Chapter the Sixth: Making Good On One's PromisesThe Bessie Toone mine was a dark and dirty place, though I really shouldn't have expected otherwise. It was difficult to see inside, but there were several lanterns on the sides that Virgil was kind enough to light as we went along. The smell of wet fur permeated the mine, overpowering the now faint scent of metal and machinery. It would have been a marvelous thing to see back when the mine was still being worked, when Shrouded Hills prospered instead of decayed.
A scrawny wolf with a damp coat crept around the corner, prowling with its body low to the ground. It looked up at me and bared its teeth, emitting a deep growl that slowly grew in strength. It lunged at me, but for a wolf it was actually quite slow. It didn't really seem to be in the best of health, though I didn't imagine most wolves could survive so well living in an old mine so near to a town. It saddened me, but I put the wolf out of its misery.
There were more than just sick wolves in the mine, however. As I progressed deeper inside the mine I encountered several aggressive, overgrown rats. More rats. I hate rats. What is it with rats around here? Although they didn't pose much of a threat individually, in a group they were a bit more dangerous. Luckily the tips I got from the guard were paying off nicely and I found myself fumbling quite a bit less than I did the last time I had to fend off rodents.
In the deepest part of the mine even the filthy rats gave way to vermin of a much worst sort: spiders. My hatred for rats was no small secret, but even that paled in comparison to the panicked revulsion that welled up in the pit of my stomach when I saw three spiders the size of my fist crawling out of a dark corner and towards me. I did not let out a shriek, I refused to, but it did take me several moments to regain my composure long enough to get a proper hold on my dagger. When the spiders neared me I gave them a stabbing the likes of which they'll never forget. Well, they probably forgot it the second the blade cleaved through whichever bit they use for a brain, but that's beside the point. Spiders were a lot less fearsome when out in the open and big enough to stab.
By far the most horrible thing in that mine was the ghost of old Bessie Toone herself. More than just goosebumps, that woman gave me chills. Her voice echoed hauntingly throughout the mine, "Sarah, my dear Sarah..." Over and over again she repeated the name. Sarah... I tried calling out to her, asking her why she was still there, but she only ever said the same thing in response.
Rumor has it that one day she walked up to the mine, fired all of the workers, and disappeared into the caves. I shuddered uncontrollably. Her spirit was stuck there, forever wandering the barren, rock passageways... calling out the name 'Sarah', her words echoing interminably. I focused on accomplishing what I could quickly so I could take leave of the awful place.
I saw a boot with a tag labeled 'TOONE' sitting on a nearby table so I snatched it up quickly. This ought to please that damned fop. I wasn't quite done with the mine yet, however, as I had made other promises. Searching thoroughly revealed a stick of dynamite, likely intended to be used for any number of tasks in the mine. Well, the mine's shut on account of haunting anyway. They won't care if I borrow this. Although taking apart the town's steam engine sounded like a rather interesting exercise, I supposed I stood a much lower chance of getting caught if I were to simply blow it to smithereens.
I fought my way through more and more vermin, exploring several side passages of the mine. Eventually my luck changed for the better and I found the last thing I was looking for: a shining lump of ore, its color a stark contrast from the dark and dirty heaps of rock piled high in the mine carts. I picked up a nearby pickaxe and aimed at the rock carefully, using the same precision that I might use to stab a man in the back. My aim was true and my hands were steady, loosening the rock in a few quick blows. I picked up the fallen bit of ore and stuffed it in my purse. This looks like it'll make me a fine dagger, Mr. Gurloes. I certainly wasn't lingering in the mine because I enjoyed its atmosphere, so once I had everything I'd come for I left it immediately. All I had to do to make my way out was follow the trail of dead vermin.
My first stop on the way out was the place nearest to the mine: Percy Toone's house. His mother was obsessed with this 'Sarah' and I found it hard to believe he didn't think to mention it earlier. I was angry that he'd hidden something from me and he was cowardly enough that I felt I could get my way by expressing that anger. He glared at me suspiciously when I entered, noticing the harsh look on my face. "We meet again," his voice was unsteady when he spoke, betraying the veiled confidence he tried to put forth in his words.
"I 'spoke' with your mother's ghost." Percy's face went white.
That's right, you knew all along what she was saying in that mine... how could you not? You were hoping I'd be turned away by the vermin. "She said, 'Sarah, my dear Sarah. Sarah, come back, please. Oh, Sarah. Sarah Sarah Sarah.' Just who the hell is Sarah?"
