Sometimes getting exactly what you’ve been searching for can be the last thing that you want. That’s particularly true when what you’ve been searching for is as volatile as a stick of dynamite. To complete the metaphor it’s worth noting that in the past I’ve had a somewhat “incendiary” effect on the people I’ve come in contact with.
“That was close.” Way said, her eyes still wide with surprise.
“I didn’t say too much did I?” I asked, feeling like I was standing on pins and needles.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“That’s good. We’ve still got some time then.”
We’d been searching for the dreamweaver that we suspected was involved with Kari’s fateweaving. The problem wasn’t so much that we’d found her, the problem was that she’d found us.
Under the best of circumstances, meeting a dreamweaver was something we needed to handle with care. The transition between being able to subconsciously manipulate reality and being fully awake to that capability was one of the most profoundly life altering experiences any sapient being could have. It was birth and death and transformation all rolled up together. It was different for each dreamer but there was one consistent element for everyone who experience it – you were never the same person afterward.
That’s why no matter how forgiving the world was, no matter how open to change or accepting reality could be, we treaded carefully. It was difficult because we could never explain things fully without running the risk that the explanations would “complete the circuit” and provide the last piece needed to wake up the dreamweaver.
In the case of a world like Earth Glass, things were even more precarious. A dreamweaver’s awakening didn’t threaten to end only their own life, it threatened everything there was. That’s why we needed to be careful. Way and I had both been throwing around about as much dream magic as Earth Glass would allow. It wasn’t observable by any regular inhabitant of the world, but to a dreamweaver it would be like a faint scent they couldn’t quite make out. If something drew their attention to it, they wouldn’t be able to let it go.
“What do we do next?” Way asked.
“Stay away from the Night Warder.” I said.
“I think that will be harder than it sounds.” Way said.
“Yeah, she’s caught up in Kari’s fateweaving. It’s going to be tough to do anything about that without knowing what the other major players are doing though.” I said.
“Can we risk investigating them?”
“I think we have to. We’ve got a new player in the game, but the fateweaving has them all joined together. Whatever one of them does will affect the others so any one of them could push the dreamweaver to the point where she wakes up.”
“What about Stone and his bodyguard?”
“Obviously not the dreamweaver.” I said with a short laugh.
“I can see why you got an ‘A’ in your Deductive Reasoning class last year.” Way teased me.
“Hey, I worked hard for the ‘A’!” I objected.
“I seem to recall you spending the week before the final test dreaming you were Miss Marple.”
“Cramming counts as working hard!” I said with a much-put-upon pout. Skills learned while dreaming don’t tend to stick around but with enough concentrated dreaming they can linger long enough for you to pass an otherwise brutally hard final exam.
Way gave me a dubious look in response to that. I was tempted to protest that the workload I’d been carrying all but required cramming, but that wasn’t an argument I was going to win. In retrospect, I had to agree with her on the foolhardiness of working so much. I’d learned a lot but I’d trade any two of my ‘As’ to spend the time with her instead.
“Anyways, Stone’s not our dreamweaver but he’s still one of the keystones of the fate weaving. I’d been hoping we could nudge him out of it but if the Night Warder was looking for him then he’s still got some kind of role to play.”
“His bodyguard too.” Way observed.
“Yes. It could just be in his role as a bodyguard though. The Night Warder said she was looking for ‘these two’, not just Stone.”
“That’s interesting, I’d missed that.”
“It surprised me – people don’t usually notice the guards like that, and I think Eddie Stone is the kind of guy who wants all the attention for himself. I don’t think he’d be happy to be considered ‘one of those two’.” Way said.
“Probably not. I am painfully curious what the Night Warder wants with the two of them though?”
“To hard to speculate. We don’t know anything about how she fits in with this.”
“Yeah, she’s not part of the original urban redevelopment deal.” I agreed.
“Unless she is. What if she lives in Fairbanks?” Way asked.
“So however the deal turned out, she’d be directly affected by it? That makes a lot of sense actually.”
I thought about it. Kari had tied her fateweaving to the urban redevelopment deal between the city, Guy McIntyre and Cranston Smythe. Eddie Stone had been swept up in it because he controlled most of the large construction companies in the city. If the Night Warder was only connected to Eddie Stone then she should have pulled him out of it.
