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 5: The Plot Thickens
"Come in, come in. Don't stand out there in the cold."
John Irenum did not think the cool night breeze constituted cold, but neither did he want to argue with the maid. He nodded and stepped into the mayor's home.
"May I take your cloak?" the middle-aged woman asked.
John shrugged off his thin cloak and also unbuckled his sword belt. Though the maid had never asked for it in his many trips to the mayor's house, Jerathon had told him repeatedly he did not want anyone at his table to be wearing a weapon.
"They're waiting for you in the dinning room," the maid said before she disappeared into a back room to store John's belongings. The captain walked quickly through the house, realizing he was late and paid little attention to the fabulous home.
Jerathon was indeed waiting for him, as were the rest of the dinner participants. The invite was not uncommon, and John had gotten used to the special treatment. Of course, the mayor's fondness for the strong man was mostly due to the fact that he had an unwed daughter. Ellen was the only child of the mayor and his wife. Most men in Jerathon's position would regret not having a son to take up his family name and continue in his leadership role.
Ellen was aware of this. She also knew that her father loved her and would trade her for nothing. This knowledge made her much tougher than she would have been if she had been surrounded by brothers. She was independent and a free-thinker, but not rebellious. She knew how things worked and would never be slighted.
It was this free-thinking and unwillingness to accept the role common to most women in the town that had kept her unwed. She was not stunningly beautiful, but she was far from homely. At the age when most girls were being courted, she had gone to school. As the only child of the mayor, this was not unusual, but she pursued her education for reasons other than tradition. She took a genuine interest in her father's job and was willing and able to offer him advice on several occasions.
The men of Garrilport saw this and felt they would rather marry a woman they could easier bend to their will and passed Ellen over. John had heard the phrase: "A woman is either a daughter, a wife, a widow, or a whore." While John did not necessarily agree with the statement, he could understand that Ellen's unwillingness to fall neatly into one of those categories made her less desirable to the men of the town. She was closer to 30 than 20 and was fast escaping "daughter" status. Also, Ellen's father tended to scare men away.
John nodded to Ellen and Esther, her mother, as he sat at the table. There was one other man at the table, Torril, one of Jerathon's aides. "Good evening."
"Glad you could make it," Jerathon said, glancing at the tall grandfather clock in the corner of the large room as he spoke. John knew he was late, and decided not to try and come up with a lame excuse.
The butler came out of the adjacent kitchen and prepared to set the feast on front of them. "I hope you're hungry, Captain," Jerathon said. The mayor insisted on always calling John by his title whenever his daughter was present. John doubted it was by accident.
"Actually, I might have to trim down my appetite tonight."
"Don't even pretend that you are going on a diet. I won't hear it."
"He does appear a little chunky, Father," Ellen quipped.
"Ellen!" her mother scolded, but John knew it was in jest.
"No," John chuckled, "it's nothing like that." He really did like her. "I had a very nice lunch today - something I usually don't do."
"Where did you eat?" Ellen asked. She was not one to take a backseat to any conversation. John hardly noticed anymore, but Esther gave her a stern look.
"The Golden Bell," he responded.
The response of the others at the table was one of shock and lived up to John's expectations. "I didn't know we paid you that well," Torril said. The aide looked at his boss, but Jerathon said nothing, knowing that more was coming.
John obliged. "Remember two days ago when I told you about the man I saw foil a pickpocket?"
"Vaguely," Jerathon replied. "Most of what you say I tune out, and I consider myself a smarter man for it." Ellen laughed at this. John took interest in that Esther gave her daughter another stern look, but totally disregarded the actual comment. This was the double standard Ellen was fighting, and John applauded her for it.
"I followed him this morning to see what he did. He entered the restaurant, and I followed. It turns out he knew I was following him and had set up a nice trap to bring me out in the open. He bought me lunch, and we had a nice long talk."
"And did he warrant your earlier suspicion?" Jerathon asked, thinking he did remember their conversation a few days ago.
"Probably more than I had thought, though I don't think it's anything you need to worry about."
"Good," Jerathon said, filing the information into the corner of his mind he threw all the other useless junk he was bombarded with each day.
The meal was in full swing now, and the mayor moved to more important business. "I met with the merchants today, and they expressed immense dislike at the tax proposal we presented them."
John nodded, as if he knew exactly what tax proposal Jerathon was referring to. The captain came over to the Mayor's house maybe twice a month, and Jerathon always wanted to talk about stuff that did not concern him. Only with the last few visits did John realize that inviting him merely gave the mayor cover to present the ideas with his daughter present. More often than not, she was the one who ended up giving meaningful advice but was nice and clever enough to always present the idea as if it were John's.
"The sailors and dock workers have been complaining that the docks are too congested with residential buildings and want to move everyone south along the river. This costs money and we only have one means of revenue."
John now did understand and also understood all the problems that went along with the proposal.
"We tried to explain to them that the tax hike would only be temporary," Torril jumped in, "but they didn't want to hear it. The only avenue we have left is to place tariffs on the incoming shipments, but that would hurt the dock workers, and they've already agreed to take upon themselves the cost of the warehouses they are proposing once we move the homes out of the area. I can't see hitting them twice."
"What if you moved the docks instead?" Ellen asked.
Torril shook his head. "No good. The docks are at the widest part of the river now and they need to stay there. Moving them south instead would not work."
Ellen turned to John. "Is there anything wrong with moving the docks to the other side of the river?"
John shook his head. "I don't see why we couldn't. We've always talked about putting new homes over there, but I don't see why we couldn't put the warehouses there instead."
"Good idea," Torril said to John, as if he had thought of it.
"What about bridges?" Jerathon asked. "That has always been the thing keeping us from expanding before. The ships that come out of our shipyards are often very tall, and any bridge we build will have to be equally tall."
"Why not go under the river?" Ellen offered.
"Are there sewers dug near the river?" Ellen asked.
"Yes there are," John replied. "I don't see why one section couldn't be cleaned out and extended to the other side. It would be far cheaper than building a bridge."
"Let me get this straight," Torril started, putting his silverware down as he thought. "We don't need to relocate all the people living in the dock area. All we need to do is to set up zoning for the other side of the river and allow the dock workers to build their warehouses. The only cost on our part would be to extend the sewer and clean it up."
Torril outlined the plan and then looked up at John for clarification. John was putting forth very little effort into this conversation and wasn't quite clear about the plan himself, but he nodded.
"We'll need to get in touch with the engineers to find out how deep we need to dig," Torril went on, "but I don't see how this proposal could be rejected by anyone. Everyone gets what they want and we start populating the other side of the river. Good idea, John."
