CatastrophicFailure

Revelations of the Kraken (Chapter 41: Shadow and Flicker)

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Next chapter is plugging along slowly as ever, but on an unrelated note, I came across this while window shopping...  :angry:

Spoiler

2020-F-015-LUXURY-1-TIM-DR.jpg

 

Apparently, someone at Mercedes-Benz has also been reading along, and totally ripped off Dibella's kar.  :mad:

Cheap knock-off. It's ugly and I bet it doesn't even come with a standard Boot Baboon.™

Spoiler

tumblr_n96ka9FpMo1taibz9o1_500.gif

 

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Not pink enough to be Dibella’s kar. Clearly a cheap knockoff. Why, I bet the emergency crash jello tastes revolting - if the Mercedes Benz engineers even bothered to install it.

Tsk.

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6 hours ago, KSK said:

Not pink enough to be Dibella’s kar. Clearly a cheap knockoff. Why, I bet the emergency crash jello tastes revolting - if the Mercedes Benz engineers even bothered to install it.

Tsk.

They just use airbags. :rolleyes: I mean, who wants to sit and nosh on an airbag while they’re waiting for the wrecker?

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11 hours ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

They just use airbags. :rolleyes: I mean, who wants to sit and nosh on an airbag while they’re waiting for the wrecker?

I know, right. Primitives.

 

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.... pfff tttt ... black hole fart polar and aggregate not exactly like saturn i said

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Yeesh, another month-&-a-half glut. :( But also means another monster is coming. 7000 words will finally drop tonight. :D

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Posted (edited)

:cool:

and....

 

Edited by KSK

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1 hour ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Yeesh, another month-&-a-half glut. :( But also means another monster is coming. 7000 words will finally drop tonight. :D

So..... standard practice then.

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Posted (edited)

No no no no, don't drop tonight. Leave it finished and post on July 20th.

For all mankind. Please.

As much as I would love to see it now, I would also love to see it being released on the day mankind steps on the surface of our companion in our eternal waltz around the sun.

Edited by Ho Lam Kerman

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2 hours ago, KSK said:

:cool:

and....

 

But more like this monster... <_<

Spoiler

 

 

1 hour ago, Ho Lam Kerman said:

No no no no, don't drop tonight. Leave it finished and post on July 20th.

For all mankind. Please.

As much as I would love to see it now, I would also love to see it being released on the day mankind steps on the surface of our companion in our eternal waltz around the sun.

Welp, unfortunately,  not gonna happen for a couple reasons. 

A: Nothing good ever happened on my Mün. And this chapter has about as much to do with even that as the Big Gag has to do with the actual plot.  :rolleyes:

2: I’ll be out of town then, in my own Not A Spaceship. But it has a sibling that is

D: @KSK already has the Mo/ün tribute covered far better than I could. :D

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Posted (edited)
5 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

But more like this monster... <_<

“I don’t like a chapter with too many references.”

”I didn’t write them for you!”

:)

5 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

D: @KSK already has the Mo/ün tribute covered far better than I could. :D

Awww, shucks. Thank you.

Edited by KSK

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Posted (edited)

Hmmm.... Antici------pation?

 

Does thats a mean we's a doing a Timewarp? :D

 

 

 

 

 

Again?

Edited by Patupi
derpy depiness

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4 minutes ago, Patupi said:

Hmmm.... Anti------cipation?

 

Does thats a mean we's a doing a Timewarp? :D

 

 

 

 

 

Again?

It’s just a jump to the left...field. -_-

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21 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

It’s just a jump to the left...field. -_-

Dangit! You quoted me just before I re-hyphenated..... I hate getting caught in mid-hyphination. It's so hard to get the stains out.

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33 minutes ago, Patupi said:

Dangit! You quoted me just before I re-hyphenated..... I hate getting caught in mid-hyphination. It's so hard to get the stains out.

Oh, good. For a moment there I thought you were asking if I was opposed to cipation for some reason. I mean, who doesn’t like a little cipation now and then? It’s great for getting out those stubborn stains. 

...And now my autocorrect is having an anur aunyer anner stronk. 

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A penny for my thoughts? Oh no, I'll sell 'em for a dollar,
They're worth so much more after I'm a goner,
And maybe then you'll hear the words I’ve been singing,
Funny when you're dead, how people start listening.

Chapter 38: Talking at Windows

Burdous E. Kerman, Super-Genius... also PhD, CEH, FEC, FREng, FRS, AMIAP, MIP, LOL, OMG, RSTLNE and all-around smart... S... strode down a manicured path opposite a picturesque lake beside the manor house, light on his feet, with his hands clasped behind his back and a little smile on his face. In what was, most surely, one of the greatest improbabilities in this or any other reality, beside him strode, by the Providence of the Light, the Scion of Ivan, First of Ussari and Nihacima, Lady High Vizier of the City of Kerman, and Doge of Erakonia, Her Imperial Majesty Alexandra the Second.

She walked along, quite a proper distance away, her face as serene and unreadable as ever. Her ever-a-bit-too-formal gown was blue trimmed with green floral accents, which impeccably matched the lacy woven gold of her tiara. The fringed shawl was again draped over her shoulders just so despite the warm sun and pleasant air, and she kept her hands demurely folded before her. 

“You learn the Old Tongue very fast,” she was saying, “in no time you may be putting together complete phrases.”

