Thursday, March 4, 2010

Twenty Two (50,317 words as of this post!)

Tacit awoke to a murderous amount of sunlight streaming into his airy room from the vaulted windows that ran down two sides of the large, elegant inn, terminating here in the corner suite, offering a view of both the rebuilt Hall of the Confederacy and the Crystal Cathedral. He groaned, rising from under the downy quilts to squint at the expanse of gleaming, clean glass bathing the whole of his room in blinding white light. He couldn’t even turn his face to the windows facing the Crystal Cathedral, the building itself reflecting a truly burning white light straight through the room, leaving every surface of the elegant room glittering.

Tacit propped himself up against the large, carved wooden headboard, shading his eyes with one hand. Last night’s back and forth conversation with Jean Pareil had taken hours, the minor spell requirements adding time and delays to the process of the conversation, as Tacit at one end would cast a spell, sending a number of sentences out across over a thousand miles into the ears of Jean Pareil, who would respond with a spell of his own.

Although Pareil sounded exuberant with Tacit’s research discovery, that positive praise had not alleviated Tacit’s negative feelings regarding Crynus and Brevarious, who Pareil had confirmed were currently ‘operating’ in the city of Venne, under his, Pareil’s, control, direction, and protection. He grimaced at the picture of the two lunatics loose in the city, Malus no doubt caving in skulls and leaving a path of destruction. And Garenol, his fellow elf, who should know better, being himself a royal, probably giving Malus’ leash too much slack and drinking himself into a stupor in between bouts of uncontainable explosions and silent, surgical murders.

Tacit now understood the use of such operatives, and their usefulness to an operation such as Pareil’s. His understanding did little to alleviate his wariness of the stability or loyalty of either. He’d seen the amounts of gold deposited in the name of each man, and knew their pay for the dirtier aspects of operations far outweighed his own.

Of course, Tacit valued his citizenship and place in the Strasstruppen above petty concerns of pay. Malus and Garenol are mindless thugs, he thought to himself, finally swinging his bare feet over the side of the bed, slipping each into a low leather shoe. If they are working in the city, fine, but they need not know that I am here. After today’s work, I will be headed outside the city anyway.

Tacit walked to the richly decorated dressing table against the wall across from the foot of his bed. His eyes finally adjusted to the sheer white gleam of the room, still marveling at the beauty and extravagance of the suite. Tacit had protested vehemently when Jean Pareil had informed him of the reservation here in the Confederate Crown, but his superior would not brook second-guessing. If King Galen was good enough to make him a minor noble for a small amount of time, he’d have to play the role. Clothes, attitudes, transportation, and especially in his displays of wealth. Tacit would just as soon have taken a room above a tavern somewhere off the main thoroughfares, but the nobility of Haarkedamia always seemed, to him and Pareil both, to behave as if their displays of wealth justified and solidified their positions in society’s upper strata. They had shared a laugh at the flamboyance of the attire King Galen had teleported to him; gold embroidered tailcoats, ascots and cravats resplendent with minute embroidered details and exotic fabrics, tight riding breeches in absurd peacock colors.

Tacit had to admit he liked the boots, though. The renowned leatherworkers of Wood’s End had outdone themselves on the subtle, tobacco brown kneeboots. The tall boots fit Tacit’s legs as if sewn directly over his bare skin, and once donned, felt as if they weighed nothing, although Tacit knew they would take the harshest of beatings, his initial ride into Wood’s End ending with a day’s travel in mud and torrential downpours. He’d decided to keep the boots after the assignment ended, no use letting something obviously tailored just for him go to waste.

Tacit reached into the cut crystal basin that acted as a sparkling centerpiece to the dressing table, bringing a double handful of clear, cold water up and briskly splashing his face, pushing loose hairs away from his eyes and forehead, brushing them back behind his pronounced, pointed ears. He looked up at the framed mirror that rose from the back of the table, looking at his bleary blue eyes, flecked with the streaks of red that denoted yet another late evening. He’d finally come out of his magic trance well past midnight, having heard the fire brigade wagons streaking through town once again, their bells heralding the presence of his occasional companions and fellow operatives. He’d shook his head, regarding the rather nice carpet underneath him, at the sound, hoping that whatever chaos the two were no doubt nurturing into life, that it was for the good of his master’s plans.

He thought back to an argument that had taken place between himself and Jean Pareil. The offices of the Strasstruppen’s central command occupied a truly nondescript building in Tribunus City, the imperial capital and largest city east of the Barrier Peaks. The elegant city of spires, flying buttresses and white marble sometimes looked to Tacit to shrink back from the Strasstruppen’s keep, a squat, square keep of enormous brown marble blocks, ensconced within its own defensive perimeter: a planed flat expanse of deep green lawns for a quarter mile in every direction from the building, occasional lone Constantinian Pines standing tall and spare from the wholly neutral landscape.

Many citizens avoided the building consciously, and Tacit always held back a laugh, looking out the windows of Pareil’s offices onto the unnaturally beautiful lawns, expecting every time to see elegant and beautiful elven families eating on the lawns, enjoying the surroundings as they did the innumerable parks of Tribunus City in which they paid homage to their country’s rugged beauty. Instead, he always saw the same sight; an empty landscape, the streets that marked the ends of the property moving along quickly as those who rode and walked those roads deliberately avoided the lawns and the view of the building itself. As if somehow a truly dull brown building housed a nation’s collective dread and terror.

