This is the third Seusea tale – it follows on from here though reading that isn’t wholly necessary. Note: Oloi is the country, and Oloii is the adjective/genitive of that country.
It was a cold evening in Sirasau. Seusea, born to the tropics, shivered in front of the huge fire in the inn’s common room, and believed she would never be warm again. Nearby, her four companions sat about a table, drinking and chatting among themselves quietly.
She watched them for a spell, musing on the circumstances that had brought them together all those months ago in the southern Three Rivers, and the adventures they shared since then.
In spite of the attraction and friendship she felt for them, her heart was leagues away, and somewhere far warmer. A man dwelt in a stone castle, whose architecture was at odds with the style of the city around it. Isolated, and yet a vital part of Myre’s machinery. Thenson Trowheald was within that castle, and to him Seusea’s heart belonged.
It was a yearning like no other. But, fate and the inconstant ways of Irtys had ensured Seusea and Thenson remained at arm’s distance.
She had scores to settle too, and Seusea looked forward to the day her and her companions sailed south to Logisorde. From there, she would go inland to Kilvisti, and then down the Ursith River until she reached her home town.
Then there would be a reckoning. Sighing, she left the fireside and returned to her companions. ‘I never did tell you gentlemen why I was a prisoner of the Hand, did I?’
‘I know there was a swain involved,’ Jorad said.
‘There was, and still is.’
‘Pining for a man ain’t good for your health,’ Quoone commented.
‘Hist, I don’t pine for him!’ Seusea retorted. She blushed slightly and chewed a lip. ‘Well, I guess I do.’ In response to to Horoth’s chuckling, she sighed again. ‘All right, I do pine for him.’
‘Still not good for your health,’ Quoone said.
‘I can tell you how true that is, so I will.’
The night I left Trowheald Castle, I was elated. I got to see Thenson Trowheald, and I let him know the state of my heart. After having that pent up for so long, I was relieved, and the feeling was nearly ecstatic. More, I knew that seeing him again was a firm likelihood, and it was just as firm that other things would happen on our next meeting.
I lived in a part of Myre called Hired Skull, and no gentlemen, I don’t know why it’s called that. I’ve heard tales, as have all Societors, but as for the name’s origin, only Ydrys knows. Hired Skull is several miles as a bat flies from Trowheald Castle, and a mile further by the labyrinthine streets that make up the thoroughfares in my city. I am Hallilan, and I have nothing to fear from the shadows of Myre, and yet that night, I was inattentive of my surroundings. My mind was elsewhere.
I had just crossed the bridge from Mill Island and into Dintont Point when she got me. Dintont Point is a wealthy part of Myre, and the night before this tale takes place, I had an interesting adventure there.
I was blithely following a train of carts, pig carriers from the smell, and so didn’t see or hear my assailant as she threw a hood over my head. It was coated in some kind of soporific as I was unconscious before I hit the ground. I came to slung over a man’s shoulder, the hood tied around my neck. My ankles and wrists were bound, and the knots were evidently tied by someone familiar with the craft as they would not give at all.
From footsteps, there were two other people with us, one with a softer tread than the other. The woman who’d caught me gave my rump a light pat.
‘She’s awake. I was hoping it’d last until we got her to the fane.’
Bosvaran here has encountered a mesmerist and lived to impart the tale. One quality they have is precise and clear diction. They are the most eloquent fuckers in the world, and the women who practise the art of shadow even more so. They speak so well I’ve heard it said they could talk the sun out of his heat. Itanu is this particular mesmerist’s name, and I vow to Chon and Cydain that on our next meeting, only one of us will walk away from it.
‘The Tavern is just here,’ said the fellow carrying me, whose name is Sponnand Merene. ‘Once we’re inside, she can squawk as much as her little thief lungs will allow her to.’
I gave an almighty shake then, and fell off Sponnand’s shoulder. I landed on rough compacted earth and winded myself. Someone laughed, probably Sponnand, and I was hauled up to his shoulders again. My left side was livid with pain, and my eyes were ringing from the aftereffects of the soporific.
The sounds of nocturnal Myre were replaced by noises I knew very well – the echoing of the tenebrae, the sewers of our city. I even knew what entrance they had taken me into, as there is only one on Trowheald Island. No, I correct myself, there is another, but until that night, I didn’t know that entrance existed.
