Haunt of Stars

By Angela

Part 1

“Or what?”

Caled raised an eyebrow, mocking the flustered sorcerer who sat before him. Hadrian hid his frustration well, his face set in a supreme expression of aloofness, but the mercenary was too familiar with the younger man to be fooled. The pale skin carried a flush too deep to be accounted for by the heat of the crowded tavern, his magnificent grey eyes a touch too stormy for the stone-like countenance he affected.

Caled knew it was possibly unwise to taunt Hadrian like this. He was the Scourge of Rhiad and Caled was very aware of what he was capable of, having observed the sorcerer wield his magick on several occasions. The results still haunted his nightmares, but he doubted that Hadrian would use his sorcery on him, especially in a tavern full of people.

A figure gracefully fell into the chair beside Caled. Gam had a dark look on his face as he drank deeply of the tankard he carried, pointedly ignoring Lio. The other thief cautiously crept into the chair beside Hadrian, his green eye looking anywhere but at his three companions.

“So,” Caled started, looking between the two of them. “I see you’ve found Lio.”

“You might want to warn Manix about something,” Gam grumbled to Caled, sending Lio a sour look.

Lio’s eye narrowed. “I already apologized, Gam. Several times.”

“I know you apologized, Lio. However, that doesn’t change what you’ve done.”

Hadrian met Caled’s eyes. “What has happened?” he asked.

“I found Lio playing cards with some mercenaries and others of various unsavory occupations at the Green Dragon on the other side of town,” Gam started.

“I was gathering information,” Lio protested.

“Regardless of his intentions,” Gam shot him another look, “I arrived in the midst of a bet. It seems that a pirate he was playing with, a man named Borley, is interested in getting his hands on a certain artifact. He made an agreement with Lio to ignore a certain debt accrued if Lio will get this artifact for him.”

“It’s not a problem,” Lio insisted.

“Where’s this artifact?” Caled asked, ignoring Lio.

“Not too far,” Lio said, hiding his face with his hair. Gam snorted, taking a deep drink from his tankard.

“Where, Lio?” Caled said.

The thief looked between them, and then mumbled something into his drink.

“What?” Hadrian asked.

“In translation, that means Fortune’s Cove,” Gam said sourly.

“Not far, huh?” Lio withered under the glare Caled sent him.

Hadrian glanced between the three. The tension between the two thieves and the mercenary was thick. It made him wonder where this place was. “Where is Fortune’s Cove?”

“In southern Jeynesa,” Caled replied, still pinning Lio with his eyes.

“What?” Hadrian said, startled. He looked at Lio. The thief was blushing lightly, squirming underneath the piercing gaze of his companions. He turned his gaze to Hadrian, pleadingly. “Lio, we’re in Beyfan. It would take months just to get there.”

“It’s not a problem,” Lio insisted again.

“How is this not a problem?” the sorcerer asked.

“Because we won’t be going,” Caled replied.

Silence settled on the small group. “We won’t?” Hadrian questioned softly.

“How would we get there?” Caled asked, turning to the sorcerer. “We couldn’t take a ship, someone might recognize you. Traveling overland would take months, not to mention we would have to travel through Jeynesa to get there.”

“Will it not take him just as long by himself as it will if we accompany him?”

“No. Besides, even if we did make good time and easily find this artifact, it could take half a year before we return to Beyfan. And I have not forgotten why we are here.”

Hadrian looked away from Caled’s intense gaze. He disliked the implication that he was ignoring their reason for being where they were. He was perfectly aware of their mission. As if he could ever forget. Hadrian glanced at Lio. Still, the idea of the thief leaving for so long, and Gam most likely going along, upset him. They were his only friends. He didn’t want them to leave. He turned back to Gam. “How much is this debt? Can we not just pay him?”

Lio blanched. Gam, for the first time in the discussion, looked sympathetically at his partner. “I don’t think we can afford the price he is asking.”

Hadrian glanced at Caled. The mercenary looked grim. “Is it truly so much?” the sorcerer asked.

“That depends,” Gam replied, “on how highly you prize Lio’s life.”

Hadrian looked at Lio in shock. He had a hard time believing that a simple game could turn so deadly. “Maybe we should go speak to Manix first,” Lio suggested, rising. “Do you think he would be upset if we disturb them?”

“Might as well,” Caled said, also rising. “Better he know now than later.” Together the four men crossed the tavern to the stairs that lead to the rooms on the second floor. They approached the room where the Elder, Manix, and his apprentice, Syellen, were staying. Caled knocked on the door. A moment later, Manix opened it. He took in the thieves’ and mercenary’s grim faces and the sorcerer’s confused one.

