"Reaches of the Pool"
by James Page
Such beings interfere and upset the balances of common existence.
Time has shown that such individuals cannot sustain themselves
Long enough to leave their mark on the face of such tomes and scriptures
That record and foretell all that happens- the glyphs.
I slept deeply that night, after collapsing into my bed from the previous late night job. Andrus and I had been doing our monthly rent rounds, which meant plundering the easiest and most exposed targets we could lay hands upon before rent collection time. We had decided to work alone this occasion, so I went off to the nearby tax branch, while Andrus paid a visit to a small property over in the West Quarter. I had managed to collect enough loot to pay my landlord, (who is by the way not an overly unreasonable man as landlords go) and still have a little left for myself. The job itself had been easy enough, only a few knockouts were needed, but my fingers were still aching from hours of lock-picking as I lay on my bed that night.
I woke. Or rather, I was woken. My window was open, and I could hear the sounds of raucous shouting and commotion drifting through the streets below. From what I could tell, the shouts were from quite a distance away, so I ignored them and turned over beneath my blankets. Probably just another drunken brawl outside the Green Burrick. Nothing to worry over....
I woke again. The noise was much more local now, perhaps only a street or two away. I rose from my bed angrily and strode to the window. What sort of bar room brawl had escalated so that it had reached here? I leaned over the window pane, trying to catch a word of what was being said in the shouts and cries. I strained to hear, but individual words were lost in the air before they reached my ears. I was about to retract my head and return to my blankets when my eye was caught my a man running through the streets below. I might not have seen him, were it not for his deep red and white colourings and the gaudy scarlet hood covering his head. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief when I saw what was on his back- the emblem of the Hammerites. But surely- hadn't the Hammerites all left the city now, or joined the Mechanist movement? Things were getting stranger, I decided that I had better go and find out what was causing my loss of sleep.
Having slipped on a pair of boots, breeches and cloak, I moved silently down the stairs and out on to the street below. The houses on either side were quiet and dark, giving me the perfect light to move in. I hurried quickly along the street, crossing over another and on to a third cobbled road, heading all the while towards the source of the sounds. I cut quickly through an alley, startling a sleeping cat. It spat and arched its back at me, but I had already gone by the time it yowled loudly into the quiet street. I emerged then into the next street, still looking back over my shoulder at the cat behind me. As I turned my head to face the way I was going, I was almost knocked down by a hurrying crowd of turquoise clad men, all carrying identical maces.
"Out of our way, heathen one! Do not impede the Builder's mission!"
Mechanists. So that was who was involved in the disturbance. I stepped back to let the fifteen strong group past, not wanting to anger a determined force of Mechanists in a well lit street. The street was indeed well lit, for all of the electric street lamps had been turned on for some reason. I decided to follow the group that had just passed, as they would undoubtedly lead me to what was going on.
I ran to catch up with the tail of the Mechanist patrol, which was by now moving at a quick jog. The sounds of shouting and cries were becoming louder, and were coming from all around us. We rounded a corner and ploughed through a group of people running the opposite way. After another minute or so or running through the increasingly crowded streets, we emerged into a scene of chaos and frantic activity.
Murus Square was huge and imposing, a true square shape, several hundred metres across and the same lengthways. It was devoted to Mechanist use- everywhere there were signs of the Builder's work in the form of statues, monuments and a huge, towering centrepiece featuring a giant set of cogs set in concrete in the square's centre. At the far end stood the gates to the most dominating Mechanist presence of all- Soulforge Cathedral. Normally, I would have seen a scene of orderliness and calm over the square, which would be patrolled and tended by Mechanist guards and wizards. It was not so tonight.
The square was filled with a screaming mass of people, mainly Mechanists but with a few isolated crowds of people being herded out of the square. I glanced up at the cathedral, which was cast in an eerie red light from the many torches that had been lit in the crowds. There also seemed to be a faint red hue around the building, and I noticed that the great cathedral doors were locked shut. Some distance away from Soulforge's great gates, I saw a high ranking priest screaming orders to rapidly forming lines of Mechanist acolytes, and to my surprise, a small number of Hammerites. I watched as he dispatched the groups of assembled men out into the square, and kept watching as they returned with great quantities of rubble, bricks and stone. They then began to pile the detritus up in a great barrier in front of the cathedral, blocking it off from the crowd and square. Gradually the pile grew, given substance by the Mechanists and Hammerites working side by side.
