"Doesn't apply. The poison I used isn't lethal. It'll just knock you out for a while. In a way, I'm upholding arutayro, because now I don't have to kill you."
Ben weaved in his seat. "How? How'd you do it?"
"Paid someone in the kitchen to dose both. The way I mixed it, the poison's heavier than the ale, so it mixes only in the bottom of the flagon."
"But if I hadn't finished my ale…"
"You always finish your ale, Ben."
Ben blinked, slowly, holding himself up with his elbows. "But if you don't kill me…"
Gaelan left a pile of coins on the table and nodded to the serving man. "I'll have to kill the Shinga. I know."
Ben's head slumped to the table.
Shirtless, Gaelan Starfire was arming.
On the opposite side of the room, Gwinvere Kirena was dressing.
He held up a light gray tunic mottled with black to his chest. Looked at it in the mirror. Rejected it for a black tunic mottled with gray.
She held up a fiery red dress to her chest. Looked at it in the mirror. Rejected it for a sapphire blue that was lower cut.
He strapped a pair of throwing knives to one muscular thigh.
She pulled a silk stocking up one shapely thigh.
He pulled a weapons harness around his shoulders, knotted it tight.
She took a deep breath as a servant cinched her corset.
He clipped his mask around his neck.
She clipped a jeweled necklace around hers.
He slid a knife into a wrist sheath.
She spritzed perfume on her wrist.
He looked at her in his mirror and found her looking at him in hers. He was an Angel of Death. She was a goddess.
He bowed to the mirror. "Good luck tonight, my lady."
She curtsied, face grave. "Good luck, Master Starfire." She didn't say my lord. But then, she wouldn't.
He jumped out the window.
Gaelan jumped across a narrow alley, landed on the peak of a crumbling inn's roof, ran across the narrow beam like an acrobat, jumped and fell six paces onto a lower, flat roof.
"I am Sa'kagé, a lord of the shadows. I claim the shadows that the Shadow may not."
The clouds broke over the city. A giant crack of thunder. Downpour.
"I am the strong arm of deliverance. I am Shadowstrider. I am the Scales of Justice. I am He-Who-Guards-Unseen. I am Shadowslayer. I am Nameless."
He jumped into one of the few standing sections of an ancient aqueduct. Quick footsteps in the rain puddling in that venerable stone waterway. Leapt.
Below, a rich carriage pulled by four horses was rattling through the streets.
"The befouled shall not go unpunished."
Landed on a mouldering thatch roof, had to scramble on all fours to keep from slipping off as the stuff tore apart.
"My way is hard, but I serve unbroken. In ignobility, nobility. In shame, honor. In darkness, light. I will do justice and love mercy."
The man in the carriage was one of the Nine, the Cenarian Sa'kagé's master of coin, Count Rimbold Drake. Brilliant young man, perceptive but not ambitious. He'd stumbled into his position on the Nine by his sheer competence. Gwinvere didn't believe he cared who was the Shinga. So this was mercy.
Gaelan jumped across the street directly above the carriage. He flipped and whipped a knife downward at incredible speed.
The blade punched through the carriage's roof. It quivered in the carriage seat between Count Drake's legs.
Count Drake gaped at the hole in the carriage roof, dribbling rain. The dagger was an inch from his groin. There was a note tied around the dagger's handle.
The count took the note. The words were written in a tight, angular hand: "Not A Miss."
Gaelan watched the men guarding one entrance to the Chamber of Nine. There were at least six entrances he knew, but this one was the most direct. Three of the men were simple bashers-just muscle to stop passersby from entering the wrong alley
. Men good in a brawl.
Will you serve me in this?
Gaelan pulled the shadows around himself and crawled, clinging to a thatch roof, keeping a low profile.
~ She's not a good woman. You must know that. ~
Three archers squinted against the downpour, doing their best to protect their bowstrings under their cloaks.
No, but she's the least bad.
Two spotters stood on balconies, one studying the street, the other looking over the roofs.
~ Giving power to the bad to fight the evil. A devil's argument. ~
Gaelan reached the edge of the building. Two more bashers were rit underneath him. I am a devil.
~ It was to you Jorsin Alkestes administered the Oath of Sa'kagé, Acaelus. You could lead the Sa'kagé yourself. ~
Leadership is best left to the idealistic and the arrogant.
It would be best if he could get in without killing anyone, but he couldn't do that alone. Not without the ka'kari's help.
~ Very well, Acaelus. I shall serve. ~
Gaelan felt the ka'kari form in his hand. He squeezed it and it sheathed his entire body. He dropped into the alley.
He wasn't quite invisible. Not in the rain that hit his body and gave a weird distortion to the air. But the alley was narrow. The rain came in gusts and fits as the wind blasted it periodically into the cold, damp space between the rickety buildings.
One blast threw a torrent as he walked between a torch-carrying basher and the wall.
"Herrick, you see something over there?" the basher said to another.
"No. Want to check it out?"
The basher swallowed-but went toward what he'd seen.
Gaelan was already past them. He came to the door. Rubbish was piled high in front of it to disguise what it was, but the door opened in, so the rubbish was no problem. Gaelan wrapped sound-dampening magic on the hinges and looked once more at all the men guarding it.
When no one was looking, he opened the door and slipped inside.
Inside, there was nothing but a short hall, a false wall that lay open, and a stone ladder beyond it. Gaelan got on the ladder and began sliding down.
He was almost all the way down when someone carrying a torch stepped into the stone tube and began climbing. Whoever he was, he was nimble as a monkey, climbing fast for a man with only one hand on the ladder.
Gaelan stuck one foot against the wall, then hopped, stuck the other foot to the other wall. Pushed his hands against opposite walls and flattened himself against the back of the tube. Being invisible wasn't much help if someone actually bumped into you.
The climber paused just below Gaelan, switched which hand was carrying the torch. It brought the flaming brand within inches of Gaelan's face.
But the ka'kari, true to its word, true to its nature, devoured the light, devoured the heat, turning it into its own magic, making Gaelan feel even stronger.
The climber continued on, and Gaelan slid to the bottom of the narrow tube and stepped out, invisible, into the Chamber of Nine.
The Nine's subterranean chamber was a horror and a wonder. A relic of a bygone age. It was circular, but with a ceiling so high it disappeared in darkness, giving the impression that a person inside was at the bottom of an inescapably deep pit. The floors, the walls, even the stone desks and chairs were carved with every kind of loathsome animal: rats and snakes and hydras and spiders and twisted dogs and skeletons. All glittering obsidian, sharp, cutting angles. The numerous entrances were well-hidden. A crescent-shaped dais held the benches for the Nine, and over them, the Shinga's throne. The only illumination came from an oil-filled ridge set in the wall behind the Nine, casting all of them in shadow.