The City of Clocks. Everywhere in this city of towering architecture, clocks dominate the daily life of the citizens. Decades of work by master craftsmen have overcome the difficulties of technology through tight tolerances, precision and maintenance. Occasionally, a distant explosion of a 'regular emergency' can be heard. The clocks however, from the smallest Chronotopian Egg to Great Gretchen, tick away the seconds dutifully. They are a constant reminder, that following the rules, and doing things precisely and properly will result in a secure, predictable future. The clocks give order to the chaos that surrounds this land.
The fight has ended, but the disruption and confusion caused by it remains. Nothing was left of the faux-knight, except for the splintered shards of antlers that Jonas pulled from the creature's head. The armour was far from concealing, and Gergesene knows he was not mistaken in seeing Steinhardt, despite what the sudden disappearance implies. Talia, and the young Cervani from the carriage have been taken aside, where Buran questions the two Korvs while Jonas deals with the near riot caused by the creature's attack.
Talia lies on the ground, watched carefully by one of the guards, the other having left for a pallet to put under her. She pants quietly, staring up at the sky, in pain, but conscious.
The young buck clings to the corsair, burying his face in the Korv's feathers. He repeats, "No… No… No… " Over and over again.
A robed healer with wings and gray spotted fur tends gently to the wounded doe, trying to ease those cries of pain. One of Buran's ears twitches in unison with the young boy's anguished moans.
"Something… for the pain." Talia moans, gripping Buran's arm with a strength greater than her frail appearance implies.
Kensington stands by, with an expression of both exasperation and frustration, a wing wrapped around the young Cervani. "I'm tellin' ye, boy, there's nothin' t'worry about no more. This here healer's a goodun, she'll take care of yer mum."
Having found his stray saber metal being so precious, it is not a good idea to let it go astray for long Gergesene makes his way to the others. He looks doubtfully at the boy and up to Kensington. "Ah what is your name, litt'un?"
"Its… " The boy raises his head out of Kensington's side, his eyes stray to Talia, then focus on Gergesene. "Its Jael."
Kensington exchanges glances with his cousin. "I thought you told me… "
"I did indeed," Gergesene says gravely.
The young buck looks up at Gergesene, his eyes shifting nervously about. "It is Jael."
Buran continues her efforts to ease Talia's pain with what little supplies she carries in her small pack. She looks up, puzzled at Kensington's tone.
Kensington scratches his head with his free wing-claw, and looks down at the new Jael. "This be a puzzle indeed," he muses. "Never did take to puzzles too good. Jael, maybe ye can tell us a bit about what 'appened before this, hmm? Before the carriage stopped."
The Palace Guard, Myet, returns with a pallet, and spreads it out beside Talia.
Gergesene bends down near Talia, looking concerned down at the elderly cervine. "What happened, milady, that you should be seized by a nightmare out of Bosch? Were you hurt? Ensorcelled?"
Recognizing that Gergesene may want some space, Buran backs off slightly and sets to work strengthening the splint she'd applied earlier to the doe's broken leg.
"We were riding in the carriage, and Talia was talking with the Landsknecht… " The deer directs his answer to Kensington, "… and she was asking him things, and he wasn't answering very much… then when we passed the Palace, she grabbed the handle and jumped out."
Talia focuses her eyes on the Korv, "Gergesene, Gergesene… it wasn't him. It was a trap."
"Yes, it wasn't. But what do you remember?" the Korv says. He nods to Buran, trying to find a place to perch where she will be able to work unimpaired. "Carry on please, good Healer."
Buran pauses in mid-adjustment, looking at Talia and then at Gergesene. As the Korv speaks, she nods slowly, then slowly returns to her work.
The doe gasps, giving a small squeal of pain as Buran straightens the splint. Her hands clench against the ground. "He was… he was… Bosch. The nursery rhyme… the antlers."
Gergesene looks mystified.
Kensington rasps, "Ye said Talia was a Magus, didn't ye, Gerry? They gots evil eyes, y'know. Heard it from a sky-sailor when I was still on me old cap'n's crew. She probly saw through that Bosch thing's disguise."
"I'm sorry," the healer murmurs. "I know it hurts. You're doing well." A few more adjustments, and the splint is judged to be sufficiently strong to remain in place for a while. She checks Talia carefully for any hidden injuries, but her attention wanders more and more to the Korvs' conversation.
Gergesene looks enlightened. "Yes, of course, that must be it." He touches Talia's shoulder gently. "Milady, this is difficult for you, but… I must hear the tale from the very beginning. Lives may be at stake, hanging on what precious scraps of information we can wrest from the jaws of chaos. What do you remember from the time they took you from the cell, Talia?"
"The nursery rhyme… I used to sing it to Jael." Talia pants quietly, trying to stay focused on Gergesene and the questions. "Always burn… always burn… I can't remember, from the beginning. This morning. Sir Hehner… no, that was yesterday."
