Naia 12, 1014.
3 bells after midnight.
Port Andestn, Duchy Monrodya.
Chandras looked over his shoulder briefly and saw that the three town guards were still behind him. He continued to run, darting down an alley, cutting quickly across a square and into another alley, trying to elude his persistent pursuers.
He knew he shouldn’t have done it. And he wouldn’t have either, if she hadn’t made him. She had brought all of her considerable persuasive talents to bear on the matter. When her simple explanation of how Malkhas had insulted her hadn’t been enough to get him to agree to her demands, she had insulted his manhood, stayed out of his bed for a week, and then threatened him with the ultimate — she would leave him if he didn’t do as she wanted.
Perhaps that shouldn’t have been enough to send him out on a spring night to commit murder. Didn’t he have any morals of his own? But Delebye was definitely worth keeping — at least, he didn’t fancy his chances of finding someone else as beautiful, as talented, as wonderful as Delebye again. Of course, when it came right down to it, it was just easier to give in than to stand up and leave her.
Privately, he was pretty sure that Malkhas probably hadn’t done half the things that Delebye had said he had — Delebye was famous for holding grudges and getting even in any way she could. But if the way Delebye had thanked him in the bells between his finally agreeing to do what she wanted and when he had left on his errand were any indication, he had thought that doing what she wanted was definitely going to be worth it. As it turned out, he just might have been wrong.
Chandras slipped into a gap between two buildings and held his mouth firmly closed, breathing as slowly as he could force himself to through his nose, which he further muffled with the palm of his hand. He listened for his pursuers, and heard the boots stomp past the mouth of the alley that his current hiding place opened off of. He let his mouth open and started drawing in large — but slow and quiet — breaths, trying to regain his composure as he thought back to about half a bell ago and the reason he was running.
He had been crouching in the shadow of the chimney for a short while, trying to decide whether or not to actually do what Delebye wanted. Malkhas was young and just a little wild, like Chandras himself. A chance comment, a disparaging remark in a tavern, perhaps even a spurned advance could have been all that had set Delebye against the baker’s apprentice. Then again, maybe it had been something worse — after all, to his knowledge, Delebye had never wanted someone dead before.
Chandras pulled on his hood and stood up. Even out of the shadow of the chimney he was hard to spot, since his black tunic, leggings, gloves and boots blended well with the shadows. The hood masked his face completely, and with the soot he wore around his eyes (so that the eyeholes in the hood could be large enough not to restrict his vision), the only thing that showed that wasn’t the color of the night were the light green and white of his eyes themselves.
Still not completely resolved to do exactly as Delebye had demanded, he let his rooftopper skills take over as he moved towards the eaves. He had done this much many times in the past: despite the evidence, almost no one expected a thief to come from the roof and they concentrated their defenses at ground level. Chandras’ rooftopper skills were well honed enough to have kept him in reasonable comfort for some time now. So, as his body all but automatically went through the motions of entering the window of Malkhas’ room in the relatively defenseless Bakers’ House, he continued to steel his will to the ultimate task before him.
Malkhas ‘ room was small, and sparsely furnished. Chandras’ dark-adapted eyes took in the dresser with its pitcher and basin in one corner, and the wardrobe in another. The bed was just to the side of the window, with the door on the opposite wall. He heard Malkhas’ deep, steady breathing, and nothing else, which confirmed that the apprentice was alone.
Turning to the bed, Chandras slowly drew the dagger he usually kept sheathed under his tunic, habit keeping the blade in his own shadow so that it wouldn’t glint in the light from outside. He leaned over and drew aside the sheet that Malkhas slept under to find that he slept topless. Not particularly wanting to find out if he slept bottomless as well, he let the sheet go when the apprentice’s chest was fully exposed. Chandras knelt and held his dagger carefully over Malkhas’ chest. He willed himself to forget what he was trying to do — to concentrate on the patch of skin between those two ribs right there, to make sure that the dagger slid in exactly right to find the apprentice’s heart, but to ignore that that action was going to kill the man. Somewhere between chimney and bed he had apparently decided to do Delebye’s bidding. Maybe only because it was easier than not doing Delebye’s bidding.
