Paragon of Destruction - Chapter 411

Published at 19th of June 2020 08:25:04 PM

Chapter 411: 411
Arran gave Kaleesh a flat look . "As much as I support the idea of us not dying, I hoped you had some more practical suggestions to give . "

Though he did not glance backward as they made their way through the city's streets — so as not to tip off their pursuer — his Sense made it easy to keep track of the Knight .

And with as poor a job as the man did of remaining inconspicuous, it only took him moments to realize that Kaleesh was right — the Knight had clearly not been sent for his proficiency as a spy .

The captain shrugged . "We have time . I doubt he'll attack with others around . Chances are he intends to wait until we leave the city, then make his move as we travel back to the army . "

"So we have time," Arran said, nodding thoughtfully . "But we still need a plan . " He pondered the situation for some moments, then added, "We could ask Lady Merem for help . "

"Or the church," Kaleesh replied . "I expect either would offer help if asked . But following us is no crime, and the request would leave us indebted to the side that offered aid . "

This thought had occurred to Arran, as well . And worse, receiving the aid of either Lady Merem or the church would be as good as announcing that they had chosen a faction . That would afford them some protection, but at the price of earning them far more powerful enemies than they already .

"We'll have to deal with him ourselves," he finally decided . "And we'll have to do it today . "

"Today?" Confusion was written across Kaleesh's face as he stared at Arran . "It's a Knight . How do you propose we deal with him?"

Arran replied at once . "An ambush . He won't expect us to strike first, much less here in the city . Unless we ask either Lady Merem or the church for help, it's our best chance . "

An uneasy frown crossed Kaleesh's face . "It might be our best chance, but that doesn't make it a good chance . I know you defeated a Knight once, but…"

"In a fair fight, most Knights would still defeat me," Arran admitted . "Which is why I don't intend to make this fight a fair one . " He cast a glance at the taverns and inns around them . "But let's find a meal, first . If we're going through with this, we'll have to do it after sunset, anyway . "

And perhaps, if they were lucky, the situation would change while they ate . Perhaps the Knight's backer would call him off at the last moment, or perhaps the man himself would decide against instigating violence in Sacrifice .

It was a small hope, but one Arran couldn't let go . Because even if he'd already bested a Knight, he had some doubts about his chances of repeating the feat .

Finding a tavern for a meal proved more difficult than Arran had expected . While the city held many inns and taverns, most of these looked disreputable at best, serving food that looked barely edible and with drunken Rangers and soldiers making up most of the customers .

Many of the troops were in small groups, Arran saw, and more than a few of them bore fresh scars from what he guessed to be recent battles .

"You could grow rich running a tavern in this city," Kaleesh observed . "With troops returning from the dangers of the Desolation, they'll spend their coin easily when celebrating their survival . "

"Maybe," Arran said . "But don't you think the church takes most of it?"

As realization dawned in the captain's eyes, his intrigued frown turned sullen . "You're probably right . " He shook his head, annoyance clear in his eyes . "I suppose that in Sacrifice, even the brothels' earnings end up in the church's coffers . "

"There are brothels in the city?" Arran looked at Kaleesh with some surprise . In lands run by the church, he had somehow thought such things would be absent .

"Of course," Kaleesh said . "See that tavern?" He pointed to one of the many taverns that lined the street they were on — one especially full of drunken revelers . "At least half the people there aren't soldiers, and most locals wouldn't visit a place like that . The ones that do… well, a few coins, and you can easily find someone to warm your bed at night . "

Arran gave him a flat look . "Perhaps you should put your skills to work on finding us a tavern that serves a proper meal . "

To his relief, Kaleesh successfully did so just a few minutes later, finding them a small tavern run by a friendly old woman whose size suggested that she had more than a passing interest in good food .

The meal was every bit as good as Arran had hoped — a meaty stew, served at a price more reasonable than any they'd found in Sacrifice — and when they finished the last of the food an hour later, he cast a satisfied look at his empty plate .

