Chapter 4: Out and Away
The guards hadn't noticed Caitlyn slip into a dark form-fitting suit of clothes before getting into bed. That was the advantage of the common decency the citizens of Piltover tried to uphold; her captors would never have observers on her changing room because of how rudely invasive it would be. Caitlyn tried to keep her excitement down as she waited for the minutes to tick by. It would be very soon now, just five minutes to go.
A part of Caitlyn still couldn't believe what she was about to do and tried to get her to reconsider accepting Alton's offer, but this was something she just couldn't leave alone. She had already invested too much in the case and in the victim to drop it now, and there was the matter of finding whoever had broken into the Archives and sullied her reputation as well. Her heart pounded as she waited for the clock to strike twelve, her body tense and aching to move.
Despite her readiness, the tolling of Piltover's central clock tower and her own grandfather clock still made Caitlyn jump when they rang through her home. Immediately after the final tone died away, Caitlyn heard the sounds of shouting outside—something had disturbed the guards. In a flurry of movement she threw the covers back and leaped from the bed, covering the distance between it and her bedroom door in little under a second. The hallway and stairs cost only a few moments and she was on the landing, listening and watching for the figures of the guards who might still be outside her home.
Guards still stood outside Caitlyn's front door, shifting uneasily on their feet and looking very agitated, but those at her kitchen window had run off to deal with whatever the disruption had been. Caitlyn unlocked the window with a quiet click and eased it open, allowing the first breath of fresh night air into her home. There was a small creak of the hinges as she pushed it completely open, and she paused as she waited for a guard to inspect the noise if they'd heard it. None came, and Caitlyn pulled herself easily onto the sill and dropped down to the ground beneath the window.
A distant clamor could still be heard in the direction most of the guards had run off in, and Caitlyn decided the best course of action would be to move in the opposite direction. She had just reached the corner of another side alley and taken cover in the shadows when she realized that her liberator had not told her what to do next. Caitlyn was planning her route to the Aravon Estate when someone tapped her on the shoulder.
The figure who had disturbed her jerked back as Caitlyn whirled on him, holding his hands up in a gesture of peace and leaning back on his heels. The cloak obscured most of his head, but Caitlyn caught a glimpse of bright blonde hair and the glint of goggles as he moved away. Combined with the slight figure, he could only be one person.
“Ezreal?” Caitlyn asked in a strained whisper, as she found it hard to believe that the Prodigal Explorer would care to get mixed up in this business. She squinted at him in the half-light, checking to see if she was mistaken.
Ezreal only held a finger to his lips and gave Caitlyn a quiet “shhh” in reply before gesturing for her to follow him. He then turned with a whirl of his cloak and made his way further down the alley they were hiding in.
Darkness closed around them as they walked farther away from the street lights, and Caitlyn began to find it difficult to navigate. After a few aggravated moments, she reached forward and found Ezreal's cloak in the darkness, keeping the folds of cloth in a firm grip to ensure that she wouldn't lose him.
However blind Caitlyn may have been, the lack of light didn't seem to bother Ezreal. He made his way forward as confidently as if the alley was lit by floodlights, and Caitlyn could feel sure that he wouldn't lead her into any walls at least. Ezreal paused, causing Caitlyn to almost run into him, and turned to where she figured one of the walls must be. The creak of dry hinges told her that he had opened something, most likely a pair of cellar doors. This time Ezreal took her by the hand and led her down a set of steps before returning to the entrance to shut the doors. Now safe from any who might spot them, Ezreal conjured a small globe of light with his glove and tossed it into the air above his head.
Caitlyn blinked as her eyes became used to the light again. They were in a fairly large wine cellar, from the look of the barrels stacked by the walls or resting on their sides in corners. She turned to Ezreal once she was finished examining the cellar, only to find that he was already making his way to its farthest corner. “Ezreal,” Caitlyn said, her voice barely above a whisper.
“People can still hear us,” Ezreal whispered, again gesturing for her to be quiet. He continued on to the farthest corner of the cellar, where the barrels were so large that they needed to be set on their sides to fit without touching the ceiling. Immediately he selected the second from the end and pulled its top off, revealing a set of stairs that descended into even deeper darkness. Ezreal turned again and gestured for her to follow, then started down the stairs himself, the conjured light still floating just above his head.
