Chapter : Deceptive Practices
Tucker had a good feeling about this one. Up until this point, the tasks and encounters he had battled through had been fights against enemies using brute strength. There was no stealth involved. If he had to think about it, his preferred way to take down enemies wasn’t to charge into them with both barrels drawn.
He liked to sneak up on his victims and take them down without a struggle.
Being a mage, this meant his attacks would be less flashy and more controlled to avoid being caught by other enemies in the vicinity.
Of course, this quest that he was setting out on wasn’t one where he wanted to necessarily kill the man he was looking into. On the contrary, he was fishing for information. That meant he would most likely be infiltrating a stronghold or sneaking around, searching for names and documents that would lead him to the person - presumed a mage - responsible for tampering with the community’s crops and livestock. Ideally this sort of mission wouldn’t require a fight, especially since Tucker was just beginning to level himself up with his mage abilities. There was no way he could take down a grand mage or some other upper level magic wielder with his base level abilities.
Shenna had also come to that realization because she pestered him as they journeyed back towards Castlederg.
“Are you sure you can handle this sort of mission?” she asked. “You only have two abilities unlocked. That hardly seems like enough to go up against an experienced mage.”
“I know that,” said Tucker. “I don’t expect to battle a mage right off the bat. But, if it does come to that, I might have a few tricks up my sleeve.”
He was thinking about his unused XP point which he gained from leveling up to Level 3. He hadn’t used it up yet. In fact, he hadn’t even looked at his spell options. He was hoping to save that point and spend it on an ability that would come in handy once he needed it. For now, he had no pressing need to upgrade his fire and ice abilities, so the point was banked.
“I hope that means you have another mage ability handy,” said Shenna with a brush of her hair. It flipped over her shoulder and glowed in the sunlight for a moment. She glanced at him as she walked and added, “I’m not really sure how learning spells works.”
Tucker didn’t know how much he should say. Obviously he was moving through Acaedia as if it were a massive RPG, but for the people who lived in this world, it was simply their land and their communities. There wasn’t any focus on point values or learned abilities or skill trees. For Shenna, this journey to Castlederg to investigate Colton was just another day in the life. Tucker wasn’t sure if he should let on that when he completed “quests” and “battles” that he earned experience points that were spent to “learn” new abilities. It wouldn’t make much sense.
He decided to improvise in his response.
“Think of it this way,” he said. “You can read a spell in a spell book, which is like cooking up a dish. When you have the recipe in front of you, it is easy to just go through the motions. Anyone can pick up a recipe and mix everything together. But, for a mage, it’s all about memorizing the ability and learning it by heart. Once you are able to conjure the spell without using any aids, you are able to focus entirely on your execution. The better the execution, the more effective the spell.” He paused a moment as they walked along the dirt road, then added, “I’m still at the stage where I’m working on my technique. But, there are a few abilities I can choose to learn by book. They just might not be as polished in battle as the attacks I’m familiar with.”
Shenna listened intently, nodding once Tucker finished explaining.
“Interesting,” she said. “I never thought about magic being like cooking. What made you use that analogy?”
Tucker’s cheeks reddened slightly as he lowered his head. Shenna was making him sound smarter than he actually was, and he wasn’t used to such praise - especially from an attractive girl.
“Cooking is like brewing potions, don’t you think?” he said with a grin. “When everything is mixed correctly, it creates a delicious creation. But, when things are mixed wrong…” He pulled a face with a shrug. “It can be a disaster.”
This made Shenna chuckle.
“Well, I hope that there are no disasters for you,” she said. “Only delicious creations.” She winked at him, and he went even more red. It took a few minutes before the effects wore off.
The journey to Castlederg was much more pleasant in the daylight than it had been with evening coming on. Tucker noticed that there were no encounters with random monsters or creatures, which was a relief because Tucker didn’t feel like battling his way to the seaside city.
He and Shenna arrived at the outskirts of Castlederg without any fanfare or any injuries by early afternoon. The sun was warm and a salty breeze floated from the street, which led down towards the crowded waterfront. A few gulls cackled from the rooftops as Tucker and Shenna slowed their pace and went over the plan.
“Tell me again where this man lives?” asked Tucker.
