List of Lore:
“The Rise of Karras” (Unfinished)
“A Path Not Taken” (Unfinished)
ODDS AND ENDS
The Rise of Karras (unfinished)
Karras was looking at the book he had just pulled from the shelf when Brother Dovetail approached. His footsteps load on the stone-flagged floor, the fellow priest came up beside Karras, and glanced over to see what he was reading. Karras looked up at the man’s sallow face, and at the weak eyes. Dovetail returned the gaze, and felt obligated to say something.
“So, Brother Karras, dost thy work on thine new security cameras proceed well?”
Karras sighed inwardly, and lowered his hand, along with the book, to his side.
“Indeed, Brother Dovetail. Master Forger Garacon hath expressed great satisfaction on the functioning of them. I have even heard that mine work hast been chosen to be installed in Cragscleft!”
“Truly this is news! Thou hast solved the problems thou didst experience with them?”
“Aye, the cameras do now function as the Builder intended. Indeed, I do want to make further improvements to them, but the accursed Master Forger Masonson hast prohibited me from it!”
“Why, Brother Karras?”
“Oh, he didst say that mine ideas are too unconventional, that the Master Builder hast given us the technology and that it is not our purpose to improve on it. His lack of vision infuriates me. The Builder didst give us hands to work with, and didst give us the brains to improve the machines that were His gift to us. Are we to be like the Pagans, who use not their brains and so still build their houses of wood?!”
“Hush, Brother! Thine passion for our Order does indicate the depths of thine faith, but is’t that thou is thinking of defying the wishes of the Master Forgers, even the High Priest? Aye, the Master Builder gave us His machines and His blessing, but thou cans’t seriously be so radical as to rebel against our superiors. For ‘tis their task to interpret the Builder’s word, and ours to follow it. If thou dost continue with thine attitude, thou willst find thyself closer to thine security cameras than thou dost wish to. Cragscleft is the only destination for those who choose to doubt the Builder’s commands, or those whom He has chosen as our leaders!”
“I know, Brother Dovetail, I know. Yet, I cannot rid myself of these thoughts. I even have plans for a greater security measure, with great cameras of copper and brass that move by themselves and can do more actions than just raise the alarm. Our theology does not allow for such radical machines, but I feel…”
“Brother Karras, if thou art to continue this diatribe against our theology I will have no choice but to speak of thee to the Master Forger. As the Master Builder says, ‘When thou dost consort with thieves thou dost become one in the eyes of those who see’. I have no wish to end up in the cell beside thee. I bid thee good night, and warn thee that if thine attitude persists thou may be meeting the Master Builder earlier than thou dost hope for!”
With these words Brother Dovetail walked away slowly. Karras raised his head to look at the priest’s departing back. He luxuriously imagined summoning a hammer and shooting it at the robe that the priest had so disgraced. Karras hated the Hammerites, with a hatred that grew thicker and blacker every day. They patronised him, spoke condescendingly of him behind their back, treated him like a fool because of his voice. Most of all, he hated their blindness, the blinkers they had voluntarily put on themselves, the refusal to consider altering the Builder’s gift’s one iota. Karras had had to work alone in his workshop, patiently fitting the pieces together of his security camera, and begging pieces of machinery from fellow priests who were too set in their ways to see his vision.
Karras sighed again, and returned to his book. His cameras were incredible, far beyond anything built before, but he felt that more could be done. They could detect motion adequately, but more was required. He could feel himself on the brink of a revolution, an evolution of Hammerite theology into something far beyond what he had been taught since he had joined as a novice. He had made several attempts to put down his ideas, ideas that were so radical he had had to work by candlelight as the other novices had slept in their bunks.
His musings were suddenly interrupted by a great roar for help, and a sound like a blacksmith’s hammer on metal. The sound of metal on metal came again, and Karras started round the bookcase to find the source of the sound. As he rounded the wooden case he saw a dark figure fall to the ground, and a sword fall from nerveless fingers. A Hammerite guard stood above the man, his hammer raised for a down-stroke that would smash the figure’s head to pulp.
“Stay thy hammer, brother!” called Karras, hurrying to the man’s side. “Do not let thy blow land!”
The guard turned, surprised, and saw Karras standing there. Seeing a priest, he immediately checked the ascent of the hammer, and then brought it down to his side.
“Brother Karras!” he said. “I didst discover this thief on my patrols! He ist a heretic, and must be dealt with forthwith! The laws of the Builder demand it”.
Karras stopped the man’s protests with a raised hand, and bent over to look at the figure. The man was dressed in a ragged cloak, below which was a tunic and breeches. Around his shoulder the thief carried a shortbow, while on his back the priest could see the feathering of several arrows. He straightened, and looked up at the guard.
“Thou dost speak the truth, brother. This man ist a thief. However, we canst send him to the Builder yet.” The guard frowned, and prepared to open his mouth in protest , but Karras spoke on. “Hast thou considered that there have been no reports of disturbances at the front gate? Nay, not a whisper! Methinks this heretic must have entered a different way, one only his heretical mind knows. We must send him to Brother Inquisitor, who will find the truth”
The guard snapped his mouth shut, and then nodded his agreement. Stooping, he picked up the unconscious form and slung the man over his shoulder. He was turning to leave when Karras suddenly remembered how the man had addressed him. He stopped the guard, and said;
“Pause a moment brother. How is’t that thou dost know mine name?”
