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OH, BUT THE Infanta Serenade is graceful and the Infanta Serenade is fair and when Dom Perellen sees her descending the grand staircase on the arm of the host, his ex-patron, the night of the pageant at the House Merreveth, he knows someone will have to die. For but two weeks previously his had been the arm she had taken descending his grand staircase to greet his guests, his the halls which had rung to her gay golden laughter, his the divan she had graced with her long, languid huntress’s limbs. Fury rising in his gorge like bitter bile, Dom Perellen departs from the ball as early as propriety permits and orders his gondola to return him home without delay or detour. He sits like a dull cold stone, wrapped in his mantle and street mask as the boat steals down dark canals lined with yellow-windowed walls and low bridges. Deafened by the imagined laughter of Dom Merreveth and all the Gracious Castes of the city, he cannot hear the desperate playing of the ensemble of mechanicals in the bow (a selection of his own most celebrated quintets, no less), nor the terrible distant cries of the Ragers as the night’s madness claims them again, nor the erosive slop of dark water against the stones of the City of Man. Without his knowing, the chill of autumn rises like fog from Elder Sea and steals through his street gown into his soul. Upon arrival at the House Perellen he locks himself in the music room and meets his servitors’ well-intentioned inquiries with a tantrum of temper that sends both human and mechanical scurrying for their quarters.

From the walls of the music room portraits of the Doms and Infantas of the House Perellen, separated forever by a long, narrow strip of parquet floor, gaze upward into the tinkling chandelier, or wistfully toward the great oriel window with its commanding views of the Grand Canal and the Lagoon beyond. On a dais beneath this window stands the current Dom Perellen, thirty-fifth of his line, looking out toward the unseen sea. For a long time he stands thus and the retinue of the House hush each other in their duties and wait. Then as the uncounted campaniles and carillons of the City Imperishable ring out the Third Hour he turns to the device beside him. This is the Instrument, the wonderful contrivance of keys and stops, tabs and levers (capable of the faithful mimicry of any sound animate or inanimate) upon which he creates his compositions. Seating himself before the complex manuals, he touches a key here, a tab there, and swells the long room with music. He plays for many hours, filling the House with towering toccatas of dizzying virtuosity, intricate fugues, and moody sonatas until at dawn he emerges, his fury spent, and announces to his household that all is well, he will retire to his rooms for a short rest. As the doors close behind him the servitors all notice that the portraits of the Exalted Ancestors Beneath the Sea seem to be smiling the same smile.

* * * *

Now we see a strange thing, for, since those of the Gracious Castes seldom visit those older parts of the city given over to the commonalty and the artisiers, there is a certain unseemliness in Dom Perellen’s stealthy passage down branching waterways which grow out of each other, increasingly narrow and overshadowed by crumbling mansions. Slipping past sludge-boats and fishing-cogs, between the baroque barges of the transtellar merchants and the vigilant dark launches of the St. Charl Guards, he comes upon a quiet, deserted water alley enclosed by sheer walls of rusting iron balconies and peeling wooden shutters, overhung by the pale banners of fresh laundry. At the water-steps of St. Audeon’s Place, he leaves his gondola and proceeds with two wardens (one fleshly, one mechanical) into the labyrinth of lanes and entries where he finds a place he knows well but has never seen.

Brothers Ho, says the sign above the door, Importers and Purveyors of Exotic Creatures: Taxidermists. Behind the latticed window a patchy stuffed padishant bows and curtsies to the passersby. Kittens in pinafores caper about a table in parody of a nursery tea-party, birds sing and display, gorgodrills rise up upon their hind legs and open their ruffs, fritillaries flitter and fret, and the imported exotics lurk within their protective glass environments.

“Lo, Brothers Ho,” whispers Dom Perellen, “a moment of your time for a dear sibling, a favor given, a favor taken?” The door pays no heed. There are no sounds of motion from within. “Lo, siblings, if you will not open the door to your dear brother, will you open it to good custom?” After a long time oiled bolts are drawn back and the door opens. Quick as thought, Dom Perellen is through it. He finds himself in a well-appointed parlor, low-ceilinged and lit by warm yellow gaslight. Every available inch of wall space is taken by some stuffed and mounted creature, every part of the room subjected to the scrutiny of their black glass eyeballs. Behind him the window displays perform their mechanical pantomimes for the amusement of the lanes and alleys. Before him stand two men, tall for the artisan castes, dissimilar in age but in every other way as alike as two peas in a pod.

