Part 19: Chapter Nine - Part 1Chapter 9 Part One
You were quite right it was the Big Vlad.
The lie came to him effortlessly as if it were no big matter at all. It is easy to lie when one is convinced that he is doing the right thing, and, although it took quite some time to convince himself, Artemiy was, finally, a firm believer in this decision.
'Course it was! Whatever might have happened, he's still the head of the family! Dad was always responsible for me as well...
The girl's last remark clearly dredged up sad memories in her and Artemiy left her be.
The Son is not responsible for the Father
No... I'll let Big Vlad die instead... I can inform Georgiy of my decision.
It close to 11 PM at this point and Artemiy proceeded to visit Georgiy before going straight to the Theater for the nightly performance.
The Worms and the Butchers have been regarding Artemiy with a strange sort of withdrawn respect ever since Oyun has returned. They did not eye him suspiciously like they did in the early days, but neither did they regard him with respect that is to be afforded to a head of a menkhu family. It was clear that Oyun's fear of the Haruspex was being reflected in the people of the Order and their attitudes.
In the early days, Artemiy might have renounced any claims to power that he might have but that was not the case anymore especially now that Oyun was proving to be a petty nuisance.
Tonight, the Town seemed to be especially rambunctious in its nightly violence. Like a kid stealing the last cookie before the jar will be forever closed to him, the villains and thugs clearly felt the approach of the Army batallion that was promised by the Authorities. Quite strange that this sort was so well-informed, but then the news do spread awfully fast in the Town.
The wealthier part of the Town was a fair bit calmer, though. The Sand Fever ravaged the Horns rather thoroughly in the last couple of days, and the pickings were slim.
They weren't so in the Kain household, but then nobody would dare to try and steal from them. Even in these days, they were a sacred cow of the Town.
Georgiy regarded Artemiy with nothing but silence. News have clearly gotten here faster than Artemiy himself. Still, Georgiy did afford Artemiy a small bit of politeness, however reserved it was.
You are very kind to visit me, master Burakh.
I have condemned Big Vlad to face the judgment of the Order.
Did I happen to hear that right, master Burakh?
Georgiy's smile betrayed his knowledge of want transpired at the Apiary, so why the charade? Still, Artemiy played along.
Judging by your expression, these are not the news you were expecting to hear.
Indeed! I thought that you would be more reasonable.
I've acted in accordance with my conscience.
You are a smart man, Artemiy Burakh, but you are not a farsighted one, although who in our time can truly be farsighted? I don't doubt that you've acted in accordance with your conscience. That is something that is always worthy of sympathy and, perhaps, pity...
Pity? Odd one would expect respect in this situation. In any case, your plans are known to me.
Georgiy's fatherly chuckle that followed Artemiy's remark would have been downright endearing, but the current predicament only made it that much more insulting and punch-worthy.
Are they, now? I'm afraid that that is something that will never happen. Not anymore. I confess that they aren't known even to me at this point. Do you wish to know a secret? I am not at all the one whom you deem me to be.
Artemiy recalled Katherine's words about this whole affair... How she sensed Simon's hand in all of this... Was Georgiy (Simon?) confirming her words, or was he merely denying Artemiy's assertions about his true intentions in trying to reveal the truth about Vlad Jr. to the Order? Artemiy made no assertions, 'tis true, but it was rather clear what he was thinking... In any case, Artemiy would not get a straight answer from the coy old man whether he asked him to elaborate or not.
I don't need your secrets.
The Son is not responsible for the Father
It is Vlad Sr.'s decision and he is much more farsighted than me. He isn't one to be sentimental, either. If he willingly condemned himself to death, then that was his plan... Although, could it be that he considers himself to be deserving of this punishment?
Artemiy would glean no more here. The matter was done with. It was midnight.
REEL 10: The Army's Arrival
Artemiy heard a rather strange noise outside a strange series of thuds very much akin to something wooden being placed on a smooth surface. The sound persisted for some time, but Artemiy did not check outside for a while, for he has received a letter.
