Read Brave Men Die: Part 3 Online
Authors: Dan Adams
The sun was setting when they arrived in Karnich. Avernus had ported them somewhere in the countryside outside of Xarth and they headed into town on foot. The three armed men were met with strange glances as they entered the town, Avernus disguised in mercenary garb like the brothers. Each of them had a short sword strapped to their waists, Edrazil had his battle axe on his back, Devilin his long sword. Avernus had concealed two daggers behind his back and walked with as much confidence as the two bigger men.
Edrazil led them through the town, taking lefts and rights, doing his best to take the least frequented ways and not look too suspicious on the streets. Having memorised the street maps of Xarth, he led confidently through the labyrinthine alleys. He stopped before exiting the last one and signalled for silence. He popped his head out and looked from side to side.
‘The map merchant’s place is three buildings down on the other side of the street. There is a tiny alley that runs beside it and I hope it contains an alternative entrance to the front door,’ he reported in whispers.
‘What’s the problem with using the front door Ed? It would be much easier just going in and buying it,’ Devilin asked. He’d found the map years ago and had wanted to just go in and buy it to get it over with.
Edrazil glanced at Avernus as if to say he was the reason why. ‘And anyway, the place is locked up and I don’t fancy having to stay here for the night.’
‘Break and enter is your thing Devilin. Get us in there undetected, we will grab the map and go.’
‘Why don’t you port us in?’
‘Because it should look like a break in, not a complete mystery. Now go.’ Avernus pushed Devilin out of the alley.
Devilin broke into a run when he noticed no one was looking and he darted into the alley beside the shop. He had to turn side on to squeeze through but managed until it got wider. Ed has guessed correctly, the alley had led to a back door and the living quarters above the shop.
He glanced down the alley in both directions before pulling out his lock picks and inserted them into the lock. Without turning around he could feel the presence of Avernus and Edrazil calmly waiting for him to finish, staring down the alley with hands on their weapons.
The lock clicked open and he pushed open the door, moving in quietly so as not to disturb whoever was home. He indicated for silence and pointed upstairs before tapping his chest. The other two nodded and went out into the front of the shop while Devilin moved quietly upstairs. He tested each step before putting his full weight on it and eventually traversed the landing.
He opened the first door that was already slightly ajar, peered inside, and found a bedroom. The bed was neatly made, the clothes were on racks in the corner, but the room looked like it hadn’t been lived in for a few weeks at least. He checked the other two rooms more casually and found the bathroom and toilet empty.
Devilin came downstairs to see Avernus cursing in frustration.
‘You said it was here Devilin?’ Avernus hissed.
‘The old man who owns the business has the map. This is his shop, so it should be here.’
Devilin looked around the room and noticed the bare walls and the mess on the floor that the other two had just made.
Avernus grabbed him by the arm and Devilin could feel the heat in his touch.
‘Where is the old man?’
‘He isn’t here. It doesn’t look like anyone has been living here for the last two weeks, maybe a little more.’
‘You said the old man had the map?’
‘He did, when I told you I had found it two years ago. You wanted to wait before getting it because you were too damn paranoid to go and buy a bloody bit of paper.’
Avernus was seething.
‘Look, there’s a tavern down the road,’ Edrazil interrupted.
Devilin gave him the look that said this wasn’t the time for drinking. Edrazil ignored him and continued. ‘Maybe we can ask some questions, get some information about the old man there. Hopefully we can find out where he is, or where the map is, and then go from there.’
Slowly Avernus released Devilin’s arm and began to calm down. ‘Fine, we go into the pub, separately. We make no contact with each other and try to get some information.’
Edrazil entered the pub first, went to the bar, and ordered a beer. He knew Avernus would have a fit but he needed to look authentic. The man beside him glanced in his direction.
‘You look like a walking armoury. Leave anything for the next bloke?’
‘Only what I couldn’t carry,’ Edrazil replied with an easy grin.
‘When I was your age, I used to carry around an axe like that.’
‘Saw some action did you?’
‘Buy me a beer and I’ll tell you about it.’
