From the Memoirs of Darius the God Slayer
The furious fighting was over. I checked the fallen form of Danyo. By the grace of the gods, he yet lived. The silence of the room was broken. Looking up from my friend, I turned to Ninotchka. “He lives! By the gods, lend me some help with him!” She nodded and gestured to several of her girls to assist him. They bandaged him as well as they could and we carried him up the stairs, installing him in Tamara’s room. Returning downstairs, I picked up an abandoned flagon of wine and drained it. Now that the fighting was over, I felt weary. With a weary sigh, I saw to the dead. They had many goods they no longer needed, and to the victors must go the spoils. Finishing that, I cleared the room of dead, dragging the bodies into the street. One saving grace of the Desert was that the dead were hardly noticed among the beggars and the filth.
Weariness had taken hold of me. I awoke sometime later upstairs in Vilena’s bed. I cannot rightly say that I remembered how I had gotten there, such was my weariness. I rose from the bed, careful not to disturb the sleeping form of Vilena. Pulling on a clean tunic, I went silently into the hallway. Before I had reached the stairs, I was met by Ninotchka. With worried eyes, she told me that Harasym’s gang had returned. She feared that they would find us, and another fight would ensue. I assured her that we would leave as soon as Danyo was able to travel. In my heart, though, I knew that we did not have that much time.
Returning to Vilena’s room, I donned my leather jerkin and armed myself. I would have to make the time we needed to survive. Danyo needed a few more days before he could be moved. I intended to buy that time. Friendship was becoming a liability. Properly equipped, I again left the room and moved downstairs. I proceeded slowly. I must admit, I had formed no plan at this time. Taking the time to listen carefully, I heard the chatter of the gang end with the arrival of another group. It sounded as if a group of soldiers had arrived. One voice sounded very familiar. I had heard that voice the night before, in the hidden temple of Kara Prama. It seemed that Captain Diodor had somehow survived the collapse! From the sound of things, the captain wanted to speak to the surviving gang members and they withdrew to one of the private rooms downstairs. The danger which Danyo and I faced had just doubled. I could still here the soldiers downstairs. None of them had seen me before, so I decided to take a fool’s risk and end the danger once and for all. I had no idea how I would handle the captain, his soldiers, and the gang. I headed down the stairs anyway. I began to suspect that I was beginning to do heroic acts with far too much regularity. Heroism is a very bad habit for a thief.
I walked downstairs, passing the soldiers as I went. They did nott notice me, so focused were they on drink and women. Moving quietly towards the private rooms in the back, I entered the room that held my foes, silently closing the door behind me. Diodor was speaking, making his own play for control of what remained of the gang. This would not do. My stiletto hit home, striking as swift and silent as a serpent. Diodor was cut off mid-sentence, blood frothing from his lips as I withdrew the blade and let his body fall to the floor. Hands flew to the hilts of blades. For a moment, I worried that I may have made the wrong move. There was nothing for it but to brazen it out. Bloodied blade in hand, I glared around the room. “I run the Street of the Whore’s Blood now. Does anyone have a problem with that?” I growled at the assembly. Silently, blades were slid back into their sheathes and hands removed from weapons. “No problems boss. We’ll take care of his men.” I nodded in response. Quietly, in ones and twos, the gang filed out of the room. Moments later a girl screamed, dying men made brief cries, and the detachment of the Royal Guard was dealt with. My gambit had worked. I only wondered how much time it had bought us.
No man has yet accused me of being a fool. I was certainly not fool enough to think that I could survive being a crime lord. What I needed was time for Danyo to heal and for us to make our escape. I had just bought us a day…perhaps two. The gang feared me now because they had feared Harasym and I had killed him. That fear would dissipate. With Harasym and Fadey gone, more than one of them would seek to realize their own ambitions, and I stood in their way. Even more dangerous, when competing gangs learned that Harasym was dead, they would make their move to destroy the gang. If Diodor knew, then surely it would not be long for word to spread further. I mulled this over while I looked in on Danyo and then sat alone downstairs with a beaker of wine. I had to buy us some more time, and this would call for another risky throw of the dice.
I called the gang together and grilled them about their (I suppose it is “our” now) enemies. The strongest of them seemed to be a gang of Darfari. These savage Darfari were led by a fearsome giant of a man called Liyongo. Under Liyongo’s rule, these Darfari had more than doubled their territory by savagely destroying their competition. It was rumoured that the Darfari had eaten the gangs they had defeated. “It is time,” I told the gang, “that we make our mark. When we crush the Darfari, no one will dare challenge us!” They were swayed by the forcefulness of it. I did not want to let this go to waste, so I announced that we would move on the Darfari that very night.
