Chapter 8 - A Change of Pace
- Lytha: Waking from the Nightmare - Day 5: 11:00pm
I awoke. The place had changed. And I was unchained. There was a window. It was dark outside. A man sat in a chair, staring into a fireplace. I had seen this face before. Somehow, he must have been in the prison. I could not make sense out off it.
"Don't you remember?! He was one of the Guards!"
This was a new voice in the permanent shouting inside my head. It sounded childish, filled with fear. But it lied, I was sure it did. I tried to force it back. The voices faded away, but they were always ready to come back. I had heard them permanently in the last day. Or days; I did not remember.
"Where -" I tried to ask, but it ended in a moan. My lips felt still numb.
He looked up.
"Where... am I?" I croaked.
"It's not important."
"Who -- "
"Nightfall sent me to get you out."
I was highly irritated. Nightfall? I had never seen him. Never spoken to him. Never met him. Why could he have sent someone to get me out of there? "But why -- "
"Don't know, didn't ask. Apparently he needed a woman to bleed on his carpet and I was more than willing to give him the one I just picked up." He turned away. "I'm taking you to him as soon as you can walk. Maybe he can help with your injuries too." With that he left the room.
- Nightfall: Personal Log, Supplemental - Day 5: 11:00pm
"It was growing late, and my mind moved to other matters. I hoped that Els had managed to save Jyre, or at least that Jyre was safe. Properly equipped, and informed, the Forbidden Zone was really not that difficult to master. Still any number of things could happen, and I worried nonetheless. Then there was Lytha and Ghost. Had I done the right thing? Lytha, by her own word, was old, so how much of the Hammerite torture could she really withstand? There was a good chance that by the time Ghost got to her, she would already be dead. And Ghost. What about him? Just because he could tomb raid, didnít necessarily mean that he could break into a complex that fortified. As always, I feared the worst, and hoped for the best.
"It was nearing midnight. My favorite time of day. Heh. Because there was only one machine, they decided to push it all night. They had enough men to work in shifts now, so it was actually less work than before. Only so many men can work on something like that before they start just getting in each otherís way. Thurm had decided he was more useful back with the repair crew, so he went back to them, leaving me in charge. I told the task force to just carry on as planned. The good news was that now I had control over the current situation. Thatís never bad. The downside was that I couldnít really leave for home this night; Iíd have to stay and maintain my role as head of the operation. I didnít mind. After what I saw earlier, I doubt I could have slept anyway.
"A few strange things happened this evening. For one, several of the Hammerites who were taking their break reported that their hammers were missing! Of course, they expected me to hurt them or something for negligence, (they were VERY upset!) but I didnít. I just told them that they should make news ones as soon as the operation was over. We had spare hammers anyway. Why I donít know. Oh well. I truly wonder what happened to those hammers. Itís not like a soldier to just lose his weapon like that. Foul play was at work. Dark foul play. I hope James gets me that full report soon. Very soon. Hopefully it will -- "
I looked up from my logbook. "Yes, Rich?"
"Who da 'ell 'er ya talkiní to?"
I must have let my voice grow above a whisper. "This log book. I speak to it, and it records what I say."
"Ah, im, well, pass me símore oí dat pepper, will ya?"
I picked up the red pepper flask from my sack, and handed it to Richen. He promptly shook a dash of it onto his bean and meat stew. Reminding that mine was getting cold, I shoveled another scoop of the stuff onto my mouth. It was my own recipe, so I had no complaints about it whatsoever. I quickly finished my log entry.
"I hope James gets me that full report soon. Very soon. Hopefully it will contain all the information I need.
"End dayís entry."
I put my black book into my sack, and finished off my meal. Richen helped himself to some more, scooping it out of the pot that sat on its perch over the fire. "Very nice bit oí cookin, Dan. Hits the spot I might add," he said, between munches. I smiled and nodded a thank you, as I placed my bowl on a nearby rock. "So," he continued, "how much longer till these redcoats are done rippin' through da woods?"
I sighed, "Could be anywhere from two to three days at this point. Depends on whether or not they get the other bulldozer fixed."
He nodded and grunted. "Heh, with the luck this band oí metal larks Ďave been Ďaviní, Iíll nay be surprised if we get thar, and Ďell, we find eh -- nothin!"
