The Artefact
#1
The Artefact

Chapter 1: Providence
Edofasia, Western Continent
Day 1; 0 miles travelled



The strange looking artefact looked almost alien. It consisted of a few pieces of stone, coarse and grey-brown on the outside, but with odd missing chips revealing a crystalline, iridescent inside. The stones were connected by gears, also stone, but with occasional wood pegs accounting for structural imperfections. They attached to a metallic framework which ran through the whole object. The cogs interlocked and spun as one smoothly, as if they had been kept clean and oiled.
“Impossible”, Jonah muttered to himself as he inspected the unearthly find. He glanced over at the gap between the rocks in the cave wall which he had pulled it from, having forced it open with the force of his pick-axe as wielded by his reasonable might. He glanced back to the gadget. His eyes rocked back and forth at least another half-dozen times as his brain slowly worked, grinding along as the clockwork in his hand should be given that it was literally buried in a natural rock formation moments ago. It would be impossible for somebody to put it there any point within the last million years or so, at least with conventional technology, and it certainly couldn’t have been oiled or greased. His head hurt.
He walked to the other side of the cave and perched on a low rock. He had gone down a small side cavern, tucked away down the side of the cliff-face his team was currently working at, isolating himself so that the others – his colleagues, co-workers, call them what you want – weren’t present. It was just he, himself and him, Jonah Northlane, alone, holding a trinket with no name. He spun the gears once more, with a little more force, and noticed that they didn’t seem to stop spinning unless he stuck his finger in, to which they would halt with little argument.
As he watched the gears, spinning them and stopping them over and over, his mind started to drift. When you work for the Edofasian Miner’s Union, and spend your life grafting away deep underground for various sorts of stones and rocks, swinging axes and shovelling soil, thinking and doing become separate processes in your mind. Daydreaming is a way to stay sane. This, however, wasn’t any daydreaming. This was something else. He cast his mind to the lavish lives he’d seen of the Edofasian elite, and those rich easterners, all of them living off of some great invention, or some wonderful discovery-
The gears in his hands stopped at a finger as the gears in his head clicked into place. His face lit up. It almost seemed stupid, to think something so grand could just fall out of a rock and into his lap, and yet here he was, holding a ticket out of his dead-end life. And sure, living in Edofasia was fine. He was guaranteed work for as long as nutjobs like Dr. Diels needed labourers, or for as long as the unions created, or rather demanded that low-skill work be made available, but he was paid only enough to survive and little more and the life he survived for was downright miserable. Forty-hour workweeks at an uncommon minimum, bland gruel twice a day, grim work and no way up or out without dying of thirst, hunger, or being jailed or shot.
Until today. Everything changed today.
The smile which had grown on his face suddenly disappeared. He had to hold himself together. “I won’t get ahead of myself”, he spoke to himself in a low and slow tone, almost as if he were scolding a child. He set down the thing in a corner of the cave by his lamp, setting the gears spinning out of an idle curiosity to see how long they’d spin for, and returning to work. He had an entire wall of slate to pull down by the end of the working day. As he toiled away, he had intended to glance back at the cogwheels occasionally, but practically immediately he slipped back into his pickaxe swinging trance.



Hours passed, slate was bagged, bags were thrown in a cart, and the workday came to an end. Jonah went to collect his lamp and his… object.
He paused.
The gears were still spinning. After literal hours, they hadn’t slowed. If anything, they had sped up. The points about which they spun, connected to the metal framework, seemed to glow from the heat caused by the friction. The crystalline inside slightly glowed also. Holding the artefact out flat, the centrifugal force from the largest and most central of its cogs made it slightly resist being upturned. Yet still, a simple finger in the works stopped it all dead.
The thought of it was intoxicating. He began to giggle. The giggle turned into a hearty chuckle, and the hearty chuckle collapsed under its own weight to give way to a boisterous, howling laughter. “I’m done! I’m so fucking done! I’m finished in these shitholes! I’m-“
“Is something fucking funny in here, Northlane?” His foreman, a short, broad and bearded man nicknamed Goblin, walked into the small cavern. He spoke with a curious accent, primarily south Edofasian but with a strong Candanadian influence. “I don’t pay you to giggle. See you’ve had this wall down, though.”
Jonah’s eyes widened. He caught his laughter, substituting it for an exaggerated cough while he discreetly slipped the artefact into his cart, between the slate bags. “Sorry sir. It was a bit dusty down here. Must’ve gotten at my lungs."
Goblin’s bushy eyebrows furrowed, wrinkling his large forehead. His large mouth and its wide lips turned down. “We’re mining slate, Northlane.”
“I know.” Jonah took up a weak attempt at a reassuring smile.
“Slate has to be one of the cleanest things we can mine.” Goblin started to slowly walk further towards Jonah.
“I’ve been coughing for a while.” Jonah threw another fake cough in, although Goblin wasn’t convinced. “Need to see the medic.”
“Medic’s not on-site at the minute. Gone to see the, ah, Production Commissar” He spoke the title in a mocking tone. “Another thing, Northlane: what’s that you just put in your cart when I came in?” When Jonah was taken aback by the question, Goblin smirked. "Didn't think I'd notice, eh?"
“Slate?”
“Bullshit, it looked like a piece of patchwork sandstone or something.” He waddled over to the cart, pushing a protesting Jonah out of the way and pulling it out to inspect himself. “What the fuck is this?” He shot a powerful glare at Jonah.
Jonah rubbed the back of his neck, staring at the floor. He really wanted to punch Goblin square in his little bastard pig snout. “It’s a good luck charm, sir. Handcrafted by a family member, I carry it on the job.”
Goblin took out a glass eyepiece from a pocket behind his dungarees and began to closely inspect the trinket. “How comes nobody had it off you at the security checkpoint this morning then?” He rotated the cogs slowly, watching how they connected, trying to discern their function. Jonah swallowed a lump in his throat.
“Guess the security boys know me well enough by now.” A nervous laugh escaped his mouth.
Goblin’s face turned sour. “Bastards get paid more than me and can’t do their jobs right.” He threw the curious object onto the floor at Jonah’s feet before leaving again. “How long has this been going on for? Actually, fuck you. Haven't got time. I shall have to report this failure now, wont I? I fucking love paperwork, don’t I?” Goblin started to waddle out of the cave, cursing under his breath.
“Sorry.” Jonah said quietly.
Goblin shouted back as he left. “Sit on a dick.”
As soon as Goblin was out of earshot, Jonah sighed the most intense sigh of relief he had ever had in his entire pathetic life. He was certain for a moment that it would be confiscated, or worse, destroyed. He bent down and picked it up, inspecting it and failing to find any physical damage. The clockwork still spun as if it were magical. For what it meant to Jonah Northlane, it might as well have been. He still couldn’t believe that it was all real.
Then again, he was never one to question providence.
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#2
Chapter 2: Dr. Diels
Edofasia, Western Continent
Day 4; 11 miles travelled





Jonah looked in the mirror. The man in the mirror looked back. His eyes ran over Jonah’s short hair, down the bridge of his broad nose, continuing down the rather long length of his rectangular face to his pointed chin and well-defined jaw. Heavy, deep bags hung under his eyes from nights of restlessness, although the rest of his skin was relatively smooth.

The man in the mirror thought Jonah looked fairly average. Jonah thought nothing of the man in the mirror.

He bent under the sink to retrieve his shaving foam and razors and started to scrape the stubble from his face. All the while, his mind was lost in itself as he replayed the events of the past few days over and over. He had spent the weekend milling about the centre of Tara, about all the odd shops and spiritual outfits he could find, and nobody could identify the trinket, nor did they have any vested interest in it or finding out what it was. He had tried a few times to demonstrate its functionality, but it took too long for anybody to pay much mind. Most Edofasians were too busy to watch gears spin. He’d even posted online - some people (incorrectly) attributed it to merchandise for various books or films. When he described what he saw it do in the caves, nobody believed him, instead writing him off as a forum troll.

“How the fuck do you sell something if you don’t know what it is?” He shook his razor in the sinkful of water and continued shaving. “How the fuck do you publicise a discovery if nobody gives a shit about it?” He talked at his mirror image, not caring about being overhead since his housemate wasn’t present. He was called Lloyd and was a supermarket clerk, and was almost always out of the house. They’d been acquainted since school and shared a house simply because it made life cheaper for both of them. It was something of a symbiotic relationship, if you will. He had also reacted mildly to the artefact. Given the downturn, it was becoming hard to stay positive.

“Ackgh, fucking fuck.” He swore through gritted teeth. He’d caught a crook under his chin and cut himself. Blood started to run down his neck. As he dropped his razor into the dirty water (damnit) and held a hand up to the cut while shuffling across the small bathroom to grab some tissue, an unexpected visitor rapped loudly against the front door downstairs. The worst. Possible. Time.

Arriving at the front door with a handful of tissue up to his neck and shaving foam down his black turtleneck top (which complimented his blue jeans very well, he fancied), he opened the door to find a somewhat concerning sight. Two government officers in full uniform stood either side of a middle-aged woman in a long, yellow coat. Her hair supported itself slightly forming something of a bob around her stout face. Red lipstick did little to hide the age that hadn’t been kind to her complexion.

“Are you Jonah Paul Northlane?” She didn’t look at him. Her eyes were fixated on a clipboard which she clasped with one hand around the back while the other hand kept her glasses up her nose.

“Yeah. Is… something urgent? I’m kind of in a bit of a predicament right now.” He shuffled the tissue against his skin to emphasise.

She let go of her glasses for a moment, using her free hand to draw a pen out from one of her many jacket pockets, scribbling on the topmost sheet attached to her clipboard before tearing it off and handing it to the officer to her left, who nodded, folded it up and slipped it inside his coat. She finally looked up at Jonah, an icy glare cutting deep into his personal space. Her cold, emotionless face conveyed absolutely no emotions. She was robotic.

“I’m from the Ministry of State Security. You’ve been summoned. Come with us, please.” She gestured to a black car parked outside, while forcing a smile that ended up looking disgracefully unnatural. Maybe, then, she was actually a lizard.

Jonah took a step back. He felt his heart wriggle loose and plummet into the depths of his very being. The guttural feeling was indescribable. He was in trouble. He knew he was in trouble, and his mind began to panic. He could hardly stammer out a sentence.

“…Now?”

The woman smirked. “Now.” The guards lowered their hands toward the guns at their hips.

“A’ru! Okay, okay, I’m coming.” Jonah walked out of the house, closing the door behind him as he nearly tripped over the doorstep, his face red as he struggled to keep the blood from dripping down his body and his nerves from collapsing on top of him, ploughing through his skeleton and taking his life as collateral damage. His morning had turned from routine to extraordinary in a matter of moments, and he was struggling to comprehend it all.

Could it be the artefact?

As he plodded down the path and into the back of the car, his mind flooded with dreary imaginings of grim executions or jail sentences for various infractions. Did he stumble across some state dirty secret by digging the gears out of the slate? Maybe it wasn’t so serious as that. After all, how could the state possibly have learned about it? Goblin hated it, hated him and hated bureaucracy. No, it must be something else. Maybe one of his dirty remarks that he’d made in the mines got reported by some goodie two-shoes and made its way to the top? Or he could’ve done something incredibly stupid, like jaywalking. In his internal dialogue (which was at this point just a few steps away from an internal argument) he found no peace. The heartbeat in his ears sounded like gunfire.

Closing the car door with a little more force than he might’ve liked to exert given the sensitive situation, he watched as the woman sat at the other end of the backseat from him, while the officers occupied the two front seats. The car itself was very high end, with polished wood panelling and leather upholstery. It smelt of coffee.

They set off driving, down the road to the high street and turning left. The officer in the passenger seat offered Jonah water, which he declined. However, the friendly notion behind the action helped him stifle his nerves somewhat, at least enough to wring out some dry humour, as was imbibed in the very fabric of his personality. Especially when stressed or anxious.

“Since when were police cars this nice? This is some arrest.” As he spoke, he noticed more details, like the quartz-rimmed cupholders and gold accents on the headrests and handles.

The woman to his left shot him a curt glance. “You’re not being arrested. You’re being escorted.”

“Oh.”





What the fuck?





