Fallday, 5 Pullulus

Earned 0 / Spent 0

Savings 16,036

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Gamut.  Even sitting here in this maréchaussée oubliette, with a dozen other detainees equally as baffled as I, the name ‘Gamut’ scares me shitless.  Some will say that facing your fear makes you fear it less.  You can understand something that you’ve fought tooth and nail.  Not so with something you’ve never encountered, or can’t possibly fight – like darkness.

The district of Gamut is something else.  You hear about it.  People come back from it, wounded, shellshocked.  Couriers especially, like me, and they can only limp back to Kernel with these terrible stories, gods … And I know now that it’s one of those things that you face, when facing it only makes you more scared for next time. 

Sainh gave me a packet for Picanne, and Picanne was in Gamut.  The whole southern region, a place I’d never been to before, had until then been dreamish: a warm, dry haven by the ocean where life was a more sedate and friendly sort.  In Gamut, the heat is like the furnaces of Hell.  That slow pace of living starts to seem like a deliberate torture, to make the nightmare last as long as possible.

I arrived in Gamut at night, accompanied by the memory of Foist.  She came with me along the coast, just as real in my mind as she remains in that other place, alive and well I hope; my love, my Foist.  I imagined her gazing out at the grey piling waves, which crashed against the hard sandbank of the man-made beach.  From spume to cityside, the whole beach was filled with people.  I knew that she was taking them all in, absorbing this melee of noise and movement.  Fires burned vibrantly in the darkness, and against the edges of their influence were a dozen orange faces each looking inward, and hands holding glasses and bottles, more bottles stuck like the stumps of bamboo stalks in the coarse sand. 

Fireworks screamed into the air at angles.  There wasn’t a safe spot on the beach.  Tall people are at particular risk, and ducked their heads as they ran.  A lot of the funny folk from the Jade Reefs scuttled back and forth, chomping food in their vacillating mouthparts.  People from places I’ve never been to.  This is an endless celebration, and people come here to live, or to escape life.  If you hate life, this is also a place to come: where kids light powerful bombs and hurl them at passersby, laughing, or drop them into trashcans so that trash explodes into shrapnel in all directions.  If you love life, you come here to celebrate, to sense and forget.

The pedestrian flow took me across a wooden promenade overshadowed by a high wall.  I could see the legs of a hundred people swinging over the edge above.  Bits of food dropped down on us from up there, accidentally or otherwise.  More firecrackers capable of taking off limbs fizzed somewhere out of sight, flickering in the corner of my vision, making us leap out the way.  At one point someone tossed a beer can into the crowd with a lit fuse shrinking hoarsely down its length; everybody shrieked but breathed freely when the bomb failed to explode.  Seconds later, the danger was forgotten by all and I moved deeper into Gamut, desperate to find Picanne and be gone.

Sand would kick up as somebody leapt out of the way of a stray firework.  People were fucking along the length of the beach, some drunk on vine poteen, others not.  There were hundreds of smoke tendrils rising lazily into the air.  Almost too high to see, paper lanterns from the Jade Reefs glowed orange amongst the stars, drifting without alarm through the streaks and spats of ubiquitous fireworks. 

All is noise.  Fireworks wailing, the dull crump of bangers, laughing and shouting over the whoosing crash of the surf; music came from fifty sources along the beach, thumping with beats too low to hear, only feel in the bones.

It was here that I found Picanne.  Only the gods know how.  It was as though the whisper of El Draco had told my feet exactly where to take me.  Under the fizz-glow of a pink lamp I saw him crouched in the sand, making shapes with a wooden fork – large angular depictions of a face.  He looked up and I think for a moment we understood each other, and our mutual purposes.  We crouched together on the harsh grains, either side of the face in the poteen-soaked sand.

I handed over the packet.  Picanne examined it, almost puzzled, and then found the tape that opened it.  The packet unclosed like a flower in his palm and he reached inside with a finger and thumb, pinching.  The object he pulled out was a single seed, thin and striped in colours impossible to make out in the firework-spattered dark.  It could not have been payment for anything – it was only a single seed, after all – but it was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Momentarily Picanne looked alarmed, as though caught suddenly in a place surrounded by violent, drunken people who might want to take something extremely valuable from him.  His wide eyes darted about but didn’t settle on me once.  He seemed to decide, with small motions of his free hand, that none of his pockets were safe enough for this tiny thing.  So he put it on his tongue and washed it down his throat with a swill of grog.

We stood and he shook my hand vigorously.  Maybe it was the act of swallowing that sharp little pod, but his eyes were watering.  Then he said, ‘Thank-you, thank-you,’ as though I’d done him some great deed, something that meant more than the dreams of just one man, some tremendous world-changing thing … and moved quickly, deerlike, through the bustling party-crowd until gone.

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I took some time to myself in the south before going back.  When I returned to Kernel I quizzed Sainh on the contents of the packet, that special seed that Picanne had stored safely in his gut.  She was halfway through counting out my fee when she froze and lashed at me with her eyes, that pretty mouth downturned like I’d called her shit.  Sainh hadn’t expected Picanne to open the package there and then, right in front of me.  I had the greater sense that I’d unwittingly been part of something big, some immense plan.  I’d helped it move forward by doing my bit, and nothing bad had happened. 

But instead of offering an explanation, Sainh just dumped the bag of seeds and nuts into my hands and said, ‘You don’t need to know anything about what happened.  You or I will never see Picanne again; be sure of that.  Now get the fuck out of here.’

I hadn’t gotten half a word into my reply before the maréchaussée stormed the place.  Arrested me; smacked Sainh across the mouth with the butt of a crossbow and cudgel, two guys at once, and carried her and her roaring bodygaurds right through the door like heavy suitcases. 

And I’ve been here in the maréchaussée dungeon since, waiting, with little to no idea what’s going on anymore.

But those were great, vibrant times, those days in the south and in Gamut.  My feet still tingle from them.

— RSR

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