Chapter 4 - A Mission's End, a Mission's Dawn

- Jyre: A Change of Plans - Day 3: 5:00pm

"I don't want you to go, Jyre."

Those were the first words Captain Els had spoken since he had first picked up the pen to record my tale. He had listened as I spoke, recorded the words as I told them, but almost from the first second he had had that disapproving frown on his face.

"Why not? This is good info. We need anything we can get on Her Ladyship. You said so yourself!" I stepped away from the wall towards the rickety writing desk. My shadow masked Els's face. "I'll be gone two days. Three at the most."

Els coughed. A horrible, racking cough. It scared me. When he finally caught his breath he shook his head. "I don't think itís the information you're after, somehow."

I snorted and turned away, casting my gaze on the quiet street outside. "You think I'd do something like this for money?"

"No. But you'd sure as hell do it for the adventure!" He had moved behind me and now placed a large hand on my shoulder. "I worry, Jyre. What makes you think you can trust him?"

"He's well known for his... contacts."

"He's also well known as an idiot and a bastard! I still can't believe you're willing to risk your life for a rumor!"

I could feel his body heat through my clothes and for a second I didn't want to leave. Then I pushed him away. "You'll take the letter to Nightfall?"

Els stepped back. "At first light."

I picked up my pack and slung it over my shoulder. "And you'll look after yourself?"

"Of course."

I was almost out the door when he spoke again.

"Shall I give him your love?"

The question brought me to a halt. I felt my face burning. "It's not like that and you know it."

"Oh no?" There was a cocky smile on his face now.

"He... fascinates me, that's all. He's so well known and yet he somehow manages to remain a mystery."

"He's certainly intriguing, I'll give you that. But that doesn't make me want to pour my soul out to him."

I stepped outside and shut the door. I still didn't understand why I had done that myself.


- Nightfall: It's Not a Good Thing to Forget - Day 4: 8:00am

Itís hard to enjoy your breakfast when you are worrying about three people. James I really did not have to worry about. Be it avoiding Hammerite scouts wile investigating the lodge, or thwarting the wrath of this Lady should he be discovered digging up dirt on her, I knew that he was more then capable of taking care of himself. I had no doubt that he could search that building from steeple to cellar without being seen by a fly. Then there was Jyre, who told me that she needed my help in the note, but then vanished. Latter last night I went to the inn Jyre spoke of in her letter, but no-one there knew where she was. I could have her tracked down easily, but I dislike doing such things to such people. She would come to me, I hoped, without doing anything rash. She seemed to be a crafty person to have survived so far, leaving little doubt that sheís still quite fine. However there was a dash of guilt that stuck in my mind like a splinter. When I had requested the Hammers investigate the Lodge, and I had neglected to warn the old woman to stay clear of the place, lest she be found by the Hammers and subjected to things I would care not to think about while chewing on bacon and eggs. But my train of thought was cut short.

"Master, a letter for you --"

"Canít ya see the masterís eatiní!!"

Jossimerís rude interruption of my meal received a sharp objection from my cook, Mrs. Marith Henrett. Unlike Jossimer, she was a servant I actually appreciated (and coincidentally received the highest pay). An old woman in her mid sixties, she sort of reminded me of my grandmother when I was a child. Standing only a little under five feet tall, with a very slight figure, this little old woman cooked the best meals I could ever ask for. Not only that, but I enjoyed how she constantly picked on Jossimer for his incompetence, so I didnít have to! Jossimer, ignoring Marithís verbal bashing, walked stiffly up to where I was seated and laid a note on the table. "This was nailed to the front gate with this, Master." He handed me a custom made dagger. The wooden hilt had a figure of a woman moving in swirling mist carved into the side. For a moment I was more interested in the dagger, and after a brief examination concluded that it did indeed have some artistic value, even if it was relatively worthless. Reluctantly, after finishing my orange juice, I picked up the letter and read it.

Nightfall, do I gather by your not showing to the meeting that you're not interested in the Star of Alarus, or were you just so busy you couldn't be bothered to reply? I thought Iíd get a definite answer if I pinned this note to your butler Jeeves, but I decided that might not make a favorable impression. Anyway, you want it or not? I have a big ummm... project coming and I need cash for supplies and lets just say I don't want to go unprepared. I'll be in the tavern by the docks early this morning, corner table to the left of the door. If you don't show by nine this piece of jewelry goes to the highest bidder.

-Ghost

Cursing myself for being so forgetful, (hey, itís just a bauble) I thanked Marith for the wonderful meal, grabbed my cloak, and dashed out to the meeting place. I only had two hours to make it clear across town, so I decided I had better hurry.


