Joined: Friday, 27th January 2012, 21:50
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9895445/1/ ... is-Justice
I put it on fanfiction.net because I've been doing a lot of re-reads to try and deal with all of the Chekov cluster-bomblets I've left littered all over the story, and gave it a badass new title ('And Strife is Justice') in the tradition of fantasy falutin, but it's only mostly up-to-date. Basically, I'll put stuff up here first, then once it's been chewed on and I've polished it a bit, I'll put it there. Not that anybody except me is reading this shit anyway.
Hey guys, this is the story of the misadventures of Jan Havelock - this is about my third attempt at a dungeon crawl fanfic, and there are a few caveats I've had to make to make it work:
-It's not in the dungeon. Rather, it is in the more general world of the dungeon, but advanced by around 100 years. Reading endless scenes of the main character being beaten by hobgoblins is not fun.
-So far, it's very low magic. My style aspiration is Joe Abercombie, so I'm shying away from really high falutin stuff for now.
-At the moment, DCSS is basically 'under the hood', so demons, gods, magic and so on are there - but more like how your heart is present in your chest, as opposed to your eyebrows on your face.
Anyway, I'd love to hear what you guys think.
A ragged line of refugees made their way along the track that wound along the eastern border of the valley. On their right, there stood steep slopes of scree, and gigantic granite faces, upon which grew scrags of heather, and wind-bitten trees. On their left, the valley was bare, close cropped by the horses of passing armies, without the meanest scrap of fire-wood. At its bottom ran a brook, cheerfully making its way towards the Middle sea.
They had bound the remnants of their shoes together with bandages, and the grey mud of the track crawled up their bare calves, undrying in the light rain that had been a constant, for several days.
Too-wide eyes, cast with the messianism of hunger, sat in leathery faces. These had been walking for some time, perhaps from the coast.
Leaning against a neglected drystone wall sat a bald man in a dappled grey poncho. He regarded the procession as it wound towards him, with eyes at once sorrowful and hungry. Perhaps, in a less hungry time, he would have liked to consider himself an altruist. As it stood, he had nothing to give but bad news, and the clothes on his back 0 which were in any case so hard-worn that no matter how he tried to wash them, he was unable to remove the smell. Not that he had access to any soap.
He shouted a few greetings, trying a couple of languages he half-knew his way around. One of the refugees - a man who, by the set of his too-visible bones, might have been powerfully built once, stepped warily forward to greet him.
"George Sound," said the big man, leaning forward to take his hand.
"Jan Havelock", said the bald man, standing up unsteadilly from his rock, "Northwards, or southwards?"
"Northwards. I heard it's safer in the North. And you?"
"Southwards. I hope to find a man called Kolhass - you haven't, by any chance, met a man of that name?."
"No," said the big man, after a moment's deliberation. "He live in Villach?"
"I'm told so. That's what my employers have on record."
"Your employers?" asked the man, warily.
"Nothing with cloaks or daggers - I'm employed by a bank."
The man sniffed. "Banks do much business in this part of the land?"
"Masses - although," Jan paused for a second, "I didn't expect it to look like this, knowing the kind of money that's been funnelled in."
"Money? Funnelled? There's not enough coins in this valley to fill a fist, let alone a funnel."
"Yes - as I say, it's not quite like I imagined it."
A man broke off from the blankly staring huddle that had formed behind the once-big man, and whispered in his ear. The man barked something unintelligible in reply.
They said their goodbyes, and Jan watched the ragged column tramp northward, before picking up his rough-cut walking stick, and heading south in turn.
That night, he slept in the roofless shell of a cottage that sat next to the brook, its walls blackened by fire.
In the early hours of the morning, he heard a column of horses galloping by, their riders letting out harsh yells. Thankfully, they didn't investigate the burned-out farmhouse.
He eat a breakfast of fresh water from the brook, and dirty, sweaty bread that he had kept in his shirt, then began the walk to Villach.
It was, he considered, something of a gamble. In the last thirty years, the hungry bands that walked this narrow pass had first stripped it of its sheep, its goats, and its farmers. Then, of its deer, its hares, and its grouse. Then, of all but the slowest wolves, crows, and buzzards.
