Monday, March 4, 2013

A City of Wax - Episode 7

~Wax immediately recognized the colors from a far-too-familiar company stamp. The brass and crimson logo of Kaus-Lonhark Industries was stamped onto every tin of Wax’s favorite smogs he’d ever purchased.
   “You’ve been a great help, Jonas. Let me know if you turn anything else up.” He said, heading for the door. Jonas may not have been able to turn up a name, but perhaps a former employer would. Wax fired up his steambike and headed for Central- and the Kaus-Lonhark Industries factory.~

            It was late in the evening when Wax arrived outside the factory grounds. A stiff wet heaviness fell with the sun, and amidst the industrial smog in the sky, the clouds threatened to drizzle. The Kaus-Lonhark logo was emblazoned on the hanging placard outside the main office door. It swung lazily in the wind as Wax approached the door. “Can I help you?” A voice asked as he entered, shutting out the cold behind him.
            “Possibly” Wax replied, setting another smog between his lips and lighting it with his flinstriker. “I’m looking for information on an employee of yours.” The short man behind the desk set his pen down and folded his hands, looking up at Wax through thin wiry spectacles.
            “And what would you need that for?” He asked politely.
            “My name is Wax, I’m a private investigator. A man I believe to be a former employee of this company was killed in an accident recently and I’m investigating the circumstances of his death. I don’t have a name, but I can give you a description if it would help.” Wax lied.
            “I’m sorry, Mister Wax, but that information is private. Kaus-Lonhark Industries maintains a strict confidentiality policy over the personal information of its employees.” The little man explained.
            “I don’t think he’ll mind much, considering he’s lying on an autopsy table in the morgue at the Gardenworks. Once another man has cut you open and taken out all your innards, I can’t imagine you’d give much of a damn over privacy.” Wax mused.
            “That was a rather crude remark to make, Mister Wax. However, until the employee’s family has given us consent to do so, I’m afraid that even under current circumstances I’m not authorized to give you that information.” The man picked his pen back up and went back to his books, gesturing an end to the conversation.
            “Have a pleasant evening, then.” Wax mumbled as he left the building.

            As he closed the door behind him, Wax flipped open his smog tin. Only four of the neatly wrapped smogs remained nestled in their grooves. He strode over to his steambike and fired it up, roaring off down the street. When he was certain the noise had left earshot of the factory, he cut the engine and coasted back around. Picking his way through the streets, choosing the routes with as few gas lamps as possible, he wove his way back toward the factory, walking the bike alongside him to avoid the noise. He slipped into an alleyway two buildings down from his target and parked the bike. Wax ground the stub of his smog into the brick behind him and stood motionless against the corner of the building, watching the door of the Kaus-Lonhark factory. A cold half-hour passed in the damp before the small man emerged from the door, locking it behind him. Wax waited until he was out of sight before slipping down the street like a shadow. The windows of the building were dark when he reached the door. With the nearest gas lamp several buildings away, Wax’s figure was barely a silhouette against the frame. He knelt down, slipping a small leather pouch from inside his greatcoat. Inside were three small wires, one with a flattened surface bent at a 90 degree angle, one with a serpentine tip, and another with a small sharp tooth bent up at the end. He slipped the flat headed pick into the base of the lock and applied a solid pressure to it. Slipping the serpentine tool into the top portion of the lock, he raked the tumblers twice, set it down and reached for the pick.

The lock wasn’t particularly challenging to pick, Wax found. Most of the tumblers gave up and settled into their apportioned spaces without a fuss. Only two stubbornly refused to find their homes for a moment before, with a faint click, settling into place. Wax twisted the pressure wrench, rotated the lock, and the door swung open. The room was still warm, and a light musty scent emanated from the walls. Wax silently closed the door behind him and entered the factory.

Most of the building was dedicated to the warehouse and machinery used for creating the Kaus-Lonhark brand of vices, ranging from smogs to puffers to pipe shag and everything in between, and the offices were isolated to a small portion of the building’s space along an outer wall. Wax slipped through them, keeping low and using the faint light from the gas lamps in the distance to guide his way around the sparse furniture inside. He quickly located a room whose door was embellished with a brass plaque with “Records” etched into it and slipped inside. The light filtering in from the open door behind him wasn’t quite enough to see by, so Wax flicked open his flintstriker. The small flame provided just enough light to read by. The walls of the room were lined with file drawers, inevitably containing sales records, dossiers and other important company documents, but they weren’t what he was searching for. Spread open on a small desk near the corner of the small closet-like space, Wax found exactly what he needed; the book page contained a schedule of workers, noting absences, requested vacations, and hours worked. Knowing he’d killed the mystery man three days ago, Wax scanned the list for any employees to have missed three consecutive days. Only three names matched. He took note of the last names and quickly located a file drawer labeled “Employment Records.”

