Royal Palace, 1883
The palace was in an uproar. The noise was overwhelming, and fire and smoke stung the children’s eyes. Gunshots echoed in the halls of the servants’ quarters, drowning out the screams. Gregor did the only thing a child could do, he ran, his baby brother in swaddling clothes clutched tight against his chest. He ran as fast as his new formed Verknemchelov feet could carry him. He stumbled into a room untouched by the fire and gasped.
A man lay slumped awkwardly against a bookshelf, a small sack laying open in front of his outstretched hand, and more money than the child had ever seen splayed out in front of the sack. Gregor had, in his eyes, gotten around quite a bit, he even saw a ten simo coin once, but this…
Lobby, Osvo Shipping and Receiving Inc, Rowe District, Gearford, 1891
The small man held is hat to his chest like a shield. His hand was bandaged where a knife had pierced it, and he favoured his right leg. It had been pinned under the body of a demon stowaway on his ship in the fighting.
A curious crewman had opened one of the crates they were carrying to the outskirts of Tull, to the west, and discovered a veritable nest of demons infesting the box. They were found to have eaten much of the stored food the boxes no doubt contained, but before the captain had known they had stowaways, fighting had consumed the ship.
He had lost three crewmen in the fighting and had turned back to Gearford to report back to his contact with Osvo Shipping, but had been manhandled, searched, questioned, and not allowed to leave since his return. As if he alone was responsible for the demon problem.
The enormous brute of a man before him finally nodded and stepped aside and he was pushed into a long empty hall. The hall was long with green patterned wallpaper and what looked like real wood trim, but the captain had seen it before. He opened the door to the room where he had taken that damned contract, the sole door in that long hall, and found it empty, save a desk, a single chair, writing implements, and what appeared to be a ledger book, lying flat on the desk.
The captain wiped the sweat from his brow with the cloth that once served as a cravat and let out a long, heavy sigh. ‘At least I’m on familiar ground,’ he thought, ‘besides; I’ve been through much worse than this. Without a doubt this whole thing would blow over and-‘
The door opened and a massively tall demon strode, as brash as can be, into the room. The thing didn’t even seem to notice him as it removed a heavy cloak and hung it on a wall hook. It was dressed farcically in a modern fashion, in a clean white shirt, black jodhpurs and double breasted vest, and black pants tucked into spats. It had those strange, long feet they sometimes had.
Insulted by the audacity of this servant, the man stuttered out a ‘Now you just see here!’ before a hand flashed out, taking him on the jaw.
It strode calmly behind the desk, sat in the chair, and began writing something in the ledger.
‘You can’t just-‘ the man began.
‘Oh I can.’ It said, before he could finish the thought, ‘and you will speak when spoken to, or that scratch will be the least of your worries.’ It paused, closed the ledger and set it inside the desk.
‘Now, Mr. Jennings, it has come to my attention that your crew had an altercation with some Vibranni stowaways.’
‘Err, yes, I suppose. There must ‘ave been hundreds of the bloody demons in those boxes,’ and added a ‘begging your pardon,’ at the sharp look he received for the slur.
‘Yes, and what exactly did you do with the crates, captain?’
‘Why, we opened the keel hatch and let them boxes fall into the desert. We’d have been overrun, I swear it! Only the two boxes opened, but those were enough to murder half of my crew!’ He clutched the hat fiercely, ‘I’ve apologized for the lost cargo, uh, even offered to cover the damages! But why am I telling you this,’ his confidence returning at the absurdity of this thing before him, ‘when is your master coming? I should have saved that for him, I-‘
The stern tone of the demon before him cut him off. ‘Murder? Interesting choice of words, Jennings. What was it that you did with the crates you suspected to be full of Vibranni?’ he put weight behind the last, as if it were meant to mean something.
‘We,’ was all he had time to say before it rose again, towing over the man.
The door opened again and a child burst in through the door. Not a child, another blasted demon. If he never saw another bloody-
‘Gregor! Gregor!’ the thing mewed, ‘I got it working!’ it produced a whirring device of some kind and threw it into the air, where it hovered for a moment, sputtered and fell back to the ground. It was dressed in the same absurd fashion as the older one, like it was some sort of noble.
The brute from the hallway barged in and picked up the little one, keeping the child the considerable length of his arms away to guard against his kicks.
‘Sorry Herr Osvo,’ the captain’s heart skipped a beat. ‘Alexei you will come with me.’
The door clicked shut and the man’s hat was strained to bursting. He managed to turn back towards the desk before the de-Vibranni, he had to remember that, began to speak again.
‘Now Jennings, do you wish to revise your story now that my brother has provided you with information you are too thick to discern?’ there was scorn near the last.
‘I- err, that is, Mr Osvo, I had no idea you were -I mean are- a demon! I assumed-’ He stammered and trembled. He was an idiot.
Gregor Osvo opened a drawer in his desk and removed a small ornate box.
He opened it to reveal an ornate silver three-barreled revolver and three bullets.
The man felt the seams of his small round hat start to tear but was too petrified to do anything but watch as the cylinder was opened and a single bullet raised.
‘Now captain,’ he said with a calm that shook Jennings to his core, ‘I will be straight with you. I used your ship to smuggle those people out of Gearford.’ There was a click as a bullet slid home into the cylinder. ‘My operation has done so for many years.’ Click. ‘And you, Mr Jennings, are a threat to that operation.’ Click.
‘No, sir! No, I won’t go gettin’ curious again! No not once! Why, I’ll do the next job for free! No charge!’
‘Your fee does not concern me. Your silence does.’ The cylinder clicked into place.
Frantically he looked around, ‘I won’t go tellin’ nobody, I swear! Please!’
For the first time the Vibranni smiled. ‘I’ll cut you a deal. You keep quiet about what you saw. Your crew keeps quiet. You take on a few more jobs from my company and you leave. Leave Antiford and do not come back. If you go to the authorities you will die. If you or your crew breath a word of this you will die. Oh, and do give a ciam or two to those ‘demons’ you see on the streets. You never know which of them may be in my employ.’
The way back to the ship was almost as terrifying as that damned meeting was. Who was he to threaten a respectable captain like that? All his crew did was get a little curious, that’s all.
He leaped and clutched his chest, a frail looking Vibranni dressed in rags held up a small cup. ‘Any change Mr?’ he asked.
The man was on the verge of striking the demon for his nerve when he found himself taking out a two ciam coin and tossing it into the cup. He pulled his hat down towards his eyes and rushed away.
Gregor’s Office, Osvo Shipping and Receiving Inc, Rowe District, Gearford, Ten Minutes Later
Gregor took the blanks out from the cylinder and put them back in the case. He placed the whole thing back into the drawer and removed a dark green bottle and a small glass from another. Trembling hands poured another glass. He managed not to spill any this time. He was getting used to this. That scared him. The undiluted green liquid choked him, but he didn’t have time to now. He needed something to calm his nerves after that stunt.
This operation was getting too big too fast. Lives had been lost, and it would only escalate.