Pestilence in the Court of the Hanged King
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His book… his book… why had he given away his book?

This one was sick, though he knew not with what. Heaving breast, the spent pleasure of her lovers, eyes unfocused.
Something was wrong here, something was wrong! What was it what is it?
Abrasions. Blood. Rough gyrations too near the sharp lip of a stone dias. That, that he knew how to fix. His claw plucked a bag from his midnight plumage. A familiar snap, and his talons plunged in.

BOOK! WHERE IS IT! IT IS ALWAYS HERE—ALWAYS HERE! A frustrated CAW burst forth from his beak unsolicited. Frenzied claws tear through the junk in the bag, tossing aside glass tubing, gauze and forceps alike. How many times have I done this? The lucid thought found its way unbidden through his mind. His form slumped, permeated by the familiar taste of purposelessness and despair. No comforting leather touched his clawtips. Dejected, he pulled forth a fine needle trailing a length of thin black thread.

The absent mind did not impede the practiced hand, and the woman's blood flowed no more. Still, his gaze lingered. Something was wrong with her, but he couldn't put his finger on it. SICK! SICK! He withdrew from the plaza and its orgy, afraid of this sickness. CURE! CURE!! NO CURE! NO BOOK NO CURE! His taloned hands raked out, gouging at the walls as he found his way through the twisting streets, to the hidden parlor where came for rest the knowledge-seekers of Alagadda.

They saw him enter, eyes frenzied, black blood trickling from his abused claws. "Let him see your journals and notes," said one cloaked man to another. Their bony masks and black garb unfamiliar to them, an artifact of their passage through the Alchemy Gate in London. "He won't keep them, does this often enough. He's harmless, just let him see that you don't have what he's after." The oldest man quickly moved among the others, gathered and offered forth the small library in their bags.

The atmosphere of wonder and jollity wilted away as the men watched the feathered black beast tear through their notes, crazed eyes testing every page. None else spoke, the handful of foreigners watching with steady concern as the creature cried out occasionally BOOK, or SICK. They watched as he tossed the final book aside with a noise of rage and seemed for the first time to see the others in the room with him.

"Doctor Hamm?" the question croaked out from within him, his tilted skull regarding the doctors.

"No… Doctor Rydell," the old man introduced himself, "and Doctors Erasmus and Arderne. We have come from a city called London. These are all of the books we have with us." Rydell paused uncomfortably as the moment stretched longer and longer.

SICK! he pronounced them at length, without seeming to realize it. They shifted, parting as he stalked about them. Sunken eyes, drops of black in a pool of white, the only flesh within the skull, studied their masks. Aquiline beak inches from their eyes, the lavender in their masks shielded them from more than the foul vapors of the creature.

"We've only come here to study and do not mean any harm. We are men of science and medicine."

"And of God," added the first man he'd introduced.

"Indeed," continued Rydell "Perhaps we could help you locate the book you seek. We have access to vast stores of books back in Lo…"

BOOK! BOOK!! NOT BOOKS, BOOK! The black beast interrupted. Its frustrated mind loosed a tremendous sigh, unable to shape the words it needed. Unable to find the concepts it wanted. "I have nothing to teach you. Gather your things and quit my abode!" QUIT! QUIT!! Spittle flew, and fury shrank his eyepits at each unwanted shriek.

He lingered alone, choking on the solitude. His mind wandered once again to another world, chasing this name, Hamm. Doctor, yes they called him that, and other things too. A number…. but he had long since forgotten it. He stood, he felt, in a daze, his eyes locked on his bony, avian claws, stained a black so deep it seemed red. Transfixed, he lost himself in the haze. The burning smell of candles, the musky scent of old papers, the cloying odor of mold, for a time, was all he knew.

At length, the doctor found himself ascending a stairway, reaching for his past. Was his book taken? Had he given it away? He cried out a fitful CAW and fell to his knees, rifling through his bag. Perhaps he had just misplaced it…

Desperately he dug, to no avail. Collapsed on the stairs hundreds of meters above the marble white plaza below, he briefly looked up to consider the writhing forms twisting in their perpetual orgy. SICK! SICK!! But why? And how? And how would I even go about fixing it? Craning his neck to take in the full view, the ground seeming for all the world to hang far above. Or perhaps it was him, looking down from on high.

How many times had he read that book? How long have I been here, to forget it all? He could tell not how long he sat on the stair, a wretched and unspeakable thing. He turned at length to the sound of bony footfalls from behind.

The sight of it would have shattered the mind of a lesser creature. Perhaps it did break him, for he had no fear beholding such horror. Behind it, at the step's plateau, he glimpsed a hallway purest Black. Above it, beyond and about, the xanthous sky of the Hanged King's Court. Within it, tormented weeping.

The seraph of the Anguished Lord spoke:

The Lord of Black has heard your plea
His heart jet, void of sympathy
The tome you seek, lost memory
The price you'll pay is your duty
Weather his presence and you'll see
The crux of all your surgery.

And so they went, together into the deepest of Black.

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