And the story begins in earnest.
â€œSorry, sweetie, never seen him.â€
Marcaeus Blake sighed, nodded, and turned away. The barmaid watched him for a moment as he crossed the room, before returning to her rounds. Morosely, he hopped up onto a chair and looked across the table at his companion, his wide-brimmed hat perched on his head as though about to fly off. Normally, heâ€™d have given at least a try to a flippant remark, but he wasnâ€™t feeling up to it.
His partner noticed, and reached over, patting his hand. â€œNo luck, I take it?â€ Tysa frowned, looking around. â€œThis is very strange. I havenâ€™t found anything, either, and believe me, Iâ€™ve tried. The innkeeper might as well be a eunuch for all the attention he pays me.â€
Blake looked up at that, with a ghost of a smile. â€œIs that annoyance that I hear, madame?â€
â€œDamned right it is.â€ Tysa frowned, one perfectly trimmed and coloured fingernail tracing the lines of the tableâ€™s woodwork. â€œI work hard at this, you know. Itâ€™s not as though I just spring forth from the seaform every day.â€
â€œPerish the thought.â€ Blake grinned, and the sank into a thoughtful look. Reaching out, he snagged a stein from a passing barmaid, and flashed her a broad smile when she opened her mouth to protest, tossing her a silver coin with his free hand. Rolling her eyes, she turned around to get another form the kitchen. Taking a sip, he sat back, placing the ale next to him, and leaning forwards, speaking softly. â€œRight. Letâ€™s summarize, then.â€
As he spoke, he ticked off items on his fingers. â€œOne. It is Apprenticeship Day in Urias. This means that weâ€™ve got people from across the region here trying to find trades. Guards, soldiers, blacksmiths, cooks, alchemists, soothsayers. Thereâ€™s even a circus, for the Dragonsâ€™ sakes.â€ He considered his list, and nodded. â€œTwo. Someone is taking advantage of the tumult to make people vanish. All signs point to slavers. With the confusion, most people havenâ€™t noticed, except our delightful employers.â€ Tysa nodded, and he continued. â€œThree. The kidnappers have magic enough to disguise their tracks, but not enough to do so completely. They also have too much information about when people are alone, and where theyâ€™re from. Based on the traces theyâ€™ve left behind, they may have ghostly allies. Fourâ€¦â€ He sighed. â€œFour, the only link is that everyone who vanished seems to have visited this tavern in the day before, but none of the staff seem to recognize them, and we are both very good at getting people to tell us things.â€ He smiled slowly, pieces connecting in his mind. â€œWhich meansâ€¦â€
â€œThe staff.â€ Tysa nodded. â€œEither bribed or intimidated. So, now what do we do.â€
â€œKeep looking.â€ Blake leaned back, taking up his ale and taking a long draw. â€œIâ€™m confidant that something is going to happen veryâ€¦ woah!â€ The chair overbalanced, and Blake found himself somersaulting backwards. He rolled to his feet, reaching out to catch the stein as he sailed through the air, but it still managed to splash, sending an arc of beer into the jerkin of the soldier standing behind him, facing the bar. Blake winced, as the man slowly turned around. â€œTerribly sorry, goodsir. They just donâ€™t make chairs like theyâ€¦ oh.â€
There was a pause, as the soldierâ€™s eyes widened. Then he spoke. â€œYOU!â€ He reached out to grab Blake, who danced nimbly backwards.
â€œTerribly sorry, chap, donâ€™t remember meeting you before. Must be going. Goodbye.â€ Blake started slipping through the crowd, only to find the man chasing him, shoving people out of the way in his haste.
â€œMARCAEUS!â€ The soldier roared, and people scattered. Blake took advantage of the panic to slip outside, dashing across the innâ€™s stableyard. Cover. Cover. He looked around, spotting only a wagon with a woman sitting on the stoop, sword buckled at her side, combing her hair. Dashing over, he tipped his hat to her. â€œMadame. Can I hide in your wagon? Matter of life and death, swear to you.â€ The woman, after a moment, nodded bemusedly, and Blake leapt into the wagon, just as the inn door slammed open.
