Thursday, November 21, 2013

XXIII. The Last Coronation

She awoke on the shore and remembered.  There stood the Fencer, whose real name she never managed to pry from his lips, those grimly set lips.  Placed within his strong features, framed by cobalt hair, they spoke of a dream she envied.
            “It can’t be,” smiled the Trumpeter, who then lost all sense of joy at the reunion.  The Fencer approached in uncertain silence, his hands agitated at the loss of his blade.
            “You are defeated,” grinned the Hunting Thing, which sat down to watch.
            “I’m not real,” Clea said at last.  “Or, at least, I’m only as real as you remember.”
            “So I can chop off your head and you wouldn’t mind?” asked the Fencer, testing.  The sorceress flinched.
            He observed this emerald creature.  Her lithe frame wore a diaphanous shift, her limbs wound with ribbons, her long hair still wild from her awakening upon the shore.  All of this, her eyes and hair, like from the legends—from memory—shimmered crystalline green, a vibrant code which separated the icebound from those who worked magic. 
            The swordsman took her by the shoulders.  She felt solid enough.  Her eyes followed his.  A slow, terrible longing rose from his heart, like ice thawing.
            “What’s the purpose of the journal?” demanded the Trumpeter, breaking the silence.
            The Fencer shot him a deadly glance but the musician just shook his head.  He really wished to know.
            “I,” she began with difficulty, “don’t know.”
            Some hours passed, it was difficult to say.  Without day or night time seemed a lost world sunk this endless sea.  Ruins interrupted the view, jutting through the hazy distance.  The reunited couple set camp down the shore while the musician had a staring contest with the cat beast, which kept guard over this low, flat island’s only feature: a monolith of slick, blue matter some five meters high.
            “Who is she?” asked the creature, adjusting itself without blinking.
            “A ghost,” replied the wild man.
            “What sort of ghost will you have?” continued the creature, speaking in the mind, as they all did here.
            “A continent,” he said, quite bored.
            The monstrous snuma fought a blink.  A tremor went through the thing as it recomposed itself.
            Down the way the two were reunited but unhappy.  Clea lay back and watched the sky shimmer.  Chords of gleaming metal, or the like, wove through the cloudy atmosphere in layers and bands, parallel to the ground, occasionally vibrating as if struck.  And the Fencer watched her, unable to relax, sitting close, afraid to touch this sorceress he had known only a few short hours, but whose legacy had sent him across the far reaches of Barant.
            “You don’t remember why you kept the journal?” he asked again.
            “Show it to me,” she replied, now more confident.  “Why else does one keep a journal than to remember?”
            “It’s lost,” he explained, “and there are certain pages missing.”
            “Maybe they left because they were no longer useful.” 
            Conversation was a puzzle with her, just as he remembered it.  Her moment of innocent confusion now gone.
            The Fencer frowned and lay down close to Clea where her warmth met his and she was all flesh and blood and immediate.  He couldn’t feel her heart beat, but she couldn’t find his either, and when they spoke it was with their minds and not their mouths. 
            While the swordsman drowned in confusion the other couple glared through each other, madness against beast. 
            “You said we were beaten,” mentioned the Trumpeter.  “Why?”
            “Oh,” sighed the creature, “the past is the surest weapon; it always aims for the heart.  Ha!  You lose!”
            The Trumpeter had turned his head to see his friend.  Beside his dead lover the Fencer lay framed against a horizon of cloudy memories and liquid communication, islands of fossilized dreams and the flickering hives of the long dead nobles of Nysul.  The sky strummed its noiseless tune, like a harp playing creation into being.
            Rising, the Trumpeter made for the shore while the beast chortled and began to clean itself.  Down amongst the shoals the water gave a shock of cold as he touched it.  Ideas like fish swam in close and a low, easy wave lapped against the island. 
