Sahir had shown up, as promised, the following afternoon, several hours past noon. I wasn’t entirely sure how he’d known what room we were in, but I knew that for someone with Levaunt’s resources it was impossible to keep anything like that a secret from him for long in this city.
The pirate had been smiling his usual smile, teeth flashing on his handsome face when Baen smashed him on the back of the head with a balled fist, dropping him to the floor like a sack of meal.
“No new faces downstairs.” I reported as I returned from the hallway, having gotten just close enough to the stairs to use the eyes of the patrons in the common room. “I think he actually came alone.”
“I suppose that’s what happens when you’ve got someone like Levaunt watching your back.” Baen said as I closed the door. “You get cocky.”
“Idiot.” I muttered. “Come on, let’s get started.”
I wasn’t difficult for us to drag him down the empty hallway to the Gilded Anchor’s cellar. The innkeeper looked studiously the other way no doubt musing on the bag of coins we’d handed over in exchange for his discretion. It wasn’t much by my standards, but the art of bribery was Baen’s forte so I hadn’t questioned her when she’d said the few silver was enough.
We dropped Sahir’s comatose form in a chair, bound him and stuffed a rag into his mouth, locking the door to seal him in with us.
“This place is decent.” Baen mused, rolling her shoulders to loosen them in preparation. The dark space was illuminated by three candles set in the corner, and with their tenuous light she could just make out the messily stacked shelves of supplies, primarily wine and food stuffs.
“It’ll do.” I muttered. “Just get him awake.”
Baen produced a small bottle of thick, sturdy glass and pulled the stopper out. Immediately a sharp, acrid odour flooded the dank cellar, and when she held the opening under Sahir’s nose he started awake with a muffled yell.
“You’re tied to a chair in a basement and you’re about to be asked some questions.” I supplied. “If you don’t answer the questions, this goes from conversation to interrogation. If it goes to interrogation, there’s a decent possibility it’ll go to torture.”
“That’s all your choice.” Baen added, crossing her arms. “We’ve paid off everyone within earshot, so I wouldn’t rely on screaming for help.”
“That being said, we’d really rather you didn’t scream.” I said, noting our captive’s vision was swimming, fading in and out. “Come now, Sahir, don’t pass out on us.” His vision darkened, and I drew back my hand and slapped him hard across the face. “Wake up!” He came back with a groan, and I leaned down to put my hand on the gag. “Now you’re not going to scream, or yell, or anything like that, alright?”
“And don’t puke, Sahir.” Baen warned, stepping back quickly as I pulled the gag free. “Or if you do, don’t puke on us.”
“I’d prefer it if he didn’t stink up the room.” I agreed. “Now, are we going to do this nice and easily?”
“I…” Sahir closed his eyes, gave a long groan, then forced them open with visible effort. “You two are insane.”
“I’d suggest you speak when spoken to.” Baen warned. “We saw you yesterday, after our little meeting with your boss.”
“Tell us about the creature.”
“The… creature?” Sahir looked back and forth between either of us. I understood what he was going through right now, the confusion and the haziness clouding his thoughts after returning to conciousness.
“Come on, Sahir, we need you to focus.” I leaned in close, putting my face only a hand’s span away from his, more to get his attention than anything else. “Believe me when I tell you that you want to stay awake. Now, the creature. What do you know about it?”
“The creature.” He blinked a few times. “What are you talking about? Why would I know anything about it?” I backhanded him again, and he swore, spitting blood. “Dammit woman, I don’t know anything about it.”
“We saw you.” Baen snorted. “Keeping an eye on Levaunt’s pet.”
“What?” He looked at her, then back at me, eyes wide. “I was following you. Levaunt wanted me to keep an eye on you after our little meeting, to make sure you were really going after Fiegrsonn and not running straight back to Tatianna.”
“And what did you see, exactly?”
“I saw you go into his house and your chase across the rooftops.” His mouth split into a bloody smile. “Impressive moves from the two of you. Especially for a pair of supposed rookies. Where’d you two learn that? I recognise military training when I see it.”
“We ask.” Baen said. “You answer.”
