The city. Roe spat. He hated the place. Oh yes, beautiful. Poignant, vast, spreading, there were the cultivated gatherings of all corners of the kingdoms here. It was a marvel, and truth be told, most of the time it was inspiring and awesome to walk into the city. Most of the time. Not today. It was bullshit today, he was on a damned mission, one that truly was damned. Somewhere in this city, buried in the winding and busy streets Roe was supposed to find a rat of a man. He was a god-forsaken weasel. No discipline, no character, he hated working with people like that. Even in the under-workings of his trade, a man-made himself, or didn’t. Tigs didn’t, he was a fucking weasel. Still, part of the job.
It was late in the evening. The sun spent its last strength not long ago. Darkness had settled in, the night was here and Roe with it. He walked sure, as though he had come and gone this way many times over. He had. All his life. Crescent Bay had been his home for much of it. Shadows bit deeply into the alleys, they danced and leaped through the streets too. South-side of the city had a way of swallowing people who didn’t carry a shadow. He ducked down a crowded street to his left. Only a few buildings had torches lit. Those were expensive, and in a time like this…
He paused. A scrape skipped down the dark corridor, probably a damned rat, the rodent kind. Buildings crowded in too. Not a good place to find yourself jammed up. No one trailed behind, just the settling drear of a war-torn day. The city had held up against those Northern bastards, for another day. The day groaned quietly to sleep, both sides spent. Three weeks now the fighting had been waged. Roe stopped thinking about it. It could snatch his attention and drag it down the Seven Corridors of Tremmel’s grave.
Instead, he continued down the street. He did have to meet up with this -Tigs- fellow. Some thief from Clarity. Squirmed his way out of something. He knew his kind. Steal a man’s bread to feed a mad dog, as the saying went. He spat.
Roe had joined the Crescent Guard three years back, head full of glory. Swordfights and taverns, drinks and fires and the open road. The street opened back up into different, better lit, street. Not many walked the streets at night. That could get someone killed, wind up with an arrow sticking out of something, or shiver-skinned mage disfiguring a piece of you.
Up until two streets, down another alley, Roe knew the city and was standing outside of the meeting place. A tavern, the name had worn off. A sign swung uselessly in the air. If he hadn’t been here twice before he’d have never found the place. He pushed the door open and slipped in. It was as dark inside as out. Only a few half-melted candles offered any light.
Only a damned thief would come to these places. He shut the door, well, maybe not only. He was there, after all. When he turned around all three men at the bar were staring him down. ‘Great.’ He muttered.
“You say something?” Someone growled, the words seemed to come from the darkness.
He turned. “Tigs.”
“Ah! Roe! Good man, welcome. Glad your prickly ass could make it. Don’t worry fellas, he’s harmless.” Tigs sat at a table buried in the dark. “Two more.” Silver glinted in the air for a moment.
Roe felt his eyes adjust, he could make out Tigs more clearly. He sat, feet kicked up, large mug in hand and puffed on a cigar. “I’m fine, thanks.”
“Oh, you thought..” Tigs laughed, loudly, “Nah, I need both of those to get through this meeting with you.”
They glared at each other. It wasn’t their first time running into each other. Right prick of a thief. The kind that thought what they were doing was helpful.
“You don’t know the first thing about me, Roe.” He was even loud, talking whenever his whim carried it.”I can see it in the eyes. Gods, will you let that go? Look, I didn’t know who you were, thought you were one of those princely fellows, joins the guard to prove a point, or chase a dream, or impress a girl…”
The bastard just kept going. Roe groaned, he hated working with Tigs.
“Well, maybe we can put that all behind us. You did try to report me you know. Well, you did, but Clem was already trying to kill me. What luck, a badge tricked you, didn’t you see the way he walked? It was like a viper, not strutting as you and the *justly* guards walk.”
“I don’t have to put up with this,” Roe growled, and turned back around, walking out.
The door slammed shut. He scowled. He couldn’t leave and Tigs knew that. They were bound. He paced the dark alley for a moment, trying to cool his anger. Gods, Tigs just got right under his skin. That he had no choice was even worse.
