The ancestors wanted their Magics back safely in their own corporeal arms. And that meant that the Book of Pattegon had to be stolen from the Inner Council itself. Which in turn meant that a little bit of chaos had to be created.
(Rating: 15, Warnings: violence, graphic imagery, Genre: Fantasy, Action, Adventure) Featured Image Credit: Panoramas, Flickr
[Want to catch up on the story? – Part 1, ]
Twale hated road ambushes, especially when it was raining.
There were various considerations that had to be taken into account when it rained. For example, carriages would be driven more cautiously to ensure they did not slide off the muddy road. The drivers would be on the lookout for an opportunist ambush, and normal assassination attempts wouldn’t work.
“Bloody well hurry up,” Twale muttered, dusting off the raindrops from his coat. It was a special kind of fur, taken from the Paitsa, an animal that lived in the far western regions, which had evolved to survive in one of the wettest parts of Pangeium.
Bloody expensive too, Twale thought angrily. It took him a lot to get angry, but the cold rain that trickled through his white beard was enough to make any man angry. His hiding place, whilst great for the camouflage that it provided from the road, was exposed to the worst of the drumming rain. The steep bank that built up the required height for the road to cross the swampland was starting to turn to mud, and Twale could feel his feet slipping slowly off the small wood platform and towards the sticky embrace of the bog that lay a few meters to his right.
I should get some dispensation for being outside in the cold, Twale thought, elderly person’s allowance.
Now that would be an application Twale would like to make at the next Meeting. He hadn’t even seen the rest of his co-conspirators for a good year, but word had reached his far flung outpost that the newly minted husband of the Rael of Bwefold had been taken dead by an illness called a knife through the throat almost a week previously.
Mae had been delighted when she had been given permission to go as dramatic as she liked. If Twale was honest, that girl was far too dramatic for one who wore the Assassins Insignia down her temples, but she did work well and without complaint. Twale had been the one to tutor how to use the Assassins Thread after all, he knew how dramatic the stupid girl could be. He would never forget the heart attack he had when he had stumbled upon Mae hanging upside down in the middle of the training room, dangling off the end of a single piece of the Thread with a gleeful giggle on her lips.
Fool girl, Twale thought. The rain continued to hammer down around him, bouncing off the leaves of the forest and creating a cacophony of peace which would otherwise send Twale to sleep.
Not tonight, however. Tonight he was here on an ambush, and that meant the otherwise relaxing rain was nothing more than blooding annoying. Tonight, it was loud enough to cover the noise of the carriage that was rumbling down the road towards the Inner region, completely unaware that it was Twale’s intended target.
This was the one of the few roads into the Inner Regions, and the only one which was wide enough for a carriage to travel down. This in turn meant it was the main road for all goods to come into the Inner Regions, which in turn meant it was the perfect hideout for all kinds of highway thievery.
All in all, it was a perfect cover for the real information that Twale wished to steal on this particular cold and dark evening.
Twale shifted his weight, sharp ears listening for the tell tale rumble of horse hooves on gravel. It had a deeper resonance to the drumming rain on the trees and ground around him, like how a heartbeat was deeper than a pulse taken from the wrist. The carriage would have passed the last guardpost now, making its final few miles before it reached the safety of the Inner Region. It was almost hilarious how easily Twale could get past the miles of wire and guards checkpoints to sneak into the marshy swampland that in their arrogance the Inner Guards thought was totally impossible to stage a heist.
It was that arrogance that Twale was counting upon tonight. It would take only an hour for the news to get back to these guardposts that he had robbed one of the carriages, and when the alarm sounded the whole area would be swarming with guards looking for Twale.
Not that Twale intended to be caught anyway.
The sound of the hoofbeats slowing down broke Twale’s thoughts, mentally plotting the carriage’s route around the very sharp turn away from the East and towards the South along the final stretch towards the Inner Regions.
