Chapter Eight: “A Name”
Maaike walked into the salon and looked around. In one corner, Jaeger had a small group around him, most talking in their own little conversations but still obviously associating with the man who administered the city, if only in name. He looked haggard, but after what she had seen in the broadsheets about a revenant in an army uniform attacking someone in broad daylight, she could not blame him.
That did worry her, somewhat. She had known there was at least one other revenant in the city that was not hers. After all, what else could have destroyed that townhouse? But, for the last three months, the other revenant had been relatively quiet, seeming to prefer to eek out a pathetic existence of thievery. This outright display, not to mention his seeming connection with the rebels, was not in line with his past actions, and while everyone else saw this as a natural escalation of the recent wave of revenant crime, she saw it as a stark jump.
Jump or normal progression, it was probably part of the reason Jaeger’s group was smaller than had been centered around him several months ago. Still, it was far from trivial. Many important names, including Duke Tonniger, still frequented it. Although, there were less important people too, such as that chit at Jaeger’s side, Lady Manne.
Yet, Jaeger’s fall from influence had not precipitated any other raises. Those who had shied away from the Sunset Count now freely moved about, much like motes of dust in a ray of light. Every day saw different faces in different circles, and a general sense of unrest hung over the Prince’s salons. Even formal court, with the king in attendance, was beginning to show signs of tension, and she had heard nobles talking about how the Council sessions were starting to degrade into nothing but shouting matches. It was only a matter of time before Tesma and his monstrous daughter took advantage of the general discord.
She walked over to Prince Dorian’s cluster of sycophants and followers and curtsied to the man that, but for the circlet on his brow, could have just been any other courtier. When she had met him, she remembered being aghast that the crown prince had so little noble bearing. Any one of the five Regents of Adervyn appeared more kingly than him, and even the basest student at theVoxfeldianUniversityappeared more sagely. It was no wonder that even as his chief antagonist was losing support in court, he was incapable of finding it.
As she rose from her curtsy, she noticed a man walk into the salon with a face she recognized from broadsheets only. He walked directly over to Jaeger’s circle and began speaking to the count as if no one else was even there.
She quickly turned her eyes back to the prince. “Your Highness.”
Dorian looked at her with the same absentminded smile he always had. “Ah, Lady Kanadis. A pleasure as always.”
“Pardon a silly woman’s questions, but might I ask, who is it that just walked in and is speaking to Count Jaeger?”
Dorian looked over and frowned. “Why, that’s Lord Spears. I wonder why he decided to make an appearance.”
“I thought so,” she said. “And, pardon another silly question, Your Grace, but why is Count Jaeger not calling for the guards to arrest the man?”
“Arrest him?” Dorian said. “I think that is a little harsh.”
“Harsh?” she said. “Unless I have completely been misreading the broadsheets, the man is in open rebellion against the crown.”
“He speaks critically of my father,” he said. “It is slightly different.”
“Your grandfather strung up a duke for less,” she said. “Treason is treason. It is a shame that factory accident only took his hand, I say.”
Dorian looked back at her with puzzlement in his eyes. “Pardon me for saying, Lady Kanadis, but that is rather bloodthirsty of you.”
“I prefer to think of it as bold, Your Highness.” She smiled slightly and turned to look around the room again. Becka had just walked in and was headed over their way. “Leadership requires finesse, yes, but it also requires decisive actions.”
Dorian’s expression did not change, and she curtsied to him again.
“If you’ll excuse me, Your Highness.”
“Ah, yes, of course.” He looked like he was trying to think of something else to say, but instead turned to someone else who had just walked up. Maaike took a few steps back and waited for Becka to come to her. She wondered if the woman even realized how she had become Maaike’s sycophant over the last few months instead of Ariel’s. Although, for Becka, the transition had probably been easy. She had the look of a woman that was used to following: a fake smile and eyes fringed with worry. It was almost as if she knew she was doomed in some way or the other, and was only waiting for the hammer to fall.
“Lady DeRosa,” Maaike said. “So wonderful to see you.”
Becka bobbed the ghost of a curtsy. “And you, Lady Kanadis. I received your note. You said you wished to speak with me?”
“Oh, yes.” Maaike guided Becka away from the prince’s group and towards a cluster of small tables. As they sat, she gestured towards a servant to bring tea then turned her attention back to Becka.
“Becka, I can’t help but notice you’ve seemed put out of late.”
“Put out?” Becka laughed so unconvincingly that she cut herself short. “I’ve just been sleeping poorly, that’s all.”
