His Imperial Majesty Emperor Ezra II awoke beneath a light dusting of snow in the Hakeldama Cemetery, wondering where he was, who he was, and where he was. It came back slowly, as it usually did… he was in the old pauper’s cemetery in the Gut, he was the Emperor, the protector of the city, and this was the old pauper’s cemetery in the Gut. Good good. He had been testing the integrity of the stones the evening before, he recalled that now. Also, testing a new brew Miss Jones at the Bucket of Blood had prepared – she always tested it on Crumb first. If he could still see after, it was good enough. He had also been visiting Martha’s grave… it had been too long.
Wearily, unsteadily, and somewhat wobbly, the Emperor pushed himself up with help from a nearby stone. Someone nearby groaned for him… or was it himself? It was a strange cemetery.
He felt through his hundreds of pockets and finally struck gold near his left hip. Unscrewing the flask he knocked back a belt, wiped his lips on a sleeve, then replaced it in his pocket. He was delighted to find some crummies in his pocket as well… breakfast! Munching happily, he stumbled down toward Abney Parkway, intending to make for City Hall… he noticed someone standing at the Great Fire Memorial. How long had it been since he had paid his respects?
Crumb shuffled forward, looking the stone over slowly, then brushed snow from the front. He could still see the flames leaping from one building to another in his mind, as if the fire had a will of its own. The screams, the shoving and trampling, the blackness and the smoke. He recalled with horror running through the narrow cobbled streets calling shouting screaming until his voice blew out, going dark in the shadows, awaking on a barrel bobbing out in the Iron Bay. Broken.
He took his hat from his head, and placed it on his heart, closing his eyes. He quickly discovered that closing his eyes only made the visions of flames stronger, and so opened them again, and gazed directly on the face of Joseph Foehammer.
Blinking did nothing to banish the cursed hallucination. Foehammer. Here. Aged.
Even withered and touched by frost as he was, Crumb recognized that face. Without replacing his hat, Crumb rushed away from the monument, down Abney Parkway… not heading anywhere in particular, simply escaping from that man’s presence.