Year 3633, the Sixth Age, the thirty-ninth day of Spring
The tall Nevārancien ship stood like a shadow in the light rain a few hundred meters from the front gates of Issia. Much of it was destroyed now due to the cataclysm the people had called The Wave of Fog, which was just that: a wall of Fog that rushed across the realms nearly two years ago. That whirlwind of Fog had saved Essinendeür from the Nevārance invasion, destroying their ships and also destroying all the temples devoted to The Five Gods, who had since been shown to be frauds. The true Gods, Dhror and Melenduil, had proved this to be so. The temples to The Five were long since replaced, but the ships of Nevārance still stood in ruins before all of the capital cities in the lands.
Vhindr pulled his coat closer around his neck and shivered as a cold drop of rain found its way under his collar to trickle down his back. Clouds of steams hung heavily around the city and the guards did not bother them as they passed through the gates.
“Come with me,” Rhalin remarked after they left their horses at the stables inside the gate, “There is a man down in The Pools who might know of Dun Hyic.”
“Lead the way,” Vhindr said and Rhalin was quick to do just that.
“This city stinks,” Valianna groaned as she crinkled up her nose, “And I am cold and wet. Can we not find an Inn to stay at first?”
“Later Valianna,” Vhindr replied harshly to his sister.
“Fine.” The young Varrintine woman grumbled loudly.
The streets were muddy and Vhindr found the air to be uncomfortably moist and humid, and there was definitely a pungent odour of wet wood and mud. The steam clouds about the streets seemed to grow denser as Rhalin led the way to the section of the city known as The Pools. A quite literal, title for it was where the cities bath houses and hot pools were located.
“This man, Ipstein, runs a rather voyeuristic bath house in the lower corner,” Rhalin explained to Vhindr as they walked along.
“So how is he to help us in finding Haylien?” Vhindr asked.
“Virtually all shady dealings happen within his establishment,” Rhalin replied, “He is a facilitator of secret meetings, so to speak. If anyone hired our assassin to kill Baron Ellengar it would have happened here, or if not at the very least Ipstein will know where it did happen and who with.”
“Even if it was organised by someone of notoriety, like a lord?” Valianna inquired curiously.
“Most likely,” Rhalin smiled at Valianna, “Here we are.”
Rhalin turned from the street and into a large stone building where they were greeted by a small foyer.
“M’lady Ragnarr,” the doorman hailed Rhalin, “We’ve not seen yerself for some time. A private bath for you an’ ye friends.”
“Out of the way,” Rhalin replied irritably and pushed passed the man.
“Just like old times ‘ay?” the man laughed as Vhindr followed Rhalin through the doors and into a steamy theater with stone floors and a large communal pool at its center. Other smaller rooms sat around the edges of the hall, blocked off by fancy wooden dividers and folding screens.
“So it is that kind of bath house,” Valianna remarked awkwardly as they moved through the hall.
All about them, walking around or lounging in the hot pools were men and women either completely naked or wearing but a towel to hide themselves. Many were even intimately engaged in the baths or in an alcove, and it was obvious that most, if not all the women were trying to solicit the men for sex.
“This is disgusting,” Valianna remarked distastefully as she moved closer to Vhindr.
“The base side of society, but also very lucrative,” Vhindr said in reply.
Rhalin moved quickly through the main hall and pushed her way through a small wooden door that lead along a short corridor before opening into a small room with a desk in the corner.
“Rhalin Ragnarr,” remarked a small man, glancing over his shoulder as he placed a book back on the shelf of a floor to ceiling bookcase. “And here I was hoping you had left the city for good. Come to try and blackmail more information out of me?”
“We are looking for an elf,” Rhalin stated seriously.
“Well head back to the main hall, there are a few there,” Ipstein replied, uncaring as he moved over to lean against his desk, arms folded. “I’ll even give you a discount, for old time’s sake.”
“Dun Hyic, where is she?” Vhindr butted in.
“Well now, your friend is very pushy,” Ipstein remarked.
“I do not have time for games,” Vhindr replied evenly, “Tell me what you know of the snow elf Dun Hyic.”
