" Into the Pool of Darkness"
by James Page
I opened my eyes to the morning sunlight, and then quickly shut them again to block off the shaft of golden light streaming through my window and on to my face. I winced in the glaring light, and sat up in my bed, yawning deeply. I rose slowly from my bed, part of me still clinging to sleep and part of me ready to get up. Walking to my window, I looked out and listened to the sounds of a waking city. It was still early, but the sun was at full strength already, heating the cobblestones on the street several floors below. I rubbed my eyes one final time, and then went to wash myself and dress.
After dressing in a lightweight tunic, long trousers and boots, I decided that I would go and buy my breakfast from the nearby bakery, rather than sit inside and eat. After all, today was the perfect day, I might as well go and enjoy a good breakfast. I left my apartment, and strolled down the quiet streets, listening to the city's early sounds. Somewhere in the distance, a church bell tolled, summoning the Hammerite order to morning prayers. In another part of the sector, I could hear a dog barking, and the delighted squeal of a child. I began to almost drift off, when I bumped into a man heading in the opposite direction.
"...sorry" he muttered, and I was about to turn and offer my own apology, but the man was hurrying along, as if to be out of my sight as quickly as possible, and had covered a small distance before I could say anything. Odd, I thought, but then I forgot about him as I neared the bakery. The smells of fresh produce greeted my senses, and I ordered three warm loaves and a pastry to eat on my walk into the main market square. Yes- today was perfect, and I was determined to enjoy the time it lasted.
I walked on into the market square, where already merchants were setting up tents and opening up brightly coloured caravans to sell their wares. I crossed the small bridge over the trickling river, and carried on, not really sure where I was heading, but content with my course. Looking upwards at the deep blue sky, I caught what seemed to be the smell of smoke on my nose. The smell was acrid and slightly pungent, as if something unusual was being burned. I decided to follow the scent, which became increasingly easy as the smell strengthened, until small wisps of black smoke began to appear in the air to accompany the smells. I quickened my pace, anxious to see where the origin of the smell lay, and to see if anybody else knew.
I rounded a corner, and saw a small crowd of people heading in one direction. I followed on behind them, realising that they had the same idea as me. The acrid , smoky smell continued to grow stronger, and I could now see a column of thick, black smoke rising into the air, and being steered westwards by the gentle breezes on the air. Soon I would see what was causing the smoke, and I rounded the last corner to enter a familiar square, where a large crowd was gathered, watching the burning building go up in flames.
It was at that second that every muscle in my body contracted simultaneously, and I felt my chest seized by an iron grip of realisation. This was my Guild. The Guild was on fire, most of its wooden infrastructure already gone, reduced to ashes by the all-consuming flames which now licked hungrily at the remaining stone parts of the building. No wonder the smoke smelled strange! The Guild had its own laboratory for the development of thief's tools, and the chemicals inside were causing the fires to intensify and explode further! I stepped back, aghast at the destruction before my eyes, and the crowd of people simply standing and watching on. Stupid people, help put the flames out! I cried inside my head. But then I realised that these people probably wanted the building to go- it was a common street rumour that the building housed many less-than-lawful operations. Not that would matter to two thirds of the city's populace, who were no worse in character than the hard working thieves who lived in there. Or had lived there, I corrected. I composed myself so as not to give myself away as a link to the burning building, and approached a Bluecoat at the foremost of the spectators, who was limply pretending to hold the people back.
" Dunno, we ain't sure yet. Still investigating, lookin' fer evidence, that kinda thing. You want to take your place at the back of the crowd again? I gotta job to do here ye know."
" I know officer, but are you sure you don't know anything at all? I'm sure by now you guys'd have worked out what happens, you always seem to."
I watched as my appraising words seeped into the man's brain and coaxed a better response out of him.
" Well, some might say, as I heard, that the building was torched."
I took in these words precisely, straining to pick up any clues that I could.
