Cythera Chronicles: Below Sight: Sunday



  • The night is old. My father would always encourage me to carry on by telling me that it was young, but this darkness seemed ancient. Primeval, even. My boot strikes the sands of the city streets, sending dust swirling into the chill air. I walk through the cloud, and wipe my eye with a sleeve to beat back tears. Judge Sacas’s manse looms before me, the bloated crescent moon hanging just above its roof, low in the sky like a madman’s smile.

    The small brass key is cold in my hand, but it slides into the lock with ease. The knob is slick, coated with the damp. As I twist, the door creaks open with a banshee wail. I step in, radiating confidence, but stop as I smell the air.

    The familiar tang of saltwater is here, but something else, too. And it is not normal sea spray; no, there is far too much of the scent even for an ocean side dwelling. It drenches the air with a syrupy stickiness, and I can almost see a fog forming out of mist.

    The floor is damp; sodden in fact. Water clings to it in a thin sheet, and its glassy surface tosses ripples away from my boots. When I lift my feet, water grasps them, letting go only with a long slurp.

    Everything in the house is ordered, with plates, glasses, and knives carefully arranged, and fresh candles set out, too, though unlit. Dew blankets the house, and the silver tarnishes before my eyes. The sea is too present, too close. A matchbook lies on the table, and I strike one of the matches. Shadows flicker, like witches and sprites cavorting in the darkness, and I touch the flame to a candle’s wick, where dew sputters it out as a flood. The match falls from my fingers.

    Thin white curtains hang in front of the balcony, and I cannot see the omnipresent sea for them. I walk to them, compelled, and stretch out my hand to brush them away. They are damp, and somehow I am surprised. They swing to the side, obeying my will, and I pass between.

    The moon’s reflection paints a long streak of white on the calm sea; so long I cannot see the corners of its lips. No wind blows, and the water falls up and down endlessly.

    I sense it, though not with my eyes or ears. Something lurks. I sense it beneath the waves, huge and ever-present, like a specter of death. It breathes, lives, under a quilt of seawater, huge, larger than anything should have a right to be. The water is its garb, a disguise, keeping it safe from my eyes. But it can see me, I know. It can see me as clearly as I can sense its mere presence.

    The water ripples, ever so slightly. A bubble drifts up, and pops on the surface, so softly I do not know whether I heard the sound or filled it in. The wind whispers, as if in temptation. I leap back in fright, and something seizes me, clutching me tight.

    Dampness grasps me in its arms, pinning my arms and legs. It is cold, and suffocating. I cannot move for it. I gasp for air but none came; the sea rises up against me to drown me and toss my body aside like a rag doll. I scream to myself that I am safe, the water has no arms, no will of its own, that I am safe, safe as a babe in my mother’s arms, without a care in the world.

    But the sea does not listen, and the world fades in wet and cold and dark...


    When I awoke, my breath was shallow and painful. I had to force my lungs to take in the smallest gasp. The sheets of my bed clung to me, damp with my sweat. Some dream, not even one I could remember mere seconds from waking. After lying still, I threw the sheets off, dried with a cloth, and donned my normal clothes. An unknown cold still bit into me.

    Breakfast was fast, and I shaved afterwards, checking the cuts on my face. I was lucky; they would barely scar. As I walked out the door, I went over my planned report to the guards in my mind.

    I’d like to report a crime... Hello, sir, I seem to have been accosted... Greetings, could you look into a band of thieves beating the living daylights out of random pedestrians? Not a single one sounded right, and by the time I reached the guardhouse and knocked on the metal door, I still hadn’t reached a decision. It creaked open, and the face of a young guard, maybe twenty-five, peered out.

    "Yes?"

    I cleared my throat. The clearing of a throat is always necessary for the beginning of a report, or at least that’s what I had picked up from my father. "Yes, well..."

    "Spit it out, Milcom."

    That bit made me feel slightly embarrassed, as I had no idea who this man was, and he was calling me by name. "I’ve received a threat upon my life."

    He asked, "Well, was it a direct threat, or just implied?" Which I thought was completely extraneous.

    "It was the kind of threat that starts with being slammed into the ground, and ends with getting kicked." I brushed aside my hair to let him see the cuts.

    He arched an eyebrow. "I see. Could you identify the attacker?"

    "They hit from behind, but there were at least two, from their voices. Probably more; the leader sounded too pompous for it to be a two-man job." I thought it was a brilliant assumption on my part, the kind a classic hero would make.

