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.
After leaving Baron Phelan's estates, the carriages with the Landsknechts, the Commissar, the wounded and the healer have arrived at the Palace. The vehicles were taken to the guards barracks, and Gergesene has left the others waiting, while he helps Buran with Shem. It should only take a moment to move him inside, so there was no need for everyone to come, especially as two palace guards were available to carry Shem's stretcher.
"Welladay, Healer Buran," the Korv says as he walks along with the stretcher. "Let's see if Leftennant Varick is available. I'm sure he'll be more than capable of managing our concerns." He adjusts the straps of his breastplate.
The two volunteer guards, a Human and Rath'ani named respectively Rook and Ollie, carry the Cervani easily. Strangely, they seem more surprised at Shem's presence than Buran's. "Leftennant Varick should be in the Barracks sir, they're this way." Rook gestures with a nod.
Gergesene nods approvingly. "A man who likes to be close to his troop. There's solidarity for you."
Buran walks along down the hallway slightly behind Gergesene. She arches her whiskers in his direction in assent.
The indicated way is outside and across a cobblestoned square to a squat stone building. The windows are quite narrow and the entrance is a few steps below the courtyard. "Wait here sirs. I'll get him." Rook instructs, once everyone is inside the entrance foyer. He leaves, and within a few minutes returns with Leftennant Varick. The Cervani's uniform is a little unkempt, as if he just got off duty.
"Ah… " Varick's expression shows a slight puzzlement as he sees the Korv, then he continues, "… Sir St. Germain, yes! Good to see you after such a long time, what brings you here?"
Gergesene nods to the guardsman. "Good day, Leftennant Varick. May I introduce to you Healer Buran?" He adds, "Despite her unlikely appearance, she is from Rephidim."
Gergesene gestures toward the winged Khatta, whose appearance would certainly cause confusion in the more superstitious Chronotopians.
The Sphynx nods politely to Varick, folding her hands in front of her. Her gaze flicks momentarily to Gergesene as if for some kind of reassurance, then toward Varick once more.
Varick glances at Buran and gives her brief bow, whatever characteristic suspicion the Sphinx has come to expect from Chronotopian citizens seems absent in the Cervani. "Good Day healer."
Buran nods politely to the Leftennant. "Good day, sir."
"Well, Leftennant Varick, we have a pleasant surprise for you or at least, I trust it will be one," Gergesene says with a slight beak-smile. "Healer Buran was responsible for treating Guardsman Shem when he was received at Baron Phelan's manor, wounded." He looks over to Buran to give Varick the news of Shem's recovery.
"Guardsman Shem? But he died years ago… " Varick's brows furrow in confusion as he faces the healer again.
Gergesene blinks. He looks at Buran.
The spotted Khatta seems pleased with herself. "He will recover fully, sir. His injuries were not so severe that he will carry a scar. He will be able to return to your service soon."
"SIR?" Shem asks very loudly, from his obscured position behind the healer. There is the sound of him trying to rise as well.
Buran breaks off whatever she was about to say next and turns toward the sudden sound.
"I think the healer may have some small experience in telling the dead from the living," Gergesene says carefully. "Perhaps you are thinking of some other Shem, Leftennant?"
Gergesene's worried gaze settles on the Leftennant.
Shem is still lying on the stretcher supported by Rook and Ollie, though he is trying to rise, especially in the face of the suggestion that he is dead. Varick blinks a few times, looking at the other Cervani, then replies to Gergesene, "Yes, of course, that must be it. The events slipped out of my mind, they were a while ago, after all."
The healer looks equally worriedly in Shem's direction.
Gergesene looks relieved. "Ah yes. Perhaps he had some kinsman of some note in the Guards. I'm sure the name of Shem is a most honorable and respected one." He waves a wing grandly. "In any case, you may see the evidence of his recovery for yourself."
Varick comes closer, looking at the bandages, "Yes, an excellent job it would seem. Are you alright Shem, ready to return to duty?" He asks jokingly.
Buran steps aside slightly so that Varick may see the evidence more clearly.
"Well, I might want to rest a few more days, Leftennant." Shem smiles.
"Of course soldier." Varick pats Shem's unbandaged shoulder before asking Gergesene, "Is there anything else you needed?"
The Korv looks startled from some thought. "Ah yes. Might you perhaps be able to quarter the Healer somewhere? I am given to understand that she is in need of a place to stay in our fair land, while she studies the arts of medicine with our Brothers."
