Outsider Within: Face of Evil - Part Five
As the sun dipped below the Citadel into the hills of Meridell, Citadel guards finished their last shift of the day and dispersed from the barracks for their favored nighttime haunts. Down one cobblestone street, four such guards walked with their dark red coats unbuttoned and hanging open to their knees.
With anticipating smiles, they jumped up the curb to a whitewashed shop-front that glowed red in the last fiery remnants of the sun. Inside the swinging doors, red guards and purple squires cluttered around a dozen round tables. The four sat and called out their orders to a barmaid with a tray resting on her raised palm.
On the other side of the room, at a table of purple-clad squires, a large Darigan Bori leaned away from his fellows, disinterested. He noticed the four in red take a table, and his chin lifted in interest. Getting up from his table, the Bori approached the four in red with a haze in his eyes and false confidence on his face.
One of the four, an Ogrin, saw the Bori approaching and tried to cover his discomfort with a smile. “Hi Fargo,” the Ogrin greeted him.
The other three turned in surprise at hearing the name, and looked up to see Fargo, the Bori squire. Two of them forced smiles, but one did not hide his discomfort. Fargo looked at each one, his eyes peering through lowered eyebrows. “How’s your shift?”
“You’re not going to try to sit at a guard’s table, are you, Squire?”
Fargo turned around, red-faced. A Grarrl—small for his race, but still larger than the Bori—stood with his massive arms folded against his dark red guard’s uniform.
“What’s your problem?” spat Fargo.
“My problem is that you dishonor all royal guards by trying to pretend that you’re still one of us.”
The Bori’s back plates bristled. “You saying I can’t talk to my friends?” He looked to the four guards for support. They shifted eyes between Fargo and the Grarrl, uncertain. The Bori growled and slammed his fist into the table. “It’s not my fault!”
The Grarrl laughed without humor. “You even dishonor the squires, sitting with them but not talking, pretending you’re better than them.”
Fargo clenched his fist. “Want to take this outside?”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m a royal guard with honor, and I will not strike a fellow in the Citadel’s service, even if you do disrespect everything everyone here stands for.”
Fargo’s eyes glazed over, and he threw a punch at the Grarrl with his bone-like fingers. The Grarrl leaned back with the blow but did not lose his footing. He raised his lips into a twisted smile, baring his teeth. “That was another mistake, Squire.”
The Bori bore his teeth and drew his right knee up to his chest, launching it at the Grarrl’s belly. The Grarrl bent over, clenching his gut. He raised his head, still smiling. Without a word, he charged forward and butted his massive skull into Fargo, knocking him into a table. The round table tipped under the Bori and Grarrl, skidding to the floor, shattering glass and spattering drinks. Fargo wrapped his claws around the Grarrl’s head. The Grarrl roared in anger, picking up Fargo by his torso.
“Enough!” commanded a voice.
The inflamed Grarrl lifted Fargo above his head. A Darigan Ixi, clad in a black coat, kicked the Grarrl at the base of his back. The Grarrl did not relinquish his prey, but turned with the look of a man drawn away from his focus.
“I said release the squire,” the Ixi repeated.
The Grarrl’s eyes cleared and he hastily released Fargo. “Captain,” he mumbled and bowed to the black uniform. Fargo pushed himself up from the ground and favored his left leg as he stood.
The Ixi Captain crossed his arms across his wide chest. “Report to your barracks at once. You are a shame to the Citadel and your conduct will not go unpunished.”
Fargo clenched his jaw in silence while the Grarrl opened his mouth to protest.
The Captain raised an arm. “Not a word.” He looked to his side to spot a pair of senior guards. “Escort them to the barracks, guards, and alert your superiors. Then you may return to your leisure.”
The guards, large and stern, escorted the Grarrl and Fargo out of the tavern. The Captain remained a few moments more, massaging his nose in annoyance.
* * *
Henka lifted his eyes in annoyance to his office door, still rattling from a single pound of a fist—a tell-tale sign that General Galgaroth was waiting outside and that he was angry about something. The Chief of Security had prepared himself for the confrontation. “Enter,” he called, resting his hands on his desk.