            Growing strange, his eyes watched the blue chemical sea in action.  To drown here was to be drowned in memories.  All of Nysul’s history, lies and all, waited within.  The clouds ruins were simply part of the inner system of the Blue Which Flows.
            “What is that thing?” asked Clea just as the Fencer was about to fall asleep.  The witch gestured towards the monolith and its keeper.
            “A cat who would be queen,” he murmured without opening his eyes.  Hell or a dream, he would make the best of it until it killed him.
            “It’s coming closer.”
            Clea stood to greet the ruler while the Fencer refused to move.
            “What do you want, cat?” he asked when her padding stopped.
            “Are you well acquainted with your treasure?” demanded the Hunting Thing.
            The man grunted in answer.
            In this moment resided a crystalline peace set between warmth and cold.  The Fencer knew that the sky was false and the beast a menace, but kept the moment anyway.  It couldn’t last.  Suddenly, he was surrounded by green.
            He snapped upright to stare out across the sea.  Nothing ahead, nothing to either side, he demanded an explanation from the horizon and what he feared it harbored.  There, a ghost haunted the place beyond the clouds.
            In his moment of clam he hadn’t heard the cat pounce.  Clea lay in its embrace, weakly fighting back.  With a cry the Fencer struck the thing and it released the woman with a snarl.
            “Fencer!  Fencer!” cried the madman from the distant shore.  He had caught a fish which gleamed with gold.
            There was no time.  A monster tensed, blood on its muzzle.  At their feet the emerald alchemist seemed dazed, her throat open to reveal tendons and bone and shredded vessels steeped in red.
            The Hunting Thing moved as a blur, streaking the air purple, yellow eyes searing tracers.  Grappling the Fencer, together they rolled across the harsh stone.  Hands held back fangs as legs and claws struck and tore.  The combatants and their thoughts melded into a ball of rage and cold predation.
            Struggling free, the beast put a few paces between itself and the Fencer.  There was a confusion of blood on each of them.  The snuma charged and the man just barely dodged away.  Looking about there seemed no object he might use as a weapon.
            Again she charged and again he dodged aside, but not quickly enough.  One claw opened up a red line from his right shoulder down all the way to the back of his thigh. 
            “It’ll be ok Fencer!” smiled the musician while Clea sputtered on the ground.  Now the air glittered with the light reflecting from the Trumpeter’s strange fish.
            Clouds billowed closer and the sea rushed like blood in the ear.  The cat grew indistinct, her thoughts merging with her prey.  The green witch laughed despite her throat and she got up without much difficulty.
            “Clea, Clea do something!” demanded the Fencer, his wound screaming cold along his body. 
            “What can I do?” she laughed, painted with blood.
            “I knew you as a witch, an alchemist,” he began, following the hungry eyes of the Hunting Thing with became lost in the growing haze.  “You can do anything.”
            Though he couldn’t see it so well the Fencer could hear the creature’s growl as it circled through the cloud to strike.  Any moment it might come, a ghost out of the fog. 
            “I can’t,” Clea said, with sorrow in her voice.  “It told you.”
            He focused.  To one side laughed Clea, to another gleamed the indistinct glory of the Trumpeter.  Choosing, he slunk through the cloud towards the gold.
            She followed in a leap.  Now transformed, the Hunting Beast was an arc of pure color, a splatter of cat-shaped ink whose jagged edges sought the swordsman’s throat.  He split apart into victim and victory.  His hands at the beast’s throat, twisting her neck, under her claws, blood pooling into a sea.
            Impossibly slow, time itself bleared away as fragmentary possibilities.  One last curtain and gold waited.  A twilight man.  A coronation.  She fled back to death and the cold returned.

“So you are rightful sovereign of Nysul,” pronounced the giant known as Dominion.  Jaal wondered if it was a question.  No, a challenge.
            “Where is your crown?” 
            Definitely a challenge.
            The mortal didn’t answer immediately.  He considered the monstrous titan’s words as might a man of unhurried ambition.  Thoughtfulness was a luxury for the rich and powerful and as a noble he had an obligation to waste time.
