CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken (Chapter 39: The Walking Dead)

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14 hours ago, lunardog15 said:

Um...

So how are the RatSquirrelFish doing?

Oh, Rest assured, they are not forgotten... nailbite.gif

...probably just waiting for that nuclear winter... if it is a nuclear winter...

...might be worse...

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I think they'd do just fine, maybe gas mark 3, 15 mins tops. Bit of butter.... Though I think that anyone that eats that is another matter entirely! *Takes hat off somberly and respects those fallen partakers of the fried RSF special*

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26 minutes ago, Patupi said:

the fried RSF special*

shhhhh dont tell anyone thats what the mystery meat is.... the groundskeepers have a running pool of betting how many people will eat them.

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Posted (edited)

I think the smell might take the 'mystery' out of it. Could always change the restaurant's name to 'Anosmiaville' and have a very select clientele.

Edited by Patupi

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For unto you a Child shall be born,
From the Cursed People, the Lost Ones he shall spring,
He shall raise up the lowly, and scourge the haughty in their comfort,
In his hands he shall hold the whole world, and crush it ‘neath his thumbs. 

Chapter 34: Truth... and Consequences 

Burdous Kerman bounced down the huge staircase, nearly skipping, and possibly whistling a jaunty time. He’d stayed at the goings-on until his knees became jelly and his throat had gone hoarse, and left everyone clamoring for more, but finally had to give up. Hip crowd they had here, the staff-slash-partygoers seemed to have a limitless reserve of energy last night, especially since, he figured, most of them had to work early today. 

Instead, he had waddled back to his stateroom and collapsed onto the pillowy-soft bed. Or rather into. As the last threads of consciousness died away, he’d been dimly aware that if he didn’t rouse himself enough to find a better position, he’d wake up stiff and sore in the morning. And yet, when he had finally awoke, he thought it perhaps the best sleep of his life. Not a trace or twinge of achiness, and now he felt right full of vim and vigor and ready to pull the ears off a gundark!

Whatever that was. But presumably, it was a thing that would most vociferously protest to the pulling off of its ears. 

He shook the thought away. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he mused that now all he needed was a proper breakfast. Once again, he was hungry enough to eat a horse... and maybe a gundark for dessert... and could smell all manner of enticing smells wafting from the dining room beyond. 

But first, he should find Edgas, and—

A wobbly shape coming down the stairs drew his attention. 

Ah, speak of the devil and all th—

“Whoah.” Burdous blinked. He trotted back to the stairs, “dude... you look like crap. Again.”

Edgas mumbled something as he shuffled past. 

“What happened to you?”

“Nothing.”

Burdous spun him around, “whaddayoumean, nothing? This sandpaper on your chin doesn’t feel like nothing! How do you even grow stubble that fast? You could strip furniture with this stuff!” He eyed his eyes, “and these bags! You could haul furniture with these!”

Burdous stepped back, “are you moonlighting as a furniture refinisher behind my back?”

Edgas squeezed his eyes shut and raised a hand to his temple, “can we not do this now? I have a splitting headache.”

“Up late dancing the night away, eh?” Burdous waggled his eye... bulges. 

“No!”

“Well what did you get up to last night?”  

“I told you, nothing! I went to bed and had nightmares all night.”

Burdous eyed him, “wait, nothing nothing?”

“No, nothing!”

“Nothing at all?”

“No!” Edgas winced at his own shout. 

“Nothing?!” Burdous gawped, “but... but... but... everything was perfect! The... the music... the lights... the crab!”

Edgas opened one eye, “what crab?”

“The crab!”

“There was no crab.”

“There was no crab?!”

“There was no crab.”

“There was no crab??”

“Is there an echo in here, or is my hearing going, too?” Edgas wiggled a finger on his ear, “there was no crab.” 

“Gah!” Burdous threw his arms up, “stupid cut-rate talent agent! I knew that guy seemed fishy!”

Edgas blinked at him, “um, what?”

“Nevermind,” Burdous shook his head... then cocked an eye at Edgas again, “waaaaaaait a sec...” 

He lifted Edgas’s chin, stared into first one eye, then the next. From somewhere he produced a micrometer and calipers, measured here, measured there, had a look in Edgas’s ear. 

“Now say, ‘ah...’”

“No!” Edgas snapped and shoved him back. 

“A-ha!”

“What?”

“You kissed, didn’t you?” Burdous smirked. 

Edgas buried his face in his hands, “no.”

“Then what happened?”

“I told you, nothing happened!”

Burdous gave him a thoughtful look, putting a thumb to his chin, “hmm. You must be a lousy kisser then.”

“Can we please not do this right now??” Edgas went back to rubbing his temples. 

Burdous sniffed the air, then raised his... face, and took a deep breath. He wrapped one arm around Edgas’s neck and began leading him toward the dining room doors. 

“Edgas, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal, don’t you worry bout a thing, I’ll get this all straightened out for you. First, we need to get some food in you— you’re looking kinda pale— some syrniki, a nice, big plate of eggs with the yolks all runny, bowl of porridge, maybe some bacon,” he rumbled a bit at this, “afterwards, I’ll enlighten you about a concept we here in the civilized world call bathing, and then—“

As Burdous pushed the door open, all the air in his lungs exited in a thin, reedy, voiceless noise followed by a single, half-choked word:

“No...”

