A Mask, A Cane and A Box


A Mask, A Cane and A Box




A Milltown Story



Revenge in a Box

The man, hunched over a vice mounted on a
workbench, wielded a fine bladed screwdriver on the brass mask the
vice held. He tightened a tiny screw, just barely visible, on the
inside, just below the left eye-hole. The exquisite mask was polished
brass in the form of a delicate heart shaped feminine face with wide
set, almond shaped eye-holes and full, red enamel lips with an almost
imperceptible slit between them. The nostrils also had holes. The
eyebrows are filigree silver and have embedded red gemstones. On the
inside, around the perimeter are tiny runes in red enamel.

“Chia, Chio, come here,” the man calls out over his shoulder.

“Yes, Horatio?” a tall, thin Goblin said as she stepped into
the pool of light around the worktable where Horatio sat. She wore an
off-white tunic that reached mid thigh, belted at her narrow waist,
light blue hose and tan half boots.

“Ah, Chia, please bring me that small casket on the other
workbench,” Horatio said as he waved a hand at a workbench along
the other wall without looking up.

Horatio released the mask from the vice, wiped it carefully with a
soft cloth and slipped it into a velvet cloth bag. Chia set the
casket on the workbench near him. He placed the wrapped mask inside
then locked the lid and asked, “Where is Chio?”

“My brother will be along shortly.”

“Sorry, boss,” said a short, wide Goblin as he entered the
room. He was a foot shorter and 2 stones heavier than his sister. He
was dressed identically, except for the leather vest with pockets he
wore over the tunic and black leggings.

“Chio, here is the key and deliver this to the witch … to
Shenan the Blue,” Horatio said as he handed a small brass key to
Chio then added. “Follow the plan and be alert. We have a
rendezvous tonight and I will need you with me.”

Chio nodded, took the key and tucked it into a pocket on his vest.
He picked up the casket, looked at Chia. She nodded and they made
their way out of the laboratory, carefully shutting the door behind
them. They took the stairs down to the street and just as they
reached the bus shelter the cross-town steam-bus pulled up.

Chio and Chia were able to find a seat near the door as the bus
wound through town, stopping several times before the siblings rose
and got off at the stop at the corner of Bluet Road and Pixie Way.
Since it was mid-morning, the foot traffic was light. They set set
off down Bluet Road and after a few steps, Chia fell back a couple of
steps. As she walked she eyed everyone on the street and especially
alleyways. They walked three blocks and paused in front of a public
house, The Cask and Crank. The siblings paused for a moment, as if to
collect themselves, then with Chia in the lead, pushed the door open
and entered the pub.

The bartender looked up, raised an eyebrow, shrugged and waved
them to a table without moving from behind the bar. Just before they
sat, Chio placed the casket on the floor between them under the
table.

A Dwarf serving girl stepped up to their table and asked them
quickly in a heavy hill Dwarf accent, “Good morning to ye. What
will ye be having today?”

Chio and Chia shared a look then Chia said, “A couple of scones
and two half-pints of bitter, please.”

“OK, that’ll be two bits,” the Dwarf said as she headed
through a door at the back of the tavern.

At a table in a corner, a ways from the door, sat a man, a Dwarf
and a Troll. Each had a mug in front of them and they sat
conspiratorially close, talking in low voices. The Troll had watched
Chio and Chia come in with interest.

“Look, we got some gobbies. Looks like they got something,”
the Troll said.

The man began coughing, turned in his chair as if to not cough on
his companions. His eyes flickered to Chia and Chio. He finished
coughing and turned back to his conversation with the other two.

“Looks like they are delivering it to someone. They look
familiar, do you recognize them, Tarbla?”

“Ya. Them gobs work for the tinker, Horatio Hornblatter. He
makes stuff for rich people. I expect whatever it is, the Scarecrow
will pay good coin for it,” the Dwarf replied.

The man was quiet for a few minutes while the waitress dropped off
Chio and Chia’s order. Chio pulled 3 coins from a pocket and
dropped them in her hand.

The girl curtsied and said, “You want anything, just call, luv.”

“Thank you,” Chio replied.

The siblings smeared the scones with the butter and started
eating.