Burdous looked at nothing particular in the sky, “yeah, I have a brain defect.”

The Empress stopped, turning to him with uncharacteristically wide eyes.  

He smirked back, giving a little chuckle, “there’s a structural abnormality in my perisylvian cortex. Kerblets, toddlers... they have the same structure, it’s thought that’s why they can suck up language like a sponge. But most people grow out of it, and by the time they’re in secondary school, learning a second language is really hard, to say nothing of a third or a fourth,” he turned, and tossed a little pebble he had been holding out into the lake, “me, I speak seven, fluently. And I know enough to get into trouble in a dozen or so more.”

The Empress raised an eye... bulge.

“Er...” they started walking again, “and those are just Kerbal languages. Then there’s BASIC,” he started counting off on his fingers, “FORCHAN, PASKAL, CORNSNAKE, ESPRESSO, EMERALD, CRUD, and of course B♭±sus3.”

Once again she stopped, and stared at him. 

“Sounds a lot more impressive when you say them in ALL CAPS,” Burdous said. 

The Empress opened her mouth. 

The Empress closed her mouth. 

Then the Empress not quite but almost winced at her own breech of character. 

“I am not familiar,” she finally said, continuing down the path just a bit quicker than was necessary. 

“Computer languages,” he tossed another pebble into the lake, “I’m really not all that smart.”

She eyed him again, “how is that?”

Ploop, “computer science... mathematics... chemistry... even physics... if you think about it, it’s really all just language. Systems for encoding abstract concepts into empirical data that can be communicated and recorded. That’s why it all comes so easily to me,” he glanced to her, “I have an immature brain.”

Burdous tossed another pebble off toward the lake...

Bonk!

“Ow!” 

...And rubbed at his temple. Something waved a tiny fist at him and squeaked irritably. 

“Hmph,” he shrugged, “angry beavers around here.”

“That’s a platypus,” the Empress said, not quite looking his way. 

“Oh. Good arm, for a monotreme,” he mused, still rubbing his head. 

They walked on in silence a bit more before the Empress spoke, “that is quite insightful of you.”

“Well, yeah, I mean, he beaned me from a solid 20, 30 meters away. And with those stubby little arms...” he gestured for effect. 

The Empress somehow managed to roll her eyes without actually rolling her eyes, “I meant your reflection on your linguistic aptitude.”

“Oh, that. Well, I suppose so,” he shrugged, “that’s the thing about deep space travel, it gives you plenty of time to think.”

She considered this, “you almost sound... regretful, of your experience.”

Burdous looked at her. Then he looked at the sky, the ground, and finally shoved his hands in his pockets and let out a long sigh, “it changes you, y’know? Like... that first time leaving low orbit, when you see Kerbin—the whole of Kerbin—in a single, tiny window. And even today, I’m one of the very few people who’s ever looked back through that window and seen everything... all the planets strung out like a necklace around the sun,” he shrugged, “Edgas was still out cold, then. And of course, that was after the whole ‘eldritch abomination from beyond reality’ thing,” and then shuddered, “Edgas prodded, coerced, and even blackmailed some very powerful people so I could go around sticking goo-covered flags into every planet in the solar system...”

He turned to the Empress, “and believe me, that was not an easy thing to do on Jool!”

Her eyes widened. 

“...And all the while,” Burdous plodded on, “I had to keep up the facade of the unshakable commander while sneaking around behind my crew’s backs to change landing sites and come up with an excuse to why I was covering the flagpoles with goo in the first place.”

“And what did you tell them?” she asked. 

He shrugged, “I dunno, For Science!™️, I guess? They bought it.”

The two walked further, “but all that time for introspection, and here we are in the same place again, facing some horribly unimaginable future. I mean, was it even worth it?”

After a long time, the Empress finally spoke, “you have bought us time. I think. Somehow, in ways I do not yet understand, the entity you call the Kraken is bound to this world, woven into it. You remember, how I said this reality is wounded by its contact with the Dark of Darks, yes?”

He nodded. 

“The Kraken is like a... a bandage on that wound. Jerdous Kerman, driven to madness, tried to rip it off. If he had, this world would have bled to death and perished quickly. Edgas managed to put the bandage back, but the seal is broken, and now the infection is setting in. Do you understand?”

“I wish I didn’t,” Burdous watched the ground. 

“By binding the Kraken on all the other planets except here on Kerbin,” she continued, “you have delayed the inevitable, yet it is still inevitable.”

Burdous froze. 

“Wait, what?” he spun to the Empress, “what did you say?”

“I said you have delayed—“

“No, the other part!”

She blinked at him, “by binding the Kraken everywhere but here, you—“

He seized her arms, and her eyes shot wide. 

“The Kraken is here?!?”

Frowning, the Empress dislodged herself from his grip, “yes, of course.”

Burdous staggered backward, his bulging eyes darting about, “no... no! Back on Bop we... we stopped it... sent it away...”

She looked at him, not unkindly, “that was not the Kraken.”

He could only gawp back, mouth hanging open. 

“You think in far too Kerman terms. That was only a... shadow. Inconsequential...”

“Well it seemed pretty darned consequential when my buddy was busy punching it in the face!” Burdous snapped back. 

Another frown threatened, but then the Empress’s face softened. She stepped to Burdous and hesitantly took his hand. 

