Tuesday, August 16, 2016

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The Solitary Crow - Golgotha - 2

2
The Signs of the Sea


Behold, the port of Golgotha! It was once said by a person about a different city, that one would never behold such a wretched hive of scum and villainy. It was set on an island, with the two branches of the Thardic river flowing around it. One could see the turrets and towers guarding the gate. Though it was only half the size of Coranan – its style was completely different. Though the amphitheater was almost the same, everything else was different. Starting with the black and gray rock of nearly every building. Even the King would not reign from this spot – his Highness, Chafin III, preferred his keep North a few leagues, where the sea foam just a bit purer. But not much, because Rethem was the center of everything evil. And they did not deny, fire, blackness, and formidable walls were the rule of the day. The city weld up out of the ground, upon a shallow hill. There were five or six spires, but it was hard to tell much about the city. And that was intentional. Everything crowded below the high walls – except for the stadium, and the spires, and the Castle – called Chakta – which was under Royal protection.

But he did not see much of the North side, but instead came south, towards the Dedergon Bridge – which was long, as well as black. He could see a few figures casting nets from a few fisher boats. In to the walls were set slabs with portcullis inlets into the city, and a few boats sailed in and out of them. Though he did notice that the fixtures were cleaned, though nothing else was.

He looked at the city, and even someone who did not know anything, would tell that it was dark and dank. But he knew that there is a hierarchy, even among those who worship some version of the gods of blackness. At the top were those who worshiped fire and soot – they worshiped the fire God of Agrik. He had numerous followers, and many temples to a welter of competing knights. Each one of whom wanted to out do the others in garish style. One might think that this was the dominant religion – but you would have been wrong. In the shadows, the Temple of Naveh guided all forms of duplicity, and though not actually seen, were a force to be reckoned with. But the supreme power rested with the temple of Morgath. Though not in law, but supremely so in fact. Its leader was in fact Amorvin – though recently dead and taking a form which was not recognizable as yet. But it would be very soon, and that would present a problem, which he would progressively hide away from those people who would suspect. A rather, suspect and be bothered by. Only Halea and Save K'nor, of any of the other deities, would allow their followers to make their presence known – and it was only two member of the Heptarchial Council - which ran the détente between the competing temples. Better to be in the room then out of it.

Then he looked below to the banks, where stunted trees grew – Elms which rather than tall and sturdy, where broad and slightly blackish in their hew. He could not tell if that was the natural color – though he had not seen it before – or whether there was some sewage. Sewage of unknown extraction. He did not really care to find out, at this time. He realized that being above, though it had advantages in going down the river – was now a quandary. Below, it was true that being mired among the steerage passengers made one vomit. But there was no air to be had up here, because every sewer in the city poured forth into the canal ways. And one did not like to think about what was being manufactured in this place. Because manufactured is the word that one is looking for. What he did in his laboratory, was being done on a vaster scale, in dozens of dank rooms in a dozen different places.
He did not know whether to be glad, or be worried that he was coming to this place. This odiferous place. On one hand he could feel the levers of power beneath the hands that moved them – ended on the other hand, he felt that the power should be in fewer hands. But that was not his choice to make. It was not that he minded the machinations, far be it from him to judge that, because he worshiped money and power – devoid of any God. But this was less and more than human, and he definitely preferred that the power should be human.

Thus he planted his feet towards Golgotha, and soaked in the sites – because he knew that eventually more cities would be like this. Churning out all manner of concoctions meant to do many things, including harming people. And so long as he was not one of the people, this was fine with him. But he would rather not have his own Republic as the first test. It would far better be to be the Savior then be the aggressor.

The boat slowly moved in to the docking port, it was on the river side – and gathered milled grain from outside of the area – the plebes used the local grain – but the nobles preferred getting there grain from outside the city. Even at three times the price, it was definitely worth it. Everything from outside, even grain and fruit, was at a similar markup. The industry of Golgotha was terror, and every man and some fraction of the women devoted themselves to doing damage or two clean up the mess made afterwards.

It need not be said, that extreme caution should be used . Especially because this might well be a fight between two of the Lords of Death – Naveh and Morgath - and he was on one side of that. He thought heavily on that, as his eye moved across the small whirlwinds which dragged down the sienna tone oaks leaves,and then dredged them up as a slurry . There was no turning back, but there was dread at being here.