The guard looked down for a moment, as if in embarrassment.
“Well, Brother Karras” he said, “I hast heard of thine work with the security cameras, and wast greatly interested in them myself. Mine brother, Dikket, didst say that thou art a man of vision, who dost work wonders with thine hands. Being interested, I didst request this post that I may earn thy good will, and possibly become thine assistant”
Karras stared in astonishment at the big man, hardly believing what he was hearing. Here was a man who wanted to be taught by him. Not only that, he seemed to admire Karras, and was now staring at him with a dog-like devotion that Karras had never quite seen before. The priest was unable to speak for several moments, and finally managed to gasp out that the guard should take the man down to the Inquisitor, at his place of work in the dungeons.
The man left, and Karras stared after him in astonishment. Unaccustomed to positive recognition, or even recognition, he was left dumbfounded, unaware that the book in his hand was slipping through his fingers. The sound of metal on stone brought him back to his senses, and he bent to pick up the book. Walking back to the shelf to replace it, he could feel stirrings within him of something great, something revolutionary, something almost like the touch of the Builder’s hand. But they remained only stirrings, wisps of vapour that drifted on the edge of his consciousness.
He replaced the volume on the shelf, and walked thoughtfully off towards his rooms. He would have to find out the guard’s name, and then convince the Master Forger that the man wanted to be taught by him. It would all be very difficult, but Karras had met someone he had not before, and would not let the opportunity pass him by. However, as he strode towards the guardroom by the entrance, one stray though occurred to him. If his cameras had had been installed in the library, the thief might have been caught before he had reached the Technology section…
The sound of screaming and shouting woke Karras from his slumber. From beyond the door of his small room there came a most dreadful noise, screams and shouts of voices full of anger and passion. He threw the covers off and rose, and then went to slip his robe over his head. Attired, he went to the door and opened it.
A scene of utter chaos greeted his eyes. Men and women in ragged and dirty costumes fought with each other over golden hammers and other valuables in the corridor. Others wielded clubs and cudgels that smashed the delicate wooden panelling of the walls of the library. One man in course clothes lay insensible on the floor, clutching in one hand a bottle of sacramental wine. Red liquid dribbled from his mouth as he snored. He turned to look the other way, over the balcony that overlooked the main hall. Here too was pandemonium. Books and manuscripts, aged repositories of knowledge, lay scattered on the floor where they were trampled on by the dirty boots of the rioters. Bookcases lay on their sides, windows were smashed, and the rich tapestries that had lined the walls were now mere rags. The crowd of street scum were rampaging through the library, destroying it and wreaking havoc. In one area a group of Hammers were fighting desperately, raising their hammers and bringing them down on the heads of the mob surrounding them. Even as he watched one was hit on the head by a thrown cudgel, which knocked him forward into the vengeful crowd, which made sure that he would not be able to rise.
Karras was horrified by this, and then terrified when a scream from the corridor told him that someone had seen his garb. He turned to look, and saw a crazed man heading for him, wielding a captured hammer and shouting madly. Fanaticism was plain in his eyes, and he was screaming and shouting as he brought the hammer up to strike at Karras. The priest backed away, too frightened to remember how to wield his magic.
Then, as the hammer reached its apex, another one appeared above the man’s head. It was brought down, and the man collapsed on the floor. Karras stared with horror at the remains of the head, and then with nausea as he realised that the man was still alive, and moaning with pain. The priest looked up and saw his rescuer, a Hammer guard so spattered with blood his face was as red as his uniform. Blood dripped from his weapon. The guard saw Karras and shouted at him to come with him. Behind the man other Hammerites were laying into the rioters, and the priest averted his face as one Hammer swung his weapon up at the man’s face. The sound told him all he needed to know. Taking one last look at this room he ran forward, and the Hammerites formed a protective cordon around him. In the hall behind him, a crash resounded as a part of the carved ceiling of the hall fell inwards.
As they descended the stairs Karras looked ahead of him, and recognised the guard he had spoken with yesterday. The man towered over the crowd, and was leading a group of fellow Hammerites into the fray. Their hammers rose and fell, and the roars of anger of the crowd now turned into screams of fear as they fled before them. Rioters dropped the precious books and relics and icons that they had been carrying, desperate only to escape from the hysterical screams of anger and rage that escaped from the Hammerites as they hacked down with their heavy sledgehammers. Red liquid ran from beneath their feet, and Karras tried to persuade himself that it was not blood, but wine.
Suddenly the guard stretched out a long finger at a figure in the crowd, and the group seemed to redouble their efforts. Karras looked along the line that the finger indicated, at a hooded figure in the crowd who staggered under the weight of a body on his back. The figure looked familiar, and Karras searched his memory. Then the man looked up, and Karras saw the face of the man that had been captured the day before. He opened his mouth to shout, but then the situation changed.
