“I don’t know if he was telling the truth or not.” I was telling Baen as we made our way through the side alleys of Lion’s Arch. Both of us were limping, bruised, bloodied, but fortunately none of our injuries would have any real lasting impact. “He was definitely lying about something, but I think that goes without saying.”
“He’s scared of Tatianna though.” Baen said, Grapple licking her palm as the beast whined in what I assumed passed for concern. “I’m pretty sure that much was true at least. And I don’t think pirates frighten that easily.”
“Let’s just play it carefully.” I said. “I don’t want to antagonise her if we don’t have to. We’ve built a degree of trust now, let’s not squander it until we have to.” Baen looked at me for a moment, then shrugged. “Besides, whether she killed her father or her family or whatever doesn’t change anything for us.”
“Not sure I’d be able to trust anyone who’d turned on their family.” Baen replied. “But whatever you say. Just keep your head in the game, alright?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know what it means – stay focused on why we’re here.” She said. “Now come on. We’re running late as it is.” I considered pushing the issue, gritting my teeth, then instead let out a quiet sigh.
“What do you think Tianne’s going to do with him?”
“Sahir? Probably interrogate him some more.” Her tone was casual, dismissive. “Maybe try and flip him and reintroduce him to the world here as an informant. He’s not without talent.”
“Good riddance.” I said.
“Pretty sure we won’t see him again, and if we do it’ll be a long time from today.”
“Maybe.” I replied. “I would like an opportunity to settle the score though. I’m sure he thinks he beat us, and that doesn’t sit so well with me.”
Baen looked at me for a moment, then grunted wordlessly in response.
We made our way through the streets, moving as quickly as we could with our aching bodies, trying to avoid moving directly through the crowds and drawing attention to either our disheveled appearance or my milky eyes. The latter was fixed in short order when Baen had me wait while she dragged an out-of-place young dandy into an alley and relieved him of his tinted spectacles. They were silver, a little too garish for my tastes and barely dark enough, but in the coming night they would suit our purpose well enough.
I wished we had the time to do something about my torn clothing or the bruises on my face – not to mention the rest of my body – but it was a small matter. The only people we would have to deal with were Tatianna and her crew, and the bruises were almost expected given that they had known we had gone after Sahir.
We had agreed that we’d meet them at the corner of yet another street – Mariner’s March, where it crossed with Soesbee Lane, somewhere nearer to the centre of the city. When we reached the spot, however, we were found by an urchin armed with our descriptions, telling us that a “big grey charr” was waiting for us at a nearby tavern. We agreed to let the child lead us to it, staying on guard, but we allowed ourselves relax when the familiar sight of Fotti leaning in a doorframe of a disreputable looking tavern came into view.
“It seems the two of you had an encounter from which you did not emerge as the victor.” Fotti greeted, mouthy as ever as we shooed the waif off with a copper. “That is to say you look about as ugly as ever. Now come along, Coalpaw is waiting.”
“Only Coalpaw?” I asked, brushing aside the insult as we followed her in. In truth I felt rather ugly at the moment, but this upstart didn’t have to know that. “Where’s Tatianna?” Fotti didn’t answer, instead leading us to a corner table behind a privacy screen where Coalpaw sat, tucked into a chair that was far too small for his bulk.
“Kaede, Baen.” He greeted gruffly. “You two look a little worse for wear. Sahir put up more of a fight than expected?”
“Close enough.” I muttered, sitting down across from him.
“Last time you two showed up you’d just run into our monster.” He said, his expression serious. “What happened this time? Sahir?”
“Monsters.” Baen shrugged. “Plural.”
“More accurately undead minions.”
“Undead? What?” Coalpaw’s eyes went wide. “Risen?”
“No, a necromancer’s pets.” I said, and the two looked visibly relieved. “They attacked us while we were interrogating Sahir.”
Briefly, we recounted an abridged version of what had befallen us. Naturally, we left out Tianne – replacing her with a wandering Lion Guard who’d arrested the pirate while we slipped away in the confusion – and when we had finished Coalpaw shook his giant head.
“This is bad.” He said, his expression dark. “Things have gotten a little more complicated out here, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Someone tried to kill Levaunt. He’s put the The Cloven Maiden out in the bay and is apparently planning on staying there.”
“And with your attack on Sahir, Levaunt’ll no doubt come to the entirely logical conclusion that we are behind the attempt on his life.” Fotti went on. “His crew of miscreants will be after us in force, that is assuming that he doesn’t use his considerable influence and coin to turn half the city against us on his behalf instead. I believe thanks are in order for bringing this down on us.”
“Ease up on the accusations.” Baen snapped, Grapple adding a low growl to her words that resonated up from beneath the table where the fernhound lay. “We had no idea someone was going to try and off Levaunt today. The Mis is obviously starting to take things a little more seriously.”
“If you two-”
“Enough.” Coalpaw growled, and Fotti fell into an abrupt, glowering silence. “The captain didn’t check in last night, and that’s my main concern. Levaunt be damned for now.” Something in my gut curled into a tight knot.
“What do you mean?” I asked, Baen giving me a sidelong look. “What happened to her?”
“We have a safe house, one that no-one knows about but a few of the crew.” The charr said. “She was supposed to check in last night before dawn. She didn’t.” His expression and tone were grim. “And that’s not like her.”
“You must have backups for this sort of thing.” Baen reasoned.
“Of course.” Fotti replied haughtily. “We had several contingencies in place should any one of us fail to establish contact. However, she’s not utilized any of them.”
“So she’s missing?” Baen sighed. “That’s just wonderful.”
“We got a few of the crew looking for her, but the captain was specific in that she didn’t want them involved.” Coalpaw said. “The fewer people involved the less risk to them.” There was active worry in his tone now.
