Part 20: Chapter Nine - Part 2Chapter 9 Part Two
After a brief time-out, Artemiy moved on. The reprieve did not bring him much rest, and so he really wished to have this matter over and done with so that he could have a couple of hours of sleep.
Artemiy would be lying if he said that he felt displeased with the people of the Order for their supposed defilement of the ways of the Order, whatever it was. At the very least, their action was a symptom of Oyun's faltering rule and that is a sign that Artemiy welcomed.
It would also be a good idea to try and track them down the blood that they carried out of the Abattoir could be used for the production of more vaccines and those are always useful.
The Elder met Artemiy with a strange sort of flippant, impatient silence. Neither of them wanted to be in the presence of the other. Still, Artemiy wanted to ask Oyun some questions before fulfilling his mission.
Who will be my Sacrifice, Elder?
You'll find out in due time... After all, how else would you prove that you are worthy of your Father's legacy?
I've already accepted my Father's inheritance, haven't I?
Oyun chuckled in that very particular and very punchworthy manner.
Have you, now? If you are satisfied with the mere breadcrumbs and leftovers from the feast of your bloodline, then you can consider yourself a true heir.
Hmm... Well, no matter Oinon Dankovskiy did not steal your blood. I can vouch for him. He did, however, see two butchers and three odonkhe carry out a number of flasks out of the Abattoir.
Hmm... It does sound like truth. Two children of Bodkho and three Worms have gone missing yesterday. You've completed your task. What do you wish to know?
I want to know the truth.
Very well. Ask. Here, in the Vein of Bodkho, no one will dare to tell you a lie. This is why the knowledge flows out of me in tiny droplets like blood out of an old wound.
What is the creature that was named by my father? Who is the udurg that is marked by the tauro?
These beings always exist around us. Udurg is a body that contains within itself an entire world.
It may have not been a lie, but the explanation definitely seemed to be purposefully vague and borderline useless.
Any body contains within itself a world, though, doesn't it?
Does it? Mine does not. Yours doesn't, either. The world that exists within your head isn't a world it's rubbish.
Well, that was certainly rude and uncalled for! Artemiy didn't want to dwell on it, though.
What is the sacrifice that I am destined to make?
You will find that out tomorrow when you complete my next task, Kinsman. Patience.
I will come tomorrow, then.
The Elder needs time to consider the news that I brought him. It seems that he was shaken not by the theft of blood, but by the betrayal of his people. This tale will continue tomorrow.
Today's encounters with Oyun went well enough, all things considered. Of course, he couldn't keep himself from being a self-aggrandizing jerk, but that wasn't unexpected either. The tasks of the day seemed to be done, and Artemiy proceeded to his hideout for some well-deserved R&R.
The hideout was cozy and the infection never seemed to make its way in here for some reason a bit of protection that Artemiy very much welcomed as he went to sleep.
He didn't sleep for too long, though, because someone unceremoniously thrust a letter into his hand when he was asleep. Artemiy did not recall who it was or how they got in the hideout and they were gone by the time Artemiy fully woke up. There wasn't much left to do but to read the letter.
I have quite a guest here, and she asking for you!
An oddly short and child-like letter from Victoria Artemiy was used to her being a bit more serious than the rest of his Adherents. Still if she wrote him a letter about this guest, then it must have been important. With a groan, Artemiy got up and headed out to the Olgimsky Residence.
On the way there, Artemiy wondered whether Kapella knew of her father's fate or if the rumours haven't reached her yet. Interestingly enough, Artemiy was reminded of his decision just before reaching Victoria and her guest.
This was quite odd Executors were usually posted by the doors of sick adherents. Vlad Sr. wasn't exactly sick, now was he? Artemiy approached the hooded fellow out of curiosity.
There are none living here. This place belongs to the dead.
Does it? Perhaps, not everything is lost just yet. Simon was considered dead, too.
Wait a second... The notion that Simon was somehow alive and has usurped his brother Georgiy's personality was only vaguely hinted at by Katherine at best. Artemiy seemed to be taking those hints at face value rather uncharacteristic of him.
The deceased one is not Simon, though, and you are no Kain. You don't know how to meld the spirit with the matter. Leave. The dead belong to the Earth.
Carry on with your vigil, then.
The Executor's response is... disconcerting. He seems to all but confirm that Katherine was right and that Simon has indeed risen from the dead, akin to some sort of a sorcerer. Not surprising, considering his bloodline and that he already possessed some superhuman qualities such as his longevity, but this was on a whole new level.
Artemiy, meanwhile, went on to see Kapella and her guest.
Her guest was none other than Aglaya... Artemiy was very much interested in what she was doing here.
