Here it is. Chapter 3. It’s almost a month late. I apologize for that. I would say midterms called my name, I would say I’m swamped with real life issues. There is now excuse. I should have had it up by now.
So, without further ado,
Chapter 3: Negotiations
The dwarves were rich. Richer than any mortal bank. Most countries owed them a marker or six. Rumor had it that there were literal mountains of gold, artifacts and precious metals hidden in vaults. I could believe this.
Dwarfs could control entire economies and entire countries if they so wished. I’ve seen them do it before. When the war, the slaughter, reached critical mass, they would activate wards that had withstood Fae Queens and retreat beneath their cavernous halls.
I didn’t blame them for it. The world goes to hell, daemon and undead running loose, magic that kept polite society fed and clothed all but gone, and you have to look out for you and yours, and damn the rest. I was the poster boy for that.
After all, it wasn’t that kid and his parents across the street out for a Saturday stroll that made me sell my soul and damn myself, it was my friends and family.
It didn’t make the hate any less pronounced. It didn’t erase the fact that they had left us to starve and rot time and time and time again while they feasted in their halls below the ground. Familiarity and contempt and all that bullshit.
Midas New York showed all that hoarded wealth. Each of the doors on the bank were twenty feet tall and seven foot wide. They were silvery titanium, studded with diamonds that hummed with magical energy. Magical energy that smelled like the earth, and felt like a spring storm, a howling blizzard. It was at once hopeful and terrifying. It set my mage sense screaming and it was all I could to shut my senses down before I lost control.
There were five dwarven guards standing outside the door. All of them were dressed in body army, some Frankenstein’s creation of Kevlar and dragon leather with call backs to the middle ages. Caine had everyone on high alert.
Two were armed with sleek crossbows, the bolts were no doubt enchanted with spells and laced with poisons that promised a very fatal demise. It’s why they haven’t switched over to automatic weaponry yet. A bolt, enchanted to activated when it came in contact with someone’s shield spell and trace the latent magical energy used in the projection of the shield and follow it back to the source of the spell and detonate would require a lot of room for rune carvings, and those were something that no-one has quite figured out how to machine print yet. It’s why the Hunters preferred Gestare to weapons.
One of the others was armed with a halberd almost taller than him. The other had no visible weapons, but I felt the same magic coming off of him that the door hummed with. If it came to a fight, I’d kill him first.
We walked up the steps, through the massive doors and walked into luxury. The floors were white and black marble, the booths the dwarfs sat were made of dark, shining wood. The couches where clients sat when waiting for a meeting were big leather islands of comfort. A couple of honest to god freaking butlers were standing around talking in lower tones.
I placed a hand on Maddie’s shoulder and she turned to me.
“Follow my lead on this one, okay?” I half asked, half stated. She paused for a moment, and then nodded.
“Jeremiah, I’ve got to return to work. Aelfric will be wondering where I’m at.”
“Stay awhile, won’t you love?”
“Fine, and don’t call me love.”
We walked across the bank floor until we stood in front of the manager’s desk. He had two more guards, both armed with crossbows and reeking of magic.
The bank was mostly deserted. It was a Saturday and usually they closed around noon, but the warders and guards were housed below in case of break-ins. Those never ended well.
“Yes, can I help you?” The dwarf said in a condescending tone, his voice was deep and sounded vaguely Nordic.
“I am seeking council with Grimtooth Oakenshield, on behalf of the Council of Mages, by the Treaty of Ragnarok under the purview of Thule,” I said this calmly. I brought up every bit of rich asshole that was becoming of the ruling families.
The dwarf’s eyes narrowed.
“Mage, you are speaking of things you don’t know, leave,” I knew he had just pressed a hidden button alerting a battalion of guards. It would be a few scant minutes until crossbow bolts and spellfire filled the air.
Both guards had their crossbows raised, and I felt their magic being drawn up. I drew my wand in a flash and pointed it at the manager on duty. I manifested my magic as a glowing hazel ember on the end of my wand. A promise of unspent power ready to lay waste to any who stood in my way.
“Tell your guards to lower their weapons or I swear by my magic this bank will be ash before I lay my wand to rest.”
You had to be firm with the dwarfs. It was all they understood. There was a fine line between firm and stupid. I was tiptoeing it.
“Those are brave words magician. Brave and foolish. Lord Oakenshield is busy at the moment,” The dwarf said.
I scoffed. I didn’t have time to play these word games.
