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Authors: J.S. Morin

Aethersmith (Book 2) (7 page)

BOOK: Aethersmith (Book 2)
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The little braids in her hair she had woven that morning on
the ride to town, and rather taken a liking to. The brown beads woven into them
stood out less against her natural auburn color, so she doubted anyone would mistake
her for the same girl who had stormed through Doggershack. The armor was her
own, Kheshi made and well molded to her form in the years she had owned it. It
left her arms free to fight, and acted as more of a safeguard in case her
magical shields were ever lacking, or she was caught unawares.
That
would certainly be noticed should she go about clad in it in Scar Harbor as
Soria Coinblade, rather than her Kheshi alter ego. She stowed the armor away
until they were ready to leave the city.

The accent she had used had taken no magic, nor any special
acting on her part. She had spent much of her youth in Khesh, and spoke Kheshi
better than her birth language of Acardian. She could drop the accent when she
had to, but it took effort, and she slipped up when flustered. Usually she did
not bother to try to hide it, since many foreigners found it charming.

Weary and sweat caked from traveling and wearing armor
about, Soria took advantage of the amenities available at a nice inn like The
Little Manor, and had one of the maids draw her a bath. She tipped the lass a
twenty-eckle coin and made the girl’s day. The water was hot, and Soria was
intent that it remain so. It might not draw suspicion in Kadrin to have a cold
bath drawn and heat it to taste by means of aether, but in Acardia, she waited
the extra time for the girl to bring the water hot. Should it begin to cool,
Soria planned to use enough aether to keep herself warm a long time.

She soaked in the little tub for hours, until her legs
cramped and her bottom began to lose feeling from sitting on hard metal for too
long. It was well past midnight, but Soria was accustomed to late nights, and
not yet sleepy.

As she relaxed, she unfocused her eyes, drifting into
aether-vision, and seeing the world in swirling blue-white aether, with little
Sources all about, slumbering. The aether being less than compelling enough to
hold her interest, Soria let her mind drift a little more loosely, and slipped
past the aether-vision to watch through Juliana Archon’s eyes.

* * * * * * * *

Rakashi drew curious glances as he walked the streets of
Scar Harbor the next morning, after splitting off from the rest of the group.
They had gone their separate ways after scouting the neighborhood around the
witch’s shop, and talking to his neighbors for leads. Takalish were not unheard
of in Acardia, but visibly armed folk always drew more attention, even that of
the constables that roamed the city like watchdogs on an over-large estate.
Many Takalish merchants brought their goods to Acardia through Scar Harbor, and
some had even settled in the city. The merchants wore flashy clothing, bright
jewelry, and funny little hats (to Acardian thinking at least) that told the
enlightened shopper what guild they were affiliated with. The conservatively dressed
Takalish with the eye patch and war braids bore watching.

He walked about the city, passively taking in the sights he
had never seen before, as it was his first time in Scar Harbor. He had a task
to accomplish, but there was almost no chance that the sorcerer they were
looking for was still in the city, so the urgency to find him was scant. It
felt good to be away from the others for a while. He loved them as brothers and
sister, but they were often loud and rash. Rakashi preferred time to think before
speaking and to speak before acting. Soria was the worst in that regard. She
thought quickly and felt that it gave her leave to act on any whim, counting on
her wits—or at worst, her magic—to save her.

Rakashi made his way generally in the direction of the
Society of Learned Men, but wended his way via side streets and thoroughfares
that bore only the slightest hint at his destination. Tanner or Soria might
have done the same out of some paranoid sense of diversion, and Zell would
almost certainly not have taken such an oblique route at all, but Rakashi liked
to see the world he lived in, not just survive it and profit from it. He looked
into shops to see what sort of things the Acardians liked to buy and how they
dealt in business. He met the gaze of passersby with a slight nod and a hand to
his chest, the standard Takalish greeting between strangers who have nothing to
discuss. He even stopped on two occasions to give five-eckle coins to beggars
and inquire after their health.

