The Night Of
FLINT CONSTANT, SPINAL CITY BLACKSMITH The Storm, that is, the Capital S Storm; sure I heard stories ‘bout it. My great-grandfa told my grandfa stories just like he told my daddy and my daddy told me. Musta been a hundred years gone now or close to it. Ya still see the scars on the land that never healed. That might never heal. Took a big dent out of my great-grandfa's farm, to be sure.
Our family was all farmers then. That's before the Storm destroyed the farmland in Spinal and all the farms moved over to Barriga. Was different cities then, different people. City lines and histories was way different before the Storm. In school you learn the different histories and the like, but once you finish school that stuff fades if you don't think it often. I don't have much use for that stuff now I'm smithing.
Sure, to get back to it, my family didn't own the biggest farm for miles around or nothin’ like that, but it was a modest size. Kept us fed and paid the taxes on the land in full and paid for the toll roads to take the produce into the city. Kept a roof over our heads. More than others could claim I suppose.
The day of the Storm my great-grandfa (name of Grant) said the sky looked dim, if that makes sense. That even though the sun was shining and he was sweating, it kept getting darker and darker small bits at a time even though the sun was rising in the sky. The stars came out midday and circled the sun which stuck itself and hung straight above for hours. People started getting worried pretty much right away. Nobody had ever seen nothin’ like that.
When nighttime shoulda hit, instead of a proper dusk, the sun started getting bigger and bigger in the sky. The stars too. Spinals started hearing a sound creeping through the air, a noise that sounded like screaming. Everyone heard it. The screaming got louder and louder and grew until it sounded like many screams spread out over the sky. The sky behind the sun grew darker until it coulda been night except for the sun getting closer and closer to the ground. The screaming got so loud Great-Grandfa Grant thought it couldn't get no louder, then it did. That's when what they thought was the sun finally hit.
It turns out the sun wasn't no sun, it was a ship. That's what the Families told everybody anyway. A strange ship that flew between the stars. It flew direct into the Split, like it was hittin’ a target. The stars that fell, they weren't stars the same way the sun wasn't a sun. That's what they call neon. Good amount of it hit Spinal and a bit hit Anima, but most of it landed in the forest in Coeur. That's what killed my farm and what's killing the smithing business too. It's poison, so it made the crops inedible. It took years before they realized they could smith with it. Neon's stronger than steel and iron and poisons even when it doesn't kill outright. It makes armor that shatters normal axes and swords so you don't even feel it. I don't smith with neon, though, nosser. Working man's always gonna need hammers and scythes and the like for hisself. Don't need no neon for that. Working man will always need a proper blacksmith, but the Families' armies all go to Sval for their weapons.
Ship musta disintegrated because no one ever found it. Or maybe it’s too deep in the Split for anyone to get at it. That ship is the thing that changed the city lines and histories and the way we did everything until right now and for the future. Ship changed everything. I don't know much about that, though; you might want to talk to a Librarian or summat. All I know's the story Great-Grandfa Grant passed on.
Sure, musta been a hundred years gone now. Hope that story helps ya. That's the story my daddy always told me anyway, the story his daddy told him and his daddy's daddy and so on. Stories get stretched, though, you tell them too many times. Stories don't stay set like stone.
GODSPEED NANO, HEAD LIBRARIAN Two months ago, Princess Ruby was kidnapped by traitors to the Crown. These traitors are unknown at this time and have not asked for ransom nor credit. A month ago, our beloved Queen Molotov convened the Five Families and proposed an investigation so that they may ascertain the identities of the kidnappers and take action against them. She made accusations against certain city leaders that led to heated discussion, which turned the talks unamiable.
Though tensions were high, a deal was struck between King Crimson and King Quiet (of Anima). Prince Stoic (Quiet’s son) and Princess Ruby would be wed if the prince were to rescue the princess and bring her back safely, and Anima would receive a percentage of all tolls going forward. The prince is set to leave tonight. Queen Molotov has asked that I accompany him in his quest to save Princess Ruby.
