Ziedon sat back down on his bed and removed his deteriorating spellbook from his backpack. He opened it carefully to its most read pages. As he had done every day for years, Ziedon inscribed words without language onto the newly cleared chalkboard in the recesses of his mind. He emphasized his oft-used charm magics that day; it would be a day of subterfuge.
Ziedon took a few moments to make sure the magical energies were properly chained within his mind, nearly casting spells but stopping before they could take effect, and placed the spellbook back in his backpack and the backpack under the bed. Affected by a sudden paranoia, but careful not to inflame his wound, Ziedon took a moment to search for hidden panels or secret entrances to the room. Satisfied that there were none, he left his pack behind, locked his door, and headed downstairs for a large breakfast. He ordered a few mugs of a light beer to replenish the blood he'd lost. Leaning back in his seat, Ziedon pat his stomach in a gesture of content. He listened as he ate, for any news of his activities the day before.
It seemed that people spoke of nothing but.
The town as a whole was getting edgy. The innkeeper grumbled about the lack of customers during the night, and about a pair of barmaids who had refused to work the night shift. People were barring their doors, children were kept inside, and there was a general notion that no one was safe. Three fishermen claimed to have seen the ghost of the bath master out on the lake. A cooper, in for a quick drink, spoke of scratching noises in his bedroom. A blacksmith muttered something about people making a big deal out of nothing, and, although there was a vocal concensus among the morning's patrons, not a one of them seemed completely confident.
Ziedon finally stood up. He sought out the innkeeper, paid in advance for another night's stay and went outside. The locksmith had mentioned a tavern where a certain usurer spent his time. Ziedon headed there.
The southwestern quarter of Dunweig was poorer than the rest, that was for certain. Three quarters of a mile from the lake, and a fair walk from the Temple, the area seemed isolated from the rest of the town. There were even places, here and there, where tall, narrow segments of wall had been built to seperate the poor quarter from its merchant and guildsman neighbors.
It was also clear that the law was less influential here. Not so much that people ran about, mindlessly committing crimes, but it was obvious from the smell that the regulation to keep animals on the main roads was not too closely upheld, and it was obvious from sight that several unsanctioned businesses were rooted here.
Ziedon entered the not too crowded tavern, and ordered a light beer. He found from the barkeep that the man he wanted was Galpen, who could be found, at night, by the corner table. Ziedon tipped the barkeep an aglar for the information, and returned to his room at the inn.
Ziedon undressed, preparing to take a nap and encourage his leg to heal. He prepared another strong poultice, and, after applying it, laid down on the bed. Were it not for the blood loss and the numbing poultice, Ziedon would never have been able to get to sleep; he'd slept far more than he was used to of late. As it was, however, he managed to force himself to sleep after a restless hour or two, and only woke a few times during the day. He was once again thankful for the magical armor which had absorbed a good part of the blow. Without it, he surely would have been suffering from infection by now.
“What are you doing here?” a voice asked.
“Sleeping,” Ziedon said, then a pause.
“_Why_ are you here?”
“Too tired to stay awake.”
A silence passed, and then the voice began again. “Why are you in Dunweig?”
“Tell me about your mission.”
“I killed Moren.”
“I know. Tell me more.”
“I killed Rosteral.”
“I know! Why are you here?”
“Too tired to stay awake.”
A long time passed, and Ziedon found his mind slipping into a deeper sleep. “Who sent you?” the voice finally asked, and Ziedon did not know the name. The best he could answer was “my master,” and then he woke.
Ziedon looked around the room and shook his head. “I wonder what that was all about.” He stood up and checked his wound, which was still deep and painful, although healing slowly. He then checked his room to ensure that no one had entered while he slept. “It seems there is another player afoot who knows of my actions here in Dunweig, I will have to be more careful now.”
It was barely past noon, so Ziedon went downstairs for lunch, then returned to his room to plot and think things over until night approached.
The man sitting alone at the corner table was sturdily built, with rugged features and a severely receded hairline. His looks lent an ambiguity to his age, that made him seem anything from thirty five to fifty five. Both of his hands were on the table, one lightly gripping a mug of ale, and the other moving a key about it a complex pattern through his fingers. The well-developed muscles in Galpen's arm danced in response to the movement of his fingers.
Ziedon put his plan into action. He took a light ale to a table near the door, and then, pretending to drink, attempted to ensorcel the money-lender. In the middle of his spell, Galpen looked at him with an intensity that seemed only natural on that face. He looked Ziedon up and down, and then looked at several other patrons in the same way. When Ziedon was finished, Galpen looked at him again, then finished off his ale and called for another.
Ziedon finished his drink, caught the loanshark's eye again and, with a nudge of his head, signalled the loanshark to meet him at the bar. He then proceeded to the bar himself, and, his back to the rest of the room, waited. When Galpen pulled out the stool next to Ziedon's, Ziedon said out of the corner of his mouth, “I would like to do some business but need somewhere more private.”
