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Blood and Money

by Steven Savile

Chapter Three: Fortune Favors the Dead

For Isra to claim that he was a master of disguise was akin to saying cash was king down in the Nightstalls, capable of buying everything from rare strains of poison to souls, either figuratively or literally depending on which gossip you listened to. It was well known that commerce was the only god worth praying to. That was the essence of the Golden City.

It went without saying.

But it was also wonderfully understated.

Disguise wasn’t simply an essential talent given the Nightwalker’s line of work; it was something the assassin took peculiar delight in. Isra Darzi had always been fascinated with masks, and how a man might be one thing and appear quite another. The greatest mask of all was the one he wore every day when he pretended to be himself, and that one required no mask at all.

Passing himself off as the would-be assassin had been deceptively simple. All he had needed to do was switch animal heads and adjust his gait slightly. It was the most basic of physical theatrics, but people were easily fooled, especially when they saw what they expected to see. Faris expected his brother-in-law to be the one doing the dying, so Isra gave the man what he needed. He made sure his brother-in-law caught a glimpse of him making his escape, then discarded the mask and moved quickly to retrieve and dispose of the body he’d thrown from the balcony. It suited his purpose for Faris to believe that his assassin was still alive. Isra was confident, almost arrogant as he walked through a room, because if he didn’t already own it, he almost certainly could if he so desired. The new walk gave the impression of someone with far less confidence and a more furtive nature.

Part of him still refused to believe that Faris was behind the contract. After all, they were close.

Friends.

Isra dredged his memory for things that had transpired between them, trying to recall any possible slight, but coming up with nothing. Was it money? Jealousy? Some half-assed notion of prestige? Did Faris expect to inherit everything—the house, the businesses, the network of contacts and traders spread out across the kingdom—after his brother-in-law’s death?

Isra barked out a bitter laugh. Faris was going to be in for one hell of rude awakening when the will was read and named the boy, Munir, as Isra’s heir, with Mirza as his agent, acting as trustee to ensure his interests were looked after until the boy was of an age to assume control himself.

The assassin had never expected this to be a permanent arrangement, assuming that he would have a son of his own eventually. He had wanted to ensure that the family wealth would not only remain within the family, but be tied to it by blood, rather than by something as ephemeral as lust.

Isra’s head was full of treachery as he walked through the bazaar.

The Obari winds blew unfettered through the tents and stalls. The sea breeze offered blessed relief from the hot winds that had been blowing in off the Mwangi Expanse.

The bazaar was full of bustling life. Everything they said about the Emporium was true: everything was for sale here, no matter how esoteric or exotic. Isra made his way to a less familiar part of the tent city, the air rich with heady spices that in no way masked the redolent tang of narcotics. Open pitches and overflowing tables spilled out into the narrow allies between the traders’ tents. Many of the merchants had traveled far from Katapesh to bring back the toys and trinkets of distant lands. The further, the rarer, the most costly.

Representatives of the trade guilds walked the aisles, making sure that their pay masters weren’t being cheated out of their due. More often than not they looked like grubby-faced urchins and downtrodden souls. Without official emblems, their affiliations were impossible to tell.

Over the belling tops of the tents, one of the many minarets of Katapesh pierced the clear blue sky. This one was part of Abadar’s temple. It was also the tower from which Hashim Rakhman’s guard captain had taken his swan dive.

A shock of white hair cut across Isra’s path, the sharp-nosed Garundi turning to look him straight in the eye, then turning away. There was a moment, when their eyes locked, that Isra thought the Garundi was another one of his brother-in-law’s pets, but the man seemed to realize he was staring and broke eye contact without so much as twitching, never mind reaching for a hidden blade. Isra was tempted to ask for directions, just to prolong the man’s discomfort, but decided against it, primarily because he didn’t fancy removing the scarf from his face. Why increase the risk of being recognized just for a little sport? His intention was no grander than anonymity. He wanted people to see a man lost in the maze of stalls and tents. Thousands of people a day passed through the bazaar, making the chances of being recognized slim. Pulling away the scarf, even for just a moment, took that slim possibility and raised it. How high, he had no way of knowing, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

The hook was baited. He had sent a message to Faris, supposedly from his hired knife, despite the fact that her corpse could quite happily rot in its current resting palace for months without ever being found. He didn’t need months, he only needed hours. The message had said simply: “Bara the Fortune-Teller’s tent. Sunset.

Isra arrived early and paid the fortune-teller off, buying the tent for an hour with enough coin to almost certainly buy the pitch outright. He didn’t want to be disturbed. He had a feeling things could quickly turn ugly, especially if his brother-in-law didn’t come alone. Isra had long since learned to trust his gut instincts.

Faris sent his two bodyguards in first, then entered the tent himself.

