Voidwalker: Chapter Two, p12

Aziz grumbled under his breath, annoyed by the size of the chairs in this place. The room was cramped, too. The ceiling was too low, the doors were a nightmare to get through. Really, this entire inn was too small for someone like him. He let out an angry grunt. It wasn’t just the inn, it was the whole city and most of the kingdom. Ky stirred in his bed, letting out a pained moan as he pushed himself up to look around.

“Evenin’, lad,” Aziz looked at him and arched his brow. “How are ye feeling?”

Ky looked back sleepily, trying to blink the last remnants of slumber from his mind. “I slept the whole day?”

Aziz grinned at him and let out a chuckle. “No, ye slept a few more days than one.”

“What?!” Ky seemed alarmed, pushing himself into a sitting position and leaning back against the wall before his face contorted in pain at the reminder of where his wounds were. “But- The tavern! He’ll not be back for a mo-”

“Relax, boy! The gnome’s taking care of it,” Aziz placed a hand on Ky’s chest, a gentle if stern reminder to stay in bed.

“Gethak? But-” Ky looked worried. “The man’s a thug. Gethak can’t fight! Why aren’t you there with him?”

“I told you to relax,” Aziz firmly kept Ky from pushing his hand aside, refusing to let the boy get out of bed. “Let’s talk of something else. Remember the Sewer King?”

Aziz didn’t normally care to play games like this, but he had to admit it was rather fun avoiding the subject just this once. He’d have to reveal what was going on eventually, or Ky would find some way to go after the gnome, but there was no harm in taking his time getting there.

“Eugh, I can still recall the stench of his lair,” Ky wrinkled his nose, snorting as if to clear it of some imaginary smell from it.

“Hah! Nothing compared to that time down in Anura, with the shambling mound of rotting weeds an’ carcasses,” Aziz countered, letting go of Ky and leaning back in his chair again.

“Don’t remind me!” Ky looked like he was about to retch. “It took me weeks to scrub clean after that mandragora tried to eat me.”

“Tried?” Aziz’ laugh bellowed loudly in the small room. “It swallowed ye whole. Took me an’-” He stopped short, realizing only then who had been with them.

“You and Adrie,” Ky finished for him, wincing as much at the memory as at his wounds by the looks of him. “It’s all right, Aziz.”

“I wonder what happened to her, after she came after ye…” Aziz turned to look out the window, watching the dinner crowds heading home on the street below. “Gonna tell me how ye survived that yet?”

“Friends in dead places,” Ky replied with a surprisingly jovial tone. “Adrie became a Silver Cloak at some point since then, stalked me for a few days, then got herself burned to death in a tragic fire a few days ago.”

“WHAT?” Aziz snapped back round to stare wide-eyed at the boy. “Adrie was the Cloak in the alley?”

“Indeed,” Ky grinned at him, the glimmer of mischief in his eyes showing once more. “Unfortunately, I didn’t really get any answers from her about what happened to the others. I think… I think she blamed me, thought it was my doing, that I had turned on the Guild intentionally. She called me a traitor, said that’s why she tried to kill me.”

Aziz took a deep breath, letting it out slowly through pursed lips. He had not been expecting that. He hadn’t taken more of a look at the Cloak in the alley than to make sure they weren’t a threat, hadn’t even noticed it was a woman.

Ky slumped down in the bed again, looking rather pale and worn out. His body had yet to recover from the blood loss, and his soul was no doubt conflicted over the battle. Moreso with his opponent being Adrie, of all people.

“Ye look like ye need some rest, boy.” Aziz rose to his feet, standing rather awkwardly hunched and, yet again, cursing how small the place was under his breath. He took half a step toward the door, then paused. “Oh, I nearly forgot. An old friend said ye’d dropped this, and wanted me to give it back.” He reached into one of his belt pouches, feeling around and wrapping his hand around the item before fishing it out and unceremoniously dropping it on the bedside table.

As Aziz turned to close the door on his way out, he saw Ky eyeing the silver chain, adorned with an assortment of charms, with wide eyes and a look of astonishment on his face. The nephaim let out a soft chuckle, shutting the door and heading down into the common room.

The boy hadn’t been expecting to see that again.

***

Gethak was sitting at a small table in the middle of a seedy bar, together with three other players; a gaunt man, whose face had that sharp quality which drew to mind weasels or rodents; a Silver Cloak, whose cloak was slung of his chair and whose wrinkled face was hidden behind a thick, grey beard; and an unusually rotund anuran, whose wide mouth kept smacking (infuriating!) open and closed as she stuffed it with juicy fruits from her homeland.

Over by the bar sat a hulking (inebriated) brute of an orc, downing ales and chatting with the barmaid whenever she dropped by. Though hardly one for reading people, even Gethak could tell she was less than thrilled by his drunken advances. He was Weasely’s bodyguard and since Weasely (officially) owned the tavern, she didn’t have much choice but to put up with the oaf.

Gethak scowled. This game was a lot more difficult than he had expected it to be. There were too many possible combinations of cards, and far too much reading of people’s body language (Weasely’s long nose twitching). Really, his only effective measure was his superior long-term strategy. Fortuitously, his compatriot would occasionally throw the game during rounds when the two of them were the only ones left.

As a result the overall progress had been slow so far, but progress was being made.

