By Deverian Valandil
Worst Possible Outcome
[ 6:00 ]
Bryn skidded back from the doorframe, almost crashing into the wall behind him. Eyes wide and jaw slack, his thoughts had degenerated into a scramble of shocked and horrified emotions. He had peeked through the crack in the door to see why Aunt Jena was running around the house so much, and he saw… no, it couldn't be.
The boy leaned forward and looked through the door crack again. There was a large circle of blood staining the wood floor, and more covering Ayva's arms as she shoved Jena 's body into the closet.
He pulled himself away from the gruesome sight and quietly ran back into his room, slamming his door shut and blocking it with a chair. His father was missing, Jena was stabbed, and now he was standing in a house with a knife-wielder.
His eyes fell on the window above his bed. Scrambling up to the sill, he gazed out to find that the window overlooked a steep decline in the road outside.
There was a banging on his door, “Bryn? It's Ayva. Please open up, I'd like to have a word with you.” [ 6:03 ]
* * *
The bouncers unceremoniously dumped Myrk and Derrick on the hard, stone basement floor. Scrap came down next, followed by the waiter he had sent to check the streets.
“I certainly hope you four are happy!” Scrap shouted, thrusting an accusing finger at the mercenaries.
“You should know by now that we're never happy,” Terrence grumbled, “Do you see me smiling? No, I didn't think so.”
“Myrk came back with another thief called ‘Derrick', claiming they had an army of assassins waiting nearby. I didn't believe them at the time, but Gend here,” he waved a hand at the confused waiter, “tells me he spotted several people moving in the windows of that abandoned building across the road.”
Dace came down the stairs, carrying a particularly expensive bottle of wine, as Scrap was speaking.
The tavern owner wiped the sweat from his forehead, “I swear, if you lot have brought the wrath of the Shadow Thieves down on my bar-”
“If there were any Shadow Thieves hiding nearby,” Dace spoke as he calmly set the bottle down, “then they would never have been spotted. Certainly not by a lowly tavern worker.” He cocked his head, telling the waiter to leave.
Melik moved near the unconscious thieves, checking them for weapons, “What actually concerns me, Scrap, is why Myrk is still alive when I gave you explicit instructions to kill him.”
Scrap swallowed, but didn't back down, “The last thing I need is a blood feud with the local guild. If they found out I killed one of their agents…”
The gnome pointed to Dace and Terrence, “You two, take the thieves into the back room, strip their weapons, and interrogate them. Find out if the guild has learned of our plans. We don't want any more interference from their ilk.”
“Then why the hell did you lure Myrk here in the first place?!” bellowed the tavern owner as the thieves were dragged away.
“As for you, Scrap,” said the gnome, “I would advise you not to disobey my orders any further. Now return to your business upstairs, you may have already brought ruin to my plans.” [ 6:08 ]
* * *
Ayva slammed Jena 's mace at the door again, finally breaking an arm-sized hole in the wood. She reached in and knocked the chair out of the way, then burst inside only to find that Bryn had vanished.
Seeing the open window over the bed, the woman swore to herself and climbed through, mace in hand, hoping to catch the kid before he got too far away.
Bryn counted to ten after Ayva went through the window, then rolled out from under the bed. ‘ Never do the most obvious thing ' was what he'd been taught. With doubled breath, the boy rushed back to the other room to see if he could help his aunt.
When he pulled the closet door open, he nearly vomited at the sight of the gaping, bloody wounds on her back. Bryn staggered back… watching Ayva stab his aunt was shocking enough. With a close up view, he was just about ready to pass out.
What little training he'd secretly taken with the guild was quickly lost as panic and fear grasped him. With tears flowing, he grabbed the bag of food and supplies that Jena had been packing, and bolted out of the house, running back toward the pawnshop. [ 6:11 ]
* * *
Rassa's pulse quickened in the dark as she heard a set of light footsteps between the steady dripping of the nearby pipes. The thieves' eyes had adjusted to the low-lit tunnels, and they soon saw their scout step into sight.
“Were-rats,” he whispered, “At least twelve creatures down at the end of the corridor.”
“A dozen of them?” mused Rassa, “Too small to be an infestation, too large to be a hunting party. They must be here with a specific purpose.” That didn't bode well for the Shadow Thief guild. Rassa had heard rumors of upstart were-rat guilds from the south that occasionally tried to muscle their way into the Baldur's Gate underworld, both literally and figuratively.
