know. Your input is much more likely to be noticed than mine. If you really want to eventually evacuate the city—assuming I can find a way to do that—you’ll need the support of my superiors back at the Academy, and the Imbued will be much more likely to hear me out if I have input from you as well.” She paused. “I wonder if the Hauld would be willing to add-”

Don’t ask him.” Arico said flatly. “He does not appreciate people from the Outside world. He feels they abandoned us intentionally after the Threading, and he won’t want their support. If you have to get a dwarven opinion, ask Chanul. He might actually be into it. Just make sure it doesn’t get back to his father.”

He put on one of his brown traveling robes—actually it looked like the same one he had worn when they first met—and left quietly. Jaas wished him luck through the door, before turning back to the parchment. She took the time to read over everything he’d written. Resisting the urge to apologize for his attitude, she tapped the quill-feathers on her nose for a moment before writing her own name and continuing.

I can’t be sure, but everything I’ve learned about the city’s history gives me the impression that this has all been organized somehow. I mean, just the chances of anyone surviving the Threading at all were pretty low to begin with, but they haven’t just survived, they’ve made a functioning society here. A pretty hateful one, true, but it does work.

She sighed. The outside world has hundreds of nations and thousands of individual organizations, all interlocked and all constantly checking each other’s power. The people here have never had any of that. Those who started with power: these Sustained lords and ladies, just got more power. The stra’tchi outnumber the Sustained more than four to one, and outnumber the navigators themselves at least a hundred to one. But still, without navigators of their own, these people can’t stand up to the Sustained Council. They can’t even get a message through these damnable threads, so change seems unlikely at best.

There are tyrannies elsewhere in the world, but none of them are this well-organized. I suspect that the Sustained and their Council had some kind of help when they were first getting started. How else could they have so completely cornered the market on navigators, and therefore, power?

That brought up another topic she’d almost forgotten. The Thornes would have been perfect for preventing this kind of tyranny. Sabra reacted strongly when I first mentioned his drawing, she scribbled, thinking back to their talk in the Enclave. Obviously he knows what it means to at least some degree. Is it possible that there are still some Thornes inside the city, after all this time?

Sabra also left out some important details from his story, or rather the story Arico told about him. There’s no way a newborn child could survive all alone like that, no matter how strong he was. Either he was older than that when he was sent to the Deathwatchers, or some of them must have taken care of him.

Thornes existed all across this continent as well. Each member of the organization had a tattoo, of the thorn branch Sabra had drawn. Only a few of them could trace their lineage back to Bregos Thorne himself, but that didn’t seem to matter. As a whole they existed to expose corruption and greed, and to stand for justice for all sentient beings. Understandably, they were often persecuted and hunted down by powerful men, sometimes for no other reason than just wearing the tattoo. After all, people in power rarely got that power without dirtying their hands, or bloodying them.

She’d never heard of a single Thorne giving an accusation without substantial proof. For that matter she’d never heard of one recanting an accusation, or giving in to torture or pressure. Whichever Thornes gave other people the right to bear the mark obviously chose only the very strongest in mind and body. As she put quill to parchment again, she wondered if the same standards were still true for the Thornes living here in Patchwork.


With a start, Jaas jerked awake. Durhu was gently shaking her shoulder. She must have fallen asleep while writing. Shameful, really. She’d almost drooled on the parchment itself. Hastily wiping her mouth, Jaas capped the inkwell and looked up at him. “What is it?”

In answer, he unlatched the window and pulled it open. She followed his gaze down towards the village and could see torches just outside the northernmost buildings, near the aqueduct line. A surprising number of people were gathering there, erecting some kind of structure.

It’s a play, he signed. I’ve seen it once or twice, but you might want to see it for yourself.

Jaas had to admit she was curious. Aside from the amphitheater back in the Deathwatch patch (which they certainly didn’t use for its intended purpose), this was the first sign of any organized entertainment within the city. She had some concerns, though. “Would it be safe? I mean, this morning for the Ritual we were all wearing white robes and hoods. If your magistrate here was to find out…” she trailed off.

It should be safe enough, he assured her. If we wait until the play begins and stay behind the crowd, we’ll be fine. Everyone will be looking at them, not us.

“All right then,” she carefully rolled up her parchment and quill, and grabbed one of Arico’s traveling robes. “Let’s go.”

When they got down there, Jaas was surprised to see that the crowd was mostly children. They were clustered together in a group, all looking up at the newly-built stage. When the curtains slowly parted, they all cheered together.

A beautiful woman stepped out in front of them, wearing a dark green dress that trailed behind her. Her skin was fair, like most people in Patchwork, but her hair was red and orange—either a wig or an impressive mix of dyes. She knelt down in front of the children. “Tonight we tell the age-old story of Beled Straightbrow and the Goblin Prince. A story of adventure, courage, and evil overthrown!”

