Raulin went in first, holding his arm out to keep the other three back. Two bookcases made an L-shape, obscuring his view. He stepped around them and surveyed the room as best he could.  It would have been completely dark if two windows and a wall lamp shone some light.  Still, even with the help of the mask, he could barely tell it was a library with shelves and cases lining the walls of the room.  In the center were several desks with inkwells, parchment, and a few strewn books.  As well as he could tell, there was no one here and he relaxed a notch.

He moved across the room, weaving around the furniture and taking in the details. What were good hiding places, should someone open the door in that moment? What were potential weapons? Should he go twice on the dice and toss another inkwell?

“Help me find Tichen,” he heard the wizard say.

Raulin opened the door a crack and listened in the hallway for any patrols, or worse, clamor over their escape. He heard a man whistle down the hallway, followed by another man laughing and continuing the conversation. “Wizard, just throw the key in any book and be done with it.”

“I promised,” he said.

“Tichen or some other author, the guard will find the key eventually. Or someone will.”

“And if he doesn’t, it will look bad for him until he does.”

Raulin turned a growl into sound of dismay. He knew he wasn’t going to win this argument quickly. He walked over to where the wizard was standing and reached over his head, moving his fingers along the spines until he found Seasons of Thought and pulled it out for him. “Here,” he said, slapping it into Al’s chest.

While the wizard reached up on his tiptoes to put the book back, Raulin escorted Anla to the door. “What do you hear?”

“Two men down some ways on the left. They have armor and weapons and are pacing irregularly. This is besides all the men in the courtyard.”

“Okay, then, it’s up to the wizard to help us out.”

“What do you want me to do?” Al said, joining them with Telbarisk.

“At some point we will be exposed by sight. Once we turn the corner, I want you to tell me the instant you can see the guards’ eyes.”

The wizard ducked his head out into the hallway quickly.  “Fine, but there isn’t a lot of light for me to work with.”

“Then they won’t be able to see you, either.”

They appeared as little sticks in the distance for Raulin when Al said he could see them with enough detail. “One has dark  eyes, and one has light.”

“Are you jesting, Wizard?” he asked. Anladet shook her head. “That’s impressive.”

“It’s what any hard wizard can do.”

Raulin put his arms out. “All right. Now it’s your turn, Tel.”

“Tel?” Al asked, laughing lightly. “What’s Tel going to do? Light a really tall lamp?”

Raulin turned in surprise and spoke to Telbarisk in Grivfia. “You haven’t told them?”

“Jormé suggested I keep certain things to myself.”

“That was wise.  Still, would you like to keep your magic a secret?”

“It’s more that I haven’t had a chance to tell them, not that I’m keeping it from them. I trust them.”

“How about the rest of your secrets?” he asked. “Never mind. Later.” He switched back to Ghenian, as clarity had been agreed upon by the group. “Tel, what I need you to do is keep the two guards from moving and stop the rest of the squad from coming after us.”

“How do you think I should do that?”

“Up ahead is a tall, square building called the barbican.” He used his hands to frame the building in the air and continued to diagram. “In the front is a portcullis, a gate that’s drawn up inside. It will have two or three chains holding it up. If you can sever the chains, it will slam down, trapping the rest of the guards in for a little while and buying us some extra time to escape. The two guards will be standing on stone, too. I think you get what I mean there.”

“Telbarisk is tall, not agile or strong,” Al said. “How do you propose he does these things?”

“Patience, Wizard. You’re forgetting that I’ve known Tel for longer than you both. I know where his strengths and weaknesses lie.”

“It would be easier if I could see what it is you want me to do,” Tel said.

Raulin explained things again, with more detail and miming of the plan. “If Anladet can silence the two guards as soon as they’re alerted, I can point things out a bit more.”

“You certainly know a lot about castles,” Al said.

“My job brings me to many places, Wizard. Guess how many castles I’ve been in and it’s likely that amount plus a dozen. Now, let’s move forward a little so Telbarisk can do what he can to help us escape.”

Tel kept looking back at Raulin, who put his hand on his back and spoke to him in Grivfia. “You’re with kouriya, yes? If it’s a strong feeling, then you will succeed.”

They had to wait several agonizing minutes until the two guards patrolled out onto the bridge. Raulin placed his hand on Tel’s back again and whispered, “Go ahead.  Just enough to almost do it.”.

The echo shifted so that they couldn’t hear the guards any more. Telbarisk closed his eyes and breathed deeply. “It is done,” he said after a few moments. “The gate just needs a little more.”

“Excellent work,” Raulin said. He slipped alongside the barbican’s tunnel, hugging the wall and gesturing for the other three to do the same. He moved back into the dampened zone, hearing the guards proclaim loudly to each other that their boots were suddenly encased in stone and that they were unable to move. They called for help and were startled when the portcullis crashed behind them.

“Wizard, did you get a little taken off the back?” Raulin asked as the four of them passed by the two guards.

“I’m fine,” he said.

“Good.” He looked up and down the street at the traffic and sucked on his lip quickly. “We need to split up temporarily. We’re too conspicuous.”

