“How was the conversation between you three after I left?” Raulin asked with an amused tone.
“Enlightening,” Anladet said as they started walking west. “We had no idea he could use magic. He gave us a quick rundown on what a kiluid is and what he can do.”
“And he probably glossed over his abilities and his importance. What we have in our ranks is a rare and talented man. I only met four kiluids when I was on Ervaskin, including Tel, and I was in the capital for most of my time. Not only was he more proficient than the other three older kiluids, but he was far more humble and decent.”
“You flatter me beyond necessity,” Tel said quietly.
“No, I present you with my opinion, my friend. Of course, keeping myself in your good graces is always a smart thing. Did you know he has a skill I would give my left hand for?”
“And what is that?” Anla asked.
“He has the ability to feel the earth in an area and tell if anything is stirring. Imagine that! He can track the amount and movements of people and animals, so long as they touch the ground.” He rubbed his hands together. “All right. So, which way should we head?”
“North,” Telbarisk and Anladet said.
“South,” Alpine said.
“Well, it doesn’t matter too much to me, but I do feel we’ll hit the water if we go south and we’ll be dependent on the ferry to Genale or Ekistol. South would create a bottle-neck.”
“You mean to take us that far?”
“I’m willing to take us as far as it goes to shake off our pursuers.”
“What pursuers?” Al asked, looking behind them. “There’s no one following us.”
“Yet, Wizard. Yet. You cannot perform a break-out as announced as ours and expect no one to come after us. Also understand the minds of the guards. Their count has been murdered and several of their own assaulted. They now know that we’ve escaped on top of that. They are not going to be happy people. They will assemble a search party, complete with hounds and hunters trained in that field, and they will pursue us. It will take some time to gather everyone together, perhaps a day or two. When that happens, we will be the most wanted people in Sharka.”
“Which is why I said to go south. Anla and I know the duke. He can clear up this mess…” Al trailed off.
“You know the Duke of Sharka?” Raulin said, stopping for a moment. “You keep surprising company, Wizard. Perhaps we should visit him.”
“Never mind the consideration. I misspoke.”
“’Misspoke’? So, you don’t know him, then?”
“We know him,” Anladet answered, “but Al realized he won’t help us in this matter. So, I think north is a good direction for us to head in.”
“Yes. It should be a few miles ’til we reach the next town and we’ll head north tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Anla said, slightly choked. “But, people will see us in town.”
“I want them to see us.” The light from the nearby lamp showed him three dubious looks, though Tel could have just been thoughtful. “Again, think about things from your pursuers’ mind. Remember that they are very hurt and need to catch us now. If we give them the slip, they will comb all of Sharka to find us. I’d rather have a situation I can control, one where I know where the people chasing me will be: a good half-mile behind us.”
“So, your plan is to let people know we were in the town and make a run for it in the morning? And when they start chasing us, how do you plan on giving them the slip?” Al asked.
“Well, actually, that’s where you three come into play. I have plans for Telbarisk. Right now, I would like you two to tell me all about the local legends surrounding trirecs. Anladet, you said you’ve lived in Hanala for some time. I expect you’ll know more about the myths that are held strongest in gossip while the wizard will know all he learned in school.”
“We actually didn’t study trirecs very much. You don’t have any inherent magic, so you’re basically ignored.”
“Huh,” Raulin said. “I feel a little hurt about that. I thought we’d warrant at least a quiz. Anything you read in any books, preferably of Ghenian origin?”
“Trirecs are described as contractors who fulfill requests for thefts, assassinations, or spying. They always wear a mask. They’re very nimble and can enter houses with almost no noise. They are Merakian and train somewhere in Merak. Most don’t leave the continent.”
“Eh, that’s all very basic. Nothing on myths or superstitions? I met a man recently who thought we were literally demon spawn. That’s what I’m looking for.”
“I honestly haven’t read much about trirecs. I saw Twenty Days in Kinto once, but I can’t think of any myths in the play that might help.”
“It’s said that trirecs can disappear into thin air,” Anladet said. “People have found powder on the ground outside windows and doors, so it’s thought that they have a magic dust that can transport them wherever they want to go.”
“That’s what I’m looking for, thank you,” Raulin said with a pleased sigh. “What else?”
“If you take off a trirec’s mask, it will possess your soul and you become its slave.”
“Ah, yes. I’d forgotten the guards had mentioned that one. Not what I need, but you are in the right neighborhood.”
“Let’s see then,” she said, tapping her finger on her lips. “Trirecs can blend into darkness, turning themselves into shadows. If they leave any sign, it’s very lucky to pickpocketers and amateur thieves and they’ll often pay a little money just to touch a piece of cloth or a hand print left behind. If a trirec takes off his mask and you see his face, you will turn to stone. They have no scent. If they need to ward people away from them, they will perform a ritual that dispels people from a spot.”
“Well, I think I’ve proven that the smell part is incorrect. I apologize. That last one, though, do you know any more detail?”
“One of the people I knew in Hanala swears he saw the remnants of a ritual: bones, strange symbols, a cup filled with blood. People say anyone who went near it felt repelled, as if there were invisible hands pushing them away.”
“That is…grotesque, but fantastic. I’ll be working on our escape tonight. With enough luck, we might not need to pass over the border. Let’s get a room, some much needed food, and a good night’s rest.”
* * *
Ammet Bronsto would have been a district of Carvek if the city had been larger and the town been inside the walls. As it were, houses and some businesses dotted West Street for a mile or two, then clustered again into a sizable crossroads leading north, south, or west to the Oloran Mountains. They were pleased to be entering the town on a weekend, which would mean businesses like restaurants were likely to be open later into the night. They found an inn with two rooms available.
