Tales Post 20 sees the Peacekeepers on the planet Necrill where they observe the Clouded Canyon, which formed in the planet's ancient history. Dusty claims that the threads of fate are strong but confusing because of the millennia of civilisations. They travel to the Imperium city of Kildare and reach The Concordance of Arcane Magicks, where they left Dr Carroll. They break the door down to get in, much to the chagrin of the owner - Proctor Seamus Ealand. They go to the back room where they find Dr Carroll in a trance. When the doctor returns to the real world he brings the demon Vapula with him. Vapula was once a powerful demon of the local Hell before the Witch-Wardens destroyed his powerbase and now he is an alcoholic wino. Vapula agrees to share information in return for booze, which is provided by Iskendriel. They ask what happened to the Imperium town that vanished and he revealed that it happened long ago and that they themselves were perhaps responsible, as well as suggesting the Witch-Wardens. After some bickering Vapula leaves and Ealands wants they out of his shop.
From the hilltop, the Clouded Canyon lurks below her. With an abundance of dust and small rocks in the area, the planet's weak gravity has allowed the constant presence of thick, low-hanging dust clouds that clog up the whole canyon like a rolling mist. Jutting up from the dust clouds are gigantic statues, like people rising from beneath a water's surface, built by one of Necrill's past civilisations. Some of the statues appear human, while others are another humanoid species with decidedly more eyes. They must have been built before the dust cloud developed and over the decades the dust has worn down most of the rock that was carved into these figures. There's a high concentration of flora here, especially the parity vine. The parity vine is a wall-crawling vine that will always have an equal number of its large, white leaves on either side of its stem - hence the name parity vine. Should a leaf on one side be lost from damage, the opposite leaf will eventually fall off too. The vines coat most of the canyon walls in a leafy, white jungle. A few larger rocks can be seen floating just shy of the cloud where they languidly sail along, bumping into the walls or statues as they drift to and fro.
Iskendriel, perched on the plateau at the top of the canyon wall, looks along the canyon to the right where it runs on and on into the distance where she can't see. She looks to the left where the canyon leads to a a crater so large it could have held an entire country of Earth.
Dusty: "The threads of fate suggest some immense event happened here..."
He crouches down. It's weird to see because his legs are almost completely faded so he just looks like a floating torso hovering inches from the ground. On his blue, hazy skin are glowing sigils that look like tattoos and from them trails a soft mist of white that merges with the usual grey smoke that shrouds him. Covering his hair is a long, black headscarf that trails down his back after tying at the base of his neck. His hair is long and kept in dreadlocks that hang loose from the headscarf. Given the fuzzy appearance of his physical form, its is often difficult to tell where the hair and the scarf begin and end. His eyes glow bright like the sigils on his flesh and he has no pupil or iris to be seen, as though he is always seeing the threads of fate instead of the real world. On his torso he wears a thick, woollen garment that is vaguely similar to a heavy-laden cardigan and is coloured carmine red with strips of black accents. The choice of dark colours doesn't help make his appearance any clearer.
Iskendriel: "What're you talking about? A lead?"
Dusty shakes his head, wafting smoke and white mist around.
Dusty: "I doubt it. It must have happened centuries ago. I think this canyon isn't a natural occurrence. It was made and it was made in anger..."
Iskendriel: "Don't need a history lesson here, Dusty. If it's not relevant to the mission then it's pointless. A herd of rampaging mega-rhinos made it? A cosmic blast from that darned sun? Or how about some insecure munchkin got pissed and whiny because someone refused to worship his pin-dick?"
Nyneve barks a laugh at that.
Iskendriel: "Whatever the story is, it happens everywhere, everyday and we don't need to waste time with it."
Girda: "You're so crass, Iskendriel."
Nyneve is still chuckling.
Nyneve: "It's hilarious."
Iskendriel: "I can do worse."
Girda: "Please don't. We're not all Nyneve."
Iskendriel: "Your god doesn't approve of tiny penises?"
