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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

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#22b

Constantinople, May, 1422


They brought him ungently to his feet. As he was not able to stand on his own, two of them supported him, without apparent effort and with no hint of disgust. Nothing was said as they led him through the prison's maze of corridors and stairs. They didn't meet many guards and no-one asked them anything. Alexios was dazed. His brain awoke slowly, but he felt too tired and helpless to bother making any effort.

As they stepped into the street, he groaned and covered his eyes to protect them from the burning brightness of the sun on the white dusty pavement. One of the men blindfolded him with a strip of black cloth. He was literally dragged across the city by his abductors – unless they were his rescuers? He kept the blindfold on for several days; no-one took it off and he did not dare remove it himself, even though his hands were free. He was transported by sea, probably to Anatolia, given the brevity of the trip. From time to time brief sentences were exchanged in Turkish, a language of which he understood no more than a few words.

They disembarked at night, judging by the smells, lack of sound and dampness in the air. Once again, he was dragged along unknown alleys, his grimy bare feet stumbling upon the irregularities of the plain dirt ground. When he was finally taken into a building, fresh air and the cold contact of a smooth tiled floor made it clear that he was in the house of someone of substance. His blindfold was torn off, at last. He blinked. At first everything was blurred, but he quickly realized that he was standing in front of a steaming sunken bath in a small room lit by two small oil lamps. One of his escorts gave a quick tug at his shirt, which was stiff with filth, and gestured toward the bath. He did not need persuading.

About two hours later, he was shaved and dressed in clean Ottoman clothes. He was led to what looked like a salon with deep carpets on the floor and gauzy draperies that filtered the light from four finely worked copper lanterns. A plump woman was lounging on a pile of cushions behind a coffee table that was laden with dried fruits, flat cakes and a few carafes. She was probably in her forties, but her face was veiled with lilac-coloured gossamer. She waved her hand in the direction of the food and addressed him in Greek.

“Dear Mr. Xanthopoulus, pray help yourself. I’m sure you have not eaten anything decent in a long time.”

He thought that the golden rings adorning her chubby hands gave them a slightly menacing aspect. He stepped in clumsily and sat on a tiny stuffed stool.

“I expect you know who I am?” asked the woman, whose hoarse voice was not without a certain charm. She had a strong Turkish accent but her Greek was fluent.

Alexios wet his lips. He had not spoken in months and was afraid his tongue might slip. “I believe that Maro has told me about you. I'm sorry. I’m afraid your name escapes me.” To his surprise his answer had come naturally, although his own voice sounded a bit strange to him. She did not seem to notice anything unusual, however.

“Oh! I'm pretty certain he did not bother telling you any details. Call me Ilhami.”

“Very nice, if I may say so.”

She laughed. “Inspiring, anyway. But pray eat. If you could see yourself... You're skin and bone!”

Alexios did not wait to be told twice. He ate a dried fig, drank some wine and began to nibble a flat cake. But his stomach soon shrank in protest against the sudden influx of food. Seeing that he had finished, Ilhami came straight to the point.

“I’m sure you know that I didn’t have you freed solely out of kindness, don't you?”

“Indeed, but I don't understand your reasons.”

“Do you know why you have been kept in jail?”

“No.”

“Because a Byzantine official who had put himself at the service of the Sultan opposed your discharge.”

“Paulos.” Alexios whispered.

“Yes, Paulos. But that arrogant, sycophantic peacock seems to have annoyed Murad. He's fallen out of favour at court and his business partners are obviously beginning to think they may have backed the wrong horse.”

Alexios mused for a moment, and then the corners of his mouth lifted in a slight smile. “You know, if he has not changed too much, he will raise the roof when he hears that I'm no longer imprisoned.”

Ilhami fondled her big, gold rings. “Well, that would certainly get rid of him. Let's hope that he's stupid enough to do it.”

Alexios was finding it difficult to concentrate. He tried to put the conversation back on track before he lost the thread altogether. “This doesn't explain what you want from me.”

“Well, isn't it obvious? You have influence and trading networks. I want access to them.”

Alexios shook his head slowly. “I've been out of it for almost two years. Maro will have taken over from me.”

“Maro? Ah! I haven't seen him in months.”

