Saturday, December 31, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 42

The Grand Master eyed the small stairway in the alleyway suspiciously.  It lead to a basement chamber with a sloped doorway that  had the suspicious portion of the Grand Master's mind already noting all the ways it could be used as the place for an ambush, or a trap.  He had reached into the forties when he decided that this would require some special planning.

He walked across the street to the small cluster of men standing there.  "Right.  I will require one of you to go into this safehouse first."  He gestured to Camber.  "You."

Camber gulped.  "But... I did what you asked."  The Grand Master raised an eyebrow.  Camber glanced away.  "Well, more or less."  He looked at his fellows and gestured to a younger member. "We should send the prentice! It's what we keep them around for!  Send the new guy!"

The prentice frowned.  "Hey, I may be new, but I'm not a screw-up!"

"Exactly!" said Camber.  "You've never had the chance to screw-up!  I say we give it to you!"  He placed an arm on the young man's shoulder and tried to shove him forward.  "May the Holy Light be with you!  Great succcess!"

The Grand Master frowned.  "Camber.  Go over there.  Now."

Camber gave a miserable frown.  "I... it's not right!  I'm a member in good standing, sir!"

"Then act in such a way that you keep it," said the Grand Master steelily.

Camber gulped, then turned turned and crossed the street, tottering on his peg leg.  When he reached the stairway, he turned to regard his fellows for a moment.  They stared back at him icily.  With one last shudder, Camber made his way down the stairway.  The Knife-Grinders watched him vanish from sight.  For a moment, all was still.  Then there was a loud clattering crash.

"It's all right! It's all right!  I just tripped!" came Camber's voice.

"Please tell me we're killing him when this is finished," said the prentice.

"Oh, absolutely," agreed the Grand Master.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 41

Nathan fidgeted awkwardly.  "So... When I went home... three of my fellows were there, and..."

Sacripant yawned.  "Let me guess.  These killings... there's something that goes to the very top, isn't there?  The Council of Old Guys, or whatever you call it?"

"Ancients, and how did...?" began Nathan.

"Oh, at a certain point, you start picking up on patterns, and figuring that the easiest answers are right," said the Erl.  "Quite a few high-ranking Talossians have died recently in odd 'suicides'.  Which suggests that whatever the hell all this is, it goes straight to the top.  And that's what I've noticed about all you Talossans... you really believe in your rag-tag system.  When your Guilds say 'jump', you all say 'how high?'."

"So, what made you sure something was going on?" asked Nathan.

"I've been given the runaround on a simple inquiry on a man's death," said Sacripant.  "Once the assassins showed up, I started figuring that folks around here really, really didn't want me finding it."  He spread his hands.  "After that, it wasn't too much effort to figure that there was a lot of trouble going on, and that it was all connected."

Nathan stared for a moment, and then looked away.  "So why are you telling me all this?  I'm a Talossan after all.  I do what my Guild says."

"First, of all, I like you," said Sacripant.  "But the other reason--I've gotten to know you.  You're a decent man.  I'm betting you love your Guild, yes, but you love it for bigger reasons.  I'm betting that when they gather you all together, and you say that oath, or motto, or whatever it is..."

"An oath," muttered Nathan.  "It... we say it at formal meetings, on hoy days..."

"Right, well, I'm certain you tear up, with memories of your old man, and all the honor and traditions of you Lamplighters, that he taught you, and all the times he hefted you up on his shoulders so you could see... oh, whatever fancy thing you Lamplighters do..." continued Sacripant.

"He never did anything like that," said Nathan defensively.  "He just always made sure we'd be at the front of the Mummer's Parade on..."  He stared at the Erl desperately.  "How do you know all this?"

"People are people all over, Nathan," said the Erl with a shrug.  "You think fisherman in Valse don't do things like that?  Only thing we live for."  Sacripant smiled at him.  "So, you want to help me get our friend out of here, and start the next bit of planning to deal with this trouble, or not?"

Nathan was silent for a moment, and then managed a rough nod.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 40

Sacripant sat there, sharpening his knife, whistling to himself. 

"You really seem to enjoy that," noted Lamorac, watching with interest.

"Not really," said Sacripant.  "Sort of picked up the habit from my fiancee."  He turned the blade over near the candle.  "Clears my head."

"Your... fiancee sharpens knives?" muttered Lamorac.

"My fiancee uses knives," replied Sacripant.  "If I spook you, she'd flat out terrify you."

