037 Those Who Watch the Sky - 37
37 – Children Seeking Their Own Sky 4
In the forests off the western most edge of the farmlands outside of Foothold the last of a group of bandits fell dead as Melody’s talon’s tore down him. Making sure she finished him off she launched them away with a spinning back kick. Looking over her handiwork within the tent the bandits had set up she sighed contentedly.
“Ah~ ~♪ That’s better ~♪ No more bandit’s here ~♪ Though none of them look like they were on the bounty board ~♪ Oh well ~♪ Maybe Boulder had more luck than I did ~♪ Thou~gh, I can always claim any treasure in here for myself ~♪”
Sifting through the remnants of the tent for anything of worth Melody pouted in disappointment. Though the bandits had been gathering in the woods for some time according to the bounty bills that had led her and Boulder into the woods, they did not seem to be in possession of any treasure. Even on their person’s there wasn’t anything of note or value, except…
“Ah! ~♪ What’s this? ~♪”
A scrap of paper stuck out of the breast pocket of one of the bandits and Melody carefully pulled it out with a clawed toe. Perching down to get a look at it Melody’s eyes widened.
~ If you’ve received this letter then you have been deemed worthy of answering the call to the greatest job of our times. Gather your men and travel south to Ibrand. There you will be granted your chance to claim a bounty from the Foreigner bastards themselves. ~
“Hmm… Where’s Ibrand I wonder…”
Rising to her feet Melody pondered over what to do for a while until Boulder stepped into the tent behind her.
“Somethin’ wrong in here Mouse, or did ye find a whoppin’ treasure you couldn’t haul yourself?”
“Something like that ~♪ Though it may be out of our reach ~♪”
“Whaddya mean Mouse?”
Making his way across the tent to join Melody, Boulder had his eyes guided down by the harpy’s to where she tapped her toe against the scrap of paper she had found. Squatting down he lifted it up and scanned the words written on. With a heavy sigh he ran a hand over his face and peered out from behind it at Melody.
“Kinda wish ye had found this sooner Mouse. That bastard Bird was ‘ere a little while ago and tells me he has a favor to pay back and that he needs our help to do it. If I had had this then I coulda sweetened the deal.”
“Is it that important?”
“Heh! Important enough that I can still take advantage of it later if that bastard doesn’t skip out on me.”
Returning to his full height Boulder shoved the scrap of paper inside of his duster and turned to leave the tent. Melody skipped after him with curiosity dictating her words.
“Can we use it to get money out of him or information?”
“Information is what we already got, or at least that ye ‘ave Mouse. It’ll likely make ye even happier to know that you get to go to one of those damnable libraries you enjoy spendin’ too much time in.”
Boulder was not anywhere near as enthusiastic as Melody was but had already accepted the offer. In short order him and Melody had the bodies of the bandits in a wagon and left them with the city guard in Foothold. Not long after that the two departed a streetcar and entered a towering building where the hollow interior was lined with bookshelves to the roof and strewn with a cobweb of catwalks, staircases, and ladders. Making their way to the heart of the ground floor and the librarian station thereat Boulder finally filled Melody in on what they were doing there.
“Supposedly, Bird called in some gnome to help ‘im out with his work and meetin’ ye was part of the deal Mouse. Thing is, I woulda turned ‘im down but I already promised ye I’d get ‘im to look into yer friends and supposedly this is a part of that.”
“Ah~! ~♪ It hasn’t even been that long, and we already know something⁈ ~♪”
“Shh~! This is a library for cryin’ out loud Mouse! That isn’t even to say anythin’ about discussin’ our relations with that bastard.”
“I personally find the policy of silence in a library to be daft when it comes to expressing the joys of newly discovered knowledge and am most appreciative of the girl’s enthusiasm. Why I wonder, how long has it been now since I last saw a child so endeared to learning?”
“And you would be…?”