After what seemed like an hour, I found myself still watching the activity of the frantic builders in front of the cathedral gates, still wondering what they thought they were doing. The makeshift 'wall' had now grown big enough to stop people crossing over into the grounds of Soulforge, and, satisfied with their temporary achievement, the Mechanists were beginning to herd the crowds of onlookers away from the square. I decided to call it a night and leave, before I was confronted by some obnoxious Hammerite guard. I set off towards the back of the square, puzzling over the night's happenings. The square had now become quieter, most of the crowds had dispersed to head back to their beds. They left the large company of Mechanist acolytes and Hammerites in the square, where I saw them being addressed by two priests in turquoise robes. Just before I was about to turn and leave the square from the end opposite Soulforge, something caught my eye, something that caused me to turn right around and watch.
One of the great cathedral doors was being forced open, with what looked like a massive effort. Agonisingly slowly, the door scraped open, the faint groaning sound of bending metal reaching my ears. A figure emerged. It was staggering, unsteady on its feet and clutching its face in clear pain. It fell to its knees, and I noticed that a few of the acolytes has turned to watch what was happening. Just then the figure wrenched its hands from its face, tearing off what looked like a glinting face mask. It threw its arms towards the sky, and screamed a curse towards the heavens.
"Oh Builder! Why...why... hast thou forsaken me? Why? Why?"
The voice grew more distorted with each new why, and with its last effort the figure fell forward and screamed again, a high pitched note which cut off sharply as it slumped to the ground. Almost immediately afterwards, the fractionally opened door was wrenched further out, and a short, squat creature emerged, glinting in the red light. At the sight of this, the crowds of Hammerites and Mechanists cried out and at once leapt back to action, rushing off to somewhere outside the square.
By now I had had enough of everything, and so I decided to head home to salvage what I could of my night. I slipped quietly through the streets and got back to my bed at what must have been around the third hour. I crawled under my blanket and tried to drown out the sound of every bell in every Mechanist and Hammerite temple and cathedral being rung all over the city, which was coupled with yet more rushing through the streets. Eventually, I fell asleep.
I awoke late the next morning, my head feeling muzzy and clouded. Was what I had seen last night real, or a figment of my imagination? I somehow doubted it, and this was confirmed as I looked out of my window.
The streets were deathly quiet, and the air was hung with a faint yellow hue. I could also smell a scent on the breeze, which reminded me oddly of blood, and then of the inside of a Mechanist temple I once visited. I went to my wardrobe and pulled on my business suit, before heading to the window again. What I wanted to see couldn't be seen from the streets level, I had to get higher than that.
I leaned out of the window, looked up, and started to climb. I scaled the wall, before hauling myself up on to the roof of the apartment block. The roof sloped upwards to a point at the top, to I flattened myself against the roof tiles and began to leopard-crawl my way to the spire. Slowly and carefully I made my way up to the top, grasping the burrick shaped weather vane at the top. Still clutching the vane, I stood up and looked out across the city.
I could clearly make out the massive, imposing form of Soulforge Cathedral, several miles from my watch point. My eyes travelled over what little of Murus Square I could see, and from what I saw, it was deserted. The hue in the air also seemed to be stronger in that area as well, both in colour and in thickness. My eyes travelled further, to the streets surrounding the square, and it wasn't long until I found what I was looking for.
Completely blocking off one of the streets leading to Murus Square, filling the entire road and attaching itself to the second storey of the buildings on either side of it, a wall had been built. Not a pile of rubble, an actual wall, made of bricks, stone and iron. I looked to the street running parallel to it- the same. In fact, I told myself as I surveyed the scene, every single street leading to the cathedral and the square has been blocked off, sealed up and barricaded. All in one night. The Mechanists and Hammers must have been bell-ringing all night, summoning their brothers from surrounding hamlets, towns and outposts to come and help in the construction of this wall. They must have completely sealed up the area surrounding Soulforge Cathedral. Why? I asked myself. Has there been another undead invasion, similar to the one that engulfed the Old Quarter? Highly unlikely, as that part of town is one of the newest. Why, then? I couldn't understand it. I did know somebody, however, who would be able to offer an opinion. I slid carefully down from the roof to the gutter, before leaning over to catch the edge of the next rooftop and the others beyond.
I headed towards Andrus's apartment.