“Which are you?” asks Dom Perellen. Both men answer together, “We are Adam Beth and Adam He,” which is no answer at all. “So few?” asks Dom Perellen. One of the brothers shrugs, the other replies, “Brother Adam Zayin is in the workship, patron; the other four brothers are out among the Known Worlds procuring stock, thanks entirely to your continued patronage, Grace, in obtaining visas for us.”

“It was the least I could do. We look after our own, even the discredited sons of our father. But I have some business for you; a matter of some delicacy which demands your particular skills and customary discretion. Now, if I may make myself comfortable?” Chagrined by their lapse of common etiquette, one of the brothers hurries to prepare tea while the other takes Dom Perellen’s mantle and street mask. It is then that we see that the faces of Dom Perellen and Adam Ho are like one face reflected in a mirror. After tea has been served Dom Perellen leans forward confidentially across the low table. The swiveling glass eyes of the stuffed animals follow every motion from their high perches.

“I want someone killed.”

The Brothers Ho smile politely.

“Go to the assassins, patron. Employ them. Our business is not in death of that manner.”

“Where is the artistry in employing assassins? Where is the personal sense of triumph? It is like paying to hear another composer’s sonatas; there is no satisfaction in the dry notification of a contract fulfilled. I must orchestrate it myself. It must be my own work, my own composition, my own personal vengeance.”

“Ah, so it is the Dom Merreveth, then, patron.”

“You pay close attention to the gossip of the Gracious.”

“All the city has heard of your discomfiture, patron. Alas, but woman is as fickle and independent as—”

“It is nothing to do with you. Nothing.”

“Apologies, apologies, patron. We presume too much on our kinship.”

“This ‘kinship’ is too slender a thing by far to support your right to gossip about your superiors. Consider this: you have a business and a respected name among all castes of the city, although you have had to relinquish your gracious name and take a common appellation. How many other disinherited clones can claim such favorable treatment? Nobler families than the Perellens have sold their engineered sons and daughters to the licensed mendicants and seraglios.”

“Nobler families than the Perellens would not perhaps have required seven attempts.”

“Enough. I am not responsible for our father’s whims. He wished his heir to be a composer, he cloned new sons until he had his composer, and that is it. Need I remind you that under the new law there may be only one legal claimant to any genotype? You live under sufferance and my good favor. Now, my dealings with the House Merreveth. I want to hear your suggestions for a fine present for the Gracious Dom as an apology for my behavior at his pageant.”

From a high shelf the Brothers Ho (who we now see to be more than brothers, yet less) bring leather-bound volumes of sample books and a small imager which they employ to display their wares to Dom Perellen. They show him the wheeled gyropeds from the lava plains of Fafenny, helicoptera from the crystal forests of Chrios, fire-dwelling pyrogenes that seem mere lumps of dull stone until the moment they unfold in a blossom of flame; elegant, priceless agapanthas from Hannad, monstrous panjas from the mountains of Ninn; gooseberry-green vegemorphs that derive their motive power from sunlight and water; singing choirs of angels no larger than the palm of his hand; flocks of fritillaries on chains of silver filigree: he sees grampus, oliphaunt, kraken and werwulf; fur and feather, fang and fire. The imported exotica of a dozen worlds do not impress Dom Perellen.

“Something more homely,” he says, “the gentle Dom is a home-loving fatherly man.” So again the books open and the imager displays: hunting trophies of every conceivable species that can be followed with fowling-piece, crossbow, or light-lance; strange near-human creatures from the forgotten quarters of the city; diorama cases of prehistorical beasts from remote epochs; dumb-waiters and mechanical tray-boys in the shapes of gallimaufs and padishants; humorous novelty collages assembled from diverse pieces of reptiles, birds, fishes, and mammals; mounted grotesques, like the two-headed kitten and the pair of Siamese-twin calves; collections of insects, birds, and small mammals; amusing novelty automata … Here Dom Perellen stops them and exclaims, “The very thing!”

