There was a saying at The Drunken Whore tavern. "If it doesn't happen at The Drunken Whore, it just can't be done."
The saying was mostly true. The notorious inn was situated atop a small hill not too far from the Norvah-Mesion border, just at the fringe of the Rhian Woods, leering over the Free Path road like a lecher in a brothel. The place was known from Stormpeak to Demios as one of the worst taverns to get drunk in alone, but one of the best places to go if you had some kind of death wish. Many travellers who had the misfortune to stumble across the inn at nightfall quickly decided to either keep on walking, or spend the night outside with the white wolves that haunted the forest at night. They were probably the smartest choices. At least the wolves killed swiftly; one night at The Drunken Whore made being eaten by white wolves look like a wonderfully painless death. Many an unwary traveller had woken up after seven too many drinks and found himself in the middle of the Rhian without clothes, a purse, sanity, memory, or alternatively, lower limbs. Sometimes all five.
The bar itself was a rickety, three storey building that looked as though all the builders had begun hallucinating halfway though construction and decided to carry on anyway. The first floor was perfectly normal, albeit not quite square or particularly tall, so some of the taller patrons had to stoop whilst inside. It had four wood and stone walls, room for a bar and seating, a small kitchen, an outhouse attached to the back and a stable for half a dozen horses. Nothing particularly fancy, but it all did its job well enough, even if it was damp and cold, and infested with all manner of rats and insects. Most people managed to get drunk enough to ignore the unwanted pests, or else they got so drunk they began giving them names and wanting to take the monstrous creatures home to keep.
The second floor was where things began to get a little more confusing. It seemed that by the second level, the builders no longer cared for using sensible or rational angles; the whole floor was wildly slanted down to the left, as though it would fall over at any moment. Inside, all the walls intersected at seemingly random points, creating a tangled mass of rooms that were all completely out of proportion. Some of the rooms were too small for anyone at all to use, even for storage. Some rooms had doors and windows in the ceiling, some had gaps where the walls didn't quite reach the floors or roof, and one even had no doors at all, only a tiny crawlspace for an entrance. The materials used for the walls, floor, and ceiling became increasingly bizarre, including a window boarded over with what looked to be parchment and brown sugar, and a section of wall that had been built out of candle wax. A couple of inner walls jutted out of the outer walls like the spikes on a mace, and the altogether impression was that whoever had constructed the tavern had, by that point, no clear concept as to what the basic rules of building a functioning shelter actually were.
By the third floor, most people who were viewing the inn for the first time simply shook their heads in disbelief and went inside to see if getting as drunk as possible made the concept of the building make any more sense. It didn't. There was no way to make the third floor make sense, even if you assembled the entire board of scholars from Risin Nea and gave them seven hours, a piece of string and as much alcohol as they needed. It simply defied all logic. The builders, who judging by their craftsmanship had neither a brain cell nor a scrap of sanity between them, had somehow managed to construct the third floor balanced on it's right hand bottom corner. There was no roof or ceiling, only two walls that met at a perfect forty-five degree right angle. From that point upwards, walls splayed out in each and every direction possible, including vertically, horizontally, diagonally, and everything in between. Only three of the walls joined together in a sort of slant, and the rest fell underneath like some kind of deranged labyrinth. That did not stop the third floor being fully operational. Inhabitants of the inn simply placed mattresses where two or more walls joined at a suitable angle, and slept there. Sometimes, someone rolled off the edge of a wall and died, but that didn't really matter much. The tavern operated on a 'pay first' basis, so getting a room after you'd handed over coin was like an unfortunate lottery; if the tenant died, at least they had the gold to keep. And tenants died worryingly often.
The clientele that frequented the bar was...varied, to say the least. As it was placed so conveniently at the edge of the tangled mass of trees that made up the woods, The Drunken Whore attracted a wide range of miscreants and oddities; from robbers and thieves, to murderers, to rogues, to orcs, goblins, and the occasional lycan. Such an assortment gave the tavern it's one other distinguishing feature; the amount of violence that took place there. It was considered a quiet night if only a couple of travellers died, and if nobody died, you were in the wrong tavern. Fighting, brawling, and any other kind of underhand misdeeds were not only permitted, but actively encouraged. It could be guaranteed that any unwary, naive, or suicidal patron who entered the bar without any kind of weapon or self defence would be dead within the hour. Bets were placed with vigorous enthusiasm on the exact time and method that such travellers would be dispatched, and it was such a common occurrence that the more regular faces in the bar considered it some kind of entertainment. The method of death varied upon which clients happened to be visiting the tavern at the time. One particular band of barbarians had a habit of impaling unfortunate victims on barbed spikes and placing them outside the tavern doors. Another regular group of mages enjoyed cursing their chosen prey; leaving them to suffocate helplessly as their lungs filled up with apple cider or some other kind of liquor. A young, dark skinned woman, who was rumoured to practice voodoo and who had something of an infamously sluttish reputation, enjoyed seducing her chosen man, luring him up to a room so that she could sleep with him. Whilst the drowsy, self-satisfied idiot was comfortably drifting off to sleep, she would bind him to the bed, gag him, and then cut off various parts of his anatomy for her rituals. She seemed to especially like the left ear for some reason, as she would string these onto a necklace that she wore around her neck. For some reason, none of her victims ever seemed to question why she was wearing pieces of other people. Perhaps they were all very desperate to have a woman; any woman, even one that liked keeping mementos. It hardly seemed out of place at The Drunken Whore. The whole inn was a hotbed of sex, violence, gambling, and sadism; indeed, the tavern seemed the thrive off it's own deplorable reputation.
The owner and bartender of The Drunken Whore was one Eurcus Lynch, a half orc who filled up a doorway both in height and width. He was a walking, grunting mountain of muscle, as bright as a lump of cheese, and with the same kind of complexion; a sickening green-yellow that was reminiscent of a half digested lemon. As with all half orcs, his skin was covered in black, swirling tattoos that denoted his ranking within his former tribe. When half-orcs reached maturity, they were cast out from the tribe to keep bloodlines strong and fierce. However, one drawback of being a halfling was that Orcish blood tended to cancel out whatever blood it was mixed with, making any halflings created only slightly weaker variations of the original bloodline. Still, in any Orcish culture, weakness could not be accepted, and so half-orcs were either killed or cast out. Nobody could tell what breed the unfortunate mother of Eurcus had been, because he was as ugly, stupid, and brutishly strong as any other orc. She was possibly elven, a favourite prey of the wandering Orc tribes that resided in the towering mountains of the Dark Pass. Quite how Eurcus had come from being so far north to run a tavern by the Rhian was quite the mystery to all who frequented the tavern, but as of yet, nobody had worked up the courage to ask him. Asking Eurcus anything was like trying to get eggs from a dead chicken. The most you would ever get was a grunt, maybe a punch if you were unlucky. Eurcus didn't much like talking.
