AULDOMOUCHE. The mask was fully loaded with its charge: a massive dose of chloropallidol. The stench is overpowering. What possessed him to do this? His curiosity about certain matters must be far stronger than I knew.
SOPHELAIDE. His pulse is returning to normal but his gibbering is the same…
AULDOMOUCHE. It may remain so. With chloropallidol, the mind is not technically intoxicated; rather, it is coerced to perform oneiric processes, identical to dreaming sleep — even while conscious. The mask’s purpose may be to keep its subject in this state for an unusually long amount of time, or perhaps for good.
WILFRED. …warmed by the air of a room. Meet with the queen at night, so that all wishful thinking in the daytime disappears. Answer quickly! Answer quickly! Two eye-holes in front of us…
AULDOMOUCHE. Nevertheless, we’ve found several of the cowled robes that will allow us to attend the conference undetected. It must be starting soon, quite soon. We have to press on.
PAST THE TRAGICALLY UNLOCKED DOOR WAS A TROVE OF UNFAMILIAR THINGS.
AULDOMOUCHE. I suspect the room was always a repository of some kind. It might have been the buttery; the building is old enough… But what items are these? They exceed the interests of some political sect. Although they are now motionless, I recognize some figures in the recesses as sculptural automata such as are only found in seasonal rotation at the Parc d’Urongelex.
Other articles are still more perplexing. To identify them, if there is time, might help us understand the villains who are hoarding them.
At any rate, we have to look around for the cowls. Set Ovarind down there for now — there in the corner. Careful with him, Sophelaide.
THE THIRD ITEM INSPECTED: A BUST OF A WOMAN WITH AN ARTICULATED MOUTH AND MOVING GLASS EYES, POSITIONED IN FRONT OF A PANORAMA OF THE EUXINOVAN COASTLINE PAINTED ON A SPOOLED LINEN SCROLL.
WILFRED. I recognize this exhibit from the Exposition. It runs hourly at the Central Pavilion — but there, a man beside the display delineates the visual tour, and no bust such as this is involved. It seems designed to mouth the narration like a puppet.
AULDOMOUCHE. Its style and construction leave no doubt that it’s of the same manufacture as the automated sculptures found in the Parc d’Urongelex. Surely the noted entrepreneur Visculorph d’Urongelex wishes to expand the presence of these devices — and he has married into the financial means to accomplish this — yet I’ve noticed they are not readily embraced by the public outside of their pastoral-satirical sphere.
The characters all derive from Euxinovan myths and theatrical traditions, dating back at least to the Romans. (This figure is clearly no exception and Ovarind would have been able to tell us more about it.) Most seem obscure, unfamiliar to common audiences, and this might result in a slight sense of unease in the average spectator. I believe that of the dioramas operated by d’Urongelex in Ellubecque’s Paysage de Beau Monde, only the exhibit “Thriampa Revealed” (which is forbidden to children) features automatons.
It is mystifying that he would store such items here — here of all places. And what dealings would he have with The Society of the Iron Frond?
THE FIFTH ITEM INSPECTED: A MECHANICAL TOY IN THE FORM OF A ROTUND GROTESQUE, FEATURING A BELLY CHAMBER THAT SPRINGS OPEN TO REVEAL SMALLER FIGURINES.
According to Euxinovan legends originating in the Roman era, Lapurnippas was appointed guardian of the nubile orphan Pampiphlorine, a scion of the oldest noble family of the island province of Thriampa. When bandits stormed the family seat, Lapurnippas hid himself in the woods and swallowed all of the gold bequeathed to his ward. This feat was possible because the old servant, faithful also to the forest god Arbrocomesus, had chosen to rest against a massive oak whose exposed roots bounded an ancient grove sacred to the deity. So long as Lapurnippas did not move from the spot, his health and safety would be sustained and his stomach could retain the treasure. It also served as a gold-lined conduit (accessible through his navel) to an underground sanctuary where Pampiphlorine and her attendants took refuge until the bandits were driven from the island. Before Lapurnippas rose again, certain unwelcome forest denizens, such as the parasite Coccidillio and the “bandit maiden” Plundribel, clambered inside his belly uninvited; their expulsion is the subject of several comedic fragments.
AULDOMOUCHE. This was plainly manufactured within the last decade or so, with these indiscriminate figures recalling less the original legends than the popular caricatures of those revelatory photographed magnifications of Balkan mallardfish eggs — which (due to the appearance of their undeveloped heads and the tendency of certain parasitic species to burst unexpectedly from afflicted specimens) drew comparison to the iconography of Lapurnippas. Recent entertainments bearing his name have strayed considerably from tradition.
THE SECOND ITEM INSPECTED: A SABER HILT WITHOUT A BLADE, DATING FROM THE TENTH CENTURY.
