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Chapter 26 - Aoife

The Drae barren was utterly vacant, but Aoife hadn’t seen any signs of a struggle or attack. Aside from the prison torture room, there weren’t even any bodies. They had just simply vanished, walked out the front door.

Which meant they were still out there.


If she wanted to continue her pursuit of the Drae, she needed some guidance, direction, something to help set her on the right track. Aoife wasn’t exactly looking forward to the prospect of returning to Rah’qet, but if guidance was what she sought, she would find no better source than the Thieves’ Guild and the Circle. She closed her eyes, breathed in deep, and let out a long, slow exhale before opening her eyes once again. “Fuck,” she said out loud in resignation. If she really wanted, she could just disappear instead, leave all of this behind her. In all likelihood, they probably already thought she was dead.

But once again, she didn’t really have a choice. Vengeance demanded it.

After leaving the Mazewilds, she had been slowly making her way through the forest and back towards Rah’qet at a leisurely pace. Traveling by oneself could be quite a lonely experience, especially as the days piled on. Feelings of isolation grow exponentially. That is, of course, unless you’re too busy with your own thoughts to notice. At first, Aoife had the company of her memories of Rashida, the contemplations of how to best go about enacting vengeance on her behalf, ruminations on the morality of cold-blooded murder. None of these had left her, nor likely would they until she completed her goals, but they were now muffled by a singular, more immediate worry.

How would the Thieves’ Guild react to her return and what repercussions would she expect to face?

For all they knew, she was just the lucky survivor of a job gone wrong. And even though she was only an underling and wasn’t in any position to call the shots, she was the only one left alive to answer for what resulted in the deaths of the rest of her crew.

Questions would be asked, answers demanded of her. She only hoped what truths she could afford to offer would suffice. Just in case, she did have information about the Mazewilds in her back pocket. Surely that would make for a good bartering chip if it came down to it.

But she wasn’t returning empty handed. The main focus of the job was retrieving the goods. That, of course, was a failure, but Rah’qet had sent a shipment of gold and quicksilver across the empire and the Guild wanted to know why. That, she had an answer for. Information on the reconstruction of an airship, even if it was now destroyed, would surely prove invaluable.

As long as they believed her. Perhaps it would be better if she didn’t mention the Mazewilds after all.

She continued her trek through the forest, too taken in by the dread of her return to realize she was passing ever so close to Hillsedge. There was a reason why she had taken the job with Merrick in the first place. Not many other Guild members were interested in trekking all the way across the empire just to visit another desert. The payday wasn’t worth it to them. But any excuse for Aoife to leave Rah’qet behind her was.

Aoife had spent a number of years in Rah’qet, most of which were not the fondest of memories. She found her way there shortly after Rashida had been taken away, escorted off to Everspring in chains. Aoife had been angry, lashing out at those around her, getting in fights, making enemies. It didn’t take long for The Thieves’ Guild to take notice. They made themselves known and offered her a spot among their ranks. Everything Rashida had taught her, everything she had stood for, seemed to be echoed in the Guild. It seemed like such a natural fit. She joined on the spot, but eventually realized that not everyone else who joined the Guild was as altruistic as her. Some, like much of her crew on the failed airship job, were merely bandits that joined to avoid prosecution from the Guild. She made her misgivings known, but it had only served to ostracize herself in the process.

Too many burned bridges. Too much bad blood.

Still, there was no point in delaying things. Nobody was expecting her, but procrastination wouldn’t make the return any easier. She’d spent enough time surrounded by trees that people were a welcomed change of pace. Besides, the city did have some charm to it. She picked up her pace, resolute as she could be.

The trek to Rah’qet took her several days, not exactly record time, but she eventually found herself breaching the edge of the forest. The hot desert sun beat down from above, the Spires casting a long shadow from its spot in the sky.

“Huh, that’s new.”

“Aoife,” Sparrowhawk said. He hadn’t waited for her to take two steps into the room before he started talking. “We thought you were dead. Don’t look much dead to me.” It was neither a question nor an exclamation. Just a statement.

“Not yet I’m not.”

“Been gone so long, we assumed the worst. Glad to see you’re alright. We expected Cutwick and the rest of you back quite some time ago.”