Tonight, he was stood behind the bar, washing up pint mugs in a large wooden bowl of murky water. Oddly enough, his large, thick fingers handled the chipped and scratched glazed pot mugs very gently, as though he were holding a newborn child and trying not to break it. To watch Eurcus work was slightly hypnotizing, in a repetitive, lulling kind of way. The mugs were gently placed in the bowl of water and swirled for mere seconds before being plucked from the dark, dank water by the sausage-like appendages. Then, a tattered and dirty rag was wiped over the glazed surface a few times, leaving grimy smears on the somewhat cleaner mug. Most who knew The Drunken Whore well knew that it was the best they could expect to get. Eurcus, nor anybody in the inn, was particularly tight on hygiene, as shown by the cockroaches that made their homes on the floors, and the bedbugs that lived in the few mattresses there were in the inn.
Occasionally, he gripped a mug a little too tightly, and it shattered in his huge paw, or he gripped it a little too lightly, and it slowly slid out of his grip before smashing on the cracked grey slate tiles. On these occasions, Eurcus would give a soft growl of dissatisfaction, his split lips parting into an ugly snarl to reveal large, pointed teeth, like that of a wild boar. Then, the last vestiges offending mug would be snatched up into the massive, calloused palms, which would close tightly to crush the shards of pot into dust, before it's successor found itself dunked very unceremoniously into the bowl of water.
It had begun to rain about half an hour previously, slowly, steadily, taking it's sweet time to build up to the hammering that echoed off the inn and the forest floor. The water dripped through the holes in the ceiling, and buckets had at first been strategically placed to catch the drips. Then a clumsy drunkard had knocked them all over, and the whole operation had been abandoned, and so the rain pervaded, seeping through every crack and making the whole inn reek of damp wood. It wasn't pleasant. Every so often, a clap of thunder shook the inn, and the few inhabitants who were still sober enough to take note would look up from their drinks and mutter about the awful weather. It always seemed to be raining lately, and the storms were getting worse too. Normally, people would have blamed it on the onset of autumn; the last vestiges of the summer storms, but lately they seemed...different. There was something in the air, something darker and heavier, and all who could sense it gained an uneasy feeling in the pits of their stomachs. Intuition, perhaps, that all was not well, though nobody ever mentioned it. After all, they were just storms, the worst that could happen was a flood. Such feelings were nonsense, things for astronomers and stargazers and wise women to fret over.
"Rhyklan! Damn it, Rhyklan, it's your bloody turn! I swear to the Gods, in a minute I'm going to shove these cards so far up your arse you'll be vomiting up your hands!"
The sharp tone of his companion made Rhyklan glance up out of his reverie, his eyes narrowing at his dark skinned companion. Was it his turn, or was Dranos tricking him again? He honestly couldn't recall, he'd spent the past ten minutes staring blankly out the window while Dranos carefully considered his hand, but he wouldn't have put it past the southern barbarian to switch his cards while Rhyklan wasn't concentrating. After all, they were playing Alouette, one of Dranos' favourite card games, and he took the competition very seriously, no matter who he was playing with. Looking at Dranos' muscular build and intense expression, most of the people who played with him decided that they had best take the game seriously too. One incident in a brothel in Menai had become infamous, where Dranos had accused a man of cheating him, which the obviously lying victim had vehemently denied. The incident had ended with a broken third floor window, an empty chair, and a lot of blood.
The general concept and rules of Alouette, particularly the two player version, were very simple, when one knew how to play. Forty-eight cards were used in the game, a usual set of fifty-two but with all the tens removed. The remaining cards were shuffled, and each player was dealt a hand of nine cards, with one player being made the dealer. The leftover cards were set aside in a deck, and the player not designated as the dealer dealt the first card from the deck as the starting card, known as the 'trick' card. After this, the game began. Each player placed a card from his or her hand onto the deck, with no regards to suit. Kings were scored as the highest cards, aces as the lowest. The aim of the game was to win tricks by playing the highest ranking card possible. If the cards were a tie, the trick was set aside to be played for again, and the winner of the next trick gained both sets of tricks. Whoever won the most tricks in a nine hand, won the hand. The cards were then gathered and re-shuffled, and the other player became the dealer. The first to win twelve hands won the game.
The game was simple enough when played in this way, but the addition of betting changed everything. Players could set a bet on hands or games. Variations of betting could cause the winner of a game to be the player who took a certain card rather than the player who won the most tricks; if the card was decided to be the Three of Coins, the player who took the Three of Coins would be the winner, even if they hadn't won the most number of tricks. The variations on betting were numerous, and depended on your level of skill, your opponent's level of skill, how much you were willing to risk betting, and how long you thought you'd live if you managed to beat your partner. Alouette games were serious business, and many players were very sore losers; many games ended with players arguing or fighting in some way. Bets could be placed with money, but when coin was short, inventive opponents found new things to bet with; clothes, weapons, food, drink, or occasionally, women. The more drunk the opponents, the more intense the game, and the higher the stakes became. Rhyklan knew of one man who, in an intoxicated, senseless state, had betted his life in an Alouette game. Needless to say, he had lost both the game and his head.
Turning his attention back to his cards, Rhyklan studied his hand intently, locks of dark hair falling into his eyes. Rhyklan had very thick hair, and it always had a habit of wandering into his eyes when he was focusing on something. His deep green eyes scanned the cards, glittering like emeralds. Everyone said that Rhyklan had beautiful eyes, with very long lashes; especially girls. He was a good looking man, with a strong jaw and a tall but light build, and a tongue that could charm a snake out a basket. His fingers scratched at light stubble from days of travelling without a shaving knife. They'd been walking for a long while, and it could definitely be seen in both men's clothes; Rhyklan's dark green tunic was riddled with patches holes and fresh tears, and his leather vest was scratched and faded as though it had been worn for many years. His breeches too were repaired over and over, patched with fabrics of different shades of brown and bits of string. The only things that looked new were his boots and his cloak. The leather of the boots was supple and strong, and looked expensive, which was exactly why he'd stolen them off the rich merchant who had four more pairs to sell. His other boots had been worn into dust with walking. The cloak had been a present from a very pretty miller's daughter down in Oria, who had cried when he'd left and pressed the rich fabric into his hands as a keepsake. It hadn't worked. He barely remembered her face.
