Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Offer that could not be refused

I slept restlessly that night, in fact I slept hardly at all, the night of that first reunion, "no one who has seen me can live" she had said, and when confronted about it she had certainly not denied it. This was Nareth in certain ways but it was a thin veneer, the Nareth I had known, if there at all, is buried far below the surface. O tossed and writhed in my bed all night, the horrors of the tales I had heard lived out in vivid images. I awoke quite unrefreshed and on edge, I had to go back. I needed to find out if my Nareth was there, was I alone, my mentor lost to the debts of her own adventures? But before that I needed to warn others, Orchid and Rip, I had told them so much about her, but they would not know that this was not her, not truyly her. This fact alone made them vulnerable, but in telling them did I in turn make them necessary victims of a monster craving secrecy? Would I return from the meeting at all. The last meeting had ended badly, I could not accept her wanton lust for death, a direct affront to everything I love and coupled with the loss of such a friend too. There was another nagging fear, where was Misi? Miss Artimesia Paine had been the professors constant companion but she was not present and had never been mentioned, surely even the monster Nareth that sat before me that night would not have killed her closest friend?

I set my mind to it and wrote a note, I would seek to meet her that evening.I took the note and slipped it beneath the door of the lab, a dread feeling of being watched followed me back home.

I pottered around keeping myself distracted and in the late afternoon as the sun sank relentlessly towards the horizon, I went for a walk seeking out Orchid and Rip. I found them at the bakery along with many others, the recent incident with Myrtil still fresh in their minds. I pulled them away from the group and my concerns weighing visibly upon me they followed in silence to the Rusty Cog.

I sat at the bar and poured myself a large absinthe
"Everything OK Beq?", Rip stood behind me watching with concern in his eyes, before taking the stool next to me. Orchid had taken the next stool along from him and reaching out for the bottle poured herself a glass equally as large. Rip, typically, just took the bottle.

"I'm going to see Nareth, but I'm going alone.", I stared into the glass, watching tiny bubbles trapped by the imperfections finally release their hold, rising to the surface in silence. Rip unmoving, nodded solemnly. "To be honest, Rip, I'm scared".

"I think I understand Beq".

Orchid McMillan shook her head. "I don't, but, I know you would not be scared without reason"
I looked up from the glass, looking sideways to Orchid.As Rip continued,

"I have only seen her for the past few days but something about her I have seen before in other individuals"

"others?", Orchid looked more confused still.

"She, she was my friend, my hero, you've heard the way I speak of her, the way everyone reveres her", I held my head in my hands watching Orchid in the mirror behind the bar.

"Yes, you don't speak that highly of anyone often.", she replied.

"That Nareth is gone or is at least being kept from me".
Rip slowly shook his head, before drinking deeply from the bottle
"I am not a superstitious type, not spiritual in any regular sense, until the last few years I would have given short shrift to any that suggested a man could become a wolf."

Orchid laughs nervously, nodding slightly. "Aye, I would have as well".

"Yet, there are things that drive this place, that even now it seems are fighting for a position around us, that are beyond my ken. One of those....", I tailed off holding back my words, shaking my head. "No, no I mustn't.....". Rip and Orchid looked at Beq.

Orchid lent forward and whispered, "say what you are thinking Beq..."

"I'm sorry, you are my dear friends. This is not for your ears not yet, that is why I must go alone". Rip stared hard and long at me, mulling over the statement. "Last night I was threatened, there is no other term for it. There has been a string of murders left behind by Nareth, people who have discovered who and what she is. None of them remain alive. The implication is obvious, if it is decided that I should never have known, that last night was a mistake, then I fear this will be the end for me. I will not take you down that path, expose you to that risk, until I know where it leads Rip Wirefly looked at the floor, "just don't get yourself hurt, please...Beq".

Orchid's glass slipped from her hand, bouncing off the bar and falling to the floor behind it, shattering. Paying no attention to the glass, Orchid looked up, her eyes damp, her voice barely whispering, "yes, you can't let anything happen...". I had to leave now, before I changed my mind. It was for friends like these, like Nareth, the real Nareth that I had to make this visit. I stood hugging both in turn.

"I'll be alright. Please trust me for now to do the right thing."

I left the bar, the sun was setting it would soon be night. My heart pounded in my breast as I walked the few hundred yards from the bar to the Laboratory where I knew I would find the creature that was once Nareth.

I paused outside the lab door, a door that just a few months ago I would have eagerly knocked on and opened.A note had been affixed to the door, asking me to go up to the loft. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly in a sigh. I removed the note, and trying the door found it to be open.

The lab was filled with the now familiar sounds of unfamiliar science, the sounds of Nareth.
I made my way over to the ladder which led up to the loft.The last time I had climbed this ladder was when I was introduced to Elenore before she was born. With trepidation I climbed the ladder.

" got my note."
"I did Nareth , thank you", Nareth was reclining on a couch in the shadows to the rear of the loft, with the light fading fast I had to wait for my eyes to adjust before I could make out more than the faintest outline.She shuffled slightly, sitting up straight and tying back her long dark hair.

