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Chapter 23 - Pathways

 

Shortly after stepping foot onto the barrack's grounds a tower guard called down to Cydric. "You there, Blackblade!" And again he called down since Cydric had some difficulty locating the source of the voice. "Chief Phineous has an assignment for you."
 

Cydric's mood darkened again and he let out a huge sigh. "Alright." is all he said to the guard as he turned and started to head to that fast bastards office. He figured that this was coming, after all he doubted that any of his fellow inspectors including himself had reported to Phineous about yesterdays events anyway. He just hoped he didn't have to deal with the oaf alone.

As he stepped into the office he greeted Thomas and as Thomas greeted him back, he held out his hand for Cydric's sword. Reluctantly Cydric handed it over and entered the oaf's office. Phineous was sitting behind his desk, and besides Phineous and himself, the room was devoid of human life. Cydric took a seat and set his facial expression to a hard one. He waited for Phineous to speak.
 

They sat for a moment, staring at each other and waiting for one of them to blink. After several moments, Thomas coughed and Phineous looked away smiling from ear to ear.

"How have you been, Cydric? We haven't gotten much time to talk lately, have we?"

A sinking feeling came over Cydric, as he saw the wide smile on Phineous. He realized that it was disturbing in the least, and that the only reason Phineous would smile like that was if he had something on him, or was about to drop something horrible in his lap. Cydric wasn't sure which was worse.

"We rarely talk to one another, and that's how I like it, but we are men of action such deceptions don't become us. What is this really about?" Cydric asked, his facial expression remaining hard.

"So tell me what you learned last night? About Tithion's case, that is." Cydric could tell that Phineous was dodging the real reason he had been singled out, but the exact reason had not been laid on the table just yet.
 

 


When Kanth and Shadow arrived at the foot of the great fortress, they saw the field busy with morning routines. Most of the guards were doing drills, stretches, and practicing unit exercises, while others were busy finishing off their breakfasts. Meanwhile, the other inspectors were gathered around in small groups talking. One group seemed to be mocking the guards and their forced marches. They certainly did not look much like officials. The one, a large Kanis towered over a short and stocky Slag. And among them stood a bald-shaven human with many tribal markings about his shiny scalp.

Another group, looking far more presentable, stood under the shade of a wiry tree. One with a long flowing mustache was asking about the whereabouts of some hoodlum he was searching for. The others seemed equally interested and traded names.

Dallar stepped in line behind Kanth, jabbering on about what Masson Cook had said the other day about the butcher, Kar, and his mistress. She was some tart from the crafter's district and Kar seemed to be spending more money than time with the young lass. Apparently the rumor was that she was pregnant and Kar was trying to cover up the fact from his wife.

 

"But secrets have a way of getting out, they say. Right Shadow?" Dallar said without much of a pause so Shadow could answer. Instead he rambled on, and the two grown Phylinx paused at what Dallar had so nonchalantly mentioned mixed in his incessant jabber.

"What?" Dallar said with an innocent look. "The sleuth wants to hang someone." He said again.

Almost in unison Kanth and Shadow blurted out, "Why, for-r what, who?"

"Some sergeant was murdered yesterday. I don't know. They said something about poison, and a plot to kill more guards. I don't know!" The young Phylinx raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders.

 


Cydric quickly summed up the events that transpired yesterday making sure to leave out any details that he deemed were not important. When he was finished he stood up and said, "Now that that's out of the way, why don't you tell me the real reason why I alone am here. Because I know you already know what happened yesterday, and you sure as hell didn't need just me and my lonesome here to tell you. So get to the point."
 

 


"Poison!" Kanth exclaimed. "This does not bode well. Therre has been too much of that substance being used arround herre lately." She looked to her dark companion. "What do you think, shall we check this out?" Her thought immediately ran to the dead barmaid lying cold and lifeless in her home. Then they ran to all the events of the long day prior.



Phineous glared and Thomas moved to block Cydric's exit, if that was his intention. "Sit down," Phineous growled. When Cydric did not immediately respond, the fat inspector pointed his oversized finger at Cydric then down to the seat as if he was speaking to a dog, "down."

"I am not your dog, and I do not bark on command! If there is more you wish to discuss then do so. It's too hot to get any angrier than we already are." Cydric replied as he leaned against the back of the chair facing Phineous. Then he continued in a more quiet tone. "What's so important for you to get so irate?"

