Chapter 16 - New Alliances
- Jyre: Live to Thieve Another Day - Day 10: 10:20am
Fighting my way through the press of the crowd wasn't easy and I knew it wouldn't take long for the Hammers to barge their way through. All it took was one look from those bastards and the crowd parted for them. I dived to the ground and half-crawled, half-ran between the confusion of legs, hoping I didn't manage to get myself turned around in the maze I had plunged myself into. I headed towards what I hoped was the main market, somewhere I knew I could easily get myself lost. Finding a relatively clear spot in the road, I scrambled to my feet, glanced behind me to find the Hammers still in pursuit. I sprinted off towards the little-used side street on my right.
I was slowed as tried to dodge around a huddle of people who had managed to block off most of the street's entrance. Fear made my breath hard to come by. I could almost feel the Hammer's hand reaching out to grab me and haul me back. Breaking clear of the mob, I darted down the narrow path, swerving to avoid the raw sewage that dotted the mud and the small mound of rubbish that had been piled up against one wall.
"Halt, lest the wrath of the Builder be unleashed upon thee!"
I came to halt when I reached the end of the small lane and glanced in both directions. "Damn!" I was not where I thought I was. I turned right, following the main flow of the crowd, although this street was a good deal quieter than the last one had been. Too quiet to lose myself in. The sleeve of my tunic flapped against my arm and I suddenly had the picture of myself trying to run down a crowded street dressed in an oversized pair of trousers and tripping over them with every step I took. I must've laughed out loud because the vendor I was passing stared at me as though I were mad.
There wasn't a single side street to turn down or wall to climb, just house after house all tightly packed together like terrified children. I risked a look over my shoulder. My pursuers were still there, showing no signs of tiring. I was glad when the road finally split. I went left as that was the side I was closest too, spotted a welcome wall where some vendors had set up their stalls and ran straight for it. I jumped onto the first stall I came to, landing on top of some rather gaudy jewelry and cutting open the soles of my feet. The stall-holder let out a rather angry yell. I ignored him as I leapt for the top of the wall. I sent the jewelry spinning across the dirt as I sprang. I caught the top of the wall with the tips of my fingers, kicked with my feet and somehow managed to scramble over. I was running again as soon as my feet hit solid ground, not even bothering to check if I was still being pursued.
I must have spent a good hour making sure there would be no further pursuit, taking every back-alley and side street I could find, trying to mix in with the crowd when I had to, but mostly staying out of sight. When I finally stopped to take my bearings I let out a rather perverse curse. I had only gone and taken myself right back to the city's main gates!
- Nightfall: Contemplation - Day 10: 10:30am
As time passed, I thought of what had happened. I did not fully understand, but I knew that nothing had changed, really. I just had more friends than I counted on, or at least, my enemy had more enemies than I counted on. I had heard of beings which dwelt deep below the earth, beings which did not quite exist in our definition of reality, but I never expected to meet one, let alone seven. They had guided me this far, and I was now aware of their guidance as I pressed ahead. I rarely glanced at my map anymore, understanding that I knew where I was going, even though I really didn't.
One thing still bugged me; the way they referred to me as some type of servant to the creators. Now, I could have just assumed the obvious teaching, that we all serve the creator, but somehow I didn't think that they meant that. The Hammerites think that I am the emissary to their Master Builder. Could these beings also think that of me? Somehow I doubted it. Could they know more about me then I did? It was possible. I had all the time in the world to think about it, as I walked from hall to hall, and just contemplated. The words of the Keeper I met in the street suddenly came back to me, as if he had just spoken them.
"Many forces are at work here, but they all lead to one. Choose one path, not all, and follow it, and the key shall be apparent. If you walk too many paths, you doom yourself to hardship."
They were right about one thing; there were many forces at work here, more then I took into account. Whose path was I walking? I was walking Jyre's path, and the Hammerite's path, and the path set out by these beings, and above all, my own. Who else's path was I walking?
Aside from all of that, I had another contemplation buzzing around in my skull. My hearing had returned to normal, but not my vision. I could still see rather well, though there was no light at all. Everything seemed to have a greenish hue, including myself. Perhaps it was them granting me vision. For some reason I doubted it. I pressed on.
