By David Pontier
The Art of Being Entreri is the property of the author, David Pontier and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email David with any comments and feedback on The Art of Being Entreri and visit his website at: http://www.geocities.com/piqsid/stories.html.
Chapter 2: Karenstoch
Entreri spent most of the day going through Riechen's stuff. The man was well read and had many books detailing the history and geography of the area directly around Karenstoch. This city was not that old, maybe 150 years at best. The majority of the population on this continent lived further south, either alongside one of the numerous rivers that criss-crossed the vast prairie or along the coast.
Entreri searched for over an hour through a dozen books before he found a big enough map of the great seas that bordered either side of the continent to show the Sword Coast. None of the cities showed up on the map, but Entreri recognized the topography well enough. He was over 15,000 miles from home.
"Well done, LaValle."
Entreri was also able to put to rest his concern about the way Trent and Riechen had reacted to his question about goblins. The continent across the sea was a far harsher land than this one. Entreri had visited the harsh climate of the Spine of the World, the dark Trollmoors, and, of course, the desserts of Calimshan. This new land had nothing even comparable to those violent areas. Instead, it had vast grasslands that were speckled with great forests the further north you went.
Some of the history books hinted that the land used to have its fair share of goblin kind, but as the human population slowly filled the vast continent, the other races were shoved into the northern woods where the elves were waiting. The ensuing clash between the goodly elves and the evil races effectively wiped both sides out, allowing the humans to move into the northland and set up shop.
Now, all other races were assumed to be fiction, recorded in books more like fairy tales than history. Entreri wondered how the discovery of the dragon had affected Riechen's view of things.
Entreri found little in Riechen's room about the workings of this guild or what the other forces in the city were. From Riechen's window on the fifth floor, Entreri watched the city go about its daily routine. There were street venders dealing their wares to commoners as they walked freely along the streets. There was no sign of any organized control of the streets, whether by the city guards or this thieving guild.
Entreri also spent considerable time with LaValle's gift. He became very good with the device, finding ways to open it to twice its normal size or half of it. He also found that if you did not remove the cylinder from the middle of the disk after it had been formed, the portal would remain open indefinitely. This meant Entreri was able to move back and forth between his room and the cavern a dozen miles away. Entreri also took careful notice that if anything was halfway through the portal when it closed, it would be sheared in half cleaner than the finest blade could reproduce.
By nightfall, Entreri's stomach told him it had been too long since his last meal. Setting a cruel trap on his door with one of Riechen's daggers, Entreri slunk his way through the halls and down to the tavern on the main floor. Entreri smiled at the serving maid and ordered the place's most expensive meal. After a few trips to the cavern, money was not something he needed to worry about for a while.
As he ate, the assassin eyed the clientele of the room with interest. This was not a seedy part of the city, and from what Entreri could see from his window, there were few unsavory sections in all of Karenstoch. Still, he was surprised at the level of nobility in the room.
Everyone was well dressed and sociable. There were a few loud mouths sitting at the bar, but Cailring's strong arms were always standing at the ready to diffuse any potential situation that could arise. Entreri even saw Cailring making his rounds about the room, talking with everyone he could. The assassin wondered if he was running for public office.
After the meal, Entreri left a nice tip and made his way back up to his room. There was a little blood just outside his door that someone had made a hasty effort to wipe up. Entreri sighed as he cracked his door and slid his dagger along the jam. The trap had been poorly reset, but it did not look like the room had been vandalized to any extent. Everything in the room had belonged to Riechen, and Entreri cared little for any of it.
The next few days Entreri roamed the guild house more openly. Word spread quickly, and everyone avoided him. Few gave him evil stares, though most avoided eye contact all together. On the third floor, Entreri was intrigued to find a good sized practice room were most of the younger members of the guild practiced fighting. He watched the practice sessions several times each day, always amazed at how little skill everyone had.
Entreri realized that because this was not a harsh land they lived in, there was little need for battle readiness. In order to travel abroad back home, one needed to be able to wield a sword well, or you would not make it far. The streets of most cities were just as harsh, if not more. Here, everyone was calm and peaceful.
When Entreri finally realized the full extent of the advantage his skills gave him, he decided it was time to pay Cailring a visit. The guild master had his room on the seventh floor of the building. Entreri noticed two guards playing cards in a room just adjacent to Cailring's. They were doing their best to make Entreri think they did not notice him, but the more they tried, the more obvious it was to the experienced assassin.
Without knocking, Entreri opened the door to Cailring's room and strode in. It was early morning, and the stocky man had just returned from his basement breakfast. With him were the two men Entreri had seen during his first meeting with the guild master. They had been eating with him then, and they had apparently done so again.
Cailring rose dramatically from behind a large desk at the unannounced entry and looked like he was about to call out for the guards. He noticed who his guest was, however, and sat back down. Entreri was a good student of human behavior and realized that no one was usually allowed to enter as he had just done, but Cailring had apparently given his guards specific orders concerning him.
"Please come in," Cailring said graciously. "Have a seat."
The two other men turned to look at him as they sat in front of the desk with their backs to him. Entreri declined a chair and moved to stand between the two seated men. "Let me introduce you to my two lieutenants, Chancy and Untrul."
"You mean your two OTHER lieutenants," Entreri corrected.
The assassin referred to the fact he had pronounced himself as one of Cailring's lieutenants. The guild master recognized this reference immediately. "Of course. What can I do for you?"
"You are holding a guild meeting, and I was not invited."
Cailring looked at the other two men, not sure where he was supposed go with this. "I give out information to those who have proven their loyalty and usefulness. So far you have killed two of my best men and are blackmailing me with my own treasure. So unless you have something valuable to contribute-"
Too fast for any of the men to react, Entreri's right hand disappeared into his open jacket, removed a small gem bag, and tossed it onto the desk. Cailring had started for his weapon but saw that Entreri was not going for his dagger. He also saw that if Entreri had wanted to attack, there would have been little any of the three others could have done about it.
Cailring carefully opened the bag on his desk and gasped at the wealth inside. "That is a taste of what can be yours," Entreri said. "There are a million more portions that size waiting for you. All I ask for is a piece of this." Entreri waived his arms about the room. "I want to know what you do?"
Cailring was finally able to pull his eyes away from the gem bag and regarded Entreri's request. "Very well. This guild deals mostly in unique taxation. It is a tax that very few citizens realize they pay, and they never pay more than they can afford. There is much wealth in this city, and very little of it is spent on anything of value. Right now, I have been informed by Chancy, that one of my enemies has raised the stakes, and we are deciding what should be done about it."
It looked like Cailring was going to leave it at that. "Explain," Entreri prompted.
Cailring looked between his lieutenants. Chancy stood suddenly and walked three quick paces away from Entreri before he spoke, not liking the assassin's proximity above and behind him. "Wallace Kierston owns the lumberyard in the southwest corner of the city. He owns several restaurants and shops in the city as well. He is one of the wealthiest and best-liked men in Karenstoch. He is liked best by those who know him least and vice versa. We know him very well."
Chancy looked for a moment at his boss. Cailring nodded. "Master Cailring's son, Griecen, has his eyes on Kierston's only daughter, and by all accounts, the feeling is mutual."
Cailring spoke up. "I do not care for the girl's father, but I will not stand in front of my son. Kierston on the other hand . . ."
"Griecen came home three nights ago heavily bruised and carrying a message that he was never to lay eyes on Callie, Kierston's daughter, again. Our men responded in fashion, setting a small fire at his lumberyard. It did little real damage, but we let him know we were responsible.
"Last night two of our men did not come home. We got word this morning that they were detained by the city guard and will not be released."
"That," Cailring emphasized by slamming his open palm on the desk, "is an outrage! We have a good deal going with the city guard that profits them very well. Only Kierston has the influence to bring the city guard down on us."