This valley had witnessed two scourings - first, from the great glacier that carved it from whatever andeluvian plateau that had preceeded it, second by the million hungry stomachs of desperate men.
There was no forage, only wolves and crows, and the meanest scraps of firewood to warn them off in the freezing nights.
As he neared Villach, he saw a farmer ploughing white bones into his field, casting the odd glance to check the cut of the blade, and the straightness of the furrow.
He entered the town through a gap in the earth-and-stone pallisade, passing a grey-faced guard, deep in his pots. It was still the early hours of the morning, and the sun caught the snow-capped mountains with an acrid brilliance. The guard raised a battered eyelid to regard him, before slumping back over his drink.
The town itself was bisected by a straight cobbled road, wrinkled by cart-ruts that doubled as sewers for the houses on either side. Jan was very glad it was not the season for cholera.
Hard-faced old stood watching the street, or weaving baskets, as gangs of hard-faced young played with stones in the mud.
The buildings, built with thick drystone walls, more like fortresses than houses, looked uncared for. More than a few were empty, or looked like they had become the billets of gangs of soldiers from the north, who sat lounging on doorsteps, playing dice to while away the morning hours.
He found the town's only bar, a dusty-looking place, scattered with a few soldiers, slumped over the wooden benches, snoring. The keep looked irritated by his uninvited borders, but unwilling to throw them out, as he swept the table around their tasseled coats, spotted with wine-stains.
"Good morning," said Jan, with what he hoped was a touch of bonhomie.
The man stared at him. Jan was suddenly acutely conscious of what he was wearing - the grease-stained grey poncho, the baggy knee-length britches, the rag-bound feet.
"I'm looking for a man named Kolhass - Benjamin Kolhass - he's an associate of my employer."
The keep looked Jan up and down, then asked, "you're employed?"
"By Purves & Grimes - I can't really go into the business in question - I just need to find Mr. Kolhass."
The barman spat messily on the floorboards.
"He used to live on Viaduc Strasse," he paused, evidently considering whether to give further information, "in the big black house. You can't miss it."
Jan thanked him, then headed the way the surly barman gestured, stepping awkwardly out of the way of two men drunkenly wrestling over a dead rabbit, which was stretching in a disturbingly plastic manner between their red, hairy hands.
The town had picked up pace, and the street was populated by the haggard faces of shambling men and women, looking with bleary eyes at the weak sunshine.
The house was as the barkeep described. However, it was not black due to the colour of the stone, or painted, but rather black due to the fact that it had -at some point perhaps recently- been burned down, then refitted with a roof and shutters without the occupants bothering to clean or whitewash the soot-stained stone.
The fire had obviously burned with a violence Jan found difficult to explain, given the paucity of fuel, and the sullen, wet climate. Over the windows, stone had melted into glassy curlicues and stalagmites, running like dripping wax, giving the house an odd, sagging appearance.
The door was clad out of a sheet of lead, with a single rectangular plate of steel set in the center. Jan could see neither doorhandle nor keyhole. He knocked on the steel rectangle, not wanting to dust his hands with lead, and was suprised at how loud the knocks sounded.
He thought, not for the first time, that his superiors had probably sent him out here to get rid of him.
"Go beg somewhere else, you stupid fuck," came the low, gravelly voice from a doorman whose mottled pink face looked like it had been used as a chopping block.
The door was slammed in his face. He paused for a second, the thought crossed his mind for the third time that day that he should give up, then he remembered that he was a thousand miles from home, and that his job was the single characteristic that distinguished him from his beggar's rags.
He banged on the door again. It was thrown open with extraordinary violence, and the block-faced man barrelled out into the street. He grabbed Jan by the neck, and lifted him a foot off the ground.
"Are you fucking deaf?" he said, raising a disturbingly knobbled fist.
"I'm looking for Mr. Kolhass," said Jan, marvelling at the calm manner in which the words exited his mouth. He had an odd tendency to feel the fear after the frightening event, rather than during.
