Subterfuge - Tome of Chaos Story
Jared sat back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. It was the first time he had returned to the Amberstone Burrow since Oswald had fallen. The place didn’t seem the same without him. Nowhere was the same without him anymore. Oswald had been with him for over sixty years, and from the day he had arrived at Jared’s home, the man had been a blessing. The Chaos Legion might not realize it yet, but they were going to pay dearly for his death.
A door opened behind Jared, and he heard footsteps approaching.
“You’re late, Caleen.” Jared watched as the small woman slid out a chair and sat. “Did you manage to get it?”
“Yes, my lord.” Caleen placed a rolled blanket on the table and very carefully unraveled it. “They followed your instructions implicitly. It’s quite the work of art.”
Jared smiled. The light from the ornate chandelier glimmered along the revealed blade. “Perfect. And you know where you must go and what you must do?”
Caleen nodded. “I won’t fail you. Consider it as good as done.”
“Then you should leave, it’s nearly time.” Jared slowly stood and leant forward, hands planted on the table. “The series of misadventures will be but the beginning of it all. The Chaos Legion will rue the day they came to Ulundin.”
Caleen carefully rolled the blanket back around the sword and headed for the door, the money pouch heavy in her pocket. To be honest, she would have done this for free, but the fact that Jared had paid her was an added bonus.
The morning streets of Ulundin were busy as usual. Caleen blinked at the bright sun and hopped onto the back of a passing wagon. Like her father had always said, why walk when you can ride? The wheels rattled over the cobbled streets as it wound its way towards the center of the city. Much had changed since the Chaos invasion. Old statues pulled down to be replaced with new effigies of foreign people; familiar flags ripped away and flung into the gutters to make room for strange new symbols and colors. Even the smell of filth had taken on a new, heady aroma.
It was not long before the wagon became bogged down in the press of people on their way to the games. Today was a big event, one that had been spoken about for weeks. Today was when the people’s champion, Tebaud Bane, was going to face down the Chaos Legion fighter, Aunger the Bear. It was not really a contest to be fair. The Bear was twice the size of the Ulundin fighter and was better than him in every way possible, which was perfect really, as it meant every single Chaos soldier had bet their entire coin pouches on him. Jared had even made the odds so ridiculous you would have been a fool to so much as look in Tebaud’s direction. The arena master was taking complete advantage of the outlawed practice of blood sports that the Chaos Legion seemed to be keen to reintroduce.
Caleen jumped down and followed the throngs of people towards the arena. As the swell flowed through the large gates, she ducked aside and made her way along the narrow corridors reserved for servants and trainers. It was not long before she came upon staging rooms where the fighters prepared. She pressed on until she came to a large door, the mark of the Legion stamped on its polished wood. Giving a gentle knock, she waited. There was no reply. Crouching down, Caleen set to work on the lock. It took her only moments until the welcome click sounded, and the door swung open.
It smelt of tanned leather and oil inside. The Bear’s armor was hung over the back of a large chest. Two gauntlets, each one the size of her arm, were thrown on a long bench. And leaning against the far wall was the long sword he always carried into battle. Caleen quickly unslung the roll from her back and pulled the blade from within. She held it up to the light and admired it one last time. Jared was right, it was perfect. Quickly swapping them, she wrapped the real sword in the blanket and looped it over her shoulder, before leaving the room and locking the door behind her.
Making her way back to the streets, Caleen walked by a small man with a large, hawkish nose. He gave her a glance as she passed, pushing a steel rimmed pair of spectacles back into place and offering the briefest of nods. She spared him a small smile before hurrying down a side street and into the shadows.
Jacob paused and looked after the woman, watching as she eventually moved out of sight.
“What is it now?” his companion tutted, the fat jowls wobbling beneath his chin.
“Nothing, I just thought I recognized someone.” He pushed the notion aside and scurried after his associate. “You know you really didn’t have to come, I can manage the ledgers myself.”
“Nonsense, what sort of partner would I be if I didn’t help out.”
Jacob looked up and raised his eyebrows, causing his glasses to slide back down his nose. “You don’t normally join me on arena days, Elias, I’m surprised you’re not wanting to see the big fight.”
“It’s funny you should say that, I had intended to go along, but I happen to be short on funds at the moment…what with Annie needing her medicine more often.”
More like you’re spending more time in the gambling houses, Jacob thought, pushing the glasses back up his nose. “I could lend you the entry fee if you like?”
Elias’ eyes lit up. “Would you? Of course, I’d pay you back. I’ve placed a generous bet on the main fight and the odds are a sure winner.”
“Of course.” Jacob delved into his pocket and handed over two coins.
“You shouldn’t believe what they say about you, Jacob.” Elias started back the way they had come, the sun shining from his sweaty head. “You truly are the kindest man I know.”
Jacob continued on, wondering for a brief moment what it was they said about him. He turned down Counter Street and moved into the financial district. Patron’s Tower was not far along the road, he could see the tall walls reaching into the sky, the square corners at sharp right angles. It wasn’t a place he visited very often, but since the invasion he had been called upon a lot more to help balance the books and ensure that taxes and fees were being recorded correctly, and the money was going into the right banking vaults.