Entreri soaked this information in. It was a little different from most of the feuds he was used to, in as much as neither side had lost lives yet, but the foundation was similar. All fights started over a very small matter and escalated so quickly that the cause for the fight was usually forgotten within days. "And what is your retaliation going to be?"
"We are going to call him out," Untrul, the other lieutenant, said. "We will meet him tomorrow morning and settle this thing once and for all."
"You will kill him?" Entreri asked.
All three men looked at each other before Chancy spoke. "If it comes to that, though we doubt Kierston will want to bring blades into the negotiations. He has little experience in fighting. We will present him with a financial offer that he will be a fool to pass up."
"You plan to buy his daughter from him?" Entreri asked.
Cailring laughed. "We won't phrase it like that, but yes. Do you approve?"
Entreri did not like the tone of the guild master's voice but held his weapons in check. "It is your guild," Entreri said. "Run it how you will."
"Will you come with us tomorrow morning?" Untrul asked.
"Your ace in the hole?" Entreri asked. None of them said anything. "I will be there." Entreri did not wait for a response and left.
* * *
The Kierston Lumber Company was hard at work by noon.
Men with barrel chests and arms as big as the logs they wrestled maneuvered the felled trees with minimal assistance from mules and ropes. The trees were cut down deep in the forest and then dragged to the edge of the clearing where they were stripped. Two men with large hatchets worked the trees, one from each end walking toward each other. They each had two hatchets and whirled them about as they walked along the broad trunks, hacking off each small branch.
Men with much bigger axes then attacked the larger branches, allowing more men to turn the tree a quarter turn so the hatchet men could walk the trunk once more, picking any branches they might have missed. It took less than five minutes for a tree 60 feet in length to be turned into a clean log.
Smaller men then scrambled amongst the brutes, collecting the branches. They would be sold to a peasant farmer for a roof, firewood, or, if the farmer was unlucky, both. The larger branches would be sold as more reliable firewood, or, the straighter pieces, would be cleaned up and sold to a wood craftsman. They would be resurrected into furniture, a fence, or any one of a number of practical items.
The real treasure was the tree trunk. Some were hauled off to a corner of the lumberyard, but most were rolled into the wide river that bordered the lumber facility. These would be floated down the river and sold to several different towns and cities that lived on the water highway further downstream.
However, before any of the trees were moved and after their branches had been stripped, they were beat upon by short poles. Three, sometimes four men, walked the length of the log, pounding on it repeatedly with the two and a half-foot long pounding rods. As they did, the tree unleashed all of its stored wildlife. Ants, termites, tree rodents, and thousands of insects came pouring out of the logs. After they were cleaned in this fashion, they were ready for the river or storage pile.
There were two tree-cleaning units and four tree-dragging teams at work today. Each dragging unit consisted of three men and a team of mules. Deeper in the forest, the real work was being done as the sound of wood chopping and the occasional cry of "Timber," echoed out of the forest.
Entreri watched it from a high perch in a tree across the river, safe from the mighty lumberjacks. Entreri not only watched the work area, he also paid special attention to the collection of small buildings at the entrance to the lumberyard. There was a significant wall that separated the eastern edge of the yard with the western edge of Karenstoch. To the south, a natural cliff stood about 200 feet from the river, giving the woodsmen a large area in which to work. To the west were the woods, and to the north was the river. There was a shoddy fence on the western edge of the yard keeping the woodland creatures out, but it would never keep a determined thief from entering.
It was lunchtime, and the workers took their first break of the day. Entreri noticed that while most of the men stayed in the work area, sitting down on their logs and producing their noon meals from scattered packs, there were three men that left the group and headed to the buildings near the entrance to the yard.
Entreri climbed down his tree and moved secretly into the woods. He found a shaky rope bridge and ran easily across the river. He approached the workers casually, not knowing what their reaction would be to a stranger interrupting their noon break. Entreri purposefully stepped on a twig as he exited the protection of the forest and several men turned to look at him.
A few men reached quickly for their axes or hatchets, but Entreri tried to calm their fears - a task he was not normally good at. "Whoa, please, settle down."
His voice was shaky and had a little fear thrown in it. Most of the men stopped reaching for their tools, but those who had already grabbed them, did not let them go. "Who are you and what do you want?" one of them spoke up.
"A friend. Please, put down you weapons. The last thing I want is a fight. I was wondering about how I could get a job."
All the men were at ease now, and they all dropped their axes. The speaker casually flipped his hatchet once in the air, caught the handle, and buried the head into the log he straddled. "What would you want to work here for?"
"Why does anyone work?" Entreri responded. "For the money."
"My question still stands, stranger."
"Surely the pay here is good," Entreri insisted naively. "I've been watching you guys for the last hour or so. You each do the work of two men."
"And get paid as if we were each a half man," one of the other men spoke up.
Entreri turned back to the main speaker for confirmation. The man nodded. "It's true. There are a dozen professions in the city that offer better wages with much less work."
"Then why do you do it?" Entreri asked.
"Don't think we haven't looked for work elsewhere, but Kierston has put the bug in every merchant and farmer's ear that we are his and no one will offer us a job. He's got a nice little scam going here. We are the best, there is no doubt about that, and I doubt there is a lumber company in all the realms that can match our daily output, and we probably get paid the least."
"You tell him Druane," one of the other men spoke up.
"Why don't you slow down?"
Druane looked hard at Entreri. "We are not thieves," he said sincerely. "Kierston might treat us unfairly, but to return the favor would be wrong. Besides, his foremen ride us too hard."
"The three men who left to go to the company buildings?" Entreri said as much to himself as asking Druane.
"Yes," the lumberjack replied. "Shreik, Lorance, and Porrik are very close to Kierston. He's got one of them with every group. If you've been watching us, you've seen Shreik at work. He walks the trees faster and cleaner than I've ever seen. I swear he does it with his eyes closed, his two hatchets moving so fast and accurately, half the branches that come off do so in fear.
"Lorance works with the draggers. He can push mules to the brink of collapse with his whip. He's killed five mules this year alone simply from working them past their threshold. But he's magic with that whip. He can take a fly off a man's back without either of them knowing about it, the man because he doesn't feel a thing, and the fly because it's dead before it knew it was in danger.
"And then there is Porrik, the only true lumberjack in the group. He is also probably the biggest man in all of Karenstoch. He can chop down a tree so fast, he'll be clean through on a second one before the first hits the ground. For as hard as all three of them push us, they push themselves equally. That doesn't change the fact that they are company, and we are not.
"So, stranger, if you still want a job, you need to go to the main office building, but if you want advice, I say you go to the slaughterhouse and get a good paying job."
"Is there anything that would be able to change your working conditions?" Entreri asked.
"New ownership would be a start. Kierston won't ever sell though. The only way he would give up ownership is if his daughter married some rich noble who could take over. He's got two sons, but they are about as thick headed as the trees we cut down."
Entreri soaked all this in, thanked the men, and left the way he had come.
* * *
Entreri sat on the roof of Cailring's guild house, watching as the stars came out. The night had a cool breeze with a pleasant pine odor. Entreri still was not used to the stars. They did not seem to hang in the sky quite right, but being 15,000 miles from home probably had a lot to do with that.
He was at a crossroads. What he did in the next few hours would define how he planed to function in society. He could walk away from the city tonight and never look back. Entreri knew Cailring had people watching him even now, but they had no idea whom they were watching. If the assassin wanted to be unseen, the thieves would never be able to find him.
This world - for Entreri considered this place to be an entirely different world - functioned far differently from Calimport, or any city along the Sword Coast. Chaos ruled in Entreri's homeland. The races interacted chaotically, the weather was chaotic, the magic was chaotic, and even the law was chaotic.
Here, there was organized crime. There was no magic. There was no racial diversity. While there were social classes, they were not as evident or as problematic. Entreri had two choices: he could change this land, or he could let it change him.
He had been viewed as a master in Calimport, but here he could be a god.
