With all five eggs in hand, the group return to Crow Hollow with the expectation of learning a little more about the Spiral Dust network from Dona Ilsa.
“Maybe we should sell them to the highest bidder,” Algernon mused as the group settled themselves back into their Cro forms after translation from Ardeyn. Behind him, Bruce gave the young man a scowl that would have made him take back his thought, if he’d seen it.
“I thought money was a transitory power, not worth your time?” Tobias asked as he threw the chain of the necklace around his overside bird head and hid the soul gem amongst the white feathers on his chest. The heavy stone nestled above his heart, cool and present.
“Let’s just get to Dona Ilsa and find out what she knows,” Peggy yawned, exhausted from their ordeals in the Vaults.
They hadn’t bothered to rest, leaving Ardeyn as soon as they cleared the Mouth of Swords and the entrance to the Vault. Though now in new bodies that hadn’t endured the security and traps of The Vaults, some of the group were exhausted. But, the end was in sight, and they went without tending to injuries to see the eggs safely delivered.
Once they climbed through the canopy of the great tree to the Conaro mansion, they were ushered straight into the great woman’s presence, a sitting room, genteel and refined. Few words were wasted. Tobias let Bruce lead with the box as he stood aside to watch as Dona Ilsa was reunited with her lost eggs.
A relaxation of the shoulders and posture was all there was to see as Dona Ilsa opened the box and the five eggs were presented to her. She picked them up, one by one, examining them in detail before moving to the next. With each egg, a feeling of genuine happiness and relief suffused the lady, transforming her before their eyes, from the hard edge businesswoman and leader of a family dynasty to a mother.
“Thank you for returning my eggs to me,” She said simply, putting the box to one side, a protective hand on them at all times.
Tobias had to drag his attention away, deeply moved by the sight of a mother’s love. Clearing his throat, he opened the conversation.
“Lady, we have proven ourselves true to our word. We have an agreement. Tell us what you know of the Spiral Dust trade.”
“Yes,” Instantly, the image of a doting mother was gone, the businesswoman returned, “He calls himself The Dustman though what he is…I can’t say. His supplies originally came through Ruk, from a business called Whole Body Grafts.”
“Algernon, do you know anything about that place,” Tobias asked, giving up a little push of The Strange to help the memory.
“It’s one of many body modification stores. Nothing exciting,” He replied, remembering their advertisements on the Allsong.
“So you met with the Dustman? “ Returning to the Dona.
“From time to time. He doesn’t come anymore, just sends the stock.”
Tobias looked at Algernon, who had his hand on his backpack. Both knew inside was a picture of the Dustman drawn by the golem of The Vault, Rimush. There was no particular benefit in showing her the image of the being who had stolen her eggs. She’d confirmed they were after the same person already, so Tobias said nothing and eventually, Algernon dropped his hand.
“Dustman? Wasn’t he one who took the eggs to The Vault?” Bruce said, oblivious of the non-verbal interaction between the other two.
“What? I should have known!” The Dona pounded her fist on the arm of the lounge chair she was sitting in.
“Yes,” Tobias sighed. He admired the Dona, and he hated being the bearer of bad news,” So our contacts in Ardeyn told us. I’m sorry, you were played.”
“What a fool I am!” She fumed, “When he came to me with the proposal, all I thought of was the chance to make a little extra money to find my eggs. It never occurred to me he had arranged the whole damn thing!”
“I have had reason recently to see how far a parent will go for their children. It can make you blind, I think.” Tobias said quietly, and the Lady turned to face him, all mask of authority gone.
She nodded, accepting his words, but the fire was lit. She fumed silently where she sat.
“Dona, what would you like us to do?” He asked, hoping to soothe her, give her a moment to stop and think.
“End him,” She said, her voice and posture full of venom.
“Which end?” Bruce replied.
“The very end. I want him and everything he is destroyed.”
That was certainly clear. Tobias changed the subject.
“Dona, do you know anything about the Drood side of the Spiral Dust trade?”
“Only that their arrangement was made at about the same time as mine.”
“Would you be able to provide an introduction to Don Wyclif?” Bruce asked.
She laughed humourlessly, “Only to getting shot. We exchange nothing but gunfire these days.”
“Possibly we could go in as mediators between your two houses?”
“Only for your own executions, I’m afraid.”
“Dona, what does he like?” Algernon asked
“The Don likes power, power and fear over others.” Was all she would say, and in the end group were floundering for more questions to ask. Algernon had at least one that was important to him.