Eventually, he realized he did have to put up with it, and that Tigs was certainly handling it far better than him. He sighed and walked back in.
“I’ll take one too.” The bartender had already brought over the other two mugs.
“One of those is yours.” Tigs murmured as he took a drink, who knew how many he had finished.
“Why the endless stomach of Tigs finally had enough? Can’t get any more in there?” Roe sat down at an empty chair opposite of Tigs.
His eyes were catching more of the darkened room, and he could see Tigs easier. Sometimes you just had to swallow the damn moment. Suffer through the retched flavor. Tigs undoubtedly felt the same about him. They stared at each other for a long while. The tavern was quiet, such a secluded place, the men here were likely trimming the belly of corruption.
“Let’s just get on with this.” Roe finally broke the insufferable silence.
Tigs laughed. A soft mirthful thing, as though Roe amused the shit out of him.
“Don’t want the folks around here rubbing off on you?”
“Something like that.” Roe wasn’t going to be baited in, “We are in this together. For some sun-forsaken reason, he chose you too. ”
“Probably because of my prowess in stealing things.” Tigs looked straight at him.
“You know, getting into places unnoticed, or picking a fight with a prick of a guard. Pretty good with a blade too.”
“Bet you are, the kind that sticks out of a back.” Roe took a drink, he didn’t look away from Tigs.
Tigs laughed at that too. “Where is the fun in that?” He placed his mug down forcibly. “I may be a thief. A damned good one at that.” He smirked, before his eyes grew furious “But you’d never catch me acting the rat. You and I, we aren’t as different as you think. I know you hold your principles, your *righteousness*. I’ve got my own set. So let’s just get on with this. You think I enjoy working with an uptight prick like you?”
Roe bit back his response. What did this rogue know about principles? But, he was right. They certainly needed to get on with this. There was only so much time. Dawn would be here soon and their opportunity would be gone with the rising sun. He drained what remained in his mug. Grimaced slightly, both at the dregs of his drink and the sight of a smug Tigs. The bastard was right.
“Alright, what do you have? He said you knew a way around this mess.”
“He did, did he? Interesting, well, I have a way to *get* something. That could, possibly, very unlikely, but still, a chance, turn this thing into an even bigger mess. You know, we each have our talents. Mine with getting this thing, and you…” Tigs looked at him askew, with that same smirk, “Why did he pick you? I wonder?”
Roe knew he was being dragged through it, laid out before the assailing tongue of Tigs, Hands of Lightning. Bastard shouldn’t have anything attached to his name. He was, in a way, primal; Roe mused. Well, he could do it; sure as the rain came in spring. He’d work with the thief, not because Tigs was right. Not because some damned Story Master had chosen him. No, not even that. Because he’d do it in *spite* of Tigs. Well, he’d do it for the other reasons too, but mainly, most prominently and the only thing that rained on his thoughts was the later.
“Alright. So, what do we do?” He wasn’t going to get pulled down the hole, spitting with Tigs. His mouth was as quick as his hands.
Roe had patience. He once stood still- for twelve hours. It hurt to seven-hells, he’d burst a blood vessel or two, sure. Once you did that kind of thing, the standing for twelve hours, not moving a muscle; neither for the itch or sneeze. It stays with you. Staring across the table at Tigs reminded him of just how much patience that had taken. Eventually, Tigs set his ale down with a dull thud, he leaned in, closer and started talking in a low voice. He listened as Tigs laid the plan out. It was a good one.
“Well, that is a good plan,” Roe admitted a touch rueful.
He had ordered another round while Tigs got into it. They were going to be doing a bit of slinking and sneaking; Tigs’ forte. He wondered why they had been chosen, but realized that Tigs was the first option, *Roe* was the back-up plan. They’d be right in the middle of the Fardoran Camp. Like two minnows in a school of tuna. If Tigs got them in, and couldn’t get them out…Roe would. They wouldn’t be far from the rear of the camp, it wouldn’t be far. He could do it. If Tigs didn’t hold up his end of the deal.
Roe eyed the thief. Looked him sternly over, the way a man peers into a dark cave, before jumping in without a torch. He had to rely on him, could he? He was bound. That was the way it worked, you had to. Still, he gave that thought some useless attention, irritating himself further.
