CHAPTER 7 – THE MEDALLION
The fire trail flickered ahead. The footprints led up a set of stairs from the back of a well to do home near the center of Lambswell. Azroth extinguished the footprints and crept up the stone steps. He should have ran into a guard by now. Someone, anyone, but the house was quiet. Usually the rich were so paranoid they always had a guard stationed somewhere, but nothing. He glanced back at Ariel, who was keeping watch for him. She shrugged and gestured for him to keep moving.
He brought his gaze back to the steps and took a deep breath before hoisting himself up on the banister and began running on his quiet, padded leather boots. The black cloth around his face muffled his breathing and he jumped and bounded up the side of the building in three strides and caught hold of the second story window that had been left open. He swung his legs inside and dropped to a crouch.
The room he’d landed in was filled with rows of books and a smoldering fire in the hearth. He stuck to the shadows and stayed out of the moonlight spilling in through the open window. A man was asleep in an armchair before the fireplace. His jaw was slack. Azroth narrowed his eyes. The man’s breathing was too quiet for sleeping with his mouth open. Stepping closer, the dying embers of the fire revealed a bled out wound over the man’s heart, along with a small “R” on the man’s right cheek.
Azroth swore. Riddick. How had that schemer beat him here? He quickened his steps and slipped out into the hall. All was silent. Where did he go next? His information had been to enter the library and follow the old man as he checked on his precious medallion before turning in.
If the old man was dead, he wasn’t sure what to do for his next move. A nagging feeling that the Vixens had set him up tugged at his gut. But why would they do that? He brought in the most treasure for them.
Then a door to his left opened and Azroth slipped behind a tapestry hanging on the adjacent wall. Peering around it, he saw Riddick and two of his cronies emerge from the room grinning broadly.
“The Vixens are going to love this,” Riddick said in a brash voice that made Azroth wince.
“They won’t love cleaning up the mess,” Phillip, the goon on the right said.
Riddick’s thin frame shook with mirth. “They don’t have to know it was us. We can blame it on Gabe, this is his turf. Maybe I should go change that ‘R’ into a ‘G.’ I hear the authorities have been too lax over here any way. They need something to keep them on their toes. Gabe’s gang has gotten fat over here and we need to change that.”
He pocketed the medallion and sauntered down the hallway, back to the library with the cronies in tow. Azroth wiped a hand down his face. How was he supposed to get that medallion now?
Riddick’s laughter filtered down the hall. Azroth peeked inside, his lip curling as the youth took the tip of his knife and began changing the “R” carved on the side of the man’s face into a crude “G.” Then his eyes landed on the still warm hearth and grinned.
The coals rippled, glowing brighter as Azroth cupped his hands and blew into them. A blaze whooshed up, startling the three young men. They peered around, searching for the source of the disturbance. Willing himself to change into smoke, he drifted into the library. Smoke from the fireplace drifted out into the room, causing it to grow hazy, allowing him to blend in.
His tutors from his former life would be proud of him. Becoming smoke was no small feat, but anything that allowed him to get into and out of a house without harming the occupants was a skill worth knowing. Plus it kept his identity wrapped in mystery.
“I think this house is haunted,” Phillip said, swinging around.
“Don’t be such a coward.” Riddick’s words were confident, but the crouch he dropped into, belied his fear.
Azroth drifted closer, willing the smoke from the smoldering fire to deepen.
Riddick coughed. “Let’s get out of here.”
His gang members complied without complaint. Azroth’s arm solidified enough that he could touch the medallion and lift it from Riddick’s pocket. The moment the metal touched his skin, Azroth’s whole body solidified.
“It’s Gabe’s lackey!” cried Phillip, lunging at Azroth, knife in hand.
He pocketed the medallion and dodged to the left, making for the open window. The stone ledge was just wide enough he could get his feet under him and spring up to the roof. The blade of a stiletto knife nicked his shin.