“I do my business at my table,” Galpen said, making none of the effort Ziedon had to conceal his speach. “It's private enough.” “Fair enough,” Ziedon said, and followed Galpen back to his table. Ziedon cut directly to the point once the two of them were seated. In a soft voice, he said, “I have a great investment opportunity for you. I have found a good fishing boat for sale, as well as fishing rights. Problem is, I don't have the monies to make the purchase. I heard you were in the loaning business and thought we could make a deal.”
Galpen thought for a few seconds. “I'll need references, and I'll have to see the boat, and –” He stopped, and squinted at Ziedon. “You know, I get the sudden feeling that you're good for the money, and although you don't look it, I'm sure you'd make a fine fisherman. In fact, I'm tempted to throw a little of my own investment in, along with the loan. Let's skip the references and go right to the issue of collateral.”
“Well, of course, I would put the boat and the fishing rights –”
Galpen interrupted. “The boat and fishing rights would be mine anyway. What I need is something especially valuable to you. A family heirlomb maybe… or something on that order.”
Ziedon replied hesitantly, his fingers moving to a pouch, “Well, I have something that is exotic and ancient. I would never part with it.” Ziedon pulled out a small stone and set it on the table. “It is not much to look at but it has unique… properties.”
Ziedon pulled out a metal coin and cupped a hand over the rock so only Galpen and he could see it. Touching the coin to the rock, Ziedon smiled as the rock emitted its own glow, “No one knows why it does this but it does.” Ziedon touched the coin to the rock and removed it a few times so Galpen could see the rock light and go dead, “Would this suffice?”
Galpen took the rock, and held it up to the light of a window. Then he lowered it to the table, and flipped it over a few times, and touched both copper and silver coins to it, seeing the same effect in both cases. The excitement on his face was quite visible, but then it faded. “Impressive, but are you certain this is the best you can do? I doubt I could get more than thirty attles for this, and you probably want a few hundred for your ship.”
“Actually, I only need 150 attles. With all of the murders and talk of ghosts and such, I was able to negotiate a good deal. This precious stone should cover my collateral, I would think.”
Galpen looked frustrated for a moment, then smiled. “Alright. The stone will do. I can give you thirty today, and then thirty a week for the next four weeks. I assume you can negotiate a similar deal for your ship.”
Ziedon let a disgusted look cross his face and said, “They want to leave town now; that is how I got such a good deal. I don't think they would be willing to wait a month for full payment. We can go to your place to get the funds, or if you prefer, I could just stay here and wait for you to get them and return,” Ziedon ended with a helpful- looking smile on his face.
“You're asking me to take quite a financial risk, but I'll see what I can find.” Galpen took three rare and heavy ten-attle coins from an inner pocket in his coat, laid them on the table, and took Ziedon's stone. Then he stood up to leave.
Ziedon asked, “Do you want me to come with you or to stay here?”
Galpen stopped as if surprised, and turned around. “Oh, just wait here. I'll see if I can scrape up the other one-twenty.” Then he walked off at a brisk pace.
Ziedon smiled back and said, “I wouldn't want you to take on any additional risk. Here,” Ziedon held out the three coins, but Galpen didn't take them. “Why don't you hold onto these until you have all of the atties and I will hold onto my family heirlom.” Ziedon held out his other hand for the rock, a smile on his face the entire time.
If Ziedon's spell had worked, it seemed to be working against him, because Galpen became suddenly appologetic. “Oh no. I didn't mean that. It's no additional risk at all, but those thirty are to guarentee that there's no risk for _you_. I'll be back with the money before you know I'm gone.” With that he hurried off, nearly at a jog.
With a frown, Ziedon left the tavern to see where Galpen was headed and to decide whether to follow him. He was just in time to see Galpen round the corner of the tavern, disappearing from sight. Ziedon hurried along the length of the tavern to round the corner as well. When he looked around the next corner, Galpen was nowhere to be seen.
The tavern is roughly rectangular, with a road in front, and alleys on either side. Behind it were two outhouses, and a couple of storage sheds. Behind those, at a slight angle, were more buildings and another road. Ziedon ran to the next corner of the tavern. When he got there, he rounded it carefully while catching his breath. He looked around for any other people who might have seen Galpen pass by, and listened for the sound of of Galpen's feet. He heard no running sounds, but they might have been difficult to hear over the group of drunks stumbling out of the tavern, singing as loudly as they could a song with no distinguishable words. Ziedon hadn't noticed anyone that drunk in the tavern, but he had been preocupied.
A man exited from the outhouse and headed back towards the tavern.
Ziedon hurried down the alley to the next road, looking to the left and right once he got there. On this chilly night, most people were indoors, but a few still labored outside, securing shutters or pulling carts home. None of those few, however, looked like Galpen.
Ziedon stopped one of them and asked, “Excuse me, but did you happen to see a man race through here?”
The man stopped his cart and squinted his eyes hard. “You know, I might… no, I don't think I did.”
Ziedon returned to his own inn by a surreptitious route and, in the privacy of his room, verified that the coins were indeed gold. Not only were they gold to Ziedon's best estimation, but they were in excellent condition, and unusually pure. Little as Ziedon knew about coins, he could read the date that marked them as over a hundred years old. They must have been very carefully stored from one of the older mints.
