Part 6) Tipper
For a long time Tipper had avoided starting new relationships. One of the problems of being long lived is that most of the folks you ended up befriending or falling in love with grew old and died. The other issue was that everyone you met had their own agendas and problems, regardless of their life expectancy. For many years she had not socialized outside of her own extended family who were typically reliable, kept to the OldWays and knew how to solve a problem without creating unnecessary complications.
However, problems still came and that was the main reason herself and a good number of her kin were out seeking solutions. When one discovered a dragon sleeping in one’s cellar or had messy neighbours start tearing up the countryside and making unreasonable demands, a person needed to approach those situations with proper preparation and the right tools. When problems like that came along it was also really handy to have good friends.
Being someone’s friend created obligation, both ways. Friendship required respect and attraction, something within each person should compel the other to care about the well being of their friend. It then follows that friendship should compel a person to care about their own well being, thus being better able to be available in times of need. In times of crisis it is good to know who your friends are, cooperation between companions will see a person through even the toughest situations.
Friendship was often hard work, sometimes inconvenient, even frustrating. Tonight, for Tipper, friendship was going to be deadly. Her life and the quest she was on would be put at risk because a friend was in need. Half a year ago she would not have been willing to endanger herself for Mokha Nathorah, nor considered it likely that such a man would become a friend.
She had been on her way to have lunch when Setta and Calathy had found her. Calathy had then told her story to Tipper, relating the early morning infiltration of the Greensly manor by the Fingures. A crew of five, possibly more, had broken in and grabbed Mokha then looted the manor, terrorized the household staff and given Calathy a sound beating. The Fingures had made no specific demands.
After treating Calathy’s wounds the three of them had then gone to see the Arcanium Warders and talked to Argis Greenman. Both Setta and Tipper had tried to encourage the man to take immediate action to retrieve Mokha. However, due to the Arcanium’s shortage of personnel and the fact that many of those people were scattered across the city investigating and keeping tabs on various Fingures locations, he had decided to recall a number of people and would take action the following morning. Setta had been begrudgingly understanding of the situation. Tipper had not.
So, she had dug out her armour and weapons, kitted up and headed across the city to the place where she felt it most likely that Mokha would be. Setta had cautioned her about reckless actions but had been unable to convince her not to go on her own. Besides, Tipper had no intention of being reckless.
In fact she had been very cautious, taking extra time to see if she was being followed by anyone. Even when she was fairly sure that she had no one tailing her, she still took the extra time to circle around the city and make her approach to the North Docks District indirectly. If she had succeeded the Fingures would be unaware of her presence until it was too late. She was also somewhat suspicious that she could be walking into a trap.
It was close to mid-afternoon by the time Tipper had made her way to the north end of the city. Since the loss of their headquarters, most of the Fingures operations seemed to be taking place out of a slaughterhouse on the North Docks, or so the Arcanium believed. This had recently been confirmed by Addath of the Roburns Trading Company. Ironically, if the Fingures had waited just another eight-day or so they would have been rounded up and not a threat to anyone. Tipper had been able to convince both Addath and Warder Greenman that cooperating against the Fingures was the best course of action. Sadly things had not fallen into place before the criminals had decided to move against Mokha.
By GreensBridge standards the slaughterhouse at the North Docks was a modest set up, only a small fraction of the size of either of the city’s two main slaughterhouses. Still, anywhere else in the eastern freeholds it would have been big enough for a fair sized town. Its yards, barns, animal pens and various outbuilding were associated with two of the main docks in the district. Roburns Trading Company was interested in the property due to its proximity to their existing holdings, there was only one dock, with a couple of small warehouses, between the Maldorn company’s operation and the slaughterhouse.
Tipper did not much care about why the company wanted the property, as far as she was concerned any cooperation on her part with the Maldorn was only for the sake of an ally against the Fingures. By her reasoning, Roburn’s Trading Company and their operational procedures were only slightly better than the crime family. Ultimately, whatever the methods, the goal of the two organizations was the same; control for the sake of profit.
When she had arrived in the area, earlier in the afternoon, Tipper had made sure to stay far enough back from the Fingure’s operation so as to not draw undue attention to herself. She took some time to wander the streets above the docks hoping to spot any of the Arcanium agents that were supposed to be in the area. She had not found any of the mages, but had instead found a couple of the security people working for Addath.
