Part II - Our Common Grave :: 38
He was groggy. An invisible knife was dragging itself long the back of his neck to the crown of his head. His eyes burned at the sight before him.
The sun was only a few inches off of the horizon, bathing the crumbling Capitol wall's sharp edges in pale orange light. Jagged shadows ran along it until the failing structure disappeared behind the great mass of the Machine, itself casting a large block of shade over the Sash district.
To the West were miles still-dark plainslands, the eponymous Whistlands by which the whole of the continent was named. Reeds and thistles swam in a sea of green, urged on by light winds that flowed through their billions of fibers to emit a soft whistling when one stopped long enough to hear it.
Out there lived the farmers, the blacksmiths, the miners...the backbone of resources the Machine drew upon daily to continue to fashion its wares and weapons. He had never lived in that world and could not understand it. What little he knew of it was learned during war; the worst time to get to know a place.
Far West was the menacing dark figure of Mount Hewn, the jagged and hostile home to the Orc race. Not quite Animas and not quite Hume, they were a mostly unknown entity besides the occasional tribal defector who came to the Chop to learn a trade or settle. Myths and legends surrounded what he was sure was a boring reality. They were simply different. Aggressive and abrupt in conversation, but nothing magical or mystical. And they liked money, so there were trades to be made.
Gold was the real driving force behind it all. The Machine worked to turn resources into things, things into gold, gold into resources. Ad nauseum. The Machinist Group ran this liquidation cycle to keep the economy moving. It was their economy, their tangibles, and their control that kept everything from reverting to chaos. Subversion of this was a perverse idea and whoever had first had the notion that there were certain rights earned by an employee of the Machine had committed treason. By proxy, this nominated the leader of the Union, whoever it may have been, to bear the brunt of the blame for the growing tension.
Koph was the face of the Union and Parton hated it. The man was a showman at best, no oomph behind his words. They were merely fuel to the fire already stirring, words to incite riots and ultimately disruption. The Machine needed no more disruption than it already had with the skyrocketing turnover.
Parton rubbed his eyes and stars burst behind his eyelids. A wave of pain passed down his back. He groaned and turned away from the large window overlooking the Chop. Grunting from the stiffness in his legs, he stumbled into his washroom and began washing the sleep from his face.
"Sir," came a voice. His secretary.
"Yeah?" he said, turning his dripping face towards her, eyes shut.
"Calor has returned to report."
"Then let him report," he said, wiping at his face with a thick velour towel.
He heard her walk to and open the bedroom door. Two sets of footfalls returned.
"Sir," came Calor's voice. "They have a Hume in custody. No word if they have identified him. I had planned to have a look myself but the Sigil are being difficult. They want a quick trial and execution."
"He was involved in the assassination attempt?" replied Parton. He wiped the water from the sides of his neck and leaned backward against the ornate sink. His robe opened at the waist but he paid it no mind. The secretary averted her eyes.
Calor nodded. "Koph has tried to stay the trial but the Sash district's Watcher is arguing against it."
"What does Watcher Wilcox think?"
"No one has seen him since the attempt on Koph's life."
"Do we know anything about the assassin?"
Calor shook his head. "Not the one in custody. The one killed by the Sigil was definitely ours, though."
"Worthington," Parton growled between his teeth. "Fucking idiot." He pointed to Calor. "You get a steam cart ready in thirty. We're going to pay a visit to the Carriage Shop."
"I'm going to assume this visit will need bodyguards."
Parton nodded. "I think it's time I closed that shop one way or another."
Calor nodded. "I'll have it ready."
"And you're coming with me. It's about time you learned what you've gotten yourself into."
Torn between shock, honor, and fear, Calor nodded.
After they left, Parton began dressing. Worthington was a piece of his past, just as Dumdhall had been, as Clanton had been. One had turned on him and the others were newly dead. Even poor Goody.
