Nine Stars

by James W & Helen W

The pub is a place by the waterfront called the Nine Stars. Of all the words that could be used to describe it, the best is 'cheerless'. It doesn't even have the enthusiastic brawling that most of the other places nearby do. The beer is watered, the barmaid is a forty-year-old harridan who gives short change and shorter measures, and the only people who ever drink there are the regulars.

And people who want to be alone. Sitting alone in the corner, staring into a pint of something murky, is a huge, scarred man who holds his cup like a thimble between his bloodied thumb and forefinger. On his forehead is a bloody kiss-mark, placed on top of something - a tattoo, maybe - which resembles a stylised lightning bolt striking water.

There is the sound of raised voices on the street outside, getting closer to the door. ”…next week. I said next week! I don't care if my predecessor said he'd get it done earlier, I am not my predecessor. Go away. Stop following me! I am going to the pub! Get back to the College before I rusticate you!” There is a sharp sound, as of a hand connecting with the back of a head, and a scurrying sound.

Kit Fisable enters the Nine Stars. “Fucking undergrads,” she mutters as she makes a beeline for the bar. Bill grins as he hears the familiar voice, displaying a collection of missing teeth. “Settling in well, Kit?” he asks, without looking up.

“Bill,” she says, half surprised, half cautious. The shifting thing on her forehead flickers slightly; it's not settled down yet - still difficult to tell exactly what it is, and whether or not it's actually burning or just looks like it. “Buy you a drink?”

”'d be nice.”. There's something different about Bill, something which takes Kit quite a while to place. At last things click: he's no longer talking with an accent. Or rather, he is talking with an accent, but a fading one. There's a hint of something new in his voice. Something cunning, if not particularly intelligent. Something aware.

Kit orders wine for herself and a pint of some horrible beer for Bill, and brings them over to his corner. “I'm surprised not to see you in the Griffin,” she comments neutrally. ”'Course, it's not the same place since Sirius… yes, well. I'm settling in all right. Turns out the last guy with my job was a useless bastard, only got the post 'cause he was shagging the Dean. It's a lot of work. Lots of people asking awkward questions about,” she nods to a Western-facing window, “that.” She is calm: remarkably calm, relaxed, like she's let go of something. All the tics and twitches, the edges that have been with her since she came back from the Port are quietly disappearing.

“Yeah.” says Bill. “That.” The tone of his voice implies that there's nothing more that needs to be said about That. “I'm avoiding the Griffin because I need peace, Kit. I need to think. Ain't done it for a while - not properly, at any rate - and now I got to start again.”

“It's a difficult business. You should try doing it for a living,” Kit comments drily, then takes a sip of her wine - white - and turns serious. “What about?” Her eyes flick momentarily to the blood-red stain on Bill's forehead, then away.

“Everything. The Inferno. Supplies, men, arms, potions, money. Magic. Things to do, things that we would be doing if we were being… led. The Maiden's still in the South, House of the Gods still wants us dead, Glass in the Forest in the southwest - you don't want to know about that - a shattered-brained slippery bastard that I still haven't caught up with, the curse that's still not caught up with me, and then there's the mess in the Gardens. “Mess in the South, in the southwest, in the Burned Realm… chaos growing everywhere I've walked like these damn flowers, and nobody's doing anything about it. No-one's cleaned up and it's only getting worse, like a wound that's been left untreated too long.” Bill sips his beer thoughtfully. “And me without a plan.”

Kit raises her eyebrows and grins slightly. “Seems you're getting a mite ambitious there, old friend. Trying to fix the world again?” She pauses, scratches absently at the skin around her scar, which flickers with a quick spark of black flame and then quietens. “So, you want me to come up with a plan for you, I take it. And presumably you want me to help you with this… clean-up.”