After dinner, the dining room had, of course, been scrubbed top to bottom. The woodwork gleamed, the metal accents shone, and even the floor looked clean enough to eat from. 

Only... there wasn’t a single morsel of food to be found. 

He dashed forward to peer over the hectares of empty table, “w... where is everyone? Where’s the eggs? Where’s the blini? Where’s the porridge? Where’s the syrniki and the grenki and the lazy vareniki?! Where is the bacon?!?”

Burdous Kerman fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-gasp-OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

“This is not helping my headache,” Edgas said between clenched teeth. 

Burdous turned and half-collapsed, pawing at his shirt, “we’re all gonna die here!”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re a bit of a drama queen?” Edgas groaned. 

“Yeah, my prep school drama professor, why?” Burdous hopped up as if nothing had happened. 

But before Edgas could consider further grimacing, a kitchen door flew open, and Roland hobbled out, carrying a tray full of steaming delectables.

“Roland!” Burdous charged toward him with open arms, “Buddy! Oh, I knew you wouldn’t let me d—“

And a meter away, encountered a wall that as as solid as it was invisible.

“OW-n.”

“Don’t even think about it, you mammering, hedge-born popinjay,” Roland stepped over him, “this is for Her Majesty.” He nodded toward the door, “kitchen’s in there, help yourselves, but see that you clean up any messes. I will not suffer an untidy kitchen in the Steward’s absence! When you’ve finished, your presence is requested in the library,” and tottered off. 

Burdous picked himself up, rubbing at his face, glad he didn’t have a nose. And not for the first time. He let out a long sigh, and again led Edgas to the door. 

“What’s with her?”
“What’s with him?”

Confused looks were exchanged with Dibella as they entered the huge— and also quite empty— kitchen. Burdous sat Edgas down at one end of a humble table off in the corner, and nodded to the other occupant. 

“They kissed,” he said. 

Dibella’s face lit up, “they did??” then fell, “actually... that might explain a few things.” 

Valentina was huddled up at her end, face buried in her hands behind a sheet of unkempt hair. 

“Yyyyyyeah,” Burdous huffed. He waddled over to the fridge and began drinking milk from the carton, “turns out Edgas, here, is a really lousy kisser.”

Dibella blinked at him, “er, what?”

“Shocking, right?” he grabbed a box of New™️ Sugar-Frosted Sugar Lumps of Sugar®️ (now with FREE insulin pump!) and began pouring them into his mouth, spilling most, “maybe you could help him out crunch crunch, y’know, give him some practice munch-gulp.”

Dibella’s mouth fell open. 

“I know, I know ngluckngluck, you’re getting all wrinkly and you smell funny, but you gotta remember something, right? BURP!”

With effort, she rallied, “how dare you! That was tasteless!”

Burdous smacked his lips thoughtfully, “no, it wasn’t.Urp

Dibella clenched her fists, her teeth, her face, and for a moment looked like a shuddering rocket about to lift off and go right through the roof. Yet she calmed herself, gave a sad look to Edgas, then moved to the stove and began scraping the contents of a frying pan onto a plate. 

Burdous appeared at her shoulder, eyes bright, “ooooooooh, is that for me?”

“Yes.”

WHANG!

“I atHe eGgMAn!”

Thud.

She looked over the frying pan, “very good quality. Not even dented, the balance is perfect,” she turned it over, “and even sizzling cheese just slides right off.” 

“Oh, it burns!”

She brought the plate to Edgas, stepping on Burdous along the way. 

“Oh, my spleen!”

“You should eat something, dear, you look very pale.”

“I’m fine,” Edgas mumbled to the table. 

“I’m getting more than a little concerned here,” she pressed a hand to his forehead, “you almost seem feverish, too.”

“I just need coffee.”

Dibella knelt down next to the table, raising Edgas’s face to hers. She gently brushed a stray bit of hair away, and said in a soft, worrisome voice, “Edgas, dear... if you do not start eating right now I am going to take that sink plunger over there and shove every last bit of this down your throat.” She smiled sweetly. 

Edgas considered this for only a moment before shoveling scrambled eggs into his mouth. 

Looking pleased with herself, Dibella rose, stepped on Burdous again ”oh, my other spleen!” and set another plate before Valentina, “and that goes double for you, young lady.”

Valentina’s head popped up, and she, too, commenced shoveling. 

Dibella then considered the twitching lump on the floor, before letting out a long, I-just-know-I’m-going-to-regret-this sigh, “I suppose you should get something to eat, too.”

“Really?” Burdous jumped up, shoving his spleens back into place with a loud schlorch—plurp, “you mean it?”

A steaming plate appeared on the table. 

“Bacon!” he squealed, “iiiiiiit’s bacon!” and shoved the whole mass into his face at once. 

“GLOM-NOM-NOM-NOM... NOM... NOM.... NOM..... NOM..."

Poink.

One eye popped open. 

Pink.

The other followed. 

A look of barely-controlled panic slowly crept across the rest of his face. His wide, trembling eyes moved to Dibella, who leered back with a truly diabolical grin.

“They say turkey bacon is much healthier for you, and it cooks up so nice in the microwave,” the frying pan in one hand went tap-tap-tap against the other. 