He held his breath, steadied his arm, and lowered his hand until the sharp point of the dagger was all but touching the skin. Then, with his heartbeat thudding in his own ears, he stabbed downward decisively.
The dagger moved downward in what seemed to be slow motion, sinking into Malkhas like a spoon into very thick porridge. Chandras realized that it wasn’t just a trick of his perceptions at this tense moment when Malkhas ‘ eyes flashed open and Chandras gasped — both of these events happened at normal speed, even while the dagger was still slowly sinking into Malkhas’ chest.
Malkhas grinned evilly as he locked eyes with Chandras. Chandras felt the dagger grate against something, and when he tore his eyes away from Malkhas’ he very nearly screamed when he saw that half of his hand had sunk into Malkhas’ chest along with his dagger!
Chandras sprang to his feet without letting go of his dagger. As he backed away from the man — thing? — on the bed, he noticed that there was just a single drop of red on the blade. Malkhas sat up and swung his legs out of bed, still grinning evilly. “You shouldn’t have tried that,” he said. He took a step forward into the light from the window and Chandras noticed two things: that the wound in Malkhas’ chest was slowly closing up like it had never been, and that the whites of Malkhas’ eyes weren’t white — they were a disconcertingly dusky grey.
Malkhas took another step toward him, and Chandras finally realized that he had better get away. Since Malkhas was by the window, he took the only other way out available, and scrambled for the door. Fortunately, it wasn’t locked. Chandras paused a moment to find the stairs, then took off running through the hall and down those stairs. Orienting himself quickly in the large open room the stairs led into — a valuable skill to a rooftopper thief — he chose what he felt was the front door and dashed toward it. He unlocked it quietly and opened it, but he realized that he hadn’t heard Malkhas following him down the stairs. Then he found out why — as he opened the door and slipped out, he heard Malkhas shouting from his window to a trio of town guards who assessed the situation, spotted him in the door to Bakers’ House, and started running toward him.
Boot heels clacking on cobbles brought Chandras back to the present. He closed his mouth again — he had regained his composure (and his breath) while he was remembering — and tried to determine where the sound had come from and how many guards that clacking represented. Another *clack* told him that there was one guard at the mouth of the alley to his right. As he prepared to dash to his left, he heard two pairs of boots clacking into the alley from that direction. He rolled his eyes in despair, slumping against the back of the niche he was hiding in, and noticed that the narrow opening was only about a floor’s height tall, with gently sloping slate roofs above that. Offering up a silent ‘thanks’ to his luck, he braced his back against one side of the niche, pulled his feet up one by one and planted their soles against the other side, and began hitching himself up to the roofs.
Soon he was lying along the roof, looking down into the alley as the three guards met right next to the niche he had hidden in. He lifted his head to look over the rooftops around him, looking for a getaway path, and when he looked back down he looked right into the eyes of one of the guards, who was looking up. The woman was pretty, in a hard way, with deep blue eyes — that were surrounded by an eerie smokey grey.
Chandras gasped and lunged to his feet as the woman guard pointed up to his position. He was running before he could hear anything she might have said, running across the rooftops trying to think of somewhere to hole up, and trying not to think about how Malkhas had survived his assassination, or what the strange eye-color might mean.
Naia 11, 1014.
Castle Pentamorlo, Duchy Dargon.
Kimmentari completed her preparations for her journey, none of which even remotely resembled the preparations her mate, Morion, had undertaken for the journey he had just begun with the bulk of the fighting men of the castle. He was going to help fight a war, and she wished him luck. Despite the way she had reassured him less than a bell ago, she really didn’t know whether he would be returning from his journey. While she had the ability to see a short way into the future, she hadn’t used it to foresee for her mate. It was a strange sensation for her, but she didn’t want to know. It … it would hurt too much.
