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Chapter 18 - A Mild Distraction

 

Cydric walked over to the table and had Donnel show him which seat Sloran had sat in the night before. At that, he and Vorn carefully began to examine the floor, seat, and table. They checked underneath the chair and table and tried to see in between the floor planks. Cydric even checked for secret panels, or openings, silly as it was.

Though he hated the thought, Cydric knew he was the smallest one out of the inspectors, aside from Vorn, but the idea was his own so there was no point in trying to convince the foreigner. He drew his sword and slipped the blade in between the planks as deeply as he dared. The others looked at him in obvious question, but Cydric said nothing of his plan.

 

He then walked over to the door and carefully examined the markings as well, looking for any imprint, smudge, or trace of any substance that could also be of some use, but sadly none seemed to reveal any usable clue. Stains on the wood planks, scuffs from the chairs' constant shuffling, and crumbs of what looked like food smothered in ale spills were certainly not out of the ordinary. The grime that had gathered in the cracks between the planks was enough to make one's appetite flee.

And sure as told, the door bore many marks. Some odd strands of hair were snagged in some creases, but as Cydric recalled, did not match Sloran's head. Judging by the freshly exposed wood on one mark, it was made just recently. It was fairly deep, but the wood was soft. And other than the imprint existing, nothing else seemed odd about it.


At that, after he was satisfied that he had checked everything possible, he asked Donnel to lead him to the entrance of the crawl space beneath the building. His sword blade would be his marker, and he hoped like hell that there would be something worth his effort to crawl under the bar's floor, who knew what foul things lived under there. Cydric hated icky things like bugs, reptiles, and such.

 

Donnel lead him to the side of the building where firewood was stacked. Removing all of his weapons, gear, and the top part of his armor, the dark haired assassin asked Kanth to watch his belongings. Bare chested, and wearing only his boots and pants he moved to the entrance, squatted, and took in a deep breath.

Kanth nodded then eyed the human up and down like some sort of livestock. "Hey, not bad for-r-r a hairrless, shorrt male," she said. With a wink she let out a playful growl, then quickly turned to Donnel and scowled to keep him on his toes. 'I like this good Inspector, bad Inspector thing,' she thought. Then Cydric was gone, disappearing into the dark crawl space.
 

Donnel had said as little as he could, answering each question with one or two words where possible or simply pointing. His scowl seemed etched in place by the time Cydric disappeared underneath the building. By that time the few remaining lunch-time patrons kept a close eye on the group as Vorn kept an eye on Cydric's weapon.

Maro seemed to enjoy seeing the bar man fuming, his grin quite visible and radiant each time he looked at Kanth then back to the sulking Donnel. He kept his distance from Kanth though, and stood close to the towering Kanis, Sergie.

Not halfway under the building, Cydric wished he had not removed his tunic. At least that might have prevented the gritty sand from filling his britches. Struggling on knees and elbows, he shuffled further into the relative darkness looking for the tip of his sword blade.

Something squeaked in the darkness ahead and there was a shadow of movement as a pair of rats darted out into the light for more private quarters. The idea of being stuck in this tight space was not exactly comforting. He felt jailed.

Reaching his destination he sighed and looked about the sandy ground. Again, nothing unusual. On the other hand, he did find a T'arg sticking out of the dirt not far off. Sitting there in frustration under the bar, Cydric just listened to the noises. Things were hollow and distant, but the voices carried well enough down here.

Emerging from the crawl space, he brushed the dirt from his chest and pants and began to feel the itch of sand mites as they sought the warmest regions of his body. He was compelled to scratch his loins despite the onlookers. Propriety always came second to comfort!

What began as a tolerable annoyance soon became unbearable as the itching and crawling bugs tried to devour him. Standing, Cydric feverishly started scratching himself; he could already see a few red welts where he had been bitten. Looking around he saw a horse trough a only a shop down. "Vanity be damned!" he cursed and kicked off his boots and ran as fast as he could, diving into the trough back first into the water. With a satisfying sigh of relief, the itching subsided and he submerged himself further to be rid of the rest of the little bastards. Water blinding his eyes as he emerged he felt a hot breath on his face. Wiping his eyes clear, he realized that he was face to snout with a horse, and by the look of him a particularly perturbed horse. After all, this sweaty human had just polluted his drinking water!

