Clinio Lind, accompanied by five of his fighters, and followed by Ellison and Matilda, crossed Banking Street and headed down Delves of the Golden Dragon, which was just a narrow alley connecting Banking and Knots Hollow Way. It was lined with three- and four-story apartment buildings, a few with shops on the ground floor offering take-out or laundry services.
The Delves were emptier than usual, and the Royal Season security team set a good pace, forcing Ellison to speedwalk to keep up.
Matilda tapped his shoulder, then nodded up at one of the signs hanging in a second-floor window. “For rent.” Ellison looked around. Several other windows also had “for rent” signs.
“Have they always been there?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “It’s normally hard to find a place here. Armforge Guild fighters like to live on this street.”
“Because the guild headquarters is close?”
“That, and all the bars and whorehouses over on Marylebone.”
“Does it mean that people are quitting the guild?” Ellison asked.
“Maybe. Or it could mean that the war up north will probably go on for a while, and people gave up their apartments and put their stuff into storage.”
The Armforge Guild headquarters was a miniature castle with a high stone wall around the perimeter and several buildings inside the compound, including the main guild building and a stable. It was a stock design. The original Krim creators dropped multiple copies all around the city. Some guilds had customized their premises once they took over, but construction was slow and expensive. The Armforge Guild limited itself by hanging their guild flag over the front doors, and a wooden plaque over the Knots Hollow Way entrance.
There was nobody at the guard post.
“It’s quiet in there,” Ellison said. “Maybe they’ve all gone off to fight in the war.”
“They wouldn’t leave the guild hall abandoned like this,” said Matilda.
Clinio’s fighters took out their swords and banged on the iron bars of the gate. Eventually, someone appeared from around the side of the main building and limped over, grumbling.
“That’s Pegleg Percy,” said Matilda.
“I know him,” said Clinio. “He was here on our last visit.”
“What’s with all the clanging?” Percy finally made it to the guard booth, pulled out a stool, and plopped down on it just inside the gate. “Let a man get some rest, won’t you?”
“Tell Rodge Bannister we’re here to see him,” said Clinio.
“Tell him yourself. What am I, your errand boy?” Percy rubbed his temples and yawned.
“Fine. Let us in and we’ll do that.”
“Can’t and won’t,” said Percy. “Anyway, it wouldn’t do you much good. Bannister’s not here, is he now?”
“So where is he?”
Percy waved his hand. “Out of town. He’s going to be heading up north, isn’t he?” He scratched under the back of his collar and yawned again. “You might catch him up at Sangeries. Maybe. Who knows?”
“What about the prisoners?” asked Ellison. “Are they still here?”
“Why would I tell you anything about any prisoners?” asked Percy.
“You can tell me,” said Matilda.
“Oh, well, since it’s you,” said Pegleg Percy. “Then sure. Which prisoners?”
“The gang of four,” said Ellison. “Gervis Gefroi. Trozganoth the Anointed. Vaganath the Vagabond. And a fourth guy…”
“Tarantula Dave,” said Matilda.
“Nope, no prisoners here,” said Percy. “Everybody’s cleared out.”
“What about Danny?” asked Matilda.
“Danmak the Torturer? He’s also up at Sangeries Castle,” said Percy. “The cult made a mess of the dungeons there, did you hear?”
“Did they take the prisoners to the castle, too?” asked Clinio.
“Probably,” said Percy. “I wasn’t on shift then. And they wouldn’t exactly ask me to help with the moving, would they?” He tapped his wooden leg.
Clinio sighed and stepped away from the gate. “I can’t very well go chasing all over Krim looking for Banniester,” he told Ellison. “There’s too much to do here in the city. Plus, I need to be close to the gate, so I can check in with the main office.” He ran his hand through his hair and looked up at the sky. He turned to one of the fighters. “Brendon, can you go with these two to the guild’s castle?”
Mad Eyed Brendon nodded.
“I’ll head down to the docks. See if we can get a ship ready to go once we know where to send them.” He pointed at one of the other fighters. “Galwell, head out through the gate. Find out if any more fighters or Singletons were killed. Or if anyone from the Royal Season staff is back.” He shook his head. “I don’t know if any of them are willing to come back to Krim, but if they are, send them to Banking Street.”