“What, patron, the House Mouse Family?”

“Precisely, citizen. The Dom Merreveth may be doubtful of a gift to himself from me, and rightly so, for I’ll grant him a certain shrewdness, but a gift to his dear children could not possibly be suspect. And what could be more innocent, what better to delight a child’s eye, than our little family of mice? How quickly can you have a set prepared?”

“Four days, patron?”


“It could be done, but not easily. The minutiae of detail, patron; we pride ourselves that our automata are indistinguishable from life.”

“Your import licenses are due to expire shortly. I can arrange for another half-year’s extension.”

“Thank you, patron, but we live in difficult and trying times. Despite the quarantine and the best efforts of the St. Charl Guard, not a night passes without the shrieks of the Ragers, the carniphages, crying from our rooftops, nor morning break without some new poor victim having fallen to them.”

“You are vulnerable, I understand. I shall have one of my personal wardens remain to guard your workshop by night.”

“Thank you, Grace, but for the books …”

“Ah, the books; the books must balance, the gentlemen of the exchequer never sleep. You will be paid fairly for your work, never fear. It is the least I can do for my unfortunate siblings. Now: the automata; there are a few minor changes I wish you to make.”

* * * *

Now it is noon, for the carillons of St. Maikannen’s Chantry have rung out the Thirteenth Hour, and in the plaza beneath the bell-keep Dom Perellen takes wine with a few intimate friends from his circle of artists and aesthetes. They drink and laugh and stretch their elegant limbs in the weak autumn sunshine and exchange morsels of malicious gossip. But there is little pleasure in raillery for Dom Perellen for he knows that at other tables in other plazas beneath other bell-keeps other young bucks are lampooning and laughing at him.

Later they visit the Govannon Academy and fall in with a group of five young Gracious ladies, come like them to view the paintings. Dom Perellen drops a two-forent tip to the human chaperon, and his friends distract the mechanical conscience for the few moments necessary for him to slip aside with the Infanta Phaedra on pretext of showing her the exhibition. Later, at the House Perellen, he will entertain her with some short sonatas of his own composing. On their return from the Academy, with the campaniles sounding Nineteen o’Clock and the starlings flocking and swooping about the spire of St. Severyn’s Cathedral, they are diverted from their course by the St. Charl Guards who have cordoned off an area surrounding a disused trading factor’s warehouse.

“Ragers, Graces,” says the fat perimeter sergeant. “Carniphages. Traced a chapter of ‘em to this ‘ere warehouse. Soon have ‘em smoked out, rest assured. What you’ve got to do, Graces, bum out the Plague.”

The Infanta Phaedra presses closer for reassurance and Dom Perellen commands his mechanical quintet to play and quench the sound of the screams. The little boat moves on. Behind, the sun-forged blades of the laser-lances cauterize the alien infection. Soon the cries are lost and all that can be heard is the gentle lilting of the music and the lap of dark water under the bow as the ebbing tide draws them down the confluence of conduits and channels toward Elder Sea.

* * * *

Dawn finds Dom Perellen gazing into the ceiling. Confusing ripple-reflections move across plasterwork cherubs and peacocks. The Infanta Phaedra stirs contentedly in her sleep but Dom Perellen does not hear her, for he is far away in the passages of his mind. Dawn is the hour when the death-white corpse-boats slip from their moorings behind the Hall of Weeping and steal away into the sunrise to the funeral grounds. Only the gravely smiling boatmen who crew the water-hearses know the latitude and longitude of the funeral grounds, but in his imagination Dom Perellen can see them slipping the weighted coffins over the stem into fog-shrouded Elder Sea. For this is the vision that haunts him, a corpse-boat making its slow cold passage across the bar into Elder Sea. Between the somber upright figures of the boatmen is a white coffin bearing the crest of a Gracious Family unfamiliar to him. He sees the coffin sinking into the clean cold water without even a ripple, sinking with today’s company of bakers and butchers and lawyers and priests, merchants and traders and lowly playactors, poets and painters and wise men and fools. The citizens of the City of Man fall through the water to stand side by side in serried ranks of Grace and groveler, a submarine army waiting at attention on the silt and sediment of centuries for the fanfares of the Pantochrist on the Dawn of Resurrection when all will be summoned to the rising Land of Gold. The coffin rests in the blessed company of the Ancestors Beneath the Sea, those ancestors whose faces line the walls of the music room. It disturbs Dom Perellen that he cannot identify the armorial crest upon the sunken coffin.

