It was still only late afternoon of a sunny, muggy day when Ryel left Thaeron at the bar and headed out onto the street. She stood a few seconds in the sunlight thinking which way to go, and then the obvious occurred to her and she went in search of the House of the Iron Kindred.
Ryel’s mind was working a mile a minute, but it was oddly calm at the same time. She didn’t trust it, this calm in her thinking. She figured the capture of the third of the mysterious Pieces, the bronze thingy under glass at the court house, was well in hand, and still her elvish brain picked over the surfaces and nooks of the plan for flaws and snags. At least she could rely on Thaeron: he was so untrustworthy as to be predictable. She turned her mind to the other things she needed to accomplish tonight.
Ryel came around a corner, just as Arkmar had, and saw the House before her. The scene was no less messy now than it had been, though the spell had dissipated.
“Elbereth,” she said. “This place wasn’t robbed, it was attacked.”
She crossed the plaza and knelt by the fallen priest. She wasn’t ever sure about dwarf gender, but she guessed this was actually the rare female: its beard was short, thin and rather uniform. The wounds were nasty, varying from long jagged cuts to fat punctures to big bites taken out. They stank and the corpse was rotting rather more thoroughly than one might have expected.
Ryel looked up. In the open door of the House stood a dwarf, glowering at her as if she had done the deed. She did not have to read his mind to read his mind. She rolled her eyes one last time out of his sight, and then turned, putting all her attitude in a little box, and started over toward the house. She brushed her pants off and took it slow, walking as if weary or saddened. She didn’t have to fake that.
The dwarf priest standing scowling in the door did nothing beyond scowling in the door as she approached. Finally, she was within ten feet, and she stopped. Looking partway up but not daring to meet his eyes, she said, “I offer my sympathies, holy one.”
The priest frowned on. She raised her eyes to his.
“Holy one,” she said, “is that the proper way to address you? I wish to do whatever does not offend you, father.” He still frowned. She could just tell he was actually alive, and not a mannequin or a dwarffequin. “Believe it or not,” she went on, “I have a friend who is a dwarf and I think he came here. I wonder if he is still here, or what. May it please you—?”
It was unlikely anything much pleased the dwarf priest just now, and Ryel understood that. But after a few more seconds of disdain, he raised his eyebrows as if in surrender, stepped forward, put his hands in front of him palms together, and bowed slightly. “You are Ryel,” he said. “The Elf Archer.”
“Your friend is Arkmar the Bald.”
She suppressed a smirk. “Yes. He is. I take it he has been here.”
“He has been, and he has gone. But he told us you might come to seek him.”
“And what did he tell you to tell me?”
“He told us to tell you to mind your own business.” The dwarf priest did not blink or show any expression.
I will mind what I consider my business to be, she thought, but she said, “Your House was attacked from Beneath.” She was studying the dwarf’s face, almost entirely covered by beard or nose. He moved his head slightly in a way that seemed like agreement. “And I am going to go way out on a limb and say it was ghasts.”
“You know of these creatures. You have fought them?”
“Yes, actually, though never in their native habitat. They stole something from you, I am told.” Again the barely perceptible nod. “They got away back to their home territory with your loot.”
“That is not a term we like to use in this regard.”
“I take it back. My apologies: please allow me to rephrase my statement. The ghasts escaped to the Beneath with what they stole from you. Well, even I know that cannot be borne. So you arranged a party to pursue them, retrieve the treasures, exact revenge. They cannot be seen to profit or even to survive such an audacious assault on the House of the Iron Kindred.”
The priest bowed slightly. “What you say, Elf, shows that you understand at least the basics of Dwarvish thinking. I honor you.”
“Well, thank you. Am I right? Did Arkmar go with them?”
“But you fire wide of the mark, Ryel,” said the dwarf priest. “We were ten priests in this House, and three servants and three young ones. We fought them room to room. Many were the slain of their warriors, but they are terrible fighters and they bear no weapons for their teeth and claws are so fell. There were a hundred of them, if not a hundred and twenty. Of the sixteen of us that I counted, only I and four others survive. And we need four, at the very least, to conduct the necessary rites. And the fifth is a child. We could not pursue the attackers when they fled. And we could not hire mercenaries or call upon the City Guard; even if they were willing to take on this fight, the Kindred must right its own wrongs. Elves feel this as well, do they not?”
“It’s complicated,” Ryel said. “So Arkmar?”
“He went alone. He would not be gainsaid.”
Ryel turned away from the priest and said to herself, “Arkwad, you dope.”