Outworld/The Gallery Of Truth And Lies
And Out The Other Side
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
By My Crooked Teeth felt a little disorientated from his ejection from the nexus. He walked through the doors of his Gallery, he took off his robe and deposited his satchel on his new desk, identical to his old one from long ago. He took a stroll through the Gallery, he looked at the tapestry that depicted the fall of the Concord, his ever changing window, he used his keys to move to different locations, random rooms, random places, theatres and libraries and finally he came across an archway. He inspected it and saw the names carved on it. He placed his hand on the archway and felt the power flow through it. A person of his realm came across him startled, Crooked introduced himself and asked how the people were coping. All seemed well, and with that he let them go on their way. He returned to his study with books in hand. History books and a burned tattered volume taken from the wreckage of the concord one on the nature of training. He had work to do, and journals to write. And now he thought about it he should prepare for visitors. He was expecting company. He placed the pile on the desk and opened several of them before flipping through his journal to an empty page. At the top of his page he wrote, “And through the other side.” By My Crooked Teeth sat in his Gallery he wrote the words that he thought needed saying, did not know when the next nexus will open but he had a lot of work to do before then.
Thoughts Of The Gallery
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
Observations of the Gallery – By My Crooked Teeth
The Territories that we as shapers have access to are a fascinating glimpse into the Shaper themselves. As each Territory reflects the Shaper who created it. Much like in life we are all influenced by those we encounter. This is true of Territories. With each shaping adding and altering the make-up of the Territory for better or worse. Some are impositions of personality of those who create these qualities and others are an interpretation of the understanding of the Shaper who owns the territory. Personally, I attempt to create a quality that matches the world it will be included in, others will make sure that all know who and what they stand for in their creations.
To pardon the phrase the Territories themselves are a means of reflection for the Shaper who owns the Territory as it is influenced by their inner most selves and their inner most truth. I wonder how many Shapers were horrified by what they saw and others vindicated by their work. I cannot speak for them, if only because it may be a question people may not be able to answer fully, or would not want to address for fear of the answer. I have spent some time observing and pondering my territory and thought it would be prudent to formalize these thoughts.
The Gallery of Truth and Lies is very much in keeping with many Penitent Order Territories, of which most of them are places of learning, teaching lessons through hardship or offering unlimited knowledge. This is true of the Gallery. Though there is an interesting difference. The Gallery itself openly states that it may not give you all the information that you desire. Even from its greeting it seems to focus on the pursuit of knowledge rather than spoon feeding. Upon entry, there is a phrase written upon the wall;
“Welcome to the Gallery of Truth and Lies.
Enter and you will learn,
Seek and you shall find.
But the Fool takes the first answer.
And Fall for the Lie.
The Wise searches for the right answer,
And find their Truth.
Discover what you will, but don’t trust everything.
Welcome to the Gallery of Truth and Lies.”
This seems to serve as both promise and warning. I have been told that the Gallery seems to change to suit the visitor, the information or sights they want to find seem to be easily accessible. The décor seems to suit the culture and preferences of the visitor too, at least in part, the basic layout seems to be the same.
The Gallery itself is littered with misinformation, items that are complete fabrications or relics of alternate choices, of roads less travelled. Some shelves hold depictions of the same events from different culture’s perspective. One hall way is filled with cave paintings, on the opposite wall is the same event in the medium of a Holovid new coverage.
Some rooms have Skeletons of strange beasts, ones of legend and some simply fiction, and designs of airships that never flew hang from the ceiling. The Gallery’s shifting personalities and appearances could have some interesting views on that reflecting myself. I am not yet certain as the full extent of that being significant.
There was an initial concern about the realization that a culture and people will spring up from each territory and for a while I was worried that the people would be camped out among the portraits and statues. It turns out I was half right; the people of the Gallery live inside the paintings. Several of them depict places to live, villages, towns, cities and people can move from one portrait to another, using the Gallery as a central point. A place to learn and house the various climates and environments that have been presented.
It is curious that the Gallery is full of art since I lack much in regards of artistic talent. The books I could understand I have always been a writer but I have never had a talent to paint. It occurred to me though that I had always had a slight jealousy for those with the talent to draw and create beautiful images, most of the portraits were taken from essays that I wrote on ideas of societies and as they say an image is worth a thousand words. I do believe that the portraits are a means to show me the images that are in my head, by passing any talent for create art itself. Even when I am shaping I view it as an exercise in writing, creating hopefully vivid descriptions that bring these alterations into being. The Gallery seems to be the extension of my desire to create, taken from my ability to write and imagine.
There are some elements of the Gallery that are fixed, these are mostly in the wonders that were either created by myself or by others for my territory. The Floating Window dominates a room in the Gallery, I use it mostly for writing but I have found it constantly visited by the peoples of my Gallery staring out at the scene or reading a book at a strange sunset. I will admit it is a beautiful place to be. I have found that due to the ever-shifting nature of the gallery it can be difficult to navigate on the upside there is the Door of many locks which I created to solve that problem. A different key in a different lock leads you to a different place. It allows anyone to move about the library without too much issue also it does warrant a means of defense if I lock the door it locks down the Gallery. It is a strange curiosity, a free-standing door that seems to be repeated throughout the Gallery. But it seems to be taken well by the populous. The Archway depicting the names of the Realms that was shaped by my former student Gatling is a lovely piece of work that has become a place of good fortune for those leaving the Gallery to explore Horizon and beyond. The Gallery has opened trade and learning from the mistakes of the past via a tapestry of the fall of the Sublime Concord, as such things should be remembered.
An additional curiosity is what happens when there are multiple people in the Gallery it seems to blend elements of the differing personalities to create a new appearance, I have theories that I could use this as a means of determining if someone means harm in the Gallery as the books and art alter to the visitors need I expect that would start producing books on whatever technique they wished to employ. Though fortunately or unfortunately no one has attempted such a thing so I cannot test this hypothesis. Perhaps I can ask Rain to surprise me with a halfhearted attempt on my life. Something to consider.
While I have wondered, and been asked as to the nature of the society that has sprouted up from my Gallery there is one distinct element that has become apparent. The people of the Gallery are people who constantly question the world around them, to constantly seek the truth and not take anything at face value. Time will tell if this will continue or will change as it will continue to be affected by other Shapers. But I can be gladdened that people born of my creations are not sheep to a single idea. They are a philosophical people, a people who seek a truth and learn from the past rather than repeat it. It seems to be a culture that favours the nurturing of the human imagination and creativity. I have encouraged those of the Gallery to travel and make their own informed decision as to how they wish to form their society. I am intending on aiding them for if I can without making them dependent on me in the long run. As my shapers powers are now limited, and I have no desire to rule. I have supplied the people with various social philosophies and allowed them to start working on their own society. I serve as advisor and architect for the moment.
This Gallery serves as a reflection of me, it shapes itself to be the most useful to its guests and favours creating the means for people to not take what they are told at face value, to search for the truth hidden behind lies and fictions. While showing them the value of these same things. A place that holds intelligence and creativity in equal esteem. Whether this territory will flourish is unknown but for now, for if I have power it is my responsibility and I shall protect it as I will any of the others of Horizon. In the meantime, I wish to understand better this world as it is born.
Maybe it will be a great boon to the World that is to come.
Authors: By My Crooked Teeth, Gatling
Gatling stood in the shadow of The Gallery, a small brass key in hand and a large door with many locks towering before her. Wider than the norm made of steel and brass, the surface of the door was made up of locks of various sizes and shapes, some so small they would not look out of place on a child’s wind-up toy, others more akin to large, sturdy prison locks. Scattered between each there were several door handles, equal in their eclectic styles.
It was a confusing door owned by a confusing man.
Somewhere, deep in the folds of her midnight cloak, was a letter. ‘This key is one to my office. Get inside and you will have learned a lesson and you may roam free in the Gallery.’ Her lips quirked into a tiny smile. She slipped the key into one of the locks and twisted, hearing it’s click. One hand firm on the metal of a small handle, she gave a solid push and proudly stepped through the threshold…
...into a large expanse of grassy land, the Gallery looming large behind her.
Her brows furrowed as she cast a glance over her shoulder. The deserted gravel path that lead to the front of the Gallery was still there, where she came from. She turned back to the wide expanse before her. With a huff, she pushed the hood from her head and let the door slam shut behind her, leaving her at the rear of Crooked’s home.
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” The young shaper marched her way back round to the door of many locks, mind focused 100% on the test at hand. Sharp eyes scanned over the surface, taking in each detail until they came to rest on a second lock, smaller this time and brass in colour. A perfect match for the key in her palm. “Gotcha.” She chimed with a grin, thoughtlessly sliding it into place. Twist, shove, stumble and -- “Oh come on!”