Crawling slowly forward – lurching in fact, the wind only blowing occasionally, as if it were stuttering, the boat was gradually closing in on a particular dock. On board this dock their work a dozen people – which he surveyed each face of, and carefully noted it. It did not seem like any were designed to injure him – but better not to be lax at the very point of entering Golgotha. It would be unwise. What was apparent about them was that all of them were men, and almost all were on halfway point to the grave. Their faces were stunningly blank, though each man had some particular reason for being there – there were two and threes, but no more than that. There was no mob forming, nor any plan at work to them the their. This was good. He would hate to have intermediate encounter with either the forces of Morgath – or some of the numerous Agrikan factions. You rather wanted to slip outside, their he would wait for a sign. He rather suspected that instructions would be pocketed – it was an old Naveh custom to leave instructions on the person, and only after some minutes would be person know. He quickly checked, but nothing was in them yet – but he would check from time to time. He stood very firmly behind the bulwarks as the boat came near and nearer to the dock. No one was staring at him, but that was hardly a hopeful sign. Who knows how many of the men waiting there were actually assassins – he thought to might be, but they were not interested in him. He had forgotten how careful he needed to be in this place. Then with a glide, and with a great deal of commotion as ropes were thrown out and thrown in, the head nestled on a large peer.

Then he thought he felt something. It was in his cloak, near his chest where he had a nearly hidden pocket. He reached for it, but disguised his action so that it looked as if he were brushing aside – and then he threw the material confirmed that there was a scroll, that he did not put their. The sun was only have way down, but already lists had appeared on the river – they were foul and were almost certainly mixed with airs from the sewers. They drifted over the top of the water, with a lazy drifting pattern that was dispersed by the wind – which finally gusted at about 6 feet over the fêted river. He kept back from the people who had business, but also from those who clung to the rear.

He did not want anyone behind in, of course. He glanced at the signs, which were brown against the black stone– most of which were symbols rather than words. He saw three or four bars, as well as a pawnbroker, and some more mundane things like pottery, pewter, and candlestick making. Their were two sedan chairs – they were to grubby to be waiting for someone. These were new inventions, perhaps some 50 years old, before that people rode – horses or donkeys – or walked. What it is face was a squalid foulness to the air, as if food, feces, unsanitary waste, suspend sentiment, and dubious chemicals had mixed together. But it was faint, as though the source were yet inside the city. Even he felt a queasy feeling mired up from his gut.

Once at the deck, the earliest people were in a rush to get down – at least half of them had never seen anything so disgusting, either with their eyes or perfumed in their nose. At least two broad their forearms to their noses to choke off the smell. Then came the wave that he was a part of – the wave of people who did not expect company, and were checking faces to make sure that they did not have any.

Now he had to make a decision: should he read the parchment now? Because it was possible that he was suppose to be looking for someone, but he decided that he was a bit too obvious – and if they had someone waiting for him, and would sidle up to him. He gradually moved down the plank, carefully stepping over various bits of unrecognizable debris. He trod carefully, because once on the dock, it was not exactly slippery, but close. The beams were laden with salt water – which meant that the breeze had once been coming from the sea.

There were only a few projections in two the river, the main port was on the north side. It was also busier than this. Over to his right was the vast wall which separated the inside from the outside, and beyond that was a wide canal. On the other side of the canal was the Pamesani stadium, with its riot of vendors hawking their wares. Over here on the inside he remembered a Boulevard, though he did not remember the name, at present. What he was looking for was an alleyway – where he would be unnoticed, and have the time to read the scroll. After that, it would depend on the parchments contents where he had to go. He easily avoided any confrontation with any of the men, it was second nature to him.

Then he saw the large road, and it was named for the dock – how foolish of him to not remember this. Kalphor street beckoned him, but he resisted the temptation – though the first smell of heavy pies with cream and gravy had almost had him at his beck and call - and instead headed right to one of the smaller streets. Once he was there – and felt sure he was not being watched – he took out the scroll and read it.