“Anla will be staying with me,” Al announced just before they reached the counter. The innkeeper gave him a slightly quizzical look. “She’s my wife.”
“Very good, sir. I’ll need the money upfront.”
“Upfront? Why, I never…”
“I apologize, sir, but a man who can’t even afford a ring for his beloved may not have the means to pay for a room. There’s been a recent series of men who left before they paid…” He trailed off and finally noticed the rest of the group. He stared at Raulin, then at Telbarisk, then back again at Raulin, looking further perplexed each time.
“Yes?” Raulin asked.
“I…um…don’t have a bed long enough for your companion.”
“No matter. He prefers to sleep on the ground.”
“Very good, sir. I will still need the money upfront.”
Al slammed the gold piece down on the counter. The innkeeper startled, but appeared indifferent to Alpine’s anger. He led them up the stairs and showed them their rooms.
“What’s a good restaurant that’s still open at this time of night?” Raulin asked.
“Checeli’s place is a tavern that serves a variety of food. Washed In is more of a private restaurant that serves fresh seafood with a nice beverage list. I believe Gibbord’s may still be open, if you’re fine with exchanging savings for savor.”
“I am not poor, nor am I a cheat!” Al said.
“He wasn’t suggesting it,” Raulin said as he peered into his room. “He gave you three options in different price points, starting with the middle fair. Leave it be.”
Al took a deep breath and wiggled his clenched fingers. “Is the room large enough for Tel?”
“I should be fine,” he said in his deep baritone. “If not, I can always sleep in the forest nearby.”
The innkeeper raised an eyebrow, but said nothing before he retreated downstairs.
“Gibbord’s or Checeli’s,” Raulin said.
“I wanted to go to the seafood restaurant,” Al said.
“No. Not enough people. We want to be seen.”
“Fine. You guys go to whichever and I’ll go to my own place. That way, more people will see us.”
“That’s actually a great idea, Wizard. Great thinking.”
When neither Telbarisk or Anladet argued the point, Al took off in irritation. They should have suggested he stick with them because they might need to leave quickly and together. Or maybe because they enjoyed his company. Why hadn’t they said that?
Al hadn’t realized how flushed he was until he stepped outside into the cooler air. He realized he had no idea where the restaurant was, but refused to turn around and ask anyone inside the inn, especially that ass of an innkeeper. He’d take a walk, maybe find some place to serve him food and a nice glass of Caudet. And he didn’t care what Raulin felt about that.
He couldn’t believe how miserable he had become in less than a day. He liked Anla. He liked Tel, too, though he would admit that he didn’t know him very well. In fact, Raulin seemed to know him better than anyone, which bothered him quite a bit. That was his group, his friends. They had been happy before Raulin had wormed his way in, speaking lies and falsely flattering Anladet. They had liked Al and listened to his plans.
And what a stupid plan Raulin was getting them into. They should be running as fast and as hard as they could until they hit a ducal border, not lollygagging about until some hunter stumbled into them. Actually, they should be in the cell awaiting trial. But he had suggested the break-out and they had thought it was a better idea. After a lengthy conversation with Anla, he had realized he was outvoted and went along with it. But Al still hated it.
Ugh, and what of the worst part? Al might have tried to start over and ignore Raulin’s unsavory way of life if their partnership was going to be brief. He might even muster a “good luck with your future endeavors”, even though Al would secretly hope he’d fall into a ditch and rot. But, he had seen Raulin’s stained hands in the faint light and felt the illness when they had parted, and was all but certain they were joined together. For a year.
Al was all for wiping that smarmy grin off of the thief’s face, hypothetically speaking. He couldn’t tell for sure if Raulin had a perpetual look of smugness, but he suspected he slept with it on under his mask. Al could just tell by the way he walked, a casual saunter that announced he was superior and he didn’t care about anyone else. And he was so quick to dismiss anything Al tried to inform him about. Worse, he had besmirched Arvonne, Al’s dreamland, for no reason other than to vex him.
Still, as much as he’d love to rub the fact that Raulin was shackled to them (let that burr harry his horse’s foot), Al really didn’t want to deliver the news. Thus far the trirec had been restrained, using his charm and wits rather than his knives. What was the man capable of if things weren’t going his way? Would he slaughter them all if given the chance? What other horrid tortures were at his disposal?
The whole thing was a mess, but there wasn’t anything to do at the moment. Alpine was familiar with stasis and felt like he had met his quota with life-jarring events for the year, so he shrugged and continued with his walk. The rain had cooled him off and the stroll had cooled his head just in time to find a plank-boarded building with a sign that read “Washed In” above it. He chose a seat by the window and dined without care of money.
He watched the townsfolk stroll under the lamp across the street, who kept to the fashions of Carvek with a sense of pride, laughing in the face of practicality. Most women in a working town would wear plain dresses with laced boots and their hair tied back. The women walking the streets of Bronsto wore their hair in curls, toted silk parasols, and wore fancy dresses with ribbons, lace, and patterns with splashes of color. One woman, with jewels that glinted in light, wore the maltan fashion that Ember Sierra had favored.
Al did the math. It had been three and a half weeks since he had left Whitney. It felt like ages had passed.
He continued to scan the crowds, thick for a rainy evening. He overheard a conversation with the people at the next table, who were planning on venturing farther west to a resort town in the mountains. Al was sipping on his glass of Caudet when he spied something else glinting in the bare light.
It was Raulin. He was speaking to someone, his back to Al now that he had turned to face the darkness of an alley. He held out his fingertips and placed something in the hands of the person he was speaking to.
Al sucked in his breath. He had thought telling the trirec of their binding was a painful eventuality to be held off for as long as possible. He hadn’t suspected that Raulin would try to hamstring them in the hopes of cutting free of his promise early.