“Where shall we meet up?” Al asked.

“I don’t know the area all that well. Which direction has the best cover for us?”

“Besides the Gamik to the east, there’s woods to the west. North and south will take us along the Birchik Highway, which is more thickly settled.”

“West it is, unless you have a boat. Any of you know a landmark near the edge of town?”

Anladet spoke up. “The count mentioned that Carvek has three gates. There must be one there.”

“Good. One half hour, I’ll meet you there.”

Raulin was surprised that no one had accused him of trying to give them the slip, which was a strong consideration of his. He would have, too, if they were dead weight. But so far each had pulled their weight and would likely continue to do so.  They would reduce the risk of capture incredibly so. He would have stumbled into a courtyard of eight guards if it were for Anladet. Just her alone augmented his ability to escape cleanly by tenfold.

He made sure the three took off down the street before he turned left and headed towards his hotel. The rain was a blessing; the foot traffic was at a minimum and the sky was prematurely dark. He suspected the gas lamps were lit on a schedule, since he could no longer see the lines of his hands even though night was a few hours off. No one paid attention to him as he slipped down the alley next to the hotel easily.

Raulin entered the room whose window faced the alley without anyone outside the wiser. He walked up the stairs and barged into his room, having been lucky enough to pick a time when no guests were walking the hallways. He stripped out of his arong-miil and changed into his traveling outfit. Before he donned his tunic, he wet a cloth in the basin and cleaned out his wounds.

The shoulder wound was worse than he thought. The water in the bowl was darkened by the first rinse enough that he could see it in the light of one lit candle. He also had a few more cuts across his arms and stomach than he was expecting. He cleaned those as best he could.

Mid-way through putting on his blue traveling tunic, Raulin felt a wave of nausea that almost floored him with its intensity. There was a sharp pain growing behind his eyes, temples, and the middle of his forehead that also felt like someone was vicing his head between their hands. He moaned as his knees hit the floor.

Just as quickly as it came, it was gone. Blessedly, peacefully gone. There wasn’t any lingering pressure or pain, either. He was worried about his concussion, but that would have to wait until all this was over. If their luck was high, perhaps tomorrow.

He stuffed everything he could into his knapsack, including his mask, and went downstairs to pay for his room. His training would recommend that he leave the way he came in, to reduce the amount of people he contacted after the assassination. Raulin thought it would be a mistake. The hotel owner had seen his face already. If he shirked his payment, it might be something the man would note and gossip. Besides, Raulin disliked ditching bills.

He rang the bell and waited for the clerk, taking a few minutes to commit to memory a painted map of Sharka the hotel had in its lobby.

“Sir, you’re leaving at this time of night?” the man behind the counter asked.

“Yes. Do I owe you for the full night?”

“It is a room taken for the full night, so yes. May I ask why you’re leaving? Is there anything I can do to convince you to stay?”

Raulin sighed. “I was just reading a novel in my room, taking a little respite before going out this evening, when I heard the people next to me…arguing. It was not the first time I heard it. Their arguing kept me up the other night. I noted that your rooms were full, which is a splendid thing for you, but not for me, otherwise I’d request a change.”

“Perhaps I could speak to the Wastaviats, then, and ask them to be more civil? I’m surprised such an older, docile couple would be so loud in their affairs.”

Raulin coughed, feigning embarrassment, and tipped his head forward. “I’m trying to be discrete about this matter. They weren’t arguing, per se, but they were loud.”

The owner took a moment to digest that savory piece of information while Raulin counted out his money. “I see. Well, I suppose that would be a delicate matter to handle. I thank you for your acumen of the situation. Please, forget about the payment for this evening.”

“Are you sure? I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”

“Not at all, sir. I’ll try to bring up the subject tactfully with the Wastaviats at the earliest convenience. And I’ve turned away a few people this evening. Someone might return who is desperate enough to ignore such things. Not that I expect you to!”

“’When wolves nip at your tired feet, any food is savored and sweet,’” he quoted, before handing the agreed upon coinage to the owner.

“Exactly, sir. May I recommend the Bronchil on the edge of town, northside? They are good people who happen to have an wonderful inn in a place with already too many inns.  There prices are slightly higher than the inns around them, but I assure you their service more than makes up for the price.”

“Thank you. I may take that suggestion. And thank you for your hospitality,” he said, bowing slightly before heading outside.

He ducked into an alley off of the main road west, aptly named such, and put his mask back on before heading down towards the chosen spot. It had been a good idea for him to put it on early for he heard a “psst!” from an alley several hundred feet from the gate at the end of the road.

“Wizard! You’re being awfully sneaky. Where’s Tel and Anladet? Why aren’t you guys at the gate?”

“We couldn’t…They’re a couple of streets down,” he said, walking to meet him.

“Well, fine. Good eye, by the way.”

“The light was glaring off your mask.”

“Oh, good to know. I’ll have to keep that in mind whenever I’m being spotted by wizards in the rain. Let’s get the the other two.”

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