Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 16.

Midday had given way to afternoon as my booted feet hit the stone covered streets again. The rain had passed away, but hanging around I its wake was a gloomy sky of grey that impressed upon Emberhelm a reminder of recent weather. In the diffused light of day the plain piece of amber looked dull, lacking that luster that sunlight could cast it in. It added another element to the curious creation that made me wonder all the more just where it came from and what part it played. Or did it play any part at all?

No. I couldn’t allow myself any doubts now. This had to be my ticket to a trail, there was too much ambiguity amuck for an overly untouched article of amber. When there is an absolute lack of any tracks to follow, sometimes their very absence can be a clue all its own. That was the inherent hubris some people made when being hunted; they covered their tracks too well – they left things too clean. Even the softest steps can leave some sign or their passing. But when there isn’t any mark made by anything that is when even the most primal predator will ponder the puzzle.

I just needed Glitch to be able to provide me with anything he could about Lillian’s trinket. My feet fell into a steady pace while I tried to gauge where I should direct myself that would allow me the best odds of finding the genial gremlin. It wasn’t like he ever traveled far outside Gutterside much, so that narrowed things down considerably. Then I also remembered that I had ‘hired’ him to play watchdog on my wagon for me. If he was a creature of his word, and I had always known Glitch to be precisely that, he’d be stationed somewhere so that he could keep my home easily surveyed.

Garuff wasn’t above returning to remind me of where I stood in relation to him, predictably by means of entering my home to do as he pleased. He already had done more than enough to punctuate that point, and despite the fact that I had paid him I couldn’t rule out additional animosity. It was just in his nature to harass people I believe, as natural to him as breathing perhaps.

Having anyone I could trust at least keeping an eye on my place did make me feel a little better about everything though. Not that I didn’t have faith in Glitch being able to protect himself, but Garuff’s goons were far larger and could outnumber the little guy. I might have paid him to monitor my place but I hadn’t exactly invested enough in him to risk any injuries. Although, knowing Glitch he probably was clever enough to keep any combat quite calculated in his favor.

As an attempt to try and redirect my thoughts I set about reviewing a few things that I had been able to piece together so far. For starters; there was some individual or group going around sniffing out secret guards sworn to keep dangerous items hidden. How they were finding them was still a mystery since not even I had been given anything to go on about how to locate them or recognize one should I find myself starring one in the face. A minor detail I suppose.

To further complicate the case, the very things they were protecting were supposedly sealed away or hidden in some manner to remove the risk of them being discovered. And on the rare chance that one of them had been sniffed out then that would mean a SpellHound truly was involved. With me being the only one I could think of not being bound by my oath that was a scary thought. It also meant that if this thing went any worse on me then I was going to be sitting around with a big primary suspect sign around my neck. Say goodbye to my happy thoughts.

That left me with another thing to consider; Lillian. She was at least in some capacity a cause for me getting tangled up into this whole mess. Her and that Butcher hadn’t concocted their little scheme all on their own. If they had her mind wouldn’t have been ended up holier than a moth riddled rag. No, something or someone had used them as part of something – perhaps this greater game that was currently being played. I just had to connect all the pieces together.

Both Lillian and the Butcher had already some spellcasting skill. His were of the expectedly brutish variety while hers where not quite refined by any means but at least seemed to be something she had become comfortable with to some lesser degree. Most folks born into a world where they could wield any magic at all either shut themselves off from it or they embraced it. And of those who chose to cling to it they could seek the chance to study it or try and find their own way; the latter didn’t tend to produce respectable results. Lillian had been one of the rare few who had not found her way starring down a SpellHound in the streets – until now.

So now I had a brain blasted young spell-maiden sucked into some sinister scheme and no idea how she became involved. I had no clue how many more of these un-marked guardians might have died while I tried to make sense of anything, much less if more of these mysterious magical treasures have been stolen. Sadly, I couldn’t even convincingly say that I still had a home left to go back to I admitted. I mean, I hoped everything was still there, but against some of the grim circumstances starting to form, I had to consider my luck might only get worse before it kept improving.

Once more I felt the road beneath my feet give way to gravel and finally the packed stone dust of Gutterside. It was the kind of unspoken sensation that sent a tingle through your body as some small part of you whispered the confirmation: you’re home. No matter how far you go, or whatever becomes of you it is simply a natural byproduct of establishing some degree of roots for yourself. Even if your home is a beat up old caravan wagon permanently parked in perhaps the least prominent precinct.

It took me an extra few moments to single out Glitch’s familiar scent among the others of Gutterside. I had already started to accept that the arcane distortions that were present everywhere weren’t going anywhere. If I was going on the offensive to engage in some pernicious plot, then I’d want to both cover my tracks and slow down any attempts at intervention as well. The conjured clutter was certainly succeeding in all those areas.

The faint footsteps of the gremlin didn’t lead me back to his small shack. This wasn’t a complete surprise, since I had already expected that he might have taken up a position more suitable for keeping an eye on my place. What I hadn’t counted on was where I did find him; his trail had ended going inside my home. And there was no sign of him having exited.

