Dabble in the Great Game
Spies dart like minnows among Veilgarden’s bonnets and tailcoats. Some serve the surface powers, frantic to find out what’s going on down here. But more relevant - and more dangerous - are the agents of the Neath’s own empires, scattered across the Sunless Sea. The New Khanate; the Iron Republic; the Presbyterate; the tomb-colonies.
The shrine’s location is hidden in five pieces of Clathermontian graffiti scattered across the city. You’re versed enough in tattoos and spycraft to decode them, now. You set off, sure of your direction. Suddenly, it is the next day. You are standing on the edge of Winewound Heath, the damp air heavy in your nose. You blink. Where did the graffiti lead you? What rites did you perform? Which crime did you confess? You cannot remember. Yesterday is lost in a languorous, purplish fog that clings to your thoughts. That is the way of St. Joshua. He forgives; you forget.
The shrine was a priest-hole once, hiding trembling Catholics while Protestant carpenters tore at the walls around them. Now it is draped in irrigo - one of the seven troublesome colours unique to the Neath - thick and deep and purple. Irrigo is the colour of forgetfulness. You will not remember the rites once you have performed them. Nor will your recall what you confessed, or where to find the shrine next time. Every visit is a quest, a mystery, a sacrifice. Was someone else there to hear your confession? Did they lay a hand on your head in blessing and forgive you your weakness? Standing beneath the flickering gaslight, blinking on the edge of the cavernous gap in your memory, you could not say.
You know you’re spending longer than you need at this. It’s her fault. Must she be so charming? So animated? Must she frown ever-so-slightly when she’s thinking, and push that lock of hair so prettily back behind her ear each time it slips loose? In the end it is she that reminds you of your offer to draw her, and suggests doing so at her lodgings… Your pen flows across the page as she reclines magnificently in the moonish light. You take the time to do her justice. Afterwards, when you show her your sketch, she smiles. Then you show her the other sketch - the detailed one of her tattoos - and her smile dies. Wordlessly you hand them over, and with two quick paces she places them in the fire. When she returns to sit opposite you her hands are shaking. The two of you talk, honestly. It goes no further than that. There are no confessions of feeling. You are never less than a room apart. But something else connects you: a moment of vulnerability - the firmest currency of the Game - that you cast away.
The perils of love
She will allow you to draw her, but she’ll keep the sketch. You expected no less… which is why you have a second sheet of paper ready at hand. You work fast, and she can’t see what you’re doing from over there where she reclines magnificently in the moonish light… Her paramour is not easy to contact. He slides under the surface of the Game like a pike. You loose some bait into the pond: secrets that the minnows shouldn’t know. The finds them, devours them, and comes looking for you. He finds you at the Singing Mandrake. He’s tall, with black hair and dark skin, clad all in grey except for his ruche, which is a fathomless, almost hypnotic purple… why were you here again? You shake your head to clear it. You hand him the sketches. ‘What do you want?’ he asks. You smile. You know what he values above even his anonymity, now. ‘I already have it,’ you tell him, and take your leave.
ihniwtr replied to your post: He’s one of the Knotted Sock, and once…
what storylette is this the result of? not the Pocketful of Change one from the Urchin’s card.
it’s the result of becoming closest to urchins using the option on the card
He’s one of the Knotted Sock, and once you’ve got some sherbet into him, chatty. “People reckon we’s called the Sock ‘cos of our socks. Y’know, for the walloping.” He unties the frayed sock from his belt and brandishes it vigorously, knocking over your sugar bowl. “Oops. Anyway, that’s partly it, but yer don’t name yerself after a sock wiv a half-brick in, do yer? No, there’s an ur-sock, see, of which all lesser socks are wrought in effigy. No-one knows what’s knotted inside. I’ve heard it’s a star. Lordy, I think I’ve had too much sherbet. Is everything meant to be fizzin’ like that? You’re top, you are. I’m telling all the others about you.”
A series of surprises
They see - or imagine they see - peculiar things through the bindings of Parabola-linen. One cries out for his mother. One talks delightedly of mountains. A third giggles lasciviously and will not speak of what she experienced. A fourth tears off his blindfold and eats it. All agree it was an experience worth the journey out to Bugsby’s Marsh. You nod and smile as they leave. You do not speak of the thirteenth guest you saw: a long-necked gentleman, his eyes clear of any blind-fold, who watched from the party’s edge, sardonically sipping tea. By the time you approached, he was gone.