I progressed quickly over the city’s rooftops, heading parallel to one of the walls I could make out in the near vicinity. I was still puzzling over the reason for the wall’s construction. I felt sure that it had something to do with the red and orange hue clinging to the air around Soulforge, which was now creeping through the streets inside the new walled sector like a series of searching tendrils. It eventually came up against the wall, where its progress was halted by the barrier of brick and iron. The wall itself seemed to be of a good construction, and bore the insignia of the Mechanists at regular intervals along its length. It seemed unclimbable, least to the ordinary man. I think the Mechanists meant it to be that way. But- why had they needed to contain the ‘gas’ in the first place? It must have come from Soulforge itself, as that was where I had seen it emanating from the previous night. The matter made no sense. What could the Mechanists have been doing that allowed the release of a harmful gas on to the City, from their own cathedral?
I continued on, still thinking the situation over. I arrived several minutes later at Andrus’s apartment block, in the conventional way.
"Morning, Yorrick. If ye can call it that," Andrus said, pointing out of the window through which I had just swung. I agreed with him, asking what else he knew apart from my ideas.
"Yes, I did notice what was happening last night, and a lot of the early morning. I was able to watch the work from me own flat, as well as the rushing and working of those Hammerites and Mechanists. As soon as the crowds started to disperse from wherever they had been watching, there was a great cry and a few minutes later every blasted bell in the City was ringing and tolling. For half the night they kept at it, and only stopped when the ringers themselves were needed to work on the wall. Oh yes- that wall. It seems to have sprung up overnight- I hate to think where they got all their materials from. I suppose half or more of it is formed from buildings and houses that got merged into the wall as it was built- all they really did was fill up the streets with brick and iron blocks. They worked the whole night and morning through- Hammerites and Mechanists together as one for the first time ever - and probably the last"
"The last? What do you mean?" I interjected.
"Well- it’s hard to understand those Mechanists and Hammers, but as soon as they had completed most of the wall, arguments started to break out. Most likely as to who got to put their badge on the wall’s surfaces, knowing the people that they are. Anyway, there followed a lot of fighting, and dying. I had a terrible time trying to sleep. Then the Watch got involved, with Mosely sending in her men to stop the killing, but they just succeeded in making it worse. A few of the City’s people also started to join in when their property got damaged, so eventually the Watch declared martial law and shouted through the streets that anybody found armed after dawn would be executed immediately. Pretty harsh words, I thought, as did the drunk from down the road. He threw a saucepan at the Watch’s crier from his top window, so they dragged him down and pulled him off to Shoalsgate, which, by the way, is heaving."
With this, Andrus pulled down a sack of food from a shelf, removing a piece of cheese and offering me an apple for breakfast. I was about to decline, but my stomach gave a loud rumble and so I accepted. As I ate, I looked out of Andrus’s window again, over the silent cityscape, sheathed in a yellowing mist.
"So- there’s nobody about is there? Either too afraid to venture outside till the curfew is lifted, or packed into Shoalsgate?"
"Yep. Either that or they’re dead, or perhaps on the other side."
"Other side? Surely you don’t mean on the other side of the new wall?" I replied, horrified.
"I do mean exactly that. There were some who remained trapped on the other side, mostly Mechanists from the cathedral or people whose houses weren’t evacuated quickly enough. They had to be fought off by the Hammers and others. It wasn’t a pretty sight."
The thought left me aghast. I didn’t know what that gas would do to a person, but the figure who staggered out of Soulforge cathedral last night gave me a good idea. My mind once again pondered over recent events, before moving on to a new topic. One that I hadn’t thought over properly for several months.
"Andrus. I’ve been wondering."
"About them. A few months ago, we promised that someday we’d do something about them, go after them and avenge ourselves for the crimes that we have each suffered from them."
Andrus knew what I was talking about. It was only two or three months ago that we had managed to temporarily dent the armour of a silent threat to the City and Dayport. I was talking about the Pool of Darkness, a dangerous thieves’ guild which had gained control over a large provincial town not far from the here, and had ambitions for the City as well. They had already made their mark, by stamping out one of the many thieves’ guilds that operated in Dayport and the other quarters. That guild was mine, and its leader and my friend, Basso, had only just survived to escape where the Pool couldn’t touch him. At least not for a while. Those two months ago, when we had temporarily halted the guild’s moves on the City, we had sworn to return to take on the bigger threat- the guild’s leader and practically the ruler of this nearby town- the baron Dieter Bastell. I knew nothing of the man, for it was Andrus who had had closer experience of him. He had been driven from his home town, and had come to the City, where he had begun tracking the exploits of the Pool inside Dayport, before meeting me and beginning a small thieves’ partnership. That was all some time ago, but now the time had come again to think about what we were to do.
