Monday, April 5, 2010

Twenty Three (sorry about the hiatus)

Moving lightly across the flat warehouse roofs, Garenol crouched to avoid creating a silhouette in the now strong morning light. His feet padded assuredly over gravel and tar, the gentle scratching noises that heralded his passing being interrupted with brief silences as he leapt effortlessly from one roof to the next, glancing downward in anticipation of possibly being spotted by early workers, although he thought this unlikely. Being a national holiday, he was banking on there being few people in this commercial ward of the city, and he was right. He saw no one moving in the blocks up to the still smoldering ruin of Karderek’s warehouse, not even a cordon marking off the pile of rubble, which he spied when he was two blocks away, peering out from around a small box that held the trapdoor entrance to the building he was standing atop of. The lack of any barriers or roping off of the site he found strange. Clearly the fire had been put out by a fire brigade, water puddles were standing in every imperfection of the cobblestone streets and alleys around the smoking ruin, and the gutters trickled in a streaming hiss in a noise audible even to Garenol high above on the rooftop. But nothing seemed to demark the rubble as potentially dangerous, strange in a city with such well regarded social services as Venne.

Squinting in an attempt to discern more detail from his distant vantage, Garenol was puzzled enough to decide he needed to move up closer. He leapt another roof closer, crouching way down and proceeding forward with his hands supporting his weight in front, wary of being spotted. He crawled slowly forward across this closer warehouse roof, feeling the tackiness of the graveled tar under his gloved hands and concentrating on keeping his movements quiet. He moved up flush with the wall edge that circles the roof in a low half wall. Garenol then pushed himself up to his knees, gently rising to peer over the edge of the wall onto the scene of Malus’ adventure of the night prior.

The burning of the warehouse had left behind only ash and cinders. Lazy black smoke still rose from the crumbled warehouse, mingling in the air above with occasional gouts of dirty steam from the piles of burnt timbers into an acrid haze. A far exterior wall still partially stood upright, smoking wooden beams slowly peeling away from the scorched red bricks. The scene was unremarkable: the fire had been put out efficiently with great amounts of water, but the materials used to build the structure had doomed it to a quick, furious conflagration.

Garenol continued to look for any marks of distinction in the rubble. No one was moving in or near the burned structure. He’d still seen no one, and was debating whether or not to move down to the building. He rose slightly in his crouch at the wall’s edge, looking out over the edge for a drainpipe or ledge that would enable his descent. On the corner nearest the burned warehouse, he spied a pipe that would be suitable. He edged his way closer to it, returning his focus to the ruin, keeping an eye out for any movement.

Clambering noiselessly down the pipe, Garenol approached the rubble swiftly, scanning the ground to try and determine if any concerted effort had been made in the ruins. He assumed that if the gold had been discovered, that tracks of a composed effort of numerous men would be apparent in the mud and ash of the street. Oddly, from his approach across the cobblestone crossroads, he saw not only no muddy track or wagon imprints. He saw no tracks at all.

Grunting to himself with slight frustration, he began swiftly to circle the smoldering property, now fairly certain that no one was nearby. Obviously, the fire brigade must have approached from a different side. He scanned the ground while moving about the perimeter, growing quickly annoyed at his lack of findings. After a few minutes, he had completely worked his away around the smoky perimeter. He found nothing.

Aside from trickles of grayish water slowly running out of the ruins, he saw no tracks. No hooves, no feet, no wagon wheels. Just a few quickly diminishing streams of water running into the storm drains. He thought to himself at first that the fire brigade’s water pumps may have erased evidence of their presence, but it surely wouldn’t have done so completely. He saw not one print, not even in areas where the ash and water had collected into soft, mushy puddles. Confused now, he stood for a moment and stared at the ruins, contemplating now scenarios in which this situation was possible. Short of a concerted effort of fairly powerful mages, not much made sense to him. He was already guessing that the gold was gone before he heard Malus’ feeble attempts at quiet approach.

Turning to see his companion clanking up the street, Garenol waved him closer impatiently. “Come over here, you oaf. We have a problem.”

Malus looked up at Garenol from watching his armored legs as he moved over the wet cobblestones. “The gold is gone, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know yet, the ruins are too hot.” Garenol replied, looking back to the ruins. “I need you to show me where these boxes would have been.”

Malus raised a gauntlet covered hand, pointing a metal finger to a point in the ruins. “If anything still remains, it will be over there.”

