Today's issue begins with a recap in the form of a letter written by the Honch shortly after the original first encounter:
I am writing to inform you that a series of disturbing events have occurred in my home village, Yerz. A hostile force known to us as "the puppetheads" recently attempted to infiltrate our society from their home deep under the lake. The puppetheads can swap their own minds with those of any human they touch, making them very difficult to detect. Ferran, a friend of mine who was subject to this mind swapping process, would have been trapped were it not for yours truly and a pair of young troublemakers called Talon and Daiv.
I intend on travelling with Ferran and Talon to the capital, to inform the Overarchy of the dangers that these puppetheads pose. However, I cannot be sure that anyone else is trustworthy. Therefore, I also invoke the right granted me to call a meeting of all available Keepers. As you are aware, the first sign of the Quandomen's return is when a man is not himself.
We will leave with a pair of traders, Ogard and Leyh, later this week, and hopefully arrive in Carpol late on Saturday. Until then, stay vigilant.
Keeper in Yerz.
‘But I am the Honch!’
‘I’m sorry sir, but only a Lord, Lady or their representative is allowed to speak before the Overarchy.’
‘Well I’m sorry that you weren’t handing out peerages when we seceded! This is an urgent matter that I can only present to -’
‘Then I suggest that you bring it to the attention of a Lord, Lady or their representative.’
‘You aren’t listening! All the Lords and Ladies are in there!’
Verden pointed behind the receptionist at the great doors. He’d kicked up a fuss shortly after the group arrived at the dome and for the past few minutes Talon, his teacher and Leyh had quietly edged away. The wide circular corridor that surrounded the main meeting hall was a sort of national museum; by the time tourists and other visitors were staring at the Honch, the others were metres away pretending to be interested by a suit of armour.
‘This is impossible!’ Verden yelled, throwing his arms in the air. At that moment, the central chamber doors swung in and a hundred high-class citizens came thundering across the room. In a fit of impatience, the man stood in the path of the throng and waved a hand.
‘Hello there, does anybody have -’
Talon winced as he witnessed what could only be described as a stampede. Various coloured cloaks and fancy hats surrounded the Honch until he was no longer visible, as Lord or Lady tried to reach the dome’s outer exit before other business caught up with them. After the wave of people had passed, a significantly grubbier Verden collapsed to the ground, hand still stretched out. He made squeeking noises.
Talon walked up to the land-owner and offered his own hand to help. The Honch appeared not to notice and continued to lie on the floor.
‘Is he going to be okay?’ the youth asked.
Ferran folded his arms and cocked his head sideways. ‘He’s physically fine. But I doubt that being ignored like that was good for his ego.’
Leyh had turned away, glancing about at the other visitors. She narrowed her eyes and watched suspiciously as two of the museum-goers approached. One was a young girl who couldn’t have been more than a head below the trader, while the other was a very tall and striking southerner, with dark skin and dancing pale hair.
‘I hope your friend is alright,’ she ventured, trying to avoid the trader’s glare, instead looking at Ferran. The Honch got up and mimicked the teacher from earlier by brushing down his light brown coat nonchalantly.
‘I’m fine. Thank you.’ He took two deep strides towards the strangers and held out his right hand. ‘I am Verden, current Honch of the village Yerz. Who may I ask has the honour?’
Leyh saw that the girl shrunk back, her eyes becoming wide plates as Verden introduced himself. Concerned, she thought, perhaps because of the Honch’s self-important attitude.
‘Pleasure. I’m Nairé,’ the southerner said. With reserved grace, she took the hand. ‘Irena thought we might be of assistance to you. You need to speak to the Overarchy about your village?’
‘Yes,’ Leyh said. The twang in her voice had returned and she raised an eyebrow. ‘What exactly was so urgent?’
Verden ignored her and concentrated on shaking hands.
‘We would prefer to discuss it with the Overarchy or not at all,’ he said.
Ferran chimed in. ‘Could be a matter of national security.’
