|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Gilead||Haiku Odsdottir||Persia|
ilead is taken to the Hall of Healing, but before he can be released, he is made to undergo a psychic probe by Specialist Zane. Gilead was ling under the influence of a foreign master, and the military wants to make sure he has not been compromised. Eventually he is cleared and released.
However he is given a special warning. He has been wounded so much lately, between his fall from the city, his fight with the vampire and the passage through the tunnels that the only reason he is alive is spirit healing. He can be healed no more until his body ahs had a chance to realign itself with its spiritual ideal. He has been given a month's leave for recuperation. He is cautioned to avoid being injured during that time.
Days pass by and turn into weeks. Nothing much happens with two expcetions. First, Gilead and Tira become aware that Elias along with many of the city's merchants and tradesmen are dissatisfied with the treatment they are receiving from the Warlord. The army is appropriating materials and manpower in increasing amounts with little or no compensation. Although he realizes the needs of wartime, there are many in danger of ruination. He further notes that Ningan seems to kowtow to every request that Hannon makes. The Archon does not stand against him on any point.
The second occurrence is that Char and Persia are given gifts by Grandmistress Novya. They are presented with armor. Char is given a spirit spear, though Novya admits she has no sword to rival the enhanced one that Persia already bears. They accept the gifts since they are indeed generous. They cannot help but notice that the armor bears the seven-pointed star that is Novya's house emblem. They are being drawn further into the Grandmistress' circle.
Lastly, Dakota inquires of Hank where Iron John might have gone. She reveals to him that although it is not widely known, the animate has not been seen since about the time they were all captured by the Celestial City.
Eventually comes a day when all of the heroes receive mysterious invitations. The cards they delivered by a great owl, who seems to be a talker, yet reserved enough to refuse speech. The cards contain little more than an address of a private residence near the docks and an assurance of safety. Tira's invitation includes a small key.
Intrigued, they compare notes and reason that together they are unlikely to meet any danger they can't handle.
That evening they rendezvous at the arranged place. The house seems to be just that, an ordinary house. The key that Tira uses reveals the dwelling to be a mere facade, however. There is no evidence inside that anyone has ever lived here. Eventually they discover a trap door in the floor that reveals a long, well-constructed tunnel. They quickly realize that this is the tunnel that leads to the Mausoleum. They continue cautiously, aware of the ban that citizens have upon entering the final resting place of the Archony.
Along the way, they encounter the side passage they had used to gain entrance to the tunnel last time. On a hunch, Hank investigates the area. He concludes that it has been sealed and then broken again, probably by an unnatural means. Is this the route that Iron John has taken? They proceed with far greater caution.
Gilead in particular is loath to enter the Mausoleum. More than any of the others, he feels himself bound by the laws of the city. It is only when they reach the end and are assured by Peter Shroud that he has the authority to grant them entrance that they emerge into the animate's simple quarters.
After brief pleasantries are exchanged, Peter reveals the reason he has brought them here. He wishes to extend thanks for helping to free him from the bondage of Sarko. There is little he can give them, since he has no possessions. However, he does have some things he can bestow.
He has been made aware of current events and believes that the Archony may soon pass from Ningan. He believes this may be a Time of Trouble. Successions are often violent and dangerous. He offers them Sanctuary, should they ever need it. The charge that was laid upon him centuries ago allows him this power. It was partly in compensation over what was taken from him as well. He was the first animate created in Tallon, and was originally a Priest, an adept. When he was changed, he lost his spirit sight and associated powers. The blindness was terrible. An adept has never been made into an adept since.
The second thing he can bestow is knowledge. He is the oldest living thing in Tallon. He walked with the Sympath Shannon, who penned the Book of Standing Stones that the city reveres. He has spent most of this time studying, contemplating and watching the passage of history. He has a unique perspective that may shed light on many of the mysteries they have faced.
Further, after they caution him that Iron John may be lurking about, he reveals that the metal man may not be a Demon King construct at all. There is a little referenced passage in the Liber Rex Infernae that speaks of the Hundred as metal warriors created to serve the Prometheans in their campaign to destroy the Demon Kings. This is a complete reversal of what they knew. The mystery of Iron John takes on further depth. How did he come to be where he was? Why does he serve? What are his true goals?
Peter talks for some time. He reveals that before the time of Carlo the Great, there were no Grandmasters. Carlo was the first, which is how he earned his sobriquet. It was the work of Shannon that allowed the Grandmasters to become what they are today. He knows much about sympaths that may be of use to Tira, being the only person ever to have known one. He tells them that the Mausoleum was built upon the recommendation of Shannon. He believes the Sympath could read the echoes left behind by departed Archons. He offers this opportunity to Tira.
