Intermission: Tales from Cliffside – The Clockwork Spider 3

Image: Clockwork Spider-Bomb
by cazouillette

In the span of half a year, an excentric noble’s childlike hobby became one of the most lucrative and powerful collections in the Empire. The Prince himself now spoke to him with frightening regularity, and once even stopped by unannounced to look at his ever-growing collection. It was astonishing, the Prince had said at the time, how expansive the Duke’s collection was compared to his peers–he must have a natural gift for exploration.

The Duke had sneered inwardly–not at the prince, of course, but at himself. There were two reasons his collection was so large and neither of them were natural gifts. The first was the luck to have a fascination of historical artifacts that remained resolute, even when pressured by his parents to give up the unseemly hobby. The second was the frustrating awareness that he was completely and utterly dependent on the lower-class.

Markus was a Duke, yes, but Dukes knew nothing of jungles or deserts. They never climbed mountains or scaled rivenes. There were others who did those things, and did them well. It was their place, after all–and while other Lords and Ladies imagined themselves natural adventurers or experienced travelers because they went hunting every year, Duke Markus knew the real treasures never lay in easy reach.

So he hired the best. Only the best. And since the League of Gentlemen Explorers knew him well before the other Lords first knocked on their doors, he knew who to ask, and more importantly, how. It was a practice that had been frowned upon by his parents, his peers, and the League itself–gentlemen simply did not hire explorers like a personal fetch-and-carry service–but he had remained resolute, and was able to convince the League that his money came from the pocket of an investor, not a dilettante.

Gradually, his name had become acceptable in the League’s guildhall, if not respected. No, to be honest it had been the other nobles rapping loudly on the League’s door and brashly demanding servitude and deference that had given him more respect than he could ever had purchased himself. And while his clumsy peers struggled to attain some measure of place in the League, Duke Markus merely had to nod his head for the best explorers of the League to be at his beck and call.

Duke Markus nodded slowly to himself. He was worrying unnecicarily, Mister Schussel would return soon. And he would be carrying the Duke’s property triumphantly in his hands.

As if summoned by his thoughts, a tentative knock on the door broke Markus from his thoughts. Drawing himself up, he took a deep breath, smoothing his fine silk shirt with his hands.

“Come in,” he said, turning to face the door. The butler opened the door, bowing low before stepping across the threshold.

“My lord,” he said with a thick drawl. “A Mister Schussel and guest are here to see you. I’ve put them in the West Game room.”