This story follows on from Jack Scrap, in which the city of Kazzanhof and Jack himself were introduced.
Darkness had fallen on Kazzanhof, and the glow of the lanterns and the chatter of people faded into the distance behind Jack Scrap as he walked away from the Sarvayn community garden. Everyone had been friendly and welcoming, though as soon as first introductions were over, most had spent more time chatting amongst themselves rather than bothering with Jack’s slow chalkboard communication. That was okay though. Jack was simply glad to have been included at all after so many months of rejection and isolation. It must have been at least five hours since he had arrived at the garden, and he felt the need for a little time alone. He walked with no destination in mind, past lanterns that were placed intermittently at the sides of the road, offering only a dim glow. Despite now being magical in nature, Jack’s vision functioned roughly the same as when he had been human, so he was far less in tune with his surroundings than the typical Kazzanhof citizen, who could see perfectly in the dark. Nonetheless, the impression he had gotten at the barbeque had given him reassurance that this was a safe neighbourhood to walk in, and he walked at random through streets and backstreets until he realised he no longer knew the way back. He noisily shrugged at this realisation and kept walking. It wasn’t as though he could be stopped by physical tiredness, so why not just keep walking around all night?
The dark and violent reputation of Kazzanhof was largely untrue, but it had its fair share of districts distinctly less wholesome than Sarvayn, such as the one into which Jack had now unwittingly stumbled: Wilhelmvayn. Had he been able to see better in the dim light of the moon and far away lanterns, Jack might have noticed the higher proportion of Fall-era statues kept in near-pristine condition, and the shadowy figures silently moving around in hidden observation of him… which soon grew tired of merely observing.
With a swish and a hiss from the darkness, a tall vampire woman stood before Jack. She was more than two feet taller than him, and her pose would have been impressively intimidating if not for her soft giggle at the rattle and squeak of Jack’s components as he jumped back. She eased her posture slightly – enough to show that she did not intend to be threatening, but keeping it clear that she could be.
“What business does a stranger, and quite a strange one at that, have entering these streets?”
Jack hastily scrawled on his chalkboard
“So you are a new visitor to this great city, or just an ignorant fool?”
The woman laughed and said, “Then I am inclined to overlook your unwelcome presence. I would send you back the way you came, but I find myself intrigued. We see many unusual characters in Kazzanhof, but you must be the first Bucket-headed Scrap Man I’ve ever seen. Would you care to tell my associates and I your story?”
WELL I CANNOT
SAY NO TO
“I like your little drawing of a face. That is a clever way to show tone when your football-head cannot! I assure you though, I am only scary when I want to be – and for now, I do not. Please follow.”
Jack was led a short distance through several dark alleys to an old broken-walled tavern with no name above the door, and very little furniture inside. There was a single lantern hanging from the ceiling, above a table with four chairs. Three were occupied – another vampire, a ghoul, and a wight. A few more people stood around the table, but Jack could not be sure exactly how many for some seemed to blend into the shadows or appeared not-quite-there (as is typical for the non-corporeal).
The woman took the fourth chair, and pointed to the ground near the table.
“Stand here where we can all see your board, and tell us who, and indeed what, you are.”
I AM JACK SCRAP
WHO ARE YOU?
The woman gave a vampire-smile and said, “I admire that you dare ask questions of this dark and shadowy group that effectively stalked and kidnapped you mere moments ago. I am The Knife. Here at the table sit The Thorn, The Skewer, and The Needle, and around the room you will see The Whisperer, The Hook, The Storm, and The Axe.”
“And The Croissant!” someone interrupted.
“Yes,” sighed The Knife, “and The Croissant. I left you out because your name is not nearly intimidating enough but I suppose Jack here is oddly resistant to how scary we are anyway. I suppose he thinks a vampire can’t do much to someone with no blood to suck, and apparently he’s oblivious to the reputation wights have for unspeakable cruelty.”
