The Dauntless Rook (§.16)

Continued from §.15

 

When Sprill realized his tenants were either sleeping, hiding, or vacant, he gave a soft grunt of irritation, produced a keyring and turned the lock. Adair followed the landlord and moved through the small, sparse room to the window and peered out into the cluttered lane below, spying only a grim, gray-clad man, conversing with two mailed sentries of the paramount, who stood before a swelling crowd, barely visible in the great thoroughfare beyond the alley. Though Adair could not make out the conversation, it was clear from their body-language that an argument was underway, in which the ashen man was rebuffed. He subsequently turned and left off from the ramshackle lane, shaking his head and muttering and vanished back from whence he’d come.

Adair turned from the window to behold Hoston starring at his pocket-watch.

“Apologies, my comitem. I’ve no idea where they’ve gotten off to.”

“No trouble at all. Perhaps I’ll stop by another time. Wherefore all the commotion?”

“Outside?”

“Aye.”

“Thou art surprisingly unprimed of thy classes own affairs.”

“Sir?”

“The Lord Paramount has organized a parade in honor of Baron Avarr’s triumphal return.”

“The Torian noble?”

“Aye. I mean no offense, my comitem, but should thee not know of this? Surely thou wert invited?”

“If I was, I remember not, but thou speaketh rightly – unfortunately, I’ve been swamped of late. I am to be married and-”

“Why, that is wonderful! I had not heard.”

“Of that I am pleased. I should not wish for my life to become a staple of the gossip columns.”

“Nor I!”

“The business has been most taxing. I’ve had little time for anything else.”

“I suspect that blackguard what came after ye, has somewhat disturbed the tranquil waters of thy recreation.”

“Thou hath heard of my adventure?”

“Heard of it! I should be a queerly isolated soul were I to have not. Why near the whole of town is jawin’ of it. It were said that thee dodged the brigand’s pitch. Is it true?”

“A man may accomplish the extraordinary when by it, he is beset.”

Shortly after the words had left his mouth, he froze, eyes fixating upon a small, black thing at the periphery of his vision. He turned to the left and beheld a feather, laying upon the ground beneath a chair. He bent to a knee and plucked it from the ground, turning it in the ambered light.

It was a crow quill, familiar in constitution.

“I’d no idea they’d a bird,” declared Hoston, briefly observing the feather, “Hmph! How dare they sneak such a creature in here! I’ll have them on the street for this!”

“Its not from a living bird. Note the glue upon the shaft.”

Hoston bent to the feather and peered at the quill.

“Ay. Must have come from a costume… Well, I must be off, my comitem. I take it the path out lays fresh in thy mind?”

“It does. I thank thee for thy time.”

Sprill bowed and left whereupon Adair unfurled himself from the hardwood floor, placed the plume in his inner-jacket pocket and gave Dren’s curiously unfurnished room one last cursory glance before shutting the door and hailing a hansom.

He twirled the feather between his fingertips as the vehicle clattered down the cobblestone streets, wondering why the absent renter had stolen his coat.

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The Dauntless Rook (§.15)

Continued from §.14

Luned gasped as she spied Oeric Adair through the keyhole of her flat. The comitem walked patiently, yet eagerly, behind the corpulent, key-jangling landlord, Hoston Sprill. Both men advanced slowly, but steadily, down the corridor; scant minutes from the door.

“Damn that conniving wind-tossed scoundrel. This is all his fault.” She muttered, backing past the divan and the sofa, swiftly towards the tiny apartment’s only window. When she turned full round, she nearly screamed.

Casually lounging upon the sill was Drake Dren, shorn of his recently riven coat, smiling like a jackal.

“How goes it?”

“How many times must I tell ya not to do that, damn thee. Where in blazes have ya been?”

Luned straightened as the sound of Hoston’s fist resounded upon the door of the cramped and peeling flat. Then a pause and a voice following.

“Ms. Luned? Mr. Dren? Anyone home? Its Hoston. Hello? I’ve a gentleman whose most desirous to meet ye.”

“What say you? Shall we stay and chat with Hoston and his friend?”

“Of course not – its Adair. Thou hath said-”

“Of that later. Come.”