Percy was overreacting. His anger was hollow and obviously false. Perhaps your simple minded ruses pass for deception in this town, but I see right through you. "Why did she do that?" I certainly wasn't going to let up on him that easily.
Unfortunately for me, he seemed to decide he'd rather not have my help after all. There couldn't have been more than the smallest grain of truth amidst the lies that began spilling forth from his mouth. "Who can say? She was always so irritable and unkind to me. It broke my mother's heart when she left."
I'm sure it did, Percy. I can always count on you to tell it like it is. "Perhaps if I could go and speak with her..." Talking with Percy was getting me nowhere fast and that didn't seem likely to change anytime soon. It seemed as though Sarah was my only option.
Percy was, of course, indignant. "Why? Why would you want to do that? She can be of no help, of that I can assure you. It would be unwise... I mean there's nothing she can tell you that would help."
Nothing that would help you, you mean. Nothing that would be a blatant lie to cover up your own inadequacies. "It can't hurt, though, and I do need something to go on..."
You are a horrible liar, Percival Toone. "I am sorry I mentioned it. I will be going, now." It looked like he'd all but confirmed that his sister was, in fact, still living in Dernholm. She couldn't be hard to find in such a place since there weren't many who still remained there in recent years. I was going to head in that direction anyway, so I made a note to track her down.
I left Percy's house and wandered around town for awhile, just trying to kill a bit of time before sundown. I didn't want to hold onto live dynamite any longer than I had to, but I also didn't want to blow up a town treasure in broad daylight. In my wanderings I helped myself to a few meager belongings that were poorly concealed behind a locked door and I also stumbled upon another tiny little magick shop. For a backwater town with a mine and a steam engine Shrouded Hills sure did have a lot of magicians.
The proprietress was a young looking elven woman, though with elven lineage who can really tell how old the buggers are. She greeted me politely as I entered her shop, but my skin was already beginning to itch just a little bit. Well, I'm already doing odd jobs for everybody else in this damned town, I might as well work for you, too. "I am looking for work. Do you require assistance with anything?"
She thought about it for a second then responded, "This town is small and my needs are few. There is nothing I need an outsider to do for me." Then another thought seemed to cross her mind and she glanced at me a bit harder. "You appear a traveler. Tell me, do you wander far?"
The answer to that question was easy. "Yes."
Indeed. Everybody wants something, don't they? "Where do you think it may be?"
She chuckled a bit and shrugged. "I have not the slightest inkling of its whereabouts. I cannot fathom why I have even told you of it. Perhaps these many years have confused my mind. Well, no matter. IF you do happen upon it, I would reward you handsomely."
Only one of us was amused by this. What in the gods would cause you to ask me to fetch an amulet when you've bloody clue where it is, if it even still exists?! Damned elves! "I will keep an eye out for it, Madam." I was better at lying than Percy. "Good day."
As I headed away from the shop I was very nearly accosted by a gnome who seemed desperate to talk with me.
If ever there were a funny question to ask, that is the one. Why not ask if I'd been to the crash site, if I knew anything about the crash...? No, you have to ask me if I bloody survived it. You must think me a fool. "Mind your own business, sir."
This gnome is far too persistent. He may be acting polite, but I always act polite when I'm trying to rob, manipulate, or otherwise abuse the good-natured trust of my fellow man (or woman, I don't discriminate). "And I told you that I'd rather not speak of it. Good day..."
He seemed flustered. "Madam, you don't understand! I am Mr. Radcliffe and my brother Preston was on that zeppelin! If you can give me any information about him...!"
The image of the two corpses in the inn room flashed across my mind. I could still see the words on Joachim's note: Do not speak with anyone about the zeppelin crash. Whatever Joachim is or is not he certainly gave good advice with that one. If the gnome was indeed telling the truth then I was being horribly rude, but the chances of his being honest were far lower than my chances of winning the Tarantian lottery. "My apologies, Mr. Radcliffe, but I cannot help you with this matter."
His tone changed as he suddenly became aware that I wasn't as dull as he thought. He sounded downright menacing and he cast me a hateful glare, "Hmmph! No need to be rude, madam. I suppose you'll be staying here in Shrouded Hills. I'm sure we'll be seeing one another again..." I'll take that as a threat, 'Mr. Radcliffe'.
