This excerpt is from “The Fall of House Nemeni” book One of the “Allmother’s Fire” series.
Copyright M.D. Kenning 2012 All Rights Reserved
Chapter 1: Prologue: Domin: Twelve Years ago
Long crimson sleeves fluttered almost effortlessly as Domin ran in near silence. Considering how many silver and gold chains and clockwork medallions bedecked his chest and arms, it was quite an impressive feat but Domin was not exactly feeling in a self-complimentary mood. A dark lock of curly hair fell down into his face, and he quickly brushed it back into place behind his ear. His hazel eyes narrowed, as he knew he needed to be in complete control or very shortly he would be dead, and in the end he would have nobody to blame other than himself. After all, he was a Nemeni, and they were not allowed to have friends or truly love. His father had raised him knowing this, but Domin had assumed such platitudes would not have to apply to him if he was smart enough and clever enough to avoid any consequences. Considering he had memorized the entire content of his 761 tome library he doubted whether anyone would argue about his intelligence. But obviously his cleverness had been lacking to some sort of degree.
Some would say a man of noble birth would be degrading himself by hiding behind the tall marble columns in his palace as he tried to find a way outside that involved keeping his head firmly on his neck. Those people were either not of noble birth, or dead. So Domin forced his heart to pound a little less as he breathed deeply and slowly, yet still attempting not to make much noise. Nothing good came out of acting without full knowledge of one’s circumstances. Domin knew he needed more information, and decided to review exactly what happened that night. It had started as a simple evening walk to the Questionary, and it ended with his brother now lying in a pool of his own blood and Domin himself probably only minutes away from the same fate, not to mention the rest of his family.
It was so simple, yet nevertheless still extraordinary. There really was nothing better than a pheasant roasted mainly in butter and herbs from Vinessi’s garden even with all of the other options available to them. It was not that Domin or his wife Vinessi eschewed extravagance as the massive amount of jewelry draped around her neck proved, but they still knew how to take pleasure out of the simple things in life. That had been one of the cornerstones of their truly love filled marriage. However if his father was alive today, he would be furious with Domin. True love means true tragedy his father had always said. Marry to further the Nemeni house, and for a season or two love anyone who can put a smile on your face, but never give fully of your heart and you will never be fully destroyed. It was a good thing Vinessi was worthy of trust because as Domin well knew, she had enough of him to destroy him utterly. He smiled to her a wide smile of trust which she returned almost instantly. It was good to be truly happy, and not just from all the power he had in life, like others in the Nemeni family had.
He did however have plenty of that power, and smiled to Michaeus, currently the Nemeni Grand Artist and adopted ‘son’ who did not change his facial expressions as he continued to sculpt the stone next to him into a scene that was beginning to look like Vinessi and Domin at the dinner table. No matter how many times he saw it, Domin was still amazed to watch an Artist as they sculpted what should be immovable stone in their bare hands. It was truly a gift from some sort of Greater Power, but he would not go far enough to say it was because of the Allmother. Domin considered himself a highly rational man, and although all men in the city state of Cenive paid at least public lip service to the Allmother and her church, behind their doors they were allowed to know the universe did not need an Allmother, for everything that happened was according to the Clockwork Grand Laws of existence. Domin knew there were plenty of other possibilities of how the Laws came about however, so he prided himself that when at his own dinner table he could dabble in delicious heresy along with the fantastic pheasant.
The powerful low tones of the Chimes started right then, and knocked Domin out of his internal revelry. It was time to go to the Questionary and say the daily prayers. Even if he did not believe in the Allmother he knew he would lose his many fine possessions and the respect of the city if he publically irritated her. So no matter how much of an inconvenience it was, he, and as his wife insisted, his whole family, always did their Daily prayers.
Vinessi and Michaeus were both rising from the table too, and Michaeus did not have to hide the irritation in his eyes as he stood up. Like most youth Michaeus was consumed by his passions and like all Artists, he was consumed by his work. So it was no surprise to Domin when colorful phrases could be heard about the Allmother and her Chimes from under Michaeus’ breath. Even in his own house Domin made sure not to let his eyes show the twinkle they felt at the remark and he inquired to his wife, “Shall you get the kids, or I?”
“I may take just a little longer getting ready Dom, I had not quite decided on what Questionary approved dress I wished to wear today, as I was spending too much time making sure our stores were in order before the Winter cuts off trade. Would it be fine if you got the children?” She replied in such a way that it did not irk him. Granted, he never saw himself as the type that was prone to outbursts, but the many broken vases around the house proved that there might be a reason why everyone but Vinessi seemed to tiptoe around him when they had not finished a duty they were supposed to do. Well, it was not like his brother exactly was quiet about failing either.