The scout continued, “They didn't see me come or leave, so we'll have the surprise advantage.”
“Good. Everyone, let's move,” she ordered, “five metre spread, no sou-”
She stopped in mid-sentence as a small spherical object, barely visible in the dark, rolled to a stop just in front of her feet. All the thieves looked down, squinting to see what it was. The metal ball suddenly burst open, flooding the corridor in a flash of bright, searing light. The thieves shouted in surprise, instinctively clutching their hands over their temporarily blinded eyes.
Above the confused shouts from all around, Rassa could hear some heavy scampering zip past her, followed by a horrified scream from one of the thieves behind her. There was a loud, mushy thump as someone was knocked over into the mud nearby. Squinting in her gray-white field of vision, Rassa drew a knife and brandished it as something charged toward her.
Before the thing could crash into her, Rassa's thief instincts told her to roll aside at just the right moment, and she thrust her blade up and forward, managing to cut whatever the creature was as it passed. Getting to her feet, she felt a bony, hairy set of arms grab her across the waist from behind, yanking her to the side and slamming her face against the slimy sewer wall.
Rassa felt a pair of jagged objects tear across her shoulder, ripping through armour and flesh. Growling in pain, she reacted by stabbing backward with her weapon, feeling the satisfying pressure from the blade as it pierced the foe behind her. The creature released her arms and stumbled away with a painful roar.
Just as she began to move, Rassa felt a terrible freezing pain in her lower back, as if she had been stabbed with an icicle. Her movements became sluggish as the cold sensation began to spread, eventually leaving her completely immobile. Two pairs of hands grabbed her by the arms and hoisted her up, carrying her away from the now-silent battle scene. [ 6:17 ]
* * *
“Did you check him thoroughly?” Dace asked as he placed Myrk's dagger on a shelf at the opposite side of the room.
Terrence rolled his eyes, “Yes, oh master, I found several blades on his person. All very sharp. Would you like me to stab you to show how sharp they are?” He held up four ordinary dirks, which he tossed haphazardly at the wall, one by one. The con artist watched as the dagger points got stuck in the middle of a fairly expensive tapestry.
The two unconscious thieves were sitting in separate chairs with their wrists shackled against opposite legs of the large table in the centre of the room. The table was built into the floor, so they couldn't simply lift it up to escape.
“He's an ugly scoundrel, isn't he? By his clothes, I'd think he sees the same tailor as you do,” said Terrence, picking at his teeth with a steel toothpick while pointing at Derrick's bruised face, “So how should we play this? Should I do all the talking or would you rather be the one to open your mouth for a change?”
“You are the con artist.” Dace pointed out, “We must know for certain that the Shadow Thieves have not become involved in this matter. I am certain you would rather not head off to the manor, only to find a rabble of armed hit-men waiting for you.”
“Hmm, I'm not as poor a fighter as you might think.” He looked at the unconscious pair, “Still, I wonder why I am even bothering with this question round. It wasn't part of the original arrangement, so maybe I shouldn't waste my time with this.”
Dace fixed his cold, steady gaze on Terrence, “If we do not get answers, we cannot continue the mission. And if we cannot continue the mission, you do not get paid.”
Terrence's face became serious, “Get out of my way, I'll slice them open in a dozen places if I have to.” [6:20]
* * *
Ayva traced her footprints back to the house, finally having given up attempting to track down the missing child. As the woman passed through the alleyway where she had been attacked, she caught sight of a metallic object glinting in the orange light cast by the low sun.
Though it was nearly submerged in the mud, she wiped it clean and was pleased to see that it was the dagger she had lost. A very special dagger, given to her by her ‘other' employer, and engraved with the image of a flame-winged angel. Secreting it away in her tunic, she returned to the streets to look for any sign of where Bryn might have gone.
As far as Ayva could remember, she hadn't told Bryn the explicit contents of Derrick's message, and his aunt seemed to act as though the kid wouldn't know the way to the Friendly Arms inn. Ayva also ruled out the pawnshop, as he would have to be a complete fool to return there.
She pushed the notion of finding the child out of her mind; all she could do now was return to her employer's lair and report what had happened. After all, it wasn't as if Derrick was completely untraceable… especially after she had planted the scented mark on him for the rats to follow. [6:23]
* * *
Rassa's arms were being held behind her back when movement returned and her vision finally cleared. She was being pushed through the sewer tunnels by several hairy, gray were-rats, presumably the ones who had attacked the previous thief squad as well. She took note that none of her assassins were taken along with her. So why had the creatures had spared her? And further, why had they bandaged her shoulder wound?
