Kasita recited the last line, and bowed to the Gilmen packing the small bar. For a long moment, there was silence. Then the room burst into applause.
As they left the stage, someone shouted for a round of drinks. A bartender pushed a goblet into Kasita’s hand. As they took it, a coin clinked under the base. They were in!
Well, Kasita was. Across the room, Chapton was surrounded by a crowd of constituents.
“High Magistrate, will you reduce the tax on citrus?”
“Thank you for the question.” Chapton’s pause was just long enough to make Kasita wince. “I must admit I’m not familiar with the state of the industry, but I assure you I will look into it and make an appropriate decision.”
“But High Magistrate, will you –”
The question was drowned out by a roar of applause. A poet in green robes had just won the grand prize.
“A round on me — drinks for everyone!” The poet scanned the crowd, and her eyes widened. “A scallop for the High Magistrate here!”
Chapton stared at the deep-fried lump. Everyone else in the room stared at Chapton.
This was some sort of test, wasn’t it? He just had to work things out logically. This was, apparently a scallop; and scallops were sacred to Ienna, god of Gilmen and poetry. There had to be a right way to eat it.
Chapton didn’t know what it was.
He tore the scallop in half. Two neat pieces. He ate the round bit first.
The crowd let out a sigh of relief, then burst into applause.
They were in.
After that, the gilmen were much more willing to talk about the necromancer. One of the beat poets even got inspired to recite the whole story.
Gilmen dead are not buried on land. Instead, they were ceremonially sunken into the depths of the ocean, where living gilmen feared to go.
Long ago, there was a gilman who became obsessed with living forever, and descended after them, to learn the secrets of life from the dead.
That near-mythic figure was never heard from again. But sometimes, when times are grim, waves of undead gilmen rise from the depths, drifting in currents and attacking anyone who comes too close.
One or two gilmen whispered nervously that another wave of dead was overdue.
“Vinnie, we have put this conversation off long enough.” Narsifiette stepped uncomfortably close. “What did you do to the candidates?”
“Look, the candidates weren’t all that great, if I say so myself — and I do, ’cause I just did say that.” Vinnie took a step back. “The drug didn’t affect most of them, anyway. Only PAN, really. I got no idea what Lyssa Thane’s beef was.”
“Drugging even one candidate is still too many. And what’ve you got against PAN, anyway? I mean, I can’t say I love them, but still …”
“What do you mean, what have I got against them? That musician is so narcissistic they wouldn’t let us stop the meteor because it’d hold up their song!”
“You had a meteor? But didn’t it land in the bay?”
“Nope, it was gonna hit the Great Pillar. But they stopped it; shot it right out of the sky.”
“So it was different.” Narsifiette’s eyes widened. “Maybe there is hope.”
Chapton adjusted his robes and settled the crown on his head. A quick pat to check his sandwich was still in the lining, and another for the two red checkers he’d found there.
He strode into the council chamber.
The meeting was surprisingly peaceful. Draca Procrusta wasn’t yelling at him, and Lady Katraktes even admitted the rats were under control. High Priest Gratul Breck did keep giving him funny looks, though.
Everything seemed to be going normally, except for an outbreak of the ‘flu in the travel district.
Chapton sat back, and let the meeting run itself.
Wildflower adjusted a sprig of laurel in the vase, and stepped back. “So the gilman necromancer is too far down to swim?”
“Well, I can breathe water, but I don’t think it’s wise to go down there alone.” Jethan cocked their head and took another look at the arrangement. “Does it need more blue?”
“Speak for yourself.” Vinnie lounged against the door jamb. “But yeah, I’d rather we all went.” He frowned. “Come to think of it, I know a guy in the Forge District …”
As High Magistrate, it was even more important for Chapton to stay in touch with the people. Fortunately, his powers made him a master of disguise.
Jethan, Wildflower, and Vinnie were talking with Meth outside his workshop. The ogre dropped his voice, so Chapton strolled closer.
“Look, I won’t do it. You know what I got owed to the sea, and I sure don’t want any more trouble with it.”
Vinnie waved a hand. “Why didn’t you say so? Group of heroes like us, we can deal with a little wish-monster quick smart. So, one bath-sphere and four diving suits, right?”
Meth sighed. “How are you planning to use the bathysphere? You can’t just lug it down to the bottom of the ocean on your backs.”
Chapton stepped forward. “No worries. I can find enough people to pull it up and down from the surface.”