He paused at the large portrait of Commander Jute on his way out of the former Royal Living Quarters he now called home. The portrait lead the long line of lost but not forgotten rebel leaders. The man had always been regal in nature, a noble turned rebel, full of ideas on how things should be. Parton certainly hoped that he was living up to Jute's ideals, even now as the world he had built in the man's honor was starting to crack at its foundations.
"Work, glorious work, and payment for that work, will be what drives us into an Empire-less future," Jute had once told a group of regional rebellion leaders. "Remove the Empire, remove the aristocracy, and you have the salt of our great lands: the people. Elevate the people and let them drive the economy. They are no longer to be slaves to Imperial excesses."
Parton liked excesses himself, but had provided the Chop and the Whistlands as a whole entire new life opportunities. Farming was becoming ever automated over the past few years, driving lots of rural people into the city, looking for work of all kinds. The Machine, and by association, the Machinist Group, was there to provide the training and positions necessary to get them off of their feet and subsisting in society.
"Now you're coming to haunt me too," he told the painting, Jute's booming voice still echoing in the far reaches of his mind.
So much of the past had bubbled back up. Dumdhall murdered, Clanton murdered, Goody murdered. The corpses in the church yard...
The Emperor stared up at him, the leader's dark brown eyes boring into his. Guilt was creeping into his chest. He looked to his left, found a large boulder, and lifted it.
Recognition dawned slowly on the dying Emperor's face. With a comical slowness, his eyes started to widen. Parton threw the large rock at those eyes. They disappeared in a bloody cloud.
"What was that for?" cried Priest Dumdhall. running over at the sickening thud made by the impact.
"He wasn't dead. I have a feeling he is now."
"By Humbolt you rebels are merciless. Can't we have paid him more honor that that?"
"A man that sends thousands to their deaths against the Northern tribes in a futile, pointless war? Honor? I only showed him what he has shown me."
"I should never have agreed to this," the priest replied, crossing his arms. "What shall the people say?
"That today is a great day," Parton replied, brushing the dirt off of his hands. "Here, in this House of Humbolt's garden, a new era has been born. And few of us will know about it."
"I will know about it and I will feel guilt for the remainder of my days."
"Then let it drive you, Dumdhall. Drive you to never speak of this to anyone. As far as you know, the Emperor surrendered to the Rebellion and now rests peacefully with his wife in the Waring Woods."
The Priest shook his head, sighing. "I only hope that you remember the great debt you owe the House of Humbolt, and more specifically, to me."
"Don't fret," Parton said, placing a hand on the man's shoulder. "We will offer tithes for the great deeds the House of Humbolt, and more specifically, you have accomplished. You will have your money, Priest."
Dumdhall shrugged the man's hand from his shoulder and turned.
Parton took one last look at the bodies of the Emperor and his wife, and turned in time to receive a sharp slap across his face.
Elara, her normally beautiful face twisted in a snarl of anger, stood in front of him.
"Well hello to you too," he said, hand coming to his fire hot cheek.
"This is murder."
Parton shook his head. "No, this is justice."
"You killed his family, Lott. You killed his true wife. His true daughter. And you even killed your own protege."
"There are casualties in every cause, Elara. Have they found Cyrus and Brisa yet?"
"I don't know. I hope they don't. They were innocent in this and you killed them. They don't need you defiling their bodies..." She paused and wiped a tear from her eye. "Do you really think Jute would have wanted it this way?"
"It doesn't matter what he would have wanted. He got himself killed in the Siege and that left me with the plan and the power to execute it. And I didn't kill them. That would've been the Huntresses."
"That left no one with the power," she yelled, tears starting to come into her eyes. "I wanted freedom and the ability to live how I chose but not this way. I never wanted anyone dead."
"Death is one of the few things we can count on, Elara. Think about how long it took us to get here. You don't think there was death involved? Jute himself personally killed. Did you just turn a blind eye to all of that over all these years? And you want freedom? Once we have taken the Machine, you will have that freedom Elara. No more bowing to a dead warrior. No more bestowing healing gifts of those undeserving. You can work. You can earn. You can live."
