Following the path of saviors, the Roseblack continues her treachery against her family. And many experience the great week of harvests.
The clamor and cry of thousands pressed tight within the district made an exceptional heated day unbearable. What few shadows cast held as many people as the brightest rays. Chiaroscuro during a festival seemed ludicrous, but damned if it did not bless their meeting in secret with so much in public.
One stepped ahead, the reek of cheap cologne and ale a musk to hide those that followed. Jekster, paid for his murders and fornication not within the confines of a cell or on some detention detail. The swarthy fiend with a chipped tooth and dead gaze earned it by the scarlet band on his shoulder. None here recognized or cared, the world rife with rainbows as celebrations only grew, never abated. He fumbled past, leered at those unwilling to move, tugging free jade and jewelry to pass it onto someone down the way. The supposed theft cleared a path if for a moment.
Ejava followed next, patch over one eye with a fresh red mark of puckered healing flesh, a scowl of anger, and a hand never straying from a blade. Once fine canvas of some uniform now marred from sweat, dirt, and old blood felt too close, too tight, as she jostled through throngs. Nothing of softness or beauty touched her anymore, not even hair rusted dark of an old dye job growing out.
Crane held close to her back, the tallest of the three. Where she burned, he cooled with a limitless calm. The deft warrior moved as a giant, if thin, careful among those smaller than he. Yet few would call him gentle, perhaps only those on the cusp of their death as he whispered soft prayers and carved furrows from their life.
One after another, they took turns leading and following, a constant motion to hide within sight yet never quite seen. For hours and miles they passed through the city, in tandem and opposite of other forces, as if something beyond guided the fates just beyond detection’s grace. Some may believe they watched over by a higher power. Ejava knew otherwise.
A secret had been loosed, it burned down her throat, raw from swallowing it whole, and seared through her gut. She was sick of it, and needed to be unburdened. Everything became a crucial point of cause and effect. And every careful detail of a thousand hands and a thousand lips would falter course and end roughly.
Her aunt would take the throne.
As the sun reached apex behind the towers of the Tri’khan’s palace, the spire cutting it in twain, her journey turned likewise into darkness. Down a tumbling of steps, twist of turn, into the depths of the city proper. Here the guise chafed, beyond the eyes of the world yet knowing they were not blind. The tunnels of Chiaroscuro guided their steps beyond the tussle of arena battles and grand parades, until expanses opened of a neighborhood in the depth of this Under Market. None were about, not even the few that worked tirelessly to rebuild after some tragedy of a shop, a sign nearly burnt through advertising potions.
Jekster raised a hand, shivs between fingers, tossing one here and there. He stabbed only shadows.
“No need for theatrics.”
He felt her glare as Crane angled past to press against the door of the Paper Wright. “I feel watched. Doncha feel it?”
Her one eye slit further, followed by a nod. “Then enter. We’ve business.”
A single bell sounded in the back of the shop, silent to those in the front, yet her ears caught it. Essence burned through her veins, brightening corners and sharpening reflections off of glassware to unfold a map of the entire room in her mind’s eye. A hand strayed in effortless rote and measure to her scabbard and the sudden pommel that appeared from it.
But all that appeared was a middling aged women with a headscarf and ink-stained fingers. “Seeking Marcus?”
“I’m seeking an old map, of the Plum Blossom Inn, I’ve heard it was majestic.” She waited to see if the coin spent and promised through so many hands would ferret out what she needed.
“That it was, but Marcus can help with that. I suggest also asking about the garden.” Jekster glanced back as Ejava released the blade, the pommel unraveling back to elsewhere.
Through empty tables and stocked bookcases, the trio made passage towards the back. As they followed a spiral stair down, she motioned for Jekster to keep on this side of the door before them; she could not afford his heat in this conversation. With Crane, she entered a chamber bound in enscrolled glass, stone, and wood. Runes caught in shades of blue as a door sealed behind them.
Her charm picked out details again, of numerous bookcases and chests bursting with scrolls, each bound and wax sealed. Rings of keys hung from a belt, a soft jingle like chimes in wind, as the owner looked up. Eldering, hair a thinning with a touch of premature gray, pale blue eyes and fine if tattered scholar’s garb. Marcus the keeper of the Paper Wright, one of a generation of cartographers and secret keepers, waited behind a desk of rosewood.
