By Deverian Valandil
[ 11:00 ]
It was surprising enough for the three Knights of the Shield to see someone abruptly appear before them in a flash of light at the middle of their hideout. The greater shock came from the fact that the man just happened to be one of the prominent diplomats from the summit. Dace had appeared a few moments later and without saying a word, dragged the stunned diplomat downstairs to secure his hostage.
The assassin finally returned to the main room as the eyeless glares of the masked men bored into his face. Dace casually strolled over to their table and tossed a dagger into the middle. Now it was time to make their lives difficult, “If you want him dead, you can do it yourself.”
“What's this?” snapped silver-mask, “Have you lost your nerve for killing?”
“Mind your words, I just now killed the halfling, my own comrade. And I have half a mind to kill you three as well for your intended betrayal.” The assassin reached into his vest, pulled out the infernus crystal, and tossed the dangerous object from hand to hand.
The three men stirred slightly. Gold spoke first, “It wouldn't be wise of you to try that. We three are protected by the magical wards placed upon this building. No harm shall come to us so long as we remain here.”
“You might be protected from the initial fiery explosion, but I doubt your magical wards would save you from suffocating in the smoke. Or from being trapped when the burning ceiling crashes down on top of you. Oh, and you can also expect a visit from the paladins of Tyr.”
“What are you on about?”
“I left my halfling companion dead on the floor of the Ducal Palace . I imagine a cleric of Tyr will soon be divining the location of this building from Flink's recently departed spirit.” He leaned forward on the table, “So now we find ourselves at an impasse. If you take a single step outside the building, I will kill you for planning to double-cross me. If you stay, we can all go off to prison where one of the local toughs will kill you,” a slight smirk appeared on his lips, “We could have avoided this unpleasantness if we signed a contract like I asked.”
The gold-masked man raised his head, “What do you seek from this? Money? If so, we can provide-”
“The time for that has passed. Now I demand payment by information as well. What are your true plans for the summit, and what did you do with the Shadow Thief dagger that Melik gave you?” Dace was used to reading people's faces for lies, but these masked men would present a more difficult challenge.
The Shield Knights briefly turned away from the assassin and began to communicate telepathically through the magic of their masks so he wouldn't hear them.
‘This is ridiculous, we should contact the Maiden and warn her of this ruffian,' said gold-mask.
Silver replied, ‘In her eyes, we are already in poor favour. If she learns that we hired out an independent group of outsiders for this matter, we might be punished. She explicitly ordered us not to involve anyone else.'
‘Enough of this,' declared platinum-mask, “There is no harm in revealing what we know to this mercenary. The fact remains that even we do not know what her true plans are. We will bring this mercenary closer as an ally, rather than wasting this opportunity.' Even though it was only a mental message, the other Shield Knights could hear a tone of finality in his words.
The platinum-masked man aimed his gaze at Dace and spoke aloud for the first time, “We are not the true drivers behind the summit sabotage; our orders came from another to whom we are indebted. She is a powerful wizard, and all that has happened was done at her bidding.”
“What is her name and how can I find her?” demanded Dace.
“We do not know. She has never even revealed her face to us. We only address her as ‘the Maiden', and she only contacts us every now and then; we have no way of reaching her.” That was a partial lie, but the mercenary didn't seem to question it. The masked man continued, “As for the dagger, we can only tell you that it was specifically requested by the Maiden. There is nothing else we can tell you.”
Dace stood silently and absorbed all this information… his wisdom didn't give any sign that Platinum was lying. “Then I will have to wait here.”
“For this ‘Maiden' to arrive when she learns that none of the diplomats are dead. I want a piece of the action. And I doubt she'll tolerate your failure to carry out your tasks.”
Silver slammed his fist on the table and shouted furiously, “You're a fool if you think to toy with such a dangerous person. If you stay, I'll make sure you receive nothing but death.”
“So be it,” Dace haphazardly tossed the crystal up in the air and turned toward the door.
Gold-mask was the first to react, “Wait! We can work this out!”
The mercenary stuck a hand out behind his back and deftly caught the crystal before it hit the floor, “I am listening.”
“If you are willing to hear us out,” said platinum-mask, “we have an offer for you. No falsehoods or lies this time.”
The assassin cast a forewarning eye toward each of the men in turn and brooded for a few moments, “Tell me.” [ 11:10 ]
* * *
“This is a horrendous crime! An affront to all that is humane and just in the world!” Sir Treysen was shouting a little too close to Vellin's ear.