An arrow suddenly appeared in the guard’s chest, an arrow that buried itself in the chain mail and the flesh below so that only the feathers on the end were visible. The guard fell back, surprise replacing anger on his face. His great form fell back into the ranks of his brethren. The fall pushed them off balance, causing their mighty hammers to smash down on empty air. The crowd took advantage of this, and the clubs and cudgels of the crowd rose and fell as the mob took their revenge. More red liquid joined that already on the floor, and Karras could no longer delude himself that it was the spilled sacramental wine.
The crowd, which had been on the edge of fleeing, gained resolve as a result of the defeat, and now came for the group of Hammerites surrounding Karras. The priest had one last glimpse of the unwounded thief hurrying in the direction of the privies, before his escort swept him away from the avenging mob.
“Brother!” one of the guards shouted at him. “Use thine magic on these heretics! Our hammers crumble against them, and we needst must beat them back so that we may make our escape!”
Karras nodded in understanding, and gathered his wits together to cast the spell that would send a fireball out towards the crowd. Even as he did it he was acutely aware that he had never before cast one in anger – merely to practice his technique. A believer in technology, he had been reluctant to wield his powers. Now he did so, and a hammer shot of from between his hands, to impact in the centre of the mob. He could not see what damage he had done, but numbly began to cast another. His escort were escorting him to the entrance, whose massive portcullis he could now seen to have been smashed asunder, and rent to the four winds.
Another hammer shot off, and this time Karras saw it impact on a man in course, workman’s clothes. The man was swinging wildly a stolen hammer, and Karras’s hammer hit him on the upstroke. The man released the hammer, screaming as his chest was burnt into a smoking pit, and the weapon went cartwheeling into the crowd.
Now the gate was close, and Karras was escorted through there. Beyond, in the street, there was a barricade, behind which were Hammerite archers and priests. Arrows and hammers shot over Karras’s head, and behind him he could hear cries of pain, the sharp crack as arrows hit the stone floor, the deeper bass as the hammers impacted and exploded. The air was sharp with the smell of smoke and blood, and the stench of roasted flesh hung over the place like a malevolent cloud. At the barricades, a crude, hasty construction of wood and stone, he was hoisted over to the other side, as his escort went back into the fray.
Karras was deposited on the fire step, and stood up to see beyond the barricade a crowd of Hammerites, drawn there by the violence and destruction. Next to him the archers fired volley after volley at the rioting crowd, who were now retreating from the rain of arrows. He looked into the crowd and saw crates of explosive and incendiary fire arrows being passed along to the archers, and whole groups of Hammerite guards. Beyond them was a line of watchmen and guards from the City Watch, and a contingent of burrick cavalry. The burricks, bipedal lizards that snorted and whimpered from their slit mouths, were controlled by their riders, who sat in the saddles clutching the reins in one hand and their straight swords in the other.
However, Karras had eyes for only one man in the crowd. There, talking to none other than Brother Dovetail was Master Forger Garacon. The man, dressed in the decorated robes of the Master Forger, was gesturing towards the library as he spoke with Brother Dovetail.
Karras, now raging with anger, jumped down from the fire step and ran towards the pair. Garacon saw him first, and raised a hand in grateful salutation. However, Karras ran up to him, and screamed at him;
“Thou art a Trickster, Garacon, the incarnation of a Trickster! Thou hast killed these men, through thy lack of vision and foresight! I curse thou! Thou art not fit to stand here in those robes; nay, thou art unworthy to join the Master Builder in his paradise!”
Karras was raging, screaming all his hurt and rage and fustration at the man who now cowered under the force of this. Karras was a screaming fury, furious, livid, at this weak man who now stepped back as he advanced.
“Thou hast killed them!” he screamed. “Thou didst reject mine works, mine cameras which I developed to guard mine brethren. Thou didst reject them, thou didst scatter my hopes to the winds, and so condemn mine fellow brothers to death!”
Brother Dovetail tried to lay a restraining hand on Karras’s arm, but the enraged priest shook it off. Karras was raging, livid at the destruction of the precious knowledge of the library, incensed that this man before him had condemned his brethren to death by telling Karras that his inventions were unconventional. And most of all, he was angry that this man’s lack of vision had caused a student to die, a student who was prepared to follow Karras, and seek knowledge from a man who had never been respected before. Karras now hated Garacon, hated the religion that had produced him, hated the religion that prohibited change and innovation, and condemned its followers to live with outdated technology. He loathed the reactionism of the priests, the scholars who stifled progress by bleating that the Master Builder’s gift had been sufficient, and that to alter it would be blasphemy.
Karras was faintly aware of other Hammerites turning in astonishment, dumbfounded that a priest would dare to speak to a Master Forger like that. Garacon had backed up until he had come to a crate of fire arrows and cold retreated no further, and in his eyes was true fear, and a certainty of death. His thin face was slack with fear, and his body trembled as the fear took over him. Brother Dovetail had been making feeble attempts to calm Karras, but now Karras turned round and swung his fist at the priest. Dovetail tried to dodge, but the blow hit him square on the chin, snapping his head upwards. As his eyes rolled up in unconsciousness, his body became limp and fell to the floor.