Jacob rang the bell hanging outside the fortified door into the tower and waited. Moments later a small panel slid across and a pair of eyes appeared.
“Jacob Mosely, here to tally the books,” he said, looking up at those large eyes.
There was a grunt and the panel slid back into place, followed by the sound of bolts being pulled. The door swung open, and Jacob stepped inside. A large guard glared at him before slamming the door shut and mumbling something underneath his breath. Jacob hurried through the long hallway to the winding stairs and made his way up to the offices, glad to be away from the sentry.
The small office Jacob shared was as untidy as ever. People never seemed to return the books to their shelves, and there were papers spilling from the narrow desks onto the floor. Rolling up his sleeves, he gave a tut. Such a mess was most unwelcoming and not something he ever allowed in his own establishment. But these were not his offices, and he neither had the time nor inclination to tidy them. Instead he moved across to the heavy laden shelves and selected a thick bound ledger, sliding it out and carrying it across the room to his desk. Opening the thick, white pages, Jacob set to work making small changes to the numbers and figures inside, careful that each change was fully considered and would have the greatest of effects in the future.
It was mid-afternoon when Jacob closed the final register and placed it back onto the shelf. His eyes were stinging, and he was feeling tired. A shout from the street outside caught his attention, and Jacob made his way over to the window and looked down to the cobbles below. Two people were arguing, pushing and shoving each other. Jacob recognized one of them as the foreman from the storage warehouses in the workers district. He was a big burly man, far bigger than the cloaked fellow he was remonstrating with. The two were quickly separated by a passing Chaos Legion patrol and sent on their way. Jacob scratched his head, for one who had been close to getting a beating, the smaller man was walking with quite an accomplished strut.
Nathaniel toyed with the key in his pocket, a wide grin across his face. That was easier than he had expected. They said the foreman would be quick to anger, and he had not disappointed. It had made pickpocketing him all the easier. He looked up at the tower nearby as he passed and saw a scrawny man looking down at him with wire rimmed spectacles. A peculiar looking fellow, Nathaniel thought as he eased into a jog, making his way through the narrow alleyways and streets, taking all the shortcuts he had learnt as a young boy growing up in the city.
It was not long before Nathaniel reached the workers district. He slowed, searching the old warehouse buildings for the one that had been described to him. It was the biggest there, with old red doors, the paint flaking from the dry wood beneath. Slatted windows ran around the top, overhung by wooden tiles sheltering them from the rain. There was no doubt, this was the building. Unfortunately, there were two guards standing either side of the tall doors.
“Oh well,” Nathaniel mumbled under his breath as he strolled towards the building, “nobody said it was going to be easy.”
“Who are you?” the guard with a long scar down his face asked.
“Nathaniel Mart, Warehouse Inspectorate, I’m here to check the security on this building.” Nathaniel eyed them both. “You do realize this holds most of our winter stores don’t you?”
“Of course we do,” the other guard replied, limping towards Nathaniel. “But I ain’t seen you before.”
Nathaniel suffered Limpy’s stare for a brief moment before stepping forward and lifting the great iron lock and placing the key he had acquired from the foreman in it. With a quick twist, the lock clicked and fell open.
“You wouldn’t have, I normally cover the trade of more profitable ventures, but because of today’s big event, it’s fallen to me to conduct the checks. Now, be so good as to open the doors for me would you?” Nathaniel gave a mock smile.
Scarface set straight to work, struggling with one of the doors whilst Limpy continued to glare at Nathaniel.
“You gonna help or what?” Scarface puffed.
“I don’t trust him,” Limpy turned his lip up. “This all smells fishy to me.”
“If you’d like me to arrange for your next posting to be at the fish-gutting farm, I’m sure I could facilitate that.” Nathaniel let the suggestion hang for a moment, but it seemed that Limpy was not all that enamored by the idea and set to helping his comrade with the door. “That’s more like it, the quicker I’m done here, the quicker I can get to my next job. I’ve got five more warehouses to check before the day’s out.”
“Hmph, well, just so you know, I’ll be going round with you,” Limpy grumbled, walking into the darkness of the warehouse.
Scarface shrugged. “Sorry sir, he’s been in a foul mood all day.”
Nathaniel forced a smile as he followed the guard in. Another problem he had not foreseen, but then these were the sort of complications he was paid for, and one of the reasons he always brought along old Shiv.
Limpy paused within the triangle of sunlight let in by the open door. “What do you need to see?”
“Everything,” Nathaniel reached out with his arms before bringing them back in, wagging a finger. “But most importantly, I’d like to check the office. I know what you guards can be like, looking for anything shiny.”
Limpy turned a bright shade of crimson and was about to protest when Nathaniel strode passed him and started up the rickety wooden stairs to the office. The flimsy door could have been blown open by a gust of wind, it was in such a sorry state. Nathaniel made his way into the office with Limpy hot on his heels.
“Aha! Just what I expected, you’ve been letting folk sleep in here.” Nathaniel proclaimed.
Limpy stepped around him and looked about the office. “What do you mean, there’s no one here?”