Dranos was winning; five hands to three, but Rhyklan's heart wasn't in the game today. His mind kept wandering elsewhere, and he couldn't focus on his hand. They weren't bad cards, and he should have been a lot more interested in the game at hand than he was, given he had a good chance of winning. He considered his cards for a moment, then placed down the Six of Cups carelessly. He didn't much care for Alouette today, and Dranos noticed.
"Something's on your mind, care to share it?" Dranos intoned with his deep bass voice, leaning over the table. An unusual look of concern was on his broad face, and his deep chestnut eyes were narrowed. Rhyklan knew his companion was worried for him, an unusual emotion for a barbarian; it wasn't often that Rhyklan played so distractedly. Rhyklan hadn't felt himself since they'd arrived at the Drunken Whore. In fact, he'd been feeling strange ever since they'd woken up that morning, as though he wasn't all there. The pair had been travelling together for around two months, and a fast friendship had grown between them, so Rhyklan knew it concerned Dranos whenever something was wrong. Rhyklan didn't look sick, but he hadn't eaten much that day, and he seemed...spaced.
Rhyklan shrugged his shoulders and glanced around the inn. It was fairly quiet tonight, which was somewhere between good and strange. They'd never stayed at this inn before, something that Rhyklan was incredibly grateful for. Since they'd arrived, two mages had gotten into a fight with a quiet old man sitting at the corner of the bar, who had promptly stood up, drawn a sword, and decapitated both his antagonisers without so much as a word. At that point, the divide between the regular patrons and the travellers became clear. Anyone who had never been to the Drunken Whore before, including Rhyklan and Dranos, gave a cry of outrage and glanced around, expecting to see people rising to their feet and weapons being drawn. Anyone who had been to the Drunken Whore before merely slumped in their chair and sank deeper into their ale. They'd seen worse. Rhyklan tilted his head and glanced under a nearby table. It looked like nobody had bothered to clean up, because one of the mages was staring blankly back at him with glassy, dead eyes.
Dranos frowned a little more. He leaned back, and thick fingers played over the hand of cards he grasped, delicately selecting a card to play. With a small flourish, he placed down the Seven of Swords, but his eyes never left Rhyklan.
"Look, something is wrong with you, I can tell. What's the matter?" He followed Rhyklan's gaze, noting the head under the table and giving a sigh. "Come on man, pull yourself together. You've seen and done worse than that. Remember the gypsy camp down at the Lych?"
At the memory of the slaughter down at the Lych, both men shuddered hard. They had been travelling not two weeks before, and had stopped for food and shelter at a gypsy camp, since every inn was full. The travelling folk had been more than accommodating to the two travellers who, like them, were tired and weary. They had shared their food and drink, given them beds for the night, and Rhyklan had been incredibly happy when one of the pretty young girls who had sat with them round the fire had slipped into his blankets, given him a wicked little smile, and set to keeping him warm and awake.
They had fallen to sleep afterwards, tired and satisfied, and Ryklan had slept well for a few hours with her body cradled in his arms. However, he had been roused while it was dark by her shaking him violently. The sounds of screams were all around them, and the little tent was full of thick, acrid smoke. She was screaming. He couldn't even remember her name properly, but he remembered the way she was screaming.
"We have to go!" she was shouting over the noise. "The Paladins are here, they're clearing out the camp! They'll kill anyone they find, we have to go!"
Rhyklan hadn't taken much persuading; he could now hear the ring of steel and swords. The girl had grabbed his hand and they had crawled out the back of the tent. Death was everywhere. The paladins were riding through the camp, scattering the gypsies that could run for their lives and killing the ones that got in the way. Ryklan watched helplessly as a young mother, no more than seventeen or eighteen, slipped and fell while carrying a baby in her arms. The paladin behind her didn't stop riding, and Rhyklan heard a sickening crack as the horse rode straight over her, crushing her back and ribs, breaking her skull, and turning the ground around them to mud sodden with blood. Another child, about five, was cut down by the slash of her blade. Her eyes stared sightlessly at Rhyklan as she collapsed like a rag doll before him.
He didn't think he'd ever run so fast in his life.
They had found Dranos among the chaos, two dead paladins beside him, and they had managed to get out of the camp just as the Paladins decided to burn everything to the ground. By the time they were at a safe distance, Rhyklan had realized the girl he had slept with had vanished. He had no idea when he had lost her, but if she had fallen behind, she was most definitely dead.
Rhyklan shook his head and sighed. "Don't remind me. That still gives me sleepless nights."
Dranos leaned forwards and tapped the slowly growing pile of cards on the table. "It's your turn, if you still want it. If you won't tell me what's wrong, at least keep it out of mind long enough to finish the damn game," he growled sulkily. He got very serious about cards, and Rhyklan could tell his lack of interest in the game was annoying Dranos.
Rhyklan sighed again, then carelessly threw down a losing card. He really wasn't in the mood for Alouette. "There, you win. Three silver embers to you, as promised." Pulling out a leather drawstring pouch, he put three silver disks on the table and pushed them over to Dranos, who looked like he was about to punch Rhyklan.
"You did that on purpose!" he roared.
Rhyklan grinned and shrugged. "Did I? Did I really? You won, didn't you? Your pride is assuaged." Turning around and grabbing a fair haired, curvy little bar wench by the waist, he took two mugs of ale and handed one to Dranos before giving the girl's backside a cheeky slap. "Come on, let it go. I don't want to play cards tonight. Don't act like such a spoiled brat."
Dranos' face darkened like thunder, then he let out a booming laugh, grabbing the mug and downing the contents in one. "Damn you to the Void, Rhyklan. One day you're going to find someone you can't charm."
Rhyklan smirked and shrugged, downing his own drink and eyeing up the swell of the girl's hips. "I have yet to find someone I can't charm, fuck, or kill. When that changes, stick me through with a sword."
The Rhian Woods was not the only region to be hit by the fierce storms. The dark clouds that had brought the lashing rain and the lightning had spread in from the west like a stain, and most of the coast was suffering the force of it's wrath. It was a huge storm, one of the worst of the year, it seemed.