“Ech, dis be too heavy for mah bark,” Slobber complained, tossing her cards at the table. “You boys don’ go spending mah gold on anyting crude now, ya hear?” (amiable) Grunting with the effort, the woman clambered out of her chair and gathered up her half-empty basket of fruit before heading out of the tavern. Gethak could feel his shoulders relax the moment the door closed behind her, blocking out the sound of her smacking lips.

The remaining trio played a few more rounds before the plan called for Gethak to back out. He removed himself meekly, relieved to be done with the game for the moment, and hopped onto a barstool next to the orc. ‘This must be what humans feel like when they are sitting next to a giant,’ he mused as he tossed a coin to the waitress and requested a glass of water. The orc snorted derisively nearby. Gethak wisely ignored the man and sipped his water quietly for a time, before turning around to watch the game behind him.

“That’sh a real fancy shword he’sh got, eh?” The orc was, despite slurring from his drink, trying to make some small-talk. “One of dem, ehh, talblades.”

“Talblades?” Gethak was not particularly versed in the lore of weapons, aside from some limited experience with siege designs. To him the blade looked like any other one-handed sword, except for an elaborate guard.

“It’s slang for talonne.” The Cloak shifted the sheathed weapon from hanging off his chair to laying on the table without bothering to look up. “Which is just a fancy name for a dress sword taken from myths about The Raven. Whose ‘talonnes’” -he affected an exaggerated Liirish (Elirish? Elirenish? Eliir?) accent for the word ‘talons’- “were supposedly blades of this design.”

“I see. That explains the blackbird motif,” Gethak motioned at the guard. The entire hilt looked to be made out of what in Charran was known as Black Steel (he ought to visit the Bulwark one day).

“Aye,” the Cloak mumbled, playing one of his cards and paying the toll rather than drawing another. “Big difference between talonnes and other rapiers is a wider blade to allow for better cuts.” He turned his head, for the first time taking his eyes off the game. “Proper ones are made from a rare alloy that includes titanium. Otherwise, they’re just sluggish rapiers.”

“Titanium? Very useful, but complicated to extract and-” Gethak found himself ignored as the man turned back to the game, where Weasely had just won the round. Gethak watched the two playing another round in silence, then hopped off his barstool and moved back to the table. “Might I perhaps rejoin the game?”

“Waddya betting?” Weasely asked. “You didn’t seem to have much left earlier, an’ I ain’t playing for cheaps.”

Gethak threw him a confused look as he climbed into one of the chairs (inconsiderate to short people in this city!). He reached into one of his belt pouches and fished out a small, purplish gem with a soft glow at its heart. Weasely stared incredulously at it.

“That’s gotta be worth the entire tavern,” the barmaid commented from behind them. (Ludicrous!) Despite the disrepair and damage from the recent fire ravaging the slums (commons? Hard to tell), the land the tavern stood on was still quite valuable. The gem, on the other hand, wasn’t worth more than a few dozen coins.

“Seems a fair bet,” the Cloak pushed his blade forward on the table. “Blade against gem against tavern. You in?” He was looking at Weasely with an expression Gethak could not read, but guessed to be a mix of boredom, impatience, and challenge. Weasely nodded his head in assent and started dealing the cards.

A few hands later, Gethak was shuffling the deck and trying his best not to feel nervous. He had never cheated at cards before, but his accomplice had given him some lessons and pointers. Fortunately, the Cloak and Weasely were busy discussing stilettos and other small blades, the orc was too drunk to pay attention to anything other than his mug, and if the barmaid noticed what Gethak was up to she kept silent about it.

Weasely scowled, looking infuriated with his luck when what (hopefully!) looked like an excellent hand turned out to be losing the game. He had beaten the Cloak last turn, but Gethak was now beating him. At least, he had been until Weasely suddenly started playing cards he should not have in his hand. Gethak had, literally, a card up his sleeve for this kind of eventuality, but he lacked the skills to use it discreetly.

A moment later the Cloak knocked down Weasely’s dagger as he passed on his way out, pausing to just look at Weasely with an expression of disdain in reply to the man’s irate glance. Apparently unwilling to challenge a Cloak, Weasely leaned over and picked up his blade and Gethak wasted no time in pulling the card out and pushing one from his hand into his other sleeve, struggling a moment with it before barely getting it in before Weasely sat up again.

“Oy!”

The orc’s yell startled Gethak to the point of dropping his cards. “You’re a filthy cheat, gnome!” Gethak turned a confused expression toward the orc in time to watch him stand menacingly. Gethak felt his mouth go dry, and was only dimly aware of turning in reponse to the sound of a chair crashing as Weasely stood up.

The maneuver was so quick, so fluid, that Gethak was unsure what had just happened. One moment Weasely was about to lunge with his stiletto, the next he was wrapped up in a dirty mantle and lying facedown on the table. The Cloak stood beside Gethak with a dagger in hand, buried to the hilt in the orc’s thick chest as a confused noise escaped the brute’s lips.

It took Gethak several moments to process the scene, during which the Cloak pulled his blade fee while pushing the dead orc off his shoulder. When he finally grasped the situation, Gethak looked at his saviour. “I told you we should have had you do the cheating.”

The Cloak arched an eyebrow at him, grabbing a rag from the bar to wipe off his blade. “And I told you that we would need to kill them. All that remains is the deed.” He turned toward the barmaid, his frowning expression clearly asking her a question. She shook her head, eyes still wide with fear. “They earned it; you have not. Ky will have to search the place.”

Gethak poked the man in the cape, checking to see if he was alive and finding he was not. He cleared his throat and turned back to his companion. “So, ehm, what do we do next?”

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