Saturday, October 29, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 24

"So, he was well-dressed," said Sacripant quietly.

"Indeed," said the Sexton.  "Those were silks we took from his body.  With gold brocade,  no less."

"So, a rich man," noted the Erl.

"Most likely," agreed the Sexton.

Sacripant crossed his arms. "Seems odd he'd kill himself," he noted. 

"The wealthy do so more often than you'd imagine," replied the Sexton.  "They are not quite the rest of us, after all, and are prone to pressures we cannot imagine."

"Sometimes I think I'd like to give it a try," noted Sacripant.

"Hmmm," muttered the Sexton.  "Regardless of your feelings, what I say is true.  I have seen suicides from numerous leading citizens of Talossa over the years.  Especially recently."

"Is that so?" replied Sacripant, an eyebrow perking up. 

The Sexton glanced over the room, then turned back to the Erl. "Obviously I cannot go into too much detail, but... well, consider this fellow.  While we never identified him...  he bore a serpent ring."  The man looked at the Erl significantly.

Sacripant glanced at Nathan.  "What does that mean?"

Nathan looked away.  "Serpent rings are given to Ancients so they may... use them to get out of certain difficulties."

Sacripant nodded to himself.  "Huh.  Imagine that."  He coughed.  "So... how many other serpent rings have shown up?"

Nathan blinked.  "What are you doing?"

"Checking things," answered the Erl.  "That's what the Cthonique pay me to do."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 23

"And then what?" asked the short man with the peg-leg, as he and his companion stood beneath an awning out of the pouring rain.

"She left," answered his companion, a tall man with a red scarf and two golden teeth.

The man with the peg-leg glared at him.  "That's it?  You bore me out of my head with that tale for the last hour, and there's no real ending, just an abrupt halt?"

The tall man shrugged.  "Just trying to pass the time, really," he noted.  "You know how these things run."

"Of course, I do," muttered the man with the peg-leg.  "But that doesn't mean I need you wasting my time."

"It's not wasting your time, it's keeping boredom at bay as we wait for these two to come out," answered the tall man.  He stared at the Sexton Hall, and shuddered.  "I hate this part of town.  So many dead people under your feet."

"That's the same all over," replied the man with the peg-leg.

"I pretty sure the Sexton Hall has more corpses than some random section of Talossa," said the tall man.

"Ha!  That's what you think!" said the man with the peg-leg.  "Bodies only wind up with the Sextons if people find them.  If they don't, they stay where they lie.  Throw in family tombs, and you may  be certain, there are bodies all over the city that you don't know about."

"If you say so," said the tall man.

"I most certainly do," said the man with the peg-leg.  "So... where should we hide the Erl this time?"

"A better place than last time," answered the tall man.

"Well, obviously!" snapped the man with the peg-leg.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 22

The Hall of Sextons was largely underground, something that did not make it comfortable to visit during a rainstorm.  Nathan's boots were already soaked, and he feared his socks would soon be as well.  Sacripant on the other hand seemed to be enjoying it, splashing through puddles with a cheerful nonchalance.

He was less charmed by all the skulls and bones, which produced shudders and winces.  "So," the Erl said to the Sexton, "you still haven't identified the body...?"

"Many bodies came that night," said the Sexton.  "Talossa produces corpses like a beehive produces honey."

"The bees do that, not the hive," muttered Sacripant.

"I think you will find they are linked," replied the Sexton.  "This city has more death in it than many, you will find, friend Nightlander.  It drips at time.  People die young, of things that you would not think them to.  Just last week, a tramp drank lantern oil to try and fill his stomach.  He emptied it instead--but was next to a fire, when he did.  An ugly death.  Very ugly."

"It sounds it," replied the Erl.  "And then there was my countryman, a few weeks ago."

"Indeed," agreed the Sexton.  "A strange death, that one.  A murder, but the why of it..."  He sighed.  "Quite baffling."  He turned towards a door, and drew a key from the ring kept on his belt.  "Here we are," he said.  "The Recieiving Chamber."

"You'd think it'd be closer to the surface," muttered Sacripant.

"And you'd be wrong," said the Sexton, as he opened the door.  "We have chosen the location for many reasons.  Security, among them."  He shook his head.  "You would not believe the times that people have attempted to steal bodies..."  He coughed.  "The third slab on the left."

Sacripant and Nathan nodded as they followed his instructions to the body.  They stared at the slab for a moment after reaching it.  "So... steal bodies?" noted Nathan, eyes still on the empty slab.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 21

The roof in the Hall of the Ancients leaked quite badly in heavy rainstorms, something that the Ancients had complained about on numerous occasions, resulting in numerous efforts to repair this flaw that had, to date, invariably failed.  And so the Ancients met there in the rain, and did their best to ignore the water. 

While wearing masks and robes, which somehow made it all worse.

