KOHKOL: Session 08 -- Epilogue 'Censure, After Battle'
Sol Lessfear examined the ugly man seated across from him. ’Twice a lie, Solember,’ he thought, He’s neither a man nor likely to be thought of as ugly for his kind.
Lessfear sat back abruptly when Aunaur the Deralfmar spoke as to his thoughts. Lessfear attempted to hide his surprise at the other’s acuity.
“I am certainly considered unattractive among my people, Smoker Lessfear. I have no concern for being or more importantly, doing what is attractive. My role is to do the unseemly and do it well. Bringing ruin to others’ lives cannot be made pretty. I just make it obvious what I am about from the first instance.”
Smoker Lessfear could only nod and click his pipestem twice between his teeth. There was little to add to the Veer’s honest self-appraisal.
The Veer stroked his mirrored skull-cap saying, “Now you… You are a human with a touch of mystery about you. A cipher. I mean to advise you that I have some notoriety at the skill of breaking living codes.”
“No need to practice this skill, eh?”
“Practice, no. Employ… that you will determine.” The Veer smiled. He had two, main, facial expressions; a sneer that threatened to see the corners of his mouth touch the corners of his eyes and a smile that attempted the opposite. The resulting two expressions were practically alike. Pleasantry and the unpleasant seemed to be the same thing to this deralfmar veer.
Smoker responded, “No need to employ it on me then. I am an open book, coded or not, tch-tch.
“Let the interrogator simply ask then, nu-nu, yes? Very good... Tell me about your interest in your knight.”
“Who, Renaissance? Don’t tell me you’ve missed the obvious here? I’m not a squire.”
“No, Man. I am not a feeblemind. I know you have barely met the man you travel with. I mean to know why you have decided to make yourself involved.”
“No real reason. Chance. Destined crossings. I am a man who knows what to look for in luck's glance...Tch-tch-tch.
“If you like.”
“I do not, like.” Aunaur opened his hand to show a glass vial. The ampule was tapered at one end; a sharp point too delicate to survive careless handling. The other end was split into sections like the vanes on a windmill. “You see this? A thing of exquisite manufacture. A limited and now, finite resource. It is ordinance. A gift of my former master. The great crafter who made this, called the God Set, his master also. Set was a God who followed very strict laws. Laws he elucidated and lived by. I was his law-bringer. His laws were simple to bring, easy to enforce. I had an easy time. I was well suited to using the ordinance to bring Set’s laws to other mortals. Fate. Not a good thing to mention to me. Especially given our most current achievement.”
“What’s this to me, tch”
"Fate. You feel fate is something you can work with? This is a dangerous course. The helm of this Ceriestrident, the object of our mission here, now gained is more aligned with fate than anything I can think of. Ceriestrident's use and desire for the helm should make you think twice about fate. There are few who should think they are safe to welcome fate into their lives."
"Ceriestrident is dead?"
"Nu-nu,yes. I watched the slaying from the battlements. Renaissance entered the lodge's courtyard. He had the chaeryns' heaviest with him. Dagnyr stood alongside as well. It took something from each to make Ceriestrident regret coming to Logresse. I think, if he could give voice to his regret, he'd say that this world is not well-suited to unchivalric types like him. He managed to summon Ourthly elementals and even these were insufficient. Renaissance could not be deterred. He tore the helm from Ceriestrident's head and then tore the man's eyes from their sockets. A brutal methodology... I quite approved of its doing. It had a kind of simple effectiveness. Logresse has its champion."
"You don't say, tch-tch. I've heard Renaissance call himself a barbarian. I haven't seen much of it in him. Maybe he saves it for times like these?"
"He tends to hide his basic nature most of the time."
"One thing is, I don't know about the helm or whatever it is you say it's meant to be in relation to fate. My life led me to my view of fate, tch-tch.
"The owner of the helm of fate, a certain doctor-- the original owner, he might be one to speak with, if he can be found alive or found and returned to life."
"I will keep that in mind. I expect being in Renaissance's company will make the odds better. The luck of the draw is something I do well by most times. Most lucky I ran across Renaissance's kingdom, tch-tch-tch."
Aunaur watched the man closely. He could not tell if the man was serious or flippant. That ridiculous pipe... “I heard you tell of your acquaintance of a time-traveler. Jerran Ghostly. 'The last man alive'.”
“His words, not mine. tch-tch.
Aunaur pointed the vial’s point at Smoker’s right eye. “You’d better tell me everything. I have no conscience, Human, understand?”
Lessfear stared from the finality of the vial’s tip to the deathlier eye of the Veer.
