Aziz scowled. Ky was trying to convince Ared that he had acted on instinct with the intent of helping to capture the criminal, and that the death had been an accident. Moreth, meanwhile, was ignoring all of it to discuss the details of Gethak’s ideas with the gnome. It was a task that more than once had forced the old man to ask the rapidly speaking gnome to repeat himself. Looking at the pair, Aziz couldn’t help but wonder which of the two was the oldest.
They were still in the common room of the inn. The crowd had thinned substantially as the hour grew late, but many still crowded around the stage where the dancer lingered. Even so, empty chairs surrounded tables that were littered with half-filled beer mugs and burnt out candles. Even the large fire opposite the stage had died down to mere embers.
“Look, I told you!” Ky pleaded, holding his securely bound hands out in front of him. “I only wanted to make him stumble so you’d catch him before he disappeared in the crowd. It’s not my fault! He fell on his own blade…”
Ared’s piercing eyes clearly made the young farmhand uncomfortable, even when they snapped up to lock the gaze of the towering magistrate behind. “And what is your opinion on the matter, magistrate Azudar?”
Aziz shrugged, meeting the man’s gaze with one of frank annoyance. “Ky’s a thief. Got caught stealing chickens and that’s how he ended up a farmhand. But he’s not a killer, or even any good with weapons. Can’t even beat the womenfolk back home-“
“Hey!” Ky cut in, glaring at Aziz angrily.
Unconcerned with the boy’s opinions, Aziz continued. “Either way, the man’s a criminal. A dead one, at that. In a city like this someone dropping dead ain’t much of an event, so why bother? Call it ‘self-defense’ or something, and let him go. We’ve more important things to worry about… Like sneaky magic that turns cattle and crops into thin air.”
“Indeed, we have no time for this kind of nonsense,” Moreth cut in as he rose from his seat. “Lord Ared, a thug has died attempting to escape justice. Unfortunate, but irrelevant.”
The spymaster looked like he wanted to argue, but Moreth waved it aside and turned to the two villagers.
“Now, as these disappearances have been going on for quite some time, we can make sure to look into the matter properly without rushing into anything. The young man will remain here, both in order to make sure he can be reached should questions arise regarding the incident and to serve as my liaison with the village of Wyrm’s Edge. Magistrate Azudar, you return to the village. You have His Majesty’s permission to do what you feel needs be done to counter this threat, such as enlisting more capable adventurers using tax money. Meanwhile, I will be using magic to seek out information on this strange power and speaking with my colleagues in the magical community in case someone has sensed something I have not.” His tone held a finality that ended any discussion or debate on the subject, even before any was voiced.
Without waiting for acknowledgment, the vizier made his way out of the room. Owing to the crowds earlier Aziz only now noticed that the old man had a hobbling gait, as though he had trouble straightening himself up.
Ared scowled at the young rogue with great disapproval, clearly dissatisfied with the outcome, but cut the bonds to let Ky free before making his way out the back door. He paused in the doorway, turning around to look carefully at Ky as if committing his face to memory, before finally leaving the inn.
Aziz let out a chortle. “You’re as lucky as the day I met you, boy. Just take care not to let that luck run out at a bad time.” He gave Ky’s shoulder a squeeze, watching the king’s men leave.
“It always seems to do just that, though,” Ky mumbled as he sat back down by the table.
“Think he recognized ye?”
“I’m not sure… He definitely found me familiar.”
The young man let out a sigh and turned to the gnome. “So, master Gethak, what’s gonna to happen to you?”
Gethak shrugged. “The crown will pay for my stay here the month out, and then I will probably head west to see if I am able to offer my assistance in the war effort against the Sultanate.”
Ky remained quiet for a while, looking like he was going over the words to sort out what had actually been said. Gnomes really talk too fast, Aziz decided as his attention got swept away by the sensuous motions of the dancer.
Aziz let out a growl and sat back down as well. “They’re just trying to get rid of us, aren’t they?”
Ky shrugged helplessly. “Probably. I doubt Moreth is going to perform any divinations with more substance than simple parlor tricks. Just enough to make Lord Ared and the prince think there is nothing to worry about. Without you we can’t make official petitions to the court, either.”
“Politics…” Aziz hated bureaucracy, too many pointless rules in too complex a system.
“Aye, I suppose so.” Ky threw a quick glance around the room, lowering his voice and leaning in. “Knowing those two, I half expect he’s to blame. Some failed experiment or perhaps he summoned something that got away.”
Gethak stared at him with obvious surprise while Aziz let out a snort, more to vent his frustration than to express any opinion about the vizier’s possible involvement.
“But you should still go back to the village.,” Ky continued as he straightened out. “They’ll need you to keep them from a panic, especially when news of this brewing war reaches them. Besides, someone should try to find out what the forestfolk know about this. Chances are it’s been hurting them, too.” It was faint, but there was a gleam in Ky’s eye. The excited gleam of expectation, the mischievous gleam of a plan forming, but most of all the long lost gleam of adventure. “Gethak, I hope you stick around. I think you’ll find our mystery far more intriguing than a boring war.”
The two rose to their feet and bid the gnome a good night, then headed upstairs to their rooms.
Halfway up the stairs, Ky poked his companion in the side. “I’ve never known you to lie before.”
“Eh?” Aziz arched an eyebrow at him.
“I did not steal any chickens, and I most certainly did not get caught.”
“But ye are a thief,” the nephaim countered, pausing outside his room. “Or are ye trying to claim ye were a perfectly legitimate locksmith?”
Ky’s only response was to narrow his eyes in mock annoyance before disappearing into his own room.
Aziz let out a chuckle before himself retiring for the night.