Chapter 5 - Preparations and Prosecutions
- Nightfall: Jyre's Rendezvous - Day 4: 10:10am
The letter was not written by Jyre. The grammar was proper and it was written in script rather then text. Being as such, I wasn't sure if it had actually come from her, or if this was even Captain Els before me. Thankfully I am not nearly that paranoid.
Refolding the letter, I looked up at him grimly. He read the expression on my face all too well.
This letter comes to you via my trusted friend, Els, and is written in his fair hand. The reason for the first will become apparent as you read on. As for the latter, I feel it is important that every detail of my day be passed on to you and I fear my own ability with words would make such a thing impossible.
Let me start by telling you that after bumping in to you this morning I proceeded to the market where I had myself a wander and, I must admit, picked a few pockets along the way. Feeling a thirst in my throat from the heat I took myself to the Red Dragon Inn, where I ordered myself an orange juice (Jyre does not consume alcohol. She claims it is bad for the reflexes - Els). I had just taken a quiet seat at an out-of-the-way table when a rather portly man sat himself down beside me without so much as a 'by your leave'! I was not even given the chance to object before he spoke.
"Allow me to introduce myself." He held out a hand, which I ignored. If I said how he sounded smarmy would you understand my meaning? His response to my refusal was a twitter. "I am Ramirez. Perhaps you have heard of me?"
Oh, I had heard of him all right. During my time in the guard he had been described, if you will excuse my language, as a pompous bastard. His staff was underpaid (I had heard rumors that his guard got but half the pay of the Lady's own - Els). He was considered by many as somewhat of a money-hungry dandy. And if that wasn't bad enough I had heard tell that, during my time away, he had gotten himself on the wrong side of a notorious thief called Garrett and was robbed by the man in his own home!
I looked this Ramirez up and down and wondered what one such as he was doing in a dark, smoky tavern that had a reputation for being a hangout for the city lowlife. He had a light weight hooded cloak draped over him and was sat with his shoulders hunched up, no doubt trying to be inconspicuous but failing miserably.
"Leave me be." I turned my back to him and took a sip of my juice.
"I have information concerning a certain female acquaintance of ours."
I guess he meant for his words to sound intriguing but his tone only made me want to laugh. "Of course you do." My sarcasm bit. Deep.
"Don't pass me up on this, Jyre. It would bode ill for you."
I spun around to face him. "How?"
He smirked. "You're getting quite a reputation for yourself. I'd be careful if I were you, lest the wrong person hear of it." I recognized the threat for what it was and despised it. Only the lowliest coward had need of such things. "Spit it out, Ramirez." I didn't try to mask the anger in my words.
"I have heard that you are seeking information on a former employer of yours..."
Blackmail? I wondered. I asked out loud, "You want money, Ramirez? Take a good look. Do I look like I've got money?"
Ramirez shook his head. "I am not interested in your money, though I won't deny I will profit if you take this up." Just then a passer-by jostled our table. Ramirez actually flinched! I couldn't help but laugh.
"What's wrong? Afraid Garrett might come after you again? Last I heard he'd gone into early retirement."
Ramirez pulled in his paunch and squared his shoulders, trying to prove he wasn't afraid. I wasn't fooled. "It is not fitting for a man of my standing to be seen in such company," he muttered. It was a lousy excuse.
"No. We're too good for you!" You should have seen his face when I said that. It was comical! But I digress. I took another sip of my juice and waited. He never spoke. "Are you going to tell me why you're here or not?"
He leant forward and lowered his voice. "The family of our esteemed acquaintance used to reside in the abandoned quarter."
"So?" I didn't get it.
"It is said they left in a great hurry. Many things were left behind in the confusion. Books, letters, scrolls. All abandoned."
"And much treasure, no doubt." I tried not to let my growing interest show.
"That too. I would pay you commission on any such that you find."
'So far, so good,' I thought to myself. Only one thing remained unsaid. "Rumor would have it that the abandoned quarter is haunted."
