“There is something I need to show you,” Katrina had said.
Kyrion looked at Safira and Shadow sparring without really seeing them. He was supposed to meet Katrina in front of the Royal Halls at dusk, and the question was how to get in. Rima could probably help him get over the walls, like she had with Gethak, but he had only so many favours with that Guild and this hardly seemed the best use of one.
Besides, he wanted to bring Safira with him and sneaking both of them in that way would be much harder. He blew a sigh across his lips and took a sip of his water. Shadow was hopping around Safira like a leaf in the wind, vaulting over her clumsy swings and rolling under her slow jabs. He was taking it easy, toying with her as much as he was training her.
Safira’s clothing was light and airy, allowing her mobility and obscuring her movements. Very unlike the tantalizing silhouette offered by the attire of a certain dancer, yet both undeniably Sollim in style. The dancer had worn cheap baubles to fasten her veils, whereas Safira’s were of carefully crafted copper and bronze.
What no one had told her was that Shadow was the one who made the pieces. While more a smith than a jeweler, his repertoire included such skills out of simple necessity. Kyrion’s gaze shifted to his bracelet, lingering on a charm in the shape of lockpicks. If Shadow were to learn some basic shaping, he could-
Kyrion’s thought was cut short when Shadow suddenly kicked the woman’s feet out from under her, sending her into a sprawl on the ground. She glared up at him, then slowly stood back up. Shadow made no move to help but merely watched, his expression impassive and his arms crossed.
Of the group Kyrion had enlisted to help, only Aziz would actually pose a threat to the “out of practice” assassin in real combat. Kyrion could probably hurt him, but the outcome would be the same even had Shadow not known the secret behind Kyrion’s “prowess.” Gethak… Kyrion let out a chuckle at the thought.
He had never known Gethak to build a weapon, nor anything else that was intended to harm another. Distractions, however, he had made plenty. Smokers, dazzlers, lures, and once the two had collaborated to create a petrifying agent that ended up not working; with the right trinket, and the luck of it working, he might be able to beat the whisperling.
And then there was Safira, who had never gotten closer to real combat than bar fights. She claimed to have taken lives during her escape from the Sultanate, though Kyrion was sceptical. A lifetime of dancing had given her exceptional control over her body, likely rivalling Shadow, but she had no clue how to wield a weapon or predict what an opponent was going to do.
“Thinking of old times?” Gethak’s voice drew Kyrion’s attention to where the gnome was sitting at the table, tinkering with a device Kyrion suspected was intended to become a toy animal.
“Actually, I was assessing our skills.” Kyrion motioned around them at the ramshackle complex they had been building. “But it is nice to see some steps taken toward rebuilding, though I will never forget the sight of the Guild burning. Or the friends it once housed.”
“Halt!” Qaera took a step forward, blocking the man’s path and motioning for him to stop. It was raining hard, adding to the growing evening gloom and driving the guards of the Gilded Gate to seek shelter as best they could.
He had walked toward the Gate with confidence, as though completely unfazed by the downpour. Indeed, his voluminous cloak billowed about him like a shield of green warding off the rain. As she closed the short distance between them, she noted that his black leather cuirass seemed completely dry and not a drop of water hung from its silver rivets.
The high collar of his purple shirt was pulled tight around his neck, indeed as high as to partially cover his ears, revealing that the chill still reached inside whatever magical ward was keeping the weather at bay. She suppressed a wry grin as she noticed that so, too, did the mud and dirt of the road, having splashed all over his black boots and ruining the fine silk of his green pants.
All in all, he looked wealthier than most in the city but rather trifling compared to the average person passing through the Gilded Gate.
“What is the meaning of this?” The man seemed agitated, looking irately at her. “I am late to a meeting of the Guilds.”
“As soon as you show me your pass, you may enter the Inner City.”
“My pass? Do you not have eyes, guard?! I am a Guild Master, I need no pass!”
“I am well-acquainted with the heads of all the Guilds, sir, and you are none of them.”
“Are you now? Then tell me, what does the Guild Master of the Thieves’ Guild look like?”