Karras turned round at the mass of Hammerites around him, breathing heavily, his heart thumping as pushed blood around his shaking body. His brethren looked at him in astonishment, their features showing that bewilderment, and their tasks forgotten as they watched him. One or two raised their hammers and began to advance towards him, plainly intending to silence him, and punish him for striking a priest. Karras began to cast a spell, but as he did so an arrow sped towards him, and hit him on the chest.
He momentarily glimpsed the green glass crystal that was the head of the arrow, and then it shattered into myriad fragments. The blow hurt him, and he could now see a green vapour had escaped from the crystal. His eyelids suddenly felt heavy, he felt tired and exhausted, and was now struggling to stay upright. He waved his hands wearily, trying to fight off the effects of the gas arrow. However, it proved too much for him, and as his eyelids closed the ground rushed up to meet him.
Karras slumped in his chair, and idly fingered his quill as Hammersmith talked on the other side of the desk. The man stood tall and straight, his hammer at his side, and his other hand holding a sheet of paper close to his eyes. Hammersmith held the paper close to his eyes, and read haltingly from the scrawled script there.
“Three men art now with the Master Builder, after they didst not exercise due care and attention when they examined the trap that thou didst order them to.”
Karras jerked upright at that, and looked up at the man.
“What didst thou say, Brother? Three men? Didst I hear right? Thou hast just told me that three men are now with the Builder? Didst they not listen to mine orders when examining the traps?
Hammersmith fidgeted as Karras stared at him. As the overseer, the large Hammerite knew that he was responsible for the men. The Bonehoard was a dangerous place, and Hammersmith was aware that if he wished to be able to study for the priesthood he so wanted he would have to impress his superiors. Karras drove his men hard, but the Master Forger Garacon had ensured that the priest was only given the laziest, most heretical, and most disposable men.
“They were fools”, Karras said, “who didst imagine that they couldst defy death. Why is’t that those heretics at the Cathedral didst send me only the most incompetent of mine brethren? When I didst request this job to discover the mysteries of the Bonehoard, I did not known that I wouldst be foiled at every stage of its implementation! Why, we have lost fifteen men alone merely sending those accursed zombies to their Builder! The only reason that we didst overcome them was through the grace of the Master Builder, in making them all depart for some reason.”
Hammersmith seemed to shrivel under the force of this tirade. He had rarely seen Karras so angry – the priest was usually cold and supercilious. He had thrown himself into the task of discovering the Bonehoard and its secrets with surprising passion, but the mistakes of his workforce frustrated him at every turn.
Finally Karras was silent, and Hammersmith was able to stop trying to avoid catching Karras’s eye. He took his gaze away from the moss-covered walls, and instead looked back down at the priest at the table in front of him.
Karras waved a hand to dismiss the man, and then looked back at his interrupted work. He moaned in anguish. Another three of his brethren dead – that was six in the past week. At this rate he would be through with the task-force before the Bonehoard had even been mapped. He had been eager to explore the place at first, eager to examine the long dead technology that had given rise to myths about the Bonehoard’s impregnability. He had to admit that technology was impressive. The arrow traps in particular were extremely skilled at filling his men full of arrows.
He picked up the quill, and fixed his mind on his work again. The weekly report to the Master Forger was due, and he had naught to report. The tombs were bare of valuables, as if a thief had stripped the place clean. Karras had seen with his own eyes footprints in the caverns, and a rope arrow that hung from the wooden ceiling of the Upper Vaults. There were several half-rotted bodies lying about, but none had any valuables on them. Karras, as much as he despised thieves and thievery, had a small amount of admiration for the man who had pitted his wits and his skill against the zombies, and won.
However, other prospects were promising. The dismantling of several of the arrow traps had revealed their inner workings, and he had hopes of being able to produce weapons of war from them. He had ample proof that they could kill. His lip curled in disgust. The Hammerites he had been assigned were the dregs of the barrel, the weakest members of the Order, who seemed better suited to life on the streets than as honoured brethren. They complained insecently, of the damp, the smell, the rotting corpses of thieves and zombies, and the arrow traps that slew so many of them. Their flesh was weak, and yielded far too readily to the arrows and boulders. If only they were encased in metal, that would protect them. Not that they were worth protecting, but if he, Karras, were to examine the traps then some protection would be in order
He was considering this line of thought, imagining men wearing and controlling suits of metal, when Wills rushed in. The man was breathing heavily, and in the light of the flickering torches he seemed to be covered in blood. Air whistled from his mouth as he sucked it in, while trying to retain an upright posture. Karras briefly glanced up at the man, and then looked up again and stared intently as he took in the sight before him. The man was desperate to say something, and so Karras waved his hand to indicate that he should proceed;
“Brother Karras,” Wills said “thine brethren hast need of thou in the Alarus Extension! We didst come across a trap of which there wast no warning, and Tabaris didst take an arrow in the chest. He hast me to request that thou dost say the Prayer of the Dying over him before he dost die in this pagan place”.
The words poured out of Will’s mouth, as Karras sat aghast in his chair. However, he was not thinking of Tabaris’s pain. He was only thinking of the delays, the setbacks. One less man to explore the workings of these precious traps, one less worthless body that had not accomplished anything before the arrow pierced his chest. Karras felt like letting the fool die as an example to others, but was aware that his hold over the other Hammerites was tenuous. Besides, Garacon had the ear of Markander, and Garacon’s worthless nephew was due to arrive at the site within a few days. He sighed inwardly and stood up, and instructed the man to lead him to Tarbaris.