The wind caught in her hair as she gazed out across the elevated expanse that surrounded the Gallery. The roof was flat and made of granite, grey and monochrome. Small structures were littered across it, varying the horizon until it looked like a city skyline. One looked like a dome with a door in the roof, another looked like a greenhouse. Behind her was the door, freestanding and obnoxious. Mocking. Whatever wonder the sudden stunning view had conjured in her was quickly packed away and labelled ‘Later’.
Drumming her fingers on her arm, Gatling steeled herself and raised the key once more. “Third time's the charm.” She muttered, picking a lock, inserting the key and... she paused, pulled the key out again and thought. ‘This key is one to my office.’ “You’ve seen my Gallery, make what you think would fit.”
The key was small in her palm, unimposing, brass looking like it hadn’t seen polish in years. Looking at it, you wouldn’t think what it unlocked - the office of a man who had seen through time. Not like the door itself. It reeked of possibilities, endless and countless, so many options and no doubt all of them inviting. Carefully her eyes traced every lock and then some, finding more and more hidden just out of view until finally, she spotted it. With an even smile Gatling fit the key in place and unlocked the door.
Stepping through the threshold, however, only brought her face to face with another, grander set of oak double doors with silver inlays. Turning around she saw the door free standing about five feet away from the front entrance.
For a long moment, she paused, shifting through a range of emotions before setting on rolling her eyes and planting a begrudging smile on her face. The wood was smooth and warm under her hands and she pushed into the Gallery itself without hesitation.
The first element that she encountered was a verse carved into the wall in stone;
Welcome to the Gallery of Truth and Lies.
Enter and you will learn,
Seek and you shall find.
But the Fool takes the first answer.
And Fall for the Lie.
The Wise searches for the right answer,
And find their Truth.
Discover what you will, but don’t trust everything.
Welcome to the Gallery of Truth and Lies.
Gatling’s fingers traced the words as she sighed a little, annoyance at herself creeping up the back of her neck. Every time she thought she had kicked the Combine habit, she ended up right back there, rushing to the obvious choice. Falling for the lie. She let the words sink in before moving on, fingers lingering on stone until the last possible moment.
The Gallery itself was, quite frankly, bizarre.
It was a mismatch of art, statues, furniture, and instruments dangling from the ceiling. It was beautiful in a chaotic way. There was a smell in the air, something faintly like flowers and wood smoke. She wandered through the halls taking in every sight and sound she could, footsteps echoing loudly through the vast, silent rooms. Carefully, she returned the key to its home around her neck and called out into the silence.
“Crooks? Crooked?” She lowers her tone. “Please be home or this is going to be really awkward….”
“Well we can’t have that,” The brief rattle of keys the only sign of his arrival. He looked a lot more casual than last she saw him. The black Combine style jacket was gone, revealing a grey collarless shirt with a black waistcoat, his black scarf loose around his neck. He was unarmed and cleaning his glasses on a handkerchief. Leaning against the arch of a doorway, he smiled. “Hello Miss Gatling.”
“Hi.” She grinned in return. “Nice place you have here. Modest,” Her tone quickly turned teasing. “Interesting… doors.” A note of bemusement twisting into it.
“One tries.” He replaced the glasses to their rightful place on his nose. He tilted his head with a smirked. “Where did the door take you?”
“The back door.” She admitted, glumly.
“And the roof.” She added. Her eyes cast down to her shoes, annoyance at herself creeping back up her neck again.
Crooked let her words linger, eyes remaining glued to her face before he cracked a smile.
“Well at least you didn’t fall into the acid pit.”
“You have an acid pit?” Her eyebrows raised.
“No, but I had you going for a second there.” There’s another pause before a smile cracked her face and she burst into laughter, shaking her head. “How have you been? How have your studies progressed?”
“My studies are progressing, though clearly not as far as I had hoped,” She shot a glare back towards where the mocking door resided. “But I am learning. And that’s more than I can say of myself 5 years ago,” She smiles softly, pulling an old familiar book from her bag, its red cover far more worn than the last time he would have seen it.
Crooked snorted “Plenty of time for that. Has Rain tried to kill you yet? He tends to take a swing at people every now and then to keep them sharp.” He shook his head. “There is no set time to learn a lesson.” Crooked gestured to a chair, “If you will humour an old man? Why don’t you tell me what you learned from the key I sent you?”
Gatling shifted the cloak from her shoulders, draping it over the chairs back and giving Crooked a shy smile. Her outfit was familiar but changed, the rich reds and golds drained to black and silver, her hair that bit longer, and accented with a streak of white which she tucked behind her ear as she settled into the soft leather seat.
“Well… at first, I suppose, I learnt nothing. The roof and impromptu grounds tour proved that. But then, then I thought back to what you said at the nexus, and in your letter. I know the Gallery in theory. I know how, in ways, it reflects bits of you as the Garden does me. So, in a way, the key reflects you as would the lock…” She hesitates, realising she was wandering away from the question.
Crooked smiled again and pushed himself off his doorway, he walked over to Gatling’s chair and picked up the cloak, hanging it up on a peg by the door. He selected a seat for himself and sat down, cocking his head at the hesitation. “Go on.”
Her eyes flicked to him for a second before she ploughed on. “So, that’s how I got through it, eventually.” She finishes in a rush, but continuing anyway. “But that’s not what the key should have been teaching me because I already knew that, right? So, it’s something else. Like the door. The key fit in every lock, turned and lead me somewhere, but not where I needed to be… But it leads me somewhere. Like… the lock it opens isn’t the only path?” She looks up at him, clearly unsure of herself.
Crooked pointed at her, “A good answer. One of many you could have found.” he tapped his fingers on the armrest, “The door leads you anywhere. The right key to the right lock and turning the right handle and opening it the right way will lead you to different places. To different possibilities. You were given a question and challenge and a single key and told to enter my gallery. My dear Miss Gatling. Much like the door there are many ways to learn a lesson. I will not tell you what to do, merely give you the tools to do it for yourself. That is the nature of the Order, we stand alone, we stand together. Individuals that form a whole. Never think that you have learned nothing. Even a failure can bring you an answer. The question is this. Was the information you gathered from the challenge worthwhile? Did you find it useful?”
Gatling contemplated the words, her eyes shifting left as she twisted them over in her mind, reviewing the events of the last half hour with care. When she finally looked back to Crooked she was smiling. “Yes. I do believe it worthwhile.”
“Good,” he nodded, “Good. Other answers I would have accepted was, ‘Why not just knock on the door?’, ‘I am more confused than when I met you.’ and ‘Why not use the archway I built?’” he laughed. “It has been a while since I have been a proper teacher again, and then it had little to do with the Order. So, I am glad you are making a sense out of my ramblings.”
Gatling’s lips formed into a small smile, her face looking the years she’s gained for just a moment. “The ramblings of an old man hold wisdom between the bullshit.” She cracked a grin and winked at him. “Oh. And in answer to your other question, No. Rain has not yet tried to kill me, but Patient’s territory had a good stab at it.”
“Yeah it does that.” Crooked conceded, “Another way to learn knowledge. Everything is a test. Everything is a challenge. Learn, explore, grow. Then you can be who you were meant to be. Or who you want to be. Or who you need to be. That is your choice.” He shrugged and began cleaning his glasses. “Because without choice we are slaves.”
Her grin faltered for just a moment, flickering with something far in the back of her eyes. Gone the moment it appeared. She sat back in the chair, twisting the key’s chain between her fingers, feeling the brass tumble across her skin as she made it dance “One day, I’m going to explore beyond each of those locks.” She spoke it as simply as truth, dropping the key back to its resting place between her collarbones, eyes looking out further into the Gallery.
“Most of that is just bits of my mind. Records fabricated and stolen, there are more interesting places than mine. But here is a good place to start.”
Gatling opens her mouth, but clearly thinks better of whatever it was she was going to say. Instead she springs to her feet and holds a hand out towards Crooked. “Then shall we, Old man?”
Crooked hesitated and then took her hand, got up and went out into the Gallery.
The decor of the Gallery was made up of warm colours, browns and coppers mixed with silver and mahogany. It seemed like it was like a winter had been surprised by a sudden spring. Crooked weaved through the rooms pointing out items of interest. Until he stopped at another door of many locks. He reached for the ring of keys on his belt.
“I think you will like this room.” He fumbled through until he picked up a key that looked like it had a horse style motif on the grip. He slid it into a rusted lock, reached up and lifted a door handle up, then down and pushed the door open.
The room beyond was bathed in golden warm light. In the centre was a tree, a large tree dominating and drawing the eye. It was raining blossoms almost constantly as it stood there. On the ceiling was a collection of spherical shapes bound in rings and glowing softly. They seemed to form planets and constellations and directly above the tree was a large sun made of gold and what seemed like rippling metal fire coming from unknown central point. Ringing the room were a series of bookshelves punctuated only by a range of portraits, as tall as people but not even one of them depicting any. Instead places. Some were villages, or walled towns. Some were simple settlements by a babbling brook. Crooked spread an arm, “Welcome to the Cross Road.”
