The White Badge of Deceit; Chapter 12

The morning sun couldn’t find its way into the cellar of the Ettin Chins Lodge, but Twitch awoke regardless, aware that it was light out even if he couldn’t see it. He cast a cantrip spell again, and once more the flame danced on the end of his thumb. He peered around the room. Malek had been awake for a bit, and was sitting on his bed rubbing his eyes.

“Yea ok, lemme light the lantern.” He reached down and used a match to light the oil. He snapped the glass down into place as the flame came to life. Malek stood up and hung the lamp from the hook in the rafter. “So tell me what you found in the dark.” He said as he sat back on his bed.

Twitch sat up and blew out the flame on his thumb. “This is a big city. Bigger than a map suggests. Also not an easy city to get around in.” Malek was nodding. “Found a lovely little address though. You know where the Relger Strasse is?”

Malek rubbed his chin. “Think so. Up on the north side, big street near the river.” Twitch nodded eagerly. “Alright, yea. I know where that is. I been here a couple of weeks, and out most nights lookin around. Yer right, not an easy place to move freely in.” He laughed. “Unless yer a rat.”

Both men laughed. Twitch continued “Ok, right off of there is an alley, signage says Unter Court 89. Can you be there tonight? I’ve a suspicion that I will need your skills. I’ve got to do some looking around this afternoon, and if things go poorly, there will be trouble. If there is, then that’s where I will go.”

“Aight.” Replied Malek. “I’m there.” He looked at the elf, and all trace of humor left his face. “You only get one, Twitch. We ain’t gonna die for this, ain’t gonna risk more than what we got in the ante.”

Twitch just nodded, and the two men sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, the elf stood and said “I have to change clothes, and get going with today’s festivities. It will be a very long day.” He smiled and the jor smiled back.

As the elf set about getting ready, the jor got dressed, putting on his hooded cloak and covering most of his face with a dark scarf underneath the hood. He took the key from his belt, and unlocked the door. He opened it, allowing the daylight to stream in down the stairs. “Lock up when ya leave, elf.” He said, and closed the door behind him.

Twitch just grunted and kept going through his things. He went through his scrolls that he had brought, and found the one he was looking for. He grinned and set it aside. The elf read through his spellbook, spending time reacquainting himself with the enchantments he might need today. He wasn’t taking his rope, but he would need his cleats and climbing hooks. He needed quite a lot of money, so he took his coin purse and filled it up with larger denominations of coins. He stashed his stiletto in the sheath inside his doublet. He would dress as the travelling bard today. Taking the scroll, he folded it carefully and tucked it inside his mandolin. Time to see the city under normal circumstances.

After making sure the cellar was locked, Twitch headed up the stairs and into the city. Unlike the deserted landscape late at night, the place was vivid, alive, and loud during the day. Here in the outermost ring of the city unskilled laborers toiled, livestock were sold, and incoming goods were warehoused for later distribution. Twitch kept a close hold on his belongings as he moved through the crowded streets. The last thing he needed was to have his life complicated by a sneak-thief.

He moved through the lower class section with relative ease, using his mandolin and its music to make his way. People tended to step back and listen to a musician of any skill, and Twitch was extremely skilled. He even managed to gather a few copper pieces before he reached the nearest gate into the next ring of the city.

Passage through the gate was so simple it almost pained him to think of the lengths he had to go to in order to get over the wall last night. The guards simply stood by, watching everyone that came and went, but stopping no one. They seemed almost bored. Twitch noted that there were a fair number of them, though. And that they were heavily armed and possessed fine weaponry and armor. Anyone that wanted to get through these gates had better be prepared for a fight if the gatekeepers wanted them kept out.

The middle section of Debreken was just as busy, albeit not as noisy. Here were the vast majority of the shops and markets that severed the citizenry. Storefronts were on the ground floor and above them were residences, sometimes two or three or even four stories tall. Skilled laborers had their businesses here, and in addition to the guards at every gate there were patrolling officials, lightly armored but carrying weapons, walking the streets to insure the safety of the populace. Twitch noted that they were almost as observant as he was, not just a casual glance-about kind of patrol, but greeting people by name and showing a strong familiarity with the community. Twitch found a shop that sold musical instruments and purchased a fine pair of mid-gauge mandolin strings for a very modest price. He asked the shopkeeper where he might find a paper merchant or book binder, and the shopkeeper happily obliged with excellent directions. Twitch would have to go into the very heart of the city for such expensive items as paper or parchment goods.

