24 November 2012

NaNoWriMo FINSIHED! The Twilight of the Idols begins.

Do not let the celebratory title fool you, for my NaNoWriMo is far from over. In the eyes of the NaNoWriMo community (or whatever its ruling body is called), I am a winner, for I have surpassed the coveted 50,000 mark.

Not so fast boyo...

I actually did it three days ago, and gave myself a well-deserved rest. I've carried on writing and am standing on 55,000 words now... still less than a third of what I imagine the story will leave me with. I really want to finish this and am struggling on despite my inner editor resurfacing telling me that its shit, that there's no plot,. and that the characters (well, character... everyone else is an NPC) are not developed. All pertinent points... that I shall disregard to the best of my abilities!

Here's hoping i can finish and share Slaven's origin story with the rest of you...

I've also started submitting some short stories again, though I won't have an answer on any of them for around 3 - 7 months, in the case of some of them (though I can reliably guess what the responses will be...). the worst thing about submitting is the 'no simultaneous submissions' law, which prevents one from submitting the same piece of fiction to 2 different publications simultaneously (hence the name), on top of which is another law stating that one shall not submit multiple stories to the same publisher simultaneously (beginning to sound like the old testament here). As the response time is quite long for some of them, this make the process somewhat tedious... I'll keep you posted.

11 November 2012

NaNoWriMo update: Ketesh, city of sin

I've passed the 25,000 word mark and after a day of consternation with what has been now dubbed the 'conflagration of the inner editor', I am now back on track. I suspect the novel will require somewhat more than the 50,000 words required by NaNoWriMo, but then again the main objective is to write something and NaNoWriMo was little more than a catalyst for that. Let's hope it works out.

Here's another extract (again, first draft, unedited), regarding our protagonist's arrival to a city I've wanted to write about for some time, called Ketesh:

He first saw the city as a haze of light against the dark western sky. He had been walking at night for some time now, resting during the sun's apex and walking when the air was cooler and the chance of detection was lessened. Accompanied by little more than stars, had moved steadily north-west, with the Sichaalan highlands to his left and the wastelands of Kydonia to his right. He had passed a small town, Kekalakib, days before. the place was dreary, its people too concerns with their own woes to care about his troubles. he had resupplied and moved on, his body's thirst for umbra unsated.  If there was one place he knew he could stymie his body's unnatural craving, it was in Ketesh. 

He cleared a rise and saw the first sign of the city, the distant noise and the flicker of lights across the horizon, beyond a few more hill. The sun had disappeared some time ago and the sky had been in total darkness for little over an hour, yet still the city was alive. Indeed, of all the cities around the Inner Sea, Ketesh was the one most likely to gain vibrance following the sun's retreat beneath the threshold of night. 

He made his way to a road leading towards the city and followed it over a few more hills. unlike the lands he had wandered thorough over the past weeks, this region of Mharokk appeared more fertile, as though the city's exuberance had overflowed its walls and spilt onto the and itself, aloes of gigantic size dotted the landscape, with other more exotic plants memory and experience failed to name peppering the areas between. Patches of thick moss and lichen lay heavily on the strangely-shaped boulders of the region. Even under the moons-light he could see the cacophony of colour; reds, yellows, greens. this was a place unlike any other. Where elsewhere elyden died and spasmed her death throws, here she seemed to thrive. 

Before he was even over the last rise, the sounds of the city had become even more audible. the sounds of music and laughter drifted lazily on the still air. Shouting, screaming, singing, chanting. To his ears, accustomed to the sounds of silence and nature, the clamour was almost overbearing, the discord making him uncomfortable. He had been to Ketesh only once before, before its epicurean reputation had been warranted,  before the name Ketesh had even been bestowed upon it. what he knew of the place through experience was several centuries outdated. What he knew through hearsay was... hopefully exaggeration. 

