Author Topic: Chapter 51  (Read 1937 times)

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Online Daen

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Chapter 51
« on: April 12, 2022, 01:39:58 AM »
Chapter 51

As it turned out, there were stra’tchi patches out there that weren’t dedicated solely to farming. The one they were headed off to, Lellanis patch, had a massive collection of trees constantly growing, packed into the center of the patch. Their houses were built between them, and from what Nemith had said, were actually more like tents than true buildings. They’d have to be, if their livelihood depended on keeping the trees healthy. Roots could do some nasty things to house foundations.

It made sense, Jaas supposed. Farming was the most important industry by far, but it wasn’t the only one. The city also needed woodcutters, leatherworkers, and metalworkers (though the dwarves certainly had cornered that market).

Jaas was waiting inside the tunnel for the others to show up. She was, despite the circumstances, actually a little excited. The metalworkers down below had finally completed their adjustments to the Stamp last week! That meant that the list she’d given them—the list of names of people who’d lived here before the Threading—was already being copied, again and again. She was carrying one such copy right now.

Others had already been passed out to many stra’tchi patches. Coupled with the constant reading lessons she’d given to many of those people, and the fact that they were now teaching each other how to read, it truly felt like the Council’s death knell was finally sounding. How could they possibly keep these people underfoot, now that knowledge and understanding were spreading through the city?

A light shone from up the tunnel and Jaas turned to see Arico. She gaped at him at first. He was holding a torch in his left hand!

He smiled at her confusion and quietly explained the situation as they waited for the others. He showed her his new mechanical hands and demonstrated them. With gloves on, she hadn’t even been able to tell the difference! They looked perfectly real.

Once it was explained, Jaas could see how they worked. Over the last few months she’d gained a fair understanding of the engineering the dwarves used here in Patchwork, but even so, she couldn’t help but smile at how some of her colleagues back at the Academy would react. These hands, produced by a culture without access to magic, would seem wondrous to them—possibly even miraculous!

One of the dwarven guards showed up next, but not to join them. “Your trip has been canceled, sir,” he said respectfully to Arico. Like Chanul, he spoke unaccented Vasrah. He must have been young enough to have been raised alongside the Fishbowlers. “The Hauld and his son want to see you, immediately.” Jaas shared a confused look with Arico, and then they both shrugged and started back up the tunnel.

The Hauld and Chanul were waiting for them in one of their council rooms on the upper level. Strangely there were no guards present, and Chanul shut the door behind them securely. “Sorry to haul you back here like this. I know you were looking forward to getting back into the field and reaching out to more stra’tchi, but trust me, this can’t wait,” he said with a grim smile.

He moved over to the table at the center of the room and spread out a parchment. It was a map, of a patch Jaas wasn’t familiar with. Sustained, by the look of it. “This morning Alzhi sent us a tip via one of our loyalists. He wanted us to take a closer look at this block,” he pointed to a few buildings on the northeast side of the patch, “within Raggas patch. His message was pretty vague, but it was exactly what we’ve been looking for.” Arico’s shoulders stiffened, and he looked down at the map in greater excitement.

“Lor’ Tanner an’ ‘is two aides been seen goin’ in an’ out o’ there, jus’ this mornin’,” the Hauld put in, “an’ Weaver an’ Mason las’ night! Our people’ve seen mor’n a dozen Ascendan’s guardin’ tha perimeter. This may be it, lad!”

“May be what?” Jaas asked, still wondering what all this was about. “Hauld? What’s going on?”

Arico tapped on the same portion of the map with a metal knuckle. “We know that Berilo runs the city’s political matters from Sevvas patch, from his seat of power within the Spire. But we’ve long suspected that he also has a secret headquarters somewhere in the city. A place where he keeps the information too sensitive to share with the rest of the Sustained. If we’re right, only the Council itself and a few key personnel know the location. It’s probably where the Beast attacks were planned and dispatched, and the poisoning of Tellek patch too.” He paused, loking thoughtful. “As well as most likely the attack on Endu and me in Atsekka. Everything they don’t want done in the light of day is done there. This might actually be the place.” He looked up at Chanul again. “How much confirmation do we have on this, though?”

