Whatever the Future Holds: Part 5
Much to his surprise, Edwin was not locked back up again after talking to Randal and briefly meeting Mae’Var, who was even more frightening than Flint, but given leave to wander the building freely. He was even given his spellbook back. It certainly was not what he had been expecting, but when he considered the situation, he saw that it made little difference. The guildhall was always very well guarded, and he had come to understand that it was located in the docks of Athkatla – a rough area completely controlled by the thieves.
He had been placed in a room with Cory, who was, at least Edwin assumed, meant to be some sort of guard. Though for the first few days, they barely spoke or even saw much of each other. Cory went out every evening, stayed out all night and often returned to go to bed just as Edwin was waking up. The wizard stayed in the room most of the time, whether the assassin was there or not, too wary to venture out into the unknown. And when he did, he found that his fears were justified.
The other thieves, wary of having an outsider in their ranks, did not give him an easy time, however. Edwin knew that he was not wanted there and as much as he hated to admit it, he felt scared and alone. The more decent ones generally ignored him, blanked him completely and went out of their way to avoid him, but there were many who were happy to show that they did not like him in other ways, so long as Randal or Mae’Var were not about. They spat at him, tried to trip him up or pushed into him whenever they passed him. Sometimes it got more physical and he would be treated to a kick in the legs, an elbow in the ribs. And more than anything, they liked to make cruel and jeering comments about anything that they possibly suspected might hurt him. His relationship with Kane was a firm favourite and as much as he tried not to react, it did hurt.
One of the particularly vicious ones was the huge man who Edwin had first noticed upon entering the guild. Flint was his name and he was incredibly stupid, but strong and very short-tempered, unpredictable enough that most people avoided him simply for fear of getting on the wrong side of him and his fists. And one afternoon, three or four days after his capture, Edwin had the misfortune of colliding with Flint as he was returning to his room after going to get a drink of water. The wizard mumbled something of an apology under his breath and tried to pass by, only to find himself being grabbed roughly by the shoulders and thrown against the wall. Edwin’s head collided hard with the wall; causing his eyes to begin to water as all the breath was knocked from his body. Backed by two other assassins who were encouraging him, as well as a group of interested observers, Flint grabbed the wizard’s collar and shook him hard.
“You think you are so much better than us, don’t you?” he said angrily. “Just because you’re a wizard and you cast all those flashy spells. Well, remember that while you are concentrating on casting those spells, I could be sneaking up behind you and planting a knife in your back! Assassins are far better than wizards and wizards are not wanted here.”
A murmur of agreement went through the crowd. Edwin attempted to struggle free of the assassin’s iron grip, only to find himself once again being slammed against the wall. This time he bit his tongue and tasted the blood in his mouth. Although he wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of seeing it if he could avoid it, he was afraid. The assassins seemed to be out for blood and he was certain that only blood would satisfy them.
“I did not say that,” Edwin said, trying to keep his voice from trembling too much. “But it is obvious that I know more than your tiny brain could possibly hold in a lifetime and it is hardly my problem if you are jealous of my superior talent…” Suddenly Flint’s fist smashed hard into his nose, knocking him back against the wall and leaving him feeling rather dazed. Laughter and encouraging cheers came from the other assassins, though a couple of them did look a little uneasy.
“You should watch yerself, Flint. If Randal lets him go, he might go running back to his Dekaras and tell him what you’ve just done and that could be dangerous for your health!” There was some mocking laughter.
“Assuming he really exists and isn’t just a figure of rumours and the wizard’s overactive imagination.”
“Of course he is real, you idiotic simians!” Edwin just couldn’t stand there and let them laugh at his teacher. “He is the best assassin ever, much better than you bunch of monkeys could ever hope to be.”
“You say something?” Flint’s fist smashed into his nose again. “If you knew what was good for you, you would keep your mouth shut, wizard.”
“Never mind that,” someone muttered. “If Randal or Mae’Var hear of this…”
“Ah, I’m just having some fun.” Flint smirked and shook Edwin again. “I won’t hurt him too badly. Come on, wizard. Fight back. Cast some flashy spell or something.”
At that moment it was very tempting, but Edwin knew that if he attacked Flint, he would probably be killed instantly. Though he was a good wizard, he was very badly outnumbered. Besides, the large assassin wouldn’t stop shaking him long enough to allow him to get the words out anyway. All he could do was stand there, Flint’s large hands gripping the collar of his robes, as they all laughed at him. His eyes were misty, his nose hurt and he could feel blood running from it. He felt more upset and humiliated than he ever had before in his life. He had never had to deal with such situations before, his teacher had always been there to protect him, but now he had to rely on himself.
Why won’t they just leave me alone now? Haven’t they tormented me enough?
“Look!” One of the men sneered. “He’s going to cry! What a big baby!”
“I’d say!” Flint taunted. “Can’t even stand up for himself! That’s just typical of a wizard, if you ask me. Acts big when he has all the flashy spells and a few companions to back him up, but can’t deal with anything on his own. Pathetic!”
