Crime Pays

A Sudden Appearance, Part 1

Jin opened one eye. Then the other. Partuur and Mouse were muttering by the fire, Kaladry was snoring softly, Ka’Rak was tangled in his blanket, moaning about rabbits. And Maris was curled up in a ball near the fire. After a quick check of her secret pockets, the vials in their holsters, she sent out her mental tentacles into the dimness of the warehouse. She could sense Hozay Kwervo’s horsey dreams. But something was missing. The fey presence, the faerie artificer, the wanderer who was not lost, was gone. Not just missing, not just wandered off. She was gone. Vanished.

She pushed herself onto her elbows and cleared her throat. She didn’t like surprising people, It was much better if people didn’t get suspicious of her. She was the soother, the diplomat, the one who stood behind others and let them think that they were doing all the work. She was the accident waiting to happen to her enemies, and the stray bit of wonderful luck that happened to her allies.

Partuur noticed her right away. Well, he was the bright one in the group, especially with the pixie missing. “Where’s Illiana?”

Mouse physically heaved his massive body around to face her. “She’d disappeared. Partuur thinks we’ve been betrayed. Or ininfiltitilated. Or something.” He looked at Partuur who was smart enough not to roll his eyes.

Partuur slugged Mouse in the arm. “And how are we so sure that she isn’t involved in Illianna’s disappearance?”

Jin shurgged. “If I had wanted to kidnap her, then why would I still be here? And if my goals were skullduggery. . .I love that word. ‘Skullduggery.’ It’s a shame that we have so little opportunity to use in. Anyway, if I was up to no good, then I would have been busy slitting throats instead of sleeping.” Jin knelt to the ground. She spread her fingers and touched the floor of the warehouse. Her face twisted from the evil energies, the vile miasma that clung to the building. But there was something else.

“I’m sensing something here. A time and space rift. Very powerful. Fey magic.” She shook her head to clear it and stood. “I don’t know what it was. But I think that Illianna caused it in some way. Or maybe she was the focus of it.”

Partuur frowned. “Was she attacked? Is that what you’re saying? Attacked by the Fey?”

“No. It wasn’t an attack. It was a door opening and closing again. And she stepped through. I can’t tell you why.”

Partuur stroked his chin as he brooded. Mouse shrugged and sat by the fire, took out a whetstone, spit juicily on it and began to run it along the blade of his halberd. Partuur winced. “Maris appears just when we’re a person short because of Tempo’s kidnapping, Ka’rak and Kaladry appear out of nowhere after the ship gets stolen, this girl who thinks she can sense magic rides up lickety-split after Toshiro dies. . .”

Mouse began to chuckle. "He said “Lickety. . .”

Partuur frowned. “After Toshiro dies. Now Illianna vanishes. Maris wants to carry Toshiro’s body around with us. . .”

Jin interrupted. Don’t worry about that. She helped me tie the body onto the back of my horse. We wrapped him up snug in a blanket and, until he starts to smell, he won’t be any problem at all.

Mouse frowned and a low growl seemed to emanate from his chest.

“No offense, Mouse.”

Patruur sighed and put his hand on Mouse’s shoulder. “She didn’t mean anything by that, Mouse. But things have been happening that disturb me. Too many new faces. Who’s going to show up next?”

Mouse scratched his head. Not sure about that. I suppose it could be Hu Sen. He’s always showing up when we don’t expect him. But if we started expecting him to show up, would he stay away?" Mouse frowned.

Partuur shook his head. “We’ve had friends replaced with shape-changing succubi and fought with angels in disguise. Just who are we supposed to trust?”

Jin smiled. “Well, that’s a good question. We are criminals, after all.”

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