Burdous took a long, sweaty moment to very carefully weigh his options, before forcing the mass down his gullet with a loud GULP. He stood there wavering, looking decidedly green. 

Er.

Tap... tap... tap...

“Your mess...” Dibella raised an eye... bulge.  

Burdous let out a great sigh before plodding over to the broom closet with a look of resignation. He acquired a mop therein— just a plain mop, not a space mop— and then... tossed it onto the crumby, milky, sweaty pile on the floor. 

Confused looks bounced back and forth. 

“Well? Go on!” Burdous said to the mop, planting fists on his hips. 

“Um.... whuuuuuuuuuut are you doing?” asked Edgas, apparently drawing the short straw. 

“Well it’s magic, right?” Burdous thrust a hand out at it, “with everything else around here, it’s got to be! Not like there’s anyone around to clean up.”

“Magic... mops?” Edgas raised a... no, he raised both eye... bulges.

“Yeah! You know, like the thing with the mouse...”

Edgas looked back and forth to the other two, as if sure he was missing something, “er... what thing with a mouse?”

“The wizard mouse!” Burdous threw his hands up, “and the horse-people! The big scary guy on the mountain?” He looked between the other three, becoming ever more exasperated, “the ballet dancing hippos??”

Edgas, Valentina, and Dibella just stared, mouths hanging open. 

Finally, Dibella raised a hand to hers, “oh dear... ooooh dear! Oh, I think I might have really hit him too hard this time!”

“Maybe you should hit him again?” Valentina suggested. 

Dibella turned, “what?”

“You know, like... turning off and back on again.”

“Oh, yes! Good idea,” she grabbed the pan. 

“Now wait just a—!”

WHANG!

“i Am THe wALruS!”

Thud.

Edgas looked down, “I think you broke him.”

“No, is just turned off, still need to reboot,” Valentina pointed to the pitcher on the counter. 

Splash!

“Gak! Gagh! Goo-goo ga-joo!” Burdous sputtered back to consciousness. 

“Hmm,” Valentina put a hand to her chin, “I do not think it worked, maybe you should try again.”

“NO!” Burdous jumped up, “what am I to you, the Kerman Slinky?! Look, I’m mopping! See? Mopping! Yeesh.”

“There, see? It worked,” Valentina said, then caught Edgas’s eye for an instant and went back to staring at the table. 

Edgas, for his part, did too, rubbing at his own head, “he does make one good point, though... where is everyone?”

“The party went on a long time,” said Dibella, “I think they may all be passed out in the garage, now.”

Valentina stuck her head up, “the garage? Why?”

Dibella shrugged, “the party must have moved out there at some point. My stateroom overlooks it, there were all kinds of flashing lights in the windows, all night long. I had a bit of trouble sleeping through it.”

“I gotta hand it to that crew,” Burdous leaned on his mop, “they never seem to get tired, it takes a lot to outlast me! And the dining room’s still spotless this morning. Maybe today’s their day off.”

Dibella frowned at him, then at the pile of dishes on the counter. She sighed, and began scrubbing, “we should seek to emulate them, then, wouldn’t do to be bad houseguests. I think today may be... interesting.”

***

The Library was, rather surprisingly, fairly small for the expansive estate. Inside, it could perhaps fit only a modest two-story house, with a bit of the yard and perhaps a streetlamp. Three of the four walls were covered in shelf after shelf of books of every size, and the requisite scaffolding to actually access them. Here and there across the richly carpeted floor were tables covered in still more books, but despite all this, what commanded the most attention upon entering the space was not the library but the window.

At the far end, lit by the early morning sun, was a towering stained glass window that took up the entire wall from floor to ceiling. The image in the center was one of those... odd bits of art, that seemed to change depending on how one looked at it. This way, and it was a long, tapered white staff casting a shadow, capped with a large stone sending out twelve rays of light, with what seemed to be a snake biting its own tail wrapped around it. But look at it that way, and the shadow became like a dark tower, the snake became a twisting rose, and the rays became beams emanating from the spokes of a wheel.   

Above this, was some sort of writing Edgas had never seen before, and adorning the periphery were all manner of strange totems. Turtles featured prominently, and bears; also elephants and wolves and snakes, trees with broad leaves and long, vine-like branches, lighthouses, swords with blades of crystal or perhaps pure light, and many, many, many dragons. 

A thought passed that the only thing the place was lacking was a large orangutan, which seemed like a very peculiar thought indeed, and yet there it was. 

The Empress and Roland stood by one wall, dwarfed by it, he with a large stack of books in his hands. 

“Good morning,” she said as she pulled another from the wall and added it to the pile, “I trust you all slept well?”

Burdous strode up, oozing confidence, and leaned against the bookcase with one hand, doing that... thing with his eye... bulges and putting on his best smolder. 

“Hi,” he said.

She blinked at him, “is... is there something wrong with your face?”

“Huh? What? No, I mean... er...” Burdous doubled down, and turned the smolder up to flicker.

“Hi.”

The Empress turned to Roland, “nerve damage, do you suppose?”

“I didn’t Delve any nerve damage to his face,” Roland said, “though I suppose it could be preexisting, perhaps an old injury. Can’t do anything about brain damage, after all.”