Gatling’s jaw dropped slightly as she took in the sight. Sure, the rest of the Gallery was stunning in its own right, but Crooked seemed to know her well. This room, this one was different. It was trance like, the way she stepped into the room, fingers running over book spines, plucking the odd one from the wall, flicking it open before getting distracted by a picture. And even then, all it took was a look up and she was lost staring there, mapping the constellations in her mind. “Wow…”
“Quiet, thank you for it.”
She shot him a smile, tearing her eyes from the ceiling and letting them run over the tree. Her heart strings tugged, the Garden springing to mind as she ran her fingers over the hard bark, almost feeling the pulse of life flowing through it. Familiar. Safe.
Crooked found himself a seat while Gatling explored the room. “Have you noticed anything about the room?”
“How do you mean?” Her attention only leaving the tree for a moment, mind trying to identify its family.
“The Gallery of Truth and Lies has a particular talent. It alters itself slightly for each visitor. It doesn’t look like this normally. Only since you arrived. I was never one for trees. That is your influence. Have you worked out what kind of tree it is yet?”
Her brow furrowed. “It’s a fruit… It’s impossibly old.” Her eyes strain to try and peek at the uppermost branches.
“Smell that air. It is faint but I am sure a gardener can tell the difference.” he crossed his leg and propped his head on his hand as he watched her puzzle it out. She scanned the tree once more before closing her eyes and taking a deep breath. The air was a heady mix of aromas; leather, ash and age pulled from the books, oil, metal and heat from the lamps. But faintly, on the back of her palate, the soft scent hit her.
“Apple Blossom.” She breathed, opening her eyes and turning them to Crooked. “It’s an apple tree.”
He tapped his nose. “Very good, pretty and practical. Producing wonder and providing the potential of food. Does that remind you of anywhere?”
“Yes.” Her fingers curled around the bark, her eyes tearing away as she pushes the sadness out of them and her voice turns studious. “A few, actually. If you really think about it. I mean, Bethany’s Castle has a wonderful farm attached to it, which matches beauty with produce. And even here, when you consider outside side of this case, could be holding those values to. And… and…” She bites her lip, mind wandering to the fading colours of her own territory.
Crooked stood and made his way over to her. After a second he hesitantly put a hand on her shoulder, just briefly. “Come on. Let me show you the locals. At least we can avoid the stereotype of Penitents being sad in libraries.” The words pull a smile from her, and for that moment she leaned into his touch before pulling away - fingers trailing along bark until the very last moment.
Crooked walked up to one of the paintings. It looked like a town under a storm. He leant down and pulled an umbrella from a stand next to the frame and handed one to Gatling before retrieving one himself. He ran his fingers over the frame and the faint sound of rain seeped into the room. The portrait seemed to be moving, just ever so slightly. “There is a reason why I call this the Cross Road.” He opened the umbrella as he walked forward into the canvas.
“You see I spent a lot of my free time as an Aspirant trying to work out civilisations, how one was supposed to live, what one needed to be comfortable that sort of thing. How much adversity they needed, how much stability. It was a delicate mix you see.” He stood on a hill overlooking the same storm wracked town as in the painting. “Too much and you cripple and doom the culture. Too little and it stagnates and become complacent. Despite our best intentions, most of humanity refuse perfection as imperfect. They buck against it. So, I wrote my ideas for worlds to build, settlements. This was one of them.” Crooked was huddled under the umbrella against the downpour. He turned to Gatling or rather to where he expected Gatling to be, unless he was talking to himself. She was staring at him, with big wide eyes.
“We’re in a painting.” She grinned, bypassing everything he had just said.
“Well of course we are. This is a Gallery after all.” Crooked shrugged, “Strange though. I have no artistic talent whatsoever I always envied those who could create beautiful things. Apparently that desire took the words I wrote and made them into pictures.” She laughed, rolling her eyes and walking over to his side.
“You do create beautiful things, Crooked. You just use words instead of paint. This Gallery proves that.” Her grin melts into a softer smile, threading her arm through his and pulling him towards the town. “Come on. You promised me locals. I want to meet the people of your mind.”
“I suppose you can see it like that. Beauty is subjective after all.” He mused to himself just before Gatling approached him. He froze momentarily to the threaded arm, but relaxed a half second before he was dragged along in the rain. “Yes, of course. There are several paintings you can explore as well if you like.” his words getting a little lost to the excitement and determination of Gatling.
Together they explored the various settlements that lived in the Gallery, beneath the canvas. Each one was enthusiastically explored by Gatling, dragging Crooked along the whole time asking him endless questions and learning every step of the way. She was fascinated by the farming community that lived in a painting ‘A Life earned in soil.’ She wondered how he tackled problems brought on by the production of fruit and vegetables, questions on irrigation and water flow. Crooked answered most of them and then sheepishly pointed out that he did need some advice on how to get some of the details right.
After the first two paintings Crooked started to get into the swing of things and was more enthusiastic in his explorations. It seemed like a totally new place now that he had someone to share it with.
For her part, Gatling didn’t seem to tire, her boundless enthusiasm carrying from village to village, painting to painting. By the time the last painting had been examined inside and out she was practically vibrating with it. Crooked found himself almost feeding off her enthusiasm, mirroring her almost like the gallery itself. He relished explaining every detail, spurred on by the fact that she didn’t seem bored at all. At times that felt like a rare thing.
“The Painting’s names are interesting. They seem to be taken from poetry written at the top of each piece of writing that inspired the portraits little worlds. Where should I show you next? I think the tapestries are rather interesting, there is one that Hawk made for me that depicted the Fall of the Sublime Concord which is interesting historically speaking.”
For the first-time Gatling, didn’t respond. Instead she hummed her interest, fingers trailing over the pages of one of the books she had left abandoned on a desk between their journeys. Her eyes were rapidly scanning the words, feet almost working on auto pilot as she found her way to settle herself between the roots of the tree.
“I suppose another place to show you is the theatre, it is a good place to see the holovids and some of the older combine films you might find entertaining…..” he noticed Gatling sat beneath the tree. He smirked and propped himself against the frame of a painting. He knew that silence well, it was the hunger for knowledge and getting lost in the pages of a book, it was a magic he had been under since he was out of the cradle. She would find him later. She had a key to his office after all.
He walked over to the door of many locks, unhooking the ring of keys as he went. He selected a key without looking and slipped it into a lock. He twisted the key to the right, turned a door handle to the left and pulled the door open. He stepped through and closed the door quietly behind him.
It would be hours before Gatling found him again, but until then she remained wrapped in words and tree roots, oblivious to his absence.
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
“Greetings and salutations citizens. And here is another beautiful day here on the Ever-Approaching Sound of Freedom. Returning after liberating yet another oppressed people. The brave people of the Combine will never rest until the idea of tyranny and oppression exists nowhere but a harsh reminder of how broken the world was.”
By My Crooked Teeth smiled looking at the film, the man on the film walking backwards along the deck of the airship. He looked every inch the RevCorp member in his fine red uniform, a service revolver on his hip and pushing up the spectacles up his nose he went through his old rhetoric. The words that he knew his audience needed to hear, to convince them of the cause being right. He smiled at the conviction of the young man. If only he knew. If only he knew what would become of him.
“The breath-taking effort undertaken by the Crews of the fleet was exceptional and you would have to see it to believe it. The courage and dedication of the crew in their duty is an inspiration to us all. The Freedom charged into the heart of the Valtarian Tyrannous lines with all guns blazing and inspirational music crying out to the newly liberated skies. Here at the Front. As such this is the ship that we want you the proud citizens to see, to see the crew, its dedication and heroism in the face of darkness and the shackles of oppression.”
The camera panned with the RevCorp as he moved along the deck, to shots of people working, people singing, people doing their duty. A faint patriotic music underscored the events. The Rev Corp didn’t speak as he walked, he let the images speak for themselves. He let the music and the images affix themselves to the thoughts and minds of the viewers. The RevCorp knew when to talk and when to let people see. The camera showed the burn damage from what looked like dragon fire, or spell flame. The crew were proudly preserving the scars as a trophy of their victory. The RevCorp walked passed a ProCorp working on the radio that was crackling music out of it. There were people in simple uniforms, without adornment but they were clean and well cared for. The RevCorp stopped by this person and smiled at them.
“Hello, I’m recording a piece for the folks back home. Why don’t you tell them who you are and any messages for the people watching?”