“Tch, well, there’s the fact that I worked for him. I was a fetcher of things, people and money. Not always in that sequence. Sometimes there was just one of these categories, tch, sometimes there were more. Ghostly was interested in the mining of a precious commodity. More precious than gold. The velvet. The place I worked for him is the only known source of it. Comes off the monsters that lived and died there, so they tell it. Ghostly seemed to find the velvet really important. He never told me why. I asked him more than once. He would only laugh and shake his head derisively at me. Me and the others, we worked out that the velvet was somehow connected to casting. It improved the caste magicks of the casters that worked for Ghostly. He was especially fond of pyromancers, although tch-tch, I couldn’t say why.
Maybe it was just that there was a pretty pyromancer and he had a liking for her looks? She was alright. It might have only been that. I think it was more than that though. She was a decent caster. Moved fire like it was just a coat she was putting on. No issues at all. Born to it, like tch-tch. This was before the Rakshahasa had shown up. Don’t really know what happened to her or any of Ghostly’s other pyromancers since. Might have gone badly for them. Few around, who’d know unless you’d happened to be present when the cats showed up. I’m guessing the Rakshahasa wouldn’t be too happy with Humans using their element.”
“These are unasked for informations. I will accept them as a sign that you are spilling your soul to me… Fire. The element used by the Gods. Now it has returned. The Gods return too, although not near as forcefully as the element. It is good to be elemental in this regard, I suppose.”
“Your kind are fond of the earthly element.”
“Nu-nu, yes. I have little connection personally. Not a thing I spent time on. Deralfmar were handy with it in general terms. Most at home with using the Ourth to caste magick. My kind were the mightiest of casters, none-other of mortal-kind were their match. My own strength was consumed in an extreme fashion in the pursuit of my pursuing my prey. Should you want to talk to one who has a more standard relationship with the Ourth, talk to the ‘squire’.”
“You say ’earth’ differently to me.”
“Most assuredly. You might foist only this much on men and be allowed to wriggle away...”
“Not from a Veer though?”
“Not this Veer.”
“Ask then, tch-tch.”
“Nu-nu, yes… Ghostly traveled from the end of time. You knew this… Did you ask him what that place, at the end of existence was like?”
He didn’t tell you.”
“I find this habit of clicking your pipe very irritating.”
“I know. It bothers me too. I can’t help it. The pipe brings me luck and it’s clear I need all the luck I can get.”
“Luck? Nothing to be sneered at, luck.”
“Yet you do.”
“My countenance cannot be moved after a lifetime of forming this appearance. I sneer at everything that does not amuse me more.”
“Another habit then… TCH-TCH.”
“Heh! Nu-nu yes. I will let you have that one... Tell me of the end of time.”
“A place that is small and tattered. A globe of crystal. A globe that housed only Ghostly and his calculated numbers and nothing more. The globe contained only enough of life to preserve him. The elements in small measure. Life in smaller measure; and hope --.”
“-- not at all?”
“As you say tch-tch.”
“He’d be desperate and depressed then.”
“Desperate to affect change in his previous-future circumstance. tch-tch-tch.”
“Well, he’s dead so yes.”
“Maybe not the change he sought but maybe, certainly a change alright.”
“Nothing more in that ‘end of days’ then?”
“Now it might be different. He won’t be there but I am not really one to ask if this means the future changes beyond changing who will be the last mortal alive.”
“Nor if this will matter…” Aunaur stared at the ampule in his hand as if trying to look into a crystal ball. The Deralfmar might wish to reach the end of time. It was something he’d like to see. He wasn’t at all sure why.
“Thank you for breaking my reveries… Now then, what about Renaissance? Why him? You could choose others. I must know to my satisfaction or it will go badly. You would not want to see me irritated.”
“No, I can see that… Why do you care? I don’t see much that you share with Renaissance?’
“Heh, nu-nu yes. It would be confusing for one such as you. Call it a courtesy of a vanished Age. He gave me time when others would not. I owe him more than a debt. I owe him my consideration. Your pipe? You would not be without it? I would not be without him.”
“Renaissance belongs to you?”
“Heh, he’d like that… No, I can’t say it is so – and yet, yes.”
Smoker raised an eyebrow at this. “I take you to be a Veer of the dark kind.”
“The oldest, darkest kind.”
“TCH, if you prefer your description to mine… Renaissance allows you this… I doubt he’ll have too big a problem with me then, even if I have a secret or two.”