Like the old adverb, think of the fire from the Sun Below and it will come to you, Domin’s brother Genissi showed at just that moment in a wrinkled tunic and slurred speech as he said, “The Chimes, again, didn’t we do this yesterday, brother?” It would be easy to think that a man as precise as Domin would jump to irritation when he saw his slovenly brother, but instead he let a smile show, this time with all of his teeth twinkling.
“Yes Genissi, I am surprised you are aware of the fact that it is a different day already. You are more cogent than normal, is it a special occasion?” Domin replied without any real bite in his words, instead with a playful tone in his voice.
“Yes, today marks the victory of whatever I did that was amazing last night. I’m not sure what that was, but it was probably fantastic. Let me guess, you are going to make me go again to the Questionary tonight, correct?” a frown filled his face after he replied, and his eyes widened much like that of Domin’s three puppies.
Although Domin was still smiling, he did not bother trying to banter and instead left the dining room and headed towards where three children were. Being his own flesh and blood, and the Nemeni legacy he of course cared about his kids, but it was hard for him to truly love them. Maybe when they were older, and achieving something for his family his fondness for them would grow to love. For now, his brother filled enough of the quota of uselessness in his house, but he still tried to soften his face as he saw them. The two guards outside of the Nursery pointed their pikes towards Domin as he strode past them, proving that they were attentive. Domin nodded slightly to them but focused on his three children who were in very different places in the main room of the nursery. Dona, his youngest child at age five was on the floor draped in a cream colored long shirt, as was befitting her young age. She seemed to be doing something intricate with various colored blocks of stone, and did not even look up when her father entered the room and she did not speak, as was her custom.
Ioni, his nine year old son was paying more attention to his father’s presence, but that was easier to do for all he was apparently doing was running around the room in his black breeches and tunic. When Domin entered he stopped running and immediately nodded to Domin and said, “Good evening father!” At that Domin did allow his small smile to show again. Other people might raise their children to talk and act like ineffective people until they were teens, but Nemeni always grew up immediately understanding respect and details. Ioni would make a fantastic heir, and Domin could not wait until Ioni was old enough to be interesting.
Six years from now, they would probably be struggling over power in the Nemeni house, and it would hone both of them like a fine dueling blade. Until then Domin just responded, “And a good evening to you, Ioni. We go soon to the Questionary for tonight’s service. Please escort your sisters to their rooms, so they can change into something more worthy of display of House Nemeni, and our respect for the Allmother’s church.”
A solemn expression covered the boy’s face as he responded, “Of course father. Sisters, if you please?” he held out his hand, the right one, trying to aim it at both of his sister at the same time in a parody of the commanding salute of Authority he often saw his father give other politicians.
That was rather tough to do, for Ioni’s oldest sister, Sivana, would not sit still enough to be pointed at. She was dancing around in a loose scarlet robe that looked like a cross between what a Priestess would wear and what an Artist would paint. His eleven year old daughter had been born exactly nine months after Domin and his wife had married, and that was the last time she had ever adhered to a precise schedule in life. Others might marvel at seeing their daughter be so free and happy with life, but all he saw was the future face of the Nemeni in the Allmother’s church, and it did not seem to be a persona that would gain much prestige or power for the family.
At one point Domin had thought of poisoning her, or had hoped that maybe in a few years maybe Dona would be inventive enough to do so. However, Vinessi seemed to radiate so much joy when around Sivana that Domin had decided to spare his eldest daughters life. True, she would not be able to win much prestige for the family when four years from now she gave her life to live in the Questionary, but she made his wife happy, which made Domin happy. Even if it was revolting to see so much talent (it must be in there, after all, she was Nemeni) wasted on frivolity.
He stared at her, hoping his eyes would bore a hole in her soul so that she would look at him. Instead she blissfully danced around to a tune only she could hear and had a long silken scarf in her hands that twirled with her. A Nemeni was the soul of control, so Domin would not allow himself to be agitated, and continued to stare at her. Finally he did not have to, because Ioni jumped in front of her and waved his hands erratically in front of her face while saying ,”Get your head out of the Skies! We have to get ready for the Questionary now, or dad will look bad.”
|Although Domin inwardly grimaced at the semipublic bluntness of the statement, he knew that the kids Nurse, Vana, would not repeat anything to anyone. After all she had been quiet about the things she had seen with his father, and Domin’s father had been much tougher than Domin to deal with. It appeared somehow that Ioni’s words were effective, because her eyes suddenly snapped and focused around her and she looked at her father and said, “Right away, Father.” She then followed her siblings out of the room, but not at a pace that Domin could agree was ‘right away.’