"Thanks," he replied, but was too embarrassed to meet the eyes of anyone else. He just kept his attention on his plate, wishing just once that the ideas he was credited with at these dinners could be his own.
* * *
Ellen enjoyed the cool morning air as she walked through the streets of one of the smaller sections of town. The buildings were not as tall here and there was barely any pedestrian traffic to speak of. She was headed to her favorite fabric shop and was taking her time.
Her mind was full of things this morning. Last night had brought no surprises, but she was thinking about John Irenum more than usual. He was not typical of the other city guards that served under him. Most were cocky and head strong, bragging and telling stories that were so far from the truth it was laughable. John was not an expert on everything and did not pretend to be. She liked that.
Ellen paid very little attention to her surroundings as she walked down the street, but her surroundings paid quite a bit of attention to her. Trevor sat on the flat roof of a near-by building and watched Ellen coming down the street. His grin was sickening to look at.
Trevor has still not fully recovered from his failed pick attempt on Reillon's magically locked door, but that did not mean Quinton was hesitant to push him back into service. Quinton was planning his rise to power, and his thieves and ruffians had a big role to play in that rise. Quinton wanted to instigate an operation of terror. His men would hit the town and hit it hard. The people would scream to the mayor for relief and Quinton planned on being the person to offer it. The town council would reward him with power, and then, with his mage's help, he would strike, taking all that had not been given to him and more.
Trevor cared little for his boss's high aspirations, but did enjoy his role in the first part of the plan. He knew who Ellen was and who her father was. What better way to get the mayor's attention than to attack his own daughter! While he was at it, he might as well have some fun to. As he moved to the side of the roof to get into position, he hopped Billy was keeping up his half of the task.
The young pickpocket saw Ellen at a distance too and understood Trevor's birdcall to mean that she was to be their target. "Help, help!" he cried as he ran up to Ellen.
The young woman stopped as she watched the child run toward her. "What's wrong?"
"Please, ma'am, you've got to help me. Please, hurry!" Billy tugged hard on Ellen's arm, and she took a few hurried steps after him.
"What's wrong?" she repeated. "Why do you need help?"
"He might die, miss, he might die. We have to hurry." Billy half-dragged, half-led Ellen into a dead end alley. "You have to help me."
Ellen thought it best to slow, but something in the young boy's voice kept her trotting after him. It was not until she saw a man slumped against the wall of the alley hidden behind a large dumpster that she recognized the urgency. She released herself from Billy's grasp and easily stepped past the child and over to the fallen man.
Trevor moved like a snake, his left arm snapping out from his slumped position and latching onto Ellen's wrist. His other hand held a wicked dagger, and has he pulled her toward him, he pressed the weapon into the soft skin just beneath her ribcage. "Scream and it will be the last noise you make."
Ellen was not trained in any type of fighting, for the action she saw on a regular basis was intellectual in nature, and she was trained thus. She knew there was nothing she could do here that would not result in pain and possible serious injury. Hopefully all this thief wanted was her money. Hopefully.
Trevor found it difficult to look away from his prey now that he had her within reach, but he threw a quick glance over her shoulder to Billy. "Go stand guard. I don't want to be interrupted."
Billy swallowed hard and nodded. He ran very quickly away from the scene behind him. He did not totally understand what Trevor planned beyond robbing the woman, and he did not want to know. He had seen the men in Quinton's organization bring women into their rooms on several occasions and the noises they made behind closed doors had always scared the young boy.
Billy had also seen some of the older pickpockets come of age and have women in their rooms. He hoped he never had to do any of that. As it was, he did not enjoy this part of his job, but he had been assigned to Trevor, and he would do as he was told. He did not want another whipping.
The more Billy though about what Trevor might do to the woman, the faster he ran, and as he came out of the alley, he ran smack into someone else. "We have to stop running into each other like this," the man said as he grabbed onto Billy's shoulders to keep the young boy steady.
The man's grip became much stronger, for as Billy looked up into his face, the young thief's knees when limp and it was all the man could do to keep Billy from falling over. Entreri smiled at the kid's reaction. He had not received that look in a long time and it brought back old memories. Entreri had instilled weak knees in more than his fair share of victims, and it only made his job easier.
The assassin lowered himself to look Billy in the face. The kid showed admirable constitution by not fainting dead away. "I, I, I, d-did what you said. A-a-and I g-got beat for it."
"That's good," Entreri said with a cheery tone, making Billy wonder which of his sentences the man was happy about. "Now you can do something else for me, and perhaps you'll get beaten again." Entreri decided to add that last bit just to illustrate how much control he had over the situation. He had blatantly told the kid that he would probably get punished for helping the assassin, yet Billy was nodding furiously anyway, knowing that punishment at the hands of one of Quinton's men was a far better thing than the horrors he saw in Entreri's eyes.
"Where is the woman you led into that alley?"
Entreri had seen Billy's encounter with the woman and had recognized him as the pickpocket from several days ago. It was not Entreri's goal to end crime in this city, but he did want to find out as much about it as possibly. If not to join it, than to make sure he could always avoid it.
"T-T-Trevor is in there."
That was all Entreri needed to hear. It did not exactly answer his question, but the long time resident of Calimport had already guessed as to the nature of this encounter. He had half a mind to walk away from the situation. After all, what concern was it of his if some woman he did not know got raped? It was probably happening at least a dozen times back in his home-city right now.
Entreri looked at Billy. "Stay here." Billy nodded furiously, and Entreri knew it would take a dark elf with a ready crossbow aimed at the kid's heart to make him move.
Entreri entered the alley for no other reason than exposure. He was getting bored with his life as a carpenter and wanted some action. He had already interfered with the thieves once, and had made his mark on Billy, but the young pickpocket did not carry the weight that this "Trevor" probably did.
Entreri did not want to lose his edge and the only way to do that was to keep in his trade. Whatever came out of this encounter would do far more to get him back in than if he had kept walking.
As he walked down the shaded alley, it was hard to believe he would ever lose his edge. With his dark cape shrouding him, he was invisible to all but a hawk. He was no more than a mobile shadow as he crept up on the pair in the rear of the alley.
Trevor had started the encounter on a strictly professional level, and Entreri saw Ellen's valuable gold pouch lying on the dirty ground. The encounter had then escalated beyond professional as Entreri saw the woman's jacket and the majority of her torn skirt lying next to the pouch.
As long as Trevor kept his dagger at the ready, Ellen wisely kept her mouth shut. She could easily see that Trevor was sick enough to do what he wanted regardless of the condition of her body. But as long as Trevor kept his dagger at the ready, he only had one hand to work with. And while Ellen did not cry out, neither did she make it easy for her attacker.
