By Carey Sauerbrun
Hunter's Moon is the property of the author, Carey Sauerbrun and is used with permission by Candlekeep. Email Carey with any comments and feedback on Hunter's Moon.
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The shadowy figure stalked smoothly over the rooftops. An observer capable of following its path through the darkness would have marked the elven grace of the shadow’s movements. Jerrick was aware of the impression he was likely to make on any that caught a glimpse of him. However, He trusted his skills above anything else, and he had faith that no one would see his approach.
His objective this night was the Haunted Spire, an inn popular with the more magically inclined merchants that arrived in Waterdeep. The Spire served as the local headquarters of such illustrious companies as the “Gold and Glory” merchant band and the Calimshan Traders’ Consortium. It sported four floors, with the second and fourth used exclusively for guestrooms. The third was reserved for conference rooms used by various businesses. The quality of the Spire’s taproom did not inspire glowing praise, but it was certainly adequate, with many varieties of drink and an impressive array of specialty dishes.
As Jerrick closed on the inn from above, he noted a light glimmering in the second floor window that marked his target. His brow furrowed. He had left the Spire’s main room not twenty minutes before, and Agravahm the merchant and party had still been downstairs, none of them looking like they would be retiring soon.
So why was there a glint of light coming from the merchant’s room? It was faint, more a reflection than anything else, but it caused Jerrick to hesitate. Could someone else be after his prize? Jerrick could certainly not discount the possibility. He had been contacted through the usual means, through an agent working out of the Dock Ward, but there was no reason his current employers would not have farmed out the job to more than one “retrieval expert”.
The bounty hunter leaped the gap between the adjacent building and the inn, hardly noticing the four-story drop to the cobbles below. He landed quietly on the inn’s eaves. Jerrick quickly scanned his surroundings one last time for any unwanted spectators as he moved to secure his silken rope to a handy projection. He noted the beauty of the sliver of moon that shimmered, barely visible, through the overcast sky above. He had always appreciated the various aspects of nature, a gift from his elven mother, he supposed. He refocused his attention on the task at hand as he prepared to slip over the side of the building.
Jerrick slid slowly down the wall, bracing himself to one side of the merchant’s window. The shutters hung ajar within the frame. A quick glimpse within showed him that it was not another bounty hunter in the room, but rather a local thief that Jerrick had occasionally had dealings with in the past.
“Christof, this isn’t where you want to be right now,” Jerrick whispered as he slipped silently through the window. When the local thief did not immediately react, Jerrick realized something more was wrong. He spent a few seconds scanning the spacious room.
The coppery smell of blood pervaded the suite. Jerrick noted that the room’s furnishings were of good quality, though standard for an inn with the Spire’s reputation. Christof was standing stiffly in the middle of the room, at the foot of the canopied bed. He seemed to be cradling something to his chest with his left hand. He faced the door, so when Jerrick entered the room he was facing Christof’s back. A light flickered from a small lantern resting on a desk to the left of the window, casting its dim illumination across the room. Nothing else seemed out of place.
Christof slowly shambled around to face Jerrick. The thief’s eyes were wide, and his mouth was twisted in a grimace of fear and rage. As Christof continued to turn, Jerrick was able to see what Christof held to his chest, or rather, what was left of his chest!
“Damn,” Jerrick swore as he drew his curved blade from the scabbard secured across his back. Whatever Christof had been looking for in this room, he hadn’t had the time to find it. Most of the thief’s chest had been ruptured, with the ribs over his heart splintered. The heart itself rested in his left hand. Blood soaked the front of his torn leathers, and he stood in a congealed pool of it. He still held the short sword he had been so proud of in the white-knuckled grip of his right hand.
Normally, Jerrick knew that he had nothing to fear from Christof in a blade to blade fight, for while Christof was, or rather, had been, a competent thief, Jerrick himself was both a good thief and a good fighter. His father had made sure that he had the training he needed, and the half-elf had sharpened his skills in more than a decade of bounty hunting. Now, however, there was no telling what the thing that had been Christof was capable of.
