Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 13
Greer's shoulders dropped as he stared at the imposing iron door in front of him. It was a medley of brown and black, large rivets perforating every join, huge hinges at the stone door frame. One heard rumors of the sorts of things that occurred behind this door and either held a secret desire to see the inner workings or harbored a deep fear of getting within a few paces of the place.
He knocked, not bothering to try to open the door himself. This was not a social or business call. His thin brown lips pursed into as a neutral slant as he could muster. A few moments of panicked fluttering in his stomach and the door groaned open.
A tall canine man in a flowing blue and white set of robes smiled at him with genuine warmth.
"Welcome Protector. I hope your travels were without incident."
Greer nodded and stood bolted to the entryway.
The robed figure motioned for Greer to step into the building. The Protector hesitated before stepping beside the greeter, who closed the large door behind them.
"May I take your coat?" asked the greeter.
"No," Greer replied, tone sharper than he would have liked. "I'll keep it on."
"Very well. The Guild Master is waiting for you in his study," informed the canine. "This way," he added, motioning to an ornate staircase.
A quick glance gave Greer a stronger picture of the strange experimenters that lived and worked inside the Alchemist Guild. Opposing the building's cold, imposing stone facade and menacing door was a warm foyer that rose two stories high. Plush, red velvet furniture dotted a wooden floor. Rows of bookcases adorned every bit of free wall space, filled to bursting with books of every binding color and style. Some were titled in languages either too old or too bizarre for Greer to recognize. A roaring fireplace anchored the center of the entry hall, one hearth for each floor. Two red-wooded curving staircases led to a landing and double doors, bespotted with deep purple stains, loaded to the brim bookcases.
"Protector?" called the alchemist. He had already made it halfway to the second story.
"Sorry," Greer replied and started ascending. "I didn't expect to immediately walk into a library."
"This is merely our public waiting area. A mind is only as sharp was what you feed it. We feel this way about ourselves and our visitors."
"Ah," the Protector mumbled, eyes roving over every inch of the waiting area. "Who pays for all of this?"
His guide did not offer him an answer as they entered a long hallway. Their steps echoed off the polished stone walls and floors. There were no pictures on the wall, no celebration of past greatness like at the Machine or Sigil headquarters. Alchemists' entire knowledge base was built on the work of previous generations; Greer was aware they did not celebrate their history. They only had one idol and that was Chevro, the first man in the written history of the Whistlands to merge two elements into one magic spell. Or something.
Greer found the entirety of Alchemical history to be boring with very few breakthroughs over centuries of research. It hadn't even been the Alchemists who had invented a way to contain magical energy in containment cells; that had been the Machine. The Alchemists produced the magic, the Machine produce the containment canisters. He supposed that's where the money came from to pay for such the opulence on display in the waiting area.
At last, they were at the appropriate door. This one was much less intimidating. His guide knocked, a voice sought them to enter, and the door swung open.
"You may enter," the guide deadpanned as he waved an arm through the open door.
"Thanks," Greer offered with a tip of his hat.
"Protector," came a soft, warm voice.
The Guild Master wore flowing robes of garnet with gold trim and waist ropes. The man himself was a canine Animas with a light brown base coat and dark brown accents on the nose and around the eyes. His eyes were golden brown and glinted in the artificial light glowing from the alchemical lights above him. The Master's dark lips were curled into a wide smile and he had his arms open in a gesture of welcome.
"Guild Master," returned Greer, giving a small bow of his head. "I hope I'm not intruding on your day too badly."
"Not at all. I welcome the shift in routine. Sit, sit," the Master replied, pointing his long-fingered hand to a soft chair opposite his large stone desk. Most of the furniture in the room was either stone or wood, with deep ebony wood accents and beams running across the ceiling. There were bookcases in every direction, on every wall, and even stacks of books at either side of the desk, not to mention the small piles of books on the desk itself.
The Guild Master sat behind his desk and tapped a large pitcher of water. "Want any?"
Greer shook his head. "Thank you but no."
With a smile, the Guild Master picked up the pitcher and poured some water into a wooden cup on the desk. "Water is the best refresher, I feel."
"Agreed," Greer mumbled as the Guild Master took a long draw from the cup. He cleared his throat. "Guild Master, I come to you today seeking assistance with an investigation."
"Call me Cain, please," asked the Guild Master, smacking the remnant water from his lips. "I've only been the Master for a few months now."
"Ok then, Cain, can you be of service to the Sigil in this matter?"
"I don't know of what matter you speak, Protector-"
Greer raised a hand. "Greer is fine."