Enjoying an independence made possible only though the fortuitous discovery of gold and soulstones beneath its oldest districts, Ketesh was a rare place indeed. Unconstrained by overlords, tyrants or conquerors, it had existed on that peninsula for many centuries, able to haggle its freedom from prospective conquerors. That fact had made the place a haven to those seeking freedom. exiles and outlaws were welcomed as long as they obeyed the place's rules. those persecuted by other nations' dogma and ideals were granted safe haven and asylum. Artisans and alchemists thrived there, as did those whose activities and pursuits their homes deemed to extreme. epicureans were slowly drawn there and a thriving sensate culture arose there, forming a nucleus that survived to that day. Any experience could be found in ketesh. Where the twin empires condemned the Firmament and its allies, Ketesh lauded them and granted them the same rights and freedoms that penumbrists, mystics, mythogigues and technarcanists enjoyed. boutique workshops and ateliers grew popular in the city's older lower wards, which gained renown across the Inner Sea for their niche arts and pioneering procedures. its harbours grew wealthy through both commerce and tourism, with patricians, nobles, exarchs and other wealthy figures from a dozen different nations travelled there savour its exotic cuisines and eclectic tastes. spices and herbs from far Tahab and tethysia were commonplace, as were the finest wines and spirits from the frozen north to the dark lands of Kharkharadontis, and beyond,. Truly it was a connoisseur's dream, and a sojourn to that place became know n as the grand excursion amongst fraternities of the rich and powerful. 

And that was not all for every pleasure of the flesh, every vice imaginable could be found there, if one knew where to look. halfbloods and otherworlders most exotic could be found there, willing to anything for the right coin. Drugs and vices unknown to the northern empire were commonplace there, with smoking dens and dreaming salons scattered throughout its upper-most wards, above the clamour of city life. 

it was a place both secular and religious, where non-believers were welcome to rub shoulders with zealots of a dozen different faiths and denominations. temples and shrines dedicated to extinct deities and alien divinities livened up street corners, with preachers and clerics of their many disparate orders blending in with what had to be one of the most diverse populations in the Inner Sea, if not the entirety of Elyden. 

If a body was looking for old myths and histories of ancient or extinct peoples, this was the place. 

Slaven paused and regarded the place, its high walls and higher towers and minarets beyond. the city was also known as the tiered city, not for its construction - truth be told, other than the lights and sounds that surrounded the city in a dizzying halo, there was little to mark the city as different to any  other, at least at that distance - but rather the levels of life. the simpler baser pleasures tended to fill the lower streets and the dungeons of regraded portions of the city; once streets but built over many times over the years, these regions were dark but for the sensory cacophony that filled them. workshops and ateliers abounded in such districts as did the simpler drinking halls and taverns. above, open to true skies and cleaner air, were the libraries, theatres, cafe's and sensoria of the city. above them, accessible only to the truly extraordinary and wealthy visitors, were the exclusive restaurants and private carnal temples. other places and groups - mystery cults, exclusive clubs, torture halls and hedonistic sects, where only the most extreme were welcome

04 November 2012

NaNoWriMo - update 2

10,000-words and going strong. Hope I don't burn out, as i tend do, but the motivation is strong and the desire to actually finish something is there, for once, so I can see this going far. The only problem? 50k might be a bit of a conservative look at word count. ill likely have to reach at least 75k, if not close to 100k to fit in the arcing story that i have in mind. can I shorten it or omit arcs to accommodate the 50-60k word limit that NaNoWriMo imposes, or should I carry on as intended and then omit in rewrites as necessary? I tend to ramble and dump huge blocks of exposition (especially when aiming for a certain word-count, perhaps in an attempt at that most hated of foes... filler!).

Here's another excerpt. The prologue, which is the fruit of today's labour, clockign in at over 3,000 words. assuming a standard word-count of 350ish words per page, that means 10 pages of exposition-heavy text right off the bat in a book that's (using the same calculation) aiming for 145ish pages. too much? I fear so...

(again, excuse any typos. this is as raw as it gets, and hot off the presses,as they say)

It is said that complex events are sometimes set in motion by the simplest of actions. It was in the spring of 4005 RM that a lowly clerk, checking regional annexes that were required for a report, stumbled upon an old steel box, marked in faded writing; 'Treatise in the discovery of the Sabbaoth-tomb, and technarcane and alcehmical research into the results unearthed.'

The clerk, intrigued by the scrawl, examined the box. Flaking papers, the handwritten words on their surface written in an old dialect and bordered by crude illuminations - indicative of their old age. A few ancient maps accompanied the texts, their outlines barely recognisable against the advance in cartography that had come since their plotting. A general idea of the areas they represented could be made out, though the borders and regions depicted were alien to the clerks eyes. Another indication of their age.