Domin then strolled out of the nursery and up a winding staircase and walked three floors up to go to the walkway, which was technically jutting from the top of his Palace. From there he would be able to wait for his family so they could walk together through the various walkways that crisscrossed the city so they could go the Questionary without having to face the normal citizens of Cenive. It was not that he did not like the other citizens, after all his entire life was about enriching the city both monetarily and culturally due to his many Artists. And without the power over Metals and Clockwork that his island gave his family, he would never have been able to achieve the heights he had throughout all of the Floating Isles. However, what he did earned him many enemies (power always attracted jealous and grabbing hands) and since the only people who could walk through the walkways were those of Noble birth (or adopted nobility, like Michaeus) or those of Allmother’s church, it was the safest way to travel at least when his wife and heir were with him.
The rest of the family was not nearly as punctual as him, so he would have to wait. He unlocked the walkway, and placed a Key Medallion in a recess in the wall after removing it from where it was hanging on a leather cord around his neck. Then he concentrated and used his Family’s Dominion over metal to wind the closed Key Medallion and it began to turn, and then affect the walkway doors. They would be late if they did not hurry, and he did not want any other obstacles in the way of his family’s approach to the Questionary. If they had only thought ahead enough to dress appropriately for the Questionary in the past few hours, they would have been fine. He was draped in a fine silken red vest with long crimson sleeves, but plenty of valuable metals like Gold and Silver were all over his chest as both a literal show of wealth and Power. Since he would have to wait a little he went to the side of the building, near the walkways entrance, and looked at the expanse of the city below him. The entire city was displayed before him with an alabaster glow of marble as all of the tallest buildings were created from the combined work of many Artists. Giant arches and domes glistened in the light coming from the constant yet small Sun Below and the larger but waning Sun Above. In the distance he could see ships flying with their Cloudwood across as much of the Skies as he could see. It was a gorgeous sight, and on one of his few whims he took a large breath and threw back his head to take in the glory of the Skies Above.
For the first and last time in his life, he was glad that he acted on a whim, for that allowed his head to not have been where the wooden bullet sang by him. Immediately he purposely allowed the rest of his body to fall back with his head into an arch, which allowed his chest to dodge the next three bullets. Domin had worked out every day of his life, so he was in good enough shape to then land back on his hands, and spring and twist himself away from the bullets trajectory. Rage flowered on his face as he realized someone was shooting at him from the walkways!
It was not the heretical misuse of Questionary property that made him angry, it was the fact that he had been stupid enough to think the church would never attempt anything of this kind or even worse that some other noble family thought it had enough power to get away with the assassination of a Nemeni in his own Palace!
Domin landed in a backwards crouch and grabbed at three of his medallions. Using the Cenivian Nobility’s Dominion over Metal and Clockwork, the three amulets were designed to tap into the Grand Laws of the Universe itself, and find specific “loopholes” in those Laws by “shifting the Cogs of Reason” as one philosopher had said. The specific cogs he shifted now were tied to the Laws of Location and Stored Motion, and his body should have vanished and reappeared 30000 feet away, to a safe house he owned that no one else but his brother knew of. Instead he remained crouching and a bullet bit through the left part of his right arm, just barely missing his ribs.
The only force that could suppress a Noble’s Dominion over an aspect of the Grand Laws were that of the Allmother’s church (regardless of what they said it only proved the people in the Questionary had a way to enforce the Laws of the Universe, not that the goddess they worshipped existed or created the Floating Isles or the Skies Above or Below) and he was at least glad that no other noble houses had thought him weak. The church must have detected his heresy more than he had thought.
Right now all that mattered was to leave this house with his wife, his heir, and then because he was a sentimental fool, his brother. So he ran down back into his palace about to cry alarm to his family, when he looked down the winding staircase and into the various floors of his house and saw many people, armed with both swords and muskets. Immediately his eyes went to their chests and he saw symbols of several minor houses (the Weavers, seriously the guild of Weavers thought they could challenge him?) and two major guild houses, including the only other banking guild on the Isles besides his family’s guild which the Nemeni had winnowed down over the decades. He ran down one flight of stairs and into what appeared to be a small closet, with grim determination and a small smile on his face. At least he had pissed off a lot of people, and they knew they would have to bring the fires of the Sun Below itself to bring him down. The closet that in most houses would have kept spare linens or whatever servants used them for was actually one of twenty three weapons closets Domin had in his house. His father had prepared him for something like this, but he doubted even his father would have thought the church would be involved. Well, maybe not.
He grabbed two swords, knowing that a musket’s one shot would not be worth it. He had been trained in the Southern Quarter Cenivian style and would be able to fight with both simultaneously. It was just one of the many advantages of being a Nemeni. He heard the footsteps that indicated someone was on the same floor as him and Domin Nemeni would NOT die shot in a closet so he kicked the door open and tucked and rolled towards the footsteps, ready to lash out with both swords. He had to stop himself when he realized the person barreling towards him was not an enemy, it was his artist. “Michaeus, you have to get out of here immediately, and the Questionary will not be a refuge for you. Go to the Nemeni Vault Building, you should be safe there and can get in since you are an adopted member of this family. Have you seen Ioni or Vinessi?”
