Authors: J.S. Morin
Book 3 of the
By J.S. Morin
Copyright © 2013
Magical Scrivener Press
Cover Art by
Agga was a shriveled shell of a man. Never an
imposing specimen in his lifetime, he sat piled in his chair, heaped in
blankets to warm his bloodless extremities. Though he wheezed with every
breath, and his dry, ashen skin sagged from the bones of his face, he was as
frightening a man as Yancy Tarek had ever encountered. Agga the Ratkeeper, folk
called him, though each generation seemed to have come up with a new
appellation for the ancient seller of secrets.
"Tarek ... have they all...arrived yet?"
"They have. The last one, Filius Gromn, got in
just this morning, by way of Trebber's Cove. Do you wish to see them?"
"No ... not yet ... there is one ... more I
expect," Agga said, eyeing Tarek with a look that chilled him. While Tarek
could snap his employer's bones by looking at him cross-ways, he suspected that
Agga would still find a way to get the best of him. There was a way he had of
knowing everyone's schemes that made him seem almost prescient at times.
"I'm sorry, sir, but all your men are here now.
I didn't send for anyone else." Tarek felt it his duty to correct the old
man, even though he knew an explanation was forthcoming. That hairless,
liver-spotted skull atop Agga's neck was too keen for casual slips. For all his
frailties, Agga's mind had not suffered a bit.
Agga laughed; it sounded like a leaking bellows and
ended in a hacking cough that bent the old man in half. Tarek thought for a
moment that it would be the end of Agga, right there, at a jest he had yet to
"I have ... sources Tarek...that you do
not...comprehend. There will be...one more...a kinsmen of mine. He will ... be
"Any idea when I should look for him,
"Soon. You should ... go wait," Agga said.
"Is it true that you will be choosing a
successor? That's what the talk is, that you're planning to
retire.""Yes. I am ... getting too ... old for this."
"Then ... um, maybe I might ask how old that
really is?" Tarek ventured. Agga lied boldly and habitually about his age,
rarely giving the same account twice. His agents had a running bet going,
should they ever discover the old man's true age, and each of them had his
guess. Rumors of Agga being well over a hundred persisted, but the most any of his
men had bet upon was one hundred ten. Tarek had taken eighty-five and hoped
that if retirement was on Agga's mind, he might be willing to confess.
"Forty years, Tarek...only as old as...your
mind tells you," Agga said, smiling toothlessly.
"I'd hoped you'd tell the real number, sir. No
"None ... taken. But some ... secrets are best
* * * * * * *
Tarek sat waiting by the door to the fortress. For
being carved into the side of a mountain, it was lavish in its accommodations.
The chair was upholstered in velvet with thickly padded arms and a high back.
It sat on a Kheshi rug that cost more than most peasants would see in a
lifetime. Wall alcoves contained statues and rare baubles from all across
Tellurak. Double-doors inlaid with gold stood open to let in the pleasant sea
Tarek lounged in his seat, idly tossing a
ruby-adorned knife to pass the time. There were more formidable weapons lying
about the fortress, but it was a place built for privacy rather than defense.
Their true defense was their reputation: bargain with the Circle of Ears, and
you would get what you paid for; cross them, and it would be your final
mistake. The Circle occasionally hired coinblades to set breached agreements
straight, but most often Agga arranged something special.
Once, King Javin had commissioned the Circle to feed
his admirals information on Feru Maru's fleet deployments. The Circle delivered
victory into the hands of the Acardian navy, but were never paid for it. Not
long after, the king's bedchamber burned. The king and his mistress were
consumed in the fire. The crown and royal regalia were found unharmed, piled
neatly outside the king's door. Crown Prince Jorin sent a bailiff to question
Agga, but the man went missing. The prince paid Agga's price.
Thus insulated from the cares of defending a place
no one would think to attack, Tarek whiled away the hours until a man finally
approached. Tarek caught his blade one final time and went to meet the man whom
Agga had been expecting.
