The Secret of the Rose and Glove

by Kevin Andrew Murphy

Chapter Three: The Feaster in the Dark

The wheel of the year had given a quarter turn and reached its end, the final day of Kuthona, the last month, ruled by the twisted god Zon-Kuthon. Winter, the Season of the Black Dragoness, the watery drake who embodied the phlegmatic humor, had begun but nine days before with the solstice, which the Midnight Lord's sister Shelyn, in her infinite kindness, had declared Crystalhue. The Eternal Rose's warm heart warded the days and nights afterwards and they were filled with feasting and merriment—all save the last. Once the sun had set on the final day, the Dark Prince flung open the gates to Pharasma's Boneyard and reminded the people of all they had lost. The Night of the Pale had begun.

This night was not named for the Pallid Princess, Urgathoa, although it was said that she relished it. Nor was it so named for the fearful faces of the living who huddled indoors and made a show of merriment, lest they encounter the spirits of the previous year's dead. Rather it was named for a simple thing, the pole or piling which marked the boundary of a temple yard. For on this night only a fool or one with some fell errand would venture beyond the pale.

Norret was not certain which applied to him—probably both—but he had left the outmost gatepost of the beer garden of the Transfixed Chanticleer half a mile behind, stumping along with his crutch through the snow, having committed he didn't know how many sacrileges against the tavern's patron god, Cayden Cailean.

The first had been staying sober. The third had been volunteering to tend bar, and in the guise of getting a bottle of rare liqueur from the top shelf, taking down the shining ormolu form of Coco the cockatrice and slipping it into his soldier's pack. The second? Lutin, the tavern cat, was also fond of the top shelf, sleeping in front of the cross-stitch sampler that composed the Accidental God's shrine. Norret had sprinkled an alchemical preparation of powdered herring scales over him, camouflaging the cat as Coco.

Norret hoped that Lutin would continue to sleep, or at least that the devotees of the Drunken Hero would write off the sight of an impaled gilded meowing cockatrice as an ecstatic vision from the god himself.

The Night of the Pale was clear and freezing, lit only by the stars and Norret's bullseye lantern. He quaffed an extract of coltsfoot, giving himself the endurance of a horse and some of its surefootedness to offset his limping, and at last arrived back at the Liberty Hostel.

Sulfurous steam curled from the unfrozen end of reflecting pool as Patapouf the unicorn stood over its wellspring, glaring at Norret accusingly as if he were the one responsible for the creature's missing horn.

Norret sighed, leaned his crutch against the carriage porch, and unlaced his boots. If the worst horror the Night of the Pale held was wet feet, he would be a lucky man.

He unstopped a flask, applying a drop of viscous golden fluid to the thick end of the alicorn, taking a moment to open another phial and slick the stopper with an unguent of goose grease and eel liver before replacing it. He had heard the Katapeshi alchemists used the peels of some yellow Mwangi fruit to the same effect with a more pleasant scent, but an alchemist in Galt couldn't hope for imports.

Norret then stepped into the pool. The water barely covered his calves but the warmth made his half-frozen feet feel like knives were being applied. It had been years since he had done this, a frightened boy with a rose and a simple wish, whereas he was now a crippled man with a complicated one. Yet like a rose, the complications were simple when you thought of them: After a great deal of research and revelation, Norret had realized that the interconnected baths and fountains of the Liberty Hostel formed a giant water clock, and while it might be possible to jury-rig some means to open any hidden chambers, that would be like sticking a fork in a broken Brastlewark timepiece hoping the bat would fly out the belfry while the little wooden devils came out to do the dance of the hours. But if one could obtain the original parts....

Before the glue set, Norret lifted Coco the cockatrice—who the sculptor had actually skewered above tail, not beneath, though with the way it twisted around the spiraled unicorn horn, this was not immediately obvious—and fit Patapouf's horn back into its empty socket.

The unicorn said nothing. No thanks for the return of his alicorn or complaints about the still missing carbuncle.

