Thursday, February 25, 2010


Tacit slowly replaced the large bound text on the table, still open to the passage he had just finished reading for either the sixth or seventh time. He had lost count. He had also lost track of time, here in this windowless, stuffy room time seemed such a relative and remote concept. Indeed, without the high windows in the main collection hall, Tacit would have had a difficult time knowing when to retire for the night for the past few weeks. All his concentration and will being focused here had no doubt been running his staff of young scholars into the ground. The young cadre of elves had been performing admirably in their academic tasks. They were a credit to the College of Wood’s End. Hopefully, they were enjoying themselves tonight, it was a well earned evening off.

However, Tacit wasn’t thinking about any of those things. He steepled his hands in front of his face, willing his breath to slow down as he stared into space, lost in thought. The candles next to the book sputtered, almost burned down to their small, cupped brass supports. Tacit glanced at the candles when the light flickered, then gauged his time spent. A couple of hours, he guessed by the degree that the candles had melted down to. He carefully moved his book away from the wax that was now dripping onto the smooth table surface. His pulse was still racing, and he found it difficult to remain seated. After getting the book safely away from the candles, he rose and began pacing, clasping his hands firmly behind his back to keep them from noticeably shaking.

He wondered to himself if leaving the library in the middle of the evening, buying a shovel and riding out of the city’s main gate at a full gallop with the shovel strapped across his back would be at all conspicuous. He grinned at the thought, and entertained it for a moment, letting the absurdity and silliness of a very bad idea distract him from a greater scheme long enough to calm down somewhat. He moved around the room, forcing his gait into a semblance of casual walking, looking at the books arranged on the old wooden shelves, but ignoring the titles along their spines. He reached the rolling ladder at the end of the first row, reaching out to it without thinking, his instincts giving him a physical reminder not to bump into it while he was deep in thought. A series of ideas was already boiling just behind his eyes, now he just had to get them in the right order.

After he’d seen with his own eyes the Hammer of Earth, Tacit had known that a great deal of what most scholars here in the east had called mythology was actually historical fact. He was unsure to what degree the stories of the early Emperor, and Kil, and the civil war were embellished by time and authors, but those details were irrelevant. This was the first time he’d seen a mention of the Hammer of Death. The research he’d been at the speartip of since the first uncovered Hammer had left his hands had finally paid off. One small clue in one anonymous text. But this was the reinforcement he needed. The Imperial Document Vaults of Tribunus had yielded this same hint as to the whereabouts of the hammer, and had lead him here in search of information about Old Venne, which he hoped would give some clue of how best to access the catacombs underneath the razed city. Of course, he couldn’t share that information with the team that had been assigned to him. No scholar from here in the south had entered a Tribunus library for a long time, and the notion that he was a minor noble from Wood’s End would have to continue to serve for a few more days.

First, he would have to let the academics who had come with him to Venne continue searching the library for at least three more days. If he simply ended the searching tonight, they were all smart enough to realize that he’d found something important with the young elf he had dismissed earlier, and glean from that fact the assumption that what he’d found was relevant somehow. Best not to leave that trail. The work was already frustrating them, a few more days of futile pursuit in the stacks would do much to alleviate any suspicion of other motives.

Of course, he’d still have to figure out how to access the Old Venne underground, if it was accessible at all. The ruins were long since picked over, and most of the structures were completely gone, their materials used in construction of the new city and its outlying communities. He’d seen the site briefly coming to Venne, it just looked like a rock strewn plain now, an occasional line of stone marking a wall foundation, but that was it. He still held hope that an entry would become apparent. After all, his work with Jean Pareil had given them the clues to find the first hammer in a crypt in a nameless swamp.

Second, he had to report back to Jean Pareil that he’d found another source confirming their initial find, that the Hammer of Death could very well be buried under Old Venne. He’d sent Tacit here after their initial discovery in Tribunus, along with his two other operatives here in Haarkedamia; Malus Brevarius and Garenol Crynus. Tacit had recognized the name Crynus, and been suitably impressed that the Strasstruppen was able to recruit a disaffected royal into their service abroad. He’d had no clue who Malus was, and after a few months of mission work with him, didn’t think he would ever figure the man out, although he couldn’t deny his martial prowess and dedication to working for Pareil, despite not even being an elf himself.

His own career in the secret service to the Tribunus throne had been moving along briskly ever since he’d taken Pareil’s offer up; it was common for high ranking Strasstruppen members to assemble teams of junior operatives, and he’d been thrilled to belong to one doing intelligence work in a foreign nation. His time here in Haarkedamia had been spent until recently gathering intelligence on the various governments that made up the Confederacy, making long, detailed reports to Pareil via couriers who moved surreptitiously along the trade routes from Haarkedamia north into the human kingdom of Allthoria, before secretly crossing the border into Tribunus. The contacts were numerous, and never the same person twice. He often marveled at the network built by Pareil, who as far as he knew had never set foot outside the Tribunus Empire.