Who were the ones who extinguished the fires? I can feel that there is a malevolent will that is driven by some purpose behind this act. Why did they do this?
The signal fires were extinguished... At first, I thought that this was done in order to discredit me in the eyes of the Colonel. When they came, however, the fires were still burning... That means that there is some other reason behind this... Still the fact that it even occurred showcases my negligence, even if the effect isn't quite the same...
It's just a bunch of bonfires, though, isn't it? Why do they matter?
Aglaya didn't answer Artemiy. Instead, she motioned Artemiy to Kapella in a rather dismissive fashion and exited the Olgimsky Residence. Quite strange, but she must have had a reason to do so. Artemiy turned to Kapella to try and get some explanations.
Well... That's quite the story with the signal fires! It's as if I've been cursed with some bad luck! Perhaps, this must have had to happen, though... Everyone who is a part of my plan is always in some sort of peril! This is a trial, and I have no one but you to turn to for help...
Those who are a part of your plan? Are they my Adherents?
Yes. I've told you before, haven't I? I've told your father before that, too... The exiled kids... Those, for whom there was no place in the Polyhedron or those who left it behind of their own will. Taya Tychik. Notkin. Matchstick. Mishka. Laska. There's still one boy left... but he's still further ahead. You aren't there yet.
What is your plan, Kapella? What do you need these children for?
Who do you think they will become in the future? Guess. I already know, though Mother whispered it in my ear. They have a great future ahead of them, these exiled children. If they become the rulers of this place in ten years... You won't recognize this Town! It will be the dawn of a new era!
Artemiy had to admit that he would very much like for this Town to change drastically. The old ways are rotten and the Town was in a dire shape even before the plague.
I see... What did you need me for, anyway? What sort of trouble are the kids in now?
The fires were extinguished! They are of no use to me, these fires I'm actually glad that they were put out! I was very afraid of them for some reason... It made me feel as if the Town was truly doomed... Now, because of them, Matchstick is risking his life... Why are they needed, anyway?
Ah... Matchstick, again... That little scamp was more intrepid than Notkin and twice as much trouble for Artemiy. It seems like Artemiy will have to bail him out yet again.
What is Matchstick up to?
I don't know for sure... I think that he and his comrade were using them to keep tabs on the ghostly albino. Now, they want to light them again and to catch those who put them out.
Ghostly Albino? Great. Perfect.
What is he doing that for, anyway?
Matchstick is a brave one. He thinks that the Albino is somehow connected to the plague. He knows that the Albino follows the same path all the time and that Aglaya ordered to light the fires right along the Albino's trail. Of course, all this is yet another chance for Matchstick to prove his bravery.
The kid was foolhardy, but, at his age, Artemiy would also be the first to dive into the pursuit of a strange, ghostly being, so Artemiy could sympathize.
Well then where is he lighting those fires?
I don't know! Maybe, he is still at home? Go and talk him out of it! The fires will be lit without him! I'll ask the Bachelor to make sure that it gets done!
Very well I'll go and talk him out of it.
Kapella thinks that Matchstick is mixed up in a story with extinguished signal fires. She is sure that his life is in danger.
Artemiy wasn't exactly happy to be stuck as a strange sort of glorified babysitter, but this wasn't the first time that he did so in the past week. Besides, they were his Adherents and Father wanted to protect them, too. There wasn't much left to do, either, so Artemiy took it upon himself to save the kid once again.
The Town was quieting down with the Army clamping down hard on any sort of disorder, and so the road to Matchstick's house wasn't entirely too tumultuous. The front door was unlocked just like the last time and Artemiy stepped inside.
The interior was dark which was usual and Artemiy heard the voices of two kids. They sounded rather rough and irritated, but it's not like they were a danger to Artemiy. He proceeded further into the house.
Hey there! We weren't expecting you... I don't think we can take you on... You didn't happen to see Matchstick did ya, chief?
I'm looking for him myself what do you punks need him for, anyway?
He wants to ruin our plans! We put in a lot of work, and there he is trying to ruin it! Well, no matter there are reliable people waiting for him near the fires! They don't take kindly to Dualsouls. I should tell the rest to not hang out too much here, in the Earth district they should go across the river and wait there... They won't listen to us, though... Maybe you could tell them?
The kids were clearly hostile to Matchstick, and Artemiy didn't want to anger them. He decided to play along.
That Matchstick sure is a rascal... Is this an ambush for him?
Well, duh? Maybe we should go check out the cemetery? He always hangs out there with a bunch of Dualsouls... I'm sure there's one of them out there somewhere... Or, should I wait here? They're liable to beat me up, you know...
Stay here, brave one. I'll go and check it out I'll come back later to tell you how it went.
