Quasi-Indefatigable Xenolith



Two Secretive Women Meet

If you have surmised that Mullicynda is a beautiful, finely-mannered, yet curiously odd young woman, that would only be partially correct. At this particular time, she is walking down a very disreputable street in a very disreputable part of Trechiva, wearing very disreputable clothing, having just done a very disreputable thing. You certainly wouldn't recognize her as a model student from the Convocation school, which she sneaked away from a few hours ago. She is wearing the kind of dress that would put her among the more lowly common women that decent Convocation Ladies would give as much attention to as they would a scrap of greasy paper. A worn headscarf covers her perpetually perfect hair and she is walking with a bit of a limp that she had perfected over the last several months.

It isn't a street where any Lady would ever go, so it is all the more likely that she won't be discovered by anyone that matters. The guise is just as much to help her blend in among the rough and tumble commoners that do all the real work at Port Trechiva. This is a place of fishers and gutters and the smell is a bit obnoxious, requiring her to spend some extra time in the dormitory baths afterwards to avoid questions. What with all these long baths she took oft-nights, she has developed a reputation among the other girls for being a bit soft and enjoying the warm waters a bit more than is equitable. All the better for Mulls, for this perception puts her even further from any suspicion of her nocturnal activities.

She is just returning from an hour of quiet rummaging through the old library. It had been abandoned so long ago that the slimy activities of fishing and processing have engulfed what had once been a bastion of real learning. The Convocation has no need for such things when there are tea parties and beauty contests to occupy the attentions of Ladies. The fishers and their ilk don't require reading skills and are never really offered them, so the only use they have for a building full of books is to use torn-out pages to cover tables of offal or to wrap the fish that would be bought at the market up the way. Mulls tries not to think of the tomes that may have already been destroyed for their paper and has been happy to discover that the rare book section of the library was toward the back and that the paper-gatherers have contented themselves with the more convenient pickings up front.

There was no time to really stay and read at all in the dusty yet still quite comfortable chairs in the reading rooms as the snatched hour here and there from school was dangerous enough. Mulls only had time to choose out a book or two to take back with her to her dormitory room, where she would hide the ancient bindings under delicate pastel and lace covers that the few books used at the school were adorned with. A proper Lady was expected to have a private diary, which she wasn't to show to anyone, containing a record of raucous trysts with cute serving-boys or the times when she bested rivals in contest. Mulls has a scatter of such diaries left casually at her desk, most filled with such mindless drivel as she could contrive in a few moments, for the curious girls that always poked around in other girl's private diaries. Some of her pilfered library books are dressed to look as much like these tawdry tomes as she could make them and kept under the pile on the desk, but her most prized and most dangerous volumes are kept under a loose board beneath the floor under her bed.

At this particular moment, Mulls is beginning her journey back to the dorms with her latest find when she notices an intentionally unnoticeable woman pass by her that she utterly fails not to notice. What she can't help noticing is a flash of luxuriant red through a very nice but supposedly concealing dark cloak and hood. There are plenty enough dark cloaks with hoods about, but they are more of the variety that Mulls was wearing to look like a fishwife and fight off the cold and damp. This cloak however belongs to no commoner.

The noticed woman ducks down a narrow cobbled alley and then another and another still, as if she is putting off any pursuit. I know all this because, of course, Mulls follows her, having nothing better than a hot, bubbly bath and some amateur book-cover binding to do that night. The girl hangs back a bit and the worn common boots she wears give up no sound in her passing, but even if they had, I doubt that the woman in the fine dark red dress is giving any particular thought to really being followed. She moves quickly, with great purpose, never looking about, trusting most likely to the fact that people have their own business and don't want the potential trouble of meddling in the doings of others that don't concern them. However, as I said, Mulls is not precisely as she appears and one thing I can say about her is that she has no compunctions about breaking with standard practice.