Meth glared at Chapton’s red travelling clothes. “Who are you?”
Jethan met Chapton’s eyes with raised eyebrows, then looked back at Meth. “Someone we can trust, well enough.”
“Fine. I can build it, but it’s going to take a couple of months. It’d help if I had one of those grain-eating things, and a few more people with casting experience.”
Chapton smiled. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”
Vinnie knocked on the doorpost, and waited.
“Jussa moment. ‘m asleep.”
He kept waiting.
After several moments, a dishevelled Mirror Giant stumbled out of the hut. “Wacha want? You got me grapes?”
“Are you the one who built the still, at the Feast of Flowers?”
“‘s me. Nanierr.”
“That still was some fine metalworking. We’ve got a job for a metalworker who knows pressure vessels.” Vinne gesture for the giant to follow. “Are you in?”
“Shure. Jus’ let me get –”
“You’re coming now.” Vinnie held the giant’s arm, and pulled just enough that the inventor stumbled ?n th right direction.
This still didn’t seem like the best idea. Wildflower smoothed out the paper crushed in their hand and re-folded it, twice.
Then they let out a slow breath and stepped into the cell.
“You are Metaphagos, the Mirror Giant who built the grain-stealing machines?”
“We have decided to offer you a pardon — ”
The giant’s eyes lit up. “I’m free?”
“– a conditional pardon, provided you work with us on a project to build a bathyscape.” Wildflower concentrated, and felt truth emanate out of their body. “Can we trust you to do this, and break no more laws?”
“I –” the giant swallowed. He could not lie within Wildflower’s field.
Then he looked up again, and spoke more certainly. “I will do as you say.”
A young priest was running down the street, pink robes of Aei and Oe flapping behind them.
“Paris!” Jethan waved them down. “Is something wrong at the temple?”
“Not at all, High Priest. The rabbit kittens are being born!” Paris’ smile was infectious.
“I won’t keep you any longer then. I’d be there in an instant if I could, too.”
But first, Jethan had to find Laciée Alonnge, the reporter. She turned out to be in the Katraktes orchards, inspecting a citrus tree.
“Laciée, do you have a moment? I’ve got a question for you.”
The elf raised her eyebrows. “Normalement, it is ze other way around. But certainly, ask away!”
“Who made the printing press you use?”
“We have sworn never to tell ‘er name.” Laciée drew in a slow breath. “But maybe I can make ze tiny exception. For what do you ask?”
“We’re building a bathysphere for a mission into the deep ocean. We wanted to offer her a position on the engineering team.”
“Ze ocean mission, zis would be public news?”
“Zis would be ze great project, ze challenge?”
Jethan nodded again.
“Then she would want me to tell you. She is an elf called Carriera. A thief, once, but she stole a wisdom from the gods, and zat gave ‘er ze skill of designing machines.” Laciée sighed. “But she ‘as left the city on ze River of Shadows. I can tell you ‘ow to write to ‘er, but zat is all.”
Laciée‘s smile reached her eyes, for a moment. Then her hands were full of notebook and pen. “And now, tell me about zis grand project.”
The huts here seemed out of scale with the giant-sized brass structure taking shape in the workspace outside. They were both A-frames, one awkwardly propped atop the other.
A human, wearing a beret in the gilman style, stepped out of the upper hut. “Ah! The subject of mah last work! Chapton, dahling, what can Ah do for you?” They stuck their cigarette holder behind one ear and begao to clim down the scaffold.
“We’re building a ship to go under the ocean, and we’d like you on the design team.”
Deadlily took a drag on their cigarette. “Ah can’t say it’s mah usual line of work, but perhaps it may interest me. Tell me, High Magistrate, will this be news? Will there be wonder?”
That was precisely when Laciée and Jethan arrived.
Seeing the reporter was enough for Deadlily to agree.
Aside from the baby kittens, Jethan still had the council meeting and paperwork. Fortunately, the ‘flu sufferers seemed to have recovered.
Finally, as the sun set, they climbed to the top of the Peak and drew a letter from hammer space. Jethan had covered everything Laciée had mentioned: the greatness of the project, the chance to work with other engineers, and the possibility of taking one of the orphans of Aei and Oe as an apprentice.
Jethan folded up the letter, held the paper plane high, and threw. A gust caught it, and it drifted higher and further, fading to a black dot in the darkening sky.