06 March 2016

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Three: Melpomene

Significant Digits, Chapter Forty-Three: Melpomene

The Urgod Ur, Ackle
May 19th, 1999
The same day

“I have no powers plenipotentiary,” said Nagrod, nodding gravely at the assembled Urgod Ur.  “I’m a messenger, and cannot come to any accord.”

“But you bring word from Curd,” said Sub Gol, folding his arms over his stomach, squinting down from his high seat.

“Excellent,” said the Jurg, nearby, smiling eagerly down at Nagrod.  “We’d be glad of our cousins’ counsel.”

Nagrod glanced around the Urgod Ur.  It was a small room, and it smelled of sweat and unwashed flesh.  All of the goblins within were respected and clever -- the pillars of Acklish society, guiding their people for generations -- but they had been cloistered in rooms like these for more than three weeks.  No one was permitted to enter or leave, except by under the strictest security (a collar of consumption was locked around Nagrod’s neck even now, despite his own high status).  These were the inevitable requirements for independence in a hostile world run by vicious and subtle wizards.

“What word, then?” asked Bilgurd the Marrowed, his lips tight and his face skeptical.  “What is Curd’s decision?”

Weak-kneed and short-eared, this lot, thought Nagrod, studying Bilgurd for a moment.  But we’d best be united.

“Curd will accept the Archon’s offer,” said Nagrod, flatly.  “Our heritage is worth any war.  We hope that Ackle will join us in this.”

“Curd is bold,” said Bilgurd, as his compatriots murmured to each other and exchanged significant glances.

Several goblins looked particularly at the Jurg, who had fixed an expression of solemn approval on his face.  He must have hoped to take the lead, thought Nagrod.  His forge has hummed this past month, if the news is correct.  Yet if that Hod is in favor of the deal, then where can opposition lie?  Someone must have stood in the way of consensus.

“I believe this speaks with leather lungs,” said Sub Gol, nodding.  “We have gone back and forth a hundred times and more.  ‘They have given us wands,’ ‘they have given us power,’ ‘they will give us youth’... But Curd has it right!  Our cousins have seen through to the truth of it: that this is a chance we may never get again -- a chance to take back our birthright of true will-work.  Ackle can soar again in gold and diamond, as it was before the Edict of Hortensius.”

“It would be a mistake,” said Bilgurd.  He was looking at Nagrod when he said it, and Nagrod met Bilgurd’s eyes with firmness.  Ah, here we are.  You’re the one.

“In only a few years, that same Edict has been repealed,” said Bilgurd, “or its modern equivalent, anyway.  And wands are nothing to mock.”  He reached into a shiny leather dueling holster at his waist and withdrew one, holding it up.  Like most goblin wands -- with a few notable exceptions -- it had seen little use.  They all had them, anyway.  “Generations of goblins fought and died to regain these sticks.  Caislean-i-Cahaenn rose under Crad the Callow for them.  And now you and others would agree to attack the very Tower that gave them to us?”

“Are we Beasts, then, truly?” asked Sub Gol, his voice ridged with scorn.  “Like a whipped dog, returning to the hand that held the lash because it has thrown us an old crust?  There is no doubt about this ‘Archon’ and his power, or the power of his allies.  That was shown us in spectacular fashion.  And he offers us something we might never regain, otherwise -- things not in the gift of the Tower.  We cannot know in what shape the Archon will take control of things, but surely it will be in the same subtle fashion as the Tower… and thus we will have all the Tower gave us, plus all the Archon promises, and a powerful new friend-- who owes us greatly, to boot!  If we are to be the catspaw of a Dark Lord, let it be the one with the greater pay.  Should we make a terrible new enemy rather than a terrible new ally?”

“Why do we quarrel so?  The debate was split and sundered, but now Curd has come down with us,” pointed out the Jurg.

Nagrod nodded, putting an expression of gratitude on his face.  And yet this still might turn either way.  And should they decide wrongly, what will stop Curd from reconsidering?  The Archon’s messages echoed strangely in Nagrod’s mind, and it was intolerable that this discussion might turn out poorly.

“Ackle must make up its own mind,” he said, “and not let our decision overly influence your own.  But I should say that we heard much the same arguments along much the same lines… as though we should be grateful to the Tower, as though we owe it -- him -- anything.  And for myself, I do not count it a favor when my neighbor ceases to beat me, and I do not reckon any debt might spring from the mere cessation of injustice.”