Exquisitely timed terror gripped the front of his left hand and immediately sent his head from side to side. In the darkened street, something had moved and he did not know what. Underneath the three and four story buildings, made of the black rock for which the city was famous for, their were verandas over the narrow street. But as yet he did not see what had caused the subtle commotion. He looked left and right a profusion of times before he understood that behind one of the balconies was hidden almost from his view. Clearly it was some kind of assassin, but he did not know if it was his employer, or his enemy. Then he caught a good look at the man's face – and he could see that it was not living, but undead. This meant it was his enemy – of the servants of Morgath.

The assassin knew he had been seen, and leapt down to the street and flourished his knives. Clearly, the Morgathi had been alerted – and if his arrival was a secret yesterday, it was not today. He had to choices – flee, or stand his ground use his is magic to defend himself. It had to be fast choice. There was, of course, only one decision from his point of view – and he quietly palmed a tangled figure of wood and filaments of metal, and began to cast a spell. The figure let loose and began to burn in a quite wild way. It arched towards the figure of the morgathi, and when it reached it – it began a torrid flaming tongue – which reached up for the sky. He had intentionally made it bright – the flame was at least 40 yards tall, soon many of the people on the top floors came looking towards the street – some who had windows – which was a new thing in that era. But they did not see the Magi, because he ducked down in two a portal – though he could not resist watching the undead burn. Burn in colors of scarlet and magenta, because he did not feel that he should disguise that thaumaturgy was involved. On his inner face was something like a grin, because he knew that very few people could call forth such pyrotechnics.

Than the look of delight became one of terror, as he felt a hand grip him from behind. A strange voice reached his here, very low and he was certain that only he could hear it: “ that was very good. I am from your employer – and I am to take you down to the sewers.” He thought that it was about bloody time, this was not the way he would have done things. However, he did realize why they had done this – too catch the first undead which followed him. There were more, of course, including the leader of the religion of Morgath – who commanded the talons of power. Not many people knew that the leader was undead, and he worked hard to surround himself with those who would not mind.

Taking a curl of his blackened hair, and an expression that he hoped would show contempt for his companion, he began: “Now that you have seen my power, let us go to the portal downstairs – because there will be magistrates to examine the clearly magical flame.”

With this the man who had gripped him released a hidden lever, revealing a hidden doorway. There were stairs running steeply downwards, and a dark stench of sewage – with a width of noxious chemicals. This to was unusual, because very few places dredged up tar and oil. This was because only a few people knew what they did, and they were not communicating if they could help it. Pushing the Magi in front of him, they descended the twisting spiral staircase – with the door shutting behind them. Of course the stones were black, nearly everything was in Golgotha – and it seemed as if they were old and textured – while not smooth, their was no feature which could injure them. The stairway was only wide enough for a single person – and they went around three times on the helical downward pattern. But finally it opened up – and revealed a canal which ran beneath the streets. Of course it was blackened except for the occasional torch which cast only a bit of light. But it was obvious that someone had some need for this. There was also a short gondola, which is companion to close with his hands, and then pulled out of the curves that it made – a poll. It was obvious that the Magi was to sit in it, and no conversation occurred.

A missed the heavy air, their was distinct scent of salt water, but they were going away from it and all of the signs of the sea. Instead they were going down below towards the bowels of the earth.
“I assume that there will be some explanation of what I am to be doing here?”

For a moment the companion merely stirred the poll – but then replied: “ you will have two ask the keeper that. I am only a messenger.” and he continued to push along, without commenting further. The Magi then looked on to the black cobblestones – which were filthy with grease and tar – and saw that there actually were pictures, but they did not make sense. There were forms that were half man and have tusked creature. It then dawned on the Magi that these were forms that could only come from one place – from the mind of Morgath.

Finally after a quarter of an hour, the gondola was slowed and with his hand the companion motioned him to get off the boat. There was only a small sliver of cobblestones, and a door placed inside the rock. The door was mica, and brought from a long way away.

As the door on its massive hinges slowly wheezed inwards, what was behind it came in to view. First there were at least half dozen torches – and numerous candles lighting up the room. It was approximately 30 feet long and 20 feet wide, and had spare features. There was a long table with numerous towards, and on the opposite side of the room, two figures. One which had all of its liberties, and the other which was bound – by the neck, by the waist, and spread out with manacles on its ankles – spreading far apart on what looked to be a wooden stake. Of this bound figure, the immediate recognition was that it was not human – it was tall, thin, and under its light gray robe one could see that it was white – and it was female, like an elf. But no elf that the Magi had ever seen before. He of course had seen the rulers of Sindarin, who were shorter than most normal folk. What she have in common was the nobility of features beneath her white hair. Of the man who was unsound, is features were hard to make out: he was average height, average build, robed in black with two knives at his belt. His hair was a mixture of brown and gray – which indicated he was at least in his 40s.

