Trouble with a Soveriegn "T"

What's all this, cully?
Only the bits of completely story from
Concerning Catacombs and the Restless Dead, the second book in the Judicar's Oath Series.

If you aren't familiar, you might start
here first...
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“Finally,” I sighed. A contented half-smile curled the edge of my mouth. I kicked up my feet, settling back into my chair.

I opened the book.

Perfect.  

I sat, entirely safe from lurking, mysterious thugs. No rooks sought to dust my face with a set of knucks, nor did I see dirkmen eager to slit my throat.

Instead, I swirled a tumble of sweetcider idly in my hand. My feet sat propped up on the table, and the newest book I owned lay open on my lap. The autumn breeze came in my window and ruffled the pages of “The Cantos Astrilae” as I turned them.

The bounds stood yet, and all sat well in the world.

I read.

She came the night the stars bled, the night the world trembled and time itself burned. She came on a steed of moonlight and blue fire, and the people gaped before her terrible beauty. She came swiftly and without caution, falling from the heavens like a wounded bird.

She shone in the distance, a brilliant blue star among a multitude, radiant against the vast darkness.

Of course, the storytellers began their duty before she even came to the ground. Even as the light sang cerulean from her, stories were born in the land below.

Some told of the fabled far wanderers of Ulüm, saying that this must be one of those, wayward and cast away upon the shores of their world.

Others thought that one of the sacred Guar’itz had come to the world from the shining lands. These would share with them secret mysteries and bless them for the following year.  

Others named it a dire omen and prophesied that it could only be the burning blue heart of some daemonic abomination, ripped forth in combat and cast into the world below. Those who believed this knew of the blight a single drop of blood from such a creature could cause, and fearful whispers spread among the people.

As they watched, the stars themselves begin to bleed.

As I read, the Simenion wind drifted over the city, carrying the smell of ocean and wild, far-away places. Shimmering sunlight cut through the mist and the bustle of Teredon’s people as they geared up for their day sounded through my window.

I needed this. I loved nothing like a good book, a great year of cider, and a nice, quiet morning without whore-mongers and meaty ruffians. I had to patrol later, but for now, my world contained itself within fanciful Du’anni folk tales.  

And cider.

Yet, all good things must pass.

Petite trouble sashayed into my small room, her head high as her eyes glinted with secrets. She threw a quick glance my way, as if she owned the world and everything in it.

I furiously continued to read and ignored her with a mighty will.

Of all those who gazed upon the radiant light, a girl child named Selis, was the first to act.

She crept away from the valley and slipped through sibilant shadows toward the place where the radiant azure star came to rest. She had lived in this valley her entire life and she knew the forest better than she knew her parents faces. Though young, Selis moved through the trees without fear of danger.

When she came to the side of the great mountain, her eyes opened wide.

A woman knelt there, wreathed in terrible blue fire.

Her steed, all copper and silver and proud brass, lay dying on the mountainside. Its discordant, soft songs oscillated in her ears as she gazed over the new valley in the wood. Pieces of the steed’s body lay strewn all about, ruined beyond hope.

Its pain was a jagged thing, blood red and sharp. With just a glance upon it, Selis felt despair nest in her heart, as if its agony were her own.

The woman gazed up at her, a wordless song of fury and brilliance in her eyes.

On her brow shone three written words that the girl did not know. When the woman’s gaze found her own, Selis sank back into the shadows. For the first time in her life, she knew what it was to be truly afraid.

“Thom?” The thoughtless intruder cooed my name. She gazed at me with dark, soulful eyes. The wind ruffled her a bit, and she stepped closer, as if anticipating my words.

Tainted night. I sighed and squinted at my book. Licking my finger, I turned a page.

Truculent and ill mannered, she tolted her head, a bit coquettish.  

I knew this play. I'd seen it before.

This particular troublemaker pranced into my life whenever she wished without my leave or say. She meant nothing but trouble.  

I hated that I loved her so much.  

“No.” I didn’t so much as glance at her. “I’m quite busy.”  

She glided to my desk, graceful and lithe. She knew she could get her way with me-it only took a bit of sweetness. Her dark eyes flashed mischievously.

“Thom.” She came closer, her mood playful.

I heaved a sigh and ignored her. I ignored her fiercely. I’d been trying to finish this book for a fortnight. No one knew persistence like this girl however.  

She cocked her head at me.  

“Thom.”

I winced when she said my name again.  

“What?” My exasperation echoed sharply. Against my will and all good judgment, I glanced down at her legs.  

Definitely trouble. Trouble with a sovereign “T”.

“Fecking damn.” I closed my eyes and groaned.

She leaned in closer and gave me a light peck. She nestled against me for a moment, and I inhaled deeply.

She smelled like night. Like the Reapingtide wind.

“What’s a pretty bird like you doing bringing me trouble this early?” I glanced at her legs again. “I can’t help but think that every time I see you, the news is bad.”

“Bad?” Her tone didn’t scold, but came close.

“It’s true, you little Molly.” I sat up. “Every time you sashay in my door, you bring me nothing but late nights, heartache, and trouble. I should turn you out right now, no matter how sweet a girl you can be.”

“Sweet girl.” She nuzzled against me again.

“Fine,” I turned to Scoundrel and sighed. “You win, you cussed little rook. Bring it here.”

