Scene 4 - Interrogations
Groaning, I open my eyes and peer through the dust. The landing knocked the wind out of me, and I can feel three hot slashes across my chest that can only have been made by those razor sharp claws. My eyes are readjusting again, and suddenly I see something staring back.
It's a human skull; empty sockets gazing blindly, jaw bone askew in a comical lop-sided manner. And the massive tooth marks covering the bone lead me to believe it wasn't the fall that killed him either.
I give a cry and stagger up. It's gloomy down here and my face is coated in dirt, but that's no where near as bad as what the bastard did to my coat. I can't help but give a moan of distress when I see the tears in its fine tailored leather. Damned furry bastard, I'm gonna tear something in him when I get out of here.
The Beast Master's deep chuckle drifts down to me, and I snap my gaze up to catch his. He's back in human form, grinning absurdly. I'd give him something to grin about, if I wasn't stuck in the pit.
"Amergin, you son of a b!tch. I'll kill you. Get your ass down here; I'm gonna whoop it whether it's got tail or not."
"Oh, I doubt that, Bruiser, old friend," he cackles insanely. "I'm really sorry to do this to you, honest. But I can't let you go asking too many questions of me; I have every mob boss on Arreat watching this joint. If they even suspect me of revealing any of their secrets, I'll be up the mountain without a goat."
"You crazy bastard. Are you just going to leave me here to die? What happened to the warrior I fought beside?"
"He went the way of my leg, I'm afraid. There's no glory in being a hero anyway." He leans done the pit towards me, devilish eyes shining. "Who remembers your deeds of valour? For that matter; who cares? We're all has-beens now. Forgotten relics. There's no point in being honourable anymore; be bad, and reap the benefits!"
My fists clench and unclench. I can almost hear my tear grinding inside my skull. I hate being bested. I'm just beginning to search the pit wall for foot holds, when a blast of hot, foul air hits my back. The pit becomes alive with a deep, throaty growl, and I'm about two seconds away from filling my undergarments with garden fertilizer. The Beast Master is up from the pit side, and has his hand on a rope.
"Oh yes, I forgot. Meet your new friend. I'm very proud of him."
Amergin begins to haul on the rope, and the barred door in the pit wall slowly beings to lift up. The hairs on the back of my neck are already fully bristled, and the blasts of foul air are making me nauseous. But it's the two glowing eyes in the darkness behind the door that have me really scared.
And I'm not ashamed to say so.
When half a ton of raw, shaggy, slobbering beast comes out of the blackness to share a confined space with you, any bar room drunk should be proud to say his main wish involved a warm bed, soup and mommy. My back is so far against the wall I'm hoping I look a part of it.
"Behold, my ultimate prize for caring for all things great and small: The Warg."
The Warg lumbers into the pit, snarling through teeth so big they look like the scythes of Death himself. Its fur sticks out like wry steel; steel that might rip your skin off should you brush against it. Even the massive paws seem to dig gouges in the floor effortlessly. It's pissed about something, and I'm its chance to vent.
"Not long after the war ended, I found this little guy, cold and alone, up on the mountain. He was unlike any other wolf I'd seen before, and I knew he'd be worth keeping. Grew to the size he is now in about three months, and his temper grew to match; had to stick him down there for my own safety. Well, that and the fact that he ate my best carrier. Never knew cannibalism was in their nature."
The Warg is circling me now, biding its time for some unknown reason. Perhaps its casing me, the same way I do with my clients. Though I don't usually dine on my clients intestines once I figure them out. Slowly I reach for the sleeve of my jacket. No fast moves! Don't give him reason to lunge. He may have size, but I'm the one with the projectile weaponry. My trusty mini-cross lies attached to my arm, ready and waiting.
With one quick motion I pull up the sleeve and open my hand, expecting the crossbow to slide out like it always does. But nothing comes out. The Warg freezes in surprise at my movement, but when I don't do anything he starts growling again, more savage then before.
Idiot. You woman dazzled moron. You never even strapped the weapon to your arm, it's still sitting in your draw at home! I was so goddam flustered by Miss Perfumed Hair Skimpy Dress I forgot the single most important rule of all: never go anywhere without a weapon.
