In the Event of My Untimely Demise
by Robin D. Laws
Chapter Two: Treasure
"Where is what?" Luma asked, withdrawing her hand from her trickbag. If it came to a fight, she could reach out to Magnimar's spires and towers, gather their memories of the lightning that struck them with every thunderstorm, and from this summon a bolt of energy to strike the dwarf down. Unlike some of her other magics, it required no props, just concentration, a gesture, and a few words of entreaty to the city. But she was here to learn, not to do battle.
"Don't play stupid with me." The dwarf showed a mouth full of jagged, rotting teeth. "You know very well what." He shook his axe for emphasis.
"I would like nothing more than to understand what you're talking about." Luma edged in front of the cabinet behind which Seriza cowered. "Start at the beginning, maybe?"
The dwarf peered past her at the widow. "You aren't Aruhal's wife?"
"I am Luma of House Derexhi, hired to perform a service on his behalf."
The intruder elevated an eyebrow. He pointed his weapon at the cabinet. "She's the widow?"
"Lay out your grievance, dwarf." Luma spoke evenly, her confidence steady, as it always was when her siblings weren't watching. She'd sooner face this frothing dwarf, outweighing her by two to one and bristling with menace, than a single exasperated glance from one of her sisters. "Perhaps I can sort it out."
"You address Jordyar, warrior of the First Stone, son of Jordgar, true inheritor of the axe of Skrellim." He hefted it again, this time as an expression of pride. "To speak ill of the dead is not my wont. But that woman's husband was a liar, a cheat, a betrayer, and a thief from his own friends. Did you know Aruhal?"
Luma shook her head.
"Then you missed the chance to acquaint yourself with a kill-stealer and a credit-grabber. A blasphemer against the gods, a drunkard on watch, a coward in a scrap, and a tent-farter of the worst order."
"So you were comrades."
Jordyar stalked over to the divan, as if wondering whether sitting would show weakness. "For three years, two decades ago, we strove together as treasure-seekers. We plumbed the depths of the Riddle Canals, scoured the Haunted Hills, and stormed the Citadel of Xerkas Xaan. But the day after our greatest triumph, he deserted us—taking the treasure with him."
"And this treasure is what you think he had when he died?"
Warming to the subject, the dwarf puffed out his chest and paced the room, gesticulating with the axe. "Oh, what that cost us! We fought giants, demons, mind-eaters. Upon entering the Demonsweald's innermost crypt, the best of us all, Corin the Bright, was beheaded by a trap. Which Aruhal thereupon disarmed." Jordyar stomped into the hallway, then returned, holding aloft the strange doorknocker that had tweaked Luma's curiosity on her way in. "This! This is the flying ring that sliced through Corin's neck. I can't believe that he would take that and display it on his door, as if mocking the memory—" A frustrated groan caught in Jordyar's throat. He backhanded the ring away; it lodged, quivering, in the wooden lintel of the sitting room's doorway. A fresh flush of crimson rose through his face. "So yes, Aruhal owes me. This treasure, we had a deal to sell it for a wagonload of gold. Enough to forever conclude my grubbing and sweating, sleeping in cold crypts with the doors spiked shut, fighting for rest as ghouls and bloodsuckers scratch at the sill. To retire for good and all, on the one great score every looter dreams of. That is the life Jordyar deserved. The life that Aruhal plucked from my grasp!"
He lunged at the cabinet where Seriza quietly wept.
Luma stepped up, her sickle drawn. After a moment of tension, the dwarf relented, sticking his axe in his belt. He stretched out open hands, as if ready to grab Luma by the front of her tunic. His eyes glistened. "You must let me question her. He must have told her. Our customer never bought it from him."
"Or so they told you," Luma ventured.
Jordyar wiped his nose with the back of his liver-spotted hand. "Or so they did. But they say that even now they will buy it, if I can produce it. It changes nothing—he either sold it and has the gold, or kept it. And it is mine."
"And if he did keep it, what is it, exactly? A magical relic?"
"Scarcely. A historical curio—a reliquary containing the ashes and bones of a saint: the holy warrior Lovag. A globe of gold, studded with gems. It would be worth much to a collector, but more to the church."
Jordyar's glory days are behind him.
Jordyar's snort sent spittle flying. "So you can sell it to them when you find it? You take me for a fool, girl." He twitched, as if realizing he'd given away too much already by naming the saint.
"I'm not here for this treasure," Luma said. "I'm here to find out who killed Aruhal."
"No one killed Aruhal," Seriza sobbed, white fingers clutched around the cabinet. "I told you that already. It was pleurisy—a pain when he breathed. It just got worse, until..." She trailed off into another burst of tears.
Jordyar angled for a better view of her. "You look a pretty creature. You don't propose to tell me a wretch like Aruhal caught a wench like you without a great bag of gold swinging over his shoulder?"
The widow's face froze into a wordless plea directed at Luma. Its meaning was clear: please get him out of here.
Luma again stepped between the widow and the dwarf. "It sounds like you had all the reason in the world to kill Aruhal."
"You speak truth there." He spat onto the bare floor, just missing the boar's hide rug.
Luma crossed her arms. "But you want me to believe you didn't."
"I'm done answering your questions. That one will tell me where it is—gold or relic, I'm taking it now."
"I don't know anything about any relic," Seriza sniffled. "And as for gold—look around you. I can't see how I'll afford to fix that door."
"Aruhal never had money?" the dwarf asked.