“The gall of that gremlin,” I mumbled to myself immediately. “You pay a guy to keep an eye on a place so that nobody else goes inside to cause you any more problems and what does he do? He decides to park himself precisely where you wanted to keep people out of.” I had to remind myself to hold my tongue as I approached the door. It wasn’t exactly advisable or polite to ridicule someone who was doing you a favor. Besides, if he hadn’t expected me to walk in on him enjoying my humble abode then I could at least savor a look of surprise.

My senses swept over my surroundings as I reached out to grasp the door and found no cause for alarm at first. But the split second my hand hovered within a hair of the knob instinct immediately objected to opening anything. What had he done to my wagon? My head was impressively clearer than it had been this morning but for whatever reason, be it from my day, the previous night or whatever you care to blame it on I couldn’t predict what might happen if I blindly turned that knob.

“Glitch,” I greeted the gremlin with an over-emphasized neutral voice. “This is Nathanial Vaen; would you mind telling me why you’re in my hone and what you’ve done to it.” As an after thought I decided to add; “please.”

Whatever had set off my warning reflex hadn’t manifested enough for me to fully make out but there was just enough that I could register a ghostly shimmer flicker and then fade away. Discretion is the better part of valor, or so I’m told. And considering how I had already almost walked right into an ambush and another attack that could have ended different had not those involved fled I decided to err on the side of caution. I took a few deliberate steps back down from my door and waited.

Glitch didn’t say anything at first, which gave me enough time to really wonder what he was doing inside My Home. Eventually though I did hear a few strange sounds, almost too soft to make out and then his voice followed them. “You pay me for protect,” he offered as an explanation. “Best job I can do from being inside.”

The door swung open and I suddenly found myself looking up at the short figure of Glitch, a somewhat perplexed look on his face. It was kind of expression that you were tempted to chuckle at; a raised eyebrow above the hint of a smirk. The whole combination reminded me of a mix between a confused child and a master craftsman being questioned about the quality of his trade. I repressed a laugh all the same and bought me a moment for composure with a cough.

“Ahem,” I redirected, or tried to anyway. “That explains why you’re in my home, Glitch, but not why I got second thoughts when I was about to enter. Didn’t I ask you to just look after it for me? All you had to do was let me know if Garuff did anything else to hassle me. You didn’t need to camp out inside… Or whatever else you did.”

The odd expression didn’t fall Glitch’s face as he studied me while I spoke. “You paid me,” he said still unsure of the source of my reaction. “Good pay too, so I do good work. Master Spell-Sniffer was worried about his things, so Glitch makes them safe. Now they have protection from people when Spell-Sniffer sleeping or busy.”

I had to say, my offense at returning to find my home had been entered without consent twice in one day was rapidly retreating in favor of a growing fondness for what he was implying. And I had hired him to provide me with some sense of security. He certainly had held up his end by my estimate. Actually, I would almost say that Glitch had gone above what I had expected to do his reputation proud.

“Well, I am indeed grateful and impressed,” I revealed. His charcoal colored face shifted into a smile of self-satisfaction at my words immediately. “You do great work and I have to say that you’re even more reliable than most non-gremlins I know.” The additional praise seemed to improve his inflating appreciation for his handiwork. He had earned his pay already, I concluded. I wasn’t above paying him further for any additional aid he could offer, but if he was in a good mood perhaps he might be more agreeable if he found anything that might hint at how dangerous things might be. That and the happier he was the less likely he might be to ask for increased reward. I might not see so much silver again anytime soon, I’d prefer to make it last just in case.

“Glitch, my friend,” I began, deciding to try my luck. “I may have another job that only someone with your extraordinary talents might have any hope of tackling. If you aren’t too busy could I count on you to help me out? There really isn’t anyone else I expect who I could take this to besides you capable of figuring this thing out.”

Appealing to his pride he had in his work along with a meager measure of enticing his curiosity looked like it was doing the trick as Glitch considered my offer. But then my luck returned and I was handed a curveball I hadn’t ever expected. All the while I was outside talking to a gremlin still standing inside my home.

“You pay me very good,” he pointed out very business-like. “I do good work for you and make you happy. If you pay me better then I do better job for you and make you even happier.”

There was a disguised quiver in his tone that troubled me. Granted, I also was worried how much more money he might be expecting but I couldn’t ignore the fact that there might be something deeper motivating Glitch’s proposal. I was certain of it when my hesitation prompted him to lower his head and his shoulders slumped slightly along with it.

“What troubles you,” I asked as delicately as I could. “You’ve done me a favor and helped ease my burden, what can I do in return?” When he looked back up to address me I could see the pain present in his eyes.

“I need money to rescue my family,” he said. And it was all he had to. Nobody as good as Glitch deserved to suffer, not even a gremlin. “You’ll get it, you have my word,” I swore an oath to him. For once I didn’t even really feel all too guilty about it either.