Chapter 11: Spies In The Shadows

This had better be good news.

Spymaster Saelin Bloodclaw waited, unmoving, in the alley. His face was covered with a cowl and his hand rested patiently upon his weapon. The streets were quiet and most of the oil lamps were dying out. A small gust of wind sent a slight summer warmth through the air, kicking up dust. Most of the city was tucked away in their beds, sleeping the night away.

His gaze drifted to the church tower now bathed in moonlight. Clenching his jaw in anger he looked around the streets he could see, his eyes slowly scanning the area, taking in every detail.

He’s late.

Bloodclaw knew that it was not within the little man to tarry. He had been meeting him for weeks now. They met at different times and places throughout the city. Bloodclaw had sought him and his guild out – their reputation was discretion, something he held in high regard. He also couldn’t use any of his own men, it would draw suspicion and they were needed more in Aggramon. That simply wouldn’t do. So he had hired the guild and met secretly with their half elf leader, Gray. He didn’t like the little man, but he didn’t like most. He paid the guild handsomely, and they kept their eyes and ears open, towards Ravenglass.

No one would understand what he was trying to do and he had no time for debates. There was much to learn in the desert town and he was getting close to a solution, he could feel it. He had kept his plans from the Baron and Willow. If they found out what he was doing they would only try to stop him, an unnecessary hassle. Bloodclaw knew he was close. He just needed more time, a luxury he didn’t have.

Suddenly the slight hint of lavender and lemon reached his nostrils.

His spy was here.

The smell was always subtle, but for Bloodclaw it was unmistakable. How others of this world missed the simple things, like a masked scent, were beyond him.

A devilishly smooth male voice could be heard on the breeze, “If a horse jumps over a castle, and a man disappears, what, pray tell, has happened?”

Cocky this evening I see…

Bloodclaw let out a small sigh, almost inaudible, as he responded, “It is but a game of chess.” He turned to face down the alley, his eyes scanning the shadows. He almost missed the little man, but he caught him smiling in the darkness.

Emerging from the blackness came a tall, slim and athletic half-elf, a smile still upon his lips. His blue eyes sparkled with mischief. “Spymaster,” the man bowed slightly, his hands on his daggers.

“Gray,” Bloodclaw scanned the area yet again. “You’re late.”

“My apologies. I had to deal with something…unexpected, it won’t happen again,” Gray bowed, lower this time.

Saelin took a step forward and stared into Gray’s ice blue eyes, he noticed Gray stiffen when he came close. “See that it doesn’t,” Saelin whispered the words and Gray knew better than to argue. The spy was smart enough, for a half breed.

“Now, tell me of Ravenglass,” Bloodclaw took a step to the side of the alley, his eyes darting about, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Something was off, he could feel it in his bones.

“The villagers are still doing as you asked. Once a week they perform the rituals you described. Nothing has changed.”

“You have noticed no difference you mean.” Saelin paced back and forth in the alley, growing impatient. Surely Gray and his guild were just not watching closely enough. There had to be something they had missed. His eyes continued to scan the darkness.

“No Spymaster, there has been no change,” Gray’s voice held a hint of anger. He did not like the accusation.

Bloodclaw turned to the little man. “There has to be something. Something new,” his voice ran along Gray’s spine. “No?” Bloodclaw inquired as a teacher would a student caught in a lie. Gray merely shook his head. “Of course. Well, has the ritual been performed on the same night each week?”

“Yes, sir,” Gray answered.

“Have the words been spoken completely and accurately?” Bloodclaw inquired.

“Yes, sir,” came Gray’s response.

“Has the magic being emitted changed in any aspect?”

“No, sir.”

Bloodclaw stood still, his eyes sparkling in the moonlight, as he faced Gray tucking his hands behind his back. “What of the town?”

“Same as always, sir,” Gray stated. He stood still, caressing his daggers.

Really?” Bloodclaw couldn’t help the sarcasm that dripped from the word as he spoke. “You and yours are clearly mistaken, Gray. There has to be something you’re missing.” Saelin started to pace once more, slowly, taking his time with each step.

“There isn’t,” Gray let slip a slight sigh. This had been the nature of their exchanges for weeks now, and Gray had grown tired of it. Gray’s grip on his weapons tightened as Bloodclaw locked eyes with him.

“Bored, Gray?” Saelin gracefully moved in front of the spy, only an arm’s length between them. Gray swallowed. The lavender and lemon grew sharp and strong. The half elf had started to sweat.

“No, sir.” Gray stated plainly. “But we have not missed anything. There are no changes.” Gray’s anger was starting to get the best of him.

“You would do well to remember to whom you speak,” Saelin whispered.

“Of course,” Gray stated. He took a few steps back from Bloodclaw, his hands raised. And then with a hint of pride he stated simply, “You as well Spymaster,” more confident than he had been a moment before.

Bloodclaw’s eyes narrowed. He knew now what was off.

