Tuesday, April 12, 2011

463b & 464 - Like Bits of Scorched Skin & The Patter of Rotting Flesh

Amitzas stood a moment longer in the sunny room full of poisonous reptiles and insects before nodding to himself.  “Daughter.  Come.”

He led her to his office, unlocked the bookcase on his desk and pulled out a blackened silver volume that Inensa recognized.  It was the Mahid Book, the shadow copy of the Imperial Book that her husband had so carefully carried and read from while they had all been in the wilderness.  It must have come back to her father’s hands when they had all been captured.

Her father held it out to her.  “You have permission to see the forbidden archives… and this.  It has been changed since it was bound, I note.  I do not know if the removed sections were done officially or unofficially.”  She took it, carefully.  “The sealed archive is behind the official bookcase, in the Imperial Archives.”  He wrote a note and passed it to her along with an ornate black key.  “This will give you access, my daughter.”

She dipped her knee once more.  “Thank you honoured father,” she said and turned to leave with her new treasure in her hands, but he stopped her.

“My beloved daughter.”

“Yes, honoured father?”

“Let me know if you track down this hart of an idea you are tracking.”

“Of course, honoured father.  The very instant I find what I am looking for.”  When I know what I am looking for.


The Mahid Book had indeed either been damaged or deliberately modified.  There was a thread, and holes along the spine showing where one or more of the sewn-in pages had been removed and there was a gap that was faintly obvious when the cover was closed.

There were rumours of an Imperial book that had records for all Arko’s history, but the only person who might have seen it, that Inensa knew – her father – had not mentioned it.  The contents of the Mahid volume were only that of the Present Age.

She closed it, and sat, considering.  The archive was much more likely to have the information she sought.  I am hunting for a reason to save an idea.  Or rather an ideal.  She took the key and the permission note and went down to the Imperial Archive.


Inensa gave an equally blank, forbidding stare back to the bespectacled librarian looking up from the note written by Amitzas.

He clearly did not want to let a mere female past that portal, even if the conservancy upstairs was almost entirely staffed by women now.  “Does the honourable" – he spat the word out as if it were one of the toxic creatures she’d just seen on his tongue – "Mahid have a key?”

“I do.”

“Hmph.  Well.  Hrrrr. Hmmmm.”

“Shall I fetch the Imperial Pharmacist for confirmation of his note, his signature and his seal?  I am the First Widow of the Mahid.”  Let ‘I would not lie’, lie unsaid on the desk between us.

“No, certainly not, that would be… rude.” Over-kill, she thought.  “Of course.”

“Thank you.  Oh, and I should like my note back please, for next time.”  The note specified ‘whenever she wishes access’.  He placed it upon the desk and pushed it back toward her with one finger, brushed his gloves and beckoned with a tilt of his head.  “This way,” he sniffed, to show that he wasn’t intimidated in the slightest by her.

They went down the spindly narrow little staircase trimmed with gold and silver, all the way down to the bottom.  If she were judging it correctly this might be deeper buried in the rim than the Mahid oubliettes and the librarian sniffed once more and left her alone.

She waited, standing before the golden shelves that where the records of the Aan, until the footsteps of the librarian faded above, then stepped around to the blackened shelves that where the Mahid archive.  The key slotted smoothly enough into the side of the bookshelf and she expected it to opened with a click, but it stayed stuck fast.

Inensa put out her hand and tugged on the shelf, the actual door to the archive, felt it give slightly but it still would not unseal.  She pulled with both hands and it fought her, as if there were something inside that held it closed.  Then, finally, with a sucking sound and a noise like a gigantic in-drawn breath, the shelf moved towards her.

She walked it open, swinging back against the wall and took up the lamp, even as she became aware of the smell.  Burnt.  Soot.  Scorched paper.  Dust.  Charred leather.

Her nose wrinkled and she raised the lamp high.  The shelves in the hidden room were partly empty.  Some were completely bare, some were apparently untouched.  The middle of the room was piled high with the missing books.  Torn books, smashed books, books lying with edges black and cracked, spines broken, board covers empty and disemboweled.  Pages scattered though the room, like bits of scorched and burnt skin. The stench rolled out of the defiled room like one of her father's creatures and jammed itself into her nose.

Cold ashes lay thick over everything, and dust.  A dead torch lay in the middle of the mess.  Someone had apparently stripped and plundered the shelves very quickly and thrown a torch into the middle of the mess, trusting to the stone walls to contain the fire.

Inensa found her face felt like frozen stone, as if suddenly confronted with her dead husband back again.  He would have loved something like this.  Tortured books were almost as good as tortured humans.  The only thing that saved the whole archive was the fact that the door had been closed and locked, sealing the fire in to smother when it ran out of air.

She slowly hung the lamp on the hook just inside, leaving the door open, and climbed back upstairs to bring the overly fussy librarian back again, and send a messenger page up to the book conservancy for help.

464 - The Patter of Rotting Flesh

The rest of that day Kallijas and Chevenga and I went late into the night.  I was mostly dealing with the letters of congratulation and suck upness, with Atzana.  Chevenga had Binchera and Kall had Munirientzas, his own secretary.

The Imperial paperwork easily occupied the six of us until far into the night, especially since there were all the transitional details.

