Part 20: Chapter Five - pt.4
The Impostress was approaching Clot. Earlier that day she had received a message from Victoria Olgimsky demanding that she visit her as soon as possible. Victoria had some bad news she needed to share.
Come to Clot as soon as you can; we need to talk. Ive seen a prophetic dream. It was about you, Im afraid.
Something terrible is going to happen tonight.
You might be the only person who can prevent it.
Waiting for you,
Klara, dear Klara, the time has come for me to ask for your help. Know that I am addressing you formally, as one Mistress to another. Do you know what it means when a Mistress asks a fellow Mistress, her opponent and rival, to do something? Do you know how much power and joy is released into this world when their palms touch?
I guess... But what does it have to do with us? Are we Mistresses now? You shouldnt joke about such things.
I had a terrible dream last night. In that dream, an uncanny fiend came from the Steppe by night. It snuck into the Cathedral and killed all the refugees that had hidden there! Dead bodies, everywhere, everywhere...
So dramatic... What if the refugees had been infected before they even entered the Cathedral? And then the plague developed into an advanced stage, and people started dying... Your «uncanny fiend» may have been just some poor soul looking for sanctuary.
Thats highly unlikely. You see, refugees are being isolated and watched for a period of time before they let them inside the asylum. The Bachelor calls it «incubation period». Those people inside the Cathedral are guaranteed to be clean. And yet they are going to die.
Are you saying you believe that this dream will come true?
I dont know whether I should believe it or not. Maybe it wasnt a vision Im not used to them yet, and cannot distinguish dreams from Dreams... Maybe it was just a nightmare... too many stories about Shabnak from children... They are so scared, confused...
How can we make certain of that?
Can you... can you ask Maria whether shes seen the same dream?
Id rather ask Katherine.
No offense, dear Klara, I know that she is like a mother to you now, but for some reason Katherine errs too often lately. You can ask her if you want, but know that her visions can distort reality. The main theme remains true, but minutiae are often garbled. And they are whats most important here.
I dont feel well when Im at Horns... Maria wants to kill me.
If my dream comes true, it will kill her Bachelor. An envoy from the Capital will arrive tomorrow. Everything will depend on him. Maria wont risk the success of Bachelors mission. ...Ill reward you if you go!
Why dont you just write a letter to her?
...She will laugh at me. If she learns that Im not confident in my powers, she will have a great advantage over me. She and I are rival Mistresses, and everything is decided these days. The Mistress who succeeds in proving her competence will get the power.
But still... You two? Mistresses? I can barely imagine Maria in this role, but you?
Just a girl. For now. But that is only for the time being... But still, do it for me, please! Kains dont hate you that much. They have always been so dramatic; love nothing more than a good show! My dear... Ill reward you just for one question! Just dont mention that youre doing it on my behalf!
All right. Ill do that for you. But only for you, you hear?
Kapella had a terrible dream last night. If Maria had it too, it would be a cause for alarm. Some evil is trying to infiltrate the Cathedral. I did not have any dreams myself...
When Klara was entering Horns fifteen minutes later, she noticed that the temple across the square was locked and heavily guarded. It seemed that it was indeed used by people who wished to isolate themselves from the outside world. As if there was some point in staying alive if you were locked up in the middle of a dead diseased town.
She walked to the far side of Horns towards Marias apartments.
The mission would require some subtlety.
Thats it. It is really beginning to seem like we two are going to get along. You are crazy, arent you?
You see, I really dont have any reason to be afraid of you. Im not aiming for the throne you are after. And so far, our meetings have been harder on you, than on me. But right now, I have some important news for you.
You dont and you cant have any important news. You simply cannot know anything I dont know.
Kapella saw a frightening dream about something horrible happening in the Cathedral. Very soon, any minute now. You... didnt happen to see something similar?
You are not much of a Mistress if you have to ask questions in this manner... You lack confidence. But Ill have to disappoint Kapella. I wasnt sleeping last night. I had awful pains after that drug... I would have possibly died if I werent... who I am.
So you dont know anything, do you?
No, I dont. I was waiting for the accession of the Memory of Simon. I dont know why but he didnt come to the Inner Chamber... not today, not yesterday... This means Simon is still alive! But Ill sleep this night. I may see my mother and ask her your question... Mistress.
What if its too late?
All right... God, what is this torment... Go to Daniel. You arent afraid of that daemon, are you? Well hes probably not home anyway, so sneak into his room... Take the keys, go to the Cathedral.
Go there myself? I really dont think its a good idea! What if I go in, and its full of dead people! Theyll blame everything on me!
Dont be afraid. The place is well guarded. Here, have some money you can give it to the guards. Theyll open the doors for you and youll go inside together... Youll have witnesses that way.
And she gave Klara some coins in a small leather pouch.
Marias eagerness to give her money and helpful advice seemed a little odd, especially considering that Klara was about to commit burglary and bribery. Perhaps she was indeed starting to like the Impostress, or maybe the same pains that prevented her from seeing the future were clouding her judgement as well.
The guards have been posted at the entrance to the Cathedral. Im not sure Ill be able to bribe my way past them. For now, Ill look for another way. There must be a way... Since all my enemies seem so peaceable today, Ill go ask Bachelor for a key. In the last resort, Ill just steal it from him. I need to live up to my reputation, after all.
Whirlpools lodger was actually home.
What are you doing here?
Just wanted to have a glimpse at your working environment... Really impressive.
...I need keys to the Cathedral.
What do you need them for?
Maria told me you had them!
Since when do you talk to Maria? She declared you an impostor and said that she would have you thrown into Gorkhon to see whether you would sink or float if you so much as showed up at her front door. Well? Did you float?
Aha! Then you are not a witch. But that means that you have returned from the dead, and thats even worse! I wish bullets in my revolver were made of silver rather than lead! But theyll have to do!
Stop fooling around. Let me into the Cathedral. Give me the key, Bachelor.
Ill never do that! Its too risky; they wont even allow me to go in there! Thats the order. And someone needs to check the water supplies... There are more and more people every day... Who knows how long the supplies will last.
Youve just given me a great idea, Bachelor...
The Bachelor didnt give me the key, but he gave me an idea... I should be able to handle the guards. If my gift helps me with the Adherents why would it fail when it comes to ordinary people?
The guard at the temples doors regarded her cautiously.
Are you from the contaminated area? Rule of the quarantine you must stay indoors for twelve hours in isolation, no matter how long it has been since you left the hazardous area. We record the time you went in.
No, no... Im just a messenger. Does the asylum need anything?
To tell you the truth, we really need water... The number of people increases and theres not enough for everybody... People are thirsty. Can you get us some? Say, 20 flasks? That should do it for now...
All right, Ill come back with water soon...
They have nothing to drink! Heres my ticket! The guard asked to bring them twenty bottles of drinking water... I should buckle up!
The towns water supply system seemed to have shut down the day after she came into town. Since then, Klara had to use cart-barrels scattered around town to stay hydrated. Those barrels had to be refilled regularly, and it was just about the only duty Town Hall still performed reliably. After all, it was the only way to provide townspeople with clean water safe for drinking. Its not like they could just buy water in bottles from shops: who would ever sell such a thing?
That meant she would need to bottle it herself. Finding containers took her the longest she had to search under every porch and every bench from Stone Yard to Land, in order to obtain a few bottles, some of which smelled of twyrine and some of sunflower seed oil. Some of the vessels came from refuse bins.
When she finally ran out of ideas on where to find more, she started filling them with water from a nearest mobile tank. She tried to rinse the bottles as thoroughly as she could, although compared to the possibility of being slaughtered by a Steppe demon, the idea of some refugees developing a case of the runs seemed rather trivial.
By the time the last bottle was filled and put into a large bag, it was already dark. She was in Raw Structures again, not so far from the cemetery. She could go back to the burial mound and meet the mysterious monster Laska had been talking about, make sure it had no plans to sneak into the refuge.
Laska said that my best friend would be waiting for me near the cemetery in the evening, about nine oclock. But who is it? Laska says that it and I are similar... And the more I think of this, the more it seems to me that it is a man-eater of earth and bones, Shabnak-Adyr...
A tiny figure at the top of the hill was visible in the torchlight.
Laska hadnt been joking about the earth not knowing how to build humans correctly. If this organism was indeed earths creation, earth was no artist for sure.
The thing heard her tiny gasp, twisted its curved neck to look at her and addressed her in a surprisingly ordinary, commonplace human voice.
Here you are... Here you are... So small... Thats because it didnt have much to work with... Do you know who you are?
Id rather know who you are!
Im the spirit of the earth, and your brother. The Steppe gave birth to us on the same day.
What is that supposed to mean?
You were born just a few days ago... You remember everything the earth remembers... You lied about your sister but did you know that you cannot lie? The sister exists now... But who of you is who? Thats the question...
Are you Shabnak-Adyr?
Who says «Shabnak-Adyr» anyway? It should be pronounced «Shabnak-Adyg»... theres less evil this way.
You havent answered my question.
I was made out of everything that was left after your creation... I was made for you... I am you... I exist for you to understand better...
Tell me... is it true that I am a plague-carrier?
...Thats unclear. Your nature is still unclear... Thats why the earth is still unstable... you have no unity... you are the emptiness in which everything disappears... Firmament has no foothold.
How can I find my sister?
Shell find you herself. Be honest. You have no need to discover the truth. You have power to make any lies true.
And once again, who are you?
Youll learn that later if Im not killed by then... Be careful. Tomorrow the hunt for you will begin. Everybody will be against you; your supporters will repudiate you... Use these few hours to find supplies and a place to hide... Do everything you are asked to do tomorrow or else youll die...
I dont believe you. You are a lying spirit, just like that Rat Prophet! He was earths creation too. You are saying this to ruin me.
Dont believe me if you dont want to. But when everything I say comes true, think kindly of me... We are one flesh and one bone... and I love you, though both of us are only a few days old...
How can you be a few days old if people have known about you for years? You are lying.
This whole town is not but a month old, not to speak of years. Good-bye. Remember me...
You have quite a sense of humour... Farewell.
The thing turned away and started walking downhill, waddling on its stubby legs.
The beast disappeared, and Klara also decided to take off.
Yes, this creature is just like me! Hated by all, born by an unknown force, suffering, defenceless it embodies everything that happens here these days... since the superhuman Simon Kain has disappeared. But if it is so this means that the key to our salvation lies with it...
It couldn't possibly be the threat from Victoria's vision. But that didn't mean that some other thing couldn't really make an appearance in the refuge. She still needed to get inside and see for herself.
She looked back to the west where Raw Structures were standing in gloom, heard some distant screaming.
Then she looked at the Steppe again, saw the waving grass, heard the singing of insects, felt a whiff of twyre... and then she decided.
She would take the scenic route.
The temple was located where Stone Yard met the Steppe. If she remembered the map correctly, going through the fields instead of returning to town would take about the same amount of time, but it would be a straighter, easier walk.
She wasnt looking forward to trudging through the infested streets at night with a bag of water bottles slowing her down.
It was getting dark. She decided to hurry. There was probably nothing to worry about, but she wouldnt want to be late if the monster from the Steppe decided to show up after all.