(Note: Yeah, I had to shorten Twilight Of The Second Age. I couldn't resist the title.)
Table of Contents (Warning: Off-site)
Noise died down across the bar as the man entered, only to pick up again as the gathered patrons sized him up and returned to their work. The barmaid smiled cheerfully. "Good evening, sir. Can I take your cloak?"
The stranger smirked. "No, thank you. It'll dry on its own." Water dripped on the ground as he walked across the room, his cloak hanging damply around black leather boots. Around the tables, men glanced at each other, noting the finery of his clothes and his lack of visible weaponry. Some began to glance at each other, and smile.
Apparantly unaware of the danger being plotted, the man stopped at the bar. "You got anything in a brandy?"
The bartender smiled tightly, and nodded. "Yes, sir. Coming right up." He turned, pouring the brandy into a beaten mug. When he turned back, the man had pushed back the hood of his cloak, revealing a blonde ponytail that he pulled out to hang loose across his back. He reached into a bulging pouch at his side, and pulled out a pair of silver coins. The bartender's eyes widened, and he forced a curse from coming to his lips.
Across the bar, noise died down again as the gathered thugs started paying attention. Those at the edge of the room began to stand. Still heedless of the danger he was in, the stranger smiled disarmingly at the bartender. "I'm looking for a man."
"You've come to the wrong place, stranger." One of the thugs stood, with a nasty chuckle. "Brothel's down the street."More chuckles surrounded the room. One by one, each of the nine men in the room stood, hands falling to knives and swords. The stranger just shook his head with a faint chuckle, glancing at the thug.
"Lovely. I can see why these people idolize you so much, with a wit like that." He turned back to the bartender. "A specific man. About twentiesh, yeah-high, with brown hair and a distracted demeanor. He's travelling with a woman, scared of her own shadow, with long brown hair." The bar was silent now, but he pressed on. "Also a real mountain of a man and a swordswoman. They pass this way?"
"Yeah, and so did the Hunt." The thug who had first spoken took a step forwards, his hand falling to the hilt of his own sword, and the stranger glanced down at it disdainfully.
"Really. Hell, I'm going to have to start moving faster, then. Which way did they go?" He smiled, reaching down to his purse. "I'll pay for the information."
"Well, let's discuss terms." The thug grinned, looking back at his friends. "How about this. You give us that pouch, and maybe I tell you where to go."
The stranger stood easily, taking a sip of the brandy, and turned to face the room. His smile still on, he shook his head. "You're a little new to haggling, aren't you?" He let his hands fall to his side. "Very well, if that's how you want to play it. I was going to be straightfowards, but if you don't tell me where he went, I'm going to have to get... rough."
Laughter filled the room. The barmaid shrank back against one wall, and the bartender gulped. "Sir, it might be best if you..."
"No, no." The man smiled back at the bartender. "I think this situation calls for compassion and restraint, don't you?"
"Too late for that." The thug stepped forwards, and sneered. "How about you hand over the wallet, and maybe we don't kill you."
"Oh, escalating violence. Do you want to know a secret?" The stranger smiled brilliantly. "I could kill every person in this room before you can draw that pathetic sword. But I'm not going to. Do you know why?"
"Because you're talking out your ass!" The thug laughed again, and reached down to draw his sword. In that instant, every candle in the room was snuffed out by an invisible breeze, and the stranger moved with the speed of shadow.
He swept his hand to one side, and a gleaming black sai appeared in it as it plunged into one man's chest. Blood carried the stranger's somersault as he reached out with his other hand. Another sai popped into being as though sliding from his sleeve, piercing a second man in the eye. Leaping from them, shadows curling about him like a dark wave, the man dove forwards, driving one sai each through the throats of two more men. As they fell, he fell with them, rolling and stabbing both sais upwards into the fifth bandit, sending him flying up. Following him, the stranger flipped backwards twice through the air, pausing only to stab a sixth through the head, stopping his advance in time to slash down, taking out the throat of a seventh man. Landing, he drove the first sai into the chest of the eighth man, and spun the leader around as he slammed the second into the thug's sword hand, even as it pulled the sword free. It was all over in just a few seconds. The thug's sword clattered to the floor, and as coldness spread through his body, he gaped uncomprehendingly at the man standing before him, a black sunburst faintly visible on his forehead.
"The correct answer is that the barmaid was nice, and the bartender polite." The stranger smiled. "You've already met Restraint. Now, have a taste of Compassion." He flicked the second sai in a fluid motion, and the thug fell to the floor, dead.
Shrugging, the stranger turned back to the bartender. "Now, which way did they go?"
The bartender's eyes were as round as saucers. "N-north! North to Gemmel's Reach!"
"Great! Thanks for the help. Oh, you might want to get a priest to do something about the blood and such; I'll handle the bodies" Pulling out a handful of silver coins, Twice-Forged Steel dropped them on the bar. "Jasmine, honey, I have some soldiers for you."
A woman walked into the bar, shaking her head. Her voice, when it came from behind her mask, was annoyed. "You have a very interesting view of subtlety, Steel." She began to intone dark words, her arms moving as she shaped necrotic Essence, and the corpses began to shudder to life.
"Hey, if there are no witnesses, than I was subtle." Steel snorted, banished his sais Elsewhere and smoothing his cloak as he waited for the spell to finish. When it did, Jasmine simply shook her head, her anima curling about her as her castemark, a black circle, half-filled, shone forth.
"There are two witnesses, Steel."
"Oh, so there are. Ah well, can't win 'em all. Coming?" With a jaunty wave to the terrified barmaid, Steel strolled out of the inn, pulling his hood back up. After a moment, Jasmine followed him, and the nine recently-deceased thugs followed her, shuffling slowly along, leaving the bartender and barmaid to stare in horror at one another.