In the Event of My Untimely Demise
by Robin D. Laws
Chapter Three: Old Comrades
The trim, white-haired man responded with seasoned stillness to Luma's knee and sickle. His foreign-accented voice purred soothingly, with a hint of disarming irony. "Who am I and why I am I following you? I might equally ask whose blade caresses my jugular."
"Depending on your answer," Luma replied, "I might tell you." She glanced at the alleyway's mouth. The street it jutted onto was not such a quiet one. This was in Dockway, where most folk would note a waylaying in an alley and keep going, unblinking. But trouble only took one busybody.
Prominent veins ran like engorged streams across the man's papery, spotted hands. Around his wrist coiled a silver chain bearing a charm—a rat perched on a raft. From her reading, Luma vaguely recalled this as the symbol of an obscure river god from the faraway River Kingdoms. The man was likely a priest, able to call down magic from his deity, much as Luma did from the city itself.
"What would you say, young lady, if I told you I wasn't following you?"
Luma couldn't help finding him likeable—and resenting people who projected charm so readily. "I'm not that young, and a lady only by the skin of my nails."
"When you get to my age, you'll consider everyone young. And I wasn't following you, I was following the dwarf."
"You've met my truculent former colleague, then. Honestly, my dear, let me up. We may discover common goals."
"Introduce yourself first."
"I am Rieslan, once known as Rieslan the Drowner, now sadly diminished."
Luma relaxed the pressure of her knee on his spine. "And let me guess. You went with Jordyar and Aruhal into the Demonsweald, in search of a valuable reliquary."
Rieslan sighed. "He told you about that, did he? Dear fellow's grown talkative in his dotage."
"I'm going to let you up, Rieslan. Try anything and you'll—"
"No need to complete the threat," said the river cleric. "I've had a long career, and heard them all."
Luma got up, her sickle still ready. "You shadowed him in case he was pursued?"
Rieslan rose, brushing gravel from his leggings. "That's what I thought you were doing, my dear. Jordyar and I have had a falling out, shall we say, since the old days. I know why I'm chasing him. Why are you?"
"I'll ask the questions," Luma said, watching him rub his creaking finger joints. "I suppose you've heard that, too."
The old priest twinkled at her. "Very well."
"I care about the reliquary only insofar as it might have led to my client's murder."
"Your client?" Rieslan interjected. "You work for Aruhal's estate?"
Rieslan steadied himself against the wall. "Someone might have hastened his demise for it. But it wouldn't be me. Or Jordyar, for that matter."
"Haven't you found it notable that we waited till we got word of Aruhal's death to come for it? He had a curse placed on himself. Whosoever slays Aruhal will himself be slain." The priest studied Luma's expression. "You look like someone who's just had an epiphany."
Luma flushed. She hated it when others saw through her. "How did you hear of this curse?"
"He sent a messenger, to warn us, back when we still stalked him for our share of the loot."
"He told you he had a curse placed on himself, and you accepted it as truth?"
Rieslan held his hands together, as if in prayer. "I asked my god, Hanspur, and was told it was true."
"But, as in the way of gods, received no clearer details."
"What is it?" Luma asked.
He waved her question away. "I get headaches. It is nothing."
"So you and your comrades—"
"Former comrades," Rieslan said.
"You all waited until you learned of his death, then came for the treasure. How did you hear of it?"
"Naphrax posted a spy, who sent word that Aruhal was sick. Jordyar had Naphrax's dogsbody in his pay, and so learned that Naphrax had broken from his seclusion and was bound for Magnimar. And of course I have been keeping an eye on Jordyar."
"This Naphrax, he's your party's other survivor? Let me guess—a wizard?"
A vein pulsed on Rieslan's forehead. "Sorcerer, but let's not make fine distinctions."
A spell-slinger complicated the possibilities. He might have found a way to break the curse, and killed Aruhal off despite it. But then, why wait until he was sick?
Luma caught herself playing with her hair again and stopped. "Let see where that leaves us. I don't care about the treasure. You have no particular reason to protect Aruhal's killer—if indeed he was killed at all. Does that about sum it up?"
Rieslan crinkled aged dimples at her. "Much gold is at stake. You'll excuse me if I greet your disinterest in it with a certain skepticism."
Luma, affronted, tried to cover it up with a smile. "Ask around about the Derexhi family. Our reputation for honesty is worth more than your treasure."
Rieslan is charming—which doesn't make him innocent.
"A thousand pardons, my dear."
Don't call me dear, Luma wanted to say. "At any rate, we have each spoiled the other's attempt to follow Jordyar. I suggest we part, with no hard feelings."
The priest bowed deep, and went on his way.
Luma signaled to her brother Ontor, who for several minutes had been standing across the way. He'd appeared in her peripheral vision, sauntering down the street, looking for her. Seeing her occupied, he'd dropped into a pose, engaging in conversation with loitering dockworkers.
It never surprised Luma to see one of her siblings appear out of the blue like this. Her sister Iskola could see from afar, and whisper into distant ears. Wherever she was in Magnimar, one of the others could always find her.