Cutwick was Merrick’s guild name. She had gotten so used to calling him by his given name. He thought it was smarter for everyone to refer to him as such while “out in the field.” It made sense. Accidentally calling the man Cutwick in public could have easily blown their cover.

There was a time that Aoife had looked forward to earning her guild name as well. She even had a name already picked out. Red Wind. Way cooler than Aoife. Plus, it was easy to spell and pronounce. Nobody ever knew how to spell her name, or pronounce it when read.

“Where’ve you been?” Sparrowhawk continued. “What’ve you been up to?”

“Oh, you know, trudging through the forest, climbing trees, the usual.” Despite the casual tone, Aoife knew this was still an interrogation. She would need to be more careful with her word choice. “Ran into a bit of trouble back west. Took a while getting home.”

“Came back alone it seems.” Again, not asking a question. Sparrowhawk liked to make statements any time he really wanted to know something. It would have been a tell had he made any attempt to hide the fact. Instead, he did it to punctuate the severity of what he was saying without losing his friendly demeanor. He was clearly concerned about the rest of the crew’s absence.

“Afraid the rest are all dead, boss. Job went way sideways. Merrick—err, Cutwick fucked it all up.”

Sparrowhawk shifted in his seat, clearly displeased at the news even if he likely had already assumed as much. This was the exact moment Aoife had worried about the most. She hoped he wouldn’t take out his frustration on the messenger.

“He got greedy,” she continued. “We tracked the shipment out to a warehouse in the middle of nowhere, a ways outside of Everspring. It had been repurposed as a workshop for a couple of engineers. Cutwick said they were twins?”

The Twins?” His curiosity seemed to get the better of him, his displeasure to the news taking a back seat. She could use that.

“I don’t know?”

“Were they actually twins?”

“Can’t say I ever personally got eyes on ‘em.”

“Assuming they are the Twins, it would make a lot of sense. They aren’t sages, but their father is. Historian and archaeologist. Which could be why they were out in the middle of nowhere in the desert.” Sparrowhawk was talking more to himself than to Aoife. “If they were doing something for their father, or the sages in general, that would explain the shipment from the Spires.” He scratched his chin, deep in thought. “Must’ve been one hell of a project they were working on.”

“That they were. They were rebuilding an honest to gods airship. The shipment they were sent was a stockpile of quicksilver and gold.”

“Well I’ll be damned. That sure as shit answers the what and why. Had to be the Twins, then.” He scratched his chin again, the stubble grating against itself where time had etched deep wrinkles across his face. “An airship and a stockpile of quicksilver and gold. Would’ve made a mighty fine score.”

“Should have, but like I said, Cutwick got greedy. It was supposed to be a simple smash and grab. If we had stuck to the plan, we’d have the goods, the airship would have been rendered unusable and you’d have been able to put together a stronger plan to take it.” She hoped the sly compliment had earned her some favor, but it could have easily come across as sycophantic. She wasn’t trying to kiss the man’s ass, just flatter him a bit, butter him up to get him a little further on her side. “Cutwick figured a working airship was worth a hell of a lot more, so he decided to wait until they got the thing working then hijack it.”

“He wasn’t wrong. A working airship is a powerful tool. A broken one is nothing more than a museum at best. He should have reported back, though. Shunning the common rules of conduct to try to impress me has quite the opposite effect.” He was clearly agitated by the news. Aoife only hoped he wouldn’t blame the messenger. Perhaps she should soften the remainder of her story. “Please, continue.”

She needed to be delicate now, choose her words carefully. She couldn’t let him know what she’d done, what had seemed to spark the chaos on board. But while she certainly hadn’t helped the situation, given the circumstances aboard the ship, things were never going to play out in their favor. Hell, the group of bandits could make for a nice, little antagonist for her story, the real problem to deal with, the real ones to blame.

Sparrowhawk shifted in his seat again. She was taking too long to respond. If she avoided the truth, he’d know it. So the truth it had to be.

“I feel like it’s my fault.”

Omission of facts isn’t necessarily lying.

“Your fault.”

“Well, at least partially so. Cutwick and I went toe to toe with an Everguard on board. Thought we dealt with the guy. Underestimated him. That’s how Cutwick got taken out. After that, everything went to shit. Apparently we weren’t the only ones with a similar plan. Some bandit gang from Everspring tried to hijack the ship as well.”

