Author Topic: Chapter 54  (Read 9689 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 54
« on: April 12, 2022, 01:39:32 AM »
Chapter 54

Berilo slumped at his desk. He was alone in his office inside the Spire, looking over the reports from the attack on the Enclave. Each report was unequivocal: it was unlikely or impossible that any dwarves had survived the blast.

How could they have let this happen? The whole point of the attack was to infiltrate the keep, capture targets of interest, and then leave before the dwarves even knew they were there! This was precisely what Berilo had wanted to avoid! Now that the enemy spy was dead, the Ascendants should have been even more likely to succeed.

He sighed. Yes, they had captured the Hauld and a few others of value, but now the dwarves were gone. And with them, the concrete, visible enemy that had been so useful to him and to the Council all these years.

Berilo may have been born to power, and spent his adulthood cultivating that power, but he was no fool. He knew better than most people how to hold onto power: by stoking fear in those you rule. The dwarves had been extremely useful in that manner. The stra’tchi were easy enough to control through faith and superstition, but whenever the Sustained population started to get riled up, all the Council had to do was point the finger at the Enclave and wait for their indignation to be forgotten!

There was a soft knock at the door, and then it creaked open. His aide stepped inside and waited respectfully. “Yes what is it, Prenim?” Berilo asked tiredly.

“My liege… one of the Ascendants has requested an audience with you. I told him you were indisposed, but he was quite insistent. To an insubordinate degree, in fact.”

Berilo rubbed at his eyes for a moment. “Did he say what he wants?”

“He did not, my liege. Should I have him sent away?”

Whatever it was was apparently important. At least in the Ascendant’s opinion. Berilo shook his head and beckoned at the doorway. Prenim nodded through the door and a young man stepped inside as well.

He was still in uniform, and tall for a soldier. His shaven head had nearly bumped on the door as he’d come in. “Your name, soldier?”

“Ascendant Cadet Koba Weaver, sir,” he responded, standing at attention.

Berilo stood and made his way around the desk. “And why have you paid me a visit this fine day?” He continued sardonically.

Weaver glanced over at Prenim. “It’s… a private matter, sir. Something best brought to you alone.” That piqued Berilo’s interest. A practically grass-green recruit, ignoring his entire chain of command and going straight to the top? Unusual, to say the least.

It was possible this was some kind of assassination plot on behalf of another House, but that seemed unlikely. Koba had been disarmed before even coming here, and he probably didn’t know about the hidden daggers Berilo kept in his tunic—nor the fact that he knew how to use them. And he did look agitated in addition to determined. With a tight smile Berilo gestured at Prenim again, and the aide quietly left and closed the door behind him.

“Have a seat,” Berilo gestured, this time trying at least a little to disguise his sarcasm. As much of a waste of time this was probably going to be, he might as well observe the niceties.

Weaver sat in front of the desk warily, as if he might be here for a dressing-down. Berilo tried to moderate his tone accordingly. “Now, how about you tell me why you’re here, cadet?”

“Yes sir,” the young man nodded. “Well, the Ascendant Commander assigned me to be part of the attack on the Enclave yesterday. Not as an actual combatant, mind you. I’ve completed my training but I’ve never seen combat yet. I was to stay inside the threads and watch the main gate to the keep. When the attack was over, I was to report everything I’d seen to my supervisor, but…”

Berilo waited for him to go on, but he just swallowed nervously. “Tell me what you saw, cadet,” he prompted the young man.

“The attack went ahead as planned, sir,” he said a little more confidently. “The other teams breached the keep’s underground entrances and sealed them with sparkpowder blasts. One of them closed the keep gate from the inside and barred it, keeping out any possible dwarven reinforcements. I did see their giant try to open them from the outside, and then try to climb the wall, but he gave up after a bit and went around the wall to the left.”

Berilo grimaced. He didn’t like being reminded of just how completely his daughter had failed. If she’d done her job, neither his son’s killer nor the giant would still be among the living. But now wasn’t the time to dwell.

“Just after that, a group of reinforcements did arrive, though,” the cadet went on, oblivious. “Humans, not dwarves. I recognized the heretic with them, sir. I’d heard about what happened to his hands, and it was definitely him. They met with the giant, and then, well, I’m not sure how to describe it.”

Weaver gave him a helpless look. “The heretic put his arm’s stump against the gate—this was after he’d taken off the metal hand he was wearing—and then pushed his arm into it, sir. I know it sounds like I’ve been touched, but I swear by Aquun it’s what I saw!”

