Chapter 31: Facade
“There it is.” Sade stated emphatically, and the three stopped to marvel at Epsilon Cathedral. The arches that adorned the church were magnificent, and it was apparent from the first glance that it was very old. Gargoyles on the corners stood sentry, seeming to guard the water that lightly drizzled down. Right before they’d reached Langmus, a light rain had settled on the area. Zenapharr couldn’t help but feel uneasy, thinking back to the Rainmaker.
They had made their way to the church through the downtown area of Langmus, sticking to side streets and shadows as much as possible. A carrier pigeon from earlier sent them a message from King Priotus. Apparently, Zenapharr and Sade were named as the extremist group that attacked the President, and all three have since stayed under hood and cloak. For a moment they took in the scene of the catherdral in the light rain, seeming to hold some pleasing and foreboding aesthetic.
“Let’s go,” Zenapharr stated, pulling his hood further over him. The rest followed him to and through the great oak door of the cathedral. Sade was impressed with how old and sturdy the door’s wood seemed to be, lithely running his fingertips over it. Alice did the same, not sure why she was doing it other than imitating Sade’s gesture.
The lighting was very different inside, only lit by the soft glow of candles and some lanterns. At once, they all felt a peace about them, which strangely was unsettling. Nothing was ever quite what it seemed.
“May I help you?” A younger monk approached them.
“Yes, we need to speak with Aegis,” Sade responded.
“Father Aegis? You wish to confess some sins, then?”
“We are talking about Aegis Wilhelm, right?”
“Of course. That is Father Aegis.”
“Well, I do need to speak with him. Can you let him know that the tall king sends his regards.”
“Ahhh, yes! You must confess, then.”
“But, I’m not…”
“Trust me, brother. If you want to speak with Aegis, you must first confess your sins. Right this way.”
The young monk waved Sade on, who looked back at his two companions for approval. The half-elf only shrugged his shoulders, and Alice nodded her head. Reluctantly, Sade allowed the monk to lead him to the confessional box to which he entered.
Feeling foolish, Sade waited for another minute. He heard the opening and closing of a door, and then the small opening in the booth was slid back from the other side. It all felt so strange to Sade, why he was having to go through this to speak with him.
“How long since your last confession, my son?” Said the voice that was to belong to Aegis. Sade noticed the accent was British, but had a hint of Cockney in it.
“Three months, Father.”
“So what sins do you confess today?”
“How about this. Have you killed someone?”
“Have you taken something?”
“Uhhmm.” It took Sade a moment to realize what Aegis what doing, then it suddenly hit him. “Yes, I did. I took something.”
“Something of great value, I suppose?”
“Yes. Something of great interest to those who hold treasure in high esteem.”
“I see. Perhaps we can discuss this matter in a more private setting, then. My office…bring the half-elf and the psychic too.”
“Let me exit first, then wait a minute or two before you get out. It’s protocol.”
Sade nodded, and listened to the priest exit the booth until the footsteps were no longer aubile. When he was convinced it was long enough, Sade left the confessional and saw that another monk was waiting for him with Zenapharr and Alice. Without a word, he led them to one of the side doors and through some long hallways, and finally down a flight of stairs which led to an office area. They were ushered in, and soon greeted by Father Aegis.
“Welcome, my friends. I understand the King had something of value he would like to give to me?”
“Yes.” Sade answered quickly, and reached for the satchel.
“Uh unh,” Aegis replied quickly, now brandishing a small flintlock pistol. “Hand me the bag, please.” Alarmed, Sade looked at Zenapharr for what to do. As angry as he seemed, Zenapharr exchanged a shake of the head and walked the satchel over.
“You’re playing a dangerous game, priest.” Zenapharr practically spat through his teeth, slamming the bag on the desk in front of Aegis.
“Hey, now! Don’t damage the goods. Doesn’t make for a fair trade.”
“There’s other goods of yours I’m about to damage if you….”
“Just wait, Zenapharr. Go ahead, priest. The gemstones and bag of silver are all in there.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. Now kindly keep your distance, mister best-assassin-in-the-world. If you decided to make a rash move, I’ll be forced to shoot and I really don’t’ want to get your blood on my Oriental rug. It cost an arm and a leg to get it.”
“I see your priorities are in order.” Zenapharr dripped with sarcasm.
“They are indeed, sir. I am serious about the arm and the leg, though. The man who told me he didn’t have this rug lied about having it, because someone else offered him more money. So I removed one arm and one leg.”
