Chapter 10: A Deeper Conspiracy

It was two days after Victra joined the mercenaries of Guild #237 that their next contract came in. Cassian brought it to the group himself, coming from an old military friend of his who ran security in Aleria, working with different groups and guilds that were composed of former soldiers after the War for Vengeance. Cassian was determined to establish a favorable reputation for Guild #237, with investigations and mercenary work still the focus of their work, but looking to find more reputable clients and consistent contracts. Heath remembered what Margery had said about the guild, it’s less-than-favorable status within the city, and that competition for mercenary work in Aleria was aggressive. 

Cassian had assembled a group for the contract and sent them out by the time Heath arrived at the Guildhall. He had taken to spending more time around the Black Crow and the Docks, watching the ships that traveled the wide river that split Aleria and listening to the din of sailors and dock workers. After Cassian told him about the relatively straightforward contract, Heath found his interest piqued. Kriv was leading Svrcina and Victra to conduct security in the warehouses by the Docks, a potentially promising introductory contract that could lead to more consistent work and partnership with some of the trade guilds in the city. 

When asked, Cassian shrugged and said that having an extra set of eyes on the warehouse wouldn’t be a bad thing, especially since he had given the others the direction to remain largely unnoticed unless absolutely needed. Discretion was important, both to the client and to Cassian. The shipment arrived that afternoon and would be transported in the morning, but they had reason to believe there would be an attempt to steal it while it sat in a warehouse overnight. In order to protect it and to give the best chance to uncover who was behind the thievery and why, the best security would be the one that remained unseen until the last moment. 

Heath made his way to the large collection of warehouses that made up the eastern-most section of the Docks, situated close to where the trade ships put in at port. He met the rest of the group shortly before sundown as the three were walking between the rows of uniform structures of faded timber and flat rooftops. Heath waited at a junction, just watching for a moment as the others approached before stepping out into view. 

Victra noticed him first, the other two craning their heads towards him a second later. Heath raised a hand in greeting. “Cassian said you three could use a fourth this evening.”

Victra shrugged. “We have it handled, but if you’d like to tag along you’re welcome to join.” She winked at Heath.

“Your help would be appreciated,” Svrcina said evenly, shooting a glance at Victra. “We don’t know what to expect tonight.”

Heath fell into step with the group, heading back towards the river. “Cassian told me we’re supposed to keep a low profile, only interfere at the last moment.”

“Yes,” Kriv rasped from beneath his dark cloak. “Any moron can watch a warehouse, and any half-competent mercenary can keep its contents from being pilfered. We were hired because we actually stand a good chance of finding out who wants into this storehouse and why.”

The dragonborn motioned towards a large set of rolling doors that marked their warehouse. It had a slightly angled roof with narrow slats for windows just below where the walls met the roof. Kriv pulled out a ring of keys, and unlocked a heavy padlock securing the door. Rolling the door aside, the interior of the large warehouse was dark and Heath could only make out vague shapes.

With a spark of light, Kriv lit a lantern and raised it high, granting a view of the warehouse as the sun slowly set and darkness fell across Aleria. The entire warehouse was one chamber, more than forty feet wide and twice that in depth. A low platform ran the length of the far side of the single chamber, and a loading bay door was shut securely. Rafters ran the length of the roof, the simple framework lost in the shadows cast by Kriv’s lantern. A cluster of crates were arranged in the center of the warehouse, six from the looks of it, sitting on the dirt and scattered straw. As Kriv went to another set of lanterns sitting on a table pushed against a wall, Heath looked to Victra and Svrcina.

“So what’s the plan?” He looked around, glancing at the darkened corners of the room, the space in the rafters.

Victra chewed on her lip, as though she wanted to speak her thoughts but held them back. She took a step past them, walking around the crates and studying them with a keen eye.

Svrcina looked around, hands on her hips. “We spread out, watch from different vantage points. We’re at an advantage in the dark, which gives us a leg up. We can stay in the shadows without having to give away our position with torches or light.”

Heath clenched his jaw, not allowing his frustration to rise. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as Kriv walked across to the large loading bay door on the far side of the roof. He peeked through a weathered window, looking from side to side. After a moment, he slunk back to the others.

“The back door butts up to the docks, less than twenty feet from the main platforms.” He looked up. “I’ll take the rafters. I can see both entrances from there, and no one ever thinks to look up.”