Yet his contentment lasted only a moment before a frown returned to his face . He could Sense that the Knight was waiting perhaps a hundred paces away, hiding among a group of soldiers outside a tavern they'd passed earlier .

With evening already fallen and the streets filled with drunken soldiers, going unnoticed would be an easy matter even for so clumsy an assassin .

"He's still there," Arran said in a low voice . "Waiting for us . "

Kaleesh sighed . "Then we go through with your plan, such as it is . What do you have in mind?"

Arran hesitated, but only for a second . "If he wants to kill us both, then I'll be his first target — once I'm dead, getting to you should be an easy matter . "

"I suppose you're right," Kaleesh admitted reluctantly . "So you want to use yourself as bait?"

Arran nodded . "We'll leave through the back . There are some alleys nearby where hardly anyone goes . " He'd Sensed only two people passing in the past hour, and right now, the alleys behind the tavern stood empty entirely . It was the perfect place for the Knight to attack — or be ambushed .

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"We'll split up behind the tavern," he continued, "and you'll continue toward the crowded street ahead . I'll remain behind, but I'll make him think I'm moving down another alley . "

"You can do that?" Kaleesh asked, a hesitant look in his eyes .

"I can . " At least, Arran thought he could . Weakening his aura to the Knight's Sense shouldn't be too difficult using Shadow Essence, and his control was good enough to have the magic go unnoticed .

"Then let's move . There's no point in waiting . "

The tavern keeper gave them an odd look when they said they'd prefer to leave from the back, but when they explained that they were trying to avoid some drunks who'd tried to brawl with them earlier, she gave a sympathetic nod and pointed them toward the back door .

The alley behind the tavern was dark and carried the foul smell of drunks' emptied bladders, but Arran barely noticed it . His focus was solely on his Sense, and he could tell that the Knight was already hurrying behind them .

The alley branched in two parts barely fifty paces from the tavern, and as they reached the small junction, they came to a halt .

"You go ahead," Arran said . "There's a crowded street nearby . "

"But what about—" Kaleesh began .

"No time," Arran cut him off, Sensing that the Knight was rapidly approaching . "Go, and hurry . "

As Kaleesh moved ahead, Arran moved into the other alley, quickly hiding himself behind a small wall . Then, as he drew his sword, he drew upon his Shadow Essence, gradually masking his presence so it would seem to the Knight that he was moving away .

Though the Desolation suppressed his magic, the spell required control more than power, and Arran found that his skill was easily up to the task . And as the Knight ran toward the alley where he was hiding, Arran's body tensed in anticipation of the fight ahead . If he was lucky, a single blow was all it would take, struck before the Knight even realized what had happened .

He clenched his teeth as the Knight ran toward the small junction at a breakneck pace, readying himself for the man to turn and move into his alley — and swallowed a curse as the Knight continued ahead .

Kaleesh was the target, not he .

There was no time for doubt or hesitation . In a burst of movement, he sprinted after the Knight, instantly seeing that although Kaleesh had almost reached the busy street ahead, the Knight would catch up before that .

"Kaleesh!" he yelled . "Behind you!"

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His friend turned at once, sword drawn in an instant . Yet as Kaleesh turned, so did the Knight, and suddenly Arran found himself faced with an opponent who wasn't taken the least bit taken off guard .

Arran struck immediately, his sword darting forward like a viper before the Knight had even fully turned around . And had his control not been affected by the Desolation, it would have been a killing blow .

Yet as it was, the Knight narrowly parried the attack with the Shadowblade in his left hand, then countered immediately with a thrust of the sword in the right .

Arran felt a sharp pain as his opponent's blade ran through his left shoulder, and although he moved to block the follow-up, he already saw that it was too late . He had lost .