“Sleeping poorly?” Maaike raised an eyebrow. “House DeRosa has been doing rather well for itself, and I daresay even your own status has increased lately. What could you possibly be losing sleep over?”
“Perhaps it is those midnight walks you like to take.” Maaike said it casually, but it was a pointed statement, and Becka’s suddenly tense posture said that she understood. “Or perhaps all the writing you must be doing. I hear you have been going through paper quite a bit lately.”
Becka swallowed. “Now, where would you hear something like that?”
“People talk.” No use denying the spying and information gathering, but no reason to completely admit to it either. “So, tell me Becka, what has Jaeger tasked you with now?”
“Jaeger?” Becka blinked, nearly laughed, and then regained her composure. “Oh, you know how he is, surely. He always has so many plots he is working on.”
Maaike kept a smooth face and wondered how this child had survived at court. “Oh, I do know how he is, and I know he views you as little more than a nuisance, and I doubt he has changed his mind. You’re a watchdog to him at best, so I doubt he would turn you into his carrier pigeon.” Never mind that Maaike had very seriously accused Becka of being such only moments before. The girl would think it all part of an elaborate bluff.
Indeed, her face paled and she bit her lip. “What I do with my free time and who I consort with is my own concern, thank you.”
“Rebels?” Maaike watched Becka’s reaction. The girl tried to keep her face neutral and polite, and perhaps if she had been a touch calmer she could have pulled it off, but there were signs as large and obvious as a dirigible for Maaike to read. “No, not the rebels. You aren’t the kind to commit true treason. And what could they offer you besides?”
“I don’t think I like your tone, Lady Kanadis.” Becka was beginning to regain some measure of sense, and she knew she was on shaky ground. The best course of action would be to simply end the conversation. She had nothing to gain from staying.
Nothing to gain. The puzzle pieces fit together in her mind almost like the grand finale of an illusionist’s show. Maaike mentally chided herself for not realizing it sooner.
“The meisters,” she said. “You are spying on Jaeger for them, aren’t you?”
Becka had the decency to stand up indignantly, although her voice, weak and unsure, was quite lacking. “Maaike! How could you say that about me? I adore my uncle.”
Maaike only half listened. She was instead looking at Jaeger. “It makes since. DeRosa suddenly gains several amazing contracts with the Guild at the same time as Jaeger appears to have been their fallen enemy. It sets him up to appear as if his entire anti-meister campaign was a setup, and also makes him appear to be derelict in his oaths to forsake his family ties. But, what makes me curious, why Becka? I was under the impression you were quite loyal to him. What was your price?”
Becka stared for a moment then sat back down. She did not answer, though. Maaike did not really need her to, though. Likely, the contracts were price enough, or more to the point, what they meant: solvency for a weaker house, which would enable it to move up in society. Becka was quite like any other noble, and driven by a selfish interest. Very well, as her uncle had once said, selfish reasons were the ones you could trust most. But, not all selfishness came in the form of bank notes.
“And tell me, do you truly think it will be in your best interest when the Meisters’ Guild has taken over? Are you hoping that perhaps Qristina will keep you as a favored pet?”
“Taken over?” Becka said. “I don’t think they—”
“Oh, they are attempting to,” Maaike said. “Jaeger even saw it. That was why he and I worked together to begin with. To try and erode Tesma’s threatening power. That and to try and stop even worse things, like a city wide invasion of Sentatian-made revenants.”
“Sentatian-made? But, the meisters have sworn they would not—”
“And they swore an oath of fealty to the King and Council,” Maaike said. “That won’t stop them from their plans.”
“Their plans?” Becka’s voice was low. “What are their plans?”
“That is what you are going to help me find out,” Maaike said. “They offered you money that will do you no good, but I will offer you a better coin, Becka. Help me, and when we have saved Sentat, you will be considered such a hero that House DeRosa will enshrine you as a saint for future generations.”
Becka looked unsure, but before Maaike could try and encourage her more, a courier came up with a tray.
“Lady Kanadis,” he said. “A letter arrived for you. The man who delivered it said it was rather urgent.”
Maaike picked up the letter and found it without a return address, but she recognized Mortimyr’s hand as that which had scrawled her name across the front. She thanked the courier then turned to Becka.
“Think on it, Becka. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to attend to this.”
Becka was staring into her tea. “Yes, of course.”
Maaike left her there reluctantly, not quite sure if she had accomplished her goal, but at least proud that she had solved the puzzle of Jaeger’s supposed treachery to their cause. Sadly, that bridge was burned now. Now, she had to look forward. She held the letter firmly in her hands as she walked to her quarters where she could read it in private then destroy it. Now, she had new plans to tend.