Taking a sip of his beer, Edrazil noticed the old man wore the marks of hard work, his hands scratched and scarred. He doubted he was the map merchant they were looking for, but maybe he knew something. He indicated to the barkeeper for another round and let the old man begin his tale.
Avernus entered next, taking his time to scan the room. He noted Edrazil talking to an old drunk, but dismissed the man by the look of his hands. They were a worker’s, not a clerk’s. He soon found an old man with silver hair sitting in the corner by himself, clutching the drink in front of him. The man looked intelligent and wily, definitely a businessman.
‘Mind if I join you?’ Avernus asked as he sat, not really giving the older man an option.
The man nodded and Avernus noted that his mug was almost empty. ‘Next round is on me old-timer, for your company.’ His words surprised the old man but he nodded in appreciation and Avernus called for two beers.
‘Long day?’ Avernus asked.
‘Yes. I buried a friend of mine today. We had grown up together in town, then went into our professions, and have been drinking in this place every night since we were old enough.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Not more than me. My wife died nine years ago and Rog had kept me company since then, been my friend since my son moved away to Raeltom. He was family and now I have none left.’
Avernus raised his mug in toast when it arrived, indicated to the silver haired man to do the same. ‘To old friends and family. May they live on in your heart.’
‘Cheers,’ the old man replied, putting the drink to his lips.
‘So what did your friend do for a living?’ Avernus asked.
‘He was a map merchant, had his own shop up the road. He bought it from another cartographer and worked hard to get business. Did a good job, he did, but his son-in-law has taken over. He’s just trying to flog off all the assets and turn it into gods knows what.’
‘What a bastard,’ Avernus exclaimed, referring to the old man dying rather than the obnoxious son-in-law.
‘That’s a shame really, I was in need of a good map of these parts. Would I be able to meet his brat, or does he still open the shop?’
‘Only by request these days. But don’t you worry, he’s in here tonight too, drinking to his good fortune and muttering about treasure maps. Drunk and delusional he is.’
The old man made an effort to stand and looked around the tavern. ‘That’s him over there, talking to a mercenary like yourself.’
Avernus looked up, past Edrazil who was talking to a pretty blonde barmaid to where the man pointed at the middle aged man with short brown hair talking to Devilin.
‘I guess I will have to speak with him later tonight,’ Avernus said, getting up and going to the bar, offering the old man another.
‘No, it’s about time I was heading off. It was good talking to you young man.’
Avernus wondered whether the old man knew that he had just signed the death warrant of his best friend’s son-in-law, but he shrugged — probably not. He circled past the table behind the man talking to Devilin and indicated that he was the target.
Devilin ordered more drinks immediately while Avernus sat at the end of the bar, ordered another, and sat quietly. Soon enough the arrogant man was drunk and pulled out a map.
‘This one, this one here … it’s going to lead me to buried treasure,’ he whispered loud enough for everyone to hear. ‘It’s the only thing of value I found in the old man’s shop.’
Devilin scanned the map and smiled, realising that he’d found what they were after. He signalled Avernus while the merchant’s son-in-law rolled it back up and put it in a leather tube that hung over his shoulder.
‘Can’t let this little beauty out of my sight. Who knows who might want to take it? You don’t want to do you?’ he drunkenly sneered in Devilin’s direction.
‘Me? No, why would I bloody want a piece of paper,’ he replied, doing his best to look offended.
That seemed to satisfy the drunk and he reassured Devilin he would return after he had relieved himself. Devilin let him take five paces before he stood up and let Edrazil walk past him. Avernus got up from his bar stool moments after they had passed and Devilin followed, trying not to make it appear too obvious that all three mercenaries were headed for the door at once.
The drunk had chosen to piss in the alley and made it easier for Edrazil to come up from behind and run his dagger across his neck. The man fell into his own puddle of blood and piss but not before Edrazil had a firm hold of the leather case.
Devilin stepped out of the doorway as soon as the deed was done and heard a muffled cry coming from the opposite direction. In the darkness his eyes needed a moment to adjust before he could see a small child standing in the middle of the alley, staring at Edrazil cleaning his blade on the dead man’s shirt.
