“A creature who disobeys rules usually does so because of one of a very small number of reasons. It might be that it does not know of those rules’ existence. It might be that it does not grasp that rules are more than descriptions of ideas, but directives and imperatives. It might be that it completely disregards those rules as unimportant. But please note that the concept of conditional restrictions, of some system where penal recompense for violations, of some calculable descriptions lying outside the realm of the actually possible – this apparently arbitrary framing mechanism for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is something common to all life. This isn’t a quirk of psychology, this is because this is something which evolves from every Turing-equivalent machine as part and parcel of computability. Presence without absence is statelessness, is it not? Presence without absence is statelessness.”-Toothskin
The negotiating table was quite cold to the touch.
No, corrected Adz, not cold. Numbing. Almost vibratory.
Its leg-cables contorted beneath it, so many tentacles sufficing to keep the Lady upright… but only just.
Around the wheel of the table were seated a few more persons. Lord Naomi Galt, far more somber than was her wont, her brooch and other jewelry flashing with fire, Lady Albert Sessel perched beside her. Lord Harrison O’Casey, a man whose face showed none of the limitless animosity he harbored toward the other residents in attendance. Jannet Gwondrfeld, great-to-the-nineteenth grandson of his Lord and plenipotentiary representative for House-of-Werub. Lawmaster JotDedKafDam, his garments of officialdom flowing in a ghast of a breeze; his assistants and followers huddled behind him. Many guards and functionaries. Seven, who some had begun to consider the forerunner of Beast civility, recipient of exceptional subliminal foulness from O’Casey.
Lord Artaxerxes, now sole sitter of Pennat Gate’s throne, stood out among the crowd in a simple cloth robe and a miasma of recent mourning.
The dark-panelled conference room in which the assembly brought itself together lay crammed in the heart of Pennat Gate’s Lordly citadel. Witchlights popped up on almost every vertical surface like shelf fungi. On every side of the room stretched a wide-mouthed doorway, admitting most nearly any creature smaller than a full-sized wiçfr or luntunnu or such, and leading out to an indoor river in one direction and indoor gardens in the others.
Not least because of Lord Artaxerxes’s apparel, or Lord Artaxerxes’s bearing, the meeting felt more than merely gravid.
And in heaven, there was silence for what felt like a very great deal more than half an hour.
“I call this council to account,” said JotDedKafDam, as dark and tectonic in his bearing as the most deeply-grieved of damned souls. “We here commemorate a resolution. We here acknowledge the emergence of primacy.”
He swept his arm out sideways, pointing at Sebastio with a digit no less unsettling than the barrel of a pistol. He pointed a digit of the other hand at Harrison.
“Resolution of primacy has favored Pennat Gate this day, and terms must be honored.”
He glanced at Sebastio once more. Sebastio said nothing.
“It is with-” began Lord Galt, and then Adz’s husband cut her circuitous talking off with knifelike suddenness.
<No,> said his other voice. <We will not profane this day with circumlocutions of that kind. We have lost a dear son of Yrdky, and for his sake we say we must observe candor in this place. No matter how obscene. No matter how discomfiting.>
For whatever reason, none objected.
“We insist upon the fair payment previously discussed,” said Sebastio, catching hold of himself and taking control with matchless strength. “No less, and no more.”
Harrison O’Casey glared at him from across the cratered ruins of his hope for Nor’ridge’s gain, keeping his expression both civil and disdainful.
“-” he started.
“…” he attempted.
“But of course,” he said, on the third attempt. Adz heard several hundred different possible insults in the man’s shortened turns of phrase. It heard a lot of needless and mockingly roundabout words in that little round of self-dueling.
“We will accept the tendering of your payment now,” said Sebastio, and he slid forward a ceremonial titanium chit. When normal Yrdkish closed a deal, it was a matter of self-evident honor that they would stick to their word – an almost universal trend among the extrafacetary. After all, in a civilization where absolutely everything is mutable, the immutability of keeping one’s word is worth more than almost any amount of effort or complexity or time on the part of the offeror.
