Deliberations 3.13

Knell stared at the skull, saying nothing, her head throbbing. Daffyd watched, expression inscrutable.

“What are you waiting for?” said the voice in her head, “didn’t you miss me? You gave me away easily enough.”

“I did, didn’t I?” Knell said, “why would I do that?”

“Captain?” Daffyd’s brow creased.

“Nothing, Daffyd,” she replied, “thank you. Dismissed.”

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Deliberations 3.12

“Start at the beginning,” Jasper said, tapping their tablet.

“Is this being recorded?” Knell asked, and immediately regretted it when Jasper quirked an eyebrow.

“It started at Towerpeak; I thought it was a routine, um, kidnapping…” Knell trailed off.

Jasper shrugged, “not our jurisdiction, so go on.”

“So we ambushed this floating slum and I… I shot a young man. In cold blood, just to make the rest cooperate.  A Crantíre and some friend of his stepped forward.”

“You wanted volunteers?”

“I hadn’t been given details on the target, just that they were a spy to bait out.”

“Odd. Did you know you were being set up?”

Knell glared.

“Please carry on,” Jasper said, breezily. Continue reading

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Deliberations 3.11

Laine gagged the rat with a bandage. “Friend of yours?”

Knell crossed the room, frowning, and paused by the music player before she replied.

“Fucking hope so,” she said, turning up the volume and moving to the next door, gun at the ready. Laine gave her a quizzical scowl, and Knell tapped her temple; I know what I’m doing.

Or at least, she thought, I hope I do.

Continue reading

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Deliberations 3.10

Knell kept thinking of her as Duster, but Laine hadn’t hesitated to introduce herself once they were strolling down Hawker’s Mile toward the spinward tip of the island and the dock.

“Used to be a marshal out by the Bulwark,” she said, chewing a wad of nicogum, “but I got sick of the paperwork.” She tapped the butt of her gun, “now makin’ the world a little more just is easier.”

Knell just nodded, betraying nothing.

“Where you reckon’ we’ll find the killer?” Laine asked.

“She’s probably headed back to my ship, or she will be,” Knell said, “she’s got no reason to think I’m onto her.”

“Who is she?”

“A monk.”

“A monk?” Laine stopped in the street; a pack of goblins flowed around her like water around a stone, “a monk killed those people?”

“I don’t really understand it, either,” Knell replied, stopping a step or two ahead, “but she wanted everyone to turn on the vampires in the Archive.”

Laine snorted and resumed walking. “I thought they musta given up. I know they hate the bloodsuckers, but you can’t clear out a nest of them.”

“Not alone, anyway.”

“So she frames ‘em and we do the work,” she said, and spat, “disgusting.”

“You seemed pretty eager,” Knell said before cursing inwardly.

“I was,” Laine replied, unmoved, “because I thought they were murderers.”

They turned a corner by a partially-ruined hotel covered in painted murals, music and a faint smell of sweet greensmoke bleeding into the street, and carried on toward the dock.

“No problem with them otherwise?”

“I don’t trust ‘em, but that’s just common sense. I don’t hate wyverns for spittin’ or dogs for barkin’.”

She looked sidewise at Knell, who had the impression Laine rarely looked at anyone dead on unless she was shooting them.

“Get the feeling you’ve got something personal against ‘em?”

“They just… “ Knell trailed off, frowning.

“Scare ya?”


“You’re a liar or an idiot, Blackhand.”

“Don’t start waffling about the wisdom of fear, I get that enough from the ship’s chaplain.”

“Oh?” Laine looked at Knell slightly less side-on, “what do you have one of them for?”

Knell shook her head, “just a joke among the crew.”

Laine grunted and kept walking.

One street from the warehouse where the ship was docked, they stepped into a trail of blood. A wet trail of red dots in the dust leading down the road to their right – and at the end of the street a pair of Enforcers apparently in conversation, one of them scribbling in a notebook.

“None of our business?” Knell suggested.

Laine snorted and pointed at the bloody handprint on the door to the warehouse.

“Weren’t we going there?”

“Fuck,” Knell said, and stomped toward the Enforcers. The empty handed one stepped forward at her approach to stop her with spread arms.

“This is a crime scene,” they said through a vocal distortion spell.

“My ship is docked behind that building,” Knell said with arched brow, “have you looked inside  yet?”