By the time he had arrived at the Society of Learned Men, it
was a proper time to take lunch. After introducing himself to the society’s
manservant as a traveling scholar, he was invited to luncheon with Professor
Honothan Whitegull, whom Kyrus Hinterdale’s cobbler neighbor had claimed was a
patron of the scrivener’s shop from time to time.

“It is so rare for us to have armed guests at the table,
Rakashi old boy,” the professor commented. Stooped and gaunt, with a fluffy
fringe of white hair about his head, he was hardly one to be commenting on his
guest’s age.

“I travel much. Just as a merchant ship carries cannons or a
diplomat travels with men at arms, so I carry my half-spear. One day, I may
have a nice position in a university, as you have here in Acardia, but I must
earn my way first. And just like a merchant or a diplomat, my travels may take
me places that are not so friendly,” Rakashi said.

“Might I have a look at it?” Professor Whitegull asked
politely, peering over Rakashi’s shoulder at the handle of his weapon.

“Of course,” Rakashi replied smoothly, drawing the blade and
setting it down gingerly next to the professor’s plate. He was not normally of
a habit of handing over his weapon in an unfamiliar setting, but no man who
served cucumber and minced-pork finger sandwiches as lunch was a threat to take
up his blade against him, no matter his age or apparent infirmity.

The old man gave the half-spear an appraising look and ran a
fingernail across the blade to see the mark it left. “Very nice. Very nice.
Good workmanship coming out of Takalia these days, it seems. You keep a good
edge on it too. Looks about a dozen years old, to judge by the condition of the
leather on the grip. It ought to last another dozen at least before it needs
any serious repair.”

“I use it gently. I have never killed with it.” Rakashi
indulged in the pleasant lie to keep the luncheon more congenial. Not every
non-warrior was comfortable in the presence of one who had killed. “Twice in my
travels I have been accosted, but never have I had the misfortune to shed my
attacker’s lifeblood. Most of the nicks and marks you see upon it are from
practice. It takes years to learn to use a half-spear well, and the learning
keeps the body in good health.”

“So what then brings you to Scar Harbor, sir?” Professor
Whitegull inquired.

“I am looking for a man named Kyrus Hinterdale,” Rakashi
told him, glad to have the professor broach the change of subject so that he
had a proper reason to bring up his search. “I have heard that you did business
with him.”

“Hmm, a bit, yes. Mostly with his former employer,
though—Expert Chartler. Kyrus seemed like a good enough lad. You know … quiet,
bookish, professorial … one of my own kind, so to speak.” The professor
chuckled lightly at what he must have found to be an amusing observation.
Rakashi did not patronize him by pretending to understand the jest, but merely
listened respectfully. “Anyway, that whole witch business was a bunch of
poppycock! Magic does not exist. If folk were less inclined to their cups,
there would be fewer troublemakers claiming it did.”

Rakashi nodded through the professor’s little tirade, as if
to agree with all he was saying. With the aether-vision in his patched eye,
however, Rakashi could not help but notice that the drawing room in which they
ate contained no fewer than three items imbued with aether. The Society of
Learned Men were either better collectors than they realized, or someone among
them was more “Learned” than the others.

“Well, whether he is a witch or not, I hope to find him. I
would very much like to meet a witch if they exist. If they do not, I would
like to see what sort of man would earn such a reputation,” Rakashi said.

“Be a bit off, by most folks’ reckoning, and have the
misfortune to be around some odd happenstance that a drunken mind might not
wrap itself fully around. By my best conjecture, in the absence of any personal
connection to the facts, that is most likely what befell Expert Hinterdale,”
Professor Whitegull pontificated—pontificating being a special privilege of
academia.

Satisfied that he would find little of practical use in
speaking with the professor, Rakashi instead spent the afternoon in a
stimulating discussion of foreign politics.

* * * * * * * *

Zellisan had eaten a hearty breakfast in the common room of
The Little Manor, but was intent on another morning meal with his choice of
investigative subjects. The witch had apparently been friendly with one of the
local bakers, and Zell was planning to sample his wares if he got naught else
from his assigned task.

Greuder’s Pastries was a tidy little establishment, not a
bad walk from where he had just parted ways with the others. Apparently the
Hinterdale fellow was a regular customer and friend of the proprietor, so Zell
was going to see what he could learn about him.

