Corrupt, Chp. 6: Jewelry
"He's almost made it to the top!"
In the slums of Arcaynus, a muddled mess of deteriorated housing projects and dirt streets, this tall, rising mass stood above the poverty-stricken sector; it's white stone exterior reflected sunlight from any direction. It's structure was similar to a tower, but the further it reached into the sky, the more it twisted and turned from side to side while still grasping new heights. Hand-holds and indiscreet ledges were the only access to the tower-it had no inside. Its only purpose was to be climbed; a popular game for the destitute children of the city. Nobody knew who built it, or when it was built, but one thing was known: its peak had never been reached. That might change today. Young Dashiwille, age eleven, as daring as he was tiny, had made it more than halfway and had found himself confounded by a particular bend in the tower's geometry. It had been a straight-forward climb at first, but now the tower had gone to an almost parallel stance with the ground. Dashiwille decided that the only way to continue would be to grab onto a few dimples in the stone and crawl upside-down to a perch where the tower shot straight-up again. He was a good thirty feet up and might of chickened out if it wasn't for his fellow peers urging him on.
A sickly-looking boy with dirt-covered, yellow-brown trousers and a swollen eye produced encouragement for Dashiwille; "I don't think anybody's gotten that far! Keep it up and you might be qualified to become a renown peeping tom!"
"Or you might fall, splatter your brains, and my folks would have to clean you up," muttered a less enthusiastic boy who was a little bit older than Dashiwille and the other boy. He was carrying a rusted knife, carving aesthetics on the tower's base.
"I'd rather be a clean-up than a screw-up," Dashiwille snapped back, tightening his grip on the tower, almost to his little perch of safety on the other side. The air seemed cleaner than on ground level. He could see the hills where the upper-class resided. Then he felt sick. Unlike most of his lower-class kin, he didn't want to be a slave to the dream of fortune. No matter how glamorous it seemed, the people who lived there didn't seem any happier than those who resided in the worst of living conditions.
"Stop dwindling, you're almost there."
Dashiwille snapped out of his thoughts. He had made it to the little perch where a climber could catch his breath and prepare for the final climb to the top. Looking down, his best friend, Dau, was giving him a thumbs-up while his older brother, Marvt, tapped his foot impatiently. During that glance, he saw several bird droppings all around where he was sitting. Apparently, nobody had made it this far and this was how the tower was in its purest, untouched form. He knew that he was too far up for his friends below to see, but it seemed quite symbolic, even to an eleven year old.
"A gilded edifice for one to climb. Whoever made this place was a cruel man. But...whoever built it knew how it's like here." He absent-mindedly smeared his finger in some of the droppings; "Story of our lives."
Suddenly, faint sounds of trumpets and cheering became audible to the boys. They had forgotten that a new watchman was coming to replace the city's old watch that had just recently gotten discharged.
"Great, there's a new maste-watchman in town," Marvt said unenthusiastically, putting his knife back in his pocket. "I guess they're showing him what kind of crap he's expected to clean up. I actually feel kinda sorry for the guy. Nothing ever happens around here; all of this city's major crimes happen in the gentry's district."
"Don't tell that you're planning some kind of revolt," Dashiwille warned Marvt, "you know that the emperic guard is all-ears on plots after that convict escaped. "
Marvt chuckled; "That guy's a hero. They say that he entered a into one of those illegal fight matches that are all the rage in the gentry district, only to cause such a ruckus that the old emperic watchman got involved. They say that the guy was eventually caught, but not after killing off a few guardsmen and showy nobles."
"How's killing so heroic?" interrupted little Dau with a haughty hint in his voice.
"Well," Marvt continued, "it brought some of the gentry's ne'er doing to national recognition."
Dau looked unimpressed; "In this city, at least."
As the parade progressed, Dashiwille got the urge to climb further. He could already feel his strength leaving him, but he was compelled to get a closer look before the procession disappeared into the thickest parts of the slums. Squinting his eyes, he saw what appeared to be an entourage of jesters, musicians, and important-looking, rugged men following behind a stoic-looking man riding a horse. He didn't wear a chest-plate like the rest, just teal greaves and gauntlets, but that gave him a certain look of 'danger.' He carried a homely looking spear on the back of his shoulders, and he appeared to be on the look-out for any disturbances.