She seemed put out. Alexios was suddenly a little worried. “Has something happened to him? Doesn't he do business with you anymore?”

“That's not what I said. However, Maro is Mediterranean. His resources through the Balkans seem rather limited. That area was your private playground, wasn't it?”

Alexios scratched his chin. He may have shaved and washed, but his eczema would need time to go away, if it disappeared at all. “I thought you were not exactly a trader yourself.”

“Oh, but I am! How about my bakery then? Isn't that trade? All my activities can be considered commercial, albeit not always strictly legal or particularly charitable.”

Alexios stared at his hostess' sparkling hands. He didn't dare look up at the purple veil that revealed only the mere outline of a face. “What do I have to gain in this deal?”

“Ah!” Ilhami exclaimed, cheerfully. “I see you're recovering your reflexes. Good. But you have already gained your freedom, which is not so bad.”

“It will not be enough, though.”

“Oh, really? You shouldn't overestimate the interest I have in you, however. So, what is it you want?”

“The young woman who was with me when I was arrested, Verina Ospinas...”

“She has been sent to the royal harem.”

There was a finality in her voice as she pronounced the words, as if she had been announcing Verina’s death. It was understandable, of course; who could hope ever to get one of the Sultan's concubines out of his harem? Alexios knew he was about to ask more than Ilhami would be willing to pay. And more than she would be able to pay, for that matter. He did not care any more. “Very well, I want freedom for her.”

“But she has been bestowed an outstanding honour.” Ilhami whispered like a conspirator.

“I very much doubt that she considers it so. Her freedom is the price for my co-operation. It's not negotiable.”

And it was out; he had said it. What would she do? Turn him out onto the street like a beggar or have him thrown into the harbour? He felt the formidable woman's eyes on him as she scrutinised him through her veil. Her fat, beringed hand caressed one of the silk cushions.

“I'll see what can be done.” she said finally, in a soft voice.
 

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Hey Nil, my apologies for the prolonged absence. I see Duke has done all he can to support your efforts and I'll try to check in more regularly, going forward (my daughter seems to be getting on a more regular schedule, which means more reliable computer time :)). Good to see that you're still going strong.

There's a lot for me to digest, but the two things that stand out to me most immediately are the murky warehouse scene with Hitchgins and Matt and Verinia's and Alexios' moments in the Constantinople cisterns. That comment about the fiery veins lighting up on the wall was most curious. Both those episodes hint at supernatural goings on, something I hadn't noticed before in this story. I'll be interested in seeing where that goes, if those two events, separated in time by almost 500 years, are in any way connected to each other.

Of course, the thing going on in the warehouse could still end up being perfectly normal, and Alexios' mind might have seen things that weren't there, in which case I'll look like a bit of a fool. Oh well, nothing new there. ;)
 

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Stuyvesant said:
There's a lot for me to digest, but the two things that stand out to me most immediately are the murky warehouse scene with Hitchgins and Matt and Verinia's and Alexios' moments in the Constantinople cisterns. That comment about the fiery veins lighting up on the wall was most curious. Both those episodes hint at supernatural goings on, something I hadn't noticed before in this story. I'll be interested in seeing where that goes, if those two events, separated in time by almost 500 years, are in any way connected to each other.
Hi there! I'm so very happy to read you again. There is something about the Cistern's scene and particularly about what Verina said, that I thought would ring a bell in your mind, or Director's :rolleyes: (but not in Duke's... which is a hint in itself).

I've just got a hell of a busy week involving overtime at work and my sister visiting me. So I have not started to write the next piece. I'll be away for a couple of weeks but I'll try to work on it anyway so that I could post it upon my return. I can tell you that we'll be back to the warehouse to have some fun.
j_gaba.gif
 

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I've thought about Stuyvesant's comment regarding the fantastic elements in the story. What I can tell is that there are a bunch of oddities throughout the story that are voluntarily bordering on fantastic. Three characters are involved so far in this: one of them has appeared only once (but should show the tip of her nice nose again, and sooner than later). The two others are pillars of this AAR.