* * *
Markus walked into the study and snapped a salute while standing at attention. Mikhail did not even look up, and only continued scratching away at a report in front of him. A long silence hung in the air, and it was perhaps a full minute before he spoke.
“I couldn’t do it.”
Markus had spent a long time thinking over what happened, had even spent the entire evening at the cathedral, sleeping in a small cell that Father Morgan had offered. He had come up with several answers, but they all boiled down to that.
“You couldn’t do it?” Mikhail stopped writing and looked up. “You couldn’t do what?”
“Kill,” Markus said. “I couldn’t kill. I thought, maybe, if I had a cause I was fighting for, I could, but I froze at the last moment.”
“So, instead of following through with our plan, and making a martyr of Jordin and a villain of the army, you exposed Jordin has a mole to the crowd and linked yourself to us. That was rather opposite of the effect we wished for, Sergeant. Need I point out that you had no problem killing my men before?”
“That was in the heat of combat,” Markus said. “It was not an assassination.”
“An assassin that can’t kill in cold blood isn’t a very good assassin,” Mikhail said. “And one that even further compromises his mission by revealing the duplicity of it is—”
“I understand I was out of line.” Markus took a breath and relaxed, even if only to parade rest instead of attention. “Sir, the people seemed to actually hear what I had to say.”
“More likely they were scared stiff,” Mikhail said.
Markus stiffened back up. “Of course, sir. I admit that I was out line. What is my punishment?”
Mikhail tilted his head to one side. “Punishment?”
“In the army, this would warrant some sort of punishment,” Markus said. “I compromised not just the mission, but the entire operation.”
“Well, I’m afraid we are fresh out of stocks and brigs,” Mikhail said. “But, I think we will need to wait and see what your little stunt’s effects will be.”
Markus wet his lips. “Then what am I to do?”
Mikhail stroked his beard for a moment. “You are confined to this safe house, but I want you to spend the time wisely. How do you suggest you do this?”
Markus took a deep breath. “I think I wish to study all the information you have on these other revenants in the city. I am under the impression that part of the reason you wanted me was to deal with them, yes?”
“Yes, to deal with them,” Mikhail said. “Which I suspect will ultimately mean killing them. Tell me, will you be able to do that, Sergeant?”
“Without a doubt, sir.”
“Why?” Mikhail leaned forward. “Why are you so sure?”
“They are my problem,” Markus said. “They are revenants.”
“Your problem?” Mikhail said. “Did you make them? Did you tell them to go out and kill?”
“Then how are they your problem?”
Markus shook his head. “They just are. I’m a revenant, they’re revenants.” It was an explanation, even if not the full one. There was no reason for Mikhail to know all of it, though.
Mikhail sighed. “Fine. I will have copies of our intelligence brought to your room. Is there anything else you wish to say, Sergeant?”
Markus shook his head, and Mikhail only nodded then dismissed him with a gesture. Markus snapped another salute and left. That Mikhail had been so calm honestly disturbed him. He had botched missions about as badly as this before, and he had received a dressing down afterwards worse than any flogging or time in a brig. Something else was going on, but Markus found that he did not overly care. A soldier did not need to understand his general, only follow his orders. And if it served a cause he could get behind, even without meaning to, all the better.
* * *
Maaike stepped through the door into the workshop and stopped.
She had been in Adervyn throughout the war, and while the military tried to keep all of its halfmen far from the city, there were inevitably one or two that would occasionally appear in court. They had always been the least modified, though. Men with a new arm that was mostly hidden by their coat sleeve, or a new leg you could not even tell was different for the pants and boots.
Only once did she see the true extend to which men were being “reclaimed” in the war effort, and that was when she begged Duke Gerra to take her with him on a battlefront inspection. He had protested it would be far too dangerous, but she knew he would still be fifty miles from the closest fighting, well behind the lines. She had plied all of her charm to get him to acquiesce. The nightmares she had for weeks afterwards had proven a fitting punishment for her arrogance.
Still, for all she had seen on the line, nothing quite matched what was before her now. Mortimyr’s work was hardly on a level with the ghastly creatures that had been made with the sole purpose of killing other men as efficiently as possible, complete with cannons or guns worked into their bodies. But, the sheer extent of the work still shocked her.
The thief was sitting on the table, and he slowly stood up. He overtopped her by at least a foot and a half. Surely he had not been that tall before Mortimyr had worked on him. It was hard to tell, though.
