As part of the continued celebrations surrounding the physical launch of Divinity's Twilight: Rebirth on September 22, I'm releasing the first scene of my upcoming short story, Gravitas. This piece, centered on Scraw, a character of questionable morals and motives, will be published as part of a villain-focused anthology this December. I'll be sure to post more news about the publication - where you can get it, what authors are being featured, etc. - over the coming months.
Gravitas Teaser: When Lestadt's College of Auguries delivers an omen of doom, the nation's leaders turn to Lord Fixer Scraw for salvation. His ruthless methods have succeeded before and should do so again. Yet with revolution on the horizon, the government on the brink of collapse, and only a month to combat the lurking threat, to what depths of depravity will Scraw descend to save Lestadt? Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease . . .
PICTURE: Storming of the Tuileries, by Jean Duplessis-Bertaux (1793)
Scraw stirred in his too hard chair, rocking back and forth while trying in vain to get comfortable. His cravat was too tight, the weave of his suit too fine, and his shiny black shoes were too cramped across the toes. Everything about his audience with the Court of Magisters was irritating—too irritating, to be precise, and precision was of paramount importance to him.
"Are you listening, Scraw?" Asked one of the Magisters, a balding gent whose flowing purple gown couldn't fully hide his plumpness. Horatio, that was his name. Scraw remembered it—he couldn't forget it if he wanted to. But if the vat of lard wasn't interested in using the title they themselves had bestowed on him, Scraw wasn't going to afford him that courtesy either.
He resisted scratching the nape of his neck. The suit was aggravating his skin-rash, covering his collar in dried flakes, but Scraw didn't want to give the Magisters the satisfaction of seeing him squirm. "Fixer Scraw. I'm here because of that role, so you might as well address me by it."
"What we've given, we can take away." Norvea said. The scarlet-haired matron, only woman on the Court, leaned against their curved table, staring Scraw down over lowered spectacles. "You of all people should understand the power we wield in Lestadt."
Scraw smiled. He rose from his chair, sketched a deep, mocking bow toward the Court's raised dais, and began walking away. "Then I suggest you use that unmatchable power to sort out your little governance problem."
Snapping his fingers set the servants flanking the chamber's immense iron doors in motion. Two threw their shoulders into the engraved murals adorning the portals, swinging the history of Lestadt outward. A third rushed along the last row of benches to the hat-rack, desperate to return with Scraw's tricorn before he reached the exit.
No one wanted to cross the Fixer. Not even the Court of Magisters, the ruling body of his beloved country.
"S-stop, my Lord Fixer," Horatio spluttered between blood-sausage lips. Fatty pork was clearly both a distant relative and his dish of choice. "There's no one else we can turn to. Ple . . . please stay." The bloated whale slumped further in his chair when he finished speaking. An impressive accomplishment, Scraw was forced to admit.
The Fixer of Lestadt spun in place, grin widening. "Full autonomy. All departments report to me." Scraw strode back up the aisle, tucking his hands behind him, fully focused on the mission—his mission. As soon as he had the Court's mandate, they would be meaningless. A speck of dust on the city streets, a rotting carcass in a deserted alley. "The army, navy, and constabulary are subordinate to me. I will assemble my own team of architects and designers, I will set the schedule, and you will deliver the labor force when and where I tell you. Nothing less will be accepted."
A spindly Magister with more forehead wrinkles than eyebrow hairs wagged a finger at him. "Preposterous! You ask us to make you a dictator—a king! Lestadt hasn't suffered a sovereign since—"
"Granted," Norvea interrupted, scowling at her fellow oligarch. "We know the Fixer doesn't want our throne, so there's no need to quibble about details or play at democracy. Our farce doesn't fool the revolutionaries, and it doesn't fool him." She turned to Scraw, face stoic and cold. Control was her drug of choice but, like him, she would do anything to preserve the nation that enabled her rule. "How long do you need?"
Scraw shrugged. "I think the more pertinent question is, 'How long do we have?'"
"The College of Auguries gives us a month—no more."
"And they've since been dealt with? If the revolutionaries get wind of their findings, my project is buggered."
Several members of the Court chuckled at Scraw's query. They weren't saints. They were barely human after what they'd done—after what they'd ordered Scraw to do. He nodded knowingly. Assassins had paid the good professors a visit, and they would speak no more.
Rubbing his palms together, Scraw beamed at them, itches and irritations fading before the sheer bliss of purpose. His gilt pocketwatch bounced in his coat's inside pocket, a familiar, comfortable weight. The memory beneath the lid would see him through this latest challenge, just as it had all that came before.
"One final thing," Scraw said, practically skipping up the low steps to the Court table. More etchings, these outlined with masterful brush strokes, filled it from end to end. Blood and fire, executions and burnings, marching soldiers and shouted speeches. It was ironic that the end of the Court's reign may yet mimic its start. "What Gravitas have you prepared for me? No ordinary artifact or edict will do for what you intend."
Norvea held up an unraveled scroll, its waxy, yellowed parchment decorated by flowing lines of ink and official crimson seals. More pages were glued to the bottom; addendums or signatures added in the centuries since the original document was drafted. "Lestadt's Charter, inscribed with all the laws of the land, the names of the founders, and the members of the Court, right up to the present day. It is the Gravitas of the entire country—more mighty than any article that has ever been wielded."
Ream by ream, Norvea rolled it up, then passed it to Scraw. "It's yours now, Scraw. Save Lestadt."
His fingers trembled; his skin tingled, hairs rising on end. Scraw forgot his rash and, for an instant, forgot how to breathe. Timidly, he touched it. That little taste did nothing to sate his sudden hunger. Forgetting propriety, he snatched it with both hands.
Ecstasy raced through his veins—the raw, unmitigated power of all Lestadt had been, was, and could be. A burning sensation filled him, a different feeling from the agony of his sores which ached no more. Scraw wanted to use it immediately. Witness what his magic could do when fueled by the history of a country itself!
Time and place, Scraw thought, controlling himself. He took the scroll under one arm, bowed to the Court, and said three words he'd never imagined uttering. "It's not enough."
"Nothing in Lestadt possesses more Gravitas. That's all we have!"
"Be glad we gave you that, Fixer!"
Scraw suffered their invectives, endured them for the sake of something greater. Absently, the Fixer's free hand drifted to his breast pocket, where he palmed the outline of his pocketwatch. Killing the Magisters with the very Charter they gave him would be rapturous . . . but accomplish nothing.
After a moment, Scraw glanced at Norvea, who waved to silence her comrades. "Explain, Fixer," she said.
"Do you want to preserve this country? Your country?"
Scraw nodded, all humor, joy, and delight gone. Buried under the pressure of what had to be done. "Then I suggest you vote in favor of these supplementary measures . . ." To Be Continued