We regret that Session 17 has not yet been written up. It contained the tilting of the board, the death of a god, and Wildflower turning into a pig. Don’t worry, they got better.
“Just a few announcements while our beat poets prepare for the final round. First of all, PAN has announced a new concert. B Cucumber will be opening at —”
A wave of applause drowned out the MC’s voice. Not that it was important; PAN already had flyers everywhere anyway.
Jethan twisted sidways on their bar stool. “Carriera, what are your thoughts on Bracaden?”
The elf spun her multi-tool on one finger. “A giant brass key! That ought to open things up.”
Jethan sighed. “No, we need a more practical way to investigate this. I’ve told you what I saw in the ruins underwater: Bracaden’s changed since the first city. I need to know why, and soon.”
The tool disappeared, and Carriera splashed into the knee-deep water the Gilfolk bars . “Then let’s go. To the temple!”
“The temple of Ienna?” Vinnie paced straight into the wall, rubbed his head, spun around and continued pacing. “No, too far.”
Wildflower ignored him, and ticked another address off their list. Hypatia couldn’t possibly be in that quarter.
“I have it!” Vinnie draw Dawnbreaker with a flourish. “The pool in the labyrinth, where I met the minotaur. That was where Ienna gave me her blessing, so that is where I shall seek her aid.”
Wildflower stood up. “Vinnie.”
“What? I have an epic quest. To that house!” Vinnie pointed the sword at another wall.
“I’m fine. I’m not mad right now. Look.” Vinnie slid his sword back into its sheath.
“Vinnie, it’s the middle of the night.”
“Really? That’s the perfect time!” He drew Dawnbreaker again, slashed his way through a curtain, and ran out into the night.
Two Strix stood in front of the chalk-slate, arguing.
“The meteor will hit — sorry, reach close approach — in four months. This diagram shows it clearly, Argus.”
“Nonsense! Jerome, you are neglecting the influence of the Moon, here.” The other astronomer wiped the chalk off, and sketched in a new arrangement of lines and circles. “When that comes into play, the comet should be completely deflected.”
Chapton stepped between the astronomers. “Calm down, both of you. Is there anything you can both agree on.”
He had to physically push Jerome away from the board.
The astronomer pushed back, and grabbed another piece of chalk. “Certainly! Based on our previous observations, it should continue on this course.” His line curved inwards from one corner of the slate.
Argus took more chalk and re-traced a circle. “Yes, and encounter the moon here, and —”
Jerome slashed his line right through the circle. “Argus, the stars are perfect and unchanging. It is impossible that something as pure as the moon could have any effect on this comet.”
Argus shook his head. Chalk dust dribbled out of his clenched fist.
It hadn’t been easy to get this far. First of all, Vinnie barely remembered which house the tunnel had been under. He’d had to get roaring drunk before he could even hope to find it.
Secondly, he had to tell Narsifiette to stay out of the way. She’d understand, eventually; his madness just made it too dangerous. He’d also found a spare mask from the festival, to make sure this didn’t get linked to him.
Finally, he’d had to cross the street. This oak door opposite Wildflower’s had to be it.
Vinnie raised his fist, smashed in the door, and took a bold step forward. Something caught his foot. The damp reeds on the floor broke his fall.
He climbed to his feet, kicked away the bit of door-frame on his boot, and stumbled forward.
Inside the house, someone began to sing. Outside, there were footsteps. Vinnie drew Dawnbreaker, and looked peered into the house, back, and then ahead again.
Blue madness rose in his vision.
As they left the bar, Jethan rubbed their eyes. Was that —
No, surely just an oddly shaped cloud.
Wildflower took their duty as head if the city guards seriously. Tonight, they had planned to go out on patrol with the rest of the night watch. So when they followed Vinnie out the door, they were still in full, recognisable uniform.
Then he smashed in the door across the street.
Tempting as it was to rush in after him, the council was bound to ask questions. Questions like “How did you know your housemate would break this door?” and “Can we trust you to lead the guards?”
