0031 – Bull & Hope: The Tower, Part 1

Agartha was an ancient city of spires, clustered tightly on the shore of a calm little bay that served as its natural harbour. Sea trade had always played a large part in the city’s existence, and land at the waterfront had therefore been valued highly. This, coupled with the overbearing presence of the inhospitable mountain at the city’s back, had lead to Agarthans adopting a “build upward, not outward” mentality.

The downside of this was that it made the city extraordinarily difficult to navigate.

It was common for houses, stores, and workshops to coexist on different floors of the same tower. To avoid having to walk through someone’s living room to reach, say, a watchmaker’s shop, Agartha had evolved a complicated and organic array of staircases, criss-crossing between spires, meeting in mid-air plazas supported by pillars or built on rooftops.

This had made working out precisely who owned what rather tricky, and disputes of this nature were common. For this reason, precious little was ever demolished, and some areas were sorely in need of maintenance. It was remarkable how greedy ownership disputes could rapidly become magnanimous ownership disputes in the presence of pressing repair work.

There was one tower, however, to which this anarchic and intertwined approach to access had not been applied. While reasonably wide in girth, and extremely tall, it was not unusual by Agarthan standards. It would have been indistinguishable in the confused forest of tall buildings were it not for the fact that, when inspected closely, it made no actual contact with any of the stairways, bridges, or other constructions that nestled around it in the confused birds nest of lower Agartha.

In fact, it had no obvious means of ingress beyond a small, nondescript doorway on the very lowest floor.

Hope was a watchful woman with an excellent memory, and had noticed this many years ago. A thief by trade, she had always wondered precisely what was inside the tower that necessitated funneling all its access through a single – presumably rather easily guarded – bottleneck.

Until tonight, however, she had never found a reason to risk entry.

Hope and her partner, a giant of a man named Bull, liked to think of themselves as the human face of Agartha’s rich and diverse criminal underbelly. The city had serious problems with organised crime, but they were really only problems from an administrative perspective; the various mobs and gangs with fingers in exhausted metaphorical pies all over the city, by and large, kept to their own self-contained world. The power struggles, backstabbing, and casual violence of criminal life was generally only ever exacted upon – and therefore, only ever really affected – other criminals.

This attitude of “you’re either in the game or out of it” had created a strange situation in which honest, upstanding citizens who simply wanted something precious stolen or someone inconvenient beaten often found themselves with nowhere to turn.

This was where Bull and Hope came in.

By setting themselves apart from the complicated hierarchies and allegiances of Agartha’s criminal scene, they had made themselves strangely approachable to the common man. You could talk business with them, you see, without suddenly finding that you owe a crooked solicitor a “consultancy fee”, or – if you were unfortunate enough to have a useful profession, like being a doctor – having heavily injured underlings brought to your house in the dead of night for emergency medical attention.

They kept it simple. Clients came to them, explained their request, were offered a quote, and could take it or leave it, with no unsavoury obligations.

By now, everyone in the city knew what they did for a living, it seemed. Hope had wondered why law enforcement hadn’t taken more of an interest in them, a wonder which was answered with a satisfactory explanation when a royal steward meekly shuffled his way into their pokey little office to negotiate a job.

“Negotiate” was not normally a word that featured heavily in Bull and Hope’s vocabulary. The quoted price was the quoted price. But the implied threat of a visit from other royal associates – those with more of a constabulary flavour – did wonders for the flexibility of end user pricing.

“You see,” The mousey little steward explained, pushing his round spectacles back up his sweaty nose. “We don’t actually have the authority to go inside.”

“Why not?” Bull asked. He was a heavily muscular man, underneath all the fat. Doubtless he would have been significantly more intimidating without it, but Hope was actually quite glad of his appearance. It made him more approachable to clients, even if it did mean they got through a fair few chairs. This one was already creaking under him.

“Because the tower was there first.” Said the steward.

“Before the city.” Hope stated. This sounded familiar.

“Quite so.” The steward shuffled some papers. He hadn’t actually referred to them for the whole meeting, and a quick glance from Hope confirmed her suspicions: they were about something completely unrelated to the job.

“We built the city around it, you see.” The steward went on. “It’s thousands of years old. It’s not covered by the settlement mandate.

“So what do you need?” Bull asked.

“Something stolen. It’s on the very top floor.”

Bull was slightly disappointed by the answer. Theft, theft, theft. It had been ages since someone needed a beating.

“What if we encounter… resistance?” He asked hopefully.

The steward’s eyes darted around. He didn’t seem to want to consider this possibility. “Um… do try not to hurt anyone. It wouldn’t do.” He answered, failing to meet the big man’s pleading eyes.

So it was that, five hours later, the two of them found themselves in a ground-level dive of a cafe opposite the tower’s entrance, waiting for the dark side of the sun to come and plunge the city into night.

They only ever worked at night. This one, they could tell simply by glancing up at the sheer height of the place, would be a very long night indeed.

2 Responses to “0031 – Bull & Hope: The Tower, Part 1

  • LINDA DUPEE
    1 year ago

    Really looking forward to seeing more of these two characters. Like the introduction of a new locale.

    • Arthur Kinsman
      1 year ago

      Thank you very much! Bull and Hope’s silly nonsense will be a detour for everyone for a few days, at least!

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