Friday, 11 May 2018

+ Inload: Wandering off the Map +

+ Inload: Wandering off the Map +

The City was in turmoil. In the past week, the so-called ‘loyalists’ to the newly incumbent ‘Sun King’ and the partisans of the deposed and renegade Houses had readily begun to tear the city apart. This was not the glorious war as seen on the battlefields of far-flung worlds, these were down and dirty skirmishes, sporadic and sudden whirlwinds of violence that culminated in the dying bleeding out in the shit and the mud. Buildings were looted and ravaged wholesale by fire so that many streets were now choked with smoke and the acrid tang of burning wood. An early autumn was already fraying the edges of summer, with the haruspices and meteorologicii predicting a bitter winter; if the fighting didn’t stop soon, the cold will claim the lives of those without shelter. Assuming the war or the eventual plague and famine didn’t first.

Baskerville leant with his back against the wall, glaring sideways into the street below through the dirt-obscured first-floor window. Thankfully, the soldiers from either coalition had yet to grace this particular borough, but they were so close now he could hear the clash and crack of their weapons from a few streets away. He cleared his throat gently, if just to remind his companion that he was still there and murmured, “We should have left this world weeks ago.”

“You know full well we couldn’t,” his companion countered in a tired feminine voice, “we were sent here to catalogue the bloodlines for the Mistress. If we had left before it was complete then all those months of research would have been in vain.”

“Given the circumstances, especially with the planetary governor supplanted, by an outsider no less, would make all our research null anyway.”

Sister Martinsthorpe sighed, conceding the point, “caught between a bulkhead and the void.”

Baskerville shifted slightly as the sound of a blackpowder rifle firing reverberated too close to their refuge, his burgundy leather stillsuit almost blending into the wooden beams behind him. An ornate laslock pistol was in his hands in an instant. Their refuge in question was an abandoned single-storey shop belonging to what they had guessed was a cartographer. The owner’s study on the first floor, where they were currently sheltered, was in complete disarray; finished and half-completed maps covered nigh on every available surface. Some of the smaller ones were rolled into pigeonholes, the larger ones crammed into upright stands. Some detailed only the districts of The City, others represented whole swathes of Cepheus.

“We can’t stay here any longer, Sister.” Baskerville rumbled.

“Here in this building, or here on Cepheus?” Martinsthorpe enquired sardonically, as she sifted through some of the more manageably-sized maps at the drawing desk. The sudden sounds of running and shouting from outside drew Baskerville’s attention away from her for a moment. The evening was drawing in, casting the study in a dull orange hue.

“Both. That red ‘X’ I put on the door will only deter looters for so long.” He finally stated. “Maybe we can last another night here, but then we will have to move on.”

“Move onto where!?” Martinsthorpe hissed sternly, slamming a fist down to punctuate her words. “With the only port offworld currently prohibiting egress, we’re stuck here. And with the war escalating, I doubt there will be anywhere safe left in The City before long. Plus our coffers have practically dwindled to nothing and since some of the Houses have been ousted, it’s becoming more dangerous to be an offworlder amongst the locals.”

“Caught between a bulkhead and the void.” Muttered Baskerville, echoing her earlier words.

“The only solution I can conceive of is to lie low until this sorry affair concludes,” she continued undeterred. “That’s not so much an issue for me as there are a few convents on the far boarders of The City, but they would not admit men under any circumstances.”

“I’ll be fine,” he said reassuringly. “I can disappear into the masses much easier without having to chaperone you.”

“You’ll have to try and stay out of the city, Stretton,” Martinsthorpe stated firmly. “Our Mistress was insistent upon being clandestine and it’d be far too easy to get caught up in these events. Find somewhere remote to sit this out, somewhere like….” She paused and shuffled through the maps again. “….ah, Cauldshollow, a small fishing village it seems, a few miles south of the Gerasene Caldera…”

Baskerville noticed Martinsthorpe had drifted off again into thoughtful silence and raised an eyebrow as she shot up off her chair and stalked over to the solitary bookcase that groaned under the weight of several heavy encyclopaedic tomes. She selected one from the middle and returned to her seat, flicking through a number of pages before settling one and reading aloud;

“The Gerasene Caldera measures thirty miles in diameter and has been dormant for over eight-thousand years, yes, this could work,” Martinsthorpe muttered to herself before slamming the book closed with a muted thump. “Stretton, I need you to be at Cauldshollow within three months and wait for the falling star; I’m bringing our Mistress to Cepheus.”