“You are one ethical priest, Aegis. ”
“Hey, now I was nice about it. I took a left arm and a right leg so that he was balanced out. So let’s see here….mmmhmmm..yes, yes…oooh! You did deliver me some fine gems, I see! Well done, sir! And the silver…..ahhh!! Fine pieces you have here….seem to be carved out of a silver mine, splendid! Probably done so by goblins! Say what you want, but they are excellent at excavating metals from caves and mines, and so on. But I’m sure you already knew that.”
“So are we good?” Sade asked with a huff. “We do have some urgent business to be getting on with.”
“Yes, of course!” Aegis said, holstering his gun and standing up. He then proceeded to remove his priest grab, unveiling a sandy-colored button-up shirt with a brown vest and brown pants tucked into high boots. Immediately, he reached over and plucked a cowboy hat off a nearby rack and placed it atop his head then moved over to a nearby bookshelf. Everyone looked at each other, all seeming to think this was much closer to what they imagined Aegis to look like.
“Sorry about all that riff-raff earlier. This priest thing is just subterfuge. That plaque you see on the wall there…made it myself. The devil’s in the details.” He snickered at the last part, counting over the books with his finger. “Ahh, here we go!” With a slight push on the book, the wall popped open and Aegis moved it further back. This revealed a set of stone stairs to which Aegis lit with a nearby lantern.
“Well, c’mon then! I need to store this away and show you some things. Can’t have busybodies finding my stash! With this bag of silver especially, they’ll start caling me Judas before long! Hahaha.”
Raising a curious eyebrow, Zenapharr followed the odd informant down the steps. The other two followed suit, accompanied by the ramblings of Aegis along the way.
“Don’t know if Priotus gave you my last name, but it’s Wilhelm. Give his thanks for me, if you would! Been looking for those stones for quite some time you know! So this Krane fellow, bad news eh?”
“Yeah, you don’t know the half of it. Wait ’til I show you what he’s been trading.”
“Yeah. I know all of the people trading around here, the official and the not-so-official ones. No one buys or trades anything without me knowing about it, especially the rare and odd items. I’ve been following this Krane fellow closely lately. He’s been a naughty boy, that one. And I have a theory, which I’ll show you but…you make up your mind about it yourselves. I am but a humble priest.”
They traveled the winding stone stairs for a moment longer , then came to a wooden door which had a very simple looking keyhole. Sade snickered, as it looked extremely simple to pick, and Aegis regarded the laugh with a raise of his brow.
“I know what you’re thinking. Would you care to pick it yourself?”
Sade walked over and began to fiddle with the lock using a set of some iron bars, when suddenly a spark of light made him yowl in pain and retract his hand.
“What in the devil’s name….”
Aegis had a good chuckle at Sade’s expense, and when done pulled out a small key which looked like it belonged to a large wind-up toy.
“That, my friend is my security system. Observe.” The informant placed the wind-up key inside the keyhole and turned it three times to the right, a cranking noise residing with each twist. He let it go for a moment, and a sound resembling, cogwheels, moving tumblers and other gadgetry emanated from the door. After the noise stopped, Aegis turned the knob and pushed the door open.
“After you, Agent Sade.”
“Wipe that stupid smirk off your face. I’m not going in first.”
“Very well, then!”
The four entered, and found themselves in a large, dungeon-esque room lined with shelves of numerous trinkets and treasures. Sade had seen much in his travels, but nothing like this. Alice’s eyes became alight in wonder, looking over the many precious, luminescent stones. Among the various gemstones and jewelry were also bottles, test tubes, and potions listing various effects. Swords and other weapons with ancient runes took up almost an entire wall. Machinery was spaced randomly throughout the room, some seeming to hold objects and others seeming to harness them.
“Do not…touch…anything.” Zenapharr said with emphasis to Alice.
“Because, my cheeky little sweetheart,” Aegis took a knee to start. “Some of these things could kill you. Especially…” He stood over to a cluster of objects sealed in glass vacuum tubes. “These. Cursed items…some to be said from Hades itself but…one can never know, can they? We can have you properly suited for almost any situation here. Potions that can make you fly, walk through walls, resistant to the elements, temporarily of course.”
“What is this?” Zenapharr was stationed at a peculiar looking mechanical egg. Something bright was inside, bits of glow spilling out from the tip.
“Ahhhh, that.” Aegis’ eyes lit up immediately, and walked over to the egg. “Is a relic from before the Great War. Some vague information I found point to this being some source of fuel. We just don’t have the technology to utilize it. It seems to contain an immense energy. I’m too afraid to experiment with it, for fear of it’s destructive capabilities. Strangely enough, that brings me to the very reason you are here.”