There was a chance the land and people would reject him for who he was. Entreri believed that even Cailring might throw him out if he realized what the assassin was capable of. It was a difficult thing to deal with because back home, Entreri was a prized possession by any guild house that was foolish enough to claim they owned him.
Entreri laughed as he thought of Drizzt. The drow had been rejected because of his skin. People saw what they wanted to and persecuted him. Drizzt had finally donned a mask to hide what he really was so he would be accepted. Would Entreri be forced to wear a mask too? Would he have to hide his dark profession under a veil of civility in order to be accepted?
The comparison to Drizzt was not a good one, for once the people of the Sword Coast learned that the dark elf was not as he seemed, he was not only accepted in the many cities, but often celebrated. Entreri was exactly as he seemed, and the deeper people looked, the more he would be rejected.
Entreri stood and walked to the ledge of the roof, looking down on the rest of the city. "Are you ready for me?" he asked quietly to the streets of Karenstoch. "Are you ready for Artemis Entreri? I might not be able to change you, but you shall definitely not change me."
* * *
"Did you hear that?"
"We're next to a river, you idiot. Of course I heard a splash. There isn't a second that goes by that I don't hear that bloody river, but I've already pissed a gallon tonight, so I'm trying not to think about it."
Alex ignored his partner. "No, Jreck, I mean a weird splash."
Jreck looked at him like he was insane. "No, Alex, I did not hear a 'weird' splash." Jreck pushed away from the log pile he had been leaning against and picked up his lantern. "I'm going to do another sweep of the storage sheds. You just stay here and listen to the river."
Alex watched as Jreck walked off into the night, disappearing as he moved in between the small collection of buildings along the cliff face. Alex's head snapped around as he thought he heard another splash. He stared off into the darkness at the river. It was almost full of logs now, the huge trees held in place by a massive netting of rope that crossed the width of the river.
Alex and Jreck were city guards, and by patrolling Kierston's lumberyard they were breaking several city ordinances. The city guards were supposed to patrol the city, not private property. They were not guards for hire. They were not mercenaries. That is, not unless someone paid them enough. Kierston paid plenty.
Alex had not figured out why anyone would want to rob this place at night, or at all for that matter. It was not like a store where you could pocket the merchandise and walk off with it. Alex stepped away to look at the log piles lined up a dozen feet from the cliff. There were two dozen massive logs staked up in each pile, held in place by two thick ropes per pile.
Another splash. Alex spun around, taking several steps away from the log pile he had been leaning against and toward the river. He looked back and forth as he crept north toward the water. He was scared either an animal was going to come tearing out of the woods or Jreck and the other city guard that was here tonight would catch him leaving his post.
Alex left his lantern back at the woodpile as he made his way across the tree cleaning area. He tried to be as quiet as he could, but the ground was littered with small twigs and leaves. It was not like there was any cover for him to move amongst either. The cleaning area was wide open.
The river's bank was almost fifty feet away when he heard the splash again. He knew he was not making it up now. It sounded like someone was throwing rocks in the river. The starlight kept the night from complete darkness, but with a forest so near, shadows seamed to be everywhere.
Alex tried to pick out a human form somewhere near the edge of the river, but he either saw nothing, or every shadow held a thief ready to spring out and take him. All he was doing was tracking down a splash, but the city guard drew his sword and held it out in front of him to ward off whatever the night might hold for him.
The splashing had come from the western edge of the logjam, up river and the opposite side from where the rope netting was. There was a four-foot drop off to the river at the edge of the cleaning area. Alex stood three feet from the edge, looking down at the river, daring it to make another splash.
Alex was just about to leave, convinced that it had just been a fish, when another splash came right in front of him. The water flew two feet in the air. It happened about five feet from the edge of the floating logs, and was definitely not a fish. Someone or something was throwing rocks into the river.
The guard still could not see anything. He crept right up to the edge of the four-foot ledge and realized that there was a small hollowed out section under his feet. Alex slowly got to his hands and knees and leaned slowly over the edge to look under the lip. Entreri grabbed the stupid guard by his collar and pulled him into the river.
Alex tried to scream, but by the time he realized what was going on, he was already underwater. The current was swift and pulled him toward the stationary logs. Alex's head broke through the surface, but Entreri, armed with a long branch, was there to push him back under.
When Alex tried to break through the surface again, he found the river had a very heavy lid. He was under the logs! Alex panicked, blurting out the little air he had been holding. He desperately tried to swim back upstream, but he wore heavy armor and had little swimming skill. Instead, he tried to focus his energy on the logs above.
Entreri watched as an arm came up from between two of the logs. The guard tried to pull two of the massive trees apart to push his head through, but his strength was quickly failing and even fresh, he probably could not have moved the huge trunks. The arm gave one last spasmodic shove on the unyielding ceiling and then sank slowly back into the water.
Entreri had wondered if he was going to run out of rocks before Alex finally responded to the splashes. The assassin carefully jumped from the bank hollow onto the floating logs. Keeping his balance on the rolling wood was not as difficult as other stunts he had pulled in his life, but having so recently seen what failure would mean, made him extra careful.
The climb up to land was made with an easy leap, and Entreri fell low to the ground as he surveyed the scene. There was a light moving about the buildings to the southeast and another light more directly east. To Alex, the cleaning area had looked like an open field with no cover available, but to Entreri the area was full of hiding spots. There were patches of dark grass against which, the assassin's cloak hid him better than other patches. There were several small areas that were relatively clear of twigs, allowing silent travel. Also, the lights from the city across the river highlighted different areas of the clearing more than others.
Entreri moved quickly across the open field as quietly and as invisibly as the cool night breeze.
Jreck walked back to the woodpile, seeing Alex's lantern, but not Alex. The lantern sat off to the side of the woodpile, and Jreck set his down next to it. He remembered Alex saying something about a noise in the river. Jreck looked off in that direction, wondering if something had happened to him. "Alex," he called out in a harsh whisper. As soon as the call left his lips, he laughed at himself.
What sense does it make to call out in a whisper? Besides, who else was out here to hear him? Despite what common sense tried to tell him, there was a reason he had called out in a whisper. Jreck felt a sense of dread creeping into his body, as if death was waiting for him somewhere in the lumberyard. It seemed foolish. Alex was probably just wandering near the river.
Jreck walked in front of the woodpile, wondering if he should climb it to look around the whole area. Instead, he turned his back on it and looked toward the river, straining to hear the phantom splashes. After a minute of listening, he heard nothing but had gained a sudden urge to pee.
Turning toward the woods to do exactly that, Jreck heard a snap from behind him. His urge left him quickly and he took a step toward the woodpile to identify the sound. Nothing in the pile moved, but Jreck sensed a feeling of terror creep through him. Then he saw it. It was one of the support ropes that held the stack of wood in place. It was cut.
Before Jreck could react to his find, Entreri's dagger cut through the other rope and the stack of logs fell apart. Jreck was standing right in front of it and cried out as the first log rolled over his foot an ankle with a stomach turning crack, ensuring the man would never walk again. That was the least of his worries, for a second later, another log bounced heavily on his head, ensuring he would never breathe again either.
This kill had not been as silent as Entreri had hoped. The logs had made little more than dull thuds as they fell and rolled, but Jreck had been able to cry out before he died. Entreri spotted the third guard long before he spotted the assassin. The guard had his sword drawn and was on the alert.
Entreri stayed perfectly still. The two lanterns had been unharmed in the logslide, and they both stood less than ten feet away from the assassin, but the master of shadows was invisible to the guard until he was right on top of him. Entreri exploded into motion as soon as the guard's eyes found him.
The assassin had only his dagger drawn, and the guard used the split second it took for Entreri to produce his dirk to set up some kind of defense. The city guard thought himself lucky, for he intercepted Entreri's initial flurry of six strikes in half as many seconds.