Ocean's Point, the capital of the combined kingdom of Eirinn, seemed to get the worst of it. The rain pelted the white marble walls of the citadel with the perseverance and strength of a small army staging a siege. Every citizen had retreated inside to shelter to wait out the storm, and as they hid they could hear the drops of water bouncing off their roofs and threatening to cave them in. Water cascaded down windows like a waterfall, and many of the cobbled streets that crisscrossed the citadel in it's distinctive star shaped patterning turned into small rivers. The waterfalls and fountains in the Greater Market Square overflowed with water and only added to the rush of water. The wind and thunder only made things worse, and most sensible people would have stayed inside until the worst of the weather had passed, but a sudden flash of lightning illuminated a single, solitary figure making it's way from the castle gatehouse to the castle, hood drawn up and back hunched against the elements.
This lonely figure, seemingly tiny against the imposing silhouette of the towers and pillars that formed the huge castle dominating the skyline, swiftly made it's way to the solid oak doors of the main castle entrance. They swung open without hesitation, and the figure strode inside purposefully, sliding down the hood of his dripping wet silver cloak. The embroidered hem rustled as it trailed along the stone floor, leaving a trail of rainwater, and the light of the braziers made the jewelled scroll brooch on his breast glitter and glow. The mark of a messenger. His damp, sandy hair clung to his scalp, and his skin glowed palely in the dim firelight. One hand wiped a drop of water from his long, slightly hooked nose, and his thin lips tightened. He was not a young man; his face was lined and weather-beaten, and it was hard to tell whether he was in his thirties or forties, but he walked with the strength of gait of a man in his prime. He knew where he was going, and he knew what he had to deliver.
The guards patrolling the corridor nodded to him as he passed them, and he nodded back courteously, but didn't stop walking. He could stop and speak with them later, but right now, his first and only priority was completing the assignment that he had been given by delivering the information that the King had bid him find. That was his first objective.
Making his way down the long, wide hallways, bordered by pillars and the banners and swords of long dead kings and knights, he picked up his pace. He had been told where he would find the King at this late hour by the guards at the gate. They'd been expecting him, and no other guards stopped him or tried to hinder his progress as he made his way to the King's private quarters. The King himself had requested that the information the messenger was delivering was brought straight to him and him alone, and that meant that the messenger had to be as swift and efficient as possible to ensure that the King was satisfied that he had not delayed.
Quickly maneuvering to the correct door, the messenger knocked twice and waited for the door to be opened. Inside, he could hear a soft giggle, and the sound of soft, rhythmic grunting. This continued for another minute before he heard footsteps walking to the door and quiet talking, followed by the click of the key in the lock.
It was another moment before the door opened, and the messenger stepped inside. The room was large and spacious, lit by a lantern and a roaring log fire, and he could see the dimly lit shape of a large four-poster bed, and a man dressing himself. The figure pulled on his shirt and glanced at the messenger, narrowing deep blue eyes the colour of a stormy sea. "Oh, Aspen, so you're back. You were faster than I thought you'd be."
The messenger smiled slightly and bowed his head respectfully. "I pride myself on being efficient, your Majesty."
His Majesty, King Iolnn, Divine Ruler of Eirinn and all of her provinces, smirked and laced up his breeches, running one hand through his hair. Once long and dark, it was now cut short and tinged with metal grey, like his father's. He had his father's strong jaw, and deep-set blue eyes, but unlike his father's his eyes held no kindness. The lines around his eyes and on his forehead told the King's age, closer to fifty than forty, but apart from that he seemed as strong and as healthy as in the portraits that been commissioned when he had first re-taken Eirinn from his sister, the Stone Beauty, the Queen whose head had sat on the spikes of the castle gate twenty one years ago. The portraits had shown a strong, noble, virile young king. He was still just as healthy; thickset, more muscular, and very active, but recently he'd not been sleeping, and there were dark circles under his eyes. He'd been drinking too. Aspen could smell the wine from over the other side of the room, and a small side table held a pitcher of wine and several cups. It was one of his worst habits.
The wine would have affected his temper too, Aspen knew. Iolnn had a short temper at the best of times, explosive and violent. His years in exile on the far north islands of the Broken Isles had made him harsh and as cold as stone and snow. Aspen would have to tread carefully.
"Well then, I presume your efficiency has brought me the information I require?"
The messenger nodded, glancing to the bed. He could see the naked figure of the king's favourite 'mistress', her amber hair shining. She sat up and leaned forwards, obviously interested in what was to be said, and the messenger glanced at her with a glare. "Your Majesty, this information might be best told in absolute privacy."
Iolnn nodded and walked to the bed, grabbing the young girl by her long hair. She squealed in pain as he lifted her bodily, yanking her out the bed and throwing her to the floor. "Out. Now."
The poor girl whimpered, clutching her head and curling up to try and cover her nakedness. "But, your Majesty, I..."
Iolnn growled and threw a blanket at her, his cold eyes flashing with fire. "I said get out!" He stared at the girl until she jumped up and ran for the door, clutching the blanket to her body as she ran past the messenger. Aspen barely glanced at her. She didn't interest him at all. Once the door was closed, Iolnn walked to the window and looked out. "The storm is still bad. I trust your journey back was safe?"
Aspen shrugged. "As safe as it could be, given the weather. I got back into the region just as the worst hit." He shrugged off the damp cloak and walked over to the fire, spreading it out in front of the flames so that it could dry at least a little. Standing up and walking to the small table in the corner of the room, he took a red apple and bit into it, letting the sweet taste fill his mouth. He hadn't eaten all day, and he was hungry from his long journey.
If Iolnn was irritated by Aspen making himself perfectly at home in the King's private chambers, he didn't show it. They had been friends since childhood, and after Iolnn had retaken the throne, he had rewarded his friends well. Aspen had been elevated to Master of Messengers, a job he took great pride in, often delivering important information and messages himself when he perceived it to be necessary. This had been one of those occasions, and Aspen was anxious to discuss what he had found out.
Iolnn was silent for a moment, and Aspen took the opportunity to take three letters out of his brown leather knapsack, each one sealed with the crest of a different lord in different colours of wax. There was the blue axe and shield of the Tyrenhall dhysair, the midnight black crest and silver scythe of the Lord of Nyvella, and a black tree on a field of green; the mark of the Halden dhysair, of Salt Wood. Taking the letters in hand, Aspen walked over and handed them to Iolnn.
"Letters intercepted by some of the messengers. It seems some of the lords of the land are not happy with the taxes being raised yet again, and then plan to take matters into their own hands."
Iolnn opened the letters one by one and read them through quickly, his blue eyes scanning the pages. As he read, his expression darkened. "Have them all brought in on charges of treason, find everyone accountable or even remotely involved and have them questioned. I raised the taxes because I had to, they should learn to be respectful instead of asking questions."