It needed to seem like Wildflower had discovered the crime, not started it. They teleported away, and strolled back up the street. It didn’t put anything off for long.
Wildflower took note of Vinnie’s position, swallowed, and stepped inside. Vinnie spun to face him in an instant.
“Wildflower, look out!” Vinnie’s sword had eyes, and a voice. Somehow, that was the only thing Wildflower could focus on as the blade swung towards them. They shifted left, too late, too slowly. Vinnie had anticipated the dodge.
Wildflower tried to shift their ankle away. It it might as well have been stuck in treacle. They leaned back, twisted. Every time, Vinnie adjusted the blade. Every time, it was closer to Wildflower’s head.
There were no more dodges left.
The full moon shone through a window, and Wildflower could see the horizon-straight edge of the blade in perfect detail. Not a single nick.
A sound echoed. Vinnie’s hand spasmed, and the flat of the sword hit Wildflower across the forehead. Pain ran down their face and rang in their ears. But they were alive.
Vinnie hiccuped again, and took another swig from his bottle.
“But Argus: if the moon attracts the comet, it can only make it come closer to us?”
Argus found a stub of chalk in the waste pile, and wearily drew another parabola. “My calculations disagree. The moon will deflect it.”
“And how can you know, when there is no supporting data?” Jerome wiped off the diagram, and tossed his own chalk over his shoulder. “We have never seen an interaction like this before. We can only wait and find out.”
Chapton sighed. “Can you at least tell me how big it is?”
“Absolutely not!” The two astronomers spoke at once, then Jerome picked up the thread. “Do you realise how hard it is to measure the sky? Someone would have to fly up with a mile-long yardstick or something.”
Argus nodded at the proverbially impossible act.
Jethan read through the thirtieth set of symbols inside the Temple of Bracaden, and shook their head. This was getting nowhere.
“Look!” Carriera was standing most of the way up the wall, straight out sideways like gravity had forgotten she existed. “I think I’ve found something just up here.”
The elf lifted one foot, stretched it up to the ceiling, and fell straight back to the floor. “Ouch.”
“Never mind that. Can your tool do anything here?”
“Let’s find out!” Carriera’s tool appeared in her hand. She pointed it at a wall, and gestured. The tool binged, and turned blue. Something flew out of it, but she grabbed the slip of parchment, read it, and threw it away before Jethan could see. “‘You have performed an illegal’ — hmph!”.
“I guess the answer’s no, then.”
Jethan moved on to the next inscription. Something at their hip played a few notes of music. They lifted the offending object — a steel ring a foot or so in diameter — and looked through it.
A lullaby was playing, and the scene showed a Noble Quarter house at night. Why was Wildflower there?
The lullaby in the back room was coming closer.
Wildflower squinted their eyes wider, and pinched their wrist.
The music stopped abruptly, and a glowing figure stepped into the room. “I’ve had enough!” Both of you, out!”
“And then I went down the street and I, ai, ai.” Vinnie collapsed, babbling.
“I have you, scoundrel!” Wildflower pulled off his mask. “Vinnie! I don’t believe it.”
“Is it done now?” The figure didn’t seem to acknowledge the false surprise. “Can I go back to bed?”
“I shall bring this matter to justice in the morning.” The figure turned to go, but Vinnie mumbled something and pulled at Wildflower’s coat. They held up their hand, and the figure stopped.
“One moment. I have a report I must investigate. Is there a sword, or a minotaur, in this house?”
The glowing figure stood slightly taller. “I refuse to answer that question.”
“Very well, citizen. In that case, I may have to search your house.”
“What if I don’t want you to search?”
Wildflower shrugged. “That would be a matter for the High Magistrate.”
“Fine! The High Magistrate will be hearing from my sophist in the morning.” The figure turned around. “Fan-bearers! My carriage!”
“Do not disturb my circles, please.”
