heseus' breath ruffled the tall grass in front of him. He lay, face down, on a bank of the side of the road that let into the center of Three. In front of him three figures rumbled past: the cyborgs from the Scrapheap. He couldn't let them see him, or they would ask about the coins, and become suspicious. Even now he held the gold, as if his labourers would come and grab them if he let go. He watched, his chin brushing low against the earth as the three shuffled slowly past the wooden arch of coloured cloths and hanging lanterns. He saw them flick a gold coin at the lady who stood by the entrance, and he followed them with his eyes as they turned left into the sea tents. Theseus decided then that he would go right, as far away as possible from them. When they disappeared from view, he jumped up and ran down to the road. The gold in his pocket clinked satisfyingly, and without meaning to, he smiled. This year, he was going to the Market. With a deep breath, he handed one of his precious coins to the lady and took a confident step through the arch and into the twilight-lit field.
You could see the lights from the market even from the Scrapheap, and within the tents the it was blinding. Orange, turquoise, green and purple melded and shifted together, dancing off the wares of the merchants. As Theseus walked about in awe, ducking under huge swathes of fabric and moving from stall to stall, his clothes constantly changed colour. With one second his stood in a leafy clearing, green light bouncing all around, before he moved into a tent where purple fell through stained glass and off sculptures. All the while, he kept a firm hand on his pocket, carefully moving the five coins about in his hands. He was amazed, never tiring and never ceasing to smile. He pushed past people of all nature, some with mechanical limbs, other hidden behind monocles and goggles. The merchants there were even more eccentric, displaying their wares, gadgets and gizmos in loud rumbles. He walked past stalls selling huge towers of metal that steamed and spurted clouds into the air. Some had animals, strange horse-like beats and the shadow of a snake in the corner. More still displayed voodoo crystals, others told your future, and some just hollered at you, mad from the revelries. After hours of pushing through the crowds however, he finally began to feel hungry. Approaching a stall, that had 'Food' daubed across the top, he leant cautiously over the counter.
"Hello?" he said nervously. Silence. Suddenly, from beneath the counter, a face rocketed upwards. Theseus jumped back, heart pounding.
"'Ello!! How can I help!?" the face shouted. Seeing Theseus' discomfort, it began to roar with laughter. It, was a she. Her face was disfigured beyond recognition, warts and huge red lumps changing her face into a minefield. Greasy white hair fell like damp string about her fat shoulders, and her grub-stained apron betrayed a demeanour of complete slovenliness.
Recovering, Theseus mumbled, " Umm yes, I'd like some... Food?"
The woman stopped laughing long enough to say, " Eh? What'd you say?"
"Some food! Do you have any food?"
"Oh right! Why didn't you say so!?"
Theseus tried to mutter something but it was drowned out: with a clatter the woman put a greasy pasty on a metal tray and pushed it towards him.
"Is that..." Theseus stumbled over his words, trying to start polite.
"What!? Just gimme' the money and get'outta here!"
Theseus quickly passed a gold coin over and took the pasty. He murmured a thank you and left the counter.
In all fairness, the pasty was good, thought Theseus. He sat down on a bench facing a circular stage, and as he ate, crunching into the soft pastry, musicians came and went, sitting down upon the stage and singing or playing music. One sang a haunting lullaby that chilled Theseus' bones; another played a strange drum, with gold cogs and a steam funnel that made a strange crashing noise. The more he listened, the more he became entranced. His heartbeat matched the constant drumming, his movements fell in sync with the flow of the music, and he felt for the first time, alive. It was only when the steam from his half eaten pasty caught his eye did he realise just how long he had sat there. The moon had left the horizon, and it was the deep of night.
Theseus got up quickly, alarmed at the change of time. Brushing the crumbs off his shirt, he moved along to another part of the market, the lyrical tones still fluttering through his ears.
With Theseus' four gold coins, he bought a necklace with a Awgash tooth on. He had never heard of an Awgash, but the tooth was so sharp and elegant, it captured his imagination. Putting it under his shirt and against his skin, he moved on
, and found a pair of goggles. Quite similar to ones he wore now, they were gold plated and robust. He then gave a coin to a merchant selling precious stones, and took a small sapphire in return. Then, when the moon was at its highest, with one coin left, he stood in the centre of the market, wondering where to go.
Suddenly, the mood of the crowds shifted. He sensed excitement even before a man relinquished himself from a tent and announced, "Ladies, and Gentlemen, gather 'round, for tonight, we bring you, Carcius!"
The crowd erupted, cheers shaking the ground. They all surged forwards, shifting like a sea through small gates and into a clearing. Theseus was swept into the tide, and, pushed from every side, he fell with the others. Inside the clearing was another circular stage, this one much bigger than the musicians'. Around the clearing were wooden benches, punctuated by torches, which lit the clearing with a gloomy atmosphere. The crowds, with much muttering and movement, gradually began filtering through the benches, until everyone was seated. Theseus sat right at the back, the night swirling behind him. He didn't know what was happening, but there was no way out. From on the stage, there was movement. Suddenly, bursting from the shadows, an old man swept out on the stage. He wore a dark feathered cloak, and on his head sat a raven hood, with a beak and beady black eyes. He looked around furtively, then spread his arms wide. With a booming voice, he began...