"Anybody know who that guy is?" Dashiwille asked the two, almost having to yell as the march came closer.
"How should I know?" Dau retorted, only to have his mouth covered by his older brother's hands. "His name's Tinneus," startled Marvt, restraining his brother, "from what I've heard, he's a high ranking Emperic Knight. Definitely a lot higher on the lists of who's who than the captain who presided over us before. Apparently, the commotion that vagrant who escaped the kingdom's darkest prisons is enough of a priority to send someone of his caliber to watch over us."
"Well, it's about time. This is the second largest city in the entire kingdom!" Dau managed to get out.
Looking towards the man he now knew as Tinneus, Dashiwille began to take the last pull to the top, but only to stop just short. He noticed that the high ranking Emperic knight shot him quite a gaze. Dashiwille only saw it through the corner of his eye...but he knew that Tinneus was definitely looking at him. It made sense when he thought about it; he was the boy standing tall above everything else. He must have been almost sixty feet up by now. The gilded, white tower overlooked the triumphant march. Its little conquerer stood, for the first time in his life, above men a dozen times more fortunate than he. Though this might of given most a sense of importance, Dashiwille felt betrayed. Whoever built this tower that overlooked poverty must of definitely been a twisted man, he decided. Selfishly acting to become one of the fortunate, crushing all of those it never noticed. With a self-assuring sigh, he let go of that last grasping stone that would allow him to finally reach the top. He began his dissention from the tower, leaving it for another boy who might one day find the need to climb it.
Midday Hisen, the sleepy little town had woken up and went off to work. Though he was nowhere near, Kendai knew the drab and monotonous workings of the village. Everybody was off to the grand farm, trying to raise crop for the winter. It had been more than a full day since his mission to assassinate Guirras had ended. He was back where he was the night before, standing in front of Nilus's shack. Kendai still had Josuke's orb that looked eerily like the object Dausen had the night before. What should he do with it now? Smash it? Hide it? Bargain with it? He decided to keep it at this side, still wrapped up, just for a little while longer. Part of him wanted to know, but the majority of him wanted it to remain a mystery. Answers can be worse than questions.
"Are you finally back, Kendai?" came a faint voice from inside the dwelling, barely audible to those who were unaccustomed to its raspy quality.
"Yes," Kendai replied back, "Guirras is dead." He opened the creaky entrance door and strode into the shack. Nilus looked as sickly as ever, but, to his wonder, Dausen was nowhere to be seen. Dausen was always around, somewhere.
"I'm afraid your words are untrue...though I am...not calling you a liar by any...means," Nilus managed to formulate, the fat rolling over his lips flailing wildly. They seemed to dance with each word.
"Wh-what is that?" Kendai asked in shock. "Did Guirras survive?"
"Yes," spoke Nilus, answering what he knew Kendai wanted to ask, "but this is...perhaps...a gift."
Kendai was still perplexed. He was cursing himself on the inside for leaving so soon without confirming the kill, for leaving it in the Empire's hands. He should of known from fighting Guirras that he was not the man to be captured so easily.
As Nilus's bed creaked from his attempts to catch a steady breath, he managed to get out a few words; "I have another target for you, as well as finishing your job on Guirras. In fact, you may be able to finish off two foes with... one stroke."
Kendai's right arm twitched; "I'm hearing you."
"Of course. Your new target is...Tinneus, the Empire's Emperic Encompassing...Province Guard. As fate would have it...he has been reassigned to Arcaynus to replace a certain captain who was recently discharged for...unnecessary losses in capturing Guirras."
"Nobody could have any necessary losses against a guy like that..." Kendai thought to himself.