    "We can’t go on that, it’s too vague. Do you have anything better?"

    I grimaced. "Not really."

    "Well, all I can promise is that we’ll keep an eye out for thugs, and look into any further incidents."

    "Can’t you do anything?"

    He sighed, as if explaining to a child. "No. Voices aren’t good enough; a man can change the basic sound at will, and that’s all you truly remember now, am I right?"

    He was, and I showed it my face.

    "Now, if we investigated everyone who sounds like your thugs, whatever that may be, we’d have a bunch of men who may or may not include the ones we’re looking for."

    "I see," I said, scowling.

    He said the next bit perhaps in hopes of cheering me up, and it worked, if only a little. "Tell you what; Pera’s inn is having some problems with thieves in the night. We’re investigating that, and I’ll bet if we catch them, your thug problem will stop as well."

    "And until then?"

    "Don’t get killed, I suppose."

    I stormed out, but he stopped me before the door closed. "By the way, what were they wanting when they threatened you?"

    I spun a quick about face. "Excuse me?"

    "People never suggest murder for nothing. What did they want from you?"

    "Steel."

    "When?"

    "Next Saturday." I turned to go, but stopped myself. "Could you perhaps send some guards or something that night?"

    "If we haven’t solved it by then, I’ll try to get some of the rest to go. But with the captain gone out of town, I may have some trouble rounding the others up for a stakeout. But I’ll see about it."

    I turned to go. "Until then, I suppose."

    "Luck, Milcom."

    I was still plastered two hours later, my torso sprawled on Pera’s bar as if I were, well, a drunkard. I could vaguely see the other patrons glancing at me, and could catch a few whispers every minute or so, but I ignored them.

    "More beer, Crito."

    He sighed, and moved toward the kegs. But then he paused, and turned back toward me. "What’s going on, Milcom?"

    I spat. Not even worth answering.

    "What’s bothering you?"

    I glared up. "It’s nothing."

    "It’s never nothing. Something’s getting to you."

    I spun around in the stool. "It doesn’t matter. I’m fine."

    "You are messed up, Milcom. I’ve never seen you this dosed up."

    "Doesn’t matter. Just get me another beer."

    "No."

    I waited for the beer patiently, tracing the edge of my glass with my finger, until it dawned on me. No beer. "Why not?"

    "Milcom, you’re drunk, and it’s not even noon. You’re worked up about something, and you’re not responding, and the patrons are getting worried. What the hell is going on?"

    "I have my reasons. Let me keep them."

    "Was it something Ioducus said? He told me you had reported something this morning. What was it?" So that was the guard’s name.

    I moaned. "You’re my friend, Crito. Don’t question me."

    "All the more reason I should question you!"

    "Why can’t you just believe me?"

    "Because you haven’t given me any reason to think you’re capable of thought right now. You’re more drunk and angry than ever before, and it’s something serious, that much I’m sure off. What is it?"

    He had the nerve to do this, my best friend. I stood up, and the stool fell to the floor. "You’re turning against me, you want them to win; you and the damned guard!" I threw the mug and it shattered against the kegs into a pile of pottery, smashed into eggshells.

    "Out."

    I clenched my fists. "What?"

    "Get out of my bar. Now, Milcom."

    "All I want is some damn beer, if you can’t get me that, get out of my way."

    "No." He walked to me, and swung. When the blow landed, I folded, a piece of paper. He had my arm behind my back like a wrestler. Before I knew it, I was out on the dirt ground, my face against the road. Blood seeped into my eyes, from that same cut. I pushed up, and stumbled home, dust flying into the air around me.

    I guess I sobered up a couple hours after noon that day, because that’s when Crito visited me at my house.

    He seated himself at the table, propping his feet on a chair. "Father’s running the bar."

    "I figured."

    "Milcom, I’m sorry about the beating."

    "I deserved it."

    "Granted." We shared a chuckle at that.

    "So, who saw me there?"

    "It doesn’t matter, they’ll forgive you. Your family’s done too much good for a grudge. Ake will forgive you, too. She just needs some time to think this over."

    "She heard?"

    Crito laughed. "This is Odemia, man. Everyone hears everything."

    I bit my lip. "What was that about needing time?"

    "Hate to say this, Milcom, but she sent me here to call off the dinner, for now." The table shook as my head pounded it. "Milcom, stop! You’ll hurt yourself." I didn’t lift it again. "She says in a couple of days, okay?"