Norret stood there for a long minute, freezing and frozen, looking at the statue, repaired but useless.

Then Coco's beak opened:

No chicken laid this royal egg.
What hand shall hatch it now, I beg?

Norret stood stock still for another minute, unmoving, as if the cockatrice had petrified him. Coco repeated his rhyme. Norret nodded, then hobbled his way back to the icy lip of the reflecting pool. He took out his formulary and used a lead stylus to write down Coco's verse, then got his feet out of the pool, slipping and rolling through a snowdrift until he collected his crutch and his boots, stuffing his wet feet inside before they could freeze to the ice. Teeth chattering, he gathered his lantern and staggered inside the Liberty Hostel. The sad fact was that he feared his own countrymen more than he feared the unknown horrors of the Night of the Pale, and this was the only night he was likely to have the chateau to himself.

Despite its haunted reputation—the lights in the corridors, the whispers from inside the walls, the unfortunate deaths and unexplained disappearances—the duchess's former chateau had a number of permanent residents, and Norret was only one. Another had been Rhodel.

As was the custom, any room was free to any guest to stay in as long as he liked so long as he worked for the good of the household. Rhodel had chosen the duchess's boudoir, and since no one else had stepped forward to claim it after the old dollymop's flamboyant death, it was now Norret's.

So were its heated floors, and as much as his countrymen might decry the late duke's extravagant remodeling, at the moment Norret thought the geothermal piping beneath the tiles was worth every last copper. He stripped off his damp boots and snow-dusted clothes and left them steaming on the floor.

As for the rest of the chamber, Rhodel had turned it into a fantastic magpie's nest of oddments scavenged from about the chateau: here a scrap of tapestry, there a swag of lace. A mangy hobby horse sized for a halfling or a human child lay propped in one corner, button eyes staring sadly, and beside that stood a changing maiden, a curious appurtenance that resembled a mad wizard's golem more than a furnishing one might expect to see in a noblewoman's dressing room. On the bottom was an unremarkable three-legged round table, but a pillar spiraled from the center with two arms, one holding a mirror, the other a tray, and at the top was the head of a beautiful, if bald, woman.

This one appeared to be ebonized wood, but appearances could be deceiving. Norret had quickly recognized the black as silver sulfide—or more prosaically, tarnish. Of course, if it were pure silver, the maiden would have been smelted for coins years ago, but scratches in the wash revealed the galena gray of poor-quality pewter. Like the pinchbeck and paste jewels once favored by the nobility when traveling, the odd vanity-cum-wig-stand was nothing more than gaudy trash meant to be stolen by highwaymen or dim-witted monsters.

Even so, she still proved useful. The maiden's tray worked as a fireproof stand for Norret's lantern while her mirror acted as an excellent reflector, providing both light and additional heat, for the Night of the Pale was as dark and cold as Zon-Kuthon's heart.

Far more valuable than the maiden but even less saleable in current-day Galt was the grand bed where Norret now crawled between the worn duvets and decaying featherbeds. Carved of costly Qadiran rosewood, the decorations depicted some unfamiliar eastern legend involving courtiers and concubines with pipes chasing a gold dragon through fields filled with poppies, at last coming to a poppy-themed palace where they smoked more pipes as the good dragon imparted his wisdom. Norret's only dealings with dragons to date, thankfully, had been the draconic system of alchemy favored by Powdermaster Davin. While that dealt with the cruel chromatic dragons, it only did so in the metaphorical and symbolic sense, and there mostly only with the four—the green, the red, the blue, and the black—that corresponded with the four elements, the four humors, and the four seasons. The white was reserved for the quintessence. Metallic dragons were more of a mystery, and while Norret suspected the bed's carvings depicted some alchemical metaphor from Tian Xia, it could just as easily be a historical record of the great gold dragon Mengkare and the founding of the fabled nation of Hermea.

