Into the Wild (novel)

Into the Wild (novel)


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Into the Wild (novel)

The Ironhead Station jail was beneath the main cavern. The tunnels were smaller here, and the air seemed humid. It made Cleasby uncomfortable, especially whenever a train would rumble by above them—the vibrations caused dust to rain down.

The jailer walking ahead of him was Rhulic. The dwarf had an iron helmet shaped like a pot, a gigantic ring of keys in one hand, and a knobbed club on his belt. “I’ll warn you, lieutenant, this prisoner is a scary one. I’ve been running this place for a long time, seen a lot of hard cases come and go, but there’s something not quite right about this one. Lots of mercenary scum pass through Ironhead, and when they get out of control, they end up here. Years of dealing with them, and I get a gut feeling for the ones who are really dangerous. The worst, the real killers, there’s an intensity about them, but at the same time, they just don’t give a damn about nothing. This one is like that but worse somehow. Like the only thing keeping him from killing you is that you’re not worth his time.”

“If it’s who I think it is, I understand completely,” Cleasby agreed. “No offense intended to your brave city watch, but I’m curious how they were able to apprehend such a man.”

“He surrendered without a fight. Good thing, too. From what I heard, he took Sam Galloway apart in that duel, and Sam was a tough one. He was a rail warden and probably the most stonyhearted, gravel-headed one in the company. Steelwater Rail has a problem in need of fixing, striking workers need their heads busted, wild beasts menacing the trains, that sort of thing, they send Galloway. Never has this mountain seen someone less troubled by mercy than that particular human, I tell you what. He was probably the finest swordsman in the city until this fellow sliced him up in under a minute.”
They entered an open space, and Cleasby breathed a little easier. The gas lamps were far enough above him now that it didn’t feel quite so stifling. It created the illusion that he was inside a normal room and not under a mountain. It wasn’t a very big jail, but Ironhead Station only housed fifteen thousand permanent human residents with probably twice that number of dwarves in their enclave. And from what he understood, the Rhulfolk tended to take care of their own problems without involving the Cygnaran authorities.

“Your killer is right over here.” The jailer gestured for him to follow.

The cells were more like cages—each one was a box made out of welded iron bars, and the boxes were organized into neat rows. The prisoners they passed watched them sullenly; none bothered to speak up. The jailer’s club was obviously well used, suggesting he didn’t tolerate any nonsense. There were different sized cages for different sized prisoners, with the smaller gobber cages being stacked two high for efficiency. The ogrun and trollkin cages were larger and had much thicker steel bars. In all, it struck Cleasby as a very efficient use of space.

As they came around the corner, Cleasby spotted a human in the last ogrun-sized cage. It was hard to tell if it was him—his face was obscured because he was hanging from the ceiling bars doing pull-ups.

“Why do you bother me, dwarf?” The familiar Ordic accent confirmed Cleasby’s suspicions. Savio Montero Acosta continued his exercises, not bothering to look at them. The back of his jail-issued uniform was drenched with sweat. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“You’ve got a visitor,” the jailer declared as they approached.

“Yes. He is so loud in his armor that I thought they’d sent a warjack.”

“Is it who you expected?” the jailer asked softly. Cleasby nodded. “He as dangerous as I guessed?”

“Worse.”

The jailer seemed satisfied at that. “Called it.”

Cleasby took his helmet off and held it under one arm. “Hello, Acosta.”

Acosta recognized the voice and froze at the top of the cell, hanging there. “Wait… Cleasby? Ha! Excellent!” He let go of the bars and dropped to the stone floor. Despite being a powerfully built individual, he landed without a sound. Cleasby had witnessed this man slash his way through an army with a grace that was frankly terrifying, so this wasn’t surprising. The man from Five Fingers was swarthy, dark in complexion and mood, and wore a goatee trimmed in the Ordic style. Acosta approached the bars, wiping the sweat from his shaved head with one black-and-white striped sleeve. “I should have known you were the reason I am back in Cygnar!”

Cleasby had no idea what that meant, but the Ordsman had always possessed a unique way of viewing the world. “I’d say it’s good to see you again, Acosta, but I understand you’re to be executed in the morning.”

“Oh, that?” Acosta made a dismissive gesture. “That is nothing. It is not the first time my death has been ordered, but I’ve managed to avoid such appointments so far. How have you been?”

“Good.”

“I can see you are different. Not here,” Acosta put two fingers to his temple, then thumped himself in the chest, indicating his heart, “but here. Leadership suits you. How are the Malcontents?”

“They’re well.” This was decidedly awkward. Acosta seemed honestly happy to see him, but maybe the Ordsman didn’t realize yet that there wasn’t anything Cleasby could do to save him. Acosta had been found guilty of murder, and Cleasby had no jurisdiction here. “Maybe you’re not grasping the gravity of the situation. In a matter of hours, you’re to be hanged by the neck until dead.”

“Yes, yes, enough about me. I must know what has brought you to this city beneath the stone.”

Cleasby looked at the jailer. “Would you give us a moment, please?”

The dwarf pushed back his pot helmet a bit so he could look up at Cleasby incredulously. “I’ll be waiting right over there, but don’t go too close to the bars, young sir. This lunatic is liable to try and snap your neck.”

Acosta laughed. “On the contrary, dwarf. This is my good friend Kelvan Cleasby. We have enjoyed a most excellent war together. I would never murder him in such a petty manner.”