Chapter the Twenty Third: The Drawbacks of Dwarven CompanionshipI crept into the next room, bypassing the disturbing dwarven undead mindlessly going about their designated tasks. At least they weren't trying to gnaw a hole in my dress, I had to give them credit for that. Three men glared at me in shock when I entered the room. Oh hell. I really ought to have been paying more attention. Damn you, Magnus! Ugh... no sense hiding now. I walked straight up to them.
"Forgive the intrusion, but I'm in dire need of some information." It didn't really sound like a particularly convincing thing to be saying after trudging through a crypt full of angry zombies, but you never got anywhere without being polite. Polite? I've just broken into their home and attacked their workers and I'm trying to be polite?
"Information?!" he shouted. "You've violated our home and our business out of the need for some information? That's utterly preposterous!" You know, I was just beginning to think the same thing
I really couldn't blame him for getting so angry. "I can assure you that it's of the utmost importance."
Oh are you ever not going to like this... "I need to find out the identity of one of your clients..."
I sighed regretfully. I had been trying so hard to save my trump card, and now I had to waste it. "Listen, I'm not here to make trouble, but I HAVE seen a lot..."
His tone changed immediately and he rethought his opinion of me. "Yeesss, you have, haven't you? You've got me in quite a predicament. I suppose there's something to be said for making the best out of a bad situation. And you are persistent, I'll give you that..."
I grinned smugly. "A true predicament, yes. One that just might cost you..." Daresay I like where this is going...
Perhaps it's better if I don't push my luck. "Look, I'm only trying to get some answers..."
I didn't much like being shouted at. We were having such a polite conversation, too... "Fine. I... used to have this ring, you see... small, silver in color, with two things engraved onto it. The first are the initials 'G.B.' and the second is the imprint of P. Schuyler & Sons." I pretended all the while that the ring wasn't sitting comfortably in my pocket. If he was being so stingy with information, I was going to keep my secrets as well.
He sighed, calming slightly. "Ah yes, I see... a signet ring. And these letters G.B... more than likely they belong to the individual who purchased the ring from us."
A young child could figure that much out. "I guessed as much. Could you tell me the identity of the owner?"
"Yes, indeed we are at a crossroads. Where to go?" I was all business.
I thought to Magnus and chose my words carefully so as not to needlessly anger him. "Don't you think that the dwarves might consider this heinous?"
That makes sense. I'd been thinking something along those lines anyway. "Well, I'm convinced. Maybe we can come to an agreement?"
He thought about it carefully before slowly nodding. "Yes, I think that might just be possible. If you agree to tell no one about our business operations, I will find out for you who owns this ring. Are we agreed?"
"Agreed." I said firmly. There can always be a peaceful resolution.
At least I've been hoping for a peaceful resolution.... Magnus, You've got to be completely off your rocker! THESE AREN'T YOUR PEOPLE! "Magnus, please... let's think about this..."
Damnation! Don't make me do this, Magnus! He was being horribly overdramatic considering we'd known each other the better part of a day, but he had a point... if a weak one. I hated him for making me choose. Breaking into warehouses ruffles your feathers, but needless murder is alright? You're a damned hypocrite.
I wouldn't kill for money, but I had never considered the complicated circumstances under which needless death became acceptable. Ugh. Unfortunately, my choice was far more complicated than that. My choice wasn't to kill or not kill, it was of whom to kill. If I had to kill either the necromancers or the dwarf, as much as I didn't like the dwarf, the choice was obvious. "You're right! What was I thinking? Attack!" You've not made our friendship any stronger this day, Magnus. I hope it was worth it.
The battle was over nearly before it even began. The three men we fought against weren't accustomed to fighting in hand to hand combat. They tried feebly to cast a few spells, but those bounced harmlessly off of the shields I'd constructed. I closed the distance between us quickly and my dagger saw each of them dead in mere moments.
I didn't even stop to check their corpses. I walked over to the filing cabinets on the right side of the room and popped the lock with my pick. I shuffled around inside until I found a particularly interesting document.
