Angel of Death, Chapter 25
A word for romantics and fools.
A word based upon a false hope.
I have no use for it, and I am almost ashamed of the fact that I once believed in it. I say almost, because I am beyond such petty trivialities now.
Yes, there was a time when I felt differently about love than I now do. There was a time when I actually believed in it.
Invariably, however, one person is less in love than the other, and one of them ends up used and hurt. The other just ends up hurt.
Love is either 'true' - in which case it is short-lived, doomed from the start to fail, and painful to everyone involved - or it is merely a label, an excuse for lust.
In a world of lies, this is the cruelest of them all, and I refuse to take any part in it.
There is no love.
There never will be.
- Artemis Enteri
To Track a Kidnapper
"We may have found the advantage we needed," cackled Thenedain, peering into his crystal ball.
Grimwalde looked up, wondering whether the old wizard was talking about an advantage over the Viper, or an advantage over him.
What are you just sitting there for?" snapped Thenedain. "We've got the Viper in our grasp!"
* * *
Artemis stepped into yet another tavern, peering into the gloom and looking for any sign of Jitinder. This was the third one she had visited.
It was dark and smoky in here, and she had to take a step in before her eyes adjusted.
Rough hands seized her, pulling her forward. She struggled and screamed, but there were too many of them. Quickly she felt herself bound.
She tried to move, but couldn't. She screamed, but it was cut short when a dirty rag was forced into her mouth.
When she was securely bound, the men stood back, admiring their work. "This her, Sem?" asked one of the larger ones.
A man clad in beggar's clothing stepped out of the pack, and peered down at her. "Yeah, that's her."
"How will he know we've got her?" asked another man.
The beggar smiled, showing a row of blackened and yellowed teeth. "He'll know. And he'll come after her - then we've got him and the amulet."
* * *
"We're casting off. You coming or not?"
Jitinder looked up annoyedly at the captain of the ship he had chartered passage on. "Yes. Just a few more minutes. I'm waiting for someone."
"You've been waiting all day, and you've been telling me that someone's coming for the last half hour. We're leaving now."
"Alright then," he said, standing. "I'm coming. She can stay here if she likes."
He fell into step behind the captain, and stepped slowly onto the worn wooden dock the boat was moored to.
He stopped midway.
"I can't do this," he said. "I'm sorry, but I can't go."
The captain shrugged. "Makes no difference to me - you don't get your money back, though."
Jitinder scowled, then turned and stalked back into the no-longer burning but still smoking city.
* * *
Athos picked his way silently through the darkening streets. The smoke was rapidly dissipating, but there was still enough confusion for him to pass unnoticed.
Up ahead, he saw another figure darting through the smoke, and he stepped back into the shadows, preparing himself for a possible fight and looking for possible routes of flight.
The smoke dissipated around the figure, and Jitinder came fully into view.
"What do you want?" asked Athos, stepping from the shadows. "And where is Artemis?"
Jitinder started at the sight of Athos. "She's not with you?"
"I sent her to the port district. I thought she was safe with you."
"She never reached me," said Jitinder. "I waited all day. She never came."
Athos grew concerned. "Then she is in trouble."
Jitinder nodded grimly.
A moment later, the two took off, moving through the streets quickly, heedless of being seen.
* * *
LaValle woke, his vision still blurry from the drug he had been given, and the ropes binding his wrists and ankles biting into his skin. His mouth was dry; the gag seemed to absorb all the moisture from his tongue.
He studied his surroundings. It was cold here, as if he were deep underground, although he couldn't be sure. He was in a small room with marble walls and no door that he could see.
He was bound securely to the wooden bench which was the only object within the room. The lighting was sickly white, and was magical, coming from a permanent spell LaValle was familiar with.
He twisted in the bonds that held him, and found them secure.
He slumped, and waited for the one who had captured him to show himself.
Time dragged by slowly, and eventually he fell asleep once again.
* * *
The doors to the tavern burst open and Jitinder strode in, his naginata held high.
He was followed by Athos.
The voices in the tavern hushed, then fell silent as everyone surveyed the newcomers.
"Has anyone seen a girl come through here?" called out Jitinder.
There was only silence.
"Girls don't come here much, lad." said someone from the back. There was murmured agreement.
Jitinder turnted to Athos. "What do you think?"
"I think they're lying."
Athos strode over to the nearest table, kicking it over.
The people at the table jumped back out of their chairs, protesting.
Athos smiled. "Anyone here see a nineteen year old girl, about my height, with auburn hair?"
"Cursed if I won't kill you!" bellowed one of the men, pudgy-looking but rough around the edges.
Athos only smiled.
Jitinder turned to another table. "Allow me to cut your meat," he said, his naginata flashing down and cutting through the roasted fowl that was set there, the platter it was set on, and part of the table itself. He reversed direction a moment later and pulled the blade free.
He swung the naginata around, and the blade stopped just short of one man's neck.
"Now that I've done you a favor, friend, perhaps you can do me one. Where's the girl?"
The portly man lunged at Athos, a knife in his hands.
Athos laughed, catching the man's wrist and sending the knife spinning through the air.