"Greetings, man and woman alike! Today, on this great eve, I present to you, a story like no other, the rise of the NSAS!" Theseus groaned amongst the cheers. He, and most others here, had heard this story thousands of time. Carcius was an Ambassador, a messenger from the NSAS, sent to spread compliments to the organisation he worked for. It was crude, but effective, noticeable by the cheers of the crowds. Theseus never understood, but for some reason the Ambassadors were worshipped like gods, there stories poured over again and again by the public. Theseus couldn't particularly care less, but he leant back into the bench anyway, expecting an entertaining story at least. "I have been sent by the NSAS itself, from deep underneath Arathorth, to bring you our history. Your history." With this he pointed dramatically into the crowd. Someone gasped loudly. "I have come to tell you how this nation became so secure, so safe, how the good people of Borealis can rest easy in their beds. It all began when we first came to this land." Theseus could feel his eyes drooping already, and he began to realise just how much the revelries had taken out of him. However, he sat there still, content by the torches.
"Long ago, when humans took their first steps on this island, there was chaos. All ties and democracy had broken down, and we lived in anarchy. They knew something had to be done. And so some, the cleverest, wisest, most powerful joined together, and created...order," he spoke with relish now, "They created what we know as the NSAS, the," Theseus heard some of the crowd murmur the next words with the eccentric man, " National Sciences and Security. 'From order, success.' We wrangled the runts of the population into order, we laid down rules and laws, we...created...Arathorth!" With this he spread his arms wide like an eagle, and the crowd erupted with applause, their cheers echoing deep into the sea of tents. When they died down however one had a question. Her hand poked above the heads, slowly waving until Carcius gave her a curt nod.
"But, what about the Houses, don't they create the rules, and govern Borealis?" she piped nervously. The crowd gasped slightly. With a glare Carcius gathered up his robes and stated, "Of course, but the NSAS are the security force behind them. The democracy is just a front for our power."
"I wouldn't let Arthur here that." Another of the crowd murmured,
"Silence!" Carcius roared, his raven-esque hood falling off his head and drooping about his shoulders, "I will not hear ill about the NSAS!"
Carcius turned, his head withdrawn amongst his robes. Long minutes passed, until he faced the assembled once more, his face a mask. He began to talk once more, gathering his talk to a conclusion. Theseus would have kept listening, but instead, he started. Something had chilled his very core. Something... Theseus frowned, trying to pinpoint his anxiety, until... His mind cleared. Even through the haze of messy sound and colour Thesesus could feel it. Like a sharp, thin knife it slipped between his consciousness and pervaded his mind. He knew it. Like a dark, cold anomaly in the corner of his eye, like a subtle yet claustrophobic pressure on his back, he knew he was being watched. He knew that some eyes, somewhere, were slitted, glaring, and angry. And watching him.
Panic sweeped through his blood system, adrenaline coursed violently through his brain. Theseus stood upright suddenly. As people stared up at him he spun, eyes searching feverishly for the watcher. Through his muddled thoughts, he frowned. This wasn't like him, it was only someone looking at him after all. His heart responded with terrified drumming. The stare pierced so sharply that he felt like he might exploded and... There. Through the crowds his vision tunnelled towards a man. He sat, pale against his sharp black tuxedo, faced towards Theseus. His face was a cold, dark mask, and eyes were jet black. Theseus turned on the spot to face the exit, and was greeted by raucous applause. Carcius had finished, and the listeners had stood, their bodies a maze. Theseus knew he had to run. Like a primal instinct, he knew he was in danger. Fighting through the mass of bodies he jumped over a bench and ran towards the exit. Complaints and shouts of annoyance followed him as he barged and elbowed his way over. With a quick flock of his head he looked over his shoulder. The man was gone. Which a sigh Theseus slowed to a walk as he left the clearing and returned to the market. What was it about that stare that...chilled him? Shuddering slightly, he glance up at a signpost, read the word 'exit' and began to walk in that direction. He started - As he turned his eyes saw black. The man stood in front of him, a mere inch away. With a scream Theseus ran.
He sprinted through the crowds once more, only slowing to throw his head back to look for the man. Every time he saw him, every time his heart chilled to the core he noticed that he was never moving just standing there, watching. But, somehow, he always seemed to keep up, moving like a whisper. Theseus didn't stop running until he reached the entrance to the market. He turned, fear pulsing through him. All he saw were people sifting through the tents.
"What do you want with me!?" He screamed into the night.
"Are you O.K there, sir?"
Theseus head snapped towards the noise. Stood there was the woman who had taken his money. Calming slightly, he said,
"Yeah, I'm fine..."
The woman gave him a quizzical look.
"Honestly, don't worry."
"It's just, you looked like you were running from something."
Theseus had a sudden idea.
"Actually, I was. There's a man, tall, blonde hair, with a tuxedo. He tried to..." he stuttered, trying to put his terror into words. What had he done. Looked at him? But the way he did, the way he... "Ummm, he tried to, get me." He finished lamely.
"Ok," the woman said with a kind smile, " we'll have a look."
"Thanks, I appreciate it."
With another smile the woman left Theseus. He shuddered again and walked out into the night in the direction of the Scrapheap, his mind distorted by the remnants of fear, and the cold, piercing pain of the man's eyes.