Anla ran her fingers through her wet hair as the three walked to the government district. “In hindsight, it wasn’t the best time to take a bath. I’m sorry I was cross with you,” she said to Raulin.
“I actually didn’t think you were that upset,” he said, leading the way. “I don’t think I’d handle being evicted from such comfort as well as you did. You seemed very relaxed.”
She gave a reluctant nod. “I rarely get to take a nice, hot bath. It’s odd how just hot water and quiet can be such a luxury.”
“Enjoy life while you can. It’s always been my-”
In unison, the three of them double over and groaned. A man walking in the opposite direction startled, then raised his cane to see if there was an obstruction he was about to run into. He gave them an odd look before continuing on his journey.
“Ugh, he’s not stopping!” Raulin said, on his knees from the nausea. He powered through his pain and began running towards the spot he had left Al, alleviating the nausea. Telbarisk collapsed against the side of a building and took a few deep breaths before continuing.
When Raulin arrived at the corner where he had left Al, he found him, not surprisingly, gone. He looked back at Anla and Tel, then gestured right towards the boulevard before heading out that way.
How far ahead was the wizard? More importantly, why didn’t he stay where he was? Raulin felt bad that his first reaction had been that the wizard had gone rogue, since there were plenty of other explanations. What if he had looked suspicious and someone had nabbed him? Or someone paid by that woman had knocked him out and taken him?
He fingered his blades, not realizing his pace and gesture made him look rather menacing to passers by on the street. “Raulin!” Anla said and he stopped to look wait for her. “The buildings,” she said, and he looked over to see a broken, wavy white line on the brick.
“Well, I’ll never make fun of the wizard for bringing his enormous backpack again.”
They followed the trail until it dipped down at the corner. Assuming Al had indicated a turn, Raulin led the other three across the street and hunted for the next line.
They arrived in front of an Aroukean restaurant where a big X was placed on the corner. Raulin pondered what to do in the alley next to the restaurant.
“You can pose as the wizard’s wife and look for him,” he said. “We’ll get him out and then find the nearest place to tar and feather him.”
“That helps get him out, but what do we do about your target?” Anla asked.
“I don’t like how exposed I’ve been thus far, but we’ll just have to regroup and come back…”
“He’s in the water closet,” Al said, strolling down the alley.
Raulin slowly turned his head. “Wizard, what part of ‘stay here’ didn’t you understand?”
“They were moving away,” he said. “I didn’t want to lose the trail.”
“If you had just told me which direction they went it, I would have been happy,” he said in a harsh whisper. “I could have waited for the target to come back the way he came, then follow him to his house tonight after coming up with a solid plan for later tonight.” Solid plan? That didn’t sound like a familiar thing to Raulin. He took a few deep breaths and calmed down. “Now, I risk discovery of the plot, which means I have to be extra careful when I…”
“When I said ‘he’s in the water closet’, I mean I killed him and his body is in there.”
Raulin’s neck snapped back. He looked at Anla, who’s mouth opened. “Wizard…where? Show me where.”
Al brought him down the alley and pointed to an entrance. “It’s the first door on the right.”
Raulin slowly opened the door and ducked his head around. No movement. He opened it wider and saw a short hallway, garish mauve wallpaper above dark walnut wainscoting. The first door on the right was open a crack and he slipped quickly inside.
The wizard had been specific; the man in the navy coat was dead and on the water closet, his trousers pooled around his ankles. Raulin shook his head at the indignity of it, then checked his neck for a pulse. His skin was already cool to the touch and there was no heartbeat Raulin could find. Still, like he had in Iascond, he pulled out his slightly curved kraesh blade and dug out the man’s neck vessels, dancing to the side when the blood gushed out the side in one final spurt.
Outside again, Raulin gestured for the group to leave before he reached them. “Thanks for keeping him sedated, Wizard. It allowed me to kill him without a struggle. We need to head back to the hotel, collect our things, then move to a place near the temple. In the meantime, we’ll provision and make sure we’re ready for Ashven. There won’t be many places there that…”
“I thought he was dead,” Al interrupted.
“No, he was just asleep. But, thank you for the thought.”