Lamorac nodded.  "Well... you have interesting taste in women, apparently."  He smiled broadly.  "Hope the marriage goes well."

Sacripant slipped the knife back into its sheath.  "Well, thank you.  There a lady friend waiting for you?"

"Sort of," said Lamorac.  "Arranged marriage.  Knife-Sharpener family thing."  He managed a shrug.  "The families have fights, you see.  So it's good to have marriages to tie up the bloodlines to keep things from getting... well, too heated.  I've got someone I'll be tied to when we're both old enough."  He smiled awkwardly.  "She's quite nice.  Apparently.  I've never met her."

Sacripant shook his head.  "You guys seem to get more pathetic the more I learn about you."

"Hey!" muttered Lamorac resentfully.  "That's not nice."

"I'm the man who will keep you alive if your buddies try to kill you," said Sacripant.  "Which they appear to be considering.  Don't take it the wrong way Lamorac, but you aren't dealing with one of your normal cases where they try to bring you home alive."

"You don't know that for sure," said Lamorac.  "I'm a Guild member!  I've paid my dues!  My family have members for five generations!  We've got a window in the local chapel!  They can't forget that!"

Sacripant nodded.  "Sure.  Sure.  You're probably right."  A very precise knock came on the door.  "Come in Nathan."  The Lamplighter entered hesitantly.  "You remembered the knock.  Good.  I'd have hated to kill you by mistake."

Nathan flinched at that.  "Right."  He sighed.  "I... we have to talk."

"Well, that sounds ominous," noted Lamorac.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 39

"...So, you see where we stand on this?" said Grunewald, still giving that warm, grandfatherly smile. 

Nathan managed a dull nod.

Morell leaned forward.  "We have a duty to the Council, Nathan.  A sacred duty, as Lamplighters..."

Grunewald raised his hand.  "He understands, Morell." 

The younger man turned away, frowning.  "I was simply... clarifying things."

Ulrich chuckled to himself.  "Well, don't clarify things too harshly.  We are all brothers of the Guild, after all."  He glanced at Nathan. "Isn't that true, Nathan?"

Nathan stared ahead a moment, and then nodded again. "Yes.  Yes, I suppose it is."

Grunewald glanced at his fellows, standing to his feet.  "See?  I told you all that Nathan would be all right.  A reasonable man.  Very sensible.  And from a good Lamplighter family.  One that goes back for generations."

Ulrich nodded.  "Very true," he said, slapping Nathan lightly on the shoulder.  Nathan flinched slightly at that.

Morell grimaced and joined the other two in leaving Nathan's house.  "I hope so.  I sincerely do."  He gave Nathan a sharp glance, and exited.

Nathan sat there for a while in silence.  Monica set a glass of wine before him.  "How is Sacripant?" she asked.

"That man could fight his way out of the Seventy Hells," replied Nathan quietly.

"Well, that's good," said Monica with a smile.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 38

The old man regarded the mask before him distastefully.  "My goodness, this is a heathenish thing, is it not?"

"It is traditional, Your Holiness," replied the servant, assisting the old man into the robe.  "All Ancients wear masks based on their role in the chamber."

"I see, yes," said the old man with a sigh. "Well, we mustn't disappoint tradition.  Still it is an odd custom, no?"

"I have never thought of it, sir," said the servant.

The old man gave a smile, and nodded.  "That will change in the future.  A great new era will start in Talossa soon. A great and holy era, where this city makes things right again."

The servant nodded, as he finished adjusting the robe.  "As you say, Your Holiness." He stepped back to regard the old man.  "I must ask.. how... how did you endure imprisonment?"

"Oh, it was not great matter," said the old man.  "I was kept in the Tower, with my books, visitors, and good food."  He gave a fond laugh.  "Indeed, I even reached the agreement with the Concordat there.  Those who serve Holy Light must not be afraid to suffer, for the Seven shall see their servants through hardship, and indeed, make them walk surer for that."  He smiled at the man for a moment.  "Tell me, when were you last shriven?"

"It has been awhile, Metropolitan," said the servant.

"Then, come, kneel before me," said the old man, smiling gently, "and I shall strip you of your sins before the Seven and the Holy Light."

"I... thank you, Your Holiness," muttered the young man.

"There is no need to thank me for doing my duty," replied the Metropolitan cheerfully.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 37

Nathan walked towards his front door, trying to figure out an explanation for Monica.  "My dear, I am sorry I have taken so long," he stated.  "Mister Fenswater and myself were looking into the matter of a mysterious death, and we were attacked, and he captured one of our attackers..." 

