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Section 1 MISSING

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The Empress has forgiven Gloam. She needs him. What if there is another attack, another Dragon-dog?

It is said the mice are the Gloam's spies, his advisers. On every ship, they eavesdrop. Greyfin is the largest of them, and their master. One of his legs is deformed like a fish's fin. It is Greyfin who gathers their whispers, and from the Warlock's shoulder, pours them into his ear. Gloam keeps no coin purse, for he does not like it to dirty his fingers. He has a manservant who follows him, and unclasps the purse when the need arises.

No-one sits in the third chair. For this chair belongs to the Elder of the Pin. If the Elder of the Pin ever came to court, neither of his cheeks could settle on something so small. Besides the chair is too high for most to reach, and sits on the display above the green silk of the dais, just as the three nations rise to the great Pintin mountains in the north.

Section 4

The Empress speaks;

"I have very sensitive skin, and yet I feel nothing of these tremors. Why are the workers so afraid?"

"I believe that they are afraid of falling, Empress," says a courtier. He wears an improbably tall and thin hat, of crushed green velvet. He is the Empress' thirteenth cousin, on her father's side.

"Well then, does it not please them to use the stones?"

"Many of the stones they might have used, have fallen into the mire," says Nabob Vulio.

"What a shame - a great waste. They must indeed be careless - let us then, allow nature to determine their fate - and let us recover as much of the remaining Atlas as we may."

"I agree, Empress," says the Warlock of the Gloam.

Section 5

After the court adjourns, the Warlock strides through the hair curtain, and a smattering of the mice follow his lead. The antechamber corridor is wooden floored, polished. At the end of the corridor is the veranda, behind a set of tall glass doors. He walks towards it, and the busy merchants nod out of politeness. The Warlock is feared, not loved. Ahead of him, the mice gather at the heels of another man dressed in skins. The man begins to jump in pain, as the mice bite his ankles.

"Are we not meeting, Edvers?" says the Warlock of the Gloam.

"Get off! Get off! Ueghegh!" cries the man, and in his pannic, drops the cane at his side and worse, the telescopic lens from his eye. It falls and smashed on the floor.

"Oh Dear Edvers!" says the Warlock of the Gloam, sardonically. The children's teeth on a string around his neck rattle.

"I am not so named any more, Gloam! I must remind you once again that I am Warlock of the Moss!"

"Ah yes. Moss," says the Gloam, with a titter, "a great honour to meet you again."

"If people know my true name to be Edvers, they may hold heuristic power over me. You of all know that it is an ill omen, Gloam."

"Ill indeed. Come, let us sit with the others."

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Section 7

But lo! A Nabob approaches Gloam, and they move into the shade.

"May we speak privately sir?" says the Nabob, with evident bewilderment at the practices of the chalk cirlces.

"I believe we are out of earshot," says Gloam.

"It is about the Atlas sir," says Mannigo quietly, for that is his name.

"Excellent. You have them then? Pin must be bled - it is good to bleed now and then. The gloam augurs it. Five nights in succession now, a bird has died, just at the precise moment that darkness has fallen."

"Far be it from me to say," says Nabob Mannigo, "but does not darkness fall gradual?"

"Fool! There is always a precise moment at which the coin disappears into the purse. What of the stones?"

"Yes we have them, yet I fear the Pin are unhappy with the arrangement. They have heard stories of the earth tremors at Ten-Rui. They do not wish to volunteer the stones any longer. I fear the Elder of Pin may finally come to court, and take his place in the third chair."

"The third throne is no larger than one of the Empress' shoes. Should the Elder of Pin be small enough to sit on it, the Empress shall stamp said tiny person beneath her heel," says Gloam, waving the Nabob away.

Section 8

A time has passed since the low-town fell, and since the day of the Dragon-Dog led an assault on the court in the name of a lie. The blood of the fifty has been cleaned from the walls, and the Dragon-Dog captured and tossed into the hole where the low-town was. But trouble brews in the north, and the Empress must see to it.

The canard sail, and the raft-pull are cut free, and her lady's shep billows up like knickers on a line. The Empress' bust adorns the wooden bowspirit, leading the fleet by this token. It is ceremony from bygone days, when the wind was obliged to carry ships across the seas.

"It will be best if you remain below deck. Let me see to the humdrum things," says Gloam.

"Good. I find the air too bright," croaks the young Empress, for she has been sick of late, and lies in the sorry gloom of her naval chamber, plunking away at her Pati-Pikk. They say the recent collapse has touched her in some deep sense.

"Should I seek the Warlock of Forgiveness?"

"Seek him not," says Gloam, changing the subject, "I have situated the contraption. I hope you are well enough at least to spectate."

The Empress looks at the sorry sight before her. On the campaign table, marked with the flags of Saborian cities, Gloam has placed an unctuous and pongy cheese. Over it is a cruel-looking mousetrap. He slips a mouse from his pocket, and lets it run onto the table. It smells the air.

Section 9

"Alas, even I do not know you Empress. Perhaps the dreams of your next sleep can tell you. If the mouse survives its peril and takes the cheese, you may lie upon the bed differently than if it is killed."

The mouse seems to realise something is amiss. It stands on two feet, and regards the Gloam uncertainly.

"Will the mouse not curse you Gloam, if it allies you and this mechanical danger?"

"Well it might at first, but then it shall puzzle. Is the danger not of its own making? The cheese is a great prize, but a mouse can survive without it - a mouse can live an ascetic life, taking pleasure in berries and seeds that occur naturally, it does not have to gorge itself on cheese."

"I doubt if there are any berries or seeds aboard, Gloam."

"That's besides the point, Empress. This is theory."

"Well, then, it seems there are many possibilities Warlock. I am alert, and happily await the spectacle."

"Empress, I shall leave you to enjoy,: says the Warlock of the Gloam, his jagged stride engulfing the mizzen stair and bounding him out onto the deck among the company of skylers.

"How far to the smelly lands?" he asks one.

"Not far now sir, perhaps a half-day."

"Good. Leave the other ships in the rear, so as not to fright the poor creatures. To see a third fleet upon the horizon would be to throw a sparrow among the beetles."

"I shall pass on the message, sir."

With that, the Warlock climbed onwards to the rudder. He always wants to steer.

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Section 16

It is night, and the Warlock of the Gloam steps inside court to see the Empress. She is gravely ill, and will only hear counsel from him. So he tells here that she must ready herself for a final battle, in which all humankind shall have a stake.

"Victory or defeat are not important, but your very participation will redeem you."

She nods weakly in agreement from her pillow, for a guilt as heavy as Ten-Rui's low-town anchors her there. She will figurehead the flagship, plunging into the space between the two lines. It will be the last time.