Caitlyn entered the secret passageway and pulled the hidden door shut behind her, then hurried down the stairs after Ezreal. They were in the Piltover Underground now, a sprawling network of chambers and tunnels that Ezreal himself had first mapped out in detail many years ago. It only made sense that he would know the network like the back of his hand. A damp chill hung in the air even during the height of summer, and Caitlyn shivered slightly as the cold set into her skin.
“We can talk now,” Ezreal quipped as she reached him at the bottom of the stairs.
“What are you doing here?” Caitlyn blurted out the question that had been on her mind ever since Ezreal found her in the alley.
“Helping you escape, what else?” Ezreal replied with a shrug.
“But why? You actually believe me?”
“Well yeah, we're friends, right? I don't believe you could be duped or bewitched or anything so easily,” Ezreal started walking down the tunnel as he spoke, and Caitlyn had no choice but to follow him to keep talking. “Alton's a good friend of mine, too, but I didn't need much convincing to begin with.”
Caitlyn was about to tell Ezreal that she didn't think friendship was a good enough reason to disbelieve everyone else when he spoke up again.
“And I think everyone's using this as an excuse to hate on gypsies. I dunno why, it's not like they're even around Piltover anymore. I found stories that they used to be really vicious and all a long time ago, but I can't even tell if that's true since it could just be the bias again,” Ezreal seemed to be partially musing aloud to himself as much as talking to Caitlyn, though as long as it got her answers she didn't particularly mind. “And then you get these rumors about the black magic they supposedly use, even though I can't find evidence of that, either... They get blamed for a lot, but I can't find enough proof that it was really them most of the time. I get that normal people are afraid of the unknown and all that, but you can only use that excuse up to a certain point.” He glanced back at Caitlyn. “Am I still making sense?”
“Yes, actually,” Caitlyn replied. “The previous Sheriff had quite the hatred for them, from what I've read in the Archives. I suppose the sentiment died down somewhat after the local gypsies were killed, but it's certainly back now.”
“They don't even let me use my government funding to research their history. Even though we might discover more parts of our own earliest history through their records,” Ezreal grumbled. He sighed; the quest for knowledge was always the greatest thrill for him, and one of his pet peeves was having to deal with people who tried to prevent him from doing just that. “That's how I met Alton. He's made some big contributions that allowed me to start researching their history more, and we became friends shortly after he offered to fund me.”
Caitlyn found the answer to be satisfactory, at least. “So why are you so interested in gypsy history?” she asked, taking care to step around the same puddle that Ezreal had just plowed through.
Surprisingly, Ezreal did not answer right away. “I want to find the true history,” his voice held a certain degree of reverence when he finally spoke. “A historical record unclouded by the bias of the city-states, a way to know exactly where we came from. The knowledge has been lost for thousands of years, but I've made it my mission to find it.”
“So you're hoping that as outside observers the gypsies may have a more dependable record than us, at least when it comes to the more unsavory bits that our historians might cover up.”
“Pretty much,” Ezreal replied, casting a glance at her over his shoulder. “Unfortunately I haven't been very successful in finding the missing pieces so far, but I'm hoping my next expedition will turn up something worthwhile.”
The rest of the journey passed in relative silence as Ezreal led Caitlyn to the Aravon Estate. Caitlyn herself was quite lost by the time Ezreal stopped by a branch in the tunnel marked by the letters “HW” and led her through it. After ten feet of level ground, the tunnel began to slope upwards and eventually ended in a flight of stairs carved out of the earth itself. In the light cast by Ezreal's magic lantern, Caitlyn could see that the end of the tunnel was embraced by the roots of a large tree of some sort, and the stairs ended at a wall made of pale wood.
Ezreal reached the top of the stairs and ran the fingers of his gloved hand along the wall's surface. A thin seam appeared on the wood's smooth surface, tracing the shape of a doorway that two people could easily fit through. The new door responded to the light push Ezreal applied to it with his hand, revealing a canopy of slim leaves and whip-like boughs beyond.
