|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Haiku Odsdottir||Gilead||Persia|
nder the direction of Captain Sable, the Columbia proceeds on course to Halfax. Hugging the coast and limping along at half speed, the trip is slow. Finally, the paddle wheeler travels up an broad inlet and sees an amazing sight ahead of them. A great city stands upon a hill. It is ringed by three walls. The outer wall is of dressed stone, the middle wall seems to be made of gold, while the third, central wall looks to be made entirely of diamond. Golden domes and spires rise above the walls, glinting in the sun. It is breathtaking.
The Columbia is challenged and told to put it at an island outside the city, ringed with docks and piers. Here they identify themselves and are vouched for by Captain Sable and Mystic Baccara. An official looking person called the Harbor Mate says he will inform the Production Minister who will then bespeak the Ministry to determine their fate. He apparently does this by standing still and concentrating, for after doing so, he tells the crew the minister has been told. Baccara confirms that the man has done something they call "Upspeaking". Apparently, someone who shares a fusion with a High Mystic can communicate with them at a distance."Downspeaking" is the reversal of the process, whereby a Mystic speaks with their familiars, those beholden to them.
More wonders await them, for the Harbor Mate confirms the damage they have sustained from the Lamanaria Kelp Beds. He speaks with a mystic harnessed to an odd cage with a ball-bearing floor. The mystic is called a puppeteer, one who is linked to a puppet, their closest equivalent to a golem. The puppeteer's actions are echoed by a golden humanoid construct, while the construct's sensations are relayed back to the puppeteer. It is like having a remote-controlled body. The Halfaxi definitely have different ways of using the teachings of the Stones.
Eventually, the Harbor Mate is Downspoken from his superior. A very important official comes out to the docks. He is announced as the "Procurator Santo", though the title and name mean nothing to the crew. Permission is granted for the Columbia to assemble a small envoy to enter the city. In light of the number of beasts in the crew, they are allowed to choose a beast to come with them, so long as it is accompanied by at least two humans. Baccara sends word into the city for robes and masks to be brought for herself and the adepts aboard the Columbia. Indeed, they see a number of people with masks upon the shore. The masks are large, nearly two feet tall and covered with a wide variety of patterns and symbols. Baccara tells them that when in the city or in formal occasions, all mystics wear these masks. Veils are for more informal situations, such as aboard ship. Farallon, Crockett and Tira done the local costume under Baccara's tutelage.
Crockett declares his intention to stay with his ship. Gilead chooses an envoy party consisting of himself, Tira and Haiku, Farralon, Hank and Persia. For the first time, Hank elicits no unusual amount of attention or wonder. All who see him assume him to be a puppet until he speaks. Persia is the one most people gawk and wonder at. In Nanglia (the region of Halfax and nearby cities), beasts do not commingle with humans.
The party is led to a tower upon the dock island. The tower is taller than the city wall. The inside is open and airy, possessing an elevator and a set of spiral ramps, one up, one down, upon which people walk. At the top, there is a broad low-railed bridge over which people and goods pass into and out of the city. The bridge leads to a similar tower in the city's interior. They are told that the bridge is morphically fused to other materials (exactly what, they are not told) and that the lines are held by particular mystics. If the city were to be besieged, the mystics could drop the lines, causing the bridges and the outer towers to topple, sealing the city and hopefully killing many invaders.
The outer city is apparently made up of shops, craft halls, and boarding houses. They are led by means of a similar pair of towers over the middle wall of gold and into the Middle City, where are many public and municipal buildings. They are given residence in a hostel and asked to wait for their audience. There guide is a Zealot, which seems to be the Halfaxi analog to a Tallonite Paladin or a Saginaw Quickfighter. Zealots are comprised of groups of fighters, called legions, which are all fused somehow. Hurting one is extremely difficult as their damage and resistance attributes are all shared. The more there are in a legion, the harder they are to hurt or kill. Also they work together with inhuman teamwork.
Baccara bids them farewell at this point, for she has people to whom she must reveal the fate of the Bonaventure. Though she says nothing about it, they come to believe that she may have been financially ruined when the golden ship went down.
The next day they are summoned to appear before a body called the Procurate. Procurators are apparently normal humans who share a fusion with the Ministers of the city (all High Mystics). The Ministers do not trouble themselves with day-to-day operation of the city, nor expose themselves to undue danger. Instead, they govern through the Procurate, through whom they speak or act if necessary. At several points in the crew's audience, the Procurate goes silent while they upseak with their various Ministers.