I was placed on my feet, my ankle binds cut away, and the hood removed from my face. A woman an inch or two shorter than me drifted into my sight, holding up a storm lantern. Itanu’s heritage is Dialesian – from Port Diales – a town to Myre’s west. Their women are uncommonly beautiful, and Itanu was no exception. A lot of Dialesian women wear their hair so short as to be practically bald, and Itanu’s hair was a minuscule stubble on her round head. Her devilishly black eyes were staring at me, a wicked and masterful humour to them.
‘Here’s the poppet who can traipse her way into a magical interdiction and not be taken by it. Are you wearing a periapt or a token of some sort?’
‘No,’ I answered.
‘You’re no sorceress, so how did you pull off that trick then?’
‘Maybe I’m gifted.’
The intensity of her gaze hardened, and I could feel her odylic energy wash over me. She was trying to ensnare my will, and the abrupt change in those eyes told me, with some satisfaction, that her mesmerism was wasted on me.
‘By Ii’s charity, you have an immunity. You must be wearing something. Strip her.’
So in the dank dark of a tenebra, I was reduced to pitiful nakedness. There I stood while Itanu rifled through my leathers, carefully examining my poniard and other effects. I have to grant Itanu some credit, as she immediately ordered me to dress when she learned I was carrying nothing like what she suspected.
‘Is it innate?’ she asked.
‘How remarkable. Strange that word of you hasn’t reached our ears yet. No matter, you’re ours now.’ She turned the beam of the lantern down the tenebra. ‘I can only hope we don’t encounter any of your fellow thieves tonight.’ She flashed a dazzling grin at me. ‘I wouldn’t want to kill any of your friends.’
‘You are in our realm,’ I said.
‘You say that with some pride,’ she responded. ‘That it’s a thing of respect to call a place of dross and waste a realm. But such are the ways of the doughty Hallilan of Myre. The best sewer rats to be found anywhere in the Three Rivers.’
‘You may mock.’
‘Your kind deserve nothing but mockery’, she sneered. ‘But you are exceptional, even for a sewer rat. A little rodent that finds her way into the forbidden Warrens, then trespasses on hallowed ground where she is certainly not welcome.’
‘Hallowed ground that belongs to some outlander goddess.’
That made her laugh. ‘Oh, the misbegotten Societor, who think the Coterie are theirs and theirs alone. Dear little mouse, Cydain is as much outlander as Etesi. Myre owns no gods, and no gods care for Myre. Your Hielachs believe Ydrys favours them and this city above all others, but they too are fools living in a delusion. Etesi was here in Myre long before any man or woman, and will be here after the swamp rightfully claims this pesthole.’ She waved her free hand. ‘Come.’
I was prodded down the mouldy floor of the tenebra, Itanu’s lantern casting spectral shadows on the old walls. My ears are attuned to the confines of such places yet I heard nothing. It was not often that our kind roamed the byways beneath Trowheald Island, mostly out of respect to the Trowhealds, and tonight, I heard nobody but ourselves.
One of my other captors came into view. He was slight man in grey stevedore’s raiment, and bald save for a long plaited rat’s tail. He glanced at me, and I got a nervous smile for my trouble. This was Yuill Drivandad, faithful servant to both Etesi and Gladei Merene, and a hanger-on of the useful idiot variety.
‘Have your sept all moved to Port Ofrei?’ I asked him.
‘A few of us still remain,’ was the quiet answer.
The Drivandads are one of the Five Septs of Myre, the first families, and while the Trowhealds and Flamisteads are still prominent in Myre affairs, the Drivandad glories are very much historical. Here was one of their scions, a traitor to Myre and a dogsbody for a priestess of a foreign cult.
‘Maybe you should join them,’ I said. ‘It’d be more honourable than dickering for these antemery.’
‘The thief talks about honour,’ Itanu said from in front of us. ‘The skulker in the sewers, who waylays the drunks of Myre in the back alleys of Old Town, and has the temerity to call us antemery. Dialesian by descent I may be, but I have lived here all of my life, as have my companions, who are Societors true. There are no antemery here.’
‘Myre is my home,’ Yuill said. ‘I have no other.’
‘Associate with better company then,’ I said.
‘Such as the Hallilan?’ Itanu asked. ‘Be quiet, woman. You are being a complete and utter fool.’
