SIX days later, they were in Min.

For a city in Megalos, it was a miserable and rundown place, possessing only streets thick with mud and shit and despair. The smallfolk who lived here in squalid poverty went out of their way to avoid meeting anyone’s eyes, conveying in their body language just how utterly broken so many of them were. There were still the occasional signs of ostentatious wealth – nobles unwilling to risk contamination by the filth rode through the streets on magnificent destriers that likely cost more than any two tenements in the city or were carried aloft on litters borne by sullen-looking slaves criss-crossed with both old and new whip scars. Heavily armed warriors were everywhere, eyeing those they did not know – and the ones they did know as well, it seemed – with barely hidden suspicion. Here, it seemed the criminal element was in true power, no matter that Baron Martignac ostensibly ruled from his nearby fortress.

“Mos Eisley seaport,” Gestlin announced as they disembarked from their small ship hired to make the run from Alimar. “You will not find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” Gabriel glanced in his direction.

“You’ve been here before then?” he asked. “Good. I’ve only passed through once so having someone familiar with Min…”

“No, no, no,” Gestlin said quickly. “I was just … it’s something I heard once. I haven’t been here before.” On the wizard’s other side, Merasiël gave Gabriel a look that was partly confused, partly irritated, and entirely focused; he nodded in understanding to her unspoken suggestion.

“Let’s find an inn,” he said. Venturing out into Min with Gestlin was a doomed proposition from the start – the wizard was simply too clumsy to take on anything resembling a stealth operation and that didn’t take into account all of the simply strange things that occurred around him. Case in point, the school of mermaids they’d encountered on the way here; the chances of them happening along their path and then all of them inexplicably deciding they were in love with Gestlin was pretty low under normal circumstances. Thankfully, they’d decided to fight it out amongst themselves which had resulted in an opportunity to slip by them.

Finding an inn was not difficult but locating one that did not look to be on the verge of simply collapsing due to neglect was. Ultimately, they chose the best of the worst – it had an engraving of a rearing horse which led to Gestlin gleefully declaring that it was the Prancing Pony, no matter what the actual name happened to be – and rented two adjoining rooms; the locks on the doors were pathetic things that would not hold up to any attempt to breach them, so Gabriel and Merasiël stored their respective belongings in the room that Gestlin would be in. The wizard almost immediately recognized their intention to leave him behind.

“But I can still help!” he whined.

“Then help,” Gabriel replied. “You got us to this point. Now find out why you cannot scry his exact location.”

“But lock the door,” Merasiël added as she slipped out. Gabriel nodded.

“Lock it,” he agreed, “and bar it somehow. Use magic if you must.” He retreated before Gestlin could start casting and found Merasiël waiting for him at the bottom of the rickety stairs. She was eyeing the rough-looking louts in the common room cautiously; none seemed interested in her presence, not with their mugs before them. Their decision to avoid her gaze might also have something to do with her body language – she was visibly on edge and any damned fool who bothered her when she was like this deserved the knife in the eye that they would inevitably receive. For his part, Gabriel knew he was not much better; he kept shifting back and forth between Leopard in High Grass and Cat Crosses the Courtyard since both seemed appropriate. He wondered what his body language was saying…

“Did you see the soldiers in white earlier?” she asked softly in Elvish. “White and red. Like someone else I know.”

“I did.” Gabriel frowned. “Serrun has a presence here. Did I ever tell you about that?”

“Many times. I thought you were exaggerating.” He let her lead them from the inn and into the filthy streets outside. “Do you think they can help?” Gabriel gave her a cold, wolfish smile.

“Oh, they will absolutely help,” he said. “We just need to ask in the right way.”

FINDING the Serrun force was not difficult.

Word on the street gave them early warning: Marcus, Count of Shambray, had come to Min to treat with Martignac in an attempt to convince the latter to cease cooperating with the plague of pirates who infested this rotten city. There were rumors of an impending war as the other city-states faced desperate financial times due to the rampant lawlessness; traders and merchants simply refused to even venture to this region of Megalos because of the pirate scourge and it seemed that Shambray’s visit was a veiled threat: fix the problem or we will.

