Come to Timid, where wine is sweet
And knives are sharp, and life is cheap
Come if you dare, but say a prayer too
That those from Timid don't come for you
It was quickly obvious that they were professionals.
There were three of them, all wearing the piecemeal armor of the Trading Company and all armed with Wazurian repeating crossbows.
The first one through the door said nothing, keeping his crossbow trained on Reanyn. he was human, tall and lean, with flat, lifeless eyes and thin lips.
His two companions were human also, but shorter and scruffier. They paid no attention to Reanyn, concentrating on subduing the other patrons of The Hanging Tavern, ordering them to the floor. The men were well trained and had the advantage of surprise, and moved swiftly to the trouble spots, pounding into submission any not quick enough to obey. Within a matter of minutes the initial cries of alarm and surprise had died down to fearful whimpers, and the two men had the rest of the room pacified.
Reanyn stood his ground calmly, watching with a mixture of surprise and annoyance.
"Ladies and gentlemen," announced a fourth man, appearing in the doorway and giving a sweeping bow, "please don't rise. I only need a few moments of your time. I assure you there is no cause for alarm." He sauntered easily into the room, heading directly for Reanyn. As he passed, one of the two shorter men used the butt of his crossbow on one of the tavern's customers who hadn't gotten to the ground quickly enough. The unfortunate patron slumped face-down over his table.
He was a darkly handsome man with a disarming smile. His crimson uniform (which identified him as an officer) was tailor-made, with high black boots and form-fitting black leather gloves. The hilt of a sword jutted up over his left shoulder, and he sported a debonair monocle in his right eye.
"This inn and all its patrons are under my protection," stated Reanyn. "Leave now or die."
The monocled man smiled broadly. "Ah, that would make you Reanyn Al'nuoth, the Wayfarer! I am Dieter Lowenroth. You have heard of me?"
Reanyn said nothing.
"No matter," said the man, slightly disappointed. "I am not here for you." He gestured towards the elven lieutenant. "It is your lovely companion that I seek."
Tianna was bewildered. "Me? Why?"
The effete man tsked, shaking his head apologetically. "You are to be eliminated, my dear." He looked her up and down appreciatively. "Really such a waste. You would bring a high price on the black market. Still there is that scar." He sighed. "I suppose I shall have to console myself with that."
"I repeat," stated Reanyn again, "this establishment and everything in it is under my personal protection."
"Yes," said the man thoughtfully, "you said that before. I would advise you to stand aside Wayfarer. I only want the girl. It would be a pity if you forced me to kill you."
"I would never forgive myself."
"I have the shot," hissed the tall crossbowman, his feverish eyes focused intently on Reanyn. "Give the order and I'll drop him."
The monocled man held up a hand. "Hold steady. It doesn't have to be this way, Wayfarer. You of all people should understand my position. There is a contract on her. I have no wish for a confrontation with you. Perhaps we might work out something between us, something mutually beneficial."
"I have made my position clear." A trace of irritation had crept into Reanyn's voice. "This establishment and everything in it is under my protection. That includes the girl. And don't call me that."
The man was amused. "I don't think you fully appreciate your position, my friend. You are standing at the receiving end of three Wazurian repeating crossbows, each capable of firing six bolts in less than a minute. And my companions, though young, are quite expert with them. I would not have selected them were they not equal to the task. At a command from me, they could eliminate everyone in this room in less than two minutes." He shook his head. "You are in no position to make demands. We will take whatever we want, with or without your permission." He smiled. "And what we want is the girl. We are not leaving without her."
"Then you will soon be dead."
The man could not hide his surprise. "You are a strange man, Wayfarer. You are certain you will not change your position."
Reanyn said nothing.
"Very well, then. You were warned. Pock!"
The tall one gave a feral grin of triumph. His crossbow barked once, and a bolt flashed across the room towards Reanyn's head.
His aim was perfect, but Reanyn was no longer there.
Almost lazily he sidestepped, and the missile streaked past, burying itself in the far wall. His movement took him within reach of one of the two other crossbowman. The man had time to look up, astonished, before Reanyn struck.
In one swift motion, Reanyn lifted a knife from a nearby table, sweeping it across the man's throat. As the man rocked backwards, Reanyn reversed his grip on the knife, launching it across the room towards the taller henchman, who was working furiously to recock his weapon.
The man Reanyn struck sputtered once in disbelief, his mouth working silently, and went down in a welter of his own blood. As he fell Reanyn took his crossbow from him, spinning and lifting it in one motion.
The tall man had finally managed to reload his crossbow, and was in the process of lifting it to take aim when the knife struck him, embedding itself to the hilt squarely between his eyes. He shuddered and fell stiffly backwards, discharging a bolt into the ceiling as his hands fired reflexively. He did not rise again.
Reanyn had already forgotten him. He was taking aim on the officer.
Arrogant to a fault, the monocled man had turned his back on Reanyn after giving the order to fire. He whirled now, and was faintly surprised to find Reanyn still alive. He gave a fierce grin, as if pleasantly surprised at what he saw, and his sword came out in one fluid motion. He completed the movement just in time to take a crossbow bolt full in the chest.
The force of the impact took him off his feet, flinging him backwards. Reanyn recocked, fired, recocked, and fired again, putting two more bolts into the man's body before it landed on a table, legs and arms akimbo. The monocle went spinning through the air and landed on the floor nearby. It bounced, spun, and lay still.
The third crossbowman gave an inarticulate cry, firing once wildly and then dropping his weapon in favor of panicked flight.
Reanyn dropped into a crouch, the bolt the fleeing man had fired passing harmlessly over his head. Calmly he sighted down the crossbow he held.