The man paused, apparently confused by the direction the conversation was taking.
"Mr Kolhass? On what business?" he said, lapsing into an oddly professional diction, still holding Jan in the air by his greasy shirt-front.
"Augur. For Purves & Grimes, his creditors."
The man set him down, before vanishing back inside.
He came out two minutes later with his butcher's-block face moulded into an insincere look of apology, and shrugged his shoulders as he ushered Jan in.
The door opened into a square guard-room, with four meaty looking men playing dice on a table, and a fifth reading a paperback. One wall held a rack of what Jan could only assume to be weapons.
Proceeding out of the room was a wood-panelled hallway, clad in polished and stained pine, giving it the look of walnut. It was a well done job, but the softwood showed the scuffs and marks of use.
Jan racked his brains to remember if anything in the specifics of Mr Kolhass' venture included the need for such heavy security - he was, after all, to Jan's knowledge, something between a realtor and a speculator. Both, professions Jan associated with boring, paunchy middle-aged men, or boring, slick-haired young men, not block-faced, thickset men with scars.
He was guided into a room which was piled almost to the ceiling with bundles of paper, and a harried looking man sitting at a desk, wearing thick glasses.
"Mr Kolhass?" asked Jan. His thickneck guide grunted a laugh.
"His accountant, only," said the man, in a frightened sounding tone.
"Mr Kolhass is through here", said his guide, taking his elbow and guiding him effortlessly through a small door, bordered on one side by another teetering stack of what he assumed were Mr Kolhass's books.
The next room he entered was something of a hall. It was lit by a single window of what looked like red-painted glass, which gave the entire room a hellish feel. Augmenting this dim light were gas lanterns, hanging from the carcassing of the roof on long wires.
Behind the desk sat Mr. Kolhass. He was another very big man, with very sharp eyes of a striking grey. The man regarded Jan cooly, like a wolf observing a small child.
"Jan - the augur. Please have a drink," he gestured to the small collection of bottles, set on a table to the right. He did not rise.
Jan fumbled with the whiskey decanter, feeling those cold grey eyes boring into his back. He avoided spilling or dropping the bottle just barely.
He returned to stand, awkwardly, in front of the desk, before the big man who had shown him to the room set a chair down for him.
"I understand you've been sent by Purves & Grimes to prepare a report for the lending comittee."
Jan racked his brains, trying to remember the correct jargon for this kind of conversation. For three months he had spoken of nothing but pleas and bread and shelter.
"Yes - I have a checklist if you," Mr Kolhass raised his eyebrows, and Jan reached into his shirt to pull out a greasy piece of paper, "would like to fill it out."
Mr Kolhass put it to one side.
"My uh," Jan paused, "My colleagues and I thought it would be advisable to have a, uh, man on the ground. Eyes on the job, hands on, cliff face," he trailed off, seeing the look on Mr. Kolhass' face.
"Since the slump, the senate has been leaning on us to get a better idea of - well, the business models of our debtors, for one thing. I understand you're a" Jan rustled through his shirt for another piece of paper "Realtor, with a seperate loan regarding a freight business?"
"I secured the purchase of that slope, there," pointed Mr. Kolhass, at a barren slope marked with the stubs of trees. "For development."
He paused. "It was a good commission."
"Yes, I'm sure."
"Property prices are soaring here. Everybody wants a piece of the gateway to a new frontier." He gesticulated with a gleam in his eye that could have been humour.
"But nobody usually makes the trek out. I hear the road is somewhat difficult." He smiled, with lots of teeth.
"They buy, through post, and I send the descriptions out, then they sell, through post, to others in the Capitol." He scratched his chin. "Sometimes I wonder if it's about Villach at all."
Jan felt a kind of giddy sickness at the void between the amount of money he knew was invested in this region, and the barren soil that shone red through the glass. Fortunes had been made and broken over these hills without a blade of grass being stirred.
"And, as you might imagine, this makes your arrival a pretty pickle." Mr Kolhass added, leaning forward intently.
"My arrival?" Jan's heart sunk.