- Jyre: James - Day 10: 11:30am
People were staring. I could feel their eyes watching me. I kept to the shadows and alleyways wherever I could but every time I had to cross a street or enter a busy part of the city I knew they turned and watched me. Paranoia - that's probably all it was. But it kept me alert and I managed to avoid several Hammer patrols because of it. I was heading for the edge of the slums, where James had his flat and where my strange attire would, hopefully, go unnoticed. Taking such a roundabout route, it took me at least two hours to reach the right street. Once there I just stood and stared up at the flat's windows. I had never met James before and, as always, I could feel my pulse quicken at the thought of introducing myself to a stranger. I was never happy with other people's company. I was a loner. If I were to tell the truth I would have to admit that talking to people scared me! Which no doubt explained why I knew so few people. I forced myself to move forward, telling myself that Daneel needed my help. The hardest part was forcing my foot up onto the first step. Once that was done I almost ran the rest of the way, past a number of smelly bodies lying in blankets on the stairs. They watched me go past with bored, rheumy eyes. At the top of the stairs I came to a locked door. I took a deep breath, forced my breathing to relax, and pounded on the door. A voice called back distractedly, "Just a minute, Jyre, while I find my keys." It trailed off into a mumble, saying something like, "Now where was that paper... Oh yes... And therefore..."
I had begun to pace nervously outside the door whilst listening to the sounds of rustling papers and barely understood mumbles about keys. I was at a disadvantage already. He obviously knew me, or of me, anyway. When I had knocked he had answered me by name. I didn't like it. I heard the lock trip and the door swung open to reveal an unkempt man. He looked at me, blinked and seemed to recall himself. "Please, come in. Would you like some tea?"
I stepped past him, muttering a quick, "No." Not very polite, I know, but I was starting to lose my patience. James shut the door again and led me into a room that I can only describe as a shambles. There were papers and books quite literally everywhere. The floor was covered with them, as was the table and the chairs and every other surface that I could spot! James hastily cleared space on a chair. I sat, more out of politeness than any real desire for comfort. The next thing I knew there was a tray of strange, foul smelling brown lumps being shoved under my nose. "Cor got the urge to bake yesterday. Want some brownies?"
I sniffed, wrinkled my nose in disgust and shook my head. "I didn't come here for food." I must say he seemed rather distracted as he didn't even wait for me to finish answering before plowing on! This was certainly not what I had expected from someone who obviously was held in high esteem at the Circle.
"Now, if you are here, then Dan must be elsewhere, which means things are going badly. So, what can I do for you?" He took a bite of one of those lumps, and drank some equally repugnant brown liquid from the biggest mug I had ever seen, as he waited for an answer. It took me a moment to sort through his words and find an appropriate answer. As I said, I am not the most sociable of people.
"I came here to find out where Da- , " I caught myself just in time, "I mean, Master Nightfall, went."
James took another sip from his mug. He seemed rather distracted by all the clutter surrounding us. "Ah..." Another bite of the brownie. "So Daneel told you to come to me in that event, eh?"
I took a deep breath and tried to keep calm, despite all the annoying, pointless, time wasting questions! I didn't succeed. "No! He never! He shut me up in the mansion and I don't appreciate being locked up!"
The absent-minded look disappeared from James's face when I said that. He set aside his mug and his brownie and turned his full attention on me. I dropped my eyes from his penetrating stare. I heard him shift in his seat. "Did he now?"
His lack of concern did nothing for my temper. "Do you know what it's like! That's what she did to me!"
"She?" He looked confused.
"The Lady," I muttered, not really considering it important.
I think I caught a sigh. "What Lady?"
Did it matter, I asked myself. "The Lady I was working for. I don't know her name!" I got to my feet and started pacing; picking my way through the litter of paper. What was wrong with him? He blatantly states that something's wrong, than carries on questioning me regardless!
He found himself a pen and a blank sheet of paper and something else I didn't see and started to write. "OK. Let's start at the beginning, shall we? I'm a little behind on the story here."
Just what has this got to do with finding Daneel? I wanted to scream. But that would probably only make things worse. Have patience I told myself. Several times. I forced my words to remain calm. "Which beginning?"
I saw him grin. "A good question!" He sounded pleased for some inconceivable reason. "Actually, if we could start after the beginning for a brief moment. Did Daneel leave anything for you in the tower?"