Shenna humored him. “Wyatt Colton lives above his base of operation in the Aldora building. You really can’t miss it. It’s one of the few buildings with four floors at the waterfront. You’ll also know that Colton has no shortage of money because his real estate is one of the only buildings that’s not crammed against the others. He actually has a side yard attached, and you can bet that it’s surrounded by large iron gates.”
“So he likes his protection…” mused Tucker. This quest was beginning to sound like he would get to sneak his way into some off-limits places. He hoped that there wasn’t that annoying guard stationed outside - the kind who would catch him if he slipped up and escort him away with a canned response. Those always annoyed him in the RPGs he had played. “I hope that I can get something out of him.”
“I wouldn’t be too hopeful,” said Shenna with a smirk. “Do you really think that someone as powerful as Colton is going to entertain someone who refuses to take his helmet off in his presence?”
“You’re probably right…” Tucker replied. “That just means I’ve got to be sneaky and follow Colton around. If he’s really making deals with a mage - or any other culprits - he’ll lead me right to them if I can trail him long enough.”
“I hope you’re as sneaky as you are enthusiastic,” added Shenna as they came to an area where the street curved around a sloping hill and the sea port came into view. “Here we are. Time to make a start.”
Castlederg was bustling with activity, as Tucker expected. Carts rolled past, filled to the top with bags and crates of goods that had been taken from the ships at dock. Fishermen were selling their catches on ice, and the smell of freshly baked goods wafted from a bakery’s open door. Tucker’s mouth watered at everything to eat.
But, he couldn’t be distracted. He had a job to do. He would eat when everything was over. Just to tide him over until he had time for a real meal, Kirk and Emma had given him some jerky which he had wrapped in a cloth and tucked into his bag.
After passing by a few shops with people milling around in front of the windows, Shenna pointed ahead of them and said, “There it is.”
The Aldora building was impressive. Unlike the other buildings surrounding it, which were crafted of rough stone that had been chopped at odd angles and slatted together, this structure was uniform and almost appeared to have been built by a machine rather than human hands. All the sand red stones were ground down until they were straight and fit together with barely any mortar to be seen. Even the windows were taller than the other buildings, and these were hung with velvety burgundy curtains that accentuated the color of the stone walls. A sign hung above the doorway announcing to everyone that this was “Colton Credit Options” which was pretty sophisticated in its lettering. Tucker would have admired such a progressive style of business if it weren’t for the way that it was taking advantage and swindling its customers.
Nobody was going in or out of the building, leading Tucker to believe that it was a place that most people dreaded to go. It was lucky that Acaedia didn’t have telephones because Tucker could only imagine how horrible it would be to have someone constantly badgering you for late payments, especially when the goal was to make you so poor that you eventually couldn’t pay at all.
Shenna stopped with Tucker a little ways away from the building and glanced at him.
“So, what do we do now?” she asked.
Tucker adjusted his helmet on his head so that it was snugly in place and replied, “You wait here. I’ll go up and try what I have to do. Hopefully Colton believes my story.”
“I hope so, too,” said Shenna. “For your sake. If anything bad happens and it looks like you’ll be in real danger, please, just run. Nobody will judge you for it.”
“I appreciate you looking out for me,” Tucker replied. “I think I’ll be fine. I doubt that Colton keeps a world-class mage in his place of business. That would be pretty easy to figure out, right?”
Shenna nodded, but said no more.
Tucker took a breath, gathered his courage, and made sure that his sword was tightly attached to his belt.
“Let’s see how good of an actor I am,” he muttered, then he set off for the entrance.
The door to the office opened with barely a sound. Colton must have insisted that the mechanisms were well-oiled.
This will make sneaking that much easier, thought Tucker. The wealthy people like Colton enjoyed their luxuries, but did they realize that it all came with a price?
Once inside, Tucker closed the door gently behind him. The ambience of the room was that of a grand library. The silence was so thick that Tucker imagined he could sink his sword into it and slice off a piece. Even the light in the entryway was hazy. Sitting in a place like this would have made Tucker sleepy.
He looked around at the floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Each shelf was filled with leather books. Tucker presumed that those books were the many tallies of debts owed to Colton, as well as his many properties. Tucker wished he could reach out and flip through one of those tomes, but at the far end of the room, seated at a grand desk, was Colton.