“We’ve got someone inside questioning the orc who fired the shot,” they said, and gestured vaguely behind themselves, “and agents chasing the suspect.”

“She’s been shot, and you can’t catch her?” Laine said, incredulous.

“Her?” The Enforcer’s tone was hard to read, but not impossible, “what do you know?”

“Little more than you.”

“There’s no time, let us join the hunt,” Knell said, moving to step around the investigators.

“This is city business-” They started, but a flurry of wings interrupted them. Barrel-chested, twice Knell’s height, the Vampire towered over the assembled. Ominous red eyes glowed in a bat-like face, dark fur rippled in a phantom breeze. Revulsion and fear of a familiar kind turned Knell’s guts to water and she bit her tongue trying to keep her composure.


The Vampire, for its part, ignored everyone and dipped one long talon in the blood on the street, then licked it clean with a long, worrisomely mobile tongue. Its sex was impossible to determine – it was all wiry muscle under the fur, wings folded like a cloak, and only a hint of humanity left in the face. It hissed on tasting the blood, blinking, looked at Knell and Laine like a drunk trying to identify a stranger.

“Poisoned,” it said, and laughed. It stumbled to the side of the street, sat slumped against a wall. The tips of its pointed ears poked a second storey sill. “Five hundred years I have lived, and now by tainted blood I am slain,” it continued, red eyes fixed on Knell. “An irony not lost on the monk, Blackhand.”

“How does everyone know my fucking name?” She replied, voice shaking.

“I can taste her memories,” the Vampire said, as the Enforcers conferred in hurried whispers. “She flees from Balston’s Rock where await yet more conspirators of sinister intention.” It sighed, the first sign of any breathing it had shown. “I am fortunate that you believe everything you are told.”

Another, sleeker, Vampire appeared as if from nowhere, this one silver-furred. It helped the other to its feet, and the two were gone.

Laine spat in the dust.

“I want to go back to hunting horse thieves,” she said, and sighed, “you know where the Rock is?”

Knell swallowed hard and tried to calm herself, shaking her head, struggling to understand what the monster had meant.

“Follow me then.”

Balston’s Rock spun out of the mist and buried itself in the side of Moonbend a long time ago, an invader veined with jade now hollowed out and fused with the bulk of the island.  Perhaps it was the situation, but Knell thought there was something sinister in the misshapen bulb, more occluded than illumined by bright mining lamps leftover from its arrival. The two women huddled in the shadow of a tumbledown watchtower at the end of an ill-kept street, peering over the curve of the island’s outer side – kept bare for the sake of safety and comfort. Some people visited the ‘Sea once, and left never to return soon after emptying their stomachs.

“Squatters, now?” She asked. Laine shook her head.

“Machine shop that does a little smuggling on the side,” she explained. “You can swing under the ‘bend and dock here quietlike with a small ship.”

“Good way out then, you reckon?”

“It’s where I’d go.”

“Vampire made it sound like we’d be outnumbered,” Knell said, fingering a holster, “I should’ve gotten some of my crew together.”

“No need to stamp up with a war-party – deputy and me used to mop nests like this all the time, just the two of us, all sly.”

“Benefit of training I don’t have,” Knell said, rolling her eyes.

“You remind me of him, which is good enough,” Laine replied.

“That good?” Knell said, leaning back, skeptical.

“Only if I don’t have to shoot you, too,” said Laine, popping another tab of gum in her mouth. “Let’s get down there,” she added, before Knell could protest, and strode on.


There was no easy way to approach the Rock – a lazily assembled catwalk a foot from the ground, patinaed with corrosion, served as the only direct ingress. Laine didn’t like the idea of being an obvious target, and insisted they skirt around on the bare rock and approach the side.

Knell didn’t like feeling as if she could fall off into the sky. No comforting engine drone under her feet to offset the angle.

But they crept up on the shadowed side of the docking pad without obviously being noticed, hunched and slow to evade the strange currents of the ‘Sea. Laine had a pouch of brightly coloured sending stones and would pause to toss one ahead now and then, watching for it to settle on the ground or arc crazily into space, so they could circle the anomalies.

“Reckon those could be an inconvenient trail,” Knell said, as a sky blue pebble corkscrewed endlessly in empty air.

“Thought of that,” Laine replied, “so these ones disintegrate if they go twenty minutes without touching a piece of stone.” She shook the bag gently, “so there’s some fucking expensive dust ever at the bottom of this.”