Finally something constructive! "These," I replied, indicating my clothes. "And a note. Why?" I stopped by the window and gazed out.
"Testing you. Are you honest, or clever enough to outwit the test?"
I turned back from the window as a hammer patrol passed through the street below, just in time to see him grinning again. I said nothing.
"I believe both are the verdict."
I waited patiently for him to continue. I had just begun to calm down when he asked his next question.
"Now, why did the Lady lock you up?"
I wanted to scream! Why did he have to keep going back to that? It wasn't something I wanted to think about. "Because I had a fight with Els. He was my captain."
"This is the same Els you have been protecting?"
I went back to gazing out the window. He had hit on a painful subject. I let out a long sigh before I answered. "Protecting? If it weren't for Els I'd be dead! He was the one doing the protecting." I glanced down at my hands, remembering. "Then, when he needed me, I left him." I turned round to study James once more. "And now he's dead."
James looked confused. "So what happened between your fighting with him, and being locked in the tower, and his protecting you?"
Now I was the one that was confused. Els had been protecting me before Daneel shut me in the tower. I took it to mean my being locked up by the Lady. I shook my head. I hadn't explained things too well. "Sorry. My mind wandered. Els rescued me from the cage the Lady had me locked up in. She had meant for me to die in there."
"Ah. That Lady." James suddenly seemed very old and tired. "Well. That explains much. Tell me, do you know who this Lady is?"
Another dumb question! Did he honestly think I'd go around calling her "the Lady" if I knew who she was? I frowned at him. "No."
"Want to know?" He met my eyes with his own. "It isn't a pretty story, but then again, you haven't been in a pretty story."
My eyes turned back to the window and I stared up at the sky. I didn't like the tone of his voice. Whatever it was he had to tell me, I knew I wouldn't like it. "Tell me."
- James: A Tale for Jyre - Day 10: 11:50am
I hired her first, signing her into the rolls, taking the oath, and providing her with two week's pay in iron coin, to try to ensure security a bit by binding her to us. Then I told her the story of The Dark Project: The Woodsie Lord and The Faery Queen, Garrett and the Hammers, Elemental forces of nature in combat.
She didn't buy it. I tried again, with more detailed explanations, and with reluctance showed her some horrific illustrations best left in the darkness of the accursed books they inhabit. She recognized the scenes. No matter that the books had been created over a millennia ago - she had seen them, herself, in the service of the Lady.
She disputed the age of the books. Fair comment; human skin, properly treated, lasts surprisingly well as paper. I explained this salient fact, but she remained skeptical, asking for more proof: "I need solid evidence, not these... books."
"Will you accept tales I tell you of recent events? I cannot show you many physical things; but I can tell you what I have seen."
"I'll listen. But anyone can tell a tale."
"But in my business, the motto is: 'Know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.'" I grinned, though she didn't seem impressed, and told her the tale of recent events, beginning with the poor lass who had intended to tell us about the local activity of the Lady, and ending with the villa whose collapse and purification I had witnessed last night. Finally, I remembered one piece of evidence I had, and produced the sun-baked clay fragment from the temple beneath the villa. I handed her the fragment, "Be careful with it; they are easily broken."
Jyre took the fragment and rubbed it gently. Then she shook her head. "Perhaps", she said, and handed the fragment back.
Her steadfast skepticism was starting to create trouble for me - though it might come in handy. If she could temper it, she might be a powerful scholar. But I wrenched my mind back to the problem at hand, as a new possibility occurred to me.
"Is the problem here that you do not believe in magic?"
"Magic exists. That I can accept. One of my friends practices it. No. It's just..." Her voice trailed away, as she struggled for words. I waited. "You speak of Gods and powers... They..." She shook her head. "Alone. Always I was alone. You understand?"
"Not entirely. You mean you have never felt the patronage of a god?"
She stood abruptly and resumed her restless pacing. "I am here. I hear my thoughts and know my feelings. And you are there. That I can see. And magic. It is there. That I see too. But gods?" She stopped suddenly and turned to face me.
"Where does magic come from?" I asked. Jyre simply stared at me, as if to ask why I thought she would know the answer to the question. I chuckled, and went on: "An unfair question, with a much debated and many-faceted answer. Some comes from gods, though. Some is from gods, refracted through humans. And some, we mortals make on our own. But in the end, the real question may come to this: do you trust your new employer enough to take his story on faith for a time?"