Gilbert bloody Bates. I'd thought of that briefly, but I didn't really suspect it could've possibly been him. "I found what I'm here for, let's get out of here." I didn't even wait for a response.
We didn't even get back to the top floor before Magnus was falling all over me with his 'gratitude'.
You KNEW?! You ADMIT IT?! "But isn't this YOUR clan, Magnus...?" I taunted him.
"Uh... truly a pity. Let's get out of here..." I don't want to hear your bloody excuses after the fact. It's your fault that anybody had to die. To hell with you.
He grumbled a bit at my harsh tone. "Yes, I suppose I'll travel with you awhile..." I'll be surprised if you last a day. I'm not holding back my thievery for your sake.
The man at the front desk had finally gone home for the day by the time we emerged from the tomb beneath the store, so getting out wasn't difficult at all. Anybody who knew anything about Tarant knew where Gilbert Bates lived and I was in no mind to delay any longer than I already had in tracking down the owner of the ring. It was late, however, so I took the time to get a quick night's sleep. I doubted Gilbert got many midnight visitors anyway.
Bates' mansion was almost as far as it could be from the Bridesdale so travel there took quite a bit of a walk. Although it was impossible to tell whether it was likely to rain or not given the gray haze that floated above Tarant, a malevolent rumble from the sky suggested a storm was brewing. It was unfortunate that Tarant smelled as badly as it did because I normally enjoyed the scents that rain brought with it. Here in Tarant it would only make things smell worse. I confidantly approached the guard standing in front of Bates' mansion. "Pardon me, good sir, but I have a matter of utmost importance to discuss with Mr. Bates."
He tapped his foot impatiently, crossing his arms. The chainmail that hung loosely from his body made a pinging noise as he shifted. "And this matter would be pertaining to?"
"I need to talk to him about a ring of his that I found." For once I was telling the truth in trying to gain entry.
Not that the truth had any different results from my very poorly constructed lies. If you weren't going to believe me then why did you bloody ask? "How can I get in to see him, then?"
The guard seemed bored with this conversation, as though he'd had it hundreds of times in the last week. "That is not possible. Mr. Bates see no one, especially now, with the recent attempts on his life."
I thought I remembered hearing the paper criers yelling something or other about that recently, so I asked more about it. "Attempt on his life?"
Chukka didn't sound like a name I was even close to familiar with. It sounded more like a nickname if anything. "Chukka? What kind of person is named Chukka in this day and age?"
The guard seemed more interested in this line of conversation than the line of conversation that involved telling me 'no' repeatedly in new and interesting ways. "Chukka is Mr. Bates' ogre bodyguard. Mr. Bates saved his life somehow, years ago. Chukka has been at his side ever since."
Right. An ogre. I suppose it's only appropriate that Mr. Bates has an ogre... and his ogre is even more than just another decoration! "Nevertheless, it is imperative that I get in to see Mr. Bates."
"You have piqued my interest. What else can you tell me?" I was admittedly curious, but I didn't like the idea of having to kill anybody just to see an arrogant old bastard with far more money than friends.
He sighed, "Not much, really. They usually strike in the middle of the night, some time after midnight. We've lost several guards we've sent there to stop them."
What kind of an idiot do you take me for? "If your guards can't stop them, what chance would I have?"
"Then I'll be doing just that. Goodbye." There's always another way, my good man, there's always another way. Mr. Bates had more than his fair share of enemies and I had a feeling that his closest rival might be interested in helping a thief infiltrate the Bates estate.
The Appleby factory wasn't even remotely difficult to find. It was nearby, loud, and belched out far more smoke than any other factory in all of Tarant (quite the impressive feat, to say the least). I tried knocking, but I could scarcely even hear the sound myself. I simply walked inside and up to the only gentleman I saw. "Excuse me, sir," I shouted loudly over the clattering of machinery, "Are you Mr. Cedric Appleby?"
That's quite the boast, as there are only two, you pompous fool. "Second largest? Why aren't you the largest?"
His face turned red and he started ranting seemingly to nobody inparticular. "It's that damned charlatan Bates, being hailed as a hero... Hah! I spit on him! His intelligence is but that of a gnat's compared to mine!"