The members of the envoy identify themselves and their mission. Basic differences in culture and spirit usage are noted, mostly the odd nature of Hank Woodman and the social status of Persia. After describing their mission, Tira is asked openly if she is a "Prophet", which seems to describe a Sympath. She answers vaguely but skillfully and the matter is not publicly pursued. Nevertheless, both she and Farallon receive invitations to dine with Monarch Caladan, the leader of the city, that evening. After much consultation and upspeaking, the party is granted freedom of the outer and middle cities. The adepts are given limited visitation to the Inner City. These rights are stamped into gold tags, which they must wear upon their persons.
One of the first things they do is ask to upspeak to Baccara and ask her to spend lunch with them. After that they go to an assay office to find out just how much gold they can exchange for. Silver is actually slightly scarcer than gold within Halfax, and forms the basis of all their coinage. After all is said and done, they find that they can get the equivalent of 1 Tallonite Gold Eagle for two silver pieces. This is five times its value in Tallon (expressed in silver), and they are intrigued by the possibility of trade. None of them are financiers however.
Baccara directs them to a eating place. It appears that there are the equivalent of restaurants in Halfax, though the atmosphere feels different than in Tallon. The eating customs are different as well, though they slowly learn to adapt. At first they have trouble finding a place where Persia is allowed. Many establishments don't want a beast in their midst. Eventually, however, they are approached by a man who seems to know their names and general history. He asks them to come and eat at his place, and loudly proclaims to the crowd that the crew of the foreign ship Columbia eat at his "dinery". They come to understand that the practice of Bespeaking has led to a society in which news (and gossip) travel very quickly.
After that, they split up for a while. Gilead and the others go shopping for local clothing and ornamentation, while Hank returns to the Columbia.
Hank confers with Crockett, and is given permission to exchange silver for gold on behalf of the crew. After a brief misunderstanding arising from Hank's desire to charge a percentage on the transactions, Hank agrees to do this gratis. Crockett determines to keep the captured Lamanar canoe from rotting by enhancing its morphia. To his great surprise, he fails. Not only that, but the failure leaves him weak and breathless. He cannot manage a simple application of one of the Greater Devotions. This does not bode well and he asks Hank to relay this development to Farralon, who is more educated in such things.
Meanwhile, Gilead has purchased local clothing and the party has retired to the hostel again. Farralon reminds Gilead of the weakened state of the ley line upon his sword, and Gilead asks Farralon to carry it. The Healer agrees and he and Tira enter the Inner City.
The Inner City is beautifully landscaped and maintained, with opulent palaces and communal living areas. In the center are the ruins of an ancient fortress, in the middle of which stand the Stones of Halfax. They are magnificent glittering spires of diamond. The adepts are led to the Monarch's palace, a many towered-and-domed affair. They are taken to a lofty dining hall, and allowed to remove their masks. The room is filled with maytics in various states of dining. Apparently, there is no custom of waiting for the monarch. They are seated with a religious leader of some kind who names the various delicacies, including spider's eggs.
Eventually, the Monarch appears with much fanfare. He is accompanied by the Faith Minister, the head of the Halfaxi church. She is a sharp and cunning woman named Drassa. When Tira and Farralon are summoned to the table, they quickly determine that Drassa is far more incisive and politically aware than Monarch Caladan, who seems more interested in tales of their adventures and battles. Drassa again broaches the subject of Prophets and this time, they all speak a little more openly. Tomorrow is a holy day, but the day afterward, Tira would be welcome to come and read the stones.
Gilead however, has gone with Hank and Haiku to have dinner with Captain Sable. They find him in some kind of communal sailor's home near the outer tower bridge. They discuss many things regarding trade routes and goods. There is no easy way to Halfax. It is bounded by leviathans, barbarians and hills that bring madness. They also talk about the way home and decide the Leviathans will have to be risked.
Just before returning to the Middle City, the trio is approached by a masked mystic, who implores them to convince Tira to come to a clandestine meeting between herself and his master, the Ambassador Grinntha from Sin'Djinn, the city with no book. The man hurries off when a city guard approaches. Tira and Farallon arrive quite a bit later and it is not until morning that they are told of the plea from Grinntha. They are worried that he might try something violent or underhanded, so do nothing for the moment. Instead they resolve to see how repairs are going upon the Columbia. On the way, they learn that shore leave has been granted to the crew, including beasts, so long as they follow the chaperone rule set forth by the Procurate.
At the Columbia, they find a bustle of activity. The ship is dry docked, and the crew is working hard on scraping the hull clean. It is truly a mess below the water line, and although there are many gouges and scratches, there is little or no structural damage. This pleases Crockett mightily, since he cannot seem to make simple enhancements. Replacing pieces would be impossible. This intrigues the party, and Farallon volunteers to attempt a basic morphic enhancement of himself, adding to his height. He emerges from below decks many hours later, looking exhausted. Though he has expended a full day's energy, he has only grown a half-inch. And even that he feels was merely dumb luck. The higher devotions are terribly draining and have little chance of success. They spend much of the day theorizing about groups of stones and the devotions they teach.