Ziedon stashed the coins and returned to Galpen's tavern. He sat through the prime business hours, and continued sitting until only a few of the tavern's most devoted patrons remained. Conversations about the murders Ziedon himself had committed went from interesting to dull to irritating, and barmaids asked whether he wanted anything more times than he could count, but Galpen did not return.
Finally giving up, Ziedon focused his eyes on the barkeep without leaving his seat, and mumbled the words to his favorite spell, holding the one ale he had allowed himself to his lips for discression. “Barkeeps are notorious for being collectors of information,” Ziedon thought, and approached the bar. “I am looking for Galpen,” Ziedon asked discreetly. “He was supposed to come back and I fear something bad might have happened to him. Do you know where he lives or where he might go? I really want to make sure he is okay.”
The barkeep laughed. “I know plenty about that old bastard, but he pays me nice to keep quiet.” He seperated a pair of gold coins between the fingers of his right hand. “I wouldn't worry about him. He's always taken care of himself.”
“But he was supposed to meet me back here. With all of the murders in town, surely you understand. Could you tell me where I could find him? I was supposed to give him… a token… to obtain his services.”
The barkeep looked at the two coins, then back at Ziedon, and then lowered his hand and returned the coins to whatever hidden place they had emerged from. “I suppose there's no harm in that. Galpen doesn't live around here though.” He leaned forward and almost whispered to Ziedon. “I'm the only man living in the dregs who knows that Galpen doesn't. He has a place uptown with townsmen and priests and the like, about two hundred yards from the temple. Ask for Regaile Alpen. They'll know him around there.” Then he yelled out to the barmaids. “Let's get these drunks out of here. The bar's closed until someone with money comes in!”
Ziedon nodded at the bartender and left the tavern. Remembering hearing something about a female healer, Ziedon kept a distance of a couple hundred yards from the temple, only walking onto the main road when he was in the wealthiest part of town, and he kept his hood up to help keep a low profile.
Few people were about to ask after Galpen. A few hasty walkers passed Ziedon without looking at him, and a member of the town watch on horseback rode past, giving Ziedon only a passing glance. Eventually, Ziedon caught a silversmith apprentice who was carrying his wares to the jeweler's to be finished. “Excuse me,” Ziedon said. “I am looking for Regaile Alpen. Would you happen to know where I could find him?”
The apprentice looked up in surprise at Ziedon, who was much taller than he, and put one hand on the hilt of a dagger. Then he calmed down and answered. “Oh, over that way a bit. Sixth or seventh house, the one with glass in all the windows. But I don't think he'll see you this late at night. He's been sick for two days.”
Ziedon nodded his head and said, “thank you.” The apprentice watched him walk part way down the street towards Galpen's house, and then continued on his way.
Ziedon circled the house to get an idea of its general layout. All the windows were indeed glass, and there were many, about three on each side of each of two floors, spaced almost evenly. There were also a few slitted vents on the second floor and on the verticle ends of the pitched roof. The house was not the largest on the street, but it was quite respectible, with a sturdy foundation and oak walls. It had a raised main entrance in front, and a simpler servant's entrance on the left side. Like most houses on this particular street, this one had a yard in front no more than a few feet deep, so there was not room for the kind of fence popular in other areas of town.
Even though Halkak was almost at its zenith, light seeped through a vent near the servant's entrance, and Ziedon could hear a quiet pacing of feet within.
On his way back, Ziedon noted that there were no taverns, inns or other commercial establishments on Galpen's street or on others in the immediate area, even though the main body of the market was only a few hundred yards away.
Back at the inn, Ziedon changed his bandage, took his normal security precautions and went to sleep. He woke several times that night to dreams he couldn't remember, except one.
Moren and Rosteral were playing cards on one side of a long table. Ziedon didn't recognize the game, but it seemed that the stakes were very high, as occasionally he could see transient piles of gold on various parts of the table. The men played several cards before Ziedon decided to pay closer attention to the game. Rosteral played a card face-up onto the table, and called out 'deuce over seven.' It was then Ziedon noticed that the two men wore the same looks they'd had when Ziedon killed them. Rosteral was doubled over, his face nearly touching the table. When he made a call during the game, his voice came out in a horse whisper, and a stream of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth and fell on the cards, but did not soil them. Moren sat straight and calm, and spoke in a quiet, resigned voice. His face was as pale as bone, and Ziedon could make out his own hand-prints on the butcher's neck, and the two slits he had made to confuse investigators. At times, Ziedon could even see his own hands filling the prints, or his own knife sticking out of the slits. Ziedon approached the table, but the two men didn't notice him. He saw a large scattered pile of unidentifiable cards, except for the deuce played by Rosteral, which displayed a crude picture of Ziedon. 'Ace over deuce,' said Moren in a voice that implied he knew what would happen but could do nothing about it. The ace was a picture of the magic book Ziedon had stolen from Moren's house. When the card hit the table, Ziedon saw that, in fact, many of the cards already played were deuces, and they all dissolved into nothing, a look of anguish momentarily appearing on the faces of all the Ziedons.
Your Bill, Sir: 1.5 (food), 7.5ag (lodging), 1ag (tip)