One of the rat-men wiggled his long, whiskered nose in her face when he saw her eyes on him, “Boss, I t'ink she's awake.”
The ‘boss', a hunched were-rat who seemed to tower over the others, turned around briefly but didn't slow his pace. “Then gag her if she talks.” He snarled, “We have more important things to do than worry about nurse-maiding her.”
Rassa noticed that all of the were-rats' eyes were almost completely squinted shut, leaving little more than a thin hairline slit between their eyelids. Blind mice. It would have been droll if they weren't planning to eat her.
The leader sniffed the air warily, then abruptly changed direction, “This way to the camp. With the number of parties the thieves have sent down, we may have to begin the invasion sooner than planned.” [6:30]
* * *
“Wake up, wake up!” shouted Terrence, nonchalantly tossing a glass of expensive ale into Derrick's face. “It's time for you to entertain me.” Derrick glared at the mercenary, who was smiling pleasantly as he woke Myrk in a similar manner.
“Agh, my eyes!” cried the whisper-man as the alcohol stung him.
“Ooh, that's the problem with me,” said their interrogator, “I'm always making little clumsy mistakes when I get upset. Like this!” He grabbed a broken chair leg from the ground and smashed it against a random bruise on Derrick's face, prompting a cry of pain. “Now, if you answer our questions, I won't get upset, and I might not make such clumsy little mistakes… as often.”
Standing behind them with his face hidden in shadow, Dace called out to them, “How much have you told the Shadows Thieves about your arrangement with Scrap?”
Myrk began speaking without even being threatened, “I told our local guildhouse leader, Orwin, but he didn't seem to care much. He was more concerned that I had brought Der-”
“Shut up, you fool!” Derrick bellowed. Myrk wisely closed his mouth.
“Orwin. Never heard of him,” remarked Terrence, “Do the Shadow Thieves know anything about our plans for this evening?”
Derrick spoke before Myrk could respond, “Why did you kill the wizard at Rombis' Tavern? Why frame the guild for that?”
Terrence was puzzled for a moment, but didn't lose stride, “I don't believe my question was directed at you.” He tore off a long piece of the wall tapestry and forcibly tied it around Derrick's mouth. The con artist then took a dagger from the shelf and held it against Myrk's throat, “I've gained a reputation down south for being very recklessly violent in interrogations. Are you really willing to help substantiate that claim?”
Myrk was utterly convinced by Terrence's bluff and started flapping, “The guild doesn't know anything! Even Derrick and I don't know what you're planning, it was all Derrick's idea to come back here! Ask him, you don't need me!”
Derrick grimaced in utter disgust.
“Very good,” smiled Terrence, “Now let's talk about the people in the building across the street.” [6:37]
* * *
“Pox-minded gangly-shoots, all four of them!” hollered the tavern owner as he complained to the random people sitting at the bar. “No amount of money could be worth this! My tavern, my reputation, my safety, all risked for what? A few bags of gold? That won't help me if I end up in some dark back-alley with a velvet mask stabbed onto my chest!”
One of the bar patrons, wearing a ragged loose-fit tunic, gestured toward his empty shot-glass. Scrap grudgingly poured a few drops in, then returned to his rant, “All these problems brought on by a couple of thieves. Why do I put up with this?” He took a long swig from the bottle, then poured some more into the patron's glass.
“Ah, well if they're so much trouble, then I'm sure it wouldn't kill you to throw them out before they cause any real damage,” said the patron, hoping the angry tavern owner would leave him alone.
“Yes, perhaps I should. They can't push me around like that in my own house!” Scrap left the bottle on the counter and made his way toward the stairs in the back, not even bothering to demand payment from the patron. [6:39]
Without touching his drink the patron stood from his seat, walked out the front door of the tavern, and made his way to the supposedly abandoned building across the street. As soon as he stepped inside the entrance, half a dozen armoured guards clanked out from the shadows and stood around the man.
Atamir stepped forward, “Well, lieutenant, what did you learn?”
Ponn tore off the ragged tunic, revealing the City Guard insignia on his ring mail underneath, “The owner is having problems with four mercenaries running some illegal activity out of his basement. I counted six strong-arms in the main room, but there are also at least twenty patrons there who look like the crooked brawling sort. I don't think many would be willing to surrender peacefully.”
