The Grey Cloak brigand seemed fed up and bored as he slogged in front of the inn. He had come from inside a few seconds earlier to catch some fresh air. The place was running smoothly, so it required very little attention. Old Ned was taking care of everything, running the place like it was his own, and nobody had a clue that the very same inn was used as a headquarters for both the Grey Cloaks and the Purple Lotus.
”Hey, friend, would you care to have a drink with me?” A shady man, wrapped tightly in his cloak, offered.
The brigand shrugged. ”Don't mind if I do,” he replay, glad to have something to do instead of mindless wandering, even if it was just sharing a drink with a customer who wanted to be friendly toward an inn regulator.
The man put his arm on the brigand's shoulder and passed him a bottle of honey mead.
”Have a go for both legs, friend. The nights are cold at this time of the year,” he hissed roughly while leading the brigand toward the alley.
”Isn't that the truth!” he exclaimed, clearly pleased by the polite offering.
Without noticing how they passed away from the spheres of light created by the lanterns hanging in front of the inn, the brigand allowed himself to be led into the shadows. He sensed absolutely nothing wrong before a cold blade pressed against his throat and the careless, drunken expression on the shady man's face had suddenly been replaced by somber clarity.
The bottle of mead fell from the man's hand and crashed to the ground, creating splattered stains on the white snow.
”Now, tell me, friend,” Drevin whispered sharply as he pushed the poignard harder, causing a small stream of blood to run down on the brigand's skin as his entire body stiffened from fear. ”Who do I find inside?”
”I don't know—” the brigand tried to deny his knowledge, which earned him a slightly deeper cut, and more blood squirted out like from a tiny fountain.
”Try again,” Drevin urged. ”The next mistake will be your last.”
The brigand swallowed hard, his poor experience did not serve him too well in an unexpected situation like this. Plain and uncontrollable panic was quickly taking over.
”Terrigan,” he whimpered quietly. ”Probably still upstairs— with a girl.”
”And Morhan?” Drevin continued unrelentingly.
”No one knows,” the brigand answered truthfully. ”He comes and goes, but he spends most of his time in the mountains, looking for the man who killed Elmor.”
Drevin smiled, the odds were finally favorable for him. Without his shadowy guardian, Terrigan was vulnerable; he would gladly exploit such weakness in their defense. The brigands were next to nothing as far as organized fighters went, so in a way, Terrigan was dwelling in that house completely unattended.
Having received all the information necessary to proceed, Drevin pushed the blade through his skin, cutting as deep as the blade would go. The brigand's body writhed in his arms for a few seconds before turning loose. A quiet thud accompanied the fall as he allowed the corpse to slip through his fingers. After kicking around some snow to cover the worst smears that garnished the white ground, Drevin sneaked by the familiar wooden door. Distant clamor carried from inside, but as far as he could tell, the back of the kitchen sounded empty.
Without waiting any longer, Drevin opened the door and entered swiftly, ready to fight if necessary. But he found the kitchen dark and deserted, apparently the food service had diminished since the daylight hours. The drunken murmur coming from the dining hall made him grimace cunningly. Even the sharpest vision turned blurry when enough mead was consumed, and that was what Drevin counted on. He could not be completely sure whether the men sitting around the tables would recognize him through their drunken fog, or if he could indeed sneak through without being noticed. Prepared to kill everybody if it came down to it, Drevin stepped out of the kitchen and walked toward the staircase. It was not more than a few steps, but the time seemed to stand still, stretching every moment into infinity as he continued. His two glimmering eyes were fixed on the goal, but despite his unbreakable focus, he thought he could feel the malignant stares on his back. Knowing that this uncomfortable feeling was mostly caused by his own vivid imagination, he fought the nervousness and managed to keep his movement somewhat natural.
A silent sigh of relief escaped his lips as he began to climb the stairs. It seemed like no one had paid attention to his presence yet. All the customers, including the brigands, were too busy with their whores and drinks to notice the unknown figure who had now reached the top and vanished around the corner. They all assumed him being just another customer going in for a special treatment with one of the girls lodged upstairs. It had been too long since his last appearance for this filth to remain alert, too long to stay focused, and now that lack of vigilance would have dire consequences.