Well, now I was going to learn the hard way. Again. Idiot.
"Don't worry, he usually makes it quick." Amergin can see the panic on my face, and he's relishing it. "Goes straight for the throat. Yes you do, who's a good boy?"
"Dammit it, Beast Master, I am gonna rip you..."
But I never get to finish the sentence. The Warg lunges at me, and have only a fraction of a second to throw myself under its paws. The reek of ammonia and crusty dog crap hits me like a rake in the face, and I crawl desperately underneath the beast as its massive feet crash down beside me. I feel a yank on my jacket as snapping teeth clip the edge. He's only centimetres from taking off my leg.
The Beast Master can barely contain himself as he watches me roll over and cling desperately to the Warg's underbelly, braving the steely fur and overpowering stench. The wolf goes crazy and begins to buck like a rabid bull, snapping at my hands clinging to its sides and kicking furiously at my body.
Finally he smashes into the wall and crushes my left hand, forcing me to let go. I tumble over in the dust, cracking dry bones under my weight. It only takes the Warg a second to pounce on me and start snapping at my neck, while I fend him off by holding his. His hot breath and dripping fangs are just begging to latch onto my exposed jugular.
Hot breath. Fangs. Leering bloodshot eyes. There's only so much one man can take. I can feel the anger boiling up, taking over the fear. Snap at me, ay? Want a juicy, moist hunk of my still living flesh? Well, I'll give him something to chew on.
Not wishing to ruin my right hand as well, I release his throat just long enough to ram my fist into his open jaws. I'm hoping the Warg would be too surprised to bite down, but bite down he does. A few times.
I ignore the pain. Believe me, I've had worse. My hand gropes urgently inside the beasts mouth, trying to get a grip on the prize, while with every bite its teeth puncture my arm again and again, and the blood flows in gushes.
Finally I get it; my fist closes on the Wargs tongue, and I dig my nails in for all its worth. With a mighty pull, I rip the damnable thing out of its mouth, and the wolf lets out a howl that makes the bodies, hanging on their hooks high above, swing about in protest. Blood squirts out of the beasts mouth in a torrent, and I can see in its eyes its wishing my death.
But my actions have the desired result. The Warg backs off to the far wall in confusion and pain, gurgling awkwardly and staring at the limp piece of flesh flopping in my bleeding hands. I get up off my back and wave the tongue in front of me.
"Yeah, how do you like that, you bad tempered bastard?" I snarl. It empowers me to see the fear in its eyes, but I know it won't last long. I can already see its rage building, the gurgling returning to a full blown growl. And then I see my only chance.
The Warg has backed up against the far wall: right beneath the spot where the treacherous Beast Master stands, high up on the rim of the pit. Amergin seems to have lost interest in the fight for the moment; he's busy fiddling with rope that holds up the barred door. The Warg, standing perhaps five feet high, gives me a decent sized step up the remaining ten feet of wall.
Ten feet. And not long ways either. This is a straight up, vertical jump. Back in my day, I could leap from chasms and cliffs without giving it a second thought, plunging into the depths of battle and stunning foes with merely the force of my landing.
But that was back then.
Ten feet. Is it still possible? Could this old man even manage a task like that? In the end, I know it doesn't matter; either I make it and live, or I don't, and become the next torso to be hanging from a meat hook on the cavern roof. It's a no brainer.
The Warg is furious now, and I'm guessing the pain has kicked in. Thick, blood filled saliva is flowing from its jaws, and even bubbling from its hideous snout. It's going to charge any second, and I'm going to have to get this right first time.
"You want me?" I whisper so as not to attract Amergins attention. "You want revenge on me for ripping out your tongue? Want to eat my insides while I'm still alive and kicking?"
The Warg's growl intensifies, its eyes are blazing. It puts its head down close to the floor and gets ready to lunge. This is my chance, and I'm not about to waste it. I spring into action, running straight at the enraged animal. It backs up a step, unsure of my intent, which only provides me with a better opportunity.