Regardless, it was also the place where Rhodel had plied her trade for the past forty years. Norret had of course rummaged beneath the mattress for anything of value, finding a small stash of silver and a large cache of negligees, but after imbibing Cedrine's decoction of fern seeds, his attention had focused on the carvings. One of the pipes in a courtier's hand could be pushed in like a peg. One of the concubine's bound feet could be twisted like a knob. And once Norret had moved both of those, he impulsively tweaked the sun disk at the tip of the dragon's tail.

Like a gnome puzzle box, the hidden panel in the headboard slid aside, revealing its treasure: a book.

"It seems that Rhodel was telling the truth all along."

It had not been, as he had hoped, Duchess Devore's alchemical formulary, or even that of her late husband, but it was something hidden since the Revolution, and a final present from old Rhodel.

Norret opened the panel again on this, the coldest and darkest of nights, retrieving the book, and reread the title: The Alchymical Wedding: A Masque of Allegory. And below that, in grandiose script: By Darl Jubannich.

The Revolution's poet and co-instigator had even signed the manuscript with a signature even larger and more vainglorious than the typeface, and added a personal dedication: For Rhodel, our little Horse.

Norret had read it cover to cover. It was a masque of the sort no longer seen in Galt but still beloved by Shelyn, a grand flowering of art and science, artifice and architecture, and no little wit. It was also a piece of contraband which could send anyone to the guillotine, for rather than the chromatic dragons favored by Powdermaster Davin, or the poetic tree of birds of Katapeshi alchemy, or the mountain of the philosophers or whatever exotic metaphor the alchemists used in Tian Xia, the manuscript referred to the philosopher's quest and the alchemist's great work by means of the worst possible metaphor in post-revolutionary Galt: a royal wedding.

The masque's plot was relatively simple: The youngest daughter of the King of the Moon—symbolic of silver and womanhood and played by Anais Peperelle-née-Devore—had come to wed the Golden Youth, the son of the Golden Sovereign, the Sun King, both symbolic of gold and manhood and both played by the elderly Duke Arjan Devore, using a magic hat to make the former role credible. Assorted ambassadors and emissaries of the planets and elements arrive, bringing with them nuptial gifts of alchemical significance, each more fantastic and valuable than the last, until at last the Silver Maiden and Golden Youth exchange betrothal gifts, the Carbuncle and the Crapaudine, the fabled ruby and diamond periapts of House Devore—the Carbuncle returning after centuries as part of Anais's dowry, as the Peperelles were not old nobility but a family of wealthy spice merchants who had managed to obtain the stone in Taldor, using it as the sovereign glue to cement a splendid match for their brilliant young daughter.

Just when the treasures could not get more ostentatious, the Golden Sovereign reveals his own gift for the happy couple: the philosopher's stone, the jewel in the crown of the royal art and the substance which could not only transmute lead to gold and resurrect the dead, but could also restore the aged to youth.

At this point the Golden Youth removes his disguise, revealing that he and the Golden Sovereign are one and the same, and confessing the other sad fact: his philosopher's stone is broken and useless without the Silver Maiden's aid.

Here alchemical metaphor began to cross into alchemical fact, for as amazing as the fabled artifact was, it shared the flaw of the least extract of the alchemist's art: when exposed to air, the philosophic mercury in its center quickly decayed, and quickly tarnished into uselessness. This had occurred with the Golden Sovereign's broken stone.

However, useless does not mean worthless, and an artifact is not so easily destroyed. Just as tarnish can be turned back into silver with the application of a bath of soda ash and foil of a lesser metal—the alchemical reaction to remove sulfur from silver—Duke Arjan Devore hoped, with the help of his clever young bride and the purifying radiance of the toad stone and the unicorn's jewel, to discover a process to separate the philosophic mercury from the philosophic sulfur, thus recreating the White and Red Elixirs, the penultimate stages of the great work.

