Chapter the Seventeenth: Thievery Is Fine ArtMatt lead me outside and just around the corner from the club, between it and the cemetary. He looked around the nearby streets, for what I'm not entirely sure. "Okay, we can talk here," he whispered, just after a guard passed by.
"What in blazes is going on here?! Just who in the hell are you?! What have I gotten into?!" I was perhaps a bit too excited.
Money or no, this sounded like the kind of thing that nobody in their right mind would ever want to get involved with. Luckily for Matt, I was not a person who possessed any such 'right mind'. That much was clear from the very beginning. "How do I do that?" I don't think you could possibly have me any more interested. You really know how to tweak a gal's curiosity.
Oh my, now that was really unexpected. Oh, Matt, if only you knew how close you were. "Where would one find these skulls?" Any more information would be good, even if I was sure I already knew where to find them.
Even after death, those twins really get around. Perhaps they'll hire an orchestra for the mausoleum's next get together? I do hope somebody spikes the punch. "So where would I look for them?" With Matt being as paranoid as he was, I couldn't be too careful. I was bound to get anything I could out of him.
Got it. The address I'm looking for is for a warehouse. Piece of cake. "Okay, I will do it. I shall return with the skulls."
In response Matt flattened himself against the club wall and looked out at the street nervously. "I"ll be waiting." It was so melodramatic I almost laughed.
Leaving Matt behind to jump at shadows, I wandered through the center of Tarant towards where all the factories and warehouses were jammed together in the dirtier part of town. I turned when I reached Devonshire Way, remembering the paper I'd browsed in the Gentlemen's Club. I counted off the houses out loud as I passed them, "31...33...35...37 Devonshire Way, The Garringsburg Residence." I knocked on the door.
A half ogre servant let me in, of course. However would the upper class let people into their homes without half ogre servants? That's all the damn things seemed good for anyway. I approached the lady of the house, who was busy fanning herself nervously. "Good day, madam. I came to ask you a few questions about the painting that was stolen." If I track it down the thieves guild will have to recognize me!
Yes, yes, I'm sure it was a wonderful painting that you'll jue die without. "I'm so very sorry. Have the police any leads?" Dealing with the rich got tiresome awfully quickly. I sighed, knowing that the only reason I felt that way was because I envied them. No matter how much of 'the good life' I supposedly took part in, it always seemed like everybody else had it better. I wished I could be upset about a stupid painting instead of worrying about assassins.
Oh, yes, poor you... you lost a damned painting. Get over it, woman. It seemed like I didn't have much choice but to track the painting down myself if I wanted to have a chat with the people that stole it. "Perhaps I could offer my services in finding the painting?"
"Of course, madam. I'd be honored to take..." your money "...the job! Might I ask you a few questions about the crime?"
"Yes, of course. What would you like to know?" She fanned herself irritably, as if having to tolerate the presence of one so lowly as myself were almost too difficult to bear.
"I was wondering how the thieves broke into the house here, what with your ogre servant at all." I mean... are they ALL that useless? Or just most of them?
Nightly patrol? That's rich. You send him out to look for trouble and because of it trouble walks right in through your front door. "Does anybody else have a key to your house?"
They leave that poor thing out in the cold every night until they wake up in the morning so they can let him in? How awful. I suddenly had an epiphany. Half ogres were stupid, but not so stupid that they'd willingly sit out in the cold every night for the meager sum that made up their wages. I'd have bet 500 coins that Polgram didn't lock up when he went on his patrols. "Well, then who knew the painting was here at the house?"
Weaker moments, indeed. 'Hey, guys! Look at me! I'm filthy rich!' Braggart. He deserves what came to him. "Alright, madam, I'll see what I can turn up."
"Thank you so much. I look forward to the news." That was a hint that she expected me to succeed after having taken up so much of her precious time.
"Good day to you, madam." I let myself out, not wanting to tolerate her presence any more than I already had.
Since Mrs. Garringsburg had done little to actually give me anything more than useless information and dirty looks, I took to wandering about while utterly lost in thought. I'd been hoping to use the recovery of the painting to get the attention of the local thieves, and to get the painting it looked like I'd have to ask the thieves about it. It all seemed rather circular and that bothered me. In my reverie I took to wandering the park for the second time that day, simply taking in the spendid view. It was no surprise to me that the man calling himself Grak was no longer there.
My reverie was interrupted by a halfwit halfling. What the hell is his problem? "I am sure you are not as stupid as you look. Nobody could be." I wasn't very well going to take that kind of abuse lying down.
If it was a game of insults he wanted he would certainly get it. "Your mind is always fresh. It should be. You never use it."
He retorted yet again, almost seeming to enjoy himself. "Look here! A lippy, holier-than-thou human!"
