I went back from the old port through narrow streets that led to the new part of the city, Handels Market. It's a noisy, stinky, filthy part of town. Its streets are mostly vast. Carts filled with perfume, spices, cloth, and even kegs of ale and cheap wine, roamed the large cobble stone streets during the day. At night, it was the fancy carriages and coaches driving around, looking for their drunken pa.s.sengers.
When I got to Handels Market, a leerie was busy lighting the street lamps. I didn't expect Lady Beatrix to let me go that easily. That only meant she'd come after me later. I've been on my guard ever since I left the warehouse. However, I had to double the vicinity at which I spread my senses to scan for potential threats here.
I cut through a narrow street in First Avenue, heading toward Handel Plaza. I needed to leave town before they closed the doors. The city started closing its gates at night after monsters appeared. I navigated through slippery, worn out stairs. It smelled of death and decay down there. My hand was gently pressed against my sword pommel, ready to react at the slightest malicious intent.
The lower parts of Handels Market were full of crooked thieves and bloodthirsty murderers. You had the nice neighborhoods upwards, reserved only for the rich and n.o.ble. Then there were the ones beneath the high buildings and extravagant towers. The ones that are dark, lit only by a few poles scattered in between blocks.
I navigated through a maze of dark streets on my way to the gates. The cries of hungry babies accompanied me all the while. I brushed past one drunkard or the other, but none challenged me. I knew taking this route was risky, but it was the fastest way out.
"Hey buddy," a hoa.r.s.e voice reached out to me from the darkness. "Want some Nickles?"
I ignored him and went on. Nickel in Merinsk was the latest drug that hit the streets. n.o.body knew where it originated from or who provided it. They only knew it cost a silver coin and it made you see the world differently. How difherently? I can't tell, never tried the thing.
I got to Handel Plaza right before they started ringing the bell. The large square was the closest place to the eastern gate. Its other advantage is that it closed later than all other gates. n.o.bles out on escapades or fun hunts often come back to the city after sunset. They'd come through the plaza and heat straight to pleasure establishments.
I crossed the gate when the sun was almost completely hidden in the horizon. I waited until I was a fair distance away from guards' sight, then I broke into a run. I stopped only when I reached an abandoned farm, ten miles away from the city. I inspected the surroundings, made sure our traps weren't messed with then I got inside.
I'd chosen a remote place from the city to run our research and hide our findings. Besides, I couldn't refuse Nag's proposal to work together and bring down Bodrick. He refused to go into big human settlements anymore, but he had a personal grudge to settle with Lord Bodrick. He decided to stay, given that I don't get Osgar in the team.
"How did it go?" He asked as soon I got into the underground hidden chamber.
"As expected," I said, unbuckling my sword and flinging it aside.
"Is she angry?" I noticed he was brewing some potion. It smelled like lavender and…
"Did you put urine in the potion?" I asked.
He nodded, "for the taste," he said, and went on stirring his stinking pot. "How'd she take it?"
I shrugged and went for a cold turkey leg. "Shocked, I suppose," I said. "Did you get anything on Horst?"
It was his turn to shrug this time. "Not underground, not in the city either. I'll have to widen my search."
"And the ghost captain?" I asked.
"Urban legend," he answered.
"I know that already," I said, exasperated. "What did the birds tell you?"
Nag lifted his hands upwards, as though he was giving up. "They don't know what the h.e.l.l I'm talking about."
"Lady Bodrick apparently knows him," I said, munching on the turkey leg all along.
"Did she tell you that?" Nag asked.
"I know your sermons already, save them," I said then took another leg and threw it at him. He caught it midair and directed it to his giant mouth, chewing through meat and bones. "I don't know if she knows him," I went on, "but I know that she needs him, as well as I do."
"Did she give you any hint as to this ghost captain's location?" Nag asked.
"No," I answered. "They need whatever Bodrick's hiding in that secret vault though. Osgar seemed keen on getting his hands on it. Beatrix seemed very keen on helping Osgar getting his hands on it. I say there's a pattern worth looking into here, and Osgar is definitely involved in this."