“Cease your tongue,” snapped Vellin, who was quickly becoming irritated by the Tormite's ranting, “Where is the Chancellor? I fear he may have been taken by the assassin after he blinded me.” He tugged on the white blindfold around his eyes.
“I've sent a few knights to search the building. Rest assured, we have the matter well in hand.”
“Perhaps the diplomats should be relocated to our secondary site. If this building's security has been breached…”
“No! Uh, no sir. With all respect, only I have the authority to make that decision, and I don't believe it's necessary. Right now I'm more concerned with what can be done for you.”
“Nothing! The clerics say my sight is lost forever,” his grip tightened on the walking stick that one of the clerics had brought him, “But I refuse to submit myself to a life of inadequacy and inability. Even in this darkness I can fulfill my duties. I can still detect people or dangers with my paladin-sense. If there is evil nearby, I will ferret it out.”
“Yes, sir. Of course, sir,” said Treysen, somewhat unnerved by the combined defiance and desperation in the Inquisitor's voice, “Uh, have you given any more thought to your suspicions about the murder at Rombis' Tavern?”
The Inquisitor pondered a moment, “Yes, I am becoming more and more convinced that someone may have leaked information to these assassins we are facing. First, they knew that the tavern was originally going to be the first stop of the evening tour. It cannot be a coincidence that they also knew exactly where to find the room of the Tethyrian ambassador. There are dozens of chambers in this palace, and it would take uncanny luck for them to accidentally find one of the three most important diplomats in attendance.
“For security reasons,” the Inquisitor continued, “only four people were given the location of the dwarf's tavern two days in advance; myself, the cleric Selena Shademoor, Chancellor Thinder, and the head of security, you. The Chancellor has been unusually hostile toward our security measures, even for a politician. I suspect he may have some involvement with the security breaches.”
“I'll assign someone to keep an eye on him. As for you, I think the clerics will-” Treysen stopped as a page raced into the room, “What is it?”
“Sir! The prisoner that was being held in the basement escaped! There was a fight, and someone's been mortally wounded!”
Inquisitor Vellin began to rise, but Treysen placed a hand on his shoulder and convinced him to remain, “Perhaps you had best leave this matter to me. You should take some time to rest,” the paladin of Torm made his way to the door, “Lead on. Who was injured?”
“Chancellor Thinder.” [ 11:14 ]
* * *
In the rank tunnels of the sewers, the absence of light seemed to magnify even the slightest of noises, every drip of water and squeaking pipe, to make them sound acutely terrifying. And the worst sound of all was that of his own heartbeat, like a tiny person was trying to rapidly punch it's way out of his chest. Bryn could tell from her breathing rate that Linde was feeling even worse, trapped in a place of both silence and darkness as they blindly followed the tunnel wall.
But even against the various background noises, Bryn could just barely hear the faint echo of voices, further ahead in the sewers. “Shh, listen!” he said, momentarily forgetting that Linde couldn't hear him. When she felt him stop, Linde held perfectly still, trying desperately to calm her breathing.
For a brief moment, Bryn was filled with indecision, unsure whether he should risk moving toward people who dwelled in the underworld. That indecision was quickly flushed away by a succession of heavy footsteps coming from not too far behind.
“I can taste your presence on the air, brats!” growled wolf-beast through the dark, coming closer from somewhere behind the kids.
The tiny person in Bryn's chest seemed to have switched to a sledgehammer. Bryn tossed all caution to the gutter and bolted down the corridor, yanking Linde behind him with one hand, and running his other against the wall for direction. [ 11:16 ]
* * *
“Cleric! Call for a cleric!” shouted Sir Treysen, shoving the page toward the door. A few paladins were already present, standing around the man who claimed to be the Luskan envoy and his dead bodyguard. Weakly propped against the wall with a severe chest wound was the Chancellor, glaring at the ‘Luskan' with fierce eyes.
“The Chancellor tells us that this Luskan is an imposter,” one of the paladins informed Treysen, “Apparently he is a Zhentish spy, and had the gall to try and assassinate the Chancellor during the commotion.” Treysen noted the blood on the Zhentish spy's hands.
“What about the prisoner who was being held here?”
“Vanished, sir. But Chancellor Thinder wanted to have a word with you on that matter. He refused to speak to anyone else about it.”