“Did you make this, Ezreal?” Caitlyn asked as she examined the door more closely. She knew that only a magic user of some sort would be able to shape it so well without leaving the tree vulnerable to disease.
“No, it's been here for a long time,” Ezreal stepped aside and let Caitlyn pass. He blinked, and slapped a hand to his forehead. “Damn, I got an appointment I have to get to! I gotta get going, later Caitlyn!” He promptly shut the door as soon as Caitlyn was out, preventing her from even giving him a quick thank you before he was gone.
With the willow door shut, Caitlyn found it impossible to even tell that there had been an entrance there in the first place. Whoever had made it was extremely skilled, and Caitlyn found herself wondering what the door had originally been used for. With Ezreal gone and the door hidden, there was nowhere to go but forward. Caitlyn dusted a bit of dirt off one sleeve and parted the curtain of willow boughs to find the expansive grounds of the Aravon estate.
Moonlight bathed the landscape before her, giving Caitlyn a good view of her surroundings even at this late hour. The grounds had been well-kept at some point in the past, but they were overgrown and wild now. The house itself seemed to be in better condition from what she could see of it, and a single light shone from one of the ground floor windows.
Caitlyn stepped out of the willow's foliage and started toward the main house. A cobblestone path wound past the willow and the pond it stood beside, and she followed it toward the light. The grounds were completely silent, without the slightest breath of wind to stir its bushes and trees. It was strange to one accustomed to the constant sounds of a busy city, but Caitlyn found reason to be grateful for the silence. She would be more likely to hear any potential attackers who might be trying to sneak up on her.
The door beside the lit window opened as Caitlyn approached, revealing the familiar countenance of Alton Wesson. He gave Caitlyn a grateful smile as he turned and retrieved the lantern that had been lighting the window. “Thank you for coming. I trust you had a safe journey?”
“Yes, Ezreal makes for an excellent guide,” Caitlyn replied, somewhat perplexed at Alton's gratitude. It made her wonder what personal stakes Alton might have in the occurrences of the past few days, and she made a mental note to ask him about it sometime in the near future.
“Good, good,” Alton turned and started to make his way down the hallway beyond the door, gesturing for Caitlyn to follow.
Caitlyn shut the door behind herself and followed Alton into the depths of the Aravon household. From what she could remember of the history surrounding the estate, the owners had died a few decades ago, rich but heir-less, and had left the entirety of their fortune to Alton. Everything was relatively clean and free of dust, more well-kept than the gardens, but the style of the decorations was fairly out of date.
“So, Mr. Wesson,” Caitlyn began as they turned into a larger hall lined with portraits of Aravon family members. “What's your game? What do you intend to get out of this?”
Alton slowed his pace slightly. “It is a long story... But to put it simply, I believe what you have said about Twisted Fate's character and I would like to give you the opportunity to set things right.”
“You and I both know that's not all,” Caitlyn's voice was a bit sharper than she would have liked, but unfinished explanations and secrets just wouldn't cut it at the moment.
The caretaker did not reply, instead hurrying down the hall to one portrait in particular. He stopped before it and lifted the lantern. “Does she look at all familiar to you?” Alton asked, his gray eyes watching Caitlyn carefully.
Caitlyn shot him a slight glare since he seemed to be changing the subject, and glanced up at the painting. The portrait's subject was a young woman with shining black hair, pale smooth skin and blue eyes. A beam of moonlight from one of the hall's windows slanted across the subject's face, revealing her features in greater detail. At first Caitlyn found nothing that she recognized, but after further examination, she realized that the eyes really caught her. She had seen eyes like that before, deep blue streaked with silver, colors that together would make the eyes appear pale blue from a distance, but she couldn't quite remember where.
“Yes...” Caitlyn said slowly, still trying to place where she had seen that eye color before. “The eyes strike me as familiar, but I can't quite place them.” She turned her eyes back to Alton. “But that still doesn't tell me what else you're in this for.”
“It's embarrassing...” he said, almost too quietly for Caitlyn to hear. “I believe Twisted Fate may be someone I've been looking for,” he turned from the painting and started down the hall again. “I don't know what I'll do if I'm wrong... But to find out, Twisted Fate must survive and be proven innocent.”