They had driven, for the most part, the normal route to the headquarters for his union, a route that he was very familiar with, although he had typically experienced it from behind the wheel of his rust-bucket tin wagon, rather than in the back of a luxury state car. However, instead of turning off the freeway at the junction by the red foothills, they carried on over the moor, down the side of the valley and into the shadow of the large government building he’d idly gazed at so many times before (in the distance) but never truly paid attention to, let alone visited. (Why would he?) It was a brown-brick complex, perhaps seven or eight stories tall, and much wider and deeper than it was high. It consisted of a series of six blocks that were connected by slightly shorter and narrower long sections in a rough ring (hexagon) shape, with a courtyard in the centre. They drove through security and through a gap beneath one of the connecting segments into the courtyard, before yet more security persons opened the door and escorted Jonah inside before he could so much as observe the dreary, half-alive flora or murky water features dotted about the plaza in a vague attempt at introducing something at least slightly exciting in what would otherwise be the most dull and bureaucratic building in southern Edofasia.

As they ventured deeper into the building, a maze of brown carpet, white panel walls and fluorescent light, Jonah began to grow disoriented as he lost his sense of direction. The cut on his neck had stopped bleeding during the drive, but he didn’t want to bring down the tissue. He clutched it tightly as if it were a lifeline.

Soon, after countless corridors and stairwells, they arrived at a security checkpoint not dissimilar to one in an airport. Jonah was plenty familiar with these, working for the government (by proxy) and what not. After a slightly more thorough do-over than normal orchestrated by an emotionless grey suited husk, he was sent through to an adjacent corridor, with a single door at the end. The walls and ceiling were a perfect white, and the floor was matte teal. It smelt of chemicals, and was a bit too brightly lit for Jonah who was still hardly up to speed with the events of the day so far. After all, he was supposed to be at work by now. He was sure it wouldn’t matter that he wasn’t present – government matters, of course, took priority. But the shock to his system was colossal, and as he stumbled through the office block fever dream about him, he made sense of little to nothing.

In front of the door at the end through which he’d been told to go, across half of the corridor, was a black-stained glass desk with a man sat behind it. Jonah couldn’t see their face, because they were practically hidden behind a series of computer screens. He heard a deep voice speak out from between the loud keystrokes as the hidden receptionist typed away on some unknown document.

“The Doctor will see you now.”

Doctor. Was this a medical thing? That would be a relief.

“Do you know what for?”

“Way, way above my paygrade, friend.” A perfectly reasonable response.

Jonah walked past the desk and through the door, taking a deep breath and trying his best not to collapse.

The office was reasonably sized, perhaps eight metres square. Polished mahogany panelling adorned the inner three of its four walls, alongside various bookshelves and tables with potted plants, while the outer wall was almost entirely glass – noticeably thick, but ostensibly transparent. It provided a view over the river at the bottom of the valley. In front of the window sat a man in an executive chair. The morning light pouring in through the window gave him something of a halo, with rays of light reflecting off of the various metal parts of his leather jacket. In front of him was a wooden desk with a laptop and a stack of papers, and in front of that desk (aside from two rather unremarkable lounge chairs) was an awestruck Jonah Northlane, humbled in the unmistakeable presence of…

“The name’s Dr. Diels, friend.” He took a drag from a cigar that Jonah hadn’t noticed until now. “You can call me Diels. I think we can consider each other, ah, business partners, aha. Get it?” Another drag. He spoke with a transatlantic accent sounding not unlike a vintage radio announcer. “You see Jonah, I’m really something of a compassionate man, no, really, I am! I’m as compassionate as I am good at my job, which involves various disciplines, some that you might be familiar with, and others that have perhaps… avoided the limelight.” He set down his cigar in a small porcelain tray on his desk. “Take a seat, please.”

Jonah did as he was told, moving forwards and sitting in one of the seats. From his new, lower position, he could see the nightmarishly handsome face of Diels better, his features no longer obscured by the flurry of godly light shining out from behind him. His face was smooth, save for two large scars down the left of his face that hinted toward a grizzly past. His eyes spoke power from their comfortable sockets tucked under his slick eyebrows on either side of his bold nose, which itself was suspended above slim lips. A large forehead separated his face from his hair, which swept backward in a professional yet unassuming style. Diels put his hands together on the desk, and continued speaking.

“As a key member of the research group here I like to keep a particularly close eye on whatever the miners haul up, just in case anything, hmm, interesting gets caught. And believe me, Northlane, when I say that I don’t miss a thing.” Jonah knew where this was going, but stayed silent. He didn’t have it with him, of course. It was in the safe under his bed at home. Not that Diels needed to know that. As his heart began to drum up again, just as he had managed to get it to settle down, he suddenly missed the feeling of the tissue against his neck. “You see Jonah, there was a report of a curious unidentifiable something slipping through security that made its way onto my desk the other day. I’ve read it, I’ve read the item description, and I’ve dismissed it. The report said I should have you arrested and questioned, but that’s no good for either of us. So, rather than have you arrested, I’ve had you escorted. Here, straight to me. This way, we can talk face to face instead of through the needless bureaucratic filter.” He leaned forward, closing the distance between himself and Jonah. His tone became serious. “I’ve bought you here because I know what it is that you’ve dug up. Something of a vast importance that you couldn’t possibly comprehend. Something beyond the most stupendous delights or horrors that your imagination could ever conjure up.”

Jonah could only bring himself to nod. He was both recovering from the nerves that had accumulated during the journey and the slight awe at being face to face to his boss’ boss’ boss. As Diels spoke, Jonah felt himself growing more and more distrustful of the dapper man. As Jonah watched Diels carefully select his vocabulary, it became obvious that the mad doctor had some ulterior motive.

Diels leaned back into his chair, his voice returning to its prior chipper tone.

“I know what you want to ask, and I’m afraid that I simply can’t tell you what it is that you’ve found, no, no. You wouldn’t get it. Besides, it would ruin the surprise! No, but I will tell you what it’s good for. You see, what you’ve hauled up is only a couple of works of literature away from being considered magic. Witchcraft. But in our capable hands, my friend, it’s the key to a brighter future, for everyone the world over! From Edofasia to Meltor! My dear fellow, wouldn’t you just love to further the betterment of mankind? What a cause! Why, if I were in your shoes, I’d be disgusted and buy new shoes immediately.” He smirked. “Then after that, I’d gladly hand it over! I would beg to hand it over! Knowing that I’ve just fast-forwarded human science by fifty, a hundred years, goodness gracious. What contentment!”

Jonah didn’t believe a single dirty, sloppy, disgusting word that spilled out of Diels’ vile mouth. His monologue was putrid, the scent of deceit infecting the air. Who was Diels to con him out of his ticket to a new life? It would take more than some petty evangelical tongue-twisting to pry his new life away from him. Jonah, now seeing red, prepared to call out Diels’ bluff.

“What’s in it for me? I mean, really?”

“Hmm? Oh, not so content with holding the key to ending multiple crises across the globe that this world simply has no other answer for. Very well. I suppose you’re looking for something a little more… tangible.” Diels reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a chequebook. He opened it, found a cheque, tore it out and threw both it and the book into the bin beside the desk.

Diels put his hands flat on the desk with a loud thud. “Here’s my price, Northlane. Hand it over and you get to live.”

The world froze. Jonah was suddenly thrust into the cold, harsh reality of how Diels handled material matters. It was well known that Diels got what Diels wanted, but Northlane was from the wrong echelon of society to have experienced it first-hand, until today.

“I don’t have it.”

The Doctor’s eyes narrowed. “Hmph. Very well.” He picked up his cigar and relit it, taking a few drags, stalling for time as he chose his course of action carefully, before once more stubbing it out and placing it back into its tray. “I won’t have you arrested, and I won’t invade your home, because I’m just better than that. I’m not the bad guy here, really, I’m not. Instead I’ll give you, let’s say, twenty-four hours – oh, and the rest of the day off work… unpaid, of course – during which time, a grace period if you will, you can hand over the device at your own leisure. Give it to me before the grace period is over and we can go our separate ways, as if we’d never known one another. Keep it to yourself, and they’ll never find your body.” Diels’ expression turned up into a sick, twisted grin. “What do you say?”

Jonah couldn’t believe what was happening. He felt dizzy. He felt sick. Desperately, he started to wrack his brain for anything to defend himself with. He stood up from his chair and started to step backwards towards the door. “But it belongs to me. Isn’t this illegal?”

Diels simply began to shout. “Boy, that device belonged to me the moment you pulled it out from the slate. It was mine before you found it! If you don’t bring it here, it’ll go down as theft from either or both of the Ministry of State Security or Ministry of Technology. Both are capital offences. I’m well within my rights to have your head lopped off on live fucking television if I were so inclined!” He stood up from his desk, took a deep breath, then went about the back of the room closing the blinds and turning on the lights before returning to his desk. “You have twenty-four hours.” Their eyes locked. Diels spoke slowly, in the lowest reasonable voice he could manage. “Tick tock, tick tock. Tick tock. Tick. Tock. Get out of here before I change my mind.”

Jonah turned and ran out of the room.





Jonah entered his house, slamming the door shut behind him with such a force that it caused the whole house to shake. He turned his immediate attention to the section of drywall that separated the staircase from the kitchen, and began to kick it, great walloping whacks from the heel of his foot. It broke apart with little effort, Jonah’s steel-capped work boots breaking through it like a sledgehammer. Eventually, he threw his entire body through it, falling through and into the kitchen. Then came the plates, which became porcelain confetti, for all Jonah could see in their reflection was the revolting face of Diels, the man who had taken his life away from him the minute it began. He wanted none of it.

Finally came the fridge, which was ripped away from the wall. It tipped forwards, landing on the tile floor with an incredible thud. The force of the impact shattered the tiles unfortunate enough to be in the drop zone. The back of it was dented in with yet more relentless pummelling from work boots, before the violence left the room, ripping the flimsy door off its single good hinge behind him as he moved through to the living room.

The flat screen television was dead as soon as Jonah so much as looked at it. He folded it in half, using the weight of his body to crumple it down, before throwing it throwing it at the front window, two, three, four times until the bludgeoning force overwhelmed the layers of glass, smashing through, landing in the garden and crushing the rotting remains of the long-since-dead flowers and shrubs below. The cheap coffee table was stomped in. The horrid carpet was torn up. The soulless fake paintings on the walls were pulled off and threw against the mantlepiece above the fire, which was then lit. Into it were thrown countless books, music discs, video games, then even personal records. Certificate of employment, insurance, nothing was safe from the hellish torrent of fury.

Then it was over. The anger left him, and all that was left was Jonah Northlane and the consequences of his actions. As he sat in his ruined house, wallowing in the countless thousands worth of damage about him, he stared into the flames as he watched his job, his house, his identitygo up in flames. The flames stared back. Without these documents, he might as well have never been born.

He had kept his passport and other vital documents, throwing them into a binder then the binder into a rucksack. He gathered some clothes, all the cash he could find, a few road necessities and the artefact from under his bed, which all joined the binder in the rucksack. He left his house, taking no time to look back.

No more mines…

He threw the rucksack into the boot of his car, closing the lid which gave off a hollow thud.

No more gruel, or grim entertainment…

He went about the garage, collecting all the spare bits, oil and petrol he could get his hands on and stuffing them into the back of the car wherever they might fit.

No more slavery to those fortunate enough to not need to care about people like us…

He climbed into the driver’s seat of the car, belting up, moving mirrors and sliding the seat forward a little. This was going to be a long drive.

No more handing over my life to a career I don’t want, a house I hate, and a life I never chose to live…

He started the engine, both of its pistons sputtering into life. The car started to judder as its boxer engine started to patter along, idling but ready and raring to drag the car and its contents to the ends of the earth.

No more being tricked into thinking this is any decent way to live.

He threw the car into reverse, rolled out of the drive, swung the back around, then shifted back into first and rolled away. First gear became second, second became third, and third became fourth. Tara streets became the countryside. His home, his job and his life became distant memories.
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#3
Chapter 3: Transition
Edofasia-Novmir border
Day 4; 836 miles travelled





Jonah stepped down from the bus, nodding to the driver stood by the door and crossing the driveway to join the others in the queue before the checkpoint, that snaked between red lines painted on the floor. Armed guards lined the small bus depot, and signs hung from the fence warning of high voltages, high security and high punishments for misdemeanours while crossing the border.

The car journey from Tara had been, for the most part, relatively uneventful. Long stretches of driving down winding country roads and motorways, long sleepless nights wrapped up in tatty blankets on his backseat parked by the roadside, the horns and rattling of passing cars and wagons throughout the night disturbing his sleep. Hours of drab countryside accented with occasional stops for petrol and fast food.

