Sentinels

Chapter three: Fallen from Grace

Sentinels, chapter three: Fallen from Grace

Storyteller:
There were places in Tol where even the Regulators only walked in groups. A maze of corridors with flickering or broken lights, connecting abandoned warehouses and wrecked factories, leading into condemned tunnels and natural hazards. The walls, which elsewhere in Tol were smooth steel, were dented or ripped asunder, and in many places stripped away for the scrap metal, exposing guttering machine-organs that spat sparks and gave off unsteady, mechanical whines.

The Lumpen who dwelled here moved in the shadows, always with a hand on a knife or a crowbar, alert for danger or opportunity. They shrank back into alcoves and side tunnels at the sound of Force’s heavy steps making the rusty grating creak and groan. Those who did not flee her coming remained cowering in groups, watching her with wary eyes, not running simply because they were afraid that that would make her give chase.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force continued on her path, her eyes darting around the darkened alcoves. She looked for an individual who seemed like he might have some measure of power in this outside society, who she could leverage into confessing who Arbiter had come here to see, and why.

Storyteller:
She noticed a gang of burly thugs assembled around a man who was built like a brick. His eyes were replaced by a smooth metal panel where two red lights glowed, and beneath his arms, two oily tentacles lashed back and forth. Force recognised the type – he had fallen afoul of one of the machine-spirits of the Reaches, and it had taken it upon itself to “repair” him into what it thought he should be.

His gang stared at her with a certain amount of frightened challenge in their eyes, less cowed than the others. They had a powerful leader; no doubt they were used to ruling these desolate tunnels.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force strode directly over to them and faced the leader straight on. She nodded to him once, firmly. “I can see you are the leaders here,” she said, her voice tilted low without any of the condescending overtones she privately felt; she phrased it as an acknowledgement of the status he held in this place. “I am not here to make trouble for you. I simply want information about a man.”

Storyteller:
The tech-mutant tilted his head and grunted.

“Yeah?” he said. There was a slight whirring undertone to his voice, like there was some mechanical component to his vocal chords. The look on his brutish face was one of fear, and determination to not succumb to it. Above the visor that replaced his eyes, a black soulgem gleamed dully, surrounded by three red, tattooed circles, marking him as an ex-Populat who had become demoted to Lumpen for an act of violence. “What’s in it for me?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force smiled, a thin, grim line. Her claws unsheathed with a clean sliding sound. “I imagine there are many people in this place who covet your position. Do you think they might make a move on you if your compatriots… suffered an unfortunate accident?” As she spoke, she used one blade-tipped finger to point at each of the men surrounding the leader in turn. “Or perhaps I might just cut you up until you are feeling more amenable.” Her tone carried the worldless implication: you have no grounds to ask that question.

Storyteller:
The leader looked at her, the muscles in his face twitching oddly. It took Force a moment to realise that he was trying to glare, but too much of his face was metal.

“What do you want to know?” he growled.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“A man named Haqq.” She gave a brief description of how Arbiter had appeared with the Husk-Sculpting Apperatus. “You know him? Or someone who does?” She kept her face perfectly placid.

Storyteller:
“No, but…” The leader scowled. “There was someone, some good little Populat drone, who went snooping around here a few weeks back. Built kind of like you said. He wore a hood, though – you couldn’t see his face. Said he was in the market for some crap. Me and some of my boys tried to whack him, in case he had Glots, but he got away from us.”

He spat, clearly not relishing the memory of being bested by a ‘good little Populat drone.’

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force felt privately that Arbiter would have rather enjoyed showing these thugs some measure of their own incompetence. She quickly shut that thought away again – Arbiter was no longer a friend and her partner. He was an Apostate. One did not reminisce about Apostates. “Who did he speak with? What exactly was he looking for?”

Storyteller:
“Black market stuff,” the leader said. “He didn’t say what. First he was asking for someone named Brytt. Never heard of him. When we told him that, he asked who could get him just about anything. He said he’d pay us if we gave him info, and that’s when we figured we might as well take him for all he had.” He glanced at Force‘s still-extended claws and apparently decided to try to be more helpful. “If he kept asking, though,” he said, "someone’s bound to tell him to go find Inuss."

That made sense to Force. Arbiter had been gone for a while – Brytt had been the main fence for the entire Tol underground back when she and Arbiter had been partners, but he had been arrested and sentenced to death last year. Inuss was apparently his successor, though Force had never met the woman herself.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force raised an eyebrow at his glance to her claws; when he said the name, she sheathed them slowly. She nodded again before stepping back and then away in a smooth motion. “Which way to her?” she said. She almost felt a whim to thank him – but she supposed, being seen with a Sentinel and living would be lauds enough for his help.