While Morion knew where and why he was journeying, Kimmentari’s journey didn’t have as solid a foundation. Her journey had begun with a dream — really, two dreams. Two dreams that were variations on a theme. Her journey was to find out what the dreams meant, how they related to her, and most importantly, which of the two dreams was supposed to happen.
The first of the two dreams began with a long, low, gore-spattered stone room. The cries of innocents echoed in Kimmentari’s ears. A glint of torchlight on steel drew her attention to a figure moving among the bodies. She threw back her head and screamed as a face of pure evil swam out of the shadows and stared at her, mouthing the Araf word for ‘you’ inflected with shock and surprise.
The second started with a man in black running down corridors filled with death and the dead. The man entered a long, low stone room where cowered the innocents caught up in a struggle for power. And the man in black rescued these people without a drop of blood being shed.
So, two dreams, one good, one evil. And one Araf with a journey to take. She checked a final time to make sure she was ready. With a deep breath and a slight flash of her deep red eyes, she was off.
The acting seneschal knocked on Kimmentari’s door to tell her her horse was saddled and ready. But when he opened the door, the room was empty.
Naia 12, 1014.
Port Andestn, Duchy Monrodya.
Chandras slipped into the small room and sank wearily into one of the many chairs around the table in its center. The room was above Jo’nass’ Tavern, a somewhat seedy dive only a few streets from the waterfront, and it was used by Chandras and his fellow rooftoppers to meet with each other, and with clients. Right now, he was using it as a safe place to hide: Jo’nass’ Tavern was an unofficial neutral ground to most, and he hoped that the guard wouldn’t think to look for him here for some time yet.
He had been running from those guards for bells, over rooftops and through alleys, between stalls in the Market square and through abandoned buildings. More guards had taken up the chase, and it was only a matter of time before they started a systematic search.
He didn’t understand why there was such an uproar, though. After all, Malkhas wasn’t dead, was he? An attack on an apprentice just shouldn’t warrant an all out search for the assailant! Unless … unless it had something to do with those eyes …
He put his head down on his arms on the table and tried to think. He had to do something, but what? Hide? Port Andestn wasn’t large enough for him to hide for any length of time. And he didn’t know anyone with enough influence to protect him from the guard. Unless Delebye could … but no, while she certainly had the ability to command nearly anything from him, he didn’t think she had that power over the guard. Then, his only option seemed to be flight, but he was so tired, he just didn’t want to run any more … at least not … right … now … …
He woke up with the sun hot on his back and the door to the room opening. He sat up quickly and fumbled for his weapon as his friend Haroned edged into the room, head turned to the corridor outside as if making sure he wasn’t being followed. Chandras lowered his knife to the table top and relaxed a bit as his friend closed the door and turned a smiling face to him. With a guilty pang, Chandras looked closely at Haroned’s eyes and breathed a little easier when he saw that there was none of that smoke-grey in them.
Haroned said, “Easy, Chandi, easy! I’m not one of them’s as out to get you — the reward ain’t high enough yet!” The youth laughed good-naturedly and took a seat across the table from Chandras.
“Reward?” asked Chandras.
Sobering up quickly, Haroned said, “One Mark, put up by the Bakers’ Guild for the capture of the person who attempted to kill Malkhas. Can you believe it? They must think the underfolk of this town are pretty low, to sell one of their own for such a meager price.” He shook his head. “And for such a thin crime …”
He looked up and said brightly, “So, what ya gonna do now, Chandi? Much as I hate to say it, there *are* underfolk who’d sell ya for a Round, even. And the whole of the guard is after ya. I heard that the Guard Captain is going to make a speech in about a bell in an effort to get the townfolk after you as well: some crap about patriotism, about how, what with the bulk of the military off warring it up with the Benosians down south, we need to keep things peaceful here at home. Seems to me like a lot of nonsense over a rooftopper turned failed killer, but maybe they think the town needs some kind of excitement that’s closer to home than the War …”
Chandras listened with half an ear to his friend and fellow rooftopper babble while he continued to ponder the question he had begun before his little nap. He had already discarded the idea of hiding — with the whole town being roused against him, for whatever reason, he didn’t have a mouse’s chance in a room full of hungry cats of doing it successfully. He briefly considered staying to fight it out, but that was equally futile. After all, he *was* guilty of attempted murder and the dispensation of justice rested solely in the hands of the Guard Captain, at least while the Duke and his vassals were off at war. He had no idea what to expect from Captain Merric, but he didn’t think it wise to trust to her mercy, considering what Haroned was saying about her efforts to get him captured.
