Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Chapter twenty five

The plan stank. Aesara stank. Everything stank.
Admittedly this was par for the course when one took up residence in a sewage pit below the latrine.
Aesara had cut a new slit in the side of the archive and made her exit after she had worked out the guard patrol and was confident she’d have enough time to limp to the latrine. Once in the cavernous tent she had chosen her ultimate destination carefully. Just jumping into the nearest pit was insane. Jumping into any latrine pit was idiotic, the sewers gasses that built up could kill a man in minutes, so avoiding the most frequently used seemed slightly less mad.
 As a sentry she knew a lot of the tricks that the lower level camp followers used to make their lives that bit more comfortable. The sentries’ hiding hole was one example, but there were plenty of others. Including the so called golden toilet. This was the facility over to the back right hand side. With most university residents just happy to spend as little time as possible inside the latrine, the facilities nearer the entrance flap were more well used. However, for a sentry after a hard night’s patrol – or a sentry looking to shirk part of a long night’s patrol – they wanted a more relaxing visit to the latrines. So they found the least used facility, then by calling in some favours with the labourers – another group not averse to making life a bit more easy for themselves – saw to it that this facility was also the one cleaned out last in the day. Thus, come the nightshift, there was a little square of sanctuary to grab a quick nap, or take some other form of comfort break. Good local knowledge Pyrrho had pointed out, infiltration comes easy to you. Although if easy meant prolonged periods spent covered in effluent, Pyrrho could keep his infiltration to himself, Aesara thought.
So here she sat – there was not enough space to stand – waiting for her father. She still lacked a clear plan of action for whenever he did decide to acknowledge the call of nature. His personal guards would still be around, but with Father being a proud man Aesara doubted he would permit them to watch over him in the toilet. They would first search the latrine for any threats, although not search all aspects of the latrine, then they’d stand guard outside. At least that is what she would do. But she would also spend heck knows how long sat in a thin layer of muck quietly talking with the memory of her recently deceased brother, all while the occasional suspicious lump gently sloshed against her hip.
Periodically someone would use the facilities. Aesara had spread some unmentionable substances around the canvas lined cubical she resided in to dissuade anyone from using it. While this prevented her from having to endure the worst shower imaginable, it also meant a lack of visual on whoever entered the tent. This didn’t matter for the first couple of visitors, a tuneless whistle and mutterings, respectively, neither of which sounded like her father. The third occupant was quieter and so Aesara had been forced to slowly crawl from her position to investigate. It was just Farrow again, the incontinent old bag. Aesara slunk back to the pits below.
There was no means of measuring time down there, but the rank smell did at least mean that the risk of drifting to sleep and missing her father was minimised. She toyed with the idea of simply leaving, putting this all behind them, leave no trace other than a suspicious mucky trail. Her father would assume she perished in the explosion, that he was safe from her revenge. Perhaps she could come back another time, but then again, he would almost certainly resume his research, build up his guard once more. No, she had to finish this now, tonight. She would have to continue her dark and smelly wait. You are finally learning patience Pyrrho giggled in the dark.
Aesara snapped to. She hadn’t been sleeping, but had lapsed into a sort of waking unconsciousness, forged by long nights on guard. She strained to hear the conversation. Was it a conversation? Or was it orders? Regardless, the sounds were getting closer.
“….tear in the archive”
“It’s not my problem if the damn university can’t maintain their facilities. Why should that stop me visiting the lavatory?!”
“Can’t rule out infiltration, we have bedpans in the marquee”
“You get above yourself boy. Suggest I piss in front of that idiot Celcus? I suggest you remember your place”
“Good. Tomorrow we will survey the damage to my facility on the hill. That damage, I fear, won’t be patched up with a needle and yarn. Now leave me be”
“We need to check….”
“GET OUT!” this accompanied by what sounded like a slap against leather armour. “Supposed to be elite” muttered the now sole other occupant of the latrine “Couldn’t guard a boiled egg”. Footsteps neared Aesara’s position. “What the? Oh, the cleaners will hang for this” the footsteps receded a little. A rustling of cloaks, the sound of someone sitting, then the tinkle of water.
Aesara climbed from the pit, silent other than the wet splat of a couple of lumps falling from her legs onto the wooden seat. She unsheathed the knife, cut into the neighbouring cubicle, then the next. Here she paused. Father was in the next one, with his back to her. She took a breath, savouring the slightly clearer air, then another to steel herself. Aesara stood to her full height, lent over the canvas screen between them and put the knife to her father’s throat. Her plan had been to make the cut then and there, finish it quickly. But some other instinct took over and instead she spoke.
“Make a sound and I will rip your throat clean out”
“S..Sara, is that you?” father attempted to turn, but stopped as the knife bit in, enough to break the skin but no deeper. Not for now anyway.
“I believe I gave you an instruction” she paused, waiting for another indiscretion from father, but he remained silent.  “Good. I came here to murder you tonight. To end your plans for domination once and for all. To extract my revenge. To extract Pyrrho’s revenge”
“Where is that idiot son of mine? I thought skulking around the shadows was more his business than yours” her father croaked, then stopped as the knife pulled a fraction tighter. A blood drop ran down onto his chest.
“People change. I am no longer a warrior. Pyrrho no longer an infiltraitor. And you no longer an overlord”
“Finish me then”
Aesara smiled. “That would be too easy. You see I’m not going to kill you tonight” the new plan was forming just as quickly as she was talking, but it felt right. “You deserve to suffer like I did, like Pyrrho did.”
“I only wanted what was best”
“You wanted what was best for you, for your quest for power. But I am different. I want what is best for all of us.”
“You think yourself special?” he wheezed as the knife began to press on his windpipe.
“Not at all. I have made many mistakes. But I now have it in my power to reverse at least some of them.”
“I will destroy you. Not in combat, as the warrior within me cries out for. No, I will destroy your credibility, your legacy. Many Drakhan died today.  A word here, a nudge there, it will not take much for them to come demanding answers from you”
 I’m liking this her brother’s voice echoed in her head.
Aesara continued, “Your power base will recede. If you are lucky you will escape with the clothes on your back, but little else. The university will certainly flee as the Drakhan come to view all of your research as cursed.”
“You will destroy any hope of unlocking the Previous technology that could propel mankind forward”
“Not at all. After I have turned the Drakhan against you, I will spread rumours of what went on up here. Few will believe me, but legends will grow. A few hardy adventurers will investigate, Previous artefacts will work their way back to society across the lands. The information will be spread far and wide. Mankind will progress on a far more equitable plain, no one person will horde it for their own desires”
“A pretty picture you paint”
“There will be struggles along the way. Mankind is a violent species, we have all seen ample evidence of that. But this competition will propel us forward, rather than your domination holding everyone but your close allies back.”
“You are quite mad”
“Perhaps so. It does seem to run in the family. One more thing”
“What?” he hissed
“Pyrrho says to say hello”