He paused and looked around.  Still no one.  Turning back around, he considered an alternate approach.

"Oh, just showing the Erl around town.  You know Nightfolk.  Or... you've heard about them.  All curious, and... things."  He coughed.  "And where is Sacripant?  Well, he... met an old friend.  Yes.  An old friend.  And they are.. talking."  Nathan nodded, then gave a sigh.  "This is much too late in life for me to start lying in detail."  He stared at the door to his house, and then shut his eyes, opened it and entered. 

"Monica, I..."  The sound of plates on the table hit his ears, and he opened his eyes to see Grunewald, Ulrich and Morell all seated there as his wife served them dinner.  "Brothers of the Lamp," he said forcing a smile on his face.  "A pleasure to see you all here."

"We came when you did not go on your appointed rounds this night," said Ulrich softly.

"Yes, there were... some difficulties," muttered Nathan.

"Where's the Erl?" asked Morrell, glancing around the room as if he expected to see Fenswater hidden in a nook somewhere.

"Somewhere else," said Nathan, feeling a growing unease.

"Is he now?" said Grunewald.  He cleared his throat.  "We have much to talk to you about, Nathan."  He smiled cheerfully.  "Please, take a seat." 

"I... "  Nathan nodded, and did as his elder suggested. 

"Your wife makes a lovely meal," said Grunewald still smiling.  "You should be very proud of her."

"I am," replied Nathan, smiling at his wife.  Monica gave him a concerned look that somehow made that niggling feeling return, only even worse.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 36

"Have to say, you two do a quality job holding me captive," said Lamorac cheerfully, as he glanced around the room of the new safe house.  "No harsh words, no awful resentment, and you know just how to tie a guy up."  He awkwardly swiveled his head around to take a look at his captors.  "Really, this is terrific."

"Glad you like it," said Sacripant, as he escorted Nathan from the chamber.  "Now, if you give us a moment..."

"Sure thing!" said Lamorac.  "I'm not going anywhere!"

Sacripant nodded at him, then shut the door.  "So what's that about?" asked Nathan.  "And why can't you share it in front of laughing boy in there?"

"Second question first," said Sacripant.  "One of my bosses is a cheerful guy, slightly absent-minded.  Makes you think that's all that's going on his head is odd fancies.  It isn't.  As for the first--something that Lamorac said makes me think that he either killed that Erl that you found or was there when it happened."

Nathan frowned.  "What was it?"

"Nothing to specific," replied Sacripant.  "Just an odd misstatement.  I would have mentioned it earlier, but you were all 'we got a move now'."

"And you couldn't have mentioned it while we were eating?" asked the Lamplighter.

"What is looking more and more like a dangerous conspiracy is not light dinner conversation," snapped Sacripant.  "Anyway, tough talking with those noodles in your mouth."  He sighed.  "The entire reason I'm here is I was supposed to look into the man's death."

"Who was he?" asked Nathan. "What ranked them sending you here?"

"He was a member of... well, think of it as the capital of the Plains' version of your Council of Ancients," said Sacripant.  "Here on personal business.  The Mayor wants it looked into, and the Cthoniques like to keep the Mayor of the Folly happy."

Nathan nodded. "So.. this guy was the Mayor's friend?"

"No, actually a political enemy, but..."  Sacripant waved his hand.  "Well, let's just say the Folly's council members stick together on things like this, and leave it at that.

"Odd-sounding place," noted Nathan.

"You would say that," muttered Sacripant.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 35

The question came from the shadows. "Is it clear?"

Nathan gave a nod.  The Erl and the prisoner emerged from the alleyway, and moved quickly down the street.  "Don't even think about running for it," said Sacripant quietly.  "Or I will make you a dead man."

Lamorac gave a pained shrug.  "Well, even if you don't, the Guild likely will, so, I'll go along."

Nathan nodded as the man as walked by him.  "Good to see you being so reasonable."

"I keep telling you people," said Lamorac, "I've been through this before.  The Guild likes it when people behave in a manner that suggests calm and discipline, because that shows they can be trusted.  Panic and fuss--well, that suggests they can't be trusted it, and causes trouble.  And trouble is something we must avoid."

"Aside from killing people," noted Sacripant.

"Well, that's just our job," answered Lamorac.  "If we're doing it well, then it's no trouble for us."  He smiled.  "Think about it."