He was nude except for a pair of tight breeches, but there still was barely any flesh to be seen. Everything below his neck was metal in the form of interlocking plates, open joints, and sharp protrusions. In several places, there were hinges that would move the plates away, likely to reveal weapons. A discordant thought struck her, though. For as fearsome as he looked, due to how much Mortimyr had built him up, his head looked somewhat small for his body, and the new shoulders seemed to envelop the man’s neck.
He stood, but did not speak. His eyes looked at her blankly, but she was not about to assume anything of the man based on that. She had read his profile in the constables’ records, and while the constables themselves seemed to write him off as a simpleton, this man had managed to elude them for several years.
“How are you feeling?” she said.
“Like half a building fell on me,” he said. “Then again, that isn’t too far from what happened.”
“Do you remember who I am?” She stayed by the door, but made a conscious effort to keep her arms at her sides, calm and in control. “Mortimyr tells me you are having some difficulty with your memory.”
“I remember you.” He likewise stayed standing right where he was. “You’re Kanadis. You’re the one who offered to save me when everyone else would have rather I die. Mortimyr, he has the right of it, after a fashion. I have my memories except for one thing. Tell me, Kanadis, what’s my name?”
“You don’t remember your name?”
“Funny thing, isn’t it?” he said. “I remember growing up. I remember the mole on the breast of the last whore I was with it. But I can’t remember my own name.”
“This isn’t a great loss,” she said. “Perhaps you should consider it a sign from Troena. You died on that table, and will now be reborn. A new name seems fitting, does it not?”
“Mortimyr said you’d want to give me a new one.”
“It is part and parcel with our deal,” she said. “When this is done, if you truly want to know your old name, I will gladly tell you. Until then, you are mine.”
“And what will that entail, exactly?” he said.
“I read the constables’ file on you.” She walked along the wall to a chair and took a seat. “It says you are a bit of a jack of all trades. This included having worked in gangs on major jobs, yes?”
“Yeah.” He stayed standing, but at least he had a guarded expression instead of the blank stare.
“You remember the three men who rescued you from the hospital?”
“Kidnapped and battered me is more like it,” he said.
“Those were Mizan, Kikan, and Iwazan. My three wise monkeys, such as it were. Have you heard of the wise monkeys of Voxfeld?”
He smiled. “Can’t say that’s part of a street urchin’s education.”
“The legend is fairly simple. Each of the monkeys were only wise in one thing. Mizan saw no evil, Kikan heard no evil, and Iwazan spoke no evil. Alas, unless they worked together, they were doomed to fail. Right now, my monkeys work alone, and they are doomed to fail.”
“And the legend sometimes includes a fourth monkey, Shizan. He does no evil. He alone could guide all of the monkeys to safety.”
“You want me to be your fourth monkey? You want me to lead your revenants?” He laughed. “Do no evil, eh? I think you might have chosen the wrong bloke. I’m no priest. I doubt that describes me.”
“Evil can take many forms,” she said. “As can good. I tend to think that which fights evil is by definition good. My means may be questionable, but I have been left with little choice.”
“Fah.” He sat down and crossed his arms. “I don’t care about your cause, Kanadis, just like I don’t care about your little jokes. You say I’ve been given a gift from Troena, but I know the truth. I made a deal with Praedin, so I’ll keep it.”
She nodded and stood. Not what she had hoped for, but she could work with it. “Then please, let us introduce you to the others more formally. Then, I think I will bring you up to speed on what exactly I want you doing.”
She opened the trap door down to the basement and only paused briefly to ensure he was following. Downstairs, her other three revenants were sitting around a table playing cards. They looked up at her curiously, and when they saw the thief following her, they sat down their cards and stood up.
“So,” Kikan said. “Our newest member has finally stopped sleeping. I must say, I don’t recall any of us taking so long to get off Mortimyr’s table.”
Mizan elbowed Kikan. “Probably because we weren’t stupid enough to let Mortimyr replace so much of us. I bet he isn’t even a man anymore.”
“That’s enough,” Maaike said. “Show some respect.”
“To our leader?” Kikan smiled. “Yes, I heard you. Don’t give a man ears if you don’t want him to hear, Lady Kanadis.”
“Leader?” Iwazan said. “I’m not following some green recruit!”
“You will follow who I tell you to follow,” she said.
“Like hell I will.” Iwazan walked over to her, and she took a step back. “In fact, I’m starting to wonder why we’re taking orders from you, even. The way I see it—”
Iwazan’s metallic voice cut off, and his eyes went wide. He grabbed at his throat, and his breath was strained. He fell to his knees, panic plain on his face, and the thief stepped forward, one hand held out in front of him. He was looking down at Iwazan intently, and after a moment, he dropped his hand, and Iwazan collapsed, sucking in air much like a man saved from drowning.