Letter from Aglaya Lilich. On beings of the higher Order.
The Elder is saying that the Earth is feeding the blood. Could that be the Udurg that your Father spoke about? I believe that we are surrounded by a great number of miraculous beings some of them are so large than we are not entirely able to feel their presence. A man can only perceive that which he is prepared to perceive, after all. The Town is alive. It has a head, a heart, a maw and a multitude of capillaries. It has a memory. It breathes. It thinks. It is afraid. Perhaps, it can even love?
I want to live in the world of Towns that are alive. I want to walk the Earth that roils underneath my feet.
It was strange how much Artemiy shared Aglaya's wish. It was strange how much alike the two of them were. It was strange that Artemiy would find a soulmate in someone like Aglaya and that he would do so here, of all places. In this Town, it was not strange at all.
It was time to head to the Theatre. Artemiy left the Kain residence and rather suddenly stumbled upon a new face. Many new faces, in fact.
The man was completely mute and only gazed sternly at his surroundings as if expecting danger to arrive from any direction. A rather strange uniform for a soldier to don certainly not something one would consider in tune with regulation but it seemed functional enough in the hot Steppe night.
This suit, on the other hand, will probably cause some chafing at some point for this poor fellow. He was about as talkative as his friend but he was also much more imposing what with the flamethrower and all.
Since the infection itself didn't travel through contact but rather popped up randomly all over the Town, these fellows wouldn't be able to do much beyond providing immediate containment. Quite a shame, for there were a lot of them and it would be nice if they could actually solve this problem.
Artemiy spotted a number of them on the way to the Theatre it seems that the Army flooded the Town in a matter of minutes. Very expedient indeed, if a bit strange. Not the strangest thing, of course, but still something to wonder about. More wonders awaited Artemiy in the Theatre.
Do you see now how many mysteries the Earth is hiding within itself? The more awful the mystery, the more awful are its roots and less is the number of the wells that can reach it!
It was the same harsh-voiced fellow that was probably meant to represent Artemiy. Rather strangely, the fellow was just straight-up repeating himself at this point. That is the same line he gave to the Inquisitor yesterday word-for-word, too! New material is hard to come by, it seems.
The innards of the Abattoir have been opened! Inside there is naught but beasts!
The shrill-voiced fellow who was an interpretation of the Bachelor was his stage partner.
Inside, there are only roots and filth! The door that leads underground opens itself frequently, but one can enter it only in one case when it is a grave... I trust that you understand what I'm hinting at, don't you?
It does not matter there is nothing left to lose anyway! Tomorrow, the soldiers will arrive here. Let's risk it!
The path is clear in all directions... Left, right up and, even a little bit down. You can see for yourself, if you want we run a fair game here...
What does it matter if the outcome is the same?
REEL 11: The Masks' Nightly Attractions - Night Eight
Perhaps, it wasn't entirely useful to try and interpret these characters as representations of the relationship between the healers of the Town. It seemed that they were talking to someone else entirely, at this point. It was a new day and Artemiy was not particularly tired and so he took to the Town's streets to get the daily map from Notkin and to see how the presence of the Army would change the Town.
The trip to the station was rather uneventful aside from that one bandit fellow since the station was the main foothold of the Army at this point, not many would dare approach it with hostile intentions.
They were quite right to do so, for the big guns were finally here. If they wanted, they could level the entire Town and that could, very well, be exactly what they wanted to do.
The price today was upped by another 500 coins, but Artemiy did not complain.
Six districts were infected today as opposed to yesterday's five Sand Fever is continuing to grow exponentially. There wasn't much left to do until morning, so Artemiy took to his usual nightly activities.
As the night went on, more and more soldiers were appearing on the streets. Not the cheeriest looking fellows, they didn't take kindly to any sort of crazy shenanigans that have been dominating the Town's nights in the past week.
