Voidwalker: Chapter Three, p10

The muck and sewage did not overly bother Gethak as they plodded their way through the sewers of the city center (not much worse than the streets outside the Guild; except the stench). Those parts which lay within the old city wall, home to the plutocracy of the kingdom, were too close to the lake and so had pipes too small except perhaps for the muskin. Something which made it easier to keep unwanted elements from sneaking into the palace district, though in Gethak’s assessment this was more of an unforeseen bonus.

Kyrion, rather cramped in the low pipes, had paused to examine the wall between two passages. He held up their lantern close to the wall, stealing most of the light, as he peered closely at something. Gethak’s gaze jumped about the darkness, though he had little fear of them being ambushed (for now).

It had been many years, so it stood to reason that Kyrion would have trouble remembering the right path by heart. Assuming the sewers had not been modified in the meantime. In the end it took them another several stops and wrong turns with plenty of backtracking before they eventually found what Kyrion was looking for.

The elf suddenly stopped, just short of a corner, then motioned for Gethak to stand back against the wall. After adjusting his attire and snuffing out their lantern, Kyrion strode out with a resolute gait while Gethak inched forward to peek around the bend by way of a mirror.

The tunnel was taller here, enough so for Kyrion to stand comfortably with room to spare, and opened up into a small square chamber. The walls were made of brick, as opposed to the burnt clay of the sewers (interesting choice, that). Against the wall, opposite Kyrion, stood a small table with two men seated next to it, one on either side. Two more passages led into the room from the sides, while a door marked a fourth exit beside one of the men.

The two were scruffy and menacing, as one might expect from the bouncers of a Thieves’ Guild. The left one was leaning against the table and using a rather unsanitary-looking dagger to cut and eat some kind of roasted meat (rat, by the look of it). He was dressed in ragged leathers, the holes of which showed off a multitude of scars. His face seemed less battered, but showed signs of starvation and fever. His dirty hair clung to his sweaty brow and his eyes were little more than black coals from this distance, likely they were deep set and heavy with dark rings.

His companion, meanwhile, seemed far more alert and healthy. He wore a simple leather vest, showing off a number of tattoos on his arms and torso, and was sitting with his chair rocked back and feet on the table. He was facing the way Kyrion had entered, and was now looking straight at the visitor. A dagger clattered to the ground, having a moment ago presumably been balanced on the guard’s outstretched finger.

In the gloom of the chamber’s lone torch, set in the wall above the table, Gethak was unable to make out much of either man’s expression. Despite the shadows he could tell Kyrion was making some kind of hand signs and that the healthy guard responded in kind (membership sign? identification?).

“I’m looking for Silence.” (The guildmaster, according to Kyrion.)

“She ain’t ‘round no more, Silvy.” (Former, then. Did the man know Kyrion’s name?)

“Pity. Who runs the show, Copper?” (Ranks, perhaps? Monikers for strangers?)

“Shiv’s in charge these days.” (Likely a nickname.)

“Tell him the Locksmith’s got a job.” (Kyrion’s old nickname, supposedly.)

The man started to reply, but the other man’s reaction drew Gethak’s attention away from the conversation. The sickly thug had frozen in mid-motion, mouth agape inches away from chomping down on the piece of meat stuck to his dagger. He turned slowly, only now scrutinizing Kyrion, then suddenly pushed himself to a stand using the table. His fellow was so surprised that he lost balance and his chair toppled, though the man was nimble enough to catch himself against the wall with an elbow and get on his feet rather than go down with his seat.

“Tell ‘im!” the rat-eater ordered, motioning at the door. The other man looked his way for a moment, then knocked on the door a few times before leaning in as if to whisper something against it.

Kyrion used one hand to push back his dark malachite cloak, moving slowly and deliberately to make it apparent that his actions were non-threatening. Gethak could not see what was happening, but he knew the plan and therefore knew what the elf was fishing out of a belt pouch. Gethak had supplied the gem, after all (last one, too).

***

Shiv was unhappy, it didn’t take a genius to see that. The orc was rolling his butterfly knife around in one hand as he paced around the small room. Occasionally he would flip it out and then back in again, the motion so independent of his other actions it appeared to be second nature.

Rima tried her best to make herself part of the wall behind her, pushing into the corner as much as she could. She hadn’t been around during the war, but she’d heard the stories. The struggle had been brutal and fast, with Shiv having prepared himself expertly to take Silence down fast. And now he ran the guild the only way he knew how: with fear and an iron fist.

People always use any tricks they can to get ahead, but Shiv hadn’t thought further than taking the guild. Gold buys power, doubly so in greedy Malqish, and Shiv had expected the guild’s coffers to buy him the same clout Silence had wielded. It didn’t.

The nobles didn’t much care for having one of their friends murdered and the merchant guilds liked it even less when she was replaced by someone trying to charge them for “protection”. And Shiv’s attempts to intimidate the guards had resulted in their rounding up every known member of the guild in retaliation. Then they had shipped the guildsmen off to various estates to work off imaginary debts, offering hefty rewards for information they could use against the guild.

Law in Malqish was built around a simple, mercantile principle. Those who used others unfairly were ‘in debt’, criminals, and barred from guild life until they paid their dues in gold or labor. Since the guilds ran almost everything, that usually meant losing all you had and any chance to make a living. Shiv had put the entire thieves’ guild in debt, turning its members from respected thieves into wanted criminals.

