The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic) (6 page)

BOOK: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic)
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“Clear!” Grid called over. She helped an old woman who’d fallen down back to her feet, a kind gesture that would also bring his
yvkefer
gauntlets into contact with her bare skin. She failed to assume any kind of monstrous form.

“Clear,” Scale called, and then, “Captain, Glass—see this.”

Nystin lowered his mace and waved for Hex to answer questions as all the civilians started shouting. He walked over to the table where Scale stood.

Half the cups at the table were still full. Two cups of tea, one water, kahvas, and some crazy civilian crap with a ton of whipped cream on it.

Glass stepped forward and gently touched the tea, then leaned over and looked at it closely. “Bags are still in, but they’re steeped to different levels. Still hot.” He dipped a finger to the water, put it to his mouth, and then spat. “Spring water, magically created. None of that little taste you get from the stuff up here on the Spire.” He looked at the floor, bent down, and came up with a few coins. “Ordered drinks to their table, then left money and didn’t wait for change.”

“They were tipped off.” Nystin ground his teeth and rapped the wall with the heel of his fist. “Question everyone in this room and get me a damned lead.”

“The Knights of Gedesar?” Loch said while jogging down the street toward the docks. “I thought they were a myth.”

“Keep running.” Captain Pyvic, commander of the justicars and Loch’s significant other, glanced back.

“Why are they coming after us?” Tern asked, holding tightly to Ululenia, who had returned to unicorn form. Icy jogged alongside them with apparent ease, while Hessler panted and tried to keep up. Kail was up ahead, checking each corner before they passed. “I’m not magical!”

“Your team has enough magic in it to take out the average town guard or team of justicars.”

“But they’re military.” Loch chewed on it, still jogging. “They answer to the Voyancy, and Bertram was on my side not a half hour ago.”

“I’m guessing someone doesn’t much care what Bertram wants, then.”

Loch looked over at Pyvic. “Wonderful timing, by the way.”

He shook his head. “Would’ve been here sooner, but I had to deal with getting you cleared for departure. Dumb luck I heard about the intel request and got tipped they were coming for you.”

She shot him a smile. “Thanks.”

He didn’t smile back. “I want to help.”

They crossed a plaza, prompting startled glances and delighted screams from the children at the sight of a unicorn. “You can do more up here at Heaven’s Spire than down there breaking laws with me.”

“I know.”

“I’m going to need intel.”

“I know.”

“You don’t need to get yourself arrested or killed out of some kind of . . .” She broke off. “You know.”

“I hate this,” he said, panting now. He’d burst into the kahva-house at a run to get them out the back to safety. He’d likely run all the way from the justicar station. “Bertram’s setting you up.”

“Looks that way. Got a better idea?”

“Find out what’s so damn important about
The Love Song of Eillenfiniel,”
Pyvic said without missing a beat. “Nobody would go to war over a single work of art.”

“Probably easier if I find the book first.”

“I might be able to help with that, too.”

The group reached the cargo docks where Kail had docked the airship. Hessler and Tern had cleared them there instead of at the passenger docks in hopes of avoiding attention. At this time of day, it was busy, with shirtless sweating workers loading crates onto massive cargo freighters. Pallets of crates that had just been unloaded were lashed down. A daemon-powered crane picked the pallets up with a great hook and lowered them gently into wagons, where they could be driven to warehouses. Their little passenger airship, a quarter the size of the freighters, stood out like a nightgown in an armory.

Loch stopped by the great domed hangar that offered airships protection from the elements when they weren’t in use. Everyone else was still with her, although Hessler had gone from red to white and would likely pass out if asked to do anything more strenuous than walking. Ululenia returned to human form and cupped his head gently, presumably using magic to help.

“If you like, I can suggest cardiovascular exercises to improve your endurance,” Icy said.

“I’m . . . fine . . . just . . .” Hessler wheezed a little. “Never . . . liked . . . running.”

“Kail, Tern, get us cleared to depart,” Loch ordered. “Icy, Ululenia, make sure the Knights of gods-damned Gedesar aren’t already behind us. Hessler . . . breathe. Pyvic, the book?”

As the others headed off, Pyvic jerked his chin at the registry house. “All departing ships have to state a destination. It’s the same for every major port in the Republic. Let me pull out the Justicar Captain badge and wave it around a little.”

