It's been six months since I posted anything. Watching Andy Weir talk about his experience with publishing has inspired me. I don't need to jealously guard my work to secure any hope of a career in writing. And frankly, I'd rather not hide it anyway. So, here's Chapter 1 of the Sanguine Syllabus: my Steampunk Sherlock-Holmes-inspired side project, that will go up slowly and somewhat raw. And I'm fine with that.
THE SANGUINE Syllabus
In which a memoir finds its beginnings; a body is discovered; a map is stolen; and a person of great standing meets her protege.
When I laid eyes on the corpse in Narayan Square that day, it was only the second time I’d seen a dead body in my entire life.
The crowd of gawkers was so tightly pressed together that I could hardly squeeze my way to the front to get a good look. A broken, crumpled heap dressed in scholarly purple lay sprawled on the cobblestones, a pool of viscous blood making its slow march towards the polished shoes of the pedestrians. I must have been staring at him—at it—for more than a minute before I realized that his right hand was missing. The other hand’s palm was branded with a strange symbol, the likes of which I’d never seen before.
The sight of such a grisly death threatened to make me sick, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. My stomach seemed to wriggle its way right up my throat, as if it too, wanted to see for itself. Terror and excitement gripped me by the collar of my shirt and held me fast. This man wasn’t just dead, he’d been very clearly killed.
Not just killed, mutilated!
I would later read in the Extra Edition of the Violet Eye that the Invictus Guard believed his already-deceased body had been thrown from the nearby Artificer’s Guild tower. To this day, I don’t know how anyone managed to haul a body up six stories in a public building without being seen.
The rest, I understand all too well.
A sharp, commanding shout parted the dense crowd as one of the city guard ran to the scene. More followed him, pushing back the throng of appalled, fascinated citizens. The guards were yelling about preserving the crime scene, threatening to charge us with interfering with their investigation if we did not disperse. I’d spent enough cold nights in cells for more ridiculous charges than that. “Piloting while female in Garria,” for example. Another uncomfortable, sleepless night did not appeal to me. I dispersed obediently—with the dead man’s brand seared into my memory.
I’d only arrived in the grand city a few hours earlier—I was, as they say, fresh off the airship. At a mere twenty years old, I had seen more than most young women my age, understood far less than I believed I did, and had decided that I would find my fortune in the most fortunate city of all: Amateria.
I still marvel that I’ve managed to survive to an age when writing down my memoirs seems a worthwhile thing to do, given all those mad choices I made in my youth. Do not misunderstand me, I regret none of those choices. Not one. But, my survival remains miraculous. I credit much of it to the mentor I met in Amateria.
Underneath the shadows of passing airships, I made my way back to the market stalls that ran along the perimeter of the square. The previously jovial atmosphere had been somewhat subdued by the murder only a few hundred feet away, but the commercial pulse of the city persisted.
These brightly-dressed citizens came from all over the world and spoke in as many tongues as I could name countries. Some were clothed in beautiful silks from head-to-toe, others in sophisticated corsetry and elegant skirts as befitted Amaterian style. Their energy for shopping, which was substantial, had been replaced by a fervor to exchange gossip rather than coin. With this shocking turn of events right in the middle of the city square, my own curiosity had been piqued. I began listening to every clutch of people I passed.
“I heard that the Invictus Guard is keeping other killings quiet—but this isn’t the first one. I guarantee it! And it won’t be the last! I guarantee that, too!” A woman with a Garrian accent nudged her hat back into place, as it had slipped during her passionate gesticulations.
“Do you know who that was? That was the Archchancellor of Karam University! My wife introduced me to him at dinner just last week, and to think he’s dead...” remarked a man with a marvelously waxed moustache.
A woman whose white hair marked her as Durusian had gone red in the face, saying “...not going to bow down to villains like that. My son is going to become an Artificer. Damn the threats, I say!”
“You saw the manifesto tacked up outside the Shattered Gear. They mean business. If I were an Artificer I would move to Garria first thing tomorrow morning.” This last comment came from a young man wearing a very fine set of tailor’s goggles. I gracefully sidled up to him and offered the finest smile I could manage. Judging from the look on his face, he didn’t think much of my gold tooth—not nearly as much as I thought of it, anyway.