“Indeed... and it is a testament to Edgas’s strength of will that he was able to drag it so far into our reality that it gained physical form long enough for him to defeat it. If he had not been there, the world would have ended the very moment Jerdous broke the last seal.”

“Oh...” Burdous scratched at the back of his head with the other hand, “I guess that does kinda make sense... I think...”

“Yet it was that same act that began the countdown to the End of Days,” the Empress glanced down, as if realizing she was still gripping his hand, and quickly stepped back, “and set the Four Riders upon their course.”

Burdous stared at his hand with an otherworldly, I’m-never-washing-it-again look, then gave a confused shake of his head, “wait, so... where is the Kraken? The actual Kraken?”

“I... have only suspicions. There is more reading to be done,” the Empress turned back down the path again, not meeting his eyes, “but on suspicions and reading, have you gained any further insight from the fragments of Kermanskiovitch’s notebook we translated?”

“Er, no... there’s something buried there, I can feel it, but we need more characters. Intuition tells me the numbers are dates, but I’ve got nothing to back that up with, yet.”

She nodded, “there is yet time. It will be at least a few more days before Roland is strong enough again to attempt the museum.”

“Well, why don’t you come with us?” Burdous asked. 

The Empress looked at him with something like horror in her eyes, before that serene, impenetrable demeanor returned, “that would be... unwise. I am... not trained for such a thing.”

“Neither are we,” Burdous grinned at her, ticking off on his fingers, “we’re an engineer, a scientist, a pilot, and middle-aged politician who’s really starting to let herself go. Not exactly the usual suspects for the crime of the century.”

“All the more reason you need someone with Roland’s experience at remaining unnoticed.”

Burdous kept grinning, watching her sideways, “is that so?

“Indeed.”

“You’re not exactly helpless, either. Time’s of the essence, right?”

The Empress did not answer right away, but Burdous was sure her fair green skin drew a bit paler for just a moment, “there are many things you do not perceive.”

“Oh, I suppose that’s possible,” he gave a little chuckle, “but one thing I’ve gotten very good at perceiving is when someone is being deliberately evasive.”

Now, there was no answer at all, only a careful regarding from the corner of her eye. 

Burdous smirked back, “you’re afraid.”

She stopped so quickly he went plodding on a few more steps, and glared at him with wide eyes. 

Yet plod on, he did, “see, now, I’m terrified of getting arrested and spending the rest of what life I have left in an Ussari prison, or just dying horribly, but you... you’re one of those weirdos who doesn’t fear death.”

Her eyes grew wider. 

His narrowed to slits, above a wide grin, “no, I think what you’re afraid of... is leaving here at all.”

Against all probability, the Empress’s eyes grew even wider, until they were practically bulging from their sockets. 

Moreso than usual. 

And her mouth fell open. 

And yet, in a maneuver of unworldly grace, Burdous spun around, and spurred her on again with the faintest touch of her elbow. 

“I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up in that kind of prison,” he said softly as they walked, “so I won’t pretend to understand. But I empathize. They didn’t let me out much, either... risking Mother and Father’s investment just would not do...” he shook his head, “and sometimes, even when you’re surrounded by others, all of the time, you feel like the only person in the world. So you try to convince yourself you really are.”

They walked on together a while in silence, save for the mournful calls of the platypuses at the water’s edge. Blue darters... darted about on gossamer wings, after their way, and night-black smeerps frolicked on the lawns. Burdous looked out across the lake, where a faint half-Mün was rising over dark clouds in the distance. 

“Full Mün in a couple weeks,” he mused, “it’ll be a Blood Mün, even this far north. Harvest Mün is next month.”

The Empress nodded a vague acknowledgement, looking very hard at something far away. 

Burdous kept gazing over the water, “I never did, you know.”

“Hm? Did what?” The Empress said distantly. 

He turned to her, one edge of his mouth curled up, “gamble with my friends for who got to burn the Wicker-Maid at Reaptide.” A shrug, “well, I didn’t exactly... have any friends, but... I always let my brother do it.”

He grinned, “honestly, the whole thing always kinda creeped me out.”

The Empress turned fully to him, and favored him with a smile. 

 

***

 

“Heh,” Edgas chuckled to himself, as he gazed down from a high window, “now that’s something I never thought I’d see. Burdous... with an Empress... just... talking...”

He scratched at the back of head, “and he’s even keeping his hands to himself.”

“Harrumph,” Roland harrumphed from a nearby chair, “I can’t say I approve of this development, cockered rough-hewn horn-beast...” then let out a long sigh, “although, I can’t entirely blame her, either.”

Edgas turned to him, “why not?”

“It’s been a very long time since anyone showed any interest in Her Majesty for who she is,” he leaned forward, “and not what she is.”

“What? But...” Edgas stared, “she’s got you, and... well there was everyone else, I mean...” he shrugged, “isn’t this setting the bar kind of low?”

“I am, and ever have been, Her Majesty’s faithful servant, and the staff—“ he blinked. 

Then he blinked again. 

Then Roland raised a hand to his face, “you really are as daft as they say, aren’t you?”

Edgas scowled back. 

He shook his head, “is it not so obvious?”

A blank stare answered him. 

Roland mumbled to his hand, something about a ‘caluminous pottle-deep flap-dragon’, “she’s lonely!”

Understanding finally dawned, “...oh.