Loch nodded gratefully, and Pyvic jogged off. The dockworkers were giving her group funny looks, and Kail and Tern were dealing with several large and angry men who were apparently unhappy that a small passenger airship had been occupying a prime cargo dock for the past several hours. As Kail seemed to have the matter in hand, Loch let them deal with it.

“Hessler,” she said, and he looked up at her, some color finally back in his cheeks.

“Sorry. Exercise makes me perspire, and—”

“Listen. I need you to do something for me.”

Hessler pulled himself as close to upright as he ever got. “Name it.”

“Pyvic thinks there’s something important about
The Love Song of Eillenfiniel,
and I think he’s right. The Republic and the Empire wouldn’t just go to war over a single book.”

“Well, technically, it’s a figurehead being used in place of fundamental disputes over resource allocation—”

“Hessler,” Loch said, and he shut up. “I need you to research it.”

He blinked. “But what if you need an illusion?”

“We’ll manage.”

“I’ve been expanding my skillset, too,” he added. “I do a nice blast of fire now, and I’m about fifty-fifty on transmuting inanimate objects into things of equal mass!”

“This is more important. Hit the libraries, the scholarly papers, whatever it is people like you hit.”

“Well,” said Hessler, frowning, “there are a number of historical dissertations written on elven literature, given the elves’ purported connection to the ancients, and the doctoral defenses often reveal—”

“Right. That,” Loch said, just as Icy and Ululenia came back around the corner, eyes wide.

“The pack has our scent,” Ululenia said, “and though they do not bay at the moon—”

“Got it. Kail, Tern!” Loch called over. “How are we coming?”

The two were already up on the deck of the passenger ship, although several of the workers were still yelling at them from the dock. “All aboard!” Kail called.

Loch sprinted past the dockworkers and up the gangplank, Icy close behind her. A small white dove landed on the deck and shifted into Ululenia. Back at the entry area, men in black armor came around the corner with maces and crossbows raised.

Tern looked up from the helm. “Where’s Hessler?”

“Different assignment. I’ll fill you in later. Let’s go.” Loch ignored the look Tern shot her and kept her eyes on the men. They were headed toward the airship.

Kail pulled back the gangplank, and Loch took a few steps back and out of sight as he took the helm back from Tern. “Okay, let’s give our daemon a little nudge, and—”

The airship rocked, sending everyone stumbling. Loch looked up. The great balloon overhead was distended, bulging out as though something were punching it from the inside.

“What did you
do
?” Tern yelled.

“Me? I didn’t do anything!” Kail hammered at the console. “It’s
never
done that before!”

The dark-armored men were halfway across the dock. “Now would be good, Kail.”

Kail turned another dial, and something inside the balloon growled and hissed. Again, the balloon lurched, sending the airship rocking.

“Isafesira de Lochenville!” came a shout from down on the dock. “Surrender immediately or we will take you down!” A grappling hook came sailing over the side of the ship and caught on the railing. A moment later, another joined it.

“Hell. Fix it,” Loch said to Kail. She drew her sword, stepped to the railing, and chopped through one of the ropes. A crossbow bolt whizzed past her face, and she ducked in case more followed.

“I’m working on it! This is in no way normal!” Kail shouted back as the balloon distended overhead.

“Is it going to break loose?” Loch yelled. “That looks a lot like the balloon that time the daemon tore free and ate Jyelle!”

“That daemon did us all a favor,” Kail muttered and pounded on the console. “This one’s just pissing me off.”

Tern darted to the railing, hunched over, and fiddled with her lavender lapitect’s robes. Underneath them, Loch saw, she wore her usual brown crafter’s dress with its many pockets. She lifted her crossbow and fitted a bolt in place.

“You continued to carry your crossbow all this time?” Icy asked, moving past her and grabbing hold of another grappling hook.

“Nobody has ever been
sad
to have their crossbow with them.” Tern peeked up and fired a shot down at the dock. As she did, Icy reached out and caught an incoming bolt inches from her face. “Aaaaand thank you.”

“It was nothing,” Icy said modestly, and freed the other grappling hook with his free hand.

Purple smoke poured out from the spot where Tern had fired, and Loch heard the sound of coughing, even as another bolt thudded into the side of the airship inches from her. The balloon above her head growled, and more grappling hooks latched onto the railing.

