Dark Moon Rising
It’s been weeks since we put this whole job to rest. I never expected our first high-pay job to be like this. But maybe I shoulda expected it. Where’d I get so soft-headed? How exactly did I think it was going to end? She’d left me with the dagger in hand…left me holding her as her life slipped away.
I’ve spent the past several weeks gliding past the old haunts. I’ve made a few runs to the church on Hospice. Just some care packages- the usual weekly supplies we get from out of town. One was even addressed to Laura. I guess she was supposed to divvy it out to the residents. So I don’t really know how I got involved but I ended up giving some of it out with the other acolytes. What a creepy mess! A gobber handing out treats! Just handin’ them out. Luckily the head priest there has his hands full. He was just happy to get the help. With Laura gone they lost one of their few major contributors, as well as one of their prettiest hands. I’m sure just the sight of her face was enough to bring in a few donations on their fundraisers. When I finished, though, the old priest waxed nostalgic- referring to Laura as if I might want to commiserate. And that was too much. I took my leave- but it bothered me all night.
I’ve also been pagin’ through her book she lent me. I guess I think of it as her parting gift. I keep it safe up here in The Rigs, where I can page through it at my own pace. Some of the words that used to be too big are makin’ sense. I make stories out now, but all the details are missing. I never knew words on a page could be so interesting. I feel, sometimes, when I’m up here reading quietly, like I might be meditating…connecting to a god or something. Or maybe Laura’s looking down on me at those moments, telling me she’s sorry, telling me I did alright. And sometimes, just on those really quiet nights, I answer back. Is that what a hero does? Does he avenge his love? Does he keep living? And how does he live?
Decided to pull back from the Troubleshooters for a few weeks. They seem to have gotten themselves into an interesting deal. A deal I think I’d rather sit out from. On the first night Opifera came in with some rumor of a job on Governa’s. Sounded good, until they came back the next night. I guess their contact double-booked, died, and left them hanging with the loot. I figure it’ll be good for the lot. They’ve even bagged themselves some sort of merc with a polearm. Goes by the name of Toad. A likeable fellow, despite his face. Has some sort of skin-disease, but it doesn’t look any worse than half the prostitutes on Hospice. But who am I to say, right? I had a short conversation with him and with Opifera about rather the same things. Between the two of them I got a clear idea of the job they’re on. Apparently they’re tracking down a murderer now, although they’ve also mixed themselves up in Ole Klivson’s mess. Didn’t say anything at the time, but it sounds like there are more players than I have fingers, and they’re caught in the middle. Good thing my name won’t be attached to that…not too clearly at least. Grig got himself off that boat too, but I can’t figure out where exactly he went off too. I might have to take him off the books if he doesn’t show up soon. Now that I keep books. Opifera, for an aspiring captain, doesn’t really have the mind of a sea dog captain. Maybe one day I’ll be a mate on that crazy dame’s ship.
I dug some up on the Mad Hatter, and it looks like he’s wearing some sort of religious mask. It gives me the creeps. Dockworkers went missing soon after the mask arrived by boat. Bartleby went missing with the mask, and then he turns up at the Mask Emporium. I have a sneaking suspicion that Madame Klivson knows what all is up with that mask. It’s no coincidence that her husband’s necklace started this whole affair. I know when to keep my nose out of people’s business though, so I’m not sticking it up her dress. No need to alert her, if she’s not buzzin’ yet.
I’ve been working double time ever since the Troubleshooters came back with the broken mask and Apu without a hand. I’m especially glad I didn’t go with them. I hear there were ogrun sized spiders in there. I almost lost my lunch just listening. No thanks. I’ll pass on exploring caves with you muckers.
Ano gripped the zipline tightly as the wind whipped through his clothing. The men behind him were nearly as quick to use the rigs. Their one saving grace (Ano’s and Toad’s) was that Ano already had the gear on them. These amateurs had to dig around the buckets for the right gear and get it strapped on. But once they found what they were looking for, they knew exactly what to do. They were just as fast on the ropes, and Ano was constantly having to stop and point out places to Toad. These things were built for someone who had a polearm strapped to his back. The crew behind them were slowly gaining on them.
There must be six of them, and they were mad. He couldn’t blame them. The Bowels had a nastier secret than he imagined. Feeding people…orphans and enemies …to ghouls was something even Wake Isle locales wouldn’t abide by. They’d be hunted with pitchforks if Ano had something to say about it. He hoped. Something also told him that too many people already had a suspicion terrible things fed off the Wake Isle public. And the same went for Hospice.
Ano gave Toad a hand onto the next platform, heaving all the while. He saw Waernuk’s men nearly jump themselves up the platforms beneath them. Sometimes, it seemed like no one was willing to stick their neck out in this town, in even the slightest of ways, for even the coldest of crimes. Except for a few, like this angry faced mercenary. He’d need someone like this on the Bellrow team. Someone who’d stick around for the worst of fights.