“What’s wrong?” Another said nastily. “Can little Eddie not deal with us being so mean to him? Does he need his teacher here to hold his hand?”
“That’s enough!” Edwin recognised the voice at once as being Cory’s and no words could describe his relief. “Leave him alone!”
“Stay out of this, Cory!” Flint growled. “No one cares what you think.”
“Make me!” Cory continued to push through the crowd of assassins until he was face to face with the larger assassin. “Leave Edwin alone,” he ordered, standing straight and looking the other assassin directly in the eyes. “He never asked to be here with us and it isn’t his fault that he’s different from us. Now let go of him and you get lost!”
Flint stared at Cory threatening, but the half-elf merely glared back, showing no sign that he was intimidated or afraid. Both had their fists raised and it seemed as though they would come to blows.
“It’s Randal…Randal is coming…”
The whisper started from the back of the crowd and many of the assassins quickly disappeared from sight. As eager as they were to see what would happen, none of them wanted to face the assassin master’s wrath.
“You’re lucky,” Flint spat, glancing from Cory to Edwin. “Both of you. We’ll be finishing this later, Odesseiron.”
“Is there a problem?” Randal’s cold voice seemed to come from nowhere at first, and then the assassin was suddenly there behind them. Both Flint and Cory had turned deathly pale under his gaze.
“No, sir,” Cory had lowered his head. “No problem at all, sir.”
“I see.” The assassin briefly looked Edwin over. “What happened to his nose?”
“I…” Flint started. Randal glared at him.
“I was asking Cory, not you. Shut up until I tell you otherwise.”
“We were just…messing around, sir. It was just an accident, nothing else.”
“An accident,” Randal repeated. His eyes lingered on Edwin for just a second and then he glanced at both Flint and Cory in turn. “Very well, just take care to ensure that such an accident does not occur again. Should any permanent damage happen to the wizard…there would be serious consequences, is that understood?”
“Yes sir,” they both muttered.
“Get back to your business then.” He melted back into the shadows. Flint shot Edwin a filthy glare and hurried off, unwilling to do anything to risk Randal’s wrath. Edwin stood where he was, unable to believe that they had gone, that it was all over, until Cory touched his shoulder lightly.
“You should go and get cleaned up,” he told the wizard. “And calm down a bit. You can’t walk around in that state.”
Still in a bit of a daze, Edwin did as Cory told him. He wandered back to their room and washed the blood off his face. Much to his shame, he was trembling. He could hardly believe that he had just stood there and let them insult him, not even making an attempt to fight back. He lay down on the bed and closed his eyes, and some of Kane’s words came back to him.
My world is very different from what you are used to, Edwin. You will never truly be accepted there because you are no thief.
He was beginning to understand what the warrior had meant, could see now that the world in which Kane had grown up really was worlds away from his own. He hated it there, hated being among the common thieves with their cursing and their violence, but being there did make him feel just a little bit closer to Kane. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine that the warrior was right there with him, holding him and whispering words of comfort into his ear. The thought of his Bhaalspawn lover, the memories of what they had shared were still painful, but those memories were all Edwin had left to keep him going.
Why did you leave me, Kane? Why did you leave me alone to face…all this?
By the time Cory returned an hour or so later, Edwin was a little calmer and he had managed to clean himself up, but he was still very miserable. Never before had he been subjected to such treatment, for if anyone had tried his teacher would have soon put them in their place. But now he had no one, only Cory and the wizard couldn’t even be sure of his motives. He seemed nice, but he was still a Shadow Thief.
There were a few minutes of uncomfortable silence. Cory unbuckled his belt and began to unfasten his leather armour, not looking at Edwin. “Are you all right now?” he asked finally.
“Yes.” Edwin hesitated briefly. “Thank…thank you for your assistance back there. Not that I couldn’t have handled it fine of course…”
“You weren’t handling it at all well from what I could see,” Cory said bluntly. “It was pretty foolish of you to provoke them like that, but then I suppose you weren’t to know, being a newcomer and all. Flint, you want to stay out of his way. He gives a new meaning to the word stupid, but he is one of the longest standing members of the guild and most people are scared senseless of him. You must have seen how many thieves dared not step in to defend you earlier…even in groups they fear him.”
“They refused to step in because they thought I was getting exactly what I deserved.” There was nothing to be said to that, they both knew it was the truth. “So why are you not afraid of him then? Why did you stand up to him?”
“He used to pick on me all the time,” the assassin admitted. “Still does sometimes, most of them do. They say I’m different, too nice to be an assassin. But I just try not to let it bother me.” He laughed faintly. “It’s easy to see that you aren’t used to this sort of behaviour.”
“I should think not!”
“Then you have a lot to learn if you want to survive in this place, Edwin. For a start, don’t go around provoking people. Show that you can stand up for yourself and you won’t be pushed around, but don’t go starting fights just for the sake of it. Biting your tongue occasionally will do you no harm and you have to earn their respect.”