In a display of incredible luck, the running man stumbled over a chair just as Reanyn fired, and the shot went wide.
Impassive, Reanyn stood, taking aim again.
The fleeing man regained his feet and launched himself towards the nearest window.
There was a tearing sound as Reanyn triggered the crossbow, followed by a snap.
With a crash the man flung himself bodily through the window and landed with a grunt in the alley which ran between The Hanging Lantern and the next building. A moment later, he was on his feet and running. The sounds of his flight faded quickly.
"Clumsy," muttered Reanyn, looking over the shattered crossbow he held. "Shoddy material. Misfired."
One of the stray crossbow bolts was still quivering in the wall, mere inches from Tianna's head. Dazed, she ran her fingertips over her left ear, making certain she was unharmed. "What?" she managed.
"You kill four men in less time than it takes most people to swallow, and all you can say is that the crossbow was clumsy?"
He shook his head. "I meant the whole affair. Even their disguises weren't good. And I only killed three of them. The fourth was lucky." He turned to Lucian, who had prudently remained behind the bar until the fighting was done. "I'm certain I've seen at least two of these men before. See if there is paper on any of them. But first make sure no-one is seriously hurt." Gradually, the other patrons were picking themselves off the floor. There was some muttering, and a few people were moaning. Most of those who were uninjured stared at Reanyn in disbelief for a moment before heading for the doorway.
Lucian gave a brief nod and headed for the man who had been struck earlier, and was still sprawled across his table.
"Disguises?" asked Tianna. "What disguises? They were assassins, sent by the Trading Company. Sent to kill me!"
Reanyn moved to where the monocled man's body lay. "The Trading Company deals in mercenaries, not assassinations." He pointed to an insignia on the dead man's uniform. "This identifies him as a colonel from the Ramspace battalion of the Trading Company, but it is worn incorrectly. In Ramspace, the officers wear this over the left breast, not the right."
"You had time to notice that?" she asked, in disbelief.
He stared at her. "Attention to detail is the single most important trait a person in my line of work can possess. If these men had paid more attention to detail, you would be dead."
He turned to the taller crossbowman's body. "Pouches under the eyes. He was addicted to blue lotus seeds. I'd lay odds the other two were as well. A sure sign they were Timid assassins."
"They didn't seem timid to me."
He bent over the body, inspecting it carefully. "Timid is a planet in the Vorthspace system. There is a training center for a brotherhood of assassins there. They claim to be the best in the multiverse." He began rummaging through the corpse's pockets.
Tianna looked on with distaste. "And are they?"
He shrugged. "They're good, but they aren't the best. These ones weren't even good."
"What do you mean?"
He looked up at her. "You're still alive, aren't you?"
She fell silent.
He finished his search, and moved to the third corpse.
"I don't understand," said Tianna at last. "Who would send assassins after me?"
She shook her head. "What do you mean?"
"It takes a lot to send assassins after a person who is under my protection. Add to that the fact that they dared to make the attempt on my territory. It adds up to wealth and power."
"But why would anyone want to have me killed?"
"For something you know."
She was bewildered. "I don't understand."
"You are an unimportant officer in the Imperial Elven Navy. You have no political power over it or anything else. You haven't stolen anything from anyone, or the assassins would have demanded the stolen article back." He spared her a brief glance. "Do you have any extremely powerful jealous lovers?"
She shook her head.
"Then it is something you know."
She considered for a moment. "But what?"
"That is what we have to find out." He straightened, his examination complete. "Well, they weren't complete amateurs. There's nothing here to tell me who their employer might be."
"I wouldn't think there would be," remarked Tianna. "It almost seems foolish to check."
"Not nearly as foolish as not checking. You're a very lucky woman, lieutenant."
"Lucky? I've got assassins after me. That doesn't seem lucky to me."
"You were under my personal protection when these men decided to strike. If you hadn't been here, you would almost certainly be dead. And now it looks like you're going to be accompanying me on my journey after all."
"Why?" she asked, suddenly skeptical. "Your concern for my welfare is touching, but misplaced. The assassins are dead."
"Three of them are dead," he corrected. "One is still alive. And the man who sent them isn't going to give up. The next group might be professional enough to concentrate on their target. As I said, you were lucky this time. If these men had done what they were supposed to do, and focused themselves on eliminating you instead of being distracted by trying to deal with me, you wouldn't be alive right now. I couldn't have stopped them. I can almost guarantee that the next group won't miss." He paused. "And I'm not particularly concerned for your welfare. If they had tried to take you on the street outside I wouldn't have stopped them. It was fortunate for me that they made the attempt here."
"Fortunate for you?"
He shrugged. "They tipped their hand by doing so. You know something very important, and I'm going to keep you alive long enough to learn what it is."
The gnome returned from his errand, holding a few sheets of paper. He handed them to Reanyn, who began leafing through them.
"You think it might be something about the Raver," guessed Tianna.
"Probably not, though I wouldn't rule the possibility out." He stopped leafing long enough to take a good look at one of the papers, then continued. "Whatever it is, it's important, and that's enough to interest me. Knowledge is power, especially in my business. I assume you have a ship docked here?"
She was thrown by the question. "What? Yes, I have a ship."
"Any personal belongings you don't want to leave?"
She shook her head. "Nothing I really need. One or two items I'd rather not leave behind."
"Too bad. You're in danger here, and I'm not letting you risk your head over 'one or two things'." He took one of the papers and passed the rest back to the gnome. "Right now I've got some other business to attend to. In the meantime, you will wait here. Lucian will look after you."
"What other business?" she asked as he left.
Not turning, he held up the paper he had selected. "One of the men I just killed was wanted on three worlds. I'm going to cash him in."