Shadow in the dark

- 12:00 am

by HerrFenrisWolf

translated by HptmGrusel

Beliar covered Ishtar with his cooling cloak of the night. The sun, Innos’ torrid curse for Varant, set just an hour ago and in most of the houses there were some burning candles or fire pits shedding some light out on the street. At the edge of the fortresses pleasure garden, some flames were blazing from a bowl as well. Vacantly the caliph reached into a jar one of his female slaves held to her chest and cast some of its content into the flames. The aromatic resins melted in the bowl and an invigorating scent flowered out into the garden. Zuben was inebriated by the versatile scents while breathing calmly through his nose.

A sudden movement in one of the shadows made the members of his household troops draw swords at once. Two of the soldiers rushed to his side while two others advanced carefully towards the place of the movement. A man dressed in a cloak full of ornaments stepped out of the dark. Even though such garments were quite common in Varant the caliph recognised the man at once. As the cloak bearer walked towards the flaming bowl the soldiers also recognised his face and eased off.

Zuben waved them off: “Leave us alone!” The warriors nodded and left the garden towards the palace. They knew that their master was safe in the presence of this man, maybe even safer than in their own presence. Also, there was only this one man who was able to sneak up on them like that. Even dressed as a simple man he had managed to get to the inner area of Ishtar. Facing his female slave the old man said: “Go! Draw me a bath!” and she departed as told, too.

The new arrival bowed deeply as a greeting. “Everyone else would’ve changed into something more suitable before he dared to come before me. But you didn’t want me to wait for the news, did you?” Zuben smiled the smile of kind old men who are flattered by the sorrows of the youth. “You know I’m a patient man. But it honours you that you anticipated the wishes of your caliph in such a manner. So as I don’t need to send for you, what do you have to report?” “My lord, I travelled every one of the cities in your realm and I heard this and that.” “Report, my good friend! The orcs have reached Varant and started their digging as agreed upon. How are they doing?” “They’re suffering strongly from the heat, but show a great eagerness in their efforts nonetheless. Their digging sites are very hungry for fresh slaves, which are worn out at the same pace.” “And I’m certain that the smarter ones of our people’s merchants stay close to those sites at all times. Are they successful?” “Indeed, many of the treasures that the orcs excavate, find their ways to the local market one way or another. The trade with slaves and artefacts prospers like never before.” “In this case, I’ll expect an appropriate tribute of the cities. But I don’t think you come to me with such banalities only. Were you able to find out which artefacts the orcs are looking for?” This was the question Zuben had asked himself since the orcs had asked for his permission to dig on his lands. “No, Master. It seems the orcs don’t know themselves. There’s only one who knows the real answer.“ Xardas. Zuben didn’t like it when he had to deal with unknown parameters. “But I picked up some rumours. It was told in Mora Sul that the water mages have returned to their tribes.” “I heard that the nomads are acting strangely recently. It seems like they’ve stopped their wandering. A return of the water mages would explain that. On the other side, it’s also possible that the rising hunt for slaves is the reason for that. But you wouldn’t tell me such a rumour if you didn’t believe that there was a sand grain of truth in those reports, would you?” “Of course I wouldn’t bother the great caliph with mere gossip. But there is a corresponding rumour that some of the slaves are from Khorinis.” Zuben nodded. “The province which had been a self-made prison for the foolish water mages as they established the magic barrier. Well, the barrier has fallen. The water mages are free again. Do you think it is possible that they returned aboard some orcish galleys, maybe as slaves?” “No, I don’t think so.” His counterpart shook his head: „But the few slaves from the harbour city itself report that a sole ship of the Myrtanian fleet commanded by some paladins anchored there. And this ship set sail surprisingly just before the orcs captured the city. Without the paladins.” “Interesting, all the same, whether the water mages sailed on the ship or someone else did, very interesting….” Zuben’s fingers playfully stroke his beard. When he thought of this second rumour it caused him some discomfort. More than the first one. “And even if they didn’t use that ship”, he went on, “we have to take a possible return of the water mages into account. They had a lot of time in that barrier thinking of a way of coming home. Who knows which trickery they devised in that time? But tell me, where are those slaves who you talked to about that matter?” The gaze of the cloak bearer stayed expressionless. “I made them stop talking forever with a poison and gave them over to Beliar. “Good.” The caliph seemed quite young on the outside considering his old age, only his shifty piercing glance allowed a rough guess of how many years he already had lived in this world. His visitor kneeled down and stroke the sand with his hand. “The water mages are not important. The nomads alone are no threat. If they choose to revolt, the assassins will strike down the rebellion. His hand had formed a symbolic grave out of the sand. Zuben nodded thoughtfully. “Indeed. The water mages are no threat for now. Their future plan will be observed and I’ll wait and see. You know that your caliph is a very patient man. His interlocutor raised from the ground. “I’ll go to Myrtana. To the shore.“ A smile appeared on the old black mage’s face. „And not only to watch the orcs advance on Vanguard and bring an end to my biggest enemy. Your report on that ship has made me curious, too.” He thought back to the vision he had had some time ago. And the man slew the beast and it went into Beliar’s realm. And then,… a ship that leaves a black island, and a decision that needs to be made. “When you reach the coast: Khabir’s man should already have arrived in Cape Dun.” The cloak bearer bowed one last time and then left the garden to disappear into the shadows once more. Zuben began massaging his root of the nose with his thumb and index finger. The caliph had a headache, but if it was a result of the rumour or of too much burned resin even he was unable to tell. A bath and the view of his female slaves would produce some relief as he knew his orders in very capable hands.