Until I opened it, I never knew what she might have in her leg clasp. My chest felt like a vise; this could easily be a phial from the Legates. My peaceful morning might be at an end. A day of cider, books, and solitude would cascade into serum, visions, and dangerous roads.

After a moment of fiddling it opened.  

“Oh. It’s a message.” I smiled the moment the scent wafted up.

I only had a few people on my priority list with the Runner’s Guild, but of those folks, only one sent letters than smelled like jasmine and sweetness. Most messages were simply brought by the runners themselves, but when one came in on the leg of a troublesome raven, and it smelled like this…

Sefra.

I unscrolled the small paper and held it to the light.

Mister Havenkin, Judicar

I plan to attend a Reaping revel in your borough this evening. It’s a little something sponsored by the Alchemins, and is said to have fireflowers and songs, both of which I adore.

However, a proper lady should not be alone in the dangerous Warrens, particularly dressed as I shall be. I hoped you might know of an adequate bodyguard for me.

My body definitely needs guarding, I’m afraid.

Please respond to my home address as soon as possible. If you are unavailable, I shall have to find other accompaniment, and that would be a shame.  

Yours,

Sefra

I knew the revel. I had wondered if she would attend.

“You know we take rounds tonight, right?” I didn’t glance at Scoundrel, only gestured mimic.

“Right.” She hopped closer. Her wide eyes clearly hoped that I would realize her woefully bereft of cheese. “Right, right.”

“So, would it be bad if we took some time off to see a pretty girl?” My fingers signed again as I reread the message.

“Pretty girl?” Scoundrel cocked her head. “Bad Thom.”

“I know.” I sighed. “Doesn’t change anything though, does it?” A small smirk capered at the edges of my mouth. “Maybe Sefra will let me slip away for a moment.”

“No.” Scoundrel picked up on the sign perfectly. “No Thom. Pretty girl.”

“Don’t I know it?” My grin grew wider.  

I stepped to my rolltop writing desk, fumbled past spare rook-keys, a set of tiles, and a shaving razor—why was that in there? —until I found my fountain pen.

Dry.  

Groaning, I scrabbled around in the drawer for my inkwell. Rising beneath my fingers I felt a pack of cards, a polishing cloth, a small ledger that I used to record city business…

And something cold. Something with edges that bit.

I frowned for a moment, as I didn’t remember what it could be. I closed my fingers over the object, and felt the strangely cool metal as I pulled it forth.

“What’s all this?” I pulled out a cunningly wrought brooch, sculpted in the shape of a raven with two glittering azure stones for eyes.  

Sefra had given it to me, not fully understanding the wicked little thing to be more than mere jewelry. She’d been indebted to some dangerous folk, and only did as they bid her. Later she’d warned me something might be off about the pin, and she had been right, sure as salt.

I’d all but forgotten it. My mind boggled at that thought, as the thing had only been given to me the month before.

I turned it over and peered at the small symbol on the back.

My vision swam.

A sharp sigil had been engraved there, a sharpened glyph that lurked in my sight. I couldn’t say its shape exactly as I found it impossible to look at for long.

“I do not believe in sorcery,” I muttered; the same words I’d spoken the first time I’d seen the symbol. Even at the time I’d thought it foolish, more defiance than denial.

Yet the facts remained. I had a more than passing suspicion that wearing the thing allowed some certain undesirables to ken my location. The problem with this supposition troubled me, however.

No art, science or philosophy that I knew of held such power.

“Could be all kinds of things,” I mumbled, trying to convince myself. Remnants of the Eld world hid in Teredon yet, talismans and whispers of technologies we would never understand.

This didn't have to be sorcery.  

For the thousand thousanth time, I considered disposing of it.

But no. The more I considered the small glam, the more I didn't want to. I liked the little pin, strangeness aside. I liked looking at it.

Liked holding it.

Yet I had forgotten it. I’d tossed it into the drawer, and the moment I had, the thing had entirely slipped my mind.

I turned it over in my hand and enjoyed the cunning flash of the raven’s eyes. I couldn’t help but muse at its hidden implications. I knew people I could take it to, Academ and Alchemin. I could even take it to one of the Scriveners at the Library of Ægedas, just to see if they had ever heard of such a thing.  

Yet somehow, I knew the truth. Showing the strange little bauble to someone else simply asked for trouble.

Unless associated with the strangeness of the bounds themselves, anything odd often became labeled as fell magics, malevolence from beyond the Shroud.

The resulting outcry could be as dangerous as actual sorcery, in my experience.  

“I should get rid of you,” I murmured. Even as I spoke, I shook my head.  

I couldn’t. I had no words for why, any more than a man might know why the moon called the tide.

It clattered as I tossed the pin back into the desk and resumed the search for an inkwell.  

Eventually I found one. I smiled, the shape of my reply already framed in my mind.

“Miss Eldreborn.” I grinned, already gleeful, and set my quill. “I would be most pleased to find you some manner of accompaniment for this evening. As an oathed judicar, it is my primary pleasure to see to the very important social needs of Teredon’s many, many spoiled young ladies.”  

I loved to tease Sefra. I couldn’t help but laugh as I imagined her wrinkled nose and feigned outrage.  

I didn’t give the pin another thought. Some mysteries could wait for another day.  

I had important matters to attend. 

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