Part II - Our Common Grave :: 44
Koph ran down the right side of the main path, heading towards the Machine, fighting against the rushing tide of Machine workers and district dwellers running in the opposite direction. His eyes honed in on the Sigil post and he aimed his frantic gate at it. He had slipped the care of his body guards at the Inn’s entrance thanks to his lithe, long strides. He had developed the athletic knack years previous, in another life.
As he bounded to its entrance, he noticed that the post was birthing scared citizen after scared citizen. The scene was surreal. He had no clue the small post could hold that many people. The clog of fear at the door kept him out of the post for a few minutes. Finally, as the building emptied, he made it in.
The Protector and Watcher were both gone. He made note of the emptied gun rack along the back wall and the strewn papers on the Watcher’s desk. The men had left in a hurry, likely in the direction of all the noise.
“Bravery always,” he said.
“Some would call it stupidity,” replied a gruff voice from behind a locked cell door.
Koph didn’t get near the door but replied, “That would be attempting an assassination in broad daylight.”
“I will ask the obvious here.”
“Yes,” replied the voice. “They have rushed off to their own deaths.”
Koph narrowed his eyes. The voice sounded close but the cell was completely dark beyond its door. Was this a coercion technique? “Thank you,” was all he could muster, not having the time or disposition to argue with an assassin, no matter how familiar the voice may have sounded.
He turned and rushed out of the post, headed once again against the strong current of fleeing people. There didn’t seem to be an end to them. Many of them were bloodied, holding wounds. His heart went out to them but he had to get to the Sigil, had to help get this madness under control, whatever it was. Workers had been injured. They were fleeing for their lives. There had been ominous bangs coming from the vicinity of the South Gate. None of that boded well for his ultimate goal of full unionization of the Machine workforce.
As he neared the gate, the amount of upright people dwindled while the count of wounded and dead went up. Bodies lied everywhere, torn apart and left to rot in their final death throes. Chamatri healers were trying to tend to a few of them but Koph could see their efforts were for naught. What kind of weapon could do this? He shuddered and moved on. Koph had witnessed death and destruction plenty but had never grown accustomed to its ghastly visage or its filthy stench.
The only upright and unharmed individuals at the South Gate were Greer and Wilcox. The guards at the gate had been lined up in sitting positions against the wall adjacent to the guard box. A pile of slugthrowers lay just in front of Greer’s defensive stance, his longbarrel held at an angle, eyes affixed to the guards.
Wilcox was shouting through the guard box at someone on the other side.
“One an hour until Parton sees me!” yelled Wilcox. “I’ve already bagged two.”
Koph looked at Greer. “Is he serious?”
Greer didn’t answer and kept his eyes fixed to the only man sitting with the guards in a suit. Koph turned and saw Vice Chairman Calor among the captured men.
“It’s the only way to get through to Parton,” Wilcox said, walking away from the box and letting his longbarrel swing on his shoulder. He walked up to Koph and crossed his arms. “The man understands two things: violence and money.”
“I’ve never seen him this angry,” Greer said, pointing to the Watcher.
“You’re damned right I’m angry. He opened fire on his own workers and now dozens lie dead.”
“Former workers,” piped up Calor. “They were trespassing.”
Wilcox growled and jogged over to Calor, jabbing his cheek with the muzzle of his longbarrel. “Shut the fuck up, Calor, or you’ll be first to die.”
Koph again looked at Greer. “Seriously, he’s not going to start killing them is he? That’s now how the Sigil works.”
“It’s how Parton is going to make me work,” Wilcox screamed. He fired a slug into the wall above Calor’s head. The Vice Chairman winced and tried to curl himself into less of a target. “I’m tired of his games. He’s going to answer for his crime this time.”
Greer pointed to the gate. It had begun to open. “Watcher, the gate.”
Wilcox tossed to the weapon of his shoulder and scurried over to the slowly parting gate. It groaned under the effort to open. After it had a small seam big enough to walk through opened, the groaning ceased. A nondescript Hume in a full suit walked out and nodded to Wilcox.
“Chairman Parton has agreed to meet with you, Watcher.”
Greer moved forward. Koph followed in step.
“On the condition,” the man continued, “that your weapons stay here.”
Wilcox looked to Greer. They nodded.
“Fine,” Wilcox replied, tossing his longbarrel to the ground. Greer shadowed the act.
“This way, gentlemen,” the suited Hume said, voice free of any lilt of bias.
Wilcox, Greer, and Koph began to walk through the door when Wilcox held up his hand. “Greer. Koph. Do not follow me.”
“I don’t think that’s a great idea,” Koph said.
“Seconded,” agreed Greer.
“I do not think Parton needs to meet the Union Leader just yet,” Wilcox replied. “Especially considering what happened today.”
“Ok, I can stay back,” Koph said. “I can help out here.”
“No. Greer, take him back to the Post. Fill him in on what happened here. You two help with clean up.”
Greer began to protest but Wilcox cut him off.
“Shut it, Greer. It’s an order. Let me handle Parton on my own. It’s about time someone confronted him.”
Greer sighed but did not press the issue further.
Wilcox turned, nodded to both of them, and then passed through the opening in the gate. The large iron doors immediately began shutting, pushing both Greer and Koph backward.
“I’m not sure this will go well,” Koph said as Greer reached down to retrieve his slugthrower.
Greer sighed. “I’ll agree to that. Wilcox was mad. Very mad.” He turned to the men still sitting against the wall, Calor still rolled into a ball, only his elbows and knees completely visible. “You’re free but your throwers are now Sigil property. If you have an issue with that, feel free to discuss it with us at a later time.”
“The Great Watcher will hear about this!” shouted Calor.
Greer waved him off and looked to Koph. “You ok? This isn’t the first mess we’ve had recently.”
“And it’s not likely to be the last,” resigned Koph. “Let’s help as best we can.”
“Ok, but just a little bit. I’m going to follow orders and get you back to the post before long.”
“You’re a target for many people. I’m not going to let you be outside for long.”
Koph laughed. “Maybe I can have a good chat with your prisoner.”
“Good luck getting him to talk. We have his title, nothing else.”
Greer nodded. “He told us that he’s ‘The Cyneweard’, which isn’t exactly a modern occupation.”
Koph’s eyes widened. “Cyneweard?”
“Take me back to the post. We can help later.”
Greer leaned forward, eyes narrowing. “Koph, do you know something?”
Koph didn’t answer. Instead, he started in a dead run back towards the main path. Greer marveled at the Hume’s immense quickness for a moment before realizing Koph was out in the wide open. Greer grunted, swung his weapon over his shoulder, and darted off.