Treysen kneeled down beside the bleeding Chancellor, and carefully lay his hands across the man's wound. The paladin closed his eyes for a moment, and the spot glowed blue as the divine magic slowed the bleeding and healed some of the damage.
Even so, Thinder still winced at the pain that continued to burn in his chest. He gestured for Treysen to lean in closer, “The prisoner was not an assassin,” Thinder said weakly, “he was a covert informant for me.”
Sir Treysen, lacking Vellin's truth-divining ability, nodded along, “I already know he wasn't here to kill anyone. The Inquisitor encountered the real assassins upstairs, but one of them escaped.” A pair of clerics arrived at the door, and Treysen stood back as they prepared to use their magic on the injured Chancellor.
The Knight of Torm pointed at the false envoy, “Take this man away to the nearest prison.”
The paladins glanced at each other, “But sir, we already have assignments from Inquisitor Vellin. If we don't return to our posts…”
“I'm in charge of security here, and I demand that you move this traitor away from these grounds,” ordered Treysen, “I won't risk any further damage from this imposter.”
The other knights nodded and obediently carried the Zhents away. [ 11:18 ]
* * *
After fleeing the holding room, Derrick escaped by going down what he assumed was a basement garbage shaft. Unfortunately, it was actually the pipe where the Palace chamber pots were emptied. And he'd landed in a steaming pile of dung.
“Damn, damn, damn,” muttered Derrick as he pulled himself to his feet. Even with the heavy bruises on his face and the gash in his side, he had somehow managed to wield his sword against the Zhentish thug without blacking out from the pain. Still, the only reason the thug was now dead was because the Chancellor had stabbed the thug in the back with one of Derrick's daggers that had been left on the table.
In turn, the Zhent spy had stabbed Thinder in the lower chest. Unfortunately, sounds of approaching knights forced him to grab his belongings and beat a quick escape while the Chancellor struggled against the spy. Looking back at that single moment filled Derrick with a resurgence of regret.
He barely even knew the Chancellor, except by reputation. Yet the pain of Derrick's own cowardice hurt him even more than the collective abuse he'd received from the Zhents. Throughout his life, many people around him had fallen so that he might survive; Thinder, Myrk, Lorelei, Syra. With each name, he caught a glimpse of their face in his mind's eye. Escaping his former life was not a matter of simply washing his hands of blood.
Distant voices coming from above shook him from his thoughts.
The thief removed the blackjack from the hidden pocket, then threw off his soiled cloak and checked his surroundings. The only light was coming from the shaft he'd fallen from, but he could sense a draft (a foul, stinking draft) wafting in from down the waste tunnel. Walking near the wall, Derrick sloshed through the mess, wondering what options he had now.
Derrick felt his resolve rising again. Time to finally get some answers to this whole mess. [ 11:21 ]
* * *
“Closer, just lean a little closer…” Rassa whispered to herself, eyes locked on the key around the wererat jailer's waist. The rats were beginning to get bored guarding their prisoner and laxly stood closer to the cage than they should have.
The jailer yawned and stretched his fuzzy arms, bending back slightly. Rassa swiped at the key, but the wererat suddenly stepped away, hissing and pointing at one of the large open pipes overlooking the camp. Two children, a girl and boy, were standing at the opening and staring down at the swarm of man-rats below.
As a band of wererats began to circle below, the kids were about to retreat back the way they came, but halted as a large, shadowed form came up behind him. The boy, still gripping his friend's hand, took a nervous step away from the grey creature, but slipped and lost his footing. Both children tumbled down and landed with a ‘splut' in the middle of the ring of wererats.
The rats were about to seize the children when the grey wolf-beast thumped down among the lycanthropes and released a monstrous war cry. Immediately, the rats responded to the beast's roar with a succession of hisses and curled lips.
Bryn and Linde were barely on their feet when the fur started flying. The wolf-beast was larger than the wererats and, by the way he was throwing the squealing rodents around, Rassa saw that it was much stronger as well.
The grey, hairless monster hurled the wererat jailer across the room, causing the lycanthrope to slam into the ground near the cage. Rassa tried reaching through the bars, but the key was underneath the wererat's hairy bulk and she couldn't move it from where she was.
The guild lieutenant looked over to the two children, who were cowering behind one of the trash tents. “Hey, you two! Help me out of here and I can show you out of the sewers!” she shouted over the sounds from the battling beasts.
