While Aziz and Gethak had been engaging the two Royals, Ky had been pondering how he was to get out from under the table. Then the waitress had arrived with a new mug of ale for Aziz. Not one to miss the chance to hide behind a moving cover, Ky had slipped out behind her while everyone else was busy with the introductions. He didn’t know what the pair wanted, and he wasn’t planning on staying to find out.
By the time Aziz was done with the initial explanations, Ky had found a nice seat by the stage. One where he was sure he would not be seen and from which he had an excellent view of the dancer. Her technique was quite excellent, and despite her skimpy attire it was not a dance intended to excite the audience, but rather one of artful beauty.
Not that it made much difference to this crowd, Ky mused as his gaze slid away from the woman and over the spectators. They were mostly merchants and guildsmen, people with wealth but not nearly enough to be considered rich in a land such as Malqish. Ky looked further from the stage, to where Moreth was still engaged with Aziz while Ared, wearing a bored and disinterested expression, stood leaning against the wall nearby while scanning the room.
“Enjoying the view?” a sharp voice whispered in his ear, causing Ky to freeze. He knew the voice better than he cared to. Kedron had always wanted an opportunity to kill him, and he had been the reason Ky left the city to go hide in Wyrm’s Edge all those years ago. The most immediate one, at least.
Sweat beaded itself on Ky’s brow, and he swallowed hard.
“Thought I wouldn’t see you sneak off, boy? I thought I told you never to cross my path again, told you to leave and never return? Well, you’re lucky it’s so crowded in here or I’d kill you where you sit… Now, get up and let’s head out back shall we?”
Ky somehow managed to force himself into a stand. Perhaps it was the feeling of a cold steel blade pressing at his lower back, perhaps it was the knowledge that his death would be that much worse if he didn’t do as he was told; whatever the reason, he moved out the back door and into the small alley behind the inn. A couple of beggars were trying to scrape together a meal from trash thrown out by the cook, and a man lay unconscious and robbed near where the alley turned at the corner of the inn and headed for the main street.
“Much better, don’t you think?” Kedron whispered in Ky’s ear, the warm breath of his killer contrasting sharply with the chill night air. “Any last words, boy?”
“On the authority of King Diarmid Ravenwing of Malqish you are hereby arrested,” a stern voice stated from behind them, causing the would-be killer to whirl around and gaze into a pair of eyes that glowed white in the darkness of a hood. The spotless, almost shining, white cloak alone should have made it almost impossible for the person to have followed them unnoticed, not to mention the air of confidence and authority he carried proudly as though it were a trophy.
The thug glanced around at Ky, who was slowly backing away out of the alley, at the beggars staring wide-eyed at the trio of figures, and then back to the man who had sneaked up behind him. He knew of Ared, of course, and knew better than to think he had a chance of defeating him. But many a one had lost him in the dark alleys of the city, his cloak standing out from the night like an open flame.
He bolted past Ky, weaving past the unconscious man and rounding the corner without incident.
Then he saw the man standing there, at the mouth of the alley, with a small crossbow drawn and leveled at him. He turned his momentum from the run into a dive for cover, the bolt missing his head so narrowly it cut some of his hair.
Two Areds… Kedron looked back and forth between them. One of them had to be an illusion; there was only one cloak like that in the city. The bolt had been real enough.
By the time that Ared had a second bolt cocked and loaded, the assailant had burst back behind the corner.
Secure that Ky would not try to stop him, he ran past the young man, readying himself to rush through the motionless image of Ared still standing outside the door of the inn.
A sharp pain told him he had erred.
He stumbled, staggered, and then collapsed on the ground. A long slender blade was buried to the hilt in his side. Its tip no doubt piercing into his left lung, for with his dying breaths the man coughed forth blood even as he stared incredulously at the grim expression of the man he had intended to kill.