Loch reached the first one just as a dark-armored knight pulled himself over the railing. He came down in a fighting crouch, readying a war mace whose head was tipped with crystal.

Loch took that in as she charged him. He had time to raise it before she slammed him into the railing. As he staggered, she hooked an arm under his leg and heaved him off the ship.

A few yards away, another knight rolled onto the deck. Ululenia pointed at him, and her horn flared. Instead of repeating a nonsense phrase and falling over, the knight whipped out a dagger and flung it without hesitation.

Icy caught it mid-leap, fell into a roll, and came up between the knight and Ululenia. As the knight went for his mace, a crossbow bolt tipped with what looked to Loch like mud slammed into his helmet, rocking him back and covering his visor with the viscous material.

Loch stepped in, knocked the mace from the knight’s hands, rattled his helmet with a hilt smash to the temple, and shoved him over the railing as well. “Kail!”

“Almost got it, Captain!” Kail’s yell sounded a bit panicked, but then, it often did.

As the knight crashed to the dock below, she saw more of them climbing up the rope, and others closing in. One knight down on the dock simply stood at the edge of the cloud of purple smoke Tern had made, arm raised to point directly at her. His helmet, dark like that of the others, was emblazoned with the half-lidded eye of Gedesar in red.

“I’ve killed a lot worse than you, girl,” he called up to her.

Then, beside him, one of the dockworkers approached the cloud of purple smoke. As he did, a dark knight stepped out of the smoke with dagger drawn. Without hesitation, the knight stabbed the worker in the throat. The worker fell back, clutching his throat, and stumbled into the smoke, where he disappeared.

The reaction on the dock was immediate. The dockworkers, who had up until now been watching with interest but doing nothing to interfere, shouted in alarm, grabbed anything lying nearby, and charged. The first of them reached the knight who had stabbed their fellow dockworker and swung a crowbar hard.

It went cleanly through the knight, although he
seemed
to reel from the impact, and then he fell back into the smoke and disappeared. Loch looked back at the edge of the hangar, and saw Hessler crouched by a stack of crates, concentrating.

As the knights and the dockworkers brawled, their leader stood unmoving. One of the workers grabbed him, and the knight backhanded the man without looking.

A moment later, a pallet full of crates slammed into him, sending him skidding across the dock with sparks flying from his armor.

Lock looked at the crane that had swung the pallet, and then at the control station.

Sitting at the controls, Pyvic met her gaze, nodded once, and smiled.

“Got it, Captain!” Kail yelled. “Everyone hang on!”

“I love you, too,” Loch murmured as the airship pulled away.

With shouts and smoke and crossbow bolts trailing after them, they left Heaven’s Spire.

 

Four

A
S ONE OF
the port cities, Ros-Oanki saw enough trade and enough travelers to merit a standing justicar presence. Justicar Fendril had been stationed there for years.

Justicars on Heaven’s Spire traveled everywhere in the Republic, pursuing threats that nobody else could handle. They went after enemies the town guard couldn’t (or wouldn’t) hunt and chased creatures into the forests where no laws held sway.

And if that weren’t enough, sometimes there was politics to contend with.

Here in Ros-Oanki, Fendril dealt with the guards in cases where the question of authority was tricky—a criminal who’d committed a crime in Ros-Sesuf, but fled here, for example. He kept tabs on the guards themselves as well, along with government trade officials who might not be above bribery.

It was slow work, dull even, and as far as Fendril was concerned, it was just perfect.

He opened the day’s mail in his office a block away from the guard center. There were three notes for wandering criminals to watch for, one of them politically tricky enough for him to keep for himself rather than pass to the guard. There were two more notes, requests for information from a justicar in another province. Finally, from Heaven’s Spire, there came a request to check airship travel logs for an Urujar woman, Isafesira de Lochenville.

The name sounded familiar, though Fendril couldn’t quite place it. He made a note to check the logs on his next visit to the port registry.

Finally, he checked his message crystal for anything that was a high enough priority to merit the expense of transmitting a message via magic rather than carrying paper down from Heaven’s Spire on an airship. According to regulations, he was supposed to do that first, but anything that came via message crystal was political, and Fendril had gotten himself exiled down to Ros-Oanki to avoid that.

It looked like he had failed in that regard.

With a sigh, he pressed his thumb to the crystal and opened the message waiting there.