Roland let out a very long sigh, leaning over his cane to peer out the window, “you may have had your kingdom of isolation, my boy, but she...” he shook his head, “she’s had an Empire.”

Edgas followed his gaze out the window, saying nothing for a time. Then he asked, “so... what happened to that kerb in that big painting in the hall? The one with the... eyes...”

As if expecting the question, Roland nodded, “Alexei, Imperial Consort to Her Majesty. Her husband. Dead now, these many years. I would not call it a loveless marriage, but such things are always more of a... political arrangement,” he sighed, “Royal tradition and all that. He knew, you see. Against my advice, eventually she told him everything you now know. He was a strong kerb, but...”

He sat back, shifting in his seat and stretching his neck, “but some burdens are just too heavy, even for the broadest shoulders. The knowledge, the insufferable dilemma, drove him mad, and she...” Roland turned his cane over in his hands, as if studying the waves and swirls of the wood. “It did not end well. But, before that, he gave her little Tatiana. Whom you knew as Anastasia. An odd irony that she was granted her mother’s given name a world way.”

Frowning, Edgas took up an overstuffed chair next to him, “what happened? All I know is that she turned up in Kleptogart, but I could never find how, or why?”

“Such is...” Roland shook his head, “not mine to reveal.”

Still frowning, Edgas sat down in an overstuffed chair next to him, “where is everyone else, anyway? There must’ve been dozens of people working here when we arrived.”

One dozen, to be exact,” Roland said, “Her Majesty sent them away.”

“What?” blinked Edgas, “why?”

Roland eyed him, “it’s no longer safe here.”

“But... she said we were safe here...”

“I’ve placed a very powerful Ward on the property, took me weeks to recuperate. No one who seeks to do harm may cross it,” Roland’s eyes drifted off across the lake, to the dark clouds beyond, “but the storm is coming. And we cannot foresee every eventuality.”

Edgas followed his eyes, giving a little shiver, “where could they go? If everything is...”

“Someplace far, far away. It will, at best, buy them a little time, and a little peace. But if we fail at our errands, even they will be damned like the rest of us.”

With effort, Edgas pulled his gaze from the window, “why only them? If there’s a place of sanctuary, even for a time, thousands, even millions could be—“

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, my boy,” Roland snapped to him, shadows drifting across his face, “there is always... a price.”

Edgas opened his mouth to speak, but just shook his head, “I don’t understand,” and sighed, “I don’t understand at all! If this whole... thing is so important, then why are we still here, anyway? We’re still wasting time!”

This drew a grunt from Roland, “putting your friend’s guts back together was no party trick, boy. We can’t just waltz into a highly-guarded museum and explain why we need to borrow a priceless antiquity, you know?”

“Well, why not?”

“What?”

“Why can’t we just waltz in there? If you can heal people and... ward things, why can’t you just walk out the door with this scepter? Why do you need us at all?”

Roland looked back at him with a horrified cast that looked far out of place on his grizzled features. Then he rolled his eyes, “the Staff is kept in a special case with the rest of the Crown Jewels, as it has been for a thousand years. No chelyaad can even touch the glass without... consequences. And besides, I wouldn’t dare handle the thing myself. That much power is... too much temptation for any mortal kerb.”

“But it’s safe for us!?” Edgas frowned at him. 

“Quite so, none of you are chelyaad.”

She told us we were Kermanni! Are you sure?”

“Indubitably.”

Edgas frowned deeper, “that was a quick answer.”

“Well, yes, of course,” Roland said calmly, “if you were, I would have sensed it the moment you walked in, and likewise with your sister and Her Majesty,” he gave a nod to the window, “if that spleeny, rude-growing miscreant down there really is correct, and you have some small trace of the Spark, it’s far beneath anything I can glean.”

“Oh,” Edgas looked down, “okay.”

This drew a chuckle from the other kerb, “this very morning you were appalled at the very idea... now you almost sound disappointed.”

“What? No!” Edgas protested, “it’s just...”

He looked down again, “what’s it like?”

“A bit like taking a gundark by the ears,” Roland chuckled, “whilst balancing on a greased-up bowling ball and reciting a grave soliloquy.”

Edgas blinked at him, “what’s a gundark?”

“Oh... er, nevermind,” Roland waved it away, “it’s... well, it’s really unlike anything you can imagine. A raging river bent to your own will, ready to scour you away to nothing if you lose focus for even an instant. It’s more powerful than the blast standing before a rocket launch, more terrifying than the sea in a typhoon...” he poked at Edgas with his cane and raised an eye, “more wondrous than the love of a kerbelle.”

Edgas felt his cheeks flush, but Roland gave a dismal little sigh, “although I... can’t say I have any experience with such myself.” 

“Married to the job, eh?” Edgas grinned back.

He nodded, then turned to look out the window once more, “that kerbelle is my heart and soul. I was pledged to her before she was ever born. She... never knew her father. Not in any meaningful way. He was killed early on, trying to quell an uprising in a distant oblast before anyone would even speak the word ‘revolution.’ I was the most trusted of her grandfather, the last Emperor’s, advisors. I had served him long and well, and his father before him.”

“Wait, what?” Edgas blinked, “how old are you, anyway?”

Roland returned a tired grin, “delah,” he said, “many.”

Edgas looked at him a long while, then his eyes fell, “how do you do it?”