For two further mornings this vision is to come to him. He lies alone under the startled scrutiny of cherubs on clouds and virgins pursued by stags, for his vengeful intensity has so disturbed the Infanta Phaedra that she will not consent to any further nights with him. “Like poison,” she describes it. “Like a venom working behind the eyes.” Dom Perellen shrugs and returns to the elaborate drawing out of his revenge. There is no doubt in his mind that the unidentified coffin is that of his enemy.

Just before noon on the second day the pneumatique delivers a message cylinder to his office. It states quite simply, Work completed, awaiting your Grace’s disposal. Respectfully, Adam Ho. In reply Dom Perellen gathers together four important pieces of paper: a Mercantile Letter of Credit for the sum of five hundred forents, an importation permiso from the Port Wardens valid for the period of five months, precise instructions on the delivery of the automata collection, and an accompanying letter to the Dom Merreveth in which Dom Perellen extends his apologies to his onetime patron for having been out of sorts at the pageant and begs, for the sake of old affection, that the good Dom overlook his breach of etiquette by accepting this humble gift to his children. He places the documents in an empty cylinder, addresses it, drops it into the slot, and thinks nothing more about it. While the cylinder crosses beneath the city, he amuses himself by composing a set of complex improvisations about a simple, repetitive theme. It entertains him for the remainder of the afternoon.

* * * *

Now the picture changes again, and we are in a Great House of grand halls and spacious galleries. Portraits of ancestors line its walls and the slow lap of water wears away at its stones, grain by grain, undermining the centuries. This is the House Merreveth, and we are in the nursery. Three children sleep by the glow of watch-candles, their faces folded to the pillows in simple dreams of childhood, nannies no more than a whisper away. It has been a good day; new toys to play with, a present from a friend of Papa’s, a gift to make even the most blasé of aristocratic children gasp in delight. A family of mice, perfect in every detail: Grandpa in nightshirt with pipe, Grandma with her glasses and knitting, Mamma and Pappa Mouse, Mamma in apron and mop hat, Pappa in working bib-and-braces, and the three children in their neat little school uniforms. But more wonderful still, by repeating a magic word whispered to them by a tall, soft-spoken artisier in a streetmask, the tiny diorama comes to life. Mamma sews and Pappa saws, Grandpa puffs his pipe, Grandma knits and rocks her tiny rocking chair, and the children scamper about playing Chase and Blind-Man’s Buff, tiny mouse voices squeaking.

The adventures of the mouse family entertained the children until bedtime, and now the minute, intricate automata lie where play has left them, transfixed by slats of moonlight beaming through the nursery shutters. Then two tiny ears prick upright in the moonlight. And two more, and two more, and two tiny red eyes blink open, and a tail twitches. From the frozen postures of abandoned games the mice stretch into animation. They seem almost alive, scurrying across the nursery floor and under the door, but they are no more than precise mechanisms dressed in flensed mouse-skins. It is the boast of the Brothers Ho that their creations cannot be distinguished from reality. By the secret run-ways and traverses known only to living mice they move through the sleeping House, to mice as vast and varied in its terrain as the City of Man to men. In time they come to the Dom’s bedchamber. From behind a plasterwork rose on the coping they absorb the scene with pink sensor eyes.

The Dom Merreveth sleeps alone: this is well known among the Gracious Houses, for the Dom’s attraction to women lies in his potency in the public world of the arts and commerce rather than in the private world of the quilts. The children dreaming in the moonlit nursery are his only insofar that he donated the culture cells to the genetic surgeons. All this is well; the plan hinges upon the Dom’s solitary nature. No harm must be done to the Infanta Serenade. The Dom tosses and turns in the restless dreams of the powerful. The mice scamper unheard and unseen across the carpet, and up the carved legs of the divan. They stand for a moment on the pillow by the Dom’s head; Grandma, Grandpa with his pipe, Mamma with her little apron, and Pappa in his dungarees, the children smart and neat in their miniature pinafores. They move to their programmed positions. Then on some silent order they flex their tiny soft paws and steel blades spring out. With surgical precision they slice open Dom Merreveth’s throat and wrists.