Burdous’s eyes snapped back and forth between the two. He stammered and gibbered as his carefully-laid plains were laid, instead, to ruin. 

“Um... soooo... bit quiet around here,” he tried for a rally, “do we ever get to meet Mister Empress?” Then winced. 

The Empress just looked at him with that serene, implacable face... letting him simmer in his own smolder, “I am not currently married.”

Against all probability, and sense, he tried again with the eye... bulge thing, “oh, so does that mean you’re like... available?

Roland drew in a gasp that would have inflated a lesser kerb, “why you impudent, beslubbering, loggerheadded, bat-fowling, fly-bitten, clay-brained, dizzy-eyed... barnacle!” he tried to balance the stack of books in one hand while digging in his pocket with the other, “bugger a newt, so help me I’ll turn you right into a bloody—!”

A gentle touch from the Empress’s hand was all it took to still him. She stepped to Burdous, her face beauteous and stoic as a statue. It gave away nothing, yet the room seemed to grow colder. 

She raised a finger to his cheek, and for a moment he even shrank back, “child, I could destroy you in ways you would not comprehend if I spent a lifetime explaining them.” Then turned his head and whispered in his ear, “and you would enjoy every moment.”

Burdous Kerman’s eyes rolled back in his head, and he crumbled like a stack of bricks, twitching slightly. 

The Empress then turned to the others, looking perhaps just a bit satisfied with herself, “now then, tea?”

She gestured them to a low area sunken into the floor, clad in a thick, buttery-soft carpet and bearing a large table. As she descended the steps, she glanced at the teapot, which began to steam and bubble. The group took their seats after the traditional disseminations of cream and sugar, Edgas at the far end of the table, once again not looking at Valentina. 

He didn’t need to. 

Eddies of feelings kept buffeting and jumbling with his own, making his head feel much too full. He looked longingly down at the cup of steaming tea, wishing it were proper, industrial-strength coffee. At least his stomach had quieted. 

This thought drew him to just how quiet the rest of the table was. Except for Burdous, who was still gibbering but mostly upright. 

“Tell me,” the Empress said at length, looking over them, “how did you know to come here?”

Valentina studied the table, “the Kommissar.”

“Indeed?” the Empress eyed her, “Boris Kermanskiovitch? You have been to see him?”

She didn’t look up, “he is dead, now. Left us a riddle. Dibella solved it.”  

The Empress and Roland shared a glance, “is that so, Dibella?”

“It was a... silly thing,” Dibella blushed, “he said, in Kerblish, ‘seek shelter with the root of evil...’”

This drew a raised eye... bulge.

“It took me a time,” she continued, “to... realize the bad translation,” now, the others looked up at her too. She frowned back, “the first Emperor of the Ussari, Ivan I, Ivan Grozny... usually known in the Kerblish-speaking world as,” she rolled her eyes, “Eye-vin the Terrible.”

She looked at Edgas. 

Edgas looked back, “I don’t get it.”

Dibella shook her head, “‘the Terrible,’ as in evil, is not the right word. Grozny is better translated in modern use as formidable, or awesome... one who inspires awe. The Kerblish word ‘root’ is problematic, too, some Ussari words can mean either root or shoot, depending on context.

“One of your hereditary titles, Majesty,” she looked back to the Empress, “perhaps the one that could not be given up, is ‘the Scion of Ivan...’” another frown at Edgas, “or, lazily, the root of evil.”

Another slight raise of an eye... bulge, “indeed. Quite clever.”

“Also, the other part of the riddle led us to this,” Dibella slid an object over, “it is some sort of notebook, handwritten in the Old Tongue, but... I can’t glean more than a handful of words from it. Nothing seems to make any sense, it looks like gibberish.”

The Empress flipped through the small book, eyes darting this way and that, her face giving away no indication of... anything at all. 

Finally, she said, “you... could glean no more than a handful of words? With your education?”

“Er, yes, Your Majesty,” Dibella‘s eyes dropped. 

“That is quite impressive. You must have marked your lessons well. Because this is not the Old Tongue.”

Dibella’s head popped back up, “it’s not?”

“No,” the Empress said, “this is the Kermanni language, transcribed in the Great Letters of the Old Tongue.”

“Kermanni?” Dibella gawped back, “but... I thought they left no... I’ve never even heard the Kermanni language, how could I even..?”

“You would not recognize it even if you had,” the Empress flipped a page, “and yet it is a part of your history.” Dibella gave a stifled yelp, but she continued, “a very long time ago, the people whom we call the Kermanni gave... a number of things to the young Ussari Empire. One of which, was their language. Whatever language the Ūs’ spoke prior to this is lost to history, but with a young, growing empire of so many different peoples, it rapidly became the lingua franca of the land. And, with the influence of so many peoples, it also rapidly began to evolve. Within a few centuries, it had become what linguists today call Old Ussari, the Old Tongue. 

“From some other absorbed nation came the Great Letters, cementing the language in the Imperial Court, where it remained the foundation of politics and academics. In the greater Empire, the vernacular continued to evolve among a population largely... unburdened by the written word. The speech of emperors and peasants gradually drifted apart, until the printing press and Kerillic writing slowed the change. The Old Tongue became a language of formality, while Modern Ussari has lost all mutual intelligibility with its... root.”