Entreri toed a stone and launched it at the dumpster. The clang echoed in the alley, and Trevor quickly threw Ellen beneath him as he stood in a crouch. He tossed a glance toward the mouth of the alley and then several more at the rest of the alley before returning to his task, counting the noise as nothing.
Entreri sighed as he realized he was too well hidden to be seen even after the stupid thief had been alerted. This guy would not last one minute in the streets of even Waterdeep, to say nothing of Calimport. The next rock took the thief in the back.
Entreri stepped from the shadows and was spotted immediately. "What do you want?" Trevor asked. "Leave. This does not concern you." He stood with his dagger in front of him, trying to look as scarry as possible.
Entreri was worried for a moment that the woman would try to attack the thief with his back turned. If she did, Entreri knew there would be little he could do to protect her. Ellen wisely kept still, gathering what remained of her clothes about herself. "I want a piece," Entreri said bluntly.
Trevor looked down at the gold pouch and then at the woman behind him. He smiled. "Of what?"
"You," Entreri smiled back.
Trevor launched himself at the assassin who stood a little more than fifteen feet away. Entreri waited until the last second and sidestepped the hurried attack and pulled Trevor's leading arm into the wall behind him. Entreri's dagger would have sunk deep into the hard wood. Trevor's blade broke.
Entreri could have easily shoved the thief's head into the wall too, but the assassin wanted the man to report this fight back to his superiors in detail. If Entreri had sent Trevor's head into the wall, it was likely the man would not even remember his own name. Instead, Entreri stepped away from the man, allowing him to draw his short sword.
"I don't know who you are, but I'm giving you one more chance to leave before I spill your blood."
Entreri said nothing but raised his arms in an inviting gesture. Trevor took the invitation. Still without a weapon drawn, Entreri spun away from the attack, his cape flaring out as he did, hiding his sidestep. Like a bull trying to attack a gladiator, Trevor charged through the cape to attack only air.
Being played with did not sit well with Trevor, and he stopped his charge, dropped to his knee, spun about, and thrust at where Entreri had just been. Entreri easily avoided the attack, but did not move out of the short weapon's range. Trevor attacked again and again, stabbing his weapon out at Entreri's elusive body. The assassin did a little jig in the alley, easily avoiding each lumbering thrust. He ended the dance with a nasty kick that took the thief under the chin.
Trevor came up hard and fast like the afore mentioned bull, and executed a nice forehand thrust, backhand swipe combination. Entreri avoided the thrust and spun out of the way of the swipe. As the assassin swept by the thief, Trevor felt a sharp pain in his arm. He spun to face Entreri, but the dark fighter held both his empty hands out to see, his dagger back in its sheath as if it had never been drawn.
Entreri was back up against the wall, and Trevor did not contemplate the phantom wound too long. The next attack was also easily avoided, and as Entreri stepped past his attacker, he thrust his dagger a little deeper into the thief's side this time before returning it to the concealed sheath.
Trevor felt the soul-wrenching tug of the awful blade this time, and his fear only increased as he turned to see Entreri still apparently unarmed. "What are you?"
Entreri just smiled as he wondered what must be going through the man's mind. He advanced this time, as Trevor was now against the wall. The sword absorbed very little of Entreri's attention, and he paid it no mind as Trevor swung it in front of him. The assassin had punched the man twice before the sword even came close to Entreri, and when it did, Entreri was so close, that only the hilt hit him in the shoulder.
With his prey up against the wall, Entreri worked his magic. His two fists worked up and down the helpless man's body as they took turns with the deadly dagger. Entreri punched him in the face with his right hand, as his left pricked him in the gut. He then switched the blade, punching him in the shoulder with his left, and pricked him in the leg with his right.
Trevor saw and felt both fists attacking him, but was at a loss to explain where the mysterious energy stealing stabs were coming from. Regardless of where they came from, they had the desired effect. Trevor dropped his useless weapon and soon followed it to the ground.
Entreri sheathed his dagger with its identity still unknown and stooped to pick up Trevor and his weapon. The assassin pinned the man to the wall with his forearm and placed the lousy short sword at his neck. "I am not one to be trifled with. You will leave and not look back. Is that understood?"
Trevor nodded weakly, his eyes trapped within the black pupils of his tormentor. "You will pick up your little pickpocket on the way and never return to this part of the city. Understood?"
The man nodded again. Entreri stepped back and returned the thief's weapon by thrusting it into its sheath and pointed toward the open end of the alley. "Go." Trevor went.
The thief's loyalty was not in doubt, and Entreri turned his attention to the other occupant of the alley. Ellen was as frightened of Entreri as Trevor and Billy had been combined, for not only had she witnessed exactly what Trevor had, but she realized she was next.
Entreri saw the fear in her eyes and did not advance. Instead he tossed a half full coin pouch toward her. It landed next to her own. "It belonged to your attacker," Entreri said. The theft had been easy. "Buy yourself some new clothes." With that, Entreri turned and left.
"Thank-you," Ellen wanted to call out when she realized his honorable intentions, but she was still too unnerved by what had taken place. Ellen took a moment to gather herself and her thoughts. Her jacket was torn and dirty, but it was salvageable. Her skirt now showed a bit more leg than she wanted, but if she tore it to make it look even, she would not catch too many strange looks. She had been on her way to a fabric store anyway.
Ellen took much longer to gather her thoughts. It was just now dawning on her how close she had come to being raped. It was also clear how easy it would have been for the second man to complete the job. Instead he had given her money and asked for nothing in return.
As she rose, she felt a sharp pain shoot up her leg from what must be a twisted ankle. "He could have at least asked if I was okay." She picked up her two coin pouches and limped out of the alley.
* * *
Quinton looked at Trevor and could not believe what he was being told. Trevor could hardly believe it himself. This far removed from the incident that morning, Trevor could barely believe his story either, but every time he closed his eyes he saw Entreri staring back at him, his black eyes promising the worst kinds of death imaginable, and he knew his memories were accurate.
Quinton had talked with Billy and knew that this was the same man that had hit him before. Under normal circumstances, he would focus himself on the task of finding this phantom warrior, but he had more important things to worry about. In a few days, he would be the most powerful man in the city and a hundred such men could not dethrone him.
The rest of his men had been successful in mugging and assaulting several rich and prominent members of the city. So far no blood had been shed. That was all about to change.
* * *
Parnid looked at the quiet house from across the street. Ever since Trevor had failed in his lock-picking attempt on Reillon's door, Parnid had taken over the top spot among Quinton's dedicated men. Draick was Quinton's right-hand man, but the trained fighter was also a member of the city guard, and his time was split between the two organizations.