Storyteller:
The leader snarled out a brief description. Force recognised the area she was directed to – an abandoned warehouse, filled with contaminated goods that no one had found the time or manpower to clear out for so long that it had become forgotten.

*

Storyteller:
The corridor outside of the abandoned warehouse were dark and dirty, with only a single semi-functioning lightbulb blinking on and off and spreading a faint illumination over the deserted stretch of tunnel. The doorway to the warehouse was large, made to drive vehicles through, but the doors to it were hanging off their hinges, making it look like the maws of a great, toothless beast.

Two bored-looking women in scruffy leather stood outside, each one holding a crowbar. They looked bored, barely bothering to check the ends of the corridor. They had yet to notice Force as she looked around the corner from one end of it, shrouded in shadow.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force continued on out of the gloom, watching as the women hefted their crowbars into a tighter, readied grip. “I’m here to see Inuss,” she said as she approached.

Storyteller:
The guards stared at her in disbelieving horror for a moment, then turned and fled in through the door.

“It’s Force of Brutal Necessity!” they screamed. “It’s a goddamn Sentinel!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force resisted the urge to sigh. Oh well. It was not as if this hadn’t happened before. “I seek your services, not your demise,” she projected loudly into the space beyond. “Although I will not be as lenient if I need to chase you.”

Storyteller:
There was a long silence. Then, out of the dark, foul-smelling maze of cracked plastic boxes piled on top of each other, a large group of men and women with knives and clubs appeared. They were marching in the sort of uneven formation that came from no one wanting to go first, and in fact no one wanting to go at all, but everyone being too afraid of whatever was behind them to keep from advancing.

“Take one step into my headquarters and I will make a fortune selling your body to the highest bidder, Sentinel!” a voice growled from behind the crowd.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Something that I very much wish to avoid,” Force replied truthfully, coming to a stop just outside of the threshold. “Since you have been so forthcoming with your intentions, let me do the same for you. You are, at this moment, not my primary concern. Even this mobilisation of an illegal armed Force is beneath my attention. That must alert you to the seriousness of my presence here. If you attack me, or do not tell me what I need to know, then you become my concern. Neither of us wants that.” Force rocked back on her heels. “Can we speak?”

Storyteller:
The crowd parted, and a fat, squat woman stepped forth. Her head was shaven, and her black soulgem gleamed inside the three blue circles, polished to perfection. She wore fine, warm linnens, unlike the dirty leathers of her enforcers. Feral intelligence gleamed in her deep-set eyes.

“What is your business here?” she snarled. “Force of Brutal Necessity, mighty, scowling enforcer of a tyrranical system! What is the difference between you and my boys and girls here, except that you bathe more often? You are just the Tripartite’s goon!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Citizen Haqq,” she said simply, completely not responsive to her outburst. The law is the law is the law, and she enForced it. Until recently it had been that simple. It was not something to be discussed with others.

Storyteller:
Inuss’ eyes narrowed. “Who?”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“A hooded man who came from the factories to seek black market goods,” Force expanded, her head tilting sideways and forward a little, observing her response.

Storyteller:
“Might be I met someone like that,” Inuss said. “What about him? Whatever he did, I had nothing to do with it! I’m just supplying things to paying customers, same as all those so-called law-abiding assholes over in the main tunnels do!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“I am very sure you had nothing to do with it,” Force replied smoothly. “But what he did is of great interest to me. Now, are you going to give me the information I need, or am I going to stay here indefinately, disrupting commerce and frightening away your customers?”

Storyteller:
Inuss scowled.

“He wanted chemical explosives,” she said. “Couldn’t help him there. The resource shortage is hitting me, same as everyone else. I got him some tools for advanced magitek work – guess he had some personal project going. I didn’t ask – not my business. And he wanted a place on a tram to Harmegis, too, so I greased some palms.” She paused. “It would have left sometime in Crystal shift today,” she said.

Force of Brutal Necessity:
“Did he say anything else? A pointer to where in the city he might be headed, or what he was hoping to accomplish there?”

Storyteller:
“What part of ‘not my business’ isn’t getting through that soulsteel-encased brain of yours?” Inuss growled. “I don’t ask questions, because the fewer questions I ask, the least reason the Tripartite’s laprats have to come and make me miserable!”

Force of Brutal Necessity:
Force tilted her head sideways and then nodded firmly. “Very well.” She glanced around the warehouse and its inhabitants one last time. She would of course have to report the entire thing, but the scope of it impressed her. And she had a feeling Inuss would be smart enough to relocate the moment she left.

Smiling slightly, Force stepped backward thrice, backing out of the threshold before turning around and walking into the dark. All in all, a passable day.

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