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The Fisherman's Coin

by Al Krombach

 

As arranged, Yelosh awaited his messenger halfway across Bard's Bridge. The turbulent black waters of the Mossrill sloshed around beneath him and the lights of Gelwyn City shone behind him. He was a little light headed from spending the last few hours in a tavern by the River Gate, but he preferred that to the sick worry he had felt beforehand. Closing his eyes for a moment, he consulted the Wizards' Clock his guild membership gave him access to.

"Four past midnight already," he muttered to himself, "Bastards are never on time."

Just then a figure appeared out of the torch-lit mists on the far side of the bridge. It walked briskly up the steep incline of the old stone bridge and stopped before Yelosh, parting a billowing cloak shimmering with beaded moisture. Yelosh was surprised to note the messenger was a woman this time, and a competent looking one at that. She wore a stiff leather jerkin studded with brass spikes and four leather-sheathed daggers hung from her broad black belt. Her hair was short and black, in the style of a Calimish mercenary, and her eyes were the strange violet color Yelosh had only seen on Flandish merchants.

"You"re Yelosh", she said, as a statement rather than a question.

"Yes...." He said.

"I am Rewa", she said, pausing for a moment. Yelosh wondered if he was supposed to know the name. "I have a message for you."

"Yes, get on with it", said Yelosh. These idiots always acted like their jobs were the most important ones in the world, like no one else hired wizards or something.

"The message is from Lorion", she said, suddenly smiling and reaching for her belt.

Yelosh felt his blood turn cold. He flung himself backwards, trying to spit out a teleportation spell from a mouth suddenly gone dry. He was too slow, however, and a dagger sprouted from his chest, flung from Rewa's outstretched hand. He slumped back against the bridge's wall, clutching the dagger as blood poured down the front of his fine robes. An ominous tingling spread through his body, telling him the blade had been poisoned. Rewa walked calmly towards him, still smiling, and gave him a gentle shove. His world slowed down to a terrifying crawl as he felt himself falling, heard the rushing water getting closer, and was then enveloped by the icy blackness of the river.

He wondered, as consciousness left him, who the hell Lorion was.

 *  *  *

The fisherman who pulled Yelosh from the harbor seemed to think it was funny that he had nearly been eaten by a mudshark, after being stabbed, poisoned, and very nearly drowned.

"Ye've the luck of Crysus, sar," he rasped, making the sign of the god of fortune with his fingers.

Yelosh didn't feel very lucky, but he thanked the fisherman anyway, and pulled a coin from his waterlogged pouch to reward the man. Too late he realized it was a pandrium coin he had pulled out, worth more than five hundred gold pieces, and probably fifty times what this fisherman made in a year. The fisherman's eyes grew impossibly large as he took the coin and fell to his knees crying out his thanks. Cursing his own stupidity and the man's annoying fawning, he pleaded with the fisherman to take him to the temple of Flindrin on Gelwyn's docks, where he could receive healing. The fisherman joyfully complied and, upon setting the half-dead wizard ashore, insisted he take the day's catch of slingfish.

 *  *  *

Back in his shabby rooms at the Poison Eel Inn, Yelosh settled into a long bath to wash the blood and harbor filth from his battered body. He was attended by the innkeeper himself, who was quite pleased at being presented with a bag of fresh slingfish and insisted Yelosh receive every comfort the inn had to offer. Yelosh pondered the events of the night before and shook his head miserably. Who the hell was this Lorion, and why would he hire some assassin to go after him? He wasn't quite sure if he should pursue vengeance or let the matter lie, but he was certain he had to find out more. The place to start was with Hasterius at the Guild Tower, who had set up Yelosh's meeting with the "prospective employer". Yelosh had done a lot of odd jobs since moving to Gelwyn after his apprenticeship in Shadowmir, some of them illegal, but nothing that would have brought deadly retribution. Or so he thought.

After dressing and taking a small meal, Yelosh left the Inn and headed up Market Lane into the city proper. It was about midday, and the streets were crowded with traffic passing between the harbor docks and the Great Market. He paused at a stall in the market and purchased a new robe of fine Madrissan Silk. His old master had taught him appearances were half the power of a wizard, that flashy robes and intimidation were powerful spells unto themselves, and he didn't intend to go before Hasterius in his street clothes. The guild Taskmaster was a greedy old codger who made sure to get his full twenty percent from all guildmember profits, but he wasn't a true wizard and feared them despite his bluster.