"Well," Phineous sat forward and smiled knowingly at the young man as he clutched his hands together on top of the table. "A man was found dead yesterday morning." He waited for Cydric to offer some retort, but he sat quietly glaring. "I assume that you knew him, after all you were bunk mates in the same barracks. Sergeant... what-his-name... Thomas, help me out would you?"

"Faerek, sir," Thomas replied while watching Cydric's every move.

"Yes, Faerek. Well it seems he was fancy of chewing on bed linens, which is unfortunate. Isn't that right Cydric? Well, the poor sap has somehow managed to chew on a poisonous chunk of cloth. And low and behold, he winds up dead."

"And your point is?"

"The point, young Cydric, is that I told you not to deviate from our plan, our contract."
 

 


Shadow shrugged. “Could be r-related, might not. But we ar-r-re inspectorrs, ar-r-re we not? At least we will be on our-r-r toes when Phineous brings it up at HQ.” He smiled to Dallar and rubbed the young Phylinx’ head playfully, “Thank you, my young frriend, as always you’ve been verry helpful.”

Kanth nodded and added a pat against the young feline's back. "Keep those sharrp earrs open. Never-r-r know what other-r-r useful thing you'll hear-r-r." The young Phylinx beamed with pride. To think that he was helping inspectors! It thrilled him.

 


Phineous continued, "I took the liberty of looking up your belongings on the barracks log. You have a tonic." He said as he looked down at some parchment on his desk. "But it doesn't say what the tonic is for."

After a pause, Phineous stood and glowered at the young assassin. "Let us cut to the chase hmmm? I know you killed that man, but I don't know why. You had better spill the particulars now, or by Kaiya, I will have you hung. Which gallows would you prefer, north or south? Or perhaps a nice view? I hear the hanging tree by the river is quite fetching."

Cydric smiled and rocked forward leaning against the chair, as he leaned as far forward as he dared so not to loose his balance he said, "Don't threaten me Phineous. For one it's not like you really give a damn about the guard, plus if you wanted to hang me you would've tried to by now. Don't forget, I'm not some simple soldier you can push around." He paused as he leaned back off the chair and stood in front of Phineous.


Then he continued. "I know I have a tonic in my pouch, and I know what it's used for. Obviously you know as well or else you wouldn't be trying to pin this man's death on me. Where is your proof? Or are you just assuming that I killed him because I'm an assassin, hmmm? Your logs, if you look at them would show that I wasn't even there that night, I'll wait, look them over."

"I've reviewed the logs, but that does not remove my suspicions. Where is this tonic then? Give it to me." Thomas stiffened ready if Cydric were to act too quickly.

Cydric nodded thoughtful for a moment, he knew he was busted. As soon as Phineous took the "tonic" and had it tested, he'd know it was the same poison. It was Cydric's trademark, and now his undoing. He knew he'd swing from the gallows now, but he wouldn't go down without a fight. He pulled the poison from his pouch and held it in front of him, then he looked at Phineous and said, "This is what you want?"

With a pop of the cork, he leapt onto the desk and grabbed for Phineous' mouth, trying like hell to pour the poison down his throat.

The large man was already on the move and was faster then he looked but the liquid splashed into Phineous' face, as the fat man's arm flung around, but only managed to graze Cydric's hair.

Thomas lunged after Cydric tumbling over the chair, but Cydric's cloak slipped from his grasp.

Phineous sputtered and spit as he circled behind Thomas.

Leaping from the table, Cydric ran full boar at the Chief. Ready for another attack, the round man fled again, but Cydric's aim was beyond him, to the closed door and what freedom might lay outside. Without casting a glance behind, Cydric flung open the door and dashed out.


Thomas was hot on his heals, but slowed his pace and yelled "Seize him! He tried to kill the chief! Get Blackblade!"
 

Fortunately for Cydric, most of those around stared blankly, unaware of what was transpiring.

Not slowing down in the slightest Cydric headed for the slums. 'What the hell was I thinking!' Cydric thought to himself, 'I knew it was a stupid move to begin with, and now there is no chance I'll escape the gallows if I'm caught now. Even if I succeeded what the hell was I going to do?' Cydric kept running, trying to avoid anyone and anything in his path.
 

The entire barracks yard heard the call as Cydric sprinted away. Vorn, armed in practice padding turned from his opponent in time to see Cydric cross the field, but was too far away.
 

