The Cyneweard

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Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 5

The gate was always the problem. He hated the gate and wondered why the board had not bothered to create a separate, less filthy entrance for themselves. Old world values in a new world, perhaps?

With a shake of his heads, the thoughts drained. He did his best not to notice the large crowd of Machine coverall-clad protesters chanting at him as he showed his id papers to the gate guard.

"What are they whining about today?" he asks the guard as his check in time was written on a large log parchment.

The guard looked up and tilted his head. "Dead worker, yesterday."

"Tragic," he replied in a deadpan.

The gate keeper shrugged and knocked on the side of his booth. Two audible thunks later and the large iron gate began to swing inward. Two armed guards slinked out with their long-bore slugthrowers raised, aiming at the crowd of protesters.

The crowd's chant morphed and grew loud. "We don't need weapons, we have our voice," they yelled.

He sighed as he stepped between the armed guards. They locked into step with him as he stepped through the gate, backing up as he advanced.

"Thanks," he muttered to them once he heard the gate close.

One of the guards nodded and jogged back over to his post.

He shook his head. "Every Humbolt-damned day." He lifted his satchel to his chest and began a brisk walk forward.

There were three main staircases once a worker or visitor made it past the gate and through the security checkpoint of the Machine. The middle staircase took you to baling, boxing, melting, crating, and export.

Coated in black soot, the left staircase led to the bellowing belly of the factory; a dark, hot, and smoky forest of metal gangplanks, pools of molten iron, and tight working spaces. This was where production lived. No one was allowed down unless they wore a sash or had a sash escorting them. Very few Foremen and workers were trusted with the processes that gave the Machine its ability to churn out the non-Alchemical items. The best, brightest, and most loyal workers were those that toiled away for hours on end, braving death and dismemberment to ensure the Whistlands continued their forward progress towards a less-magic dependent life.

The Machinist group had worked with the Sigil after the war and had made sure weaponized magic would never terrorize the ordinary citizen again. The Alchemist guild was forced to promise to only produce offensive magic through containment of the spell, to be used as energy sources. He had actually been one of the drafters of the bond that the Alchemists has reluctantly signed under threat of forced disbandment.

He grinned as he started up the right staircase, which led to the executive Alchemical lift platform. He nodded to the operator and was sent upwards. The ride always felt just a hair too long. He leaned against the wooden railing and stared out. The ground below him shrank to a green and brown blob, its inhabitants mere insects to the height and power of the Machine.

The main body of the machine broke his view east and kept the sun from hitting him full on. Out westward was the vast expanse of the Whistlands with its flowing grasslands dotted with crop field freckles. It was beautiful at this time of morning and he felt a swelling of his lungs as he realized that he had helped shape the peace that spread from the factory in all directions. They had helped earn that, had overthrown the Empire and gave the power back to the common man. No more expensive and casualty-heavy wars, no more ridiculous taxation, no more aristocracy. Just the Machine, its innovations for daily life, and him and his group of leaders to bring the dream to fruition.

Had it cost lives? Of course it had. What war, civil or otherwise, remains deathless? He had seen first-hand during the war the cruelty of the Imperial Theocracy. Woman, children killed. The Siege of Millewhist. All those dead Animas, all those starving children. They were the right ones. They were the victors. And the revamped machine, turned from an evil factory of war into a societal boon. They had done it and it had only taken fifteen years.

The abrupt jolt of the lift stopping re-geared his mind. He moved away from the railing, nodded to the operator, and stepped through two large wooden doors.

He entered a marbled hallway, his footsteps echoing off of bright shining wooden walls. Frames with portraits of the fallen Rebellion generals lined the walls. Some of them had helped transition the Machine from the hands of the Empire to the group of generals that had accepted the Emperors scepter at the foot of the Imperial Castle, just before it was razed. Some of them had been Chairmen and Vice Chairmen. Some of them were killed during the war. He wondered if he'd ever make it up on the wall.

At the end of the procession of portraits were yet another set of thick double doors. He pushed through these and was greeted by a tall and beautiful Hume woman. She smiled at him and motioned him to the left most office.

"Chairman Parton will see you momentarily."

He nodded his thanks and opened the door. The room had a large oak table with one chair on each side, a large pot of flowers, and no window. Instead, the light in the room was emanating from a tall wrought iron spire with a bright Alchemical light at its top. The light was nearly a bright as daytime and flowed within its canister as if it were liquidous. He caught himself staring at the device and ripped his note pad and quill from his satchel.

The door opened. "You won't need that. Put it away."

He did as he was bade as Chairman Parton sat down across from him at the table.

"Sir," he said, nodding.

"I'm not here for pleasantries. I have a job for you. One that you will neither acknowledge to anyone else or write down. Ever."

"Understood, sir."

"You have a certain talent, do you not?"

He raised a brow. "Sir?"

"For getting things done when no one else can."

"I-I suppose you could-"

"Stop stuttering and listen."

He snapped his attention to the aging man in front of him and tightened his mouth shut. Chairman Parton was nearing sixty years old and the stress of helping run the Machine had not been kind. His face was lined and what had once been a full head of blonde hair was reduced to a shorn pate with only a hint of silver stubble. Parton held a fierce countenance most of the time and he had never seen the man smile. There were no hints of an expression whatsoever today.

"You are going to use one of your resources. A disposable one. You are going to hire this resource to do something."

He nodded.

"A foreman is dead."

"No," he replied, his eyes widening. "The guard mentioned something about a dead worker."

"Not related. This is something few know about just yet. Foreman Goody was found with a slug in his brain early this morning."

"And his wife?"

"Another slug to the head."

He shivered, he couldn't help it. Slugthrowers always made him queasy. The ease at which they could deal death was hard to fathom until you saw it with your own eyes. And he had.

"Who did it?"

"I'm going to guess an assassin. Probably hired by the Union. We're going to respond."

"Officially?"

"Of course not. You are going to use your resource to bring this Union business to a head."

"What do you want the resource to do?"

"Stoke a fire, Mr. Clanton."

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