The Siren: Part 2
The creature charged me again, snarling, its sharpened teeth bared, and I met it head on. My knife slid to the hilt into its chest and I heard it groan, as I stopped its charge dead with my shoulder. I danced back, light on my feet and charged forward again. Sharp, heavy claws now replaced my fingers and as I slid to around it I buried the claws on my right hand deep into the creature’s throat, ripping it out as I passed. I spun around, ready to attack again, and saw the creature slum to its knees, confusion in its eyes, its mouth opening and closing and blood streaming down its chest and then it fell forward. Dead.
“Thank Equola!” I breathed in relief and allowed my hands to return to normal.
I rolled the creature over and looked it over. It looked like a man, average height and very lean, almost too lean. Its skin was almost darker than the cloak it wore, too dark to be natural. I had never seen it’s like before. I pulled my knives out of it and wiped them clean on its cloak. It was high time to be gone from this roof. The fight hadn’t taken long, but it hadn’t been quiet. I slid down the slope of the roof and quickly climbed down to street, staying in the shadows as best I could. I crossed the street and went down a narrow side street. I found a tiny alley, barely wider than my shoulders and crept up it, keeping an eye open for more of those creatures. Finding none, I let myself into a small yard, at the rear of Kai’s shop and climbed up to his bedroom window on the first floor. It was time to get some answers.
The bedroom was in darkness when I slipped in through the window. I could of course see, there was enough light for that, but Kai couldn’t. He was awake though, and he knew I was in his room. He reached for his spark charm, to light his bedside candle.
“I wouldn’t if I were you.” I growled at him.
Kai sat up in shock. I could see his head turning this way and that, trying to catch a glimpse of me in the darkness. He needn’t have bothered. He was just a regular person, and there wasn’t enough light for his eyes to see even if I’d been wearing some garishly bright clothes.
“I never thought it’d be you Kai. Not after all the meals we’ve shared, the gifts I’ve given you, the life you owe me.”
“Marek!” Kai exclaimed. “It is you! They told me they’d killed you. They said you were dead. As Kaol is my witness, I believed them too!”
“You betrayed me Kai. I trusted you, and you betrayed me.”
“I had no choice!” Kai sobbed. “They took my family. Marek, they took my family.”
“All you had to do was ask me for help Kai. I would have done it for free.” I grated.
“Marek, please. I didn’t want to do it. You must believe me. I didn’t have a choice.”
“There’s always a choice Kai.” I responded coldly. “I’m of a mind to take back what you owe me.”
The tailor threw himself from his bed and knelt on the floor, his hands clasped together, pleading. “Marek, please, they still have them. Kill me if you must, I deserve it, but please, help them. They still watch me, they still threaten me.” Kai begged.
“Why should I?” I asked him. My thirst for revenge was starting to wane though and the thought of someone hurting his family angered me.
“By the Gods! Did they see you coming here? They’ll kill them Marek. They’ll kill them.” Kai lurched to his feet, pulling a sword from beneath his bed. “You’ve killed them!”
I watched as Kai swung the sword back and forth, from where I stood, at the far corner of the room. I watched as he stumbled over his discarded tunic, left lying on the floor. I could see the tears running down his face. I could see his anguish. I’d had enough.
I swept forward and grabbed the sword from Kai’s hands, tossing it on to the bed and kicked his feet out from under him.
“I’ll get them out.” I told him coldly. “But after that, we’re done.”
Kai clutched at my legs, holding himself up. “Thank you.” He sobbed. “Thank you.”
“Tell me everything you know.” I demanded as I pulled him to his feet.
I watched as Kai shuffled back to his bed and sat down heavily. He looked towards where I had been standing, not knowing that I’d moved again.
“It began a few weeks after the last job I gave you.” He started shakily. “A man came to me and asked me to get someone to do a job for him. How he discovered that I could do that for him I never found out, but I refused. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about and asked him to leave my shop.”
Kai paused and coughed to clear his throat.
“The next day he came back and again asked me to get someone for him. Again, I asked him to leave, and he did. The day after he came back again, but I refused to listen to him. I closed the door and told him he was not welcome in my shop. That night someone broke into my shop. Nothing was stolen, but the message was clear. The next day the man returned and again I told him he wasn’t welcome.”
