Read The Inquisitives [4] The Darkwood Mask Online

Authors: Jeff LaSala

Tags: #Eberron

The Inquisitives [4] The Darkwood Mask (30 page)

Her eyes kept returning to the storage bin across the way and its tarp-covered protrusion. Was that a

“Good,” Tallis said when their business had concluded. “Now take a look at that thing!”

Verdaxensoranec didn’t appreciate threats. His time was valuable, his skills underappreciated, his hard work underpaid and forced into unlawful measures. But this female warmblood had been gentle enough with her implied threat. She was diplomatic, for a human, yet had she come in the company of anyone other than Tallis, Verdax wouldn’t have risked treating with her at all.

The offer of payment allayed his concerns, but talk of Sharn spurred his efforts. The sooner he identified the metal hand, the sooner Tallis and the female would leave and come back again. Hence, the sooner he would learn more of the City of Towers. He’d certainly had enough of the City of Danger. Karrnath was a cold, unpleasant land, and it had made his scales ache for years. The warm caves of his homeland in the Ironroot Mountains were more comfortable, but he’d quit them in favor of more enlightened company.

Alas, Sharn! The famous City of Towers offered an acceptable climate
endless arcane resources. Someday he would get the
there! The warmblood claimed to be an agent of the king of Breland. That might prove useful toward that end.

Thus inspired, Verdax set upon the strange metal hand. He settled the goggles over his eyes, and the fine filigree of the gauntlet sharpened to perfect clarity. This was a curious metal, to be certain. For a device such as this he knew he would need to call
upon the skills bestowed upon him by the mighty dragon Eberron. He prefaced his scrutiny with the purifying words of a Draconic incantation, summoning the first infusion he would require.

Verdax fell into his work. Time faded away, along with the feckless prattle of the warmbloods nearby.

When he’d learned all that he could, he dropped his goggles on the tabletop and stretched. His stomach snarled at him, reminding him how long he’d been ignoring it. Tallis and his female sat wearily nearby, but their eyes came alert when they saw he was finished. A sheen of mammalian sweat slicked their too-smooth skin—especially the Karrn. Oh yes, as if it had been so hard sitting there doing nothing!

“What’s the answer?” Tallis asked, uncharacteristically impatient. The half-breed elf was normally a respectable customer.

“Steel is not steel,” Verdax answered. When Tallis prompted more of an explanation—what was so hard to understand?—he continued. “Shrrk! Steel is mixed, not steel only. Different alloy. Unsure of ore. Not from real mountain.”

“Yes, and …?”

“Not mithral. Not adamant.”

“Adamantine, right,” Tallis corrected, rudely.

“Yes. Hand is pulled from construct. Living metal.”

“Verdax,” the female interjected. He
he’d been talking to Tallis. But no matter, this female would assist his career with her knowledge of Sharn and its societies. “This hand came from a creature composed entirely of armor. Could this armor have been animated with necromantic magic? With undead spirits?”

“Shhrk! No. Hand is pulled from
body.” Hadn’t he just said this? This was very simple to understand. Verdax began to question this kingly agent’s intelligence. “Construct not real
. Construct not dead or undead.”

“Of course,” she answered. “Could this hand have come from some sort of unusual warforged?”

Verdax laughed, and the female made a surprised face. It was funny. “No. Not is … ordinary.” He waved a claw at the junk bin
on the other side of the room, the thought having reminding him that he really ought to inspect his latest yield.

In all his years on the salvage crew, Verdax had never once seen a warforged with five digits upon its hand, nor seen a material simultaneously hard and flexible like this. The swirling arcana etched into the grooves of the gauntlet was not suggestive of Cannith work. They were runes of a different sort, nothing like the schemas he’d once pried off the shell of a warforged titan.

“Not Cannith, not artificer make. Is wizard work.”

The female’s eyebrows rose, as if this was some astounding revelation. It really wasn’t, though. Verdax had learned that much from the hand at first glance.

“Is there anything else you can tell us about it?” Tallis asked.

“Construct powerful. Elemental, but not. Force in construct outside my work. I cannot say. Not know. Wizard work.” Verdax hated the common tongue of Khorvaire’s most populous races. Draconic was so much more articulate and easier to pronounce. He’d only learned this cast-off language of the Five Nations to advance his career.

“So that’s really all? You can’t determine what this thing came from?”

“Give you discount on hand identify,” Verdax answered, feeling generous and patient. The half-breed was a good customer and the secrets of Sharn awaited.

“Can you at least tell me where I
find out more?” There was that impertinence again.

“Yes,” Verdax responded. There really was only one place in Karrnath he knew of where one might find out more. He pointed one clawed finger up. “Tower of Twelve.”

Tallis and his female exchanged worried glances. Mystery and power surrounded the dragonmarked institution that floated above the City of Danger. It didn’t frighten Verdax, of course. He’d love to visit the halls of the Twelve and study relics as ancient as the Dhakaani Empire, but he’d long since given up
the notion of visiting. He certainly doubted Tallis, of all the warmbloods in this city, would be welcome there.

“Good luck!” he offered them both and set to rewrapping the metal hand.

“Do you think it’s possible?” Tallis asked the female.

“It is,” she replied, sounding distracted, “but I’d probably need to provide a good reason. I’m not sure Hyran’s writ is enough. The Twelve does not answer to the Justice Ministry or to any government, for that matter. This may require me to tell them about the assassin and the hand.”

Tallis sighed. “More will die if we don’t track this thing down.”

