“What have you done?” Raulin asked, shoving past Al and taking the stairs two at a time.
Afren was behind him as he entered the master bedroom. He took off his glove and pressed his fingers into Lacront’s neck, hoping for some fluttering underneath. He took a few deep breaths when he realized his pulse was throbbing in his fingertips and tried again with no luck.
“I can’t find a pulse. Afren?”
Al pushed Raulin back by his arm while Afren checked after his employer’s health. “Kill him,” he hissed into his ear. “Now!”
Raulin shook off his grip. “You don’t know what you’ve done.”
“Yes, I do. I helped you out.”
“You have cost me a hefty sum tonight. I…”
“He’s dead,” Afren said with a heavy sigh.
The three of them stood there for a minute in silence. Al wondered what was going to happen next. Afren and Raulin both knew, but wanted to spend as much time as possible stalling the events.
“So, this is the wizard you spoke about before?” Afren said in Ghenian. “The one who you put on a wild goose chase?”
“Wild goose chase? What does that mean? Raulin?”
“Yes,” he said, then turned to him. “Why did you come up here? How did you find me?”
“I followed you. I had nothing else to do and…I was curious.”
“You were curious? What did I tell you? You were to stay at the hotel and wait for me to come back!”
“If it’s any consolation, I followed you as well,” Afren said. “You must be very distracted if you had two tails and didn’t realize it, one of them being an untrained miartha.”
Raulin sighed. “And so why did you kill this man?”
“I saw you fighting in the window from the street and knew you were in trouble.”
“We were settling it according to our code. You have ruined my honor.”
“What honor?” he said under his breath.
Raulin grabbed Al by the neck and slammed him against the nearest wall. “I know a hundred ways to cause you a lifetime of agony, and by the gods I will use them if you do not shut your mouth!”
“Don’t take it out on him, Raulin,” Afren said, putting his hand on Raulin’s arm. He let go of Al. “Let’s just look at this as we should. One of us was going to die.”
“It might be two, now.”
“No. You will not die tonight. Listen to me: you will live.” He put both of his hands on Raulin’s shoulders. “You will find peace. I think you know deep down which pathway to take. Knowing your stubborn mind, you’ll be kicking and screaming until you finally give in, but you need to do it.”
“Thank you for proving me right,” he said with a small laugh.
“You can still run. No, listen to me. I have money. You can come with us to another city. I’ll pay for your voyage across the Gamik and you can go home.”
“Raulin,” he said softly. “I lost. The game is finished…”
“It’s not a game!”
“Raulin…Shh. It’s over. You will be the one to survive. I’m ready.”
Al stood small in the darkest part of the room, hoping not to pull any attention. Afren waited a minute or two before he spoke again. “Raulin. This is the way it must be. We need to finish this, before the miartha discover you and we both lose our lives.”
“It isn’t fair,” he whispered.
“Of course not, but I prepared you for this day, as did Arvarikor. You can’t live just in the glory and forget about the ugliness. Come on, let’s get this over with.”
Raulin reached behind his neck and popped open the loose threading to the top of a pocket that held a small knife. He placed this on Lacront’s bed while he rolled the sleeves to his arong-miil to his elbows.
Afren pulled out his own knife, placed it on the bed, and knelt on his heels in front of it. He slowly wiggled his mask off and placed it on the other side of the knife, wiping his face quickly. “At least I’ll die free of it.” He nodded and pulled off his pouch of beads. “These are yours now.”
Raulin took them. “No, they are hers. Tell me her name and where they live.”
He smiled, the light from the streets glinting off of his dark skin. “Sabilay Merak. Arsung-lim is the name of the village in the Viaven mountains.”
“In Monorea. Now I have a quest to fulfill.”
“Yes,” his mentor said. “It’s time.”
Raulin knelt next to his master, bowed low enough to touch his forehead to the floor, and began apologizing in Merakian. When he was finished with the speech he took the knife from his bed and cut three deep gashes into each forearm, hissing with the pain. By the time he reached back to put his ritual knife into its pocket, blood had snaked down to his wrist and had dripped to the floor.
He stood and moved behind Afren, taking the knife that he held out for him. After a minute, he moaned. “I can’t.”
“You must,” Afren said. “You must, my son.”
Raulin growled and slit his mentor’s throat. Afren fell forward, choking on his blood for several moments before he slumped against the bed. Raulin grabbed his mask and headed towards the stairwell. “We leave,” he said.
“No, wait!” Al said, rushing over to Lacront. “I can save him.”
“He’s dead, Wizard. Leave him.”
“No! I didn’t kill him! I just lowered his heartbeat so it seemed like he was dead. Give me a moment to revive him.”