As big as Debreken was, and as busy a city as it was, Twitch made excellent time moving about through the maze of gates, walls, and twisting streets. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the layout of the city other than the strict demarcation of upper, middle, and lower class sections. Within those sections the boulevards and avenues made almost no sense whatsoever, giving every indication that the city had developed over a long period of time and that little or no thought had ever been given to any of it being easy to navigate.

The crossing to the innermost portion of the city, that which could clearly be deemed “upper class”, was easy but unsettling. There were more guards here than at the other gates, and the gates themselves were more complex. Entry was made through an actual gatehouse, complete with portcullis and huge ironclad doors. In addition to the same types of guards at the lesser gates throughout the city, there were also spellcasters stationed at these gates. Their appearance and garb gave them away immediately, and Twitch noted they did little to hide the fact that they were trained in mystic arts. A fine deterrent to keep those out that had some wickedness in their hearts. Unless the wicked had so much bravado as to simply stroll past, singing a lovely tune, and playing the mandolin. Just a delightful minstrel doing his small part to liven up the city.

This part of the city, the very core of Debreken, was not noisy at all. In fact music could be heard from many different buildings, no doubt the music lessons of wealthy children, noble women passing the time, and hired entertainers for the households that could afford them. Carriages pulled by fine horses were everywhere, and the patrols here were on a stunningly well-kempt war horses instead of just on foot. The streets were free of litter and debris. Buildings were finely painted and exquisitely decorated. Townhouses and mansions with small gardens dotted this district, with a few exceptional shops such as jewelers, goldsmiths, and book dealers.

On his way to the nearest bookshop Twitch went right past the enormous and awe-inspiring cathedral. He had to pause and admire it. The twin bell towers in the front looked to be carved from ivory, so smooth and perfect. The entire edifice was enough to take a viewers’ breath away. He stood across the square from it and just watched for a while. There was not a lot of traffic in and out of the sanctuary. The great front doors were open and he could hear choir music wafting out into the warm midday sun. Twitch turned and hurried along to the book seller. He had to get a move on if he wanted to finish this job.

He found the merchant he was looking for, and after browsing his wares for a polite while, Twitch purchased a very nice empty spellbook. It wasn’t the best quality money could buy but it did set him back seventeen gold coins. It was bound in a blue leather, some sort of minidrake skin by the feel of it. Twitch thanked the dealer, and headed back out towards the cathedral again.

While he walked he tucked the spellbook under the back of his tunic. It was an awkward fit, but it fit all the same. He didn’t seem to draw much attention, people round here had their own lives to tend to. He was glad for that. He didn’t want to draw unwanted scrutiny.

Twitch found a place across the square from the cathedral where he could watch and plot. He watched a soldier on a horse ride by. He looked over and Twitch nodded and smiled as he played his mandolin. The guard smiled and nodded back. Where Twitch was standing was in a shaded colonnade in front of the city hall. There was a good amount of people coming and going but he was far enough from the doors to avoid being bothered. He stopped playing, and reached into the mandolin. Pulling out the folded scroll, he looked around, and stepped slightly behind the column he had been leaning on. With lightning fast reflexes he opened the scroll and read the spell aloud in a low whisper.

This level of invisibility spell was well outside his ability to cast without using a scroll. As Twitch vanished the ashes of the spent scroll were picked up in the wind and scattered all across the square. The elf sprinted across the square, raced right up to the bell tower to the right of the great entryway, and with another spell cast, he began to climb like a spider right up the sheer face of the building. Completely unseen and silent, he scurried up the bell tower as easily as if he was running down the street.

It still took a few minutes to do, but he reached the open arch of the belfry and jumped in. He hadn’t a moment to waste if he wanted the spells to last long enough to safely climb back down as easily as he had climbed up. Twitch looked around the large room and spotted a trapdoor to a windowless room below where the bells were hanging here. He opened the trapdoor and quickly climbed down the ladder. Some light was able to filter in through the circular openings through which the ropes ran from the bells down to where the clerics and their staff operated them at the base of the tower. This room here was just a storage area for maintaining the huge bells. There was rope here, and some cleaning agents. The staircase leading down wound all the way inside the tower to the base with small ornamental window openings to allow light in.

