Lylla and Vartelopsi

Lylla is one of Alais Gera’s four companions. She is a construct imbued with a female memory. Here, she investigates the tomb of Alais Gera for herself. This follows on from here although this can be read on its own merits.

A demure woman with long and strikingly black hair looked out over a sea from a window. She studied the breaking of the waves against the harsh rocks, the rolling of the mist across the grassy foreshore. There, she read signs in the waves and nodded slowly to herself. She turned away from the window and looked at her three companions, two men and a woman. To a stranger, all four could be identical quadruplets, so close they were in cast and bearing. On closer examination, the same stranger would swear she was seeing four alabaster or porcelain figures given life and animation. Only at a moderate distance and beyond did they seem human.

‘The Wearer’s grave has been defiled,’ the woman said.

One of the men leaned forward in his chair. ‘How can this be? Few knew his resting place.’

‘I don’t know how it came to be. I must descend to Fels and learn more.’

The other man stared out the window, trying to see what the woman had. ‘Ah. Have a care. It was no simple grave-robber, Lylla. The signs tell me it was man of considerable power. Tread lightly in the realm of men.’

The one called Lylla donned her finest grey robe and placed a black skullcap on her head. From a cupboard she retrieved her travelling pack and a large carved staff. Without comment or farewell, she left the room and went out the rear of the large house they dwelt in. Placidly, she walked to a small stone circle. She tapped the ground once in the middle of the circle and thus went inside the Argence.

Moments later, she was standing before the open tomb of Alais Gera, uncaring of the storm raging in the world around her. The tomb door had been broken by the handiwork of labourers, the extraworld stone taken away. Lylla’s eyes could see in the dark almost as clearly as they could day, but she saw nothing in the tomb. The lid of the coffin was torn off and lay sundered on the floor. Her master’s remains were gone, and not even a mote of his lich-dust was left in his crypt. It was completely bare.

‘He is gone and the Triocular with it.’

She became aware of a presence behind her in the tomb entrance. Turning, she saw a thin and ragged man, a dark silhouette against a storm-stricken backdrop. The man staggered forward, his forearms and hands covered in blood. He sank to his knees and put his hands up. ‘Spare me, please!’

‘Spare you from what? Why are you here?’

‘A woman!’ the fellow said hoarsely. ‘Gods, but what is a woman doing here?’

‘I asked first and this is the resting place of my master. Answer me.’

Curious, the man got up and edged closer to Lylla, trying to see her in the almost non-existent light. ‘I was hired to break a door down. I and a number of my townsmen. This we did and for payment he tried to kill me.’

‘Who is he?’

‘I don’t know his name. He was a wizard and he had a necklace with a beautiful ruby. He kept speaking to it and I swear on my grandfather’s grave I heard a woman’s voice come from it. Then he went inside and this…thing appeared. A big golden man. I heard snatches of talk about a city…Nelucium I think.’

‘Nelucium!’ Lylla thought quickly. Nelucium was a destroyed city on the central-west coast of Forosth, thousands of miles from where she was. Nelucium was razed by the insane followers of a religion known as the Final Sound. The city was for a time, ruled by a denizen of Exa in contravention of the Mellifluity. ‘Was the being’s name Ge Diomala?’

‘That’s the one,’ the fellow said triumphantly. ‘That was him. A grand looking thing he was too.’

‘What did the magician get from Ge Diomala?’

‘I didn’t hear any of that. By that time, me and my comrades were set to leave this place. I knew something bad was going to happen to us.’

‘This gem he had – did he address it by name?’

‘Rolinna. He called it Rolinna, after the Questioner’s Consort.’

‘So you know whose grave this is?’

‘Yes,’ said the fellow in a hushed tone. ‘He told us that. He pulled the Questioner’s skeleton out of the coffin there, and it was all dressed in musty clothes. The wizard fellow got a pair of spectacles out too, weird-looking things with all these colours. That’s why he was speaking to that bronze thing. He couldn’t see through the spectacles.’

Hearing that, Lylla laughed, a shimmering tinkling noise, like raindrops hitting fine crystal. ‘So the fool failed in his purpose. Of course he would. The Triocular can only be worn by Alais Gera. It is why we name him the Wearer.’