 

"What’re you looking at? Haven’t you ever seen a man in your trough before?" At that Cydric looked at the water, it wasn’t the cleanest, but at least he could see bottom. He shrugged and stood up.


Shadow flinched at the thought of sudden emersion in the water... what a nasty predicament.

 

Kanth couldn't contain herself at the sight and burst into laughter so hard that her stomach muscles began to ache. 'He even spoke to the horse!' she thought to herself.


As he walked back towards the pub, the drenched assassin ignored the laughter and continued as if nothing had happened. Without saying a word he sheepishly took his cloak from Kanth and started to dry himself off. The thought of having to spend the day in wet pants didn’t lighten his mood much either, but he too had a smirk on his lips. He didn’t say a word to anyone as he got dressed and gathered his sword.

In a rare leap of trust on his part, Cydric did not even inspect his belongings for missing items. There was not a single soul in the world whom he had the utmost trust in, but he felt he could trust Kanth more than he could trust most others. So in Cydric’s mind it was a good gesture for him not to go through his items looking for anything missing, if he had he surely would upset Kanth.

Finally after the unpleasantness of the situation ebbed away, he spoke up, “Well that was a bust, nothing under there but a lousy T’arg, plus rats and sand mites of course.” Seeing a few of the people with swelled up faces and smirks as large as Phineous’ ass, Cydric said, “Alright let it out,” as several people burst into a second round of laughter.

Shadow was uncertain how to react. These investigators seemed nothing like officials in his homeland, nor any others he had interacted with. They were crude and unpredictable, which could be quite an asset given certain circumstances. He, however, tried to keep on his best behavior. He knew the position represented something more than himself, it represented authority, and should be presented with dignity.
 

Turning his thoughts away from what he disliked so much (water), Shadow called Kanth over to where he leaned against the tavern for a bit of private conversation.
 

In his deep voice, he thought aloud to her, "What do you think of the possibility that the verry package that he carrrried might have been the conduit for poison?" He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Is it possible that this old 'frriend' of Tithion secrretly enterrtained the notion of killing the man? The package should have been deliverred sooner-r-r than it was. Slorran delayed deliverry to meet up with his love... purrrhaps the package was meant to deliver-r-r the deadly damage at a specific length of time, and did not take into account this side trrip." He shrugged and folded his arms across his chest, saying "It's just one of the many possibilities."


"The possibilities arre endless at this point," she answered with a shrug of her own. "We haven't enough inforrmation. We need to get that little noble rrat to take us to this Myrranda's rresidence wherre we can dig a little deeper-r-r. I trrust none that we have found with trrue inforrmation thus far." She kicks a stone and mumbles, "...or we beat it out of that mouthy barman..."
 

 


As Cydric parted to purchase some new pants, Maro agreed to tell the inspectors how to get to Myranda's home, "but only on the condition that I'll not be charged for any sexual
assaults," he said with a wink.

Despite his best efforts, he could not get a clear explanation out and exasperated, finally offered to go there with the inspectors.

The dark Phylinx was still considering the details of the events from last night, piecing it together in various forms, when he noticed a bit of a commotion down the road. Cydric, it seemed, found some more playmates. Shadow frowned and pushed away from the building he leaned against. "Another fine mess..." he muttered as he started walking in the direction of Cydric and the four men who closed with him. "Huh. Some r-runts these days just don't know how to show the apprroprriate r-respect to authorrity, do they Vorrn?" Shadow asked some few paces behind Cydric. Vorn nodded and began moving off at an angle.

 

Cydric backed away from the men who threatened to encircle him. He knew he could handle one or two of them, but not all four. His only hope was that his companions saw what was happening. "All this for a bottle of wine?" Cydric asked himself, still unsure of what he had done to deserve this attention.

Shadow approached from Cydric's backside, making himself look as big as he could, puffing his fur out and standing erect. He threw his shoulders out and drew his claws. The boys facing off with Cydric couldn't help but notice the bulky, black figure approaching down the middle of the street. Vorn was there as well, walking nearby with his katana drawn.

"Boys," Shadow called over to the sword-bearing opponents, "it has been a verry borring afterrnoon, and I have been so hoping to sharrpen my claws on something - or-r-r someone." He smiled a very toothy grin, exposing his long and pointed canine teeth.