The man had sharp features. Both his nose and brows were pointy and stuck out beyond the rest of his face. What little hair was on his head was ringed around his ears and the back of his head. A few strands were pulled over his bald dome, though they did nothing to add to his appearance.
Colton looked as if he belonged in this building. It was decorated with dark wood that added to the shadows in the corners where the sunlight couldn’t reach. There were stone statues positioned at various spots around the room, presumably to add to the intimidation of the place. Some of the figures had scowling faces. Others were holding heavy objects over their heads as if they were going to suddenly spring to life and crush anyone in the room with what they held. Tucker gulped, trying to rid himself of the nervous lump in his throat.
As Tucker walked forward, Colton glanced up and his icy blue eyes widened.
“Goodness, you gave me a start! I didn't hear you come in.” He closed the book he had been writing in and folded his hands on top of the cover. Tucker remained silent and was pleased when Colton’s eyes flicked down at Tucker’s sword. That was the only hint of unease because immediately he stood and straightened his fancy vest and tie. “How may I be of service to you, young knight? That is what you are, isn’t it? I only judge by your helmet.”
“Forgive me,” said Tucker in as gruff a voice as he could muster. “I rarely take it off. My time up north left me with little trust in the world. Even a place as friendly as Castlederg.”
It was cheesy, but he went with it. Luckily it got what he wanted from Colton, which was sympathy.
“My word. You have already served up there?”
“We can not wait for men to mature when the best ones are already fighting the orc forces,” answered Tucker. He left it at that. “I paid my dues. That is life. I am interested in starting a new chapter, however.”
“I see.” Colton folded his hands together with a smile that was forced, just a formality. “And you’ve come to me. I am pleased. What are you interested in?”
This was the part of the plan that Tucker hoped was believable. He kept on his serious voice and said, “I am looking for a place to settle down. You have no doubt heard about my recent accomplishments?”
Colton, true to his self-absorbed reputation, shook his head slightly with a self-conscious smile.
“I’m sorry, I am afraid I haven’t. I don’t get out much with all my work here.”
I bet you don’t, thought Tucker. With all the help you get, other people doing your dirty work…
Tucker kept up a haughty attitude.
“I have slain a few monsters that were terrorizing the area. The way I see it, I can find a steady job here if there are that many people looking for help protecting their farms and land. Wouldn’t that be an accurate assumption?”
“I should say so…” muttered Colton. “There have been quite a few farms recently that were under attack.”
He scratched his chin, gazing off to think. Tucker didn’t let him think for too long before he launched into his next question.
“So, what options do you have for homes? I would like one with a lot of land.”
The direction got Colton visibly excited. He bounced on his toes a few times as he answered Tucker’s question.
“There are some very nice homes here by the waterfront - and very roomy yards. I can show you some very reasonable priced properties and, if you choose to purchase one, we can discuss a payment schedule and interest rate -”
“I don’t want to be by the ocean,” Tucker interjected. “Too crowded for my tastes. Plus I don’t like the noise after I’ve retired for the day. Loud noises can trigger unwelcome memories of my time in battle.”
“Absolutely…” said Colton, obviously surprised that the prime waterfront real estate was being turned down. It was time for the backup options. “If it's peace and quiet you’re after, then you might be thinking of something on the outskirts. That is where most of the families move. Lots of land to grow your own crops and raise some livestock. A man can become self-dependent.”
“I like the sound of that,” answered Tucker.
He was getting closer. Just a bit more manipulation…
“Something tells me that you will have no problems protecting your property, especially if you have the reputation that you say.” Colton pulled one of the leather books off the shelf and flipped it open, setting it down on his desk. He sat down as he browsed through the pages. “Let’s see what we have here…” He motioned to a spare wooden seat with velvet cushions. “You may have a seat if you like.”
Tucker was obliged and sat down, glad to be off his feet, which threatened to tremble under the pressure.
He watched as Colton flipped through the pages, muttering as he went. He must have enjoyed being a salesman because he dragged things out, and Tucker was sure that if he had been just a normal customer, he would have been hanging on every option that Colton deemed worthy of his attention. But, he wasn’t just another customer.
There was a job he had to do, and as he waited a few minutes, allowing Colton to get comfortable, Tucker came closer and closer to getting what he really wanted.