Ano threw him a zip-line attachment and then flung himself on the line. Toad followed moments later. They had to get out of this. If they could just get back without being found they might just throw a wrench in Waernuk’s plans. One of his plans. On one night. With Kilbride doing other things to unsettle Waernuk, it might just work. He thought hard about this as he pulled his legs up for extra speed, flying through the air, over the hovels, over a home with a woman wailing, and another with a man who cursed his sons, and all the little holes where people lived on Hospice, stuffed there like rats.
And then he felt a certain weightlessness. He thought he might be feeling feint. Drifting there in the night sky for a moment, separated from it all, set loose from the danger and the pressure. It felt like that first moment he’d gone on the rigs with his father. The one place where gobbers were faster than men, where gobbers could rise above humans. But this moment was only an illusion. He was brought out of the dream by Toad’s scream. He looked down to see that he was just beginning to fall, and he saw Toad tumbling into the darkness. The line had been cut…
And so he fell deep into the darkness, where splintering wooden edges awaited to crack his skull and ropes threatened to hang him quickly, snapping his neck apart. He snagged a line on his shoulder and rolled with it, trying to catch it with a hook. He tumbled on and ripped through a net, tumbling further until finally he hit something like rungs, but it bent and swayed. Another net. And passed out.
Soon he felt his body being pulled from the net onto a platform and rushed inside a cramped wooden structure. Several yellow eyes peered at him in the darkness, low to the ground like his own. Slowly, he saw their faces more clearly- the smudged and weathered faces of his kin.
“Stay still. No one saw us pull you in. They followed the other one, and beat him senseless.” They furrowed their brows at him. Ano realized there were four of them, two of them almost children, but adults were young in this bitter city, where the young had to grow old quickly or die. One handed him a wet towelette, a little smudged with grease. He took it and gently wiped his face, and took the cup of water they offered him a moment later. One tentatively noted, “I think I’ve heard of you.” The others gave him a sharp look. Ano looked up, surprised. “Yeh, you’re the gobber who’s never been caught. That one who works as a mercenary. A real mercenary. Heard you handle all their business, along with that satyr.” Ano looked stunned, so the little one continued, gaining more surety, “Ano ranh-oran-rel. I told them. I knew it was you. My cousin knew you. His name was Grigg. You gave him a job once.” The others shushed him, but he beamed proudly and declared, “We weren’t going to let them catch you.”
Ano slowly cracked a smile. And it grew wider. And wider. Until the surrounding gobbers were confused and grew silent. And tears grew in Ano’s eyes. Tears of hope. Here were four people willing to pull one of their own to safety, and risk the world coming crashing down on them. Sure, maybe tomorrow they would simply close their eyes and pretend they were small in the heart, and not just small of body. But tonight. Tonight, they had pulled him from the abyss. They were embarrassed and confused at his tears, and then his laughter.
“Shhh, you can’t say such things. Let this be our little secret. I am only you. I am only a gobber. …but thank you.” He pressed a royal in the speaker’s palm, and the young gobber’s jaw dropped. “You. Must. Keep this a secret. Now is not the time for people to know my name. Maybe the day will never come. The royal is for your courage.” He pulled himself up with a hobble. As he crawled out of the shelter, the young gobber asked one more question, “But why? Do you not want the fame?”
Ano looked back, deadly serious. “Fame would kill me. I need so much more.” He left them, wondering, but what, what could he want from us?
He hums gently to himself, an old tune his mother used to sing him. It stuck in his throat, and kept low to his chest. It was a gentle tune, and one which many little children in Five Fingers heard before they went to sleep. His wrinkled features looked strange on such a small body, at least to a human. But the years had not been kind to him, nor were they ever for gobbers. He certainly never fooled himself into feeling sorry for himself. No, instead, he looked over the hovels of his childhood neighborhood and wondered how many good souls were working themselves to death. Who had no energy to devote their little son who might have found a shiny trinket? Which mothers might not have money for food or even a table? Which children were homeless? And who was lost, so very lost.
A giggling broke him from his reverie. “Thanks mister. This’ll buy us lots of sugar treats!” He looked wryly at them. He gently admonished them, “Hey! Gave them galleons to spend on produce at the market tomorrow. Don’t let me hear you’ve misspent it. Remember, I have the eyes and ears of the city.” Their eyes widened and they nodded, then ran off grateful for the gift and whispering of a strange gobber who gives money to the sick. Others have begun to claim to have seen a gobber who pickpockets the wealthy who walk the streets at night and give the earnings to widows who grieve their children who’ve died in gangfights. But others poopoo this, and say this gobber is nothing but a common thief. Maybe a mercenary. That’s what all gobbers are, in one way or another, aren’t they.
