The White Badge of Deceit; Chapter 10

The denizens of the inn were just as Twitch thought they would be. A few people near the entrance to the room glanced over to see who the newcomer was, and then went back to their own meals, drinks, and whispered conversations. Twitch looked around the room. In a corner booth under the staircase his eyes settled on a cloaked figure. The man was dressed in a plain brown hooded cloak, and he had the hood pulled up. He was drinking a large stein of beer, and whether or not he had seen Twitch was unclear. The elf headed over to the booth.

Tossing his baggage and bedroll into the empty seat opposite the cloaked figure, Twitch said “Well, fancy meeting you here.” He pushed his gear against the wall and sat down. “What’s new in the neighborhood?”

The figure across from him looked up. The reason for the indoors hood look was obvious from where Twitch was sitting. It wasn’t a human at all, but an orc. Not just any orc either, but a swamp orc. His eyes glowed a deep red when cast in the shadow of his hood. His grin revealed a lot of sharp teeth. “Allo, ol buddy…. What name ya using this time?”

“Taimblore.” replied Twitch. He smiled back at the jor.

The jor laughed, low and deep. “That one again. Good times, good times.” The jor motioned for a server to bring his companion a beer. Twitch noted that there were no women in this place. No barmaids, no female guests, nothing. Just men. That explained the unpleasant smell in this room.

A scroungy young man with scruffy facial hair and an unkempt appearance came over and clunked a stein of beer down. Twitch took out a copper coin and spun it on the table. The server watched the coin spin for a while then snatched it up and walked away.

The elf took a drink of beer. “I might need your help. Are you here reliably?”

The jor nodded his head. “Aye. And I can be anywhere in this city that you need me, but not in the daytime. Geldenreich doesn’t take kindly to goblinoids.”

Twitch nodded. “Understood.” He took another drink. “I’ll bear that in mind.” He looked around the room. “Do you stay here?”

Laughing, the jor nodded his head. “I have a room in the cellar. The owner and I have an understanding.” He took a drink as well. “You can stay with me down there. Separate entrance, and all right behind the stable. Nice and dark.” He quietly laughed again.

“Sounds dreadful. I’m in.” Twitch said with a snicker. “Tis good to see you again, Malek.”

The jor smiled. “Come on, elf. Let’s get you squared away downstairs.” With that he grabbed the bedroll from across the table and like a terrifying shadow vanished through the door to the kitchen and out the back of the inn. Twitch followed him with his saddlebags over his shoulder. The two comrades went down the stone stairs and Malek unlocked a small ironclad door. He opened it, and held it open for Twitch, then locked it again from the inside.

The elf cast a cantrip spell, and a tiny flame danced on the end of his thumb. The room was fairly good sized, and had a couple of beds among some barrels and crates. The jor lit a lantern and hung it from the low ceiling. He pointed at the bed on the other side of the room.

“That’s you, ol pal. I wouldn’t sleep if I didn’t have to. Rats.” He tossed the bedroll onto the bad he had pointed at. “Course they don’t bother me none. I like all of my rat friends.”

The two men laughed. Both were happy for the others’ company. This was indeed a strange land, and having a familiar face around was refreshing. True enough, there were also plenty of rats in this cellar. Malek sat on his bed, pushed back his hood, and tossed a bit of bread to one of them.

“That one I call Cyril.” He said offhandedly. “If you go out, take him with you. When you let him go, he’ll come back here and let me know you need me, right?”

Twitch looked at the rat, and then back at Malek. “Alright. Sounds easy enough. He have a bag or something for toting….?” his voice trailed off as he realized this was absurd.

Malek laughed, and not quietly.

“So just tuck him in a pocket then.” Said Twitch with a laugh. “Oh, very fine. Say there, is that a rat in your pocket or do you need a vase?”

The two men roared with laughter. Twitch began to spread out his belongings on some crates next to his bed. He was going to need to wear his stealthy attire for this evenings activities. He unrolled his bedroll and left it on the bed. There, rolled up with it, was his black cloak. It had a very special hood, that when secured hid everything but his eyes. The sleeves could be bound up with black cords to prevent loose cloth from snagging on anything, and the cloth itself was very difficult to discern in the dark. It wasn’t magical but it was very cleverly made. It also wasn’t the sort of thing that a law abiding person would possess.

He turned his peasant pants inside out, revealing that they were made of the same black material on the other side. The effect was that he all but vanished even in slight shadows. He secured his boots, donned his gloves, and tucked his stiletto into the sheath on his calf. He turned to look at Malek, and held out his arms as if to say “how does it look?”

“You’ll need a proper sword, Twitchy.” The jor said with a chuckle. “Mine are too distinctive. Dead giveaway that yer up from the swamps.” He paused and thought for a second. “But them guards that patrol the middle part of the city, they has what ya need.” He smiled. “Short swords just for the taking. They might not wanna give it to ye, but if yer quick, they might not even notice.” He laughed again.

“Right. Something to look forward too.” Twitch went towards the door. “I’ll be back by morning. Be a pal, and cover the lantern while I exit.”