“Dona, do you have an inapposite gate?”
“No, I do not.”
“Do you know the location of one?”
“I’ve heard the Drood might have one,” She said with a sigh. It was clear it was all they were going to get from the Lady, for now, so Tobias made their farewells, and they left.
“Could we demolish his house, do you think?” Algernon was musing as they walked back into the crowds of the branches of the tree.
“Oh yes, we need to see about getting that dynamite for you,” Tobias replied, only half attentive to the conversation.
“No, we do not,” Bruce interjected, “Are you sure that blowing up the Drood mansion isn’t more for your enjoyment?”
“I can’t help if I enjoy my work!” Retorted Algernon, “Say, what if I turned the metal wires holding the house to plastic?”
“We’re in a market,” Tobias was still bumbling along on his thoughts, “I wonder if there’s anything like the rumour markets here? We could do with more information about the Droods and their organisation.”
“I could watch the Droods, maybe that back entrance, you know who comes in and out,” Algernon suggested.
“We have a disguise cypher. One of us could go in and scope out the place,” Bruce added as Tobias yawned, swaying on his feet as he nodded agreement to Bruce’s idea.
“You’re still hurt. Let me heal you up a little, at least before we go on with our plans,” Bruce offered, and Tobias stopped him with a wave.
“It takes effort for you even to try and heal us. I need your good right arm strong, don’t short yourself trying to patch me up,” Tobias looked around the buildings and businesses nearby, “Maybe I should just find us a place to rest.”
They continued to move down the tree. Tobias did find an inn and arranged accommodation for the night. While waiting, Bruce and Algernon spotted two Cro talking at a market stall. They stood out as one had a shock of bright red feathers sticking out the top of his head. The second was a large Cro, with a sledgehammer strapped across his back. His grey feathers seemed groomed to stick out each side of his beaky face.
“Say, doesn’t that one look like Muttonchops from Dreamland?” Algernon asked, subtly pointing the two out to Tobias walking back, now lighter of all his Crow coins.
“Toby Walsham…well, and that must be Old Firetop himself, Rodney Dodd. Now, what do you suppose they’re doing here?”
“Moriarty wanted in on the Spiral Dust trade,” Bruce reminded him,” Seems he still does.”
Without seeing the group’s attention on them, Rodney and Toby moved further into the market. Algernon gestured he would follow and, with a push from Tobias, started moving through the crowd. Grabbing hold of Bruce’s armoured arm, Tobias focused on his phylactery, and they started following at a distance.
Firetop and Muttonchops visited several stalls, all asking their questions and moving through the crowd as if native to it. It wasn’t until Rodney turned to glance through the crowd that he saw Algernon watching. Their eyes locked, and Algernon knew he’d been made. Rodney said something to Toby, who started pushing through the crowd towards Algernon. A whistle from Rodney also brought another Cro, looking at rifles at an adjoining stall, and all three started circling Algernon.
“He’s in trouble. Dodd’s seen him,” Tobias whispered to Bruce, who moved them through the crowd.
Algernon stiffened, and like a deer, sprung away from the encroaching thugs. He knew the others were behind him. Even as a Cro, Bruce was very identifiably Bruce, and these men had fought him twice before. With this thought in mind, he started moving away from their direction.
From within the crowd, Bruce noted Algernon wasn’t moving through the crowd as smoothly as he had. People seemed to be getting in his way , slowing him down and then finally, he fell as Mutton Chops reached him.
“He’s caught!” Tobias cried, almost fighting against the bulk of Bruce in front of him.
“Yeah, I think the kid meant to be. Let’s just hang back and watch a bit.”
“Well, what ‘ave we got ‘ere?” Said Toby of the Muttonchops, lifting Algernon off his feet to face Rodney.
“Thank you, sir,” He bluffed, nervously smiling at Muttonchops.
“For helping me up.” Large black bird eyes looked innocently from Toby to Rodney and back as if an evil thought had never entered their head.
“What are you up to?” Rodney said, his red feathers swaying like flames as he moved.
“Oh! Lovely red feathers, sir. I was just shopping, sir.”
“Thanks,” Rodney eyed Algernon suspicious as Toby put him down. If he could just show them he could be clever…Algernon shot a hand out to pickpocket Rodney, but the thug was ready for that game.
“What are you playin’ at?”