The dead thief swung his sword with even less skill than he had had during life, and Jerrick easily ducked away from the swinging blade. Jerrick lashed out, the razor-sharp katana chopping into the undead thief’s shoulder. The unusual zombie staggered from the blow, but recovered quickly, seeming to shrug off the normally lethal strike. He spit out a snarl from between twisted lips as he again slashed out with his blade. The half-elf parried, surprised at the strength of the blow. Jerrick hit Christof with several blows that should have the overcome his adversary, yet nothing seemed to slow the dead man. Christof did not even bother to attempt to parry Jerrick’s attacks, receiving several more ineffective wounds from Jerrick’s skilled attacks. Precious seconds passed as the desperate half-elven bounty hunter unsuccessfully attempted to overcome the former thief. Finally, with a glimmer of hope, he swept his blade across the dead thief’s ruined chest. The blow cut through Christof’s clamped fingers and neatly severed the still beating heart in half. With his heart ruined, whatever enchantment had held Christof was gone. The corpse fell to the floor with a look of relief in its glassy eyes.
A few seconds went by as Jerrick panted, blade ready, waiting for any other little surprises. There was obviously more to this merchant than he had been told. When nothing else stirred in the darkened room, Jerrick slowly sheathed his blade and focused again on his mission.
“I’ll let your friends know what became of you, my friend. Whoever did this to you will find himself plagued by thieves,” Jerrick assured the dead thief as he quickly searched the room. The odds were good that someone had noted the sounds coming from the room. The bounty hunter realized he had little time to accomplish his goal.
He found the object of his search in one of the personal trunks of Agravahm; a heart shaped silver locket that contained the miniature portrait of a young man. The magical locket supposedly bound the person pictured within to it’s owner, causing the former to become little more than a slave to the latter. It also allowed the owner to directly communicate with his victim. Jerrick had learned of the locket four days before. It seemed that the young man’s sister was an aspiring mage, and had discovered her brother’s lot while practicing an ESP spell. The girl had been very distraught. She hoped to acquire the locket so that her master could destroy it and free her brother. He dropped the odd necklace into a pouch and turned to leave.
Jerrick spun toward the door as it slammed open to reveal Agravahm and four of his henchmen. The merchant was portly, used to good food and wine, and his dark hair had begun to recede. He was garbed in a well-tailored green and gray robe that did not seem to encumber his movement at all. The fat merchant wore a look of amusement on his face. He rolled his eyes at the thought of disposing of two thieves within hours of each other. None of Agravahm’s thugs were less than six feet tall, though the signs of too much drink were evident. All of them seemed to be wary of their master, and looked eager to tangle with the bounty hunter. Jerrick was not too worried at the prospect. The fat merchant smiled at Jerrick with an evil grin. As Jerrick slipped back toward the window, the thugs shoved their way in, taking up positions on either side of the door, two to a side. They held back to let their master deal with the intruder.
“Thieves are not welcome in my rooms, not unless they are willing to work for me. That one,” the merchant gestured just to the right of where Jerrick now stood, at Christof’s torn remains, “refused my offer. Yet you see that he joined my operation anyway, for a brief time.” The fat merchant smirked at his no-so-witty remark.
“I don’t think I wish to work for you either. I already have a job, you see,” Jerrick inched toward the window and the rope that still dangled just outside.
The portly merchant chuckled. “I thought not. So you will serve as he did. Have you ever thought of what it would be like to live on after death?” The merchant queried as he reached into his robe and pulled out something too small for Jerrick to see. Agravahm’s men inched away from the merchant, and one seemed to turn green at the thought of what was coming. As the merchant began to mumble under his breath, his evil gaze locked on Jerrick’s chest and an anticipatory smile curling his lips, the half-elven bounty hunter acted.
His arm whipped forward, sending the throwing spike he held concealed there toward the spell-caster. He had no hopes of actually slaying the merchant, not with one spike, but he was not willing to tangle with an aroused mage in these surroundings. He wanted lots of room to run. The dart arrowed into Agravahm’s thigh, causing the fat merchant to shriek in surprise and pain, not only from the wound in his leg, but from the sudden pain that shot through his head from the disrupted spell.
As soon as the spike left his fingers, Jerrick whirled toward the window and broke into a dead sprint. “Kill him, you fools!” Agravahm screamed, clutching his head. One of the guards took a shortcut over the bed, and came within inches of snagging his ankle before crashing to the floor. Jerrick went through the window with a rolling dive, deftly snagging the hanging rope and leaving the pursuing thugs behind. He slid wildly down the line, then moved to slip away into the night. The bounty hunter did not bother to free the rope; he had no time. Jerrick grinned as he left the fat merchant cursing behind him.