But right as the Knight was about to strike a killing blow, the man suddenly spun around, barely blocking the sword of Kaleesh, who had come up behind him . And before he could counter the captain's attack, Arran's sword tore through his neck, the man's head toppling to the ground a second before the rest of his body followed .

The battle had barely lasted three seconds, if that, but in those seconds a Knight had died and Arran had been gravely wounded . If his opponent's first strike had been a mere two inches to the side, it would be him on the ground instead of the Knight .

"That could have gone better," Kaleesh began, but concern flashed in his eyes when he saw Arran's wound . "Are you—"

"No time," Arran grunted . Already, people from the busy street ahead were moving toward the alley . "We have to leave . Now . "

Ignoring the pain in his wounded shoulder, he gathered up the dead Knight's body and weapons in his void ring . And then, they ran .

Calls of alarm sounded behind them, but although the soldiers who'd found the scene of the fight mounted a short pursuit, Arran's Sense allowed them to escape with ease .

Still, they did not come to a halt immediately, instead continuing on through the city's deserted alleys for a good half hour, until Arran was completely certain that none would find them .

"I don't think anyone saw us," Kaleesh said as they came to a stop in yet another quiet alley, breathing heavily from the exertion . "But that…" He paused to take a deep breath . "That nearly ended badly . "

"It did," Arran said in a grim tone . Although the run had not tired him, the wound he'd sustained was serious, and he could tell that the Desolation's suppression was hindering the healing power of his body . "I thought he'd come after me…"

"So did I," Kaleesh said . "But I suppose I was lucky . Had he found us together, he could've struck me down, then run off before you could respond . Even with people around . "

Though Arran knew that Kaleesh was trying to raise his spirits, he also understood that the captain's words were true . Perhaps Arran could've fended off the Knight in an even fight, but he couldn't have protected another while doing so .

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"Maybe his belongings will tell us who's behind this," he said, already worrying who'd sent the attacker .

"Maybe . But first, let's take care of that wound of yours . "

After they'd bandaged Arran's wound and he put on a fresh set of clothes, they carefully searched the Knight's possessions, but were disappointed to find there was nothing there to give away the attacker's identity .

There was, however, a far purse of gold and shadowmetal coins, along with two Warlocks' amulets .

"We'll each take one," Kaleesh said . "Though we can't use more than two total before we return from the Desolation . Not without arousing suspicion, at any rate . "

"These are yours," Arran objected . "I nearly got you killed . "

"So you did," Kaleesh replied with a thoughtful frown . "But if you hadn't, I'd probably be dead already . Then again, I also saved your life back there, so I'd say an even split is fair . "

Though Arran insisted on giving Kaleesh both the amulets, but although the captain was happy to take the Knight's coin purse, he would not budge on the amulets, and finally, Arran was forced to relent .

As they departed in search of an inn, he asked, "Any thoughts about who might have sent him?"

Kaleesh thought for some moments, then replied, "The most likely culprit would be one of Kadun's allies . Neither the church nor the Imperial Knights have any reason to come after me . "

There was a hint of doubt in his voice, however, and Arran understood why . If it was revenge for Kadun's death they both would have been targeted, in which case Arran would have been the first target . Any assassin would have wanted to take out the most dangerous target without warning, after all .

Yet the Knight had gone after Kaleesh, only turning to Arran when forced to do so . Which could only mean the man had been sent to kill the captain .

The question occupied his mind as they searched for an inn, and from Kaleesh's silence, he knew the same held true for his friend . And no wonder — as unsettling as it was to have known enemies, unknown ones were many times worse .

They finally found an inn at the edge of the city, busy enough that two travelers would draw little notice, yet small enough that there would be few who might recognize them .

"I suggest we stay here for a day or two," Kaleesh said . "We'll visit the Citadel after your wound is healed . "

Arran gave a small nod in response . A day or two should be enough for the injury to heal even with the Desolation suppressing his power . But more importantly, it would give them time to consider who'd sent the attacker .