+ inload: Alone in the dark +

+ inload: Alone in the dark +

It is nine in the morning, four hours after the watch end their shift. The watchmen are drunk. Cyprian is aware that his judgement is cloudy, too. Aside from a guttering candelabra, its small form nearly hidden in melted tallow, the alehouse fire provides the only light. Good and hot, the thick logs on it smoulder a glowing cherry-red

As does Cyprian. Colouring, he forces himself to calm his breathing as the laughter finishes. The chief watchman sits back, and his cronies lean in. Unmasked and de-aproned, their tall, cold-cheating hoods hang from the coat rack by the door, removed with relief as the birds began to cackle and the nightwatch gathered in the alehouse. 

They are drinking from a motley collection of vessels, as mismatched as the men themselves. Chipped wooden tankards, battered tin flagons and even a few large preserving jars – their lips moulded to hold screw-tops – have been pressed into use. It is a legacy of the ongoing war.

Still, Cyprian mused, there was at least sufficient ale... even if it did taste sour. 

Cyprian Northgrass – interrogator, ally and confederate to one of the most powerful men in the sector – is sitting with men of the local night watch in a dingy, broken-down bar, sipping at stale beer. He is incognito; undercover. He has been in the City for four months, and the thin comfort of summer has given way to the a shivering autumn. He is also rapidly running out of funds as he waits for Inquisitor Veck to make contact. 

As a result, he is seeking employment. As an off-worlder, he is finding this difficult. The people of Cepheus are conservative and inward-looking, keen to avoid attention and excitement. The war has sealed the lid on this natural tendency, and the nightwatch were the only ones who would entertain a job enquiry from an 'outlander'.

They are making the interview – for such he has taken the beer-soaked hazing to be – unpleasant. Cyprian is unsure whether the barracking happens to all prospective nightwatchmen, or whether it is reserved for strangers. He leans forward on the table, and all eyes turn to him. The chief watchmen leans down and meets his gaze. His breath is rotten with ale-stench, and underneath that, the foul sickly odour of bad teeth. 

Northgrass studies the chief watchman as the man smiles at his companions, as confident as a king among his court. He is clearly pleased with his joke at Cyprian's earlier question. The chief watchman is a man who may once have been handsome. He has ruined his complexion through drink, the cold, and above all, his nocturnal lifestyle. 

"Gods? Let me yarn you about gods, for it is clear that you were shunned by your lorespeaker. Did you bare your buttocks to him that he withheld his teachings so? Or fight too hard to withhold from baring them?" He leers. The other watchmen snigger appreciatively. One stands, unsteadily, and carries the tray back to the barman, calling for more drink.

"There are those from Yndbürch that worship three gods: Brother the Builder, Fishnu the Upkeeper and Shiver the Shatterer. Those from Coldwind Provice say that the sun will flicker if they do not pray to it five times a day. Given this past Somerseason, I say they should pray harder!" He looks about him, pleased with his joke.

"But still they worship the Emperor, do they not?" asked Cyprian. The question prompts an embarrassed shuffle from some of the watchmen, who look into their beers. It was not a guilty pause; simply the look of men who knew they had perhaps not put as many chits on the collection platter as they might have.

"Of course, of course!" The chief watchman's voice has lost a little of its bluster. "We'm all good aethelmen here. Just know you that the City draws a throng from all over, and some folk have different ideas about their gods. As a man o'watch, you have to understand that folk from Midrike might act a bit missen or unsamely during Leaf-fall; or that it's befitting of a good Shining County man to be about at night, when his gods – who are under the Emperor –" he adds hurriedly "– won't mind him working." One or two of the other watchmen nod sagely. 

"Take Ceelred here." The chief watchmen uses his flagon to indicate a watchman at the far end of the table. A long, ragged and badly-healed scar runs all the way down his face and neck, bisecting his scrubby beard into uneven portions. The watchman shrugs his collar up, a surly look on his face. "He won't get into any more flites with Yndbürchers." He eyes the scarred man. "What was it you said, Ceely? 'What use are your three gods if they won't wash the colour off you'?" He looks back at Cyprian as the watchman hunches further over, turning his back on the group. "Serves the dwease rightwise. If'n you ask me, it's noworth to ask about gods. Long as the Emperor's above 'em all; you kin worship who you like, I says."

One didn't rise in the Inquisitorion without understanding the difference between useful talk and idle gossip. Cyprian was a very resourceful man – not to mention a good interrogator – but he wanted to get away. The room was hot, and where that had been a welcome change to the bitter wind outside, now it felt smoky and oppressive. The fire and sour beer and dim light, and the ugly laughter of the watchmen, was giving him a headache. He put his jar of beer down. 
"Do I get the job?"

The chief watchmen paused then. He sat up. Slowly, he took a pull of beer, his gaze not leaving Cyprian. The room didn't fall silent, but there was a slight hush. 
"Aye." He nodded. "Aye, y'do. There's not many as want the chore, and the war's taking away those as might once have. You begin this moonturn – two turns hence, ken?" Cyprian nods, to indicate he understands. "I'm not iwis to the reason you're here, outlander, but He-above knows that the nichtwacce need all the men we can get."

Northgrass is stung. Job or not, he's here to get information about the Sun-King. "He-above? You mean the Emperor, or King Sciriusc?" queries Cyprian, trying too hard to sound nonchalant. The chief watchman gives him a curious look, and is just about to speak when he is interrupted by one of the other watchmen.

"Euch! Gods and cyngs, gods and cyngs! Don't get started on gods again, Pious Pete. Aren't you gabby about anything else? My rede to you is to keep your trap shut about gods, or you'll end up with a pink zipper on your outerskin like Ceelred there. There's enough to do, with lant-horn lighting and bell-aringing, that you won't have any time to go bewending folk to your beliefen. Just know that the city's home to a few creeds, and you'll be fine." His outburst over, the man hunches back over his beer as the others nod sagely.

"Right." Says Cyprian. "Right." He nods. He is aware that he is more drunk than he feels. He stands.

The chief watchman nods to him and raises his tankard to Cyprian. The gesture is joined, a moment later, by the unenthusiastic salutes of the four or five other half-drunk watchmen who are paying attention. 
"See you in two turns' time, fresh-fleisch. Get yourself a cloak. It's cold. We'll have a hood for you." Cyprian nods, half-smiles. The belligerent watchman seems to have mellowed.
"Mind the morning light when you go out – it'll catch you by surprise!" he calls, to familiar laughs from about.

He is halfway to the door when the chief watchman calls him again. 
"Oh, and welcome to the nichtwacce, Pious. Get your fill of daylight now. You won't be seeing much of it from here on in."


Odie said...

Well done. I'm really enjoying both the figures and the fiction for this project. If you're not already, you should consider putting the Sunne Cyng saga together as a playable campaign.

Stygianheart said...

Wonderful, a characterful figure and great fiction.

KrautScientist said...

Excellent job, once again! This has been a brilliant read, and it actually made me like the model even more (it does a great way of explaining the somewhat peculiar clothes, for one) ;)

apologist said...

Sounds like a very interesting idea... I shall have to have a good think about that. :)

apologist said...

Ta very much – and thanks for commenting :)

apologist said...

Thanks. When he's properly finished, I'll write up a bit more of his story to explain the skull decoration.