“Irl, they’re gonna be done quick,” the Troll said.

“OK, Bo. We need to have some idea where they are going. Tarbla,
you drink up and head out the front. Wait across Bluet and follow
them from that side. Bo, you slide out the back and wait in the
alley, near the Bluet end. I’ll come out the back when they leave.”

“Got it,” the Dwarf said, finished his drink and left.

“Bo, finish your drink and remember: wait for me, don’t go
charging at ‘em,” the man said to the Troll.

“They’ve taken the bait, I think,” Chia said after the Dwarf
left.

The door opened and two more Goblins step in. They see Chio and
Chia and walked to their table.

“You ready?” the lead Goblin asks.

“Yes, we are, Hlio. How are you, Hlia?” Chio asked.

“I’m better. Ulia’s potion did the trick.”

The Goblins headed out the door.

As soon as they cleared the door, Tarbla rose and strode out the
back door. Her head barely cleared the top of the doorway. Irl waited
a few moments then followed.

Horatio stood back from his workbench. On it lay an ornate walking
cane with an intricate silver jack-o-lantern on the end of the
collar. The cane was a yard long, black lacquer with a brass ferrule
and collar. Just below the collar were 4 green gemstone evenly
distributed and on the shaft were red enamel runes arranged in
columns. The face of the jack-o-lantern had quartz teeth and blood
red gemstones for the eyes. Horatio picked up a black silk cloth,
wrapped the cane in it and placed it in a long narrow box. He sighed,
closed and locked the lid then turned his back on the workbench and
left the laboratory.

The Goblins, once outside, set out along Bluet. Chio was carrying
the box, Chia was behind him to his right, Hlia ranged 10 steps ahead
and Hlio fell back 10 steps. They move warily to the next corner and
turn on Liropre Road. They follow it for 8 blocks then turn on Temple
Street. Two blocks up Temple Street, as Hlia passed an empty
building, she tumbled out into the street.

Bo had burst out of the empty building and knocked Hlia into the
street then she turned and grabbed the casket from Chio’s hands
while Tarbla moved up behind and thumped Hlio on the head with his
shillelagh. Chia turned to look at Hlia, saw Tarbla, started to pull
her knife. Hlio fell to the road and she ran to the fallen Goblin as
Tarbla ran off between buildings. Bo dashed back into the building.
Once she passed through the doors, Irl pushed an old cabinet over to
block it.

The Goblins regrouped, attempted to enter the building but
couldn’t open the door. They ran down the side alley but found the
alley behind the building to be empty. They walked down the alley
until it let them back out on Liropre Road.

“Hlio, how is the head?” Chia asked.

“I’ve had worse. Probably get a lump tomorrow. See you at
Poppy’s tomorrow, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Chia answered.

The two sets of siblings split up at the corner after Chio passed
Hlia and Hlio a few coins. Hlia and Hlio got on the first bus at the
nearest bus stop, while Chia and Chio crossed the street to catch the
bus going the other way.

Irl, Bo and Tarbla met up and walked down several streets and
alleys until they reached a set of stairs going up. At the top they
passed through a poorly maintained doorway and walked down a long
hall. Halfway down they stopped before a door with a small stylized
cat on it. Irl unlocked it and waved the others inside. The front
room was nicely appointed with a couch and two over-stuffed chairs
around a long, low, narrow table. Bo set the box on the table then
knelt and studied the lock. She pulled a set of small tools out of
her blouse and began picking the lock. It was only a few minutes
before the lock opened and Bo flipped up the lid. Tarbla reached in
and took out the velvet bag with the mask in it.

When he removed the mask from the velvet bag his hands began
shaking. Tarbla held it up and turned it this way and that; even in
the dim light of the apartment it’s beauty shined.

“Oh my word. This is -” Tarbla said.

“Going to make us a lot of coin!” Irl said, watching the mask
as Tarbla turn it.

“He is an amazing tinker. An artist,” Bo whispered.

Reluctantly Tarbla slipped it back in the bag, placed it back in
the box and closed the lid. Irl stepped over to a cabinet, rummaged
around in it for a few moments then returned with a different lock,
this one with a key. He locked the casket and left the key on top.

