Paragon Of Destruction Chapter 358 - Revelations
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As Kaleesh led them through the city in search of a tavern, Arran could immediately tell that the captain was intimately familiar with its many narrow streets and alleys.
Although Kaleesh had to stop a few times along the way to recall the right path, creasing his brow in thought as he perused distant memories, it was obvious that he'd spent many years living in the city.
At first, Arran felt some worry that they might run into more of Kadun's troops. Although the Lord was dead, many of his men still remained in the city. And not all of those might yet know that their leader had fallen.
Arran was confident that he could match any enemies they encountered — a.s.suming no more Knights appeared — but he wasn't nearly as certain that Rannoc would overlook another few dozen dead Darians.
Now that the battle was decided, any soldiers who remained in the city either already were or would soon be under Rannoc's command. If any of them were killed, it would give the Lord far too convenient an excuse to demand compensation — perhaps in the form of forced recruitment.
Rannoc had done nothing to earn Arran's distrust, but after their experience with Kadun, he had no desire to discover whether this new Lord's honor was feigned or genuine.
But either way, Kaleesh soon put Arran's worries to rest.
"We won't run into any soldiers in this part of the city," the captain said. "And even if we did, the battle ended the moment Rannoc stepped into the city. None of the soldiers would dare start a fight before they're certain what the new situation is."
Arran frowned. "Soldiers don't go here?"
He'd noticed that they'd entered an area that looked decidedly shabby, with weather-worn buildings that possessed more character than they did s.p.a.ce or luxury.
Yet run-down though the area might be, it hardly seemed dangerous — and certainly not so much as to deter armed soldiers.
"This is the outsiders' quarter," Kaleesh explained. "The guards and soldiers don't think this place worthy of their attention — not unless someone here commits a crime against a true Darian."
"You're familiar with the area, then?" Arran asked, already knowing the answer.
"I am," the captain said. "And although it doesn't look like much, it provides many opportunities to escape the Darians' notice."
Kaleesh spent another quarter-hour leading Arran through increasingly narrow alleys into a part of the city that appeared to be little more than a slum.
Yet while Arran looked at the dilapidated and ramshackle buildings with an uneasy eye, the captain seemed to feel right at home.
There was a spring in his step as they navigated the unevenly paved streets, and he looked at the buildings around them with an expression that almost seemed nostalgic.
"You seem unusually cheerful," Arran said, his eyebrow raised as he cast a curious glance at the captain.
"I am," Kaleesh replied, a grin on his face. "When I lived here, I promised myself that I would one day escape and become every bit as powerful as the Darian soldiers."
"Then I'd say you've surpa.s.sed your goals," Arran said.
"Exactly." A small smile crossed Kaleesh's face, and he added, "Though I must admit my goals have grown more ambitious since then. But even so, seeing this place again… it's a good reminder of how far I've come."
They followed the maze of narrow alleys for several more minutes, then finally came to a halt before a small tavern.
Or rather, something that vaguely resembled a tavern. Because as they stepped inside, Arran saw that it was little more than a single small room, with bare stone walls, several pieces of rickety wooden furniture, and a small bar with a heavyset man behind it.
There was only a single customer in the tavern — a ragged-looking man who was hunched over one of the few small tables in the room, his appearance that of someone who'd had more than a few drinks too many that night.
As Arran and Kaleesh stepped inside, the tavernkeeper looked at them with a nonplussed expression.
"My lords," he said in a hesitant voice, staring uncomfortably at the weapons that Arran and Kaleesh carried, "to what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your company?"
Clearly, he considered the surprise anything but a pleasure. Though his tone was respectful, the look in his eyes all but told them they were not welcome.
"We require the back room," Kaleesh said, ignoring the man's suspicious stare.
"The back room? My lord, I fear you are mistaken. My establishment has no such—"
He was interrupted by the sound of Kaleesh slapping down two black coins on the bar — a sight that caused the man's eyes to go wide with shock at once.
"Save us the act," Kaleesh said. "We're outsiders, just like you."
The fat man narrowed his eyes as he looked at the two black coins, and with only a shred of hesitation, he scooped them up in his hand, taking several seconds to study them.
"They're real," Kaleesh said. "Now show us to the back room, or I'll take them back."
The man glanced around the room, then gave Kaleesh a suspicious frown. "What did you do?"
Kaleesh let out a restrained sigh. "We do not bring trouble," he said. "We merely require a place to speak, away from prying eyes."
The fat man seemed unconvinced, but nevertheless, he pocketed the two coins and gave the captain a short nod. "Give me a moment."
With a glance at his drunken customer, he said, "Arvik, watch the door!"
At once, the other man stood up and took a position at the door — apparently, his drunkenness had merely been an act.
Without any further words, the tavernkeeper faced the large wooden cabinet that stood behind him. Then, he grabbed it, and with a heavy groan of exertion, he pulled it to the side — revealing the narrow hallway behind it.
"Hurry up, then," he said, some anxiousness in his voice as his eyes were fixed on his comrade by the entrance.
Kaleesh shot Arran a broad smile. "After you."
Arran frowned, but he stepped into the cramped hallway a moment later — from the tavernkeeper's nervous expression, it was obvious that he wished to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Kaleesh followed barely two paces behind Arran, and as the captain stepped into the small hallway as well, the tavernkeeper immediately began to move the cabinet back into place.
"When you leave, go through the back," the fat man said, his final words m.u.f.fled as he closed off the path behind them.
The hallway was short — barely five paces, if that. And at the end of it, Arran found a ma.s.sive wooden door, which he opened with some curiosity.
He wasn't surprised to find another room behind the door, but what did surprise him were its furnis.h.i.+ngs.
While the tavern had been simple and unadorned, with rickety wooden furniture and bare stone walls, this room was luxurious, almost to the point of opulence.
It held three large velvet-clad chairs and a well-made hardwood table upon which stood several bottles of what looked to be fine wine, and the walls were covered with intricate tapestries.
Arran looked at Kaleesh in puzzlement as he sat down in one of the chairs. "What is this place?"
The captain grinned broadly as he took a seat as well. "Not all outsiders are content being the Darians' subjects," he said. "Some work hard to climb the ranks as warriors, while others gather wealth through trade and commerce. And then, there are those who favor a quicker path — a path something requires that they occasionally vanish into thin air, out of sight of any meddlesome guards."
"You were a thief?" Arran asked, realizing that he was not the least bit surprised at the idea.
"Among other things," Kaleesh replied. "I was short on options, and I had no intention of spending my life as a servant. So I chose a more direct path to freedom."
Arran nodded. Yet although he wouldn't mind hearing more about Kaleesh's past, he realized there were more important things to discuss.
"Why did you reject Rannoc's offer?" he asked. There was no sense in avoiding the question which would decide whether or not he remained at Kaleesh's side.
"Because I still do not desire to spend decades in servitude," the captain said. "And that is the only way we'll get what we seek from Rannoc — by becoming his servants and spending years to gain his favor."
"How do you know what I seek?" Arran asked.
Kaleesh laughed. "You're a talented fighter, and, like me, you have gained at least one major insight. Someone like you doesn't join the Darians for protection. What you want is to learn their secrets, and take them for yourself."
"Perhaps," Arran said, though he could not help but feel uncomfortable at how much the captain knew about him.
"But let me ask you a question," Kaleesh said, narrowing his eyes as he looked at Arran. "That weapon of yours… is it what I think it is?"
Arran hesitated, but then, he nodded. He had no other way to explain how he had cut through the Knight's starmetal weapon, and he knew that the captain would not be fooled by whatever lies he could invent.
"From the fact that we're still breathing," Kaleesh said, "I gather that you've found a way to hide its nature even from Lords."
Once more, Arran nodded. This, too, was something he could not conceal — not without telling lies that would be seen through in an instant.
"Good," the captain said, his expression thoughtful. "As long as you can keep it hidden, it should benefit us in the Desolation. And I hardly think it's a bigger risk than your other secret."
"My other secret?" Arran shot Kaleesh an uncomfortable look. He knew the man already suspected him of being a mage, but there was a certainly in the captain's words that filled him with worry.
"You are the heir to the Ninth Valley, are you not?"
At once, Arran went pale with shock. "How do you…" he began, then quickly stopped himself from revealing any more.
"Unlike our hosts, I am not a fool," Kaleesh said. "And I've long paid attention to both sides of the borderlands. I know that some years back, an unusually talented young man appeared in the Ninth Valley, establis.h.i.+ng himself as the Valley's heir in just a few short years."
Kaleesh gave Arran a small smile, then continued, "From what I heard, he was quite the swordsman — until he suddenly disappeared, supposedly going into secluded training right as tensions between the Valley and the Imperium began to rise once more."
He narrowed his eyes as he looked at Arran. "But then, suddenly, you appeared — perhaps a bit older than I expected you to be, but a perfect fit in every other way."
Arran had no response. He knew that Kaleesh was quick-witted, but he could not have expected his entire disguise to have been seen through so easily. And if Kaleesh knew he was the Ninth Valley's heir…
A s.h.i.+ver ran down his spine as he recognized the danger he was in.
Yet Kaleesh shook his head. "There's no need to worry. The Darians won't figure it out. And as for me…" He shrugged. "I'm a liar, a thief, and a murderer. But no one has ever accused me of disloyalty. As long as you don't betray me, I will keep your secrets."
His words did little to comfort Arran, but other than trying to kill the man, he had no other option than to hope the liar was true to his word. As for killing Kaleesh — even if he wanted to, he was not at all certain that he had the strength to do so.
"So what's your plan?" he asked instead.
"Exactly the same as before," the captain replied. "To win honor in the Desolation, fighting the Blight. And then, to use my status to take the Darians' methods for myself." He gave Arran a pensive look, then added, "It's a dangerous path, and I could do with an ally at my side."
Arran remained silent for some moments before finally giving the captain a nod. "Then we will be allies."
Kaleesh responded with a broad grin. "Good. Because in the Desolation, we will face considerable danger."
"What kind of danger?" Arran asked, curious to hear what other threats would be added to the many he already faced.
"That," Kaleesh began, "is a long story. But then, I suppose we have some time to talk."
Paragon Of Destruction Chapter 358 - Revelations
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Paragon Of Destruction Chapter 358 - Revelations summary
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