    "Fine."

    "Hey, I know it’s hard. I got dumped a few times, too. But here, you still have a chance with her. That’s good, isn’t it?"

    I tilted my face a bit, to get a better view of my friend. "So, any more messages from Thanatos?"

    We burst into laughter. Nervous laughter, but laughter nonetheless. "No, just a request for a favor."

    I sat up straight as a rod. "Really? What?"

    "You know how the inn’s been having trouble with thieves, right?" I nodded. "Well, Pera and I are going to stay the night tomorrow, try to catch them in the act. It would be a big help if there was some extra muscle."

    "I’ll be there." Unless Ake had other plans, of course.

    Crito clapped me on the back. "You’re a good man, Milcom."


    After lounging in bed for a few minutes, I went to my forge work, and the sword. I had decided to complete the blade, if only to appease the robbers while I came up with a true plan. And if worst came to worst, they would gain the sword, hopefully at no harm to myself.

    I stoked the fire, and the steel began heating, slowly blushing. And then I set to work. For six hours, I folded the steel and pounded it flat, adding layers one by one. It was a technique my father had learned many years, and the secret of my families success. There had once been many blacksmiths all vying to forge for the same army, but my father had beaten them out with the best swords the land had ever seen. They were strong, flexible, and sharp, and best of all, we were the only ones who knew how to forge one. Little by little, the other smiths demoted themselves to more peaceful work, like mugs and silverware. Now, I am one of the few weapon smiths on the island, and the best, if I am allowed to make that judgment myself.

    Well, I would be if I weren’t still partially drunk. Every so often my hammer slipped and clattered on the anvil, or perhaps the tongs. My hand would never be anywhere the sword, however, so I avoided that pain. But as it stood, I made very respectable progress on the blade; twenty-five layers in a half-day. My father would have loved to reach that tally consistently.

    After I had turned the fires back down to heating levels, I ate dinner. Alone. I cursed myself for the drunkenness that had landed me into that. It was still delicious, as I had a leftover meat pie from the inn, some cheese, and a few figs. Pera always made the best pies; his skill in that regard had been legendary. I dunked my used dishes in a water pail, and pocketed Sacas’s keys. After locking my own door, I set forth.

    Halfway to the manse, I became acutely aware of a shadow, tracing my every step. I heard faint rustling behind me, in the rhythm of strides, and shallow breathing. My first thought was of the robbers. I quickened my pace, as thought that would help if they pursued. The shuffling quickened, to a constant drag, and its breaths became faster. I ran.

    From behind me, a faint and rasping voice cried out, "By the heavens, Milcom, slow down!"

    I spun on my heels to confront old Pera hobbling after me, breathing and yelling like a bellows with a fist-sized hole. "Stars, what’s gotten into you? First my son tells me you cause a ruckus in the bar, and now you’re sprinting through the streets like a unicorn!" He expected an answer, as evidenced by his consternated frown.

    I laughed deeply. "Pera, it’s nothing. Good to see you."

    He smiled, and shook my hand. "You too, Milcom."

    Stepping back, I could see his wrinkled face and frail frame more clearly. I was sorry for having led him on the brief chase; his physique was not up to the task. "What brings you up here at this hour?"

    "Am I not allowed to kept an eye on my favored neighbor without being investigated? I just want your assurance that all is well."

    "I’m perfectly fine, Pera. Great, in fact. Absolutely wonderful." Blatant lies always hurt my ego.

    "Are you sure? I’ve heard my boy punches like a giant. Or maybe he slept like one; I cannot tell these days."

    "I’m sure. Get back home, catch some sleep. You’ll need it tomorrow night."

    He smiled a wizened grin. "Point taken. Very well, I shall depart. Good evening to you, Milcom!"

    "Good evening, old one!"

    As he hobbled back to his inn, I started up the hill to the Judge’s manse.

    The corpulent crescent moon straddled the rooftop, and wind blows sand into my eyes. The brass key slid in the lock fluidly, and the door swung open by my touch, and with a scream to wake the dead.

    A blast of sea air hit me; I could taste the salt on the tip of my tongue. My boots sent water coursing with each step, and as I lifted them, the water strained to keep hold, finally letting go with a pop.

    A table had been left set, with a single candle among the plates and silver. A matchbook lay beside it. I struck a match, and the shadows almost made my jump, so vivid and wild were their dances. The flame reduced to a tiny orb, and as I set it to wick, it flickered and died, choked by a damp air. I lifted my head from my work, and saw two curtains, white.

