As the watchers move toward him, the half-elf slips out of their direct path, preferring to watch the street and the man he is almost certain signaled the other two to move. After a few minutes the man notices ibn Fadil, or so the latter suspects from the look of weary resignation that crosses his face.
Sheer curiosity, or perhaps natural intransigence, prompts ibn Fadil to stay put and see what, if anything, the fellow will do now.
What he sees is another of Victor's men moving at a rapid trot down the street, clearly looking for someone. He spots the captain and, ignoring the other man's "not now!" glare, approaches directly. Reading lips at this distance is tricky, and he can only see Baris' half of the conversation, since the other man's back is to their interested observer, but it goes like this:
"You fool, what do you think you're--"
"What?! What are you talking about, man?"
The confusion is replaced by a stoic resignation. "All right, all right. I understand. Thank the gods he's come to his senses, though why he couldn't have...."
"Never mind. I'll collect the rest. Tell him--"
"Yes. Tell him we have enough information. We'll be along soon." His gesture clearly says some things are best left to the gods. The new man jogs back off the way he came. It looks for all the world like he's collecting the other watchers and leaving--although not without a venomous glance at ibn Fadil, as if all of this (whatever it is) was somehow his fault.
He returns a look of patently false baffled innocence, and watches long enough to see that they are indeed going away; if so, when they are mostly out of sight he goes back into the Cask.
Inside, "So where is everybody?" Val asks the half-man by way of greeting. There is a glint in his eyes that tells Emmett that he is relieved to be here. "Has everything else gone well?"
Pham arrives, a weary look on his face. He scans the bar, notes Emmett and Val. Making sure that there's nobody watching the table, he joins the two. "The lady is safely away. She's in a good place, and they'll protect her."
"The drop-off went fine. Ibn Fadil is shadowing our newfound tails." Emmett leans in. "The hard part is done--she's as safe as we can make her. Next step is complaining to Three Trees about Victor's harassment and getting him booted off this moon and back to the Rock."
"If it works," Val mutters. He is not very fond of the idea of relying on Three Trees to send Victor off. Another thought crosses his mind and he asks, "Aren't we all planning on returning to Bral soon? Victor could be waiting..."
Val changes the subject abruptly and asks, "How would I be able to send something to her?" Everyone realizes he speaks of Ginevra, as he has that *look* upon his face. "I know it's probably not a good idea to go directly there, but I wanted to get some money to her..."
"Just wait, Val--we, and she, are going to be here a lot longer than Victor. Doing anything to draw attention to her not would just put her back in danger." Emmett was going to go further, admonishing his tall friend against taking a parting shot at Victor, but he didn't want to alarm Inez, who already looked nervous enough.
Pham gives Val a hard look. "After all we just went through, don't you DARE endanger her and us. Her safety relies on secrecy. They know you and will continue to watch you. Accept that she's safe, and let it go. Someday you may see her again. Until then, know that you've done well by her."
"I wasn't planning on walking up to the front gates and demanding to see her, you know," Val says with mock indignation. The smile he offers softens his words. "I was just wondering if anyone has any ideas."
Pham sighs and tries to relax. "It's been a tough night for all of us. I have no right to snap at you. But please consider what's happening. She'll be well cared for. Her caretakers know what they're doing.
"As far as getting her money--I would recommend you wait until Victor is gone. And even then, work through intermediaries. But there is time to worry about that later.
"In the meantime, let us relax for a little, and perhaps look for our next passage. I don't know about you folks, but Janik seems to be a bit trying on the nerves. Although... hmm, I should make one more try to reach him.'
Pham finishes the mug he had left in his hand, bids good night and blessings
to his companions.
A moment later, ibn Fadil returns. Val looks over at the Zakharan and asks casually, "What's it look like outside?" One could easily mistake his question for commentary on the weather. Yes, getting money to Ginevra can wait. The young sailor is eager to depart the cask and settle down for a much needed rest.
"They have all left, probably going back to their ship -- the Victor called them back for some reason. We must assume, though, that they know where at least some of us are staying." He glances around the table to be sure they understand his meaning, then rapidly takes off again.