"He...is known to be one of the most powerful of the Empire's Knights. I would suspect that he is a more difficult target...than you last assignment. ...I think it safe to assume that Guirras is still in Arcaynus...do something, Kendai. Get them together...finish them off in one strike, even if you must die doing it. Or...better yet...let them kill each other."
"Yes," Kendai obliged, "I'll make sure to get him this time."
Nilus's mouth moved and it resembled something that could of been called a smile; "You seem excited...don't let it cloud you judgment..."
As Kendai began to bow, he felt something loosen from his waste. Unexpectantly, the orb fell with a loud thud as it hit the hard wooden floor. Cold sweat ran down Kendai's face. It felt like frozen knives had pierced his joints. Was it the fear that letting Nilus know of his curiosity that paralyzed him?
To his relief, Nilus did not stir. He quickly snatched-up the orb and placed it at his side once more. He was surprised that the fall did not activate its communicative properties, but he was even more surprised that Nilus did not notice it's presence. Kendai couldn't tell if his friend was asleep, or just showing indifference. Either way, Nilus did not move. Part of Kendai wanted Nilus to see the stone, but the majority of him wanted to Nilus to be completely oblivious, and for himself to carry out the mission. Sometimes secrecy is better than openness. Bowing one final time, Kendai headed down the familiar path to Arcaynus.
The parade was over, the trumpets and soldiers were gone, and, as they went, the poor stormed the street's for their own celebration. A new official took his time before he started enforcing his own rules. Mostly for public relations nonsense and to enable himself to get in good with the local guardsmen. In the short amount of time that would follow, the laws would be lax, and the life of the less fortunately would be a little less so. The old and young alike were standing in the streets, making small talk, gambling, and were generally being as goof-offable as they could be.
"Hey Misch, saw yer boy up there today!" yelled an older fellow, a little tipsy from a pint of free rum. A thin woman, wearing torn rags and a loose hair wrap turned to the man. Her name was Misch. "I saw him too. I think it's highest any of the boys have reached," she replied to him.
Three old-timers, loafing on an unbalanced bench, joined in on the conversation.
"I remember trying to climb that thing when I was a boy. Things were different back then, but that thing still scares the skin off'a me," one man remarked.
"Yeah," another agreed, rocking on the bench, "I never got past the part where it bent sideways. Guess I really didn't have anything to lose now that I think about it."
"Well, back then, I think we were all a little bit more optimistic," replied the last; "If only I could've been a little more fortunate with running my franchise. I might of gotten to live with the rich. Instead, I ran it into the ground."
They laughed a little and went about telling stories from the past. Misch felt a little tug on her clothes and saw that her only son, Dashiwille, was the culprit. "Chores done," he managed out get out in-between a rather loud yawn. "Alright, let's head back in and get some rest, we won't need to wake up so early tomorrow."
They started to head back to their abode when they were approached by another familiar face;"Hey there, , you don't mind if I congratulate your son on his entrance into the army."
"Wh-what?" Both Misch and her son said, baffled.
"Ha, I'm only kidding. I saw our new captain eyeing your boy on that tower, he seemed quite interested."
"Oh, good, I wouldn't be able to make it in this place with one less helping hand, Julius."
Julius was the local jewelry shop owner whose place of work was closer to the Gentry's district, but still deep enough into the slums for him to be a regular patron to the sub-community. He wore long, dirty blue hair in a long pony-tail that touched the muddy earth. He was in his forties, and his skin was as scarred and rough as a used practice dummy in the army's barracks. His body was accessorized with several rings, of almost every kind, and an assortment of body piercings. With eyes of violet-blue, they seemed to reflect a night sky, no matter what time of day. If it were not for his skin and reclusive- ness, his hair and eyes alone would of gotten him a wife.
"All joking aside," spoke Julius more seriously than before, "that was quite an impressive feat. I know that most adults around here wouldn't recognize such bravery. Misch, you wouldn't mind if I showed Dashiwille here something I've been working on in my shop, do you?"
Misch looked concerned, her thin lips sagged a bit, but she gave permission nonetheless; "As long as he's back before sunset."