Searching by the light from the tiny flame of his flintstriker, Wax quickly located three files and spread them on the table next to the schedule record. Drent, Garrus and Esman. Each file contained a spectograph image along with a copy of the employee’s résumé, a record of grievances and conduct within the company, and a number of other files. Wax quickly thumbed through each one, but quickly ran into a roadblock in his plan. None of the images in the matching files were of the man in the Gardenworks morgue. He frowned, closing the files and placing them back into their respective locations in the drawer. He drummed his fingers quietly on the table as he mulled over the list, when suddenly he was struck by an idea. He quickly scanned the list for any employees with no schedules, indicating that they’d quit, or any marked as having put in a notification of quitting. He found only one name: Dresdin Bront. He quickly located Dresdin’s file in the cabinet and spread it on the table. The spectograph image was immediately recognizable. Wax carefully lowered his flintstriker to read the dossier. Suddenly, however, a familiar sound echoed through the building- someone had opened the front door. Wax quickly blew out the flame of his flinstriker, cramming it back into his pocket and shutting the dossier. He drew his revolver from his baldric and flattened himself against the wall, listening intently. He heard the sounds of multiple voices and footsteps coming in his direction.

“-place stinks. Don’t know why I had to come.” One voice whispered. Another shushed him and replied with a harsh tone.
“Because some “investigator” was pokin’ around here earlier asking questions about dead employees. Probably an Arbitor. You can be damn sure he ain’t just gonna leave it be ‘cause some clerk told him to shove off. They might already be here, so keep your damn voice down and expect trouble.”
“Fine. Spread out and I’ll go get the damn thing.” The first voice replied. Wax shot a glance at the dossier that lie on the table beside the roster. The open door sat between him and the file, and he couldn’t risk being seen or closing the door at this point. Footsteps were approaching quickly. Wax cursed himself for leaving the door open and slid his weapon back into the baldric. Shooting the man would attract the attention of the entire lot and he’d be trapped. He pressed himself against the wall beside the doorway and exhaled softly.

A figure about Wax’s height stepped into the doorway, carrying a phlogiston bulb light. Wax slammed a readied fist into the man’s throat, catching him off guard and choking his cry of alarm. He wrenched the man’s arm up, catching the wrist beneath his armpit and locking the elbow with his forearm, and drove his fist against the joint with a sickening pop. The man’s light clattered to the ground. Wax immediately crushed his heel against the figure’s knee, driving it to the ground. Feeling the man’s balance fail, he threw his weight to the side, hurling him to the floor and drove the tip of his boot into the stunned victim’s temple. Unconsciousness took him immediately, and Wax dragged his body out of sight of the doorway. He searched the unconscious body, locating a stuttergun with two spare magazines of ammunition, a handful of coins and half-empty tin of expensive pipe shag. He pocketed the tin, taking the gun and ammunition with him. It wouldn’t be long before the man was missed so Wax had to work fast. Unsheathing his boot knife, Wax hastily cut two long strips of thick fabric from the hem of the man’s coat. He snatched up the light and turned off the beam, carrying his collection of objects out into the office. A row of several cluttered desks filled the long room, spaced evenly apart with a single aisle between them. Wax quickly lashed the stuttergun to a ladderback desk chair and set it against the desk. As quietly as he could, he then slid the desk behind it to hold the chair in place, preventing it from falling over. The stuttergun now faced the only doorway leading into the office room. He cut the strip of fabric with his knife and tied a second around the weapon’s trigger, threading it along with him. He set the phlogiston light on top of the desk just in front of the rigged gun, facing the same direction, and grabbed a thick folder from a desk drawer, propping it in front of the beam. He then turned the bulb on, the light blocked fully by the folder. Finally, Wax hurriedly cut the drawstrings on all the windows, dropping the blinds and flooding the room with darkness.