That morning’s briefing had not progressed well, as Tacit remembered, walking quietly across to the armoire that the porters had deposited his new clothing in after carefully laundering and ironing each piece. After a few months of small intelligence gathering missions to carefully gauge the aptitudes and weaknesses of Garenol and Malus, Pareil had sent the two operatives into the Allthorian city of Fauston for an assassination. Tribune only knew where Pareil had acquired the two men. Garenol was an understandable recruit: well connected with an axe to grind and martial skills. But Malus, Tacit did not trust Malus to do anything except sow discord and chaos, and apparently for no other reason except his own amusement. Tacit had gone to Jean that morning to express his concerns, and had received a stinging rebuke for his troubles.

“I am just not sure with this recruit you are sending into Allthoria,” he had led in, delicately, still too grateful for his promotion and inclusion in Pareil’s operating team to be too forceful. “The man strikes me as unstable, and completely disengaged from anything that doesn’t gratify either his physical appetite or his enjoyment of killing and chaos. You set me over them, for which I am eternally grateful, but in that role of responsibility I would be remiss not to share my feeling about a subordinate,” he had stammered out, standing stiffly in front of the beautiful expanse of blond wood that covered Jean Pareil’s desk, hands clenched behind him.

“So,” Jean Pareil had started off, leaning across his desk and opening an ornate lacquered box, taking a long, thin cigar from it. The elf was older than Tacit by at least half a century, the white streaks spreading back from his temples belying his age where his ageless smooth features would not. The streaked hair, once dirty blonde, was now shot through with stark white, was close cropped in the older Imperial fashion, emulating an emperor now dead for well over 500 years. His dark eyes hardly showed any color aside from black, although the constant movement of the dark orbs showed an active, inquisitive intelligence. “What would you suggest we do? Remove Malus from the assignment? They are already across the frontier, moving south into Allthoria. How long have you been holding these doubts back?”

Leaning back, he took a tinderstick from a small pewter cup and struck it off a rough patch on the cup’s side. He let the sulfurous tip burn off, and then held it to the cigar’s end, puffing the cigar into a gentle ember glow. “You now come here to suggest what? An extraction? A complete replanning of the mission the two of them were assigned? Perhaps sell them out to the Allthorian authorities to enrich our positions with them?” He took a long draw on the cigar, his gaze making Tacit uncomfortable. He had yet to ask Tacit to sit down.

“You come in here, with a mission underway, to share your belief that one of our operatives is unsuitable, with no suggested solution to your perceived problem.” Pareil shook his head disapprovingly, still staring at the now perspiring Tacit. Pareil stood up, the thin cigar clenched between his teeth, and leaned out over his desk, his height giving him an even more imperious look. He slolwly took the cigar from his mouth, looking at the burning tip with an appraising eye. He had then gestured at Tacit with it forcefully, pale blue smoke twirling in the still air of the room. “Son, you have to begin thinking like an agent of the Strasstruppen. We have to be able to rely on you to think independently. I need to know I can send you into any situation, in any country, with a certain set of goals, knowing that how those goals are achieved is up to your superios discretion and wise judgment. That is the gift of truly remarkable agents; autonomous thought leading to successful action.”

Jean sighed deeply, rubbing one temple of his slender head with his free hand. He sat back down, gesturing with resignation to a leather-covered chair in front of his desk. Tacit moved quickly to occupy the chair, gripping the armrests to combat the shaking of his hands. He tried to calm himself, taking deep breaths and focusing on the beat of his heart, rattling in his chest, willing it to slow down. He did not dare break eye contact with his superior.

Jean smoked quietly for a few moments, finally looking from Tacit to the walls of his personal office, to a suit of chain armor and weapons hung from the wall to Tacit’s right. Tacit followed his gaze to the wall, admiring the display himself. He read down an impressive list of battles and campaigns that were carved into a small stone plaque beside the armaments. He recognized most of the names, and was impressed by the list, a memorial of around one hundred and fifty years in combat experience. Tacit remembered listening to Jean’s war stories from his time before the Strassstruppen.

Jean began again, in a calmer tone, “I am going to send you to Fauston. Your assignment is to observe Crynus and Brevarius as they go about their assignment. Do not be discovered by either of them and make a detailed observance of their activities. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Tacit said immediately, in a tone he hoped sounded confident. “I will depart immediately if there is nothing else?” He watched Jean expectantly.

“Gather your equipment, you will be teleported in to be there earlier than the other two and establish yourself in the city. Do not fail in this, Tacit. I need to know that when I am gone that this operating cell will be in capable hands.”

Tacit rose to his feet with a surge, color rising in his face at the unexpected compliment. “Sir.” He turned and left before anything else could be said, unable to stifle a smile for more than the brief moment it took him to leave, closing the door swiftly behind him.

Tacit finished dressing as his memories played back. He was smiling to himself at how horrible that meeting had been, except for that ray of hope at the very end. But his smile faded quickly as he remembered the operation that came after: Fauston, and the disaster it became.

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