Jaezd, located at the edge of the great desert, was the last refuge for caravans heading deep into the southern territories. It is a disreputable kind of a town shunned by civilized society.
Rantilous loved this place. He had travelled wide and far, but here he felt at home. The alleyways and rooftops held all kinds of adventures and excitement, drawing him back here again and again.
A place with simple rules, pay your taxes willingly on time, bribe few low ranking officials and have dirt on those you can’t bribe. But, when people didn’t follow these simple rules; the whole system crashes, then few people have to get hurt or go missing, and the whole system resets itself. This was one of those reset nights, and the location he was heading for was just around the corner.
The footsteps of the city guards got his attention, a quick dash and a small jump got him on to the rooftop of the nearest building. He knew he was safe from the guards; they rarely interfered, after
Rantilous hid a little longer away from sight, the stars were out in force tonight, which made it little easier to navigate the thieves highway. The sound of their voices trailing off into next alley was his queue to move.
The house he was looking for, wasn’t difficult to find, and belonged to a spice merchant whom until recently was of no consequence to status quo of the city, his newfound wealth however, was a different matter which required answers.
He moved, the houses crammed side by side made it easier, a house party thrown by the merchant, was just icing on the cake. His spotted couple of guards on the front gate, and the sound of celebration clearly coming from the garden at back of the house confirmed he was at the right location. He quickly scanned the building; his trained eyes picking up minor details even in the dark, none of the windows on the second floor would provide a safe entry point, the scaffolding on the roof, however looked promising.
Roof top entry, something he had not done since the days of the academy. Bemused by the thought, He pulled out a small folded grappling hook from a hidden cavity inside his right leather boot, and attached the end to a blacked rope wrapped around his waist. The hook fitted easily to the end of a peculiar crossbow, which he aimed at the rooftop and fired.
Salim-Bek, was delighted, you could even say, this was the happiest he had been for a long while. The grin which he found hard to suppress illustrated that point to everyone that gazed upon him.
He was rich, beyond his wildest fantasy. He had dreamed of such moment for so long, that without a moment of hesitation jumped at the presented opportunity and gambled all he had, just to ensure victory over his other fellow rivals, whom of course were all here tonight celebrating his new wealth.
“Salim-Bek, come and join the festivities,” one of the guests called after him.
“You are looking way too happy and smug,” another guests ridiculed him.
“Well I believe, sun would shine out of our asses as well, if such a gold mine had landed on our laps,” a rather drunk merchant replied back.
Salim-Bek, smiled at his guests,” come now my friends, let us raise our goblets and toast the lady, May her fortune smile upon us all.”
All the gathered guests raised their goblets and drank to Lady of fortune. He did more toasting than drinking; he needed clear head for tomorrow. It was rather late when the last of the drunken guests were removed to their carriages and ferried home. His wife had already excused herself, preferably to her own bed; he was too exhausted for her playfulness tonight.
All around him the servants were busy clearing up the mess left behind, he found a clean cushioned armchair and sat down to rest his exhausted legs. A flutter of movement caught his attention, His manservant bowed.
“Prepare my bath.” He commanded, and watched him leave with little interest. He laid back into his cushioned armchair. The night breeze was quite pleasant and he soon drifted to sleep.
Few minutes later, he was woken up by a gentlest of whispers, “Sire, your bath is ready.”
He breathed deeply the sweet scented smell that accompanied the whisper, and opened his eyes. He nodded and climbed out of the chair and headed groggily towards his bath. The bath attendant helped him out of his robes and he climbed the few short steps into the warm water and settled himself on the small ledge inside the bath.
His body relaxed within few minutes, and started dozing off again. The servant started to rub his shoulder with scented oil and then used a wooden Combe to take the excess of his body.
“You are new! I don’t recognise you.” He asked her, “What is your name girl?”
“I am called Alexandra master.” She replied back.