“No he might not…”
Smoker Lessfear’s face became grim and stern. “I will do no harm by him that is planned. That’s all I can offer. I have my own reasons. They remain my own. Should you have a way that will learn of these reasons at your disposal, use it.”
“In this statement, I learn what I ask you for. Enough on this. Tell me of what happened at the Koss of Dominions, that I didn’t see myself.”
“How can I tell you what you do not know? I don’t know what these things are.”
“Very well, I will recount what we did. Then, you will add what is missing.”
Aunaur the Deralfmar stroked his elongated chin. Another might do this thoughtfully for a moment. Aunaur's chin was abnormally formed. It thrust forward from his face like the ram on a ship. In Aunaur's case, stroking his chin was enough for two moments’ thought, then he began.
“We traveled southward from the Koss of Lore. We were five: You, myself, Renaissance, Dagnyr and the herald woman, Ebelance. I continued my Ourthly dissembling. The herald did not sense my presence. A gift of my own design that the Ourth provides. In my profession, a useful thing to mask my whereabouts. ‘A shot out the dark’, it might be said.
I had thought we would meet again with the Delvish female, Theses, of our recent encounter when we reached the ‘skirts of the city of Censure. At her leaving us, she seemed to be willing to predict that we might see her again. Our movements may have thrown whatever her planned rendezvous was, off-target. We moved rather quickly, if not a little abruptly, toward the Koss of Dominions. There was every chance that there was more to be won elsewhere in the city. This mechanical beast-statue could well win a battle or two on its own from the sounds of it. Nonetheless, it was the koss, with its potential for harm in the shape of the lore of the baneswords, that was our selected destination.
We made first sight of the lodge-house where teaching of archery was done. Unique it isn’t but unusual, assuredly. Still more unusual was the reality that the archers therein seemed unperturbed by their proximity to a koss filled with invading undead. I –”
“Undead? I have not heard them called this before. Undyne is the nearest word for the one you use. Cadavivva more accurately.”
“Nu-nu yes. Undead is an older term. I use it out of habit. An inaccuracy. I will amend my reference… The cadavivva had taken the koss tower and left the lodge only a few score yards distant alone. Alone? It seemed unlikely in the extreme. Some sort of unwritten agreement? A pact of peace between the leaders of the cadavivva and those in the lodge? Something didn’t calculate out. Renaissance was all-concerned for the books of the baneswords’ lore. The swords are known to him and myself, for that matter. Dread things, born together in the First Realm. I have reasons to fear them both. I traveled with one’s wielder for a time. The other sword, I held and used for a night that I have almost expunged from my memory. It only rises to my thoughts on one night a year. A night that through my travels through time to this new Age, I no longer can quite calculate. There will come an evening when I will be the last Veer you would want to meet. On that anniversary, I will turn darker still, and I cannot be held or stopped. My fate is to do things I must answer for. Things that even I in my manner cannot deny are too far into the Darkness. I will let our companion, Renaissance, decide my crimes and my fate for such an evening’s evils. Evils brought on by my moment wielding, Mournblade – dark sword of my kind.”
At these words, for no reason he could think of, Lessfear shivered.
Aunaur continued, “Renaissance led us past the lodge and to two notable things I and Dagnyr could spy. The first was a dilapidated bridge. Made of stone in a manner most unlike the koss or its wooden palisade. The other was a tunnel-mouth, just visible through heavy shrubs that all but disguised the entrance. We went to the tunnel. Renaissance stood away as Dagnyr took to the attack of the cadavivva that stood sentry-guard at the opening. This was the first encounter. It went well. Dagnyr proved able with his mace, thrusting with it in a manner most unusual, ‘though I fancy not for the Delve. One thing was noted by myself. The cadavivva threw small hand-sized balls. These would open to reveal a rat. This rat came toward where the rest of us stood back, watching the fight. Soon enough it would become obvious that the rat was somehow linked to the cadavivva. The rat could show the undyne where we were or at least, what we were before they came upon us. A useful thing, if not for the source, one that I’d be willing to consider using myself.
Dagnyr finished the first of the cadavivvan guards off with another thrust, that pinned the undead’s head to the tunnel’s wall. Apart from the floor which was pave-stones, the tunnel was hewn, not finished. The tunnel was also not that long. It measured only sixty feet. Along its length, crates of stored goods and provender for a possible siege by nature or by mortals, were piled. Cadavivva lurked between the crates and it was then that I lost sight of the party as I had been told to head above to the koss’s parapet. You might continue?”