‘I’m surprised she hasn’t begged for her freedom,’ said the other male captor, the one who carried me. This was Sponnand Merene, a big hulking bolar-ox of a man, with as much intellect. Like Yuill, his purported employment was as a stevedore, but in reality, he served the goddess Etesi through his sister Gladei, mostly as her brawn. Another dogsbody.
‘I don’t beg,’ I said.
‘Perhaps you will soon,’ Itanu said. ‘I said be quiet, and that applies to all of you. Her kind could be prowling these halls tonight.’
As we went, I started to test my wrist bonds. I knew if I could get my hands free, these louts would never catch me there in the sewers. I knew them better than they did, and this time I would not allow daydreaming to cloud my attention.
Then their lives would be forfeit. The Hallilan neither forgive nor forget.
We came to a Y-junction. The left path, as I knew, was a dead end. The right looped its way around circuitously to meet up with the passage behind us through a concealed doorway. To my interest, Itanu took the left path, her steps now more careful than what they were. It was like she was counting out her paces.
We stopped, and Itanu faced the damp brickwork of the tenebra. Squinting in the lantern-light, she gently tapped on various points on the bricks, and stood back smiling as a section of the wall swivelled open. ‘I’d wager you larcenists didn’t know this was here, no?’
‘She must do,’ Yuill said. ‘How else did she get into the Warrens?’
‘Oh, there’s more than one way, am I right?’
‘There’s always more than one way,’ I said. ‘More than one way to do anything.’
‘That’s mostly true, yes,’ Itanu said. ‘I’d say however, that you aren’t the only thief to know about the Warrens. There would be others, and your estimable Smikey would be one who knows. Smikey the thief king, lord of the sewer rats. Chief of the Hallilan backstabbers.’
‘He’d be interested to hear your appraisal of him,’ I said.
‘He wouldn’t survive the meeting,’ Itanu said flatly. ‘I’d have him cutting his own throat before a minute was up. Hurry now, we’re nearly to our destination.’
I was ushered through the door and into the Warrens. The air became instantly cooler and drier. Itanu deftly closed the door behind us and confidently set off down the higher and wider corridor. ‘I wonder, little mouse, did you teach the kateans how to come down here? We’re forever finding them dead.’
‘Perhaps they want to join your death cult. Good only for kateans and kerrips.’
Itanu spun about, and I thought I was going to wear her backhand, but she merely settled for glaring at me. ‘Be grateful someone else wants you alive.’
‘Really?’ I asked. ‘It’s amusing that someone so diminutive as you has the nerve to call me a mouse. What does that make you? A shrew?’
That drew an automatic, yet hurriedly stifled laugh from Sponnand behind me.
Itanu’s response to that was a pained smile, but I could sense the heat burning behind her dark eyes. We both made enemies that night, that’s for certain.
We set off again, down corridors I traversed earlier that evening. We came to a heavy iron door, that Yuill unlocked with a long key. Then I was shoved inside, and the door secured behind me. From the lack of echo I guessed I was in a room that had furnishings.
I was right. Before I even tried to assay my surroundings, I stumbled stomach-first into a wooden table. My feet touched the legs of a chair, and I edged myself down into it. Whatever fate was coming my way, I figured I should at least have a modicum of rest.
There I stayed for an indeterminate period. I was dozing when the door was thrown open, and Sponnand roughly lifted me from the chair and propelled me outside.
‘I would’ve got up and walked, had you asked,’ I protested to the lout.
‘More fun this way,’ he says. ‘Hopefully Gladei lets me have you when she’s done.’
After my unsavoury encounter with Toranth last night, the prospect of this lunk getting his way with me was sickening. ‘Oh, she isn’t going to kill me outright?’
‘She might yet, but I think she has something else planned for a little burglar like you.’
‘You’ll think so.’
We went through the ancient, dry halls of the Warrens. The corridors were as still and quiet as any tomb, and I would’ve been of a mind to pay some of the odd pictograms on the walls further attention had I not been a prisoner. Sponnand didn’t even allow me the courtesy of a second glance.
There’s something unsettling and strange about the Warrens. An alienness clung to them, and I wondered why they were constructed. I’ll probably never know. The ways and aims of the Attuned Wind are inscrutable.
