CHAPTER 2

James lives deep within the downtown area, somewhere between the business district and the slums. To be frank, the building is on the edge of the slums; for the area was once prosperous, but has fallen on hard times. He owns a flat on the top floor of a condominium, which was originally built by the Hammers to be sort of a monastery for acolytes. But then they built that new place over by their new main cathedral, in the central town square, so it was given to the man they deemed most worthy. Well it seems even a high ranking Hammer isnít always the best judge of character, and this individual sold it to the highest bidder, and he happened to be the third wealthiest landlord in town. How James managed to actually buy the top floor is a mystery to most, except of course for James, the man who sold it, and me, the guy who paid for it.

I moved through the city, for all intents and purposes, totally unseen. True, many, in fact most all, people I passed saw my person as I strolled casually through the crowded streets and highways, but none knew that the tall man dressed in a black formal cloak was anyone more then a wealthy landowner. I had the wide brim of my hat pulled down low, so the majority of my face was shrouded in darkness, just in case. I arrived at the building just as late afternoon was creeping up on me. The first thing that came to mind is the first thing that always comes to mind when I look at the place. What a ghastly piece of rock. The building was built by the Hammers, and thus looked like a fortress. However, unlike the perfectly clean and polished Hammer fortresses, this place was a towering symbol of rot and deterioration. I always wondered why James refused my offers of a fine estate in the uptown area. He claimed that he needed to be close to his agents. I could have easily chosen to argue the matter, but I humored him, and so this is where he lives. I arrived at Jamesís front door shortly after making my way up a deteriorated set of stairs, which wasnít without several smelly bodies sleeping on it. I recognized that the door had been locked from the outside, so I knew he was out. Following standard procedure, I passed my hand over the deadbolts, and they magically opened for me. A nice little gadget, courtesy of a mage, who most likely really misses it. Stepping inside was like stepping into another world. Gone was the cracked stucco walls of the condo, the rotting wooden floor, and the stone ceiling. Actually, they werenít gone, per se, you just couldnít see them.

James and his wife, Corinne, do not appreciate others saying their home is messy. They contend that they know where everything is: "Underlying Order in Superficial Chaos". And indeed the first impression of any visitor must necessarily be of chaos. Books, scrolls, and half-finished dissertations cover the tables; and they cover much of the floor as well. Massive filing cabinets overflow with papers and books are stacked two ranks deep on the wall-to-wall bookshelves. They live a simple life overall, happy to consume peasant fare day in and day out. But they spare few expenses in the pursuit of their mutual passion, Knowledge. Which, of course, is why I hired him to run the Intelligence Section.

Stepping over some new volumes on an eclectic assortment of topics, apparently received shortly before their departure - they had not yet disposed of the packaging, though one of the books ("Principia Mathematica") had clearly been skimmed - I found, sitting in the middle of a clear spot, a letter addressed to me. I soon discovered that James and Corinne were indulging one of their subjects of particular fascination, military history, during a short holiday. The letter was written in James' typical ugly, blocky, but very easy to read print (one of his eccentricities: he only uses script for languages other than his native tongue.)

Daniel:

An old friend has come visiting. We are examining battle-sites, are traveling in the South for this week and the next. For the first week our location is predictable and I can be reached via Drop Box 74f. I regret to say that the second week will be less predictable and communications will probably be temporarily interrupted, but I shall post my movements as they occur so you can reach me in the event of emergency.

-- James 09.06 23.3

The letter was dated today, meaning that he left this morning, which actually was not much of a problem. I was slightly disturbed by the fact that had to reach James through a drop box. I prefer a valuable document to not be left unattended like that. A drop-box is a location which the recipient certainly will not personally be present any time the courier is. The courier leaves the message in the pre-arranged location and then leaves a mark at a pre-arranged location to indicate that the box has mail. The courier leaves. The recipient checks the marker site every so often, and when the mark is spotted, will erase the mark and proceed to the drop site. After observation to ensure the site is not watched, and that the agent is not being followed, the agent gets the message. It often helps to place the drop box in places where it can be easily and unobtrusively grabbed even if in plain view. I pulled a chair up to his desk (I first had to find a chair, and then find a desk), and wrote him a short letter.
James,