Sparrowhawk let out a deep, guttural laugh. That was a good sign. A very good sign.

“Ain’t that just the way, eh?” he said, still laughing. “So what happened to the airship?”

“Smashed to pieces. Crashed and fell off the Ledge.”

He laughed again. “Shit on a shingle. At least the sages didn’t get a hold of it, I guess. The power that would have given them... Right now, they’re untouchable, but have no way of gaining resources from the ground. An airship would give them too much leverage. Cutwick was right to want it for the Guild, but better it’s demolished than in the hands of those bastards.”

Sparrowhawk leaned back in his chair, relaxed, resting his chin in the palm of his hand. He looked at Aoife, deep, like he was examining her, weighing his options and coming to a conclusion. Aoife would be lying if she said it didn’t make her more tense.

“Welcome home, Aoife.”

And just like that, Aoife knew she was safe, no longer under scrutiny, free to let her guard down. Free to do what she really came here to do.

“Grab a bunk, have some chow, relax. Maybe take a nice, long bath. You could use it.”

“Thanks, boss,” she laughed, half sarcastically.

“If you need anything else, you know all you need is to ask.”

“Well, there is one thing.”

“Oh?” he asked, surprised. Aoife really hoped this didn’t come across as an ulterior motive, her real reason for returning, even though that was exactly what it was.

“It’s quite the ask, but on my way back, well, I had quite the lengthy trip getting back here. And as if things hadn’t been interesting enough, I passed by the Mazewilds.”

She knew if she were to tell him she went inside, witnessed a monster with her own two eyes and found the Drae barren that he would laugh her out of the room. She was already planning on asking him for a lot. There was no need to give him any more excuses not to help her.

“Seen a monster, did you? Been hearing reports about hunters out of Rotwater dealing with ‘em. Nasty stuff.”

“Not just that. People were living there, I’m sure of it.”

“You mean the Drae? From the kids’ books?” He let loose another hearty, bellowing laugh. “My daughter’s obsessed with ‘em. It’s all a little ridiculous, but if it’s getting her to read, I’m not one to complain.”

“I don’t think there were some magical warriors with antlers and green skin, of course not, but someone was living there. I wanna find out who.”

“Okay, okay,” he said, throwing his arms up in the air, yielding. He clearly thought it was a waste of time, but to each their own. “You’re free to pursue whatever you wish, as always, but how do you expect the Guild to help?”

“I need information. I was thinking about the library in the Spires, planned on asking if you could maybe talk to the Whispers, see if they’d be willing to let me use the tunnels...”

“Lotta good that’ll do you now.”

“Yeah, I couldn’t help but notice. You mentioned the Twins’ father was a historian? He still up there?”

He shook his head in affirmation.

“His daughters take after their father at all?”

“Not to my knowledge. Engineers, through and through. Talented beyond compare from what I hear, especially if they were able to rebuild a godsdamned airship, but didn’t seem to follow in their father’s footsteps one bit.”


“I don’t know how keen your interest is in all this, but if you really want answers...”

“I do.”

“Then I know of another possible source, though I’d suggest taking your time with that bath later. Enjoy being clean while you can.”

“Oh no.”

He nodded a knowing resignation.


It had been quite some time since Aoife had worn her hide. Now, after everything she’d witnessed, everything she’d recently been through, putting it back on felt wrong. Like it was a costume. It wasn’t her. Not anymore. A lot had happened since she left with Merrick—Cutwick—and the rest of his crew for the western deserts. Before then, she had already felt like an outsider in the Guild, the black sheep amongst wolves. Now, she was hardly even an acquaintance, at least in her eyes.

At one point, she had been so proud of her hide. The Thieves’ Guild symbol, a keyhole lock, emblazoned on the back felt like a badge of honor. Now, it was nothing more than a requirement to get the help she needed before leaving, likely for good this time. A means to an end.

She came to a door, knocked on it as instructed. Twice, once, then twice again.

Her trip to Rotwater had been postponed at the last minute. Apparently, the Whispers were interested in information from the sages as well. Her expedition had become a joint effort. So here she was, in the dark tunnels under the city’s streets, about to enter the mysterious headquarters of the most secretive MC in all of Rah’qet. Though she wouldn’t dare admit it, she felt a little starstruck.