“Hm?” he raised an eye... bulge, “well, it’s rather hard to explain to one who doesn’t know, it’s a bit reaching for something just over my shoulder—“

“No, not that,” Edgas shook his head, “how do you... I mean... if you’re really that old, you must have lost... I dunno how many people,” he looked up again and everything seemed to have gone blurry, “how do you do it? How do you keep, just...”

Joints cracking, Roland shifted closer in his seat, “how do I keep moving on?”

Edgas nodded. 

“Everyone grieves differently, in truth—“

“But I’m not grieving,” Edgas blurted out, more harshly than he wanted, “that’s just it! You know about...?”
He waved vaguely off toward the north. Roland gave a slight nod. 

“Almost everyone I know is dead, and I should be sad, I want to be, but... it’s like B—“ he choked down a sudden knot in his throat, “Billy... and Edmund, all over again. When I try and think about it, there’s nothing there. I just feel numb... or like my head’s about to explode. I thought I’d gotten over it, but now it’s all there again, all that nothing, where I’m supposed to be sad,” and his voice gagged down to barely a whisper, “...and it kills me.”

After a time, he looked over at Roland, “am I a monster?”

Roland stood, grunting, and put a hand on Edgas’s shoulder, “everyone grieves differently, my boy. And not all grief is alike.” He held up his other hand, which, missing two fingers, looked more like a claw, “it’s a wound, sure as any other, and it’s like a piece of us has gone missing. We never truly recover. We’re never the same as we once were. But as long as we go on living, we heal.”

In a single, effortless, fluid motion, his good hand swung down, swept up the cane, and whooshed it through the air, stopping in an instant a scant few centimeters from Edgas’s face. It whooshed back down again, spun in a circle, parried this way and that about Edgas’s head while his eyes grew large, each movement unbelievably crisp and precise, belying the old frame at the center. 

Finally, Roland floored his cane with a thump, and leaned heavily over it, “we adapt. The mind finds new pathways around the wound, but it’s still always there,” he raised his claw-hand, moved it as if flexing the fingers that were no longer there, “and sometimes it wakes us in the night, aching and burning, some part of us yet certain that nothing has been lost, that something should be there, and it goads us like a phantom limb.”

Now he leaned down, his eyes boring into Edgas’s own with burning intensity, “and everyone adapts to that wound differently. You’re not a monster.” He straightened, “you’re a good kerb, Edgas. Remember that.”

Edgas managed a polite smile, but couldn’t quite hide the roll from his eyes, “thanks...”

Whoosh!

Thunk!

“Ow!” he suddenly found himself rubbing at a knot on the back of his head. The cane hadn’t even appeared to move. He gawked up at Roland in shock.  

“You’re a good kerb,” Roland intoned with a dangerous edge, “but every bit as daft as they say.”

Edgas shook his head, “I don’t feel—“ And in an instant, the head of the cane was back before his eyes. 

“And yet, it is who you are.” Roland set the cane aside, gripping his shoulders with both hands, “remember that. The times to come will make you question every facet of your being. Remember who you are. If you remember nothing else, if you find every thread torn away and your soul laid bare before the onslaught, remember that. When the shadows gather around you, when the voices of madness whisper in your ear and the last day has died, remember. Let it call you back like a beacon in the darkness.”

At length he straightened, to a staccato of crackling joints, “you must be strong for what is to come, stronger than you can even imagine right now. Yet all our hopes rest upon you, Edgas Kerman. And take this from one who has known Power...”

He turned, but once more placed a hand on Edgas’s shoulder, “hope is the most powerful thing in the universe.”

Roland took up his cane with a wince, “now, I do believe it’s time these old bones had a rest.”

Edgas glanced out the window, “but... it’s not even sunset...”

“Never get old, my boy,” Roland gave him a wan grin, “age is no condition for the agéd.”

 

***

 

Ancient hinges creaked, and the wooden hatch clattered to the floorboards, enveloping Dibella in a cloud of dust. She pulled herself up the ladder, gagging and coughing, and took a moment to get her bearings. The rafters high overhead were strung with runners of dirt and grime that somehow looked like hanging moss in a forest, if it were turned brown and grey. All around were piles of the most miscellaneous things, some covered in cloths, some not. The rather distinct odor of generations of bats hung in the air, though none were to be seen, and off in one corner a toothy, demonic clown grinned at her with hungry eyes. 

Dibella screamed. 

“Do not worry, I already explained to it in very explicit detail exactly what will happen if it moves so much as a millimeter. Am in no mood to deal with clowns,” Valentina said, “but I think the creepy face is painted on.”

It took one more moment for Dibella to get her heartrate back under control.

“I thought I might find you up here,” she finally managed, stepping over to the dormer window where her friend sat. At Valentina’s feet, all within easy reach, sat a blernsball bat wrapped in barbed wire, a circular saw, something labeled “Not A Flamethrower,” three throwing axes, and an asthma inhaler. “Um...”

“Told you,” Valentina didn’t look away from the window, “am in no mood to deal with clowns.”

Dibella frowned, but sat next down on an old, creaky rocking chair next to her, “what’s eating you?”

Valentina nudged away a dust smeerp that was nibbling at her shoe, “there is... much to think about. I finally know what happened to my family. The people who took them away are all gone. I have a brother...” she looked over, “and apparently everything we went through was for nothing, and now the world is ending.”

“I cannot believe that,” Dibella sighed, shaking her head, “there must be some way, some path forward...”

