Part 3: Chapter One - Part 3Chapter One Part 3
The first of the adherents that Artemiy would visit was going to be Notkin. The trek from Stone Yards to the Warehouses wasn't particulalry long, and Artemiy helped the kid out earlier in the day, so he was bound to be helpful in return. "Quid pro quo" wasn't a sacred rule in this town, but it was dependable enough.
This was Artemiy's first time in Stone yards in some time, and he couldn't help but note how well-off the houses were, compared to the rest of the city. Truly, a den of aristocrats and rulers.
It was time to leave the place behind, for now.
More defiance. This little Steppe town was prideful and, it seems, the time for paying for that pride was soon to come.
The rusted warehouses that provided Artemiy with shelter earlier in the day seemed to have quieted down.
The interior didn't change at all. Again. Artemiy was getting used to this strange form of stasis that seemed to affect everything around the adherents.
Notkin wasn't welcoming, but he wasn't cold either. He simply waited until Artemiy spoke.
Tell me, Notkin was anybody looking for me around here?
Ah yes, we had this nerd come around here... He sure was trying to look tough, kept his teeth clenched! "If I catch this killer, I will drain blood from him drop by drop he ruined everything I worked for!"
You think he's dangerous? Hmm... Drop by drop, you say...
Well, that's what he said, at least. We told him there wasn't anyone like that here, we don't know any killer. "I'll go chat with the thieves, then" he said. "They'll sell him to me for a silver coin..."
What else did the fellow say?
Said that he wasn't afraid. Said he knew that you already did in a lot of people, but you two would have a different conversation. After that, he turned out his coat, and showed me this big revolver.
I see thanks, Notkin.
It was time to visit the thieves. Before that, however, Artemiy would ask Notkin about his connection to Isidore.
Tell me, Notkin have you seen Isidore Burakh, my father, yesterday night?
Oh dear... So that's whom I've been talking to this whole time. My apologies, I didn't know. I thought you were just another vagabond. So, you already know that he was murdered?
I know, yes. You, too, seem to know. How?
Well... They say that a Steppe demon killed him. Shabnak. Bone maneater, you know? They say that, because, when they found him, there was a giant claw stuck in his chest. They say that it was her claw it doesn't have to be hers, I say, but it definitely was a claw of some sort of monster... Or fang, come to think of it. Whatever some sort of bone.
Monster? What monster?
A giant monster. A claw the size of an elbow. Crooked, boney, broken at the foundation. That's when the news spread that, from the steppe, came the bone maneater to punish us for our sins. Straight from the children's tales. Shabnak-adyr.
When was the last time you saw my father?
Our guys said that he returned from the Steppe, so I went to see him. He usually went out into the Steppe for a while. I thought, he'd tell me the news about the Bulls. I came, and there was this smoke in air it stank horribly, like somebody was burning a big, wet blanket. The lights were on, but he wasn't home. He went to see Simon. Came back closer to the morning and chased me away.
Chased you away?
Stomped his feet, even! Said not to come close. I was very surprised, he's always been good to me. I thought I did something wrong, so I went back. That's when the whole thing with Toady went down. I only found out about the claw later, in the morning. Didn't see it myself.
Maybe, you think that I have claws like that too?
Ah, yes I've heard all the slander about you. They told the people go grab Simon's killer, he'll go to the Station. That was before the Claw, you know, they haven't found Isidore yet, then. Afterwards, they announced there's only one killer, Simon was killed by Shabnak. That's when it all got mucked up...
Much obliged, Notkin.
It was clear that Notkin was extremely loyal, and would make a stalwart ally in the coming days. This thought heartened Artemiy immensely. Besides, he was closer to finding out the truth behind his father's death. Before visiting the next adherent, he would visit the Thieves to see how much they sold him out for.
The gents in the warehouse seemed to be a bit tired, compared to the morning.
Griff winked slyly at Artemiy as he approached. Artemiy decided to tackle the issue in a roundabout way, instead of asking about things head-on.
Anybody's been asking for me around here?
Ah yes some sort of important doctor came this way. Not local. If he sticks around here, we'll have to make friends... probably. Could be a good replacement for old Isidore. But he won't stay, of course. And yes he was looking for you! Was quite angry, too and, in a hurry.
What did he say?
He said he'll kill you, what else! Dangerous type. A total egghead, but there's something wicked in his eyes. I wouldn't cross him, even if I had your brawn. It's best you'd be careful - his judgment will be quite swift.
You tell him that that is, you can try, but he won't listen. He's swift to judge, that much is clear. In quite a bit of a hurry...
