Derak in the Scarlet City

Some More Puzzle Pieces

You leave the inn with instructions to hold onto your newly purchased luggage for the moment, being as how you have nowhere else to send it to right now. Such mundane details hold little interest to a man on a mission, though.

Been on a mission for a few days now, haven’t we? You get up every morning full of vim, only to wake up the next morning wondering what the hell happened.

What does “Papak” even want with you? He’s been riding you hard, but nothing you do seems to make him happy. Right now it feels like sitting at the feet of the sages and priests some more would have been a worthwhile idea, Derak. Exotic drugs are one thing, but understanding the visions they pull forth is still another. “Know yourself”, they say, but…

Perhaps I just want you to grieve? I always wondered if our relationship meant anything to you. Derak expresses so little for all that I tried to give you everything. It was a shitty end you reserved for your mentor.

Well… Not the time to get into that right now. You hurry off and turn to trudge up-hill, towards the compound of the Unbroken Circle.

You would, of course, be followed when you leave. There’s no time to feel foolish about keeping watch, either, as the tail doesn’t seem to be doing anything to hide himself. This time it’s a face you recognize – one Godry “Limber”, a well-known lackey of Daag’s. Supposedly a bravo, but less known for his scars than his fleetness in fleeing the scene of any trouble.

— Hey, I don’t want any trouble! Godry shouts, raising his hands as

— What is it that you want, then? you ask with an expressionless face. Godry shies away a step despite the ten paces between you. A bit late in the game to realize it, but people seem to take your taciturn habit for an implied threat. Wonder what Papak thought about that. You just never were much of a smiler, not after living with Yasul as long as you did.

— Daag sent us to keep an eye on you, Godry explains quickly, still turned half-way ready to run at the first sign of danger. — He just wants to know where to find you, apparently two have some business together.

— And you are to run go-between?

— Well yeah, he says, but without quite daring to look you in the eye. After a moment: — Daag did say that you’ve been angry, and to not cross you if I value my skin. But I can run word to him if you need it.

You take a testy step forward and yeah, Godry’s off like a bird. Sprints 30 paces before looking back and stopping. Completely shameless. You stop for a moment to consider your options, but this probably isn’t the hill to take a stand on; you’d need to take it up with Daag directly to make him stop. You throw up your arms at Godry in a sign of exasperated resignation and turn to continue on your way.

Daag being a bit circuitous in his communication is nothing new, he enjoys keeping his people sensitive to his needs. He probably expects you to sort yourself out and show up of your own accord to accompany him for that masque. Or maybe you did some arrangements with him last night, only to forget about it in your blackout. That whole mess is up in the air, really, what with this Gabaldon fellow being so mysterious; the only thing you can really be solid on is that Daag dances to his tune right now, which in itself is remarkable enough.

— Hey Godry, what day is it? you stop and shout at your tail, sticking to a comfortable 20 paces now.

— Uh, the 13th?

So yeah, two days to the nundines – plenty of time to figure out what you’re going to do about those plotters.

They do not realize what they are dealing with here. The Puppet’s has always been an adaptable existence, and Daag has always held the strings. They are right to assume your professional conformity, for that is the Puppet. You are the only one who knows what has become of him in the jungles of Kiho.

The Unbroken Circle compound seems the same as yesterday, but this time it is like deacon Plotkin had been keeping in eye out for you; he’s waiting for you at the door already as you enter the yard.

— Hey, master Derak! he shouts and waves in a casual-seeming way. — Just the man I was thinking of. Good to see you continue visiting our humble school.

The man seems to be on the edge in a rather obvious way. His smile but the model of a smile. Makes your blades twitchy.

The inside of the house seems as quiet as yesterday. This time Plotkin ushers you further in, taking you through a service hallway into a spacious private room in the back of the house. Reasonably accoutred with furniture, more like the chambers of a free scholar than an ascetic cenobite.

