Author Topic: Chapter 43  (Read 1613 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 43
« on: April 11, 2022, 11:41:38 PM »
Chapter 43

They paused for a few moments while Cartwright—or rather the g’laam who’d claimed his name—sent one of his acolytes to get some refreshments for Jaas. Already the light was turning red as the sun’s image lowered in the sky. She also sent a note along with the messenger for Arico, reassuring him that everything was still fine. He was a worrier, and Jaas didn’t want him doing anything stupid, not while she was recording this… most impressive information.

Halseus was unlike any g’laam she’d met before. He was old, of course—his kind could easily live for centuries—but his psychic abilities were quite unusual. Especially here in Pathwork! He wasn’t casting divination spells, that was for sure, but he might have a sort of passive ability that the threads couldn’t drain away.

She hurriedly scribbled down what she’d learned so far. Though now that she thought about it, she felt a little troubled at how much of this she could share with Lem or his superiors back home. These weren’t her secrets to tell, after all, and she believed Halseus when he said they were dangerous. She had just asked about how his abilities worked, as well.

“You’re versed in the theories and practice of magic,” he started speaking again, and Jaas tightened her grip on the quill. “As such, you may understand this more easily than others would. My connection to the threads is unique. Through them, I am connected to every living thing in Patchwork. Even to you, since the moment you first arrived. In fact I was there in Krellik patch at the same time you were. I wanted to make contact, but the Millers scooped you up before I could be sure you weren’t dangerous to me. I’m sure things would have gone very differently, for both of us, if we had met back then.”

Jaas wasn’t sure what to make of that. He’d been spying on her even back then? And how could she have been dangerous to him? She hadn’t even known he'd existed. “Either way, I used my ‘links’—that’s what I call my connections to people—to keep an eye on you from a distance. I’ve been very impressed with you over the past few months.”

She ignored the compliment. Jaas had never been very comfortable with praise, and from his slight smile, he could probably tell. G’laam facial features weren’t as expressive as humans’, but he’d obviously spent a great deal of time learning to duplicate them. “So you’re tapped into our eyes? You can see what we can see?”

“Precisely,” he elaborated, “but it’s not just people. I can see what animals can, as well. There are very few birds left in the city, but there are plenty of insects, spiders, rats, etc. the list goes on. A bee has a truly dizzying way of looking at things.”

He was hedging; she could tell. Definitely leaving some things out. Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and he was already giving her far more detail than she’d expected. Jaas made a note to circle back to that, though.

“That sounds fascinating,” she said softly. “As a g’laam, you are much more aware of these things, aren’t you? You can see and understand everything that’s happening, all at the same time! There’s no way a human could keep track of all that at the same time. Not without a lot of practice, anyway.”

“I think it’s my turn to ask a question now,” he said wryly, and she could hardly argue with that. “I know how you got into the city, but I don’t really understand the magic that you used. Could a g’laam get in the same way you did? Through the river?”

She considered that. “Well, I don’t see why not. In fact it might even be easier for a g’laam. Your people don’t think like humans do. Or animals for that matter. You might not even need a spell to be able to swim into the city!”

He sighed again, and she looked at him curiously. “If you really want to know more of your people, why not just swim out and meet them? I can give you directions where you could find some.”

“I can’t leave the city,” he said softly. “Not yet, anyway.”

Jaas nodded slowly, the last piece of the puzzle sliding into place. “Because of your orders.”

Halseus jerked as if in sudden pain. He stared at her in surprise and rising anger. “You know??”

“Of course I know,” she said soothingly. “That’s part of why you’re talking to me at all, remember? A g’laam of your power, connected to the threads, and stuck here in this city for three centuries straight? The most likely explanation is that you were ordered here. Probably by the Blessed themselves.”

Again, he almost jumped. The anger on his features faded quickly, though. Replaced by chagrin and resignation, as best she could tell. His voice confirmed it. “You claim that I know everything, but you’re no slouch yourself. My orders prohibit me from telling you much, but you’re pretty good at guessing.”