Where can I find him?
Well, if you aren't afraid, I can tell you where you can catch him. He isn't a stupid fellow, found a nice broad to pitch his tent near. We have this Eva, in the Stone Yard. Perhaps, you'll catch him there. It would be a real shame if you'd kill him, though...
You want to pit us against each other, don't you? Don't worry, we'll only talk. All's well that ends well...
One great thing about Griff was that he was very, very straightforward. Artemiy didn't know if Griff was aware how transparent Griff's attempts at intrigue were, but it was a nice change from the leaders of the town and their acumen at intrigue. It was 4 PM, and things should have been quieting down at his Father's house, so Artemiy decided to make that place his next destination.
Soon, Artemiy arrived to the winding structures of the Land.
Immediately, Artemiy spotted a house that was entirely different from the rest of the houses here. Must be somebody important, thought Artemiy. He went on.
This was the only place in the town that, so far, stirred childhood memories in Artemiy. It was becoming clear, however, that Artemiy was gawking, much to the chagrin of the locals.
He composed himself and went on. Soon, he came up to the walls of the Apiary.
The place was in obvious disrepair and reeked of desperation and meat. A horrible place full of misery that, Artemiy knew, would have to be visited many times over in the near future. He proceeded further, where his father's house was coming up around the bend.
One more turn, and there it was.
The gent at the door eyed Artemiy with suspicion that bordered on recognition a dangerous combination.
Well now why are you here, buddy?
And who are you, yourself, friend?
A guard, buddy. That's our task here. They've put me here, so I'm guarding... If we see someone suspicious, then it's time for some good, old-fashioned justice.
I see, I see mind opening the door for me?
No can do... You see the lock here? It's sturdy, and the key was taken away by the guys who were called up for the Apiary blockade. So, no can do no way, no how.
Blockade? What sort of blockade?
Someone tried to break out of there. The people are mighty restless in there.
Who tried to break out?
Not your business, friend.
And what are you here for, then?
Trying to catch a killer, who looked like a bull, dressed in leather clothes. Seemed to be the son of the deceased. And, funnily enough, looks like it's you, buddy...
Artemiy didn't get to finish his sentence when the man swung at him.
There wasn't a whole lot Artemiy could do, but defend himself.
Unfortunately for the poor guard, he clearly bit off more than he could chew. Artemiy realized, with a sigh, that he would have to do more killing if he were to enter his father's house.
Some apes that were guarding my father's house, have went to the Apiary. I wonder what they are doing there. Maybe, there was another murder there all sorts of things happen in that wicked place... Regardless they have the keys to my Father's house, and I have to get them.
Artemiy, not without a certain resignation, walked on to the Apiary to find the goons who held the key to his father's house.
Soon enough, he found them.
These two weren't nearly as verbose as their predecessor. They launched themselves at Artemiy, who wasn't in the mood for hand-to-hand combat anymore and decided to end the debate with the heaviest argument an argument that he had found on the body of one of the men, who ambushed him at the station.
After he was done with the body, a local factory man, not batting an eye, went ahead and looted whatever was left on the body.
A strange sight indeed. Still, with the key found, Artemiy hurried back to the house.
Artemiy opened the door and, with a sense of trepidation, stepped in.
The house was infested with rats, so the first order of business was clearing them out. After that was done, Artemiy took time to take stock of his surroundings.
The boy looked tired, scared and confused, so Artemiy approached him. He had a lot of questions for him.
Wow! I've never seen you around here before? Did you crawl out of the Apiary, or something?
What, you know how to get in there now, do you?
I don't know, myself. That's supposed to be my area of expertise, too... Very unfortunate... I'm Matchstick, by the way.
I am Burakh, Isidore's son. You've definitely heard about him.
Whatever happens, please don't hurt me! Don't think I'm here to steal stuff, or something!
Well, what are you doing here, then?
Phew... I spent the whole night here! Saw amazing things, too.
Why in the hell did you get in here, anyway?
Well, you see... You see, we had, with the old man I mean, with that dad of yours...you know we were friends! He was the only one who bothered with us, wanted to teach us things when we grew up. He'd done a lot of of curious things, but he'd never show us us anything. Don't begrudge us our curiosity he was a Servitor, after all.
So you got into his house to spy on him is that it?
Well, no nothing that sordid! I thought, that he brought something interesting and creepy from the Steppe. We had so many things happen around here lately I thought that he didn't leave for no reason. He always brought weird things from there... The clay head, for one, was amazing!
Hold on, now. Have you seen how he was killed?