Aspen nodded and bowed his head. "As you command, your Majesty, though perhaps raising the taxes now was a little...rash. The storms are getting worse and the peasants in the north can barely put food on the table. Perhaps if you reconsidered until after the winter, the spring will make them more amiable to your choice..."
It was a bold move, too bold. Friends as they were, Iolnn didn't appreciate being criticised at all, especially not by those loyal to him. He turned and glared at Aspen witheringly. "They will learn to be amiable all year through! The summer was good enough, why didn't they fill their store-houses with grain? Food? They have nobody but themselves to blame, and I will not make myself look weak just because they cannot find the means to survive!"
Bowing his head low again, Aspen lowered his eyes. "Of course, your Majesty, forgive me for being so impertinent." Iolnn had a short temper, and after his long, tiring journey, Aspen didn't much want to be on the wrong side of it. Iolnn had dark circles under his eyes and Aspen had the feeling he was in a less than forgiving mood.
Iolnn sighed and walked over to the table, grabbing a pitcher of spiced warm wine and pouring a cup. He downed the cup and it's contents, then gestured tiredly. "We have other matters to discuss, do we not? The girl, tell me about the girl. Where is she now?"
Aspen cleared his throat, going over the words in his head, all the information he had stored in there. "The last time my messengers saw her, she was in Caill. That was two and a half weeks ago, and nobody's seen her since. She's keeping off the roads and avoiding most of the towns, to my reckoning, but she's definitely making her way south."
Iolnn moved his hand up and stroked his beard. That too was starting to turn grey. "So she could be taking any route, and we wouldn't know. That's not good enough. I need to know where she is, who she is with, and where she plans to go. Do your best to make sure that happens. How many pieces does she have now?"
"The last time we saw her, she was looking for the last piece. She's probably well on her way to finding it by now. She already has the other seven, that much we're certain of. Unless something drastic happens..."
Iolnn scowled. "She'll have all eight, and soon. I want eyes on her. I want to know when and if she gets that piece, so we can anticipate her next move."
Pausing for a moment, Aspen nodded. "Yes, your Majesty. I only wish we knew why she was collecting the pieces, or what she intends to do when she has them all. They're useless on their own. She must be planning something."
Iolnn poured another cup of wine and drank it in half the time of the first, wiping his mouth afterwards and glaring darkly out the window. "The fact that she has so many pieces is dangerous enough. If she were to somehow get hold of the rest of the artifact, we wouldn't be able to track her at all." He slammed the cup down so hard the table shook.
"Find her. Find her and bring her here, alive, with the pieces. I'll deal with her myself. I won't have everything we've worked so hard to achieve undermined by an insolent little slut. If she's working for someone, I want to find out who. I want to know who she is and what she wants, and then I'm going to put her head on a spike."
Aspen nodded, the smallest smile curling at the corners of his mouth. "Yes, your Majesty. We'll find her."
It was nearly midnight by the time the horse, dripping with rain, clattered into the cobbled courtyard of the Drunken Whore. The huge, black beast was heaving, it's nostrils flaring as it gulped in breath, sweat rolling down it's coiled, muscular flanks. The horse and rider circled once, then came to a halt, the cloaked and silhouetted rider mounted atop the steed glancing up at the tavern for a moment or two.
After a minute of silence, the rider dismounted, his blue-green cloak blowing in the wind as he dropped to the ground and saw to the horse. Leather-gloved hands patted the steed's neck. It had done well, they had been galloping at full pelt since the evening before, and they hadn't stopped to rest until now. They had come up from Syrol; at least, that was where he had stolen the horse. He didn't usually ride, preferring to walk under his own steam along less trodden paths, but he had run into someone who held a grudge against him in Syrol, and the confrontation had not been pretty.
The rider grabbed the horse by the reins and led it into a stable, making sure it had food and water before heading back out into the rain. There wasn't a stable hand. That was odd, but he'd heard stories about the Drunken Whore, and his expectations weren't exactly high. Why the man he was supposed to meet had chosen this place for their talks was beyond the rider, but it wasn't for him to question. The man had information, and it was information the rider was willing to give a great deal for.
The rider quickly crossed the courtyard to the door of the inn, a thick, slightly rotten slab of wood that didn't do much to keep out the rain and cold. His thick leather boots splashed through the dank puddles in the yard, making them shimmer in the moonlight and the lightning. The rider was cold and wet, and he didn't want to spend any more time out in the storm than he had already. He hated storms.
He was tall, and seemed to be broadly built, though his cloak obscured most of his clothing. The thick fabric of the cloak slipped over his face and obscured the most of his features, but a flash of lightning illuminated full, soft lips, pale skin, and a thin but strong jaw. Wisps of silvery white hair escaped from under the hood, trailing in the wind, but nothing else of the rider's face could be seen.
The rider grabbed the handle and pulled, wincing as a blast of warmth, light and noise from inside the inn hit him like a brick wall. The tavern was busy now, and almost full, and most of the clients were drunk, rowdy, and desperate for something, anything to happen.
Perhaps that was why, when the man stepped into the tavern, absolute silence descended.
Every head in the tavern turned to look at the stranger, unblinking, judging silently and waiting to see what the new arrival would do. Fresh meat was always something to be savoured, especially here, and one false move could give the more vicious inhabitants of the tavern a reason to start a fight. The man stayed exactly where he was, pulling his hood up a little more and glancing around slowly. Almost every eye was on him, and some of the more aggressive looking characters sat by the bar stood up. This was the do or die moment. Any sign of weakness would give them the excuse they needed to tear him to pieces, and he wasn't in the mood for a fight today.
A moment or two was all it took for the rider to stand his ground, and slowly, the tavern began to fill with noise again as people went back to whatever it was they were doing before, muttering darkly about the fact that they had been cheated out of an entertaining fight. Slightly relieved, the man began to make his way to the bar. He didn't want much attention, the less the better. During his travels, he'd found that the less people knew you existed, the better it went for you, and so he did his best not to draw eyes to himself unless it was needed.
Of course, when you were looking for something particular, it helped to have lines of inquiry, but more often than not he made sure that his questions could never be traced back to him. A false name, maybe, or a heavy disguise to cover his face. It had kept him alive up to now. Sometimes he stayed in contact with informants that had been particularly useful, or owed him some kind of debt, and when the time was right he'd call it in by asking certain favours of them. This was one such time. The man he was due to meet owed him a blood debt; the rider had saved his life, and now that debt had to be appeased. He hoped that the man had met his end of their bargain.
