The Hiding Game
Garrett woke up with a jerk.
His eyes were darting across the room for a couple of long seconds, looking for any kind of movement in the dark.
But there was nothing there and a shiver of relief went through his body; he lay back on the pillow and closed his eyes.
Waking up so suddenly gave him a headache and it became clear to him that sleeping was over for the day. Maybe if he opened his eyes and stared into the ceiling; what was he expecting to see in the corner of the room? Something that was lurking in his dream?
It took a little effort for him to sit up, because every muscle in his body screamed with pain. He noticed that he was completely dressed, except for the muddy boots next to the bed, but his pants and shirt were torn in few places. Dried blood was visible on his hands, so he spent next five minutes looking for wounds on his body. And he found a bunch of them, but none too dangerous. At least not if he takes care of them. But wounds werenít the worst thing he found; his right shoulder was completely blue and he was barely able to move it. That pain was the only thing that made him forget his headache.
And it seemed to him that he was starting to remember how it came to this; Gennaro didnít look where he was runing, so he ran into him and threw him against the wall. Crazy fool, he acted like a kid, not a professional thief.
He forced himself to stand up and staggered across the room to open a window.
It was seven in the morning and cold autumn air felt good on his skin, which seemed hot, like he spent the entire night next to a blast furnace. The feeling od dread was slowly becoming weaker as he was watching the sun making its appearance above the rooftops in the east and listening to the growing noise of the City waking up; people were going to work, the stores were opening their doors, the heavy portcullisí that separated the City districts at night were raised, horse-drawn carts and wagons rolled down the cobble stone streets and the church bells were calling even the laziest people to get out of bed.
In the light of a new day everything that happened the night before was somehow losing its intensity. Like it didnít matter anymore.
But, what really happened last night?
After he took care of his wounds and changed his clothes he went out into the street and, walking quickly(actually, as quick as his painful legs allowed him), he started for the Hideout, a pub in the City centre, which was opened 24 hours a day. His stomach was growling for food and a hot drink.
He didnít try to cover the bruises and scratches on his face, but it seemed that people around him paid no attention anyway. He stuck to the shadows and presented nothing but a dark shape that was going about its business.
He didnít carry any weapons with him, except for the blackjack and a flash bomb in case he has to disappear quickly. In fact, that was his last flash bomb, because he took the other six with him two days ago. He didnít expect to have much use from them, but it turned out later on that they saved his life more then once. For some reason the
flash bombs were the only weapon that managed to slow the damn things down. Whatever the damn things were.
He had a bunch of broadheads, but they were of no use, because how can you hit something you canít even see? Fire arrows were also useless; he discovered that after Dorrien pulled one out to illuminate the space around them. Sure, they saw there was a staircase in front of them, but at the same time Dorrien transformed himself into a bullís-eye; a black arrow went straight through his left eye and sent him screaming to the floor. He was dead a second later.
Garrett slowed down when he saw a couple of City Watch members and went even deeper into the shadow. He wasnít sure what was he afraid of, there was no reason for them to look for him. Actually, grave robbing was illegal the last time he checked, but he was pretty sure the cops didnít know what was he involved in. The dead canít complain and someone else... Well, that remains to be seen.
he heard a quiet voice and stopped. He looked around and saw a dark figure in the shadow of a low roof. Because of the stooped way the person was standing and the quick head jerks left and right it became clear to him that he was looking at Lark, the most paranoid thief he ever met. He approached him slowly and stopped when he was close enough to see his eyes; Lark was obviously scared to death.
-Is something wrong, Lark?
-What do you mean is something wrong?
-Youíre acting like the entire City Watch is on your tail. Relax.
-How can I relax after what happened?
-What happened? Can you tell? Because I sure as hell canít. Someone attacked us and we managed to get away.
-I donít know how can you be so bloody calm.
Lark made sure that the cops are gone and only after that he relaxed, just a little, and took a deep breath.
-Iím not calm, Lark. Iím just not panicking. Do you know what happened with the others?
-Just Commel. I saw him running out the north gate a few moments before me. I called after him, but it didnít look like he heared me.
Garrett nodded, looked around to make sure that no one is listening, and then again told himself that there really is no reason for them to hide.
-Come on, Iíll buy you breakfast.
Two days before Lark approached Garrett with a suggestion to join him and six fellow thieves in a lucrative visit to the so called Richmanís Pocket, a cemetery on the outskirts of the City where only the noble and the rich were buried for centuries.
Their plan was to break through to the oldest, thus the deepest, tombs, which supposedly contained the biggest amounts of gold, diamonds and similar trinkets.
As far as they knew no one ever managed to get to the tombs of the first barons of Trall or the family tombs of the Mayn lords, according to some tales the richest people that ever lived in the City. Dorrien insisted that no one even tried to find them, not because people were afraid of some curses or traps, but because no one had any idea where to look. You must go down, but down where?
Most of the thieves werenít exactly crazy about Garrett going with them, but none of them protested, knowing that he has the most experience in dealing with the undead.
