Wulf Warren decided, as he scaled the seemingly endless steps of the Spire of Law, that he was glad he had not worn his armor to this summons.
His knees crackled as he mounted the last flight of stairs in the immense tower of metal and marbelite. Though he was only in his late thirties and his hair and beard had only recently begun to pepper, it was days like this that reminded Wulf he wouldn’t live forever. He paused at the top of the flight to catch his breath, trying not to think about the long walk back down. Gods, it was far too early in the day for this.
A patch of blue caught his eye against the white marbelite wall, a window. He approached and looked out over the still sleeping city of Nurem, fighting a feeling of vertigo when he saw how high up he really was. He could even see the fortress town of Nuremgard far to the north and west of the main city. This Spire was one of many in the sprawling walled city, though all were relatively recent additions in the past few decades, with the advent of steel in construction. He squinted in the rising sun’s already harsh rays and could make out the desert and plains that surrounded the city. A bird flew past the window, cawing wildly, a noisy reminder of how high up he really was. Wulf shook his head, wishing his feet were back on solid earth.
He turned and approached the ornate ghostwood door, the wood as white as the stone surrounding it, with an engraving in ancient Llanic carved into it. Wulf was two decades past his requisite Llanic courses at the Academy, as the language was the only surviving remnant of a civilization so old it had nearly passed entirely out of history, and thusly was not used in everyday situations. Wulf couldn’t recall much from those classes, either of the language or the history of the Llanic Empire, but he would always remember what these particular words meant.
He smoothed his gray Officer tunic, and then lifted the metal knocker on the door and let it fall, a jarring clang reverberating off of the marbelite walls on down the steps of the Spire. A click was heard on the other side of the door, and a muffled voice bid him entrance.
“Officer Warren, come in, take a seat.”
The speaker was a thin man who looked to be in his late fifties, beardless, with sensibly styled short white hair, and a pair of half-moon spectacles dangling on the tip of his nose. There was nothing particularly remarkable about this man that marked him as a Judge of the City, aside from the voluminous black robes adorned with golden stitching.
Wulf nodded his respect and took the offered seat. The Judge’s chambers lavishly decorated, shelves piled high with tomes of knowledge, statues and paintings along the walls, and a massive viewport behind his desk, through which a stunning view was available of the sun rising from above the Shining Mountains to the east. Wulf tried to ignore the realization of his elevation, feeling his stomach roil. He turned his attention elsewhere, anywhere, in an attempt to send the nausea away. The desk in front of him itself was, curiously bare, save for a darkstone statuette of Lord of Balance, the faceless robed figure that held its arms out to the side like a scale. In one hand, was a metallic plate holding a skull. In the other, a heart. Though he had served the City’s Justice for twenty years, which in itself served the Lord of Balance, Wulf had always found the figure to be rather unsettling.
“I assume you are familiar with our Lord Aequitis?” the Judge smiled, indicating the statuette.
“It’s quite striking, your Honor.”
“You may call me Judge Revas, Officer Warren.” The older man reached across the desk and picked up the statuette. “I have so many other statues, sculptures, paintings, a collection I have been accumulating my entire life. Any one of them worth enough gold to purchase and run a small barony down south in the Lysian Plains.”
Wulf nodded. After nearly four decades of life in the capitol, he found the idea of a quiet life of luxury out in the ordered country increasingly appealing.
Revas continued, “Yet this.” He hefted the little statuette. “This is my favorite.” He tossed it to the floor, where it clanked sharply off of the marbelite floor near Wulf’s feet.
Wulf started at the sound, but didn’t say anything. He felt Revas was on the verge of making a point, but for the life of him couldn’t see what point that may be. At this stage in his life, he had arrived at the conclusion that he was best used serving as a blunt weapon, as opposed to navigating the ins and outs of the politics of leadership. For the most part, he felt that his superiors concurred, especially after that debacle with the Blackgate Murders a few years back. It was a certainty to Wulf that he had risen as far as he could in the organization, and he’d had nearly four years to make his peace with the situation.
“It cost three silver pieces down at the bazaar. Made entirely out of darkstone. Cheap and durable.” He laughed. “And there were dozens of them for sale!” Revas paused and looked appraisingly at Wulf, as if expecting something from him.
The statue. Of course. Wulf reached down and picked it up, handing it over to Revas, who dropped it absentmindedly onto his desk. “A fine thing, our Justice system,” the older man smirked. “There is always someone to return the law to us if it is lost in some way, yes?”
Was Revas mocking him? “My apologies, your Honor, but I assume you haven’t summoned me here just to clean up your mess.” He gestured at the darkstone statue on the desk.
The Judge’s eyes narrowed. Wulf felt a small triumph at needling Revas. The man could stand there and pontificate all day, but that didn’t mean he could talk down to Wulf in any way. Whatever his shortcomings might be, Wulf wasn’t some spineless whelp fresh out of the Academy. His days of mindless repetitions of “Yes, Sir!” were years behind him now.
The Judge turned from Wulf and went to his chair. He sat down, taking his time to get comfortable, before leaning forward.
“On the contrary, Officer.” Revas sighed and produced an envelope from the folds of his robes. He placed it on the desk in front of him, clasping his hands together. “That is exactly why I have summoned you here. I have a mess on my hands, though not specifically one of my own doing. I believe you are the one who can help me clean it up.” He slid the envelope across the desk.
