“Benevolence has many shapes.”
I take a sip of the excellent fruit juice which I purchased from one of the vendors. Things are looking good and my decision to change cities obviously threw my pursuers off their game. I couldn't find out that much about the Finguld, but the fact that they lost track of me means that they have limited resources.
If the whole elven race or the Alliance had been against me, something should have happened. Dorver would've been arrested or they would've done something against my little company. Maybe search warrants, I don't know, I am sure that they would've come up with something.
But nothing. In the two weeks I've been playing undercover agent, Dorver hasn't reported anything extraordinary. Except for that one assassination attempt.
The elves are very guarded people, hiding themselves in their kingdom. I am sure that there are people in the Alliance who have at least some knowledge regarding elven culture, but I couldn't find them. The only publicly available information on the Finguld is that they are a branch family of the current ruling house. Normally, I would be concerned about this revelation, but further investigations revealed that there are about twenty-nine such families.
Checking older documents revealed that the number fluctuated a lot over the centuries. That's odd for people who don't need magic to expand their lifespans.
This supports my theory on an internal power struggle within the elven kingdom. I am pretty sure that Fae's little warning had to go through the proper channels. There would've been plenty of chances for someone to get hold of the information. Maybe every elf knows about me at this point. And as I would expect from an internal power struggle, the Finguld jumped at the chance to gain another asset.
If you take a large group of people, there will always be a few idiots and hotheads among them.
Waiting really sucks if there is nothing to do. I am just sitting on top of an old cargo box in this alley, and waiting for others to fetch me what I want. It's just boring. I swing my left leg over my right knee and dangle my foot in the air, looking up and down the alley.
A lot of the cobblestones are missing, probably stolen by the peasants to repair their houses. Everything is so dirty. How can anyone live like that? Not to mention bugs and diseases. Shouldn't any normal person prefer a clean environment? It should be pretty obvious not to dump your own excrements where you have to walk through them.
A street rat enters the alley, but I glare at the child and the orphan decides to take a longer route. The boy had the presence of mind to know that there is going to be a transaction in this place. The people in this district don't see anything when the law asks.
This isn't exactly the safest part of the city, so it pays to have two sets of eyes. One in the front and another one in the back of my head. The mask takes care of that, but I still feel uncomfortable about waiting in a place like this.
Three weeks aren't enough time to learn everything about a city like Jebli Port. This place is a behemoth where you get everything your heart might ever wish for. From weapons to resources and medicine. They also have an underground slave market, which is why I'll give them a little torching. Not a large one, but something which will burn itself into their minds.
I shudder at the memory of passing all the cages in the canals. Giving all those people a clean death might be the only mercy that's left to give them. A slaver explained to me that they get their slaves from the Empire. There are those who are too broken to be used by the Empire, but too good to be executed on the spot. It's them who land here, sold for cheap labour or to be used for other things.
It's generally frowned upon, but there are plenty of magical rituals which require the end of a life. There isn't something like a life force, but those rituals make use of the sacrifice's brain power in their final moments. It's like over-clocking the CPU in order to allow a computer program to finish in time. Otherwise it might take too long to channel a large scale spell.
Two men enter the narrow alley and I recognize them. They have a third person between them. Oh, yeah. There are also adventurers for hire who will do anything you ask for. As long as the money is good. Personally, I call them thugs, but this world's overall dogma puts everyone who does odd jobs for money into the same box. Makes things kind of easy. Why should we differentiate between various kinds of adventurers? Mercenaries, thieves, assassins, personal guards et cetera, all of them commit violence in exchange for money. So let's call them adventurers.
The two men drop the elf onto the ground and I throw them a bag with gold coins. The smaller one catches it and checks the contents. After taking a look inside, he nods. Then they leave without a word. Transaction concluded.
I turn my attention to the woman who is trying to get back to her feet. She isn't very successful and the bloody nose allows me to guess why. “You really shouldn't eat inside that restaurant every day at the same time. Way too predictable.”
She tries to focus on me, but falls back to her knees with crossed eyes. “Why are you doing this?”
“Gwiaha Finguld, chief assistant of the consulate.” I take sip of the fruit juice and offer her the bottle. “Do you want some?”