“I work for you now, sir. Now.”
“Now? Who before?”
“No one, in particular, sir,” Algernon looked downcast, as if life had been very unfair up to that point, “But I can be useful.”
Toby growled and pushed Algernon close to Rodney, “Talk to the boss.”
“So, you want employment?” Rodney finally said, looking down on the small non-descript Cro.
“Yes, sir. I can be very useful.”
Algernon thought a moment, “Pickpocketing occasionally, I’m pretty stealthy…blowing things up…”
Rodney did a doubletake, his red feathers swinging back and forwards like a wildfire.
“Tell you what. A friend of ours has things we would like…back.”
“Recovery mission. Where would you like me to go?”
“His place, we’ll show you. ”
“And pay, sir? For this job?”
Rodney smirked, “Very little, and on completion.”
“How…little would that be?” Algernon asked timidly.
‘Oh, I think five crow coins would be little enough.”
“Bringing something back is surely worth…ten?”
At this, Rodney laughed out loud, “You come back, I’ll make it ten.”
“What do you want me to recover?
“Hmmm, our friend is not willing to share. We need something that will…encourage him to share.”
“Something to inspire sharing.”
The thugs gave him the directions to the second-largest house in the whole Great tree. Algernon guessed correctly that this was the home of the Droods and Don Wyclif.
“And where can I find you afterwards, sir?”
Rodney named an inn further down the tree, “Ask for Clovis Miller.”
“I’m on my way!” Algernon almost saluted and ran off in the direction of the house.
Bruce stood to one side and watched the murder of thugs. They followed the kid with their eyes, bemused expressions on their faces. They chatted for a moment or two. The third guy went back to the stall of rifles.
“Algernon’s just said we should probably regroup,” Tobias said, tugging on Bruce’s feathers.
“Yeah, just what I was thinking.” And, leading Tobias, moved back towards the inn they had booked for the night.
In the small but comfortable room, the group met and prepared to rest. Not taking no for an answer, Bruce prepared to do what healing he could for the two most injured in the party, Tobias and Algernon. His first aid worked well on Tobias, who relaxed a little easier into a chair. For Algernon, he failed to make an impact.
“Is there a psychological reason you don’t heal me?” Algernon asked the frustrated Bruce, who made him sit down again. This time, the healing took, and he was able to rest well.
The next morning, Peggy, Bruce and Algernon were all up before Tobias, who was still looking poorly and not moving with his usual speed. It couldn’t be helped. At least the day held nothing more strenuous than talking. They breakfasted and headed out into the market to each of their assigned tasks for the day. Algernon found a good vantage spot to watch the back door of the Drood mansion and noted those coming in and out, how they were received and what was required for entry. Two thugs were on guard at all time, and they seemed to expect a password from fellow security and generic house staff alike. Unfortunately, his hiding position was too far away from the guard to pick up a stray password from their minds.
Bruce was further away again, perched on a branch that overlooked Algernon’s hideout and the entrance. Too far away to hear or see anything at the door, he was still within distance if Algernon got into trouble. Peggy moved through the stalls keeping close contact with Tobias, who was gathering information. Tobias was out talking to stallholders, especially those the Moriarty gang members had spoken to the day before. He started by trying to sell the dragon marionette he had carefully brought back from Ardeyn. He felt lousy and knew he looked it as he failed to gain the interest for the marionette he expected.
“It’s nice. I’ll give you twenty-five crow coin for it,” The Stallholder said. Tobias almost kept it at that price, having grown fond of the thing, but he needed the information more.
“Tell you what. I’ll sell it for ten if you tell me what the gentlemen yesterday wanted.”
The Storeholder looked around the crowd for anyone listening as he exchanged coins for the marionette, ”They wanted to know about the Droods.”
“And what did you tell them?”
“Wyclif has been busy focusing his attention on a special trade. He’s fuming about the loss of his favourite lieutenant into the hands of an enemy.”
“So if the Don lost this second, whose taken up that role at the moment?”
“The younger brother, Terilis Lightfeather.”
“What sort of character is he?”
“He’s a mean one. Real vicious. He brings out the worst in the boss. He used to sit in his big brother’s shadow, but no more. I’ve heard some wish for the good old days of Elvin Lightfeather. He was tough, but you knew where you stood with him. His brother is wild and can go off at nothing…”
The shopkeeper went quiet and looking past Tobias. Tobias could feel a presence behind him, and something like a static shock ran through his body. He knew this situation of old. Stepping aside, he looked at the new arrivals through his feathers. Five big Cro had walked through the markets and now stood in front of the market stall. One was a little taller than the others and seemed to be their leader. Feathers matted down each side of his beak make this Cro look scruffy, not that anyone would have told him that to his face. On each hand, he carried a large metal claw that flashed in the morning light.