Wax took up a position behind a nearby desk, ducking behind it just as he heard the voices from the other room pipe up. “Damn it all, what’s taking him so long? It can’t be that hard to find a single piece of paper.” The voice spoke. “Rest of the place is clear. No arbitors. What is he doing back there?”
“Rodick!” another voice yelled, “You takin’ a nap back there or what?!” When the unconscious man didn’t respond, Wax tightened his grip on the fabric thread. He listened as footsteps filled the room. His eyes had adjusted to the dark by then, and he peeked beneath the desk, counting five pairs of feet.
“Why’s it so bloody dark in here? Were these blinds shut before?” A voice asked. Wax yanked the thread. The slip knot fastened around the stuttergun’s trigger constricted like a noose, and the weapon began firing wildly, toppling the folder and sending a blinding beam of light and a hail of bullets into the faces of the men at the end of the hall. The men began returning fire at the phantom gunman with their own weapons, panicking in the chaos. Wax ducked under the desk, vaulting the next one, completely invisible to their blinded peripherals. He pulled his revolver form his baldric and fired.

The stuttergun’s ammunition bled dry as he fired his second shot, which ripped through the chest of a man near the back of the group. Having recovered slightly from the confusion, the man closest to him turned to line up a shot, but Wax was on him. Gripping the barrel of his revolver in his gloved hand, Wax smashed the butt of the iron-cased handle into the man’s jaw, punching through his teeth and sending him sprawling. He flipped the gun quickly, snatching the grip and squeezed the trigger, holding it down and sweeping his palm across the weapon’s hammer firing off three shots in rapid succession. Another man fell as a volley of bullets buried themselves in the wall behind him, sending shreds of paper and bits of splintered wood sailing through the darkness. Wax dove behind a desk and fired another shot, shattering the phlogiston bulb and drowning the room in blinding darkness again. He ducked under the desk and quickly found the corner by the entry room’s doorway, bringing up his revolver. He had three shots left. He dug into his pocket and his fingers closed around his flintstriker. The small device had been a tried and true companion, but it was time to part ways. He hurled it down the dark room and it smashed through a pane of glass. Panicked gunfire from the two remaining assailants responded to the sound, and the muzzle flashes revealed all Wax needed to know. He quickly fired two more shots and silence filled the room. Wax fumbled his way back to the records room, snatching up Dresdin Bront’s dossier and quickly exited the building. Voices and shouts from nearby told him that the firefight hadn’t gone unnoticed, so he hastily slipped back up the street. He ducked into the alleyway where he’d left his steambike, mounted it, and reached for the key.

The familiar sound of a pistol’s hammer locking behind his head made him freeze. Wax slowly lowered his hand from the key and folded his hands behind his head. “Hello, Wax.” Spoke a man’s voice from behind him.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A City of Wax - Episode 6

~Wax saw himself out of the office. He quickly made his way back down the hall and out to where his steambike waited for him. His mind swarmed furiously with new information and leads, but for now, he sped off to exchange his borrowed finery for his thick coat. It was time he made another trip to The Gardenworks, and he was going to need it.~

            The dreary damp of the Gardenworks had not improved since Wax’s last visit, and he silently muttered to himself as he dismounted his steambike. He’d arrived at a relatively nondescript stone building whose walls were alive with creeper vines and moss. Wax turned his thick collar up to the damp and retrieved his smog tin, placing one between his lips and lighting it with a flick of his flintstriker. Placing the objects back into their respective familiar pockets, Wax blew a long, steady stream of smoke into the air and walked inside.

            The inside of the morgue, while notably clearer of vegetation, was not much less dreary than the outside. The lone office was adorned with half-dissected models, preserved cadaver segments and books on anatomy, along with a cluttered desk littered with sheaves of loose paper. Wax could hear familiar bustling coming from the back of the building, and he followed the sound into the examination room. He was greeted by several corpses shrouded by white cloth lying atop examination slabs, strange instruments lining every wall and surface, and a familiar figure mumbling to himself as he moved busily about the room. Wax exhaled a cloud of smoke into the air and the man paused, giving a short sniff. “You’ll contaminate the bodies like that, you know.” He muttered. Wax chuckled.

            “I’m assuming you’re here to view your handiwork?” The man asked, turning to face Wax, peering at him through his comically large goggles. Jonas Flynt was slim, pale, and small, even for a Heartlander. Wax thought he very much resembled the skeletons hanging from metal stands in the corner of the room, save for his wild tangle of stark white hair.
            “How’d you know it was mine?” Wax asked as he stepped into the room. Jonas hobbled over to a nearby slab and tossed aside the thick white sheet, revealing the dead man’s torso but preserving his dignity. From the look of the carved chest, an autopsy had already been performed.
            “Firstly,” Jonas began, sifting through his tools on a nearby table, “you never show up here unless you’ve shot someone or knew someone who’d been shot, and secondly…” he continued, selecting a long slender metal implement and gesturing to the hole in the dead man’s chest. “Cause of death, one shot, clean through the heart, inch and a half entry wound, nearly three and a quarter inch exit wound. Result of a shot from a ball typically found in single-shot pistols or in one particular case,” he gave Wax a knowing glance, “a heavy caliber hand cannon modified to fit a six-shot revolver cylinder specifically designed to fit these rounds.” He concluded. Wax shook his head, masking a grin with his hand as he lifted his smog to his lips.
            “If it’s any consolation, he shot first.” Wax said. Jonas placed his tool back on the small table.
            “Don’t they all?” He asked.

