Part 11: Chapter Five - Part 2Chapter Five - Part 2
It was clear during his stay that Ospina's house was, indeed, used by the butchers as a sort of a boarding house in the previous days. Curiously enough, it also seemed that her patronage of the escaped butchers was common knowledge. Why did nobody raid this place? Both Olgimsky and Saburov would be happy to apprehend the escapees, yet nobody did anything but grumble and complain... It must have been Ospina's reputation in the town.
Artemiy didn't rest very well, but it was a break for him all the same. Talking with Andrey Stamatin wasn't the cheeriest of prospects, but there wasn't much to be done about. Artemiy left Ospina's house and began the trek.
The trek started easily enough, but, quite soon, Artemiy felt his head spinning.
The episode of lightheadedness lasted for about twenty seconds, but, for Artemiy, it involved a hard struggle to keep consciousness. A sign of the spread of the infection, considering that it was accompanied by a rather odd whispering a woman's? Artemiy could not tell precisely.
The rest of the trek wasn't nearly as eventful as that soon enough, he was at his destination.
He was in luck one of the dancers was not busy and he could speak with her without Stamatin's involvement.
Do you need anything special, young Burakh? I must obey you I am Bodkho's daughter. The locals call me Vera, though...
Why must you obey me, exactly?
Don't you see? I'm a dancer. It's a special profession around these parts. An ancient one. We have to follow the rites and the Order even moreso, than the butchers.
I didn't think that your profession was connected to our religion.
You must be joking, Burakh. A Dancer knows the lines. Only a Dancer knows the ancient art of bending and extending the lines. We don't dance now, due to mourning... When better times come, however, you will see that we can extend a body's lines very far...
I hope that the better times come to us very soon... I wanted to ask you have any dancers died since the start of the epidemic?
Only one the one who was torn apart by a crowd at the Bone Pillar four days ago. Why are you asking me? Why are you looking at me like that?
No reason. Why did that girl get torn apart?
She came out of the infected house the one that visited by the partrolmen afterwards. They say that your father Isidore worked in that house. They asked her about what she was doing there. She answered that she had business with your father. People thought that she was going to die very soon, but she didn't...
I would've thought that they'd be glad about that...
They weren't that is when they decided that she was to blame for everything. They said that she was a carrier. That was when the rumour about Shabnak-Adyr's arrival began to spread. They broke her lines apart and burned her at the Bone Pillar. None of it was true, though even if she was sick, she couldn't have infected anyone.
Don't you know about the Brides? The ones, betrothed to the Earth? The ones, who call out the Tvyr?
Yes. I'd like to say that I do.
They aren't mistresses, of course even near the young Mistresses they are but a candle next to a bonfire. Still, they do have their own sort of power a strong power, at that. It is said, among us Brides that our humours are made in such a way that we cannot inflict evil on anyone. Our bodies are pure.
Pure? How so?
The Sand Dirt, if there isn't too much of it, leaves us alone. We can't infect anyone with it, either that is known. If there is too much of it, however, then we get consumed by it just like anyone else and there isn't anything anyone can do.
I see... What are you doing tonight?
Why do you ask? I have to be here until the evening and, afterwards, I have a meeting with someone. A beautiful guest in a snakeskin suit. I'm meeting him in the Curriers.
Ah, so the Bachelor is somehow involved in all of this. Artemiy could have asked her to make the sacrifice, and she would've agreed too, but Artemiy wanted to exhaust all leads before having to break the lines of such a creature. However other townsfolk may have seen them, the dancers were, indeed, pure.
I see no matter, then. You have been blessed with a good metabolism... I didn't think that this sort of stuff can be found in one's lineage. No matter I'll see you around. Take care.
Before going out to the Steppe in search of the butchers, Artemiy would visit Vlad Jr.
This felt right there was no need to give up on one's principles too much, quite yet.
Besides, it was very much possible that Artemiy was going to find another Bride, with her lines broken, soon enough.
I would've gone down there myself, if it wasn't for my damned claustrophobia...
No need I was in there. As you can see, I came out on the other side.
Congratulations. So, what is this pit exactly?
It is some sort of cavern clearly dug out a long time ago. Its floor, indeed, bears very little resemblance to soil.
Who would need to dig out something like that?
I think I've met a very strange creature down there. It is possible, though that I was hallucinating.
It didn't happen to look like a human-like rat, did it?
It did, actually. Do you know what it is?
Hmm... Interesting. Very interesting. I believe that it is some sort of an illusion. A strange feeling, forced upon people by some creature. I think that you were a victim of hypnosis. What did it say?
Something rather incoherent about my father. Do you know what is behind this hypnosis?
Well that is rather unclear. Some blame the rats. They have their own abilities, as you know. Others say that the vapours of Suokh are behind this. Hogwash, too. It is a fact, though that this illusion occasionally visits the denizens of our Town. It's a known wraith, if you will. It's called a Rat Prophet, by some.
All this doesn't make sense...
Here's the reward for your bravery, Master Burakh. Thank you. Let's not talk about this matter again.