“Until recently, that was the ugly greenskin currently residing in the Royal Dungeons. His replacement has not been announced.”
The man seemed far from pleased, staring her down for some time.
Qaera met his gaze evenly, hoping he would leave soon so she could return to the shelter by the Gate.
“What about the Adventurers’ Guild?”
“There is no Adventurers’ Guild.”
“No Adventurers’ Guild?! That’s preposterous! I have been Guild Master of the Adventurers’ Guild for longer than you have been alive, young lady!” The man seemed quite upset and his yelling drew the attention of the other guards, including the Gate Captain.
“What’s all this, then?” The old veteran glared at the two with annoyance as he came stomping over, waving the other guards back to their posts.
“This man demands entry into the Inner City on account of his position as Guild Master of the Adventurers’ Guild.”
“The Adventurers’ Guild burned down fifty years ago. Ain’t no Guild Master for a Guild that’s gone.” The Gate Captain eyed the man suspiciously.
“Gone? Hardly! We merely relocated to other parts of the kingdom. In case you had failed to notice, there is not much need for adventurers in this valley.” The man tapped his gloved fingers against the silver clasps holding his cloak secure. “Are you as blind as your minion? See these? Official guild badges!”
The Gate Captain leaned in to take a closer look, scrutinizing the clasps carefully before grunting his acquiescence. “So. It. Would. Seem…”
The Gate Captain waved the man through, then grumbled about having to step out into the rain as he moved back to the gatehouse.
Qaera shot a sullen glare at the other guard posted outside with her, in no subtle way warning him to stop his snickering before she got there.
“You are a man of many masks, Lord Silverblade.” Lady Katrina was calmly leading him through the halls of the palace. Kyrion had used one of his many little pins to bring forth a long rope that he had used to climb up to the rooftop garden, where he had found Katrina stargazing. “Who hides behind them, I wonder?”
“Who’s to say I’m not one of them?” Kyrion quipped, knowing better than to let her goad him into conversation. She was Urmorian nobility, a group that had spent generations honing their mastery of the social battlefield.
“Then be careful you do not lose track of which.” Katrina suddenly stopped as she held up a hand, forcing him to stop mid-stride. His subsequent shuffling to stay balanced and regain his footing led to a slight clunk, earning him an annoyed glance before she disappeared around the corner where she had stopped.
Quiet conversation soon drifted back to him. Likely a guard, as they had already crossed paths with occasional courtiers and servants without incident.
The well-lit hallway they were walking along was richly decorated with lavish tapestries, large portraits, and colorful paintings. With nothing better to do, Kyrion took a moment to examine some of the ornaments a little closer.
In a small niche in the rounded outer bend of the corner stood a statuette depicting some sort of jinn, according to the placard anyway. He knew only that they were supposed to have all been slain when the Sollim enslaved the Ireha culture in the distant past. Had it been smaller, he might have pocketed it for Safira.
Upon the wall next to him hung a painting of King Diarmid, facing a horde of ghosts with nothing but a bag of gold. An artist’s vision of how the man bought the Haunted Isle, though Kyrion knew enough to realize the truth was far more complex and involved no gold. The artist’s use of shadows was quite striking, however, adding depth and life to the scene in a way that Kyrion had not seen before.
Peeking around the corner, he saw Katrina pleasantly talking to a guard. Whether she was using any enchantment or not, Katrina was certainly working some kind of magic on the poor man, whose face was flush. The pitch black shadow spreading up the guard’s leg and over his side told Kyrion all he needed to know about Katrina’s intentions and he quickly ducked back, not wanting to see what followed.
A soft clattering echoed in the hall before Katrina stepped back around the corner, motioning for Kyrion to follow. Past the corner the body of the guard sat slumped against one of the walls, and as Kyrion moved past he paused, closing his eyes and bowing his head only to open them with a start as a loud snore escaped the man’s lips.
“Not quite what you thought?” Katrina threw him a wry smile, then gracefully strode off down the corridor.
Kyrion let out a silent chuckle, then silently followed.