Part 8: Chapter Three - Part 2Chapter Three - Part 2
The way from the "Clot" to Ospina's house wasn't a particularly far one.
By this point, Artemiy was in a habit of bartering with kids, so, when he noticed a busy-minded girl on the street, he approached her.
Something was a bit off about her, though...
We've heard about you...
Have you, now? Hmm... You seem a bit pale...
I'd do anything for some milk right now... They don't allows to milk cows, though... You don't have any milk, do you?
Not right now... Why don't they allow you to milk cows?
They say, that, lately, cows don't give milk, but some sort of reddish ichor. My aunt said that, and my mom also said that Aglaya, a cook for one of the big families, said the same thing. She's one of the steppe folk, she knows about cows she even said, that, out in the Steppe, the cows' milk has turned black!
Well, now these tales would kill any desire for milk I'd ever have!
Tales like this, however fueled by fear they might be, usually carried in them a grain of truth. Artemiy carried on.
Track 6 The Land
The streets of the Raw Structures were almost entirely empty much emptier than the rest of the districts. A bad sign.
Despite what Vlad told Artemiy about the owner of the house harbouring escapees, Ospina's house was just as quiet as before.
Ospina was humming a local song when Artemiy approached her. She clearly expected him.
Do you know why I've come here?
I believe I do. You're after an escapee. How unfortunate, that Big Vlad had already managed to sink his claws in you. This friendship will not bring you good things, mark my word. In any case, you're late. An out-of-towner was here, already a bachelor, clad in snake skin. I've led the escaped butchers out into the steppe he would've shot them all, otherwise.
So far, Artemiy only had the perception of the Bachelor as a fellow, who was stuck in his laboratory. Curious, though not unlike him to treat the unknown with scorn.
Have they all left?
No... Some are still hiding out in the town. I'll be looking out for them, gathering them together. I've already found one of them, I'll find the rest. I only need time. The Children of Suokh don't need to die in this death chamber. You can count on me, oinon. I won't let your people die.
Where is this butcher hiding?
You aren't going to give him up to Big Vlad, are you? Promise?
Artemiy didn't give this particular promise with the intention of going back on it.
I promise. I'm not going to betray him.
Very well, I'll tell you. He's hiding in a place, from which everyone, who can run is running from today. Look for him there. Be careful, though there are people hunting for him.
You don't have to worry about me.
It would seem, that the calling of my lineage gives me the right to lord over the children of Bodkho in the interest of common good... Ospina has given me the life of the escaped butcher, even if she had done so a bit unwillingly... Still, I only have to find this refugee to be certain about this right of mine.
Ospina pointed out the house with the fugitive in it on the map. It wasn't that far a trek, so Artemiy headed out.
First, Artemiy saw the strange edifice break the fog. Then, he saw a guard mercilessly pummeling a very slowly moving figure. Then, Artemiy heard the moans.
Track 7 The Land (Disease)
Of course... That was what Ospina mean by the place everyone was running from. Artemiy could be forgiven for missing this detail having heavy-handed metaphors and oblique hints thrown at you for three straight days does quite a bit to discourage attention to finer details. The guards didn't try to stop him, but they did warn him that, should he get infected, he would not be let out of the district.
Wrapping his face in a rag, Artemiy began his first foray into the infected district.
In the district, the usual orange hue of the town was replaced by a green, miasmic fog. The only presence on the streets consisted of guards and some very slowly shuffling individuals, covered in filthy rags. Occasionally, these individuals attempted to approach the guards, only for them to either be chased away or beaten to death.
Once gain, Artemiy was in front of his Father's house. There was nothing for him inside, though, so he didn't tarry. Coming out of the little alcove, where his Father's house was located, Artemiy was hit with a gust of wind.
The cloud was hurling towards with a strange agility Artemiy barely manage to duck out of the way. He could've sworn that he saw faces in the clouds, but when he turned, the faces were gone, and the cloud itself dissipated soon afterwards.
There were faces in those clouds, that much was certain. The moans, the grinning clouds, the ragged men approaching him with outstretched hands this was the face of the enemy, that Artemiy was preparing to fight, and this was the first bout in a long struggle.
After more searching, Artemiy was sure that this was the right house.