"Oh, indeed." Ramirez actually sounded pleased! "But it is not so bad as it once was. Garrett managed to deal a great deal of damage when he passed through. I will, of course, provide suitable provisions just in case you should stumble across one of the few remaining undead."
"You have a map?"
"My source was unable to acquire one. Just a brief description of the area. The house you seek is opposite the cloister gates of the deserted cathedral. It is a large house, not easily missed. Interested?"
I was nodding before I realized I had made a decision! Within the hour Ramirez had supplied me with water and fire crystals, as well as a half-dozen flash bombs. I returned to my small abode to inform both Els and yourself of this development. By the time this letter reaches you I will already have left. I will be in touch again as soon, as is possible.
"Sheís in grave danger, isnít she."
I nodded. "Ramirez is the last person in this city to trust. He would turn in his own mother if there were a bounty on her. Doing any job for him is ill-advised, let alone in the forbidden sector. He's also a total coward. About a month before I came to The City he was robbed blind and publicly humiliated. He was bedridden for weeks after being thrown in with his own pet burrick. As soon as he was well, he sold his mansion, and moved to Southquarter. That was rather lucky for me, considering that The Circle would have been in his territory had he not sold it to the much more wise and honorable Lord Canard. His mansion is a few blocks from here, and now acts as a funeral home."
He broke into another coughing fit, just as Sheam came in with a steaming mug. "Here, sip this," she said, handing it to him. As soon as he caught his breath, he took a sip, and his eyes lit up.
A sound of pure delight and relief came from him. "What -- what is this?" he asked her.
She just smiled and walked out.
He looked at the swirling steamy liquid. It seemed to have a slight yellowish-orange glow to it.
Just a little something she likes to whip up, I said with half a laugh. In diluted form it works wonders to soothe the throat. In itís normal form, the drinker is in for quite a ride.
The captain didnít seem too worried about Jyre anymore, he was just interested in this strange liquid he was now sipping. "Captain Els?" Maybe Sheam made it just a little too strong.
"Huh? Whahh..?" Yes, much too strong.
I spoke calmly. "I suggest that you make haste in rescuing Jyre. She is in grave danger. You know the way. I would leave now if I were you. Ask Sheam and she can tell you who to go to for supplies, and some aid for your ailment. Tell them that Master Nightfall sent you, and they will send the bill to me. Go, now."
- Lytha: The Cell - Day 4: 11:00am
My face was on the cold stone floor. I twitched, scared by the cold feeling and the pain in my left side. I tried to put myself in an upright position, but the chains between my hands hindered my attempt. Both feet and hands were shackled.
I looked around the place. I was in a very small cell, lightened by a very intense electrical light. It flickered irregularly. Walls and ceiling and floor were made of solid stone. Behind the bars of the door, I could see into the opposite cell. A very tall, ugly man was there imprisoned, staring at me.
- Ghost: Patron of The Circle - Day 4: 11:00am
To The Circle I went, Star in hand. There are some facts about the world that the vast majority of the people are totally blind to. These things often come naturally to thieves - one who wants to stay alive, anyway. A good thief with his ear to the streets just knows things, if you know what I mean. One of them is the plain and simple fact that The Circle of Stone and Shadow was not really a museum. Well, it was, but if you called it that, it would be only half the truth. Every criminal organization needs a nerve center, and The Circle was Master Nightfallís. Normal people like to visit it and browse through the galleries of art, treasures, and literature, rather unaware that all of the stuff had, at one time, been stolen.
The Circle, as it is usually referred to, (some people, who want to sound intelligent or something, call it "CoSaS") is seated in Hightowne, an area of The City between the business district and the wealthy suburban area. The building sat in the middle of a very large circular yard. There was at least an acre of land between it and the fence. The yard was nice and grassy, with a few park benches here and there. Cute. The Circle itself was roundish, shaped pretty much like a gear. There were eight vaulted structures arranged in a radial pattern around a central two-story chamber. It was simple and functional, and actually rather bland looking. The building had actually been here for years, pretty much derelict, until Nightfall began renting it. I heard that the landlord was charging almost nothing for him to use the place. I had no idea what it had been used for before it was abandoned.