Now it was Jaas’ turn to get excited. So the Blessed had set up the threads, and sent Halseus here. He’d practically just admitted it! They were the most powerful and enigmatic race that had ever lived… so far as anyone knew. They’d been gone for thousands of years now, but their magic had been subtle and complex beyond detail. Any information about them was valuable. Dangerous too, now that she thought of it. This knowledge was the kind of stuff that could raise or destroy empires. Just as it had done to the Vasiri.

Her first impulse was to go tell Arico. With a twinge of bitterness, she realized that this wouldn’t mean much to him, though. He was brave, smart, and considerate, but not schooled in any magic. This wouldn’t interest him any more than it would the Hauld or Endu, or anyone else in the movement. They had a revolution to worry about first.

At least Halseus definitely understood, even if his orders were tying his hands. But there might be a way around that, too. “Ok, how about yes or no questions? Just nod or shake your head, ok?”

Halseus raised his eyebrows slightly, and then gestured to her to continue.

“All right. The magical effect here in the city—the one that the Vasiri used to fortify their buildings. It vanished as soon as the threads went up. Did the Blessed do that?”

Halseus’ mouth twitched, as if in a grimace. He moved his head slightly, but it was neither a nod nor a shake.

Jaas waited a moment, but apparently that was all she was going to get. “So it’s both, or neither? The Blessed are only partly responsible?”

He nodded at that, and Jaas smiled openly. Progress was progress, no matter how slow. “Are the Blessed responsible for the threads themselves?”

He gave a slight smirk, hard to tell on g’laam features, and nodded.

“Ok,” she thought about it quickly. “Ok. Let’s talk about those prophecies people keep on digging up from the old palace wreckage. People think that I’m the Harbinger because of them. You keep on calling me the Harbinger too. But am I, really?”

Halseus smiled openly, and shook his head.

“Then who is?” Jaas abruptly bit her lip. “Right. Not a yes or no question. Ok, do you know who wrote those prophecies?”

He nodded.

Jaas tried to put it all together. As a g’laam, he was certainly old enough, and with his ability to ‘link’ to people in the city… “You wrote them yourself, didn’t you?”

Another nod.

Jaas’ mind was spinning. She’d never believed in the prophecies, but she had gotten used to the title Harbinger after hearing it so often. To be fair, she’d never believed a g’laam could have psychic powers, either. Still, why would he write those prophecies, unless he could use them somehow? “You’re supposed to be the Harbinger! Aren’t you?”

Halseus grunted, and nodded again.

“The prophecy says the Harbinger would be the first visitor from the Outside,” Jaas reasoned aloud. “With your links, you could pretty easily fake that, and be called Harbinger yourself. But you can’t link with anyone outside the city, so you couldn’t predict my arrival. I’m sorry about messing up your plans,” she added with a grimace. “If it’s any consolation, I’m really not enjoying being the Harbinger at all.”

He only shrugged, as if he’d gotten over it. It had happened months ago after all.

“All right. So if you wanted to be the Harbinger, I assume you know who the Shorn and the Unborn are? Or rather, who they’re supposed to be?”

He nodded again, but then raised a hand. “We’re getting far afield, Harbinger, and we have limited time. Perhaps you should focus your questions back to where they belong.”

Jaas grimaced. It was a setback, but she was pretty sure she could figure the rest out on her own. He’d given her a big head start. She gave it a little more thought. “You were pretty clear that you were the only g’laam in the city, but is there anyone else with your abilities? Anyone who can link with people like you can?”

Halseus paused for a few moments, and then shook his head. But he had paused. No one like him, but perhaps another version? Or other degrees of his power. It was unlikely there was anyone even more powerful than him living here, but perhaps there were some who were less. After a few moments, Jaas had it. “Of course! The sha’haln dreams! That’s a form of linking, isn’t it?”