Isra stepped in close and grabbed the first guard, twisting his wrist until the man cried out in pain, then twisted some more, pushing hard on the elbow and breaking the man’s arm in one swift, precise movement. He cast the man aside, ramming an elbow into his temple as he stumbled. The guard’s legs buckled and he went down. He wasn’t going to be getting up in a hurry.

The second guard had no more luck, despite the fact that he had drawn his knife and lunged towards Isra. The assassin’s instincts saved his life. He stepped aside from the blow, grasped the bodyguard’s arm at wrist and elbow, and turned the blade back on its wielder. The curved knife sank deep into the stunned man’s chest. A blood-red rose blossomed on his shirt. The moment of shock was all it took for Isra to finish him.

Isra hadn’t wanted this; death had never been his intention.

“Their deaths are on your hands,” Isra spat. “I hope your money’s good in the afterlife.”


"Not even family comes between Faris and profit."

Faris turned on his heel, looking to flee, but Isra hooked a foot out and dumped him on his face. The man went down with a grunt, reaching out for the tent flaps of the door to stop himself from falling and nearly pulling the entire construction down on top of them. With all the noise, there was no way the other stallholders could have failed to hear what was going on, but discretion in this case was the best way to keep trouble from their own door. The bazaar lived on a basic premise: it’s always someone else’s problem.

“Money?” Faris snapped, only hearing the one word and ignoring the rest as he blustered and struggled to rise. “You've had your money, and I've still no proof that the bastard is dead. Without his body, I cannot claim his place, so you can forget all about money.”

So, when it came down to it, this was all about money after all.

Blood and money.

Isra removed the scarf from his face. He savored the shock and fear as it crept over Faris’s own.

“How...?” The man sank back down. He looked, quite literally, as though he had seen a ghost, which of course he had. “You’re dead... I saw...”

“The question isn’t ‘how,’ brother, it’s ‘why.’ Why would you want me dead? Why did you think that you’d be able to take my place? If you had asked me for anything, I would have given it to you. Anything at all.”

“Give?” Faris spat. “I don't want your charity! I want more than that. I deserve it!”

Isra was torn. He wanted the best for his sister, Sana, and for his nephew. They were the innocents in all of this, but they were the ones that were going to pay the highest price. Killing Faris would destroy them, even if they never knew who was behind his death.

“There’s only one thing you deserve, Faris,” he said slowly. “But fortunately for you, I love my sister more than I hate you. So there has to be away out of this—some way we can both get some sort of satisfactory resolution that doesn’t involve spilling your guts all over this tent.” He thought about it for a moment. “You want to be in charge? You want control over the family interests? You’d consider that a victory?”

“Of course,” Faris said. “But that’s not going to happen now, is it?” He gestured to the two dead men.

Isra followed the direction of his movement, but his mind was elsewhere.

This was the moment. It all came down to this.

Could he trust Faris? What would happen if he gave the man the opportunity to play the part he wanted so desperately?

Suddenly, Isra wanted to laugh. They were in the middle of a fortune-teller’s tent, dead men left and right, and he was trying to look into the future. He might as well look into the crystal ball now and ask the mists to part...

“What are you thinking, Isra?” Faris suddenly sounded like Isra’s brother-in-law again, rather than the man who’d paid money for his death. “Talk to me.”

And then, as Isra knew it would, came the question he had hoped his brother-in-law wouldn’t ask.

“Where did you learn to fight like that? How did you manage to overcome...?” Faris didn’t quite finish the thought. He didn’t need to.

“The assassin you sent to kill me?” Isra said bluntly.

Faris nodded.

Isra made a decision. “I have a secret, Faris. I’m going to tell you something now that will change the course of your life, and mine; a secret that has been gnawing away at me for a long time now. It is an itch that needs to be scratched.” He locked eyes with the man on the floor. “You might say that I’m two people. There’s the Isra you know—or think you know—and there’s the other me, the other Isra that’s now consuming my life. Making money offers no thrill. There’s no pleasure in a deal well struck. Not compared to my other life.” He crouched down so that the two of them were on the same level. “You see, I am the one they call the Nightwalker.”

The cogs whirred away behind Faris’ eyes. “You? No...” The fear returned, yet as quickly as it came, a look of cunning stole in to replace it.

“Here’s what I’m thinking, Faris,” Isra said. “If you want to be the head of the family so desperately, then why not? I could disappear. It wouldn’t be difficult. I haven't been seen since the party, and it's not such a huge stretch of the imagination to pretend that your assassin succeeded.”

Faris thought about it for a moment. “What would you do?”

“I would be free of the bonds that weigh me down, free to do something that I get satisfaction out of. Something more challenging.”

“Killing people?”

“Or just starting fresh without the expectation of being a drunk with too much money and too little sense. I’m tired of this life, Faris.”