Still listening to the drum of the hoofbeats, Twale reached up to the branch that he would use to launch himself onto the road. It was a trick he had used in his youth to effectively appear out of nowhere in front of the carriage and cause the horses to balk in fear.
It was a simple trick really. Find a platform that looked natural enough for anyone without an experts eye to miss it, and then swing up onto the road using whatever leverage was about in the environment. The art of executing this trick was to find the right spot to put your platform.
For this heist, small platform underneath Twale was an old piece of driftwood that anyone but the most expert of guardsman would think would be out of place in a swamp. It was only because of his years of training that Twale managed to balance on the wobbly bit of wood as the rain began to eat away at the earth Twale had used to wedge it into place.
Twale counted the hoofbeats as he took off his cloak and stuffed it into his knapsack. Some of the younger generations in the Guild didn’t care about their equipment, happy to burn it or discard it to remove all traces. However, Twale had been bought up in the years when the Guild had barely any money to feed its members, let alone get them the equipment they needed to do their businesses effectively. Old habits were the hardest to break, and Twale always ensured he kept his knapsack nearby for a quick getaway.
Having hooked his knapsack onto the breakline that was tied up into the tree above, Twale turned his attention back to the drumming hoofbeats. They were getting louder now, the driver was pushing the horses hard to ensure that they didn’t get jumped out on.
Best slow you down then, Twale thought. Taking his free hand, he flicked the flint that was hidden against his arm and set alight to the spark line that he had threaded through the trees. He turned his eyes away from it immediately, as the line began to burn with a white flare that shot down up high into the treeline, and then down the road towards the path of the carriage.
The sound of horses whinnying in fear made Twale chuckle, coupled with the squealing of wheels and the sound of gravel being thrown into the air. Twale kept himself pressed close to the edge of the groundcore of the road, shadows cloaking him from sight as loud hoofbeats of bolting horses tore down the road, followed by the squeal of broken wooden wheels as the carriage skid down the road to its final resting place.
They were really going for it, Twale thought. Normally, a two person carriage wouldn’t travel that far if they came to a sudden stop, not having enough weight to allow momentum to carry them forward. Yet this carriage had travelled a good distance, long enough for Twale to know that the occupants of the car didn’t care about the wellbeing of the horses that were driving it. At the pace they had been going, they would be useless by the time they got to the Inner Regions, and killed soon afterwards.
And now my time to shine, Twale thought. He pulled himself up on his handhold, quick feet finding the footholds that would push him up the bank and allow him to leap on to the road. With one easy swing he, catapulted himself up from his hiding place and onto the higher level of the road, cloak flaring out dramatically.
I can see why Mae likes her dramatics, Twale thought, smirking. Even though his hair was silver and his skin was lined with time, he could still feel the gritty determination that he always had whenever he was doing a job.
Twale walked up the carriage, shoulders back and chin held high. There hadn’t been much damage to the vehicle itself, apart from the obvious breaks where the drivers had pulled the release mechanism to allow the horses to bolt free. It was a design that had been brought in after a spate of highway attacks that involved terrifying the horses.
It was also a design that had really annoyed Twale. He had been behind most of those original attacks, and he took the design as a personal offence.
Twale rounded the battered remains of the coach, finding the drivers unbuckling their harnesses as they tried to find their bearings. They had already lit the emergency flares, which burned brightly on the four corners of the carriage. It was the only means of seeing in this otherwise dark and desolate no-mans land, and it was a last desperate action of a driver who knew they were doomed. They fluttered brightly even in the torrential downpour, their protective glass cases stopping the rain from putting them out.
“Excuse me,” Twale asked politely, “do you want any help?”
“Who are you?” one of the drivers asked as he dropped out of his harness. He was clearly the older of the pair, probably more experienced with this kind of highway theft. Twale had probably met the man before on another road, although he wouldn’t remember the face.
“I’m Twale,” Twale said, enjoying the slight horror in the driver’s eyes as he connected the name with the legend. One of the advantages of being old was that you could pick up a certain air of mystique about yourself, and it was something that Twale had found more and more useful as his body begun to betray his mind.