Gergesene stiffens. "Sir Hehner… " He listens carefully, trying to memorize Talia's words.
There is a pause, as she just lies there breathing and gathering her strength. When Talia speaks again her voice is clearer and more focused. "Sir Hehner said the Kaizer's heir was needed in the Parliament, that he had found Jael, and he and I were to go there and confirm it before the legislature."
During a pause in the recitation, Buran gently lifts Talia onto the cot brought by Myet, making sure the doe's head is resting comfortably upon the cot's pillow.
The feathers on Kensington's brow puff out slightly as he furrows it. "Ye know this Hehner bloke, Gerry?"
"Sir Steinhardt didn't come, he was supposed to come." Talia winces again as she is moved to the cot, but then relaxes as she feels it beneath her. "He came today, very early. He said for us to join him… but it wasn't him. It was, but it wasn't. Always… Always burn… "
Gergesene glances toward Kensington. "There are no lesser nor greater knights in the Landsknecht, but Hehner is… Most respected and most in charge of operations in our keep, cousin."
Kensington scratches his head. "Always burn what? Come to think of it… what did we do with th' remains o' that Bosch creature?"
Gergesene does not mention that Baron Phelan had spoken of a Landsknecht with ambitions… That is not news that need be spoken in public, and which he had confided in his cousin earlier.
Gergesene instead, only gives Kensington a 'significant look'.
"They evaporated when it was bitten with good hard steel," the Korv knight says with satisfaction. "Obviously the true metal is proof against Boschian magics."
"Ohyes, oh yes. I remember. Always burn your antlers, don't let them go astray; or the fiends of Bosch will come and steal you far away; A mimic will replace you, and no one else will tell; unless they are a friend who knows you very well." Talia makes a pleased if distant smile.
Gergesene looks confused. It may be a Cervani nursery rhyme but it is not one that Korv fledglings are taught.
The Cervani mage shakes her head. "It wasn't him, it looked like him, but it didn't know, it couldn't answer the questions I asked."
It takes a moment for the look to register with Kensington, but he nods. He turns his attention back to Talia. "Ain't one I ever heard, witch. Sounds like magic o' the blackest kind t'me. Don't have much call for magic, an' I don't trust the stuff."
Gergesene ponders. "And when he brought the young one, Jael, into the carriage, did you recognize him immediately?"
The young deer in question is standing quietly beside Kensington, listening to the conversation, and nodding where appropriate. He snaps to attention as Gergesene mentions the name Jael.
"Is he safe? Is the boy safe?" Talia manages to sit up enough to see him standing beside the corsair, then sinks back. "Yes, I recognized him. I'll say he is Jael to the Parliament."
"Yes, he is safe, or at least, we hope so," the Korv knight says slowly. "Listen, Mage Talia. Do you remember when you asked us myself, Brother Salvatori, and Sir Rainscroft to see to it that your son was kept from harm?"
"Yes, I remember." The doe answers.
Gergesene looks nervously over to Kensington and then back to Talia. "Well, we did indeed find him… Though not without some losses and difficulties. And for the past weeks, we have been striving to keep him safe, milady. There is just one curiousity I cannot fathom."
Gergesene stands and walks toward the boy named 'Jael'.
Kensington snorts. "Stop mincing, Gerry. It's damn weird, and I'd say we'd best get back to Einhamiskywhatchamacallit Keep after our game o' riddles be over."
Buran's gaze follows Gergesene as she accepts some supplies brought by the guard and inspects them briefly, then nods her thanks. The guard politely steps aside once more.
Kensington caws, "There be no tellin' what Sir Rainscroft be dealin' with, at the moment. Where there be magick involved, nothin's fer certain."
Jonas waves the damaged carriage, being led by members of the Watch and Palace Guard, away from the street entrance to the Palace ground. He pauses to reassure the agitated members of the populace that Bosch is not in fact riding up the main thoroughfare to invade, looks briefly at the spot where the "knight" fell, and, repressing a shudder, moves to join Gergesene and his cousin in finding out what is going on.
"Patience, my cousin. We must be sure." The Korv knight kneels down to see eye to eye with the young Cervani. "Jael, where have you been for the past weeks?"
"I've… " The young deer shifts from hoof to hoof, "I've been in the School of Practical Mechanisms, up until a few days ago, when a Landsknecht came to get me. An old one."
"That be a far cry from whackin' target dummies wit' broadswords," remarks Kensington.
"Star protect us all," Gergesene says, making the sign of the Star. He walks back toward Talia and whispers. "This boy… is not the one whom we have brought to you before, whom you knew and welcomed immediately as your son, Mage Talia. I do not know who he is. But it is clear that your mind has been clouded by Boschian magic."
Jonas, still a little stunned by the whole affair, can only nod.
Buran gently places a warm towel, upon Talia's forehead to ease the terrible headache she must be experiencing. Apparently, all of the debate and uncertainty is too much, for the healer frowns. "I'm not used to having my patients abducted while in my care. Certainly not at the scene." A tinge of her earlier anger enters her voice. "I'd like to know what all of this is about. What in the name of the Star and Anchor is going on?"
