Exiles – Issue #29: Double Jeopardy

Exiles - Issue #28: Old Lessons
Exiles - Issue #30: Into the Night

 

Exiles

Issue #29

 “Double Jeopardy”

Written by Aaron McQueen

Illustrated by Rachel Mrotek

Copyright January 8th, 2018

www.patreon.com/McQueenBooks

This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.

Jeannie Perryman

Donald McQueen

Theresa McQueen-Uber

Duana McQueen

Jeff McQueen

Eden Odhner

 

I.

 

The room was dark. All the rooms were dark now. Nobody could afford to waste fuel on light. The orange glow of a single candle flickered on the wall. Ellyn sat quietly against the headboard. Polly and Nathanius were talking about the job.

Asterious hadn’t said a word all night.

“So?”

“So, what?”

“Will you do it?”

Nathanius didn’t answer. They’d told Valis they needed time to think about his offer. It was a grim business, but as Ellyn had come to discover, on this continent, there was no other kind.

She leaned forward and spoke up.

“We still don’t know we can trust him.”

Nathanius agreed.

“It’s true. The only thing we really learned was that it isn’t a test. If the Jaspers knew the full extent what’s been going on, they would already have killed everyone involved, including the two of you. And it is the two of you, isn’t it? You’re the ones the syndicate is looking for.”

Polly nodded.

“You going to turn us in?”

Nathanius sat back. He was sitting on the floor, leaning against one of the bedposts. He thumped his head against the wood.

“It’s not a question of turning you in. It’s not even about the job.”

The Halfling raised an eyebrow.

“No?”

He shook his head.

“It’s about getting through to the next season. You’ve been here long enough to know that. The only thing we know for sure right now is that Selapak is about to become a war zone. Anything could happen, whether we help the Jaspers, or Valis, or no one at all. The best thing we could do is get out of town, but we can’t. All that’s left is to figure out the best way to avoid getting ground under.”

Ellyn didn’t say anything. He was right, but the thought galled her. It was such a craven way of looking at the world, but it was as looming and as inescapable as the night: no friends, no enemies, no morals to speak of. There was only the path that was least likely to get you killed.

What a bunch of bastards they were becoming.

She sat up.

“I think we should turn Valis in.”

They all turned. She continued.

“If you’re right, then there’s is no right side and it doesn’t matter who we pick to help. We might as well pick the people we know. They did trust us, after all.”

Nathanius grumbled and turned to Asterious.

“What do you think?”

He looked up, distracted.

“What?”

Nathan repeated himself.

“Who do we side with?”

He thought about it.

“Well, she’s got a point. Better to dance with the girl who brought you.”

“And Tormar?”

Asterious shrugged.

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s overstating their numbers. I would.”

Polly spoke up, evidently sensing the shift in allegiance.

“Azarelle believes him.”

Nathanius turned.

“Do you think you could bring her around?”

She shook her head.

“Why would she change her mind? You said it yourself. If the syndicate knew the whole story, they would already have had us killed. You want us to trust them not only to forgive us, but to keep us around for the whole winter? And all that’s assuming they actually manage to keep control of the city and we don’t all end up eaten by zombies.”

Ellyn frowned. It was a good point. They might be able to get away with reporting everything to Rias and the Jaspers, but they weren’t in half as deep as these two. Polly waited for an answer, but no one said anything. For them, it seemed to be Valis or nothing.

Ellyn raised her hand.

“What about a backup plan.”

Nathanius turned.

“Valis was the backup plan.”

She shook her head.

“I mean a real backup plan, one that doesn’t depend on someone else coming to our rescue.”

“Well, I’m open to suggestions.”

Ellyn mulled it over, fingers laced in front of her. This kind of thinking wasn’t really her area, but she’d lived at court, and there the only thing that seemed to matter was power: influence, money, soldiers; in the end it was about having something that everybody else wanted.

Or needed.

She turned to Nathanius.

“I’ve got it.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Oh?”

She nodded.

“Asterious said he’s probably over-stating his numbers, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, if that’s true, he doesn’t just want the amulets, he needs to have them, and so do the Jaspers.”

“Okay, so?”

“So, we help Valis, at first. We steal the medallions, but instead of turning them over, we use them as leverage to get what we want.”