Iskendriel: "Is he a penis-obsessed god, like that one from Earth that makes everyone get circumcised? I mean seriously, what's the deal with that? Can god only enter a man through his knob? Foreskin gets in the way or what?"
Girda: "Stop talking to me, please."
As Girda sulks and refuses to pay Iskendriel any attention, Nyneve is cackling wickedly. Girda keeps walking until she reaches the bridge that spans the chasm. Unlike the ancient statues the bridge is of a modern Imperium make. A suspension bridge where its four towers stand on either side of the canyon, fashioned from a material that looks like smooth, polished stone complimented with black marble accents. One of the two towers contains a guard and security systems, while the second tower acts as a storeroom filled with emergency food and weaponry should the need ever arise. The Imperium always expects a zombie invasion at any given moment.
Iskendriel, Nyneve and Dusty head after Girda as she starts to cross the bridge. There is a cart available that would carry them along a track to the other side but she seems adamant on walking. Once on the other side they're on the outskirts of Kildare, an Imperium settlement designed around scientific research. Since the planet Necrill has a long and rich history there's plenty of research to be done here, not to mention the massive amount of aether in the atmosphere to harness. On the outskirts there are a lot of small workshops were smiths, warehouses and small-scale factories lie. One of the more important factories is the bottling plant to their right as the first building they pass by. The factory is connected via a suspended monorail, which transports large casks of aether that has been sucked out of the sky at an aether plant in the centre of the town. Once in the factory the casks pump out their aether contents into bottles. Bottled aether for sale across The Imperium, courtesy of the fayries. One of the equestrian-headed fayries can be seen sanguinely directing some of the workers hoisting casks off of an anti-gravity float.
Further into the town are the apartment communities, each with their own garden complexes, and shops. This being one of the smaller towns on the planet, the building sizes are kept to a minimum. As most people travel either via monorails or by portals, there aren't a lot of vehicles on the streets. The streets themselves are designed without vehicles in mind; though they are wide they are without roads and are made of paving stones like one continuous plaza.
Some shuttlecraft fly overhead every now and again, ferrying people to and from the upper atmosphere, however the skies are largely empty because this small town isn't an enormously popular destination. A few streets of walking, or at least chasing after Girda Heth, they find "The Concordance of Arcane Magicks" poking up out of the ground like an underground train station. A lonely flag drifts to one side and slowly upwards, carried by the low gravity, from a post attached to a black, ornate, metal fence that seems to be quite out of place in this ultra modernistic world. Within the perimeter of the fence are stairs leading down into the bowls of the planet.
There's a sudden loud bang, startling not only the Peacekeepers but the passers-by too. After the initial shock those walking past shake their heads with irritation in the direction of The Concordance of Arcane Magicks and keep moving. Apparently this is a frustrating but common occurrence.
The Peacekeepers stand at the top of the steps peering down at the black, ominous door. It appears to have been coated with leather and has tiny silver studs to pin the soft material in place. Upon the leather is drawn, in white paint, a small sigil, the meaning of which is lost on Iskendriel.
Iskendriel: "Explosions usually mean a lot of death and screaming..."
Girda: "I think I should wait out here..."
Girda: "I sense great... evil down there. I'm not afraid of it, I just can't... be around it."
Iskendriel: "She's an angel, remember? She'll melt if she sees a pair of boobs or something."
Girda: "I am not an angel. But I am a woman! I haven't melted yet! The most stupid--"
Dusty: "We are wasting time. Dr Carroll might be in trouble."
He sweeps past Iskendriel and she feels only the slightest touch as the trail of his headscarf brushes against her shoulder. It's as though he's only partially corporeal. Half-in and half-out of existence.
He reaches the door but as he touches it with his hand he is, albeit gently, expelled backwards. He glances up at Iskendriel with a shrug.
Girda: "Stand back, I can try to open it by force."
Dusty steps back up to the street, but appears to be floating up the steps as the shadows conceal his already faint legs. Once he's out of the way Girda raises her palm towards the door. From her hand emits a circular ring of light in a pulse pattern, though it becomes invisible just an inch from her skin. Once the invisible waves hit the leather door, it begins to shake. The sigil on the doors turns from white, to red before it explodes outwards as a red, hot liquid that resembles blood but Iskendriel thinks it might be something far more foul than that.
