Clockwork CreationsMature

Morning dawned. The vanguard of daylight charged across the city with reckless abandon. It took the city street by street, scattering the dark of night into a hundred isolated shadows. When it reached the Ivory Tower it spilled over the walls, swept past the sentries, and rushed in through open windows to find the Captain of the Watch, asleep on a couch.

The Captain stirred at the intrusion, rolling over onto his side. But the day would not relent - the sunlight continued to brighten, slowly but surely. Eventually the Captain decided it was, as always, a loosing battle. He rose and moved to the window, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Fresh morning air greeted him, carrying the clean dirt smell that always lingers after the passage of a good storm. It did wonders for his alertness, and he took in the city through eyes squinting against the glare.

Puddles of water sparkled amidst the cobblestones in the courtyard below his office, where the Watch was changing shifts. He could see the day watchmen he'd pulled in last night grumbling and complaining to their newly arrived comrades. He couldn't fault them for their unhappiness. It wasn't just that they'd been called in early, either. Despite an exhaustive search of the areas around the attacks, the Watch had come up empty handed. They didn't take well to failure. It was tradition - the Watch always got it's man.

The Captain sniffed and rubbed at his face again. The stubble on his face had made gains during the night. He needed a shave. More, he needed a bath. The city had just been washed clean, why shouldn't the Captain of the Watch follow suit? 

He left his office and found Lieutenant Mercer waiting for him on the ground floor. "What's the news?" he asked as the lieutenant fell into step with him. The public baths were a good five minutes walk from the Ivory Tower. They'd have time to talk.

"Didn't catch it," Mercer revealed. The Captain grunted. He'd suspected as much. They would have given him the good news earlier if they had, whether or not he'd been asleep. And if they hadn't he would have had words to say. "A few break ins and petty thefts overnight," Mercer continued, "A mugging for someone fool enough to be about in the middle of the night. We managed to nab a few of the perpetrators, and even interrupt a few crimes in progress. But it looks like the rain kept things pretty quiet. Well, aside from the killings."

"The rain, or all the extra watchmen we had running all over the godsdamned city."

"I doubt the citizenry would complain either way, sir."

"No doubt. Is that it, then?"

Mercer laughed. "Hardly, sir. Hardly. Prince Hammon is demanding to know why we haven't caught the hoodlums who defaced that statue of himself he had erected in Lark Square." Mercer rolled his eyes, telling the Captain just what kind of priority he rated that particular complaint. "And Prince Noron caught wind of the murders. Most were in his district, so of course he's bugging us for details. Um. Couple'a merchants are telling us somebody's spending counterfeit coins in the southern market. Then there's Her Ladyship wanting to talk to you about that festival that's coming up. Again. I swear, sir, you don't take a trip to see her one of these days she's going to come down to Ivory Tower personally." Mercer chuckled at the thought, then fell silent.

The Captain let him think, his own thoughts wandering. 'Her Ladyship', as people liked to call her, was the only female Prince. And she absolutely refused to be called a Princess. Her older brother had held the post first, before he died in an unfortunate hunting accident. He'd had no children, and it looked as if the matter of succession might get ugly. But Her Ladyship had simply stepped in and assumed his duties, with not a word about it to anyone. As if that was just the way it was supposed to be. And, gods knew how or why, everybody had just accepted it. Some said there had been considerable behind the scenes manipulation. The Captain didn't doubt there had been. What he did doubt was the rumor that she'd engineered her brother's death so she could take his place.

"Oh," Mercer spoke again, "There's... well, it's not exactly our jurisdiction, but I think you're gonna like this one. The priests are all on about something they say happened last night. Something about demons invading a temple. You should hear 'em go on about how its time to repent our evil ways and go back to beg forgiveness from the gods. Apparently there are half a dozen people who say they were in the temple at the time. They swear up and down it's true. Talk about some tall dark demon with a green fist, and shadows come to life. Some of 'em are saying it was demons that killed those people last night." As he spoke, Mercer had gone from amused to concerned. "You  know, sir, normally I wouldn't dream of the possibility, but... well, the gods aren't exactly popular anymore."

 The Captain stopped in his tracks and turned to give Mercer a critical look. "Priests don't murder," he said definitively.

"No, of course not," Mercer looked horrified at the suggestion. "That's not what I'm saying. I'm just... well, people do all sorts of crazy things for a cause. What if somebody took it on themselves to try and boost the faith? You've heard about those dark cults down on the coast. Suppose they spread up this way?"

That gave the Captain pause. He had heard the stories. The old ways were falling out of favor, and the followers of some of the darker gods had decided to stir up some trouble on their deity's behalf as protest. "Unlikely," he said at last. "Those cults would have made it obvious it was them. Those deaths last night weren't ritual murders. They look all the world for animal attacks. Still... that's not to say you aren't on to something. Have the boys start digging. If there's dirt to be had about this, I want it."

The rest of the walk was made in silence. Mercer left the Captain at the baths, saying he had business further on. That was fine with the Captain. He'd gone to the baths to relax as much as to get clean, but instead he ended up spinning conspiracy theories for himself - damn that Mercer.

By the time he made the walk back to Ivory Tower, his mind had moved on. Improbable conspiracies forgotten, he focused instead on the bizarre fair Her Ladyship wanted to stage. A 'celebration of technology', she was calling it. Something to 'encourage scientific advancement'. He wasn't sure what all that meant, but he gathered it was going to involve a lot of those newfangled clockwork contraptions people were racing to invent. Due to the nature of the things, Her Ladyship wanted the Watch to make sure nobody stole anything. More curiously, she'd also said she wanted the Watch on hand in case any of the inventions got out of hand. He wasn't sure how those little clockwork contrivances could get out of hand, or what problems they could possibly cause to make the Watch want to get involved. But his was not to wonder why.

Then there was the matter of these inventor types apparently being the hot tempered kind. For the duration of the festival there was to be a moratorium on duels, as enforced by the Watch. And so on and so forth. And the Watch, or more specifically he, had to be involved in every stage of planning. But, he had to admit, Her Ladyship seemed excited about it. And so did the city's merchants, once they'd gotten word that people from across the land were supposed to visit Marsten for it.

He drew closer to Ivory Tower, and caught a glimpse through the main gates. In the Tower's center square there stood a well appointed coach, bedecked in red and purple, surrounded by a posse of the Watch in special uniforms. The Captain stopped walking and frowned. "Business further in, eh Mercer?" he murmured to himself. "Going to come to Ivory Tower in person, was it?" he mimicked his lieutenant. Damnit all, that bastard had known. Well, there would be time enough to get back at him later. For now... well, it was probably for the best he'd just had a bath. Straightening his uniform, he marched through Ivory Tower's gates and on to meet Her Ladyship.

The End

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