I stepped inside and reacquainted myself with the layout of this place. It was nice of them to have a stack of maps right by the doorway. The layout was pretty simple, really. Each wing had a different feature in it, be it a museum, library, art gallery, or whatever. The northernmost wing had the label 'Executive' on it. I figured that was a fancy way of saying "boss". Nightfall was probably hanging out in there. On my way there I checked some of the news posts tacked up in the central ring, where most of the other guests were loitering. Yes, this place was a news center too. I didn't notice anything really new.
After briefly glancing at the posts, making note of any new news, I continued on my way to Nightfallís office. In a sort of pre-chamber to his office was another office, and in it sat a young attractive girl in her early twenties. Resisting the obvious urge, I simply stated my business. I pulled the Star from my pocket. "Iím here to deliver this to Nightfall," I exclaimed dryly, if that's even possible.
She looked up with those big green eyes. "The Master is currently seeing someone. He should be done in just a moment." Truly, I wouldnít have minded waiting in that room at all. Unfortunately the guy who was chatting with Nightfall staggered through the door.
"ImmmÖ " he blinked several times, and then took hold of the wall to keep his balance. "Mas-.. umm.. Master Nightfall says that you will take me to gear up." I wondered what was wrong with the bloke. He looked like he was slowly recovering from something, or maybe dying.
She nodded to him, and guided him out of the office and down the hall. As she went she told me that I could go in now. Damn, I hope that Nightfall sends me with her to go gear up too!
I walked in.
"Ah yes, come in Ghost. I trust you have the - "
I whipped the necklace up into his face. The guy smirked at it, and took it out of my hand with that black glove of his. "Excellent, I shall set it up tonight. Thank you Ghost."
"Hey, no problem! Just as long as this tribute to me and such pays off!"
He suddenly started to concentrate heavily. It bugged me, badly. "Ghost, are you occupied tonight?"
"Yes actually," I told him. Without thinking I babbled on. "I need to get into Cragscleft."
He dumped himself back into his chair, with an astonished look on his face. "Perfect."
He sprung to his feet and I jumped back about two inches.
"Iíll give you one thousand gold coins if you break out another prisoner for me."
Okay, my jaw doesnít normally drop, but it just did. "Who?" was all I could say.
"A friend of mine. Sheís being held in the maximum-security interrogation hall. Thatís why the pay is so high."
"The price is right." I told him with a grin.
"Excellent. Time is short. I donít want her to suffer any more then she has to. I shall reimburse you for any equipment you expend during this mission."
I was starting to like this Nightfall character after all. Free gear, an ultra challenging jailbreak of a damsel in distress, and a huge reward. Money, women, and adventure, what more could I ask for? It was time to kick some serious Hammerite ass.
- Jyre: Where Angels Fear to Tread - Day 4: 12:00pm
I stood before the wall that separated the forbidden sector from the rest of the city. Its shadow eclipsed me, bringing up goose bumps on my arms. Just standing there I could feel the evil of the place. I turned my eyes to the sky and spotted the sun through a thin veil of clouds. It would hit its zenith within the hour. Lowering my eyes, I looked back across the city towards home. With a bit of luck, Els would be with Master Nightfall by now. His illness was truly beginning to worry me. Despite the healer's potions and advice, Els' condition had badly deteriorated over the last day or so. It was more than just a cold, I was sure of it, but Els refused further aid. I had sent him to Master Nightfall with the hope that he would receive some sort of medical attention.
