32. A long day’s end
6th of Neth – Toilday – 45th day in Varisia
Somewhere in Magnimar
I would be lying if I told I saw lights, demons, angels or that sort when I traveled from Whitewillow to Magnimar. I just stepped into the oily and black, magical disc, and I was somewhere else. Somewhere dark.
I took another step, just to make room for the others coming behind me, and heard Dûath whine beside me. He didn’t like what had happened, and had a hard time orienting to his new surroundings. Being a bit more conscious I knew what had happened and why, but I was anxious as well. I could hardly see.
I recognized the scents of sausages, ales, fruit, pickles among others. I even smelled coffee too – not a small town commodity. A storage room, then, I concluded as my hands brushed the sides of crates and barrels. My eyes got used to the near pitch-black darkness and I spotted Alice a few feet away. She was pushing against something. A simple wooden door.
Light from beyond swam in the moment Harsk emerged from the other side of the gate, and was quickly followed by a stumbling Alfred. Alice was peeking out between the door and the frame.
“Make way”, I told her, pushing the door open fully as I marched out. The building we were in was a tavern. I had walked straight into the bar side of its main hall.
“What? Thieves!” Somebody exclaimed in surprise. The innkeeper, of course. He was standing behind the bar, serving a lone customer, and my entrance had not been inconspicuous.
Alice was behind me, having chosen to stay in the storage room and probably furrowed. I lifted my hands up, showing my empty palms. “Not a thief. I’ve taken nothing.”
I wasn’t being completely honest. There were two big apples in my pockets under my cloak. All that traveling had made me hungry, and they were bound to be crushed into cider anyway so I didn’t feel bad about it. The innkeeper started to approach, then noticed Dûath and stopped, deciding on merely gesturing rudely and accompanying his unpleasantness with curses and demands for me to get the hell out. I decided to let the others do the explaining and slipped out with my panther when the innkeeper realized there were three more people suddenly hiding in his storage room.
We were indeed in Magnimar, and given the looming Summit to our south-east, I put us somewhere in the Docks. Our backpacks were full of loot, and at the streets people were stopping to wonder at Harsk carrying a huge sack that tinkled with his every step. Our first port of call was then naturally the one person who could help us turn the equipment and valuables into coins.
It was a late evening and all the markets had closed for the day. We found Garnet Alexandros enjoying time with her dubious business partners in a nameless tavern nearby. As she saw us enter the otherwise quiet inn and approach her table, she excused herself quickly and came to us.
“My friends”, she greeted loudly, beaming at us like a miniature sun. That smile was a piece of art, but also a mask wrought to perfection, I thought. “And my girl!” She went to hug Alice, and a hint of mischievousness flashed in her eyes, her true self. “How’s the project”, she asked her, lowering her voice.
The pale-faced magus glanced at us sideways and let out a dry, anxious chuckle. “We didn’t go that way”, she started, “we have to try it another time.” If Garnet was the masterful businesswoman and player of scheming games, Alice was possibly the worst liar and contriver I knew. We? The project? I frowned. What games was Garnet trying to play with us?
“We handled the threat”, Alice added finally, raising her voice so we could all hear. The swindler princess looked at her, then smiled again. “Oh yeah, that threat!” She remembered, and laughed heartily.
Enough of this, I muttered and cut in.
“We have a cartload of equipment and valuables for selling, Alexandros: can you help us get rid of them?”
Garnet fixed her attention to me. “Tssk tssk, always straight to business with you, Ugly?” Alfred guffawed at her namecalling. I just glazed at her, my question hanging in the air, awaiting her answer.
As I wasn’t provoked, she just snorted and nodded. Alice first and Alfred then eagerly began to unload their magical backpacks, all the while explaining what we had collected. As the swindler realized just how much we had, she told us to halt. “Tell me, how much in gold are you carrying exactly?” She asked, rolling her head. Either Alice, Alfred or Harsk could not tell.
“I’m carrying excess equipment worth roughly 1500 platinum coins”, I shot with a straight face. This made Garnet examine me curiously. I was pretty confident – I had made the estimates and the arithmetic during our long walk from Hook Mountain to Fort Rannick.
“If I ever want to get to sleep tonight, I’ll need some help. Bring the stuff to the back, I’ll go fetch Adebisi”, she told us, pointed to a door behind her and left us.
