Haerin hated taverns, and this one, which the shadowy figure had led him and Temujin to, was no exception.
They were all full of noisy sods who hadn't done a day of honest work in their life, instead choosing to drink and gamble themselves to death. A patron was just some lazy bastard who decided to toss their family into the gutter while they'd drink glass after glass until they'd pass out, wake up, and start all over again. Temujin seemed to be enjoying himself, happily ordering drinks for all three of them, but Haerin most certainly wasn't. Only the humble Elven bartender deserved his respect, but this one gave him the creeps; he just seemed a bit too happy for all the men whose lives were being destroyed before his eyes, and his gaze felt strange... intoxicating, addictive, in a way. But Haerin just shrugged it off as paranoia - the bartender was probably just glad that business was booming, and unlike all the middle-aged, pasty, fat, illiterate idiots that loafed at the tables, his face was a little nicer to look at than all these oafs.
The seer named Sokrin lying on the floor next to Haerin groaned as he began to stir, and Haerin sighed in relief. "Glad you decided to wake up," he muttered. "Thought that fanaga might've put you to sleep for good."
The dwarf shook his head as he tried to regain his bearings, his eyes slowly gliding around the room as he tried to take it all in. He put a hand to his head but suddenly took it away as though he realised something. He looked left and right to find Haerin and Temujin sitting above him on tall stools, before shooting up from the ground, somehow managing not to stumble.
He reached into his pockets, but then he raised an accusatory finger at Haerin. "You," he said venomously. "You destroyed my cards."
Haerin shrugged. "You know I had to do it," he replied. "I can't have you whipping them out to attack me once you woke up, and it looks like that was your first thought, wasn't it?"
Sokrin narrowed his eyes. "You saw right through me. Twice. That's my job. Who are you? And where's that... boomerang thing that you made?"
"Oh yeah," Haerin said, turning to Temujin, whose knuckles were white as they gripped his sword's hilt and he suspiciously eyed the tiny dwarf. "You called the fanaga that weird word I've never heard before, boomerang, and you began speaking some odd words that I didn't recognise. What's up with that?"
But Temujin gave no response.
Haerin pressed on, a little annoyed. "Hey buddy, I asked you a - "
"I'll tell you later. First, we have to make sure this man won't pull a fast one on us."
"I burnt his cards on the way here," Haerin explained. "There's no way he can attack us."
Temujin raised an eyebrow. "You sure? No concealed grenades, no landmines, no chance of a cleverly hidden cannon?"
"What the hell are any of those things? I've never heard of them!" Haerin protested.
"Uh... I don't... know..." Temujin's eyes clouded over in confusion, much like they did when he began speaking gibberish back when they were fighting Sokrin. "Anyways, you're entirely sure there's no chance he'll lash out at us?"
"Yes. Now take your hand away from the damn sword."
Temujin chuckled as he relaxed his grip on his hilt, the gleam returning to his eyes. "I suppose you've never been wrong in the short time I've known you, so I'll believe you when you say this Sokrin fellow can't hurt us. Speaking of which," he turned to the shady man in dark blue who had led them to this grimy post-midnight ruckus of a tavern. "Who are you? Who's Sokrin? And why haven't you said a word to us since we got here?"
The figure sighed, his face concealed behind a ridiculously large hood. Haerin wondered how the bloody hell he could see anything with that thing in front of his face, but he decided to keep these thoughts to himself.
"I haven't said anything 'cos I was waiting for Sokrin to wake up. It's important for him to hear what I'm about to say, and I don't like wasting my breath, y'know? Sokrin over here is one of our agents of investigation, he gets all the information we need to keep the city running."
Haerin raised an eyebrow. "He's pretty stupid for someone who's meant to handle intelligence. Didn't think twice about the fanaga I was making while he was playing around with Temujin."
Sokrin yawned. "I was simply mocking you because I didn't think I needed to use more of the Engineer's Eye. It's exhausting, you know. But if I wanted to, I could have looked into your head."
"Really?" Haerin challenged. "What am I thinking right now?" Haerin promptly began to focus on the most revolting thing he could to give the nosy dwarf a jump.
The seer closed his eyes, and the Engineer's Eye on his forehead began to glow a light blue. "You're focusing on an old man in a cell, from the same jail that you got Temujin from. But you're also thinking how you'll completely destroy me with his image. Just so you know, it didn't work. You should have more respect for your parents, you know, especially your father."
Haerin reeled back from Sokrin's casual revelation. He was too impressed to be pissed off. He'd have to save it for later.
"Damn. You got me."
"As I was saying," the hooded figure continued, "I'm a messenger agent. I transport information around the criminal guild."
"Okay, but why are you making us bring the psychic dwarf over here with us? And how did you know we were going to Perechain?" Haerin questioned.
"One of our pickpockets got something from you two that told us where you were going," the hooded figure said as took out a card, like the ones that Sokrin had used, and as it glowed with magical energy, a book fell out of it. A leatherbound, handmade, handwritten book...