With a sigh I turned back to study the wall. It was constructed from large blocks of gray stone, now mottled and covered in patches of green and yellow moss. It seemed to like the shade and damp that hung here. What was surprising was the fact that the wall still stood at all. With the moisture so prevalent I would have thought the mortar would have crumbled and the wall collapsed long ago. The only reasonable conclusion was that the magic they said had been placed on the wall, was a reality.
I checked my provisions again. Food, flash-bombs, holy water vials and water arrows. As well as charcoal and paper for making notes. My magic bow I had strapped to my inner thigh and my lock-picks were tucked safely into the concealed pocket in my belt. If what Ramirez had told me was true, and I had no reason to believe otherwise, this would be a cinch. I tucked my toes into a small crevice near the base of the wall, felt for handholds above and began to climb.
- Lytha: Yes, Father Inquisitor - Day 4: 12:00pm
They had come, two of them. They had taken me from the cell, and dragged me through a long hallway. Behind a metal door was a torture chamber. Most of all, the draining grid on the floor caught my attention. It had blood on it. It was then when my mind was hit with the stench of excrement and gastric acid. I started to shake.
In a corner of this room, was a desk with a young man behind it. A large fan was behind him blowing in fresh air. They pushed me down to my knees in front of the desk and stepped back. The young man wore the clothes of an official Hammerite priest. He continued his studies of the papers on the desk. The desk was very tidy, the papers and pens were arranged in a very penile way. Its tidiness looked obscene in this room, in this smell.
After some more minutes reading, he looked up and at my face.
"I am your Inquisitor. You will address me correctly with 'Father Inquisitor.' The rules are simple. You obey and cooperate, and you will be rewarded. Otherwise you will be punished. Is this clear enough?"
I simply stared at him. His voice did not match his profession. It sounded so young, and so intelligent. He didnít even use those annoying archaic thys and shalts. I couldn't believe this. A lash from behind brought me back from my thoughts. I nodded.
"Good. I am not fond of the usual brutal way to get information, but I know when force is needed, and I do not hesitate to use it. I believe you have the ability to speak?"
I nodded slowly. He sighed, and gave the guard behind me a sign. Another lash.
"You do want to go through all of this, only to agree that you can speak? So, can you?"
Whipped again, I pressed a "yes" through my lips.
"Ah, you can. So, I think we can continue. What is your name?"
- Ghost: Breaking into Prison - Day 4: 12:00pm
I was feeling much better now that I didn't have that chunk of jewelry on me. I'd hate to get stopped by the Hammers with that trinket in my pocket. Now I had some cash from the sale and an agenda I really didn't even have time to plan for. I had to get into Cragscleft. That was something most people wouldn't even consider; not on a very large bet. Planning for such an event takes time, money, maps, contacts, spying, more time, research and a hundred other things I didn't have. I only had a day at best to gather info, spy a bit to figure out how to get in, formulate a plan, gather my gear, and then go to it, before this "Lytha" ended up dead. It would be best to get her out in one piece, and breathing, since payment is more likely that way. I didn't know anyone who had a clue about Crags. No one had ever made it out before that I knew of. Well, they say that Garrett did, but they also say that he killed a god. What a load of rubbish. The Hammerites had recently remodeled anyway. Leave it to the Hammers to decide the prison wasn't big enough, and expand it four floors below the ground by clearing out some old mines.
I was in the middle of lunch when it just clicked in my head. Mines have to have airways! They may not have been big enough for me to squeeze into, but it was worth a shot. Getting out would have to be improvised. I didn't know what kind of condition Lytha or Ragbert were in. If neither could walk this was going to be a horrible rescue. With that on my mind I headed to the local Hammerite library. I needed to look up a little bit of mining history.
- Nightfall: A Little Hammerite Party - Day 4: 12:05pm
Being stylishly tardy has always been a hobby of mine. Even a mere five minutes, if itís with the correct person, is enough to get your host steamed without getting them totally angry. In some situations the inverse is true, where being tardy was helpful, such as to dinner arrangements. To formal dinners and such it would be polite to come at lest 10 minutes late (at most 40), so that it would give the host the extra minutes to get everything "just so". However this was not a dinner arrangement, nor was I looking to be polite. The Hammerites were obsessed about time ever since the clock was invented (a perfect use for gears). But that is rather like the pot calling the kettle black, seeing as Iíve been known to check my pocket watch at least three times every hour, and usually more.