I slid silently back to where Kai thought I was standing. “Why didn’t you ask for help? You could have sent me a message.” I asked him.
“I didn’t think it would get so bad.” Kai admitted sourly. “I thought I could handle it. I hired a man I knew, a retired mercenary, to watch the shop at night and assumed that would be the end of my problems. I found him dead two mornings later. A few hours after that, the man returned. This time I listened to him. He wanted a small trader in Baile killed. I knew the man to see, and always figured him for a smuggler. It didn’t look to be a complicated job, so I sent Kral. He had no problems and I thought then that that’d be the end of it.”
I snorted. “I’m surprised the Semarian didn’t trip over his own feet.”
“Kral was reliable for the simple jobs.” Kai admonished. “You just expected too much from him.”
“Get back to the reason you betrayed me.”
“The day after the job, the man came back and asked me to find someone to do another job. I told him that I’d done as he’d asked and that I didn’t want to see him again. The man laughed and left. That night someone broke into my shop again. I knew by now how this was going to go, so when the man returned the next day I told him I’d do as he asked, if I could. This time he wanted a man living on the Royal Island killed. Kral managed that one as well. Then I didn’t hear anything for a week, and I thought that it was over.”
“But it wasn’t.” I prompted.
“No. The man came back and wanted a merchant in Febros killed. It had to be done in a certain way, and the man had protection. I told him no, knowing that I’d probably get a visit that night. I stayed awake all night, waiting for something to happen, but nothing did. Later the next day I got word that Kral was found floating in the river. I figured I was due another visit, so I contacted Roland and asked for someone very sneaky. The man returned and again I said no. This time I sent the boy Roland provided to follow him. I wanted to know who he was.”
“Where did he go?”
“The castle, Marek. He went into the castle. The boy turned up dead the day after that. I decided then and there to get Ida and Kaja out of the city. I didn’t want anyone in the castle knowing what I did. I went to see Roland again and he agreed to smuggle them out. When I got home, they were already gone, and the man was waiting for me.”
I slipped back out along the narrow lane, climbed back up on to the roofs. I found some shelter in the lee of a warm chimney and crouched down, leaning against it while I thought about everything Kai had told me. Someone from the castle wanted me dead. I couldn’t fathom why. I’d never taken a contract on anyone connected to the castle. Then there was the matter of trying to find the man who had taken Kai’s family. He’d never given a name, and while Kai had told me what he looked like, the odds of me finding him were low. Even if I did, I doubted he’d tell me where he’d stashed Kai’s wife Ida and their daughter. I shook my head. I had no idea how I was going to rescue them, and little idea where to start. By any measure I should just leave Kai to his mess, but Ida and Kaja were innocent, and I counted them friends, despite Kai’s betrayal. I’d get them out, if they weren’t already dead, I just needed somewhere to start.
A whisper of movement was all the warning I got, but it was enough. I rolled to one side and hardened the skin on my arm as it blocked the sword. The blade rung as it struck, but instead of cutting deep into my forearm as it should have done, it bounced off. I’d already pulled one of my long knives and was about to leap towards the sword wielder when I hesitated.
“Idina?” I asked, gruffly.
The sword wielder paused her next attack.
“Marek?” She hissed. “What in the Void are you doing here?”
“You’re not here to try and kill me?” I asked, harshly.
“No.” She scoffed. “If I wanted to kill you, I’d kill you. I thought you were one of the Sung.”
I relaxed as Idina put her sword away. “Sung?”
“Cultists. You killed one earlier. At least it looked like your work.”
“Surprisingly hard to kill? Black skin?”
“Yeah, that’s them. Nice work by the way. I don’t know many who could have killed one that easily.”
“Thanks. You were hunting it?”
“Them. I’m hunting them. What are you doing here?”
“I was looking for answers. Your Sung was watching the man I came to see.”
I leaned back against the chimney and Idina joined me. I knew her to see, but never had much in the way of interaction with her. A conversation or two, a few years earlier. She was a sometime bounty hunter, sometime assassin, which ever she needed to be, but from what I was told, she was very picky about her jobs. She was also known to work for free, or so I’d heard.