Svrcina nodded. “I can sit behind where the rolling door opens, in the dark. If anyone comes, that’s the most likely point of entry.”

Heath frowned. “Why not the back door?”

Kriv chuckled. “The interior of the warehouses are guarded by independent security, and only when the goods are worth it. The Docks are patrolled by the City Watch. Barely competent or not, the front is the easiest point of entry.”

Victra cut in. “I’ll take the perimeter then. There’s enough between the warehouses to hide in, and being out in the fresh air won’t be the worst part.”

Heath stole a glance to the back door. “I’ll take the back. I’m not convinced they won’t try that way, and I’ll have the benefit of the torches back there.” He pointed to his eye and shrugged halfheartedly. “Human eyes, remember?”

Svrcina pursed her lips together, but Kriv nodded. “Fine,” he said, voice hissing in a low growl. “Just make sure you stay out of sight, or at least don’t look like professional security.” His slightly glowing eyes glanced down across the scuffed leather armor Heath wore. 

Heath nodded as he walked towards the back of the warehouse, Victra striding after him. He looked back to see Kriv and Svrcina muttering softly to each other, and then after exchanging nods, extinguished the lanterns other than a single one set atop the crates in the center. 

Stepping outside, Heath breathed deeply as Victra shut the door behind them. He shifted his quiver of arrows before settling down into a weather-worn chair leaned against the wall. He glanced up at the pale-skinned elven woman as she crossed her arms and stared out across the array of docks and platforms in the failing daylight. 

“Is this the kind of exciting mercenary work you expected when you left the Wyldstalkers?” Heath asked with a smirk.

The edges of Victra’s mouth tugged upward as she kept her gaze fixed ahead. “I think it may yet be exciting. The client seems to think it’s worth hiring security, and if those crates are what I think, then they might be right.”

Heath shifted forward, immediately keen. “What do you mean, do you know what we’re guarding?”

She shrugged nonchalantly. “Not for certain, the contents weren’t discussed in the contract from what I was told. But I recognize those crates and they still hold a distinct smell. The smell of home.”

“The Heartwylde?”

She nodded. “And since they took an entire warehouse for only a couple crates, they’re definitely carrying something worth going to the effort of the deception. Not much comes all the way from the forest that isn’t worth paying for.”

Heath leaned forward, softly musing to himself. “Who would want to steal it?”

“Anyone who isn’t willing to acquire it legitimately,” Victra laughed. 

“And you recognized the crates? You’re sure they’re from the west?”

“I should recognize them, I’ve packed more than a few just like them in my time. Wyldstalkers take contracts from time to time to retrieve resources, materials, and monster parts and hides from the deep reaches of the Heartwylde. They pay way more than they’re worth, so it’s worth taking them from time to time.”

Heath was silent for a while. When he spoke, his voice was soft, lacking its typical roughness. 

“Do you ever worry about it? Those people sitting in their marble palaces paying for those wild things? Or too weak to protect themselves and instead pay you to get them trophies?”

“Sometimes…” Victra said wistfully. “The world isn’t fair, and people aren’t only good or bad. I don’t care who wants to pay for these hunts or why, it’s not worth wasting my time wondering about the right and wrong of it. I’ll live my life my way.”

Heath nodded absentmindedly, his eyes downcast. The silence hung over them as the last light from the sunset faded over the horizon. After a while, Heath shifted back in his chair and Victra stirred from her spot leaning against the warehouse. 

“I’m going to take a walk around, see what we’ve got to work with,” Victra said, hefting her longbow against her shoulder. “If you stay here, anyone walking by might just think you’re just another evening guard taking a break. Give a shout if you need anything.”

In the gathering darkness, Victra took two steps, her lithe elven form shifting faintly before vanishing into the shadows. Time passed as Heath reclined in his seat, feigning a disinterested posture, but his senses were intent on the quiet sounds from the alleys on either side of him, the wind gently gusting across his face, and the view of the docks in front of him. Occasionally he heard the soft scrape of movement from behind him or from the rooftop above, but the soft chuckles that followed told him that Victra was having her fun.

Few people were out on the Docks in the evening, but some passed by through the early part of the evening. Most looked like dock workers finishing up for the day, and every hour or so a pair of City Watch guards would walk by on patrol.