“Sound the-” the driver started, turning to his younger co-driver. However, he couldn’t get to the word ‘alarm’ before Twale’s knife had settled deep into his throat.
“Please don’t do that,” Twale said to the corpse, looking at the other driver with a look of pity. This one was barely more than eighteen, with short blonde hair pulled back into a tight formal bob. She almost reminded Twale of his daughter, the one who had gone off to marry some aristocrat against his wishes.
“Please don’t kill me,” she said, “I’ve got a family-”
“I’m not going to kill you,” Twale said, cutting her off mid sentence, “I want you to run back to the guardpost and tell them that Twale attacked your carriage.”
“I-” she started.
“Don’t thank me, just do it,” Twale said. With a sharp movement, he cut the webbing straps that were holding the girl in place. She fell to the ground next to her dead companion, face paling at the sight of the dead body.
“Go on,” Twale said, “shoo.”
The girl bolted, just as fast as the horses. It was amazing what terro could do to the human body, making it move faster and think quicker on your feet.
Twale watched until the girl was out of sight, before he went to the side of the carriage and pulled open one of the doors to reveal two terrified occupants inside.
These two were the Raels of their respective Regions. The woman was Rael Looa, the Rael of the Peyth Region. Even now, in the middle of a heist, every dark hair on her perfectly balanced beehive was still in place, with thousands of tiny diamonds and rubies that twinkled in the darkness. She was a short woman, with the native light skin of the Peyth region, dressed in clothes that would have made Twale a millionaire overnight.
Unlike Looa, her male companion seemed to be doing a pretty bad job at hiding his terror. He was a tall, thin man, with the face tattoos that marked him of the Eraw Region, a Region that was positioned in the outermost section of the Outer Regions. According to Twale’s research, this man was Rael Oppit, a supposedly hard and cruel excuse for a human being who delighted in power and corruption as a way of managing his slowly disintegrating Region.
“I have a question I would like to put to your both,” Twale asked.
His instincts saved him as a dart came flying out of the carriage and whistled past his ear. Looa looked at Twale with thinly veiled disgust, her fingers fiddling with the edge of her sleeve where no doubt the dart gun contraption was sewn tightly into the fabric.
“Get out,” Twale said, stepping aside and pointing at the road, “if you don’t I’ll slit your throats.”
“You have no power over us,” Looa remarked, as her ridiculous beehive of hair popped out of the broken wreckage of the carriage as she stepped out onto the road. Oppit shuffled afterwards, seeming smaller than Looa even though he was a good foot taller than the woman.
Terrified, Twale fought to keep the grin from his face, fantastic.
“No, I do not,” Twale said, “you could attempt to run from me, but that will end in your death. You could try and fight me, and that will end in your death. Or you could offer me the information I so desire and that may or may not end in your death.”
“You leave us with such a variety of options,” Looa drawled, “we all know that the Assassins Guild is on the verge of collapse and you’re trying to destabilise the Inner Regions so you can take control.”
Twale fought a sigh. One of the problems with the Raels was that they thought they knew everything. It was all rather tiresome really, they thought there had been some grand plan behind Mae’s attack on her brother, when in fact it was the combination of a life long desire for revenge and the opportunity to stir up a little bit of trouble.
No, the real task was to begin tonight. Once Looa and Oppit gave Twale the information he sought.
“That’s another issue for another day,” Twale said, shrugging it off. Looa’s eyes glimmered with the relish of new information she had been given, and Twale smirked.
“Today, however, you’re going to tell me where the Book of Pattegon is being held,” Twale said.
The surprise and alarm registered in both of their faces instantly, quickly disappearing behind well trained courtly facades.
“That is a legend,” Oppit said, his deep voice echoing across the otherwise silent forest, “why would we know anything of it?”
“Nice try,” Twale said, “but that’s a lie, I want to know where it is.”
“Why would-” Looa started.