At this point alchemical theory moved back to poetic metaphor and the conventions of the theater: The White Queen and the Red King combined, singing a particularly passionate duet, then merged into the Divine Hermaphrodite and gave birth to their magical child, the Golden Heir. For the masque's finale, all the wedding guests reappeared, ascending the mount of the alchemists to attend the christening, singing the praises of the heir who was one and the same with the philosopher's stone, and also praising the proud parents, the King and Queen, not only separate once again but both now blessed with the glory of eternal youth for achieving the alchemist's quest, and even the birds in the tree of knowledge at the summit joined in the song.

That was the theory, at least. In reality, Duke Arjan died of old age and his bride ended up fleeing a revolution.

Of course, very few lives go according to plan. Norret paged back through the book to the part where Aballon, the Horse, fastest of the planets and symbolic of quicksilver, sends the youngest filly from his herd as both herald and wedding gift, there to act as page and messenger in the happy couple's hall. Rather than being played by the child of some nobleman or other powerful friend, this part was given to the daughter of the duke's stable master, a remarkably pretty child with her hair braided with ribbons, a happy smile on her face, a hobby horse in one hand, and dreams of one day being a great bard or entertainer.

It had taken Norret almost a minute of staring at the hand-tinted etching to realize he was looking at Rhodel, ten years before the Revolution. Ten years before she had slept with the revolutionaries who came for her former mistress and every soldier since, taking up a rather different form of entertainment than she had originally planned, successfully saving her neck, if not her dignity.

Norret closed the book. Rhodel had taken that dignity back at the end. Say what you would about the old slattern, but despite madness, drunkenness, disease, and desperation, she had not chosen a coward's fate and would face the Lady of Graves with her head held high.

That said, the credits and thank-you notes of Darl Jubannich's masque explained a great deal more. Formerly, all Norret had known about the Liberty Hostel's design was that Duke Arjan Devore had bankrupted the village creating ostentatious expansions to his ancestral manse and redecorating to please his vain young bride. The text of masque did not dispute that, but explained that the entire chateau was not only rigged up like an immense steam-driven musical waterclock, the baths and fountains forming the mechanism, but was also an alchemical allegory on a grand scale, each and every chamber symbolizing a different stage of the great work, like interconnected vessels in an alchemist's laboratory.

Tintinetto, the famous halfling muralist, had painted frescoes. A wizard had then placed magic upon the figures' mouths, creating as he called them "philosophic eggs"—a pun on the actual egg of the philosophers, an ovoid glass vessel—such that they would speak when certain actions were taken or certain words said, but it was up to the wedding guests to divine what triggered each, and there would be a prize for the one who discovered the most!

This amusing party game explained why the chateau was now haunted by indistinct mumblings, since when the Revolution came to Dabril, the priestess of Shelyn, faced with the displeasure of her goddess if she allowed the destruction of priceless works of art and the even greater displeasure of the Red Council if she did not, was inspired to a divine solution. Specifically, a solution of slake lime and water, commonly known as whitewash.

Of course, Norret had his own solution: concentrated champagne vinegar mixed with his last drops of the universal solvent. He got out of the bed and got his clothes back on, now mostly dry. The Liberty Hostel was abandoned by every resident save himself, and if he wanted to hear what the frescoes were muttering about beneath the whitewash, the Night of the Pale was the safest night for it, ironic as that might be.

Norret moved the changing maiden's mirror so that his lantern illuminated the blank wall of the boudoir, then picked up one of the duchess's perfume atomizers that had somehow survived the years. He squeezed the bulb.

The slake lime hissed and bubbled away, revealing Anais dressed as a royal bride facing a regal young man. In her right hand she bore a spiraled ivory horn, but was using it like a fencing foil, spearing the youth through the back of his left hand and causing a gout of blood to well up like a jewel on the white glove he wore. To be fair, he had already unlaced the front of her gown, but instead of grabbing a bit of flesh like any normal groom, he was instead holding up a large toad to nurse. Either milk or poison flew from the suckling toad, spattering the back of the green glove his bride wore on her left hand, glittering like a crazed diamond.