Some time after midnight, Heath sat on the smooth worn planks with his feet dangling down towards the Docks. He was accustomed to going long hours without sleep, but shifting position helped keep him alert. The sound of boots on wood echoed in the night, and two figures came into view coming from down the wooden walkway.

As they came into view, their voices grew louder with muttered laughter and conversation. Heath kept his posture relaxed but instinctively his hand went to the small of his back and tapped the hilt of his dagger. They both appeared human, with wide leather belts and oversized linen shirts that were common among sailors. Heath spotted the hilts of daggers tucked into the belts and what looked to be heavy belaying pins hanging at their side. 

As they drew closer, their jovial demeanor barely changed as they saw him, lazy smiles matched by the wineskin they were handing back and forth. Heath allowed the hand on his dagger to relax slightly, but inclined his head as they passed.

One raised a hand in greeting. “Evenin’! We’re celebrating, fancy a drink?” He hiccuped loudly and his friend took a long pull from the wineskin.

Heath wordlessly shook his head and waved dismissively. The man shrugged, throwing his arm around his companion as they continued on their way. Their footsteps continued on the wooden planks as they disappeared from view, the sound fading until silence settled once again. Heath’s eyes snapped up, his hand reaching for his blade. He held completely still, listening. Nothing. The sounds of drunken revelry had stopped too suddenly. He stood slowly, knocking twice against the wall of the warehouse behind him. His hand resting on the haft of his hunting knife, he took a step down onto the dock, looking after where the men had just walked not a minute before. 

Looking down the long, straight stretch of the walkway, there was no sign nor sound of the stumbling, drunken pair. Heath took a step back, letting out a quick, sharp whistle. The moment the sound rose on his lips, two shadowy shapes darted forward from the darkened alley ahead of him.

Heath drew his blade and settled back into a defensive stance as the two “drunk” individuals rushed towards him with clubs raised. The first one swung with his weapon in a wild, heavy arc that Heath easily sidestepped, slashing his blade across the back of the man’s arm. He stumbled forward with a grunt, and his companion was caught by the sudden change in momentum. As he tried to spin around to reach Heath, the snap of a bowstring caught Heath’s ears a moment before an arrow spouted from the man’s shoulder. 

The dark form of Victra arced through the air as she spun in an acrobatic twist to land on the other side of the two men, a long blade drawn. Curses filled the air as she cut downward in two deft strokes, a smile stretched across her features. Heath took advantage of the momentary distraction to slam his shoulder into the first man, knocking him off balance. A cut across the man’s thigh forced him to one knee, his face a mask of pain. Spinning the hunting knife in his hand, Heath thrust downward, sinking the blade beneath the man’s clavicle. The man shuddered, then went limp, his body dead from the strike to the heart even before it tumbled to the ground. 

Heath looked up to see Victra bat aside a wide strike from the remaining thug, then dancing aside in a graceful pirouette, lashed out with her blade and the man collapsed, blood streaming from his chest. 

About to offer a word of thanks, the sound of clashing metal came from down the alley, towards the front of the warehouse. Victra met Heath’s gaze, hesitating for a moment.

“Go,” he said, reaching for his longbow. “I’ll make sure no one else comes this way!” With a nod, she dashed off into the darkness as Heath heard the crackle of magic through the cool night air. 

Heath nocked an arrow, holding the longbow at half draw, his muscles well practiced in holding the heavy bow. He pushed the sounds of fighting from his focus, forcing himself to scan the darkness before him. The soft glow of torches and lanterns offered spots of illumination throughout the Docks, and across the river small beads of flickering red light marked the residences of Drechton.

Heath allowed his eyes to relax, rhythmically scanning the wooden docks, the gently rocking decks of the ships, the river. His eyes couldn’t focus on shapes or movement in the darkness, not since… not anymore. A little sharpness remained, or maybe it was the lessons he had learned. As his eyes traced back and forth, he allowed his peripheral vision to spot movement, anything shifting or out of place. 

There. 

Something in the river. A heavy shadow, darker than the water glistening in the moonlight. It moved at an odd angle, not with the flow of the river. Heath took a breath, looking just beyond the shape to allow his eyes to drink in as much detail as he could.

It was two shapes, low in the water. Cylindrical, like vertical pipes, cutting through the shallow waves, moving towards the Docks. From that distance, Heath had only noticed them because they moved through the water, not with it. As he watched, larger shapes followed them. Breaking the water just behind the pipes, small dark shapes rose from the river. 