We arrived at the fane I’d stumbled across earlier in the evening. Itanu was there, as was Yuill, who stood irresolutely in the background. Two cressets lit this ordinarily dull chamber, and I was tied to an iron rod that was placed near one.
The far door opened, the one I’d come in from last night, and in swept the elegant form of Gladei Merene. With a casual wave, she dismissed her followers and took a seat on a stool near me, smoking her tabacit quietly.
When they were gone, she fixed me with her blue eyes, now rendered the colour of dark sea water in the dim light. ‘Aren’t you the redoubtable meddler? What did you hope to achieve by making yourself known to the Clanmaster.’
‘Him,’ I answered. I saw no need to lie. Lies sing out with a loud voice to mesmerists, which I thought Gladei was. It turns out she is a Dyne, of the same cut and make as the Hand.
‘A Hallilan murderer with a romantic bent. That’s novel. You may have noticed that the Clanmaster is currently a taken man.’ Her expression darkened, and some of her tabacit smoke drifted into my face. ‘By someone of much superior quality to yourself.’
‘Who would that be? I’d love to meet her.’
Whack! A lovely, sharp slap that managed to get my eyes watering. Gladei sits back down on her stool, her mouth pursed. ‘You have no idea how tenuous your life is right now. If my mistress was prepared to accept your blood, you be gasping on the ground yonder, muttering your last words. You dared to trespass in our most holy place, and then had the audacity to attempt supplanting me in the Clanmaster’s favour. Not a modest individual, are you?’
‘He knows of this place, and of you. It’s only time before the Hielachs come and put an end to you and your cult.’ I met the woman’s frosty stare as well as I was able. ‘I didn’t mean to trespass. I found this place quite by chance. But I heard your words of sedition and betrayal. Some lover you are.’
‘You scurried to Thenson, gleefully believing your tattle-talebearing would place you in his bed and graces. All you’ve done is forced me to hasten my plans for him, that’s all. Your dreams of romancing him will sadly remain dreams. Let me tell you a bit about myself and the holy lady I serve.’
‘Is that statue of your holy lady?’ I asked. ‘She’s awfully life-like, even down to her snatch, rendered in stone so lovingly. Did you model for it?’
‘You have an acerbic little tongue, for sure. That likeness of Etesi my lady has lain there for millennia, serving as the focal point of faith for all those who came before me. Etesi is the lady of Umberlust, Seusea of the Hallilan, or of Darklove as some name it. She has never been one of the Coterie, as she sits without, concealed in the shadows of love, caressing those who truly seek her embrace. Yes, it’s love that she both desires and metes out. So, my lady will give you a choice. Join us in the bonds of Umberlust, or don’t.’
‘Love? I’ve heard you kill the men you love.’
‘You cannot kill what sheds its life willingly, nor can you kill what Etesi demands. You’re the killer among us, Seusea, and calling me one is a glorious hypocrisy coming from the likes of you. When Thenson is at the point where Etesi demands him, he will bear his breast to me unquestioningly.’
‘If your goddess wants him dead, why does it matter if I pursue him? Why would you get jealous?’
‘One cannot help being human, Seusea.’
She said it with such sincerity and conviction, I was thrown off. I stood tied to that pole, nodding at her words like a pupil to a mistress. ‘Conflicted? I asked. ‘Are you caught between your love for Thenson, and your duty to your lady? That must be painful.’
‘I gave you a choice,’ she said, ignoring my jibe.
‘I bend my head to no gods,’ I said. ‘Not even the Shadowed One.’
‘No? A freethinking Hallilan.’ She sighed and stubbed out the remnant of her tabacit. ‘Well, I expected as much. If you wished to embrace Umberlust, I wouldn’t have needed to ask. I would know. Which leads me to the next phase of our conversation. As a practitioner of the odylic arts, I am naturally curious to know how you circumvented the ward that is placed in this fane. Itanu tells me you have some sort of intrinsic immunity. I’ve never heard of such a thing in a living being.’
She gestured strangely, and the room grew warmer with magical energy. A weird green light enveloped me, then dissipated into the stone floor. Glade raised her eyebrows and glowered at me with a grudging respect. ‘Immanent it is. Your very being is immune to the forces of odylicism. I can understand how that talent would be useful. Little wonder you dealt with Chatelaine Sera so readily.’
