The Émigré Saga Serialisation - Part 6

The Émigré Saga Serialisation - Part 6

The Emigre Saga is a slightly tongue-in-cheek fantasy written by TS Koomar that follows the (mis)adventures of the larger than life pawnbroker Morley as he attempts a daring heist from the Royal Academy Library in order to pay of his fearsome loan sharks.

SFBook is proud to be serialising the novel over the next few months, this time it's Part 6, you can read the previous chapters first if you missed out on Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5

I: In Which our Esteemed Narrator is Found Missing

A month after our adventure at Lord Schirmer’s castle, Spiro called upon my shop. Opening the unlatched door, he was immediately on edge. A heavy silence filled the shop. It settled thick in the corners and nooks, as if all the air was removed. ’Twas too quiet, even for a slow day.

He didn’t speak – something compelled him not to break the uncanny quiet. Stepping across the creaky floorboards, he peered through the cracked back-room door. ’Twas empty as well. Carefully advancing, he turned round to peer out the grimy windows, to determine if he was being observed. Turning back as he neared the counter, he spotted my stool. Tumbled on its side, it lay on the floor in a most undignified manner.

“Shite,” he finally whispered, for he knew I would never leave my post in such gross haste.

He hurried around the counter to investigate. ’Twas the first and last time he walked around it like a human, instead of jumping over it like a monkey, and I would be truly sorry I hadn’t the chance to witness it firsthand. Examining the scene, he spotted a scrap of parchment on the floor. ’Twas torn and slightly crumpled, inconspicuous indeed. The burglar’s eagle eyes spotted it right away, though, just as I knew they would.

Picking it up, he examined the hasty scrawl across it ’D R’.

“‘DR’?” He puzzled, “DR… doctor? No… feck!”

He jumped to his feet and sprinted out the door with a panicked whisper in his lips, “Why’d it have to be Danny Ringer?”

***

Spiro was sure I had fallen back into gambling, and once again landed myself in a great deal of debt. This was wholly untrue, but ‘twould take some time ere he discovered the truth of the matter.

Ringer, as astute readers of our previous tales shall remember, ran his dastardly enterprise under the guise of a public house. ’Twas but a front, of course. The place was home to gambling, harlotry, illegal fisticuff matches, and any other unsavory practice you might imagine.

Spiro made his way to the formidable den of sin just after nightfall. Finn might have been better able to talk his way past any guards and flunkies, but Spiro knew the language of thugs well enough, and his pockets were weighted down with it.

The place was already bustling with seamen eagerly squandering their wages on bad whiskey, and eyeing the strumpets who were displayed on a balcony which ran the length of the building. The harlots stood in their provocative uniforms and ample makeup, waving and winking to the men below.

Spiro tried to appear natural as he approached the bar. Though one of his profession should have felt quite at home in such a setting, our burglar’s peculiar convictions and teetotaling nature made him loath to visit such places. The patrons were almost exclusively men from the mainland, and there wasn’t a longshoreman among them (natives of my fair city knew better than to visit this den). The drone of drunken jests and jeers was a cacophony of foreign tongues, which only heightened Spiro’s apprehension.

“What’ll it be?” The bartender barked as Spiro put one hand on the bar.

“I want to see the man in charge,” Spiro felt he needed to shout over the raucous din.

The bartender eyed our burglar for a moment ere shaking his head. In response, Spiro lifted his hand off the counter, revealing a pile of four silver Dinar.

“He’s the tall fellow by the stairs,” the bartender grew more cooperative, if not more friendly.

“Much obliged,” Spiro nodded, and headed toward the stairs which led to the courtesan’s perch.

“It’s ten Dinar, if you wanna have a go,” the man the barkeep indicated folded his arms as Spiro approached.

“I’m not interested in the goods,” Spiro shook his head.

“Then get the feck away from me,” the thug clenched his fists.

“I want to meet the boss,” Spiro stepped closer, refusing to be intimidated by the man’s superior stature.

“I am the boss,” he insisted.

“I want to see Ringer,” Spiro drew closer enough to feel the man’s breath on his face.

“That’ll be twenty silver, then,” the thug grinned, holding out his hand.

“I’d expect no less,” Spiro placed the requested coin in the tall man’s hand, without taking his eyes off him.

“Hey, Johann,” the thug called to one of his mates, “Take this pipsqueak into the back.”

A young man hurried over, and waved Spiro to follow. Our burglar obliged, and walked behind the young ruffian as he ventured out of the public house, into an adjoining building. They headed down a hallway and up a flight of stairs to a rather large hall set up as a dining room. At the far end was a door, and in front of it, a cruel looking lackey.

The ruffian guide pointed to this man, and wordlessly returned the way they’d come. Spiro approached the lackey who addressed him with a scoff. This elicited a sigh from our burglar, who wondered how many more flunkies he would have to make his way past.

“The boss man won’t see anyone less they’re searched for weapons,” the lackey grumbled.

“That’s fine,” Spiro shrugged.

“Fine for you, mayhaps. But it’s quite an inconvenience for me, you see?”

“Let me guess, a little compensation might get you to do your job?” Spiro sighed.

“As a matter of fact, five silver would do just nicely.”

“For feck’s sake, here!” Spiro practically threw the coins at the man.

“Just let me give you a quick pat, and you can be on your way,” the lackey felt around Spiro’s arms, midsection and legs, ere opening the door, “Danny’s the one sittin’ at the desk.”

Spiro gave the man a curt nod as he ventured through. On the other side of the door was a sparse sitting room dominated by a large desk at the far side. Behind it sat a small red faced man with blond hair and sparkling blue eyes, and behind him stood a hulking brute with a taciturn expression.

“Danny?” Spiro asked as he moved toward the desk.

“The one and only,” the sitting man replied cheerily, “I trust my men didn’t extort too much of your coin for the pleasure for this visit.”

“Only thirty silver,” Spiro rolled his eyes.

“Evidently, I’m not paying them enough,” Ringer shook his head ere barking to his lackey, “Make a note of that, will you?”

A sidelong glance and cocked eyebrow were the brute’s only reply.

“I’m not here for jokes,” Spiro stopped in front of the desk, “Where is Morley?”

“Morley? Hmm… Morley, Morley, Morley,” Ringer drummed his fingers on his chin, “I’m afraid I don’t know anyone of that name.”

“Pawnbroker? Bald with a mustache? Owes you a small fortune of gambling debt?” Spiro leaned against the desk.

Danny’s eyes lost their sparkle as they observed this violation of his space, “He paid that off ages ago. Why don’t you take a seat, and we can discuss how I might be able to help you locate your friend.”

“For a price?” Spiro couldn’t contain a malicious grin.

“You should never trust a man who gives away anything for free,” Ringer leaned back, hands clasped.

“How does this deal sound? You pay me by telling me where Morley is, and I’ll make sure you walk out of here with all your bones intact.”

“Escort our friend here out the window,” Ringer commanded his brute, “So he might learn how much I appreciate threats.”

The hulking man moved around the table wordlessly. Spiro didn’t flinch, his gaze locked on Ringer. The brute placed a hand on Spiro’s shoulder, and yanked him backward.

With that, the burglar let a flasher fall to the floor. Ringer shouted in shock, but the brute had no opportunity to voice his surprise. Making ample use of the magic gauntlets Veeda prepared for him, Spiro dropped the thug to the floor in an instant.

With that, he grabbed a chair and charged to the door. Throwing it under the handle, Spiro braced it tightly, and stormed back to the desk, where Ringer still rubbed his eyes.

“You’re going to tell me what you did to him, and now,” Spiro commanded.

“Fecking, fool,” Ringer jumped to his feet, blinking rapidly and pulling a dagger from his belt, “I’ll gut you like a fish.”

“Not likely,” Spiro scoffed.

With that, he lunged toward the table. Placing his hands on it, he vaulted over. His feet struck Ringer in the chest, sending him backward, and knocking the dagger from his hands.