Ontor required no further instructions. Adopting a languid lope, he pushed off after Rieslan.
Iskola's spells didn't permit them to communicate with one another, so Luma would find a rendezvous and wait. She ambled for the closest of the Derexhi haunts, a spot named after its proprietor, Chanda, who specialized in bream broth and walnut bread. Luma claimed the darkest corner, where Chanda, unbidden, brought her soup, half a loaf of the bread, and a bowl of sea snails in red garlic sauce. Luma paid Chanda the usual premium for a lengthy stay and settled in.
An hour later, Ontor slid into the seat across from her, a sea snail bowl already in one hand and a half-filled ale flagon in the other. "You'll be happy to hear I was also deemed too much a black sheep for the Vitellus job."
Family politics could wait, Luma decided. There was a mystery to solve. Even if the answer was that there was no mystery at all. "Where did he go?"
Ontor threw his head back, dropped a sea snail in, and swallowed, pleased with his show of downmarket manners. The stevedores filling the restaurant ate the same way. "He's staking out a hovel down in Rag's End. Waiting for someone to show. Since I have no idea of the situation, I figured I'd come and collect you, and we'd check the place out together."
Luma dunked a final bread crust into the remnants of her broth.
Ontor wiped ale-foam from his lips. "That was a hint, by the way. A request for context."
Luma briefed him on the case to date: the prearranged, posthumous assignment; the widow and her pleurisy story; Jordyar the dwarf and then Rieslan the river-cleric and their tangled, treacherous history with Aruhal.
Ontor gobbled the rest of his food. "So you reckon this Rieslan knows where Jordyar is staying, and, having lost him in Dockway, has gone there to wait for him?"
Luma hadn't so reckoned, but would have, given one more moment's thought. The two half-siblings set out for Rag's End.
As ramshackle as its name suggested, Rag's End stretched out before them as an expanse of hovels and shanties. Luma and Ontor strode with dispatch past a crowd gathered for an impromptu match between a mastiff and a crab spider half again its size. Sensing a form of authority approaching, the bettors hunched and turned their faces away. A jagged laneway sloped gently into a depression. As Ontor led Luma down its length, a gathering fog grew from scattered wisps to an obscuring mass.
At the end of the cul-de-sac a two-story structure held itself with lordly remove from the surrounding shacks. To its left, a cloud of flies buzzed around a heap of rotting trash. Piles of rubble, wood and masonry mostly, formed an unintended fence around the building's right side.
"That's where your old duffer was waiting," Ontor said.
Luma peered into the twilight. There was no immediate sign of Rieslan now. Lamplight issued from an open window facing the debris wall.
"He's either gone in," Ontor whispered, "or gone entirely. But someone must be in there." He wasn't so much stating the obvious as asking: do we go in and see?
In reply, Luma nodded. Hunching, the two of them covered the distance to the wall, and then to the side of the house.
Luma let in the citysong, hearing the whispers and shushes of the billowing fog. Cozened by her spell, it pooled around them, its protective mantle blending naturally with the mist flowing through the neighborhood. They could see into the house, while anyone looking out would see only swirling vapor.
Inside Luma saw two familiar individuals, and two unfamiliar.
Jordyar sat atop a wooden table, picking at his rotting teeth with his fingers. Rieslan slumped in a chair, shoved in a corner. Ropes bound his waist, arms, and ankles. Wet blood reddened his goatee. His divine charm, with its rat and raft motif, swung from a rafter, a good twenty feet away. Without it, Luma knew, he wouldn't be able to shape his appeals to the realms beyond, and would receive no magic from his god.
A second, much younger man was also tied to a chair, this one positioned in the center of the room. Muscular and tanned, he would have been handsome, prior to the beating he'd taken. His face swelled and purpled; scorched holes in his tunic revealed burned skin beneath. Still conscious, the man seemed to be willing himself to pass out, and failing at it.
Over him stood a creased, leathery man dressed in a suede robe dotted with turquoise and agate beads. He wore a vest with no shirt beneath it, showing off the puffy muscles of a fit but elderly man. Greasy black hair hung straight from his scalp down to his shoulders. A long mustache drooped from his upper lip to his protruding clavicles.
He grunted at Jordyar, who approached him carrying a poker, which he held out at arm's length with the aid of his thick hide glove. The mustached man spoke arcane syllables, evoking a cone-shape blast of flame, which flew from his fingertips to the poker. The poker's iron tip glowed red.
"Please," the prisoner sobbed. "I'm begging you."
Jordyar hefted the red-hot poker. "You're doing to this yourself, Gaval."
Gaval shuddered. "I can't tell you anything about it. Seriza never mentioned such a thing! And Aruhal—I barely spoke a hundred words to him my entire life. I'm just an apothecary."
Jordyar's partner—who had to be the sorcerer, Naphrax—turned to the terrified young man in the chair. "Tell us," he said.
The dwarf advanced with the poker.
"Tell us," repeated Naphrax.
Coming Next Week: Revelations and old grudges in the final chapter 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.