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'You're the biggest man in this city at the moment sir, and the second biggest is both behind bars and not very helpful. I just want some information sir, some leads as to who has done it. Anyone acting suspicious like round the time? Any newcomers in town who disappeared again? Heck, anyone who you think might be able to tell me these things. And perhaps once the plotters are gone and the Hounds broken... I'm sure you have no love for the dog either.'
He gestured to one of his men, who pulled across a cracked coffee-table as a stand for the ledger. Laying the heavy book down facing the elf, Kleiner leaned forwards, placing the ink and quill next to it.
“Sign your name there, and you join our little family. I think a month’s work will do, eh? Maybe after that, you’ll reconsider about leavin’ this behind.” Kleiner’s yellow-toothed grin widened. “We take half your takin’s. Most here find it worth the price. And we do expect there to be takings,” he said, fixing the elf with his beady eyes. “You can make your first payment... on Bezahltag.”
He cocked his head to one side.
“That is, if we can do business?”
Bezahltag = 5th day of the 8-day week. Today's Wellentag, the 1st day.
'Sign my life away for a month on the hope that you can give me leads? Done that one before sir.' Yeah, had to skip Nuln pretty sharpish after that little episode, just hope they can't check me up against that.. '
He thinks about it for a while.
'What kind of takings do you expect? How hot do your Fences take?'
"I wouldn't go gettin' too flashy," he said. "The Hounds don't concern themselves very much with your regular crimes, but with the current... atmosphere, if you like, we don't want to make ourselves a scapegoat." He smirked. "Show us what you can do in your normal line, and come Bezahlstag I'll tell you if it's good enough."
Ithelus flicks the coin into the air, his eyes fixed on it as it travels. He opens his hand to catch it but just as he closes his hand the coin slips between his fingers and bounces twice on the floor before landing Crest up.
'Um..... er, woops. Crest it is! Wow, that must have sure reassured you of my skills, no?'
Ithelus walks over and puts a scrawl on the page. He then nods and picks up his coin.
Looking a little disappointed, Kleiner sat back in his chair, interlacing his fingers.
"Well, speakin' as one professional to... another," he said, his eyes flicking down to where the coin had fallen, "the old temple job was masterf'lly done. Now if I could tell you who done it, you can bet they wouldn't still be walkin' free today, not with the bounty that went out... but the organisation, the powder, all that in secret - that took some brains, and that took some money. No return in it for 'em, either, not that I could see... so someone was in it who had money they din't mind spending. But then you could work that out for yourself, couldn't you?" He smirked unpleasantly.
"None of my boys would ever get involved in somethin' like that. There's plenty who don't like the Church now, with the new cathedral goin' up so grandly when there's folk starving in the streets, but the old Temple weren't so big, and the old Lector weren't so grand. There's always a bit of tension between the Sigmarites and the Ulricans - the bigwigs in Altdorf don't dare put a Lector up in Middenheim, so Delberz gets 'em - but it's never been that bad, and gunpowder ain't their style."
"'Owever, there are a few lads round here who have gone a bit Southern in their ways. Some of 'em's well-off, and they're very full of fine ideas. Do a lot of talkin'," - Kleiner looked a little disdainful - "about the 'rights of man' and such. They're very keen on that." He sniffed. "But there's common men who follow 'em, and common men tend not to have space for many ideas at once, they jus' choose one. That we should all have a vote, that's one o' their favourites. Almost as popular as thinkin' we shouldn't have to pay taxes."
"They were around b'fore the Storm came, and they had a fair following then. Sigmar, he's god of the Empire, ain't he? You want to take a stab at the Emperor, the temple's a big target. Bunch of young men, all full of ideals - no-one's sure who's in charge, and if some of 'em split off, get a bit more radical, who's goin' to shop 'em to the Guard? Not their old friends, still talkin' bout the bloody rights of man. Not 'til the Temple goes up, and it's too late, anyhow."
Kleiner leaned back in his chair. "Not saying it ain't Chaos, mind you. Could be both, for all I know. But I don't reckon the Guard chased those young men up half as much as they oughter. Maybe their fathers' money had somethin' to do with it." He shrugged. "The top crowd still hob-nob in the Tongs, but I know a few of them as used to follow 'em. Prob'ly still do. Things have got a bit quieter on that front since the Hounds started prowlin' around, but in my experience, you put a lid on a pot an' it just boils harder."
