I never really understood Brektov's work. Just a mess of trills and squeaky highs to my commoner ears. But that was before Kalisa Maas. From the very first note, her voice reached into my chest and plucked my beating heart from its cage. By the wide, glistening eyes of my fellow punters, I knew that they felt it too.
I've previously stolen a quick nap during the aria that precedes Antonio's disembowelling. Not tonight. The gem at Kalisa's throat sparkled with starlight brilliance as her C sharp shattered every pane of glass in the auditorium. An emergency intermission was called while the stage crew repaired the floods and cans, and a pair of physicians saw to those audience members lacerated by falling splinters.
Now, my suspicion of the Virtue Gems is well-documented. Though general and courtier might fall over each other to have Malachai embed them with these miraculous crystals, it is a travesty of justice that the legionnaires and workers of this Empire should have such mutilations foisted upon them.
Yet, in Kalisa Maas I've seen how these gems may rend apart our mortal bonds and permit our imaginations and souls to truly shine.
I'm adrift in the quandary, no oar in sight. Is Kalisa the Artist or the Art? Is she the same woman I knew before, the young bundle of talent and timidity I had no choice but to adore?
Is she still, in fact, a woman at all?
- Victario of Sarn
Volume 2: The Blackest Monkey
The Monkey King was enjoying an afternoon amble along the riverbank when, upon looking over his hairy shoulder, he noticed the Blackest Monkey he'd ever seen ambling along behind him.
"Why do you follow me?" the Monkey King demanded of the Blackest Monkey, for he did not appreciate uninvited followings, especially on his riverbank amblings.
"So that I might go where you go, be where you be, my King," answered the Blackest Monkey.
"And what if I do not want you to go where I go, be where I be?" clamored the irritated Monkey King with a spit and a gibber.
"Wanting and having are not the same, my King," answered the Blackest Monkey in a voice as smooth as banana juice.
"I am the Monkey King! I do as I wish!" cried the now furious Monkey King with much shrieking and frothing.
"Wishing and doing are not the same, my King," answered the Blackest Monkey in a voice as silken as butterfly wings.
Too wild to even spit or gibber, to shriek or froth, the Monkey King took to his heels and ran. Along the riverbank he raced, faster than the water, faster than the wind, faster than thought, for he was the Monkey King, and all know that the Monkey King has the fleetest feet in all the land.
He ran to the end of the river, and then to the end of the mountains, and then to the end of the clouds, and then to the End of the World.
And who should be there, waiting at his King's feet at the End of the World, but the Blackest Monkey the King had ever seen.
"Why do you follow me?" the Monkey King begged of him.
"Have you ever been to the End of the World before, my King?" asked the Blackest Monkey.
"No, I have not." realised the Monkey King.
"There is my reason to go where you go, be where you be, my King," concluded the Blackest Monkey in a voice as warm and welcoming as death.
- Victario of Sarn
Volume 3: Slaves of Virtue
Another shipment of human picks and shovels, bound for Highgate. Ezomytes mostly, care of Gaius Sentari's "civilisation camps". A few dark skins here and there, Karui and Maraketh. Malachai has had his wicked way with them all.
Limbs are stretched, contorted, double and triple jointed. All the better to pluck gems from the cracks and fissures of their home and tomb to be. They squint and cower in the sun, their eyeballs injected with gloom so that they might see in the subterranean night as they would in their warm, homeland day.
The shackled slaves shuffle north as the gems they mine tumble south, a glittering landslide of power and privilege for the fairest of our Eternal citizens. Civilisation is bought and paid for with the flesh and blood of the primitive. It is a debt that will one day need to be repaid.
- Victario of Sarn
Volume 4: A Friend in Need
It's one of those summer days in Sarn, when the sweat dries on your skin the moment it dares slither from your pores. Lorenzi and I are sipping coffees, iced with cubes from the North. There's a tremor in his voice as he announces that he is going to see Malachai tonight, to have a gem implanted in his hand. The palm of his left hand to be exact. Once I have run out of expletives and paused for breath while the waiter wipes spilled coffee from our table, I manage to ask him why. "So that I might have the fastest fingers in the Empire," is his reply. Lorenzi, first violinist of the Sarn Symphonic, and my dear friend, is going to become a Gemling.
Ten days pass and Lorenzi's hand is healed. He plays for me, a piece that he has written during his convalescence, something he will debut this evening in God's Theatre. The gem casts a bloody hue over his violin as his fingers fly across the strings. They are an ephemeral blur, too quick for eye or mind to follow. And the music... there's only one experience in my life that compares. The night I had with Marylene before she died.
It has been a month now, and once again Lorenzi and I sip iced coffees together in the Perandus Markets. Though we sit only a narrow table apart, Lorenzi is a world away. The nightmares began a couple of weeks back. He toys absently with the vial that I have bought for him from the apothecary, yet I know he won't drink from it. The soothing of his wits will mean the slowing of his fingers. The music is Lorenzi's life, and to Lorenzi, the music and the gem are one and the same.
A year has gone, and the day is once again hot enough to dry the sweat on my skin the moment it dares slither from my pores. I sip an iced coffee and think of Lorenzi. He played last night, in God's Theatre. Fleet, furious, and wondrous, he was. We passed in the foyer, and I looked into his grey face, his pale blue eyes. I don't know what he saw, but it wasn't me. I don't know what I saw either, but it wasn't Lorenzi.