19 August 2008

Part the Twelfth: Uncomfortable Compromises

I hadn’t expected to get any answers from my confrontation with Imaria and the fact that I had was a nice bonus. I knew there was something larger than a simple killing and revenge going on. All the information I’d uncovered while tracking down Imaria told me that and had started to form an ugly picture. There were still large pieces missing, though. Like who this Atalanta was and what her relation to Twilight’s Hammer was. Further, I was pretty sure her research into curing the blood elves magic addiction had to be a major part as well, if that was what she was actually doing. Nothing like dangling a little hope out there to get someone to work for you. Those were just the two questions added to the pile after I’d left the Ghostlands. I still had the vast sum of intel I’d gotten from both Turner and Shaw and was spending some quality time looking all of it over, as I was pretty sure I would find a good number of my answers there. In the couple of weeks since Saya’s funeral, I hadn’t figured out much.

Without even realizing it, I had slipped back into the job. I had known it was going to happen sooner or later when I decided to pick up my swords and armour again, but I had figured I would be able to recognize the warning signs and pull back before I got in too deep. Maybe I had seen them and intentionally ignored them. I felt more like I had a sense of purpose to my life than I had in months, maybe even years. That was perhaps the hardest reality that I had to face, though I wasn’t even remotely prepared to do so yet. For all that I didn’t like the person I was when I was on the job; I loved the work that went into planning and executing a job. That was part of why I was a thief, there was all of challenge with none of the killing. Problem was, and getting back into the job reminded me of this more sharply than I cared to admit, that just wasn’t true. Stealing a piece of art and killing a well-guarded noble are two very different tasks and the theft is just plain easier than the killing and it was always the difficulty of the job that appealed to me. If there was some way to be an assassin without having to be a mass-murdering, emotionless monster, I’d jump at it. One day I would have to find a way to both do the job and live with myself.

Today wasn’t that day. Tomorrow didn’t look good for it either.

The Defias Brotherhood had all but taken over the territory of Westfall years ago. Picture your average street gang moving out to the sticks and menacing a bunch of pig farmers and you’d have a pretty good idea of what the Defias were. There were rumours about connections to the exiled Stonemasons Guild, which were actually pretty credible given how hard, fast and deep the Stormwind nobility had given the masons who rebuilt Stormwind after the first war the shaft. The Stonemasons Guild had sought payment for their services, crazy, I know, and they ended up getting exiled for their trouble. The Defias tended to be remarkably well-informed for a gang of thugs extorting a bunch of farmers, though, which lent credence to the rumour of their connections. Also, any group that Matthias Shaw was interested in couldn’t be more than a simple band of thugs and brigands. My interest in them was due to their reputation for being very well-informed thugs and brigands.

“For some reason, I’m just not buying that you don’t know anything,” I kept my voice calm and rational; I find it has a greater impact that way. My fingers were already twisted up in the lank hair of the Defias lieutenant I’d found and I used that leverage to make sure he got a good view of his two bodyguards going about the business of quietly cooling in pools of their own blood.

“Really, Frank—can I call you Frank? You don’t even have to actually have any real information, Frank. Just point me toward someone who does and you get to stumble away from here...well, once your kneecaps heal, anyway.”

“M’name’s Edward,” the lieutenant slurred through his swollen, bleeding lips. I probably shouldn’t have punched him in the mouth so many times. He was having trouble speaking.

“Okay, Frank,” I persisted, “You gonna share or not?”

“M’a dead man, I tell ya ennyfin’,” Frank nee Edward slurred.

I leaned close to his ear to make sure he heard me very clearly, “How much better do you think your chances are if you don’t tell me anything?” I shook his head at the corpses to emphasize my point.

There are many ways to extract information from people. The most direct method is to beat them until they tell you what you want. This method works if it doesn’t much matter if what you get is the truth. People tend to start saying anything they can to make the pain stop when you beat on them too much. Torture is always popular with the nobility and other official types, as it lets them engage their sadistic tendencies, although it has the same liability as just beating people up. Anything you get is automatically suspect because people will say anything they have to to get the pain to stop once they’ve had enough. The most effective method of getting information is control. Once you control everything about your would-be informant’s existence, you can break them down systematically and make them give you anything you want and let them believe they are still resisting. This method is by far the most ruthless and cruel and also the one usually employed by SI:7 to get information from its prisoners. The downside is that it often takes a lot of time and requires a secure area where you can work. It doesn’t work very well if, for instance, you ambush a mid-level member of the Defias Brotherhood in his hideout and don’t have a secure area you can take him to.