For a moment Berilo’s mind flashed back to what his daughter had told him about the heretic, and then to the scene outside the tower. His suspicion over the cadet’s motivations faded as his curiosity rose. He nodded at the young man to continue.

“Once his arm was through the gate, he began drawing a wide circle with it. The parts that he touched were just… gone. Before long he’d cut a hole right through the steel, big enough for each of the others! And they weren’t surprised by it, either. They caught the bits he didn’t… disappear with his arm.”

He took a deep breath, looking still more relieved that his Lord Ascendant apparently believed him. “They went through the hole and I lost sight of them after that, but a few minutes later, a patrol came up behind them. I didn’t recognize the Ascendant in command, but he had some guards with him. They went through the hole as well. I couldn’t hear what they were saying of course, but there was some kind of standoff, and then the heretic and the other rebels just vanished! Just like he did up at the north end of the city, from what I’ve heard. But that’s not the fullness of it, sir.”

He looked a little green at this point. “I didn’t see the fight itself, but I did look at the patrol’s bodies after they left. Their heads—they were all cleaved clean off their bodies! Aside from the Ascendant, whose head was bashed in with a rock. But the only rebel who had a sword was the giant, and I don’t think even he could chop off six heads from six armed guards at the same time! It must have been the heretic. He did something to them—some sorcery I’ve never heard of! How else could they have escaped unhurt?”

“And you stayed inside the threads this whole time?” Berilo asked quietly.

“I didn’t know what else to do, sir! I’d been ordered to wait at the gate and watch, and that’s what I did!”

“Calm down, cadet. I wasn’t criticizing, just asking. The bodies… are they still there outside what’s left of the keep?”

Weaver shook his head. “No, sir. An hour or so later, before my replacement arrived, the heretic came back alone. He touched his arm to the bodies and they disappeared, as if he’d threaded them, too! Then he poured some sparkpowder on the hole in the door and set it off. That one took a while for him without hands, but he definitely wanted to do that alone, or he would have gotten help. After that, it looked like the gate had been blasted open. I guess he didn’t want anyone to know what he’d done,” he concluded, looking back up at Berilo.

“Does anyone else know?” Berilo asked him quickly. “Aside from myself, have you told anyone what you saw?”

“No sir. I told my replacement the blood on the ground was from the initial attack, and that the dwarves had blasted the gate open before running in to their deaths. I wasn’t sure what to say, but as soon as I was able to leave without suspicion, I came here to tell you and you alone!”

“But why not inform your superior? Why take it all the way to me first?”

Weaver swallowed again. “Well, sir… if this is some new weapon the heretic can use, it was important you know about it right away. I didn’t want to risk telling anyone—I’ve heard rumors that there are some spies inside the Ascendant ranks, working for the dwarves, and now for the surviving rebels, I guess.” He looked up, concerned. “Are you saying I should have, though? Told my superiors, I mean.”

“No! No, you did exactly the right thing coming to me, cadet,” Berilo stood up and came around the desk. “You were faced with an unexpected situation, and you thought clearly and correctly in how to handle it. I commend you, son. You’re exactly the sort of soldier we need protecting this city.”

Weaver smiled nervously, and then bowed briefly as Berilo walked behind him nearer the closed door. “Thank you, my liege. I did what I thought was best.”

“Which is why this is such a shame,” Berilo said sadly. Before the young man could ask, Berilo seized his neck and shoulders with his right arm in an iron grip. Quick as blinking, he drew a dagger with his left hand and stuck it into Weaver’s chest.

Weaver was younger and stronger, but caught completely by surprise. He tried to cry out, but Berilo’s grip on his throat was too tight. Blood sprayed from Weaver’s chest, coating both Berilo’s arm and parts of the desk as he held the young man back to keep him from standing up.

The struggle didn’t last long, though. After a few more moments he sagged in the chair, and Berilo let go. Weaver’s head lolled to the left, his empty stare encompassing the far wall.

Berilo straightened slowly, noting after the fact that his breathing had barely changed. It had been a long time, but it seemed he hadn’t lost his edge. He pulled his dagger out, releasing more blood, and wiped it on the unfortunate cadet’s shirt. “It really is a pity. I could have used more like you.”

There was blood on his tunic, too. Berilo sighed. He opened the door a hair, and called out for Prenim. Predictably, his aide was only moments away. His eyes only widened slightly at the carnage inside, before he looked expectantly over at Berilo. “Yes, my liege?”