"Ahhhhh," Julius boomed, exaggerating a little, "that's the spirit. Besides, I don't think it'll take more than a few minutes."
She waved goodbye weakly and headed home from the rest of the day's celebrations. Dashiwille at his heel, Julius headed towards the fringe between the rich and the poor. The income gap was so large that there was no such thing as a 'middle' class. Just the rich and poor, or, as royalty, who were above both, liked to call them, the fortunate and the unfortunate. The fringe was built on the slope of a hill which, at it's top, was the Gentry's district. The street's were steep and, at certain times, Julius and the boy found it easier to jump from unstable roof to unstable roof instead of using the pathways. A Wall with a reinforced gate became visible as they reached the jeweler's workshop. The physical divider between the fortunate and the unfortunate. The King had actually tried to tear down this wall before but, due to the decision's lack of popularity, it was never taken down.
Before the duo had gotten any closer, they stopped in front of a seemingly empty lot with a little sandstone stairway that led underground. Two vent-like holes stood out beside it, each with fresh smoke billowing out. This was Julius's jewelry shop, though throughout most of the day he was making fine jewelry instead of selling it. Not many wealthy men wanted to wander into the slums to get a few rings and rare stones. Most of his business came from being a small-time blacksmith, making a few quality tools and sometimes, every-so-often, he would get a request to make a weapon. Though he preferred working with rare diamonds instead of tired iron, he had to make some kind of living. Besides, he had many hobbies.
"It's getting close to sundown," Dashiwille reminded Julius with a devious look, "momma's gonna get 'cha."
Julius smiled, stretching his wrinkled, tan face as far as it would go; "The young have no patience."
"You? Old? just turned seventy-two. She's the oldest now." remarked Dashiwille.
Julius smirked; "Well, I'm afraid I'm out of her league since I just turned forty-one."
Heading underground using the descending, stone staircase, they brushed passed a loose curtain that had a hand-drawn picture of an anvil and a jewel encrusted in a fine golden ring and made way into the main lobby of the shop. Goods lined the walls and some of the more expensive items were displayed in glass showcases that were more expensive than some of the items it held. An old purple rug was the only padding on the natural dirt floor. It would of been pitch black inside if it wasn't for a few strategically placed torches and the huge furnaces that were deeper into the back of the store.
Motioning Dashiwille, who was busy gawking at some of the fantastical ornaments on a shelf, Julius opened a little chest he had kept behind a display case. Reaching inside it, he pulled out a crown seemingly made of pure gold, along with a little scepter that was missing it's head piece; "I want you to have these, to commemorate the second person to climb that tower."
Dashiwille stood in front of Julius with his knees shaking. He knew that these things must of been worth more than any of his family's possessions and that someone of his kind would never be able to acquire them in their life time. However, that was not what he was excited about. Someone besides himself had gotten to the top of that mysterious, gilded tower.
"Wh-who," the boy started, but could not finish.
"Was the second to make it to the top?" Julius replied. Dashiwille nodded his head.
Julius held the scepter and wore the crown; "It was I, a long, long time ago. Someone I used to know gave these to me as a reward. It was still considered a child's game back then, but this man was a descendent of the great architect who built that tower. He had pledged to keep his mouth shut about it until someone came along who would have the stuff the climb it."
Dashiwille sat down, taking it all in; "But sir, I didn't make it all the way to the top." Julius chuckled to himself; "Exactly, neither did I. That's the point. I got far enough to realize what the tower stood for."
"F-False hope?" Dashiwille asked, hoping that his assessment was correct.
"Not exactly. I believe that the architect of that building was trying to use it as a way to teach. To tell those who listen the fallacy of envying what they 'ought not to have. Wealth is a fine poison. Work here long enough and you begin to realize that."
Dashiwille began to smile from ear to ear. Julius was just like him. Despite the fact that he could of easily made it into the Gentry's market with his skills, he decided to live in poverty with the rest. "So, what happened to the man who gave you these?""Well, he died before you were born, but," Julius replied, talking slowly to add emphasis, "he did give me one last gift too..."