 

Kanth laughed aloud at Shadow's remark, as she too followed the group into the middle of the street, her bow drawn, and arrow knocked. She took aim at one of the men, a mighty large young human with a massive broadsword.

Hearing Shadow's remark, Cydric instinctively took a quick look behind him and noticed his friends taking a formation. "Well, now that things are a little more even, you still willing to fight? Is a bottle of wine worth dying over? Maybe you should run back to daddy and ask him if he's willing to lose a son today. Because no matter what happens out here, you'll die first, I guarantee you that." Cydric said coolly to Nicolas. He was surprised by the Phylinx' willingness to join the fight.

It occurred to Cydric, that they came to his aid without hesitation, without question, the kind of traits friends have. For the first time in his life he had to wonder if he actually had friends. He was so used to pushing people away, or keeping them at arms length, that he never had a friend before. Always working alone also meant that he never had anyone to watch his back before, this was a strange, but interesting change. Cydric was starting to like it.
 

From the four men's appearance, they were either noblemen or sons of nobles. One wore a leather vest  that was studded in perfectly polished brass buttons and his silk sleeves that fluttered in the mild breeze.

"You stay out of this!" The young man, Nicolas, yelled at the Phylinx. "This quarrel is between he and I." His ego already bruised, the lad seemed ready to stand his ground. After all, two Phylinx, one a woman of all things, and one skinny human wouldn't be much of a problem. He seemed ready to lash some verbal insult when his comrade patted his shoulder. So focused on Cydric he was, that he had not noticed Vorn had flanked them and now stood behind them, his sword blade gleaming in the sun.

'So its a fair fight,' the eager youth thought to himself. He seemed ready to seal the fight when from the gathering crowd stepped the towering Kanis, Sergie. Not that Sergie wanted to stop the fight, in fact the idea of watching Cydric fight for his life was kind of appealing, but there were proper ways to challenge others. And a street brawl was not it.

'Five to four?' The youth calculated. He could feel the adrenaline making him quake. His fingers barely could hold the pommel of his sword.

"C'mon," said one of his comrades as he lowered the mason's hammer he carried.

Nicolas turned and faced Cydric with a fury in his eyes, but Cydric could see his lip quivering. He was not ready to die. The thought of lunging at the boy crossed Cydric's mind, but the gathering mass of onlookers cut that idea short.

"It's just like you crooks. Can't fend for yourself eh?" He stepped back a pace, not sure what to do. He swung his sword blade loosely, feeling its weight and testing his grip. 'I can do this. It'll be just me and him. No one will argue if I challenge him. I'll tear him apart.' The thoughts were racing through his mind as his companions began to back up toward their horse wagon.

With a grand gesture, he pointed the sword blade at Cydric with his elbow locked and sword-point at eye level. "If you won't pay me for the wine, then I challenge you." He thought to himself, 'There, its done. He'll back down and pay. I think I sounded pretty damn good.'

All eyes turned to Cydric to answer the challenge. The boy was arrogant and foolhardy. Cydric could almost see the strain of the man's arm, and his form was all wrong. Sure he looked impressive, but unless he wore some sort of armor under that thin tabard of his,
Cydric could spill open his innards right now.

Plus there was the 'terms' of the challenge. Leaving it open and undeclared like that was just inviting a death match.

'A challenge eh? Well then, this ought to be fun. And all over a bottle of wine.' Cydric thought to himself, to the boy he said with a wickedly evil grin, "Very well boy, I accept!" he exclaimed eagerly, and then he continued, "As challenger, I will set the terms. The fight is to the death, and no one but you and I shall fight. Any interference by outside opponents and they shall be dealt with accordingly. Do you accept these terms?"

As he finished he began swinging his blades, warming up his muscles, and getting his juices flowing. He saw the boy's eyes go wide and saw him tremble slightly. If the boy accepted, he was definitely one of the dumbest lads he had met in a while or was tougher than he appeared. But Cydric knew that unless he absolutely had to, he wouldn't kill the boy, just knock him out or maim him slightly. Besides, he thought with a grin, no one was paying him to kill this boy anyway.

Not being privy to the wine incident, Shadow thought nothing unusual about the whole circumstance. He crossed his furry arms and stared at the boy's associates, almost daring them to get involved.
 