“I hear people have been asking about me?” The Cro asked the stallholder. Tobias could feel the stallholder’s eyes on him already. Focussing on a calm like the one Dona had presented to them, he squared his shoulders and faced the goons.
“Ah, yes. That would be me. Not just me, of course.” He said, with seeming ease, all the while thoughts were churning.
“You?” The Cro said, turning to take in the small, dapper Cro in front of him, “What about this red-feathered guy…?”
“That’s the one. Goes by the name Rodney Dodd and works for…hmm, have you heard of the Professor?”
The Cro cracked his neck menacingly and, without warning, punched the tree branch they were all standing on with this metal clawed fist. The violence of the action set Tobias’ heart racing as he realised the quality of the Cro in front of him. He’d suspected this was the infamous Terilis Lightfeather and now knew that the stories were true. Suddenly he was back in New York once more working for the organised crime syndicate run by Louis Astra. It was a life that he had run from, fleeing blindly to New Orleans in the hope of something better. It seemed a cruel irony that having come so far, he was right back where he started.
“Moriarty?” Peggy added, honestly inserting herself into the conversation, “What a jerk!”
“Yes, that’s the one. He has your brother,” Tobias confessed, knowing that right now, the difference between life and death may hinge on Terilis’ interest in his brother’s welfare.
“Go on,” The Cro said, brushing his long oily feathers out of his eyes.
“I wanted to talk to you. That’s why I was asking around. I can be useful. Can we talk?” Tobias was aware he sounded like Algernon. His words came out at the speed his heart was racing.
Tobias looked around the market place as the stallowner had, checking for others listening and took a moment to centre himself. Didn’t they want inside the house?
“Here? In the markets?”
Terilis nodded, “Take him.” Suddenly the other four surrounded Tobias, and the panic in his chest spiked.
It’s okay. Peggy will tell the others. You’re not alone anymore, remember. You don’t have to do this alone. He said to himself as the group started moving away.
“Excuse me, where do you think you are going with him?” Came Peggy’s voice from behind, and Tobias almost wept.
“And what’s it to you?” He heard Terilis say.
“I look after him. Where he goes, I go.” Peggy pushed through the group and stood beside Tobias. He could feel her solid presence, the warmth of her beside him and felt that everything would be fine if she would just stay close.
At the same time, he knew the others had no idea where they were or what was happening. She needed to let them know. With a wrench, he touched Peggy’s arm.
You have to tell Bruce and Algernon what happened, He said within the mind link. Outside so all could hear, he turned and smiled indulgently at her, “Get out of here. We have business to discuss.” He looked to Terilis and ruffled his own feather to cover his discomfit, “She doesn’t need to be involved.”
“Scram, don’t you hear you’re not wanted,” Terilis added gruffly, and Tobias had to stop himself from contradicting him.
Why? You need me. She replied telepathically, though externally it was almost the same message. “No, I won’t.”
Please, go. He pleaded in her mind as he said out loud, “Go on, go find your brother.”
Because they don’t know where we are, He was going to add the truth, that she was right. He couldn’t do this without them but was sure that would keep her from leaving. In the end, Peggy agreed grudgingly.
“Fine, fine!” She complained and pushing her way through the goons, and stormed off. The Cro thugs laughed at the sight of her climbing higher through the tree. Tobias watched her receding back until she was lost in the crowds. He closed his eyes and could still feel the link between them. Her quietly fuming as she found new words for idiot.
No, these weren’t the bad old days at all.
A slight shove in the small of his back told him it was time to move.
It had been a very dull morning. Algernon had thought that spy work would be more of the infiltration, stealth missions and secret codes. All he’d done since coming to Crow Hollow was follow and watch. Now he was watching. He was in a good enough spot between stalls to get a good view of the door, the guards and those who came in and out but not close enough to hear what they were saying. High above, within gliding distance, he could just make out Bruce’s bulky shadow. He wished he had some way of talking to the others, or at least Bruce at this moment. It would have helped fill the time.