Track 8 Indoor Horror
The interior was dark, and the walls were smeared with dust and something viscous, the nature of which Artemiy couldn't glean in these circumstances.
Filthy rags covered almost every doorway, and Artemiy had to make a lot of effort to not get tangled up in them. Finally, on the second floor, Artemiy found whom he was looking for.
In that moment, the expression on Artemiy's face has, very likely, mirrored the expression of horror on the butcher's face.
What are you doing here, child of Bodkho?
Artemiy decided to not beat around the bush a wise choice, considering the predicament.
I've come to ask you about the long circles of Tauro.
The long circles of Tauro are unknown to me. I am not an oinon, not a menkhu, not a keeper of rites.
Artemiy wasn't about to walk away empty-handed. He produced the Tauro out of his pocket and practically shoved it into butcher's hands.
Tell me about the meaning of this Tauro!
You are an oinon, of the line of menkhu, aren't you? I have seen this Tauro before. I don't know its lines. I've seen it in a horrible place. In the depths of Abattoir, there is a corridor. Through it, they bring in the Supreme ones from the Steppes for the celebrations. Oyun, the Elder of the Abattoir, can explain it all to you.
Supreme ones? What Supreme ones?
You don't know, whom we call the Supreme ones? You're joking...
Tell me about them.
You must be mocking me... We call them the Supreme ones, and not by their names, because we cannot talk about them. Perhaps, you don't even know about the one, who is called the Boos Turokh?
Boos... boos... The word was vaguely familiar. In Artemiy's mind, the word associated with Vlad Oglimsky, the person in control of the town's chief export bulls... Bulls! Of course!
Are you talking about the bulls?
Butcher's expression, which was teetering on the edge between bewilderment and fury, softened.
Yes. Bulls, too. Don't joke with me like that, oinon. Don't mock my simplicity.
It seems, that he took it as some sort of a joke on Artemiy's part, though, these would be strange circumstances for a joke indeed.
What else do you know about this sign?
If something is marked by it, then it won't be a human, a child of Bodkho or a child of Suokh. It would be a Supreme one. Don't look for a human being, oinon. It terrifies me, that your Father got tangled up with Those, who walk the corridors, marked by this sign. The signs aren't there for no reason, after all. It isn't human. I know nothing else.
Thank you. Be careful.
The picture is starting to come together. It's clear, that an Elder of Abattoir most certainly, a menkhu, the knower of lines is the one, who makes sure that the sacrifice adheres to the ritual. He is the most sacred authority in the matter. That is why he rules the Order. Big Vlad will tell me who is the one, who carries this duty in these hard times.
Even if Artemiy didn't get a concrete answer, the conversation was bound to leave much to ponder. Now, however, Artemiy didn't have time to ponder things. He still had to escape from the plagued district with his life intact.
The cloud was blocking the door outside, which meant that Artemiy had to look for a different exit. Thankfully, it was stationary for the moment, but not for long - before Artemiy found another exit from the house, it lifted up and began slowly advancing towards him. There was no wind here to blow it towards him it clearly had a malevolent will of its own.
Only after exiting the house did Artemiy realize just how stifling the air inside has been. His entire stay in the plagued district was fueled by sheer, animal terror and adrenaline. He was done here it was time to leave. Artemiy did not tarry.
His journey out was decidedly not as tumultuous as the rest of his stay as if, the monster had its fun and was releasing him into the wild to toy with him later.
The guards kept beating down the people in rags, but they let him pass. Before they moved the corpses, however, Artemiy took samples of the diseased tissue and extracted some of the organs from the infected dead. The guards didn't protest. In their eyes, everything was as it should have been.
With these samples, Artemiy could go straight to the Bachelor. Artemiy did, however, recall, that Dankovsky mentioned a certain infected corpse at the graveyard. It wouldn't hurt to take a look ,and, besides, Artemiy still had to visit his safehouse to make the batches of Tvyr mixture for Notkin.
Artemiy didn't notice it at the time, but the orange hue of the town did not reappear after he left the plagued district. Instead, a veil of gray descended upon everything he laid his eyes on. Was it just the local climate, or did Artemiy's first encounter with the Sand Fever coloured his perception so? He did not know the answer to that question.