Valentina didn’t seem to notice, “and... I am worried about Edgas. I can feel what this is doing to him.”

“Well, I am certain he has—“ Dibella froze, “wait, what?”

“We are... connected, somehow,” Valentina kept staring out the grungy window, “I can feel what he feels, can even sense where he is...” she looked away to some seemingly random point on the floor, “and I know that he can, too.”

Dibella just blinked at her, “Tia, that is...”

“Impossible?” Valentina raised an eye... bulge at her. 

Dibella said nothing. 

“I have known for a long time,” Valentina turned back to the window, “years, I suppose. Though to me, it still feels like yesterday. It was him, I know it was, though I never saw his face, on a midnight train to nowhere. I could feel it then, stronger than any emotion I have even felt... such crushing sadness that it made my heart want to break, like the day had died and the night would last forever. I remember thinking, ‘how could a person ever bear such a thing?’ And now I know,” she turned, “and I can feel it growing in him again.”

For a moment, Dibella just looked at her. She opened her mouth to speak, frowned, moved to speak again. 

“But... that’s not what worries you,” Dibella finally said. 

“I felt it back then, too,” Valentina’s eyes remained fixed out the window, as if seeing something a thousand light years away, “darkness. Circling like a predator. Feeding from his sadness, growing stronger. But it was not—“

She jumped, shaking her head, “do you remember, when I told you about the young kerb at the hidden launch complex, doing... something... in his mind... and driving out the Shadow?”

Dibella gave a hesitant nod. 

“It is not like that. Whatever the darkness was pursuing him, it was different... though how, I cannot say. But it, too, has returned, if it was ever gone. I can feel it,” Valentina turned back to the window, “out there, somewhere. And sometimes, everywhere. It is familiar. Too familiar. I know too well what it is like to be hunted, to be stalked by some hungry and mindless thing just beyond vision.”

“That... does sound troubling,” Dibella managed, “but... what will you do?”

Valentina turned to her with a weary smile, “he is my little brother...” Then Dibella shied back as something else flashed across her friend’s face, “...and I will protect him.”

And on that note, came the rather distinctive sound of a wooden clown nose falling to the floor and clicking away. 

Oh, crap.

Shaking her head and rolling her eyes, Valentina let out a tired sigh, “speaking of which... excuse me, just one moment please.”

She grabbed the bat and the inhaler from the pile. 

THUD!
Ow!
THUD!
Ow!
THUD!
OK—ow!
THUD!
Ow! This is everything I've ever been afraid of!
THUD!
"You cannot go scaring people in dark corners like that!"
Crimony, lady, gimme a break!
"Okay."
CRACK!
Ow, my shins!
“Is battery acid.” Puff.
Gaaaaaaaah! Not the face!
Puff, puff.
Aaaaaiiieeee not there either!

THUD!
Ow!
THUD!
Ow!

THUD!
OW!


[Record scratch]

“Whut.”
Um...
“What is this?”
I can explain—
“What even is this??”
It’s a thing! For the show! Everybody does it!
“What in PЦTIЙ's name is this!?”
It’s just traditional Transylvanian—
“YOU CREEP!”
Aaaargh!
“Take this!”
Ow!
“And this!”
Ow!
“How ‘bout that?!”
Aaaack!
“Don’t you float away from me!”
Ooow!
“Stop jumping to left!”
Aaaargh!
THUD!
Ow!
THUD!
Ow!
THUD!
OOOOW!!
“Had enough yet?”
I’m shivering with antici—

CRACK!

 

 

 


...PaTi0n.

Valentina wandered back, looking drained but not even having broken a sweat. She dropped the bat— snapped in two, one half dangling from a stubborn bit of barbed wire, and covered in white paint and little chunks of wood— and plopped down to a loud protest from the rickety old chair. 

Dibella raised an eye— well, they were both still raised at that point, “what was that all about??”

“Is a long story,” Valentina shook her head, “and also, a musical. And maybe something about a hotel.”

Dibella blinked back. 

“This place is very strange,” Valentina shook her head, then abruptly turned around, “but it is not going to bother us again, is it?"

No’m.

She grinned, “there, you see?”

Oh, my deadlights!

Now Dibella just stared. 

Valentina sighed again, and turned back toward the window, “there is one thing you have not told me yet.”

“And what is that?” 

“Why.” She glanced over, “you are not old. You held a position of great importance, had a promising future. You belong in some sort of role like that. Why would you give it all up like that?”

“It’s funny how things work out,” Dibella gave her own sigh, as if expecting the question, “I was not lying, when I said I have a little black book of names who owe me favors. And I am surely in dozens more.”

She turned to the window herself, her gaze seeking whatever impossibly distant thing had to captivated Valentina, “it all began innocuously enough. After everything... happened, I was tapped to represent my oblast, in the first free elections our country has ever known. My family was well-established, respected... and somehow always managed to stay clear of the Imperium’s iron fist. In some districts, there were dozens of candidates all for a single seat, but in mine, no one would oppose me. 

“When the first People’s State Duma was finally convened, their first task was to elect a Speaker from among the representatives. Again, my name came up. Perhaps it was just notoriety from that,” she shuddered, “video, or more likely they thought I was someone young and naive who would make an easy puppet. I think I surprised more than one person when that did not turn out to be the case!

