“I’ve always wondered what a private investigator’s life was like,” said Mad Eyed Brendon after he and Ellison dropped Matilda off a couple of streets short of the center of Krim to go bar-hopping. “I didn’t expect it to be mostly driving around.”
The ride had been uncomfortable, with Matilda glaring silently out the window the whole way, still a little salty about Ellison’s friends comment.
The two of them watched as Matilda stretched to get the kinks out of her back after jostling down Krim City’s streets for nearly an hour. Then she squared her shoulders, patted her sword, and set off in the direction of the King’s Arms. After stopping in briefly at Krim’s biggest tourist bar, she’d probably head to the King’s Armpit, around the corner, and, from there, to the dozens of other taverns, pubs, alehouses, taprooms, grogshops, and gin houses scattered around the city. They were where most residents got food, entertainment, socializing and, news.
“No, it’s mostly walking,” Ellison said as their coach continued towards the central plaza. “What’s being a mercenary like?”
“Mostly sitting around and drinking,” said Mad Eyed.
“Well, you can tell Clinio that we’ve confirmed that Gervis Gefroi is somewhere out and about,” said Ellison. “That the Armforge Guild, for some reason, decided to let him go.”
“So you think that they’re the ones behind all the kidnappings?” asked Mad Eyed.
“All the signs point that way,” said Ellison. “It was two Armforge Guild members who kidnapped Wynefrede and Raphe from the circus.”
And when the Singletons had finally been rescued, they were being held in an Armforge Guild camp up near Saugeries Castle. Mad Eyed had been there with Ellison and Matilda and had carried one of the kidnappers for a couple of miles on his shoulder after they’d captured him. The kidnapper hadn’t been a guild member himself, but clearly there had been some kind of relationship there.
“I just haven’t been able to figure out a motive,” Ellison continued. “I haven’t been able to find any connection between the guild and the captives. Rodge Bannister himself didn’t seem to have any personal feelings about them one way or the other.”
“The only thing Rodge cares about is his battles,” said Mad Eyed.
“Right,” said Ellison. “And how is kidnapping two people out on a date going to help him with that? Or kidnapping a boat full of them?”
“It’s not like he needs the ransom money,” said Mad Eyed. “Everybody knows, if you want a steady paycheck, you go fight for Rodge. Isn’t he a billionaire or something?”
“Trillionaire,” said Ellison.
“Maybe he’s one of those rich people who always wants more,” said Mad Eyed.
“Not from anything I’ve been able to find out,” said Ellison. “Anyway, I’m getting off here.” The coach was finally approaching Krim’s central plaza and Ellison nodded towards the gate. “I’m going to head off-world to see if anything’s turned up.”
“Like Gefroi himself,” said Ellison. “I know his real identity, from a previous case. And we’re continuing to run background checks. Something might have popped up. You have to keep an eye on those things.”
“If I was Gefroi, I’d be long gone,” said Mad Eyed.
“I think he’s still around,” said Ellison. “One of the prisoners the Armforge Guild is still torturing is Gefroi’s spouse. Trozganoth.”
“In-world spouse? Or real-world?”
“Both,” said Ellison. “Gefroi is going to want to get them back. They’ve been married for decades.”
“Well, if he wants to storm Saugerties Castle, this is as good a time as any, with most of the Armforge army gone up north,” said Mad Eyed.
“Or maybe Rodge has more jobs for Gefroi to do, and will let Trozganoth go once they’re done,” said Ellison. “Either way, Gefroi is going to stick around. And when he pops up, I’ll grab him, and maybe he’ll tell us what’s going on.”
Ellison opened the coach door and climbed out. “Tell Clinio I’ll stop by his office later on today with an update.”
“But what about…”
Ellison shut the coach door, ignoring the rest of whatever Mad Eyed Brendon was going to say, and turned towards the gate. He could feel the aches and pains of the trip fading away just at the thought of stepping through.
As usual, the Central Plaza was crowded with merchants, Krim residents heading off to the real world, or coming back from it, and, of course, tourists.
He pushed his way through.
The Crewe Investigations office was now on Facepage across the street from the Potato Palace. He might step in for some curly fries before he went to work. Crispy, spicy, oily on the outside and melt-in-your mouth tender as you bit in. Ellison never knew how deep his love for potatoes went until he’d started working on Krim, which didn’t have any.