“I believe our best bet is the Scarecrow. How do we get this in
front him?” Irl asked the Dwarf.

Tarbla was quiet for several minutes then said, “He has a
regular schedule and I know a guy that knows where he’ll be
tonight. Gimme about an hour and I’ll know.”

Irl nodded and Tarbla left the apartment.

Chio and Chia knocked on Horatio’s apartment door and waited
quietly. Horatio opened a few moments later and asked, “Good, you
are both here, come in. How did it transpire?”

“Almost exactly as you planned. It took them longer to take the
bait but eventually Irl and his trio attacked us. Hlia and Hlio did
their parts perfectly.”

Horatio nodded and said, “Now to alert the witch. I sent a
messenger earlier announcing the delivery to her. Chio, you to need
to make your way to the witch and tell her about the theft.”
Horatio paused and looked at the shorter Goblin for a moment then
continued, “She can be … moody, she will be upset by the news
that her mask has been stolen.”

“I understand, boss,” Chio said resolutely.

“Stick to the plan, talk as little as possible. Don’t mention
her br … the Scarecrow. She needs to reach that conclusion on her
own,” Horatio paused and then added. “Be careful, I will need you
tonight in undamaged.”

Chio nodded and left.

“Now, Chia, lets go to the laboratory. We must get the final
piece assembled. I will need your steady hands for this,” Horatio
said.

They entered the laboratory and walked over to a workbench where a
small brass box with the lid off rested. Inside the box was a
clockwork of gears and jewels. For the rest of the afternoon they
worked on the box. The face had 5 runes centered. By pressing on a
rune and pushing towards the bottom of the face a new rune could be
displayed. Otherwise there rest of the box was bare of any
decoration.

Chio stood in the foyer of the witch’s mansion, shifting from
foot to foot. Before entering he’d torn his blouse to look like
he’d been a fight. The servant, a half-ling, had bid him wait while
he fetched the mistress. The foyer was circular with the entrance
behind him and a hall way in front. To his left was a half-size
statue of an angry Wyvern, to the right of that a closed door. To his
right an painting of a battle, with a door to it’s left.

Chio turned to the painting and had just begun to study it in
earnest, when the manservant returned and guided him to the parlor
which was through the door next to the Wyvern. He was only in the
room a few moments when a tall, thin well dressed woman with wide
set, almond eyes, a slightly upturned nose and full lips entered.

“I do not see my item,” She stated as she eyed the young
Goblin.

“Master Hornblatter sent me to deliver your item. I was waylaid
and it was taken from me. I am at your mercy, Mistress Shenan,”
Chio said and bowed his head.

Her eyes narrowed. She frowned then opened her mouth, paused and
closed it. A thoughtful look came to her pretty face. She said, “You
might as well tell it to me from the start.”

She glanced at the hafling and told him, “Toshi bring us some
refreshments.” She waved Chio to an overstuffed chair and sat
opposite.

“Please begin.”

Chio told everything from the pub to the returning to the bus
stop.

“I am surprised that such a small group would attack the four of
you over a casket of unknown contents. Then again when they saw 4 of
you, maybe that indicated it was valuable,” she said.

They sipped the tea that Toshi had dropped off while Chio talked.

“I don’t blame you or Horatio, you only did what was prudent.
I blame the lack of Watch presence in this town. Did you, by chance
recognize any of the thieves?”

“Yes, Mistress. One I know as Irl.”

“Irl? That name sounds familiar.”

She rose, paced around the room muttering but it was too low for
Chio to hear. Chio sipped his tea and ate the biscuits quietly.

She stopped, stepped back over to Chio and asked, “I don’t
suppose you would know where my br … the one known as the Scarecrow
will be tonight?”

“Yes, Mistress. Yes, I do,” Chio answered, nodded his head and
added. “We have a delivery for him tonight, so are going to meet
him at the Red Bull this evening.”

“Hmmm,” Shenan the Blue hummed, then said. “Very well, I
shan’t keep you. Please tell Horatio I will pay him for his trouble
tonight at the Red Bull.”

She looked at Toshi and said, “Please give this brave young man
some coin to get his shirt repaired and see him out.”