Business was brisk; there was room to move in the little
shop. There were tables filled with late breakfasters and a small line waiting
at a counter to purchase sweets to take away. They were city folk, peasant
merchants, and tradesmen from the look of them, with night workers
predominating the lot of them, if Zell was any judge. A large man to begin
with, Zell stood out all the more for being armed in a bakery in a rather safe
little Acardian seaport. The docks might have had pretentions of roughness, but
the interior portion of the city stank of sweets and flowers.

Zell played nice and waited his turn in line. Despite a
number of customers in front of him, it did not take long before he made his
way to the front. There was an admirable efficiency to the operation; he hoped
the food was admirable as well.

“What would you like today, sir?” the baker asked when Zell
was left with none between him and the counter.

“You know a fellow named Kyrus Hinterdale?” Zell asked,
skipping to his reason for coming without preamble.

“Haven’t got any of those today. Try a scone, perhaps?” the
baker replied without pausing so much as a heartbeat.

“You Greuder, ain’t ya?” Zell said, not to be dissuaded by
an impertinent baker.

“If I’m not, I’ve been doing him quite a favor running his bakery
all these years,” Greuder replied. “Now are you going to buy something? I have
customers waiting, you know.”

Zell glanced over his shoulder, and noticed that there were
indeed people who had come into the shop behind him while he was not paying
attention. It was the sort of mistake that could get him killed in a place like
Darkwater or Marker’s Point, but Scar Harbor was the sort of place that lulled
one with its idyllic seaside charm. The name made it sound a bit rough at the
edges, but the “scar” it referred to was just a sandbar that cut through the
harbor on maps and looked a bit like a facial scar—if you were a cartographer
or navigator with too much imagination who stares at maps all day, seeing in
them shapes and objects like children do pointing up at the clouds.

“Give me two of those little puffy ones, and two of the
twisty ones. Oh, and I’ll have one of them big cream-topped ones, too.” Zell
picked out whatever looked tastiest, a hard task since it all looked and
smelled wonderful. He waited a breath until Greuder was busying himself about
wrapping up his order, then set back in on his main line of questioning. “So
you know this fellow Kyrus the Witch, or don’t ya?”

“You another purveyor of justice for hire, then, I take it?”

“Close, but way off,” Zell answered, not even realizing the
paradox. “You’re a friend of his, I hear, so I think I can give you the back
alley on this one. I’m a coinblade, and I could use a fellow like him, if
rumors be true. Only a madman would go chasing a witch if he meant to do him
harm. So either this Kyrus is a witch—and I’d be crazy to tangle with him if he
was—or he isn’t, and I got no use finding him or trying to hire him. So now
since I’m playing cards-up with you, how ’bout you tell me this: you think he’s
really a witch like they say? If’n he is, any help you can give me findin’ him
is no trouble to him. Either he likes my offer or he doesn’t; no one is takin’
a witch to jail twice. Even once is probably fool’s luck.”

Greuder gave Zell a hard look. He was near to Zell’s size,
but not quite, and there was far less hard muscle under his own fluffy outer
layer than the coinblade’s. “Eighty-six eckles, sir,” he replied evenly.

Zellisan fished in his pockets, and slowly counted out no
less than two hundred eckles, then a few more for flair, and slapped them down
on the counter. Greuder started to hand him his purchase, but noticed that Zell
was not removing his hand from atop the coins.

“It was a simple enough question,” Zell stated, looking
Greuder square in the eye with as little menace as he could manage to keep from
mustering.

“All right then, yes. I think Kyrus pulled the hat down over
our eyes and was a witch all along. He was a good lad, though … amiable,
pleasant, thoughtful, bit of a wit to him. Never had I heard a word against him
until suddenly they said he was a threat to everyone. Do I think he attacked
constables who sought to arrest him? Of course! Back a spinster’s lap cat into
a corner, and it will remind you that it still has claws; it is your fault for forgetting,
and provoking it. It defended itself the only way nature provided. If they had
left Kyrus alone, he would still be working at his shop, bothering no one.”

BOOK: Aethersmith (Book 2)
9.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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