One year after the Upheaval
The girl sits on the floor of her room. She followed the description in the book precisely but all she seems to have achieved is turning the skin on her arm in to a bloody mess. She lets out a string of frustrated sobs and cries until her chest is wracked with pain. All she ever wanted was for him to notice her.
At the party earlier that night the other young ladies had gathered around cooing over the young nobility. It was one of those sort of parties, designed so that the children of the great families might meet desirable matches. Her mother had encouraged her to try and make connections with the view to a future alliance but she had little interest in playing games of family politics and romance. There was one person in the room that could capture her attention. The young man is awkward and not exactly traditionally handsome but it was never about that. She watches him with fascination. His indifference to the party and the distant contemplative look in his eyes. She would love to know what he was thining. A Terrec girl in a sumptuous black silk dress notes her fascination.
“Hey, Lucretia, do you like Rowan?”
No, they don’t understand! This is something far deeper than their silly crushes.
One month after the Cargan party
He is bound to the bed and the dress and accents of the men and women tell him he is in the city of Strossborg.
“Don’t worry once the procedure is complete you’ll be free of this… afflication.”
He is screaming for them to stop. Trying to explain to them how they don’t know what they are doing. His words fall on deaf ears, as the mages are too caught up in their own willful ignorance. As they start to mark their sigils on his body, ice begins to gather at his extremities. This is when he realises he must be dreaming- it wasn’t him that this happened to.
When he wakes there is a figure sitting at the end of the bed. Except he knows he must be still in the dream because this person is long dead.
“How is it fair?” says the figure, “Why does a monster like you get to be happy?”
Two weeks ago
‘Most honourable mother and father, dearest sister and venerable grandmothers,
It has been several months now since my arrival in the North. Your son fares well, at least in body. How fares my kin? Has the Stallion brought his blessings on our hunt this season?
I must speak first of the religious practices of the City of Acryn. They worship four Founders here: the Leader, the Tender, the Builder and the Warrior. There is a fifth: the Traitor. This one is antithecal to the others, much like the Mare to the Stallion. There are those who fear this fifth but I have come to understand her role is to maintain some balance….’
He pauses to refill his inkwell. The Founders, it would seem, were once human beings. They were unlike the Mare and the Stallion, which were more akin to forces of nature. However there were similarities to be observed, in that they were in conflict with one another, thus forever maintaining stability.
Two days ago
This hadn’t been exactly what he had thought it would do and he wasn’t certain that this was even what he wanted. Gods, he had always maintained, were the product of mass delusions and how he was one. The alternative Otto had offered hadn’t seemed that appealing. That meant he was stuck with it. Clearly, though, now that he had some time to ponder it, he was not the product of a mass delusion. He was having trouble processing what this meant. Was he to exert his will on the world or exercise caution and think of consequences?
There was scant information on the Young Gods- or indeed gods in general. He had witnessed the Ascension of one and it had troubled him. The loss of the self was akin to death- or even worse. He was not, he maintain, the same as the Splintered Man and would never destroy himself so utterly. What he had found was mention of one Young God, the Shepherd, who had died in Strossborg. He had yet to found out why or how. The temples of the Guardian of Acryn and of the Stanchion were able to explain there gods origins as two adventurers but not how they had come to be what they were. He was left with no choice but to reflect on his predicament further.
In the warehouse district
With reverence she unwraps the skull and places it carefully on the shrine. It was retrieved at great cost both to her and her companions. She pitied the haunted man the most- the shepherd from Margush and the priest of a Young God killed in the distant realm of Strossborg. She offered him her friendship but he declined- there was nothing more she could do for the man. Nonetheless her own god is now returned to where he belonged.
“There we go, home at last Mas- um- Rowan.”
She smiles as she admires the altar. The until recently abandoned storage building isn’t really much to look at. There is a leaking roof that will need fixing with time and vermin scamper amongst the shadows, feasting on the few scraps of mostly rancid grain. Still it’s a start and with time it can grow in to something.
“Did I do well?”
The skull doesn’t answer.
In the noble district
“Quite obviously I’m dreaming,” he states matter of factly, addressing the apparition, “That would suggest that you are a manifestation of my own subconcious.”
“You have a beautiful family- a handsome husband and a precocious son.” “Ah I see, this is my own psyche trying to make me feel guilty. A monster like me gets to be happy, whilst you- or rather the form that my own subconcious has appropriated- left behind a broken hearted wife.”
The apparition laughs.
“You’ve spontaneously developed a moral compass- hardly seems likely.”