This was the chamber Twitch was hoping to find. He went over to the wall, and there he placed his hand, still invisible. He cast his next spell. This was not a very complicated spell, but it left a glowing rune on the wall that pulsed for a minute and then magically faded. Twitch could still see it, but nobody else could, unless they were looking for it. Twitch then cleared space in front of this area, pushing aside old rags and some small kegs that had something liquid in them. He chuckled his approval. Satisfied with his work, he climbed back up the ladder and out through the trapdoor. He closed it softly, and jumped to the edge of the archway he had climbed in through. He looked down, and took a deep breath. Swinging his legs out, he lowered himself down the wall. The spell was still in effect so he began to climb as quickly as he could. He was racing the clock here, and was fully aware of it. He could feel the magic beginning to fade, and his fingers and feet began to slip as he made his way downward. He was almost twenty feet up when he felt the enchantment wear off completely, and acting quickly, he spun around and dropped. A person not trained for such a fall could have been injured; as it was Twitch knew the hardness of the pavers all too well. He was going to have a limp for a while until he could walk this off.

Still under the cover of invisibility, Twitch hobbled as quickly as he could back to the relative safety of the colonnade. He found a secluded corner, and sat down to massage his shin. He cursed himself for having taken too long, but also said a quick prayer of thanks that he hadn’t taken longer. He looked around and studied the area around the other side of the square past the cathedral. The governor’s palace was right over there. He could see the huge golden-blue glass dome on top of it. That was his next stop. It would have to wait for his shin to feel better, which it slowly was.

Twitch went ahead and dissipated the advanced invisibility spell after making sure he was quite alone behind the column. He then got up, testing out his leg. It was sore, but not too bad. He checked his inventory quickly, and then, strumming his mandolin, began to mosey over to the governor’s palace. The art of proper moseying wasn’t something easily taught. One had to make their way someplace without appearing to have any particular destination in mind. The way Twitch had always described it was to wander purposefully. There were times he had done this on a grand scale for days at a time because he was being closely watched. Today, he just did it for a few blocks. Strumming soft music and singing lightly as he moved from the square to the palace. He collected a few coins from passersby and noted several very ornate carriages in the gated courtyard of the palace. As he sang he noted the insignia and coats-of-arms on the carriages. One was very familiar. Another was the royal crest of Romillia. Still another was the crest of Geldenreich. It would seem that this was very definitely the location of the conference. It didn’t seem to be very secretive, though.

Twitch stopped his singing and concentrated on how to get inside the palace. He strolled around the palace as close to any entrances as he could find. There was a place in the rear for hired help. He decided to go ahead and try his luck.

The guards at the rear door were attentive, but not altogether the cleverest soldiers in Debreken. They watched the elf climb the stairs towards them, clearly seeing that he was a musician. Twitch doffed an imaginary hat and declared to them in a bold tone “I am Taimblore, of Hessra. Lord Malweather hired me to perform for a dinner. I might be a day or two early….” Twitch let his voice trail off. “I made very good time though!” he announced loudly. With that he laughed.

The two guards weren’t sure what to make of it, but they laughed too. “There’s a dinner tonight, sir. But I reckon you’ll want to get ready. Ask inside for Beaulieu, he will get you squared away brother elf.”

“Very good! Thank you sir!” Twitch clasped the guard’s shoulder in a show of fraternity and headed into the palace. That was ridiculously simple. Now all he had to do was avoid anyone that might prove a challenge.

Twitch slung the mandolin over his back. The blank spellbook was riding nicely, but it did make his movements a little awkward. The servant’s corridors connected to the entire palace, but from the back of the complex with hallways and staircases that reached like fingers into the various rooms and elegant marble passages where the ruling class walked. The myriad of unmarked servant’s access ways confused Twitch, and it took him quite a while to get his bearings, all the while dodging other servants and a handful of patrolling guards. He mostly just walked right past people, smiling and looking for all the world like he belonged there.