In fact, he should have been pulled out of the deal since the bidding on it was being opened up on a national level. That meant that much bigger companies than Eddie’s were going to be able muscle in on the action. Eddie was a big player on a city level but on the national scale he was strictly a small fry.
So Eddie hadn’t roped in the Night Warder. It had been the reverse.
“The Night Warder needed Eddie Stone and his bodyguard, why?” Way asked.
“Because with his bodyguard, Eddie still looks like he’s in charge. Alone, with the Chimera Club in ruins, he’s beaten. His Lieutenants would turn on him in a heartbeat.” I said, reasoning it out as I spoke.
“If he’s still in charge then he’s still got the power to order his minions around.”
“How would that help the Night Warder though?” I asked.
“Maybe she needs a small army?” Way guessed.
“What would she need…” I started to ask and then stopped myself as an idea hit me. “The Brotherhood of the Dragon.”
Way looked at me and frowned in agreement.
“They have more than just a few assassins don’t they?” she asked.
“Yeah. They have at least enough men to risk an open assault on the Chimera Club and to leave an ambush group for us in the secret escape tunnel.” I said.
“Speaking of that, how did they even know about the secret tunnel?”
“They had to have been planning this for a while.”
“So it’s whoever’s behind the Brotherhood is someone who had a reason to want to kill Stone.” Way said.
“Well that narrows the list down to nearly everyone who’s ever met or heard of him.” I teased.
Way glared at me, but I felt it was fair after her earlier teasing. We really didn’t have any idea why someone would want to kill Eddie Stone because the list of motives ranged from “revenge for my murdered family member” to “have you met the guy?”.
“Wait! The Brotherhood wasn’t there for Stone!” I said, as a memory came back to me. “I was groggy from the knock-out gas so I didn’t latch onto the idea properly at the time but the moustached guy. He told us what they wanted!”
“I don’t know if I heard it, I had to sleep off a little of the gas than you did I think.” Way said.
“He said they were going to interrogate us about the location of ‘the hidden files’ we stole from them.” I said, an excited grin spreading across my face.
“Stolen files? But we haven’t stolen files from anyone yet!”
“I know! But this is huge! So, they were after stolen files which they thought we had, and they attacked us at Stone’s place, which they had researched and knew just how to take down, including his secret escape passage.”
“They were already planning to take Stone out and we pushed up their time table.”
“Right. It was a two-for-one deal. Capture us and take out Stone. But why leave Stone alive? I mean even long enough to interrogate?”
“Because of the files. Whatever is hidden in them is so sensitive that they have to be sure they’ve eliminated any possible leaks.”
“Right. Stone’s not a dumb guy. If he got his hands on anything that was likely to get him killed he’d definitely have backups of it somewhere, as a bargaining tool or just as spite from beyond the grave.” I said.
“And if they’ve been planning an attack on him, they’d know that. The problem is neither we nor Stone have the files.” Way agreed.
“Yeah, that would have made the interrogation fairly…lengthy.” I said.
“I heard what you said, while we were in the truck I mean.” Way said.
“What I said?” I asked, reviewing the conversation I’d had with moustache man.
“About making them regret hurting me.” Way said softly.
Oh. That part of the conversation.
“I…once this is over I need to ask you something.” she said.
My stomach felt like lead and the rest of me was envious of it.
“O-okay.” I agreed. I hated that we couldn’t dreamspeak with each other here. I have a very strong imagination and in the absence of comforting data I’m not immune from that imagination turning against me. In the beat of a heart it filled my head with a thousand terrible possibilities, each scarier than the one before. The worst part though was that I knew exactly how to fix the problem. All I had to do was talk to Way. All I had to do was ask her what she meant. But she’d asked that we wait till this was over. Part of my wanted to respect that. Part of me said I was an idiot for being worried at all. Part of me was afraid though. All the terrible ideas that surged through my mind? All I wanted to do was run and hide from them and pushing them off till the future was one way to do that.
“For now though we need to figure out what’s up with those files.” Way said, guiding our conversation back on track.
“Right. The files. Well, we may not have them but we can probably figure out what was in them.” I said, trying to unscramble my thoughts.
“Something incriminating.” Way guessed.
“Worse, something identifying.” I said.
“Secret society of assassins. They must have some local members who they can’t risk having exposed.”
“And enemies.” I suggested.