“So we hit Sahir, are hit by a necromancer, someone tries to kill Levaunt and Tatianna goes missing all at once?” I asked.
“The Mis.” Baen said. “Hitting all of his enemies at once.”
“We focus on Tatianna for now.” I said, turning my head back towards Coalpaw. “Any theories?”
“A few.” He rumbled. “Some less pleasant than others.”
“Such as?” He was stalling, clearly not wanting to say what he thought.
“Levaunt.” He said after another long moment of hesitation. “Levaunt might have captured her.” He let out a long breath that shuddered somewhat as it escaped him, clearly trying to ignore the possibility that his captain was dead. It made sense, and I’d been thinking the same thing. “She would be a perfect insurance policy against any future attempts on his life.” He went on. “If he thinks she put the hit out on him, having her as his prisoner is the best way to protect himself from the assassin. He’d hold on to her, keep her alive as living proof that she’d not be making good on any promise of payment. Then, when word spreads that the contract was dead…” He trailed off.
“It lines up with Levaunt deciding to hide out in the bay – it’s not a long term solution and he knows that.” Baen said. “But if he only thinks he needs to do it for a little while, that makes sense.”
“Right.” I said. “So, working with the assumption that he’s behind it, is there any way to be sure if he has her?” I asked, but Coalpaw was already shaking his head.
“Not without him announcing it, which he might do after a few days, but we can’t wait that long.” He said. “Best we could do is comb the dock for witnesses, see if anyone saw the captain boarding The Maiden. I’ve already got a few of the crew on that, if she passed through there someone will know.”
“She does tend to stand out a little.” Baen said dryly, and she gave me a sidelong look, the meaning of which I decided I didn’t want to know. “But what about grabbing one of his crew and squeezing the information out of them?”
“From what I’ve heard boats are going out to The Maiden but none of them are coming back.” Coalpaw said. “Anyone who’s still here won’t know what’s on the ship. It’d be days before we learned anything. We have to get aboard.”
“Levaunt is or will be doing his utmost to exterminate us.” Fotti said. “And there is little to no chance we could possibly approach his vessel without being noticed, even if we did find credible reason to believe the captain was aboard.” She sniffed derisively. “We need to be certain and when we are certain we will need to formulate a plan before we make any moves.”
“We don’t have time for that.” I said, somewhat surprised at my own vehemence. “If Tatianna is aboard we save her, if she’s not we learn what we can from Levaunt. Either way we get something – we have a why, we just need a how, and we need to act now. It’s only a matter of time before we’re attacked again.” I pressed. “And I’d rather go after Levaunt and miss than sit around and wait for that.”
“There’s no official hit out with your names on it, none that I’ve heard anyway.” Coalpaw said, as if trying to reassure us. “But with the two you getting attacked by minions… murder for hire strikes me as something that’d be up a necromancer’s alley.” Baen gave me another clandestine look, and I gave an invisible nod.
“I think the necromancer was after Sahir, not us.” I said. “The minions practically ignored us, went straight for him.”
“The Mis cleaning up loose ends.” Baen said.
“Or Levaunt purging his ranks.” Fotti said, drinking from a tankard that seemed ridiculously large in contrast to her diminutive frame.
“If Levaunt owns the contract, then he wouldn’t be hiding on his ship.” Baen shook her head. “Why would he put a contract out himself?”
“Well maybe there is more than one contract!” The asura snapped back.
“Two hits being issued at the same time?”
“Does seem like a bit of a stretch, especially if we haven’t heard of either of them.” Coalpaw agreed, his tone troubled. “I’m more concerned about what this might mean for the captain. She’s got just as much history with Levaunt’s crew as Sahir does. If he’s the target then it doesn’t matter if Levaunt or The Mis is the one behind the hit – the captain will be on the list, and they’ll be after her.” A low growl, probably involuntary, came from somewhere in his throat. “We need to find her. Now.”
“Easier said than done.” Baen muttered.
“I’m going after The Maiden.” He said, his massive claw balling into a fist, and again I felt that twinge of a feeling that was slowly becoming more and more familiar. “Kaede is right, either Levaunt has her or he might know who’s behind this and playing the subtle game hasn’t gotten us anything so far.”
Perhaps Baen was partially right. I had to admit I did feel something whenever I saw Coalpaw or even Fotti act like this. I’d felt it, faintly, whenever one of them talked about Tatianna, or when their captain looked at them in a particular way. It’d come in a hot rush, harsh and bitter, when Coalpaw had run off to save Tatianna. Much as he wanted to do now.
“Wait.” Baen said, reaching forward and putting a hand on Coalpaw’s forearm as he began to rise out of his seat. “Nothing’s changed – she’s in just as much danger as she was before you knew this. Sit down, take a breath and let’s talk about this. We need a plan.” He glared at her, she glared right back, clearly not intimidated. “Calm down; we’re not going to be able to help anyone if we run off without one and get ourselves killed. You said you’ve got people at the docks? We’ll start there.” He hesitated, his expression calming somewhat.
“What good will that do?”
“Look, Tatianna would have put up a fight, right?” She said. “Enough to cause a ruckus, particularly if someone was actually trying to kill or capture her.”
“Of course.” He rumbled. “Aside from me she’s probably the best fighter on the crew. She’d see an assassin coming from a mile away.”
“And she can clearly handle herself, so it’d be a fight that people would notice, right?” Baen went on. “There’d be witnesses, chatter. So we do what was said earlier – go down to the docks, comb for witnesses. If we learn that she’s on The Maiden, great, we’ll go after her. If we don’t, we can play the odds and go or we can spend our time looking for her elsewhere. Make sense?”
“She does seem to have a reasoned approach.” Fotti said, interrupting the silence that had fallen.
“Fine.” Coalpaw said, breaking eye contact with Baen. “We do it your way.”