The house was not as big as most of the council member's homes, but this member was relatively young. He had been voted onto the council not because of his wealth or experience, but because most people in the city viewed him as the smartest man they knew. His grandfather had been one of the men who had designed the locks that had created the Garril River. His father had been on the council until a tragic boating accident had killed him. Now he was on the council and most believed he would be the next mayor after Jerathon retired.
Fredrick Strum was about to die.
"Are you ready?" Reillon said as he stepped up behind Parnid. The thief was still not comfortable with the willowy wizard, but he knew that, unlike in the sewer, they were on the same side in this battle and everyone hence. He nodded. "Let us proceed."
It was night, but streetlights abounded around Fredrick's home. This was a rich section of town and several people were about. Despite what Reillon had promised earlier, Parnid was a bit worried about the light.
"Trust me," Reillon spoke up, "no one can see you. You are invisible."
Parnid looked down and could still see his entire body, but as he moved under a street light, he did notice that he left no shadow. The two moved up the steps to the front of the modest home and to the front door. Before Parnid could attack the lock with one of his many tools, Reillon waved his hand in front of the knob, and the thief heard the lock snap open.
Parnid threw a look up at the tall mage. Was there anything this guy could not do? Just a month ago his best tricks were making eggs disappear, a slight of hand trick that Parnid could do twice as convincingly. Now he could summon fireballs, make people invisible, and unlock doors with a wave of his hand.
Parnid shook off any fear he might have and pushed open the front door. The entry was quiet and empty. The pair moved through it and into the nice living room. The house was small, but the young couple knew how to fill it. The furniture was very nice, and several expensive paintings hung on the wall.
This room was a thief's dream, but Parnid quelled his desires and moved through to the dinning room and finally the master bedroom. Parnid motioned for Reillon to stay back as the thief entered alone. Both men knew whom Quinton had placed in charge of this mission, and the mage obeyed the instruction.
It took Parnid no more than thirty seconds, and he reappeared, wiping his dagger on a confiscated pillowcase. "They have two children upstairs." Parnid said. Quinton had made it clear that everyone in the house was to die. Parnid had not wanted to kill the wife and wanted to kill the children even less.
Reillon noticed this and looked up at the ceiling, above which the children slept peacefully. He motioned with his right hand and looked at Parnid. "It is taken care of."
Parnid looked at him skeptically and moved toward the stairs. "I wouldn't go up there," the mage said, but Parnid ignored him for the moment. Halfway up the steps, he smelled a very acrid odor and saw a greenish haze creeping down the stairs. Parnid thought about it and then decided to trust the mage. Poor kids.
The pair moved back through the house toward the front door. Parnid looked longingly at the thousands of coins worth of decoration that adorned the room but kept his greedy hands in check. He was just about to leave when something caught his eye that he could not pass up. On the mantle above the fireplace was an exquisite crystal sculpture. It was a miniature ship consistent with the dozens of ships that the city produced each month. It was the symbol of the city's prosperity and a similar sculpture was given to each of the council members when they were voted in.
"I don't think you'll be needing this anymore," Parnid said as he moved around the end tables and sofas to get to the mantle. He scooped the item off the wooden shelf and placed it in a pouch in his jacket in a practiced gesture.
Reillon said nothing, knowing that Quinton had said to kill the family and nothing more. The act seemed innocent enough. The two men moved silently out of the house and down the street, unseen by all.
* * *
John Irenum, Captain of the Garrilport City Guards hated his job at this moment.
"What do you think, Captain?"
John turned to one of his lieutenants. "I think we have a very sick man on our hands." John turned back to look at the bed where Fredrick and his wife lay dead. Who knew what the color of the sheets used to be, but now they were deep red. The wife's neck had been cut clean, almost to the point where her head had been completely removed. If she had woken during the deed, which was unlikely, her vocal cords had been severed, disabling her from warning her husband of the killer.
Fredrick had been killed with a single stab over his heart. A pillow had been used to hold his head down as he had obviously woken from the attack. He had maybe lived for five or ten seconds after the killing blow but had not managed much of a struggle.
John did not want to, but his job dictated that he examine the wounds closely. They had both been made with a dagger - probably the same dagger, though that could not be determined. John wanted to think that this was the work of one man only because he did not want to believe that there existed two men who were capable of this. As it was, he was uncomfortable with the idea that there was even one.
"Captain," one of his men pulled him away from the grizzly scene. "I think you should come upstairs. There is something you need to see."
"What is it?" John asked, glad to be pulled away from the master bedroom.
"It's the kids, sir."
John steeled himself as he walked up the stairs but was still overcome with horror when he saw what waited for him. There was no blood in the children's room, and both kids still lay under their sheets, but they were obviously quite dead. John was at a loss at how to describe the bodies.
"It looks like they were melted," one of his men said.
John nodded. They looked like they were wax mannequins that had been exposed to intense heat for a very short time. Their skin had lost the youthful glow and had a very chalky texture. John had seen something similar when he had been forced to exhume a body several weeks after burial to examine the murder wounds. But this could not be decomposition for they had only been dead for at most 12 hours.
John had seen enough. "You men look around for any clues that this killer might have left behind and then turn the bodies over to the morgue. Maybe Priest Kellens can tell us something about these kids and how they died."
John's mind was racing. He had been a member of the city guards for over ten years and had never seen anything like this. He had investigated dozens of murders, but they had all been vagrants or homeless that had been left in the street. A few merchants had been killed, but the murders had usually been public with the killer identified by several witnesses.
The cool efficiency with which this act had been carried out sent chills down John's spine. It seemed that this killer could have just as easily walked into any house in the city, the mayor's included, and killed whomever he wanted.
This was definitely something new to Garrilport. Had anyone come to the city recently? It was a stupid question for a killer like this would hardly make his arrival in town public. John thought of Artemis and almost as quickly dismissed him. He had stopped worrying about him. Over lunch he had claimed to be a professional assassin who killed royalty, but in light of this, that seemed a joke in very poor taste.
Someone else had entered the city recently, and John needed to find out who. Artemis had registered with the city planner, and if the killer was living in the city, he would have had to do the same. However, if he was living in the northern half of the city, he would be much harder to find. John had friends up there, though. He just hated paying them visits.
* * *
Cal Grotciem saw the man as soon as he entered the tavern. Despite the man's attempt to slump in his posture and clothe himself in rags, the seasoned northern could spot John Irenum in a heartbeat. The captain moved slowly through the crowded tavern, careful not to bump into anyone. The last thing he wanted was a fight.
Cal respected the man. John was personally responsible for placing Cal in the northern half of the city, but that could probably be said about half the men in the tavern right now. When you were caught by John and his men, you went to prison. Upon release, you had two choices: leave town, never to return again, or seek employment in the northern half of the city and try and work your way back south.