“Maybe I should talk to this man.” Idina suggested. “If he’s still alive.”
“You could try, I suppose. But he doesn’t know anything. Whoever they work for has his family.”
“What’s your interest in this man?”
“He tried to get me killed.”
Idina blinked in surprise. “And he’s still alive?”
“It wasn’t his fault.” I explained. “He used to find work for me.”
“I told him we were done as soon as I got his family back.”
“Nice of you.”
I shrugged. “I like his family. They’re good people.”
Idina nodded as she reached a decision. “Alright. I’ll work with you.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah. I hear good things about you.”
“What about your Song?”
“Sung.” The short bounty hunter corrected. “It’s not really them that I want, it’s who they work for.”
“Okay. So where do we start?”
“Do you have any contact with the smugglers around here?”
“I might.” I hedged. “Why?”
“We need to go underground, that’s probably where we’ll find what we’re looking for.”
Getting back underground was easier said than done. I was well known, but Idina complicated matters.
“She has no standing with us, Assassin.” The short, musclebound smuggler guarding the door informed me firmly.
“I know, Kuno.” I replied. “Look, I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
“I can’t let her in. We’ve enough hassle right now and we don’t want any more.”
I sighed. “Is Roland about?”
“Oh, he won’t like this Marek. You know the rules.”
“I do. Like I said, it’s important.”
Kuno grunted and nodded his head. “I’ll send someone to fetch him, but you’re staying outside, and I don’t want her anywhere near this door.”
“You have my word.” I replied solemnly.
Kuno laughed. “Oh, that’s funny. The word of an assassin. What’s that worth lately?”
I snorted in annoyance as Kuno slide the hidden door closed, leaving me, once again, alone in the sewer.
I didn’t have to wait too long before the door opened again. Roland stood on the other side of the door with Kuno and Luther. Roland was about average height, dressed in rough clothes, fat and balding. He was no one’s idea of a king, but locally he was known as the Smuggler king. Seeing as he ran the smugglers successfully, and had done for years, nobody seemed too keen in denying him the title. Right now, he seemed a little tense, and Kuno and Luther both had their hands near their weapons.
“Marek.” Roland greeted, cautiously. “Busy evening for you?”
I shrugged. “About normal for a working night.”
“And is this a working visit? You passed through earlier quietly enough.”
“I’m not sure. I’m looking for someone, you might know him, you might not.”
“Hmm.” Roland considered me. “But it’s not me.”
I frowned in surprise. “Is this what this is all about? I swear to you Roland, I’m not here for you.”
A look of relief crossed Roland’s face. He touched Kuno and Luther’s arms and both men moved apart, their hands moving away from their weapons. Roland beckoned, and I walked into the room. He pulled out a mostly intact crate and sat on it. The crate creaked alarmingly as he did so, but it held his weight.
“We need to talk about some things.” Roland began. “I might have work for you. First though, I think you have something to ask.”
“I do. I have someone working with me and she tells me we need to get underground, to find someone. I don’t know where she means to go, but if it’s underground then it passes through your territory.”
“What’s your reason for passing through?”
I nodded. “He used to work for me.”
Roland slapped his thigh and laughed. “So that’s who it was. I always wondered who was supplying you with work. I figured it to be someone in the Merchant’s quarter alright. You say used to? You retired him?”
“I did.” I confirmed. “But not like you think. He’s still alive and kicking.”
“Good. He makes fine clothes. What does he have to do with you needing to pass through?”
“He came to you and asked you to do a job, to get his family out of the city.”
Roland nodded. “He did, but he never said more about it, I’ve been waiting.”
“Someone else got to them first. Idina, the woman working with me, she says that they may be underground. So here I am.”
Roland grunted. “And what about her, Idina, what’s her story?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. She may be looking for the same man I am, she’s not certain.”
“And how does she know to look for him underground?”
I shrugged again. “She didn’t say, but Roland, I don’t think she’s hunting men.”
Roland looked up sharply. “Magic users?”
“Cultists. I killed something earlier, I don’t know if it was ever human, but it looked like it had been. Never seen anything like it before.”
Roland rubbed his chin, considering. When all was said and done, Roland would determine if I’d manage to get Ida and Kaja back, so I waited and let him come to his decision.