I exited The City, traveling to the rendezvous point by the edge of the forest. I couldnít miss it. A Hammerite army had gathered, with the high command here as well, to see them off. The whole thing was a good hundred yards away from the city wall. There was sort of a grassy field here, or used to be. The ground was marred and bruised by having large equipment rolled over it, as well as the stomp marks of marching Hammerite troops. There had been a short downpour this morning, so the ground was wet, and every depression made a puddle, and thus mud. My boots were covered with the stuff. I hated mud. The sun was high, which was natural, seeing as it was noon. The sun was also hot, also natural seeing as it was summer. The sun's hot rays hit the wet ground. The natural thing happened. There was steam, and plenty of it. I hated steam even more then I hated mud. I did not enjoy anything dirty, and sticky, and slimy.
Taking my mind off the state of the environment, I cast my eyes across the task force. Closest to me was a sort of platform, newly constructed, where several Hammerite priests were standing and sitting. After that, there was a mass of Hammerite troops, some standing in ranks, others marching. Closest to the forest were four large machines, the nature of which I couldnít make out from this distance, with Hammerite workers all over them. I made my way closer, and observed as I went.
The platform was raised five feet above the ground, and spanned about fifty feet square. There was a simple railing built along the edge, opening where there was a stairway to the ground. Where there were no stairs, various banners were hung, forming a sort of wall enclosing the area beneath the platform. I could see the sap in the wood of the platformís legs, still bleeding from the freshly made ax cuts. I saw the High Priest standing on the platform, facing away from me, along with five other Hammerite priests. The five were sitting around a table, with a large map laid out upon it. It was above my eye level, but I could see the edges draped over the sides of the table, and it was a map all right. They seemed to be charting a course of least resistance through the woods, to the lodge, a good ten miles away. That would be quite a long walk by any standards. I imagined that those machines would slow it down quite a bit as well.
I just paused and watched the High priest for a moment. I was at the platform, and he hadnít seen me yet. None of them had. He looked even more pompous and arrogant then the Baron, though quite a bit more physically fit. He was tapping his foot impatiently, overseeing the preparations. I cast my gaze to the marching soldiers. They made no indication that they had seen me either, though even if they had, I didnít think they would show it. Itís called discipline. There were quite a number of them, at least seventy troops and officers. They marched about, ripping the underfoot grass as they went to and fro in those cute Hammerite formations of theirs. My observations were cut short by a voice from the platform.
I looked up to see the High Priest talking to Thurm, who had risen from the table. "Brother Thurm, Nightfall has arrived, late as expected. Thou shalt now spearhead this effort, while I return to the Cathedral, to tend to more pressing matters. Nightfall shall be thy second in command, just as thou hast been to me."
"In the Builders name, I do as thee command of me, High Priest." Brother Thurm bowed to him as he said this, and then bowed to me. I nodded a quick bow back to him, and then casually walked to the platform, and up the stairs, taking care to knock as much mud off my soles as possible. As I reached the top, the High Priest suddenly turned around, still not having so much as glanced at me, and walked down the stair on the other side of the platform.
I approached Brother Thurm. "Is there something troubling the High Priest?" I was simply curious as to what he would say. I knew exactly what was eating at the man. I was.
"I know not," he said, "I trust that it is the task at hand which troubles him. Many of us fear that there is far more at work here then simply a lone pagan."
I nodded, truly sharing the concern. Brother Thurm didnít know the half of it. I had worked with Thurm before. Here was a man I could actually respect. His loyalty to the order and the Master Builder were, while misplaced, admirable. His passion for knowledge and science were undeniable. He was the only Hammerite priest I had ever seen truly jubilant about his work. Most are so cold and indifferent, but Thurm took joy in his tasks, and I liked that about him. His post as commander of this operation was clear. He had designed the four machines sitting between the platform and the woodís edge!
