"Hey, over there."
Claude poked his chin to the three tied up in the corner of the room, making sure his minion didn't forget them, then put Fatbull's pouch away along with the rest of his loot.
The minion hesitated a moment then moved to his boss and company. Jerad stared at him furiously, but the minion just sighed.
"Boss, I am powerless to do anything about this..."
It wasn't that he didn't want to resist, the mysterious magus was just far too cruel for him to risk it. Apart from Bowen, which of the Blacksnakes in the house wasn't known for his combat abilities? Yet the magus beat them all with just a blink. This masked magus was there to rob, not save. He didn't care whether they were from Shark or Blacksnake.
The pig-faced guard tried to communicate his thoughts through his gaze to the tied-up Jerad, but the leader failed to notice and only glared at him angrily like he would a traitor.
The minion first took the money pouch from the corpse of his friend. He then reached into his sleeves and pants to make sure there was nothing else before reaching for Jerad. He found an expensive-looking goatskin pouch. Sparks could almost be seen in Jerad's eyes as he struggled against his ropes. He could only watch as the minion inspected him with his bloody hands.
The minion managed to find a few more copper coins on him. After he made sure there was nothing else, he turned to the two sisters. After a moment's hesitation, he decided to do them as well, but Claude stopped him.
"Forget the women."
The minion sighed relievedly and hurried to his master to hand over his loot. Claude noticed he was still hesitant about something, as if he wanted to do something he was forbidden to. He knew what he wanted when he noticed Kesline's breasts were pressed into quite an alluring shape by the ropes, but since he'd been quite obedient thus far, he decided not to get him for it.
"You did well. I'll leave everything else to you," Claude said plainly, tapping his temporary minion on his shoulder, and turning to leave.
The four he left behind stared at him as he left, unable to decide what to think about what had just happened. It all felt like a dream.
Jerad only snapped to nearly a minute after Claude had vanished.
"Are you going to untie me or not?!" he shouted at Claude's former minion.
The man jumped and got to work immediately.
In one corner of the room, strewn about haphazardly, Fatbull Bowen breathed weakly. He'd not died from the strike, and had even woken up somehow.
"Save... save me..." he groaned.
"Eh? He's not dead yet?" the pig-faced former minion asked, surprised.
He was pretty sure the man had been just a corpse when he'd searched him.
Jerad shrugged his ropes off finally, grabbed the nearest bladed item he could find, and cut his female companions loose. He only went over to Bowen once they were free.
"He's still salvageable. He's only got a hole in his stomach. His fat's taken most of the punch."
A hopeful light shone in the fat man's eyes. He raised his hand with all his strength, trying to tug on Jerad's clothes.
"S-save me... I will pay you back..."
But Jerad merely laughed before driving the dagger he'd picked up through the man's chest.
"Save you? In your dreams! I still have you pay you back for before!"
The former minion shrieked from the side.
"You... you killed him? Butcher Bill will go crazy!"
Jerad didn't so much as frown at the reminder as he retrieved the dagger.
"You think he would let us go even if we saved this shit? We'd all be dead if that magus hadn't showed up. They killed Ablonk right in front of us! We'd have been dead by sunrise. Even if we'd given them the taverns, they wouldn't have spared us."
He kicked the corpse further into the corner, smiling.
"I didn't think this magus would be Shark's guardian angel. He crippled Slanteye Kamadi last time, this time he's dealt with Fatbull Bowen for us. Bidlir will be fuming when he hears about this. He could still deal with Kamadi's loss since he was never really a part of Bidlir's inner circle, just a hired arm. But Bowen was his right-hand man. They go back years and Bidlir's practically raised the man. Losing him won't just badly hurt Blacksnake, or just Bidlir, it'll severely weaken his position in the gang as well.
"He can't do anything for now though, since he's stuck in the camp for training. On top of that, no one else in Blacksnake has either the sense or guts to take action to save the situation in his absence. We need to hit them now while they're in disarray and chase them out of town for good! This is a great chance for us, but if we don't take it, it'll be our end. If Bidlir comes back to a semi-intact Blacksnake, he'll wipe us out, especially since he'll have his new armed minions."
Jerad was not chosen to be the stand-in leader for no reason. He had a sharp head on his shoulders. Blacksnake had torn up the truce they'd made, and without the triad in Town Hall to keep a lid on their ambitions, no one could control them. He knew now was Shark's only chance to wipe them out and save themselves.
