6 08 2014

Across the square, under the visage of Greatsergeant’s grandfather clobbering the demon, Mehzadapt watched. He wore a merchant’s blue suit and went bareheaded.
Outside the keep, some twenty paces away, three soldiers had been waiting and watching the passing citizens.
From the western arterial came startled calls, a disturbance in the foot traffic.
The co-conspirator captain and a woman he did not recognize dashed to the keep, opened the door and slammed it shut. The soldiers turned to each other in puzzlement, then walked to the keep and, subtly, tried the door.
And stayed standing on the threshold.
Locked? The guards are locked away from the Earl?
The Inspector growled, Pompous idiot soldiers! But what of Fazgood’s note? And how did the General know my name? Fazgood’s playing at something!
The three soldiers looked around the courtyard at the passersby. When no one was looking, all three shoved at the door. It did not budge.
General Greatsergeant strode across the square. Heedless of passersby, he berated the men
Mehzadapt laughed out loud.
There! The window at the second story – the contemplation room, so the Inspector had been told – there a human waved in broad, inviting strokes.
Arrayed around the square in disguise were nine of his deputies; led by the three most capable deputies (sadly for the Inspector’s temper, they were now the three most unruly); In the far corner, Bookwright stood still as a post, expectant. Before the postings of stories and events, Tlezjoy bobbed on his feet; Varalam delicately cracked one knuckle at a time, the sound lost among in the murmur of early evening perambulations.
This is the most important moment of my life, the Inspector thought, and then thrust that thought away.
“Come!” he said, and he strode to the keep. The others joined his walk, matching his pace. Nearer, the soldiers showed the shoulder braids of a sergeant and two corporals; and on the fourth the Greatsergeant brow was now obvious. Doubtless the other three were baggage carriers, restrainers for the Earl, and bodyguards for the General. Just as the large sergeant made to speak, the Inspector stopped, drew his hat from under his blazer, and placed it carefully on his head. The deputies did likewise.
The sergeant sneered. “I told your sort that the General wants you away!”
Drawing breath to imply tolerance for a dullard, the Inspector said. “You are a dupe in a conspiracy against the Kingdom. Stand away and let me pass or you will be charged will low treason.”
Nearer the door, the General stepped before the Inspector. “What say you, vermin-herder?”
Though Mehzadapt often referred to himself such the same, the contempt in that voice made the Inspector’s jaw clench.
“Am I speaking to General Allotrope Greatsergeant, the man?”
The General said. “We are on a mission of honor. We have no need of your assistance.”
“So,” observed the Inspector. “we Scouts are unable to assist in honorable dealings. Is that what you say?”
“I say that we need no assistance.”
“That is good, for we offer no assistance. We investigate. Please stand aside or be arrested.”
Greatsergeant stepped close. “Your name is Mehzadapt.”
The Inspector thought, Fazgood has been talking to the General. People dashing in unexpected; what brews here?
Posturing for the gathering onlookers, the General declaimed loudly. “Leave my family alone, scout! Have we not sorrows enough?”
“’Sorrows’!” spat that scout. “you live with a fine wife and servants. Your sorrow is that you could not keep her from dallying! With a foreigner!”
The General’s dark skin darkened further, and he pointed in Mehzadapt’s face. “Leave, you!”
“Dallying with a foreigner!”
Behind them, a rumble passed through the crowd.
“Leave! Leave while you still have your rank and vocation.”
“Deputies,” said the Inspector. “break them.”
Varalam’s great hands pushed the General aside. The other deputies produced skullwarmers and attacked the two subordinates. Cries of alarm rang across the square. From their posts at the corners and at the arterial entrance, police officers ran forward to help, but there were only four of those police.
When they hesitated, the Inspector called to them. “Let us do our task or you will be charged with low treason.”
The police knew the Inspector and noted his seriousness.
One called: “Public Works will be notified! You had better adhere to the Uniform Guild Protocols!”
“Article Seven, you rogues!” yelled another. “You will answer for those soldiers if no offense is found!”
Greatsergeant sprang from the beating and sprinted to the eastern arterial, toward the Plaza of the Superb and his headquarters.
The two soldiers were unconscious. Deputies whooped and moved to pursue the General, but the Inspector called. “Leave him! Let him bring more! All the more to help arrest him when the time comes!”
The Inspector tried the door. Barred.
