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The Lady (Elle's Story)
The second short character story of three in the Silver Ship module.
There is a funeral afoot. The city knows how to throw a funeral. It has been throwing them for ten hundred centuries. So they say.
From the New Palace, still unbroken this centimillennium at the heart of the new city, the Eternal Road marches proud and through the old city rings of dead buildings, to the sky-scraping arcology of the ancestors. This is where the dead must go, like the millions who already went before.
There is a great funeral afoot in this city of New Increase, also called Many-Mirror. The memorial parade for the well-slain Jorxe, fresh corpse in the gilded antichronic coffin, former Lord of the Iron House, beloved father, failed warlord candidate.
A score of bestial grickles, that menial species, pulls each of the floats representing the seven seasons of Jorxe’s life. After, three gracile brontotheres draw the mobile pyramid where the fresh corpse’s six attendants will sacrifice themselves to give it a noble afterlife, a chance at the Original Garden. Then come the self-driving carriages of the many great houses of New Increase: the allied houses Anthracite, Celadon, Copper, Oak, Polyvinyl, Tungsten and Uranium first, then the other fifty-six houses of designated origin controlled and guaranteed. On foot and steed then march the thousands of guild humans who were blessed by the patronage of good dead Jorxe. Finally, cowled and many-colored come the tens of thousands of rabblers and pleebs who owe their blood and bread to the Iron House.
Electric organs, pipes and flutes, drums and dirge bassoons, magnetic zithers and ætherphones accompany the great procession. Dancers, singers, jongleurs, mimes, players of games and vendors of sweetmeats accompany the cortège. The spearbearers of the Iron House dispense largesse: coins acryllic and ghost notes with which to petition the spirits of the dead houses for memories of Old Increase.
There, at the pinnacle of the mobile pyramid, a six-pole tent of cloth-of-void stands, a gap in reality. There the Lady of the Iron House rides with the changeless corpse in its antichronic field. It is the daughter of Jorxe, noble Elle, aggrieved Elle. Yet, she masks her feelings behind a face as trained and shaped as any in the sixty-four houses D.O.C.G. Truly, she is a paragon of the virtues that have made New Increase proof against Kairos’ wrath.
Twelve hours, from sunrise to sunset, the procession travels. Every hour, twelve garlands of visitants ascend the painted pyramid to offer salt and flower to the lordly corpse, to offer sooth and friendship to the ascended Lady.
Elle performs. If she augments herself to perform, that would be unremarkable; but the visitants gossip: unaugmented, au nature, she assumes the reign of her house.
Then it is the eighth hour of the day and a garland of foreign visitants is ushered up the pyramid to salt and sooth.
“Swellswords,” mutters the Comte de Yggdracile, regent of the Oak House, to Stol, matriarch of the Polyvinyl House.
“Crook-friends of dear-dead Jorxe. We all have them, dear regent, no need to huff the hypocrite.”
“But the election is over and sealed, surely …”
“No, the girl would not go against the Elected Warlord. She is no fool.”
“Unlike her brother.”
The swellswords approach the Lady Elle of the Iron House. The cloth-of-void tent atop the mobile pyramid creates a space outside of time. The pale dead lord sits, an incongruous wise man in his precious mechanical armor. The red lady stands, face like the iron of house. Young to look at, yet ageless in bearing.
The red lady smiles and suddenly she looks much younger than her thirty summers.
“My friends, you shouldn’t have. I called for your help, not your tribute.”
By her gesture she makes clear to a watching aide that the swellswords should be compensated, then the cloth-of-void drapes are shut, blocking sound and eyes.
“My younger brother, Khal, is a dreamer. Not unusual in a young man, but in his case … foolish and dangerous. He took our father’s death in the election campaign badly and plotted with his friends to kill the Warlord Elect.”
She sighs, perhaps in exasperation, “Unfortunately, his choice of friends and conspirators was as poor as his choice of action. The plotters were captured and Khal was sentenced to be sold to the wizard Idrargo of the Silver Ship. It is docking next week and after that, we shall never see him or the other prisoners of sale again.”
