Alchemical Marriage, part 6

Thursday, December 18, 2008 - 7:03 PM

The concept and design of the crebath is expounded upon and used here by permission of the creator, Nigel Sade.

Baron Rafer of Kesra did not like the Cyre.

Lady Myrrga of Marnlee was a diminutive woman with child-like proportions. Her wardrobe was all midnight blue silk brocade, with hems far beyond the limits of her small, neat limbs. Lengthy slits along the sleeves allowed her to slip her delicately gloved hands free to gesture as she spoke, and her small, neat features provided a wry counterpoint to large, innocent looking green eyes.

But Baron Rafer noticed that her pleasant demeanor did not reach those eyes, which were hollow, intensely empty, and he recognized the severe set of her tiny mouth; it was the scar of many years of iron discipline, enforced on others He also noticed that she did not walk at all. She was carried either on her small, globe-like palanquin or sometimes cradled by one of her massive bodyguards as if she were a little girl.

The slender, pointed words that flicked out from her tongue were not the words of a little girl, however, and it bothered him that he could not tell her age.

“Thus, my Lord, the shipment will reach your province in but a week rather than the two we previously discussed. Unfortunately, tariffs from the Consortium are high, and whatever influence we have does not extend to bypassing tariffs.”

She offered him the small, sympathetic smile again.

“Kesra honors its business agreements,” said the Baron blandly. “The tariffs are negligible; we will pay them.”

“Then we are at an accord, lord Baron.”

Myrrga made a gesture with her tiny hand and one of the hulking cloaked men laid a long parchment out on the table. Rafer gave it a brisk look, just to confirm it was the same he'd perused earlier, and then smoothly and mechanically placed his seal upon it. Myrrga's seal was already there, showing the odd tree of the Cyre in red wax.

Sitting back, he forced himself to regard Myrrga in a properly bored fashion. The Cyre were
merchant nobility as far as the Kesrans were concerned, and even if Rafer had to admit their staggering wealth, he considered himself of far greater value.

But this wasn't what bothered him about the Cyre.

He'd met three of the Cyre leaders, and all of them were cripples. Avnash walked with two bejeweled canes, and Rafer was almost certain one of Avnash's hands was made of cleverly jointed metal. Tisija, House Zemhorob, had a gloriously elegant metal peg-leg. But all of them had the same pallid look and the same hungry eyes, and though he could not see it on Myrrga, he suspected that like the others her skin would crack like old paint. He'd seen literal flakes fall from Avnash's arm, as if the grim-faced man had been made of plaster. Perhaps this was some consequence of their alchemy, but you'd think underlings would be doing the hazardous experiments.

“Now, about the other matter,” said Lady Myrrga, touching her sleeve-covered hands together. “Due to recent events, the Houses of Cyre have agreed to assist your King.”

“So long as the terms are clear,” replied Rafer after a pause. The King doesn't want one set of merchant lords replaced by another, and you well know it, he thought. “Your assistance will be paid for as we discussed, with a percentage of levies taken by my King from the Consortium territories.”

“Naturally,” stated Myrrga pleasantly. “There is one other stipulation, however, which I have been asked to bring to you.”

The Baron adopted his best skeptical face. This conversation was a formality, a verbal contract. She knew perfectly well that the King would give the Cyre no new territories, just as he knew that the Cyre would accept this backwoods bargain. The Consortium had been squeezing the Cyre lately, and it had even come to open skirmishing in one province. Naturally, the Cyre would want allies.

But he'd also expected that to be all.

“What is it.”

“The Consortium sometimes makes use of the crebath, whom I understand your people prefer to burn to death. We ask that you capture them instead and have them sent to us. You have our word that they will not be spared death, my Lord Baron, but their death will simply come less swiftly.”

The Baron stared at Myrrga for a long moment, and she watched him steadily in return. Her anonymous bodyguards stood silently around them, hemming in the silence, and he considered.

The crebath were considered abominations to his people, and if the Cyre wished to destroy them, why not? But then again, why not let the Kesrans deal with it? He knew the crebath were alchemists also, and perhaps this was an old grudge, or a professional rivalry gone beyond friendly competition.

