Chapter 81: Off to See the Wizard
The task was straightforward enough: convince Edwin Odesseiron to reveal Mae'Var's plans to Renal Bloodscalp, and receive a thousand gold pieces' worth of gems.
It would not be as simple as it sounded. Ember wasn't worried that Edwin would refuse out of a sense of loyalty to Mae'Var - the Thayvian despised thieves, and his main loyalty would always be to himself - but his sense of pride could easily get in the way. If he still resented Imoen for jilting him, he might well refuse to do anything that could conceivably help her or her friends. As for the bond between them that Bloodscalp thought would help matters... as far as Ember was concerned, it wasn't there. She wouldn't have minded if she'd never met the wizard again, and he'd never connected with any of them except Imoen; with that in mind, she wouldn't be surprised if he considered doing a favour to the 'barbaric simians' he used to travel with as beneath him, no matter the payment. Still, the chance that he might agree was there, and the reward would put them another step closer to gathering Imoen's rescue fee, so Ember ignored her own distaste for working with thieves and accepted the task.
Her companions' feelings on the matter were decidedly mixed. Yoshimo thought it was an excellent idea, Minsc was happy about the money, but didn't like having to work with the evil wizard who'd upset his witch and then left them, and Anomen was strongly opposed to dealing with Red Wizards, working with thieves, and receiving money from thieves.
"'Tis blood money," the squire argued as they walked back to the Copper Coronet. "It matters not that the task they ask of us is not inherently illegal, for our payment was gathered through theft, blackmail, and who knows what other foul actions!"
"Well, since the money is for Imoen's rescue, you can think of it as the fee being lowered by a thousand, if that helps," Ember said angrily. "After all, unless Bayle is linked to more than one group, my guess is that we'll be paying the Shadow Thieves to help find her. No, I don't like it very much either, but I told you I'd do whatever it takes to get her back, and if you don't want to come talk with our old travel companion, then we can go without you!"
Anomen glowered at her. "That will not be necessary. I will come with you," he said. "But I do hope this unsavoury task will not set the standard for your quest!"
Mae'Var's guildhouse was located near the docks, in an area with few street lanterns and even fewer guard patrols. It was not a place one wanted to spend much time in after nightfall.
"Stay close together," Yoshimo advised the others as the small group entered the district, "and don't look at anyone."
After passing a noisy tavern - several sailors were staggering around outside its front door, singing off key and waving clenched fists at each other while they mumbled slurred threats - they turned down a narrow alley, which ended near the top of a flight of wide stone steps. They continued down the steps and turned into a short dead end, half filled with crates. There was a boarded up door set in one of the walls. Ember knocked on it.
The door was pushed open, making several creaks as the planks pulled away from the wall. A stunning woman with black, ringleted hair and large hoops of gold in her ears stood in the doorway, greeting them with a sultry smile.
"Why, hello there," the woman purred. "Mmm, if it isn't a new face. How very thrilling."
"Anishai," Yoshimo said, and bowed slightly.
"Yoshimo!" the woman exclaimed. "Darling, it has been far too long! Tell me, what brings you here?"
"Unfortunately, it is work that brings me to your doorstep tonight."
Anishai sighed theatrically. "How dreadfully boring... I suppose you have a password for me, then?"
"Carmine," Ember said.
"Carmine?" The woman's eyes lit up. "Oh, how delightful! I was wondering how long it'd take Renal to find someone for this. Follow me, my dears."
The Shadow Thief led them inside and up a staircase, then stopped in front of a door made from carved and polished oak. "The wizard is in there," she said, "but be warned: he doesn't like unexpected visitors, so step carefully, hmm? I'll leave you now. Yoshimo, we simply must sit down and chat when this matter is over and done with."
"I'll be looking forward to it," Yoshimo said with a broad grin. Anishai blew him a kiss and went back downstairs.
"She seemed friendly," Ember remarked.
"Yes, she is very friendly," Yoshimo said, then whispered in Ember's ear, "she is also one of the finest assassins in the city."
Ember chuckled, and opened the door.
There was a loud crash. Papers and scrolls flew up from a desk in the corner, scattering everywhere. A chair fell over behind the desk, where a red-robed wizard had leapt to his feet. There was a look of terror on his face, and a ball of fire rested in the palm of his raised right hand, ready to be hurled at the intruders.
"Hello, Edwin," Ember said.
"You... you!" Edwin bellowed. "Does the fine art of knocking completely elude your diminutive minds?!" He closed his fist around the spell, dissipating it, and glared scrutinizingly at the small group that stood in his doorway. His face contorted into a scowl.
"New companions, I see," he said acridly. "(Of course she would keep the imbecile around.)"
"Some, yes," she replied.
"You discard people on a whim when they are no longer wanted, yet always manage to find new fools to take their place. Must be very convenient to be able to do that."
"As I recall it, you left us," Ember said coldly.
"I did no such thing. I merely went somewhere else to think, but I suppose that is a concept far beyond your meager comprehension," Edwin snarled. "So, where did you abandon Imoen?"
"(I thought I was clear enough, unless she has lost her hearing in addition to her common sense.) Imoen is not with you. I know perfectly well that the foolish girl would not have left you willingly (although I cannot fathom why). One does not need my impeccable mental capacities to guess that you abandoned her somewhere, just as you did me. So, did you leave her along the roadside, or did you at least have the good grace to-"
The Thayvian got no further; Minsc rushed forward, grabbed the front of the wizard's robes, and lifted him with one hand. "The mean little wizard should not talk about Minsc's witches like that!"