The person looked surprised but nodded, “Of course. Well I’m Volunteer Plate, I Volunteered for service two years ago, before that I worked with Production on small labours, vital but I never worked on the engines or anything like that. But I saw what the Liberators were doing and I decided that I needed to help. I am not so good in front of the camera so forgive me there. But I am happy to help, there is a better world out there and if I can bring that closer I am ready to put my shoulder to the wheel. Everyone here is a hero, everyone is doing their part. I couldn’t be prouder of my family.” Plate nodded, “I guess what I want to say to the people back home is that anything is possible. That’s all. Is that alright?” The RevCorp smiled and nodded, “Perfect. Thank you Volunteer and thank you for your service.” The RevCorp moved on and he looked into camera “It is inspiring to see what can be achieved together.”
Crooked stopped the recording and frowned. That ship was destroyed two months later when a sorcerer summoned flame devils in the powder magazine. There was no news about it. The Ever-Approaching
Sound of Freedom was simply ‘out on maneuvers’. A novel way to say vapourised with no one left to bury. Another ship in the path to ‘Liberty’. Another list of the dead for a dream that was doomed to a vicious cycle. He believed when he was young, he believed when he was a different man. He supposed he still did in a different way. He had been thinking about what he wanted in this world that is to come. What he wanted to build. He had been waiting for it for so long, now it was here he wasn’t sure what he was building. If you asked the man in the film he would tell you a world where everyone was free from the chains of tyrants. If you asked him when he was a little older, a world where people could choose freedom for themselves and not be afraid of it.
Now? Now he just wanted a world that would work, that wouldn’t repeat the mistakes of the past, that wouldn’t cling to the flaws. He wanted to leave behind a better world than he lived in. After 700 years he just wanted to make a world that was worth it. That was worth the death and suffering, that all the fighting and killing was worth something. He wanted a world where people were not restricted that they could learn and flourish under their own strength. He wanted a world that was better than him. Not that that was a difficult thing.
Crooked shook his head. There was no time for such sadness. He needed to work, he needed to get his memories down, everything out of his head while he still had time. Before the end. There was too much to do, more than he had the time to watch the words of a dead man who looked so much like himself. He stopped himself mid thought.
“If we do not learn from history, how are we to learn from it? Remember your lessons Archivist.” He chided himself. “Even if it does hurt. Especially if it hurts.” He continued watching the recording of a little known Hegemonic Engineer called Rotation as he helped inspire people in his own little way. He would soon learn.
Choice Under Uncertainty
Author: By My Crooked Teeth & Ten Count Markowitz
It was a truth that was self-evident: market forces would always eventually win out. No matter how hard or how creatively you tried to fight against them, at some point the invisible hand of the market would make itself into an invisible fist and punch you in the kidneys until you realised the futility of your endeavours. Falling demand for your services couldn’t be powered through without changes; individual customers were never right but as a group had more influence than they realised; and no matter how unique your market, it would have a saturation point somewhere.
Even after the restructuring of the organisation, stripping out the dead weight of Human Resources and forcibly assimilating R&D, there were still well over a million men, women and other folk who bore the title of Margin Driver – all scrapping and clawing over the same contracts. Opportunity was at least a hundred thousand Accounts Executors past the saturation point and, for all but the lucky few who backed into the pop culture vein and became celebrities, that meant figuring out how to shine. That meant “branding”. Crafting a character, developing a gimmick, cultivating a reputation - however you wanted to couch it, in the Opportunity that was being left behind standing out from the crowd was critical. The older generation groused and moaned about it, calling it “contrary to the Driver ethos” and “going against all our traditions”, but that was mostly just the old guard complaining about change in lieu of actually doing anything to affect it.
In his time, he’d seen a lot of attempts at branding – some good, some excellent, many bad and the rare few so legendarily awful that they instantly became classic – but standing in the shadow of the Gallery of Truth and Lies, Ten Count Markowitz reflected that he’d never seen anybody be quite so devoted to their gimmick as By My Crooked Teeth. The double doors to the Gallery stood nine feet tall, wide enough to drive through and were covered top to bottom with locks and handles, no two the same and most not even similar. “And they say I’m compensating for something.”
Give or take a few days and acknowledging that Shapers seemed to have a rather...individual relationship with normal progression of time, Ten Count guessed he’d been away from home for about seven months and he intended this one to be the last stop. ‘Poking my nose into what people are doing and generally being a nuisance’ was how he’d put it to Thoughtful Spider before leaving, and he’d dropped in and terrorised at least a dozen territories outside Opportunity.
The key on his finger had arrived a few days before he’d set off. Crooked had extended an all-purpose invite for the Nexus to come visit him - in Ten Count’s mind, being sent a key put him on the Penitent Order’s VIP list, but this was clearly a puzzle he was meant to solve and Ten Count had never been especially keen on brain-teasers. If the answer wasn’t “break the smug bastard’s nose and keep hitting him until he tells you what words end -gry”, it wasn’t worth asking.
Tapping the key into his other palm, Ten Count gave it a closer look. Big, ugly and old were the words jumping to mind – six or seven inches of pitted steel, covered with tiny scratches from constant use, the scraping of metal on metal. Logically, it should fit the lock that matched it, something tarnished and ugly, but this was Crooked he was considering. It wasn’t going to be the obvious choice, so pick…
That one. Big enough to fit the key, but made of polished brass and looking if not new, then certainly well-maintained. When it’s not the obvious choice, pick the least obvious choice – Ten Count turned the key, shoved the door and trod heavily into a snowbank waiting on the other side. “Hm.” The landscape was beautiful, a gorgeous panaroma of snowcapped mountains and clear, clean blue skies, but the Gallery it certainly was not. Stepping back over the threshold and slapping snow off his leg, Ten Count shut the door and sat down, cross-legged on the gravel. Tossing and catching the key without paying it much attention, he went back to staring at the locks.
“There’s hundreds of these bastard things, I’m going to be here forever if I have to try all of them,” Ten Count mumbled, imagining himself covered in snow and still sitting on the path outside. That Crooked had posed him a puzzle wasn’t surprising but, as he sat and reflected on it, it did seem unusual for him to give anybody a puzzle without any information to go on. “Perhaps...I’m not meant to solve it?” It sounded good enough to be plausible. Ignoring how idiotic it probably looked, the Visionary stood up, held out the key, waved his arm around and closed his eyes. If there wasn’t enough of a purchase for logic to take hold, why not try random chance? Blindly prodding away, Ten Count felt the key find a lock and turned it. “He shoots...” he said, shoving at the door. The great door swung slowly and there before him, lay the Gallery.
“And he scores!” Stepping into the entrance hall, Ten Count allowed himself a few moments of smug self-satisfaction; nobody was ever going to call him the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he was still capable of a few moments of insight. Besides, he’d met plenty of so-called geniuses and the one thing that brought them together was that none of them had been able to outsmart a bullet.
Even with the smug afterglow, the fabled and legendary Gallery of Truth and Lies didn’t look like much. Dimly lit from hidden wall sconces, there really wasn’t much of...well, anything. Dark wooden panelling on the walls matched the floor, worn smooth from what was probably centuries of footfall, and camouflaged the plain doors set evenly around. Ten Count hadn’t been expecting a riot of colour, but there should have been at least some decoration. It was still a gallery.
“Crooked!” The first door on his left rattled, which made little sense because there wasn’t a visible lock on it, and the second refused to budge at all. “Crooked, I made it.” Door number three, at the end of the hall, took some effort to shift but eventually gave in with a protesting screech from the hinges. “Take care of your damn doors, man.”
The next room looked much like the first - dark wood, dim light, doors that didn’t open – but it wasn’t until the third door he passed through opened with the same eye-watering scream that the penny began to clatter its way down. Ten Count stepped through, shut the door and, somehow knowing exactly what he was about to see, opened it again to bright sunlight. “It’s the same, the same poxy room over and over again. I fucking hate you, Crooked.”
Closing the great puzzle door and again sitting down on the path, Ten Count huffed. Logic wasn’t working, random choice hadn’t happened and his normal next plan of action, to find somebody and threaten them, required another person to have a gun stuck in their face.
Still, there was one thing he did better than just about anybody.
Something about the new day had left Crooked feeling unsettled.
He’d risen with the sun, as normal. He’d taken breakfast with one of the scholars in residence, he’d dealt with the day’s correspondence, he’d settled an ecumenical dispute before it had threatened to get ugly – nothing out of the ordinary, yet the mental itch he’d woken with refused to leave. The day was not to be a pleasant one.
Nonetheless, by the middle of the afternoon, he’d been able to keep the concern quiet lone enough to ensure all of his daily tasks were complete. With his time entirely his own, all Crooked wanted was to isolate himself and get back to work. The history on the fall of the Concord wasn’t going to compile itself; naturally, it was mere minutes before the archivist was interrupted by a quiet knock on the door.
“Archivist?” A dark-skinned woman stood at the door, equal parts confused, concerned and oddly flattered; in two years studying at the Gallery, she’d never yet been afforded the privilege of seeing Crooked’s office. “We have a small issue with a visitor.”