When the pair arrived at the newly opened Alarus Extension it was clear that there was nothing that could be done for the broken body on the floor. Despite the hands and cloths that pressed on the chest, blood spurted out as the treacherous heart pumped the man’s life away. The blood dribbled down Tarbaris’s side, and formed red puddles at his side. It was bright red, and seemed to disappear where it met the red of the man’s surcoat. He screamed and bucked from the pain, his legs twitching in agony and his teeth grinding in his head.
Karras knelt down next to him, and laid his hand on the man’s forehead. At his touch Tarbaris quietened, and sobbed softly as Karras recited from memory the prayer for the dying. He felt hypocritical doing so, quoting a scripture in which he now had no faith, for a man for whom he felt only contempt. The man was weak and faithless, and his broken body proof of its vulnerability to arrows and the like. Karras though briefly of his thoughts of men controlling metal creations that would do their work for them, but then returned to the present.
Finally, when he had finished, he stood up and backed away. The Hammerites surrounding Tarbaris backed away also, and now the blood ran freely from the arrow wound. The doomed man was still now, his face pale and breathing laboured. The torturous sound of air in his lungs grew quieter until eventually his chest ceased to rise and fall. His eyes rolled up, and the man was dead.
Karras turned away in disgust at the body, and signalled several other Hammerites to pick him up and bury him. The Hammerite tombs that they had discovered were too worthy for this man, but he would stay there until they left, and could take his bones to the surface. Then, suddenly, an urgent thought occurred to him. He turned quickly to Wills, and said;
“Brother, hast thou disarmed the trap that didst strike poor Tarbaris to the ground?”
Wills gaped at the priest as if the thought had only just occurred to him. His mouth open and closed several times as his brain struggled to think of an excuse for his lack to do such an important thing. The man was saved by another Hammerite, one of the few mechanics, dressed in a dirty robe smeared with grime and mud.
“Yes Brother Karras, I didst make safe the trap after it didst spew forth its arrow to strike Brother Tarbaris. ‘Twas but a footplate that didst trigger it, and I didst resolve the problem by applying a boulder to it. Thou mayest rest assured that it will trouble thee no more”
Karras looked at the speaker, whose deep voice he recognised. He instantly recognised the figure of Brother Gibson, a recent convert to the Order. Aware of Gibson’s history, Karras restricted himself to only a nod, and then spun about on his heel to leave. He walked towards the main chamber so as to get back to his office, but then suddenly stopped as something caught his eye. It was a complicated assembly of parts, with a spring in the centre and several bolts and joints around it. Close by were several rocks, roughly spherical in shape, which looked the correct size to fit into the contraption. Karras stepped towards it in interest. He rarely had time enough to do any of his own inventing, the demands of this job trapping him to his desk all day. He had managed to make substantial improvements to his security cameras, but that was all. He reached out a hand to touch it.
“Stay thy hand Brother!” a voice shouted.
Karras jerked his hand away, and turned to see who would dare speak to him thus. He saw Brother Gibson running towards him in apparent consternations, and some of the other Hammerites frozen in shock. He was about to ignore demand a reason for Brother Gibson’s conduct when the man spoke again.
“I am sorry for mine rudness to thee, Brother Karras, but I do not wish to see thee hurt. This thing that thou dost see before thee is a new invention of mine, that I didst cunning develop from the traps that we hast been excavating here”.
“Indeed?” said Karras, interested. “It dost not look like any that I have seen with mine eyes.”
“Nor should it, Brother, for I do modestly claim that the Master Builder inspired me in mine work, and didst show me how to improve the traps here enormously. Dost thou see this spring? Thou dost? Good. If I load a stone such as this into the mouth of mine creation, and then dost press this lever…”
Karras gasped in shock and amazement as the contraption jerked to life, and threw the stone, the size of his clenched fist, clear over to the other side of the room. The missile moved with incredible speed, and hit the wall with such force that chips of stone flew out from its point of impact. Karras turned to Gibson, his mind shocked by such a display of power and technology, and saw the satisfied face of the mechanic.
“Why, Brother Gibson, this…this…this….contraption canst have been made by thee! Only the Builder dost possess the skill to make such a wondrous machine!”
Gibson smiled with pride.
“Thou dost speak the truth, Brother Karras. The Master Builder didst guide me in my work, and while my hands didst place the pieces together, it was His will that directed the pieces to their proper location”
Karras nodded in understanding, and then went back to examining the machine, as Gibson fetched a new stone to put in it. He was fascinated by it, by its workings, by this thing that could throw a stone far further and much harder than any human arm. Humans were weak at throwing stones – this machine accomplished that and more besides, and with less effort. Karras was enamoured by it.
Then, suddenly, his train of thought was interrupted by an unwanted intrusion. From down the stairs, being escorted by the Hammerite who was supposed to be guarding the entrance, was Lord Bafford. Karras’s lip curled in annoyance and disgust. If he hated his brethren, he loathed and despised the parasitic aristocracy that grew rich off of the benefits the Order of the Hammer had given the City. They were vain, pretentious, and arrogant, and treated Karras with condescension unmatched even by the Master Forger, Garacon.