"So, the matter is ended then," spoke the Master of the Yellow.

"Indeed," said the Keeper of the Green, who then glanced up after a stray drop struck his hood, only to get another drop in his mask.

"Excellent," said the Knight of the Red, moving back and forth nervously to avoid drops.  "I propose we henceforth never speak of this matter."

"Here here!" came the voices.

"The motion carries!" said the Master of the Yellow.  "Now, we never speak of it."

"Speak of what?" asked the Wearer of the Violet.

"You know," hissed the Master of the Yellow.

"I was showing that it was out of my head," replied the Wearer of the Violet.

"Ahhh, yes," said the Master of Yellow.  "Very good.  And that will be the last we speak of the subject."

"Oh, dear," said the Judge of Last Hours.  "I just realized my wife and I were supposed to dine with him tonight."  He sighed.  "Whatever will I tell Beatrice?"

The entire hall turned and motioned for him to be quiet. 

"Oh, oh, right," he muttered embarassedly.  "Just... forget I said that."  A large drop of water landed on his hood and then traveled slowly down its front, then began to run down his mask, all while he stood there awkwardly.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 20

The rain came down in torrents.  The streets were filled with water--the street, the gutters, and the floors of the poorer houses.  The sky was grey and dreary, the wind was cold and clammy and the day was a quiet sort of awful

Nathan and Sacripant glanced out the window.  "You still want to go out in this?" muttered Nathan.

The Erl nodded.  "I'm from the fens," said Sacripant.  "We call this a good autumn, back in Valse."

The Lamplighter stared at him for a moment.  "Everytime you mention this 'Valse', I grow a little more fearful of the place."

"That's the idea," replied Sacripant, as he headed for the door. "There's a reason I left my hometown as if it were on fire.  I mean, aside from my being a pig-headed young man."

Nathan glanced at him.  "Don't you want... better boots?"

"Told you, I'm a Marsh Erl," said Sacripant.  "I don't mind this at all." He stepped outside.  "Yep.  Feels good!  Cool and wet!  Just like home!"

Nathan watched him for a moment and then sighed as he stood up.  "Monica!" he shouted.  "I'll be..."  His wife approached him with his stormy weather boots.  Nathan stared at her for a moment.  "How did you...?"

"I've been married to you for a long time," she answered.  "Put the boots on."

Nathan did so and then got into his great coat.  Sacripant smiled at him as he stepped out.  "Heh.  Knew you'd come."

"Yes, yes, you and my wife," muttered Nathan.  "Now come on.  I'll show you to the damn Sextons."

"Yeah, Monica's a great lady," said Sacripant.  "She kind of reminds of my fiancee."

"You have a fiancee?" said Nathan.

Sacripant nodded.  "Yep.  You'd like her.  I mean, once she no longer scared you.  Which would be your immediate response."

Nathan nodded.  "Definitely sounds like Monica."

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 19

The two men were seated in a back booth, a game of backgammon between them.  One wore a bright yellow hat--the other was bare-headed, his hair a tangled brown mop.

"So... I believe you are down a backgammon?" said the man with the yellow hat.

"A gammon only," said his companion.  "Do not try to take advantage of me."

"I could make the same complaint," replied the man with the yellow hat.  "Only a gammon you insist?"

"Pointedly," replied the other man.

The man with the yellow hat nodded.  "Shall we double the stakes?  It would allow you to recoup your losses."

"Too rich for my blood," said the other man, glancing around the room.

The man with the yellow hat dangled the doubling cube before the man's face temptingly "Are you certain?" he asked.

"Positive," replied the other man.

The man with the yellow hat nodded, and then stood up.  "I fear I have forgotten my purse.  Give me a moment, and I will go get it."

The other man nodded.  "Of course."  He signaled for a drink.  As always it was brought promptly, and was excellent.  At times like this, the man had to wonder what they thought of the pair of them.  Most likely, nothing, as the help here was quite professional.

Still, he did have to wonder if they noticed that the pair of them had never actually played a game of backgammon in all their years meeting here. 

He actually wondered if the man with the yellow hat was any good at it.  It'd be interesting to see.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 18

It was late, when the pair arrived back at Nathan's house.  Monica turned as the Erl and her husband entered the door.  "Come on!" said the Erl.  "You can't tell me you're not suspicious!"

"I can tell you anything I please," replied Nathan. 

"Yes, but you can't mean..."  Sacripant saw Monica standing there, and gave an awkward cough.  "Umm... sorry if we were making too much noise..."

"I was already up," said Monica, folding the linen.  "How was the night, Nathan?"

"Ugly," muttered Nathan, sitting down before the fire.  "A man leapt from the Tower."

"With his skull already bashed in," said Sacripant.

"Sir Fenswater," began Nathan, his voice testy.