During the Bulgar dominion of Euxinova, when Ellubecque had yet to be called Elbequond by the Byzantines, and was still known as Albaquadrum — though the Roman fortified camp of that name was long gone — a modest insurrection restored independence from the Tsar Simeon in a manner that would inform Euxinovan political strategy for centuries to come.
It began at a public ceremony, with the Bulgar praefect of the territory receiving a collection of gold as he had the year before. Quite unexpectedly, the man presenting the tribute produced a blade from his robes and slit the magistrate’s throat. At this, other innocuous figures revealed weapons and skills of their own, overcame the Bulgarian guard (who were only slightly superior in numbers and insufficiently surprised out of their indolence), took the city and claimed the contiguous regions as once again sole property of the Moesians, as the Euxinovans still were known. This revolt, as if by design, directly followed a spate of notable colonial investments by the Bulgars, who, considering this fecund valley a satellite to their own kingdom, had by then founded a library, built a royal palace, expanded upon Ellubecque’s burgeoning harbor structures, and added other improvements that would continue to benefit the usurpers.
It seems that the obscure parties who organized the rebellion obtained help from the semi-legendary Moesian bandit clans (still extant from their time of thriving symbiosis with the Roman landed gentry), for the praefect’s assassin is recorded as being the so-called “bandit prince” Rhauminogg. His famous saber bore an inscription on the blade — REQUIRIT FUR SUIS REBUS TUERI — that became a maxim popular among historians and pragmatic nationalists.
(However, that blade is gone, if this artifact is even what the placard beneath it attempts to suggest.)
NOT LONG INSIDE THE VILLA, THE CONFEDERACY ARRIVED AT A CUL-DE- SAC, SINGLY ADORNED.
PRENDULECK. This would appear to represent a mythical creature called a “limpet crane,” or perhaps a burrowing osprey in its apocryphal horned form — the regional folklore will readily conflate them.
This impasse deviates from the floor plan, so I imagine this is no simple ornament — there. See how the beak opens! I expect it contains a mechanism that can give us access to the further chambers from here. With this special pick, I might manage to open it, and perhaps deactivate a trap if there is one. Still, we must be wary. One moment…
THE FOURTH ITEM INSPECTED: A VESSEL MADE OF BLOWN GLASS AND SILVER, OPENING FROM THE BOTTOM, EQUILATERAL BUT FOR AN ORNAMENTAL FACE AND FILIGREE SPIRALS SUGGESTIVE OF A NAUTILUS SHELL.
Gewgaws of this general design can, at least in theory, be submerged while retaining air, by means of a principle observed by Aristotle (Problemata 32). They date from Antiquity and were originally understood to represent Pumphon, the tutelary deity of pirates (son of Mercury and the Nereid Pontoporia), who would often appear to mortals as the hybrid of an enormous cephalopod and a living ship helmed by mute, stunted figures. Well-preserved examples from the Roman era have been found among the ruins of the ancient canal city of Carqueviscum, in the center of the Black Sea.
SOPHELAIDE. This odd jar is just like one I had as a child — they could almost be one and the same. I recall an excursion to Draephedusa, along the coast. My sisters and I had a mass of aniseed bonbons to share. I stole their portions and ran and hid in a half-flooded cave. I wasn’t so greedy as all that; I merely wanted a reason to test this magic receptacle, to hide a stolen treasure where no one could find it.
I placed the vessel in a cleft beneath the water line for an hour or so, and to my recollection it kept the candies dry. I also remember several pretty objects, including polished animal skulls, in rows on ledges of rock near the ceiling of the cave. I thought they were toys as well, belonging to someone else. I couldn’t reach them.
THE SIXTH ITEM INSPECTED: A RESPIRATORY FACE MASK THAT APPEARS STYLED AFTER THE SKULL AND CARTILAGE OF A BALEEN GAZELLE (G. GAZELLA EDENTULATA) AND INCLUDES AT EYE LEVEL A GLASS RECEPTACLE CONTAINING AND MAGNIFYING A FLOATING ASSORTMENT OF MINIATURE FOSSILS.
WILFRED. I understand that this does not reproduce the natural feeding processes of a baleen gazelle, nor could it to the wearer’s benefit. It does contain actual preserved “air plankton,” however, including the mallardfish spawn you just mentioned.
Surely it isn’t an aid for consumptives at all, but a certain rumored prototype (you know the one) that administers soporifics while flooding the patient’s vision with samples of the baleen gazelle’s diet. Supposedly, those tiny plants and creatures correlate with mythological typifications that can appear simultaneously in the thoughts of multiple individuals when their minds are united in deep sleep.
Could there be any truth to it? Did the horrors I endured yesterday take place in this unconscious domain? Could the rigorous approach promised by this device offer better results? Could I discover… The Curtain of Somnus… Is it something more than an old wives’ tale spun from hysterical contagion? I wonder…