Chanul grinned. “A great deal. We started watching the place yesterday. Based on the people we’ve seen in the area, if it’s not some kind of secret base, then it’s got to be the most popular high-end brothel that’s ever existed.”

Arico rolled his eyes at that. “All right. Sounds like it’s worth a look. What do you think—standard team of five, sneaking in after nightfall? We won’t have Alzhi, unfortunately. He’s still undercover at the Spire, last I heard. Even so, I can get a group together within the hour.”

Chanul and the Hauld shared a concerned glance, which Arico definitely noticed. “Look, I may not be as good a fighter as I used to be,” he gave a rueful chuckle. “As if I ever was. But I’m still a competent commander, and it’s important that the Fishbowlers and dwarves see that I’m still alive and kicking. We can’t have them thinking I’m some kind of invalid now,” he grunted, looking down at his metal hands. “Even if it’s true.”

“I’ll go too,” Jaas said on impulse. “I’ve built up a reputation in Sustained territory by now, and having the Harbinger along might be useful if we run into any resistance.”

The Hauld shook his head. “Nay, lass. Arico’s righ’: people need ta see ‘im back in tha figh’, but it’ll be too risky fer you ta be there. Ye’re not exactly a fighter, either.”

“If you’re right about this place, you may need me!” Jaas protested. “Some of the Councilors are known for writing in older dialects of Vasrah—dialects your dwarves may understand, but none of your human supporters would. I’m the only person you have who can translate them!” She paused. “Unless you’re willing to break the Pact and send dwarves in there.”

There was a moment of silence as the dwarves considered what she said. Arico gave her a slight smile. He’d expressed concerns, early on, that she might never fully fit in with the dwarves. Apparently she’d proven him wrong, and he looked pleased about it.

“You’re right, we obviously can’t send any of our own people in there,” Chanul conceded, “but any information they find can be brought back here for translation. If we’re lucky, we’ll find a copy of the real Registry in there. That would really be the silver bullet to the Council’s heart, wouldn’t it?”

“The real Registry?” Jaas echoed. “I thought everyone could see the official Registry in Penntu patch. It’s guarded behind glass, but available to anyone who goes there.”

Chanul shook his head. “That one’s fake… or at least incomplete. Ever since we found out what happened to Alzhi and Endu’s daughter, we’ve been looking for evidence of more murders. It’s harder without Tenlor to interrogate, but if there is proof… if there is a Registry that actually includes the names of those murdered children instead of ignoring them, it’ll be there. If we get ahold of it, Stamp it a few hundred times, and release it to the stra’tchi and Sustained patches, it’ll show everyone just what kind of monsters the Councilors really are!”

Arico caught her gaze. “He’s right, Jaas. Bringing you along is too great a risk. Besides, if we get caught in there, I can just jump us out. If a stray shot gets you though, it’ll be a huge blow to both the movement and the stra’tchi who you’ve been helping. And if they capture you, it’d be even worse.”

“What if one stray shot gets you? How screwed are your people then, Arico?”

“He won’t be the only navigator in there,” Chanul said. “Nemith, at least, will be available to join them. They’re all soldiers; they know the risks.”

Jaas let out a noise of frustration. Men. After all she’d done for the movement, they still insisted on treating her like she was made of glass! Even Arico, for all his decent upbringing and considerate manner, even with his recent injury, was still being overprotective. Well, it wasn’t as though she didn’t have other things to do. Jaas left them to their planning and headed back to the Fishbowl.


Raggas patch was home to House Clark—formerly known as Clerk. In fact the current Clarion had been born here, at about the same time Arico and Hazra had come into this world. Not that he would remember anything about Raggas—he’d been cloistered and sent off to training at an extremely young age.