Caitlyn hurried after Alton as he led her down the hall. She leaned to her right to get a look at Alton's face, and noticed that his eyes were sad and distant, his cheeks and forehead slightly flushed with embarrassment. “You would potentially risk the safety of Piltover and Valoran on a hope?” she prodded. While Alton did seem candid enough, it wouldn't hurt to needle at least a little more information out of him.
Alton stopped with a loud sigh, his shoulders drooping with the outward rush of air as the arm holding the lantern dropped to his side. “Yes, it's selfish. Perhaps insane, even. All I have are intuition and the word of a long-time friend, as well as the faith I have in my Sheriff's abilities,” melancholy hung heavy in Alton's voice as he stared at the rug a few feet in front of him.
The question had been a bit out of line, and Caitlyn felt embarrassed for having pushed Alton that way. She would make up for it by seeing if he was right. “Well, we'd best be on our way, then,” she offered.
The lantern arm rose again, and Alton nodded. Silence stretched between them as he led her down the hall again.
“So what's next?” Caitlyn asked as they approached a staircase.
“I'm taking you to one of the bedrooms so you can find a disguise,” Alton replied. He began to make his way up the stairs, still fairly nimble despite his obvious age. “I cannot properly equip you without drawing unwanted attention to myself, so I will send you to George. He'll be able to provide all the equipment you need without giving us away.”
Caitlyn nodded. It made sense to do it that way, since Alton wouldn’t be able to help her again if he was in prison.
“Unfortunately everything I have is rather out of date, but I believe you'll be able to make do,” Alton added. He put a hand to the banister to steady himself as they reached the top of the stairs.
“So who is this George fellow?” Caitlyn kept pace with Alton easily as he led her down a smaller hallway that was lined with bedroom doors. “A friend of yours, right?”
“We've known each other for ten years at least,” Alton brought them to a halt at the end of the hallway and opened the door on their right. “He owns the casino outside of Piltover.”
“That's right... The owner of the Golden Gun, I've met with him a few times before,” Caitlyn said. George Connor ran a tight ship—he obeyed all laws and restrictions that Piltover placed on him in exchange for having his business in their territory and ensured that his customers were kept very safe with a well-armed guard force. An extra order or so of guard equipment wouldn't rouse much suspicion, as he was known to be very cautious when it came to those who might try to take advantage of his success or his customers. She entered the bedroom and Alton shut the door politely behind her.
Caitlyn found the light switch, revealing a beautifully furnished and well-kept bedroom. Deep blue cloth and rich brown hardwood furniture gave the room a calm feel, with a few silver decorations to light things up here and there. Every surface was spotless, dusted and polished by a loving hand, but the room felt empty. It was obvious that its original occupant had been gone for a very long time.
A look in the closet revealed that all the clothes it contained were out of date, just as Alton had said, but Caitlyn found a few pieces that were simple enough to pass as inconspicuous in modern day Piltover. She chose a simple light gown of pale green, a pair of light brown leather slippers, a white overcoat, and a veiled bonnet in a shade of green to match the dress. Once changed, Caitlyn tied her long hair up in a bun and settled the bonnet over it. The dark clothing Caitlyn had worn for her trip through the Underground was tucked into a brown leather purse to spare Alton the trouble of disposing of them himself.
When Caitlyn emerged from the bedroom, her disguise as a young sweetheart out to meet her love at the casino was complete. Alton quickly looked over her disguise and nodded in approval. “Do you know how to get to the hourly carriages that go to the casino?” he asked as he led her downstairs once again.
“Yes, I know where the nearest one should be,” Caitlyn replied. She lowered the veil over her face and followed Alton down the hall. Silence settled over them once again, and Caitlyn thought of what lay ahead as they walked. Just one more meeting and she would be free to investigate the leak, likely with high quality equipment to help her on her way as well. Things were looking up, and it wasn't as if she could be picky with the help she got.
“I didn’t mean to be so... Harsh, earlier,” Caitlyn began as they reached the stairs.