“Wow... that’s so cool,” Burdous mumbled dreamily. 

Another page, “Kermanni was never transcribed in either writing system. This was rather a brilliant stroke by Kermanskiovitch to conceal the contents of this book, only one other person in the world could possibly read it.”

Edgas blinked, “who?”

The Empress eyed him, “me.”

“You... can speak Kermanni?” Dibella blinked too. 

“Of course, child,” the Empress fixed her with the same gaze, “I, myself, am half Kermanni.”

Valentina shot out of her seat, “traitor! Half-breed!” then slapped both hands to her mouth above wide eyes, her face going as purple as fresh borscht. Edgas winced hard against the sudden rush of jumbled emotions, the sheer force of it seemed to make his brain thump in his ears. Valentina sat back down slowly, hands still pressed to her mouth. 

The Empress did not seem to have noticed. She ran a finger down an early page, “this... appears to be a signed confession.”

Dibella squeezed her eyes shut, then rolled them in large circles, as if her own mind were struggling to process as well, “confessing what?”

“Nothing... you do not already know. The rest of this section looks like details of a plan to— OH!”

The Empress gasped.

Her serene, unflappable, statue-like composure shattered like marble against steel as she stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed down at the book. Her eyes scanned over the page again, then once more and again. Even Roland peered at her in utter confusion. 

She looked at Edgas. 

Then at Valentina. 

Then back to Edgas. 

“What?” Dibella looked around at them all, “what is it?”

The Empress gave a nervous laugh, her eyes never leaving the two, “if this is to be believed... you... are her brother. You are his sister,” she smiled, “you are siblings.”

The already quiet room dropped into utter silence. The fire ceased crackling, the air ceased moving, even the crickets in the walls dared not make a sound. Even on the lushly carpeted floor, one could have heard a pin drop. 

Until, of course, Burdous jumped up and clapped his hands together, “dude, you totally kissed your sister—! OW! OW! OW! OW! OKAY! OW! OW! OKAY, I GET IT—OW! OW! UNCLE! OW! UNCLE! OW! AUNTIE! OW! OW! MOMMIEEEEEEE!OW! OW! OW! OW!

“Dibella, child...”

Dibella froze in mid-swing.

“Please do not damage the cook’s favorite frying pan,” the Empress didn't quite look at her, “she paid for it from her own salary.”

“Er.. um... yes, Your Majesty,” Dibella quickly set the implement down, sparing one more glare for Burdous.

Across the table, Valentina and Edgas shared an oddly similar look of bewilderment. 

“But... that’s impossible,” Edgas struggled to form words while a maelstrom of thoughts and feelings so jumbled he couldn’t tell which were his own raged in his head, “I’m not Ussari! I was born in Kleptogart... I... I have a birth certificate and-and papers and...” his eyes twitched back and forth, “right?”

“He is right,” Valentina squeezed her own eyes shut, pressed fingers to her temples, “my parents were... they could not have...”

The Empress’s cool composure seemed to be creeping back in by measures, yet she still spared them both a sympathetic look, choosing words carefully, “when they were taken, your mother was already with child. This Kommissar, before he was a Kommissar, spirited the infant out of the camp, away to safety in the East.”

“How is that even possible?” Dibella asked, “surely someone would have...”

The Empress raised an eye... bulge at her, “this was still Boris Kermanskiovitch. Would you have challenged him?”

Dibella shrank back, looking rather pale, “no, I suppose not.” 

“You really knew nothing of this?” the Empress cast an eye at Roland, “nothing from any of your sources?”

He looked as stunned as everyone else, and said quietly, “I never heard a whisper.”

Dibella shook her head, “could it really be true?”

“Kermanskiovitch went to a great deal of trouble to conceal this,” the Empress flipped through the pages, “to protect them. Only he would have the... resources to achieve such a thing, and it does make a certain amount of sense in... other things. I can only conclude that it must be the truth,” she looked to the dazed pair across the table, “you are family.”

Edgas and Valentina only hesitated a moment more before leaping up and hugging each other with all they had. All the awkwardness, the uncertainty, the confused jumbles of emotions fled like night before the dawn. 

This was truth. 

This was good. 

This was right.

“Moy brat...” Valentina breathed. 

“Family,” Edgas whispered back, “I have family! I’m not alone anymore...”

“You never were, bro...”

The two of them turned to smile at Burdous and—

"GGAAHH!!!!!!"

“...cuz there’s like... eight of you right now...” 

—whose eyes were staring in completely different directions. 

More so than usual. 

“Oh dear,” Dibella pressed a hand to her mouth, “I think this time I really did hit him too hard.”

“cRAb@l0cKeR fIsHWiFE, y3ll0w m@TteR cu$TaRd..."

The Empress didn’t seem to notice, “there is more.” She eyed the two, “perhaps you had best sit down...”

Edgas and Valentina looked at each other, then did so, sitting much closer now. 

“This much, I have known for some time,” she began, “if Kommissar Kermanskiovitch is dead, then you... both of you, I suppose... are the last true blood of the Kermanni.”

The room seemed to turn sideways for Edgas as Valentina leapt up from her seat again, “lies! Liar!”

Edgas thought he might have screamed something, too, but for the moment could only hold on to his chair and hope he didn’t fall off the floor as the room spun around him. That had stirred up an even more powerful blast of emotion. 