It was an allegorical illustration of the exchange of the Carbuncle for the Crapaudine, but Norret was certain the priestess of Shelyn had understood none of that, only that it appeared monstrous, perhaps related to Lamashtu. As such, she would have had no qualms about covering any of it up.

A few more spritzes revealed an old king pointing at the younger man's back, his left hand wearing a white glove fringed with unicorn mane, the back adorned with a ruby cabochon—clearly the Carbuncle again. Norret was certain he was looking at Duke Arjan Devore.

Norret took the perfume atomizer and set it deliberately on the maiden's tray. The figure then spoke:

Though I seem age and he seems youth
Both he and I are one in truth.

A nice reminder from an old duke to his young bride, but as Norret knew from reading the masque, it possessed a great deal more significance.

Norret recorded the rhyme and confirmation of its trigger in his formulary, then picked up the atomizer and hung his lantern from its belt clip. A soldier was nothing without gear fasteners, and an alchemist doubly so. Being lame made the necessity triple.

He opened the door of his room and glanced out. The hall was deserted save for a magical light drifting lazily along to the tune of the phantom minstrels. So far, the Night of the Pale was turning out somewhat less than horrifying. While a ball of blue witchfire might frighten some, Norret had read Jubannich's masque and so knew that a long-forgotten illusionist had placed dancing lights in the gallery—lights which would be less frightening if there were actual dancers—and occasionally one spun off and went drifting down the corridors, presumably to illuminate portraits that no longer hung there.

Norret, however, had only so much solution, so it would be best to start with the most promising chambers first. Lame as he was, he decided to go with Powdermaster Davin's advice: Begin at the bottom.

Norret avoided the various wine cellars for the moment, as they were a sea of broken bottles and smashed casks, their noble vintages long since drunk by reveling revolutionaries. The pump room he would save for last. Yet soon the open drawers of the Devore family crypt gaped before him like empty sockets in a toothless skull, the coffins removed long ago to fuel pyres or resurrections, and even the coins from the corpses' eyes were now likely in some soldier's pocket or harlot's purse.

He turned to the whitewashed wall opposite the shattered sepulchers and, as the strains of the spectral armonica drifted down the stairs, applied his solution, watching as streaks of charcoal and drops of blood began to appear. The bard who had enchanted the chateau with the phantom minstrels had cued them to play various songs at different intervals so as to not become tiresome, but Norret was already quite tired of the Litranaise, the familiar lyrics clear in his head: O royal guards on your patrols / Each of your crimes we will repay / We whippoorwills will catch your souls / We are the Gardeners in Gray....

The familiar masks of Galt's executioners appeared on the wall, the Gray Gardeners holding the duchess's mysterious red-and-white rose to their lips with skeletal hands like angels of silence or hooded wraiths. Of course, having read the masque's libretto, Norret knew the Gardeners' leitmotif properly belonged to the shades of the frost, allegorical figures of putrefaction, come for the rose of mystery, another symbol of the great work given form by a literal-minded druid: We come to blight the blooming rose / We shades of frost, we fateful fey / We mourning doves, we hoodie crows / We are the gardeners in gray....

Doves and crows were common alchemical symbols, the colors of their feathers corresponding to the hues seen within the philosophic egg, but whippoorwills were little mottled brown soul-stealing nightjars favored by necromancers who liked cute familiars, and the colors of their plumage would only indicate that the alchemist had screwed up.

Screw, however, was the operative phrase. When Norret had asked about the Liberty Hostel for phrases the inhabitants had heard from the ghosts in the walls or actions that might disturb the spirits, Flauric had cautioned him to never drink in the crypt, for doing so incurred the horrible, disapproving whispers of teetotaling spinster ghosts!

Norret was a soldier, however, and knew that libations for the dead were an ancient sacrifice. He uncorked a bottle of claret he had requisitioned from the Transfixed Chanticleer and compounded his sins against the Accidental God by pouring the first taste on the floor.

The shades whispered in chorus:

Divine the figures of death's dance.
Unlock the secrets of our manse.

