Read The Inquisitives [4] The Darkwood Mask Online

Authors: Jeff LaSala

Tags: #Eberron

The Inquisitives [4] The Darkwood Mask (10 page)

“Face me!” he shouted, recovering quickly from his horror. Tallis tucked the wand away and attacked the assassin again. He knew it was in vain. Ignoring his ineffective attack, the assassin let the balustrade
support Gamnon’s headless corpse for a moment, then it punctured him again in the abdomen and used the weapon’s leverage to shove him over the edge. Gamnon ir’Daresh’s body fell into the darkness below
.

“What do you want?” Tallis said
.

The assassin turned at last to face him. Tallis parried every blow that the incorporeal assassin railed upon him—it was almost too easy to do. His stomach continued to knot inside him as he realized this vile creature had no intention of harming him. It had followed him into the residence, passing the wards he’d taken the care to remove—now it wanted him to bear witness. What sick game was this?

The assassin pressed past him again, striding towards the second bedroom where Gamnon’s wife and children hid—and stepped through the door itself as easily as through morning mist. Tallis shouted his rage and turned his hammer upon the door itself, fighting to break through, fighting to push the nightmare from his mind
.

Chapter
S
IX

Incrimination
Sul, the 8th of Sypheros, 998 YK

H
eedless of any who might see him, Tallis dived into the nearest alley. Halfway down the narrow lane, he doubled over, retching. The contents of his stomach emptied amidst the alley refuse, and he begged for the memories to leave his mind just as quickly, but the images of that night in the Ebonspire refused to leave him so easily. When he had nothing left to expel, he sat with his back against the wall and breathed in the sharp night air.

“Clear out, vermin,” a gruff voice said, jarring him from his misery. “Take your sickness back to your own hole.”

Tallis looked up as a pair of White Lions entered the alley and approached, leveling an axe head at him. His stomach was too raw to deal with this now.

“Are you listening?” the White Lion demanded.

Tallis leaned against the wall, slowly standing. He twisted his bound arm free beneath the bulk of his cloak. His hood had fallen aside, and despite his sickness it was clear he was no elderly drunk.

“Who’s this?” the guard asked with mild interest.

“It’s
him!”
the other shouted, his axe poised for a swing.

Rolling his eyes back in his head, Tallis let his knees buckle.
When the closest Lion moved to grab him, he pushed his shoulder hard into the man’s waist and wrapped his arms around him. The soldier grunted as he fell into Tallis’s grasp. His companion swiveled the weapon and struck with the flat side of the axe’s head, but Tallis used the first guard’s body as a shield, allowing him to take the blow.

Tallis released the groaning man and drove the heel of his palm into the other’s face even as he drew the dagger sheathed at the back of his own belt. The White Lion stumbled back. Tallis stepped around the fallen man and struck at his hand with the blade.

The guard cried out and clutched at his bleeding hand as the axe clattered to the ground. Tallis started away from the alley, then stopped and glared at both men, his body burning with rage. The guards cursed and panted for breath as they struggled to gain footing again.

“You want to demonize me?” Tallis asked, unable to quell the black rage inside. “Then I’ll give you a real reason.”

Tallis returned and threw their weapons deeper into the alley. A single kick to each man’s face brought them down again. He chose the nearest and struck him repeatedly with the pommel of his dagger, caring little for the blood that spattered his cloak.

When both men lay still, he quit the alley and stumbled into the night.

Soneste stepped out onto the balcony from the master bedroom, and immediately noted the body that lay there and the profuse amounts of blood that had spattered the scene—without a doubt, this is where Gamnon had been decapitated. The body on the stone floor was not listed in the death report, which hardly surprised her. It was a warforged.

His body of wood, steel, and stone was mostly intact. She knew little about warforged anatomy, but she guessed that the torn livewood fibers of his stomach accounted for the injury that
felled him, yet the slender blades that pierced the bodies of the ir’Daresh family had certainly not dealt
this
wound. Either the killer carried an arsenal of weapons on his person or the killer had not been alone. Hyran’s report said there was only one man sighted at the scene.

Soneste flipped through the papers and finally found the warforged listed under Damaged Property. Typical Karrnathi attitude. If this warforged servant had also been a friend to the deceased, it was an outright insult. Even King Boranel was said to name his warforged bodyguard a loyal and trusted friend. In fact, Boranel had prompted Parliament to issue the Warforged Decree, which had given all Brelish warforged the same rights as citizens, years before the Treaty of Thronehold granted all the living constructs emancipation.

She kneeled and examined the artificial body, noting that most of the composite plating was unmarred, save for the dried blood that spattered half of his torso and one arm. The back of his metal, helmlike head exhibited a sizeable dent, but she could find no other damage to him. Was he dead? If the damage was too severe, a warforged could not be revived, but if the injury was superficial and their life force had merely dormant, they could be repaired. This warforged might be a witness. The Justice Ministry hadn’t even bothered to try.