He was a few steps away from the gate and could almost taste freedom — it tasted like fries — when he was grabbed and pulled behind a booth selling novelty peasant shirts.
“Yup, that’s him,” a familiar voice said as Ellison was spun around.
“Hello, Hellcut,” Ellison said to the mercenary in front of him. He twisted his head around. The guy holding him was Gorehair.
“I got something to tie him up with,” said Rainbow Squirtle, the last leg of the alcoholic trio. He held up a shirt proclaiming the virtues of Swen’s Secondhand Sword Supermarket.
“What do you guys want with me?” asked Ellison, trying to remember what he could have done to offend him. Last he knew, the three drinking buddies were working for the Royal Season as guards. Prior to that, they’d been with the Armforge Guild.
“Well, you got us fired, didn’t you?” said Hellcut. “There we were, one minute happily enjoying the fancy royal spreads, the next out on the street again.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that,” said Ellison. “They were probably getting rid of everywhere with any connection to Armforge.”
“And you got us kicked out of the guild, too, didn’t you?” Gorehair twisted Ellison’s arms, causing him to yelp in pain.
“You were kicked out because you got were passed out drunk while the guild was being robbed,” said Ellison. “Again, not on me.” He tried to pull away and Hellcut slapped him on the face.
“Stop trying to make excuses,” the mercenary said as Rainbow Squirtle tied Ellison’s arms behind him with the shirt. “You’re the reason we’re stuck doing odd jobs now.”
“Do you even know how nice those buffet spreads were at the Royal Season?” said Gorehair behind him.
“And the Armforge guild had this cook,” added Hellcut. “You wouldn’t believe what he could do with a leg of lamb and boiled peas.”
“It sounds awful,” said Ellison.
The clothing vendor appeared from around the side of the booth and glowered at them. “Are you paying for that tunic?” he asked.
“No,” said Rainbow Squirtle, pulling out his knife.
The merchant whistled and the weapons merchant at the next booth over turned around, then reached for a sword.
Rainbow Squirtle sneered, then Hellcut nudged him and nodded to his left. Three guards were converging on their location. Ellison looked to the other side, where another weapons merchant was stepping out from his booth.
“You should pay the guy,” Hellcut said.
“Yes, sorry,” said Rainbow, putting away his knife. “I’m just a little on edge today.” He glanced up at the plaza guards. “Didn’t mean to cause any trouble.” He pulled a coin purse from inside his doublet and fished out some change.
“We good here?” asked one of the plaza guards.
The clothing merchant counted the money. “I’m good,” he said, and returned to the front of his booth.
“What about the noob?” said the other guard, motioning at Ellison’s default avatar outfit.
“He’s not a noob,” said the first. “He dresses like a noob, but I’ve seen him around before.” The two plaza guards turned to leave.
“Hey, don’t leave me,” Ellison said, then remember where he’d seen one of the guards. “Joe!” he said. One of the guards turned around. “You’re Joe, right? Friend of Matilda’s?”
“Oh, hey,” Joe said. “Tell her I said hi. I’m back working for the chamber again. She shoud stop by sometime.” Joe nodded at Ellison’s captors. “Have fun, boys. Remember to stay away from the noobs, and don’t mess with the merchants.”
“We promise,” said Hellcut, and kicked Rainbow in the ankle.
“Sure, sure,” said Rainbow. “No touching the noobs. No messing with the merchants. Sorry, I forgot. I won’t do it again.”
“Okay, let’s go,” said Gorehair and shoved Ellison in the back.
“Where are you taking me?” Ellison asked.
“There’s someone who wants to have a chat with you,” said Hellcut. “Nothing too serious. Just a chat.”
“Will there be dungeons and torture involved?” asked Ellison. “Because I was really hoping to get off-world and eat some potatoes.”
“Oh, potatoes,” said Hellcut. “That’s different. We’ll definitely let you go so you can eat potatoes.”
“What?” Rainbow stopped and turned around to look at Hellcut. “Really? We’d just let him go?”
“No, not really,” said Hellcut and shoved Ellison forward again. “But, just out of curiosity, what kind of potatoes?”