Bryn glanced over and saw a human woman with a large bruise in the middle of her forehead. He led Linde over to the woman, who pointed at the unconscious wererat, “Kid, turn that rat over and give me the key on his belt.”
Linde nervously glanced over at the wolf-beast while Bryn did as Rassa told him. With much effort, he managed to roll the wererat enough to rip the key from its waist. He held it out to the prisoner, but before she could reach for it, Bryn suddenly pulled it back, “Wait, who are you? How do we know you're any better than those things?” He cocked his head at the brawling monsters.
“I'm a member of the Shadow Thieves. That's not the most honest position, but you'll stand a better chance with me than with the rats.” Another wererat seemed to fly in from nowhere and crashed its head into the cage bars, prompting both humans to jump back. Rassa quickly suppressed her surprise and came forward again, holding out her hand.
Bryn nodded and passed her the key. If she was part of the Shadow Thieves, then maybe this could be his chance to get in with the guild. He'd tried to join before, but even though he passed most of their tests, the final trainer had rejected him outright.
Rassa unlocked her cell and searched the unconscious wererats nearby. She pocketed a few small metal balls, then motioned for the children to follow her. Bryn pulled Linde's attention away from the wolf-beast's blood-smeared jaws, and motioned for her to follow as the woman guided them in the opposite direction through the sewers. [ 11:28 ]
* * *
Derrick pried his sword and silver fork under the edge of the rusted grating, forcing the long-weakened bolts out of their holes. The pipe grating fell off and Derrick crouched through the low opening to find himself outside once more. The tunnel opened into a river embankment that ran through one of the neighbourhood slums in the north of the city. Typical that the filth of the rich would be emptied out near the homes of the poor.
He took a moment to wash off the remaining muck from his pants and boots, then climbed out of the river to catch his bearings. The route south to the pawnshop would take him past Orwin's guildhouse. As much as he hated having to constantly ask Orwin for aid, Derrick had a strong feeling he was going to need help to find Bryn and survive this disastrous day. Now that he knew the Chancellor was in Orwin's pocket, Derrick hoped that Thinder's recent distress might be the leverage he needed to change Orwin's disinterest.
The thief ran down the street, wondering why this area of the city seemed so empty. [ 11:32 ]
* * *
In a normally quiet alleyway on the east side of the city, a sewer cover clanked loudly as it was shove up off the manhole. Rassa poked her head through and peeked around the pitch-dark alley. The street wasn't empty, but very few of the beggars and hobos paid much heed to her as she hauled herself out of the underworld.
The guild lieutenant didn't bother helping the children out, instead she was far more concerned with getting her bearings. There was a quick route to the guild from here, but Rassa would have to scale a few walls and stick to the shadows.
Rassa stretched her arm, then winced at the pain erupting from the shoulder wound. She hoped the guild healer would be on duty.
Bryn struggled out onto the street, then leaned over and pulled Linde up as well, “Hey miss,” he said to Rassa, “since we helped you escape, I'd say you owe–”
“Forget it kid,” she snapped, setting off without paying them another glance, “I have more important things to do than hold the hands of a few runny-nosed street rats. I led you out, and that's all I'll do.”
“What?” Bryn began to follow, “You can't just abandon us–”
Linde suddenly caught his arm, lightly tugging him and pointing in a different direction. Bryn looked back between Rassa and Linde, then moved with the girl, hoping she was leading him somewhere safe. [ 11:35 ]
* * *
Melik awakened to the unpleasant sensation of Dace's boot kicking him in the chest. The spell he was planning to cast would drain his energy, both mentally and physically, so the gnome had taken a quick nap atop a bale of hay.
The wizard struggled up into a sitting position, “What do you want n– will you stop that?!”
Dace finally relented his prodding, “The Shield Knights want you to cast whatever spells you have planned. None of the envoys have been eliminated, and our employers are becoming anxious.”
“You mean my employers.”
“No, we worked out another deal while you were sleeping.” A suspicious look appeared in the gnome's eye. Dace quickly added, “Nothing that would infringe upon you, of course. Simply a little business on the side. Which reminds me,” the assassin held out the jewelry box he'd taken from the Zhentish spy, “What can you tell me about this?”
The gnome brought the container up to his face, “There are no hinges or openings. Even the ‘lock' is just drawn on.”
“I am no doubt amazed by your grasp of the obvious. Tell me something I do not see plainly with my own eyes.”