At the end of another alleyway is a rather undistinguished warehouse, made undistinguished by the fact that it looked exactly like every other warehouse that lined this alleyway. It is getting late and there are no lanterns here, but it is still easy enough for the girl to follow the woman, as she is now comfortable enough that she is not holding her cloak quite as close and the color of her rich dress showes plainly. She ducks into a short and narrow door and disappears into the last warehouse. Probably hoping for something a bit interesting to justify this whole distraction, Mulls waits for a bit of revelation, something like a lit lantern inside that would show through some window. Instead, a clicking noise rises slowly in the direction of open end of the alley. The girl scrambles for some cover which isn't even hard to find in the darkness of the far side of the alley.

Another cloaked figure is entering the scene, but this one seems less charged with purpose. Obviously another woman, but this one is looking all around and is obviously startled by every noise and shadow, real or imaginary. Mulls melts further into the shadows across from the doorway where the red-dress has disappeared, but she did notice that some lantern had finally been lit within and the dim light is illuminating a small window set high in the wall just above the outer door. It is a moment or two before the new woman feels comfortable enough to continue into the dark alleyway.

If the first woman had let a few hints of her status peek out of her cloak, this second one seems hard pressed to keep her association with better things covered at all. The loud clicking came from her high heeled shoes that were bright yellow and having serious troubles navigating the uneven cobbles. The Lady is flailing around just to stay erect and her formal gown, which matches the yellow of her shoes, billows full into view with a gust of wind, the cloak that is supposed to be hiding her nearly flapping away. Fortunately for her, the only person looking at any of this is the secreted Mulls, who is also the only person in earshot that could pick out the soft grumble the Matron was growling.

The canary-dressed woman moves forward unsteadily and just as she was getting to the same warehouse door that the other woman had entered, another gust of wind catches her cloak, tears it from her, and drops it on the cobblestones a few feet away. Mulls shakes her head, for it looks as if the woman has just finished attending some fancy ball and has come straight here from it. The sad truth was that this is one of only two decent outfits that this woman manages to have. At best, she seemed like one of those Matrons of a country Lady who had the basic status but hardly enough resources to look the part. Thankfully, she has chosen to leave her stewardess outfit at home and wears something that lets her stumble about alleyways a little more gracefully.

Just now, she is tottering back to her cloak and it is obvious that she has come from gorging on the sumptuous fare of two too many Investment parties for her now very tight-stretched bodice. She is laboring to spread her legs and lower herself enough to snatch up the cloak, but she was already swaying more than gravity really appreciates. The precarious movements, the unsteady feet on high heels, and the tight dress that prevents movement (and likely proper breathing) all conspire against her and she pitches over the cloak and onto the hard cobbles with a sharp cry and a very unwelcome tearing sound. Now as the dress was somewhat looser, she easily sits up and gives the roughest curse that the Convocation school taught its future Ladies: "Drat!" She snatches angrily at the cloak and gets herself back up onto her high heels, roughly putting the cloak back over her split dress and cinching it up as best she can.

The yellow-dress only manages a few unsteady steps before her ankle is wrenched and one of her heels snaps, pitching her to the cobbles once again. On this circumstance, she finds a curse that isn't in the Convocation vocabulary but seems a bit stronger than the previous one: "Fiddlesticks!" Sensibly, the Lady takes off both shoes and flings them into the darkness, nearly hitting Mulls with them. Now that she has finally solved the worst of her troubles, she stomps over to the door, tears it open angrily, and rushes on through it. There seems to be a corridor that the door leads onto and this corridor is unlit by the light that weakly shines in the main part of the warehouse, which circumstance is made more obvious by the sound of barrels being tripped over by the canary-colored-dress. Mulls sees none of this, but it is easy enough to hear the Matron let out another uncatalogued curse, a thump, then a scream of pain. This is what comes of letting your anger kick out at a hard barrel when one has no shoes on. There is one last, very loud curse that certainly would have been grounds to have a lowly dame turned out from Convocation service entirely.

Mulls sprints across the alley and climbs atop a pile of something she doesn't bother to examine too closely, just so she can see through the small window to the doings within.