Before the kingpin could stand, Spiro was on top of him. Twisting his arm, the burglar pulled him to his feet.

“Here, mate, let me help you,” Spiro growled, “You look like you could use some air.”

“Get in here!” Ringer shouted toward the door as Spiro shoved him toward the window.

A loud thump sounded from the door, but the lonely lackey standing watch wasn’t strong enough to break it down. As they neared the window, Spiro grabbed Ringer’s flaxen hair and thrust his head through the glass. It rained down to the ground, shattering far below.

“How well do you think you’d fare with that fall?” Spiro asked.

“Feck you,” Ringer blinked through a wave of blood pouring from a gash on his forehead.

“Alright,” Spiro reached into the compartment in his gauntlet, and removed a lock pick, “You know what this is?”

He held the small piece of metal in front of Ringer’s writhing face.

“Of course I do,” Ringer spat.

“Well, this one is quite fine,” Spiro turned his gaze down, “And fairly sharp.”

“My men will be in here, and you’ll be dead!” Ringer assured our burglar.

“We’ll see,” Spiro placed the end of the pick under one of Ringer’s fingernails and began to apply pressure, “That doesn’t hurt, does it?”

“Ow! Shite yes, it does!”

“That’s too bad,” Spiro shook his head and sighed as he forced the sliver of metal as far as ’twould go, “Because it’s going to get worse, and you got nine more.”

“Uncreated! Go feck yourself!” Ringer choked as tears began to mix with the blood on his cheeks.

“Not what I want,” Spiro jerked the pick up, wrenching the nail off, “Where is Morley?”

“Feck off!” Ringer insisted, though his voice cracked.

“You better stop squirming,” Spiro pushed him precariously close to the edge, “Your hands all slippery with blood, and I might lose my grip.”

“Then you won’t get nothing!” Ringer shouted as a vicious bang sounded from the door.

“That door caves in, and all you’re good to me for is breaking my fall,” Spiro assured him as he loosened his grip.

“Ahh!” Ringer shouted as he began to tumble forward.

Spiro grabbed Ringer’s forearm as he dangled over the pavement, and struggled to keep his toes from slipping on the broken glass.

“Last chance,” Spiro smiled as another boom cracked the door, “Where is Morley?”

“A cleric!” Ringer squealed, “I don’t know his name. He had a spectacle in just one eye… and a mole on his nose! That’s all I fecking know!”

“Where’d you deliver him?” Spiro demanded.

“I handed him over this morning! Outside the city walls! Please,” Ringer pled as the door crashed apart.

“Thanks,” Spiro said, pulling Ringer back through the window.

As the panicked man moved back into the safety of the building, Spiro’s momentum launched him out the window. Ringer turned around in bewilderment as his men came bounding through the door. ’Twas then he noticed the grapple hooked onto his belt, and the rope dangling out the window. There was just enough time for Ringer to comprehend, but not enough to react.

The rope pulled him violently. Grabbing hold of the window frame, he but delayed the inevitable. His grip was not enough, and try as his gory fingers might, they slipped. A scream tried to escape his lips, but his entire body was petrified stiff.

Spiro deftly rolled out of the way as Ringer’s body slammed into the cobblestones. Unwrapping the other end of the rope from his waist as he scrambled to his feet, he beat a hasty retreat.

II: In Which My Sweetheart Turns Sour

Within the hour, Spiro was at Finn’s residence. He had retrieved Veeda from her workshop, but refused to tell her more than that I had disappeared.

“Are you certain he is in danger?” Veeda huffed as they hurried through the gate and up the steps.

“I’m positive,” Spiro rang the bell, “And we may be as well.”

“What?” Veeda threw her hands up, “Why didn’t you say that earlier.”

“I thought ’twas obvious,” Spiro again rang the bell, this time pulling the rope repeatedly.

“Hold your bloody horses!” Myf’s husky voice growled from within.

“Great, her,” Spiro rolled his eyes.

“You object to Myfanwy?” Veeda replied.

“’Tis the way she looks at me – always suspicious,” Spiro shook his head as the clang of door bolts sounded from within.

“Why, what are you two doing here?” She looked the breathless burglar and sorceress up and down.

“Finn,” Spiro demanded, squeezing his way inside by ducking beneath Myf’s arm.

“Excuse me?” She threw up her hands and spun around.

“Forgive him,” Veeda sighed, “Something has happened to Morley.”

“To Morley?” Myf snapped back to Veeda with anxious eyes, “What is it?”

“I know not,” Veeda shook her head, “He shall not say until we have audience with Finn. May I come in?”

“Oh! Aye. Get in here quick,” Myf grabbed Veeda by the shoulder and slammed the door closed once she was inside.

“Is he upstairs?” Veeda asked, rubbing her shoulder where Myf had manhandled her.

“He was just on his way out,” Myf began to wring her hands.

“I have him in here!” Spiro shouted from the dining room.

“Am I being abducted?” Finn joked as Myf and Veeda entered, not yet realizing in just how poor of taste the comment was.

“No, but Morley has been,” Spiro collapsed into a chair.

“Kidnapped!” Myf’s shoulders collapsed, “Why?”

“Did he begin gambling again?” Veeda placed her hands on her hips.

“I thought that at first too,” Spiro nodded, “So I paid Danny Ringer a visit.”

“He borrowed money from Danny Ringer!?” Myf’s defeat was quickly turning to rage at my carelessness.

“He has, but that was long ago,” Finn assured her, for he knew best just how dangerous her temper could grow.

“What happened?” Veeda had no patience for explanations.

“’Twas Ringer who took him, but not because of any debt,” Spiro replied.

“Then why?” Veeda stomped her foot.

“He was hired to… by a Cleric,” Spiro said with a great sigh.

Veeda’s face turned to pallid stone. Myf noted this, and cocked a brow. Finn, for his part, now realized a very uncomfortable confession was unavoidable.

“Why would a Cleric abduct a pawnbroker?” Myf asked.

“Do they know? About us?” Veeda ignored the question, and spoke in a monotone.

“I don’t know,” Spiro admitted, “Ringer didn’t seem to know who I was.”

“What use would a Cleric have with my Morley?” Myf asked again with growing suspicion.

“We’re thieves!” Spiro finally exploded, “And Morley is our fence!

Myf’s furrowed brow slowly raised. Her tense lips relaxed as she sighed deeply.

“I see,” she folded her arms, “And you stole something from this Cleric?”

“It… is slightly more complicated than that,” Veeda said with downcast eyes.

“How complicated?” Myf gripped the back of a chair with white knuckles.

“There really isn’t time to go in to it,” Spiro assured her, “We need a plan. I don’t think he’d ever sell us out, but there’s no telling what kind of magic they can work on him.”

“Aye, there is ‘telling’ exactly what they can do to him,” Veeda scoffed, “They have no way to dominate his mind, if that is what you fear. They shall certainly try to break his spirit, though, so I agree we must act quickly. For all of our sakes.”

“What did you lot of fools do!?” Myf exploded, her nails digging into the soft wood of the chair.

“We made an enemy of the Carmine,” Finn finally saw fit to speak, “The fewer specifics you know, the better. You understand?”

“Of course I do,” Myf released the chair with a shove, “But that doesn’t mean I have to like it one bit.

“What was the Cleric’s name?” Veeda beseeched Spiro.

“Ringer said he didn’t know,” he shook his head, “But he described a man with a ‘spectacle in one eye and a mole on his nose’. Ring any bells?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Veeda shook her head.

“Nor I,” Finn admitted.

“A monocle,” Myf turned her back on the others, “And a mole on his nose?”

“That’s right,” Spiro slowly rose from his chair.

“That sounds familiar, let me away to my books,” she said, ere rushing from the room.

“Where in the sodding void is she going?” Spiro turned to Finn.

“Her office, though I have no clue why. It is on the third story, let us follow her.”