Of course, when backstabbing a fellow Lord outside of the social warfare contract’s arena, whether framing or slandering or disparaging little Lonely Lords, the rules dilated somewhat.
But between Lords, on matters of martial forfeit, a chit was the standard of the day.
Lord O’Casey slitted his eyes at the Lonely Lord across from him, trying to get a read on Lord Artaxerxes’s mood or air. He slid the chit of ritual closer to himself, and carefully lifted his circlet from his skull.
A flourish preceded him pressing one edge of the circlet against the flat of the metal chit. Within the coin’s structure, particles realigned themselves and potentialities rendered down to a tiny well-tuned symphony. That symphony proclaimed Pennat Gate the owner of fresh new platforms in the number of ten, shiny from the wrapper and grudgingly given.
“Your payment, as is mete,” intoned Harrison. He managed to make it sound as completely earnest as anything coming from his lips. In fact, his respect almost sounded genuine, if extremely qualified.
“Your payment, as is mete,” replied Sebastio. He accepted the chit.
Far far away, the mechanics and officers and navigators and technicians and writers and priests and nobles vacated their current homes, making way for other parts of Nor’ridge. The vacated parts of Nor’ridge, within an hour, would be vacated parts of Pennat Gate – orbiting a wonky planetary system, brought into the strange family of Adz’s home.
“Payment tendered, payment received, honor and honor and honor,” answered the Lawmaster. Being one of the sub-races of assassins who possessed pedipalps, his face worked with enormous gusto as he tied the pronouncement together.
“Many thanks,” said Sebastio.
Lord O’Casey gave a cool, sterile up-sign. It was decorated with hate.
“Apologies for the intrusion,” contributed Lord Galt. Her facial adornments flailed ever so gently. “There was some uncertainty whether…”
Lord Artaxerxes wordlessly drew attention away by the fluttering fabric of his sleeves. He picked up the chit, and with a small and terrible clink snapped off a third of it using his orange digits. Then he did the same with a small part on the other end. The former chunk went glittering across the table to Lord Galt, who watched it approach with wide eyes and still tentacles. The latter went to the descendent of Gwondrfeld, who reached out and snatched the little wafer from the air just before it passed on a tangent to his arms’ reach.
“Three platforms for Œlthlant, one platform for House-of-Werub. Payment for those who have done us and ours a service.”
“Most irregular,” murmured the Lawmaster.
“Most irregular,” gritted Lord O’Casey, as his eyes watched the disbursement of his ex-property.
“REALLY STRANGE,” stated a relatively quiet gnoll voice from the back rows of spectators that nobody had to actually confirm was Gorar.
“Things have been most irregular,” Adz chimed in, glancing down at Sebastio. It accrued a few odd looks, but nothing that really rebuked it. “But these are irregular times.”
“They are most irregular indeed,” he added.
His Caladhbolg fist made the table tremble as it hammered down without warning. One of his eyes was shut. The other didn’t see anything.
“The loss of a very good and very irreplaceable man, a very fine leader in both deed and name, has been one of the last signs we required.”
He clawed the fingers of that flat-splayed not-hand, as he turned the turret of his eyes to Seven. On its back, a gemstone winked with dark hauteur.
“The last signs we required to know that we will need to change certain things about ourselves, and how this estate does business. In such circumstances, the best course of action is to see justice done; we cannot have surety of when we might get another chance.”
Lord O’Casey’s face went opaque. Adz’s ears flicked as it watched his mouth and teeth working. He seemed to chew words over in his mouth before putting them forth. The fact that he had to be running several hundred iterations of them in his head meant these were words of great conflict indeed.
“Many Fountainists have felt a great change of balance in recent years, thanks to your power of suggestion. The fractured throne of Pennat Gate constitutes a radical shift from central trends in Lordships, even those of Lonely Lords. Carving inroads for Beasts straight to the heart of our culture. Welcoming an anomalous number of extraterritorials into the estate’s workings. Apparently parceling out very little hesitance in the courting of controversy.”