“The Tower is a wizard,” retorted Bilgurd, “not every wizard.  You propose to betray him and those who have worked to right the wrongs of the past.  We would show no honour, and no gratitude, and no fealty to contract.”  His voice was heated.  “We must not be cowards and hide our specific treachery under a general cloak.  Let us at least admit what we do, if we do it… we would abandon our honour, as we knife the wizard who has helped us more than any other in generations.”

There was a moment of quiet at this comment, as all took a moment to reflect.  Then Sub Gol shrugged, leaning forward in his stone seat.  “Very well, so be it.  Our children will thank us, and our children’s children, and ask only why we endured servitude for so long before taking action once more, as our forebears once did.  I do not think we should pass up the opportunity to ally ourselves with this Archon -- this new Dark Lord.  He is mighty.  Nor can we in good conscience turn away from our ancient birthright… the techniques of will-work that we thought long lost.”

“And while it is true the Tower does not represent all wizardkind, that is rather the point,” agreed Nagrod, eyeing Bilgurd closely.  “Would you wager everything on honour?”

Bilgurd replied with hot words, and now the Jurg and others joined him, worried about flimsy ideas and trivialities.  Nagrod responded with persuasion and pressure, and many others echoed him.

But truly, everything had been said at that moment, and it was on these arguments that the decision of Ackle would be made.  As so often, the further hours of argument would come to nothing -- there was no real exchange of ideas or harrowing of their merits, but only a war of mental attrition and emotional manipulation.  Within one day more, the Acklish had made their choice.

Who would ever wager everything on honour, after all?


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 19th, 1999
The same day

Like almost everyone, the simplest way for Hermione, Esther, and Hyori to travel to the Tower was with a Safety Stick.  They used one: Esther and Hyori held on to one end, and Hermione took the other.  She bent it sharply, and it broke.  The three of them whirled away with a wrench, sideways to reality and away.


The Matchless Vault of the Unsleeping, Seogwipo, Jeju, South Korea
May 19th, 1999
The same day

In 1976, a team of treasure-hunters from Hangzhou discovered the entrance to the Matchless Vault of the Unsleeping, seeking it out from scraps of rumor and cryptic maps.  Their search had taken long years, but the rewards would be worth it.  The Matchless Vault of the Unsleeping was said to hold an ancient hoard of enchanted silver -- a vast wealth from the time of the Tamna.

There were layers of traps and seals.  A front gate, guarded by faceless inferi.  A twisting passage, deadly at every step.  A sealed inner gate, locked behind a puzzle-door of bismuth bronze.  An antechamber thick with poisonous fumes.

“When we discovered the true location of this deathtrap, buried at the base of Mount Halla, we were a party of twelve,” wrote Guang Mu in An Exploration Ten Fathoms Deep.  “By the time we had pierced through to the inner chambers, we’d lost half our number.”

Once inside, though, the six remaining treasure-hunters were gratified to see gleaming silver, piled in heaps of coins and stacked in ingots as large as a wizard’s head.  But in their haste to take hold of their prize, they forget their caution.

“Chi Guo rushed forward and plunged his arms up to the elbows into a pile of coins that filled an iron coffer, scooping them out in great handfuls,” wrote Guang Mu.  “He had poured them from his palms back into the chest, causing a deal of noise.  When he turned to me with an expression of great delight, though, we became aware of another sound.  It was a quiet rasping from many sources: scale on stone and horn on metal.  We had awoken the final guardians.

“The basilisk struck from another chamber like an arrow, flying through the air the length of its body.  We retreated, covering our eyes lest the beast turn its gaze on us, but it was preoccupied with poor Chi Guo.  I had only an instant’s impression of his body, stiffening and turning grey even as the great serpent entwined itself about him and began to pull him apart and reduce him to dust.

“We fled, but in our terror we neglected the door.  This proved to be a fatal mistake for some, for it gave opening to a second monster: the deadly terrasque.  It burst forth from a pile of silver, screeching with fearsome noise, and gave chase.

“Should you ever be so unfortunate as to encounter one of these fell beasts, you may know it by these signs: it stands twice the height of a wizard, and its body is composed of shiny red rock.  It has six legs of crystal, a broad shell of rough stone, and a lion’s head of obsidian and stinking saltpetre.

“Horrified, we attempted to block its path with web and ward, but it brushed aside our spells.  In a trice, the terrasque had seized Zeng Zhang in its mouth.  He fought bravely to the last, but perished.  He was soon followed by Duo We.