            “So. Any idea who he is?” Wax asked. Jonas shook his head, leaning back over the corpse on the table.
            “Not even the foggiest, but I can tell you, there’s some pretty strange stuff I pulled off of and out of this guy.” He said. Wax’s silence cued him to continue speaking. “Firstly, from what I pulled out of this guy’s stomach, he was on just about everything he could be on. I found traces of Kapff, used to go days without sleeping, painkillers, Hustle Punch, and Regret-Me-Not. Now, ruling out that last one, he must have been absolutely twitching by the time he caught up to you. That’s not all, though.” Jonas hobbled over to another cluttered surface and rummaged noisily through the loose implements until he unearthed a stack of papers. He flipped through them, hobbling back to the corpse. “Your guy here had a thing for cheap snuff, and I found evidence of Nethervine Extract poisoning in his throat. That stuff will usually have you hallucinating and feeling like your head is about to split open, but not in amounts this small. The odd thing is, even a mild exposure to the gas itself would cause more damage than this. I was confused until I remembered his snuffbox.” Jonas pulled open a drawer beneath the slab the dead man lay on and produced a simple, featureless snuffbox. “The poisoning came from that. Now, I don’t know many people who go around flavoring their snuff with toxic gasses, do you?” He asked. Wax rolled the small container in his palm.
            “So he was set up.” He said.
            “It’s no wonder he didn’t hit you. All that juice in his system, coupled with the fact that after snorting a knuckle full of Nethervine Snuff, he was probably feeling the equivalent of the worst hangover of his life. He never stood a chance.”

            Wax pocketed the snuffbox carefully and ground the stub of his smog into his boot heel. He gave one last look at the unidentified corpse.
            “There was one other thing.” Jonas mentioned as Wax turned to leave. “On his clothes and under his nails, I found a powder residue. It took me a while to piece together what it was, but it turned out to be a dye pigment in powder form. Two separate colors, specifically: a dark brass and a red.” Wax immediately recognized the colors from a far-too-familiar company stamp. The brass and crimson logo of Kaus-Lonhark Industries was stamped onto every tin of Wax’s favorite smogs he’d ever purchased.
            “You’ve been a great help, Jonas. Let me know if you turn anything else up.” He said, heading for the door. Jonas may not have been able to turn up a name, but perhaps a former employer would. Wax fired up his steambike and headed for Central- and the Kaus-Lonhark Industries factory.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A City of Wax - Episode 5

Wax stared at the coin. “…Eilonia, I don’t think I was the target.” Eilonia quirked a delicate eyebrow at him questioningly.
  “He attacked you by mistake, then?” She asked.
  “No…” Wax said, “I don’t think he was meant to kill anyone. I think someone meant for him to die.”

            Wax stood up to leave again but Eilonia stood with him, curling a slender arm around his. He turned to see her flashing a warm smile to a long table in the center of the room. If Wax hadn’t know the woman for as long as he had, he might have thought it was sincere. “You can’t leave yet. You’ve officially earned yourself the position of my company for the evening in the eyes of every guest here, and it would be taboo for you to walk out on me.” She hissed at him, her smile never faltering. Wax sighed.

            “How much longer will this thing last?” he asked.
            “I have no idea, it honestly depends on how many people are planning to speak. You needn’t pay attention to what they’re saying, simply smile and applaud when they’re finished. You made this bed when you walked in here, and now you’re going to sleep in it.” She explained, tugging him towards the center table. “And now, we’re being invited to join the host of the entire event at his table, so I expect you to be on your best behavior.” She finished. Wax recognized a few faces in the small group; they were primarily owners or co-owners of some of the city’s largest companies. The host, however, he wasn’t familiar with. An older, yet powerfully built Aven man with an air of dignity and a hint of aloofness about him. He stood from his seat as the pair approached, offering a smile to Eilonia.
            “Miss Melothrir. It has been too long.” He spoke with the accent of a man from Avenoss, twinged with the hints of linguistic decay that settles over the words of a man who’s been too long away from home. Eilonia offered him her hand, and he kissed it.
            “I would have to agree, Mister Von Lothar.” Eilonia smiled pleasantly at him.
            “Please,” he replied as he released her hand, “Call me Markus.” Wax barely suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. Von Lothar turned to face him next. His shallow blue eyes appeared to critically assess Wax as he did so, and the feeling was enough to put him on edge. “I’m afraid I have not yet had the pleasure to meet your companion for the evening, Eilonia” he said, offering a hand to Wax, “I am Markus Von Lothar, owner and founder of the Von Lothar Mechanicals Company.” Wax had seen that name somewhere before, but couldn’t place it. Regardless, he shook the man’s large hand firmly.