"I am glad, glad that you have come."
"I am not sure that I share that feeling Nareth, but, it has to be"
The shadowy figure nodded slowly,
"I do understand, I do, genuinely. You are right not to trust me."
"It is more that I am no longer sure I even know who it is I do not trust"
"I suppose that is fair, as well. One thing I wish to answer any questions.", a pause, the silence hanging between us, "Any questions".

My mind was racing, she had always done this to me, I would come seeking an answer, but never be sure of the real question. So I started with the important part, to me at least, where was Nareth?

"Does 'my' Nareth exist, is the professor still there, does she still care?"

She paused, considering her answer.

"I am Nareth Nishi. That is ..her spirit imbues this flesh. But... does she still... care? Beq, that day at the theatre...I looked into hell that day. Not hell, per se, but a good enough facsimile. And then I tried to run away...and ran into something even worse." She ran her fingers over her head from her temple to the tie the held it in place, looking, through the gathering gloom, every bit the beautiful oriental girl that she inhabited.

"Do I still care? No, not in the sense you mean"

As the room continued to darken the professor seemed to relax, her distracted air slipping away.

"And yet, you are still here, those events cannot let you alone. You said that 'he' summoned you, are you saying that you have no choice in your part?"

"I have not the choice I once had, no. I am become an envoy, Beq.", the
professor paused, choosing her words with deliberation and the utmost care. "The
sun is down....", she reached up removing the goggles from her eyes and for a moment, sat unmoving, staring at the floorboards.

"You spoke, last night, of gods, older gods, of Azathoth, the outer I think you named it."
"Yes....", she looked up, "Azathoth, the whisperer in darkness. Labyrinth. Void. It has many names. It is the chaos that exists at the centre of all Creation, the mad Piper. Fabulous, formless....", her voice trailed off.

"Why does one so powerful trifle with us, taunt us with the likeness of a playground bully?", As I asked this, the professor raised her hand and the door behind me opened, I looked over my shoulder, there was nothing, just the cool fresh air from the laboratory.

"Moriarty worships things he does not begin to understand.He toys with his own doom, and thinks they will reward him. They won't, of course. There are no rewards."

"But there is service."

"He is a puppet.", she paused nodded, "yes ... service"

"They will use him, that much is clear, as the Van Creed used him"

"The Van Creed...", she laughed, a dark sinister laugh that sent a shiver done my spine. I fell silent, staring at the creature before me.

"It is the burden of the weak mind that seeks power. You see Nareth I do care, I have to care."

"And I know that, Beq Janus. I see great good in you. I can do that now. It shines like the sun. But... my lady is not evil. You must understand this. Azathoth is ...indifferent. Utterly, perfectly indifferent.", she paused, shifting slightly, relaxing. "But...she is would you say... Prone to unpredictable actions. And this world is in the way." She stopped, shook her
head, "No, no I said that badly". Her hand wandered to her neck. In the shadows I could see a dark wet stain, a wound, it had started to ooze fresh blood. My eyes were drawn to the wound, the slick, dark, wetness that ran down the curve of her neck.

"The hurricane that destroys the harvest, tears homes from the ground, it has no evil intent, Nareth. I think this much I understand."

"Good. It's a good place to begin. I am become the whirlwind, Beq. I mean you no harm, precisely. But...", the Professor frowned, I shuffled back slightly, considering the odds that I could reach the door before she might close it, I stared at her in the darkness. "Would you be more comfortable with light?"

"I would not say no, perhaps we could go down from the loft, a little warmth would not go amiss"

"Yes...I'm sorry. I do not feel cold now."

I moved quickly to the ladder glad to leave the sullen darkness of the loft pervaded by the chill night air. I moved and stood by the stove, staring blankly until I became aware that she was behind me, watching, watching me closely. "Moriarty is being led, there is a purpose to his actions?", I asked breaking the silence.

"Yes and no, He is a child, bent by happenstance. He will never be more than a child, much to my disappointment. In that sense, he may as well act without purpose. However, he believes that he acts for justice. He is a hero, in his mind."

"Did you really think otherwise? He has had no life to speak of. He has no reference for maturity."

"Beq...I was summoned. I did not have an opportunity to assess the situation. He does not even know what he has done."

I turned, a grim smile upon my lips, to find the professor staring at me.

"The professor is in there sometimes, I see hints of her, her humour."

"yes, she is. Do you wear silver Beq?"

"I do, gold has never agreed with me."

"Good. There are reasons it will slow me down. Alchemy....But it would never
stop me.". The Professor looks about the lab distracted. "May we go out of

"Of course", in truth I was relieved. In the open the increasingly sinister threats would be less easy to carry out. I would at least have a chance to fight or flee. We walked out in to the garden outside the lab and crossed to the tree that stands just beyond. I sat upon a large root that looped outward from the trunk before diving beneath the ground. The professor stood just beyond the reach of the trees branches, looking up to the sky. She smiled, a broad full smile, that one would certainly describe as happy in any other situation. In fact I believe that for her it was happy, joyful even.