The Master nodded. "Thank you, Greer. As I said, I'm not sure what you're referring to, but I have a feeling it's related to the dreadful explosion in Little Mille a few days ago."
"I'm afraid so," the Protector replied with a nod.
"And you are likely here asking if we have recently supplied a non-Machinist with either a spell or energy canister. Is that correct?"
"I have no doubt you know what I'm about to say."
"I can guess."
"I'll say it anyway, to get the formal matter out of the way: to the Guild's knowledge, no canisters of any form have left these premises in non-Machine hands. We have two deliveries a day, both of whose manifest I personally sign off on before they leave this Guild house. In the past seven days, no issues have been encountered with a delivery and no canister count has been off at all."
Greer smiled. "I suspected as much."
"Good. Now that that's out of the way, I suspect you may have something else to show or ask me."
"You're certainly well informed, Master."
"I must be. I run all the Guild houses from this one spot in Sash. I cannot be expected to run such a network of groups without having eyes and ears all over."
No reason to be an asshole about it, thought Greer. He smiled and waited for Cain to continue.
"So I'm going to take one last assumption of you, Mr. Greer."
"Ok," Greer replied, bemused.
"You are certain that a canister caused the explosion at the script store and you have brought the remnants of said canister to me. This will be your strong play to get me to either look into this further or offer to you an interview with my delivery team."
Greer leaned forward in the chair, patted the hunk of melted metal in his inner coat pocket, and grinned. "Now you're just showing off."
Cain frowned for just a blink but corrected it. "Mr. Greer, I am merely well informed and well prepared. I would hope you, as a Sigil member, would value knowledge and information as highly as we Alchemists do."
Greer shrugged. "The Sigil works within the confines of causality. We do not prepare for the crime, we only investigate its cause, root out said cause, and remove the cause."
"Yes, the law. I am aware. And it is within the law that you are here today. We can scarcely turn you away, now can we?"
Of all the people Greer had ever expected to deserve a punch in the mouth, the Alchemical Guild Master was near the bottom of the list. Now he sat at the top. He swallowed and leaned back, his teeth firmly clamped against each other behind his tightening lips.
Cain sighed. "I see I may have overstepped boundaries. I do apologize. We Alchemists are adamant in our dedication to the intellectual ideals set forth by the great Chevro."
"I just want to show you this," Greer grunted, removing the melted canister and dropping it on the Master's desk with a loud thunk. "I'm assuming that this is standard Machine issue."
The alchemist's eyes locked on Greer's and he saw indignation in them. Cain broke the contact and looked down at the chunk.
"Yes, standard Machine fare. This appears to have been an energy shell-" The Master paused to sniff at the fused glass shard. "Yes, likely a fire and air hybrid. That would account for the strength of blast. If these are punctured by the right amount of force or the correct spell, they can be quite potent."
"Survivors claim that a Hume ran into the store, pulled that canister from a leather bag, shouted something; what exactly, we never got a consistent answer on. Once he had it out and shouted, he brought his hand down on the glass and boom."
One of the Master's eyes lifted. "He punched the glass open?"
"That's what the witnesses are telling us."
"The glass on these canisters is forged triple thick and are magically strengthened by an Elder. No Hume could have the strength to break its seal. Truthfully, no creature in the entire Whistlands should have that amount of strength."
"Could a slugthrower do the job?"
Cain shook his head. "No. The only way I can fathom such a thing happening is if the person who perpetrated this had been imbued with magic."
"Who would know magic besides an alchemist or priest?"
The Master shrugged. "We do not teach such magic to our pupils and adepts. The religions have greater restrictions than we do and can only teach healing magic."
"Have you had any recent drop outs? Any hostile departures?"
"No," Cain said, scratching at his chin. "We seldom lose pupils to anything other than death."
"Comforting. So you don't know who could wield or teach such magic?"
"That magic was outlawed before I took this position, Greer. I hesistate to venture even a guess."
"Can you look into it for me, maybe talk to the previous Guild Master?"
"That will be difficult, he has been dead for over a year. But perhaps I can talk with his former aide."
"Send anything you find by steam post."
Greer stood and dug into his coat, pulling a dirty and dogeared card and offering it to Cain. "That's our post marker. Courier would be faster..."
The Master stood and took the card and placed it on his desk. "I inform you if I find anything by courier. Steamcart mail is entirely too slow."
With a laugh, Greer nodded and offered his hand. The master looked down at it, blinked a few times, and then reached understanding. He gripped Greer's hand and shook it with an awkward bend to his elbow.
"Thank you," Greer offered.
"You are welcome. Safe travels home."