Jack spotted the man almost immediately, but it took several moments before he placed the face.
He was stationed on a cross alley opposite diagonally from the brothel, well back in the shadows, and he watched the assassin pass. He was a big man with hard eyes, but he neither spoke nor moved from his place. Likely he thought Jack wouldn’t be able to see him, standing motionless in the darkness.
It wasn’t the man’s presence that alerted Jack, nor even the predatory gleam in his eyes. This was Syrrus B after all, with killers and worse lurking in the shadows on every street. One cutpurse waiting in an alley was hardly enough to alarm Jack, even if he happened to be straight across from the brothel Jack had selected as a hiding place.
But Jack had a memory for faces, and he had seen this man before.
The trouble was that Jack had seen a lot of people before. In a lifetime that spanned millennia, he had seen faces of every variety and shape, and it was his experience that everyone had a twin, whether it was a distant ancestor or a close relative, or a total stranger.
So he passed the man in the alley, already sorting through faces mentally, trying to place him. And he had nearly reached the whorehouse before he realized where he had seen the man before.
Instead of entering he continued past, heading to the end of the street and taking a left, doubling back.
* * *
Anders shifted slightly, a tiny itch creeping up the back of his shin. He ignored it and kept his place, well back out of the street. His instructions had been clear. Watch and wait.
If there was one thing Anders was good at, it was waiting. Born and bred on Syrrus B, he had grown up in the warrens on the bad side of the city, where one misstep lead to death. Early on he’d learned the hard way that it was better to run with the local gangs and bullyboys than against them. But he’d always been big for his age, and even when he was young he’d been quick in a fight, and it wasn’t long before he found himself working under one of the biggest high-ups in the city.
Anders had never met Trytius face to face, and he didn’t want to. On three different occasions he’d met with Trytius’s personal illithid underlings and that was close enough for him. He wasn’t comfortable around any being which saw him as a food source. But whatever Trytius’s other faults, the mindflayer paid well, and Anders had always been loyal to gold.
As for Naldo’s story… well, the man was a weasel. Everyone knew that. But he did know Twilight Jack by sight, and even weasels got lucky sometimes. Anders had been sent to follow up on Naldo’s story, to watch and wait. More men would arrive shortly, even a couple of Trytius’s mindbenders. But until they did, Anders was only to watch.
And he was well content to do that. Anders had worked guard duty at the safehouse on Pendle St. It had been hit just after Ander finished his shift; he knew the three men who had died in the raid. Word on the street said that Twilight Jack had done the job, that and yanked the girl they had been holding. And if the assassin was that dangerous on his own, how much more dangerous was he when paired with the likes of Barundar and Nym, to say nothing of the Wayfarer?
So far there hadn’t been much to see. A couple of drunken dwarves had exited the whorehouse, and a tall elf had gone in, but that was it. Even the passing traffic had been scarce. In the last half hour, aside from the dwarves and the elf, only a mangy dog had wandered by, halting and sniffing in his direction before he threw a rock at it and sent it yelping on its way.
So he sat and waited.
There was a slight scuffing sound behind him, most likely a rat threading its way through the garbage. Anders turned, hoping to give it a kick as it scurried by.
“Looking for someone?” asked Jack.
* * *
“Where’s the assassin?” asked Barundar as Reanyn entered. The giff was sitting on the divan tersely, arms folded tightly. “Can we go yet?”
“We parted ways,” answered Reanyn absently, looking around. “He’ll meet me back here. Where is everyone else?” The only other person in the main room was the girl Selithera, who was still shrunken into a quiet little ball on the chair in the far corner.
The giff gave an angry snort and jerked his thumb. “Next room, with that miserable old man you sent Julian back with. And they can have him, so far as I’m concerned.”
“Did he learn anything from Windhook’s message?”
Barundar gave an angry shrug. “How should I know? I’m not in there, am I?” He shook his head. “No I’m not. Last I saw, the old fool was sketching something like mad. Probably just drunk and delusional, like always.”
Reanyn arched an eyebrow at the giff’s surly tone, but made no comment. Instead he went to the left and door that Barundar had indicated.
He found the Tianna, Nym, and Cantoule huddled around the table there. Julian was standing nearer the window, an amused smirk on his face. Tianna looked troubled, Nym looked puzzled, and Cantoule was grinning from ear to ear.
“Ah!” cried Cantoule as he opened the door. “I think I’ve got it. Give me a few good starcharts to match my figures and I can say for certainty I’ve found it.”
