Part 6: Chapter Two - pt.1
The crickets were still chirping outside when Klara woke up and couldnt fall asleep any more. She felt quite well rested, actually even the worst of beds was preferable to the best of shallow graves, that much was certain.
Opening her diary to write a new entry, she noticed that there already was one. Another one she didnt remember making.
«As only you can do it, my sister, slipping through every crack, through the tiniest opening; even through pores of skin, it seems, you can seep through... As if, you are not a human being but a liquid or a sweetest spirit!
This is because people trust you.
Dont be afraid. Go wherever you want nothing will touch you; speak freely nobody will deny you, listen to them nothing will elude you.
Just tell me what is it that you do that causes people to love me less and less every hour, to trust me less and less every day?
But Im not angry with you and still love you more than anyone else in this world!
This is I; heres my hand.»
Alexander, on the other hand, looked like he had foregone the luxury of a nights sleep. He was staring at a short list of names; when Klara looked closer, she could see that those were the same names Katherine had given her, sans the Saburovs themselves.
I have spent the night thinking, recalling, and pondering the logic of the supernatural retribution that has befallen our community. It has been revealed to my wife that there is one person amongst us that is guilty of all thats happened. I went through all the suspects. Here are their names. Each of them could be the criminal responsible for all our troubles!
How did you figure them out?
I have been maintaining order in this town and keeping an eye out for criminals for years. I trust my second-sighted wife. But even that wouldnt be enough had the rival Mistresses not corroborated my hypothesis.
When did they do it?
Well, Scarlet Nina mentioned it on the eve of her tragic death... Victoria was heard saying that if one day an abyss would open its gullet to devour our town, this is how it would happen.
So, youve been crosschecking Katherines words? Are you afraid that she might be wrong?
There is only one thing I want: justice! This trial will not be about evidence or testaments. When the last dawn will rise above the world, arguments of a different kind will be considered. Verdict will depend on ones consciousness and faith. Find the one whos guilty! This is what you came into this world, and into our home, the house of the towns governors, for.
How shall I do it?
You shall lull them with your speeches. You shall make them answer your questions and see if they are guilty or not! My wife is sure that if you to manage to astound a person that already has good disposition towards you, it should be enough to put them under your spell. They will not be able to escape your enchantment, for you are the destiny!
I dont always succeed... Only if a person chooses to put their guard down. One must not abuse this trust...
I just want to know who caused the scourge to descend upon us. And even the most hardened criminal will be spared if he is not guilty of this crime.
...Who shall I start with?
I believe we should start with that mysterious personage called Ospina. Children say she is an evil spirit. Simon hated her. People even suspected her of being a plague carrier before! A cannibal, a she-demon from the steppe... She fits the description of Shabnak perfectly even her name sounds like a name of an infectious disease!
Who can tell me anything about her that will startle her?
Right... You do not know anybody here... The shortest way is through Olgimskys. Ask Vlad Junior, son of Olgimsky. They have a bone to pick with her. In addition, Junior is good at steppe lore.... He will teach you a thing or two.
I shall fulfil my duty.
Wild accusations based on childrens rumours were nothing new to her. But she had to investigate this person, and that meant having to obtain the hook, the key to the womans cooperation: some rare piece of information about her. Having her and Vlads house marked on her town map, she stepped outside.
Once in the yard, out of sight, she stopped to jot another entry in her diary.
Tell me now, why do they call me a saint?
I am becoming a judge and a divine messenger, one of the twin angels. The good one, certainly, for there is no place for evil in my heart. I shall look into their eyes, hook their souls and find the embodiment of the plague - the one through whom the illness has come to this town!
Who is the one who gave me the right to judge them, who gave me the right to decide who will live and who will die?
It was still dark. Klara wondered if local lore enthusiast aristocrats had a habit of getting up this early.
A tall hexagonal building attracted her attention when she was passing through the towns middle, and she decided to take a closer look. It turned out that the front door was open.
The whole building was hollow inside... a vast dimly lit chamber, used for performances most likely. A redheaded fellow with crazy eyes was speaking to an empty hall. (Rehearsing, perhaps?) Klara gave a cough to attract his attention.
You are not allowed in here, Klara. You are an impostor.
Not allowed? Why?
You are against the rules. I dont want you visiting my theatre.
Nobody can deny me entrance!
But she decided not to be a nuisance and left.
The mark on her map pointed to a small inconspicuous cabin.
My foster father is like a commander who finally found an opportunity to defeat the previously indestructible enemy and is starting to make confident attacks. I am his most reliable emissary. He sent me to see Ospina, a malicious being who may be guilty of starting this pestilence. The son of Olgimsky, Vlad Junior, will tell me of a best way to approach her.
The shacks interior didnt even resemble living quarters. Stone walls, earthen floor, wooden beams everywhere... Klara couldnt imagine a member of one of the three ruling houses living in such Spartan conditions. But the man that greeted her with an unexpected question certainly didnt look like a worker.
Wait... Havent you gone down this well? How did you manage to get out?
I was absorbed by the sand layer, and then earth vomited me out at your doorstep.