I laughed slightly. "Well, if the place up and vanished, Iím sure the scouts at the posts would let us know in advance."
"Imm, aye. Twould be da natural thing, eh?" He munched some more. "Still, ah canít help but shake the feeliníÖ hmm."
"What feeling?" He shifted about uncomfortably.
"Weell, itís Suzy, sheís jittery-like. Yea knew, like thereís somethiní amiss in de air. Animals, they gots a sixth sense Ďbout these things."
I looked up from Richen and my campsite. Suzy was chained to a tree, next to the carriage. A bit away from us, the Hammers were already mostly asleep, using the ruts in the dirt cut by the machine wheels as beds. They were huddled, all fifty of them, (seventeen were back with the broken machine), in the center of the newly built road, as far from the walls of wood as they could get. The moon and the stars were out tonight, so things were pretty well illuminated through the rip in the canopy overhead. Still several small campfires marked the perimeter of the Hammerite campsite. Richen and I were off the road, slightly into the woods. I turned back to him. "Suzyís not the only one who senses evil in these woods." He could see the grave look in my eyes.
"Dan, whatíre we goin' after anyhow?"
"A pagan," I told him. "Like I told you before."
"Aye, well, a pagan is a pagan, Ďell, Iím a pagan! Not that I worship the woods or anythin', but Iíd sooner spit the Builder in the eye than bow down ta the bastard!" He took another bite. "But ye donít see me makiní Ďorses jittery and the wood all Ďaunted!"
"Richen, all I can say is that there is danger ahead. You told me that you laugh at danger, and I hired you to drive my vehicle."
"Oh donít worry! I ainít gettiní yellah, no! Iím Ďere witícha!"
I smiled and nodded to him. "Good man."
"Welp, Iím gonna take the advice oí them redcoats and get some shuteye. Gínite Dan."
He turned over and fell asleep. I didnít.
- Jyre: Els - Day 6: 5:00am
It was almost dawn when I finally saw my small home again. My wounds were starting to take their toll. Every step was agony as pain jolted through my whole body. I had lost a lot of blood back there, although most of the cuts now seemed to have stopped leaking. Avoiding the Hammerite patrols had made things even worse and now it was taking all my energy just to slide one foot in front of the other. My eyelids kept sliding down and my thoughts drifted towards sleep. Seeing the small hovel brought I degree of revival to my weary body and I managed to stumble up to the door. I fumbled in my pocket and took out my key. It felt like a lead weight in my hand. I lifted it to the keyhole. The door swung open before I could put it in the lock.
My heart leapt into my throat. I knew something was dreadfully wrong. Els never left our home unlocked. I stepped into the single room and found myself facing a nightmare.
The furniture had been smashed. Our things were strewn about all over the floor. The shutters had been ripped from the window and now lay in splinters underneath. Surprisingly, the oil lamp remained intact and its tiny flame gave the blood that seemed to coat everything a sickening orange tinge. I stepped over the shattered crockery that lay just inside the door and stared at the destruction. It was several minutes before I discovered Els.
I saw his feet first, sticking out from behind the bed. My heart was gripped with ice. My feelings fled, leaving me numb. I suddenly knew without having to look that this was his blood! I stepped around the bed to find him lying on the floor, stiff fingers curled around the hilt of a bloody dagger. Not all his blood then, I thought grimly. A smile twitched at my lips at that thought but it didn't last. He had been stabbed. In his chest. In his legs. There was an arrow sticking out of his left shoulder. The facts flitted through my head quickly, my mind too pained to comprehend what they meant. Then, as he lay dying, someone had slit his throat.
I stumbled backwards. My back slammed against the wall. I slid down, drew my knees up against my chest, wrapped my arms around my legs and wept.
- Ghost: A Needed Break - Day 6: 6:00am
The past few days had been almost non-stop action. I was ready to sleep the day away. Lytha barely stirred at all, which could be good or bad. I guess itís good, seeing as sheís getting some rest. After grabbing a bite to eat, I got back into bed, turned over, and fell back asleep.
- Nightfall: Personal Log, 9.11 - Day 6: 12:00pm
"Ten years ago, today, events were set in motion that would change the place I once called home, forever. The events are still so very vivid in my mind. I often wonder where I would be today had this not happened. Seeing as they did, there was really no point in dwelling on the concept. I wouldnít go back there, to the place it has become, ever. I fought too hard to escape.