“An issue, Fforde?”
“Yes, there’s a gentleman at the grand entrance. He’s banging on the door and won’t stop. He believes you’ve issued him an invitation and...” Fforde tailed off for a moment, remembering what had been shouted at her. “I think the exact words were ‘Get him to open this fucking door before I call down an orbital strike and make this place look like Firebreak’s bigger uglier brother’.”
Crooked put his head in his hands and exhaled. “That explains the itch,” he mumbled, before looking back to Fforde. “The gentleman at the door. Glasses, a big coat, hair like that?” The student nodded and despite himself, Crooked found himself smiling. “Let him in. Bring him through the...correct entrance.”
“You, sunshine, and your bloody door have got things to answer for.” As a greeting, it lacked many things – courtesy, invitation, basic manners – but Ten Count’s opener certainly broke the ice. “All that time and the way in was around the fucking corner? You really are a duplicitous piece of work, you know that?”
“And hello to you too, Ten Count. Who else would threaten an ally with an orbital bombardment? You do realise that you can walk around the door of many locks. It’s the fastest way around, not the only way in. Thank you, Fforde.” Crooked nodded to his student in dismissal and gestured to the empty chair.
“Take a seat, please. To what do I owe...this?”
“Hah. Allies, is it now?” Ten Count sat down with no small degree of gratitude. He and Crooked’s student had been walking for the best part of an hour – shock of shocks, the Gallery of Truth and Lies was much bigger inside than it appeared from the outside. “If you’re trying to pretend you’ve defected, you’ll need to look a lot less monochrome to make that lie stick. You’re looking well.”
It wasn’t a sentiment Crooked could easily reciprocate. He knew better than most how time’s natural flow washed around Shapers, but Ten Count looked like he’d been through the wars already. One especially ugly scar ran down the side of his face, looking like somebody had taken a slash at his eye and missed by an inch, and Crooked could see a patch of burned skin under his collar. Even that paled into comparison with his attire. “And you’re looking colourful. That’s an...eye-catching ensemble, what do they call that?”
“The shirt’s...orchid, I think,” said Ten Count, sparking up his lighter. “Or fuchsia. The trousers they called periwinkle, but that’s not a real word, I know that’s bull. No offense meant, but I got tired of being mistaken for one of your mob all the time so I went to see the one who gave Spider his makeover. Apparently, I’m a winter.”
“Quite.” Crooked pushed a black glass ashtray across his desk. “What brings you here, Mr. Markowitz?”
“Well, you invited me.” Ten Count slouched back into the comfortable chair. “I was planning to wander the Outworld for a bit anyway, then I got a nice little invitation letter from you and I thought it was probably prudent to stop by.” Taking a welcome drag on his cigarette, Ten Count tossed the old steel key onto the desktop with a clatter. “You probably want this back as well. That fucking door, man, I get you’ve got an image to uphold but I don’t plaster everything I own with tens.”
Eyeing it with more suspicion than the glowing cigarette, Crooked reached out to take it. “So, where did this one take you? I assume you tried the door.”
“I did, I did. The first lock brought me out on the side of a mountain somewhere, so apologies if I’ve dripped on your carpet anywhere.” Flicking the ash off, Ten Count took another drag and made a poor attempt to blow a smoke ring. “Damn. Second time, I thought I’d got it but it was a room that only led into itself over and over. Clever, that one.”
Running his fingers gently across the pitted metal as he inspected it, Crooked turned over the key. “Did you keep the letter this came with?
“Course. ‘Mr. Markowitz, the Gallery of Truth and Lies awaits your custom, come find the answers which you seek’, all of that.” A moment’s thought. “And that reminds me. How did you get my address?”
“I have your card. Most of the Nexus has one of your cards, your address is on there.”
“I know, but...wait.” Ten Count closed one eye and squinted at the archivist with the other. “Shit, it wasn’t you, was it?”
“If you mean, I wasn’t the one who invited you here, then no.” Crooked tapped the key on his desk, beating out a slow and considered rhythm. “Nor should you have got this from me. It’s not mine. And much as I like you, Ten Count, you are not somebody I would give one of these to either.”
A slow smile oozed across Ten Count’s face as he ground his cigarette out into the ashtray. “Well, now. Isn’t this interesting? Somebody thinks they can play games with me...”
“Us.” Nothing about Crooked’s demeanour had obviously changed, but there was a touch of steel to his calm tone. “Whoever this mysterious writer is, they’ve chosen to impersonate me. Rather poorly I might add, which would indicate...”
“That this is somebody who doesn’t know either of us that well. Personally, or by reputation.” Lighting a second cigarette, Ten Count leaned back into the chair once again. “Because I don’t think anybody who knows your story would risk pulling you into this and, on the off-chance they’re trying to run a play on you, which of your enemies would be stupid enough to bring me into the picture?”
Letting the compliment go past without acknowledgement, Crooked touched the second drawer down thoughtfully before mumbling to himself. “Not the time for that. You said about the address of that letter, was that the only one?”
“Not going to lie, that was part of why I wanted to drop by urgent. Before yours, before that arrived, I had letters from Soar and...shit, I can’t remember her bloody name.” Snapping his fingers impatiently, Ten Count mouthed a few attempts at words. “Her, the red hair, always looking sad, everybody she knows is dead...”
“At Dawn and At Dusk? Or Gatling, to use an old name.”
“That’s the word! Gatling, where the fuck did that word disappear to? I’m losing my bloody mind...anyway, yeah, Dawn and Soar sent me letters – nice letters but they still both came to my private address, my safest house. Somebody’s got hold of that information and they’re spreading it around enough that one of your mob has got it.”
Crooked touched the key gently, looking pensive. “And you’re sure it is At Dawn and At Dusk and Soar Ever Upward you were writing to and from?”
Ten Count gave the archivist an amused look. “If that wasn’t Soar, whoever’s impersonating him is too good at doing it to not be like him, and I don’t think our new world could survive multiple Soars in it. He’s a unique little creature, he is.”
“Point is, after everything that happened with Ziggy, my name is mud in certain areas of Outworld and I’d like to figure out who’s pretending to be you so I can neutralise them and not have to fight a war on two fronts. Saying that,” Ten Count added, mouth twisting into a smirk briefly, “it wouldn’t be the first time. Can you kick over some rocks and see what scurries out?”
For a few moments, Crooked considered simply agreeing but his old bones were thinking in Opportunity terms again. Locke wouldn’t have done anything for free; nor would Wellspring, for that matter. “I can try. A favour in exchange for a favour.”
“Crooked, come on,” the reply came, Ten Count chiding the archivist. “You and I both know how much an unspecified favour could be worth. I’ve asked you something specific, it’s only fair to do the same.”
“Fair?” Crooked chuckled, a dark sound but not without amusement. “I remember somebody from Opportunity once telling me that if you ended up in a fair fight, your tactics sucked.”
Ten Count had to laugh. “That sounds like Dad alright. Point taken, the best I can do now is pledge you my trigger finger. The next time the Nexus opens again, if you need somebody for an Affront, come find me and I’ll take the field, no questions asked.”
“No questions asked?” Crooked said, sounding rightfully skeptical, and Ten Count was forced to shrug in concession.
“No questions, some caveats. I won’t be part of any plans you have to gank another Shaper.” Sparking up his lighter again, Ten Count lit another cigarette as he stared blankly at the ceiling. “I don’t think most of them realise just how much fallout the Ziggy affair is going to have, but I know what the worst case scenario is and I want to avoid that. Spider and I won’t fight each other and I don’t especially want to be part of any more Penitent testing. Anything else...give me a call, keep me alive and I’ll win your battles for you.”
Crooked snickered. “I forgot how staggeringly modest you were. Although, if you think I’d want to kill a Shaper while the Nexus exists, you don’t know me very well at all, Ten Count.”
“It’s not a comment on you, good sir. Like I said, parts of Outworld want me reduced to ashes because I robbed the world of Ziggy Love. I don’t think it’d help my case to become the first Shaper complicit in two murders.”
“Speaking of Ziggy Love,” Crooked stood and turned, gazing out of the portrait window. “There is something you can do for me while you’re here, though. You may have heard I’m compiling some records on the death and life of your former Prime Executive, and I’ve been interested in speaking to those involved. Your colleague 2-Square, she gave me a rather nice interview but then...you were there.”
“He’s dead and he’s still plaguing me. Glee time it is.” Ten Count groaned, reaching into his breast pocket and taking out a bag of disgustingly blue powder. “Give me something I can cut this up on then I’ll tell you all about how we did it and why.”
The archivist smiled as he opened up a tall cupboard, the implications of what he’d just heard swirling inside his head. Placing a small slate tile on the desk, Crooked set a voice recorder next to it and flicked the switch. It was true: even if you didn’t know you were looking for them, you could always find the answers you sought at the Gallery of Truth and Lies. “Ready when you are, Ten Count. Tell me about the cancellation of Ziggy Love.”
