Part Fourteen of the Sonata in Red series.
Part One: A Song of Glory
Part Two: A Choir of Intrigue
Part Three: Etude in the Sun
Part Four: A Requiem in the Dark
Part Five: Hymns of Terror
Part Six: Refrain from the Past
Part Seven: Refrain from the Past (pt. 2)
Part Eight: A Fugue in Three Parts
Part Nine: Rondo Alla Contrattempo
Part Ten: Interlude
Part Eleven: A Fool’s Masquerade
Part Twelve: A Reprised Duet
Part Thirteen: Dancing with the Devil
“Two hours, and the price is septupled for this insane deadline!” Matthew barks, snatching the vial of blood from my hand. I do so enjoy his showmanship. His laboratory has a strange combination of sterility and arcane corruption that evokes painful memories of my surgeries, causing my old scars to itch.
The trademark jars and vials of brackish green fluid containing the unsightly remains of harvested aberrants line the shelves of the walls. A dim ephemeral glow and otherworldly dissonance hums in the background of my senses inflicting a nauseating sickness that resonates through my bones.
The connection between the aberrants is little understood. The trade and study of their substances is strictly regulated by the nobility. Only the royal army has the ability to harvest the aberrants, so even the cartels have little more than the regular merchant access. As a result very little is genuinely understood about them.
“You’re harsh but fair, old man,” I answer, the discomfort of this room dissuading me from haggling with him on the price. As he must have known it would. Still, I can afford the expense for this. If it truly is her, this will all have been worth it.
The first breath of clean air upon leaving is a godsend. The static that had been building in my skin since entering dispersing in the calm late afternoon breeze. The red glow of the lanterns beginning to show in the fading sunlight, allowing the frenetic power of the festival to creep back into the atmosphere.
Crowds of people are beginning to form as the nights celebrations begin anew, families with children and tourists from the realms make up the majority. The locals will fill out the area later in the evening after their jobs. Higher up the mountain on The Twilight Wall there fireworks will cap the evening’s festivities every night leading to the Royal Moon itself.
Though earlier than I’d expected with two hours to burn awaiting my commission’s completion, I am free to explore the festival at my leisure. I’d already checked on Amelia as soon as I was released. As Avery had said, she slept and would not wake for a full day and night. Seeing her alive and unharmed was a greater relief than I’d anticipated, the thought that I’d put her in danger had a far more resonating effect on me than I’d have believed I was still capable of. An unpleasant, but not unwelcome, reminder that I am still human.
Musicians, performers were everywhere along and adjacent to the main street. Watching people dancing together and families in awe at the feats of fire dancers, sword swallowers and jugglers, highlights the beautiful side of Caelestis. Even the cartels supported the celebrations for this week, I saw the Devil Man follow a group of muggers into an alleyway. The criminal element of Night Town policed its own aggressively when the Aristocracy had reason to descend to join us. No-one wants to deal with an amateur gang provoking the wrong people.
So early in the festival no True Nobles have yet descended to observe the festivities, though a large number of lesser members the aristocracy have come with their entourages and body guards. Mostly Knights and the children of Baronets for now, the power and beauty of even these lesser aristocratic presentations has been remarkable.
The house guard of the Baronetess Rosemont attracted a crowd of their own. Eight soldiers in beautiful gold and red uniforms escorted a litter carrying a woman veiled behind barely translucent curtains. I didn’t recognise the woman, more likely one of the daughters rather than the Baronetess herself, such an early display of wealth and power was an interesting manoeuvre. I expect there will be imitators the following evening and the Baronetess will receive the illustrious privilege of being the subject of gossip on the morrow.
I enjoyed observing the evening from the dining stall where I enjoyed a delicious bowl of an exotic pasta meal in broth. The stall owner had come from the Earldom of Sunder Hill which had until recently been in the marches before the Queen’s crusade had won the Eastmark. He told me about the strangeness that the presence of the Aberrant had on the land, of the bale storms and beautiful but deadly flora and mutations among the animals of the area. How since the reclamation of the territory the land had slowly begun to return to the more wholesome natural order. I was intrigued to learn about the bio-organic structures the aberrant had built or grown still existed under the control of the Earl. Though the people were kept far from them.
After thanking and paying the stall owner for the meal, I made my way back to Matthew’s shop. The walk was pleasant, the crowds had grown and packed the streets such that it was a ponderous journey but I have grown to enjoy the slowing of my pace with age.
“It will last twelve hours exactly, once on you won’t be able to remove it until those twelve hours pass. If I hadn’t been under such an unreasonable time constraint I could have altered the conditions, as it is you’re fortunate I’m skilled enough that it is possible at all! And don’t think the conditions have lowered the price one bit!”
“Of course not, Master Artisan,” I croon ingratiatingly, the small vial in his hand seems to spark with power when I relax my eyes or see it in my peripheral view. I hand him a purse of coin and wait eagerly as he counts them with miserly attentiveness. My impatience is set to boiling point when at last he is satisfied that the entire sum is present.
“I don’t want to know what you want this for, but you’re a good customer Lucas and you’ve got people who’ll miss you if you go.” The old mans sentimentality takes me by surprise. He plays the role of a crotchety grouch so well it is almost jarring to see him pull back the curtain. Matthew had been close friends with Benjamin him long before I’d known either of them and in the roughly five years he’d failed to come back, I hadn’t seen the old man express much other than aloof crankiness.
“You honour me, Master Artisan,” I answer, smiling warmly at his kind words. The old man doesn’t miss a beat before he’s back to normal and chasing me out of his store cursing about the lack of respect my generation has for our elders.
With the elixir concealed safely in a pouch against my skin, I stare up through the ceiling of red lanterns at the stars in the night sky. After all these years, to be so close to my goal. It’s difficult to believe it is finally happening. I pray that I find the answers I’ve been looking for.