“Alright then… You said Dagnyr stove in the first’s forehead with a thrust. Made it sound like he was an expert with the morningstar he used. He’s no master of the weapon, not even in a stretch. More that he has seen others use the type and he seeks to copy these others, tch-tch. Brave though, it has to be said. As I watched him, I moved to the entrance’s side. Renaissance’s size and bulky cloak made seeing what happened up the tunnel difficult. I looked back toward the lodge. It was my job being last at the rear to watch for any skulking undyne. Some of the rats that had been released were gathered nearby. I watched as they quite suddenly all turned their heads toward the lodge. The rats looked like nothing more than a tiny audience whose attention was called upon by the main actor, spot-lit on a stage, that I had to smile, tch-tch-tch. Soon, I would not be so amused. The rats were answering someone’s call. They ran in a single line toward the lodge. I was torn between following the party and seeing what called the rats. I flipped a coin and it came up rats, tch-tch. I reached the lodge just as the last of them had finished queuing to get inside. The door opened wider and I was faced with an archer. He looked right through me. Walked past me. Didn’t so much as notice me, tch. I watched him go around the corner. I went inside the lodge. There were several other men inside. The room was airy. There was plenty of light. None of them looked my way. They weren’t doing a thing. Tranced caste, I’d call it, tch-tch. Why go to the trouble? Why not kill them or imprison them? I was pretty confused by them. If you can believe it, the rats had more sense about them. They had all run upstairs. I paid no mind as they were far less odd than the archers. I should have been more concerned with the rats. A voice from the stair’s landing announced itself. It was a voice I had heard once before. It belonged to the one we sought, Ceriestrident. The star of this staged production. For a largish man, he moved easily. Something about this struck me as odd. Could he be borrowing from the archers in some way? I’m not skilled enough to know. I’d like to think that’s not possible but I’d like to think I’m destined for a good end and that isn’t any more likely, tch-tch. His mask was black in part but mostly gold. I’d seen it before in the city of healing. There he’d been welcomed. His mask gave him access. He was thought to be a healer like those who wear the masks of gold. He had been but he’d long since proved he was no healer of the infirm and diseased. His pretence aimed at the golden riches the Order of Seynse Or’Rahn healers had amassed. Their use of this wealth was always directed back into the communities they tended. Once he’d captured it, Ceriestrident used this wealth to buy the necessary components of a tremendous chantrying. I’d heard it told me by an old woman of Kasken. Her grandmother had passed on the tale of Ceriestrident’s evil. He’d created a pair of shears. These were able to cut through most things, even chantried ones. Even… even plumage.” Smoker Lessfear waited for this to register. He realised that this information did not mean much to Aunaur so he carried on. “Tch-tch, Ceriestrident never could be accused of humility. His words to me were no different. From his stairway landing he spoke out to me saying, “Lessfear, it’s you! I have looked forward to our meeting. Finally, it is time. I have much to tell you and something greater to show you. If my words and then my revelation sit well with you, then later we can speak. For now, join me upstairs." I might have made a dash for it but I knew well enough that his sword’s tip would find my back, tch-tch. I went past him as he directed and up the stairs. As we reached the second floor he said, “Lessfear, you don’t know what I’ve managed. I have left Miranse’s small nations behind. I have become mighty on the Canticle Homeworld. Here, on Logresse I escort the cadavivvan hordes to a new world at the apparent orders of the Canticle’s masters. Of course, it suits me better than these others can know. I have wheels within their machinery that they cannot perceive. The chantrying I do, they cannot comprehend. Best of all, you Solember Lessfear, are here. The moments arrive. You’d be thinking that I reveal things to you needlessly. A foolish conceit. You’d be wrong. I tell you this because I expect you will see logic. My strength is where it must remain. I need your assistance. For this I will gladly make you wealthy. If you prefer I will give you some power to run things in a place of your choice. Do you understand, Lessfear? The gift you have, is one I do not want to rest with others. Select your road. Make a wise choice.” Aunaur stared at the man, "You chose poorly." “Ceriestrident was displeased alright, tch-tch. When I’d said my bit, he told me he’d give me some time to reconsider. I took this to mean I was his prisoner but was not overly worried as I knew you lot were about the place outside. I happily went to the closet door he indicated would be my makeshift cell. As I stepped inside I became aware of his casting behind me. This was not a golden caste as I’d been led to believe was his chosen colour. He used the Incarnate power instead. A darkness