“I trust I finally have the honor of meeting the true hand that has traded so many letters?” His was a refined voice, but from practice not birth, the tilt of sound bound from the West. Either he was from those far isles or he tried very hard and paid dearly for the lessons to become it.
None are ever what they seem, not even when cut and laid bare before the gods. Her grandfather’s words. Perhaps he was right, but she needed to trust. Or everything would fail. Reaching up, she tugged at her hair, or seemed to, as fabric pulled away, the seeming of a one-eyed wench in a filthy uniform shivering away onto the fabric, like the canvas of a painting.
The Roseblack watched with two glinting eyes, the jade green of her full plate. Scarlet curls caught up in a bun at the back of her neck, pinned with long black jade combs. Midnight roses hung over her shoulders, smelling of char and sweet death. “Tepet Ejava. Yes, and you are Marcus the wonder man. Come to save the day.”
He rose and bowed, never releasing her gaze. “Your coin and demands have been extensive. My own costs have been heavy for this information, deals within deals.”
“But you have it?”
Pulling a single key from the numerous rings, he turned to a case. The twist of the key began one way so far pressed within, pulled back and turned, pressed further again and turned. A series of locks and gears twisting as he pressed a hand upon a needle on the left cover. A fresh drop of blood joining the aging many from so many jobs as this.
“Yes, I have pulled together what I could of maps for the two locations. One I must revise the payment for, I had to enlist a demon’s aid which consumed far too much of my resources. The other consider it paid in full.” Two long scrolls laid across his desk, the first of some additional halls in a building she had visited countless times prior. The second a particular tower of the Heptagram.
She learned close, examining every detail and mark with charms, essence flowing through her as wind in sails, to determine authenticity. An eagerness burned in her, that bend of spine, the glint in eyes, the curling of fingers. Despite her grandfather’s warning, she did not hide herself as well as others. A failing for some.
Marcus leaned forward, marveling over the exquisite details of the work crafted by Dragonblooded and others, a certain section earning a rather odd look of satisfaction and humor. “May I ask…why you wanted these so badly to pay and pander for years to get them?”
“If she takes the throne, it’ll be war. And I want to be ready. I need what was forgotten.” Her eyes could not look away, her mouth would not be silent. But it was alright, she was with a trusted friend.
“Of course. Where are my manners. Please sit, drink, eat, and I will go over these plans with you. And you can tell me everything.”
And there they worked, well into the night and day, honing a plan with care and deliberative regard as to what must be done. Entirely her will, her motive, nothing of his. For once, this quarry’s goals mirrored his. And as another even neared, she gathered her scrolls, donned her disguise and left.
“The Roseblack, ah how you have grown.” Marcus settled back into his chair, eyes burning electric blue, filled with secrets as shadows deepened filled with whispers and motions.
A Time of Plenty
As the skies cleared from the gentle rains of Oghime, the earth freshly tilled and planted with fallowing seed shot forth with thin leaves. Pinpricks of green dotted earth across the terraced fields of black to russet to golden mustard. As drops ended, their life began.
Ahmer had seen many wonders in his long years, fruitful to starved, but this moment earned a startled yelp of surprise. Vines twined amid chunks of earth, stalks sought the sun breaking through clouds, gourds ripened, husks grew about mature ears of corn, all things leafy and rooted bloomed to a freshness he never grew from these lands. So vibrant and full were the fields, he could scarce see his grandchildren at play or the winding river feeding the pools and rows.
“By the sun and moon, hearts of my fathers…what has come?” His gnarled hands wrapped around a heavy heirloom tomato of brilliant orange, plucking and biting deep into the flesh. Nothing of rot or oddness of flavor, pure and strong. “Oh Kreeth, you have been given blessing…so long have we gone without such bounty…” Beyond the heaving rows, he heard the outcry of other farmers.
“Never have I seen so many lemons!” “Oranges…and these are…apples! Blessed are we!” “I have bushels of peas, so vibrant and tender!” “You must see the size of this squash!”
The longer he stood, eating of the tomato, Ahmer felt the heated eye of the Unconquered Sun upon him. “A blessing and a curse…we must get these harvested…”
No sooner had the Tri’khan turned from one parade and celebration to the next, had another feat seem to befall the city. The grand leader shared a steaming cup of choja with simple folk in the grand bazaar, dark skin painted by many shades, like that of wild song birds from the raining dusts thrown by children. A rare moment of enjoyment and peace, but heartily enjoyed by the beloved leader.
