Wednesday, February 18, 2015


The Heroes of Fannen-Dar, Chapter 9

Chester reported for duty the next day earlier than he was scheduled. He always showed up early. Even though he would rather have stayed bunched up in his bed, hiding in the warmth of the blankets from the eyes of the captain and the dead half-dwarf, he stuck to his normal routine. He didn't want to give anyone a reason to become suspicious of him.

There is a sort of feeling you get when you know you've done something good, but against the rules. It wasn't guilt, because you would not be ashamed to do the right thing. It wasn't fear, or at least not fear alone, because if you were truly afraid, then you would stop going down that unlawful path, keep your head down, and not have to worry about it any more. Whatever that feeling was, it shuddered around in Chester's ribcage as he walked down the halls of the guardhouse.

It felt to Chester like every eye was upon him when he wasn't looking, and that each of those eyes was hiding the grinning face of Captain Ignatius. That was one of the foremost rules of being a guard: the captain must be told everything. If you can't reach the captain, tell a superior and they would tell the captain. If anybody found out that Chester knew about an arson plan, the captain would hear it too.

Chester kept his head down, but his eyes were darting over his shoulder.

He walked past the captain's office. The door was shut, which meant that the captain was not in at the moment. He looked up and down the hall. Grim glass windows at one end looked out over the street, letting in the morning sun as it started to make its way over the rooftops. Candles were still lit on the walls to light the way for the night shift. Nobody else was there.

Chester took hold of the door's handle. It turned, and he slipped inside, shutting the door behind him. He could feel his heart twitching with anxiety, but turned around and examined the room. The stone fireplace behind the chair and desk was nothing but charred wood, meaning the captain had not been here all night. He moved over to the bookshelves and started rifling through what were mostly law manuals and histories, trying to find some clue as to what the Firemen were planning. There was nothing out of the ordinary.

The desk was Chester's next destination. Captain Ignatius did all of his paperwork here, but Chester didn't think he'd be dumb enough to leave evidence of corruption there, since the commanders would take and leave documents in various drawers for the captain to sort through later. If anything were amiss, they might have noticed. Just in case, Chester checked all the drawers for anything unusual.

The drawer on the bottom right was locked.

Chester knelt down to examine it. The keyhole was small and made of bronze, unlike the other copper locks. He stood up and turned over everything on the surface of the desk, looking for a hidden key, but found nothing. He expected as much, anyway. Captain Ignatius kept his office pristine; there were no loose papers, no short candles, and especially no misplaced keys.

Chester looked back at the door to the office, knowing that a reasonable person would leave now while he could still put the entire matter behind him. Schemes like this had probably been going on in Fannen-Dar for decades, and one lowly guard wouldn't be able to change that. The Firemen would explode whatever it was they were after, strike fear into the denizens of that district, gain more power when they exploited that fear, and then one day be overthrown by another gang, all while the nobility and the town watch looked on and did nothing. And life would go on. Chester bent down to continue searching the drawers.

Footsteps suddenly appeared in the hallway outside, and the voice of Captain Ignatius broke through the wooden door.

“That's right, we need to focus on other areas,” he was saying. “Tell him to have his division join Roland's. He needs more eyes...if your report is correct?” The voice was growing louder.

Chester looked around, but the door was the only exit. The windows didn't open, the fireplace was too small to climb up, and the last wall simply had bookshelves. The desk had a carved back facing the door, blocking the view of the seat. The footsteps stopped outside the door. Chester crawled forward and pulled himself into a ball under the captain's desk. He also held his breath.

“I have some organization to attend to, but tell Kaitlyn and Louis to wait for me in the briefing room. I will be with them shortly...understand?” Ignatius said. The doorknob turned.

Light from the windows peeked under the desk, forming a thin line of yellow on the planks of the floor. Chester pulled his fingers away from it. He sagged against the desk's back, unable to adjust himself for fear of making too much noise. His face ended up inches away from the side of the drawers. At the base of the locked drawer, near the very back and bottom of the desk, was a tiny, almost imperceptible lever.

The door had not opened. Another voice was saying something, but Chester had stopped listening as he was entirely focused on not falling over, and on the lever. Captain Ignatius spoke again, in the solid projection of a trained orator. “You make a good point. Roland has been known to become unproductive if upset, and gods know he is terribly easy to I not wrong?” He laughed, and the footsteps continued, receding from the door.

Chester let his breath leak from his chest. He flipped the tiny lever with his fingernail, and heard a soft click. He crawled out from under the desk and into a kneeling position in front of the locked drawer, and pulled. It slid open.

There was very little inside, but Chester made sure to quickly read every paper as fast as possible. He then put everything back the way he had found it, shut the drawer, and made sure it was locked once again. He listened at the door for a few seconds before retreating back into the hallway.

Darrik woke up from his night off and began to head out of the barracks. His eyes were still half-shut from weariness as he shuffled down the hall, so he hadn't noticed anything before he was grabbed from behind, with a hand muffling his mouth, and dragged into a dark broom closet. He stopped trying to shout when he saw that it was Chester.

“Have you gone completely mad?” Darrik hissed, “or did I miss the announcement about Kidnap Your Comrades Day?”

“I've been keeping to the corners all day,” Chester whispered. “I couldn't stop thinking about the Firemen, and the captain, and so I snuck into his office.”

Darrik rubbed his eyes and smoothed back his hair. He sighed and turned around, letting his eyes adjust to the dark room that could barely hold the two of them. He grabbed a broom handle to lean against, putting it against his forehead. “I think you killed me. My heart is like a butterfly right now.”

“Would you get a hold of yourself?” Chester snapped. “It's worse than we thought!”

“All the more reason to stay the hell out of it!”

“No, you don't understand.” Chester snatched the broom away from Darrik, who stumbled and groaned. He almost made to grab it back, but shook his head and turned to take hold of the closet door handle instead. Chester, faster than the sleep-addled wood elf, stood in his way. “It's not just about another gang trying to get power,” he said. “I found out where they're going to strike. It's an alchemical warehouse in the southwestern quadrant. You heard what they were saying the other night, there's going to be enough explosives to blow the whole block sky-high.”

Darrik took a deep breath and let his anger cool down, beginning to understand the situation. “They're not just looking to destroy some supplies, are they?”

“No.” Chester's eyes were wide with fear, but it was no longer for his own safety. “That warehouse is right next to the orphanage.”

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