For Mr. Anthony Call

The townhouse known as Cl0ckw0rkings is one of the older homes in the Tower of Eyes district. Though several around it are showing signs of age, this place has been restored with what is evidently loving attention to detail. The cab drops you off at the gate, which is opened by a young man not wearing livery but still well dressed and polite. And when you knock and the housekeeper appears (an older woman with sallow skin and a pinched, but earnest face), she takes whatever outerwear you wish to surrender into her custody and shows you in to “her ladyship’s parlour.”

Merri is there with tea and coffee on a tray, smiling gently. “I’m glad you came, Mr. Call. Forgive my lack of energy please, it’s been a tiring time of late, but I should much like to hear your story, if you’re inclined to tell it.”

[Cue Anthony Call, in comments below!]

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35 Comments

  1. catastronaut said,

    September 29, 2010 at 5:59 am

    Anthony smiles warmly and stands stiffly. “Nothing at all to forgive, Miss Fawkes. Time is formidable enough at its calmest, and not a one of us weathers its storms without expending considerable ‘energy’.”

    He stops and glances about himself, then slowly takes a seat. His expression is guarded, and he seems lost in thought. With a deep breath his eyes come up to meet Merri’s, and he almost visibly sets aside his thoughts and his attempts to guard them.

    “I’m afraid you’ll find I’m not a good teller of stories, nor a good holder of conversations. I’ve the habit of answering the simplest of matters with a thousand complexities.”

    He hesitates, undecided as to whether to continue or await some response.

  2. cl0ckw0rks said,

    September 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    She smiles gently. “You wouldn’t be the first in this parlour to do so, I assure you. And yet, we needn’t speak of anythng which would cause you to feel uncomfortable, either. We are only barely acquainted, after all. I thought to offer the privacy of my home to ease your mind in our discourse, whatever path it might take.

    “Tea? I find it does help almost everything.”

  3. catastronaut said,

    September 29, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    “Yes, of course. Thank you. I have forgotten more than I realized if I must be reminded how to take tea in good company.”

    He busies himself with toying with his cup and saucer. His hands aren’t occupied for long; he takes his tea without milk or sugar.

    “Thank you. For the tea, and the company. I had begun to fear that there wasn’t any to be found in this city. Or rather, none that hasn’t been touched by darkness or mushrooms in strange ways.

    How is it that you’ve made or found a place such as this?”

  4. cl0ckw0rks said,

    September 30, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Merri takes her own tea (straight, also) and gazes at him gently, remembering how it was when she first arrived in this place. “I have been here some months now,” she tells him quietly, “and was very lonely and frightened, for a long time. As I learned more about how things work here, I began to make the connections and save the resources to improve the manner in which I was living. It takes time, and work, but it is possible.

    “I’ve also found,” she goes on, after taking a slow, sybaritic sip, “that the help of friends is just invaluable. Not all of us have been darkened by the lightless nature of this place, I promise you, but it is very difficult to… remember the light, without one another.”

  5. catastronaut said,

    September 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    “That is good to know. But is that all we can do, even with the help of friends? Remember the light? I am…. preoccupied by memory at the moment, but I should like to recover the light, and perhaps other things, in fact as well as in memory.”

    He pauses.

    “I am sorry. I feel as though I’m interrogating you. That’s not what I cam here to do. But I have so many questions…”

  6. cl0ckw0rks said,

    September 30, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    “Then do ask,” she urges him sincerely. “What I can answer, I shall. And if I don’t know, I shall tell you that, too. What keeps me going in this place is… well. That can wait for a later time. Ask me what you will.”

  7. catastronaut said,

    September 30, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    “Very well, then. What are these things that are bought and sold as souls? Are they, in fact, souls? And why is it that I haven’t seen any of these on the surface?”

  8. cl0ckw0rks said,

    September 30, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Her lovely mouth twists in a grimace, but she doesn’t flinch away. “I have the confirmation for this from some unimpeachable sources. They are commodities here, where we are so close to Hell itself, and yes, they are real human souls.”

  9. catastronaut said,

    September 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Anthony sighs.

    “I suppose it is futile to ask just what ‘a real human soul’ is?”

    He pours himself another cup of tea, and stares into the middle distance.

    “Close to Hell. I’ve heard this, but I’ve no idea what that means. Just where are we? I remember nothing of my passage here. In what direction must one travel to approach Hell?”

  10. cl0ckw0rks said,

    September 30, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    “Oh dear, you do have a bad case of it. I was fortunate in that most of my memories returned very quickly.”