He prodded one of his bodyguards, keeping his eyes on Ithelus.
"Frankl. Get me my list."
"Which list, boss?"
"Ain't you listenin'? The right list. Fetch it!"
The bruiser skittered sideways, absurdly cowed by the little man in the chair. Scrabbling among one of the precipitous stacks of paper, he returned with a yellowed, curling piece of parchment, which Kleiner snatched from his hands, perusing it at an arm's length.
"Hans Fleischer, rents a garret twenty-four Entwurf street. Ran with a crowd who'd go 'round takin' down bailiff's notices. Otto Brun, on Gebildeter Lane - same. Magda Gebenluft, used to stand on a box down the Neuemarket an' shout about things." He winced. "Dreadful racket she made. Lives down Farben Alley."
"You want to hear what happened to that lot, ask them three. They were the chiefs, leastways, they were among us lowly mortals in the Lower Town. Got their ideas from the posh boys, 'course, but sometimes they ran with 'em a little further than expected. They don't work out for you, maybe I'll find some more names come Bezahltag."
He rolled up the piece of paper, handing it back to his guard.
Illiiya stood quietly, looking around with a far-off look in her eyes. She figured it best if she speak as little as possible to the human, leaving that to Seth instead. Humans always seemed so unsettled when she talked to them. She was feeling anxious herself, trying to prove to herself that she would be alright without Ithelus around, but not certain even she believed it. So far, nothing had happened. No shrieks... no voices... No things lurking at the corners of her vision, beckoning to her. She knew they were there, waiting... But as long as she did not have to channel, they could wait a little longer.
She did notice that Lothar seemed to be watching her from time to time. She wondered if he saw them too. No... no... he was watching HER. They always watched her. No one else could ever see them. How would they stop them if they chose to do something? She shivered and lowered her head, wishing very much that Ithelus was here all of a sudden.
Not entirely certain where we're at, so I apologize for the general nature of this post.
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Ithelus laughs. 'Stealing is the one thing I'm good at if you have not guessed yet. Heck, if it were not for Illiiya I would have left this place in the night with your purse... and maybe some of your shot, that's always useful.'
He chews his lips slightly, 'Not that I haven't paid for my crimes, but once a shadow always a shadow.'
The central square of the Neumarket was thronged with people, the teeming denizens of the Lower Town packing the open spaces between the ragged stalls and crooked buildings. In one corner, a large, wooden wagon stood unharnessed, its body walled and roofed like the travelling homes of the Strigany – a surprising flow of people passed in and out of its narrow door, its green-painted walls keeping their transactions hidden from the market without. Across the ill-defined square, a butcher’s shop festooned its front with dangling carcasses, the smell of raw meat drifting in the cold air and mingling with the odours of a dozen open cooking-fires. The street-vendors sold anything that could be cooked – and some things that probably shouldn’t. Some of the charred morsels changing hands looked suspiciously rat-shaped to Ithelus...
The other three were waiting, Lothar leaning against the battered sign-post that stood in the centre of the square while Seth watched the crowd: catching sight of them, Raffy and Ithelus made their way through the throng, many of the bustling citizens hurrying out of their path at the sight of Raffy’s blunderbuss.
Illiiya got a look of relief over her face nearly the instant Ithelus came into view. Standing up a bit straighter, she gave a faint smile in his direction and nodded.
I was all right. She said quietly, though her voice didn't sound entirely certain, Did you find out what you wanted to?
The question was innocent seeming enough, but the worry in her voice was obvious. She did not want to ask, but she was hopeful that Ithelus' work would be done soon, and she would not have to be without him any longer. Her tone was faint, fearful and a little ashamed... It bothered her that she was a weight around his neck, so dependent on him for everything.
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Seth picks up where Lothar left off, in somewhat hushed tones: "Neither of the gunpowder merchants knew anything for sure about the original explosion; but the cheap one mentioned a recent customer who's been buying in bulk, over time, with no guns or shot. Mysterious stranger, heavily dressed and covered, with burn scars on one side of his face.
"He's not working alone, but the shopkeeper didn't know names or places. Perhaps the common folk in the area know more. I hope so; apparently the stranger ran out of funds recently, he came in asking for credit day before yesterday, and the merchant ejected him, so he's not likely to return."
