“Pleased to meet you. Hope you guess my name,
But what’s puzzling you is the nature of my game."
-The Rolling Stones
“Sympathy for the Devil”
49 Summer, 2979
Vincent Noir entered the tavern quietly and scanned the crowd gathered within. He wasn’t certain exactly who he was looking for, but he trusted his senses to pick up on subtle telltale signs his contact might be providing. Aside from the gathered humans and partial humans, a pair of cushani had their own table. And then there was the giant with some sort of rocky protrusions jutting from his flesh sitting at the bar. Surely these noteworthy figures were adventurers hoping to secure a position with the expedition to Iso’Latarin. The assassin spent a few seconds sizing each of these up, and while he considered the giant, he saw something that surprised him. As the creature leaned back to gulp down another pitcher of ale, Vincent saw the light glint off its vicious fangs.
The people guiding him so far had been seedy, of course, but they’d also shared a measure of secrecy. If a vampire was operating so openly in town, he must be possessed of considerable power and influence. And if that was the case, perhaps this was the man to whom he was intended to speak. It would be all but impossible to speak with the goliath without drawing attention to himself, but the assassin saw no alternatives. Even if he could get the hulk to move the location of their meet to another location, there was little chance that so large a man could move about unnoticed. And he certainly didn’t seem to act like he minded the attention.
He knew he would have to reveal himself in order to join the expedition anyway, so he made his decision and silently approached one of the empty stools near the giant. He took a seat without the bartender noting his arrival, a reaction – or lack thereof – that he was used to. With an effort of will, he suppressed his shadow in order to draw the giant’s attention. When this didn’t seem to work, he cleared his throat and said in a voice intended to carry only to the goliath’s ears, “Shiv sends his regards.”
Kang looked over in the direction of the voice and saw a deep blue cloak with a huge sword attached facing the bar. He felt a chill as he sized up the strange man. He had been around dark powers enough in his life to recognize the feeling. He immediately wanted to know more.
Kang spoke, and as usual his voice carried throughout the room. “Shiv, eh? The only Shiv I know is a king snake over in that sorry excuse for a town, Drev.” As he spoke, most of the other conversation in the bar quieted noticeably, and Kang could tell that many of the bar patrons were now listening to him. The champion was used to this happening when he spoke, and even a year since he left the limelight of the arena he still liked the attention.
He continued to speak, but this time he was addressing his fans. “You see there aren’t too many prominent fights held in Drev because the place is too small to create a big enough draw. However it does have a small time arena, and while I was working my way up the circuit I gave that town quite a show from time to time. Like any other pit, there were the usual suspects around: the fighters, the vendors, the promoters, and so on. And in each pit there is always a king snake, as I like to call ‘em. They are the men in the shadows that have their hands in the pockets of all of the other people I just mentioned. They are the real people in charge and they are always trying to control fighters like me. Shiv approached me on a couple of different occasions. He wanted me in his pocket, of course…. everyone did back then. But I turned him down. Drev was small potatoes, and Shiv didn’t have enough vision. He’s a powerful man, mind you… but then again so am I.” Kang flashed wicked smile. His fans loved when he told stories about the good old days, and he loved to oblige them.
His amusement completed, he turned back to the blue cloak. He couldn’t tell if the man had moved the whole time he was talking. “Now then friend, if Shiv sends his regards then there are only two things that he wants. One, he has learned my contract has ended with Grosh Ferock and has some kind of offer for me. Second, he wants me dead and you are here to do it. I can tell you are more than you seem, friend, but no one bests Kang the Abominable.” Once again Kang smiled wickedly…even though it then occurred to him that the man still wasn’t even looking in his direction.
No, Vincent’s attention was on the crowd that had decided to listen to the goliath’s booming voice. His face remained neutral, but it did lean toward the uncomfortable. Perhaps he wished he had held his tongue rather than engage the gladiator.
“If the first is true then Shiv is too late. I have already agreed to a new contract. One that will take me out of Karsari completely for awhile. And if it is the second, let’s get it over with. I have lots more drinking to do before this night is over.”
“Neither,” replied Vincent, his voice soft but still too loud for his own ears in the silence after Kang’s impromptu challenge. He had nothing to prove to these people, but the goliath was clearly a bravo and a showman, neither quality ideal in a clandestine contact and both evidence that this was not the man he sought. Still, he had already drawn the attention to himself, however inadvertently and he could feel the gathered tension in the bar. “I am bound for Iso’Latarin.” Believing he had recovered from the mistake as smoothly as possible, Vincent said no more.
The barkeep caught a glimpse of the assassin’s face beneath the cowl and eyed him askance, as if wondering whether to offer him a drink or grab his pitchfork. Since the newcomer seemed to have no beef with Kang, the bartender thought better of the latter and hesitantly proceeded with the former. “What’ll it be, stranger?”
Vincent glanced up at the man coolly. “Ale,” he said simply, and with this single word, the room seemed to relax, going back to its business since no fight seemed imminent. “And another round for…Kang was it?”