For the first part go here.
The war has ravaged the land. The tunnels & canals that run through the city have even formed icicles of melted brick, drippings of stone formed under the barrage of heat from the ornithopters before they were dealt with. Still, there are other fiery ruins, for the sticky, sputtering fire is hosed out by the infantry, & their whistling, shrieking rockets that explode in showers of sparks have touched the land with scars of dark tar & fire. Even the rivers have run with the colours of war. It has been a terrible cost, but against all odds your desperate measures have held the Horde at bay. The Baroni Corvulus Crucious even confides in you that it is his belief that the fires, the ash, the blood--- all will water the fields, & there will be a rebirth for Malake, a new flowering. The Horde may be inhuman in their war, but they haven't taken to salting the fields. There has almost settled in a new status quo, under the constant stress, anxiety, & threat. Soldiers may go forth to war suddenly! Enemies may attack in a flash! But you live lives; as you must.
There are things afoot in the city, however, that defy common sense. Missing people, mysteriously mutilated bodies, blood-drained corpses. At first these things are attributed to the overall chaos & entropy of the situation, a sorry side effect of the battle. Then, as the crimes continue, they are blamed on the Fanatics-- the Horde's lunatic, almost walking dead obsessive terrorists. Efforts to crack down on these break-ins to the City (spearheaded by Dragonfly, Demilion, Crucious, & the Doge's theme of Sea-wolf) become more effective-- literal & figurative dragnets, traps, fortifications, & interior patrols, as well as armed marine troops (many of them women, pearl divers from the north who have found new employment) swimming, patroling the canals. As these tactics bear fruit in the form of curtailing invasion, the cases continue-- & are not strictly limited to humans. A horse, & several of the seals (common once, but rare in this time of troubles) have been found with their organs torn out, devoured. Your friend Gaspar examines the corpses-- informing you that these animals appear to have been killed in varying fashions but their post-mortum wounds were done by human hands, human teeth. Something is clearly prowling Malake's canals & themes. Gaspar begins strictly stabling his Zebron, making sure he is not accesable to such preadation. An artist, taking the witness of someone who says they saw a young boy feeding from the dead horse, draws a picture, distributing copies of it on the back of propaganda fliers (spare paper!). In it, he conflates the rumor of the boy with the stories of bloodless corpses, of dead people found drained, absent of any vital sanguine humor-- still, this is the image that takes hold in the mind of the populance.
Speaking of your friend the Ghoul-- he has a notable moment of heroism in all this. Content during most of the war to stay within Malake, he is kept busy-- very busy, in fact. The dead are brought home, & Gaspar is primary among those dealing with the dead of the City. The Synod takes the majority of their dead, & their priests are well involved in rites of mourning, but everyone knows an expert; in fact, you slowly, by spans & cubits, become aware that he is not the lone ghoul of the city. Others have come, too-- some mumble against them, saying they've descended like a flock of carrion birds, but most are glad, realizing that the city would swell with dead where it not for the ghoul's ministrations. They take the bodies into the depths of the black glass Themes, preparing them with salves, preservatives, anti-decaying treatments, embalming, removing organs but keeping them with the bodies-- in general, mummifying them according to tradition, & then secreting them in catacombs, in enclaves where they can wait till the end of the world to be perfected again. Sometimes, when the Horde's forces are screaming like the dead, women & children rushing in with suicidal abandon to try to tear apart bunkers of musketeers, to break the charge of some Aristo cavalry, it almost seems like the end of days can't be far.