Seth sighs thoughtfully. "Contrary to any sort of logic, it seems the fools responsible for the attack haven't moved on; that, or even less likely, their mantle has been picked up by more heretics. Either way, it seems this is not going to be a wild goose chase. What of your exploits, friends? Find anything useful?"
Ithelus smile at Illiiya, obviously relieved that she is safe, and also perhaps that she didn't make trouble whilst he was not around to protect her. 'We found a few names and addresses of interest yes, perhaps this evening we should convene somewhere and put them all together on paper.'
He looks at Lothar, 'Are we to go rent the basement?'
Lothar nods to the elf. "Seems a plan, Ith. Lead on!" He strikes a mock heroic pose, hand on the hilt of a sword. A sideways grin at Illiiya looks a bit forced- habit rather than any actual flirtation.
Adjusting his armor and looking a tad rebuffed, Seth straightens his armor. "Um, well, at least tell me whether you learned anything I would do well to know while questioning at the houses of worship? OH! And another thing." Seth looks a bit sheepish.
"The information I found didn't come cheap. I make no demands, but I had to deposit 3 crowns in a greasy palm. If anyone feels like reimbursing me, I would consider it charity-and any charity I receive, I hand directly to the church." Seth professes the last proudly, looking far too much the pulpit-pounder for one in armor.
Raffy ... will share what clues they've found out.
Anything clue-related from the IC posts of Raffy and Ithelus is thereby shared, for Seth and anyone else who needs it. If you didn't read the posts, see my "useful info" post in the OOC thread for a summary. Sorry, I can't bring myself to type it a third time :)
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"Hrm, Dietlief's the given name of that Halbermann dog who's making our job so hard."
He shakes his purse and looks at Seth. "Speaking of which, it looks like I'll need to room at the Tongs again tonight to buddy up with those republicans. That's costy. I'll plan on moving to the Crow or somewhere tomorrow, but for now I have to watch my pennies."
Raffy goes with the elves to the landlord with the cellar. On the way he asks Ith, "Do you want I should go in with you, or wait down the street so's no one else knows we're together?"
The group took their leave of Seth, heading off into the crowds of the Neumarket – finding his way through the tangled streets with ease, Raffy led the way towards Faulkes Street.
They found themselves back before the familiar door, the owner opening it with a grudging recognition of Lothar and Ithelus. He looked distrustfully at the other two – particularly Raffy with his blunderbuss.
“You decided, then? I ain’t got all day.”
Watching the others leave, Seth headed for the Temple of Shallya first, being nearer to it than Tempelplatz – pausing to ask directions of a couple of locals, he set off into the warren of alleys of the Lower Town.
Shallya’s temple was a small, relatively new-looking building, its white-painted walls surprisingly clean considering its tumbledown surroundings – beggars clustered thickly around its location, their varying piteous croaks providing a strange accompaniment to Seth’s progress towards the door. A painted dove adorned the gate, wings spread as if in benediction to the decaying houses around it.
The gates hung open – stepping inside, Seth found himself in a cramped rectangular courtyard, its centre taken up by a plain stone fountain. Separated by rows of unadorned stone columns, two walkways led off to either side of the quadrangle – they were deserted but for a single white-robed figure, the Sister hurrying from one door to another. She stopped as she caught sight of him, hesitating and approaching. Her eyes flicked to his wounds.
“Are you hurt?”
Seth dismissed her concern with a shake of his head.
“I came to make an offering to the Goddess,” he said, showing his coin – the woman lowered her head in a posture of grateful humility, taking the proffered gift.
“Thank you, sir. We are more in need of charity than ever here,” she said. “With the poor souls on the Fields and the sickness in Helstrum’s Ward, our infirmary is full to bursting.”
“Helstrum’s Ward?” asked Seth.
“You are new in Delberz? A neighbourhood near here, in the Lower Town. We have had four people today, with jaundice and high fever.”
“I am Seth Adelbert. What’s your name, may I ask?”
“I am Novice Heiler, Mr Adelbert. Is there anything more I can do for you, or may I return to my duties?”
“One thing – I am looking for information about the old Temple of Sigmar. I was wondering if the Sisters here might know anything...”
