Day sixth. So far Reuben keeps the terms of the agreement - now every self-respecting thief knows my name and what I'm doing in the City. I'm not sure, if this fact is known to the person I'm looking for, but - as I was told - those were the 'official channels' for sending information. I will wait a while until he contacts me and if not - I'll do it my own way.
WHEN DID HE START: TWO YEARS AGO
WHAT DID HE DO EARLIER: ?
WHERE DOES HE COME FROM: ?
FENCE: CUTTY (AT LEAST UNTIL HE GOT TO CRAGSCLEFT)
OBSERVATIONS: INDEPENDENT, DOESN'T BELONG TO ANY OF THE
CITY'S GUILDS. GETS THE HIGHEST PRIZE, AS HE DOESN'T HAVE TO SHARE THE LOOT WITH
A WARDEN AND HE CHOOSES HIS TARGETS BY HIMSELF, BUT HE CAN'T COUNT ON HELP, IF HE
IS CAUGHT AND HE LIVES IN PERMANENT FEAR OF BETRAYAL. WIDE BRANCH OF CONTACTS
ACHIEVEMENTS: DIFFERENT BUT VALUABLE ENOUGH TO LIE LOW FOR
SOME TIME: LORD BAFFORD'S SCEPTER, PROBABLY HORN OF QUINTUS, VALUABLES OF RAMIREZ
(ALTHOUGH IT IS SAID THAT HE DOESN'T KNOW WHO ACTUALLY ROBBED HIM), CONSTANTINE'S
- VERTE -
NOBODY'S SEEN HIM SINCE SIX MONTHS. SOME PEOPLE TOLD ME HE'S LYING
SOMEWHERE IN THE BACKSTREET, BECAUSE OF THE NEW LAW: FIRST YOU DRAW YOUR SWORD AND
ASK QUESTIONS LATER. NEITHER DOES ANYBODY TAKE CRIMINALS TO CRAGSCLEFT ANYMORE -
EXECUTIONS ARE CARRIED OUT ON PLACE.
HE IS SAID TO LIVE NEAR THE MARKET OF THE SOUTH QUARTER.
Day eighth. I suppose the Hammerites aren't happy with my presence in their library. So far they don't suspect anything, but I guess I shouldn't ask them for the permission for using their books for the third time. Today they have watched me even closer than previously. However, in the evening I managed to get to the bookcase with books about the history of the Order. I didn't have time to leaf through all of them, but I found a chronicle with events that occurred in the last fifty years.
Fifty years ago there was a war between the son of the Baron, legitimate successor to the throne, whose father had died in meantime, and powerful worshippers of the Builder. All in all, young Baron started to eliminate the Hammerites' echelons and the brethren lower in ranks were mercilessly hunted and killed by the City Guard, which was on Baron's disposal. Finally, when survivors took their refuge in the newly built cathedral, Baron's uncle, zealous worshipper of the Builder, came to the rescue. He saved the brethren, defeated his nephew and ascended the throne. The Hammerites, after this event, were looking for a way to regain their former power and influence. That was the reason they came across the Eye, a magical gem, which was rumored to have been the instrument of the Trickster. As it might have been expected, the Hammers couldn't control it. The Eye raised those brethren who had died in the battle for the cathedral, and who hadn't been buried in the sacred grounds. The undead walked the streets of the City, invulnerable to the swords and hammers of the brethren. Finally the Hammerites, with aid of the Keepers, forced them back to the grounds of the cathedral. They were unable to eradicate the undead completely, so a wall was built around this part of the City, and the cathedral was sealed with four Talismans. But this situation didn't last long, because--
Good god! Half a year ago the Talisman of Air vanished from the Temple of Hammerites. A novice who shortly before that joined the Order, also disappeared at that time. Few days after a hell was unleashed: the cathedral was opened, and there was nothing that could stop the undead and apparitions of brethren who died fifty years earlier. They took over the area inside the barricade, and later walked into the streets of the City. The Eye vanished, which started even more tragic events, because--
In the last moment I managed to put away the book and move to the place where I was allowed to be, when one of the brethren turned me out of the library. Damn, I must return here later!
I closed my notebook and rubbed my eyes - it was late and I was sitting here definitely for too long. The tavern was empty, somebody snored leaning over the table, candle extinguished itself and its wax made an abstract excrescence over the bottle. I slowly stood up stretching my stiffed muscles and picking up my notes scattered over the table. Landlord scowled, but he brightened up, when I added an extra coin to the payment. I'm sure that one day my heart of gold will put me in trouble.
