20. Send for the fishmonger

Rodge Bannister didn’t want to offer a reward for the return of the Jewel of Rhotar.

They’d recovered everything except a dozen or so of the smaller, less valuable previous stones and historic artifacts. The Gang of Four had either hidden them somewhere where Rodge and his mercenaries couldn’t find them, had already sold them, or Gervis had them in his possession.

“He’s been keeping his head down,” said Ellison. “Gervis is still on Krim somewhere. I’ll know if he leaves the grid. But nobody has heard from him. Nobody who’s talking, at least.”

Rodge frowned. “Well, the thieves were very good at disguises,” he said after a long pause.

“That, or Gervis is staying out of sight, possibly hiding out with someone he trusts,” said Ellison. “But he’s been in Krim for years, so that could be anybody.”

“And you think money is going to be enough to flush him out.”

“No, probably not.”

“So why bother?”

“We, ahh, we’re also going to tempt him with a team of raiders who will attack the Armsforge Guild and rescue the prisoners.”

Rodge closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I’m guessing that this is a ruse,” he finally said. “Another tactic to flush the traitor out into the open.”

Ellison nodded.

“I don’t like it,” said Rodge. “And I’m not going to offer a reward. What if Gervis has sold the jewel to someone else, and they step forward to claim it? If we don’t pay up, we’ll be taking a hit to our reputation. If we do pay up, we’re rewarding treachery and malfeasance.”

He slammed his fist against the desk. “I want a names of all of his known associates. We round them all up. We will search their homes and places of business. We will torture them until they give up the traitor.”

“You’ll start a war with every other guild on Krim,” Ellison said. “But that’s okay, we have a backup plan without you having to pay a reward.”

“I’m listening.”

“Duke Humfridus Hubelet Hamund…” Ellison had to say the name slowly to avoid tripping over the syllables. “… of the Sightless Crossfire guild will front ten thousand golds as a reward. For that money, even Gervis’ closest friends will sell him out.”

“What!” Rodge rose from his chair.

Ellison backed away a step.

“You expect me to let that blithering idiot Ham get his hands on the jewel?”

“You did say it was more important to get Gervis back than the jewel,” said Ellison.

Rodge stood all the way up and walked to the window overlooking the courtyard and clenched and unclenched his fists.

Then he turned around and looked at Ellison.

“I don’t like it. I don’t like any of the choices. Come up with something better.”

“Um…”

“But while you’re thinking about it, go ahead and post the reward.” Rodge sighed. “I’ll front the money.” He sat back down. “And check with Danmak the Bonekeeper. See if any the thieves confessed anything useful yet.”

Ellison didn’t want to do that. Just knowing that the three men were somewhere below, screaming in pain, made him uncomfortable. The heavy stone walls of the guild building may have blocked the sounds, but Ellison could swear that he could smell burning flesh in the air.

He dragged himself into the main hall and was relieve to find that Danmak was on a break, eating brunch in the break room.

He was on a battered couch, feet up, reading “Torture Monthly,” and eating a pastry.

“Yeah, we got info,” he said, wiping crumbs from his beard. “Between the three of them, they must have named half the citizens of Krim as co-conspirators.”

“Like who?”

“Well, like half the members of the guild, to start with.” Danmak polished off the rest of the pastry, put down the magazine, and swung his feet off the couch. “Chamomile tea?”

“Thanks, I’m good.”

“Who else? Oh, the grid admins. The head of the chamber of commerce. The woman who runs the historical museum. Some fishmonger. The head of the assassin’s guild.”

“Which one?”

“The Paladins. But also a few of the assassins from the Avatars of Doom.” Danmak shook his head. “I’m starting to suspect that they’re just naming everyone they can think of so I stop torturing them. But they could be telling the truth. Gervis has been around a long time. He’s probably got lots of friends.” He reached for another pastry. “Rodge has already sent someone out after the fishmonger.”

“Do you ever.. you know… feel bad about the torturing?” Ellison asked.

“No. Why should I?” Danmak picked up his magazine and leaned back. “It’s in the terms of service. If people don’t want to be tortured, they shouldn’t come to Krim.” He leafed through the magazine to find the page where he’d left off. “Oh, this is a good one.” He held up the magazine. “It’s a Heretic’s Fork.”

Despite himself, Ellison leaned forward to look. The page featured an engraving of of a prisoner with a leather strap around his neck. The strap held in place a something that looked like a fork, one that had two tines on both ends. The fork was wedged under the prisoner’s chin, forcing him to tilt his head back.

“That doesn’t look too bad,” said Ellison.

“No, no, this is great,” said Danmak, and read out loud from the magazine. “The device is wedged between the breastbone and the throat. The prisoner is unable to talk or fall asleep and delirium usually leads to a confession.” He tapped on the page. “I’m going to put in a requisition for one of these. It says here that these forks were used a lot during the Spanish Inquisition.”

“How does the prisoner confess if he can’t talk?”

“Good point,” said Danmak. “Can’t be hand gestures. If their hands are free, they’d just move the fork.” He rubbed his beard. “I guess you could ask them, ‘Are you ready to talk yet? Blink once for yes, twice for no.'” He looked up at Ellison. “All sorts of nuances in the torture business. It’s not as easy as people make it sound. It’s hard work, actually. Let me tell you about this one prisoner I had once…”

Ellison backed out of the room. There was a bloodthirsty killer out there waiting for him. Namely, Matilda.

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