            “That is why I am here,” he began at last.  “Along with stopping these two miscreants at their burglary I came to be anointed.  The upper nations are thrown into chaos, you know this.  My own realm is an empty tomb full of thrones which beg for even a ghost to keep them company.  Here, in this…realm, the last emperor held the seat of power and even today power radiations from this place.  It fits tradition to rule according to an implement of the past.”
            He moved as he spoke, circling the monster, circling upon the highest rim of treasured dunes he though reasonable.  While his voice was steady, direct, his perception was keyed all about, searching for the Regalom and salvation.  That power he spoke of, that was fear.
            “Miscreants,” said Dominion. 
            At first Jaal didn’t notice but the word tickled into his mind.  He wasn’t being spoken to.  Glancing back he saw the thing eying the sleeping forms of the Fencer and the Trumpeter.
            It was a wonder they could sleep at all.  Dominion’s words boomed in Jaal’s head like an avalanche.  Theirs was a deep, strange sleep.
            “I’ve caught them,” said the actor with as much bluster as he could manage, “and I’ll try them in my domain.”
            Dominion strode towards the helpless men.  Shivering, Jaal followed as fast as he deemed a noble would.  Inwardly he sighed with relief as the giant stopped short.
            Above them Dominion loomed like the sky, that single eye glaring angrily from its cerulean head.  Just a step and they would be crushed under the weight of empire, more individuals smashed against the state.  Dominion considered them and now Jaal saw that the mighty being was hollow, with seams around its side showing within.  There a dead face, that of the infamous Duxess Emphyr, stared out, half-absorbed.
            “Their minds lie within the Blue,” it said at last, glancing over towards the jellied emperor.  Shaking free of the dead woman’s gaze Jaal saw the ultimate tyrant was recovering.  It seemed to have regained some structure, standing taller, its protoplasm crystallizing.
            “The true ruler of the badlands?  Them, in that thing?”
            “Yes,” said the grim tyrant.  “They are within the eternal court, where all past nobles of Nysul go to dream and wait for the restoration of empire.  All who drink of this land have a place within the feudal body.”
            Jaal’s heart beat furiously.  Hatred filled his limbs.  If only he could destroy the thing, all this royal nonsense could stop.  The Children would forge a new day through such revolution.  It didn’t matter which kind, they had enough of ghosts, of unfinished magic, fighting with each other for scant prey.  If they had any madmen it would be of a new sort.
            “You are glad?” asked Dominion.  For a moment the young man had let slip a smile.
            “What better place for justice,” he replied, composing himself.
            “Indeed, their minds may never return,” it stated and began to move about the dunes of treasure.  “Now we must find the blasphemous object you speak of, so I might destroy this threat to order.”
            Nodding, the actor fell upon the golden hills.  Wealth beyond imagining grew here, all organs of the most terrible and quivering thing pulsating at the lowest point of the badlands. 
            Jaal scattered away a layer of gold only to reveal silver.  He kicked through a tangle of jewelry and toppled a chest full of platinum.  Amongst that pale metal he saw a flash of red and scrambled, only to pull up a handful of rubies.
            Tossing them away he sighed and took stock of the cavern as a whole.  The edges of the room had taken on a haze from the cascading waterfalls.  Soon he wouldn’t be able to hide his true nature from the giant any longer.
            Going back to the hills he saw Dominion off in the distance and shuddered.  There was no defeating such a thing with violence.  It was too unreal to kill, to noble to murder and too watchful to surprise.  He had his countrymen to blame, in a way.
            An hour passed, maybe more, time indistinct amongst the growing fog.  His hands bled from pawing through precious metal and his back ached from stooping.  Frustrated, he went to see if the miscreants still lived.
            They slept, barely breathing, their souls elsewhere.  The emperor jelly was almost returned to its full stature, its strange fungoid crown now lustrous and metallic. 
