Ghosts’ Prey, Chapter Eight, Part Two

Terstrum left four days later. He saddled up the mare Tersia had granted him and took with him five Ellinostrum men, including his younger brother Tersium. They rode out of the great gates without any ceremony, Terstrum forbidding even his sister to wave him off as he set his stony face to the north.

Harl, freed from his guest room by his discovery that his power could be put use in changing his face, listened in to the gossip that spread about the house in those days after. The maids were talking of their lord’s seemingly quick departure, speculating on a broken heart that Harl was certain of. Even Gregoris was drawn on a word or two about the young lord’s need for different company, admitting that Terstrum was in an ‘ill blood’ and needed time to be restored to his usual steadfastness.

Cole found his listening in to be amusing, wryly smiling every time Harl came back with another story of the house’s concerns. At first of course he’d been concerned about this new emergent power, but then he saw the benefit of being able to move about the house unnoticed, and beyond that, Emphon. They’d experimented with pushing the change into Cole as well, reversing the way Harl had drawn it from him after Tersia’s party. It worked well enough, but the change still faded over time and against Cole’s will, just as Tersia’s own drink of bastard god remains had done. Only Harl could maintain it in himself just by wanting to. But now they could revisit the city and remain unremarked upon.

“Why does it interest you?” Cole asked, the two of them walked the first crescent in the dark of night, dressed as two city-voln second crescent men. The walk was meant to be just for the air, to get away from the house and to breathe in the scents of the sea. But no one in their right bloody mind would visit the first crescent for the way the sea smelt. Increasingly the city was talking about a rankness in the crescent there, a lingering smell of something diseased. That impression was not helped by the remains of the Lion in Armour, left where they had settled. Wherever they walked Harl kept seeing its twin-mountains out of the corner of his eye; the bow and the stern upended in the water and left to moulder in the port’s sea water.

Harl shrugged at Cole’s question and focussed on it to move away from the ship’s corpse.

“I helped her. I feel responsible.” He ambled along with his fists struck deep in his pockets, but there was a fire within him. He held his fists there because his hands were shaking. They were doing it again. They were hunting for secrets.

“Can’t see why.” Huffed Cole, his eyes scanning the dark. They were the dark grey of a city-voln. The change made him bulkier, but his gruff, plain, way of talking was always the same.

Harl shrugged again. “I just do.”

“He would have left anyway.”

“Maybe we should do more than just tell out people’s secrets. We should help.”

Cole laughed darkly. “You daft romantic. Now me, I’m only bothered about staying alive. Sure as blood is blood.”

Harl looked at the tall man. Even in his city-voln form he was still tall, the height of him widened out but not taken away. His eyes were harder for Harl to read when they weren’t their usual forest green, but he saw the lie in them.

“You could have stayed in the house, stayed a woods-voln, if that were entirely true.”

“Yeah, well, gotta make sure you don’t get a knife in your gut while you’re out playing hero, ain’t I?” Cole laughed, “Though, could be worse. You could be more like that other romantic fool and be pining away in your room.”

He meant Alisaya. She’d taken to her room on Terstrum’s departure and would not leave. ‘Dresick’ had been in a few times to check on her and found her sitting at her window, staring out to the north, to where the third crescent and the city wall were replaced by farm-voln lands and then in the very far distance, the feet of the mountains. The direction Terstrum had planned to travel in. Tersia, sick with worry for her cousin, was also quiet and reserved even when she did bother to summon them from their rooms for her company in the solarium. And she had turned from her task of reuniting the crescents through elaborate parties. The entire house was greyer.

“I’d never be like that.” Harl said firmly. “I’d have gone after him.”

“Is that so? But then you aint a lady of status and position.”

“If I loved someone I’d give that all up for them.”

“Romantic.” Cole said pointedly, his naming of Harl not meant as a compliment.

Harl looked back to the carcass of the Lion in Armour, guilt rising in him. The few sea-voln that were about were either three sheets to the wind and sleeping it off, or watching from the decks of other great ships. Slave ships like the Lion in Armour. Emphon had not settled as Tersia had planned; without her attempts at reconciliation the entire city was still on a knife edge after the work of the prophets. The sea-voln who were on deck-guard were bristling with swords, polearms and roarers, and their suspicious eyes followed the two city-voln from above wherever they walked.

“I doubt we’ll find anything tonight.” Whispered Harl. “The city-voln are keeping to themselves and keeping their secrets close while the city is in trouble.”

“Find what?” Said Cole innocently, “I’m just admiring the star-voln.”

Harl nodded and was about to suggest a visit to the Cant while still in disguise, when across the first crescent a reddish light flared into life. At their distance it wasn’t much larger than the star-voln above them that Cole had been ‘admiring’. But its light was lower, reflecting across the slight ripples of the sea water in the first crescent before reaching them. Around the point of light they could just make out figures, arms raised.

“A torch?” Harl asked and Cole nodded, pulling the two of them back to a spot where crates were stacked. He drew Harl behind them with him. Above them the sea-voln aboard the waiting ship were stirring on deck, moving closer to try to make out what was happening, clicking metallic sounds suggesting they were readying weapons.

“Something is happening.” Whispered Cole, “We should get back to the house.”

But neither of them moved, the slightly bobbing light of the torch seeming to entrance them. The distance between them and the figures was great, but over the water and jetties a low muttering sound came. Chanting.