The enchanter glared, “It's a Wizard's Box. Even a novice mage can open it, but it is a cipher to those unschooled in the mystic arts,” he smirked darkly, then closed his eyes and uttered a few syllables. The box glowed slightly, and a horizontal crease appeared around the midsection. When the glowing ceased, Dace saw that the picture of the keyhole had become real.
Melik tried to force it open, but the box remained secure, “Of course, even without the wards, you'll still need the key.”
Dace took the box back and peered into the hole. “It is a simple tumbler set. Even a novice rogue can open it, but it is a cipher to those unschooled in the shadowed arts,” said the assassin, mirroring Melik's comments.
“Yes, yes, if I wasn't so busy right now, I'd show you a thing or two with a Knock spell.”
“Indeed,” said Dace, “now hurry with your duties so I can return to mine. Our prisoners, the guard and diplomat in the basement may try to escape.”
“Oh ho,” the wizard's smirk returned, “I'm sure they will.” [ 11:38 ]
* * *
“Yeah, she's a real beauty, isn't she?” beamed the guard as he placed the diamond ring on the tavern table for his fellows to see, “We were hauling the corpse carts to the Tyr priests, and we got a little ‘bonus'.”
After selling the crystal they'd taken from Terrence's corpse, the guards were quick to spend the money on vital supplies like jewels and beer.
“So the Church really gave you a precious crystal?” asked one of his friends, “I've never heard of such generosity from those haughty knights.” Captain Atamir's dislike of the paladins had rubbed off on his officers over his years in command.
“That's an exquisite gemstone,” spoke a woman from behind the first guard, “I had no idea the City Guard were paid such healthy salaries.”
The guard smirked as he toyed with the ring, “Heh heh. Thanks, girl. Bring us another round of drinks will you, lass?” He turned in his seat, expecting to see a modestly dressed tavern waitress.
Instead he saw the harsh green-eyed glare of a fully cloaked elven cleric. He made a feeble attempt to hide the ring, but Selena grabbed the surprised guard by the wrist and pushed his hand back down on the table. Still pinning the guard's arm, the cleric casually pulled up a chair and sat down beside the uncomfortable officer.
“Your fellow officers at the barracks told me you'd be here,” the red-haired elf snatched up the guard's mug, took a sip of his beer, then plucked the ring from his fingers, “Now, let's discuss where exactly you spent that little ‘bonus' of yours…” [ 11:41 ]
* * *
It was dancing. It looked like a lively jig, mocking those onlookers and peasants trying to extinguish it. The fire was alive in an all-out blaze, rapidly spreading across the neighbourhood to several adjoining wood-and-straw houses.
Derrick had noticed the line of people hauling buckets of water, but wasn't expecting that anyone would ever try to burn down the guild of all places.
From the whispers he overheard in the gathered crowd, Derrick learned that there had been an explosion in the guildhouse, completely obliterating the outer wall. Unless he was mistaken, that breach was where Orwin's office used to be.
Derrick thought back to the debacle at Rombis' tavern; it had been completely empty at peak hours . Mysteriously enough, Rombis himself was nowhere to be seen. And now Orwin was probably dead. Everything that happened today lead back to one thing: the Siron job.
Ayva's conspirators were, for some reason, targeting the four people who participated in the mission. If that was true, then after Derrick, Cerdan could be the next victim on the enemies' list.
Derrick retreated into the shadows of a nearby alley and rushed away toward his shop in the south. First he had to get to Ayva, then he'd pay a visit to Cerdan. [ 11:45 ]
Close by, Rassa skulked through the darkened side streets. Seeing her one-time guildhouse in the raging inferno confirmed her fears. The guild had been infiltrated, and judging by the words she overheard from the mage and the wererats, Derrick had been involved somehow.
The lieutenant clenched her teeth as she stalked after Derrick. His presence here couldn't have been mere coincidence. Except for the metal orbs she took from the wererats, Rassa had no weapons, whereas Derrick was likely armed to the teeth.
A heavy sneer formed over her lip. With every step, her anger toward the ex-thief swelled. Orwin had warned her of treachery from Derrick. Now it was up to her to avenge the all the lives that had been deceitfully snuffed out.
As if sensing her thoughts, Derrick halted in his tracks, listening carefully to his surroundings. In a quick flourish, he whirled about-face and drew his longsword, pointing it ahead.
There was nobody following him. He squinted in the shadows, almost certain that he'd heard footsteps.
“Chilly night to be running about without cloak or coat,” spoke a frigid voice from behind him, “Perhaps you'd care to start a fire?”