Halseus nodded approvingly, but held up a hand to stem further questions. “I am allowed to talk about the sha’haln, actually,” he finally spoke again. “That’s not restricted. People—navigators, I guess—do link with each other while they’re sleeping, but it’s usually a very tenuous link. They share some memories, but those memories are always colored by their own hopes and fears. Most of the time they wake up and dismiss those dreams. They almost never meet the people they’ve linked with in the waking world, or if they do, they don’t realize it. Even so, it is a form of connection, just like the ones I can do. Actually that’s how I spoke to Edon, at first.”

That made sense. “So it wasn’t actually the threads that were alive. It was you, using them to speak to him?”

Halseus nodded. “I wanted to introduce the idea to him slowly. To give him time to adjust, before talking to him directly. Unfortunately, he couldn’t handle it. He jumped to the conclusion that the threads were alive, and then stupidly broadcast that information to the rest of the city. There was nothing I could do to stop him, not without revealing myself to everyone. So I stayed hidden, and then tried to mitigate the damage after it was done.” He growled to himself. “It was my fault, really. I knew he was excitable: most free-thinkers are. I should have anticipated he might take the information I gave him and just run with it.”

Jaas could relate. Some of the people she’d spoken to in the stra’tchi patches had been quite unhappy with information about their ancestors. No one liked to learn that their family had been best known for running a brothel, for example. Or a criminal organization, or a bloodthirsty military tradition in their history. The Vasiri Empire had had its share of evils, just like any other society.

She looked back down over her notes. “Very well. So you used the sha’haln dreams to talk with Edon. After he died and you took his place, you started to make deals with people. From what Arico said, to arrange marriages or births in families all over Patchwork. But why? Why do you care which human marries which, and where their families go?”

Halseus didn’t look at her immediately. “That information is restricted as well,” he said after another pause.

No, Jaas wasn’t buying it. Not this time. He didn’t want to answer, and was using his orders as an excuse, but it was still his business and not hers. If he wanted to keep it private, that was his call.

“My turn,” he said with another chuckle. Most likely at the sheer imbalance of information provided by each side so far. “Just one more question for you. Do you plan on telling Arico, or anyone else in the city for that matter, about my true identity?”

That was a tough one. If she told Arico, he could certainly tell the Hauld. A being of Halseus’ sheer power could topple the Sustained Council overnight, or give them all the information they’d need to crush the movement like a bug. However she wasn’t technically part of the movement, really. She’d helped them at first, but only because they’d helped her. She’d served as a liaison between the movement and the Thornes, because it allowed her to learn about both sides. The only reason she’d stayed away from the Council was self-defense. If she’d been able to protect herself from them, she would have interacted with them as well.

“No,” she said eventually. “I’ll tell him what you can do, so he knows you’re not actually a spymaster, but I won’t tell him you’re a g’laam, or that you’re not actually Cartwright. If anyone can understand the benefits of using an assumed name, it’s him. He’s done it himself for most of his life.”

“I appreciate that; thank you.” He said with obvious relief. “Do you have one last question for me, before we talk about Arico’s situation?”

“I’ve got a lot of questions, but I suppose there’s one that needs answering more than the others. Why won’t you meet with Arico directly, or with any other navigator except for your, uh, ‘daughter’ Belaya?”

“Again, that information is restricted."

“Somehow I figured you’d say that,” she said wryly. “I bet my other questions are restricted as well, so we should get on with our other business. At least for this visit. You can rest assured I’ll be dropping by again, later on.”

“Oh, I can’t wait,” he responded in a similar tone. “As for Arico… yes, I know how it is he’s able to manipulate the threads. I can give you the information he needs to exercise his abilities safely. He’ll be able to control when and where he jumps into the threads, how far he can pull them, and how many he can pull at once. With practice his abilities will increase as well, just as physical muscles can strengthen with exercise.”

Jaas nodded. At least he could help them, but it was rarely that simple. “So what is the price for this information? You were linked to me when I told him about it, so you already know he can’t have children. Will you tell him who he has to marry?”

Halseus leaned back and looked out the window. “Not this time. I require an oath from Arico. He has to swear, by all the Shemra and by Aquun herself, that he will never intentionally endanger his own life or his sister’s life for the movement. Even if that means the movement fails.”