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
- Submission to the archive
- Archive access Archivist By My Crooked Teeth
- Subject – Affront apparition.
During the second evening of the Grand gathering of the Nexus an affront was made on behalf of the apparitions. Since the beginning people have been attributing more personality to the apparitions, bestowing names and encouraging more individual activities. This came to a head when members of the People’s combine Engineer Crankshaft and Volunteer Axle challenged each other to an affront on behalf of two apparitions. The Nexus Apparition (Referred to as Sprocket) and the Affront Apparition (Known as Bolt or Stand Between the Lines). The affront team was comprised of
“Team Sprocket” - Engineer Crankshaft, of the Relentless Advance on the Tyranny of Authority. - By My Crooked Teeth - Liberator Diesel, of the Relentless Advance on the Tyranny of Authority. - Volunteer Vector of the Symphony of Purpose.
“Team Bolts” -Liberator Dynamics, of the Victory Through Persistence. -Volunteer Axle of the Symphony of Purpose -Fusilier Falconet of the Unity Through Purpose. -Engineer Cam of the Symphony of Purpose.
After a pitch battle the so-called Team Bolts won the affront, and far as all parties were concerned that was that. That was until the Affront Apparition began to act strangely. Upon it’s person began to sprout red pulsing veins. Along with that there was a change in personality. It became more informal and got the names of shapers wrong, it berated shapers for being tardy to matches or begrudged when no Hexes were thrown at each other. It is too early to tell yet if this is a permanent difference or what it means. Recommendation is to watch and wait. Suggestions were thrown around such as continuing to fight affronts to see if that would continue to change the apparition or not. Another was to break the mind of the apparition to see if it would not ‘infect’ the other apparitions. This was met with a lot of argument until it was finally decided to shelf all further actions until the next turning of the Nexus. Further observation needed.
- Submission ends. - By My Crooked Teeth – Archivists.
Addendum – Subject personal note pertaining to the matter.
Bugger. I mean really who thought that would do anything. It is fascinating that it does but who honestly thought it would give an Apparition more awareness of its surroundings. I mean in retrospect it makes sense but there was no evidence in any of the old Concord Records of such a thing occurring in the past.
How in the name of the Broken Bloody Oracle could I have known? It was a silly affront to let off steam made by combine too drunk on Boot Shine to know what they were doing. Actually, I should likely not submit this for historical purposes.
- Submission deleted from the Archive.
Author: By My Crooked Teeth, Before the Second Nexus;
The Gallery was silent, the lights were off leaving the strange collection looking eerie in the night. The only source of light came from a small office. In it was a small personal bookcase of handwritten journals, a writing desk and a man.
He had the tools of his work splayed across the desk. A revolver, bullets, a pen and papers. A small projector hung on the wall throwing out a holovid into the center of the room. The man watched intently.
There were assorted people in robes pacing around a group of clustered people from all over homeland going through combat exercises. Among them was the man, dressed in a burnt red brocade jacket, the likes of which the man wore its shadow to this day. His spectacles in his hand as he suddenly moves out of the way of a sword swing. He was stepping back rapidly.
“Why are you running Aspirant?” a robed man barked. “Do you mean to tire the man to death? Fight shaper, fight.”
The young man was ignoring the instruction of his teachers and continued to run out of the way, he weaved through other Aspirants who were similarly involved in ‘Incentivized sparing.’ His assailant lunged forward with the aim to run the aspirant through only for the aspirant to throw a deck of cards he pulled from his pocket in the air. In the confusion, the assailant struck another attacker instead. The aspirant ran around the back of the Assailant and drew his curved deck knife and ran it across the assailant’s throat. There was a gargled shock and the assailant dropped to the floor gushing blood.
The Aspirant looked to his instructors and shrugged. Then he crouched to the bleeding swordsman.
“Gather up your broken bones and split skin. You! One Up.” The wound closed and the swordsman coughed and gulped in air. The aspirant tapped the swordsman’s collarbone with the flat of his broad knife. “Now remember I can keep killing you and bringing you back all day. Remember that the next time we spar.” He stood up and walked over to his teachers.
“Explain yourself Aspirant Rotation?”
“I thought you wanted people who fought smartly, not just strongly.”
“And so, you ran?”
“No, I let him think that I was not a threat, then I let him assault another attacker aiding another aspirant, then I ended the threat. This is a battle; the next time he meets me he will remember and he won’t be a threat anymore. That wins a war. With respect masters.”
The robed people nodded and made notes. “Well done Aspirant. But what if misdirection was not an option?”
“Then I would just shoot them.” This got a laugh from some nearby aspirants.
Crooked smiled and shook his head. He looked to the list of possible lessons to present Aspirant Gatling with. He crossed off ‘Lethal sparing’ and added next to it the note.
Not enough non-shaper combatants.
The Breach was mere days away and he knew he was stalling for time. He pulled the revolver off of the desk and started to clean it. Still so much work to do he thought. He tapped his terminal “Re-runs of the shaper bouts of Holovid 12 please.” The image dutifully changed. He started to make notes on shapers in combat.
The Gallery was dark save for a single pool of light. By My Crooked Teeth watched the holograms intently. Recording, watching, learning.
The Smell of food
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
By My Crooked Teeth had his nose buried in his notes, he was writing every idea that came to his head every memory like his life depended on in. He vaguely remembered that maybe food or sleep were valuable to his time. But there was so much work to do.
At first, he thought the smell was a trick of the mind. Apart from the occasional person who came to read or learn, he lived alone in the Gallery, tending to it while his people lived beneath the canvas of portraits. As such he was used to his own company. He could smell food being cooked, breads and meats. He stopped working and sniffed the air. No, he wasn’t imagining anything he could smell it.
He smiled to himself and set down his pen. He could guess who would turn up to his Gallery and cook in his kitchen. His suspicions were confirmed as he saw the warm earthy tones bleed into the Gallery’s décor and the familiar sight of the tall blossoming tree as he walked through the crossroads. It had been a while since he had seen his Student. She had been adventuring, she had come through once before looking for some piece of information or another.
The smell got stronger as he approached and his stomach rumbled despite himself. He could cook, but nothing special. He knew enough not to kill himself with raw meat but nothing that could be considered fine cuisine. Dawn on the other hand prided herself on her cooking skills, in their years of living together he admitted it was the best food he had eaten in a while.
He entered the kitchen and saw her, dressed in black and white as befitting a member of the order, the only deviation was her red hair that fell down her back. She moved about his kitchen like she owned the place. Which he kind of thought she might do since he barely used the room. He smirked and cleared his throat.
“Is there a reason why you have darkened my door Custodian?” Crooked said in mock seriousness.
“Yes, to see you. I expect you haven’t been looking after yourself.” Dawn said without turning around.
“You can make whatever assumptions you like.” Crooked replied. She turned around and smiled at the archivist “Hey Crooks.”
“Wash up and give me a hand. We can talk over dinner.” And with that she turned around and went back to the various pots and pans.
“Yes Ma’am.” Crooked laughed to himself as he was rolling up his sleeves and walking over to the sink. It was nice to have company again.
The Unopened Door.
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
An Extract from the journal of By My Crooked Teeth;
Throughout my explorations of the Gallery I have found many exciting discoveries. The Gallery functions almost like a collection of memories and experiences. The Gallery also seems to subconsciously cater to my desires or at least my ideas. It is filled with items of beauty and curiosity, it seems to work on various different perspectives much like the theory that history itself is a subjective thing with the illusion of permanence. The Gallery changes for every person who sees it. It presents what is asked and allows the viewer to interpret what they see as either truth or lies.
The Gallery also holds wonders that both inspire and allow for aspiration. The Floating Window presents views of all over Homeland and Outworld it presents of the beauty of the world so that I can remember that I am trying to save it. It grants perspective. The Door of Many Locks allows for faster travel throughout the Gallery and anywhere it is connected to. It reminds you not to take anything for granted as a different key in a different lock can take you anywhere. The cross road shows all the worlds of the Gallery in perspective, the work of art that is life in all its forms. If you will forgive my poetic turns.
But there is a single door in all of my Gallery that I have never opened nor do I intend to. It is situated at the very back of the Gallery, you cannot see it from the outside but it there. It is a door that holds what I believe to be my reward. It is not what is happening but what will happen next. In its center there is a lock, a key hole really with a door knob above it. There is a carving in the wood. A riddle, one I heard long ago that inspired my name.
“I turn my head one way and you will go where you want.
I turn my head another you will stay until you rot
I have no face,
But I live and die by my crooked teeth.
What am I?”
I know this riddle well, it was the first step into my new life. The first spark of who I was going to become. But the riddle is different on the door to that of my memory.
“You turn your head one way and you will go where you want.
