A Guided Walking Tour of Guerdon (7)

Ah, you’re awake again.

And you’ve noticed that we’re in a cage.

What can I say? I’m a victim here as much as you. More so! I was assured I could trust the woman in the tavern! I had no idea she was working for the Alchemists, or that she had a squad of their damned Tallowmen standing by!

Now, you were knocked unconscious by one of the brutes early in the fracas, so you probably didn’t see my heroic attempt to drag you clear. I tried – how I tried – but those wax effigies are terribly fast and strong.

It seems that they’ve carted us off to the Alchemist’s Quarter. You saw it from the docks as you arrived, although from the outside it just looks like a massive sheer wall, unbroken except for a few gates and exhaust vents. The Quarter’s cut off from the rest of the city, and only guild members are permitted entry. Well, guild members and their prisoners, apparently.

That’s good! The Alchemist’s Guild has no legal right to detain us! They shall have to release us, or turn us over to the Watch, and I have friends in the Watch. Stick with me, and I can make all your problems disappear – for a small fee, of course. Now that our original arrangement has fallen through, we must be practical about these things. It’s the nature of Guerdon.

While we wait for our release from this cage, let me see what we can see. Ah! The large structure in front of us is one of the Alchemists’ factories. They brew up all sorts of wonders in there, awakening the magical potential locked inside various substances, and distilling it into new and more potent forms. No doubt you’re familiar with some of their creations. Phlogiston, for example – elemental fire. In its raw form, it burns anything, even the vacuum, but they can dilute it, tame it, until it’s no more than, well, a devastating explosive or fuel for engines. Or alchemical lamps – burns much better than an oil-lamp or candle, gives almost as much light as an aetheric bulb, and a hundredth of the price.

Behind those walls, though, are more recent developments, driven by the need for new weapons for the Godswar. Flash ghosts, to counter spirits. Acid seeds, to turn the sea to venom and defend against the fearsome Krakens of Ishmere. The dragon bomb that ended Jashan. Why, they’ve even begun to experiment with the creation of new forms of life – you’ve seen the Tallowmen. They turn people into Tallowmen by rendering them in great vats, and then threading an enchanted wick through the liquefying victim. Ghastly, yes, but ingenious! And they’re making other creatures, too, I hear. Gullheads and Singers and… well, things I shan’t talk about.

Beyond the factory, I think I can make out the spire of the chapel of the guildhall. Beautiful church – the Alchemists spent lavishly on it. Like a snake hypnotising its victim with the beauty of its scales until close enough to strike.

That stench? I’m not sure. It might be a rendering vat, but it could also be alchemical run-off from the factory. The waste from the Alchemists’ Quarter has poisoned the harbour; there’s no fishing here any more, no oysters. You’ve got to sail as far south as Maredon before you see a living thing in those waters – other than things that crawled out of some waste pipe…

Ah, I told you! Look, they’re coming for us. Those guards will take us out of this cage and hand us over to the City Watch. Stick with me and –

No! No! You can’t do this! We haven’t seen a magistrate! We haven’t been condemned!

Not the vats! No!

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