"A little. At first. He worked as a locksmith. It wasn't money I loved him for."
Jordyar bellowed out a laugh. "Then he was holding out on you, too."
Luma crowded him. "So why didn't you?"
"Why didn't I what?"
Trepidation flashed across the dwarf's face. "I'm not the swine he was." He flexed his shoulders, regaining his composure.
Luma twined a lock of her hair between her fingers—a habit her family's scolding had never quite cured her of. "I don't think that's it."
"Matters not to me what you think." Jordyar knocked on the nearest wall. "I should tear this place apart."
"You're not going to do that," Luma said.
Jordyar stiffened. "Is that so?"
Luma let her fingers brush against her trickbag.
The dwarf took it in. "A magicker, are we? What kind?"
"You don't want to find out," said Luma. Depending on how tough the dwarf was, it was either a well-calibrated act of intimidation, or a reckless bluff.
Jordyar wove past her to address Seriza. "This is all a shock to you. Your husband dying and now this." He gestured to the broken door as if it were a catastrophe unconnected to himself. "I approached this too strong, didn't I? I believe you when you say you had no inkling of the relic. Or the gold your rodent of a spouse sold it for. So I'm telling you this." He jabbed his leather-gloved finger at her. "You cogitate long and hard on where Aruhal might have stashed a pile of gold, or a treasure about yay big." With open hands about a foot apart, he mimed a roughly globular object. "Because there's no chance in hell that he doesn't have it. Maybe he tried to tell you, when he was sick. Search your mind for clues of that nature. Because in forty-eight hours, I'll be back, and I'll take what Aruhal stole from me. Or you'll have more to mourn than your husband. Understand?"
Seriza said nothing—a rabbit transfixed by a snake.
He poked Luma's shoulder. "And if you want to test your spells against my axe then, you're welcome to try." He stamped for the door, reclaiming the sharpened ring from the lintel on the way out.
Luma rushed to the window. Jordyar had turned westward, toward a main thoroughfare, the Avenue of Honors. He proceeded with the attentive uncertainty of a visitor. Consulting her mental map of the city, Luma plotted a route of alleyways. If she got going right away, she might well beat him to the high street, and trail him unseen from there. She plunged into Seriza's kitchen and out the back exit. The widow called after her, either asking why she was following the dwarf, or asking who would pay for the door. Luma didn't attempt a reply.
On the second question, it was not up to the Derexhi family to pay Jordyar's reparations. As to the first, the old adventurer knew more than he was saying. Were there anything here to investigate, the path to it could well lead through him. Missing treasure certainly sounded like a motive for murder.
There was more to hear from the widow, too, but that would have to wait. Luma knew where to find her.
Reaching the Avenue, she spotted Jordyar's head bobbing between a pair of laggardly porters carrying wine crates for a doddering master. Luma wished she had her brother Ontor with her—shadowing was both safer and easier with two. Still, her street-honed instincts kept the dwarf in sight, and he showed little propensity for looking back. The fat-purses and liveried servants who populated the street at this hour gave wide berth to her battle-ready, fuming subject. Picking up speed as he stomped along, he passed hawkers, criers, and store guards, merchants, traders, and grandees. He traversed the length of the avenue, turning at the Pediment Building and continuing down the long stone slope that served as the bypass for the Seacleft, the great cliff dividing the city into high and low, the Summit and the Shore.
From its base, the dwarf wended through the clamorous Bazaar of Sails, bypassing stalls and skirting around tents. A trio of urchins, in the sparkling glad-rags of the Varisian minority, chased a fist-sized jewel bug into his path. Jordyar roared at them, sending them scattering. Luma halted; his swivel to shout curses at the children placed her in his line of sight. But he seemed not to notice her, and continued on. Heedless of Luma's pursuit, he plunged into Dockway's narrow streets, lined by salt-crusted depots and sturdy taverns.
Abruptly abandoning her chase, Luma darted into an alleyway between an alehouse and a whorehouse and drew her sickle. As soon as she was past its threshold, she pressed her back against the crumbling brick of the tavern wall. A rake-thin man clad all in black, from boots to leggings to tunic to skullcap, hustled in after her. She thrust out the sickle, wrapping its curving edge around his ankle. As she pulled it up, she twisted the blade, so that it would trip him without cutting into his leg. He fell into the wall, bashing his snowy-bearded chin against the brick, and tumbled to the ground. Luma leapt onto his back, pinning him with her knee, and pressed her blade around his throat, positioned for a slaughtering cut.
"Who are you?" she asked, "and why are you following me?"
Coming Next Week: Wheels within wheels in Chapter Three of Robin Laws' "In the Event of My Untimely Demise."
If you like this story, consider picking up the further adventures of Luma and her family in Robin D. Laws' Blood of the City!
Robin D. Laws is the author of the Pathfinder Tales novels Blood of the City and The Worldwound Gambit, as well as the Pathfinder's Journals for the Serpent's Skull Adventure Path and the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path. In addition, he's written six other novels; various short stories, web serials, and comic books; and a long list of roleplaying game products. His novels include Pierced Heart, The Rough and the Smooth, and the Angelika Fleischer series for the Black Library. Robin created the classic RPG Feng Shui and such recent titles as Mutant City Blues, Skulduggery, and the newly redesigned HeroQuest 2. Those interested in learning more about Robin are advised to check out his blog.
Illustration by Mike Capprotti.