I’d conspired with Koru, King of Rats, to assassinate Mallens, Lord of Creation, King of the Titans. We had not succeeded.
My job was handling logistics. I’d carried the bribes, distributed the weapons, and moved the paper. I’d volunteered for the kill-team, hadn’t been taken, and now the kill-team had been killed. I was the only link between Koru and the other high conspirators and the assassins, and my metaphorical fingerprints were all over everything. Right now, I worried that the weapons the killers had used, copies of Death’s scepter All Things Ending, could lead back to me. Hasso, the forger, had put a maker’s mark on them, and he would definitely tell anyone who asked that everything was my fault.
Most of the weapons had been destroyed, but some Celestials had found one. When I’d tried to buy it, one of the Celestials, Osret, had betrayed us. He killed his two friends and shot me. I should have died but didn’t. Now he had the secret I needed.
Leving Dr Lammet’s underground home, I found a new day overcast and gray. A short walk took me to a safehouse I’d set up less than a week ago for the kill team. With them dead, no one else knew it existed. A water tower rose among tall, blank buildings with yellow and gray walls of sandstone, behind cover of pines. The tower hadn’t been used in years. I climbed the ladder one-handed, jimmied open the trick door, and rolled into a round room with a flat floor. It had blankets, a sleeping pad, and a few sealed water jugs. By the look of it, no one had been here since I had.
I dropped my bag and did the honeydew vials like shooters. Then I poured a little water into each one, drank that, and finally sucked the empty glass jars like a pacifier. Medicine always comes in useless packaging that ruins half the stuff. Then I lay down and slept like the dead for five or six hours. Inside the water tower was a black hole, and I’d feel it shake if anyone climbed the ladder.
When I woke up, I ate another package of ambrosia and checked my arm. It moved sufficiently if not well, but the brace impaired my mobility. I took it off and stashed it in the gym bag. I’d put it on when I returned. The ambrosia gone, I went looking for more.
Before the hit, I’d hidden four packages of payoff money for the assassins, and they weren’t going to need them anymore. Each package had money, ambrosia, some fake documents, and a small weapon or good luck charm. One had been lost, Osret had taken the money from two, and I moved through Hyperion, capital city of Heaven, toward the last.
Clouds lay low and heavy in the sky. They were big, round-bellied clouds that promised rain but withheld it, and on top Mt Attarkus a spiraling storm of darker shades roiled with lightning. Sometimes lightning bolts crackled down to the lower skies, but it rarely struck the ground. Instead it crawled across the hanging bellies like disjoint-legged spiders.
The sun must be up but showed no sign. Light came from lanterns and house lights. Someone had turned off the street lights. Ion’s palace, usually a monstrosity of unnecessary lamps and bonfires, looked tame with a few bright windows and one small lantern shining over the front door. But its windows had lace curtains drawn, and the door lamp vanes had been turned down.
It took me a couple hours to go less than three miles across empty streets because I kept getting lost. Ultimately I fell into my destination. I had crossed a small footbridge over a storm runoff where lamplight didn’t go, feeling wet ground for a small path, when I stepped wrong, fell through cattails to the muddy creek bed, and chose to break my fall with my head instead of my bad arm. I finally saw stars under the cloudy sky. After a bit I got up and started poking around.
This was one of my better stash spots. An abandoned garden filled blocked drainage ditch. The garden’s walls were worked stone under a worked bridge, so the dryads wouldn’t tend it. However it was in a storm drain, so the Celestials thought it beneath them. Tall grass hadn’t been cut in years, cattails clogged the waterway, and privacy hedges hid the unsightly area from the neighboring palaces. I’d hidden the last package behind a stone in the garden wall.
Now, the rock lay in the middle of the drainage ditch. The stash space lay empty. I felt a worm. He didn’t say anything. I decided to call him Alphonse.
Okay but seriously, now my sickness had gone terminal.
Someone had come here, pulled the stone out, and taken the box.
That someone might have seen me hide it. Once I’d gone, they’d investigated, found one hundred and twenty five thousand sesteres free for the taking, and took it. Possible.
Agents of Mallens could have taken it. They could know everything I’ve been doing all along. They could be telling Mallens about me right now, and all my plans were too late.
They could be watching me right now.
It could be… self, what did it matter?
The package wasn’t here.
I went south to the house of the cousins Hemlin.
Their townhouse rose on two stubby legs with a corridor or tunnel between them. They’d shut and locked a gate across the tunnel. Around back, it had a courtyard with a little garden and some sheds, and abutted an alley. A tall fence enclosed the property, with a locked carriage gate, but they hadn’t taken their trash in. I eased up onto a closed trashcan and tested my arm. It hurt but worked.
I pulled my head over the rear fence. The courtyard was empty, the house lit, and privacy curtains pulled over the windows. I saw moving figures in the first floor.
I rolled over the fence and stole across the courtyard. Their main door lead to a tiny foyer in one of the legs, and up a steep flight of stairs to the second floor. The exterior door was a glass oval, but the interior door at the top of the stairs was an ironwood portal. That was their main level with the kitchen, dining room, and open area. I hadn’t gone upstairs, but had seen them go upstairs to change their clothes.
I poked around the backyard, found a building stone I could lift with both hands, and threw it through the glass door. Stained glass shattered and fell. I dashed through, took the stairs in two steps, and spoke Prothadeus Raln.
Prothadeus Raln changed qualities to quantities. They had locked the door. They hadn’t locked it enough. I hit the door with my foot, it shattered like the stained glass, and I entered the living room.
Apseto had been behind the door. He was falling over a couch now. Nurim ducked around the kitchen counter with cooking knives in either hand, and as I came in, he started slinging. I dove and rolled, cleavers thudding into the walls.
Osret had frozen in a main room, standing by the dinner table near Nurim. I charged him. He turned for the stairs and ran.
Nurim grabbed more knives, smaller ones they’d probably never used. I threw a chair at him, he threw knives at the chair, and the razor-sharp blades chunked through it. The seat-cushion caught their handles, and the chair hit him. He threw it down, but I threw a flying knee into him. He hit the cupboard, his rear-end burst through the doors, and I left him there with soup pouring down his legs.
Osret’s footsteps thudded up the stairs. I grabbed an eight-inch carving fork and raced up the stairs after him.