The Cyneweard

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Part III - All That's Left is Blood :: 73

At this rate, the Machine district’s Script Stores would be out of food before the week was out. Vice Chairman Winkler looked again at the two columns on the parchment, one for outgoing, one for incoming. Incoming for the day read zero as it had for the past three days, while the outgoing number was higher than it had been in nearly four cycles.

The entire district seemed to be hording as much as they could afford, likely readying for whatever shoe was waiting to fall between the Union and the Machinists. Winkler could envision the riots, the violence, the turmoil if the stores ran dry and the need was great. The image shook him into action.

As a stalwart pincher and ever-worrying individual, Winkler had long since stock piled dry meats, fruits, and vegetables per no one’s specific order. It was an “in case” measure and he had decided a day ago that “in case” was most certainly applicable to preventing food-related chaos during what will likely be a long period of consternation.

The only logistical issue left plaguing him was getting the backup stores from their warehouse in the Sash district to the warehouse he had spent the last three days in Little Mille. All shipping efforts were ceased and he doubted he could raise support from Schroder with the man hiding in his palatial home in Cobble. He’d have to enlist the help of another. Calor was out, Below bent on defending the Machine. He had not heard from Schmitt, Berger, or Pfieffer since they were ordered into exile by the Chairman.

“I’ll have to call on a favor,” Winkler spoke to the stale dead air of the second story office. The entire place smelled like aged oak and dust, rotted fruit, and fouled milk. He had grown used to the smells of a food store house over the years and didn’t notice it, so when he walked to the window that looked out over the long, wide warehouse floor, the increase in the volume of the place’s stink never reached him.

There was no activity in the warehouse now, just the dim, flickering light of nearly four hundred alchemical lights. It’d be dawn in just a few short hours. He hadn’t slept in two days. He rubbed at his eyes and yawned, then slapped his bearded left cheek.

“I’ll need to utilize the Store workers to shift the product. Maybe a few carts at a time. Long intervals. Make sure I don’t get noticed.”

He ran the Script Stores as close to even on both in and out as he could as profit was a mute point. Machinist Script was more or less worthless. It could only be used at the stores and was divvied out to the workers instead of the defacto cross-land currency of gold pieces. The exchange rate at the financial houses in every major city or town was so ridiculous most never even bothered. This alone kept the Machine very profitable as it had what amounted to an unpaid workforce. The only real money spent was in exchange with the farmers, tailors, shoemakers, and other various services needed to keep a small army of workers clothed, fed, and liquored. Raw materials for producing goods was an entirely different problem, owned by an entirely different chairman.

Winkler sighed. He knew he was defying the express wishes of his Chairman but remained resolute. Though his normal attitude was subservient to a fault with a dash of cowardice thrown in, he’d have to stand up this one time. He couldn’t have the district thrown into chaos just because his immediate boss wanted to starve the will out of the people opposing him. Winkler couldn’t have the starvation of innocents on his conscience, and the weight of that guilt was far greater than the weight of Parton’s displeasure.

He moved back to his desk and took a short sip from his tall glass of water, eyes moving over the myriad of parchment sheets strewn about the desktop. Ledgers, inventories, shipping manifests, sign off sheets, it all amalgamated in his brain in a language only he could understand. He smiled, enjoying the familiarity of his own organization of such a messy anarchy. He saw order where there was none. Pride filled his chest. There would be no hunger riots, as least for a while. His efforts would ensure that. He began to draft a letter to the Script stores.

A sharp, loud series of thuds reached him, waking him. Winkler sat up sharply, angering a muscle in his side. He growled, cursed, and stood, peeling the half-written letter from his right cheek. Another series of bangs occurred. He rushed to the interior window of his office and looked down. Dust hung in thin linear clouds around the hinges of the large receiving door to the left side of the warehouses’ main hall. The hall led to a receiving point with a small desk smack in the middle of the warehouse floor.

The two large doors swung open with hesitation. They had not opened for days. Winkler watched as a small merchant cart was wheeled in, then the doors shut. His eyes followed the dark shadow of the cart as it made its way down the hall and into the circular receiving area. A tall man in a cloak and wide brimmed hat stepped from behind the cart and moved to the desk. He tapped the side of the notification bell on the reception desk and then leaned against it.

“Really?” Winkler said. “What are the guards doing? They were explicitly told not to allow merchants in for pick up.”

He sighed and moved back to his desk. The bell rang again. And again. And again.

Winkler shot up again, worsening the catch he had placed in his back earlier. His anger flared and he stomped over to the door leading to the gangplank, threw it open, and began huffing his way down to the warehouse floor on a set of iron stairs.

They allowed pick ups at any hour from street merchants as they had to prepare their wares for sale long before the rest of the district woke. Winkler had sent a messenger to each of them earlier in the week, explaining that no supplies or product would be moved to the carts indefinitely. Had this merchant not gotten that message? He’d soon have this cleared and then he’d have a word with the guards outside.

“Can I help you,” he asked, still a ways away from the man and his cart. The dim light and the man’s hat combined to prevent him from being able to recognize the merchant. He knew most of them, making every effort to memorize face and name combinations to ensure he was on good footing with all of them.

The merchant looked up but not enough to bring his shrouded face into focus. Winkler squinted as his gate picked up pace. His anger was growing stronger. Who does this merchant think he is?

As Winkler grew nearer, he could see something dark leaking from the man’s cart. He took a glance down the hallway and saw that the man had dripped whatever was leaking in his cart all the way down the hall and it was dripping into a growing pool in the receiving area.

“Sir,” Winkler began. “You seem to have a leak-”

The man moved with unbelievable speed. In one short blink, the man, who was nearly two heads taller than Winkler, was standing in front of him, looming. Winkler could feel the man’s hot breath on his face.

His face no longer hidden, Winkler could confirm that he had not one idea of who this person was or what he wanted.

“Sir,” Winkler croaked just as the man swiped his large gloved hand across his body. Winkler’s eyes went wide when he saw red blood splash against the man’s chest and forearm.

Hot liquid poured down Winkler’s chest. He tried to look down but lost his footing before being able to see what the man had done. As he impacted on the floor, he could see a bloodied hand sticking out of the back of the cart.

Winkler tried to suck in a breath.

He couldn’t.

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