“Do a lot of this, do you?”

Laine pressed her shoulder to a strut on the dock, peering up as if to see over the edge. The lights of the Rock didn’t so badly obscure it from here, and they could see how the gaps worn into the structure had been plugged with machinery, or slabs of smoky reinforced glass, or just sheets of metal. Suspiciously quiet, to Knell.

“Bounty huntin’s next best thing to keeping law,” Laine muttered.

“I’ll know what to look out for if you draw a contract on me,” Knell whispered, smirking.

Laine’s only reply was a grunt, one that seemed tinged with contempt to Knell, but she was content to follow her lead as Laine eased herself onto the walkway.

Behind them was the lit circle of the empty pad, and ahead a repurposed ship’s hatch sunk into the rock.

“Quiet, no ship… we’re late?” Knell whispered.

Laine shook her head, holding up a fist. Silent. She drew a revolver that made Knell’s arm strain just to look at – the stock intricately patterned in contrast to the sinister, efficient lines of the body – and leaned against the wall at the right side of the door. Knell took the opposite side and fingered the handle of the gunblade before readying to draw pistols in instead.

Despite her uneasiness, knowing Laine’s attitude was reassuring – so far, this was exactly how Knell understood the law to operate.

Faint, droning music seeped through the seal on the hatch, and Knell realised a second too late Laine was muttering.

“…stand down, and then the suspect fights or flees. She fights, we’re holding all the iron.”

Knell nodded; the gist would be enough.

Laine spun the lock and swung the hatch inward; Knell ducked through and swept her guns across the room, aware Laine was aiming over her shoulder. Five potential targets scattered across the rough-hewn hemisphere of a room, a few turning and reaching for weapons from their places at workbenches or makeshift cover. Why they’d expect a frontal assault was lost on Knell.

“Give up the monk, and no one whistles in the wind when they leave here,” Laine growled. A pair of humans, one of the ‘Sea’s particular mutants, and a rat appeared to rethink drawing their guns, but the lone orc among them frowned.

“I may whistle at any time?” He said, uncertain, holding a repurposed rivet gun in one meaty hand.

“They won’t shoot us if we keep shady, Gwyn,” said the rat with a hint of exasperation.

The orc nodded grimly, and Knell felt a pang of guilt as she was reminded of Daffyd.

“Your bounty is the next room with our doctor,” said the rat, leaning back in his chair and tossing a compact pistol on the tabletop in front of him.

Laine stepped past Knell with a grunt of assent, taking a bundle of quick-binds from a pocket. “Gonna need to restrain you before we turn our backs, yeah?”

“Suppose so,” he sighed, “done nothing to get your attention.”

Laine merely grunted again and set about snapping the around wrists, binding the occupants one by one. She tossed three to Knell; “do the other side of the room.”

Knell holstered a gun and did as bidden, binding a pair of red-haired young men and the shade woman. Odd, even for a shade – she didn’t take violet eyes off Knell and bared sharpened teeth in a smile. The Vampire’s warning echoed in the back of Knell’s head.

“Will this take long?” one of the men asked, “only we’ve got to pick up our little brothers at sixth bell.”

Humouring him, Knell pulled out her silver pocketwatch – and as she opened her mouth, something clattered to the ground behind her. The rat had bounded to his feet, knocking his chair back against the stone wall.

“Where did you get that?!”

“This?” Knell held it up by the chain, “looted it somewhere years ago, probably.”

The rat glared, and Knell felt a familiar migraine growing.

“From a ship called The Celebrant?” He said, fur on end. 

“My father’s ship?”

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Deliberations 3.9

“I met Wainwright six years ago, not long after Daffyd,” said Knell, steaming cup of tea in her hands. Fisk had refused, watching Cornelius with narrowed eyes and folded arms from her post by the door. Daffyd watched the steam rise, placid, and Rikker hunched forward in his seat like he was at a good show. “Back when I was just a monkey under Lensman,” she continued, “chasing bounties coz the Lezekim decided slavery in the northern Circle wasn’t fashionable anymore.” Continue reading

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Deliberations 3.8

Virday, 25th of Foundation, YD180

“You have enough able-bodied crew,” said Francois, “there is no need for this.”