The papers had passed on to the clerk's factotum, where they lingered for some time, before making their way to a the seventh administrator of the hall of records. There they remained, ignored and if fate intervened, the entire tale would never have unravelled. But alas, it seemed as though such things needed to come to light and what might have lain there, gathering dust was disturbed months later.

It was an acolyte of an inquisitor this time, a man eager to rise amongst the ranks of his fraternity, willing to turn any fact or discovery to his advantage. Before passing on the information to his master, he made sure to examine the documents, taking great pains to translate the texts, verify the maps, correlate the information with the empire's history. After weeks of research, the acolyte was able to date the texts to c. 1190 RM and pinpoint the region depicted on the maps to what in extant charts was known as the Expanse of Gyarht; even then a crumbling land-locked place of little strategic or cultural importance - a wasteland without resources that was ignored after early explorations in c. 1100 RM.

There was no record of what the acolyte came to refer to as the 'Sabbaothic texts', and no amount of searching through the records and annals of that era could reveal anything of importance. No record of the expedition itself was found, nor mention of the technarcanists - a nascent vocation at the time, employing crude methodologies that were antiquated by contemporary standards - involved in the foray. This was puzzling, as the historians and amanuensis of Korachan had always been comprehensive chroniclers and record-keepers. To omit what was clearly a large and important expedition during an age of discovery and exploration was puzzling.

The scribe, a pale-skinned boy from upper Khadon whose patriarchal lineage had held the post for centuries, probed deeper. The turn of the second millennium of the Imperial Calendar brought had with it a new age of stability, for a thousand years the Korachani empire had been growing explosively, aggressive territorial expansions taking it into contract with other regions and nations. Wars were common, with resources that could have been channelled elsewhere used instead for military purposes. The last few centuries of that first millennium brought with them for the first time a sense of stability - its borders had expanded greatly and reached an apex they would not surpass for many centuries. industries that had been tied up feeding the imperial war-machine relaxed, looking instead to needs within the empire's borders. In this new age, inventions and discoveries made to supply its wars were turned to domestic use. The millions of square-miles of subjugated territory were comprehensively explored, many for the first time, and such explorations often took parties well beyond the empire's borders, exploring the eerie lands abandoned following the great wars of ending millennia past. Great marvels were discovered in that time; monuments attributed to the Demiurges and the first mortal races, terrain warped and twisted by the Firmament and the Penumbra, and other things, perhaps better left undisturbed...

And so, in that age of discovery, were founded the great imperial colonies of Novatul, Hothath and Memehara. The settlement of each was something widely publicised and praised throughout imperial lands. That the expedition into Gyarht went undocumented (save, of course, for the contents of that metal box) was strange and intriguing.

The acolyte became obsessed, sifting thought artefacts and records that had lain undisturbed for centuries in the hall of records beneath the Bastion of Steel in Khadon. miles of corridors a hundred feet-high lined from top to bottom with shelves stuffed with scrolls, stelae, tablets, cylinders, codices, treatises, records and Throne-alone knew what else. 

Nothing. Civil uprisings two-thousand years old involving three disgruntled peasants were recorded in detail. Administrative appointments with full hierarchies, dates, annotations and impressions were meticulously recorded. But nothing on that expedition to Gyarht.

The box itself contained mostly prosaic notes; expedition logistics, equipment lists, provision quantities and various statistics of little worth to a researcher so far removed from the events. Maps charted routes across the waters of the Ugoloth or the passes across the Cammorean mountains, though they ended in an unassuming mark in the southern foothills of the range, marked simply as Sabbaoth. And there, the trail ended.

It was only weeks later, when his interest began to wane and a logistician attached to his masters' entourage came across the box that more of the story was revealed. The art of the alchaemist was an ancient one and had led to many discoveries. The appearance of the first true technarcane processes in the mid first millennium RM saw the two vocations grow close to one another, leading to the creation of the first haemonculi - blood-servants artificially created through coagulated blood, umbra and host organs, cultivated together in the first ever birthing-vats. These first examples were truly grotesques, prone to disease and deformities, living short tortured lives.

But it proved that man could create life. The first true carnatects, hepatects and vivitects appeared following that fumbling victory and over the years they continued perfecting the techniques involved, a dedication that in 827 RM led to the first stable breed of haemonculus. It was that breakthrough that would, over the next centuries, lead to the growth of the colony of Memehara, which became invaluable to Korachan. In 1204 RM, the first Steel Legionnaires were created In a fleshmill there.