“This is Captain Pyvic,” came a voice from the crystal, and Fendril grimaced. That
definitely
meant politics. “All port cities, I need any available information on an elven ship that departed from Heaven’s Spire a few months back, during the malfunction up here. It would have listed a purchased book as its main, possibly only, cargo. Get me a destination or last sighting and respond by crystal. Pyvic out.”

Fendril grunted, sipped his kahva, and headed out for the port registry. At least he could look for anything about the Lochenville woman while he was there.

The city streets were safer than they had been in years, thanks to the death of Jyelle, the woman who had controlled most of the organized crime in the province. Fendril smiled as he strolled through a wealthy market square that hadn’t seen anything more than amateur pickpocketing in months. A pretty Urujar couple looked through pamphlets for land rights off near Woodsedge. An elderly woman whose billowy dress marked her as a merchant from the Old Kingdom across the sea bartered with a tavern owner for one of her expensive and brightly colored rugs. A group of fat merchants sat outside a kahva-house sipping and passing notes back and forth with the bored faces of master
suf-gesuf
players. An Imperial woman in a rich violet dress haggled for passage on an airship while her bodyguard glared at anyone who approached, one hand on his shining ax.

The port registry was a sturdy building not far from the airship docks, large enough to store a lot of files and even more money. The registrar, Maera, was a middle-aged woman Fendril had flirted with a bit before realizing that she really liked trade-and-travel regulations more than Fendril would ever like her. She ran her office with ruthless efficiency, which Fendril supposed he could appreciate, even if it meant having to grit his teeth and sign more paperwork than he’d had to deal with in the old days.

Fendril stepped into the front office, a bell on the door ringing as he came inside. “Afternoon,” he called to the clerk at the desk.

“Justicar.” The clerk was a young Urujar man with straight light hair that he wore long in the back. He gave Fendril a friendly nod. “Help you with something?”

“If you’ve got time.” The office was empty, which was fortunate this time in the afternoon. “One urgent, one standard.” Fendril reached for the information request form.

“Of course.” The clerk grinned. “It’s always something. Don’t worry about the papers today. It’s quiet, and Maera’s off for her afternoon kahva.”

“I’d appreciate it.” That was
also
fortunate. Perhaps Maera was getting friendlier. Fendril passed over his notes, and the clerk went into the back room to pull the travel records.

There was a new rug on the floor, he noted as he waited. It was bright orange, and didn’t match the rest of the room.

“Found it.” The clerk stepped back into the main office, his hands raised to show that they were empty. “Without the forms I can’t write anything out, you understand, but I found what you needed. Nobody by the name of Isafesira de Lochenville has docked here, and that elven ship listed its destination as Ajeveth. Hope that helps.”

“Immensely.” Fendril passed the young man a coin for his trouble. “Have a good afternoon.”

He left the office, the strange new rug squishing under his boots. The bell rang as he pulled the door open, then again as it closed behind him, and Fendril stepped out into the afternoon sun, looked at the smiling people, and remembered right then that Maera didn’t drink kahva.

The rug vendor from the Old Kingdom had empty slots in her shop-wagon. Her other rugs were gold and green and . . . yes, there was another that was the same shade of orange.

Maera didn’t drink kahva. She would never have bought that garish rug for her office . . . and she wouldn’t have let her clerks give out information without Fendril filling out the proper request forms.

Fendril sighed. He was getting close to retirement, and it would have been so damnably easy to just keep walking.

He looked around. The market square was largely the same as when he’d gone into the registry office. The Imperial woman’s bodyguard with the big ax caught him staring and shot him a glare. Fendril looked away and walked as casually as he could around the corner.

In the alley next to the registry office, the shadows were cool. It was clean, with a recently emptied trash bin and a side door that servants could use to come in.

Before he forgot, he activated the message crystal. “Justicar Fendril, reporting on urgent request for information on whereabouts of elven ship bearing a book. Last known destination was Ajeveth.”

With that done, Fendril pocketed the crystal and looked around. He squinted at the door and caught the slight irregularity in how it hung in place. He glanced back out into the street, and then crept closer to the door.

When he got close, the freshly scarred wood on the frame was obvious.

Quietly, very quietly, Fendril pushed the door open.