- James: On Task - Day 4: 8:00am

I took the latest message to Master Nightfall down to the kitchen and asked the cook for two mugs of tea; then went into the messenger's waiting room. Quin was there, a lass we'd hired several years before. I handed her a mug of tea, and inquired about Spence, her beloved Stafford terrier. Spence, an ugly but very friendly beast, had been part of our recruitment deal with Quin -- we provided it with critical medical care Quin couldn't afford, and part of her contract was a proviso for continuing to provide this service. After a few minutes chatting about Spence's affairs, I asked her to take the message to Daneel, and she sped off.


- Ghost: A Casual Business Venture - Day 4: 7:00am

Getting through The City early in the day is usually pretty easy. It gives you good practice at avoiding being seen without the use of shadows. You also get to practice your pick-pocket skills on the early birds. Not to mention the fact that most of the guards are exhausted from having to take the graveyard shift. But this morning was different. I had a meeting to get to and wasn't bothering to even stay concealed. I did, of course, keep an eye open for Hammerite patrols. Getting to the docks area is simple. It's not far out of the main area of town, but still far enough to keep most of the patrols light. Finally I arrived at the bar where Nightfall was to meet me, or where it seemed I was meeting him. I had had the feeling that I was being set up for a while now. Maybe he just wanted to test my persistence by not answering my first offer to sell the Star.

Inside The Drunken Mermaid, the typical sort lingered. Some fisherman types, some pirate types, and some cloaked unscrupulous types ( like me), sat around drinking and making sure not to make eye contact with anyone else. As I approached my normal table I saw I had guests. The men sitting at it looked as if they were quite comfortable until they realized they were in my seat. There were three of them, sailors. They looked rather sleepy. Their ship had probably just come into port, and they were hitting the bar to get some juice into their systems. Nothing helps a cargo unload like a good solid buzz. Surprisingly, they showed the proper respect by moving to another table. I was kind enough to not put a dagger through their hands. I sat down with my back to the wall and ordered my usual drink, warm spiced mead, and prepared to wait for Nightfall. I hoped he showed up this time.

An hour passed, and still no Nightfall. There was only one hour left until nine, and then Iíd go home and find another buyer. Maybe Bafford would take it, but then again, heíd probably turn me in as well. Damn those Hammerite collaborators. I'm usually very edgy when I meet with someone I don't really know. He could either bring the cash for the Star, which I didn't even have on me, or he could bring the Hammerites or City Watch down on the place to rid the world of a few more undesirables. However, his reputation preceded him. He is definitely not known for betrayal. What he is definitely known for is collecting rare and valuable items, for that museum of his, "The Circle."

Another hour goes by, two more mugs of mead go into me, and I'm ready to give up. It was five minutes until nine, and still no all-great and wonderful Master Nightfall. It looked like I have to take a major price cut on this thing to get rid of it. Unless I wanted to travel to some other city to find a buyer. That wasnít likely. I stood and left a few coins on the table for the drinks and got ready to go home. I was pondering who I could pawn this thing off to when the door to the joint opened. Someone who couldn't be anyone besides Nightfall walked in. I sat back down and pulled the dark gray hood of my cloak up over my head.

Everyone in the place turned and looked at him. 'What was a nobleman doing here?" they probably wondered. Iím sure he enjoyed the reaction. I expected as much, but what happened next I truly did not expect. One of the darkened drunks who was buzzing around the dart board suddenly shouted out. "Barkeep! One of yer finest fer the Master Nightfall! Patron Saint of Thieves!!" A few shouts of agreement rang from several corners of the room as the stuck-up bastard politely accepted the offer. I was disgusted. How can a man have a meeting in peace with this, this, whatever he is? I was about to get up and leave when he walked past my table and deposited a note under the rim of the ashtray. I waited until the guy was up by the bar, and chatting with a band of roughnecks, before picking up the note.

Ghost,

My apologies for the scene. Itís what usually happens, sorry to say. I could say that I enjoy it no more then you do, but that would be a lie. Meet me on the platform under the wharf in ten minutes.

~MN

Skeptical, but needing this cash badly, I got up and walked out. I found the place he talked about easy enough. It was just a short jog to the wooden stair and then down the ladder to the fishing platform under the wharf. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I found him there waiting for me. "Youíre early," was all he said.