“But... when they learned they could not control me outright, the favors started. A request here, an earmark there. A few more funds for a pork-farm grant, special consideration for a land bill.”

Dibella paused, giving a slow shake of her head, “we learned so quickly from the East. And I learned quickly, too. I thought, maybe I could beat them at their own game. I had run an entire space program, knew how to manage a few self-serving apparatchiks. I learned how to be shrewd, how to use what popularity I had to gain the advantage. And all the time, I told myself, it was always for the greater good. 

“A favor here, a favor there... but better pensions for Erakonian veterans, a new sewer system for Kelyabinsk, and an autonomous highway system safer than any in the world. A favor here, a favor there... and I saw my influence growing. I began to think I could do anything, that whatever money flowed into the wrong pockets was simply the price for a better country, a better world.

“And then, as the next elections neared, they came to me. The President... was a good kerb. But once again, what the country needed was a great one. They thought he was vulnerable, had his presumed successor already picked out... and if I went along with a few more favors, used my influence on the right people, there could be a cabinet position for me. Perhaps, even one day, I could be president myself.

“That’s when I knew I had to leave,” her eyes fell down to the dusty floorboards, “because I knew I could. I could do everything they wanted, rise to even the highest seat of power, just a favor here, and a favor there, always in the best interests... always for the good of the people, and the good of my country... I knew I could do so much good, even for the whole world,  if I just made a tiny, insignificant concession here or there...”

Dibella looked up to her friend, “but what if I gain the whole world, and to lose my soul?”

Valentina looked back, her face conflicted. Finally, she just shrugged and said, “I will never understand politics.”

With a laugh, Dibella threw an arm around her, “and once again, I hope you never do. Suffice to say, politicians are like underwear, they should be changed often, and for the same reasons.”

Valentina raised an eye... bulge, “and occasionally burned?”

Dibella could only blink at her for a moment, then the two erupted into laughter. 

While off in the shadows, something groaned softly. 

 

***

 

Light the color of fire streamed in the windows, as the setting sun mixed with off-color clouds on the distant horizon. Edgas walked down the empty corridor with a head full of thoughts. He paid no mind to the grand statues or stately suits of polished armor he passed in little nooks here and there. His feet made no noise on the thick, crimson carpet, nor did his eyes rise to the ornate wooden moldings that graced the high ceiling. 

And then... not quite knowing why... he stopped. 

He found himself before a door not unlike all the others, festooned with bas-reliefs and polished inlays. He looked up and down the empty hallway, feeling a bit of a heel. Not quite sure what he was doing, Edgas tried the knob, and found that the door clicked open. Then he stepped inside, and could only stare in confusion. 

He seemed to find himself in that bizarre (to a kerb) realm of a girl on the verge of being a kerbelle. Everything was... pink, with accents of pastel blue and yellow, and lots of ruffles and dainty bits. The stately manor four-post bed looked out of place with a collection of plush stuffed animals piled on the pillows, and the walls with their pink-flower motif were nearly invisible behind a coating of dozens of posters: the Eye-Full Tower in Garish at sunset, an old KSA rocket, a smattering of grinning boy-bands and a life-sized, and very shirtless, photo of world-famous multiplatinum recording artist—

Edgas shuddered, whipping his eyes away. That particular memory did not need revisiting. But... they landed on something else quite out of place. He stepped over to a dresser, feeling the muscles of his chin already beginning to twitch. 

Here, there were more personal affects, bits of costume jewelry, a snow globe, trinkets of every sort... but all that Edgas saw at the moment was the framed picture in the center. He reached out with a trembling hand, and tried, but could not quite bring himself to pick it up. His lungs were clenched and tight, his throat twitching as if unsure if it would let air through. He knew this picture, all too well. 

Before the towering, otherworldly form of Isfjell 5... Billy-Bobrim and Anastasia Kerman stood arm in arm, smiling on a beautiful, clear summer’s day. Yes, Edgas knew this one well. He had been behind the camera. 

All at once, the world seemed to go all fuzzy, and he had to drag an arm across his face to see again. He wouldn’t let his eyes return to the photograph, instead, they found an old, long-obsolete music player docked on a small set of speakers. Knowing he would regret it, he reached out, and pressed a button...

If I die young, bury me in satin,
Lay me down on a bed of roses,
Sink me in the river at dawn,
Send me away with the words of a love song.

The sharp knife, of a short life—

Edgas slapped the device over before his mind collapsed on itself. His knees seemed to belong to someone else, he swayed, only barely kept upright by clinging to the dresser. The world grew dark and shadows swirled around him, his lungs heaved to force air through the tiny space left in his choking throat. It felt as if someone were reaching into his chest and squeezing his heart. He thought he might be crushed beneath the weight he felt... when he suddenly became aware of someone else in the room with him. He turned, blinking the world back into some focus, and found the Empress standing just inside the doorway. 

“Sorry!” he staggered back, throwing his hands up, “Sorry! I was just— I mean, I didn’t— Sorry! I wouldn’t— that is, I didn’t,— I mean—“

She looked at him as a statue, no trace of anything on her face, calm and imperturbable like stone in her flowing dress and fringed shawl. 

Her eyes never leaving his, she stepped closer to him, “I think, perhaps we have, as you say, gotten off on the wrong foot. I regret that I have never thanked you properly, for bringing me some measure of closure, for my daughter.”