The king thinks that the kidnapping has something to do with the cult known as the A Capella and the upcoming hundredth anniversary of the Storm of the Screaming Skies. The anniversary is years away, but it looms over everything the way the ship hung above the kingdom during the storm. The queen thinks the king is a fool and that the kidnapping is an act of war. The government thinks of little except how the kidnapping affects the economy. They hope that the princess will rescue herself (or, God forbid, not be rescued at all), because the tolls are the cornerstone of Spinal's economy. The populace largely wishes that Princess Ruby is returned safely, as she was kind and did a number of outreach programs for the community. The A Capella plan for the upcoming anniversary of the Storm of the Screaming Skies.
Queen Molotov has hired me to take notes on everything relevant to the investigation. This is very much an honor, seeing as how whatever happens to Princess Ruby, this document will surely be the most important I ever write.
GODSPEED SUPERNOVA, GREAT-GRANDSON OF GODSPEED NANO AND CURRENT HEAD LIBRARIAN In constructing a comprehensive oral history of the circumstances surrounding Princess Ruby's kidnapping and the one-hundredth anniversary of the Storm of the Screaming Skies, it is necessary to experiment with convention and structure in a way that is not normally reflective of official documents. I have also added certain texts to Nano's document in an effort to provide context. The world was irreparably changed by the described events and is unrecognizable to our own; it is not an entirely linear narrative, and readers of this document would do well to keep that in mind.
1/ THE NIGHT OF
PRINCESS RUBY, OF SPINAL The night of the kidnapping. It wasn't particularly different than any other night in my old life. Reading about that old bastard while I ate my supper. Father was meeting with Overseer August Eye, the leader of the A Capella, and I thought it wise to brush up on their history. Father always insisted I try my hardest to stay informed, regardless of the subject matter. I hated all of the history lessons and grammar lessons and all the other sorts of lessons that he made me take, but he told me that in this world an educated woman is always underestimated and always prosperous. Sounds like any other platitude, but he said it with a sincerity that struck me. When I was a kid I assumed all people were like my father, but then as you grow you realize most of them are piss buckets and only want to take you down a peg, take you down to their level. I tried my hardest to stay above all that but you know how that went. You don’t know the whole story, but you knew me then and you’ve seen me now. My old life is dead. Princess Ruby is dead, long live the Mother of the Daughters of Despair.
Father had meetings all the time. People assume being a king is all glamour and pomp and ruling by decree but mostly it's a lot of meetings. At the time, he was meeting a lot with the A Capella. Some people call them cultists, but I’ve worked with them and the community and they always seemed like they had the kingdom’s best interests in mind. The people had been spreading whispers of them attempting something on the anniversary. No one could say what, but because the A Capella never spoke publicly of their intentions, I can see how those rumors would spread. As far as I knew, their whole following was based on hope and rebirth and the like. I didn’t like to make assumptions. I was taught not to.
Maybe I should have.
At some point my eyes started to cross and I couldn't read so I tried to sleep. But sleep wouldn't come, so I left my room to go to the balcony by the library. It has the best view. Hard Twenty, the kingsman assigned to my room most nights, asked me to stay away from the southern wing because of Father's meeting with the A Capella.
Hard Twenty. That’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time. I wonder what ever happened to him?
HARD TWENTY, KINGSMAN STATIONED TO PRINCESS RUBY'S CHAMBERS ON THE NIGHT OF THE KIDNAPPING Princess Ruby is wonderful, very nice, the best princess our city could ask for, but she put me in a horrible position. The king told me to make sure she stays in her chambers when there are guests in the castle. I told him I would. Princess Ruby left her chambers most nights, and when I informed her of what King Crimson said, she dismissed me. To argue with the princess would be most rude. I wouldn't dream of restraining her. She asked me not to tell the king that she left her chambers. It is my sworn duty to obey the princess, but it is also my sworn duty to obey the king. Lying to the king is treason. Breaking a promise to the princess is treason. I was made treasonous by my attempt to listen to both the king and the princess. I was constantly ashamed and in conflict. I love the princess with all of my heart, respectful love, you understand, but she put me in a horrible position. And then to be forced to testify this under oath … which legally should result in my execution. I am loyal to the Crown, to a fault. Please have mercy on me. I have always done my best to be loyal to the Crown. Everything that I’ve done, that night and since, has been working towards what I think to be the best interests of the Crown.