Suddenly a rustle of feather and a harrumph, Peggy was beside him, taking up all the space in his tiny hidey-hole and making a scene.
“Budge over. I don’t fit.”
“No, you don’t. Why aren’t you with Rain?”
“Rain got himself caught. He sent me to let you know.”
“O-kay,” Algernon looked up to Bruce’s nest. He was no longer there.
“What’s going on? Our canary’s being marched up the tree surrounded by heavies,” Bruce’s deep bass came up behind both Peggy and Algernon.
“Terilis Lightfeather, Elvin’s little brother, is now Don Wyclif’s right hand. He caught Rain asking stallholders questions. Rain sent me to tell you, and I’ve done that now,” Peggy replied and pushed past Bruce and was soon lost in the crowd of market-goers.
It wasn’t until the marching group of goons were within sight of the back door that Tobias realised they might see Peggy talking to Algernon and suspect something. In a panic, he looked around for a distraction, something to stall the group so Peggy and Algernon would have time to clear the door. He saw the market stall Algernon had been interested in before the trip to Ardeyn.
“Oh, my good man!” He exclaimed, pointing to the bundle of dynamite on the stall and aiming his suggestion square for the stallholder, “Can I suggest to you that dynamite is weeping nitro-glycerine and is highly volatile!”
The Cro grabbed the dynamite and, in a blind panic, threw it out of the tree. It sailed away into the crowds of shoppers and stalls far below and was lost from sight. The whole transaction took less than a few seconds and didn’t even slow the marching group down. Tobias chided himself, remembering Peggy’s link.
You’ll have to get out of the way. We’re following you.
Why? Came the same stubborn insistence for facts.
The goons want to use their back door.
Doesn’t everyone? He could almost hear her roll her eyes.
Exactly! And I’d rather they don’t see you lurking around.
Oh, they’ll see me, She said through the link.
He almost groaned. What could that mean? Tobias glanced around the crowds. With a determined look on her face, Peggy marched in from the right. She barged her way through the knot of thugs and stood beside him.
“I’m coming with you,”
Thank god! He said via the link, Thank you. He took her hand in his cold, shaking one.
Peggy blinked, surprised. Not so much for the physical contact, but from the force of his need.
Idiot, She responded automatically, unsure how to react to the intense emotion, We’re a group. We look after each other, don’t we?
It’s not a concept I will ever tire, I assure you.
Besides, I’m not leaving you alone with the bully brother of Lightfeather. The image of Elvin Lightfeather throwing his murderously accurate dagger in a narrow alley of Bollons, Railsea, was shared.
Tobias’ grip on Peggy’s hand tightened. Together then?
No other option.
“What? You again?” Terilis growled, oblivious to all that had been said in the moment she’d pushed through. Peggy paid Terilis no attention.
“You’re an idiot, and I’m coming,”
Tobias turned to Terilis, “Little sisters, they think they own you.”
Without another word, they was pushed through the door. They were bundled quickly down a narrow hallway, a door was opened, and they all entered the small private space.
“Okay, so talk,” Terilis barked, taking a seat behind a simple wooden table. There were no other chairs, and the other four goons loomed over Peggy and Tobias. Never letting go of Peggy’s hand, Tobias slipped into a new persona, one he hadn’t needed for a long time. Dropping his head to define the change, his usual polite transatlantic accent was gone. When he next spoke, replaced with a broader cockney.
“Right, I’ll come clean wi’d you gents. Moriarty is a thorn in me side. Dat’s my patch, that London, and ‘e don’t seem ta think there’s room to share. So, when I found out ‘bout your brotha, I figured we ‘ad a mutual enemy.”
You sound like an idiot, Peggy said via the link, I’m glad you don’t go around sounding like that.
Terilis nodded, this was something he could understand,” And what do you want from me?”
“He’s all gun-ho ‘bout dis Spiral Dust trade. I want in before ‘e does. I want ta cut ‘im out, know what I mean?”
Algernon and Bruce moved into the crowd and watched silently as Tobias and Peggy were marched up to the door by five Cro. The guards snapped to attention, and though no password was given, they were let in. Algernon skimmed the mind of the nearest guard and found the password.
“Usually, the guards give the password,” Algernon murmured to Bruce as they finalised their plans to follow, “I can probably pass myself off as staff…”
“And I’ll use the disguise cypher,” Added Bruce, who had made a note of a Cro about his size leaving for down the tree earlier. Algernon handed over his crossbow to Bruce and made himself look neat, presentable and unnoteworthy. Bruce used the Cypher and seemingly didn’t change much, remaining a larger than average Cro, now with a crossbow on his back. Together they walked up to the door, and Bruce gave the password. The Cro on guard said nothing, and they were let in without a question. Now, to find the other two.