As he approached the border, he chose to abandon the car and take a bus the rest of the way into Novmir. Strict rules on vehicle crossings aside, he had no doubt the authorities would have his numberplates by now and any attempt to cross in a vehicle marked to be detained - especially by Diels - would be nothing shy of suicide. Either way, he had to leave the country, so he figured filing through the last leg by public transport into Novmir probably carried the highest likelihood of success.

He shuffled up the queue, slowly, roughly once every five minutes, as the passengers who had just disembarked the bus slowly filed through the checkpoint, their papers scrutinised and their luggage checked. The bus also passed through a larger checkpoint for vehicles, where it had its paperwork packet and log-book checked. Its weight was also checked, and guards swept through the vehicle with dogs to check for stowaways and contraband. By the time maybe ten or so passengers had been processed, the bus rolled through to collect them from the other side.

It was a grim day. Great cumulonimbus rolled overhead, churning and rumbling, from them descending a thick grey fog that reduced visibility to a matter of tens of meters. There was a cold and bitter wind that chilled Northlane’s very soul. It didn’t help his nerves. He had, however, taken the liberty of reading up on Novmiran border regulations on his phone during the bus journey. Knowing the artefact would still garner some interest, he had devised something of a small plan, although his confidence in it was waning with every step closer to the checkpoint he moved.





About half an hour passed before he was called into the checkpoint. He handed his sole item of luggage – the rucksack – to the guard by the doorway before he passed through the turnstile and into the concrete prefab cubicle. It had been painted green on the inside but the paint was flaking off. The floor was dusty. There was little to the building – another turnstile at the other end with a locking mechanism to prevent people from passing through before they had been fully processed was all that stood between him and Novmir. To the right-hand side of the building, taking up the full length of the building, was the desk behind which the border inspector sat. The dim fluorescent lighting above that swung slightly in the draft only partially lit his features, revealing an older looking man, skin stretched thinly over a bony face, speaking from under a dense bushy moustache.

“Please pass your papers through the slot in the glass.”

The desk was protected the whole way along by bulletproof glass, interrupted on either side by a great concrete pillar that ran from ceiling to floor, presumably providing some structural reinforcement. The front of the desk had a wooden façade, but bits of it had broken off to reveal the concrete beneath. As Northlane slipped his papers through the gap, the guards outside the building at either turnstile closed the thick metal outer doors with two resounding, echoing slams, sealing the room.

The room fell silent.

The inspector opened Jonah’s passport, reading the information and checking the picture against Jonah’s likeness stood before him.
“You are Jonah Northlane, correct?” The inspector pushed his glasses up his nose. He had a Novmiran accent so dense it could probably resist gunfire.

“Yes sir.”

“Any middle names?”

“No sir.”

Northlane stood straight, showing no emotion on his face. Beneath the inspector’s view, he anxiously fiddled with his coat zips. The inspector read the rest of his passport details, as well as his ID card and bus tickets, before tucking them away and beginning the formal transition process.
“I’ll start with basic details. Is easy. Do you have unspent criminal convictions in Edofasia?” He spoke with a straight face, almost as if he were trying to move as few muscles as possible.

“No sir.”

“Anything to declare?”

Here goes…

“I’m carrying one piece of high-value artwork, a small sculpture.”

The inspector didn’t look up from the paperwork before him. “Understood. Is it with your other luggage?”

“Yes sir.”

“Are any duties or taxes due on it?”

“No sir.”

“Okay.” He shuffled some papers. “Carrying anything on your person?”

“Yes, my smartphone and wallet.”

“I’ll make a note of that and your art piece. A second, please.” He pulled a short stack of papers out from an unseen compartment of the desk, filing through them until he found a specific form, its purpose unknown to Northlane as it was labelled in Novmiran. Between the printed lettering the inspector scrawled a message to the luggage inspectors with a black ballpoint pen before passing it through a letterbox hatch in the door behind him. “Where is your intended destination?”

“Novigrad, sir.”

“I will write you up travel permit for passage to Novigrad. While I do that, could you turn to face the scanner behind you?” He took a breath. “Don’t worry, is routine.”

“Yes sir.” Jonah turned to face the bulbous lens protruding from a metal box bolted to the opposite wall. The inspector closed his blinds, and the scanner flashed once. The inspector told Jonah to turn around again, which he did, before the scanner flashed again. The blinds then reopened.
“Now then, let me just check couple of things.”

He pulled out more papers, while the printer next to him slowly etched the scanner results onto a reel of paper. He checked through it, then he began stamping Jonah’s passport alongside several other documents and sheets, scribbling furiously onto various documents and tearing sections off of others.

The telephone on the inspector’s desk rang. He picked it up, and answered in Novmiran, uttering but a few short words between which lay long pauses. After a few minutes, the phone was laid back on its cradle and the papers on his desk were swept into a pile at the far end of the desk.

“There is an issue with your luggage. You are being escorted for some questions. Please follow the officer.”

“Sorry, wha-“

Before Jonah could even speak, the door on the Novmiran side opened. A guard, gun in hand and pointed at Jonah, motioned for him to pass through. He did as he was told, filing through the turnstile and following the guard into another room off to the side of the checkpoint. This building was larger, with two storeys, several windows and the odd air conditioning unit and electrical junction box bolted to the side. Barbed wire ran around the roof, the drainpipes and below the windows. As they crossed over the small courtyard and into the building, a third armed guard came up behind Jonah to form a sort of escort. He was taken inside, down a short corridor and into a small room. The guards asked him to sit down in a small wooden chair by a metal table, them and another chair on the guards' side being the only items of furniture in the room. A light hung from above but was switched off. The door they had passed through was locked by the guard, while two more came through the door at the back of the room, one holding his rucksack and the other holding a large rifle. That door was also locked, the bag placed on the table, and the guards taking their positions stood side by side at the other side of the table.

“Is this your bag?” One of them spoke, but it was hard to tell which. The small window behind them was the only light source in the otherwise dim room, leaving their faces dark – probably intentionally.

“Yes.”

“And you are Jonah Northlane?”

“Yes sir.”

They spoke to each other in Novmiran. One of them opened the bag and started to remove the contents, onto the table. First, came the stack of money, a roll of Edofasian banknotes in various pound denominations.
“For you to take money into Novmir it must be declared and taxed. We have calculated the total due and removed it from this roll. Please sign this form to confirm your understanding.” The guard on the left passed Northlane a form and pen. The form indicated they had taken the equivalent of £70 in dues, and asked him to sign to confirm not his agreement, but his understanding, which he did. It was annoying, but unavoidable. He returned the form to the same guard, who rolled it up, tucked it into the money roll and shoved it back into his rucksack.

Next came out his two remaining water bottles, his toothpaste and an unfinished chocolate bar which he had forgotten about. “Foodstuffs, pastes and liquids are not permitted across the border in accordance with the Novmiran Controlled Substances Act of 1989. While they are not contraband in and of themselves, they will be confiscated in the interests of public safety and security, and in safeguarding of Novmiran interests and Novmiran-Edofasian values. Here is a receipt of the confiscation.” This time, the guard on the right passed Jonah a small paper slip, presumably detailing the confiscation of a chocolate bar, two bottles of water and some toothpaste, although it was in Novmiran so he couldn’t tell for sure.

This process continued with several other of the contents of his bag – items of clothing, bits of paperwork, mostly detailing inconsequential little bits of bureaucracy that he would allegedly need to perform upon his exiting the country. The whole time, however, Jonah could only think of the artefact tucked away at the bottom of the bag. Although he had declared it and the inspector didn’t seem to take issue to it, his heart still almost stopped every time they reached into the bag again, until it happened.

The artefact was placed before him.

“You have declared this, yes? This is your sculpture?”

“Yes sir.”

There was a long pause, as the guards looked at one another. One of them set his rifle aside and sat down before Jonah. The other two, who took positions at either of the back corners of the room, spoke with thick Novmiran intonations, but this third guard had a perfectly typical Edofasian accent.

“It’s a pretty interesting thing, isn’t it? Did you make it?” He spoke in a low voice. Jonah, for the first time throughout this whole encounter, started to feel genuinely scared.

“…Yes, sir.”

“Oh, drop the Sir talk already. Nobody is that polite normally, it’s so unusual. Makes me feel like you’re trying to get away with something.” He scooted his chair closer, leaning towards Jonah, the sound metal scraping against concrete battering his eardrums. "You’re not up to anything, are you?”

Just keep pushing through. It’s just some dumb art. Nothing to report. Nothing unusual.

“No.”

“Although even if you were, I suppose you wouldn’t admit it. Unless, of course, you really knew what was good for you…” The guard picked up the trinket, idly spinning its gears, inspecting its inner machinations. He let them spin free and watched it begin to glow. “Now that is something special. What’s it called?”

“Uhm…”

“Is there a problem? You are the artist after all…”

Of course I am.

“I… haven’t named it yet.”

The guard furrowed his brow, as he looked up from the artefact to stare into Jonah’s eyes. He shifted in his seat. “Is that so?”

Jonah quietly gulped. “Yeah. Just, ah, trying to decide on something, that’s all.”

“Hmm. The mind of an artist at work. Fascinating.” He turned it over in his hands, feeling the centrifugal force fight the rotation. “You know, this is probably worth a lot to a certain sort of people. I think you know who I mean." He played with it for a moment longer, before stopping the gears and placing it back down onto the table. "I’m curious now. How’s it powered?”

Don’t think “supernaturally” will cut it here.

“Oh, umm, it’s got a battery.”

“Oh? Did you declare the battery?”

“…Do you need to declare batteries in things?”

“Embedded batteries, yes. Controlled Transition of Goods Act 1994.”

Well Jonah, you’ve fucked it now. Really, a battery? That was the best you could come up with??

“Oh, well… It doesn’t really have a battery…”

“…What?”

Fucking hell.

“Well, ah, It’s got a sort of large capacitor of sorts behind a solar tile – sorry, panel, so it can keep running for a while out of sunlight. Embedded in the, the crystals, you see. It’s, uh, discreet. Yeah.” Jonah felt himself sweating from every part of his body. His clothes clung to him like leeches.

“So no battery.”

Jonah gulped again, but a little louder this time. “No battery.”

“Why do you lie to me Northlane?”

“Um… Well… I figured calling it a battery would be easier than explaining it… I guess?”

“But you explained it perfectly fine just now.” There was a short pause. Jonah felt himself dying inside, like the collapsing of some great star or decrepit building. “Do you think me stupid? Let me tell you Northlane, whoever you are or whoever the fuck you think you are, I’m not just some military goon. Working on this line you get a sharp mind and it stays sharp. But, personal offense aside…” He tossed the artefact aside, it landing on the table with a clatter. Jonah’s head started to spin. “…lying to border agents is a pretty serious offense, even if your intentions are good. I mean, I’ve – aha, ha, hahaha! I’ve got to detain you now! Oh dear.” The guard kicked his chair back and rose, summoning the other two. One of them produced a pair of handcuffs, unchaining them and beginning to motion Jonah to stand until—

Knock knock.

A small hatch in the door behind the guards opened, through which two steely eyes and a furrowed brow peered into the room.

The Edofasian guard barked behind him. “Hey, we’re busy in here!”

The man behind the door spoke. “The Chief has summoned your group. It's urgent. Delta-Echo-Alpha-Echo six-niner-five.”

The guards froze. They looked at one another, then to the door, then back at Jonah. Slowly, almost reluctantly, they gathered up their belongings and started to leave. One of the Novmiran guards turned to Jonah, and muttered between gritted teeth.

“You’re lucky this offense is so minor, or we might not even have bothered letting you off. Take your shit and get out of here.” He threw Jonah’s papers onto the desk before unlocking the exit door for Jonah and following the other two out of the room, muttering under his breath. “Fucking artists.” The guards’ door closed and locked behind him with a loud rattle.

Jonah fought his stomach with the strength of several small stars to avoid throwing up as he stumbled out of the building and back towards the bus.
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#4
This passage was written by Edofasia and has been reposted by the UA as part of the Website Migration


The Car had been found a few miles from the border. Northlane was nowhere to be found. Of course the artifact was nowhere to be found.

The guard was stumbling over his words. It's not everyday such a high ranking official makes a house call. "And you say you...released him? Despite orders from Border Security explicitly to detain anyone matching his decription...Was he even using his actual name?"

