The Case of the Merciful Illusionist (Part IV)
My master watched passively as we sat outside the watering hole on the far side of the market. In Zeif this near ubiquitous slang did not, in truth, refer to a drinking establishment but was where the caravans entering through the far west gate watered their animals if they required it. He looked from our new friend to me more often as he grew bored. I could tell he had already made up his mind about Quentin Gabriel Tarella III. Someone might ask, what was there to decide? After all we had been sent on the word of a god that this man was necessary to help Tulla and our other associates against her insane sister, Taren.
While that is true it was, ultimately, Garl Glittergold who sent us. The father god of the gnomes, magician and trickster, was likeable but erratic at times. For all we knew this man could have turned out to be a monkey with average musical talent and the ability to shoot flame strike from his eyes. So prudence was necessary. In the end it turned out that Mr. Tarella was trustworthy. Although his fashion sense was questionable, and much of who he was remained a mystery…he was to be trusted.
I now looked from my master, Jeremy Moonrise, the greatest detective and agent of Hollowfaust the city of necromancers, and this inter planar con-man. And put my head in my hands. “The two of you stand out so much.”
The both looked at me and then at themselves. Jeremy, clad in the black cold weave garments of our people was very comfortable even with the scarf and wide brimmed hat of most traveling necromancers. This entire outfit reached the apex of its daring with the occasional grey to offset the black. Mr. Tarella was wearing a yellow suit with a red shirt underneath and a gold and red ascott. He carried a sword cane and moved about with a general flourish which included, even in the desert, gloves. The looked at me with a question shared in their eyes.
I sighed, “I may be in black armor, but that is not uncommon. One of you looks like you mugged a corpse and the other like he mugged a fabric store while blindfolded.” I sulked, “Where does one even find a yellow suit?”
Mr, Tarella smiled, “Only at the finest tailors.”
“Where you have it made?” My master asked.
I kept my eyes focused past them at the trickle of people at the watering hole as they discussed fashion. From our hiding spot we could observe the entire area unseen. Traffic was dying down in the early evening as we had assumed it would. Tarella has said this would be the time and night to observe this spot if we wanted to find the ringleader of the criminal gang who was attempting to extort him. And he might be right, as the place became abandoned a lone figure approached on camel. As the discussion over fashion subsided they both turned to look in the direction I was watching. Apparently my curiosity at the approaching man on camel was evident in my eyes.
Mr. Tarella seemed upset. “Damn,” he muttered, “it’s almost time for their meeting and this poor soul wanders in for a drink.”
My master nodded, “Yes, the meeting you have given us no details about that takes place 21 minutes after twilight, 14 minutes past the normal emptying of the area. The meeting that is on Flocktime 28th, three days past the first quarter of Luna…and the appropriate number of days before the double bright moon of Richfest the 4th in a little over a month. A day ritually used to begin the preparation of a mummy to be used as an enhanced guardian or…in this case, I assume gang muscle. So my take from your shock is an innocent is about to wander into the ritual killing of some unsuspecting gang member by his own people.”
I suppressed my laughter. It was obviously that Mr. Tarella had kept us uninformed as a test to see how fast we could react and also deduce the situation. To him the test had not begun yet and it had already been solved.
“That,” continued my master, “is why you wanted our help. You wanted a necromancer. It is also why you thought that Hollowfaustians at your door were some kind of hit squad. This gang is using necromancy. And despite your formidable illusion skills…undead are a different matter altogether.”
Tarella nodded. “I see you’ve earned your rank as an investigator. Yes, they are less a gang…more of a cult.”
“Charming,” said my master, “And I suppose this would be them coming from the other end?”
As we watched ten men approached from the east end of the area. The last group of three was composed of two captors and a man obviously drugged and held against his will. The lead man of the ten saw the merchant or pilgrim we had seen, who was now off his camel and leading the beast to water.
It took only a moment for both sides to realize something was wrong. The person who, we now noticed by the bag and attire, was a messenger; took a step backward as the lead gang member advanced. She, because it was not obvious it was a woman, realized she had stumbled upon a dangerous meeting. And those in that meeting knew that they had a witness.
I gripped my sword, but my master placed his hand across my chest to hold me in place. He gestured to a man in the middle of the ten who was being given great deference. I refocused my attention so no matter what I would know where the leader was at all times.
The messenger, when she took her backward step in response to the advancing thug, drew a sword and cast a grease spell at the feet of his assailant. Now made obvious by the motions was the crest of the Severstrian family on her ring. This was a messenger for a powerful family; judging by her movements and the spell she was a fighter and a mage of some kind.
Outnumbered as she was, it was unlikely that, no matter any skill, she would not survive this encounter. This became more obvious when my master’s head darted to the sky and black forms against the purple of twilight became visible.
“Shadows,” he muttered. “The ringleader thinks himself a necromancer.” Jeremy stepped out of hiding and threw an alchemical concoction in the air that resulted in a loud flash and a deafening bang. Everyone stopped: The gang members, the messenger, the victim struggling with his captors, the necromancer and even the shadows. The latter hovered in the air, their heads inclined toward their necromancer and master in a voiceless question.
Illuminated by the flash and the center of attention stood my own master, who held his hand aloft signalling he had an announcement.
“Excuse me! But I would like everyone’s attention.” The silence got deeper, the shadows hungrier. “But I see you are assaulting an innocent traveler, about to create undead and…you even had shadows following you right now. So I really need to say something about these shadows.”
The necromancer eyed him with contempt. “And what is that?”
“I am a necromancer of Hollowfaust. So.” The shadows jerked in the air. Their heads turned from the necromancer to my master. Jeremy snapped his fingers and the shadows bolted toward him and hovered obediently above his shoulders, “I keep them now.”