A fool’s errand. Shallieth scowled a bit, just a bit, as she contemplated the business that Murridoc had thrown himself to with the roden, business she was now convinced was a waste of their precious time. Worse, he had drawn Gennaro and the Guard’s resources into backing him up with the idiot Ijax’s contraption.
Not that that’s necessarily such a bad thing.
Shallieth herself had, of course, been free to pursue what meager resources she still had left in an attempt to draw more of a bead on Chantille’s whereabouts and plans. Namely, Masser. She still had no idea whether she could trust the street rat, had no idea whether at the end of the day he would live or die. The truth was, it mattered little except so much as it impacted her plans.
In the end, she was glad she had. Masser apparently knew of two exits to the hideout of which she had been previously unaware, one of which led directly from the second floor to a hidden location outside Ponte Luka’s walls. This would be Chantille’s bolt-hole, she was positive of this, and thus it should be Gennaro’s main objective to block it . . . and Shallieth’s own to be as far away as possible when the inevitable conflict erupted. She sent Masser on his way to locate that tunnel’s other end, after he had extracted from her an empty promise to leave town after the deed was done.
The seemingly-hopeless plan was finally starting to fall into place.
The troops were mustered, such as they were. It was not nearly the force Gennaro had hoped to compile, but given the lateness of the juncture they would have to suffice. It had taken a few hours, but his men had arrived discretely and were awaiting his orders to proceed.
Shallieth had conveniently agreed to watch over the tunnel leading to and from the (now-shut-down, he noticed) Lion and Bear Tavern. He did not overlook the fact that this put her conveniently out of harm’s way; given Chantille’s apparent intentions it was a wise precaution.
In the meantime, the hour had come and he rallied his men for the attack. Wasting no time, they rushed across the street and quickly breached the doors of the Crysanthe safehouse. Subduing the undisciplined rogue guardsmen at the front door proved an easy task, and after leaving two men to deal with them, the rest surged onward.
They were met shortly by heavy crossbowmen firing from the landing up ahead. No sooner had the men fired (and not connected) than with uncanny speed Gennaro was upon them. Having no ready weapons and no time to reload, they bolted back up to the second story. With a shout, the Guardsmen followed.
What they found upstairs was a large and ill-tempered troll being freed from his bonds by the fleeing thieves. Darting past the troll with the faster of his guardsmen, Gennaro left the remaining men to deal with the brute. Meanwhile, he came shortly upon what looked to be the Order’s conference room, now deserted except for a small group of warriors. Gennaro could tell on sight these were no ordinary cutpurses and thugs; these men moved like they had spent many years handling the blade. Gennaro’s men moved into position for what promised to be a formidable battle.
Company. Shallieth thought wordlessly. She had spent her time making certain the chameleon’s aspect was flawless and had let herself in silently and unseen, making her way to the tunnel’s entrance where she waited for someone . . . anyone . . . to come rushing through.
Good, this means the Guardsmen have made their point. With any luck they will have Chantille before he can make for his escape tunnel. In the meantime, I shall do what I can to slow down the peons. Perhaps . . . yes, that storage room door would make a convenient barricade.
Reaching for a conveniently-sized piece of timber she braced herself against the tunnel’s mouth, cursing the apparent loudness of her shallow breaths as she measured the approaching footsteps’ closeness by ear. At the last moment she braced the timber at ankle-height and the bolting man in front tumbled headlong and gracelessly into the room.
He looked up, directly at Shallieth.
It was none other than Lauren Chantille, followed closely by his young son.
What happened next perhaps should not have surprised Shallieth, but it did. Chantille proceeded to revile her as a witch, as a consort of the demons. Not that she was unused to such treatment, but to hear it from one she had thought as sensible as Chantille gave her a bit of a shock. She did the worst thing possible. She hesitated.
Chantille was no fool, and he took the opening, darting past her up the stairs and toward freedom, his son on his heels. Belatedly, Shallieth yelled for the Guard. The child was slow, however, and she knew her only option to prevent Chantille’s escape was to strike at the thing he held most dear. No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than the knife emerged smoothly from her tunic sleeve and embedded itself deeply in the young boy’s back. The child tumbled down the stairs in a pool of blood.
The elite warriors of Crysanthe were as canny as they seemed, and for a moment it seemed Gennaro’s reduced force had met its match. The valuable seconds flew by as steel whirled and sliced through the air, as bodies charged and closed and attempted to outmaneuver their equally-disciplined opponents. At length Gennaro got the upper hand and began to disable his opponent. Moreso, Gennaro had bloodlust in his eyes. He would show his men how treasonous dogs like this should be dealt with.
In the end there was not much left of Gennaro’s target. His allies fared little better.
Wasting little time to even clean his gorestained blade, Gennaro urged his men onward to what he could only assume was the Council’s escape tunnel.
The ladder plunged down a poorly-excavated tunnel, ending a good 5-meter drop from the ground below. Clearly there was no going back. With barely a second thought Gennaro released the last rung, letting his knees absorb the significant force of the fall. Ever obedient, his loyal guardsmen joined him on the ground below.
