Zazesspur: Through the Eyes of a Boy
A slight figure darted
its way through the midday crowd which thronged the city streets.
It was a dark-haired boy of twelve or so years, in continual motion as
he picked his way through the throng, cutting a purse here, lifting some
It had been nearly five years since Athos had been stranded in this city. Forced to rely on his wits alone he had honed his abilities in order to survive.
He ducked behind a covered litter that was making its way slowly through the crowd. The litter was bourne by four heavily-muscled kushite manservants, and attended by four guardsman of the same nationality, who were armed with pole arms that they used to push back the passing throngs..
He trailed along behind it for a few moments then, more out of curiosity than anything else, he decided to investigate further.
He darted out into the crowd again, making a tight arc that brought him alongside the litter. Diving into a roll which took him under the reach of one of the surprised guardsman, he came to his feet and leaped through the bright silks which swathed the litter.
He landed in the lap of a profoundly fat man, who was wearing a huge golden amulet.
The man goggled in surprise and dismay. Athos snatched the amulet with one hand, the other cutting an arc across the obese man's neck, severing the chain to which the amulet was attached with a small dirk.
The fat man gasped in panic at the sight of the blade, then in relief as he realized he had not been struck down. "Guards!" he shrieked.
The litter lurched wildly as the servants dropped it. The guardsmen rushed forward.
Instantly Athos was on his way again, leaping upward through the silks that made up the litter's ceiling. He paused a moment there, poised atop the gilded wooden supports, then leaped out over the guardsmen's heads and into a laid out spin which took him squarely into the tight-pressed throng which was moving steadily past on either side. He landed easily on his feet, dodged a blow from an outraged woman with an ugly scar, and without looking back, raced in the opposite direction.
* * *
Scant moments later,
he had joined a group of six other boys in a nearby alley.
"Whaddijya get, runt?" asked Rathan, cuffing him on the head. Rathan, at eighteen years of age, was the oldest present. He was also the self-proclaimed leader of the group, which called itself the 'rat pack'. Although he was a coward when it came to dealing with others his own age, Rathan bullied the other boys, who were all much younger and smaller than he was.
"Not much," said Athos, dodging the brunt of the blow.
Rathan grinned, his acne-scarrred face crinkling grotesquely. "Then you ain't gonna have nothing to eat." He grabbed Athos' shirt. "Hand it over, runt!"
Grudgingly, Athos handed over a small pouch filled with gold and silver pieces.
Rathan glanced into the bag. "Better than I thought. There's plenty here for me to gamble, drink, and whore off." He laughed. "There's even enough left over for me to be generous to you pansies." He reached down into the bag and pulled up a single copper piece, which he flipped into the dirt. "There you go, boys," he said with a sneer. "Don't spend it all in one place, mind you."
He laughed as he strode off in the other direction.
Athos scowled after him. Someday, Rathan, he thought to himself. Someday.
"How much did you really take today, Athos?" asked Valle, youngest of those present.
"More than ever before," said Athos with a smile. "If I scored this much every day, there would be a price on my head for certain."
"Did you keep any of it back?" asked Shand from the back. Shand and his brother Helmus were virtually identical, lanky boys with dark hair and a dusky complexion, both of whom were orphaned at a very young age.
Athos pretended to be shocked. "You don't think I would let that lumbering fool Rathan have my hard-stolen profits, do you?" He produced a smaller pouch seemingly from nowhere and held it aloft. "There's enough here to ensure we eat for the rest of the week."
The other boys gave a cheer.
Athos kept the amulet hidden. He was still working on a fund with which to leave the city and get home, although he was beginning to lose hope. Surely if his mother was alive, she would have come searching for him by now. Besides, he didn't know how to contact a fence without alerting Rathan, and Rathan would be very angry to learn that Athos had been keeping anything back from him.
"What did you others take today?" he asked the rest of the boys.
"Not much," admitted Shand. "As usual, Rathan took all of it."
"Well," said Athos with a smile, "I took enough for all of us. Let's get to the Spinning Wheel. I'm in the mood for a good meal."
Eagerly the other boys joined him. Tonight they would sleep in warm beds with full bellies.
* * *
Arkail Rhassan, junior
guildmaster of the thieves' guild, strode toward his rendezvous boldly.
A young man just coming into his middle years, he was in excellent physical
shape, and the sword that rested at his hip was well-familiar to his hands.
He was a darkly handsome man, with sable black hair and eyes, and a small
goatee cut in the southern style. His face would have been almost
pretty, save for the many scars which crisscrossed it, telling of battles
He halted in the appointed spot for the meeting, a small culdesac at the end of an abandoned alley. He glanced around, trying unsuccessfully to make the figure of the man he was to meet out in the darkness. "Where are you?" he whispered at a last.
"Here, Arkail," called a soft voice from behind him.
Arkail jumped, then turned to face the man who had spoken. "You know what I want you to do?"
The other man nodded.
"What's your price?" asked Arkail.