Once done, Girda lowers her hand and the door slowly creaks itself open. Iskendriel pauses then looks at Dusty.
Iskendriel: "You wanted to go first, right?"
Dusty gives her a dark look but passes by her once again all the same. He slowly heads down the steps and Iskendriel watches with trepidation. Dusty reaches for the ajar door.
Man: "OI!!! YOU BROKE MY ****IN' DOOR, MAN!"
Dusty flies back and pins himself against the wall, arms up like claws. Nyneve lets out a most unbecoming, and very uncharacteristic, squeal while Girda almost faints.
Nyneve: "You stupid fat *******! You nearly gave us all a heart attack!!"
The man Iskendriel recognises as Proctor Seamus Ealand, who owns the shop. He's an enormous man, standing over seven feet tall and over a metre wide. He barely fits in the door he's complaining about. He has a big, scraggly beard and a skull cap over his very short hair. His eyes are small in his fat-cheeked face but twinkle bright blue and his skin has a healthy-looking tan. With his thick, heavy-set hand he throws the door open the rest of the way and turns his back on them - an invitation to come in, albeit a begrudging one. The Peacekeepers grumble to each other as they file down the steps and into The Concordance of Arcane Magicks.
They're instantly met by the front of the shop, which is a large room but the stacks and displays make everything feel much smaller as its cramped for space. Low hanging light fixtures are hidden inside a garish lampshade of red and the walls all bear wood panelling. Hanging on the walls are disparate mounted heads of nasty beasties from various worlds in the galaxy but there is also a single, exceptionally large, painting with a gold and ornate frame. The painting is of the proctor himself, standing with a straight-face and a his rotund belly sticking out with pride. As the real man himself moves through the shop he lays his hands upon every shelf and surface as he goes, stopping anything from toppling over, with well-practised dexterity.
Iskendriel glances back to the shop door to see that Girda has stuck to her pledge to stay outside. Iskendriel knows the woman is no coward and assumes she really would melt if she came in here. She follows after Nyneve and Dusty as they traverse the shop's aisles. She ducks under a low hanging light and then almost headbutts another low hanging object, which appears to be a miniature stuffed pterodactyl. She stumbles into a shelf but grabs it to steady it before it falls over. If it had, she reckons the whole shop would be liable to collapse. The shelves are filled with oddities and books. Lots and lots of books. They're all stacked on top of each other, instead of being lined up side-by-side, and apparently have no discernable sorting system. The odds-and-ends are of strange ornaments, talismans, jewellery, stuffed animals and even a shrunken head or two, one of which she thinks looks suspiciously like her uncle Dale.
They follow the big man, who Iskendriel is sure is human but somehow enlarged by magic, through a curtain of beads and into another large room. This time the room is even more cluttered. There is just one path through the treasure trove of wares and on either side of it are piles and piles of stuff. There's really no better word in Iskendriel's mind to describe it all beyond 'stuff'. She could make out a golden sword, a treasure chest, a stuffed brown bear (who is wearing an orichalcum crown, a cloak of invisibility and a monocle to boot), a magic mirror, a jewellery box filled with magic rings and, sitting on top of a barrel, is one of those plastic sunflowers that dances.
Beyond the path lies the next room. Fortunately, this time, there's room enough to breathe. It's smaller than the other rooms but more spacious as its filled with less 'stuff'. It is a classroom, although not quite the kind that Iskendriel remembered. Or remembered skipping at least.
There's a table and bench, which looks like it belongs in a park not a classroom, that must be a hundred years old by the looks of it. On the table is a stack of parchments that sit next to the fire hazard of a tray of burning wax candles. Near to the bench is a worn out blackboard which is stained with the ghost of old chalk markings. There's a few bookshelves in the room and they're just as disorganised as the front of the shop.
Next to the bench is a pentagram on the cobblestone floor, sloppily done, and in its centre is Dr Lawrence Carroll and his wheelchair. His head is bowed as though sleeping, even with the candles burning hotly at each point of the star.