I wasn't out of the game just yet, though. This was a golden opportunity to say all the things that I think about but have to hold in for politeness' sake. "You have been hit in the head once too often, I think."
"Your kind are an evil blight on the world!" It was odd to hear him say such hateful things because the tone in his voice was actually somewhat cheerful. I didn't believe he actually held a grudge against humans, no matter how much he tried to drive the point home.
"You could not get a job as a firing squad target." I couldn't help but chuckle as I said it. This feels good!
"What are you gawping at, human scum?" he sneered falsely.
"Your mind is on vacation, but your mouth is working overtime." I chuckled some more, and Jayna started looking awfully confused. Come on, dear girl, don't you have anything that you just want to shout out but can't for fear of being indecent? On second thought, maybe that's just me.
"You humans are weak and cowardly, unfit to live." The halfling was almost at a full belly laugh by now and it was clear he was just playing around.
I began to tire of the situation, having mostly unburdened everything I wanted to say to the Tarantian nobility. Well, perhaps not everything, but some things just wouldn't be the same if I weren't saying it to their pompous faces. "You know... I think you actually enjoy insulting people."
...doesn't know that she's a girl The irony of the situation was not lost on me. "I am Sammy... er... Samantha Colburn. Pardon my asking, but why is it you enjoy insulting people?"
I listened quietly. He wasn't quite wrong, but it had been awhile since I saw somebody quite this bitter. My room at the Bridesdale lacked a mirror.
I glanced down at my dress nervously, oddly relieved to see I'd torn it up a bit more since my last sewing. "I see..." It was plain to me that I was conversing with some kind of twisted, long lost cousin who merely lacked my personal restraint.
"It is a dirty job, but someone must do it." And now that I really think about it, I'm actually glad that someone isn't me. "So what is it you do here?"
As good as our insult war had felt I wasn't about to get into another just yet. Oh who am I kidding? "You could not get a job as a firing squad target." Damnation. That was a repeat, wasn't it?
I left behind Sammie's countless taunts and verbal jabs after a couple more rounds of insult tennis and finally got back on track to where I had been going in the first place: the warehouse district. I passed by a dingy bunk house appropriately titled, 'Poone's Flophouse'. Glancing in as I passed I noticed a man quickly sliding his hand out of a sleeping man's pocket. I investigated. "Excuse me, sir, but did I just catch you picking that other man's pocket?"
He looked around carefully, unsure of whether any of the other patrons had overheard. "Shh. Keep your voice down. Yeah, you saw right. Whaddya want, a medal?"
"I would like many metals... and it looks like you can teach me a few things about how to get them. Would you mind sharing a few tricks?" He seemed unsure and looked around the aptly named 'flophouse' a bit more before responding.
"Yes, I do... and if you're any good at teaching I'll be able to make it back in no time. Here you go." I handed him the coins, crossing my arms and waiting for instructions.
My mouth nearly dropped open. Seriously? That bitter halfling in the park I was chatting with just minutes ago? I checked my purse more carefully. That son of a bitch... good heavens, this is really going to set me back.
Bonus ContentMaybe it's just me, but I feel like this book ends far before it should.
The Life of Ashton Fernwilter
which she approached the rest of her life. She was the one who imparted to me the importance of education, honor, and above all truth. Needless to say my world crumbled at the age of ten when she was murdered. At that time I had no idea of her death, she had simply disappeared. It would not be long before Life led me in the direction of her true fate however, and not long until I found out what it was that separated me from those one million others I had grown up with on the diseased streets of Tarant.
Shortly after my mother's disappearance, and after a two-week stay at the home of an uncle, I was apprenticed at a nearby factory. Apprenticed was the word that appeared on the official papers concerning my sale into slavery by my uncle. Had my mother the opportunity, I am sure she would have wreaked revenge upon the man. In the end she may have, for his end was a gruesome one. My "apprenticeship" amounted to performing all the menial tasks that required a body smaller than those of the average factory worker. When a machine became jammed with an errant chunk of slag it was my duty to dislodge the offending article. In the larger machines, the jams could occur deep within the bowls of interlocking gears and cogs. These types of errors were the bane of my young existence; from my first day inside the factory I discovered I loathed machines. The thought of traveling within one to effect repairs never ceased to make me sick.
There was one such jam that occurred not two weeks after my inception into the factory. I was called away from sweeping up still burning flakes of metal spewed by one noisy machine at one side of the factory, to a jam, which, by the wails of the supervisor, must have been obstructing the operation of a crucial piece of machinery. By the time I had arrived a panel near the base of the machine had been removed and was apparently the entrance I was to use to find and clear the obstruction. On hands and knees I reluctantly crawled into the belly of the beast at the unkind insistence of the supervisor. I hated him as much as the oily mechanisms he presided over.