‘I swear to you I had no idea we were breaking into a tomb. He hired us to break a door down. I’ve lived in Kuvasuda all my life and I didn’t know there was any tomb on these cliffs.’ He shuddered. ‘Let alone that of the Questioner.’

‘Yes, we placed him here not five hundred years past.’

‘You placed him here? You? Are you saying you’re five hundred years old?’

‘I am much older, but I’m not like you. Tell me your name and I’ll give you mine.’

‘I am Vartelopsi.’

‘Vartelopsi. Hmm, that means saviour of the island in the Old Gartha language. Well, Vartelopsi, the most serious crime committed against the universe was committed here. This magician, through foul means unknown, learned of the location of the Wearer’s grave with the express purpose of taking the Triocular for himself.’ Lylla ran her hands along the rim of the sarcophagus. ‘For years we were his companions and advisers, ever since he saved us from oblivion. We watched him build the New City and the universes of Odylicism and Natural Law were forever joined.’ She blew gently on one of her hands and a soft living light took wing. Vartelopsi watched it in wonder, then took proper notice of her. Lylla gained a small measure of amusement in seeing the man recoil. ‘I said I’d give you my name. It’s Lylla.’

‘What are you? A wax figure? Your skin – it’s the whitest white I’ve seen.’

‘I am a poppet, created in a sorcerer’s gen many centuries ago. I and my siblings were lost when the sorcerer perished, until Alais Gera found and restored us. For years, we warded him from danger while he undertook his appointed tasks. Once he succeeded and remade the universes as one, he retired to his palace in Naliscalane and there dwelt in love and harmony with Rolinna.’

As she spoke to him, Lylla found Vartelopsi a comical looking fellow. His large, protruding ears, thin yellow hair, round face and widely-spaced blue eyes gave him a determined and earnest appearance, like one who went through life doggedly.

‘So you aren’t alive?’

Lylla smiled – she remembered having a similar conversation with the Wearer when he first brought her and her siblings out of their case and re-animated them. Before Lylla could formulate an answer, Vartelopsi put out a hand and touched her arm. ‘It’s cold and that texture…do you breathe?’

‘Not like you do. I breathe in so I may speak, but I do not need air to stay alive.’

Vartelopsi turned away and faced the night outside the tomb. ‘I’ve seen many strange things today.’ A glance back at her. ‘If you’re going after the sorcerer who did this, I’d like to come with you. There’s nothing in Kuvasuda for me now. My friends are dead and I have no family.’

‘You could die.’

‘So I could but I nearly died tonight, and I cheated death. I alone survived, so maybe Onnate chose me to avenge Alais Gera. I don’t know any magic, but I’m useful in other ways. I can cook and I have some skill in hunting. We would not want while were in the wild.’

Lylla grinned. ‘I don’t eat and the ways I take would mystify you.’

‘Don’t leave me here,’ Vartelopsi said plaintively. ‘I want to destroy this monster and let him know at the moment of his death what a sin it was to hold other’s lives so cheap.’

‘Come then. My sibling Psyrs will heal your cuts and abrasions.’

‘One thing I need to ask,’ Vartelopsi said, as Lylla readied her incantation to take them back inside the Argence. ‘Are you female? I mean…​are you a woman?’

‘The animus within my body – me – is female. A woman’s personality was imbued into this figure by my creator, but I have no memory of any prior existence. No memory at all before my creation in the gen.’

‘And your siblings? They’re the same?’

‘Yes.’ Feeling awkward, Lylla touched Vartelopsi’s cheek. ‘No heart beats in my chest, man of the island. I can survive the ultimate cold of Exa, and the worst furnace Hjoll has to offer. I am at home here on Fels, as much as I am in the celestial vapours of the highest level of the Welkin, or the dim expanse of the Subterrane. My eyes are crystal, my skin is a plastic substance, my vocal cords an odylic mechanism. I neither eat nor drink. I cannot die like you can. I do not sleep. But come now, hold my hand. We are returning home.’

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