The guard quickly realized luck had nothing to do with it for as he thrust his weapon out to intercept the next strike, he realized the assassin had just been setting him up. Entreri rotated his dirk at the last second to avoid contact with the larger sword. With suddenly nothing there to support the guard's sword so soon after the initial volley, he was extremely off balance. The doomed man stumbled in the direction of his missed parry, taking a dagger in the side and a fine cut across his gut.
The guard tried to cry out, but in a heartbeat the dagger went from his side to his throat. A few seconds later, the guard's heart no longer beat at all. Entreri wiped his blades on the dead man's clothes and placed them back in their sheaths. He had spent the majority of the night watching these men, and knew there were only three guards. He also knew their routes and that they would soon be missed if anyone in the office buildings was paying attention.
Like a shadow, Entreri moved off toward the equipment sheds.
* * *
"Something is wrong," Shreik said, pulling aside the drapes and looking out a window in one of the smaller office buildings in the lumberyard. The three foremen had come to work early that morning at Kierston's request. They were going to add a little muscle to the meeting with Cailring and his guild. "Jreck should have made a pass through the sheds half an hour ago."
"You think he fell asleep?" Porrik asked.
Shreik scowled at the huge man. "Not everyone is as stupid as you."
Porrik growled at the comment and took a menacing step toward the smaller man. Shriek just casually dropped his hands to the pommels of his twin swords. Porrik paused. He had seen Shreik wield his two hatchets during the day, and knew the man was no less accurate with his short swords.
"Shriek is right," Lorance said, stepping into the argument. "Something is wrong."
Porrik looked back and forth between the two men, yielding to their assessment of the situation. "Okay, what do you want to do about it?"
The three walked out of the small building and made the short trip to the main offices. Kierston had the main offices set up much like his home in the central part of the city. He rarely visited that home, spending most of his time out here.
It was still dark outside, but dawn was less than an hour away, and there was activity inside the house. Kierston, his two sons, and his daughter all sat around the main table, sipping tea and discussing the meeting they were going to have with Cailring and his men.
Kierston had told no one but his foremen about the hiring of the city guards, and few outside of the lumber company even knew about the foremen. Cailring and his gang of petty thieves were going to walk into this meeting thinking they had the advantage, but with six sure fighters and his two sons, Kierston would not be an easy man to bargain with. The rich man fully expected the meeting to end in blood, and he had given his men specific instructions that if only one person felt steel, it was to be Cailring's thieving son who was chasing his daughter.
Kierston looked up as his three foremen entered the large room. He knew something was wrong immediately. "Sir," Shreik said, "there is no sign of the guards. They are long overdue on their routes."
Kierston rose from the table and walked over to his men. "You and Lorance check it out. Porrik, you stay here. If the guards have skipped out on me, Lionel Cairon will here it from me," Kierston said, dropping the name of the chief of the city guards. "I paid him good money for those men."
"And if they didn't skip out?" Lorance asked, his fingers playing with the whip hanging on his belt.
"I sincerely doubt anyone could have disposed of all three guards without raising the alarm, but if Cailring is playing some kind of trick here, I won't play along. Dispense with whatever you find. I trust your judgment."
The two foremen left, and Kierston turned back to the table where his family sat. "Dad," Callie, his daughter, said, "you need to be more diplomatic. You can't just beat up everyone that doesn't agree with you. There are better ways to handle these kinds of situations."
"You heard the report," he replied. "I am either being attacked or betrayed. Yet you want me to roll with the punches and talk peace."
"You are receiving nothing that you didn't bring upon yourself."
"Bite your tongue, daughter, or I'll find someone to bite it for you!"
Kierston's two stupid sons laughed at the rebuke and received a sharp rap on their heads for it. "You two shut up also. If we are going to get into a fight, you should get ready."
The two young men nodded and left the table to get their weapons.
Outside, Shriek and Lorance crept slowly up to the equipment shed. This is where one of the guards was supposed to be stationed all the time. Another one was positioned at the log piles, while the third one roamed between the two.
"Something is not right," Lorance said, stopping and sniffing at the air. "Someone is here."
From where he hid inside the shed, Entreri could see that he would not be able to remove these men in the same fashion he took out the careless guards. Any simple trap he tried would likely back fire. Without a sound, he stepped into the center of the shed, in plain view of the two men.
"You have made a bad choice this night," Shreik said, snapping out his twin swords in front of him. "And it will be your last."
Shreik walked toward him quickly, but Entreri's focus was on the other man, Lorance, if his memory served him. The assassin had fought against very few people who used a whip and had heard many great tales about their extreme usefulness in battle. Entreri engaged Shreik's blades in a half-hearted defensive stance, keeping the corner of his eye on Lorance.
Entreri suddenly rolled to his side, a snapping sound filling the spot where his head had just been. Shreik paused only briefly at the missed whip attack, but Entreri knew he had just come very close to losing an ear. The assassin also knew he would not be able to fight both men at once if Lorance stayed on the outside. He was using a black whip at night. It had only been pure instinct that had told Entreri to roll out of the way when he did.
Entreri jumped up from his roll, and executed a furious attack routine against Shreik. The swordsman had never seen anything like it and backpedaled desperately, barely catching every other attack with one of his blades. With his opponent off balance, Entreri pulled his eyes away from the attack to find Lorance and ducked just in time to keep his left eye.
The whip snapped above his head, and Entreri was able to move Shreik between him and Lorance. The assassin now watched the whip master over the other foreman's shoulder as he easily parried his blades. Entreri had seen Shreik at work during the day and knew he was an expert, but the branches he hacked off never moved and never blocked. Entreri did both better than almost anyone alive.
Shreik launched a double strike, one sword high, the other low. He then reversed their direction after Entreri had deftly leaped back, and brought them together like a giant pair of scissors. Entreri glanced quickly at the ceiling, adjusted his feet, and swung his dirk into the center of the "V" attack. With both of Shreik's blades engaged with one of Entreri's, the assassin brought his free dagger around the blades, aimed at the foreman's exposed side.
Lorance's whip snapped out viciously at the exposed dagger, ripping it from Entreri's grasp. Entreri was not phased and pushed his dirk up high, forcing Shreik's arms up also. He kicked the foreman hard in the gut, and the larger man fell back.
Entreri spun around to face Lorance and saw that his dagger was lying halfway between him and the whip master - right where he had planned it. "I whip donkeys all day," Lorance said, rearing his weapon back for another strike, "and you are no different."
Entreri had heard a lot of stories on how effective a whip was at long distance attacks, and they all said the only way to defeat one was to get inside its range. Entreri rolled forward as the whip snapped above his head. He came out of the roll and reached up to grab the whip before it retracted.
Lorance was startled at how easily Entreri had avoided his attack and did not pull the whip back in time. Neither did he let go of his end when Entreri grabbed the middle of the weapon and tugged hard. Lorance took several clumsy steps toward the assassin under the force of the hard tug and impaled himself on Entreri's waiting dirk. "I am no ass," Entreri said into Lorance's ear before he shoved his body back.
Entreri's dirk stayed in the man's chest, for it was too deep to remove without extra effort. Shreik had scrambled back to his feet and saw that his enemy no longer had a weapon. Entreri had rolled to where his dagger had fallen. He knew exactly where Shreik was, picked up his dagger, and flung it toward the man as he turned.
Shreik saw the move coming in time and stopped his charge as he dodged. The dagger flew over his left shoulder and thudded into the wall behind him. "You missed," Shreik said, not knowing that the dagger had cut cleanly through a support rope when it had struck the wall.
Entreri did not say anything and just glanced upward. Shreik's eyes went upward also and watched in horror as the huge tree felling axe Entreri had rigged earlier swung down from the ceiling, blew through his pathetic parrying attempts, and sunk its blade deep into Shreik's chest. The big man was lifted from the ground by the force of the blow, the blade of the huge axe protruding from his back. The deadly pendulum swung back and forth with its victim still attached while Entreri retrieved his sword and dagger.