Jadefang dared not intrude, but a single drop of heavy rain splattered upon one sensitive ear. Turning up his face, the tiger felt others close, cool, and terribly WET. The sun disappeared as the sky exploded in rain. Snorting and shaking his grand orange and black head, he ducked back under protection as the daft Tri’khan leapt INTO the storm! Like the wild children around him, he danced and enjoyed the exceedingly odd occasion. The powdered colors ran into his samite white robes, forever stained.
The older men and women in the choja house chuckled as the tiger frowned and shook, a sneeze causing his ears and whiskers to lay back. “What in the nine hells! Now it’s raining?!” With a sigh, he ordered another coffee with a heavy serving of cream and a shot of cinnamon liquor. As it burned down his throat, a fluttering line of silver made a direct line to hover and buzz before him.
Looking cross-eyed at a tiny bird made of paper, Jadefang grasped a wing as it laid open into a message. Each sentence causing his eyes to widen.
The crowd parted as a gleeful Tri’khan entered nearly breathless from antics in the rain. Drops sprinkled from his long dreads and squeaking sandals, leaving a rainbow hued trail, such laughter and smiles filling the market and shop. His bodyguards remained attentive, allowing the press of humanity a moment to enjoy their leader’s mirth without getting too close.
Jadefang held up a message for the Tri’khan to read between sips of a mulled choja wine…causing the same rise of brows and widening of eyes. “You must…be joking…”
Within the day, the word of rain and filled fields and orchards rang through the city. Merchants already heavily loaded with freight and goods, at a minimum of jade to make it home, felt a keen pang of greed and loss of means to gain a corner of this renewed market. Houses preparing to slim down and close away due to the terrible heat of high Flame gathered to discuss how to lure back their numbers and find a way to answer the inevitable call. Businesses reviewed their warehouses and stores to see if they had room.
And farmers moved from shocked and awed to terrified. Any day, the fields could burn, taking out the terraces and homes. Fields and orchards blossomed with magic, induced growth by divine hands, not all of it from the region.
The Tri’khan called together his Orkhans, the great merchant families, the Guild, caravan leaders, the temples, shipping moguls, and others as recommended to discuss how best to salvage this situation. Incentives were given to pay everyone in jade or goods if they aided in reaping the harvest. Temples sought the aid of elementals to protect warehouses and buildings, imbuing simple prayer strips for caravans and ships to ensure the goods would not spoil.
Men and women, children, exalts, palace staff, and tribesmen all filled the terraces with knives, trowels, rakes, and shovels. Fruits and vegetables tumbled into baskets, set into carts, and trundled away. Carts formed in lines to carry vegetables and fruits to the river, boats ferrying into sections of the city. Wagons lined up along roads to transport from carts and fields to larger warehouses, silos, and the docks.
Everyone worked. Scribes kept a tally. Food stall cooks kept everyone fed and hydrated. Temple folk laid prayer strips in carts. Nobles and the refined paired with farmers and their children to cut and pull from vines, trees, and the earth. Even the Tri’khan bent in the earth, curved knife in one hand, a fine head of broccoli in the other. He whistled an old tune, picking up where Ahmer left off.
“Never seen anything like this. Have you, your …”
“Please, just Tri’khan, no need for more honorifics. And have I seen something like this? Not really. It’s…unreal. A true gift.” Despite his hands hurting from hours of toil, he grasped another head and cut, passing the bounty to the cart.
An annoyed tiger near him raised a claw, yanking forth snap peas from the earth only to receive a paw smack and correction from the old farmer. Jadefang…was not amused but helped all the same. “According to the histories, there were a few instances of something like this but much smaller, using magic.”
“I just hope we get everything from the fields, tucked away and in homes. Hate to see this gift go to rot and waste.” The Tri’khan nodded to both tiger and farmer.
“Aya, every little bit counts for the days and seasons to come. It’s a mighty thing, you and the other viziers standing with us simple folk.”
Jadefang dropped the snap peas with such….enthusiasm. “Yes. Thrilling.”
“I think I hear an old cat that needs to be dunked in a river…” Jadefang hissed at the Tri’khan, frightening the farmer, but only causing the Tri’khan to laugh hard.