Heath felt a flicker of flame spark in his chest as the unmistakable shape of small, knobby heads with long ears and hooked noses stood out against the river reflecting moonlight. Goblins. Another shape rose up, the cylindrical pipes moving with them. Under them. Large bald heads with toothy jaws and small, beady eyes broke the surface of the water.

Goblins crossing from Drechton, Heath thought, almost not believing his eyes. And they’re riding on the backs of ogres… with snorkels? He blinked, shaking his head but there was no mistaking the strange sight. 

Heath dropped down to the walkway beneath him, slowly moving up the way as he glanced at the direction the goblins seemed to be heading. Farther up the row of warehouses, perhaps no more than a hundred and fifty feet. Close. Too close to not care. As Heath weighed calling the others, one of the goblins perched on the back of the lead ogre arched its head up, the moonlight illuminating its profile. 

The longer snout and hooked nose with whiskers was undoubtedly one that Heath was familiar with. A smile crept across his face, the cold smile of a hunter that held no warmth or joy. Heath took a slow breath and reached for his quiver, his fingers finding a specific arrow marked with a white ring above the fletching. He drew the arrowhead across the lantern hanging from a hook beside him, a spark and slow smolder of flame tracing down the arrow shaft. 

He drew back the bowstring, increasing his angle to account for the heavier arrow, adjusting his hold for the soft wind and the slow pace of the swimming ogres. They are closing in on two hundred feet from the nearest dock. Exhaling slowly, Heath releases his fingers and the arrows streaked into the air. The faintest line of light marked the arrow’s arc in the night, nearly disappearing from sight. Then a flash erupted in the air with a burst of sparks.

Illumination filled the air, the charge of the arrow detonating some thirty feet above the ogres, casting the light of the flare in a wide radius around the now clearly visible goblins. The small green figures shrieked in panic as they looked around, hands scrambling for their eyes at the sudden light. Nybarg slammed something into the head of the ogre carrying him and another goblin, urging it forward. The ogre looked just as disoriented as the goblins, flailing and moving in a wide circle, its thick arms feeling around in the blinding light.

Heath already had another arrow nocked, this one marked with a red ring. He sparked the arrowhead again, this time a flame igniting the thick tar around the arrowhead. He drew back and released, the bright flame streaking through the sky. This arrow slammed into the wooden platform affixed to the back of the lead ogre, spraying sparks that sizzled out in the water around it.

Nybarg’s head spun in Heath’s direction, the bright path of the arrow made it easy to tell which direction it had come from. Too predictable, Heath thought as he drew back another arrow. He paused, waiting for the moment between heartbeats as Nybarg raises a fist in the air before releasing.

The arrow arced through the air as foul goblin curses drifted across the water. He stood there stock still as Nybarg practically danced in fury before he toppled backwards, an arrow embedded in his chest, cutting off the string of obscenities. More shrieks of terror greeted Heath’s ears as the other goblins scrambled to turn the ogres around as another arrow slammed into the wood of the other platform. Resisting the urge to send more arrows after them, Heath lowered his bow and watched in silence as Nybarg struggled to his feet, the arrow still piercing his chest. The other goblins ducked their heads as the slow-moving ogres began swimming back towards Drechton.

Wrong night to be here, Heath thought. A strangled cry came from behind him along with another crackle of arcane energy cutting through the air. Frowning, Heath strung another arrow and turned towards the warehouse the goblins had been heading towards. The others could handle a few more thugs trying to break into their warehouse, but Heath was interested in what the goblins had been after. 

He walked over to the building, but saw nothing from the exterior that gave any indication as to its contents. There were no names or symbols marked on the exterior, no sign as to who owned it or what sort of goods it held. He spotted a splintered window under the edge of the roof, about ten feet from the ground. It was narrow, maybe small enough for a slender, elven figure to slip through. The shift of movement from down the alley to the side of the warehouse pulled his attention, and he held his bow at half draw, reflexively stepping back to look past the shadows. 

A stocky figure strode down the alley, moving with the slight clank of armor with a battleaxe hefted in one hand. Heath stepped into full view, backlit by the light behind him as he tensed, prepared to come to full draw. The figure paused, raising a hand.