Knell drummed her fingers on the clean, steel arms of the chair, looking up at the tiny lights set into the ceiling. Less of a cave and more of a hole, this obsessively clean chamber in the rock, full of carefully stacked equipment of uncertain purpose, lit only by the constellations of miniscule bulbs embedded in the uneven ceiling.

“The Clawtorn alone-”

“Wainwright is off the table,” Knell said, watching as Francois attached a clear glass ampoule into an ominous, dark hypodermic device the length of her forearm. “I ask you to do a week’s work in three days, I’m going to pay the extra.”

“Honour even among pirates.”

“I don’t like debts.”

“Prudent. This will hurt.”

Knell clenched her teeth as the needle entered and suppressed a shudder at the cold, sucking feeling of the extraction.

“I’m told bites are easier,” she said, grimacing.

“Not for me,” he replied, in a tone that cut off any inquiry.

He packs the ampoule away, a little red bauble.

“One from each of the crew, except Wainwright?” Knell said, uncertain, as she rubbed her arm and climbed out of the chair.

“Yes. And the money, of course.”

“Can’t blame you. I’ve never seen so much done in three days.”

“It will suffice?”

“Even better.”

And, Knell thought, we get to keep whatever the owners left behind.

Francois had given her a folder with his findings – notes in his steady yet scratchy hand detailing his best guesses about the curious devices in the gunship.

She waved, dismissively, as she left the room, and sent the next member of the crew in.  She’d spent the last three days wondering the best way to offload that hostage and get a look at Allbright Spire – the psychosurgeon had never said how close she had to be, where in the tower.

Knell shivered, strolling back to the Rustbucket. Had she lived there, once? Her lip curled into a sneer.

Just fucking wait – I’ll turn out to be a dragonsdamned princess who wiped the memory of her cruel noble parents.

The idea made her nauseous as much as it amused her.

“I need a drink,” she declared, sitting at the grimy brushed-steel bar and resting her elbows on it. The tapster gave her a pointed look from beneath a bushy unibrow.


“You’ve just paid Francois, haven’t you?”

“Yes,” Knell said, leaning back and raising her brows.

“So a half-pint, then.”

“No, a full pint,” replied Knell, wondering what this woman cared for how much blood she’d given.

“If you’re sure,” said the tapster, pulling a pint.

Stumpy took the stool at her left, Rikker on her right, rubbing his arm with a scowl.

“Can we go somewhere without Vampires next?” He said, pointing out a bottle to the tapster before turning to Knell. “Nothing but trouble.”

“We can try,” she replied.

Rikker snorted. “Yeah, I suppose that’s all. Suckers’re everywhere.”

“You were ready to worship them, back in Towerpeak,” Knell said, arching a brow and sipping her pint.

He shrugs. “People tend to pray when their back’s against the wall.”

“You were on a fucking skyship!”

“Well,” he shrugged, “they have some scary guns on that tower. Seemed like we’d have a better chance getting away if they thought we were on-side.”

“Noster seemed pretty into it.”

“Noster had a little shrine in her berth,” he said, sipping his drink. “You didn’t know she was born at Towerpeak?”

“Tend not to ask my crew those kind of questions, Rikker,” she said. After a pause: “Sober.”

“Suppose now’s the time, then,” he said, grinning offering his glass. Knell tapped hers against his.

“What now, anyway? You have a plan?” He asked.

“Pretty simple. We have the money to get Wainwright a doctor, so we’ll leave him in Moonbend to be treated. I’ll take the gunships to Allbright and ransom the kid. We’ll offload those who don’t want to work in the Legion, sign up…” she trailed off.

“And then take care of some other business.”

“Why’re we joining the Legion, really?” he said. “We can dump the monk in Moonbend and get back to life as usual.”

“Because I don’t want to run and I don’t fancy fighting her. Besides, she’d kill me in my sleep.”

“She’s only one woman, Captain-”

“I fought her, however briefly, Rikker. She can beat me. I don’t know that I can get a shot sooner than she can stab me,” Knell replied, taking a deep draught. “And like I said – in my sleep.”

“As you like, Captain,” said Rikker, shrugging. “You don’t have to fight her fair, you know.”

“I’m not risking crew for this.”

“You’re happy to risk crew for anything else-”

Knell’s fist slammed the bartop.

“Fuck you, Rikker. We all take risks when we go raiding,” she snarled, jabbing a finger at his face.