Norret wrote the rhyme in his formulary, considering, then recorked the bottle and made his way back upstairs.

The ceiling of the grand ballroom rose three and a half stories with two galleries. Two ormolu chandeliers still hung in the vault while the third had crashed through the parquet floor. All had been stripped of their ensorcelled flambeaux and most of their crystals, but Norret still had his lantern. There were also magical lights in the uppermost gallery, currently moving through the figures of a sprightly gavotte. He quirked a smile as he recognized the tune: "The Caged Phoenix," the aria sung by Pharadae, ambassador of the salamanders, as she presents her nuptial gift.

Norret was not a phoenix, but he was not going to climb two flights of stairs with a crutch when the original phoenix's cage was still there, its ormolu bars cast in the form of a nest of Osirian palm fronds and flames. And moreover, he had repaired the mechanism.

The elevator door clanged shut, cables and counterweights engaged, the whole powered by the ancient hydraulic technology sometimes called the Azlanti Screw. Norret ascended, feeling not so much like a phoenix arising from his pyre as a crippled alchemist about to make a crucial discovery.

A walkway bridged the vault, opposite the largest, whitest wall in the chateau—and likely the greatest mural—but what Norret was interested in at the moment was the dancing lights. They moved like lanterns carried by capering ghosts, in and out the patterns of a figure, multiplied by the mirrors of the gallery into a sea of constellations.

Norret shuttered his own lantern so he could observe them more clearly. Thankfully, he was tall and so could look down on them slightly, seeing the shapes they traced in the darkness repeated to infinity in the mirrors, slightly angled, like bones landing in a spiral. The patterns were not just choreography, but mathematical figures, combinations spun clockwise and widdershins.

The wheels of the valves in the pump room formed a similar line, and Norret realized that, just as the dances of the masque ran in sequence, so could the valves be turned in the same pattern.

There was one troublesome light, however. One that moved through the constellations like a wandering star or bobbed at the corner of the set like a wallflower at a dance. Norret looked at it in the darkness a long while, pondering its meaning, before at last speaking aloud. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask the same," said the light. It was an inhuman voice, like the voice of the armonica, its tone too pure, too clear, too cold. "Why is there no terror?"

Norret recognized it. A will-o'-wisp, one of the death-fires that followed armies, feeding on the fear of dying soldiers.

"Everyone I loved is dead. I've no time for terror."

"How tragic," the corpse light said, and vanished, swallowed up by the darkness. "Perhaps now? I can see you but you cannot see me...."

There was a virtue to being blind in one eye: Despite being half deaf as well, Norret had learned to use his hearing that much more, and could sense vaguely where the voice had drifted, near one of the dead chandeliers. He reached to his bandolier, retrieving a small metal tube like a child's tin whistle. He raised it to his lips and blew a blast, but instead of sound, what issued from the end was shimmering glitter.

Twinkling, it dusted down, a preparation of powdered mica, luminescent phosphorus, and crushed moon moth wings.

The will-o'-wisp reappeared, now glowing a ghastly greenish-white rather than witchy blue like the rest of the lights. The chandelier's remaining crystals winked and glittered with the illumination and a faint odor of garlic filled the air, a curious property of phosphorus.

The corpse light screamed, an unearthly howl like all of an armonica's crystal bowls touched at once, and launched itself at Norret.

Norret held up a hand to ward it off, his numb hand, still clutching the duchess's perfume atomizer. A bolt of pure voltaic energy sparked from the will-o'-wisp, but glass was an insulator, proof against any and all galvanic power. Unfortunately, brass and silver were not, and the fittings drew the electricity inside, bottling the lightning and volatilizing the mixture of acids.

The atomizer atomized.

Norret felt the pressure rather than pain as the explosion drove splinters of glass through his gauntlet into his hand and slammed him back into the railing. The garlic scent of phosphorus was replaced by that of vinegar—searing, eye-watering, and caustic. Vinegar was said to be the sign of Cayden Cailean's displeasure, but the god of Accidents and Ale was either sending mixed messages or else equally displeased at everyone, for the expanding force of the acid gas also flung the death-fire back into the elevator car.