    They hung like the robes of a ghost, and the wind whipped them from side to side, as an ethereal man struggled to enter his garments, all the while staring in my eyes, searching for weakness.

    They hung like a shroud, at times so still and grave despite the wind that I knew they must be concealing some deep loss so great, that to mourn it would stop the wind itself from dancing.

    They hung like arms, waiting to strangle the life out of any foolish enough to step close. The wind tensed their muscles, and would soon cause them too spring.

    I do not know why I ran that night. I remember slamming the door closed, and tripping over my own feet to reach my house. There, the same damned cut had sprung open, leaking blood. I mopped it the same towel, the dried blood by the new.

    Sleep did not come easily. It was slow, like a lurking tiger.

    (This message has been edited by moderator (edited 02-03-2003).)



  • Good job, Celchu! I'm glad you decided to continue this series.

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    Slayer's guide to Cythera:
    (url="http://"http://www.macclassics.com/cythera/cythera.htm")http://www.macclassi...era/cythera.htm(/url)



  • Kudos on the overall quality on this chron. I thought you handled the dream sequence very well, I don't think my own have ever been that good in my chrons. You cast an excellent atmosphere of foreboding there, genuinely chilling.

    One problem though - the matches. Matches weren't invented until the late seventeenth century, and even then they were of a primitive phosphorus type. Modern matchbooks, the type you have featured in the story, were not invented until 1889.

    Since Cythera is stagnated in a Greek technology level, one would not expect to see such things there. Most large fires in Cythera are probably kept burning continuously (Note the ever-burning ovens in the game), and smaller fires (Such as illumination devices) or new fires are probably kindled from them.

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    "...All persons are free to think of any concept and hold to any idea or position." - The Second of the Five Fundimental Truths of 2081.

    Where do you want to (url="http://"http://www.macclassics.com/cythera/tricks/rJade.htm")teleport(/url) today?



  • Quote

    Originally posted by Bryce:
    Kudos on the overall quality on this chron. I thought you handled the dream sequence very well, I don't think my own have ever been that good in my chrons. You cast an excellent atmosphere of foreboding there, genuinely chilling.

    Thanks muchly, that was my favorite part of writing this, too.

    Quote

    **
    One problem though - the matches. Matches weren't invented until the late seventeenth century, and even then they were of a primitive phosphorus type. Modern matchbooks, the type you have featured in the story, were not invented until 1889.

    Since Cythera is stagnated in a Greek technology level, one would not expect to see such things there. Most large fires in Cythera are probably kept burning continuously (Note the ever-burning ovens in the game), and smaller fires (Such as illumination devices) or new fires are probably kindled from them.

    **

    Good catch. I have no comeback this time. :)

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    A tomb now suffices for him for whom the world was not enough.



  • Quote

    Originally posted by Celchu:
    **Good catch. I have no comeback this time.:)
    **

    To be honest it is actualy better as a story with the matches than it would be with the perhaps more acurate lighting of the candel from a fire. For if there was fire, there would be light in the room already. Fire is warm, illuminating. It would have hurt the scene to a considerible degree. Also, matches relate themselves more readily to the modern reader. So there is a case for matches of some sort in the story anyway.
    And it is not entirely impossible that the Cytherians have primitive quickfire devices of such a sort, but it is a pretty big technological leap from where they were in the game.

    ------------------
    "...All persons are free to think of any concept and hold to any idea or position." - The Second of the Five Fundimental Truths of 2081.

    Where do you want to (url="http://"http://www.macclassics.com/cythera/tricks/rJade.htm")teleport(/url) today?



  • Well, they could be a 'primitive' form of matches, from around the Greek-technology level. Or, who knows, the Greeks could've had matches, but just used them all up, leaving no trace.

    But yes, seeing as how nobody else has really complained about the matches (and appearantly at least four other people have read your story) it seems like you can get away with them.

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    "There is a time and a place for everything."



  • Excellent work, Celchu. I can't think of a single way in which this might have been improved. I hope you continue with the next part soon, if you haven't already.

    As far as the matches are concerned, they're not exactly a complicated device. It's entirely plausible that someone in the Cytheran world could have come up with the idea much sooner than it happened in the real world.

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    "The e-mail of the specious is deadlier than their mail" - Tom Holt, 'Snow White and the Seven Samurai'


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