Artemiy saw a fire burning in the distance, and a guard standing beside it. When he tried to approach the fire, however, the guard began to barrel after Artemiy, fueled by a strange fury that Artemiy did not know the source of.
There was nothing left but to put the strangely rabid guard down.
Artemiy did not know the identity of the deceased, but, if the Bachelor was correct, its blood could be valuable. With it in tow, Artemiy would make a stop at his hideout.
The gray fog made the already poor visibility of the town even worse.
Inside, everything was safe and just how he left it. Locking the entrance, Artemiy began his work.
During the somewhat lengthy distillation process, Artemiy recalled his conversations with Bachelor about the further experimentation he could run- and Vlad jr. - about the second device and the use for it. Artemiy did have extra infected material and some time on his hand, so he decided to give it a shot.
The noises and the stench produced by the device were quite appalling. The product of the process was a grayish viscous liquid that Artemiy bottled and put into his bag, next to the ten small bottles of Tvyr mixture.
With this cargo in tow, Artemiy headed to the Warehouses.
Just a little bit earlier in the day, Artemiy was begrudging the town's Amber hues. Now, he wished he never had. Artemiy was thinking about this, when a letter found its way into his hand. Did someone hand it to him? He could not remember...
Rubin's continuing threats
They're trying to convince me of your innocence.
I want to believe them, but I don't. There are lies and avarice in your defenders' words. They make for poor consolers.
The more they try to exculpate you, the worse it gets. Where are you hiding?
Artemiy didn't begrudge Rubin his impotent flailing. His emotions were perfectly understandable after all, Rubin, perhaps, was one of a very small number of people, who bore more grief for his Father's passing than Artemiy did.
He went on.
Inside, everything was quiet the kids were much more relaxed, than they were under the bandits' blockade. Understandably so, of course.
Can you believe it? A real epidemic! I hope out scouts return soon...
Here are your promised mixtures. Made by Burakh hands, too based on an old recipe.
This is clearly worth a lot! After tonight, you can start coming here for the map.
Oh, believe me I will.
The agreement was secured the information about the infection's spread would, undoubtedly, prove extremely valuable in the coming days. It is certain, that there would be many things one could glean from observing the infection's patterns of spreading.
Famous Burakh recipes
It seems, that the infection spreads in spots across the infected districts. Notkin's Dualsouls are going to scout out the especially dangerous pockets of infection. They will map out the infected districts every day, starting from tomorrow. This is good news.
With this obligation settled, Artemiy went to the Stone Yards.
For once, Artemiy had quite a lot to show Daniil. With any hope, this will speed up the process of combating the infection that was starting to consume the town.
Artemiy, it seemed, has caught Bachelor just as he came in Dankovsky looked tired and out of breath.
Were you out having a jog? Don't scowl at me like that, I was joking! Anyway, I've processed some infected organs with the tvyr mixture, like we discussed. Take a look at the result.
Well... This was to be expected, I'd say... This is something akin to an antibiotic. If you get infected, you can try to use it... It might help, too won't cure you, but it should stave off the infection for a time. Did you think that this process would produce a panacea?
I've realized that this wouldn't produce a panacea quite yet!
The abrasive dismissal of his work did not please Artemiy at all something that his expression seemed to indicate, because Dankovsky did seem to make an effort to soothe himself a bit.
Well... I think that, for a panacea we would need a particular sort of material. A particular environment, where a unique strain, with needed antibodies might be produced... No simple organs won't work here.
Where could we get such material?
I'm actually working on that. I promise the second I have any news, you'll hear of it. For now, however, this can also help us. At least, this could allow us to survive long enough, in case we get infected that is starting to seem more and more likely.
Knock on wood, and cheer up, oinon! I recall, that you were on the hunt for some dead tissue?
I was! In fact, I sorely require it for my research!
Here put it to good use.
I hope, that I'll be able to make my experiments work... For now, though I want to thank you. I don't have money, but I have something better. I've got some medicine, that isn't available in the stores yet can't give you all I've got, though, so you'll have to choose. Pick one immunoboosters, antibiotics or analgesics?
After his run-in with the infection today, Artemiy figured that he wouldn't be able to get by just on his family recipes.
