Harry finally makes it to Œrth to look for answers to the riddle of the attempt to revive the Templars. He doesn’t yet know of the horror waiting there.
from The Silvergrey Sea
Harry didn’t have any idea what to expect of Œrth. That wasn’t to say he didn’t have some romantic notions about the ancestral home of his species. Every kid in history class learned of the raucous, bloody carryings-on of their forbearers through six thousand years on a single, increasingly crowded world. That world still had people on it, so the official histories went.
If they still acted as violently as the stories told, Harry had to wonder whether that was still the case. Considering the tale Muggeridge told, he’d be better off hoping it wasn’t.
That sentiment was evident on the face of the crew, as those not actively working peered ahead, waiting for the mist to clear, wondering what the first sight of the planet would be, after so long.
The mist began to darken. ‘Not a hopeful sign,’ Tranker thought. The darkness shrank and became more defined.
Something solid was in their way. A bell began to sound on the ship. Harry heard a change in the engines as the ship began to slow. Muggeridge was trying to avoid hitting whatever it was.
Too bad he didn’t get the notion sooner. The CONQUEROR emerged into the golden light of late afternoon just in time to slam into what turned out to be a bridge support.
Tranker missed most of the subsequent noise and destruction as he slammed into the metal deck hard and lost consciousness.
He woke in his bunk with the remnants of a prize-winning headache. His hands went to his head, feeling a bandage. He groaned.
“Ah, you’re awake.”
Harry opened his eyes and saw Muggeridge standing by the door. “What happened?”
The Captain smiled. “We’re here. And we’re going to be here for awhile.”
A shrug. “It could have been a lot worse. The forward part of the ship is crumpled, but there doesn’t seem to have been a breech.”
“You need to make repairs?”
“Probably, but we can’t just now. We’re stuck fast to the bridge support.”
Harry could hear banging and the occasional revving of the ship’s engines. “How you going to get free.”
“We’re rigging a winch to the bridge now. We’re going to load as much into the stern as we can and try to lift her off the piling.”
“How long will that take?”
“Do I need to hang around?”
A husky laugh. “No. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you left soon. The crew would be more at ease knowing they could leave as soon as we’re free.”
“Can you leave?”
“Thankfully, yes. We’re not entirely free of the mist. The way remains open. Are you sure you want to stay?”
“I have a few answers to get. This is the only place I can get them.”
“How will you get back yourself?”
Harry’s turn to shrug. “Figure I’ll find a way.”
“You’re a brave man, Tranker. Brave or crazy.”
“I’ve been called both, in my day.”
Half an hour later, feeling better and equipped with a backpack containing some essentials (food, smokes, liquor), Harry debarked into a dinghy and was rowed to the shore of the urban river the CONQUEROR had arrived in. The climb to the street was less epic than he feared it would be; he found a steep, greasy set of steps carved into the native rock a few yards away from the bridge.
He reached the street. The breeze was pleasant. Birdsong could be heard. No sign of people.
He turned back to the boat and shouted, “Has anyone seen any people?”
One of the crew replied, “Not a one!”
Looking back at the buildings, he thought they all looked to be in really good shape for abandoned buildings. No sign of decay or the ravages of nature did he see.
Leaving the crew to their repairs, Harry set off in the direction of the tallest structures in view.
Brush and small trees screened his immediate view. Coming through them, he found his way to the street blocked by a fence of glittering metal almost three yards high. Harry reached out to touch it, without thinking and found himself flat on his back almost a dozen feet away.
The painful tingling and paralysis subsided after awhile.
‘Electrified,’ he thought. ‘Fuck.’
The good news: the rubbery weakness of his limbs argued that someone must be around here somewhere.
The bad news: whoever was here likely wasn’t fond of uninvited visitors.
After an hour of walking, mostly along the backs of buildings, Tranker finally found his way to a street. He was able to tell about where the bridge was. Having no better notion of where to go, he headed that way. The nearer to the street the bridge opened onto, the larger and more ornate the buildings became. They also were increasingly closer to each other.
As he feared, when he finally came to structures that must front onto the street he was looking for, the buildings were cheek-by-jowl and there was no direct way to get where he wanted to be.
Going back and finding a minor street that might get him to the major one held little appeal as the streets themselves seemed to have been deliberately labyrinthine in layout.
It looked like a break-in was in order. Harry had to admit that he was a little apprehensive about the prospect of entering any of the buildings uninvited. Reason told him that it was unlikely that any one building was occupied, but twenty years of sniffing around those on the wrong side of the law piped up and warned him that the odds rarely told the whole story.
As one looked pretty much like another, Harry picked the building closest to him. A narrow alley, paved with irregular tiles backed a row of them. He walked up to the nearest and tried the door.
It was only after he grabbed the brass handle that he remembered what had happened to him the last time he’d reached for something metal. It didn’t happen this time. Sighing with relief, he turned the knob.
The door opened. Tranker pushed it in slowly, noting the lack of a creak.
A dim hallway stretched in front of him. Cautiously, he entered.
The floorboards didn’t creak, either. The hall went straight toward the light coming from what Harry thought must be the front door. There were three doors leading off the high-ceilinged passage and two sets of wide steps (one up; one down). Unlit sconces (electric, he thought they were), would have shown barely noticeable carvings in the dark, wood ceiling. They looked vaguely sinister to his eye, but he couldn’t say why.