The man is a little hard to describe. Usually when I see clothing that formal, itís worn by a fat nobleman, but the stuff he wore was no more suited to a nobleman than he was fat. If you could imagine the standard thief / assassin / spy type outfit, but filthy rich rather then filthy with dirt, youíd get the idea. The only thing that was different was instead of a hood, he wore a black hat, flat topped, with a brim that came halfway out to the edge of his shoulders. The only part of his face I could see really was that crooked smile of his.

"Youíre late!" I said, quite pissed. "I told you be there before nine."

"I arrived at exactly eight fifty-seven," he said, as he whipped out his pocket watch to show me that he knew exactly what time it was. "I told you be here in ten minutes. Youíre three minutes early."

I was about to get really steamed when the guy broke into laughter.

"Yeah, yeah, ha, ha, very funny." I balked. "So do you have the cash."

"Do you have the merchandise?"

"I have it. Not on me, but I have it."

"Iíll need it before I give you the pay."

"I canít trust you to give me the pay if I give you the merchandise first."

He smirked at me. "Paying in advance will decrease its value to me. You may have your money first, but you will not get as much." After considering, I agreed. "Fine." Better to be sure I get my cash and get less, then risk not getting it at all.

"Very well. Iíll give you five hundred gold for it."

It was a good offer, Iíll have to admit, but I always try and see what I can get out of people.

"No, seven hundred gold."

"I may have considered seven hundred if you had the Star with you. As it stands that price is out of the question. I stand by my original offer."

I eyed him narrowly. Haggling was no doubt something this creep made an art of. "All right, six hundred and fifty gold."

He shook his head. Damn, he had me. He knew I would have a hell of a time trying to sell it to anyone else. That is, anyone else who wouldnít turn me in for it. I figured I might as well fight this one out.

"Six hundred and thirty gold."

"Iíll give you five hundred gold, and I'll make sure that I spread your name around to a few trustworthy fences who are in need of thieves who come with my recommendation."

Hot damn, that was tempting. Still, fame wouldnít buy me suppliesÖ or would it? I could get some better jobs if some good fences out there knew of me. I had made the right choice coming to Master Nightfall after all! Still, I wanted to see if I could get more gold out of him. "All that, plus six hundred gold."

His smile vanished. "Donít push it."

"Fine, five hundred gold. Deal." I stuck out my hand, and Nightfall grasped it and shook firmly. "Iíll bring you the Star as soon as the gold is tucked away in my apartment."

He nodded, and produced five bags of gold from his pouch. I wondered why I hadnít just mugged the man, but then I noticed his quarter staff leaning against the wall. I had fought a man who used a quarter staff once. It looks no more harmless then a blackjack, but boy was I wrong. It wasnít pretty, I can tell you that much. I opened each bag, pulled out a coin, bit it to test it, and was soon satisfied that I was now the proud owner of five hundred gold coins. This could buy me quite a few water arrows and flash bombs. "Great, thanks Mister Nightfall. Where should I deliver the Star?"

"To The Circle. Iíll be in my office until six tonight. I trust you know the way?"

"No problem, it will be there."

He nodded, gave a brief smile, and then leaned against the wall and just stood there. I guess he was waiting for me to leave, so I did. I made a beeline for my apartment, several miles north of the docks.


- Nightfall: A Letter of Solomon News - Day 4: 9:10am

Charming fellow, that Ghost. I had expected him to be a tougher haggler, but I suppose he did well. The Star was easily worth the seven hundred gold he requested, but as much as I didn't mind giving to charity, I did need to maintain a reputation. Still, if he didnít come back with the Star, I could always find more then enough thugs to lean on him for me. A crooked glyph chalked onto the manhole cover caught my eye. James had information for me. I walked to the other side of the street, and halfway down an ally to grab the letter which was sitting on a window sill.

D:

Tread carefully with the Lady. The suspicions I had earlier can be confirmed; this is no normal threat. The streets have produced no information yet save one informant who was killed before making her rendezvous; others clearly know of the Lady but are too terrified to speak. So much would indicate strong, current, coercive power. However, a curious glyph was left carved on her back after she was killed; and this has been a worrisome clue.

The same glyph has been found in a number of references C has dug out of the archive; and there, too, it is only referenced en passant and in tones of terror. The power behind the glyph is linked to the Trickster and the Wood, but as a sometime ally, not as a servant. Certainly a dark and chaotic force, in any event, and ill-disposed towards men.

Is the use of the glyph in this age merely an accident? I think not. Is it a false lead, set by a normal enemy to deceive, or to wear the mantle of an ancient terror? Again, I suspect not. The terror is forgotten for long years in the records, only to crop up anew when it has slid from memory. I shall advise you soonest when we have information of more substance.