Without hesitation, Drake took the woman’s left arm and guided her through the open window to a ladder he’d laid against the side of the tenement to reach the sill. Where he acquired the ladder, Luned had no idea. The man threw his legs out, grabbed the sides of the ladder and slid down a little, smiling at his own successful display of agility, as Luned gasped and redoubled her grasp.

“Curb thy trepidation. Manful make thy heart.” He whispered up to the woman with a grin before sliding all the way down to the bottom of the contraption.

“Mettlesome blighter.” She huffed hotly before beginning her descent.

When the woman made it to the bottom of the ladder, Drake withdrew the device from the side of the tenement and, to Luned’s very great surprize, began folding it up as one might a newspaper, speaking in tones of feigned offense all the while.

“To reproach me for thy own proclivities is to reproach thyself. Or didst thee forget how came our divan and sofa? A simple ‘thank ye’ would be sufficient.”

When the portable ladder was folded to the size of a large suitcase, Drake stuffed it in a heavy and battered leather pack that lay in the alley adjacent their sill and surveyed the alley.

“Where on earth did ya get that?” Luned inquired, gesturing to the pack.

He shushed the woman and drew up his hood, turning away from the woman, and moving into the shadows as a grim figure ambled into view at the leftern end of the alley.

“Who’s that?”

“A man best avoided,” he whispered without pausing, heading to the right exitway.

“Its him isn’t it – the assassin?”

“Aye. He knows me not in my present state and thou art wholly foreign to his experience. Quell thy tongue and shift away.”

She nodded and moved up to his side. Together they passed swiftly to the far right side of the alley, whereupon a considerable throng had gathered in the great thoroughfare beyond. The avenue, however, was obstructed by two large men who stood shoulder to shoulder, clad in heavy haurberks of the paramount.

“Excuse me, sirs, may we pass?”

“Sorry miss,” the smaller of the two guards replied courteously, “Baron Avarr has recently arrived at the outskirts, enroute to Tor. Consequently, the Lord Paramount has commanded the main thoroughfare sealed, to make way for his lauded guest’s procession. Considerable is the host, even now, and word has yet to fully spread; when it does, there will doubtless be all manner of disorder, which our dispensation shall, our lord hopes, in some measure abate.”

The sound of cheers, trumpets and drums flared in the distance.

“I’ve heard he contributed considerably to the war-effort.”

“Aye. Victoriously he returnth.”

The larger guard gesturing flippantly towards the opposite end of the lane, “We’ve answered ya query. Begone. Both of ye.”

Luned and Dren exchanged looks whereupon Dren drew forth, cleared his throat and pulled from his shoulder-slung pack Adair’s plumed cap, revealing the tag to the guards.

The guards furrowed their brows, perplexed.

“Recognize ye the crest?” the thief intoned in his best Adair impression.

The smaller guard’s eyes widened.

“The crest of House Adair! My comitem… please accept my apologies. I recognized thee not.”

“That is precisely as I had intended it – for thou art doubtless primed of the dire circumstance which previously dogged me.”

“Aye milord. And so the cloak.”

“Indeed.”

“A wise precaution. We are pleased to see thee safe.”

The guards then parted and Dren, assuming an air of amiable regality, extended his arm to Luned who took it with a grin.

Arm in arm, the designing pair passed beyond the lane to the great and crowded thoroughfare as a cacophony of ringing steel foretokened the baron’s arrival.

 

*

 

continued in part 16 (forthcoming)

The Dauntless Rook (§.09)

Continued from §.08.


Aymon Degarre found Learc Demelody smoking her ever-present whale bone pipe in the ministry library, pouring through a stack of papers. Before he could get close enough to inspect the content of the pulpy pile, Learc blew a cloud of smoke towards him without removing her eyes from the items before her, as if warding against some noxious insect.

“Go away.”

“Madam.”

“Shoo.”

“I can not.”

“Can not or will not?”

Still she did not meet his eye, her attention fixed to the papers before her.

“The lieutenant has assigned me to the Adair case, madam.”

Finally, Learc looked at the man. He found her eyes disquieting, for they were large and glassy, like the eyes of a fish.

“Wert thou primed of the affair?” Learc inquired.

“Yes. Thoroughly. No one knows much of the matter, so there was little to impart.”

“Very well. I’m headed down to the theatre.”

“Whatever for?”

“To catch the thief.”