By the time the servitors have rushed to answer the strange, croaking, flapping cry from the Grace’s bedchamber, the toy mice have frozen into position once again, ready for another day’s merry play.

* * * *

The Chant Valedictory of the High Requiem dies away in the airy clerestories of the Hall of Weeping and the fog rolls in across the square like a breaking wave. In their white funeral gowns the small groups of mourners seem as insubstantial as ghosts. They are deathly silent as the fog muffles even their footfalls and respectful whispers. Above their heads, unseen in the fog, vast powers are moving: the seraphs of the Pantochrist, risen from Elder Sea in a cloud of mystery to descend upon the City of Man and summon the soul of a dead Dom to the company of the people beneath the sea.

The small group of young Graces part at the water-steps where their boats await them.

“Such a shock to lose your exemplar so suddenly, Perellen,” says Dom Gerrever, the poet.

“Ex-exemplar, citizen; I have not had dealings with the Dom for almost a year. But he did embark me upon my musical career, and I owe him thanks for that. I am sorry he is gone.”

“Oh, come now, Perellen,” says Dom Harshadden, the playwright. “You couldn’t stand the man; he cheated you, slighted you, and humiliated you every chance he could. I’ll wager you’re glad to see him gone. And at such an opportune time too.”

“I would not wish an end like his upon even my worst enemy,” says Dom Perellen, suddenly accused and guilty behind his mask. “He may have slighted me, and we have certainly had our differences in the past, but we are not men who murder on matters of shadowplay, are we?”

There are murmurs of consent, but Dom Hemmenveth the painter says, “Who said anything about Dom Merreveth having been murdered?”

“Well, he was.”

“But not by someone of the Gracious Castes, as you seem to be implying.” Dom Perellen’s brain thumps against the front of his skull. His mouth is suddenly hot and dry.

“By me; is that what you are trying to say, Hemmenveth?” There is a deadly calm in his voice he does not feel. Dom Hemmenveth gives ground.

“Oh no, not at all, not at all, Perellen; as you said, we are not men who murder for shadows. Indeed, given your provocation, you did not even employ satirists; great restraint, citizen, great restraint.”

“It was a Rager killed the gentle Dom,” suggests Dom Perellen, and his friends mutter their agreement. There being nothing more to be said, they go down to their boats and Dom Gerrever calls out in parting, “Perellen, the masque at the House Kerrender, this Matinsday, remember.” As the boats pull away from the mooring Dom Perellen remains awhile, head bent, breathing deeply, trying to regain his composure. He is trembling. It had been close. He forces the fear and the guilt down his gullet and draws himself up. It is then that he sees the solitary figure in white running across the empty, fog-shrouded plaza. For an instant the face is turned to him. Behind the funeral mask are eyes he knows.

“Serenade!” His lunge for shore sets the gondola rocking dangerously. “Serenade!” Far away at the edge of the cloisters the figure turns again for a moment, then hurries on. “Serenade.” Doves explode into the air from the bell-keeps of the Hall of Weeping and the massive buttresses of pale stonework return his cry to him.

* * * *

He is to see her again: spied from a high balcony, singular for a moment among the anonymous faces of the street entertainers and mendicants in the Bourse. Again, as a glimpsed figure hurrying up the steps of a water-gate in Harhadden. She turns for an instant at his call but there is no recognition and she does not wait. Again, on a water-taxi sweeping past his gondola on the Canal St. Nimien. Lastly, alone at a far table in a crowded cafe by the Damantine Fountain. By the time he presses his way between the chattering luncheoners she is gone, leaving only a five-pago tip and a musky wisp of perfume prepared from the powdered wings of night moths.

His discreet inquiries at the House Merreveth prove only that she is gone. Delving into past acquaintances from his rakish days discloses nothing. Her friends know less than he. She has vanished back into the city which raised and nurtured her. Looking out from the music-room window Dom Perellen knows that he can never find the one soul in the city’s thronging millions who does not wish to be found, for what man could explore every laneway and waterway of a city that changes and grows every hour of every day so that it may never cease growing and thus stagnate and die? There is an infinity of canals and channels which reach back into derelict quarters abandoned so long ago by the slow migration to Elder Sea that their names are forgotten and their waterways choked and stagnant, where the funeral grounds of past millennia have, in their turn, become plazas and conventicles, chapteries and arcades, and are now, centuries later, returning to the ancestors who peopled them. The City of Man is upheld by the hands of the dead.