“I can’t believe this is what we’ve got.” Roe put his head down, it was foolish; he swore this was all a big joke.
“Oh come on now! Didn’t you learn to have a little fun? Get a nice laugh in the face of near-certain death? I mean, frankly, if we do this, it will be storming hilarious!”
Tigs did look like he was excited.
Of course, he would be. Roe groaned it was miserable, Tigs even said so as they were leaving the tavern. Back into the dark streets and his mood felt like it fit right in. “How can you be excited about this?”
“Well.” He started down the alley, leading toward the city gates, “You see, I get this feeling.”
Roe waited, expecting more. Tigs just quickened his steps and left him in silence. Maybe he was excited to be on with it, no stopping now. Roe felt a slow excitement grow, he was glad to be leaving the city. They stayed quiet and moved through the streets quickly. Crescent Bay wasn’t that big, nothing compared to Clarity or Fardorough. He’d been there before, once. A shiver slipped up his spine.
Less than a half-hour later, Tigs peered out from the last row of houses, Roe watched behind them, no one followed. Who would? Everyone was spent, the city was close to breaking. How many more days could they hold up against this? He had heard Clarity had sent help, but they were being harried by a separate force of Fardorans, and they were giving them hell. He grimaced at that, no thanks, honest fighting for him. He knew enough to keep himself alive, that was part of the training. A few Breakings, a Shaping or two, easy stuff. But to outright fight, a group of trained mages, fuck that, especially the Fardoran ones. That was messy, gruesome, he’d still gone through nightmares of that shit. The houses were built right up to the wall, one even used a bit of the stone embankment as a wall to a stable. The stable was empty.
“What are we doing here? There is the canal, let’s just slip out there, easy as pork bits.” Roe whispered as they ducked into the empty, run-down stable; he pointed off toward the canal.
Tigs grunted and started shoving piles of rain-sodden hay from the corner. “Why exactly do you suppose I’m the one leading this thing? Because…” He grunted again, throwing bits of dirt and straw aside, “I find the ways that no one else does.”
He stood, stretching his back straight and tossed a handful of straw at Roe. Roe swatted it away and glared back at an empty spot. He looked around quickly but found nothing. Tigs popped his head out of the corner. The rest of him was invisible like his head protruded from the stone. It made Roe grimace for a moment, it was a sight that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He knew it, it infuriated him. And it stuck.
“As I said, I find the ways, no one else would.” He vanished.
Roe muttered under his breath. Well, he’d certainly done worse than crawling through a damned hole in the wall. “What if the person who owns this finds out about this hole? Do you think they built it?”
“Do you know who owns this place?” Tigs voice sounded slightly dull, far off, the way a hammer sounds with leather wrapped around it.
“No, who?” Said as he got onto his knees and peered into the hole. It was big enough, no way the owner didn’t know about it. He glanced back at the house, it was just as run-down and shoddy as the stable.
“Oh, well, I was hoping that you knew.” Tigs barked a sharp laugh and disappeared back into the hole.
Roe shook his head and crawled through. Tigs was waiting on the other side, he had one of those smirks on his face. As though he had a grand joke and wasn’t sharing. Roe brushed the dirt off his clothes and looked around. Torches blazed atop the walls, running off into the night before disappearing. The light fell in a shifting spread of shadows. The ground danced between darkness and flickering torch-light. Along the wall, a pool of shadow gathered and hid them from sight. He hated sneaking around.
“Best we stay out of sight,” Tigs said.
Roe agreed, even though he hated the sneaking bit; he was never good at moving silently. He let Tigs lead and followed as quietly as he could. Tigs was silent. Roe tried to watch, and see how he moved, how he placed his feet. This quickly caused Tigs to turn around, “Your footsteps are thunderous. What are you doing? We aren’t trying to crash through the damn forest. Look, one of the sentries is heading this way.”
Roe followed where he was pointing, to the top of the wall. A figure had started to walk toward them, crossbow in one hand, a torch of Hallowed Light in the other, which of course wasn’t a torch at all, having no flames. He still didn’t understand quite how it worked. It had to be brought in from the Stormlands, not easy to come by. Fears had a way of bringing out expensive things.