He shakes his head, smile fading. “There's no 'again' about it. I'm thinking maybe 'instead'. And I'm requesting nothing of you. You asked me a question and I answered it, is all. Right, I ain't a leader. But if I'm any judge, you ain't either. By my reckoning, no-one in this city is. No-one in this world I'd serve under any more. Everybody - everybody - is only ever out for their own. Present company excepted, of course.”

Kit nods the final point and shrugs; “I'm no leader, you're right about that. I can see you want to do the right thing, and I won't say that in other circumstances I wouldn't want to join you. But I've got other plans. Bigger fish to catch. House of the Gods might make my life difficult, and sure I owe him an apology - which I'll give him, if I get the time - but the rest…” she shakes her head. “Sorry, Bill. Not me, not yet.”

“Good.” says Bill, finally. “Good. I'd worried I'd have to convince you to stay. The Band, towards the end… it kept on making me think of the Glass. Or one of them jigsaw puzzles. All the jagged, broken people somehow fitted together and worked. Because we were so broken, I think. We'd nothing else left to lose, so we kept on. Doesn't matter if we die, because none of us are really properly alive anyway.” He grins, ”'Cept now you've gone and made the oldest mistake and gotten yourself a job, an important job, with signing paper and speaking to people and suchlike. Gotten yourself something to lose.”

Kit laughs quietly, and shakes her head. “No. No, sorry, Bill, you're barking up the wrong tree. It's not the Faculty. That's nothing new, just another set of letters after my name and a new set of luxurious rooms I won't feel comfortable in. If you killed me tomorrow the College would carry on just as before - it's about as old as the City, it's coped with worse. No, I've got the Faculty of the Arcane for one reason and one reason only. Just about very paper - every abstract - every talking-point at the nobles' dinner parties, every dumbed-down summary we publish for the public - that deals with the Black Flame now has to come through me first. I tell them what happened, and I decide what they're allowed to say about it.” She knocks back the rest of her wine, eyes Bill, and adds with a wry smile and a very dry humour, “As you may have noticed, I have already begun lying outrageously.” “But the reason I can't come with you… it's not that. It's the reason I signed up with you bunch of bastards,” a quick smile, “no offense, in the first place. It's what Toquell promised me. The Vitriarchs. I'm going to destroy them. I'm going to hunt them down, one at a time or all together, and I'm going to remove them from the world. And now… I think I can actually do it. He wasn't lying about that. All those times I thought he was just out for power for himself… he wasn't. This was the end. That,” she nods to the Western window, “was what it was all about.”

Bill's eyes briefly unfocus and stare into the middle distance, seeming almost to look through Kit. But it's only brief, and then he's staring piercingly into her eyes, despite the known dangers. His face is dark. “You've changed.”

Kit raises an eyebrow, meeting Bill's gaze straight on. “Sure I have. I'm not mad anymore. What, you think it's a bad idea? Wiping that stain from the world? I don't like Gods, Bill. I don't like 'em and I don't trust 'em. The rest I'll happily leave alone unless they bother me, but the Vitriarchs are too dangerous. They've broken the world, and I intend to fix it.”

“I mean exactly what I say.” says Bill, a darkness growing behind his eyes. “You've changed. You say you're not mad any more, but your plan sounds like madness to me. Madness and suicide. Aren't you afraid?” Bill pauses. “No. You're not.” he concedes. “You're not afraid. You've changed.”

Kit blinks lazily and stretches out her neck with a few loud cracks. “Yes, I've changed. I'm not afraid. But not being scared of the Vitriarchs is better than being scared of everything, even if you do say it's suicide.” She sighs, shakes her head and looks down at the table. “You don't get it, do you? I slept last night, Bill. I slept from the dusk bell to the noon bell and I didn't have a single. Fucking. Nightmare.” She looks straight at Bill. “Do you have any idea how long it's been since I felt like this? Like I could do something with my life? I can laugh again. I can walk into the pub like this without feeling like I either have to drink myself into unconsciousness or start a fight, just so I can feel something that's not fear. I'm alive, Bill, I'm burning with life, and half the Gods in the world want me dead so I'd better do something with it before they catch up with me.” There's a strange look in her eyes, one that Bill hasn't seen since they took that mission at the Southern watchtower all that time ago; a look of hope. “Your round. Don't pretend you can't afford it, you scavenged as much of that steelsilk as the rest of us.”