Degarre furrowed his brow in confusion and followed the older inspector out of the building into the whirring streets of the smouldering city and in short order found himself within the garish lobby of Mazrak’s Grand Theatre, wherefrom a gathering of patrons milled, listlessly conversing betwixt swills of ambered wine.

“I’ve long held theatres to be strange aberrations,” Learc declared abruptly.

“Why’s that?”

“In constantly seeking the drama of artifice they are apt to miss that which is transpiring around them everyday.”

“I fancy that is because they’re dissatisfied with mundane drama. The reason I joined the ministry was because of a play of General Godwin Galorion I saw as a child.”

The accipiter looked at the young man with a expression he could not place and then turned towards the ticket counter, wholly disinterested in the crowd and addressed the old clerk without emotion.

“Has Ms. Harrington’s hat been recovered?”

The clerk shook his head.

“I was verged to ask thee the same.”

“Thy superiors shalt, I presume, in no wise object to our presence?”

“Nay. In truth, quite the contrary,” he removed two tickets from beneath the counter and handed them to Learc, “Courtesy of Madam Ibbot.”

She took the tickets with a nod of appreciation, “Give her my thanks.”

With that Learc and Degarre traversed the flight of stairs to the second floor and moved down the main corridor to the upper stands of the auditorium. Learc paused as Degarre settled down into the small box-seats.

“What art thou doing?”

“Watching the show.”

She shook her head and counted the seats.

“They’re only eight seats available.”

Degarre looked at the ticket he had been handed, “Ah, of course, yes, these seats are reserved.”

“Which means that to steal Harrington’s hat the thief was either garbed as a valet or reserved a seat himself.”

“Could it be that the rogue is a woman?”

“I find it unlikely. Though I know not whether the one who stole Harrington’s hat and Adair’s coat was the same that posed as the latter, it strikes me as likely. If not, why pass off the merchandise?”

“That’s sound. But why a man?”

Learc moved to the white polished balcony and peered down at the stage as the curtain rose to reveal the sundry actors thereupon.

“A female valet would look glaringly out of place, as the theatre does not hire them.”

Degarre pondered the issue a moment, nodding to himself.

“So as to have a staff strong of arm should any actor or patron require assistance with their luggage.”

“Aye. Most of the valets double as gophers for the production company. Our thief is not a woman.”


Continued in §.10.

The Dauntless Rook (§.08)

Continued from §.07.


Oeric Adair read and reread the Ersentwyer Evening Standard as he waited in the drawing room of his newly purchased manse for Cerelia to greet him. His nerves such that the paper jittered in his hands, which, in erratic interludes, would irregularly flutter down to the tabletop to tap in rapid succession as his shoes clacked upon the hard surface of the polished marble floor as if modulating the pedals of a great and invisible organ.

After several minutes of timorous tapping, Aldwyn shut the novel he was reading and threw his friend a look of vexation.

“Thou shalt scuff the floor with thy clacking.”

Adair sighed and threw the paper on the table and withdrew a cigarette from a small silver case in his inner jacket pocket, lighting it with the pumpkin-scented candle Cerelia had given him along with the stolen corvine coat.

“Apologies. I know not what to do.”

“What is to be done?”

“They herald me now as a hero… Cerelia, if she’s read the paper, doubtless thinks likewise.”

“Demelody knows thou wert absent the shipyard.”

“Aye, yet the ministry has no outlet of its own as The Standard. Besides, they’ll keep all information pertinent to the investigation within their walls until the matter is concluded; giving more primacy to the apprehension of the assassin than to the enlightenment of the public on all details pertinent to his capture.”

Aldwyn raised a brow, grave concern plain-writ upon his face. Moments later, Cerelia Wealdmaer burst into the drawing room, swaddled in a peacock-feathered overcoat, followed by a tall, powerfully-built man, expensively attired in a gold-trimmed waistcoat, dark-blue suit and checkered breeches.

Adair nearly gave an audible groan. After the travails of the day, the last thing he wanted to see was the perpetually scathing visage of Serlo Wealdmaer.

Cerelia smiled and dashed towards Adair, throwing her arms about him in loving embrace, as Serlo slowly made his way to the middle of the drawing room, where Aldwyn sat, sipping tea, novel upon his lap.

