A Harlot's Tale Ch. 02byerusian©
The Bonnie Lark was one of the most frequented pubs in the Bazaar. Callous slipped through the crowd and found a table near the bar. He sat across from a snoring dwarf, who had obviously indulged a bit more than was wise. Callous slipped the dwarf's still full mug from his hand and drank, waiting for the girl to follow him in.
The tavern was uncomfortably packed. A high stake game of lots was on, in which a laborer had gambled a season's service against a night with a merchant's three elf-maids. Elvin females were a rare commodity in Corici and highly valued as pleasure slaves. Many of the patrons had gathered round the men, yelling taunts and cheers in typical drunken fashion.
It took the girl a while to find him. He watched as she strained her way through the crowd, looking for the 'beggar'.
'She's quite pretty', he thought, 'it's really too bad...'
She eventually found him, and he noticed that she immediately changed her countenance to an expression of utmost self-confidence. The girl smiled to him as she approached the table. Callous stood and crossed to stand behind the chair in which the dwarf sat slumbering. He tilted the chair to one side and the dwarf slid onto the floor, where he mumbled a bit about 'the stupid imperial' something or other, and then carried on, snoring away.
'Welcome, Thylisa,' he said, offering her the newly vacated chair, 'Sit, my dear. We have much to discuss.'
'Wait, 'ow do ya know my name? Who are you?' Thylisa stood back, ready to run if need arose.
'Fine,' he said, taking his seat, 'let 'them' find you, I certainly don't care.' Callous put the mug to his lips, drinking deeply.
Thylisa sat, her curiosity outbalancing her apprehension. She didn't like the way he stressed the word 'them'.
'All right, ya got me. Now what're ya talking about? Who are 'they', and why is anyone lookin' for me?'
'My, my... aren't you the inquisitive one...' he said as he beckoned to a barmaid. 'No details yet, my sweet, first we drink. This place isn't safe for such talk, most of these people would sell their souls at the drop of a few crescents.'
The barmaid was young, about fourteen summers, and rather unkempt. Callous recognized her accent, as it was a harsher slang than that of Corici. The lass hailed from Balifor, same as the three dead men lying in the street outside the door.
'Wha' can I get ya? We're ou'a anythin' cold, our ice spell's on th' blink again,' the girl smirked at her own sarcasm. Magic even as routine as ice spells was all little more than a childhood memory to her now.
'A horn of ale for myself and a goblet of red for the lady.'
'Four crescents fifty,' the girl said. She stared oddly at the man. One certainly did not expect proper speech (or silver, for that matter) from a beggar. The slight girl extended her grubby palm.
Callous counted four silver crescents and two brass pieces from Brandil's purse into the girl's hand.
'Graces, m'lord,' the girl attempted a clumsy curtsey and flitted off to the bar.
Thylisa leaned across the table,' Look, I appreciate what ya've done, but I haven't time for this. I don't know who ya are, or how ya know me, but I've a lot of things to take care of at the moment. So if ya'd be so kind as ta return my pack ta me, I'll be leaving.'
An inferno flashed through Callous' eyes as he spoke to her. 'You have quite a few more things to worry about than you think, whore!' He closed his eyes for a second. When he opened them, the fire was gone. He settled back into his chair, the mask of comfortable amusement had returned.
'I do hold you at somewhat of a disadvantage in that I know who you are...and you haven't the slightest idea who I am. I like that.' He smirked. 'However, I am not unkind. You may call me... Callous,' he smiled again, and almost to himself, 'Yes. Callous... that will do nicely.'
The barmaid returned, carefully balancing a drink-laden tray. Callous thanked her before she dove back into the sea of screaming drunkards.
Anticipating her reaction, Callous casually slipped one hand over Thylisa's. He sipped his ale before he spoke. She followed his example, uncertain how she should respond to his touch.
'For now, I will tell you only that I am the most efficient thief in the city, and I have been hired by some rather influential persons to escort you to your execution.'
Thylisa gagged. Her mouthful of wine nearly went all over the table. She tried to get up, to run away. Callous crushed her hand painfully in his grip.
'Sit, woman!' there was nothing jovial in his voice. Thylisa took her seat. He leaned close to her, 'I cannot explain at the moment, but you are no longer safe in this city. I have found it to be in my best interest to help you, and you will live, but only if you sit here like a good little wench and finish your wine.'
Callous released her hand. Once again he settled back in his chair and drank from his horn. The girl trembled slightly as she drank, occasionally peering over her cup at him. Callous could imagine the thoughts running rampant through her mind. The thief smiled at her again.
As the two walked out of the Bonnie Lark, they were followed by four orcs, carrying the man who owned the slave girls. He had lost, but refused to make good on his bargain. He did not struggle as they carried him around the side of the building, as he was quite dead.