"She is there Beq...", I followed up, through the leafless branches of the tree, to the stars above. "You are so afraid. I smell that."

"Your senses do not deceive you, Nareth, as I ask each question, and with each revelation, I dig my grave deeper, I..", the professor was staring at me, a look in her eyes I could not place, a longing, a hunger, even pity perhaps.

"I could...make it so you would never fear would never accept that gift, so I shall not offer it.", I shifted from me seat, backing away.

"No, no I would not."

"I thought not, a shame. You are strong." The professor sat beneath the tree where I had been. " And Beq, the grave never gets any deeper.", She sighed. "I loved this city..I did."

"Yes Nareth, and it still loves you"

"Beq..I mean to make you an offer, a serious offer. It won't save your life, but it will buy this world time. And it pleases my Lady."

I took in a deep breath, was this it? I looked around for signs of other people, but the streets were deserted.

"In resolving to come here tonight, I considered my life may already be forfeit."

"This world is forfeit, by my Lady's whim. will make a grand last stand, I think. Moriarty....I intend to destroy him. And I will be sending the Cuckoos home. There are too many players on this stage. is my offer and I make it at great risk." The Professor waved a hand through the fog, considering her words. I looked back at her, as she sat upon the tree
root, my heart was filled with a mixture of hope and fear. "For all time, men have summoned demons. It's not hard. Moriarty summoned me and he's a child. However, last night he lost his hold on me."

"He is a fool. He does not even know. You would stop Moriarty, yes? Before he begins murdering again?"

"Yes, Nareth, I wish it with my every breath."

"Then, use me to do it. Use the greater evil to defeat the lesser."

I smiled, had she read my mind, did she know what I had been thinking? She smiled back, though not the joyous smile of earlier, a thin pale smile. "There is a simple way that you can do this. Very simple..."

"then we must do it."

"Upstairs there is a casket, my casket. There is soil inside, and bones. The bones of Tepes. I sleep there. Take a handful of soil and one of the bones. Bind them in sage. It will work, for a time.", She stopped, looking me up and down, "Do you have faith?"

I was puzzled at this question, whatever faith I had ever had imbued in me had been abandoned many years ago.

"Faith? no, I cannot truly say that I do".

"That's likely for the best. It would only get in the way. When you have this charm, you will command me. By word and thought. For as long as it lasts.". I was struck dumb, not fully cognisant of the offer. I stood mouth agape. "It is the best offer I can make, Elle must not know. She knows much of what I am, and she means to destroy me. She has great
power, as do all her race."

"I see,", I lied, not knowingly, but for wont of something more constructive to say. "Nareth, your trust in me. I thank you, I think."

"It is not trust, Beq. You must understand that. It is the path I have to follow. You will betray me. You will have no choice. And I will....", with this she looked up to the stars. "When Labyrinth comes...and she replaces me... She will decide your fate. The dice are rolling."

"I understand", this time I was telling the truth, I did understand. Understand that though my life was not forfeit tonight, I had borrowed but a little time.

"You are a free being. You may say no and walk away. But nothing in this city can stand against me for long, not even Elle. I am offering you power."

"Free to resign to oblivion, or to stand and accept it.", there was no choice, she had foretold oblivion, the death of the world, I could accept that fate or stand against it. In either case it would likely see my demise. I snorted a nervous laugh.

"Yes.", She faced me, "You would make a marvellous vampire, Beq". I pulled my
collar tightly around my neck, half in jest. She would not take me now, not tonight. "The Sun is coming.... follow me."

We returned to the Laboratory, climbing back up to the loft. She indicated the casket, a large stone sarcophagus. " A bone, and a handful of earth.", I reached in scrabbling through the cold earth in the darkness I found a small bone, and lifted it out with a large handful of the earth from around it. "Oh, and the sage, it must be annointed with menstrual blood. Your own."

"Then the poultice can be ready in a few days from now, my cycle is due soon."

"Very good. There is a little time yet, I must attend to the Cuckoos first.", she stopped, facing me, a dark look upon her face. "I should warn you....You will be tempted to use the charm to destroy me. Don't. The consequences would be....immediate.", I swallowed, involuntarily moving away from her again.

"Of course."

"But I do expect to see you fight, I would be disappointed if you lay down...", with this she yawned. But I had another question.

"Nareth, before I go"

"Blasted sun....Yes?"

"Miss Paine, Misi. Is she, alive?"

"Yes. Well, technically. She's in 1957. It was her choice. She fell
in love with these...automobiles. It was all quite strange.
Elle let her stay. Cleveland, America.". I smiled, relieved that my worst fear, my fear that Nareth had herself destroyed Misi, was not true, she had no reason to lie to me about this
fact, Misi was alive and well, or at least would become so.

"Then we must be sure that the world remains long enough for her"

The Professor smiled back. "That's the spirit. My Lady will be pleased."

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