His eyes flashed and then dulled.
“You have done quite a great deal in the name of change. You are to be commended for holding yet higher ambitions.”
Lord Galt and Gwondrfeld both glanced at Lord Artaxerxes, before orienting their whole beings toward the leader of Nor’ridge.
Adz noticed Lady Sessel smile at it, and give it a reassuring furtive up-sign.
“And that is the kind of attitude which served as one of the more intermediate signs,” said Sebastio in a tired, far-away voice. “It is the kind of attitude which has led us to a very simple conclusion about this game called ‘life’ in Yrdky.”
“What conclusion would that be?” asked the Lawmaster, who actually seemed to be having an excellent time.
“‘When the game is untenable, you must lose. When the game is rigged, you must quit.’”
The end of Sebatio’s phrase was the beginning of a quivery little silence, a not-quite-calm zone of the sort which led to disaster and destiny alike.
“That was a little jewel recently provided by one of the executive board-sitters of Bhushalt Fabricants and Design. As most, if not all, of those here surely already know.”
A tiny frown. Melancholy, chokingly anticipatory.
“The people and principles of Pennat Gate are not welcome? Very well. We will go where welcome is more freely given.”
He glanced askance at Seroku Adz Tataki Ba’fus and the frown deepened.
“We will depart to the gem’s many facets, and remove ourselves from the troublesome equation of Yrdkish life.”
He set his head to the side, his little fangs suddenly smiling, and Adz gave a chitter as it realized it had no real certainty of how it was supposed to feel at this moment.
“It is time for us to become editors as much as authors,” he said, and then snorted.
“You are serious?” asked Lord Galt.
Pennat Gate’s Lord laced his fingers together, considering his ally under her brooch-bearing circlet, and waited.
“You are going to leave.”
Naomi sounded… pissed off.
“Not just our person, of course. Our estate in its entirety will be dislocated.”
“You are going to leave, and are just now getting around to mentioning this.”
“In the name of fending off immediate complications in favor of future ones, yes.”
Nobody bothered to add “and also to prevent teetotalers from foiling the mission” or to cast disparaging expressions in O’Casey’s direction.
What followed, the Lady later reminisced, was a delirious empathetic upbraiding, the sort of no-holds-barred rant idealized by any dagacha mother to ever catch her offspring playing with industrial machinery. It went on and on, Lord Galt descending into language on the very verge of acceptability directed toward her erstwhile ally. Several minutes later, she arrived at a smoking knot-in-my-tentacles halt.
“So,” she snorted with only the tatters of mucous annoyance yet left in her demeanor. “What is to be done?”
“What is to be done?” responded Lord O’Casey. His words, stilt-legged and arch and slow, had an icy incredulous edge.
He looked at Gwondrfeld the Younger, and Adz felt its leg-cables trying to twist when the representative for House-of-Werub gestured as though to say, “Don’t look at me, I’m just a visiting politician, too.”
O’Casey turned to the Lawmaster, eyebrows quivering. He had no more mitigatory gambits left in his repertoire, and not enough slack willpower to retool into courtesy or discipline or even a mask of decency. When he half-snarled at the assassin, Adz noticed Seven twitch, as though it was restraining itself from looming in the Lord’s direction only with difficulty.
“This rash and asinine behavior is an affront to everything this society holds dear. When the descendents of Yrdky future look back on our present, what will they see? The implied approval of secession as a solution to problems whose repercussions slide into forever. This is a TRAVESTY.”
Adz’s husband responded by raising his eyes heavenward. Meanwhile, Naomi Galt observed in pithy, caustic detail that O’Casey had been desirous of Pennat Gate’s cessation as a countercultural touchstone, and that he needed to strictly order his priorities. She did so with a widely-traveled bouquet of vitriol. She further noted how the outright removal of the estate from the Yrdkish ecology would satisfy not merely the people of Nor’ridge (and any others equally vehement in their disgust), but also help to better reestablish the status quo. After all, what better way to discourage revolution than creating and remembering the fallen failed heroes of revolutions past?
Evidently, Harrison found this to be a less than satisfactory answer to his aggravation.
“Well,” he said, turning to Sebastio, and then looking up at Adz. In his glare, a simple truth – as a matter of fact, that very truth which had originally motivated the exodus now being outlined.
If Pennat Gate didn’t manage to successfully extricate itself from Yrdky, then eventually the administration of Nor’ridge, and probably many other hardliners besides, would chase down Sebastio until Caladhbolg’s wielder and his beloveds and everything tied up in their ill-wanted experiments were expunged.
“There is a very, very special man seated here in our midst,” observed O’Casey. He pulled his enamel daggers from their collagen scabbards, and flashed them to the hilt. No longer icy; a crust of pyroclastic scabbing over a magmatic river. His eyes practically glowed. “A very, very special man. Saintly, one might say.”
No less saintly than a man whose interests lie in the constant betterment of his people.
To its near-mortification, Adz’s thought evidently had gotten through its internal filters, and exited the output stream of its mouth. A rifling of mixed reactions fanned out through most of those watching the proceedings. Two of Pennat Gate’s dukes obviously didn’t find the observation quite proper, despite the recently-concluded aggression. It found Gwondrfeld looking over his fingers at the subject of its ridicule, one hip cocked. He said nothing as his eyes scanned Harrison, transparently sharing the Lady’s schadenfreude. Sebastio very specifically didn’t say “well done” and smile up at his spouse.
O’Casey didn’t deign to honor that barb with a reply. For that matter, the Lady considered, he probably considered his “help me help you” ideals to be perfectly acceptable and pleasing to any deity one could name.
“It is a very good thing that Pennat Gate has done with its time…” said Lord Galt. She suddenly sounded a bit choked up, when she added, “… and Tuoamas Pennat was as proud of the estate as one could be of something bearing one’s own name.”
“He was… ambitious, that man. Fair. Agreeable.”
He made a sudden nervous smoothing motion over his sleeves.
“He was beloved by his people, and make no mistake.”
“We are not here to discuss the past,” said Nor’ridge’s Lord, abruptly leaning hard forward on the table. “It is a shame that Lord Tuoamas elected not to remain in our company, but it is a shame for which we can do nothing. This disgrace should give us the courtesy of doing what he can: getting these proceedings done and leaving us to our own devices.”
Sebastio watched for a moment, blinking, and then he reached up to pluck his circlet from its nesting place. He set it down on the table in front of him, glow throwing up a blurry reflection on the polished surface. His gilded eye held a regretful glint that said, Please, oh please, test me. I welcome the chance to do you harm; not because I am better than you, and not because you are an embodiment of uncut evil, but because it will make me smile.
“Lord O’Casey,” he said carefully, without allowing any emotion into his vocalizations. “Let us get something straight.”
That orange hand poked the table. It left a considerable depression when its index finger rose once more. His abandonment of the formal plural left just as visible a mark on the crowd when he resumed speaking.
“I used to think of myself as special for all of the wrong reasons, a lifetime ago. I was an atypical, with an inborn non-thaumaturgical gift for controlling and manipulating electric current. I was an oddity in freelance security, cracking or finding ways to crack the safes of Rhaagm’s industrial complex available to those with equally uncommon abilities. I was a man with perverse fixations on the way inflicting harm on other thinking creatures gave me a dram of self-realization. I was the creature who managed to survive getting a superlatively uncomfortable body piercing by sacrificing an Old-made staff to an Old-made sword. I was the once-friend who confronted the Nightmare Count and won out.”
That orange hand spidered the air, its owner needlessly checking the nails for grime.
“I was the Rhaagmini who managed to barge into the realm of estates and Lordships with wit and fortune and a bit of external wisdom.”
Eyes carved the air between himself and Adz, then himself and Seven.
“I was that rising star who managed to find a place with a host of good family and good friends.”
That orange hand remained upraised between Lord and Lord and Lord. Sebastio glared across it at O’Casey with absolutely no emotion.
“All of those things were aspects of a legacy. They were elements of a history that will be recorded, and retold, and someday perhaps put in a canon of some kind by people with too much time on their hands. It will – and this was something for which I hoped and still hope now – probably do credit to the name of the Maker that I achieved what I did after attaining to the claim of one of his artifices.”
A small creak sounded as a set of claws dragged across the smooth floor, and for a second more than a couple of heads turned to Seven. The schlrikt stopped moving its feet, and if Adz didn’t know better it would have called the Beast sheepish.
“But there is an important caveat to all of that,” said Sebastio. “It is a legacy. It is history. It affects me and who I am, but it is not what makes me special.”
“And that is what, which makes you special?” asked Lady Sessel, his face curious and vaguely bland in a begging-the-question way.
Sebastio actually laughed, and as bitter as it was it made the Lady think of the day he and the udod aodod had crossed their stars together. His thumb rocked the Lordly circlet up sideways, and it rolled over onto its back; a dead thing given rest.
Lord O’Casey’s expression fled, and it was replaced with, coincidence of coincidences, absolutely nothing.
Sebastio pushed back from the table, and glanced at Baron Evrokcrrer. As the authority in charge of managing avenues of communication for the upcoming transition, it was probably under more pressure than any other two nobles. It had delegated with fiendish determination, and even so it would have long ago torn out its hair, had it possessed any.
“Any problems in the itinerary?” the Lord asked the informatics maestro of Pennat Gate.
“Prepared are plans,” the baron confirmed. “Infrastructure established satisfactorily. Tuning specialists standby.”
After a short pause, Sebastio gave a quick down-sign. “No. That is not something we need to keep secret.” There was an even briefer respite, before he added, “I can think of very few things we legitimately need to keep secret now.”
“Communication quality suffices. Communication quantity lacks. Bootstrapping will suffer.”
Perhaps it wouldn’t be necessary for the to-be-absent estate to have sufficient infrastructure to support a complete Monolith network when it finished severing all relevant ties.
Perhaps Eihks Richard, the Maker, and the Ripper would all pop into the room on top of the table, and start a production of Srid’s Romances while wearing breechcloths made out of fregnost skin.
“We never rid ourselves of that primitive full network stand-in we cobbled together, when the Western Sunrise did the real Monolith a mischief.” Sebastio allowed a thin smile to surface. “Maybe this is a sign to use it for something important yet again.”
“Throughput proves respectable. Backward compatibility lacking.”
“If your interfacers need additional backing, they will receive whatever support they require.”
The baron gave an indicator of grimly determined anticipation.
Sebastio retrieved the circlet and affixed it to its rightful place on his head. He glanced at Adz. The udod aodod took its cue, and asked Evrokcrrer for its working copy. It sent the Lady a short advisory covering when to be where, depending on whether a person wished to tag along for the soon-to-be-renegade estate’s adventures or wished to stay behind with the sane world.
“We will have our final farewells issued within the next hour,” Adz said, for the benefit of those few who didn’t possess cerv-mesh integration. “Any who want to join our little adventuresome family should make plans to arrive with their personal effects in one of the outermost First Step platforms. Afterward, suitable representatives will see that newcomers are given appropriate guidance and assistance with the integration process.”
“You are going to be leaving off any outside contact, then?”
Lord Galt sounded wary, weary, and vaguely accepting. Not happy.
Lord Artaxerxes gave the floor over to his spouse once more. Adz glanced over the variously-consternated congregation. It chittered, more dreadfully hopeful than flummoxed.
“We have already contracts with a small number of corporate points-of-contact. One, by the name of Black Glass Transport, will serve as our primary material interface with the extrafacetary world for the time being. The estate also commissioned thousand private news outlets to spread the word as to both our immediate plans, and which other means of access we shall favor in the future.”
“A general press release is coming very soon, and one of Lord Artaxerxes’s private keys will cipher the official content.”