Time was against Aesara but she could bare the smell no longer; she needed to at least wash the worst of it off. She limped away from the university for a final time, having left her father tied and gagged back at the latrine. He would be found eventually, and would almost certainly demand that she was searched for. But the Drakhan numbers were low, and they were tired. If she could put enough distance between them, then she would be ok. But first, a quick wash. The old well loomed into view as she came round the broken down Elder building.
Onatas stood next to it.
“I thought myself silly to keep coming back here” he said, showing no surprise at her arrival. “That somehow the circle of my life would come back to finish here, much like how it had started”
Aesara moved towards him, silent.
“I presume you do intend to finish it this night? The price for my betrayal?” he looked intently at her, before turning away  “ It is funny, all the time we spent together on our cross country search I feared death at almost every turn. But now I have no fear.” Onatas spoke softly, but with a determination Aesara had not heard from him before.
“The price for your betrayal is the memory of it. I will perpetrate no further violence”
“You have already finished father then?”
“In a manner of speaking”
“The knowledge we will lose. What have you done Aesara?”
“Perhaps the right thing, perhaps not. But if one person was to control such a wealth of knowledge, it should not have been him. No one else alive knows that better than me.”
“Only you? You think I have not suffered?”
“I regret what I did to you back then?”
“Not you at your hands Aesara. By his” Onatas pointed in the general direction of the ruined Previous castle. “It wasn’t until you did what you did to me that father even acknowledged I existed. Until then I had been merely the result of some dalliance with a servant. Even as I recovered and entered into his service, I was almost always aware that I was, even then, only a tool for him to manipulate”
“Then why did you let him?”
“Because the Previous knowledge is more about one man, or that man’s offspring. It can make too big a difference for that”
“It still will”
“How? Father is finished, the research is largely destroyed”
“No it is not”
“I am in no mood for riddles Aesara”
“It will live on within you. On our journey, your treatment of Volk’s wounds. Tell me, was that learning really from some tatty piece of half complete Elder writings, or was it from your prior studies of the Previous?”
“I have been able to learn from a range of materials”
“And now, freed from the influence of father you will continue to share that expertise. You see Onatas, progress is not measured by how we go about collecting knowledge, be it in stuffy archives or from Previous technology, rather progress is about disseminating knowledge, putting it to good use.”
Onatas did not reply, he looked from the floor, to the well, then to his half sister. He nodded.
“And now I must leave you. I am sorry we first met how we did, but I am glad we shall separate as we do now” Aesara rested a hand on Onatas’ shoulder. Neither minded the smell.
“Where will you go? What will you do?” stammered Onatas, a tear pooling at the corner of his eye
“I have one or two tasks in mind” she answered as she turned away from him “But the first will involve beer”

Lots of beer said Pyrrho. 

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