Some fellow decided that it is a good idea to chuck molotov cocktails at a big guy in a fireproof suit. Many people were driven to madness by the disease, but the military folk did not have much mercy for such unfortunates.
While the night was interesting, it certainly wasn't very fruitful. Soon enough, Artemiy found himself outside the Cathedral when the morning came and the clock tolled 7 A.M.
In a very timely manner, two letters found their way into Artemiy's pocket.
Bachelor's Letter. On the Army and the Inquisition
The fate of the Town is now being decided. At the heart of it all is not just the fate of a small geographic location, but the fate of one of the last remnants of a civilization that is soon going to leave us forever. The heavy footfall of history is slowly but surely erasing the societies that, for ages, have been capable of directing the strength of thousands of people in order to create impossible things.
The rulers of this Town have been deprived of the last vestiges of power that they might have had. Aglaya is in a stalemate. She will not let the General crush and burn anything, but, from now on, all her attention will be devoted to containing the destructive power of the Army. Thus, there are few people left who are actually capable of making decisions.
This puts a heavy responsibility on both of us.
I believe that, in the end granted that neither of them are going to be removed the confrontation of the Queens will end in a draw. This may give us a chance to directly influence the outcome of all this or it may just doom all of us. Be careful.
No signature... Daniil must have been in a hurry though, not in too much of a hurry to write a rather large letter that is rounded off by a poor chess analogy. Artemiy opened the second letter.
Summons from a temporary headquarters
Surgeon Artemiy Burakh is hereby ordered to arrive to the general headquarters (Town Hall) for debriefing by the commanding officer of the special elements of the 4th Army of *****ia.
Major General Alexander Blok
Artemiy wondered just why was the full name of the country was redacted, but the stranger things have happened mantra allowed him to not dwell on it too much. He was rather interested in what General might want of him and what he might have to say for himself and the Authorities. His next destination was clear.
The Town Hall was squarely in the middle of an infested district, but the soldiers managed to make these places a bit more peaceful and easy to traverse.
The building was still rather imposing, but the people inside made it a bit more so.
Everyone stood at attention for Artemiy even the General himself.
Artemiy Burakh? Surgeon?
I am a Haruspex.
You were recommended to me as an exceptional doctor who, in addition to everything else, is rather well-versed in the local folklore. You were born here, right?
I left this Town when I was sixteen years old. I've received an education and have managed to forget two thirds of what I knew about the local folklore.
Artemiy was underselling himself a fair bit a rather smart choice, considering that he was before a man who probably regarded everyone around him as tools.
I've been receiving reports about you. Is it true that you have manage to create a cure for this disease?
The General's voice has been booming before, but it became downright thundering at hearing these news.
Good! This is very good! You are worthy of a commendation!
It's natural to be glad at the news of a cure, but the General's joy seemed to stem from elsewhere.
Why? Because of this, the presence of the Inquisitor here has lost all meaning. She can finally return to the gallows after the short reprieve that she has been granted from them. She will stop being a nuisance to me and that will make my mission that much easier.
Gallows? What gallows are you talking about?
It seems that Victor Kain's guess about this task being a death sentence for the Inquisitor was turning out to be correct.
She has been sentenced to death. Her being sent here is a bit of an exception. If she finds a solution and wins, then the sentence will be rescinded. If she doesn't, then the verdct will stay. She deserves that verdict completely and utterly you don't have to worry about that.
This news was distressing to Artemiy.
What did she do to deserve it?
It's not important what we are here to talk about the cure.
I did not intend it as a tool for someone's execution!
Although Aglaya did tell him about this predicament, Artemiy did not expect it to be quite so literal.
It's strange that Bachelor did not make note of this fact. He doesn't seem to have the fighting spirit that you do. Is there a way to make as much of this cure as possible?
There is a chance, but it's a small one. Send soldiers into the Abattoir and demand that the Elder give them access to the ancient blood.