"Just call me Sacripant," said the Erl.  "No need to be formal. Anyway, I'm no 'sir'."

"Sacripant, do not talk about that sort of thing in fron tof my wife," finished the Lamplighter.

"Sorry," muttered Sacripant, turning away.  "I just find it all... suspicious."

Nathan sighed.  "If you want, we can go check with the Sextons tomorrow.  If it would ease your mind."

"Think it would," said the Erl.  He looked at the pair for a moment, then coughed.  "Well... good night.  See you tomorrow."  He gave an awkward wave, and then headed to his room.

Monica watched him go, and then turned to her husband.  "What was that about?"

"I think he doesn't want to crowd us," said Nathan.  "And... oh, whatever they've sent him here on, it isn't going well."

Monica nodded, and folded another bit of linen.  "He's a rather pleasant sort.  For a Nightfolk, I mean."

"Obviously," said Nathan. "But yes.  Yes, he is."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 17

The young man walked over the bridge, as he had been instructed.  The package slipped easily from his pocket, into the water below, and then it was gone, forgotten and beyond recovery in the water below.  Just like the deed it had done. 

But he mustn't think of that.  Just make his way to the place, give the message, and be on his way home, all this forgotten.

He had not expected it to sound like that.  Not to mention look like that.

He shut his eyes and took a deep breath.  Do not think of it.  Banish it from your mind.  You were merely following orders.  Anyone else would have done what you did, in the circumstances.

Somehow, that wasn't as comforting as he'd thought it would be.

He turned down the street he'd been instructed to.  It was... rather distressingly dark.   But then, it was night.  All streets were dark at night. 

Though streets without lamps were darker than most.

A foot scattered gravel under it.  "Well?" came a gruff voice.

The young man nodded.  He'd been told what to say.  "They're selling salmon in the market," he declared.

There was silence for a moment.  "Good," said the voice, and then the young man felt a sudden stabbing pain in his side.  As he hit the ground he realized that he'd known this was how it would end, that the man who used the hammer was destined to die quietly in a back alley, to a man who used a knife.  And whose face people didn't know, and who took steps to make sure it stayed that way.

He hoped his family got the money.

And then he hoped they didn't, but were instead... left alone.  It felt... safer.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 16

Sacripant stared at the cart receding into the distance.  "So... you have a whole guild of... body... takers?"

"Sextons," answered Nathan.  "And yes."  He scratched his head.  "Well, they're also a religious brotherhood, actually.  The Lay Brothers of Saint Libitinia of the Tomb."

"Ahh, so they're monks," said Sacripant with a nod.

"No, no, it's a lay brotherhood," replied Nathan.  "No priests of monks may join.  We're another, actually.  Though not of a saint.  Uriel of the Blessed Seven himself is our patron.  We have an official prayer to him and everything." 

"But none of you are priests?" asked Sacripant.

"Not a one," replied Nathan.  "Priests cannot be Lamplighters or Sextons, and Sextons and Lamplighters can't be priests.  But Sextons are allowed to preside over funerals.  And take the good clothing from the unclaimed dead as payment."

Sacripant was silent for a moment. "I find this city deeply weird, you know."

Nathan nodded.  "You've said so.  Several times."

"Well, it's just something I feel obligated to repeat," said Sacripant.  He glanced around.  "Another weird thing was that man's head..."

"In what way?" asked Nathan.

"The back was smashed," replied Sacripant.

Nathan shrugged.  "He fell from a great height."

"And landed on his side," said Sacripant quietly.

Nathan glanced at the Erl.  "Is there a reason you're saying this now?"

"I don't trust this city's crowds, and I don't trust its guilds," answered Sacripant.

Nathan considered things.  "But you trust me?"

Sacripant nodded.  "I guess I do."

"Might be foolish," noted Nathan.  "I belong to both of those things."

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 15

They heard the bell ringing in the Lamplighter Hall. "What's that?" asked Grunewald over his drink.

Ulrich shrugged.  "Some sort of trouble.  I'll go check."  He stood up, and made his tottering way out of the hall.

Morrell grunted over his beer.  "You know, they used to know how to ring the bells... quietly."

Grunewald blinked.  "What?"

"You know," said Morrell.  "Not so loudly.   So they didn't disturb people."

"That..."  Grunewald tried to think of the best way to express his contempt.  "The entire point of bells is to disturb people.  That's why you ring bells--to disturb people, so they could be alerted of trouble."

"Yes, but they used to know how to do it without sounding so... awful," said Morrell.  "When I was younger."

"Aye, and I've no doubt you got a pint and a half whenever you ordered a pint," snapped Grunewald.

"As a matter of fact, I did!" replied Morrell lurching unsteadily to his feet.  "And it was always full strength!"  He squinted ferociously at Grunewald.  "Are you calling me a liar, perchance?"

