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james garrison, 10 Apr '13

Gnosiomandus: Dead Letters (1)

Gnosiomandus sipped his tea. It was cold. Again. He'd been reading through a packet of old letters salvaged from the collapsed chimney of a former diplomat's manor in the Burned Over District.

He set the chipped cup down on the little table at his side. There was barely any room for the tea cup and its saucer in-between the heaped monographs, stacks of books, half-unrolled scrolls and other very important academic brick-a-brac that cluttered-up his study.

"Why are you wasting time on a bunch of old letters?" squawked the raven perched on his open windowsill.

"Because there could very well be something useful in them. Some of these letters bear diplomatic seals..." he tapped the first three letters significantly.

"Which you can't break without ruining them, so what's the point?"

"The point is that I want to give these things a good looking-over. I would appreciate it if you would go back to doing whatever it is that you do, and leave me to it then."

"Would you like to know what I do when I'm not pestering you?" the raven cocked its head to get a better look at the musty old pouch of forgotten letters.

"No. I would not." Gnosiomandus opened another of the more mundane envelopes from the pouch. Another love letter. In fancy script. The perfume made him gag worse than the purple prose.

"Are you certain?"

"I'm absolutely sure." He coughed. That one he tossed into the fireplace. The stench was hideous. But it was soon gone.

"You're not the lest bit curious?" The raven shifted from one foot to the other. The windowsill was not really a good perch for it. But it made do. Ravens are eminently practical when it comes to such matters.

"That's beside the point. I know enough about your kind to not ask too many questions." He remembered all too well the lurid details of the grotesque things the raven had divulged to him previously. He tried to push those things from his mind. He still had hopes of enjoying his lunch.

"Ah but you had plenty of questions for me before..."

"For which you were paid. Handsomely."

"I have no complaints. You do pay well."

"Fine. then I bid you good day. I have work to do and I'm sure you have plenty of other people to bother or corpses to go pick at, or something."

"Yes, I'm getting a might peckish, now that you mention it. Since my services are not needed at the moment, I shall take my leave. Perhaps I'll have an early lunch..."

Gnosiomandus stalked over to the window and closed it. He'd had enough fresh air and conversation to last for a good while.

He jerked the brocade cord and the drapes slid into place.

The cup crashed to the floor, completely missing the antique rug.

He stared at the now broken cup almost guiltily. Perhaps he should hire someone to clean-up the place. A house-keeper? Why not? Mallardi that upstart prig over in Applied Automatism employed some old crone from Bardrushon to do his laundry and cook his meals, so why shouldn't he take-on some domestic help. He was a senior academic. Fully Tenured. Maybe later. There were more important things to attend to first.

He sat back down in his over-stuffed chair and resumed his examination of the recovered correspondence.

Most of it was rubbish. The worst of it he fed into the fireplace. Too late he stopped himself. Watching the love letters and personal accounts as they curled within the flames he realized that he probably could have sold a few of those to one of the confessional-style tabloids. A few of them were quite salacious. The two he still had in-hand were rather tame specimens though. He tossed them into the flames. Maybe next time he'd remember sooner.

He rubbed his eyes. His editor was after him to crank out another adventure yarn. Something with rapiers and rascals. And airships. People loved to read stories about airships. Maybe they liked to read about them because they hoped against hope that someday the airships would start coming back to Wermspittle. He suspected it was merely a form of misplaced nostalgia. It was highly unlikely that any airships would ever return. Too much had happened. The world had changed. Wermspittle was forgotten. Left to fend for itself.

The place had been quite lovely, once upon a time, like many such places, back in the old days. Before the wars, the plagues, the collapse of the old empires. The sheer weight of all the terrible things that had taken place over the last few decades was mind-numbing. It could crush one's soul, if you let it. Many did.

It was easier to give up, to give in to the horror, to the despair, the werms. Not very many people fought against the systemic rot that clogged the streets with night-soil and worse. Wermspittle had always been somewhat corrupt, it had been founded by heretics, outcasts and criminals after all. Corruption was in its nature. Only now it was being industrialized. Human suffering was a commodity, and a valuable one.

It was not a particularly brave new world now. The old days were dead. This was a world filled with displaced refugees, maimed and twisted victims of uncounted atrocities, and all manner of unspeakable things that would have been laughed at as so much childish foolishness or the inventions of drunken lunatics before. Nightmares. It was hard to recall a time when nightmares were not taken deadly seriously in Wermspittle. Terrible things are all too real. Too real by far. And so much of what once was taken for granted was gone. Lost.

Gnosiomandus set down the pouch. He had five very official-looking letters bearing diplomatic seals and three parcels, one of which was crushed and had leaked out over the bottom of the pouch. There might be one or two other interesting pieces, but they were mired in the crusty scab of some noxious substance that had been in the broken parcel.

He considered taking the letters to Dunbar. She was quite good at cyphers and codes, especially the older ones like these. But she also would expect something for her troubles.

There were a few other options, but in the end he knew that it would be Dunbar. She was expensive, but she would keep her mouth shut. That counted for a lot these days. Money might not ensure loyalty, but it could keep things quiet, at least for a while.

He hoped it would be long enough.

Comments · 5

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  • Ross Tarran said...

    Welcome to Burrst! This was quite intriguing and enjoyable to read, a nice example of an original fantasy setting. I'd like to read more, and find out what the werms are?!

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • james garrison said...

    Hi @Ross Tarran. Thanks for the comment. The first Gnosiomandus story is, which is at my personal blog. He also features in several episodes of my ongoing serial 'Bujilli' which is featured at the Hereticwerks blog: I'm setting up a 'Start Here' page for Bujilli later today, after Episode 60 goes live. Series Two dealt with the werms in some detail. There are more stories taking place in Wermspittle coming out soon.

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • Ross Tarran said...

    Thanks for the information; will have to read further. Reading this Burst on its own, there are many things mentioned which allude to the scale and detail of the wider world, enhancing the setting even if these elements are slightly confusing without having read the other stories. Definitely one of the best debut Bursts I've read anyway...

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • David Taylor said...

    Hi @james garrison and welcome to Burrst! I enjoyed reading this and thought it was very inventive. Thanks for the links to your other stories, by the way. I'll be sure to check them out because I definitely want to read more!

    • Posted 10 years ago
  • james garrison said...

    Hi Guys,
    Thanks for dropping by and commenting on my first Burrst. I plan on making this a regular part of my ongoing writing efforts. If you'd like to see more of my fiction, I posted an Index to my Friday Flash Fiction at: I'll update that regularly, and I'll be posting more fiction at that blog in the future, as well as links to any stories that appear elsewhere, which hopefully will soon be happening a bit more often...

    • Posted 10 years ago