"Oh, of course. We should speak to the Quartermaster about that, but I'm sure a place could be found. Do you want to wait here, or all come?" The Leftennant asks.
Gergesene glances to the side, frowning a little. There was something…
Buran's left ear flicks and she suddenly looks in that direction. After a few moments, she shakes her head and murmurs something about imagining things.
Shem looks at the Sphynx after a similar glance to the side, then back at Varick. The Leftennant's expression is impassive, he repeats, "Do you all want to come?"
"Perhaps you should go with the Leftennant, Healer Buran," the Korv says judiciously. "I have a candle to light for Brother Salvatori, and then packing to be done for a trip, I'm afraid. But I would like to commend Shem's honor to the Leftennant before I go, and I hope that he will not be unfairly penalized for the time he's spent abed recovering. He risked his life without question to help save a young boy from being assaulted by unknown agents."
The healer turns to Gergesene, silently asking him if it's all right.
Gergesene glances a little uneasily back to the side again, wondering if it's only his imagination. Is the impending trip to Bosch getting on his nerves already?
Buran lifts an eyebrow. "Is something wrong?"
Shem positively glows with the words of praise from the Landsknecht. His expression still has a hint of suspicion, especially with Buran's question.
"Of course Sir St. Germain, I'll make a note of it. I'm sure everything will work out fine." Varick gives a short bow to the crow.
The priestess surveys Gergesene worriedly, then finally turns to the Leftennant. "I will go with you, sir."
The Korv shrugs but not without a concerned look. "Perhaps it was only a trick of the light. I thought that I saw some shadowy form, perhaps someone lurking nearby, but as you can plainly see, there is nothing there." He tries to get his ruffled wingfeathers back in order.
Gergesene bows to the Leftennant. "My appreciation, Leftennant. I saw at once when I spoke with you that you were a man of your word and honor."
Buran keeps her ear cocked towards the area in question even while returning her attention to the Korv and the Cervani.
"Thank you sir, you are quite perceptive." Varick answers, then adds in a speculative tone, "I'm sure it was just the light. I saw nothing untoward in the last few moments."
The healer nods diplomatically. "I'm sure it was."
The Korv nods. "The shadows grow long in this land. But so long as we each hold a flame in our heart, they will never triumph." He beak-smiles to the others. "Fare well, my friends, and may the Grand Machine never falter."
"Order in all things." Varick nods, with a farewell gesture to Gergesene, and a motion for the others to follow. He leads Buran and the guards bearing Shem through a corridor and upstairs to the Quartermaster's office. The Cervani present is busy going through books, and looks up with an uninterested expression as everyone enters. "Yes?"
Strangely, the Quartermaster also fails to give Buran the suspicious look she has become accustomed to.
Buran takes notice, but only subconsciously; she nods politely to him.
"Sorry to interrupt you sir. This Healer here has treated Guardsman Shem, and he has returned. A Landsknecht has asked that he be reinstated, and a room provided for the Healer as well." Leftennant explains.
"Ah, I see. Shem, hm… don't recognize the name." The Quartermaster starts flipping through the payroll records. He pauses after a few pages back. "Here it is, odd that I should have missed that. I'll just make a note to cover his pay for the time he was absent."
Shem listens to the proceedings, and stares at the back of Buran's wings. He clears his throat.
The Quartermaster flips through another leather-bound ledger. "As for the Healer, put her in room 23, that should be sufficient. Anything further?" He looks towards Varick.
Behind the Leftennant, Buran's sharp ears hear Shem. She looks toward Varick, then back toward the injured guard.
Varick's ear flicks as Shem clears his throat, but otherwise he doesn't seem to notice. Instead he just bows to the Quartermaster, "That is all sir, thank you for your time."
Shem is physically fine, but has the strangest expression and keeps looking at Varick. He remains silent.
"Come this way." The Leftennant moves past the littler-bearers, "I'll show you your room Healer, then how to get to Shem's."
Buran edges toward Shem until she is within earshot. "What is it?" she asks him quietly.
"Its just strange." The injured Cervani whispers back, "I'll tell you when we're alone."
Buran acknowledges by arching her whiskers forward.