“I don’t know anyone called The Hawk,” the small man said with annoyance. “But for the right price I might look into it.”
“How about your life?” Rhalin was quick to say.
“My my,” Ipstein raised an eyebrow, “This hawk must be important to you Rhalin. You know how I operate, nothing is free. You want to know about this Dun Hyic and I might know a thing or two, but it will cost you.”
“We already gave you the terms,” Vhindr stated ominously and his Fog long sword appeared in his hand.
“Your Varrintine friend is certainly impatient, Rhalin,” Ipstein remarked, seemingly unfazed by Vhindr’s threat. “Surely he knows the worth of information.”
Vhindr narrowed his eyes at the composed man, but he felt a slight twinge at his scarred eye and suddenly saw a ghostly image of Ipstein’s heart beating at his chest. The vision surely unnerved Vhindr, but he smiled to himself for he could see the man’s heart beating fast.
“Surely you can see that I can still use magicks,” Vhindr said seriously, before Rhalin could respond. “I suggest you tell me what you know else discover to what extent my magickal prowess remains.”
“You can’t kill me,” Ipstein smirked, but his heart rate increased, “You need to information I have, and I am not about to tell you under empty threats.”
“I am not going to kill you,” Vhindr replied dangerous, “Not right away anyway, there are so many spells I can use that will cause you immense pain. More than you can withstand. You will tell me everything you know about Dun Hyic.”
“Vhindr,” Valianna said softly in surprise at her brother’s viciousness.
“What authority do you think-” Ipstein began.
“I am the son of the Ruling Lord of Sesserrech,” Vhindr cut in, “I have all the authority I need, and there is nothing the laws of Gaianaus can do to stop me.”
Vhindr could still see the ghostly image of Ipstein’s heart beating rapidly, and a flash of concern shot across the man’s eyes.
“You’re bluffing,” Ipstein stated confidently.
“Perhaps I am,” Vhindr offered, “But will you really take that bet?”
Ipstein’s heart was beating so fast that Vhindr thought he could actually hear it. Suddenly the man threw something to the ground which exploded in a flash and a cloud of smoke.
“After him,” Rhalin called, but Vhindr was already on the move.
Ipstein darted from his desk and out a side door into an alleyway. Vhindr was close behind the man and jumped down the wooden stairs into the muddy street. His feet slipped as he hit the ground and Vhindr skidded on his knees, but he was up in a flash and sprinting after the man.
A ball of magicks shot from the stairs Vhindr had jumped from and thundered into a pile of crates beside the fleeing Ipstein, showering him in mud and splinters, but hardly slowing him.
Leather coat tails flying out behind him Vhindr chased Ipstein from the alley and with a flick of his hand sent a wave of energy into the back of the man. The blast connected solidly, sending Ipstein face first into the muck of the street. The few people along the road cried out in surprise and quickly ran from the area as Ipstein pushed himself to his hands and knee, spitting out mud.
“Face down in the mud with another man beating you from behind, is it that time of the day again Ipstein?” laughed a young man with his friends as they watched on.
“Jollen, fellas. You gotta help me.” Ipstein begged to the group of four as Vhindr calmly approached.
“I dunno,” Jollen replied as he ran a hand through his hair, which was in the fashion of a bowl cut, just like his friends. “What d’you think J’carthy?”
“It’s not right that strangers beat up our associates,” J’carthy replied with sad eyes.
“And on our turf too,” added another of the four boys as he scratched his large nose.
“Too right Starky,” Jollen nodded, “Think we should teach ‘im a lesson Garsen?”
“What?” the fourth of the group asked as if coming back from a daydream, “Aye, yes. We should. Right you are fellas.”
The four boys chuckled between them and moved from the veranda of a house to help Ipstein to his feet just as Rhalin and Valianna joined Vhindr.
“Thanks boys,” Ipstein smiled, “I knew that deal with The King was no mistake. Make sure no one ever finds their bodies.”
“Stay and watch Ipstein,” Jellon offered with an evil grin, “Hey Starky give us a beat ay.”
The one with the large nose smiled as he took two small clubs from his belt and began tapping them together as the group spread out around Vhindr and his companions.