At least we're getting to the right topic now. "What do you know about Gilbert Bates?"
"The scoundrel! But how has he invented so much since then?" My sarcasm was completely lost on him, though that was probably a good thing. It was just easier to play along. I wouldn't get anywhere by calling the man a lunatic, even though the term was entirely accurate.
I'm quite sure that the head of the world's largest technological company makes a habit of employing mages. They must cast their spells right alongside the happy hum of the steam engines! "Uhh... I can understand your frustration, but what can be done?"
Appleby was barely listening. "He needs to be humiliated! Exposed for the fraud that he is!"
"Well," I began to offer, "If you'll help me sneak into his mansion I can help you expose him."
Finally the cranky old man started to notice that I still existed. He glared at me suspiciously, "I'm not so sure I can trust you. Would you be interested in doing me a favor to prove you can be trusted?"
Everybody wants bloody favors. Why can't I just go into the mansion and expose him for you? Why do I have to prove anything? You ought to do ME a favor to prove I can trust YOU. I'm not the bloody lunatic. "Why certainly, Cedric."
It was at once both what I expected and a complete surprise. "How will this humiliate and expose him? Humor me."
Not at all. Got it. As much as I was beginning to hate old Cedric at least his offer didn't involve killing anybody. "I accept your proposal."
"It'll be done tonight, then. If you listen carefully, you might be able to hear the explosion." The man rubbed his hands together greedily, not hearing a damn thing I was saying. He was too lost in thoughts of his revenge.
Magnus confronted me after we left, "I have to admit, madam, I'm not liking this one bit. I say we go back to that guard we were talking to earlier and explain about all this. Perhaps then he'll let us in."
I shook my head, "I'm afraid that's simply unreasonable, Magnus. It would be impossible for them NOT to know about Appleby at this point. Just look at how he yammers on to anybody that'll listen, and he's the laughing stock of the town to boot! They know what's going on, they just don't take Mr. Appleby seriously. We'd be laughed away from the gate."
"That may be so, madam," he tried to convince me, "but it's a sight better than destroying a brand new piece of technology."
I knew something of dwarves and technology. "So you've developed a sudden love for human technological expansion, then, have you?"
He grumbled some more, "Perhaps you're right, madam. I will go along with this just this once. Consider it a thanks for your help with the Schuylers."
I was still angry with Magnus over that, but it wasn't the proper time or place to argue. We had arrived at the factory and I was beginning to watch the guard patrols, memorizing them to make slipping inside easier when night fell.
After only a few short hours the time to slip in was at hand. The guards didn't even have a clue that I crept past them under the cover of darkness. Locked doors gave way beneath my gentle pick, drawers and chests popped open revealing all sorts of useful junk and even the occasional schematic. Finally I found the prototype engine that Appleby was enraged over. I set the timer on the stick of dynamite and made my escape.
The explosion could probably be heard for miles around. There was no time to waste in getting the hell out of there before people came running to see what the fuss was about. I didn't want my name being associated with Appleby's quackery no matter how badly I needed his help. I returned to Appleby immediately. "The prototype has been destroyed."
I didn't even care about the money for once. "Now that I've done your job, can you get me into Bates' house?" I've been bloody patient enough.
I looked at the worn old dress disdainfully. Cedric, there are THREE of us you damned fool. I was just going to have to find my own way in after all. Hmm... the Bates estate IS where the old castle used to be... perhaps that passage in the cemetary will come in handy after all.
No, Cedric. I'll not play your dangerous games any longer. "Consider it 'found'" I lied.
Bonus ContentHunters Hunted
devices of 'Technology', is it?"
I was taken aback as to how this complete stranger knew of my background in the field of Technology, yet I replied simply, "Yes, that is correct." He smiled a smile as broad as his face, until I was sure his skin would split.
"Good, good," he said, clearly pleased, "So you work with gun-smithing, explosives, and the like?"
"No," I replied, for in truth, I had very little experience in those fields of study.
