Ky was slouching in a chair by the fireplace, absently twisting that precious ring of his around its finger while staring into the flames. The boy was bothered by something, and to most he probably looked despondent about it. Aziz knew better, though. Ky was trying to come up with a plan to fix the problem.
He’d gone off the day after the royals’ visit, aiming to speak with some old contacts. “I’m going to see if I can find someone who has a cousin who is married to the sister of someone who knows anything about magic,” as he put it. Neither Aziz nor Gethak had seen so much as a mirage of him for the next few days.
Upon his return that afternoon, he hadn’t had much to say about their problem as he’d been too angry about some ruffian taking over a tavern he used to frequent. Based on what little Ky had said about it, Aziz thought the man had taken over by murdering the previous owner, an old friend of Ky’s, and had turned the place into a seedy den of gamblers, thugs, and worse.
Aziz took the seat next to him, sitting in silence while taking a long, slow look around the inn’s common room to make sure they were alone in their corner, out of earshot of nosey barmaids and others. He tried to make it look like a bored glance, but given his acting abilities and stature it just as likely came off a stern warning.
“Ye sure about this?”
“Hm?” Ky looked up, only now realizing who it was that had joined him.
“Going after the old place.”
“Ye’ve got a Cloak watching ye, by yer own eyes. It’s done and over with, leave it there.”
Ky merely shrugged and turned back to the fire.
“Well, then, what next?”
“From what I hear, the barmaid knows a few things about summoning magic. We get the tavern, she can help us figure out if something… otherworldly is behind all this.”
Aziz chewed it over for a little while, silently staring into the fire alongside his friend.
He didn’t like this solution at all. Ky’s sources were probably right about her knowing magic, but how much did ‘a few things’ really mean? And what about the risk of the old geezer finding out the truth, if he didn’t know already? Ky was thinking of using the barmaid as excuse for getting the tavern, hoping the old men wouldn’t think too much of it. ‘He’s just looking for answers about the disappearances by grasping at straws.’ It might work, Aziz supposed.
Ky was smiling to himself.
“Alright, say ye get the girl and the tavern and none’s the wiser. Then what?”
“Then… she goes with you to the Edge, you take her to the ruins, and we hope she can help.”
“Stay here as per Royal Decree, of course.”
“Finding out who is responsible so I can destroy them.”
“Ye’re not talking about the disappearances anymore, are ye…”
Aziz let out a sigh at Ky’s grudge, then groaned inwardly when he saw Gethak headed their way with a cheerful smile on his wrinkled old face.
Gethak frowned, slowly shaking his bald head.
“No, no, no. We cannot just rely on luck against someone like this. These agents are the elite enforcers of the Royal Guild. If we are to stand any hope of victory against this person-”
Ky held up a hand to interrupt, not being in the mood for the gnome’s long winded way of saying things. “We’re not going to. That’s precisely why we’re planning this out, isn’t it?”
“Planning!” Gethak scoffed, clearly unimpressed by their ‘plan’ so far. “How will you account for them going missing? What about the possibility of reinforcements? How do you know they will even get close enough for the trap to work?”
Aziz downed another mouthful of ale, quietly waiting for Ky to handle the matter.
“All right… The plan’s simple, right?” He motioned at the table, where they had sketched up a few rough maps. “Aziz hides here, behind the corner. There’s a doorway there with an overhang, so he can’t be seen from the rooftops. I’ll lure the Cloak to follow me there, taking care to lose any friends they might have with them along the way. Once the two of us are inside the alley-” Ky traced a path into the center of the alleyway. “You make the crates tip over, blocking the exit. Then you walk away, trying to act as though the collapse was entirely accidental. Meanwhile, I will take down the Cloak. If I have any trouble, Aziz can help me. After that, he and I clean up and move our prisoner to this abandoned building here. Problem solved.”
Aziz’ chuckle was half muted by the mug of ale and while the gnome didn’t notice it, Ky did.
“Keeping a Cloak prisoner is not a solution, it is merely a temporary workaround. Eventually we will need to deal with the matter, and if we have kept them prisoner it is going to be that much harder a problem to deal with.”
The nephaim motioned at Gethak with his mug in response to Ky’s questioning glance. “What he said.”