“I was forced to draw upon the Killing Curse, only to find to my dismay that it had no effect on the creature of rock.  It was only by the quick reactions and clever thinking of my remaining allies that we rallied, depriving the terraque of its footing with the Butterball Charm, and then sealing it away within the rock, fortifying this makeshift tomb with the stoutest barriers.

“Nothing further could be done about the basilisk or the Vault.  We sealed the latter away and posted a guard, then went to seek aid.  A plan was necessary for our return.  And this time, we would be triumphant.”

As told by Guang Mu, his group gathered reinforcements, including a noted hunter of dark wizards, and returned to work their vengeance.  They were able to draw out and defeat the basilisk, defeating it with little loss of life.  Its prized flesh and fangs were parceled out and added to the great wealth that the group took from the Matchless Vault of the Unsleeping.

The Vault has since become a place for historians and archaeologists to examine, searching for traces of the unknown witch or wizard who deposited their treasure in its coffers and tamed two of the most fearsome of known beasts to their service.  There was little evidence to be found: a handful of unknown runes and a few tool marks on some of the ingots.

On this particular day, however, no one was present at the Vault when a cloaked figure arrived, borne on a chariot of fire.  The visitor did not pause at the entrance, which was covered by a modern barrier of stone and steel; they said a soft word.  Then they walked forward and the barrier swung open without complaint, despite its locks and seals.

The front gate was denuded of its undead guardians.  The twisting passage was cleared of its clever traps.  The puzzle-door on the inner gate stood open.  The antechamber was fresh and pure.  And the inner chambers were empty, ransacked of their silver and decorated only with a giant, yellow snake skull, locked within a display case.

But the visitor had no interest in any of these, walking with a brisk step through the gate, down the twisting passages, within the puzzle-door, and past the antechamber.  They walked to one of the inner chambers, to the point where one wall met another.  Their pace never slowed as they stepped sideways into an invisible seam, turning sharply to the side and up and beyond in some impossible fashion, entering a hidden passage that had been cleverly and maddeningly concealed in two dimensions.

The visitor met no apparent consequences for the loss of a dimension, though certainly common sense (and geometry) must imply that such a transition would be the immediate death of anyone foolish enough to attempt it.  But in defiance of reason and Euclid and Edwin A. Abbott, the visitor simply moved down the corridor.

Shortly, the visitor reached the apparent end of the corridor, where ceiling and floor met a wall.  But the visitor pushed forward through the wall, emerging with unhurried step in another place, far deeper within Mount Halla.

The air within this new chamber was stale and close, thick with the powdery dust of long ages and filled with the steady whisper of scale on stone and horn on metal.  It was black night in the room, and the visitor summoned a light to hand with a thought.

The light illuminated a great and crowded room.

Basilisks hissed in their dozens, sleepily and irritably raising their heads as they awoke from long hibernation, and terresque shifted lethargically where they lay in their rocky sleepless mounds.

The visitor raised a hand in command, and began.


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 19th, 1999
The same day

“Wake up, Hermione,” said Harry.  She opened her eyes, smiling… although it was a bit odd that Harry was there.  Usually they just unstunned her and the Returned in the Receiving Room, and she walked into the Tower under her own power.  It was better for her image.  Had Harry finally left the Tower, for the first time in years?

No, she was in the clinic.  In one of the cubicles.  Esther and Hyori weren’t there.

She couldn’t move.  When she tried, she could feel cold metal on her arms and legs, with more restraints over her waist and chest.

Oh God.

She heaved, but the metal didn’t yield even slightly.  Goblin silver?

Was this really the Tower?  Was that really Harry?

How could she get free without killing him?  She searched her mind, considering the spells she could cast without wand or significant gestures.

“It’s all right,” Harry said, reassuringly.

She was not reassured.

“Harry, what are you doing?” she asked.  She kept her voice calm.


Žižkovské divadlo Járy Cimrmana, Prague, Czech Republic
May 19th, 1999
The same day

“Dobrý den!” called out a cheerful female voice.  Jakub glanced to his left, across the street, where an attractive young woman was waving at him from a doorway -- the entrance to a theatre.  She was on the short side, with a generous chest and wide hips.  She was wearing a strange sort of green dress, which was so long it touched the pavement underfoot and which came so high on the neck that it even included a little collar.  It looked more like a costume than clothing, and Jakub wondered if she was promoting a play.  He glanced at his wristwatch… he had a little time before he needed to get home.  Curious, he paused and glanced both ways along the street, then crossed.