Shiv had responded to the guards with his usual charm, trying to use brute force and fear to make them leave him alone. The nobles responded with more and more resources until Shiv got outright violent. The merchant guilds’ in turn had brought in mercs and soon after it had been open war. It had lasted for months, right up to the point where Shiv had been forced to give in to the demands of the nobles for fear of the guild turning against him.

Most of the guild still didn’t like him, but they did what they had to because they were afraid of his brutes and of the man himself. Not that they had anywhere else to turn, Shiv had made sure of that. Any rivals groups were brutally smashed, anyone working without the guild’s permission was beaten or worse, and anytime Shiv caught someone speaking out against him… they lost their tongue, at best.

Except now the Locksmith was back. He’d been known throughout the city, even to non-members. The tales of him breaking into this manor or that palace, stealing past guards and outsmarting magical wards, out of simple curiosity for what lay inside… those tales were why Rima had joined the guild.

Her mother thought she ought to work for the nobles; said she had the looks to marry rich if she’d just improve her manners. Rima didn’t really agree on the looks, since she preferred comfortable clothes over the impractical costumes of high society. ‘Course, her mother was probably right about the manners.

Shiv had stopped pacing and was barking orders to his henchmen, preparing an ambush. He seemed set on killing the Locksmith, certain he could hardly be here for any other reason than to repay what had been done to Silence. From what she had seen through the peephole in the door, the man had come unarmed and alone. Based on what she had overheard while listening through the door, he had been genuinely surprised Silence was gone.

“Kitten!” Shiv was glaring straight at her. “Go tell this ‘Locksmith’ we’ll need proof he’s with the guild ‘fore we meet about any jobs.”

Rima stared back at him with confusion on her face. “The signs ain’t enough?”

Shiv’s annoyed look was all the more frightening because of the clicking sounds as he whipped out the blade of his knife. Rima swallowed hard then nodded her understanding and hurried off, back to the entrance.

***

Kyrion was making small talk with a young woman, likely a few years short of twenty. The wild (short) curls of her hair, the dirt on her face, and her functional clothing suggested her to be more concerned about her skills than her appearance (commendable). She had come from the passage previously hidden behind the door and the other two had disappeared the way she had come, leaving the door open behind them.

Kyrion had been babbling about the nobility of Malqish and his time as a member of the thieves’ guild. Time he had apparently spent mostly robbing said nobility of their most guarded treasures, while leaving their riches behind (ever a daredevil). The woman was listening intently, entranced by the (embellished) tales of Kyrion’s exploits.

She, in turn, had been filling him in on events in the guild since his departure. Mostly the struggle following the new guildmaster’s coup d’etat, which had inadvertently started a war with the Silver Cloaks. The end result had been half the guild being hauled away into slavery, dozens dead on both sides, and untold collateral damage throughout the city (imbeciles).

“…right tool for the job,” Kyrion finished the statement with a flourish, wrapping his cloak around the girl’s head and arms with a familiar move that also sent her stumbling back Gethak’s way (sanctuary).

Kyrion snapped the fingers of his other hand just as several bolts and blades came flying out from the shadowy tunnels around him.

A shock wave rolled out from him, just barely deflecting the light projectiles and scattering them harmlessly throughout the small chamber.

Kyrion threw himself into a headlong roll between two charging brutes, tricking them into crashing together.

Barely had his feet gotten under him before he leapt up to dodge a heavy swing from a third enforcer, twisting over himself in the air to avoid a second (smaller) volley of bolts.

As he spun he flicked his wrist, sending Gethak’s gem into the ground where it shattered in a burst of impossibly golden (illusory) coins.

Taking advantage of his opponent being off-balance from the awkward twist after the cudgel missed, Kyrion grabbed him by the collar and threw him onto the other two.

The trio lay in a pile in the middle of the room, two of them trying to untangle from each other and get out from under the confused brute sprawled on top of them. A handful of additional brigands made their way into the room, their eyes scanning the floor for the ephemeral riches.

Gethak fished out a sliver from one of his many pockets, slipping it into a slot on his coat, his free hand making a quick gesture for good luck. He had not created the device himself so much as adapted a set of blueprints he once found. The theory was sound, even if he did not notice anything more than a slight ripple in the air around him (light shifts to be expected). Hopefully he would be around to reverse-engineer the prototype for a more reliable version in the future (with an actual gem!).

Gethak took a deep breath, then hurriedly attempted to bolt through the room. The thugs were distracted by the enchantment that had been carefully imbued in the gem, so even if Gethak’s device was not functional there would be a chance of his getting past undetected.

***

Shiv growled as the man dodged another slash of his blade.

Half the time it seemed like dumb luck: a puddle making Shiv slip so his blade swung half an inch short, a nearby plate to deflect a deadly jab, or even one of Shiv’s henchmen falling over for no reason.

The man wasn’t even looking at Shiv this time, just accidentally dodging the attack while kicking one of the others.

Then the world spun and Shiv found himself staring with confusion at the ceiling, the wind knocked out of him. The man was kneeling above him, pinning his arm and one hand tightly gripping Shiv’s vest.

The floor was oddly warm and wet around his ears.

The Locksmith leaned down, placing his face inches from Shiv’s and looking him straight in the eyes. There was a question in his gaze, one Shiv could answer before it was asked.

“Bitch was old.”

The man’s features hardened into a grim scowl for a brief moment before softening, seeming almost pitying as he rose to stand.

“She was. Maybe you should’ve asked yourself why.” The Locksmith turned his attention to an empty chair, his voice growing distant as the world grew darker. “Well, this was a disaster.”

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