Harry began looking for some way to turn the lights on. Near the front door was a panel with three switches the middle one turned on the hall lights.
Harry looked up to see the writhing of the damned.
He was wrong about the sconces. The light in them flickered in a way that implied a flame of some sort. That flickering light made the exquisitely detailed carvings seem to move.
No. They were moving. He could see colour begin to seep into the bas-relief. Soon, he could also hear the screams. There were also words.
Harry strained to make out what was being said, looking for mouths not shouting mindlessly to help him. Several voices seemed to be trying to make themselves heard.
He caught part of something, but wasn’t sure if it was a coherent utterance of one voice or the overlap of several that only seemed to make sense.
Something about ‘the first and the last’ and ‘the one to come.’ There was also a bit about the ‘gathering of the five’ and ‘the end of the beginning.’ Overall, it seemed the voices were issuing warnings.
Tranker listened a little while longer without getting anything else of value. Playing a hunch, he turned the lights off.
Quiet descended on the scene. The ceiling was immobile wood again.
Thoughtfully, Harry Tranker exited the building.
Was that a delusion? Was it a warning meant for him, or for anyone who might find it? If so, what was it warning against?
Was this a message from his child? Unlikely that.
Was there another player in this game?
It might have been something meant for a contingency long past, or one that had no relevance to what was happening now.
Harry was sure he was under observation, suddenly. That changed things quite a bit. Someone was running a game on him, watching to see what his reactions and actions would be. Question: would they anticipate that he would become aware of them? Were his reaction to knowing his reactions were under scrutiny part of their plan?
Were they friend, foe, or disinterested in him except as an experiment of some sort?
How was any of this part of the insane plan of bringing the Pleroma and its rulers back?
According to myth, the Templars had been humans once. Part of that civilization later historians would call Atalanté. Harry knew the history of those islands, now gone. Superficially, there was support for the contention that the Templars had at least had some connection to Atalanté.
But those islands were gone.
That’s what they taught, anyway.
Tranker paused, cigarette to lips, lighter lit. ‘I’m going to have to look for Atalanté,’ he thought.
And again, ‘Fuck!’
He wondered what the odds were that he was in the archipelago already. Considering his run of luck lately, too long.
Which begged the question he’d been avoiding for some time now. That being where he was. The geography of a world he’d never expected to visit, had never been high on his list of priorities in school. What little he had learned he hadn’t retained. What Harry needed to find was a map of some kind, preferably with a ‘you are here’ on it somewhere.
It was past sunset, now. The city was becoming quite hard to see. Nothing like street lights had he seen. No lights going on in windows, either.
Tranker lit, sucked, held, exhaled a cloud of smoke. To his left, the street dead ended in an ornate building that evidently held some symbolic purpose.
The other way, the street led over the bridge, under a stone arch that he had trouble seeing through. Harry shrugged and headed for the arch.
The closer he got to the arch, the more obscure the view through it. At twelve feet, he couldn’t see past the opening at all.
The arch itself was of the same bright metal as the fence that had so disagreed with his nervous system. He finished his smoke and had another while he considered the arch. The whole thing was only twenty feet high, a dozen feet broad and about eight deep.
Close to, the space under the arch was a cloudy, shifting mix of pastel colours. It didn’t look like any Portal he’d ever seen. That didn’t mean it wasn’t, though. He reached out, gingerly toward it but chickened out before actually breaking the plane of the arch. His backpack yielded a couple of plastic utensils, one of which he’d gladly sacrifice.
The spork showed no effects from being thrust into the mist. It wasn’t damp or cold or gone to another dimension.
Harry decided to leave it alone for the nonce. Maybe he’d meet someone who could tell him what that arch was all about.
Going on was simple; the bridge was wide here at its beginning.
Once on the bridge itself, Tranker walked on the right, hoping to get a glimpse of the CONQUER-OR. There was no noise and no sign of the winching that had been going on a few hours previous. He could still see the fog that haloed all transition points to the Silvergrey.
He leaned over the rail. The first support of the bridge was absent any stuck boats.
Harry Tranker was on his own.
Feeling a bit relieved and a bit worried, the P.I. carried on.
Beyond the bridge, a couple of miles into the city was a hill with buildings on top of it.
One dominated. It looked a lot like the images of Azhure’en he’d seen. Was it an old chapter-house? Maybe even a current one? It might even be connected to the Mother Lodge itself. He wouldn’t put it past the Hermetists to have retained contact with Œrth and let it be rumoured that all contact had been severed.
That ornate structure must be his next destination.
Before life, before shape, before the crust had cooled, there had been the Breath.
Not god, not spirit, not divine, not even alive (though it had been called all these things).
The Wise called it NOTHING.
It was the intangible something behind everything.
As impossible to understand as it was to bite one’s own neck. That wasn’t to say no one had tried to understand. Definitions by the score there were.
But that’s not important.
This world, this Œrth, had been the place of power for the Templars. Not born here, they had ruled from here until the war. The Templar War.
After, the Breath had stilled this world. Not right away (it wasn’t a thing, really. It had no time sense) and not by choice.
Stillness had just—happened.
The world lay, like a castle ensorcelled by Maleficent, waiting for a change that would wake it.
Finding the Breath would have to wait until the Œrth quickened again.