She felt the weight of it in her hand as she walked, the blade concealed behind the length of cloak that covered her left side. This was a popular fashion in Sharn these days, the kinsale over one shoulder, covering half the body while open on the other side. As she approached the last pier on the southern docks, she was relieved to see that no one she passed gave her even the slightest scrutiny. The cloak combined with her natural skills hid her aggression well. She was carrying an unsheathed long knife, every inch of it poisoned, and a simple style trend was keeping her practically invisible.
It was even enough to get her past the dockside guards and through the laughable security at the wharf front. She was certain, however, that it would not be enough to hide her from him.
“Hello, Veleste. I was wondering when you would come to… see me off.”
She froze, his voice stopping her short . She had not expected to get all the way to him before he noticed her approach but she was more than thirty feet away from how close she had hoped to get. At this range, a throw would be imprecise at best.
“You were not at home, milord. I did not want you to leave without saying goodbye.” She affected a smile, knowing that on her lips, it could be as disarming as any weapon or skill at arms.
The expression was wasted; he did not turn around or even glance back to see it. Instead, the broad shouldered man in thick, finely wrought plate stood perfectly still, eyes still cast forward toward the end of the pier and the galleon docked there. Its ramp was down and its gate open but he had not gone aboard. Why? Why was he still here?
“I agree. That would have been very rude of me.” Then, in a quiet echo of her false obeisance, he added, “Milady.”
She tensed but forced herself to relax again. If this did come to blows, she was battle savvy enough to know that only grace would see her through a fight against this man. She could not hope to match him in terms of strength or, though it galled her to think it, skill. “Thoughtful.”
His long black hair, pulled back in his usual band of silver and inset onyx, swayed as he nodded. “I do what I can.” His left arm extended downward slowly, wresting his wrist against the ornate tooling of his scabbard. The gesture was a simple one, as eloquent as it was blatant. He was getting ready from what was coming. “Is this where we must part company?”
Shifting one foot into a stance from which she could spring or dodge, Veleste set her jaw and took a slow breath. “I fear it must be, milord. You have not made many friends tonight.”
Another nod. “And it would seem I am losing the ones I did have.”
She doubled her grip on the dagger. If he parried, the force of his swing would easily bat the blade from her hand if she did not hold on tightly. “You could have avoided this, milord.” She took one step forward, still not close enough to get a clean shot. “Bided your time, spoken with the others in private. You brought this upon yourself.”
“That I did.” There was a cast of resignation in his shoulders, a slight easing of tight muscle across his back. Was she getting to him? Would this distraction be enough to give her an edge? “But I am not a subtle man. Private whispers and pillow promises are your department, Vel.”
She almost reeled. She was what she was, what she had been made to be, and she was not ashamed of it. But to hear that from him, the simple statement of it without accusation or derision? She found it surprisingly hard to take. “Perhaps we’ve spoken too much already.” Her voice was no longer soft, no longer cordial.
“Another moment, please.” As he said this, still not turning to face her yet, his right hand moved to rest on the hilt of his sword. “There are two things you should know about adderwrack.”
That almost shook her from her bearing. Eyes widening before she could get them back under control, Veleste took a step back. If he knew about the poison, what else did he know? Back on the defensive, she murmured, “And what would those be, milord?”
“One, I have been immune to adderwrack since my campaign in Droaam.” He waited before continuing, her heart sinking as the words rang true. It was no bluff.
“And two?” Now she was examining the alley for ways to flee. She did not know if he would follow her or cut her down if she ran. Part of her knew he would never do such a thing but the rest of her was too embittered to believe anyone could really be so noble.
“The scent of it does not suit you, my lady.” Another pause as his fingers curled around the engraved grip of his weapon. His thumb pushed on the underside of one quillion, pushing the sword a single inch from its home. “Nor, I think, would the smell of blood.”
She stepped back again, all thought of combat gone now. “How will this end?” There was a touch of fear to her voice, something she despised but could not banish.
The sword returned to nestle against its sheath, his hand falling away. “It does not end, my lady. You will return and tell them I had already departed. Guiver’lan will order you to hire assassins to ensure I never reach Xen’drik. You will do so and I will have to deal with those who come for me.”
She nodded and slowly turned to walk away. Before she could leave, there was something she had to know. Two things, actually. “Why did you do it? You had it all, the respect of the Table, wealth, a position of leadership… me. How could you walk away from that?” In all those words there was only one real question.
“The Table is not what it used to be. I could not stay there any longer.” He looked down, sighing deeply. “What began as an ideal has become ideology. Good has turned to greed. I cannot be a part of it.” Hands at his sides now, he added in softer, more affectionate tones, “And you? No one has ever had you. You are far too precious to be owned.”
He was halfway up the boarding ramp before Veleste found her voice again. “Raven, wait!” Running, she reached the end of the dock and looked up at him, desperate to be closer than she knew he would allow. “Why didn’t you just leave? Why did you wait?”
Before she knew it, he was in front of her, metal fingertips resting on her cheek. “If I had left, I would not have been able to see you again.” He leaned close, kissed her gently on her cheek, and turned away. “Goodbye, my lady.”
The ship was long gone by the time her tears stopped flowing.
Hours later, three dark figures stood on the same dock, their faces shrouded in the shadows of Lhazaareze silk hoods. They gazed out over the empty pier, the tallest of them with his hands folded in thought. The other two remained completely motionless, silent and still.
“This poses a serious problem.” The taller man turned to the figure on his right. “Our master will not appreciate the quarry’s escape.”
It was the figure to his left that answered first. “He would not have gotten away if we had been allowed to hunt him down first.” As if to punctuate his words, the man drew a long, curved dagger and rested the blade along his forearm. “We would not have missed.”
The tall one nodded quietly. “This is true.”
The last to speak tilted his head the direction of the waves. “The target is too far gone for a cutter to catch. What should we do? He is technically outside our domain.”
“Technicalities are of no consequence. I have our master’s instructions.”
The figure with the drawn weapon pointed it toward the ocean horizon. “What are we to do?”
“We do nothing. Our quarry will never reach the first breaker. The master has seen to it. If the angry sky does not cast him to pieces, there are many predators between here and the green continent. Something, either on the water or in it, will deal with this disgrace.”
The man with the dagger growled in discontent and sheathed it again. “Storms and sea dogs. Unworthy ends to an honored foe.”
“Again, this is true.”
The third figure, the quietest of the trio, crouched at the water’s edge, trailing three gloved fingers over its surface. “And if they do not end him?”
The tall man turned and started to walk back into the shadows of the city. “Then we go to Stormreach.”
Danger on the Shargon
Stormreach Scryer News for Vult, 25, 998
Ocean traffic between Sharn and Stormreach has become more difficult than usual lately. Storms have been seen raging through the Straits of Shargon, claiming ships with terrible ease. Pirate activity, previously on the decline after a failed mass assault on Stormreach, has risen sharply against vessels trying to make the perilous journey to or from the City of Spires.
The increased loss of oceangoing ships has already begun to make itself felt here in Stormreach through increased market prices and a substantial rise in the price of travel charters. Even southbound vessels are charging more for passage to compensate for increased supply costs and lost revenue.
All citizens of Stormreach are hereby advised to exercise great caution in any travel that might take them through this violent area until such threats diminish.