She said nothing.
"For if you seek to follow Daneel, then know this: he is dealing with powers we may as well call gods. One of them is the Lady."
"It is a hard thing to ask. I will try."
I nodded. "True. Though in the business you have now joined" and I indicated the coins of her initial pay, "you will find trust is often necessary, of both employer and employee. But we shall move on, and we shall see what comes of it. Perhaps your skepticism may itself prove valuable." I thought a moment.
"Now. I have explained to you who the Lady is, though you are unsure of my explanation. You wish to seek Daneel, and are in my, and thus his, employ, and I grant it would be a useful task to set you. What do you know of his location?"
Fingering the coin, she replied, "Where is he?"
"An excellent question, if you mean Daneel. Perhaps if I might see the note?
She snorted gently, and replied, "Who else would I mean?" Then she shrugged and handed over the paper. "It doesn't say much."
"It pays not to assume." I grinned. "Although I daresay you think I assume a great deal about the Lady." I took the note and read it, took note, and addressed her once more. "Did you meet Daneel when he 'imprisoned' you in the tower?"
"I have met him many times." She picked up a nearby book and flicked through it. "But he was gone when I woke."
"What was he intending to do when you last saw him?"
"He said... He said he had to stop her..." She put the book back down. "I don't remember anything else!"
"Oh dear." I sighed, feeling suddenly tired and old, and sank into a chair.
"Is that bad?"
My mind was elsewhere, spinning through what exactly Daneel might have decided to do. "I fear Daneel may have decided to do something rash."
"Tell me!" she growled.
I thought for a few moments more, as she glowered at me, and then came reluctantly to a decision. "Daneel has decided to take on a god. We believe the Lady is moving to reanimate - or, indeed, combine with - the Trickster. Daneel will have used the portal left behind in the villa, several miles out of town in the Old Forest. He is walking into grave danger, possibly graver than he knows, for his soul is powerful and would make a mighty slave to the Lady's will. It is well you wish to help him, for he may need the help, clever though he is. Did he leave you some kit?"
She suddenly grabbed my collar and shook me. "And you did nothing to stop him?"
I broke her hold, and commented, as I retrieved my spectacles, "Well, I did not know he was doing this until you told me, did I? And consider that, in the end, he is my employer. He tells me what to do; not the other way around."
She made a visible effort to calm down. She would have to work on controlling that impulsiveness to be an effective agent. "He left me only what I showed you!" She shrugged in apology, and continued, "I'm sorry. I worry."
"I understand that." I lead her to a small equipment closet, and suggested she take anything she might need.
"And what use would I be to him? I can't even look after myself."
I grinned. "Oh, from what I hear that is not so very true. I'd not have hired you if I thought that, in any event! Let's see..." I handed her a short sword, and began to look at bows, pausing to look over my shoulder and joke to her, "And try to keep that temper under control, don't need that thing in my kidneys."
She shook her head and returned the sword. "I use only my dagger and my bow." She unstrapped a clever folding bow and demonstrated its features. I noted them for future reference. She admitted she was out of arrows, however, and she stocked up on fire, water, and broadhead arrows. Meanwhile, I mused, "Now, you'll need a means of communicating with me."
"You're not coming? Don't you care that he's in trouble?"
I was surprised by the question. "Of course I care. But my duty is here, running the agent network."
"And if he dies?"
She looked me in the eye. "You are intending to profit from his death?"
I laughed. "That I would indeed not. You have a point, though. If he intends to face the Lady, he may have need of more information than he possesses." I looked into the closet, thinking, then called into another room, "Cor?"
"Yes?" Jyre jumped; evidently she had thought we were alone in the flat.
"Can you run the network for a while? Dan has been rash and may need help."
Corinne walked in. "Hello, Jyre, welcome to the firm. James, you're going operational?"
"Um, I think it may be necessary. Dan has decided to oppose the Lady - directly."
"You're rusty on your fieldcraft."
"Yes but -"
"And you were never topnotch."
"Yes but if he -"
"But if he's going against the Lady, then the fool will need the information only you can provide."