"The evils of Bosch are at work, Healer Buran," Gergesene replies immediately. "Some malignant spirit seeks to confuse the Chronotopian parliament doubtless planning an invasion or even subversion of our fair land. May the Star's light of Truth burn away the lies gathered today."
Talia waves for Gergesene to come closer.
Gergesene leans closer, wings flapping.
Jonas looks at Buran as Gergesene speaks to her again, seeming to notice her again. His brow furrows in thought, as he mulls over recent events.
Buran gently steadies Gergesene. "Careful," she mutters as she mulls over his response.
The doe mage reaches up, pulling the Korv down so she can whisper in his ear.
Jonas touches Buran on the shoulder tentatively, as if testing her solidity. "Could I," he begins, sounding uncharacteristically quiet and nervous, "er, that is, could we speak privately fer a moment, ma'am?"
Gergesene kaws, "Milady, then why did you "
An agitated Kensington flicks his tailfeathers, masking his uncertainty with the whole affair behind his glowering. "I don't why I even bother tryin' t'follow all this. A corsair, stuck babysittin'… bah… "
Gergesene stands. "Healer Buran, please do your best to see that Mage Talia is made comfortable… And hidden. Do not speak of her to anyone else," he decides. "If certain people were to learn of her existence, she would be at grave risk. Commissar Jonas, Kensington, Jael… " he pauses at the last. "We must return at *once* to the Keep."
"Come to me Jael, I want to know that you are safe." Talia holds out her hands, beckoning over the boy.
Kensington glances at Talia and her son, then back at his comrades. "Iffen yer sure they'll be okay, cousin. This flap over names is givin' me a headache though… I'm not sure if we should let this here tyke out of our sight."
"Indeed, I believe he will be instrumental to our return to the Keep," Gergesene says with great dignity.
Gergesene presses a single silver coin into Buran's hand. "You may need supplies, medicines, Healer Buran. My cousin here, Kensington, or the Commissar, Jonas, will come to see you and Talia once the furor has died down."
"Jael, come to me Jael." Talia calls again.
Jonas looks to Gergesene. "In a moment, if ye doon't mind, Gergesene. There is a … private matter that I need to speak with the … er, Healer, about."
Gergesene looks askance to Jonas, but nods, fidgeting.
The young buck looks questioningly from Gergesene to Talia, wondering who to obey, and then goes to the mage's side. "It's okay… I'm here mom."
The Sphynx' wings rustle slightly as she turns to look over her shoulder. Briefly nodding to Jonas, she turns once more to Gergesene. Her hand closes around the silver coin, but not before her eyes widen. He must be serious to entrust me with so much, she thinks. Her work is done for the moment; she stands and formally bows to the Korv. "I give you my word upon the Star and Anchor that I will do as you ask."
Kensington leans over to Gergesene to whisper an aside. "Whatever the witch may be, I don't think she'll take kindly to bein' parted from her kid."
Gergesene shakes his head. He whispers back, "She knows. And we have a culprit to arrest before the day is over."
May the Korv knight nods to Buran. "May the Light of the Star guide us both."
Pocketing the coin, Buran turns to Jonas, lowering her voice in respect for Gergesene and Kensington. "You wished to speak to me?" she inquires kindly.
Jonas motions Buran away from the two guards, two Korv and two Cervani.
He does not guide her or make any motion to touch her again, instead stepping clear in an almost deferential manner.
Buran arches her whiskers forward, politely waiting for Jonas to speak. An eyebrow lifts slightly as she notes his body language; how could she not after how the crowd outside reacted so differently?
Gergesene waits impatiently, his eyes scanning the crowd. Soon, very soon… The true traitor will be arrested, the schemes exposed to the pure light of the Star. Lord Ruthven's good character, he is sure, will be acclaimed in Parliament in the aftershock of the revelation. And then… And then there will be the glorious crusade into the hated land of Bosch. A glint shines in his eye.
Kensington shifts from side to side restlessly, watching that strange look he's come to expect from his cousin pass across the Landsknecht's face. "Bein' in one place, on the ground, is startin' t'get to me, and all this talk o' magic and traitors isn't 'elping." he mutters. "I need to feel the air in my wings, Gerry. Let me know when ye find a means o' transport fer the land-critters."
Buran nods once more to the two Korvs, then silently makes her way after Jonas; soon, the two are a short distance away from the others.
Once away from the others, Jonas kneels in front of Buran, bringing his head below hers. He bows it reverently, and asks quietly, "Felis, Mistress of Grace, I bow in Yer Presence. How may this lowly Child of Yer Brother, Bruin, assist Ye? Have Ye been sent by the Mother to help these people? Or has She sent Ye to bring me home?" He looks up at her, a reverent and hopeful expression on his face.