Jaas recognized that name right away. Beled Straightbrow had been a Vasiri commander hundreds of years ago. He’d been known for his skilled tactics and being able to inspire his men, but he’d died in the fighting after the capital had been cut off from the rest of the world. Judging by the play though, these people apparently thought he’d been trapped here by the Threading, along with their own ancestors.

As the actress gave the introduction, the other performers moved onto the stage. Beled was portrayed by a young man of perhaps twenty years, wearing a suit of scaled armor with an axe dangling from his belt. He moved easily with it, and it made far too much noise to be real armor.

“Beled Straightbrow lived in a manor on a far-away patch, many years ago,” the actress spoke into the crowd. “He was mischievous and daring, and paid little heed to his father’s orders, because he was always getting into trouble! He was always stealing kisses from fair maidens, and getting into fights over almost anything.”

The Beled actor wandered the stage, first saluting his ‘father’ before running off to the left, where he blew a kiss to the narrator and pulled his axe to swing at some unknown foe.

“Beled’s older brother Merlu was very different. Because one day he would rule the manor, he knew he had to keep his father’s law. He often had to bring his brother back to their father for punishment, but he never liked doing it.”

Merlu was played by a heavyset man a few years older, with a dour and serious expression. With exaggerated motions, he grabbed the other actor by the neck and dragged him back to their father’s throne. The children watched in rapt attention.

“One day their father had finally had enough, and he sent Beled away! He was sent to a patch much like this one, to learn humility and obedience. And there he stayed for years!”

The stage shifted, and Jaas could see a slight change in its construction. With only a little effort, the actors opened a seam on one side of it: a perfectly straight line through the stage. It was a pretty good imitation of the threads themselves, and Beled stayed on the other side of it, swinging a hoe and looking wistfully back across.

“When he was finally called back home, he was overjoyed,” the narrator continued. “He packed his things and hurried back as fast as the Sustained could take him!” She actually took on the role of the navigator herself, reaching out for Beled’s hand and then helping him across the crack in the stage.

“But when he got home, he found that things had changed. His father had passed away, and Merlu was now in charge of the manor. Merlu had changed, too. A wasting disease had struck him, making him short and weak. It looked as if his bones were always about to crack!”

Some of the children gasped as they looked over at the throne. A new actor was now playing Merlu. It was hard to tell from this distance, but Jaas could only guess that it was a younger man in the same attire. He was hunched over in the throne, with a fake black beard affixed to his face.

“Beled, my brother!” The actor called out in a croaky voice, the first line spoken by someone other than the narrator. “I am so glad to see you! The manor will need both of us, now that father is gone.”

“Beled could barely recognize his brother after all this time. Still, he knew his duty was to serve, and that meant obeying as well.”

Merlu was still hunched over, with long arms that could reach out to the ground from his chair. “I have made alliances, Beled, with people who will keep us strong! I need you to keep faith with these people, and give them whatever they want.”

The actor gestured to the left, and a swarm of people suddenly rushed onto the stage from behind the far curtain. They passed across it with bags, picking up all the props, from the furniture to the lamps to the pots and pans themselves. They were all either short or leaning close to the ground as they passed from one end to the other and out of sight, and they were laughing as they moved. The children stared at all of this, whispering to each other.

“Over time, the manor changed. With so much being taken away, the people started to whisper about their new king. The Goblin King, they called him in fear.”

Jaas was surprised to hear that. Goblins existed outside many cities on every continent. They were smaller than humans, and clever enough in their own way. Unfortunately they were also vicious, violent, and completely devoid of compassion. Unlike most other sub-races, goblins had enormous appetites and could breed faster than rabbits. Combined with their willingness to kill and eat just about anything that crossed their path, they’d become a pretty serious pest problem in a lot of places. This was the first she’d heard of them in Patchwork, though.

“One day the Goblin King called Beled to him and said that it was time to embrace their new friends.”

“I will start sending people to them, my brother. People who will serve them well, as they have served us!” Merlu pointed across the stage, where a woman in white stood. This actress was younger than the narrator, but she had a similar hair color. Hers seemed more natural, though. Most likely she was an actress in training.

“The first person the Goblin King had chosen was Saleena. Beled had grown up with her, and they were as close as any two people can be. Beled tried to talk him out of it, but the Goblin King refused to change his mind!”

“Help us, Beled!” The younger actress called out. “Your brother has changed. There is something dark inside him now, something many people are afraid of!”

“And so Beled confronted the Goblin King the very next day, challenging him to explain his actions!”

Merlu hopped off the chair, still keeping his posture—something Jaas could only guess was very uncomfortable. “Aha! So you have found me out, my ‘brother’!” He cast off his black and brown cloak, and beneath it was armor.

“For the Goblin King was not his brother after all,” the narrator explained. “He was an evil, stunted creature, who had taken the true Merlu’s place and pretended to be their rightful ruler. He was a dwarf, and his allies were all dwarves too!” The children all exclaimed in dismay.