So, flight was really his only option. He had to get away from the town, at least temporarily. But where could he go? He didn’t relish the idea of going all the way to another town, but then again, he wasn’t exactly thrilled by the idea of camping in the hills around Port Andestn either. Unless …
“Hey, Haroned,” Chandras interrupted his friend. “You wouldn’t happen to know where the Raiders are holed up, would you?”
Haroned looked at Chandras oddly, and said, “Chandi, you been listening to me? I was just saying how I was talking to one of the Raiders last night downstairs and he told me which ravine the camp was in this week, along with a lot of boasts I didn’t believe about how rich the Raiders were all getting from their banditry.”
Chandras looked a little sheepish at having been caught ignoring his friend, but he didn’t wait for Haroned to launch into a detailed description of what he thought about the nearly infamous bandits who called themselves Thornodd’s Raiders and how he thought their using the war as an excuse to increase their rampaging was despicable if admirably practical (he had heard it all before, after all). Interrupting again, he asked, “So, where are they?”
Haroned gave him some concise, yet detailed and clear, directions, then said, “So, you’re gonna go hide with them? Good idea — they won’t care about your ‘crimes’, and they’ve been hiding from the forces of order for ages. Hey, buddy, good luck! I’m sure this uproar will die out soon, and then you can come back to your friends and your job. See ya!” He stood and slipped out of the room cautiously, leaving Chandras alone again.
He just sat there for a moment, savoring the momentary peace he felt. It would take a couple of bells to get to where the Raiders were camped, so he knew he had to get going. He wondered whether he should pay a visit to Delebye before he left, but discarded the idea. He had no idea what to say to her. He was very nearly disgusted with himself for actually attempting what she wanted. That Malkhas hadn’t died didn’t change that. (He shuddered in the middle of his musings: how *had* the man survived? No, he didn’t want to think about that.) And now it seemed that giving in to her demands was going to get him exiled from his own city for quite some time. No, he didn’t want to see Delebye right now. Because he just might be tempted to do something violent to the person who had gotten him into this fix in the first place!
Naia 12, 1014.
The Kings’ Road just outside Port Andestn, Duchy Monrodya.
The two knights rode at the head of a group of about 30 armed people that was more of a mob than a military unit. Except for the knights themselves, only the couple of them who had been militia trained had any real idea of what to do with the weapons they held, but none of them were worried. They had been sent to deal with the Raiders, and they were well equipped by their Mistress to complete the task. Before dusk, the Raiders would also be subject to their Mistress.
The knights had been present when the betrayer had been brought before the Mistress. The man had been overheard in a dive of a tavern boasting of his connection to the Raiders. The guard had had little trouble bringing the very drunk man into custody, and the Mistress had had no trouble liberating him from the guard. The knights had watched the ceremony that had sealed the man to the Mistress’ Shadowstone even as he swore blood oaths that he would never betray his brethren. They had watched and listened several bells later when the Mistress had called forth the shade from her Shadowstone. It had hovered there before her, looking like nothing more substantial than a wisp of smoke rising from a single still-burning ember. She had commanded it, and it had spoken, revealing all in a distant, soft voice that still sounded very much like the blustering man who had sworn never to tell.
The knights rode, and as they turned off of the Kings’ Road to head into the hills themselves, they looked at each other. The one’s grey-surrounded brown eyes locked with the other’s grey-surrounded blue eyes, and they nodded to each other in satisfaction. Eyes forward again, they continued on to finish their appointed task.