Galwell nodded, then headed north up Knots Hollow Way towards the Central Square and the main teleport gate out of Krim.
Clinio looked back at Ellison. “I wasn’t too sure about Matilda, but she’s good to have around, isn’t she?”
“I’ve got a lot of friends,” she said.
“She’s buddies with every criminal, mercenary, torturer, and evil fiend on Krim,” said Ellison.
“And you,” said Matilda, patting Ellison on the shoulder.
“Well, I wouldn’t say we’re buddies,” said Ellison. “More like business associates.”
“Well, you and your associate are probably going to need a vehicle,” said Clinio. “Brendon, can you get a coach? Have them bill the Royal Season, as usual.”
The Bolted Door Livery was on Gold Crown Lane, just off of Banking Street south of the Gold Travel Agency building that served as the Royal Season’s temporary offices on Krim. Ellison, Matilda, and Mad Eyed had to walk back down the Delves of the Golden Dragon to get there. Then the trip through the city to the northern gate — a regular city gate, not a teleport one — took an hour, and then it was another hour and half straight north along Gegorport Highway, maybe a little longer, to get to Sangeries Castle.
“So you don’t think of us as friends?” Matilda asked Ellison as they got closer to their destination.
“Maybe not really close friends,” said Ellison. “But friendly-ish. But it’s not like we go out drinking together all the time.”
“No, we don’t,” said Matilda. “And you never want to pair up with me for trivia night.”
“That’s because you stab your partners when they get an answer wrong,” said Ellison.
“What’s a little friendly stabbing between chums?” asked Matilda. “May Eyed, you don’t mind, do you?”
“No, of course not,” said Mad Eyed.
“Great,” said Matilda. “You can be my partner next time.”
Mad Eyed visibly swallowed.
The dead bodies from the battle between the Armforge Guild and the Cult of Qualdir had long been cleared away and most of the damage to the bridge and front gate had been repaired, but builders were still at work finishing up.
The bridge wasn’t ready for vehicle traffic yet so they left the coach near the highway and walked across the bridge to the castle’s front gates. Mad Eyed Brendon explained what they had come for and the guards let them in.
Rodge Bannister wasn’t there. According to the guards, he’d left just that morning with an army unit. But Danmak the Torturer was still around.
“He’s in his office,” the guard said and pointed across the grass area between the outer and inner walls. “Go across the outer bailey, through the gatehouse, across the inner bailey to the great hall. It’s next to the keep. Go down two floors to the dungeon. Danmak’s office is the first torture chamber on the right. I’d have someone take you there, but we’re a little short-staffed right now. You’ll find it.”
Sangeries Castle was on an island formed by a loop of the Krim River. There was a massive external wall that circled the entire castle, which was on a hill. There was a second wall inside the first wall, also with its own drawbridge and portcullis. Ellison was impressed that the cult had been able to capture the castle at all and impressed again that the guild had been able to take it back.
Mad Eyed Brendon led the way. “I’ve seen this layout before,” he said.
Inside the interior wall, there were several buildings, on the far end, two of which were on either side of a tall stone tower. They figured that the bigger of the two was the great hall, and it was.
Danmak the Torturer was happy to see them and show off his new work area.
“You’ve got to love the place,” he told Matilda. “There’s so much more room here than what we have back in the city. Would you believe the dungeons go down three levels? The whole hill has tunnels and and dungeons all through it. What you see up here is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re still working on cleaning up the mess the cult left behind, but this area up here is mostly done.”
He led them down a chilly corridor with crumbling stone walls, lit by dim oil lamps.
“There are more cells down below, but we keep the most important prisoners up here. Well, the only prisoners, right now.” He stopped by the first door, made of heavy wood, hung on hefty iron hinges. It had a small window with iron bars set in it. Danmak banged on the bars and peered inside. “Hey, Dave, someone is here to see you.” Danmak stepped aside and Ellison peered in.
A captive, naked under a straightjacket, crouched in a dark back corner. Unlike the corridor, the cell’s walls were padded leather.