"What was it?" Dashiwlle asked with great haste. He felt like an explorer finding treasure more valuable than gold.
Julius obliged to Dashiwille's request; "He took me to an underground grotto that he had stashed with many riches. However, they were all ruined from the mud and grit. He told me to delve inside, wearing the crown and holding the scepter. Only then would I truly be able to see past the foolishness. Do you know where that grotto was?"
Dashiwille's eye's widened. He put the pieces together. Julius had built his shop on top of this grotto. That was how he had found the materials to begin his trade; "It's right below us, isn't it!?"
"That's right," Julius answered with a little nod. Wear the crown and hold the scepter. Let us descend once again."
Dashwille knew that it was getting late, but it didn't matter; he was going to throw away the hope that had gripped his peers their whole lives: the pursuit of wealth.
Shuffling deep into the back of the store, the ground getting more rough and dirty with each step, they waltzed past Julius's two giant furnaces and found themselves facing a peculiarly placed rock. Heaving it aside, Julius grabbed a torch after doing so and waved Dashwille to follow him closely. They didn't use stairs to go under, rather, they slid down a groundwater-soaked slope down several feet. A few moments later, a rock jutted out from the now tunnel-like walls. Julius used his feet to brace himself and Dashwille to the rock. It was a crude braking device. Now able to stand up, Dashiwille saw the little underground grotto that Julius had spoken of. It had an ancient looking, but quite dead, tree sticking out from a muddy pool. To his surprise, when Julius held the torch light just right, little flickers of light shone out of the pool.
"Diamonds!" Dashiwille remarked. Never before had he seen such an accumulation of wealth.
Upon looking closer, he could see that the mud lake not only contained diamonds, but gold trinkets and rare gems in their purest form.
Julius tapped him on the shoulder; "You may take what you want. Use it to free whomever you like from the unfortunate ways you have grown accustom to."
Dashiwille started trembling again. He knew that with all of this, he could afford to take his and several of his friend's families out of poverty...but, for some reason, he seemed compelled not to; "No sir, I do't' want any of this."
Julius chuckled once more; "Very well. Go underneath that tree. You will find a little pocket of air where you can reflect on what you have learned. Don't forget, wear what you have earned, and then leave it. Then, the ceremony will be complete."
Obeying Julius completely, Dashwille's little body trudged deeper into the thick mud. He used the scepter to push away some of mud while trying to keep the crown balanced on his head the entire time. Deeper he sank into the mud as he began to reach the tree. As soon as he could feel it's roots, he was should-deep in thick mud. Taking a deep breath, he plunged under. Immediately, he noticed, his crown was left on the surface as it was not securely placed on his head. But that was not matter, for he was to leave it anyway. Though the could not see, he used the scepter to feel around the roots of the tree to find a weak spot. There must of been some hole somewhere that would leave him to the air pocket. Soon enough, he felt something touch the scepter that didn't feel like tree wood. It felt more solid and it vibrated the scepter as he struck it. He reached out and grabbed this foreign object, hoping that it might lead him to his place of refuge.
As he caressed the object's surface, he felt of prickle of fear course throughout his body. He felt two indentures it what seemed to be a spherical-like object, along with a few almost separated pieces near the bottom. As handled the object, he soon got a frightful revelation: it was a human skull. In shock, he released the skull and yelled a yelp that he knew nobody would be able to hear. Mud rushed into his mouth,; he was losing air quickly. His hand let go of the scepter as he madly struck the tree's roots, still trying to find a weak point. If only he had asked Julius for more specific details about this air pocket. As more air escaped his lungs, and as the taste of dirt and rot accumulated in his mouth, he began to doubt his resolve, even if just a little. With one more strike on the root, Dashiwille began to look at things a little bit differently. He had seen plenty of objects in the mud above that were man-made, but he, until now, assumed that whoever had found the place put them there as loot. However, he know wondered if they might of made their way into the muddy lake a little bit more deviously. That's when he realized what a fool he had been. There was no air pocket. Everything that had found it's way into this place had come from some victim. Now he was the victim. The victim to Julius's murderous lies. He cursed for the first time in his life, or at least he thought he did, for no sound was able to escape though the mud in and around him. Might his mother of scalded him for thinking trying to spew such spiteful language?