...Why are you trying to deceive me? You wont confuse me with your tricks... Ive read enough about you, golems of clay and bones. I know what "The Legend of Daughters" and "Baur-Meges" say about you.
Hey! Stop it... Whatever these books say, it has nothing to do with me!
You have been found in the ground. You were dragged out of the grave. Now youre saying you just came from the Steppe and dont remember anything? Then I have no doubt that you are Shabnak-Adyg. I have studied these legends well.
How do I prove that Im human?
Im just joking, of course. Do you really think I take local myths so literally? However, there is an air of ambiguity about you... I cannot escape the feeling that you are looking at my nape while I am looking you in the eyes.
Its... because I am such an unusual girl. I didnt pick the best time to show up, did I?
And do you know anything about the imminent plague outbreak?
An outbreak? No. I dont know anything about it.
By the way, do you mind doing something really helpful?
Why not? Tell me about it.
Then listen to me. Faced with the threat of an epidemic, the three ruling houses of our town divided some burdensome duties between themselves. Bachelor Dankovsky asked our family to prepare certain... facilities... and to requisition medicine from the populace.
It wont help. Absolutely pointless.
Weird girl... You behave as if you already knew everything. I hope you realize how suspicious that makes you look. Or are you parading your omniscience so boldly because all punitive functions are Saburovs responsibility?
Fool! Punitive missions are the reason I have found shelter with him in the first place.
Anyway, the town is short on medicine. We have to scrape it together from wherever we can. But there is a person who has been stocking various drugs for five years now... Its that young singer, Anna Angel.
A singer? Young singers are usually so carefree. Whats wrong with her? How unusual...
Perhaps theres something evil there. But I dont think she had known anything in advance, much less caused anything... Its just that she lives in the Skinflints district, in the Land. A terrible epidemic broke out there several years ago... shes been stocking up on medicine ever since.
How do you know about it?
Well, shes been spending all her money in pharmacies for the last five years. Every Wednesday she visits every apothecary in town and buys whatever new type of medicine she sees. Something like that is difficult to miss.
Are you going to take her cache?
I dont want to take it by force. Were on good terms with her... Threatening and extorting would be unacceptable. Now, you on the other hand... you look like you can be persuasive. Persuade Anna to turn her supply in... voluntarily. She doesnt need this much... her hobby has turned into a mania.
I can do it, no problem. I can subdue anyone with barely a stare. I soften cruel hearts. But theres something I want to ask of you in return. Do you know Ospina?
Of course! A very peculiar person. Have you gotten to know her yet? What do you want with her?
Alexander Saburov wants to find the culprit responsible for all the misfortune that has befallen your town. I am carrying out his will.
Are you sure its not the other way around? N-nevermind... So, did he tell you to ask me for assistance? So crafty... I underestimated him. Seems like hes willing to do us a favour by getting this monster out of our way...
She is the reason for all the riots and disturbance in the Order! No man did more evil to our family! Sometimes it seems to me that she is an evil spirit. She emerged out of nowhere... after one of the riots. My father had just finished suppressing a rebellion... that was when he made Oyun their supervisor.
Yes... Shes been an embodiment of rebelliousness of the Order ever since. Now I cant even tell cause from effect any more. Does she exist as punishment for our cruelty? Is it her instigations that cause my father to take rough measures? Were locked into a vicious cycle!
So she seeks to destroy your family, but is hurting the Order instead?
If we had any proof that shes been trying to start a rebellion among worms, butchers and factory workers, we would make short work out of her. Saburov wouldnt object and Judge Kain would remain indifferent. But I am a sensible man, you see... deep inside Im sure that she is just an ordinary sloven.
Have you seen her?
We met once. I was impressed both by her face and by her enunciation. Leisured, with a singing quality and a throaty steppe accent... Its bewitching. Her appearance was intimidating, but I decided she was merely trying to leave an impression. My sister also thinks shes an ordinary vagrant girl possessed by demonic dreams.
When did you meet her?
Not long ago... Cannot forget her eyes to this day. Faded, but still fixed and tenacious. Gloating. She acted as if I wasnt even there. Foul-mouthed my father, promised to hound him to death... Strange, so strange, all of it...
You know what has just occurred to me? It may already be too late for my father... And its all because of her!
Just like that! Yes... It was all on purpose! And that horror in the Apiary... Yes, she has put the wheels in motion, and these wheels are going to run him over any moment now. Now shes turning her attention to me. Right! Maybe I should warn him. I dont like this... But he is angry with me.
I can talk to him. Maybe he has a hook for me...
An enlightening conversation, but not the most pleasant one. Young Vlad seemed friendly enough, but his fumbles and suggestive winks were implying he already knew who she «really» was, and knew that she knew, but chose not to bring it up. He had read too many fairytales for his own good.
Yes, this Ospina is certainly not a human being. She is like a phantom, a hive mind or rather, hive mindlessness everything that the soul of this Order has cast away. Vlad Junior considers Ospina quite dangerous. It will not be easy to gain favour of such person...
It was time to meet the young mans father to warn him that whatever had happened in the «Apiary» was a plot against him. Klara hoped she could learn some more useful facts about Ospina in the process.
