A PATH NOT TAKEN
2001 Aaron Graham



"I am prepared to offer you the sum of 100,000.upon receipt of The Eye."

Garrett leant back in the chair to consider Constantine's offer. The amount was tempting. 100,000 could buy an easy retirement; a quiet house deep in the countryside, like Lampfire Hills, or maybe a richly-appointed apartment somewhere in the better district of the City. In the short term, he could pay off his outstanding debts, maybe even spread a bit more money about to pick up new titbits of information.

But even as he thought this, misgivings arose in his mind. There was something deeply.wrong.about Constantine. He was rich, fairly eccentric [if his mansion was anything to go by] and willing to pay top price for the best. But his manner made Garrett wary, and the thought that Constantine had been following him made him uneasy. More than that, Constantine's mansion had seemed very.pagan. As did his manner, and his desire for an "item" deep in the heart of the Closed Area, by the Barricades didn't fit with this persona he was trying to project. The whole job made Garrett feel uneasy, and so he rose up out of his seat and deposited the glass on the table.

"I don't see how I can accept such an offer.mixing up with the Hammerites isn't my idea of fun. Maybe you should find another 'artist' to obtain this item for you.."

"I see." Constantine spoke in a low voice, with a hint of anger that Garrett could barely hear. The thief fancied he saw the man's eyes flash an angry red, while he was faintly aware that Viktoria's face had stiffened into an angry grimace.

"In that case, Mr. Garrett, I'd appreciate your silence in this affair. Viktoria has her ways of ensuring that you do. Goodbye, Mr. Garrett."

Constantine held out his hand to the thief, who shook it back, surprised at the strength of the old man. He then turned to leave, and saw Viktoria watching him. Her beautiful face now seemed different - the beauty had turned into hateful beauty. She was lovely still, but the loveliness was poisoned. She turned away without a word. Garrett slipped past her to the door, and opened it to leave.

"Remember, Garrett." she said as he stepped through ".your silence". He nodded, and moved off.

* * *

Garrett slowly made his way back to his home in South Quarter, his mind in turmoil. He cursed himself for having lost perhaps his only chance to retire after one job, but also found himself glad that he had not accepted the offer. There was just something about Constantine. He thought to himself as he quickly slipped from shadow to shadow in the darkened streets. Keeper beliefs did not put much belief into extra-sensory perception. Concealment in shadows was a case of physical skill rather than any sort of mental skill. But yet.Garrett had known several people who claimed that they could wield natural magic. He wondered if Constantine was such a person.perhaps even a Pagan magician of some sort. Certainly it would make sense - Viktoria was known to deal with exotic substances. Garrett thought amusedly that maybe Constantine was the Trickster himself, a thought he dismissed with a quiet laugh.

Eventually he came to a brightly lit crossroads - the alley he had been travelling along intersected with a major road that was illuminated with a row of gas lamps. He stopped in a shadow, and cautiously peered along the road. There seemed to be no sign of movement. Suddenly there was a brief flicker of movement in the corner of his eye, and he turned just in time to see a figure disappear into the darkness of a shadow in the opposite alley. He strained his eyes to see more, but could make nothing out.

Suddenly, he heard the clink of metal on stone, and the soft rustle of clothing in the wind. He risked a glance back and saw a cloaked and hooded figure press himself into the shadows under an inn porch. The new arrival was nowhere near the calibre of Garrett, who could see the inexperienced thief clearly. He took out his blackjack, just in case the thief decided to move into his shadows, but the figure suddenly dashed over to a shadow opposite Garrett in the alley. Garrett could hear the man's heavy breathing from here, and make out the form of a sword and large pouch beneath the other's cloak. He sunk further into the shadows, not even making a sound.

The stranger did as Garrett had done before - he looked along the road to check if it was watched. Seeing nothing, the stranger launched himself from the shadows and quickly scurried across the brightly lit road.

The arrow hit him in the chest as he ran, and its force knocked him backwards. His legs flew out from under him, and his inertia caused him to fall forward onto the ground. He let out a great shout of pain that trailed off as his heart gave up the unequal struggle, and his head fell down to hit the ground. Garrett stayed where he was, and watched the action unfolding.

The arrow had come from the mysterious shadow. As the thief watched, two figures emerged. One was armed with a bow and arrow, the other carrying a sword. They walked over to the body. It was a strange walk, almost like that of a monkey. Then Garrett realised with a start that these figures were not human - they had tails that swung behind them as they shambled towards the still corpse. By the light of the gas lamps Garrett could see that their bodies were covered in coarse, thick hair, and their faces more like those of apes or rats than of a human. He silently offered up a prayer to the Watchman for his good fortune, as the gross creatures stooped over the body.