The moon had risen partly into the night sky, and was just now becoming obscured by the clouds. Nervously, the Clarion took his place behind one of the empty granaries left over from before the Threading.

It was, he thought wryly, a reverse to their original positions. Here he was, sneaking around at night, while his consort was asleep in bed. He was grateful about that, too. Her injuries had been tended to expertly, but she still needed time to heal.

There. It was hard to see them clearly in the dim moonlight, but three or four figures had just arrived to the north and were making their way towards him. Then a few more, then a few more. Before long, dozens had gathered around him, each wearing concealing robes and hoods. His family.

His true family, that was. Not the parents to whom he’d been born, nor the Lord Ascendant’s family to whom he’d basically been given. Not even his damaged consort—no matter how much he loved her. This was the family he’d chosen. Clarion initiates, all of them. Each had been through the training he’d known his entire life, and any one of them could have been chosen to be Clarion themselves.

“Clarion.” Fareth nodded to him in the darkness. Then Sezna did the same. Then Atulha, then Tazi, then Geer, and so on… all forty-one of them. Counting the Clarion, they had numbered fifty before the last Tumult.

The other eight had perished during those violent years, and not one of the initiates didn’t wake up every day with those eight names on their lips, or go to bed without speaking those names before sleeping.

The Clarion pulled back his hood and smiled at them. “It’s good to see you again. It’s been too long.” He extended his arms to them, and they reached back, encircling him just as they had years ago during training.

He pulled away quickly, though. “I wish I could stay to reminisce, but I don’t have much time. There are things happening that you need to know about. Allegiances are shifting among the Council, and the penets. Even the stra’tchi have felt the effects of recent events.”

“That’s not surprising, Clarion,” Fareth said with a twist in the corners of his mouth. “You cut the head off of one of the most powerful people in the city. Of course there would be ripples from that.”

Fareth was his second. It was a position he’d earned not only through his hard work and dedication—they all shared those traits—but for his canny wit and deep understanding of those around him. The Clarion had often wondered how things would have turned out differently, if Fareth had been named Clarion instead.

The others reacted in various ways to Fareth’s not-quite-accusation. Some with approval, given the former High Penet’s many and grievous crimes. Some with concern on their faces, as the act itself had no doubt earned the entire group more than a few enemies. But all of them—to a man—showed the same unwavering trust in the Clarion’s judgement.

He’d seen that look dozens of times by now, but each time he felt humbled by it. Unworthy even, of that steadfast devotion. Each time he’d sworn to himself that he would earn that trust, whether it had been given to him already or not. He would be worthy of that look in their eyes.

The Clarion blinked repeatedly and tried to clear his head. Belatedly, he remembered why he’d called them all here. “The heretic has been busy,” he explained quickly and quietly. “He’s been recruiting stra’tchi from many different patches ever since the Laentana. The destruction of his home patch did slow down his efforts for a while, but he’s picking up speed again. According to the Council’s sources, most stra’tchi patches now believe the truth: that Tellek patch was poisoned. That has made his job that much easier."

“What does that have to do with us, though?” Geer asked quickly. “We’re all Sustained here, by blood if nothing else. Unless you think the stra’tchi are capable of a full-scale uprising, we have no reason to break faith with the Council.”

I cannot break faith with the Council,” the Clarion specified with a tight grin. “I took an oath to them on the day I was installed as Clarion. None of you took that oath though, and as a result you aren’t hampered as I am. You can intervene if you wish. Even though I would never instruct you to do so, of course. My oath would prevent such a blatant disregard for the Council’s wishes.” Geer nodded, a grim smile appearing on his face as well.

To the Council, to the rest of the Sustained, even to the stra’tchi, the initiates meant very little. They were pacifistic but not entirely helpless. They were holy but not connected to the Aquunites. They were well-spoken but not as schooled as the rest of the Sustained. They were a kind of blank spot in the political landscape of the city. A white blob that couldn’t be colored as part of any particular side, because of their peculiar beliefs and training. As such they were respected, but could never really be feared. That made them easy to forget.