He considered also that the crebath were few, and mercenary. If presented with capture by the Cyre, they might well leave the battle entirely and flee, which means less support for the Consortium.

Silently, he resolved that captured crebath would be carefully questioned before the Cyre ever got them, but these were terms he could agree with.

“Done,” he said pleasantly. “I shall bring your words to my King, who will be pleased that his new territories will be free of the patchwork monsters.”

The smile he received in return unnerved him for a reason he did not understand.

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Alchemical Marriage, part 5

Wednesday, December 3, 2008 - 10:27 PM

The concept and design of the crebath is expounded upon and used here by permission of the creator, Nigel Sade.

Exhausted, Dieder slumped down on the rain-soaked hillside and concentrated on breathing. He wasn't out of breath, but concentrating on breathing let him focus on something other than the flat seething triangle of devastation starting where the acid cannon once stood.

It had been an ugly, toad-like machine of green-stained glass and a gold-tinted bronze metal, crouching on a pivot of wheels and spheres. Now it looked like a tree stump split by lightning, all gleaming splinters and shards, pitted and corroded.

Dieder hated it still.

When his men had come out from hiding, the cannon had been slowly pivoting towards their flanking force. Dieder remembered the thin, shrewd man in Cyre livery spotting them, and then the alarm was sounded. Just after the confused, desperate flurry of sword and dagger, Dieder saw the cannon explode outward, sending a huge wave of hissing green death over friend and foe alike. The thin man went down smiling, but his smile was red and very long from the shard of metal that had killed him.

Some had inhaled the corrosive and died almost immediately. A few were at the edges of the lethal cone, and managed to shed their cloak or armor or tabard before the acid got to them. But the rest took a hideous time to die, screaming themselves raw, half-melted and writhing in sad attempts to crawl out of the steaming fluid that skinned them like rabbits.

No one dared to get close, except for the crebath, who managed to cart away a few of those at the near edges. The rest were beyond help, and a few archers didn't mind using the arrows to end the suffering.

Dieder felt scraped out and cold. It could have been his men, but it hadn't been, and he felt guilty that he was thankful for that.

A hand squeezed his shoulder, and he jerked his head around to study the man standing nearby.

“You did well,” Erich said.

Recognizing Erich, Dieder nodded a bit, and found some breath to speak. “Thank you, sir.”

He realized that Erich was offering him something warm to drink, and he accepted it even though he had little stomach for it. Instead, he focused on Erich, who looked withdrawn and weary himself.

“You were in the front?”

Erich nodded, sitting down himself and watching as the soldiers slowly picked over the field, looking for the wounded or trophies or just to be walking and alive. “Good plan, that outflanking. We were pretty damned happy when you pulled the cannon away.”

“That was Wisten's idea,” murmured Dieder. “The lieutenant liked it. Wisten knew the ground here, grew up just over those hills.”

“...did he make it?”

Shrugging, Dieder stared at the ground. “Don't know. When that ... the cannon went up, a piece came off and hit him in the head. The crebath took him away, but he was alive when they did.”

“Then you'll know by tomorrow,” sighed Erich, allowing Dieder's dismay to overwhelm his own anger at the crebath. “They are good surgeons.”

There was a pause, and then Dieder nodded. “That's what the old man kept telling me.” He stopped to look at Erich, noting the weariness, the tight lips that hinted at an old bitterness. “Do you know where we go from here?”

“No word yet,” said Erich slowly. “More of the same day after tomorrow, probably. We head north and east. There were Kesran soldiers fighting us here, which means the monarchy there is getting involved again. Some of the Dal Fana will probably want to see them about it.”

Watching the clouds roll in, Dieder frowned. “Kesrans now. And they are paying the Cyre?”

There was no reply, and Dieder looked over to see Erich watching the gray shapes of the crebath on the field. For a moment, he wanted to ask what was wrong, but the grim loss scarring Erich's expression stopped him.

Instead, he sat in silence, and waited for the healers to arrive.

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