And then he turned to the Magi – and dismissed the messenger at the same time.

“I am glad you have come. I am the keeper of this treasure – a treasure that you must extract some information from. And I do not particularly care if she survives the process – that is up to you.” the Magi studied his movements, which were fluid and graceful – but with an animus which clearly foretold the evil which moved his body. The Magi remembered to make note of that, because he would happily toss the Magi aside if it were convenient. He guessed that this was a member of the elite priests of Naveh – though of course he did not know exactly which.

Taking his cue from the deacon, he he eased himself, making his comportment as one who was negotiating – but from the interior position, as he knew how to do with the Naveh. It was one of the many things he had studied, as part of his own discipline. “Of course I cannot help but to come. But what is it that you want? I am sure you have many ways of producing the truth, surely my help cannot be any better than the ways you can procure it.”

“We have tried many of the techniques that you referred to. But her mind is closed to us by both priest miracles – and by other less pleasant means. Even some of our Shek-Pvar have tried their luck, with no success. Your talents are well known, and you have certain features which make you useful – including the price that you set. I know the plans you have made with my fellow priest, but do not worry – these are plans that accord completely with the structure of our religion.”

“Nothing less was expected. But I still do not know what you want, because you must be aware that the mind of her type is extremely closed to any of us. Not that I mind poking around, but success is very minimal indeed.” Through he might like to smirk, he did not. However, there was no way he would ever take such an assignment on a fixed commission. He would do what he could, but he would promise nothing – even getting a small piece of information was a trial and half – if one could get anything at all.

Eyes were the key – though them everything else was revealed, at least by humans. What the eyes told him was that this was very different from the first deacon. The first deacon was miserly, holding tight to all of the coinage and secrets that the cult had managed to procure. But here was a different figure entirely – he was generous, so long as he got what he needed. So the elf's life was of no concern to him – as was the price on the information. It seems clear to the Magi that he was in direct communication with the means of payment – which the first deacon was not. It then followed directly, that here was the person who he could get what he needed.

“I must say directly, that nothing is to be taken as a given. There is no way that I can guarantee success. I will do what I can, of course, but there are forces which far exceed my grasp. And, the other thing which I must emphasize, is there is no period Which I can lay out what I will find.” When he spoke this there was an emphasis on his limitations – almost as if he had put it in writing.
“These are acceptable conditions, we are bringing you in not to hold you to success – because we have not had any ourselves. But if you can procure even a tiny fraction of what this elf knows, you will be richly rewarded.” A faint grimace accompanied this on his face.

“There is one more thing – I must have time alone with the prisoner. I do not wish to have my secrets scattered, I am sure you understand.” The magi hardened himself to this, it was not negotiable in the form.

“Of course your secrets are your own, we only want the information.”

“What information is it that I can provide?”

“You have heard of the earthmasters, yes?”

“Everyone with any knowledge of the distant past does.”

“You know of the monuments that they have left behind, made of a substance which does not bind to the forces of nature.”

The Magi only nodded. This was hardly new information.

“Well, that elf walks between monuments – in the blink of an eye. I must retrieve how she does it. By whatever means necessary.”

The Magi stood there with a face which was inscrutable. On the inside, he did not tell his priestly counterpart that he had used the monuments, not in the same way exactly, but close. Because certain creatures could only be gone from the pseudo-stone. That someone had actually jumped in was not to far fetched – he knew it had been done. He just was not going to be one who risked his life on it. But since it was a elf, it had to be fairly safe.

“I will try, now about the compensation?”

“What do you want?”

It was at that point that negotiations broke down to what he wanted. It went on some time, each one feeling out the other as to what would be the most acceptable, and the least painful. Then when that was done, the Magi then turned to the elf – and saw on her face the most exquisite contempt that he had known. This was the first thing that he had to do – because he was not going to get anything out of an elf. Not with that scorn rippling through her. This would not do.

Thus he dismissed the deacon, and focused his attention on the elf. The deacon left quietly, shutting the portal silently.



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