The way John presented it, it all sounded so simple. Just work hard and you will be promoted within your work cell. If you earn enough respect, you will be accepted back into the southern part of the city. To Cal's knowledge, no one had ever done it.
John sat down at the northern's table in the corner and took a drink from a barmaid whose revealing outfit alone would get her kicked out of the seediest tavern in the southern half of the city. "I hear you have quite the murder on your hands," Cal said, knowing full well why John had arranged this meeting. Cal had often been able to help John with his murder investigations and always profited from it.
"This one is bigger than anything I've come to you with before," John said solemnly. "I need to know anything you can give me."
"It will cost you," Cal said, taking a long gulp from his frothy mug.
"If you have a name, tell me your price, and I'll pay it right here, right now."
Cal laughed, spiting foam at the captain. John moved very slowly and deliberately as he wiped the cheap ale from his face, his gaze never leaving Cal. The northern knew that while John did not want to get into a fight, if the captain had his normal two-handed sword with him, he could whip any ten men in the tavern.
"Sorry," Cal said, his mood somewhat sobered. "I never know names; you know that."
John knew that Cal never told him names, but he doubted the crafty spy never knew them. It was a way for him to cover his ass, if he was ever found out as John's informant, and it was a necessary ploy. As Cal looked around the room he could see at least five men who were here because of information he had given John.
"I don't care about what you never used to know, if you know it now, you will tell me, or you will wish you had been the one in Councilman Fredrick Strum's bed last night. Don't worry about retribution, I'll make sure this killer never again sees the light of day, or anything for that matter."
Cal swallowed hard. "I don't know."
John nodded, accepting this as the truth. "Here is what I do want you to know by tomorrow night. I want you to know about any unusual murders that happened in any city on any map that you can find. And if you can't find any good maps, I'll be more than happy to provide you with maps that detail every city within a thousand miles."
"That will be tough in only a day and a half," Cal said, already running through a list of about twenty people he knew who had just come in from all over the countryside.
"You know full well that word of this murder will travel along the trade routes faster than the fastest horse alive," John countered. "If something like this happened elsewhere, you'll find out."
"It might cost extra," Cal foolishly tried.
"But it won't," John assured him. "I gave you a chance to name your price a minute ago, but you had nothing to tell me. I have other people gathering information for me too. By dealing with several competing suppliers, I'm always guaranteed the lowest price."
Cal looked confused. He had people following John all the time whenever he ventured into the northerns, and he had no reports of the captain meeting with anyone else. He would look into that as well. His pocketbook depended on his monopoly of the information.
* * *
Buster was happy. He had been the city's best blacksmith for over five years now and business kept getting better as his name spread down the river and along the trade routes. He had exclusive contracts with both of the ship building companies, the city guards, and countless businessmen. He had hired and trained a dozen apprentices that had worked for him over the past few years. Only half of them still worked for him, the others all starting their own shops. The did well and maintained a lot of the business that they had when they worked with Buster, but the old blacksmith still got all the big jobs and all the new business.
Buster had spent most of his life at Saint Georgan Monastery in the Great Range, the mountain chain to the north. His parents had sent him there at a very young age, but he had always resisted the order's teaching. It was not that he disagreed with it, he just did not want to live a life of seclusion high up in the mountains. How was he supposed to make the world a better place if he never saw any of it?
He was grateful to the monastery for they trained him in his fine craft, and the strenuous physical training each student went through had turned Buster into quite the physical specimen. He could wield the heaviest sledge with ease and could pound even the hardest metal into submission as if he were kneading dough.
"Buster" was obviously not his real name, but when he left the monastery and was disowned by his family, he severed all ties to his past and took up a new life in Garrilport. The city accepted the former monk for what he could do and cared nothing about his past. He had done well.
Buster was hard at work in the back of his shop, all of his apprentices off on different jobs around the city, when he heard the bell on his front door chime. Buster stopped his work and listened for either the call of a familiar voice or for the customer to walk across his squeaky floor. He heard neither. "I'll be right with you," He called as he picked up a rag and wiped off his hands. He got up and walked to the batwing doors that led him to his front room. "You can come in. You don't need to sta-" Buster started to call as he pushed through the doors but froze when he saw the man standing on the other side of the counter.
Buster was in shock. Somehow this man had walked across the fifteen feet between his front door and his counter without making so much as a peep out of his terminally squeaky floor. Buster also saw that it had been no accident. The man who looked at him from over the counter was pure death. He lived his life as a shadow of fear, moving quietly in its wake, not making so much as a ripple as he passed.
Entreri saw the look in the big man's eyes and knew he had been set up. The captain had recommended this blacksmith to him at lunch two days ago, and now the assassin knew why. Entreri had been around enough to know when he was being scried. This man did not have the skill or precision of most of the priests or clerics Entreri had known, but he did not need it. Trying to tell the alignment of Artemis Entreri was about as difficult as trying to determine if a rock was capable of conscious thought. Anyone could do it.
The game was up and both men knew it. The only option in front of them was to kill each other or to act as if nothing had happened. They picked the latter.
"How can I help you?" Buster asked.
"I'm putting in an addition to my home and I wanted to use a metal framework to support the floor."
Buster listened to Entreri's description in great detail, taking the appropriate notes and asking all the right questions. The two men agreed upon a price and a time when the work would be completed. They made the traditional salutations, and Entreri left. Buster watched with great interest as Entreri moved over his floor. The assassin stepped on only the nail heads as he moved, making it look as natural as possible. It was an unconscious act and one derived from hours, if not years, of creeping up on people on similar floors right before he killed them.
When the evil presence had fully left the blacksmith's keen senses, he was finally able to relax. "You've got a winner on your hands with that one, John," Buster thought to himself. The big man allowed one last chill to creep down his spine and went back to work.
* * *
John showed up at the Alexander Estate for the second night in a row. This time the maid said nothing as she took the captain's coat. He kept his sword. The dinning room was full. Most of the council members were there, with only a few of the older ones not wanting to come out at night. There was food on the table, but not much eating was taking place. John noticed with interest that Ellen was also present. This did not last long.
"Ellen, dear, would you please excuse us," Jerathon said when he saw John enter the room.
Ellen looked between the captain and her father and was just about to protest, but thought better of it. "Yes, father." She had not told anyone about her run in with Trevor and Entreri the previous morning, but she felt that because of it, she had a tie to the sudden rash of violence and wanted to help stop it. John regretfully watched the woman walk out of the room and up the stairs to her room. He was looking forward to any input she might have on this meeting of the minds.
John sat at the table and was given a plate of food by the butler. Unlike yesterday, he had not spoiled his appetite at noon and had not in fact eaten at all. As he ate, he looked around the table at the men as they talked quietly among themselves. He paused as his eyes settled on someone he did not recognize as part of the council.