And she is there somewhere. She will come to him. She must. Otherwise Dom Merreveth’s death is a hollow victory. She will come in time, and time is as plentiful as water in the sea.

* * * *

After that time at the Damantine Fountain he does not see her again, not even at the ball in the House Kerrender with every Dom and Infanta in the city in attendance. Though he dances a hundred waltzes and gazes into the eyes behind a hundred masks he does not find the eyes that glow in his memories or the body that quickens the beat of his soul. There are smiling invitations from Infanta and Dom alike but he does not accept them for he had hoped with a sure and certain hope that she would have been drawn here tonight like a moth to a candle. He has not yet found her, but there are still faces to be searched for well-known eyes.

So he dances too much and drinks too much and flirts too little and by the time his friends ask him to take them home he is obnoxiously drunk and bad-tempered. He is so unpleasant that his friends (considerably more drunk than he, but good-humored) drop him on the Florinthian Steps and sail off in his gondola in search of new diversions. The sounds of laughter and merry music recede into the fog. Dom Perellen breathes in the wet air, suddenly alone and vulnerable. It is so late it is early and there is no traffic abroad on the canals. He must walk. St. Devereux’s Preview will take him to Rerren Square and thence over the Bridge-of-the-Virtues to Samtanavya Prospect. From there it is no distance through the Lido to the House Perellen. But this is a gloomy area of derelict warehousing, and Dom Perellen recalls with a shock the friendly face of a fat Guard saying, “Ragers, Grace, carniphages. Traced a chapter of ‘em to this ‘ere warehouse.” That same warehouse which now looms before him. It puts an urgency in his step and a face in every shadow. Footfalls echo deceptively in the cold fog and the gas lanterns hiss like a slow exhalation. Scared sober, Dom Perellen stops, turns. The echo of his footfalls persists too long. They have a wrong sound, like the echo of high-heeled shoes, or claws, tapping on the cobblestones.


The scream shatters his soul like glass. He whirls to find himself face to face with snapping fangs and bulbous red eyes. The hot sweet stench of its breath drives him back, retching. The Rager twists its deformed body and hisses in its throat.

Dom Perellen’s mouth is open but the words take an age to come. His heart surges against his rib cage.

“The Rage,” whispers Dom Perellen. The Rage, the alien plague from beyond the edge of the world, brought, say some, by the vessels of the transtellar merchants which splash down in the Lagoon; sown by the agents of jealous foreign governments, say others; and yet others still maintain that it is caused by spores from an alien colonization vessel which crashed in Elder Sea thousands of years before. For the first time he is able to see the creature whole. By its shriveled breasts and wide pelvis it must once have been a woman of the City of Man. The Rage has deformed her skeleton until she stands no taller than a child, her muscles tied into powerful, tight knots beneath her fur. In the swollen bulbs of her eyes, adapted by the disease for better night vision, there dwells a certain unclean madness. Dom Perellen edges away from the creature, hands outspread in a human gesture of placation, but the Rager is beyond the reach of all things human for the plague has harrowed and violated her humanity and warped her body into an obscene travesty. She howls; the flames behind her eyes will not let her rest until she has tasted human flesh. She bares her teeth in the lantern-light and smashes Dom Perellen to the cobbles with a sweep of her arm. Then she is on him. Claws rip at his head, tearing away his flimsy party mask. Teeth the length of fingers snap in his face. The sweet stench of plague gusts hot in his nostrils. The jaws lock like cocked gin-traps for the killing bite through the throat. In his last moment Dom Perellen is aware of two things.

A searing blue flash.

A stench of burning meat.

The carniphage spasms and rolls from him to lie smoking gently on the cobblestones, teeth bared to the moon. The mask is clenched in her fingers. A charred hole has been stabbed cleanly between her breasts. Across the square the St. Charl Guard holsters his light-lance and runs to assist.

