Though it was rife with the baser elements of Lion’s Arch’s society, I had to admit The Old Woman’s Road was becoming familiar to me, and there was an odd sense of security here. Neither Coalpaw nor Tatianna were waiting for us at the end of the dusty road as per our agreement, but since the sun was barely setting Baen and I took to waiting in the shadows of a palm tree as the light faded and the gloom of the Krytan evening set in.
We’d taken a quick moment before leaving the alley to inspect our injuries, and in truth I had been surprised that the bruises on my midsection weren’t as dark or painful as I had expected them to be. It had been pure luck that the tail swipe hadn’t cracked or broken any of my ribs, and though my arm was a bloody mess where it scraped along the ground, the wound was largely superficial – more damage to my sleeve than my flesh. It burned with a dull pain, but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t ignore it. Baen seemed equally uninjured in contrast with what could have been, with only a slight limp to show she’d been in a fight at all.
In my mind, I was already planning how best to fight the beast the next time we were confronted by it – and I was certain we would be. I knew that when it came to an open battle I would not be able to hold back for discretion’s sake if I wanted to have any chance of killing the thing. The creature had fallen when we had shot it, it just hadn’t stayed down. Two arrows from Baen and a pistol shot from me had not been enough to kill it, but everything had a limit. If one bullet wasn’t enough, I wanted to see how emptying every chamber would work. With Baen‘s help, I was confident that it could be done, and the thought of it evoked an unexpected feeling of excitement in me.
“Coalpaw’s coming.” Baen said, interrupting my fantasies. “With Fotti.” I touched her shoulder in acknowledgement, brushing my hair back behind my ear and realising just how hot the evening was getting. “No Tatianna.”
“She’s probably already inside.” Baen grunted in response, pushed off the tree and greeting the two with a nod.
“Kaede, glad to see you’re alright.” Coalpaw rumbled. “Brave thing you did last night.”
“Your performance was sufficient.” Fotti begrudged, crossing her arms. “If reckless.”
“Had to be done.” I said, taking a moment to realise they were talking about my chasing Fiegrsonn the previous evening. It seemed like it had been weeks ago to me with what had happened in between.
“No, it didn’t.” Coalpaw snorted. “And it was about as stupid as it was brave.”
“That’s what I told her. Well, the stupid part at least.” Baen shrugged. “Kaede’s not the best at listening.”
“Fiegrsonn’s dead.” I said, cutting in.
“What?” Coalpaw blinked, his expression momentarily very human in its surprise. “You actually killed him?”
“Almost.” I said, keeping my voice low. “I had a chat with him, that’s all, then I was interrupted by his bully boys. He told me Levaunt’s the one who sent him to The Covenant the other night, and in exchange he’d have his debt to The Misericorde paid off. All to make you come to Levaunt.”
“That bastard.” The charr muttered darkly, and I wasn’t sure whether he was speaking of Levaunt or The Misericorde, but decided it didn’t matter enough to ask since it applied to either. “Sounds about right though. Make us desperate enough to ask him for help, huh?”
“Something like that.” I went on. “I was interrupted before I could get more details out of him, so Baen and I decided to drop in on him this afternoon to finish what I started, but we found him and two of his men dead in his home.”
“Levaunt or The Mis trying to keep him quiet.” The charr reasoned, his expression grim, and Fotti grunted her agreement.
“That’s our theory.” I agreed. “But the issue is more what killed them.”
“There was… something.” I took a breath, trying to find the words. “Something neither of us have seen before.” Coalpaw arched an eyebrow and shared a look with Fotti. “Bigger than a charr, but kind of hunched forward like you are, sleeker though. Thinner, almost skeletal. We never really got a good look at it, but it had a head like… like a cat’s skull, maybe?” The analogy came to me suddenly, remembering the skull of a Vabbian lion that had sat on the mantle in my father’s study. “But with no skin, just exposed black muscle and fur or feathers or hair. Long tail, and there were whole sections of the body that seemed to… well… glow green.” Baen studied the two carefully as I spoke, and was rewarded when Coalpaw’s expression shifted from puzzled to sober to what might have been anger, and Fotti’s eyes went wide. Recognition. “We chased it, wounded it, but it got away. You two have any ideas?” The charr didn’t answer directly, but instead turned his eyes to his asuran companion.
“Fotti?” He asked.
“Assuming their description is even somewhat accurate – and I think it too precise to be a complete fabrication on their part – I believe it to be the same manner of creature, yes.” The asura said, her tone hard, angry. “It matches my recollections, limited as they are.”
“You’ve seen it before?” I asked. “What is it?”
“We don’t know.” Coalpaw rumbled. “But it sounds a lot like something Fotti and I have seen before, yes.”
“That’s none of your-”
“Calm down, Fotti.” Coalpaw silenced his bristling companion with a gentle pat on the back that nearly sent the asura tumbling forward. “If they’ve run into the thing, it might be best that we share what information we have. If it’s back…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “But not now. We need to get the pendant to Levaunt, then we’ll tell you everything.”
“Even after the whole mess with Fiegrsonn?” Baen asked. “You still want to honour our side of the agreement given that Levaunt’s the one who set us up?”
“We’ve no choice.” Coalpaw said. “I don’t like it any more than you do, Baen, but we’re running low on money and if we don’t get moving with this deal we’ll be down to nothing soon. So smile, act normal, and we’ll get through this. We’re going to have to pretend that we don’t know what Fiegrsonn told you.”
“Wait, Tatianna’s not inside?”
“No.” He answered. “The captain took the contents of strongbox you retrieved, minus the pendant, and is trying to quietly make a little coin off it. Not an ideal situation, but these are desperate times, and sort of people who would buy what she’s selling tend to respond better to a pretty human woman than a charr.”
“Besides that, the captain is an excellent haggler.” Fotti added, obvious admiration in her tone. “She entrusted us, and by extension I suppose that would include the likes of you, with the delivery of the pendant to Captain Levaunt.”
“Captain Levaunt is not here.” The giant norn said, the same one that been with Sahir when they’d dragged us to our meeting with Mishael. “As second mate, I speak for him.”
“Sahir not here either?” Coalpaw asked, looking the norn up and down with obvious disdain. “I’d rather deal with even him than with you, Ingesbror.”
“First Mate Sahir is also absent.” Ingesbror glared down at us, crossing arms so massive it almost hurt just to look at them. It was though his tanned, scarred body that was nothing but muscle, not unlike my first impression of Coalpaw’s physicality, but somehow even less palatable in such a humanoid form. It looked at though his skin should rupture with each movement. I had heard of women – indeed known some – who would have considered such a thing attractive but to me it was nothing short of obscene. “But since you come without your captain, I do not think you are in position to be choosy about who you speak to.”
“Fine.” Coalpaw shook his head. “You know about the agreement we have with your captain?”
“Yes, the pendant for trading rights.” Ingesbror nodded. “You have brought the pendant? I speak for Captain Levaunt. I can give you the rights.” Coalpaw considered this for a moment, then nodded.
“There are enough witnesses among your master’s crew here that I accept.” He reached into his coat pocket, slowly so as not to alarm any of the dozen pirates that surrounded us, and then held out a small locket on a golden chain, letting it catch the light as Ingesbror leant over to inspect it.
“Very well, First Mate Darrus Coalpaw of The Covenant.” The norn said formally, taking the pendant in a massive fist and tucking it into a pocket. “On behalf of Captain Levaunt of The Cloven Maiden, I declare our bargain to be complete.”