“Good, I'm looking forward to a fight.” Atamir readied a sword and shield, and began barking orders in preparation for the raid. [6:42]
* * *
“I'm getting tired of your intrusions, Scrap. Return to your own business.”
Scrap shoved the gnome aside, “I want all four of you to clear out! Pack your things and don't return here, or I swear you-”
The halfling rushed into the room and handed a scroll to Melik, “Here's the pass we took from the City Council representative.”
“City Council?! By the pit, what are you up to?” Scrap snatched the scroll from Flink before they could react.
Dace emerged from the makeshift interrogation room, “What is going on now? We are busy trying to elicit information from our guests.”
“Scrap, I will only tell you this once more; leave this matter to those involved. Give me the pass.”
The tavern owner looked between the scroll and the gnome, “No. If you leave, I might consider returning it, but not until then.”
Dace sprung into motion toward Scrap, almost seeming to slide rather than sprint. Just as Scrap had grabbed the scroll before Flink could react, Dace deftly swiped it from the tavern keeper before anyone could move, and stood behind him, placing the pass on a table out of reach.
Melik held up his hands before the large man could protest, “Scrap, your service has been adequate in aiding our cause, and I am sorry that our arrangement must end now.”
Scrap relaxed his clenched jaw and seemed to calm down.
“Dace,” said the gnome, “please kill him.”
The tip of a red-stained sword burst out through the front of Scrap's chest, piercing through the man's heart between his ribs. With a wet gasp, Scrap immediately staggered forward, vainly trying to dislodge Dace's grip on the weapon as a red stain expanded across both sides of his tunic. After a few more moments of blood loss, the man with the metal teeth collapsed and was gone.
“The thieves don't seem to know anything about our true plans,” Dace said as he indifferently wiped his blade on the corpse, “If there is anyone watching the building, it will likely be the town guard.”
“Then it's time for us to begin. Leave the corpse, we'll be away long before anyone thinks to come down here. Flink, carry our belongings to the stables. As for-”
There were several loud crashing noises from upstairs, followed by a succession of battle cries and swearing. In the bar room above, the guards had stormed the tavern, and were now engaging the seedy clientele in a half-drunken, all-out brawl. [6:45]
Dace threw open the door to the interrogation room, “Terrence, forget the thieves. We must evacuate the building, now! Hurry and grab the crystals before you leave.”
The con artist looked up from his intimidating work, “What, you want me to just leave them here? They've seen our faces!”
“No, they've seen your face. That's why you did all the talking.” Dace's face had been in the shadows throughout the interrogation.
“Then we should either bring them with us or kill them.”
“Yes.” Dace cryptically stated, then ignored the man's further protests and left the room.
Bristling with frustration at the situation, the con artist put the metal toothpick between his lips, drew a dagger, and began to unlock Myrk's shackles, “Now don't try anything sneaky, I've got-”
As soon as the clasps opened, Myrk surged from the chair and head-butted Terrence in the gut, causing the mercenary to drop his blade and spit the spike out across the room. As the two scrambled to their feet and began to trade blows, Derrick leaned to the side, lowering his hands to the floor. Still shackled to the table, he adjusted his position so he could reach the metal toothpick that had landed near the table leg.
Neither of the two men now locked in combat was a competent fighter. But Terrence had the size advantage, and quickly managed to slam the young thief against the wall tapestry. The mercenary grabbed one of the daggers he had left there earlier and slammed it upward into Myrk's gut. The thief gasped and his eyes bulged as blood began to seep into his lung. Terrence withdrew the weapon and let his victim slump to the ground.
Derrick bent the metal toothpick, then twisted it again in the lock on his shackles and heard a satisfying click as the bonds came undone. He immediately threw them off and charged at the mercenary, tackling the killer just as he was turning around.
They both struck the ground and the dagger in Terrence's hand skittered across the stone floor. [6:50]
* * *
Melik handed one of the wrapped crystals to Flink. “Be careful or be incinerated,” he warned as the halfling ran to the escape chute at the back of the basement that led into the stables. The gnome grabbed a second crystal and was about to follow when two armoured men charged down the stairs, each wearing the insignia of the city guard.
“Halt! I am Capt. Atamir, and I am hereby placing you under-” The captain's words were frozen on his lips as Melik fired off a minor Hold Person spell.