Haerin dashed to snatch the book out of the stranger's hands. "You didn't tell the Empire of this, did you?" He said darkly. "If you did..."
The hooded man chuckled. "We might technically be part of the Empire, but no Imperial soldier would dare set foot on this city. We're a free city, pal, you have nothing to worry about. And I'm asking you two to take Sokrin with you because, well, the journey is tough and dangerous, and Sokrin would have to go anyways, so why not take two more with him?"
"Excuse me?" Sokrin said, a little bewildered. "This is the first I've heard of needing to go to Perechain. What for?"
The figure lowered his voice, almost whispering in the packed, rowdy tavern. "We've recently gotten into a conflict with an old cult - "
"A cult?" Temujin exclaimed before a considerable number of patrons turned towards the whispering four.
Haerin whacked him on the head with his fanaga with a metallic ring and a yelp from the poor halfling. "Quiet," he hissed. "Isn't it obvious this is dangerous information?"
Temujin rubbed the back of his head. "Right, sorry," he mumbled. "But anyway, why are we getting involved with bloody cults?"
"It's because this cult is particularly old, very dangerous, and is based in Perechain. From what we've gathered, they call themselves the Mazdakites. Here on the mainland, they mostly keep to themselves, but they recently underwent a change of leadership, and their new leader is taking a lot more action than the old one. He's recently gotten a hold of very old, very powerful magic, and he intends to use this magic in the capital of Perechain to awaken something dangerous, so we're contributing to an elite force of fighters from across the world to take 'em out at their source."
"That's pretty nebulous information," Haerin said cynically. "What is this magic, what are they trying to awaken?"
The man shook his head or at least seemed to under that ridiculous hood. "No clue. The boss won't tell us any more than that. Although I have heard some stories... you know about the guardian of Perechain?"
The figure was met with blank stares all around. He sighed.
"There are legends about a being who guards the island of Perechain, said to be the masterwork of the Engineers, greater than any Golem in the world. The Empire is too afraid to invade in case if they wake the guardian up. Although, that's just a rumour I've heard. As for the magic, well..." He pointed at Sokrin, much to his surprise. "There's an instance of it."
Sokrin's eyes widened in shock. "Don't tell me - "
"Yes. The Engineer's Eye is one of these powers. Magic circles that attach themselves to a host rather than being carved into metal, the strongest ones in the world. The Engineer's Parts."
Haerin snickered. Temujin turned to him in confusion. "What's so funny, Haerin?"
"Engineer's Parts? How much thought went into that name?"
Temujin's face was blank. "I don't get it."
"They might as well call it the Engineer's Di - "
But Haerin never managed to finish his sentence, because his mouth was sealed shut by Temujin's firm hand pressed against it. "Alright, I get it now, I get it, don't be vulgar about it!" Temujin whined.
Haerin pried Temujin's hand off of his mouth. "So," he summarised. "You want us to travel to Perechain and destroy the Mazdakites with this seer guy, Sokrin?"
He couldn't see the grin, but Haerin could almost feel it under the man's massive hood. "I couldn't have put it better myself. It's your choice, of course, but - "
"Will you give us supplies to last the journey?" Haerin interrupted.
"We'll provide you with a steed and money that should last you the entire way to Perechain."
"How about you also give us a bard, to pass the time?"
"Sorry, we're fresh out of bards. I can give you this weird two-stringed instrument one of my mates keeps playing, though. The damn guy keeps me awake at night with the thing. Hopefully, it'll break somewhere along the journey."
Haerin shrugged "Good enough, I guess. It's a deal."
Haerin took in the fresh air of the dark street outside of the tavern, leaving the noisy hellhole behind to his relief. By his side was an amnesiac halfling in a weird, thick red shirt and black trousers carrying a sword, and a bald dwarf wearing purple clothes with an odd carving of a magic circle on his forehead, as they all prepared to fight a cult on an island on the other side of the continent.
"Well," Temujin said as he broke the silence. "That was oddly tiring."
"You're right," Sokrin agreed. "It might be because I just woke up recently after being knocked out, but I am exhausted right now, you know."
Haerin yawned. "I haven't held a conversation that long in the past three months."
Haerin could practically feel Temujin's look of disapproval. "You didn't have many friends, did you?"
"Nope. I had more important things to worry about. Anyways, where are the lodgings that we're staying in for tonight?"
"You can stay at my house," Sokrin offered, to Haerin's surprise.
Really? You're not mad about us burning your cards and knocking you out?" Temujin asked.
"I don't keep grudges, there are far better things to do than try to maintain one. And besides, we have nowhere else to stay."
"I guess we'll be staying at your place tonight, Sokrin," Haerin said. "Lead the way."
But as the small silhouette of the dwarf began to walk ahead to his home and Haerin followed, a memory suddenly struck him in the head. "Hey Sokrin, didn't you say something about selling items for travellers?"
The dwarf's reply sounded a little brighter than his usual dark monotone. "Indeed. Once we get money for our supplies, I think the first place we're spending it at is our little underground trading post. You're going to love it."