What Is Due
The trap was laid, and Lodrán calmed his breathing. Damned-fool Easterners, he thought, never cheat a man in his own home. But they were making enough noise to draw attention to themselves; stomping and chattering preceded them up the stone-lined corridors. As a practitioner of the Silent Art, especially one who earned his pay in the ancient warrens beneath Ak’koyr, Lodrán knew the value of quiet.
“You are paying weregild for our brothers, Edrac?” were the first clear words Lodrán heard as they approached. Edrac’s hired swords had lost nearly half their number to the rouvanth who guarded what Edrac sought, and they carried their fallen comrades homeward. Torchlight flickered; Lodrán could now see his hands but the rope that made his trap was invisible. He backed down the side passage a little farther.
“It wasn’t I who killed them,” Edrac replied. “But to keep the peace — shall we say, ten gold octagons for each?”
“Seems fair,” one of the swordswomen said. “If you pay us,” another growled.
“Everyone will be paid,” Edrac sighed. “We cut out the locksmith, after all. Extra for all of us.” The torchlight shone down the corridor where Lodrán squatted, a shadow among shadows. “Speaking of the locksmith, I expected him by now.”
“Maybe something ate him,” one of the men chortled. Several others laughed, as the last torch passed the opening. Lodrán scuttled to the intersection, staying to the shadows.
“Hey, how much longer?” one of them complained. “I never knew Tisiph was so heavy...” Now Lodrán was behind them. He picked up each end of the rope and stood in the center of the hallway.
Now. He snapped both ends of the rope, hard. One, two, three, pull!
“Hey!” “Look out!” “What—” CRASH! Lodrán pulled harder, then dropped the rope and dived back into the side passage. His imagination described what he could not see: the swords leading the way had their feet pulled backwards. They fell kicking, unbalancing those behind them. These dropped their fallen comrades and fell back themselves, in a chain reaction.
“Lodrán!” Edrac snapped, clambering over his hirelings. “You should have stayed where you were, you fool.” The mage wore a cruel smile, squinting down the side passage, looking for Lodrán. “Where are you, you son of a whore? It doesn’t matter, we’ll see you,” and began a spell.
Lodrán reacted quickly. The safehouse master had only one thing to say about fighting a mage: a knife or spear will stop any spell, if you throw fast enough. Lodrán was fast. His knife hissed, and Edrac cried out, clutching his thigh and moaning.
“I only want what is due me,” Lodrán said to the wall, making his voice echo down both sides of the corridor. “Throw it down here and go your way.”
A crossbow quarrel hissed by and clattered down the hall past Lodrán. “What stops us from coming for you now?” one of the swordsmen growled.
“Nightwalk is my home,” Lodrán replied, “Follow me and you’ll die. You might find me, but thirst will find you. Care to try?”
No reply. Edrac gasped and spat. “Help me up, damn you,” he groaned.
“Don’t try another spell,” Lodrán warned. “You won’t survive it.”
Edrac smiled, though he must be hurting — Lodrán’s knife had pierced his thigh, far too close to the most vital spot of all. “No, no more spells. Consed, put twenty gold octagons and that ring in a sack. Yes, that ring. Now throw it down there.” The sack clinked on the floor, close to Lodrán. “So everything is as it was agreed upon?”
Lodrán snatched up the sack, squeezing it to keep the octagons from clinking and giving away his position. He reached into the bag and touched the ring, not daring to take it out and possibly having it glint in the dim torchlight. He felt a gaudy piece of jewelry intended to distract from the true treasure, a scroll that tingled his hands before he passed it to Edrac. “Yes,” he said quickly, and pocketed his pay.
“Good,” Edrac purred, then spat again. “Now you have your due. How will you spend it?”
“Eh?” Lodrán kept his responses short, seeing two of the swords step into the corridor, raising torches. He squinted to keep his eyes from giving him away.
“We’ll wait here for you — after all, we’re between you and the way out, hey? Sooner or later, something will flush you out. We won’t have to chase you anywhere.”
Lodrán sighed. The two swords started down the hall, but a word from Edrac stopped them. They settled down to wait, weapons ready, while another tended Edrac’s wound.
About fifteen minutes into the vigil, the swords’ patience ran dry and they ventured down the passageway. They found a chalk drawing of a Hand, one outstretched finger pointing down the passage. “The Hand that Points the Way!” Edrac hissed. “He has another way out! After him!” He wove a spell that lightened their load and they moved swiftly. Farther along, another Hand pointed the way, and another.
They raced through the switchbacking passageways until, stiff and sore from the effects of Edrac’s spell, they came to a door. This door was marked with a Hand showing a different finger outstretched; none of them needed Edrac to explain this particular rune. They opened the door — and blinked as the daylight of Sunside filtered down a stairway. At the top, a lone figure looked down and then was gone.