Since it looks like Val has calmed down and gotten the hint, Emmett stands up casually, pulling out Inez' chair so that she can do the same. "Well, I'm ready to call it a day. We're heading back to our room, I guess. Maybe get a good meal. I suggest everyone else does the same."
The couple leave with Pham, and Emmett catches the priest's eye as they leave, "I gather you're looking in on the poor fellow again tomorrow? Let me know how it goes, and if you're planning on meeting with his brothers so I can back you up. I'm the one who pushed you square into the gears on this one..."
"Yes, I feel I should at least try to talk to him one more time. Hopefully he'll be a bit more lucid given time. I'd hate to think that I'd misread a genuine divine vision. I don't know that I'll go after his brothers, though... that type are best left alone."
With that Emmett leads Inez back to their rooms, keeping the conversation light and keeping an eye out for followers. Hopefully there won't be any, but if there are, well, there are some nice restaurants near the Helm, and Emmett can register a complaint at the same time he takes the brave Inez out for a meal to thank her. She is most appreciative, and obviously glad the whole thing is over.
Emmett has nothing about which to complain; the watchers are gone, as ibn Fadil had said, though he keeps a careful eye out in case there is some attempt at subtlety in the offing.
Val and Hiro wait a while longer before returning to the safe-room, both at high alert, but for once there is no sign of anything amiss. It's almost eerie.
Ibn Fadil continues to follow Victor's men as they return to the docks and the _Pride_. They no longer make any effort at being inconspicuous. The half-elf lurks for a while, toying with the idea of the direct approach. The ship appears buttoned up tight, no activity on deck. As he watches, two men leave separately, moving with quick, purposeful strides.
With nothing of interest happening there, he wanders by the infirmary on his way back to the gate, resisting an impulse to go in and see Nyala. No watchers anywhere he can see.
Once inside the city proper, he picks a direction and ambles along, observing the city some more and chewing over his own predicament for perhaps the dozenth time. Still unable to guess how other people -- Uncle Karim, binte Akil, his parents -- will respond to his recent actions, he suddenly asks himself some new questions: What is *he* going to do? What *should* he do? How did he get into this mess?
Preoccupied, he wanders until, perhaps not accidentally, he finds the city's racetrack and spends the rest of the afternoon talking about and watching horses, his other thoughts still percolating in the back of his mind, among them what he's going to tell bin Rashad.
Meanwhile, Alais returns to the library. "You again!" the barrel-like librarian mutters. "Might as well set up a room for you here at this rate. Oh, all right, you can come in. What's it going to be this time?"
Pham returns to his rented room for the evening and kneels for his evening prayers, relating this tale to his god. At the end of prayers (how cool is a religion where your nightly prayer ends with "Stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion next week!") he sleeps, hoping to avoid dreams of fire.
The next morning, Pham returns to the temple where the poor madman lies trapped in his own visions, hoping against hope to reach the man's spirit through the madness. Silent Contemplators allow his passage.
The man is somewhat more lucid today. That he remembers Pham is clear from the way his forehead wrinkles while he tries to remember.
"Who... are you?" There is a trace of suspicion in his still-weak voice.
"Hello." Pham keeps his voice slow and gentle. "My name is Luc Pham. My friend found you on the street, and brought you here. He thought you and I might have something in common. Are you hungry?" Pham slowly reaches into his robe and brings out a small loaf of fresh bread that he'd purchased on the way over. He tears off a piece, and offers the loaf to the madman, who stares at it for a moment and shakes his head. Perhaps it is still too soon. Or perhaps he doesn't trust Pham.
"What is your name?"
"Name...." His forehead wrinkles in concentration. "I had a name. I think. It doesn't matter now, I am no one." A tremor runs through him--a repressed sob? "Deserted, I am...."
"I don't know if you remember, but I came to visit a few days ago. We talked briefly, but you didn't seem to be doing well, so I left you be. Do you think we could talk a bit more now?"
"There is nothing to say," he replies tonelessly. "I am unforgiven, shamed, outcast." His expression is one of intense pain, but his voice remains indifferent. "I cannot atone."
