Where the Wind Blows Wild: Part Ten
For a short, pudgy old Bruce, Marius was fast. Desperation probably helped – Corbin knew that he could beat any professional Yooyuball forward in a sprint if he had a large enough angry mob at his back. He also knew this town a lot better than Corbin and Kell did, and the two of them were hard-pressed to keep the old mayor in their sight.
Kell asked, panting, "What will we do when we catch him?"
Good question. Corbin guessed, "Tell him that he'll either go to the Defenders or Masila, and which one we give him to depends on how cooperative he is?"
Kell said, "Quick, nasty, and actually stands a chance of working. I like it."
Corbin rolled his eyes. "Make up your own plans first. Then criticize mine." Then he almost tripped over a rock in the street – he hoped Kell hadn't seen, but when he saw his little brother's smirk in the light of a streetlight that they passed, he knew he'd had no such luck.
They could still hear the fight ringing in the town square, but Corbin doubted Marius was headed that way. He hadn't sounded like he liked the idea of becoming a man of action.
Cautious. That was it. If he had any proof of his association with Masila and the gang of bandits she'd accrued, he'd want to destroy it. Corbin said as quietly as he could, "We need to keep following. He might lead us to what we need to prove he's a lying crook who shouldn't be trusted when he talks about Stone Shepherds."
Kell nodded and rubbed his hands together as he ran. Corbin knew the look in his little brother's eyes. This was personal.
It was personal for Corbin, too. The simple home of Svar, Magjan, and Khijik was a comforting, warm place, a place that the Stone Shepherds always welcomed them back too. That cave up in the high stone places where the wind blew wild was the closest thing the Monster Hunters had to a home anymore. It was bad enough that Marius and Masila wished to exploit a gentle, quiet folk who had never done anyone any harm. But they'd brought the Monster Hunters into it, too – and when they were brought in, they finished things. Their dad had taught them that, too.
Marius was running toward his house – he clearly saw that they were still following him, since he kept looking back over his shoulder at them as they all ran. Kell said, "Ten Neopoints says he turns around and tries to ambush us when he gets inside."
Corbin shook his head. "No bet."
Marius reached the main door of his house. Thankfully, Corbin still had his shield – he put it in front of them as they opened the door behind him.
Immediately, a crossbow bolt thunked into the wood. Corbin called, "Not all that friendly, are we?"
The next bolt was lower, and Corbin barely lowered the shield in time to protect his legs. Corbin looked up – the mayor was at the top of the big flight of steps, right by where the statue had been, holding a small crossbow. Corbin couldn't see whether he had any more bolts. "Really? I think we can talk better without getting shot at. I truly do."
Marius said, "What could there be to talk about? You stole my property!"
Kell retorted, "Well, you were going to use a bandit attack to restore your popularity so you could lead a hunt for the Stone Shepherds."
It wasn't well-lit in the entry hall, but Corbin could see how the mayor's posture changed – he dropped the crossbow to his side and leaned forward. "What do you boys know about the Stone Shepherds? Is she right? Are they real? We'd all be better off if we could take that crazy Acara out of the equation – tell me, boys, and I'll make sure you're well-rewarded."
Kell pointed out, "You just tried to shoot us."
Marius said, walking down the stairs slowly, "That was before I realized how much you could help me. And I could help you. Look at you – ragged clothes, ragged coats – don't try telling me that you have a better offer than what I'm giving you."
Their clothes were not ragged. Corbin ought to know, as he'd had to do much of the mending himself. But did Marius actually believe this? Did he truly believe that they were willing to trade their mission in for... for money?
They'd been with Kanrik – that was it. Marius probably thought that they were Kanrik's underlings. Though even Kanrik wasn't that motivated by profit.
Corbin laid a hand on Kell's shoulder. It was one of their oldest signals – it meant trust me. It wouldn't hurt to play along a little, keep him talking. Anything they could learn could be turned and thrown right back in the Bruce's smug face. "Sure. But why'd you mess with bandits?" He looked upstairs – he thought that he saw movement in one of the wings. Did Marius have more backup here?
Marius sighed. "It wasn't my idea with the bandits. Masila came to me and offered her services. Hah! But she had a point. Too many people in Brilforge just think I'm a silly old fool – they don't have any concept of a greater vision. If I'd helped in the bandit attack, it could have given me enough credibility to start a search. But if you boys know something – if you know where the Shepherds are – I won't need any silly war hero persona. I'm too old for that nonsense anyway. I'll be able to use facts. And then we'll have all sorts of scholars here, people wanting to see legends made real. I'll be able to put Brilforge on the map!" His eyes gleamed. Corbin had seen that sort of gleam before. Marius probably had a lovely speech about how good exploiting the Shepherds would be for everyone in Brilforge. But his real reasons were all about himself and his own wealth and power."