“Don’t you dare, don’t you fucking – “ she struck the bar again – “dare to tell me I risk their lives for nothing. You’ve been doing this longer than me and you should damn well know better.”

The tapster loomed into view, and Knell almost jumped to her feet.

“No trouble,” she said, pointedly, and Knell nodded, sullen.

“No,” she said, draining her glass and giving the impassive Rikker a sidelong glance as she stormed out.

Virday, 30th of Foundation, YD180

Knell glowered at the smoking streets.

“Another civil war,” she said, flatly. Rikker and Daffyd stood behind her, trailing ends of hair and clothes drifting oddly in the eddies of the ‘Sea. The view from the Death’s topdeck was less than ideal, but she could see enough.

“A riot, more accurately,” Daffyd said, hands behind his back, standing at attention. “The librarians do not rule Moonbend and the Quiet Man is not directly involved.”

“He’s never directly involved,” muttered Rikker. “That’s the point.”

“So what is actually happening?” Knell snapped, turning to face Daffyd, with Rikker looking on expectantly.

Daffyd shrugged. “There was a massacre attributed to the vampires in the library, and the population have turned against them. The Quiet Man’s enforcers are trying to keep it under control, but the citizens will not back down.”

“Why is it always fuckin va-” Knell snarled, and stopped. She pauses, looking over her shoulder the plumes of smoke around the dome of the Archive, the crowds like teeming insects when seen from so far.

“Where is Blades?” she asked, through gritted teeth.

“We have not seen her,” replied Daffyd.

Knell’s brow creased and she made for the hatch, longcoat sweeping behind her. I am not going to like what Percy tells me, she thought, and slid down the ladder.


She found the Rat in his berth – a former closet in the aft of the ship, equipped with a little bunk and many shelves for all his things; a variety of teapots, fragrant pouches of leaves, and more books than Knell thought she could read in a lifetime. Although, she admitted to herself, it might be easier for others.

He was sat on his bunk with eyes shut and legs crossed, but spoke first.

“A revelation, captain?” he said, and Knell was sure he was thinking about smirking, even if it didn’t show.

“What is she doing, Percy?” asked Knell, leaning against the doorframe.

“Serving her purpose, Captain.”

“Don’t muck about, Percy. Explain.”

Percy sighed, opened his eyes, sat more comfortably.

“I don’t expect you to comprehend all of our beliefs, Captain, but you understand the basics?”

Knell nodded. “Each monk worships a god from the pantheon except Mytherion, and you can tell them by their fighting style, their attitude. I can recognize Galathine adherents and Adjukant worshipers, but I couldn’t place Blades.” She paused. “Is she the exception?”

“Our purpose, however we embrace it, is to destroy vampires,” Percy said, as if oblivious. “Each one a warrior without peer, able to fight a dozen ordinary troops to a standstill if not massacre them. With what are we armed in this duty?”

Knell stood straight, tamping down on her mounting irritation. “I’ve seen swords and staves, mostly. Killing tools.”

“And by what means are vampires slain?”


“Among other things. How do you know the victim of a vampire?”

“Bite marks, if there’s even that much left.”

“What is Blades’ weapon?”

“A pair of needles…” Knell was beginning to understand and her guts turned to ice.

“We cannot fight all the vampires,” Percy continued, “We cannot simply face those who have ingratiated themselves into the community. Their evils are seductive, and they are often cunning. I was a warrior, Captain,” he looked at her with weary eyes “Thousand Blades Smiling is a murderer of holy purpose.”

“So she wanders around getting people to turn on vampires instead of killing them herself?” Knell was aghast. “She’ll kill innocents over it?”

“No one is innocent, Captain.”

“Look, fuck your philosophy for a minute,” Knell growled, “are you telling me I’ve been carting some deranged terrorist around all this time? Did she do this to Towerpeak, too? It was the slaves that turned there, they must be used to death by vampire.”

He shrugged. “You encountered her hunting Feidhlim, did you not? He was an affront to Mytherion. Perhaps she found a means to lure him out, perhaps she was just in the right place…”

“Fuck’s sake,” Knell slumped against the frame. “I don’t have time for this – I need a doctor for Wainwright, new papers, and to get our hostage out of here.”

“The riots are contained,” he said, “and so should not much interfere.”

“Fucking hope so,” she muttered.

“Does this mean we can skip the Legion, Captain?”

Knell practically spun on the spot at Rikker’s intrusion.