“Oh, sir, it was such an explosion!” said the novice, looking up at Seth wide-eyed. Recovering a little of her serene composure, she looked down again, seeming a little embarrassed at her outburst. “I mean... it was a very terrible thing to happen. But I don’t know that I would know anything about it – we are always very busy here, and seldom leave the Temple.”
“Was anyone injured in the blast?”
“Several people, sir, but none of the survivors saw anything. The Guard came here and questioned all those we had taken in.” She shivered. “It was fortunate that the Temple was nearly empty, though – only the priests and the old Lector killed, and two bystanders in Tempelplatz. Not that that is fortunate. I mean – there could have been so many more...”
“You didn’t treat a man with a burned face?”
“A burned face? No, sir. It was the flying glass and stone that hurt people.”
“Thank you.” Seth looked around. “There are some people I’m looking for – Hans Fleischer, Otto –“
“Many people pass through the doors, sir. We do not ask their names.”
“I don’t suppose there’s anyone more senior I could speak to...”
“Mother Glauben is very busy,” said Novice Heiler, quickly. “But she would tell you the same thing.”
A door opened, where the Novice had emerged – a stony-faced woman in the robes of the priesthood looked out.
“Sister Heiler! Where is that water?”
“I have to go!” Heiler gabbled. She clasped the coins in her hand. “Thank you, sir. I will take these to Mother Glauben as soon as I can.”
Stepping past him, she hurried down the other side of the courtyard, disappearing out of sight. Left standing alone, Seth felt the older priestess’ eyes on him.
“Are you sick, sir?” she called, in rather harsher tones than those of Novice Heiler.
“Hmph. Then please do not delay the Novices.”
Her head disappeared back behind the edge of the door. Shrugging, Seth turned and went on his way.
Emerging from the twisting roads and alleys of the lower town, Seth made his way to Tempelplatz. The workmen around the cathedral were busy once again, ant-like figures scuttling over the soaring shroud of scaffolding that cocooned the unfinished belltower. The sounds of hammers and chisels echoed from within the looming edifice – their work on the exterior was for the most part already done, the carved figures of heroes of the faith looking austerely down on the approaching pair from their places in the ornate facade. Magnus the Pious shared a wall with Wilhelm the Third – the circular black chasm of a stained-glass window as yet devoid of glass yawned between them, its iron lattice twisted into the outline of a two-tailed comet. Men with white ribbons on their arms stood watching the work, conspicuously armed – unlike Halbermann’s men on the road, these Hounds were making a conspicuous effort to look alert. Thankfully, the sergeant was nowhere to be seen.
In comparison, the other temples of the square seemed drab and squat – the square, thick-walled temple of Ulric with its bas-relief wolf’s head over the doors sitting side-by-side with the dark stone of Morr’s temple, backing onto the high-walled cemetery behind. On the other side of the square, the weathered limestone columns of the temple of Verena stood in stark contrast to the half-timbered chapel of Handrich, the merchant god’s shrine looking more like a guild-house than a place of worship.
Reaching for his money-pouch, Seth began his round.
“The old Temple?” said the bearded priest of Ulric. “Can’t say that we can be of much help to you. Sneaking about with powder, in the dark,” – he spat – “coward’s work. I wouldn’t be surprised if von Kemperbad was right, and it was the work of the Four. Archaon’s armies came damn close, before we broke them at Middenheim. There were traitors in our midst there, Ulric curse them – perhaps our own ones got a little over-eager.”
The coins gleamed in his hand.
“It’s good to see men with respect for the old gods. Ulric knows enough gold’s gone into that monstrosity,” he said, glancing sullenly in the direction of the cathedral. “Aye, we all know this is a fifth column. The old Lector was an old man, knew the place of Sigmar’s cult here in the Middenland. Not like this one. Ambitious, that’s the word. Rose through the hierarchy like an arrow – and now with the old Theogonist returned just as he takes the Lectorship, he wants to make his mark. Build the cathedral, catch the heretics,” – the priest shook his head bitterly – “turn Delberz into Sigmar’s town.”
Seth nodded respectfully “Could I ask if you recognise a few names? Hans Fleischer, Otto Brun, Magda Gebenluft...”
“Hans is a member of the congregation here. The others I don’t recognise.”