Halfway to the bar, the rider became so engrossed in his thoughts that as he tried to make his way past an extremely drunk and loud merchant, he accidentally slammed his arm into the head of a swarthy, dark skinned mercenary who was sat playing cards on the table behind the rider. Immediately, all hell broke loose. The barbarian's face turned a very dark shade of puce, and he snarled, showing yellowed teeth as he shoved the cards aside, sending them sprawling across the floor in a flurry. Slowly, he rose up out of his seat, turning to glare darkly at the rider. The mercenary's companion, a handsome looking man who looked less than invested in the card game at hand, bit his lip and stood up in a hurry, seemingly trying to avoid a conflict.
"Watch where you're going, boy," the barbarian spat, squaring up to the rider and stepping closer. He was at least a head and a half taller than the rider was, and he was built like a brick wall. Any physical confrontation was going to end incredibly badly, and the mercenary definitely had the upper hand. The rider glanced him up and down, noting the weapons the man had on him. A single curved blade, similar to a scimitar, but shorter. It was almost like a dagger on the hulking figure of the barbarian, but apart from that he seemed to be unarmed.
The entire bar was silent again now, watching the confrontation with unconcealed delight. Finally, something interesting was happening. The barbarian's cards partner walked to his side and grabbed his arm, glaring up at the huge man. "Dranos, for the sake of the Gods, don't start a fight here. I like keeping my head."
The barbarian turned and fixed his eyes on his friend before shoving him away roughly. His eyes were full of fire now, relishing the prospect of a fight. "Shut up, Rhyklan. This little shit needs to be taught some respect." His hand went to the handle of his blade.
The rider saw what was coming, and he sucked in breath between his teeth. Shit. He hadn't wanted this, not tonight, not now, but it looked like getting out of the situation would be impossible. As Dranos pulled the long, curved blade from it's sheath, the rider was already assessing the best move to make.
What happened next, happened fast.
Dranos lunged for the rider, the blade flashing through the air, aiming for the flesh of the rider's shoulder. As he did, the rider, in a display of speed that would have astounded any swordsman, reached into his cloak and swiftly unsheathed his own sword. His cloak billowed out as he moved, fast. A flash of silver was all that was seen as the rider parried the blow with absolute ease, forcing the scimitar off to the side and bringing his own sword back in a sharp arc sideways, the sword moving towards Dranos' now vulnerable side. Before the sharp edge of the blade connected with flesh, the rider twisted the sword so that only the flat of the blade connected with Dranos' waist, making the barbarian yell in pain and lose his balance and concentration. His grip on the scimitar weakened a little, and that was all the rider needed. Swinging the sword again, the flat edge connected with Dranos' hand, and there was a sickening cruch as bones broke and splintered from the force of impact. Dranos roared out in agony, dropping the blade to the floor, where it clattered and lay.
One could have heard a pin drop, apart from Dranos' groans of pain as he clutched his hand and swore under his breath. As the rider had moved, his hood had come down, revealing two very odd things about him. Firstly, and probably the fact that garnered the most attention, was that the rider was not, in fact, a man.
It was a woman.
It was hard to tell, at first. Her long, white hair was tied back in a plait that reached almost to her waist, and she was wearing an armoured breastplate that flattened out her chest to the point where it was impossible to discern her body shape. Under that, she wore a thick green tunic, hemmed with silver thread and mended over and over. Her legs were clad in leather and bound with strips of linen below the knee, shaping well to muscular calves. There was no hint as to any kind of feminine shape or features, only her lips, which were more soft and full, and gave her a slightly softer face. She looked like a more feminine, slim man, almost elf-like, and the way that she held herself and handled a sword was anything but lady-like.
The second fact, and probably what made it so hard to discern the girl's gender, was that nobody could see her eyes. They were bound with strips of white bandages, as though she were blind, or had some kind of awful disfigurement. One thing was for sure; she couldn't possibly see out of such thick bindings. There were no gaps for her to see through, but the way she had moved and reacted to Dranos' attacks left no doubt that somehow she could 'see', or at least sense the things and movements around her.
Whispers rippled though the bar as the girl raised her sword and held it to Dranos' neck, as would an executioner readying himself for the final stroke. She could hear the fear and respect in their voices, and it pleased her somewhat. Better to teach them a lesson now than have to deal with another incident like this later.
Her expression was unreadable as she pressed the blade into Dranos' throat. The barbarian had fallen to his knees and was cradling his hand with the expression of an injured bear; halfway between furious and agonized, and he glared up at her like he could strangle her with his stare. It amused the girl greatly.
"You should have listened to your friend," she murmured. Her voice was calm and modulated, slightly husky, and utterly emotionless. "It's not wise to start a fight in a place like this, and especially not with me. Next time, I won't be so merciful."
Dranos breathed a visible sigh of relief as the girl moved the sword from his neck, sheathing it again silently and turning to walk away. She could hear the barbarian swearing and cursing to himself behind her, but he suddenly stumbled to his feet, swaying with pain.
"Fucking slut!" he spat, his face livid with fury. "Come over here and fight me without that fucking fancy sword! I'll have you on the ground and screaming like a whore!"
The girl stopped. She could feel her blood boiling with sudden, irrepressible anger, and every muscle in her body screamed for her to take her sword and stick it through the barbarian's skull. Everyone in the room was holding their breath, waiting to see what she would do.
Well, if they were watching, she'd give them a show.
Her mouth set in a line, and her fists clenched tightly. "Very well, if that is what you wish..."
Before anyone could stop her, the girl had turned, her fury plain to see in her face. She ran forwards and jumped a little to gain the height and momentum she needed. Her fists blurred, and the sound of her knuckles connecting with Dranos' face resounded though the room with a loud crack. The first punch caught the barbarian's nose, and the cartilage shattered, leaving a trail of blood down his face. Her fists moved again, and the next blow smashed into his jaw, dislocating it with a sickening snap, muffling his roar of pain. He lunged wildly, swinging his fist like he was throwing a stone, but the girl ducked at the very last second and went under his arm. Her own punch went straight up, a strong uppercut, catching the barbarian under the jaw and snapping his head back. She saw the panic in his eyes as they rolled back, and he dropped like a stone, crumpling to the floor in an unconscious heap.
The girl stepped back, her body heaving as she breathed. Her hands dropped to her sides, and she her sightless gaze scanned the room slowly and accusingly.
"Anyone else want to fight with me?!"