And from above, a very familiar voice said, "Well, isn't that nice."
Corbin looked up in shock. Kell cried, "Celestina!"
The old Kougra scholar was standing up on the same level as Marius, in the door to one of the wings. She was flanked by several men whom Corbin dimly recognized as inhabitants of Brilforge, none of whom looked particularly happy. Celestina waved at them – she still had her sword. "Good job, boys! I'm certain if we searched we could find proof, but telling us about the bandits made everything so much easier."
Marius spluttered, "But what are you doing in my home?"
Corbin was fairly sure that one tall Wocky was a blacksmith. He said, "We thought you might have collected some weapons along with your statues – came to see if we could find any. But I guess you gave them all to the bandits?" The man hefted a forge hammer as though it were nothing, and Corbin decided that he probably didn't need another weapon.
Marius said quickly, "But... the Stone Shepherds... you heard the boys!"
Now was the time for the lie. Corbin said, "You were shooting at us! What was I supposed to say?"
The blacksmith Wocky rolled his eyes. "Stone Shepherds? What do you think we are – a bunch of three-year-olds? Come on, Marius. Before we get nasty. You've got an appointment with the sheriff's cell, until we can get the Defenders up from Mirlinbank."
"And be quiet." The Wocky nodded at Corbin and Kell. "Thanks for the help, lads."
They waited until Marius had been led firmly away, trailing behind the rear of the group. And as soon as they were sure no one was paying attention, Corbin and his little brother exchanged high-fives.
"Up the stairs and down the hall – second room to the right!"
Corbin groaned under the load of wood that he was carrying up to the second floor of Marius's mansion. Celestina was standing in the middle of the atrium, directing people carrying books and wood for bookshelves.
Even though the people of Brilforge had all thought that Celestina was certainly crazy and probably a witch to boot, she'd taken charge admirably in the aftermath of the bandit attack. The fact that she'd led Marius to the lockup like a conquering general hadn't hurt anything. She'd been elected interim mayor until a more formal election could be held, and in the meantime she was moving most of her books into Marius's mansion and turning it into a library and art gallery. He'd already been given to the Defenders – they wouldn't be seeing him around here for a while. Likely not again, if the Bruce had any sense. Too many people had been hurt, and too many houses and other buildings destroyed when the bandits had set the inn's thatch on fire.
He set down the wood, and behind him Kell set down the basket of nails and the hammers that he'd been sent with – they were to get to work on constructing shelves. Celestina was thrilled to have her collection on display like this – though she'd kept the texts that had factual information about monsters safely in her own home.
Kell asked, "Found the missing stuff yet?"
Corbin shook his head. "I think they might actually not have taken anything." He'd only seen Hannah and Kanrik once since they'd left them to duel Masila. They'd been in the crowd when Celestina and Mondan the blacksmith announced that Marius had been behind the bandit attack. Kanrik had given Corbin an extremely sardonic salute from across the square, and then he and the little Usul had disappeared into the darkness before Corbin could fight his way through the crowd to get to them. Kell still held that they'd probably stolen something on their way out to make up for the loss of the Arnsian, but Grig and the caravaners had accounted for all their gold, and nothing else seemed to be missing.
Huh. A thief – a Master Thief – with some honor. Corbin commented, "I still don't like the guy – or trust him, really – but, you know, next to Masila he's not nearly as bad."
Kell shrugged. "Least we don't have to deal with him again."
They set to assembling the bookshelf, and were working on that when Celestina walked in. "How long will you boys be staying?"
Corbin said as he picked up a nail, "Long enough to help you finish this. We've promised."
Kell added with a grin, "Lady Mayor."
Celestina actually giggled slightly. "It is fun. And this building is so much more use as a library and a gallery – it was far too ostentatious for a single dwelling."
Corbin said, "Who knows? Maybe with all your books out for the public Brilforge will draw scholars without needing to bother the Shepherds." Corbin and Kell had made the hike up to tell them the good news – Svar hadn't shown it much, but Corbin had had the feeling that he'd been worried, and his relief had been palpable.
Celestina asked, more seriously, "Where will you go?"
Kell said, "Wherever the wind blows us."
Corbin added, "Wherever people and monsters need help. Don't worry, Celestina – we'll circle back to see you."
She sniffed. "Only when you need research done."
He shook his head. "You know better. But I expect to see this library in tip-top shape when we return."
Celestina drew herself up to a regal height, an effect that was spoiled by her giddy smile. "Oh, just you wait and see! And work on those shelves!" With that, she swept out of the room.
Corbin smiled after their father's old friend, who'd become their friend as well. Just because Monster Hunters worked alone didn't mean they couldn't have other people who were important to them. And their ties were strong enough to Brilforge and the peaks above that Corbin knew it wouldn't be too much longer before they circled back to the place where the wind blew wild.