- Jyre: An Unlikely Pair - Day 10: 10:20am
As I watched, bemused, Corinne handed James a sword, a bow, a selection of arrows, and a large number of healing potions. Then she embraced him, and told him to take care. James managed a muffled "I'll try."
As I stood there looking embarrassed, Corinne walked to James' desk, sat down, and said glumly, "Well, stand not upon the order of thy going..."
James seemed at a loss for words. "Yeah, see ya." He looked at me, and then turned to leave the flat, stopping, shoulder slumped, in the door. I caught the glint of a tear in Cor's eye, and she quietly enjoined me, "Take care of him, please."
I grinned and bowed. "You have my word. I will keep him on a short leash." I winked, and Corinne gave me a thankful smile. Then I followed James out the door.
In the stairwell, James paused. The bodies in their blankets seemed much more alert suddenly, and their eyes suddenly clear and sharp. "I am going operational for the next few days. Corinne is in charge of the network until my return." A chorus of "Yes, sir" replied to him, and it dawned on me that these forms were in fact James' agents, and nowhere near as decrepit as they appeared.
- James: The Magic of Iron - Day 10: 11:00am
I went to the smith, testing aspects of Jyre's streetcraft along the way - and found it excellent. At the smith's, I asked for the arrow and nails. They were ready, and the arrow in particular was superbly crafted. I signed a credit slip, charged to the Circle, and altered the fee to a sum considerably more than the originally agreed-on price, in view of the speed, quality, and difficulty of the work.
Jyre asked me why I had paid such a stunning fee for a useless iron arrow and a handful of ordinary iron nails.
"Men work magic when they make things; and the greater the effort, the greater the magic. The magic of iron is deeply opposed to that of the Wood and of the Faery Queen. This arrow and these nails were cold-forged - hammered into their shapes without heat. It is a process requiring exceptional effort and dedication. That smith may not know it, but he works a form of magic. In this instance, he has worked it on an inherently powerful substance - iron that fell from the stars. The Lady is a force of Chaos, and this arrow is a very Orderly work. Know also that the working of spells and magic rituals, tends to distract spellcasters, lowering their defenses. So when we find the Lady, this arrow may do more damage than if she were prepared to repel the assault. There is a strong possibility that the break in her concentration will create a strong enough backlash, from the effort of her sorcerous ritual and the return of her will from the substance of the spell to herself, to kill her."
Jyre did not seem to believe me, but I could think of nothing else to tell her, so we trudged onwards towards the riven oak where once the Lady's accursed villa had stood, passing soon out of the city and into the woods. There the path swiftly dwindled, and I was immersed in finding the route.
- Jyre: A Tale From Jyre - Day 10: 1:00pm
I stopped at the top of the small incline and offered James my hand. He took it with a nod and a mumbled "Thank you." Then he seemed to pause, and suddenly turned to me as if to ask something that had been troubling him.
"Could you explain the chain of events that lead to your termination from service with the Lady?"
As he paused to catch his breath I considered his question. Something in his manner, his detachment I think, made me want to answer. I looked up at the canopy as I considered my answer. The trees here were packed tightly and little light passed through the thick foliage high above. Glimpses of the sky were rare. It made the woods rather dull, but at least it meant there was little undergrowth to fight with. I sighed and lowered my eyes. He nodded he was ready and we continued to walk, with James keeping us heading in the right direction.
"I guess it all started when I met Ranson. He was the one that got me into the guard in the first place" I hesitated, wondering if I should mention what else Ranson had gotten into. The thought made me shiver. That was one subject best left in the past. "Not that I was particularly pleased about it to start with. I hated being told what to do and all they ever did in that place was tell you what to do! But worse than that, most of the things they got you doing were stupid! I mean, what's the better thing to do; spend ten minutes polishing dumb buttons or spending an extra ten minutes on patrol? Does a thief really care how shiny the guard's buttons are? I don't think I ever noticed when I was, er, working." I kicked a small stone. It bounced across the dusty ground and hit a tree. "But the food was good. And the pay. Not that I was earning more, just regularly."