Turn your head another and you will stay until you rot.
You have no face.
But you Live or die.
By My Crooked Teeth.
Who are you?”
The first line curls around one side of lock and the second curls around the other. I believe that one day if I turn the key in one direction it will present me with a place to live, and if I turn it the other it will present me with a grave. The two choices after my duty is done. To live or die. The accusation of the door to finally know what I will be, who I will be when this is all said and done is fascinating. And so, I shall leave the door unopened. I will leave the answer until I finish my duty. One last mystery of the Gallery when all is said and done.
The Hall Of Rejected Reality
Author: Diamond Mantis
There is a hall in the gallery, filled with portraits of faces familiar, yet… different. It changes, sometimes, new paintings appearing without warning. He does not know if it means anything. Here there is a depiction of a man with pink hair and high heeled boots, standing victorious and unopposed, his enemies cowed. There, a picture of a red haired liberator, standing back to back with a smiling hegemonic engineer in a leather waistcoat. Other halls have images of this same battle, but in every other painting, the liberator is crying and the engineer is nowhere to be seen.
This wall’s picture is the closest match to others, in the more normal halls. An impressively tall liberator limps away from battle, the broken body of a volunteer just visible in a deathly embrace with a monarch. But there are subtle differences, if you look closely. This painting’s subject exudes confidence, where the others are unsure.
One is a confused mess of overlapping images. Black and white dominate, a figure in a hoodie and tracksuit, sometimes plain, sometimes covered in symbols. Every time he sees it it looks different, he is used to it. So many pictures contained on a single canvas, he is sure he hasn’t seen them all.
But here is what he felt. There is a new portrait, one he has not seen before. In it stands a prince, sceptre held triumphantly aloft, chains of gold draped around his body. Strewn at his feet are battered and defeated forms. He knows their faces. His is among them. Every one of them is a Shaper.
He shivers, despite himself. He knows that didn’t happen. He knows that can’t happen. It’s not a true record of this world’s history, no more than any of the canvases in this hall are. He holds the thought, but he remains uneasy.
The Rebel and the Scholar
Author: Chris Killey
Inside the swirling mists of Horizon, past the fractal spirals and confusing paths, past the twisting walkways and haunting whale song. Under the endless sky and past mountain peaks you will find the Gallery of Truth and Lies. A large sprawling building, made of warm brown stone and ringed by a path of paving slabs and a long meadow of grass. A large set of double doors wait at the entrance, full of possibility. It sat there waiting for people to walk up to the door and walk on inside.
Sparks piloted his small ship low to the ground to stop himself losing sight of the twisting paths. The journey thus far had been enough of a headache, if he was asked one more riddle today something may meet the business end of his flame-gun. The path twisted around the base of the mountains as he sped along, avoiding pilgrims as they went, many looking confused at the beaten, single man scouting ship as it whizzed past their heads. Eventually the brown building came into sight along one of the many mountain side passes, just off the main roadway. Sparks let out a sigh of relief, knowing that he wouldn’t have to return to that small tavern where he got directions, looking for revenge… again. He piloted his ship slowly up to the meadow and landed, jumping out of the pilot's seat and looking around. “Crooked?” He called, walking up to the double doors.
Crooked was working on the roof, calibrating the observatory when he heard the scout ship. One never forgot the sound of engines. He had his arms elbow deep in the workings when he heard his name shouted.
“Give me a sec.” he yelled. He pulled himself out from the machine and wiped his hands on a rag. He picked up his gunbelt that was hanging off of an ornate carving of a humanoid looking towards the Horizon. He slung the belt over his shoulder and leaned over the edge of the roof. “Oh Hello Sparks. I’ll be down in a sec. Go on in, the door isn’t locked.”
Sparks approached the doors with some trepidation, he had been tricked in the Penitent lands before, all under the guise of a “lesson” of course, but still not one that was appreciated. He pulled on his leather gloves and reached towards the handles of the door, giving them a push. Slowly the doors swung open and Sparks peered into the interior of the Gallery.
In the front entrance a carving in the wall greeted him;
“Welcome to the Gallery of Truth and Lies.
Enter and you will learn,
Seek and you shall find.
But the Fool takes the first answer.
And Fall for the Lie.
The Wise searches for the right answer,
And find their Truth.
Discover what you will, but don’t trust everything.
Welcome to the Gallery of Truth and Lies.”
The interior was strange, it was a collection of art pieces and book shelves. Scattered about the place was stuffed leather chairs and tables. Occasionally tables for more focused studious work. Dangling from the ceilings were models of Combine airships, some Sparks recognised and some he had never seen before. There was some Industroclast Propaganda on the wall, slogans and the odd piece of Graffiti, as well as posters for the Revolution.
Stepping into the building tentatively Sparks looked up at the sign with interest. “I… I don’t…” he muttered to himself before sighing in resignation, “You know what, I’m not even going to question this any more. Damned Penitents…”. His attention was quickly drawn to the industrioclast wall and the posters for the Revolution. Some of these he recognised, mostly the ones with pictures of himself or Barrage pointing the way forwards. He never agreed with those, often too “Combine” for his tastes, but they assured him that it was the best way to get the message across to the rest of the Liberated Skies. Dismissing the Revolutionary propaganda with a small shake of his head, Sparks turned and looked at the industrioclast graffiti. Most of this was standard call signs for the militias that fought bravely on Homeworld, some was generic anti-establishment, low level tagging. He smiled in appreciation. “Those were the days…” he muttered to himself. Reaching into his inside coat pocket he pulled out a small flier containing the basic tenants of the Revolution, something that had been littered around the Liberated Skies as quickly as they could be published. He applied some quick-stick to the back and placed it on a clear section of wall. Turning his back on the past he sauntered over to one of the arm chairs and sat down, reclining in the soft leather cushions..
A door appeared suddenly in the room, it was tall and covered in locks and door handles. It swung open ominously and Crooked, as though deliberately ruining the effect entirely, walked through looking very casual without his coat and waistcoat. The gun belt was returned to his waist and he was accompanied by the usual rattling of keys as he returned the ring to his belt. He stopped and looked around, “I figured it would look something like this.” he shook his head and walked over to Sparks, “Nice to see you again. I trust the trip wasn’t too arduous, Horizon is occasionally a bit needlessly mysterious. With any luck Thunder might change that.” He stuck out his hand to shake the Revolutionary leader by the hand. “Welcome to the Gallery of Truth and Lies. It makes sense when you get used to it.”
“Thanks for having me here Crooked, I have to say, it’s just as mysterious and cryptic as the rest of this area, but who am I to judge… too harshly.” Sparks stood up and took the archivist by the hand, shaking it firmly. “The trip was about as can be expected. People here can’t seem to give directions without turning them into riddles and puzzles. This is my third attempt to find this place.” Sparks shook his head. “So what do you mean, look something like this? Isn’t this how it always looks? I thought it was rather fitting considering your past.” Sparks took another look around the room, taking stock of it again, almost with a new perspective.
Crooked looked around again, “Oh Rust no. It has elements of this but the Gallery tends to change for the visitor. A mixture of me and the other person. I had cave paintings in here the other day when Ash visited. It just acts like a mirror to the person. We are both ex-Combine, so the styles kind of merge slightly. Mine is more silvers and browns coupled with books and works of art. I have some Indstroclast items but I have never really considered myself one. I don’t consider myself Combine either so it’s all relative. It seems to have knocked up some possibilities for Revolution propaganda too. I expect though that some rooms will keep the same form. My work is taking a bit more of a focus than usual.” he sat down and looked around the room again, “It saves me redecorating when I get bored I suppose.”
“I… see?” Sparks replied with no small amount of confusion in his voice. “I think I follow you, In essence your gallery tailors itself to each individual that comes in?” Sparks looks around again, taking in the personalised experience. “Some of the propaganda is real, we have been trying to spread the idea of the Revolution in a way people are used to without scaring them off… Silly really isn’t it?” Sighing he walks over to the wall, running his hand over one of the posters, “So, you said you had something interesting to show me?”
“Well of course some of it is real, that’s the point of the Gallery. It is the nugget of truth among a collection of falsehoods. Territories are a reflection of the Shaper. This Gallery is me in a way. Questioning and wanting to learn everything while it keeps changing to suit whoever is witnessing. I am sure somewhere in here there will be some collections of Propaganda that exists as a creation of the Gallery I am sure you can take back since you are short on propaganda people to begin with.” He stopped, considering the question that was asked of him,. “Oh yeah, one second.” he walked off and stuck a key into the free standing door, and vanished inside. A minute or two later he came back with a book under his arm and what looked like some loosely bound paper.