Karras waved for Gibson to back away, and then went to meet the Lord, who now stood waiting imperiously by an ancient sarcophagus. Unconsciously, he slipped into the speech patterns of an upper-class noble, which he found made these arrogant buffoons more susceptible to his subtle manoeuvring.
“Ah, good day to thee, my dear Lord Bafford. Might I ask how thou didst brush aside the security that I installed with mine own hands at the entrance to the Bonehaord?”
“I entered, Karras, because your security is as good as your promises. Your little mechanical eyes have no more brains than you!”
“Come come, my Lord. Might I enquire why thou dost curse me so? The Master Builder frowns upon those who soil their tongues with the language of the Trickster.”
“Karras, you know that I care little for your Master Builder. With your Order in decline, with the Baron gone, and with the City Council in control, I now wield more power than you did when you visited me some time ago”
Karras paused here, worried about the turn that the conversation had taken. He could see that, surprisingly, Bafford was angry, and was too angry to try to conceal it. Normally the nobility, of which Bafford claimed to be a part, hid their feelings behind a cold mask of emotionlessness. Karras was apprehensive of the cause of the anger, and his eyes flicked over to where Brother Gibson had been. Bafford saw this movement, and followed it with his eyes. Karras spoke again, to draw Bafford’s attention away from there.
“My dear Lord Bafford, I know not of what thou dost mean. Art thou referring to the matter a few months ago, when I didst take one of the Builder’s accursed away from thee, and give thee in return my wondrous inventions?”
“Yes, Karras, I speak of that. You said that the man I caught stealing was a heretic, and that it was your duty to deal with him. I gave him to you in the expectation of a more severe punishment than those fools in the City Courts would afford to a mere thief belonging to a guild owned by Ramirez! I didn’t do it for those cameras you gave me, which now protect where my sceptre used to be! And now what do I find? A contact has told me that you released this Gibson, and that he is now working for you!”
Karras shrank back from the man’s anger, and made pacifying gestures with his hands. Bafford was livid, his face red, and spittle flew from his mouth as his tortured throat screamed at the priest.
“Lord Bafford, please, I beg of thee, give not was to thine destructive emotions. ‘Tis true that the thief of which thou speakest works for me, but he is...he is…he is a test subject, yes, a test subject. For my new inventions.”
“And you expect me to believe that, Karras? You really think I would fall for that? Do you think me an idiot? An imbecile? A taffer no cleverer than my guards?”
“Calm, please, Lord Bafford. Thou hast mine oath upon the matter. And thou hast more besides! Thou wilst have mine new security inventions, when they are completed and have been tested upon Gibson! Come, there is no need for us to end our agreement!”
“Very well, Karras! I will expect those delivered soon! Remember, you are no longer the patron, to crush me below your foot! Now I am the superior, and your squabbling Order will not be able to stand against me and the City Council.”
“Yes, my Lord. As ever I obey”
Bafford, thus satisfied, spun about on his heal, and walked away. Karras stared with pure hatred at his retreat back. He clenched his fists desperately as a surge of adrenalin burst through him. His anger and hate at Bafford, at his ilk, at the world that had heaped shame and derision upon him threatened to overwhelm him. Tears of rage sprung to his eyes, and he ground his teeth until his jaw hurt. He did not even begin to calm until the sound of Bafford’s shoes on the floor of the Bonehoard had disappeared. Karras was mad with rage, his dignity torn to shreds, and his soul keening for revenge against the arrogant lord. However, at this moment he could not do that. But there was one thing he could do.
He spun about and searched that crowd of Hammerites for a single man. They began to back away as they saw the expression on his faith, and their lack of backbone incensed Karras even more. His finger shot out, they flinched, and one man of them stopped dead. Karras beckoned at him, and the trembling man stepped forward.
“Ah, Brother Hammersmith. Wouldst thou do me the favour of placing thyself over here? Yes, just so. Come, come, why dost thou tremble so? The machine willst not fire without the control of a man, and ‘tis mine hands upon the controls. Surely thou canst not have a reason to fear me?”
Karras’s voice was controlled, and icy, as if the rage had crystallized into a hard diamond. The Hammerite Karras had selected was standing directly in the path that a missile would take if released from Gibson’s machine. Karras rested his hand lightly on the release mechanism, and spoke to Hammersmith as he did so:
“Now, Brother Hammersmith, I am sure that thou didst hear the words of Lord Bafford. While arrogant, and…heretical, he is also a most trustworthy gentleman. After all, he is a noble, and so thou wouldst expect no less. And so, when he dost tell me that he hast a contact within the Order, who didst tell him of the matter of Gibson, I believe him.
I see thou tremblest when I do speak. Dost thou fear me? What cause hast thou given me to threaten thee so? As I wast relating, this contact didst inform Bafford of the matter of Gibson. Bafford is a wealthy man, despite the loss of his sceptre from his Town House. An ambitious person wouldst surely wish to gain his patronage, especially when the patron hast so much power over our Brethren. Art thou an ambitious man, Hammersmith? Thou dost wish to study for the priesthood, thou dost want the trappings of mine office. And thou hast little love for Brother Gibson. Look not so surprised, Brother Hammersmith – I hast eyes to see, and despite the words of thine patron, Bafford, my brain ist superior to those of mine machines.