I thought you had at least part of a brain little man.

“You’ve surrounded me,” Bloodclaw simply stared at Gray, a smile on his lips. “Oh, Gray. Are you really trying to kill me?” Gray’s grip on one of his daggers tightened, and his other hand was by his side unmoving. Gray clenched his jaw, frustration creasing his brow.

“Ahh, and there it is. You need me alive, don’t you Gray?” Bloodclaw smiled wickedly as he took a step forward. Gray countered his movement. “Oh, my foolish and short sighted little man.” Bloodclaw moved a small step closer, and Gray countered once more. Slowly, with calculated steps, Bloodclaw began to circle the half breed. “I know to whom I speak.” His voice was honey and malice. Whispering he continued, “Trust is a hard business for spies. That’s the problem really, they can’t be trusted completely.” Gray shifted, uncomfortable, and raised his hand ready to give the signal. “You are a guild made of spies. You do not trust me, as I do not trust you. But you do work for me.”

Gray hadn’t noticed but within a few heartbeats Bloodclaw had been able to come nose to nose with him. He took a sharp breath in and then swallowed hard.

“Gray, my boy, you are simply a tool for me to use how I see fit.” Bloodclaw’s eyes sparkled in the moonlight and it sent a shiver up Gray’s spine. “But to be betrayed is another matter entirely.” Bloodclaw’s gaze bore into Gray for a few moments. Gray swallowed several times, his eyes wide. He couldn’t bring himself to move.

Finally Bloodclaw took a few steps away, his hands clasped behind his back. “Now, my stupid little man, tell your guild to stand down. Or you will wish for death before I’m through.”

Gray stood stiff for a few moments, a bead of sweat slowly dripping down the side of his face. Bloodclaw remained unmoving and simply waited, patiently, with his hands behind his back, for the half elf to choose.

Gray shifted, unsure.

Bloodclaw raised an eyebrow and smiled.

Moments passed. Eventually Gray made a small hand gesture and returned his arm to his side. Bloodclaw heard the tension leaving bowstrings and the soft sound of blades sliding along leather sheaths in the dark.

“Wise decision,” Bloodclaw stated, anger dripping from his words.

Within the blink of an eye Bloodclaw had shifted and now had Gray by the throat, his feet dangling below him. Gray, caught off guard, gasped for air and clawed uselessly at Bloodclaw’s arm.

Bloodclaw could hear the sound of weapons being drawn once more, but paid them no mind. He could destroy them all without thought. But finding more spies was a waste of time he didn’t have. Saelin found himself annoyed. Luckily for Gray, and his guild, he still needed them to watch where he couldn’t. For now.

Gray’s color started to drain.

What a petulant child. Such a fragile little thing, Bloodclaw tightened his grip a little bit harder, so easily broken.

Gray started to go limp, no longer struggling as much. His eyes began to roll back.

With a sigh Bloodclaw released the little man, who crumpled to the ground gasping and coughing for air. Bloodclaw slowly kneeled down in front of him.

“You know what they say, Gray.” Bloodclaw removed his cowl and rubbed a hand along his scruffy chin. “Once you have betrayed someone it will always be in the back of their mind. Even if they still have a smile on their face.” Bloodclaw stood and, rubbing his chin some more, paced along the alley. “For now I still have need of you. But make no mistake,” Bloodclaw turned to face the little man again, “the moment you are not useful, is the moment you will regret.”

Gray took a few moments to get his breath back, “I’m sorry sir.” He inhaled sharply. “There was a man…” He coughed. “Offered us….gold. I’ll tell you….everything.” He coughed again.

Bloodclaw kneeled back down in front of his little man. “I know you will.” Bloodclaw rubbed at his chin once more. “But first, tell me of the newcomers. What are they up to?” Gray coughed but didn’t answer, still trying to save face. “Come now, Gray. No need to be secretive now.”

Gray coughed a few more times. He made the same hand gesture he had moments before. The weapons were once again sheathed and undrawn in the shadows. “They just arrived,” He stood up, his hand rubbing at his throat, his words breathy. “They go to investigate the ritual tomorrow night.”

Bloodclaw smiled, excitement in his eyes. “Now that is new. Something we haven’t seen before, isn’t it Gray?” Bloodclaw once again placed his hands behind his back.

Gray’s eyes lit with anger, but he held his tongue. “Yes, sir. It is.”

“Perfect,” Saelin smiled from ear to ear. “Make sure that they get there.” Bloodclaw started to sway slowly from side to side – he was almost bursting – he was so full of excitement. “They need to see it. They need to see, and then they will understand.”

“Of course, sir. They will get to the ritual without delay.”

“See that they do.” Bloodclaw’s warning tone was not missed by the half elf.

Bloodclaw clasped his hands together and started to slowly circle the half elf once more. “Now then. Let’s discuss the man who almost got you killed. Shall we?”