“We’re the Bugs from Liver Street,” Jellon began to sing, “With our fists your arse we’ll beat. Bruised and bloody soon you’ll be. And it’ll all be thanks to we.”
“Needs work Jellon.” J’carthy stated flatly.
“To the Abyss with ya,” Jellon grumbled and drew a short sword, “Stay out ‘o this they’re mine.”
With a roar Jellon charged at Vhindr his sword swinging wildly. Vhindr’s sword of Fog appeared in his hand in a flash and he intercepted the strike. Moving quickly Vhindr raised his free hand and spread his fingers wide in front of Jellon’s face. Fog suddenly pooled in Vhindr’s palm and exploded outwards taking off Jellon’s head and sending him flipping backwards to the mud.
“No,” Garsen screamed and rushed Vhindr from the side.
But before the young thug could get close, Rhalin moved into his path her sword driving up through his gut and into his heart. With a grim expression Rhalin stepped away and let the boy fall face first into the mud.
The remaining two thugs looked at their fallen comrades, their faces white and their hands shaking.
“Let’s get out of here,” Starky cried out and dropped his batons before turning tail and fleeing.
“You bastards,” J’carthy exclaimed as he backed away, “The King will sort you out.”
With that he too ran away leaving Vhindr to turn a very serious expression to Ipstein who stood on the veranda of the house the Liver Street Boys had come from, a dumbfounded expression on his face. The short man’s eyes sudden widened and he tripped over his own feet as he raced into the run down house.
“Stop already.” Vhindr growled loudly as he took chase again and shoved his way through the door.
A dozen screams of surprise greeted him on the other side of the door and Vhindr skidded to a stop. The large room was brightly lit by a dozen burning fires around the edges. The heat was almost unbearable and being used to dry the piles of white powder atop benches. A dozen half naked woman, who had been in the process of crushing and dividing up the powder, fled for the door and Vhindr looked to the dark shadows in the corner for Ipstein.
A yell from the side grabbed his attention as Ipstein lunged from the darkness, his sword diving for Vhindr’s face. Somehow Vhindr managed to turn his head at the last second, suffering a nick on his chin, but countered and grabbed Ipstein’s wrist. Twisting with the stab of the sword Vhindr pulled the smaller man off balance and into one of the benches. With a flex of his fingers Vhindr sent a blast of magicks after the man and sent Ipstein crashing through the table and into the one behind it. Wood splintered and the white powder puffed into the air as Ipstein crumpled into the heap.
With a wave of his arm Vhindr cast another spell which blew away the fine powder, preventing him from breathing it in as he walked over and squatted before Ipstein. Blood trickling down his neck Vhindr glared at the man as he groaned and looked back in defeat.
“You done?” Vhindr asked seriously and Ipstein looked away.
“What is this?” Valianna asked as she and Rhalin entered the building.
“Don’t touch that power Valianna,” Vhindr was quick to say, his eyes never leaving Ipstein.
“Is it Sap?” inquired his sister, referring to the common drug made from plant resin.
“No.” Rhalin replied seriously, “Sap has a green tint to it. This is Cane: a base imitation of Sap made from plants that are not found on the Yineth Plateau. Easier to make, and much more dangerous.”
“One of your ventures Ipstein?” Vhindr asked seriously, “Don’t try and lie to me.”
“One of The Kings,” Ipstein replied with a glare at Vhindr. “The Liver Street Boys were running it.”
“That is good,” Vhindr nodded, “See you can be truthful. Now tell me of Dun Hyic.”
The man let out a sigh of defeat, “She was hired to kill Baron Ellengar.”
“By whom?” Rhalin asked as she moved closer.
“I told you not to lie.” Vhindr stated seriously.
“I’m not.” Ipstein snapped, “I had nothing to do with it. I only heard things like everyone.”
“Except you always know more than everyone else,” Rhalin said, “Tell us everything you know or heard, else Vhindr will show you his magickal skills.”
“It came from high up alright,” Ipstein grumbled, “Not your average contract there was some serious money behind it, and some serious secrecy surrounding it.”
“A lord?” asked Rhalin.
“I said I don’t know, an’ that’s the truth,” Isptein replied irritably.
