by Brennen in Dark Ages
Barely passed four insights and already rich.
The young monk gathered her pack up and heaved it over her shoulder, gems and potions jangling noisily together. A pair of old peasant boots and a tattered dress made up the bulk of the size, but a meager slice of the weight.
Walking past the temple of the great outcast god Fiosachd and into Abel, Siva pushed her hair out from her eyes, turning away from the bank and down the way towards the Tavern, hoping to casually display her riches amongst her previous hunting partners, a measure of success where most Aislings could not hope to gather this much wealth so soon. Some Aislings older than her still begged in the streets like hopeless children, unable to take control of their own destiny. Her pride overwhelmed her, made her stronger. She turned, then, in a second, feeling almost as if she'd hit someone beside her, found herself standing in the shadows of the Tavern. She could hear the sounds of drunken revelers, well past the third circle, celebrating the Dubhaim lost in the day's hunt. She smiled, then, brushing off the strangeness of it, turned back toward the bright lamps lining the streets.
A small, sharp pain burned between her shoulders. Setting her bag upon the floor, her hand still tightly clutched about the top; she reached behind, brushing across her back as if an insect had alighted there. The canals weren't far away, and with them their foul smells, so she figured biting insects must not be far, though she admittedly knew little of Abel as a city, only that it was closer to the Woodlands than Mileth, where she had been staying the past double-moon.
As she brushed her hand across her back, she felt her yellow tailored bodice was wet with something warm, perhaps she had crushed the stinging fly? Her hand hit something cold and hard, and as soon as it was there, it was gone, and, far away almost, she could hear a metallic clatter upon the paving stones.
Off, she could hear a cat crying for a mate, the throaty cry almost nauseating in its desperate thickness. It began to rain. Light swam into horrifying masses of swirling color. What was happening??
Siva turned and looked around, losing her balance. She caught herself against the stone wall of the Tavern, the voices inside louder, almost within her own skull. Their laughter was mocking. She glanced upon the ground and lost her balance again, moaning. She doubled over, emptying her stomach upon the paving stones, her dinner washed into the putrid canals by the sudden downpour. Her hair ran long and stringy before her eyes. She blinked, regained herself a moment. She throbbed, her head ached, her body keened in time to the beating of her racing heart. She reached toward the shining thing upon the ground, lifted it, wincing as a sharp edge drew blood from her fingertips. A droplet fell to the ground, mingling with rainwater and bile. Pain lanced through her stomach. She blinked her eyes quickly, seeing for the first time the throwing star in her hand. Small, but heavy. Perfectly balanced. A weapon of skill.
Her finger burned and tingled where it had pricked her. A smell came to her nostrils. The same smell from the rotting glands of snakes and centipedes. Poison!!
Siva turned to run, dragging her heavy bag behind her, desperate to get to the light and to safety. No Aisling could see her in this alley, none but one looking specifically for her. But no one would be. No one was expecting her at the Tavern, no one waiting at her room at the inn.
A dark shape moved before her, formless until a blade flashed, and pain exploded in her chest. But how?! He stood pace upon pace away! How?
She fell upon the ground with a clatter; her bag spilling as her hand released its grip, her body falling slack, her last breath leaving her.
The rogue pulled his throwing dagger from her chest, gathered up his star with carefully gloved hands, and deftly opened her bag. He pulled stone after stone from her sack, emptying it into his own until he could carry no more. Leaving her cold body to the rain, he fled.
Dartanian sat atop the counter in the Tavern, his gaze wandering over what he assumed to be the grandest gathering of rogues in the history of Mileth. Sighing contentedly, secure in his skills, not for a moment assuming that harm could come to anyone gathered, he turned himself to the wall, one leg hanging down off the counter, the other tucked under himself. In his Keaton, with his self-assured gaze, he could be to any observer the grandest rogue of all. Of course, if you mentioned that to him he'd only shake his head and give a softly spoken self-deprecating comment, turning the attention to someone he felt more worthy of the praise.