Our heroes and heroine headed up the stairs and onto the cramped third story of the narrow house. Once at the summit, Finn led them down to a small room crammed with shelves. ’Twas so narrow, Veeda could have stood in the center and touched the walls. A small desk and lamp sat beneath one of the dormer windows, and at the desk sat Myf. The lovely woman frantically dug through a stack of papers and they squeezed into the room.

“Any… luck?” Spiro asked.

“Shh!” Myf ceased her search just long enough to chastise him.

“Well…” Veeda shifted uncomfortably from her close proximity to Spiro, who politely ignored her, “Why are we here?”

“Ah hah!” Myf triumphantly removed a piece of parchment from the stack and began to read, “‘Brother Marek Grouse: Tasked with secretly enforcing the Carmine’s rule. Appearance: Always in spotless robes. Wears monocle in left eye,’ that sounds like our man.”

“Why do you have this?” Veeda was bewildered.

“A year ago heretofore, I began a small project in case we ever wanted to diversify our operation,” Myf shrugged with a smile.

“Into blackmail,” Finn shook his head, “But I must admit I am now glad you did.”

“Got anything else there?” Spiro was eager.

“Well,” Myf scanned the parchment for a moment, “This is half a year old, but it seems Grouse was a frequent visitor of one ‘Lilly McMillis’, a courtesan of the Rosebud.”

“The Rosebud?” Spiro asked, “Is that one of those fancy whorehouses here in the Low Quarter?”

“More or less,” Finn shrugged, and addressed Myf, “Do you think she’s privy to his plans?”

“If she’s smart, she is. When a girl like that falls out of favor, blackmail is all they’ve got to protect themselves.”

“Then we have to find out what she knows,” Spiro said, “I’ve already leaned on Ringer tonight, I can handle this too.”

“No offense,” Finn gave his short friend a pat on the back, “But I believe this task requires slightly more tact than what you used with Ringer.”

“What do you mean, I got him to talk didn’t I?” Spiro retorted.

“You’ve still got blood on your hands,” Finn tilted his head down.

“Disgusting!” Veeda squirmed out of the room once she beheld the red stains on Spiro’s skin.

“Fine,” the burglar shrugged, “I didn’t really want to go anyway.”

“I am sure your interest was purely for Morley’s benefit,” Finn winked sarcastically.

“There’s no fecking time for jokes, you two lummoxes!” Myf jumped from her seat, “If Morley’s in danger, there’s no time to waste. And if the Carmine is after him, he isn’t safe in Vallisia anymore.”

“What’re you suggesting?” Spiro inquired.

“I’m suggesting you three – who got him into this mess – find him, and let me worry about the rest!” Myf stomped her foot.

“To be fair, he dragged us into all of this,” Veeda said as Finn and Spiro scampered out of the room, and away from the righteous fury of my bonny Myf.

“Go!” She pointed out the door, venom dripping from her words.

***

Within the hour, Finn was at the Rosebud. Though no regular patron of such establishments, he was much better at blending in than Spiro had been earlier. The establishment was set up under the guise of a hotel, though the façade was thin. Aside from a touch of pageantry, the bordello operated nearly the same as Ringer’s Pub.

Finn made his way to the front desk where customers would request a room by its number which corresponded to a particular courtesan, who were each assigned to a particular room. There was no chalkboard hung above the desk advertising the specifics of this arrangement, however. Most guests were simply ‘in the know’. Finn was not, but he was hardly about ready to let that delay him.

“How may I help you this evening?” A smartly dressed man behind the counter asked our gonif as he neared.

“Well,” Finn shrugged, “I have heard of a young woman by the name of McMillis who is a frequent guest here. Is she in?”

“I’m sorry sir,” the attendant forced a frown, “I am afraid she is not. She is very fond of room 12B when she does stay here, though.”

“Is that so?” Finn let a smile peak at the corner of his lips, “I should like to book that room then.”

“Very well,” the attendant removed a key from beneath the counter, “Shall you be staying the night, or only an hour?”

Finn struggled not to roll his eyes at this, the mark of but the most respectable hotels and inns, “For the night.”

“Very well, that shall be two gold Dinar,” the attendant opened a large book on the desk, “What is your name? For the ledger, you see.”

“Naturally,” Finn removed three heavy coins from his purse and placed them on the counter, “Finn.”

“And the last name?” The attendant dipped his quill and began to write.

“Finnegan,” our gonif smiled.

“Finn Finnegan?” The attendant looked up to him from under a cocked brow.

“My parents were not terribly creative.”

“A trait I can see you share,” the man rolled his eyes, closed the book, and collected the coins.

“Everyone is a critic,” Finn shrugged.

Taking the key, he showed himself to room 12B. Unlocking the door, he was struck by a wave of pungent aroma. The fragrance was heavy, an odd mixture of floral and spice, as if someone had mixed a dozen different perfumes together.

The walls of the place were papered with deep red and pink designs, and the wainscoting was painted a cheap golden hue. Inside the gaudily decorated room was a large bed across from a dressing table. At the table sat a tall woman with curling auburn hair, which fell about her pale shoulders. Clad in naught but a corset and skirt, she turned to Finn with a salacious smile.

“Ms. McMillis?” Our gonif asked.

“Do come in,” she rose to her feet, “And call me Lilly.”

“It is a pleasure, Lilly,” Finn said as he stepped inside and closed the door.

“I’m sure the pleasure will be mine,” she sauntered toward him, “How long are you staying?”

“All night,” Finn approached the courtesan, “Though I am sure you tell that to all the men who walk through that door.”

“Come now,” she laid a hand on his chest, “Let’s not talk about all that… unless it excites you?”

“Well now, we have all night,” Finn stepped around the young woman, “Why do you not tell me what excites you?”

“Come, that’s not important,” she said, without turning to face him.

“I dare say it is,” Finn slowly ran a finger from her shoulder up to her neck, “Is it intrigue that excites you?”

“Intrigue?” She asked as he gently stroked her cheek.

“All the men who come through here, men with secrets, powerful men,” he leaned around her and whispered in her ear, “And they all need you.”

“I’m… quite afraid I don’t know what you mean,” she said, but she was lying.

Finn had read her from the moment she stood. Her cheeks were not rouged, her lips were not painted, her hair was not tarted up. She despised her trade and its trappings, but it gave her something she desired. Her shoulders were held broad, confident and strong, but the way she held her head slightly too high belied a fear of weakness. ’Twas a brutal father, perchance, or some disgrace which robbed her of a brighter future. She feared her own frailty, and found power in the leverage of her connection to influential men.

“You need not play coy with me,” Finn softly took her hand in his own, “They could not live without you. They cannot help but count the cruel minutes until they may fall into your embrace once again, and will gladly pay you in the secrets which are the source of your strength.”

“Who are you?” She asked as goose pimples crawled their way up her arm.

“A man who knows the value of secrets,” Finn pulled her a shade closer, “And will pay for them appropriately.”

“What do you want to know?” Lilly grinned as her cheeks flushed.

“I need to find a cleric by the name of Grouse. Know you him?”

“I know several clerics, but none by that name,” she stuck out her bottom lip and tilted her head down, that she might look at him from beneath her lashes.

“He wears a monocle,” Finn reached into his purse and removed a gold coin, “And has a rather distinctive mole on his nose.”

“Aye,” Lilly gently pulled the coin out from between his fingers, “I suppose I do know him – though not by that name.”

“I should imagine not,” Finn scoffed as the courtesan lilted around him and returned to her seat at the dressing table.

She opened a small box on the desk, and placed the coin inside. Looking into the mirror, she played at arranging her hair. Finn stepped behind her, and continued to play along with her game.

Removing another heavy coin from his purse, he held its faces between his fingers. Lightly, he brought the edge in contact with the bare skin of her shoulder. Lilly shivered at its cool touch. She closed her eyes and let her mouth tremble at the sensation of Finn gradually rolling the coin across her back.

“You would not happen to know where I could find him, would you?” he asked.

“I might have an idea,” her eyes snapped open and she reached for the coin.

Finn pulled it away quickly, and shook his head. Leaning over, he whispered in her ear.

