His Dark Tomb: II

Total night came long before Maxwell made it home. His makeshift camp was spartan and a mess, but it was comfortable enough. It sustained his research and his body, barely. But that was all that was required.

He started a fire in his tiny wood stove after discarding his parcel on his unmade cot. It took too long for him to get feeling back into his fingers. It always took too long.

While he flexed his fingers in front of the warming iron he thought of the terrible series of events that brought him to this god forsaken wasteland. How he had been abandoned by his peers and everyone he had ever cared about because of his crazy theories. Maxwell was a stubborn man, but he didn't dare question their logic. He knew he was on the cusp of madness. But he was confident he could walk the tight rope without faltering.

Mary Ann had been stringing him along for weeks. She was feeding him just enough at a time to keep him interested and coming back for more. She was like a drug dealer, keeping him one hit above with drawl and upping her terrible costs at every exchange. But she was worse, her trade of choice was information. She was little more than a grave robber to Maxwell, but that wasn't relevant. The hoarding of information was just something you did not do further south in civilized society. Knowledge was to be spread freely, not under lock and key.

The hinterlands, an associated amalgam of states further to the north than his liking were different. Still officially part of greater Isyr, they operated more like micro countries. Here survival outclassed the pursuit of knowledge. It bred a different type of human, one wired for conquest and manipulation.

But she had what he wanted. He didn't need to respect her for that. The only lubrication their relationship needed was gold.

After what seemed like an eternity he relaxed at what would pass for a desk and unwrapped the book. Immediately it's smell assaulted him through the cold air. It had the wonderful stink of home, of his study. Of old paper and aged leather.

He consumed the book, paying close attention to the cliff notes in the margins he had assumed the previous reader had left in indelible red ink. Often the notes were far more interesting than the actual content which it critiqued. He still had no idea who this person was, but presumably it was a woman from the looks of it. She was intelligent and her grammar was superb, so it definitely wasn't a local.

He thought it was fairly irresponsible to deface such a magnificently old tome, but he had been numbed and had grown to expect such things in these parts.

But he forgave her and instead saw a small glimmer of admiration sprout in his mind.

The next day he awoke, dressed and cleaned his pistol carefully. After jamming it into a pocket he strapped on his snowshoes and made the long journey to town. He stopped several times to cover his tracks the best he could, but a careful observer would have been able to trace his route. Maxwell knew this, but instead drew comfort from the fact that he would soon leave this miserable place.

He shopped and resupplied himself, grateful that the locals no longer found it necessary to refer to him as Stranger in their every day discussions. Brainiac was a little better, but the sting of anti-intellectualism hurt.

It was during a quick lunch at the town's local pub that he was confronted by a man he had seen little of.

"Maxie," he started as he took a seat next to him at the bar. "You don't look so good. Maybe you shouldn't be walking all over creation for a change."

Maxwell focused on his sandwich, but managed to speak through mouthfuls of braised beef.

"I'll take that into consideration, friend."

"I'm not your friend, guy. I just think that maybe you shouldn't be trespassing. There are dangerous folks around these parts. Some of them with itchy trigger fingers."

Maxwell turned and examined the man. He had a face of an undertaker and breath that stank of booze normally. His name was Fennis-Something. He was cleaned up and his odor was only mildly disgusting.

"Like you?" Maxwell inquired, discarding his sandwich on his plate. He tried so hard to be tough, but routinely failed miserably.

The man with an undertaker's face laughed and stole his pickle.

"Like your friend Mary Ann, for one." He said with a wink and an unnecessary nudge.

The walls of the stinking pub immediately closed in on him. Suddenly he felt too hot, too confined. How did this man know about Mary Ann? She was a dangerous secret, one that could get him killed in these parts.

"I don't know no Mary Ann."

His poor grammar came off as artificial. Finnis-Something noticed and moved in closer.

"Me thinks you do, boy. But I'm no one to judge. Maybe if she wouldn't run her mouth so much I wouldn't even know you were squatting out there in the woods doing God knows what with her. I'm just saying, be careful of who you talk to. And be doubly careful who you stick your dick in."

He adjusted his glasses and pushed his meal away. The thought disgusted him.

"I'm a gentleman."

"Sure you are. But she thinks you're one nasty character. Why don't you and me go outside for a smoke, talk private like?"

Maxwell paid for his half eaten meal, wary but interested in what Finnis-Something had to say about Mary Ann and her running mouth.

But that discussion never happened. Once outside Maxwell found himself being escorted away from town by several very unfriendly townsfolk, trailed by the undertaker faced man.


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