“But, Khal is family, and what kind of sister, what kind of lady of the house, would I be if I did not attempt to rescue him? You see, my brother is sentenced to be sold. If he is rescued after the sale is complete, the sentence was carried out and he is free. And that is why I called you. You are the only swellswords I know, who could successfully raid the wizard’s magic ship.”
“Who knows. Perhaps this will also be the lesson Khal needs,” she muses.
The swellswords pause. Uncertain. How would one enter that overbearing dreadnought. The question is clear without a word said.
"This is the easy part. Our house is invited, as is only proper, to attend the traditional gift-giving celebration on the silver ship when it makes its bidecennial visit. You shall be part of our delegation, bringing tokens of appreciation to the immortal wizard in the Atrium of that nauphract. Be gracious, for after, all the delegates are honored with a visit and celebration to the vessel's famous Lustgarden. That will be the time for you to make your move, to slip the wizard's eyes, find my prodigal brother and return him to the loving embrace of his House and sister."
Elle pauses and covers the eyes of the dead man with her elegant hands.
"Of course, if you are caught, we have never seen or heard of you. Our proper delegates will be found bound and confused in a cellar in the Columbaria."
As they say, liek, shear, and subscribble.
One swellsword wavers. A second complains. A third calms.
They agree and swear to return the prodigal brother.
The lady withdraws an obsidian spirit key from her sleeve. The paschal key.
“This is the paschal key from the Dream Age. It will let you pass through any door. I have attuned it to the blood of my brother, Khal. Three drops of his living blood are within its belly. Each drop will open one door, no matter how it is sealed. Once you have found my brother, his blood will open more doors.”
“Do you have all the equipment you need?” Elle asks and pulls a cord. The cloth-of-void twitches and the aide appears again. “This is Nail. He will arrange your ceremonial robes to attend next week’s bidecennial visitation of the Silver Ship. He will also arrange anything you need from the Columbaria market.”
Elle nods, Nail bows then escorts the swellswords out. He discretely passes out his business token to each as they descend the mobile pyramid.
The next week passes in a blur as Nail the aid fits the swellswords with their ceremonial robes by day and discretely procures the equipment they require by night. As they will have to surrender their weapons to the scanners upon entering the Silver Ship's atrium, Nail provides them no weapons.
The day has come! Today the wizard Idrargo's silver ship docks at New Increase, as it does every bidecennium. The day is decreed a public holiday, as is tradition, for today the city's stocks of oldtech are replenished. Cryptic minds for its machines, singing appliances for homes, energenerators for its workshops, field repair orbs to maintain its shields, source adjusters to keep its nutrition pellets delectable, and more. Every low wizard and maintainer in the city waits for this day.
It is also a day of celebration because today the dregs of New Increase redeem themselves. By their sale to the wizard, they purchase the treasures of Long Ago to maintain the elevated glory of their city.
While the citizens, the rabblers, and the pleebs celebrate in the Columbaria district, the sixty-four houses of designated origin controlled and guaranteed are honored with a gift-giving visit to the silver ship itself. Each house sends a delegation of sixteen worthies to meet the undying Idrargo and receive their tokens of appreciation.
The lady’s swellswords enter the silver ship as part of her House delegation.
Dear reader! Less waiting this time, I know! Amazing. Amazing.
And perhaps, in time, I’ll even figure out how to connect stripe to this account and monetize it and sell out as a good human must in this age of Moloch.
Still, that time is not yet, and my idea-kinder are not yet babes for the flames of the green-backed god.
However, I do have a link for you that will tempt you to offer tribute to those deities of gaming and consumption we all hold so dear, the Dice Oracle and the Bookmaker.
One of the finest, lightest, classiest distillations of the OSR. Simple and sharp, it has my approval-mark. If old-school games, or games that feel old-school, are your jam, well this may be the bread for that jam.
Still not sure where to find the butter.
I’ll find that later.
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