Nobody stepped forwards. Nobody even breathed a word.
"I didn't fucking think so," she spat, turning on her heel and walking to the bar. The crowds parted for her like a sea, and she heard the barbarian's companion- Rhyklan, she remembered his name as being- turn to someone next to him.
"Who the hell is she?" he asked, and the woman smirked to herself.
"You handled yourself quite well out there."
The girl sat down at a table in the very far corner of the bar, settling down into the uncomfortable chair. It was missing a leg, and rocked dangerously when she put her weight on it, so she ended up perched on the edge. The tavern had quietened down now. Dranos had been dragged up to his room, and his friend has come back down and was now sitting sullenly on his own. The girl didn't know whether to laugh or feel pity for the poor man.
Sighing softly, she put down two mugs of something that did not look or smell like ale. It didn't even look drinkable, but it was all that the bar had. She shrugged at the man who had spoken to her, sat on the opposite side of the table. Like her, he was wearing a thick cloak that covered most of his face, but underneath the folds of fabric she could see that the man had most of his nose missing, as well as several teeth. He smelled of damp soil and decay, and as he reached for his mug the girl say that his hands were covered in black tattoos, his nails long and full of dirt. He grinned, his thick, black lips splitting in a grotesque mockery of some kind of smile.
"I'd be dead if I couldn't handle myself in bars like this." The girl shrugged, taking one of the mugs and smelling it curiously. It definitely didn't smell like ale. She replaced it back on the table with a grimace.
"And I for one, dear Nyma, am very happy you're still alive." The man with the black lips smirked again. His voice was deep and full of thinly veiled sarcasm. He reached for his own mug and drank the contents down without hesitation, seemingly undisturbed by the ambiguity of what was in there.
Nyma's expression seemed blank, but the sarcasm dripping from her words left no doubts as to how she felt. "You flatterer, Pollick. Didn't your mother ever teach you not to lie to ladies?"
Pollick's grin spread, and he chuckled as he put the mug back down. "Oh, so you're a lady now? Last time I checked, ladies didn't punch. Ladies squeal and stamp their feet."
Nyma smirked and shrugged. "You know what happens to ladies in places like this, and I'd rather not go there, thank you very much. I've come a long way and the last thing I need tonight is some idiot starting trouble. I'm cold, wet and tired. My temper is a knife's edge."
Shrugging, Pollick wet his lips. "Well then, I suppose you'd like to get straight to business." His gaze wandered to the mug of liquid Nyma had left on the table, and he gestured to it passively. "Are you going to drink that? Seems like a waste if you're not." Those long, ragged fingernails, sharp enough to gouge wood, drummed at the table impatiently.
Nyma leaned back a little on her chair and tilted her head. "Probably not, no," she admitted, "I get the feeling it might be poisonous, or at least very detrimental to my health. I like being alive, honestly."
"I'd never have guessed," Pollick smirked dryly, leaning over and bringing Nyma's mug over to his side of the table. Nyma didn't miss it when it was gone. She watched as he downed the mug and wiped his mouth, a trickle of the dark amber liquid running down his chin.
Nyma stared at him expectantly with her eyeless gaze. "So?"
Pollick took a moment, and Nyma got the feeling that he was rather enjoying keeping her on a knife's edge. She pursed her lips and waited, watching him closely.
Eventually, Pollick smiled. "The last time I saw you, you asked me to look for a particular...item. I found what you need, but you're not going to like where it is."
Nyma sighed and ran a hand through the loose locks of her white hair. She'd been worried about that. It was difficult enough to obtain the pieces she sought without being placed in some kind of impossible situation.
"So?" she asked, "Where is it?"
Pollick paused again before answering her, drawing his nail around the rim of the mug. A smile was playing on his lips. He wasn't looking at all sorry for having to deliver this bad news.
"Sadon has it," he murmured, and his lips cracked into a grin he couldn't hide.
"Shit," Nyma cursed under her breath. She had heard stories of Sadon whispered along the Free Road. He was a mercenary, a hunter, ruthless and cruel. Apparently, he murdered merchants that were travelling between Norvah and Mesion, and sometimes robbed travellers. He was notorious for the way that he mutilated his victims, cutting off their fingers to the knuckle and slashing their cheeks wide open so that they wouldn't heal. Merchants called him 'The Butcher'.
And now, he had what she needed.
Sighing softly, Nyma called over a bar wench and ordered two more mugs of the ale. She didn't care what was in the flagon now; she needed a drink.
"You're absolutely sure that he has it?"
Pollick nodded and flicked his thin tongue over his lips. "I'm certain. He stole it from a merchant not two weeks ago. He doesn't know what it is or what it's for, but he knows that it's gold, and valuable. He's not likely to part with it easily."
Nyma nodded, biting her finger softly as she thought. "Didn't think he would. Do you think I'll be able to buy it from him, or would that be too easy?"
Shaking his head, Pollick gave an apologetic shrug that didn't seem at all sincere. "I'm sorry, Nyma, but I think any attempt to reason with him would end badly for you, and it would be such a shame to have that pretty face of yours all carved up."
"Damn," she growled, grabbing the mug that the bar wench set down on the table and gulping down the contents before collapsing into coughing and spluttering. Whatever the liquid was, it tasted like piss and burned like acid. It took a couple of minutes for her to recover herself, and when she looked up again, Pollick was laughing at her.
"Too much for you? Oh dear, can't even hold down a drink. You're losing your edge, Nyma." Pollick tutted mockingly, downing his own mug with ease. Nyma hissed through her teeth and wiped her mouth, trying to get rid of the vile taste.
"Seriously, Pollick, piss off. If you call that a drink, you've never had anything vaguely drinkable." She pulled a face and shook her head. "Anyway, back to the matter at hand. If Sadon isn't going to hand over the fragment like a good little boy, and he won't be bribed into parting with it, then I suppose I shall have to be more...persuasive."
Pollick grinned. "You're going to use some feminine wiles? I didn't know you had any wiles, let alone feminine ones. How anything feminine can exist in that armour I don't know."
Nyma's face was deadpan. "Nope, I'm going to put the pointy end of my sword to his chest, and if he doesn't want to cooperate then, I'll push it in a bit. I think he might change his tune quite quickly, don't you?"
Nodding, Pollick tilted his head. "That usually, does it, yes, but you still have one problem. You don't know where he is."
Drumming her nails on the table slowly, Nyma thought for a moment. "No, I don't. You do. Checkmate."