Derrick slowly turned back, but saw only shadows. Rassa stepped away from the wall and into the moonlight, “Oh, but of course, you already did. Of course, revenge is best when served cold.” She suddenly became aware of a strange itching sensation coming from her shoulder wound.
“I'm not responsible for the fire,” Derrick recognized her as the lieutenant he'd knocked out at the guild earlier in the afternoon, “And I don't have time for this.” His impatience was really a cover for his reluctance to fight. With his head still badly bruised and the side-gash widening, Derrick knew he wasn't combat ready. He slowly began to circle around, but Rassa moved to block his way.
“I won't let you leave, traitor. Not after what you've done–” Rassa's head suddenly twitched to the side, and the itch from her wound grew into a painful prickling sensation, “What… what's happening to me?”
She reached up, winced, and tore the bandage from her shoulder. The gaping, bloody gash that greeted her looked ragged and uneven. The wound hadn't come from a straight blade… it was a bite mark. Rassa had been bitten by a wererat back in the sewers!
She looked up into the night's sky. Never before had the moon seemed like such a grim portent. The prickling spread out from her shoulder and was now affecting her entire body. Her arms began twitching uncontrollably, and strands of brown hair began to sprout from her skin.
Derrick looked on, frozen in horror as the woman's furry skin began to swell, ripping through her clothes as new muscles began to form. The additional bulk forced Rassa into a hunching posture, while her facial features stretched and extended to match those of a rodent. Within moments she was no longer Rassa, guild lieutenant of the Shadow Thieves. With her mind shattered and rage flared, she was now a feral wererat with one infuriated thought on her mind: slay the traitor. [ 11:49 ]
The ex-thief looked between his steel sword and the tough-hide of the creature that now stood before him. He'd heard that werecreatures had rapid healing powers, vulnerable only to the pure touch of silver weapons. To Derrick's credit, he did have one edge on her; she appeared to be almost completely blind. The transformation had caused her eyelids to droop and extend, leaving her with little more than a thin sliver of vision.
The Rassa-rat shrieked, but instead this came out as a snarl. Undergoing a lycanthropic transformation like that was a disorienting experience, leaving the person unable to perform higher functions like forming lucid speech.
Although the world was little more than a dark blur to her eyes, Rassa realized that she could smell her surroundings. The stench from the pile of garbage rotting by the wall was now as prevalent to her as a beacon. Even moreso was Derrick himself. His scent was wafting off him, and Rassa could actually sense his movements by the way that scent drifted through the air.
Derrick tried to quietly sidle past the blind wererat, but she followed his movements and shifted to stop him, sniffing the air warily. He grabbed a fist-sized rock from the ground and pitched it at his opponent, striking Rassa between the eyes. As she stumbled back, Derrick broke into a run and charged for the exit of the alley.
Her dim rodent instincts told Rassa that she needed a new advantage to fight Derrick. Reaching into a pocket, she whipped out one of the metallic spheres and threw it down the street at the running ex-thief. The metal orb bounced past Derrick and burst just two paces ahead of him.
A searing burst of whiteness exploded into Derrick's vision, causing him to drop his sword, stumbling as he uselessly clutched his hands over his eyes. Everything had turned into a fuzzy wall of white and grey. A moment later, there was a quick scampering behind him, and a huge heavy form jumped on his back, grabbing him by the neck. Rather than try to pull forward against Rassa's powerful grasp, Derrick slammed his head and shoulders backward , knocking the wererat into the stone wall.
Rassa's grip slackened, and Derrick pulled away, staggering forward and turning about, fumbling for a weapon; dagger, blackjack, or anything sharp and pointy. Just as his fingers touched a cold metal object, Rassa lunged again, this time latching her claws onto his wrist, hoisting his arm up in the air. The cold object fell from his tunic and clattered to the ground.
The wererat's lips curled back into what could have been either a smile or a sneer. Derrick fell to his knees as Rassa's claws clenched, putting even more strain on the bones in his forearm, and drawing a small line of blood. Still blinded and groaning in pain, Derrick's free hand touched the ground to steady himself.
As his hand made contact with the dirt, Derrick's thumb grazed something cold and smooth. Hoping it was a dagger (and that it was pointed the right way), he quickly snatched it up and thrust upward to where he guessed the left side of Rassa's torso would be.