The elf glares at me and tries to straighten her nose. It's a pitiful attempt, which gets her nothing more than pain. “Just wait! When I report this-”
“Nothing will happen,” I interrupt and point the bottle at her. “Your family has been naughty. They've tried to kill me. Or at least to kidnap me. But I am a reasonable person. I'll even let you live if you enlighten me on some issues which trouble me. For you to deliver a little message wouldn't be asking too much, would it?”
That gets her attention. “I don't know what you are talking about. What do you want?”
“Explain your family's relationship to the royal house,” I ask. “I want to understand how your people think of each other.”
She huffs. “What's there to explain? They give the commands and we follow. There is nothing else to it. Who are you?”
I take a sip from the bottle. “Call me Joyce. So there are no power struggles? The Finguld don't want to be the ones who are in control?”
“Everyone wants to be in control! What kind of stupid question is that!? We elves are essentially immortal! Do you want to be forever under the thumb of someone else? There is no other choice but to struggle for power if you want a say in politics!” She crawls over to the wall and tries to get up. How hard did those thugs hit her?
Or is she just such a weakling? I didn't expect much after watching her from afar. So I decided to do a little outsourcing. Every good company knows when someone else might be better suited for the job. She is just a minion, but a minion who can confirm my theories.
I nod slowly, considering her words. So it's that kind of system. They are presenting a united front to the outside world, but there is plenty of backstabbing going on behind the scenes. “Well, that pretty much confirms my suspicions. Thanks.”
“That's all? That's why you had me beaten up and dragged through half the district? What kind of crazy bitch are you?”
“There is still the message. I believe you when you say that you know nothing about me. I suppose only the heads of your family know. Just tell them my name when they ask. They'll understand the message.” I hop off the cargo box and approach her, then I grab her at her clothes and pull her to her feet.
And stick the dagger into her kidney.
She fumbles for the weapon, but I hold her against the alley's wall until she has calmed down. “Listen. Hey, look at me. Stop being so squeamish. It's not a lethal wound, at least not immediately.”
Gwiaha turns her attention to me. Her teary eyes are as big as saucers. “You crazy bitch! Why did you do that? You said that you would let me go.”
I nod. “Yes, I said that. Now listen, your people wanted to abduct me because of my knowledge. I suppose that they wanted to use me against your ruling family. Maybe even torture me? The big issue here is that your rulers know about me, but they preferred to play it safe and decided to lean back and watch. Your family's attack on me went against their orders. Can you follow me so far?”
She nods. “You aren't just mad, you are delusional! Did some slave merchant get his hands on you and scramble your brain?”
I grab the hilt of the dagger and move it around. Just a little to shut her up. “Okay. Now lets get to the important part. I really don't want to deal with any of you. Go back to your people, but see to it that nobody but your family finds out about our little meeting. It would be really bad if the ruling family found out about your disobedience. I am offering your family to end this before it gets out of hand. They leave me alone and I'll leave them alone. Sounds like a fair deal, right?”
I wait until it's clear that she understood. “Of course, I don't expect you to just believe me. For that reason, I prepared a little demonstration. You see... This dagger is cursed. That's why you shouldn't pull it out under any circumstances.”
“Cursed!?” she squeaks.
“Yep, and it's a nasty curse. You might just go 'splat' if the thing gets removed improperly.”
I nod. “This little item is intended to give your matrons something to think about. They should assemble their best mages and healers before they try to pull it out. Okay, now that I've warned you, could you give me a hand? You have to hold the dagger properly in place. Do you know healing magic? Otherwise you might bleed out before you reach help. Do you have it?”
Her fingers close around the hilt and she nods frantically.
“Okay. I wish you the best of luck. I am sure that those family bonds will hold true with your kin. Would be bad if you end up as a test subject, used by your own people. Just tell them that you were sent by me.” I step back, just in case that she decides to suicide. Getting all bloody in the morning would be bad. “And remember. Splat!”
She starts shaking. “Splat. Got it!” Then she turns and hurries down the alley, using the wall to steady herself.
I watch her go and take a sip from the fruit juice. “Aren't I a benevolent being? I even try to negotiate for peace.”