Iskendriel looks at Dr Carroll with some concern before looking back to the proctor.
Iskendriel: "Is he... okay?"
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "He's fine. Jus' havin' a wee talk to some fellas."
Iskendriel: "Fellas? What fellas?"
The mountain man waggles an iron kettle at her. She looks confused at him, still trying to work out what he'd rambled at her, and he takes it as a yes. He throws the pot on the stove and lights it.
Nyneve: "Duke of Hell? As in a demon?"
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "Aye, that'll be the short of it. Though I'm not sure a demon can be called a demon without a hell to be in, but there you go."
Iskendriel: "And what happened to the hell he was duke of?"
Dusty: "The same thing with everything else in the Myst Sector. The Wardens."
Iskendriel: "What? They destroyed hell?"
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "That's the short of it again, aye. Demons, bein' demons, o'course would've been terrorising the locals, muckin' about with people's actions and gettin' everyone into all kinds of trouble. Wardens are asked to sort out the problem. They really sort out the problem."
Nyneve: "And what can an outcast demon do to help us?"
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "I suppose we'll find out once the doc is back. Y'know that ward was on the door to keep people out there safe, right? You just go blowin' it up like that. Never heard of knockin'?"
Dusty: "I tried."
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "Alright, what about the bleedin' phone? Y'know, it's the modern age now? We got these magical devices they call mobiles. You can use 'em anywhere!"
Nyneve: "Good grief, you're almost as annoying as she is."
Nyneve jerks a thumb at Iskendriel who growls.
Iskendriel: "Oi! Frosty arse! Keep your opinions to yourself or I'll hand you over to that demon he's talking to. See how quick you melt."
Nyneve: "Yeah, yeah. At least a demon would have me, unlike you. "Nobody loves me, everybody hate me, just 'cause I am Isk"."
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "Even I think that was lame."
Iskendriel: "You're lame, Frost-face."
Nyneve: "You're face is lame!"
There's a sudden bang, again.
Nyneve, who had been sitting on the table, falls off, backwards, arse-over-tit. Iskendriel jumps backwards and crashes into a suit of armour, that had been minding its own business, knocking it to the floor with a loud clatter to add to the chaos of sound. Ealand glances up from the kettle in mild surprise before he turns back to pop teabags into each of the waiting mugs.
Now, standing next to Dr Carroll, is the demon of which they'd been speaking. Of course.
Vapula: "I hope you're putting some gin in that tea?"
Ealand replies, without looking up;
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "If that's what'll float your boat."
He reaches up to an overhead cupboard and opens it to reveal nothing but liquors within. After a quick sift through the tags, he tugs out a bottle of Gordon's Gin[Ext 1] that looks like it might have been on that shelf for several years. No doubt that'll be one strong brew when the proctor is done with it.
Vapula shuffles across the room and sits down on the bench heavily and wearily, as though the woes of several millennia ago only happened yesterday. Although he looks like a traditional demon with tall horns, furrowed brows, fangs, tail, hooves... he also looks like a wino. His clothes are stained with all manner of old liquids and they're little more than rags hanging off of his body. He smells of excrement and his teeth, even his fangs, are yellow or black. He gives a groan and rests his forehead onto his forearm where he then stays quietly, waiting for his drink.
Dr Carroll: "I hope you'll feel better here in the shop, Vapula."
The demon just grunts as a response.
Iskendriel: "What about you, doc? You okay?"
Dr Carroll: "A little worn out from summoning but I'll get over it."
He hands Dr Carroll a cup without needing to ask for details; probably he's made him one earlier.
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "Do you ladies want sugar in yours?"
Iskendriel: "Sure. Two."
Dusty, being what he is, is incapable of drinking and eating. Since Ealand didn't even ask him if he wanted one, she assumes the man is well aware of who or what Dusty is.
After handing Nyneve and Iskendriel their mugs, Iskendriel's bearing a big smiley face under the slogan 'World's Best Teacher', Ealand carefully puts another mug before Vapula.