It was becoming clear that the General did not hold the local ways in high regard in fact, just mentioning them irritated him rather greatly.
What sort of hogwash are you talking about? I already know that this blood is supposedly alive, but why are you saying that the chance is small?
I know these folk. They die easily and bear hardships easier still... They won't tell us their secrets...
...True enough. I've already sent my men into the Abattoir. I've lost two squads there already. We barely managed to get the professor, the Bachelor, out of there. We were pushed back.
Of course you were...
Listen I've heard that you yourself are one of the steppe folk. Could you get closer to the Elder and find a way to get us this devil's blood?
If I will, then what are you going to do with it?
I'm not going to do anything you will. Meanwhile, I will send a report to the Capital about a successful completion of this mission. This way, we'll evade all of the fox's intrigues and we may even trick her into thinking that we're doing her own work while doing so.
Stop talking about Aglaya that way.
The General still didn't seem to be interested in elaborating the reasons behind his burning hatred for Aglaya.
I need the results all other considerations are secondary.
Very well but leave Aglaya alone. Isn't the fact that a cure can be made enough?
It's enough to kill the Inquisitor, sure, but it's not enough to save this settlement and to guarantee that the epidemic won't spread.
Kill the Inquisitor? It's not poison, how are you planning to use it to kill her?
I'm not going to kill anyone, of course! The mechanics are quite automated. If she returns to the Capital with the news that her mission has failed, she will be beheaded within the hour.
This left Artemiy much less move for maneuver if he wanted to try and make sure that the Inquisitor stays alive.
The creation of the panacea is not a failure, though! It's a success!
It's not her success, though. She did not make the panacea, did she? Her mission, by the way, is to prevent the Town from being destroyed. If there is not enough panacea, though, then I will have no moral right to turn around the guns.
Do you actually want to destroy the Town?
No. I don't want to destroy the Town.
But you want Aglaya to die, don't you? You want it enough that you will destroy the Town?
My antipathies are nothing when compared to my duty. Yes I hate Aglaya. I can already tell that she will trick me and use my artillery to advance her own agenda. Whatever my course of action will be, she will still win in the end. I want her gone, but my desires are not a part of my considerations.
You've put my mind at ease... for now...
Artemiy was inclined to trust the General to not do anything excessive, but he was still quite the wild card in all of this.
The Abattoir was Artemiy's next destination and he headed there with a rather heavy heart.
The arrival of the Army could have been good news that put his mind at ease, but, instead, it only seemed to add a new layer of intrigue that he'll have to navigate through.
The conversation with Blok was rather unpleasant, but the conversation that was about to occur was probably going to be more unpleasant still, considering Oyun's past attitude.
Hmm... you weren't afraid to return here...
What was I supposed to be afraid of?
You are not brave. You are a fool. I can kill you with a breath, with a touch. I can turn you to ash with my eyes.
Elder Oyun was getting downright hammy at this point it was rather odd to see him chew the scenery like that.
That is your prerogative if you wish I have come to ask you questions.
Ask me once, if you wish. I won't let you do it twice.
The jerk continues to make things more complicated than they have to be.
Is it true that everything around is the Udurg?
... Good. You are becoming smarter, kinsman. That is a good question. That is the right question. Very well. I will give you the answer and maybe I will even reward you with a gulp of Boos Primigenius' blood. Endure my test and I will know that you are strong enough to endure my answer.
The House of Boos Turokh has been defiled a bad omen in these unkind times. Last night, a stranger clad in snake skin snuck his way in here. No one but him could have carried the leather flasks with the live blood out of here. Find out where the blood is and I will give you the answer.
I need to find the Bachelor and get from him the details of yesterday's incursion into the Abattoir.
Exiting the Abattoir, Artemiy felt very strange it is as if the entire weight of the last week suddenly descended upon him all at once.