“Why do you not tell me where, then?”

Spinning around on her stool, her nose nearly touched his. Their gazes locked, she gingerly reached for the precious coin.

“He once took me to a villa of his, just east of the city.”

“And you think he might be found there now?” Finn relinquished his grip.

“I am practically certain,” she turned back around and reunited the second coin with its comrade, “He told me he would be away for a week, entertaining some dignitaries there.”

“What is this abode’s name?” Finn asked.

“I can’t quite seem to remember…” she shrugged, whlist lightly tapping the lid of her little box.

Placing his hands on her shoulders, he ran them down her arms irresistibly. As he caressed her thus, he brought his face close to her neck, and kissing it gently, managed to produce a genuine desire in his mark.

“If you tell me, I just might return,” he offered.

“Brinefield,” she muttered with bated breath.

“Excellent,” he righted himself and headed for the door.

Lilly was struck cold by this rapid abandonment. Finn took no note, but paused when he had the door handle in his hand.

“Go nowhere, I may yet return.”

III: In Which A Trap Is Sprung

Veeda and Spiro arrived at this ‘Brinefield’ by the time the sun peaked its head above damp earth. They knew there was no conning their way inside, and so left Finn in Brimgaet.

Hidden in a dense thicket full of young budding trees, they took turns observing the compound throughout the day. Surrounded by a brick wall twice Spiro’s height, it posed little challenge to his climbing ability or her magic. It surrounded a single stone building, three stories tall. Each level was encircled by its own balcony which wrapped around the entire building.

Through a spyglass, they caught a few glimpses inside the windows. The place looked rather bare, with linens draped over whatever furniture was present. This bolstered their spirits slightly, as ’twas clear Grouse was not entertaining any dignitaries as he had told his strumpet. Whether or not I was detained within was an entirely different matter.

There appeared to be no guard patrols, only a couple men stationed at the front gate. There were, however, at least four low ranking Clerics who came within view throughout the day. Grouse himself didn’t appear until the crimson sun, low on the horizon, cast fiery light off the ocean. He stepped out onto the balcony facing the water and smoked a pipe whilst watching the waves crash in.

“Well, least we can get some answers,” Spiro tapped Veeda on the shoulder and pointed to the villa.

“I am not certain we should be very effective in interrogating such a man,” Veeda craned her neck to peer through the undergrowth, “He is surely powerful beyond me.”

“Nonsense,” Spiro shook his head, “I’ve seen what you can do. I bet you could take on the lot of those Clerics and leave none of them standing.”

“You have seen what I can accomplish with the Synergist,” Veeda corrected him, indicating her pendent, “All I now posses to augment my natural power is this sapphire.”

“What’s it do?” Spiro asked.

“It enhances my kinesis,” Veeda said, tucking it within the midnight blue suit which would conceal her come nightfall.

“Knisis?” Spiro inquired.

“Kinesis,” Veeda tried not to roll her eyes, “The power to remotely alter an object’s acceleration despite its inertia.”

“Can you say that again in common speak?”

“It allows me to move ‘things’ with my mind,” Veeda sighed.

“Like the way you can fly? Handy that,” Spiro nodded whilst peering back through the spyglass, “He’s heading back inside. How long do you think we should wait to make our move?”

Taking a seat on a stump, Veeda pondered aloud, “If, Uncreated forbid it, Morley has been killed, ’tis already too late. It shall do him no good if we are caught, regardless. Waiting until we can be certain the occupants are asleep seems the safest.”

“Well of course ’tis,” Spiro shook his head, “But every second it takes us is one more he might be selling us out.”

“You cannot believe he would…?” Veeda looked up with slight offense at the assault on my integrity.

“I wouldn’t like to, but you’ve got to accept there are many ways to make a man wish he were dead. In that position, there aren’t many of us who could endure when there’s an easy way out.”

“He could lie to them,” Veeda postulated.

“And risk twice the torture once they figure it out?”

“Only to stop it until we can rescue him,” Veeda threw her hands up, “Surely he knows we shall come for him.”

“I pray he does,” Spiro paused with a nod, “But we can’t know.”

I do,” Veeda huffed, “Now get back to observing. We do not wish to have one of the guards traipse over here and stumble upon us whilst we argue.”

“Would it be better if we were doing something else?” Spiro rolled his eyes.

“Excuse me?” Veeda placed her hands on her hips.

“I meant nothing by it!” The burglar assured her with flushed cheeks, as he dutifully resumed his post.

***

Long after nightfall, when the moon was at its peak, Spiro and Veeda made their move. Making it over the wall, the two dark blots against the sandy earth slunk toward the villa. Spiro clambered onto the veranda, whilst Veeda leapt silently to the second story.

Their plan was to split up, and search the place as quickly as possible. Spiro made short work of the locked door, whilst Veeda had only to contend with the squeaky hinges on the one leading to the balcony. She pressed it slowly, but it began to complain loud enough that Spiro could hear from the first story.

Her teeth gritted, Veeda paused. Slowly as she could, she opened the door enough to peek in. The place looked much as they surmised – deserted. The moonlight flooded in through an open window, and rustled the white linen draped about the scattered furniture. Abandoning the rackety door, she hurried around the building, and climbed through the window.

On the first story, Spiro was well along his search. He suspected I might have been held in the cellar, but he needed to find it. Creeping into a dining room, he assumed he was close to the kitchen, which would be near the cellar. As he crept around the lonely table, devoid of its chair companions, a flickering light caught the corner of his eye. From under a door at the far side of the room crept the golden glow of candlelight.

The flicker seemed to waver in intensity, as though someone held the candle to light theer way as they paced toward and away from the door. They had spied no such light through the windows as they approached, and though it tightened his stomach into a knot , Spiro knew he had to investigate.

Noiselessly crossing to the door, he held his breath as he crouched to peer through the keyhole. Through the tiny opening he beheld the source of light, a solitary candle on a table. Straining his ears, our burglar listened for any sound within this room. There was none.

Sighing in relief, he turned away. As he did, the light of the candle suddenly dimmed, as though obscured. His heart jumped, and he quickly glued his eye back to the keyhole. The minuscule scene was just as he had seen it a moment prior, but he could not shake a feeling of dread which seemed to radiate from his bones.

The burglar knew to flee. His intuition had served him well, and he heretofore accepted that some marks are simply elusive. He was not just a burglar any more, though. He had grown out of that pragmatic trade during our little odyssey, though he knew not exactly where. He realized he could no longer rely on his old ways. Some confrontations were unavoidable, and he was no longer a ghost. That such a relatively profound realization should strike our burglar whilst trespassing in a Cleric’s estate, and not during a moment of quiet contemplation, should be of little surprise – for he was seldom prone to quiet contemplation.

In stoic defiance of his misgivings, Spiro opened the door. Quietly twisting the handle and giving it a gentle push, he let it glide open painfully slow. His heart pounded in his ears as he craned his neck to survey the room as the door crept open. A cool breeze flooded past him as the door plodded along its path.

Inside, he beheld naught but the table and a few chairs. His eyes danced about place, searching the shadows for some lurking specter. He found no one, nor any sign why one might have left the candle burning. There was no open book, no letter left half written. The room’s sole occupant appeared to be the candle, sitting in the perfect center of the table. Something was wrong.

Turning away, Spiro resumed his course toward the kitchen. When he was at the far end of the dining room, a loud crash sounded from directly above him. It sounded like cracking of splintered of wood, which is exactly what ’twas.

Veeda had stumbled upon one of the Clerics, who was lying in wait. Ere he could jump to his feet, she launched him across the room with her magic. His robed form careened through the silver moonlit air and into a table. Though its construction was not shoddy, it broke apart in a hail of flinders.

As she stormed toward him, another one of the Clerics burst into the room. Around one of his clenched fists, a sphere of crackling lightning spun with increasing speed. As she turned to face him, he launched it toward her. The scintillating ball did not move with the speed of a lightning bolt, and she lunged out of the way as yet another Cleric arrived on the scene.