“Alright.” Roland said, breaking the silence. “She’ll be blindfolded of course.”
I nodded. I’d expected that. She couldn’t be allowed to know how to enter the smuggler’s little kingdom.
“I may have more information for you.” Roland continued. “But it won’t be free.”
“I wouldn’t expect it to be.”
“Some of my people have gone missing lately. We’ve gone searching for them, but it’s as though they just turned to mist.”
“Someone is trying to elbow you out?” I asked, concerned.
Roland hesitated, a sure sign that he was worried. “I don’t know. It’s passing strange. Maybe it’s connected to your strangeness from earlier.”
“Why don’t we get Idina down here?” I suggested carefully. “I think she’ll know more about what’s going on.”
Roland sighed and nodded. “See to it. I’ll wait here.”
“The sewer.” Idina said, flatly.
“Well how else did you think we were going to get underground?” I responded lightly.
Idina stumbled, a little, and she tightened her grip on my shoulder. Our location aside, she really seemed to resent being reliant on me to guide her. She hadn’t been too pleased to discover that she needed to be blindfolded.
“Careful.” I cautioned her. “You really don’t want to fall here. Or touch the walls. Or touch anything really.”
“Ugh!” Idina groaned. “It really stinks down here Marek.”
“Tell me about it. We’re nearly there.”
“You’ve been saying that for a while now. You haven’t managed to get lost, have you?”
“I think I know where I am.” I replied.
“Think?” Idina snapped. “Marek, if you’ve gotten me lost down here I’ll cut your pretty little head off.”
“Pretty?” I protested. “I’d accept handsome, but pretty is far too womanly for my liking.”
“Slow.” Idina said under her breath. “It’ll be a very slow death.”
“We’re almost there.” I reassured her as I turned us down the branch that led to the secret door.
A few minutes later I led her into the small access room and the door slid shut behind us. Idina tensed and turned her head, side to side, as though she weren’t blindfolded.
“Calm.” I told her. “Stay calm.”
Roland gestured, and I untied Idina’s blindfold.
Idina blinked and stared at Roland.
“You don’t look much like a king.” She observed.
I sighed and shook my head.
“A small little thing like you? You don’t look much like a bounty hunter.” Roland replied. “Nor do you look much like an assassin. You stand out too much, and yet, I’m told that you do these things.”
Idina tilted her head slightly to Roland.
“You need to pass through my territory.” Roland continued. “Marek I know, and I’m inclined to let him. Why should I let you pass through?”
“You’ve been losing men, maybe two or three a month, more if you’ve gone looking for them. You haven’t found a trace of them or those sent after. Correct?”
Roland stared at me. “You told her?”
“Not a word.” I replied, defensively.
“What do you know about this?” Roland asked Idina.
“Somewhere down here, there’s a Siren. His followers are taking your men.”
“A Siren, a black Warlock.” Idina answered, distastefully.
“A Warlock?” Roland rasped. “What would a Warlock want with us?”
“A Siren.” Idina corrected.
Roland laughed weakly. “Is there a difference? A Warlock is a Warlock.”
“Yes, there’s a difference.” Idina hissed angrily. “A Siren deals with darkness, misery, and death. I have no truck with the agents of darkness.”
Roland took a fearful step backwards. Kuno and Luther grabbed their weapons, but they too, despite themselves, pulled back from Idina. I might have stepped away from beside her. Quietly. She wasn’t looking at me and I didn’t want her to be. I don’t usually give into fear, but Warlocks were in a whole other league. If Idina was admitting to being a Warlock, then it meant that she had access to powers far beyond the pale. While power is something we all want in one way or another, Warlocks were terrifying. To have access to that sort of power, one had to allow themselves to be possessed by a Daemon.
“Uh, maybe don’t kill the friendly smugglers Idina.” I suggested carefully.
Idina turned and glared at me. Her eyes began to soften as she relaxed. Kuno chose that moment to act. He dashed forward, swinging a large brassbound club aimed right at the back of Idina’s head.
Both Roland and Luther made to grab Kuno but got in each other’s way. I began to move to one side, trying to get a clear throw at the big smuggler, but as I moved I knew I wouldn’t be fast enough.