The bar behind the door rattled, and the door opened. There stood someone with a searing, direct gaze, and a buoyant and vigorous bearing. It took Mehzadapt a blink before he recognized Fazgood’s face.
“Inspector!” called the Earl. “Good! You brought overwhelming force! Enter!”
Then he vanished within. Mehzadapt growled under his breath and waved the deputies to follow him.
The anteroom was dark to a sickly gloom. Broken furniture littered the anteroom. Across the shambles, the Earl trotted up the stairs.
“What stinks?” said Tlezjoy.
“Shut up, you,” said the Inspector, but Tlezjoy was correct. A cloying, flowery stench filled the air; at another turn, the nose stung from lantern oil.
“The Goodwife knows all is lost, and has taken a hand at decorating. It does not matter.”
The Inspector remembered the rejoinder at the end of the Earl’s message. His pounding heart chilled.
Is this a trap?
“After him, you!” and Mehzadapt sprang over the furniture and trotted to the bottom of the stairs.
The Earl’s voice rang. “Do not panic so! I bring you to Greatsergeant’s treasure!”
“Where is the Goodwife? Where are those two who ran in?”
“All upstairs! You can catch and arrest them all!”
A deputy blurted. “Are you truly the Mad Earl?”
Fazgood looked to the subordinates and raised a brow to the deputy. “I am certified so by Public Works.”
“How far away is the College of Incorrigibles?” asked Tlezjoy.
Another asked. “Why did you leave the Earldom? What a grand job!”
“Shut up, all of you!” yelled the Inspector.
All the deputies did shut up, and the hard resentful looks returned.
The Earl looked upon back down at them with amity. “Deputies! Good citizens all! I will be glad to have a good talk later, over something good and malty. Mehzadapt, I would like to take time with you to reminisce. I could start with the Eleven Circles!”
The deputies looked to one another with disdainful snorts. “Those scum! Those rebels!”
The cold leaked into Mehzadapt’s bowels.
He looked close at the Earl; The vague softness of the man the Inspector had obligated was gone. That man looked down from the top of the stairs at Mehzadapt. His stance was straight and seeming unbudgeable. His dark eyes glinted with an unseemly amusement.
Just a few steps ahead on the stairs, and a floor above was the evidence that would save Mehzadapt from a life of paving roads, and fulfill dreams of triumph.
What has given Fazgood this new wind? Would he assassinate me as we go up the stairs? But he would never escape.
And just a few steps away was the prize that would secure me the magnateship, and keep me from a life paving the Royal Road.
Cornpudding is on his way, Fazgood, you treacherous and naïve wretch. But we cannot have witnesses for whatever you may say upstairs.
He looked to his underlings and said. “You stay downstairs, Make sure that the general does not obstruct us further.”
Varalam rumbled and stepped, looming up the stairs. “There are others up there, Inspector.”
The Inspector watched Fazgood for the comforting cringe that Varalam’s scarred menace invoked.
Remarked Fazgood. “The inspector is more than enough for those citizens, deputy.”
The Earl looked from the Inspector to the massive Adactoid, and his mocking smile did not falter. Even Varalam betrayed hesitancy at that with a slight scuff of his step.
After scorning it for so many months, now Mehzadapt wished he had read “The Nimblest Man”.
He said to his deputy. “Come, Varalam. The rest of you search the downstairs and mind that door.”
The hulking Adactoid trotted up the stairs to join the Inspector. The two trudged up to join Fazgood at the top of the stairs.
Fazgood whispered to Mehzadapt. “Can you trust those deputies? I have heard that skinny one call you some hard names.”
Mehzadapt glanced back down at his subordinates and grimaced. He growled. “Where is it?”
“Ah. Up these stairs, in the master bedroom with the others.”
They trotted up the stairs to the great room on the second floor.
The door was open. Arrayed about the room were the conspirators: Captain Childteacher by the window swelling with rage at sight of the Inspector, the goodwife beside him holding his arm, and the girl in the ragged-hemmed purple wrap. She crouched with hands open and flat, and dark eyes challenging.
At the opposite wall, where a lacquered panel should have been, was an opening dim-lit with a white glow.
Fazgood smirked. “Here are our guests! Be polite everyone! We are all friends!”
The girl stood eased from her crouch, her eyes wary.