"Less talking, more moving," said Nathan.  "The next safe house is only a few ells away."

"You know, I'm getting a good tour of these places," said Lamorac. 

"Is there a point to that?" asked Nathan.

"Well, you might want to kill me when this is done," noted Lamorac.  "It's what I would do."

"Yes, but you're a hired killer," said Sacripant.

"Very true," agreed Lamorac.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 34

Sacripant glanced at the door.  "So, you're back.  Got the noodles?"

Nathan nodded as he set the satchel on the small table.  "And the crepe. But we have to move soon.  There's a killer trailing me.  Probably more than one.  I put the fear into him, but I suspect the Guild's put more in him."

"Does he have a peg leg?" asked the prisoner.

"He does," replied Nathan.

"That's Camber, my partner," said the prisoner with a smile.  "He's probably coming to kill me.  I'd appreciate you stopping him."

Sacripant nodded.  "Right.  We'll try that."  He glanced at the Nathan.  "We have enough time to eat our noodles?"

"Most likely," said Nathan.

"Can I please have my crepe?" asked the prisoner.  "I mean, you did make me pay for it..."

"Right, right," said Sacripant, fishing it out.  "Here you go..." He sighed.  "All right, I need something to call you other than 'guy'."

"Lamorac," said the prisoner.  "It's a family name.  My grandfather, actually.  Nice guy.  Bit of character.  Once killed a man with a broom handle."  He gave a fond chuckle.  "Ahh, man, those were the days.  When you killed a guy, you had to say something witty, or it didn't count."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 33

Nathan walked through the streets, food in the satchel he'd gotten at the crepe place.  He hoped he was keeping things in order.  He'd hate having the noodles spill over the crepe, but then, he was in a hurry.  He glanced over his shoulder and suppressed a curse.  He was almost certain the man was following him.  A short man, with a peg leg.  That struck him as worrisome.

Turning down a side street, he paused at it, set down his food, and then stood flat against the wall. He pulled the life-preserver he carried with him.  The heavy weight of the cudgel felt comforting in his hand.  The heavy clump of the man's footsteps, complete with the tap of the peg leg, echoed in the air. 

"Sir," came a wheedling voice, "sir, I was wondering if you could give me some..."

Nathan lashed out with the club.  The interloper gave a yelp, a dagger in his hand clattering to the ground as he blocked the hit with his arm.   "I... Directions!" the man screamed, wobbling unsteadily.

"Why are you following me?" asked Nathan.

"Directions!" said the man.  "Directions!" He turned and began to move quickly.  "My mistake!  A thousand pardons!  Be... be on my way!"

Nathan stared as the man raced away, or more exactly did so as best he could on a peg leg.  After a moment, he picked up his food and hurried on his way.  He kept looking behind him, every so often.

Somehow that didn't calm him.  But then, perhaps that was the point of doing that, when you got down to it.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 32

"Yeah, it's not a great job, really," said the prisoner.  "But you know, it pays... okayish, so it is what it is."

"I knew a guy who had something like it across the river," said Sacripant with a nod.  "So, I understand."

"Really?" said the prisoner, intrigued.  "Well, that makes sense. I mean, it's a service everybody needs, at times."

"That's one way of looking at it," said Sacripant.

The prisoner coughed and looked around the room.  "So... what happened to...?" he began.

"I killed him," answered Sacripant.

"Ahh."  The prisoner nodded to himself.  "Yes, I should have expected that.  You are an impressively lethal-seeming fellow."

Sacripant chuckled. "You should see my fiancee."

"You're engaged?" said the prisoner.  "Well, congratulations!  Assuming you survive all this, happy times at your wedding!  And if not consolation to your lady."

"Thank you for your kindness," said Sacripant.  He looked at the door again.  "He better come back with the food soon."

"Oh, I know!  I'm starving," said the prisoner. "Man, every time I meet one of your Nightfolk, I wind up..."

"What was that?" said Sacripant, turning suddenly.

"I wind up hungry every time I meet a Nightfolk," said the prisoner.  "Just weird, really."

"And when was the last time you met one of us?" asked Sacripant.  "After all, we aren't exactly common here."

The prisoner blinked.  "Ahh.  Could you forget I said that, perhaps?"  He smiled hopefully.  "Please?"

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 31

Alice stirred the pot and threw in a dash of pepper.  Good noodles took proper seasoning, and if Alice did anything well, it was make good noodles.  And it showed--she was making good money these days, especially with the price of pepper coming down.