Jerathon saw the pause and decided introductions were in order. "John, I'd like you to meet Quinton Palluge, the newest member of the city council. Before we begin to attack this rash of crime that has sprang up almost over night, we felt it was necessary to fill the seat vacated by Fredrick. In a meeting I had with the merchants this afternoon, they thought Quinton would be a good addition to the council."
The name rang a bell in John's mind. "Are you the one who's famous for the extravagant parties?"
Quinton nodded humbly. "At your service."
"I hear you have a pretty good magician," John continued.
Quinton flinched. "Word gets around."
Only John noticed the flinch, but even he paid it no mind. "It's time to get down to the reason I've called you all here," Jerathon spoke up, ending the minor conversations that were taking place around the room. "As all of you know, former Councilman Strum was murdered viciously in his home last night, along with his wife and two children. What many of you might not know is that the murder is only one of the many criminal incidences that have plagued us in the last 48 hours."
"We have been getting reports from over a dozen citizens about muggings and thefts occurring all over the city," Lawrence Alexander, Jerathon's cousin and a member of the council, spoke up. "Frankly, we have no idea why this is happening. We have all read your report on the councilman's murder, Captain. You believe it was perpetrated by one man. While we do not disagree with you, I hope you can understand how we find it hard to believe that one man alone could be responsible for all the crime."
John nodded. "I agree."
Jerathon spoke up again. "I have talked with Quinton about this, and he has a plan regarding how we might increase security on a temporary basis until this band of criminals is caught."
Everyone looked at Quinton. "I deal with several dozen gem suppliers from all over the country side and the Great Range. These men are rough and rugged, having lived most of their lives in the wilderness. I think we could hire them to bolster the city guards until we solve these crimes."
"In your absence today, Captain," Quinton went on, "I spoke with one of your lieutenants. A man by the name of Draick, I believe. He said that the city guard was improperly staffed to deal with this situation and thought the idea a good one."
John obviously knew who Draick was and also knew that his eagerness to prosecute the guilty was only rivaled by his willingness to endanger the innocent. He was head strong, but he was good. John did not like the idea of bringing in a bunch of mercenaries to act as city guards. The captain liked to personally train his men and wanted to make sure no one who gained the rank and privileges would be likely to abuse them.
As he looked around the table at the nodding heads of the councilmen, John realized the proposal was going to pass, and he would have to deal with it. After a few more minutes of discussion, that is exactly what happened.
"How is the murder investigation going, Captain?" one of the other councilmen asked.
"It will take time, sir. I have people out right now gathering information. I am forced to believe that the murderer is new in town, because we have never seen anything like this before."
"But you don't even have any suspects?" Quinton asked.
John shook his head.
"What about that man you were following the other day? The one who bought you dinner?"
John shrugged his shoulders. "I doubt he is capable of this. He is more a pet project than anything else."
"What is this?" Quinton asked as innocently as possible.
"John saw this man foil one of the city's pickpockets a few days ago, and was convinced that the man was hiding a criminal record or something. John goes on many such escapades in his free time."
This comment was mainly a sarcastic dig into John's work ethic, stressing the fact that he had free time, and that now they were short on men. Quinton was more interested in the fact that this man had foiled a pickpocket.
"Really," Quinton said, turning to look at John. "What does this man look like?"
The question seemed innocent enough, and John gave a pretty good description of Entreri. Quinton had never seen the man, but it matched what Trevor and Billy had said. It was a valuable piece of information that the Captain of the City Guards was interested in a man that had twice attacked Quinton, and he filed it away as a potentially useful piece of information.
The person who was most interested in hearing the description, though, was not seated at the table. At the top of the steps leading up to the second floor, out of view of the dinning room table, Ellen sat listening to the men's conversation. If she was not mistaken, John had just described the man who had rescued her from her attacker the previous day.
The men downstairs continued to talk about how they could patrol the streets to try and target the areas with the most reported crime, but Ellen was no longer listening. She had seen what this Artemis, as John had called him, was capable of, and despite what John had said, she was not so sure the men downstairs should cross him off their suspect list.
Despite her continual contributions to the successful way in which her father ran this city, he still did not respect her enough to allow her input in the more important matters. Well, she would look into this Artemis herself and see if she could earn that respect.
* * *
Quinton looked at his men, who were gathered in his office for a brief morning meeting.
Trevor had not been out of the mansion since his run in with Artemis two days ago. His wounds were not severe and in no way hampered him. It was the wound he had received to his psyche that slowed him. He had been beaten so badly by this stranger that all of his confidence had been shot. Quinton had a way to restore that confidence, but it would have to wait until night.
Draick was invaluable to him right now. As a member of the city guards, he was going to be very important in the next couple days as all of the new recruits came pouring into the guardhouse. Each of the new men would be loyal to Quinton, but when the time came to take over, Draick would have to be the visible leader.
Parnid was the most valuable right now. He had orchestrated most of the crime spree and was solely responsible for its success. Quinton thought that even after Trevor regained his health and mindset, Parnid would remain his prime thief and leader of the small band that worked for the new councilman.
Reillon still scared Quinton. It was not his loyalty - the mage professed it at every opportunity - but his skill that frightened the older man. The frail magician seemed to have a new trick or spell at every turn, each more powerful than the one before. He would have to be powerful, Quinton thought, because Reillon was going to be the key to the entire takeover.
"I think we need to take advantage of this new piece of information," Quinton started the meeting. "This Artemis fellow has injured us on two different occasions, and last night I found out that Captain Irenum has his eyes on him as well. If we can frame him for this organized chaos of ours, it will buy us some valuable time."
Quinton turned to look at Parnid. "Please tell me you disobeyed me and did in fact take something from the late Councilman Strum's home."
Parnid smiled and nodded his head, remembering the crystal ship. "Good," Quinton said. "I want you to give it to Draick. When the time comes, it will be a valuable piece of evidence. Beyond that, if any of you should run into this Artemis, I want you to avoid him. Don't try to be a hero and take him out. For one reason, you probably won't be able to, but also, I need him alive and well for Captain Irenum to arrest."
Quinton continued the meeting, outlining the next two days' events. This was a very delicate time for his plan and he needed everyone to be on the same page. If all went well, in 48 hours, he would be in control of the richest city within 500 miles.
* * *
Buster heard his door ring open and then ring closed. The blacksmith held his breath as he waited for his patron walk over his floor and let go a sigh of relief as the wonderful squeaks and creaks of his floor resounded to him in the back room. He picked up a rag, wiped his hands, and went to meet his customer. It was John.
"Found your killer yet?" Buster asked before John could start the conversation.
John shook his head. "I haven't a clue."