You know of Jyre, of course. Attached to this letter are copies of several of her letters to me. Please read them. Did you read them? No? Go read them! Did you read them? Yes? Okay, good. Now, Iíd like to get some additional information on Jyre. This is not to say that I do not trust her, I do, oddly enough, but Iíd like to make sure there are not any details that I donít know about that should be useful. That should be simple enough for your spies and telepaths. The second task should be all the more enjoyable. I want information on this Lady. All of it. I want to know the layout of her castle. I want to know her past, history, heritage, how many skeletons she has in the closet, the breed of her pet cat, what she serves her servants for breakfast, how many times she blinked last year, and most importantly, her NAME. You get the idea? I understand you are on vacation, so to speak (donít deny it, I know you enjoy doing that stuff), but that doesnít mean that you canít get one of your many henchmen to pull this off for you. Oh yes, and as always, thank you greatly in advance.

Sincerely,
Daniel

"Now, where does he keep thatÖ" I muttered to myself, trailing off into thought. Then I saw it, perched on top of a stack of economic reports, his automatic copy device. Another one of the Hammerís wonderful inventions, this remarkable machine will copy any book or document quickly and accurately. I put Jyreís letters into the "in" slot, and waited while it did its work. Now, either the Hammerís craftsmanship is overrated, or James had just worked this thing halfway into its grave, I cannot say. What I did know is that I had to coax the machine to keep working several times, through some rather unscientific means. Judging by the tools that a Hammerite keeps on his person at all times, Iíd venture to say that this was a feature, rather then a bug. About ten minutes later I had a set of perfect copies, and a rather sore fist. Packing my letter and the copies together, I left the room as close to what I found it as possible, and let the door automatically lock behind me. I went to the back of the building and waited. An old man emerged from the shadows, a man whom I recognized as one of Jamesís agents. He was an extremely thin old fellow, skinnier then Jossimer, which I found quite shocking, and slightly grotesque. He walked up to me slowly, limping badly, as if his left leg was nothing more then carrion. I admit, I was a little more then slightly skeptical that this man could be any sort of courier. As soon as he was within striking distance of my walking stick, he spoke.

"Ohh, heelew Massteer Nitfell." He spat his words out as if he was hacking up phlegm, which by the way, he was.

I didnít waste time with pleasantries or small talk. "Take this to drop box 74f," I ordered him.

"Aye ssser!" he spat, and then suddenly bolted off down the ally as if he was no more then eighteen.

My jaw did not drop, but my eyes did widen. "Hmmm.." I thought to myself. "James employs strange ones." In intelligence, one needs a cold mind and a warm heart, James always claimed. And he noted that with a bit of careful vetting, an investment of basic human decency - often as little as a regular cup of tea and a sympathetic ear - towards society's unloved outcasts can reap a great return in dedication and loyalty. Shrugging, I made an about-face, and walked back to the main avenue. It was now evening, and soon it would be nightfall. So rather then going home, I decided to deviate a bit

Town square is an odd name for an octagonal shaped configuration, unless you decide that square means center. But then youíd still be wrong, seeing as the town square was located clearly off center of the cities layout. Then again, simply calling it TOWN square was erroneous as well, seeing as this city was far too massive to be considered a town. Metropolis would be more accurate. This is the type of thing that I think about while idly walking though the marketplaces and strip-malls of the town square. I let my mind wander, just as my body was. The city was quite busy today. People of all sort were walking about busily, doing business, traveling, loitering, or keeping shop. I took a rare and precious moment to just totally relax and lose myself in the scenery. Though the vast majority of this city is rather bleak and dreary, this area was actually very nice. This is of course attributed to the fact that the Hammeritesí Cathedral absolutely loomed over the place. Their influence was very strong here. A guard on every corner, and a decree on every lamppost.

The Hammers and the Trickster do have one thing in common, though theyíd both kill me if I said it, but they both seem to enjoy landscaping. There are totally different philosophies behind if, of course, the Trickster, or rather, whatís left of his minions, see it as the chaos and beauty of nature, and the Hammers see it as manís dominance and control over nature. Either way, the park in the center of town was a very nice place to walk around, and do business, and that is just where it seemed I was headed.

It was while I was strolling over the brick path, through the gardens filled with perfectly manicured hedges, and a lawn so even it looked as if a machine had done it, (which may be true, for the hammers develop machines for everything. Soon, no doubt weíd see hammers ridding around on small mechanical beasts which roamed about eating grass and making a whole hell of a racket.) that a parchment hit me square in the face. Carried by the wind, I just turned my head and *smack* there it was. I donít like being taken by surprise, even if itís just by a bit of debris, so I was naturally quite annoyed. I was about to toss it in the nearby wastebasket (if a Hammer saw me littering Iíd have an incident on my hands) when I chanced to see my name on the top of the page! I quickly smoothed it out, and read it.

Master Nightfall,

I am only a old woman that lives in the northern woods. Yesterday, I heard that this boy Jyre needs information about that house of the Lady. Don't ask me how I heard of this rumor, I beg you. All I knew is that he and the Captain needed help, most urgently.

Once I was a thief, just like Jyre and the Captain. But nowadays the Order of the Hammer has grown in its power, and the City is not secure any more. And I myself am old now and weak... I feared the Order and so I fled into the woods, after they had broken my wrists. I have a small hut here, unknown by enemies, or friends.

I felt since a while already, that there is a great power around the house of the Lady. And I heard rumors about strange things that happen there. Things that are too nasty to describe. I did not want that this boy and his Captain would go there, unwarned. Too many people have already been disappeared, captured and tortured by their enemies.

So, I decided that I could spy around the house, relying on my once great skills. I approached towards the house, I saw that there are guards, seemingly everywhere. And I saw strange, evil lights and noises in the windows of the deeper floors. Screaming, wheepings, rattling of chains. It scared me.

The house itself has a huge outer wall, shaped like a pentragram. Every corner of the wall has a big tower on its top, with 2-3 guards inside. Also guards with arrows. The main gate is iron, and closed. Around the wall is a ditch, filled with foul water. I think there could be a hole, leading from the ditch into the inside. I saw and heard some indicating water movements in the western side of the house.

I hope that this small information could help Jyre and the Captain, when they decide indeed to break into that house.

I myself, fear that the wood is not secure any more, and will leave now, heading towards a place where neither Hammers, nor the evil presence that I felt beneath that house will find me.

Lytha

"Jyre is a girl," I said under my breath, correcting her with a slight grin. Whoever her source was, that person wasnít too observant. "I should have James warn his spies," I thought, hoping that it was not too late. I picked up my pace towards one of his pickup posts near the edge of the park.

Arriving, I recognized one of Jamesí men immediately. It was Schinler. I sighed in disgust, but it would take too much time to find another post with a man at it. Schinler had a history. It was a history of nervelessness. At a glance, he appeared to be no more then a lordís servant who decided to stand around looking moronic by the edge of the park, in fact, that is exactly what he was. He worked for Bafford, in the kitchen: stockboy I believe. And let me tell you, getting whacked on the back of the skull by Garrett is enough to make any man fidgety, but that was over half a year ago. The poor man should have gotten over it by now. Sighing to myself, I walked up behind him casually and tapped his shoulder. He turned his head slowly and then jumped half a foot into the air, spilling his mug of brown liquid all over. "Ma-ma-mas-s-ster Nightfall!" He explained with half excitement, half terror in his voice. He then jerked to attention and saluted me.

"At ease, Schinler," I said dryly "before a Hammer notices you and realizes that Iím someone important. Youíre lucky they donít pound you for spilling your drink on their sidewalk."

He shuffled around into a pose of mock at-easeness. "He-he-hellllo sir, er, um, I mean, umm.."

"Schinler, you need to lay off the coffee, you understand me?"

He nodded a nervous nod.

"And as much as I find it flattering, you donít have to be terrified of me. Just because Iím your bossí boss, doesnít mean I breath fire and eat fair maidens for breakfast. In fact, if you continue this show of spinelessness, I shall recommend that James immediately expel you from the payroll, do you understand me?"