Memehara was one of the imperial colonies founded during the age of exploration, in c. 1050 RM, in what was then a coastal plain. Now, following millennia of decay and the slow death of the natural world and the wasting of her waters, it was a ruin over twenty-miles form the coast, engulfed by the sands of the Andiluthan shelf. The ruin was less than two-hundred-miles form Sabbaoth. 

A lone passage, written in a hand different to that of the main text on vellum of inferior quality, proffered further insights. It was written in a Parthish script that took a degree of translating, but it was legible:

"...the etheri salves have managed to move the earth from above the tomb, an accomplishment worthy of praise, given the heavy stratification (illegible) region. The tomb itself is fashioned from a soapy rock of unidentified nature. though soft and almost moist to the touch, it has survived the decay of ages remarkably well and is a credit to the ancient mortals who crafted it. (missing text) furlongs in length; a remarkable structure. Cuneiform text along the single massive lintel cannot be deciphered though is clearly ancient, the crude lines and simplistic strokes possibly belonging to the virgin tongue of the first mortals. Charcoal rubbings have been made and are attached.

Weeks of struggling with the immense stone slab acting as a door came to fruition yesterday, where it was lodged aside, revealing a noisome black sand that poured out. Almost immediately on contact with air it seemed to lose al moisture and turned white. Following further excavation and removal of that strange ash, an intricate carving was discovered on the inside of the door-slab. In have made crude diagrams of the carving and believe to be a chart or table of sorts, perhaps a star-map or calendar. At its simplest, it is a series of concentric circles, each divided into six slices. A large unique sigil appears to name each of the slices, with further cuneiform text (similar to that on the lintel) and pictograms in the concentric smaller slices. A larger circle envelops the others with a single unique sigil above it, incorporating elements of the others. Strangely, though the other gigils and scripts were unrecognised, that one was familiar to the etheri nomads, who claimed to have seen various ancient monuments and half-buried collossi around their ancestral lands bearing that sigil:


That was it. None of the diagrams or drawings mentioned had survived. When the acolyte tried searching for records on Memehara, he found little that he didn't already know. Its founding and growth as a supplier of raw materials to the empire's northern territories. The spread of flesh industries there and their maturation into something viable. And the creation of the first Steel Legions there. The last reference to the place the acolyte could find was in the late 12th century RM, that suggested the place had lost its industries to other more central regions and that its influence had dwindled so much that it was considered a ghost town by the dawn of the 13th century. 

That was when the Lord-Inquisitor had discovered the box and his meticulous research and dismissed him, ending a proud family history. What happened after that, the acolyte would never know. Within weeks of his dismissal he was homeless, disowned by his family, destitute. 


They were gathered in one of countless presbyteries of the Steel Bastion. An ancient room, the plaque above the solitary door leading into it green from age, its words illegible, this was one of many meeting rooms built into the design of the original structure, millennia past.

Like most other municipal structures in Khadon, capital of the High-empire of Korachan, the place was musty and oppressive. Separated from the world without by dozens (if not hundreds) of rooms in all directions, the air their was dank and lifeless. The sound of coughing peppered the air as patricians and potentates shifted uneasily in their chairs. No windows could exist in such a place and the corroded pipes that had once served to aid in the circulation of air, were little more than remnants form a past age.

Above, harsh artificial light hummed, casting its loathsome yellow light onto the amphitheatre-shaped room below. An ancient mural circled the room, interrupted only by rivet-encrusted beams of wrought iron and the door, was faded beyond recognition; with portraits and scenes reduced to darkened figures and gloomy patches, all colour sapped from them years ago. the scene was rendered all the worse for the dim lights above.

About a dozen figures, mostly male, sat in the room, waiting impatiently. Clad in the decadence that only a high station could afford, they were clearly men of importance. For a while they had been seated there, arguing the matters of the day, awaiting the arrival of the Grand Consulite, second-in-command to the reclusive Archpotentate of Korachan. Most, however, sat nervously, the revelation of what was afoot weighing heavily on their minds.

If the Lord-inquisitors' fears proved to be in any way true... well, things in Korachan were bad enough at it was. All it needed was this discovery shaking the foundations of its church.

