It Takes a Thief: Part Two
Kanrik took a deep breath. He had to lose the Queen of Qasala – she might be a noblewoman, but apparently it took more than twelve years of queenship to get the street rat out of somebody. Merely climbing wouldn't do it. That was enough to get rid of a big guard in heavy armor, but not someone who'd grown up dodging those big guards. He was enough taller than her that he could likely outrun her, but desert cities had too many twists and turns for him to easily put on speed.
He'd have to get back to the inn where he and Hannah had rented rooms. She'd be able to help. They couldn't afford to lose time on this mission by having to break him out of the dungeons. Too much depended on it.
Things had gotten so complicated since the Obelisk War. Before that, there had been the Thieves' Guild, and a few other pocket-lightening organizations whom they scrambled with occasionally. But now Kanrik's folk had mages, aristocrats, academics, and the undead angry at them. Oh, and a large amount of dumb muscle, but Kanrik knew how to deal with them.
Aristocrats. The Fyora-forsaken Sway. If Queen Nabile knew they were sinking their overly-manicured claws into Qasala, she'd be giving Kanrik a medal instead of chasing him across the sweltering rooftops.
Sweet Fyora, it was hot! Kanrik had been born in the Terror Mountain region, and this sort of heat was utterly foreign to him. Hannah, from Krawk Island, could adjust to living in a furnace without too much difficulty, but Kanrik had never been able to get used to a land so hot that even a breeze brought no relief.
He jumped from the rooftops, onto an awning, and then down to the street. At least there was shade down here. But the blue Gelert was starting to imagine the deadly Terror Mountain blizzards known as whiteouts with fondness. He drew his knife as he ran – he was quite aware that injuring the Queen of Qasala would end up with King Jazan coming down on him like a ton of bricks, a fate he was eager to avoid, but the less power she thought she had in any confrontation, the more likely it was that he'd get away from this clean.
Running wasn't going to work for much longer – the heat was getting to him. But she was still too close behind him for him to be able to duck in somewhere and find cover. He had to get back to the inn. If he did, then he'd have Hannah to back him up.
Around the last corner. Now he had to engage in a bit of theater. He saw his own window – instead of going in by the door and risking her marking the place and leaving to unleash the guards, he went up the wall. Let her think she'd been unobserved. Let her be curious enough to try and climb up, see if she could learn a little more. Then Kanrik would have her on familiar turf – and turf where she was outnumbered.
He climbed up into the room and called, "Hannah! Quick!"
The Usul came into the little room from her own. "What is it?"
"I've been followed. Get ready."
Hannah rolled her eyes. "Were you recognized and followed?"
Kanrik rather disliked feeling like a disobedient small child forced to answer to his teacher. "Yes! And you'll see why in a minute. Get ready! Under the bed!"
He hoped the queen was nosy as he followed Hannah in diving under the room's narrow bed. He hoped she'd see an empty room and decide to poke around.
Several tense moments passed, and then he saw a pair of bare, pink feet land in front of the window. She was really quite skilled – she didn't make a sound.
He let her take three cautious steps in, and then he lunged.
Kanrik had taken Queen Nabile quite by surprise – he had her pinned against the wall, his knife at her throat, in the time it took Hannah to follow him from their hiding place. The Usul asked in shock, "Queen Nabile? You were followed by Queen Nabile? Why did I let you go out without me?"
"I'm holding you in reserve."
Queen Nabile asked, quite calmly for someone being threatened, "What are you doing in my city?"
Kanrik looked at her. "You're in a really interesting position to be asking the questions."
The pink Ixi's answering grin was anything but friendly. "My position's fine. I can use my wedding ring to call Jazan in an instant, and he can be standing right here in a moment more."
Hannah suggested, "Can we have a cease-fire, then? Kanrik puts the knife away if you promise not to call any mage-kings?"
As a show of good faith, Kanrik put away his knife. He said, "I didn't mean it personally, I can assure you. But there's worse than me currently in Qasala, and I'd rather they not find out I'm here."
Nabile frowned, and she took a seat at the battered table. Hannah took the other chair, which left Kanrik to sit on the bed. Kanrik had to admire the Ixi's sheer guts, acting as though this were her own sitting room. Nabile asked, "What's going on? If there's a problem in Qasala, I need to know about it."
Kanrik leaned back. She hadn't started screaming or calling crazy Kyrii kings yet, which was a plus. And it couldn't hurt to have someone else on his side that the Sway wouldn't be expecting there. Mortman, Paselle, and a few others were waiting in Sakhmet as backup, but since they'd been at the Obelisk they'd be too easily recognized. That was why Hannah was with him – as much as he hated to drag her into messes that verged on political, she was less likely to be associated with him. So he asked, "What do you know about the Obelisk War?"