    She straightens in her chair a bit, flicks a gaze out the window as if by long habit. “London was taken — stolen, if you will — by the Masters of the Bazaar in 1862. It has been the site of the Echo Bazaar approximately thirty years now. As far as is known, we are in a vast cavern three miles below the earth’s surface. Hell is, literally, a short boat ride away, and maintains an embassy — the Brass Embassy — right here in the city.

    “You could, if you wished, consort with devils as if they were human and capable of real friendship. Many here do.” Her nose wrinkles at this, which is elegant, if wordless testimony as to where she stands on the matter.

    “As for the other… it is not futile, Mr. Call. I wish it were. The state of one’s soul is a very real, tangible thing, here. Those who’ve had them forcibly removed, or stolen, are some of the most melancholy persons I’ve ever known. Their ability to love is severely hindered, as is their ability to appreciate beauty. I too once questioned what a soul was and whether it really existed.”

    She looks very sober, very serious. “I no longer do.”

  11. catastronaut said,

    September 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    “I do not doubt the existence of the soul. Somehow, I never have, though I’ve doubted many other things. And though I’m new to this place a boat ride from Hell, I’ve encountered the soulless on the surface.” He shudders before continuing.

    “What I doubt is not the soul, but our understanding of it. We never doubted the existence of Fire, Miss Fawkes, but many doubted the theory of phlogiston. The doubters were right. We have now the theory of oxygen.

    It’s a question that seems obscure and perhaps meaningless to many. But to those of a certain mind… it is essential.

    We say ‘soul’, but nobody rightly knows whether the soul is a substance, a quality, a capacity, or something else entirely. Anybody who claims such knowledge is hard-put to demonstrate it.

    You say souls are traded, as a commodity, that they are real and tangible. This simply adds souls to the list of real and tangible things which we have no real understanding of.”

    As he speaks, Anthony’s manner grows agitated, and his voice rises in volume till he is not quite shouting. He has nearly begun to stand from his chair when he comes to himself. Startled at the change in his own demeanor, he stumbles out of his tirade to slump sheepishly into the parlour chair.

    “It seems the list of matters in which I must try your patience and ask your pardon is also growing. I did not mean to become so excited. But in this place, understanding so little and seeing so much… well, I admit I am more than a little afraid.”

  12. cl0ckw0rks said,

    September 30, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Through this, she has sat calmly, showing no fear. It is a side-effect of her time here, that she fears very few men or women living. She has learnt to fight, to defend herself, even bring death when necessary. It gives her the grace to watch him, and listen to his words, with exquisite compassion.

    “You would be foolish if you were not afraid, at least a little bit,” Merri finally murmurs, manner gentle and calm. “I cannot claim understanding of something so abstruse as the soul, for I am neither theologian nor philosopher, I’m afraid. I can assure you with some confidence that your own soul will likely remain in your keeping unless you choose to surrender it in exchange for some remuneration. Most of the illegal soul harvesters, called `spirifers’ here, only prey upon the weak and the helpless. For all your quite sensible fear, you strike me as neither.

    “But tell me what else I might answer for you,” she adds, trying to smile a little. “Understanding can often obliterate fear, but I fear I’m doing a poor job of helping you gain it, thus far.”

  13. catastronaut said,

    September 30, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    He smiles weakly in response.

    “You astonish me with your grace and graciousness, Miss Fawkes. No lady, no person, that I have ever known, has matched your strength or your willingness to share of it. I am beggared before you.”

    He looks into his tea, perhaps embarrassed.

    “The surface, then. Is three miles above us? From what I’ve seen, there is considerable traffic between the surface and the Neath. What avenue does this traffic follow? Do they simply climb?”

  14. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 9:46 am

    She demurs at his praise. “Time, my dear sir. Difficult choices. Battles I should have avoided and did not. Experience is the dearest teacher, after all…”

    Leaning forward to pour herself some more tea, partially to allow him some privacy for whatever embarrassment he might feel, she thinks about traffic to and from the surface, what little she knows of it, before answering.

    “The only established and official routes I know are for the prison dirigibles. There are likely supply ships and smugglers, but of these I am not as sure. I have traveled to the surface and back since my arrival here. It was costly — bribes, mostly — and it was a combination of climbing and being smuggled aboard an airship. I have only done it the one time.”

    [That’s just Merri’s narrative, btw. There is no official way in EBZ to do what she did — but I needed a vacation. :-D ]

  15. catastronaut said,

    October 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    “And these paths are… inaccessible if you’ve died and returned to life? I’ve heard that it is possible to return from death here, but that doing so means on cannot return to the surface.