The man looked amused. "You've not the abilities to accomplish this task yourself?" he asked. "I'm surprised."
"Of course I do," snapped Arkail. "But the guildmaster's death must look like an accident, and I must be present. I want no chance of it being discovered that I was involved in his demise."
"There will be no chance of that," said the man in the shadows. "As for the time and the place, I will choose. Be assured you will be present."
Arkail nodded. "And the price?"
"Two million platinum pieces, of Waterdeep or Calimport mint."
Arkail gasped. "I cannot pay that! I haven't the resources! Perhaps one million, but never two!"
The other man shrugged. "Then the job won't get done. I am no merchant - I do not haggle. Besides which, I wasn't finished naming my price."
Arkail started to protest, then stopped himself. If that was the price he must pay, then that was the price he must pay. "Continue," he said resignedly.
The shadowy man nodded. "I want a favor from the guild - an intangible that I may call on at any time in the future during your lifetime."
Arkail considered. "What sort of intangible?"
"You'll find out when I ask for it."
Arkail thought for a few moments, then sighed. "Very well. I will meet your price."
"Good," said the other man. "You will be contacted as to when and how I will collect it."
Arkail waited a moment. "I guess that's it then," he turned to leave, then looked back. "Know this, Viper. I am not afraid of you. If you fail me in this, I will hunt you down." After a hard look, he turned and made his way to the mouth of the alley.
The Viper remained silent until long after Arkail was gone. "That, my friend," he said at length, "was a threat. I do not take threats lightly. How long shall I allow you to live?"
* * *
"Do the dagger trick,
Athos!" slurred Vermos. He, like most of the other boys, had been
drinking heavily after consuming a large repast. Vermos always was
the show-off, constantly getting himself into trouble by trying to do more
than he was able. He was the oldest of the boys, and nearly the largest,
standing only a few inches less in height than Drake. Athos, as always,
had refrained from drinking. Valle had done the same.
"Yes, come on Athos!" put in Shand. "Do the dagger trick!"
Athos sighed. "All right. But it really is nothing. I can't even think of a good way to use it in a swindle."
The other boys leaned forward, watching intently.
Athos unsheathed a small, sharp dagger with his right hand, placing his left hand down on the table and splaying the fingers apart. This action caught the barkeep's attention.
"Hey, you street rats!" he grumbled, shaking his fist. "The sign at the door says you're supposed to leave all weapons at the front until you leave!"
"We can't none of us read, sir!" Valle piped up merrily - a fact which was not far from the truth. Only Athos could read well, and only Valle wanted to learn how to read badly enough to learn. Athos was teaching him slowly and steadily. The other boys were illiterate except for a few common words and phrases, and also rough approximations of their own names.
"Besides, sir," said Athos, "this is only a knife for cutting meat, not a weapon."
The barkeep scowled. "All right then, but mind you don't chip my table with it."
Athos smiled. "Wouldn't dream of it, sir."
His right hand began moving, slowly at first, as he would jab down with the dagger's point, tapping its tip on the table between the fingers of his left hand at different points. The rythm picked up, and became a whirring sound of raps as the dance with dagger quickened.
"Impossible," said the barkeep as the speed became too quick for his eyes to follow.
As suddenly as it had started, the dance stopped. Athos twirled the dagger through his fingers and bowed as the boys cheered him.
"And now with my other hand," he said, flipping the dagger from his right hand to his left. "This time I'll get it right."
"Wait a minute, Athos," said Valle with some alarm. "Last time you nearly severed your finger. There's no need for showing off."
"That was last time," said Athos with a grin. "I've got a good feeling this time." He plunked the pouch of gold onto the table. "I'd bet all I have left on it."
"What would we sleep on tonight of you did that?" laughed Drake. "Surely not a bed." Drake was the tallest of the boys, and in his own way the most identifiable. He had light blonde hair and green eyes, a rarity this far south. He was big enough that he could have been a bully, but had always instead been a gentle giant.
The barkeep stroked his chin, his eyes narrowing at the boys' talk. "What would you bet against?" he asked.
"Oh, he's jesting, sir," said Valle.
"No I'm not," interjected Athos. "I'd bet it against, say, the price of the meal we just had and the price of a good night's sleep."
The barkeep eyed the large sack greedily as the other boys began pleading for Athos to back off from the foolish gamble. "How much is in that?" he asked.
"Forty gold," said Athos, ignoring the pleas of his comrades.
More than the price of a week of such meals and lodging! thought the barkeep greedily. "All right, then. I accept your wager."
"Excellent!" cried Athos, picking up the dagger again.
"No!" cried Shand. "Don't risk it!"
"Shut up, boy!" snarled the barkeep. "He's already accepted. It's too late for him to back out now!"
"Too late for you, too," said Athos with a smile.
The others grew quiet.
"Don't hurt yourself, Athos," said Valle seriously. "You know your hands are valuable to all of us."
Athos paused, concentrating. He exhaled once, heavily, and splayed the fingers of his right hand out. There was a thin line on the ring finger, a mark indicating the place where he had been scarred by his earlier attempt.