The visitor was old, though not decrepit like Agga.
He was small of build—a trait that ran among Agga's kinfolk—with grey-white
hair pulled back and tied at the nape of his neck. Eyes like spyglasses looked
Tarek over, inspecting him, judging him, and—it would seem—approving of him.
"I am here to see Agga," the visitor said
in perfect Acardian, though he had an accent that even the worldly Tarek could
not place. The man's dress was no clue either, though it was unusual enough. He
was dressed all in black—from the cloak he wore to his boots. He wore scale
armor stylized to resemble dragon scales, an extravagance that told Tarek the
armor was for show more than practicality. The black scales appeared as if they
had been individually lacquered, causing the man's attire to look both
expensive and exotic.
"Got a name I can give him, sir?" Tarek
asked, still wondering about his master's guest. The question seemed to give
the man pause.
"I suppose Lord Sunrise will do, for now. Take
that for what you will."
The visitor looked more like a sunset. His face
looked worn by time. It was a face that had been used up, wrinkled, speckled
with an unshaven mottle of greys.
"How are you and Master Agga related, if you
don't mind me asking?" His expert eye had decided that "Lord
Sunrise," or whatever his name truly was, carried no weapon. It put Tarek
a bit at ease, if he had to let a stranger into the fortress.
"If Agga did not tell you, then why should
It may have sounded like a question, but Tarek
realized that he was not going to get far by arguing the point with his
"Have it your way, your lordship," Tarek
relented. "Follow me."
Tarek led the evasive stranger down into the
mountain stronghold. It was still roughly laid out like the mine it once was,
years ago. The tiny town of Ratsport, nestled between Mount Fairview and the
Canthoun Bay, had once been a mining trade port. It had housed the men who
mined the mountain's silver, the men who loaded it onto ships, and few others.
The town had been called Silverfall in those days, before the silver dried up
and before Agga had reclaimed it from the ruins.
Every bit of the former mine had been refurbished
under Agga's rule. Rough-hewn stone was smoothed and polished, inlaid with
mosaics and reliefs. The old timbers were replaced with fitted stone arches.
Galleries were carved to make rooms of all sizes, from private chambers to
feasting halls and libraries. Tarek pointed out these features to the taciturn
Lord Sunrise who looked about a bit but remained silent as they walked.
Tarek knocked when they reached Agga's private
office, but opened the door without pause so that Agga's failing voice was
spared the trouble of answering. He was relieved not to have caught the old man
in one of his frequent naps.
"Ahh, excellent," Agga called out.
"That will ... be all Tarek. Thank ... you. Your service has ... been of
... great value." It seemed an odd choice of words, and Agga never chose
words incautiously. Tarek watched as Lord Sunrise entered the office without
further comment and closed the door behind him.
Tarek settled in next to the door, thinking to
eavesdrop. It was a common enough pastime in his line of work, but after
several long moments he had heard nothing. Frustrated, he went off to the
sitting area near Agga's office to wait until Agga was done with his guest.
* * * * * * *
"This feels so strange," the visitor
commented, looking Agga up and down.
"Agreed. But no ... matter. I am glad ... you
made it ... before—" Agga began, but his guest cut him off.
"Yes, yes, I know. You may fool the rest of
them, you senile old relic, but you do not need to tell me," the visitor
snapped in reply.
"Suppose ... I do not," Agga agreed.
"Seemed right ... to talk first. Don't you ... think?"
"Are you ready or not, old friend?"
"Do you ... think this will ... work?"
"I have no better idea than you do and you know
it. But what choice do you have?"
"Of course. You ... are right," Agga said.
"Before you ... try. I just ... want to ... say thank you. For
trying." Agga took a deep, steadying breath. "Go ahead."