Anla smiled at Raulin and gave him a quick nod. He nodded in return, then led them back to the hotel, still too surprised at what Al had done to think about it.
* * *
“It was too much to hope that we would have an easy time of it,” Raulin said, looking around the corner of a building.
In front of the temple were the team of trackers they had met at the hotel, accompanied by a few men not in their uniform, and one very agitated priest in gray robes. They milled about the entrance to the temple as if waiting for something or someone.
“We need to get rid of them. There’s no point in retrieving the inkwell if they see us do it.” Al began to walk out into the street before Raulin caught him by the collar of his shirt and shoved him back. “Wizard, you’ve done enough for today.”
“I can do it,” Anla volunteered. “What god is this temple for?”
“Kabidon? Yes, Kabidon,” Al said. “God of storms, the moon, and priests, mainly.”
She nodded once, fixed her hair and clothing, then crossed the street. She made for the temple, but was waylaid by one of the younger trackers. She stopped and began talking to him, then another when he walked over.
“What are they saying?” Raulin asked.
“Uh, flirtatious things, mostly,” Al said after listening for a few moments. “’You’re very pretty’, ‘do you want to come with me for a drink?’, things like that. She’s being coy about it, giggling, but not committing to anything.”
“Oh,” was all Raulin said.
She sat on a stone ledge, her skirt hiking up just over her knee before she fixed it. This attracted one of the suited men, who walked over and entered the conversation. The priest walked over, still agitated, but calmed down after speaking with her for a few minutes. He walked inside the temple peacefully.
One by one, the rest of the group approached her and left the area for whatever reasons, including the captain of the group. Left with the three young men, Anla escalated her charms and began laughing more in earnest, touching the mens arms, and pretending embarrassment at certain jokes the men said.
Raulin opened and closed his jaw, working the tension out as best he could. “What is she doing?” Al asked.
“Influencing the men to leave with her magic.”
“But, they’re not feebleminded like they usually are.”
“Anla has expanded her magical abilities. She can now subtly suggest to a person that they do something they wish to do anyway, an empowering nudge in a certain direction. It leaves them with full capacity of their minds, if they had that to begin with.”
“Raulin, that’s not good. I don’t like that.”
Raulin tore his eyes away and looked at Al. “And why not, Wizard? Anla is freed by this option. She hated commanding people against their wills. This way she’s only intimating something that a man might do on his own with the right influence.”
“Yes, but how do I know she hasn’t done that to me already?”
Raulin turned to face him. “You wouldn’t, save an instantaneous, strong desire to fulfill whatever issue was brought up while you were just talking. I would think by now she would have earned your trust for all the times she’s helped you without malice or machinations to her advantage.”
“There’s no way I can figure out if she changes her mind, though. Before there were signs. She told me that I would expect a blank of time in my recollection and a change in location or position.”
“She told you this and yet you still don’t trust her?”
“It’s much easier to trust someone’s words that you can verify.”
“Trust isn’t about verification. Trust is trust.”
“How can I…?”
“Wizard, we aren’t discussing this anymore, and if you vex Anladet about her powers, I’m going to be very upset with you.”
An impressive fight broke out between two of the men, who subsequently knocked each other out. The third man, who had guarded Anla from any errant punches, began pulling her towards the alley next to the church. She turned to the corner where Raulin was and sent a whisper that carried across the street to him. “Intimidate him about your inkwell.”
He’d needed fewer words than that to spur him into action. He ran across the street, hugging the corner of the building next to the temple just long enough to make sure they were alone. Anla had her back pressed against the building, the young man’s arms penning her in. Raulin made a loud scrape with his foot that caught the attention of the tracker, who startled away from her and laughed nervously.
“What, ah, what…?” he began.
“What do you want with my quarry?” Raulin asked.
“The girl? N…no, she’s not…I didn’t…”
“Not the girl. The inkwell,” he said, slowly walking towards them. “You and your men have been buzzing around what I’ve been tasked to steal. And I will steal it, without you idiots getting in my way.”
“Oh,’ he said.
“So, if I leave you to run away and decide to spare you a toe-to-head flaying at low tide, will you let me do my job?”