- J

This was looking more and more like what James and I both suspected, but cared not dare utter. There was no need for me to worry now. Everything that was happening was going correctly, regardless of whether or not we were right or wrong. At least, I hoped they were going correctly. I was sick of walking, so I called a cab.

I hailed a particularly shabby looking one. I didnít care how it looked, I just wanted to get off my feet. Without any more then glancing at me, the cabby pulled up to the curb where I waited and pulled the lever to open the door. His horse relieved himself on the pavement. The tired looking young man in the driver's seat spat on the sidewalk, and then looked at me. "Where does ye wants ta gooowwhhaaooa!!! Well Iíll be a bloody taffer!! Beggen yer pardon, but what would a rich lard such as yerself be doin Ďailiní a rickety olí cab like mine Ďere?

"Just consider me a patron of the working class, good sir. Please, to The Circle of Stone and Shadow, and make haste."

"Aye ser! I shant spare the whip ser!" With a crack of his whip horse broke into a gallop. A shame, since I wasnít even in my seat yet. Ouch.


- Lytha: Brother Surgeon - Day 4: 10:00am

A bright light shone in my eyes. I opened them, squinting into the light. Five faces stared into my face. My arms and legs were kept in their position by some straps.

"Since we do not know by whom she hadst been sent, we do not want her crippled. Do a good job, Brother Surgeon." A young, intelligent voice spoke from the background.

Hands reached for my left shoulder and elbow, keeping me from moving the arm. The bright pain of metal in the flesh of the arm. The sharp, heavy pain of nails in the bone. They made a metal splint, bolted directly into the arm. All went black.


- Nightfall: At the Office - Day 4: 10:00am

It strikes me as ironic how my office is half the size of Jamesís flat, contains nearly the same amount of information, yet somehow manages to remain spotless and orderly. This was of course the fault of my secretary, Sheam, a young female ex-street urchin, ex-wench, whom I noticed reading a novel in her hovel. While other street-scum were out begging for food, she had her nose buried in The Winds of Change. Though the activity may seem a tad insane to most, I saw her as the perfect choice for a person to keep my office in order. I hired her, and now the once dirty little street rat has a well paying job, comfortable shelter, and three square meals a day. See what education can do for you if the right person finds you? Iíve also come to the conclusion that a good percentage of The Circleís guests (not the majority by far, mind you, but quite a few) do not come to browse the displays, but chat with the ownerís pretty secretary. I didnít mind. After all, she enjoyed it, and a happy employee is a productive employee!

She looked up from the stack of papers she was sorting. "Daneel, thereís a letter for you hereÖ" She handed it to me. "And please tell those Hammerite delivery boys that itís impolite to stare."

I shook my head, smiling, and took the letter from her hand, disappearing into my office, all the while trying to contain my laughter. Oh, joy, a message from the Hammers.

MEMO- 09.08 08.23
DISPATCH NUMBER 475125462
ORDER OF THE HAMMER
COURIER REGISTRY 54-AF

FROM:
RAFAEL MORTANGRO STEINKLAW,
HIGH PRIEST, THE ORDER OF THE HAMMER
LORD OF STEINKLAW MANOR

TO:
DANEEL TODULEM, ALIAS "NIGHTFALL"
MASTER, THE CIRCLE OF STONE AND SHADOW
LORD OF UNNAMED ESTATE, REGESTRY NUMBER 543-AD4