“My hero returns!”

“Hero?” Adair replied with amusement, taking the woman about the waist and setting her down upon his lap, “Hardly, hardly.”

“Oh, Aldwyn, how rude I am! Wert thou present when the blackguard beset our man?”

Aldwyn looked up from his book uncertainly. Adair thought that if his eyebrows moved any higher, they’d fly right off his face.

“No, I was at Mazrak’s. Destrali was playing.”

“Ah. When I read the paper,” Cerelia continued breathlessly, “I could scarcely believe it.”

“Neither could I,” Serlo declared, turning full toward the master of the house, “Wherefore the departure?”

Adair perked up, “Hm?”

“The theatre. Why didst thou depart?”

“Oh, that. The concert simply wasn’t what I had expected. So I sought some air, and in seeking, made way to the cargo yard where the villain attacked.”

Serlo looked to Aldwyn who nodded blankly.

Adair rose, swaggering arm in arm with Cerelia, and addressed Serlo confidently.

“Since thou shalt shortly be my brother, thy presence I should be overjoyed to retain.”

“Nay. I’ve matters to attend to. Shalt thy accompany me, Cerelia?”

“After all that has transpired, certainly, I must stay a while. Oh, Serlo, stay.”

With a grimace he turned to the door, “Take care, sister. Goodday, gentlemen.”

As soon as the door had shut behind the man, Adair turned to Cerelia with exasperation.

“Why didst thou tell me not of thy brother’s accompaniment?”

Cerelia was much taken aback, “After what had transpired, wherefore thy vexation, dearest? A killer nearly pinned thee to a cargo crate; I shall not travel alone whilst freely yet he lurks.”

Adair’s face fell slightly, for, during the interim from his departure to the theatre and return to his villa, he had in no wise considered Cerelia’s safety.

She’s right, he thought in self-reprimand, the cutthroat was after me, but that means not that those who sent him are after me only. Surely, the root of the matter lays with my family name. How thoughtless I have been, and how unworthy I am of poor Cerelia, who handles the matter with all the reserve of a baroness! And how more nobly than I does her scowling brother attend his blood…

Aldwyn rose from his armchair to address Cerelia.

“Perchance our goodly hero shall bring the rogue to justice.”

Adair puffed out his chest.

“Perchance I shall.”


Continued in §.09.

The Dauntless Rook (§.07)

Continued from §.06.


Luned Fey leaned back in the old wicker chair she’d stolen four weeks ago, lowering the paper to behold a lithe, pale man, garbed in a corvine coat, who sat across the charred table. He settled down into the chair and poured some of the coffee Fey had freshly brewed looking impossibly pleased with himself and wholly oblivious to her increasingly dour expression.

“I see ya’ve finally returned with ya ridiculous spoils.”

“Ridiculous? Aesthetically refining, I should say.”

“Ya look like a giant bird.”

“Thouart my size, would that make of thee a giant shrew?”

“Its not funny, Dren. Ya’wert reckless.”

“My last name is only invoked when thourt in some wise vexed.”

“Vexed? Vexed! Have ya read the Evening Standard?”

“Indeed.”

“Ya made the front page.”

“No, no, no,” the man, sipped his coffee and wagged a finger before the woman, smiled and pushed up the brim of the azure-plumed hat to reveal gold-green eyes that glittered through the gloam, “Oeric Adair did.”

“The dockman saw thee. He’s been jawing to the press.”

Drake removed his hat, ruffled his matted, obsidian hair, listlessly waving his hand, as if brushing away a slothful fly.

“Let him jaw. Does it mention Emory’s condition?”

“Who?”

“The dock worker that took a dagger to the thigh.”

“No. Only mentions he were injured in the attempt on ya life. Drake, are ya even listening?”

Drake Dren tapped his chin, beetle-black brows furrowing momentarily.

“Hm, I shall just have to go and see for myself then…”

Luned folded the paper and tossed it upon the battered table, scowling.

“My dear woman, thourt either miming a prune or signalling thy disapproval.”

“Ave ya gone daft? Ya already saved the man’s life – theys naught left ta do in returning but show thy tail to the mousetrap.”

The man paused and dramatically scanned his backside as Luned rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“Its serious, damn ye. Yawert nearly kilt!”

He smiled slightly and leaned theatrically towards her, voice low and smooth and coaxing.

“Thou wert worried about me, wernt thee?”

“I wert worried about having my tenement overrun with accipiters! Which now, thanks ta thee, will be trawling the area for information, once it comes out that the man what dodged the cutthroat wasn’t Adair!”

“Ah, that is where thourt mistaken. To understand, thou must, of Adair, grow thy knowing. The ministry will hound after the assassin, but they shant come looking for me.”

“Why on earth not?”

“Because, my dear Luned, Adair won’t want them to.”

*


Continued in §.08.

The Dauntless Rook (§.06)

Continued from §.05.


Volfsige sat nervously within the shaded drawing room in lower eastside, wracked by his recent failure. Hands wringing the expensive cutlery as a rider might his brydel. The blond man opposite the cutthroat lit up a cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke above the table before breaking the silence.

“Theed given assurance that Oeric Adair would expire three days before the wedding. It is now two days before the wedding and Oeric Adair yet draws breath.”

“I underestimated him, Frayn.”

“Thou? Thou art finest among all the blade slingers of Rivenlore. How was it that a middling aristocrat with no martial training could evade thee?”

“He is more than he appears.”

“What prattle!”

“Thou knowst not the state of it. He dodged my blade as one might an unwelcome kiss. In all my years, I’ve never seen anything to match it. He is confident… and dangerous…”

“I believe thy words, strange though they be, but should I divulge such information to our employer, thy contract is forfeit.”

“A contract is a contract. Both parties are-”

Frayn rolled his eyes.

“What shalt thou do? Lodge a complaint with the Lord Paramount?”

“I find no amusement in thy frivolity.”

“I simply cannot empathize with the mirthless.”

“Tell thy employer that I need but one more chance. Should I be granted it, Oeric Adair shall not another sunrise see.”

*

The Dauntless Rook (§.05)

Continued from §.04.


After the concert had concluded, Blythe, Boyce, Kyne and Adair returned to the clerk whose visage bore the marks of considerable nervousness.

“Ilhayl, my lords. I regret to inform ye there has been a theft.”

“What was riven?” Inquired Adair evenly.

“Thy coat, my comitem.”

Boyce laughed, “Broadly, fortune smiles.”

The clerk furrowed his brows, confused by Boyce’s levity and then advanced to Adair and gestured toward the entrance.

“Fear not. I sent Geoffery to fetch the accipiters; rest assured, the knave will know justice and be equitably recompensed.”

“Nys so serious, dear fellow. Marta gives and Marta takes. Such is life.”

“B-but-”

Aldwyn abruptly pulled Adair aside, chere severe.

“If summons should the accipiters heed, it were best we shifted; malgre our blamelessness.”

“Thou art minded of the wedding?”

“It could provoke scandal.”

“We’ve not haste enough to evade the possibility; they’ve already arrived.”

In from doors abroche, two men entered, darkly garbed in the dress of the Ministry of Inquisitions, followed by a slender, languid woman, similarly, if less fastidiously, dressed, who, unlike her companions, sported a mishappen, snub-brimmed cap, low-drawn about her visage. Her hair was dark and straight, falling to frame wide, sleepless eyes, which took in the whole of the hall before settling fixedly upon Adair.

“I’m Accipiter Demelody,” she replied curtly, without bowing, “Thou art Oeric Adair?”

“Aye.”

“Curious. Thou wert spotted an hour’s half-past in Rasten Yard, evading an attempt upon thy life.”

“What? Unverray. Query alle and some; swiftly shalt thou know I’ve abided in the hall the whole of that time.”

“That much is obvious, and yet not half the geste.”

Aldwyn cut in daintily, “Perchance our interrogation of this cas could commence in coyer quarters?”

“Sikerly.”

As the accipiters and nobles turned to leave, a elderly woman came half-dashing down the stairs, sorrily discombobulated.

“My hat, my hat. Someone has stolen my hat!”


Continued in §.06.

The Dauntless Rook (§.04)

Continued from §.03.


The man with the faded gray coat looked up from his tea to discover a thin man exiting the theatre, clad in a coat ornamented with crow feathers and a broad-brimmed cap with azure plume.

He required no sketch for reference this time.

After his former encounter, he knew his quarry upon first sight.