"What?" the man said, darkly, no longer as pleased, "You study Technology, don't you? What do you know about then?"
"Therapeutics," I replied, "Discovering the effects of new substances we can create."
"Like... gunpowder, maybe?" the man asked, his mood starting to lighten.
"Well, no actually," I was forced to admit, "That would be more in the field of chemistry, which I have dabbled in as well."
The man's face lit up again, and he turned his head and asked, "Will he do?"
I suddenly became aware of two others who had approached me from behind, standing silently during the exchange. As I whirled to regard them, I realized from their sloping brows and jutting jaws that I faced half-orcs.
One of them nodded, "Yeah, he'll do. Now come on, eh? Baumer's already on the train. Hurry up and get him loaded."
"Train? What train? I have a destination of my own, and I can assure you chaps that it is not the same as yours." I said, indignantly.
"It is now," the other half-orc said, "Now come on, professor, before we have to get rough with you. We promise we won't take up more than a week of your time. All we want is your professional opinion on something." He grabbed one of my shoulders and began to push me towards the train while the other half-orc seized my other shoulder and did the same. I realized I should play along with these miscreants, at least for the moment while they seemed to offer me no real harm.
"Very well," I said, "Where are we going?"
"Stillwater," the first half-orc replied.
During the train ride, I was able to learn about my companions. The two half-orcs were Wilheim and his older brother, Klaus. They were loud and boisterous companions, possessed of great physical strength. Baumer was an immense half-ogre of middling intellect, barely able to form coherent sentences. The brothers spoke little of his background, only that they had found him hiding out in an abandoned farmhouse. The human member of
needed here? Or what the purpose of this trip to Stillwater is?"
"We're hunting," the half-orc replied.
"Yeah, huntin'," came the lower and slower voice of Baumer, riding in the back of the wagon behind us.
"Hunting?" I asked, "Which makes you bounty hunters?"
Wilheim seemed to dislike that term, but nodded reluctantly, "In a sense. We like to think of ourselves as 'Hunters of Occult Beasts and Villainous Monsters'."
"We kill weres," Baumer offered.
"Does he mean werewolves?" I asked, after a long, confused pause.
"Aye, werewolves, and other, less famous types of werecreatures," Wilheim replied, tapping the side of his slightly upturned nose, "But we fight other beasties too. We've gotten our share of mad animals, and even a few things that'd curdle your blood to tell you about them."
"Oh really?" I said, not quite sure this ragtag band could bring down anything larger than a sheep, "And what are you hunting here?"
Wilheim gave me a surprised look, "Guess you've never heard of the Stillwater Giant... It's an old tavern tale here, but Jacob believes there's more to it. He wants to kill it. Frankly, I do too, on account of the damned thing being known to eat orcs."
"A giant?" I exclaimed, "I had thought they were all long extinct! What good am I against a giant?"
Wilheim looked sheepish and cast his eyes to the ground, "Er, well, we use a lot of Technological things in our line of work, mostly guns and such. Trouble is, on our last hunt, old Klaus over there had a slight accident and now most of our equipment is-"
"That's enough!" Klaus roared from in front of us.
"Needless to say," Wileim whispered, "We need you to fix some things."
At this point, Jacob returned from the inside of the hotel. "We're all set. Everyone come inside. And Baumer," the half-ogre slowly turned his shaggy head to regard Jacob, "Try to be quiet on your way in. I may have not quite let on that we have a half-ogre with us."
I studied their equipment that night, and as expected, their things were not in my area of expertise. Combined, they had six types of guns, ranging from a heavy pistol to some type of gigantic repeating rifle that I could only assume was Baumer's. Three of the guns were damaged, and all of their arms were running low on ammunition. The ammunition was easily restored, for I did have some degree of explosives and chemicals with me, and their group had excess supplies with which to make the ammunition.
As for the weapons themselves, I did my best. It appeared that they all had misfired due to a lack of repair. I used what little knowledge I had to try to fix their triggering mechanisms and repair some of the more grievous burn damage. I only hoped that my meager repairs would be enough for what this group needed.