The night was cold and dark and the lamp-posts on a street cast its light on cobbles, creating puddles of light in a pool of darkness. Pale moon moved west long ago, hiding over the roofs of the higher buildings. Somewhere in the distance regular patrol's steps were heard and a shutter of a window high above me was shut with a thud.
I wrapped my cloak tighter about me and moved along pulling hood over my face. I knew well I tempted Providence - empty streets, shadow and a person without any company must've been a strong temptation, but Reuben promised that during my search I will not be troubled by his guild's members. That obviously didn't guarantee that other guilds or 'independent' would leave me in peace, but, frankly speaking, I counted on it. I was prepared for any eventuality and wouldn't spurn an extra source of information. But since the day I came to the City nobody accosted me except the City Watch, but thankfully they didn't know who I really was. They were too young to remember and unless I give myself away I was pretty safe.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a movement just beside me. All of a sudden, something turned me round and drew into shadows, and a hand clutched my arm. My training was too good though, and I reacted automatically, almost absent-mindedly. In one moment the energy, which I had gathered a second ago, burst towards the attacker, throwing him away, right in the brightly lit part of the street. He staggered and the light of the lamp-post he found himself under shone over his figure.
I saw a man in his late twenties, with a slightly pale face. The eyes under dark eyebrows watched me with more astonishment than was my joy that eventually something started happening. But before any of us could make a move, I heard a regular sound of marching feet on a bridge over the stream. Patrol. They must've spotted us. But I underestimated the robber's abilities: in one moment he backed into the shadows and stood still, and the men didn't notice him.
'What are you doing here, woman?' I felt uneasy when I saw that one of the guards gripped the hilt of his sword. I was sure he wouldn't hesitate to use his weapon.
'I'm glad to meet you, gentlemen. I seem to have lost my way. The streets are dark and there's not a single soul that would help a lady in distress.'
'Nobody is allowed to walk alone at night,' said the second guard, stepping closer and giving me a suspicious look. Only then I noticed that it was a woman. However, her eyes were cold and she held the crossbow quite purposefully, aiming it right at my stomach.
I didn't want to risk. I knew I could make a gesture before any of them would react, and the scent of Tatiana's flower would do the rest. I saw the understanding in the man's eyes as soon as I raised my hand. They had a good training, but I was faster. In one moment his eyes became empty, half-raised hand was lowered and the sword hit the cobbles with a loud clang. The woman involuntarily lowered her crossbow and flagged, as all the air was let out of her.
'Come, Yora,' he didn't even turn his head to the woman and stiffly moved along with his gaze unnaturally fixed in one point. Without a word the woman went after him and I bent to collect my notes spilled all over the street.
I turned to see them disappearing round the corner. The Elemental should break after a while, but they won't remember the last several minutes, as if they'd never seen me. The less people knew about my abilities, the better.
I moved along, but slowly enough to encourage the robber to go after me. He didn't want to rob me or - rather - it wasn't his main goal: otherwise he would've tried to knock me down or sneak and take what he wanted. No - he wanted to talk and I wished to give him that opportunity.
Now he was far more careful, as he remained in shadows, but I hadn't got time for such foolishness.
'What do you want from me?'
The thief, after a while of hesitation, gave up his hiding and caught up with me, and I let him walk by my side. He ignored my question.
'It is not wise of you to show off like that. A few more tricks like that and the City will know. You won't be safe any more: the Hammerites still don't approve the activity of followers of Elementals.'
This time it was me who couldn't conceal astonishment. Involuntarily I stopped to look at him, but, anticipating my move, he pulled his hood over his face and the only thing I saw were his thin lips.
'How do you know about the Elementals? It's not the kind of knowledge you get by the mugging.'
He stopped only for a while then he moved along, as we were leading a friendly chat. He didn't answer.
'Besides, as far as I know, they don't approve of your occupation as well.' His lips screwed with a smile. 'It won't be problem to make you forget me.'
'Maybe. But you can always encounter somebody with whom it won't be so easy.' For a moment we were walking in silence. 'Why are you looking for me?'
I knew that it couldn't be anybody else. For a legendary thief he had an impressive entrance. Having seen the way he avoided the City Watch, I realized that he was indeed good. Now he wasn't making much noise either and seemed more to glide than to walk. Even his cloak didn't make the faintest sound.
'My employer would like to hire someone with your skills.'
'What does he want me for?'
'He's anxious about some logbook and his present owner who must be… silenced.'
The man suddenly stopped and looked at me. I didn't see his face, still hidden in the shadow of the hood, but his whole figure showed astonishment. And anger.