Berilo plucked at his shirt. “Get me some clothes from my chambers, and a bucket of washwater too. The same color and cut as these, so no one can tell. As for him,” he paused, “there are still members from several different houses in the Spire. Wait until they’ve gone home, and then have this cleaned up. No one knew he was coming here, so covering it up shouldn’t be hard. I suggest you blame it on the dwarves. There still might be survivors from the Enclave, and he would be a convenient target for retribution. Or make something up on your own; I don’t care.”

Prenim nodded and left quietly. This wasn’t the first time he’d had to conceal evidence of a murder—though it was the first time it was one of Berilo’s kills. Berilo wasn’t concerned about this getting out. This news about the heretic, though… that was concerning. What other secrets was that young man hiding?

-.-

Even though it had been his idea, it didn’t look like Arico was going to get any sleep. He just sat there in his corner of the Hideaway, staring out into space like before. At least until Nemith and Endu approached him and they started talking quietly. Jaas went towards them hesitantly at first, but then with more confidence. She couldn’t ignore what they were about to do, not if there was a chance she could talk them out of it.

“The Hideaway won’t stay secret forever,” Arico was saying to them as she approached. “Eventually we’ll all have to split up and hide in Sustained patches. We’ll need papers for everyone. Those of us who have stra’tchi patch marks will have to be extra careful, too,” he added, looking at Endu briefly.

“I’ve already got people working on forgeries for Transit Passes and housing records,” Nemith said quickly. “Don’t worry. By the time we abandon this place, everyone will have somewhere to go.”

“I can’t believe it’s just over!” Endu said, looking down at the floor. “We spent years and years hoping and praying and struggling in service to the movement, and now what? We’re just set back to the beginning?”

“No,” Arico said firmly. “No, it’s not the beginning. It’s the end.”

He looked over at Nemith. “I’ve been thinking about the Spire. I might have a better way of carrying out the Hauld’s standing orders. A way of wiping out the Council without tunnels or explosives at all.”

Jaas’ brief surge of hope that he might be changing his mind faded, but Nemith leaned forward with interest. “What did you have in mind?”

“With my new abilities, I should be able to thread the Spire itself, while the Council is still inside. We won’t need any of the sparkpowder or any other weapons, because I am the weapon,” he said darkly, his face just as grim as his voice.

Nemith and Endu exchanged glances. “You mean like you did to the keep’s gate, and to the Ascendants who attacked us?”

Arico nodded. “There’s a catch, though. I can pull the threads through my own body, and use them to stop bullets, as you’ve seen. But for some reason I always pull them from the nearest side of any patch. I can choose how far up, or down, or to the side I pull from, but I can’t seem to reach out to any of the other three sides. That’s gonna be a problem, since the Spire itself is right smack in the middle of Sevvas patch! I won’t be able to pull the threads from the other side of it.” He sighed briefly. “Even if I was down in the tunnel underneath the Spire, I couldn’t do it. There are no threads directly above it for me to pull on.”

Jaas had wondered about the placement of the Spire. At first she’d been sure it was just an aesthetic choice for the Lord Ascendant who’d started construction so long ago. A domineering symbol of authority and power for anyone who saw it. Why else would he put the Spire in the middle, and put the courtyard, manor, barracks and temple equally spaced out around it?

Now she wasn’t so sure. Was it possible that people back then had been able to pull on the threads as well, and that the placement of the Spire was to defend against exactly this kind of attack? Halseus had known exactly what Arico could do, and had offered to tell him what he needed to know, if he’d taken that special vow. That suggested that these kinds of abilities had cropped up in the past.

They sat quietly for a moment thinking about it, and eventually Endu was the first to break the silence. “Can’t you just cut into the side of the Spire, though? Nemith said you cut right through the keep’s gate when you were trying to get there.”

“I could,” Arico admitted, “but the Spire is a very large building. It would take a while for me to destroy the building, and even longer to get to the Council chambers. I’d be spotted pretty early on, and they’d have plenty of time to escape.”

He paused. “There might be another way to do this, though. If I’m already inside the Spire, I should be able to pull on all four sides at the same time. Then I can bring the whole building down at once!”

Nemith shook his head. “So we’re back to the same problem we faced months ago after you and Sabra raided the Spire for sparkpowder. Now that they’ve enhanced their security after your last attack, how do you plan on getting inside the Spire without being spotted?”