Ariel took off into the night as she saw him scramble through the window. She’d likely head back to the Haggis. At least she’d be safe there. He was on his own.
His boots pattered across the tile roof, gripping the clay bricks with ease. He sprinted to the other end of the house. The wiry form of Riddick clambered up the roof where Azroth had climbed up.
“You’re not cheating off my hard work, Fire Worm,” he called.
Azroth leaped onto the adjoining roof, teetering on the edge of losing his balance. A knife rushed past him, clattering on the tiles. He raced up the pitched roof and down the other side before Riddick could throw another knife and this time find his target.
Ducking behind a chimney, Azroth struggled to catch his breath. He couldn’t return to the Haggis. If he brought trouble down on the young ones, it was on his head. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t cross over the river and into Riddick’s territory. That would be the last place they’d look for him.
He jumped down onto a balcony of a neighboring house and slid down the trellis from a vine from the owner’s garden. Riddick and his cronies were searching for a way down as Azroth took off through the deserted streets. At first he made as if he were heading toward the Southern Wall, but changed directions three times to throw off any pursuit.
The river was ahead, stinking of refuse. He turned when a noise caught his attention, and missed the arm thrown out to catch him around the throat. Phillip’s bear sized hands closed in on Azroth’s windpipe. He retaliated with a strong upper cut, striking Phillip in the jaw and forcing him to let go. Riddick came out of the shadows with another knife. Did he grow them?
The rival gang leader advanced, poised to land the blade in Azroth’s belly. Just as Riddick released the knife, Azroth dove into the water and swam through the murky water. It tasted even worse than it smelled.
Riddick screamed at his cronies to start running to the other side, but both bridges were several blocks away. Azroth climbed out on the far back and spat out the water from his mouth. Once on land again he ran as fast as his soggy clothes allowed.
He’d seen a large stonework building being started in the north end of Lambswell on the few times he’d tread on enemy turf to do some spying. The construction site should offer plenty of places to hide.
It was several blocks later when he arrived at the twenty foot high walls. Wagons, crates, loose blocks of stone and machinery were everywhere. Azroth hide behind some crates when the sound of running feet caught his ear.
Riddick had found his wet trail and followed him here. Azroth weighed his options. He knew these streets better and could follow either the trail of water or the stench and find him. Fabric beneath his hands, however, gave him an idea. He’d seen guards patrolling the construction site at night on occasion.
The heavy coat he’d found, along with some oversized boots from a large worker allowed him to hide his wet boots underneath. He also found a cap in one of the crates as well and pulled his shoulder length hair up under the brim.
Riddick walked up to the stone walls and was about to enter when Azroth, with his hat pulled low, rustled the crate and stood upright, a pickax in hand.
“Oi! You there! What do you think you’re doing here?” he called, trying to keep the smile from coming through in his voice as Riddick jumped like a scared cat and took off. Phillip and Simon were on his heels as they raced away into the dark streets.
This was going to make for a fun tale to tell the young ones tomorrow night. With a glance to the stone edifice, he saw they’d nearly completed the roof. He couldn’t figure what it was, until he walked around to the far side, nodding at a passing guard in the process, who took so little notice of him, Azroth wondered if the man was drunk.
The inscription about the large doorless entry read, “In Honor of the Great King. May He Guide Us All.”
Something stirred in Azroth that he’d repressed since the day he’d shook Ariel’s hand in that alleyway and agreed to formally join the gang. At these thoughts an even stronger emotion hit him. It was as if Wesley, his forgotten and buried friend, urging him to remember how to make a Fire Compass.
But this time, it wasn’t a compass to point him north. This compass was burned into his heart, pointing him to the cathedral. That his life was meant more than stealing for the Vixens and working the markets. The thought of the shame he’d brought the name of Galbraith weighed heavy on his heart as he made his way through the dawning streets.
He’d be late to help Marjorie if he didn’t hurry. But for the first time in five years, he didn’t want to be there.