            “Wax.” He introduced himself. Von Lothar chuckled, his voice deep and authoritative even in a laugh.
            “Wax?” he asked, “Your parents named you for a candle? Surely not… What is your birth name?” Wax sighed.
            “Weston” he surrendered his name reluctantly, “Weston Castyl. But I prefer Wax.”
            “Wax it is, then. Wax Castyl.” The man chuckled to himself again as he repeated the name. “A castle of wax… An intriguing image, to be sure” he mused as he waved a hand, inviting the pair to sit down at the table. “Easily constructed, perhaps even inexpensively so; a spectacle in its own right… And yet, sacked by a simple flame.” Wax feigned an amused look for Von Lothar’s musings as he slid his hand into his coat pocket, rubbing his thumb along the familiar corner of his smog tin. “Correct me if I am wrong, Mister Wax, but Castyl is a Heartlander name, is it not?” He asked. Wax nodded.
            “It is, yes.” He replied.
            “But you clearly bear the strong face of an Aven. How is it that an Aven came to own a Heartlander’s family name?” he asked. Wax released his smog tin and folded his hands in front of him.
            “My mother was an Aven, and my father a Heartlander. I took more after her, in my looks, but chose to live here in Nexus.” He explained, reluctant to give any more information than he was required to. “After my father died, my mother returned to Avenoss with my sister, and I chose to remain here as it was a better location for my line of work.” He explained.
            “And what is it exactly that you do, Mister Wax?” Von Lothar inquired.
            “I’m a private investigator.” Wax replied. “It’s part of why I’m here this evening.”
            “So, you’re working for Eilonia, then?” Von Lothar asked. Wax shook his head.
            “No. I’m actually not currently employed by anyone, however I am pursuing a suspicious string of events involving my own attempted murder.” Wax said. He cursed himself inwardly for having spoken so loudly, as he now had the attention of the entire table. To his relief, Von Lothar waved them back to their own conversations before returning his attention to Wax.
            “Someone attempted to kill you? What does that have to do with Eilonia?” He asked, casting her a concerned glance as if to assure her he was still aware of her presence.
            “It doesn’t. Not directly, anyway. Among the would-be assassin’s possessions, I found a considerable amount of money; five thousand shillings, to be precise.” He turned his gaze casually to Eilonia, resisting the urge to smirk at the warning look he saw behind her smile. “I have no want for blood money, so I gave the entire sum to Eilonia, in order that she could donate it to whatever cause she saw best fit.” He explained.
            “Well, my company certainly appreciates your generosity, Mister Wax, but what of the matter of your attacker?” Von Lothar asked, intrigued by the story.
            “As it turns out,” Wax continued, “The shillings in the bag weren’t all the man had on him. Inside his pocket watch I found another shilling, a gold aurum, which turned out to be counterfeit. I was afraid that the money I’d given to Eilonia was counterfeit. I couldn’t risk allowing counterfeit coin to be donated, so I rushed down here to warn her.”
            “And the coins she had?” Von Lothar inquired.
            “Legitimate. It seems I have the only counterfeit. It may well be a template piece used by the counterfeiters to reproduce, but I can’t be sure.” Wax finished. Von Lothar looked thoughtful for a moment, and then nodded.
            “Interesting indeed, Mister Wax. I wish you the best of luck in your investigations.” He let that be the end of the conversation, for which Wax was thankful. After a short time, Von Lothar excused himself from the table, having other business matters to attend to. He bid the group a good evening, kissed the back of Eilonia’s hand, and departed. When he’d vanished from sight, Wax excused himself as well. Eilonia stood with him and followed him out of earshot of the others. “Where will you go now?” she asked.
            “I have some theories I need to confirm.” Wax said. “The first thing I need to find out is the name of the man who attacked me. He had no identification on him that night, but the body is likely still at the morgue. Someone down there may be able to tell me more about him.” He explained. Eilonia nodded.
            “Just try not to get shot again, and tell me what you find out. You know I’ll be curious.” She said, giving him a practiced smile and peck on the cheek; a show for the benefit of the others in the room. She glided back across the room and reclaimed her seat, and Wax made for the exit.

