Part III - All That's Left is Blood :: 74
“Change your mind about helping me out?”
Fielder Greer looked into Cain’s face and grimaced. The candlelight played with the aging Canine’s features, making him look much more sinister than Greer had ever given the Animas capable of being. It was just about midnight and he had intruded upon Cain without warning. Thankfully, the Guild Master kept odd enough hours to receive the call, but he was certain Cain was still disgruntled at the odd-timed arrival of someone who had refused to help him just a couple of days previous.
“I guess not,” replied the Guild Master to Greer’s silence.
“I’m not ruling it out,” Greer said, holding up a hand. “But I could use some help of my own. I have an issue that I can’t divert from until it’s handled.”
“So you come to my Guild hall, tell me you’re still not going to help me, but seek out my help? Very strange thought pattern you have, Watcher.”
Greer nodded. “I know. I’ve had a lot happen in a very short amount of time. Are you aware of what’s likely about to happen in Little Mille?”
“The Union revolt? Oh yes. We’ve suspected it for a while now. We don’t have any assets in that district so we have little concern over what happens.”
“Aren’t you worried that the Machine will be toppled and your guild will not longer have the backing of the Machinists?”
Cain shrugged. “We benefit either way. With the Machinists still in place, I can guarantee a future for my Guild with little question. With the Machinists out and their influence over the Sigil gone, Alchemists in the Chop will have far more freedom and agency. Did you forget it was the Machinists that called for the limitation of magic study?”
Greer couldn’t argue the point and remained silent.
“So again, I don’t have a reason to help towards that endeavor. So if you’ve come to ask for assistance from my guild in policing the coming chaos, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline.”
“I’m not here for that. I’ve been relieved of that responsibility.”
“Oh,” Cain intoned, leaning forward in his tall oak chair. “How so?”
Greer didn’t want to air the Sigil’s dirty laundry with the Guild master but knew he couldn’t get Cain’s help without offering Cain something all Alchemists craved: knowledge.
“My father has moved in on my post in Little Mille and has taken over the policing of the district until tensions fall off.”
Cain’s knowing smile frustrated Greer. He continued.
“And I’ve been tasked with finding the escaped prisoner. That is my only task. Straight from head quarters.”
Cain’s smile grew. “Right. Is that all?”
“Yes,” Greer snapped. “I’m not sure what’s so jovial about what I just told you.”
“Your naivety is astounding, my dear Watcher,” Cain said, clasping his hands together over his crossed legs. The hem of his robs rode up. His feet were glad in simple leather loafers.
“I fail to see your point,” Greer replied, locking onto the loafers to divert his anger.
“Your father took over your district because the Machinists wanted him to do so. That order did not come from head quarters.”
“That’s not what I was told.”
“And you trust your father?”
Greer nodded, moving his glare from the old canine’s shoes to his face. “Of course I do, he’s my father.”
“Who pays the majority of Sigil salaries.”
Greer didn’t reply immediately. The question caught him unprepared for the revelation. The Sigil’s wages were distributed by Machinist agents at Script Stores or via post. You could have your wages in script or gold, but you’d get much more script than gold.
“And I imagine, being as your father is so entrenched and respected as a Watcher in the Sash district, the district most connected with the real arms and legs behind the smooth running of the Machine, that he’d have some direct influential ties to Machine administration. I have a feeling Head Quarters doesn’t even know about your solitary assignment.”
Greer stood. “I refuse-”
“To believe it?” finished the guild master, his wry smile still stretched across his face. “I figured as much. So I take it you need help with your refocused assignment, then?”
The Watcher sat back down, gave himself a few deep breaths, and then answered. “Yes. I came to see if there was any way your Guild had information from before the Rebellion.”
Cain’s smile left. “Before I answer this question, I will enforce upon you two conditions.”
Greer knew this was coming. He had a feeling he’d end up having to help the Alchemists with getting a start on their Adept problem. “Ok,” he replied.
“One. You are to never reveal what I am about to show you. Not to a loved one. Not to a friend. Especially not to your father or another member of the Sigil.”
“That sounds foreboding.”
“I assure you that what you will see is of no consequence to you or your daily life. I expect it to remain that way.”