* * * * * * *
Tarek had been reading reports of an uprising in
northern Khesh. It was old news, but Agga encouraged his agents to study events
even if they were a bit dated. Understanding the world better than their
competitors was the secret of their success. When the doors to Agga's office
were thrust open, Tarek's attention snapped immediately back to his master, and
to the mysterious visitor who emerged alone from the office. The visitor closed
the doors behind him before Tarek got a chance to see inside.
"Agga does not wish to be disturbed," Lord
Sunrise said, stalking off.
As curious as he was to see where "Lord
Sunrise" had gone, Tarek wanted to speak to Agga. He was on a very short
list of men who could disturb Agga when he did not wish to be. When he reached
the doors, he found them held fast. The door had neither bar nor lock, deep as
it was within Agga's stronghold. Tarek tried again. He put his foot against the
wall for leverage, but to no avail.
"Agga," Tarek called, pressing his cheek
to the door. He cupped a hand to cover his mouth lest he raise alarm among the
Agga's guests. "Are you all right in there?" He heard no response.
Tarek went to a supply room nearby and pushed aside
a set of shelves. He found the catch in the wall that opened a door, and
navigated the unlit passage by feel until he found the catch on the other end—a
lever that moved one of Agga's bookcases. Emerging into his master's office he
found the old man slumped in his chair.
Before he even checked, Tarek's instincts told him
that it was no nap. He felt Agga's neck for a heartbeat, put a finger under his
nose to feel for breath. Agga the Ratkeeper, age unknown, had died just moments
ago, his limp body still warm to the touch.
Tarek rushed to the doors. Though nothing seemed to
hold them there, they refused to budge.
He killed him. He's escaping.
I've got to stop him.
moment's clear thinking left the first and second thoughts intact, but vetoed
Agga has no successor, and this
fortress is filled with killers. I have to get out of here before anyone else
realizes he's dead.
Tarek was clever, which was the main reason Agga
kept him around as his personal attendant. He decided that the stuck door was a
lucky break. He left by way of the secret passage, loosening the catch as he
closed it then snapping the handle free just as it locked shut.
find their own way in
He hurried to his own room and packed as quickly as
he could, taking only what he could carry. Coinage, sword-belt, journals, a few
clothes—all went into a pack except the sword, which he buckled about his
waist. He was gone moments later, departing by a passage that only a few
residents of the fortress knew of—a number one fewer since Agga's demise.
* * * * * * *
He could not, even years later, figure what prompted
him to remain close by. His rocky outcropping overlooked both the path up to
the fortress and the town of Ratsport below. He had made his escape cleanly by
way of a footpath that would lead him out of the mountains and to Trebber's
Cove by next nightfall. The coin in his pack was enough to start a new life in
Marker's Point or mongrel Khesh if he so chose.
Instead, he saw the stranger emerge from the
fortress entrance. Lord Sunrise stopped just outside, turned, and to Tarek's
amazement, called forth the forces of hell upon Agga's followers. Flames poured
from his hands like the gout of flame from a fire-eater's breath, but a
hundred-fold, possibly a thousand-fold greater. For long moments the inferno
roared. Tarek imagined screams of burning men coming from within the tunnels,
but he was too far for it to be anything but his macabre mind's guess as to
what must have been happening within.
When the flames stopped, the visitor stepped away
from the entrance. He gestured to the mountain peak, and the earth shook. Mount
Fairview cracked and crumbled, pieces toppling down her side. Tarek crouched
low, hoping the ground beneath him would remain intact. The quake continued for
a time, and Tarek cowered in terror as he listened to stone falling in
quantities his mind could barely comprehend.
When the shaking had stopped and he lifted his head
to see what had transpired, all was gone. Mount Fairview was as tall as ever,
but thinner at the top. The entrance to Agga's fortress and the path leading up
to it were buried under rock. The town of Ratsport had been crushed into the
sea under the rockslide. It reminded him of the old Garnevian tales. When great
kings died, the servants were entombed with their master.