“I’m no storming thief.” Roe snapped.
“Well, for tonight you better figure out a way to walk like one. Gods, pretend this is some mission for honor and life. Because it is. It just happens to be cloaked in darkness, involves sneaking and stealing, and working with a thief.” Tigs retorted. “Just, don’t make noise.”
Roe glared at Tigs but bit his tongue. The sentry was close and hushed voices still carried, especially in the dark. They waited for the Hallowed Light to come and fade. Roe’s eyes adjusted to the deeper darkness outside the city walls. He paid more attention to how he walked, and less to Tigs. They walked silently, besides the occasion scuff or scrape that Roe produced. These earned further glares from Tigs. Roe would return the look, but ruefully he knew he had to be quieter. He cursed himself for being in this situation. He wasn’t a damned sneak.
They moved through the hillside, skirting around the fields, much of the forest had been cleared ahead of the Fardoran army, but not all. They clung to the forest edge, Tigs led, sometimes stopping for long moments and for what would seem like no reason. One time, as they drew closer to the Fardoran camp, a patrol passed by not a dozen feet from them. They had come up from the bottom of a hill, Roe hadn’t heard or seen anything until they were nearly on them. He had been cursing Tigs under his breath for wasting time until a blaze of light crashed ahead of the patrol. They passed by without noticing them and Roe held a higher regard for Tigs judgment after that. At least as far as sneaking around.
“This is never going to work.” He muttered as they approached the massive camp, it was a bristling mass of fires and pitched tents.
“Oh gods, you worry too much.” Tigs heard him, and responded, Roe hadn’t meant for that to be audible.
“Well, someone has to.” He matched the whispering tone Tigs had.
“Why’s that? Someone doesn’t *have* to worry about anything.” They were at the forest edge looking into the rear of the camp, “ See? Whoever was supposed to worry about the rear of the camp, seems to have forgotten to. A lot of people forget to worry about the things they should, and get stuck on worrying about the other stuff.”
”What other stuff?” Roe asked.
“You know, the other stuff. Who knows what to fret over anyway? I sure don’t. Maybe where is my next ale coming from? What color hair is the waitress going to have? I like that fiery red hair, or the soft brown, really though, it’s the eyes. You can tell when you look at someone’s eyes, whether they are alive or not.”
“Soft brown? What does that even mean? What does a thief know about women anyway?” Roe laughed, a touch rueful.
Tigs turned and looked dangerously into his eyes, “Roe, I steal women *all* the time.” He looked at him a little more closely, “Wait, no way. Roe, when was the last time you were with a woman? Don’t tell me. Have you ever been with one? Oh, gods! That would explain so much! You are pretty uptight.”
“That has nothing to do with it! And I am not uptight.” He nearly raised his voice before catching himself, he was, however, starting to wonder a little if he was, in fact, an uptight asshole. “ Besides, I wouldn’t tell *you*.”
Tigs chuckled. A soft, almost respectful laugh at his best. “Sure thing Roe.”
He wanted to hit Tigs, nice and solid, right in his irritating mouth. Well, he wasn’t about to tell Tigs anything now, even if it had been longer than he’d be willing to admit. He could feel the scruffy cheek of the thief. He actually could and realized he had, hit him. Gods he had *not* wanted to work with him. Storymaster Raine had never said anything about them getting along, as long as they got the work done. He’d said Tigs would have the plan together when they met up, and that he was to go along with it. Did Zohar know that they had run into one another on opposite ends of the law for years? No, but for a Storymaster, and Zohar at that. Even enemies had to stifle their quarrels.
Well, Roe had just stifled his fist into Tigs’ face. He was laughing, Tigs that was, “You can always tell when you’ve hit the soft spot of someone. You’re just upset because of the plan. I get it, but it is a good one.”
The way Tigs said it made Roe feel like a fool, and thrice the fool for hitting him. They were in this together and Roe was starting to realize it was him that was making it difficult. He paced for a moment, then sat down muttering an apology. They waited for what seemed like an eternity. Tigs didn’t continue to throw insults at him, maybe his fist had been convincing. Roe didn’t know, but he was thankful for the quiet.