And why dost thou look so shocked at my words, Brother? Art thou shocked that I didst dare to accuse thee of corruption, or that I didst discover the matter? Look not wildly round for help, Hammersmith! Thou art in charge of the security, and thou didst let Bafford through to confront me! Thou wishest for mine office, mine robes! Thou knowest that if I fall thine star shall rise! Thou art a traitor, thou art a wretch, thou art an accomplice of the Trickster, and thou dost seek to sabotage the work of the Master Builder! Well, thou canst! See what thou hast rejected through thine hereticism, and see the power of the Master Builder!”
Karras had been becoming increasingly angry, and his voice rose in rage as the pathetic figure of Hammersmith cowered before him, as Karras had done before Bafford. The priest’s arm, and clenched fist, repeatedly crashed down upon the table, and Karras was uncaring of the blood that tricked from it. His voice now screamed rage and hate, and with a final smash of his arm upon the table he brought his hand down on the lever of the machine.
The machine spat forth its load, a ball of stone that shot with incredible speed to impact in Hammersmith’s stomach. The ball hit the chain-mail there with a clang, broke through it to enter the stomach. It smahed skin and muscle and organs as it travelled, before being arrested in its flight by the chain-mail at the back of Hammersmith’s clothes. The stone snapped the spine and destroyed in internal organs, and the Hammerite toppled to the ground as blood spewed forth from his mouth and stomach. He twitched weakly as his mouth screamed silent agony, and then after a final convulsion he was still.
Karras looked at the man, his anger sated but still there. He thought of the weakness of the flesh, of the mind, of the dedication to the Builder’s teachings. Of how frail and susceptible the body was to stones and arrows, of how frail the mind was, and how susceptible to dishonesty and heresy. He though of what he had been considering before, of the suits of metal to protect men’s bodies. Now he wondered if there was a way to protect a man’s mind from the teachings of the Trickster.
He turned, and looked at the crowd of Hammerites. They stared back at him, terrified by this display of power. He thought of how weak they were, how they and their former taskmaster had yielded before the Builder’s gifts, and how the machine of iron and brass had taken a flawed life so easily. He waved his hand and they left, running to get away from him. Karras returned to his office more slowly, thinking of the revelation he had had, and still livid with his treatment at the hands of Lord Bafford.
And blood still dripped from the dead Hammersmith’s mouth onto the uncaring floor.
“Blessed be the Master Builder, who we see in His Works”be the Master Builder, who we see in His works”
“Blessed be the Master Builder, who we see in His Works”
“Blessed be the Master Builder, whose power endureth forever”
“Blessed be the Master Builder, whose power endureth forever”
The service finished, Karras turned from the altar, and allowed his gaze to rest on his congregation, arrayed on the pews that stretched to the back of the small nave. His place on the raised platform with the altar allowed him to look down on the mass of people within the nave. The temple was small, yet filled with devoted followers, former Hammerites who had likewise seen the error of their ways. For Karras no longer thought of himself as a Hammerite, but as someone new, someone different, someone…better.
“Mine loyal followers,” he began, in his characteristic speech “as a boiler doth fill with the steam that giveth it its power, so our humble temple doth fill with thou, the steam that giveth the Builder His power. ‘Tis a great sight to see that so many of thee hath seen the light of mine teachings, and forsaken the erroneous precepts of our mistaken friends the Hammerites. ‘Tis even greater to see how our influence among the heathen rabble of this City doth grow and swell as our great inventions, from thine own hands, doth win over these feeble and shallow shadows.”
“Soon even they will know the sweet savour of the Builder’s presence. Let it be thine duty to aid these sorry specimens to find the Builder in the beauty of our buildings and our machinery. This I command thee, this I urge thee, and this I release thee that thee may go forth and bring the light of the Builder’s teaching to those around thee!”
Karras gestured with his hands, and two men seized the heavy doors at the end of the nave and pulled them open. He sighed unobtrusively at the mens’ clumsy effort, for their strength was not such that the doors opened smoothly, as befitted such fixtures in the Builder’s dwelling. Such a job would be better entrusted to machines – ‘twould be a simple job to arrange such a machine as to open heavy doors on command. But alas, the full might of his order’s mechanical capability was focused on winning favour with the barbarian nobility – and with another project. Karras smiled as he thought fondly of what was the crowning glory of the mechanical sunrise that his order had unleashed.
Later, dispensing with the ornate robes he had been wearing for the service, he dressed in the simpler robes he himself had designed – simpler, but not so simple as not to command respect – and slowly walked from his private suite of rooms to one of the larger rooms surrounding the nave. As he approached the door the mechanical eye, surveying his approach, blipped slightly, but settled down into its normal routine, scanning the corridor along which he had just approached. Karras was relieved. Developing the mechanical eye had been a complicated process – the design he had first completed at Cragscleft had proved to be temperamental, and it was only after extensive development that the internal workings of the eye had been completed to his satisfaction. And the satisfaction of the City Watch, to whom Karras had sold several. Gordon Truart, the Sheriff of Shoalsgate and de facto ruler of the City, had been most pleased, and Karras had made a powerful friend.