“Found what?” Reanyn asked carefully.
Cantoule threw his hands up. “Who knows? Not me. But it’s way out there, whatever it is.”
Nym was nodding. “If he’s right, we’re talking about something beyond known space.”
Tianna nodded. “Possibly. Cantoule’s configured orbits, rotations… it looks like Windhook left constellations for us to orient by, but nothing that matches any known sphere.”
Cantoule was nodding, still smiling broadly. “Oh, it’s a sphere all right. Numbers don’t lie.”
“Sometimes they do,” countered Tianna sharply. “If the person who writes them means them to lie. What if this is all some false trail Windhook set up? That’s a long way out in the Flow. Beyond known space. We’re just trusting that it’s one hundred percent – and it describes a Flow river that doesn’t exist on any chart I’ve ever seen. We follow it and we might not come back.”
“New spheres are discovered periodically,” said Nym. “We know that there’s a whole universe of them out there.”
“Discovered by exploratory ships, usually,” Tianna shot back. “Fully rigged and outfitted for the rigors of extended Flow voyage. Last I checked, the Nightwarder is a seven-ton ship. She wasn’t designed to support the number of passengers we’ve got even on normal voyages. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go; I’m just saying we should think it over very carefully before we commit to it.”
“Duly noted,” said Reanyn.
“And speaking of going,” added Julian a moment later, cracking his jaw open in a yawn, “when do we leave? I’m sick of sitting around playing dead.”
“Jack should be back soon,” answered Reanyn. “We’ll have to work out a way to get across the city without exciting suspicion. It’ll mean separating, but…”
Reanyn turned back towards the front door of the suite just as it opened to admit the assassin.
Twilight Jack entered quickly, shutting the door behind him. In one hand he held a gauzy bit of rolled up cloth.
Barundar glanced up at him as he entered. “What’s wrong?” he asked, seeing the purposeful look on Jack’s face.
“Trouble,” he said. “We need to make ourselves scarce.”
“What kind of trouble?” Reanyn asked coming fully into the room. Tianna was on his heels.
“There was a man across the street, staking us out. Apparently someone sold us to Trytius. He was alone, but there are more on the way.”
“How do you know that?” asked Tianna.
Jack gave her an unreadable look. “He told me before he died.”
“If Trytius knows we’re here,” said Reanyn, “he’ll try to take us with his own men.”
Barundar was already on his feet. “Finally some action,” he said, lifting his axe.
“Not quite,” said Jack. “We’ve got fair warning. If we move quick we’ll be gone before they get here.” He thrust the silky cloth into Tianna’s hands. “Put this on.”
Startled she unraveled the bundle, revealing a filmy, low-cut dress. “What the hell is this?” she asked. “Some kind of negligee?”
“I took it from one of the prostitutes downstairs. It should serve.”
She gave him a disbelieving look. “You’ve got to be kidding. You expect me to wear this?”
Jack shrugged. “We’ve got a lot of people to move, and we’ll need to cross half the city. If we split into smaller groups it’ll be less likely that Blackthorne’s men will pick up on us.”
“Right,” said Nym, reaching for his arquebus, which was propped against the wall near the doorjamb.
“Not like that,” corrected Jack, taking the firearm before Nym could reach it. “The arquebus goes with the giff.” He crossed the room in two quick strides and handed it to Barundar.
“Me?” asked the giff, startled.
“Him?” echoed Nym.
“I never heard of a giff without a gun,” said Jack, “and I never heard of a dracon who carried one. So the giff carries the arquebus.”
“That leaves me without a weapon,” pointed out Nym.
“Not really, since you’ll have the axe.”
Barundar looked dubious. “My axe? It’s never left my side before.”
“Well it’s leaving it now. I want everyone to look as unidentifiable as possible, and I don’t think anything would stand out more than a famous pair of bounty hunters who use unorthodox weaponry. Hand it over.”
Grudgingly Barundar handed his axe to Nym, who took it awkwardly with his unbandaged hand.
“Another thing,” said Jack to the dracon. “Get that sling off. And put a coat on to hide those bandages.”
“He’s injured!” protested Tianna.
“I’m okay,” said Nym, slowly and painstakingly easing the sling off. He flexed his arm painfully. “If I’m easy on it, the wound won’t bleed through. With a coat, I should be able to carry it off. I’ll miss my arquebus, though. You said we should split into smaller groups?”
Jack nodded. “The elf girl with the Wayfarer; Julian, the old man, you and the hostage girl; and the giff goes with me.”