The door opened and two purple-robed guards entered the room, poleguns erect. An old man, his withered frame hidden beneath layers of musty brocaded robes, walked between them, wizened yet pert eyes observing the room. Silence engulfed the others there gathered.

The man, seemingly content with what he saw, nodded before proceeding to the head of the table, a stunted servitor trailing behind him. There was none of the careful movements and weakness normally seen in men of his age or, more accurately, men of his apparent age. For none knew the span years he had witnessed. Some said he was as old as the Archpotentate Malicher. Others whispered that Consulite was merely a hereditary title, bestowed on those inheriting the post. Records, however, never spoke of a change and had always described him as 'old in name, if nought else'.

The man sat regally, lifting his sleeves with great deliberation, exposing unadorned hands and fingers whose only sign of age was their wrinkled skin. Whatever the mans' age, he was truly a paragon of human endurance (assuming, of course, his lineage infact human), for no orthosis or prosthesis did mar his body. His eyes, perched atop an alert aquiline face, surveyed the room without the aid of mechanical implants. Few others in the room could say the same. Indeed, thought the Consulite as his eyes rested on the Magnate-general of the Sodalities of Technarcanists, whose flesh had long-ago been replaced by machinery and orthosis. A withered husk was probably all that remained at his core.

"Thank you, my brothers and sisters," he spoke suddenly, his voice carrying readily across the room, its dulcet tones inspiring confidence, yet not overbearing. Perhaps the secret to his success. "for gathering here at this hour. I thank you, as do your people."

The Consulite paused as the servitor beside him took down his words. The man regarded his charges in turn. In his presence were the greatest individuals of Korachan. The two Penumbrist-principals; Arch-postulant of the three Dioceses of the High-empire; the Ecclesiast Leonis. Key Promulgator of Azazem. The Heads of the order of Diambulists and Noctambulists. Manufactor-lords. Representatives of the seven Inquisitorial Fraternities. Arch patricians and potentates. Chief of the demiurne cades. The list went on. The most powerful men and women in the empire and each looked to him for solace, guidance. He was not sure he could give it.

"You have been given the facts and know now as much as I. We are not gathered here to determine the verity of such claims, but to act upon them, for there is little time." the faint scratches of his menials' transcription continued for moments after he paused. "It is not declared openly, and for many of you this will be the first you hear me admitting such a thing, but it is well known - the empire falters. And the blame is not solely that of our home and world, Elyden. No. We pay now for the mistakes of our forbears and for our reluctance to admit that which happens. Cities across the Sea are crippled, the coast that once sustained them withdrawing daily. Once-prosperous quarries lie disused, their bounties plundered centuries past, leaving the manufactories of today wanting. Our people are starving from Skaros to Venthir. And the false-empire of the south impunes upon our borders with greater brazenness every day. Our father and master Rachanael grows weak."

From across the room the Arch-postulant rebutted. "Faith in the true Church of the Machine wanes from day to day as these heretical entropic cults spread their filth across our lands. We are losing members, and it is showing, my Lord. Our monitors report decreased activity from the Sepulchral Throne - Our God Rachanael is weakening. We cannot let this affront to the natural order continue!"

His fellows nodded, the low rumbling of comments beginning to fill the hall. The Consulite gestured for the man to stand down "That, Arch-postulant, is the crux of the matter. We cannot risk the languor of that which binds us together. The simple truth is that our god and unifier, Rachanael the Machine, needs worshippers to survive. We rely on him to survive. Without his aegis, the Black Fountain on which our industries rely is wasted. Without our industries - already in steep decline - we cannot weather this new age.

"This discovery," he said, "threatens to throw the entire world into chaos. e cannot allow another Demiurge to rise beside Rachanael, let alone in his place. This empire was built upon the balance inherent in the world, a balance that was established over millennia of slow natural change. What were once Two-and-Twenty slowly dwindled in number until only one amongst them remained - Rachanael. Should this discovery not be rectified, we stand to lose everything that we have worked so hard to maintain.

"These creatures need to be destroyed."

Silence greeted the ultimatum as the words were chewed-over, the severity of their meaning digested.

The first to break the silence was the High-Quaestor of the Concordantist Fraternity. A tall man of gaunt face and heavy a brow, he spoke, eyes never resting on any one person for long. They rested finally on the Consulite. "This first birthing  of the Legion occurred close to three-thousand years ago. How can any of them still be alive?"