Edwin made some half-strangled noises and clawed wildly at the giant's massive arm.
"Heartwarming reunion, is it not?" Ember heard Yoshimo say to Anomen behind her.
The whole matter could hardly have gone worse. "Minsc, put him down," she said wearily. Minsc begrudgingly let go of the wizard. "Edwin, we didn't leave you; we were abducted and held captive. We managed to escape a few tendays ago, but Imoen was taken by the Cowled Wizards. She's in Spellhold."
"Spellhold? SPELLHOLD?! How in all the hells did you manage to... (no, that's not important now!) Why are you cavorting around the city instead of extracting her from that blight upon civilization??"
So, he still cares for her wellbeing. At least that's something. "Actually, that's why we're here," she said.
As briefly as possible, Ember told the Thayvian about Imoen's capture, the rescue fee, and Bloodscalp's offer. "So, if you'll tell Bloodscalp about Mae'Var's plans," she concluded, "I get a thousand towards the fee, and you'll get..." Bloodscalp had told her to haggle, but knowing Edwin, she decided to just tell him the limit of what she'd been given to bargain with, "five thousand, and a position at their headquarters."
"I see." Edwin glanced at the door, sighed, and straightened his robes. "A total of six thousand? Very low, for information of the quality that I can provide."
"He said he'd go no higher."
"(It will have to do, even though it is almost an insult.)" He headed towards one of the bookshelves and pulled out a thick tome. It was full of loose pages. "These are several of the letters that have been exchanged between Mae'Var and the Night Knives lately. He has been courting those cutthroats in order to bolster his own position, and their plans include assassinating your friend Renal Bloodscalp. Mae'Var is fully aware of the penalty if the Shadow Thieves learn of these plans; it would be disastrous, both for his ambitions and his continued breathing. He believes these documents to destroyed, but I, of course, anticipated their further usefulness. Now, leave me be while I pack - and keep your your clumsy, elephantine feet off my documents! (The amount of research I'll have to leave behind... horrible, just horrible. Bags of Holding should be far more commonly available!)"
"My lady," Anomen asked, "is that wizard insinuating-"
"I insinuate nothing; I insist!" Edwin snapped, busily gathering up the documents that had spilled from his table. "How are you simians going to rescue her without my formidable talents? (Spellhold, of all places...)"
"And how, pray tell, would you rescue her? By getting yourself sent to Spellhold, perchance?"
"(Fools. I am surrounded by fools,)" Edwin muttered, and held up a piece of parchment in front of Anomen's face. "In case you belong to the unwashed masses that cannot read (which would not surprise me at all), this is a license to practice magic within the city."
"I can read perfectly well, wizard," Anomen retorted, his face reddening.
"Enough!" Ember went between the two men. "Edwin, I'll accept your offer for Imoen's sake, but if you cause trouble with any of our other companions, I won't hesitate to kick you out. And believe me, you'll know it if that happens."
"We'll see about that." Edwin thrust the stack of Mae'Var's letters into her hands, and set about preparing a pack for travelling.
Edwin's room at the Copper Coronet was inferior in every way to the almost adequate chamber that he had lived in at Mae'Var's guildhouse. A rickety desk, no leather armchair, only one shelf; it didn't even have a carpet on the floor.
He hoped he would not have to spend much time in it. Or in the city, for that matter.
They had met with Renal Bloodscalp and received the combined sum of six thousand in gems in return for the evidence Edwin had gathered against Mae'Var. His former employer was unlikely to survive the night, Edwin mused as he sorted the contents of his pack. He wondered what Anishai, that crude woman, would do with the material he had left behind in her new guildhouse (most likely, she'd use it as kindling to heat her bath).
Bloodscalp had been seemed puzzled when Edwin turned down the position that was offered him, and as he once again looked at the bare walls of his new lodgings, Edwin felt a pang of regret about that decision. Still, the Shadow Thieves would not have been able to harbour him forever, he reminded himself, and as tedious as adventuring was, it would offer him a chance to get away from this backwards, narrow-minded excuse for a city. And...
Imoen's fate was not in the least on his mind when someone knocked on the door. "What is it now?!" he yelled.
The door opened, and Ember entered the room. "See? I do know how to knock," she said.
"Yes, yes," Edwin said irritably. If there was anything he couldn't stand, it was a smart mouth. "What do you want?"
I just wanted a private word with you," she said. "The thing is, Imoen told me what happened."
"So?" Edwin said, feeling heat rising in his cheeks despite his orders to himself to act icily. He should have known the damn girl wouldn't keep her mouth shut about how she humiliated him.
"I appreciate your help with this, I really do," Ember said, "but I want to make one thing perfectly clear: You were the one who wanted to come along. If we get her back-"
"When we get her back... She owes you nothing, Edwin. That's all." The girl left, closing the door behind her.
Edwin glared at the door, a sharp retort dying, unspoken, on his lips.
How dare she?!
How dare that mongrel talk to him like that? She could not possibly understand his motivations; her simian brain capacity was far too feeble to encompass such matters! And besides, the foolish brat they were rescuing lost her chance to see the splendour of Thay a long time ago. He felt nothing for her now. No, nothing but pity at her folly. (Although she couldn't really have known about the Cowled vermin, could she?)
He sighed. Either way, there was no chance of him taking Imoen to Thay.