“Hello there, Goggles! Where’s this Shattered Gear?” I asked, batting my eyelashes at him.
Goggles responded with an air of disgust, “It’s in the Artificer’s Quarter, but, a….”
I’d no doubt he was still talking to me, but I also had no doubt that nothing could be as interesting as what lay in store for me at the Shattered Gear. As I worked my way through the crowd, I pocketed a city map from one of the tourist-themed market stalls, happy to apply my five-finger discount to the transaction.
The whole city lay bare on that map, stripped of its comfortable coverings of steam and smoke, like a body without its skin. Each quarter, as if a muscle or an organ in a children’s anatomy primer, was given its own fanciful color. The Artificer’s Quarter stood out in a lovely purple, and shared the shade with Karam University on the mountain to the southeast. I traced the arteries, the great wide thoroughfares built to move goods and people, finding the fastest route to the Shattered Gear.
A lovely, manicured lawn surrounded a tower not unlike the one in Narayan Square. Carefully-paved footpaths traced a latticework over the grass, connecting the tower to every shop and street nearby. Only small carts, and perhaps, a delicately-bred steed could have navigated these paths. Students and professors of the university milled about. A tight knot of them discussed the day’s disaster on the patio outside a drinking establishment.
One half of a great bronze gear swung from an iron hanger over the door to what I presumed was the Shattered Gear. As I approached the entrance, a strange shimmering caught my attention.
A sheaf of parchment had been tacked to the stonework exterior of the building. Light danced across its surface, as if it had been reflected from an unseen pool of opalescent water. Nothing but cobblestone pavers, wooden patio tables, grass, and the occasional tree lay in the immediate vicinity. I waved my hand over the poster, in a vain effort to find a shadow and trace the source of the light. No shadows fell on the parchment. The light must have come from within! How fascinating! Potentially lucrative!
Why hadn’t anyone taken the sheet down for study? Not one of these people—ostensibly the world’s greatest intellectuals at the finest university—had bothered to wonder why a piece of parchment was shining and shimmering outside their favorite bar!
My curiosity had not been crushed beneath the weight of the great ivory towers of academia, and so I reached out to grab the sheet for closer inspection.
The vicious bite of what I can only describe to you as electricity struck my hand, which immediately turned a strange, painful sort of numb all the way up to the elbow. Withdrawing, I cried out, receiving only a few sniggering laughs in response to my misery. A few acne-spotted students at a nearby table mocked me over their ales.
With my uninjured hand, I grabbed the nearest tankard and accelerated its contents rapidly toward the most deserving individual: a red-headed girl with a stained purple hat. When she expressed her surprise, I explained my reasoning by way of a few very expressive hand gestures, the use of which I would not recommend to anyone who enjoys the keeping of polite company. I did not enjoy polite company when I was a young woman, as you might have gathered. In fact, to this day, I find that “polite” is a cultured way of describing an inexcusable dullness in a person.
Unable to retrieve the parchment from the wall, I resigned myself to studying it in situ.
Artificers of Amateria:
Your CRIMES do not go unnoticed. Your so-called art is a DISEASE and it WILL be cured. Heed this warning: burn your texts, tear down your laboratories—you do not have to die.
WE WILL PROTECT OUR WORLD AT ALL COSTS.
A wax seal signed the bottom of the page, marked with the very same emblem I had seen burned into the hand of the corpse in Narayan Square. Beside the poster, that same mark had been hastily painted. Not once, but three times. Had there been three killings? Was today’s murder the third or the fourth? Perhaps the perpetrators had not yet had the opportunity to update their bulletin.
The rest of the day slid into night with an alacrity I can only attribute to my utter distraction. My thoughts were consumed by this bizarre insurgency. No other occupation could come close in curiosity nor relevance. I may have picked a few pockets as I walked the streets, but only as a matter of routine.
No matter where I intended to go, no matter where I thought to go find lodgings, my feet found their way back to the Shattered gear and back to the poster.
A tall drink and a bit of conversation, that was precisely what I needed after a long day. My light fingers could easily cover the tab.