“I don’t want to hurt you, lad,” a heavy, thickly accented voice called out. “Come on out and stop skulking around in the shadows.”

Heath stood his ground. “I could say the same thing to you.” He paused, then continued in dwarvish. “What’s your business being out this late?”

The figure started, then chuckled and lowered his axe. “Hunting outlaws, and I take your confidence as evidence of the same. Or you’re a right thick one, and I won’t have any regrets about bashing your skull in.”

Heath lowered his bow as the figure stepped out into the light. He was a stocky, muscular dwarf well into his prime. His beard was neatly trimmed and his hair looked trimmed short beneath his open face helmet. He wore immaculate armor and carried a double-bladed battleaxe. A gold and white emblem was affixed to the breastplate of his armor, and he wore a wide grin as he stepped up to Heath.

“Mercenary, right?” The dwarf said, extending a hand. “You might not have the kit, but you’ve got the look of a killer.”

Heath grunted, taking the proffered hand. “And you’ve certainly got the kit. You wouldn’t happen to be chasing a band of feral goblins, by chance?”

“Hah!” The dwarf laughed loudly. “Something far more dangerous, my friend. Ruffians who we believe are trying to break into a warehouse this eve. But I digress, if you are not them then I must leave you.” He turned to walk away.

“Not at all,” Heath said, falling in step with the dwarf. “I think my companions might be dealing with those characters as we speak, just down the street.”

“Then perhaps we will meet them together, my companions and yours!” He smiled widely as he spun his axe. “Forgive me, I never gave you my name. Harbeck Ironfist, at your service.”

Heath nodded. “Heath, at your’s.”

As they stepped out into the street, Harbeck regarded Heath’s appearance once more. 

“I don’t mean to be insensitive,” Harbeck said bluntly, “but which company are you with? You don’t wear a banner or the garb of any that I’ve seen.”

“I’m not signed with any company, but I’m taking work with one of the smaller mercenary groups in the city. Guild #237, just as our interests currently align.”

Harbeck chuckled and motioned ahead of them. “I see. Well, then this will be quite interesting…”

Before he could wonder as to Harbeck’s meaning, he looked down the street and almost stopped in place. A group of figures was standing facing each other with the remnants of a skirmish scattered around them. Heath could hear the tension in their voices even from a distance. Svrcina stood with her arms crossed behind Victra who was in the face of a tall, broad chested man in shining plate armor holding a massive shield. Behind the armored knight, a slender man rested a hand on the hilt of an ornate rapier, a mane of wavy brown hair covering his head and a thin goatee on his chin. He had a posture that belied indifference, but Heath could tell he was watching the two women intently, ready to strike at a moment’s notice. 

On the ground around them, a body wearing blackened leather armor lay still in a pool of blood barely two strides from where Victra stood. Another twenty feet or more down the street, another bloody mess lay unmoving. That one was hardly recognizable. A third figure was on the ground at the feet of the armored individual, blood trickling from a wound in his head but looked to be still breathing. The knight was standing over him protectively, but had the blade of his sword resting on the chest of the unconscious man. Both Victra and the man before her had their weapons drawn, but they were lowered for the time being. 

Vectra was in the middle of lashing out, staring up at the man. “…in damnation do you think you are?!”

“We’re the Heroes for Hire!” The man retorted, leaning forward and towering over Victra’s much shorter frame. “And that was our mark you just scared away!”

“Your mark? Then maybe you should have been a little quicker about tracking down your quarry before they attacked us!”

“You upstart-”

“Making friends, are we?” Heath interrupted as he and Harbeck walked up, the others all spinning at the sound of their arrival.

“There you are!” Victra exclaimed, throwing her arms in the air. “What took you so long?”

“What’s this, Harbeck?” The man growled, not taking his eyes off of Victra.

“Calm down, Gerard,” the dwarf said, the hints of a smile beneath his beard. He jerked his head in Heath’s direction. “He’s fine. What’s gone on out here?”

“These fools made a right muck of things, that’s what’s happened!” 

Victra muttered something uncouth in elvish under her breath, and Heath suppressed a smile. 

Gerard glared at her. “They killed the marks, nearly all of them. Barely got my hands on this one before he was dead too!”

Harbeck raised an eyebrow. “Bunch of killers, eh? These were supposed to be dangerous folk.”

“And working for even more dangerous handlers. You know we have to find out who they’re looking for.”

“Aye, and you’ve got one.” Harbeck craned his head, grimacing at the sight of the mangled body up the street. “Unless you think there’s anything to salvage from that poor sap. What did you do to that one, by Moradin’s beard?”

Svrcina shrugged. “The mage shifted into the form of a raven to try to escape when she heard you all stomping your way down the street. My magic has a little more range than that sword you carry. She hit harder coming back down than I anticipated. Regardless, we couldn’t let them escape.”

Gerard, the tall one, fixed a stern look on Svrcina. “If not letting them escape was so important, what happened to the one on the rooftops?”

“You all spooked him,” a rasping voice came from the shadows as Kriv stepped forward into the light. Heath spotted blood dripping from a wound in the dragonborn’s shoulder. “We didn’t know if you idiots were here to help them or hunt them. That gave the last one more than enough time to make it up onto the rooftops and out of sight. He’s in the wind.”

Gerard snorted. “Well done again, black-scaled one. Another excellent mark for that prestigious guild of yours.” Kriv snarled, hand straying to his belt where Heath knew he kept a poison-coated dagger.

“Enough,” the man with the rapier behind Gerard cut in, raising a hand. “We still have one to question. The contract said capturing one was the goal, so we’ll still get paid. Let’s go.”

Gerard glared at Kriv but nodded. He sheathed his sword and reached down to grasp for the unconscious man at his feet when Victra’s blade snaked forward to meet his throat. 

Immediately he froze, eyes narrowing as Heath saw the other man’s hand slowly wrap about the hilt of his rapier. Kriv hunched lower, his other hand disappearing into the folds of his cloak, presumably to reach for a second blade. 

“Not so fast,” Victra said casually, cocking her head to the side. “We did all the work here, even with you giving one of them the chance to escape. Why shouldn’t we get a cut of your bounty?”

Gerard didn’t move. His voice came through low and dangerous. “Because it’s our bounty.”

Victra smiled like a cat as her grasp tightened on her blade. “We deserve our cut. Plus you aren’t the only ones who need to know who they’re working for.”

“Enough,” Heath said, stepping forward. He looked back and forth between the hardened faces. “We did our job here, we’re already getting paid.” Victra narrowed her eyes, and slowly withdrew her blade as Gerard released his hold on the man on the ground, slowly standing. Heath turned his attention to Gerard. “She’s right, we do have an interest in who these men are working for. The people we’re working for hired us to guard this place and find out who’s behind the attack.”

“They did help us,” Harbeck grunted from Gerard’s side. “We can at least offer this as a gesture of goodwill.”

Gerard regarded them suspiciously. “What would you want?”

Kriv walked forward, narrowing his beady eyes as he stood nearly eye level with Gerard, even hunched over. “In exchange for us not taking an equal and earned cut of the bounty for dealing with these brigands, we want to be there when he is interrogated.”

Gerard shook his head. “No chance, he’s going to the City Guard for detainment and questioning.”

Heath watched as Kriv bared his teeth and his back arched. 

“Then you’ll keep us informed of any and everything he says under questioning,” Svrcina said evenly, leveling her gaze at Gerard. “We understand the proper procedures must be adhered to, but we’ll expect to be kept up to date on everything that comes out of his mouth during questioning.”

Heath nodded, looking back to Gerard and Harbeck. “Does that sound agreeable?”

Gerard grimaced, but nodded. Harbeck chuckled and held out a hand. “Aye, I do believe we have come to an accord!”

Heath grasped the dwarf’s hand, looking up as the sound of ironshod footfalls echoed down the street. A line of a dozen armored individuals wearing the symbol of the City Watch came jogging down the street, shields and spears rattling as they approached. 

“Late as always!” Harbeck called jovially, turning around to greet the patrol. Gerard and Kriv exchanged dark glares one last time before both groups took a few steps back.

Over the next half hour, the Watch officers questioned the two groups. At the sight of the bloodied corpses, several reached for their blades but after Gerard and Kriv each showed their respective guild affiliations, tensions eased. Heath remained silent through most of the exchange, not mentioning the goblins or their attempt to cross the river. As the City Watch patrol left with Gerard and the other Heroes for Hire along with their bound prisoner, Heath watched until they disappeared from sight before turning to the others. 

Kriv’s face was twisted in a look of disgust, and Svrcina’s expression was likewise dark. Victra watched them go, remarkably calm considering her exchange with Gerard. Heath glanced at the door to the warehouse, two fresh splintered cuts in the wood.

“Seems like it was more than just the two that came from the other side.” 

“Seems so,” Kriv said without emotion. He growled low in his throat. “I can’t believe they’re involved in this somehow…”

Ignoring the animosity for the moment, Heath looked over at Victra. “Do you think there was more going on than simple burglary? You saw both groups, what do you think?”

“Those two at the back were thugs,” Victra said dismissively. “The four that came around the front were well trained. They knew what they were doing. Makes sense what those dandies said, about them working for someone else. Perhaps some rogue mercenary company or criminal syndicate?”

Heath frowned. “That’s concerning if the contents of those crates are what you assume they might be. Should we check and see what it actually is? If we know what they’re after, we could find out why they want it.”

“No,” Kriv said curtly. “We aren’t opening the crates. We’ve protected them, and we’ll know more soon after the Watch question the survivor. We aren’t being paid for anything more than that. If they want us to dig into this more, Cassian can talk to them about an extended contract. But for now, we don’t stick our noses into this any more than we have to.”

Heath nodded. “Fine by me.” He glanced around. “I’m going to take another walk around, make sure we didn’t miss anything. Victra, join me since you can see better than I can?”

Victra nodded and followed him as the other two walked back towards the warehouse, leaving the front door slightly ajar. Once they were out of earshot, Heath whispered to Victra as he guided her back towards where he had met Harbeck. 

“I didn’t want to say this in front of the Watch, but there was almost another attack. Up this way. From across the river.”

“Across the river, like from Drechton?”

“Exactly,” Heath said, turning down the darkened alley. “Only a couple goblins, but they were riding on the backs of ogres that swam. I know, remarkably inventive. I barely saw them, but at least one of them I recognized. The one who leads the goblin gang in the catacombs beneath the district, the ones I told you about that smuggled Adrian out of the city.”

Victra paused, resting her hand on Heath’s shoulder. “Do you think they’re involved somehow? Maybe the attack on our warehouse was a distraction for what the goblins were after?”

“Perhaps, but I want to know what they were after first. Kriv said he didn’t want us poking around the client’s shipment, but he didn’t say anything about this one.” He gestured to the building next to them, then up to the broken window above. “Whatever is in there is worth crossing the river in the dead of night to try to burglarize. I want to know what’s so important.”

“Say less, my friend.” With the flash of a grin, Victra leapt up the wall with deft movements and moments later her form vanished through the window without a sound.

A few minutes passed before Heath heard the quiet sound of crunching, broken glass. He looked up just in time to see Victra drop to the ground next to him, a faint trickle of blood running from her arm. 

“Not quite so cleanly executed on the way out?” Heath asked humorously.

“Oh, go jump in the river,” Victra shot back, wiping away the blood. “It’s a good thing you asked me to look, I think the others will want to know about this. Especially if you’re certain this is where the goblins were headed.”

Heath immediately grew serious. “What do you mean, what’s in there?” They began slowly walking back towards the dock side of the warehouses and back towards their original post.

Victra kept her voice low, even though there was no one else in sight. “I can’t be certain, but I think that is a cache for the City Guard. It’s filled with crates of arms and armor. All sorts, bows, swords, spears, you name it. It’s not massive, but perhaps a few dozen of each. And sets of armor, helmets, shields too.”

Heath felt the duality of his blood running cold as his hatred for goblinkind rekindled in his belly. The ramifications of Nybarg’s gang getting their hands on a storehouse of weapons and armor… he didn’t want to think of the possibilities. 

“We need to tell the others.” He said, chewing on his lip as his mind raced. “In the morning though, once everyone’s together in the hall. I don’t fancy Kriv chewing us out for breaking into a City Watch storehouse tonight, even if it was justified. They need to know, just not yet.”

Victra nodded in agreement. 

The rest of the night passed uneventfully, with each of the four spending their time consumed with their own thoughts and musings. Heath found his darker instincts dominating his mind, and slowly had to force them back down. A connection with the Rats from Drechton was one thing, but if they were somehow intertwined with whatever group orchestrated the other attack… He shook his head. That was a problem for the next day, when rest and level heads would prevail.

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