In the back room, Maera lay dead, her head nearly severed from the rest of her body. The bodies of two men in sailor’s clothes lay next to her, one with his chest caved in and the other with a broken back. Chopping weapon, and a heavy one at that, the justicar in the back of Fendril’s mind noted. Not enough blood in the room. Whoever did this would have kicked in the side door and come in, then cut Maera down elsewhere. Probably the main office. A pair of sailors waiting to fill out forms, so they had to go, too. Big pool of blood, but the rug covers it up neatly.

“I feared you were too wise to miss it,” came a woman’s voice from the doorway to the main office. Fendril felt muscles in the back of his neck tighten as he looked up.

An Imperial woman stood there, smiling sweetly with lips that had been painted green. It wasn’t the woman he’d seen before, in the violet dress. This Imperial woman wore green-painted ringmail, and a pendant with a great golden butterfly hung from her neck, matching the makeup that trailed in a curving pattern from her eyes. “Tell me, Justicar, do you wish to know how they died?” she asked.

Fendril knew two things for certain right then.

He knew that the woman would not have asked that question if she didn’t stand to gain something from it, because people who went around killing port officials didn’t just make idle conversation. With that in mind, he was absolutely certain that he did not want to answer her.

And second, he knew that the woman was not carrying a very large chopping weapon, which meant that she had either extremely powerful magic or someone else who
did
have a very large chopping weapon, and both of those options meant that Fendril should run like Byn-kodar himself was after him.

He darted back, and the Imperial woman hissed and grabbed for him. He stumbled, knocked the door open with his backside, leaped back as she launched a circling kick at his head, and came out into the alley.

Fendril turned to run . . . and a crushing pain slammed him to the ground.

“You were sloppy, Shenziencis,” came a quiet, polite voice.

He realized distantly that the voice wasn’t talking to him when the Imperial woman said, “He did not speak, Thunder. We have limits.”

Fendril fought to roll back to his feet, and instead managed to groan and flop. A great armored hand closed upon his shoulder and dragged him across the ground. A moment later, the door closed.

“Did you get the information?” the big male voice asked as a great pressure pinned Fendril to the floor. It was the man’s booted foot. He was wearing a great deal of armor. “The princess grows impatient.”

“Ajeveth,” the woman, Shenziencis, said, “city of the dwarves. That is where we will find her.”

“Good. Then let us leave.”

Fendril’s vision was clearing, and he groaned again. When he opened his eyes, blinking through the tears, he saw the big Imperial bodyguard standing over him with his enormous ax rising up over his head. His foot crushed down on Fendril’s chest, making any real struggle impossible.

“Wait,” said Shenziencis, and had he been younger and more optimistic, Fendril would have thought he had a chance. But he had seen the woman’s smile as she stood over three dead bodies looking at him, and that wasn’t the smile of someone who would spare Fendril’s life just because he was already helpless.

“You and the weapon of the ancients had the others,” said Shenziencis, and smiled her emerald smile. “Leave this one and the clerk to me.”

Fendril couldn’t fight. He couldn’t escape. He could barely move.

His hand was tucked under him, near his pocket. He fumbled weakly. The Imperial bodyguard’s blow had left his whole body feeling the pins-and-needles sensation of a limb that had fallen asleep.

His fingers closed around his message crystal, and he tapped out a signal every justicar knew.

He kept tapping it as Shenziencis bent over him, the curling golden makeup around her eyes drawing to points like fangs. She leaned in, and her emerald-painted lips mouth opened far wider than should have been possible, her jaw swinging free as she closed down upon him . . .

“The real problem,” said the young man passionately, “is that females just don’t appreciate nice guys like me.”

Desidora, priestess of Tasheveth the love goddess, sighed very quietly on her side of the divider that blocked her view of the gemcutter’s son on the other side of the consulting booth.

“So,” she said, “just as a tip, before we get to the actual advice: I think you’re going to have more luck if you avoid using that word to describe women.”

Desidora wore pale green robes emblazoned with the silver smiling lips of her goddess. The smiling lips were regulation. The robe she had chosen to suit her tan skin and auburn hair—priests of Tasheveth were expected to look good while fulfilling sacred duties like mentoring the lovelorn.

“Oh, I don’t
call
them that,” the young man said. “I would never be cruel to any woman. I just want to love them and show them how beautiful they are, but they’d rather go out with jerks instead.”

BOOK: The Prophecy Con (Rogues of the Republic)
10.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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