Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Garenol shook his arms loosely away from his body, pushing them as far back as they would go. He yawned deeply, his eyes watering. He watched down the alley as Malus drew closer in the fog, his cloak pushing aside whirls of gray mist as he walked purposefully towards Garenol. He nodded in brief acknowledgement as he neared him. “So,” Malus said without inflection. “This is the building for the third target?”

“The warehouse, yes.” Garenol replied, retrieving a sheaf of papers from within his cloak. “I was just going back over it. Frederick Story. Rather influential merchant, dealing primarily in the shipment of precious cargoes moving into and out of Haarkedamia. Has holding companies in Allthoria and Quintheniar. Has a dwarven partner that gets him access to Coryntor. Is rumored to move goods across the Allthorian frontier into Tribunus, although gods only know how he would manage that.”

“Not a representative in the Confederacy?” Malus asked.

“No, not even high-born from what the report says,” Garenol replied, somewhat surprised. “Just an uncommonly astute commoner merchant who found himself with his fingers in a lot of pies. Still has that wonderful commoner paranoia and lack of confidence. Comes here to his work to sleep with merchandise if it’s particularly valuable. Doesn’t trust the city’s security or hired help.”

“Which ought to make this quite an effortless stop on our trip,” Malus finished quickly, as he began to tie back his cloak. “Then one more tonight? Who’s the last on the list?”

“Let me see,” Garenol said, not remembering the name from his earlier read-through of the intelligence document. The wine and ale were wearing off, and his head was beginning to hum with the dull rhythm of a morning after. He looked up into the swirling mist of the sky above him as he turned pages. “We only have about an hour left to daybreak. We need to do these quickly. Here we are,” he said, holding up a page closer to his face to avoid the still thickening fog. “Antonin Karderek. Council member from the Confederacy State of Harkenia. He’s a member of the pro-Confederacy wing of the council, always a pro-confederacy vote on any manner. Prefers when in Venne to stay at . . .” Garenol flipped to the next page. His eyes widened and he groaned audibly. “The Bloody Fist Tavern.”

Malus grinned and laughed gruffly under his breath. “So Dorick’s place is going to see some hell tonight after all,” he said, grinning in a sinister fashion.

“No dammit,” Garenol said, frustrated, “Look, you do this one,” he gestured towards the warehouse looming behind them. “There are no guards, and probably no witnesses for a half mile. Stay here in the alley and watch for the next guard of the watch. The moment he has passed, slip inside and dispatch Story. You should have a good amount of time. I’ll head back to the Bloody Fist and deal with this last one.” Garenol shook the clutch of parchment as he talked. “I can take care of this quietly,” he said, pointing to the papers, “and probably make it look accidental.”

Malus stopped grinning, a brief moment of a disappointed child’s expression sweeping across his features. He looked down at the cobblestones of the alley. “Fine,” he said. “Get going, I’d like to get a little sleep before we have to spend tomorrow in preparation for Polk.”

“Fair enough. Back at the Fist at first light then for sausages?” Garenol asked, sliding the documents back under his cloak. He was clearly relieved at Malus’ acquiescence, glad to not be worrying about whether or not the Fist would burn to the ground tonight. He knew that operating by himself, he could access the target’s room and dispatch him quietly. Malus, on the other hand, when confronted with the old conundrum of drawing the snake out of the tall grass, always decided to burn it all to the ground.

Malus nodded, already thinking of the man inside the warehouse. He stepped closer to the mouth of the alley to watch for the patrolling guard. Garenol watched him walk away, then turned back to the coal bin behind him and looked up. He figured that back across the rooftops to the Fist would be faster without Malus moving with him. He leapt soundlessly onto the lid of the bin, and from there sprung up quickly, grabbing the ledge of the warehouse roof and hauling himself up, disappearing into the fog.

Malus turned to ensure that Garenol was gone. When he saw Garenol’s boots disappear over the roof ledge, he drew his weapons and walked out of the alley into the street in front of the warehouse, turning towards the main door of the building. He moved quickly up the steps to the office door, perched on a small covered stoop overlooking large wooden double doors set into the side of the building with iron hinges and latches, wide enough for the largest wagons. Malus stood on the stoop for a moment, looking at the windowless door and the brass plaque next the door. The plaque was engraved, “F. Story: Import/Export”

Malus nodded at the plaque, glanced up and down the street once more to ensure that it was clear. As far as he could see it was. ‘Good enough,’ he thought, splintering the door with a vicious kick from his metal sheathed foot. The wood split down the middle of the door lengthwise, pulling hinges out of the frame and sending the interior lock spinning across the wooden interior floor. Malus stepped into the darkened front room.

On the rooftops, Garenol moved swiftly and silently, the soft leather pads on the bottom of his city boots letting his nimble feet feel every surface. The nuances and slant of the tiles, the gravel strewn across flat warehouse roofs, small spots where pitch had bubbled up in joints to stick briefly to his soles as he flew across rooftops at a brisk jog. Garenol breathed easier here above the city’s stifling, close warmth and the smells that accompanied a crowded population. His head was clearing, the dregs of the earlier wine and ale slowly dissipating. He was actually starting to look forward to a large breakfast. He hoped he could dispatch this Karderek quietly enough that Dorick would have breakfast served before the inevitable, grisly discovery upstairs.

He was still ordering an elaborate breakfast in his head when he saw the two large stone chimneys of the Bloody Fist a few roofs ahead of him, comforting, lazy clouds of white smoke drifting from their smooth stone crowns. The smoke mingled with the swirling fog into a morass of white clouds above the roof of the tavern, giving it a gauzy appearance. Garenol leapt the last few gaps between buildings, slowly stalking up to the ledge of the last building before the Fist itself, and peering over the edge down at the tavern.