"Hey, Alice," came a familiar voice.  "Two bowls of noodles."

Alice smiled to herself, and turned to see her old friend standing there.  "Why, Nathan.  A delight as always.  How's Monica?  And the children?"

"Good as gold," said Nathan distractedly.  "And how about little Mortimer?"

"Oh, happy as a lark," said Alice, ladling out the noodles.  "So... two bowls.  Big appetite."

Nathan looked around unhappily. "Yes," he said flatly.  "Very."

"Have you heard about the scuffle outside the Sextons?" she said.  "People said somebody tried to kill someone else."

"That... seems vague," noted Nathan. 

Alice glanced up and down the street and leaned towards the Lamplighter confidentially.  "Well, I hear it was one of the Guild of Seamstresses against one of the other Guild of Seamstresses."

Nathan nodded.  "Ahh.  Yes."

"But I also hear it might have been the one of the Gatekeepers against one of the Gamblers," she continued.

"Well, that also seems probable," noted Nathan.

"But the best part is, they say that an Erl took part in the fight!" said Alice cheerily.

Nathan nodded.  "I'd... like the bowls now, if you don't mind."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 30

"So you can tell us nothing?" said Sacripant, rolling his eyes.

"You say that like it surprises you," noted Nathan.  He gestured to the prisoner, who continued to grin broadly.  "I mean... look at him."

"I know," said the Erl, wincing.  "But you hope that something stuck in there."

The prisoner blinked.  "Hey, that sounds like you're insulting me.  For something that is not my fault.  The Guild works to minimize risk for its clients.  We do not get contacted by those who hire us--they contact our bosses, who contact their people, who contact us.  Layers upon layers.  Like a cake."  He smiled.  "Hey, you don't happen to have..."

"We have no food whatsoever," stated Nathan.

"Ohh."  The prisoner looked at his feet, disappointed.  "I see.  Maybe... maybe you could go get some food?  Maybe?"

Nathan and Sacripant stared at each other for a moment.  Finally, the Lamplighter sighed.  "You want some more noodles?" he asked.

"Yeah, those things are great," said Sacripant.

"I'm... more in the mood for a crepe," said the prisoner.  "Don't know why.  Just am."  He grinned at Nathan.  "You know, that stall in the Blue Plaza makes the best..."

"You want those, you're paying for them," said Nathan.

"Sure, sure," said the prisoner.  "I've got the money in my coin purse.  If you'll untie me..."

The pair simply stared at them.  The prisoner looked back.  "So... no, then?"  They continued to stare.  "Just for a moment?"  He smiled.  "I'll let you tie me up again, lickety-split. I promise!"

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Light the Lamp So Bright--Part 29

The short man with a pegleg took a deep breath as he leaned against the wall.   "Did the best I could," he repeated to himself.  "Damned good that I didn't get myself caught like that fool."  He nodded fervently, then glanced around.  After a long moment, he took a relieved breath.

"Camber," said the silky voice.  "I notice your partner isn't with you."

Camber gulped.  "Ahh.  Yes.  Regrettable, but... you know the risks..."  His eyes darted around, trying to pry out the speaker's location. 

"The risks for all of us," said the Grand Master, stepping out of the dark.  "He might have been captured."

Camber gulped.  "He knows nothing of value," he said.

The Grand Master raised an eyebrow. "A member of our guild in good-standing knows nothing of value?" he noted, playing idly with a a long thin knife that he was suddenly holding, to Camber's surprise and worry.

"Well, nothing he would tell," snapped Camber nervously.  "He... is a member of good standing.  Not some novice.  He would never reveal a true secret of our order."

The Grand Master stepped forward, and leaned towards Camber's ear.  "For your sake, you had better be sure of that."  He backed away.  "And I am giving you a chance.  But only one, Camber. Only one."  He turned away.  "And only for a while.  If you are not certain by tomorrow evening that he will not talk... well, then I'll first make certain you don't.  Is this clear?"

Camber nodded, then realized that the Grand Master couldn't see him, or... probably couldn't.  "Perfectly, sir," he noted, his hand going to his jacket.

"Good," said the Grand Master.  "Now, move your hand away from that knife, or I will shorten your chances immediately."

Camber pulled his hand back, staring at the Grand Master in wonder.  "How...?"

"There's a reason I outrank you," he said, as he vanished into the dark.