“Thank you. One last thing - have you ever seen a man with a powder-burn down one side of his face here?” asked Seth. “Possibly dressed a little oddly – hiding his left arm?”
“Never. You say you’re staying at the North Wind? I’ll send word if I do, Mr...”
“Mr Adelbert. You can count on it.”
“A great tragedy,” intoned the priest of Morr. “The old Lector and his priests were, of course, crushed beneath the rubble. I’m afraid they were very much mangled – we could only identify the Lector by his vestments. I believe Father Gluck was the only one of the old clergy to survive the explosion, being out of the Temple at the time. The rest are interred in our Garden,” he said, gesturing sombrely towards the door at the back of the gloomy atrium that led out into the cemetery.
He accepted the donation with good grace. When asked about the names of Raffy’s republicans, he drew a blank.
“If you are hunting the perpetrators, I can only wish you success. The gates of Morr’s kingdom are closed to such men forever.”
Seth nodded. “You haven’t seen a man with an old burn down one side of his face, by any chance?”
“I’m afraid not.”
“Never mind, then.”
“The Guard found nothing, as I recall,” said the priest of Verena. “An extremely skilful deception. But of course, most of the potential witnesses to how it might have been done were lost in the blast. The old Lector was rather absent-minded – I imagine the administration of the Temple’s everyday needs was rather lax. Anyone capable of impersonating the tradesmen who supplied them might easily have carried it inside over a period of days without it ever being checked. At least, that is my conjecture.”
Adjusting the half-moon glasses on his beaky nose, the priest nodded in satisfaction at the clink of Seth’s coin in the bronze collection-bowl.
“I am afraid the chances of their being brought to justice seem very slim to me, this long after the event. It is more than probable that they have fled the city.” He frowned. “But it is refreshing at least to see someone hunting them by seeking out the facts. The witch-hunt of the Hounds is neither just nor reasonable. If it were in my power to oppose them, I would like nothing better.” He sighed. “Unfortunately, von Kemperbad’s status as a Lector leaves us mere mortals in his shadow, as much as his cathedral.”
“As for this burned man of yours – I don’t believe I’ve ever seen or heard of anyone matching that description. We do not have a very broad congregation here, I’m afraid.”
“And the others? Fleischer, Brun, Gebenluft...”
“Magda Gebenluft? She learned to read and write here.” He coughed drily. “I’m afraid the other two I don’t recognise.”
“Terrible shame, yes, but Handrich hides a gold piece in every calamity.” said the rotund priest of Handrich, smiling broadly. “The new cathedral has been a real boon for the tradesmen here. All paid for by the new Baroness, of course – the stone, the labour, everything. The new cathedral could really put this place on the map. And what’s good for business is good for Handrich. A few sour apples don’t like it, but the Ulricans are never happy unless they’re fighting someone.”
Accepting Seth’s donation with a chuckle of thanks, he dropped it into an iron-bound chest on the altar – the actual shrine was remarkably un-temple-like, its low ceiling and free-standing chairs making it seem more like a private meeting-house than the sanctum of a god. Behind the man who called himself the priest, a fat gold disk hung on the wall, the sign of Handrich.
“But aye – with the Middenheim trade slackening off so, I don’t see anything better that could have happened to us. If I met the men who did it, I could almost shake ‘em by the hand.” He seemed to think better of his words rapidly. “Figuratively, I mean. If they weren’t filthy heretics, which they are, and they’ll burn for it I’m sure.”
Seth nodded. “Might I ask about a few names? People who might be in your congregation?”
“The people I’m looking for are called Hans Fleischer, Otto Brun and Magda Gebenluft.”
“Wasn’t Gebenluft the name of that woman who used to stand on a crate in the Neumarket giving speeches? Bit of a nuisance.” He sucked his teeth. “Apart from that, can’t say I recall any of them, I’m afraid.”
“Not to worry. There’s one more man I’m looking for – I don’t know his name, but he has a powder-burn down one side of his face and favours his left arm. You haven’t seen him, have you?”
“Not that I remember. Sounds a memorable sort of fellow, too, so that’s probably a no.” The man grinned sheepishly. “Sorry.”
Heading for the cathedral, Seth did his best to hide his discomfort as two of the Hounds on guard stared at him – seemingly satisfied that he was not concealing any barrels of gunpowder or small field cannons about his person, they let him pass without interference – the great, iron-bound doors stood open, so presumably the site was open to the public.