            Jaal began skipping coins across the liquid while his mind worked to free himself from assured death, or worse. 
            Plink, said the coins.  It didn’t sound quite like water.  Then he saw the gleam.
            The platinum Regalom sought his attention from the shallows.  It was an enchanted thing, sure enough.  It wanted to be worn, it wanted heads, skulls.  Ancient magics demanded attention and use.  Perhaps the last emperor, who had so covered himself with sorcery, had been just as much a victim as he was a fool and despot. 
            Jaal made to go for the thing, but stopped short of the bluish pool.  If he entered, Dominion would feel his thoughts and know his scheme.  He had to have a wish in mind the second he waded in and there was little time.  Plots like fevers shook through his brain. 
            “Have you found it?” asked Dominion.  It was only a few meters away and its booming psyche startled the false noble.
            “No,” he began, but then stopped and hoped it wasn’t already too late.  “Not until you woke me from my fatigue.  Sometimes all it takes is another set of eyes.  There it is, in the shallows down there.”
            Jaal pointed and it saw and without hesitation waded out to the crown.  There the liquid came up to its chest and from the blue rose a thing of beautiful platinum and red stone, gleaming, eager for more skulls.
            “It buzzes strangely to my spirit,” grumbled the giant as it strode out of the pool.  “Not of Nysul.  Power though, strange, built of words and therefore infinite.  Language of the stars, dark matter against white space, towers laid in succession.”
            As if in response the Blue Which Flows quivered.  Truly, Dominion seemed stunned by the device, somehow able to sense its power in a way none of its mortal wearers could. 
            “Aren’t you going to destroy it?” smiled Jaal.
            “Join me and we can rule beyond the Blue, beyond Nysul,” it said after a long pause.
            The monster indicated the seam along its side, just large enough for a person to clamber within.  By now the Duxess was fully digested. 
            “How would we do this?”  The false noble made no move towards the terrible aperture.
            The giant didn’t respond.
            “You place it upon your head,” explain Jaal and the thing did so.  Power hung silent in the air as imperial clouds drifted in.  “Now say, say what you wish for.  Speak it true, protect us, all of Nysul, from that which is most terrible.  The crown knows the spirit of language and will make the world accordingly.”
            Again Dominion was silent, as if frozen by the awful possibilities.  Jaal knew the toxin of power well.  It was a heady narcotic, but its results were deadly.
            “What do you desire?” he asked simply.
            “To defend Nysul,” came its automatic reply.  Now nature and desire were at odds.  It wasn’t a wish or a demand, so the words held no change. 
            “Then speak it as a pure dream of language and the Regalom will remake the future according to your poetry.”  The actor smiled, his act going away.
            “I wish that I might control the badlands, the empire, the whole peoples and realm of Nysul in the most perfect manner.  I.  Myself.  Alone,” blared Dominion who then vanished, the crown falling with a clatter upon the golden shore. 
            The orb of clouds exploded in freedom, blasting the chamber and rumbling the ceiling.  Massive blocks of stone fell into the azure pool with a splash.  In this confusion the actor lost sight of the crown.
            “You just have,” said Jaal of Night as he considered his wager won.  “Now you rule alone.”
            He gave himself a smile, and a smirk, and then a laugh.  There wasn’t much echo as the chamber was once more filling with azure fog which soaked up his voice.  With one despot gone he moved to take the crown and finish the dynasty.  There it was, shimmering through the haze.
            The Fencer and the Trumpeter roused with shouts, like men from nightmares.  Voices high, there was a disturbance to the cloud around them.  For the briefest second monstrous and beautiful shapes adorned their dreamy heads and the air cleared, as if fearful of these phantoms.  Then they saw Jaal.
            He snatched up the crown against the nightmare blade, against the silver trumpet, and he placed the thing upon his head.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

XXII. Cold Oceans

Myriad lines charged the air.  Like harp strings they gleamed and rose in gradients, marking altitude, flashing as if plucked.  They resonated, illuminating strange clouds, a flat island, and an azure sea from which bizarre rock formations rose.  Through the haze thousands more chords shone.
