4. The oldest artifact

“The man had me kidnapped and tortured.” Ellison tried to dig his heels in but Matilda easily dragged him out of the Barley Mow Inn and onto Leadenhall Street.

“I know, I’m the one who rescued you.”

Ellison found his footing and began trotting next to her as she walked in the direction of the Armforge Guild.

“I don’t think I can work with someone who did that,” Ellison said, but continued to follow her.

“On Krim?” She scoffed, but released her hold on him. “You can’t let a little kidnapping and torture get in the way of your business relationships. If you did, you’d have nothing left. Besides, the biggest jerks are often the ones with the most money.”

They went all the way down Leadenhall Street, crossed Banking, then took a Tiding Crossing to Knots Hollow and turned left. The Armsforge Guild had an entire gated compound to itself, with high stone wall all around.

The walls had embedded spikes pointing both inward and out. It would have been just as difficult to climb over the wall to get in as it would have to get out again.

A guard watched them approach and saw Ellison looking at the spikes.

“They’re poisoned, too,” the guard said. “We caught a guy trying to get over using ropes and blankets just the other week.”

“What happened to him?” Ellison asked.

“He’s rotting away in our dungeon. Literally rotting. We have good poisons.” The guard smacked his lips. “Nobody steals from us.”

“Except last night,” Ellison said.

The guard’s face darkened. “Well, that had to be an inside job,” he said. “We had a lot of guests walking around this week.” He lowered his voice. “And we’ve had some of them.” He gestured across the street.

Ellison turned and looked at the Pressed Flowers Gifts and Boutique.

“Not, not them,” said the guard. “Them.” He gestured again.

“He means Lifeworks,” said Matilda. The Lifeworks compound was far to the east, all the way at the other end of Leadenhall Street. “There were scientists here last night?”

“No,” said the guard. “I don’t mind the scientists. Well, they’re useless and entitled. Think they’re all brainiacs, looking down on us physical types.”

Matilda reached over and tilted the guard’s helm up. “I know you,” she said. “Charlie, right? Don’t you have, what, three PhD?”

“Well, yes,” the guard said, shifting back on his feet. “But they’re in the hard sciences. Materials engineering. Not whatever voodoo they’re working on over there.”

“So they were here?” Ellison interrupted. “And you suspect them of the theft?”

“No, the scientists weren’t here. Their guinea pigs were.” The guard sniffed. “The oldies. Did you know one of them killed a seamstress last week? Not that I mind a little light murder. But we’ve got a shortage of decent clothes on Krim as it is.” The guard shook his head. “Going after creators is only something an uncivilized savage would do.”

“It wasn’t a returnee that killed her,” Ellison said. “It was the guy’s granddaughter.”

“Great-granddaughter,” said Matilda.

“Right,” said Ellison. “The old guy was framed.”

The guard’s face lit up in recognition.

“You must be the detective. Elliot, right? Rodge’s waiting for you.”

“Ellison,” Ellison muttered as the guard ushered them inside. “The name’s Ellison.”

Rodge was downstairs, in the guild’s torture dungeon.

They had a man chained by his arms and legs to a damp stone wall. It must have been extremely uncomfortable, especially since the arms were already turning black. His torso was exposed, red welts showing where he’d been stuck by a whip. The whip itself was in Rodge’s hands.

He saw them walk in.

“Oh good, you decided to come.” Rodge held the whip out to the side and a masked figure stepped out of the shadows and took it away.

Ellison hesitated briefly, then stepped closer. He wasn’t the one being tortured.

“Is that one of the thieves?” he asked.

“It’s a thief.” Rodge shook his head. “We caught him trying to break in a week ago and kept him around for torturing practice. I don’t want to have to keep paying Glad the Impaler every time we need work done.”

“His prices have been getting exorbitant lately,” said Matilda.

Rodge sighed. “He’s got the torturing market cornered.” He turned and looked at the thief. “But we might have to call him in. We haven’t had any luck finding out if this guy knows anything.”

“The fact that he’s still here might be a clue,” said Ellison.

“How so?”

“Well, he’s a thief, right?”

“Yes, we found his guild card on him.”

“So if other guild members were responsible for the yesterday’s invasion, wouldn’t they have tried to rescue him?”

“Those wastrels? They know nothing of honor!” Then Rodge paused to think. “If it wasn’t professional thieves, I have a hard time seeing how amateurs could have pulled it off.”

“I heard you suspect an inside job,” said Matilda.

“That’s right.” Rodge led them out of the dungeon and back up to the guild’s main floor. A line of terrified staff stood lined up against a hall wall. Rodge walked past them without a single glance in their direction.

“This is my study.”

The two guards stationed outside the heavy doors pulled them apart and Rodge walked in.

He stopped in the middle of the room and turned around. The place had been ransacked. Glass display cases stood open, locks broken. Whatever had been inside was gone. Books hard been pulled off the shelves and dumped on the floor.

A leather sofa and two leather armchairs had been eviscerated, stuffing and springs pulled out. Paintings still hung on walls, but the canvases had been slashed.

A heavy iron safe in the corner had been opened, its contents removed.

Ellison turned to Matilda. “Do you know anyone who would have wanted to do this?”

She walked around the room and examined the damage, stopping at the paintings.

“Whoever it was, they were pretty angry,” she said and turned to look at Rodge. “I can think of at least a dozen people.”

“At least.” Rodge smiled. “I make a lot of enemies.”

“But I can’t see how any of them could have,” Matilda added.

“Talk us through what happened,” said Ellison.