“I’ve got him. He’s nearby.” Mercer said. That feeling, that instinct was still driving him mad.

“W-well, then, bring him in!” the Aulite stammered. “No reward for ‘nearby,’ mate.”

This didn’t seem like the sort of place the Aulites would have a safe house. There were too many rooftops, too many points of entry. Even pacifists would better know how to hide themselves, like they had in the heart of the city itself. It seemed like…

Mercer stifled a gasp. He caught a shadow under the Aulite robes: a hilt. A quick look about with fresh eyes showed a half-dozen places where crossbowmen could hide above, and the hay cart could easily be rolled across the narrow alley to pen people in.

It seemed like…a kill zone.

“Tell me,” Mercer said in a conversational tone. “What’ll happen to the Aul once he’s safe here?”

“N-none of your business, I’d say,” replied the Aulite. “He’ll be…safe from any further harm and in the company of his fellows.” The Aulite paused, wondering at the stony look on Mercer’s face. “You’ll get paid no matter what,” he added hastily. “You don’t need to go any further with him. So long as you haul him over the finish line alive, gold is gold.” He produced and jangled a purse as if to prove his point, spilling the coins on the filthy ground.

“Money doesn’t stink…” Mercer mumbled. The gears in his head were turning rapidly. But why? Why all this just for an ambush, when the Aul could easily have been killed at his domicile?

The Aulite fingered the hilt of his weapon unconsciously, rubbing it as another might rub a scab. Mercer saw it at once: the man had never held a sword or dagger in his life.

“How much?” he asked.

“It’s right there on the ground, mate,” the Aulite said pointing at the coins. “Count it if you want.”

“How much did they pay you to betray the Aul?” Mercer said. “Do the others know?”

“W-what?”

“I hope you’ve got a plan to get out of here with your gold and your life,” Mercer continued. “Otherwise, you look a lot like a loose end to me. And the sort of people who deal in betrayals? They hate loose ends.”

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