Lifting a chair, she lobbed it toward his newcomer. He didn’t flinch, but let loose a gout of flame from his fingertips. White hot, it rendered the furniture to ash ere it reached him. The other Cleric was helping his comrade from the floor, and Veeda took the opportunity to launch her own ball of lightning toward them. It struck the standing Cleric in the back ere shattering into a hundred little bolts.

The Cleric still in the doorway cast another column of flame toward her. Holding out her hands, she worked her own magic to send the heat back into the Tide, just as the Cleric pulled it out of it. The flames enveloped her, wrapping about her, but never quite touching. Her forehead dripped, but not from the flame’s heat. ’Twas quite cold around her thanks to her channel, but the strain of the connections was too great for her to maintain. Her body quivered as she struggled to maintain control. The flames advanced, nearly licking the surface of her garment. They pummeled her in viscous swirls as her head grew light. She tried to breath, tried to remember the lessons she learned to maintain focus, but she could not find the strength.

Suddenly, the flames ceased. Veeda slumped over, hands on her knees and gasped. The world about her seemed white as she strove to catch her breath. Finally, she realized that, indeed, ’twas white all around her. A heavy smoke choked the air. As she panted, the acrid burn on the back of her throat triggered her memory. She knew the smell: ’twas one of her own smoke bombs.

A hand grabbed her wrist, and she had not the strength to resist. Yielding, she allowed it to pull her from the room. Once in the hallway, she had enough strength to lift her head and look about. Spiro was leading her, and as she stumbled, placed an arm around her waist.

“We gotta beat it,” he insisted as they began down the stairs.

“Agreed,” Veeda coughed as her strength continued to return.

As they reached the base of the stairs and headed down the main foyer, a Cleric skid through a door and into their path. Spiro pushed Veeda aside. Thankfully, she had recovered enough not to tumble over. The burglar charged at the Cleric, who lifted his hand to reveal a sphere of flame cradled in his palm.

Veeda gasped as the Cleric launched it toward Spiro, but the burglar was quick. Falling backward so the deadly flame passed above him, he slid across the marble floor on his backside. The Cleric readied another projectile, but before he could let it loose, Spiro struck. Placing his hands on the ground, he heaved backward, ere launching himself through the air feet first.

His boots struck the Cleric square in the chest, knocking him to the floor. In a flash, Spiro was on top of him. A swift strike from his enchanted gauntlets ensured the Cleric would not follow. Veeda was much recovered in just these few seconds, and ran after Spiro as he continued to the door. Throwing it open, he was face to face with Grouse himself.

“Hello there, little thief,” the Grand Cleric smiled.

Before Spiro could react, Grouse sent him careening backward with a powerful kinetic blast. The Grand Cleric had not seen Veeda, however, and was ill prepared when she responded in kind. With a wave of her hand, she knocked Grouse backward and down the steps leading to the front entrance.

“Flee!” Veeda ordered Spiro, who was already picking himself up, “I will meet you back in the city.”

Spiro began to protest, but the front door slammed after our sorceress as she stepped outside. Spiro knew he would be only in the way in a battle between such powerful mages. He resolved to head for the back door, and not look back.

He fled through the house without encountering any of the other Clerics. Crashing through a window, he sprinted toward the wall, jumping at the last moment, and running up it far enough to grab the top. Hauling himself over, he headed for the thicket. He was to the edge of the trees when he violated his own plan, and looked back.

Veeda and Grouse dangled by mystic threads high in the air. Bolts of lightning and bursts of flame shot between them as they swooped and flitted about. Spiro watched in awe for a moment, fighting the urge to return. Finally, his resolve returned, and he fled into the protection of the trees.

Had he watched but a moment longer, he would have seen a burst of lightning strike Veeda in the chest. Had he watched one more, he would have witnessed her limp form tumble down to the sandy earth.

***

Veeda’s head ached. Even before she opened her eyes, she could feel it pounding with piercing pain. Her eyelids slowly obeyed, creaking open and revealing a dimly lit stone floor. Her neck was too weak to lift her gaze, so she could do naught but study the floor.

Sighing, she cleared her mind, and only now realized that she was standing. Her arms had nearly no feeling, they tingled and stung, for they were suspended above her head. Finally finding the might to will her muscles into action, she lifted her head.

“Very well,” a thin and ponderous voice echoed from the shadows at the far end of the room, “You recovered rather quickly.”

“How long has it been?”

Veeda touched her tongue to her lips. They were neither dry nor cracked, so she knew ’twasn’t more than a few hours she had been suspended thus.

“’Tis nearly morning,” the robed form of Cleric Grouse stepped from the shadows, “If you cooperate, you may leave this cellar soon enough to see the sunrise.”

Cellar?” Veeda chuckled, taking note of the lead weights tied to the other end of the chain which bound her hands, “Do all Clerics keep the trappings of torture in their cellars, instead of wine?”

“Only those expecting thieves, I should imagine,” Grouse folded his arms, “Though I don’t suppose I should speak on behalf of all my brethren.”

“What is it you want then?” Veeda gulped.

“Who hired you?” The meager amount of pleasantness formerly present in Grouse’s voice disappeared.

“Hired me?” Veeda furrowed her brows.

“Do not play bashful, witch!” Grouse stepped closer, and held out Veeda’s sapphire pendant, “I thought I recognized this when I pulled it off you. It surely seemed too fine for a dirty enchantress. My retainer recognized it straight away, though. He believes it belongs to his old mentor: Minister Eurian.”

“I am afraid I do not know this ‘Minister’,” Veeda shifted to try and alleviate the pain in her cold hands.

“He was a great leader within our ranks, let me assure you,” Grouse began to pace, “Until he was mercilessly and brutally assaulted within the hallowed walls of a cathedral… oh, but which one was it?”

“I am afraid I never heard tell of such an incident.”

“Well, you wouldn’t have,” Grouse turned to her with a grotesque smile, “It took a team of hundreds to clean the place up and secure the silence of those in the area before word could get out. His Eminence was most distraught by the whole affair. Especially considering the way one of his dearest friends had been rendered lame and bedridden for the rest of his days.”

“A shame,” Veeda struggled to maintain her composure, as she was still pained by harm she had caused whilst under the Synergist’s influence.

“The reward for Eurian’s assailant is prodigious,” Grouse assured her, “As would be the punishment bestowed on the guilty party.”

“Ha!” Veeda scoffed, “There is little worse you can do to me than you should do to any woman.”

“Would you like to test that hypothesis?” Grouse sighed as the chains holding Veeda’s arms loosened.

Grouse was lifting the lead weights, which gave Veeda welcome reprieve. Though her arms were not lowered all the way, ’twas enough to abate the icy pinpricks she felt. Of course, if Grouse let the weights fall, ‘twould pull her arms from their sockets. If he pulled them down with his kinesis, he could easily rip them off her body.

“I was hired by no one,” Veeda panted at the relief she felt.

“Do not lie to me!” Grouse commanded, “I doubt the Panian agents would stoop so low as to associate with a witch, was it the Iberian ambassador? How did he contact you?”

’Twas then Veeda realized that your stalwart narrator had not sold her out. I had, in fact, constructed an elaborate yet convincing conspiracy. It involved the spies of the hated Panian Church, a handful of foreign dignitaries, and a secret coup d’état.

Veeda smiled.

“You will cause yourself great harm,” Grouse gave her an ultimatum.

“Harm?” A fire lit itself in Veeda’s eyes, “You are welcome to try.”

“So be it,” Grouse sighed, and he released his hold on the lead weights

. Nothing happened. The weights remained suspended where they had been.

“Quite clever,” Grouse rolled his eyes, “This shall only hurt more for your stubbornness.”

Channeling the power of Veeda’s sapphire, he pressed down on the weights. Or, rather, he tried to channel the power of the stone. His brows furrowed, and his monocle slipped from his eyes as he struggled to grasp at the Tide in a way he hadn’t since he was a lowly initiate.

