Made you squirm—didn’t I—waiting all that time to find out what would happen next. Lucky for you I’m in a talking mood. I left off just as we were preparing to infiltrate that horrid butcher shop. Shakro was laid out on a display table and Sav injured, but that did not stop the ambitious elf from wanting to push forward. We still had Vancaskerkin to track down, after all. I, however, had doubts. Not of Sav’s resolve or ability to split men in two, but in his wherewithal to take on the remaining ex-guardsmen alone. We needed the priest back on his feet, and we needed it quickly.
I knew the orc could call on Sarenrae’s blessing to heal his mortal wounds if only we could rouse him to consciousness. Much to my chagrin, I had used up the last of my sal amoniac, smelling salts, on a patient just days prior and had yet to replace them. Without the pungent salts I found myself pondering less savory means of awakening him. For a moment I even considered running out to the magic shop and paying an exorbitant fee for a wand of curing, but in recoiling from such detestable measures my mind was driven to a moment of brilliance. It was not the salts themselves I needed to wake Shakro, only the ammonia whose acrid emanations triggered consciousness in the catatonic. Ammonia occurs naturally in urine, though obviously not in such quantities as necessary for our purpose even if both Sav and myself took a piss right up Shakro’s nose. But we were in a butcher’s shop. And butchers do sell kidneys. And kidneys are the organs that excrete the ammonia into the urine in the first place.
Some quick alchemy yielded a tiny but potent dose of ammonia extracted from a kidney mash (not as appealing, I assure you, as the name might suggest). It proved just enough to bring Shakro back to the mortal plane. Sarenrae was a generous as ever with her faithful servant, and soon the priest was back in fighting form. I must confess, I felt a twinge of jealousy as I watched his wounds stitch themselves effortlessly together. The ease with which he heals even the most grievous injuries would be enviable to most, of course. But there was something more. At his command, the damaged tissue seemed to gain a will of its own, and it immediately used this newfound agency to set itself aright. There is something beautiful in that. I knew from my studies that all the divine magic does is hasten the same processes that occur at a much slower rate in natural healing, but still, the ability to conduct the forces of life so elegantly was a gift I would never able to harness.
I’m boring you. I can see it in your eyes. I promised you action and only wax poetic. Very well. Even with Shakro on our side, I feared what we may face going through that door into the rest of the shop. We knew not how many men were left, how they were equipped, or where they were. Sav lacked the tact or delicacy to scout out the building without starting a fight, and Shakro was Shakro, so I determined to take on the task myself. This of course required that I let the other two in on one of my little tricks. I had already been in and out of my stilts during the previous battle, so I figured it was only a matter of time until the jig was up anyway. I downed an extract, disguising myself as one of the mooks we had just rendered senseless, and stalked into the back rooms.
Two more former guards were busy hacking up hunks of meat on the butchering floor. Both seemed somewhat unhinged. I played my part as best I could, learning that Vancaskerkin was in his office on the second floor and narrowly escaping rousing suspicion from the less drug-addled of the pair. I left the room, taking great care not to reflect on the fact that some of the cuts they were butchering I recognized all too well from my time at the operating table.
Sure enough, our quarry was busy in his private quarters when I found him. Preying on his fear of betrayal, I goaded him down the stairwell, where Sav and Shakro were waiting to apprehend him. When it quickly became clear he would not go quietly, I thought it might be wise to strike first for once and readied my scarf. Still believing me to be his ally, I had a clear shot at his back and by Desna I took it.
In the storefront I had made a fool of myself against the first two guards, trying vainly to throw force into each swing as one might with a flail. This time I let momentum do the work, instead focusing on steering the centripetal force of the blades. I aimed to slice at his foot, hopefully causing him to fall down the narrow stairwell. Instead I overshot, but the momentum of the weighted blades wrapped the fabric around his leg. Before I could even think about pulling on it, he tried to step forward and tripped himself. Vancaskerkin landed in a heap on the floor, never even aware of what had happened to him before the other two beat him senseless.