Fortunately, in a situation such as that, there is another method available to you: give them a way out of certain death. Unless your soon-to-be informant is a full-blooded fanatic to the cause, giving them a very certain death either at your hands or the hands of their erstwhile comrades will start to make them think long and hard about things. If you then offer them a chance at life for helping you, chances are good they’ll jump at it. Add in a guarantee of quick and painful death if you find out they lied to you and you get a reasonable assurance you’re getting the truth. Pain makes people lie, death brings out the truth.

I let go of Edward’s hair and let him slump to the floor in a boneless heap. He struggled to a sitting position and glared up at me with all the fury of a limp noodle. I smirked back at him and let him think for a few seconds.

“Tell ya what, Frank, you give me what I want and I’ll even find a nice safe place for you to go to ground in so your soon-to-be former buddies can’t gank your ass.”

Edward looked up at me a hair’s breadth from pleadingly. I could see him mulling the offer over, that look of defeat was impossible to miss.

“Awrigh’, ah tell ya,” his shoulders slumped and he sagged in on himself, “Ah don’ know ‘bout nuffin’ in th’ city, but ah know who does. Ah tell yah, bu’ yuh gotta ge’ meh hid firs’.”

I rolled my eyes, but I had said I would get him in a safe place. A thief without honour is just a sneaky thug.

“Sure, I’ll get you hid. Why don’t you take a nap, first,” I didn’t give him a chance to respond and just clubbed him over the back of the neck. He fell into a heap at my feet and didn’t move again.

By the time Edward woke up again, I had him tied up and slung over the back of a horse. I knew where I was going to stash him, but it would take a couple hours to get there. The Westbrook Garrison in Elwynn Forest stood just over the tops of the trees to the east and was often used by SI:7 operatives as either a place to go to ground or to stash inconvenient prisoners. With Shaw’s enthusiastic approach to protecting the kingdom, people who were identified to be dangerous to Stormwind but not quite dangerous enough to require killing would often end up disappearing under unlikely, but believable, circumstances. Usually those who disappeared would make a first stop at the Westbrook Garrison before departing for parts unknown. I know this mostly because I’d dumped my share of prisoners there and never saw them again.

I dismounted as I turned the horse off the main road and onto the side road that led to the garrison, leading it the last leg more for the horse’s benefit than my prisoner’s. I waved to Deputy Rainer as I drew within sight of the garrison, purely just to show him that I came in peace. Having dealt with Rainer in the past, I knew he tended to be somewhat jumpy when it came to people approaching the garrison, alone or in groups. The poor bastard had been stationed here at least since the end of the war and a steady stream of gnoll attacks and Defias raids had taken their toll on his nerves. It didn’t help that he also often had to deal with adventurers passing through Elwynn Forest on their way to collect on the bounty on Defias heads. More than once, groups of Defias had tried to infiltrate the garrison to steal weapons and supplies by posing as adventurers.

I stopped a dozen yards from the garrison and I flashed him the hand signs taught to SI:7 agents when dropping off prisoners. Rainer visibly relaxed and beckoned me closer, also waving the archers on the parapets to stand down.

He indicated the unconscious Edward across the back of my horse with a jerk of his chin, “I wasn’t told we were going to have a guest today.”

I looked back at Edward and shrugged, giving Rainer my most assuring smile, “He’s an unscheduled guest. He’s requested amnesty of SI:7 in exchange for information.”

Rainer’s paranoia started acting up again, “Then why is he unconscious and why not take him to your headquarters?” His hand had already strayed toward his sword.

I spread my hands, palms up, keeping them well clear of my weapons, “I didn’t want him struggling and spooking the horse or to know where I was bringing him. Besides, the Defias have spies all over Stormwind City. Last thing I need is for them to get wind that one of their own has turned on them and kill him before we get anything useful out of him,” I kept my pleasant, reassuring, honest smile firmly in place. I could see Rainer was torn between believing me and ordering the archers to loose. Several very tense seconds passed as I waited.

Rainer finally moved his hand from the hilt of his sword, “You’re right, those bastards have got spies everywhere. Except here. I make damn sure of that,” he waved me inside, “just report to the captain once you’ve got your prize secured.”