“Inspector,” said the Earl. “you have met the goodwife and you have tortured the captain. I present my associate the Foofaloof.”
Though not buxom, most of the girl’s breasts showed and thus confirmed her sex.
“The Foofaloof!” said the Scout. “This is no man!”
Muttered the Earl. “Just wait a day or so.”
The Inspector ignored that confusing comment. He and the deputy strode into the room. “You three are all under arrest by the Scout Brigades! You will show me the loot that the General has hidden! Is the money in there?”
He moved to the opened panel. He peered inside.
The glow peeked from a gap in a black cloth cover, like that of a small tent. Pushing the gap further, the white light showed it was actually varicolored. Clawing his way through brittle and dazzling diaphene, he found a black box, empty.
Wiping his face and brow, the Inspector withdrew and reeled on the conspirators.
“A disjoint vault! What in Enthus’ name has been kept here?”
Obdurate’s rage bordered on feral. Still he managed a sneer. “It is not money, you fool! It is a magic device of great power.”
The goodwife said. “We should use it!”
“What use is stealth now?” snapped Fazgood. “It is too late to go sneaking about! Where would any of us sneak to? What a sum we could have made from its sale!”
“Where is it? What does it do?”
The Earl made a sour face. “It…is an Ijkallan enchantment. It baffles sight, but only at night. At day, it is useless. It only works for its wearer. But it is silent! It needs no incantation to maintain its effect!”
“Do you see how valuable that is?” said Varalam. “If we give it to the police, they will –“
Shouted the Inspector. “Shut up! Where is it?”
“It has been moved downstairs, safely. I know a way to make movable disjoints.”
Varalam sneered. Noting that, the Inspector also made mock. “Leaving the city? Where is the device?”
“In one of four boxes in the guest room.”
The scouts looked to each other in puzzlement.
Explained the Earl. “To make a disjoint shipment is tricky. Even if you line a box with diaphene, and a spirit cannot see diaphene, an inquired spirit could point at the box and say, ‘This box came from the disjoint in the keep.’ So I got three boxes alike in every way. I took them within the disjoint. I cut and folded diaphene from the disjoint and filled the secretaries within the disjoint box. Into one is placed the device, a mask. The diaphene keeps the spirits from seeing within the boxes. So I pack up the boxes while in the disjoint, and hand them out to the Foofaloof, who arranges them downstairs in the guest room, not on the ground floor where the deputies are, so that I do not know which box I handed out and when. Ship them separately to the same location, and there you have your device transported, and the spirits stay confused.”
Mind reeling, Mehzadapt snapped at the goodwife. “Is this doorway a passage to the canal?”
She startled. “It is.”
Cornpudding may not yet be in place! Even if he was ready, he would still hide to avoid all these witnesses! I must get these people out of this room for him to —
Fazgood said. “What are the deputies doing? I hope they are not opening the keep door!”
Heart pounding, the Inspector seized the excuse and waved. “Come downstairs, all of you!”
None moved.
The hulking Adactoid made to seize the Foofaloof’s wrist. The girl slapped the heavy paw away with a sharp blow.
“Come all!” declared Fazgood. “There is no need for rudeness, deputy! We will come!”
All filed out the door, leaving both the deputy and Inspector blinking.
Who commands here?
They went down to the floor with the common room. They looked over the anteroom. The door was still barred. The deputies looked out the windows.
One called. “There are soldiers gathering!”
“There are more coming every moment!” another yelped. “They are shoving against the door!”
Sneered the Inspector. “Let them break their shoulders! Those iron bonds in the door will hold! The walls are as thick as you are tall! Deputy Varalam, take the detainees to the common room!”
The deputy glowered and motioned. From halfway down the hall, a deep murmur came from the common room
All ran into the room and looked out the window. At the far side of the square, citizenry swarmed, their perimeter defined by a thin, harried line of police. Beneath their window, heads and maroon-covered shoulders scurried around the base of the keep.
One held up a megaphone: “Push!”
All heaved back as one and swung forward. A crash against the door.
Fazgood commented. “Look at that! The General is laying siege on his own home with a ram!”
More crashes in rhythm to the commands! Cries of alarm echoed through the keep!
From the hallway came the Inspector. “Hold the wall, deputies! The door doesn’t even twitch!”
He strode across the room and shoved everyone away from the window.