Looking down at the stone, he assumed it somehow cursed or defective. When he returned his gaze to her, he knew it something else, though. Her fiery gaze was far off, and her expression slack. She was in a trance.

“What magic is this?” He was furious.

“One the men of this land have been too blind to discover,” Veeda’s voice came out husky and faint.

With that, the lead weights broke free. They soared through the air, striking Grouse in the chest. He tumbled to the ground, and scuttled backward, heaving to catch his breath.

“Where is he?” Veeda demanded as her shackles were rent apart.

Grouse’s mouth gaped as he gasped against spasming lungs. His eyes were wide with terror, but he did not speak.

“Where is the pawnbroker?” She demanded once more.

“I… won’t…” Grouse’s back was to the wall, and he flailed about, trying to stand.

“You shall cause yourself great harm,” Veeda assured him, “Is your life worth it?”

“Rot in the Void, witch!” Grouse spat.

“Your lackeys upstairs,” Veeda turned her gaze toward the door, “Will they be as resolute?”

“They would never betray me,” Grouse mumbled as he subtly pulled a dagger from his sleeve.

“They shall not have to worry about betraying you,” Veeda turned back just as Grouse lunged for her, but ’twas too late for him.

The weights caught him in the chest once more, before he could reach her. This time, they did more than knock him down. They hurled him toward the wall, and slammed his back against it. A grinding crack rebounded off the stone ceiling as a gout of red ichor streamed from his mouth. Its thick tendrils sprayed across the floor in arcs and spirals.

He had but enough time to behold his blood upon the ground, before the light faded from his eyes, and he slumped to the floor. The weights did not fall with him, but drifted toward Veeda along with the sapphire.

She took the pendant and placed it inside her dark garment, heading for the stairs. The weights trailed after her, almost as if they had some awareness of their own.

She was not cautious when she stepped out of the cellar. A brazen confidence poured from her as she stepped into the kitchen were a couple of the junior clerics were nursing their wounds. The one who had nearly incinerated her earlier was relatively unscathed, for he was brought down by Spiro’s shocking gauntlets. He noticed her immediately, and jumping to his feet, again sent a jet of flame toward her.

The lead weights swooped around her, intercepting the conflagration before it could reach her. They were instantly melted and red hot, which was exactly as Veeda wished. They shifted and flowed, merging into a single molten sphere, before expanding to a large and thin layer which flew toward the Cleric.

An agonized scream managed to escape him for but an instant before the molten lead enveloped his body. The smell of burnt hair and searing flesh filled the room as the other Cleric, hampered by his injury scrambled out of a chair and readied a bolt of lightning. He cast it toward Veeda, but the fluid metal unsheathed the smoldering corpse of the first Cleric and intercepted it before it could reach her.

Stumbling back, he tried to let loose a scream, but all the air seemed robbed from his lungs. The lead parted, and Veeda stepped through it, making straight for his gasping form. He clawed at his throat with mouth agape and terror soaking his eyes. Falling to his knees, he gazed up at our sorceress.

“The pawnbroker Grouse had captured, where is he?” She demanded with a softness which did not match the pain she was causing the suffocating man.

He shook his head with a grimace.

“Your master is dead,” she informed him, whilst releasing her stranglehold, “The only harm you shall bring upon yourself is through silence.”

“The… docks,” the Cleric wheezed.

“Where in the docks?” Veeda readied to choke him once again.

“A warehouse!” The Cleric held up his hands to plead for mercy, “’Tis owned by Lord Schirmer, but I cannot tell you exactly where – I haven’t been myself. ’Tis guarded by both Clerics and Schirmer’s men. You’ll never get him out, they’d kill him as soon as they would give him up. Now, you’ll let me go?”

Veeda intended to, but ’twas just then she realized that the silk cloth which acted as her mask was gone. He had seen her face, and that was a risk. She considered for a moment, ere deciding ’twas too great of one.

“No,” she said with a frown.

With that, the Cleric’s head whirled around with a great snap, such that he could see his own back. Veeda let the lead fall to the floor as she headed for the door. As she stepped over the first Cleric’s corpse, she paused to remove a ring from its charred finger.

She did not encounter the other lackeys on her way out, but assumed them somewhere in the villa. They too knew too much. As she headed out from the veranda, she drew upon the power of her new focus. The pillars holding the balconies up burst into flame as she walked across the damp grass. As she drifted over the wall and toward the woods, the windows of the building burst outward in a hail of glass and splinters. Crimson flames spouted out of them, crawling their way up the walls.

Black smoke billowed against the pink sky as Veeda hurled through the air away from the rising sun and back toward Brimgaet.

IV: In Which Your Humble Narrator Bids Farewell

’Twas before noon that Veeda returned to my shop where the others had agreed to keep vigil, waiting for any customers who might have witnessed my abduction. There were none at all, of course, and they were quite bored.

Finn was is the back room, recovering from a sleepless night, whilst Spiro stood behind the counter. The burglar could not bring himself to sit on my stool, for there seemed something obscene in it to him. It felt like an acknowledgement that I would not return – an acknowledgement he did not wish to make.

“Holy… you’re okay!” He exclaimed as Veeda burst through the door still clad in her dark garment.

“That is a relative term,” she sighed, nearly collapsing as she placed her elbows on the counter, “But I know where Morley is.”

“You, what?” Spiro could hardly understand her, for she was hoarse with exhaustion.

“Morley is in Lord Schirmer’s warehouse,” Veeda paused to steady herself, “Under guard by both Clerics and Schirmer’s men.”

“But how did the Clerics know ’twas him?” Spiro rapped his fingers on the counter.

“I fear…” Veeda paused to blink her dry, weary eyes, “We brought this upon him.”

“Surely, but how?” Spiro couldn’t make the connection.

“By sending Schirmer to prison, we brought him closer to the Carmine. Close enough for him to learn the Synergist was stolen out from under his Clerics’ very noses,” Veeda shook her head.

“And Shirmer knew, or at least the retainer Morley spoke of, he knew that Morley had the means…” Spiro trailed off as he began to comprehend the terrible web their actions had spun.

“He had it stolen once, what was to stop him from stealing it again?” Veeda shook her tired head, “Mayhaps he was not too conspicuous initially, but once it was clear he was working for the King by framing Schirmer, the connection was obvious. I fear Morley has become another pawn trampled under the feet of the King’s and Carmine’s game.”

“But, they must know Finn is part of this as well!” Spiro suddenly realized.

“They clearly have not deduced my true identity, and I am preparing a contingency if they should. There is one more immediate problem, however,” Finn said, stepping out of the back room, “Schirmer has no warehouses, not anymore. All of his holdings were auctioned off when he was imprisoned.”

What!?” Veeda was furious she might have been duped, and less sorry she killed the Cleric who did so.

“Well, he couldn’t have owned too many. Can’t we just work our way through them, one by one?” Spiro interjected ere Veeda could give further voice to her fury.

“It is entirely possible,” Finn acknowledged, “It should be obvious if there is a cadre of guards on patrol. We will have to investigate. Loitering here has done us no good.”

“Agreed,” Veeda nodded and headed for the door.

“Wait, wait, wait,” Spiro lunged over the counter, “I think he was talking about us, not you.”

“What do you mean?” She spun back around.

“You look like shite,” Spiro admitted, acknowledging the pallor of her cheeks and dark circles under her eyes, “You need to rest after whatever that Cleric did to you.”

“I shall be recovering much quicker than he,” she chuckled almost inaudibly, “But I suppose you are correct. Find this location and fetch me at my workshop.”

“We will,” Finn assured her.

“Do not attempt to enter it without me. The Clerics would rather murder him than let us rescue him.”

“We understand,” Spiro nodded, opening the door for her, “Do you need us escort to you home?”

“I can manage walking, thank you,” her voice failed on her final words, so she settled for a shake of her head.

“Think she’ll be okay?” Spiro asked once she had gone.

“Something about her appears different,” Finn observed, “She always possesed a… vulnerability she worked so hard to hide. It is absent now, or masked much better than before.”