Faris looked incredulous. “And you would be out of our lives for good?”

Isra wasn’t going to lie. “No. Not for good. You’d have control of the day-to-day things, but I’d still want a hand in decisions that affect the business. You would be the public face of the family, the man everyone dealt with.”

“I’d be your puppet, you mean?” Faris’s lip curled.

“That’s not how I’d choose to see it.”

“How you’d choose? Your words are slippier than a sand eel, Isra. I’d be your puppet, dancing to whatever string you decided to pull.”

“Think about it, Faris. It's the best I can offer.”

Faris laughed. “Oh, I shall think about it. Long and hard, brother. I shall think about nothing but, but I shall bide my time. Decide in haste, repent at leisure, as they say. I have much to consider. Perhaps I should just reveal that our beloved Isra, patron of flophouses and pesh dens, is the fearsome Nightwalker? Let’s see what becomes of you then. You think you have enemies now... imagine what it’ll be like when half of Katapesh finds out you’re responsible for the death of a friend, or family member, or employer. Go on, imagine—think about what you’ve done, how your crimes have impacted their lives, and the ripples of them spreading out from person to person. Imagine how much they hate you.” Faris smiled grimly.

“I wouldn’t make threats if I were you,” Isra said.

“You wouldn't? I don’t believe that for a minute. You’re a bastard, Isra.”

The man they called the Nighwalker looked at the huddled merchant in front of him, seeing him properly for the first time, and realized that he may have made the biggest mistake in his life by sharing his secret.

It had to end here, one way or another.

“I tried to offer you a way out of this, Faris, but you’re a bigger idiot than I gave you credit for. I’m going to make you a promise now, and I want you to think very, very seriously about it before you say anything. If you so much as think the word Nightwalker, I will make sure you’re dead before the thought can reach your lips. I offered you a way out because I love my sister, not out of any kindness I feel toward you. You’ve mistaken love for weakness. Instead of taking me up on my kindness, you’ve proven I can’t trust you. So here is my final offer: leave Katapesh and live, or stay and die.”

“Leave Katapesh?” The merchant’s eyes were wide, incredulous. “Are you serious?”

“Deadly,” Isra said, and stood. “Take you wife and son and start a new life far away from here, Faris. Get on the first boat out of the city and start fresh somewhere else. Be the head of your own family, out of my shadow.

“Because if you’re still in Katapesh when the moon rises, I will find you. And I will kill you.”

Coming Next Week: A death in the family in the final chapter of "Blood and Money."

Steven Savile is the internationally best-selling author of almost twenty novels and many more short stories, set in both original worlds and those of Primeval, Stargate SG-1, Warhammer, Torchwood, Dr. Who, and more. He won Writers of the Future in 2002, has been a runner-up for the British Fantasy Award and short listed for the Scribe Award for Best Adapted Novel, and won the Scribe Award for Best Young Adult Original Novel. For more information, visit his website at www.stevensavile.com.

Illustration by Florian Stitz.

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Tags: Blood and Money Florian Stitz Pathfinder Tales Steven Savile

Awesome story, not a fan of the middle east/africa like countries in Golarion but this story works very well. That guy Faris is totally believable, I've met those self important d-bags who thing everything is owed to them. I really hope Isra kills him.

Taldor

Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Tales Subscriber
Roshan wrote:
Awesome story, not a fan of the middle east/africa like countries in Golarion but this story works very well. That guy Faris is totally believable, I've met those self important d-bags who thing everything is owed to them. I really hope Isra kills him.

I feel quite differently, I couldn't care less about these characters.

Faris might be self-important but Isra is a cold-blooded, murdering psychopath.

He kills other people for fun.

Faris is pretty unpleasant but he isn't in Isra's league.

The writing is neat, taut and controlled but this story lacks soul. Vaguely liking the nephew he occasionally visits just makes Izra even more warped.

I'm not saying I want wall-to-wall paladins, just characters who are not utterly repelent.

Sczarni

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber
GeraintElberion wrote:


Faris might be self-important but Isra is a cold-blooded, murdering psychopath.

He kills other people for fun.

So you're reserving that trait for 90% of PCs?

GeraintElberion wrote:


Faris is pretty unpleasant but he isn't in Isra's league.

The writing is neat, taut and controlled but this story lacks soul. Vaguely liking the nephew he occasionally visits just makes Izra even more warped.

I'm not saying I want wall-to-wall paladins, just characters who are not utterly repelent.

I see this much more as a this could have been Blackjack/zorro type charater if they had less self control (then again blackjack doesn't mind killing, but doesn't do it for money, either, just because what he thinks is right doesn't fit the government's)

Basicly, I see him as a good number of PCs, that instead of going into the outback to fight monsters, stayed in the city and got bored.