"Good day to you." I politely excused myself and began forming plans to get the hell out of Shrouded Hills as quickly as possible. It surprised me that Virgil hadn't warned me to be careful in hushed whispers. Either he was beginning to trust me or perhaps he was really that upset when I didn't let him talk with the last suspicious man we met. I wasn't really sure what he was thinking, but I certainly wasn't going to get any better at lying if I sat back and let him do all the talking. Still, I felt guilty all over again. It seemed like I wasn't any better of a person in my new life than I'd been in my last.
Evening began to fall and darkness sheltered me like a warm blanket, concealing my unscrupulous activities from prying eyes. I inconspicuously wandered on over to the large building I passed on my way into town the previous night and approached the door cautiously. The distinct rattle of a steam engine issued forth from inside and I knew I had the right place. Quietly I cracked open the door and slipped inside. Virgil followed soon after.
As luck would have it there were rats on the inside. Why does it always have to be rats? Why can't I ever encounter bunnies? Bunnies are cute and harmless. Thinking such things didn't help me in the slightest. Fond memories of the old rabbit farm in Caladon bubbled to the surface of my mind and I suddenly began longing for many of the luxuries I'd left behind. I remembered the kind old farmer that let the dirty little orphan girl play with his rabbits. Many years later I strolled down Old King's Way, hanging on Frederick's arm, and we stopped to feed those same bunnies. That was another life. I am not that person. I'm a thief, soon to be a demolitionist. Unfortunately for my new persona, the object I was trying to destroy was guarded by a peculiar dwarf.
Perhaps 'guarded' wasn't exactly an appropriate term. The strange little dwarf next to the engine looked at me with glazed-over eyes that suggested he'd been inhaling a few too many fumes for his own good. When he spoke his voice was cracked and uneven. It occurred to me that if I just waited long enough he would pass out of his own accord. I didn't really have the time, though. Perhaps I could convince him to leave for awhile. He certainly wouldn't be smart enough to catch on. "Uh, yes, I see. Very... pretty?" How else am I supposed to respond to that?
Catching on to my ruse wasn't a problem, but being too stupid to hold a normal conversation was proving to be problematic. "And you say you take care of this thing?"
This was going nowhere fast. Although dynamite wasn't exactly my specialty, the steam engine was rather large. I looked around and noted several places it could be laid that would be detrimental to the steam engine but wouldn't harm the dwarf overly much. I certainly wasn't going to kill him. I'd sooner tell Mr. Dunne just where he could stuff those potions he offered me in payment. "I see. Well, it has been intellectually stimulating, but I must go." The irony was lost on him.
He shouted as I made my way out of the room, "Shiny shiny engine! I see my face!" It can't be a good idea to leave that poor thing trapped in here with the engine. It'll only make him worse. In my mind I was actually doing the dwarf a favor by destroying the steam engine.
Once the dwarf's attention was shifted back to his 'shiny' I signalled to Virgil to wait for just a moment. Very carefully I crept into the room and dialed the timer on the dynamite until I was satisfied. I laid it down on the other side of the engine from the dwarf and hoped he'd survive the experience. Sorry, friend, but I'm being paid to get rid of your shiny. Try not to get hurt.
I didn't really have any experience with explosives, but it worked well enough. The dwarf had a few scratches from where bits of metal went flying past him, but was otherwise alright. Confused as a baby in a brothel, but he'd live. I hastily made my escape and Virgil followed.
Mr. Dunne's shop was on exactly the opposite end of town and at the moment that's just where I wanted to be. I hurried away from the explosion as quickly as I could while not being overly loud about the matter. Slipping inside quietly, I whispered to Mr. Dunne, "I've taken care of your steam engine problem..."
Perhaps this job will involve getting more money and harming fewer dwarves. "Of course... I'm at your service..." Then Mr. Dunne launched into some hullabaloo about alchemical gold that I couldn't care less about. Something or other about needing a special ingredient that he couldn't disclose to me before he could perform the transmutation. I was certain that if modern magick truly discovered a way to turn lead into gold the discovery wouldn't be made by a self-centered gnome in Shrouded Hills. Whether that gnome was willing to pay for the possibility, however, was of much more importance to me.
"...the only man who sells it is in Dernholm, to the east. The man's name is Charles Dolan, and he owns a shop in Dernholm." That's the part I needed to hear.