Oeric Adair.

“What is he doing?” he mumbled under his breath.

“Fresh tea and rolls, Mr. Volfsige?”

The man turned to behold a young skivvy smiling at him, holding a tray of tea, bread and honey.

“Nay, Adelaide, I was just about to leave.”

“Something the matter?”

“Alls fine.”

He shot the skivvy a reassuring look and pressed a coin to her palm as he passed, saying nothing.

When Volfsige exited the building he crossed the street, tailing Adair, whose gait had attained a curious, catlike character.

“Wherefore this leave-taking? And the hat? And why is he shorn of his companions?” Volfsige wondered wordlessly, as he wound carefully through a crowd of jubilant minstrels singing ‘Glory to Avarr.’

“According to the mission brief, Oeric is obsessed with music and adores Destrali. Why would he depart before the concert’s commencement and leave his friends behind? Perchance there ensued between them some disputation. Or, perhaps, it is the encroaching wedding which vexes him… yet, he does not seem vexed… I suppose the origins of his sojourn matter little now. He’ll be dead soon and I’ll be much the wealthier. Really, that is all that matters. I am doing thee a favor, Oeric Adair, though thou knowst not.”

The man in the crow feathered coat abruptly turned and began threading through the crowd to the north-east. Though Volfsige was not a denizen of Ersentwyer, he had familiarized himself with the layout of the city after accepting the contract and knew from his research the Adair Estate lay to the south-west of the market square.

“He’s not headed home…”

A jolt of elation shot through Volfsige’s body. He tensed, peering round the corner of a dilapidated flat, intently watching his quarry waltz languidly out of the market square and enter Rasten Shipyard, well known for its flesh peddlers and blackmarketeers.

“An addiction? Or could it be the noble Oeric Adair is engaged in a tryst? All whilst engaged to that bonny Cerelia Wealdmaer? It fits the situation. The concert would prove a fitting alibi, provided his companions bore suitably crooked tongues, it would also explain the cap, for he, being well-bred, would, in undertaking such a potentially compromising endeavour, doubtless take some precaution against recognition…”

Volfsige rounded the corner of the tenement, left the square and followed his prey to the heart of the docks, where the avian-clothed wayfarer suddenly paused, starring at the ground.

The stalker cast the net of his gaze about the ramshackle expanse, where rose up, as a great corridor, crates of considerable variety.

Other than the crow-coated man, not a single soul stirred therein.

They were alone.

Volfsige inhaled deeply and reached for his dagger. He relaxed and exhaled, moving out from behind the shipping crate, facing the azure-capped man who stood perpendicular to him. Given Adair’s gaze was cthonically bound, he noticed Volfsige not at all.

Faretheewell, Comitem Adair.

Volfsige arched back a powerful arm and slung his hand outward, letting dagger fly straight at his quarry’s heart. Against all expectation, the man dropped suddenly and effortlessly to a knee without taking his eyes from the ground, causing the dagger to miss its intended mark and sail into the leg of a burly yard worker, who, at that very moment, had been rounding the corner of the container corridor in which the assassin and the crow-coated man stood.

A shrill cry rang out, causing the elaborately garbed comitem to turn ever so slightly from where he knelt upon the well-padded ground.

Volfsige simply stood awestruck until the injured yeoman’s companion pointed towards him and cried, “Murderer!”

“I draw breath as yet, thou soup-brained cad,” the big man snarled, nursing the dagger in his thigh, “Go! After him!”

Volfsige, eyes wide and heart thundering, cursed and fled, fast as his trembling legs would carry him.

As the yardsman dashed off after the would-be murderer, the feather-garbed itinerant gave one last look to the snail slowly making its way to the harborage of the nearest shipping crate’s shade, rose and turned to the injured yardworker with suave cordiality.

“It appears the dagger was meant for me—no, no, leave it, my friend, lest thee bleed thyself dry. Allow me to attend thy wound.”

“Thou art gracious as befits thy station, milord. Tell me, what is thy name?”

The pale man opened his mouth to speak and abruptly paused, his eyes crinkling slightly. He looked down at the corvian coat from neath the shade of his broad-brimmed hat and then returned his attention to the injured laborer, smiling crookedly.

“Oeric Adair, at thy service.”


Continued in §.05.