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "And this'll put hairs on your hairs."
Vapula reaches out gingerly, eagerly, with his clawed hands and embraces the cup with both palms. He then chugs the hot tea and gin as though he hadn't drank in days. His black hair is lank and tatty, his nose hairs are long and grotesque and his eyes are blood-shot.
Vapula: "Alright. What did you say you wanted to know about?"
Dr Carroll points at the candles but before he could ask for help removing them, Ealand is already on the case. He takes them quickly so that the doctor could wheel himself free of the pentagram. He moves closer to the despondent demon and speaks gently.
Dr Carroll: "A town, here on Necrill, has vanished recently. Destroyed, blown up, decimated. There's no war here, no enemies, no terrorists. We haven't detected any natural phenomena that could have done it. And yet it happened. Since Dusty is here, I assume he's come back empty handed?"
He glances up at Dusty who nods in sorrowful defeat.
Dr Carroll: "I've been studying residues of the area and it does seem to be a... shall we say, physical world problem. But we're still no closer to solving it. I was hoping you might have noticed something?"
Vapula looks shiftily from Carroll to the others and back again.
He narrows his eyes.
Vapula: "What's the bargain?"
Dr Carroll sighs.
Dr Carroll: "I have made many a bargain, Vapula. I have little else to offer you."
Iskendriel: "How about that bottle of Gordons?"
Vapula: "Make it a crate of them and we'll see!"
He looks straight at Iskendriel and she gets a shiver down her spine. He might not be the proud and powerful monster he once was but demons still have a hideous aura that affects mortals around them. She grits her teeth to shed that sudden fear and then shrugs.
Vapula: "Two crates!"
The demon pauses and eyes Iskendriel suspiciously, wondering if he should test his luck.
Iskendriel: "Let's make it four and you get on with it, eh?"
Vapula: "You better not be giving me some watered down crap!"
Iskendriel rolls her eyes and holds her arms out. A crate of Gordons Gin appears in her arms as it pixelates into this reality from another. She waggles the crate with a satisfying jangle of bottles.
Iskendriel: "You know, getting this stuff would be pretty easy on an Imperium world so long as they have the recipe. They have replicators."
She plonks the crate down on the table.
Vapula: "What's a replicator?"
Iskendriel: "Doesn't matter."
She conjures up a second crate in her arms and the demon watches her excitedly, sweating forming on his emience purple skin. She dumps it ontop of the first crate and looks down at him.
Iskendriel: "Information now, other crates after."
Vapula: "The answers you seek lie with two great figures of--"
Iskendriel gives Vapula a swift smack on the top of his head. He flinches in surprise.
Iskendriel: "None of that mystical riddle crap. Just straight up talk. Otherwise I'll piss in all this gin."
Vapula: "I'd probably still drink it."
Nyneve: "He's a demon, he'll probably like it more that way."
Vapula: "Only if she eats a lot of strawberries. Then it'll be sweet--"
She curls her fingers over the edge of the crate, which draws the desperate eyes of the alcoholic.
Vapula: "Okay fine! You probably did it yourself!"
There's a pause.
Iskendriel: "Did what myself? Eat strawberries? Pee in the gin?"
Vapula: "Destroyed the town. Some of your people, in the past, destroyed it. I think. Or they were there anyway."
Iskendriel: "In the past? It wasn't that long ago! Why would we blow up our own town anyway? Even a rebel faction--"
Vapula: "How should I know why you'd do it? But it was a long, long time ago."
Iskendriel tries not to lose her patience.
Iskendriel: "Okay. I think we may be talking about different towns. This town was destroyed a very short time ago. Hell, the town itself isn't even that old. You're--"
Vapula: "I'm not wrong. I don't know how or why but you did it yourselves. Or maybe you didn't. Maybe you tried to stop it. I don't kow. But you were there. It's all a bit... wibbly-wobbly."
Dusty nods in agreement.
Dusty: "I also believed this was wibbly-wobbly."
Iskendriel: "If I could punch you, Dusty, I would."