The Guild Tower was a squat, octagonal structure some twelve stories high, languishing in the shadow of Highcastle, the home of the Lord Mayor and his government. The door was guarded only by two red marble statues Yelosh knew would come to life and attempt to slay any non-members who attempted to pass. He closed his eyes briefly and commanded the door to open, which it did; braying out a welcoming trumpet fanfare that made Yelosh cringe with embarrassment every time he entered the place. The entrance hall continued the tradition of ostentatiousness, carpeted with red Isen rugs and hung with golden tapestries from Gwyll. A broad staircase led upwards from the back of the hall, with banisters of Blackwood from Nerain inlaid with pearl from Kesh. At the foot of the stair a hexagonal silver gong was hung from a post carved from a single rare pillar of Istagaran Smoke Crystal. Yelosh tapped the gong with one finger and uttered the name "Hasterius".

After a brief wait, he heard a door slam shut somewhere above him, and the Taskmaster came creaking down the stair. Hasterius was old, short, and skinny, with a nose like a vulture's beak and thick spectacles that made his eyes look three times too big and crossed. He clutched a precarious array of scrolls in one ink-stained claw, and a small metal box in the other.

"Ah, Yelosh Miramber, come to settle your dues for your latest task, I expect?" croaked the old man, screwing his face up in exultant greed and shaking his coinbox.

Yelosh smacked the box out of Hasterius' hand, eliciting a cry of surprise, and grabbed him by the throat. The Taskmaster squealed and flailed his arms but could summon no aid.

"You set me up, bastard," hissed Yelosh, "Your job tried to kill me last night."

Hasterius' face went pale and he shook his head furiously, trying to force words from his constricted throat. Yelosh released his grip and let the old man fall to the floor, sputtering and gasping.

"I want to know who set the job up, old fool," said Yelosh, "I want to know everything now or I'll burn you to a cinder right here!"

"I don't know what you're talking about," screeched the old man, "It was supposed to be a typical smuggling job, you know, a couple of illusions on a couple of wagons, over and done with!"

"Who set it up with you?"

"A guy named Terlus, looked like he was out of the West, said he just needed a few illusions done. Truly, Yelosh, I'd never set a up a fellow Guild brother..."

"Save it, old man. You ever hear of a girl named Rewa?"

Hasterius shook his head. "Who's that?"

"The one who stuffed a pasted blade into my chest, that's who. She said it was a message from somebody named Lorion. Ever heard of him?"

"Sure, everyone in Gelwyn City has," said the Taskmaster, shaking his head like Yelosh was some kind of cretin.

"And where can I find him?"

"Try the cemetery, the big black tomb in the middle."

"What the hell are you talking about, old fool?" Yelosh was starting to get angry again, and raised one hand threateningly.

"He's been dead for two-hundred years, young fool, he was the Last King."

Yelosh had heard of the Last King, of course, there were taverns, inns, shops, and even brothels bearing the name. He was a local hero, having stood alone at the gates of Gelwyn against the Imperial troops sacking the city. He was the Last King, well, because the Archaean Empire had been in charge ever since.

"Lista's Golden Tits, Haster, what does that have to do with me?"

"Look, Yelosh," said the old man, standing up and smoothing down his robes, "I'm real sorry about all this, but I've got nothing to do with it, and I've got other business to attend to, so if you don't mind..."

"Not so fast, old one," said Yelosh, "Like it or not, you set the job up and you're involved. Now I want to know where I can find this Terlus guy, and I want you to get Oriunis down here, at your expense of course."

"Nobody sees Oriunis without an appointment, apprentice, and as for Terlus..." Hasterius ended his sentence with a squawk as Yelosh pulled the assassin's dagger out of his belt pouch and brandished it.

"Want to see if it's still pasted or not?" hissed the wizard.

"All right, all right Grodj damn you, I'll get him. And as for Terlus, he's got an alchemy shop over on the Street of Barrels." Grabbing his scrolls and coinbox, the Taskmaster scurried up the stairs to fetch the Guild Scryer, Oriunis, who appeared a few moments later. The Scryer was a tall, heavyset Makaran who had studied his art at the wizardry colleges of both Mantis and faraway Tyl-Fflarr. He still kept his black beard and hair oiled in the Eastern style, though he dressed in the local fashion.

"Yelosh!" he boomed, "It has been ages! Why have you pulled me away from my previous appointments and forced poor old Pinchfingers to pay me?"

The two men clasped hands warmly. "I need a Finding done, Ori," said Yelosh, "I met a girl last night and I really want to see her again."

"Oh really, and I suppose she left you a scarf or some other intimate token?"

"Better, Ori, better," Yelosh handed him the dagger. The big wizard hummed in surprise and sniffed the blade.

"Poisoned?" he asked.