Diels words dripped with venomous rage barely concealed. He already knew the answer but having a confession would make things simpler. "Y....yes Sir. But he was just an artist....he had no contraband on him...just his stupid little sculpture" Diels actually had to pause for breath to keep from shouting over the phone. "Very well inspector. Await further orders"

Diels ended the call before the guard could spit out more excuses.

Drumming his fingers on his desk in thought for a moment considering his options. Novmir wasn't friendly. Finally he made up his mind. Lightly tapping the intercom. "Frau do pack my bags for cold weather. We're going up north"

"Yes Doctor. Right away" responded a beleaguered sounding woman. A few hours later Diels was on a luxury flight to Novigrad. With him flew his bodyguards made up of ex Edofasian Rangers, a few of his research staff and his poor secretary whom he never bothered to learn the name off. His researchers  throughly enjoyed themselves. Such luxury was rare in Edofasia. His guards stood by and his aide never was 100 yards from him. When they landed it was late afternoon. A car was provided for him as the private security company arrived in armored trucks to escort the group to the nearby hotel used by various visitors. Diels. Sufficiently drunk the point of actually enjoying himself. Checked the group in.
"Ahh yes Doctor. You're renting out the top floor yes? Enjoy your stay in Novigrad. The desk woman stated with a smile.

Diels laughed "If I was on vacation I'd be in Mortasia. Not this frozen wasteland. But your ignorant candor is endearing sweetheart. Have the kitchen send up wine and expect us for dinner at 8. Sharp."

The last word cut through the woman's ears and she knew not to disappoint.

"Of course Doctor. Right away" she said with a small bow and rushed off to the kitchen





Later that evening
"You have been found guilty of High Treason. Assisting a fugitave and theft from The Ministry of Security. Please face the wall" announced a curt female voice.

"Please by A'ru don't kill me. I....I didnt know." The man was badly beaten. His boss slumped against the wall next to him. Most of his body smeared across the wall behind him.

In front of him stood the black uniformed Security Agents. Rifles poised to fire. Screams of pain rang out as the lights were shut off
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#5
Chapter 4: Machinations
Southern Novmir
Day 5; 1014 miles travelled





The word came to Jonah as he fell asleep on the bus, materialising amongst hypnagogic rabble and presenting itself unto him as some element of a dream instantly forgotten except for the word. Machinations – the plural form of Machination, a word meaning a plot or scheme, but also not dissimilar in feel on the tongue to words like Mechanical, which the device certainly was, and Imagination, as he was certainly quite taken by the thing and often found himself lost in thoughts imbibed by the irresistible, otherworldly curio. He decided there and then, as his heart returned to a regular rhythm and his stomach settled back into place, that if he were to make it out as some sort of pretentious art piece it should be called Machinations.

If only you could’ve come up with that mid-interrogation…

Jonah slept for most of the bus ride, rocking in his seat at the will of the old spring-suspension as the old diesel coach thundered down a motorway that led to an unknown place, unnamed towns flying by, flecks of light from lanterns and houses disappearing into the dark beyond. Sometimes it rained and sometimes it snowed, although whenever it did it never did settle on the wet ground, instead churning up great puddles of slush and mud which the bus would crash through to the ceremonious applause of rattling windows and misfiring pistons. For the most part, however, the weather did nothing at all, but ominously hang from above and assault the ground with sharp coldness, like knives that did readily cut the skin of anybody brave enough to step out at refuelling stops for cigarettes and crisps. No doubt they would’ve also cut into those who (understandably) chose to remain on the bus, but the thin tin roof and loud but surprisingly functional space heaters bolted to the undersides of every fourth row of seats managed to fight off the icy breath of the winter sky.





The bus pulled up in the early hours of the morning into an unassuming bus station, a long concrete building with doors along the side leading to eight or so bus-sized parking spots, adorned with departure boards, clocks and queue lines but nothing for aesthetics. Along the roof of the building, great steel lettering spelled out the name of the town.

ВУШЕГОРОД

Stepping down from the bus and nodding thanks to the driver one last time, he ventured forth through the bus station (that was just as plain on the inside as the outside) and out to the Vyshegorod main street.

It was bitingly cold. Even within his coat Jonah could feel the ice on the air, the occasional gusts that wormed their way up through his waist or cuffs and threatened to freeze his heart. It clung to his face, numbing it, dispatching his sense of smell and turning his cheeks in to the great stinging sensation that clawed at his skull. It was far from pleasant, and this seemed to extend out into the town, which was decidedly modern but in probably all the worst ways. Everything was built of poured concrete, and very little of the poured concrete was lucky enough to have been painted. In the distance, standing between the freezing street and the rising winter sun, great towers of apartment blocks housed the townspeople, while in the foreground long rows of shorter grey buildings held shops, cafés and restaurants along the ground floors, with apartments and hotels above and overhanging the front slightly, supported with concrete pillars. They sheltered the pavements on either side of the six-lane road (along which countless cars, buses and trams rolled along, splashing through puddles and mixing between lanes like fish in a river) from the elements. Out of the storefronts, warm orange lights bled out into the street, casting the immediate pavement and pillars outside of the shop in an almost pleasant gold light, although the light didn’t reach much further into the road before it were stricken down by the impenetrable cold.

As he walked along, he felt the warmth from the shops as it wisped out of the gaps in the doors and windows. It was such a strange mixture of sensations that it almost dove straight into the uncanny valley. He watched the townspeople milling about, wrapped up tight to keep out the wind and warm to keep out the cold, impervious to the wind and the sleet, diligent in their daily routines. It was awe-inspiring, and made his own bitterness at the cursed weather and clawing coldness seem very petty. The whole thing was quite humbling.

Along the way, he recognised an SYBC branch, and dove inside to try to change his money into rubles. The teller, a young man, had an elementary understanding of Edofasian, and swiftly processed the cash bundle, taking a small amount out as a fee before wishing Jonah well on his travels. Leaving the shop and crossing over the street at a zebra crossing, he arrived at the base of a signpost pointing in various directions. He couldn’t read any of the writing, but he had looked up and saved a picture of the icon used to indicate regional railway stations on his phone. Seeing it on the pole, he turned right and continued down another similar road, arriving at the end and crossing over into what appeared to be the train station building – another poured concrete block, but much wider than the others so as to accommodate the six or so train platforms behind it, and bearing the same icon on its front.

He intended to travel to the capital, Novigrad. He figured he’d be able to more readily achieve his aspirations if he got to the capital in good time. He didn’t know how far ahead of his pursuers he was – or if he even was being pursued at all, although he didn’t doubt for a minute that he probably was. He didn’t even know what he planned to do with Machinations – he had no contacts, no language skills, nothing other than the clothes on his back and what of his luggage had made it over the border (he was lucky to have even crossed it himself). He didn’t know if he wanted to sell it, give it away, or work with someone somehow to ascertain its true identity and functionality. Really, he was rather alone, in a foreign land, with no plan beyond get to Novigrad; as long as he could keep himself focused on the travel, he was content with leaving the fine details for later.

Whatever helps you sleep at night, Jonah.

The interior of the station was a relatively standard affair. It was a large hall, with a tiled floor and concrete pillars holding up a ceiling of iron girders and steel rafters from which hanging lamps illuminated the ticket offices, waiting benches and timetables. Approaching one of the ticket offices, Jonah decided to simply try and speak his native tongue and work from there.

“Hello, I need to get to Novigrad as fast as possible.”

The older and rather round woman behind the desk looked back at Jonah with a face of bewildered confusion.

“Shto?”

“Uh… Novigrad… please?”

Adin bilet v’Novigrad, ekspress ili mestnyy?”

“Uhmm… express?”

”Vosem'sot dvadtsat' pyat' rubley i dvadtsat' kopeyek, pozhaluysta.” Presumably understanding that he probably wouldn’t understand what she was saying, she opened the cash window and gestured towards it, then towards the screen to her right, which read:

НОВИГРАД 1 №5562 2-й ₽825,20

Guessing the last number was the total due, he unfurled 9 notes of 100 rubles – considerably less than he expected to pay - and tucked them through the cash window. The woman seemed to accept this, as she took the notes, slipped them into the cash register, and started to hammer away at the keyboard in front of her while the ticket printer to her side started to spit out a stream of tickets, reservation tokens, receipts and coupons. Once it stopped, she tore the roll of paper away from the machine, bundled it up with change in coins and sealed it with a red paper-ribbon, before passing it back to Jonah.

“Spasiba.” She smiled. Jonah weakly smiled back before taking the tickets and walking away from the ticket booth as fast as possible.





Jonah was starting to wish he’d bought a book. Or a music player, or something, because these long stretches of sitting on public transport were starting to get pretty arduous. He’d waited another hour on the station, the frigid winter air grabbing at him like some perverted beast, during which time he’d managed to haul himself to a rusting vending machine for cigarettes and beer if not for the sake of something to do (and to shake some small change). Now on the train, and with another good four hours left until Novigrad, he figured having one of the smokes he bought would help pass the time.

Not that he wished to imply to himself for even a moment that the interior of the train was unpleasant to any extent. The interior of the coach was divided into small cabin-like sections, long benches with comfortable cushioning and back support running widthways across the train compartmentalised into pairs facing each other, but not quite the full width of the coach so as to allow for a gangway to pass through (and the odd single seat by the windows on the other side of it). It was warm, and every half an hour or so a trolley of drinks and light refreshments rolled through, pushed by an older moustachioed man, although Jonah dared not attempt to purchase from it out of fear of the language barrier. It was quiet; nobody was sitting with him in his particular compartment. The rolling by of the countryside, which gradually grew whiter as time passed, was quite enjoyable.

No, really, it was alright. But the cigarettes were burning a hole in his pocket. Or maybe, he was just desperate for some kind of chemically accelerated relaxation.

He rose from his seat and walked down the gangway, through the door at the end of the carriage into the small saloon connecting it to the next. It was sealed from the elements but well ventilated. A rusty metal plate on the wall bore some faded Novmiran text, with a picture of a cigarette and a patchy green tick.

He pulled the packet from his coat pocket and pulled a cigarette out before realising his lighter had been confiscated at the checkpoint. Shit.

“Need a light?” A gruff voice spoke behind him. Before he could even turn around, though, a swinging fist collided with the back of his head, driving him into the wall. A pair of hands grabbed him by the waist, while a third hand held his head against the wall by his short hair and a fourth hand held a knife against the back of his neck, its sharp edge tickling the hairs that stood up straight in the frigid winter draft blowing through the gaps around the door.

The hands’ owners began to speak.

“Fucking clever cunt, aren’t you? What, you ditch the car, we’re only gonna check the fuckin trains aren’t we?”

Reasonable enough.

Another of the gravely voices started barking. “You know full pissing well what we're after. So, tell you what: special offer, today only. Because you’ve been so nice, if you just give it to us now, we’ll break your neck before gutting you.” The grip of the hands tightened, and the knife pressed into his skin, drawing blood. “Won’t hurt so bad then, will it?”

Jonah didn’t really know what was happening, or what to respond, so in his panic he froze and didn’t respond at all.

“No a fucking blabbermouth are ye?” The hand that had him by the head pulled him back before shoving him back face-first into the wall, causing his nose to bleed. Then it happened again, and again, and continually in rapid succession along to screams of all sorts of abuse from both of them. Eventually, they stopped. A few more seconds passed, the warmth of the blood pouring down his face eating a few thin lines through the cold that had stuck to his upper lip.

The voices then spoke to one another. “Fuckin shit cunt's keeping shop shut tight. Open the fuckin door.”

“Bastard's going'ta fuckin regret this.”

The hand that held his head shoved it round to face the exit door on the right-hand side of the carriage. He watched as one of the men, whose hands and forearms were now visible, used the knife that were against Jonah’s neck to smash open the glass window, before reaching through the hole to unlatch the door from the outside. As the man leaned out, Jonah could see his short hair, covered by a tatty green wool hat. His face was covered in a tied rag. Once the door was unlatched, he kicked it, knocking it off its lower hinge and bending it outwards – a passing trackside signpost that shot by almost unseen snapped the door clean off the remaining top hinge, sending it rolling away into the blizzard.

It was heavily snowing, and the train was going at a not-unremarkable speed. All the heat in the small saloon was instantly sucked out, leaving behind the cold and bitter void of an arctic circle winter. “Who knows you’re here? Fuckin nobody, eh? We’ll throw you out and nobody will ever find your flappin’ useless corpse.”