Before leaving the equipment shed, Entreri picked up two of the pounding rods he had seen the yard workers use the day before to rid the trees of insects. Entreri cleaned his two blades on Shreik's swinging corpse and sheathed them. He stuck the two pounding rods into the back of his waistline under his cloak, and he made his way to the lumberyard's main office.
* * *
Kierston looked nervously out the window. Lorance and Shreik should have been back by now.
"I hope your thugs haven't met an unfortunate end, father," Callie said from the table. Her two brothers and Porrik stood behind Kierston and threw the girl an evil look.
Her father did not bother to turn around. "I don't know what you have against them, dear. They are both fine men, and either one would make a good husband."
"Actually, dead men make very bad husbands."
Everyone in the room turned around at the new voice and saw Entreri standing there. "Who are you?" Kierston asked.
"I am all your nightmares come to life."
"Porrik . . ." the old man started, but the huge brute had already drawn his incredible broadsword. The man kept it strapped to his back, and Entreri quickly realized if he had worn it any lower on his body, it would drag on the floor. Despite the sword's incredible size, Porrik swung it about his body as if it weighed no more than Lorance's whip.
Entreri had struggled mightily under the weight of huge axe in the equipment shed when he had rigged the trap that had taken out Shreik, yet this man swung one of those axes for hours every day. The huge sword swept back and forth in front of the giant as he stalked the much smaller assassin.
The swipes had no discernible pattern, and were very basic in their structure, but Entreri knew if he tried to parry one of them, his weapon, if not his entire arm, would be ripped away from him. Instead of fighting him straight up, Entreri circled the room, staying just out of reach of the big man until he tried to work out a plan.
After a few seconds of cat and mouse, the assassin found himself in a corner. Kierston saw the look of terror on the stranger's face and looked on with glee as Porrik swung a tremendous strike aimed at Entreri's waist. The blow was too low to duck, too high to jump over, and there was no room to backpedal. Entreri was not worried. He leaped up a short ways, placing his left foot on one of the walls in the corner. He pushed off and kicked his right foot against the other wall, throwing himself much higher than Porrik had ever guessed possible.
The huge man tried to follow the elusive assassin as the smaller man flew passed his shoulder, delivering a vicious strike to the brute's arm as he did. Porrik shrugged off the blow and brought his weapon over his shoulder as he turned, preparing to cleave the assassin from top to bottom.
Entreri was already rolling out of the way as he landed, taking time to slash out at the big man's calf as he did. He did not roll far from Porrik, though, and sprang up from the floor standing right next to the giant. Like the whip, the huge sword was most effective when the opponent was farther away. Unlike the whip, the sword could still parry at close range.
Entreri was amazed at how quickly Porrik could move the big weapon, deflecting well over fifty percent of Entreri's attacks. The rest found their mark, though, slashing and cutting into the big man until his tunic was more red than gray. Entreri pricked him especially hard with one attack, and the huge man kicked out with his foot to drive the little man back.
Entreri complied and leaped back four feet. Porrik was finally able to swing his mighty weapon again, but with has many hits as he had taken, the attack was much slower than before. Entreri waited patiently for it to pass in front of him and then leaped back inside it. Porrik tried to bring the hilt of the weapon back in time to deflect Entreri's attack, but was too late.
The jeweled dagger slid firmly in between Porrik's ribs, but the big man was not finished yet. Though the hilt of his weapon had not been in time to block the blow, it was still coming in from the left, forcing Entreri to step to the right. As he did, he drove his dirk deep into the giant's side and stepped back.
Porrik stood for a brief moment, both weapons still stuck into him, and it looked like he might be able to swing his weapon one more time, but the dagger was stealing his life energy and his strength. Entreri stepped in quickly again as the big man fell, removing his dagger before it was buried under Porrik's tremendous bulk. He stepped back away just in time to avoid the man's collapse.
Entreri stowed his dagger inside his jacket, and reached behind his back to pull out the pounding rods. As he expected, the two brothers came at him with their swords drawn. They both swung at once against the assassin, and Entreri deflected each blow smoothly, dedicating one rod to each brother. He rolled his blocking rods over their blades, and poked them each hard in the face.
Entreri hit the eye of one brother, and gave a bloody nose to the other. Entreri had stepped right between them, and turned to meet their next charge. Both were too stunned and inexperienced to press their attack, and Entreri did not waste time. He was on them in a second poking and pounding on them repeatedly.
The brothers were at lest two moves behind the assassin as they tried to catch up to the lightening strikes. Their blades never came close to the rods, nor did they come close to Entreri. Instead, Entreri covered the brothers with bruises, doing no lasting damage, but inflicting plenty of pain.
The two sons realized they were being played with and did not like it. They stopped trying to block the attacks, for they knew they never could, and initiated their own. Entreri took a step back at the change of strategy and snapped his rods out wide, blocking the weapons below the hilts. In doing so, he smashed their fingers, and both swords clattered to the floor.
Entreri stepped back forward, both rods jabbing ahead three feet apart. The jabs sunk deep into the brothers' guts, stealing their breath and doubling them over. Entreri stood quickly after his mid attack, snapping his weapons up this time into the boys' descending chins.
The brothers stood erect at this attack, dazed and in pain. Entreri dropped to a crouch and swept their legs out from under them. They fell hard, still without breath and with their heads spinning.
One of the brothers tried to rise, but Entreri cracked him in the head as he stepped past him, sending the boy into unconsciousness. The other son wisely stayed down. Entreri walked toward Kierston quickly. Through the corner of his eye, he could see Kierston's daughter smiling at the spectacle.
The old man thought about drawing the small dagger he kept on him, but Entreri shook his head. "Please, make this easy on yourself. I do not want to kill any of your family out of respect for my employer."
"Yes," Entreri said, walking right up to the older man. "It seems his son is in love with your daughter, and if I killed you or your pathetic sons, that might put a damper on the wedding, don't you think?"
Kierston was aghast that Cailring had been able to employ someone as skilled as the man who stood before him. Frankly, he was even more surprised that such a man even existed. "Now," Entreri said slowly, "Cailring will be here in less than an hour. I believe we have a lot to talk about." As he spoke, Entreri pulled out his dagger. "I hope you will be able to live with my proposal."
* * *
Cailring arrived at the gate to the Kierston Lumberyard at the appointed time, shortly after dawn. Chancy, Untrul, his son, and two more heavily armed members of the guild accompanied him. Cailring was very disappointed when Entreri had not shown up as he had promised. Both his lieutenants had expressed their dislike of the man, and one of them had snuck into his room last night with the intent of ending his stay with the guild, but the assassin had not been home. In fact, no one had seen the man since the previous night.
Cailring was also perturbed that Kierston had not shown up yet. He was just about to suggest that they enter the lumberyard when Kierston finally walked through the gate, followed closely by Entreri.
"Artemis!" Cailring was too shocked to use his nickname for the man. "What are you doing?"
"I have taken the liberties of doing a little negotiating with our friend here," Entreri replied. "It turns out he is very cooperative."
"How dare you proceeded in the guild's name!" Untrul shouted. "Why you ar-"
"Shut up, will you!" Entreri bit back. "Will you let me tell you what we've worked out before you criticize my methods. Kierston has agreed to sell you his entire logging company under one condition: your son must marry his daughter as soon as possible, and the two will run the company together."
Cailring could not say anything. He just stared dumbfounded. He did not know if he should laugh at the preposterous claim or not, but with the way Kierston was hanging his head in shame, Cailring almost believed it.
"I figure this way everyone is happy," Entreri continued. "Your son gets what he wants. Kierston's daughter gets what she wants. You increase the guild's holdings by an extraordinary amount. Kierston keeps the company in his family, and yet retains a very substantial payment."
"And what was the price you agreed on?" Cailring asked, seeing the catch. There was no way his guild had enough money on hand to pay off Kierston.
"I've taken care of it," Entreri smiled.
"With your own money?" Cailring asked, but then remembered the obvious.
"Not exactly," Entreri said. "It was quite a hefty sum. I'm sure Kierston here will be busy the rest of the week counting it."