"This way, this way." Varick orders, heading down a corridor. Rook and Ollie follow, forcing Buran to come along as well. Room 23 is unremarkable, looking much like any other a middle rank officer might receive, small and uninteresting. Varick gestures into the space, "You can stay here Healer, now I'll show you Shem's cot in the general barracks."
The healer surveys the room, then turns back to Varick. "It is more than sufficient, sir. Thank you."
Varick nods, and leads the small group to a flight of stairs. Flight is indeed an appropriate term, Buran could easily spread her wings in this space and fly. The Leftennant descends the ten wide steps into a large open area, with a bed and an equipment cabinet occurring at even intervals.
Buran lifts an eyebrow. "Impressive."
The off-duty guards continue with their card games, or whatever else they were doing, showing little interest in the entrance of the Leftennant, or the healer. Shem's bed is on the far side of the room.
"The guards are of little use if they can't get into position quickly, hence the wide stairs." Varick replies to the Healer's comment.
The winged Khatta nods, conceding the point.
"Gustov, Hey Gustov!" Shem shouts, waving at one of the Cervani at a table as he is carried by. "Oh… hi Shem." Is the reply of the guardsman who turns back to his game, causing an even more bewildered expression on the wounded deer. Rook and Ollie place him on his bed, then wander off leaving the stretcher while Varick remains a moment longer.
"I had some other things to attend to Healer, if that is all you need." Varick states.
Buran nods to Varick. "Thank you for your assistance, sir."
The Leftennant bows, then turns and walks sharply away.
Shem stares at his disappearing superior, then looks directly at Buran, "Does everything seem just a little strange to you too?"
The healer looks around to make sure that no one is listening. Satisfied, she continues. "I'd think that your comrades would be glad to see you home," she says. "Is it normally like this here?"
"No. Yes… well, its like this is just part of the normal routine. The discipline too, did you notice hardly anyone saluting, or how the Quartermaster didn't even ask for Sir St. Germain's name?" Shem sits up, looking at the other guards, many who could be easily listening if they tried, but seem distinctly uninterested in anything except what they are occupied with. "No one even asked if you were a fiend of Bosch."
Buran sits down on an empty cot nearby. "I had noticed that … " She shakes her head. "It is sad to have to notice _not_ being suspected. But I did. What has happened here" she gestures to take in the entire building, not just the barracks "to these people?"
"I don't know, they seem normal… " Shem looks around, at what would be a perfectly ordinary scene at almost any other time, "… I can't explain it. It's like they're just not noticing things anymore."
Buran looks a trifle unsettled. "I thought I heard someone creeping about earlier, when your Leftennant was talking to Gergesene." She pauses. "I must say, I felt rather uneasy." She stops, another thought coming to mind. "He thought you were dead … ?"
"I thought I saw something too. I don't know why he'd think that, or the Quartermaster would forget my name. I only collected my pay from him every two weeks. I just hope you'll be safe alone in that room." He glances around, "I hope I'll be safe here with everyone else… "
"I just don't know. Ever since that attack on you, everything has felt a bit … strange. I know I've been an outcast all my life, but even this is too much." The healer is almost whispering, as if afraid to be overheard. "There's something going on, something that we aren't being let in on … and lately I've had this feeling," Buran shivers… "that something is watching me. Something distrustful."
Buran draws her robes a bit tighter around her. "They're afraid."
Shem reaches out and gently touches the Sphynx's knee, "I'm sorry, it shouldn't have to be that way. I wish I was in better shape so I could protect you… " his voice lowers to a whisper, "… and I know what you mean. I've been having the strangest dreams."
"Who is?" The deer asks.
A jerk of the chin indicates the others in the room. "Everyone," Buran confesses. "They act as if they don't want to be noticed." The healer's wings rustle as she shifts them a bit. "Tell me about your dreams… if it isn't too personal, of course."
Shem looks away, his hand returning to the bed sheets and his eyes blinking several times rapidly. "They're nothing special, really. Just dreams about bugs… crawling around under the bandages, like they're inside my shoulder and leg. I just see myself lying in the street still with my eyes glazed over, slowly rotting… and no one notices me… "
Buran shivers. "I like that even less," she confesses. "I think someone has done something terrible, and somehow the land itself knows… but what?" After a time, she answers herself. "I can't help but think that all this killing is somehow related."
"Chronotopia needs a Kaizer, she is without one, and it's allowing the deteriorating forces to take hold." Shem gazes across the room, "I hope they choose one soon."