Since I'd been planning on stopping in Dernholm anyway a few extra coin would do me some good. "Could you mark it on my map, good sir?" I held my map out to him. Just show me where Sarah lives... gooood gnome.
"Certainly, madam," he replied as he made a small 'X' where Dernholm is located.
Cheap bastard, aren't you? There wasn't much of a choice to be made. An extra 70 coins on top of the 500 I was hoping to earn by chatting with Sarah was better than turning down the 70 coins. It was practically free money. "Sounds good. I'll do it."
Mr. Dunne grinned widely, "Many thanks, madam. I shall await your return." I don't know what you really think you'll be gaining by doing all of this, but at least I can take your money.
My next order of business was to deliver the ore that Mr. Gurloes had asked for. A new weapon could always come in handy and I wanted to be sure it would be ready before I left for Dernholm, which would hopefully be incredibly soon. "Good day, Mr. Gurloes. I've brought back your ore... here you go..."
"I'll do that Lloyd..." It wouldn't do to start traveling at night anyway and I figured I wouldn't be caught for blowing up the steam engine at least until morning so I went back to the inn to rent another room. After I paid the innkeeper for another night the half orc sitting at the bar coughed suspiciously, giving me a purposeful stare. I wondered just what it was that he wanted. Sitting down next to him I casually asked, "Who might you be?"
I didn't really like Jacob's tone, but I did need money quite badly. I listened on, hoping he wasn't going to ask for anything crude. "Hmmm. Perhaps. Speak quickly..."
He winked, which set an uneasy feeling upon me. It looked like things were going exactly where I feared they were going. "I like a woman who hears opportunity when it comes a'knockin. Here's the word, and make sure to keep it to yourself..."
"Just keep your hands to yourself and tell me..." If you're going to ask me for... no, no, no... that hasn't been for sale for a very long time... and certainly never to those with orcish blood. Ugh.
He leaned in closely, "I'll make this short. Do you fancy yourself the thieving type, woman?"
I was honestly so relieved at his asking that I almost laughed. This was quickly turning from a job that made me feel unpleasant to a job that sounded like it could be a whole lot of fun. "I'm a woman who knows her way around a lock..." I replied.
"I'm listening..." You may be clueless when it comes to picking locks, but you're still a thief in spirit, my good man. This sounded like it would be good practice AND I would get paid for it. I'd spent so much time looking for good work in that damned town and all I had to do was look right at the inn where I was staying. Well, it sounded like it would involve breaking the law, too, but that never really stopped me. Didn't even slow me down.
"There's a bank here in town, and j'es yesterday the payroll for the Bessie Toone mine was deposited there for safekeeping. There's at least 500 gold pieces in that safe, as we speak." The half orc pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and thumbed it greedily. "This here's the combination to the bank's safe. Do I make m'self clear, woman?"
I grinned wickedly. "Crystal, my good man. What's the catch?" As long as the catch didn't involve 500 gold as payment for a certain other service I had a feeling things were going to work out just fine.
Doctor? Why the bloody hell would he send a doctor after me for robbing a bank? "Who's the doctor?"
"The doctor? Old Doc Roberts is the only real law this here town got... god knows Constable Owens' lilly-livered hide ain't goin' to do nuthin' about nuthin'. If a man needs somethin' done in this town law-way, then they go to Doc Roberts, and if he feels like it, then it gets done. I'm sure he's got money in that bank, so he'd be real interested if someone was gonna steal it..."
The half orc's meaning was clearer now. "I see. I think we might have a deal here, Jacob."
The half orc and I shook hands on it, "Deal." This'll be the fastest, easiest 250 coins I ever made. I should've started robbing banks years ago.
"Good, good," the half orc handed me the slip of paper. "I'll be here, waiting, until noon after the day you do th' job. Don't double cross me, woman..."
Misogynist bastard. "Until later, Jacob." I'd show him how a proper heist was done. They wouldn't know the money was gone 'till they counted it the next day.
When this is done, I'm going to have to get the bloody hell out of here... and fast. He'll drink his share of the money away in less than a week, and then he'll be running to Doc Roberts hoping to get the rest of the money all to himself. Not gonna happen, Jacob... not on my watch. It's a good thing I was already planning on leaving anyway. My popularity in Shrouded Hills was sinking fast.