The inside of the cathedral was dark and cool – stepping through the heavy oaken doors, he emerged into the nave, its vaulted ceiling soaring high above him in gothic splendour. Wooden scaffolds clung to the interior walls, workmen crawling spider-like over their surface – the clink of chisels sounded in a steady, syncopated chorus, disturbing the stillness of the temple sanctum. Sunlight shone in slanting shafts from the still-glassless windows, casting the shadow of their iron lattices upon the flagstones – ahead of him, the stark silhouette of the twin-tailed comet shone against the stone, beaming down from the great rose window over the gates.
“Can I help you?!” came an unnecessarily loud voice right beside him, almost making him jump – turning around, he saw a short middle-aged man in the colours of Sigmar’s clergy, looking up at him with a rather glazed expression. He had a tangled, forked beard, while his head was shaved bald.
“Um... yes,” said Seth, hesitating. “I was hoping to... make a donation to the Church.”
“A what?!” the priest said – his strident voice echoed from the bare stone walls.
“You’ll have to speak up! I’m a little deaf!”
The priest thrust out a hand, seizing Seth’s and shaking it rather vigorously.
“Father Gluck! Of the Order of the Torch!” he proclaimed, seemingly to the whole cathedral. “Your name?”
“Seth,” Seth said, as loudly as he felt was permissible given his surroundings. Gluck seemed to catch it, nodding at the name.
“What can I do for you, Seb!?”
“I was hoping to make a donation.”
“A donation! Very generous! Not that this place needs it, you know, with the Baroness’ money! But it will go to help the ministry, I’m sure!”
“Are you the Father Gluck who survived the old Temple exploding?”
Gluck’s face fell.
“Yes. I was out when it happened - had just got back to the square when it went off. Very loud!” He winced at the memory. “The loudest thing I ever heard! Hearing’s never been the same since!”
He gestured at the cathedral rising around them.
“But Sigmar can’t be laid low by a few barrels of gunpowder! See this! That’s what these Chaos-worshippers don’t understand – it doesn’t matter if they knock it down, we’ll build it up again, stronger and better than before!”
“I was wondering if I could ask – did you have any idea who did it?”
“No,” said Gluck, his face darkening again. “Sigmar will bring the culprits to justice, I’m sure. We never suspected anyone would try such a thing! All the food and fuel and such for ourselves was stored in the undercroft, and anyone could have walked in or out carrying barrels or boxes! I assume that’s where the stuff was stored – they had to dig it out again for this place, it was all choked with rubble!” A faraway look came into his eyes. “Sigmar will bring them to account for what they did. I’m sure of it,”
“That’s what I’m trying to help bring about. Did you know the names of the old congregation well?”
“Reasonably well, yes!”
“Do you recognise the name Magda Gebenluft?”
“Yes – he used to come to the old temple.” He gave Seth a quizzical look. “He seemed a simple enough lad! You don’t suspect him, do you?!”
“I don’t know enough to say. Did you ever see a man with a burned face here?”
Gluck blinked as if in surprise, looking straight into Seth’s eyes.
“What an odd thing! I believe I did!” He looked around. “I didn’t think much of it at the time, but it was such a striking scar that I remembered – I believe I caught sight of such a man talking to Rudolf Dagen, the old night guard, a couple of days before... before the event.” He chewed his lip. “A pity you can’t ask him – he was in the temple when it happened. His poor wife – beside herself with grief!”
“Father Gluck, who are you talking to?”
A softer voice arose from somewhere off to the right – looking round, Seth saw a younger man in the vestments of the priesthood approaching.
“This fellow’s making a donation!”
“Sigmar thanks you for your generosity, sir,” said the younger priest, smoothly. “It speaks of your virtue that you come forward with this when the cathedral is still in construction.”
“Not at all,” said Seth. “May I ask, does Lector von Kemperbad live here?”
“While we are still building? No,” smiled the priest, wryly. “He has been given quarters at the castle. He comes here at four every day, to inspect the works.”
“Thank you,” smiled Seth. Leaving the last of his charitable purse behind, he nodded to Father Gluck. “You’ve been most helpful.”
Taking his leave of the two priests, he headed back out into the light...