The smile on Pollick's face broadened. "Yes, exactly. Now, the question is, how much are you going to pay for that information, hmm? And how much am I going to make it worth?"
It was a typical move, and one that Nyma had come to expect from Pollick. If anything, he was looking to see what she was willing to give him; be it gold, or other things. He wanted to see how high she would go, and she knew it. She leaned forwards slightly, her mouth setting in a line. "Well then, name a price."
Poliick tilted his head, putting his hand to his mouth in a mockery of thought. "Hmm, well, what are you willing to pay me? Gold? Protection?"
"How about the promise that the next time I see you, I won't try and kill you?"
Laughing, Pollick shook his head. "Sweet as that promise would be, it won't buy me meals. This has to be a monetary transaction."
Nyma sighed, then reached into her cloak, withdrawing a small leather purse. It was fat and heavy with coins; the reward money for bringing in a wanted murdered when she had passed through another town. She had been saving it for an emergency, but this was more important. With a flick of her hand, she tossed the coins over to Pollick, who opened the drawstrings and poured a few glittering gold coins into his palm, the faces of the disks glittering in the dim, murky light. He seemed pleased with the offer.
"Well then," he grinned, stowing the purse away. "It seems we have a deal. Sadon is on the Free Road too, as it happens. He's headed this way; if you left tomorrow morning, you could intercept him at the toll bridge."
Nyma paused for a moment. "He doesn't know I'm coming? I don't trust you not to double cross me."
Pollick made a visible effort to make a serious face, and failed. "Me, double crossing you? I would never dream of it, dear Nyma. You've made it very clear what you'd do if I ever tried. Swear on my black little heart, I'm honest. Sadon knows nothing."
It was difficult to believe. At the end of the day, Pollick was a criminal, and although he was a useful informant, Nyma was sure that if push came to shove he wouldn't object to seeing her dead. She couldn't rely on him for honestly...but at the moment, he was her only means of getting what she needed.
"Fine," Nyma sighed, standing up and pushing the nearly broken chair underneath the table. Her eyeless gaze locked onto the black space where Pollick's own eyes stared out at her, unseen, but felt. She leaned over the table, speaking softly so that only he could hear. "I'm going to say this once only. Listen well. If you're telling me the truth, you may be on your merry way, and I hope we never see each other again. You know what will happen to you if I find out you've lied. No force on this earth or all the heavens, in this realm or the next realm, or even through the Veil, will be able to stop me from killing you. Slowly."
She straightened up again and fixed Pollick with a baleful glare, then walked to the bar, collecting the keys to her room from the barman, who grunted quietly and broke the mug he was holding. She needed to rest. She got the feeling it was going to be a long night.
Rhyklan had been slowly sinking deeper and deeper into his drink. Since Dranos had been floored by that little bitch, he'd had nobody to speak to, nobody to play cards with, and nobody to stop him drinking himself into the oblivion of his mug.
The girl kept playing on his mind. That she was a woman was a shock enough, but the way that she had handled the sword, and the fact that she had managed to knock Dranos -who must have been twice her weight- straight out was mind-blowing. He couldn't wrap his head around it. How had she done it? Rhyklan had seen grown men try and fail to even land a punch on Dranos, the man was a mountain; and yet that girl had managed to fell him without so much as breaking a sweat. It just didn't make sense.
He had watched her as she had sat down at a table in the corner with a man who seemed to be missing most of the main components of a face. He couldn't help but watch her. He was trying to figure out who she was and what the hell she was doing here. The two had talked for a while, though Rhyklan could only distinguish odd parts of the conversation, money had been exchanged, and the girl had got up and left to retire to the rooms upstairs. Suggestions flooded through Rhyklan's mind. Was she a smuggler? A mercenary? She certainly had the right attire for it, and the required skill with a sword. That on it's own confused him. How could she fight so well when her eyes were bound? Some kind of magic? Practice? An uncanny gift? The more he mused on it, the less sense it made, so in the end he gave up and simply ordered another mug of ale.
About half an hour after the girl had gone to bed, just when Rhyklan was going through the sober phase of drunkenness, three men, wearing the same dark cowls as the man the girl had been sat with was wearing, crossed over into the corner where the noseless man was still sat. Rhyklan sat up a little. This might be interesting; the noseless man seemed to have been waiting for his new companions.
Rhyklan picked up his drink and stood up, swaying slightly. The room seemed to be spinning, and he bumped into a few people as he weaved through the tables like a seasick sailor. A few people growled at him, but Rhyklan didn't care. After what seemed to him like hours wandering through the labyrinth of tables, chairs, and unconscious bodies sprawled out on the floor, Rhyklan finally found an empty table a few feet from the table where the dark hooded figures were sat. Now he could hear their conversation quite clearly.
"-we can't risk her finding the rest of it," One was saying in a deep, rasping voice that sounded like a rusted iron gate scraping across stone. "If she does, it will be difficult to find her before it is too late."
"So far, she's avoided every attempt we have made on her life," another added. "We don't have much more time. While it was useful for her to collect the remnants for us, we cannot risk her completing the entire artifact..."
Artifact? What artifact? Rhyklan tried not to glace at the table or draw attention to himself.
The noseless man held up both his hands, and a smirk played over his face. "Gentlemen, gentlemen," he smiled, "I understand your concerns. Rest assured that she will be dealt with most satisfactorily very shortly."
Rhyklan blinked, sipping at his drink, but he no longer felt its effects. He was too engrossed in the conversation playing out before him. It seemed that the girl, whoever she was, had made quite a misjudgement of trust.
One of the hooded figures asked the question on Rhyklan's lips. "Dealt with? How do you mean?"
The noseless man's smirk turned cold and cruel, his black lips cracking with horrible mirth. "I lied to her."
For some reason, Rhyklan's breath caught in his throat. It definitely sounded like the girl was in trouble. He felt a small sense of satisfaction; after all, the little bitch had it coming to her after what she'd done to Dranos. However, the sweet feeling was marred by a slight, irrational twinge of pity. The girl had made a stupid decision and now it sounded like she would pay the price for it.
The noseless man licked his lips and placed the bag of coins the girl had given him on the table. "She paid for a lie, nothing more, nothing less. Sadon knows she is coming because I told him. He is not coming this way, he is waiting to intercept her at the toll. She is walking right into a trap, and it is not one she will walk out of."
Rhyklan's blood ran cold as the noseless man continued in a voice as sharp and unforgiving as the steel kiss of a knife.
"By tomorrow night, she will be dead. I hope he sends me a souvenir to remember her by. Perhaps her cunt."