The Dauntless Rook (§.03)

Continued from §.02.


When the concierge returned to his post with Geoffrey, he found three coats hanging beside his desk. Upon checking the tags, he discovered that within each, a name had been stitched by the tailor.

Blythe. Boyce. Kyne.

He sent Geoffrey to scour the auditorium, but no trace of Adair’s coat could be found.


Continued in §.04.

The Dauntless Rook (§.02)

Continued from §.01.


*

“Ah, we arrive at last!” Aldwyn Blythe declared with triumph as the four aristocrats reached the first floor lobby of Mazrak’s Grand Theatre, which hummed with conversations and the busy footsteps of its numerous and well-heeled patrons.

Oeric wasted no time in greeting the elderly clerk who stood behind a stout and well polished reception desk to the left of the corridor.

“We’ve reservations for Destrali’s concerto.”

“Names?” The concierge inquired apathetically.

“Blythe. Boyce. Kyne. Adair.”

The man’s brows moved progressively higher at each utterance. He checked a large, leatherbound ledger set before him, whereupon his ennui melted to fawning adoration.

“Comitem Adair!”

“Yes, sir.”

“I-I’d no idea… ah, yes… tickets.”

The pepper-haired clerk swiftly removed four tickets from underneath the desk and then snapped vainly several times in succession.

“Geoffrey. Geoffrey? Geoffrey!”

The concierge, irked and embarrassed, returned his attention to the four young gentlemen with a sigh of exasperation.

“I’m dreadfully sorry, I’ve no idea where the scamp scuttled.”

“No trouble at all,” Adair assured him, removing his coat, “We’re perfectly capable of hanging up our own-”

“No, no, that just won’t do! A moment, but a moment!”

The clerk sped off into the room directly behind the counter. Moments later, a young valet, dressed in red, descended the upper landing which let out to the concert hall and bowed cordially to the four theater-goers. He was lithe and wan, with hair the color of obsidian, immaculately combed back to reveal a sharp, angular face and keen, green-gold eyes.

“Salutations,” the valet said warmly.

“Ah, thou must be Geoffrey.”

“Aye. Shall I take thy coat, my comitem?”

“Certainly, lad,” Adair replied as he handed his coat off to the valet. Blythe, Boyce and Kyne swiftly followed suit, whereupon the pale valet bowed once more and stepped aside as the party headed up the stairs.

As the four men vanished over the landing, the valet flashed a crooked smile.

*


Continued in §.03.

The Dauntless Rook (§.01)

The aristocratic coterie padded the twisting rain-slick cobblestones of Ersentwyer, nattering beneath gaudy paper parasols as disjointed crowds of performers, merchants, day laborers and vagrants moved about them like minnows round the smooth-hewn rocks of a rambunctious stream.

“Now I’ve a proper clarity of thy fresh attire,” Aldwyn Blythe declared, taking in Oeric Adair’s onyx feathered overcoat, “I must remark upon its extraordinary character.”

Oeric nodded, bemused.

“Outlandish, isn’t it?”

“I should say! Never wert thou so coxcombly. Wherefore this downy curiosity?”

He paused and adjusted the curious garb with wry amusement, feet shifting nervously over the scuffed and gamol folde, “It was a gift from Cerelia,” Oeric Adair responded with a sigh, casting his hands up into the air, as if dispensing grim confetti, “Its style wars dreadfully with my own, but how could I decline? Especially when our wedding wends so near? Imagine her reaction were I to pawn it; to say nothing of what the other Wealdmaer’s would think, sour as they are with our union. Merely forgoing its flagrant display might prove sufficient to prompt an unseemly reaction; and so I’m featherbound; fated to foppish plume; gaoled in tufted geomor.”

“Wise it were. Had thou peddled it, she’d have cawed louder than the beasts from which it were fashioned,” All the men laughed boisterously, save for Adair, whose visage grew increasingly glum.

Edlin Boyce continued with a wide, mischevious smile, “Worse, that old codger Grædig would use it as yet another reason to declare thee unfit to agan his fruit.”

“Such churlishness ill-attests thy station.” Adair snapped dourly, crossing his arms and looking off towards the old theatre at the far northern end of the thoroughfare.

