Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Winding Road: Careful

By Frank Gori



It had been a long morning. It was Malleck’s third recounting of the previous evening’s events before he snapped. Liara called him in first thing in the morning and she interrogated him herself. She had everyone separated and would make everyone else would go through the events three times. He would go through them until he broke and Liara understood exactly how to do so. It reminded Malleck of his lessons growing up.
As wards of the guild, the orphans had been walked through a room and asked to recount everything they saw. Details were important, as they told truths which were otherwise concealed. The children who had performed the best were rewarded with easier chores or more allowance.
Those who excelled at the challenges graduated to being assigned longer conversations and advanced observation and analysis. They learned to read people. Malleck was also a trained in deception, intimidation, linguistics and in the art of engineering. He understood the world around him with the finest education available.
Liara was a precise woman, and she took in every detail when someone spoke in her presence. Every pause, every tonal shift, every body language cue spoke volumes to her. Each telling of the story provided more information. Malleck was a talented liar, but that was partly why the repetition was so critical. It was hard enough to lie to Liara once; three times was a gauntlet.
Liara’s wards went from destitution to the best of everything. Those that could keep up were given increasingly difficult lessons and responsibilities. Regardless of success or failure they were all still Liara’s children, but Malleck didn’t want that. Malleck was no child, each test made him stronger, he was determined to make Liara proud, to be seen as an equal.
To Malleck every smile told a story. Liara seemed to have a thousand different smiles, but Malleck felt she reserved one just for him. The first run through of the evening’s events her smile told him she was being supportive but concerned, the second telling her smile was the one she wore when she was plotting something, this time she wore a smile that told him he was going to be tested soon.
She liked to ask questions after the first walk thru. She used a raven awakened and endowed with telepathy on her other guests, partly to unnerve them. For Malleck she whispered in his ear. It was intimate and awkward for Malleck.
Liara always looked the same, like a fresh lovely young maiden. Her beauty hung on a razor’s edge of being ripened. Her look fell short of the self assured confidence of a matured beauty, instead she seemed unspoiled like a spring meadow untouched. It made it easy for fools to underestimate her.
Those soft full lips whispering in his ear sent a shiver down his spine. Her impossibly delicate hands touched his shoulder when she spoke in a gesture of comfort. It created a sexual tension that was spoiled by maternal memories, and it was entirely on purpose.
“After Zool deflected the bolt, five men with blue hatchets rose and drew their weapons. I looked for the exits and spotted Lazeron coming in. At the time I thought him the Chaos Man.
My eyes swept the room for the crossbowman and I saw him calmly reloading his weapon on the far side of the bar. Human, dark hair brown eyes.
Someone shouted, “Shenanigans” and the voice was masculine and deep, likely from an ogre or minotaur. It was loud and high in the room, I couldn’t place the voice to a spot were someone stood. I suspect ventriloquism.
Everyone else seemed to pause in that moment except for us and the strike team sent for us. Our waitress Bellanie tripped in such a way that tied up three of the four intended attackers.”
That sounds rather convenient.” She distrusted Bellany’s presence and motives. Malleck could understand that position, he suspected the girl was either Music Guild or some kind of professional cutter and possibly both.
“An ally with a sense of timing is a treasure indeed.”
Liara nodded to concede the point. It was a merchant guild proverb, one she likely authored.
“Zool seized the moment to close the ground by leaping upon a table and stabbing the one man not tied up.
The crowd seemed about to rush the entrance which Lazeron discouraged with a fireball.
Bellany lit one of the four men on fire and I used magic to improve my aim before firing on the crossbowman.”
What of your training? Why did you not see this coming?” Liara may as well have stabbed him. Malleck couldn’t stand disappointing her, and the quite true reasons felt like empty excuses in that moment.
A silence hung between the elf and the bad blood, but their body language betrayed a litany of emotions. She was genuinely surprised at his lack of vigilance, his shame quickened to anger for a moment as his mind raced through it all. The bar was crowded with nearly two hundred men and a third wore the blue axes. Liara waited as Malleck thought it through to the logical conclusion.
“I wasn’t the main target, I was a secondary target.”
Liara nodded for Malleck to continue.
“Whoever this was, they hired a bunch of men and got them to stuff that bar for the meet. That means either we have a leak or the Mage Guild does. Lazeron was the main target though, the majority of cutters went after him, tried to get him flanked. We actually got lucky on those five jumping the gun, had they not…”
They would have killed Lazeron, and managed to flank you instead. They’d have separated you from Zool and cut you down.”
“Got to be a new player in town, one with coin to burn and likely they were the ones that set the fire. They failed to kill Lazeron but still managed to make the Mage Guild look bad and probably are using the damage to recruit more in the labor guild.”
You see what must happen, my darling boy.”
Malleck did, his vision blurred a second as he realized what it meant.

Careful what you wish for.”