‘Not as readily as you think.’
‘Regardless. She is dead, and you’re here.’ She leaned over and pushed my hood back. ‘And there is this odd white hair. Not entirely of Society breeding, are you? From which parent did you get that trait?’
‘My father. He is Oloii.’
‘That makes sense, as they have silvery hair, as pale as the mists which cloud Oloi. And your mother?’
‘A meretrix of Ecquair Point.’
‘Even the Oloii enjoy the odd romp with saleable Societor flesh. I doubt you would’ve gotten the immunity from your mother, so who is your father? Do you know him?’
As I mentioned, I thought Gladei was a mesmerist, hence why I was so forthcoming with my honesty. Had I known otherwise, I would’ve misdirected her, and told her all sorts of lies. ‘I believe he is Littleplay of the Money.’
‘Yes, he’s Oloii. A Werra to boot. So you have a sorcerer for a father.’
‘I said I believe it’s him. I don’t truly know.’
‘A Hallilan that’s ignorant of her own history. Perhaps you should be diligent in venerating Ydrys. Sometimes it pays to “bend your head” to a god.’ Gladei rose and stalked about the fane, her hands clasped behind her. I tried a few exploratory pulls of the cords, but Sponnand knew his knots, curse him. I had no choice but to stand as I was and await whatever this woman had in mind for me. By now, I was beginning to fear my fate would be a ghastly one, involving the ungentle hands of Sponnand Merene.
‘I have a colleague and dear friend who dwells on an island in the Maingulf. She and her younger sibling have made quite a home for themselves there. Some years ago, she found a trove of extraworld stone in Seit, and she currently oversees its extraction. Extraworld stone, Seusea, is rock from the Fabled Third World that, like yourself, is immune to the twists of sorcery. With it, we can shield ourselves from scrying, and from the Xene forging adits directly into our homes. In plain language, it makes us invisible and impenetrable. Extraworld stone is both exceedingly rare, and correspondingly expensive. You see these walls? It is made of extraworld stuff. It is why the Hielachs have never found us.’ She turned on me sharply. ‘Until you devilishly stumbled in here…quite by chance.’
‘This is going somewhere,’ I said. ‘Get to the point.’
‘More accurately, Seusea, you’re going somewhere. My colleague has a name, though she prefers to go by The Hand, and she has an interest in the mechanics of sorcery. The how and why it is what it is. Your immunity will be of great interest to her.’
‘She’s going to dissect me like a bune on an obair’s table.’
‘She may do.’ She glared at me one final time. ‘I have other priorities right now, so I’m going to leave the dealing with you in the hands of my servants. Oh fret not, I won’t allow Sponnand to get his mitts on you. Itanu! Come in here.’
The closer door opened, and my original captor came in quickly, to stand reverently next to Etesi’s statue.
‘Seusea will be a guest of The Hand’s. I need you to get her to Seit the quickest way you can. Taking her inside the Argence will not work due to this remarkable non-susceptibility of hers, so you’ll need to travel by land and sea.’
‘I’ll make the arrangements, mistress Gladei.’
‘Do so, as I need to see my beloved before he does anything unfortunate. As for you, Seusea, we won’t be seeing each other again, and Myre will not miss one thief, no matter how tenacious she is. Farewell.’
‘I had lots to say then, none of it worth repeating. I was taken by cart down to Port Ofrei, and then by sea to Hujman where bad weather forced us to come ashore. From there, we followed the coast by some jungle track, until you fine gentlemen freed me, and certainly spared me a grisly fate.’
‘You’re welcome, lass.’ Quoone said. ‘Always willing to help out a pretty face.’
‘This Itanu,’ Jorad said, ‘was this the sorceress we slayed when we freed you?’
‘No sadly, I don’t know who that was, except she was one of The Hand’s lackeys. No, Itanu lives still, to my knowledge. I’m looking forward to my second meeting with her, that’s for certain. Gladei too, though I know in my heart Itanu is the trickier one.’
‘This talk of Myre making you homesick?’ Bos asked.
‘You wouldn’t think someone could get nostalgic for a cesspit like Myre, but I do,’ Seusea said. ‘It’s my home, and my heritage, for all of its ills and evils. I love travelling with you gentlemen, but one day…’
‘We know,’ Jorad said. ‘We know.’