            Against one vivid, azure wall sat the cat.  The wall was unique.  Sleek and monotonous, it was the only structure on the island, her island.  Face amongst paws, the creature’s yellow eyes watched as two men trudged ashore.  The waters were clear, cold, each of them shivering with the energy it imparted.
            Recognizing the beast for what she was the Fencer went for his sword only to discover he was unarmed, the Trumpeter as well, and even the vials of Clea’s magic they kept for emergencies were strangely absent.  They couldn’t tell if the cat was smiling.
            So they froze against each other, staring.  Their eyes and this land quiet and still.  Strange clouds wearing faces, clumps of bodies, billowed in and billowed out.  In time a procession came.
            Stately beings of regal angles and heavy, rich furs marched past on some errand.  Each wore a crown and a few even seemed familiar.  A warrior draped in snuma skins, a queen garbed in living ice, a crowned scholar, each part of a moving court.
            These peers complained about this interruption of their journey in a whine of conflicting noises until they marched right into the crystalline sea.  With a flash they were gone, their movements no longer disturbed.
            Through all this the cat was still, unmoving, unblinking, unbreathing.  Yet the beast was the first to break this purity, vanishing around the short blue wall only to reappear along the other side again.  Beyond the island strange ruins towered, flashing up from time to time in the electrical pangs running along the upper cords.  Suddenly they realized she had been speaking.
            “…your clothes, your skin, your lungs,” she grumbled at them.  “Drenched in the stuff.  Like we speak through the air by disturbing the unseen matter within.”
            “I’m sorry, I don’t follow,” explained the Trumpeter. 
            Both the men approached the beast, who was small for a snuma, maybe less than two hundred kilograms by her look. 
            “Just one drop is all it takes,” she smiled.  “You were part of us weeks ago.”
            The sky played and a wave came, frothing waters full of beings and objects.  With a splash these were deposited on the shore all wriggling and arguing, ready for crusades and glittering with value.
            “You’re dead,” said the Fencer, “and I’m dreaming.”
            “We’re dreaming,” corrected the Trumpeter through the haze of the place.  There were no clouds or mist, but a shadow lay over everything, making it seem unreal and gauzy.
            “Wrong on both counts,” purred the Hunting Thing.  “An old custom attributes many lives of various number to cats.  I can honestly say that I’m finding this to be one superstition worth believing in.  I live, although in a different mode, and you do not dream, but have now become part of the Blue Which Flows.”
            Terrible things revealed themselves with each flash of the sky.  Those illuminating thoughts lit up hideous structures composed of calcified notions, fused mummies of souls, ideas laid like sediment.  Structures of such stuff loomed from the sea as spindles and plinths, crags and cliffs. 
            The Hunting Things’s island was different.  Sleeker, a bare pane of smooth plastic just a few feet above the water, it stretched out behind the wall, the only upward symbol on the whole place.  This space was just the start, it waited for her command.
            “Who needs a crown?” she spoke, her voice different, a deep grumble from her throat.  She then went down to the shore and pulled an emperor screaming from the wriggling mass.  While they watched she began to devour the hapless thing.
            “How is it that the least kind things manage to cheat death?” growled the Fencer.  “It must be some avenue of the Riddle manifest despite the equality of cold.”
            “Ah,” uttered the Trumpeter, as if he had sudden understanding, though he didn’t elaborate until the Fencer grabbed him by his coat.
            “Don’t you see?” fussed the musician, slapping the swordsman away.  “She has the talent, some high-functioning mutant with capabilities beyond the icebound.  In short, a thaumic cat, whatever name more cleverly describes this beast.”
            The Fencer considered this, trying to put his companion’s warbles into an idea he could manage.
            “A mage,” he said at last, something close to a whisper.  “It only stands to reason that beasts might be given the same curse as men, for in this world there is little difference.”