Jethan looked up from the inscription they were studying. Carriera had somehow acquired a fistful of chalks and charcoal, and scribbled messy multi-coloured dots all over the temple walls. Most of the initiates had given up their own drawings in disgust, but one stalwart was still working on a detailed Apollonian diagram.
They both turned to look at Jethan. Carriera reached out behind the other initate, and smashed a chunk of chalk into the middle of the biggest circle.
The initiate stalked across the wall, and ducked through the door.
With the temple nearly empty, Carriera’s brightly-coloured dots commanded attention. There was some irregular-but-recognisable pattern to them. Jethan inspected the nearest one. There was something there, underneath the layers of chalk. Built into the temple.
Carriera scribbled another dot in the opposite corner. “Done!”
The elf walked into the middle of the room, and began spinning in cirlcles.
On a sudden impulse, Jethan looked back from the trapdoor. From this perspective, the scribbles coalesced into a picture: a false-perspective wall, in the corner where they had been standing. And in it, a door.
Jethan took a step back towards it. Perspective shifted, and the door was gone.
“Do you know how to open this?”
Carriera stopped, shrugged, and kept spinning.
The third doorway Wildflower tried led to a cellar. That connected to a tunnel, which in turn wound a long, wide spiral into darkness.
Wildflower pulled something from hammerspace, and made a gesture. A big, stone cat stone appeared at their side. Vinnie was lucid enough to be loaded onto Jasper the smilodon‘s back, and understand when Wildflower added another chain around his feet.
“We’re nearly there now. Another half an hour’s walk.”
Hopefully the chains would hold if Vinnie lapsed again.
The door had not been easy to unlock, but Jethan was familiar both with magic, and with subtle and secret things. The right words, the right movements, and and the right dance, and the door snapped into real-world focus.
Then they had stopped forward, opened the door, and gone in. And then, nothing. No memories until the moment of stepping back out, just now.
Jethan turned to face the door again, and sat down. There had to be a way around this.
“So, High Magistrate, you are saying you have accomplished nothing. You have not stopped the comet. You have not found out when, or even if, it will strike the city.” Draca Procrusta scratched one fingernail on her slate, making a horrible screech. “Have you done anything to protect the citizens of Kathrakopolis from this disaster?”
Chapton adjusted his crown. “Absolutely! We are exploring all options as I speak.” Lady Katraktes raised a hand, and Chapton nodded. “Yes, my lady, and even as we speak they bear fruit. We now have a plan to evacuate the city:
“In the depths of the River of Shadows is an enormous beanstalk. Climbing that beanstalk leads to another world. We have conducted a feasibility study and determined that this is a viable evacuation path.”
Chapton sketched out a diagram on his own slate. “As you can see, even if the worst happens, the future of Kathrakopolis is secure.”
The passage was dark. Even the ring on Wildflower’s belt had stopped glowing. Jethan must have gone somewhere dark …
Blue passed through Vinnie’s eyes, and he shook in the chains tying him to Jasper. “Ouch!”
“Are you alright?”
“I’ve broken my toe on this chain. Not too bad so far.”
Vinnie tried to nod. “It’s not safe to let me out yet. Hopefully there’s something down here that’ll help.” At least the chains didn’t stop him smiling.
Wildflower stopped suddenly.”I wouldn’t get too hopeful.”
Vinnie tried to make out an image in the dark corridor. “Why not?”
“We’re here. It’s an empty room”
His smile faded.
Jethan tied on the blindfold, took a deep breath, and stepped through the door. They kept one hand on the handle as it swung behind them, and made sure it was still there when the door clicked shut.
The room was dark, and quiet. Goosebumps rose on their skin.
A voice echoed into the space, sounding like it came from somewhere even larger. “For what … do you ask?”
Jethan inhaled, exhaled, then spoke. “Bracaden, in the city under the waves the gods told the Gilmen never to seek knowledge. But now your initiates study it, and quest for secrets. Why have you changed your position on this?”