“I don’t think I want to be liked or respected by any of these people,” Edwin said miserably. Then he suddenly remembered whom he was talking to. “No offence.”
“None taken.” Cory dropped his voice. “I have to admit, of all the guilds around this area, this one has to be the worst. You need to be tough to survive here. Anyway, I stand up to Flint because I’ve got nothing to lose. So he might hit me, big deal. Besides, Benny always said that you couldn’t just let people push you around; even if they are bigger than you, you have to stand up to them. He always did.”
“Benny? You mean…Kane’s teacher?” The half-elf nodded. “Did you know him well?”
“Well enough, though I was just a boy when he left the guild,” Cory shrugged. “He was a good man, always patient with us students, loyal to the Shadow Thieves, proud of his profession and yet still strangely modest. Everyone here knew that he was one of the best assassins the Shadow Thieves had seen in years, and yet you would never have caught him bragging about it. Most of the Shadow Thieves respected him enough not to give him any trouble and he pretty much did as he pleased. And he was devoted to Kane, even though it caused him a lot of problems in the end. Mae’Var started questioning his loyalty and labelled him a traitor. We aren’t actually supposed to talk about him any more.”
“Do you think he is dead?” Edwin couldn’t resist asking.
“No,” the assassin admitted. “We are encouraged to think it, but very few of us believe it. I don’t believe the Shadow Thieves could have killed someone like him; he would have gone into hiding somewhere and let everything die down. When the time is right, he’ll come back. It won’t be a moment too soon either.”
Silence fell over them as Cory pulled off his shirt and searched in his drawer for a cleaner one as Edwin watched him. As he buttoned it up, he stared at Edwin for a moment or two.
“Got some advice for you,” he said at last. “You’re a newcomer and you grew up different from us, so you can be forgiven for not knowing how things work. But the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to watch your back and take no chances. Most of the others don’t like you and if you give them even the slightest opportunity to hurt you, they’ll take it. Mae’Var, you have to be careful of him.” He glanced around and dropped his voice again so that Edwin almost had to strain to hear him. “He’s a sadist, even tortured his own cousin to death yesterday. He doesn’t usually single people out though, you have to do something wrong to get punished by him, fail a mission, be a little too free with information, betray him or the guild. Do any of that and you soon regret it. The rest of the time, he just toys with the courtesans who service him. Poor girls. Luckily he doesn’t do much of the day-to-day stuff, he’s the one who deals with the big missions and so on. The general running of the guild is mostly done by Randal these days.”
“Mae’Var’s right hand man?”
“Aye,” Cory shivered slightly. “He also oversees the training of the assassins and he is the one you really have to watch out for. He’s a bigger sadist than Mae’Var even, he watches us and takes any excuse to drag us off and…and hurt us. Get on the wrong side of him and you’re in big trouble. Very short-tempered, highly aggressive, not a lot of patience, though he is fiercely loyal to our guildmaster and a decent enough assassin, I suppose. He doesn’t listen to anyone though, just does his own thing, no matter how dangerous or stupid that might be.”
“Did something happen to make him like that? So…angry, I mean.”
“Apart from spending too many years with Mae’Var?” Cory chuckled faintly. “That would be enough to turn anyone into a bit of a sadist. To tell you the truth, I’m not completely sure. I know that he really hates women, considers them all whores and he has raped and murdered quite a few in his time, but I have no idea why. Bad childhood, I suppose. I’ve also heard rumours that he finds it very difficult to…to ‘perform’ in a situation where violence isn’t involved and so he’s often sexually frustrated and takes his aggression out on us…but I have no idea how true that is. Just stay away from him, Edwin, keep well out of his way. If he singles you out, there’s nothing and no one who will be able to save you. And if he comes to you, just let him do what he wants. It’ll be easier on you in the long run.”
“Is that what everyone does?” Edwin shivered a little, wondering, and not for the first time, exactly what he had managed to get himself into.
“Got no choice,” the assassin shrugged. “When he wants something, he’ll get it, one way or another. I’ve only known two people who have ever been able to deal with him. Mae’Var can, he uses fear and I know that Randal is terrified of him, but he tries not to show it. Benny was the other, they didn’t always get on but they did have an uneasy friendship and Randal did respect him, I think. Would always listen to him anyway.”
Edwin nodded, but said nothing and a fairly uncomfortable silence fell over them. Cory was beginning to wonder if he had been right to warn the wizard, not only had it appeared to upset him, but he was well aware that he could get into a huge amount of trouble if anyone was to find out. Still, it was probably better that he had been told.
“A friendly warning here, Edwin,” he said finally. “Stay on your guard while you’re in this place and make sure you hold your tongue. You already stand out enough as it is; don’t do anything that might draw more attention to yourself. Just remember that you are in a different world now, a world that can be harsh and cruel and dangerous, controlled by people who have little patience for those who cannot stand the pace. Just remember that those who take chances here…” he paused briefly and his eyes narrowed. “Don’t usually tend to lead very long lives.”
Whatever the Future Holds: Part 5
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