“The Night Warder definitely wasn’t their friend.”
“And given that they’re willing to burn down buildings, shoot cops and kill private investigators, I can’t imagine regular law enforcement would be fond of them either.” I said.
“Kill private investigators.” Way said and I could see the connection form in her mind. “I think we know who stole the files from them.”
“I think you’re right. Oh, yeah, that fits much too well.” I said, catching up to her.
“They didn’t know who we were while we were on stage.” Way said.
“But they knew that Shurman was meeting with his employer at the Club.” I said.
“Yes, but why kill him then? Why not drug him like they planned to do with us?” Way asked.
“Try this idea on: They find out that Shurman stole their files. They get to his office and find out that he’s meeting with his employer at the Club. Somehow they get a message to him that makes him think we’re supposed to meet on the roof. He shows up there and they try to ambush him like they did us. But he fights back. Maybe he kills one of them, maybe not. Either way they don’t have a choice, they have to kill him.” I said.
“It’s possible. Detective Shurman was a fighter, and he was experienced enough to see a trap before it was sprung.” Way agreed.
“So they’ve got a corpse on their hands but they don’t know who his employer was.” I said.
“Or why he was looking into them.” Way agreed.
“Yeah, they have to be paranoid and assume that someone is on to them. So they trash his office looking for a clue to who it was. Shurman didn’t keep notes on who he was working for though. I asked him and he said it was bad for confidentiality and too much work.”
“They staked out his office then on the chance they’d get lucky?” Way asked.
“They have the personnel, I’m willing to bet they staked out his office, his apartment and probably the top ten places we’d go if we knew what the files said. You don’t need luck when you have enough manpower to work with.” I said.
“I don’t like where this is going.” Way said.
“I don’t either. Their operative at his office sees us with a cop and realizes capture’s not an option. If the police get involved the whole thing blows wide open. So the lookout takes a shot and then comes in for the other kills.”
“He and I get into a gunfight but he’s recognized who we are, so he flees to report in to the rest of the Brotherhood rather than go out in a blaze of glory, or be captured and forced to spill their secrets.” Way said.
“And from there the Brotherhood starts targeting us. We’re obviously Shurman’s employers at that point. So they go to our apartment to wait for us.”
“And they find the security measures we put in place there.” Way said.
“We kinda shot ourselves in the foot with that I guess. We’d done enough to secure our stuff in that room that they couldn’t be sure they’d found everything or that we wouldn’t know someone was waiting for us before we went in.” I said.
“Especially if they’d already had Shurman almost fight off one of their ambushes.” Way said.
“So they burn the place down.” I said.
“That makes sure we don’t have a place to stay, and in the confusion they’d be able to pick us off from the rooftops.” Way agreed.
“And then you get the drop of one of them and his partner shoots him.” I said.
“They’ve been having a miserable night haven’t they?” Way asked.
“The Chimera Club makes up for it a bit. They had to figure we were connected to Stone somehow, otherwise why would we have met Shurman there right?”
“Apart from needing to maintain our cover and not having a lot of time? But they wouldn’t know that.” Way said.
“Easier to assume that we were working for Stone. He uses minions all the time. Then we get driven up to the Club with an escort of bruisers to keep us safe. We couldn’t have looked more in league with Stone if we’d tried.” I said.
“And so they attack the club, but why wait till everyone left?” Way asked.
“Simple: they’ve got manpower but they’re stretched thin tonight. Also take the King and you can find out everything his pawns have been up to.” I said.
“So what’s their next move?” Way asked.
“Well, they’ve lost us and lost Stone. Two more of their men are down. They could cut their losses and run at this point.” I suggested.
“Except for one thing.” Way pointed out.
“The fateweaving.” I agreed. They were a part of it as much as Smythe, Deckard and Stone. Until it was resolved, none of them would be free of its pull.
“They’re going to call in more of their forces.” Way said.
“Yeah. Which means we need to find out what’s going on before they find us again.” I said.
“The file?” Way asked.
“That and what Madelaine Deckard and Cranston Smythe are doing.” I said.
“And what became of Guy McIntyre.” Way said.
“Yeah. He’s at the heart of all this. We find him and I’m betting we’ll have the key to solving this whole thing.” I said.
“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.” a girl said as she dropped off the roof on a wire.