The peephole slid open, revealing two large, squinting eyes peering back at her.

“The dove migrates during the Growing Season.”

How cool is this?!

“We’ve been expecting you,” the man said, his tone monotonous, likely from constant repetition of the phrase. The peephole slid closed and a number of locks were undone in a row down the length of the door. It was almost comical how many there seemed to be. The door opened a man as wide as the doorframe and immeasurably thicker stood in her way.

Did he fit himself through those tunnels or did they just find him down here?

He moved to the side to let her through, revealing a young girl waiting patiently behind him. She stood up straight, hands clasped behind her back, smiling politely.

The door closed behind her and the man resecured the array of locks before returning to his seat against the wall. He propped a foot over his opposite knee and picked up a small book, his page marked by his reading glasses. The book looked so small in his hands, like a child’s book. Glancing at the cover, she realized that was exactly what it was. And one of the Books of the Drae, no less.

I wonder what Sparrowhawk would think of that.

If they only knew who really lived in the Mazewilds.

“Right this way, ma’am,” the little girl requested.

Right, she had come here for a reason. And that wasn’t to judge some stranger’s reading habits. She was escorted through the hallway and into the main chambers by the little girl, wearing her little skirt, all courteous and shit.

Obvious misdirection. This girl is a straight up cold-blooded killer.

She would have been so unassuming if you passed her on the streets, but they were literally in an underground bunker. Down here, she stood out like a sore thumb.

“So, where do you hide your knife?” Aoife asked her.

The girl turned her head to face Aoife. “Knives. Plural,” she corrected her. She gave Aoife a wink and a smile, then continued on her course, never breaking stride. Aoife liked her.

She was escorted through a grand hall, empty and quiet, into a smaller office. Five people stood inside. They all stopped talking and turned her way as the door opened. She hated being the center of attention, under everyone’s scrutiny. She tried to hide the unease welling up inside her.

Directly ahead of her, sitting behind the desk, sat the leader of the Whispers. He was young, much younger than she expected. His pointy beard stubble was a little douchey, but otherwise not a bad looking guy. To one side of the room stood a young girl, not quite the secret badass as her multiple-knife-wielding escort was. Lounging in a chair beside her was a young guy, slightly older guy, definitely not related. He looked uneasy.

Aoife’s heart almost dropped clean out of her chest as she rounded the door and saw the other side of the room. Against the wall stood not one, but two people she instantly recognized. The first was a woman wearing the spaulders of an Everguard. Even though it was only a single piece, Aoife knew she was, in fact, an Everguard. Because she saw Merrick jam his knife into her partner’s neck aboard the airship. When everything went to shit. Since the woman didn’t immediately lunge for Aoife’s throat, it was safe to assume she didn’t recognize her.

She couldn’t say the same for the man beside her. At least not definitively.

He stood just as tall as the man guarding the entrance, armed with an axe instead of a book, a heavy shield that had clearly seen its fair amount of use instead of a pair of reading glasses. And he was staring her right in the eyes. Did he remember her? He had helped her off the airship after the crash thinking she was just another passenger. Did he recognize her now and realize the mistake he made?

“So I hear you’re heading to Rotwater?” she asked, hoping to break the tension, put his train of thought off balance. She stuck out her hand. “My name’s Aoife. I’ll be your tour guide.”

He paused, slight but noticeable, before replying. Caution or looking for subtext. Likely both. He shook her hand. “A pleasure.”

A pleasure? What was that supposed to mean? Was he just being polite? Or was he holding something back? If so, it was a masterful deception. The man would probably be killer at cards. The little murderer in a skirt could learn a thing or two from this guy.

She realized that while they might not have recognized her, this was still the group of people she was meant to work side by side with for the foreseeable future, every passing moment another chance for them to realize who she is, what she’s done. She would have to be extremely careful around them, not let anything slip. It was gonna be a tense week.

“So, Aoife,” the man behind the desk began, “Sparrowhawk tells me the Thieves’ Guild has some useful information?”

His name was Erryk, she knew, the leader of the Whispers, and he was looking to her for help. Nervous as she may be, she couldn’t help but feel special.

“Or at least a handle on a possible source.”

“Why don’t you fill us in on what we’re about to get ourselves into?”


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the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet