Part 43: Chapter Twelve - pt.1
It was morning of the final day when Klara rose from the bran sack in the Town Hall she was resting on.
This is the final day. It is time to make a choice.
As she wrote that in her diary, she noticed that there was no new cryptic hint from the other Klara no more hidden invitation to come and put her sister out of her misery. She had stopped her attempts to find her twin a long time ago, and as a result, the entire town was now in the grip of Sand Fever. Stakes were high: she would have to produce enough of the cure to heal everyone at once.
But first she had to stop cannons from firing.
The military were formally obliged to obey the Inquisitor, and Inquisitor was itching to let the bombs do the talking. But General Block was just about done following orders. If he was sure that there was a different solution, he would cancel the bombardment, and by the time his superiors would get the word, the situation would have changed drastically.
She would need to show him all her volunteers, those who agreed to sacrifice themselves to create the vaccine, and explain Rubins plan in detail.
Except her twin had been seen the day before, saying she had visited all Adherents and that all of them were beginning to show signs of sickness. If what she had said was true, that would mean that Klaras Adherents would be unable to donate blood any time soon.
And they would die, too. Klara had collected a few Powders over the fortnight, and she still had Burakhs test sample of Panacea, but that wouldnt be enough for everyone.
She had to go and visit everyone from her list right away. She had to know.
Block noticed that she was awake.
You and I cannot lose. My strength and your conscience, Klara. Your purity.
What are you talking about?
When this is over, will you leave here with me?
No, my General. I shall have to remain here forever. Who will transform the Adherents if Im gone?
I wont ask you to think it over; you must let your heart have the final say. Instead of looking after one town for the rest of your life, you can set the whole country right. All of our long-suffering motherland!
No, no... Im not up to this! Who am I to do something like that?
Is there anyone else who can do it but you? Who will remove the unrighteous rulers? Who will stop the war? Who will put an end to the suffering of the poor? The moment is right. It is in times like these times of strife, misfortune and discord that the true power is unleashed. My regiments can make all the difference. I shall maintain discipline at all costs!
Yes. Your hand is firm.
It is. I am glad you feel the same way. You can help me seize the power in the country. My army will be at your disposal. Help us become a weapon in His hands.
I feel that I have to do what must be done in this town. We shall reunite once again if there is a need.
Two letters, addressed to her, arrived earlier that night. She was opening the first one as she was walking through the murky streets towards Rubins haunt.
The beaks say that you are the only one who knows the way to the true victory. They insist that only you can win.
Could be true. They know many things I am not aware of. But they are also liars.
Believe it or not, I have found a way to victory. It is simple. But dont be in a hurry to reject it. This could be the only way for you to be saved.
Had Artemy come up with something new? She would meet him if she had the time.
Yes, you have become quite a personage.
Executors watch you, smirking and I must tell you, I dont like their grins. They dont rejoice at your victory. Tempus consilium dabet.
I wanted to warn you. We are all entrapped. Each of us was deceived in their own way. They say that you are not like me. It is true. Ive just learned rather unflattering truth about myself.
You are fortunate if you avoided the same fate.
Still you must be cautious. Arrogance is your worst enemy. I have learned at least one way to victory. Who knows, It may be your only salvation.
Come to me, if you are in doubt. In dubio pro reo, so to speak.
What was it that Daniel "D" Dankovsky had learned, wondered Klara. Had he met her old acquaintances and actually believed their speeches?
When Klara finished reading the second letter, she was already approaching the warehouse compound. She would visit Burakh and Dankovsky later, but first she needed to receive her instructions from Rubin and check the Adherents condition.
With great relief, she saw that Rubin's shack was not quarantined. The door was not locked.
Rubin seemed all right, all things considered, unlike two days ago, when she had found him underground dragged by Marias men, to be tortured and killed presumably. He was calm, but energetic and collected. Klara didnt know how he managed it, but she knew he would soldier on until the end.
Mistress of the Land, I bow before you...
Tell me what will happen... When the time comes, I mean.
Do you want to know every detail?
Im going to have to settle here, right?
Block offers me to go with him. He wants to take you with him as well, doesnt he?
This is irrelevant...
But you can leave and stay at the same time... Such is your nature. Youll settle in our town forever, but you will also go to war, with Block and his army.
How is your plan going to work?
Well... The way I see it... Well keep a vigilant watch... and at the first sign of a new outbreak, we shall board up the house... or close off the entire neighbourhood, just as Teacher did five years ago. The weird layout of these streets makes this surprisingly easy. Then you'll pick an Adherent, and we shall...
And what if the volunteer suddenly refuses?
They wont. Once the consent is given, it cannot be taken back. Otherwise, what good is our adherence?
How long will one person last us?
I dont know... ideally, forever. They say that the town rests on the backs of seven unselfish men and women. You picked seven volunteers for your plan... Coincidence?
So, how do you suppose its going to work? I put my hands onto a volunteer once... and thats it?
Multiple times, I think. And you should do it in public, to avoid gossip and speculations. Ill be making extracts, examine them. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
All right, Stakh. I understand your plan. Youll have to become the last step in this process.
On to check the condition of eight remaining Adherents.
The gathering place of Griffs organisation was in another storehouse nearby. It wasnt quarantined or guarded; but then again, Klara suspected not many executors would have the guts to try and quarantine this dangerous place.
But Griff showed no signs of infection. And why would he? He was a cautious and sanitary crime lord any Sand Plague carriers foolish enough to wander into his part of town would be murdered immediately. Discretion was the better part of valour. And it seemed that the other Klara hadn't visited him either.
Mistress of the Land, I bow before you...
I hope youre not doing this out of fear.
Im doing it out of love, my dove... Love, clean and white and crispy like freshly starched linen. Think for yourself who is there for me to fear? Nobody. I wasnt afraid of Braga, as you have guessed. All my fear was just for show. If theres anyone who could put fear into me, its myself...
This is true. One should only be afraid of oneself.
The moment you finally realised how evil I was, and recoiled... My heart sank at the thought that you would never forgive me. But you did! Didnt condemn me... Ill be happy to die for you now! By heaven, I will!
Good. Atonement will bring you salvation. Wait for me to come for you.
You wont find a servant more faithful than me. I have repented. Each one of my merry men will give their life for you! What do you want me to do, Mistress? How could I imagine that I would one day become like Simon? But even He is no match for you.
For mercys sake, what are you saying!
*Sigh*... Who are we? Nobodies! Walking cadavers, sentenced to death from day one; mere puppets in the hands of the strong... But you... you are human beings. Still, Simon was a haughty one... Made us this way to serve his purposes... But you, holy dove; youve reinvented Yourself for us.
Have I? That is yet to be seen.
It was getting lighter already. Klara was walking down the rail tracks from the warehouses towards Ospinas place in Land.
She decided to take the time to visit Burakhs cellar when she was passing by the factory.
Menkhu didnt look great: she saw some additional bruises on his face, and he was holding his side. His left eye was filled with blood on the inside, and yet he managed a defiant, determined stare.
Well... Do you still consider me a demon?
It seems you have helped me... If it werent for you, Rubin wouldnt have discovered my mission.
Meanwhile, Ive finally understood mine...
This is interesting; please, tell me. How did you extricate yourself from this trap?
I decided that I didnt need to. I am a hero. Id rather remain a hero in the trap than become a ruin trying to get out of it.
Was... Was Artemy talking about Barley and Mushrooms sandbox? Aglaea had said that she would let Burakh and Dankovsky discover it. From the earlier letter it was clear that the Bachelor had done it already, and believed that he was a puppet in some cosmic game. That suited Klara just fine: perhaps it would humble the scientist a little bit. Had Haruspex been to the secret garden as well? She couldnt understand how much he already knew.
Oh, for heavens sake. At least Bachelor realized that he is a puppet.
Well Im nobodys puppet! Maybe because I havent realized it yet... Do you have any other astonishing revelations for me?
Dont you care at all???
I am no ones toy, Impostress. I am Artemy Burakh, a Haruspex, Knower of the Lines, a votary who has fulfilled his destination, conciliated the spirit of his father with the earth, and made the right Choice. This is who I am. Do you understand?
So you believe your ignorance will save you?