It was late in the day, almost sunset when the elf finally figured out where the conference room was. He had a pretty decent idea that inside that conference room was a small, secured room where the agreement between Romillia and Geldenreich was stored. Twitch decided to go ahead and walk down the high marble hallway past the doors. The guards outside the closed conference room looked at him warily. Twitch had seen there were five of them here. What he hadn’t seen until he had committed himself to going down the hall, was that there was a woman with the guards, an elegant platinum blonde with a lithe, almost elf-like frame and the aura of a sorceress. Twitch had not noticed until it was too late that it was Yvonne Faustenburg. The guards tensed up on their halberds and the sorceress turned to see who was passing by. Her eyes narrowed, studying the elf carefully.

Twitch did his best to avoid eye contact with the woman but it was too late. She knew he didn’t belong there. “You there! Elf! Hold!” He turned innocently, and smiled.

“Who are you? What are you doing here?” The guards moved to support her, three facing Twitch and two looking back down the hall in case more trouble arrived. The look on her face suggested she was in no mood to be charmed. Twitch noted that she wore on her right ring finger the most exquisite golden ring with a deep, blood red oval-cut opal.

“Taimblore, m’lady.” Said Twitch as respectfully as he could, bowing deeply. He held his mandolin in place behind his back. “Just a musician, hired to play this evening.”

She took a step forward. He could tell she was weaving a spell just from her body language. He had to get out of here and fast. “I don’t think so.” She said, a definite chill in her voice. “You have a weapon sheathed in your doublet and something else hidden away.”

Twitch held out his hands and chuckled. “Oh no, gracious lady. I am but a poor performer.” The guards didn’t notice the throwing knife that slid down his sleeve into Twitch’s hand, but Yvonne saw it.

“GET HIM!” she yelled, as she turned her back and ducked. Twitch snapped his wrist and the throwing knife shot out from his right hand. It wasn’t a long shot, but her turning around caused the blade to strike her in the buttocks. She let out a howling scream, and the guards dove towards the now fleeing elf as he sprinted headlong down the great hallway.

He was not as encumbered as they were, and skidded around the corner to make his way to the grand staircase. He figured there would be a goodly number of guards in the main body of the palace, so his best hope was to escape down through the servants’ corridors and out the back. The nearest such exit to the corridors was near the head of that grand staircase.

The guards were right behind him, and more guards could be heard clattering down the halls towards where Yvonne had screamed. Twitch busted through a big double door at the head of the stairs, and with a fluid move tipped a statue over on top of three guards running up the stairs. They fumbled, and two of them went down the staircase backwards. The third one was pinned under the statue, dropping his sword. Twitch grabbed the sword, and ran to the entrance of the service hall.

Just then, the guards that had been chasing him came through the big double doors too, all five of them with halberds lowered and a determination to skewer the elf. Twitch braced his feet, held his hand out and hollered “Saving throws, boys!” as he released a powerful shove spell. Magical energy pounded into the charging guards, lifting them off their feet and smashing them into the doors they had just come through. So strong was the magic that their armor was caved in, halberds snapped on impact, and three of the burly men were knocked unconscious.

Twitch, still holding on to the sword, slipped into the service corridor and didn’t stop running. He bolted down several staircases, and found himself racing right towards the same guards he had talked his way past earlier in the day. They heard the commotion and turned to face him. One had gotten his sword out, but the other hadn’t. The one who had armed himself swung his sword at Twitch, but the swing wasn’t well planned and went wild. Twitch dove under his arm and thrust his stolen sword up into the other guard, driving the blade in all the way to the hilt. He pulled out the blade as he stood up, and twirled to face the first guard. Distracted by his friend’s injury, he was unable to block Twitch’s attack. Coming straight in, Twitch buried the blade in the guard’s chest. Twitch gave him a push and sent him sprawling on the floor.

Twitch looked around, and took off running from the palace. From a balcony he could hear the sorceress yelling orders. “THERE HE GOES! AFTER HIM!” The elf kept his head down and continued running until he reached the corner of the first building. A bolt of mystic energy seared through the air, fracturing the stone wall right where he was hiding. Dusty shrapnel flew into Twitch’s eyes. He stumbled backwards and jogged on into the night. The sun had set, and this would make his escape that much easier.

