Monday, March 17, 2014

Hound Hunting - Chapter 3.



Dusk had already befallen the streets of Emberhelm, casting the fading glow of day aside and leaving only the promise of twilight. Everlight lanterns had only just begun to awaken to life to combat the dark in their own nightly duty to preserve some measure of daylight. The everlight lanterns were a creation crafted by spellsmiths long ago, they say they absorb a measure of the day’s light to gradually echo back in its absence.

The network of lanterns were already pushing the advancing shadows back and shedding illumination in shades of purples, blues and whites. It really gave the buildings of Emberhelm a different life all their own, highlighting each structures exterior in a way the sun couldn’t. Even the pavestones under my feet took on an alternate aura, the natural energies of the earth changing flow as it always did.

My pursuit had taken me further down the street than I had originally realized. I must have really been so honed in on the hunt that I didn’t notice. The walk back did however provide me at least a few extra moments to think a little clearer.

Lillian had hexed the brute’s beverage, but he had already held a duplication spell to mirror her magic into all the drinks in Howlers Hall. It wasn’t exactly something a Butcher would typically be capable of. That was more along the lines of a degree of subtle sorcery that requires more skill than strength. And it meant that he had to have expected what she was going to do.

But, what did he have to gain… The word hit me like a sharply blown horn after a long night that had only just ended with closing eyes. When the Butcher had produced what he gestured as payment, there was no sound of a coin hitting the hardwood of the table. A detail no serving lass could overlook if they wanted to remain employed. Quite the opposite, they generally kept a wary eye out for an increased incentive in the form of their patron’s purse.

Lillian’s lament was either a smokescreen for some far more elaborate plot or she had been maliciously motivating the man to turn his attentions elsewhere. Considering the now mobility challenged man’s costume coat charade I don’t think I can lean towards the likelihood of the latter. That only left the former as the far more plausible plot.

If the devious drink dealer expected me to fall at the hands of my fleeing foe she might still be present. The smart move would be to cut her losses after encountering my involvement and take advantage of the moment to escape. I really hoped that wasn’t the case, it’d cost me the opportunity to earn a little extra off this case.

Once I approached the worn walkway outside Howlers Hall, my doubts melted away in a flash. I was left with a satisfying grin as I couldn’t smell even a faint sign of Lillian leaving. In fact, as I stepped inside I was instantly rewarded with the image of her standing behind the bar, stealing any amount of sympathy she could garner. A kindly woodworker comforted her while Baylen refilled a trio of tankards.

“You’re friend is already in the hands of the watch and three veteran SpellHounds. He’ll be hurting for awhile but he’ll live – I’d wager his lips are already parting to plead for any healers available to ease his pain.” I didn’t bother with keeping my voice down or allowing any mistake at to whom I was talking. Every head in the hall fixed on me as I planted myself directly in front of Lillian.

“What are you saying,” she tried to mutter aloud, but her fa├žade was already starting to falter with returning fear. “I don’t understand,” Lillian lied through a quivering lip, adding a shudder for affect. Part of her was trying to keep up her act, but I was sure at least some of genuinely shaken up. Arguably by my unexpected second appearance I assumed.

“Save it, sister,” I shot at her and she literally jumped at the words I thrust her way. Think what you want, but well placed and timed words can be a weapon all their own. Some diplomats can be far more deadly with dialog than a dozen duelists. Seeing her stumble off her balance I charged ahead to press my advantage.

“Bear in mind exactly who you are talking to,” I cautioned with a pointed finger directed at her. “For someone so keen on keeping that guy away you didn’t seem to bother playing along with him only pretending to pay.” Without even bothering to turn my attention to Baylen I could easily mark his tensing presence beside us.

“I also noticed that he wasn’t the only one working malicious magic here, more accurately he was only setting a spell up to respond to your own. Isn’t that why you panicked at my revealed presence? And likewise why your companion tried to spell sling his way out? I guess he didn’t want to be the one to take the blame; which means your window is drastically narrowing and fast. Could already even be gone…”

I trailed off that last thought and allowed myself a long pause for it to sink in. Who says I can’t be dramatic? Besides, everyone appreciates a little presentation. A well-crafted work is a fine thing, but if it catches the eye also its value is increased. If I could leverage a little showmanship for my cases conclusion it might help my reputation. But if I botched this public display I could land myself labeled as just some guy who grills scared serving girls.