Aegis pulled a lever on one wall, opening up a nearby standing glass chamber. Inside he took some various items from the shelves and arranged them on the ground. They looked on as Aegis mumbled to himself, attempting to remember the right configuration.
“There we are,” Aegis huffed when it seemed complete. The rest of them gazed at some strong looking metal machinery which resembled a robotic armor suit. It was only a torso and two arms, but the design seemed to make sense. Aegis even demonstrated how the arms could fit into sockets on the shoulder of the torso.
“Now, all of these separate parts you see were ordered at different times. It seems that Krane didn’t’ want anyone knowing that he was building this. I worked closely with a machinist for years, and recognized some the same metal coming in, taking photographs of everything. When I compared them, I noticed that some of the parts seemed to fit, and so I began tracking them specifically. They were all going to the same destination.”
“So Krane is building something. Perhaps some impenetrable armor?” Sade suggested.
“I thought so too, especially when you look at the carving on the metal here. Look familiar, Zenapharr?”
The half-elf followed the intricate markings on the flat spaces of metal, and followed it all around. His eyes widened, and Aegis knew that he knew.
“Those are runes…and very old ones at that. Very strong, protective magic.”
“Precisely. I had to do some research to find that out.”
“You are a suspicious sort, aren’t you?” Sade quipped.
“Good thing I am, because that’s not everything that goes with this. Here’s where it gets interesting.” Aegis responded curtly. Amongst the shelving was a metal box, and Aegis pulled out a succession of wires and other cords. He laid them out among the model of the armored suit, and it was apparent that the wiring fit the length and breadth of the suit.
“There are various things at play here, pneumatics which seem to move the suit. The wires all come to meet in the middle of the chest area. Now watch this.” He then took out a pair of cable cords that were clamped to a nearby battery, and attached the other end to the chest cavity of the suit. Once he checked they were secure, he flipped the battery on. With a spark and a popping sound, they watched a round plate on the suit’s chest open up. A round hollow spot indicated that something was to be set there.
“I believe this is what the power source will be for the suit. And I wondered why this was needed to power the suit if the limbs use pneumatics, because any power source couldn’t be that small. And then…I came across parts that created this.”
Aegis pulled out one more piece from the shelving, and attached it to a space along the arm of the machine. It was nothing like Zenapharr had seen before, but the general shape was obvious. There was a pointed end, a stock, and a trigger.
“What manner of gun might this be?” Sade pondered aloud.
“I don’t know, but I can tell that whatever goes into the center of the chest cavity will power this gun.”
“I’ve seen this before,” Alice jumped in.
“You have? When?”
“I don’t know exactly, but I know Krane was thinking about it once. He must have known I tried reading his mind, because ever since he started wearing that metal circlet that blocks my telepathy. It seems he stayed pretty far from me most times, and when he came close enough it scared him. It all makes sense now….”
“Well I caught a word he thought of when I saw the image of this.”
“What was it?”
“War? That’s preposterous.” Aegis interjected. “A war would destroy all that he’s worked so hard to create. Besides, he can’t just start an all-out war.”
“Not without just cause,” Sade concluded. “And now he’s got it. Don’t you see? This technology is riddled with runic wards to block magic. Krane hates all Magi. The President gets attacked by a group of Anti-Tech fanatics which have never been heard of. Fear of magic users will be rampant. What better time to use some unstoppable army than now?”
“And if there’s anything we know about Krane, he’ll use circumstances to give him legitimate power. He’ll probably get an approval to use these against us. There’s no telling how large-scale this thing is. Aegis, how many shipments of this equipment have you seen?”
“Close to a thousand.”
“By the Heavens….” Sade exchanged a worried glance with Zenapharr. “That’s not some small operation of elite soldiers he’s using…he’s building an army.”
They all stood in silence, trying to wrap their minds around what horrible outcome could come about with this daunting, new knowledge. Just as they were about to speak again, a light began to flash in the room.
“It means someone’s left me a message, something urgent. Come now!”
They all rushed out of the room, up the stairs and were soon back in the adventurer’s office. A young monk with sweat on his brow awaited them.
“What is it, Kendrick?”
“Father…grave news! The Elder Mage of the Runehadrin order has been assassinated! He’s been shot, so they believe Nostromus is responsible! There is talk of war. ”
“It’s already begun…”