“Here we go.” He put the book on the table. It was a battered old volume. It was red with gold letters on the cover ‘The First Liberation.’ “It is a history of the first time that the people who would be the Combine rebelled, or at least it is an account written later on. It details the premise of the rebellion, transcripts of famous speeches made. It also has in there a chapter on sowing dissent in enemy territory. It was prescribed reading for RevCorp back in my day. It fell out of circulation actually in the end. I suppose because some of the ideas spoken of in there were somewhat… different to what was being practiced. Now it could be inaccurate too but it is as close to first hand as I have access to.” he pointed towards it, “You can borrow that if you like, I have a load of books detailing the history of the Combine, well I have books detailing the history of most places. I wrote some of them actually.” He sounded almost distracted, but that seemed usual when he talked, like his mind was always thinking of something else at the same time.
Sparks looks at the cover of the book and smiled slightly, as he reached out a hand to take it. “Do you mind if I have a few moments to read over it? I shouldn’t be too long, I’m quite a fast reader, despite the look of me, it is likely I’ll have questions.” Taking the book out of Crooked’s hands he returns to one of the leather armchairs and opens it, scanning the index. After about thirty minutes of browsing through the pages of the old book he looks up at the archivist, his eyes sharp and focused. “I see. So, how much of what you told me was complete bullshit then?”
“That would be telling.” Crooked smiled. “Sometimes the truth is more effective than the lie and a lie is more effective than the truth. If you don’t know the difference sometimes it doesn’t matter at all. But to be more detailed. Everything I said was true. I didn’t fabricate anything in my account.” He paused, “Would you have torn up the Revolution if I had made it all up?”
The Captain smiled again, his eyes lighting up. “Well, I was assuming there were some falsehoods in what you told me, especially after what you were saying about this place. But ultimately, what you said made for a good story, and that is what I needed to inspire people. A story. Something to give them enough hope to challenge the status quo and actually question the motives of the People’s Combine.” Sparks closed the book and stood up. “So, now I’m asking, can I see the other answer please? Don’t get me wrong. I have a deposit to make as well, as payment of course, but for now, I think I’d like to see what I’m really getting myself into.”
“Stories have a power to them. The right words in the right order can change the world. It was a speciality of mine in the old days. Well I guess it still is.” Crooked chuckled, a wan smile crossing his face. “You are welcome to look at anything you want. The Gallery will adjust to what you are looking for. Don’t take anything at face value, the first bit of information you get will be likely a lie. The Gallery is there to make you question what you know.” He remembered that he was holding the loosely bound collection of papers. “Oh you might find this interesting.” he put it down on the table. It was a partly finished manuscript, on the cover there was the words, ‘The Revolution of the Liberated Skies - Archivist - By My Crooked Teeth.’ it was full of annotations and edits, with whole sections seemingly being re-worked as the book was written, “It’s a work in progress, other things took my attention of late.”
“Stories are the way to people’s hearts, I will always appreciate the one you gave me. I’m sure I’ll have a better chance to browse about after this, but I am already weary of the riddles of the Penitent’s today and don’t want to have to second guess everything I read.” Sparks reached out to grab the manuscript, “It’s nice to see someone writing this stuff down. Here, before I forget, I have something to add to this little hobby of yours.” Sparks reached into his coat and pulled out a small piece of paper, barely bigger than the palm of his hand. “I don’t know what to do with this, I’m not a sentimental person by nature, and I don’t want it falling into the wrong hands. Can you look after it for me?” He held the paper out for Crooked to take, across its surface words were hastily scrawled and edited, ‘The aim of what we build is to ensure Freedom, Liberty,and Soverei…’
“Stories are just another way of telling the history of the world. I have always seen them as an effective tool.” The Penitent nodded in agreement. “There are times when my kin are overly cryptic for the sake of being cryptic. So I can appreciate you wanting a break from it.” Crooked shrugged at the comment about his book, “I’m an Archivist. My job is to record and witness important events. The Revolution is history one way or another, I would be failing in my duty if I didn’t.” Crooked looked at the familiar piece of paper, he took it readily from Sparks’ hand, “Of course I can. As I said I’m an Archivist, this is something to archive. It’ll be safe with me.” he nodded and put the paper inside his pouch on his belt.
Sparks smiled warmly, “Thank you my friend, I appreciate it, hopefully it will be something we can use to make the world better, now, can you show me where this Combine section is? I think I could use some more information to base my next steps off.” He held the manuscript in his hand up, “And I think I could add something to this if you don’t mind? I’ve noticed some inaccuracies.”
Crooked stood up and lead Sparks through the Gallery, past exhibits and rooms full of maps and scrying apparatus he talked as he travelled, “You’re welcome to write what you like, first hand historical sources would be fantastic. Direct quotes and other elements like that would help. I want to get a complete history or as complete as I am going to get. Ah here we are.” He opened the door to a round room full of posters, and simple unadorned books. A projector was set up and a couple of racks of film canisters were standing there. “This is the main Combine room. There are a few other locations dotted about but this is the main bulk of the histories. Knock yourself out.”
Sparks stepped into the room, a small smirk crossing his face, walking past Crooked he pulled an ink-pencil out of his pocket and threw the manuscript down on the desk before turning to the nearest bookshelf. Giving the spines a cursory glance he pulled three tomes off the shelf and placed them next to the manuscript on the desk. Without a glance back, he took to writing fervently on the paper in front of him.
Now the real work began.
Author: By My Crooked Teeth
A sharp metallic ringing tapped out an irregular rhythm in Crooked’s office. He was laying on the small cot in the room with his robe draped over himself when he was roused to waking thought.
“What the-?” he groaned and blinked to himself. He patted the ground by himself to catch the arm of his glasses. His thoughts were catching up to him. What was that noise? An alarm obviously. Light tapping for visitors, deeper pitch for intruders, quiet humming for….that problem. What was this one for again?
Ding. Ding ding. Ding, ding, ding. Ding, ding. It was sharp and then he froze as he remembered. Discordant rhythm. A danger in the Geomantic engines. “Oh shit.” Crooked bolted from the cot pulling the braces of his trousers up as he went and running towards the observatory.
It was a round room which had a collection of moving representation of stars and on the table there was a representation of Outworld. The sharp dinging was louder in here. He tapped the alarm and it cut off. “It shouldn’t have done that. It was fine when we left it.” He went over to a machine and tapped in a few short log in commands. “Show me where. Show me what realm.” He was bouncing on his feet as the machine was writing out a scratchy sentence. The Crucible of Legends. Anomaly Detected.
Crooked tore the paper out of the machine. He bolted out of the room and running down the stairs and towards the Window room. He saw one of the librarians moving about the Gallery he normally didn’t bother them but right now it was an emergency. He pointed towards the librarian, “I need you to get to the observatory. I want an observation of the Crucible of Legends. I want to know when the anomaly appeared and to check and double check whether it is genuine or not. Go now.” The Librarian nodded their eyes widening before running back the way Crooked came.
The Floating Window was his main vision of the world outside the Gallery. It shows you sights of Outworld. He strode forward and spoke towards it. “Show me the Crucible of Legends.” The shifting sights of the Window changed and it showed an aerial view of the Crucible. “Where is it.” His eyes were shifting over looking for anything that stood out. “Closer. One territory at a time.” Another bird’s eye view of the Wyrdwood, his eyes scanned it. “Change.” An island by the ocean came into view after a few seconds. “Change.” Territory after territory passed by until he reached one that caught his eye. “Stop.” What was before him was a land littered with broken golden spires. “Where is that?” it was somewhere he was not familiar with, it obviously was one of the newer additions to the Crucible. But it seemed off. He couldn’t tell how. He reached down for his keys which he only just realised that they weren’t there. “Rust.” He cursed. He broke off into a sprint again heading towards the records room. His mind was racing. What was wrong? Why was it going wrong now? It hadn’t happened before. What was new? What was different?
He bolted into the records room and he ran his fingers along the shelves, ignoring the other realms and looking for the Crucible of Legends. First of all he grabbed the index and looked for the descriptions of realms he ran his eyes down the list until he saw The Wastes of Dust and Ash it looked like it was the right one, he looked towards the owner. He paused and saw two names. Laszvelar of The Redemption Undying and The Prince in The Golden Chains. He frowned;
“That’s not right.”
He dashed over to pull out the book for the Wastes and looked to the first page. With beautiful illuminated text it declared the names of the Owners of the Territory and it was Laszvelar of The Redemption Undying and The Prince in The Golden Chains.
“Who in the name of the Broken Bloody Oracle are you?”
He stood and thought about it for a moment. Then he walked back to his office carrying the two books under his arm, the piece of paper crumpled and stuffed into his pocket. He logged onto his terminal. Activating the inscription incantations spark across the screen, he was connected to the rest of the Order. Crooked paused and typed a single sentence.
Has anyone else seen something wrong with the Crucible of Legends?
Crooked let his heart rate slow down as he waited for confirmation. He ran though theories in his head. Apparently something is now on the top of his list of priorities.