It was a Sustained patch, if only barely so. House Clark was one of the least known Sustained families, with little to no influence on the city’s politics. Raggas patch was also out of the way, too far west to be on the Waters themselves. It had barely been touched in the last two Tumults to sweep through the area. If there was a secret Sustained base here, they’d chosen the location excellently. Pretty much nobody ever gave this place a second glance, if they even gave it a first.

Arico, Nemith, and three other Fishbowlers named Kerik, Taen and Banos clustered together on the edge of the patch, just outside of the observable Ascendant perimeter. They kept out of sight of course, relying on the information given them by the dwarves watching from the threads.

He’d wanted to bring Sabra along, but hadn’t been surprised when the Hauld refused. Stealth wasn’t one of Sabra’s gifts, not here in unfamiliar territory. He could hide easily enough back home in the Deathwatch patch, but that was because he knew that place better than the back of his own gnarled hand.

Nemith himself had been a soldier for one of the Sustained families back in the day. He could handle himself in a fight, and he’d helped train the other three. Even with Arico’s disability, they should be alright.

There. The patrol had just passed. Keeping their swords sheathed to hide any glint off of them, the five hurried past the sentry line into the warehouse area that this had once been. Fortunately this New Day’s night had plenty of cloud cover—they were having no trouble blending in with the darkness.

The warehouses had apparently been abandoned since the Threading itself, which was an impression the Council seemed very eager to maintain. Which was good for Arico. If they’d been able to fortify this area without drawing attention, Arico and the others would never have gotten close without it turning into a firefight. As it was, they were able to neutralize two of the Ascendants watching the place and slip in through the gap.

Nonlethally neutralize, Arico insisted. Their enemy was the Council itself, not their puppets. The more bloodlessly this movement operated, the better their chances of winning over the Sustained in general. In retrospect, Arico was also grateful by now that Sabra had stayed behind. Lethal seemed to be his only speed.

It was strange, though. Based on observations done over the past few days, he would have expected this place to be much more heavily guarded. Aside from the Ascendants watching the perimeter though, it seemed that there was no one here.

Once they made it inside what looked like an empty building at the center of the guard ring, Arico ordered the others to spread out and start searching. There was no way they’d been guarding an empty warehouse.

Sure enough, Taen gestured them over to one of the corners. Several of the wooden planks on the floor showed signs of being disturbed recently, and with some combined effort they were able to pull up a concealed trapdoor. Beneath it, stone stairs descended in a circle.

Nemith took point, while Arico attached his weird… blade-hand with some help. He and Chanul had finally selected an attendant to help him out with tasks like this, but they’d left the young dwarf back at the Enclave. It was doubtful that a home servant would be much use out here anyway.

The downstairs section was well lit with torches spaced out periodically. They illuminated a hallway with two closed doors on each side. It must have taken a while for the Council to excavate this much area, especially if they were trying to keep it a secret. Nemith nodded at the others, and they moved up together, armed and ready for trouble. At least the entrance could be sealed and defended easily should they be attacked from above.

The two closest doors were actually unlocked. The first room looked like a larder/kitchen, and the second one contained bunks in a row. It made sense that this would double as a barracks: it wasn’t as though they could come and go very often without risking discovery.

Before they reached the last two doors, Nemith held up a hand for the others. After a second, Arico could hear it too. Sobbing noises, coming from the right. As they got closer, they could hear voices coming from the left side, as well. At Arico’s nod, Nemith signaled two of them to guard the right door, and then set up to move through the left. He grabbed the handle and then yanked it open just as the rest of them piled in. Arico was last, naturally. His skill in a fight was marginal at best.

Thankfully, it looked like this room wasn’t guarded either. There was a sizeable table covered with papers in the middle of the room, and a large map of the city on one wall, also covered with markers in various colors. Arico immediately recognized deployment areas where Beasts had been sent to cause chaos and destruction. There were two men as well, hands held up and faces noticeably pale. They were unarmed—probably assigned here to analyze the information brought in by the others.