Indeed still, you have piqued my curiosity.
Vlad Jr. reacted to the news with a hint of understanding, though he refused to talk more about it. The way he looked at me seemed to indicate that we were being eavesdropped upon. There is some sort of mystery here, I think. I wonder what he knows about this creature, and where he knows that information from.
In order to get to the gatherer in the Steppe near the Stone Yard, Artemiy would have to enter the Stone Yard proper.
The trek was a bit more tumultuous this time. The shotgun that Artemiy got out of the infected stash and, luckily, left in the storage at his hideout before his capture, came in handy here.
Artemiy was in luck once more the butchers were still here, and the Tvyr Bride was still here as well.
The butchers were clearly arguing with their bride. Upon noticing Artemiy, however, they quieted down. He bore some measure of authority that the clearly respected at least, so far. Artemiy decided to talk to the Tvyr Bride first.
You are the only son of oinon Burakh, the eldest in his line and the inheritor of seniority in the Order?
Well, yes the first part is true enough, although the latter ones are more contentious.
Have you come to open my flesh along the lines of Raga?
However do you mean?
They want to feed the Steppe with my blood in order to stop this pestilence. However, I'm not strong enough for Earth to consider this an ample sacrifice. Please, have them leave!
Aren't you empowered by the power of birth?
The steppe loves me and grants me herbs. Ask me, and I will summon the White Whip with my songs, and the Brown Tvyr will be drawn to the warmth of my breath. Black Tvyr will be plentiful, but only if I give my moisture to the winter soil.
If you die, then there will be less Tvyr out in the Steppe?
Of course! Now, and forever. I wanted to give birth to a daughter in nine years, so that she could take my warmth and become a new Bride. Until then, only I am the one who can call forth the herb from Suokh's depths. Don't kill me, please... I'll be more useful to you alive.
You will live, do not worry.
Just as before, Artemiy was not about to spend a Bride on a foolish, useless sacrifice. He would find another way.
You are your father's son. Knower of lines, you know how to free the flesh. Open this woman up for us.
Her humours feed the Steppe. She is full of Mother Bodkho's warmth. We wish to feed the Earth with her blood in order to stop Death.
In the apiary, sons and daughters of the Vein Bodkho are dying. The Mother Superior is young. She doesn't have enough warmth to hold back the pestilence. The daughters of Dead Mistresses have not yet come into power. A sacrifice is needed. We need to open the Herb Bride up.
Why should I stain my hands with innocent blood?
You will be paid back many times over. This is a good deed. The people will love and honour you. Our children will gift you their meat and their bread.
I don't need your children' meat. I won't kill this woman, either.
Then, our children will die.
This was getting useless they were talking in circles and the butchers were set in their ways and wouldn't budge.
That's bullshit. A silly preconception on your part.
You have grown up far and away from your home, oinon, and you've forgotten the laws which were followed by your wise father to the letter. If you open her up, according to the will of the Order, then you will surely help. We will honour you just like we honoured your father.
So if I kill this woman, then my reputation will grow, is that it?
Yes as much as we can possibly make it grow. Return Mother Bodkho's warmth to her, and the Vein will thank you.
After this sacrifice, will the Order accept me as the heir of my Father's legacy?
It... it might if the sacrifice works that is.
Oh? Is that how it is?
We respect your knowledge, oinon. We know the simple lines of the bulls' flesh, but we don't know the intricacies of the lines of human flesh.
In that case, don't make pronouncements about the things you do not understand!
Will you open the Herb Bride up for us or no?
No, I won't.
Then, you are not Burakh's son! Whose blood is flowing in your veins?
This was quite enough Artemiy was getting the sample he needed, one way or another.
Artemiy dropped the first butcher with buckshot to the gut...
...then, the second one...
... and, finally, after a lengthy reload, the third one. Soon enough, he had what he came for.
He finally had what Bachelor needed. Artemiy was about to move back to the Stone Yard with the prize in his hand, when he received a sudden letter.
Anna Angel's invitation
It wouldn't be too rash for a poor artist to invite a brave doctor for a serious conversation? I've only just heard the news about your plans, and they are very interesting indeed!
With impatient trepidation,
The offer wasn't at all tantalizing in fact, it reeked of false niceties. Something told Artemiy, however that the offer would expire the second he fulfilled Bachelor's mission. He was curious to know what this Anna Angel had to say to him, which meant going near the Stamatin's pub. It was a long trek, but he was quick enough to make it and preserve the integrity of the sample.
The day was coming to a close and it was getting rather late dangerous time to be on the streets.
Third time through, however, Artemiy encountered no bandit trouble in the Womb.
Finally, he was in front of the house he needed.
The interior was rather... catlike, for a lack of a better descriptor. Just like the owner of the house, it would seem.
Who are you?
I am Artemiy Burakh.
Oh yes - I know! You are that terrifying killer everyone was chasing after these past couple of days! You're a ripper, yes?
No, I am no ripper.
Still, you look fairly grimy... What is that on your sleeves? Blood?