“I don’t know anything about the creature.” He shook his head, his expression somber. “I swear on the Six that I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“Well I suppose we should just take your word for it.” Baen drawled sarcastically. “Can I hit him now, Kaede? I don’t want you having all the fun.”
“He does have a very hittable face.” I acknowledged with a smile. “But try to leave him conscious, alright?” Baen grinned and stepped forward. “Brace yourself, Sahir. She hits a lot harder than I do.”
“I’ll bet she does, scrawny little thing like you. She-” I balled my fist and caught him across the jaw, and intensely satisfying brilliant lights flashed in his vision. Baen lowered her arm, turning to me with a sigh.
“Kaede, that was supposed to be my jaw to break.” She complained.
“It’s not broken.” I said, rubbing my pained knuckles. “You may still have your chance.”
“Okay, I sit corrected.” Sahir muttered, spitting more blood. “Maybe you do pack a punch.”
“What’s Levaunt’s endgame?” I asked, looking down at him.
“What’s he want?”
“He…” He looked back and forth between us again, his eyes narrowing. “He wants Tatianna back. He wants The Covenant back. You know that.”
“Why?” I pressed. “What’s so damned special about her and her ship?” He stared at us again, then a smug smile broke out on his face.
“You have no idea who you’ve hitched your wagon to, do you?” Sahir laughed.
“Answer the question.” I snapped.
“The Covenant has never lost an engagement. She’s engaged ships far out of her class and come out without taking a single hit. She’s fast, highly maneuverable, has a double-layered hull. Frankly, she’s one of the greatest ships ever made, and Aurcattio’s the one who designed her.” He shrugged. “Isn’t that enough reason to want someone like that on your side? Her and her ship?”
“That’s not all of it.”
“No, it isn’t.” He agreed. “But Levaunt doesn’t tell me everything either.” There was a faint, almost undetectable note of bitterness in his voice. Sahir was tough, that much was obvious, but he wasn’t trained to resist interrogation.
“Not as high in his master’s confidences as we’d hoped.” I said. “Maybe we should just kill him and be done with it? He might not be as valuable as we thought he was.”
“I doubt Levaunt would really mind.” Baen said. “He did let him come here alone.”
“With that beast on the loose I wouldn’t let any of my people travel by the themselves.” I agreed. “He’s apparently expendable.”
“Levaunt’s pet monster protecting his hounds. Poetic.” Baen leaned in close to Sahir. “All you have to do is bark, dog, and we’ll let you go back to your master and his leash.”
“I don’t know anything about the creature.” Sahir muttered.
“Yes, we’ve heard that one.” I sighed. “Tell us about Levaunt’s plan. What’s between him and The Misericorde?”
“War.” Sahir said flatly. “We’ve been fighting him tooth and nail since he got started a few years ago.”
“And you’ve been involved in it since the start?”
“More or less, when I’m not out on the Maiden.” He shrugged. “But I’m Levaunt’s first mate.”
“And what do you know about The Misericorde?”
“I know that you’re working for him.” He said. “Or at least doing his work for him. Like the creature.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“With me gone, The Mis loses an enemy.”
“That explains the games.” I said with a smirk. “Levaunt’s afraid of looking weak.”
“Guess he’s losing then.” Baen added with a shrug. “Puts you in an interesting position, doesn’t it Sahir? How long till you turn on your master, Sahir?”
“Unlike some people, I believe in loyalty.” He snapped back.
“Really?” I smiled. “And how loyal do you think your master is to you?”
“Maybe he’s naive enough to think he’s indispensable.” Baen said. “Wouldn’t that be cute?”
“So what’s Levaunt’s game plan?” I asked. “How’s he planning on winning this war?”
“You expect me to tell you?”
“Only if you know.” I sneered. “And I think you don’t.”
“You’re his first mate, aren’t you?” Baen snorted. “And yet you don’t know anything about it, do you?”
“That or Levaunt doesn’t have a plan.” I added. “Might be arrogant enough for that.” Sahir’s expression remained closed, unyielding, so I changed tactics. “Baen, if that creature doesn’t work for Levaunt, then I suppose it only stands to reason that it’s working for The Miscericorde.”
“‘S about right.” She answered.