When they found him, Count Marcus was at the head of his ten-man squad and on his way out of Min. He had aged gracefully; now in his early thirties, he still had most of the color in his hair, albeit with a few streaks of silver that lent him a gravitas that Gabriel did not recall seeing in his youth. Unlike many nobles of his rank and age, he had not gained an appreciable amount of weight.

“We will need the scouts deployed for the entire journey,” he was saying as Gabriel glided forward. The similarity in their respective colors allowed him to easily blend in with the soldiers under Marcus’ command and the irritating drizzle of rain was an expert excuse to keep his hood up. “I did not like that bastard’s tone.”

“You expect an ambush, Lord?” the speaker was young but bore a striking resemblance to the old war-captain Gabriel recalled being at Marcus’ side when he was last in Serrun. When was that? Seven years ago? Eight?

“Expect, no. But neither would I be surprised if it happened.” Count Marcus scowled. “And with these damned pirates all around …” He trailed off abruptly as he finally took notice of Gabriel’s presence and frowned in his direction. It took barely a moment – he could see the exact moment that Marcus realized who he was based on how the blood drained from his face – and in that same moment, the young captain who had questioned his lord also realized they had too many men. He went for his sword, which caused his troops to follow suit. “Hold!” Marcus snapped harshly and the soldiers froze in place. “I did not think to see you again,” the count said slowly, hesitantly.

“We are not here to reminisce, Lord of Serrun,” Gabriel replied coldly. In the hours it had taken to track this man down, the cold simmer of his fury had intensified into a barely controlled inferno. He had thought it under control, locked away in the Void, but now, with them so close to resolving this and taking back their son, it was a constant struggle to rein in his temper. From the body language of the men before him, his voice absolutely betrayed his state of mind but Gabriel no longer cared. “You arrived in Min four days ago,” he continued. “The following morning, a ship with red sails docked. We would know where the crew of this ship resides.”

“We.” Count Marcus repeated the word and glanced around, as if to say something else, but the words died on his tongue as Merasiël stepped out of her place of concealment. She had engaged the magics woven into her cloak which Gestlin had augmented last year and as a result, appeared to just be a woman-shaped shadow that had seemingly detached itself from the darkness. The count’s reaction to her appearance drew the eyes of the soldiers.

“Dear God,” one of the men murmured. “It’s both of them!”

Gabriel smiled a shark’s smile.

“Red sails,” he repeated. “The crew.”

“That’s Captain Amalrith’s ship,” a soldier said. Gabriel looked at him. “One of the baron’s servants told me about him. She …” He coughed and glanced toward the count with an embarrassed expression but continued. “She said he was once highborn but was stripped of his rank. He bought back his family’s home with what he seized as a pirate.” Gabriel glanced toward Merasiël – she nodded very, very slightly and slowly backed into the darkness again; the magics of her cloak made it seem as if she was simply enveloped and vanished. With the eyes of the count and his men on him, Gabriel doubted any of them were even aware that she had withdrawn.

“Leave the city,” he ordered Count Marcus before turning away. Automatically, he fell into Cat Crosses the Courtyard as he glided across the filthy cobblestone. Behind him, he heard the murmurs of the warriors – they’d just noticed that Merasiël had vanished – and then Marcus’ sharp orders. But none of it mattered, not anymore. The dead man who had dared lay hands on the child neither he nor Merasiël were able to raise had a name.


Under his hood, Gabriel was smiling and he knew it was a terrible thing to behold.

THEY located their prey just as the sun was beginning to set.

Lord Amalrith’s villa was a high-walled compound on the outskirts of Min and it was crawling with armed guards. To most eyes, the place would appear impregnable and well-defended but within a handful of heartbeats, Gabriel could see that the villa’s security was little more than a cleverly disguised lie. Too much of the compound was in disrepair, with crumbling walls or unrepaired breaches. Most of the guards patrolling were either incompetent, drunk, or distracted, and the few who were paying attention were scattered all along the walls and could cover only portions. No, the real problem was magical in nature.

