Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Chapter 13: The Reaper

     "Right here in Conquests of the Great Empire there's a reference to a journal – supposedly kept by Imperator Leiwenend himself – where there's a description of the physical appearance and habits of the Teuthanurae." She put the new tome in front of Frayg and sat in the chair next to his. "Right here:"

          Teuthanurae are about the size of a man, but of greater girth. Their skin 
     is much like that of a salamander and varies in color from green grey to 
     almost black. They have short limbs with long fingers that end in suckers
     much like those of an octopus. Their heads are broad at the top, ending in 
     a toothy proboscis at the bottom. Their most unnerving feature is their lack 
     of eyes. Indeed, in the place where a man's eyes would be are instead a 
     pair of tentacles.
          They are known to feed on other intelligent creatures, including humans, 
     Aelwyn and Dvergar. They particularly crave the eyes and the brains, 
     which they get at through the ocular cavities using their versatile snouts.
          It is said that the Teuthanurae are practiced in the manner of dark rituals 
     and use these abilities to bewitch their prey, putting them in a trance state, 
     thus allowing them to feed without the resistance of the prey. Parties of 
     Teuthanurae have been known to hunt and capture other races to use 
     as labor and for a ready source of food.
          Leiwenend wrote that on his first encounter with the Teuthanurae he 
     lost nearly half his troops, even though his forces outnumbered theirs 
     by more than three to one. He later writes of making a treaty with the  
     king of the Teuthanurae, named Pazsquo. In the agreement, a certain 
     number of  humans would be sent to their capital of Kerasis annually to 
     use for their own purposes, and one fifth that number of Teuthanurae 
     would be sent to serve as trainers in dark rituals and as the Imperator's 
     personal bodyguard.