            He looked out and saw the swarming hive of old Nysul’s nobles.  There were honeycomb churches full of jittering kings and mounds crawling with emperors.  It seemed the horizon danced, but this was simply the compound movement of thousands of thoughts and notions, minds and monarchs, moving together.  The clouds were composed like mass graves and ruins made from the pressed bones of subjects and time.  Only the sea was clear, starkly so, linking all these things together, charged with bolts of lights which ran through the ever present chords. 
            “Like the workings of some huge harp,” wondered the Trumpeter, drunk on dreams. 
            “Those are the striations we see within the emperor jelly’s matter,” sighed the Fencer.  “Its slime runs according to some striated logic, giving it strength and solidity, while charging the liquid with an animating magic.”
            “The Blue Which Flows is a useful idiot,” said a well fed voice from behind, “but only I could make this space.”
            The Hunting Thing stalked forward.
            “There’s nothing here,” smirked the Fencer.
            She roared and though it wasn’t the stone shattering bellow she had been capable of at her height, here it ran through the men like a knife.  All that was primal and fearful in the beast overwhelmed the brain, staggered the heart.
            “It is a foundation,” she said when sure of their attention.  “From here I might build the future.  You’d do well to understand that because your bones and blood will be my stone and mortar.”
            “Not true,” complained the Trumpeter.  “It is only thought and idea which has form here.”
            “Quite right, subject,” nodded the Hunting Thing, gaining some airs of her old queenly self.  “For that is what we are here and on yours I will gladly feast.”
            The beast snarled and braced.  Some ten meters separated her from the men but she could clear that in a second and have her fangs at their throats.  The Fencer readied himself to wrestle this creature of the mind.  Then a wave came and he was lost.
            She sputtered to shore all green and beautiful, like an emerald cut from the heart of a poisoned mountain.  Clea composed herself, whole and alive.

For the better part of an hour he waited for them to rest at last.  Boundless energy animated those two outlanders but as with all mortals they had to sleep.  Desperately, Jaal stayed awake, ostensibly to keep watch, but in truth this was an act.
            Somewhere amongst the treasures it lay, a diamond amongst rubies, a crown amongst crowns.  Yet it was as different from these other treasures as the travelers were from the people of Nysul.  The Regalom came from outside, brought here, interred by the green witch several seasons ago for reasons unknown.  Perhaps the Trumpeter’s book held such reasons.
            Yet, all was clouds.  Dreamy warmth had bubbled up from the Fencer’s word.  Hazy entities tumbled through the chamber speaking with the occasional flash.  As the clear might of the Blue Which Flows ebbed the dispersed remnants lived on and through that medium power spoke in hushed tones.  The crown was lost amongst the fog.
            What things he would do with it, thought the actor.  Joy and purpose kept him standing, awake and tall, with the prime face of a false king and the giddy energy of a waking dreamer.  He wouldn’t simply rule or command.  No, a pure act would follow donning the Regalom and Jaal of Night would bring a new day to the badlands.
            But, just as the Fencer and the Trumpeter fell to dreams it came, lumbering as gigantic as history and its weight was death.  Dominion was its name, the clouds said so.
            Parts of the aether told its story as the ruling skin arrived.  Jaal knew to fear it before he could see.  Scrambling behind a golden dune he hid amongst the clouds.
            Dominion stopped to the sound of jangling coin.  A few seconds drifted by.  At the shore lay the two travelers.  Perhaps they had awakened or maybe their sleep was unnatural and they dreamed on.  If only he could find the crown, Jaal thought, he might meet this ruler as a peer.
            With a gasp the clouds fled.  Through the clear air he saw it, a giant of blue, akin to the emperor jelly, with a single massive eye on its featureless bulb of a head and this eye watched him, unblinking.  In one, partially finished hand it held a sphere of glowing, condensed gas. 