Callous' eyes scanned the bodies of his three victims. Street urchins had stripped them of everything they owned. The thief knew that by morning the bodies would be gone. People tended to get very hungry in the Bazaar.
They plunged into the maze, and Callous spoke to her as they walked. 'Let's see... where to start... There is much more to you than you know. I myself found most of it unbelievable, but after your little display this afternoon, I have decided to keep a more open mind about such things.
'What? How do ya know about that?' Thylisa tugged on his sleeve, whispering harshly.
'Well now, I've only been watching you for a whole cycle. I'm still shocked that you don't recognize me,' Callous smiled, 'after all, I've visited your bed twice already.'
Thylisa stopped. 'You what?!' She started to storm off, but then remembered that she had nowhere to go. This arrogant, insidious man infuriated her, but if he was telling the truth, she had no choice but to trust him. Thylisa hated feeling trapped.
'Calm down, Thylisa, it was a jest,' he looked at the dark-haired girl, she had set her jaw and glared straight ahead, fuming.
'Now, as I was saying... It seems that you are greatly favored by the Mother. In fact, at one time there was a scroll deep in the vaults of Necanta's temple that was written all about you, my dear girl.'
'And just how can ya expect me ta believe that?'
'Wait, allow me to finish. I say 'at one time' because it's no longer there. It is now in my possession. I shall let you read it a bit later, if you're good.'
Thylisa snapped her head to the side so she wouldn't have to look at him.
Callous shook his head, 'But I digress... Now, as it happened, our good emperor Kaine summoned me to the Citadel and, much to my surprise, fattened my purse quite a bit. Without telling me any details, which I didn't necessarily appreciate, Kaine directed me to follow and then deliver you to him on the eve of All Seasons'. Then, I am certain, he plans to turn you over to the Shadoewatch. I believe that Mistress Ylaine plans to dispatch you in their... usual manner,' Thylisa didn't know what he meant by 'their usual manner', but was afraid to ask.
They turned off Via Aquina now, and headed north, toward the cliff that formed the second tier.
'I'm cold, can I have my pack?' Callous unshouldered her pack and handed it to her. She withdrew her shawl and wrapped it about her shoulders. 'So what now? Ya said that 'it was in your best interest ta help me', but then ya say ya've been paid ta bring me to Kaine so he can do... whatever. I'm confused.'
'Of course you are, my sweet'
'I wish ya'd stop calling me that.'
'Too bad. Now, what you don't know is that following orders is not my forté, so I took it upon myself to do a bit of research on you. That twisted path eventually led me into the vaults of Shadoeholde, and slinking into Necanta's temple is not an easy task, I assure you. There I found the fruit of my labors, a parchment entitled 'The Scroll of the Avatar', which you shall read in a few moments.'
They had almost reached the edge of the Beggars' Quarter, where a ninety foot cliff rose to bear the weight of the Merchants' Quarter, Corici's second tier. The houses here were all rather small and cramped together. The roofs were all flat, and Thylisa could see that some had various degrees of gardening attempted on them.
Callous led her to one of the tiny hovels and fit a key to the door.
'If you're the 'most efficient thief in the city', why do ya live in this place? It's more fittin' ta a two-pip thug'
Callous smiled as he turned the key and opened the door. 'I have my reasons,' he said.
While the outside of Callous' home was a dump, the inside was a palace. Silver statues sat atop short marble columns. Antique paintings and tapestries adorned the walls. Hand carved furniture rested on an intricately designed rug which spanned the floor. Light emanated from silver lamps hung about the place. Everything was clean and meticulously placed. Thylisa stood, speechless.
'Not bad for a two-pip thug, wouldn't you say?' Callous called from the adjacent room.
'It's... it's absolutely beautiful, Callous. I don't understand. This is all worth so much. I mean, I could live off this for a lifetime or more,' Thylisa sank down into the plush couch. It felt wonderful to relax after the day's ordeal.
'You, my dear, are destined for much greater things. Come, I want you to read this.'
When she entered Callous was no longer garbed in his beggar's rags. He now wore loose black pants with high black-leather boots. A long-sleeved grey tunic was worn beneath a darker grey hooded cloak. He had cleaned himself up, and now looked a little younger, Thylisa guessed about twenty-eight. His reddish-brown hair was pulled into a topknot, which hung down to his collar. He was actually quite handsome. She felt more secure now that she was near him. The tension waned from her face.
'Go on. Stop gawking and read the damn thing.'
Thylisa opened the scroll. Her eyes wondered about it for a moment, and then she shut them tight... her head hung low.
'I can't read, Callous.'
'Yes, of course,' Callous said, taking the scroll. He seemed more disturbed by this than he had intended. Thylisa thought he looked at her as if she had just failed some vital test. She was not far off the mark.
Callous sighed, and went about filling a small backpack with things he had set aside. When he had finished, he sat next to Thylisa and began to read.