Nabile said, "A fair amount. Six factions, all fighting for the obelisk and the Oracle attached to it. There's your folk, there's those academics called the Seekers, a gaggle of zombies, some warriors, the Order of the Red Erisim – whom Jazan refers to as a bunch of pyromaniacal numbskulls –"
Kanrik's opinion of the King of Qasala went up a few points.
"And there are some Haunted Woods aristocrats calling themselves the Sway."
Hannah sighed. "More than just the Haunted Woods. They've got members from the Three Kingdoms, from Shenkuu – even some of the Krawk Island merchant elite are involved."
Kanrik continued, "The fighting's not just at the Obelisk. We've all been sniping at each other's holdings, trying to force them to leave the Obelisk and take care of matters at home. I'll freely admit my folk have broken into a few libraries and a few mages' towers. And now the Sway's in Qasala, and I've got it on good faith that they've been smuggling around magical artifacts. There are two problems. The first is that it's interfering with my own business in Sakhmet."
Nabile crossed her arms. "I could point out that that business also interferes with my cousin."
Kanrik raised an eyebrow at her. "And shopkeepers shouting the skies down about skinny street rats stealing their produce doesn't?"
Hannah sighed. "Sniping isn't going to help, Kanrik."
Kanrik continued, deliberately ignoring the scolding, "And the second is that I have reason to believe that the magical artifacts are old desert artifacts, which would give them a nasty advantage on the battlefield."
Nabile frowned. "That is a problem. A lot of those things are dangerous. We've got a good number locked up in the palace."
Hannah looked at Kanrik. "Enough to perhaps cause the Sway to try and stage a break-in?"
Nabile's eyes narrowed. "I'd like to see them try. Jazan and Mirzah put enough magical protections around the vaults to stop an entire Sloth invasion fleet." Then she added, "But there are a lot of artifacts still around loose – they're always turning up. And there are plenty of them that aren't intrinsically dangerous but could be tampered with to become so."
Kanrik knew quite well that if there was a way to tamper with something to make it dangerous, the Sway would find it. As much as he disliked the idea of trusting someone with even the faintest air of authority – especially King Jazan, whom Kanrik didn't trust to not go full-blown Evil Emperor if given the slightest provocation – he had to admit that most of the mages of the Thieves' Guild were of the two-bit variety. Nabile finding him might have been a stroke of luck, as far as cutting the Sway's ambitions off at the knees was concerned. He said, "I propose an arrangement."
Hannah nodded approvingly. Nabile asked, "What are your terms?"
Kanrik said, "I let you and whatever help you can offer in on finding the Sway's little smuggling operation and dismantling it – though I'd suggest you not involve the guard. It's thieves the Sway's hiring. The guard won't be able to do much to stop them."
Nabile nodded. "It takes a thief to catch a thief. So we're let in the loop and help chase the Sway to the hills. What do you want in return?"
Kanrik grinned. "Basically, my tail in one piece. Neither I nor any of my folk are arrested for the duration of our arrangement, and we're given a twenty-four-hour head start at the end of our association."
Nabile countered, "Immunity for past crimes only. I'm not giving the Thieves' Guild free license in this city."
Kanrik had half-hoped she wouldn't notice that little loophole – he didn't intend to make any major heists in Qasala, but he would have preferred to leave the opportunity open to pocket any pretty little trinket that wasn't being watched too closely. Still, it was probably for the best to remove the temptation – unless he had a golden opportunity. "Very well. Do we have a deal?"
He stood so he could step over to the little table and lay his hand down on it. Hannah laid hers down on top of his without hesitation – a second passed, and Nabile put her hand at the top of the pile, sealing the deal.
Nabile said, "First order of business, then, is to go back to the palace. A side door."
Kanrik nodded. "The Sway have spies – I've seen a few of them that I recognized from the Obelisk skulking around. I was tailing one of them when you saw me in the square."
Hannah said cheerily, "We'll see what the Palace can lend to us, we'll smash the Sway's smuggling operation like a Grackle Bug, and then we'll go someplace with water."
Nabile laughed. "You make it sound easy when you put it that way."
And as they climbed out the window again, making sure the coast was clear first, Kanrik knew that that conversation had likely shaken any chance they'd had of an easy resolution.
Of course, he'd never expected being the Master Thief to be easy.
He shook his head, amused at himself, and wiped his brow as he followed Hannah and Nabile back down the street.
To be continued...