Finally, reality began to stabilize itself again as Valentina once more sat down slowly, both hands clasped to her mouth below wide eyes. 

She swallowed hard, and switched to rubbing her temples, “sorry... I am sorry... but just... no, no that is not possible. My... my father was a soldier, my mother was a teacher!” She looked up, “they could not have been Kermanni.”

The Empress nodded to Roland, as if expecting exactly that. He took a book from a nearby pile, opened it, and set it on the table before Valentina. 

“There is... much you have not been told,” the Empress said, “you have seen this photograph before, no?”

Valentina’s mouth dropped open. Her eyes flicked from the Empress, to the page, back to the Empress. The Empress simply stared back, her mouth not saying a word but her ageless, serene face saying, humor me.

Valentina did so, “of... course. This is... was... one of the required pictures next to the door in every public building in the Union.”

The Empress’s face said, go on.

She frowned, “this is Vladimir Kermin and his cohorts, on the steps of the Summer Palace after storming it and arresting the Emperor, thus winning the Glorious Octember Revolution...*”
*which actually happned in Septober

Edgas peered at the fuzzy, yellowed photograph on the page. A dozen kerbs stood before an ornate, badly damaged building, holding comically large rifles over their heads in a victory cheer. 

“Indeed,” the Empress actually did say, and gave another nod to Roland, who turned the page, “and this... is the original photograph.”

Valentina gasped and Edgas jumped. Now, there were two dozen other people on the steps, perhaps more, kerbs and kerbelles both. 

“You may recognize the kerb just to Vladimir Kermin’s right...”

Edgas felt Valentina’s breath catch in her throat, joy and sadness intertwined like threads in a cloth flowing across to him, and she uttered a single word, “Papa...”

“Wait, what?” he squinted down at the blurry faces, “that... that’s my..?”

She took his hand, squeezing it perhaps to keep hers from trembling, managing a nod between muffled sobs. Edgas could feel his own cloth join the shroud. 

The Empress continued, “and your mother is in the back row, towards the center.”

Valentina pointed, but the picture seemed to blur into shadows until Edgas blinked and the tears fell away. They sat there, together, just staring, feeling, conscious thought washed away by the tide.

After a long while, Valentina looked up and said, “but... I do not understand...”

“Your parents... were heroes of the Revolution,” the Empress explained, “you came along rather late in their lives, even for Kermanni. Your father was a close, personal friend of Vladimir Kermin. His military training allowed him to plan the campaign that led to the Siege of Kermangrad and the sacking of the palace. Your mother was deeply involved with the provisional government that followed, and might have been the first Minister of Science and Education had things proceeded... differently.”

“The Imperium.” Valentina’s free hand curled into a fist. 

A nod, “for whatever reason, your parents, along with everyone else missing from the photograph you know, fell out of favor with what became the Imperium. One by one, they were removed, sent away to camps and oblivion, often with any record that they ever existed destroyed. The Ussari Union emerged from the Troubles firmly in the grasp of the Imperium, purged of the Kermanni and its other enemies.”

“The Kermanni,” Valentina shook her head, “what does any of this have to do with them? Is that why my... our parents were taken?”

“I don’t think so, it is unlikely even Vladimir Kermin himself knew of their ancestry.”

“How is that even possible, for them to be..?”

“In the decades leading up to the Revolution, even amongst the Kermanni there was a great sense of... restlessness,” the Empress said, “many of the young refused the Vows and left the wagons, to find their own way in the cities, sometimes forming small communities there. It is likely, this is how your parents met.”

Valentina let out a frustrated sigh, “how can you even know this?”

“My sources were quite reliable, I assure you,” Roland answered, “the Kermanni did not keep written records, but they were very good at remembering.”

Valentina blinked at him, as if a dozen thoughts competed for her voice, what she said was, “then... Deda, as well...”

“Of course,” Roland nodded, “how else do you think an old kerb with toddler in tow could stay alive for so long in the taiga?

Again, she just blinked, “but... if even he was... how... why would the Kommissar let him go? Surely, someone, sooner or later, would have...”

“That much, we do not know,” the Empress said, “if the Kommissar did know, somehow, he was able to keep it a secret, too. Perhaps there is more here in this book, but...” she flipped pages again, “it does not make sense...”

Edgas looked up, “I thought you said you could read it?”

“These first few pages, yes,” she flipped another, “but the rest of it... the declensions don’t follow, the case indicatives seem backwards, the word genders are all wrong and there are numbers mixed in to the lot. It all just seems to be random nonsense.”

“Wait, what?” Burdous popped up, suddenly very aware, “what did you just say?”

The Empress frowned at him, “this text, it’s just nonsense syllables, gibberish. Random sounds and numbers.”

“Random, you say?” in an instant Burdous was very close to her, drawing a grunt from Roland, but his face was lit up with a very different sort of infatuation. 

“It’s a code!” Burdous grinned at the page. 

The Empress’s eyes grew wide, then narrowed, “you can... read this?”

“Not in the slightest,” he answered quickly, “but I can see the patterns. I’m good at that.” And then... Burdous’s shoulders began to rock. He threw his head back in hysterical laughter, lost his grip on the table and collapsed to the floor, leaning up against the short ledge next to the steps. 