The ghouls earn the respect of the troops (of all stripes, besides perhaps goblin) in a peculiar incident. One morning, as the sun rises ("23 minutes late," Balthazar muses), a tower is visible; a building not present when night fell, sitting astride a hill the Shining Horde had occupied by force at nightfal, but now abandoned. When spyglasses & telescopes are brought forth, it appears horrifically to be made of bundled together-- stitched?-- bodies. The dead, defiled, & not just piled into a rough heap but painstakingly lashed to each other. Deadman D'Eivonn & the others are furious; they mount up on striped horses, on shaggy horses with necks as long as their body, & ride out, without consulting anyone. Impromptu squads form up around them, Synod Hussars, Malake cavaliers, but they read the Tower of the Dead with no cause. &-- without laying hand on it-- ride back. Odd! When they return, they explain: it was not a pillar of corpses, as they feared, but rather statues. Busts, figures, art, memorials-- copies of the human form of all shapes & sizes broken & placed into a column. Still-- the memory of the ghoul's bravery sticks in everyone's mind--as do fears of supernatural serial killers.
Balthazar's insistence that the goblins below represent an untapped resource resonates with the Doge, & the Dux's representatives, especially after seeing the Goblin Sappers working with the Synod; they usually work after dark, & you are all sure that they cause as much harm to their own ranks as they do to the enemies, but it is damned impressive-- from the ingenius shrapnal they throw to the very charges you used to destroy the ornithopter. So, with all due pomp, the Doge comissions an envoy, under the official aegis of Balthazar, to meet with the goblins, & make treaty with them. The nobility send Lorelai as their representative; the Church (in the guise of the Soverign See) send Damocles.
Balthazar beings by sending heralds, of a sort: Lorelai jokes about "fishing for goblins," as the process involves some of the techniques used to hunt for sharks. Chumming, bells & whistles, storm drains & stray dogs, words painted on hermit crab shells. Bowls of sour milk, maggots baked into bread, animal bones ground up & mixed with corn. The replies are not pleasant; a Scar from the Shining Horde is taken prisoner & his jailers find part of a message carved into his back. A toilet overflows with sewage & effluvia...then blood & worms....then finally black beetles which climb out & onto the walls into the patterns of words. Rotten fruit filled with repugnant gasses, almost like a bloated corpse, with the seeds carved into letters. At long last you negotiate a meeting below the Theme the goblin's have occupied-- the Increscent Theme. They moved in & you haven't heard a peep from them since, until now. The room is one of weights & chains, hanging from the ceiling. Or at least you presume there is a ceiling-- you've come to a deep place of the Urth, stalked all the while by bright, lidless eyes.
You aren't sure how many goblins are in the room; the slink in, accompanied only by the sound of flapping feet. They lurk at the fringes of darkness, hidden from all your eyes besides Baltazar's star-blessed (or cursed) senses. Four come into the circle of light, heralded by hideous shrieks from the goblins, clashing of metal & braying of trumpets. In the clash & clutter, the counterweights above you shake & move, despite their heft & thickness. There is a great deal of speaking next; introductions, a constant stream of malediction of titles. "The Right Inhonorable Inhorrible Skullcandler, Hiz excellency of Gougeprick" (an eyeless terror); "Piss-porridge Gougeprick's Favorite Son, Frailbiter the Knifey Junior" (horned & pale); "Imperial Assayer of Lofty Heaven & Rubbishbin Hell, Commissoner of Goodthink" (green & lavished with armor & jewels) & "Sargentlemen Fisklechick of the Imperial Secret Police" (a all-too canny look to his noseless face). The "honorifics" go on & on, & Balthazar doesnt spare you them-- you are astonished at the filthy terms of endearment he comes up with in a game of brinksmanship with the goblins.
Negotiations are...stressful. Balthazar underlined the importance of following his lead; but for all that, guns & swords are drawn, waved! Not just between you humans & the goblins, but between the goblins. Threats are made in quiet, serious voices; personal, professional, against families, loved ones, gods. Lies are told, increasingly outrageous. Blood is spilled-- pricked fingers-- mingled, & oaths made & discarded. Alliances shift from sentence to sentence. You eventually agree upon terms-- strange terms! The Doge & the Dux have authorized you as their agents, & you create another amendment, or addition, to the Aurelia Carta-- this the Aurelia Catena, the Golden Chain, so named for the room you sign under (the goblins with hideous heiroglyphs). They give you three Ceremonial Cleavers, as a sign of your participation, asking in exchange threads of your hair.