“What?” She blurted, eyes narrow.

“If Blades’ has gone mental you don’t have to worry about her demands anymore, right?”

“Right… yeah, well, minds are made up, ain’t they?”

Rikker gazed impassively for a moment, as if studying her face.

“Yeah,” he said. “I suppose they are. Artyom’s first, then?”

Knell sighed and nodded. “He’ll know someone.” She took a step, but whirled on the rat. “You had nothing to do with this, Percy?”

“My crusade is ended, Captain.”

“When I’ve dealt with this mess,” she growled, “you and I are having a long conversation.”

Percy nodded. “Not as long as that revelation has taken you, I hope,” the graying rat smirked. Knell smiled in spite of herself and kept moving.

“You’re with me, Rikker,” she said, brightly, and Rikker swore.


They disembarked into the warehouse not long after, Knell in the lead with Daffyd helping a bound and hissing Wainwright to follow. Rikker was practically armoured in bullets, bandoleers crisscrossing his chest. Knell glanced between him and Fisk, rolling her shoulders and swaggering through the doors to the street, “You feel a bit underdressed, Quartermaster? I feel a bit underdressed.”

“You won’t laugh when I have to mow down a pack of agitators, Captain,” said Rikker.

“No,” Knell replied, more quietly. “I won’t.

The streets of Moonbend didn’t bustle; no buskers or hawkers to be seen, locals scurrying to safety or gathered in close, heavily armed mobs on corners. Aside from gestured threats at Wainwright’s approach, no one bothered Knell and her crew as they crept toward the healer.

“Ain’t Artyom a doctor?” Rikker asked, as they crossed a more populous boulevard to the curiosity of cafe patrons.

“Wainwright won’t go near Lybarim doctors for all the gems in the ‘Sea.”


“Right. We’re just lucky there’s a Communer on the island.”

Knell paused at the end of a narrow alley, a little bronze sun hanging overhead from a washingline. “Someone did check that they’ll work on brains?”

All eyes turned to Daffyd.

“No. No one was dispatched to discuss this with the healer.” He said.

“For fuck’s sake,” Knell thumped the wall with her shadow fist and kept walking. “Why not, Daffyd?”

“Because you never ordered it, Captain.”

“I just assumed you all knew better!”

Rikker shrugged, “I didn’t know healers couldn’t heal things. Why would anyone else in the crew?”

“It’s not that they-” Knell started, and stopped, and breathed. “Never mind. Communers can’t all do everything and most won’t go near the brain. This might be a wasted trip.”

“And then we just ask Artyom,” Rikker said, cheerfully.

“Fuck off, Rikker,” Knell muttered, craning around the corner at the end of the alley to see a rust-coloured mushroom the size of a house, complete with twee round windows and a wooden door, bursting up through the rock and given a wide berth by nearby homes – an overgrown square in the middle of the tenements.  “This is the place.”

The door opened to admit them on its own, revealing a cozy one-room home that reminded Knell of a midwife’s cottage she visited a few years back; lots of shelves and low tables covered in trinkets and baubles, jars and bottles and pots of herbs. “Ho there,” called the owner – a silver-haired man with bushy beard and simple robe, sitting at a desk strewn with paper and brushes. He turned to face them as they piled into the room, smiling in a way that felt detached, to Knell. The smile faded, though not completely, when he saw Wainwright.

“Hello, doctor…?” Knell said, holding out a hand. He stood, but didn’t shake.

“I’m no doctor. Call me Cornelius,” he replied, looking the group over. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Our friend,” Knell started only for Rikker to snort. She gave him a dirty look and continued, “took a nasty blow to the head and hasn’t been himself since, we were wondering if you could fix him up? I’ve got gems…”

Cornelius shook his head, gestured for them to find seats amid the bric-a-brac. “Sit down. Sit down. Tell me what happened and I’ll examine him afterward,” he said, lighting an electrical hotplate and setting a teapot upon it.

Knell shook her head, sitting heavily and resting her face in her hands. “We were boarded,” she said. “We don’t know if a stray bullet hit him or if it was a ruptured bulkhead, but he’s not been himself since. Ship’s medic says his brain can’t heal.”

“I see,” Cornelius replied, nodding, hands clasped in front of him as she sat. Daffyd stood beside the door, Rikker made himself comfortable on a huge cushion, and Fisk sat straight-backed on a stool. Wainwright crouched on the floor in front of Knell, suspicious, mewling softly.