“Tie them up and gag them,” Arico ordered softly. “If we have time, we’ll take them back with us. Meanwhile we should check out that last room.”

Kerik and Taen got to work on their bindings, and Nemith led the way to the last door. The sobbing had stopped, probably in response to the noise they’d made. At least no one had started shouting up for help, though. Arico was reasonably certain such noises wouldn’t be heard on the surface, but there was no way to be sure.

They followed the same procedure to burst in there as well, but it proved unnecessary. Unlike the others, this room wasn’t lit at all. When they grabbed a torch from one of the sconces outside and brought it in, all they could see was… a mostly empty torture room. As evidenced by the body hanging from the ceiling in chains.

This was brutal. Even Nemith, who’d seen his fair share of gore, looked grim. The body had been completely skinned, and the ground underneath was stained with blood. The skin itself had been piled in a corner. The poor man had apparently died during the skinning itself, based on the cuts on his wrists from where the manacles had dug into his flesh. His face was unrecognizable, but his mouth remained open in a rictus of agony. Other bloodstains around the room pointed to a long history of others facing similarly gruesome deaths.

A slight twitch of movement drew Arico’s eyes to a far corner of the room, where someone was apparently in chains. It wasn’t until he got closer that he recognized the poor man. “Codi!”

It was Codi Farrier, all right. He’d been beaten and whipped, and was secured to the wall with chains to his wrists and feet. He started sobbing again as Arico approached, and scrambled even further into the corner. He was covering his eyes too, apparently against the light from Banos’ torch, so Arico gestured him to back off. Or tried to, anyway. Banos got his meaning anyway, and stepped back a few paces.

“Codi, it’s me. It’s Arico. You’re all right, you hear me? You’re safe now.” Arico knelt next to him and tried to keep his voice low. The poor man was still bleeding from obvious lashes and bruises all over his shoulders and arms.

Codi didn’t respond at first, and Arico’s mind reeled. The last he’d heard, Codi was still in the Fishbowl! After Arico had told the Hauld what Jaas had experienced at Codi’s hand, they had arranged for a guard to be stationed outside his dwelling, for his ‘protection’. How in Aquun’s name had he ended up here of all places?

“We need to set him loose,” Arico finally said, more to the others than to Codi. “The key is probably in that other room. Go find it, would you?” He asked Banos, who nodded and set the torch down.

“You should go too,” he told Nemith. “It’d probably be better if I talked to him alone.”

Nemith hesitated. Like everyone else in the Fishbowl, he’d been warned about what Codi might do because of his delusions. “I know his reputation,” Arico said reassuringly. “Does he look dangerous right now? Go on. I’ll be all right.”

Reluctantly, Nemith left, and Arico turned back to the unfortunate prisoner. “How did you get here, Codi? When did they take you?”

Finally, he responded, mumbling something into his tattered shirt. Arico moved a little closer to make out what he was saying. “Alya. Where are you, Alya?” He kept repeating her name, over and over again.

Alya. His long-dead niece, who still kept him company in his mind. Grimacing, Arico reached out and put his left wrist to Codi’s shoulder. “Alya’s fine, Codi. She’s safe now. She’s, uh, back in the Fishbowl, safe and sound.”

“But I heard her!” Codi said urgently, finally focusing his gaze on Arico. “She was screaming! I heard her in the other room!”

Banos finally came back in with a keyring, and began trying them on Codi’s manacles. “Do you hear her now?” Arico asked gently, trying to keep Codi’s attention.

He shook his head slowly. “No. She stopped a while ago. They said they’d keep torturing her if I didn’t help them. Is she really safe?”

So that was it. Codi was a well-known blacksmith, in both the Enclave and Sustained territory. The Council had probably heard of his wrongness in the head, and used that to torture him for information. They must have had some woman scream in the other room, pretended it was his beloved niece, and coerced him that way.

“She is,” Arico said as calmly as he could. “She’s all right now.” Even so, he felt bile rising up in his gut. The poor man was already touched—hadn’t he been through enough already? Still, the Council didn’t care. They would use any means—and any person—to achieve their goals.