When the Elder spoke of a challenge, he was not kidding. During this quest, your fatigue meter will fill completely in about five real-time minutes and you will start taking continuous health damage while it's full. If you aren't prepared or spend too long completing this quest, it will easily kill you. Yikes.
Artemiy realized that something was a bit wrong he decided to not waste any time in finding Bachelor and hurried along.
The streets were unkind, but soldiers were working hard to quell any unrest and Artemiy had little trouble navigating them even if he was feeling increasingly unwell for some reason.
Finally nearing his goal, Artemiy hurried inside.
Unfortunately for Artemiy, it didn't seem that this was going to be as easy as he hoped for it to be. With the Bachelor nowhere to be found, Artemiy turned to Eva.
I hope that the soldiers won't break in here...
Artemiy hasn't heard of any raping and pillaging by the soldiers yet, but that is something that might very well happen in the future.
I need the Bachelor where is he?
He went to the Polyhedron and he still hasn't come back! I'm worried!
What are you afraid of?
The soldiers... Do you know what they are up to?
Nothing. Don't be afraid. They've set up checkpoints at all the bridges and that seems to be all. For now.
Artemiy wasn't entirely truthful, but then he didn't have to be. If they were to start pillaging, there wasn't much anyone could do to stop them anyway, so it might as well come as a surprise if it were to happen.
The Bachelor has yet to return from the Polyhedron. It seems that the Tower of Mirrors is just as dangerous as the Tunnels of Suokh. Here I was,thinking that I'm the only one risking my life around here....
The Polyhedron was only a quick hop, skip and a jump from Eva's residence.
The greeting committee was already prepared for him, it seemed.
This was as close as Artemiy has gotten to the Polyhedron and the first thing Artemiy thought when he looked up was just how paper-like its architecture seemed to be down to the square lines that were very much akin to those on the pages of a squared notebook. It was rather fitting that it was occuppied by children for it looked as if it were a product of a child's imagination.
As usual, there was no time to dawdle. Artemiy turned to the doghead who already was looking to be rather impatient with him.
Pinky-swear that you won't touch me! I know you you're a vicious fellow!
Artemiy didn't really have time for children' games, what with his condition and all that.
Where is Bachelor?
Ha! Bachelor was taken to the First Circle. Then, they took him away from here too risky to keep him around. What if the Ash General decides to try and save him?
First circle? What are you talking about?
Well it's in here in the Polyhedron! We wanted to try and turn into a fortress... It's fragile, though glass, after all. We're afraid that it won't be able to take all the gunfire. The Kains are our last hope now... Oh well.
Kains? Why do you think the Kains will help you?
Help us? Kains are the only ones defending us! What do YOU need? Maybe you're a spy?!
Knock it off I'm not a spy. I need to find Dankovskiy.
No! He is in our custody! He gave Khan some blank ammunition after promising to give him live ammo and it's better not to lie to Khan he's got a short temper. Only out of respect did he let Bachelor live. Maybe he'll change his mind and give us what he promised.
Where did you guys take him to?
They took him to the factories and they put me here to say that he isn't here in case anyone is going to ask. That's all that's the truth.
The kid clearly wasn't the brightest one. Still, Artemiy got what he wanted.
If I get there and he isn't there, then you better watch out!
Khan's dogheads sent the captured Bachelor into the abandoned barracks under the Factories.
With not much time to lose, Artemiy raced to the Factories.
The road was uneventful, but Artemiy felt himself becoming weaker and weaker. He had to finish this task and, maybe, this strange state of exhaustion would end.
It was in this state of hurry that Artemiy stumbled upon something unexpected.
It seems that the king of the Town's underworld, Griff, was in a bit of a pickle. Artemiy approached the Executor.
Behind this door is a victim of your...
Blah-blah blah yes yes, inattention. Artemiy did not have time for booming speeches he merely shoved a box of children' powder into the guy's hands and went on. He did turn around to check that the Executor actually went inside to administer the cure, though, and the hooded scoundrel did.