"We cannot know for sure, but the circumstances of behind their creation dictate that it is a possibility. We must identify the time and place of the demise of each and every one of these aberrations and find their remains."

"An impossible task, my Lord," said the High-Quaestor thoughtlessly.

The Consulite stood, regarding him. "Has that ever stopped us? You would claim defeat before even trying? Is that what your home is worth?" the words were beseeching rather than condemning.

"Not all of us measure our lives in terms of millennia, High-Consulite," interjected another. "there was no record of the first birthing until scant weeks ago. It can't be done."

"It can and it has," came a voice. "Already three bodies have been recovered from the pyre-fields of Belhan, records of their death examined."

Silence gripped the room as realisation dawned that this threat was real.

The consulite nodded. "Good. We must think in terms of the empire and not individuals. Nothing is an obstacle. Do what you must. You have been granted the authority of proxy in my absence. Do whatever it takes. Use every tool at your disposal to unearth this concealed past and keep Korachan safe."


The Consulite paused, regarding the room, the men and women there gathered. They had spoken at length, considered many options, but the truth was... they had to act, decisively. Beside him, his servitor finished writing the last of their discourse.

He stood again, a gesture of finality. "Then we are at an accord," he said. A statement, not a question.

Heads nodded. Hands tapped against the brushed steel table. Voices remained silent. None present wanted the records to speak their names. There was an accord, but a bitter one.

The Consulite nodded, the need for further words unnecessary.       

"For the Archpotentate, for the empire, for the Machine.

"The Triptych," spoke all as one.

03 November 2012

NaNoWriMo - update

Just a quick post to let you know this is progressing nicely! the objective is 1,661 words a day (or thereabouts) with a final word count of no less than 50,000 words. I daresay I might need more than that to fit in what I'm aiming for, but we'll see. Here's an excerpt from what I have so far (still rough and probably has quite a few typos):

"His name is Rashul," said the halfblood, glassy eyes flitting from table to table as though looking for something.

Slaven cared little for the eyes. It was the rest of that retched face he couldn't stop thinking about. He had heard a saying once in the etheri pidgin. t was difficult to translate into the imperial tongue, but in a nutshell meant: Meet a halfblood and you've met them all. Know a hundred and you know nothing. Something like that. And it was true. He had failed to keep track of the different breeds and houses and lineages of halfbloods he had met in his years on the road. Admittedly, his life had spanned centuries; far more than the paltry two to three decades most proletariats in the cities enjoyed, but still, the variety was most... disturbing. 

While a rare few had bodies and features that most humans would kill to lay down with, the vast majority for them were so alien as to be repulsive. Bifurcated jaws, skin that sloughed off in metallic flakes where it was not calloused and malformed, deadened eyes that said more with a glance than conceited poets could with a day on a soapbox, corpse-like bodies.

This specimen was none of those things. Unnaturally slender, with the grace and spindly form of a spider, the halfblood was altogether the son of its father, as the saying went. Stood upright, it would have been around 8-feet tall and probably weighing less than an emaciated man of the empire. Its arms and legs were gifted with extra joint, making the spider analogy yet more pertinent, their movements fluid yet strangely... spasmodic. It gestured with seven-fingered hands, equally fluid in motion, despite being weighed down by heavy signet rings and gemstones. Like the rest of it, its face was long, almost horse-like with skin akin to that of shimmering oil or the scarab-shell, catching the harsh light in different hues as it moved and beneath bulging lids of similar quality, protruded dead eyes like pearls, emotionless yet beautiful. Almost unnervingly so.

Slaven struggled to maintain eye-contact with the halfblood as it continued to talk, its last words lost to his cursory examination. "... exiled for nourishing outsider beliefs. The etheri care little for the ways of the greater world and tend not to look farther north than the mountains that border that collapsing desert-home. His views were extreme, his attitude seditionist." the halfblood paused, noting the alabaster-skinned mans' reaction. "What is extreme to one people is a cultural norm to others. I do not part with knowledge freely, and though your donation for such gifts of words weighs down my purse, there is not a little that i have learnt of you too, clone. One such as yourself must surely have seen the world in his travels. It is likely that what severe beliefs this man harbours are something that comes common place to people of the civilised world."

