DraqAttack's avatar


  • 2023-04-16 23:41

I admire one of my new pieces of gold, minted in Thronefast, while sweating men haul a tightly sealed barrel onto a ship. They are taking unusual care of cargo that is allegedly packed with salted fish – provisions for the voyage back to Thronefast.

“Satisfied, Darian?” the captain asks. I don’t know his name, but I do know that the manifest I just signed is a fabrication. Azure crystals are no concern of mine, just gold, and I was just given a lot of gold to be extra unconcerned.

“Of course, friend. I’m always satisfied with a job well done. A nice, thorough inspection. Right?” I flash a smile at the stocky man, but he just returns a blank stare. Strangely difficult to read, this man.

“Right.” He says, then turns on his heel and marches up the gangplank onto his ship. All of the crew are quiet as they move along in their duties. No shouting or cursing or idle chatter. I shake my head and walk into my small office. I would not be seeing them cast off, as per my agreement with the captain. Everyone has their price and I think mine is quite reasonable.

The purse filled with my “inspection fee” makes a satisfying clink when it lands on my desk. Two steps takes me to the back of the tiny room where I kneel down, searching for a certain floorboard. Once found I lift it up to reveal an empty hole in the floor.

“Who on this cursed rock would dare to steal my whiskey?”

Glass clinks behind me and I spin around to see a smirking child holding my whiskey and two half filled glasses. No, not a child. A halfling. She sets everything down on my desk and pushes a cup toward me before lifting her own into the air.

“To Vorc!” she exclaims, then throws back the entire glass of whiskey.

My angry bewilderment freezes solid. I haven’t heard that name in a good twenty years. Now a mysterious young halfling shows up with that name, and my whiskey, on her lips?

I push down the chilling fear and re-appraise the short woman while she puffs her cheeks, breathing out the fire of the alcohol. Handmade gear suited more for a forest than a remote fortress, but geared toward stealth. Well made, but nothing special. Everything about her seems ordinary, yet she’s here drinking my whiskey in front of me and invoking the one name that would stop me in my tracks.

Attempting to take control of the situation, I ignore both her and the whiskey, choosing to sit down in my chair with an affectation of annoyance instead.

“To who?” I say. “Nevermind, it doesn’t matter. Do you have any idea how much a bottle of Darksteel Reserve costs?”

Her smirk turns into a full grin, fueling my feigned annoyance. I tamp down the feeling and flash a smirk of my own before picking up the glass of whiskey.

“If someone has sent you here in search of information,” I begin, then sip my whiskey. “You’re in luck. Information is my specialty. I’m sure we could work out…”

I trail off when I see a disc of gleaming metal spin through the air and land in the halfling’s waiting palm. She shows off one side of the large coin, allowing me to take note of the design stamped into the bronze before sending the disc spinning on its edge across my desk. The coin traces a lazy spiral around the stained wood before settling, still spinning, in the center.

If my old partner’s name turned my blood cold earlier, then that coin truly froze my whole body solid. A circle of knives, gripped by clenching fists. I know that crest well, even if I had only heard the whispers, never seeing it for myself. Find a coin like this one and take the proof of your talents to South Wall, if you can find them.

My hand reaches out with longing toward the opportunity spinning within reach. Steel streaks out from the woman’s cloak and a long dagger slams down, nailing my greedy arm to the table. I open my mouth to scream but a small hand forces a wad of cloth into my mouth, silencing me. The coin continues to spin, undisturbed.

The still grinning halfling gives me a moment to calm down, then flicks the hilt of the dagger stuck in my arm, causing the metal to vibrate painfully along my bone.

“Recognize this?” She asks. Of course I would recognize Vorc’s dagger anywhere.

I nod with vigor.

“Good. Vorc tells me you still owe him quite the life debt. Answer my questions truthfully and all debts will be cleared.” With that she pulls the cloth from my mouth, but leaves the dagger in my arm.

I glance at the spinning disc, the dagger and then back to her, meeting her smirk with a snarl.

“Oh? And how is he ever going to come collect now that he’s dead?”

The woman puts a finger on her cheek, tilts her head, and looks up at the ceiling in a mocking gesture. Looks like my guess hit the mark.

“He’s not the only person you owed, right? It’s been twenty years but I’m sure there’s at least a few patrons out there who would be interested in knowing who Darian the Dockmaster really is.”

She pauses for a moment to study my reaction and retrieve my whiskey glass from the ground at my feet. I could not stop the panic and anger from rolling across my face. Damn that man! Why couldn’t he take that to his grave?

“Now, this is my first time… how would Vorc say it? ‘Teasing out some information from a reluctant informant’?” As she talks, she walks around my desk with idle steps, before stopping to pour the few drops of whiskey left in my glass down the blade of the dagger. I hiss as the alcohol hits my wound. “So I might be a bit sloppy. However, I believe you dismissed or bribed all of the guards in the area so that the ship out there could load their contraband in peace. We should have, what? Two hours? Before the guards return? Plenty of time for me to–”

“South Wall is in Skargol!” I blurt out. I squeeze my eyes shut and start talking. “Listen, I have a very good thing going here. I take a few bribes. I sit in an empty office. I even have a little bit of authority. I can’t uproot my life again. The South Wall is just a gatekeeper. Everyone knows you’re supposed to take the coin to him and find out what tests the Circle has for you - to prove you belong in the Circle. They move around a lot, but South Wall owns a tavern in Skargol. A lot of information is traded there. But that’s it. That’s all someone like me knows. I can’t even tell you what the South Wall looks like. When one dies, a new one is named. Last time it was an ogre but who knows if they’ve been killed or not. Look I just…”

I trail off as I realize I can’t hear the coin spinning anymore. I open my eyes and look around. Vorc’s dagger pins my arm to the table, but aside from that all trace of the halfling is gone now. Including my whiskey.

* * * * *

Did I really just torture a man? Am I that person now? Vorc said I was past the crossroads, and Taryn said I was approaching one. Could they both be right? I will have to decide what kind of Halfling I am. The type who tortures lazy cowards and joins a mysterious, underground guild or the type who… what? Returns back home to etch designs into overpriced tea cups? Can I do either of those? I’m not sure.

Well, thank Kiren for cowards at least. Vorc told me he would spill his guts the moment I threatened his cushy retirement, but I didn’t really believe him. How can I believe that man, when it is so obvious I barely ever knew him?

At least Darian burst at the seams quick enough so that I had time to hop on this ship, the only one coming or going for the next several days. I had worried I would need to hide out in that cursed Fortress for days or even a week or two before another ship approached. I think I would risk the currents and swim back to shore under those circumstances. Not that my current situation is any better than that. The sailors on this ship are a strange bunch. Something tells me they won’t hesitate to kill me to protect their precious cargo. I will need to spend this whole journey to Thronefast as quiet as Old Molsth. That doesn’t matter. I have a plan to hatch. Or maybe a joke. How do you sneak a halfling into Skargol?