Garrett said, sipping hot coffee. They were sitting in the Hideout, next to the window
that opened on the central City square. Lark was stuffing tobacco in his pipe and watching the door at the same time, while he waited for the bar-tender to bring them breakfast. They had no idea what was on the menu this morning, because it was understood that anyone who comes in at that time of day wants breakfast, no matter what the breakfast was, because it was the same for everyone.
Lark asked, lighting his pipe.
-Thereís a bunch of them in any Richmanís Pocket and I canít even remember have I ever seen a zombie in a cemetery where bums and beggars are buried. It seems that the rich canít let go of their wealth even after they croak. If you ask me they should cut every rich guy to pieces after he dies. That would make things much easier for us.
-I donít think the undead were the problem this time.
-Of course they werenít. When was the last time you saw a zombie firing arrows at everything that moves. Which leads us to another interesting matter, I havenít seen a single zombie in the old tombs.
-Well, it was pretty dark, maybe-
-No, they make a lot of noise. You hear them fifty yards away.
The Hideout door opened and Gennaro limped inside; he was still wearing the clothes he had on him the last time Garrett saw him, but now they were dirty, torn in a whole bunch of places and stained with blood. He saw Garrett and Lark and sat down heavily in a chair next to them, like he canít stand on his feet anymore.
-I donít get it.
he said hoarsely.
-Holtz was right behind me, but when I turned around he wasnít there anymore. I thought I saw something moving outside of the circle from the torch light and I just snapped. I ran and didnít stop running until I crashed into Lark.
-Dorrien and I found Holtz after you bolted.
Garrett said. Gennaro looked at him like he was expecting Garrett to punch him in the nose.
-Someone hanged him by the neck in the hall leading to the tomb of the first Trall baron. I think they chose that place because it has the best illumination. Itís impossible not to see him up there.
Holtz was the youngest in their group and Gennaro was saying that that boy will become the best thief the City ever saw. Garrett would have agreed with him if this hadnít happened; if Holtz was the best thief material he would be sitting next to them right now.
The bar-tender started toward them carrying two breakfasts, but then he saw Gennaro and decided to go back to get one more.
-I knew the dead wonít leave us alone.
Gennaro sighed and closed his eyes, like he canít keep them open anymore. Lark and Garrett exchanged glances and then Lark leaned forward and whispered:
-Cut the crap. Those werenít the dead or the undead or whatever the hell you want to call them and I think thatís clear even to you, Gennaro.
-You think they were human?
Gennaro looked confused. Maybe he was in shock, but that wasnít something you would expect from a thief. Maybe he was losing his edge.
-Of course they were human.
-Well trained humans and very quiet, but humans nevertheless. Even I couldnít see them.
-Then how can you be sure they were human?
-Because I saw something that was related to them. At least I think so.
Garrett took another sip of coffee and noticed that as it became colder it tasted more like water.
-After I pulled myself out the west exit I hid in the shadow of the chapel to catch my breath. And then I heard voices from the main gate. I couldnít make out what were they saying, but there was enough moonlight to see a dozen horses and two men in dark clothes guarding them. I saw a weak light in the morgue and I think I heard a song coming from that direction, I canít be sure. I waited about ten minutes and then a group of hooded men came out, carrying some sort of a coffin, and went into the chapel. After that I heard only a sound like something heavy was dragged across the floor and then nothing. Complete silence. I waited for another twenty minutes but then I decided to get the hell out of there.
-But you didnít see their faces?
-Then how can you be sure they were human?
-Oh, for Godís sake, Gennaro!
Lark raised his voice and leaned in his chair.
-For once can you-
Lark fell silent when the bar-tender approached their table with three breakfasts; boiled eggs, a pile of bacon, cucumbers, corn-bread and something that looked like ham but wasnít. He said nothing, just placed the plates on the table and continued about his business, paying no attention on Gennaroís appearance and the abrupt ending of the conversation when he showed up; he got used to it in the years of serving food to all kinds of thieves and fishy characters.
Garrett took a bite of his food, realized that it wasnít that bad(but he was hungry)and asked:
-Did you manage to get anything from the tombs?
He knew Gennaro didnít, but maybe Lark had better luck.
-A couple of golden necklaces and some diamonds. Nothing much, but enough to keep my stomach full for next few months.
Lark was trying to make circles from his pipe smoke while he was talking, but he gave it up pretty soon.
-After we separated from you guys, Phil, Comel and I started for the section of tombs marked only as Vrt. I have no idea what that means, but it seemed interesting, so we removed the seal from the door and went inside. Thatís where we lost Phil.
Gennaro asked; that was obviously the only thing on his mind.
Lark shook his head.
-I thought I saw one of them on the other side of the pool, but I canít be sure. But if what youíre saying is the truth and they do make a lot of noise, then... I donít know what it was.
-And the pool is?...