" Of course, that's all rumour and tales, most probably no truth in there at all" he said loudly, to discourage others from asking him the same thing. I turned and went back to the crowd, pushing through to get to the back again.
How could this happen? The Bluecoat said arson, perhaps that was one possibility. But who would want to destroy the Guild building? We had always had relatively good relations with both the Dark Arm and the Downwinders, so I couldn't see why they'd want to spark a conflict with us. I racked my mind for more possibilities, but a rising sense of panic was clouding my vision. What had happened to Basso and the other thieves who lived inside? Could they have escaped the flames in time? I sat down on the top of a crate tucked inside the entrance to an alleyway just around the corner from the burning Guild. I buried my face in my palms and closed my eyes tightly, momentarily consumed by a flood of despair. How could this happen? Why? Who had caused this? My mind was overwhelmed by burning questions and visions of my friends inside.
I looked up once again, and noticed that the flames had begun to die down now, and people were starting to drift back to their occupations now that the show was over. I felt hate towards them, standing on like sheep while my livelihood and possibly my friends burned inside. I had to do something, sitting and brooding was doing nothing. I decided the best course of action at that time was to return to my flat to sit and think clearly about how I was to find my friends and discover how the fire had happened.
I got up and started to head back to my street. Several people walked past me, and I noticed something slightly familiar about one of them... I caught up and walked along next to him to get a look at his face. He looked back at me, and we shared a look of recognition. It was David, the man who had helped in the construction of the Horn of Iucundus several months ago! He said nothing, motioning for me to carry onwards as if we didn't know each other's faces. I got his message, and continued to walk straight onwards, not glancing at his face. Once the small crowd had thinned, he took my arm and steered me towards the entrance to a smaller, more disused street. Questions burning on my mind, I couldn't stand the tension, and asked him what had happened. David replied, turning his eyes to the ground and speaking with a slight quaver in his voice.
"Listen well, Yorrick. What happened today was no accident. I...the building was burned with intent, Yorrick, and I can't understand why."
David was having trouble speaking now. His words were becoming stuttered, as he fought to say what he had to say.
"Some time this morning, three men entered the Guild. One by one. They...they all waited to see Basso, and went in to his office at the same time. I was close by, but I heard nothing inside. After a while I...I went in, and I saw nothing. Nobody. They had all gone..."
David struggled to compose himself, and carried on.
" They must have left by Basso's private door, out into the street, with him. Then the fire started. I don't know how...I know only that the men who took Basso were responsible. What's worse is that... It's Jevik. Some others went to him also. I don't know what's become of him now, I don't know whether he escaped the flames, or perished inside, like many did. It just started without warning! It spread so quickly...half our number were caught in the flames, the others managed to escape alive, and are now hiding out, I would guess. I don't know why this happened! It makes no sense! We have no enemies among the city's thieves' Guild, yet what happened today could only have been the work of fellow thieves. Our guards would have stopped any others!"
David stopped now, not wanting to continue. I consoled him for a minute, not able to say anything that could help ease the shock.
"David- listen to me now. I will find the men who did this. I will find Basso and Jevik, and see that they are unharmed. The Guild was special to me now, and I will see that those who destroyed it and the many who inhabited it are punished!"
I left him then, and he waved his hand in a signal of goodbye before I turned back into the main street and headed home. I knew what I would do first- finding Basso and Jevik was of prime importance. I had a rough idea of where they would be, or at least Basso would be, if he had escaped his captors. If they weren't there, then I would ... I would do what? I didn't know. It was then that I realised the hopelessness of my situation. I was chasing three or more mystery characters who had appeared and vanished within the space of about an hour, leaving behind a trail of devastation and death. I was relying on the slim chance that Basso or Jevik would still be alive and able to return to their secondary hide-out. What leads did I have? None, except the words of a fat Bluecoat. I hurried home, anxious to be out again to find Basso and Jevik.
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