Monday, November 25, 2013

Day Five-Eighty-One: The court of ghostly opinion

This is not the situation I expected.

But it'll do.

With the weekend come and gone - another passage of Codespace that I have, once again, missed - I found myself still in my blasted cell, which I now know is indeed a coconut. Half of me wondered if the ghosts had forgotten about me; the other half feared they were going to leave me trapped inside it until I starved. I certainly couldn't escape the blasted thing, try though I might.

Fortunately, my attempts got the attention of creatures beyond.

"The bastard's awake," a deep, sonorous voice announced. "Open it."

I was blinded as the top of my cell lifted away, though the light was not so bright. My eyes adjusted after a few moments of casting about -

- and when they did, I realized that I was, again, surrounded by ghosts. A lot of ghosts.

But this was different from last time. Far removed from the drab tunnel where I'd been captured, I found myself sitting atop a stone table in the midst of a crumbling court. Filled with tiered benches that hadn't been touched by mortal bums for a long time, it looked like the domain of a great king, long abandoned. 

Only it wasn't really abandoned, because, you know, ghosts. Hundreds of them stared at me accusingly, none daring to come close, yet most clutching bits of rock and debris. I knew if I made a single wrong move they would unleash a flurry of projectiles and squash me to death.

"Wat! Wat!"

The familiar voice cut across the room with all the welcome glee of a songbird on a rainy day. Fynn stood on the sidelines of the court, waving at me from within a bundle of old, oversized clothes. He was watched over by two ghosts who, despite obviously being gentle, also made sure he did not run across the cobblestones to greet me. I suspect the big bundle of grapes dangling from his hands played a part in buying his compliance.

"You have a strange companion, rodent. Using him, as you use everyone?"

I turned. Sitting... ish... atop the throne at the opposite end of the court was a large, imposing ghost. Rotund of belly and sporting a ring of phantasmal spikes on his head, similar to a crown, he was clearly the man in charge. He glared with obvious disdain. 

"I am lord of this domain," he thundered. "I say who comes and goes. I would never give you clearance to enter. Why in the hells are you disturbing the dead, regulator scum?"

Looking around, I spotted this diary on the floor a few feet from the table. I reached out, touched it, and commanded it. The diary lurched to life, surprising half of the assembled ghosts into vanishing, and tottered over to the bottom of the king's throne. Its pages split open, and my words spilled out onto the page.

"I am looking for my friends. They went missing in the jungle beyond this place, and I caught their scent on the house that stands above your realm. Do you know where they are?"

The king, for I know him by no other name, studied the words for a few moments. Then he snorted. "Hmph. And why should I help you, regulator? It's much more enjoyable to force helplessness upon you. How does it feel to not be in control for once? Eh?"

I continued writing. The distance of the diary from myself made it difficult, as did the content, and it took me a while to finish. "I know my kind has wronged yours before -"

"That's a fucking understatement," the king rumbled as he read.

"- and I have no desire to further wrong you. If it please you, I will remain here to be willingly executed in exchange for the lives of my friends. I know you have them trapped down here. Please, let them go."

That gave the king pause. He leaned back on his throne, far enough that part of his body disappeared into the stone, and considered for a long time. The ghosts surrounding me murmured, no doubt wondering what was written in the diary.

"Oddly generous of you, rat," the king said. "Very odd. Though given your collective nature, I'm not certain that killing one of you would make much difference to the whole. You may as well be offering a toenail in this bargain."

I winced, but carried on. "My life is precious to me. I am a singular creature now, and I do not want to die. But I will, if it means freeing my companions."

The king floated out of his chair and began circling the court, maintaining a wary distance. All eyes were on him. He stopped briefly to pat Fynn on the head before moving on; the boy didn't seem to appreciate the gesture much, his frown deep.

"Generous indeed. Very generous." The king's wispy bottom half formed into legs. He paced around the table, still not daring to approach. "But it's useless, regulator. We don't have your friends. We know where they are, but they are held by someone else. Several someone elses."

I blinked, confused. Reaching out to the diary again, I commanded it to scurry to the king's feet with the following message. "Then who has them?"

The king edged away from the diary. I suspect he can sense that it's made of ratskin, at least in part. "More of your kind, actually. Or something similar. They raided this place two weeks ago, demanding refuge and assistance. Their... leader... gave us no choice in the matter. They've taken my palace for their own, and have captured several of my servants. I think they are being experimented upon. As are your friends."

Fear twitched my tail. "Where is this palace? Give me leave to speak to this regulator - "

The king sneered. Grabbing a rock, he whacked the diary shut. "And you'll do what? Weasel your way out of this situation by joining with them? I am not a fool, rat. I would sooner see you killed than let you go."

I slumped. Death seemed imminent, frustrating, unproductive death.

"... unless..."

Perhaps not?

The king looked to Fynn. A malicious smile stretched across the blankness of the king's face, his wavering teeth jagged and multiplying with each second.

"This boy is your friend, yes? You count him as an ally?"

I watched Fynn stuff a grape up his nose and snort it out again. Eventually I nodded.

"Do you care for him enough that you would do exactly as I say?"

Another nod.

"Hm." The king puffed up his chest, which was not nearly as considerable as his belly. "Very well. We keep a small supply of poison in these ruins, in case any living creatures drop in for a visit. As we cannot enter my palace of our own accord, for fear of being controlled, I will give you a dose of this poison. You will use it to murder the malefactors who have stolen my property. Do so and you will be permitted to leave this place with your friends, unharmed."

I waited for the other wingtip to drop, gulping at the word 'murder'.

"The boy will remain here." The king paused near Fynn again. This time he held a hand over the boy's head, and the white energy forming his body turned into a dagger. It dangled above Fynn's messy brown hair. "Should you fail, or betray your task, he will join us permanently. Do you understand?"

I understood just fine.

One of the king's servants supplied me with an old, cracking vial filled with purple liquid. I have strapped it to my back, as I don't trust the diary enough to haul it along for me. I'm very aware that if the glass breaks, I may die in an instant. This whole deal sits on a precipice already, so what's a little extra danger going to do?

I have set off into the realm of the ghosts. I will detail it more tomorrow, as I will need something to occupy my time. The going shall be extremely slow.

Be safe, Fynn. I will save you. You and everyone else.


V the Rat

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