enveloped me. I could hear his voice well enough tch-tch. His words were not arch. No threat was issued. This left me colder than if he’d given me things to think about, tch-tch. Instead he repeated that he needed my gift. He said he’d return to release me. I felt the darkness touch my open eyes and this sent fear thrilling through me. It was able to minister to the thoughts that I have that must not be acted on. Thoughts, I’d guess most can have. These thoughts jumped up from the depths of me and I couldn’t think of much else.” Aunaur’s eyes glowed feral and knowing, “You might speak these thoughts to me, Lessfear. I make a good confessor. There is little you could say that would make me take flight.” “My thoughts were of gain. Wealth. The ability to take control of people’s lives, even those I didn’t know. Women. They’d only need to come to my attention and they would put aside their lives to take their place before me.” Aunaur sneered, “The normal things. Dark but hardly incarnate. I expected more.” “Sorry to disappoint.” “I meant to encourage you.” “Tch-tch, I might have thought darker things… I’ll keep these thoughts away from my tounge.” “Then you savour them differently, that’s all.” “No. I …” Lessfear’s voice halted as he learned the deralfmar was right. “Nu-nu, yes. You see? I can help you come to terms with what is within most. A trick to learn. Then you will be beyond these thoughts.” “That easy?” “That hard.” Smoker considered this, then he continued, “My world was dark. Nothing moved. Nothing was seen. All around me I felt a thing waiting. A thing anticipating its release. Whether this release was into me or into the wider world, I can’t be sure. For a time, that’s all I knew. Sensing this darkness’s desire to be loosed. At some point I heard a voice. Renaissance’s. I answered but he seemed confused. I didn’t hear from him for more than a minute but my fleeing hope was restored in those seconds. I called out to him repeatedly. I thought otherwise he could lose me in the dark. He must have been determined to get to me as it seemed to take an age and then he was there. With me in the dark.” “Tell me, did you see there was a difference in him to yourself?” “Now that you say it, yes. He didn’t seem to be uneasy, tch-tch.” “No darkness within him then.” “None he showed. I can’t say for sure though.” “I doubt he has it in him.” “Tch-tch, that’s reassuring and odd at the same time. Maybe it’s not reassuring…” “Nu-nu, yes. I know what you mean. That’s why I give him my time, you see? I’ve not met many like him that were mortal.” “But you have met a few, tch-tch?” “There’s one in the Cerulean who’s somewhat similar. I met another two of the Monstrous, who were as singular to their sense of things as Renaissance. There might be others among the rest? I haven’t met everyone…” “So that’s all you saw? You didn’t do more until Ceriestrident fell, tch-tch?” “No, there was more. There I stood, atop the koss’s battlements. A lone snipe, nested in my tree but not at rest. An interloper thrust its snout up through the bottom of my nest, disturbing me. I could not let this intrusion go unattended.” “You killed a poor baggman who came up on to the roof, tch-tch?” “Hah, no. I only took him unaware. Held him up. Until the authority arrived.” “Who was this unlucky one?” “His name, I do not know. I didn’t ask. All the way up the turning stairs though, he was calling out to one named, Hadreone. When I had stopped his entreaties to Hadreone with the muzzle-end of my governor, it placed just so at the base of his skull, it proved to late. This Hadreone appeared on the battlements. I felt relatively at ease as I had a hostage. I cannot say how Hadreone felt about it. For Renaissance and Dagnyr who arrived a moment or two thereafter, I think they were pleased.” “How did that all turn out?” “A surprising chat occurred. Renaissance led the discussion toward a resolution other than the obvious. A warrior of some subtlety.” “Tch-tch, this would be the agreement he mentioned between him and the cadavivva?” “Nu-nu, yes. The horde-master will subvert another series of cadavivva who while not ‘loyal’ to Hadreone’s cause, can be expected to do as he says.” “I wonder if that can be assumed to last long, tch-tch?” “It will be interesting. There is more to be gained for us than lost. If it causes disruption only, it will be worthwhile. If this Hadreone can actually make inroads and move the cadavivvans to attack the forces of the emperor…” “Tch-tch. If.” “I have some faith in the undead that you do not. They have always gone their own way. I have known more than you, I’d say.” “Let’s hope.” “Nu-nu, yes, you see? You’re feeling hopeful despite my threatening you with my ampule ordinance. One touch, your blood becomes mine, your dried husk is anyone's. Your optimism shows my work here is done.” Solember Lessfear drew deeply on his pipestem. He blew out three clouds of green-blue smoke. Two of the clouds floated away. The last cloud merged into his companion’s skin, disappearing within its veerish blue. They examined each other through the vanishing smoke. They were content to fall silent as they considered the other’s strangeness. One a thing of admitted dark dreams and the other a being affiliated with a lifetime’s madness.