The commotion brought the two butchers out from the back. They fought with a brutal, callous ferocity born of wielding red cleavers all day long, taking down Shakro once again and landing dangerous blows on Sav. I tell you, seeing those only so recently acquired acquaintances of mine bloodied and beaten, about to be kicked through death’s door by a pair of thugs,it sent a positive rush of heroism surging through my veins. I mean it. I am not often inspired to acts of bravado, but I had to do something.
Leaping onto the stairway’s banister, I slid down and leapt into position to face down the larger of the two brutes. He didn’t give me recognition at first, but he sure noticed when I executed my new trick again. Or tried to execute. Turns out it’s harder to trip someone who’s watching you try to trip him. He caught my scarf on his blade and flicked, yanking my new favorite weapon from my grasp before turning back to the elf. Well that would not do. I can still remember the senseless fury in his eyes. I had to at keep those eyes on me, at least until Sav was less distracted. So I got his attention the only way I could think of; I slipped in right between his legs. A bit of an unnerving place for me to be, but far more terrifying for him. Yes, yes, yes. Believe you me, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as seeing that moment of panic when a big strong man realizes that the puny little foe has a mouthful of very sharp incisors poised uncomfortably close to his happy bits.
Fortunately for both of us, Sav did in the guards before I even had to draw blood. Two wanted men dead, three incapacitated. An honest day’s work by my reckoning. We quickly found paperwork indicting Vancaskerkin for taking advantage of the growing chaos in the city to prepare for a run on the meat market. The man was stubbornly resistant to questioning, however, and would not admit to any knowledge of either shady business dealings or questionable meat sources. Made no matter in the end, I suppose. We carted him and the others off to Cressida for justice.
Cressida payed us for our labor and thanked us for bringing evidence of the former guardmen’s misdeeds. The Lamm investigation came up, and when the guard captain expressed frustration at being unable to track down Gaedren’s vicious pet, I recalled the crocodile tooth I had removed from one of Sav’s wounds. I had planned to use it to give a physical demonstration of the bite patterns the beast left in its prey, relying on first-hand testimonies from the guards who had handled the previous bodies to corroborate that the victims had been murdered in such a fashion, though Cressida suggested using it as a focus for a scrying spell. Though I believe my practical approach would have yielded perfectly admissible evidence, I had to confess that her method had a certain simplicity and handed over the tooth. She also requested that I appear in person to testify against Lamm and defend Skelt’s innocence, which I of course agreed to without hesitation.
After that the three of us found ourselves free to wander the city, such as it was. One day of riots had not been enough to quell the murmers of rebellion as Sav had insisted, and it seemed that more clashes would be inevitable. For the time being, however, we took the relatively calm evening to lick our wounds and sate our grumbling bellies at the Three Rings Tavern. You should pay the place a visit sometime. Theandra Darklight serves up an excellent cheese platter.
With a luxurious private room for the evening and good food and drink in my belly, a rare sense of security washed over me. Security breeds restlessness, and the room was warm besides. Every bit of the disguise I had been wearing for the past two days was suddenly unbearable. I had a horrible itch between my eyes where the makeup was caked on thick. The bandana wrapped over my ears was cutting off circulation. The robe was stifling and clammy. Sav and Shakro seemed amenable enough. What was there to lose? In a fit of impetuous frustration I ripped my carefully constructed persona of Terrenze apart and revealed, underneath, me.
Sav and Shakro didn’t even do me the polite courtesy of letting out a shocked gasp. They simply listened patiently as I explained my story, occasionally asking a question or two, and moved on with the conversation as if a bipedal, talking rat was an everyday occurrence for them. Not a dramatic bone in their bodies, I swear. I do confess that it gave me immeasurable relief that the revelation changed nothing between us, so it seemed. I would have choked on the words then, but I am not afraid to admit now that I had grown rather fond of the pair, and had dreaded what they might think of Miikas of Skiviks den . I may go so far as to say that on that night I finally realized that in Sav and Shakro I had found not only acquaintances or allies, but true friends.
Never tell them I said that.