“And you would like me to heal it, of course,” Cornelius continued, watching the pot. “I don’t accept money,” he added.

“Then… a favour?” Knell offered, brow creasing.

“Not quite. Tell me why he deserves it.”

“What?” Fisk almost barked, incredulous. Knell’s ill feeling only got worse.

“What do you mean, deserve it?” she said,

“I have no doubt this will be a difficult task for me. Make it worth my while.”

“We’ve said we can pay-”

“And I don’t need your money.”

“Just to be told why you should heal him?”

“Just so.”

The only sound was the boiling water.

And then: “What exactly do we have to tell you?” Knell asked.

“Who is he?” Cornelius said, mildly, pouring strong-scented tea. “Is he worthy of healing, or is this a punishment he deserves?”

“That’s fucking inhuman,” Fisk said, bristling.

“Yes,” Cornelius said, meeting her eyes. “It is.”

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Interlude 3.x

What Frightful Gaze

10th of Foundation, YD 180

Audience Chamber

The Ashen Palace


The audience chamber at the Ashen Palace is lined with pillars. Six pillars, three a side, rising to the vaulted ceiling. Each is inscribed with the names of the fallen, each assigned to a different House. At the head of the room, the Onyx Throne is enwrapped around the pillar on which the dead of House Djuke are remembered. The light is never so bright as to illumine the whole room, and those wishing to pay respects must bring a torch or eyes that care not for the dark.

Imperus’ eyes are of that sort, piercing violet in the gloom. Zher talons click in slow rhythm on the arm of the throne, and zher gaze lingers on the ornate gauntlet which sits on a pedestal to zher left. Perhaps there will be need of it, in future.

Valdis Linnet, the Seneschal, bustles across the empty room followed by a figure in a pointed hood and dark grey and purple robes. Imperus’ talons cease tapping. More figures gather at the door, unwilling to cross the threshold.

“Your Excellence,” Linnet says in her melodious voice, bowing. “You said now was the time for audiences and pleas.”

“Yes, Seneschal,” Imperus replies, softly-spoken words echoing across the room. Zher gaze is on the hooded figure, an old man clearly straining to remain standing.

In the end, Imperus’ will is the stronger, and the man prostrates himself.

“Forgive me, your Divinity!” He cries. “I wish only to serve.”

Imperus ignores him.

“And the rest of his flock, Linnet?” Zhe asks.

Linnet grimaces, like eating a sour candy. “Persistent, your Excellence.”

“Leave them be,” Imperus sighs. “Anything else would only encourage this nonsense.”

Linnet nods, even as the hooded man shouts “At your command, Divinity, I rebel!”

Imperus snorts and debates signaling the guards hidden invisibly around the room.

“Send in the first supplicant,” zhe commands, and Linnet bows again before leaving. The ‘high priest’, as he styles himself, remains. The herald enters and stands at the foot of the dais on which the throne sits, and turns as a delegate from Kaer arrives flanked by armed guards. The herald takes a breath.

“The Kaeri Ambassador to Throne, Manda Braithe – you stand now before Djuke Imperus, King of Kings.”

The ambassador bows low. Her escort does not, hands on their rifles, visibly struggling to stand straight. The Ambassador cannot straighten.

“Thank you for seeing me, Excellence.” She says.

“You are welcome, Ambassador Braithe,” Imperus replies. “How fare your people?”

“We thrive, Excellence – the recovery continues apace.”

“That is good news. Why do you seek my counsel?”

“Excellence, it has been made known to us that Towerpeak is riven by civil war. We seek permission to contain the threat.”

“Denied, Ambassador.”

“But… but your Excellence, the leeches are weak and disrupted, we-”

“Denied,” Imperus repeats. “The Kromsians are free to practice their faith and resolve their conflicts without intervention. You would do well to remember my decree.”

“… Of course, Excellence.”


“Roisin Dubh, Crantire Ambassador to Throne – you stand now before Djuke Imperus, King of Kings.”

The elegant, dark Dryad bows, creaking under the pressure.

“Your Excellence, I will not waste your time – we seek Inquisitorial support.”

“And why do you come to me?”

“Lord Inquisitor Mormont believes our concerns to be unfounded, but there is a… a contaminant on our border which we can neither identify nor contain.”