He no longer had the strength left in him to fight to the surface. He was trapped by his own beliefs in a man he hardly knew. The mud felt colder, and he now began to wonder if somebody would handle his skull one day, trapped in this hellish sinkhole. He felt his last breath of air leave him, and the scene of mud and rot left his eyes as he felt his body turn as cold and blue as his murder's eyes.
A moment of silence passed until the mud stirred no more. It became stagnant with a punctuate moment of silence afterwards. "Whelp," Julius said without a hint of regret, "time to retrieve the body."
He started to move towards his death trap when he heard the friction of another body sliding down his hidden lair's earthen ramp. He cracked his teeth, relaxed his shoulders, and waited as his new guest entered the room. He saw a tattered purple cloak bump into his little breaking device, do a sort of half roll on the ground, and them prop itself back up in a position facing Julius. "Do you have the corpse?" questioned the cloaked visitor, rather hurriedly.
"I was just about to get it for you. It takes a few minutes, but most everything that sinks in there will float back up to the surface without much outside help," Julius replied dryly.
Pulling back the cloak, Julius's nighttime guest revealed a bruised face, with dirty brown hair and what appeared to be a hack-eyed attempt to fix a broken nose. "Those guards almost killed a guy like you?" Julius inquired.
It spit out some blood; "Feh, one took me by surprise. The noise I could handle, but the imbalance it caused in me made me less effective. I'll set it as one of my goals to never lose balance like that again."
"You know, if it were anybody but you Guirras, I'd say that any normal person wouldn't keep his word on that goal." Julius replied, fidgeting with some of the rings on his fingers, absent-mindedly.
Guirras cracked his back, unlatching his sword as he did so. "It was troublesome to get this thing back. I did manage to take care of Dio for you, though."
"Good, then I can give you the rest of your payment now that I don't have to worry about any guard who seems to feel it necessary to investigate me. You can take as much loot out of there as you want, it's all stolen anyway. Oh, and if you have any other dark tendencies you might want to check out my containme-"
"It's alright, I'm just here to finish my goal, I don't need anything else to distract me," Guirras replied, swinging his terror-blade through the air in boredom.
Julius was astonished to find that it was physically possible for a man to swing such a weapon with ease using just one hand. Well, perhaps it wasn't just physically possible, Guirras must have some sort of mental conditioning regarding that weapon.
A brown bubble rose to the surface of that grimy, underground cesspool, along with a little, pure white hand. Julius just nodded in its direction; "And there's your guy. I'm going to sleep so I can brace myself for the explaining I'll have to do tomorrow."
Guirras ignored his business partner's words and faced him, eye to eye for the first time since his arrival; "Hey, Julius, b'fore you retire, I gotta know something."
"Yes?" Replied Julius, a little annoyed that he wasn't already on his way to his warm, furnace-side bed.
Guirras tightened his grip on his sword.; "Even a genius of a killer psycho like you can't last forever without being caught. I'm sure that Dio isn't the first guard to catch wind of the stench from this place. So, how exactly did you deal with all of the attention?"
"Oh, this?" Julius said sheepishly, shrugging and nodding towards the lake, "it's just a hobby."
Guirras smiled for a second, then, in one motion, like a hammer to a nail, he swung his blade down on Julius, only to have it stopped in its path. Instead of a severed body, Guirras looked at a man who had caught his giant weapon with two fingers, or more exactly, two diamond rings.
Julius smiled, "just one of the perks about being a jeweler." He then proceeded up the ramp and into his store's main lobby. Guirras flipped around and began to dig into the swampy soil, using his sword to fish Dashiwille's body out. "His timing was perfect. His aim was perfect. His technique...also perfect. Using two diamonds to stop my blade, angling each so that they concave into each other to stop the blade from slipping off a side ...I guess it is true when they say that nothing can cut through a diamond..."