At the calls of distress, Shadow immediately sprinted after the figure and leapt to the nearest roof, scampering up the side of a one-floor building, to get a good look at what was going on ahead. He saw someone running, but not in their direction. “Ther-r-re is someone fleeing the guarrds, that-a-way,” Shadow said to Kanth, pointing in the direction of the slums. “Doubtful we would catch him in time, but we could trry… shall we?”

The spry Phylinx smiled playfully to his partner, enjoying the idea of a morning sprint, and he took off with haste. Kanth needed no prodding to join in a morning sprint and laughed as she joined in.

 

Once into the rows of houses and shops, the two Phylinx leapt from rooftop to rooftop then cut down alleys and back onto the high vantage points. They kept this tactic so long as they were able to shorten the distance to their quarry. Neither of the Phylinx had gotten a good view of who it was they were chasing, but it was an easy task following the sounds of guards clogging down the roads.

 

It took her a few buildings worth, but Kanth finally caught up to Shadow. "Can you see whoever-r-r it is running? Whose giving chase?" Her questions came with bursts of laughter and panting.
 

"Therre," Shadow panted, pointing briefly as he and Kanth leapt over the guards' heads across a narrow portion of the street. "That's the one they chase."

 

With his cape flowing behind him, Cydric plowed through bystanders and leapt over a table flanked by two startled players enjoying a morning gamble. His lead on the guards was quite considerable and with the right combination of short turns he would have them lost for good.

 

It was due time, too. His chest was aching like his ribs were being spread from the inside out and his lungs burned with an inner fire. Down the row, shuffle through the alley, and backtracking towards the barracks, Cydric finally paused to catch his breath confident he had lost his pursuers.

 


 

 

The fat chief inspector stripped off his shirt and wiped his face with the poison-soaked tonic; spitting more than was probably necessary. "Thomas, Thomas!!" As his loyal aid entered, Phineous spat again. "Fetch me the alchemist. I need the antidote immediately."

"What about Blackblade, sir?"

"I want his head on a stake. Offer a reward of twenty gold coins." Phineous turned white and wretched as his fingers shook. "Go. Go! I need that antidote... and a priest."

Thomas issued orders to some of the men who mingled around the office. "You, fetch a priest of Mortarious. You, fetch the alchemist, Haiden. Take this shirt. It is covered with the poison." He tossed the huge tunic to the young man and the two men left. Thomas ordered a third man to summon the scribes and artisans. The wanted poster would be ready by the afternoon.

Inside, the chief inspector sat hunched in his soft cushioned chair. 'That was close,' he thought to himself as he stared down at his trembling hands. "The poison might still be on me," he said aloud as Thomas entered the room.

"Are you feeling okay sir?"

"Of course not, fool. I need a bath. The poison might still be lingering on me."

"Yes sir. Let me help you."

Thomas hefted up the large man and walked with him down the slope. Phineous' eyes were red and watering and his legs were weak. Thomas could not help but wonder if Cydric had accomplished his plan. If Phineous did die, what would he do? Thomas had spent so many of the last years as Phineous' aid and guard that any dark secrets might fall on his head as well. How many dirty deals and falsehoods could one man escape? Thomas did not have the skills with the forked tongue like Phineous, nor was he as well versed. Loyalty was his only saving grace, but now he wondered if he might face the hangman because of it.

"Sir, um... What about the prisoner?" Thomas was not sure what to do at all. Phineous' plan was to con Cydric into giving up the poison then having him assassinate Tithion, in exchange for hanging someone else.

"Which one?" Phineous asked through a scratchy throat.

"The goblin."

"I don't care. Hang him anyway."

"Yes sir. As planned then?" It did not make sense. Pinning the sergeant's poisoning on the goblin simply cleared Cydric of the crime. But the attack on Phineous, in addition to the other known crimes Cydric had done were more than enough to justify the reward. The nobles would breathe easier knowing that this assassin was dead. 'Maybe I can make this work for me?' Thomas thought. But where to begin? There were many paths he could take. Perhaps there was one even closer than he realized.

Simmering in the bath water, Phineous looked like a cow stuck in the mud. "I need it hotter, to open the pores," Phineous barked. With the chief inspector simmering in the bath house scrubbing furiously at his face and hands, Thomas began to plan.

With his immediate duty concluded, Thomas excused himself from the room.

 

Chapter 24
 

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