“I take it something has gone wrong,” Manix said calmly.

“More like a complication,” Caled said. “But I don’t really wish to discuss it in the hallway.”

Manix stepped aside, allowing them all to enter.

Syellen was sitting on the floor, grinding some herbs into powder. Her eyes narrowed when she saw the men. “What has happened now?” she asked, her irritation evident.

“We are leaving,” Caled stated bluntly.

Silence descended on the room. “Might I know why?” Manix said, his voice still even.

“Lio accepted a wager to find an artifact in Fortune’s Cove,” Hadrian explained.

“I am still unsure as to why we all must leave.”

“The wager is for Lio’s life,” Caled replied.

Manix and Syellen glanced at each other. Although Hadrian understood the look, he was still shocked by Manix’s next words. “That is unfortunate, but I do not see how that requires our help.”

“You do not truly mean that,” Hadrian said, surprise coloring his voice.

Manix turned to him. “Hadrian, Lio and Gam are thieves. They are experience in removing themselves from dangerous situations. We have a job to do and cannot be distracted in such ways.”

“Is that so?” Caled replied coldly.

Manix looked at Caled. “You want to bring Gavedon to justice, do you not?”

“I do,” the mercenary replied.

“Traveling to Fortune’s Cove would take months. We would lose what precious advantage we have in tracking him.”

“We have no advantage,” Hadrian protested.

“What would be gained by leaving?” Syellen asked

“Lio’s life,” Hadrian shot back.

“And what of the friends you have lost, Caled?” Manix asked. “Those who have died in Rhiad? Would you abandon them?”

Hadrian stared at the Elder, horrified by his words. “How dare you,” he whispered.

“Gavedon is not the only one at fault,” Caled snarled, turning to Hadrian. The smaller man shrank back, eyes widening at the venom. “I have not forgotten the way you burned Tye, Hades. You of all people have no right to speak on my behalf. I have also not forgotten the vengeance I have promised the dead. But,” he said, turning to Manix. “That does not mean I will abandon those friends I have left.”

Hadrian dropped his head, hiding his tears behind the fall of his hair.

Manix watched Caled for a moment, as if judging his words. He turned to Lio. “Where in Fortune’s Cove?”

Lio shifted nervously. “The Grey Isle.”

Syellen stared at him. “Are you mad?”

Manix ignored his apprentice. “And what is this artifact that you are looking for?”

Lio seemed hesitant to answer. Gam did instead. “The Queen’s Collar and the Collar of Stars.”

“You are mad,” Syellen muttered.

“The Collars’ are just myths.” Lio said unhappily.

Hadrian listened to them speak, unwilling to raise his head. He didn’t entirely understand what was going on. He wanted to ask about the Collars, but it had been made very clear to him by Caled that his concern was not welcome. He didn’t think he could handle being attacked again this evening. So he listened and wished, not for the first time, that everything was different. That he had not been so weak before his father. So helpless. “I don’t understand,” he whispered.

He didn’t expect a response, but Manix spoke. “The Grey Isle is one of many islands inside Fortune’s Cove. Long ago, a small kingdom of people inhabited the Isle. No one remember who they were anymore, but time does remember their wealth. It is said the two leaders of the kingdom, a queen and her advisor, wore two collars of such exquisiteness the likes of which none could rival. Legend has it one day a pirate and his crew ransacked the capital, killing and looting. But some strange and awesome force drove them out. Unfortunately, none survived the encounter, pirate or citizen. Occasionally, people travel to the Isle, hoping to find signs of the treasure that once existed there, but all have gone mad, or have never returned.”

“It’s just a legend,” Lio insisted.

Syellen snorted. “It is no legend. People have gone mad looking for those Collars and the other treasures of the Grey Isle. You will be no different.”

“We have to try,” Gam said.

Manix sighed. “I suppose we do. Have you put any thought into how we will get there?”

“The pirate whom the deal is with, Borley, is going to take us," Gam replied.

“I’m going to see what information I can find on him,” Caled said.

“That is probably wise,” Manix agreed.

Caled turned, to leave, stopping beside Hadrian. “Perhaps you should sleep,” he said. “All that concern for human life must be tiring.” Hadrian winced. With a last smirk, Caled left.

The room was silent. Hadrian could feel their eyes on him, probably in sympathy of some kind. He couldn’t take it. He turned and walked out.

Go to part 2

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