“And if the impact doesn't kill ye…”

“…nor the cold…”

“…then it’ll be the bloody wolves.” The grip tightened yet more, before loosening slightly, only to drag him down to the floor, his knees buckling under the remarkable strength of the attackers. They held his head over the side of the step, out of the train. All he could see was snowy ballast and wooden sleepers, a mushy brown blur whizzing by. The roar of the rolling wheels on the rails, the clattering of suspension and the rushing of blizzard air were deafening.

A boot met his back, pushing into his spine with slowly increasing pressure and crushing his chest against the ridged metal floor. It became difficult to breathe. The man began to scream. “Last chance saloon, cunt. FUCKING GIVE IT!”

His brain still drew a blank. Was… was this it?

“Fuck this. Chuck him.”

The boot released Jonah from its grip. One of the men squatted down, speaking in a low voice just behind his ears. “Diels sends his regards.”

“Wishes you might have been a bit more cooperative too.”

“Shame, really.”

Two hands under his shoulders and two hands under his legs, they picked him up and began to swing him out of the train, until the hands slipped out from beneath him and he were suddenly dropped back onto the saloon floor. Overhead, he heard what sounded like the rustling of thick coats and the impact of fists. Low growls and grunts could be heard.

"FUCKIN 'MON THEN!"

"IDI NAHUI!"

Looking up from the rails below, he saw one of the masked men tumble out of the train before him, landing on his neck in an awful way.

"SHIT CUNT!"

The other man, similarly masked and coated, knife in hand, soon followed.

It was over. Some unknown force had manifested and casted Jonah's demons away. He took a moment to breathe, relishing in the wonderful survival. He was starting to feel very ill again.

The unknown force began to speak. “Oh blin this is not good man…”

A new pair of hands grabbed onto Jonah; except this time, they were much more careful. They pulled him back into the train, away from the danger of the broken door, and turned him over onto his back, revealing another man with a round shaven head, beady eyes under fuzzy brows, a slim nose and small mouth within a short goatee. He looked at Jonah with a most concerned expression which soon turned into a small smirk. “Bad day, man?”

Jonah, almost laughing with relief, and still struggling to process what had just happened, managed to barely wheeze a reply. “Fuckers nearly got me good.”

"Bad day, man."
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#6
This passage was written by Edofasia and has been reposted by the UA as part of the Website Migration


On the Hunt

They settled in rather nicely. The Hotel was unlike most in Edofasia. Rich food and fine drinks always ready to go. The hotel was one of Novigrad’s finest, with gigantic chandeliers and fireplaces and two glass-roofed courtyards, one of which—the Palm Courtyard—was famous for its tea dances. Diels had booked the Imperial Suite, a collection of rooms that included a large double-bedded room with private bath, two single bedrooms also with private baths, one drawing room, and one conference room, all arrayed along the even-numbered side of a hall, from room 116 through room 124. Two reception rooms had walls covered with satin brocade
 

A few days later Diels had his men return to Edofasia, keeping his secretary Martha and his forawrd bodyguards at his impomptu apartment. Diels’s secretary led the group of bruised up men into the living room, where they found Diels lying on a couch looking anything but imposing. A couple of pistols lay on a table beside him next to a large map. Diels dismissed Martha, whom the thugs described internally  as “a pathetic passive-looking creature.”

The map, Martha saw, was covered with symbols and notations applied with inks of different colors that described a network of secret-police posts and agents. Martha found it terrifying, “a vast spider-web of intrigue.”

Diels was proud of it. “You know most of this is part of my work,” he said. “I have really organized the most effective system of espionage Terra has ever known.”

If he possessed such power, the brutes asked him, why was he so clearly worried?

He answered, “Because Northlane already knows too much.” Martha said flatly. On the other hand. Diels—the old confident shadow—reveled in the game of extricating himself from his predicament.


In some ways the hunt he thought he was in was a challenge to his slyness and shrewdness, Could Nortlane outwit them or not, could he escape them or not?

"So my good man. You've been paid. Your boss answers to me. And you had one job..now tell me. What happened"

The thug couldn't meet his eyes. Despite his calm tone and his vulnerable body language. His eyes looked cold and steely.
"He was helped. My guys were....ah jumped" "B..but we know where he's going! Or coming...here"

Diels eyes flashed from fury to humorous in an instant "ah the mind of a slag worker. Keep an eye on the trains here. He won't be able to hide here for long. Now go on. Back to work"

The thugs stood up and began to leave. "Oh and before you go. This person who helped him? Bring me everything on him here. I have some questions for your boss about this"
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#7
This passage was written by Candanadium and has been reposted by the UA as part of the Website Migration


For those who grew up under the iron fist of the True Northern Front, there was no organization as feared as the Crown Security Bureau. The CSB was the regime's notorious secret police, rumoured to be responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of disappearances, murders, and suicides in the name of "national security". Missing Belkhomirian Assembly Member? Blame the CSB. An outspoken university dean mysteriously commits suicide? Must be the CSB's handiwork. In truth, maybe one in five of these disappearances and deaths were the work of the CSB, or rather, more accurately, the work of the so-called "surface" CSB.

All those who lived under the tyranny of the TNF will remember the whispers, the hushed tales spoken of a much more shadowy organization. The Chemical, Biological, Radioactive, and Nuclear Research Institute of the Crown Security Bureau was often rumoured to be the group responsible for all the most high-profile cases, those so masterfully executed that nobody could question without seeming like a lunatic or a nutjob. Officially, the CBRN Research Institute's mission was just that, research, which was true, to an extent. There was always talk of leaked files of twisted radiation experiments and vivesections, where all those who had been "disappeared" would end up. To this day, the documents regarding the activities of the CBRN Research Institute have remained classified.

Above all, one name embodied the fear that had enveloped Candanadium during those years of oppression. One Dr. Rudolf Diels, Director of Crown Security Bureau and the CBRN Research Institute. He had graduated cum laude from the Kanadiaans University of New Konigstadt, holding of several doctorates in fields ranging from electrical engineering to medical science, and a licensed medical doctor as well. For the later part of the True Northern Front's thirty-year dominance over federal politics, Dr. Diels was the man at the top of the regime's secret police structure. There was no shortage of rumours of him, each more outlandish than the last. Diels was a cannibal. His preferred method of torture was to peel the victim's skin off, inch by inch. He was immortal, and was responsible for the death of King Wilhelmus of Magnare. Some even went so far to say that he was the living incarnation of the legendary champion of the queer Terran gods, the Horator, sent to Candanadium to punish the Kanadiaans and Oseanians for their exploitation of Terra. Of course, those who enjoyed spreading the rumours about Diels often ended up a victim of his system, sooner or later.

It was no surprise, then, that after the "quiet revolution" of post-Edofasian Crisis Candanadium, that the Crown Security Bureau and the CBRN Research Institute were disbanded and its director wanted for crimes against humanity. The winds of change had blown across Candanadium, and they had blown Diels into the open arms of the newly united Edofasian state. With Diels and his establishment gone, the new federal government still needed an intelligence agency of some sort. It was unanimously agreed that the Crown Security Bureau would be gone for good, but from its ashes was borne the new Royal Intelligence Service. Those who had jobs of a more innocent nature in the old CSB were welcomed into the ranks of the RIS, as well as most of the agents posted overseas. Slowly, the RIS had become an effective intelligence agency, but never becoming more than that. The fears that the RIS would be twisted by some corrupt Chancellor into the CSB by a different set of initials turned out to be, fortunately, unfounded, largely due to the work of one man.

Under the CSB, Arthur Pickman had been an unassuming man in an unassuming position. He was head of the Overseas Intelligence Department, a largely bureaucratic job, but under the TNF regime, it was the highest he could climb as an Oseanian and not a "true Candanadian". His past, however, was not a mundane one, nay. He had distinguished himself in the Edofasian Crisis, serving with the Edofasian Rifles when the Line of Control fell. He had resisted torture for two months, refusing to reveal the Candanadian defensive positions outside Thüle, even as the Edofasians were on the doorstep of the Dominion's capital. He had lost his left leg in service of the Crown, but the Crown had dumped him back at square one once he had recovered from his injuries and learned to walk with a prosthetic. His days as a field agent were over, but no accolades, awards, nor medals ever came his way. Instead, he was given a cubicle at CSB Headquarters in New Konigstadt, with only three-quarters the wages of a Kanadiaans agent and almost double the hours. Despite the burdens the state placed on him, Pickman would go on to distinguish himself within his department, eventually earning him command over all overseas operations. Following the dissolution of the CSB and the flight of Diels, this also put him down as a contender for the position of Director of the Royal Intelligence Service.

His appointment was a political one as much as it was a pragmatic one, but it was to be expected nonetheless. Chancellor von Klark wanted to fill his Privy Council with Kanadiaans and Oseanians alike, to put a final nail in the coffin to the unspoken segregation of the past thirty years. Pickman was well-respected by the departments of the RIS, proving himself to be a capable Director, working well with the Akarean and Welkan intelligence services and uncovering a human smuggling ring in southern Caskhomir.

With over forty years of leal service under his belt, Pickman was in his mid-60s and had seen his fair share of Chancellors come and go. He had served them each to the best of his ability, insisting on attending each Privy Council meeting in person, even as walking with his prosthetic became more and more of a chore. In all his years of dedicated service, however, he had never received a report as outlandish as the one that sat on his desk before him now.

"Ms. Ingelmann, what do you think of the agent's history? Can this report be taken at face value?" He pushed his reading glasses up on his nose and took another look at the dossier.

"Well, Director, like all reports out of Terra, it's dubious at best. Vanguard is one of our best, he's been in Edofasia for close to fifteen years now. If it came from him, there has to be some useful intel in there." Lise Ingelmann  was the woman in charge of Arthur's old department, and she was right. Pickman had known the man known as Vanguard back in the day, but it was not a detail Lise needed to know.

"And this mine worker, he's on the run? With a..." Pickman gave the report one more look, just to be sure "...a mediocre absurdist sculpture. Ms. Ingelmann, no doubt you can see the absurdity in this report." Pickman gave a short laugh.

"Yes, sir, but the issue of Diels..." The woman's voice trailed off.

"All in good time, Ms. Ingelmann. Has this... Jonah Northlane taken any pseudonyms? Has he sought asylum anywhere else?"

"Surprisingly, no. It seems that he is truly no more than a mine worker. His flight seemed to be an act of desperation, not a calculated move."

"Very good. Should our friend Northlane apply for Candanadian asylum, I will see that he receives it. Now for the question of Diels. Vanguard claims Diels is hot on the trail in Novmir. Diels will not personally partake in a hunt unless there was a damned good reason. As of now, we don't know what that damned good reason is. Ms. Ingelmann, instruct Vanguard as well as your department at large to keep a close eye on this matter. All the information on Diels's movements you can gather. There must be more at stake here than a sculpture. What agents do we have in Novmir?"

"Wanderer and Crusader in the capital. Morgenlicht and Proctor may be compromised, so we've cut contact for now."

"Very good. Get to it."

"As you command, Director." Lise Ingelmann clicked her heels in salute, turned, and walked away.

Pickman nor Ingelmann nor any of the Royal Intelligence Service agents knew, but they had just received the most important case of their lives. The greatest dance in the world of intelligence and espionage was just about to begin.
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#8
Chapter 5: Pavel
Central Novmir
Day 6; 1343 miles travelled





“So who are the bitches?”

Jonah laughed. He clung to a rag which he held against the back of his neck. It was stained red from the nosebleed which had halted just earlier, but the incision in his skin left a more permanent and prominent mark. “I don’t know who they are exactly. I just know who they work for. A man called Diels.”

“Diels, ahh, I see man. I heard the bitches say his name, ah. Some big shot. What is he, like a gangster? A pimp?” He stifled a chuckle into a strong snort.

“Not exactly.”

“Hmm. Bigger?”

“I don’t know.”

“Edofasian like you?”

“I think so.”

“Hmm.” The man who had saved Jonah’s life not even half an hour ago sat across from him, with his propped his head up on a clenched fist, deep in thought. He looked back at Jonah, wearing an expression of fascination. He spoke with a strange accent that was distinctly Novmiran but with noticeable twinges of Edofasian, all spoken in a Candanadian-like rhythm. “What does he want from you man?”

“I stole something.” Before Jonah could stop himself, he dropped the artist façade before he could even start it. Mentally, he kicked himself hard. Such mistakes couldn’t be made in front of the wrong crowd, or – worse – strangers, who might or might not be in to get him anyway. He had quickly learned that the stakes were higher than he had bargained for, and with his life on the line he had silently elected to re-establish his priorities, including adopting a general distrust of strangers.

