"So, Bashira," Cris says thoughtfully. "What are you going to do with that bow of yours?"
"Who, me?" I smile in glee. "Go see the look on the shopkeeper's face. It'll be priceless. AND it should pay me for a new bow."
"I want to see it." He says decisively.
"I'll keep you company, as well." Says Hasam.
"Be my guests."
And within a half-hour, we walk into the weaponry shop.
"Hello, good sir!" I chirp as joyfully as possible. "Would you remember that bow you sold me a couple of days ago?"
"Hello, m'lady." He replies. "Certainly, what is?..!"
Because I'd just dumped the little bits of bone onto his table.
"But... How did... That's... That was... A BONE BOW!" He sputters, and I wait for him to get his picture of the world together. "I'll... Ok, I'll throw in a fix for free... Just tell me, WHAT DID YOU DO WITH IT!"
"I shot from it." I say coolly. "Maybe you have something for someone with more strength?"
"That's the best.. That can be. I'll fix it for free, though. You really didn't do anything else with it?"
"O-ok... Come back tomorrow, I'll see what I can do."
"Tha-ank you, my good man." I smile and walk out.
Cris and Hasam follow me, grinning. I can't help it - so am I.
"See? Priceless, absolutely priceless."
The boys nod their heads in agreement.
"Ok, guys, it's been fun, but I'd better go and cash in on my wine. So I'll be taking that belt now."
Cris hands it over. The thing looks ridiculous, too wide, and with a sky blue bow tightly-fitting over the butt of the wearer. Doesn't combine with my favorite reds and golds at all well, much less with Cris's sleek and imposing ranger outfit. But, hey - a deal's a deal.
Anyway, anyone competent enough to recognize this for what it is will not give a hoot about the colors. They will care how much it costs, though. I almost want a robber or two to try and hold me up!
But, nah, no such luck. In the time I reach the "Fair Wind" - the usual watering hole for all martial artists of the city of Zarakat, its building made from the hull of a crashed flying ship - I didn't get even one lousy robber. And no ninjas wanting to take revenge for their embarrassment. Pansies.
So I just come in, and dive into the limelight. Judging from the glances people give me, more than half of the people here know about my and Samir's little bet. But they're quiet so far, waiting for Samir to make an announcement.
And there's my martial artist, sitting in a corner.
I take the spot across from him and smile.
"Well, what can I say?" Samir grins and spreads his hands. "Barkeep! A bottle of your best wine! I lost." The bar, which had quieted down a bit with my entrance, is again full of sound. And more than a few glances come our way. Ah, glory, how wonderful it is to have ya!
"I really didn't think you'd succeed, though." He says.
"Well, I wasn't really alone," I say, watching him carefully. "I did have a friend or two with me."
"Ah, so you couldn't do it alone, then?" Nah, I'll get my wine. The man's too damn pleased his rivals got what was coming to 'em.
"C'mon, pal! I have friends with itchy hands, and where there's fun to be had, they'll be there!"
"Oh, whatever." He shrugs and smiles. "I suppose we didn't agree anything about that."
"Yeah," I nod, "And, y'know, your master might have taught you this teeny little thing called strategy? Then you might recognize what I did."
Much as I hate to admit it, were I alone, I would've been in trouble. They were kids, really, those ninjas, but kids quite able to gang up and kick
the snot out of one warrior, even one of my ability.
"So, anyway," And Samir gets this mischievous twinkle in his eye. "I want details!"
"Well, first detail you might want, is that we didn't take their relic. It was kinda guarded by a Great Shadow. We would've all died there, regardless."
He nods. "Sure, messing with relics ain't a smart thing. That's why I warned ya. And, anyway - just don't tell anyone - I couldn't face that thing either."
"Well, neither could we, so I won't tell if you don't." I wink.
"Deal!" He agrees quickly.
"Anyway, second detail you might really want, is that the first rumor on the city guard's list this morning is that some ninjas went running to the guard for help with a robbery during the night."
"Wait, WHAT?" The martial artist blurts out. Obviously he thought higher of his rivals. Well, the world can know the naked truth now!
"Oh, you heard me well the first time!" I say loudly. "Your Black Hand kids went running to the Guard for help!"
Samir bursts out laughing. So does the rest of the tavern.
And two embarrassed boys, whom I did not notice earlier, dressed in ninja black, faces utterly flushed, get up and sprint out of the tavern.
"You're kidding!" Samir's laughing so hard that he's nearly falling off his chair. "I can't wait to see the faces of those who trained that night! They'll never live it down!"
And somehow I can't really laugh along anymore. I heard the two schools were deadly rivals. Where'd they get the celestial permission to drink in one tavern?
