The night was dark, so dark I could not even see the blade at my throat, but I wasn’t afraid. “Do you mean to kill me?” I inquired.
“Only if you refuse to tell me where it is,” my attacker answered in a gruff voice.
I smiled sweetly, though he couldn’t see it, and answered, “Sorry, Vak, but you’re going to need to offer more than that.”
“You don’t seem to understand me, Rakayl,” he sounded frustrated. “I’m offering you your life. If you tell me, I’ll go away and leave you be. If not, I’ll slit your throat.”
“You seem to be under the impression that you have the upper hand here. You don’t. I have something you want, but you don’t have anything I want. You’re going to have to raise the price.”
“Like I said, you don’t have anything I want.”
He finally got it. He sheathed his dagger, and for a moment I thought he was about to leave, but he didn’t. We sat silently in the dark, until he finally muttered something and all the candles in the room flared up. For the first time in years, I saw his face, and he saw mine.
He hadn’t changed much, if at all. Same voice, same face, same beard, same twinkling eyes, same attitude. I knew I’d changed, been aged by years of toil and misery and hopelessness. And I’d meant it, that my life meant nothing to me. Back then, sure, I was a daredevil, took stupid risks that could get me killed, but I’d loved being alive.
I looked away to avoid seeing pity in his eyes. He knew what I’d been once, and to see me reduced to this…. I still had my pride, and one other thing as well.
“Fine,” he gave in. “What do you want?”
“Nothing you can give me.”
“Then why shouldn’t I just kill you and be done with it?”
“I won’t be able to tell you anything once I’m dead.”
“And you’re not telling me anything alive. Why shouldn’t I just kill you and save myself the bother of trying to talk it out of you?”
I shrugged. “No reason.”
He was growing irritated. “Damn it, isn’t there anything I can do to get you to tell me?”
“Like I said, there’s nothing you have that I want.”
“What do you want?”
He smiled. “So if I get you out of here, you’ll tell me?”
“No.” He started to glare at me, but I continued, “If you get me out of here, and take me with you, as a partner, then I’ll tell you.”
“I’ve no problem agreeing with that… but are you sure you’re still up to it?”
In a flash, I grabbed his knife from his side and had it at his throat. That was enough of a reply, so I said nothing.
“Fine, fine,” he said, holding up his hands. “I take back the question. We have a deal?”
I tucked the dagger into my waistband, and we shook on it. “My knife wasn’t part of the deal,” he complained.
“No, it wasn’t,” I agreed, but did not return it. “So do you have a plan? Because I assure you, I haven’t stayed here for four years because I like the scenery.”
“You know me, I play things by ear. So should we trick our way out, or fight our way out?”
I’d forgotten that. My style had been to plan everything out to the last detail beforehand, with a multitude of backup plans for everything that could possibly go wrong. Vak had tended to come up with mad ideas and, with no planning whatsoever, act on them, improvising whenever anything went wrong. But it worked for him. After all, I’d been caught, convicted, and sold into slavery, and he was free.
I thought about his question, and grinned. “Fight our way out, of course. If you think you’re up to it.”
“It would help if you gave me my dagger back.”
I smirked. “I guess you do have more need of it.” I offered it to him.
“I don’t need a bit of metal to fight with any more than you do,” he protested, so I put it away.
I had nothing to take with me and no reason to linger, so we left. He’d already picked the locks to get into the room, so we crept out into the darkness.
“Steal a pair of horses?” Vak suggested.
“Just two?” I led the way to the stables. They were guarded, but the guards, not really expecting any trouble, weren’t as alert as they should have been. I was on the first guard before he even noticed us, and by then it was too late; I left him bleeding out into the dust. He’d had time to let out part of a scream, but it didn’t matter. The only one around to hear was the corpse of the other guard, who Vak had dealt with while I was killing the first one. We saddled the two best horses, and quickly released all the others—a distraction, sure, but I mainly did it out of spite. The loss of a few horses, and even a few guards, was hardly enough revenge, but it’s better than nothing.
We dispatched the two guards at the gate as easily as their fellows, but the magic was more difficult. That was how I was caught the last time I tried to escape. I’d thought I’d neutralized it, and started to climb over, and realized it was stronger than I’d thought when I was stuck to the gate for the rest of the night, until the next round of guards came and caught me.
But Vak was with me this time, and as loath as I am to admit it, he knew more magic than I did. So after a rather tense half hour of sitting on my horse in the cold, watching Vak mutter to himself, we were through, and all we had to do was stay out of sight.
“Where to now?” Vak asked me.
“A ship would be best. You up for a spot of piracy?” He was, of course, and if the small craft we took couldn’t exactly be called a ship, it was quite capable of taking us to Port Endra, in Majardea.
“So is that where it is, then?” Vak finally asked me, on the second day of our voyage. “Majardea, or nearby?”
“Well, it was. But it’s too late now. Did you really think they wouldn’t have gotten that out of me a long time ago?”
He stared at me. I put my hand on the dagger, in case he tried anything, but after a while he just laughed. “I should have known. So what happened to it?”
“Well, that bastard wasn’t about to go off on a quest for it, so I guess he must have sold the information or something. A while back I heard some hero went after it, and she found it, but…. I’m not exactly clear on the details, but I heard them complaining about what a waste that was, because I guess she fed it to a goat. Good riddance, in my opinion, you know what I thought about it.”
Vak shook his head. “A goat. The most powerful artifact known to man, and she fed it to a goat.” He looked at me accusingly. “You owe me.”
“I know.” But I didn’t much care.