Right on, pops. See ya later, then!
Somewhere near the cemetery's fence, there is an old meeting place that is frequently used by Matchstick and his comrades... Maybe, there's someone there.
Artemiy wasn't happy to be stuck between Dualsouls and Dogheads, but it's not like it didn't happen before. Hopefully, just like before, Artemiy will be able to sort these matters out without any bloodshed.
God knows that this Town has seen quite enough of it and that it will see much more of it in the coming future.
Past the rock was the Graveyard. Artemiy was preparing to go into the gravekeeper's lodge when he bumped into an old friend.
Hey! Ripper! I'm Stump, remember me?
Artemiy remembered the little punk... He helped Artemiy prevent Dualsouls from getting into a small-scale gang war with the bandits in the early days. He was one of Matchstick's comrades.
You all look alike... Do you know where Matchstick is?
Matchstick is bumming around somewhere... I think he went to scout things out... Or was it to light some fires in the Stone Yard? I'm not sure... Nothing will happen to him though...
Still, if the bonfires are guarded, then Matchstick will eventually bump into the people guarding them and will probably get in trouble... Artemiy decided to try and prevent that from happening.
Okay. Well do you have some matches? I'll try and help you.
Really? That'd be quite welcome. I don't have any fuel, but I've got some flint and tinder! Let's go it's safer together. Maybe we'll find Matchstick, too.
I'll go first and you'll follow. Who knows what we'll encounter.
Matchstick's friend promised to light four bonfires here, in Earth. The ones in the Knots and Stone Yards will have to be taken care of by someone else. I think that the mysterious saboteurs left those bonfires alone at this point. It's very likely that we'll encounter them here.
The four bonfires were a fair distance away from the Town placed neatly along the fence that kept certain things away from the Town. It was going to get dark soon, so Artemiy decided to get on with the task.
Stump had a bit of trouble keeping up, but the two reached the first bonfire soon enough.
It was clearly guarded by a rather unlikely team two Worms and one Doghead. Artemiy tried to approach the trio to try and dissuade them from doing anything rash.
Unfortunately for him, they lunged at him all three clearly armed with murderous intentions. Artemiy had no recourse but to pull out a rifle he found on the corpse of an unlucky soldier a bit earlier and to start shooting.
The kid went down first...
...And the worms soon followed. It didn't occur to Artemiy that he just casually became a child murderer. Such things weren't of a particular importance in the environment that is full of mass death, but one would think that crossing such a threshold would have an effect on a person. It did not.
With the way clear, Artemiy motioned to Stump to light the first fire.
The kid was as good with the flint and tinder as he promised, and soon, this merry little kid-murdering band was on its way to the next bonfire.
This time, there were bandits thrown in the mix. It seems that Dogheads had quite an assortment of allies. Still, the group guarding the second bonfire went down as easily as the first one.
Artemiy and Stump were becoming a fire-forged team quite fast. Two down, two to go.
The way to the third bonfire took Artemiy past an old acquaintance of his a herb gatherer whom Artemiy helped in the early days.
It seemed so far away now, but this herb bride wouldn't be here were it not for Artemiy's intervention. Her father wanted to keep her for himself, but Artemiy refused to assist him. The two of them acknowledged Haruspex with gratitude and our merry little band left the due to their own devices.
A marauder, a Doghead and one of those wealthy young Utopians. The assortments were becoming more and more odd, though it didn't matter much to Artemiy.
They went down, all the same.
It has to be pointed out, of course, that the so-called saboteurs are the first to attack Artemiy, but one still has to be taken a bit aback by the callousness of it all.
The last bonfire was guarded by only two Dogheads. The first one lunged for Artemiy when he saw him.
He went down easily enough, but the second one seemed to try and run away.
Artemiy shot the kid in the back no need for the news of Artemiy's involvement in all of this to get back to the Polyhedron. The little gang of rascals could still be useful to him, and he didn't want this to come back to hurt the Bachelor due to their mutual associations.
Hmm... Matchstick is nowhere to be seen. He probably lit those fires in the Stone Yard or the Knots and went back home if he didn't get taken out, of course. I wonder if he managed to find anything.
Very well, then. I'll go and check out Matchstick's house. Take care, Stump, and farewell.
With the guards disposed of, Artemiy left Stump to light the fourth bonfire on his own. Matchstick was nowhere to be seen and he still needed to find him.
All fires are lit. Whoever it is that is coming here from the Steppe, they'll see these fires from afar.
There were no good options but to try Matchstick's house once again.
Artemiy was concerned for the kid there was, after all, an ambush waiting for him at his house. Still, the two Dogheads there seemed like pushovers, so Artemiy wasn't losing too much sleep over it.
With the evening's arrival, there were less Army folk on the streets and more bandits. It didn't make the bandits' collective decision to bring a knife to a gunfight any better, though.
Well, this was new! The girl seemed to be on the lookout for someone. She gasped when she saw Artemiy he did look rather bandit-like, after all but calmed down after recognizing him.
Wait! Don't go in! It's an ambush!
So, what are you the ambush, then?
Nope. There's a bunch of Khan's Dogheads in there. Don't underestimate them because they're small they'll shoot you all the same!
I see... Where's Matchstick?
Matchstick must have found out about the ambush... I don't know where he is. He's probably hiding out somewhere. I wonder who would open their door for him? Everyone's too afraid nowadays...
I see... I'll try and find him, then.
Matchstick still isn't at his house. It seems that I will have to deliver the troublesome news to Kapella.
If Matchstick didn't get ambushed at his house, then he's probably alright. Still, Artemiy was quite worried. His worries, however, were interrupted by another letter.
The Impostress' Choice.
I know that they've told you that I am not holy. That I am a witch. They've probably told you that I am the Sand Fever given human form. They've told you that I save the ones who despair and kill the ones who are brave and that I break the daring ones, forcing them to accept the coming of the plague.
Let me tell you those who are holy and work miracles are always marred with dirt and blood. Their actions can't be understood by the simple folk. They expect from us kindness instead of Good and politeness instead of Love. That is not who I am! That is not how I am! I know what will happen in three days. I will manage to avoid the contradictions that you and Bachelor are so thoroughly tangled in.
Know that I will perform a miracle in the end. I will perform it with the help of those who are angry and desperate. Thief Griff, evil Oyun, cruel Alexander, deceived Katherine, vengeful Lara, heathen Ospina, oathbreaker Rubin. They will live in order to die and then they will die in order to attain life eternal. They are needed in order for miracle to happen.
Hmm... it seems that Klara has Adherents of her own. Artemiy has already been saving her Adherents, too, keeping Alexander and Griff out of Sand Fever's clutches. He could manage three more days of that it is, after all, interesting to see what sort of miracle Klara intends to perform.
Artemiy could also appreciate the fact that Klara's letter wasn't nearly as full of histrionics as yesterday's Bachelor's letter. Whatever she was up to, Artemiy felt that he could trust the Impostress to keep a level head and to try to not do too much harm.
All that aside, Artemiy was nearing the Olgimsky Residence. It was quite late, so, at this point, Matchstick was either safe or dead. Still, Artemiy liked his odds.
Artemiy knocked on Kapella's door and was let in. Matchstick was, of course, already waiting for him inside.
Ah! You're back! We were just talking about you! So, how'd it go?
It was quite hot around those fires... Who were those guys that were trying to ambush me?
Whom did you see, exactly?
All sorts of various types... Wouldn't remember them all if I tried...
So that's how it is! It must be Khan who was behind it all! He must be the one who wanted those fires extinguished!
What did he want that for?
Who knows! All of them are trying to play war or something... Maybe they want to attack the Army train? Khan must have lost his mind because of the Army's cannons. He must realize that they are a threat to the Polyhedron. He'd faster agree to get out of his own skin rather than lose the Polyhedron.
Isn't he a bit too young for that? You know, attacking the Army and such...
Kain? Come now... Kains aren't like the regular folk... Don't worry he isn't too young at all.
More unpleasant implications or just a turn of phrase? I'm not too sure to say either way...
I see. Take care of yourself, Matchstick.
Artemiy turned to Kapella to let her know what happened this evening.
Has Matchstick been here for long? I've been working hard for nothing, it seems...
He only just arrived! No... it wasn't for nothing... If the people that were defeated by you were left to their own devices, they would have surely joined the ambush. Now... I think that the Dogheads will leave when they'll realize that no one will come.
Will they, now?
The soldiers are everywhere now. The Dogheads won't be brave enough to stay in the Town for long. They'll have to return to the Polyhedron soon. I'm so very thankful to you for helping Matchstick! Thank you, Servitor!
You're welcome, Kapella.
In the end, who was the one who wanted to put out these signal fires? In order to answer this question properly, one needs to know who they were actually meant for. No one truly knows the nature of the things that watch us from the depths of this Steppe... Maybe, the true shabnak-adyr comes here every midnight, picks her houses, mars the windows in her diseased tar and goes back? Or are these just wives' tales?
Whatever these tales are, dwelling on them too much won't help. In any case, Artemiy made some progress towards getting closer to the blood within the Abattoir and saved his Adherent along the way. In these days, it's about as much of a win-win situation as one could hope for. With the day's toils fully done, Artemiy headed home to his hideout.