THE inn was crowded.

Gabriel stepped through the entranceway, his entire body tense and his eyes alert. He felt naked without his armor, but it would have drawn far too many eyes; the rapier at his side was bad enough, even though more than a handful of those in the vicinity were also armed. There were too many potential threats here – by his count, there were no less than fifteen men present who knew their way around a battlefield, three of whom were at least as good as Radskyrta had been before his untimely demise – and he wanted to avoid a fight, at least for the moment. That had been, after all, one of the reasons this place had been chosen.

The innkeeper’s eyes widened with panicked recognition as Gabriel strode slowly across the common room, though that was understandable. Not long ago, after all, the man had witnessed that near disaster with the fool in the street. Gabriel idly wondered what had come of the man, then decided he did not care. If he was wise, the man was still running.

He found Auqui exactly where he expected him to be. The boy – no. That wasn’t right. He was a man now and Gabriel needed to keep that in mind. Auqui was seated in one of the corner tables, his back to the wall. Such a location provided an excellent view of the door though drawing a sword from that position would be difficult. Not impossible, but certainly difficult. He too was armed, though like Gabriel, he wore no armor. There were no indications of his new allegiances, but then, he would not wish to advertise it here, would he?.

“I am surprised you came alone,” Auqui said by way of greeting. He had resorted to his native language, but that was no surprise either given the nature of their conversation. His eyes flickered across the crowds, then settled back on Gabriel. “The sai you bore is new.”

“As is your beard,” Gabriel replied flatly. “I did not come here to reminisce. Speak your piece.” He did not bother addressing Auqui’s presumption that he was alone and recognized the instant his former apprentice recognized this fact. Auqui’s eyes narrowed very slightly and darted once more.

He listened silently as his former apprentice told his story and how he grew to learn about Zabka’s deceit. The tale about the goblin child being Christ reborn made Gabriel frown, but he said nothing. Finally, the boy fell silent and they sat quietly for a long moment. Gabriel considered – nothing his former student had told him excused some of what had happened. Kira was still dead, after all, and he knew that he would never be able to forgive him for that.

“So,” Auqui said softly. “What happens now?”

“I walk away,” Gabriel said. “You do the same. Neither of us seeks the other out.” He offered a cold smile that did not touch his eyes. “Should our paths cross again,” he said simply, “it will end in bloodshed.”

“An adequate arrangement,” Auqui replied. “I cannot speak for the other Templars – some of them will always see you as an enemy. And, of course, the Order of Talos will come for you.”

“If they find me, I will greet them will steel.” He rose – Auqui did the same, his eyes as wary as Gabriel felt – and two men seated at the far end of the common room tensed. Gabriel would have smiled again, but instead, he tipped his head very slightly to his former student and turned away.

He was two streets away before he began to relax even a tiny bit. Retrieving Cometes from the inn where he’d secured him took no time at all – the stableboy looked dumbfounded at his reappearance, even though he’d told the lad that it was only for an hour or so – and he reconfirmed that everything was in place by touch. That was necessary thanks to the illusion wrought over the horse’s back that concealed the saddle and bags from sight; thankfully, Gestlin had not asked why it was needed, but then, the wizard had been too eager to rejoin the others in their celebration of Wallace’s rescue to really question much.

Before he had taken more than three steps from the stable, Merasiël fell into step alongside him. Like him, she wore a hood that mostly concealed her features – something of a necessity in this city it seemed – but the soft rain that fell from the sky was an exceptional excuse. Also like him, she appeared dressed for travel, but then, he could not think of a time when she was not. More than even him, the elven woman always seemed ready to drop everything and vanish.

“There were four outside the meeting place,” she said softly in her native tongue. “None followed.” Gabriel started to frown at that, then gave her a questioning look. “I did not harm any of them,” Merasiël stated, her tone bordering on defensive. “They watched you leave and then rejoined the boy.”

“Well,” Gabriel mused under his breath. “I suppose that is something.” His eyes flicked to her again. “Thank you for your assistance,” he said. She shrugged indifferently.

“You have the look of someone setting out on a trip,” she commented instead. “Do you not intend to accompany the others to Caithness?”

“If ever I set foot in that country again,” Gabriel replied flatly, “it will be too soon.” His tone drew her eyes and he shrugged almost exactly like she had moments earlier. “There is nothing for me there but bitter memories.”

“The others?”

“You heard them today,” he said. “Rainald cannot wait to get back to his wife and children. Mendel misses his monastery. Magnifico … truly, I do not know what he thinks. And Dane … Dane will do whatever Wallace tells him to.” In truth, Gabriel had already said his goodbyes to them, though most would not realize it until long after he left.

“Where will you go?” My, she was full of questions today. It was a pleasant change – usually, he was the one pestering her.

“South, I think.” Gabriel smirked. “Someplace free of Templars and missing lords and demons pretending to be archangels. Somewhere … peaceful, I think.” To his surprise and utter delight, Merasiël gave him one of her very rare smiles. Admittedly brief, but present nonetheless.

“But not too peaceful,” she said. Gabriel laughed out loud.

“You know me too well,” he remarked. They walked in silence for another moment. “There is a place for you, if you wish it,” Gabriel said abruptly. That drew her eyes. “Caithness does not interest you either, I think.”

“It does not,” Merasiël replied after a moment of consideration. “South, you say?”

“To the coast of Cardiel, at least.” Gabriel smirked again. “Then … who knows? Araterre perhaps? Or some far distant land that no one has seen in a thousand years. Perhaps the very edge of the world.” He shrugged. “A place that has never heard of a Templar would be ideal.”

“I will need a fast horse of my own,” Merasiël pointed out. A flicker of something that looked suspiciously like mischief appeared in her eyes. “Surely in a city filled with knights and Templars, we can find something appropriate, yes?” Her expression hardened slightly. “Or slavers.” Gabriel could hear the unstated hatred and wondered at it for a moment. He pushed his curiosity aside – there would be time later to make inquiries – and instead nodded.

“Ruining a slaver by stealing his prize stallion bothers me not in the least,” he remarked wryly.

“There is a … Lord Drogan in this city,” Merasiël said abruptly. “Or so I have heard.” She was a better than expected liar, but Gabriel could see her eagerness to pay this lord a visit. By the sharpness of her expression, he doubted the man would survive should their paths cross.

“Well then,” Gabriel said with another smile. “Let’s go pay him a visit.”

Three hours later, they departed Cardiel on horseback, leaving behind eleven dead men, including one lordling, thirty-six freed slaves, and a single burning house.

It was a good start.