'I am not an assassin,' he said coldly. 'Tell your employer that I'm not interested.' Eventually he moved along, not even waiting for me.
'Even if the price is high?' I couldn't believe he turned down my offer so quickly, especially - or so I was told - that the time was tough and such generous offers didn't turn up frequently.
He didn't look back, nor did he stop, but said loud enough for me to understand his words.
'Don't look for me any more.'
Surprised, I watched him making his way down the dark street. At least he made an effort to meet me, and I could swear that it wasn't out of pure curiosity. So why didn't he take the offer? And why-- ?
The thief came to the junction and vanished round the corner. I wouldn't learn anything if I just stood there. The perspective of waiting for another meeting and another search didn't make me happy either. Without a second thought I run after him.
I reached the corner just to see how he's vanishing in a vaulted passage between the two houses. He'd speeded up and the flame of a torch near the entrance flickered and extinguished itself, and the street went dark. I speeded up too and the sound of my steps echoed off the stone vault. According to my calculation he should be about twenty feet in front of me. The street went straight, without any bends or junctions and was sufficiently illuminated. I shouldn't have any problems with--
The street was empty. Surprised I stopped dead. The lamp-post over my head was buzzing monotonously and the torch, which was flickering calmly at the end of a street convoluted that nobody had gone that way. He couldn't run, because I'd hear his steps. Disoriented I turned to the mouth of a dark passage - he couldn't hide himself there either, because it was too narrow for two people. There was only the square left, where he might have got to, before I came out of the passage. I hadn't much choice, so I headed that way.
Apart from the two dogs who were fighting over a bone and barking loudly, the square was empty too. Damn, if he headed that way, he must've chosen one of the streets leading out of the square. Now I couldn't find out which one it was. Furious, I cursed and wanted to return to my rented apartment but suddenly I heard a sound of steps. I immediately clung to the wall, hiding from the source of sound: one meeting with the City Watch was enough for one evening.
Three men wore regular blue uniforms and helmets. They weren't hurrying and slowly turned to the mouth of an alley, which was exactly opposite to the one I was standing in. I didn't want to risk running into them on their way back, especially that I didn't know their route. I turned around to quietly move back… and bumped into another patrol of three guards.
It's impossible--, I panicked and then I recognized the leader. His face was as inscrutable as usual.
He moved a step closer, as if he wanted to be sure he would catch my hand, if I decided to run. He said with a tone used to give orders:
'Sheriff wishes to talk to you.'
'Have you seen him?' Flame of the lamp flickered when the man leaned towards me.
'Yes.' I leaned back on my chair. My nose tickled from the scent of perfumed water, which was becoming very popular in the City. He must've been about to go somewhere, because I spotted an adorned doublet under his cloak, his hair was skillfully arranged and mustache precisely cut. He slowly walked behind my chair with hands behind his back.
'Nothing. He did not accept the offer.' I heard that the man turned around and placed his hand on the back of my chair. I shivered.
'The worse for him. Do you know where he lives?'
I closed my eyes. Till then I was hoping that he wouldn't ask me that question. Finally I answered.
'No. I lost him.'
'Well, well, that wasn't in the agreement,' tone of his voice didn't change but I heard a hidden threat. 'I'm sure I gave you enough time.'
Suddenly I sprang to my feet wishing to find myself as far from him as possible.
'What the hell are you thinking?! You haven't caught him, but you assume that I will achieve what the whole army of your thugs couldn't!'
The man was inspecting his nails unconcernedly, ignoring my blaze of anger.
'You control the Element of air,' he said with a total indifference. 'Is it so hard to read one's thoughts?'
'I can't read one's thoughts.'
For the first time he looked at me attentively. He still thought he knew all about me.
'Well then,' he walked closer and gripped my chin. I turned my head. 'I'm giving you one more week. You have seven days to lure him into a trap, doesn't matter how. After that you'll end up in the same place you should've ended up at the beginning. And believe me, Cragscleft with it is a hearth.'
He waited for some reaction, but I stood silent, so he went out of the room. Against my expectations, he didn't slam the door. After a while I heard an irregular sound of steps of a few people, while he was leaving an old warehouse with his escort.
I slowly moved to the center of the room - my hands were still shaking when I combed hair with my fingers. I still remembered the pain he caused me in his 'inquiry room', as he called it. Damn! If it weren't for the Scriptures, I would certainly talk to him a different way, but now…
I caught a glimpse of the move by the next warehouse, as if a single shadow left the wall of night, but when I came closer to the window, everything was as calm as a moment before. It must've been a hallucination.
I sighed and reached for my cloak and, after throwing it over my back, I finally left the building.
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