Liyongo ran his gang out of a gambling establishment in the Desert. The rumour was that the rich and decadent of the city came to this establishment to dine…Darfari style. And since we all know that the Darfari, who sharpen their teeth into fine points, are cannibals…we need not discuss the finer points of Darfari cuisine any further. We made our way through the darkened alleys and streets of the Desert, finally standing outside the Darfari gambling den. My men, and I had no illusions about their true loyalty, silently killed the door guards as we entered. The darkened room was large, with the gambling taking place beneath the watchful eyes of Liyongo from a dais. Liyongo rested his bulk on cushions, surrounding himself with naked slaves who fanned, fed, flattered and caressed this grotesque figure. A large ebon war club, carved with frighteningly grotesque figures, rested by Liyongo’s side. He looked up from his pleasures as we rushed into the room. “How dare you,” he began to roar in fury as he attempted to raise his enormous bulk from the dais. His statement was cut short as I calmly raised my arbalest and fired a bolt into him. With that signal, the slaughter commenced. My men fell upon every Darfari in the place. Gamblers ran for cover as steel was bared and blood began flying. I dropped my arbalest, drew my blades and ran towards the dais. Liyongo, though sorely wounded, was still very much alive. I intended to change that. With a great leap, I launched myself from a table onto the dais. The slaves scattered as my blades bit into Liyongo’s bulk. He bellowed in pain as he grabbed his fearsome war club. He swung it over his head in a downward motion. I sidestepped it easily as it shattered the floor of the dais and slashed wickedly at him with my blades. With another great roar, he swung the club in a great arc, and would surely have shattered me had it made contact. I dropped to one knee, letting the club pass over my head as I stabbed upward with both blades. Gutted, Liyongo fell backwards…dead.
Looking up, I saw that the slaughter of the other Darfari had finished. The men were flushed with victory. Searching the establishment, I found Liyongo’s store of ill-gotten gains. Apparently, he had found Shadizar very profitable. I would be a rich man if I could find a way to extract Danyo and myself out of this trap alive. Combined with the stash Harasym had been keeping, I now had access to wealth beyond anything I had dreamed since that fateful day when my family was slaughtered. The trick would be to get out with it alive. Is that not how it always seems to be?
I was disturbed from my reveries by one of the gang. “Boss…it looks like they had one of those fancy dinners scheduled for tonight. Lots of fancy folk ready to pay through the nose for it too.” I thought a moment, then held back a laugh. “Tell them Liyongo is on the menu tonight…and double the price.” With a smile and a nod he set off to do as I had bidden him. I had bought us a few more days.
As with anything in life, there was inevitably a problem. Later in the evening, following the destruction of the Darfari, that problem would rear its ugly head. Perhaps a better choice of words would have been “perfumed head.” As we celebrated at Ninotchka’s, an uninvited guest arrived. I could smell him before he even entered! “A perfumed errand boy,” I thought. I had heard that Harasym had been a deserter and was wanted for stealing from a noble in some city north of Shadizar. He had only remained free, it had been whispered, by paying the crown the staggering sum of one hundred thousand silver coins a year as a bribe. The perfumed errand boy entered Ninotchka’s holding a silk kerchief to his face as if everything except him smelled bad! Approaching our table, he dusted a chair off before settling himself, uninvited, with a self-satisfied and superior air. “I am from the King,” he began. I wonder if he thought we would fall to our knees and grovel for the privilege of hearing these words. If that was the case, he was to be sorely disappointed. “The King has heard of you and wishes to congratulate you for your accomplishments. He is sure that are aware of the arrangement that existed with your…predecessor…and that you will be grateful for the opportunity to continue the arrangement under the same terms.” Gods but he was pleased with himself!
“My understanding was that Harasym had a price on his head for theft from a noble as well as deserting from the army. I do not have these problems. I shall render thirty per cent unto your master.” My words seem to take some of the air out of the man. He choked and sputtered. Finally, with some resignation, he said, “That will be acceptable.” Smiling, I offered him a cup. “You are welcome to join us in celebration, there are women and wine in abundance. Oh…I’m sorry…you aren’t a eunuch, are you?” I could not resist the last part. He sputtered that his duties to the king would not permit him to join, and took himself off in haste. Thirty thousand silver coins! Gods! The amount was staggering! Of course, I had no intention of ever paying the sum. It was my intention that Danyo and I would be far from Shadizar with all of the coin we could lay hands on before the king ever thought about the payment. In time, we would be forgotten and would be able to return home to this, the most civilized city in the world!