Toshi walked Chio to the front door, handed him a small stack of
coins and ushered him out the door. Chio thanked him, moved quickly
down to the street and up the block.

After he stepped into the apartment, Tarbla said, “Red Bull
tonight.”

“Good,” Irl said then paused for several minutes before
continuing. “We are going to have to dress a lot better to get in
there. I have a good set of clothes that will work, Tarbla?”

“Yes. Gimme an hour,” Tarbla said.

“Bo?”

Bo muttered something under her breath and refused to look Irl in
the face.

“Bo, we have to wear better clothes to get in to that place. Do
you have better clothes? If you don’t you can wait outside for us,”
Irl offered.

“Yes. I have … something. If I must,” she answered
cryptically.

Chio reported back to the laboratory to find Horatio changed into
a black half-boots, black knee pants, dark gray hose and half jacket
with a scarlet trim. His blouse was magenta with white highlights.

“Chio! You are back! We need to leave within the hour. Chia is
already in the apartment changing.”

Chio nodded, turned and crossed the hallway and entered the
apartment. Chia stood in front of a full length mirror, adjusting her
outfit. She was wearing a form fitting teal gown that went to
mid-calf. The sleeves ended at her wrists. There was a hint of make
up around her eyes and light rouge on her cheeks and on her brow
rested a silver tiara with blue gemstones embedded in it.

“Wow! Chiana, you look great! Where are you going to carry your
knives?” Chio asked his sister.

Chia turned and showed him her back. Worked into the back of the
gown were two sheaths that would hold her blades. The handles would
be at her shoulders and would not be visible from the front.

“Nice,” Chio said as he disappeared deeper into the apartment.
Chia turned to a set of long knives with blades of sliver over steel
and bone handles on the table next to the mirror. She practiced
sheathing and unsheathing the knives until she was comfortable with
them and the over-the-shoulder draw. Sitting at a chair she drew on a
pair of calf high, black leather boots.

“OK, how do I look?” Chio said as he stepped into the room.

Chio wore black knee pants, hose and short boots. Over that wore a
short sleeved, mid-thigh length, teal tunic with a black leather belt
at his waist with his knives sheathed on either hip. He, also, wore a
black, half cloak that reached mid-thigh.

“Handsome! Help me with my cloak,” Chia requested, pointing to
a long black cloak hanging from a cloak rack on the wall. Chio helped
arrange the cloak on his sister and they left the apartment. Horatio
was waiting in the hall. He looked them over, smiled a little sadly
and said “Both of you look good. Chia, you look just like your
mother. Chio please carry the box with the cane in it.”

Horatio handed Chio the long box he was carrying. They stepped
into the street to find a steam-cab waiting for them. Chia entered
first, Chio handed the box to her, helped Horatio in, closed the door
and then climbed up to sit with the driver. Horatio tapped on the
roof and they took off.

Irl slipped his pale blue half jacket with tails on over a white
shirt that was tucked into pale blue knee pants. Blue hose and
half-boots completed the ensemble. He stepped into the front room on
hearing the door open.

Tarbla had returned wearing a black and red kilt, black knee socks
and black half-boots. He had a dark blue long sleeved blouse on with
a pair of crossed daggers embroidered on the left breast. Belted at
his waist was a wide black leather belt with a long knife on his left
hip and his shillelagh on the right. He had a black and red beret on
his head.

“Good. Now we wait on Bo,” Irl said and waved the Dwarf to a
chair.

It was only a few moments later that the door opened and Bo
stepped inside. Both men stood up, mouths agape on seeing her. She
wore a cream colored off the shoulder gown that hugged her figure.
The skillfully applied make up accentuated her long nose and high
cheekbones. She wore a red fur shawl and completed the outfit with
dark red half-boots.

“What?” Bo asked, blushing.

“Bo, you look lovely,” Irl said, shook himsElf and added.
“Please step in and close the door so we can talk about tonight.”

Bo blushed more at the complement, shut the door and sat down. The
men sat after her.

“I sent a runner to make reservations at the Red Bull. It cost
about a quarter of our stash,” he stated, paused then continued.
“That’s a lot but I am pretty sure the Scarecrow will more than
make up for our outlay. If things go smoothly we should only have to
cover our first round of drinks. Tarbla should handle the contact
once we are there. Any questions?”