“Notice anything strange?” Garenol asked as he reached into a leather pouch on his belt, producing a beaker filled with a milky liquid. He drew one of his thin daggers and began cutting away the wax seal on the beaker’s mouth.

Malus looked from the ruins to the cobblestones around the front of the warehouse. He grimaced in thought for a moment. “The fire brigade must have come up from the back side,” he finally offered with a shrug, still looking for traces of activity.

“Same thing I thought,” replied Garenol, now working the cork out of the beaker, having cut away the wax covering. “But I already circled the place. However this fire was put out, nothing has touched the ground here since you left last night.”

Malus eyed Garenol suspiciously, “That can’t be right, I even heard the fire brigade bells.”

“I know,” said Garenol with a sigh, “I can’t figure it out either. But I do have some theories.” He held up the beaker of milky fluid to the light as he finally worried the cork loose. Malus looked at the beaker with mild curiosity.

“Drinking already?” he asked with a smirk.

“Hardly,” replied Garenol before he quickly drank the contents of the beaker. “Just something I started keeping on my person when I began working with you.”

Malus watched as Garenol put the cork back into the beaker and put it back into his pouch. Garenol’s cheeks had flushed into a shade that Malus had not seen on the typically pale elf before. Winking with an arrogant little wave, Garenol walked directly out into the hot, smoking ruins.

Malus blinked a few times, watching Garenol proceed over the crumbling timbers and bed of coals underneath. Neither Garenol nor any of his equipment was being affected by the heat, fire and smoke in any way. Malus nodded in a grudging respect. Good idea, that potion.

Garenol walked quickly and assuredly over the uneven surfaces of the ruin, glancing around appraisingly for anything remarkable. As he neared the spot that Malus had indicated, he turned back to Malus, still standing in the street.

“About here?” he asked Malus.

“Roughly,” Malus replied, “There were a number of boxes. If anything remains, you should be able to find it in that area.”

Garenol began poking around carefully with the tips of his boots, the enchantment of the potion rendering them invulnerable. All he saw in his immediate area were pieces of the collapsed roof. He began throwing aside pieces of roof beams and the tiles that once covered them. He cleared a space all the way to what had been the floor of the warehouse, intact but scorched, the top layer of the wood cracked and black, slowly forming into still hot coals. He found nothing of note. No melted gold, no scorched boxes or burlap bags.

After satisfying himself that there was nothing to see in the area, Garenol stood up straight, rising to the balls of his feet and stretching his back. Whatever had been here, whatever Malus had seen, was gone. He looked back to his assigned companion. Malus was looking back down the street he had approached on, no doubt looking out for an possible passersby. Garenol wondered for a second if Malus had the resources available to accomplish something of this magnitude. Then he stifled a laugh. Malus couldn’t even bluff at cards. Gifted in certain areas, the man was not a good criminal by any stretch of the imagination, and this odd undertaking had required an orchestrated operation of a magnitude that even he, Garenol, could hardly comprehend. Garenol quickly dismissed his appraisal of Malus as a culprit.

He cleared his throat and spoke loudly to get Malus’ attention. “Whatever was here, it’s all gone,” he stated flatly. He began to pick his way back through the rubble, still looking carefully at the ruins around his feet but already satisfied with his conclusion.

He stepped free of the ruins near Malus and walked back to him. Malus, for his part, stopped looking up and down the streets that approached the warehouse.

“Still no one has come near,” Malus said without inflection. “This holiday has cleared out the area.”

“I know,” Garenol said, moving past Garenol back to the alley where there horses were tied, no longer wary of spies or witnesses. “But whoever made off with the gold, and extinguished the fire . . . This was a massive undertaking Malus. We are not the only rogue element in this city now. Judging by the complete lack of evidence and disappearance of an almost immovable amount of gold, I don’t even think we are the big fish in this pond anymore.”

Malus nodded, fingering the haft of his handaxe absent-mindedly. “So now what?” he asked, obviously frustrated with mystery and anxious for a task he was skilled at.

“There’s nothing to be done with this for now,” Garenol said, gesturing back towards the warehouse. “Time we got refocused. We still have the final job here before we go back to Pareil.”

“The archbishop,” Malus said, a slight smile playing across his face. “That is a task more to my liking.”

Garenol glanced across at his companion, “Surveillance first, Malus.”

Malus’ smile quickly dissipated, “Fine,” he replied grudgingly.