“Yes,” he said, clearing his throat. “I’ll go home and report to work tomorrow and tell them then?”
“Plenty of time,” he said. When the man hesitated, Raulin flipped out his knife, looked down at it, then slowly raised his head to the tracker. He could have kicked up dust at the speed in which he ran out of the alley.
“You all right?” Raulin asked, sheathing his knife.
“Of course. ‘Toe-to-head flaying at low tide’? Sounds grisly.”
“The idea is to start peeling the skin of the foot when you have them tied to a dry rock. When the sea level rises, you move up to the ankles, the legs, and so on. Each body part gets flayed, then soaked in salt water. Grisly, yes. Practical? Eh, probably not. I’ve never done it, only heard about it.”
“Have you done any of the other threats you’ve said?”
“No. I’d rather exhaust other avenues before torture. Creative threats work so much better; people can imagine much worse than I could ever explain.” Al and Tel walked down the alley and met with the two of them. “Okay, Tel. Like we did yesterday.”
The temple of Ap Caston had several stone towers that merged into one of the framing walls around a large courtyard and building. Raulin stood in front of the wall and put on his leather gloves while Telbarisk pushed the stones in enough to create footholds for Raulin to climb. “Remind me where it is again,” he said, taking the first opening.
“It next to the third window up. You said the indentations on it reminded you of Anladet’s face.”
Raulin looked down for a moment and made a slightly pained noise before continuing. Anla laughed lightly, surprised that even though she had heard some pretty lewd jokes made at her expense from the young men, that comment was the only thing that day that made her blush.
“That’s quite high,” Al said. “Maybe you could have magicked Raulin into being braver, so that he wouldn’t have problems.”
“I have no problems with heights, Wizard, and I can still hear you. Keep to my request or I’ll take the short way down from the wall with you as my cushion.”
“I was just thinking that I wasn’t comfortable with heights, but not afraid. And the Unease helps with balance. She could have warped my sensibilities and I would have made quicker time than you.”
“I don’t warp peoples sensibilities, Al. I nudge them in a direction.”
“And have you nudged me?” he asked, crossing his arms. “Are you the reason I went to visit my mother in Baradan or why I killed the Commons Rep.?”
“Wizard…” Raulin warned from a story high.
“No. As a matter of fact, I’ve never used that spell on you. Not once. I know how you feel about what I am and what I can do, so I leave you alone about it.”
“Not once? You…”
“And don’t you dare blame your strange actions on me. You’re acting unusual, but that’s all your doing.”
“’Unusual’?” Al scoffed. “Why is helping someone who helped you unusual? He didn’t have to hide the inkwell for me. And look at what he had to do to hide it and retrieve it. He could have turned it in to the trackers at any point and told me to deal with it, that it was too much of an effort. But, he didn’t. He’s shown me that he’s willing to help me even when it’s something that doesn’t seem consequential.”
“Okay,” she said quietly, taking a step back from the conversation. Besides Al’s “quid pro quo” feelings on this contract, he was also viewing his life in Whitney as a razed field. He had no job, no home, no family, and not even his best friend to return to. It wouldn’t seem so unusual if he had decided to finally lean in to the group and fill the void each had already decided to fill on their own, to find friendship with Raulin instead of adversity.
“Al, I promise that I’ve never used my influence on you. The only time I’ve ever used magic on you was when that man crushed your windpipe at Tel’s trial and you were dying. And you said ‘yes’ to that. I promise that I won’t use my magic on you without your consent.”
“Catch!” Raulin said from his perch. He tossed the inkwell down, which Al caught with ease. “Check to make sure I didn’t accidentally get another inkwell.”
Al opened the inkwell quickly, smiling when he saw the two rings still embedded in wax. “Thank you,” he said.
Raulin landed on the ground, took off his gloves, and retrieved his pack from the alley. “I’m not going to assume that the tracker will keep his word. We need to take a train to a city we can rest at that would be annoying for them to travel to. What sounds possible, Wizard?”
“There might be a train to Carbise. That’s a few hours trip.”
“All right then. Back to the train station and let’s head out for Ashven.”