“It’s time,” Tigs said softly, he stood.
To Roe, it had only been a few moments. The time that had passed flew and his stomach churned at what he was about to do. This wasn’t a soldiers’ work, but he had to accept it. There was no turning back now. He stood too. A roiling of expectations. “Alright. I hope you know, I still think this is ridiculous.”
Tigs looked at him, amusement painted on his face, “The best plans usually are.”
There was a certain logic to that, Roe agreed. The night had begun to get deeper, a few hours had passed since they crawled through the stable wall. The patrols, just a couple soldiers holding torches high, had passed a few times. Each time shadows danced between the waving grass, torchlight would reach out, and they would stay still, beyond the forest edge and out of sight. One had passed by only moments before.
Tigs walked slowly into the grass, picking his path carefully. They would walk roughly a dozen paces, then Tigs would kneel peering into the dark. Roe did his best to mimic his movements, he was getting better as keeping his footsteps quiet. Tigs was in his element. The quiet, the dark, it must be a lonesome place, Roe reflected. Then again, maybe not. Folks found a company with odd things at times.
It wasn’t far off, the camp’s edge. Roe could have sprinted it in seconds, the way Tigs led them it took nearly half an hour. The night had pressed in, the camp seemed quieter, still even. Roe felt like he could hear the grass whispering in the wind. Tigs moved silently, far quieter than Roe. He kept cursing himself for being so loud. A sharp look from Tigs let him know he was.
Eventually, they made it. Roe crept up next to Tigs, who had motioned him to do just that. A few feet away tents lined up, pitched and full. Fires burned low, small circles of quiet and reflection, where those that had survived peered into the past. They looked backward, through the flames; into the moments of the day. Some had lost friends or family.
Roe didn’t worry about any of that though. His heart was in his throat. It was thick, he could taste it. Every pulse was latent with anticipation, fear, excitement, the effects of death’s edge. This was it, one more step…and there would be no turning back. He stumbled over the thought, he felt his muscles freeze. His breath seemed short. Then Tigs moved, he walked right into the camp, between the two tents that, for now, hid Roe. In a blink, he was gone, and Roe was left there kneeling, wondering if he should turn around, slip away, it was dark he could do it. This wasn’t the kind of thing he wanted to do anyway.
Tigs reappeared wearing a grand smile and said, “Don’t get cold feet on me now. C’mon, once we are further in, it will be easy, everyone will just assume we belong.”
Roe muttered, Tigs laughed softly and they walked into the Fardoran camp. The two tents they moved between were empty. Maybe Tigs had been able to tell before they got there, but Roe didn’t know until he had passed by, heart beating in his throat. Not far away a fire crackled, it must have been the cook-fire for the tents, a handful of men were gathered around it. They sat on mismatched seats, one used a log presumably from the forest nearby, others sat on packs or the ground. They didn’t care, it was something to sit on, something to forget the days’ work. The light was low, and the way a fire gathers attention, they were able to pass by without notice.
Tents were everywhere, they lined up in long rows, the encampment was huge, the largest Roe had ever been in. A few men moved between tents and fires. Some in hurried steps, probably carrying orders for the battle tomorrow, others, the slower-walking folks, those were the ones that Tigs wove a path to avoid. Careful to let the quick walking Fardorans come close, close enough to pay them no mind, far enough to not recognize them. Roe caught eyes with a short man, he had the crest of Fardorough emblazoned across his chest, it stood out from the dark colors of their uniform. His breath caught, he held it. He saw the eyes widen from the man, he stopped short then. Roe nearly walked right into him, Tigs was up ahead and didn’t notice, his focus on where he was going, paying as little heed to the man as he had him.
Roe started to reach for his knife. A frantic grew in the pit of his stomach, he could see it happening. The man calling out, yelling, bringing all of the Fardoran armies to rise and stick countless swords into him. His hand was nearly there, he could feel it’s dull, worn wooden handle, he liked the wood handles, they didn’t get slick in a battle when sweat and blood mixed. The man bowed low and gave Roe a salute. He stopped his hand, let loose his knife. He grappled with his wits, to stop the onslaught of imagined death. Before he could respond, the man swept away, leaving Roe confused.