“What exactly are you suggesting, Clarion?” Fareth asked somberly. As usual, he was the first of the initiates to speak aloud what they must all be wondering. Which was right and proper for the Clarion’s second.

“The heretic’s movement is gaining support. The Beast attacks are just the Council’s most recent attempt to force the stra’tchi back into line. It’s only a matter of time before the Council decides it has no choice but to impose full-fledged martial law to keep unrest from spreading into Sustained patches. When that happens the entire city will react at once, possibly leading to another Tumult.”

He grunted wryly. “Whether the dwarves are involved or not is… not relevant yet. If they are helping the heretic, they’re doing so invisibly, and they can’t be touched. But once the Council does crack down on peoples’ movements, there will be backlash and outrage. Some Sustained will blame the stra’tchi, some will blame the dwarves, and some will blame each other and use this situation to settle old scores while the Council is occupied. Regardless of when this starts, it will be tense, and it will be bloody in a hurry.”

The Clarion held his breath briefly. “I may not be able to get instructions to you when that time comes. Ever since I executed the former High Penet, I’ve been under increased scrutiny. Most likely when martial law begins, I’ll be arrested or… otherwise silenced.”

Tazi snorted. “They wouldn’t dare touch you! Half the city is cheering for you for what you did to that hypocrite. The other half is regretting they ever supported him in the first place. If the Council laid a hand on you, they’d have a city-wide riot on their hands before they could even blink!”

“True,” the Clarion admitted, “but by now… we’ve all seen what the Council has become. We were raised to support them. Trained to assist them and advise them. By now it’s clear that they don’t want our advice. Each of them is interested in nothing more than their own personal power. They don’t care about what’s best for the city at all. They’re not trying to kill the heretic because they believe he’s evil. They’re trying to kill him because he’s a threat to their power! I am quite certain that when the boiling point comes, and the heretic makes an open move against them, they will crack down hard on anyone, myself included.”

He let that last phrase echo for a bit into the night air. He couldn’t afford to tell them about his condition—not yet anyway. By the time all of these different conflicts came to a head, he would most likely be dead already. He was sure at least a few of the Councilors were responsible for his poisoning, so he didn’t feel guilty telling his brothers just how evil they really were.

It was obvious that to some of his brothers, this was no surprise. Each initiate had their ear to the ground in their home patches, and they weren’t blind to the horrors of what had happened to Tellek patch, or the Beast attacks. However to some of the initiates, especially the younger ones, it looked like an unpleasant truth for them to hear. Sometimes the Clarion also wondered how things would be different if women had also been allowed to become initiates. All initiates were fed the same lies about the Council’s wisdom, about their… divine right to rule, right from childhood. Perhaps female initiates wouldn’t have been so easily misled.

“I have no choice here,” the Clarion continued softly. “I’m sworn to uphold their authority, and I will not break that oath. But you all have a choice. When the fighting starts, you won’t just have to make that choice, but you’ll have to back it up. For the good of everyone: Sustained and stra’tchi alike!”

He broke up the tenseness of his little speech with a smile. “We all know this, but I’m going to say it aloud anyway. We’re the best of the best. We survived an entire Tumult together! I have no doubt that when the time comes you will each make the right choices at the right moments. Remember your training,” he focused on the younger initiates, most of whom looked both somber and nervous. “Rely on each other, and most of all, trust in your instincts. They’re the reason we were all chosen as initiates in the first place.”

With that the Clarion dismissed them all into the night. Not all of them were navigators, but the ones who were could ferry the rest home safely. The Clarion wasn’t worried about them being stopped, either. Not just yet anyway. The Council wasn’t about to start arresting Clarion initiates in the streets. Sadly, if anyone in the city survived the inevitable Tumult that was coming, it was unlikely the Council would select another Clarion. Most likely, the position would be abandoned.

Grimacing, the Clarion made his way into the threads and back to Sevvas patch. He had some letters to write—and write very carefully indeed.
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 12:56:12 AM by Daen »