In the morning, Jacob awoke us all. Each of their group was given a pack of provisions, as well as a gun. True to my expectations, Baumer got the big one. The two brothers also carried additional pistols.
"You're coming too," Jacob said, referring to me, "Just to make sure you made proper repairs."
"That's all right," I said, only slightly annoyed, "I might as well see this adventure through."
"That's the spirit," I heard Jacob mutter as we began our trek into the mountains. We had all been dressed in greatcoats to protect us for the cold, save Baumer, who seemed comfortable no matter the clime. We rose into the hill lands that day, and the day following. We ate the packed provisions, and I struggled with the labours, for my body was not used to such strenuous activity.
On the third day, we were well into the snowy regions of the mountains. We reached a smoother region of the rocks and snow where Jacob said we were to make camp. The group did this with their practiced efficiency, quickly setting up tents and assigning watch duty.
thundered, especially Baumer's repeating gun, which clamored like the horrible chattering of a demon. Spent ammunition shells clanked as they reached the ground.
Then all was quiet. They paused, and Klaus went to inspect his brother, whilst Jacob moved to check the area of night behind us.
"He's burned to death," Klaus said quietly, "Giants don't burn people. What manner of monster really lurks up here?"
He stood, and announced, his voice wavering slightly "We have to move on. Jacob and Baumer, switch places."
Baumer trundled over to where Jacob had been exploring, but from Jacob there was no response.
"He's gone," Baumer said, confused.
Something that might have been fear flooded Klaus's eyes, but it left quickly, "We're leaving him. Come on."
It was almost too much to get to my feet and continue, but I did. We continued going further into the dark, and I was sure we were lost. And then Baumer began to fire madly into the air. As I watched, something in the night shook him and threw him out of our light. Klaus sprang forward and fired his own weapon, which clicked as it jammed. Apparently my repairs had not been so good as I would have thought.
Meanwhile, Baumer's shouts had faded, and his gun been silenced. Klaus roared with frustration and fired his pistol above his head, all of his composure lost.
"Come get me! Come on out, you burning thing!" His gun fired into the air, and as I watched, to my horror, the bullets seemed to wobble and slow in the air. Only one thing destroyed the trajectories of bullets like that: a strong Magick field. Something up here was very destructive and very magickal. I did not wish to see what it was, and I fled blindly into the night. I heard all of Klaus's shouts until they culminated in one final scream. As I fled, though, I passed our campsite, its fire almost burned out. In the distant shadows that it cast, I could have sworn to see some enormous hairy creature edging its massive body into the light. But when I looked again, it was gone. I forced myself to believe that it was the illusion caused by the speed of my flight and the flickering of the dying campfire.
When I returned to town, I took whatever money I could find that the group had left in its rooms back at the Stillwater hotel. Doubtless they had expected to return triumphant and spend more days in the town as heroes. I planned to take the wagon and return to the train, where I could return to my beloved Tarant, so far away from these accursed mountains.
As the wagon slowly pulled away from town, I saw the bounty hunter who had grinned at the wagon our first day here. He was conversing with another man, dressed only in light cloths, who wore a wide brimmed, floppy hat. As he talked, I saw him open a pouch and draw out a severed ear; A half-ogre ear, I realized coldly. He then produced two more ears, smaller and less pointed. He handed the bounty hunter a large repeating gun that could have only been Baumer's. As the wagon moved by them, I overheard him speak:
"That took care of that band of three half-men right for you. Their new-fangled 'Technology' was no match for good, old-fashioned Magick. I even salvaged their arms, just as you asked. Now, as to my payment...," the wagon pulled out of earshot then, and it began to rain. The two men cursed and retired to the tavern to discuss their vile business.
It had been a mage, I thought, as the rain fell upon my head, a mage with illusions, fire, force and other enchantments. But no Magick I knew could replicate the sound I had heard. And what had I almost seen in the dying firelight of our deserted camp? Why weren't there four ears? What had taken Jacob, then? All I know is that there is definitely something lurking in those tall, snow covered mountains above Stillwater, and it chills my blood to think of it.