Not truly ready to stand down from a fight, but noticing Shadow taking a relaxed stance, Kanth slowly put some slack in her bowstring. She pointed at the biggest of the lad's companions and winked, blowing him a kiss. She hoped this daring bit of intimidation would spark his interest to do something brash, but the young noble simply turned away avoiding her stare.

Nicolas paled. Steel blade versus steel blade... A duel to the death... He felt sick. Well, there was no backing down now. He was committed.

Taking a low stance with his sword held low and pointed towards Cydric's face, he croaked, "Very well. To the death." The young man had studied sword play as was obvious by his form, but Cydric doubted that he had ever USED his knowledge. Out here on the street was hardly the place to test those practice room theories. And these
swords were no blunt sticks.

"Excellent!" Cydric cried. As fast as he could get his feet to move him, Cydric crossed the distance between the boy and himself. With a quick flick of his wrist, he knocked the boy's sword aside with his dagger and slammed the flat of his blade up into the boy's ribs. Then he quickly reversed his dagger, and cut across the boy's face, attempting to leave a scar from eye to chin so that the boy would always remember this day.

Instinctively flinching, the young man was unable to avoid the dagger and a seeping red line appeared exactly as Cydric aimed for. Though not a deep wound, it clearly stung.

Watching Cydric's fluid-like motions with his attack, Kanth had not noticed that he had used the flat of his blade on the boy's midsection and instantly thought Cydric had landed a killing blow.

Recovering and stepping back, Nicholas lunged in with his sword aimed for a quick, fatal blow. But Cydric simply tapped the blade with his own, knocking it just out of harm's way.
 

Recovering his stance, Cydric pressed forward, again slapping the boy's blade aside and made a back-hand swing with his sword, again with the flat of the blade. This time the
youth was ready and blocked the strike easily.

Rolling his wrist, Nicolas made a wild swing, but Cydric barely had to move as the sword swooshed harmlessly.

This time, Cydric moved in with his sword raised in mock defense, lunging with slash of his dagger, he sliced the man's left bicep. His sword followed, but the noble was ready with his own blade. A final slash from the dagger struck the man's left hand, digging deeper than Cydric had intended.

Enraged and clearly in pain, the wealthy brat swung hard and fast but Cydric matched his steps and avoided each wild blow without even raising his own weapons in defense.
 

The crowd had grown and as Cydric circled in retreat, the fight came a bit too close to the spectators as they scampered out of the way. Aware of the danger Cydric moved hard to the right as he thrust his sword twice at his opponent. The second thrust successfully pierced the man's defense striking him in the gut with a shallow stab. The sharp pain made the youth halt his assault. His face pale, breathing shallow and quick, the young man stared down at his bloody body. His eyes were wide and panic seemed to take him as he realized he could not win this fight.

Legs weak, his eyes scanned his surroundings despite the tunnel vision that obscured his senses. Finding a gap in the crowd, he ran for it.
 

"Well, I hope that was worth a bottle of wine." Cydric said as he watched the boy run through the crowd. "He'll bare a few scars to remember this day by." looking at his fellow inspectors he continued, "I'm sorry for the delay in our investigation, but looking at all of you, I'm sorry the others didn't jump in. Looks like you guys were wanting some fun." he finished with a broad smile noticing his comrades with their weapons out.
 

 

 


Cydric used the hem of his cloak, wiped his dagger and sword tip clean and sheathed them. Hearing a few in the crowd applause, Cydric took a bow, apparently it seemed he did what a few others wished they could have.

Kanth congratulated the thin assassin and added, "I was in the mood for-r-r a good chase and firring prractice, or-r-r a rough-n-tumble," Kanth began as Cydric walked back to the party, his head held high, his chest puffed out. "Good show. You bashed him enough to make him mind his own business frrom this point forrwarrd. All that was over-r-r a bottle of wine? How trrivial... Well, now that little 'daft jr.' is put in his place, anyone want to taunt his
buddies? Immature? Okay, well off to Myrranda's then. Wherre's that snooty rrich kid with our-r-r dirrections?"

Shadow looked around for the people they were interviewing earlier, “R-right. We have a waitrress to interrview.”

Wading through the quickly thinning crowd, the inspectors regrouped. Maro had a wide smile on his face when he was spotted leaning on a lamp post chatting with a cute human girl. "Sorry," he said as he was about to leave, "I have some official business to attend to." And with a dramatic bow he turned to face the group. "So we're off then?"
 

Chapter 19
 

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