"Nasty stuff, almost beat my proof-charms."

"That's some girl. Let's go into the conservatory."

Oriunis led Yelosh into a large room off the grand hall filled with comfortable chairs and low tables heaped with books, hookahs, and empty teapots and cups. One table held a simple silver bowl filled with mercury, and the two wizards sat before it. The Scryer waved the dagger over the mercury and whispered an arcane incantation. The mercury immediately began to swirl and smoke as Oriunis went into his trance.

"The Past," he intoned, "She is the tool of a deceiver, who has come to this city to practice treachery.

"The Present. She sits at the Two Coins Tavern. She is waiting for someone.

"The Future. She will one day take her master's place."

The Scryer sat back and let out a heavy sigh as the mercury settled down. He handed the dagger back to Yelosh.

"I hope that helps," he said.

"You're great, Ori, don't let anyone tell you different."

"No one does, Yelosh, no one does."

 *  *  *

Fifteen minutes later, Yelosh stood on Bellwood Street across from the Two Coins Tavern. It looked like a rough place, perched just outside the high wall that separated Gelwyn's elven quarter from the maze of the crowded slum district. He could see the Elvengate about halfway down the wall, with its ever-present guards giving close scrutiny to whoever passed in or out of the quarter. At the moment, they were patiently rebuffing a peddler who had tried to slip in without paying the gate toll. He turned his attention back to the tavern, took a deep breath, and crossed the street.

The inside of the tavern was dark and smoky, naturally, and filled nearly to capacity. Yelosh spotted his quarry almost at once. She sat facing the door, like a professional, but her attention seemed focused at the bottom of the tankard before her. Whispering a quick stream of arcane words, he watched her go stiff and pulled up a chair beside her.

"The element of surprise, sweetness," sneered Yelosh, "but you already know all about that, don't you?"

Rewa could only shudder and turn red under the effects of the holding spell. "Let me tell you about the Gelwyn Wizard's Guild," said Yelosh, "The Lord Mayor just loves having us in town. Makes it safer for trade, keeps fire and famine at bay, and so on. Consequently, the penalties for attacking or harming guild-members is a bit, um, extreme. You know what the penalty is? Blink if you do..."

Rewa didn't blink.

"Public impalement and disemboweling, a very long and messy process, I fear.

Does that sound good to you? Blink if it's a 'yes'."

Rewa didn't blink.

"So should I teleport us on over to Highcastle? Give you to the Lord Mayor's chief constable?"

Rewa still didn't blink.

"Or would you like to make a deal, perhaps?"

Rewa blinked.

 *  *  *

Morning found Yelosh standing outside a small shop on the Street of Barrels. A wooden sign hung over the door displaying a crudely painted blue flask. He pushed open the door and went into a small room with a desk at the back and a couple of chairs in front of it. An immense, middle-aged woman sat behind the desk scribbling on slips of paper. She looked up as Yelosh entered and smiled a wide, toothless grin.

"Morning, love," she said, "what can we do for you? Need a little extra potency in the marriage bed, perhaps? Or maybe a little something for..."

"Terlus," Yelosh interrupted, "I'm looking for Terlus."

"Aye, well, this is his shop, but I takes the orders..."

"Is he here?"

"No, love, he never comes in 'til the afternoon. But I'd be happy to take any orders or messages to him for you."

Yelosh put a hand into one of the pouches at his belt and began toying with the small purple gem within it.

"Look at me, woman," he said, "look at me now and speak truly."

The woman's grin faded and her face went slack and expressionless, her eyes glazed. "Yes...." She said.

"Where can I find Terlus?" he asked.

"At home," she said flatly, "or on his way here."

"And where is his home?"

"The corner of Cash Street and Festival Street," she answered, "Big green marble place with griffins by the door."

"Thank you...what was your name?"

"Annelle, sir."

"You can carry on with your day, Annelle. Look at me now and be thyself."

The woman suddenly resumed her grin, blinking as if caught daydreaming. "Sorry, love," she said, "what was that you wanted, something for your back, maybe?"

"No, thank you," Yelosh said, "I'll come back later."

"All right then, sir, see you then."

Yelosh turned and left the store. He headed up Barrel Street towards the market, where it crossed Festival Street. The city was fully awake by now, and the streets were full of vendors pulling their wares towards the market for sale and laborers heading from the slums down to the docks to load and unload the ships which came from all over the Sea of Constellations. The market was bustling, the sun was bright, and Yelosh was in a fantastic mood for the first time in two days. His talk with the assassin had gone better than he had planned, and he had gone strait from the tavern to confer with his friend Oriunis about what he had learned. Some pieces were starting to fall together out this mess and he found himself exited about the outcome.

