Wait, why was it so quiet? It was supposed to be a gambling den; weren't they lively places? And surely the secret entrance should be guarded. Despite his sudden misgivings, Claude pushed on up the stairs and cracked the bedding open. His heart sank.
The room was completely dark. He couldn't hear a single breath or footstep. He shoved the cover aside and got out to find a completely empty storeroom. There was nothing in the room besides the two beds. He cast Luminous Pearl and immediately saw the thin layer of dust that covered everything.
So they'd abandoned this place after his little escapade. But surely he hadn't upset them enough to make them move their operation? He held his breath and stepped out into the hallway. It, too, was empty, and all the rooms were locked.
He could see shelves full of alcohol in the storeroom, however, and the gambling tables and all the other furniture was still there. Surely it couldn't be abandoned. They must have just closed it temporarily.
Claude's guess was not too far from the truth. Bidlir didn't think the men he'd moved into the garrison would take so long to be trained, so he'd closed until they were free. Shortly after he'd closed it, however, he'd been informed that all the men would be sent to posts the moment their training was finished, and that they would get no leave for quite a while. Neither he nor any of his men were exempt.
He'd nearly kicked the messenger, but he could blame no one but himself for putting himself in this position.
He'd intended to use the garrison only as an excuse to let his minions carry firearms in public. He'd... negotiate with the mayor to have his assigned post be the docks, where he would use his men to kick Shark out of town and take over. That was the whole reason he'd bothered with this garrison business at all.
He was no idiot. He knew that no matter how great his power through the gang, he would never walk among the elite with it. The only way to get into those social circles was to build up a legitimate reputation devoid of such trash as his little Blacksnake. He'd hoped to use this as his stepping stone into that world.
His ambition had driven him to ingratiate himself with the fool baron. He was only a figurehead, but that was all Bidlir needed; someone to open the door for him. He'd do all the walking himself thereafter. He'd been right so far, too.
That was, until the whole debacle with the convoy. If the chief treasurer, chief secretary, and chief constable had not been removed from office, Robert would never have been anything but a figurehead. But with them out of the way, he'd gotten his hands on actual power, and absolute power at that.
Luckily Bidlir had played his cards right, and was in the august baron's good graces. The two had set up the whole garrison scheme and his involvement together. He'd loved the idea of having a title of actual, legitimate authority behind his name.
His predicament would be not so good if he'd been greedy. But luckily he'd kept his senses about himself. If he'd pushed Blacksnake into too much of a powerful position, he'd have been unable to keep it out of the sights of the town's new custodians in the keepers. At its current size, however, it had enough strength to hold on to its dominant position in the slums, while still being small enough to go uncared about, if not unnoticed, by the now-way-too-many authorities.
He had little interest in the normal goings-on in town, but he still had to keep up the facade of a caring, obedient townsman for the two months of his training, so he had. He'd been a boss for far too long, and it had been showing on his body for more than a couple of years, in addition to which he was also now 47. He could not keep up with the young lads even if he knew magic. Which was why he so loved that he was an officer, and thus not subject to the same rigorous physical training, not that his version was a joke.
He also enjoyed immunity from reprimand by anyone in town but perhaps the mayor. He'd been given his position by authorisation of the prefecture, so no one had the power to remove him besides the mayor, who was in overall charge of the garrison. Not to mention he had the added protection of being the main funder of the whole endeavour. With that bastard bigshot hunter out of the way, he had little trouble with the other veterans.
With all his time and energy taken up by his new career, he had none left to spare for the den, so he'd decided to just let it sit and ruminate for a while until he had everything in place. He doubted he'd be able to make a profitable business out of it for a while anyway. He'd lost his core team, and most of his customers didn't feel safe or comfortable in the place given what had happened and the fact that the perpetrator was still at large.
Best to let the whole affair take a rest until the dust had settled and he had the manpower and weaponry to deal with the pest that had caused him so much trouble.
Claude, of course, knew none of this. And he'd wasted another trip as a result. He couldn't give the gang grief if they just refused to play the game. He sighed and locked the entrance to the old hut behind him as he left. Best not leave any traces of himself behind, otherwise they might just move the den for real. He checked the tiny hole he'd made earlier, and filled it with mud.
Turning around, he found a somewhat bleaker town staring back at him. Nothing had gone his way beside his father's release since new year's. If only that had meant he was standing still, but he was farming backwards. He had little choice but to continue trying, however, so he headed into the darkness.
His thoughts took him to Hurian's shop, where he saw nothing either. He couldn't even find light leaking through a crack in the wall, curtains, or roof. He looked around for a rock to throw through the window, but the urge had left him by the time he found one and he just stared at the building again.
No, he shouldn't do such things. He was better than that, than all of them. He would not betray his principles for some materials. Robbing the gang was already pushing it, he was not going to rob a magus.
He wasn't a saint, but he had at least some moral marrow in his body. If he was to rob, he would rob those who made their living by doing the same to others. He would take what was already stolen, not that which had been legitimately earned.
The man had exploited him, but it was hardly enough to cause hatred in Claude. It was the world of a merchant, it was simply what they did. He had just been too naive to notice it and that was his problem.
He was not so base as to resort to robbery and thuggery over a bad deal. Not to mention that for all his shade, Hurian would not have been acting without at least the passive approval of his superiors, so going against him would probably bring the whole organisation behind him down on Claude's head. Righteous or morally justified or not, it was best to avoid crossing Hurian and the people that stood behind him.
His feet crossed the street into Old Street and he circled back to the lake. The road had become quite busy as he had walked, and he now had to pay constant attention to the road in front of him to avoid other pedestrians. He heard a pair cry somewhere off to the side, then saw two figures standing in front of him.
"Blacksnake has business here, if you don't have business with this business, then buzz off!" one of them shouted.