The girl had to live on the street. Her face was dirty, her clothes were torn, and she stared blankly at the merchant’s body without moving a muscle. Devilin whistled softly to the others.
Avernus reacted faster than Devilin thought possible, porting right behind the little girl and snapping her neck in a vicious twist. She dropped to the ground as he walked back toward them and caught his eye.
‘No one will miss another street kid, Dev.’
‘They will if you leave the body in the middle of the alley.’
Avernus paused momentarily and looked back over his shoulder. He cast quietly, words of power that charged the air with electricity, and then the girl was nothing more than dust.
Edrazil checked that the map was still in the leather tube, untouched by beer, piss, or blood and handed it to Avernus when he was sure of it.
‘Where to now?’ Edrazil asked.
‘We take this back home, then we need to get ourselves to the Callisto Mountains and see how our war is going without us.’
The air shimmered around the three men and then they were gone from Xarth, leaving behind the soft noises coming from the tavern and the blood in the alley.
Avernus stared down over the Cerebus Valley, watching the Kyzantines run around like ants trying to please their master. The brothers were analysing their tactics, discussing how they would attack Black Claw.
The Kyzantines were disorganised, seemingly disinterested in the battle. He’d assumed they would already laid waste to the border forces and marched to Buckthorne. He had waited since before dawn for the Kyzantines to rise, form ranks and slowly march along the pass to Black Claw. The Murukan defenders were clearly superior and repelled them with ease. But they hadn’t taken the fight to the enemy, which suggested their numbers were getting thin.
Edrazil dumped the body of a Kyzantine scout beside Avernus then went and dragged another one over.
‘The mountains are full of them, looking for a way to get behind Black Claw I reckon. I got the first one then only managed to stumble upon the second. They can hide themselves pretty well when they want to.’
‘You shouldn’t be killing any Kyzantines. It appears they need all the soldiers they have to get past Black Claw.’
‘But the Kyzantines are the only ones up here on the mountains and we couldn’t let them live once they had seen us.’
‘How many did Devilin kill?’
‘I have no idea. I haven’t seen Dev since we separated to patrol the perimeter.’
‘I got five,’ Devilin answered as he approached. ‘We really shouldn’t be staying here this long. More will come when this lot don’t return.’
‘The Kyzantines don’t seem to be winning here Avernus. Shouldn’t they already be marching toward Buckthorne?’ Edrazil asked.
‘Yes, the defenders have magical support already. I didn’t think it possible this early on. Although there only appears to be one, she is by far the strongest I think I have ever met.’
‘So what does this mean for your plans?’
‘Nothing changes. We get the crystal then return to Buckthorne for the book. We just won’t be going in with the chaos of battle around us like I had planned. Perhaps if they have overcommitted themselves to Black Claw we can get into Buckthorne just as easily.’
‘What about the Kyzantines? Didn’t you want them to soften the Murukans before we made our move?’
‘Yes, and they seem absolutely incompetent, so I’m thinking we get some other help. Perhaps another military force that could draw the Murukans into a very long thin line and then snap them.’
‘Firadon have been allies with Murukia for centuries, they won’t help,’ Devilin pointed out. ‘Raeltom is neutral and Elkington, Lavasko, and Karnich don’t share any immediate borders with them.’
‘The raiders from the islands wouldn’t be able to supply the numbers for a full out invasion. That only leaves—’
‘Our friends from Tyrea,’ Avernus interrupted. ‘Once the King commits his forces and draws the Murukans away from Sarkridge we will destroy the Academy and all those bitches who run it.’
‘We’re going to need to keep our eye on this,’ Devilin said, indicating the battle below.
‘You’re right, we’ll need to monitor the situation.’
‘Well then Avernus, we better get going if you want to speak to the Tyrean King before we get that bloody crystal. We seem to have a lot to do to get this world domination plan of yours working,’ Edrazil said.
Devilin knew better than to smile when Edrazil started to laugh. Avernus didn’t see this as world domination. He saw it as setting the world right.