The place was a maze of industrial buildings with very little to distinguish them from one another.
It took some hunting, but Artemiy found the right building in the end. In fact, this was the very building where Artemiy was kept by Saburov's men. Funny, that.
There Bachelor was in the same cage where Artemiy was trapped previously. Artemiy tried to approach him, but the Dogheads looked a bit beligerent, though one of them less so. Artemiy approached him to try and get them to relent.
How are you doing, chief?
Can't complain. That's the bachelor Dankovskiy you got there, right?
Indeed our prisoner. A trophy, if you will. He's living out his last minutes.
That's a bit inconvenient for me...
Do you remember me, chief?
You think I'd recognize you with the mask on?
You let me go a week ago on the day when the Old Man died.
Old Man? Ah his Father. Yes Artemiy remembered now. Both the Dualsouls and the Bandits wanted him to kill this kid, but he refused. That seemed to be so, so long ago, yet here he was full of gratitude, or so Artemiy hoped.
Ah... Hello there! How are you doing? They're treating you better here, I hope?
Here and there it ain't too bad. Need any help?
Would you mind freeing the Bachelor?
Ah! Well... you know what a good turn deserves another. I'll go talk to my guys and he'll be free to go.
That was a bit easier than Artemiy was used to. He still was suspicious but it seemed like that was going to be the end of that.
The dogheads opened the door and left, It was really as simple as that.
I have to thank you. Without you, these cubs would rip my guts out or worse. I shouldn't have let myself be strung along by them. The children are arming themselves and there is no way to predict the fate of these weapons at this point. I'm afraid that this is a gun that will fire off at the most inopportune of moments.
What were you looking for in that Tower, anyway?
I have a number of reasons to believe that the Polyhedron plays a key role in the history of this settlement. To be precise, it has no relation to the Town. It is its own entity and the Town is its own entity. Despite this, the two of them are connected so completely and utterly that one cannot exist without the other.
This was all nice and riveting, but Artemiy had a task to fulfill.
Tell me did you go into the Abattoir?
...I have. Why?
Did you carry out that... blood out of there? You know what I'm talking about, don't you?
I know, but I haven't. That's not why I went in there anyway. I wanted to get a sample of the soil and to talk to the Elder. He isn't a very talkative sort, though....
Did you carry anything at all out of there, then?
I haven't. Although... You know, it was that little girlie the commandant's daughter that told me when the passage will be open. As far as I've been told, it was opened because someone carried a number of strange flasks out of there.
Flasks? Do you know who it was?
Butchers... and those weird things covered in animal skins.
Odonkhe... Do you know where they went?
I haven't noticed that little detail... It was rather dark and I ran inside soon after...
Thank you, Oinon you've helped me a great deal.
For all of the Bachelor's foolishness, here he was surprising Artemiy with his bravery yet again. Artemiy knew not to rely on the fellow anymore, but that doesn't mean that he couldn't afford him at least some measure of respect.
You know, I will try and visit the Polyhedron one more time...
I would imagine that you would be a bit cautious of its inhabitants at this point.
You see, I have an interesting theory on that particular matter... It's odd that I didn't think of this before...
What sort of theory?
No... later... I'll tell you if I can confirm it.
Very well. Take care and be careful.
Now, the details of this Defilement are known to me. I can trust the Bachelor's word as well. It's time to tell this tale to the Elder Oyun.
Artemiy knew that the Bachelor spoke the truth, for the second he heard about the butchers and their theft, he felt a great weight lift off of his shoulders. Whatever was the source of Artemiy's unnatural exhaustion was gone. Still, he was very tired and this place was a good shelter from the world outside, and so he took some time to recover.
He did not notice the appearance of yet another sketch before him it did so very quietly, after all. He'll ponder its meaning when he'll wake up, but, yet again, it won't lead to any epiphanies. After all, the sketch wasn't really meant for him, now was it?