"The repair crew received the supplies needed to fix the machine this morning, so said the messenger. It should be operational before noon, and back with us before dusk.
"The weather has been hot. I felt indignant stripping down to my tunic & trousers, but it was worth it. Richen went scouting for a place to let Suzy get a drink, so I went on foot for about two hours. The man is a brilliant navigator. Iím glad I hired him. As for myself, this is lasting a bit longer than I expected, so the lunches & dinners Marith packed for me shall be gone soon. No sense in letting them rot. I guess itís Hammerite rations for me for a bit. I suppose it never hurts to have more iron in your diet. Har har har.
"Everything is uneventful. It reeks of boredom. I wish I could run up ahead, scout, or go back, and do something, anything than just sit and wait while these zealots tear down trees. Alas, undertaking anything of the sort, will have that High Priest pouncing, and every battle I lose against him, the closer I bring myself to not only loosing the respect of the council, but having to eat a pair of dirty hands, and then having my tongue ripped out and fed to a thief. Not nice to think about, let alone experience.
"Walking too many pathsÖ hmmÖ. Iím walking a path right now, built by the Hammerites, to the Trickster, or rather one of his worshipers, or maybe more. Walking too many pathsÖ I wish I could remember the exact words he used. Words can be so important. Am I right? Am I wrong? I wish I could remember.
"At any rate, I need a break. No more log for today."
- Lytha: A Stranger's Home - Day 7: 7:00am
Slowly I felt consciousness return to me. The surface I laid on was strange. It was soft, not hard like my cell floor. For an instant, I could not remember where I was, and then I realized, that what happened last night had not been a dream! I was in that same strange house! I had been rescued! I opened my eyes to see a wooden ceiling, and a room, flooded with daylight from the window behind the bed. I blinked as my eyes stung from the light.
I was still wondering. Why Nightfall? Why me? I shook my head, and knew that I couldn't understand it. Maybe it had something to do with the letter that Thalia had written. If I had only an idea what she might have written him. And then this other man, who got me out off there, brought me somewhere. And I --
"You do not even know his NAME!"
Yes, indeed. This time the voices were right. I knew nothing about him.
"He could be a Hammerite and do even worse to you!"
I looked around. The room was small. In front of the fireplace was a table with some papers on it. I moaned as quietly as possible when I tried to move myself towards it. Everything hurt. I looked down at my hands, and saw the bloody scars on the back of the right hand. And the wounds that the shackles had left. I remembered that I had mistreated my hands in the last ... hours, days? Far too long, in any case. The terrible feelings of helplessness and numbness struck me, and I felt sick. But there was still the need to learn as much as possible about this strange rescuer. I tried to ignore the pain, and crawled to the table.
The papers were empty. I sighed.
But I found a pen, hidden under some paper sheets.
I took the pen and an empty paper, and started to write a letter to this ominous Nightfall. The writing was very difficult for me, because my hands were shaking from the strain to crawl to the table. But the handwriting was readable, at least.
The pen fell from my shaking hand down under the table. I tried to get it back, but in this moment I heard footsteps outside the door.
I don't know why you sent this man to get me out of Cragscleft. But I think I should thank very much you for it. But I am very curious about your motives.
"Now they will come and get you back to Cragscleft! And you know what? You deserve it!"
I grew stiff, and my eyes searched for a place to hide. I tried to crawl away from the table, heading mindlessly to the sofa. The man came in. I stared at the door. He was alone, no Hammers behind him.
"You're obviously not fit to travel, so I'll go alone while you rest," he said.
I looked up at him, trying desperately to not let my vision be twisted and distorted by my mind. He stood a little over six feet tall. He had a large gray cloak, with the hood down. He wore black boots up to his knees, and the rest of him was covered with leather armor, fashioned as clothing, and painted black. His skin was pale, and he seemed tightly packed, strong, like he had eaten well. I did not dare look at his face. I didnít want to risk seeing something hideous in his eyes.
"You're not fit to travel, so I'll go alone." he said, again.
"Only because you can't see them this does not mean that they won't come!"
"And where will he go? To them, I bet!"
"You deserve it, you Betrayer. You deserve everything!"
And they broke into a laughter -- a terrible, loud laughter.
I tried to ignore them, but I could not force the voices down, this time.