Interesting comments guys -

Utterly repellent is pretty harsh on the poor chap, he does have a couple of redeeming qualities, I think. One certainly is his sense of family and protecting his sister in a way that makes sense to him. I actually think he has a pretty strong moral code - it's just a very different moral compass to you or me, you know?

The important thing for me is that there's an arc for Isra... the sad thing would be if he was the same man at the end as he is at the beginning... so with one part left to come, there's hopefully a twist or two to play out...

I like the idea of him being a 'bored' pc...

Anyway, again, it's great to see you guys talk and think about stuff as it goes along.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Tales Subscriber
GeraintElberion wrote:

Faris might be self-important but Isra is a cold-blooded, murdering psychopath.

He kills other people for fun.

Call me crazy, but I don't think that Isra is all that different from many Americans, from a certain point of view. Granted, most people don't go around sticking knives into other people and stopping their hearts from beating, but they still do their best to kill each other every day.

Have you ever met someone who hates person A and talks about him behind his back, but is person A's best friend when he's around? That jerk is killing/destroying person A at every opportunity without him even knowing it. Have you ever met a gossip? It's the same thing.

Words have power. Our words can build up or destroy another person, and we have to choose each day how we use them. Do we give life or death with our words?


Without wanting to put words into Geriant's mouth, I think the issue he has is that as an assassin Isra kills without compunction or care for others, for money. He isn't doing it for a noble cause. He isn't tilting at windmills or chasing dragons down, he is quite literally doing it because he's good at it.

But remember, right at the start he's confessed he's tired of this life. Maybe it's the morality of it weighing on him, maybe it's just that there's no end of people in a town full of venal liars backstabbers and thieves there's no shortage of people who deserve to be visited by the nightwalker... and it'll never end... or the gunslinger idea that as a 'legend' there's going to come a time more and more where he's the guy with the target painted on his back and he's not suicidal...

I wouldn't want to make it political... Part of it could well be my roleplaying history, in that I *always* played the thief/assassin type character because I'm drawn to the darkness in them... but I'm hoping that by the end Geriant's opinion of Isra shifts slightly... he's certainly complicated... and if we get a second outing for him, we'll see much more of that.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32, 2010 Top 8

Thanks for the commentary Steven,

He reminds me of my character Magian in a 'dark mirror' kind of way.

Oh, and congrats on getting the image avatared (is that a word?)


Matthew Morris wrote:

Thanks for the commentary Steven,

He reminds me of my character Magian in a 'dark mirror' kind of way.

Oh, and congrats on getting the image avatared (is that a word?)

My pleasure - it's one of the joys of a community like this. I know there's an author chat coming up next week so people will be able to chuck questions in general to a bunch of us, as well. Also, on facebook earlier a friend of mine (one of my old GMs actually) just discovered this story and will probably be around next week to abuse me and give away how naff my thieves always were and just how much trouble I wound up getting in.

The avatar's brilliant, isn't it? Got to love James and David and the crew for making it happen.

And obviously not liking a character like Isra is a perfectly fine and natural position to come at it - I mean, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho is an amoral sociopath, he's not empathic, he's cold and disturbed. He's hard to like. You can admire Ellis' skill in making such a monstrous man almost sympathetic, but not quite, because there's an element of what does that say about me? in there that's not comfortable.

The thing is it's still a relatively short piece, so Isra would need to return, I think, to develop more beyond what he is right now, but we'll talk more about it next week...

Qadira

Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber
Steven Savile wrote:
Also, on facebook earlier a friend of mine (one of my old GMs actually) just discovered this story and will probably be around next week to abuse me and give away how naff my thieves always were and just how much trouble I wound up getting in.

I'm around now... :)

I'll save the abuse until later. But, yes, you did play some relatively naff (yet entertaining) thieves. Getting excommunicated from the cult of the god of thieves and shadows was an entertaining highlight I seem to remember... Although I can't remember why!


MartinB wrote:


I'll save the abuse until later. But, yes, you did play some relatively naff (yet entertaining) thieves. Getting excommunicated from the cult of the god of thieves and shadows was an entertaining highlight I seem to remember... Although I can't remember why!

Ha! I'd *almost* succeeded in forgetting that... yes, a thief so honest he was excommunicated... or erm, summink like that.


Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Modules, Tales Subscriber

I wasn't trying to be political about it, I was more viewing this type of character, who does big things to hurt people, in light of the small things that we people do to hurt each other every day.

I think the summary thought behind my post is, "Treat people the way that you want to be treated." Or a more expanded thought in the same vein: Be nice. Don't deliberately hurt someone else, even if you don't like them. Treat people the way that THEY want to be treated.


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

I like the writing and the characters are believable. Kudos!

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