Guess who they are and what those hints may be? :)
 

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#23

municipalflagofnotchicagosmall.jpg


Southern docks, Wednesday morning (continued from #21)


The only thing he could hear in the void was the blood throbbing in his temples. The rumbling of the wind over the roof reached him from time to time but it was so faint and distant that it could have come from another world. Now and again Matt thought he heard a whimper, a scraping, somewhere in the dark. Things were crawling in the corridors. Though he did not actually hear them he could feel them; he knew they were out there. A knot of freezing fear wrung his solar plexus. He waited like a mouse that can smell the lurking cat.

After the Sergeant had left he had remained perfectly still, hunched under the desk, his back pressed against the metal that was sucking up his body warmth, even through the thickness of his uniform. He had kept his unlit torch in the nest between his folded legs and his belly. This had not lasted very long. He had kept his senses alert, expecting something... something unpleasant. And then, suddenly, the light had gone out. He had remained dumbfounded for a few seconds, trying to distinguish something, anything, in the dark, even his own hand. It was a waste of time; all he could see was a ballet of dots in front of his eyes.

He had resisted the urge to switch on his torch, although he couldn't help squirming to reach his gun and pull it out from the creases of his trench coat. Feeling the weight of the weapon in his hand had somewhat reassured him. He had struggled to resume his strained position, feet flat on the floor, arms around his folded legs and head bent forward, resting on his knees because he had no room to lift it. And the interminable wait had resumed. After a long time, blows struck against a metallic object began to resonate tremendously throughout the silent corridors about every four or five seconds. It sounded as if someone – or something – was pounding heavily on a door.

He knew very well that his sense of time was distorted and he had lost count of the smashes in the corridor, but he had the impression that Hitchgins had left almost an hour ago. He was so obsessed by the things creeping in the dark that he did not dare allow his mind to wander and had thus nothing to distract him from the sufferings of his body. His right palm was so sweaty around the pistol's grip that it was beginning to itch. His buttocks ached from the continued pressure against the cold floor and the pins and needles in his calves vied with the soreness that turned the back of his neck into thick ropes. But he finally resigned himself to moving only when the trembling became uncontrollable.

He very delicately put his gun on the floor, careful not to make any noise, and took his lamp in his left hand so that it wouldn't fall when he slid his legs down one side of his body. Gritting his teeth at the pain in his buttocks as they were suddenly relieved of the body weight, he put his right hand on the floor behind him to serve as a fulcrum in order to roll over silently. Something was lying there. His fingers were resting on two irregular, cold, sticky cylinders. His heart missed a beat. He moved his hand forward and found a third cylinder, then a fourth. Breathless, on the brink of panic, he lit his torch and pointed it at the object.

Wide-eyed, he looked at his discovery. As he had guessed, it was a hand, a black man's hand. It was covered in its own almost completely dry blood and its wrist ended in tatters of flesh and bone. The fingers had been gnawed, revealing the bone in several places. Matt heard a noise coming from the corridor, just before another metallic smash resounded. For a moment he was frozen by terror, like a hare in headlights.
 

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Hmm... Was the body (or bodypart) already in the office when Hitchgins shoved Matt in there, and did they miss it in their hurry, or did the hand appear - somehow - while Matt was cowering there?

And what would result in an arm getting severed? Rats could explain the gnawed fingers, but I doubt they could chew all the way through the bones in a human wrist...

I'll wait and see whether some Lovecraftian monster has been unleashed from the abyss, or if there's a perfectly rational explanation. :)
 

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Do you know how hard it is to write accurate, yet readable descriptions? I don't, because I've not master this as of now. :(

Anyway, here's how things are supposed to be:

Desk03-post.jpg


Sometimes, a small picture... :rolleyes:

Expect the next update on Saturday. And I promise it will not jump to something else :p
 

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Duke of Wellington said:
I am also very intrigued to learn more of Matt's situation.
Here you go. :D
 

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#23 b

municipalflagofnotchicagosmall.jpg


Southern docks, Wednesday morning (continued)

Matt heard a noise coming from the corridor, just before another metallic smash resounded. For a moment he was frozen by terror, like a hare in headlights. It was too late when he finally thought about his gun. The heavy desk was literally snatched off the floor and hurled away, smashing down a dividing wall. Lacking its shelter and support, Matt fell on his back. Before he could react a humanoid shape bent over him, grabbed his collar and lifted him up like a wisp of straw. The violence of the movement made him drop his torch, which rolled over the tiled floor, casting dancing shadows over the face coming at him, teeth shining.