Wulf reached for it, but paused before picking it up. “Why me?”
“You came highly recommended for this kind of assignment.”
Wulf couldn’t fathom who would have made such a recommendation. As far as he knew, his supervisors merely tolerated his presence. Maybe they were simply trying to pass him off onto some other unsuspecting superior. “What kind of assignment?”
Revas gestured toward the envelope. “Why don’t you find out for yourself?”
Wulf took the envelope, but made no move to open it. “I’m a slow reader.”
Revas gave Wulf a long glance. “I think you read better than you are willing to admit.” Revas stood and paced around the desk. “This is a manhunt,” he paused, his hand on the statue of the Lord of Balance. “Out in the Western Expanse.”
“Your honor, I appreciate the offer, however I am an Officer of the Law. My jurisdiction is within the city. Not hundreds of miles away in the border lands.” Wulf waved his arm in the direction of the Expanse, visible as a far away band of brown on the northwestern horizon.
“Your jurisdiction is wherever I tell you.”
“The territories in the Expanse may beg to differ, your honor. Not to mention my superiors, as well.”
“If you accept, they will no longer be your superiors.”
Was he suggesting… “You’re saying I’ll be an Enforcer?” Now the supposed recommendation made even less sense. He wanted to ask if this was some elaborate ruse, but couldn’t imagine a Judge taking this kind of time to play a part of some amateur prank.
Revas nodded. “Back to the assignment at hand, your quarry will be a group of criminals who refer to themselves collectively as the Terrus Gang.”
Wulf searched his memory. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard of them.”
“I am not surprised. They operate primarily in the wastes around Oseti. They rarely come any further east.”
“Then, why is this Terrus Gang our concern? Neither Oseti, nor any other of the city-states past the Straights have claimed any allegiance to Nurem for years now. Why not let them handle it?”
“Normally, we would. However, the Terrus Gang has graduated from a fringe nuisance to a potentially legitimate threat to our society. Word has reached me from the Lord of Parthis that his city burns, and dozens of people are dead or wounded, due to an unprovoked terrorist attack being attributed to the Terrus Gang. Our city has enjoyed an unprecedented period of relative peace for well over a century now, due in no small part to our preemptive policies we have towards these sorts of disturbances.”
Due in no small part to the withdrawal of the Khandarians, as well, Wulf added silently. Returning his focus to the subject at hand, Wulf found it difficult to believe that a small-time group of carriage raiders would ever have any reason to cause such wanton destruction. “Are we sure this was the actions of a whole group, as opposed to one individual?”
“We have only the information the city’s Lord sent. This is why I’m sending an agent out into the Expanse. You are to ascertain as to the true cause of this attack and, if at all in your power, end the threat before it roams any further east.”
Wulf nodded in agreement. “And the leader, someone named Terrus?”
“There was a Terrus, yes. Though, he apparently met some sort of mortal misfortune in years past. Since then, one of his thugs has taken control, a Hollis Marshall. He was to be your primary target, but things, however, have changed.”
“Hollis Marshall was found unconscious at one of the city’s gates, presumably shot while attempting to escape. He has been taken into custody is being held until he is fit to stand trial.”
“How do we know it is actually Hollis Marshall?”
“Aside from matching eye-witness descriptions, he was found possessing a gang pin with the Terrus insignia.”
“Good. Let him hang. Makes our jobs a little easier.”
Revas chuckled. “If only it were that easy. The leadership of his gang has dispersed into the wastes, no doubt waiting to gather again and hatch further nefarious deeds. We have no information on where they could have gone to ground, or what they plan to do next.”
Wulf could see where this was going. He leaned forward, his interest piqued. “But we have someone who does.”
“Technically, Parthis has that someone. And although Nurem no longer rules the region, we have maintained a favorable relationship with the various city-states, especially Parthis. This however, isn’t charity and I’m certain their Lord is only willing to remand Hollis Marshall to Nurem in return for us guaranteeing the total annihilation of the Terrus Gang.”
“Alright, so if Marshall is no longer the primary target, who is?”
“His former second in command, a James or ‘Jimmy’ Bariss. We suspect it was he who shot Marshall and left him to be taken by the city guard.”
“Well, that’s loyalty amongst outlaws for you.” Wulf shook his head.
“Indeed. Now, although Bariss is now your primary target, do not underestimate the threat of the four other leadership members. Their profiles are all in the envelope, and I suggest you pay close attention. These are hardened cutthroats for whom murder is a game, and human lives merely points to keep count.”
“Dead or alive?”
“Try to keep at least one of them alive, if possible. We have a secure holding area that they will be taken to. These brigands will be interrogated to see how large their operation potentially is, and what kind of threat their activities could pose to our city.”
Wulf knew the holding area Revas was alluding to. The Silent Sentinel. He’d never been there himself, but had occasionally seen from afar the mobile prison fortress patrolling the harbor. The stories he’d heard about the place…
“And if they can’t be taken alive?”
Revas grinned, white teeth flashing in the morning sun. “I leave that judgment up to you, Enforcer Warren.”
Wulf smiled. Enforcer Warren. He could get used to that.