Cailring was immediately furious that Entreri was so flamboyantly giving away his treasure to his worst enemy, but then he stepped back and really looked at the situation. From Riechen's report, there was enough gold in this mysterious treasure cavern to supply several kingdoms for hundreds of years. Though he was sure Entreri had dipped liberally into it to pay off Kierston, he doubted the difference would even be measurable as a percentage of the whole.
Then he looked at what he had gained. Everyone in the city knew that almost all of Kierston's wealth came from this lumberyard, and now it was his. Plus his son would be able to marry a noble daughter, raising his own name even more than it was.
Cailring slowly nodded. "What about his men? Will they willingly accept a new owner?"
"I'm afraid you'll have to hire a few new men." Entreri explained. "Kierston's foremen suffered a few accidents tonight."
Cailring nodded, missing nothing. He would definitely have to have a long talk with this Artemis fellow before he killed everyone else in town.
* * *
The next few days were busy ones. Cailring promoted a few of the lumberjacks to foremen and, under advisement, increased everyone's pay by 25 percent. The result was a much more dedicated work force that produced one of the best river shipments on record.
The wedding went smoothly. The local temple was distinctly divided down the center aisle with Cailring's people on one side and Kierston's on the other. The banquet afterwards took place at the lumberyard and it was the last time Kierston or either of his two sons would ever stand on the property.
The social promotion was good also. Cailring had mixed with the upper class before, but had always done so as the head of the thieving guild. Now he did so as the father of a legitimate businessman. Though Griecen, his son, officially owned the logging company, Cailring really ran it, and everyone knew it.
There was one problem, or more accurately, six problems: the bodies. Five of them were found the day of the ownership transfer, the sixth one a few days later, tangled in the rope netting in the river.
The dead foremen were not mourned, but they were examined. Porrik had so many cuts and stab wounds covering his body that most of Cailring's people bet he would have died even if Entreri had stopped his beating of the man halfway through. They figured the only thing that had kept the big man fighting through the beating was pure adrenaline.
The other two men had only one mark on them. Granted, in both cases, the killing wound was very traumatic and gruesome, but there was only one. They had been killed with efficiency.
Porrik had been a huge man, known for the way he pummeled not only trees, but anyone who riled him while drunk. Entreri had killed him in like fashion, beating him to within an inch of his life, and then pushing him a foot further. Shreik and Lorance had been polar opposites, cool and calculating. Entreri had treated them as such. The assassin had beat each man at his own game and had done so without obtaining one scratch.
While no one mourned the city guards either, Cailring and his people were worried. One had drowned while another had been crushed beneath a pile of logs. Both of these could be passed off as accidents, leaving the city to explain why they had men on patrol inside Kierston's Lumberyard.
The only thing keeping the guild from making that accusation was the fact that the third guard had his throat cut open, with two other obvious blade wounds. The city guards knew what had happened and the guild knew what had happened, but neither could levy charges against the other because they were both dirty.
Cailring knew the city guard would come for answers eventually. Three of their men were missing, and while Lionel Cairon, the chief of the city guards, had been the one to accept the bribe and assign the men, he would soon come to his senses and say that they had been acting on their own. Killing a city guard, regardless of the man's activity during his death was a capital offense.
Cailring was scared. Cailring had no problem offering the city guards Entreri as the murderer, but it was not the guards he was scared of. Cailring knocked on the door to Entreri's room once and entered. The killer was sitting in a chair juggling five diamonds each worth about two months pay for one of his men.
"Please come in," Entreri said, rising from his chair and bowing slightly, never stopping his juggling act. "It helps tune your muscles and your mind," Entreri said, "the juggling does. It allows you to act reflexively while both your mind and body remain in control."
Entreri fired all five diamonds towards his bed. They landed in a small pile at the foot of it, less than three feet from where Cailring stood. "Go ahead," Entreri said, gesturing to the diamonds, "their yours."
"The city is talking."
"Let them talk. What do they know?"
"They know enough," Cailring said sharply. "They know that my ownership of the lumberyard, while legal in all respects, did not come about through 'normal' negotiations. They know that three of their guards died that night, and they are holding me responsible."
"The guards put themselves in harm's way," Entreri replied. "They had no right to be there."
"That's not how the city sees it. Sure, they know the guards should not have been there, but that does not change the fact that even though they were illegal, they were still city guards, and you killed them."
"No one knows I exist."
"And that only makes it harder for me," Cailring said. "No one knows about the foremen except the Kierstons and a few of the lumberjacks, but that won't last. When that comes out, people will know that the night before we took control of the lumber yard, six fighting men died. No one will be believe me when I tell them it was the actions of one of my men who acted without my knowledge. One man can't take down six, especially six trained fighters.
"Instead of your actions being seen for what they were, people will say that I orchestrated a violent take over plan involving half my guild. Oh, the stories will grow, have no doubt. And when they do, my credibility will disappear and all my enemies will make accusations against me that will be believed. I will be ruined."
"What do you want me to do?" Entreri asked.
"Don't kill anyone else!" Cailring said firmly. "You are too violent. There are other ways to do business in this city. Our only hope is that Borrel and Torrin, the two brothers you beat up tell the story how it happened. They are known for their bar talk, though rarely are they believed."
Cailring picked up one of the diamonds from the bed and looked at it closely. "I need you to stay low and keep out of sight. Until this all blows over. I will figure a way out."
"If the guards come to you, will you give me up to them?"
Cailring looked at Entreri, knowing there was only one correct answer. He wisely stayed silent.
"If you do," Entreri said quietly, "you will do so at the cost of your own life."
It was a threat Cailring really should have responded to. No one should be allowed to talk to the guild master like that. Cailring did not reply for he knew it was not really a threat. It was reality.
* * *
That night, Entreri sat in the tavern, the cowl on his cloak pulled over his head. This was not Cailring's tavern, or one of Kierston's, but Entreri did not want to make his face a familiar one anywhere. He sat at a table in the corner of the tavern, watching the bar intently. A man sat there, drinking heavily. The man was young but big. He wore nice clothes, and his face was covered with bruises. His name was Borrel Kierston.
Entreri had followed him here, wishing to know exactly how much this man talked about what had happened. Entreri was too far away in the crowded, noisy tavern to hear what the man said, but he could read lips and body gestures well enough to know what was going on. The bartender was insisting on some sort of payment before he would give Borrel his next drink.
"I think ye've had enough," the barkeep said, "though even if you were to continue, I'd like to see some coin first."
Borrel was beyond drunk. He held up his hand to stop the bartender, even though the man had already finished his speech. "Say no more, say no more, good man. I understand." Keeping his one hand up, he reached into a pocket. The man's face went through a variety of expressions as his clumsy fingers examined each item in his apparently vast pocket.
Suddenly Borrel's eyes lit up as his fingers settled on something of interest. He yanked the item out of his pocket and held it before the bartender. "Will this do?"
Entreri took one look at the item, cursed, and got up from his table.
The bartender's jaw dropped open at the sight of the black sapphire gem. The older man's eyes seemed to loose themselves in the sparkle of the precious stone. It was worth about a year's worth of drinks, though the way Borrel consumed alcohol, maybe only a month's worth.
Before Entreri could get to the stupid Kierston boy, someone else beat him to it. A strong hand clamped onto Borrel's wrist. "That's a very interesting stone, boy. Mind telling me where you got it?"
Entreri slowed his approach to the bar, taking stock of this new participant. It was a woman. Her hands were not delicate, nor were her features. Her eyes were hard and her jaw firm. She used her hands to make a living and was not embarrassed of the fact.
"I said," she repeated, twisting the arm holding the sapphire so it was between her and Borrel, "where did you get this?"
"Excuse me," Entreri said, matching the woman's tone, "is something a matter here?"
"Nothing that involves you, stranger," she said without looking at Entreri. "I have business with Kierston here."