     "That's … unbelievable." Frayg looked up from the book. "This doesn't sound like mere folk legend to me. It seems as though these things may have really existed!"
     "Bear in mind that the book you hold there is only just over a hundred years old, but the events it's describing would have happened nearly two thousand years ago."
     "Yes, but these things were written down even back then weren't they?"
     "Probably. Leiwenend may well have kept a journal, but stories grow with the telling. Also, the language you and I are speaking now didn't exist then. The letters we now use to write would have been different then, too."
     "So … language doesn't just change from region to region, but over time, as well?"
     "Exactly. There's a whole branch of study in historical languages."
     Frayg scratched his head. "Well there's something I never knew."
     "Of course you didn't. You've never needed to … which leads me to a question I didn't ask the Dvergar: Why are you so interested in Teuthanurae?"
     "Hmm? Well, it has to do with a crime that was committed in the Wall Street District a couple of nights ago. I don't think I should tell you any more than that."
      Zaria's eyes narrowed and her mouth twisted into a sideways frown. "Is that so?"
     "Yes. I really think I should keep the details quiet."
     "So, you want me to help you research something that I'd wager you've never even heard of until the last day or two, but you're not willing to tell me why?"
     "That hardly seems fair."
     "I'm a Watchman. I don't need to be fair." He laughed.
     "Fine then, you're on your own from here on out." She stood up and began gathering up the books and scrolls from the table.
     "Wait! I need those."
     "That's too bad. If you want me to help with your investigation, you're going to have to trust me."
     "All right," Frayg sighed "but you have to promise me you won't tell anyone about this, all right?"
     "Agreed." She dropped the materials back on the table and sat down again. "This is about that … that man that was sent into The Dream isn't it? The one at that inn?"
     "News really does travel fast, doesn't it? I have to warn you, some of the details are pretty gruesome – you might not want to know all of it."
     Zaria's face grew pale and she put her hands to her mouth. "You're going to tell me that that fellow's eyes were missing, aren't you? Oh, by the Invincible Lord of Light … you were going to leave until I mentioned …" She gasped. "His brains. Something ate his brains, didn't it?"
     "Well, I don't know about ate. But yes, they were gone, too."
     "So, you think that somehow the Teuthanurae have returned?"
     "I don't know. I think it's pretty unlikely that a legendary race of evil beings that have been gone so long most people have forgotten they even existed would suddenly make their presence known in one of the largest cities in the world."
     "That's true." She relaxed a bit. "Besides, I don't think they would stop with one person in an inn. From the research I've done, they'd be more likely to conquer a whole city using Dark Magicks, although, there is one thing, hmm …" She trailed off.
     "Well, according to this other volume …" She reached across the table for another book that was in a strange writing that Frayg didn't understand. She opened it and began muttering unintelligibly.
     "Well, what? What book is that?"
     "It's called Sklerwantes fon di Finstirniss – It means Servants of the Dark. It's written in a very old dialect of Ancient Palonian "
     "And you can read it?"
     "Not very well, I'm afraid. I could probably get Professor Belsen to translate it, but he'd ask questions."
     "Let's just see what you can make of it for now."
     "Yes … here it is. I saw this the other day." She began translating, stopping and starting as she came to difficult words or phrases: "Some say the force … I guess they mean power … of the masters … some really old texts refer to the Teuthanurae as 'the masters' – I think it was a name they had for themselves … relied on the usage of tvarken. Without the tvarken, their force was made small … diminished, I guess … or sometimes like the breath of death. I'm pretty sure that expression 'breath of death' was used to represent the concept of nothingness."
     "So what does that mean? What's a tvarken?
     "The tvarken are what hat we now call witch crystals."
     "So, you mean … the Teuthanurae derived their power from … the … the Unnamed?"
     "That's certainly how the Temple would put it. I doubt that's how the Imperials would have seen it, though. The truth is, no one really knows –" She cut herself off mid-sentence. "Um. What I mean to say is yes. 'The witch crystals are used to channel power from the Unnamed. But this power is naught next to the power of the Lord of Invincible Light.'"
     Frayg chuckled and gave Zaria a reassuring grin. "Don't worry yourself. I'm a Watchman, not a Temple Inquisitor: you don't have to cite verses to me."
     "You ... won't report me?"
     "No. Let me tell you a secret: half the people in this city don't buy into half of what the Temple would have us believe. Why do you think there are still so many churches and shrines to the 'Aspects' and not  only Temples of Light?"
     "I assumed because people are slow in letting go of their Old Gods. "
     "Exactly. The Temple would love nothing more than to see all of those Aspect Shrines torn down and minor temples put in their place, but the Temple is patient. They're willing to wait out the beliefs of the common folk and absorb them into their own teachings."
     "I see ... and once they have the people in the Temple, they'll slowly eliminate the old ways."
     "You're a quick learner."
     "Top of my class!"
     "But you're wise to be cautious. I wouldn't discuss such ideas too openly."
     "Ordinarily I don't. Things are different here at the college – professors encourage us to think about every possibility when we're discussing an issue. There's an unspoken rule what we say here doesn't leave here."
     "It's nice to know there is at least one place where unorthodox ideas aren't a crime."
     "You're a strange man."
     "How so?"
     "Well, as a Watchman you're supposed to uphold the law. The Temple of the Invincible Light is the official religion of Palonias now, so their decrees carry the force of law, don't they?"
     "Temple law is different. I'm sworn to uphold the King's Justice. The royal family of Palonias has changed, and so has the religious authority, but the oaths I took pre-date the adoption of Universalism by close to three hundred years."
     "So ... you're not a Universalist, then?"
     "Of course I am." Frayg grinned mischievously. "All subjects of Palonias are Universalists. It's just ... well, let's say some of us are more comfortable with our conversion than others."
     Zaria laughed. "I see."
     "Back to the witch crystals. This says that Teuthanurae need these crystals, or their power is weak or vanishes?"
     "Something like that. As near as I can tell."
     "So if one of these things really is lurking about, it would be pretty powerless, unless it found one of the crystals."
     "And every known crystal has been destroyed by the Temple."
     "But what if there were an unknown source of these crystals? Where did they even come from, anyway? Originally, I mean ... before the Temple started confiscating and destroying them?"
     "Supposedly the raw materials were simply found in caverns and deposits alongside regular quartz crystals, like amethyst, citrine, onyx and clear quartz."
     "If they're so common, , how in the world does the temple expect to eradicate all of them?"
     "To start, they're not that common. They're found with common crystals, but very rarely. Also, the raw crystals have to be identified and then treated. And there are supposed to be special rituals or processes that need to be done before their power is usable."
     "What sort of processes?"
     "That, unfortunately, I can't tell you. The secrets of fashioning witch crystals are lost. Most of those who knew them were put to Trial by the Holy Inquisitors. Anyone else who might know anything about that surely wouldn't discuss it publicly. They would keep the secret, or be in hiding somewhere far from Palonias."
     "The Temple seems to think there are witches hiding in every cupboard and wood shed."
     "I suspect that's just in the interests of job security," she laughed.
     "You're probably right about that," he agreed. "Listen, is there anything else you can tell me about that Dvergar?"
     "Yes. When he got deep into his research, he took off his coat. Under that he wore a grubby vest with no shirt. He had a tattoo on his arm. It was a face of some kind: sort of an oval with rectangular eyes and mouth. The eyes had long lines under them, like tear streaks or something – like the face was crying. Or maybe it was supposed to be an actor's mask. Whatever it was, something about it made my flesh creep."
     "Could you draw it for me?"
     "I'm no artist, but it was a fairly simple depiction. Just a moment." She went across the room to a supply cabinet which she opened and retrieved a pen, a bottle of ink and a scrap of parchment. She returned and drew a copy of the tattoo. "It was maybe not exactly like that, but it's pretty close. If you show it to anyone who's seen the tattoo, they'll make the connection."
     "Very good. Thank you, Zaria."
     "You're welcome Captain. I have one favor to ask you, though."
     "I can't promise anything, but ask away."
     "If you find out anything more about this case, and especially anything about the Teuthanurae, will you let me know?"