The two company agents, a man and a woman, had been posing as street vendors. They had set themselves up near one of the stairways down to the docks near a busy intersection. They had a tarp, a few wooden crates and a couple brazers, they were selling fishcakes and hot cider and to all appearances seemed to be doing good business.
Tipper had approached them, posing as a customer at first. She bought a fish cake and a cup of cider and stood near the heat. When there was a lull in business she identified herself as an agent, using the phrase, “The winds are high in North Port this time of year.”
“It would be a good day for sailing.” the woman had replied.
“What’s going on at the slaughter house?”
“Usual situation for the most part. Though the bunkhouse near the docks has a regular patrol and at least a couple of watchmen, they’re pretty good at not looking the part.”
“Any indication they have something big going on?”
“Well, other than the increased security we haven’t seen anything unusual.”
“What time did you start today?”
“Middle morning.” Said the man.
More customers arrived and Tipper took the opportunity to slip away. Then she found herself a nook in back of a couple of buildings where she could watch the slaughterhouse without being too obvious.
It took a while, but she did spot the guards around the bunkhouse, they were infrequent and a number of people were involved, to better conceal their activity. During this time the wind picked up, blowing from the north, bringing dark clouds. Twilight settled in early. Around the docks, workers started to finish up for the day and soon a couple of dozen people left the slaughterhouse grounds. By the time the seventeenth hour of the day chimed across the city it was nearly dark.
The lamplighters came and went, only a few establishments in the area had the light globes, most were using lanterns. Along the streets behind her, Tipper heard the early evening traffic as taverns and pubs were quickly filled. The wind from the north grew stronger and it began to snow. She left her observation position and made her way down to the docks by a round about route. Eventually she found herself at the far end of a peer neighbouring the Fingures operation, she stayed long enough to see if anyone over there was keeping a lookout from that end of the property.
She positioned herself near the main entry of the slaughterhouse property and sheltered along the south wall of a shed. She could see the bunkhouse and much of the yards. Only the bunkhouse was well lit. The snowfall became heavy as the winds dropped, the sounds of the city became muted. Periodically one or two people would come out of the bunkhouse and have a smoke or walk around to the back door, the timing of these patrols remained erratic.
Despite her best efforts to keep away from the snow and periodically brushing accumulation from her hood and shoulders, her cloak was getting damp. Her own body heat was melting the snow as she waited. As well, after hours of standing around with little to no physical activity she was starting to feel cold. She focused on her breathing, thinking warm thoughts and had started to consider moving to a different location when the door to the bunkhouse opened and a half dozen people exited.
They moved towards the main entrance, Tipper inched back until she was able to step around the corner of the shed. As the crew approached her position she could hear them talking. She also recognized one of the voices.
Celestial said, in a defensive tone, “There was no way we could have known they were wizards. To all appearances they were just a trio of country bumpkins come to see the big city.”
“That fellow looks very Tannican to me.”
“And your point?”
“Well, not many Tannicans living rural here in the east.”
A gravely voice said, “Plenty of them to the west. Besides, if that guy doesn’t have some Pwhanna ancestry then I’d eat Gromde’s stupid hat.”
“My hat is not stupid, in fact it’s pretty lucky.”
“If you say so.”
They were passing the shed and Tipper inched further back, hoping they did not see her tracks.
Celestial commented, “Regardless of the hat, my point remains. There is no way we could have known. It’s not like Raven and I had any reason to suspect they were part of the Arcanium.”
Gravely voice said, “Well, I blame the damn priest, what was he doing letting outsiders pass through the temple?”
Gromde, “He said something about serving the will of the gods and that there were other thieves around besides us.”
“Priests. Can’t trust them. Wait until Cold gets her hands on him. He’ll be lucky if she just kills him.”
They moved off, up into the city. Tipper waited until they were out of sight and then came back around the shed until she could see the bunkhouse again. There did not seem to anyone outside, there were six fewer people in the building now and that conversation was as close to confirmation as she was going to get, whether or not Mokha was actually inside.
She left the shelter of the shed and walked across the yard towards the bunkhouse. She felt very exposed for those few moments, but no one seemed to have spotted her and she was soon along the wall, moving to the back of the building.