Garrett leaned forward, and saw them kicking the body, and hissing to each other in a strange tongue,

".thinksie Father Woodsie be pleased with us this night. Sneaksie thiefsie not escaped this time. Foolsie Garrett the stringsie manfool - Father Woodsie be pleased he no longer here."

"We shall leave the sneaksie for the rest of the manfools. Let them think over what happened - manfools will never suspect Father Woodsie. Come!"

The two beasts shambled off into the shadows, and Garrett faintly heard the squeal of rusty metal; as if a sewer drain cover were being opened. He slumped down against the wall, praising even the Builder that he hadn't been the first into that street. The shock of his close escape made his hands tremble violently. To be killed by a guard was an accepted risk - dying at the hands of those.things.was something he would wish on no one.

Still, there was work to be done. Garrett looked out again over the empty street, and, seeing no one, ran over to the body. He saw immediately that the man was dead - his blood was slowly pooling over the cobbles. Garrett quickly ran his hands over the man's cloak, searching for any valuables. He quickly checked the pockets and seams, and collected a few loose coins there. He felt inside the dead thief's cloak, and smiled triumphantly. Those things hadn't taken the pouch hanging from the belt there. Garrett quickly undid the pouch, and delightedly flicked one of the many gold coins in there. About 1000 in gold coins, and all for being in the right place at the right time. Or perhaps the wrong time. He kept looking for anything else, but the man had nothing more.

Garrett was looking at this scabbard when suddenly a thought occurred to him. Something about a 'Father Woodsie' being pleased at his specific death. He struggled to remember what the creature had said, but his thoughts were interrupted by a shout from further down the street. He turned his head, and saw a Hammerite running towards him, his hammer raised and ready to strike. Garrett abandoned the body and sprinted for the shelter of the nearest alley - fortunately the one that he had been intending to take. He ran down its narrow, foetid path, turning suddenly where the alley made abrupt changes of direction. He could hear the sound of the Hammerite running behind him, screaming of murder and rousing everyone in the vicinity. Windows began to be flung open as Garrett ran past.

Suddenly a door was flung open ahead of him, and a man stepped out. He was carrying a short sword and wearing a helmet, but the effect was spoilt by the nightshirt that he still wore. He took in the speeding thief and the Hammerite running behind him, and decided he was probably safer inside. He moved to go back in, but Garrett was going too fast to avoid him, and his shoulder slammed into the man. Both went down into the dirty alley, but Garrett was able to roll back upright and keep running. The Hammer, sprinting behind him, was not so nimble. He tripped over the fallen man, and his massive weight slammed him into the street. There was a wet crack, and the sound of a massive sledgehammer hitting the cobbles. Garrett grimaced in misplaced sympathy, and ran on.

* * *

Sitting in his room later, he counted out his profits of the night. Several neat stacks of gold coins were arrayed on the table in front of him, and the equivalent of several others lay in his pouch. Not enough to retire on, not even enough to live on - but enough to pay the rent for the next two weeks, and a few other sundry expenses. And a new bolt for the door. Garrett was taking no chances after what he'd seen tonight. Whoever wanted the thief dead would have a hard time getting to him. But who could it be? Suddenly, a half-remembered thought came to him. Who was it that the beast had said wanted him dead? Father Woodsie? Garrett stood up and began to pace his small room. He had heard that phrase before - a long time before, back in his days with the keepers. Something to do with the Pagans

He needed to find out who, or what, this Father Woodsie person was. The sooner he could find him, the sooner he could work out a way to avoid being caught at the wrong end of an arrow. He'd need a large library, a place sufficiently big enough to have a reference such as that. The Keeper library would, of course, have reams of information. But Garrett wasn't too keen on looking up anything there. After all, he'd abandoned the Keepers years ago to follow his own path. It'd be humiliating to crawl back now for help. Assuming they didn't just kill him first.

Apart from the Keeper library, there weren't many other options. The Hammerite library at Prisongate was a possibility, but Garrett didn't want to take his chances there. His one infiltration several months before hadn' t turned out too well - and the Hammers were sure to have radically enhanced the situation there. Besides, most of the books had been damaged and disordered in the great riot there. Garrett grimaced in painful remembrance.

Suddenly, he stopped as the obvious solution came to mind. The City University. A large campus spread around the City, the University Library was located in Hightowne somewhere. A prestigious address that the University had owned since its inception. The place was perfect. Few guards, filled with harmless academics and students, and likely to have many mentions of Father Woodsie. Garrett smiled to himself. He'd have the next day to gather his equipment and maps, and then use the evening to find the required information there. He'd his blackjack, broadheads, water arrows and moss arrows - but no fire arrows, he thought to himself wryly. It'd be best if he didn't set the books alight.

Chapter 2

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