“I know you’re just stalling me until more guards with those shiny crossbows can show up. My head of House knows I’m here. Should I report back to her that this was a failed meeting, we will go to the Council,” his eyes widened. The Council, one delegate from each of the races that made the laws for the magical and human world. To bring their name up was like bringing a fucking nuke to a knife fight. In a way, I had just declared war on the dwarves. War it would be regardless, but I didn’t want to fire the first shot.
I had his ass over a barrel. He knew he had to obey the old laws and customs. If other powers found out that the dwarves of all beings refused the old ways, their banks would be all but forfeit.
“Allow me to escort you.” He said with a forced grin.
He opened the little gate next to his desk and Madeline and I followed him down the hall. It was decorated mostly in dark wood, we strolled down the halls for some ways, slowing going down further and further into the earth. We walked until we got to a hallway, there was an occasional marble bust that depicted one of the former bank presidents. I knew that the wood was an illusion, and that it was metal underneath. Hidden in the pedestals there were AP Mines. I was walking through a kill box. If it came down to it I would redirect the millions of pellets away from us by magnetizing the walls themselves.
After ten minutes of walking we came to a wide oak door which opened with a hiss of pneumatics. This office was in stark relief to the endless tunnel of wood and carpet we had just trekked through. It was all glass and chrome. There were floating screens of either Elementrian holography tech or magical projections that showed stock tickers, business news, and security feeds. Grimtooth Oakenshield sat at the desk, when we entered he quickly gestured in the air and the screens dispersed. So holograms then.
In mortal fantasy dwarfs were portrayed as miners, all chainmail, axes and anvils. Since the Middle Ages this has changed considerably. When they moved into the banking business they had slowly ditched the armor for Armani. This didn’t change their attitudes. They were still mean bastards to those who have pissed them off or messed with the status quo.
So you’re fucked Mr. Owens. There’s nothing new about that. I clamped down on that thought hard.
Two of the guards protecting Grimtooth raised their crossbows when they saw me. I felt the third bringing up his magic. My wand was in my hand instantly, hazel twinkling like starlight.
“You dare try to attack me in my own place of power?” Grimtooth asked.
“Tell your pet mage to stand down and I’ll do the same,” I said. I set my face in a hard cold mask.
Grimtooth nodded subtly and the magic I felt brewing in the air like a storm subsisted. I stopped my own little light show, but I didn’t put the wand away.
I made a note to get a second one as soon as possible. Only having one was going to be a handicap I could not afford.
“Mage, You have one chance to convince me not to kill you. I would seriously consider your words.”
“I’ll be frank then. Caine has made a play for Thule. I need the dwarves’ assistance to get it back. I’ll give you a quarter of whatever bounty I find inside those walls, and in exchange I’ll hunt down that thrice curse bastards and kill him. All I need are the five favors detailed in the Treaty of Ragnarok as agreed to and decreed by Merlin.
Dwarves, for all their cunning favored Honor above all else. I held no stock in such things. I had learned not to. I wasn’t one not to exploit a weakness. I saw a brief glimmer of surprise in the old dwarf’s eyes, but it was quickly replaced by a calm mask.
“Those are some bold claims. Why aren’t the mages contacting me through the proper channels? Why did they send me a member of the lesser houses to invoke the treaty, and finally, how do I know you are telling the truth?” He said. If I failed, and I was right about this being my last chance to set everything right, and I failed my little errand, then the Dwarfs would be in the right to declare war on the mages, and that was a war we would not win.
“I will swear on whatever you wish me to swear on. Thule must be reclaimed from Time. I am coming to you because this is a mission the Conclave of Mages has no knowledge of, but my Head of House, and my benefactor do,” The less said about my benefactor being a goddess who had turned me out into the cold, the better.
Oakenshield peaked his hands and rested his head on them. He looked past me, and up to the manager who had escorted me to his office.
“Take the guards and leave us, we need to discuss this in private,”
Without hesitation his manager did so. Grimtooth could hold himself in a fight. It was the dwarves that had saved Boston during the Fomor attacks after all.
“Mage, I am taking you at your word. Should this prove to be a falsehood, I will strike with the full might of my Clan. You understand this, correct?” Once more I nodded.
“Fine than, that being said, what favors do you wish?”
“For the first, weapons. Three gladius made of Mythril, bound to none.” He nodded.