The next day is the one Tira has been given to visit the Stones. Gilead spends most of it waiting for her to emerge from the Inner City, while Hank spends much of it continuing his selling of the various silver fittings and ornamentation of the Columbia.
Tira is led to the old ruined fortress at the center of the city and into the circle of stones. They catch and refract the rays of the sun in resplendent grandeur. There area number of other Mystics resent, as well as the Faith Minister Drassa herself. Tira is allowed to read the Stones. Again she goes into her trance, delving deeper into the mysteries than any normal adept. The messages she receives are confusing and tiring. She can sense the difference between these Stones and the Merikian ones or the one Great Lakes Stone she has read. These are all about joining and splitting, fusing and sundering. The Great Lakes Stone was all about speeding and slowing, changing tempo. The Merikian ones told her of shifting and copying, altering and restoring. She regains consciousness many hours later, more exhausted than she has ever been before. She reports briefly of what she has seen and is allowed to rest in the austere palace of the Faith Minister herself. Word is downspoken to Gilead that she is well and resting. She does not leave until the evening.
In the morning, the party decides to do more shopping and sightseeing. Gilead is interested in purchasing a horse, but is surprised what a breeding stallion sells for. While they are riding and talking, they notice that they are being beckoned to by a mystic. He is in a secluded area, away from the view of the city crowds, but it appears to be none other than Ambassador Grinntha himself...
The party cautiously enters the alley, being careful to cover exits and avoid being trapped. Grinntha does not appear to have designs upon them, however. Instead, he implores Tira to come to his city and read their stones, to write their Book. After much persuasion and many promises, it becomes apparent that Tira will not do this. Although she says she has nohing against reading their stones at some point in the future, she will not commit to making them her life's work. Grinntha, who seems to be making these offers at peril to his life, seems to accept her answer.
Tira is now concerned about her safety in the cities ofNanglia and decides that she should spend the remainder of their stay aboard the Columbia. There is only one item of business tha Gilead wants to clear up. He was told by Maia of a man named Salem Makesail. This man claims that his father made all sorts of maps of the lands that lie to the east. Gilead wants to seee and possibly make copies of them. Just in case there is some danger, he brings along Hank and Kamlak.
Salem Makesail is found easily enough, although he seems a bit offbeat, they follow him through a rough area of town to a room he lets from a warehouse owner. The Merikians are wary of a trap and they are not disappointed. Salem goes so far as to pull out a sheaf of papers and claim they are maps, but they are blank. Gilead and Hank hear Kamlak outside the room telling them that the warehouse boxes were filled with warriors. There are five of them and they attack without word or signal. Gilead and Kamlak take the brunt of the assault. For some reason, they do not attack Hank. The wooden man does his best to aid his comrades, though, swinging his hand axe again and again. It soon becomes apparent that these are no ordinary warriors. They fight with amazing precision, timing their blows to perfect coordinated effect. Also, they seem to soak up far more damage than would be thought possible for mere humans. They eventually come to the conclusion that they are fighting zealots, the elite warriors of the Halfax Mystics. Makesail is apparently also a familiar of their leader, for he seems to care nothing for his individual safety. He claims the Merikians will soon be joining them.
Gilead, Hank and Kamlak fight like demons, but they are ultimately overwhelmed. Gilead goes down to a ringing blow to the temple. They are apparently fighting as non-etahlly as possible. Kamlak stands over him. Tings look their blackest when suddenly there is a pounding at the streetside door. The zealots suddenly turn tail and run through the alley door. Hank follows, trying to track them, while Kamlak remains to defend Gilead.
Into the door burst another group of zealots. These are personal minions of the Faith Minister Drassa. They say they were responding to reports of armed fighting in the district. During this time, Gilead has recovered his senses. He and Kamlak explain what went on and they all go to find Hank and the ambushers. The ambush crew is long gone, but they find Hank bound and gagged in the alley. Apparently, they turned on the manikin and overpowered him, binding him with cloth from their own turbans. Hank is untied and the cloth is preserved. They are all escorted to a Temple where they are met by the Faith Minister herself along with a number of other dignitaries of the city. The minister listens to all they have said and then lays her hands upon the cloth. She identifies it with cloth of Sin'djinn. This implicates Ambassador Grinntha, who is immediately placed under custody. The Columbia crew has heard several rumors to the effect that relations between Sin'djinn and Halfax have been strained of late, and this seems to be the final straw. Drassa promises there will be armed response. The Merikians are told that they should make haste with their repairs, since the seas in this area will soon be very dangerous to sail. Gilead, Kamlak and Hank thank her for her warning and their rescue and return to the ship. Crockett agrees that they should leave as soon as possible.