I really am confused but I used it for my benefit. It helped me avoid the iron grip of predestination. The fact that I can let my heart have the final say is good enough for me.
Your choice was limited to two options by the authors of this dilemma...
Nevertheless, it is enough. Give me a chance to make the choice, and I shall choose the most humane solution, rest assured.
The town will suffer...
The town is the means, not the end. It exists for people, not the other way around.
But you are no man!
What makes you think so? Insult me all you want, I am still quite the man.
Wait... I think I am beginning to understand... If you look at it like that... Why, you may be closer to victory than I am...
You think so? I could present a case for a plan that would save the town by destroying the tower. This solution is reasonable and my heart tells me this it will last. I think about the future of my community.
What do you need for this?
I shall show up at the council if Im positive that all the children entrusted to me by Kapella are alive and well. Then instead of making my rounds I can spend the remaining time preparing my case. Will you help me with my charges?
I shall help you. Do you still have some of your panacea?
Im all out. I shall have to use the last flask and the last set of ingredients as proofs for my case at the council. But you dont need it, right? You can heal with your bare hands, cant you?
I shall think of something.
A council... So there would be a formal gathering to determine the further course of action, chairs and all... Things were getting serious. The fact that Artemy was tight-lipped about his plan made her suspect that he didnt actually have any good excuse to destroy the Polyhedron. But Klara needed to be on his good side, and his attendance at the council would be useful. Besides, it would be a good idea to make sure all children were safe anyway. She wrote down the names.
I must make sure that Mishka, Spichka, Notkin, Laska, Taya, Khan and Kapella are alive in order for the Haruspex to appear at the last council.
There was only one child there she hadnt met before. Burakh marked the location of «Mishka» on her map.
The new task would require a few detours on her route. But after seeing two of her supporters unharmed, she was beginning to doubt her sister's threat. She could spare a few minutes to visit Artemy's termites. Klara got back to the embankment and moved further towards the Abattoir some more, until she saw the graveyard gates.
Laskas shack had a man-bird posted in front at the door... Klara suspected that many of the children were probably ill at this point. It was fortunate that shed had the good sense to keep all the powders she could find.
After parting with another one and waiting for a bit, she was admitted inside. If the faith of Humility hadnt done anything to keep the graveyard-keepers daughter away from trouble, Klara's gift would pull her back from the brink instead. Laska would be all right; she would continue living in the shadow of the town, caring about the dead and worrying about the un-living, just like her parents before her.
If it werent for you, who would ever breathe new life into our town again? We, children of this town, have so much to do in the next five or ten years... Thank you, thank you!
Do you think this town can come back to life yet?
Definitely. It wont be easy, of course, but every life worth living must be fought for. We must preserve the umbilical cord that has been nourishing us all since the beginning of time. There are few places like this left as it is.
You are right. At least this one is still alive. You remain close to your roots.
What about my friends? I wont be able to do anything without them. Are they alive? Can I visit them already?
Not yet. My work is not yet finished.
There was a hint of a new attitude in girls words. Having a real brush with death must have changed her perspective a little.
Klara crossed the rails and a small field, walking back towards town.
Ospinas flophouse was the first building she saw when she approached Raw Structures
The woman was perfectly fine, unsurprisingly. Klara was sure that even after Ospinas sacrifice someone else would appear to take her place immediately. As long as there were people like Vlad Olgimsky, there would always be someone to show them they are not invincible. And mysticism had nothing to do with it.
Mistress of the Land, I bow before you...
Well... its time to say goodbye to one another... sister.
Lets do it... Cant say Im not glad.
Why? Everybodys happy to see me nowadays.
Why would I be happy to see you? You are my more successful rival. Youve become something I couldnt... I envy you.
What is there to envy? From a saint Im turning into a bloody priestess, a miraculous meat mincer!
But this is the point! I was supposed to parade through the city, bringing death on black wings, choosing who deserves vengeance... An enviable lot. Well, look at me now! A slave to the Order, a familiar, whose only responsibility is to preserve family relics.
Im not like that! Ive chosen a different fate.
Get over it... Whats done is done. You cant choose your fate retroactively...
I can. Thats what the miracle is all about.