Suddenly the merchant stopped cursing, and the half-elven bounty hunter shot a look over his shoulder toward the inn.
Agravahm was leaning out of the window. Flashing toward him from the fat merchant’s outstretched fingers were five glowing balls of light. Jerrick had seen magic missile spells before, and he knew there was nothing he could do to stop the tiny missiles. In the blink of an eye they had crossed the distance between the two men, slamming into Jerrick with bruising force. He gasped in pain as he was hurled into the wall of the smithy he had been passing.
Jerrick swam out of the darkness that had swallowed him. Groggily, he realized that only seconds had passed, for the mage’s henchmen had not yet reached him. Two of the burly men were trotting confidently toward the battered half-elf, while the other two glared at the few curious onlookers that peeked out from the surrounding buildings. These few quickly decided not to get involved.
The half-elf pulled himself to his feet and swung into the alley between the smithy and the adjacent shop. He knew the area from his scouting earlier that night, and knew too that the alley ended with the back wall of a third building. The alley was used as a dumping ground for the surrounding shops, and a drain, unfortunately too small for someone to slip through, led down into the sewers from its center. Given time, Jerrick was sure he could scale the back wall and escape.
But escaping was not what the bounty hunter had in mind. He reached into a small bag at his waist and scattered its contents on the ground at the entrance of the alley. He then moved toward the far end of the alley and drew his blade. The katana had been a gift from his mentor, old Ong Ji. He had carried it for years now, and it had never failed him. He held the blade in his left hand while he prepared another shuriken spike with the other. In seconds he was ready.
A moment later, the first ruffian edged around the corner at the mouth of the alley. He cautiously peered into the dim light, at first not able to make out the annoying thief as he crouched ready in the darkness. The man’s eyes caught the reflection of the half-elf’s gleaming blade in the feeble moonlight, and with a nod he focused on the interloper.
“Ramoch, hand me a torch, and be quick. I got the little 'un trapped in here, but it’s too dark to see.”
Jerrick faintly heard the other guard say, “Hold him there a second, Tigg, then we’ll both go in and get ‘im.” A flare of light back lit the first guard. “You saw what he did to that poor sod the boss zombied, didn’t ya?” With that, the second guard stepped into view, lighting the alley with the torch he held.
The one called Tigg leered at Jerrick as the light fell across his crouched form. “Got no window to jump through here, thief.” The two big men were identically armed with stout clubs, and the torch-wielder carried Christof’s discarded short sword in his belt. Jerrick readied himself as Tigg stepped forward.
The big man howled and stumbled back, dancing on one foot and clutching the other. As the first guard reacted to the handful of caltrops he had left at the entrance, Jerrick whipped the spike he held at Ramoch. The wiry half-elf darted forward with both hands on his blade.
The shuriken thudded into the second man’s arm, just above his elbow. The big man growled with the pain, and he reflexively dropped the club he held in that hand, but he retained his torch. He looked down to see his blood dripping from his cramped fingers, then glanced up in time to have Jerrick’s boot slam into his face. Ramoch pitched backward to land in the main thoroughfare, stunned. His torch dropped into a pile of refuse at the alley’s entrance.
Jerrick spun on Tigg, who had pulled the caltrop from his foot and stood tenderly balanced on both feet again. In a quick flurry of blows the half-elf penetrated the big man’s guard twice, and left him slumped against the smithy bleeding from a gash across his thigh, and clutching a puncture wound to his belly.
“Ya can’t run, elf,” Tigg gasped as he glared up at Jerrick in defiance. “The boss’ll get ya, and he’ll mount yer head on a wall.”
“And what will he do to you, if you fail to catch me?”
Tigg scoffed, “keep dreamin’ elf, you ain’t goin’ anywhere.”
“We’ll see,” Jerrick ran from the alley mouth, past the growing blaze the discarded torch had started. The other two bodyguards were pelting toward him, and the damnable mage was lost in another spell. Jerrick knew he had very little time. He crouched by the groggy Ramoch, who was just starting to come out of his fog.