“I don’t,” Arico answered slowly. “I’m going to surrender to them.”

Sabra must have been listening as well, because he dropped the bowl of soup being handed to him, and gave them an incredulous look from over by the fire. Jaas knew how he felt. After all this time, and effort, and death, he was just going to give up? In its own way, that idea sounded even worse than the mass murder.

“Hear me out,” Arico said earnestly. “We make contact with the Council, and offer a trade: myself for the Hauld and Durhu. They probably won’t go for it, but either way they’ll take me into custody. None of the Sustained know that I can use the threads as a weapon yet—anyone who saw me in action is now dead. They’ll lock me up under the Spire. From there, I can tear that whole place to pieces!”

Nemith grunted, and Endu looked just as skeptical. “Yeah, burying yourself under the rubble along with everyone else!”

“Maybe not,” Arico insisted. “Aquun willing, I’ll be able to jump into the threads quickly enough to avoid being crushed. Besides, even if I don’t, at least this way you’ll still have that sparkpowder to use for later. It’s valuable stuff—you might need it!”

“This could work,” Nemith admitted. “Even if you fail, we should get another chance to use the sparkpowder later on. When would you want to make this trade, though?”

“He’s not!” Jaas cut in, feeling sick at the very thought. “Arico, there’s no way you can just turn yourself in to the Council. Think about the message that would send to the rest of the movement. You’re the most visible symbol for freedom we’ve got left!”

“The movement is dead, Jaas!” Arico exclaimed loudly, and the quiet conversation from the others in the room ceased. “What will it take to convince you of that? The rest of us dying too?”

He stared at her for a long moment, and for the first time in a while, Jaas didn’t have anything to say. He was angry and frustrated of course, but underneath all that all she could hear was despair. Almost as if he’d read her mind, Arico continued but in a softer voice. “I’m willing to risk dying, as long as I can help the Hauld and Durhu in the process. Turning myself in is the only possible way the Council might let them go. Any rescue attempt would get them killed, and if I don’t offer the Council something, they’re going to execute them anyway!”

He turned to Nemith again. “I want you to write a letter to the Lord Ascendant. Tell him I want to arrange a trade, at noon tomorrow, on top of the overwatch tower. It’s the highest point in the city, and the easiest place for navigators to escape if things go wrong. Tell him I don’t care how many Ascendants he brings along, but that both the Hauld and Durhu had better be there alive and unharmed, or there will be no trade.”

Giving him a brief nod, Nemith went to get some parchment. As he did, Arico looked over at Endu. “That potion you’ve been working on—did you ever finish it?”

Endu’s eyes widened for a moment, and she glanced over at Jaas. “I did, but it was in my lab, inside the keep. It was probably crushed along with everything else.”

Jaas had no idea what potion they were talking about, but based on Endu’s behavior it had something to do with Jaas herself. “Can you brew another one?” Arico went on implacably.

“I—probably.” She said, still sounding surprised. “All the ingredients were in the keep as well, though. Wait, I did have some extra supplies in my dwelling in the Fishbowl! They should still be there. If you can spare a navigator, I can go back and grab what I need.”

Arico shook his head. “There are still a lot of wounded here who could use your help. Just get me a list of what you need and where to get it. It should be safer for me to do it anyway; if there are still Ascendants poking around I can get out of there in a hurry.” He gave Jaas a sidelong look. “You didn’t have any of your notes when we found you. I assume you hid them under the fireplace in your dwelling?”

Jaas nodded, a little surprised. Somehow she’d been under the impression that the secret compartment would have been kept secret even from Arico, but apparently Chanul had told him as well.

“We’ll grab your notes on the way, then,” Arico continued. “We should also bring some Waters there for Codi. He won’t leave his dwelling, and he’s probably getting thirsty by now.”

“Arico… you know I never got the chance to test the potion, right?” Endu said slowly. “I don’t know if it’ll even work!”

“I know,” he said calmly. “Still, it’s better than nothing. Go on, please.”

Endu nodded and stepped away as well. Finally, Arico turned back to Jaas. “I assume you’re going to keep trying to talk me out of my mad plan. I could use a pair of hands to help me move supplies. If you’re willing to combine both tasks, I’ll take you along,” he looked up at the light still filtering down from above, “but we’d better wait for nightfall before we get started.”

He paused again, and his voice flattened even further than before. “Or perhaps even later than that. There is something that all of us will want to do, first.”
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 03:47:07 AM by Daen »