“Priests?”

Cole squinted, trying to use his duller city-voln eyes. “Maybe… But it’s dark and it’s cold. The priests’ll likely all be tucked up with their current whore and snoring.” He paused, sighed deeply and spoke again. “Prophets.”

A chill ran through Harl. What were they doing now?!

He darted out from their hiding place before Cole could react and ran as quickly as he could along the jetties. The torches of the crescent flickered as he sped past bringing a breeze with him, but he was barely in their light long enough to be spotted. He heard Cole’s muffled feet coming after him, and the man caught up with him when he took up another hiding place closer to the prophets.

“You fucking idiot!” Cole breathed, keeping his voice low. Harl placed a hand on his arm to quieten him, and the two of them watched the prophets, seeing now that they were chanting towards the water, surrounded by more figures in the dark. City-voln of the other crescents bearing basic weapons like staves and clubs.

“We call on you. Come!”

“Come!” Repeated the throng.

“Lios commands you. Come!”

“Come!”

“What are they…?” Harl was interrupted by the swelling of the black water in front of the crowd as something moved underneath.

“Lios!” Cried the crowd in exultation, although there were a few city-voln who stepped back warily from the edge of their jetty.

“By the gods!” Hissed Harl, “They’re summoning the ghost?!”

“We’re going! Now!!” Cole grabbed his hand and pulled him after him as they ran down the wooden planks of the crescent towards the nearest point of contact with the second crescent. At the same moment that their feet touched the flagstones of the second crescent the ghost erupted from the water and swamped the watchers, flinging them to either side. It recoiled and darted for the nearest prophet, swallowing him whole, before turning on the Emphon city-voln who screamed and threw pitiful weapons at it. Sea-voln charged from their ships, joining in the battle. The ghost turned from the city-voln and charged at the nearest ship, swirling about its sides before racing across its deck and dashing lanterns and torches against their wood and catching them alight. Harl and Cole looked back as the fire grew, aghast as a prophet stood again and wailed out a word, pointing at the burning ship.

“Judgement!”

Other city-voln turned from their fear to raise their weapons against the sea-voln who’d come to their aid. More torches were lit on the hull of the burning ship, and the throng of second city-voln became a mob, beating down on the heads of the sea-voln and flecking themselves with their blood.

Harl pulled at Cole’s arm and they fled back through the winding streets of the second crescent. They passed curious night-walkers heading towards the growing glow in the first crescent, a few realising what it would mean and running with empty buckets to lend aid. Second crescent was more than half built out of the corpses of ships. A fire in the dock meant a fire all the way up to the third crescent where mountain stone took over.

Breath was pushed from Harl as a sudden roar echoed out from the first crescent. He was dumb struck for a moment before Cole shouted at him.

“Roarer powder catching!” The tall man shook his head, regaining his own footing and pulling Harl with him. “There’ll be more of those. We need to get back to the Ellinostrum estate!”

There were more people on the streets then, flowing from the second crescent houses and running in the other direction to Cole and Harl. Then suddenly the flow of people pressing against them reversed, and they found themselves running alongside the others, all heading to the third crescent through shops and taverns, their bubbled glass windows reflecting the glowing red coming on their heels from the harbour.

Breathless Harl and Cole ran past the Cant, hardly even realising that they’d made it to the tavern’s neighbour, their own home. Some patrons were trickling out and Harl recognised Lorus Pierson, the scribe. But then the flow of people swept up the new comers and the two woods-voln in disguise were pushed on towards the third quarter. They managed to push against the flow to sneak around to the servant’s entrance. Cole had long mastered the knack of the lock on the door, and they were soon in and breathing heavily.

“We have to alert the house!” Harl panted.

“I don’t think we need to.”

The frantic sound of running feet and shouting then came to him, once the blood had stopped pounding in his ears. The two of them joined the panicked servants and made their way upwards towards Tersia’s apartment. Ellinostrum guards made to stop them but Alisaya came running up the corridor towards them and demanded that they be let in. She was a pale and unkempt figure, but she recognised ‘Dresick’ and summoned what strength she had to put on her severest Ellinostrum voice and get them in. Tersia was framed by red light at a large window with a seat beneath it, her pale blue dress turned scab brown in the light. She turned to them with haunted eyes, her mouth opening uselessly as her cousin swept to her side and buried her head in her arms.

“I… I… should have been…” She murmured into Alisaya’s hair. “I could have…”

Cole ran to the window and his face was eerily lit by the flames. “Gods damn them!” He cursed, not caring who heard his blasphemy. “They’ve bringing the flames up into the second crescent!”

Harl went to see what he meant. Looking out over Emphon’s twisting streets he saw great snakes of fire coming towards them. He relinquished his city-voln disguise to use his sharper woods-voln eyes to make out that they weren’t great beasts of flame, but lines of city-voln holding torches. First crescent was gone into flame, and the prophets were marching the faithful into the second crescent and then on to the third.

“We have to leave!” He said, grabbing at Tersia’s shoulder and pulling her from her cousin. “We cannot stay!”

She looked at him with blearing, tear stained eyes, recognising him finally. Alisaya looked up at him as well and gasped at the woods-voln standing before her, pulling the edges of her over-shift about her protectively.

“Where can we go?!” Tersia asked.

“North.” Said Alisaya.

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