I. That, upon each member of the Aristos coming of age, a goblin (chosen by the goblin) be allowed to "pitch woo" at them at least once.
II. A system of conduct for the Nobility to hire guards of Goblinilk, including prices & conditions for dismissal.
III. Custodianship (NOT ownership, which the goblins vehemently seek) of the depths of Malake below a certain VERY deep point.
IV. Gifts of Tribute from the Doge to the "Hegemon of the Gougeprick" & to "The Great Emperor of the Hegemony"
V. An official area for a Goblinmarket, wherein guns, weapons, tick-tocks, booms, fruits, gleams, & "other sundry" (said with a twinkle) can be traded.
Wilhemina Incarnadine if having her face painted & hair coiffed when Damocles goes in to see her, as she requested you do. Her legs lay out & her dressed hitched up; she is immodest, of course, in the true cosmopolitan fashion of Malake. She speaks openly in front of the man doing her make-up. There is small talk, of course, & proper courtesy, but herein is the gist:
"Damocles, dear son of Lux, hello. Thank you for coming to see me; I know you are busy seeing to the offense & defense of the city. Let me not detain you any longer than I must, & speak plainly & to my point. With the advent of the Soverign See here in Malake, it is my earnest hope that your vision for a City laboring for both Man & God can be realized. Of course, any ship requires steady hands on the tillar; & a crew to serve each purpose. A navigator, a helmsman, a chief, so forth."
"I have a simple proposal for you. Be part of the See with me. I've spoken, in due confidence, with the Doge-- I hope I wasn't over-stepping my bounds, but I wanted to discuss it with him before I brought the matter to your attention. I have my supporters & my detractors-- as I'm sure you do as well. I doubt those overlap however. Join with me. Step away from the Doge-- renounce your Ell Wand. Not in anger! I should have said Resign. Resign your comission under the Doge, & take Holy Orders. Cleave to the Church, & the City, in the body of the Soverign See. You won't be alienating Fleance; I'm sure he sees the benefit of diversifying his allies, as per our discussion. You can avoid any moral entanglements, while embracing your faith!"
"Don't you see? You can serve God & Man, you can help the City & the Church. There is only one real practical concern. You would need Holy Orders. I have some idea of your purpose as an inquisitor & witch-hunter. Both honorable positions. & I have heard tell from the many rumors surrounding you that you were raised in a monastary. I submit to you this: become a Hashashin. Become a warrior for Lux Unconquered. Return to your sept, your monastary home, with all due haste. Take your adopted s...take your friend along, the boy Mathio. Swear Holy Orders in your sept's monastary, undergo whatever secret rituals the Hashashin offer you. Go to the Synod, go into the embrace of the Church. Allay any suspicions the conservative might have. & then return, in haste."
"Together we can make a new path for the Church of Lux Invictus, Damocles. Will you?"
Lorelai has been through a great deal; but if anyone can say they've grown to the challenges around them, Lorelai is it. Dragonfly is like a map of her life since she left Englezark. Left-- such a nice word for it. Was sold, along with her brother, to save the rest of her family. Walking the crossed spars, the levels devlving beneath the river, she can say man places of memory; the old a palmpset beneath the new. In this alcove she pulled one of the Drakes, saving him from some minor falling debris during a strafing run by the Horde's ornithopters. It wasn't too long ago that she was pulled into that alcove by the hands of one of Airvanthe's "friends" for clumsy kisses & brutish fumbling at her breasts. Then here, in this hall-- she chased some of the Theme's children with Balthazar-- was it Unus & Duo? Or Septimus &...oh, who can keep them straight? Again, when the Theme was The Noble Airvanthe of the Golden Nirvana's, she was made to parade up it, naked, to let him check the soles of her feet, or her teeth, as though she was a broken horse. & so on; everywhere the twin strands of life, wrapped around each other. The memories could mingle-- mix-- but they don't. Because this isn't Airvanthe's Theme. This isn't his Dragonfly. It is yours. By your claim. By more than just the Doge's paper, or the Dux's permission, but in fact, in truth. You are Lorelai of Dragonfly, & Dragonfly is Lorelai's. & so, at least in part, is this whole City-- as you prayed for, it has so far has the Fortitude to stand against the Horde.