Rewa had turned out to be none other than the daughter of the Grand Master of the Assassin's Guild in nearby Shadowmir. Of course it had taken a more potent spell to get that out of her than it had taken to beguile the old shop-woman, but it was certainly worth it. He had also been surprised to find out from Ori that this Terlus fellow was indeed from the West, was a probably a wizard himself, and had supposedly been exiled from his guild and forced to take up running an alchemy shop in the backwater city of Gelwyn. Interesting indeed.

On his way through the market he passed a small slip of parchment to a beggar wrapped in the concealing bandages of a Fleshplague victim, smiled, and continued on.

 *  *  *

The home of Terlus was quite a grand affair. Yelosh hadn't known that alchemists did so well. The place was made all of thick green marble blocks. In the front, after a short, covered walkway, was a tall bronze door flanked on either side by a pair of stone griffins. He walked steadily up to the door, considered the heavy doorknocker for a moment, and whispered a brief incantation. He then reached out one hand, nodding in a satisfied manner as it passed through the door as if it weren't there at all, and then let himself in.

The entry hall was carpeted in green and hung with silk tapestries on either side. Four arched openings led off into other rooms, and from one of these

Yelosh heard the sound of laughter. Carefully, he crept to a position just outside the entrance and listened for a moment.

"....be too much longer, Terlus, or we'll have to hire the girl to kill another one," said a gruff voice.

"I don't think it'll be a problem, they're bound to catch up with her soon," said a different voice, this one high and somewhat effete.

Yelosh removed a small glass globe from a beltpouch and stepped into the room. Within were three richly robed men holding pipes and cups of steaming tea. Two were sitting and the third, a tall, thin man, was standing and dropped his cup in shock.

"How'd you get in here?" he demanded.

"I've come to haunt you, Terlus," said Yelosh, and he tossed the globe into the center of the room, where it shattered onto the floor with a sudden bright flash of light and a cloud of pungent green smoke. There were muffled shouts, footsteps, and when the smoke cleared the three wizards were standing in a line, trembling and looking very annoyed. Behind each was a darkly clothed figure holding a knife to the wizards' throats. One of the figures was Rewa, looking very fierce indeed.

"Well, my friends," said Yelosh, "I'm so glad we could meet at last. You're from the guild in Mantis, aren't you? Well, no need to answer, not to me, anyway. Our friend Rewa might require a little more from you, though..."

Rewa pulled her knife more tightly across Terlus' throat. The tall mage sputtered in rage and spat onto the floor at Yelosh's feet. "Aye, we're of the Mantis guild," he hissed, "and you're making a very serious mistake."

"Am I, then?" said Yelosh, grinning, "I think rather that it is you who have made the serious mistake, my friend. Let me see if I have this right. An assassin is sent to kill me. Then she is kept on retainer to stay in town for awhile on the pretense of possible further work, that is how it was, Rewa? Unfortunately, this makes it easier for the Gelwyn guild to catch my foul murderer, and put her to death, very publicly and very messily.

"Paid a pretty coin, for her, too, didn't you? After all, she's the Master of Assassins' own daughter. And wouldn't the Master of Assassins be angry at my own little guild. Angry enough, perhaps, to arrange for us all to have unfortunate accidents. Which would leave a, well, a vacancy to fill. Am I getting this right? And then you guys step in and take over?"

"What do you think you're going to do about it, fool," said Terlus, "have us executed in the town gallows? The Empire will come down on you like...."

"No, no," interrupted Yelosh, "I prefer leave you to Rewa's tender mercies, unfortunately for you."

"She wouldn't dare," said Terlus, though the confidence was beginning to fade from his voice, "My guild..."

"Will never know what happened, Terlus," laughed Yelosh, "And they'll never know your little ironic joke about the Last King, will they, you ridiculous imperial snob. Enjoy your afternoon."

Yelosh smiled at Rewa, who nodded back. Then, bowing to the foreign wizards, he turned and left.

 *  *  *

Yelosh and his Guild-brothers kept quiet about the whole affair for the most part, and no more trouble was had from the West. The Taskmaster was certainly nicer to Yelosh afterwards, and gave him only the best commissions. Also kinder to Yelosh was the innkeeper of the Poison Eel, who was thrilled with the constant supply of free, fresh fish.*

Story copyright © 1999/2000 by Al Krombach <Fyrgus214@aol.com>

Artwork "Deceptive Assassin" copyright © 2000 by Romeo Esparrago <public@romedome.com>

 

 

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