Baylen broke in before Lillian had decided just which option would be the lesser cost to her. He squared off only a pace or two away from us to address her, a mixture of compassion and disappointment warring within his voice. “Is this true child, are you involved in this affair that threatens what I have built?”

Where my accusation may have been met with dread, Baylen’s plea for understanding seemed to hurt her like a hammer to the middle. Air left her in a sudden sob and fresh tears flowed forth with it. “It was never personal, Bay,” she confessed in a rush. “But the more we ran people away, the more others were willing to pay. We were only going to keep it up long enough until we could set a place up of our own. You would have had no trouble getting back on your feet and I’d have been my own boss for a change.”

“If you have to destroy someone else’s creation to build something for yourself, then it isn’t worth it,” Baylen said plainly. “Anything so built is sullied and bears the stain.” The burdened bartender had to lower his head after he spoke, one final question escaped his lips just barely loud enough to be heard. “What could have made you think so?”

Lillian was beyond providing anymore answers; the only resolve left to her was in facing her guilt. She had confessed her crime, even explained her own reasons for having taken part in it. As far as closing a case goes, this one was just about finished except for being paid and turning her into the watch.

Still, I hated to see Baylen suffer over being betrayed by someone he had trusted. The guy had worked hard to build something he could be proud of; he even went out of his way to treat his hired help well enough. When he hired me that had been a big part of his concern was that if he went under he’d be taking paying jobs from others too. So, why the deception, what deeper motivation could have spurred her to want to visit misfortune on a decent man only to gamble with trying her own hand at the trade?

I’ve seen some greedy unscrupulous people in my time, but they didn’t normally feel remorse for the ones they were using. What did I know though; my expertise primarily lay in sniffing out a problem and chasing it down. Here I had found what had been running off Baylen’s customers and I’d run it down. I’d say I had earned my wage, even if it did still gnaw at my curiosity a little.

“Come along miss, I’ll have to deliver you to the watch as well,” I informed the still sniffling Lillian. “For the crimes of arcane assault, malicious use of magic, and conspiracy to undermine a tradesman’s enterprise you will have to be held accountable. You’ll have to face the Justicars and let them measure your fate in the matter. With any fortune, who knows, you might avoid a severe sentence. I’ll make sure they at least take your confession into consideration.”

Without waiting for her consent I went about the process of binding her hand together with a band of resilient braided cord I still carried at my belt. The feel of its textured surface was at once smooth and flowing yet gripped against its own surface as I wrapped it around her wrists. The contact with her caused it to twitch ever so faintly and then with a snap it closed itself – one end sealing seamlessly with the other.

The braided binding was a product of intertwined enchantments and natural materials found to react with spellcasters. It fed off their own ability to channel and shape latent magical forces around them and used it in an effort to make itself into a single endless entity. In short, as long as it remained in contact with her flesh it would use her own magical talents to not only keep her hands restrained but also to circumvent her ability to tap into any arcane power.

Lillian noticed the sudden sensation of being cut off from the flow of the natural force around her, her head dropping down dejectedly. “Remove me then SpellHound,” she surrendered hollowly. “Go earn your little reward like a good pet and obediently offer me up to me end.”

Snatching a hold of her bound wrists I spun her about to face me, for the second time in such a short span feeling the threat of my temper getting the better of me. And once more I had to avail myself of the wisdom of tempering my tongue. Sadly tonight was not going to be the night I would establish myself as a better man.

“Hold. Your. Tongue,” I snarled with building fury. “You’re not speaking to some blindly obedient lapdog to the throne. The fact that both you and your little Butcher buddy still draw breath should be testament to that truth. I was hired to hunt down whom or what was hurting the honorable Mister Hereward’s business. To that end I found the two of you engaged in activity directly responsible, and you yourself confessed.”

Breath, I reminded myself. It would be bad for business to make a showing of yourself as some rabid unprofessional street thug. “You made this bed for yourself; I’m just helping to tuck you in.” After saying my piece I did feel some consolation, the release allowing me to reign my anger back in. Loyalty is an admirable trait, even courage can be respected. But the ideal of being required to act without question or conscience I find loathsome and unable to stomach.

A SpellHound I may be, but no one holds a leash on me.