“It’s warded,” Gestlin murmured. He was crouched alongside Gabriel, staring intently at something only he could see. Bringing him along was necessary, given what they had learned in the hours since meeting with the count of Shambray, but still, Gabriel was uncomfortable with having him exposed like this. “They’re strong too. Whoever threw them up knew what they were doing.”

“Can you take them down?” Gabriel asked. He had stopped studying the walls and was now watching Merasiël as she stealthily crept closer to the compound. Unlike him, she actually could sense magic though it was a talent she rarely used, so she would at least be able to determine where the wards began.

“Yes.” Gestlin tapped the ground with that stick of his. “You have two options: Smil-Blam and I can take the wards down slowly and quietly or we can explode them all at once.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what will happen if I blow them up but I think … these feel like informational wards. If I’m right, they’re designed to just warn the villa of attackers, not to stop someone from kicking in the door.”

“So if you collapse them all at once …”

“Every alarm in the villa will go off at once.” The wizard made a face. “Taking them down slowly is probably the safer option but I don’t know how long that will take, even with Smil-Blam’s help. Like I said, the wizard who erected them was good.”

“Then take them down fast.” Gabriel reached under his armored corselet and tapped the elven amulet he wore; instantly, Merasiël froze in place and looked toward him. With quick hand gestures, he passed on the plan and she nodded once.

“Wait.” Gestlin was scratching something in the dirt. “I have an idea.” Giving him a quick sidelong look, Gabriel held up a closed fist, knowing that Merasiël would understand the instruction to delay. “I think … I think I can cheat these wards. If I wrap you and Merasiël up in inverted versions of what already exists, the villa’s wards will recognize you as part of the existing structure and not set off the alarm.” He frowned. “It would require me to stay here though. I’d have to concentrate to maintain it…”

“Do that.” Another hand gesture to Merasiël; she started retracing her path to join them. Once she was close enough, he filled her in. She nodded her approval.

“Another thing,” Gestlin said as he extracted two rocks from the dirt. He closed his eyes, murmured something in a language that sounded like so much gibberish, then pushed the rocks into their hands. Gabriel looked at the stone in slight confusion, especially when both of his companions flinched away from it. “Keep it covered!” Gestlin snapped. Merasiël had already pocketed her rock. “To a mage,” he said before nodding toward Merasiël, “or someone capable of magery, those rocks glow. If you need to signal me for some reason, I should be able to see that.”

“And if you do,” Merasiël stated calmly, “your first action is to destroy the villa’s wards. Make it loud and bright and confusing. Sow chaos.” Gestlin grinned brightly.

“Now that,” he declared, “I excel at.”

It took the wizard long moments to craft his inverted ward and during that time, Gabriel crouched alongside Merasiël quietly, his eyes ranging along the walls of the villa as he planned out his approach. As he was on her right, that meant the right side was his to handle while she took the left. Already, he’d identified his first targets and the best path inside … presuming Gestlin’s spell actually worked. He thrust that thought aside, buried it in a layer of ice and wrapped himself in the Void. Focus and control. That was all that mattered.

“The wisest course of action,” Merasiël murmured, “would be for us to find him, retrieve him and leave the rest behind. They would only slow us down.”

“Agreed.” Even floating in the emptiness of the Void, that decision felt … wrong to him.

“I do not intend to be wise this night,” Merasiël added after a moment. Gabriel smiled again.

“Nor I.” He considered saying more, something pithy or witty or perhaps he could actually verbalize the depth of his feelings for the woman next to him, but the thought was distant and fleeting. Action was always better than words.

“Go,” Gestlin whispered suddenly. Gabriel was up and moving almost before he realized.

He kept low as he darted toward the villa’s walls, hugging the shadows where he could find them and relying entirely on speed where he could not. The moon was swollen and full, but a trick of the sky had turned it blood red which suited Gabriel’s mood wonderfully. As an added bonus, the steady drumbeat of rain that had begun while they were in the city had not abated and no guard wanted to stand silently in this. And then, he was there.

Up the wall he scrambled, sacrificing stealth for speed, and he slid over the lip of the rock mere seconds after beginning his climb. Crouching on the battlements, he paused, halfway expecting an armcry to be raised or a storm of arrows to descend upon him. Nothing stirred. He could hear the muted grumbles of the nearest guards, their words lost to distance, and the sizzling hiss of something on a fire. Anger at the necessity for this and elation at his success warred within him, but Gabriel thrust them both aside and silently drew Compatior. This would be close work, where the rapier required space he did not have. He smiled darkly once more. Now the killing began.