With one smooth jump I land heavily on the Wargs back, feeling and hearing the jaws clicking as I pass over them, and then launch myself again. It's well executed, well timed, and I'm heading straight for my target. Higher and higher. Doing better then I thought. Only a few feet left, and not stopping there.
In an act that even surprises me; I sail gracefully over the pits rim and straight at the unsuspecting Druid. Ha, you fool, Beast Master; never turn your back on an enemy, even if they are in a pit fifteen feet below. My grin is one of pure joy, and I can't help but let him know what's coming.
"Hey, Beast Master," I roar as I hit the ground. He spins around and gapes in shock; it's an image I know I'll always love to recall. And then my fist smashes his worthless face, and he falls to the ground, out cold.
The Warg is howling like a mad thing in the pit below, furious at having lost its prey. I shake my punching hand and feel the knuckles crack as I do. Damn, how long since I've done that? But boy, did it feel good. I look down at the prostrate body of Amergin the Beast Master, and grin a savage grin.
"Tough luck, old war buddy."
It's questioning time.
The Beast Master blinks. I can see he's confused and struggling to articulate his thoughts. He blinks again, and then shakes his head; there's blood in his eyes and flowing from his nose. Below him, the Warg smells blood that isn't its own and quickens its pacing. I assume its injury has stopped its growling. Probably hurts too much.
Amergin coughs, and then begins to thrash about furiously.
"Giles? Giles! What the hell is this?"
"Call it poetic justice," I yell out to him. I hate to admit it, but my speech is getting a little slow now.
After I'd knocked the surprised Druid out, I tied his arms and legs together and gave him another punch... just to make sure he wasn't going anywhere. Then I staggered back down the tunnels to his hut.
The bird seemed to be quiet when Amergin wasn't around, which was good because I probably would have rung its scrawny neck if it'd started babbling. There was only one thing on my mind, and that was fine liquor we'd drunk when I first arrived. I'd grabbed a few bottles and shoved them in my now-slightly-ragged jacket, and kept one for my walk back.
The next hour I'd spent cutting the rope that raised the Warg's door, tying it around Amergin's chest and hoisting him up above the snarling animal's pit. It had been hard work; I was exhausted from the fight and my bitten hand was swollen and hurting like hell.
Now I sit on the edge of the pit, the rope in my good hand and a bottle by my side. I'd made a makeshift bandage from a piece of clothe doused in the alcohol, but that wasn't stopping the pain. The one and a half bottles I'd drunk over the course of my task was starting to help, though I'm beginning to think that perhaps I'd downed them too fast.
"Poetic justice, letting the animals get their own back," I call again. "How does it feel to be on the receiving end of things?"
Amergin is still thrashing about, high above the pit, and the blood from his facial wounds is driving the Warg into a frenzy.
"You're crazy, Giles, crazy and a fool. I'm no good to you dead."
"I dont plan on keeping you alive for a ransom or something. I've got no interest in your little underworld money schemes. I just need information."
The Beast Master stops thrashing and looks at me in surprise.
"Information? You're bloody joking." He stares quietly for a minute, and then lets out a raucous laugh and shakes his head. "A face from the past - a dangerous and unpredictable one, I might add - turns up on my doorstep, and I'm supposed to think you're just here for a friendly chat?"
"You're saying you thought I came to take over the business?"
The Beast Master points to the dried corpses dangling from their hooks around him.
"Call it years of collective paranoia."
I'm beginning to understand why he'd been so quick to try and do away with me. When you're in a business as dangerous as his, you can't afford to let anyone get the upper hand on you. Still, I came to get some answers, and he sure as hell isn't getting away with it that easy.
"I don't care if you misunderstood. That's your mistake, and now you're swinging for it."
I pause long enough to take a swing of his liquor with my bad hand. Then I give the rope a sharp tug.
"Alright," I begin slowly. "I'm going to ask you some simple questions. If I think you answer truthfully, I'll hoist you up a bit, away from the pit. If you don't answer, or lie, I'm going to lower you towards that very angry set of jaws down there." I pause again and rub my good arm. "And you better be quick, 'cause I'm not as young as I used to be."
