As my half-brother and Adralat relaxed in an opulent room in Nhagren’s Oldside mansion, I engraved a rune of Sleep onto one of my sling bullets, and infused with some of my power the rune of Speed that I had engraved onto my boots many days ago.
A couple of hours passed before Graive entered the antechamber, informing us that Nhagren had returned. Sure enough, the Pan Tangian noble entered a few moments later.
We explained to Nhagren that we were forced to burn down the Frozen Gem. I made a point of emphasizing the fact that while Zherez had discovered that we were the ones responsible for absconding with his most popular prostitute, we had not revealed to him Aneera’s actual location.
The Pan Tangian nodded gratefully. “While this turn of events makes things more difficult for my work in Ryfel, needless to say, I shall continue to help you for what you have done for me,” said Nhagren earnestly. “I believe that you should accompany me now to the Citadel, my friends. For your own protection, of course!”
Since this was the course of action that we already had decided would be best, we readily agreed. As soon as we were outside of the mansion, though, the serpentine Pan Tangian lunged away from us before we could react. Surrounding us were six Black Guard warriors, their spears at the ready.
“Seize them!” shrieked Nhagren viciously.
I attempted to flee back into the house, my magical boots moving me more swiftly than before, but the door had been slammed shut by that weasel Graive before I could reach it. Blast!
A glance between the three of us confirmed that we were not going to be taken by this snake and his minions alive. We would fight to the death! Perhaps this was a rash decision – but my half-brother and I would never surrender to any Pan Tangian.
“Arioch take your souls!” yelled Bōdric defiantly, as he pulled out his blades.
Immediately, I was tripped by one of the soldier’s spears. Bōdric was ignobly disarmed before he could attack. Adralat’s arm was cut as he reached for his sword. Things were not going well for us.
Suddenly, though, ignoring his wound, Adralat deftly leapt to the side of the house, and grabbed Nhagren before any of the spearmen could react. Placing his dagger at the scoundrel’s neck, he shouted, “Call your men off, Nhagren, or I’ll slice your miserable throat!”
Shocked by this remarkable turn of events, the Pan Tangian’s pants suddenly dampened.
“Stand down, men of the Black Guard!” yelped Nhagren, his voice cracking.
I picked myself up and joined my human friend. Bōdric, recovering his rapier and dirk, did likewise. Adralat’s blade firmly held, we instructed Nhagren to tell the spearmen to drop their weapons and enter the house. The cowed Pan Tangian complied with our command. Once the Black Guard soldiers had entered the house, Bōdric and I moved a massive stone urn to obstruct the front door.
“Why did you betray us?” I asked Nhagren, genuinely puzzled by what struck me as a rather premature action. (I had no doubt that the Pan Tangian would eventually turn on us; but I had been confident that he would wait until we had at least first removed Malagan.)
“Need you ask, Melnibonéan?” snarled the sweating Assistant Governor, gesturing at his bandaged knee. It would never recover fully from the wound that I had inflicted just days ago.
Shrugging in irritation, I muttered my rune of Sleep, and placed Nhagren in a dreamless slumber that would last at least three hours. “Such petty foolishness,” I muttered to myself.
Realizing that it would not take long for the spearmen to escape from Nhagren’s manor, the three of us decided to proceed immediately to the Black Citadel. Fortunately, we had the letters of entry that Nhagren had given us a day ago still with us.
Looking at the pale gibbous moon as we trudged up from Oldside to the forlorn citadel’s entrance, I judged the time to be around midnight.
“We are helping the Assistant Governor return to his quarters,” said Adralat smoothly to the guards. “As you can see, he is not feeling well! Some shellfish seems to have disagreed with him. In case you doubt our friendship with the Assistant Governor, we have letters signed by him with us, giving us permission to enter the Black Citadel.”
The guards eyed us suspiciously, but our letters were clearly legitimate, and Nhagren unharmed, if strangely sound asleep. Grunting apathetically, they moved aside and allowed us to enter.
We rushed into the manse, not pausing to enjoy its spacious splendour, which was a marked contrast with the weary squalor found everywhere else in Ryfel. Asking a servant for directions, we carried Nhagren to his apartment, which was located in one of the dark fortress’s three towers. The apartment was opulent, filled with silk cushions, well-crafted ornate furniture, and exotic carpets.