The temptation is too great. They must know the secret of Red Archon. How did she come by Iron John? How did she die? Tira agrees, and Peter leads them to her tomb. Char and Persia remain behind in the waiting room in case they are disturbed.
They tread cautiously, some reverently through this house of Archons past. Gilead looks carefully for Iron John. Is he lurking about? Has he managed to avoid Peter for weeks? Kanukka's tomb appears to be empty, though.
Tira is about to lay her hands upon the mummified remains of the Red Archon when an odd shadow unfolds itself from the ceiling. Iron John has been wedged up in the vaulted masonry. He drops to the ground in preternatural silence. They are momentarily frozen. How could something so metallic move and drop without making a sound. He makes no move to draw his sword. Neither does anyone else; no one wants to give him a provocation.
He speaks. He bids them to hold. He has come to seek a favor, and to offer a service. This shocks them almost as much as his sudden appearance. They agree to a cautious truce. After all, the last time they encountered him here, he used their very presence as an excuse to kill them.
Iron John reveals that he has little or no memory before being awoken by Kanukka. However, when he learned of others like himself he became intrigued. Further, when he heard to he one they called "Arthur" who claimed among other things to be a Demon King, he became possessed of an irresistible urge to slay him. This urge was held in check by only one thing. He has a compulsion to serve. He feels that he was created to be the tool of another's will.
He has been listening to them speak and has a two part offer. He will allow them to read the Red Archon. In return, Tira must read him as well. He hopes that she can do for him what she did for Peter. Finally, one of them must order him to destroy Arthur. He will then dedicate himself to performing that person's task.
They are confused as to how he can transfer loyalty. He reveals that when the General became the Warlord, the Archony was weakened enough that he was able to rationalize away his service. He has been looking for answers and a way to achieve his goals ever since. He came to the mausoleum hoping to divine answers but has been thwarted.
They are faced with a difficult choice. Giving Iron John an open-ended order like that is akin to releasing a volley of arrows into a city with the hopes of hitting one person. There is no telling what the incidental damage will be. No one feels like they could bear that upon their conscience. But to refuse could result in immediate violence and death. There is also the chance he might fall into the hands of their enemies. They argue. Finally Haiku agrees. She will accept the burden of his service. The others attempt to dissuade her, telling her that it may well be a one-way mission in the company of a barely controllable murderous psychopath with supernatural powers, but she remains resolute. The deal is struck.
Tira lays her hands upon the Archon. At first there is no reaction. And then the young sympath begins to slip into the trance that overcomes her in the presence of the Standing Stones. She grows insensible to her surroundings. Eventualy she cries out in a strange voice. Of the people in the room, only Peter Shroud and Iron John recognize it as the voice of Kanukka. They hear snatches of conversation, all from her point of view:
"By next nightfall, Tallon could be in ashes! Hannon has failed miserably by allowing the trash of Karkul to come this far! If the gates fall, the first thing Trask will see is Hannon's flayed body staked out in the entry! Bring Hannon here at once!"
"How dare you. How dare you tell me how to run this city! I am Archon! I am Law!"
"How far away are the forces from Fort Lizard?"
"They will arrive exhausted."
"Very well. We shall have to wait. How did Trask manage to cross the Saber and attack both our gates?"
"The beasts! They allowed Trask to pass the farmlands and siege our second gate."
"We allowed the furry trash into the city. They could have held him back long enough for Denver to arrive. But instead, they come crying to the gates, seeking our protection. They have spent the last year sniveling over poor treatment, like we owe them something and now, when they have their chance to pay back our beneficence, they show their cowardice. If I had known in time, I would have barred the gate to the wretched scum!"
"Yes, but they are citizens. They're human. The beasts are parasites living off of our greatness."
"Where are the beasts now?"
"The Beast Quarter, eh? Are there fire crews stationed there?"
"It occurs to me that there is greater danger of fire near the Market Circle. Divert the crews to the Promethean Hill."
"That's why I want you to go there. I want you to make certain that any fires that should accidentally start in the Quarter remain in the Quarter. Take command of the Shambles fire crews and keep them busy.
"I am ordering you, you soulless creature! I am ordering you to do what you do best. What you love to do. Nothing else makes you feel alive anymore, does it? Where flesh craves stimulation, you desire pain and death. Go and indulge. Purify my city!"
- LONG PAUSE -
"Never mind the pleasantries. You have been at the wall?"
"What are their forces like? I have heard the reports from my sentries, but you have a certain reputation for Psychic reception. What is their army feeling?"
"Speak up, greyhead! What about their army?"
"Prometheus in Flames! Tell me something I don't know!"
"Do beast-folk fight with them?"
"I knew it! I knew that trash was traitorous. Never trust a beast!"
"How do you know that? Have you been speaking to them?"