“Doesn’t matter why,” Twale interrupted, “tell me or you die. Easy peasy.”
“We don’t know where it is,” she continued, voice rising in pitch with a combination of anger and terror.
Twale considered cutting off one of their hands to just prove a point. These two were starting to become irritating rather than a mine of information.
“Give me your instructions,” Twale said, “the ones you got from the Inner Council.”
“How do you know-” Oppit begun.
“Do it,” Twale growled. For emphasis he slid one of the knives out of his sheathes and held it lightly in his hands, “or you start loosing fingers.”
Fingers were less useful than hands, especially if you started with the little ones.
Oppit’s face paled considerably, to the point that Twale thought the spindly man was going to keep over. However, the threat had the intended effect, and Oppit slid his hand into the inner pocket of his jacket to pull out his Council instructions and hand them over to Twale.
“And yours, if you wouldn’t mind,” Twale asked Looa. She smiled, almost seductively, as she reached down into her cleavage and pulled out her similar set of instructions.
She was probably trying to win Twale’s trust by acting seductively, a report that Twale had heard rumoured about Looa’s methods of getting people to do what she wanted. Whilst anyone was free to do whatever they wished with their beauty or their assets in Twale’s opinion, the joke was on her because he was very positively not interested in women at all.
Still, it made him chuckle.
“Thank you,” Twale said, tucking the instructions into his pocket, “and now to deal with both of you.”
Even though he was old, Twale’s movements were lighting fast. He stepped forward, hands lashing out and cracking into Oppit’s temples with such force that the man was stunned and crumpled to the ground.
“I thought you weren’t going to kill us,” Looa said, agast at Oppit’s crumpled form.
“He’s not dead,” Twale shrugged, “now your turn.”
He grabbed Looa’s dominant hand, the one he knew had the dart gun inside it, and twisted it around her back with a sudden movement that forced her to the ground. Pinning her arm to her back with a few fingers, he used his free hand to cut up the sleeve of her dress to reveal the remaining dart capsules hidden in the fabric.
“Nepoz, I guess?” Twale asked. It was a slow acting paralytic, one that wouldn’t kill but would ensure that the victim was unable to move for a good few minutes.
“Yes,” Looa grunted from the ground.
“Excellent,” Twale said. He plucked on of the darts from the sleeve and stabbed it into the side of Looa’s neck.
The effect was almost instantaneous. Nepoz was a fast acting drug, that when given to someone standing would cause them to freeze up and fall over as easy as a wooden board. Looa’s body slumped under Twale, but he kept the lock her wrist until at least one minute had passed. He didn’t want her coming up and stabbing him in the back with one of the blasted darts.
Taking the remainder of the darts, he walked over to Oppit and stabbed another into the man’s neck for good measure. The rest he would pocket in his knapsack, he would get Nettlie to test the drug later to see if she could come up with any crazy derivatives that might be useful on future heists. Then he took another letter, forged by him the week before, and stuffed it inside Oppit’s pocket. In it was details of a plot to undermine the Inner Regions by experimenting with a new poison that could kill without a trace. It would certainly destabilise the Eraw Region once and for all, once Nettlie had kept her word and managed to poison an entire bar of people without a trace.
I suppose Looa was right, Twale thought, patting Oppit’s pocket for good measure, we are on the edge. The Benefactors need to be sated before they start asking even more demands of us, before we can get free.
With dark thoughts clouding his mind, Twale took a final glance over the two bodies and the damaged carriage. Seeing nothing amiss, he jogged over to where his knapsack was hanging and pulled the bag from the tree, dumping the darts into the outer pocket on the front, and cutting the line free with his knife.
Before we can get free, though, we need the Book of Pattegon, Twale thought, we need power.
With that, he climbed up into the trees and towards the route that would lead him to safety. The guardposts never thought to look up, and certainly not to the secret passageways that the Assassins had built into the tops of the huge trees that lined the swamp.
Now they had the information about the whereabouts of the Book of Pattegon, they just had to steal it.