He took another breath, exhaled slowly, and began.
The dagger began its dance slowly, then picked up speed. Pat, pat, pat, pat, pat, pit, pat, pit, pat, pit, pat, pit pat, pit pat went the dagger's tip.
Sweat stood out on Athos' forehead, concentration etched into his brow.
The barkeep held his breath, watching as the dance of the dagger picked up speed. Pit pat, pit pat, pit pat, pit pat, pitpat,pitpat, pitpatpitpatpitpatpitpapitippitipitipitipitipit.
Still it continued, faster and faster, until it was going as fast as it had before.
"Faster!" wailed the barkeep, as he realized he was losing the wager. "You were going far faster than that with the other hand!"
Athos knew that he hadn't, but he picked up the pace even more. The rapping became a humming. The motion of the hand and the dagger was a blur too fast for the eye to follow.
The barkeep threw up his hands in defeat. "All right! I concede!" he said in disgust, walking off.
The boys cheered.
The barkeep whirled, and gave them all an unkind look. "I have the feeling that I've just fallen prey to a swindle. Why is that?"
Because you have, thought Athos, lauging silently to himself. The scar was a self-inflicted scratch. He had never had trouble with the dagger dance before, left or right-handed.
"I have no idea," he said aloud. "The wager was an honorable one. If anything, you should feel happy for me, that I have not injured myself."
* * *
"Once upon a time the
moon was captured by a demon, who spirited it off to one of the lower planes.
Perhaps you, good sir, can recover it before it is lost forever."
The man looked down at Athos haughtily. "It takes more than fast hands to fool me. The moon card is here!" he said as he triumphantly flipped the middle card over. His jaw dropped at the card he had chosen.
"Sorry, sir," said Athos. "That is Lady Ice."
"I've been swindled," howled the man. "Give me back my silver! You put the card in your pocket, you little thief!"
Athos was unoffended. "Not so, sir. the moon card is here." So saying, he flipped over the left hand card, revealing the Moon card. "Perhaps you would care to test your skill again?"
"And lose more silver?" sniffed the man, only slightly mollified. "Take your game elsewhere, scoundrel!"
Athos smiled as he turned to Valle. "See? That's how you do it. You lose sometimes, but if you've got it down you can usually come off with the money. And the best part is that you can never get into trouble for cheating, because you aren't."
Valle shook his head, uncertain. "Your hands are quick, Athos. I don't know if I can get it right."
"We've got all day and a thousand fools to practice with," said Athos, gesturing broadly to indicate all within the marketplace. "You will learn."
* * *
Thousands of miles
to the east, in a cavern far below the decadent capital of the ancient
empire of Mulhorand, an obscene ceremony was being performed by the cult
of Set in honor of the foul god they served.
Hundreds of black-clothed and turbaned men and women knelt before a pool of stagnant water from which sprang a flame which shot upwards hundreds of feet.
The flame changed colors rapidly, going from orange to blue to purple in a matter of moments and reflecting off the cavern walls eerily, creating fantastic shapes and shadows.
The entire cavern was filled with the murmurings of the cult members, who were reciting ritual prayers.
The high priest took his place at the altar. He surveyed the cavern for sever minutes, then raised his arms.
The chanting of the cult members faded and died.
The high priest spoke, his voice betraying a slight lisp. "Our lord has found a mortal worthy of becoming his avatar. We must find this person and sacrifice him."
He held out a grotesque object. "He whom we hold most highly has bestowed this object of divine power upon us, so that we may locate the person whose body will house our lord's spirit. The time has come to search him out!"
* * *
The inner city of Zazesspur
was comprised for the most part of ruined buildings. In some areas,
rubble was still strewn in the streets. Although the inner city was
teeming with life during the days, at nights the streets were usually clear
as nearby residents locked themselves into their houses. Some parts
of the city were rumored to be haunted by the undead. Others were
dangerous because of the street gangs who made their homes there.
One single tower - made of what had once been white marble, but which was now blackened and gray - still stood tall, its upper parts silhouetted by the full moon. It was this place that the locals feared and avoided most carefully, for it was known to be the home of a mad wizard, Grimwalde by name. Horrible sounds issued from its windowless walls in the dead of the night as unspeakable atrocities were committed within.
Some claimed that the mage was dead, and that the tower was haunted by his ghost. Others said that he was some sort of demon, and that he howled in the night because he was caught in this plane of existence and not the plane upon which his kin resided. Still others claimed that the very forces of the lower planes were housed in the tower, ready to break out and devour the populace of the city.
Only Grimwalde himself knew the truth of what went on within those walls, and he was neither demon nor ghost - though it could be argued that he was mad.
It was insanity which fascinated the wizard most. He was making studies on the insane for his master, a wizard of much repute in far off Calimport. The screaming and wailing which penetrated the tower's walls was that of the subjects of his tests and experiments.
Some of his studies included curing madness. Other studies included creating it.
These last were the wizard's personal favorites.