Greer had already withheld important evidence once today. A Union weapons cache in the middle of Little Mille was not only frightening, it told of a coming explosion of violence that could spell disaster for the district and its citizens. And yet, upon finding his father sitting in his desk with a set of cronies, Greer had held his tongue. Why had he done that? He had betrayed his own district over what? Pride? Despicable and certainly not the actions of a proper Watcher.
“I will ensure that my tongue does not wag.”
Cain nodded. “Two. If we are able to put you in the right direction to get your issue handled, you will, at some point in the near future, get me information regarding the Alchemists listed on this parchment.”
Greer caught the folded bit of paper from Cain and opened it. There were quite a few names listed but not much else. Some had little dots next to the name.
“These are suspected Adept faction members that have been in charge of shipping and inventory across the Whistlands. I need to know where the dotted names are, if possible.”
Greer sighed, folded the parchment back up, and stuck it into a pants pocket. “I will see what I can gather from our resources at HQ.”
Cain nodded. “Thank you. This should be a very mutually beneficial relationship then. Now follow me and do not stray far. We will be accessing an area of the Guildhouse that not many know about.”
Greer raised an eyebrow and followed the now oddly excited Guildmaster.
Cain took him on a winding course through the west area of the old building, through narrow passages, and even thinner doorways until they reached what to Greer appeared to be an ancient iron-banded wooden door. The door gave off a sweet, dusty aroma. How long it had been there was a mystery, but he was sure Cain could tell him exactly how old it was. Its hinges were big and strong looking, black with age but still thick. There were no knobs or pulls, and as far as Greer could tell, there was no lock or keyhole.
The Guildmaster had grown increasingly animated as they had neared the door and was now beside himself with glee. The smile on the canine’s face was wider than Greer had yet seen, his sharp eyes twinkling in the torchlight.
With a flourish, Cain took a small wooden Chevro idol from beneath his robes and pressed it against the door. The idol flashed blue, then yellow, then white. The light pierced Cain’s eyes and he had to look away. A cold burst of stale air hit his face and he looked back. The door was gone completely, no evidence of it having existed evident anywhere around the stone archway that now stood there.
Cain looked to his guest and beamed with pride. “My own magical invention. Though we can enter and see no door here, what you just saw is still there to everyone else.”
“And if someone walks into the door accidentally?”
“Odd scenario, but they’ll bounce off just as if a door was actually here.”
“And the ancient smell of the door is magic too?”
Cain laughed. “Yup. You have to think of everything if you want to hide something.”
Greer nodded and followed Cain into the opening. Passing through the archway gave him an odd tingling sensation at the back of his neck.
“You’ll get used to it,” Cain said as he waved his arm around, throwing light in a spiral, illuminating what had been a very dark, narrow room.
When the light settled into sconces strewn without the now bright room, Greer could see piles upon piles of books, ledgers, binders, loose parchment, and even a few pieces of what appeared to be ornate furniture or pieces of exquisite stone. Rows and rows of book shelves, all full to the brim with books and leather bound parchment rolls, filled the inner space of the tall but narrow room. Some loose parchments and stacks of paper were strewn about a collection of walled tables in the center of the room.
“What is this,” he asked, moving to a shelf full of gold-leaf lettered leather bound log books. They were apparently Machine shipping ledgers from before the Rebellion, each with a year recorded in the old Imperial style. The Emperor’s crest adorned the bottom of each book’s spine.
“Our collection of Pre War knowledge.”
“You got all of this during or after the Purge?”
“That’s correct. We grabbed everything we could before Parton and his Machinists had the opportunity to burn it.”
Greer, eyes wide with wonder, walked between the tall shelves, trying to glance at every book’s binding. “Who organized all of this?”
“That’s what underlings are for,” called Cain, who was rifling through one of the walled tables. “Ah,” he said and pulled a large, wide book with a red ribbon hanging from its pages from beneath a stack of thick parchments.
“You found something? How did you find something? I haven’t even directed a search yet.”
Cain smiled and beckoned Greer over to the table he was at.
“You see,” Cain said as he began flipping through the pages of the book, “we Alchemists crave knowledge. The Emperor didn’t mind magic. He liked technology too but there’s only so much a slugthrower can do to a group of magic users until a spell can rid them of their agency.”
Greer approached and looked down at the book. There were four columns to a page: Name, Rank, Sponsor, Result. “What is this?” he asked Cain.