“My father’s manor will not fall, not while I live!” Beled finally spoke, drawing his axe. With a powerful, if slightly over-dramatic swing, he ‘cut’ the dwarf across the chest. The dwarf let out frightful shriek as he fell over, and twitched morbidly a few times. There was a collective gasp from the crowd, which faded away.

The actors let the silence sink in for a few moments, before Beled finally took center stage. “My father and brother are gone. I must now rule, and rebuild after what the Goblin King did. We will make our manor great again, and we must always keep watch, lest the dwarves return!”

With his axe in one hand, and the fallen dwarf’s crown in the other, he held them both high as the curtains closed. The children all cheered and clapped loudly. Jaas felt sick to her stomach. None of these people had ever even seen a dwarf, and yet even the children were being taught to hate and fear them.

She and Durhu withdrew a little ways as the children were cleared out and sent to bed. The actors and stage people cleaned everything up remarkably quickly, but left the stage in place. They probably planned on more performances tomorrow.

“I take it those actors aren’t from this patch,” she said quietly as they headed back. She belatedly remembered to move her hands as well. In the darkness it would be very difficult for Durhu to read her lips.

Durhu nodded. There are many performing groups in the city. They play for all of the patches, except the Deathwatchers of course. They don’t allow it.

“Is the… message… always the same?”

Usually. That play was written for the children. More mature plays show the dwarves as murderers, slavers, thieves, and rapists. Her discomfort must have been showing, because he gave her a sympathetic look. The Council is responsible.

“I thought as much. They want to make sure people are terrified of the dwarves, so they make these performers do these plays. Is there…” she hesitated slightly. Arico didn’t mince words, so she assumed that Durhu appreciated direct honesty as well. “Is there any truth to these stories?”

Durhu shrugged. Who knows? Any truth to these stories all happened long before I was born, and those histories were written by humans. He shook his head sadly. I can tell you that the dwarves don’t have any plays like this. They teach history, but don’t use it as entertainment.

“So, the Sustained are just using them as a scapegoat? Just because they’re there?”

Durhu didn’t respond at first. They were almost back to the cabin. He waited until they’d gotten back inside, and then pointed to her roll of parchment with a smile. Jaas didn’t mind being predictable, at least not when it came to writing things down. She obligingly unrolled it and dipped the quill in the inkwell. Of course it would be harder to write if she had to see Durhu in order to understand him, but she’d make do.

Dwarves and humans used to live together. After the Threading, everyone had to. They left the Enclave behind, and helped rebuild and plant crops along with anyone else. Everything was fine at first, but then the Blood Fever struck.

“Yes, Arico told me about that. It killed thousands, right?”

Durhu nodded. Thousands of humans, but no dwarves. They were immune to the plague, and people blamed them for that. They started accusing the dwarves of spreading the Fever on purpose. They were even blamed for the Threading itself. Of course being dwarves, they took it all in stride.

He sat across from her and glanced down at her notes. When the Fever was finally gone, the Council created the Ascendant Guard and ordered them to start testing children to see if they were navigators. As you know, they claimed to be testing for the disease. The dwarves went along with it at first, but soon got fed up with it.

Jaas made a sour face. “Let me guess. When the dwarves spoke out against testing, people took that as a confirmation of their fears.”

That’s right. I don’t know if the Council ordered it or not, but there was a lot of violence. Most of the dwarven adults were killed in the riots, and the rest were later executed by the Ascendants. Only the dwarven children survived, because they’d been sent back to the Enclave in secret. Durhu sighed. Killing is one skill we’ve practiced to perfection here in Patchwork.”

“Obviously the children were left alone. Did the Sustained think they were all dead?” Jaas wanted to tell him it was the same in many other places, but she didn’t want him to get off topic. She didn’t want to depress him any further, either.

At first. This was right when the Sustained Council was first consolidating its power. Their plan to take away navigators as children would only work if it stayed a secret. I think that’s why the Council arranged the riots and mass dwarf killings—as a distraction.

It was about seventy years later that they finally scouted the Enclave and found the survivors. By that time the Houses had started to fight amongst themselves, so they had less interest in wiping out the dwarves. Eventually both sides finally settled on a truce. Or at least an end to the fighting.

Jaas shook her head. “Sounds like a lot of the histories from the Outside. Lots of unnecessary bloodshed because of pointless or trivial differences, followed by an uneasy peace.” She pored over her notes for a minute. “There is one thing that doesn’t make sense to me, though. The Houses took every patch on the river for themselves, and then started doling out that water to control everyone else. They created this Aquunite religion so that they could make people believe that the water was some kind of divine gift. But why didn’t the people in each patch just dig a well for themselves?”

Durhu gave her a curious look. What is a well?
« Last Edit: April 08, 2022, 04:08:15 AM by Daen »