Across the room, Paraiyan, my noble mentor, folded his arms across his broad chest, a grin spreading across his face. His long hair spilled crimson down his back, full and thick, held back by a tightly knotted rubber cord. His Shagreen boots lay upon the bench across from him, stretched beneath the tabletop and crossed at the ankle as if to say, "I move for no man." A sun secret played about his hands, sharpened to perfection, balanced without flaw. By the looks of him, and the way he handled it casually, digging one diamond-sharp edge into the wood of the table before spinning it to the next, hinted at the fact that he could throw it precisely enough to split a spider in two, even as it dangled in mid-air inches from the far ceiling.
The Professional, or Kraven, as he was known to lesser men, sat at a table not far from Paraiyan, his attention for a moment diverted from the Jihad and bestowed upon his lovely wife, Mauve. The two sat tangled in a heap of limbs and leathers, Kraven's hand upon Mauve's thigh, his mouth exploring the soft flesh of her slender neck. A callused hand buried itself in Mauve's blonde hair, while one small feminine hand, nails still well-kept and almost manicured, stroked gently across the unshaven line of his jaw.
Seeing that there could be no more logical conversation to be had from these two, Toshi stood and made his way across the room, taking up a seat upon a bar stool beside Aricin, choosing mundane conversation over one punctuated by harsh lusty whispers and the occasional feminine growl. Every finger upon Toshi's hand was encircled with a ring of beryl and emerald, glittering in the dimness, clicking pleasantly against the mug of ale he now brought to his lips. He sat the mug upon his thigh, bringing up a hand to wipe the froth from his lips, then shaking it through his shining black hair. I suppressed a smile at the sight of him, knowing that he would always be a beautiful face, but untouchable since his grand church wedding.
Abruptly I was turned from my musings by a harsh thump beside me, the unmistakable sound of a dagger in wood. Looking up sheepishly, Zrafh chuckled a small apology to the room. Paraiyan laughed out loud, the depth of it reverberating through the walls. Dartanian gave a disapproving, yet bemused, scowl, and said nothing. No one else, save me, seemed to have noticed the disturbance. Zrafh quietly went back to tossing his daggers, his target, it seemed, to be the wooden plate at my elbow, or, more specifically, the half-eaten baguette upon it. At Zrafh's side was Ash, recognizable only by the arrangement of his green locks and the hints of his gray Paluten from beneath the table. He had fallen asleep upon his arms.
At another table, not far away, Taliesin expertly threw his knives about Blackwrath, who polished his gems with a permanent scowl upon his face, clearly annoyed by Taliesin's practice, but too proud to admit it. It only pleasured Taliesin more, and he continued. Never would he intentionally harm Wrath, and he was not known to miss often, and only then by a few inches or less. Whenever Blackwrath flipped a coin upon the table to begin another gem, it would be immediately impaled by one of Taliesin's throwing stars.
From a corner, Rimmerdall scowled at the lot of us.
I sat alone at a table, my half-eaten baguette beside me, an open bottle of fine Ardmagh wine beside me, nursing my half-filled mug. I resented being called here, knowing the path could only be harmed by this meeting, knowing, also, in my heart, that any Aisling capable of killing would not attend. I could see no Aislings missing, knew that any absent comrade would be noticed as surely as if he stood before us and wore a coat of fire.
Blader entered quietly, making his way towards me, sitting across the table for a moment before turning and shoving his back to the wall, stretching his legs across the long bench. Every pair of eyes in the room (even Kraven and Mauve, surprisingly) turned to him. Blader looked up from rubbing a gem on his sleeve, startled. "Oh. They're coming."
Paraiyan rolled his eyes and Blackwrath yelped as one of Taliesin's knives came a little too close for comfort. In retaliation, he grabbed one of the knives left in the table and hurled it at the other, landing the blade inches from where Taliesin's hand lay upon the oaken tabletop. Taliesin's eyes blazed with shock for a moment, then he calmly collected the knives from the table and set about sharpening them.
They entered with their eyes ablaze with fury. For a few of them, it was their first chance to exact revenge for their persecution as younglings, for others, this was a chance to give justice where justice is due, and, for the few, it was a routine job with friends' reputations on the line. Randolf and Tachi stood in their Tabards behind Etienne and Kedian in their Vermillion Pelliese. They passed through the door one-after-another, their crimson cloaks lined with soft rabbit hair, regal, almost imperial, with the Guards in their pale green mail, wooden clubs hanging from their thick leather belts.