"I expect the people who buy the land then let it sit empty here are aware of the situation in Villach, on some level. God knows they invest enough in military ventures to be aware that things are getting burned down, hanged, drunk, murdered in brawls, and so on. But, they have a pretence of not knowing, and that means they can play hot-potato with their competitors, chucking around worthless scrub to see who will be holding the most of it when the bubble finally pops." With the last word, he made a popping motion with his hand.
"And, with every toss of the potato - every time it changes hands, I take a cut, my men get paid, and everybody is happy."
He stroked his chin. "Who sent you, by the way? I'm curious to know who's trying to fuck me."
"Fuck you sir?"
Mr. Kolhass stood up from behind the table, and went over to the bar to make himself a drink.
"I imagine they expected you to arrive some weeks ago - they're probably worried that you've taken so long to report. But, I think the idea is, you arrive here, we meet - I am quickly rumbled as a fraud who has been puffing up prices and forging surveyor's opinions," he took a swig, "their competitors who are holding onto the assets crumble, I get the blame for the whole debacle, and end up having to run into exile."
He grinned. "Of course, they haven't considered my other options."
Jan was conscious of his heartbeat.
"Dogs, pigs, bloated corpse found washed up against a sluice-gate, that kind of thing," Mr Kolhass added in a bright tone.
Jan was speechless.
"Of course, it was a sloppy plan to begin with. You could have easily died on the road, you know." He tipped his drink just a little to Jan. "And that would have been the end of all this nonsense. It constantly bewilders me that people in the Capitol have such a limited grasp of what life is like out here that they might imagine I would simply roll over, call it a day," he paused, "although, I suppose they know me as Mr. Kolhass, the mild-mannered realtor who adheres to every nicety in his letters. And, I expect, if you had arrived here in the state you left the Capitol, you might have had money to send a letter or two - which would, in your hand, be enough, I imagine."
"I won't tell them-"
"Of course not. But, it has occurred to me that the instigators of this rather imbecilic plot have delivered me with something of an opportunity."
Jan could feel a big man moving behind him, and shrunk into his chair as he felt a meaty hand on his shoulder.
"I've made a career out of this kind of thing. Opportunity, crisis - usually the poles reverse if you have a strong arm, or lots of big men with strong arms. Chaotic situations aren't always violent, but the universal language - fear, broken bones, amputated hands, is amplified, often loud enough to drown out better words."
He paused. "I hope we'll be able to keep our conversations ... conversational."
"You see, now you are here, you are mine. Mine to do what I wish with. As it so happens, I am not a sadist, although I do employ some. If you do as I ask, then you will not find out which of my men they are."
Jan stammered out, "what do you want me to do?"
"Glowing reports. Construction work in the sunshine. Bustling markets. Sedate but businesslike people. Exceptional military discipline amongst our almost redundant protectors." He paused, scratching his chin.
"Maybe a little corruption, just so they know that there's enough grease to squeeze the fat through the crowds of the thin."
Jan was half-guided, half-shoved to his new room, which had a small window that looked out over the town, and glossed black walls. The window was barred, but other than that, there were few signs to show it was a cell.
He was given new clothes, paper, ink, even a small library, mostly terrible paper-backs, with runny ink and rough yellowing paper.
It was with a disturbing ease that Jan settled into his new life. He would rise in the morning, eat breakfast with the thuggish men who would grunt good-natured greetings with the politeness of ex-cons, go for planning meetings with Mr. Kolhass, who he now called Boss, just like everybody else, which were really editorial discussions of the broader outlines of the story that - letter by letter - he was sending his superiors at Purves & Grimes. He even published an article in a broadsheet, titled 'Villach: The last bastion of the bull market".
He would write these pieces overlooking the small streets which had not even cart-ruts to serve as sewers, watching the inhabitants of Villach -who were, to a child, awful drunks- beat eachother bloody every night.
He also found himself, for the first time since he was a teenager, with an abundance of free time. He spent it chatting to the accountant, who he was fairly certain had a nervous disorder, or playing cards with the security men, or even wandering around Villach.
