Tuesday, July 14th, 2076
She has had to lay in an order of those damned blood fags. Over the past two days, she has gone through six packs of the things, chain smoking at least two of them, and now she is out. Lucky Strikes are a colonial brand and an uncommon one at that and she has to order them special because only certain shops will even carry them. Over the years she has cultivated three dealers that will order them for her and she calls one to order several cases by delivery. Her hands are shaking as she cuts the connection and sits down in the office of the book shop that bears her name. She is having trouble sleeping, waking in a cold sweat several times a night., and has taken to wandering the aisles between the bookshelves. She has her favorite chair in the grouping farthest away from the door and it has long been like a second bed for her. It is not uncommon for her maid to find her missing from her bed only to find her in The Chair, as she and the shop staff have come to refer to it. There is a large pedestal in front of the chair with an enormous edition of Robyn's favorite book, Pride and Prejudice. The leaves are made of silver plate and the words are all in Braille and it was a gift from one of her friends, who had it made for her several years ago. A special bed of blankets lies on the floor to the side for Al to sleep on and they are often found there of an early morning.
Robyn's is a fixture in this part of The City; a place where people can come to put their hands on real books. Kids come in to sit in chairs around tables because this is a safe place to chat while waiting for their mums or dads to finish work in one of the tall office buildings near by and swing by in one fancy limousine or another to pick them up. Young couples stop in because the tall shelves give them a bit of privacy from peering eyes as they fumble through the early stages of adolescence, hormones raging as hands fondle various bits and pieces of each other's anatomy. Older people come in to actually read the books. Heavy and comfortable chairs are grouped in three sets about oak tables. The scent of old leather wafts from the chairs and the bindings of the books on the shelves. A faint aroma of a blended pipe tobacco drifts through the air, a comfortable scent for a comfortable place. Some of the older patrons have been coming here since Robyn bought the shop and gave it her name and she knows most of them by name and occupation, counting them among her closest friends.
Only new visitors are put off any longer by the presence of the huge Hell Hound that always seems to be at his mistress' side. It is an odd sort of service animal, but she has a license and the thing rarely causes any trouble. Many of the regular customers are even apt to leave a treat in his bowl near the blankets, as if he were more or less a fixture in the shop, which of course he is. But even old customers are seeing a change in their favorite shop keeper. The number of fags she goes through in a day is just one symptom that all is not well and Robyn has to cope with all of these people wishing her good fortune. It is all too easy to see that something is bothering her.
Music helps. Mostly. Today, she has gone across the street with her old wooden cello in her hand and given an impromptu concert for three hours and a half. It had taken her two days to compose the music and lyrics of this, her opus. She has managed to lose herself in the flow of the chords and has worked in the horror of the thing and the abyss and the loss of people she had known for years to the whatever it was and its minions. She has poured her heart and soul into the playing and singing and let her tears flow in memory of the fallen....of those she would never see again. She is torn between two worlds that are so close and yet so far apart and she is having trouble living her life like this. As she plays her Requiem for Below, she can feel the ink on her body move, the hydras responding to the music. Around her stand others that walk the streets of the Overworld in silence, hidden in the anonymity of Greater London. Word had spread and scores of people from Below that live and work in the Overworld have come to listen..........to listen and to cry with her. The millions of people living up here will never know what transpired in a near-mythical realm not so far away from where they are standing, but many of the very people that exist in a despised state have given their lives to defend....well...everything. Every Great House had lost sons and daughters in an unseen and unknown war and Robyn plays for all of them. Her music has always been able to bring emotions to the fore in her audience and this is certainly no exception. Even those who do not know of what she sings are touched by the haunting and yet stirring tune and lyrics. Those that do know are brought low, made humble by her deft touch and voice. Three and a half hours. Without a break. Someone must have thought she doing it for charity and puts a hat on the ground, but it proves too small a hat and another is donated, and another as people, touched by the music, toss in spare change and scrip. Several people toss in cred sticks as they walk by. The police have to cordon off the streets near the park as the crowd grows larger than it can hold. Local shops close and work in high rise office buildings adjacent to the park is temporarily halted as workers stream to open windows to listen. Most of those listening cannot understand her words because they are in the tongue of Below, but the tone is unmistakable and resonates with everyone present. The effect is such that no official or shop owner or business makes more than a passing complaint, all of which are ignored.