A long hallway lined with doors faced them. At the far end, a set of stairs led seemingly up to the main house. Nearby a set of stairs led down into darkness. Algernon went to work looking for a trail, a blood smear path, anything that would give them a clue as to where Peggy and Tobias had been taken. He didn’t find anything, as there was nothing to see. Bruce stopped and listened. Faintly he could hear a conversation being held behind one of the doors. Drawing Algernon’s attention to it, they crept down the hallway, listening to doors until they could discern a higher voice in London accent amongst the deeper vocalisations from behind one of them. Bruce rolled his eyes, they’d found their room all right. Getting down on one knee, Bruce looked through the keyhole.
“So, you want into the Spiral Dust trade for your London in exchange for…what, my brother?” Terilis summarised, looking through his shaggy mess of feathers at Tobias across the table.
I wonder what makes his feathers all straggly like that? Peggy thought via the link, Do you think it’s intentional or some sort of scalp condition…
“Sum fink like dat. ‘Cept I was thinking a little bigger. This universe is big, a lot bigger if ya get my meanin’. D’ere no need ta step on each other’s toes,” Tobias paused, seeming for effect, but mostly to give himself time to figure out what he wanted from this conversation. What information do they have on the Dustman? What were the Dustman’s intentions? “If we go into for a partnership I want a bigger slice. Say, I run my London and…Earth?”
I wonder if Cro’s suffer male pattern baldness? I’ll have to ask someone when we get out of this stuffy room. Haven’t they heard of ventilation?
Terilis scoffed and gestured to one of his goons. With a look and a sign, the goon crossed the room and opened the door.
Bruce peered through the keyhole. At one moment, he was looking into a room filled with Cro, Tobias’ yellow suit clearly visible amongst the black. The next moment, the scene was blocked by a body, and the door opened. Instinctually, he grabbed the Cro by the throat with one hand and yanked him out of the doorway, throwing him across the hall. That the Cro did not hit the wall was Algernon snapping him out of the air. Controlled for the moment, Bruce quietly closed the door. Peggy, wide-eyed, the only witness.
With a single gesture, Algernon threw the Cro down the hall towards the stair heading down. The Cro tumbled out of sight as both Bruce and Algernon moved quietly as possible down the hallway. The Cro was stunned, sprawled on a landing half way down. Levitating his crossbow off Bruce’s back, Algernon shot him almost point-blank as soon as the goon was in sight. Bruce closed the stairwell door, but no amount of wood was going to muffle the sound of gunfire as the goon pulled out his gun and shot. It missed Bruce by inches. Pulling out his crowbar, Bruce lept from down the flight of stairs, landing full weight on the Cro. There was a crunch and Bruce felt the body of the Cro give way beneath him. Standing, the Cro slumped down to the bottom of the stair, very much dead.
The gunshot was clear from inside the room, and Tobias instinctually flinched. He stopped his sales pitch to Terilis as all Cro heads turned to the door.
“Go see what’s happening out there,” Terilis ordered, and another of the four opened the door.
Just Bruce and Algernon as usual. Do you think they’ve ever heard of subtle?
“Everything okay?” The goon called down the hallway. There was a sound of a door opening.
“Yeah, boss,” Came a voice, distinctly Bruce’s for those who knew it.
Yeah, playing with guns again.
“We heard a gunshot.”
“Yeah, sorry accidental discharge.”
Terilis slammed his metal claw into the table, the blades slinking through the wood, the fist leaving an impression on the surface.
“Don’t let it happen again,” Said the goon, translating his bosses body language and closed the door.
“Where did we find these idiots!” Terilis bellowed.
“They’re all over, gov,” Tobias sympathised, and Terilis focused his attention back on him.
“Here’s my idea, “Terilis said, straightening up and retracting his clawed fist from the tabletop,” You get my brother and one more thing. I want the head of a traitor that left our organisation and joined Moriarty.”
A flash of Caw Ek Carve directing crossbow fire from on top of a warehouse room sprung to Tobias’ mind.
“Oh yeah, new bloke. Sharp, but officious,” He mimed Caw Ek Carves wireframe spectacles, and Terilis nodded.