"Yes you do," Buster disagreed. The captain looked confused, and Buster explained. "Your friend you told me about earlier paid a visit yesterday. You've got yourself quite a killer on your hands there."
It took John a moment to realize about whom Buster was talking. He had not come about Entreri and had not thought about the man much over the past two days. However, the real purpose for his visit evaporated at this news. "What did you find out?"
"He is showing everyone a very fake exterior right now. It felt like he kept fighting against his natural instincts in order to fit in. He knew instantly that I knew who and what he was, and his very first extinct was to leap over the counter and end my life as quickly as possible. He is death in human form. I don't know how you ever missed it. Even without my skills, I think it has to be obvious just looking into his eyes. He has killed more men than he can likely remember, and it would not come as a great shock to me to find out that he is responsible for killing Councilman Strum."
John could not reply right away. He had convinced himself that Artemis was no more than an oddity. He had a lot of money and liked his privacy. He did not want to talk about his past and lied about everything. John thought back to his lunch conversation with the man. He had said that he was an assassin. Was it possible that Artemis had told the truth knowing it would not be believed?
"Do you have any evidence at all?" Buster asked.
"Nothing that could point a finger at any one person. My suspect list is as big as the population of this city, and thus I haven't exactly gone about collecting alibis." Now John had a name on his list of possible suspects, but he still was not going to collect an alibi from the supposed assassin. Buster had made his observations based on what he could tell of Artemis's instincts. Instincts that had been shaped by Artemis's colorful past. But a man's past, as any criminal on the run will tell you, is just that: the past.
Buster had also said that Artemis was consciously fighting against those instincts. It was possible that Artemis used to be an assassin, but it was also possible that he no longer wished be one. If Buster was right, and his actions thus far were just an act, then it was a very convincing one.
"Thanks," John said, turning to walk out of the shop. He did not know what to do now. Cal would have information for him tonight, and if it in any way pointed at Artemis, he would be forced to go after the man. Until then, he would keep his distance from the man and tell everyone he knew to do the same.
* * *
Ellen watched Entreri from the cover of a small copse of trees some hundred and fifty feet from the shack the assassin called home. Entreri was stripped to the waist and busy pounding boards together to make walls for the new addition he was building.
Even at the great distance, Ellen could tell this man was something special. Each nail went in with a bare minimum of hits, his two hands seemingly working independently of each other. While one hand was setting a nail, the other was already swinging down with the hammer. As he took a second hit on the nail, his first hand was back retrieving another nail.
Ellen had been mesmerized back in the alley when she had watched this man effortlessly take down Trevor, and now she was equally mesmerized. She soon realized that it had nothing to do with what he was doing or how well he was doing it. Both of those things stemmed from something deeper. This man had an aura about him that demanded respect and awe.
After finishing a large section of a wall, Entreri stood up and wiped his brow with his discarded shirt. Ellen watched him reach for his canteen and then shake it, discerning how much was left in it. It apparently was not enough, for he moved toward the entrance to his house and disappeared from sight.
Ellen moved back into the trees as she kept an eye on the house. Why was she here? Was she trying to investigate this man for John? If so, she was going to need to talk with him. Watching him build his house was certainly educational as to the nature of the man, but it gave her nothing of value.
After contemplating this for a while, Ellen turned her full attention back on the house, thinking Entreri was taking an awful lot of time to just refill his canteen.
"Can I help you?"
Ellen spun around at the voice. Her hand slipped inside her cloak to the dagger she now carried. After her encounter a few days ago, she always carried a weapon. She knew that she would be safe enough as long as she did not stupidly follow kids into dark alleys anymore, but she liked the added security.
Entreri had not recognized the woman when he had easily spotted her while working, but now he recognized her as the woman he had rescued in the alley. Ellen relaxed only slightly when she saw who it was. The skill in which he had crept up behind her with the attention she had been giving his house was remarkable and gave credence to any suspicions John might have.
"I-I wanted to thank you for the other day," Ellen said, having not expected to have this conversation without the time to plan out what she wanted to say.
"You're welcome," Entreri replied, noticing the woman's discomfort and not approaching her any further than the ten foot gap that separated them. "I don't remember giving you my address though."
John had mentioned it last night in his description to Quinton. "I, I just, uh, I asked around."
"Have I become that famous?"
Ellen decided she needed to start asking questions or she would never get anywhere. "Do you know who I am?"
"Someone who has no business in a dark alley and even less business spying on me."
Ellen tried to ignore his poignant answer. "I am the daughter of Mayor Alexander." Ellen did not enjoy having to identify herself through her father and dreamed of the day when the name "Ellen Alexander" would carry its own weight.
"I had no idea," Entreri replied, bowing slightly. "Perhaps I should have asked for a reward before returning you to safety. Or perhaps I should take you captive now and ask for a hefty ransom."
The way in which he said it, without the slightest hint of humor creeping into his voice, sent a shiver down Ellen's spine. If the conversation had ended right there, the report she would have brought back to John - if she told him of this encounter at all - would not be a favorable one.
Entreri saw this. It was the same look that he had received countless times since coming to this strange land. Most recently from Buster, but Billy and Trevor and given him the same look. The more Entreri tried to fit in, the less he liked that look. "I didn't kill your councilman."
Ellen was doubly shocked. "How? What? Who? No!"
Entreri shook his head at her denial. "Unless you are just entertaining some voyeuristic fantasy, I see no reason why you would come out here to see me. I did not kill him."
"Could you have?"
It was a loaded question, and for a moment, Entreri was taken off his guard. "Any man is capable of driving a blade into another man's chest. Anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool and won't live long. Killing is not a bad thing in and of itself; it is the intent behind the action that counts."
Entreri could not believe these words were coming out of his mouth, but once he got started, he realized that these had been the guidelines that had shaped his life. He had no moral guide or heavenly calling, but neither did he kill for fun. Each of his killings had been done for a purpose. Whether he needed to set an example for someone, cover his trail, or complete an assignment, each time he had put his weapons to work, he had had a reason.
This was the only way he could live with himself and maintain any type of honor code. He had known many killers in Calimport who would pick travelers at random, rob them, and kill them. Whether these men did it to bolster their own fragile egos or to hit some targeted body count, Entreri did not know, but he had never respected them for it. Without respect, they could never obtain trust. It was well known on the streets of Calimport that if Artemis Entreri did not trust you, your biggest worry was not where you would eat your next meal, but if you would be alive to eat it.
It is the intent behind the action that counts. Entreri had just said those words. What did they mean to him? What had his intentions been? Entreri figured he and Drizzt had probably killed the same amount in their life times. While the ranger had been felling goblins and hook horrors, and Entreri had mostly preyed on humans, in Entreri's mind, a life was a life. So how had Entreri's intent differed from Drizzt's?