"So do I," Entreri said, slapping down a dozen coins on the bar to pay for whatever Borrel had drank with a nice tip left over. "He has had too much to drink, and I am going to take him home."
Borrel was in a daze, his eyes shifting from his gem to the woman who held his wrist in a grip he could not quite comprehend. He still had not recognized Entreri's presence behind him.
The woman looked away from Borrel and his gem for the first time to regard Entreri. "We really must be going," Entreri told her. "Perhaps you can continue this conversation later. Maybe when Kierston here is more sober."
"Maybe I should be talking to you then," she said, finally releasing Borrel's arm. The young man held his arm in the same position, trapped by the glitter of his own gem. "Maybe I should be asking you why you are so protective of where our young friend found this gem?"
"Why should you care where he found it?" Entreri asked, looking around the bar with his eyes. They were attracting a bit of attention.
"Probably because I belong to Karenstoch's Prospectors Guild, and if I find out that Kierston or his sons have been doing unsanctioned mining in the mountains, or have stolen from my guild, there will be serious repercussions."
A prospectors guild? Entreri did not know if this was a good chance to smear Kierston's name or if he should collect the young man and usher him outside. He did not get a chance to decide.
"No, no mine," Borrel was talking again, if you could call his drunken mumblings talking. "We didn't mine this. It was given to us." Entreri was desperately tugging on the man now, but the woman held him back. "Yes, it was given to us. As payment, yes, that was it."
Borrel's mind was working overtime to come up with the answer he was searching for. Entreri was working twice as hard to tug the big man away, but his limp body and the strong arm of the prospector held him back. Entreri would normally have no problem getting Borrel out of the bar, but in order to do so, he would have to cause the woman bodily harm. In Calimport most women needed a good beating, and it was often encouraged. Here, Entreri thought a few people might object to it.
"Cailring!" Borrel finally said a little too loudly. "Cailring paid this to us."
"It's time to go, son," Entreri said, yanking hard on the man. He stumbled away from the bar under Entreri's strength.
The woman let go of him. "That's it, isn't it? You don't work for Kierston. You work for Cailring. He's been stealing gems from our mountains."
"Hey," Borrel complained, picking himself off the floor. "Watch it bud-" the young man froze as he locked eyes with Entreri. The man became instantly sober and dropped the gem in shock.
The prospector wasted no time with this new encounter, but deftly swept up the dropped item and slinked out of the bar. Entreri wished to do the same but found himself suddenly surrounded by a crowd of people.
"It was you!" Borrel shouted. "You are the one! You killed them all!"
"What's going on here?" a voice from the crowd asked.
Entreri turned to see a soldier step into the small circle around the two men at the bar. Entreri cursed silently when he saw the crest of the city guard on the man's vest. "Nothing officer," Entreri said calmly. "This man has had too much to drink and is turning wild. If you will let me take him outside we ca-" Entreri reached for Borrel's arm but the young man retreated violently.
"No! Get away from me! You are the devil! You killed them all!"
"Speak some sense boy!" the guard interrupted Borrel's string of shouts.
"That night in the lumberyard," Borrel started, and Entreri knew the game was up, "that night he killed all the men."
"What men?" the guard insisted, and Entreri could see three more city guards working their way through the crowd. The guards knew what men. They knew they had lost three men in the lumberyard; they just wanted Borrel to say it.
"He killed the foremen, and he killed the guards, and he-"
That was all he needed to say. He did not even need to say which guards. The city guards needed a scapegoat for their dead men, and now they had one. The main guard turned to extract a confession from Entreri, but the assassin was already on the move.
There was no way Entreri would be able to leave through the crowd without killing an awful lot of them, so instead he stepped up on a barstool and vaulted over the bar. He smashed a few drinks in his leap, but he had a clear path to the back door. He pushed through the double doors and found himself in a poorly lit stock room.
Behind him, Entreri could hear the noise of a pursuit being organized. He ran through the well-stocked shelves, pulling them down behind him to clutter anyone's path who gave direct chase. It took him a moment to find the door to the back alley, and Entreri had a few worries there would not be one. There was, and he burst through it.
He looked down the alley quickly. One end was closed off, while the other was filling with city guards. Entreri ran toward the dead end, weaving as he did. He saw one and then two crossbow bolts skip off the wall in front of him. He ran right into the corner and performed the same move he had done when fighting Porrik.
Entreri planted one foot one the tavern's back wall, leaped up, and pushed off the wall that closed in the alley with the other foot. The maneuver brought him eight feet into air, and he grabbed onto a window ledge on the second floor of the tavern. Without slowing, he heaved himself up and led with his head as he broke through the window.
Entreri somersaulted through the window and landed in a bed that was already occupied. The couple had been vigorously involved in something before the assassin's dramatic entrance, and even though he showered their insufficiently clothed bodies with broken glass and rolled on top of them, he did little to slow their pace.
Entreri rolled off the bed and into a run, opening the door in front of him without bothering to turn the knob. He ran down the hall, ignoring the varied activities and sounds that came from the rooms on either side of him. The steps at the end of the hall went up and down. Entreri went up.
He did not stop until he reached the eighth, and top, floor. This part of the building was furnished with private apartments, but privacy did not concern the assassin. He burst through the first door he came to. If he remembered correctly, the adjacent building was one story shorter.
Entreri paid little mind to the old lady that yelled at him as he ran through her living room and leaped through her window. Entreri pushed off hard on the windowsill and easily cleared the ten-foot gap between buildings. He landed as light as a cat on the graveled top of the other building.
Entreri took a moment to get his bearings. The skyline of this city varied dramatically in most parts, but this area was near the river where the buildings began to decrease in size and turned into houses. Entreri looked about to try and figure out which way he should run when he heard a shout from behind him. He spun about and saw two guards standing at the window he had just leaped from.
Entreri did not have time to make a choice and just ran. The next building in line was the same height and Entreri leaped for it without thinking. He barely caught the ledge of the roof with his fingertips. He hoisted himself up and continued to run.
Behind him he could hear the two guards yelling out street names and buildings that Entreri did not recognize. He did not recognize the names, but he understood the intent. They were herding him.
As he came to the next ledge his choices were clear. There were two buildings to which he could leap. One was the same height, while the other one was three stories lower, an impossible jump. Entreri knew which route they wanted him to take. Instead, he took off his cloak and tossed it off the building.
"Let them think I can't jump," he said to himself and then turned toward the shorter building.
When Entreri had worked with the dark elves of Menzoberranzon, they had given him a magical cape that was capable of flight. He no longer had that cape, and although his current cape was not magical, it had a very practical use.
Entreri leaped off the building, seven stories in the air, reaching back and grabbing the corners of his cape. The black cape snapped tight against the wind and slowed his descent somewhat. He landed on the rooftop, three stories below, in a controlled roll.
The assassin got up slowly, worried that he might have just sprained his ankle. He tested it and decided it was only slightly twisted. He stood up and could hear the river plainly now. He ran to the next and last building in line, jumping the small gap with little difficulty. There was open air before him now, but Entreri raced to the edge of the building and threw himself off. He grabbed onto his cape again, gliding though the night air over the short docks and then plunged into the river.
* * *
Entreri entered the lumberyard though the forest, trusting that the gates were guarded by now. He had stolen another black cloak after immerging from the river and used it to slink across the log cleaning area. He made his way to the equipment shed right away. His time in this city was quickly nearing its end. He always carried his weapons and the dragon tooth cylinder with him, but he was going to need a few more supplies if he was going to hit the road.
He was busy getting what he needed, when he heard a sound behind him. It was the click of a crossbow bolt being locked into place. Entreri dropped the rope he had been coiling and turned around slowly. Cailring stood there with four other men; two of them had crossbows trained on him.
"The city guard is at my gate demanding that I hand you over to them," Cailring said.
"Tell them I'm not here, and you don't know where I am," Entreri replied.