There were no questions, so they stood and exited the flat
together.

The large oval shaped dining hall of the Red Bull had tables
arranged around a good sized oval open center area. The entrance was
on one long side and the kitchen doorway was on the opposite side.
The tables were divided by a two yard wide walkway that went from the
entrance to the center and on to the kitchen doorway.

Horatio and the Goblin siblings arrived and were seated at a table
on the narrow end of the room, a table row back from the open area.
At the table Horatio sat facing the entrance with Chia across from
him and Chio to his right.

A servant stopped at the table and took their drink orders. When
he had left Chio whispered, “They’ve come with the box but they
look very different.” Horatio nodded but didn’t look at Irl,
Tarbla and Bo.

Bo was lead to her table by Tarbla who was following a servant of
the Red Bull. Irl walked behind carrying the casket. They were seated
on the opposite side of the room as Horatio’s group. They sat with
Bo at the back of the table and Tarbla on the left and Irl on the
right.

A few moments later Chio whispered, “Sheran the Green is here.”

“Put the box on the table and unlock it, but don’t open it,”
Horatio whispered back then added. “Chia, he will hand you his cane
to hold, touch only the shaft, none of the metal parts. A present
from his sister that shocks anyone who touches the metal parts. Not
fatal but not pleasant either.”

Chio did as requested, placing the box between Chia and Horatio.
Horatio looked up at the entrance way and saw a tall man in a gold
embroidered, deep green, half-jacket with tails, matching knee pants,
hose and half-boots enter the room. He was escorted by two tall
Trolls in dark green and gold livery, a Dwarf in black and red half
jacket, knee pants, hose and half boots, and a thin female Goblin in
a floor length, flowing, dark green gown.

“Welmet, tinker Hornblatter. Is that what I think it is?”
Sheran the Green said when reaching their table.

“Welmet, Sheran the Green and yes it is. It is not charged, so
feel free to handle it.”

As Horatio predicted Sheran handed his simple wooden cane with a
brass collar topped with a large, green gemstone to Chia. She handled
it as instructed; there was a brief flash of disappointment across
Sheran’s face then he refocused on the box on the table. He opened
it, pulled out the wrapped cane, unwrapped it and checked it
carefully. He finally said, “This is exactly what I wanted. How do
I activate it?”

“You must charge it on a full moon with minimum of three drops
of blood, from the wielder, into the mouth of the Jack-O-Lantern.
That will get you 5 discharges. To discharge, grip the collar and
point at your target and invoke the rune carved into the top of the
Jack-O-Lantern. The range is about 4 yards and perhaps a bit farther.
The more force you put into speaking the rune the stronger the
effect.”

“Which is?”

“Paralysis, followed by unconsciousness.”

“Ha. Excellent. Nonfatal, perfect. So 3 for 5. Limit?”

“15 discharges.”

“Understood,” Sheran said and turned to his Goblin companion.
“Jlia pay the man. In fact, pay him double!”

He turned abruptly and walked over to the table he customarily
occupied at the Red Bull, with the rest of his entourage and sat.
Jlia stepped up to Horatio as she slipped a hand into her gown and
brought out a small leather bag and dropped it on the table. She
repeated that 3 more times then left for Sheran the Green’s table.

“Place the cane in the box. We will deal with it later,”
Horatio said, slipping the small box out of his pocket and on to the
table.

Tarbla approached Sheran the Green’s table and signaled the
other Dwarf. He Dwarf rose and they spoke briefly as Tarbla passed
him a rolled up message. That Dwarf returned to the table and spoke
to Sheran, passing him the rolled up message. He read it and signaled
assent to the Dwarf who nodded to Tarbla.

Irl took a deep breath and let it out slowly, picked up the box
and stepped to the Scarecrow’s table. He placed the box on the
table, unlocked it, flipped the lid open, and stepped back slightly.
He looked at the Scarecrow’s face as the man stood to look into the
box. The man face was almost pretty with wide set, dark, almond
shaped eyes, full lips and a slightly turned up nose. The only flaw
was a long, poorly healed, scar that ran down the right side of his
head from the temple to the throat, disappearing into the high collar
of his yellow blouse.