The men they'd lost with the convoy had wiped out most of their strength. They were much weaker than Blacksnake when the latter's command structure was intact. But they were much stronger man for man, so if Blacksnake was in disarray, they could still overpower them. If Blacksnake was allowed to recover from this, there would be no place in Whitestag for Shark. The best they could hope for was to be absorbed into it, though they'd have few prospects in the gang as former rivals. That would most likely not happen, however, not with Bidlir in control. The more likely outcome was for them all to be turned into fish bait as an example to anyone else that might have the impious thought of not obeying Blacksnake unconditionally.
The two gangs had a long and bloody history as rivals. Almost everyone in each gang had beaten up and been beaten up by someone from the other at least once in their life. The two hated one another with a passion, and Jerad knew this well. The blood on their hands made an absorption impossible.
Before tonight, he'd decided to negotiate with Bidlir for a peaceful end to their conflict. He was willing to disband Shark unconditionally if something bad had really happened to the convoy and taken their core members with it. His hopes of a peaceful resolution had been dashed when Bowen had burst into his home and started beating up him and his men.
He'd resigned himself to his fate after Ablonk was killed in front of him, but then the magus showed up. The thought sparked his flame again. Since they wanted to kill him, he'd gnaw on them until they got him, or, now, until they died! The heavens had gifted him this chance and so he'd taken it. With Bowen's death the gang would be in complete disarray. With Bidlir's absence, and his eroded position after Bowen's death, his lieutenants would not dare take action against Shark on their own. They'd also most likely start fighting amongst themselves over who'd get to replace their two dead generals.
Now was the time to hit them. If he could wipe out their leadership, the gang would either disperse or be in such a terrible condition he could run them right out of town.
With the keepers in town, however, he couldn't fight a full war, but he didn't want to. He was just going after their leadership. If he did things right, he could assassinate the lieutenants without triggering a response from the keepers.
"How are Benny and Clive?" Jerad asked, his mind settled.
"Benny's fine. He only suffered some external injuries and a strike to the back of the head. Clive has at least three broken ribs and a couple other serious injuries. We need to take him to the apothecary," the former minion replied.
"What about Blacksnake?"
"Two are still alive in the yard, or were when I searched them. Four more dead, and according to the magus six more are dead in the alley."
"Take a dagger with you and make sure."
The man darted off, shortsword in hand.
Jerad turned to the sisters.
"Kesline, bring me the concoction I gave you last time. I'll check on Benny and Clive. In the meantime, the two of you need to pack up. We can't stay here anymore. Let's go to Mermaid. Blacksnake won't come looking for us right in the heart of our territory."
Kesline tugged on his arm.
"What do we do about this place? This is our home! Are we really going to leave the corpses here like this?"
Jerad thought quietly for a couple moments, then hugged her, smiling.
"This is our home. We're only leaving for the time being. We'll come back once we've settled things. I'm sure you understand after what happened tonight. We're not the ones looking for a fight. Blacksnake will never let us go. We have to chase them out of town if we want to have peace.
"We'll take care of the corpses. We'll stay here until tomorrow and leave in the morning. With this many corpses it's bound to become news throughout the three prefectures. We'll take the corpses to the lake and dump them somewhere offshore. Nobody'll know where they went. It'll make Blacksnake suspicious and testy, but they shouldn't figure it out before we make our move."
Dumping corpses into the lake was a shared secret between the two gangs. It was the best way to get rid of unwanted leftovers. Fishermen found the bones on occasion, and it'd lead to a couple superstitions in town.
"Eww, gross. I'll swear off fish for good," Kesline answered.
"B-big Brother Jerad, t-that masked magus took our money... D-don't you hate him?" a pale-faced Kefnie asked.
Jerad smiled awkwardly. He really wondered how women's brains worked. They were definitely not the same as his. They'd just gone through so much, and were facing massive change in the coming days, and yet they were still preoccupied with their diet and lack of funds. They should have been anxious to get to Mermaid's safety, but instead they were concerned over the building they would be leaving behind. Why did women always bother with the pointless things?
"I don't really hate him. He did save us, after all. I couldn't have hired someone to take care of them for the money he took. If anything, I should be thankful. He came out on the losing end of the exchange, really. And after we take care of Blacksnake, we'll have more money. I might actually decide to give him some more if I run into him again. I'd be more than willing to pay well so he'll save us again," Jerad answered.