A hand reached out and grabbed him, it pulled his arm and his attention. It was Tigs, he was standing there, eyes as wide as the man. “Roe, what are you doing?!” He asked in a whisper as sharp as his knife.
“Did you see how that soldier saluted me?” Roe said, pointing at the man who was now nearly out of sight, hurrying off on his own.
“Yeah, I told you. Once we were in it would be easy, let’s go, we are almost there, that tent,” He pointed to a tall canvased structure, “That’s where we will find him.”
“This plan is ridiculous.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“It’s not going to work,” Roe said.
“Shut up. We are already here, besides, it’s not our job to decide if it’s going to work or not. I don’t want a Storymaster on my tail for the rest of my life, and it would be far shorter if I pissed one-off. You know how they get, especially the famous ones. I don’t *like* this either.” Tigs said in a rushing whisper. “Besides, you said so yourself, you had that soldier convinced. Let’s get this over with, then I can leave your prickly ass wherever it pleases you. I’ve got someone waiting, and anxiously.”
“You mean a whore.” Roe chided.
“She’s a woman,” Tigs said.
“And she’s anxious about the pile of money you promised,” Roe said.
“Not this one! Anxious that I’m working with a guard, you know they can’t be trusted.” He winked and laughed a little. “You see Roe, it’s you who doesn’t get women.”
“Fine let’s go.” Roe was tired of talking, and he wasn’t about to get into it with Tigs about women, really, he felt nervous about what he was supposed to do.
“Thank the gods.” Tigs moved off, he was a breeze in the dark, passing by without notice, Roe followed.
They avoided the campfires, keeping quiet, Roe kept his thoughts to himself. They were dark too, the kind that crept in and lingered. Before he knew it, they were outside the massive tent. It dwarfed the others around, it was the one where Isan was going to be. The leader of the Fardoran camp, the head of their army, the kind of guy that was a righteous asshole. He’d flay his brother if he thought he felt betrayed, he had in fact, only a year ago. Roe listened.
Hushed voices permeated from the closed canvas enclave, he couldn’t make out much so he crept in closer, edging to within reach of the ever so slowly billowing cloth. Tigs stayed where he was, maybe a goddamn thief’s ears were better than his, maybe Tigs just didn’t give a shit. He stopped worrying, he could make out most of what they were saying.
“…so tomorrow?” A soft voice said it was a woman.
“Yeah, there is no way they can hold for another week. Our forces up north are being pushed back by those damned mages from Clarity. Never would have thought they had any fight in em. All flourishes and shimmers, well, now we know better. Tramm thinks it will be less than the week before they get here.” That was Isan, Roe could tell from the voice.
“Will they will just surrender?” The mysterious woman said.
“No, but it will buy us a little of their attention, and their time.” A different voice, it was deep, radiated a sternness.
“Tramm is right. Crescent Bay knows by now that Clarity has sent reinforcements, they won’t give up now. But it doesn’t matter. I need time to think, come back in an hour. We’ll finish up then. Leave me be.” Isan said.
There was some mumbling and shuffling. Roe moved back away from the tent and stopped beside Tigs. “You hear that?”
“Most, does it matter?” Tigs shrugged, as though he didn’t think it mattered very much at all.
If they managed to go through with this, however small he thought the chances were, then he supposed it wouldn’t. It would only really matter if he failed. Tigs had done his part, which was probably why the bastard wore that smile, it didn’t look too smug.
“So…go, do your… thing,” Tigs said, slowly, as though he was biting back laughter.
“I don’t even know what my thing is!” Roe wasn’t loud but he was emphatic. Tigs kept on laughing quietly.
There wasn’t much else to say. Roe had an idea what he would do, it was stupid, and probably wouldn’t work, but shit, when you’re on the edge of the fire and someones pushing you in with a sword, you gotta jump through it. Sometimes you get burned. He groaned some of it was slightly audible.
