Author Topic: Faction Stories: Guild Dues  (Read 1380 times)

Offline Red Cedar

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Faction Stories: Guild Dues
« on: September 26, 2016, 02:13:44 am »
The Guild is something of a mix. I picture them as a combination of Russian/German/Swedish.

The murky twilight, just before dawn, was Radomir’s favorite time of day. He rose before even the faintest hint of light touched the sky most days, bolted down a quick breakfast of warm mush that tasted faintly of turnips and scalding-hot black sludge that vaguely resembled coffee, and tried not to wake his neighbors in the apartment building he shared as he made his way out onto the streets of Starostrog. It was the largest city under Guild authority, the most important port in the Vastness, and a titan of industry, its factories and workhouses supplying wealth beyond the imagining of most poor serfs or bondservants who toiled out in the barren plains to scrape a living out of the poor earth. But just now, it was beautiful.

The factories were just now getting fired up, so the eternal haze that choked the sky was at its faintest, letting a few stars cast their feeble light through the orange-gold glow of the streetlamps and as the first swatches of pale blue appeared somewhere beyond the towering walls of brick that dominated his neighborhood, it cast the oily cobblestones and the rutted gravel alleys in a gentle half-light. He smelled fresh bread from the bakeries. It was just enough to show the outline of the place without illuminating all the sordid details. For a little while, the city was grand as it was said to be.

Radomir’s breath appeared before him in puffs of cloud as he hurried along, crunching through the thin layer of dirty snow that covered the ground. He was grateful for his thick greatcoat and fur cap, perks of his position as Scribe Observant of the airship docks. Every day he dressed in the black with white trim of the Greater Union of Scribes, Typesetters, and Printers, and carried their seal of office in his pocket. He patted his coat to make sure he hadn’t forgotten it and still had it. The streets were almost empty at this hour, which also suited him. So much of his day was spent dealing with people that it was nice he got a little time to himself.

Dawn was in the sky and the city was awake by the time he got to the Union’s main offices in the city. The sign above the door was a marvel of engineering. Properly supplied with motive power from the city’s steam tunnels, it appeared to type out two different messages upon a sheet of paper, then wipe them away to be rewritten anew a moment later with the characteristic ting! of a typewriter. Guild Broadsheet Offices. Starostrog, Provincial, World.

Walking inside, and taking a moment to stamp the crust of snow off his boots on the already-soggy mat, Radomir doffed his cap, but didn’t bother to shrug off his coat. He’d be needing it again soon enough and the Guild only rationed them enough coal to keep the ink from freezing in here anyway. Within, the other two professions of the Union were hard at work setting type, greasing up the printers for the day, and all the other unpleasant tasks involved in printing a broadsheet or three. He greeted several of them, old friends from back in the days when he’d been in their place, but didn’t stop to chat. Instead, he quickly found himself before the thick wooden door of the Union’s boss. Not bothering to knock, he simply walked in. As usual, he was the first Scribe Observant to arrive

To his surprise, Manager Oksana was not waiting with the usual lists of assignments for each Scribe Observant. Only one paper sat on her desk, with Oksana glaring down at it like a gargoyle from behind her steaming cup of coffee. She did not look up as he walked in, but addressed him all the same.

“Radomir, we have a crisis on our hands. I am not going to wait for the others, I need you back out there as soon as I explain this idiocy so we can get back to real business.” Her voice was a throaty rasp that made one wince just to listen to it. According to the most prevalent legend amongst those who served her, Oksana had been the victim of an attempted strangling long ago, which had ruined her voice. Whatever the reason, it was a shame, she was a handsome woman to look at otherwise.

Radomir straightened up, clutching his hat to his chest.

“Yes, ma’am!” he said, nodding.

At last she looked up, but did not pass him the paper.

“Overseer Arefyev is heading north for the Disputed Lands. Naturally, a Scribe shall accompany him, but he has told me the assignment shall go to the first person who can tell him why he is going.”

Radomir blinked in confusion, shuffling his feet awkwardly.

“Ah, your pardon, ma’am, but…has he told anyone of his reasons?”

Her smile was bitter enough to sour wine at fifty paces.

“He took great pleasure in telling me he had told no one. And when I asked him how on earth any Scribe was to discover such information, he replied that he supposed they would have to be resourceful. So, for the foreseeable future or until he leaves, a week from today, three-quarters of my Scribes, yourself included, have this as your only assignment. Find out what that old vulture is up to and do it soon! When the Union’s broadsheets are crippled thanks to every overeager Scribe dreaming of glory, who will they blame? Not him! And you had better believe that if I am held responsible, I will be holding all of you responsible in turn.”