OUR SCOUTS HAVE RETURNED FROM INVESTIGATING THE STRUCTURE, THE LOCATION AND NATURE OF WHICH YOU INDICATED TO US DURING THE EMERGENCY SESSION OF THE HIGH COUNCIL OF THE ORDER OF THE HAMMER ON 09.07. YOUR SUSPICIONS WERE CORRECT. SAID STRUCTURE DOES EXIST, AND IT BEARS THE MARKINGS OF OUR ENEMIES, THE FOLLOWERS OF THE NOW DECEASED TRICKSTER, THE PAGANS. HOWEVER THE BUILDING SEEMS TO BE ABANDONED, SAVE ONE WOMAN WE FOUND TRESPASSING ON THE RESIDENCE. THIS WOMAN APPEARED TO BE A THIEF, WHOM WE CAUGHT DURING HER RAID. SHE WAS CONVICTED ON FIVE ACCOUNTS OF RESISTING ARREST, BREAKING AND ENTERING, TRESPASSING, THEFT, BEARING FALSE WITNESS, AND CONCEALMENT OF EVIDENCE. SO FAR ALL OUR INTERROGATIONS OF HER HAVE ONLY PRODUCED HER NAME, "LYTHA". WE SUSPECT THAT THIS IS NOT HER TRUE NAME. THIS WOMAN IS ALSO SUSPECTED TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE BURGLARY OF THE WESTERN BRANCH MONASTARY SEVERAL WEEKS AGO. SHE IS BEING INTERROGATED FOR INFORMATION INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE FOLLOWING TOPICS: HER PRESENCE IN THE STRUCTURE, HER POSSIBLE INVOLVEMENT WITH THE PAGANS WHO MADE RESIDENCE THERE, THE LOCATION OF THE EVIDENCE SHE UNDOUBTEDLY STOLE FROM THE RESIDENCE AND IS NOW CONCEALING, THE METHOD IN WHICH SHE BROKE INTO THE MONASTARY (SO THAT CORRECTIVE SECURITY MEASURES MAY BE TAKEN), THE NUMBER OF, NAMES OF, AND LOCATION OF ALL HER CONSPIRATORS AND CO-CONSPIRATORS, AND ANY AND ALL OTHER INFORMATION WHICH MAY SERVE US IN DETERMINING HER PAST CRIMES, THUS INFLUENCING THE SEVERITY OF HER PUNISHMENT, AND THE METHOD OF HER EXECUTION.

AT NOON TODAY, THE TASK FORCE, WHICH HAS BEEN ORDERED TO DEMOLISH THIS STRUCTURE SHALL SET OUT ON ITS JOURNEY. I ASK THAT YOU BE THERE, AND ACCOMPANY THE FORCE DURING THE ENTIRETY OF ITS MISSION. YOUR ABSENCE FROM THIS EVENT SHALL BE CONSIDERED A DIRECT INSULT TO THIS ORDER, AND WILL BE ANSWERED ACCORDINGLY.

IN THE MASTER BUILDERíS NAME,
LORD RAFAEL MORTANGRO STEINKLAW,
HIGH PRIEST,
FIRST IN THE ORDER OF THE HAMMER
I felt like ripping the letter to shreds, I was so angry. There are times when I respected the Order of the Hammer, and times when I hate them with extreme prejudice. Right now I felt the latter. Lytha, the poor old woman who lived in the forest, and warned me about the dangers of The Lady, was going to die a slow painful death at the hands of those monsters, and it was a result of my actions. I had to do something. Should I risk blowing my cover to save but one life, and endanger countless others whom I shelter if the Hammers realize my allegiances to the underworld? Sheam cut my contemplation short.

"Master, there is a man here to see you."

I was tempted to ask her to send him away, but I needed something to take my mind off of the problem at hand. It was most likely some rookie thief proudly asking for me to display the stuffed burrick head he stole. "Send him in," I told her.

She paused, seeing the disturbed look in my eyes. "AreÖ are you all right, Daneel?"

"IímÖ fine, Sheam... just the usual Hammerite propaganda. It gets to me sometimes."

She nodded, not believing that lie for a second. She turned her head and motioned to a man standing by her desk to come in. "Master Nightfall, Captain Els."

I stood at the name of Jyreís friend. The man walked in, his face pale and dirty, with dark circles under his eyes. He wore a half a suit of badly beaten scale mail armor. I immediately extended my hand to greet him. "Captain Els, it is a pleasure to finally meet the companion of Jyre. Please, have a seat."

He took my hand and gave it a weak shake. "Thank you sire, the pleasure is all mine."

"Not sire, please, Master Nightfall if anything so formal."

He smiled a little, "Yes, Master Nightfall." He looked like he was about to decline my offer to sit, but after glancing at the leather chair, and realizing how tired he was, he plopped himself down. I sat as well.

"What brings you here? I trust Jyre is all rightÖ she left in quite a hurry last time I saw her."

He looked like he was about to say something, but then stopped, thinking better of it. He then opened his mouth to speak once more, paused, and closed it again. Finally he tried to say something, but instead of words, out came a torrent of coughs and chokes.

"Sheam, get Els something for his cough, quickly!"

She nodded from her desk outside my door, and ran off.

Els finally came out of itÖ "Please excuse me, I am stillÖ stillÖ recovering."

"Think nothing of it. Sheam will get you something to help."

He smiled and nodded a thank you.

"Now, your reason for the visit?"

"Oh yes, JyreÖ "

I was becoming outwardly restless at his lack of words to describe what was going on, when he suddenly seemed to remember something. He produced a letter from his belt. "This will explain everything." He said after I took it from his hand. I unfolded it, and read it.

- Chapter 3 - The Hammerites / Chapter 5 - Preparations and Prosecutions

Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.