Well, I don't have much to report on that front... I was sitting in the closet for a while, and the old man Isidore was pacing around the rooms for a bit, and then he had some visitors. I didn't hear much, and saw even less.
Well? Speak what have you seen and what have you heard?
Well, at first, he was just mucking around and sighing, real heavy-like. Then, someone came someone very heavy. Isidore opened the door for him immediately he would usually ask who and why, but not this time... From the sound of his speech, it was one of the Steppe Folk. Very deep voice, very harsh. A butcher, probably. After that, everything went quiet.
About two hours passed, I've been in the closet for a while. Didn't sleep, though. I thought that he fell asleep, so I tried to get out and he's right there, dead! I wasn't afraid, but, then, I saw something that made get back into the closet immediately. I didn't understand what I saw, though.
Come on, out with it!
It was dark, you know the light was off, and it only got turned back on when the guards arrived. When it happened, however, there was somebody else here beside me. Looked like a woman that is, it felt like a woman. Its silhouette, however, was amorphous not like a person, but like a spirit!
What sort of hogwash is this? What kind of spirit?
I'm telling you! Its head was that of a woman, but its torso was formless, harsh - like a piece of dough... And she walked without noises, as if she floated... After that, some types came, started stomping and looking around they all said that a Steppe creature came into town to feed! Shabnak-adyr!
The hell is that? Sounds familiar.
That? That is an evil spirit, from some Steppe tales. That is its official name, but it's usually called shabnak. That's the name around here for all things evil and mysterious.
We were watching him all night, me and Mishka. When we found out that he returned from the Steppe, I tailed him until the house and then snuck in here. Mishka lost him near the Station, around Vlad Jr.'s place. Ask her about it, she's probably sleeping in her wagon right now.
Hmm... where did they take him?
To the cemetery, I think. Ask Laska... He's, probably, already in the earth, though. These guards, they're also Steppe folks. You know it yourself, their rites. Earth won't wait for long, especially if it's a servitor.
I see... Now, get out of here.
The boy scampered away pretty fast for someone who was supposed to be as tired as he is. Regardless, the business with the Father's house was done. It was time for Artemiy to leave it behind.
A boy was spying after the house... Some girl named Mishka was spying after my Father that night... They saw a ghostly woman in the house... What does it all mean?
With not a lot of answers, Artemiy headed to the graveyard, to see Laska.
Was this a circle for slaughter, or something else? The pen seemed to be too small for bulls, so what was it for? Strange thoughts clouded Artemiy's thoughts here...
Focusing on the matters at hand, Artemiy ducked into the Gravekeeper's lodge. The scene inside didn't change since the last time.
I'll have many new guests soon... I'll put one of them near the wall... Three others under a small hill... There's a lot of space left on the other end, too...
She was clearly deep in her own thoughts, and they didn't strike Artemiy as being a cozy, safe space. First things first...
Here, I brought some blood for him. It cost me a lot, you know.
This was a good deed! I'll tell everyone about it!
I hope they'll listen to you...
The procedure that Laska performed was bizarre, and, even after seeing every step of it, Artemiy couldn't make heads or tails of it. Some healer, - he thought of himself .
the healed worker looked at Artemiy expectantly, obviously unsure of what to think about the events of this day...
Well, you dragged me out, friend. Why didn't you finish me off?
I did it for myself, not for you...
Words of an honest man! How can I serve you, now? Want me to give you something?
Tell me who sent you.
Well... it, sort of, happened on its own. The men said, somebody promised a reward for the killed. Maybe Kain, maybe The Big Vlad. So, the folks sent me to check out the Station. Otherwise, said, he'll escape. Said that he'll be waiting for a train and, poof gone.
So, who was it? Kain or Vlad?
Well, I'm not sure. Vlad, I think it was Vlad. Nobody ordered me around, or anything. Everybody went, so I went too. Then, everybody started chasing after the bone maneater. We tried to rub ourselves with garlic you know... After that... well you know what happened after that...
Pfft... silly folks...
Artemiy was done with this fellow. He didn't begrudge him for his actions, sure, but he still thought the man a fool not without reason, that's for sure. He turned to Laska.
Laska, have you seen my Father yesterday? Isidore Burakh?
Oh, yes I saw him! I saw him when he returned from the Steppe...
Have you spoken with him?
No, I only followed him. He entered his house, but I felt, that he was worried. Desperate, even. He smelled of smoke. I didn't feel brave enough to knock, but I looked in the window.
What have you saw in there?