"No, I'm calling you a daft fool," replied Grunewald with a glare.

Morrell stared at him affronted "That is worse!" he said at last, raising a shaky fist.

"That was the point," answered Grunewald, getting to his feet.

"Some poor fool has leapt from the Tower," said Ulrich, reentering.  He stared at his fellows.  "What's this?"

Grunewald and Morrell got back in their seats.  "Nothing," said Morrell.

Ulrich considered this.  "All right then," he said at last, returning to his seat.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 14

The children were the first ones there, when the body fell.  That was how it always happened.  No one knew how it began, or how long it had been like that.  You asked that question, they answered with a shrug.  Always and forever, really, was the answer you'd get.

It may not have been true, but it felt like it.

The children came.  They crept out of the alleyways, and they took everything of value.  They took the rings, they took the necklaces, they took the fancy buttons, and they took the boots.

They always took the boots.  You could always sell boots.  People needed them.

And then they'd scurry off, like mice, or rats, or some other vermin.  And that was the last you saw of them, unless you knew where to look.

And cared to.

They left the body sitting there, though.  Usually because it was in no condition to move too far. 

And besides, they were children.  The bodies were usually too heavy to carry.

So they left them for the Lamplighters.  Not that it was the Lamplighters' job, mind you.

Just another thing that the Lamplighters found themselves dealing with. 

Nathan glanced around the square, as he arrived on the scene, and then looked at the body.

And then he swore softly to himself.

This one was messy.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 13

The pair walked through the streets in silence for a long while, Nathan stopping every now and then to light a lamp that had guttered out.  The Erl watched him doing it, a curious expression on his odd, grey face.  "You're pretty damn good at that," noted Sacripant.

"Been doing it for ten years," answered Nathan.  "Learned it from my father, first.  And plan on teaching it to my son, when he comes of age." 

"That a guild thing?" asked Sacripant, hands in the folds of his cloak.

"Yes," answered Nathan.  He walked on to the next lamp, which had also sputtered out, and touched his wick to his lantern.  "Father to son, master to apprentice.  That is the way of things."

Sacripant nodded, as he walked behind the man. "That's not so different from Valse."  He looked at Nathan pointedly.  "My hometown.  It also has a tower.  Not as big as yours, mind you."  Sacripant glanced around.  "Or as nice.  Honestly, we've let it go to seed.  We used to be a big trading city, but now, we mostly just... fish."

"Nothing wrong with that," said Nathan.  "Sometimes I wish things were quieter in Talossa."

"Well, you don't get much quieter than Valse," replied Sacripant.  "Not much happ..."

He was interrupted by a great deal of screaming coming from the city square.  Nathan sighed and took a deep breath.  "You were just talking about the tower," he muttered, turning towards the square. "Well, we're going to have to check it out now."

Sacripant sighed.  "Somebody jumped from it, didn't they?"

"Most likely," answered Nathan.

"Yeah, that happens in Valse every now and then," said Sacripant.  "Not too often mind you.  Honestly, we still talk about every time it did."  He sighed.  "It's a very boring town, most of the time."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 12

Willard looked out the window of the Great Tower.  "It truly is an incredible accomplishment, you know."  He glanced at the young man behind him.  "Do you know it took them twenty years to build it?"

"No, sir, I didn't," said the man.

"Oh, it's true," said the Ancient.  "Twenty years.  Brick by brick.  Stone by stone.  They built it.  They knew how to do such things, here in Talossa, in those times.  They understood how to build a thing, slowly, surely, so it would stand for centuries."  A smile touched Willard's face.  "As long as the repairs were kept up, of course."  He turned to glance at the young man.  "That is important you know.  Oh, the money we've spent keeping this pile of stones standing.  It would make your head spin."

"Eyes forward, sir," said the man. 

Willard turned back.  "Of course.  Of course.  Wouldn't want to make it difficult for you."

"I appreciate that," said the young man, lifting the hammer.

"Well, I am glad," said Willard. "It's important that this be done without hard feelings on either side."  He chuckled.  "There's none on mine, after all."

"I... find that hard to believe," said the man, taking a practice stroke with the hammer.

"A chance occurence," said Willard.  "Like being bit by a stray dog."

"That happened to my brother, when I was young," said the man.

"You're still young," noted Willard.

"Well, younger," snapped the man.  "He died."

"That is a pity," said Willard, looking back again.

"Eyes forward!" shouted the young man.  He took a deep breath.  "Sorry.  Shouldn't raise my voice."

"It's all right," said Willard, glancing out the window again.

"You can shut your eyes, if you'd like," said the young man.  "It... it might make things easier."

"No, no," said Willard.  "I am going to meet the Seven with my eyes open, if I can."  He looked down on the ground, so far below, and focused on a small point of light, as he waited for the hammer to fall upon his skull.