KING CRIMSON, OF SPINAL Ser Twenty is an incredibly loyal follower of the Crown. I wouldn't dream of charging him with treason. He was the one who stopped that bitch from finishing the job after I was poisoned. Excuse my language. Good man, good man. His family's been loyal for the entirety of our family's reign. Can't go executing every subject for every small misdeed. The only ones left would be the ones surreptitious enough to hide their every indiscretion, and those you can't trust.
CINDER REGAL, AIDE TO QUEEN MOLOTOV The law is clear. Execution is the only option.
The king said what?
Weak, weak man. Never does what needs to be done.
Don't write that down. Did you hear me? Don't write that down.
Are you still writing?
OVERSEER AUGUST EYE, LEADER OF THE CONGREGATION KNOWN AS THE A CAPELLA Certainly, that's a question that many people ask. The A Capella are not a cult. The Voices join willingly. The process is actually quite intensive and only a select few even get to the entry-level sect. They are free to leave at any time. Many do. Common misconception. Quite disrespectful of you to be so reductive.
Please do not refer to us as a cult. We are not a cult.
I will not cooperate with someone who is as disrespectful as you're being right now.
That is barely an acceptable apology, but in the interest of not being detained for contempt, alright, yes, I was in a meeting with King Crimson on the night of Princess Ruby's kidnapping.
I had a group of seven followers with me, waiting in the library.
They did not see Princess Ruby. She never made it to the library that night.
PRINCESS RUBY, OF SPINAL I left my chambers, said good night to Twenty, and made my way to the library. On the way I stopped by the kitchens and had Maia make me some tea. We talked for a few minutes and I walked to the library from the kitchens. I saw no kingsmen on the way there, which seemed odd—I should have seen three if all of the kingsmen were at their normal posts. Mist, Low, and Vicious, if I remember correctly. At the door to the library I heard voices coming from inside, which was strange considering the time of night, but before I could open the door a hood was thrust over my face and I was dragged to the open window opposite the library's main doors.
SKID VICIOUS, KINGSMAN STATIONED BY THE REAR ENTRANCE TO THE KITCHENS ON THE NIGHT OF THE KIDNAPPING I certainly was at my post that night.
I am not calling you a liar, but I am not lying either. I did not leave my post.
DARLING MIST, KINGSMAN STATIONED IN FRONT OF THE ENTRANCE TO THE COURTYARD ON THE NIGHT OF THE KIDNAPPING I left my post at some point during the night to relieve myself, but had Ser Lock cover for me while I was gone, as per protocol. I was not gone for more than a few minutes and Ser Lock was still there when I returned.
LOPSIDE LOW, KINGSMAN STATIONED IN FRONT OF THE LIBRARY ON THE NIGHT OF THE KIDNAPPING Did the queen say that? I did not leave my post that night. The queen must be mistaken. Lovely woman, but she has no peripheral vision.
My apologies, I didn't mean to offend. I only meant—
OVERSEER AUGUST EYE My relationship with King Crimson is more complicated than most, I imagine. Certainly he is my king and I am his subject. But I am also the head of a congregation of civilians that come from every corner of every city. I don’t have the best interests of merely a single city in mind, but of the entire kingdom. King Crimson wanted to classify the congregation as a religion, but that is not entirely accurate. We do not believe in a god or gods or an afterlife. We simply believe in the existence of a holy entity that brought about a spiritual, cultural, and artistic renaissance when it graced our presence during the Storm. We believe in the holy sacrament and the returning vessel. We do not worship this being. They are merely our savior.
In my opinion, that adequately defines our relationship.
We first met years ago when I took over from the previous overseer. Overseers are retired when they reach a certain age because leadership requires vision and, literally and metaphorically, the old lose it at a certain point. King Crimson and I met to negotiate a deal concerning the remainder of the neon we recovered from the Ouroboros crash site. Since we had not squandered our supply to the extent that the Families have, we had a hundred times more than anyone else combined.
The Ouroboros is the name of the ship carrying the holy being that crashed here during the Storm that Split Our Skies.