He could make out, in the distance, the fleeing thieves. A gilded cape in particular caught his eye. But it was the closer figure that gave them cause for alarm.
They had left one of their number, who was busily knocking supports out of the poorly-kept tunnel walls as he fled.
“Chantille.” While loud enough to carry, the voice was cool, almost conversational. “If you value your son’s life stop where you are.”
Reluctantly, the merciless manslayer, the self-proclaimed king of the Temple District, meekly complied.
“Good, I knew you’d listen to reason. Now, I’m not a monster. Go and see to your son, Chantille.”
He glared. “You are a monster.” But once again, Chantille complied.
He had no sooner cradled his boy in his arms than Shallieth was dashing up the stairs, slamming and barricading his only other exit from the storeroom.
After this, she prepared the area, dousing the floorboards, the door, the tables against the door, with the most volatile liquor the Lion and Bear had to offer.
“Now, Chantille, we can do this the easy way or the hard way. Your choice.”
At the intense rattling at the door, followed by its partial penetration by a heavy crossbow bolt, she had her answer.
Pausing to ensure the security of her barricade, she rushed off to procure what Guardsmen she could. She still had hopes of taking the bastard alive, though to call this optimism would be a mistake.
Thinking quickly, Gennaro rushed to intercept and dispatch the saboteur as quickly as possible. If this tunnel came down they would find themselves either trapped with no food and little water or crushed beneath the very weight of the earth. Fortunately he had not had time to do much, and for the moment the tunnel seemed secure. Not for the first time, he wished Murridoc were with his men and not tied up with Ijax’s insane contraption hundreds of meters below his feet.
With the immediate threat neutralized, the Guard rushed down the rough-hewn passage in pursuit of the fleeing thieves’ council. He cursed under his breath when he emerged to the sight and sound of horses. His quarry were mounting up to make their escape!
Taking little thought for the thieves themselves, Gennaro knew his best bet of slowing them down was to focus fire on the animals. He drew his blade and savagely cut into the muscles and tendons of the nearest steed’s flank. The horse screamed a bit but held its rider, galloping off at a limping pace as its blood streamed down onto the hard-packed dirt and rock beneath. Quickly drawing and preparing his crossbow, he carefully leveled a shot at the same horse. It sank to the earth with another scream and a satisfying thud.
After instructing one of his more equestrian guardsmen to take pursuit, Gennaro took stock of the now-injured (but very much alive) thief he had halted. He had taken a nasty wound to the head, but it seemed he would live. Issuing a few more terse orders, they began to prepare him for the long drag back up the tunnel.
The guardsmen had been greeted by the tavern’s owner to the tune of his own crossbow bolt. After precious moments of persuasion, Shallieth managed to focus the two guards’ attention on the captive Chantille in the basement. They cracked the door to enter but Chantille was ready for them, brutally slicing into the first with the expert skill for which he was famous. After retreating and barricading the door once more, Shallieth set her full attention to convincing the Guardsmen to look the other way while she committed arson . . . and cold-blooded murder, albeit on Ponte Luka’s most ruthless criminal and his son.
“This is what we came to do. Punish the guilty. Protect the innocent. See to those upstairs, wouldn’t you?”
Somehow, some way, the words worked. Or at least the Guardsmen ran off to find the fire brigade instead of restraining Shallieth. Confident at last that it would take not a small effort to stop the growing inferno, Shallieth had a sudden thought.
The tunnel. This will not be over until I see to it the other end is blocked as well.
A few blocks’ running found her at the safehouse, where she boldly stepped past the Crysanthe guards as if she belonged (technically, she still did) and down the trapdoor leading to the basement and her quarry’s only remaining bolthole.
She almost chuckled as she saw one of her associates in the records room, carefully setting fire to incriminating documents. From what she knew of this structure it would not be long before it too was choked in blistering flame and noxious smoke.
I shall have to extend my thanks to this man for doing my work for me. Later. Perhaps much later.
From here, there was little to do but alert the fire brigade (with some very loose and confusing directions) to the second blaze. Divide and conquer, as they say. And then, with some satisfaction and no longer caring, in fact desiring, that the Order might see her on the scene, she had nothing to do but stand back and admire her handiwork.
Not exactly according to plan but all in all a satisfactory conclusion to that nasty business. She tried to hide her smirk as best she could.
“You what?!” Gennaro was near-dumbstruck with incredulity.
Shallieth shrugged. “You knew the plan. Capture him if possible, kill him if not. I didn’t get much help from your Guardsmen so I took matters into my own hands.”
She placed a consoling hand on Gennaro’s shoulder. “You and your men acted nobly. Jail me if you must, or just call this business an unfortunate accident.” She couldn’t resist the jab: “I’m certain many of your peers would be quick to agree.”
“We must . . . discuss your methods at some length. Later.” He waved at his men to escort her out as he wearily turned himself to the ever-increasing pile of paperwork.
Moments later he dozed soundly, face-down on his writing desk, sheer exhaustion having taken its toll.