Ignoring the question, Cain continued. “Because of this, the Alchemists acted quickly to preserve everything they could during the purge. Many Alchemists lost their lives to Rebels thinking them sympathetic to the Emperor. We could not have cared either way.”
“What’s this book?”
Cain continued, “So we have collected and have been organizing this massive pile of Pre War documents, books, ledgers, and history for years now. We’re nearly done, actually. We just started working on the fifteen or so years leading up to the purge, or the end of Imperialism here in the Whistlands.”
“But this book?”
“Yes, the book,” Cain said, running a finger down a half-filled page. “I have reviewed this book a few times. I am very interested in the Emperor and his family’s daily lives during that period. It was a world I never knew, having grown up on a farm outside of Millewhist.”
Greer really didn’t care but let the Guildmaster work his way to answering the question. He simply offered a “Mmm.”
“And about a month ago, I started noticing something odd in this particular book. A name we are all familiar with kept popping up. For at least three years in book time it popped up.”
Greer watched as Cain’s finger came to a rest just underneath a name he certainly recognized.
“Parton,” he said aloud.
Cain nodded, not looking at the Watcher. “Correct. It turns out, Parton was a member of an elite group of soldiers that specifically served the interests of noble families.”
“What were those?” Greer had never paid much attention to the history of the Chop. His father was a transplant and he had known nothing about the Capital City, the Chop’s former self.
“They were called Manipulators and they used their skills to ensure the survival of the elite class. They used whatever means necessary.”
“This doesn’t really sound familiar to me. I would have remembered this in school right?”
Cain shook his head. “They were appointed and ranked as Cyneweards, royal guards. Their real purpose was mostly unknown amongst the populist. Only those that lived in the noble ranks knew what this group was really called. Even then, they didn’t know exactly what the Manipulators did. And most of what Manipulators did was murder in the name of the Emperor. They were employed to silence dissent, ensure no peasants or business makers rose to noble status without approval, and other nefarious things. Again, they were the elite of the elite, the enforcers of the Imperial ways.”
“They sound like bullies,” Greer frowned. If Parton had truly been a member of this group, that explained a lot. “And didn’t Parton lead the Rebellion?”
Cain nodded. “He took over leadership after a failed coup and was the main reason it was successful the second time around.”
“But what does this have to do with my needs?”
Cain tapped the page. “In these three or four pages of Parton records, there are only four names of cadets applying to become Cyneweards that he personally supported. The tally ends after the last name.”
“I still don’t-”
“The man that calls himself the Cyneweard may not be lying. And he’s considered to be linked to the murders of multiple former high-ranking Rebellion members, right?”
Greer’s eyes grew wide. “So one of these names could apply to my missing prisoner?”
“And could point you in the direction he’s heading. Something tells me that Parton is on your prisoner’s list. I highly doubt he’s gone too far from where he escaped.”
Greer took the book from the table and flipped through the three pages. He then flipped back a few more pages.
“Only one of these cadets passed the training,” he remarked.
Cain leaned in. “Show me,” he said.
Greer tapped the last name in the book, a crest next to the Result field. “The Sigil has a similar assignment stamp. Whenever a new recruit becomes a full member, this is stamped in the log book and they’re assigned to a post. Only this last cadet has this under Parton’s name.”
“Good eye,” Cain remarked, staring at the page hard, wondering how he had missed that detail.
“Cyrus Ferweard...” Greer trailed. Would there be a service record or something similar. What was he doing during the Purge?
Cain nodded and darted off to an adjacent table. He returned a few moments later with a pile of parchment in his hands.
“Ferweards were a strong noble family, a long line of Cyneweards came from them. Very loyal to the Empire over centuries.”
Cain slapped down a large ancestry record. Then he slapped down another parchment.
“Service record. One assignment. Marked as deceased during the Purge. Body not recovered.”
Greer scratched at his chin. “So either this is our guy and he’s not dead, or its someone appropriating the name. Regardless, I think Parton will be his ultimate goal, even if it’s just to reunite with him. I somehow doubt that, though.”
Cain nodded and shuffled some more papers. “Do you have what you need?”
Greer nodded. “Yeah, I’m going to have to go have a talk with Chairman Parton about Cyrus Ferweard.”
“Do you think that’s wise?” asked Cain.
“Wise or not, it’s the only next step I have,” responded Greer.