After a long while, Andrus replied.
"Yorrick, I’ve been thinking too. What we have chosen to destroy is a hard target indeed. It would almost certainly mean travelling to Alua City to then set ourselves up in order to tackle the Pool. We would have to find out how the Pool is run, where its headquarters is. That won’t exactly be the kind of information we can pick up in the local tavern. Yorrick- I also think that we need help in this. It’s no good doing it on our own, the way I see it. We will need help in the matter, and I can’t see where we would get it. Certainly not from the guilds in Alua City, they’re all under the control of the Pool. Nor from any guilds here, as the chances of making them believe us, yet alone provide help, is remote t say the least. No, we won’t be getting any aid from them. But the thing is, I can’t see who else would be willing to go with us on a mission that’s already laden with difficulties."
I was slightly stunned by Andrus’s speech. What did this was mainly the realisation that I knew that he was right. I had just imagined that we would pull some magical solution out of the air when we finally sat down to think about it, it had not even occurred to me that we would be faced with so many troubles so early on in our efforts.
"You are right. Yes, it’ll be difficult. But- I can’t see any other way. I’ll sit and ponder it for a while, maybe I’ll write to you in a few days to tell you any ideas that I have. I have to leave now- appointment with the landlord. Oh- and just before I go- here’s your share of the rent money-"
I passed Andrus a small sack with a few gold coins in it.
"Thanks. I’ll think on it too, we’ll be able to come up with something sooner or later. See you later, Yorrick."
But I was already gone.
A week passed, and I had thought of nothing, no way to enlist the help of some magical force that could knock down the towering obelisk that was the Pool of Darkness. Our plight seemed more than a little hopeless, and I was beginning to wonder in moments of weakness whether it had been a little rash of us to swear the destruction of something far larger and more powerful than two small-time freelance thieves. Then I reminded myself of our early triumph over the Pool’s efforts to destroy us, and this seemed to strengthen my resolve to think of something.
I took an extra job that week to try and stimulate the mind a little, overhearing the details of a possible heist opportunity over in the usual rich quarter. Apparently, a local earl had recently acquired a piece of fine sculpture from a prominent young artist originating from a small mining town somewhere near the City, and had plans to put the piece on show in his home. It seemed that the sculpture was not under too heavy a guard to be quietly stolen, and was still in a case in the earl’s basement. I was amazed at the level of detail I was overhearing in a simple tavern, and concluded that there must have been a slightly drunk and zealous fence in the Green Burrick that evening. I made a note of his appearance, so as to be able to follow him back to his dwelling and have my name first in line to go after the sculpture.
As he left, I discreetly paid and slipped out of the bar, following the man home. Within the next hour, I had met him, he had asked me my name and residence, and I had set myself up for the job. His name was Dominik, and I decided that he seemed trustworthy enough to pay me well for stealing the piece. The date was then set- I was to break into the earl’s fairly large house the following night, locate the sculpture (which was likely to be held in the cellar or attic) and then leave, collecting anything I wanted on my way out. It seemed like a good way to make some quick money, while giving my mind the opportunity to work. I found out some time ago that my thinking is at its sharpest when I am at work.
The following evening, I scribbled a note to Andrus about where I had gone, and left it on my wooden table so if he called in, he would know where I had gone. I collected my usual gear- thief’s ‘suit’, cloak, boots, gloves, crossbow, lockpicks, blackjack, short sword, a few flashbombs for emergencies and difficult guards, some water crystals and a few moss pods to attach to the end of my bolts and arrows. I left the house quietly via the roof, and started over to my destination. The earl’s house I was aiming for was on the very edge of the rich quarter, a distance usually not too great from my apartment. However, I now had to skirt around the new walled sector, which added another ten minutes or so to the time taken to get there. However, I arrived shortly after without too much difficulty, and was presented with a garden-less building that was both smallish and squat, which seemed strange for the house of an earl.
