Hello everyone. Today, we mark the end of Jadie Rivers’ first big adventure. Atalatha is a big place with a lot of potential for conflict and mystery, and Aaron Canton did a wonderful job of it with A Most Unusual Patriot.
Last week, we saw Jadie topple the gnoll gladiator, Hwarl. This final chapter of the short sets a lot of things into place. We get a decent look at why Hwarl was in Atalatha, and we see Jadie showing why Westwick’s thieves guild trusted her so much.
Without any further delay from me, here is the finale of A Most Unusual Patriot!
A Most Unusual Patriot
Hwarl’s room was a lot sparser than Jadie would have expected.
She had returned to his chambers after the duel, stopping only to change out of her costume, and had then waited for a few minutes until Hwarl’s bodyguards came back to tell their companions that their employer was dead and they wouldn’t be getting paid. After a great deal of cursing, all the thugs left, and Jadie was able to break into his room without trouble. Once inside, she saw it had only a few pieces of furniture and barely looked lived in. However, there was one large, ornate chest with a fancy lock near the weapons rack against the back wall, and that was what she wanted.
“Let’s see,” she chirped as she set her pack down. It slammed to the ground hard despite her best efforts; all the gold she’d won at the Coliseum was weighing it down. She allowed herself one moment to picture herself back in the Sapphire Square or maybe the famed Stately Lady in Viscosa itself, living in the lap of luxury as she watched the visiting nobles for her next big score. But then the moment passed, and she told herself she had to get back to work. She could celebrate after she found the proof she needed.
The lock was good, but Jadie was better, and it yielded after only a minute or two of work with one of her lockpicks. She snapped it open, then raised the trunk lid.
Something big and thorny swept up at her.
Jadie jumped back, but not fast enough, and the thorny vine was able to snap around one of her arms. Her eyes widened as the thorns poked at her sleeve. Don’t hurt me! she sent to it. I’m a friend!
But the vine kept tightening. It wasn’t like bush branches, which liked to grow and could usually be persuaded to stretch a little and catch an unwary arm, or like flowers, which liked to spread their pollen and would generally do it if she just gave them a little push. Whatever this was, it wanted to rip and tear with its thorns, and Jadie couldn’t coerce it to stop. Her sleeve began to shred as thorns cut through it.
STOP! She pushed at the thorns with everything she had. Get off my arm! Now! But it kept tightening.
The weapon rack was in reach. She reached as far as she could and grabbed one of the halberds with her other hand, then dragged it to her and pressed the shaft against this vine. You want to kill something? Kill this, she urged. See? Arm about as thick as mine. Come on, please, you’d much rather kill this one than me…
After one more awful moment, she felt the thorns yielding to her magic. It unwound from her arm and wrapped around the halberd’s shaft. After a few minutes, she was free, and the halberd was almost covered in a small forest of thorns.
Jadie took a few deep breaths to calm herself, then let out a whoop as joy overtook her. Made it! Even Hwarl’s best trap couldn’t stop me! She grinned and dashed back to the chest. If the weapons were there, that was evidence she could arrange for the guards to obtain.
But the weapons weren’t there. The chest was empty.
Jadie felt like something in her was deflating, but she shook her head. No way. I’m not leaving without some loot, not after all that. Besides, Hwarl wouldn’t have his room guarded unless something was here. I just need to find it.
She searched every inch of the room, just as the Thieves Guild had taught her. She checked for loose floorboards, pulled apart the bedding and furniture, and tapped every brick in the walls to search for hollow spaces. And, after almost an hour of searching, she found one. A single brick reverberated oddly when she hit it, a fast-sounding echo that indicated an empty space behind it. Jadie took her dagger and pried the brick out, then set it aside while she looked through the hole. Inside were several papers.
Jadie took the first one and began to read. “Hwarl. Inform us of the arms and armaments of the Raleigh soldiers and their approximate troop strength in Atalatha. Also, describe any mages of note in Atalatha or Raleigh.”
The next one read, “Hwarl. Describe the other Coliseum warriors. Determine if they could be bribed or threatened into working with us.”
And then, “Hwarl. Tell us the key political figures in the city. Which of them are the most critical?”
So Hwarl wasn’t a smuggler. He was a spy. Jadie could understand that; as a gladiator, the gnoll would meet the people his bosses seemed to want to know about—warriors who trained with him, merchants who bet on him, nobles who watched the games. But then why, Jadie wondered, had he tried to sell weapons? Was he branching out?
When she reached the last letter, things became clearer. “Hwarl. Take this dagger and sell it at the Sapphire Square in three days; there are men there who wish to attack the Duke and will pay well for it. Tell them you have a hundred more just like it to sell at the same price. Once they collect the money, we’ll send you the weapons and you’ll make the exchange.” A list of passwords followed to help Hwarl identify the people he was supposed to sell to.
It made no sense for the deal to take place as written, of course. There were more private places where a gladiator could meet with some people to sell weapons if he chose. The only reason for doing it at the Sapphire Square was…
“They wanted him to be caught,” murmured Jadie.
Hwarl’s superiors had tricked him into revealing himself in a public place so he could be overheard. And someone had also tipped off the Thieves Guild with the false rumor that Lady Trefaer would be at the same location with a famous jewel they wanted. Assuming the thief were at all competent, she’d overhear the deal…and would feel obligated to stop it as part of the guild’s deal with Raleigh. The only way to do that would be to kill Hwarl. Then just set a trap for the thief to tie up the last loose end, and that would be it. Hwarl would be dead, and nobody would be able to trace it back to the instigators.
That only left one question: Why kill Hwarl? He seemed to be a good spy; the letters, at least, never complained that he was sending insufficient or inaccurate information. Did they just not need him anymore?
Wait, Jadie thought. The treaty. Ambassadors and merchants are going to Warus to cement the alliance with one of the largest gnoll tribes. What if the conspiracy includes some of the people on those teams? That would probably be preferable, having a spy that isn’t at risk of dying in the Coliseum every day. And they could write back and forth using sealed diplomatic correspondences, protected by Raleigh’s own soldiers. Not to mention, they might even be able to use the death of a gnoll as a bargaining chip to get a better political position. One of theirs just got killed in Atalatha; maybe they say they’ll abandon the talks unless they’re paid off…
Jadie blushed. She’d been used, manipulated into getting rid of a gnoll for the conspirators. In fact, the Thieves Guild as a whole had been used. It was embarrassing and certainly not how one would want their very first mission to go.
But, after a moment, she let herself smile. She’d still dealt with Hwarl, who was an enemy and needed to be taken out. She had proof of the conspiracy she could show her superiors back in Westwick. She’d successfully robbed several wealthy nobles and merchants, justifying her position as a member of the Thieves Guild. And, thanks to her wagering in the Coliseum, she’d made a lot of money, enough that she couldn’t help but beam when she thought of all those gold coins clinking in her pack. On the balance, things had worked out quite well.
Plus, if she played her cards right, her superiors might assign her the task of rooting out the rest of the conspiracy. After all, she’d already cleaned up one end of it and had a pretty good idea of where to look for the other traitors. Taking them down would help fulfill Westwick’s deal with Victor Raleigh—and it would be fun. One brilliant thief against the evil forces that would topple her nation if they could. Now that was an adventure.
Jadie stuffed the letters into her pack and left Hwarl’s apartment, unable to stop herself from whistling. It had been a successful mission, and she was hopeful that she’d have many more. After all, she was Jadie “Thorn” Rivers, who would be known one day as one of the greatest thieves ever. Whatever obstacles came her way, she knew she could handle them.