“Keep death away here,” Verdax warned, not liking the turn of their conversation.

The female turned her attention full upon him. There was a sneaky look in her eyes, like she was investigating him. “Verdax, you pointed to that bin a moment ago. Can I ask what you keep in there?”

Worthless but potentially useful junk, he thought. At least until last night, when one of his dockside associates had made him an offer. The wharf-dweller had found something that he knew a salvager like Verdax might be interested in. It had cost the kobold fifty gold coins, and he had yet to determine if the trade had really been worth it.

“Junk,” he answered.

“Specifically,” she pressed. “What is under that tarp?”

Verdax hissed. “Breland warforged. Damaged life core, but fixenable. Found last night. Will make new helper, not having to feed.”

Tallis raised his hornless brows, and the female smiled big, showing her garish, flat white teeth. Her voice rose in a funny pitch as she spoke. “Master Verdax, you are a most resourceful kobold. I have one final request of you.”


Wir, the 11th of Sypheros, 998 YK

oneste set out from Verdax’s shop with Aegis beside her. The warforged’s composite plating was repaired, the deep cuts made by the assassin’s blade smooth again. The artificer’s infusions had restored Aegis to his full physical capacity. Verdax charged her several times an acceptable amount, but now wasn’t the time to argue cost, especially since the funds weren’t her own. She knew what they were up against now, and the assassin evidently knew how to find them. She needed Aegis at his best. It would take a lot more than a few rapier stabs to bring him down again.

Despite his mended condition, the warforged’s spirits were low.

“I have failed again,” he said.

Soneste rapped on the pauldron that served as the warforged’s shoulder. “I paid for your repair with the Citadel’s gold. You’re called to serve a duty, Aegis. To Breland. You haven’t failed your king yet.”

“I have been disabled twice.”

“Well, me too. First by Tallis and then …” Soneste instinctively touched her stomach. She could still feel the tight bandages beneath her shirt and remembered all too well the blade sliding
into her body. “Last night … I nearly died. It was Tallis and his friend who saved me.”

Tallis, Mistress,” Aegis said. “Why are we leaving him again?”

“We’re not. We’re working together now. In saving me and burying his friend, Tallis has had no rest. He needs it now. And there are some places I must go that I cannot take him. We’re meeting him in the park at four bells.”

“I do not trust the half-elf.”

“Aegis,” she said, “he’s not our killer and you know that now. We’ve faced off against the real one. Now we have to trust Tallis, and we
give him up to the Justice Ministry or to Jotrem. Promise me you will say nothing about last night.”

When he did not answer, she stopped him. “Aegis. Promise me in the name of King Boranel—the very liege of your former master, Gamnon ir’Daresh. Promise me, for Rennet and Vestra.”

“And Lady Maril.” The warforged looked down at her, the fibrous wood that served as his muscles flexing as he stood tall. “I promise.”

Soneste smiled. “Thank you.”

Soneste secured permission with the Justice Ministry for passage and admission to the Tower of the Twelve, but Hyran’s writ could not guarantee her a meeting with one of its wizards. She had to wait two bells until the proper document was notarized, transportation with House Vadalis was arranged, and approval from the Twelve was given. Soneste left the Ministry’s headquarters, intent on a new destination to pass the time.

“I take it you’ve been busy, Miss Otänsin?” a voice called out to her.

Jotrem stood waiting for her just outside the gate. He excused himself from a conversation he’d been having with one of the White Lions standing sentry. The older inquisitive’s calculating eyes looked
Aegis up and down, no doubt observing the warforged’s immaculate condition. She had no intention of justifying anything.

“Something like that,” she answered, not slowing to talk.

“Where have you been?” Jotrem asked.

Soneste chuckled darkly. “I’m sorry, Jotrem. The Civic Minister said you would ‘serve as my guide in this unfamiliar city.’ I am not required to confide in you or share with you the results of my own independent investigation. If you’d like to register a complaint with the Ministry bureaucrats, feel free. I have work to do.”

Jotrem fell into step beside her, his familiar scowl returned. “I did not see you leave the Seventh Watch this morning,” he said.

“I guess my day started earlier than you expected.”

“Where are you going?” he demanded.

“You wish to help, then?”

“Of course, Miss Otänsin.”

“Well, thanks. I wish to find Lord Charoth again. I’ve thought of another question for him. Now that I’ve already visited him once, I don’t think it matters if you’re with me.”

Soneste saw Jotrem rub his hands together for warmth as they walked. He caught her glance, and he lets his hands fall again. “I’ve done work of my own,” he said. “Lord Charoth, unlike many of the nobles of this city, spends most of his time at work. That is where we will find him now, at his factory. That you found him at home the other day was mere chance.”

“Lead on, then,” she said, glad she didn’t need to return to Charoth’s brooding estate.

“What do you intend to ask him?” Jotrem asked.

“You’ll see.” Soneste didn’t have to look at him to sense the man’s frustration. She had another trick to use against Charoth now. It was a gamble, but one worth taking.

For a man unaffiliated with one of the dragonmarked enclaves, Lord Charoth’s place of business was impressive. Arkenen Glass comprised several facilities, but most prominent was the glass factory near the bluff’s edge of the Commerce Ward. Beyond producing mundane glass products, Arkenen Glass supplied
the Tower of the Twelve exclusively with reinforced glass for its windows and laboratories alike.

Other books

Float by Joeann Hart
The Unexpected Wife by Mary Burton
The River King by Alice Hoffman
The Distance from Me to You by Marina Gessner
Monstrum by Ann Christopher