Alton gave her a weak chuckle in reply and glanced at her over one shoulder. “It is alright. Personally, I’m glad that you are questioning our help. Anyone under an enchantment would have taken the help without question and left without a word otherwise,” he turned his attention back to navigating the staircase.
“So they would,” Caitlyn said with a small smile.
The walk to one of the estate’s many side gates was uneventful and uninteresting, as the two did not talk much. Caitlyn gave Alton a small wave of farewell as she stepped out onto the road, eager to be on her way.
“Stay safe,” Alton whispered. “And be sure to show this to one of the guards when you get there,” he produced a gold coin printed with the casino’s logo from a breast pocket. “They will take you straight to George when they see it.”
“Right,” Caitlyn accepted the coin and tucked it into her purse. “Thank you, Alton.”
Alton gave her a genuine smile in reply and shut the gate with a loud creak and rusty click. Now alone and with only the light of the moon and a few faraway lamps to see by, Caitlyn got her bearings and began to make her way toward the Golden Gun’s hourly carriage.
Caitlyn arrived at the carriage’s waiting area just as the vehicle came to a halt before it. She had picked shoes that were relatively comfortable and had experienced little difficulty on her way there as a result, but she accepted the arm of a courteous young gentleman when it was offered to her all the same. The part had to be properly played, after all. Caitlyn returned the man’s politeness with a meek “thank you” and took a seat on one of the carriage’s cushioned benches.
Golden Gun Casino still used horses to move their carriages, partly for the fact that the techarriages commonly used on the paved streets of Piltover could not yet survive the rougher roads outside the city, and also for the sheer novelty of having them. To people well used to mechanically-driven carriages, horses were a refreshing change, especially when they were as well-groomed and bred as the beasts that the Golden Gun used. Caitlyn kept one eye on the rest of the passengers as she thought of what would come after the meeting with George. Investigations would have to start in Zaun, as much as she hated the thought of having to go to that wretched, stinking trash heap of a city-state. Once more information on whoever had given over the files was revealed, Caitlyn would be able to track the problem to its source. And after that... Well, the guilty parties would be in for a very bad day, to say the least.
The carriage traveled swiftly enough, and it entered the front driveway of the casino within half an hour of its departure from Piltover. There were still a few guests out and about despite the extreme lateness of the hour, as well as a healthy number of guards about to keep the peace. Caitlyn stepped off the carriage and made her way over to one, taking the coin from her purse as she did.
“Excuse me,” she said politely as she offered the coin.
The man gave Caitlyn a nod of greeting and examined the coin. “Welcome to the Golden Gun,” he said once he’d conducted a satisfactory inspection of the gold piece. “I’ll take you right up.”
Due to the lateness of the hour the casino was not as loud or crowded as it usually would be, though there were definitely a few night owls trying their luck at the slots and games. Caitlyn noticed quite a few spotters spread among the gamblers as she followed the guard; George didn't appreciate cheaters in his casino. The main floor was lit up with warm gold lights and glittered with the shine of hardwood game tables and the metal of the slot machines. It was more flashy than Caitlyn remembered it, likely because good business had allowed George to upgrade the equipment and improve his decorations.
The guard led Caitlyn through the main floor and past several restaurants and shops before he finally came to a halt in front of a single door marked Staff Only. The hallway beyond was much less showy than the public parts of the casino, and the quiet that enveloped them as the guard shut the door was a bit of a shock after the clamor of the main floor. Think carpet dulled the noise of their footsteps as the guard continued down the hall.
A flight of stairs and a few more hallways brought Caitlyn to a halt before a pair of large hardwood double doors, which were polished to a shine and obviously belonged to someone very important. They opened before the guard could knock, and Ezreal emerged from the room beyond. He was deep in thought about whatever he had been discussing, so much so that he didn’t recognize Caitlyn as he walked past her and treated her as a stranger, giving her and the guard a polite nod and distracted hello as he left. Caitlyn spotted the familiar gleam in his eye that meant he would be departing on another adventure soon, and she wondered what he was off to discover this time.
The guard knocked on the still-open door to ask permission to enter. “Someone to see you, Mr. Connor.”