He was an angry, vengeful ghost in the night, gliding from darkness to darkness and striking without a sound. From behind, of course. Always from behind. His free hand would curl around his victim’s mouth in the same instant he thrust Compatior through the man’s skull or neck or heart, whichever was most exposed in that instant. A few moments of brief struggle before his victim when still and limp, then it was off to the next man. Across the villa, cloaked in her own shadows, he knew Merasiël was doing the same with Angrist.

Without warning, chaos erupted. Later, Gabriel would never quite be able to identify what caused it – perhaps he misstepped, perhaps Merasiël had, perhaps Gestlin’s inverted ward was not as effective as thought – but in an instant, the entire villa was exploding with activity. Men in the courtyard below were seizing their weapons or shouting or running. With no time to even consider alternate options, Gabriel did the only thing that occurred to him.

He attacked.

From the crumbling battlements, he sprang down, landing briefly on the top of a large metal cage that he only then realized held a living person before twisting into a spinning somersault. Even before he landed in the midst of an armed group, he had drawn Misericordia. Kissing the Adder sent one man to the ground in a shower of blood and Gabriel flowed into Falling Coins on Stone. The men were just now beginning to turn toward him, startled and fearful expressions on their face as he struck. Black Pebbles on Snow became Parting the Silk. Another man joined the first and overhead, the night turned to day as a cataclysm of light indicated that Gestlin had shattered the wards in a fierce pyrotechnic display. Snow in High Wind flowed into Mongoose Takes a Viper. Despite his rage, despite the fury singing in his veins, Gabriel was still in control, still tightly focused. Kingfisher Circles the Pond caught a desperate thrust from one of his foes and left the fool wide open for Ribbon in the Air. There were more of them on the ground than upright now and they knew it. Even more terrifying for them was that Gabriel had only accounted for some of their fallen; Merasiël struck from shadow and silence, her knives blurring and bloody. Another of them fell, gasping out his last as crimson life gushed from his ruined throat. One of the men turned toward her at this, eyes widening at her sudden appearance, and Gabriel flowed toward him. River Undercuts the Bank sent him to his knees with a startled gasp and Merasiël buried both of her knives in his eyes. In mid-step, she twirled away, dropping to a knee as her blades carved lethal furrows upon another. He too fell, screaming as clutched at his belly in a desperate attempt to keep his entrails from slipping out.

And then … silence.

Without consciously realizing it, Gabriel had sidestepped so his back was to Merasiël’s and they scanned the courtyard, weapons at the ready. Men were strewn about haphazardly, some still alive and moaning but most already dead. The stench of blood and shit was thick but here in the Void, it was a distant thing, like something someone else had smelled. Gabriel’s face ached – he had been smiling his terrible shark’s smile the entire time, he realized – and he forced the expression away.

The door to the villa opened, revealing a man matching this Lord Amalrith’s description. He was screaming, raving, gesturing … a mage. The man was a mage. Gabriel was sprinting toward him before he was truly aware of it. An explosion of light screamed toward him but Gabriel twisted up and over it, spinning through the air and landing without even breaking stride. He could see Amalrith’s face contort in terror.

And then, Angrist flashed over Gabriel’s shoulder and took the man in the eye.

By then, Gabriel was already committed to his strike; Arc of the Moon flashed in the night and Amalrith toppled, his head rolling away from his body. With Angrist buried hilt deep, it did not go far. Gabriel hooked Misericordia’s blade under Angrist’s quillions and, with a casual flick of his wrist, wrenched the blade free and sent it spinning toward Merasiël. She caught it almost without looking. For long seconds, silence reigned.

And then, Gestlin blew up the villa wall.

NO one tried to stop them as they led the freed captives back to Min.