I saw how he took off his warm clothes, took them out into the yard and burned them. After that, he wrapped himself in some rags, then took them off and burned them too. He dressed after that and left. I went after him, called to him quietly, but he didn't hear. He went until the Stone Yard, then knocked on Simon's door. They let him in.
And, after that?
After that, I got back here. On the way, I visited Mishka and told her that old Isidore came back.
Mishka? Who is this Mishka?
She's a girl. She lives in a wagon. She doesn't talk much, though.
That's good, I don't like the chatty folks too much... Thank you, Laska.
The trek was a bit long, but it was the best lead Artemiy had. Before pursuing it, however, Artemiy would round out his journal entry about the factory worker.
Surviving Factory Worker
I did a good deed. This factory worker went from a slanderer to a defender. His talkativeness will surely help me now.
He set out to the Station, once again.
The bulls seemed restless, like animals reacting to the coming of a bad weather. Artemiy felt it too, as did every other living being in the town.
Artemiy remembered this little wagon here nothing suggested that it was, in any way, remarkable or that anyone lived in there. He entered.
I saw you, you know.
You saw me?
I live here. See? This is my wagon..
You're very big...
Tell me, Mishka did you visit Isidore yesterday? My father?
I did. Laska called me.
You didn't sleep last night?
No. I rarely sleep at night.
What did you see?
I saw how he got back. He sat down, and sat for a long time. Didn't move. I think he fell asleep. Afterwards, I returned here. Saw how you arrived.
What? You saw how I arrived by the train?
Afterwards, you fought. I hid, and then I fell asleep
Between the time, when you got back and saw me did a lot of time pass between that?
Yes. I even fixed my mousetrap.
If I bring some people, will you be able to tell them all this one more time?
I'll tell them.
Thank you, Mishka.
This was the alibi that Artemiy needed. He could finally prove his innocence. It was time to visit this doctor, the Bachelor, that supposedly hounded him.
He cut through the Steppe in order to reach the Stone Yards. The trip was quiet and the Steppe seemed much calmer than the town. Much more peaceful, if you will. Unlike the town, it knew its place in the world, its aspirations were tempered by time. Artemiy wished to do nothing more than lie down here and sleep. His duty, however, pressed him on.
He saw this house before. It seems that Artemiy had managed to avoid the Bachelor only narrowly. He opened the door and entered.
Artemiy approached the woman of the house to ask permission to see the Bachelor.
You have a wolf's eyes... Don't look at me so intently, please...
What is your name
You don't have to know my name...
Then, I'll have to give you a funny nickname.
Don't come close to me, or I'll scream!
Fine. Scream, then.
Artemiy shrugged and went about the house to try and find the Bachelor on his own.
On the second floor, the two men had finally found each other.
Yes... all things mystical are rather alien to me, but, when I look at you, I begin to feel that the nature is having some sort of sick joke at our expense. As if, the left and right hand have both taken hold of the head and have realized, for the first time, that they belong to a single whole...
That's the feeling I get, too does that mean we're alike?
I don't know... We can become enemies so easily, Artemiy Burakh, that it's best that we our damnedest to be friends, until there is a fatal disagreement in our future. I am the Bachelor Dankovsky. Do we agree?
On what? That you're a Bachelor? Yes, we agree.
Dankovsky didn't laugh, offending Artemiy greatly. The joke was a fairly good one.
So, it seems that it was you whom they blamed for the murder of Simon Kain, Isidore Burakh, your father, and another fifteen people, whose names I won't remember?
Yes. The more time passed, the more victims the man-eater seemed to have. A man-eater, whose description which I don't have, mind you supposedly matches yours.
It all fits, then, right?
I was chasing after you the whole day, and in the end, almost found you. Then, however, it suddenly became clear that, in the death of Simon and, logically, in the death of Isidore you weren't involved at all.
What led you to that conclusion?
Simon was killed by an infectious disease. That is a proven fact. Perhaps, a new strain of murex, or some sort of lung plague. Possibly, cholera. Whatever else, you are acquitted. That doesn't make our lives easier, though.
Speak for yourself that will make my life considerably easier...
Let us wait until morning. Then, we will restore your rights, and take care of your inheritance.
Indeed, the morning is wiser than the evening.
It wasn't that late, but Artemiy's toils for the day were done. Until tomorrow, he was free. It was time to take care of his more immediate, bodily needs. Tomorrow will be a new day, full of its own passions and turmoils.
The Killer of Simon, The Killer of Isidore...
The terrible accusation has been proven wrong. My innocence is a fact. Now, the restoration of my good name is only a matter of time. I can finally take upon myself my Father's inheritance and wear my family name with pride.