Yet, for some reason, Pavel seemed trustworthy. Might’ve been his eyes.

“Ooh, I get it man I get it.” The man started to grin, bubbling with giddy excitement. “Tell me man, what did you take?”

“I have no fucking idea… technically it was mine to begin with! But he wants it more than me. Here…” He reached into his bag in the overhead racks – thankfully, it hadn’t been tampered with – and pulled out Machinations.

“Man, what the fuck is this shit?” He began to laugh, snorting as he tried to regain composure. “That’s it?”

Jonah slouched, stifling a sigh. “Pathetic, isn’t it?” He took Machinations back and tucked it away into the bottom of the bag.

“Gangsters often are man.”

“He’s not a gangster.”

“He behaves like one. Believe me man I know gangsters, I am one. Fucking hate the word though man, ‘gangsters’ man, it’s like a playground insult or a shit movie, like, generic enemy B movie enemy man, you get me? No other word for it though, man. No other word.” He paused for breath. “My name is Pavel man.” He extended a hand.

“Jonah.” Jonah shook his hand.

“So what brings you to Novmir man?”

“Running.”

“Oh, you’re athlete?”

“No, running from Diels.”

“Oh right man, shit man, sorry.” A brief moment of silence passed. “So, ahh, have you got somewhere to stay?”

“No.”

“Somewhere to be going?”

“…Novigrad.”

“Anywhere specific?”

“Not really.”

“Anybody meeting you man?”

“Nope.”

“Shit man.” He pulled out his phone, an older clamshell flip-phone adorned with scratches in its silver-painted plastic case. He punched a number into it and began speaking.

Da. Eta ya… Da, da... Zdes. Ya zdes, da... Dva. Ehhhh... ya ne znayo bro… Nyet, nyet, ya hachu usluga a vy bro. Vasha kvartira ... drugaya, da? Mogu ya pozaimstvovat' eto? Drugu nuzhno mesto na neskol'ko dney... Da? Aaaa, spasiba man, spasiba. Eta ochin super, ochin kruto bro. Da... Da... Ya ponemayo. Ne ya-- Da… Da. Spasiba. Paka.”

He packed the phone away and switched back to Edofasian. “Right man, we’re all good.”

“...What?”

“A friend owed me a favour man. He’s got a spare flat for you, just outside the Exhibition, we take Metro, is easy man. We can work stuff out from there.”

“…What the fuck?”

“Everything okay man?”

“Yeah… yeah.” Jonah slumped down in his seat. “I just…”

“Doesn’t sound like everything’s okay man.”

Jonah held his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes before looking up at Pavel. “It is. Really, it is. I just don’t get why you’re going to all this trouble. You barely know me…”

“Man that is such a southern thought man. We are brothers in arms, man, this isn’t about friend and stranger, or friend and enemy, not between us anyway.” The train entered a tunnel, the overhead lights slowly flickering on in response. They cast the train in a warm golden glow, the aged fluorescent bulbs slightly shimmering as they rattled about in their sockets, sparkling with the inconsistencies in the electric current. “I was in the right place at the right time, and I know who’s good and who’s bad in a fight. I see aggressors and victims man. And I act, because I can’t not act man.”

“Why can’t you not?”

“Because that’s wrong man, don’t you get it man? Everyone here is brothers. That includes you and me.” He leant back into the chair, idly playing with a lighter in his left hand, flicking it on and off. “You’ve got a room for a few days; we can work out what’s what and go from there. What do you want to do with this thing, sell it?”

“Machinations?”

“What?”

“Oh… sorry, the thing, it’s called Machinations. Uhm… I don’t know.” The train left the tunnel, natural light flooding the cabin again. The lights shut off with a loud clunk.

“Sell it?”

“I can’t sell it.”

“Why?”

His breath hitched. “Diels can’t have it.”

“Why not man?”

“Because…” Splitting pain shot through Jonah’s brain. His eyes watered, and his vision shimmered and faded slightly. His nose began to bleed again.

“Shit man, you’re in a bad way man, shit. Use the rag man.” Pavel pushed the rag against his face, until Jonah took a loose grip of it.

“Thanks.” Jonah held the rag against his face, and spun around so that he could lean backwards to lie across the bench. He stared at the ceiling, watching as the netting strapped to the roof swung with the weight of the bags it held.

“Don’t worry about the thing for now man, you need to sleep man, Novigrad is still like a long way away man. We’ll brainstorm once we’re there man, you dig?”

“Yeah.” Jonah couldn’t tell if trusting Pavel was a serious mistake, but was too bruised and tired to care.





A loud snap. The sound of the mechanical door interlock releasing at the command of the guard at the rear of the train. The doors swung open, and out of them poured a crowd of people, Jonah and Pavel amongst them.

At the numerous stations along the route to Novigrad, the train had taken on more and more passengers, slowly becoming busier and busier until it got as close as Perspektiva Pobedy by which point the train literally could not contain more people. Some even clung to the railings on the outside of the saloon doors at the ends of the carriages, bracing the icy cold in exchange for timely passage to the capital – which did eventually arrive, rolling over the horizon all glowing a spectrum of colours. Great towers, curved spires and marvellous cathedrals and palaces adorned in gold and painted the most vibrant shades of reds, blues, greens, oranges, everything capped in a layer of thick snow that reflected the city lights so brightly that it did permeate the inky depths of the late sunset sky. It was like something from a fairy-tale, some magical kingdom that glowed from the sheer density of its own atomic energy.

It grew ever closer. Soon, the train was surrounded by countless blocks of flats, grey and monotonous at their core but decorated with murals, sculptures, hanging plants and painted façades, buzzing with the energy of the people that lived within them, that seemed to radiate warmth. They surrounded plazas, filled with people socialising, mingling, buying food from the stalls and enjoying the public performers which seemed so plentiful.

Then, as the train slowed and curved into the city centre, weaving between freight wagons and navigating vast and complicated sets of track switches, Novigrad revealed its innermost beauty: massive parkways, great cathedrals, breath-taking bridges over crystalline rivers all in a maze stretching out from the train tracks, twisting and turning along ancient roads, the lot covered in snow.

Jonah had hardly been able to take it all in, his head still hurting from the injuries. Yet, here they were, and as they walked through the impressive central station, he couldn’t help but notice the marble pillars, gold skirting, great chandeliers and marvellous chisellings on the stone arches that held up the dark wooden ceiling. As the crowd thinned, they passed a man sat by the stairs down to the Metro, singing and playing an old tune on an accordion, the acoustics of the station amplifying his performance like a concert hall. He had a long beard and scruffy, wavy hair, and sang with passion about unknown stories and mysterious troubles. His song was accented by the sound of the bustling crowd, the roaring of train engines, squeaking of brakes, and the occasional rumbling announcement over the public address tannoy. The atmosphere was incredible, and existed in stark, almost perpendicular contrast to that of Vyshegorod – where that town had hidden its warm heart beneath layers of grey concrete and icy wind, Novigrad practically screamed its soul through the sky and sea. It was suddenly very clear that Novmir was a country that revolved about its capital.

Across the station concourse, a man in a deep blue suit observed the crowd. Grey hair, a long face, wrinkles on the forehead and cheeks. He adjusted his tie, straightened his collar and checked the time, watching Jonah and Pavel descend into the Metro from over the rim of his watch. He made sure his tie was straight once more, before pulling out his phone, flipping it open and speaking into it.

“Sie sind da.”

He snapped the phone shut again, tucked it back into his suit blazer, picked up his briefcase and swiftly made for the Metro.
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#9
Chapter 6: A Good, Clean Job
Novigrad
Day 7; 1589 miles travelled





The metro stations weren’t much different to the mainline ones. Along the length of the platform, great murals depicting victories in historic battles and the construction of the city and its glowing monuments, odes to Novmiran grandeur and hope for a better future, were hung in golden frames between crystalline pillars that ran from the perfect white ceiling – that hoisted as many as forty silver chandeliers – down to the floor, where bare concrete bore steel slugs that held the train tracks and voltage-rail in place.

Down the tunnel at the end of the platform, an array of eight headlamps came into view in the distance, their brilliant light becoming stronger and stronger as the clatter of rolling stock and buzzing of electric motors grew from a distant whirr into a room-filling cacophony. Eventually, it came roaring out of the tunnel at immense speed, its brakes screeching as they worked with spectacular force to drain the vehicle of its forward momentum. The metro train consisted of perhaps ten or so carriages, painted in a brilliant red with white accents that reflected the colours of the murals and the clothes of the people stood on the platform. The result was the train, for all its intense redness, seemed to paradoxically radiate the entire spectrum of colour, glistening as it rolled into the station, its final parking brakes latching into place with a loud clunk as the train jolted to a standstill, the doors perfectly aligned with painted markers on the floor.

A bell rang, and the doors slid open. After those already on the train disembarked, Jonah and Pavel boarded, as did several others on the platform, although the train was not overwhelmingly busy.

The interior of the carriage was very prim and proper. The seats, which ran along the sides of the train with backs against the outer walls, wore floral upholstery filled with fine details and textures, like the seats out of a stately home although admittedly less comfortable. The walls were mostly a creamy-beige, although wooden panels were sunken into the lower halves of the doors and the ceiling between lighting fixtures in the form of somewhat ugly fluorescent tube lights that ran the width of the train every few seats; a stark contrast to the almost royal appearance of the rest of the carriage.

Boxes bolted to the ceiling at either end of the carriage contained a backlit paper roll that depicted both the next station, which spun around to read “АЛЕКСАНДР ПЛОЩАДЬ”. The bell rung again, the doors slid shut, the brakes released with a loud pneumatic hissing. Suddenly the train lurched forward, scampering out of the station as the electric motors began to roar louder and louder until the darkness of the tunnel enveloped the train.

The people stood in the carriage swayed with the rocking motion of the train as it rattled down the old tunnels. The lights in the ceiling occasionally flickered as the electric pickups under the carriage occasionally lifted from the voltage rail, but never for more than a fraction of a second. Every so often a muffled voice broadcasted information about stations, transfers, connections and nearby landmarks and attractions over the public address system – in Novmiran, of course.

Jonah casually lodged a question. “How far is Exhibition?”

“It’s a fair distance. We ride as far as the Red Road, that’s, man I think it’s like five stops or something, then change lines, it’s maybe ten more stops from there.” Pavel paused for a moment to think. “I don’t ride the Metro often, so I forget.”

Suddenly, the train was surrounded by light and colour, and the train stopped barrelling forward, instead gripping to the rails as hard as possible to come to a stop. A briefcase at the end of the carriage fell over. Its owner – an older man dressed in a sharp blue suit – picked it back up.

“Oh.” Jonah grew more curious. He still didn’t really know anything about Pavel or his motives. “Why the sudden change of policy?” He watched as the majority of people left the train, most changing for one of the four other lines served by the roughly central Alexander’s Plaza station.

“Well, I normally drive. But you’re in deep shit so I thought trying to blend with the crowd would be safer for you. Although…” The bell rung and the doors slid shut again. Few people remained in the carriage. “…there’s not much crowd to blend with now eh man?” He laughed as the train launched itself into the tunnels once more.

“Hah. Suppose not.”

The door at the end of the carriage which led to the next carriage along suddenly flew open, a hardy boot protruding from it. The boot retreated, before returning with its wearer in tow. The man was masked, much like the men on the train. He held a machete in one hand while his other hand was clenched into a tight fist, looking as if it might draw blood from itself. He marched forward, his eyes screaming murderous intent.

Then, another man came, looking the same, armed the same, and carrying the same demeanour. Then, it happened again. About a dozen stocky looking, masked and armed men emerged through the doorway, managing to keep perfect balance as the train rocked along the tracks. The last man through, in a surprising act of politeness and courtesy, closed the door behind them. It swung open again as the train rounded a corner, its latch broken by the kick. Not that it mattered.

The man at the front of the crowd pointed his knife at Jonah. He then pulled it away towards his own neck, making a slicing motion in the air beneath his chin before spitting out just a few short words.

“You don't fuck with us and live, boy.”

Pavel jumped from his seat, slowly backing away from the crowd, pulling Jonah with him. “Buh-lin man. What is it with you and trains?”