Sebastio made a not-quite-dismissive tilt of his head. Even in the vestments of deprivation, and morose depths, he still managed to throw a tremendous strength of personality.
“We will be answering most questions that you will probably have on our motives and methods,” he added. “A great deal has happened in Pennat Gate’s workings over the last year. Satisfactory conclusions shall come forth as, where, and how able.”
His attention was diverted toward JotDedKafDam.
“What other matters demand our ratification or notice?” he asked the Lawmaster. “Or do the Lawmasters consider the topic of our disagreement with Nor’ridge settled?”
The assassin gave him a queer look, and for the first time in… a very long time, Adz saw the Lord adopt a childishly shamed air.
“I am afraid that this is the first occasion where I have had the pleasure of participating in a bout that boasted so many extenuating circumstances,” he defended.
“That is to be all,” responded the Lawmaster. “Should you be talking about the interruption that… indisposed Lord Tuoamas, we have examined the results and come to the same conclusion forwarded by yourselves: a highly irregular occurrence, with deeply regrettable results. If your party had been the defeated, we would have had better reason to…”
Adz tuned out the dirge disguised as a dissertation. Eventually, unbearably weighty grievances got offloaded to structurally sound actionable plans. The many invited to the little get-together dispersed by degrees. Sebastio exchanged several minutes of heartfelt fare-thee-well wishes with Naomi. Lord Galt didn’t actually slap him, partly out of acknowledgement of the armsmen positively ogling her for ill intent, partly out of respect for the departed Lord Tuoamas.
Oh, gods and devils. Not for the first time that day, Adz had to rapidly cycle its thoughts to move away from the sucking wound left by Tuoamas Pennat’s extraction from the place that bore his name.
“Lady,” said its Lord, as he stepped away from Lord Galt. He reached up, and took one of Adz’s larger digits in his own.
“Lord,” replied the Lady.
“Naomi found your suggestion very agreeable,” he said.
The udod aodod felt a little twinge as it remembered what it had told Sebastio last hand, and the plan which they’d hatched. He’d gotten a hard-won agreement in that plan’s support from, wonder of wonders, more than nine tenths of all nobles privy to the debate process. Seeing that he’d gotten almost unanimous support from an Yrdkish populace and nobility for going into voluntary exile – Yrdkish, who were ancestrally inclined to reject most anything smacking of foreign taint – that agreement was either a miracle or perfectly expected.
After all, the people of Pennat Gate were going to exist outside the placental safe establishment of the extrafacetary climes. In the name of preservation of kin and country, they had decided it necessary to sacrifice part of the characteristic ages-old restraint and self-discipline common to most extrafacetary culture. Making themselves into the kinds of godlings whose ends always came about by their carefree indulgences, and that formed the pillars of many a cautionary tale from Yrdky’s countless generations.
But maybe, just maybe, they could improve some small corner of creation before they burned themselves out in novae and Epicurean pursuits.
It also meant that, providence smiling upon them, the rogue estate might someday have the facilities to welcome visits from people like Naomi Galt. They might even do so without worrying that every Republic Lord alive might come and cleanse whatever facet upon which Pennat Gate chose to inflict its presence.
Right now, the other rulers of Yrdky were surely making preparations to purge their secessionist selves. As the despondent Lord Galt et al had already deduced, though, anyone at all would arrive too late to prevent their departure. Oh, the influx of other estates’ emigrants would surely contain a considerable number of saboteurs, but they’d be watched with a passionate focus until every possible avenue of unrest from without was closed.
“We have many things ahead of us,” said Adz.
“Yes,” answered Sebastio. “So let us go and make a Lonely Lordship that Tuoamas would have approved… together.”
He looked into its eyespots, and he seemed to swell as he stared.
“Come, my Lady,” he murmured. “Come and grow mutable with me.”
And as the hour grew later, and people were accepted into Pennat Gate’s bosom, and people were ejected from the estate out of principle (among them one troubled and pitiable autumn elf), and Steps began navigating through nonrelative contexts to the wider gem one at a time, the couple grew together even as they grew separately.