There was no corresponding blood on the warforged’s weapon. The heavy blade was still clutched in his hand, and a thick shield was welded to his other arm. If it was listed as damaged property, then it must have served Gamnon ir’Daresh. This was a Brelish warforged.

Soneste stood and walked to the balcony’s edge, looking upon Korth from a new vantage. The evenly spaced cold fire lanterns and random, candlelit windows in the city below were not sufficient to illuminate the whole. The dim moon of Sypheros was veiled in the night sky, outshone by the pearly face of Zarantyr and the orange-yellow crescent of Aryth. The lackluster hues of the city seemed to extend into the heavens, as clouds half-obscured the moons. At
this hour, the buildings below were just dark blocks arranged in a labyrinth of invisible streets.

More impressive were the multicolored lights of the Tower of the Twelve, which floated above a shadowed park. Even at this late hour, Soneste could see at least two airships hovering near the Tower’s docking bay as powerful energies played across the base of the pyramidal keep.

An icy wind swept in from the Karrn River, stealing her wonder. Shivering, she leaned over the balcony rail, gauging the distance to the ground and imagining the killer’s means of reaching the balcony. It was entirely possible that the killer had flown to this height. She glanced up again to the Tower. Any skilled wizard within that arcane institution could have provided him such means.

Under the white glow of her watch lamp, Soneste scrutinized the dwelling for another hour. In a dresser drawer she found a folder containing Gamnon’s letters of credit and a pouch of galifars and dragons, along with a fair amount of jewelry. These items had been inventoried in the report by the Ministry’s agents sometime prior to her arrival.

What they had not found was the small book tucked beneath the cushion of one richly upholstered chair, nor the lens of dark glass ground into the carpet on one side of the common room.

The dead were at rest now, but Soneste couldn’t escape the notion that this massacre was only the beginning. What else are you planning? she asked the killer.

Soon after, she left the Ebonspire for her room at the Seventh Watch.

“I don’t care that Gamnon is dead,” Tallis murmured, and Lenrik knew he was lying, “but …”

Tallis let his words trail off, his back against the wall in the spare room. After a long pause, he looked back at the elf. “Listen, Lenrik. Thanks.”

The priest nodded with a sad smile. The adult Tallis had always conveyed to him a sense of courage and competency, but it was impossible for Lenrik to look upon his friend without seeing the boy he once knew. He saw him that way now, frightened beyond real comforting.

Very little could faze Tallis. Not the walking dead, not the thunderous charge of Thrane cavalry, not even death at the hands of the Seeker priests in Atur who’d put a modest bounty on his head, but guilt obviously wracked Tallis’s soul more than anything else could.

“I still mean what I said,” Tallis said. “I’m not bringing you into this. I’ll be staying at my own flat. They’re really looking for me now, but my place is still secure.”

Lenrik shrugged. “I brought
myself
into this the day I asked Aureon to show me the larger course for your life.”

As he’d relayed the full events of the previous night to Lenrik, Tallis felt some measure of the horror melt away. With a mug of his preferred Nightwood Pale in hand and a thick woolen blanket around him, the mere company of his oldest friend made him feel grounded again. He’d been a fool to try and keep it all in. He could still picture the assassin’s preternatural grace and dispassionate killing, but the helpless feeling was slowly replaced with mounting rage. Tallis would find the killer again. Haedrun was his only lead.

“The Market’s not for another two nights. I can’t contact Haedrun any other way. It’s the only place we meet now, and that’s if she hasn’t hopped the rail already—”

“I need to tell you something,” Lenrik said. His tone had changed. It sounded resigned. “I have met with Haedrun myself on several occasions.”

Tallis looked at his friend. Lenrik seldom kept anything important from him, yet in the last few years—since the war’s
end—he felt that they had been growing apart. Their shared military experiences had established this friendship, but their current lifestyles couldn’t be more different. Tallis had his own agenda, did what he thought was right, and subverted the law to do it. He even made a good living of it. But after his many years in the service of Karrnath, Lenrik had retired here in Korth. Now he practiced his faith in a temple, not the field of battle, serving the beleaguered people who had lost so much in the Last War.

“Will you tell me?” Tallis asked.

Lenrik nodded. “Three months ago, she started to attend my sermons. Quietly at first, always sitting in the back. Eventually she found the courage to approach me. When she finally introduced herself, I suspected she was the same Haedrun of whom you sometimes spoke.”

Tallis opened his mouth, but Lenrik held up a hand. “No need to ask. She doesn’t know of
our
connection.”

He remembered Lenrik’s words the last time they talked about their secret friendship. “No one knows,” the elf had said, “except perhaps the Sovereign Host, and so far they’ve kept our secret.”

“Haedrun suffers, as do many in this land.”

As do we all, Tallis thought. For the sacrifices we are forced to make, for those who are taken from us. For those who are turned against us.

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