I've always thought "deadly rivals" meant "kill on sight." I've been a mercenary for the better part of my life. It's pretty obvious that killing's no big deal for me.
And suddenly now I start to get that maybe, just maybe, we weren't supposed to kill anyone. Grand robbery, sure. But not killing, 'cause what they really wanted was to just to tweak one another's nose. For a value of a couple dozen thousand gold, sure, but not really more.
Oops. I'd better keep that little detail to myself.
Stupid kids, couldn't they have clarified this before the job? I'm a mercenary, not a babysitter!
But the barkeep brings us our wine, and we idle the night away, me the heroine of the day. I don't tell a soul about the dead kid ninja, though. I wasn't the one who killed him, but I did bring in the man who pulled the bowstring.
With my newfound money, I buy another bottle of the good wine - take it back to my comrades, they deserved it. The bottle Samir owed me I split with him - he was the one who gave me such a good place to show off. I am anything but unfair, after all!
But yeah, then again, what we did to that kid wasn't really fair.
So I keep on looking good at the party - you gotta work on that image, y'know? What would I look like if I got worried about it then and there? - but as soon as I get home - well, maybe after a few hours of sleep - I go see Cris and Hasam.
They've been discussing the same, Hasam - by far the kindest of our little mercenary outfit - chiding Cris for that stunt of his. Once I join him, and explain what I learned in the evening, Cris starts to get it, too.
"Yeah, that wasn't pretty. But what do you want me to do?" He says sourly. "It's not like we can help anything at this point."
"Sure we can!" I say brightly. "They can't have buried him yet, and if they did, we can always dig him up."
"Your point being?"
"That Raise Dead ain't that expensive. We pitch in - or at least I will - and suddenly bam, we get one kid alive. We didn't kill all of them, we can afford this!"
The look of relief on Hasam's face is just so huge, I have to bite my tongue not to comment.
"That's still expensive." Cris says.
"You can stay out if you want."
He sighs. "Oh, fine. I suppose that belt..."
"...here it is, by the way..."
"...Thanks. It's worth a lot more, anyway. I'm in. But how do we find them?"
"That's easy!" I laugh. "We ask Samir. It looks like they're pretty friendly when not screwing each other over for money."
"Ok, fine." Cris gets up. "If we're decided, no reason to put it off."
A half an hour later, we're standing before the gates of the Celestial Sword School, and asking some kid to fetch Samir, 'cause it's urgent.
He comes out, with telltale signs of yesterday's fun on his face, smiling at me. But his smile fades as he sees our grim faces.
"We gotta talk." I say. "In private. Can we come in?"
"My master's there." He says.
"Then come out."
"Can't, really. But I can do this," and he tells the kid to go and buy himself some lunch, and allows us just withing the gates. "So, what's up?"
"There was kind of an accident during that fight with your Black Hand guys." I begin. "Anyway, one of them's dead."
"You're kidding." He says, in a much more hushed tone than yesterday.
"Wish I was." I answer quietly. "But I'm not."
"How could you?"
Hey, pal, less guilt piling, more thinking ahead next time, ok? I feel bad enough as it is, and it wasn't even my kill. But I ignore the question, and cut straight to the remedy.
"Anyway, we think it was a mistake, too. So we've brought money, and if you could give it to his higher-ups..."
"That won't help!" He interrupts, almost in fear.
"Why not? Their school forbids them or something?"
Samir's almost shaking now. "If any trained warriors of their school die - they become shadows! As in undead shadows!"
I almost feel the weight of a heavenly judgement seal on my forehead.
"The - the kind that spawn when they kill something?"
I look back at my companions. Hasam's utterly horrified. Cris, apparently, doesn't get it yet. Well, undead aren't his specialty. So I explain.
"We just earned a death penalty."
"And I thought that shot just cost me a couple grand." Cris spits out. "How?"
"Bringing spawning undead into the city." I say. "Whatever a shadow kills also becomes a shadow. And they have to kill. And you can't raise them. You'd need someone from the Emperor's ministers to be able to do that kind of magic."
Now Cris is appropriately horrified. However he steels himself, and says, "So I guess we kill it first, huh?"
I nod. "We have to, or this city'll be overrrun within a couple of days." I turn to Samir. "Any place where it might be hiding?"
"Those same sewers held their base. I'm guessing it's around there."
"We're going, then. Now."
"I'm coming." He says grimly. "It's kind of my fault, too."
"And your master? You're gonna leave him in the dark?"
"I'll tell him once we take care of the threat. It'll probably have me in for a world of hurt." He says evenly. "But we gotta do this."
"You're in. Get your stuff."