Lt. Ponn had jumped aside to avoid the spell's effect, and now stepped toward the gnomish wizard with his sword held high. But before he could reach the spellcaster, a figure in black appeared from the shadows and smashed a chair over the young guard's head. Dace then kicked Ponn a few times to ensure he was really out.
Without missing a beat, the gnome continued to give orders, “Grab the remaining two crystals!” He certainly wasn't going to risk himself further by carrying any more of the dangerous artifacts. “Meet us in the stables.” Dace looked on in silence as the gnome retreated through the back. [6:52]
* * *
Terrence stumbled back against a shelf, clutching his bleeding nose from the many punches he'd received from Myrk and now Derrick. As Derrick came forward again, he grabbed the mercenary by the collar, “When your band first brought Myrk here, you took his dagger. Who did you give it to?” he demanded, hoping to find a connection to the murder at Rombis' place.
Terrence sneered as he touched a familiar metal object on the shelf behind him. In a quick move, he grabbed the dagger from the shelf and thrust it at Derrick's chest before the ex-thief could react. As the weapon struck, Derrick felt something shift roughly beneath his tunic. Apparently Terrence hadn't searched Derrick thoroughly enough, for he had missed the second magical dagger Derrick received from Orwin.
The mercenary's blade and the magic dagger clashed, both shattering into tiny pieces, leaving both men unarmed. The con artist stared in surprise as the metal bits fell to the floor like glittering sand.
From the corner of his eye, Derrick noticed movement by the door. He ducked down as a throwing knife passed overhead, missing its intended target and instead impaling Terrence in the lower throat.
Dace swore and banged the door shut, darting away as Derrick came forward in pursuit. Shaking the metal pieces out from under his shirt, Derrick bashed the door through into the mercenaries planning room. He saw Scrap's corpse and the two guards, one frozen in place and the other unconscious on the floor, but beyond that the room appeared to be empty. The sounds of clanging metal and boisterous shouting from upstairs told him that he didn't have long before other guards came investigating.
Casting a glance back to Myrk, still lying in the room with a bloody wound over his stomach, a wave of shame flooded through Derrick's heart. The ex-thief lowered his head in guilt and gave a silent prayer in Myrk's name. It was happening again. Because of his own selfish goals, another innocent person was dead. It was no different than the job six years ago.
But there was little time for him to grieve now. Derrick glanced over some of the maps lying around the room, carefully crept around the Captain, then slowly made his way up the stairs toward the noises coming from the upper level, hoping to catch Dace before it was too late.
Dace stepped out of the shadows after Derrick left, and peeked in the interrogation room where Terrence and Myrk lay dead amidst the shattered metal and wood.
“A painfully simple task…” he muttered, shaking his head in disgust at the mess. [6:55]
* * *
With swearing abound and chairs flying through the air, the tavern's main hall was a chaotic mess. Dozens of criminals mindlessly threw themselves at the incoming guards, motivated solely by their oblique hatred for authority. Meanwhile the ex-thief cautiously stepped hidden through the shadows along the walls, seeking to avoid being attacked by one of the drunken louts or extremely prejudiced guards. As he made his way around to the door, he cast a final glance at the frenzied fighting patrons, wondering if he should have involved himself with the whole matter in the first place.
He turned and pulled the door open, only to find himself staring into the eyes of a very angry Inquisitor.
“Hold there, criminal!” Vellin boomed, leveling his sword at the man, “I know perfectly well what you are, and I am hereby placing you under arrest.” [6:56]
* * *
In the sewers, the were-rat leader locked the prisoner's cage and ordered two of his rodent-like minions to watch Rassa carefully, “Do not allow her to move out of that corner until we are ready. She is going to help us bring down the guild…” [6:57]
* * *
Bryn looked up as the sky began to shift from murky orange to somber black. Nightfall was upon the city, and he was single child with nobody to turn to. He continued running through the streets, wondering just what the hell he was going to do now. [6:58]
* * *
Ayva stepped through the shadowed hallway and into the main narthex, “Derrick and his son have escaped into the city. What are your orders?”
The woman in the green veil looked up from the rune-covered altar and smiled grimly. [6:59]
* * *
At the city gates, embossed with long shadows by the setting sun, the foreign diplomats from various cities along the Sword Coast arrived. As the chief representatives gave formal waves from their ornate carriages to the spectators lining the streets, their personal servants and bodyguards trotted along from behind. None could have anticipated the force that was even now orchestrating their destruction.
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