“She looked ready to pass out. That doesn’t scream ‘vitality’ to me,” Spiro shook his head.

“Physical exhaustion aside,” Finn walked around the counter and toward the door, “There is something different in her, something desperate. We lack the time to debate this further, we must away.”

“Agreed,” Spiro said, opening the door.

***

As the burglar and gonif headed out on their search, I was being escorted from the makeshift cell. ’Twas really just a repurposed animal cage, which had become my new home in the sought-after warehouse. I did not know exactly where I was, of course, for a sack had been most unceremoniously tied around my head when I was hauled from behind my counter and tossed into a cart full of hay. ’Twas clear enough to me that I was in no dungeon, though, for I could hear the seagulls most hours of the day and night. The stacks of crates and barrels were a bit of a giveaway as well.

The two guards who pulled me from my cell were clad in well-made chainmail – far sturdier than anything Ringer’s men would wear. I suspected Schirmer’s hand in this, but the Clerics who had interrogated me previously gave no clue, and the guards were resolutely mum whenever they neared my cage.

I was understandably nervous at being pulled from my cell. I had remained within the relative safety of its iron embrace since I was first questioned, which was some three days by my estimation. Now, I was called forth for either another round of interrogation, or something far grimmer.

The guards flanked me, and led me through the maze of stacked crates. We walked for several minutes in silence, until ’twas clear we were either in a truly massive building, or were walking in disorienting circles for my benefit.

“So, where’s a good place to get a drink around here?” I turned to one of the guards to lighten the mood.

He refused to look at me.

“Surely there must be some little public house tucked away in this city of boxes and barrels where the two of you can really cut loose after a long day of staring at my sorry arse?”

Nothing.

I sighed as we rounded a corner and caught sight of the all too familiar setting of my previous interrogation – a large open area with but a small chair and a brazier filled with enchanted coals for light. The guards stopped as we entered, but gave me a shove forward.

I stumbled across the wooden floor and looked about for sign of the Clerics, but found none. Turning back, I was greeted only by the stone faced guards. I walked to the lonely chair, and took a seat. Clasping my hands in my lap, I was glad they had not bound them with irons as they had previously. I continued to search about the dimly lit stacks of crates, twice my height and stretching in every direction, but beheld nothing. My nerves began to fray from the waiting, and the anticipation it bred. This was surely the Cleric’s intention, and though I knew it, I could not find the strength of will to fight it.

Finally, two robed figures emerged from the shadows. One waved the guards off, whilst the other approached me. His face was obscured by the long shadow of his hood, but I recognized his voice from my last encounter.

“We have been very busy,” the Cleric held his arms behind his back, “It seems your employers have been very careful to hide their tracks.”

“If they’d told me a little more, I wouldn’t be here right now,” I assured him, trying to remember the details of all of the lies I had told, “You know everything I do.”

“How did you notify your employer – the Iberian – of your progress?” He asked as the other Cleric kept his distance, slowly pacing in a circle.

“I told you, he always contacted me. He seemed to know what was happening as soon as it happened,” I looked down at the floor.

“And how would he do that?”

“I’m sure he was observing my shop,” I shrugged, “Maybe he had some men in one of the flats across the street. Maybe he hired some of the bloody beggars that come in from the Old Quarter. I don’t know.

“We searched the tenements near your shop, and found nothing. Surely you had a way to alert him if something should go wrong.”

“He knew what was happening as soon as it happened,” I insisted, “I was not paid to ask questions. I only knew about the plot because I had him followed once.”

“That’s right,” the Cleric nodded, “By your man… what was his name?”

I gulped. I hadn’t given them Spiro’s name (not that ‘twould have helped them), but couldn’t quite recall the moniker I had given to my fictitious burglar.

“Let’s not play games,” I said, grave as I could, “What do you want to know about him?”

“Where can we find him?” The Cleric stepped closer.

“I know not,” I shook my head.

My interrogator sighed, and shook his head. The previously silent Cleric, still pacing, now broke his silence.

“’Tis a shame. You were being so much more cooperative than we had suspected you would be. ’Twould be an even greater shame if we had to do to you what we did to your friend Ringer.”

“If you had to use one word to describe my relationship with that man, ‘friend’ would be the very worst choice,” I rolled my eyes.

“We aren’t here for your jokes!” The pacing Cleric stopped and screamed from behind me, “How do you contact your burglar?”

“With a sign!” I shouted back, with hands held up pleading.

“What sign?” The Cleric who faced me asked.

“I place a… a large crystal ball in the shop window. When ’tis there, he knows to come.”

“How long does it take?” The less aggressive Cleric inquired.

“Before he shows up?” I pondered, ere deciding ’twould be best to save myself as much time as possible, “Usually only a few days. Four at the most.”

Four days?” The other Cleric paced around to face me, “And if you should need him sooner?”

“Then I would be out of luck,” I insisted.

Neither of my interrogators spoke for a moment. Turning their backs to me, they whispered back and forth for a moment. A bead of sweat formed on my forehead, but I couldn’t bring myself to move to brush it away. They were trying to scare me. I knew a threat was imminent, but that did not reduce the anxiety ‘twould produce in me.

“If what you have told us is really all you know,” the calmer Cleric said as they simultaneously turned to me, “You are of no more use to us.”

I blinked repeatedly as the sweat fell into my eyes. This was surely an attempt to goad more information from me, but I could not tell if the threat was hollow, or had teeth. I had few ways to placate them with more information but to build upon my previous tales. Lies are the foundation of naught but houses of cards, however, and every tale I told might conflict with another. My ruse could not last much longer.

I licked my dry lips, pondering what to say. Before I could decide, one of my escorts hurried in. He stopped just within the clearing in the boxes, breathing heavy, but not speaking. The terse Cleric stormed over to him, but kept his voice low as he interrogated the guard. After a moment, he turned around.

“Ponder what we have said as you return to your cell,” he motioned for me to rise.

The calmer Cleric turned to his comrade. Though his face was still obscured, the rapidity with which he moved suggested surprise. I was left to consider if this was all part of the intimidation as I rose and followed the guard into the labyrinth of crates.

Our journey back to the cell took less than a minute – partly from the speed at which we walked. The guard placed one hand on my arm, and practically drug me through the warehouse until we were back at my makeshift cell. Tossing me inside, he fumbled with the keys as he hurried to lock the door.

This struck me as odd. The Clerics were certainly trying to give me a fright, but this reticent guard did not seem like the type who could play a role so well. With the latch finally locked, he turned his back to me, but stayed put. I had not been policed so during the previous days. The guards would come past every few minutes as the patrolled, but one was not stationed around my cell at all times.

I inched toward the cell door, studying the guard. His head moved about rapidly, scanning the room. From somewhere far off, the crash of a falling crate bounced off the walls. He jumped a bit, and his leg began to quiver.

I frowned for a moment, before speaking, “Everything okay? You seem a touch on edge, like you could use that drink we talked about earlier.”

“Shut the feck up!” He snarled without looking my way.

“A doctor can’t heal a patient who doesn’t want to be cured,” I tried to laugh, though it rang hollow.

Truth be told, I was trying to convince myself this odd turn of events was all some ploy to catch me off guard and induce a confession more than I actually believed it. Another crash sounded, closer than the previous one. This time, I jumped despite myself.

My guardian inhaled anxiously, turning in the direction of the sound. A moment later, a great burst of red light issued above the walls of crates which surrounded us. I am quite sure this made both our eyes swell in wonder and fear, particularly when the Clerics began shouting.

“Put it out! Put it out!” One cried from some distance off.

“I know! I’m trying!” The other hollered.

“Idiot!” The first rebutted, “You’ll burn this place down around us!”

“I thought I saw… something!”

“Keep your damn voice down!”

Their shouting ceased as the smell of charred wood began to overwhelm me. My eyes watered as smoke crept between the crates and toward my cell. My guardian’s leg was positively shaking now, and the keys rattled against one another despite the way he clutched them with white knuckles.