Barundar and Nym exchanged a glance. “Nym and me fight better together,” said the giff.
“You won’t be fighting,” countered Jack. “Unless Blackthorne’s men recognize you. Which they will if you’re paired together.”
Reanyn nodded. “Makes sense. Nym, you’re in no condition for battle anyway; you can barely lift that axe. Just look menacing and no-one will bother you.”
Nym flashed a grim smile, baring his fangs. “Don’t worry about me; I’m a professional.”
“That’s good,” said Jack, “because I’m entrusting Selithera to you, and she’s our hostage for Timoth’s good behavior.”
“And how’s that going to work, exactly?” the dracon asked. “I mean, do we just hand her over and hope Timoth keeps his word?”
“Actually I’m counting on Timoth not keeping his word,” said Jack. “But the girl is still important; I don’t want any harm to come to her, at least not yet.”
“Then don’t hand me over to him,” said Selithera, speaking up for the first time. She was still huddled in the corner, and her voice quavered, but she swallowed and continued on, hardly daring to meet anyone’s eyes. “He bears me nothing but ill will. I lied when I… when I said that he would pay you for returning me. I am nothing to him.”
“Apparently you’ve underestimated his fatherly concern,” said Jack, “because he’s willing to pay a fair amount to get you back. If he keeps his end of the bargain I’ll keep mine. Now get up from there; we’ve got limited time.”
“But… I mean… couldn’t I go with you? Instead of with him?”
Jack shook his head. “This isn’t a game, girl. You’re with the dracon and the old man. I don’t have time to babysit you.“
“Don’t worry, my dear,” said Julian. “I’ll be with you, never fear.”
“No-one’s bothered to tell me why I have to dress up like a prostitute,” put in Tianna.
At the same moment Cantoule spoke. “By ‘old man’ I assume you’re referring to me? But I haven’t agreed to go anywhere with you, much less skulk in shadows like some abyss-spawned fugitive.”
Jack gave him a flat look. “You still serve Tyr?”
“Of course I serve Tyr!” Cantoule said indignantly.
“And Tyr still needs donations?”
Cantoule gave him a suspicious look. “Well… yes, donations are always welcome.”
“Then if you aren’t above taking a donation for Tyr, you’ll go with the dracon.”
Cantoule snorted. “Humph. Don’t think your fancy talk and lying goes any way to sway my decision, assassin. Tyr’s work can’t be bribed; I’ll go, but it isn’t to help you out any. There’s a whole new sphere out there filled with Tyr’s wonders, waiting for his light. You couldn’t keep me away with a stout stick.”
“May I ask exactly where we’re going?” interjected Julian mildly. “You and the Wayfarer seem to have some plan worked out between you, but the rest of us are in the dark.”
“Different places,” said Jack. “You’ll be leading Cantoule and the dracon to the broken tower that overlooks the docks. You remember me pointing it out when we arrived?”
Julian nodded hesitantly. “I do, but I’m not certain I can even find the docks from here, much less that tower.”
“I’ll get us to the docks,” said Nym, wincing painfully as Barundar helped him button his coat up. “You just get us to the tower.”
“Remember that the entire area is going to be crawling with Blackthorne’s men,” warned Reanyn. “Don’t even think about going near the Nightwarder.”
“That’s why I paired them together,” said Jack. “Of the four, the only one that Blackthorne’s men will have a description of is the dracon. Paired with the others, he’ll have less chance of being recognized.”
Nym nodded, then took up Barundar’s axe. “Heavy,” he said, hefting it with his good arm. “So, we’re off to the broken tower. Where are the rest of you going?”
“Somewhere else,” said Jack matter-of-factly. “You just lie low there and wait.”
“You aren’t going to tell me where you and Reanyn are going?”
Jack shrugged. “It’s a simple principle. What you don’t know can’t hurt me.”
Nym considered. “Alright then. We stay to the tower. But remember you’re traveling with my partner there. Any harm that comes to him, you’ll answer for.” His tone was almost friendly, but there was no mistaking the threat in his eyes.
Jack’s face was expressionless. He met the dracon’s stare, but did not answer.
“Right,” said the dracon. “Well, if we’re going to go, let’s get moving.”
“One moment,” said Jack. He pulled one of his starwheel pistols from its holster and presented it to the dracon butt first. “In case there’s trouble. You can fire with your off hand?”
Nym took the starwheel. “I don’t have an off hand.”
“Well, I’m still not wearing the dress.”