Turning around and lowering the finger he used to shush Melody, Boulder and the harpy looked at the unusual icaran man who had appeared behind them. He was a peculiar little man of many, many years possessed of ruddy, wrinkled skin that hid twinkling blue eyes behind his white hair, bushy mustache, and round spectacles. Garbed in a cream trench coat with a long vermillion cape he might had passed for a traveling scholar, but the steel stilts on the bottom his boots that let him reach Melody’s height and the massive rust red gauntlets that seemed too big to actually hold normal sized hands within made that difficult to believe. He was obviously an adventurer if not a Sa·B·er and pained realization donned on Boulder.
“Don’t tell me that ye’r the gnome that Bird was talking about?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say I’m a gnome, but if you’ve mentioned Bird then I would not be wrong in presuming that this fine specimen is Mouse?”
“It’s Melody actually, but everyone keeps telling me a Sa·B·er shouldn’t use their original name ~♪”
“A pleasure to meet you then Mouse. I hope you don’t mind me using professional names as we are meeting under business pretenses though I will gladly call you Melody outside of business and hope to have many meetings with you. You see, Bird called me up here telling stories of magicked to life dormant Artificial Gate Generators, Ambrosial Beings, a harpy who wasn’t a harpy, a girl cursed by Hazel Sycamore of all people. Let me tell you that that boy wouldn’t hurt a hair on the head of a fly no less curse some poor girl.”
The old man was very animated as he spoke, moving his body about as much as his hands as he described Bird’s stories. His enthusiasm was not appreciated by Boulder however and the hulking chimeric man made sure to make that clear.
“Ye’r runnin’ on old man and tryin’ my patience. And what are ye thinkin’ saying stuff like that aloud in public?”
“Whatever do you mean my good man? We are in a library where knowledge is meant to spread out from. There are no secrets here or need of them. Knowledge that is kept in secret is the same as ignorance.”
“That so old man? Well in my line a work thar are thin’s ye shouldn’t blabble about out loud in just any old place.”
“A sad line of work you find yourself in I say. I much rather prefer the path of illuminating the unknown and revealing the forgotten so it is not wasted.”
“Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha… I know you two are having fun, but I think we might be the center of attention now ~♪”
Laughing nervously Melody interrupted the odd little man and Boulder and brought their attention to the stares of the library patrons. Boulder sighed heavily and pulled his hand down his face while the old man crossed his arms before deciding to grab his jaw thoughtfully.
“Well this is quite the audience we have. They must be quite hungry for knowledge.”
“The knowledge yer yappin’ is keeping ‘em from diggin’ out of all of these damnable books.”
Melody smiled widely and had to fight hard to keep herself from laughing at the irony of Boulder’s accusation.
[You’re being just as loud Boulder.]
If she trusted herself to feign laughing at the old man she would have allowed herself to, but Melody knew Boulder was the one she found to more amusing and that he would clearly pick up on it if she laughed aloud. Fortunately, he seemed distracted enough by the old man to not notice her smile and that provided her enough of a sense of relief to remain quite.
“Well, they must not have all that strong a desire to study their selected subjects if we are distracting them. A typical problem of the average could-be-scholar I say.”
“I don’t think anyone cares what ye think about how they read ther damnable books old man. Honestly, who are ye supposed to be to think ye have the right to say as is?”
“Who, me? Why I thought Bird must have told you? Did he really call me a gnome after all? I must have a word with him about proper introductions. The same could be said of you as well my good sir, requesting an identity without even identifying yourself. Though I am equally guilty thus I shall lead this round of introductions. Mouse, my good sir, I am none other than…”
“You brought Sorcerer Balgun to Foothold⁈ Are you mad Bird⁈”
“Word on the street said you were looking for me Verdant, but I never thought it was about something so small. You had my hopes up that you were going to confess to abusing your power and risking the safety of the world for your lust for greater and greater technology. How you became a member of the clergy instead of a salvager is a total mystery to me. Maybe I should do some more thorough research into your past to find the connection, there just might be something interesting there.”
“Are you done yet Bird?”
“Did I hit a nerve Verdant?”
With a mocking smile Bird challenged the bishop of Foothold who glared at him from across his office where he sat at his desk with his chin resting on his laced fingers.