The Inspector cried out to the massed soldiers. “You are a traitor, Greatsergeant! We have the proof in your secret room!”
The megaphone tilted up: “Surrender, you vermin-herds!”
The phone turned to the waiting crowd. “The Inspector is deluded! Surrender, Earl Fazgood! I know you made threats to kill my poor wife!”
“What have you in the secret room?” called the Inspector.
“The Inspector is deluded! Push!”
The deputies cried out, but less so then before.
“Call out, goodwife!” snarled the Inspector. “He would hold his assault for your sake!”
The Goodwife looked to Fazgood, who nodded. She stepped to the window and called. “Husband, I am hostage! You are being rash –“
“She is under duress!” sang out the General. “She is under duress from the traitor Inspector and the stranger Fazgood! They told me they would kill her! For your love of my family, push! We will avenge them!”
The Inspector felt the heat drain from his face.
He means to kill us all, to eliminate witnesses to his corruption!
“Push! Push!”
From downstairs came mocking laughter from the deputies.
Varalam looked in from the doorway. “The door holds fast.”
The Earl noted. “That ramming makes no dent, but much noise. That is his intent! So that we cannot call our tale to the public! Clever man, but how can he keep up the noise?”
The crowd across the square had grown to hundreds. They called and shrieked, but as they were Harmoniads, they did not press the row of police who cordoned them.
The Inspector made out some of their cries between the blows of the ram: “Surrender, good Fazgood!” “ Be noble, Earl!” “Do not go further mad!”
Mehzadapt’s jaw clenched: Do they not care for my welfare? Support the tradition of the Scout Brigades?
The Earl seemed equally angered. “’Further mad!’”
Out the window came the call. “Soldiers, withdraw!”
The soldiers trotted away from the door to the far end of the square. The crowd quieted.
“Ah,” said the Earl. “It is never good when that happens.”
Mehzadapt started. “What? Why?”
A rush of sound, like a chorus of tuned rattles. A blue flash flickered the square. Thunder rolled through the keep. Dust billowed. A shriek swept the crowd.
The deputies wailed. The Inspector dove to the floor. Varalam had crouched to cover the Inspector with his body. Meanwhile, Fazgood had merely taken a step back from the window.
Noted the Earl. “Activated bullets! I have not heard one since the Three Cities!”
Mehzadapt seized his hat from the floor and struggled to stand. “No one has shot activated bullets here since the siege!”
A shrug: “He wants to kill us.”
From the stairs, cries and running! Varalam and the conspirators stood; all gawked at the Earl’s good cheer.
He said. “Your deputies are coming upstairs! If they get upstairs to the master bedroom and find the secret way, off they go with anything they can stick in their pockets. I have been through a siege; you have my sympathy.”
“Deputy Varalam!” Mehzadapt pointed at the door. “Get them back downstairs! Tell them I have the evidence!”
Fazgood said to the girl. “Calzjha, go help the deputy.”
She asked. “Are you certain? Will you be safe?”
“I will be well. Go, you.”
She sprinted out the door.
“You send that girl to stop my deputies? Are you mad?”
“Varalam is not that large. She should have enough space to stand.”
Across the room, Respiration stood in shock, the Captain holding her close.
The Earl did tell me the captain was having the affair with the goodwife. This makes sense, of all this.
“Obdurate!” shouted Fazgood. “Keep Respiration on the stairs! Calzjha needs your help!”
Mehzadapt stepped to the captain. “I command!”
“Those reminders,” the goodwife’s eyes burned. “should prove helpful to someone!”
The Earl guffawed.
The soldier brought the woman to the door. He looked to the hallway, then called back. “The deputies are at the top of the stairs!”
Mehzadapt sprang to the window. He followed Fazgood’s gaze to the clouds over the citadel. A rolling nimbus swelled toward the square. The wind whipped in the room.
By the Compact! That is the Army of Invitation’s Cumulid! It could persuade lightning to strike us!
He seized the shoulder of Fazgood’s blazer. “Upstairs! Get me this device!”
“The deputies first! Come!”
“Varalam can handle –“
But the Earl walked to the door in measured, energetic steps, whistling a sprightly tune. Mehzadapt gaped at the relaxed demeanor when came another resounding noise, a popping and buzzing that deafened. Varalam shouted all to hold fast. Then the second bullet struck the keep door.



2 responses

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