“Absolutely, Deputy, thanks,” I gave him my winning smile again and made to tie up the horse. I pulled Edward from the horse and over my shoulder, lugging him down to the dungeons. This had been one of the reasons I’d left SI:7 in the first place. While I was all for protecting the kingdom, Shaw’s methods of protecting it at all costs left a bad taste in my mouth. Anyone he deemed to be dangerous was at risk of disappearing, or worse, at any time. I was all but certain that I was on his list and just hadn’t crossed whatever line he deemed to be the cut off point between harmless thief and enemy of the state. If I stayed with the job and didn’t rejoin SI:7, I was all but certain I would have a target on my head in short order.

Most people had a theory as to the disappearance of King Varian and I was no exception. The main difference was that my theory involved Matthias Shaw. The man would do anything to protect the kingdom from a perceived threat, even if that meant removing the king himself. That was another reason I couldn’t stay with SI:7 and the Stormwind Assassins, I just wasn’t that fanatical about protecting the kingdom. I mean, sure, I wanted the kingdom to be safe and all. That’s what I was doing out here, after all, trying to find out what the Twilight's Hammer was up to out here so I could find out who this Atalanta was and why she would pay to have Saya killed. I had my limits, though. In Shaw’s world view, the ends justified the means. Me, I’m not so much for giving up freedom for security. Saya was proof that you couldn’t protect everyone, no matter how many precautions you take. There comes a point when the people who protect you are more frightening than what they are supposed to be protecting you from. I think that was part of the problem Saya had with me when I was still with SI:7. I’d believed in what Shaw was doing and how he was doing it. It took a while, but I eventually saw why it was wrong.

I sat down on a bench outside the cell I’d dumped Edward in and sighed heavily. I didn’t believe in Shaw’s methods and yet here I was using them. After I interrogated him, Edward would disappear and never be heard from again. There were half a hundred places I knew of which he could be taken to, probably twice that which I didn’t know about and none of which were the kind of place you walked away from with a clear conscience, at least not if you had a shred of humanity in you.

Look away, Saya, just look away.

Edward would still be sleeping for a while, yet. I’d fed him a handful of powdered dreamfoil when he’d started to wake from the blow to the head I’d given him. I’d told Deputy Rainer the truth outside, I hadn’t wanted him spooking the horse or knowing where I was taking him. If he’d known, there was no way I would have gotten anything out of him. I’d promised he would be safe from the Defias, not safe from the agents of Stormwind. I had time to kill and I had to report Edward to the garrison captain. From there, the clock would start ticking down just how long I would have alone with Edward. I figured two and half to three hours to Stormwind City by fast horse, another hour in the city and another two and half to three on the return, assuming someone in SI:7 didn’t deem a low-ranking Defias lieutenant worthy of having a mage teleport the messenger, or worse, the captain had someone on staff who could teleport. Worst case scenario, I had maybe an hour and half, best case, upwards of six. That was a bastard of a range; I’d have to work fast.

I went upstairs to report to the captain.


Rarespawn! said...

Whoo, finally an update! :D

Khol Drake said...

inorite? I'm a bad person for taking so long with this chapter. I was stuck on it for a long time and was so busy with other things I didn't even realise it had been so long since I posted last. I'll be trying to get posts out a little more frequently in the future...

Misneach said...

I was very pleased to drop by this morning and see an update. Good stuff!

Malok said...

Excellent stuff. Looking forward to reading more. I found that taking a few month hiatus was kind of nice, no waiting for new stuff, there was lots to read when I came back. The story is progressing very well.

Rhoelyn said...

Dear Khol,

This is great. Thank you for a funny read. In fact, it was so good that I felt you were the best person to borrow from to start off a new game I wanted to introduce.


Thank you very much for the inspiration. I hope you don't mind the excerpting.

Your fan,

Khol Drake said...

OMG!! Not only do I not mind, I'm positively honoured! That is great stuff...I had me some good ol' ell oh ells... :D

Dakkar said...

Not to rush you or anything, but I am dying for the next chapter! Where is Part the Thirteenth! I needs it! :P

Khol Drake said...

I'm sorry!!! I'm a terribad writer and I should be doing more writing and less working...

Does it help that I am actively working on the next chapter? Please say yes... >.>


Dakkar said...

Well, ok if you say that you are working on the next chapter that helps. But, if we don't get something soon, the life of this lovingly baked batch of brownies hangs in the balance....... oh damn I already ate them..... well you get the idea! The suffering of untold numbers of baked goods will be on your hands!

And don't tell me that you 'Need More Energy', we aren't buying it!