-A big hole in the middle of the tomb filled with water. It looked like an entrance into some kind of a tunnel, maybe flooded by an underground river. The graves around us
were completely empty, so Phil came to a conclusion that the tunnel is the entrance to the real tomb. He decided to take a dive and... We waited almost an hour, but there was no sign of him. Comel started thinking to go after him when we heard something moving in the darkness above us. We threw a few flares around us, but we saw nothing. So we started to retreat toward the exit and in that moment we heard a sound like someone was running right for us. It wasnít loud, but it was clear enough for us to realize what it means. We turned and bolted for the door as fast as we could. I was faster and I didnít realize that in one moment we got separated. But all that time I heard foot-steps behind me, so I turned and ran to meet them, with my torch in front of me.
Lark raised his left eyebrow and stared at Garrett.
-There was nothing there. Or it was a ghost or it was a guy who can run twice as fast as I can. I even checked the ceiling, thinking that maybe he jumped and glued himself to it like a bug. But I saw nothing. Not a goddamn thing.
Gennaro was ready to accept Larkís ghost theory, but Garrett waved at him to keep his mouth shut.
-Before Dorrien was killed.
-We managed to get to the tombs of the Mayn Lords. It took us over thirty minutes to pull that off, but that wasnít the thing that worried us. Usually you wouldnít have much problems entering those tombs, the door mechanism was far from complicated, but we had problems because someone blocked the door from the inside. At first I thought that that was done by the people who built the tombs, but it wasnít. A few feet from the door we found three corpses, maybe a couple of months old.
-A couple of months?
Gennaro looked like he was about to scream. Garrett nodded and continued to eat his breakfast.
-They were grave robbers. And they died in a hell of a fight. Little farther away we found two more bodies and parts of a third. Some of them still had their loot on them. Necklaces, rings, golden daggers which belonged to the sons of the first Mayn Lord...
Gennaro looked up from his plate.
-Daggers of the sons of Mayn? I know a guy who would pay a fortune for them. Did you take them?
Garrett pushed his empty plate aside and squinted at Gennaro.
Gennaro put on an appearance of a hungry dog and went back to his breakfast.
-Dorrien took them. And I took them away from him after he was killed.
Gennaroís head jerked up so fast that his lower jaw needed a few moments to catch up.
-You have them?
-Letís just say they are in a safe place.
Gennaro grinned and continued to chew his bacon. He looked pleased.
Lark watched Gennaroís change of mood for a couple of seconds and then he pocketed his pipe and said to Garrett:
-Do you have a theory who killed those people?
Garrett finished his coffee, still glancing at Gennaro; it seemed that he forgot all about ghosts and the undead.
-After we picked up the things those guys were carrying we continued deeper into the tomb and found four more bodies. There was another door there, which connected the
tomb of Mayn The First with the tombs of his sons. And that door was blocked. Those four men died defending it. But whatever killed them didnít come through the door, it found another way in. And whatever it was it came from the outside. They werenít trying to get out, but to stay inside. They were trying to stop something, or someone, from entering. But, obviously, they failed.
-Why would grave robbers defend a tomb?
-Who knows. That remains to be seen.
-He wasnít with you, Lark, when I ran into you.
-I think he managed to get out, but I canít be sure. All I know is that he went through the north gate.
Gennaro fell silent for a few moments, obviously thinking about something.
-I wonder if heís alive.
he said, to no one in specific.
-And where did you, Gennaro, disappear when we stumbled into that dead end?
-I thought someone was watching my back and when I asked you to hand me the torch I realized that you shoved it into a hole in the wall and disappeared.
-I thought I heard something.
Gennaro tried to smile, like he was apologizing.
-I couldnít stop my feet from running. I ran all the way to the exit. If you ask me they should wall off the entire Richmanís Pocket. So that nothing can get in or out.
-Half of this damn city is walled off.
Garrett said, reaching into his pocket to pay for the breakfast.
Gennaro stood up, still grinning.
-I have to leave you at this point. I have some important things to take care of. Garrett, I hope weíll do business together very soon. Iíll be seeing you.
Gennaro gave them a slight bow and then he turned and left the Hideout.
Lark sighed, looking at the sunlight bathed square; it looked like the City Watch was building gallows.
Garrett was watching Gennaro as he hurried across the square. It seemed as he was heading for the High Town. Lark nodded, taking his pipe out of his pocket again.
-He came up with the idea for our little expedition, you know?
Gennaro was already on the other side of the square.
-Yes. Although he always said that heíll rob anything but graves.
Lark looked at Garrett, evidently suspicious of something.
-I wonder how he ran all the way to the exit when we got lost looking for that same exit?
-Do you have any idea who is that person interested in the daggers?
-Beats me. Probably some rich guy with to much time on his hands.
To stay or to leave?, Garrett asked himself. It seemed that Lark had no intention of leaving the Hideout in the near future and the morning was beautiful; the air was crisp
and there wasnít a single cloud in the sky. Perfect for a little walk.
-See you around, Lark.
Lark nodded and lit his pipe; he was getting ready to start drinking beer.
Garrett left the Hideout in the moment when Gennaro went through the High Town portcullis. He ran across the square, the City Watch guys paid no attention, they were too busy laughing at the expense of the poor bastard who will be stretched at that same spot at noon, and dived into the shadow of the gate.
Gennaro was taking his time, he walked slowly, like he was taking a stroll after lunch.
But Garrett didnít mind, he had all the time in the world.
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