Following Vlads directions downtown, she finally located what she supposed was his real home.
Vlad the Senior looked the way she imagined a typical mogul to look. Bald, portly, tired and unfriendly. All that was missing was a big pouch of ill-gotten money on his belt.
Youve got the wrong door, girl. Victoria lives in the north wing.
I am Klara. What is this place?
Klara? You are in Clot, and I am Vlad Olgimsky. Does my name tell you anything?
Judging by your manners, you must be an influential man... and judging by your voice, you are a very miserable man too! Ive come to warn you... You are in danger.
What in the... Who sent you? Did you come from Yaklakh?
Ospina has prepared a trap...
You dont know what youre talking about.
I dont? But...
Oh... I know who you are... Saburovs foundling. Run along...
What? A foundling?
I could destroy Ospina with one glance if I was willing to even acknowledge her existence.
You think so? Id like to see you try.
Is it money youre after... little snitcher? Fair enough... Here, take this. For saving my... heh... life. Very well, Ill keep an eye on her.
Thats better... You shall thank me later.
After retreating into the street, Klara remembered that shed forgotten to tell the man any actual details about the danger he was in... She thought of talking to him again, but decided against it. Big Vlad was making her uneasy. The way he recognized her name, the fact he was willing to give her money for no apparent reason... She decided to follow his advice and run along. Neither Vlad had given her any good clues. She had nothing left to do but confront Ospina and improvise.
The house that was supposed do belong to the woman was located in a poorer district, on the edge of town, with a view to the graveyard. It was a surprisingly big building, but it looked abandoned.
The woman was found in the far end of the empty ground floor, a skinny figure wrapped in baggy burlap clothes common among Steppe dwellers. Ospina cocked her head at the visitor.
Hush! Is it a mirror that I see before me? You have the same bottomless eyes as I do... This is because we are flesh and blood of the same mother.
Who is she, our mother?
Her name is earth.
Who are you?
I call myself Aspae-Inun. Bodkhos children call me Saba Uspnae. And the locals have named me Ospina. Whats your name?
What do you care about my name...? Lets say Im Klara.
Klara, huh... I dont believe you. This is a name fitting for a holy devotee, not the spawn of the gods that sprout through time itself.
Say what you want, I know youre just playing with me.
Youre insistent, pushy even... So you dont want to be my sister... Then whats with the friendly look?
I want to talk to you. In confidence.
I have no confidence in you. Why would I want to talk?
Do you really want me as an enemy?
I already have you as a friend... You just dont know it yet. The one Ive made friends with, the real sister, recognizes her relatives. If only you could make friends with her... then you and I could get along just fine. Im just kidding. Anyway, arent you afraid of Shabnak?
No. Listen; is there anything you want me to do for you? How shall I appease you?
Listen here, smart girl. Bring me Burakh if you want me to give you the time of day. Do you know him? I see that you do... I cannot leave home right now, but he needs me so much!
Idiot. Its not what youre thinking. Its about his life and his duty. Im worried. Hes being hunted. If you find him, tell him I have a key to his destiny! He should hurry; time is of the essence. If he doesnt believe you, just say the word «Heritage».
All right... I will. But you owe me a conversation.
I now have to see the Ripper once again... So Ospina wants to make friends with him... The very thought of this duo gives me goose bumps...
The admittedly rather clumsy attempt to befriend Ospina has failed, but at least Klara knew what to do in order to bribe her into answering some questions.
Luckily, Artemy was in his den.
Did you want something?
Ospina says she has a key to your destiny. Go see her.
Who is Ospina?
Its Aspae-Inun, you dummy! The mistress of worms.
I really should teach you some manners!
Heey! Dont touch me!
I will see your woman. Tell me where she lives.
It is the only house with a cellar in the area close to the cemetery. Youll find her there. Dummy...
I can now go back to Ospina. I have carried out her request it is time for her to return the favour.
I spoke to him. He will come.
What did you want to talk about? Lets get it over with.
Are you eyes getting heavy? You look like you can barely keep them open...
Aspae-Inun, Aspae-Inun, I know that you are in love with this Burakh! Would you agree to get close to me? Will you let go, submit into the depths... And give unto my questions your honest, unbiased answer?
...What do you want to know?
Who are you?
...I was born five years ago during the First Outbreak. As a reminder.
Did you... start the epidemic?
...Maybe. But I havent done anything recently... although I have started a riot that caused our dear late Isidore so much grief.
...Is Shabnak-Adyr real? Is it you?
Which one of us is the real cause? And who is merely a doll that has been granted a soul... temporarily? Who is the real Shabnak? Youll see when its all over... I can be of use to you, Impostress! Spare me, dont... dont let your sister out... dont let her take over.
What did you call me?
This is your good fortune... You are a thief... because you have stolen anothers name and fate... Beware of the Law... You will endure the persecutions and emerge in glory... perhaps...
I shall think about it.
Things are taking the normal course. Any event is a sign. Any accident is not without reason. Anything sent is sent from above. The role of a judge frightens me even more than death but a voice prompts me that if I refuse to decide, someone else will do it... And the results will be dreadful!