The concert is heard far beyond the boundary of the park when the first newsies showed up and drones begin feeding it throughout the matrix. Somewhere, a man older than time nods his head, his dreadlocks moving in time to the music. The Old One smiles and considers what the handful of Overworlders, along with some from Below, have done and how their efforts will be felt throughout the Pattern that is emerging in his third eye. A small group of witches whose machinations were all about the Pattern smile and nod at each other. Dragons and drakes also hear the music as they grimly prepare for the next step of what has been long coming. But to most of the people of Greater London, the Requiem is just very, very good music as it stirs and lifts, encouraging the soul to be better and stronger than it is. Finally, Robyn pulls her bow across the strings of the very old cello for the last time. Her sightless face is streaked with the tears that have flowed unchecked. Her heart is heavy, but she feels fulfilled and a bit more complete than she has in a long time. The hundreds, no, thousands that have been listening to her play and sing erupt into a frenzy of applause, their souls grateful for the music even if most of the people have had no idea what she has been singing. Her sensors have been telling her of the crowds gathering, but she has ignored all but the music and is actually surprised by the number of people in and near the park that have been listening to her. The Requiem for Below was originally for her own soul but she can tell that she has touched far more than hers alone. A old man comes hobbling forward form where he has been standing rapt and shakes her hand, thanking her. He is followed by another then another and soon a flood of people are in a queue, waiting to shake her hand. It takes three hours for the crowd to pass her by, one person at a time, and she does not leave until the last person goes past her. Many people just thank her and ask if she has any recordings they can buy, others just thank her, and some cannot get any words out as they grasp her hands, still too involved in the music to be able to speak. Through it all, the huge hound has stood by her side but no one seems particularly afraid to come up to Robyn, and the hound makes no attempt to discourage them. The last people in the queue are several City policemen and women. They have made sure that everyone leaves in an orderly fashion and now it is their turn to thank Robyn for the music they have been listening to. She thanks them in turn and motions to the hats on the ground near her. The number has grown to nearly thirty and most are full of coins and scrip. She asks the policemen to collect the hats and donate them to charities that provide food for those who need it. She and Al remain standing near the bench she has sat at for so long today and take in the quiet.
She takes her old cello and walks slowly out of the park and across the street to the restaurant next door to her shop, where she is met by the young assistant manager, a man by the name of Joseph, who personally escorts to her reserved booth. She orders from the Braille menu provided and pats Al's head as she waits for the food. Halfway through the meal there is a slight commotion near her table as Joseph intercepts several people who seem determined to see Robyn. It is her normal custom to ask to not be disturbed while eating, but she calls out to Joseph that it is alright, this time. The young man steps aside as a group of people come up to the table in a line. Robyn feels her hydras react to these people and she knows that she is in the presence of all thirteen of the Lords of the Great Houses of Below, even those that are normally never seen. She starts to stand but the first in line, the Earl, hisses and she remains where she is. None of them speaks a word, but each places a silver coin on the table in front of her then walks off. Her tears are flowing fresh by the time the last person walks up to her booth. He does not have a coin to give her, instead leaning forward and whispering so only she can hear the man she knows as The Old One. "You have done well, daughter. You and your companions have helped heal a long-standing rift. More is needed and you and they will be called on again to serve the Pattern. Rest and be calmed." He passes a hand over Robyn's eyes and the pain and horror of the past days goes away., flowing back into the recesses it had been spawned from. "It is not meant for you to forget because you are meant to not forget, but neither is it meant that you should suffer for the memories and so it is. Have peace, daughter, and wait until summoned."
The old man straightens up and leaves the restaurant, vanishing into the fog just as have the heads of the Houses. They belong to Below, not the Overworld, and their visit here has been painful for several of them. Painful but necessary and none hold a grudge for being summoned for this duty. Robyn runs her hands across each coin in front of her, aware of the stares and wondering questions directed in her direction by the other patrons of the restaurant.. The assistant manager, somewhat used to the notoriety his rather well known customer sometimes brings, is quick to act and sends his staff out to the tables and booths, offering free drinks, which brings peace to Robyn. Grateful, she leaves a very large tip when she is finished and picks up her cello and the coins, calling Al to her as she leaves the booth and walks to the door the exits form the restaurant to the book shop next door. Her maid is waiting for her and takes the cello upstairs as Robyn goes off to sit at her chair and read.
Robyn takes a cigarette from a pack she keeps at the chair and lights it with her old, clunky Zippo lighter. Her fingers move across the raised characters of the book and she is at peace for the first time in days. No unbidden horrors reach from the dark areas of her mind to eat at her. Oh, she knows that they are still there; after all, she cannot, no, is not allowed to forget anything, not even THAT. But she can now live with it. She is brought from her pages by the most unlikely of things........a ping on her 'link. It is not a special 'link, but it is a special tone, one reserved for only one person. Even though the 'link and the call are internal, her hands tremble on the page of her book as she answers the call. "Hello Al."