Bachelor handed him three packs, with pills of different colours in each. Once that was done, he anxiously got to work on the tissue that Artemiy brought him. Haruspex did not interrupt him when he left.
The tissue is under the microscope. I wonder, what conclusions will Bachelor draw from all this.
All that was left, for now, was to go Big Vlad.
It felt as if, with the coming of the plague, the Nature was pushing down on this town as hard as it could harder than it could possibly have the right to. Or, perhaps, it did, didn't it?
Vlad was, as usual, ever the picture of enthusiasm and friendliness something that was rapidly running out between Vlad and Artemiy. Indeed, this very conversation could be the last conversation the two would have on good terms?
Ah I'm glad, that you are safe and sound.
I want to speak to the Elder Oyun. Can you arrange that?
Artemiy's request caused a very bizarre sort of combination between surprise and exasperation in Vlad Sr.
What? With what Oyun? What... what for? With an Elder? What Elder? With the current one?
Yes, with the current one. An Oyun.
It took him a second, but Big Vlad did compose himself.
Have the Mistresses blabbed? You know, I've already lost a friend, who was a Burakh. Elder Oyun knows why, and he is going to to answer for that too. Still, I do not want to lose a second one.
He knows who killed my Father?
Knows? Oh yes, he knows. I'd say, that he is glad for his death... He would be glad for yours, too. No... For now, you really should not meet the Elder quite yet.
What does he know?
I haven't spoken with him yet. When he returns, I will question him with prejudice.
Returns? Where is he now?
He left for the Steppe he's not in the town right now. I think, he should return in three days, give or take.
When did he leave?
Three days ago or, perhaps four? Right on the eve of your arrival, Master Burakh.
So, are you going to arrange a meeting or not?
You know, they're plotting against me. Bachelor is sniffing about what's going on in the Apiary, what's going on in the Abattoir... If I meet with the Elder, then I'll only give him more ammunition against me... Everything will come together with time, don't you worry. If I were in your place, I wouldn't be in a hurry to meet him, anyway.
I'll decide that for myself, if you don't mind.
Vlad Sr. apologetically nodded. The conversation was over. This was a dead end, but, at least, Artemiy's relationship with the Olgimsky family was not in tatters. Artemiy's request allowed him to go on the offensive, which resulted in Vlad being too befuddled to ask Artemiy to deliver on their previous agreement.
Who is he, the one Sought-For, hidden beneath the sign of Tauro? Does he even have a name? Is this why he was marked by this sign? Or, perhaps, he is so terrifying, that to call his name is a taboo? Perhaps, it is sacred knowledge? Whatever the case, this means that he can't be saved by the usual means... If he is so complicated, then the measures to heal him will have to be commensurate. The meeting with the Elder is delayed. The enigma of the one Sought-For is not yet solved. I will keep working in the same direction, however I still need a panacea.
The rest of the day was at Artemiy's disposal. The clock struck 4 PM, and Artemiy found himself outside the Clot with a letter in his hand. It looked mass-produced.
An address to the Town's denizens.
Citizens! The Town's administration is declaring a state of emergency in connection with the epidemic of a deadly disease, otherwise known as Earth Plague, Sand Fever and Sand Dirt.
The disease is highly infectious. Not enough is known about its routes of transmission. Based on preliminary data, the disease spreads through contact and respiratory routes. An antiserum and other medicine will arrive shortly on the trains. For the moment, there is no vaccine in the town. Be careful!
Citizens are forbidden from leaving their homes, until told otherwise. Remember, that the chances of infection are drastically lowered by staying indoors. Carefully wash your kitchen utensils. Boil your linens. Eradicate any rodents you come across.
Do not panic! Mail, as well as rations of water, food and medicine, will be distributed to your homes by doctors, executors and mailmen. Any questions that you might have can be left, in written form, under your doors for the mailmen to pick up.
This address is compiled by the order of bachelor Dankovsky and approved by the commandant of the town Alexander Saburov, appointed as such due to the emergency. Any further orders issued by bachelor Dankovsky are mandatory.
The nature and scope of the danger were finally clear to everyone. With a heavy heart, Artemiy headed to his hideout.