He looked at me. Then he added with a smile: "As long as you don't rob my house and sneak out."
I stared at him. He was obviously waiting for an answer. I forced myself to nod. I managed it, but only slowly.
"You slept all day, yesterday," he said. "How do you feel?"
I just looked at him. I blinked a few more times, and glanced around the room, nervously.
He nodded. Then he had a look at the table, and saw the letter. He went to the table, and asked me: "May I?" before he read its address. I tried to nod again, but I did not manage it very well this time. And my head had begun to hurt more than before. He looked at the paper, and suddenly let out a little laugh. "Well wow, so you have no idea why he sent me after you, eh? Prumph, the rich, who can figure them outÖ"
I wasnít surprised that Nightfall hadnít explained it to the middle-man. Iím not sure if it made me feel better or worse to know that he was as much in the dark as I was.
"Nightfalls! Wants you he does!"
"Just shut up! All of you!"
"Uses his dark Magiks on you he shall! Turn you into a Beastie he will!"
"And You Deserve it! You Deserve it all! BURN in Hell!"
"You in his clutches he wants! Run! Run!"
"Shall I take it to the Circle?" he asked, his words cutting through the shrieking in my head like a machete through tangle-vines.
He took my nod as a "yes" and put it into his pocket.
"I will deliver it to him. Now try to feel comfy here until I come back."
He smiled again and left the room, closing the door.
I tried to relax myself, but I heard still the laughing and shouting voices in my head. I pressed my hands against my forehead, to make them silent again. I managed it, slowly.
In the following silence, I heard him leaving the apartment. A key turned in a lock.
- Ghost: Masks - Day 7: 7:10am
I was feeling pretty damn good, actually. I pulled off what most thieves only dreamt of, and only took moderate injury. After a full dayís rest, I felt nearly good as new. Of course, a few healing potions helped as well. Yeah, I broke down and bought a couple. "What the hell," I said. They may taste awful, and make you gag for air like you just swallowed a bottle of tree sap, but they do the job well. Iíd have offered some to Lytha, but they arenít cheap, and I was sure Nightfall has more than enough to give her. Hopefully she would survive the day without it. Bastard Hammerites and their bastard ways -- Iíd kill them all if I had the chance.
Okay, so I was once again off to The Circle of Stone and Shadow. Never trust a place that had the word "circle" in its title, my father used to say. (He also used to say that the rats in the basement were plotting to take over the world.) I got there about halfway Ďtill noon, figuring the guy had to be in the office at that time. I strolled through the yard into one of the doors, which was always open, and made my way through the light crowd to Nightfallís big office. A smile crossed my face as I saw his secretary sitting at her desk, book in hands. I paused for a second, momentarily stunned by her shining golden hair and beautiful face. It was definitely the same girl as before, but this time I couldn't take my eyes off her!
She looked up.
I waved, "Hey there, is the boss in?"
She smiled and shook her head. "Off on important business. Out of town. Should be back in a few days." She went back to her book.
I wanted to scream. I wanted my money now, not tomorrow, not three days from now, NOW. That piece of crap skipped town. All I could say was a very exasperated, "WHAT?"
She looked up again. Green eyes -- wow, green eyes. A friend of mine once spent two hours describing to me just how fabulous green eyes were. I canít say he was half wrong, even though he was drunk off his ass at the time. "It was very unexpected, Iím very sorry. You are Ghost, are you not? You were doing a job for him, correct?"
Wow. It was definitely the same girl. It was odd how different she looked now. "Uh, yeah, jailbreakÖ He said he would pay meÖ " My mind shuddered for a moment. Did he say one thousand or ten thousand? It sounded like an awful lot at the time. I gave myself the benefit of the doubt. "Ten thousand gold for the rescue of one prisoner, this Lytha woman."
She looked thoughtful for a moment. "Do you have Lytha with you?"
"Um, no," Those green eyes were giving me goose-bumps. "Sheís at my home, resting. Sheís beat up."
"Hmm.. well, Iíd pay you myself, but I can only handle sums of one thousand or less." Damn, if I had said one thousand, I would have gotten the cash and been done with it. Iím pretty sure he said one thousand anyway, ten is a huge amount for a job. I couldnít go back on a lie now, I may not get paid at all. Play it cool, Ghost.