Entreri had always rationalized his lifestyle by saying he needed to kill to survive. He now knew this reasoning was troll dung. Even if Drizzt had not pointed it out at every opportunity, Entreri would have figured it out eventually. He had killed for personal gain and advancement.
Drizzt had struggled for acceptance when he had arrived on the surface. Only through hard work and perseverance had he finally been able to earn a few people's respect. He could have just as easily killed anyone who opposed him, and with his skill, the number who wished to do so would have dropped dramatically. The second path was the quicker one, but Entreri now saw that it was also the weaker one.
Entreri was not sorry for one life he had ever taken, least of all Drizzt's, but he now saw that as a twelve-year-old on the streets of Calimport each avenue had been laid before him, and he had chosen as he did because of greed and greed alone.
Even as a child, Entreri's intellect could not be denied, and even though he was an orphan, he could have followed suit with the children of the nobles and gone to school. Like Drizzt, he would have struggled to be accepted among the wealthy, but like the dark elf, his skill and intelligence would show that he was more than able to accept the challenges.
Entreri had seen both paths but he had also seen that the wealthy businessmen and nobles of the city took years of hard work to accumulate their wealth and even more hard work to maintain it. On the other hand, he saw kids only a few years older than himself living in the houses of pashas with enough money to make even successful businessmen jealous.
Neither path was easy but one was much quicker than the other. In the end, it had been the immaturity and impatience of youth that had produced one of the most lethal killers the realms had ever known. Now that killer was 40 years old and no longer immature or impatient.
Entreri looked at Ellen and paused as these thoughts went through his head. What could she know of him? Had she talked with the captain? Had Buster spread word of Entreri's nature to the mayor's house already? Whatever the case, this woman had her doubts. While they were well founded, Entreri wanted to make sure they were not consistent with the way he now lived his life.
"Maybe at one time I could have killed your councilman, but not now, not here. I don't know what you know of me, but I am sure you know very little and would not want to know more. You came here on your own out of curiosity, for I doubt the mayor would send his daughter to investigate a possible killer. So let me satisfy your curiosity. I have not killed anyone in over three weeks, and I did not kill your councilman."
Ellen had indeed known very little about this man, but she had learned a great deal. He was an exceptional fighter. She knew this better than most, having witnessed his prowess the other day. He had obviously killed in his life, but she could also tell that those killings had made his life difficult. She saw no sorrow for his past, but she did see a need to escape it. She nodded.
"Good," Entreri responded. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to work."
Ellen watched the strange man walk back toward his home and climb over his short fence. She believed him. She did not know why she should, but she believed him. Now her only problem was whether or not to tell her father.
* * *
The northern section of Garrilport was not a nice place to be at night, and John Irenum took no great comfort from the weight of the sword hanging at his side. He had refrained from bringing the weapon with him on his visit the previous day, fearing it would identify him. The blade was very unique, and more than a few people in these slums had fought against it. Regardless of the risk involved with carrying the weapon, the risks of going unarmed were far greater.
Cal Grotciem was sitting alone in the tavern when John entered through the front doors. This was a different tavern than the one they had met in earlier. While the first had been noisy and crowded, perfect for covering up a private conversation, this one was dark and quiet. Several different meetings such as the one the two men were about to engage in were taking place in various locations about the main room. The barmaids were not your typical young vixens, but rather experienced women who knew what their customers were about. It was Cal's choice.
"You'll like this," Cal said, getting right to business as John took a seat across from him. "Have you ever been to Karenstoch?"
John shook his head. He had heard of the town, though. It was a rough town, run by guilds and powerful families. It was on the edge of the wilderness, yet prospered enough to be considered the capitol of the north.
"A while back they were plagued with a series of brutal murders. People die up there from time to time; it's not common, but it happens. From all reports, these killings went well beyond the norm. In all the reports I could gather, the killer was referred to as the Devil himself. They all said that he fought against the city's best men and walked away without a scratch. His victims were killed with skill and precision."
"Any descriptions?" John asked. He had seen the bodies of the councilman and his wife. Skill and precision.
Cal had been leaning forward as he spoke, but now leaned back, holding his hands up in front of him. "Whoa, pal. I'm giving you information about the killings, that's all. If you want the identification of the killer, it's going to cost you mo-"
John reached over and latched onto Cal's collar, wrenching him back across the table. "If I want something, and you know it, then you will tell me. Got it?"
Cal's nose was almost touching the captain's. "No one could tell me what he looked like," the smaller man said quickly. "You have to realize all my information is passed about by traders and travelers. I receive the stories after they've passed through two dozen people. People intend to exaggerate to each other to improve the story. Men in the stories often gain a foot in height and 50 pounds in stature by the time I hear about it."
John released him and leaned back in his chair. Cal quickly retreated back to his own side of the table, straightening his ruffled collar. "There is more. Halfway also suffered at the hands of this man. Halfway is a small town down river from Karenstoch."
"I've heard of it," John said. "Those cities are quite a bit north, though. Is there anything you have that could make me believe their killer and mine are the same?"
Cal did have one more very important piece of information, but he had hoped to get a little more than his standard fee. Looking at his customer, Cal decided it might not be a good idea to press him. "Karenstoch sent a ranger after him."
John sat up at this. He knew about how the tales Cal brought him were over-glorified by his informants. John routinely played down the stories Cal gave him by several degrees. But if Karenstoch had sent out their ranger . . .
"Rumors have it that the ranger met up with this killer, and he got the better of it. She walked away, but barely. Those who've seen her since say that she walks with a limp and has a very dark personality. I hear there is talk among the other rangers to restrain her, that maybe she is taking this hunt too personally. Right now reports are that she is in the Great Range."
That was much closer to home than either Karenstoch or Halfway. If the ranger, Elliorn, John thought her name was, had followed this killer's trail to the Great Range from Karenstoch, then it was only logical to assume that he continued south. Garrilport was the first town south of the Great Range.
"Is there any report of what kind of weapons this killer used?" John asked.
"Blades," Cal responded simply. "His victims were found sliced and diced. Sometimes there was one wound, other times a dozen. Variety is the spice of death."
When Cal started with his odd sense of humor, John knew the meeting was over. He pulled a heavy coin pouch from his cloak and laid it on the table. The coins had no sooner been released from John's hand then Cal had scooped up the pouch and stored it somewhere on his body.
"If I find that you have held anything from me," John started in his traditional salutation.
"I wouldn't dream of it," Cal said. The smaller man rose from the table, tipped his hat, and was out of sight faster than a vampire at dawn.
John sat at the table sipping at his drink for a little while longer with only one thought running through his mind. Artemis had come from the north.
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