“Co pro vás mohu udělat, slečno?” he asked, smiling, as he walked up to the actress.  She smiled back at him.  She had a very wide mouth and a little button nose, making her appear almost like a doll.

“Ahoj!” she replied, cheerfully.  “Máš něco v plánu na dnešní večer?”

He was, in fact, busy that evening: Hana was expecting him.  They were going to go dancing.  But Jakub could still find out what was going on, here -- what the promotion might be.  Maybe Hana might like to skip the clubs tonight, and come see a play, instead.  “Ještě nevím,” he said, smiling and shrugging (maybe even flirting a little, but he wasn’t a monk, for God’s sake).  “Proč se ptáte? Napadá vás nějaké místo kam bychom mohli zajít?”

The woman shrugged back at him, turning her head slightly and smiling coyly.  She reached into a long pocket of her dress, making a show of it, and pulled out a stick.  “Ano, napadá mě jedno specifické místo. Potřebujeme vaši pomoc.  Confundo.”

Jakub felt a tingle run through him, as though he’d been plunged into warm water.  It was odd, but somehow reassuring at the same time.

“Jdi dovnitř a čekej na další pokyny. Jdeme do války,” the woman said, and Jakub found himself nodding and agreeing, since of course he had already intended to go inside and wait quietly for further instruction.

He pushed open the door to the theatre.  The lobby was empty, but of course he was supposed to just walk right on past the ticket counter and on inside.  That was just obvious to him.

Every seat was occupied already, he saw with some disappointment.  Even most of the space in the aisles was already packed full of other people -- random men and women of every shape and size and age.  Jakub frowned, and pushed along the outer edge of the theatre, finding a corner that wasn’t quite crammed full of some of these other patiently waiting people.

Once he’d found a space, he leaned against the wall and relaxed.  He glanced at his wristwatch.  Nothing to do tonight or ever, so he had plenty of time to wait until he was needed.  It was clearly what he should be doing… just standing here and waiting until it was time to go and collect the weapons.  Then they’d go off to war, of course.  It was obvious enough.

Jakub closed his eyes and rested.  Best to save his strength.


John Snow Center for Medicine and Tower School of Doubt (The Tower)
May 19th, 1999
The same day

She’d had only a few seconds to think before someone stepped into the cubicle, past Harry.

It was an older man with a pleasant smile.  He glanced at Harry, but said nothing.  He reached out to put his hand on Hermione’s ankle.


The murderfields, Tír inna n-Óc
May 19th, 1999
The same day

The murderfields were still and icy, as they had been for years without end.  None of the cold chopped flesh moved, and sweet chunks of pain lay scattered as the lord of the lunar caustic had left them.

The milk rains had left a white frost on everything.

“Kruwos,” whispered a voice on the wind, reaching from a cautious distance, out beyond the fields’ end.  “Spondejo kruwos.  Kruwos.  Kruwos.  Spondejo kruwos.”

Kruwos, replied cold lips.  Kruwos.

A ragged hand slid gently from beneath a ragged thigh, slipping out of the ground and up into the air.  Milkrime crackled as the hand moved and thrust its fingers into a crevice.  It pulled with nightmare strength, joints popping all around like sloppy mouths, until an entire arm was revealed.  Then it released its grip and delicately reached back to pluck away a pale, loose band of flesh, setting it aside with care upon a withered labia near at hand.

The gaunt’s eyes were wide and staring, wet pools of black ichor in a taut white face.  It smiled, and its teeth were madness.

The murderfields rustled and cracked.  A leji-claw appeared, and then the long fingers of another gaunt.

The Unseelie rose again.


Meldh released Hermione, and smiled amiably.  “There.  All better.”

She looked back at him.

The world shuddered, as though in pain.


  1. The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. See the link below for more info.


  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Chapter 41: "tarasque"
    Chapter 42: "terrasque"
    Chapter 43: "terrasque" (twice) and "terresque"

    The description given in this chapter closely resembles the creature from French mythology, which is correctly spelled "tarasque" (as in ch 41). Although for the mythological creature, it's a proper noun and should be capitalized, this chapter makes it clear it's a species.

  4. The untranslated dialogue is frustrating

    1. I agree. I would prefer to just read the story straight through instead of breaking up the pacing to switch back and forth from Google Translate.