More silence, then the huge voice. “Kathrakopolis is … a question the gods did not realise they were asking. Some of the Thirteen are truly gods, but we are still … lacking. What we do not accept ourselves, we … deny to the world.” A hum in some immense throat. “I have come to feel the need for … distance.”
“You mention thirteen, but I know only twelve gods. Who is the thirteenth?”
“The architect, the youngest of us all. One not … wise, but brave. They now walk … among mortals.”
“You mean the Red King?”
“Who do you speak of? I … do not know that name.”
Jethan described the king and princess in the green garden realm.
“My … my vision is occluded.” The voice trembled. “They may be someone from another realm. A Kathrakopolis alongside … this one.”
“You mean like Carriera?”
“Get … Out!” Jethan’s whole body shook with that word. “She is a thief and an outrage. Never let me hear of her again!”
The blast of the last word nearly pushed Jethan backwards. But when it faded, they stood still and calm. “There is a power in this Kathrakopolis. It is not necessarily with the gods.”
They left. Behind them, the door crumbled into a cloud of chalk dust.
Jethan and Carriera brushed the dust out of their hair and clothes, but a letter “B” in the same colours stayed stuck on the elf’s forhead. Carriera rubbed at it, then flicked a mirror out of their tool. “So this is my face now.”
When the ring lit up again, Wildflower had a brief conversation with Jethan. Then, they pointed the ring around the room. Eventually Jethan stuck their head through for a closer look, and cast some of their own light in. All of it only confirmed what Wildflower had said.
This was it: the room at the end of the labyrinth. The murals and the shape matched. But the pond was a faint drip of water. There was no sign of Anacron, the minotaur.
Vinnie’s hands shook. He tried to swallow down the blue, but couldn’t quite prevent it reaching his eyes.
It was a decent walk from the Temple of Bracaden to PAN’s house. Jethan could have flown, but the time to think would help.
There were stories about secrets under Kathrakopolis. Not widely told stories, but in the bars of the Joy District, Jethan had heard them. How the city was founded not by Kalagon, but by a mortal called Katharine. How she slept under it still. How, in its hour of need, she would rise again.
Those stories were re-tellings. In the archives of Bracaden, Jethan had found the originals:
In the days when the city was founded, they had still believed every building had needed a sacrifice. Katharine had been the city’s. Her fingers were the docks. The Peak, one of her knees. And the water dripping in the labyrinth, under the central pillar, was her just-barely-beating heart.
Jethan had reached the broken door opposite Wildflower’s house. Carriera stood in front of it. The elf tipped her head at the doorway, and raised her eyebrows.
“Fine. Just be quiet.”
She slipped in behind Jethan, and followed them inside and down into to the labyrinth. Apparently Carreira was stealthy when she wanted to be.
When Vinnie came to, there were bite marks in Jasper the smilodon’s stone ear. Jethan was here in person now, inspecting the room.
“It’s true there only seems to be one entrance. But a labyrinth of this era doesn’t end at the center.” Jethan ran a hand over one wall. “There should be another path, leading out.”
They left the wall, and approached the dry pond in the centre.
Vinnie remembered this. “There’s a metal ring around the edge”
Jethan knelt down, and slid their hands over the metal. The brass rotated smoothly, and the floor of the pond sunk deeper into the stone.
Jethan dropped into the newly-opened well. Wildflower followed, sliding down the wall. Vinnie couldn’t stand in these chains, but he could still fly. He let his power lift him up and over the well, then tried to stay vertical as he sunk in.
Blue started to rise in his eyes, but he ignored it.
In the side of the well, a passage led into the stone. Just inside the entrance sat the minotaur, frozen into stone. It was gazing at a door a few feet further in.
Fom the door handle, there hung a scabbard. Dawnbreaker was still upstairs in PAN’s house, but it flew out of no-where for Vinnie’s command.
As the sword materialised, Vinnie let it fall into the scabbard. The blue tinge dropped away from his vision instantly. Dawnbreaker opened its eye. “You’re better!”
“But only when I stay in here?” The eye spun around, then looked at the scabbard. “Great.”