“Get off!” Hitchgins roared, leaping from the dark right onto the creature.

Knocked against the wall by the furious onslaught the thing dropped Matt, who abruptly fell on his bottom. His first reflex was to back-pedal hysterically on hands and heels to get away. The two fighters, whirling in the indistinct light of the torch, delivered each other terrible blows but, as far as Matt could tell, their struggle had more to do with wrestling than anything. They smashed against the walls with incredible violence, so much so that the dividing wall between the next office and the room they were in was soon torn to shreds.

Finally, Matt snapped out of his confusion and crawled toward the spot where he had left his gun, hoping it would still be there. After fumbling feverishly for a few seconds, he finally put his hand on it. But he couldn't fire without risking hitting Hitchgins, all the more since the fighters were engaged in a confusing mêlée. The thing that had attacked Matt suddenly emitted a long, shrill scream of pain. It unbent like a bow, throwing the Sergeant across the room over Matt's head, all the way to the corridor where his flight ended rather painfully against the opposite wall. The young cop took the opportunity to unload his gun into the creature at point blank range. It bumbled backwards and collapsed with a gurgle.

The blows in the corridor, which had ceased during the confrontation, started again with increased vigour. Hitchgins was already back on his feet and limped toward Matt, breathless.

“Anythin' broken, son?”

“No, I think I'm fine. But I thought he would have crushed your bones.”

“Ah! Takes more dan a flick to dispose of bad ol'Hitch'.”

Another blow resounded.

“What’s that, Sergeant?”

“Da door to da basement, and it won't stand much longer if y'ask me. We're in deep shit.”

“What are we going to do, then?”

“Wait. If da door give in, then I open da one to da storeroom, we jump to da oder side and I lock it behind us. I'm just hopin' there's not more than one o'them out there.”

Matt jumped as another blow resounded. “What are we waiting for, exactly?”

“A miracle, Matt, a miracle. Or possibly da cavalry.”

With each passing minute, the sound of the blows was becoming less sharp, which meant that the door to the underground level was suffering from the assaults and that its hinges were beginning to give out. The final blow triggered a fall of rubble and the noise of a heavy metal panel hitting the stair to the basement. Hitchgins swore under his breath and grabbed the key to open the door toward the storeroom but his move was interrupted by yet another sound, this new one coming from their escape route. It was much like mortar fire and was immediately followed by the crumbling of the bricks wall in the nearest room. Hitchgins just had time to push Matt out of the way before another shot turned the lock and nearby bricks into a big, jagged hole. A howl of rage sounded from the corridor, blasting towards them out of the dark. Since the door was now free on its hinges, Hitchgins swung it open and rushed forward, dragging Matt in his wake. But as soon as they had crossed the threshold, he flattened him to the ground. The poor young man was so frightened and confused that he no longer even tried to understand why he kept being shoved about. Two other mortar shots were fired from the entrance and the shouts pursuing the battered cops ceased immediately.

Matt finally looked up towards the main door, from which daylight was flowing in. A tall shape wearing a trench coat and a large hat was outlined like a shadow puppet. It was Judge Peter, holding a smoking hunting weapon. “Your report, Sergeant?” His cold, even voice contrasted sharply with the highly charged ambiance of the place.

Judge_Peter_Small.jpg

“Sorry sir, but I'm afraid there’s still a bunch o'these f'ckin' things inside.”

“Really?”

The judge quietly opened his gun to extract the smoking shells, which clattered onto the floor, and then replaced them with new rounds. Matt was looking at him with wide eyes. “What kind of ammo do you use?”

The Judge snapped his weapon shut with a slight, predatory smile. “Shotgun pellets.”

Matt turned to the hole in the brick wall. “Shotgun pellets?”

New howls came from the depths of the building.

“Sergeant, you should take care of your subordinate while I proceed with the cleaning up. I will have a few questions for you, later.”

Hitchgins did not wait to be told twice: he grabbed Matt by his sleeve and dragged him along toward the exit. Reaching open air and sunlight was an unbelievable relief. They went round the black motorcycle the Judge had parked in front of the entrance and moved away.