It was time to strike.
“What about over in Sorrell?” he asked, stopping Colton from his musings. “I passed through there on my travels, and liked all the farmland. Very nice and full of potential. Do you have any farms available?”
Colton raised an eyebrow.
“Not on the small side…” he replied. “But, let me see.”
“Money is no object,” said Tucker, going for the kill. “I’d even be willing to buy out a current resident. The area spoke so strongly to me.”
Tucker was pleased to see a hungry look enter Colton’s eyes. He placed his hands on his book.
“You are an intriguing fellow. There will be no need to buy out a current resident. I have a few who are nearing the brink of repossession. Let me see…I’m sure I have their listings somewhere…”
Tucker folded his arms. Now he was getting somewhere.
“You shouldn’t buy what you can’t afford,” he said. “Haven’t people learned that by now?” To accentuate his determination, Tucker pulled out the last gold coin in his pocket and began spinning it between his gloved fingers. Colton definitely noticed and his eyes were glued to the gold.
“One would think…” said Colton, then, slipping out of his professionalism he added, “It certainly makes a business like mine very profitable. All the late fees and such. Then when the axe finally falls, I keep the property.”
He chuckled, and Tucker forced himself to share in the laughter. In actuality he wanted to strangle the man for being so cruel. It was the kind of thing he could see Vinny doing. In fact, this man reminded him an awful lot of Vinny. That gave Tucker all the more reason to take Colton down.
Tucker pressed even further.
“What about the Meadows place?” he asked. “I like the position of their property. There is room to expand if one were to buy out the fields next door.”
“If you think you can handle an estate of that size…” muttered Colton. He locked his gaze on Tucker, and for a moment Tucker was worried that the man was becoming suspicious. Even if he was, what could he do? It still seemed obvious that this man wasn’t a mage. Whoever he hired had to be outside this office.
After another few moments of heavy silence, Colton spoke.
“Let me see what I can do about the Meadows farm. They have been on their last leg for a while. Perhaps it’s time for them to move on if they can’t honor their obligations. Where shall I call on you, once I have more definitive answers?”
“Call for me at the pub,” said Tucker. “Leave a message for Tucker.”
He doubted that the man would make it that far. This was merely the push that Colton needed to begin taking action. Once he moved, Tucker could follow him in the shadows.
With everything set, Colton walked Tucker to the door and bid him farewell. Tucker walked down the front path and then headed along the street until he was out of sight and Colton had closed the door. The hard part was over. The interesting part was just beginning.
Shenna spotted him and came over.
“So?” she said as she reached him. “Did you find out anything useful?”
“Oh, Colton is doing some shady business alright,” said Tucker as he rung his hands together. “He basically came out and said that he would evict anyone when a better offer came up. All I had to do was flash some gold in front of him, and he broke down.”
“And did he say who he’s using to cause all the damage to the crops?” asked Shenna.
Tucker shook his head.
“I didn’t expect him to. That would be outright stupid. No, Colton had more smarts than that. But, I pointed out your family’s farm on purpose, and he said that maybe it was time for you to move on if you couldn’t afford to pay your bills.”
Shenna looked like she was going to burst into flames. Her fists were balled up and her shoulders trembled.
“That beast of a man…” she said through clenched teeth. “I wish I could take my arrows and put one through his smug face.”
“We won’t have to do that,” said Tucker, “if we can get him to hang himself. Don’t worry. I’m not going to let him get away with forcing your family out of their home.” He looked her in the eye reassuringly and after a few deep breaths, Shenna softened.
“I appreciate it,” she said. “What do we do now?”
Tucker motioned for her to follow him back around the corner until Colton’s building was in view.
“We wait for Colton to rendezvous with his accomplice. Whether that means they meet here, or if Colton goes to the man’s place…that will be found out tonight.”
“Tonight?” said Shenna with a raised brow.
Tucker gave her a mischievous smile.
“All dirty dealings take place at night.”
Bio: I have been a writer pretty much from the time I could hold a pencil and scribble letters. I am looking to develop my craft and better my storytelling. I am a huge fan of fantasy and horror in all their incarnations. When I'm not reading, I'm usually hunting for Legos. You can find me trying to decipher the mini-figure blind bags at the local big-box store.