Malek got up to unlock the door. Twitch motioned for him to stay. Malek shrugged and took down the lantern, covering it with his blanket. In the darkness he heard a very subtle metallic sound. Then a faint click. The door opened, and then closed. The click again. Malek took the blanket off of the lantern. The elf had picked the lock. The jor dug in his pocket and felt the room key still there where he put it. Yup, he had picked the lock. Sneaky elf. The swamp orc laid back on his bed, held up the lantern, and blew it out. He set the lantern on the floor next his bed and fell into a light slumber. He wasn’t worried about Twitch. Not tonight anyway.

Out in the darkness of Debreken, the crafty bard had already made his way across the squalid ramshackle lower-class part of town and found himself right against the outer wall. He decided to start his examination of the city by looking at how good the security was at the first gate he encountered. He moved quickly, and with eerie silence along the base of the wall, leaping from shadow to shadow wherever light happened to spill out from the buildings nearby or from the torches on the wall above. It was doubtful that anyone above would spot him unless they were peering over the side of the wall. And that didn’t seem very likely.

The first gate he encountered was very well kept. It was open, but there were four guards here. They had a well-lit portal to watch, and not one of them was snoozing or goofing off. In another hour these outer gates would be locked down. If they were all watched like this, then over the wall was his only way in. That, or try to fit through the bars that kept intruders from swimming up the river.

Twitch back-tracked a ways and found a corner where the wall met a square tower. This wasn’t a particularly challenging climb, and almost immediately he made his way to the top. He carefully peered over the wall. He heard voices in the tower, and the torches along the wall illuminated the rampart. Twitch couldn’t see over the parapet on the far side. He listened again. The voices in the tower were not close. He decided to risk it and hopped over the wall and on to the rampart. Swiftly he moved to the other side of the wall and looked over.

It was a long drop but again nothing too serious. He saw that there was an open door at the base of the tower on this side. He didn’t dare drop down there. He moved as quickly as he could, hunkered down to avoid being spotted, along the wall back towards where the gate was. About midway there he saw a good place to shimmy down the wall, and he took it. He landed like a cat, on all fours, silently. There hadn’t even been a “swoosh” as he cut through the air.

The elf moved quickly and found a good spot in an alley to look around at the streets around him. This was a considerable city. He would be hard-pressed to make it from the cellar he was based in, to the innermost area he had to work in, in any decent amount of time. Certainly not at this rate. He would have to find a faster route to do this.

He decided to make a dash for the inner wall. It was several blocks away, and the streets here were far better lit. Twitch had to make a few breathless dives into doorways to avoid the people that were out and about this evening. Nobody seemed to notice him, and he continued to work his way towards the wall.

This wall was far tougher to scale that the last one. He didn’t even bother checking the gate security. He slipped on his climbing claws, and attached the cleats to his boots. This spot was a lot like the last, a corner where the wall met a large round tower. There were magical light orbs mounted on metal poles off of the top of the tower, so he would certainly be visible. He paused and considered the option of magic. Would a spell set off an alarm? One way to find out. Twitch cast invisibility as quietly as he could.

He vanished; and no bells went off. Not that he could hear at least. He looked around once more, and then began climbing. With the tools it was not much of a challenge. But without magic it would have been a very tricky climb to make undetected. He reached the top, and had to poke his head in through a large arrow slot. He wouldn’t fit through this opening but he could get a sense of what the top of the wall looked like. It was a roofed-over rampart with slots at regular intervals to allow archers an excellent firing location on either side of the wall. But how to get over? The only way Twitch could see was to toss a rope over the roof and scale it fully. Unless a person could turn into a gaseous form, there was no shortcut here.

Twitch braced himself in the corner with his legs and carefully dug out his rope and grappling hook. He swung it once, and cast it up and over the roof. He heard it clink against the stone on the other side. He felt the swing lessen, and quickly drew the rope taut. It held. Taking a deep breath he then swung out from the wall and quickly climbed up the overhanging roof to the peak. He shook the rope a little, freeing the hook, and yanked it back. Catching the hook in his hand, he quickly coiled the rope and stuffed it back under his shirt.

There were no lights up here on the roof, so Twitch set out along the peak of the roof and followed it down and around the wall as it curved northwards. He looked at the buildings in the inner sanctum of the city. The gates here were very well guarded. There was also more activity in this part of the city. The wealthier citizens enjoyed more of a nightlife than did the rest. Twitch felt the invisibility spell wear off. He continued moving north and the wall began to curve to the east.

He made his way past the towers and gate-keeps by inching along the edges of the mostly decorative roof as it worked around the various structures that lay in the wall’s path. He was able to identify a number of important buildings. The cathedral was wondrous almost beyond description, made of shimmering white stone and imbued with magical lighting that made the entire edifice come alive. The governor’s palace was almost as stunning, but far more utilitarian in design, and Twitch could note several fancy carriages gathered in the courtyard outside. And of course, the main keep was as imposing a fortress as Twitch had ever seen.

But something caught Twitch’s eye there in the courtyard outside of the palace. He stared long and hard to make sure he was seeing things correctly. There could be no doubt but that he was. He smiled.

He had been lied to. Oddly, however, it did not matter. Twitch had known something about this mission didn’t add up, but he knew that whatever the stories were to get him here and to get the job done were irrelevant. All that mattered was results.

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