True to form, the business was still bustling. There were a few patrons still out on the porch, having drinks. This close to dawn, they were simply slung a bit lower in their chairs than they had been earlier in the evening. A cacophony of cheerful noise still emanated from the main hall of the tavern. Garenol could see through the first floor windows that many patrons were still inside, still insisting upon more music, more ale, more meat.

Garenol remembered the posted notices they had seen on their walk into the city, proclaiming, in a few different languages, that the tomorrow that was just on the horizon was proclaimed a national holiday in Haarkedamia, to celebrate the mysterious return of the country’s long entombed hero, Valister Olorin. No wonder the crowd was still dense and boisterous this close to dawn: no one was going to work tomorrow. Garenol smiled ruefully. All the patrons were enjoying the frivolity and merriment of an unexpected holiday, but he knew that when they had heard the news tomorrow of tonight’s deaths, there would be unease and tension in the throngs who had come to view the sleeping body of their hero. He shuddered to think what the city would be like when he and Malus killed the archbishop. There would be riots. That type of upsurge coupled to thousands of visitors inside an already crowded city. . .

He shook his head. After all, that’s why he and Malus were here, he supposed. Although he couldn’t quite pin down the exact motives of their employer, a tall, pale elf named Jean Pariel, he knew enough about the man to guess. He remembered his companion for many years, Tacit, had brought them the first jobs from Jean Pareil, when they were still operating in the human kingdom of Allthoria, north of Haarkedamia. Given the long-standing unspoken tensions between Allthoria and the Tribunus Empire, which occupied the northernmost third of the continent, Garenol thought to himself that obviously Jean Pareil was an agent of the Tribunus throne, seeking to undertake certain operations in other realms that could be denied if necessary. The fact that Garenol knew Tacit had been awarded a rank in the Tribunus’ secret service, the Strasstruppen, just seemed to confirm his suspicions.

He focused his attention back to the windows, quietly scolding himself for drifting back into speculation. ‘I’m being paid an obscene amount of money,’ he thought to himself, ‘that should be enough motivation.’ He began to plan out in his head just how to get into a guest’s bedroom to silently dispatch him, with a roomful of cheerful and boisterous drunks just beneath. He also realized that he didn’t know which room he would find Karderek in, which made things more complicated. He started plotting as he rose, steadying himself to jump the alley between his perch and the sloping roof of the Bloody Fist.

Malus walked quickly through the front office, glancing at a few wooden accounting desks, their tops littered with ledgers and loose paper, quills and inkwells. He moved past them, towards a flickering candlelight at the end of a hallway leading off the back of the main office room. He proceeded to the entrance to the hall, moving to take cover against the wall. He moved fast, glancing around the corner and down the hall, looking for any sign of his target. A number of doors lined the hallway, glass panes in each showing individual offices, desks, chairs, and cabinets. Each was dark. The light at the end of the hall continued to flicker weakly, although Malus couldn’t discern its source from this vantage.

Malus grimaced in thought, bobbling the head of his hand axe in a lazy circle for a moment. Then, he spoke.

“Frederick Story. There is no use in hiding or running. I have men surrounding the building. Come out now unarmed,” he said forcefully, peering down the hallway. He saw a shadow move in the light. He waited for a number of seconds. Nothing else happened.

“Last warning. We will take you by force. Submit now and this can be over with quickly and painlessly.” Malus looked back around the corner and down the hall. The shadow was now moving methodically, and he heard metal scraping against the wood of a desktop.

“Have it your way, then,” Malus said to himself as he turned and began striding down the hallway, making no efforts at stealth. He led with his sword pointed ahead, tip up to deflect attacks. His hand axe swung from his other hand, hanging loosely behind him, partially obscured by his tied back cloak. He slid next to the wall to his right as he neared the open area where the hallway terminated. He saw a large office, and visible to him along the left wall was an elaborately carved side table, covered in crystal decanters holding various spirits, their rich colors reflecting warmly in the dim yellow candlelight.

“Come on out, Story, I can hear you moving around,” Malus said, his back still to the wall. He didn’t yet dare peer around the corner into the part of the office that the noise was emanating from. Here, closer to the source, he recognized the noise right off: someone was bagging a large sum of heavy coins by scraping them off a tabletop into a bag. At this recognition, Malus decided to risk a look. He leaned over and peered around the corner at the rest of the office.

At a large desk opposite the side table near the right side wall, a short, stocky, balding man was sitting with one hip up on the desktop, his other leg bracing him by standing up on top of the deep green woven rug that covered a large area underneath the desk. He was dressed in a velvet suit, deep green jacket and riding pants over a cream linen shirt. He had on glossy black riding boots, already braced with spurs, a riding crop sat near at hand. He held a crossbow leveled towards the open doorway, its butt nestled between his upper arm and his torso. A broad head of a bolt stuck out of the end of the weapon, its multiple cutting surfaces reflecting wickedly in the candlelight. With his free hand, he was scraping tall stacks of gold coins off his desk into a cloth bag that he had opened wide in the seat of his high backed leather chair. A large crystal tumbler sat mostly empty at his side, less than a dram of amber liquid still in its bottom. The man was paying attention to carefully bagging the gold when Malus cleared his throat after studying him for a brief moment.

The man jumped, the crossbow cradled in his arm twanging as he fired in a panicked spasm. The bolt went wide, skipping off the wall near the side table and shattering a number of the crystal spirit bottles. Malus stepped fully into the room as the man dove behind the large chair, spinning its seat and throwing gold coins across the desk and onto the floor.

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