Before Jonah could reply, two of the men jumped for him, grabbing him by the arms. A third man took their knife to his neck, teasing it against the skin. Pavel jumped forward, throwing his not inconsiderable muscle mass into the abdomen of one of the attackers, taking him to the ground. He pulled the knife from the attacker’s hands before jumping up and delivering a swift stomp to the cranium. He swung out at the knife bearer, but his arm was caught by another of the men. Now Pavel, too, was held by two men, a third holding a knife to his throat. "Debil!"

Even with both of them restrained by three men, it still left perhaps five or six more to surround them, shouting all sorts of derogatory insults and horrid slurs, chanting like a gang of deranged apes.

Then, suddenly, the man with the knife against Jonah slumped to the floor.

Then the man with the knife against Pavel followed him.

Then the men holding them fell too, as if they had suddenly lost all the strength of their muscles, or as if their skeletons had suddenly given up. Their limp bodies dragged down Jonah and Pavel, although they broke free of the non-grasp with little effort, getting back on their feet and turning around to find the rest of the gang had also fallen to the floor.

All of them bore one common trait: a gunshot wound to the head.

Jonah and Pavel spun around to find the gunman. At the opposite end of the carriage the only other man in the carriage – an older man dressed in a sharp blue suit – stood holding a small pistol with a silencer almost bigger than its barrel, still smoking from the shots and still pointed at where the crowd had stood. He lowered the gun, replacing the magazine before engaging the safety and placing the gun back into his briefcase, closing and latching it. He approached the two men, keeping a respectable distance, most likely in no small part because Pavel, who himself was a fairly scary looking man, still had a machete in his hand.

“Gentlemen, I must apologise for the mess, but I hope you understand that given the immense gravity of the situation at hand there I had little to no other choice.”

Pavel wanted to shout, but managed a small whimper. “Who the fuck’re you man?”

“Who I am, Pavel, is not as important as what I mean to your situation. Or, more aptly, to the situation our mutual friend here finds himself in.” The suited man turned to face Jonah. He walked forward, extending a hand. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, at long last.”

Jonah, still filled with fear from being held against a knife by unknown groups of masked men for the second time in two days, shook his hand, trembling as the adrenaline left his body. “…Jonah.”

“I know.” The man straightened his collars and tie, brushing the dust off his waistline. “I don’t like getting into physical brawls because it does make such a terrible mess. So, when I have an excuse to do a good, clean job, well...” He cleared his throat.

Pavel interrupted him. “Wait. How the fuck do you know my name?” His clutch on the knife tightened.

The man took a step back before turning to face Pavel once more. “I am very familiar with both of your cases. It was a core requirement for taking on this assignment. My, uhm, employers are adamant that you two must survive any trouble that comes your way, at least for the next few days until they can put more effective measures into place. In the meantime, I have been tasked with personally overseeing your safety."

He paused for a moment to pick up his briefcase, walking past the two to stand before the train door. “Now, Jonah. For as long as I am assigned to your case I guarantee that no harm will befall you. As for you Pavel, you must take Jonah to the apartment by the Exhibition. And as for me, well…” The train was, once again, surrounded by light and colour as it arrived at the next station. “…this is my stop. For now, I bid you two good day; I will see you up ahead.”

The train jolted to a standstill, the bell rung, and the doors slid open. The suited man straightened his tie once more, and disembarked the train, walking swiftly over the open station concourse, and into a lift which carried him up to the surface. The lift then returned from the surface with more men, this time in grey suits, who ran straight for the train. They swiftly carried the bodies of the attackers out, one by one, laying them along the station platform. Jonah noticed that aside from the suited men the station was deserted.

Once the attackers’ bodies had been cleared from the carriage, and the blood cleaned up, one of the grey suited men waved towards the front of the train. The driver let out a short toot on the train’s horn, before sounding the bell and closing the doors. Then, the train was away, back into the tunnels and barrelling for the next station.

Jonah and Pavel, now alone in the carriage, slowly sat down in two seats opposite each other. The next stretch of the journey passed in silence, Jonah staring at the floor and Pavel staring at Jonah. Pavel was suddenly quite scared as he realised that he was very much in over his head. Jonah was unable to think of much of anything at all. As the train arrived at the next station and the doors slid open, the carriage was once again populated with people, chatting about their day, tapping away at mobile phones, reading books and eating food out of packets, the lot of them totally oblivious to the events that had just taken place in the spot where they now stood.

Jonah was the first to break the silence. “That did just happen… right?”

“I’d rather pretend it didn’t.”





“Well, here it is.” They emerged from the stairwell and crossed over to arrive in front of the door to the apartment. It was wooden, although the bottom of it was quite badly chipped and scratched. There was a peephole through the door although the lens was missing, leaving a literal hole. The number 46 was written on the door, the latter digit hanging at a crooked angle. Pavel knocked on the door, which was immediately opened by another man. He had his hair cut into curtains which were parted straight down the middle, light stubble, and a small mouth with a broad nose and big eyes that stared drills into Jonah.

The man spoke to Pavel. “Etot?”

Pavel replied. “Da.”

The stranger handed Jonah a key. “U tebya eto na nedelyu.”

“He says you’ve got it for a week.”

Jonah nodded.

The man ran back into the flat, picked up two small paper bags, and returned to the door. He handed one to Jonah and kept another for himself, slipping past Pavel and heading for the stairwell and out of the building.

Pavel spun his head around, his neck cracking as he relieved the pressure in the joints. “Well, in we go.”

They entered the flat. It was lit dimly, the walls and furniture cast with a dim green tint as the afternoon winter sunlight forced its way through the drawn olive-coloured curtains. There was a narrow corridor, with a large bedroom on the left, a small bedroom and bathroom on the right, and the combination kitchen and sitting area at the end, which the two walked through to. The outer walls of the flat were bare concrete, with some chunks missing showing the steel framework within. There was some damp towards the ceiling. The inner walls fared slightly better, being made of plasterboard which was painted in a fairly drab beige. The skirting boards were wooden although some sections were missing, as if they had been ripped out to make way for stashes and caches. Some of the walls had holes in them showing the insulation and wooden beams. The ceiling was painted an off-white and from it hung some bare lightbulbs. Pavel switched them on from the switchboard just outside the kitchen in the hallway; they cast a dim orange light which, truthfully, did help make the whole flat seem a lot warm and comfortable.

“Nobody’s lived here for a while.” Pavel muttered. He tried the taps (only the cold-water tap worked) and played with the cooker (the hobs worked but the oven didn’t seem to light properly.) before arriving at the prize he had his eyes set on from the minute they arrived – the coffee machine at the back of the worktop next to the fridge. He pulled a few of the levers and pushed in one of the buttons, and much to his delight piping hot water poured out of one of the nozzles. “Hey, working coffee machine! This flat’s not so bad!”

Jonah, meanwhile was in the sitting area, sprawled out on the floral settee. The paper bag he had been handed was on the floor by his side - he hadn't bothered to look in it, not yet. The furniture was dusty from not being used for a while, but structurally sound, and surprisingly rather comfortable. Most importantly, the flat seemed to be free of insects and rodents, and most vital amenities worked. It was basic, and in quite bad shape, but surprisingly homely. Given the circumstances he couldn’t have asked for something better.

Pavel soon came over to the sitting area, perching on a small armchair by the television set that backed against the large window. “Well then.”

“Here we are.” Jonah stared at the ceiling. He was exhausted and trying hard to stay awake.

“When do you think we’ll hear from the creepy guy?”

Jonah closed his eyes to think. “The metro guy? He said his employers needed a few days. I’d be surprised if we saw him before then.”

“I want to know who the fuck he is. He looks rich.”

Jonah sighed. “He looks important.”

Pavel peeked through the gap in the curtains. The window was cracked, but the view over the artificial river beyond the snowy plaza was quite pleasant nonetheless. He turned back to Jonah. “He scares me.”

“Hm?” Jonah sat upright to look at Pavel. His demeanour had completely transformed. When he had first seen him on the express train he looked full of confidence, the grin he wore shouting “the world is my bitch”. But now, with his head in his hands, his beady eyes staring at the floor from between his fingers, his torso slouched over and supported by his elbows against his knees, he suddenly looked almost as worried and confused as Jonah felt on the inside.

Jonah had barely paid attention the past week. Between finding Machinations, fleeing the nation, and watching a mysterious bureaucrat murder twelve gangsters on a subway train in a foreign capital without so much as blinking, the events he had endured had all blurred by in a dreamlike haze. Suddenly, however, the energy stopped, and the crushing reality of the situation collapsed onto him like a cave roof or bombed building.

He was thousands of miles from home, in a communist bloc apartment with a gangster who he barely knew, being pursued by a mad scientist and his armies of mobsters. He threw his life and his livelihood to the wayside, deciding to devote his meagre existence to protecting Machinations from Diels. But why? He didn’t know. He had no answers, not for anybody, not for himself. He had barely thought it over when he started. He was still hardly thinking it over now, 14 corpses and 1500 miles deep. All he knew was that his mind, his body, his entire rationale had been overtaken by an uncontrollable impulse to keep Diels and Machinations as far away from one another as possible.

Jonah remembered the Temple.

His cranium felt as if it might split down the middle. His vision flashed white, then red, then black, before returning to full colour albeit blurrier. His nose began to bleed. He ran to the kitchen, slammed the water tap on, and violently threw up in the sink, watching as the vomit and blood swirled about in the metal basin, mixing with the cold water and slipping down the drain. When he stopped throwing up, he clutched a towel from the rack on the wall and held it against his face. He turned back to the sitting area to find Pavel stood behind him, watching with his hands against the back of his head unsure of what to do. For the first time ever, Jonah saw genuine fear in Pavel’s eyes.

“I’m gonna go to bed.”

“…okay.” Pavel slowly walked back to the settee, and slumped onto it. Jonah turned down the hallway into the smallest of the two bedrooms, closing the door behind him with a bit more force than he intended. Some dust fell from the ceiling, which he inhaled before hacking back up with a disgraceful episode of coughing. He slumped back onto the bed, springs protruding from the bare mattress. They dug into his back, some drawing blood. Jonah didn’t care, because he had already passed out. The clock on the wall struck 4.





In the main room, Pavel silently wept, trapped in turmoil that dragged him into the rapid, cold currents of tumultuous despair. He felt powerless, and the feeling made him angry. He punched a fresh hole in the wall next to the television set.
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#10
[b]These passages were written by Candanadium and have been reposted by the UA as part of the Website Migration[/b]


Chapter 6.5: Epilogue
New Konigstadt

When he was a younger man, Arthur Pickman would have walked the seven blocks from the CSB headquarters to Deepwood Hall, often with a secure briefcase in tow. Back then, the safest way for agents posted overseas to deliver urgent reports back home was by diplomatic bag. The agent would drop the report off with a dedicated liaison at the local Candanadian mission, and it would be placed inside a briefcase secured with a 12-digit lock. The briefcase would then be handed off to a dedicated courier, or, if the report was especially urgent, to the next embassy employee leaving for Candanadium. The briefcase would be handcuffed to the courier, and would only be unlocked once the courier handed it off to his CSB contact, who would then either fly the report to the intended destination themselves, in the same fashion as the courier, or present it to their superior. During the height of the Second Crisis, these couriers became so prominent that special passports were issued to them, identifying them as “couriers for the crown”, guaranteeing that they would not be delayed by border controls.

These briefcases were made to resemble the standard issue Candanadian diplomatic bag, with the words “DIPLOMATIC BAGGAGE” emblazoned prominently on the side, below the crowned tri-maple. Where these briefcases differed from the standard diplomatic bags, however, was the fact that if an incorrect combination was entered, hydrochloric acid would be released from a sprayer inside the briefcase, completely dissolving the report. The mechanism was a simple one, but effective nonetheless. Standard CSB protocol dictated that it was the agent’s duty to trigger the failsafe and destroy the report if they were cornered with no means of escape. Of course, with the advent of digital encryption and instant communication, the secure briefcases began to fall out of use. The RIS had made an update to the internal mechanism a few years ago, but it was rare that an agent would hand in a secure report in this antiquated method. The Crown Couriers had also fallen out of fashion, and were no longer issued with special documents, instead just regular Candanadian diplomatic passports.