We moved our valuables to what appeared to be a yet another storage room. Ten minutes later, Garnet got back with her silent catfolk friend. The sullen creature produced a ledger and a pen from his jacket, and began to mark and do calculations with Garnet.
Thirty minutes later we had agreed to a sum of platinum, and another fifteen minutes later we were all rather wealthy people, toting very large bags full of coin.
As I counted mine, just to make sure I wasn’t being fooled, a realization dawned to me. Only two months ago I had been carrying a second-hand bow, two old kukri blades and very little equipment. I had been clothed in nondescript garments, a few coins in my pockets. Now, at that very moment, I carried and wore equipment so valuable that would’ve put the best assassins of House Horryn to shame, and had enough platinum to field a platoon of mercenaries for weeks. And we hadn’t even reported to Lord Grobaras yet – gods knew how big a reward we were bound to get as payment for our deeds in the East.
I wasn’t wealthy, I was borderline nobility in terms of gold. Adventuring with a purpose, it seemed, paid well.
But as said, I’m not a greedy person. Gold itself had little value to me. I had only one reason to hoard gold for, but her father would’ve never accepted dowry from a bounty hunter, how ever rich said hunter was, so my only option was to improve my gear and thus become even more deadlier and efficient in what I did best. Luckily, Garnet could help us also in that regard.
“Well, how do you plan to spend the platinum?” She asked, making it painfully obvious she would happily take it back from us.
“I’m thinking of buying trade company shares”, Alice quipped with a playful smile, making her old friend crack up. “Yeah, that went so well the last time”, she replied.
Alfred was first to ask for a certain pair of gloves he had heard about, and I said I had some equipment in mind I was after. Harsk wanted a new longsword.
This was all very pleasing to her. “Excellent!” The swindler exclaimed and clapped her hands together. “Let’s get to business shall we”, she asked us rhetorically and took a lid off a barrel she was standing next to and reached in with her hand. I heard her crank something open, and suddenly, a wide brick wall behind us started to part, the bricks lowest to the floor groaning as they slowly slid.
The wall opened ten feet and the woman of mystery led us to the secret entrance. Because that’s what it was, a secret entrance.
What laid beyond was bewildering. And it also answered a few questions that had circled in my head.
“I was wondering when you’d show them this”, Alice said knowingly as she stepped in. “The market works well for day-time business, but I think your friends are too anxious to spend their gold to wait till morning”, Garnet replied, gently pushing Harsk first by his shoulder.
Behind the secret entrance was a very large storeroom, a warehouse by its own right. It was packed full, if neatly, of weapons, armor, shields, equipment, clothing, kits, musical instruments, pieces of art, containers, books, alchemical gear, even furniture and children’s toys. There were rows after rows of open shelves full of crates and racks that reached the high ceiling. I couldn’t see the other side of the storeroom, but It was at least 150 feet wide. If Garnet would have told me the place had everything, I would have had to believe her.
She left the rest of us awe and gape while she took Harsk with her to see ‘the longsword selection’ as she called it playfully. Behind us, the catfolk male made another entrance accompanied by two male servants. The two began to carry the equipment we had sold to Garnet into specific locations around the storeroom per Adebisi’s incomprehensible directions. Rather than staying put and under the watchful gaze of the furry man, I chose to follow Garnet and have a better look at the heart of her operations.
The swindler princess presented Harsk her longswords, and I saw Harsk admire and handle one decorated with beautifully crafted runes of Iomedae. I wondered how she had got her hands on that – the sword looked old, valuable and very holy. The cleric of Iomedae was sold.
I bought only relatively cheap special items – a magical backpack similar to Alice’s and Alfred’s, a magical quiver that could hold more arrows than a normal quiver and still weigh the same, and a special undershirt called self-explanatorily Quick Runner’s Shirt. My aim was to become even more fleet of foot and not be restricted by my own equipment.
Alfred got his special pair of very expensive leather gloves – they were something about dueling and not dropping his weapons during combat I think. A weird enchantment feature, considering he hadn’t taken a habit of losing his axe. He made a lewd remark about leather clothing to Garnet, which made the swindler roll her eyes, but I missed that too – maybe the whores all wore only leather in that bordello he had frequented in Sandpoint.