“The second, a trinket. It is heard that the Oakenshields have a ring in their vaults that negates the auric tracking the council uses, The Ring of Gygax. I need it loaned to me for a year and a day. Should I lose it, you may take the value of it out of the Owens accounts. A wave of my wand, and a note with forged with my mother’s signature, both pen and yellow aura, appeared, agreeing to this. If I didn’t return that ring our accounts would take a seriously hit.
“I also need 1 million of Euro, USD and Yen delivered in extended Samsonite suitcases.” He nodded without hesitation, 3mil was nothing to the dwarves.
“I need airship boarding passes, and identities for myself, ¬Miss Dubois,” I gestured toward Maddie, “and Connor York,”
“Finally, I need a warder on retain. I’ll accept the services of Miss Dubois,”
“Very well,” He picked up the phone on his desk and dialed a number. After speaking for a moment he hung up.
“You’ll have what you need by the time you return to the Lobby,” He said. Hmm, that was odd. This was usually when they tried to kill me. “Would you like an escort?” By that he meant a minder. No fucking thank you.
“No thanks,” I said with a smile.
“Mister Owens, I will be blunt with you, the moment you leave my office, you leave my Protection. Even now rumors of you are starting to circulate. You will have a bounty on your head before this day is done. You do know this, correct? Furthermore, that ring will mask your auric signature. As a client of this bank, I have to remind to you that this is felony under the Mage Laws,” Oh, wasn’t that just a dreadful bit of news. To be exempt from the O-Net tracers and the ether spire triangulations. It was almost if I was trying to hide from my fellow mages.
“The ring is Thulosion. It is crucial to entering the city, without it my plans are useless.”
“Would you mind telling me what else is crucial to the city?”
“Regalia, Kusanagi is a key in more than one way. I need your men to steal them. I have business with an Oni on Fuji.” I said with a rogueish grin.
“Now, if the ring could arrive with my papers, and weapons that would be great,”
We ironed out a few more kinks, signed an official contract regarding the ring, and picked up the artifact in question.
We left Midas New York at fifteen after two. I had the ring of Gygax on my finger. I knew it was a fraud, MI-13 had the real deal.
It was one of the many stops ahead of me on my road trip to doom. I had given one of the Gladius to Madeline who had bound the blade to her buy cutting her palm with it.
The blood interacted with the dwarven enchantments in the blade and now the only one that could use it was her. Anyone else would be quite likely incinerated. The dwarves were paranoid like that. I knew there were also a few other surprises also woven into the blade. Nothing lethal to its owner, of course. The greedy bastards weren’t stupid.
I had bound the other blade to myself. I was saving the third for Connor. They had been kind enough to provide sheathes and belts with the gladii. Luckily someone carrying around a sword wasn’t really frowned upon. It was the same as carrying a handgun or a wand in plain sight. If someone could destroy a city block with a few words, a sword wasn’t really that much of an issue.
We grabbed a hover cab and took it to the Grand Central airship terminal. Using some of our blood, I created two golems that would mimic us long enough to get to Fuji. Then they would dissolve into the water and dirt they were made from.
I borrowed Maddie’s mortal smart phone and used a long since memorized Owens’ credit card to rent the top floor of a Fiji five-star hotel.
I gave the two golems the fake ids the dwarves had been so kind to loan us and they left on the airship bound for California, and then Japan. We had left the terminal before Maddie turned to me.
“Do you mind telling me why the fuck you just threw away an internship I’ve been waiting two years for?” Her tone was calm, but I knew she was pissed.
“I’m saving your life. The dwarves have seen me with you. They’ll kill you, or capture you. When they go to my hotel and find me missing they’ll be after you. Then they’ll come after my mother. She’s a fully trained Hunter with squads of chessmen at her disposal. She’ll be fine. I won’t have your blood on my hands,” I said. Gods knew she had died enough times for me.
“I’m not too concerned about Connor. His dad is with M-13, and the spooks look out for themselves. The Dwarves know how much gold and treasure Thule has. They’ll get their filthy hands on the Regalia.
Then the Dwarfs will have a war on their hands with all the pissed off Japanese mages coming after them for stealing a national treasure, This will also make sure their bounty hunters will be too busy chasing off Oni and Kappa and all manner of eastern monsters, and won’t be able to go after us, ”
“So, what do we do now?” She asked.
I took her hand.
“Why take over the world, Pinky.” I said and spoke the teleportation spell. Chicago awaited.
And that’s chapter 3.
There was a lot of world building in this chapter, and I felt as though it was very info-dumpy.
Thanks for reading.