I glanced over my shoulder at James, but he seemed more interested in navigating the path than asking me any questions. "Anyway, I worked in one of her smaller houses, though at the time I thought it was huge! Three floors, four or five rooms on each. Then there were the attic and barracks. Garden front and back. Up until then the only houses I'd ever been in were the ones I robed and most of them were owned by minor merchants who couldn't afford to pay a regular guard. Her house seemed like a palace to me!" I was waffling. But that's what I do. I waffle or I clam up. I focused my mind on the question and tried my best to answer.
"I guess it all started when I was assigned to serve under Els for the night shift. We didn't exactly get on when we first met. I don't like people who go around acting all superior and that's exactly how he seemed to me. I guess I learnt different though. He was afraid really. He'd served the Lady elsewhere and some of the things he'd seen...Things he'd told me about after he rescued me. I didn't really know what type of person I was in service to. I guess Ranson's attitude should have given me a clue, but I just assumed she was a rather rich merchant who didn't want people snooping around."
James nodded to let me know he was listening.
"I was given the duty of upper floor patrol, which sounds reasonable enough until you consider a few facts. First off only one of the rooms, just a storage cupboard really, was ever open. The rest were always locked and off limits. No-one was allowed in them. Pretty dumb if you consider that most of them had windows any thief could climb through. What was the point of having a guard then banning them from the areas they're meant to be protecting? I went to Els to ask him about it. He didn't seem very pleased that I was asking. Just told me he'd 'look into it'. I took that to mean he wasn't interested in some kid's dumb ideas. So I shut up and went back to work. Only then I heard these strange sounds coming from one of the rooms I passed on my patrol. Sounded like a thud, then a muffled scream. I called Els but when he got there he just shook his head and said 'it has been dealt with'. Sounded dumb at the time but I know better now. What he meant was that whoever had tried to get in had been fried by the magic that protected the place from intruders. The guard was only ever meant to act as a backup."
I got no reaction from him that time. I went on.
"Then there was the lighting. One torch every ten feet and most of them went out after an hour or two. It was the wind from the open windows. Yet another one of those dumb things I didn't understand at the time. Windows with shutters that were never shut! When Els fobbed me off about that as well, I went to the Lady. Only she was too busy to see a mere guard so I had to leave a 'request'. I guess she got it because a few days later Els came to me and told me to stop bugging her. There was something in his manner then that bothered me. I thought it was a threat. He had meant it as a warning."
I stopped walking again and looked up. There was no sky showing through the canopy now and the shadows that fell made it more like early evening than late afternoon. I took a sip of water from my flask before finishing my tale. "I guess this must've went on for a month or two before my temper finally got the better of me. I was asking him about another one of these senseless oddities which he, once again, waved away. So I hit him. He returned the favor and we got into a bit of a fight. The next thing I know we're both pinned to the ground by other guards and the Lady's standing over us. She ordered Els whipped the next morning in front of the entire guard and demoted. She had me locked up in a cage suspended between two posts in the back garden. Three months she said I had to stay there, and the only time I'd get any food or water was when the staff took pity on me. The other guard weren't allowed near me."
James gave a concerned "Hmmm..."
"I was witness to Els's whipping. It left him so weak he couldn't stand, but she still made him work the next day, patrolling the garden so he'd be forced to watch me suffer. There was one young cook who took pity on me and brought me a hunk of bread and some water in the morning, but he kept saying these dumb Hammer prayers and asking The Builder to have mercy on a lost one's soul. I was hungry and sick of it so I yelled at him to shut up and gimme the food. I never saw him again. I saw Els every day though. He was a mess. There was always blood on the back of his shirt and he seemed to struggle just to watch. Every so often he'd look over at me and in my naiveté I assumed he was blaming me for what had happened. Soon after the cook stopped coming I got sick and fevered. I don't really remember what happened after that. Not until I woke up in the hold of a ship staring up at a total stranger. I later found out how Els had risked his own life getting me out the cage and onto the ship. The stranger was a young battle-mage in training, Tanya. He helped break my fever. He was a good friend. They both were." I sighed and shook my head. Els's death still hurt. "I spent the winter at a school for telekinetics, working for the guard there, then traveled a little with Els and Tanya. When I was feeling better Els and I decided to come back and get a little revenge for our treatment. You know the rest." I didn't feel like talking any more so I let the tale come to an end. If James asked anymore I was too lost in thought to answer.
- Chapter 15 - Guests in Alien Realms / Chapter 17 - Land of the Ancients
Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.