“Oh, dear,” Dibella clapped a hand to her mouth, “oh, I really did hit him too hard this time! I’ve scrambled his brains like eggs, oh, I feel awful!”

“You wish, Debbie,” Burdous grinned back. 

Dibella reached for the frying pan.

Burdous didn’t seem to notice, “I wouldn’t have thought it possible if I hadn’t just seen it with my own eyes! This Kommissar might have been a genocidal maniac but he was a certified genius, a Mentat, even!”

“A what?” Edgas said as he plucked the frying pan from Dibella’s raised hand.

“He’s created a hand-coded encryption,” Burdous just shook his head, “written with an archaic script in a dead language with a two-step validation sequence. All we have to do is decode it.”

“But, does one not need a key to break an encryption?” the Empress cast a weighing eye on him. 

He smirked back, “we are the key, babe.”

Roland then launched into his own string of nonsense words, most of which were probably curses, while frantically digging in his pocket. 

The Empress had to physically restrain him, yet her face remained as serene and unreadable as ever, “explain, please.”

Burdous did so, “you were right when you said that book was meant for a very specific audience. With those linguistic quirks, I doubt if all the supercomputers in the world could even crack that in anyone’s lifetime. The only way to decipher it is to get you and me in the same room together. If you can transliterate the sounds and numbers, I can probably work it backwards and decrypt the text.”

Those ever-calm, considering eyes hung on him for a long time, all the while one hand keeping Roland at bay. At length, the Empress said simply, “indeed.”

Dibella stopped glaring at Edgas, “but... what could possibly be so important that he would go to such lengths to conceal it? To protect it only for, well, us, I suppose..?”

“I do not know,” the Empress shut the small book, “was there anything else the Kommissar said? Anything that might give some clue?”

“Glory to Arstotzka.”

All eyes turned to Valentina. 

She did not look up from the photograph in the book, “the Political Officer— I never even knew his name— he used to say this all the time. I thought, perhaps, it was his idea of a bad joke. But... the Kommissar... he was not the sort to make jokes, bad or otherwise, and he chose these as his last words.”

Valentina’s eyes moved from the page, to Edgas, to the massive stained-glass window, the steaming tea kettle that never seemed to grow cold, the endless stacks of books, and at last to the Empress herself. One hand rose up, and touched the münstone beneath her shirt. 

“Is all some how related, yes?” she asked, “what is Arstotzka?”

The Empress looked down, a hand moving to the münstone around her own neck, and said softly, “‘and they gathered there to do battle, in the place called Kharm Heggíton.'”

“Er, what?”

“Perhaps,” the Empress eyed them, one after another, “it would be best if I ...start at the beginning...”

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Yay Content!

Also, you should consider taking your Burdous to a repair shop to have it looked at.

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4 minutes ago, roboslacker said:

Also, you should consider taking your Burdous to a repair shop to have it looked at.

"No, no, it's supposed to do that"

Or

"It's not a bug, it's a feature"

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7 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

“i Am THe wALruS!”

Listening to the Beetles lately?

 

But yay content! Now uhh..... want to know more.

Also, how did the Val and Edgas blood relation come about?

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2 hours ago, qzgy said:

Listening to the Beetles lately?

But yay content! Now uhh..... want to know more.

Also, how did the Val and Edgas blood relation come about?

Well, when a mummy kerbal and a daddy kerbal love each other very much...

And on a serious note, I thought that was reasonably clear from that chapter. Both Edgas' and Val's deeds against the Shadow have been prophecied and it's been clear for quite a while that there's been a behind-the-scenes faction that was aware of those prophecies. Check out the 'Heavy is the Head' interlude in Whispers of the Kraken - I think it was - for example.

So when both prophecied champions of the Light were born to the same parents, it makes sense that one child (Edgas) was hidden for his own safety and as a last resort if anything happened to the other. Much like Luke and Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy.

Or alternatively, I could be completely up the wrong tree about all of this. :) 

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15 hours ago, roboslacker said:

Also, you should consider taking your Burdous to a repair shop to have it looked at.

Far too expensive with these troublesome Omorkian imports, technically still a couple years left on the extended powertrain warranty, but that little trip across the solar system and back has put him way over the 100k kilometer limit. :P

15 hours ago, IncongruousGoat said:

"It's not a bug, it's a feature"

This. -_-

15 hours ago, qzgy said:

But yay content! Now uhh..... want to know more.

Perhaps sooner than you think. :wink:

12 hours ago, Thedrelle said:

coo coo kachoo

8I6S.gif

Actually I've seen it printed both ways. Given the, er, mental condition of the author(s) at the time, it was probably written in scents. :confused:

12 hours ago, KSK said:

Well, when a mummy kerbal and a daddy kerbal love each other very much...

Now this is one aspect of Kerbaldom I refuse to put anything significant thought into. :wacko: Presumably it involves a game of Parcheesi and a nice firm handshake. Possibly with a confused Ciconiiform to follow at some point later.
Besides, I'd never top the whole marsupial thing.