â€œMARCAEUS, GET OUT HERE AND FIGHT!â€ Inside the wagon, Blake peeked out as the soldier stormed across the squareâ€¦ directly towards the wagon. Not good. Looking around, he saw a shuttered window that might do for an escape. Outside, the man had stopped in front of the wagon. â€œLenia, there was a bloody little thief came by here.â€
â€œThat was yours, Captain?â€ Her voice was low, but amused. The man paused, and nodded, and she chuckled. â€œWhat did he do, sir? You arenâ€™t often like this.â€
â€œHe stole my fiancee, and I will have vengeance.â€ The manâ€™s voice was tight, and Blake sighed. Quickly, before it became an issue, he kicked open the shutters, using the momentum to flip onto the wagonâ€™s roof.
â€œNow, my good man â€“ Terrance, wasnâ€™t it? You canâ€™t steal a person. Wellâ€¦ a slave, maybe. But unless you are calling your beloved a slaveâ€¦?â€
â€œTerrek.â€ Blake raised an eyebrow, and the man almost growled. â€œMy name is Terrek, not Terrance. And you seduced her away from me, you little monster!â€
â€œI did no such thing. You must be aware that it was extremely mutual.â€ Blake paused, and rubbed the back of his head. â€œAnd, ehâ€¦ she never actually told me that she was engaged. Must have slipped her mind.â€ He paused. â€œCan we discuss this like reasonable adults, or are you going to try and kill me.â€
â€œGet off my wagon.â€ Terrek sighed. â€œAnd no, I wonâ€™t kill you.â€ He paused. â€œOr attack you without warning.â€
â€œGood enough for me.â€ Blake hopped off the wagon, bowing to Lenia. â€œIntroductions, I fear, are in order. The nameâ€™s Marcaeus Blake, travelling merchant and performer. Iâ€™m afraid that your commander and I had a bit of bad blood last time we met.â€ He returned his attention to Terrek, who was still glaring at him. â€œCaptain, eh? You werenâ€™t such high rank last time we met. The Legionâ€™s been good to you.â€
Lenia let out a harsh laugh, and Blakeâ€™s eyebrow raised. After a moment, Terrek spoke, looking away, his jaw clenched. â€œIâ€™m not with the legion anymore. Iâ€™m a guard captain. Working for aâ€¦ thaumaturge.â€
â€œAh.â€ There didnâ€™t seem much else to say, so Blake took the oppurtunity to search his memory. â€œMy apologies. I didnâ€™t realize.â€ He paused, and then had to ask. â€œYou? Quitting the legion? Iâ€™m sorry, Terrek, that just seemsâ€¦ well, pretty incredible, if you donâ€™t mind me saying so. Picture dedicated child of the Realm, you.â€
â€œThere was a disagreement.â€ The words did not invite further inquiry, and Terrek turned away. â€œForget it, Marcaeus. I donâ€™t even know why I bothered chasing you.â€
â€œStrong heart. Terrible thing, that.â€ Blake walked up, and looked up at Terrek. â€œCome on back inside the inn. I left my companion rather abruptly. You say youâ€™re working with a thaumaturge? What does he do?â€
â€œShe.â€ Terrek smirked. â€œSheâ€™s a medium.â€
â€œReally.â€ Blakeâ€™s smile grew. â€œWhat a fortuitous coincidence, running into you here, my old friend.â€
â€œWe are NOT friends.â€ Terrek did not smile. Blakeâ€™s smile faltered slightly, but he pressed on.
â€œPerhaps not. Business, then. My companion and I have need of a medium. It could save lives. Perhaps you would be interested to hear more?â€
Terrek glared at him a moment more, and then sighed. â€œFine. Iâ€™ll listen. But this had better be important.â€
â€œOh, it is.â€ Blake led the way back into the inn, with Terrek following reluctantly behind him. â€œIt may well be to die for.â€