Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 1
Slitting the priest's throat took little effort. The act punctuated the holy man's question, tore his airway, and removed his brain's oxygen supply. As unconsciousness crept its way into the priest's wide, unbelieving eyes, the attacker answered the query.
An old title, one the assailant had dropped a long time ago. The title had been rendered anachronistic by sudden shifts in the world. It was a good name. He knew the priest would know it.
The holy man's eyed bulged with recognition. He tried to speak but only produced a gargle. Blood bubbled up from his severed wind pipe. He reached out, trying to grasp the coat of his murderer. The Cyneweard stepped back.
The priest fell to his knees, his lifeblood spilling down his gray robes. He gave his attacker one last questioning glance before the light left his eyes. His head lolled. His body heaved a few times. Blood continued to spurt from a severed artery. The Cyneweard turned his attention to the pounding above him.
Rain hammered the stone roof of the House of Humboldt, drowning all further thought. The attacker, knife still in hand, turned and walked out of the side door into the church's garden. The cold rain pelted his be-coated shoulders, splashed off of the wide brim of his hat, and washed away what little blood remained on the blade. He looked around the well-kept garden, impressed by the many fauna on display. The priest, though old, had maintained the grounds very well. He wondered if the replacement priest would be as diligent with the plants.
Dotted between the plants were plaques featuring recounts of historical events that had occurred and famous people that had attended the church. This had, after all, once been the center of the Imperial religion. Now it was merely a piece of a large whole, just another slice of the Chop. There was one particular marker the attacker was looking for and he had a feeling it wasn't going to be etched in bronze and marble.
At the end of the garden, behind a large hedge, sat that marker. It was a small, battered stone with a few drops of blackish stain on its duller edge. He knelt and placed his free hand on the stone. This stone had seen the most pivotal part of recent history; had even been a part of it. Part of him, one long dormant, sought a revelation. What could this artifact impart on him?
He felt nothing. Heard nothing. He was unmoved. It was just a rock. He sighed and pushed it over, plunging his knife into the impressed earth beneath it. A few moments of probing netted him a dull thunk. He began pulling the soil out and to the side of the winning knife wound. Though the day was dim and rainy, his target still shone bright.
A few tugs, a snap of bone, and the trinket pulled free from its grim bindings. The crest was there, jade and emerald fused together. The gold chain was in decent shape. He threw the find into one of his many coat pockets, set the knife into the hole with its grim occupant, and replaced the soil.
Yet again he was struck by the lack of oomph in the artifact. It was just jewelry. It had once meant so much, had once been a pivotal part of a pivotal image that had shaped the lives of thousands. Now it was simply a thing, rattling around a pocket in a murderer's coat. Had he retained a sense of humor over the years, it might have chuckled at the irony. He felt nothing but a thirst.
He replaced the stone, ensuring it was placed exactly as it had been, and stood. The rain started to come down harder. Sighing, he looked up and let the rain wash over his face. He closed his eyes. The thirst was always strong now; too many demons clawing at him, needing to be silenced. Their only weakness was served in small glasses.
The attacker hopped the stone fence of the garden rather than leave through the front door. A shift at The Machine would be out soon and he didn't need witnesses to his whereabouts. The Sigil's presence was strong in the Chop and he still had work to handle.
He found himself in a familiar alleyway, but pushed those memories to the side. More demons to silence. He walked with purpose, hands in his outer coat pockets, head tilted down. The rain streamed from his hat's brim and onto his boots.
The alleyway exited into the main dirt drag of the Chop's Machine district, a sprawling shanty town that had attached itself to the remains of a former shopping district. Post-war the place was a mixture of shoddy wooden shacks and ancient, damaged stone buildings that had once been the superfluous feeding ground for the aristocracy. Now it served as home for the Machine's lowest paid workers, the company script stores, and the whore houses and pint bars that those sorts of places need.
They called it Little Mille, after the large Animas city named Millewhist in the west. The population was nearly half Animas, the remainder being Hume. Cats, dogs, rabbits. All the bipedal animal races were well accounted for in Little Mille. Though the war was over and the Animas-despising Empire dissolved, the non-human races still felt the sting of discrimination in the Chop. The Machinist Group, made up of most of the leaders of the Resistance from the war, worked with Animas but didn't trust them for any important job. Still, the Machine was a means to an end. Without the Empire's economy and a dwindling need for hard manual labor when farming, many Animas found themselves without food or a place to live in the Whistlands. They came to the Chop to get high-risk, low-paying Machine jobs. They dropped like fruit gnats, but they kept coming.
The loud whistle of the day shift's end at the Machine woke him from his thoughts. He turned his head and found the bulky shadow of the Machine in the wet haze. It was a large, square building, built of metal and not stone. It loomed over the area with its small attached buildings and tall smoke stacks. Inside, the alchemical goods that were creeping into every day life were being built, tested, and shipped out into the Whistlands. Slugthrowers for the paranoid, alchemical lighting and wires for candle conversion, conversion kits to take carts to steam power, alchemical packs for portable light, and much more. The alchemists were thinking up new conveniences all the time. There was no telling what the factory would produce next.
Of course, the Machine had started as an alchemist's method to render the sword and bow-and-arrow obsolete. Slugthrowers had been invented and the Emperor needed a place to mass produce them for his large army. A poor district was razed, its citizens displaced, and the Machine was built by the Alchemist's Guild. The aristocracy moved to the great wonder's shadow. And then war...
He sighed and continued down the muddy street, hoping to beat the foot traffic into a bar.