Davon Kale hated nights like this. His overly patched cloak, wrapped tightly around his body did nothing to shield him from the biting winter storm that funneled into the narrow alley his shack occupied. No more than a set of wooden planks held together with rope, the structure provided some protection against the snow, but not against the wind that the snow sailed on. The wind whipped at him, his cloak flapping furiously around his lean frame as he sank deeper into his rickety chair, which creaked and groaned under his weight. His teeth chattered as he muttered a curse, a careful eye scanning the alley, occasionally glancing at the empty chair that stood across from him.
The city of Ghasthelm was a small but prosperous nook on the coast in the Northern Threshold. Nestled firmly within territories claimed by the Scarlet Empressâ€™ Realm, the city played and continues to play its tribute and the lords and merchants of this quaint little populace remained in power, at the expense of the rest of the people that called the expanding slums home. Such a place holds much promise for men who understand how power works. Men like Davon.
â€œHorrible night ta do business,â€ he grumbled to himself and threw a look down one end of the alley. The streets stood empty for not a soul worth his sanity would be out on the streets at this hour in this blasted weather, he thought with a bemused smirk. Releasing a large puff of breath that quickly turned to ice, he scratched at the frost that clung to his stubble. A very faint creak from the empty chair turned his attention back to it, and the woman that it now supported.
â€œAnd yet here we are, doing,â€ she whispered, her chin tilted ever so slightly, â€œbusiness.â€
Davon hissed a startled curse despite himself. He wasnâ€™t the sharpest eye in the Guild, but knew that he could spot any cloaker prowling the city. Surely she uses sorcery of some kind, but he has yet to figure out what. Still, he had heard her as she sat. Perhaps she was losing her touch? Or more likely, she was in one of her rare, pleasant moods. He could never tell what the woman was thinking when he has to meet with her. Those large almond shaped eyes of hers betrayed no thoughts, no emotions; save for the ones she wanted him to see. The disheveled rogue composed himself quickly and forced a smile. â€œA fine eve we find ourselves in, ainâ€™t it, Vanâ€™shara,â€ he greeted wryly.
â€œI understand that you have a problem that needs to be dealt with,â€ she breathed and reached out with her left hand, which parted her smoke gray cloak. Straight to the point. Davon shivered, but not from the cold. Her velvety voice was enchanting. He was sure many a man would have been taken in by any words that voice spoke, but he knew better.
Wordlessly he untied a small leather pouch from his well-worn belt and set the bag over her slender, almost delicate hand. Her skin, pale like ash, perplexed him; she did not resemble any heritage he knew of though he was a smart enough man to not ask such prying questions, in her presence at any rate. A ghost-blooded maybe was his guess. Still, his inquiries have been met with little success. She was as much of a mystery now as she was when she first appeared in the cold, wind-swept city a year ago.
Davon took a breath as her hand disappeared back under her cloak. It barely ruffled in the lashing winds, â€œItâ€™s bout time my employers made their move. They only be needinâ€™ one more service of ya before they can get the oleâ€™ stone rollinâ€™.â€ His eyes met with hers, half hidden under the hood of her cloak and a lock of hair fell across her cheek, white as freshly fallen snow with a faintest hint of gold. â€œAfter which, theyâ€™ll be wantinâ€™ ta hire you on all permanent like.â€
â€œWhat is the name of this problem, Davon?â€ she said, her voice barely above the howling wind but it still made his hairs stand on end. There was a predatory quality in her voice, as though she anticipates the hunt to come. Davon has had his share of murderers under his care but never has he felt such vulnerability to one of them as he does when he is with this woman. The uncomfortable feeling of fear squeezed oppressively around his throat under her steady gaze before he realized that it was his turn to speak.
â€œThe manâ€™s name is Riefer. Zarrus Riefer. My employers now own half the merchant district here in Ghasthelm thanks ta yer hard work. The bloke owns the other half. So we have quite the problem here. We just need ya ta get rid of this one last bugger and yuâ€™ll be cementinâ€™ yer permanent employment wit the Guild,â€ he said and made the effort to lean back against his chair in a show of confidence. When the woman appeared in his hovel months ago asking about the Guild, he knew he had a professional on his hands.
His employers had sent her after a Dragon Blooded sorcerer as a test of her skills. A suicide job in all but name really, but she surprised them all when they heard news of the so-called peopleâ€™s champion found dead in his home and Vanâ€™sharaâ€™s reappearance the following evening. Davonâ€™s unseen masters were a cautious lot however, but they were not ones to turn away talent when they see it. Many months and jobs have passed before they set her on this last job before she will be fully accepted as a trusted member of the Guild. At least, that was what he was told to tell her.
The howling wind and snow picked up as the assassinâ€™s eyes bore into his, draining much of his bravado. He coughed a dry cough into his fist to avoid her gaze and shifted in his seat before he continued, â€œHe stays in an estate in the rich section. Itâ€™s the one wit the high white walls and black iron gates. Ya canâ€™t miss it really.â€
A long pause. Then a gust of wind that made the walls of the shack rattle and clatter. â€œAnd?â€
The lanky rogue fought the urge to swallow. â€œOh right,â€ he said with a nervous chuckle, â€œThe bloke employs the usual armed guards. Well-trained bunch those, wit some nice shiny gear. Thereâ€™s bout a dozen or so ofâ€™um runninâ€™ â€˜round the place. Nothinâ€™ thatâ€™ll stop ya since yaâ€™ve been through worse.â€
The cowl of the womanâ€™s hood dipped a little, barely noticeable and Davon thought he caught the barest hint of a smile touch her small dark-lipped mouth. She then stood silently as she always did after accepting a job and left the crude lean-to as silently as she came.