The Beast Master smiles, baring some abnormally sharp teeth, and growls at me.
"Fine, ask your bleeding heart away."
"Good. Now, I'm looking for a young woman. Medium height, well toned, brown hair, brown eyes. Her sister says she came to hire some protection from you. Her name is Elsa. First question: did you, or did you not, meet this young woman?"
Amergin is strangely silent, swinging back and forth high above the gaping hole. His blank, neutral eyes are looking at me, but they're not seeing.
"Have you seen her or not?" I repeat.
Finally he averts his eyes, and looks into the blackness below.
"Of all the questions you could ask me," he growls quietly.
"Wrong answer," I reply, and let the rope slip a few feet. The Beast Master lets out a cry, which is quietened abruptly when he comes to a jerking halt. He's now swinging about level with the opening of the pit.
"Dammit, Giles, you really are crazy. Don't you understand?" The neutral look is gone now, replaced by a mixture of fear and anger. "I can't tell you that."
"You know my kind of customers. If I snitch, I'll have mob thugs on my doorstep in seconds."
This is interesting. I lean in further towards the pit to make sure I catch his every word.
"Mob? This girl isn't involved in the mob. What makes you say that?"
"Oh, I don't know!" Amergin bawls. "She said she was part of a group, or guild, or something. She said if I told anyone about her visit or where she was going I'd be dead faster then I could snort my precious powders."
I admit I'm a bit taken aback by this. There's real urgency in The Beast Masters voice, and I know it would take more then idle threats to shake him up. Could Amelia have lied to me? I was sceptical of her after that mysterious message to the Corset Goddess, but the idea that she'd lie about her sister seemed very unlikely... unless... there was something else I wasn't seeing.
To show some appreciation for Amergin's honesty, I pull the rope back ad raise him a little higher. For now.
"Ok, I believe you, Beast Master. But that doesn't change the fact that I was hired to find her, and I need to know what you know."
"What does it matter?" he bellows. "If you don't kill me, they will. I'm dead no matter what I say."
"Then take it like the man you used to be!" I shout at him. My anger is being fuelled by my slight drunkenness, but there's also some hurt from how low my old friend has sunk. "If you're going to die, die with honour, or at least some decency!"
"You can go screw your brother in Hell for all I care," he snarls.
It's enough to push my rage over the edge, and I release the rope a good few feet. He sails down into the pit, howling all the way, and I stop him a short distance from the bottom.
He's not quite within reach of the Warg's jaws, but that doesn't stop it from trying. The great beast circles underneath for a minute, its bloody lips letting lose torrents of saliva. It pauses beneath him, crouches and then springs. The teeth crash together, inches from Amergin's feet.
"You bastard!" he's yelling. "You stupid, pigheaded bast-ARGH!"
The Warg's second leap has succeeded, and the big wolf now dangles victoriously from The Beast Masters good leg. He's screaming his lungs out, and suddenly I'm up and struggling to hold the rope. The extra weight is too much for one hand, so I have to bare the pain and hold on with both.
"Not yet, you hungry bugger," I croak. "Let go already."
The Warg is gurgling angrily, and refuses to let go its hold. It suddenly gives its head a fierce shake; there's a crack of bone, tearing of flesh, and then the Warg is back on the floor, chewing on its prize.
I sigh with relief, and heave The Beast Master back out of the pit. His leg is severed just below the knee, and there's blood squirting out everywhere. He's still screaming, and I sit back down again to enjoy some liquor while I wait.
Soon enough, he stops, and swings limply from his holding. His skin has taken on a pale shade and his eyes are closed. There's dark rings forming under them.
"Are we ready to talk civilly again?" I ask.
Amergin's breath is coming out in gasps, and he slowly opens his eyes to glare at me.
"The woman... she hired a wolf from me. Not the scrawny ones I showed you... one of the prime body guards. Damn... expensive too." He pauses to cough, and blood appears on his lips. Maybe I tied the rope to tight, and the Warg broke some ribs with its shaking assault? Oh well, as long as he lasts long enough to answer my last questions.