The two thugs were almost upon him, but he eyed the mage instead, eyes wide at what the fat merchant was sending his way this time. A massive web raced up the street toward the men at the alley entrance. The silvery mass stretched from one side of the street to the other, and was so thick as to be opaque. The webs caught and held the two men coming toward him like they were little more than insects. Jerrick jerked the still-groggy Ramoch over him, but still felt the webs anchor his legs to the ground, as well as binding one arm to the thug on top of him.
Great, Jerrick winced as he tried to pull his arm free. Jerrick cursed when he realized that the web was settling over the fire at the corner of the alley as well. As quick as the thought itself, the web was ablaze. The flames tore back up the street toward the inn with a great ‘whoosh’, washing over the doomed men caught in the web’s strands.
Jerrick gritted his teeth as the flames caught his leggings on fire. He shoved the screaming Ramoch off and slapped out the flames that tried to engulf him. By the time he finished, all three of the other men in the street were beyond whatever help the smoking half-elf could give.
Rage glittered in the bounty hunter’s eyes. He took life when he had to, but rarely had he seen such wanton destruction as this. Three of the merchant’s own men had been caught in the fiery web, all of them now smoking corpses. As much as he wished to successfully complete his mission, he could not let a man that could do such a thing escape punishment.
The mage had left the window, confident that the thief he had found in his rooms was no longer a problem. He had seen the results of men caught in flaming webs before. Now what had the thief been after?
Jerrick reached a blistered hand into one of the pouches at his belt. He pulled out a small metal flask that contained one of the few magical items he thought a bounty hunter should have. If he had only used the potion before all hell broke loose . . .but no, he could not have known what awaited him in the room above, and he was not one to waste valuable assets on possibilities. Now, however, it was time to get his revenge.
The half-elf faded from view as he swallowed the Potion of Invisibility. He then made his way through the ash back to the Spire’s entrance. There he waited. Eventually the fat mage would come out looking for his missing locket
The Watch finally arrived a few minutes later, and Jerrick waited patiently while they began an inquiry. He listened as the fat merchant spun a tale about a conspiracy against him. Agravahm insisted that the watch let him search all of the bodies for his missing property. Jerrick shook his head and grinned at the merchant’s practiced lies. He had no doubt that things would be cleaned up soon and that only a few scorch marks would remain on the walls.
Tigg was eventually found, unconscious but still alive, and the watch carted him off to be healed and, Jerrick was sure, questioned. He noted that the merchant seemed not at all concerned with this development.
While Agravahm searched vainly for the intruder’s body, Jerrick slipped up to the mage’s room. The watchmen had removed Christof’s remains, and only a damp spot remained on the floor. Jerrick easily broke the locks on every last one of the mage’s chests and trunks, taking nothing, then searched the rest of the room for inspiration. After a few moments, he found what he wanted. A few minutes later he left, leaving another of his potions and willing to leave the fat mage’s fate in the hands of the gods. If his revenge did not come this day, then maybe the next. Already he was thinking on how best to deliver the locket.
* * * * *
The merchant Agravahm returned to his room as dawn was breaking. He fumed at the loss of the precious locket. Without it he could not complete his plan to gain control of the Miklos noble family’s mining interests. He was also frustrated that he had been unable to find the thief’s body, for he had been absolutely sure that the wiry half-elf had been caught in his web. As for the bodyguard that the watch had hauled away, he knew Tigg would not talk. He routinely bound his men with a minor ritual that ensured their loyalty.
The mage was alert the moment he entered his suite. The smell of scorched leather hung in the room. His eyes narrowed when he caught site of his ruined trunks. The thief had come back, right under his nose! He would hunt the annoying half-elf down and use his hide to resole his boots! The faint light in the room was not enough for the enraged mage to make out more than the vaguest details, so he moved to light the small lantern left behind by his first visitor that night. He noted in passing that the watch must have refilled the small oil reservoir while they had been removing the thief’s corpse.
Seconds after the fat mage touched a flame to the lantern’s wick, the Oil of Fiery Burning that Jerrick had replaced the lamp’s oil with ignited. The explosion rocked the inn. Agravahm was hurled across the room, torn and flaming, to crash through a wardrobe in the corner. As he lay amid the wreckage, slipping toward death, the powerful merchant’s last thoughts were focused on his need for revenge . . .
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