— Take a seat if you please, master Derak, Plotkin offers a comfortable chair accompanied by a wire-thin smile. — We shall not be interrupted here.

— Your commune lives in a surprisingly comfortable way, you remark politely while taking your seat.

— I can show you the cells the Masters prefer if you’d like, Plotkin says, busying himself with wine and, yes, iced pazzine. — Our patrons expect to be treated with a certain decorum, however, and I have to admit that it is something I have grown accustomed to myself.

He gives you an examining look. — It could be fairly called hypocritical, how we wine and dine the gentlemen, and grant them the illusion of brotherhood with the poor. All in white robes, except silk for those whose skin ill bears wool. The poor get to eat their fill, even if for foolish reasons.

You merely nod at his probing, letting Plotkin say his piece.

— I have been thinking about your travelogue, master Derak, Plotkin changes topics as he sits down. — The travelogue, and other matters, if truth be told. I believe that I can help you with the letters, get the materials together swiftly and find you a patron willing to reward the work in an ample way. I am sure your tale is worthwhile enough for me to put down a substantial down payment on it from my own purse, a hundred ducats say.

Yes, so now Plotkin simply needs to cough out the truth on what he wants out of this himself. Not that we really have the time to write a book for him.

— Thing is, the deacon continues as you wait silently. — The thing is, I need you to help me out first. You offered a friendly ear to my troubles yesterday, and hinted as to your availability for practical work. I have come to be convinced that the Unbroken Circle needs help to remain, well, unbroken. The students following Niccolo – the Sharp Circle, as it were – have somehow gotten into touch with the Whitehairs, one of the ill-reputed bravo gangs in the Crook; I believe them to be plotting something together, or perhaps the angry fools are taking advice from those criminals. I believe that there exists a mastermind who benefits of a plot, and that plot to have unfortunately entangled our young men in some ill design. It occurs to me that where the gentle words of their elders may not suffice, an endsman of your stature might be able to put a stop to the foolishness with little trouble.

You sip your wine and slowly set aside the glass.

— I told you yesterday, though, did I not, you finally begin. — I try to be a different sort of person now; not an endsman, not a mercenary. It is unfortunate for my whims to so set astray your ever-clever planning, master Plotkin, but this morning saw my conviction only grow stronger: I have now decided to leave the City altogether. It is true that I have to write, for there are dangerous matters – important matters of which it may be the case that only I know the full of it now. All the more reason for why I have little attention to spare to the follies of the young and politically minded.

Plotkin listens to you seriously before leaning in to plead his case further.

— Please, master Derak! he exclaims, and you can see that the man cares for his cause here. — You may have mistook me, for I set my words in the accustomed way of the City, which often leaves a cynical impression. I did not intend to suggest to pay you for a job, or if I did, at least not for the sake of some petty spat between philosophers, and not to kill anybody. I believe this to be an important matter for the people of the City as a whole. Unusual numbers of young bravos have shared in our communion over the recent weeks. Many Longaxi, unusually so. Rough people, but welcomed by the sharpist brothers nevertheless. I fear they are planning something of great illegality.

It is pretty clear that he is still not saying everything he suspects.

— Speak your mind, master Plotkin, you urge him on stoically.

— Sheath… Plotkin whispers over dry lips. — I believe they are conspiring treason. Futile, bloody treason, for little but a momentary internal distraction while king Aistulf presses his suit to the free cities. A bloody distraction that leaves the Unbroken Circle and its hotheaded social revolutionaries holding the bag as the agents and provocateurs disappear into the night.


One thought on “Some More Puzzle Pieces

  1. Ah, so now we learn of the machinations behind a number of elements which hitherto had no explanation.

    That’s a good touch, at a moment when the reader is as confused about where this story is headed as poor Derak.

    If I’m reading this right (based on past secret correspondence), a deft play on Eero’s behalf. I’ll be very interested to see how Petteri reacts to this turn of events; I think Derak was coming here for different reasons, so his next actions are very hard to predict.


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