He passed through the door that the eye watched, and entered the largest of the workshops that the temple held. No one was there, but in a corner sat the fruit of many hours of labour – both Karras’s and his followers. A mechanical beast, a great automaton capable of moving, recognising a friend and foe, and bringing down the Builder’s wrath upon the foe with a weapon using the newly-discovered gunpowder. Karras smiled as he silently contemplated the machine. His absent-mindedly played with a small cog, his fingers spinning the little gear around again and again as Karras lost himself in the sheer perfection of the robot. Flawless, possessing none of the impure tendencies that plagued humankind, an unblemished mind with which to worship the Master Builder.
He was brought back to the world of the present by a quiet cough behind him. He turned around, to see his aide, Brother Stoneson, standing at the entrance to the workshop, with Brother Coltus, the man who had done the most to develop the machine, standing behind him. Stoneson inclined his head down in respect, and spoke.
“I hesitate to disturb mine master when thou is thus engaged in such contemplative matters, but it was the judgement of Brother Lermann that the matter should be brought before thee in the utmost haste, it being his opinion that it was of importance to thee, considering that…
“Speed thine words, Brother,” said Karras, growing quickly weary of his aide’s prevarication, “what be this matter that dost demand mine attention?”
“High Priest Markander has presented himself at gate, Brother Karras, with his entourage, and seeks an audience with thee immediately”
Karras’s lip curled contemptuously at the thought of the old priest, and the expression on his face was so malevolent that Stoneson paled slightly, fearing his principal’s anger. Karras had nothing but hatred and contempt for the doddering old man that the decreasing numbers of Hammerites adulated as the High Priest of their order. In Karras’s opinion that man was weak and flawed, unworthy to lead a service, let alone the Hammerite Order. He’d been weak before the affair with the Trickster’s beasts, he’d been weaker after it, and had lately been presiding over an order that had lost direction and drive, and was no longer worthy to worship the Master Builder. The malevolent expression remained on his face as he directed Stoneson to prepare the audience chamber, and direct Markander there. Then Karras stormed from the room, thoughts of mechanical purity forgotten in his hatred of Markander.
The audience chamber was smaller than the workshop, a medium-sized room with a raised seat at one end, and chairs lining the sides. Karras used it when he spoke with officials, petitioners or potential contractors. Now a line of Hammerite guards circled the room, their massive war hammers gilded and blued, the steel polished, their uniforms looped with gold threads and decorative frogging. They were not mere guardsmen – they guarded the High Priest. The High Priest himself, aged and frail, sat on a chair at the side of the room, wearing his decorated robes that showed his status within the order.
Karras entered the room, accompanied by a small force likewise armed with war hammers, but with considerably less ornate uniforms. The two groups exchanged barbed stares with each other. Karras settled into the chair at the end of the room, and waited for Markander to make the first move. Both men stared at each other for several seconds, until finally the High Priest slowly pulled himself upright, and stood in front of Karras. He was plainly uncomfortable there – not only was he frail and weak, but the symbolism of him standing before a renegade priest sitting upon his throne was potent and telling.
“Brother Karras,” he said, in a weak voice “I have come unto thee to ask, nay demand, that thou return to the Order. Our beloved Order of the Hammer hast sore suffered since the time of the Trickster’s minions, and we needeth every mind open to the Builder, every hand willing to do his work, that our Order might once again render unto all the Builder’s teaching. We demand of thee that thou combine thine might into ours… ”
Karras sat still in his chair during this speech, giving no sign as to the effect that the High Priest’s words were having upon him. But when he heard this, he stood up from the chair, towering over the old man, and shouted;
“Markander, thou canst take thine demands and feed them to the Burricks! The Order of the Hammer is no longer mine Order, nor the order of any of mine followers here.” His wave took in his followers standing around the room. “We have rejected thine flawed beliefs, for we hath seen in what stead those beliefs have held thee. Thou mayest ask, thou mayest demand, but we shall never return unto thee!”
“Brother Karras, mine Order is thy Order! The Hammerites have endured for generations. Thine ‘order’ is but a new building upon Hammerite foundations. Come, join with us. We shall listen to thine demands, value thine opinion, consider what thou doth ask. But this poisonous schism between us must heal. Our Order has endured the animosity of the peasantry, the nobility; the animosity of all. Yet when we are divided we will surely yield and be scattered. Thou MUST heal the chasm if our order is to survive.”
“Thou wouldst value mine opinion?! Thou wouldst listen to mine demands?! Thou dost lie!” Karras screamed in rage. “Thou didst not value mine opinion when I was part of thee. So why shouldst I hear thee now?! For years thou didst reject me and shun me, and now thou dost insult me by thinking that I will be swayed by thine pleading. Enough! I have heard enough from thee. Begone!!”
Karras screamed this, and flecks of spittle flew from his mouth in his passion. He towered over the frail old man, who seemed to cringe in the face of such anger. Markander was old and tired, too weak to compete with the youth and vigour that Karras was confronting him with.