Yvonne turned to the men behind her. “Get him! Find him and kill him! Bring me his head!” Two of them were clad in black, wearing the finest leather armor and equipped with the best short swords money could buy. They immediately turned, and ran out to carry out their orders. The third man, an attractive older man with an ugly soul, looked at her with a thin smile.

“If he disrupts the conference in any way, you are a dead woman.”

Yvonne stared at him coldly. “Then you better make sure he dies tonight, Karcher.” She turned back to look off the balcony. She couldn’t see the elf, but she knew where he was, at least for a while. “He’s heading north. Get after him.”

Karcher turned and ran off, determined to find and kill this unknown elf. He, too, had a good idea of where his prey was. Magic could be used for so many things. The elf was tagged and for the next hour he could be followed without being seen. The two men that had left before him were hot on the trail of the elven stranger. They almost caught glimpses of him dodging behind buildings and diving down alleys. It was night, so the gates from the innermost section of the city were sealed. Twitch had to scale the wall if he was going to get to his rendezvous. And he didn’t have his rope.

He didn’t have to worry about being seen, he was already being pursued. He slipped on his climbing claws and started up the wall next to one of the towers. Right up the inside corner he went, his muscles hurting after all of the physical activity today. He scrambled up as quickly as he could, expecting at any time to be shot in the back with a crossbow bolt or magical arrow. His adrenalin was pumping at a fever pitch as he reached the top and he clawed his way up and over the roof like a cat desperately clawing its way over the back of a couch to escape a brushing. He paused at the peak, and caught his breath. He looked down into the city, and saw a figure; no two, dressed in black and moving like daemons towards him. Twitch slid down the other side of the roof, catching himself on the edge, and furiously groped to find a handhold. There was ample light from the tower and lanterns below in the streets, but the contrasting shadows disoriented him briefly. He closed his eyes and focused.

Finally he was able to feel a solid hold and began his descent down the other side of the wall. He slid more than he wanted to, and was going to have a number of good scrapes for his trouble. He dropped the last ten feet and commenced once more to running. He knew that his pursuers wouldn’t have to climb the wall, they would run right through the gate. More than likely the guards would even join the chase. He pushed himself through the city, no longer trying to blend in but to get away.

Twitch finally arrived at his destination, and ducked down the alley. At the far end he stopped, leaned against the wall, and caught his breath. He let himself slide down into a sitting position, his heart rate returning to normal. He hurt but he had not been injured beyond superficial scratches and abrasions.

The break was short lived. Silently, almost supernaturally so, the two men in black leather armor appeared at the alley entrance. They moved cautiously into the alley, drawing their swords as they came forward. They were human and couldn’t see in the dark as could elves and goblinoids, but they could see Twitch. As they got closer the feeling of menace grew. “Stand up, elf.” Snarled one of the men. “We’ve come to collect your head for the lady.” Twitch stood up, still leaning against the wall.

The one on Twitch’s right had no way of knowing that the longsword being driven into his back was being wielded by one of the most skilled huntsmen in all of Slothjemia, but he did have a fleeting sense that his doom was afoot. The blow was fatal, delivered in the most devastating backstab that only a jor could provide. The second man turned when he heard his comrade drop his weapon, and Twitch leapt on him from behind, garroting him with one of the mandolin wires he had purchased that morning. Twitch held the man to one side, and Malek stabbed the hapless black-clad fellow in the heart with his other sword. Malek always fought with two swords, as any self-respecting huntsman would. Twitch let the lifeless body fall to the side.

“Better hurry.” Said Malek. “They are gonna be all over this place in a few moments.” Twitch went over and picked the lock on the closest door. Malek grabbed one of the bodies and dragged it over, throwing it into the room as Twitch opened the door. The elf stepped inside, and in the dark smiled at his friend.

“Alright, I got it from here. Take off, you. I have to get back and get that book copied.” Twitch said. “Here, I won’t need this.” He said as he handed his mandolin to the jor, who slung it over his back.

Malek just laughed, and sheathed his swords. Then he stepped back into the shadows, and vanished.

Twitch closed the door, and began to undress the dead man at his feet. He slipped the man’s black armor on over his own clothes, and while it was bulky it was workable. He then took the dead man’s sword and girded it on. Very nice blade. Almost worth the trip in itself.

Twitch took a long deep breath, and then another. Stage had been set; now to finish the play.

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