“Let him perturb thee not; I think it wonderful,” Bullard Kyne responded, moving to stride in tandem with the other men, “Mayhaps, if the other members of our circle had greater familiarity with the fairer sex, they would understand it is not the thing itself that is important in a gift, but the sentiment with which it is selected.”

“Aye. Well said. For my dear Cerelia, I would bare the burden of every feather in the world!”

Even Boyce could not help but smile at that. Shortly thereafter, the four men moved past a series of stalls whose ferverous throng had overflown into the central thoroughfare and there vanished into the crowd.

*

A man watched the aristocrats at a distance, his garb drab, hair long, gray and ill-kept, his manner martial, yet ferine. He looked down at the sketch of his target with cold eyes, and then again to the man in the corvine coat.

An exact match.

The stalker smiled and folded the parchment back up and slid it into his dusty coat pocket.

“Enjoy thy frivolity, Oeric Adair, whilst yet it is afforded thee.”

*


Continued in §.02.

Early Reviews For Peter Clarke’s Singularity Survival Guide

Early reviews are in for Peter Clarke’s The Singularity Survival Guide (first published here, throughout November, 2018, and later, in paperback, on March 27, 2019).

From Amazon

Mark:

Are YOU ready for the rise of the robots? Many leading thinkers now warn us that the tech breakthroughs of today will lead to humanity’s doomsday tomorrow: Elon Musk warns against “summoning the demon,” via artificial intelligence, imagining an advanced superhuman A.I. as, “an immortal dictator from which we can never escape.” Stephen Hawking declared that such an A.I. “could spell the end of the human race.”

With all this panic in the air, it’s a good thing we have Peter Clarke’s Singularity Survival Guide to prepare us for the coming tech–pocalypse. Learn how to stockpile weapons, embrace transhumanism, and welcome the awesome, jaw-dropping possibilities of the age to come! Clarke’s book provides a charming and richly humorous look at the debates, dreams, and doomsday predictions surrounding today’s thinking on artificial intelligence, and takes his readers on a truly hilarious ride in the process. Clarke’s Singularity Survival Guide is a timely satire for our age of A.I. anxiety, exploring both the thrilling and dire possibilities posed by this technology, writing with grace, humor, and perhaps most of all, truly human feeling. Don’t be caught off guard by the arrival of your new robot masters: get your copy of The Singularity Survival Guide today!


Lane Chasek writes:

My favorite work by Clarke so far.
The character of Helen gives HAL a run for his money in terms of memorable AIs. Whereas HAL plays a impersonal, calculating Yahweh in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Peter Clarke in Helen has created a terrifying yet seemingly necessary presence in the form of Helen, reminiscent of the goddess Kali.
Rather than playing in to the nightmarish hellscape AI technology could create, Clarke opts for a more nuanced approach. Annihilation of human life is of primary concern in the Survival Guide, but the possibility of AI fulfilling all our needs and granting us immortality could be just as horrifying.


KL writes:

The Singularity Survival Guide is an incredibly smart and darkly funny book, filled with handy tips on how to protect yourself in the event of the coming tech apocalypse. Told from the point of view of Helen, a computer program designed to help humankind survive the Singularity. Wildly original and a must read for any lover of dark comedy. Grab yourself a copy before it’s too late!


DeeGee Williams writes:

Thanks to Helen, Peter Clarke’s artificial intelligence “persona”, you will learn how to face the day that AI takes over humanity. Until then, have fun by reading this guide— and learn some things about yourself along the way, assuming you are a person. If not, you know them already. Bottom line: how many books do you read with a smile on your face?


William Abbott writes:

This is an enjoyable read and a great planning guide for the robot apocalypse. Will you be ready?


From SingularityNET 

Arif Khan:

“A timely satire, even if humor doesn’t stand a chance of saving us from the sort of superintelligence Clarke envisions.”


From Goodreads

Peri Champoux:

Short and entertaining! It was funnier than expected. There are various “experts” who add comments to a number of the chapters–these comments developed a sort of subplot that I wasn’t expecting. It felt a little like the same idea as the commentary that happens in “Pale Fire” by Nabokov. Also the book does cover a lot of interesting topics related to the singularity. Probably anyone who’s into the idea of the singularity would enjoy reading this.


You can watch the book trailer video by Daniel Olbrych (with music by Sam Eliot) here.