            “Mister Wax?” Spoke a voice from behind him as he approached the door. Wax turned to see a short, sharply dressed man.
            “Who’s asking?” He replied.
            “Pardon the short notice, sir, but my employer wishes to speak with you in private concerning a matter of great importance.” He said. “Please follow me.” Hesitantly, Wax followed the man into a side corridor, separated from the central room. He was led to a large office door, which the smaller man pushed open and ushered him inside. Wax entered cautiously, and the man closed the doors behind him, remaining outside. The interior of the office was richly decorated, but dimly lit by a small number of phlogiston lamps and a fire hearth. Thin tendrils of smoke from a pipe bowl rose from a concealed source on the other side of a large, high-backed chair. Instinctively, Wax moved with deft footsteps, his hand slipping into his coat and resting on the handle of his revolver.
            “Thank you for agreeing to meet with me,” spoke a familiar voice from the armchair, “I must apologize for the method by which you were contacted. I simply couldn’t risk discussing this matter in the open, in front of the others.” Markus von Lothar’s powerful shape rose from the chair to face Wax, who dropped his hand from his weapon and folded his arms.
            “What did you need me for?” he asked. Von Lothar sighed.
            “Earlier this evening, you confirmed a suspicion I have had for quite some time now. Yours is not the first story I’ve heard about counterfeit money being produced in this city. I’m assuming the piece you found was of abnormally high quality for counterfeiters, correct?” He asked. Wax nodded. “I feared as much. Please. Sit.” Von Lothar directed Wax to a chair.

            “About a month ago, I was informed by one of my colleagues that a specific project prototype had been stolen from his facility. The prototype that was stolen was a specific kind of metal alloy, designed to nearly identically replicate the appearance and physical properties of other metals. Its intended purpose was to mask and repair damage to machine parts and weapon casings. Not long after that, we began discovering counterfeit coins in our machines.” He explained. Wax listened quietly as the man spoke. “I’m sure you’re aware, Mister Wax, that my company is responsible for the production and upkeep of every Alchemer and similar distribution machine in the city of Nexus. We pride ourselves on our anti-theft measures built into the machines; however they only extend so far. We can’t afford the resources to have them individually monitored, because there are too many. I am prepared to hire you, Mister Wax, for six times your normal rate, if you will find the source of these counterfeit coins and put an end to it. Profits from the sales of vices alone have never been higher, and I cannot afford to have the most profitable time the company has ever seen ruined by thieves. Nor will I have the good name and integrity of either my own or my partners’ companies compromised. I need these counterfeiters to be stopped before they’re able to fool my Alchemers.” He finished. Wax gazed ponderously at the hearth for a moment before responding.
“You’ve got a deal.” He said.

“Excellent. One more thing. I don’t want to cause any kind of panic or alarm, which is why I chose to meet here in my office rather than discuss this in the open around my colleagues. I therefore must ask you not to mention this to any of them.” Said Von Lothar. Wax nodded his agreement and the men shook hands firmly. Wax saw himself out of the office. He quickly made his way back down the hall and out to where his steambike waited for him. His mind swarmed furiously with new information and leads, but for now, he sped off to exchange his borrowed finery for his thick coat. It was time he made another trip to The Gardenworks, and he was going to need it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A City of Wax - Episode 4

~Wax snatched up the watch and stuffed it into his pocket with the counterfeit coin, hurriedly thanking the man before dashing back outside. He hastily unchained his bike and fired it up, tearing out of the area. There was a very good chance that five thousand counterfeit shillings were now in the hands of Eilonia, and he needed to find her before someone else did.~

            The tires of Wax’s steambike screeched as he pulled it to a stop outside an upscale residence. He dismounted, leaning the vehicle against the base of the stairs. While the crime levels were not all that much lower in Central, Wax at least felt that in this particular area he could leave it unchained. The manor he now found himself at stood out impressively among the other buildings nearby. There was no telling how long it had stood abandoned before the Melothrir family had reclaimed it and breathed life into its dusty, forgotten corridors. At the top of the stairs, two large and heavy wooden doors stood before him. To the left of the frame was an ornate brass horn fashioned to look like a large iris flower. Just beneath it was a large button that Wax pressed, igniting a small phlogiston bulb on the panel. A voice echoed from within the iris horn’s bell. “Name and business, please?” it asked.
            “My name is Wax, I’m here to see Eilonia. Personal business.” Wax spoke into the bell. No response came from within. Instead, the large doors were pulled open and Wax found himself face to face with a familiar figure.