“Is His Grace all right? No wounds, bites, or scratches?” For this is the manner in which the Rage claims its victims, through spores transmitted in the saliva of the carniphage which infect the slightest wound. Dom Perellen shakes his head and mumbles, “All right, all right.” Then the trembling starts, a spastic twitching so debilitating that the Guard must help him to the launch. He is taken to the House Perellen where his servitors fuss and fluster with warm quilts and healing broths and sleeping draughts. The Dom orders them out of his sight and shuts himself in the music room. Under the benign gaze of his ancestors he works the spasms from his fingers on the manuals of the Instrument. He commences with small whispering sounds, like the wind and the water and the scampering of mice. At the beginning of Fifth Hour he adds new tones, intricate repetitive sequences of pipes and bells. Then he brings in distant thunderous bass chords: storms and tempests in the mountains of the land beneath the sea from which his people came. Convoluted treble melodies occupy him for an hour or so, then he explores matching harmonies and subtle rhythms. He constructs his music hour on hour, layer upon layer like the strata of ancient sedimentary sandstones until the windows burst open under the pressure of music and the notes pour forth into the city in a waterfall of voices, singing down the empty canals and swirling around the eaves of the ancient houses in search of hidden things.

At last Dom Perellen lifts his hands from the manuals and the vast music dies away until only the tiny whispers and susurrations remain. In the silence after there is the sound of two hands clapping.

Dom Perellen turns and she is there, smiling and applauding.

She makes to leave and Dom Perellen is beside her.

“Why have you come? Why are you here?” She will not reply but leads him on a thread of perfume made from the crushed wings of night moths out of the music room and along the passage to the bedchamber. And there, under the plaster cherubs and peacocks and virgins, she gives herself to him and stops his questions with her mouth. By the light of cobwebbed candelabra their love builds like a symphony, like the stratified music by which Dom Perellen called her out from the hidden places of the city. Dom Perellen’s hands grip great fistfuls of dark hair, he has never known such joy as she gives him her breasts and her mouth and the hidden places of her body on the divan that is wide as all the sea. Together they scale the pinnacles of pleasure in a love that threatens to consume them both and leave nothing but ashes. Yet there is something amiss in her lovemaking, something passionless and mechanical, as if they were two animals caught in the frenzy of rut. She does not utter a word, not a sigh or moan.

At the height of their passion she drives her teeth into his shoulder with such force that she draws blood. Dom Perellen scarcely feels it, swept away on the tide of his own pleasure. It is only afterwards, in the sadness that always follows, that he notices the smell, the smell of something sweet, something rotting, something ancient and foul. It is familiar but for the moment he cannot place it. Then it is forgotten as Serenade bends to his lips again. He looks into her gentle eyes and there sees a thing which freezes the very pith of his being.

Around each iris, in tiny stenciled letters, are the words Brothers Ho, Taxidermists.

Then he knows what his replicate brothers have done to him. He knows why Serenade has come here; and the nature of her business among the abandoned warehouses of Sessereth. He sees her opening her lips to the carniphage’s poisoned kiss and recognizes the stench of the Rage. He feels the inhuman machinery beneath her skin, and the warm welling of blood from his shoulder. He makes a despairing lunge for the bell-pull but it was too late from the morning he saw her before the cloisters of the Hall of Weeping. Then the fire blossoms in his brain and red red pain sweeps away his reason as the Rage takes possession. He is given time for one final look at Serenade, the last memory he will take into insanity, then his humanity blows out like a candle and the animal is set free.

* * * *

Last of all we see a boat waiting in the dawn light by the steps beneath the Bridge-of-the-Virtues. In it stand three men in white wearing identical funeral masks. In the bow sits a strikingly beautiful woman, but there is a touch of strange about her perfect stillness, something too precise, almost mechanical. The three men have their hands crossed on their breasts and the air of focused attention of those listening for a distant sound, perhaps the cry of some naked, twisted creature of the night turning away from the burning light of day. A corpse-boat glides by, silent and serene as a swan, journeying out to Elder Sea. Taking its passage for a sign of some kind, the three men turn their boat away from the Bridge-of-the-Virtues, away from the Sea, and journey inwards into the City of Man to claim their inheritance.

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