We watched them as a single unit, our minds of one thought, that thieves and spies we may be, but not murderers. Still, my brain argued… who else could it have been?
Etienne began, softly. "You know why we've called you here."
"To accuse us." Paraiyan sat up and folded his hands.
Kedian frowned at him. "You know that isn't true." He silently slid a small silver flask from his cloak, took a sip, and sighed. From behind him, Randolf glowered disapprovingly.
Kraven pushed his hair out of his eyes, glaring at the overkill of authority presented us. He knew, all of us did, really, that this was only a show, an intimidation of the guilty parties, but, as far as I could see, no one was intimidated. Only mildly bemused and curious as to who would show the signs. "We all know what this is. Someone got dead and it's up to you guys to find out whom. You round up the most likely suspects, but you know perfectly well that it isn't one of us. We're rogues, that's what we are. We know enough not to get caught, especially by the likes of you."
Etienne raised an eyebrow, watching them. Behind him, Randolf shifted on his feet. He looked from face to scruffy face, then his eyes alighted upon me a moment. Kedian stepped forward.
"One of you did this, that much is clear. It's no longer a question of if, but whom. The sooner we find out who, the sooner we can go home to our loved ones and the sooner you all can get back to your duties. We all know you aren't going to admit to it, and none of you are going to willingly give up the guilty party, even if you did know." He eyed the gathering before him. "Which I don't think any of you do."
Paraiyan grinned. "Oh, but you didn't even ask nicely!"
Kedian sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. "Did you kill little Zephan Agelmar?"
He slowly shook his head.
Etienne turned to me. "Did you?"
"Not at all!"
Randolf turned to Zrafh. "You?"
"I could never!"
He hoarded his gems in a heavy wooden chest sunken below his bed. Nightly, he would take them out, marveling over their lovingly polished surfaces and perfectly round shape. He carefully appraised each one and polished the ones still left unpolished and uncut, tallying up the mounds of riches and gold he could trade these for.
Once he'd grown weary, the rogue returned his gems to the chest, enjoying the delicious sound and feel of the gems slipping through his fingers and dropping into the chest with a clear jingle. He smiled and turned the key of the lock, closing the chest against all but himself. Convinced of his own ability, he had smithed the lock and key himself, sure that it was so unique it could not be duplicated and that no hand, not even his own, could pick it.
Satisfied that his new treasures were safe, he stood and turned, pulling out his shirttails from the breeches of his paluten, readying himself for bed.
Instead, the rogue turned and gasped, his eyes growing wide, his body stiffening until he could hardly ease himself enough to take a breath. Before him stood a man he'd seen only in the ancient texts of the Asoda. His hair was long and gray, his face bearded but friendly. A long linen cape hung from his shoulders down to brush upon the floor. Heavy cordovan gloves covered both his hands, and his shoes were the color of a ripe pear.
The god watched him for a long moment, reeling inwardly at the shock of once again taking human form. "I have seen your deeds, young rogue. You think too highly of yourself. Your Demagogues will not find discover you, for that you may be thankful, but I have seen your deeds and I am not pleased. I do not ally with Sgrios, and I am not pleased to see one of my most fervent followers engage in such obvious hypocrisy. The monk you killed was an innocent, and you could have just as easily gotten those worthless gems without taking her life."
The rogue stood his ground admirably, but his mouth worked like that of a drowning fish.
The god stepped up to him, his dark eyes staring out like black beetles, as his face grew angrier. "I will be watching you, worshipper."
Just as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone. The rogue stood there a moment, gaping, then suddenly turned to the bed, dropping to his knees and dragging out the chest. He opened the lock with trembling hands and was met face to face with a heavy pile of small rocks. Simple pebbles and nothing more.
He let the lid of the chest fall, then slowly dropped his head onto the domed wooden slats.
The followers of Fiosachd gathered in Abel, the temple packed with rogues and worshippers of all shapes and sizes, all congregated for the mass worship of their god.
In the back row, far from the others, Paraiyan trembled.
~ Brennen Malkier
~ Spring, Deoch 7