"Why don't you go tell them yourself," Cailring said. "Drop your weapons and turn around."
Entreri leveled a gaze at Cailring that made the big man very nervous. "Remember what I said would happen if you turned me in?"
"Drop your weapons and turn around!"
Entreri slowly drew his sword, dropped it on the floor, and turned around.
"Your fancy dagger too!"
Entreri sighed. He had more than one dagger on him. With his back still turned to the five men behind him. He took a dagger from inside his shirt and balanced it carefully on his shoulder under his new cloak. In the same motion, he pulled his jeweled dagger and dropped it on the floor.
"Put your hands behind your back."
Entreri did as he was told and looked at the floor where an approaching shadow told him a thief with a piece of rope was walking towards him. Entreri waited until the man was right on top of him and casually shrugged his shoulders. The dagger that he had balanced on his shoulder fell off, traveled down the long sleeve of his cloak, and into his waiting hand.
The thief that was preparing to tie the assassin was shocked when a dagger magically appeared in Entreri's hand. He had no time to react as Entreri struck blindly backwards, slicing the man through the gut. He spun around as soon as his blade struck flesh, pulling the weapon out as he did.
Both crossbowmen fired instinctively, hitting the already wounded thief in the back. Entreri spun the dying man and shoved him in the direction of one of the crossbowmen. The targeted crossbowman had already begun to fumble with another bolt, and discharged it prematurely into the bulk of the man that tackled him a second later.
Entreri fired his secondary dagger at the other crossbowman. He too was working on another bolt, but receiving a dagger in the throat hampered him more than a little. The fourth thief charged the unarmed assassin. Entreri is never unarmed.
The thief swung his long sword at Entreri in a very wide sweep. Entreri swiftly stepped forward inside the sweep, deflecting the swipe with a chop to one arm while delivering a punch to man's face with his other hand. The man stumbled and Entreri brought a knee up into groin. The thief doubled over now, his sword arm going limp. Entreri delivered a right and left to the man's vulnerable jaw, and he fell like a sack of grain, out cold.
The first crossbowman had recovered from the first victim's flying tackle, but his crossbow was broken. Instead he grabbed a sword from the dead man and, against better judgment, charged Entreri.
The assassin stooped to pick up his weapons and met the man's charge. The thief struck high and fast, trying to chop off Entreri's head. The two swords clashed back and forth rapidly high in the air for several moments before the thief jumped back. He smiled at being able to fend off the deadly man in the initial sequence and then fell over dead, an ugly red stain growing quickly on his vest. The thief had been so preoccupied with his attack, he had forgotten Entreri used two weapons and had not even felt it when the jeweled dagger did its dirty work.
The man Entreri had knocked down with his fists stirred at his feet, and the assassin drove his dirk down aggressively into the back of his neck. He did not even bother to wipe off his blades as he walked away from the scene, his eyes never leaving Cailring. Other than their first meeting, the guild master had never seen Entreri fight. Truly this man was the devil.
Entreri feasted off the fear he saw in Cailring's eyes. "You remember what I said?" Entreri asked. Cailring was too frightened to even nod, his whole body quivering in terror. "I've changed my mind. I'm going to let you live knowing that if you would have accepted me, you could have been the greatest man in this entire city. I want you to know that you made the first move against me. I'm going to let you live with the knowledge that somewhere in the mountain range to the northwest is a cavern containing a dead dragon and his hoard of treasure. You will never find it."
Entreri walked right past the stunned man. Without turning around he said, "Oh, and I wouldn't spend the little trinkets I've given you so far too openly. I believe the prospectors guild is on to you."
The yard wall was not meant to be climbed, but Entreri had no intention of using the gate with the hoard of city guards waiting for him. He scaled the wall and slipped silently back into the city. Entreri found it much easier to move through dark streets when he knew no one was magically searching him out.
Against rational thought, Entreri crept through the streets back to the thieving guild's main headquarters. The city guards had this building staked out as well, but Entreri found his way into the building with little trouble and totally undetected. His room was also guarded, but the room above it was not and Entreri purposefully left his window unlocked.
Once inside his room, Entreri quickly opened his dragon tooth portal and shoved several of Riechen's history and geography books into the distant cavern. Entreri grinned, as he was fully becoming aware of the incredible gift LaValle had given him.
Entreri was back on the streets of the city within minutes. He needed to leave town, but before he did, there was one small piece of business he needed to attend to.
* * *
"Sir," the city guard saluted before his chief, "we tracked the killer to the Cailring Lumberyard, but . . ."
Lionel Cairon, the chief of the city guards knew what the man was going to say and cut him off as he stood up from his desk and walked to a window in the main guardhouse. He looked out onto the dark streets five stories below.
"Sir?" the guard still stood at attention behind him.
"Do you know where he is?" Cairon asked without turning around.
The man shook his head, but the chief did not need to turn around to get his answer. "He killed four more of Cailring's men," the man explained. The chief did turn around at this. Hadn't the man been a member of the thieving guild? What kind of animal turns on his own guild members? "We found Cailring lying on the ground in front of his equipment shed where the other four had been killed. He seemed uninjured, but he was shaken badly. He swore he had seen the devil."
"The devil," Cairon scoffed under his breath. "He is only one man. Find him."
"He might be planning to leave the city," the guard dared to hope.
"Then you better order a perimeter around the city. I want him caught!"
"Yes, sir." The guard turned and left, leaving the chief alone in the office.
"Only one man," he muttered under his breath. He moved to the side of the room where a pot of coffee sat. He poured himself a cup and moved toward his private quarters in the back of the office. "They can't catch one man," he continued to mumble.
Though he mocked his men's effort, inwardly he wondered what type of man could best four of Cailring's men at once. Where had Cailring been hiding him all this time? There were a lot of unanswered questions.
The chief entered his room and moved to light the lamp. "You better hope he hasn't left the city yet."
"Don't worry, I haven't."
Cairon reacted on instinct, hurling his hot cup of coffee at the voice even before he turned. The mug shattered against the wall. Cairon reached for the sword that hung on the wall over his bed and turned to look at the rest of the room. It was dark, and the wind blew in from both windows of this corner room.
There was a flutter of motion to the left, but when he turned to investigate, only the curtains moved. The door slammed suddenly, but again there was nothing there when he looked a second later. Another flutter of cloth came from behind him, but knowing where the second window in the room was, he did not turn. Cold steel nestled sharply against his throat.
"You should've turned this time."
Cairon tried to bring his sword up, but he felt suddenly weak, and his sword clattered to the floor. The dagger pressed firmly against his neck, barely scratching him, but stealing his life force none the less. "A-a-a-rtemis?" Cairon had gotten the name from Cailring.
"At your service," the assassin replied. "Why are you hunting me? What have I done?"
The chief could not think. He could not move. He could only answer the questions this man asked of him. He felt as if he had no choice in the matter. His life seemed forfeit either way. He had never felt this helpless. "You killed the guards."
"They had involved themselves in a business that was not their own. They got in the way. It was their own fault."
The chief of the guards wanted to speak. He wanted to defend his men, but he could not. Not only was this killer right, he was holding the chief's life in his hands, and Cairon did not feel like pressing his luck.
"I am going to leave now. When I am gone, you will order you guards to call off their search. If you do not, I will return, and your family will be cut into little tiny pieces before your eyes. Then I'll do the same to you. Do you understand?"
The chief did not answer right away. Entreri cut the man across the collar. "Do you understand?"
"Yes," the petrified man squeaked. His knees and bladder suddenly weakened, and Entreri let him slip out of his grasp and fall to his knees. Entreri took a step back and kicked him in the back of the head. Before Cairon could even think about getting back up, Entreri was out of the room. The chief did not get up. His men would find him the next morning much like they had found Cailring: crumpled on the floor in a pool of his own sweat, mumbling that he had seen the devil. In Cairon's case, he had never seen the assassin, and his mind created horrible images that haunted his dreams till morning.
Return to Campaign Logs