In truth, there was little difference between the work he did here, and the work he had done in the Capitol, only his colleagues were more polite, his boss less manipulative, and the workload was considerably smaller. He even felt, on the scale from banal to monstrous that banking work spread along, such fraud was a mild crime. It was certainly less morally dubious than the work he had done assessing the business of slavers, of arms dealers and manufacturers, of the financing of military adventures.
This was simply on the fraudulent end of the generalised mercantile optimism and hopeful valuation that characterised banking in general. At some point, the bubble would pop, as everybody knew it would, and the banks that held the most land would go under, beaten down by a legion of lawyer's footfalls, most likely.
Villach itself was host to a near-continuous stream of refugees, who passed through the south gates then, when they discovered the residents had less charitable hearts than the stones of the mountains that rose on either side of their town, out the north. Against this came a constant stream of soldiers, bawdy and brawling, who robbed the shops and trashed the bar, which were then dolefully patched up, the drunkenly scrawled letters of credit used as kindling, and the wooden shutters re-fitted.
The single store that remained, and the single bar, eeked out a precarious existence between fleecing the helpless and bribing the strong.
From what he could gather, the bar had some unspecified arrangement with Mr Kohlass, that kept a dampner on the soldier's revels, and the single store - a grim, fusty smelling place run by a man called Mr. Fasthold, but more often called 'holdfast', appeared to have an arrangement with someone Jan dimly understood to be Mr. Kolhass's competitor.
In any case, while the bar typically had one or more of Mr. Kolhass's lantern-jawed men lounging hard-eyed in the background, Mr. Fasthold had no obvious protection, but the soldiers that walked in stepped softly, and argued with hushed voices.
He asked Mr. Kolhass about it, and immediately regretted the question. The temperature in the room seemed to drop by a few degrees, and the edge of a carefully leashed anger crept into Mr. Kolhass' eyes.
"It's a challenge. That's what it is, and I won't pretend otherwise."
He stopped, and went over to decant himself a glass of whiskey.
"I take it you've heard of Thorsen?"
"Thorsen is… an old man. An old, withered man, a representative of older times, when gabbling and sorcery ruled the lands. Our roads crossed, and I made it clear that my path could not divert to pamper his archaisms."
He threw back a slug of whiskey.
"I am, above all, a modernizer. The human race is dragging itself out of an age of superstition and darkness, and is on the path to a greater time. And, I am the servant of this change. I could no more gainsay this progress than my hand could gainsay my mind. This, progress, a march from an age riven by sorcerors and foul gods, is holy work. For industry, first we must have security. Law, but not the weak law of the senate. The law written in the stones of the land, in the blood of its sons. I learned long ago that the Old Empire was weak because it was in thrall to the corpse of its own past. In thrall to the past, it can only fall before those in thrall to a glorious future. A future of industry, of mastery, of power and glory."
He paused, took another drink.
"Instead, they limp along, poisoned by the intruiges of demons and gods. Corrupt!" he shouted.
"I have wandered off the subject, somewhat. Thorsen. He was the one who burned this house." He gestured to the charred, running walls.
"I forgot, in my arrogance, that just because something is old and decrepid, just because it is doomed to join the wasteheap of history, does not mean it has no strength. It is a foul strength, a strength that no decent man would stoop to, but it is strength nonetheless, and all strength deserves respect."
"Thorsen is a fire-hand, of the old mysteries and the old mould. He lives somewhere in this valley, though despite my best efforts, I haven't found the place. And, worse, he has succeeded in putting his hooks in some of the townspeople, so I must by dint of common law coexist for a time."
"The store, the store is his statement. His store is his challenge that even his kind has a place in these times. That the old has a place with the new. It is not a falsehood I will tollerate for much longer."
He laid his hand on Jan's shoulder. "The old must give way to the new. Thorsen is just one of a multitude who will try and push back the wheel of history, and who will fail, and fall to the hands of men like me. Thorsen is nothing. His store is ash, only the strong wind has yet to come to blow it away."
He paused, darkly in the doorway. "I won't hear about it again, understood?"
Jan stammered out that he understood. He wondered if he could use 'Employed by Lunatic' to flesh out his resume.