Behind them, they left Amalrith’s villa on fire, having stripped everything of value from it. The rescued children huddled together in the covered wagon – Gestlin was still complaining that they’d left his in Cardiel at Whiteoak, but seemed temporarily assuaged with some of the magical paraphernalia taken from Amalrith’s study – and the three adult women pulled from the cages were watching everyone with wide, nervous eyes. Even Merasiël, it seemed, though she was ignoring them as much as everyone else.

They found Amalrith’s red sailed ship unoccupied save for a trio of fools who thought Merasiël was there to entertain them; their bodies made satisfying splashes when dumped into the bay and that, more than anything else, made the statement that Gabriel hoped it would to the port’s onlookers. He waited to make sure that the children were securely aboard – the three women had vanished almost as soon as they entered Min, but that was their decision – and that Merasiël knew his mind before striding back down the ramp and re-entering the city.

He located the crew of the small craft that had brought them to Min days earlier in a miserable-smelling tavern. To his very great pleasure, none of them were drunk as they’d already run out of money. When he made his offer to them, they accepted without hesitation and set about recruiting others they considered trustworthy.

As dawn broke over Min, a ship with red sails set out to sea.

“We cannot take him back to Cardiel,” Merasiël told him some time later. They were both hanging back, watching the young boy who was a strange but somehow wondrous mixture of them both. Like all of the other children, he was still frightened – the ship was a reminder of how he got here and Gabriel expected the boy would never be able to forget his foster parents being cut down – but Gestlin was entertaining them all with a strange magical puppet show and the fear was temporarily abated. Gabriel had long ago stopped trying to follow the plot; it was nonsensical at best, involving a man who dressed up like a bat and a boy who was a bird fighting against a clown and woman who was also perhaps a werecat.

“No.” Their son looked once in their direction, then back to Gestlin’s tricks.

“And you will not return to Caithness.” There was no judgment in Merasiël’s voice at that – she understood better than most why he could not go back. “But I know of some in Harkwood who could be more … effective defenders of our son.”

“Will they accept him?” Gabriel asked softly. The boy was half-elven, after all, and he’d known enough elves to recognize they were just as capable of cruelty as men.

“Do we have a choice?” She placed a hand upon his arm. “The chances of this Amalrith simply stumbling upon our child seem … small.”

“Yes.” Gabriel tried not to frown. “I will look into that. Shake some trees, see if I can make any traitors slither out.” He did not have to say what it was that he would do to anyone he discovered linked to the abductions. Merasiël nodded and went back to watching their son.

THAT evening, Gestlin sent Merasiël and the boy to Caithness.

He did not understand the reasoning behind this decision but accepted it nonetheless. Not being familiar with Harkwood, he instead sent them to the monastery that was Mendel’s abode. It was late and Merasiël hoped the cover of darkness would allow her to avoid any of the more uncomfortable questions should she have the misfortune of encountering the old priest. Gabriel watched her gather the sleeping child up – he folded all of his thoughts and feelings and emotions into the Void – but said nothing. In the last instant, before Gestlin spoke the final Word of Power that translocated the two halfway across the world, Merasiël looked at him and smiled softly.

And then, she was gone.

“I do not understand you at all,” Gestlin told him later. “You didn’t even tell her goodbye!”

“Because it isn’t goodbye.” Gabriel stood on the prow of the ship and concentrated on maintaining his balance. “Merasiël knows how to reach me. I know how to reach her. So, it isn’t goodbye.” That caused Gestlin to give him a questioning look, but Gabriel ignored it. The elven medallion had been a gift from Merasiël and simply wasn’t the wizard’s business.

“But … what about your son?” At that, Gabriel’s expression tightened.

“I thank you for your assistance in this, Gestlin,” he said, “but this is a matter between myself and Merasiël.” If his tone did not adequately convey that the matter was closed, then the look he gave the wizard did. Besides, he did not know how to best explain himself; he had thoroughly failed Auqui simply by being in his life. He would not fail this child in the same way. Merasiël would find someone better suited to be the boy’s father, someone who was more than just an exceptional killer. And then, the child could grow up to be something truly exceptional, perhaps someone who never had to even pick up a sword.

It was a good dream.

Author’s Note: This is intended to be the very last bit of Gabery, though honestly, I said that about Chance Meetings too!