Vapula: "It may have something to do with the Wardens too."
There's another long pause. While Dusty may be considering the time element and Nyneve may be considering why the Wardens would do such a thing, Iskendriel is thinking very differently. She is far more suspicious.
Iskendriel: "You wouldn't be trying to play us, would you?"
Vapula: "What do you mean?"
Iskendriel: "Your oldest enemy just happens to be the culprit? Want us to get into a squabble with the Wardens, do you?"
Dr Carroll: "Actually, I think he said we are the culprits--"
Dr Carroll: "Referencing 70s cop shows is going to go over the heads of most people in the room. Know your audience when making jokes."
Iskendriel: "You know what I was talking about, so that'll do me. Lecturing me on how to insult people... what's the world coming to?"
Vapula: "An end, probably."
Iskendriel: "So, if we're to believe you, Vapidula--"
Vapula: "I do have feelings, you know?"
Iskendriel: "You're saying that... at some point in ancient history of Necrill The Imperium, somehow, destroys its own town... of the future?"
Vapula: "Maybe, yes. Or maybe someone else. Like the Wardens. Who were there too."
Iskendriel: "Who else was there?"
Vapula: "How many more crates you gonna give me?"
Iskendriel: "I think he's making it all up. Winos will say anything if they can get some extra booze."
Vapula: "Think whatever you like. I told you stuff, you gave me stuff. Deals a deal. Time for me to go off and drink myself into oblivion."
Iskendriel: "Literally, I hope."
Dr Carroll: "She doesn't mean that, Vapula. Thank you for your assistance. I hope I can call on you again if we need your help?"
Vapula taps his palm against the top of his crates.
Vapula: "Depends on if the next two crates show up."
He looks up at Iskendriel expectantly. She doesn't think the information is useful, even if it is to be trusted, but a couple of crates of gin isn't exactly much to ask for. At least the demon might be paid in booze should they need him in future.
She summons two more crates and plops them atop of the first two in a gin tower. The demon, with much more pep in his step than when he'd arrived, gets up from the bench and clasps the top crate.
Vapula: "Alright then. When you call next, better have more of the good stuff. In fact, next time I might try an extra crate of rum. Or maybe something more sweet for cocktails, like that Taboo stuff. You know the one?"
Iskendriel: "Yeah, how about you wait to be called before you start your bloody shopping list."
Vapula shakes his head and leans on the crates.
Vapula: "You know, I lost everything to those Wardens so I'm a bit depressed and anti-social. What's your excuse, huh?"
Dr Carroll: "She'd be a psychologist's wet dream, I'm certain. Personally, though, I'd rather not know about Iskendriel's mummy and daddy issues. We have more important work to be done."
Dr Carroll, much to Iskendriel's surprise, deflates and, with his eyes closed, says;
Dr Carroll: "You're right. I'm sorry, Iskendriel. I'm simply a little tired."
Nyneve: "Wow. You're seriously going to apologise for that? Do you get down and pray if you say a naughty word? Whip yourself if you think of a naked girl?"
Iskendriel: "Yeah, I almost had some respect for you until just now."
Dr Carroll opens his eyes and looks from one woman to the next with exasperated disbelief.
Dr Carroll: "You know what? Fine then. You're a *****, Iskendriel."
Nyneve barks with laughter.
Dr Carroll: "You too, Nyneve."
He wheels himself off towards the exit of the room and then realises that his chair isn't going to fit down there without the help of Ealand, leading to an awkward moment where his angry exit is delayed in a long silence only broken by the snickering of Nyneve. Iskendriel is even smiling with amusement but decides to let the guy have his moment. After all, he wasn't exactly wrong.
Vapula: "You kids are going to be a lot of fun."
Vapula, and his gin, burst into purple flames and is gone. The flames die out quickly and the wooden table remains completely unsinged.
Ealand then slaps his big hands together with far too much merriment.
Proctor Seamus Ealand: "Well then! Seems like a start! You lot should probably bugger off and leave me to my shop, eh? Good luck and all that. Just don't come back too soon, unless you're buying."