Norret held his breath. If the will-o'-wisp had wanted fear, it had done the wrong thing, for he was a soldier, and beyond panic lay the battle calm. He took stock of the angles, the placement, the lines of railings and chandelier, then lobbed a bomb, a soft underhanded toss with a short fuse.

The concussive grenade exploded, loud and deafening, but this time Norret was prepared for it. He grabbed the ormolu railing with both hands, the brass strong beneath the gold as the blast knocked his cap and crutch flying. Like frames in a zoetrope, crystals shattered in slow motion, and he saw rather than heard the glittering golden door of the elevator slam shut, the latch close.

With all his might, he hurled a tanglefoot bag directly at that latch, falling to the walkway and taking deep ragged lungfuls of the clean winter air that had replaced the vaporized vinegar and solvent.

A surge of electrical energy flew from the wisp but arced back from the bars, bouncing about inside the cage with a brilliant blue-white light. Again the creature launched lightning and again the bars caged it. Then again.

Norret was intrigued. An alchemical property of ormolu? Some elemental abjuration on the phoenix's cage? Outright divine intervention?

It made no matter. The tanglefoot glue was smoking. Norret hauled himself up by the railing, using it to limp along.

"You wanted terror." He pulled a flask from his bandolier. "Have some!"

Norret hurled it over the railing, his aim precise. The flask burst, the goose-and-eel-liver salve coating the cables and over-greasing the gears. The next moment, they slipped, the elevator plummeting to the floor with the will-o'-wisp inside.

One fall was not sufficient to kill the monster, but five were. Once Norret hobbled down the stairs and collected his crutch, he jiggered the mechanism and smashed Pharadae's cage up and down until at last luminous ichor of the sort wizards use to pen secret missives leaked between the gilded bars.

With the will-o'-wisp's death, a last crackle of galvanism crept up the cables, arcing back and forth between them in the phenomenon known as Sarenrae's Ladder. Between that and the alchemical lubricant, another mechanism activated.

Norret heard a beautiful sound outside, like a siren singing, which was not surprising given that such was exactly what was rising from the dolphin fountain. Astride another fearsome dolphin, green with verdigris, sat the shining ormolu figure of the siren of the philosophers, diadem of stars upon her brow, milk or possibly coffee spurting from her breasts.

The fountain had not been cleaned since All Kings Day.

As soon as Norret approached, the statue paused her wordless song for spoken rhyme:

If you would solve my mystery
The silver maiden holds the key.

Norret knew exactly the maiden of which she spoke.

Coming Next Week: The astounding final chapter of "The Secret of the Rose and Glove."

Kevin Andrew Murphy is the author of numerous stories, poems, and novels, as well as a writer for Wild Cards, George R. R. Martin's shared-world anthology line, with his next contribution coming in 2011 with Fort Freak. His most recent short stories include "Tea for Hecate" in the upcoming anthology Fangs for the Mammaries and "The Fifth River Freedom," the fourth chapter of Prodigal Sons in the Kingmaker Pathfinder's Journal. For more information, visit his website.

Art by KyuShik Shin

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Tags: Kevin Andrew Murphy Kyushik Shin Pathfinder Tales The Secret of the Rose and Glove
Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

More, more more please.

KAM's succeeded in making Galt that much more 'alive' to me, as well as how to see an Alchemist.

Wild Cards reference, now I wish I had Legion's power (Or Jamie Maddrox's) so I could play all the concepts in my mind.


Norret hoped that Lutin would continue to sleep, or at least that the devotees of the Drunken Hero would write off the sight of an impaled gilded meowing cockatrice as an ecstatic vision from the god himself.
made me laugh out loud.

I love what you're doing with Galt, and the encounter with the will-o'-the-wisp was great. Much better than the usual 'mindless monster' approach everyone seems to take with the corpse candles.