Which is why when Arthur Pickman had a secure briefcase presented to him by the head of overseas intelligence, he immediately picked up the phone and rang Deepwood Hall. He had not seen a report delivered by diplomatic baggage in nearly fifteen years, and he knew that whatever it was, it had something to do with Diels, or the miner Diels was supposedly chasing. He had briefed the Chancellor over the phone after the first report from Vanguard, and the Chancellor had made it clear to him that he was to report any additional developments straight to Deepwood Hall.
Though the Chancellor’s residence was only a short walk from the RIS headquarters, the loss of his leg and plain old age had made it so that it was no longer feasible for Pickman to take on the journey by foot. Instead, he hopped into an armoured SUV with the briefcase in tow, escorted by constables of the Federal Police Service on motorcycles. He had arrived at Deepwood Hall in record time, and hobbled inside the manor as fast as his prosthetic would allow him.

He lifted the briefcase onto the Chancellor’s desk, entered the 12-digit code again, and drew out the report. He had given it a once-over in the office and had read a bit more during his brief journey by car, so he passed it over to the Chancellor.

Quote:ROYAL INTELLIGENCE SERVICE
KOENIGLICHES GEHEIMDIENST

MOST URGENT - SEHR DRINGEND

NATIONAL SECRET – FOR DIRECTOR EYES ONLY
NOVIGRAD, NOVMIR – RIS AGENT WN-█████A “WANDERER”
11/13/2015

SUBJECT: NORTHLANE, JONAH, UNKNOWN DEVICE
NORTHLANE CONTACT MADE INVOLUNTARILY THROUGH TASK FORCE EPSILON – ATTRACTED EDOFASIAN MAFIA ATTENTION – ATTACKERS DISPATCHED BY EPSILON ACTUAL – ONE WITNESS – LOCAL MAFIA MEMBER “PAVEL” - UNSURE IF PSEUDONYM

WILL SUMMON NORTHLANE TO EMBASSY, PLEASE ADVISE NEXT STEPS

REQUESTING MORE TIME FOR INVESTIGATION INTO DIELS/MAFIA INVOLVEMENT
REQUESTING ANY ADDITIONAL RELEVANT INFO
“He’s made contact? What the hell? Director, my instructions were quite clear-“

“Well, sir, he hasn’t made contact. Task force Epsilon did. I’m not quite sure what he means by ‘involuntarily’, but I guess we’ll find out. We’re in too deep now, Wanderer will need to make contact soon. Diels is in the city, and our friend Northlane has been attacked twice in twenty-four hours. If we don’t snatch him now, the Edofasians will.”

“Task force Epsilon? Diels, in the city? What in Eostre’s name is going on here, Arthur? Have you gone senile? Do you think you’re still working for the CSB? The RIS is not supposed to withhold this kind of information!” The Chancellor pounded his desk.

“Sir, if you’ll let me explain, this is exactly why I simply had to meet with you. Reports have been coming in on the hour, every hour these past few days, even from sleeper agents that haven’t been heard from since 1965. My people have been working round the clock to have them all decrypted and compiled, and now we get this briefcase coming in. We haven’t had the time to inform you. I couldn’t just send any desk jockey to come brief you on a Most Secret document. Now, regarding Epsilon and Diels, Epsilon is a task force operating in all Terran nations. There are two agents in Novmir, three in Edofasia, and a further two in Sudardes. They rotate from nation to nation every year, and almost always have diplomatic cover. These agents aren’t your typical field agents. Most of them were handpicked from the Marine Corps Rangers, specifically from the expeditionary forces down near the southern border. These men have faced some of the toughest conditions in the most dangerous environments, masters of recon and stealth. They’re more than a bit unorthodox, but certain skills are needed to survive that long out in the wild lands. Epsilon Actual spent twenty years as a ranger and is part of the reason no war was ever fought over Caskhomir. Essentially, they serve as a shield for our agents in Terra. They are the reason we haven’t lost an agent since the Crisis, so when they decide it’s time to get involved, we know it’s something serious. Diels showed up in Novigrad shortly after Northlane, with a small Edofasian armed escort. He’s staying at a high-end hotel in the city centre and is presumably planning his next move, but he’s been keeping Northlane busy. Does that answer your question, Chancellor?” The Chancellor’s face was the colour  of an overripe tomato, and his voice was thick with anger when he spoke.

“Yes. Yes, it does.”

“Then do I have your blessing for Wanderer to make formal contact and invite our friend to Candanadium?”

“You do.”

“Thank you, sir. Have a good day.” Pickman grabbed his cane, hoisted himself out of his chair, bowed slightly to the Chancellor, and turned around. He thought he heard the Chancellor mutter a foul phrase as he hobbled out of the man’s office, but he couldn’t be sure.





Chapter 7: Fight or Flight
Novigrad
Day 8; 1591 kilometres travelled

He woke to the honking of horns and the cawing of crows, drifting through the now-open window. The olive drab curtains had been pulled to the side, giving Jonah a view of the street down below. As he slowly regained control of his senses, he became suddenly aware of the sharp, throbbing pain in his head. He tried to sit up, but collapsed back into his bed, too weak to move. He tried closing his eyes, and pulled the heavy quilt and scratchy blankets that had been placed over him at some point to his chin, but that did little to dull the knives in his head. He gave up on getting out of bed, and instead began reflecting upon the chaos of the past week in his head, in an attempt to clear his mind.

Eight days ago, he discovered Machinations, embedded in the wall of slate. He had brought it home with him, to study it further, having bluffed his way past Goblin and the other mine workers, only to be “escorted” to Diels four days after. He was given an ultimatum: surrender Machinations or surrender his life. He had no intention of surrendering either of those. He was given twenty-four hours to make a decision, and in desperation, he had fled. He made for the border, where he was nearly caught by an Edofasian guard, who likely had no idea what he was in possession of, but knew that it was something of immense value.

I don’t have any idea what I’m in possession of either, Jonah mused. He had come up with the name Machinations on the bus to Vyshegorod. He had paid for passage to Novigrad, but was ambushed by a group of Edofasian thugs. That was when he became acquainted with Pavel. The journey to Novigrad had been uneventful, until they boarded the metro. More Edofasian thugs. Another mysterious saviour, this time much better dressed. A cryptic conversation. What was it that he said? Jonah tried to remember.

“I will see you up ahead.” He said to himself. He wondered what that meant. How important, truly, was the life of an Edofasian miner and a strange object he pulled out of a mine? What kind of world had he stumbled into?

And there was last night. Just thinking of it sent another wave of pain through his head, but another phrase suddenly popped into his head.

The Horator is come again. What did the Temple have to do with him? Why does Diels want Machinations? Who is Pavel? Who was the man on the metro? So many questions with no answers to any of them. His headache had subsided somewhat by now, and he forced himself to crawl out of bed while peeling off his shirt, which was encrusted with dried vomit and blood. He balled it up, and threw it into the overflowing garbage can by the door. Another mess left for someone else to clean up. He reached for his bag, which was left surprisingly unmolested and undisturbed, unballed another shirt, and slipped it on.

The clock on the wall read 2 o’clock.

Jonah was suddenly very aware of how hungry he was. He hadn’t had a proper meal since the day he left Tara, living off of various packaged junk foods, with the occasional gas station sandwich thrown in. He stumbled into the tiny living room, spotting the brown paper bag he had been handed last night, grabbing it and tearing it open, spilling its contents on the armchair that Pavel had sat in last night.

First and foremost was a small pistol. It looked heavily worn, with scratches and dents covering the grip and the slide, but felt deadly all the same. The weight was surprising for him, but years of working in the slate mine meant that he would have no trouble wielding this weapon should the need arise. Jonah pressed the magazine release, drew out the magazine, and saw that it was fully loaded. However, in doing so, he had made the amateur mistake of keeping his finger on the trigger and accidentally pressing too hard, firing the round in the chamber with a boom that briefly deafened him and left a ringing in his ears.

“A’ru!” He exclaimed in shock. There was now a not-so-small hole in the wall, with a spiderweb of cracks radiating from the new crater. As if the place wasn't run-down enough already, he thought while leaning in to examine the damage. The wall had stopped the bullet, which was now no more than a crumpled ball of warm lead on the ground.

Molchi, debil! Yob tvoyu mat’!”  A voice cried from somewhere deep within the apartment complex. He held his breath and prayed that nobody would come investigating the sound, but fortunately for Jonah, it seemed that the residents of the building were used to such questionable activity. He stuffed the gun under the cushions of the armchair, making sure this time that the safety was engaged.

Next came a folding pocketknife, roughly the size of his index finger. That Jonah decided he could keep, and clipped it on to his belt. The other items seemed more mundane. There was a pack of cigarettes, a local brand, stamped with more incomprehensible characters and the spires and domes of the skyline of Novigrad. He stuffed that in his pockets, as well as a cheap plastic lighter bearing the face of some politician or national hero. There was a key, presumably for the apartment, which he stuffed in his pocket as well. All that remained was a small bottle of water, a packet of sunflower seeds, a sandwich wrapped in paper, and a tiny hip flask, presumably containing some local spirits. He unscrewed the cap and gave it a whiff, then decided to replace the cap and leave the flask on the armchair. The stuff was way too potent for him, and he certainly did not need a hangover on top of the splitting headache he already had.

He downed the bottle of water in three large gulps and devoured the sandwich, deciding to save the seeds for later. There was no sign of Pavel anywhere in the apartment, which worried Jonah. Had Pavel ratted him out to Diels? Did Pavel even know who Diels really was? His first instinct was to check his phone, but remembered that a) he had no internet connection, b) his cell phone plan only covered domestic calling and texting, and c) he hadn’t given his phone number out to Pavel, or anyone for that matter. Looking around the apartment for clues, he eventually spotted a torn napkin sitting on the kitchen table.


Quote:Gone with the guys. Some trouble in town. Will be back in evening.
-Pavel


The note calmed Jonah's racing heart somewhat. Pavel’s Edofasian handwriting was surprisingly tidy, almost scholastic. Perhaps he had learned the language in school. Pavel had left the message short and vague, a complete departure from the blabbermouth of a man he'd met on the train to Novigrad, but that wasn't surprising, given the events that had transpired on the metro. He had seen the look on the man's face last night. Jonah couldn't blame him for wanting some time away from all this and to plan things out.

His stomach still felt empty, and his head was killing him, so Jonah decided that it was probably a good idea to go scout out the neighbourhood and familiarize himself with this grim locale, maybe find a pharmacy where he could buy something for the pain and a place where he could have a hot meal. He saw that his wallet was still where he had left it, which was surprising, then donned his jacket and began heading for the door.

Three tidy knocks came through the door as he laid his hand on the handle. There was no peep-hole, so there was no way for him to see who it was.

“Pavel? Is that you?” He asked, hoping that it was.

“Open the door, sir. We would like to speak with you.” Came the reply. The voice spoke Edofasian with an accent that Jonah had only heard in historical documentaries and propaganda films. It was distinctly Candanadian. For the older generation, hearing that voice would bring back memories of the old days, and often unpleasant ones at that. Hearing the voice did nothing to calm his nerves, which were already on edge. Another wave of pain shot through his cranium.

“Who are you? What do you want with me?” He managed.

“We only wish to speak with you. We mean you no harm. Please, open the door.”

“Only if you tell me who you are.”

“All will be revealed in good time, Herr Northlane. I know you have questions for us, so please, open the door and we can get down to business.” That confirmed it. The person, or people, on the other side of the door were Candanadians. Jonah reached for the knife on his belt.

“You said you are unarmed?”

“We are. That I can assure you of.”

“Alright.” He unlocked the door and pulled it open. Before him stood three men in dark blue suits, same as the man on the metro. Two of them wore sunglasses over their eyes, and all three had a badge pinned to their lapels. The crowned tri-maple. The two men standing in the back had their hands clasped in front of them, and the man without sunglasses held out his hand. Seeing no visible weapons, Jonah relaxed and took his hand off the belt.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Northlane. I am Klaus Dietrich, Head of Consular Affairs at the Royal Candanadian Embassy in Novigrad.” He said with a smile. His dark brown hair was slicked back with gel, and the blue of his suit seemed deeper, richer than that of the men behind him, who remained silent and motionless.

“G-good afternoon.” Jonah shook the man’s hand. “What do you want with me?” He asked again.

“I don’t mean to alarm you, sir, but this is not exactly a safe place for us to discuss that. If you would come with us, there is someone at the embassy who would like to meet with you.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“You do, actually. You could stay here and wait for those who are pursuing you to find you, or you could come with us and find a, ah, more permanent solution to that problem of yours.” Dietrich smiled sheepishly and shrugged. “Up to you.”

Jonah sighed, silently cursed the artifact, and stepped through the door.
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