“Very clever!” I shouted, hoping the Clerics could hear me, “You aren’t going to scare me that easily!”

“Silence!” The guard spat, spinning on his heel and grabbing the bars of my cage.

I shook my head, fighting the burning dread that worked its way up my chest from my gut. Surely they would tire of this charade anon, or so I hoped (or, more accurately, prayed). Before I could find some snarky reply, a searing green light exploded above us. Everything was bathed in an ethereal glow, and the stacks of crates cast long slanted shadows.

“By the Uncreated,” my guardian pled with me, “Agree to tell the damn Clerics what they want to know! Can’t you see they’re here to kill you, and all of us too, to keep you from talking!?”

Finally, I had the assurance I needed. I had no employers who wanted me dead. The only ones who threatened my life were my captors. Their little plot to scare me with threats of retribution from my previous ‘employer’ without their protection was clear to me then, and I needed no more convincing.

“You must have been the better actor. Is that why they had your mate be the one to go ‘missing’?” I chortled to the guard.

He looked at me with baffled eyes, but had no time to speak. Without warning, a thunderous crash shook my very bones. I fell to the floor, and looking up, found the body of the other guard sprawled out above me on the iron bars of my cage.

A guttural wail, crescendoing to a fever pitch escaped my guardian. His eyes seemed ready to free themselves from his skull as he gazed upon the face of his partner pressed against the cold iron bars. His entire body shook with rigid terror, as a shadow descended from the ceiling. It swooped down upon him with a thud, and enveloped him whole.

I scrambled backward in my cell, as though I could escape whatever dark force had just dispatched my guardian by being little further away. The shadow swelled up and moved toward my cell. It enveloped the door, and my heart stopped to her the click of the latch unlocking.

Of course, ’twas no dark sorcery at work, but my mind was frayed from days of exhaustion and terror. My tormented nerves were but slightly eased when the shadow spoke with a familiar voice.

“Let’s get you out of here, mate.”

“Spiro!” I clambered to my feet, “By the uncreated, is it truly you?”

“No time,” he grabbed me and pulled me from the cell, “Listen well. Go down that way. You will soon reach a wall. Follow it to the left and do not stop until you reach another wall. Far to the left along that wall is a door. It should be unlocked and unguarded. Go!”

With that, he shoved me in the direction he indicated, and deftly sprang up a stack of crates before disappearing beyond them. No thoughts moved though my mind during the intervening minutes, my body moved on instinct alone. Quickly, I found myself face to face with the first wall.

Placing my hands against its coarse masonry, I followed it as instructed. When within sight of the building’s corner, a shout sounded from the direction I had come.

“He’s gone!”

My mind was too excited to process this, but even my most basic instinct was perturbed when the boom of thunder exploded from nearby. A sudden acrid smell gave me pause as the crates around me shook so violently that one or two collapsed to the floor. The Clerics really would bring the building down around their own ears to keep me from escaping.

I ran as fast as I could, but as I rounded the corner, I was stopped cold. Facing the other way, one of the Clerics was directly in my path. I froze with panic as he began to turn my way. Lunging backward, and nearly falling over, I tried to escape behind a stack of crates.

Catching my breath, I peeked around my hiding place. The man was headed straight toward me. I put by back flat against the crates and closed my eyes. I breathed deep, fighting for some measure of calm. If I was going to die, it could at least be with my pants unsoiled.

Peeking round the corner once more, I was now certain the Cleric had seen me. He would not make it, though, for again, the shadow of Spiro’s form descended from the ceiling. The Cleric jumped back, and throwing his arms out sent the burglar tumbling backward with a great thrust of his magic.

Before Spiro had even retaken his feet, a white flash blinded my gaze. As I clutched my eyes, I heard a scream of agony, which I knew did not belong to my friend. All I could see was white, when a hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me forward.

“Follow it,” Spiro said, placing my hands against the wall, “I have one more to take care of.”

I did not stop, but followed his direction. I stumbled over my feet twice, and nearly collapsed when the roar of thunder again cut through the air. I hurried on, when, finally, my hands felt the rough touch of wood. Groping about, I frantically searched for some kind of handle. I felt high and low, but could find no crack or latch.

My heart pounded in my ears as another blast of thunder sounded from very nearby. The sharp smell that stymied me before was nearly overpowering as I blindly rammed the door with my shoulder in frustration.

To my complete and utter surprise, this tactic proved successful. I found myself suddenly greeted by the salty air and a cool breeze. I heard the slam of the heavy door behind me, and though I could not see, knew I needed to be away. I broke off at an exhausted run, when I was again, grabbed by a friendly hand.

“Do you require assistance?” Finn’s baritone sounded from the white fog.

“I can’t see!” I gulped.

“Then I will be your eyes,” Finn put his arm around my shoulders and led me off, “We must hurry and away.”

“Veeda?” I managed to inquire through my panting.

“Safe and sound, resting in her workshop,” Finn replied as the call of gulls sounded from overhead.

“You know Schirmer will track you down, he was partly behind this,” I shook my head, “You must keep Myf safe!”

“Myf will be very safe,” Finn assured me with a slight pat, “As shall you. I have my own plans, so worry not on my behalf.”

“What plans?” I shook my head, for everything seemed to be moving so fast.

“They involve my new business associate here,” Finn laughed, “Though I do not suppose you noticed her.”

“Hello,” a cool voice said from nearby.

“Pleasure’s mine,” I blinked as the blurry outline of my own feet began to appear.

Looking up and about, I tried to get my bearings. We were in the docks, clearly enough. Anon, I realized that we were headed away, rather than toward the city.

“Where are we going?” I blinked some more.

“Dock thirty-two,” Finn answered, “Though you will have to ask Myfanwy why, when we arrive.”

Looking about, I could make out the outline of our companion. A woman with brown hair and quite a pale face was all I could discern as Finn led me onto a quay.

“Almost there,” he assured me.

“Wait,” I suddenly understood, “I’m getting on a boat!?”

I was a determined landlubber, with no desire to ever be in water higher than my knees. This did not seem like the time to make a principled stand, however.

As we neared the end of the quay, the lovely sound of my Myf’s voice graced my ears for the first time in what felt like an eternity.

“What in the name of the Uncreated did they do to him!” She shouted, hurrying down the ramp to me.

“Just having a touch of trouble with my eyes,” I reached for her as she threw her arms around me.

“Thank all that’s holy you’re safe,” she whispered in my ear, before pulling away and staring me down, “You owe me a lot of explanation, mister, but it’s a long voyage to Albion.”

Albion!?” I turned back to Finn, “What is going on?”

Myf pulled me back around to face her, “My brother sold our farm in Cambria and bought a little inn in western Albion. The oaf has no business sense at all, but we do, and the Carmine will never find you in some hamlet half the world away.”

“I don’t suppose I have time to consider this, do I?” I gulped.

“I would say not,” Finn chuckled, “But I deem it a suitable plan.”

“What about you?” Myf said asked him, “Where shall you flee?”

“I believe I was a touch hasty to dismiss your plans for diversification,” Finn shrugged, “Such information should be more than enough to secure my safety.”

“And this?” Myf pointed to Finn’s companion.

“My partner in this new enterprise,” Finn tilted his head toward the fair woman beside him, “Lilly McMillis.”

“I see, when it’s my idea you scoff,” Myf shook her head in mock anger, “But when some young strumpet with a sprightly bosom comes into the picture, you’re all ears.”

“What!?” I was thoroughly confused.

“Don’t fret, I’ll explain later. The captain wishes to be off anon, which is the better for us. Let’s get to our cabin,” Myf began to pull me up the ramp.

“But… but,” I pled pathetically.

“I have never been adept at bidding farewell,” Finn gave me a wave, “I always fled ere ’twas necessary.”

“I’m sure you can change,” Lilly wrapped herself around his arm as I stumbled off the shore of my homeland for the first and final time.

And that, ladies and gentle sirs, is how I came to leave my homeland.

THE END