I allowed Coalpaw and Baen to assist me down the hatch and into the dinghy, trying not to vomit on either of them as I was lain down in the unsteady craft. The rocking of the little vessel did nothing for my nausea or headache, but I managed to keep from blacking out or further embarrassing myself as Coalpaw, Baen, and finally Tatianna joined us.
Coalpaw and Baen rowed, elbowing a complaining Fotti aside. Tatianna sat in silence, scowling into the darkness and answering questions with sharp monosyllables. Conversation overall was understandably sparse, for which I was grateful given my condition, and when the dinghy bumped against a rickety pier nearly an hour later I doubted more than two dozen words had been exchanged.
My balance was still shaky, but at least the pain in my head had shifted from a constant roaring excruciation to a throbbing ache with occasional spikes of agony. Nevertheless, Coalpaw again picked me up and carried me out of the boat, only lowering me onto my feet when we were on the sturdier wooden boards of the pier. Baen draped my arm over her powerful shoulders to keep me upright, and I stifled my complaints, knowing it would only make the humiliation worse.
I consoled myself with the knowledge that the embarrassment of being supported like this was better than the shame of tumbling off the pier a third of the way along. I couldn’t discount the possibility of such a thing occurring, and further decided that perhaps this was for the best if it meant infiltrating this world. Dependency, or at least the willingness to be dependent could lead to a form of trust.
“A bit more excitement than I’m used to for a first meeting.” Baen said when Fotti had finished securing the boat and joined us.
“I’d wager you two are the responsible culprits.” The asura said, pointing an accusing finger up at us. “Fiegrsonn chose tonight of all nights? At the exact point in time when you come to the captain with your illicit proposal? Seems far too coincidental.”
“It’s not them.” Tatianna cut in before either of us had a chance to respond. “There’s no way someone like Fiegrsonn could have got a hold of a thing like these two got. Not without me having heard about it.” Her voice was sharp, but more than that I thought there was something different about her voice. Some of the culture, the refinement had leaked out of it.
“And we only got here a week ago.” Baen lied. “Never seen this Fiegrsonn before in my life. Kind of wish I hadn’t.” She added, muttering. “Ugly bastard.”
“He’s not the prettiest.” Coalpaw agreed, giving a short laugh, but his tone quickly sobered. “Captain, why did he choose tonight?”
“Good question.” Tatianna shook her head. “Why’d he come at all? Stupid norn knows who we’re connected to. Why cause a ruckus?”
“These two are the only new factor worthy of consideration.” Fotti insisted, again jabbing a finger at us. “I don’t trust them, captain, and I don’t think you should either.”
“I never said I trusted them.” She looked at us, her expression flinty. “I just don’t think they’re responsible for this. Till we have good reason to believe otherwise, you’re to treat them as business partners.” She turned back at the asura. “And that’s the end of it, clear?”
“Aye, captain.” Fotti said grudgingly, crossing her arms.
“See, that’s why we still call you ‘captain’.” Coalpaw said. Tatianna looked at him for a moment, then her expression softened and a smile appeared.
“Fair enough, fair enough. We’d best be off.” She said, and her voice was as it had been, suddenly back to what I would expect from any member of high society. “They’re looking for a charr and three human women, so we split up. Darrus, Fotti, get word to the rest of the crew that they should lay low and stay away from their usual haunts. That includes The Winterbird, Darrus.”
“Don’t like the blasted thing much anyway.” The charr grunted. “Too frilly.”
“Kaede, Baen, I’d apologise for getting you caught up in this but I have the feeling you two understood that there’d be risks involved in this line of work.” Tatianna went on. “If you’re still interested in discussing our deal – and I am – then come to the northern section of the Western Ward tomorrow just after noon, look for what the locals call the ‘Old Woman’s Road’ and meet us at the end of it.”
“You’re just going to let them wander off? Perhaps I should-” Fotti began again, but a sharp look from Tatianna and she fell silent.
“We’ll be there.” Baen promised. “We got shot at today, and I don’t like getting shot at if I’m not getting paid for it.”
