Naismith, in a muted disguise and without his shiny rapier, has claimed a stool in the Pick and Lantern, one of the more human-friendly taverns down here. It’s just past midnight and it’s a good night – busy, with a mixed crowd of regulars and newcomers. He’s finished his fourth drink and wonders if he wants another one when a young serving lad approaches him. He gestures to order another drink. Much to his surprise, however, the boy slides a piece of paper towards him. “Your reck’ning, sir”. Much faster than any human child has a right to, he is gone. The hair on the back of his neck prickles, but he forces himself to sit quietly. Behind his cup he carefully unfolds the slip of paper that he palmed. It is blank, but smells vaguely of lemon.
Of course he could go back to Catchbreeze to read the message, but the two-mile climb would take hours and the small candle on the table tempts him. Doing his best to look utterly careless, he holds the note a small distance from the flame. One minute and one blister later he glances surreptitiously at the text
You lying charlatan,
You are not the first to approach me about the craven thief I am ashamed to have once called my brother. While you were perhaps cleverer than most in claiming to be him, rather than to have caught him, you should know that Alasdair is dead.
Years ago I myself spilled his life blood on the streets of Waterdeep for all to see. His right hand, with the scar of the wound I gave him the night he betrayed us, was on display for months beside the Skullport gates, and his severed head is still held in the archives of the Xanathar Thieves’ Guild as a reminder for other bleeding hearts and guilty consciences.
Let it be known that I do not take kindly to anyone who rings the bell of memory that is his name within earshot or eyesight of myself or the omniscient power that employs me.
Naismith feels dizzy. He’s never claimed… He’s never even asked directly. And when Lulach – if it really is him – mentions an omniscient power, does he mean… And why the mention of the scar, if Lulach knew bloody well he’d gotten that scar on one of their first jobs together. None of this makes any sense.
Another young server, this one a deep gnome, approaches him, eyebrows raised in inquiry. He nods. She fills his cup. He picks up his drink and inhales deeply. The raw alcohol sears the inside of his nose. One slow sip, and then another. An idea begins to form inside his head. Staring back down at the note, he checks the corners. A small ink spatter draws his attention. He counts. Counts again. Mouthing the numbers quietly to himself, he tries their old boyhood code. He finds an I. Then a D. In less than a minute, he’s deciphered the message. ‘Idiot. Run.’ The same words he heard from Lulach on the night they’d parted ways. He can only hope the order is not as urgent as it was then.
He sips again, appearing relaxed while scanning the crowd. Nothing seems amiss for now. He pretends to search for his purse and roots around for coin. Just for show, he gives a few good yawns. It was a brilliant move, because – as if on cue – half a dozen drow in various corners of the taproom yawn as well. The hair on the back of his neck stands up. Six ordinary Skullport ruffians are just a bit of sport. Half a dozen of whatever these are… probably not so much.
He calmly stacks the coins, rises from his chair and adjusts his cloak. It takes a fair amount of willpower not to bolt, but he slowly weaves his way through the crowd. The first of his shadows only rises as he reaches the door. Knowing full well what will happen, he slips through and turns into the alley that runs alongside the building. It leads to a small yard, from which a number of quiet streets fan out. If luck is on his side, they may split the group.
Unlike all the other times he’s done this, he’s not taking any chances. He darts through the quiet street and into a busier one, slides underneath a fishmonger’s cart that pulled into the street and dashes into a washerwoman’s shed where he’s stashed a piwafwi. He slings it around his shoulders, then climbs up onto the roof of the laundress’ house.
This move has been anticipated. He’s barely pulled himself up before he sees a number of shadowy figures – at least four – approach his location. He moves faster, making a few daring leaps to higher, harder to reach areas. Soon, he’s moving as fast as he can, ducking behind chimneys and weaving though forests of drying laundry, but wherever he glances, someone is trailing him. He counts at least a dozen. Who could rally this kind of manpower? Slavers? Unlikely. The Zhentarim? Maybe. Thieves’ guild bounty hunters? More likely. Lulach himself? Even more likely, but then, why send a note? That seems so unlike his brother. Purely on instinct, he leads his pursuers north to the Threads – hoping he can shake them off in the warrens and use the tunnels to make it to the surface.
Just as he wonders which tunnel gives him the best chance of running into a huge crowd of people, he hears a familiar sound below. Without thinking, he jumps, landing with a single roll in front of an enormous boar. Behind Tusker, he sees Ilian’s startled face. He hisses “Trouble. We’ve got to go.” At that point, the first of Naismith’s pursuers lands beside the trio. Naismith’s dagger flashes, and the shadowy figure dodges, thereby stepping right into the scimitar that Ilian just drew. The shadow collapses. “There’s too many of them.” Naismith snaps. Ilian nods and stows her sword before making a few swift hand gestures and a hissing sound. “Lead the way.” In a very different tone of voice, she says “Tusker, leave that corpse. You don’t know where it’s been.” Then, they run.
Once their pursuers are far enough behind them, Naimith turns: “You shouldn’t have been down there. You have no idea.” Ilian fixes him with a stare. He pushes on. “It’s different for me. I… well…” She cuts him off. “You get to come here. Play mouse in some cat’s game. You can try to tell me I don’t get to be here. But with you down here, do you expect me to listen?” Naismith shakes his head. “It’s not like that. Not anymore. This was something else.” He pauses. “Glad you’re back, though.” Ilian smiles wryly. “I’m only passing through – came off a ship at evening tide. Finally learned that I’d have the best chance of finding you down there.” “I don’t go as often as I used to. Probably won’t go back for a long time after tonight.” Naismith grimaces in frustration. Ilian gives him a curious glance. “Care to tell me what’s changed?” He gestures dismissively. “I’d been looking for someone. He’s not wanting to be found. The news could really be worse.”
In companionable silence, they hike through the last, steep stretch of tunnel. The sky has lightened in the east by the time they make it outside through the abandoned, half-finished shafts of the Hoist. “Let’s go home.” Ilian says. “Show me how fat Petri’s gotten before I look in on Royce and Nong.” Naismith makes a face. “Better turn around then. Nong’s been gone for over a month – no one knows where – and Royce went to the docks tonight. I’ll go home though.” He yawns, this time for real. “I think I might actually get some sleep.”