Presently, Bill returns from the bar, setting the drinks down. He doesn't bother to even taste the ale - not that there would be much to taste. His words are falling heavily now. “You cannot face them alone. You must surely know that. And even so, you stand alone. Selena will not help you, Serafine is too afraid, Belor has no interest, and the things coming out of the university these days calling themselves adventurers might maybe be useful as a blunt weapon, in a pinch.” He sits back, and sighs. “So tell me, then. Tell me the means you'll use to kill the gods, and tell me how the ends justify them. I'll sit here and listen, and I'll pretend I've not heard the same story before.”

Kit sips her wine and makes a face. “You know I have the keys to the College wine-cellars? And they say academia doesn't pay,” she mutters as an aside. Serious again, she replies honestly, “I don't know. Belor will help me, as a matter of fact; he might not be marked,” the brand on her brow flickers again as she gestures to it, “but he was still there when that Flame appeared. We've a… bond, now, of sorts. Even Selena might; she's mad in strange ways, that one. But that's beside the point. Even if I do stand alone at the last, I will destroy them. I don't yet know how, but there's a new Power in the world. A fire. And the thing about glass, right…” she pauses, sips her wine again, “It melts.”

There is a hissing noise as Bill exhales. “And the thing about fire, is that it burns. It burns everything. Even - especially - those who wield it.” He raises the beer to his lips, and continues. “The magic I use is wild, and I know it. I'd not have it any other way. But I can trust it. Blood-Fury walks with me, for better or for worse, and I know that he will not abandon me. Putting your faith in something you don't know? That you don't understand? You will be burned.”

“What, and you won't?” Kit shakes her head as her voice turns harsh. “They say it was you that killed Ryn Coth, Bill. Your…” she pauses, with a slight sneer, “faith.”

With that, Bill stops listening. The words wash over him as Kit continues,

“Of course I'll be burned. I expect it. You were in the Forest; you saw what one sacrifice in the right place can do.”

He's not there. He's on a battlefield some months ago. His hair is red, his chest - he'd torn off his own armour some time ago - red, his vision red. Most of all, blood on his hands. Somebody is speaking to him, but they are far away and they are not important. What matters now is the blood.

“What does this world have left to offer me? Money? Power? Not interested. There's nothing to stop someone with more money or greater power hurting me just because they feel like it.”

Shouting now, a voice he should recognise, but he's turned away and with dream-like precision the crowds part before a man: tall, stripped to the waist, bathed in gore, wielding twin broadswords, and walking purposefully towards him.

“Everyone dies, Bill, but I'd rather not wait out my end knowing it will gain nothing, solve nothing. If I fall, I'll fall in flames.”

He returns to the present with a jolt. Kit appears to have finished talking. “That's enough.” he says. “I can see… I won't change your mind. I need to be alone. I need to think.”

Kit starts to say something, then seems to change her mind and shakes her head. She finishes her wine and scrapes her chair back, getting up. “All right. Look. I'm sorry.” She seems at a loss there, and after a moment standing staring at Bill she turns to leave. She stops at the bar a moment, and has a quiet word with the landlord; money changes hands, and Bill will find he needn't pay for more beer this evening. Just before she walks out, she says, pitching her voice just so Bill can hear it, “We're going different ways, old friend. For your sake, I hope our paths don't cross while we're out there in the world. But I'm still good for a drink if you need it.”

Bill acknowledges this with the barest of nods, and continues to sip the foul ale as Kit leaves.

“Everyone I love dies.” he mutters, to nobody in particular.

misc/fiction/9stars.txt · Last modified: 2011/03/31 20:54 by osj01
Except where otherwise noted, content on this wiki is licensed under the following license:CC Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported