Baiting the Snare – Oculum Aster

“ROT WYRM!” Wen Dar bellowed, silencing the hazy tavern.

He snapped up Vod’s wrist in a crushing grip. He drew the younger man closer. People turned from their drinks, to take in the spectacle.

“Thrash him!” A man slurred. A chorus of encouragement rang out from the patronage.

Wen Dar clenched once more. Vod’s hand opened and dropped the cheat he wasn’t deft enough to conceal. Dar released him. Vod fell back into his seat and two of Dar’s men moved close to cut off his escape.

Vod tended to his wrist and sat calmly as the burly Dar stood up and made his way round the table.

What we have here gentles,” he held up the incriminating evidence for all to see. “Is a partial piece, no doubt crafted by this whelp or some crooked peddler who figures it’s a fine endeavor to cheat a robber.”

The crowd hissed and booed.

“The drink is rich and so is the patronage. Why not pay a little visit to the tavern of the mighty raiders and take back a little something? Is that what you thought boy?” Dar continued.

“You’re no match for the least of us by the look of you. Are you the crafty sort? Figure you could sneak and sly your way through the night or are you foolish enough to step where you can’t walk?”

“I’ve already taken all the steps I need, gentle robber.” Vod said with a grin. He reached into his vest-

Two ruffians lunged to stop him, but a cloaked figure struck faster! Shielding Vod from harm with well-placed attacks that buffeted their assault and put them off balance.  The cloak flitted back and forth between the two leaving them dazed on the floor.

– And produced a folded parchment.

Dar grinned at the gesture and asked, “Where do these steps lead you and your capable ally?”

“Somewhere you would like to go.” Vod waved the parchment.

“I don’t hunt for lost treasures. I liberate them from hands ill-suited to guard them.” Dar snatched the parchment and unfolded it. He studied it for a moment and chuckled.

“Is your mind as blank as this page?”

“It isn’t blank. You just have to now how to look at it.” Vod snapped his fingers and held up a small spark. “Pass the flame and the words become plain.”

Dar watched carefully as lines blossomed on the parchment. They formed a series of words one after another. His face passed from curiosity to interest to disbelief. He clutched at his chest and fixed Vod with a burning gaze. “Tung!”

A squat man ambled toward Dar and came close to his side. He stooped to whisper to Tung who trotted off, the many keys he wore jangling as he went.

The cloaked figure shifted slowly at the jangle-jangle of Tung’s return. His grim face confirmed that Vod’s plan was working. She shifted again and tightened her grip on the hilt of her blade.

“Gone, my master.” Tung spat.

“Let any who wish, drink to the health of our honored guests!” Dar shouted to the crowd of rowdies. “Follow me, both of you.”

Heavy doors separated the small group from the cheery crowd, muffling the raucous celebration.

“Where is it?”

“Safe.”

“Where?”

“Close.”

“For the last time, boy, where is it?” Dar advanced on Vod.

“Here.” a voice purred from a dim corner of the room.

Dar spun at the unexpected voice. The woman stepped into the light holding a bundle close. As he stared at her his shock softened into a more tender look. He grunted and pointed for Tung to retrieve the booty.

“How?” he turned to Vod unable to conceal his amazement.

“Why is a much better question.”

A snarl twisted Dar’s face. He throttled Vod who kept his fight but didn’t struggle. He looked to his cloaked friend. Dar shot her a look and shifted his stance to counter an attack.

“Why indeed!” He spat. “Draw your blades or don’t, he’ll be dead soon enough anyway. If you want to remain his companion, I’ll send you after him into the grave.”

She didn’t filch.

“None of us will die this day.”

“Are you mad, girl?”

“You said yourself, if I attack you would only kill us both. I can’t best you now. I won’t dare try, so you won’t kill me.”

“What of your companion?” Vod was hardly standing, Dar adjusted his grip to keep him from falling.

“If he dies, so does his secret.”

“What secret?”

“The why.”

“Again with why.”

Vod writhed and twitched desperately. Dar slackened his grip and Vod dropped.

“He lives for now. Explain quickly.”

“Why show his face at all? Why join you at play? Why tell you of the stolen treasure? Why bring it back? Why put himself at risk?”

“He’s a fool.”

“Could a fool have bested you, O great raider captain?”

“Bring it to me.” Dar called to the woman holding his treasure.

She gave no reply.

“Wench!”

“Your servant may collect it.” She hissed.

“Tung!” He jangled to and fro. Dar whispered an order and he jangled away to a dim corner.

“Now wake up your clever lad, dearie. I want to ask “why” as you both suggested.” Dar flashed her a gleaming facsimile of a smile, then joined Tung in the corner.

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