He took a deep breath and nodded.

"Good. I need you to deliver a message to drop box 74f. I want you to copy this letter and send it to James." I handed him the letter from Lytha.

"Drop box 47f?" he said in confusion, taking and pocketing it without looking at it, just as James had trained him.

"No, 74, not 47, 74f. Got that? 74F!!" I shouted, growing impatient.

He nearly had a heart attack. "Y-y-y-y-eeees SIR! 74 eeeeffff!!!!"

"This needs to be in Jamesís hand as soon as possible, do you understand me? The lives of your fellow spies depend on it. Clear?"

"Perfectly, S-s-sir!!"

"Good, and while you are on your way, I want you to make a copy of the letter. I want the copy in my hands as soon as you have come back from dropping it off."

He nodded.

"What? Youíre not done yet? GO!" I commanded.

He nearly tripped over his feet as he dashed off; all the while I was wishing I had found another man to do the job.

It was getting late, and soon the Hammerite day watch would retire to their barracks for the evening, and heavy Hammerite patrols and watches would begin. I spotted a Hammerite soldier standing at one corner by a street-post. I paused for a moment, as a sudden inspiration came to me. He looked as if he was carved from solid stone as he stood there, motionless, hammer gripped tightly in his hands, his eyes staring straight forward. Though he appeared inanimate, I knew his ears were sharply at work, listening for any sounds that seemed out of place. Even with the ruckus of the busy crowd which stirred about him, (keeping about 5 feet away, of course), I knew his ears were sharp enough to hear a dishonest footfall twenty yards away. Odd how they can train them like that. That was good, very good, but unfortunately for them, not good enough.

"Greetings Mathews, Private 4th class." Few people have ever seen a Hammerite surprised before, and lived to tell about it. All the people on the streets who happened to glance in the right direction as I snuck up behind the guard and greeted him are counted as those lucky people. He quickly regained his bearings, and wiped away all traces of surprise or embarrassment.

"State thy need, citizen, or be off with you," he said, in that odd accent they all seem to have, as he looked down his nose at me, and tightened his grip on that solid iron hammer of his.

I lifted the brim of my hat slightly to allow him to see my face. Then the poor chap went slightly pale, as if a Hammer could get any paler, and dropped to one knee, quivering. "Please pardon my ignorance and ineptitude, Master Nightfall, I did not recognize thee. I shall understand if thee wishes myself punished for such a display of blindness."

"A mistake may be mastered, but a lie lasteth forever on thy tongue. Rather than try and hide thy mistake, thou hast faced it, and in doing so, may now correct it. Next time thy ears shall be keener to my footsteps, and thy eyes keener to my features. Thou art forgiven, my son." I said, pulling off the Hammerite priest accent with flying colors.

"Thank thee, sir," he said, rising to his feet, and not at all groveling. "How may I serve thee?"

"I wish an audience with Brother Finlar, and if it is at all possible, the High Priest as well. It is of a matter of not great importance, but importance none the less," I told him, letting my accent slip slightly.

He nodded. "I shall, sir. Is there any other way in which I canst serve thee?"

"No, if thee performs these tasks, then thee hast earned thy mettle for today."

"Thank thee greatly, Master Nightfall. Do you wish I perform this act now, or shalt I wait until my watch has come to a close?"

"Stay at thy post, my son, and may the Master Builder watch over thee, and guide thy hammer to righteousness." I admit, that last bit at the end was a bit of an ad-lib, but he took it as a great blessing anyway as he regained his steadfast stance.

Wanting closure to the day, I decided it was about time I get back to my tower and get some rest. Evening was now fully upon the city and a shady character like me either needed to get off the streets before the heavy Hammer patrols began. Undoubtedly they would attempt to arrest me, learn my true identity, and I would have to come up with another excuse to not turn them in and have them executed. As useful as the Hammers are when they owe you big time, they are such a bother. So I made haste, for night was the time for people like me to either get home, or get to the shadows and get to work. I chose the latter.

END CHAPTER 1




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