The healer gazes at the far wall, upon which hangs the symbol of Chronotopia. "And the death of the last one," she muses, "is still disputed, yes?"
"I don't know, I only heard rumors before the ambush, and since then I have been out of it, as you know." Shem says, his gaze staying on the gear on the far wall. "I had heard a Mage Healer was responsible, and rumors of Bosch, but no more… "
Buran visibly starts. "A Healer, you say? A healer would not do that! Never!" She looks a bit amazed and outraged at the very possibility.
"Mages aren't trusted very much here, magic doesn't follow the physical laws, and just reeks of the influence of Bosch." Shem says the last word loudly, watching the reaction of the others in the room. Lack of reaction describes it best, almost as if the other guards aren't even hearing the word.
Buran surveys the room as Shem speaks. "But whether a healer is a mage or not, none would ever be responsible for such a thing. We save, not kill!" The priestess visibly fights to bring herself under control again. "Your men act strange," she says simply. "Perhaps you should ask why… "
Shem nods, then calls out, "Gustov, come over here. I want you to meet someone." The other guard nods, getting up and excusing himself from the card game. "Yes?" He asks, as he comes between the beds Shem and Buran occupy.
"This is the Healer Buran, she saved my life." The wounded Cervani indicates the Sphinx. The other Cervani nods as he looks her over and says simply, "Hello Buran."
The winged cat surveys the newcomer carefully, noting his behavior. She nods and pleasantly says, "I'm pleased to meet you. What is your name?" She offers her right paw in greeting.
The Cervani takes Buran's paw with no hesitation and shakes it, "My name is Gustov Watsen, its very nice to meet you as well."
Buran smiles. "I hope you don't mind a visitor. I'm sure you don't get very many," she says to the guard. Simultaneously, she raises an eyebrow in Shem's direction.
Shem watches Gustov just as carefully, though there isn't much to be seen. "Oh, you're staying? That's nice. I hope you have an enjoyable time here."
Buran says, "Thank you," she says. "I'm sure I will.""
Gustav gives a strange look at Shem, as if something in the back of his mind is bothering him. He ends up shaking his head and saying nothing, turning instead back to Buran and getting ready to leave. "That's good, well, I'll see you around."
"Odd. I'd think that he'd have been glad to see you back," Buran says. "I'll be honest with you, Shem. I have a feeling that someone is planning something, and whatever it might be, it can't be good to you or to me." She glances around the room at the other guards. "I never thought I would feel right to say this when a guest, but… " Her whiskers involuntarily droop. "I felt uneasy about that room back there. I don't know that I want to stay there in an atmosphere like this."
Shem nods, watching as Gustav sits back down at his table. "You're not going to go are you? I… would you feel better in this room, or if I was in the other one with you? There's more people here at least… and I don't think they'd mind."
The healer frowns. "I'd hate to give an impression to your commander of ungratefulness… though to be quite honest, I do not feel as if sleeping alone is a good idea." She confides quietly, "I don't know who to trust, other than you, until I find out what's really happening here."
"I could get a few of the guards to move this bed up to the room, then you could look around… or get me some crutches, then I could join you." The bandaged stag sits up a little more, looking at the other guards.
Buran murmurs quietly, "Thank you. I am in your debt."
"Gustov, can you get a couple of the others and move this bed upstairs?" The other guards nod, and under Shem's instruction relocate his bed, and equipment locker to the room temporarily assigned to the Healer. The request doesn't seem particularly unusual to them, and they are happy to do it.
Shem waits till they have left and the door closes. "I hope you'll feel a little better with me here, not that I can really do much if something happens. How much longer do you think it will be before I can start moving around?"
Buran busies herself by making up the beds both hers and Shem's and arranging various small articles. The healer brightens at the question. "You should be starting physical therapy tomorrow," she says. "Hopefully, you'll be fully healed within two weeks or less."
The stag smiles at the suggestion, "That sounds great, both things." He watches as the Sphinx arranges the room. "Maybe it would be a good idea to block the door with something, just in case."
Buran surveys the door. "Would you believe I'd had the same thought?" she asks. A heavy chair nearby fits easily under the doorknob, and the door is easily wedged shut. "I hope that is enough," she says. "We shall see."
Shem nods, "I hope so, I hope we don't find out too soon if it isn't."