The door swung open, and the entryway was entirely taken up with the massive orange and charcoal form of General Galgaroth. He had to hunch slightly to keep from grazing the ceiling, and did not bother attempting to sit on the stool in front of Henka’s desk. The Grarrl was massive, even for his own race, and his muscles knotted and bulged like an ancient and gnarled tree.
“You appear upset, General.”
Galgaroth snorted. “Henka, I understand that your line of work demands secrecy—but do not impose your dirty work on my guards.”
The Darigan Hissi’s face grew dark and serious. “I did not impose on your guards, General. I—”
“Let’s be plain, Chief Henka,” Galgaroth interrupted. “And do not assume that I am ignorant because I deal with brute force instead of crafty devices. My men trust me to keep their best interests. I know you paid Karl Brown—an honest guard—to antagonize Fargo in that tavern last night, to provoke him into a fight in front of numerous witnesses and a Captain. Now both Fargo and Brown have been dishonorably discharged. If you wanted Fargo out of the service, you should have notified me. I would have taken care of it. Now a valuable guard has been taken from me, his name disgraced, and the other guards and squires disgruntled. I don’t much care why you did it, Henka—don’t do anything with my guards again without my approval and direction!”
Henka’s voice remained calm but stern and warning. “I appreciate your view, General; however, I have reason for what I did. As you know, Fargo saw D.A. working with the Smuggler’s Guild. He pushed the subject with both his superiors and myself. I had him demoted for insubordination—and with your approval, I might add. What you don’t know is that two days ago he saw D.A. with Barnes Rother, head of the Rother family smuggling ring. He accused D.A. of being a spy for the Chambers in front of Rother. I don’t need to tell you how compromising a situation this puts her in. Her very life could be threatened, even now. We do not even have confirmation that she is still alive, for we have not seen her since that incident.
“Assuming that she is alive, there is very little I can do to help her. Any help I could give her could compromise her cover, whatever that might be. I am assuming that she is offering her services as swordswoman, in an attempt to get close to the Guild and learn what they know about Mr. Aimes, so we can take him down and nip his rising reign of terror in the bud. The only thing I could do to help D.A. was discredit her accuser, Fargo. And how could I discredit him? I could not have him arrested for a petty crime; the Rothers would see through that as an attempt by the Chambers to discredit him, and that would give them proof that D.A. is working for the Chambers.
“I do know that when he accused D.A. of being a spy in front of Barnes Rother, he did so in a confrontational, almost irrational manner. Reports tell me that he was aggressive and accused her of personally ruining his career. This gave me something to work with, General, because if he were seen again harassing someone in a clearly irrational and obviously ridiculous manner, then it would lend support to the idea that he is unbalanced, and take some pressure off D.A. The only way I could do that was to have him get in a petty fight with a fellow guard.
“As for Karl Brown, I did hire him. But I did not bribe him to give up his career. He had just sent in his resignation, and so I had an offer delivered to him—do this favor, be dishonorably discharged, and be given a secure income for the rest of his life, something he would not otherwise be guaranteed.”
The General’s features had turned from angry to grave. “Do you think she’s alive?”
Henka sighed from deep within himself. “I do not usually allow myself hope, but I must have it here. Fargo could cost D.A. her life, even if she is currently alive. Rother is notorious, even among the smugglers, for being cautious and readily able to sniff out a spy in his ranks. But D.A....”
“Is not one of us,” Galgaroth completed the thought.
Henka nodded. “If anyone can get into the Guild, it’s D.A. I only hope she knows what she’s doing.”
“You mean you really don’t know what she’s doing?”
He shook his head. “She was here at the Chambers one day, vanished the next with nothing more than a note on my desk saying she would ‘take care of it.’”
“On your desk?” Galgaroth asked with a smile.
Henka chuckled. “Yes, on my desk, in my locked office. She never could resist pushing my buttons.”
“That was the only way she could survive you, Henka, by keeping you on your toes. You weren’t very nice to her when you were re-instated as Chief of Security.... So you’re just letting her do whatever she’s doing without knowing what it is? That’s not like you.”