The roof was flat, much like Fensview Watchouse had been, with not one turret or crenulated wall- a feature I noticed most aristocrats couldn’t resist. Perhaps I was going to finally rob someone with some sense. I realised a second later that this probably didn’t bode too well for me, as stupid lords would be much easier to steal from than clever earls.
After a half hour or so of investigating, I found an entrance to the house- through a coal chute leading down to the cellar. This was a good start, as that was where the object of my mission would likely be kept. I cast a quick glance over my shoulder, before covering my face with my cloak and entering the chute.
The ride was short and uncomfortable, and I arrived in what looked like the earl’s coal cellar. I wiped my soiled face, pulled my cloak tighter around my body, and began. Initially, all the cellar consisted of was a network of alternating rectangular and square shaped rooms, all containing the same fairly useless junk- crates, boxes, bottles and barrels. The cellar was unguarded, which struck me as odd. Perhaps this earl wasn’t as clever as I had first imagined him to be. I progressed easily through the cellar’s rooms, but each search of the dimly lit chambers proved fruitless. I was about to give up and consider the possibility of a venture up to the attic, when I entered a newer looking room. The floor was differently tiled, which meant that it must have been added after the original cellar was built. The contents were also markedly different to those of the previous rooms I had searched- in this room, there were boxes, but they were made of metal; shiny, silvery, metal. I picked one up and looked inside- it contained nothing, but the inside of the box more a Mechanist symbol- a single, golden cog. The other boxes were of a similar fashion, but some contained things. One had inside it a few smaller cogs, which were more likely ornamental rather than for use in a machine. Another contained a small bag of coins, to which I helped myself. Not much, but it could pay a few expenses. By now, there were only a few boxes left to investigate, so I opened the largest of the pile that was left. My heart leapt as I opened the lid fully- it was a miniature statue. I pulled the figure out of the box and examined it closely. This had to be it. It was made of a shining, silver metal and depicted a Mechanist acolyte, his mace raised to the sky being held by both of his hands. The sculptor’s signature was also visible, but I couldn’t make out the name. I made the conclusion that this was my sculpture ( it really was mine now) and I turned to leave.
I couldn’t get out the way I had come, so I followed a corridor in the shadows until I reached a staircase. I counted myself lucky to have met no guards so far this night, and as I had expected, I soon heard the whistling and distinctive humming of a guard on patrol. He seemed to be at the top of the stairs, walking on a wooden surface. I crept silently up to the top of the staircase to survey the scene. I was amazed at my apparent luck. I was standing in the doorway to a kitchen, dimly lit, with only one guard on patrol. Furthermore, the kitchen’s back door was open, showing glimpses of a starry sky outside. With my heart racing, I judged the guard’s patrol route from what I had heard so far. He would shortly pass this way, which was when I could use the opportunity to knock him out and make an escape. Tucking the sculpture back into my cloak, I settled back to wait.
A minute later, the guard’s humming grew louder, and soon enough he appeared through the doorway off to my left. He strode slowly into the kitchen, sword trailing beside his shin, before turning and starting out of the kitchen again. I seized my moment, and fired a quick water crystal at the torch above his doorway. The light spluttered and went out.
"Wha…? Damn torches! Somebody should…"
He didn’t finish as I rose up behind him and delivered a quick blow to the back of his head. As he slumped, I caught him under his arms and dragged him back to my own shadowy doorway.
"Sleep tight…" I whispered, before slinking across the kitchen and out into the nearby streets again, the sculpture under my arm.
It was too late tonight to bring the sculpture to Dominik, so I decided to hold it at my own apartment for the night. I slipped quietly through the shadows of the streets, and arrived home not long after. I used the door to return this time, not wanting to drop and break my prize after I had so luckily got it. I opened my flat and went in, exhausted from doing what seemed very little. I put the little Mechanist on my table, so that his form was outlined against the moonlight coming through my window. I collapsed into bed after a quick meal, and let my eyes slowly close over the figure holding his mace to the sky.
Later that night, I sat bolt upright in bed. I had just realised who could help us.
At this point in time, and before I forget- I’d just like to thank the Gingerbreadman, author of the excellent fan mission Benny’s Dead, for his kind permission to allow me to use his idea about the building of a wall and the fighting that happened after the destruction of Soulforge. Also- I’d like to hear any comments you may have so far about this story, or any others I’ve written. If you have something to say, please email me at MICHAEL@page24.fsnet.co.uk with comments, criticism, whatever. Keep watching for more updates!
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