Ano swung along the lines of the rigs and kept his eyes on the docks in the distance. Small fires burned on many of the boats. The smell of smoke lingered in the air. He squinted at the rows of schooners and galleons. Looked like privateering ships suffered the brunt of the attack, but one of them he knew. Kilbride’s men ran the ship, more or less. Most wouldn’t know, but he knew a few of these ships answered to merchant houses or government posts with Kilbride’s men. And there was another with Hurley’s crew, rather than Waernuk’s like he expected. As he got closer to the docks and the ships became more clear he realized that in fact Waernuk’s ships were mainly untouched. They sat peacefully in the docks, rocking to the anxious tides. All around, other ships, mostly Kilbride’s, were smoldering in small places. One or two were even sinking despite the fierce work of dockmen who tried to seal up damage to the hulls.
Ano’s eyes turned hard. Looks like our work went down the drain. Waernuk caught wind. He was planning on this all the time. He wanted Kilbride to show his hand, to bring his privateers in so he could take his men out of the picture. Wasn’t going to be anything that made the governor come down with Ordic troops to make the peace. Just a few unaffiliated ships that moored themselves to the docks for Tidesebb, but this would certainly put Waernuk in a strong place for later conflict…All of that work, and still the crafty devil came out on top. Looks like he’s not as dull-headed as some of the locals make him out to be. He’s been around long enough to see a trap when it comes rolling in on privateering flags.
One thing you didn’t catch, Waernuk. Those corpses you intended on trading have all gone to pot. You’ll have to profit off the dead on another day. And now I’ve got confirmation that you do indeed have undead working for you. You’re as black as I first suspected, and even Five Fingers won’t let you slide by freely once I’m through with you. And I won’t be alone…
Evening at the Gov’na’s : Hosted by Lady Kellise Doyle
The door men continue to watch him as he walks into the governor’s house for the first time. He’s surrounded by men and women dressed in different colored fabrics embroidered and even gilt like they were sconces or chandeliers moving of their own accord. Their alabaster faces contributed to the impression that the house had come alive. He was surprised at how cold he felt, and pulled at his suit sleeves to cover his green hands. Winding his way to the left and the right of women with umbrella waists, he walked into an inner hall which led to other chambers equally filled. Here socialites laughed and chattered and clinked their crystal glasses. The gems winked at Ano playfully, but when he turned his back they squinted maliciously. He could feel them glancing at his back in reproach.
Not that he expected anything different. He came here at the invitation of Livy Dushain. He’d come there out of some misplaced curiosity, or maybe it was a desire to see Laura. Soles. He was shocked again to see just how much she resembles Laura. The two had a pleasant conversation and Ano left a good chunk of his new fortune in her care. When she saw just how much he had earned she said it might be time that the Troubleshooters got to know more people in town. “The Lady Governor has an aweful lot of parties and it wouldn’t be a bad place to start seeing who has all the money in town.” He’d been shy at first. Afterall, who ever heard of a gobber attended high society parties. But Livy was persuasive, almost flattering, and a bit of the old feeling came back to Ano, like he used to have when he talked to Laura. Livy didn’t have Laura’s honest compassion, but her idea wasn’t bad. At least at first it didn’t seem like it was so bad.
But now, he wandered aimlessly really unsure of who to talk to and how. And those delicious appetizers were too high for him to even snag, stuck on those platter held high by the constantly moving waiters. No one seemed to pay him any mind. They bumped him with their butts then coarsely muttered a curse before turning back to their conversations.
Sometime later he was talking to the wife of one of the owners of the Emerald District gambling halls. He’d never remember the name, even though he usually made a point of remembering these things. He’d met far too many people tonight, and all of them probably never cared to see him again- or if they did it was because he was an oddity to be laughed at. Had none of these people ever met a gobber?! They lived in Five Fingers!
“What was it you were saying, I couldn’t understand you- I’m so very sorry, I think it was the food in your mouth.” “What you say, you’re not eating anything…you haven’t had anything to eat at all tonight?! Well’s that’s silly. I don’t understand what makes you so contemptuous of the Lady’s food. It’s the finest she’s had in at least a week. I’ll never understand the poor in this city. They don’t know how to appreciate good food. Why hello Lord Grisham! I was just saying how no one knows how to prepare food. Why just the other day I was at the Petite Le’ Boire and…” And that was the end of the conversation. They walked to the next room, talking an appetizer each. Ano glowered at their backs.
He received a tap on his shoulders and turned around just about ready to bite that finger off and saw an unassuming man leaning down. The man was now face to face with him, throwing Ano off for just a moment with such direct attention. “Pardon me, but it’s tickled my interest, who did you say invited you?” Oh so this was it, it was another doorman checking to see if he was really invited. He flipped his invite out with a grimace. “Oh no, you misunderstand,” replied the gentleman. “I am more interested in the service you’re providing for Five Fingers. What did you say your company name was?” “Striga”
“I wish you well on your enterprise.” He said with added poignancy. “I believe you’re the only company of the kind here in Five Fingers. No doubt you have your hands full. The Crown is interested as well. I believe you’ve already met the Twin Islands Watch Captain Sherill Ladway. She’s a good person to go to for work.” With that he lifted his glass and walked away. Ano watched him go thoughtfully.