He’s back in that wagon beneath the wind-swept mountains with the postman desperately trying to send a message to the Queen but the ice and biting hurricane does not abate and she will not hear any of it.
“I don’t suppose an apology would do much good.” “Have you told him? About how you stole the knowledge of divinity from me?”
He shakes his head.
“You’re afraid that if he knows the truth about what a horrible person you are then maybe- maybe he won’t love you anymore.”
So that’s what this is about. He studies the form of Mark Carter the Shepherd for some time. He thinks of telling him how he tried to stop him. How he didn’t- couldn’t of known- just how dangerous the Strossborgian ritual was. How he and Samuel had tried to speak to his wife- maybe offer her some comfort. It is pointless, of course. He isn’t real.
“What’s done is done,” he says eventually, “I have no time to waste on pathetic emotions like remorse, when I must see the city great again. I need all the power I can get to do that and because of that I can never be sorry for what I’ve done. I am sad that the city lost you but in the end didn’t you die because you weren’t strong enough? That you let yourself believe their lies?”
“So I’m to blame?”
“Yes, we’re the only ones responsible for our own choices. To blame others is a weakness.”
“A weakness just like regret? Just like love?”
It was then it came back to him, what Armand had said: that he took pride in his flaws and was bizarrely ashamed of his virtues.
“Strange, isn’t it? How we find ourselves caring about things we never thought we could.”
At the Temple of the Tender
The foreigner is the only one really listening. There’s a finely dressed noble who seems only to be here to pay lip service, evidenced by the fact that she fell asleep half an hour ago. Two raggedly dressed urchins are huddled by a pillar and seem to have only come in to escape the rain. A drunk in the back rants incoherently whilst the recter tries fruitlessly to shush them. The foreigner listens intently, hanging on Councilman White’s words. He can not understand why the populace would choose to wile away their time on distractions like drinking or the theatre when they could listen to his aged words of wisdom. He does not pray to them- the foreigner’s soul belongs to the Mare- but as he is in their city he feels he should pay the Founders his respects. He has been to all the other temples- even the Church of the Traitor before it was outlawed- but the Tender’s teachings had most resonance with him. At the end of the three hours he tosses a few coins in to the collection bowl. As he leaves he notes the small gathering of priests of the Mare, come to protest once more. He tries to slip past but unfortunately one of them has spotted him.
“You there- you’re one of us, aren’t you?”
He stops in his tracks and pivots to face the one who addressed him.
“What is it you want, friend?” “Why are you attending their services after what they have done?” “It helps… to understand the other person’s point of view,” he remembers what councilman White told him, “It must be a misunderstanding… A hierarch of the Tender would never act out of malice.” “That may or may not be so but they still took what was the Mare’s by right.” “Well… maybe you both have a point… Just try to listen… to the other side.” “We’ve heard all we need to from them.”
He turns and walks away, not turning back even as the priest yells after his retreating form. There is no reasoning with them.
A house on the Darrish estate
“What’s the matter with you?” asks the young man lounging on the chaise lounge, his silk dressing gown falling down over one shoulder and baring part of his chest.
The noise of the party is distracting. A cultist lets out a shrill laugh that cuts through the air at some inebriated joke across the room. In one corner two half dressed women are locked in a passionate embrace, writhing to the sound of the percussion that is being played in another alcove. One young fellow is vomiting loudly in to a vase after having lost quite decidedly in a drinking contest.
“I- I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “What would take your mind off it? You want to drink some more? Play cards? Have sex?”
He shakes his head.
“Gods!” exclaims the lounging man, “when did you get so boring?”
Do as you will the Rampant had said. You need to be responsible said the other. The world was him and he was the world but he had changed. Therefore the world had changed. We all devour ourselves, that man had said. He was right. All that he had been was gone and now there was the Pivot of the World. He watched the party as it revolved around him. Now, as there always had been, there was one thing he could believe in.
“I’ve decided,” he says at last, “I’m going to give it a try. I can change the world just by exerting my will and so I’m going to use it to find Leaf.” “Who’s Leaf?” asks the man on the chaise longue but the other has already stopped listening. “I’m the Pivot of the World, so I just have to believe in that.”
At the Graves estate
“Since when did we start taking in random waifs and strays?” he said to no one in particular.
Of course, he knew who's fault it had been. Those two were gradually eroding everything he had once valued. And it was an appalling idea. One that would no doubt end badly. Still when the boy had looked at him with those eyes, he realised he was going to give in. From the moment he had laid eyes on him, he knew he would let the world burn if that is what he wanted.
“Fuck!” he exclaimed out loud, “I've gone soft.”