A strange meeting
This can’t end well, Bardic thought. A few minutes ago Keth and Cala had stepped into the small warehouse office just by the main entrance. He had padded (pantherishly) over to listen in. Just in case. And it sounded as though Keth thought Cala was lying about something.
“I never claimed to be leading the lads to any gates, Mitra-man,” Cala said, her normally-warm voice taking a cool tone. “They stand to gain weapons of power here. If there happens to be a gate nearby, that’s your good fortune. And if Shem happens to be your destination, that’s between you and your god.”
Bardic’s attention was wrested away by an urgent signal from Morath. He was signaling up in the loft level, hostiles, many.
In the next few seconds Celo Morath and Bardic arranged themselves: the two former hiding in crannies around the ladder or old crates; the latter sword-ready at the door. Kayan stood, stretched, loosened his shoulders, and prepared to draw his twin blades.
Keth emerged from the office and caught on to the situation. He stole (noisily) over to his staff and removed the leather caps to ready silver-shod ends for action.
The first one down the ladder, well, he won’t be going back up it, Morath thought, then he saw that Cala, now also out with them and up with the play, was signaling him to stand down. He waited.
“I hope those assassins don’t take us alive,” Cala announced, walking to the clearest area of the dingy warehouse and standing back-to-back with Kayan. “If they attacked us, it’s a lottery who would survive to claim the credit. But if they surrounded us and captured us and took us back to their master alive, well, I guess they could name their price.”
This strange double-bluff worked. Fifteen black-clad assassins appeared through the door, down the ladder, from the river doors, and down various cracks in the loft floor. They surrounded the adventurers, knives, swords and daggers ready.
“Before you bind us and take us to our doom, I have one thing to say,” Cala said, again using Shemitish. “No, I have two things to say,” she corrected herself. “First: I am Cala Atenoel. That is Bardic of Cimmeria. This is Kayan Haduk. If you walk away now, you get to walk away.” There was a pregnant pause, while the assassins thought through how that report would sound. Cala spoke again. “Second: watch out for the dragon.”
Celo ducked back behind his crates and Bardic, remembering some similar phrase in a warning Cala had given them in Becharadur, closed his eyes. There was a vivid flash as an immense dragon emerged from Cala’s back and breathed fire on the entire room.
The fifteen blinded and stunned assassins were immediately cut down by Bardic and Kayan. Cala did not even have to draw a sword, and by the time Celo recovered from his slight daze all he needed to do was slit throats.
Much looting ensued, and Morath had got over his blindness and was in a good mood as he lined the spoils up. Keth and Cala loaned their own experience to working out what some of it did. Bardic returned from tracking the assassins but other than being able to say they had come from further along the quays had nothing to add to what the examination of bodies and gear told them.
The assassins’ belongings had been ‘sanitised’ to the point where it was impossible to say who had hired them. A few, but only a few, had Flame Knife tattoos. Daggers, knives and short swords were there in abundance, as well as a few thin lines suitable for climbing or noosing. More significantly, the blades were all poisoned, and each assassin had a spare vial of poison, a vial of antidote, and an unguent of dark-sight.
This dark-sight was easy enough to work out how to apply, as each had his eye area carefully painted with a design using it.
Where all promises well
“So it’s agreed then? This same night we attack!”
The lads all nodded agreement. Cala continued:
“I’ve been thinking about boats and those assassins. I was planning to call in a favor to get a boat but that would take at least a day. But now we have a chance to get one right now. Let’s see if my guess is right. Who’s the best in boats here?”
Morath put his hand up. Celo and Bardic professed to be equally good, or bad, as each other.
“And who can handle horses the best?”
This time it was Celo.
“Bardic, it is time to disguise you as a looming guard of Set. Morath, do you still have that enormous cloak? Right. Bardic, you’ll wear it over yourself so your features are shadowed. And Morath, you will act as a Set inquisitor. Check along the quayside at each boatyard. So how this works is, Bardic, you rouse them and say ‘Qut Set Khanum!’ and then Morath, you ask, ‘Kitab Rosht Papyr?’ – but be sure to ask it harshly, like a market bravo demanding blackmail. If the warehousemen produce papers – those are documents made from papyrus – then that’s not your target. If they act guilty and can’t produce papers, kill them and take their barge. Just make sure it’s big enough for horses and children and be careful that it has both poles and oars. You’ll need poles to move it back up here.”
The two practiced their lines a few times then set out, Morath’s stained-dark-skin disguise bolstered by adding a gilt ornament on his brow and breast. Bardic bore a bright link, made from the local papyrus soaked in palm oil.
Celo and Kayan set out for the official barracks of their emissary-host, and not wishing him any bad fortune, spun a reasonably convincing yarn to the guards, loaded up all the horses and the two pack horses, and brought them away with no trouble.
By the time they got the eight beasts to the old warehouse, Bardic and Morath were back with their prize. Bardic congratulated Cala on her guesswork. She passed it off, as was her wont, with a slight explanation.
“Smugglers move freight from Shem to here, all the time. Those” – she indicated the heaped bodies – “spoke Shemitish. So it put me in mind of large smuggler barges.”
The horses were embarked and then final equipment checks were made. The rogues re-donned their armor and Bardic strapped his antique but superb Kothic-steel breastplate on over his chain shirt. It wasn’t as heavy as Keth’s layers, and he didn’t have the tricky elusiveness of Celo, but it would reduce the chances of stray arrow-hits considerably. And since Keth was still the slowest his own reduced pace made little difference.
Cala supervised the face-paint and they all blinked as the strange grey-toned world came into focus.
“Remember, stay close to me, and you will be protected against spells that strike fear and to some extent against other dangers,” Keth cautioned them.
“That’s going to make kidney-stabbing a chore,” Morath grumbled as they poled off.