“That’s a lot of work, close to Moriarty. Not saying it can’t be done, but that’s tipping my ‘and,” Tobias looked up as if collecting his thoughts. “ I was thinking more of a trap. Moriarty’s safe in London, within his network like a spider, in ‘is web. I can get information to Moriarty about your Spiral Dust contact’s location. It would have to be legit, Moriarty’s smart. He’d see through any porky pies. We lay an ambush the other end and nab him outside of London and all his protections. Later, I can sweep in collect your brotha, find this traitor of yours and make London me own.”
Terilis seemed to warm to this plan for a moment. He leaned back in his chair and watched Tobias, who fixed all his thoughts on just keeping up the mask and not crumbling into a shuddering wreck. After a moment or two, Terlis shook his head.
“No good, the Dustman doesn’t tell us where it comes from.”
“Could we contact this Dustman, arrange somfin’? It’s in his best interests that someone like Moriarty is not involved in his business.”
Again, the head shook, sending the dangling feathers drifting back and forward, “He stays out of things. He won’t get involved.”
If Terilis knew more than Dona Ilsa about the Spiral Dust, he was doing an excellent job of keeping it close. Frustrated now, Tobias realised it was time to leave. The hard part was getting Terilis to think so too.
“Hmm, so your brotha and this traitor and what, I become a junior partner is dis Spiral dust?”
“That’s how I see it?”
“Yeah, right, I’ll be in touch,” He gestured to the door, and the goons looked to Terilis.
“See them out, boys.”
With a shove from one of the two goons behind them, Peggy and Tobias were marched out the room and back through the rear door.
Bruce dragged the body of the Cro down the stair and along another corridor as Algernon went ahead checking rooms. So far, they seemed to be storerooms or currently unused workrooms. Algernon had grabbed six grenades out of an armoury.
“I could probably bring down half the tree if I could find its weak points,” Algernon said as he tucked the grenades under his wing.
“I’m sure you could, but right now, I’d like if you could find a spot to put this one before someone finds us,” Complained Bruce. Algernon closed the armoury and opened another door. It was a large workroom set up with two stations. One for processing Spiral Dust and the other Bywandine. There were even separate tools to avoid cross-contamination. Algernon took a few samples of each and handed them to Bruce before closing that door too.
“We need somewhere they’re not likely to go for a while.”
The next-door offered them a better solution. It was a general storeroom, complete with mops, cleaning products standard, handyman tools. With a little luck, the unlucky Cro goon wouldn’t be found until the cleaners arrived the next morning. Propping him up in a corner, they close the door and started back down the hallway. Now, which way should they go out? The rear exit was closest, but as they’d just come through there, it could look suspicious, and they wouldn’t get to see any more of the house.
They climbed the stairs from the storeroom, through the door at the top to the first corridor. At the other end, the second staircase beckoned. They were almost there when Terilis Lightfeather walked out of the room flanked by one of his bodyguards.
“You! Are you the new guys setting off guns in the house?” He fixed both Bruce, hidden in his disguise and Algernon with a gaze that seemed to look right through them.
“Ah, yeah. Sorry boss,” Bruce replied as Algernon silently tried his best not to be there.
The clawed fist slammed into the wall beside Bruce’s head, and snow of gyprock landed on his shoulder.
“Don’t do it again. I don’t need more idiots, but all we seem to do is lose good hands and find idiots,” He said more to himself than to Bruce or Algernon, “Well, hasn’t Salvin got a job for you? Get going!”
“Yes, sir,” Bruce replied smartly, and both he and Algernon walked on and opened a random door.
It was a kitchen. The staff looked like they were preparing for a midday meal and had little time for security staff not where they should be.
“Ur…sorry, do you know where Salvin is?” Asked Algernon of one of the junior staff, peeling vegetables.
“Wouldn’t he be down in the market somewhere?” Replied the kitchen hand who thought he’d found someone lower ranking than himself and wasn’t afraid to show their disdain. It was utterly wasted on Algernon. He knew the vegetable peeling Cro was beneath him and was content to let him fall with the house when he got around the destroying it.
They waited thirty seconds to let the hallway clear before heading out again. Climbing the stairs to the main house, they got a feel for the layout and where Don Wyclif would be further up in the building. By now, they had pushed their luck as far as they were willing to go. They made their exit through the open front door and left the Drood residence for the genteel part of town.
To be continued….