* * *
Her bare breasts were bouncing up and down in a languid manner as the woman seemed to have no desire to put in any more effort than what was absolutely necessary. The soft candlelight made her curves glow pleasantly, but if the harlot seemed more or less uninterested, the man was even more so - almost as if it was a boring, nightly chore to be completed before he could sleep. He had his reasons though - good reasons why this purdy whore could not retain his attention.
Terrigan Argos had had trouble to enjoy the benefits of his position for quite some time now. Ever since his target had mysteriously vanished after escaping from the mountain cottage, his mind had been restless, and every time Morhan returned to refill his supplies, Terrigan felt the same enormous disappointment for not receiving the news he wanted to hear so badly. He was not sure if Morhan could really kill Drevin in a fair fight. The man who had once been Morhan's apprentice had developed into a pureblooded killer, and even Terrigan, who never regretted his past actions, found himself questioning his hasty decision to brutally murder Drevin's wife. So far they had only driven themselves into an unbearable situation, but it was too late to turn back anymore.
Frustration shone from the harlot's face as she was giving her best to keep the man hard, but every time she thought it would finally work, Terrigan's mind wandered off again, taking the next generous customer farther away from her reach. She was tempted to suggest an interruption, but she knew this man and what he was capable of doing, so she continued her halfhearted ride and kept her mouth shut. A wise decision from her behalf, for a man like Terrigan would not have taken such an insult very lightly. He paid this wench generously for her work, and she would not get out before her task was properly finished.
Watching her slender body swinging on top of him, trying to drive off all the disturbing thoughts, Terrigan took his hands behind his head and enjoyed the view. The rhythmic movement of her naked body was very comfortable - most arousing for most men - but it was not enough to offer this man his fulfillment.
The door opened quietly, so quietly that it took a good while before distracted Terrigan noticed anything wrong. A gloomy figure had slipped inside. The shining tip of a polished blade was staring at Terrigan's eye faster than a single thought could form in his mind. The harlot was about to climb off, but the man's dark glare froze her in place.
The ratfaced murderer recognized the intruder easily, although worn and withered from the harsh conditions of the winter and the injuries he had suffered. Terrigan's leather belt lay on the floor along with his weapons, too far to be of any use. This day had been coming for some time now, but it had still caught him off guard, left him unprepared. This time he would not have Morhan to cover his back - this time he was all alone.
The harlot made another attempt to slide off as she felt herself threatened and endangered by this stranger, but Drevin glared at her again and scowled: ”Stay where you are, wench!”
She obeyed humbly, for something in the man's eyes told her that there would not be a third warning. Drevin did not like the presence of a third person in the room, but he could not let this whore to run off either, thus she needed to stay where he could see her all the time. The harlot, on the other hand, appreciated her life much more than she disliked the awkward position with the man's softened tool still partially inside of her, so she chose not to argue over this matter any further.
The irritating, arrogant smile on Terrigan's face had died. He stared at Drevin with serious, almost an obedient expression on his face that held no malice or wickedness. Drevin stared back with cold, emotionless eyes, but deep beneath the surface, a furious fire of hatred was burning brighter than ever before. He despised this man for everything he represented. Even among the assassins, Terrigan's working methods were questionable at best, and there were not many who would shed a tear for his death, granted the Hooded One might be one of the few.
”What happened to Gerrick and his daughter?” he asked roughly, getting straight to the point.
Terrigan's eyes wandered around the room as if seeking a way out, but this time the rat was trapped for good. There was no way to escape - no way to slither out.
”They're dead,” he answered truthfully, verifying what Drevin had secretly feared. His only friend in these lands was murdered, another matter to be avenged.
But without showing the slightest sign of emotion, he continued. ”Where's Morhan?”
A simple question. Everything he wanted to know at that point, and to enforce his intent, Drevin brought the tip of his weapon so close that it was tickling the thin skin underneath his eye.
Swallowing hard, careful not to move an inch, Terrigan spoke with a slightly vibrating voice. ”I don't know where he is, I swear,” he said as calmly as he was able to.
”Don't feed me lies or I'll butcher you right where you are,” Drevin growled, barely able to prevent himself from thrusting the blade into his brain.