"Ok, so she has money. Why did she need the protection?"
"Dangerous... where she was going. Said she needed an extra pair of eyes..." he coughs up some more blood, and I can see the dark rings under his eyes are deepening.
"Good. I appreciate your help, Beast Master. Just a few more questions." I lean in towards the pit again. "Where was she headed?"
Ahh, so at least I know Amelia didn't lie about that.
"Why was she going to Golland?"
The Beast Master is fading. I guess age has affected him too, even though he still looks fitter then I do. But then, I doubt I'd last that long with an amputation either.
"She was... said she was... meeting... going to find and..." he's spluttering, losing track of his words. "Going to meet... someone important."
"Who?" I ask. My arm is aching, and my bad hand has soaked well through the bandage. Both of us are losing strength fast.
It doesn't seem to bother Amergin though. He smiles, and begins to laugh softly.
"You wouldn't... believe me... you'll drop me into the pit... if I tell you."
"I'm going to do it anyway," I wince. "Tell me who."
The Beast Master raises his head and looks into my eyes for the last time. The dark rings amplify the deathliness of his stare.
"Necris," he says. "She's gone to find Necris."
He was right. I let go of the rope. But not on purpose; I think the idea that I let a sultry pair of legs talk me into a job like this, shocked my muscles into releasing. I barely even register the Warg's gurgles of triumph, and so miss the final moments of Amergin the Beast Master's tragic life.
Necris Mancini. The Big Daddy. The Godfather. The Lord of All Things Snortable. He was the biggest, baddest mob boss around, and no one but his highest lieutenants were allowed to see him. Anyone else that tried to meet him in the past - for whatever reason - had been respectively sent back to their families. Piece by piece.
It's too much to think about at this moment. I stagger to my feet and take one last swig of that fine liquor. Well, of that bottle anyway. I've got the others in my jacket still.
"One for me," I say. Then I throw the bottle into the pit where the Warg is busy gorging itself. "And one for you, good buddy. Rest in peace now."
I'm feeling cold and a little bit dizzy from the alcohol. My hand is throbbing with angry redness. As I stumble down the dark, stony corridors, I unbolt the doors of the many holding pens. The animals will eventually work out they can push the doors open; I don't really want a dozen starving carnivores chasing me out of here.
The bird squawks as I enter the rundown shack, and startles me from zombie-like swaggering.
"Oh, hey Bird," I say dreamily. It'll probably starve to death without The Beast Master to feed it, so I reach up and unhook the cage from the roof.
Squwark "Put me down, you card counting piece o' -"
"Foul mouthed till the end, ain'tcha?" I smile.
I barge the door open with my shoulder, and slip out onto the steps. The night air is crisp, but it's not snowing thankfully. The moon is well hidden behind clouds, and only the slightest silver glow makes the surrounding land stand out.
I take a deep breath, glad to be out of the musty, stale air of the caverns. My head feels a little clearer. Then a ruffling at my side brings my attention back to Bird.
"Alright, boy. Out you get." I open the cage door and give it a shake, and the parrot flaps out into the night. It disappears in seconds, and soon even the sound of its wings fades away. I sigh, and begin my trudge back.
I guess maybe I passed out, because when I awake next I'm under a tree in the snow. I obviously didn't make it far, because I can still see The Beast Masters hut in the distance. The moon has come out from behind its blanket, bathing everything in shimmering light. It takes a few seconds to register, but I suddenly realise the air is alive.
Howls and growls of all kinds are echoing across the valley. In the moonlight, I can see hundreds of dark shapes exiting the Beast Masters shack, padding away into the snow. There's hunger in those growls, and I know if I don't move soon I'll be item number one of a starving wolf's menu.
With effort I get to my feet, feeling better then when I left the tunnels, but still very sore. I reach for my pockets and halt halfway. Alcohol here probably isn't the best idea. I have to get back to Harrogath; get stitched up, get a weapon and get back in the warm.
My hand aches likes it's a home to Khandurasian Fireants. Damn, I need a drink.