The Empress spread her skirts, and sank into a deep curtsy, and then to Edgas’s amazement, kept on sinking, until she had seemingly folded herself right into the floor, with her tiaraed forehead touching the carpet. Edgas thought he had never seen a gesture of such grace and supplication. 

As she rose, just as gracefully, he had to restrain himself from grabbing her hands and pulling her up, “no, it’s me that should be apologizing. I... I should have done more. I should have been there when she needed me.”

“I do not begrudge you that. Any lesser kerb would have been driven mad to endure what you did on the Mün. If not for what you did do...” for a bare instant, the serenity on her face trembled, “I would have nothing left of her.”

“Um, Your... um.. Ma’am... ness?” Edgas stammered, “what happened? I could find the where, but never the how... or the why... How did the Ussari Grand Duchess end up in an orphanarium in Kleptogart?”

For... another brief moment, the Empress appeared about to answer, but in the end, just turned a shoulder to him, “this, we do not speak of.”

Edgas let his eyes drop away, searching for words as awkward silence stretched on, “I... er... didn’t figure you for a country music fan...”

She turned back to him, moving to the dresser. For the first time since he had seen her, all the stoic, imperturbable distance on the Empress’s face seemed to melt away, replaced by a mother’s soft features, and a bittersweet smile. 

“These were Tatiana’s things,” she placed the little music player back on its dock, with no trace of resentment for Edgas’s desecration, “Roland managed to salvage them from her apartment, before...” a shake of her head. She picked up the photograph, almost cradled it, and he could see her eyes well up, "they seem so happy together. I do wish I could have met him."

Suddenly, the Empress turned to Edgas, one hand finding the thick braid over her shoulder, "tell me, was he a good brother to her? Did he help her with her schoolwork, and braid her hair? Did he keep the boys away?"

Once again, the room seemed to swim and waver, and Edgas felt his throat cut off. For hours, or perhaps only moments, he struggled to will his mouth to work through trembling lips and clenched teeth.

A drop of fire burned down his cheek, and at last he said, "he was the best brother anyone could want."

The sadness flowed away from her smile, and perhaps she was about to speak, but in that moment Edgas felt a kind of madness crash over him. He darted forward, and seized the Empress's hands.

"Please, you've got to help me!" he pleaded, "you're wise, you know... things! Tell me how to stop it!" He could feel insanity scratching at his mind, "there's got to be something I can do! Anything! Something impossible, some million-to-one chance so crazy it just might work. Please!"

The emotion that so recently filled the Empress's face fled like the last rays of sunset at evening. She looked at him once again with the same ageless, serene face... but not unkindly.

"No," she said softly, "not even you can stop the end of the world."

Like her fleeting moment of joy, the madness seemed to flee from Edgas as well. He said nothing, only dropped his eyes.

And he went away sad.


Gather up your tears, keep 'm in your pocket,
Save 'em for a time when your really gonna need 'em.

Spoiler

 

 

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Posted (edited)
On 6/18/2017 at 7:24 PM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Chapter 39: The Walking Dead

Judging by this title thing, I feel interesting things are happening...

Also I should probably update the compiled version soon, its been a while.....

Edited by qzgy
forum double posts....

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Is that the new chapter title? Ooh cool!

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2 hours ago, qzgy said:

Judging by this title thing, I feel interesting things are happening...

Don’t dead, open inside. :ph34r:

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Posted (edited)

This is amazing.....but I really really really need a quick overview of the last couple thousand pages or so. I'm beginning to get overwhelmed by the amount of exposition going back to chapters I've read like years ago. 

Can anyone provide this?

@Ten Key, @CatastrophicFailure?

Edited by Alpha 360

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Posted (edited)
On 8/11/2019 at 11:43 AM, Alpha 360 said:

This is amazing.....but I really really really need a quick overview of the last couple thousand pages or so. I'm beginning to get overwhelmed by the amount of exposition going back to chapters I've read like years ago. 

Can anyone provide this?

@Ten Key, @CatastrophicFailure?

Sigh... so... Ten Key is... no longer with us. :( It seems he has Moved On, perhaps to take the Long Walk into the wastelands to bring Moderation to the unmoderated. We shall not see his like again.

As to the Reader’s Digest edition, well... I’m a bit stretched as it is. Such is the downside to writing a serial novel epic story over years. Most of what I’m calling back to is probably inaccurate anyway, and full of plot holes. :P  

But speaking of such long-dead spectres rising again, the next chapter is coming Soon.™️ 

...maybe I should start adding footnotes...

Edited by CatastrophicFailure

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On 8/17/2019 at 8:29 PM, CatastrophicFailure said:

Sigh... so... Ten Key is... no longer with us. :( It seems he has Moved On, perhaps to take the Long Walk into the wastelands to bring Moderation to the unmoderated. We shall not see his like again.

That's... a little bit dark almost. And sad.

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7 hours ago, Kerballing (Got Dunked On) said:

That's... a little bit dark almost. And sad.

Aye and aye. :( He’s a great editor and a good man, but there are more important krakens than these to be vanquished. 

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17 minutes ago, Kerballing (Got Dunked On) said:

Not more important than the Great Kraken! Heresy!

As we've seen in the last couple of chapters, there are worse things than Krakens and they cannot be vanquished... Hopefully that's not a metaphor for Ten Key's sorely missed absence. :(

 

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