Also within the apartment, chained to Nhagren’s luxurious bed, was the naked and barely conscious Aneera. It was clear that she had been abused viciously by the wretched Pan Tangian. Shocked and disgusted, we recovered a ring of keys from Nhagren’s cloak, and unlocked the captive woman’s shackles. We then gave her some clothing and water.
In silence, Bōdric and I looked through Nhagren’s items, taking a few coins and some clothing, but finding little else of use to us. In the meantime, Adralat comforted Aneera as best he could.
“My lady, I am pleased to inform you that we have liberated your sisters! The Frozen Gem has been destroyed and your sisters are on their way to our ship, away from this vile port,” said the dreamthief, his voice warm yet serious.
Tears of happiness flowed from Aneera’s emerald eyes. “By the Blue Lady, thank you so much for what you’ve done!” She hugged Adralat. Despite her dire condition, she was smiling brilliantly, her face full of joy and relief.
A few minutes passed as we readied ourselves to leave the apartment.
“Er, lads, what should we do about Nhagren?” I asked, pointing at our comatose captive, which we had deposited on a carpet in the corner.
Shrugging, Bōdric suggested, “Perhaps we should simply slay him? He certainly deserves it, by Mabelode, and we wouldn’t have to worry about him causing us trouble later. We need to recover Cora-Dru and Lord Salamir now, this very night, and it’s unlikely the Pan Tangian could be of any help to us any further, especially in his current state.”
“Besides, I’m bloody tired of carrying him.”
Adralat nodded in grim agreement. Sighing, I conceded the force of my brother’s argument.
In a brittle voice, Aneera asked, “If the snake is to die, may I be the one to have the satisfaction?”
We nodded in silence. Bōdric handed her one of his dirks.
“Is there any way to wake him, before I take his life?” inquired Aneera, her voice calm and icy. “By Eequor, I want this beast to know that he dies by my hand.”
“I’m afraid not, m’lady,” I replied, “My spell will last for a few hours yet.”
Nodding in regret, the former courtesan paused in silence for a moment, and then thrust the dirk forcefully into Nhagren’s neck, twisting it as crimson blood spurted and flowed from the gruesome wound. In seconds the life drained from our nemesis, the carpet on which he lay turning a vivid red.
I turned away from the Pan Tangian’s body. While I could not deny that he deserved death, the slaying of a helpless man sickened me somewhat. Perhaps my Melnibonéan blood was even thinner than I had suspected.
Ready now to leave the apartment, Bōdric opened the door to the stairway. Much to our shock, though, right in front of us was a massive wolfhound. Grey and black in colour, with shaggy hair, a scarred muzzle, and single eye that radiated savage malevolence, the beast seemed more demon than dog!
This was ‘Cur’ – the familiar of the sorcerer Malagan.
Immediately the hound bit at Bōdric, who barely managed to knock the beast’s maw away from him with one of his blades. Using my sling, I fired the bullet on which I had inscribed a rune of Sleep. The rune proved to be superfluous, however, as the bullet burst through the dog’s one remaining eye, slaying it instantly.
A second later, coming from another part of the manse, we heard a mighty scream of rage. And then an inhumanly loud shout: “Take them alive!”
The voice, I was certain, belonged to Malagan, enraged at the death of his beloved pet. No doubt some kind of mystical bond existed between the Pan Tangian sorcerer and the gigantic wolfhound.
Barely having time to recover our wits, we heard the stomping of soldiers’ boots from the stairway. As swiftly as we could, we shut the door, locked it, and then moved some of Nhagren’s furniture against it.
Gesturing at the window at the back of Nhagren’s sleeping chamber, I said urgently, “Any chance we might escape that way?”
“It’s worth a try, by Balo’s balls!” shouted Bōdric, drawing his blades again. “You and Aneera, tie the sheets into a rope; Adralat and I will stand ready!”
Nodding, I tucked my sling into my belt, and began ripping up the beautiful silk sheets, while Aneera began tying them together.
In the meantime, the Pan Tangian guards started pounding on the door...