    What happens if a once-dead person were to attempt this climb? Is he bodily held back by some mysterious force? Does he die? If any of these things should happen, where do they happen? On the surface? At the “ceiling” of the cavern? Somewhere in between?

  16. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    “I don’t know,” Merri admits quietly. “It is said that once one has met the boatman, here, one is doomed to stay here for life, but I’ve never known anyone who’s tried to leave, once that had happened.”

  17. catastronaut said,

    October 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    “Is meeting the boatman simply a common phrase, or is there actually a boatman here to meet? And does meeting him damage your soul?”

  18. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    She smiles. “You ask good questions. I do not know this of my own experience, but I have been told by those whom I consider unimpeachable that yes, there is a boatman. I do not know if it damages one’s soul to meet temporary death here once or twice, but I suspect that if one makes a habit of it, it’s quite possible.”

    Her gaze turns sympathetic, concerned. “Mr. Call… are you quite all right?”

  19. catastronaut said,

    October 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    “I may be. But the uncertainty is taking a toll on me.”

    He looks down into the tea, as if seeking answers in it.

    “In truth, the loss of my memory is… disturbing. I’ve no recollection of anything that has happened in the past eight years, before waking in New Newgate. I do not think this is simply the usual confusion of one who finds himself abruptly arrived to the Neath.

    This loss, it makes me fear for my soul. I am not afraid that I will lose it, but rather that I already have. Or that it has been… broken in some way.

    I know a fair number of who have, for various reasons lost some part of their memory. And I have known that losing too many of them can often leave people in the condition that people term ‘soulless’ here. Or that the sorts of things that can render one soulless without the intervention of a spirifer, can often cause one to lose memories as well. Have you ever seen the wards of those places called ‘sanatoria’? No, perhaps that’s indelicate. It doesn’t matter.

    Another thing that I know is that it is astonishingly common for those who lose some part of their memory to have falsehoods intermingled with whatever memory they have left. Sometimes the sheer extent of these fabrications is dumbfounding. Their source, mystifying.

    So, missing eight years of my own memory, I am not even certain that I am Anthony Call. I am not sure how long I have been here. I am not sure of anything. Being in a place as this, which seems so new to me… It is like attempting to map and survey a strange and foreign landscape while your vantage point is rapidly sliding away from under your feet.

    In fact, my memories tell me that I’ve done that very thing with a greater facility than I now attempt to unravel the mysteries around me.”

    Anthony’s tone and affect are flat, blank, as one completely numb. The strain is visible in the lines of his face, and in his eyes, but the words themselves fall from his mouth completely emotionless. His breathing is shallow, and he looks weaker than he ever has before you.

  20. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Moved at his recitation and his obvious suffering, Merri places her teacup aside and moves to sit on a small stool before his chair. She removes his tea from his hands, then takes them into her own, smaller ones, gazing at him until he meets her eyes.

    Hers are clear grey, like panes of glass rimmed in soot. They are also brimming with kindness and concern. “My dear sir… if it is any help to you at all, my time here has taught me that there is a difference between memories and the soul. You say you are missing memories, I cannot argue that, but it does not mean your soul has been broken, or taken from you. Let me ask you this: Can you still see something beautiful and have it move you?”

  21. catastronaut said,

    October 1, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    His eyes are wide, as one staring about himself, though his gaze is fixed upon Merri’s. “Yes, but still I fear.”

    His left hand tenses and twitches strangely under yours, then relaxes.

    “I can see beauty. I can be moved. But I no longer know who that ‘I’ is that sees, and is moved.”

    He draws his hands away, reluctantly.

    “It is small comfort to have an unbroken soul when I cannot feel sure that it is mine.”

  22. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    “There is no one else’s it could be,” she tells him sincerely, placing her hands in her lap. “But I understand that you don’t know who you are. That, in itself, must be most troubling. I would that I could help you, but I know of no one in the city equipped to help you restore your lost memories.”

  23. catastronaut said,

    October 1, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    “Well, I will manage, in one fashion or another. And I will manage all the better, I hope, with your advice, and your friendship.”

  24. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    She laughs a little at that, embarrassed. “I doubt the former is worth much, but I hope the latter should be accounted so — my dear friend.”

  25. catastronaut said,

    October 1, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    He smiles, surprised.

    “I only hope that my friendship comes to be of some worth to you, as yours is already invaluable to me.”

    He reaches to briefly clasp Merri’s hands in his own.

  26. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    “I’m sure it shall be, Mr. Call. True friendship here is among the dearest of commodities.”

    She squeezes his fingers gently, then removes her hands to place his tea back into his. “Drink. Tea is most restorative for the spirit, even if it cannot provide you all the answers you seek. Is there aught else I might try to answer for you, however?”