"Will it really be that way?" she asked, hands coming to rest on her hips. "Or will you only reward the cronies that got you here. Will you reward Goody for his work providing you and your men with weapons today? Will you reward Clanton for recruiting locals to your cause? Will you reward the families of the people that died today?"
Parton shrugged. "I shall do what I have to in order to make sure our transition from Rebellion to Leaders is as smooth and painfree as possible. If I have to lubricate people, so be it."
She grunted and went for another slap. He deflected her hand and grabbed her wrist.
"Be with me, Elara. We can run the Machine together. Maybe have a family."
"A family of murderers," she spat and landed a slap on the opposite cheek.
"That's getting old," he said, letting go of her wrist.
"You're not the man I thought you were. I don't want anything to do with your little group."
He tilted his head, gauging her sincerity. "Huh. You didn't say that a few moons ago."
"Fuck you," she growled and stomped away.
Had he loved her? He believed he had. His offers to her had been sincere. Why had she been so damn against the death of the emperor's family? Had it been the desecration of the bodies or the dishonorable burial? They had made love on many occasions, pined away in secret places years and years talking and wondering about the future they were trying to build for the Whistlands. No Empire, just the people working and living. No stupid aristocracy, everything on equal footing, even for the Animas. Had their idealism brought them together? Maybe. Had it been his slow descent into brutal realism that had torn them so quickly apart? Probably. Gods he felt old.
They never did find Brisa or Cyrus. He had long assumed the Huntresses had taken the bodies. They were fond of taking trophies of kills but not usually the entire bodies...
"Yes?!" he jumped, turning around arm extended.
"I'd appreicate not being punched, sir." His secretary frowned at him. "And if I ever have to see you naked again, I'm going to go work for another Chairman."
Parton laughed. "As if I'd let you. Is Calor ready?"
"That's why I'm here," she said.
He nodded and they headed for the lift.
"Worthington!" Parton's voice boomed and echoed among the shop's bare rafters. Most of the equipment was gone. Two carts, converted to steam power, had been taken. No food was left. Cots lay bare, pint bottles littering every corner of the place.
It had been so long since he had seen it in the day time. In fact, the last time he had been here during the day was when he was working as a Manipulator for the Emperor's family.
"Looks like he's gone," said Calor, flanked by two large Foremen carrying scattershots. "He didn't even bother to wait a day before fleeing."
"Idiot," Parton growled, rummaging through a chest at the end of the only proper bed in the place. "How could I have put my trust in someone like that?"
"Wasn't he always your dirty job guy?"
"For a long time but only on the occasion and never anything this high profile. He liked my money. I don't understand why he would have let something like this happen."
"Maybe he made a mistake in the member of his crew he lent to you."
Parton tossed a pint bottle against the wall, shattering it. "Maybe he took my large amount of money and ran, leaving his crew member to accomplish the job however he saw fit? Think like a lowlife Calor!"
More bottles went flying. Finally, exhausted, Parton sat down on the bed and looked at hands. "I wish Clanton was still alive. I would not have had to resort to such low filth to get a job done."
"Maybe you can trust me?"
"I don't know you, Calor. I knew Clanton. I bled with him for fuck's sake. Don't offer services you'll never live up to providing."
Calor put up his hands. "Right now I have nothing else to offer."
"Do you know criminals, people who can kill others, people who can get things done without letting the Sigil know they're doing it?"
Calor shook his head.
"Then shut up and start thinking. We have to get to the second assassin. Hey may be another crew member and if he says anything at all to the Sigil, regardless of his believably, there will be some heat thrown the Machine's way. We cannot let that happen."
"Understood," Calor replied. "I will begin to look into it."
"And Worthington, sir?"
"Won't say anything out of protection of himself and won't show back up in the Chop until I'm dead. He's a half breed but he's not stupid."