“First, let’s go back to Gethak’s earlier question. How to account for this Cloak going missing. Before we do all this I will spend a couple of days preparing to leave town on a short trip, a few days long. Book passage on a ship up to Highwater, buy some suitable things, and tell the innkeeper here I won’t be needing my room for a few days. That sort of thing,” Ky said. “That way, we have the Cloak’s disappearance covered for a week or so, however long it takes them to normally go without reporting back while traveling.”
“I still don’t see why we can’t just use take back the tavern with the excuse that we wanted the girl’s contract, so we could barter for her help,” Aziz grumbled, and not for the first time.
“It is far too risky,” Gethak interjected, before Ky had the chance to come up with something. “Even if the Cloaks are successfully persuaded that our purpose in laying claim to the tavern is to further the goal of helping Wyrm’s Edge, it is by no means certain they will approve of how we plan to do it. Gambling is illegal in any location not possessing Guild permits, and I highly doubt our intended victim has one for his establishment.”
“Besides,” Ky added, to make sure Aziz didn’t get wind of the true reason. “If things turn violent, as I fear they might, the Cloaks will definitely intervene, and not in support of us, I am sure. After all, he is a known quantity the law has ignored for years. I am an unknown danger so potentially threatening to the Crown that I must be assigned a personal shadow.”
Aziz scowled, mumbled something under his breath before draining his mug and standing up. “Fine. When’re we doing this?”
Ky looked to Gethak. “How long do you need?”
“I shall prepare the blockade tonight, if that suits you.”
“Perfect. Then I will draw them to the alley tomorrow evening.”
Aziz grunted an affirmative before leaving Ky’s room, the gnome following a few moments later. Ky looked over the maps again, absently chewing on his lips.
“Well… This should be fun.” If anyone had heard him, the lackluster tone would have revealed more than the words Ky’s feelings about the endeavour.
He moved over to the window, watching the scant few people on the streets below heading home from drinking. On the roof of the building across from the inn a pale white cloak practically shone with reflected moonlight, its owner crouched in loyal vigil. She was very still tonight, her cloak fluttering in the night breeze but otherwise there was no motion at all.
Ky sighed, remembering an old friend who had been just as motionless when he was at work. His thoughts full of old friends, most of them long gone, Ky prepared for bed.
Adrie waited patiently for the figure below her to get comfortably into bed and fall asleep.
Her mark had spent some time staring at her cloak, arranged as it was around a chimney to create the illusion that she was sitting across the road, watching him carefully. She was in truth lying atop the small overhang above the very window he had been standing by, and had been secretly watching the discussion within. Despite there being nothing but thin glass in the way she had been unable to hear a word said or even the half-giant’s footsteps when he left, suggesting some kind of magic at play. Highly suspicious.
The man had worn a pensive expression, apparently lost in thought, and the restless way he was tossing and turning while trying to fall asleep did little to help assuade that impression. Adrie was a patient woman. She had been reckless in her youth, and it had almost cost her her life last time. This time, she was going to be more careful. And this time, she would not act alone.
Finally content that he was asleep, Adrie hooked her fingers around the supports of the overhang and slowly rolled herself over the edge, pulling herself around to silently land in a crouch on the window sill. Her limbs protested at the awkward position, reminding her that she was getting old even for one of her kind.
Age had honed her skills, not dulled them, and she soon had the latch of the window unfastened. She silently slid the window open then held still, remembering the magical silence earlier. If there was a ward against sound passing through, there could well be a ward for other things passing through. In which case her mark might wake up if she entered the room.
The Cloaks were well-prepared for such eventualities, and she fished out some dust from a belt pouch. Scattering it slow into the empty window frame, she watched it drift lazily to the floor within. If there had been magic in its path the dust would have ignited, little motes of light lasting mere breaths before fading away.
Quietly Adrie slipped into the room, keeping a watchful eye on the sleeper as she moved over to the table and closely examined the sketches and notes there without touching them. An alley, a blockade… a crude ambush.
The man stirred.
Adrie hurried back to the window, her steps silent yet swift, brushed aside the dust from earlier with her boot, to make sure he would find no sign of her visit, then she slipped back outside, closed the window and refastened the latch.
She had her own ambush to prepare.