Your name is Isora. You are the daughter a gang Boss. And your cloak itches.
Your father holds your hand in his, walking you through a forest of steel that neither of them can see.
(You can’t remember it, either. You can’t remember much, anyway. You never have.)
To hear it told, they’re twisted, jagged metal spires whose purpose has long been forgotten. They are what remains of the Twenty First age, before the Great Detonations, long ago. The event that blinded the world.
As for the other senses:
You can hear leaves of rust peel away from the steel ruin in the soft breeze. She can smell their parchment-thin sheets as they sway through the air and settle on the ground. You can feel their the tremble of their ever-so-light impact as they hit the ground like a featherfall.
And you can feel the ink on the pages as I write this to you. I am your ink-and-parchment memory, Isora. You must rely on me. You must believe me.
Your father leads you through this terrain. He had awoken you shortly after the morning birds started singing. He had helped you get dressed and clasped the cloak of crow-feathers around your neck.
(You had wanted to tell him it was itchy at the time, but you’d decided against it. After all, you have to wear it.)
And you knew why. I’ve left you an index. A separate journal for names and faces you terminology you may have forgotten. Check it if you’d like to find out why you need it.
Your father leads you through Muninn Point, now. “I have a surprise for you,” he tells you, again and again. You don’t answer. You’ve never liked her father’s surprises.
(Never tell him that!)
You can hear someone breathing, far and away. You wipe the sweat from your brow and tells herself it’s just an early riser making ready for the day. “There are no monsters in Muninn Point, your father always tells you. “I do not tolerate monsters in my district.”
You do not understand why he calls the place his district. He’s told you before that the Crown itself appointed the House of Em to oversee it. He also tells you that you’ll understand why when you’re older.
Your Father stops in front of the doors to a basement you cannot see. You’ve been told that the structure above it has long since collapsed, though you cannot see that either. He rubs his thumb against your knuckles. “Do you remember my instructions, Isora?”
“Your Grace.” You bow you head. “Yes, your Grace. I do. I mustn’t cover any of the four senses. No matter what happens. I must pay attention.”
Ivan opens the door. Its hinges let out a bloody wail. His hand finds yours, and leads you down wooden steps that groan like you did when Ivan had roused you from sleep that morning.
The room smells musty, which doesn’t help your mood. You’ve already so few distractions from how itchy your cloak is. Now you can’t even smell anything without gagging. So instead, you listen to your father’s blade-sheath slap against his thigh as he walks.
“My Crows have brought me something remarkable today,” he tells you. “Consider this a rite of passage.”
You hear your father’s hand rattling on a doorknob, then something on the other side of the door. You wonders if it is a dying hog. It certainly sounds like it. You swallows thickly. “Your Grace. I’m afraid.”
You hear her father’s knees protest when he crouches, places his hands on your shoulders. “You’re twelve years old now, Isora. You’ve long since had your blood. You’re almost a woman grown.” His first two fingers draw a line down your face. They’re rough as leather and not comforting. “How fast you’ve grown. Soon you’ll be the Boss of my gang. And you must learn a Boss’s resolve.”
You hear a sound, and cannot decide if it is your Father’s joints sighing as he stands. Perhaps he merely adjusted his cloak.
With a sharp intake of breath, he swings the door open and leads you inside.
You two can feel the warmth of early-morning light filtering through the window. You can hear a fire in the hearth–built to keep the dying-hog-sounding creature from freezing. You can imagine the orange glow that bathes the room. You’ve read the stories. You know what fire supposedly looks like.
You cannot see that the creature is tied to a chair with a sack over its head or the projector Ivan has positioned on a table, facing the thing that’s making the unsettling sound. But you smell the cloth, hear the screams, smell the wooden chair, and the wooden table. And the rusty metal of the projector.
Ivan spreads his arms wide in a theatrical gesture that benefits only him the same way you might smile even if no one is looking.
(You imagine he does this, leastways).
“Welcome,” he says, “Azoc: Boss of the Fangs!”
“The Fangs of Sandpiper Quarter, where the monsters dwell,” you say. You’re not sure if it’s a question. You don’t know why you said it. You only know that you’ve heard it so much that you can’t not say it at the mention of Fangs.
“The very same,” Ivan tells you. You can hear the smile in his voice You hear how the volume of it changes as he faces away from you, toward the bound Fang Boss Azoc. Ivan sniffs audibly, follows his nose, hands outstretched until they find the obscured face of the masked thing, whispering against the cloth.
The unsettling screams turn to quick, frightened pants. Muffled breaths. For a moment, you thinks you’re the source of them.
“My lieutenants will be well rewarded for your capture,” Ivan says. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, Boss Azoc. Now what sort of monster are you?”
You hear the sack fwoosh off his head. Boss Azoc gasps as the gag is removed. “Boss Ivan,” he growls, “Your Murder of Crows ambushed me in my district! Release me, or you and your gang will suffer—” Azoc chokes on the gag as it’s stuffed back down his throat.
You can smell sweat on Boss Azoc. And blood. You hear your father’s fingers tracing his flesh. There’s a soft rustle.
“It’s got fur, Isora.”
“What else is there?” you ask.
Boss Ivan feels his way around the edges of Azoc’s eyes, his mouth. “It’s marked itself with strange runes. Doubtless for the purposes of black arts. Dark magic.
(Or perhaps they are wrinkles.)
You hear the slick sound of her father’s fingers sliding through sweat, smell blood on them as they come away from the monster’s head.
“It’s got scales, too.”
“It’s like the Nailed God made a dozen creatures from clay and mashed them together in His divine fist. Oh, but to have the Sight now. To see the despair on your face, Boss Azoc.” Ivan pauses, tilts his head, stalks his way round the monster.
“Do you know of the Sight, Boss Azoc? When the perfect culmination of light and color allows us to see as are ancestors did? How many times have you had it? Surely the ailment has afflicted you at least once. And as much as I’d love to stick a blade in your gut…”
You hear your father loosen his blade in its scabbard.
“…I’ve thought of a better use for you.” He stalks over to the table, where the projector sits, waiting. “Imagine if someone could force the Sight on you. Imagine if they had something that filtered through light and color until it found the combination that could color your iris. I hear it’s a form of temporary insanity.”
You hears metal filing against wood as Boss Ivan drags the rough hooks on the back of Azoc’s chair into position. They are corded around the back of the chair, and filed into a point on the end. He inches them slowly forward, until he feels their sharp ends faintly prod his captor. Then he drags them back, touching Azoc’s face, then the hooks, making measurements, until assesses they are in line with his brow. He cannot move his face.
“Man was not meant to see the world in such a way,” Ivan continues. “That’s why the Nailed God sent down the Detonations. Imagine what it would do to a man’s mind if he had fits of insanity forced on him at the whim of his captor.” He seizes Boss Azoc’s face, jerks it toward him and whispers: “I’d advise you keep your eyes open. If you close them I’m going to nail them shut. If I don’t hear a scream, you see, I’ll shove those hooks through your eyes. I’ll know if you’re faking. I know how folk scream when they get the Sight.”
He stalks away from Azoc, toward his device. The way Boss Ivan touches the projector reminds you of the way he used to touch mother: gentle strokes, soft and affectionate.
He flicks it on, and the machine itself moans.
Then it whirs. Then it clanks. Like a trash bin tossed down a flight of stairs.
You do not see the beam of light as it is activated.
Special thanks to my patron on Patreon, Alicia Cameron