“Sergeant” said Matt, with a lump in his throat, “Those things... those things in the dark...” He was on the verge of tears and shaking like a leaf.

“Junkies, Matt, they were just junkies. Ecstatic water can do that to people, ya know...”

“Sergeant, what I saw wasn't... wasn't...” His phrase hung in the air, unfinished, as if he did not dare to finish it.

“Let's go. We've gotta get our sore asses out of diz place, now.”

Fleeing along the alley, they heard two other cannon shots in the storehouse, quickly followed by inhuman shrieks.
 

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Now we still don't know definitively whether those creatures were supernatural or 'merely' junkies on ecstatic water. Of course, you could say that this ecstatic water is pretty supernatural in its own right: granting superhuman strength, allowing for superfast healing, turning people into violent freaks...

The Judge's shotgun seems powered by ecstatic water itself! The effects you describe sound very much unlike your run of the mill hunting shotgun. So with that, and the scenes with the creatures, I'm still a bit sceptic that all this was only a bunch of junkies.

If these were truly simply junkies, wouldn't it be considered murder (or at least manslaughter in selfdefense) by the judge to blow them all away? I know, I know, the Judge is a law unto himself, and it's doubtful that anyone cares or even knows what went on it that warehouse...
 

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Ouch! Just caught up all your work, Nill, it took me one month to read this all! i'm really impressed. This is a novel more than an AAR, and I would say your level in English is outstanding too. Where and how did you learn it? Certainly not in the French school system... :D

These stories are just great, and the little "+" is that you took time to define very well all the characters, giving them a personality, we come to know them, more than just know their names. I've been hypnotized reading, and your cliffhangers are so cruel! :)

Just like Stuyvesant, I don't think the things were junkies... Supernatural indeed, as are maybe the "shotgun pellets" of the Judge. Speaking of which, I would never had imagined the Judge with blood in his own hands, doing the dirty work himself. I remember the scene you described where he was eating a piece of meat at the Italian restaurant with the Sergent... (I'm too lazy to quote) and it made me feel like he is an exquisite gentleman machine, more concerned by the cleanliness (does that exist?) of his elegant gloves (in which there is an iron hand for sure) than anything, and not really the type to kill "junkies" in a bloodshed... New aspect of his personality? Dangerous guy indeed.

By the way, Duke of Wellington, Have you found what the flag meant? I, for myself, have no idea!
 
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Huh? Wow! I never been in here before, but what?

I just read the last post...and man, I have no idea what that has to do with EU2, but it was awesome, very gripping! I MUST read the rest now and find out who, how and what is going on here :cool: .
 

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Now now, that's a surprise! A good one, in case you wondered. And you're showing up just at the right moment. I feel a little down these days and this got me stuck with the first paragraphs of the next chapter. Nothing to do with the AAR, basically, but this may help to cheer me up nonetheless. I promise to get back to work ASAP. I know what will be in and mostly have to match my mood with the instalment's to be able to write it properly.

Some feedback on your feedback.

Duke of Wellington: Sure, but there are only two rounds at a time in the barrel. So what do you think may happen if there are still "junkies" left around after two shots have been fired?

Stuyvesant:Very interesting points about Ecstatic Water. I gather that you picked a few effects not from this instalment, but also from Hitchgins' consumption. This habit of him can indeed raise a few questions, don't you think? ;)

As to the Judge, he might surprise you again, since he's perhaps the most complex character in this story, in spite of the image from Roger Rabbit. You will notice, for instance that he is not really above all laws... That's an aspect of the story we haven't touched yet. There are many, but I've thrown a bunch of them to the trash can, just to avoid dying of old age before the end of this AAR.


Boyss said:
Ouch! Just caught up all your work, Nill, it took me one month to read this all! i'm really impressed. This is a novel more than an AAR, and I would say your level in English is outstanding too. Where and how did you learn it? Certainly not in the French school system...
Thank you for the compliments. Rest assured that it takes a lot of time to translate. Also note that an English friend is proofreading the story since chapter 19 (thanks again, Sue!). As to where I learned... Well I did learn in the French (public) school system, actually. But I must admit that I've learned (or learned again) just as much... reading AARs and a couple of books (I don't recommend starting with Terry Pratchet, BTW. Ouch.) That's why I'm forced to stick with a few selected stories that are both interesting and written in good English (Director's, Storey's, Stnylan's to name a few... I'd like to read more, but it's very time consuming).