Kikan looked from Iwazan to the thief. “What the hell?”
“That is why you will follow me,” the thief said. “You do as Kanadis and I say, and I won’t make your own hands strangle you. Understand?”
Kikan and Mizan nodded slowly, and the thief kneeled down next to Iwazan. “I said, do you understand?”
Iwazan’s voice sounds like an echo in a tin cup. “Yes.”
“Then, allow me to formally introduce myself,” the thief said. “You may call me Shizan.”
* * *
Mikhail looked up from his papers as the door to his office opened. He was not surprised to see Arik and Lector file in, although he did find it strange that it took them so long. Markus had returned in the midmorning. Now it was nearly evening.
“Gentleman,” he said.
“Mikhail,” Arik said. “Dreadfully sorry to burst in like this.”
“Can the nicety, Spears,” Lector said. “Why did you not send for us when the revenant reported back?”
“Because I had other things to do,” Mikhail said. “And because I figured you did too.”
“I think the termination of a wild monster is pressing enough to interrupt us,” Arik said.
“I don’t know about termination,” Lector said. “But containment, at least.”
“Markus has been confined to his quarters,” Mikhail said. “Although, I find myself less and less cross with him.”
“Less cross?” Arik said. “The man blatantly disobeyed an order. In a time of war, that would get him summarily shot for treason, and the last I checked, we are in a war, even if it is from the shadows.”
“We are in a war with limited people and resources,” Lector said. “No reason to waste one that can be put to better use.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Mikhail said. “And I think attempting to use Markus for our planned deception was a mistake. There are better uses for him.”
“Exactly!” Lector said. “I’ll go and prepare a lab. It shouldn’t be too hard to rig up the same hose contraption we had in the holding cell, and—”
“No, Lector,” Mikhail said. “That is not the use I was thinking of.”
Lector narrowed his eyes, but Arik spoke.
“And what use is that, pray tell?”
“Tell me, gentleman, have you been reading the broadsheets today?” Mikhail waited for a moment for them to shake their heads. He had suspected they had not. Lector always had his head in his work, and Arik was usually too busy playing at politics to actually keep up with anything else.
Mikhail held up one he had on his desk. An artist’s sketch of what was meant to be Markus was on the front page, although the military uniform was about all they had right. In large letters along the side, the headline read “Sentatian Revenant?”
“I saw much the same in yesterday’s press,” Arik said. “He botched the job and linked himself to us!”
“He linked himself to the government more,” Mikhail said. “So that much was not botched. And truth be told, what he said, that the government made him then left him to his own devices, seems to be the more damning. Today’s broadsheets are full of letters from angry people wondering why the army had a revenant. Oh, yes, some point out the link to the rebels he mentioned when he called Jordin out, but even more are viewing him as some sort of hero.”
Arik seemed beside himself. “You are telling me the people of Tijervyn are calling a revenant a hero?”
“All the more proof that the people don’t know what’s good for them,” Lector said.
Mikhail shook his head. “What it shows, gentleman, is that there is more than one way to use a revenant.”
“You want to turn him into a street speaker?” Arik said. “That will blow up in our face, my friend. If you wanted a faster way to bring the constables down on our heads and to turn the people against us, I cannot think of it.”
“Perhaps, but perhaps not,” Mikhail said.
He gave each of them a meaningful look. Arik crossed his arms and frowned, but Lector rubbed his goatee.
“You’re up to something, Mikhail,” he said. “We had a plan, or shall I say we’ve been following your plan, but I don’t recall ever hearing anything like this in it. You’re not one for rash moves, so where does this fit in?”
“Perhaps it is a rash move,” Mikhail said. “Desperate, you might even say. One thing is for certain, Markus has shown us something today. Any man can raise a mob to shouts. It takes someone special to silence them. That is what we need, gentleman, and no amount of spouting rhetoric is going to earn it.”
“What are you saying?” Arik said. “That you want to give up?”
“No, Arik,” Mikhail said. “I am saying that unless we act, then we are doomed. We don’t have months to rally support. Every day the King stays on the throne now that the war is finished is a blow against us. I am saying, gentleman, that we need to do something desperate, and Markus will be the key to that.”
Arik and Lector looked at him with doubt. Yes, he suspected they would. He had doubted himself, and still did, but he could not ignore the simple facts. The people did not want words. They wanted action. And now, Mikhail would give it to them.