Ísvaskur PreparationsThe short, robust laicar waddled about his shop with a clipboard in his hand. It wasn’t the largest shop in the Ruby Jewel, but it certainly had its regulars. The shop windows gave little away, since a lot of the goods were rare items and it wouldn’t be worth risking an opportunistic break-in. Not that a theft was likely in the Ruby Jewel, but one could never be too careful.
The plump man rolled up a silk sleeve and wiped the sweat from his reddening forehead with one arm. It was obvious in his purple silk robe embroidered with gold patterns, that he was the owner of the shop. Usually the task would be delegated to one of his clerks, but the terran was going to be leaving soon and wanted to count the stock with his own eyes.
One fat finger pointed to a curved sword clasped on a stand at the back of the stockroom.
“Songen sword, of course,” he muttered to himself and scribbled something down on the paper attached to his clipboard. Then he turned to the door behind him as loud footsteps reached his ears.
Through the doorway entered a demvir at least a head taller than the merchant. The lights of two artificial eyes regarded the other man with a benevolent stare that didn’t seem to fit his huge frame.
“Ah, Bolus,” the man greeted his metal companion. Every word was clear and pronounced perfectly. “Have you spoken to the Arctoans yet? They have been tranquil in all of our previous meetings, but I would not test their patience. The rumours of their ferocity must contain some merit.”
The demvir shuffled, the greatsword on his back swaying as he did so.
“I have arranged to --- meet with them. Only Joakim Solblað will enter --- the city gates.”
The way Bolus paused and clicked in the middle of a sentence was off-putting, but the robed shopkeeper had grown used to it.
Vaferis nodded as if he had expected nothing less.
“They certainly are an elusive folk,” he replied. “Honestly, I am surprised they agreed to aid us in the expedition. We are fortunate that Joakim is such a reasonable and well-respected man.”
Bolus stepped further into the room and closer to his master. The plump man turned from his checklist to face the demvir. Immediately, he noticed the letter in his hand.
“Complications --- with Amatus,” the metallic voice grated. Vaferis took the letter and pried it out of the envelope. His eyes scanned its contents quickly.
“So Miss Sulmare is unable to attend this expedition,” the laicar replied, handing the paper slip back to his assistant. A sliver of relief had appeared on Vaferis’ face. Had anyone else been the messenger, they might not have noticed it before it had vanished, but Bolus had spent many years with the merchant and knew his tells.
“I feared there might have been legal complications, as the letter was from Amatus,” the plump man explained, as if he had read Bolus’ mind. “The Vis know how many ravines I have fallen into throughout my endeavours toward organising this expedition. We must make do with having one person less. Unless...”
Vaferis stroked his beardless chin.
“Deniisis has plenty of contacts who could fill in the position. Perhaps we could ask him for further volunteers?
Vaferis returned back to his checklist. He approached a desk and slid a drawer out from the side of it, before scribbling down something on the clipboard.
“Write a reply to Amatus, informing him that we will adjust Fiora’s contractual terms after the venture into Arctoa. She can be a part of whatever follow up work needs to be done.”
Bolus’ neck creaked as he nodded.
“I will see --- to it.”
The demvir didn’t move though. In fact, he stood motionless, staring at the short, elegantly robed man as he closed the table drawer and continued to waddle around the store room, noting stock. When Vaferis noticed that his assistant had not left to write the letter, he looked up and stared back, a puzzled expression boring into the demvir’s artificial eyes.
“Was there something else, Bolus?”
The machine made a clicking sound and seemed startled, as if he had only just noticed that he had been staring.
Vaferis sighed and placed his clipboard on top of the desk. He knew what Bolus was about to ask.
“After the daemon --- attack, Nereus Salarctus visited. He asked a lot of --- questions about Deniisis Perfide. You seemed to come to --- a mutual understanding. You are supervising Deniisis --- without his knowledge, at Nereus’ request.”
“You seldom ask questions when it is not your business, Bolus,” Vaferis said, though his obvious disappointment in the demvir’s prying did not cause him to back down. “Nereus is an old friend, one who has an invested interest in Deniisis and has had since before he even left Pelagia. I can assure you my supervision of Deniisis will not bring him harm.”
“Then why so --- secretive?”
Vaferis hesitated, taking a moment to pick his words carefully.
“Because Deni knows Nereus and they are not on speaking terms. If he found out that I was watching him on Nereus’ behalf, we would likely lose him again.”
The merchant produced an embroidered handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his forehead.
“The last time Deniisis and Nereus spoke was in Pelagia. When Deni left Pelagia, we had no way of tracking him. Nereus called out to all of his known contacts to find out exactly where Deniisis had gone. I was fortunate enough to find him here.”
Bolus was silent, but his emotionless metal face stared holes through his master. Moments passed where the only sound was the periodic clicking that came from the demvir. The light in his eyes dimmed slightly. When it brightened again, Bolus nodded deeply.
“I understand. Is there --- anything else I can assist with?”
“Yes,” Vaferis smiled. “Gather all of my thickest fur coats.”
A flicker of light in Bolus’ eyes signified his bewilderment.
“You are joining --- the expedition?” his voice grated.
“But of course I am. What sort of person would I be if I placed all of this effort into organising the venture but did not participate? I want to see the wondrous ruins of the fallen city myself.”
The merchant’s beady eyes narrowed on his demvir assistant.
“I hope you are not considering giving me a lecture on the dangers of traversing the Arctoan Wastes. I won’t tolerate it. I am not like the other Commercium entrepreneurs that sit atop a throne of gold and command the world to do the work for them. Or have you forgotten how I found you?”
Bolus was silent for a few moments. He had awakened in a collapsed cave, the bodies of his brethren strewn throughout the dark. The first image he had seen of the world was the lifeless face of one of his own kind, its body crushed from the torso down by stone. Scattered pieces, an arm here, a head there. The lifeblood of the demvir that stained the cave gave the limited space a gentle blue glow. For months Bolus had dwelled hopelessly there with only the deceased as company. Until a young adventurer with a lust for gold broke through the ruins in search for a worthy treasure. Only to find one of the machinae that had never seen the light of day.
An elongated click sounded through the room as Bolus nodded his head.
“I will collect --- the coats immediately,” he replied in that monotonous voice. “May I take further --- time out of my routines to prepare --- my weapons?”
“Of course,” Vaferis nodded. “Take as much time as you need to prepare. I’m sure the clerks won’t mind aiding me in some of the more mundane tasks.”
With a deep bow, the demvir left the room. Vaferis released a breath that he hadn’t realised he had been holding in.
“That one will become more trouble than he is worth one day,” he muttered to himself and returned to his checklist. Everything had to be perfect before he left for Arctoa.