“Of course there is, Shiv’s here!” Nathaniel snarled, spinning around and sticking his long, stiletto knife into Limpy’s exposed neck. The guard fell, groping at the wound as the blood spilled out over the dusty floor.
“If only you hadn’t insisted on coming in with me, we could have avoided all of this unpleasantness. You see, I can’t be setting any fires with you following me about, it simply wouldn’t work.” The man’s eyes widened, and Nathaniel smiled. “Don’t worry, it’s all for a good cause.”
Nathaniel waited until the spark of life had left Limpy’s eyes, and then he hurried back down the stairs. Reaching into his jacket, he pulled out three wraps of leather. A strong smell of oil came from the soaked rags inside. He set about placing them around the huge piles of grain, ensuring that they were next to something that would catch easily, and lit each one.
Before long, hungry flames had taken hold and a black smoke started to fill the long building. Nathaniel made his way back to the main doors and ran out in a suitable state of panic.
“Quick, there’s a fire, you must get help!” he shouted, continuing to run down the street.
Scarface frowned, looking around. “Where’s Karl?”
“He got trapped!” Nathaniel called over his shoulder, almost running into a raven-haired beauty as he sprinted around the corner.
Penny dodged out of the way as a man sprinted past her. Soot was smeared down one side of his face, and he looked as though he was running for his life. She took the opportunity to cast a glance over her shoulder to make sure she wasn’t being followed. Nothing, apart from a warehouse fire with a single guard standing outside and looking distraught. The coast was clear, and it looked as though she had gotten away safely. Around the next corner she discarded the small phial of green poison in the gutter, losing it amongst the refuge and muck. It was not too much further to go before she would be completely safe.
As the evening crept in, Penny joined the busy shanty streets of Ulundin. She stepped over a broken section of the city wall, remnants of the siege against the Chaos Legion forces. Behind her, the sky was turning a deep red as thick plumes of black smoke curled up into the wisps of gray cloud. She waited, watching for any that might be looking for the entrance to the Amberstone Burrow. When she was happy it was clear, she melted in with the crowds amongst the stalls, choosing her moment to duck into the alleyway that led down to the Burrow.
Jared was waiting for her in his hall when she got there. “Ahh Penny, I swear you get more beautiful every time I see you.” He stood and poured her a glass of wine. “Please, take this to your seat so that we might speak in a modicum of comfort.”
Penny took the glass and nodded her thanks, moving around the table to sit opposite him. “You’ve been busy, I see there’s a big fire in the workers district.”
“It’s a terrible shame to lose one’s winter food stores so close to its frigid embrace.” Jared sipped from his drink.
Penny raised an eyebrow. “And with all those warehouses packed so tightly together, I expect the fires will rage for days. It’s the poor folk I worry about.”
“Oh don’t you worry about that, I’ve plenty of food to see them all through to the spring,” Jared gave a delightful chuckle. “If only the Legion’s ledgers weren’t in such a mess they could replace what they’ve lost. Unfortunately though, there’s going to be a lot of unhappy merchants and traders thinking they’ve been short changed and unwilling to part with any more of their wares.”
“You’ve caused quite the ruckus.” She smiled and sipped from her own drink.
“And how was General Duruk?” Jared asked.
“Absolutely furious,” Penny replied.
Jared leant forward, his eyes sparkling. “Please, do go on.”
“Well, apparently, somebody switched his most prized fighter’s sword out for a glass replicar. When Aunger the Bear came out swinging, the thing shattered into tiny pieces. The oaf was so shocked, he didn’t even notice getting run through by his opponent. Duruk wasn’t the only one who lost most of his money on that bout. Though, I did hear there was one big winner, not a name I recognized, mind you.”
Jared could not help himself and descended into a fit of laughter. “Oh, how I wish I’d been there to see that,” he eventually managed. “I don’t think I’ve ever won so much on one fight before. And how was our General after you calmed his nerves?”
“Feeling much better, though, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed our time together.” She curled her lip in distaste. “His boorish behavior can be quite unbecoming when he’s had so much to drink. Still, no one else will have to worry about that in the future. After the concoction I slipped into his last drink, he won’t be waking in the morning, or any other time for that matter.”
Jared clapped his hands and gave another titter. “Absolutely wonderful. It couldn’t have gone any better. Today has far exceeded my greatest expectations. How much was it I owed you my dear?”
“Twenty gold pieces.” Penny took a long drink.
“Nonsense, for what you’ve done today you shall have thirty!” Jared tossed a pouch across the table. “But don’t tell the others,” he winked, “keep it between us. Call it a taster of what’s to come. The next job I’ve got for you will really test your mettle.”
Collect special Limited NFTs related to this story at https://www.splintertalk.io/nfts/
Story: Daniel Beazley
Editor: Sean Ryan
Narrative Lead: Joey Shimerdla
Character Art (cover): Candycal
Illustrations: HPL Game Design Corporation
Graphic Design: Tamer "Defolt" Oukour
Voice Acting: David Dahdah
Ending credits song: AfterSound
Post Production: INFLUX Pictures
Creative Director: Nate Aguila