She was tall, slim and full bodied. He grabbed her and pulled her close to him. She didn’t struggle, he put his hand down her blouse and grabbed her tit, it was hard but small. He stood up, his man hood was erect, and he forcefully pushed her on to cold stone floor and ripped the tattered skirt of her back. She started to struggle, with his free hand, he ripped the loin cloth she was wearing and penetrated her.
She screamed and tried to break free from the tight grip he had on her, but that just encouraged him more.
Once he was satisfied, he sat back in water and watched her lay on the floor, her body discarded like broken child toy.
Her sobbing bothered him, “Get out,” He yelled at her. She shakily got to her feet and walked towards the door, trying hard to cover herself. He watched her leave; tomorrow he decided, he will sell her and get a younger girl.
The knock of death
Perched on the edge of the bed in the master bedroom overlooking the garden, Rantilous watched the slave girl leave the bath house. She was not steady on her feet, “I think we can add rape to list of your husbands’ tonight accomplishments.” He turned his head slightly to look at the half naked woman, tied up next to him on the bed.
Her muffled scream amused him and he gently patted her to calm her down. She was not bad looking for a human, not his type by any measure, but there was something exotic about her, that made it hard to dismiss her.
He had slipped into the master bedroom through the wind catcher, a permanent feature of every house in the city. Through the hot summer days; it was the only way to keep the rooms in the house cool. The walls are usually smooth to deter any one wondering in out of the house, but Rantilous was not the usual type of person.
She was rather engaged with a young man when he had dropped in unannounced. The young man like all other young hot heads did not heed his warning and now permanently occupied the small space under the bed.
Rantilous disregarded her squirming and turned his attention back to the bath house. The merchant now cocooned in a white robe; left the bath house shortly after, followed by his man servant.
He once again turned his attention back to figure next to him, her naked body shivering, “all will be over soon.” He reassured her as he stood up covering her body with a blanket. He moved quietly to the corner of the room, away from the door and disappeared into the shadows.
The dance of death
Salim-Bek felt exhausted, it had been a long day and by the looks of things, tomorrow would be no different. He decided to visit the temple first thing in the morning, not that he was particularly religious, but it felt right to make a small donation. Everything seemed to run smoother when you had the blessing of the high priest.
The room was dark; but a fresh breeze sailed into the room through the open windows. He could make out a silhouette of a figure on the bed. So she had found his bed tonight, he thought. All he desired was a peaceful night sleep. He removed his night robe and clambered into the bed next to his sleeping wife, her cold skin sending a shiver down his spine.
She muttered something incoherent; he turned his back to her and closed his eyes, the breeze felt refreshing, as it touched his damp skin.
She mumbled again, and rolled over towards him, he paid her no attention hoping she will just settle down and fall sleep, but her movement became more frantic.
“Woman, what in the name of gods has gotten into you?” Salim-Bek, sat up on the bed, clearly irritated.
“She is only trying to get your attention, Salim-Bek.” Rantilous whispered and moved out of the shadow, sword in hand. “You should pay more attention to your wife.”
Salim-Bek could not see the intruders face clearly, “I don’t know who you are, but you have broken into the wrong house, thief.”
That made Rantilous smile, “I have not been called a thief for many years merchant,” he moved closer, “I have found, killing fat useless merchants to be far more profitable, than pilfering trinkets.”
“Take a seat fat man;” Rantilous pointed to a chair close to the window, “Your unexpected good fortune has raised few questions which for your sake, I hope you have answers for.”
“I have paid my dues to the brotherhood,” Salim-Bek replied back defiantly, looking at the armed assailant.
“Sit Down,” Rantilous interrupted him,” or I will carve you like a pig, and get the black sisters to draw the answers I need from your dead flesh.”
Salim-Bek paled, invoking the Black Sisters was considered bad omen. He moved slowly towards the chair and sat down.
“Now, pay close attention and think hard before you answer,” Rantilous sat on the edge of the bed, “how can a spice seller; and a not a very good one at that, unexpectedly acquire a vast sums of money?