An invitation to the Malleus manor isn't out of place. The formality of the writing is hard for you to puzzle out; Octavia has spared no courtesy for you, not knowing how difficult it makes picking out the words. Still, the gist of it is easy enough for you to suss out; she'd like you to come to her Manse, & meet with some friends of hers. Friends of yours, she says, too, but that doesn't make any sense-- it must be Noble-speak for them having good intentions towards you.
& so you go, with a smal honor guard of Drakes. You take a black-cabined gondola out to see the Baronessa, calling on her for twilight cocktails & supper. Whatever that might mean. A small shiver crosses your shoulder as you travel on the water, as you hope there are no machinations of the fishy (or more to the point, fish-blood) variety afoot this evening. Your Drakes (yours & Damocles & Mathios & Balthazars-- you've all had a hand in them, in this) stand quietly by you, just enough to guard you without jeapordizing the safety of the Theme. The light scintilates along their laquered scale armor, not reflective but catching the light almost as a jewel might.
You are aware, perpetually aware, of the stunted, dwarflike servants that Octavia keeps (more properly, that the Malleus line keeps). They mostly stay out of sight, but you can hear them scurry in the jungle as you approach, opening tiny doors & using dumbwaiters for elevators in the house. Your newfound empathy for your fellow man tells you this is their way of being respectful; letting you know where they are means they welcome you in; as much as the feral madthings are capable of. Lorelai's dealt with goblins-- she's seen worse. Octavia's appearance is a shock to her blase acceptence of the Manor's oddity, at least at first. She seems soot soaked, mussed, wild. On closer look, she's clean, in couture clothing, but...disheveled. Mascara streaked-- with tears? Or purposefully? Or hell, with purposeful tears, maybe. Grungey. But still, in her strange way, beautiful. She looks at you with that half-caring obsession; how can she do that? Be so off puttingly on & off, at the same time?
Her guests are visions of emerald. Plucked from the earth & polished, & you know enough of their dress, their look, & their speech to judge them to be from Lalala. You can't guess what exactly they are here for, of course, but you remember that your treatment as a noble, from the first, started there. The two girls in green appear to be sisters-- you'd say twins except one seems older than the other, though they look nearly identical. Octavia has her Acolytes of the Box serve you all absinthe, sugar cube & slotted spoon, & introduces the two girls as "Lalia & Lalia. They are both Demoselles. Girls, this is the Baronetta." Octavia slumps on her chair, sprawled across the back, bored of it all. When the girls speak, it is in steps, finishing each other's sentences.
"Hello (hello) Baronetta."
The girls want to speak with you, at some length, about...well, about nobility. They say that Mempsimoru (whom they refer to as "The Velvet Hierarch") spoke to them about you, but that "The Monarchs already were well appraised of the situation. With you & your brother, blood & bone, & Seraphina Triune."
"We-- that is, we those who cleave to-- the Twin Monarchs-- know that there are others. Like them-- the Twin Monarchs-- but apart from this place. Across the Sea-- silver, green, blue, the Orobrous River, the Sea that circles the world-- there are places filled with them. Exalted ones. Kings & Queens like-- like living myths-- who rule with supernatural-- deftness. We think-- we are led to understand-- that they were here, too once. That the Eld (OOC: a cycle of legends, like the Arthurian tales, or old Bible myths, about magical kings & quests & such) was the last of them-- except for the Two Monarchs."
"It is given to us to know-- through means & seeking-- that you may be-- wrapped up in these events. We-- want to help-- you. To sort-- through any confusion-- & see if we can-- discover the truth of affairs. Will you trust us?"