Roe pulled his knife out, there was a glint right before he slipped it into the side of the canvassed tent. It cut it quietly, but each pull seemed to tear through the silent night. He ignored it, either he would get caught, and likely end up with a sword sticking out of his gut, or it would work. He breathed slowly out, not letting his breath slow his actions, but it settled his focus. The knife tugged through the last bit of the tent, and Roe ducked inside.
Isan had his back to Roe. He bit his breath, holding it in, and stood as quietly as he could. He didn’t have long and doubted another chance like this would come. He looked around and found what he was looking for, something roundish, and hard. Isan stepped forward, muttering to himself, Roe couldn’t hear and didn’t care. He could have killed him then, he could have slipped his knife in as easily as he had with the tent.
But that wouldn’t accomplish anything. Isan was as bad as his other commanders, those that surrounded him, they all resonated in their malice. Besides, he wouldn’t stab a man in the back. What good would it do when another would just take Isan’s place. No, he needed to do something different…
Isan started to turn, Roe sprung forward and swung his clenched fist hard. It connected high on Isan’s right cheek, near his eye, Roe brought his other hand up and hit his throat, silencing the cry that grew in it. They looked at one another, Isan’s eyes wide with anger and confusion, Roe didn’t hesitate, he couldn’t. Isan was reaching for something, it didn’t matter. Roe brought the rock he had found down, and it hit with a dull thud.
Isan’s eyes rolled and he crumpled to the ground. The way a blanket falls once it’s let go. Roe wouldn’t have long, and Isan groaned. He pulled the coat off the Fardoran commander. They had the same hair, same eyes. He felt like a damned fool, a fool about to be stuck through the gut with a sword, or a pike, or something foul and thoroughly killing. He stomached those feelings and worked quickly to change clothes with Isan.
He pushed the groggy man to the edge of the tent, right be where he had entered. Tigs stuck his head in, laughing. “So you’re gonna trade places with him?”
“Seemed fitting, I’ve always wanted a nice coat.”
“Now you find your humor? You’re a right odd one, Roe. What’s your plan?” Tigs pushed Isan over roughly, and pulled one of his eyes open, “He’ll be up soon enough.”
“Think you can get him out of here?” Roe shouldered the coat on, he and Isan looked a lot alike.
“You did the right job on him.” Tigs poked where Roe had first hit him a purplish spot bloomed, marring the man’s face, where the rock had connected slow line blood slid, “I’m sure I’ll manage. You just do your part, you’ll know if I get caught. They’ll be here in a jiffy to stick ya good.”
A sudden rustling of canvas filled the room. Isan was lying in a heap by the edge of the tent, with Tigs sitting over him. Roe turned to find Tramm a tall burly fellow peering in. “I heard something, everything okay?”
Roe turned back to Tigs, a small smile ferreted to life. “Yes Tramm, everything went just as I expected. Wait there for a moment will you, and take this guy, with you.” He kicked Isan sharply, a grunt eeked out, he would be fine, for now.
Tigs was unsure what to think or do, maybe this was part of the plan, he looked like a rabbit caught between foxes. Tramm seemed to pause for a moment, he looked from Isan to Roe and back, then shrugged and lifted the slumped figure easily. “Come back in a moment Tramm, we’re going to change things up a little. It’s funny what the mouths of thieves give away, nearly as much as their hands take, and some are more proficient than others.”
He could see it on Tigs. Growing uncertainty and it should be growing, the damned thief was smart. Roe tossed aside the knife he had been carrying, it clattered loudly on one of the nearby tables. He had started to grow to like him.
“Tigs. Have you ever met Zohar?” He asked the name seemed to taste bad as he said it, “Well, I have, and he’s not what you’d think he is. Yeah sure, he’s got his ideals and morality, and people LOVE him for that! Funny thing is though, they hate him for it too.” Roe walked around the room, pacing almost like he was already comfortable and trying to decide what to do. “Gods, don’t you get tired of sneaking around all the time?”
Tigs stood up, coming into the tent. “Some things are meant to be snuck around.” He eyed Roe, Roe could see he was starting to understand. “You’re not Roe at all are you?” Tigs had his hand on his knife, it wouldn’t do much good.