I looked up over the city, seeing the edge of rim night crawl over it, the puddles of street lamps springing up behind thinking how beautiful it was, especially from this height.  Perhaps I could suggest to Kallijas that we get some of the artists up here and commission a painting?

“Minis, what was that last line again?”  Atzana wasn’t showing tired though she must be.

“Sorry.  My mind was wandering.  Let me see, I’ve already thanked them for their good wishes… blah blah… you are most gracious… “... to offer such sums towards the support of both the Guilds of Paper Makers and Ink suppliers.  We will take your offer under careful consideration.  In the meantime, please feel free to approach the High Editor of the Pages with your ideas for Arko’s improvement. Thank you… regards… etc.”  She finished it off with a flourish and after a moment to make sure it didn’t smear, put it upon the stack with the others.

“Kallijas? Ch’venga?  All done, ready to be signed.”

“Excellent, Minis,” Kall said absently, his mind obviously still on the problem before him.

“May I watch the two of you from the trap-booth?”

“Watch?” That was Chevenga.  “I have no problem with it.”

Technically I didn’t really have to be here, though I wanted to be.  I helped Atzana gather up her papers and went to sit in the dark little booth behind the mirror, behind the guards.


That night, late -- so late it was almost early – I walked out of the Young Sun’s bedroom and down to the Assembly Hall,that used to be the throne-room and audience chamber.  It was almost hard to remember the bloody memories and the painful ones that happened here.

It was so changed.  The rank of seats, the speaker’s platform on top of what had been the supplicant’s place.

I wandered through the various seats. Assemblyman Tziniten had a thicker cushion upon his chair; probably because of his hemorrhoids. Assemblyman Mil Liren wore too much perfume as his padded chair showed.

The skylights were dark.  Only the lamp at the door, that I had lit, cast any light at all.  It was the dark of the moon still and Selinae’s eye was mostly closed.  The whole room was full of shadows and dark on dark on dark.  I considered dousing the one lamp but I would have to walk all the way back and ruin what vision I had for almost half a bead.

I could almost hear the Assembly's daytime wrangling.  Oh so polite, cutting harsh with every word and every word had two or more meanings. In the dark I smiled to myself.  It was all so strange.  Here I was, wandering in the Marble Palace in the middle of the night and it was almost as if the intervening years were a strange dream. But I would be able to go back to Gannara and Farasha and sleep with them before they left in the morning.

I wouldn’t stay up long, just enough to work off my odd restlessness and then go right back to bed.  My bare feet felt the change in the tile from the regular tile to the map tiles as I walked out toward the speaker’s platform. On the left of the stairs up to the platform was the seat for the Assembly Cudgel, matched on the right by the Assembly Scourge.

The Cudgel, lying across the arms of the chair, was not yet encrusted with any kind of gems.  It was a smooth, polished piece of black-wood with brass bands at the bottom and around the top. The Whip was handled with the same black-wood and brass, the beads in it also brass.  The Arkan Assembly had formalized our strongarms, unlike the Yeolis, who merely had guards on the chamber.

I walked up the steps to the platform and stood, looking up at the blocky crystal that was the Throne, seemingly susupended in air, the glass bridge to it almost impossible to see from this angle, even in full daylight. I truly could only see faint glitters all along anyway, from the lamp at the doors behind me. My knees and wrist bones remembered the ache from crouching up there, my back remembered the pain of his feet pushing on it.

My whole body could faintly remember being soaked in blood in this room. The catch of knife on spinal bones echoing in my hand.

The faint sighs and moans of the Palace as doors opened and closed to servant's moment, deep in the building, were all around me, the motion of the air barely perceptible.  It was colder than it should be.  Why was it so cold?

It felt as though my skin were wet. My skin began crawling for no reason I could see.  The moans of the building were very loud… but then I realized it was not the same as voice of the Palace.  This was different.

I sat down, shaking.  What was this?

The groan grabbed me and shook me and I wanted to hide my head in my arms.  There was motion above me and my eye was drawn to it like a lodestone drew a steel needle. It seemed… it was a sunny day up there, superimposed upon the dark night I sat in.  My father… in the Imperial robe stepped onto the bridge and, slowly, ponderously, paced out to the Crystal Throne.

He settled his bulk upon the High Seat, set his hands upon the resting places carefully, with finicky precision as he had every time he sat down there. He adjusted the fall of the Imperial robe over the edge for most elegant effect. I could see him clearly and at the same time, I could clearly see right through him.

I didn’t know where my breath was, I felt light headed. I couldn’t feel the platform under me, the air in my lungs.  And as my father sat there, he began to rot, as I assume his corpse had after Chevenga killed him.

The sound… I almost expected to hear the patter of rotting flesh falling onto the map of empire below him and then he expanded, faded and vanished into the Assembly chamber. A whiff of fetid air puffed past my face.

I had my arms wrapped tight around me and rocked and shook.  I was more frightened afterwards than I had been while the spectre was disintegrating upon the Throne.  Oh Gods. As if I needed a reminder.

I leapt up and ran, my feet finding the way with the dim light, and burst out of the Assembly chamber without stopping to douse the lamp, into the more brightly lit corridor, not stopping until I crawled into the bed next to Gannara and hid my head under my pillow next to him.

Neither Fara or he woke but he rolled over in his sleep and held me.  I tried not to shake so as to not wake him.