“How many of those ‘accidents’ that befell The Miscericorde’s enemies are the work of this monster, I wonder.” I went on. “Feigrsson went first, because he was working with Levaunt. Next’ll be someone closer to him – crew members will start to go missing. Probably with no rhyme or reason – a bosun’ll be just as likely as a cabin boy. Terror tactics.”
“Or a first mate.” Baen supplied, and Sahir snorted. “Save the captain for the fifth or sixth kill, let the crew get nice and panicked. What makes you think you’re safe, Sahir? What makes you think Levaunt is safe?”
“How long before he dies, Sahir? How long before you die?” I leaned in close again, relieved that our captive seemed to be more hygienic than most pirates. Beyond the general stink of sweat and the faint odour of salt that anyone who spent long enough on a ship apparently carried around with them everywhere, he didn’t reek. In fact, I had to admit that he was fairly well groomed, even somewhat handsome in the way that lower born men sometimes were. “You saw what that thing did out there. Do you honestly believe that you can keep yourself safe from it?”
“You two really like the sound of your own voices, don’t you?” Sahir said, shifting in his bonds. “Can I just leave you to it and tell Captain Levaunt you said no to his offer? Or would you rather just kill me? Either way this is not going to end well for you.”
“Before we even consider that, answer one question.” Baen reached down to grab him by the collar with both hands. The corded muscles in her arms tightened and she lifted him, chair and all, till his feet could barely scrape the floor. His eyes went wide, shock at Baen’s monstrous strength apparent on his face. “When you came here today, was it your idea to come alone, or was it Levaunt’s?” He blinked at that. Baen let go of him and his chair crashed back to the ground. She snorted, disgusted. “He’s either bait or a sacrifice.” I nodded.
“Levaunt sends him out alone; either he gets killed by the monster or we kill him and Levaunt has a way to legitimize a war against Tatianna. Otherwise, we say yes, join his side and give him what he needs to take her out. Either way, he gets her ship and gets to come out looking like a rule-abiding criminal.” I said. “If The Covenant is everything this idiot here says it is then I’d bet that Feigrsonn was going to hand it over to Levaunt anyway. He could patch it up, sell it or go back to raiding with it, and that’d help him against the Misericorde.
“Clever, for a pirate. A way to make the most out of a bad situation when he heard that Feigrsonn was dead.” Baen agreed, looking Sahir up and down. “And this is the pawn.”
“I’m not sure what use-” I started, but Grapple, nearly forgotten where she dozed in the corner, suddenly raised her head with a growl. Her ears went back, bramble teeth flashing in her muzzle as her full attention became fixed on the cellar door. Baen looked questioningly at me, but I shook my head. Anyone on the far side of the door would have been easily within my range, and I saw nothing.
“What’s the matter, girl?” Baen knelt beside the growling fern hound, stroking her ears. “What is it?” My hand was on the butt of my pistol, and with Sahir staring at the door we slowly became aware of the sound.
It was very faint at first, a creaking accompanied by what sounded like a wet gurgling, much like the last noises a man with a slit throat would make as he fell. It grew steadily louder, drawing closer, thumping towards us.
“Baen.” I said, and she nodded, stringing her bow and nocking an arrow in a smooth, practiced motion. “No eyes.” I said, trying not to reveal too much to our captive, but my partner’s nod told me she understood. She drew back on her bow, broadhead aimed at the door, and let out a long breath. My pistol left its holster, and using the unwitting Sahir’s eyes, I aimed it at the door, the hammer going back with a satisfying click.
Something heavy slammed into the door, and it buckled under the impact. Baen’s bow creaked. The wet gurgling was clearly audible now, and I forced my hand steady and trying to shake just how much this was unnerving me. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t see through the eyes of whatever was on the other side of the door. It couldn’t be the monster, but for a moment I was reminded that Tianne had fooled me once before with a blindfold. If anyone else discovered my secret, who was to say that they wouldn’t devise a similar method?
“Untie me!” Sahir hissed. “I can help!”
The door buckled beneath another blow, then cracked and collapsed inwards in a burst of broken boards. Something dark and shapeless tumbled through, accompanied by one of the worst smells I had ever been assaulted with; the stink of decay and putrescence, of bloated corpses and sea-rotten flesh.