            “Well, if it isn’t one of my sister’s favorite playthings.” The wispy Riven man’s voice, it seemed to Wax, managed to achieve a level of aloof pretentiousness that exceeded even Eilonia’s. “You know, while it’s fairly commonplace to have groveling admirers come here to beg her hand in marriage, I must say I am a tad shocked to see you here, of all people. I thought you’d have caught onto her ruse ages ago.” He gave Wax a smile that was every bit as poisonous as it was charming.
            “Stuff your petty jabs, Gendrien. I need to speak with your sister.” Wax replied curtly. Gendrien chuckled and gave Wax a look of hollow pity that made his blood boil.
            “No need to be so hostile, Weston, it was simply an observation.” He sighed. Wax was already growing tired of this conversation.
            “I didn’t come here for your observations. I need to speak with Eilonia. It’s urgent.” He said.
            “Are you truly that addicted to her?” he asked with a bemused look, “how characteristically pathetic.” Wax sighed. He’d had enough of Gendrien’s game.
            “Gendrien, I can understand if you’re jealous that I’ve spent so many nights bedding your dear sister while you’ve so patiently waited your turn, but if you’ll be kind enough to allow me to speak to her I promise, I’ll get you a nice prostitute to help ease your ache.” He chided. Gendrien flushed scarlet.
            “You-! How dare you insult me and suggest such things on my own doorstep?!” he fumed.
            “Because I didn’t come to insult you, I came to speak with your sister. Now are we going to continue this little war of words until you inevitably lose and shame yourself, or are you going to allow me to speak to Eilonia?” Wax asked. Gendrien glared at him.
            “She isn’t even here. She’s attending the grand opening of a new event hall in a different part of Central. She’s giving a small contribution to the founders.” He said.
            “Where can I find it?” Wax asked.

            Glad to be rid of Gendrien’s company, Wax sped off toward the other side of Central. According to the information he’d managed to pry out of Eilonia’s nuisance sibling, the event hall was a brand new facility called the Aquatectum. For the grand opening, a large banquet was being held for honored guests and pledges. Wax had fully expected Eilonia to keep the shillings for herself and spend them all on baubles, but instead she fully intended to pledge them. The event was invitation-only, so if Wax was going to gain entry in time to catch Eilonia he would need to blend in a little better. Fortunately, he knew of a place nearby that had just what he needed. The owner there owed him a favor. He peeled off through a nearby alley for a bit of a detour.

            The event was in full-swing as Wax arrived outside the Aquatectum. Leaving his steambike parked a block away from the building, he arrived on foot to draw less attention from himself; at least less negative attention. His favor had been good, and Wax was sporting a dashing assortment of finery. His usual rough, brown, dark leather greatcoat had been replaced by a finely tailored, midnight black longcoat. Beneath it, he wore a comfortable silk shirt and stylish waistcoat, and a pair of dress pants to match his coat. His long black hair was neatly combed and styled, and atop his head was perched a fashionable topper. It had been a very long time since Wax had been dressed in such a way, and frankly he found that he preferred his usual greatcoat. Now all that remained was the matter of the invitation. Wax gazed through the crowd of guests outside the building. His eyes settled on two small groups near the entrance. An older man fished through his longcoat pocket and retrieved what Wax immediately recognized as a snuff box. He quickly and discreetly wove his way through the crowd toward him. The man gave the box a few taps before sprinkling a small amount of the contents onto his gloved knuckle. Wax slipped behind him just as he lifted the powder to his nose and inhaled- and then promptly sneezed. As he did, he bumped directly into Wax, who in turn stumbled to the side, lightly bumping into the man behind him. Neither man noticed as Wax’s practiced hand relieved the man’s pocket of his invitation. Apologizing politely, he excused himself from the group and headed for the entrance.