It was a rather inopportune moment for Artemiy to try and prove to someone that he is not the ripper everyone was making him out to be. He tried to change the subject to the one that, he, for some reason, thought would be interesting to Anna.
Do you know a certain Vera? The dancer from the pub?
Oh my, yes. I do know her. Why? Is she dying? I hope she is dying...
Oh dear what did she do to earn your ire?
Ire or no, it's a long story. She is a very special girl, yes... A corrupted girl, understand? It's a shame they haven't caught her four days ago... I wouldn't spare any expenses in order to make sure that that slutty girl is dead!
Artemiy recalled what Vera told him about the lynched dancer and why she was killed by the mob.
Are you suggesting that she was the one who brought the plague into the city?
It's possible, yes... She isn't from here, after all...
Tell me about her.
She was brought here by a scoundrel a kidnapper of children. It happened eleven years ago. All this time she has, without tiring, given herself to sin. It is time for her cup to run over.
Artemiy was humoring the woman's lying tongue long enough.
Do you hold me for an idiot?
Am I holding you at all? Come on, sweetling... If you want to know why I hate her, then just ask. She destroyed the life of someone very dear to me. That doesn't contradict my tale, now does it? If you're looking for the most sinful creature in our town, then Vera is it, right there!
So? What is the point of all this?
Why, the point of this is that she does not need to live anymore. Perhaps, the pestilence was sent upon us for her sins, no? Remember my words I'm rich, too.
If you want her death, then do it yourself. It's fairly easy to do, nowadays.
The stupid girl wasted Artemiy's time with her poison, offering almost nothing in return. He could still make it to Bachelor if he'd double-time it.
The five minutes of sprinting that he put in took an unexpected toll on Artemiy.
Artemiy almost plummeted face-first into the pavement, but he managed to catch himself on the walls of one of the buildings. It took a while for lightheadedness to go away. Yet again, it was accompanied by a soft, murmuring female whisper.
Still, Artemiy regained composure soon enough. There was no time to lose.
There was still some time left, and Artemiy wanted to know just how Bachelor was in all this fuss about Vera, the dancer from the pub.
I've found a Herb Bride. A dancer. Her name is Vera. Do you know her?
Is that the blood trader's daughter?
I wouldn't know it's possible. She said she's meeting someone tonight. In the Curriers.
Is that girl telling everyone about that, left and right?
I wouldn't call her unsociable, if that's what you're asking.
Whatever you do, do not touch her Burakh. Anyone but her, please!
He wouldn't explain further, but Bachelor's sudden desperation took Artemiy by surprise. He decided to stop mucking about and give Bachelor his well-deserved prize.
You don't have to worry about that. I've got what you were looking for right here. It came from a butcher.
Good. Are you sure that he was infected?
I'm not, now that you ask. I didn't have much choice, though.
Yes, I know. That damned Ospina has led them all out into the steppe. I've never seen a more disgusting personage in my entire life! If they reach civilization, all of our quarantine measures will be for naught!
Hey take it easy on Ospina, now!
I'm sorry I didn't think the two of you had anything in common.
Well, we do. In any case, don't worry about the butchers. No one will see them again.
Oh? How can you be sure? If the bacteria survives in them without killing the host, then they can be very dangerous! They can be carriers, for all we know.
Whatever happens, they won't be going towards civilization. They'll settle somewhere deep in the Steppe.
There wasn't much use to talk about the matter any longer. Bachelor took a sample from the heart and brought it to the microscope.
Well? What is in there?
Once again, Bachelor was grinning at Artemiy.
This is exactly what we needed! It's still alive in there, the bacteria.
What about the antibodies that I need for the panacea?
I don't know yet. I'll send you the results of the analysis in a couple of hours. Until then, do try to not be too hasty to cut hearts out for your panacea... This custom of yours isn't... too agreeable, I would say.
If this was Dankovsky's idea of a joke, then it was in poor taste.
What? Are you joking? After everything I went through with the entire damned town chasing after me? Do you think I enjoy cutting people open? Besides, it got us this far!
I'm sorry... I didn't want to offend. It just, sort of came out.
Well, it is somewhat understandable... Don't worry - no use crying over spilled milk.
You know, I want to tell you I am very grateful to you, Burakh. I really am! I don't know about you yet, but for me, the heart is a goldmine. Expect news - chances are, they will be good. Fifty-fifty.
Very well I will be waiting. Here, if you don't mind.
Dankovsky didn't mind the bed wouldn't be used by him anytime soon.
The Quivering Heart
The Quivering Heart is in my hands. Inside of it is the elusive Sand Fever and its tiny particles the result of a desperate struggle between man and the disease. To hold such a thing in my hands it was worth it to take on the title of the Ripper.
Today was a hard day for Artemiy. The hardest yet. Before going to sleep, he drank another bottle of the Dead Broth. The taste was just as foul, and it burned just as much as before. It hurt so much that he had to take a shot of morphine to fall asleep. Still, he had done much and he did deserve the rest this would bring him.