”I'm telling the truth,” Terrigan assured calmly. ”He comes and goes, but on every visit he gets food from the inn and then heads over to the sewers where he rests for a couple of days before leaving again. He's looking for you; he will find you.” His pale, ratlike face wrang as he spat out the last words that veiled a mocking warning.
”How long does he stay gone?” Drevin continued coldly, smoothly ignoring the threat.
”From three to four days. He's been gone for a couple of days now, so he should be returning soon. Now, would you be so kind and take that blade away from me?” The slim, naked man talked in a way that sounded almost tired and bored, as if everything that was happening was nothing but an irritating little detail that had gotten far more attention than it really required. The newly found confidence in Terrigan's behavior indicated that he was beginning to control his fears, a quality that every assassin of the Purple Lotus had mastered over the years of service.
Who knows, perhaps he really thought that Drevin would really do that and leave him lying there without further measures. There was not enough time for him to properly realize what happened as the long blade of the poignard slipped through his eye socket and sliced its way through the brain, which left him staring with his intact eye, rather surprised by the sudden event. Everything happened so fast that even the harlot, still sitting on top of the dying man, was unable to make a sound as she saw a sudden gush of blood spilling over the wriggling man's chest. The whore received a few little droplets on her pale skin as well, but she was not in no condition to pay any attention to them as she gazed odiously at the freshly slaughtered man with her mouth slightly ajar, shuddering convulsedly. The ratface's body jerked a few times as millions of nerve endings gave out one last fanfare before dying, but the girl's weight held him at bay quite well.
Staring at the grim sight, enjoying the cold satisfaction of revenge, Drevin wiped his blade on the sheets. It was not exactly what he would have preferred. Too fast and too clean for a man like Terrigan, but given the circumstances, he had done the best he could.
The whore was peering at him, too scared to move, waiting for some kind of a sign to tell her that it would be finally safe to climb off of her dead customer. Her long, sandy hair covered her tearful eyes as she struggled to keep herself from breaking apart. Seconds seemed to pass slower than the years crawl by, but finally the shady man sheathed his weapon and turned at the naked, quietly sobbing woman.
”You've done well,” he said, using a slightly softer tone than before, but his voice was still cold as steel. Then he continued by instructing the harlot. ”I want you to stay here for about ten minutes after I'm gone. After that you're free to do whatever you feel that you need to do.”
Without waiting for an answer, Drevin turned around and left the whore by herself in the room. He was not too worried about her; these women rarely have any emotional attachments to their customers, which leads them to think about their own safety before anything else. The whore would wait for those ten minutes, probably a little more just to be sure before making her first move. As far as she was concerned, everything that happaned was indifferent, and only thing that mattered was her own survival.
The Burning Candle Inn was not the only one in this town. Lokhan was poorly defended with its pathetic wooden fence and a few hired guards, but it was the trading center of that area. A sort of capital city of Darlond and Grisdale, while the true capital of Windari, Thalas, was standing at least two hundred miles to the north. Located at the crossroads of highways, Lokhan had prospered in the past, expanded around the woods like spreading plague, and even though the times had been rough lately, Lokhan remained as moderately bustling place for hunters and merchants to meet and trade goods. Drevin sneaked to the east side where several smaller inns welcomed anyone with some coin in their pockets. A moment of rest would be more valuable than gold before going after Morhan, a moment as safe as possible. The news of Gerrick's and Merwyn's grim fate had pushed his mind into chaos, and such a state would be extremely dangerous when confronting Morhan, his former mentor and one of the best killers the Purple Lotus had. There would be no margin for error in that battle, no room for distracted thoughts.
A half-rotten wooden sign was hanging above the porch with a word ”Broken Wheel” carelessly carved on it. The heavy wind and the slowly growing blizzard were punishing the sign violently for its mere existence, gnawing away the weakened wood one splinter at a time. This was exactly the kind of place Drevin was looking for - a place where no one would know him - a place to gather his thoughts and prepare for the showdown. There was no chance that Morhan could be taken by surprise like Terrigan. He was far more intuitive than his dead partner had ever been, and trusted on his primal instincts like Drevin. They knew each other well, the strenghts and weaknesses. It would have to get very dirty before everything was said and done between these two.