As small a find as this was, he did not want to trust it to any courier. He’d have to cast a spell. It would be the only way to insure absolute privacy of the message, and guarantee that the message not be intercepted in route. He sighed to himself when he reached this step in organizing his thoughts. He found magic bothersome, despite his required training in it during his early years in the Tribunus Military. Like all Tribunus soldiers who showed the aptitude and high enough blood purity, Tacit had been taught rudimentary spellcraft in their progression into the officer’s cadre. After fulfilling his minimum requirements in learning the arcane art, he’d stopped his magic schooling, favoring languages and training in military intelligence, knowing even then that he wanted to one day join the Strasstruppen.

Nevertheless, he could not dent the utility of his minor training in magic. Although not skilled enough to transmit the lengthy amounts of documentation and figures he’d collected over time, he could still send a brief message that would only be heard by his intended recipient. He paused in his pacing, and glanced up at the darkened entryway to the room. He walked swiftly to the arch leading down the short hall , feeling again the static presence of the wards over the arch. Looking out into the hall, he could see no one moving around in this branch of the library. As late in the evening as it had gotten, he assumed no one would be here except a night watch guard or two, but he needed to make sure. He walked back over to the book, glancing down again at the page of relevant information. He focused on it, leaning in closely, since what he saw was going to be transmitted by his spell. With a hand outstretched, he made a series of finger contortions and said a few words in a halting, low chant. Nothing happened.

“Dammit, stupid warding,” Tacit cursed as he remembered the anti-magic shield protecting the room. He backed away from the table, agitated. The good news would have to wait a few more moments. He looked around once more at the shelves of books. Obviously, something in here was quite valuable. He wished he had the time to puzzle that mystery out, but duty had to come first. He returned the book carefully to the high shelf where it had been when his assistant had retrieved it for him. Pausing after replacing the book, he remembered the assistant. Now his real internal debate began.

The young academic who’d found the passage about the Hammer of Death had inadvertently become a liability. Tacit disliked needless deaths though, so he continued to hash out a few trains of reasoning in his head, if for no other reason than he refused to act like his co-conspirators; acting out the moment they decided that killing was an acceptable option. In Tacit’s mind, just because a death was an expedient option did not make it the best option. He furrowed his brow as he continued moving around the room, thinking about this new problem.

The whole of the research team had heard him read off the excerpt when he had acted out in dressing down the young elf. So if one had to die, they all did. He grimaced further at this thought. But of course he had acted as if the passage was ludicrous, so hopefully they had all dismissed it as quickly as he had in his act. If he could keep them a few more days as he advanced his own arrangements, he felt that they could be trusted to go home none the wiser about his intentions. And of course, the academic elves were going back to Wood’s End. Should anything emerge from any of them that was in any way exposing of his work, he could dispatch Crynus, who would always have alibi and cover in his home country. Their deaths would not be necessary so far as he thought.

Now, what he needed was a way to enter Old Venne, take possession of the Hammer, and move it back to Tribunus. Tacit’s government had long known that Kasnaria planned another invasion of Haarkedamia, their spies had revealed the progression of the plans years ago. Although Pareil had never shared with him the overall purpose of these missions in Haarkedamia, he did have a theory. Tacit thought that what he was doing in seeking out these artifacts while Malus and Garenol selectively eliminated important figures in Haarkedamia was fairly apparent: they were seeking to destabilize the Confederacy while simultaneously taking away potent weapons that could quickly turn the tide of the imminent war in favor of Kasnaria. Almost all of the access points to the east across the Barrier Peaks that were large enough for armies to pass led into Haarkedamia. A long, protracted, costly stalemate at the outbreak of war between the Kasnarian Empire and the Confederacy of Haarkedamia would only serve to strengthen the political and military position of Tribunus on the continent, leaving the human kingdom of Allthoria their only potent rival as their other enemies burned one another to the ground. Tacit admired the plan he’d surmised very much.

He walked from the collection room swiftly, moving back into the main library to collect his cloak and satchel. He would have to send the magical message to Jean Pareil from outside, and he’d need a secure place to do it. His suite was spacious enough for the spell not to be overheard. As he proceeded to the library’s entrance, nodding at a half-asleep guard, leaning against the exterior wall as he passed, he heard a curious noise. The fire brigade bells were sounding. For the second time this evening. Something was happening in town that Tacit did not quite trust instinctively. He’d have to ask Jean where exactly he’d sent Malus and Garenol when he contacted him tonight.

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