Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 181

Claude felt the urge to follow the special operations unit to capture the two magi. Siklosian magi were still just as much a mystery to him as they'd always been. He didn't get the chance, however. The Watch leader had the thugs hauled away before having his blabber-mouth subordinate escort Claude to the tavern.

The escort was completely unnecessary, but Claude didn't decline. He understood it was a courtesy and apology, so he went along with it. Well, that and the watchman was likely using this as a good excuse to see where Claude was lodging and check on his coachman to corroborate his story.

The man slung his musket over his back and then tossed the cape of his uniform over the weapon. Claude realised why the figures looked so weird. The cape hid the weapons, but it resulted in an odd deformation of their figure. It made them a very unwieldy sight. He supposed the fact that they looked like some kind of occultists also helped keep unwanted feet at a distance.

"I'm Kleit Doram," the man said as the two took off.

His voice had a surprising air of warmth to it.

"Claude Ferd. A pleasure," Claude answered curtly.

Claude's suspicions were somewhat eased on their way back to the tavern. At least part of the reason, he was certain, for the leader's insistence on his escort -- besides the whole corroboration business -- was to keep him at arm's length during the most crucial part of whatever was left to do that evening. The man was even more of a blabbermouth than Claude had thought.

That fact fitted Claude down to the ground. It was the perfect chance for him to learn more about the Watch. One of the things he learned which had bugged him from the moment he saw their firearms, was that they were developed by the national firearms institute. Each was severely expensive, but the Watch had an expansive budget. They were responsible for taking on magi, after all.

He also got the force's structure out of Kleit. The Watch had eight fifteen-man bands, and another in reserve. Their sole responsibility was keeping an eye out for magi and hunting them down. The capital always had at least two units in it to protect the king and his councils. The rest would usually be out on training or deployment.

They struck Claude as quite similar to the old world's battlemagi. Actually, that was quite an apt description, since every member needed at least some sensitivity to magic, preferably they should have the ability to learn a spell or two. A long familial track-record of loyalty to the crown was another requirement, obviously. Members were selected from the qualifying families, most of whom were either nobles or patrician, when they were 14 and rigorously tested. Those that passed underwent extensive training in secret and inducted into the Watch when they turned 18. They then had to undergo a further three rounds of training before becoming full-fledged Watchers.

Kleit was a war orphan from one such family. His father had died in the war, and his mother of sickness and heartbreak not long after. He'd been four at the time. He was raised by his aunt, the last of the family, and they lived on his father's pension. When he turned thirteen, he was tested and found to be sufficient for further training. He was inducted into the Watch when he turned 18 and passed the final three rounds of training.

"Are you even allowed to tell me all this?"

"It's fine. They're supposed to be secret, but everyone even slightly involved knows everything."

Because you keep blabbing about it! Claude almost snapped. He supposed the man had a point, though. The Watch was a secret from most commoners, but they were hardly a hidden organisation within the right circles. For all his blabbing, as well, he'd not revealed anything Claude would have considered a real secret now that he thought about it. He'd not told him anything substantive about his missions, nor anything about their other operations or training regimes. Even when Claude asked about his musket, he just said it was powerful enough to kill any magi.

Kleit told Claude he had a few questions for his coachmen, to no surprise for Claude. Claude treated them both to the best meal the tavern had to offer, then headed for his room, leaving the two to the business of corroboration.

He had little interest in what the two discussed since he had not revealed anything compromising about himself to either. He thanked his lucky stars now that he'd not revealed his more magical abilities during the fight with those thugs. If the Watch had been watching the whole time, as he firmly believed they had been, then he'd not be walking around freely now.

Oask didn't return for two hours until two other tavern patrons dragged him upstairs and tossed him into the room, beyond blathering drunk. One of the patrons gave a quick explanation of what had happened before he left. Apparently Oask had gotten into a drinking competition with the man Claude had brought, and lost.

Claude sighed, thanked him with a copper, and dragged Oask onto his bed.

Oask had a fitful awakening the next morning. So much so that they were only ready to leave two hours behind schedule. They were stopped on their way out of the tavern by a couple other coachmen stomping into the establishment grumpily. They explained there was no point in them trying to leave since the city was locked down. No one was being let in or out through any of the gates.

The whole tavern hissed; most of the patrons were coachmen as well. None of them was happy with having to sit around. Every day they were held up was a day of lost income and increased expense. More than a few would also have to pay fees for missing drop-off or pick-up deadlines with the various mines in the region.

Oask and Claude had to try their luck, however, their time was tight, after all. They got nowhere, however, and had little choice but to head back to the tavern. They had so little luck, in fact, they didn't even get to speak to anyone at the gates. They didn't even get within fifty metres of the gates. They were stopped by warning shots some sixty metres from the gate. Claude even caught a glimpse of two cannons on the walls trained on the road leading up to the gate.

The story was the same at all the other gates they tried, so the eventually trudged back to the tavern. Oask, ever the born coachman, started gaggling with the rest of the coachmen, leaving Claude to his own company. Claude chose to catch up on some sleep and so spent most of the morning in their room. When he came down for lunch, the rumour mill had already churned out a dozen explanations for why the town was locked down. Most of them said something had happened in the mayor's family -- one said his daughter had been raped -- and that the mayor had vowed no one would leave the city until he'd had his vengeance on the culprits.

Claude didn't think much of them, however. The mayor did have two sons and a daughter, but the daughter was already in her forties and round as a barrel, not exactly rape material.

Claude went back to his room. He knew exactly why the town was locked down. The Watch was no doubt still hunting those two magi.

That evening confirmed his suspicion when gunfire and explosions rocked the town the whole night. News started circulating at around midnight that two fugitives had been hiding in the slums, and, when they were caught, started a personal war with the constables. No one quite knew why, but apparently the two had masses of gunpowder with them. The battle all but levelled half of the slum and badly injured ten people, though none had died, apparently.

So they'd gotten their targets, Claude thought. For all the destructive power gunpowder could inject into a bullet, Freian gunpowder was still decades, or more likely centuries -- considering the pace of technological development in Aueras -- from gunpowder that could flatten a house just from exploding in a room. Freian gunpowder ignited outside a confined space like a musket barrel was little more than a firework. The destruction had to be the work of spells.

Kleit came to see him in the small hours of the morning.

"You should be able to leave after sunrise. The lockdown will be lifted at sun-up. Also, we've cleared your whiteroot powder purchase. It'll be carted off tomorrow."

"I already paid for everything, why would it need approval?" Claude asked.

"You should know by now that whiteroot powder is used by magi, so of course the Watch would need to approve such large volume purchases, especially of the high quality stuff."

"Wait," Claude argued, "Didn't the manager ask me whether I would take the powder on the spot or have them delivered? Wouldn't I be able to avoid the checks if I chose to take the powder immediately."

"Yeah, you'd be able to leave the shop with it, but you wouldn't be able to leave the town before you were cleared."

The comment made Claude recall that his mistress had once said that amongst other things, the Watch was supposed to keep rogue magi from getting their hands on materials. If he'd tried to leave the town before he'd been cleared, he would have been stopped at the gates with some excuse and kept in town until he was cleared. If he wasn't, his powder would be confiscated and Claude was under no illusion they would just let him go without the stuff. He would probably be arrested, or detained at the very least, and interrogated.

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