|Английски оригинал||Перевод на български|
A night candle casts the merest glimmer of light in my room. Barely enough to illuminate the knife at my throat, or the figure of the Assassin looming over me. I'm pinned to my bed, unable to move. A bad awakening indeed. I've encountered Hanama before. She's number three in the Assassins Guild, a ruthless killer. And yet, as my senses clear, I realise I'm not about to be immediately assassinated. If I was I'd be dead already. The Assassins don't worry about formalities like waking up their victims.
"Where is it?" she hisses.
"What?" I croak in reply.
"The Red Elvish Cloth," says Hanama, plunging me into further confusion.
"What are you talking about?"
She presses the knife a fraction further.
"Hand it over or die," says Hanama, her eyes as cold as an Orc's heart.
The door to the next room swings open. Light from a lantern floods in. There stands Makri, sword in hand.
"Let him go," she snarls.
Hanama laughs, a thin, humourless Assassin's laugh.
"Nice bikini," she says, mockingly, and in one swift movement draws a short sword and drops into a fighting crouch. Hanama's small, thin figure is exaggerated by her featureless black clothes, making her appear almost childlike. I wonder if Makri realises how deadly she is. I ready myself to spring to her aid.
Suddenly the outside door crashes open. Men pound into the office and on into my inner room. Makri and Hanama whirl round to face the intruders. I leap from the bed and grab my sword. There's no time to think and little room to move as a horde of savage sword-wielding thugs threaten to sweep us away by sheer force of numbers. A massive man waves an equally massive scimitar at me. I avoid it nimbly and stick my knife into his heart. My next assailant slams a hatchet towards my head. I dodge the blow, kick him in the knee and slash my knife through his throat. I'm good at this sort of thing. So are Makri and Hanama. We drive our attackers back into the next room, then Makri leaps after them impetuously, followed by Hanama and me.
In the larger space of my office we find ourselves at a disadvantage. More attackers are pouring in from outside and they start to encircle us. There's little time to think, though I get a brief glimpse of Makri scything two men down with one blow and flying over a low slash aimed by another to smash her boot into his face. I parry another blow but before I can counter-thrust my senses start going haywire. I detect magic, powerful magic, very close. I gain an impression of a large, cloaked figure in the doorway, one arm raised, before there's a violent flash and I'm thrown back against the wall along with Makri and Hanama. The three of us lie there, gasping and bleeding. I don't know what the spell was but it was pretty effective.
"Kill them," says the Sorcerer, entering the room.
Suddenly Gurd, roused by the commotion, hurtles into the office with his axe above his head. Two men fall dead before they can scream. I drag myself to my feet as Gurd disappears into a maelstrom of blades and bodies. The interruption allows Makri and Hanama the few seconds they need to recover. A knife flashes out of Hanama's palm, transfixing one man, while she deftly stabs another in the back. Makri hacks her way through to Gurd. I do likewise. Our savage attack begins to carry the day and our attackers start to crumble. One more push should do it. My senses go haywire again and I realise we're in for another sorcerous attack. Damn all Sorcerers.
It's interrupted by the shrill screech of whistles in the alley below. The Civil Guard has arrived.
There's confusion as our attackers fight their way down the stairs to make their escape. I don't bother to pursue them. I can hardly stand upright. The exertion of the battle and the effects of the spell have really drained me. Also, I have a hangover.
"What was that about?" demands Gurd, as Civil Guards pile into the room.
I shake my head numbly. I don't know. I look round to check on my companions. Makri is fine, calmly wiping blood from her swords on to the clothes of one of our many dead opponents. Of Hanama there is no sign. She's slipped out in the confusion.
"What was that about?" echoes Captain Rallee.
"No idea," I pant. "But I'm sure pleased to see you."
"We had them beat anyway," says Makri, dismissively.
Makri fights with a sword in each hand, or a sword in one and an axe in the other. It's an unusual technique, almost unknown in Turai, and her mastery of the skill makes her pretty much invulnerable against your run-of-the-mill street fighter.
"Look, Captain," cries one of the Guardsmen, holding up the arm of one of the bodies and pointing to a tattoo. The Captain crosses over to examine it. Two clasped hands.
"Society of Friends," he says. "What have you done to offend them, Thraxas? You owe them money as well?"
I shake my head. I had no idea I'd offended the Society of Friends. I try to avoid offending large criminal organisations.
Considering there are nine dead bodies in my room the Civil Guards make surprisingly little fuss.
The attackers' tattoos confirm them all as members of the Society of Friends, and the Society cuts little ice down here in Brotherhood territory. The Civil Guard isn't going to waste too much time on the matter, especially as I'm a Private Investigator. Captain Rallee observes that, whatever the reason for the attack, I probably deserved it.
Gurd is distressed at the damage to the room, but reasonably jovial about the whole affair. He hasn't had a good fight for a long time.
"Who was that woman?"
"Hanama. A high-up member of the Assassins Guild."
Makri's eyes widen. "There's an Assassins Guild? I never knew they were so organised."
"Well it's not an official guild. They don't go to meetings with other guilds or send representatives to the Senate. But they exist all right. And a bunch of very deadly killers they are too. They're behind most of the political murders here, and they'll work for anyone who pays them."
"But she wasn't trying to assassinate you, was she?"
I shake my head. "She seemed to think I had some Red Elvish Cloth."
I shake my head. I can't make it out either. "The consignment that went missing on its way to Turai,"
I explain. "But what it's got to do with the Assassins, or why Hanama thinks I've got it, is a mystery."
A municipal cart rolls up outside and some government workers start carrying the bodies out.
Tholius, Prefect in charge of Twelve Seas, doesn't spend a lot of the King's money on keeping the place tidy but he does at least provide a service for mopping up corpses. "What is this Cloth?" asks Makri, as I pour myself a beer to calm myself after the fight.
"The most valuable substance in the west. Worth more than gold or dwa because it's completely impenetrable to sorcery. It's extremely rare and the Elves guard it pretty closely. They make it from the roots of some bush which only flowers every ten years. Or maybe twenty. I can't exactly remember, but it's rare. It's illegal for anyone but the King to own it here. He's got a room lined with it at the Palace where he discusses state secrets with his advisers. Because it forms a total magic-proof barrier it's the only place that's completely safe from prying Sorcerers, so he can be sure that enemy Orcish Sorcerers aren't eavesdropping in wartime for instance. The Orcs don't have any of this stuff, which gives us an advantage. Plenty of people would like to get their hands on some."
"Were the Society of Friends after the same thing?"
"It's possible. I can't think why else they'd be here. How did word get around that I've got the Red Elvish Cloth? It's got nothing to do with me. It's not even in the city."
"How do you know?"
"Because the Elves mark all their cloth when it's in transit. A sort of magical signal, so any Sorcerer can locate it. After it reaches our King, an Elvish Sorcerer removes the mark, making it undetectable, but before that's done, Palace Sorcerers could locate it with their searching spells, and I know they've been scanning the city."
"Maybe whoever stole it removed the mark," suggests Makri.
"Unlikely. Elvish magic markings are practically impossible to erase. Usually one of their own Sorcerers does it for the King. I wish I knew how I'd become involved in all this. I'd better learn a more powerful locking spell for my door. It didn't take Hanama long to get through it."
"I like her," says Makri.
"What d'you mean, you like her? She was holding a knife at my throat."