Sovereign Court

I love how ornate Kevin's writing is. I usually read quite stark, clean writers (Hemmingway, Greene, Jason) and this is an astounding change for me.
I relish your sentences.

Liberty's Edge

Yay! You were right, this installment has MUCH more alchemical badassery! :) The battle was exciting, but I like how overall, the story plays out less like an action/RPG and more like a point-and-click computer adventure/exploration game, solving puzzles and finding secret compartments and whatnot, with a hearty dash of Girl Genius for flavor. (Side note: that illustration of the book is beautiful! I want a copy irl.)

I like that your world history has done nothing to glorify warfare, though of course the training has come in handy for Norret, and I like that you have written a wounded vet largely abandoned by the world that is nevertheless far from helpless. I worry about him, though, going off on his own all the time; if he got hurt or trapped somewhere, how long would it be before someone realized he was missing, and how would they ever find him in time? I'm also worried about him emotionally; he was yanked away from childhood and thrust into the atrocities of war, his entire support network is long gone...are we seeing the march of a brave Stoic Woobie, or is he gonna snap and murderize everyone some day? (Must...not...write terrible fanfiction wherein a spunky girl sidekick teaches him how to love and laugh again. How long can I resist this baleful urge!?)

I've been looking forward to this installment all week, and it was read and re-read all too quickly. Next Wednesday can't come soon enough!

Sovereign Court

Each install ment better than the last. As Norret was solving the Duke's Mansion sized puzzle I couldn't help but think that Norret was Golarions version of Robert Langdon. I also see a lot of Robert Carlysle's protrayal of the apothecary Will Plunkett (Plunkett & Macleane) in him.

--Vrocket Science

Can Norret be the new iconic for Alchemists? Or can he at least share duties with Damiel?


Jason Lillis wrote:
Can Norret be the new iconic for Alchemists? Or can he at least share duties with Damiel?

Damiel says no...


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James Sutter wrote:
Jason Lillis wrote:
Can Norret be the new iconic for Alchemists? Or can he at least share duties with Damiel?
Damiel says no...

Snooty elves and their iconic job security. Probably a royalist too....

More seriously, glad everyone is enjoying this so much, both story and style.

James Sutter wrote:
Jason Lillis wrote:
Can Norret be the new iconic for Alchemists? Or can he at least share duties with Damiel?
Damiel says no...

And if Damiel says no, you don't want to make him angry!

Actually it brings up a question: Could we see web fiction for iconics? They have really solidly described histories, and we get to assume they are up to all sorts of no good in the pictures and text at the start of core rulebook chapters, but hearing about some of their other adventures would also be cool.

Sorry to side trek: KAM: Great Stuff!

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

Right now Norret >>> than Damiel.

Norret, "The essense of Onyx, will amplify the nightshade's essense to draw the positive energy from the target..."

Damiel, "I'm going to throw a bomb."

Sovereign Court

Matthew Morris wrote:
Damiel, "Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I.... RAWUGHR!"

Edited for truth.


Matthew Morris wrote:

Right now Norret >>> than Damiel.

Norret, "The essense of Onyx, will amplify the nightshade's essense to draw the positive energy from the target..."

Damiel, "I'm going to throw a bomb."

And that's why Damiel's the iconic. He don't waste time lecturing when someone's in need of a bombin'!


James Sutter wrote:
Matthew Morris wrote:

Right now Norret >>> than Damiel.

Norret, "The essense of Onyx, will amplify the nightshade's essense to draw the positive energy from the target..."

Damiel, "I'm going to throw a bomb."

And that's why Damiel's the iconic. He don't waste time lecturing when someone's in need of a bombin'!

Oh, neither does Norret. It's all lightning-fast internal monologue calculations, with the lectures after-the-fact when someone asks him to explain how he did what he did.

You realize, of course, we're talking the relative merits of badass Sherlock Holmes as played by Robert Downey Jr. in the last movie vs. Dr. Henry Jekyll/Mr. Hyde from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, right?

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