"Bodrick's hiding a helm," Nag said.
"A ship helm?" I asked.
"Yes, the rats told me," Nag said. "They saw men with a bear sigil transport the helm through the sewers then up some dark streets under Handels Market. The helm was heavily guarded, and the building it went into was crawling with guards."
"You got all of this from rats?" I asked.
"If you convince them to speak to you, animals can achieve wonders for you," Nag smiled, or snarled. I could never tell.
"Did you get a name of the street?" I asked.
"Dark streets of Handels Market," Nag said. "Or do you expect a rat to draw you a f.u.c.king map?"
"You've grown a bit grumpy lately, did you know that?" I asked.
"What's our next move?" he asked.
"We find a reliable fence," I said.
"What about the thief?" Nag asked.
"She'll come around," I answered. "We need to know who moves things outside the city. I'll do some research tomorrow. If there's anything worth stealing, a fence will be lurking just about."
"What do you need a fence for anyway?" Nag asked.
"Information," I answered.
"How will you get it out of him?"
I got to the only cabinet in the place and retrieved a bottle of wine. I poured myself a cup and offered one to Nag.
"We need a thief to steal the helm from Bodrick," I said. "Only, we don't know where it's hidden. We don't know who's hiding it, or the extent of their powers. I found out there's a security organization that calls itself the Shadows not too long ago."
I took a long gulp from my cup then looked at Nag.
"I'm done half making plans," I said. "I won't make that mistake again. I want Bodrick to taste defeat. I want him to see his dreams crumble before him. I want him to die on the inside, before any cold steel could end his life."
"How does the fence fit into all of this?"
"We steal something for him, and in return he pays us inkind, with information," I said. "Simple."
"You forget how crooked this city is," Nag answered. "He could easily report you to the authorities. He'll help the custodians do their job, and get the stolen item in return."
"That's why I said reliable," I said. "We'll speak of this tomorrow. I need to find a lead first."
I gulped the remainder of my gla.s.s then left the bas.e.m.e.nt. The farm used to be a vineyard. Its owner stored wine in the bas.e.m.e.nt, but had also installed secret tunnels and chambers. n.o.body knows how this place went down. Its owner disappeared one day, and people claimed it was haunted.
It was the best place to hide. Nag and I cleared it of monsters five days ago then settled in. Another reason I chose to stay in this abandoned house was its library. It remained untouched ever since its owner disappeared. Large blank scrolls collected dust on shelves. Ink bottles and quills, I had everything I needed to sharpen my mind.
After the events in Sosalk, I swore to learn from my mistakes. I started going through the library Dif had poured into my brain back when I first received the Fragment. Techniques to strengthen one's conduits, information about the different types of energies, I had details about almost everything.
When one has an abudance of knowledge at reach, one tends to get lost in it. I made sure my rumination wouldn't last an hour. I found a candle in the abandoned house's study and lit it with a basic spell. It would go off in an hour, that's when I'll know to stop. I'd also been practicing elemental magic for two hours every night.
I'd forgotten how a good routine makes one stronger than they could ever imagine. That was the secret behind many of my previous achievements. – G.o.ds, it feels like another lifetime. – I used to train every morning on the sword, then I'd chop wood and carry water up and down any elevation I could find myself surrounded with.
Training was the essence to become stronger. So I had forced a routine upon myself. I go through the library in my mind at night, practice elemental spells, and meditate. I don't sleep much though. Ever since I got extra essence from that demon, I found I had more energy to spend during the day. I also found that it recharged faster if I meditated, cycled my energy through all my conduits, not if I slept.
I had two objectives. I needed to find the ghost captain before the end of autumn. And I needed to fuse with the Fragment of Time before the Holi Wars started. In order to achive both goals, I needed to learn more about Essence, spells, and the different types of magic. I also needed to know this city, its people and its darkest secrets.