The weapon dug surprisingly deep into her skin, and Derrick's action was rewarded with a pained gurgle from his assailant. He wrenched free of Rassa's hold once more and took a few steps back, listening to the rat's pained cries, thrashing on the ground before him.
The ex-thief fell back, leaning against the wall and clutching his wrist. With his vision still dimmed, it would be foolish to try and run… he'd probably end up wandering into the path of a donkey cart.
For a several long and tense moments, Derrick waited by the wall to find out his opponent's fate. Rassa released one last, wet breath and fell silent. [ 11:54 ]
* * *
Down in the basement below the Shield Knights' warehouse, below the stable where Melik was casting his arcane spell, a new scheme was about to dawn. The kidnapped Tethyrian envoy was peering through the window in his cell. Lieutenant Ponn of the City Guard was being held in the room on the opposite side of the hall.
Ambassador Korrien had heard the assassin – the dangerous one in black – enter Ponn's cell a few minutes ago and judging by the sounds had beaten the other prisoner harshly. Still, at least that told Korrien there was a potential ally here who might figure a way out.
“Wake up! You there, I order you to awaken!” shouted the ambassador.
Rubbing his aching temples, Ponn groaned and struggled to hi feet. It felt like someone had set up a Maztican war-drum in his skull and was beating out a steady, painful rhythm. He peeked through his own cell window and stared at the ambassador.
“I am a dignitary from Tethyr, you must help me escape!”
The lieutenant blinked uncertainly, then stupidly his door handle. Naturally, it was locked. The pounding in his head suddenly doubled in tempo. Ponn glanced down at the hinges. The door's wood panelling and iron handle both looked brand new, yet the hinges were terribly rusted.
The lieutenant hooked a finger under the slightly warped piece of metal and, straining with as much might as he could muster, began to pry it off. After much grunting effort, he sufficiently loosened the hinges' grasp on the door. Ponn took a few steps back, then charged and slammed it with his shoulder. The door burst open, sending an uncomfortably loud ‘crack' echoing through the corridor.
Korrien winced. Surely the mercenaries would be rushing down in full force any second now.
No one came. Ponn spotted the cell keys conveniently lying unguarded on a table by the stairs. He quickly unlocked the ambassador's cell and gestured for him to follow.
Now that he could see Ponn, Korrien noticed that the guard was missing his armour, leaving him in a simple tunic and pants. If they had to fight to escape, unarmed and unarmoured, they would be at a sore disadvantage. Despite these fears, Korrien stepped into line and accompanied Lieutenant Ponn.
Within a few hours, he would be dead. [ 11:57 ]
* * *
The edges of Derrick's field of vision had cleared, but there was still a splotch of light obscuring the centre of his sight. Now he could see Rassa and the blow that killed her. The useless silver fork, the one Derrick had picked up during his earlier battle with Ayva, was now lodged deep in the wererat's throat. Though Derrick had aimed for her heart, the low hunch of the wererat's upper body caused him to hit her windpipe instead.
He didn't bother trying to retrieve the fork, afraid that the fallen rat might spring back to life and bite him. Instead, he grabbed his sword from the ground and staggered south toward his pawnshop.
Unfortunately, he didn't make it very far. Two shimmering green walls sprung up from the ground behind and in front of him, blocking his way through the alley. He skidded to a stop, and stared stupefied at the magical barriers. He experimentally reached out and tapped one of the barriers.
A stream of electric sparks burst from the field as he made contact. It began to buzz and ripple as it rapidly flowed away from the wall and into his body through his hand. He wanted to pull out, but his arm was frozen with a numbing paralysis that quickly broadened over his whole body, leaving him with a pins-and-needles feeling all over. At least it helped him forget the steady pain wracking him everywhere.
An echo of cold laughter came from behind. Derrick swore in his mind as footsteps approached. Rassa must have recovered somehow!
“This saves me the trouble of having to hunt you down myself,” the speaker had a clear, feminine voice, “That guild woman was meant to lead me to the elf…”
The newcomer stepped into view; it was the green-veiled woman he'd seen earlier at Rombis' tavern. Even worse, her comment confirmed Derrick's suspicions… Cerdan was next.
“…But I suppose you'll do just as well.” She uttered another spell and a glowing disc of yellow light appeared on the ground around Derrick. The light then blazed upward into a wide beam, engulfing the man completely.
When the light finally cleared, Derrick was gone, and only a blackened scorch mark remained where he had been standing.
[ 12:00 ] Midnight
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