“There was no pulse. I listened for it.”
“Just wait!” Al touched the man’s neck and held it there.
“Wizard, the longer you wait, the more likely I am of getting caught.” He was already beginning to feel light-headed from the blood loss.
“Just hold for a moment.”
He waited. Minutes passed. “We need to go.” He walked around his mentor’s body and pulled Al up, who fought him.
“He’s not dead! He…I can bring him back.”
“You waited too long. He was an old man, Wizard. It’s unfortunate, but we need to go.”
“You don’t understand!” Al said, despair in his voice.
“Oh, I do,” he said, “and now you finally do.” Raulin pulled out a knife from his thigh, reached over Al, and stabbed Lacront’s neck. The blood did not spurt out, but was plentiful. “Now, let’s go.”
Al allowed himself to be led and the two made their way down the stairs and out the front door without being caught. Raulin stumbled for a moment as he retrieved his knapsack from the bushes.
Neither said anything. Al was still in shock over what had transpired, both by what had happened between the two trirecs and by what he had done. Raulin was slowly losing his verve. He began to stagger as his head swayed.
“You’re going to pass out,” Al said, ducking under Raulin’s arm to support him.
“I need to get to my base.”
“Base? Our hotel room?”
“No. Anla,” he whispered. “Bring me to Anla.”
“She’s at her hotel room. It’s going to be farther away then our room. Let’s just go back. And let me wrap up your arms…”
“No!” Raulin growled. “My arms cannot be touched. Bring me…to Anla,” he said, slumping forward.
“Dammit,” Al said as took on Raulin’s extra weight.
It was a long walk to her hotel, made easier only by the fact that he had tapped into the Unease sometime well before he had arrested Lacront’s heart. At least he had memorized which window was Anla’s. He put Raulin down on the ground and grabbed some pebbles, throwing them with an accuracy he’d later describe as “inspired”. After a few minutes, she threw open the bottom sash and stuck her head out. “Al?” she forcefully whispered.
“Anla! You need to come with us. Raulin’s hurt.”
“I’ll be down in two minutes!”
She was faster than that, running out the front door while she still pulled the straps of her backpack over her arms. “Al! What happened? Is he okay?”
“We need to get him to Tel. He’s weak and needs us to carry him.”
She knelt down in front of him. “His arms are a bloody mess.”
“He won’t let me bandage him until he gets to his ‘base’ and he didn’t want to go to the hotel room.”
Anla knelt under Raulin’s arm and pulled him to standing with Al’s support. “Then let’s get him there.”
Both their necks and shoulders were killing them by the time they spotted the tavern’s lights, still on in the deep hours of the night. They hissed whispers for Tel, who scrambled up from sleep and helped carry Raulin to the fire.
As soon as he was down, Al reached for his towels and pressed both into Raulin’s arms. “Tel, take these, hold them, and stay here.”
“Heal him!” Anla said.
“I can heal his cuts, but he’s suffered severe blood loss and he might die from it. There are herbs to help with that, but I don’t know what they are.”
“What are you suggesting?”
“We need to get back to Iascond and fetch Alistad.”
Anla paused, then nodded and stood. “Tel, we’ll be back as soon as possible.”
“Hurry,” he said.
The two jogged back down the road to the western gate. “What happened?” she asked.
“I don’t know! It was crazy. Raulin was fighting another trirec, so I went in. He said a bunch of things in Merakian, then cut up his arms before slitting the other trirec’s throat. I…” He stopped jogging and swallowed hard.
“What is it Al?”
“I…um…I killed a man. The man Raulin was supposed to kill. I didn’t mean to, though. I thought if I could pretend he was…he was dead…by just making it seem like it, then Raulin would be fine. I didn’t know about the other parts involved…”
She touched Al’s shoulder and rubbed. “We can talk later about this. I’m sure you’ll want to.”
“I have a lot to talk about,” he said, his tone suddenly bitter. “He lied to me. I only helped him tonight because I thought he needed it and he led me on a ‘wild good chase’, as the other trirec said.”
“I know,” she said.
“You do? How?”
“He spoke with me after he stole the book. He said he couldn’t allow you to help, that it was too risky, but he appreciated that you two were getting along. He didn’t want to ruin that by shoving you aside, so he asked for your help. You did help him, in a way, he just couldn’t use the information you gave him.”
“He made me look foolish, Anla.”
“I told him you might feel that way.”
“And! And he’s been lying to us all, too.”
“I’ve seen two Merakians in the last week. I thought maybe the agent was just short and darker skinned for a trirec. Then I saw the other one tonight and he looked like the first one. I saw Raulin and him up against each other. Anla, Raulin isn’t Merakian.”