  27. catastronaut said,

    October 1, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    “Always. I don’t think I shall ever lack for questions. But one of the virtues of conversation is the discovery of things we’d have missed on our own.

    And there’s no reason these things can’t include questions.”

    He takes a slow sip.

    “What questions ought I be asking? I feel as though I may have been asking the wrong sorts of questions from the very beginning.”

  28. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    “Not at all,” Merri says, smiling as she reclaims her chair and her tea. “Indeed, your questions cut to the heart of some deeply puzzling matters here in Fallen London. Perhaps I might ask you a few questions, and see if that spurs us in a new direction.

    “Have you begun having the nightmares yet?” It is asked so matter-of-factly that it’s as if she’s inquiring about the latest play or perhaps his tastes in music. And yet she is not toying with him, her manner is quite serious as she asks it.

  29. catastronaut said,

    October 1, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    “Yes, though I have not thought much of them. They are, after all, only dreams. Aren’t they?”

  30. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 1, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Her grey eyes level upon him for just a moment, but then she shakes her head. “No. They are not. If you are having dreams of chess, mirrors, the walking dead, fires, thunder, sacrifices — these are all common dreams. Nearly everyone has them. They mean something, though what that might be is the subject of some debate.

    “And Mr. Call — if you do not learn to manage them, they will eventually drive you quite mad, for a time.”

  31. catastronaut said,

    October 2, 2010 at 10:29 am

    “I suppose I have been going slightly mad. Or not so slightly. Well, I’ve noticed things about myself that are worrying. But I had thought… well, I did not think the nightmares were causing it. I had thought my mind was weakening, or fragmenting, and that the nightmares were a part of it…”

    He stops, closes his eyes, and holds his head in his hands.

    “Their meaning is a mystery, or at least a controversy, you say. What about their mechanisms? Why is it that everybody has them? How is it that you are driven mad by them. And, I suppose, more to the point; how does one manage them?”

  32. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 4, 2010 at 9:20 am

    [In case you missed it, my best friend is here for a week-long visit, so my RP time is somewhat curtailed. Be patient, please! :) ]

    “Mr. Call…” She is truly concerned now, watching him quite closely, seeing things perhaps he would not willingly reveal, but which she cannot help. “I can only answer the last with any certainty. We do not know the answers to the rest, though there are theories a-plenty.

    “We manage them primarily by our friendships here,” she goes on simply. “Have a friend over to hear them, the fears they cause, and you feel better afterwards, much better. There are opportunities for peaceful walks along the marshes that help… and there is the laudanum.”

    Merri’s nose wrinkles briefly. “None of us truly like taking it, and the dosage needed to treat nightmares is painful, but when all your friends are as badly off as you are, sometimes it is the only recourse.”

  33. catastronaut said,

    October 4, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    [I think I saw mention of it in Twitter. I am endlessly patient, and I’m a firm believer of meatspace socializing trumping cyberspace socializing any day.]

    “Ah, yes. Laudanum. That I was familiar with, and I admit that I’ve made use of it. Sometimes the clarity that comes with restful sleep is necessary enough to warrant it.

    As to friendships… Well, I suppose I shall have to accustom myself to unburdening myself to my friends, if madness or laudanum addiction are in fact the only alternatives.”

    He sighs, and leans back in his chair, thinking.

    “If in fact these dreams are another, ah, feature of life in the Neath. Well, I suppose I am slightly relieved. Perhaps my mind is not quite as damaged as I had feared. Though I still worry that the memories I’ve retained might contain falsehoods or omissions…”

  34. cl0ckw0rks said,

    October 6, 2010 at 11:27 am

    Merri smiles, gently and somewhat affectionately. “Believe me, we all have concerns about our sanity here, Mr. Call. It sometimes takes a sympathetic ear to assuage them. I cannot offer much help for your concerns about your memories — some of us never do regain them, others like me tend to recall them rather quickly. I can only counsel Time, and patience. And perhaps regular visits here, if you like. Or join us all for tea in the bazaar, if you’re passing by. Truly, good comradeship has been my saving grace, here, on more than one occasion.”

  35. catastronaut said,

    October 6, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    “You can be certain that I will call upon you as often as propriety, mutual convenience, chance and circumstance allow. And I should indeed like to join your cadre for tea in the bazaar. But, who, precisely, is ‘us’?

    Well, perhaps that’s a question better answered in another time and place. I’ve already occupied quite a lot of your time, and I should not like to deprive you of your rest. Introductions might be left for later.”


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