ALL THE VAMPIRES
I MET WERE NICE
“Let me guess, you already met Maximillian…” said The Knife, looking at Jack who nodded in response. “Well, he and I are friends despite our different political leanings, so perhaps if he trusts you, we can too, but let us hear – or read – your story before we say that with any confidence.”
At this point, Jack was used to writing out quick summaries of his life, and he powered through it rapidly. The moment Alvaro Shaw was mentioned, every face in the room turned foul and the glint of a blade caught Jack’s eye, but he quickly made it clear how much he hated the man and the faces turned to excitement. Within ten minutes of starting, he’d gotten to the phrase AND THEN I MET YOU LOT and the mysterious audience started asking further questions.
The wight called The Skewer was first to speak, in a voice like a sandpaper waterslide, “Mr Shaw has no friends in this city, but many foes, yes, many many foes. Like We.”
The Knife took over, “The Skewer tends to exaggerate things but on this matter he does not. This city is full of those who despise him, though most do not give further thought. We, however, feel something must be done. Justice must come to that man and if the powers that be shall not deliver it, then that responsibility falls to the common people.”
YOU WANT TO ARREST HIM?
“Ha!” grunted The Skewer over the murmur of amusement that rippled through the room. “With nicknames like these – except The Croissant – do you really think we merely want to arrest Mr Shaw. No, he must die.”
“Yeah,” added the ghostly figure known as The Storm, becoming clear in form as she spoke, “But like dead-dead. Not like us-dead.”
“Yes, Storm, I think that was obvious,” said The Knife. “Jack, you must share all you know about Alvaro. You must have learned a lot under his employment. You would be a hero of the city if you gave us the information we need to fulfil our plans.”
HE WAS IN
BUT IT’S MANY MONTHS
SINCE I LEFT HIM
“An extravagant sorcerer travels nowhere without stories,” replied The Knife. “You can lead us to where you last saw him, and if he is no longer based there, we shall interrogate any former contacts of his, and simply follow the trail his reputation left in his wake.”
I DO NOT CARE
ABOUT THIS PLAN
MY PAST IS DONE
I JUST WANT
The Knife sighed, “Jack, after what that man has done to you… After all the sins he has enacted upon the world, how can you be content to let him carry on with his life? How many more people have to suffer at his hands before you say “No More!”?”
Before Jack could write a response, The Storm cried out so loudly and abruptly that Jack nearly fell over in surprise. Her spectral form pulsated erratically with cold hazy light. Her cacophonous wail drowned out the hurried voices trying to calm her, and Jack watched in utter confusion as she was led out of the room.
Only Jack, The Knife, The Skewer, and The Needle remained, while the rest tended to The Storm.
The Knife forced a smile and said, “No, The Storm is a Banshee – they are formed when someone enters undeath in a state of great anguish. Their sorrow is eternal and their wretched wail is beyond their control. The poor woman died heartbroken because of what Alvaro did to her sister. Her story is far from unique in this city.”
For the first time, the ghoul known as The Needle spoke. His voice was slow, deep, and coarse. “The undead are still. Vilified by much of the world. That’s why Alvaro got away. With using us as test subjects. And experiments. He has taken from us all. My brother was the finest ghoul. You could meet. But he was taken. He probably died alone. In a cage. In agony.”
The Skewer followed, “I am lucky enough to have no immediate connection with the scum, but I know too many who are not. He has inflicted suffering that the Vampires of the Fall would shy away from. The man must die.”
Jack raised chalk but only managed a line trailing off diagonally across the board. The three undead stared at him, as he rubbed it off and tried again. The quiet in the room made the muffled cries of The Storm all too audible. In shakier hand-writing than before, Jack said
I WILL HELP
He wished he could have found a way to say no, but seeking revenge felt right. The random chance of stumbling into this particular part of town and meeting this particular organisation felt right. Even without the concern of what these people might do if he refused, Jack would probably have said yes. This was the last task to do before he could complete his quest for a peaceful life.
The Knife stood up, gave Jack a vampire-smile, and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Welcome to the Nightshade Pact.”