“He’s on a hunger strike,” said Danmak. “So we have to force feed him. I’ll ease up on the torturing once he starts eating normally again.” Danmak leaned towards the window and raised his voice. “Hear that, Dave? If you eat your soup like a good boy, it’ll go easier for you.” Danmak stepped away and shook his head. “Frankly, I think he just wants the attention. But I don’t mind too much. I have a new set of torture instruments that came in, and I get to try them all out.”
“Oh?” Matilda asked. “Where did you order from?”
“Blood and Splinters on Rosewood Cottage Way,” said Danmak. “They have a new blacksmith and she’s an artist.” He kissed the tips of his fingers. “You have to check out their new catalog. I’ve got a copy in my office, if you’d like.”
“I would, thanks,” said Matilda.
Ellison looked at Mad Eyed and rolled his eyes.
“I want to see that catalog, too.” Mad Eyed told Danmak, then glanced at Ellison. “Hey, don’t judge. Good torture is an art form.”
“Exactly,” said Danmak. “Glad to see that someone understands.” He led them to the next door. “This is where we’re keeping Vaganath,” he said, and banged on the iron bars again. “How do you like having your own room, Vaggie?”
Ellison heard a groan from the inside and looked in. Like Tarantula Dave, Vaganath was in a straight jacket, leaning against a wall in his padded cell, but at least he was wearing pants.
“He doesn’t actually like having his own room,” Danmak confided as he walked on. “He’d be happier if he was with the other prisoners, you know. Solitary confinement can be worse than the actual physical torture. People like being with their friends, but I’m saving that as a reward for when they get thoroughly broken in and resigned to their fate.”
Trozganoth’s room was across the hall. Again, Ellison looked in to make sure that the prisoner was, in fact, there and still alive.
“And this is the main torture hall,” Danmak said, approaching a large double door. He lifted the bar that kept it shut and pushed the doors open.
There was a small lamp hanging in the corridor just outside the door. Danmak lifted it down and carried it inside, where he used it to light another lamp in a niche to his right. Then he walked down a short set of stairs.
The torture hall was several times larger than any of the cells and had a higher ceiling as well. The back half of the chamber was dark, and a man in a long robe was chained to the back wall. In the shadows, Ellison could just make out the scraggly hair hanging down to the prisoner’s shoulders and a sparse beard. In the shadows and the robe, it was hard to make out his shape.
“And that’s the last one of them. The Gang of Four.” Danmak spit on the ground. “More like the gang of traitors. Can you believe that Gervis worked for us for years?” He shook his head. “What happened to loyalty?”
“That’s not Gervis,” said Ellison.
“It is,” said Danmak. “You two brought him in yourselves. You forget, he looks different because he was in disguise. Thought he could get away from us, by pretending to be a minstrel, didn’t he?”
Matilda walked towards the prisoner. “It does kind of look like him,” she told Ellison. “Maybe a little bit bigger. But that could just be the robes.”
“How can you tell with all the bruises and swelling?” asked Mad Eyed Bredon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t be able to tell any of the four of them apart right now.”
“I’m good at telling who people are,” said Ellison. “It’s my job. And that’s not Gervis.”
“So who is it then?” Matilda peered at the prisoner, then poked him in the ribs.
“It’s Skullash,” said Ellison. “The local head of the Cult of Qualdir. The guild must have captured him when they took the castle back.”
“Are you calling me a liar?” Danmak looked from Ellison to Matilda. “Have I ever lied to you?”
“I’m sure you would if you got a nice big dungeon out of it,” she said.
Danmak deflated. “Fine,” he said. “It’s Skullash. I don’t know where Gervis is. He was taken away in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago, and Bannister told me not to worry about it.”
Matilda walked backed and patted Danmak on the shoulder. “Thanks. I’ll buy you a beer next time you’re in town.”
“So what now?” asked Mad Eyed.
“Now we put out the word that we’re looking for Gervis,” said Ellison. “He’s probably on the Santa Marina, but there’s a chance he was killed during the attack. I’ll check if he’s off-world. Matilda…”
“Yeah, I’ll check the bars,” she said. “It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.”