            The interior of the building was a spectacle to behold. Mosaic tile flooring created a delicate wave pattern across the floor in shades of pearly white and cerulean, and the walls were a deep royal blue. Dimmed phlogiston bulbs lit the room from all sides, and a string quartet played softly somewhere in the background. The true marvel of the building, however, was its ceiling, which was made entirely of water. Natural sunlight filtered down through a shifting, rippling mass of suspended liquid high above the floor. Nothing but air separated it from the room, but not a single drop fell from it. It seemed Wax had entered at exactly the right moment, as a representative of the company behind its construction had taken the stage. “The Aquatectum is a monument to the continued success of our company to take innovation to heights it has not seen since the works of the Paragons themselves.” He declared. “Suspended above you is sixty thousand gallons of the purest water, held in place by sheer vacuum force imparted by the design of the building. Think of it like holding the last drop of water inside of a straw. Place your finger over the top, and it doesn’t move. Of course, it took a bit more than a finger to keep an amount of water this substantial from falling.” His remark was met by sparse, polite laughter. “The airtight vacuum seal keeping those sixty thousand gallons in place is complimented by the infusion of our company’s most high-quality phlogiston, so that not a single drop will fall.” He continued. “In the daylight, of course, we have the natural light of the sun to augment our lovely interior lights, but for nighttime events, the walls of the dome are equipped with phlogiston bulbs that make the surface absolutely shimmer, as well as five different colors of tinted glass lenses.” He concluded. The guests seated around the large room applauded, and Wax slipped inside.

            He couldn’t be sure, but he swore for a moment that when Eilonia’s emerald eyes widened in surprise at the sight of him, for a brief moment they seemed to explore him. Wax’s own eyes did their fair share, however; she was stunning in her lapis lazuli halter bodice, matching skirt with the thigh-length slit, black pearl necklace and elbow-length gloves. “What are you doing here?” She whispered sharply to him, giving a quick glance to the stage she stood next to.
            “Stopping you from making an embarrassing mistake” Wax explained as he took her wrist. She resisted.
            “What in the name of the mechanism are you talking about?” she asked, attempting to pull away. Wax held firm.
            “The shillings you’re about to pledge are counterfeit.” He whispered, making sure hers were the only ears that heard him. She blinked and stared at him in disbelief.
            “If this is some kind of ruse…” she began, but Wax shook his head.
            “I have plenty of reason to believe it isn’t. Besides, it’s only five thousand shillings. A bit light for a typical pledge, wouldn’t you think?” he asked. She folded her arms and gazed at him critically.
            “It’s a bit rude to flaunt one’s wealth, no? It’s a fair amount, it doesn’t risk guilting those who couldn’t offer as much, and it’s still better than nothing.” She said.
“And nothing is better than a bag of counterfeit coins.” Wax said, producing the half-exposed counterfeit gold aurum. Eilonia frowned and reluctantly handed him the bag of coins.

The pair retreated to a table a fair distance from the majority of the guests, and Wax drew an aurum from the bag. He placed it on the table and slid his knife from his concealed baldric, scraping away a healthy portion of the soft gold near the bottom of the coin. Inside was simply more gold. Wax was stunned. “Looks real enough to me, Wax.” Eilonia sighed with a twinge of irritation. Wax placed the counterfeit coin on the table next to the one he’d just tested and stared at them.
“These are legitimate… He was paid in legitimate currency.” He said. Eilonia picked up the counterfeit coin and examined it.
“Where did you get this? Was it on him as well?” she asked.
“He had it hidden inside his pocket watch.” Wax said. He placed the real coin back into the bag and handed it to Eilonia. “This doesn’t make sense…” he said. He stood up to leave but Eilonia grabbed his arm.
“No, you can’t slip out now. The banquet has already started. You’d be too conspicuous, and you’ve already been seen with me. It would be rude, and reflect badly on me. You’ll simply have to stay and join me for dinner.” She said, standing from her seat. “I need to go pledge these. I’ll be back momentarily.”

When Eilonia had returned to her seat after her show of pledging the money on stage, Wax was still puzzled. He rolled the counterfeit coin over and over in his palm. “Still nothing?” she asked. Wax shook his head.
“I’m out of leads. This doesn’t make any sense.” He said. Eilonia wove her delicate fingers and rested her chin on them.
“Start from the beginning, then.” She suggested. Wax placed the coin on the table.
“I was on my way home after pointing Aluvard’s wife in the direction of your little scheme. I was about halfway back to my office when I felt like I was being followed. I heard someone draw a weapon, so I turned. He fired six shots, I fired one. He grazed my arm. I shot him through the heart. That’s when I took the weapon and his things off him.” Wax said.
“So someone hired him to kill you.” Eilonia said. Wax nodded.
“It definitely seemed that way, but why him? If someone wanted me dead, why not hire a professional? That man’s aim was terrible, he barely wounded me and he was a clumsy shadow. I knew he was there from the beginning. He made so many mistakes… the only thing that points to a hired assassin is that bag of coins. And then I found the counterfeit…” Wax stared at the coin. “…Eilonia, I don’t think I was the target.” Eilonia quirked a delicate eyebrow at him questioningly.
“He attacked you by mistake, then?” She asked.
“No…” Wax said, “I don’t think he was meant to kill anyone. I think someone meant for him to die.”