NaNoWriMo Update Eighteen

Here’s a 1552 word update for you, in which we meet the mystery man who set all this in motion. Running total is 31788.


What they couldn’t tell from a distance, and what became clearer the closer they got, was that the city was in ruin. Not merely decayed, it looked as if the walls had been torn down in spots, and some of the taller buildings looked to have collapsed as a result of damage rather than old age. Everything was made of stone that was, or had been, polished smooth and fit together almost seamlessly. It was obvious that the builders of the old tower had come from this city.

Though there were plenty of holes in the wall through which they could have ridden with ease, Clem took them right in through the front gate. The gatehouse was a thing of beauty, easily a match for any castle fortress from the old world, though none of the group would have known. Clayton shuddered a bit as they rode through, imagining what sort of enemy the fortifications had been designed to defend against. There were slits in the walls to either side, through which arrows or firearms could be shot at any attacker. He peered into a few as they rode past, but saw only dusty stone in the dimly lit rooms beyond.

Clayton also noticed holes in the ceiling above, and his imagination took to devising various fluids that could be poured through them. He was glad when they passed through the interior gates and entered the city proper, leaving the gatehouse and its murder holes behind.

Even the streets were paved with smooth interlocking stones, and the sound of the group’s horses upon them echoed eerily through the empty ruins. “Clem,” Clayton spoke into the echoes as they rode on. “Those gates back there were made of stone.”

“Looked like, yeah,” she agreed easily.

“Who builds their front door out of rock?” Morgan muttered.

“Somebody who really doesn’t want anybody getting inside,” Brodie told him.

“Yeah, but… how would you close them?” Clayton asked, amazed. “Or open them? Or move them at all?”

“That’s easy enough,” Clem answered him. “You get the spirits to do it.”

He looked back over his shoulder at the massive stone gates and wondered what kind of people used spirits as doormen. “Who lived here?” he asked, and though he’d spoken softly some quirk of acoustics made the words all but boom off of the nearby walls.

“Couldn’t say,” Clem shrugged, looking uneasily around as the question continued to echo.

“There must be clues,” Clayton suggested. “Things that got left behind. You haven’t looked around?”

“Now there’s an idea,” Slim spoke up, eyes alight. “A city this big, there’s bound to be something left to loot.”

“You really want to go poking around in here, with who knows what wandering about?” Brodie asked.

“What… what do you mean?” Slim asked.

“I mean I don’t know what the hell lives out here. If something as nasty as the goyles avoid this place I wager it’s gotta be pretty bad.”

“You seen something?” Slim wanted to know.

“I did,” Clayton spoke up. “Last night. Got up to take a leak, and saw… I dunno, some kind of big angry dog thing.”

“Well it didn’t eat you,” Thomas pointed out. “So maybe they aren’t all that mean.”

“Yeah,” Morgan chuckled, “Or maybe Clay just doesn’t look all that tasty.”

“Either way,” Brodie growled them into silence, “Nobody’s running off anywhere or poking their nose into anything until after we get paid. We can maybe take a look on the way out,” he allowed.

“Besides,” Clem added, “Dorean will probably have something to say about that.”

“What’s he care?” Thomas wanted to know.

“He’s been out here a while, is all. Calls it his city, from time to time. And he lives in there,” she added, indicating a large, ornate building they were coming up on. Though it was made the same as everything else in the city, the architects had taken special care of the building ahead. They’d made the interlocking stones to seemingly impossible things, building patterns into the walls and giving the whole thing a wavy, flowing appearance, as if the stone had been molten and malleable. It was one of the few structures that didn’t display any outward signs of damage, despite its intricacy.

“Damn,” Brodie admired it with raised eyebrows. “And, ah, what is that, exactly?”

“Dorean calls it the Great Hall. Other than that, I have no idea. Now grab the box, boys. It’s payday.”

They left their horses in the open courtyard outside and went in on foot, Slim and Thomas carrying the lockbox between them. The doors to the Great Hall were swung wide open, but rather than seeming inviting they reminded Clayton more of a giant maw ready to devour the unwary. Easily fifteen feet tall they were made of stone, just as the main gates were. But while the main gates were plain and unadorned, these were intricately carved with scenes depicting something Clayton couldn’t quite make sense of. As the group passed through the open doorway he reached out to touch one. To his surprise it swung open easily as his fingers brushed against it, as if it weighed almost nothing and was attached to the world’s most well oiled hinges.

Inside was equally extravagant, at least where the architecture was concerned. Any furnishings or decorations that may once have been were gone, but the building itself still gave an impression of majesty. Here, as on the outer walls, patterns had been worked into the interlocking stone blocks. Columns rose in twisted spirals to the arched ceiling, branching near the top to form a lattice of support that looked almost organic, like a great stone plant.

And at the back of the hall, where the floor rose into a set of broad stairs, there was a chair that Clayton couldn’t have mistaken for anything but a throne. It too was made of stone, but numerous blankets and bits of cloth had been piled upon it to make it more comfortable. Sat upon it, slouched and brooding, was a man in a stained and worn cavalry uniform. A hat just like Clem’s sat on his brow in place of a crown, an unkempt mess of red hair spilling out from underneath to settle on his shoulders. A wild and aggressive beard started an inch below his eyeballs and grew to a respective length below his chin. Streaks of grey patterned both the hair on his head and on his face, and his pale blue eyes shone like sapphires as they lit upon the gang.

“Broderick,” the man’s voice rolled across the hall, deep and sonorous. Just from that one word Clayton could pick out an old world accent. “You’ve come at last.”

Brodie walked up to the foot of the stairs, beckoning Slim and Thomas to drop the lockbox there next to him. The rest stopped short of getting that close. As the box thumped to the ground, Clem came to stand just off of Clayton’s right shoulder.

“Yeah, I came,” Brodie told him. “And it was much further than I planned on, so this better be worth it. Here’s your spirits cursed box,” he gently kicked the lockbox. “Now where’s my money?”

Dorean straightened in his throne. “Patience, Broderick, patience. I trust Clementine took good care of you and your fellows? The gang’s all here, as it were?” He spoke slowly, every word measured.

Brodie looked back at Clem, then nodded. “Yeah, she got us here all in one piece. Talked us through the goyles and kept us from falling down that damn huge cliff. She’s earned her share.”

“Good,” Dorean nodded, fingers steepled. “Good. One more thing remains before payment is rendered. I must verify the integrity of my delivery.”

“You want to do what?” Brodie asked.

“He wants to open the box,” Clem clarified, coming forward so she was standing next to it as well. Dorean nodded.

“It is, after all,” he told them, “Such a large sum in payment. I must be certain.”

“Well you didn’t tell us to steal the damn key,” Brodie complained, clearly exasperated. “In fact, I think I recall you saying you wanted it here unopened.”

“Indeed. And if it has arrived in such a condition the odds are good that the prize is unspoiled. Clementine?” he turned his icy gaze on the Spirit Talker, “Would you mind?”

She sat cross legged on the floor next to the box. From a pouch at her waist she fished out an old and worn metal padlock. Holding it in the palm of her hand, she started talking to the spirit that lived within. As she did her work, Dorean’s steady gaze studied each man in turn. With one hand he ran his fingers through the knotted hair of his beard. It was hard for Clayton to tell what the crazy looking cavalryman was thinking. Just as well, he figured. He’d probably rather not know. Even Brodie was squirming a bit under the scrutiny.

There was a series of clicks from the lockbox, which mercifully regained Dorean’s attention. With her free hand, Clem reached out and pushed open the lid. Everyone edged in a little closer to see what all the excitement had been about. Dorean himself stood and came forward, gaze fixed upon the contents.


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