“I have great confidence in D.A.’s loyalty and understanding of what must be done. It is only her treatment of such a delicate situation that I have doubts about.”
“You’re talking about the Guild and Mr. Aimes?”
“It’s not pleasant, but the honest truth is that the Smugglers’ Guild is necessary to our economy for the time being. That’s why the Chambers has never taken serious action against them.”
“You’re telling me,” grumbled Galgaroth. “I’ve had the chance to knock out a few of the families, but I always let them be. Too bad about the Cohens; they were a good family. Did I ever tell you I had a few words with the father once?”
“Got a report about it and everything.”
“Right. Nice guy. Honorable. Anyway. Henka, I know you. You’ve got eyes all over this Citadel. You must have some idea of what she’s up to.”
Henka drew his head back against his chair. “She’s doing the one thing Lord Darigan could not sanction: getting inside the Guild to learn what they know about Mr. Aimes, then destroy Mr. Aimes, and then—leave the Guild alone. That’s the tricky part.”
“Think she’s up for it?”
“She seems to think she is.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
Henka grinned and closed his eyes. “I think she’s capable, but she’s got a lot going on in that head of hers. I’m not sure she’ll be able to maintain perspective.”
“You can talk an awful lot and say nothing.”
He opened his eyes and stared at Galgaroth. “I think she’ll either surpass all our expectations, or she’ll get herself killed and take with her our last real chance at getting rid of Mr. Aimes.”
* * *
D.A. stood in the halo of a street light on the corner of 13th and 48th as morning began to glow against the stone buildings. After a few minutes of silence, she looked down the street and pushed herself off of the light pole. The sound of hoofs pattered toward her, and soon the dim light revealed two Whinnies pulling a wagon laden with unmarked crates and barrels.
The driver, wrapped in a scarf, pulled the Whinnies to a stop in front of her. “Get in,” he said, his voice identifying him as Tony Rother.
D.A. sprang up next to him while casting a glance at the crates, each large enough to conceal a person. The driver clucked the Whinnies forward. He did not speak of the contents of the crates. She sat in silence, knowing that instructions would be issued when he deemed appropriate.
Each bump in the stone road alerted D.A., whose ears were trained on the crates. After several minutes they turned off the main road onto a little-used gravel path. At the abrupt drop of the wagon from stone to grave, a snivel sounded from a crate just behind D.A. Her head turned ever so slightly toward the sound.
She looked at Tony with an alert eye. He glanced back, cautioning her to remain silent. The morning gloom thinned as they reached the edge of the Citadel, where a small farming market sat nestled against the seven-inch-thick brick wall that cordoned off their city from the empty sky above Meridell. Tony reined in the Whinnies to a stop in a small courtyard of unkempt soil and trees.
A stone fountain crowned with a ring of Dragoyle statues stood at the center. Tony pulled a swatch of blue cloth out of his coat and flashed it at the statues. One of the creatures turned to look at him; a living Dragoyle had taken the place of its stone counterpart. Tony pocketed the swatch again, and the Dragoyle spread its wings and flew over the side of the Citadel, down into the sky below.
Tony whispered without looking at her, “Our contact will be here shortly.”
She narrowed her eyes briefly, although trying to mask her distaste. The contact should have been waiting for them, not the other way around. But then, the Rother family knew more of smuggling than she did—even if the contraband were the remaining members of Cohen’s family.
As they waited, D.A. performed a closer, but inconspicuous, examination of the surroundings of the courtyard. A short fence encircled it, doing little more than cordoning it off from the shops around it. Many of the shops and storage sheds appeared to no longer be in use, and the rest were not open at this hour. They were also in recognized Rother territory.
D.A. heard a shift in the gravel behind the nearest building, just behind her to the left. She trained an ear in the direction of the sound, but did not move her eyes. She knew that Barnes certainly had men hiding around the landing site, ready and waiting to sound the alarm or aid in a fight.
For a time she heard nothing other than the lifeless silence of the Citadel. Then, a brief slide and thump so soft that the fallen weight must have been silently set down by another person.
Leaning quickly but unalarmed toward Tony, she whispered, “Our guards are under attack.”
To be continued...