"They say what?"
"Oh I'm sure they say that. 'I'm starving.' That's a trick to play upon your sympathy. Beasts have a high capacity for suffering; it's a well-known fact. They're animals! And I just bet they'd like to have free run of the city, eh? Just think of what they could do to our defenses and finish the job of letting that beast-lover Trask through the gates."
"My thanks, Ningan. You've corroborated what I have long suspected. The fires of our enemy have shown me the way."
"What in the name of the Demon Kings are you doing! You dare to probe me? You worthless senile piece of dung! Blasphemous riven old wretch! I am Kanukka the Red you wrinkled bag of flesh!"
"Doddering old Ningan. Always wailing and moaning about the plight of beasts, of the riven, of mutants. Of. Trash.
"You saw something, didn't you, you white-livered nothing. What did you see? Answer me!"
"You saw right, old man. Tomorrow will see the arrival of reinforcements and the crushing of Trask. But tonight! Tonight will see the cleansing, the purification of Tallon. Tonight will see the burning out of our sickness, the blight of an inhuman disease. But even before that, tonight will witness the end of a worthless, spineless, old man!"
Tira then screams and collapses.
She is given some time to recover before reading Iron John. Here the reaction is quite different. Tira does not go into her trance; she receives no impressions from him whatever. But something does happen. Iron John seems almost transported with emotion for a brief moment, something akin to triumph. He quickly regains composure. He actually thanks Tira and snaps at Haiku, "Master! Come!"
The Yzlonder is not about to fall into that trap. She realizes that she must set the boundries upon their relationship from the beginning. She orders him to remain. Although to turn aside from their quest could constitute a breach of the agreement, she does wrest from him the concession to answer a number of questions. He agrees to answer one question from each present.
During the subsequent time they learn many things about him.
He was indeed one of the Hundred, created by the Prometheans to aid their effort against the Demon Kings. They were not meant for direct confrontation, but to provide support, to distract the Demon King forces. How the Demon Kings came to be, he knows nothing. He was created after their arrival.
Iron John was Tringity Unum, Number 31. He was ordered to help in the destruction of the Wendigo, the Demon King who ruled the lands that once were ice and snow. For all he knows, the Wendigo was slain. He was told to stand in the ruins of his palace and await further orders.
The orders never came. Eventually, something happened and he lost consciousness. He did not regain it until he looked into the face of what Peter Shroud suspects was the Sympath Shannon. He immediately began to look for his masters. The people of that time were able to stop him. (It is Gilead who wants to be clear on this point, using his question to determine exactly how he was defeated). He reveals that he was tricked into a pit and tons of cement were poured upon him. He was unable to cut or climb his way out in time. This part is unclear. It is not until later that they realize they neglected to ask how he came by the sword, Crystalwind.
The questioning continues. He further reveals that eventually he was released from the block by Kanukka. By this time over a century of confinement and sensory deprivation had taken its toll. He no longer clearly remembered who he was. He knew only that he had to pledge his service to one like this. He agreed to her ruse of having created him, because she ordered him to.
Once his story is told, he leaves in the company of Haiku. It is a sad parting since it seems likely there can be no happy resolution.
Meanwhile, Tira has been acting strangely. She is far more aggressive than normal. She seem contemptuous of the others at times. She says some spiteful things calculated to hurt. The others fear that she may be under some influence of the dead Kanukka. Conspiring quietly, they suddenly jump her and confine her to Peter's couch. They wait out the night, refusing to let her go until she regains her normal sense of self. During this time they at least get her to reveal what she saw in Kanukka's mind and they all compare notes. Together they piece together the story referenced below. There is a possibility that Tira manages to alter a few key facts, but no one questions her on those points. Persia reveals that her mother told her that Iron John was responsible for the burning of the Beast Quarter in the Night of Small Fires.
There is no magic moment when Tira regains her own personality, but eventually they are convinced that Tira is indeed on no one but Tira and they all leave.
Tira immediately goes to see the Archon. She has remembered the thing she asked him to remove from her memory over a year ago, the secret that Hannon also knows. This time he tells her to keep the memory. Instead he proposes to teach her how to sheild her thoughts and protect herself. She has been a tool and pawn long enough. Likewise, he offers to underwrite her education without obligation. This is an amazingly generous offer, and Tira cautiously accepts. Is this truly without strings?
Meanwhile, Gilead knows his duty. Iron John has left the service and defense of the Archony, and by extension the city. He makes a full report to Warlord Hannon, omitting nothing. If his version of the story has any discrepancies from Hannon's understanding of events, the Warlord makes no comment.
Hank goes back to Dakota and tells her that he has indeed discovered the whereabouts of Iron John. Dakota questions him fully.
No one tells Novya anything.