The trader shrugged. ‘And here I thought that tensions had mostly subsided. I’m Leyh, by the way. Been all over this country.’
Talon did a double take. Did Leyh think that the threat of invasion was from the north?
‘I am not certain I understand,’ Nairé said, looking down at hers and the Honch’s hands. ‘But if you want to bring something to the Overarchy’s attention you need to have a Lord on your side. I happen to be employed by Lord de Postrem, who is currently represented by Captain Rudimar Gelba.’
‘Postrem?’ Ferran said.
Nairé looked puzzled. ‘Please stop shaking my hand.’ She withdrew and looked to the teacher. ‘Shall I inform the Captain of your arrival?’
Ferran stepped forward and bowed.
‘We would be in your debt. How will we know if the Captain has accepted our audience?’
‘I can have someone send word to your lodgings. The house is at Five, Dean Avenue.’
‘The Hanged Bat,’ Leyh said instantly. ‘We’ll return there about four.’
‘That’s settled then,’ Nairé said. ‘Come on.’ She nodded to the group and dragged the girl, Irena, out the entrance way to follow the road back over the bay.
‘Curious,’ Ferran said.
‘Nothing important,’ Ferran shrugged. ‘I’d just heard that -’
Verden had started towards the door, readjusting his big hat.
‘Hey, where are you going?’ Leyh said. ‘I was going to show you the city.’
‘Been here before,’ the Honch said without looking back. ‘You three have fun though, I’ll meet you back at the hotel.’
Talon rolled his eyes and turned to the fisherman, resigned to the continued presence of the trader.
‘There are a few things that you ought to know.’
Another Keeper strode into the Mucatedra. That was all that bystanders knew or could know, as every single one that entered the large, pillared place had his identity veil drawn down. Once inside, this Keeper veered away from the main hall and knocked on the door to the right. After a small window slid back, he muttered something and the door was opened.
On the other side, Verden removed the veil. There were three others of his sect in the private parlour, one drinking a cup of tea in a soft lounge chair and the other two pouring over a map spread on the parlour's big desk.
'Sincerest others,' the Honch said.
One of the map-readers looked up and had to rub his eyes in surprise.
'Verden? You're here already?'
'Sure,' the Keeper in Yerz replied. 'Most Sincere Nabbat, I was able to ride here from Bing-Milton in order to arrive early.'
The Most Sincere walked towards the Keeper in Yerz, shaking his head. The corners of his lips turned up.
'Good to have you here,' Nabbat said. 'And your friends stayed with the traders?'
'No, Most Sincere,' Verden said. 'They rode with me, along with Leyh, who is giving them the guided tour.'
Nabbat Sing was a scrawny man, older than Verden but still razor sharp. He appeared slightly crestfallen.
'So it's straight to business then,' he said. 'Not all of the Keepers in Ryndia have arrived yet, but we have a minor voting party between us.'
Verden motioned to the lounges. 'Can we sit?'
The Most Sincere nodded.
'A minor voting party will be enough,' said the Honch, easing into the comfortable chair. 'We just need a plan in case these puppetheads decide to take over the world or something.' For now, Verden was unusually calm. He knew the gravity of current events but being with his own fellows made him less concerned.
'And what about the fisherman, Ferran?' Nabbat asked.
'What about him?' Verden said. 'He can't remember very much.'
'Nevertheless, he has been associated with dangerous creature. And how do you know that it's really your friend and not the puppethead?'
'I went through this last week,' said the Keeper in Yerz. 'As far as we know, puppetheads cannot extract information or memories from their victims involuntarily. That's the only way we can tell.'
The Most Sincere looked away. 'Hmm. I guess all that's left now is -'
'The brothers,' Verden said. 'If the Quandomen are coming back, we need to find our allies, and I don't think we will make it before the Overarchy until Monday.'
'Keeper in Yerz,' said the Most Sincere, 'It would behove you to bring your other countrymen here tomorrow. We must all band together to defeat this.'
'Whatever you say.'