He pivoted, and with his left hand slammed the man's hand down flat on another table, and simultaneously caught hold of the knife in midair with his right hand.
"I want to show you a trick to amuse these nice, honest people," he said, spreading the man's fingers and laying his right hand over the man's.
"What-" blurted the man, then went silent as the dagger began it's dance between the fingers, tapping again and again.
The dance continued for a moment, then Athos stopped.
The man let out a sigh of relief as he realized he hadn't been hurt.
"Wait a moment, I want to try something new," said Athos, removing his hand from the man's but keeping the his other hand pinned in the same position. "I want to see if I can do it to someone else - though I've failed every time I've tried."
"No! Wait!" cried the man.
The dagger flashed down, and the man howled in pain.
"Oops! Ah well, worse has happened to a person - worse will happen to you if you don't start telling me where the girl is. Remember, you've got four more."
The man whimpered. "We haven't got her! We had her, but we don't have her anymore!"
"Really? And who does?"
"I don't know!"
"Wrong answer, friend," said Athos, the dagger flashing down again. Again the man screamed. "Now you've got three. Try again."
"A wizard! A wizard.. and his assistant have her!"
"And where can I find this wizard?"
"He's gone! To Zazesspur, he said! That's all I know, I swear!"
"Thank you, friend. You've been very helpful." Athos started to turn away, but the dagger came down again. "Oh, and here's your dagger."
Athos turned to Jitinder, who was giving the man across the room a very close and painful shave with the edge of his naginata.
"A mage has her," said Athos. "They're in Zazesspur."
"Then we should be going."
The two started for the door, but Athos turned at the last moment.
"See this?" he said, lifting the amulet that hung around his neck for all to see. "Very pretty, isn't it? And very valuable. If any of you should want it, feel free to try to take it."
There was a murmur through the crowd, but no-one challenged them.
"I thought not," said Athos, turning and leaving.
Out on the street, Jitinder turned to Athos. "That was pretty brutal, what you did to that man."
"Did it bother you?"
"Then forget about it. His fingernails will grow back eventually anyway."
* * *
Captain Sprecher was an old sea dog. His ship was known well for it's well trained crew and it's depedability.
Now he lounged on deck, enjoying his favorite pipe. He had just arrived in Memnon and wouldn't be leaving for another few days. He rarely left the Sea Cutter, even when in port. The ship was one of the loves of his life.
Two young men stepped aboard his ship.
"Who're you, and what are you doing on my ship?" he asked, almost annoyed.
"We're your passengers, and you're about to take us to Zazesspur."
He shaded his eyes, looking up at them. "Not quite. I don't take passengers, and I'm not sailing for another two days. Even then I'm not bound for Zazesspur."
"Yes you are," said the one with the dark hair. "And you're leaving right now."
Captain Sprecher was about to throw them off his ship when he caught sight of the amulet hanging around the dark-haired one's neck.
He whistled. "You're the one everyone's after, aren't you?"
Athos said nothing.
The captain leaned back. "I know trouble when I see it. I'm not taking you anywhere, no matter what you pay me."
"I'm not going to pay you anything. The only thing you're going to get out of this is your life. Now get yourself up, and get this ship underway."
* * *
"What?" yelled Pook, livid with outrage. "The Viper has a weakness? And my men had her and lost her?"
Freldric bowed, nervous. He knew what had happened to his predecessor.
"Now we really have lost him!" bellowed Pook.
He paused, thinking, and Freldric waited.
"We must find some way to work this to our advantage."
* * *
The magic shimmered in the air, and with a whoosh, the portal opened. Thenedain hobbled through.
Grimwalde followed, carrying the limp form of the girl.
The portal closed a moment later, but neither of the two paid any attention to it.
"Put her down anywhere you like, Grimwalde," said the older mage.
Grimwalde slung his charge down on the hard stone floor.
Thenedain surveyed his surroundings. The room was covered with dust and cobwebs. Apparently Grimwalde had spent most of his time in Calimport during his absence, instead of here in Zazesspur.
"So, it looks like you haven't been using your tower lately, Grimwalde. You've been in mine for quite a while, haven't you?"
Grimwalde said nothing.
"No matter. We have work ahead of us - serious and careful work."
"How do we know the Viper will come after her?"
"He will no doubt find out where we've gone from those fools we took her from. He'll find us, alright."
Grimwalde shook his head. "I didn't ask that. I asked why he would come after us. He has never cared about anyone before, and I doubt this girl is an exception."
"A matter of principle will draw him here, not love. The girl is obviously under his protection, and we have overstepped his bounds, his unwritten laws."
"How do you know that?"
"The girl is alive, and the Viper's had contact with her."
"So? He may not have had any reason to kill her."
Thenedain snorted. "You fool, you aren't trying to play his game. His intelligence is obviously beyond your own meager amount. Just trust me, he will come."
Grimwalde scowled at the old man's back, but said nothing.
* * *
"It seems the Viper has become bolder yet. Now he strides into a tavern full of people, uncaring of whether they see him or not. He is coming to Zazesspur by boat.
"We will be waiting for him."