Neon is a part of our holy sacrament. We have been reluctant in the past to entertain notions of a sale since doing so would be blasphemous. I agreed to meet with the king out of respect but had no intentions of agreeing to a sale. King Crimson, and to a greater extent, Queen Molotov, did not want to take no for an answer and demanded we continue to meet with them until a sale occurred.
To be honest, the night of the kidnapping was the night I decided to definitively decline the offer and to cease our meetings.
CINDER REGAL, AIDE TO QUEEN MOLOTOV August Eye is a weasel. We knew he was considering trading the cultists’ neon to the Barrigas and the Cervellos. Any claims that he’d never do so are kidshit. The city that acquired that neon cache would be a superpower and would put the entire Crimson reign at risk. Our reign has been peaceful and the kingdom certainly respects our king ... but give anyone that amount of power and they will forget loyalty, forget history, and forget lineage. And they would be in the right. They would crush us. And Crimson fucked the whole deal.
KING CRIMSON, OF SPINAL August Eye was never going to sell us that neon and he knows it. It was just optics. He couldn't refuse us outright so he had to take the meetings and he had to pretend to negotiate. Molotov didn't understand. There was no method of acquiring the neon without a contract, and August Eye was never going to grant us that contract.
At that time, it was an impossible gambit to attack the A Capella and take the neon by force—their numbers were too large and their support among the people too high. There would have been riots in the streets. Even those not committed to the cause supported the A Capella. They donated a staggering amount of money to local causes and had worked with the princess since she became of age to give back to the community. And it's not just the Spinals—they supported every city, every orphanage, every soup kitchen. They were the backbone of the kingdom.
The people condescended to the A Capella, surely. They thought less of them. Inwardly they thought them queer and odd. But they recognized them as necessary. If the A Capella were to cease their philanthropy, taxes would have gone through the roof. People would have starved.
So, they tolerated them. I tolerated August Eye, weasel that he is. Not anymore, though. Not after he refused us and condemned the Crimson reign. Not after everything else.
Did I suspect that the A Capella were the ones behind the kidnapping? Of course I considered it. But how would that have benefited them? They already held all the cards. The kidnappers never asked for ransom and, if anything, the rumors that the A Capella kidnapped the princess hurt them in the end. It provided the people ammunition to discredit them. It led to the inevitable riots at the Choir and to their decimation.
PRINCESS RUBY, OF SPINAL I didn’t see their faces. Not until later. They grabbed me from behind, restrained my arms, and shoved a hood made of coarse fabric over my head. Ropes were tied around my wrists and ankles and I was then dragged backwards out of what I assume was the window facing the entrance to the library. My mouth made the motions to scream but I stayed silent—I was too paralyzed by fear and shock and nothing escaped. I was hung upside down out of the window and lowered to the jagged rocks below the castle. In retrospect, the distance was probably a hundred feet or less. But dangling from a rope upside down hogtied and blinded and swaying in the wind slapping the face of the castle, it felt like it took years. It felt like purgatory. I don't want to talk about it anymore.
LOPSIDE LOW, KINGSMAN STATIONED IN FRONT OF THE LIBRARY ON THE NIGHT OF THE KIDNAPPING The seven cultists that arrived with the overseer entered through the main gate, were accompanied by several kingsmen to the library, stayed in the library for the duration of the meeting, and were escorted back to the main gate where they then exited. They were always in the presence of one of the kingsmen. Seven entered and seven left. I never left my post and I never saw the princess that night.
CINDER REGAL, AIDE TO QUEEN MOLOTOV No one is above suspicion. August Eye is not to be trusted. The cultists are not to be trusted. The kingsmen are not to be trusted. The king is, frankly, not to be trusted. It could have been the Barrigas behind it or the Animas or the Cervellos or the Coeurs or the Svals or a combination of any aforementioned or a rogue faction hellbent on disruption. There is not a damn person alive I trust anymore.
I expect you to do your jobs and prove the queen innocent. What you’re accusing her of … it’s ridiculous. And quite frankly, insulting. Do your fucking jobs. Find the person who took our princess and attempted to kill your queen. Take their fucking heads.