I shuddered as I entered the machine. This was the smallest space I had ever been in. The metal that entombed me sent shivers down my spine by virtue of its sheer metallicness. Overhead gears interlocked and, had the machine been operational, would have been a sure death had I come in contact with any of their surfaces.
All around me oil dripped in dirty rivulets down to the floor where they gathered in puddles. I slogged along, soaking my clothes in oil, but I could not find the source of the obstruction.
That is when it happened for the first time, there, in the mechanical heart of the largest machine in the factory. As I reached forward to take hold of the hose, the gears begin shifting on their axis, and the hoses and wires made slight retreats from my outstretched hand.
I convinced myself I was only imagining things and continued to reach for the offending hose. When my flesh came into contact with the metallic sheathing of the hose the entire machine wretched. The gears no longer shifted on their axis, but began to quake violently. Bolts and screws securing lines began to slip in their shafts and separated themselves from their points of attachment. The machine had been shut down before I was called in, but now, as I stood in fear clutching the shaking hose lodged between the gears, the beast rumbled once, twice, and then gave a tremendous shutter.
With that shutter came the surprise ejection of the line I was holding. As it recoiled, it hit me in the face with enough force to throw me away from the now vibrating nest of cables. The large gear let out a sickly grind at the same moment it threw back the hose, and spun wildly. A sudden pain brought my attention to my wrist. A perfect rectangle of red now occupied the area below my hand, and in the moments before the blood welled to the surface, I could see the bloodlines that normally resided beneath the wrist unscathed, but open to the air. Apparently when the great gear resumed its duty, it caught that rectangle of my flesh and took it for itself. Had the line not thrown me backwards, the rest of my body would have joined it in the spinning gears.
Now the machine was alive around me. A deep penetrating hum permeated the air, and the rotating gears warned against the slightest misstep. I quickly turned and made my way back to the opening, carrying my wounded wrist against my side. The opening I had entered through was in my sight when something grabbed me from behind and I fell to the ground. A slow moving gear had caught the hem of my oil-soaked tunic, and was pulling me towards it. Striking out in panic, my hand found purchase on a shaft in front of me, and I pulled with all my strength, attempting to free myself from the gear's grasp.
With a rip, the gear finally let go, contented with the large part of my tunic it had ripped away. Short breathed and white-faced I staggered towards the opening. When I reached the panel and crawled outside I was greeted with a swift cuff by the supervisor that sent me sprawling back to the ground.
"Damnit boy! You weren't s'posed ta turn it on! What do ya think yer doin'?" bellowed the supervisor.
in, slamming the door behind him, and he sat down at his desk in a flurry. The rotted wood shuttered, but seemed to hold his weight; I remember being disappointed at that fact. He was a large man. A human to be sure, but vertically a large man, as well as horizontally.
He thrived on using his stature to intimidate those around him, which was one of the reasons I so loathed him. He did not keep a beard, although I doubt he could have had he chosen to. The hair on his head was wispy at best, although he tended to comb it such that it appeared larger than it was. His clothes, a simple though ill-fitting cotton shirt, and leather breeches in danger of losing their ability to encompass the man at any moment, were perpetually covered in stains and offal not only from the factory, but from his exceedingly poor personal habits.
"Ya little puke. Where da you get off pullin' stunts like that? Ya know damn well that's the most 'spensive machine we got 'ere, and you go runnin' 'round the inside playin' like yer a damned orc in a meatlocker."
"Sorry sir," came my abashed response. Even now, so many years later, I can find no positive side to this man, or pity for his eventual fate.
"Boy, you might're just broke that machine out there. It works right now, but in the mornin', who knows. If that machine don't work boy, I lose my job. I don't like not havin' a job." A snarl crept into his voice. "Ever since you got 'ere things a been breakin'. Things I gotta answer fer." I took a step backwards. My breath caught in my throat; the air felt thick. "I don't plan to go losin' my job on account of some scrub kid neither." It became harder and harder for me to breathe, the air was so thick.
"Boy, you know what this is?" He pulled open a desk drawer and produced a metallic instrument. He held the low end, wrapping his hand around a wooded portion, and looked over the tube that extended from a rough cylinder.
"It's a gun." I hate that word. "Now I had an agreement with yer uncle boy. I can't just toss you out, not while yer breathin' anyway." My vision began to dim as I struggled to take in the thickening air. Through a haze I saw a twisted grin split the supervisor's face, and the barrel of the gun swung my direction.
Then my breath failed me; I could no longer inhale. The supervisor looked as though he felt it too. His rant, to which I had been listening less and less, ceased, and the only sounds that emanated from his direction were inarticulate gurgles. His gun had lowered as well, forgotten now. The air continued to thicken, and took on a dark blue hue.
"You!" gasped the supervisor in my direction. "This is your-" he ceased his attempt to accuse me, and raised the gun to do his talking.