“Except you are a liar.” Vhindr said, his expression hard.
“It was above me.” Ipstein snapped back, “And it is above you. Far above you.”
“Tell me about Dun Hyic.” Vhindr said.
“What do you want to know?” Ipstein scrunched up his face, “She’s a Head Hunter. Kills for money. Nothing else to say except she is damn good at it.”
“Where is she?” Vhindr pressed.
“She runs a shop in Midtown called Assassin for Hire.” Ipstein replied sarcastically, “How in the Abyss should I know?”
“How does one contact her?” Vhindr asked slowly.
Ipstein’s lips went thin and he gritted his teeth.
“Ipstein.” Vhindr said seriously, “How does one contact her?”
“I don’t know” The small man spat angrily.
“I told you not to lie,” Vhindr said irritably.
“I don’t know,” Ipstein said again, “An’ that’s the truth of it. I don’t go about hiring assassin’s to kill people. I am businessman.”
Watching the man closely Vhindr could tell he was not lying and in frustration bared his teeth.
“Who does?” Vhindr asked slowly.
“Dun Wolven,” Ipstein blurted angrily.
“What? The Wolf?” Rhalin asked curiously, “Who is that?”
“He’s and elf, was a Dun Kār commander.” grumbled the man, “Spends most of his time in a bar over in Gildorf Square.”
Vhindr and Rhalin shared and triumphant look, before Vhindr turned a stern expression back to the man.
“What is the name of this bar Ipstein?” Vhindr inquired.
“’Undvarr’,” Ipstein growled, “We done?”
Vhindr stood up and nodded his head slightly before Ipstein scrambled to his feet and backed away.
“I suggest you lot get out of town,” Ipstein said confidently, “The King will be looking for you, and I doubt he will want to have dinner.”
“Leave. Before I change my mind about letting you go.” Vhindr said dangerously and a ball of fire suddenly burst into life in his hand.
Ipstein sneered viciously, but said no more before he turned and quickly departed out the back door.
“Let’s go.” Vhindr decided as he casually dropped the ball of fire onto the floor where it roared into life, spreading quickly throughout the room.
Vhindr led the way from the burning building and back out onto the muddy streets where a squadron of guards were waiting for them.
“Looks like The King has some of the guard in his pocket,” Vhindr remarked quietly to Rhalin.
“Rhalin Rangarr, Vhindr Varrintine,” the leader of the guards politely called to them. “Come with us please. Roht Ellengar wishes an audience.”
“Am I invited too?” Valianna asked, seemingly irritated.
“Sorry miss I don’t know who you are,” the guard replied as he motioned for them to follow, “But if you are with these two than you should come as well.”
Valianna pouted and let out an annoyed sigh but said no more as Vhindr followed behind the leader and the other men formed a guard behind them.
“Is it necessary for a whole squad of guardsmen to escort us?” Vhindr asked curiously.
“This is The King’s territory,” the leader replied seriously, “We are always sure to be in force whenever venturing into one of the Boss's areas. By the way, thanks for burning down that factory of Cane, saves us the trouble of raiding it and making The King angry.”
“How long have you known it was there?” Rhalin asked.
The guardsman shrugged, “It’s just one of many of The King’s enterprises.”
“You do nothing?” Valianna asked in surprise.
“What can we do?” the burly man asked back, “We destroy one, he makes another. But not before having all who destroyed the first killed.”
“So go and arrest this King person.” Valianna exclaimed in disbelief.
“What’s the charge miss?” the man asked back, “Sure we know he is the one behind it all, but there is never anything tying him to his criminal ventures. And he is too well protected.”
“That is ridiculous,” Valianna said, “It would never happen in Port Na’brath.”
“It does happen in The Port, Valianna,” Vhindr interjected, “Such organisations are a part of all major cities. If you get rid of one, another takes its place. Such is the way of civilised society.”
“All you can do is hope to contain it.” The leader of the guards nodded in agreement.
Little more was said as Vhindr and his two companions followed the guards through the city streets, moving from the slums through the markets of Midtown before heading up the hill to the castle where Roht Ellengar awaited.