In the rather dim light of the lantern, one can only see a table upon which is strewn cups and bowls that are being stirred at and shuffled about by the woman with the red dress. In her intensity, she seems to be ignoring the newly-arrived and limping canary-colored woman, who is gesticulating strongly and ranting about something, though from her place behind the small window, Mulls can hear nothing. Red stirs a bit, puts this bowl down, takes up a cup and drips out a careful measure of liquid into yet another cup, deep in concentration. Yellow, perhaps in a bid to look important and dramatic, goes to stamp her foot in frustration and causes a bout of thrashing pain for her earlier bare-footed barrel-kicking theatrics. Red pays her no notice, as more bowls are stirred and more liquid is tipped.

Finally, it seems a few words pass between the two women and Red gestures into the shadows that the light of the lantern barely touches. There are bits of movement there but too indistinct for Mulls to identify. Canary takes a tentative, painful step toward the place, but she doesn't look happy about it, her lips jabbering on in that way that inanely talkative people have. Red points more sharply in command, upset to be distracted from her work of mixing and pouring and getting on with whatever intrigue that would bring two Matrons to an abandoned fishers warehouse on the wrong side of the channel from lovely Firsthome. Canary works herself forward a little further, but seems afraid of what she was being asked to do. There is one final tip of a cup into a bowl and a good stir before Red finally gives up on her associate, comes around the table herself, knocks the hesitant Yellow out of the way, and enters the shadows.

Upon re-emerging into the dim light, Red holds a wiggling, distraught little bird tightly in her grasp. She motions Canary to come forward and help as the bird's wings are roughly pinned down to the table by Yellow's uncertain and seemingly repulsed fingers. Very carefully, Red forces the beak of the bird open and tips a drop from the prepared bowl into it. The bird understandably flinches wildly and spooks the already unsure Canary, who lets off holding the wings and jumps back. The bird darts off the table and flies up into the rafters of the warehouse, Red's eyes flashing her displeasure as she snatches up the lantern and attempts to follow the bird's movements. Mulls can't really see much of what happens next, but one can't ignore the great thump against the glass of the small window she peers through as the bird sees hope of escape but doesn't comprehend the properties of a transparent semi-solid. The girl outside the building flails back, nearly losing her balance, but catching the sill. The shock pulls air out of her lungs and it takes a moment of panting to put everything right again and to bring Mulls back to her eavesdropping.

The lantern is still lit and vague glimmerings can still be seen from Mulls' vantage, but not the light itself. It is moving about out of her vision as the women inside look for the bird that was likely stunned by the encounter with the windowpane. Several moments pass and the light of the lantern hovers into view again, carried by Red, and returns to the table. The bird is laid out again, wings spread as before, but there is no struggle. It seems very dead. Red examines it closely for signs that only she knows of, seems satisfied, takes up the bowl of concoction, and pours it into a vial that she stoppers and marks with a blue ribbon tied around its neck. It is put beside another vial, obviously prepared earlier, which had a pink ribbon tied onto it.

There is much discussion now between Red and Yellow, probably instructions about the use of the contents of the vials by Canary. Red seems animated in holding up one, carefully saying its intended use, and then the other, as if Yellow is some dolt and needs this explained very simply and clearly. Canary is looking quite indignant with the treatment, as any Matron would, knowing that she is of a deservedly higher class than this behavior would imply. Apparently, Red doesn't have much regard for Yellow's status or her ability to keep the vials straight as she also scribbles out a note that probably repeated yet again in writing what she had now repeated at least twice verbally. The note is proffered and Canary snatches it ungratefully from Red, along with the two vials. Neither bothers with the customary pleasantries as Yellow storms out and Red turns to the work of settling the bowls and cups into their places and tidying up.

Mulls draws back from the window thoughtfully and moves down off her perch, going quickly and quietly out of the alleyway. Canary emerges, spends some minutes looking about the shadows for her discarded shoes, and stumbles back on her way, broken heel, sailor-cursing, and all.

Next Chapter...

Copyright, Jason Nemrow. All rights reserved.