12 hours ago, KSK said:

Or alternatively, I could be completely up the wrong tree about all of this. :) 

Pish posh, you, sir, know your trees. :D
And once again Star Wars sneaks in when I'm least expecting it... :rolleyes:

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28 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Now this is one aspect of Kerbaldom I refuse to put anything significant thought into. :wacko: Presumably it involves a game of Parcheesi and a nice firm handshake. Possibly with a confused Ciconiiform to follow at some point later.
Besides, I'd never top the whole marsupial thing.

Pish posh, you, sir, know your trees. :D
And once again Star Wars sneaks in when I'm least expecting it... :rolleyes:

Yes - I did ask Jonton about all that sort of thing once. Old Kerba isn't the greatest language for pithy epithets but his reply sounded rather pointed all the same. As far as I could tell, the literal translation was that he wished me to go forth, be fruitful, yet mind my own business. Not sure how that works in the modern vernacular...

And yes - Star Wars has a tendency to do that. Probably because Lucas helped himself fairly liberally to various literary devices when writing it.

 

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10 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Actually I've seen it printed both ways. Given the, er, mental condition of the author(s) at the time, it was probably written in scents. :confused:

Indeed, I have seen it written both ways as well, though I prefer Coo Coo.

written in scents? was that a Red Dwarf cat book?

 

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14 hours ago, KSK said:

And yes - Star Wars has a tendency to do that. Probably because Lucas helped himself fairly liberally to various literary devices when writing it.

Gee, that sounds familiar... :unsure:

4 hours ago, Thedrelle said:

written in scents? was that a Red Dwarf cat book?

Comes from wondering what the color blue tastes like. :confused:

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Over the past month I've been silently reading all three books in the trilogy, and now I've finally caught up. Some very interesting plot twists along the way.

I must say, this is one of the best writing in the Kerbol System! :D (No exaggeration!)

Please, never, ever stop!

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On 1/20/2019 at 7:40 AM, Ho Lam Kerman said:

Over the past month I've been silently reading all three books in the trilogy, and now I've finally caught up. Some very interesting plot twists along the way.

I must say, this is one of the best writing in the Kerbol System! :D (No exaggeration!)

Please, never, ever stop!

I'm just imagining coming back in 2080 and reading 'Tourniquet of the Kraken, no really, the REALLY last episode!'

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On 1/20/2019 at 4:40 AM, Ho Lam Kerman said:

Over the past month I've been silently reading all three books in the trilogy, and now I've finally caught up. Some very interesting plot twists along the way.

I must say, this is one of the best writing in the Kerbol System! :D (No exaggeration!)

Please, never, ever stop!

Glad you’re enjoying. :D Given the current pace of things, there’s possibly a couple of years left, at least. Unless I go mad first. :confused: gazing into the abyss and all that

8 hours ago, Patupi said:

I'm just imagining coming back in 2080 and reading 'Tourniquet of the Kraken, no really, the REALLY last episode!'

Given that that would put me at, oh, I think 102 years old, it’d be more like “Get Off the Lawn of the Kraken” or “Has Anyone Seen the Teef of the Kraken” or maybe “Back in My Day of the Kraken” or just possibly the ever-popular “Rambling Stories That Don’t Go Anywhere But the Important Thing Was That I Had an Onion on My Belt Which Was the Style at the Time, and the Ferry Cost A Nickel Which Had a Bumblebee on them back then but we couldn’t get the white onions because of the war, only the yellow.... erm, what was I saying? Anyone seen my teef? Get off my lawn!

oh, we’re already there, ok. Well the next chapter will fit right in, then, but the important thing was that I had an onion on my pants, which was the style at the time, but I’m not that stylish... maybe I should just go to bed. 

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Pfft - all the cool kids wear celery in their lapels anyway. Onions schmonions.

:)

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26 minutes ago, KSK said:

Pfft - all the cool kids wear celery in their lapels anyway. Onions schmonions.

:)

XS5LK.gif

Onions do taste a bit nicer than celery I think... 

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On 1/23/2019 at 4:51 AM, qzgy said:

XS5LK.gif

 

I had to go google it. :blush:

Which led me to the wiki.

And damn:blink:

I have seen some encyclopedic wikis in my time but holey grails!  I guess that’s what happens when your source material has been in active production for nearly 60 years.  

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On 1/23/2019 at 12:51 PM, qzgy said:

Onions do taste a bit nicer than celery I think... 

Hello and welcome to "KSK's random cookery minute."

We've had to phase out onions from most of our food because they do not agree (in occasionally painful ways) with my good wife. Turns out that two sticks of celery plus two dried porcini mushrooms (crumbled in for that umami goodness) makes an acceptable substitute for a medium onion in most of what we cook*. YMMV of course and there are a couple of dishes where we do miss the onion but they're relatively few and far between. Much to our our surprise, it has to be said, particularly since I'm not generally a big fungus fan.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled thread. :)

*we don't make French onion soup but I'm willing to bet that celery and mushroom soup would lack a certain je ne sais quoi.

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2 hours ago, KSK said:

Hello and welcome to "KSK's random cookery minute."

 

:blink:

. . .

How can one have a proper haggis without onion tho?

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19 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

:blink:

. . .

How can one have a proper haggis without onion tho?

You can't...

But some things are worth the pain ye ken? :)

 

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8 minutes ago, KSK said:

You can't...

But some things are worth the pain ye ken? :)

 

I'm pretty sure no one has really asked the Haggis if it hurts. I mean, onions?

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