This all made sense now, the assassin must have been hired by one of bidders, he should have expected this might happen, “who from the auction hired you?” he replied back.
Rantilous raised an eyebrow, his curiosity peaked, “An unsanctioned auction, what changed hands in this auction?”
Salim-Bek hesitation wasn’t lost on Rantilous, “Tell me Salim-Bek; are you always this astute in all your business dealings?” Rantilous put the sword he was carrying on the bed and pulled out a knife with a long thin blade. He examined the edge of the blade and without any hesitation stabbed Salim-Bek through the left shoulder. Salim-Bek screamed, as the thin blade easily pierced his soft skin and slid effortlessly into his shoulder muscle.
“Scream all you want.” Rantilous sat back on the bed.
His shoulder was on fire, he could feel the coldness of blood seeping down on to his skin. “I don’t know much.” He took a breath to steady himself, “I swear to all gods, I do not know much.”
Rantilous shook his head disappointedly, “you might not know much, but you know something.”
Salim-Bek gasped for breath, “A letter arrived few days ago with instruction about the auction and list of items to bid against.” He took a deep breath, “I followed the instruction, dropped the items outside the town and collected my payment.”
“And the items on the list were?” Rantilous asked calmly.
“Gemstones, a deep red Merodian cut ruby…” his voice trailing off, he felt lightheaded. The pain on his shoulder was now just a dull pain. Outside, he could hear the chirping of the birds, and flickers of sunlight penetrating the skyline. It would be another hot day, he thought.
“Why are you doing this,” His head heavy on his shoulder.
Rantilous slapped him hard across his face, “Stay with me now.”
He could hear the early morning birds, their voices raised to the sky, sending their prayers to heavens above. He blinked, and tried to clear his vision by shaking his head, a futile and meaningless gesture. He groggily looked around the room. He waved his hand in front of him, another pointless attempt to lift the fog that was descending over him, obscuring his vision; he strained to focus his failing sight.
“So this is what it feels like to die,” he murmured, words not forming correctly on his lips.
“We all die one day,” Rantilous replied back, “but your time has not come.”
Rantilous moved to the chair where Salim-Bek had sat down, removed a small glass container from folds of his cloak and removed the stopper, with his free hand he grabbed the blade lodged in Salim-Bek shoulder.
“This will sting a bit,” He removed the dagger in one swift move and poured the liquid from the glass container onto the wound, “but beats dying,” he concluded.
The pain raced through his shoulder, like a raging bull trampling anything that crossed his path. Salim-Bel let out a scream, his eyes wide open. His wife, still lying on the bed, was shaking uncontrollably. Rantilous moved back towards the bed, ignoring her.
“The Ruby, describe it.” He didn’t even bother looking at him; he knew he had his full attention.
The pain on his shoulder was subsiding, “I look forward to the day, when someone will pay you the same overnight visit.”
Rantilous nodded, “that night came long time ago merchant,” his hand unconsciously moved to a ruby medallion around his neck, “Me and death have an understanding.”
Salim-Bek gave Rantilous an inquisitive look, “Why ask questions about a Ruby, you already possess?”
Rantilous fixed his eyes on Salim-Bek, “what did you say?”
“You already possess, what you seek to know,” Salim-Bek answered offhandedly.
Only thing Salim-Bek saw was a metallic flash as a dagger appeared in Rantilous’s hand. A heartbeat later, it was pressed hard against his throat. He stopped breathing and closed his eyes.
“Look again.” Rantilous said, his voice carrying an icy edge of irritation.
Salim-Bek looked at Rantilous. The jewel around Rantilous’s neck was the same jewel, hidden away three days ago. All he mustered was a nod. The knife pressed hard against his throat, and he closed his eyes once again, waiting for the final strike.
The screech of his wife, free of her restraint made him jump.
Across the Rooftops, Rantilous ran.