“What you have done is an act of idiocy at best Bird. That man is a loose cannon and affiliated with Lucir, the Red Army, and the Sowers of Chaos. He is no ally of the Cardinal Church no less Choir. Why would you bring such a man here?”
“You said it yourself Verdant.”
The Bishop’s eyes narrowed further as he continued glaring at Bird. Sighing, Bird pulled his left hand out of his pocket and rubbed the back of his head. He knew that the bishop already knew what he was talking about but as he seemed unlikely to be satisfied until he explained himself he could not hide his exasperation.
“Look, Verdant, we don’t really need to play this game do we? We’ve known each other for a while now. Log enough in fact that the militia here is starting to know me by the sound of voice.”
Lowering his voice and looking down and behind him as he spoke his last sentence Bird took the time to squeeze in a complaint about his current posting. The bishop seemed unamused though and continued glaring at Bird coldly. Sighing again Bird turned forward enough to fully face the bishop again. Returning his left hand to his pocket he continued.
“Fine I get it. Things have to be officially recorded and all of that. You never know when a member of Choir is going to abuse their power and bully a poor unfortunate bishop that their investigating for abuse of power. But if we’re going to play games Verdant, what’s that little saying you’ve grown so fond of since we started this little dance of ours?”
“One must understand when to play their cards if they desire to best serve humanity.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Well that’s what I was doing; playing my cards.”
“And when did Sorcerer Balgun become one of your cards I wonder…”
“I’m an agent of Choir, Verdant. I meet people and make connections in my line of work. Balgun just so happens to be one of them and the perfect one for one of my ongoing investigations.”
“I wonder which one could possibly need him…?”
“Don’t try to be coy Verdant. I’m being blunt here because this investigation only partly involves you. After all, you had no hand in those kids turning on the dam or activating and using a Dolmen.”
“True. I likely learned of their arrival even after you. Somehow though I doubt that you brought so infamous a researcher of Ambrosia, the Ancients, and Foreigners here just for understanding how a remote activation of an Artificial Gate Generator occurred. There are countless researchers across the face of Icarus including within Choir who could have assisted you in that matter.”
“But none of them would have gotten me a personal interview with the Sycamore cursed girl. After all, didn’t you just say that he worked with the Sowers of Chaos. Who better to break down his work than a former companion? And if what I’m hearing about her degradation is true then an expert like him may be the last chance we’ll get at getting anything out of her.”
Bird could feel the animosity flooding the room and smiled wearily. He was playing a very risky card but what choice did he have? The history of Hazel Sycamore was a stain upon the face of Icarus and he could under no circumstances let a man being investigated by Choir get his hands on him. Fortunately for him though, Balgun was a card with numerous facets that affected how useful of a card he was, and he knew that Verdant was a very greedy man. Betting on that greed, Bird crossed the room as he continued.
“Speaking of things I’ve been hearing, I heard an interesting little story about the boy who was in that group. Something about him receiving a visit from her Eminence herself during his cleansing ceremony. That’s a pretty big secret to keep Verdant, and one that could land you in some awfully hot water with the cardinals should they learn about it.”
“Are you attempting to blackmail me Bird? I do believe that falls under abuse of your powers.”
Finally reaching the bishop’s desk Bird pulled his right hand from his pocket and placed it on the desk and propped himself against it. Looking down at the glaring bishop he smiled slyly.
“Of course not Verdant. I’m one of the best Choir has despite how bad my investigation into you is killing my reputation. I swear I’m going to get my pay docked at this rate. But really, that’s none of your concern. Your concern should be squarely on Balgun. After all, he could be a major boon to you if you give him a reason to share what he learns about the girl in more detail by providing him access to the only known recipient in our modern age of a visitation from her Eminence. In fact, he might be able to confirm for us all if he has been blessed with her Light of Hope.”
It was almost imperceptible, but Bird did not miss it; there was the slightest of twitches around the bishop’s eye. He was obviously agitated but Bird had played his card right and won this hand. It was only one hand however and the game between Bird and Bishop Verdant was far from over.
Copyright © 2019 Joshua D Tarwater
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