Davon watched her disappear into the blizzard then sat dully in his chair for a long time, the biting snow and ice briefly forgotten. Dealing with Vanâ€™shara, while very lucrative was not something he relished. He needed the time to get the chill out of his bones and the winter cold was just what he needed. When icicles began to form on his nose and brows however, enough was enough and he rose shakily to his feet and made his way out of the alley and into Ghasthelmâ€™s more proper streets.
The street, which stretched the length of the cityâ€™s docks district was void of people. No late-night workers struggling to get home. No tavern-evicted drunks left for dead in the gutter. No beggars that lined the streets during the day, having crawled back into whatever holes they came from. The city felt strangely empty and it made the walk more inhospitable than the blizzard ever did. The ends of Davonâ€™s cloak slapped wildly against his legs as he made his way deeper into the docks. He could barely see ten feet in front of him and was glad for Ghasthelmâ€™s style of tight streets, which kept him from becoming lost as well as being at the mercy of whichever gods thought it fit to cover the place in snow during the Month of Descending Water.
â€œDark business this,â€ he muttered, his words greedily drowned out by the wailing weather. Just a few more blocks, he told himself. Just a few more steps and heâ€™ll be out of this gods-be-damned snow.
He recognized the buildings as he trudged down the street. If the night was clear he would have been able to see the many ships that were moored to the ten piers that stretched out towards the Blessed Isle like a pair of money grubbing hands. Further into the city would be the nobleâ€™s district, where the wealthy and visiting Dragon-Blooded built their mansions and getaways on man-made hills, but these too were concealed by the blizzard.
Davon felt ice beginning to form under his cloak and on his thick winter cloths and breathed a cloud of ice crystals along with his swear. Just a few more steps. That building he just slogged past meant that his apartment was just next door. When he finally reached the door and fished out his key with numb hands, he discovered the lock had been frozen over and let out a bellow. But just as he was about to make an attempt to force his way in, the door opened a crack and a face he knew all too well appeared from inside.
â€œBroker,â€ Davon growled.
The face named Broker nodded once and the door swung open allowing Davon to leave the snow behind him. His apartment was a really just a three room hovel with two others stacked on top and supported solely by virtue of the three buildings that flanked his home, but it served Davonâ€™s purposes. He was a man of small needs.
There was a fire lit in the middle of the main room, for even the poorest slums had some form of fireplace or another otherwise people would be dying in droves. It bathed the room with orange light and illuminated the two doors opposite of the one he just came in through. Davon welcomed the warmth as the ice on his cloth began to melt and form a pool around his feet. The smoke was gathered by a cast iron funnel perched over the open fireplace and was attached to a pipe that went up into the next floor. Trace amounts of the smoke filled the apartment in a haze not unlike the back of an opium den but it was normal for the rogue who began shedding his quickly drenched cloak and over-cloths.
â€œI took the liberty,â€ Broker said in a level voice and gestured towards fire, to which Davon nodded in wordless thanks. Broker was a man who played the grand game longer than anyone else Davon knew. He was the one that brought a young urchin among the hundreds that can be found in the cityâ€™s slums and shaped him into the Guildâ€™s top rogue and spy that Davon was today. He was dressed in a simple by well-tailor winter shirt and pants. His long hair, graying and kept bound in a tail was oiled and well-kept and the man carried himself with an air of confidence and casual alertness only a seasoned spymaster of the Guild could manage.
With his the majority of his cloths in a wet pile, Davon brought them over to the fire and spread them out to be dried before proceeding to dry himself off. As he wrung his hands over the flickering flames he noticed another cloak being dried as well, one lined with arctic wolf fur.
â€œI take it that you met with the assassin,â€ Broker spoke again and Davon could here the manâ€™s oiled boots thumping softly against the grayed wooden floor as the man came up beside him.
â€œSheâ€™s headinâ€™ up to that Riefer blokeâ€™s place right now.â€
â€œDid she suspect?â€
â€œCould nevâ€™r tell wit that one,â€ Davon said honestly and shrugged.
â€œShe is too dangerous. Weâ€™ve only recently received information about her true aims, at great expense I might add. The Guild does not tolerate spies of her sort.â€
â€œAy, ya dunna need ta tell me twice. Iâ€™d be glad ta rid of her. Gives me the heebie jeebies that woman does.â€
â€œDun worry. She hasnâ€™t said no to any of our jobs yet. Ta her, this be business as usual.â€
â€œThat is what worries me.â€
The two men stared into the fire for a long time, each keeping his thoughts to himself. Neither wanting to show the other the fear they felt in their hearts concerning the most useful assassin on their payroll for the last eight months. Outside, the blizzard howled with its quickly becoming familiar ferocity, clawing at the apartmentâ€™s thin walls as it lashed vainly at the feeble light within.
Zhao Yi, "Venus! Will you look at the size of this closet?"
Midnight Rose, "Sifu, we're looking for booze here."
Current story is Sun and Stars
which can be found in my notebook.