It is to be noted that the works in this section take place in the Faerûn universe, as part of the Forgotten Realms franchise, which is owned and maintained by Wizards of the Coast. The author of these works takes no ownership of the referenced setting materials. However, all created characters are the intellectual property of the author.
Xenam skulked around the varied stalls and shops in the thriving mid-morning market square. He didn’t like this. He rarely conducted business, or even walked the streets in broad daylight, and for good reason. He was a wanted man all across Thay, and though he extended his mental network to a five block radius at this very moment—he still felt vulnerable. An experienced Wizard would notice. Would see through such a simple ploy; an experienced Wizard would sense the pattern in the “normality”—would see that the directed thoughts circled around a point, like seeing a black hole by seeing the light bending around it – but Xenam made sure long ago that all such Wizards were paid handsomely to leave well enough alone. Despite being wanted, Xenam wasn’t a criminal – at least not directly. So long as they were paid well, they left him alone.
That aside, something still felt wrong.
He walked through the market, and the Rashemi always avoided his path, without even knowing it. He felt somewhat safer around them, though he was careful to keep covered; he kept his hood low and intentionally moved as clumsily and as lazily as an average patron of the market.
I am here for a reason – he reminded himself, almost out loud. He had received a message the previous night from one of his most elusive contacts—the type of person who wouldn’t contact him unless it was absolutely necessary. The message was in the form of a letter, the envelope of which he carried with him in his pocket. The only evidence of the letter’s origin was the insignia of the seal—a rose with a single thorn pressed into purple wax, and his own marking on the front, a red-inked, sharp-edged hourglass. He knew who had sent it immediately, and he didn’t have to open it to know that it was dire.
Worse, it was blank. Her messages always held a fade mark of some sort—a magical infusion that sparked a thought directly to his mind—but not this time. This time, his hands shook as he stared at the blank parchment. He had left his hideout immediately, preparing for all eventualities. They had a meeting place in the market of the Rashemi, and he walked as quickly as he could without straining his grip on the people around him.
His sigils were blank, too. They were never blank. Bottom for normal, top for different. His hourglass was inscribed in carefully spaced spots all around Thay—wherever there were Rashemi, there were sigils. They kept them with reverence, marking them throughout the day with magical spots—in the bottom glass when everything was normal, and in the top when something had changed in that area.
He was flying blind, and he hated it.
This whole situation was wrong. Either it was a trap, or she was in serious trouble, and she was too valuable to him to care about the former. All he could do was take all necessary precautions, and meet with her.
…But she wasn’t here…
Xenam’s eyes darted along with his mind around the crowd and the tall stone structures that surrounded them, searching for his contact. He could try a tracking spell, but that would draw unwelcome attention. No, it was best if he just waited. If she was here, she already knew of his presence, and would make herself known. But he couldn’t feel her…
None of this made sense! This was a Rashemi market, and he had always liked, even admired the desert-born working class. He knew them well enough to understand full well that they would never forget a mark—much less stop marking the sigils entirely. They thought he was a spirit, and the hourglass marks were their way of paying their respects.
He stood patiently, arms crossed, eyeing the food that was displayed on the closest makeshift stand, and couldn’t help but note how delicious it looked. It was a dessert stand, a rare sight indeed among the stern and hardy Rashemi. One delicacy in particular stood out: it looked like a little spice cake, but with some sort of colored icing swirling on the top of it.
“Yeah, those are nice. Too bad you’re allergic to them.”
Xenam’s reaction was one of such embarrassing stupor that it brought forth a snide cackle from the always-smug demon that was his curse.
“You!” he hissed as he darted down a nearby alley.
“Oh, I’m sorry, kiddo. Did I catch you at a bad time?” jeered Azazel, following him closely.
Xenam was in full sprint now, his red cloth fluttering atop tight leather with his sweeping movements as he dashed around and between the sand-scarred stone walls of the Rashemi market. Leaping up and off of some shipment boxes, he grabbed onto a flagpole extending from a nearby house and swung himself up it and through a nearby window, where he was face to face with a winged elven man with white eyes, staring through him.
“Please stop running… There’s no point…” said Azrael, weakly.
Xenam kept moving, jumping through the white-eyed man, who dissipated at the touch. He ran into the hallway and up the stairs to the roof, sprinting along the stone as the sand in the air whipped his hooded face. He flicked his wrist, his fingers glowing, and whispered a few arcane words before reaching the end of the roof, when he leapt off, arms keeping him balanced as he glided to the next roof, ending in a roll.
He had to get to his safehouse.
He kept moving, but the exertion was straining his focus on the minds of those around him. Below, the Rashemi who had been released from his grip turned to see the red spirit above, gasping in awe as it fluttered from house to house.
On he ran, glided, and rolled.
He reached the end of the stone houses beyond the market, and dropped to a slide at the end of the final roof, falling into a climb at the end. He instinctively grabbed the pipe running along the wall and slid down, his robe tearing on a metal hook near a window, leaving the last known relic of the Red Spirit.
At the bottom, he let go and hit the ground hard, but gracefully, picking himself up and dashing to the sewer grate not far away. With a flick of his wrist, he lifted the grate as he neared it, magically holding it just above as he slid down and into the long-unused sewer-turned safehouse. He fell slowly for a moment, his feather fall spell still in effect, but when he touched upon the dark earth below, his heart sank as he felt the presence of four men. He looked up, and heard a slow, deliberate clapping.
“Bravo, Xenam, Bravo! Quite the show, up there.” Azazel said, his tail whipping back and forth.
Xenam scowled at the demon, whose presence shifted, his tail being replaced by golden wings as his eyes shifted to milky white.
“I told you it was pointless…” Azrael sighed. “We have decided your path…”
Xenam focused on the minds of the four Thayan soldiers, but found that their presence was fading from his mind. Panicking, he drew his dagger and backed up.
“Oh. Right.” Azazel continued, tail whipping and eyes glowing of sulfurous yellow. “Yeah, about that. We went ahead and took your power away. Didn’t want this to get messy. We’re bored, here. Time for a change. We’re gonna go ahead and collect on your debt. Time’s up, kid.”
Xenam backed up, growling as his psychic power faded entirely, allowing the guards to see him for the first time. They shivered, but kept advancing, swords drawn.
Xenam, still backing up, readied his dagger for a fight. No time for magic, here… He thought as he flipped the dagger back and forth, up and down, in his right hand.
Then, as the soldiers started to charge, he heard in his mind: Flash.
He instinctively dropped his dagger and plugged his ears, shutting his eyes as he crouched to the ground. A flash bang went off in front of him, and the soldiers’ swords hit the earth as they shouted in pain. Behind him, a rope dropped from where he had dropped down, and he picked up his dagger, sheathed it, and started to climb as fast as he could.
He pulled and climbed, and when he reached the top, his contact, Lythra, pulled him up to the surface.
“Idiot!” She hissed as she pulled.
“What?!” He hissed back. “I thought you were dead!”
“You didn’t think! Did you even get my message?”
“It said nothing!”
“It said everything!” She said, exasperated. “Nevermind! No time! We need to get you on a slave ship! You can’t stay here anymore!
Unquestioning, Xenam followed Lythra through the streets and to the river below.