“And what do we want?”

“Like you said: a way out of town.”

“But—”

She cut him off.

“No, you were right. Selapak is too dangerous, especially now. Given that, wouldn’t it make sense for a group as paranoid as the Jaspers to have an escape plan in case things didn’t work out?”

Asterious snapped his fingers.

“She’s right. They would never take the risk.”

Nathanius thought about it.

“It’s not a bad plan.”

Asterious stood up from the wall.

“Will they take the deal?”

Nathanius nodded.

“They should. They’ll get a fighting chance to win their war and the only thing we get is an opportunity to get the hell out of the way.”

Asterious smiled.

“Then it’s settled.”

Nathanius shrugged.

“Now all we have to do is plan the heist.”

Polly raised her hand. They turned to her and she smiled.

“I think I can help with that.”

The door slammed open.

 

II.

 

Azarelle ran into the room. She slammed the door shut again behind her and turned to Polly.

“We have to go.”

Polly answered in surprise.

“What? Why?”

“They know.”

Everyone looked over. She was wearing a dark cloak and carrying a heavy travel pack.  It was stuffed with papers.

“Lon came to see me tonight about the stove, only it wasn’t about the stove. He started asking me all these questions and I don’t think he liked my answers.”

Asterious interjected.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean he knows.”

Azarelle turned to him.

“He tried to get me to swear never to do anything against his family again. Again!”

Asterious shrugged a frown.

“Okay, that probably does.”

Azarelle went back to the door and cracked it open. She peeked down the corridor.

“I don’t know how long they’ve been onto us.”

She turned to Nathanius.

“You didn’t tell them, did you?”

He shook his head. Polly did the same.

“They’ve been with me the whole day. We were just sorting out a plan to get us all out of this.”

Nathanius stood up.

“We’ll have to re-think it, but later. Everyone grab your stuff. We’re leaving.”

They began to gather their belongings. Despite their improved circumstances, they still didn’t have much of their own.

Except for Asterious, oddly.

Nathanius looked over. His pack and it was clearly filled. A pair of long objects wrapped in oil cloth protruded from the top.

Ellyn noticed too. She pointed it out.

“Been busy?”

He smiled.

“Just a few odds and ends from the good old days.”

She chuckled.

“Whatever. Where are we going?”

Polly answered.

“We’ll go to my place.”

“Don’t they know where that is?”

She shook her head.

“Not this place. It’s a safe house on the other side of the city. It’s not very secure, but it should be safe for a few days.”

“Only a few days?”

“In a few days the invasion will be on and we’ll have the medallions. It won’t matter after that, right?”

They all looked at Nathanius. He shrugged.

“Good enough for a start. Where is it?”

She shook her head.

“You’ll never find it on your own.”

He nodded succinctly.

“Alright, we’ll follow you.”

He turned to the others.

“Stick together and don’t lose her.”

A board creaked in the hall.

The room went quiet. They all turned. Asterious ran to the door.

“Was anyone following you?”

Azarelle shook her head.

“Impossible.”

Nathanius drew out his long knife.

“They must have. They don’t even know we’ve met. There’s no reason they would check here.”

Asterious ran to the window. He drew out the hatchets he wore on his belt.

“Did they ever give you anything?”

Polly looked at her.

“The pin!”

Azarelle shook her head.

“Lon would never—”

“Show it to me!”

She reached into her bag and drew out a pair of spectacles. Azarelle took off the pin and handed it over. The thief regarded it for a moment before turning to Nathanius with a nod. She handed them back.

He cursed.

“A beacon. You led them right to us!”

Azarelle balked.

“It was a present!”

“From a crime lord!”

Asterious spoke up from the window.

“They’re outside too. I can see them in the alleys.”

He pointed.

“There…and there.”

Ellyn drew her own long knife.

“So we’re surrounded. We have to fight.”

Polly nodded.

“If we can get to the roof we can jump to one of the nearby buildings.”

Nathanius nodded.

“Lead the way.”

Asterious went to the door.

It crashed open.

Special Thanks To:

Kristi Bubrig

Ryan Lewis

Nathan Liss

Kayla Liss

Zachary Grey

Timothy Tortal

 

Exiles - Issue #28: Old Lessons
Exiles - Issue #30: Into the Night

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