"Brother Thurm, what is the nature of these, machines," I said, with sincere curiosity, for I had not yet gotten a chance to examine them.
He smiled broadly. "Ah, well. These two, which thee sees closest to us, are designed to demolish unwanted structures. This is indeed old technology, however, in the past there have been much larger machines built on site, and then dismantled when the job is finished. These new versions are completely mobile. They are smaller, and less powerful, but the time saved by not having to construct them makes up for the loss!" I looked with wonder at the massive twenty foot tall machine. It was mounted on a rotating platform, with eight large wheels underneath. On each side there was an arm -- four of them, and at the end of each arm was a device of destruction: a claw, a wrecking ball, a battering ram, and a massive drill. To one side of the machine was a larger version of the steam powered locomotive which I rode in the other day. Both machines were crawling with Hammerite workers, as they prepared it for transport.
"Thurm, how are you going to get these machines to the lodge?"
He smiled, delighted I asked. "Why, the road, of course!"
"Yes! We are building one."
If he had grinned any wider his eyes would have fallen out. Well, maybe not, but something weird would have happened. My response consisted of both an extremely fake look of surprise, and delight.
"Those two machines up by the forest are specifically designed for clearing land!" He pointed proudly. The two he was referring to appeared to be quite similar to the machines that were towing the demolition equipment. The only difference was a large plate affixed to the front of the machine. This plate had two surfaces which met at a sharp angle in the center. It was obvious how it worked. The machine moved forward, and every tree that was hit by the plate was thrust to either side and down, to its death. It was sad, really. There was a time when a man needed to sweat in order to defeat a tree. Now all he had to do was pull levers and sit and watch.
I quickly shook that mindset away. The last thing I needed to be was a woodsie sympathizer. "Amazing," I said to Thurm, with only slightly more then a shred of sincerity.
"Yes, they are quite an accomplishment." I could tell he was bubbling with pride. "And to think, three months ago none of this was possible! Why, by this time next year, THINK of what will be accomplished!" He put his hand on my shoulder. "Nightfall, I believe a new age is upon us. I can feel it. A new age of prosperity for our Order. An age of invention, of discovery. AÖaÖ a METAL age!" He looked back at his mechanical creations and made several loud grunting noises, then crossed his arms across his chest and nodded proudly. I just looked at him, trying to smile. "By this time, three days from now, we shall be at the lodge." He looked back at me. "There you shall see these creatures of metal doing what the Master Builder guided me to create them to do!"
I donít know why I felt so grim. This, after all, is what I intended. If it was simply a lone pagan, then the Hammerites would get their example, and Jyre her vengeance. If it was truly as bad as James and I feared, then we would need the Hammerites to fight this "Lady". There was little doubt in my mind that not much could defeat a Hammerite army of this magnitude. More troops were planned to follow, and arrive at the scene just as the equipment did. Then all would pounce on the building, and not rest until every stone was turned to dust, and every beam splintered. It was a well planned operation that would be executed with extreme proficiency. This was a win-win situation. I had to keep telling myself that. I kept my fingers crossed nevertheless.
And still I worried about Jyre and Lytha.
- Ghost: Study Hall - Day 4: 1:00pm
Well here I was, the Hammerite Library. I knew they wouldn't just let me in to peruse their blueprints or old documents, so I entered by way of the service entrance, also known as the second floor window. Luckily this place wasn't busy, so getting around was pretty easy. It's good advice to take advantage of things while they are easy. Sadly, I had no idea how this library was laid out. All I managed to dig up were some old maps of the mines before they rebuilt the prison and some notes on construction, which didn't tell me a whole lot. So I got out with my maps and went to spy on the area around the prison to see if I could find anything good.