"Aha; well." Maybe I could pursue her to dish something! "How about you give me one thousand, ten times," I said with a grin.
She just laughed and looked at me like I was an idiot. No one looks at me like that, man or woman! But she had those damn green eyes. What was it with them? All I could do was try not to stare. She put her book down, crossed her arms on the desktop, leaned forward and just looked at me. That was the last straw. The green eyes I could handle, but she had a rather large collar, and when she leaned forward, wow. Okay, Ghost, youíve seen better in a bar, however there was something about her that was different. She had dignity -- exotic dignity. Hot damn. Okay, Ghost, focus.
I totally forgot why I was even there. I forced my eyes away from her. The money, right, I gotta get the money. "Okay, miss, how about if you give me one thousand now, and when Nightfall gets back, he can give me the rest!"
She laughed, and shook her head. "It doesnít work like that. Why do you need this money now so badly?"
Why? Because itís my money, what other reason do I need! I was about to say that, and I donít know what stopped me. If it had been anyone else, I would have said it. A lie, I needed something to make myself not look like a bum. "Um, my rent is due today!"
She smiled at me. Oh shit, I should not have looked at that smile. "Youíll have to lie better than that." How did she know it was a lie!
"Oh, Iíve seen enough men lie in my day to be able to tell."
"I said that out loud?!" I shouted.
She smiled and nodded, giggling.
Damn. I would have to wait then. No sense trying to persuade with a creature that turns my brain to mush just by looking at me. My mind darted around for another answer. I did not want to waste the trip across town!
"Would you like a drink?" she said suddenly, getting up. I had seen her entire body before, last time I was here. I donít understand it. Why was she only moderately attractive before, and now all I could do was keep my jaw from hanging open. She was a little over five feet tall, well endowed, slender waist, gracefully curved hips and legsÖ
I saw her hand motioning my view upwards. "Hello?" she said with a smile. "Oh dear, I know whatís wrong," she said suddenly. She unclasped the circlet from her neck, and transformed before my eyes. She now looked exactly how I remembered! She still looked great, but not mesmerizing!
"What? What did you do?"
"This," she said, motioning to the large ring of gold in her hand. "Itís an artifact one of the thieves brought a while back. I had been cataloging artifacts and discovered itís unusual enchantment."
"Itís a beauty spell?" I said, hoping she would put it back on.
She laughed, "No, not really. It seems that it identifies the quality of the wearer that is most prominent, and then alters his or her appearance to magnify it."
"Ahhh, " I said, looking over it. "So you just got lucky, eh?" I smiled at her.
She smiled, "Maybe, maybe not. Is unsurpassed beauty a curse, or a blessing? All depends on the eye of the beholder, I suppose." Oh great, she was a philosopher. "Iím sorry, I forgot I was wearing it."
"Care to put it back on?" I said with a half smirk
She just smiled teasingly. "And let you drool, good heavens no!"
Dammit! Ah well.
"Say," she paused, and then handed it to me. "Try it on, Iíll fetch a mirror."
I laughed. "Sure, why not. Iím not partial for jewelry though, and Iím afraid my neck may be too thick." I took it from her hand, and swung it open. I placed it around my neck, not expecting it to fit at all, but oddly enough it did quite well. It clasped by itself. Instinctual panic suddenly gripped me, and I quickly tried to unclasp it. I could easily enough, so I reclasped, satisfied that I could get it off. I waited anxiously while she rummaged through her desk.
"Found it." She looked up, and gasped.
"What?" I said, disturbed by her reaction. "What? Do I look like a warthog?! What?!"
She laughed. "No, look!"
I took the mirror and looked at my face. My skin was pure white, and my eyes were a pale red. "Whoa!" I shouted, and then broke into a grin. "I look like a ghost!" We both broke into laugher. "Perfect!" I admired my new features in the small mirror. I then looked up at her and grinned. "Wanna have some fun with this?"
She looked at me mischievously. "How?"
"Oh, I dono. How much trouble could an insanely beautiful young lady and a ghost get into, eh?"
She grinned. "Oh, I do adore trouble."
- Chapter 7 - Tests of Fortitude / Chapter 9 - A Little Bit of Vandalism
Correspondence of Thieves copyright, 2000, Steve Tremblay, Lytha, James Sterrett, Alexandria Thomson, and Daniel Todd.