Radomir swallowed hard, hope and fear in equal measure rising within him. Such a chance did not come along every day.

“You have my word, ma’am,” he said, “I’ll do the job.”

“We shall see. You have a ten-minute head start before the other Scribe Observants get here. Don’t just stand there, get going!”

Radomir nodded, hastily tugged his cap back on, and after Oksana’s door was safely closed behind him, began jogging down the hallway, heading for the street once again.

In the brief interim, morning had come to the city and the streets were already getting busy. Radomir was walking without any clear destination in mind. His mind was unsettled and he couldn’t work properly that way. No matter the delay, he needed to work out this problem in his mind. It was madness, to be sure, just as Oksana had said. Oh, he had any number of ideas on how to make educated guesses at the answer to the Overseer’s question. As Scribe Observant of the airship docks, he knew any number of people who could tell him about the most recent events in the Disputed Lands, but any one of those might be what was drawing Arefyev north. Not to mention, his comrades would shortly be flooding the streets, badgering all of their usual contacts and anyone else they could think of for information on the Overseer’s office and whatever gossip and rumors were flowing out of it. That would be a mess, with no one willing to share what they’d learned, contacts and witnesses getting annoyed and keeping quiet, separating the truth from the conflicting mass of reports would be a nightmare…he shook his head.

He looked up to see his feet had taken him up to one of his favorite taverns, where airship crewmen and women spent their time on the ground between voyages. He shrugged and entered. If there was any day for him to spend some of his precious kopeks on himself instead of those he questioned for news, it was today. The heavy wooden door creaked open and a blast of warm air buffeted him before he could slam it shut again behind him. Inside, there were few customers this early on the morning, mostly persistent guests from last night trying to recover. To his delight, he recognized one of them, an ex-Chaladonian deckhand who called herself Numeria Julia Oceanus. She was sitting alone at a table, valiantly trying to keep down her breakfast, though she looked awfully pale. Shrugging off his coat, he kept his voice low as he walked up.

“Hello, Julia. I hadn’t heard your ship was back.”

She looked up somewhat blearily, but a weary smile worked its way onto her face and she waved languidly at the empty chair.

“Ah, Niko! Sit down before I fall over trying to look up at you. Just don’t have a drink. If I see another glass of vodka I’ll have to pay for getting sick all over these nice people’s table and floor.”

He chuckled at the name. Chaladonian names worked strangely and for whatever reason, she had latched on to the Nikolaevitch part of his name as what to call him, just as he called her Julia because it was the only part of her name he could pronounce right.

“If you want to hear about the voyage, give me an hour or so,” she went on. “I don’t think anything happened to us worth mentioning anyway.”

“Actually,” he said slowly, “I wouldn’t mind it if you’d pretend to listen to me for a while. I have a problem of my own.”

She shrugged and gave him another sublime wave.

“Talk away. Gods know I could use a distraction.”

And so, he laid out his current assignment and problem and she went on with her very careful eating. After he finished, even though he hadn’t thought of any solution to the problem, he did feel better for having been able to complain to someone else about it.

“Niko,” she said at length, “Why not just ask him? Arefyev or whoever. Isn’t that the first thing you’d do if this wasn’t a job from him anyway?”

He laughed again.

“That would defeat the point of this whole challenge in the first place, I’m afraid.” But then, a thought struck him like a brick to the head. “Although...he must have recorded his reasons somewhere. Private papers, probably. If I could just get a peek at them…” He shuddered, afraid to even contemplate the idea, but it was starting to make more and more sense the longer he thought about it. “He can’t really complain if we go to extreme measures since he has as well, can he? It wouldn’t be too much different from some of the things you’ve helped me with.” He nodded, smiling again. Oh, he might well be disgraced and penniless on the streets of Starostrog before the week was out, but he had to admit, no Scribe Observant worth their title could back down from a challenge.

“Julia,” he said, “I’ll need your help. How long are you in town for and where are you staying?”

She was somewhat clearer-headed by this time and returned his grin with one of her own, showing off her proudest possession, the full set of teeth that it seemed every Chaladonian claimed as a birthright.

“Oh, we’ll be in for a few days at least while the Captain looks for the next job. I’m bunkered down over at the Lightning Rod. What’s this help you need?”

“I need to gather the others first,” he said. “Can you cover the east side of town if I get the west?”

“At the usual rate? Sure. How many do you want me to get?”



“Everyone!” he exulted, standing up and snatching up his coat. “We’ll meet back here.”

She chuckled.

“And what happens here?”

“We make history!”