He knew now, Isan had traded spots with Roe, not hard once you had someone who looked like you, not hard at all. Roe had probably given away everything that Zohar had told him. ‘Isan’ -the real Roe- was pulled away by Tramm, dragged through the front of the tent. He had played it off, although sometimes someone who fits the description of something so well, isn’t really who they are at all. Roe -Isan-, bastard, leader of the Fardoran army had just had a grand tour of the city, from the eyes of it’s the best thief.
“Tramm, take your men, however many you feel, to the northern gate. Not far from there is a hole, it leads into the city, a literal ‘hole in the wall’,” Isan laughed, then continued, “You know what to do, wait until just before dawn, we’ll come from the east, with the sun.”
Tigs chuckled softly. “You’re a bastard ya know.” He stood straight, he’d stare death in the face and laugh, “But you’re not the only one.”
There was a tension that filled the air. Isan could feel it like a string pulled tight. Tigs didn’t move, and Isan stood staring at him, wondering what to do with him.
“You know, I could use someone like you. You’re smart, driven and as you said, your the guy who finds the different way. Seems like I could make room for you around here.” Isan started to pace around again, slowly, one footfall at a time.
“Oh yeah?” Tigs said, “Does it come with the same assurances your brother had?”
Isan turned sharply, Tigs was lunging at him, dagger out, it’s wicked blade slicing toward him. Isan ripped his sword out, it rasped out of the scabbard, he took a quick step back, leaning, bringing his sword out just in time. Tigs was quick, their weapons ground against each other, sending bright sparks to life. Then again. Each blow rang out loudly, sharp clangs that pierced the quiet.
“It’s too late, even if your little knife gets stuck in me, Tramm knows, you’ll never make it out of here, not alive.” Isan fought as furiously as Tigs. “Crescent Bay is going to fall, and Fardorough will have made its first move into Rangforne, all because of you.”
“Interesting.” Tigs said, “I didn’t realize you knew the future. Some new skill of yours?” He kept at him, close, within reach of his dagger.
Every step Isan took back, TIgs took one forward. He had to stay within the length of that sword if he didn’t Isan would have him. Their fight was personal, it was to Tigs, he hated being tricked. “I hate being tricked you know, I’m the tricker.” A flash bloomed inside the tent, sharp and bright. Isan shouted and managed to stay out of reach of Tigs’ dagger, he could feel it swipe by. He swung his sword hard and took another step back. Tramm had come in, he could take him out, blinking furiously, working the blindness from his eyes. He closed his eyes, his eyelids flashed red, and Tramm cried out, another blooming of light. Tigs was an Illuminator?! Bastard.
“You’ll never get out of here!” Isan snarled, his vision was coming back, he could see Tigs rushing at him.
“Who says I want to?” There was a fury in Tigs’ eye.
Another swipe of his dagger, this time as Isan raised his sword to parry it, the dagger burst alight. Brighter than the first flash, it was piercing, he could feel it, so sharp it felt as though it impaled his chest. Tigs was a Lightworker, a thief who knew Illumination, ‘Hands of Lighting’ indeed. He went to speak, but couldn’t, a tightness held his chest, his voice didn’t seem to work. Like it was shrinking and falling in on itself. A treacherous brightness blinded his vision, he couldn’t see through it.
Tramm shouted. It seemed dull, far off. Where was Tigs, and his dagger? The light-blasted thief. Something seemed to itch at his chest, he fell to his knee, a hand wrapping around a hilt, it burned bright, but he couldn’t see it, Isan fell.
Flames began to lick up the tent, Tigs threw the burning torch at the next one.
They were quick to fire. Tigs ran, his heart pounded, he blinked away remnants of his Illumination, he could taste that metal flavor of blood in his mouth, too. He didn’t care, he was as good as dead. The edge of the camp was not close. He laughed and ran. Tigs knew who he needed to find, Zohar. First, he needed to survive. Shouts rose up, sharp calls of attention, a fire began to rip through the heart of the camp.
Tigs ran, for his life, for Crescent Bay, he was a ghost through the camp, a shadow, that could burn like the sun.