She stepped inside. Movement to her left caught her attention. The robed man edged toward her, hugging the wall. His gaze swung from the grappled pair to Saja. She swallowed, unsure what to do.
“Get the door,” Lucendes gasped, as if reading her mind.
Right, she nodded. She spun out of the entrance and grabbed the door. But as she tried to swing it closed, the robed man darted forward and caught its edge.
“Child, I would advise you to move,” he said. His voice held a note of panic in it, despite the stern warning.
Saja pulled back, and the light from outside flooded the man’s face. He squinted and tried to step through, but as he did Saja slammed the door shut again, causing the man to yelp in surprise. She lowered her shoulder and pressed, to keep him pinned, then rolled her back flat and slid her rump to the floor, wedging them in place.
The wood pinched against her skin as the man tried to shove her out of the way, but his arm was trapped at his side, and he didn’t have enough strength or leverage. Saja gritted her teeth. Determination welled within, fueled by hope.
In the center of the room, Lucendes threw himself from side to side, forcing Raj to stagger. Like a ship lurching across rough seas, the pair threatened to tip. Lucendes brought both his knees up, and the sudden weight caused Raj to lose his balance. His arms slackened, and Lucendes slipped to the ground.
The thief tumbled away and came to his feet. He knocked into the table, spilling some of the scented oils that burned within clay pots. Snatching one of the chairs, he hurled it.
Raj batted the chair aside as he stalked forward. Lucendes waited until the last moment, then tossed one of the pots. The burning oil splattered across Raj’s bare chest, and he howled in pain.
Grabbing another chair, Lucendes smashed it into the larger man. He swung again, breaking the chair across Raj’s temple. The brute blinked, wavering, then slumped to the ground. Lucendes looked up at Saja and grinned.
“Hurry,” she barked at him. Her back felt like it was on fire, from the strain of keeping the door forced shut. He strode over and grasped the plump man, pulling him into the room as Saja shifted out of the way.
“I have need of your services, Khouri,” said Lucendes.
The plump man blustered. “The last time I helped you, I had to flee the city. And you never paid!” He shook his head. “I will do nothing for you.”
Lucendes righted one of the overturned chairs and sat the plump man down. Then he held up a finger and moved to where Raj lay sprawled across the floor. Yanking the man’s belt purse free, he shook it, the coins within clinking together. “Here,” he said, tossing the bag to Khouri. “My debt is settled.”
“I should’ve guessed you’d seek me out again,” said Khouri.
The thief shrugged. “You’re an augur. You should’ve seen me coming.”
“An augur, Lucendes, not a Seer. My visions are not that precise. Though in truth, I’ve had dark dreams of late. It seems they foretold a visit from the Blessed One’s best assassin.”
Lucendes’ eyes flickered to Saja. Her own widened in shock. “An assassin of the Blessed One?” she whispered. The hope she’d felt earlier evaporated. The prophet kept an iron thumb on perhaps half the thieves in Kuthahaar. His attention was one to avoid, not covet.
“Did he not tell you?” asked Khouri, with a chuckle.
“It changes nothing,” Lucendes snapped. “We’ve come for you to divine the location of her father.”
The augur’s gaze became intent upon the thief, and his laughter increased. “Why bother? You know it already. I can see it on your face!”
Saja started. She swung her gaze between the two men, taking a step toward the door. “Was it a lie?” She shuddered. “You promised. You fooled me into believing.”
Lucendes shook his head. “I kept things from you, but the words I spoke of the other matter were the truth. You will see your father’s apprentice again. Khouri holds the power to summon an augurwraith.”
Khouri jerked. “You told her of this? It is knowledge punishable by death.”
“I know where your father is kept,” Lucendes continued, ignoring the augur. “If he still lives, I will free him from his captors.”
…to be continued
Originally published in Pulp Empire Volume IV.
© Craig Comer