“Is it a woman?” the playful voice that answered possessed a distinct southern drawl not unlike Twisted Fate’s, marking the man who owned it as a foreigner.
“Yes, Mr. Connor,” the guard replied.
“Good, send her in.”
Caitlyn stepped forward before the guard could tell her to go in, and the doors shut with a quiet click once she was inside. “Good evening, Mr. Connor,” Caitlyn lifted the veil that covered her face. “I’ve been told that you want to help me.”
“Yes, I do indeed. And please, call me George,” George gave Caitlyn a jovial, if fake, smile. He got up from behind the large desk he was sitting at, opened one of its drawers, and set the bag he had taken from it on the desktop. "I gathered up everything I could think of in the way of essentials, but I'll let you have the final say on what goes."
George reached behind his desk again and hit a series of hidden switches. The wall behind him slid back and opened to reveal a room that could easily pass for a small armory. "Have your pick, my lady," he gestured at the weapons and gear with a flourish.
Caitlyn set her hands on her hips and eyed the display. She had to admit that the variety and quality of the equipment was impressive, and there was even one gun model present that had been released only the previous week. “You don’t mess about when it comes to weaponry,” Caitlyn said as she walked into the hidden room. “Are you expecting me to fight a war or two?” she teased.
“You could be going into hostile territory,” George gave her a genuine grin this time. “Like Zaun for example, so I packed a little extra.”
“Well I can’t say I don’t appreciate it,” Caitlyn gave him a faint smile in return as she selected one of the sniper rifles and looked it over. The gun was top quality, well-balanced and not overly heavy; a serviceable replacement for her own custom rifle. “So, George... Why’ve you decided to cast your lot in with me? You’re not worried that the accusations might be true?” she gave him a sidelong glance as she set the rifle down on a counter and picked up a revolver.
“No,” George’s reply was short and more than a little ill-tempered. The suggestion had obviously hit a nerve, and Caitlyn could see the frustration displayed plainly on his face. “I know Twisted Fate, he’s felt nothin’ but pain over the loss of his family.”
Caitlyn turned, so she could face George head-on. “How long have you known him?” she asked, a tone of genuine interest in her voice.
“We met about twenty years ago,” George replied without missing a beat. “He was twelve, at the time. I reckon it’d been under a week since the massacre happened when I got to him...” He focused his gaze on the floor a few feet in front of him as his eyes took on the faraway look of one temporarily lost in memory.
“What was he like?” Caitlyn set the handgun down on the counter and leaned against its edge.
“Just about the saddest damn kid you’d ever meet,” George leaned against the counter opposite Caitlyn and folded his arms over his chest. “Completely withdrawn, didn’t trust anyone, barely even talked. I’m still surprised he agreed to come along with me at all. Maybe he was desperate, maybe he figured he could run away if things turned sour, but luckily they didn’t.”
“You didn’t try taking him to live with other gypsies? There are several other groups scattered around Valoran as I recall,” Caitlyn pushed off her counter and returned to examining the equipment, this time selecting a combat knife from the collection and keeping one ear on George all the while.
“That was the first thing I tried,” George growled. “Got him to the nearest gypsy tribe I could find,” there was a rising ire in his voice, and Caitlyn could feel the anger rolling off him even with her back turned. “But instead of taking him in, instead of helping one of her own, their mystic decided to banish him. A child of twelve for gods’ sake! Forbade him from coming into contact with other gypsies ever again all because she thought he was cursed or bad luck or some other nonsense,” he spat the final word as if its very existence offended him and fell into a fuming silence.
The knife made a quiet schlick as Caitlyn sheathed it. “They banished him,” the statement was one of disbelief rather than an affirmation; Caitlyn considered such an act to be unusually cruel as well. “And I suppose you fully took him in after that?”
“Of course. What else could I do?” George had calmed somewhat, but it was obvious that he was still lingering on the banishment.
“Right. And you taught him how to be a con artist as well, didn’t you?” Caitlyn turned to George again, this time with a cheeky smile on her face. “I always suspected what you used to be, but I never investigated since you were playing by the rules and acting as a positive influence on society with your personal charities.”
(Continued in next post.)