Pham is persistent, and eventually teases out a few answers between the man's frequent fits of self-pitying recrimination. Although his memories of the time before his final vision are unreliable, it seems that his dreams began at about the same time Pham's did. He and his brethren had been on Janik for some time then. What they were doing there he either doesn't remember or simply doesn't want to say. There had been nine of them; none had been so favored by Hextor as to receive similar dreams, and he flatly refuses to believe that Pham could possibly have had similar dreams. Where his brethren might have gone, he has no idea.
* * *
The previous afternoon:
"I have it." The man paced nervously about the ornate room, nearly knocking over a priceless vase with the violence of his passage. "They're in a tavern. Simple. All you have to do is cast a spell--that webbing one would do perfectly. Catch them like flies, ha! Baris and the others can go in and get them, and bring them back here, where I can deal with them at my leisure. It's perfect."
Nassor contemplated this plan for a moment, and contemplated his future in its light. He was a young man, still relatively new to his studies, and disinclined to spend the rest of his life in a Janik prison, or working off an indenture to some bloated 3 Trees bureaucrat. "My lord...."
Victor glared at him. "What?! What are you standing there for? Be about it."
"I think perhaps in your zeal you have overlooked one or two things," he began diplomatically. "One, there will no doubt be other patrons in this tavern, who will be able to identify us to the constables. Two, carrying a half dozen web-bound people through the streets of Janik in broad daylight would undoubtedly cause talk. Three, your family name is proof against much, but not I think open kidnapping and murder. Fourth--" he paused for breath, somewhat enjoying the stunned look on Victor's face. "Fourth, I quit!"
By the time the messenger reached Baris and he had brought his men back, the ship was in something of a state of calm, although he noted that parts of it had been rather radically redecorated since the early morning. One of the tables was missing, the paneling had acquired an assortment of scars, a long-suffering servant moved slowly on her hands and knees, picking glass shards out of the scarlet carpet, and there was no sign of the very... educational tapestry that had once occupied the left wall. Victor was sprawled in his favorite chair with a glass of wine, apparently entirely at peace with the world.
"Did you know that the wise have a saying about revenge, my dear captain?" he said slowly.
"What saying is that, my lord?"
"They say that it is best served cold." He nodded firmly, as if this represented the sum of truth in the universe. "Best served cold."
"Indeed, my lord," Baris replied, for lack of anything better to say.
"I'm sure they think they have outmaneuvered me. There has been a change of plans. We are leaving in the morning, or as soon as we can find a new pilot."
"New pilot, sir?"
"The last one proved faithless."
_Bright lad._ "I see."
"Best served cold... I like that, really I do," Victor continued musing to himself.
* * *
Over the course of the following day, each member of the _Cat's_ crew is located by a messenger from Captain Barthelme. Late that afternoon most of them assemble at the ship, curious--a few couldn't be found, or had already taken ship for elsewhere, but most of the original group is there.
"That everyone?" the captain asks, looking over the small crowd. "All right. This way."
To a general chatter of curious voices, he leads them off the ship once more, a mother goose followed by a strange clutch of goslings. They are headed toward the construction yard, where shifts are changing; the diurnal crews are packing up and going home, leaving species that can work unhampered by darkness to their tasks.
Theo stops at a berth containing a spanking-new damselfly. "This is the newest of Oligarch Volant's ships. Not even named yet. I've spoken to some of you about this already, we're looking for crew to Bral for her shakedown, beyond that's possibility, depending how things turn out. _Cat_ crew are getting first chance, thought it was fair to give you a look at her. There are nine berths to fill. Anyone interested, report back here at noon tomorrow. We're taking on supplies tomorrow and lifting off the next morning with as many as want to go."
"Nine?" Ulf mutters in a bemused tone. "Sweet little ship like that has a pilot, one man can run it half-asleep."
"Maybe in case Fang shows up?" Laszlo shrugs. "Beats me. I'm not out of money yet, I'm going nowhere. Plenty of ships heading out of here all the time."
GM's Note: Turn 30 was very short, and ended up with so much interpolated dialogue that it was easier to combine the two.
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© 2001 Rebecca J. Stevenson