Oh, and both cleanliness and cleanness exist. Don't know the exact difference, though.

Boyss said:
These stories are just great, and the little "+" is that you took time to define very well all the characters, giving them a personality, we come to know them, more than just know their names.
Yeah, I love them all. I don't necessarily try to make you like them nor to make them kind, sympathetic people, of course, but as much as intrigue is the thread of a story, characters are the beads you put on it. That said, I feel like I'm doing a better work with the characters than with the intrigue. :(

Boyss said:
I've been hypnotized reading, and your cliffhangers are so cruel!
It's not my fault. My teacher is so very nasty. See: I've read Storey's AARs and don't even reach his ankle, yet. (je ne sais pas si l'expression existe en anglais, mais vous aurez compris, n'est ce pas?)


Boyss said:
By the way, Duke of Wellington, Have you found what the flag meant? I, for myself, have no idea!
Oh, he did. As I wrote (too lazy to quote ;) ): examinez le nom du fichier jpeg... :D

Capt Janszoon: Welcome aboard! Just don't hesitate to comment or ask questions along the way: I'm fond of answering them, no matter how old is the related chapter.
 

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Nil-The-Frogg said:
It's not my fault. My teacher is so very nasty. See: I've read Storey's AARs...

Say no MORE !

Nil-The-Frogg said:
and don't even reach his ankle, yet. (je ne sais pas si l'expression existe en anglais, mais vous aurez compris, n'est ce pas?)

... Oui, no chance it exists in English.

Nil-The-Frogg said:
As I wrote (too lazy to quote ;) ): examinez le nom du fichier jpeg... :D
So it's not Chicago's flag. That leaves only a few options... :D

Now I'm sorry but I'm going to forbid you reading Storey's means of torture.
Hehe.

Don't give up! I finish my job today so until I find a new one :( , I'll be able to follow this more.
 
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Nil-The-Frogg said:
Capt Janszoon: Welcome aboard! Just don't hesitate to comment or ask questions along the way: I'm fond of answering them, no matter how old is the related chapter.

Ok, browsed alittle and what I gather is, that there are 2 stories going on? The thing is, are they related somehow?

As to be honest with you, Im not particularly interested in the EU2 part, but the Chicago part has sucked me in good, so before I get into the meat of it...do I need to read the lot or can I get away with the Chicago part (btw I usually read very little (being a very lazy reader - prefering pics) - but that last post got me hooked :D )
 

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Capt Janszoon said:
Ok, browsed alittle and what I gather is, that there are 2 stories going on? The thing is, are they related somehow?

As to be honest with you, Im not particularly interested in the EU2 part, but the Chicago part has sucked me in good, so before I get into the meat of it...do I need to read the lot or can I get away with the Chicago part (btw I usually read very little (being a very lazy reader - prefering pics) - but that last post got me hooked :D )
Well, the stories will be related. But I guess you can safely skip the EU2 timeline, nonetheless. If need be, I could even fill in your gaps in due time... :cool:
 

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Nil-The-Frogg said:
Well, the stories will be related.

Ha... Time for a little clue, Nil-The-Frogg?

My guess: the Kamilet/Kallistos opposition in Chicago comes from the commercial empire of Alexios... The two heirs will split it in Greek Cypriot v/s Venician companies and fight each other for 500 years. Am I totally wrong?


But there are a lot of other things to link... :wacko:
 

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Boyss said:
Ha... Time for a little clue, Nil-The-Frogg?

My guess: the Kamilet/Kallistos opposition in Chicago comes from the commercial empire of Alexios... The two heirs will split it in Greek Cypriot v/s Venician companies and fight each other for 500 years. Am I totally wrong?
Fascinating hypothesis... Thank you for providing me with a plot! :D

Just kidding. The ties between the timeline should begin to become visible somewhere around chapter 27 or 28 and should be clear enough by chapter 30 or 32.

The French version of the next instalment is complete. I'm struggling with the translation, but it's shaping out. And yes, I know that one of you could do with the original. :rolleyes: I may get over my lazynes, one day, and translate the missing chapter in French (ie: from #8 to #14).