At least Codi didn’t know enough about the dwarves to harm them. His visits to the keep had been strictly supervised. He’d only had access to the forge on the top level itself, and then he’d been taken straight back to his dwelling in the Fishbowl.

The chains fell off with clanging noises on the stone floor. Gently, Arico extended his arm and helped Codi stand up. “Come on. We’ll get you home soon.” They took it slow all the same, though. He looked at the welts on Codi’s back. “They took you yesterday, right? I saw you before then.”

Codi nodded. “I got a work order from one of the Sustained nobles. I went to the keep’s entryway to meet them, but they grabbed me and took me into the threads before I knew what was happening! They must have grabbed Alya at the same time. They brought us straight here.”

“What did they want, though? Were they planning on putting you to work in the forges again?”

“They just wanted me to draw a map for them, that’s all.” Codi said, his own voice also thoughtful. “A map of the Fishbowl.”

That made no sense. The Fishbowl wasn’t critical to the dwarven defenses at all. Sure, a lot of people lived there, but the Sustained couldn’t mount any kind of attack that deep into dwarven territory without running into a ton of dwarves on the way. “Don’t worry, Codi. We’ll be safe back in the Fishbowl. Alzhi will warn us in plenty of time if they’re planning anything.”

Arico handed him off to Kerik, figuratively speaking, with orders to take him and the prisoners back to the surface. The papers in the ‘planning room’ had already been gathered up. With luck, they’d find a real Registry among them, or at least some information that would be useful. Still, as Kerik helped the poor man move away, Codi looked back at him for a moment. “What if he doesn’t, though? What if they took Alzhi, too?”

That stuck in Arico’s mind. As the others moved around, placing flammable liquid around the area—the plan had been to burn this place to the ground after all—Arico just stood there. Almost unwillingly, his eyes wandered back to the skinned man in the middle of the room. There was something about him that Arico couldn’t place. The body itself seemed… familiar.

With a sick feeling, Arico processed what he was hearing and seeing at the same time. The map of the Fishbowl, Codi’s concerns about an attack, the scar on the body’s right leg… “Shemra’s Blight!” He swore.

There was a pause, and Nemith came in. “What is it?”

Arico looked over at the others in horror. “This is Alzhi! This… was Alzhi, anyway.”

The others who’d just joined them fell silent. Nemith examined the torture victim’s face. “Are you sure? I can’t tell.”

“There, on his right leg.” Arico moved his arm in that direction. “Four years ago I was sparring with Alzhi and there was an accident. My sword cut him on the leg, deep. Down to the bone. Endu patched it up and he was fine eventually, but there’s no mistake. That’s definitely the scar I left. This is Alzhi!”

Silence inundated the room for a moment. “That poor bastard,” Banos said grimly.

“The map…” Nemith said slowly. “They must have gotten the keep’s entrance locations from him, just like they got the Fishbowl from Codi! They’re planning an attack on the Enclave!” Codi quietly started sobbing again behind them.

The Enclave had been at peace for over seventy years, ever since they’d traded sparkpowder to the Council in exchange for a patch on the Waters. Sure, every dwarf lived in fear of an eventual attack by an overwhelming number of Ascendants, but to Arico it had become almost like a background noise over the years. Even after the movement had started actively recruiting stra’tchi and Sustained alike to overthrow the Council, the idea of a full-on attack had seemed remote.

But still… all of this evidence pointed to an impending invasion. Codi’s abduction, the maps. Alzhi’s brutal murder would have removed one of the only obstacles left. Arico looked around quickly as another thought occurred to him. “Oh, no. Look at this place! Aside from the guards on the perimeter and those two clerks, there’s not a soul in the entire building. The only reason they’d leave this place so empty would be if they needed those soldiers somewhere else. If they are planning an attack… I think it’s already started!”
« Last Edit: April 12, 2022, 03:41:32 AM by Daen »