We were about to leave when Alice walked over to her old friend. “Can I still continue with them”, she asked, jerking her head once at our direction, “Sandpoint is in grave danger of an attack by giants and needs help.” For some reason, I actually believed that the pale-faced magus wanted to help the town, even if she hardly knew it. Strangely, she wanted to stick with us. I still didn’t like her, but she had proven herself as a solid fighter with a sharp sense of humour. And as always, it wasn’t like I had the singular authority to boot her off our merry company if I wanted. The rest of us shared a sense of purpose, and if she really wanted to help Sandpoint, then she was part of the team.
“Of course!” Garnet flashed an ingratiating smile and rubbed her friend’s shoulder, “Sandpoint is such a lovely little town, isn’t it!
I remembered her calling it a backwater the first time we met.
“It deserves all the help it can get”, she continued with melodrama, before lowering her voice and winking at Alice. “Besides, the mission is still incomplete.”
I rolled my eyes and paced out of the massive storeroom and back to the tavern that served as its front. The familiar, cozy atmosphere of a tavern and the smells of beers made Harsk and Alfred eager for a drink.
“What do you think, my friend”, Alfred guffawed and shook Harsk’s shoulder before slapping a passing serving girl’s ass at the same time (excellent timing), “if we all have some drinks and proper supper?” Harsk stroked his beard that still bore the damage received by Lucrezia’s sharp daggers, and nodded contemplatively. “Indeed. We haven’t been to a good, warm inn for ages. I’d love me some fine local beer.”
I was hungry too, if not thirsty of alcohol. I gladius-skewered a whole roasted chicken waiting for delivery on the counter, drawing a shriek from another serving girl. I flipped her a full silver coin as payment – all too much, but I wasn’t planning to wait to be served.
Alfred had already seated himself to a free table, so I glanced at Harsk who was nearer. “Meet up at Kaijitsu Manor, right”, I asked, my tone suggesting I was not about to stay. “Wench! Beers! Two! No, make it six!” I heard Alfred shout over the noise of the other customers. The cleric nodded at me.
Alice was still standing there, unsure what to do. She looked at the cleric and sellsword joking at the table and laughing, and then me, half my face hidden under the hood, serious and about to leave.
Despite my cheerfulness and the great company I would surely offer her, she went to join the others.
On my way up to the Summit, I devoured one chicken drumstick and the two apples I had taken from the inn we had arrived to, and left Dûath at the Kaijitsu Manor with the rest of the chicken. It was almost midnight, and the day had been nothing but walking from one place to another, but I still there was something I needed to do. I stored my backpack to my old room, and left alone.
The road to the Temple of Iomedae was almost completely silent. Toilday was not a day for celebrations nor religion, so people had little reason to be up at this hour. At the temple, I found a haven of peace and rest – a stark contrast to the past days’ horrors and bloodshed. Here and there a few priests and clerics of white and red were whispering, lighting candles and burning incenses, preparing their midnight sermon for the most devout followers of the goddess. Somewhere, a choir of children were practicing and their clear, high voices echoed in the halls like a divine lullaby. I walked past priests and in their busyness they did not seem to notice me. I went through the main stoa that traveled through the length of the temple, stopping only next to a beautifully carved wooden rack full of fresh, unused candles of different size. I considered them, which one to take, how much to pay. Finally, I took one, a red candle I’d imagine would burn at least a day, and dropped a silver coin to a little wooden box.
I left the peace of the temple and exited to the graveyard behind it. There were no other souls present, no-one to disturb the eternal slumber of the people buried there. I found what I was looking for easily, its location a recent, bright memory. A simple rectangular stone was set into the earth, marking a grave. A nearby oak had let go of some of its leaves, and they covered the stone. I went to one knee next to it and brushed aside the leaves, revealing an elaborately cut, lateral longsword in flames and a first name. Below them, I placed the candle and set it alight. Despite the chill of the autumn night, it flickered to life hungrily.
I rose and spent a while there, unmoving and silent, watching the wick burn, making sure the fire would not die young, not before it would consume all of the wax of the candle as it was supposed to do. On my back, I felt the heat of the Carmine Avenger as it glowed fiercely. Then the bell of the temple tolled once for midnight and a day’s end. The sound’s finality and significance brought me from my reverie and I shivered.
As I stepped away from Ilori’s final resting place, my bow cooled to its normal temperature like a man exhaling in release after holding a long, long breath. It would ignite again come a new day, and burn instead of one whose wick had went out too early.