By the time Baen and I had made it back to The Gilded Anchor it was only a few hours shy of dawn. And though she seemed as indefatigable as ever I had faltered from time to time and been forced to rest before allowing her to help me stumble on. It rankled, but there was no choice. The sickness and dizziness had fortunately passed almost completely, but the pain in my skull was only slowly fading and my limbs still felt leaden, thick and clumsy. Fortunately, and to my enormous relief, the patches of fog in my mind had all but vanished. Though it almost physically hurt to think, my memories seemed mostly intact.
We had barely spoken on the journey, partially due to the fact I could scarcely muster the energy to stay on my feet and partially due to Baen’s unspoken worry for Grapple. Unlike the issue on the road with the dead couple, this I understood and even sympathised with. Baen had come back to camp one evening while on a mission in Kessex Hills, years ago now, with the strange creature in tow. Neither Elsif nor I had known exactly what it was, but saw no reason to dispute Baen’s decision to keep it.
“We’ll look for her tomorrow.” I said as he made our way up the stairs to our room. “Grapple, I mean.” Baen grunted non-committally.
“I’m sure she’s fine.” She said, unlocking our door and letting me stumble inside. “Like you said, she’s gotten out of worse before.”
“So, we discover a few new limits to that trick of yours.” My hand was at my pistol and Baen had her axe in hand as I suddenly became aware of a new set of eyes in the room, and my pounding head raced. How had they come so close? I had been aware of every set of eyes in the three rooms on the top floor the moment we had reached the top of the stairs.
Tianne Moravel lowered the band of leather from her face and smiled mockingly at us. Baen’s eyes narrowed as we both realised that the lightbringer had purposefully blinded herself, albeit temporarily, to test my abilities. With her seeing only blackness, my mind had simply not registered that there was another set of eyes in my range. “Very, very sloppy. Both of you.” She said, and I grit my teeth to bite back my instinctive response. “Both too reliant on the abilities of the other. You’ve an underdeveloped ability to function independently.”
Tianne crossed her arms and leant back against the wall. Having lost the coat she’d worn at Altar Brook, the lightbringer was dressed in dull, peasant garb, a simple frock of red and black that reached just below her knees. It made her look like a fairly nondescript, if attractive, serving girl or mediocre trader’s daughter.
“Mind telling us what you’re doing here?” Baen asked, locking the door with a scowl and sliding her axe back through the loop of leather at her belt.
“Oh, I was just in the neighbourhood so I thought I’d drop by for your report.” She shrugged. “You two look terrible. This town too much for you?”
“Hardly.” I muttered, in no mood to play games. “We’re in.”
“Oh?” Tianne arched an eyebrow as I sat down on the edge of my bed. “Because you look more like you wrestled a bear.”
“Close enough.” Baen snorted.
We explained what had happened, leaving nothing out. She interrupted us now and again with questions, but otherwise spent the time simply nodding as she listened, her expression drifting between calculating and unreadable. The involvement of Fiegrsonn and the Lionguard, seemed to pique her interest, but she gave no indication as to why, and as she coolly refused to clarify when I asked I was reminded that I was very close to hating this woman.
“So now we have the law on us as well.” I concluded, by this stage lying back on the bed while I spoke. “And we’re to meet with Tatianna again tomorrow.”
“Later today.” Baen corrected.
“Later today.” I agreed. “And that covers it.”
“Decent progress.” Tianne said after a moment with what I hoped was grudging surprise. “Proceed with the original mission, nothing’s changed. Under no circumstances are you to reveal your identity to the Lionguard – they’re not to be trusted. That being said, if you don’t have to kill any of them, don’t.”
“And if we do?” I asked.
“Then just make sure you don’t get identified as anything more than thugs. I don’t want to have to explain to the agent in command why we have that blood on our hands. I have contacts inside though, so I’ll see if I can get you any information on how much they know about you two.” She nodded to herself, apparently satisfied, and made for the door. “You’ve at least proven to not be entirely useless so far.” The lightbringer tossed over her shoulder. “Try not to mess that up.”