“A contaminant.”

“The wreck of a skyship, humming with perverse energies. We understand one of our wayward saplings was sighted recently and fear his hand in this transgression.”

“Feidhlim of The Black Gate.”

“Just so, Excellence.”

“I will request that this be investigated, but recall I do not control the Inquisition.”

“Of course, Excellence.”


“Chancellor of Treasury, Izzot Tux, you-”

“I know damn well where I am, Poster.”

“At ease, herald. What is it, Izzot?”

“We cannot support your new directive, Excellence,” Izzot says, fuming. “It will drain our coffers to complete the new military hires, and I cannot fathom the need for some of these materials-”

“That will be accounted for, Chancellor.”

“I’m doing the accounting, Excellence, do not think me remiss in my duties.”

“I do not, Chancellor. Find me in the observatory after sunset and we will discuss this further.”

“…As you command, Excellence.”


“Lord Commander Deadwood of the Bulwark Regiment – you stand now before Imperus, King of Kings.”

“Your Excellence, I beg your aid,” says the kneeling soldier, his long coat thick with the dust of the road. “We have lost no less than fifty troops to the Grievers in the last week. I beg you, deploy the Aerial Legion or lend us soldiers. We cannot cleanse them otherwise without unacceptable losses.”

“You are negligent to come here yourself at such a time of need, Commander.”

The old soldier flashes a feral grin.

“I have brought forces for a pincer on their hideout, Excellence. We need only the numbers to deliver the killing blow.”

“Granted. You are exempted from this service, Commander.”


“More losses would be unacceptable. I am sending the Talon.”

Deadwood slumps with relief.

“Thank you, Excellence.”


“Eight Days Darkness, Kromsian Ambassador to Throne – you stand now before Imperus, King of Kings.”

The vampire showed no sign of strain or fatigue, standing regal and steady with barely a shred of clothing. Their form was attenuated, tall, with long fingers and softly luminous patagia. It bowed, and returned to full height.

“Your Excellence, we would request aid to end the turmoil which plagues our home. A band of Necromancers and strangers have murdered our charges and our agents, and sought to destroy all that we have built for reasons which yet elude us.”

“Troubling and tragic in equal measure, Ambassador. What need have you?”

“Anything you might spare, Excellence. We are in sore need of means to find and root out these terrorists.”

“I will summon the Hulbradim, Ambassador, and recommend you contract a Desolator in the meantime.”

“Your wisdom is equalled only by your beneficence, Excellence, and we-”

The guards did not move with zher order – and so the young man dashing into the room, dressed in the raiment of the cult that insisted on worshiping Imperus, was unimpeded. The Dragon-Emperor was impressed; he managed to stand, sweating, not ten feet from zher. A pity.

The herald stared in horror, mouth agape. Linnet was hurling herself behind a pillar. The onlookers at the edge of the court yelled and cried.

The young zealot was not calm, but in his fervour Imperus saw a kind of serenity; the tendons of his neck taut, his teeth clenched in rictus smile of dark intent. He drew from his coat a pistol – new and smelling of gun oil, sleek and modern – and pointed it at Imperus upon the throne.

The assembled crowd cowered in the report, deafened by the blast. His cry – the shooter’s cry – was expected; “Defiance is Victory!”

The bullet hung in the air between Imperus eyes for a bare moment, before zhe reached out and held it between zher talons, and cast it aside. The young man quivered before zher gaze, blood running from the corner of his mouth in a thin trickle.

The gunshot still seemed to echo in the sonorous hall. When Imperus stood, the martyr’s knees shattered, the crack and shriek following in the explosive wake of his failure.

“You know who I am, mortal, that you should dare.”

“I-I am blessed to die by your hand….”

Imperus picked him from the ground in one hand, gently, tugging the weapon from him and crushing it in a flash of violet light.

“You are mislead, you idiot child.”

A figure in dark clothes melted from the shadows and stood behind the martyr.

“Take him to the hospital. Have him healed. Assign a counselor.”

The dark-clothed agent nodded, and slung the protesting shooter over their shoulder.

Imperus swept the room with zher gaze, and many flinched as it passed over them.

“Mistake not my kindness for cruelty, nor my silence for consent. I demand no worship, only obedience.”

A chorus rippled across the assembly. “Hail Imperus!”

Imperus nodded, returning to the throne. Adequate.

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