The Cyneweard

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Part III - All That's Left is Blood :: 57

Gareth stood at the head of a small round table, flanked on either side by his bodyguards. Across from him were people that only knew him as Koph; Lilly, Leona, one of his deeply embedded Machine informers by the name of Serril, and his trusted advisor Raban. Lilly and Leona had long been the keepers of the Chop’s Animas-led Union movement. They had been recruited by him shortly after the Machine had fired him for insubordination. They worked the most important social hub of the Machine district: Lilly’s bar. They heard everything, knew everyone, and could recruit the most frustrated, hardscrabble workers to their cause. The Leaping Laporine was the defacto headquarters of the Union in the Chop and it had been created right under Parton’s nose over the past five years.

Raban had been a gift to Gareth from the Crone, a former Imperial military strategist who had helped bolster the Union’s support in Millewhist while helping Gareth push forward with organizing a guerrilla force that could activate at the given time, ready to descend upon the Machine and oust its corrupted leadership. Gareth knew now that the Crone had been, as always, right about Parton’s inability to compromise. Still, the former priest did not want to reach the point where anyone’s death was required for peace.

And yet here they were, discussing that very thing. Parton had shown with the massacre at the South Gate that he was willing to erase an entire workforce just to ensure the Machine continued operating as he saw it should. Dozens had died that day, not to mention the continued harassment and skirmishes breaking out around town when former Machine workers were either cornered by or cornering still-employed Foremen. Beatings, stabbings, shootings; all had occurred in just the past two days. The death of Parton and the overthrow of the Machinist Group was the only sane option. The man wouldn’t listen to reason.

Gareth had certainly tried, even after the horrendous act at the gate. Parton had met him the previous day with at least fifteen flanking guards, all with the new “Ceaseless Throwers” that had been used on the workers. Gareth had not been armed.

“What do you want, Koph?” Parton had asked.

“Peace,” Soilturner had replied.

“How?”

“A mutual understanding. Higher wages. Safer working conditions, a third shift. The usual.”

Parton had laughed. “I think a better peace would be for you to get out of my city and never come back. Take your precious workers with you. They’re not even employees anymore. You and your group no longer have any pull over my workforce.”

And Parton was right, mostly. Serril had shown his loyalty to the machine by beating two Unionizers. It had been regrettable but necessary to keep at least one Union resource on the inside. The survivors of the mass slug throwing fared much worse. The very next day, they had been evicted from their Machine-provided homes, sent to live in the streets as those hired to replaced them took over. Granted, these ‘homes’ were more shanty than anything but they were still roofs over peoples’ heads. Now, a large contingent of families had nothing. The Union had helped most of them find shelter or temporary living places inside and outside of the crumbling city walls. Lilly and Leona had taken in a few of them, giving them small inn rooms and providing free meals.

The meeting had ended there and Parton was escorted at barrelpoint from the South gate. From there, he had returned to the Sigil post to finish up Cyrus’ story. It had been utterly depressing and he had been glad that day to hear the end of it. At least he was done with downer days. He had promised himself and his small team that the next few days would be productive.

The plan was bold. Brave. Mostly stupid. It depended on a lot of luck, a lot of insider involvement, and the most important game piece in the entire thing sat in a jail cell a few paces up the path from Leona’s home. Gareth had no idea how he would convince Cyrus to help nor how the Union was going to get him out of jail. The last he had heard from Greer, the Watcher was going to be fast-tracking the evidence gathering against the former Cyneweard in efforts to get the matter of the murders closed by the end of the week. That closing involved Cyrus neck meeting a noose, and Gareth couldn’t have that.

Lilly spoke up. “Serril is going to be at a lot of risk throughout all of this.”

“He’s our only way in,” Raban reminded her. Raban was a Hume of average height with a full white beard and hard gray eyes that never seemed to look at things, more through them. Cyrus’ gaze was similar, as if the men were trying to predict what was behind or around someone rather than focus on that person. They always seemed to be planning.

Serril smoothed out his own busy black beard and tugged at the collar of his coveralls. He had shift in less than an hour and needed to hurry up and leave lest he be spotted leaving the house of a Union sympathizer.

“I am up for the challenge,” he affirmed. “I may no longer have a cover after this, but something tells me it won’t matter.”

Leona sighed. “Death or success.”

Lilly nodded. “How many do we have?”

“I’ve asked fifty. I’m expecting half that,” Gareth admitted. “This will involve a high amount of risk and many of these people have families that need them.”

“All things involve risk,” Raban said his commanding baritone. “All things worth doing will put you at some form of risk. And we can manage with twenty five. It’s ten or less where I get worried.”

“What about weapons? Are we forgetting that they have repeating slut throwers now?” Serril reminded.

Raban nodded. “I am working to procure a cache now. They will not be new weapons, sadly.”

“At least tell me that we’re not fighting slug throwers with swords and arrows.”

Lilly laughed. “You know, a huntress or two could handle that.”

“Doubtful,” Raban said, causing a frown to cross Lilly’s lips. “Yes, Serril, there will be slug throwers. We have a contact in Millewhist that can provide an assortment to us.”

“Cost?” asked Gareth.

“A lot. I will give you an exact number when they arrive.”

“Hopefully we have it.”

“I’m sure many will pitch in,” Leona beamed.

They all nodded.

“We will discuss this more at another time,” concluded Gareth. “Until then, I will work on the less predictable portions of this.”

“The Cyneweard?” Leona asked.

Lilly looked at her. “Mother, help her.”

They all laughed.

“Yes,” Gareth assured her. “He’s my next stop.”

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