            “It is everything,” said a titan’s voice within the man’s head.  “The orb is the cosmos which I hold and am in turn held by.”
            “A nice thing my liege,” said Jaal, standing up from where he crouched against some platinum.  “I appreciate your handling of this cosmos.”
            Now it strode forward, on towards him.  If he had remained by his sleeping companions it would’ve walked through them like so much liquid.  Even the heavy gold and gems it tossed aside like so much water, making a chiming splash.
            “To what do I owe this honor?” said the actor, who bowed and looked about for some sign of the Regalom.  Every moment was drenched in cold fear. 
            “There is a great unsettling of the land,” spoke the giant without mouth.  “The order of things is undone.  The weak are burdened with strength and the strong are enticed with weakness.  Confusion takes the place of the balance of kings.  Even the true ruler now must change.”
            “Are you this ruler, if I may ask?”  Jaal retreated a respectful distance from his better to gain more vantage, his eyes dancing across the endless collage of gem and jewel. 
            “I am simply Dominion, the frame of power.  Only the Blue Which Flows rules Nysul as the ultimate authority.  There is no title which exists yet to describe its superlative throne.”
            The thing was balancing, judging, weighing the moment of things upon the scale of whatever harsh and fantastical monarchy from which it had been born.  Jaal seethed inwardly at its presence, a bully with a body of magic and a lust for crowns.
            Tension built within the clear air, now growing colder as Winter retook its rightful place.  It seeped in from the stones and from the cold wastes above.  How long it had been since Jaal had seen the clear skies of Nysul.  Thin triangle sheaves of patterned clouds up in the pale blue, framed by the red rock and the crumbling citadels of half-dead nobles.  Centuries seemed shorter. 
            “What do you propose to do?”  Jaal continued his search, moving about the moneyed dunes, careful not to betray his greed.  He acted afraid, which was easy considering the circumstances.
            “There is a threat of words,” it replied.  The thing had no volume other than declaration, as if the whole badlands were listening. 
            “I know just the rebellion of which you speak!” said the young man in reply.  He cajoled the titan, displaying the hoard about them.  “I followed two thieves as they sought to plunder the depths.  Each carried devices above their station.  One an enchanted weapon, the other an invulnerable instrument of silver notes.  Plundered from their betters most likely.”
            Each mentioned prop was punctuated by a jab of his finger into the air.  When speaking of the outlanders he let a harsh angle of distaste flavor his words.  Jaal paused to let the performance sink in, but the faceless giant was difficult to read.  A tough audience.
            “They pillaged a mighty crown from one of the lower vaults and brought it to the surface.  In their ignorance they lost control of its power and sowed chaos amongst the nations of Nysul.  Undaunted, they endeavored to steal more items of power from the Great Vault.”
            “What is your business here then,” demanded Dominion, barely letting the actor’s words finish. 
            Jaal paused a moment, he was sure it would be his death, then smiled. 
            “I am Orlac the Younger, Heir of the Pale Castle, Prince of Nysul,” he began, putting on a costume of history.  “As part of the blood of this land I felt it was my duty to cease their troubles.”
            “You lack a sword,” it noted.
            “I have my wits,” he replied.
            “Your clothes are tatters,” it observed.
            “Clothes don’t make a noble, ancestry does,” he shot back, casting his face into sharp features, lifting his nose from atop a treasure heap.  “I seek only to restore that which was lost and taken.”
            Silence responded.  It would know his lies, no matter how many truths he buried them under.  The air was full of other languages, avenues of communication.  That was the nature of the Blue, whether as a cloud or a pool or a jellied monstrosity it allowed for pure transmission of thoughts and feelings. 
            Then Dominion regarded his orb.  It contained all.  Cold returned, but the air remained clear and at that moment Jaal realized something which almost broke him to pieces with laughter.  This monster would know his falsehoods except it had gathered the cloudy medium of the Blue Which Flows into its hands.  By luck the clear air was both barrier and salvation.