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"Feel like going to church, Makri?"
"If we must."
The streets are quiet, barely illuminated by the oil lamps on each corner. The whores have all gone home, and the only people in sight are the homeless beggars who sleep in doorways.
We make our way down to the end of Saint Volinius's Street, right by the docks. Behind us the huge hulks of triremes and quinquiremes float high in the water, ready to take on cargo tomorrow. The sight makes me pause. I saw a fair amount of the known world in my younger days, but it's been a good many years since I've travelled far from Turai. What would it be like, I wonder, to get on a ship and sail to Samsarina or Simnia in the west? Or further, to the distant, barely explored shores of Kastlin? South perhaps, to the Elvish Islands, where the sun shines on perfect white beaches and music floats through the trees? I shake my head. I'm too old to go travelling again. I guess I'll be stuck in this city for the rest of my life.
In front of us is the large and imposing Church of Saint Volinius, the only richly decorated building in Twelve Seas. So far the dwa addicts haven't started robbing the churches. It's only a matter of time. No lights show though a lamp is visible in the window of the small house in the grounds where the Pontifex lives. We hurry to the back of the church. I hesitate. I've never broken into a church before and I don't relish the prospect. Just because I can't be bothered praying doesn't mean I relish offending the Divinity.
Makri sees my hesitation.
"If someone finds us here and I cut their head off the Divinity will be far more offended," she says, encouragingly.
I mutter the opening incantation. Nothing happens. Not surprising. You'd expect a Pontifex like Derlex to know the common minor incantations, even if the Church does disapprove of magic.
"Locking spell," I mutter, and get to work. It doesn't take long. I was picking locks as soon as I could walk. I have a natural talent for it. We hurry inside. Makri takes one of the huge candles off the altar and lights it from her tinderbox. I get the impression she's enjoying this sacrilegious behaviour but it's making me uneasy. Shadows from the statues around us loom out eerily as we pass and I half expect some ancient saint to step out from an alcove and reprimand me for desecrating church property.
We start to hunt, lifting up the altar cloth, peering under the pews, poking around in all the nooks and crannies of the church. We haven't got very far when we are interrupted by a faint noise from the door we came in. Makri swiftly blows out the candle and we disappear silently under a pew. A tiny glimmer of light flickers into view. I risk a quick glance, then put my mouth to Makri's ear.
"Glixius," I whisper. "And three others."
Concealed under the bench, we wait as the Sorcerer and the Society of Friends search the church.
Obviously I am not the only person who suspects the True Church of the theft.
Again noises come from the door. Glixius's illuminated staff is extinguished and the four men conceal themselves somewhere in the far side of the church. I peek out from my hiding place. Entering the building, sword in hand, is Hanama. Watching her creep silently towards the altar I am again mystified by the Assassins' interest in the Cloth.
Hanama has even less time to search than Glixius. She is interrupted almost immediately by the sound of yet another party entering, and swiftly conceals herself behind the altar, disappearing only seconds before Yubaxas and five Brotherhood men steal silently into the church.
"I think I'm going to laugh," whispers Makri.
I shoot her a warning glance, though I have to admit it is funny in a grim sort of way. With us, the Society of Friends and an Assassin all hiding under chairs and suchlike, it's starting to remind me of one of the sillier comedies at the theatre.
When sounds of entry force Yubaxas and his companions to scurry for cover, Makri actually does giggle, though this is fortunately covered up by the voices of the new arrivals who are making no effort to be silent. A quick glance reveals Bishop Gzekius and four Curates with lanterns, led in by Pontifex Derlex.
"Where is it?" demands Gzekius, his voice booming through the church.
Derlex unlocks a side room. They enter, and emerge quickly with a large piece of folded Red Cloth.
"Excellent," says the Bishop.
I wait tensely. Are any of the people hiding here about to rob the Bishop? I certainly do not intend to, not even to clear the Princess's name and claim the huge reward. I'd be in endless trouble afterwards.
It's disappointing that so many others worked out where the Red Elvish Cloth was, but I can live with the disappointment. It's better than being hauled up in court for burglary, and probably heresy and treason as well.
The back door flies open. Shockingly, four Orcs stride in. The Bishop cries out in horror. Orcs are quite definitely not allowed in a true church. I groan. I know what's going to happen now, but I'm powerless to prevent it. Makri leaps from under the pew and hurtles towards the Orcs, a sword in each hand and murder in her eyes. I drag myself to my feet and run after her. I can't let her fight four Orcs on her own.
"Thraxas!" yells Pontifex Derlex.
"Orcs!" screams Yubaxas, as the Brotherhood reveal themselves.
It goes badly for the Orcs. Makri and I engage with them while the Brotherhood and Hanama outflank them. Even the Curates lend a hand. The Orcs are quickly cut down.
"Orcish scum," spits Makri, and kicks one of the bodies.
"What are you doing here?" screams Bishop Gzekius.
Personally I'm stuck for an answer. The awkward silence doesn't last long. There's a huge thunder flash and everyone except me is flung to the floor. I remain upright, if shaky. One advantage of carrying a lot of weight—good centre of balance. Glixius Dragon Killer has emerged to enter the fray. He makes straight for the Cloth.
"I notice you didn't come out to fight the Orcs," I say as he advances, and grab the Red Elvish Cloth from the floor.
"Allies come and allies go. Now give me that!" he shouts.
"Blasphemers!" yells Bishop Gzekius. "You'll all pay for this! Get out of my church!"
Glixius lunges at me. Makri sticks out her leg and he crashes to the floor. I take the Bishop's advice, and flee with the Cloth.
By the time I reach the alley outside Makri is at my shoulder and we're about fifteen seconds in front of Glixius and the Society of Friends.
"Look!" gasps Makri. At the far end of the dark alley are eight armed men. Makri's swords appear in her hands.
"We're trapped," I groan.
Bizarrely, a manhole cover opens in front of us.
"In here!" hisses a voice.
It's Hanama. Typically, she slipped out of the Church unnoticed.
I hesitate. Meeting Assassins in sewers isn't all that attractive a prospect. And I haven't forgotten the alligator. Suddenly my senses go crazy. Glixius Dragon Killer has rounded the corner and is about to unleash a ferocious spell. I unfurl the roll of Cloth in an instant and hurl it over myself and Makri. The spell bounces harmlessly off us but Makri, taken by surprise by my unexpected manoeuvre, stumbles backwards into me and we both fall through the manhole into the stinking darkness below.
"Not again," I groan as I struggle to my feet in the filth. Two visits to the sewers on one case seems excessive.
I bundle up the Cloth as quickly as I can and we head off, while up above there is shouting and confusion.
I don't know where we are. I've never been in this part of the sewers before, so I let Hanama lead.
She carries a small lantern of cunning design which lights our way.
I'm not sure why I'm following her. I don't think we're allies. At least she's taking me away from Glixius. I solemnly swear to myself that if I survive this night then I will make every sacrifice, including beer, to buy myself a new spell protection charm. They're hideously expensive but I can't go running scared from Sorcerers all the time, not in my line of work.
"Where are we going?"
"Exit on the shore," replies Hanama, who seems entirely at home down in the sewers.