Michaeus did not say anything immediately, and his hands shook. There was no time for this incompetence, what was this fool artist doing? “I am so sorry my Father, but they would have crushed my hands and then blinded me. I could not resist them. Forgive me for what I have done.” Domin’s heart sank at what this meant, but he truly did not have time to suffer betraying fools. Like every generation of Nemeni he had adopted several of the city’s poor, elevating their life to riches in exchange for their Art. They might not have been born as nobles, but they were expected to act like it! So much as he would if Michaeus had been any other member of the Nemeni house, Domin acted quickly and lashed out with both swords, purposely only penetrating about a quarter inch into each eye. He knew the screams would call his enemies, but as the current ruling family of Cenive it was his job to mete out justice.
Then, before he would leave this sixth floor of his house, he pulled his swords back, and watched as Michaeus fell to his knees. No words were needed as he purposely kicked the Artist and betraying scum backwards so that his body was on the floor. Domin saw enemies come up the stairs towards him, but still took the time to deliberately crush both of Michaeus’ hands beneath his metal bottomed boots. With justice served he ran towards some rich velvet red curtains that were draped on pillars on a nearby balcony that allowed him to see several floors below. He leapt into the air, and was admittedly frightened because the many medallions that draped his chest would not be able to help him with this foolish stunt. His wife and his heir were at risk though, so he grabbed the curtain and leapt off the balcony, swung to the other side and a floor below, for he could see his brother there, with five men with muskets surrounding him. Genissi was a fool, but he was family, and had never betrayed Domin, so Domin only had one choice.
Before he could scream out and save his brother, the men fired at Genissi, their wooden bullets sinking into his chest, and immediately blood flowed to the floor below. Domin could not stifle his scream as he watched his brother fall to the floor limp. They were using Bleedshot! Domin was supposed to save him, Nemeni never lost, but now there was no hope. Then again, if he had not cared about what Vinessi wanted, he would have never taken the walkways, and the walkway door would have been locked.
Most Noble families did not take their children with them to the Questionary until they were fifteen, and at that point they would have been old enough to protect themselves. But since Vinessi insisted on bringing them even at this earlier age, he had now lost his brother. He saw the men now throw down their muskets, and bring another from their belts so Domin dodged into the nearby hallway, which was inside the guest wing. There he hid behind a marble column, and stopped a moment to catch his breath.
Those were the events that lead to the massacre in his house, and although it had only taken moments to remember all that, he had wasted the upper hand because he could hear at least ten people entering the guest wing of his palace. He crouched low, and knew as much as he wanted to, he could not sneak out yet. At least his heir must be secured. He balanced on the back of his feet while crouched and was prepared to spring out in the hallway and attack them, when his breath caught.
“Domin they have Ioni, and will only let him live if you come out.” Vinessi’s words tore at him for more than one reason. For one thing it sounded like she was surrendering and for another it seemed like she wanted him to do so as well, even though it would be useless. On top of that if they had both Ioni and Vinessi this fight was lost, and would only end with all he loved dead. So he was not expecting what he heard next when Vinessi cried out, “So don’t come out, only you can avenge us!” This was followed by the sound of two muskets firing and screams. Domin could not resist and had to see what had happened to his heir, and his beloved wife. His heart stopped as he heard more muskets firing and saw his wife with blood spurting from her skull as she fell to the ground, and two fighters from minor houses with wounds seeping from their backs, also on the floor.
What he did not see was his son, and that filled Domin back up with what he had just lost – hope. “Run IONI!” he commanded to no place in particular and charged the other eight men that were standing there looking as if they were going to run in the other direction, possibly to where his son was. Like a swarm of enraged hornets he landed upon the men, twin blades kissing his enemies with black bloody wounds into faces and other soft parts. The thin flexible dueling blades were military grade and suddenly he could feel the Cogs of the Universe sing to him again, as whatever blocked him earlier was gone. So he let his blood sing to dozens of Time Clockwork Medallions as they exerted Dominion over the Grand Law of Motion. Normally, there was only so much motion that could happen with so much muscle. That law was ignored and the wounds he inflicted became infinitely faster and deeper, and in less than a minute he had carved all of his foes into one homogenous bloody pile on the floor. Like all Medallions they were cold and lifeless after their use, and the Grand Laws of the Universe caught back up to him so he was paralyzed, paying a price for the earlier loophole with Motion.
Therefore not a single muscle in his body moved, and when he saw a hooded feminine form walk towards him he could not react. She was cloaked in a velvety garb the color of the deep crimson of the church, with a hood over her face as most of the Allmother’s Priestess’ did. Domin still could not move as she approached him, and he saw the glint of a large carved dagger in each of her hands, and he could not scream as they tore into his chest.
He could not even cry as the universe was swallowed in darkness, and he would never know what fate was in store for House Nemeni.