Though Slaven was not surprised that the halfblood had ascertained his history (anyone versed in the histories of the Steel Legion would have blind to not forge the links), he was surprised that it had named him for what he was so openly. If the halfblood was not so well-connected Slaven might have retaliated, verbally if not physically. He was trying to forget his days of bloodshed, not reawaken the beast. "I didn't ask for his life-story. I want to know where this man is."

The halfblood noted the inflection of his tone, the slightly shifted expression, the urgency in his posture. "Something tells me that it is more than curiosity or professional desire that causes you to search for this man, clone."

"Say that word one more time and you'll regret it, Tahlib," said Slaven, edging forward  in his seat.  

The halfblood clapped mockingly, the eerie gait of its many-jointed fingers and elongated palms unsettling and strangely silent. "Well done. I did not know that the Steel-Legion offered esoteric education as well as martial training. Few people are well-versed in the lineages of halfbloods."

Slaven let the slur pass. "I have come across your kind before. You are hardly trustworthy."

"Well, that is likely more than I have. We are hardly a fraternity, though I am sure you know that already."

"I know all you care about is amassing your collections," said Slaven, referring of course to the Tahlibs' insatiable greed for knowledge of any kind. That trait, garnered from an ancient primogenitor - the otherworlder patriarch or matriarch whose blood, though now diluted, still gave that monger of information life and character - was a vital commodity in the cities of the lower empire. Indeed, any empire or kingdom or province that was home to such a creature could scarcely consider itself to have any secrets. "you still haven't named your true price."

The halfblood nodded sagely. "True. Excuse my penchant for digression. My mind, you see, it works different to yours. Though everything is compartmentalised and stored, within easy reach of my tongue, it yearns to spill out. I cannot help but tell stories.

"That which you seek was not easy to come by. Without giving anything away before taking my payment, this man cannot and will not be found close-by. Even armed with the necessary directions and languages, he will not reveal himself willingly -"

"Though he preaches to crowds of thousands?"

Another nod. "The more powerful a demagogue becomes and the more followers he gains, the more he seeks the solitude of whatever providence caused him to unite so many people. I feel sorry for such men, truly."

"I do not. Now please," said Slaven.

"Of course," said the Tahlib, gesturing with its spider-hands. "To cut the hyperbole short, Rashul was a difficult nut to find. The monetary cost for this has already parted hands," he said, tugging cheerfully on the small pouch, the ceramic-coated coins inside clinking. Its toothless mouth was curved into what might have passed for a smile. "Now, to the true compensation. 

"The days of the Steel Legion as a mythic force is over. The sundering of empires and the, how should I say it... degradation of the world and its peoples, has caused the militant orders of the empires to falter somewhat. I know little of your brotherhoods' fine past, other than the cursory. I wish to know what it is like to be born to cold glass and steel, to never have felt the warmth of a mothers' womb. Were the spot not already covered by an occlusion, I would have dearly liked to see your stomach without it navel."

"Get to the point." Slaven's voice was dry. Each word grated at his nerves more than the last. There was only so much he could put up with this fool.

"A biography of sorts, from your inception, to this day. Why do you not travel with the legions? Are you a deserter? Are your brothers no more?" the Tahlib's lip curved upwards into a lop-sided smile. "Or do you not know these things?"

Slaven gritted his teeth and tried hard to rein in his anger. He looked at the alien thing before him, its opalescent eyes without focus. Was the thing even looking at him, he wondered? Its fingers played with the pouch on the table, knocking it from one side to another, enjoying the sound of the coins. Though Slaven had no way of knowing what passed for a smile on a face so grotesque, he knew it was enjoying this. Slaven had been tortured many times before, but this toying was the subtlest most infuriating kind. Where physical pain was something he had been conditioned to withstand and combat, this psychological bullshit that city-dwellers insisted on levelling at one another was something else entirely, something the carnatects and technarcanists responsible for his life and the  patrician-generals who had trained him had not considered.

He spat on the ground, keeping his eyes affixed on those of the Tahlib and leaned forward. "I think you know more about me than you let on and you're trying to goad me into giving something away, something you want, perhaps for another deal or to satisfy your sick cravings."

Slaven stood. "I can find what I need elsewhere."

The halfblood nodded, lifting a metal cup to the Legionnaire. "I look forward to speaking with you again."