The Scarecrow lifted the wrapped mask out of the box and unwrapped
it. A low hiss escaped his mouth as he admired the work of art in his
hands. He flipped it over and ran his fingers over the inside. He
looked at Irl and a thoughtful look came over his face. He turned to
the Goblin and said something in a different language. She nodded and
pulled a soft leather bag out her gown and passed it to Irl adding,
“This should be sufficient. Leave the key.”

Irl accepted the bag, dropped the key on the table and he and
Tarbla retreated to their table.

“He has the mask,” Chia said to Horatio. That worthy looked up
from the small box and whispered, “Let me know when she gets here.”

“Can we leave now?” Bo asked as soon as Irl and Tarbla
returned.

Irl looked around and noticed that all the Trolls in the place
were staring at their table, more specifically at Bo. He shared a
look with Tarbla then said, “Yeah. I don’t like the attention we
are getting.”

Irl placed a coin on the table, rose. Bo practically leaped out of
her chair to follow. Tarbla took up the rear as they left, pausing
only to get their cloaks as they headed outside. Outside they passed
a private steam-cab. A footman in blue livery jumped down from the
guard mount and opened the door. Shenan the Blue stepped out with a
determined look upon her face. She stormed up the low stairs, the
doorman barely got the door open before she arrived at it.

“She’s here,” Chio said.

“Alright, the stage is set. You two take this money and the box
and wait outside.”

“But we shouldn’t leave you ...” Chia pleaded.

“We discussed this. I will have my revenge upon these people for
what they did to your mother,” he said quietly.

Reluctantly the two Goblins left Horatio’s table and went out
the front door. Horatio glanced up, caught a glimpse of the witch as
she strode across the floor to the Scarecrow’s table. He focused on
the box and spoke the first two runes on the lid in a low voice.

Shenan the Blue confronted Sheran the Green at his table. Sheran
the Green rose from his chair, the mask in his right hand.

“My what a pleasant surprise, dear sister,” he greeted her.

“Brother. You have something of mine,” Shenan the Blue hissed
back.

Horatio intoned the third rune on his box. The spoken runes began
to glow an angry red. Horatio had beads of sweat on his brow as he
concentrated on the box.

“This little mask?” the Scarecrow held up and moved it toward
his own face.

Shenan hissed again and raised her hands, then stopped. She
gestured and the cane, leaning against the table, leaped to her hand.
Just as her hand closed about the shaft, the scarecrow fitted the
mask to his face.

Horatio intoned the fourth rune his voice, though low, seemed to
carry power now. He repeated the sequence of runes.

The Scarecrow said something but it was muffled by the mask. He
raised his hands to remove the mask but it seemed unable to.

Shenan’s right grabbed the pommel, then separated the cane into
a slim rapier and sheathing.

As Horatio intoned the last rune, the box glowed red and a red
nimbus climbed up his arms. The smell of burning flesh permeated the
air around him. He stood and turned toward where Sheran the Green and
Shenan the Blue stood.

The gemstones on the mask the Scarecrow wore began glowing
brightly.

Once free of the sheath the point of the blade pulled her towards
her brother’s heart.

“No!” Shenan gasped. She seemed to struggle to stop the
rapier.

Horatio grimaced as he lifted the box above his head, then heaved
it at the brother and sister. When the box landed on the floor in
front of them the lid snapped open and a horrendous sound filled the
room. A red tinged nimbus rose out quickly out of the box engulfing
the pair. The rapier pierced the breast of Sheran while a look of
horror crossed his sister’s face. Time seemed to slow for a moment,
the sister with the sword cane embedded her brother’s chest, the
brother struggling to pull the mask off surrounded by a red nimbus.
The sound reached a crescendo as the brother and sister seemed to be
pulled into the box by the red nimbus. Silence followed marked only
by the sounds of the mask, sword cane, and sheath hitting the floor
and the lid of the box snapping shut.

Horatio sat heavily holding his seared hands over the table,
sobbing quietly. Chia’s wrapped his hands in napkins, helped him to
his feet and guided Horatio out of the Red Bull and into a waiting
steam-cab as the rest of the patrons rose to their feet in shock.