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Dockside, City of Norshelm

Trism Cott, formerly a street rat that roamed the dark alleyways of the old Capital of Goldrose, sighed as he took in the stench of the city. He found that no matter which city or town, the same stench was ever present, except for the city of Haven.

He adjusted his cloak to ensure it doesn't tangle with the pair of long daggers he kept at his back hip and pushed his way into a pub that had the hanging sign of a fishbone.

The interior was dimly lit and a mixed smell of piss, vomit, cooked food and washed bodies. Luckily it was just barely midday and the crowd has yet to come in. He let his eyes adjust to the dark before he sat down at a corner bench which earnt him a furtive look from the barkeeper.

Trism pretended not to notice the look and gestured for the barmaid for some local ale and food. After a while, the portly barkeeper with a greasy apron brought the food over and set it on the table before Trism. "That will cost you a silver piece! Paying upfront or after?"

"Upfront, I have a friend coming soon too," Trism said while he slid two silver pieces forward. "You any fine red for sale in that cellar of yours?"

The barkeeper raised an eyebrow. "Sure, we always have some fine red in the cellar. I will bring it to you when your... friend is here..."

With that said, the barkeeper pocketed the two silver pieces with his oily hands and left, leaving Trism alone with his meal. Trism picked at the mixed stew with greasy bits of unidentified meat floating on top. The heel of black bread was hard but edible when soaked with the stew. The food wasn't remarkable and the local ale was weak tasting, most likely watered down.

Not long later, a thin shallow faced male wearing simple homespun sat down right before Trism who barely finished his meal with a dark green bottle of wine. "You looking to buy some red?"

Trism nodded, "Yes, I am willing to offer a good price if you have what I want."

"Sure, follow me!" The person stood up and without a backward glance, he headed to the back of the bar, giving a wave to the barkeeper who returned a nod.

Trism followed behind closely, as they passed the kitchen and into another doorway which led down into the cellars. Reaching the bottom of the wooden stairs, Trism found himself surrounded by crates and barrels of supplies and other stuff.

The man lit a magic lantern and opened a door at the end of the cellar and Trism followed him in. Inside the small room were a simple table and a couple of chairs. The man hung the lantern on the side and placed the wine and a pair of goblets down and said, "Wait here."

Trism sat down and made himself comfortable and he observed his surroundings. The small room had featureless walls but he could feel a draft of air from somewhere. He was about to search the room when he heard footsteps coming.

The door opened and a heavy set male dressed like rough clothing came in and sat down before Trism. "What do you need?"

"I need information," Trism said. "As much as you can possible."

"What or who do you want to know about?" The information broker asked while he poured the bottle of wine into two goblets.

"House Deflin and House Taron," Trism said. "And also... what information you have on the Stalkers."

The broker choked on his wine as he heard the last part. "You want information on the Stalkers? Are you serious?"

"Yes," Trism's eyes narrowed. "Everything on them."

The broker sucked in a deep breath as he stared at Trism in silence. "The information regarding the two Houses will not be cheap."

"For the Stalkers?" The broker shook his head. "I do not want to make enemies with them!"

"I will pay you twice the price," Trism offered.

"If I can't keep my life," The broker sighed. "Even if you offer me ten times the price, there is no point!"

"I understand," Trism nodded. "Than let's talk about the two Houses, this is what I want to know..."

-----

Rothschild Estate

Mills made himself as comfortable as he could in his battle gear as he sat guard over Titanna in the adjoining room. He studied the data compiled by Trism earlier over his tablet, reviewing the information regarding House Delfin and Taron.

Both Houses were bound together by marriage and business interests. House Deflin dealt in the trade of spices and other trade goods while House Taron were in the mining business, owning several copper and iron metals in the metals.

They even have a trading company with equal shares between themselves, owning two large cargo vessels that shipped their wares to other cities. Of all the nine Great Houses, they own the most wealth after the Rothschilds.

But they were dependent on the Rothschilds due to the slave trade. Only the Rothschilds controls the entire slave trade in the south, and as overlords of the Norshelm and the surrounding fiefs, they were taxed greatly for the importing and exporting trade goods.

For generations, they had to pay fealty to the Rothschild which made them bitter. And with the increase of taxes demanded by the Emperor. money was flowing out of their coffers as the taxes were raised, making them even more unhappy.

Mills rubbed his tired eyes and yawned, earning him disapproving looks from Titanna's female household guards. He sighed and checked the time, noting it was almost two am local time.

He stood up and stretched his body, ignoring the female guards at the door when suddenly the door leading to Titanna's bedchambers swung open.

Mills saw a pale faced Titanna standing at the doorway dressed in a sleeping gown with a cloak over her shoulders. Her eyes had sunken in and the bruised marks on her throat were visible even under the magic glow lamps lined along the walls.

She gave a weak smile at the sight of Mills who quickly helped her to the chair he had evacated earlier. "Sit! Why aren't you resting?"

"Ahh... this- ty," Titanna whispered hoarsely. "Wa- ta."

"You want water?" Mills asked and Titanna nodded slowly. "Alright. I go get you some!"

He quickly went and pour a cup of water for her while her guards and maids watched on with surprise and concern, wondering why she did not call for them to serve her.

Titanna gratefully sipped the cool water which soothed her injured throat. Mills gently asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Be-ta," Titanna replied slowly. She leaned back and closed her eyes and sighed. "Tan- yu fo savin e."

Mills smiled, "Don't speak so much, you take care of yourself first. When you have recovered then we talk."

He gestured to the maids, "Bring her in and let her rest more."

Titanna gave a nod and meekly followed her maids into the room much to the amazement of the guards and servants as they had not seen such a sight of their Lady. Mills returned to his seat and continued where he left off his reading, his mood seemingly improved.

-----

The next morning, Mills entered Trism's office and found the Intel officer with the rest of the senior NCOs gathered together.

"Alright, everyone is here, let's start the meeting," Trism said. "I am sure everyone has reviewed the information on House Delfin and Taron. So I will not go into details here."

"Knight Captain Judis has run a thorough check on the entire staff and guards in the Estate," Trism updated the men. "He found two other servants, in the payroll of others, most likely to spy on the Rothschild and he has taken them into custody for interrogation."

"This does not mean that everyone is clean," Trism said. "We are the only ones without suspicion here. Hence, the Knight Captain has graciously requested us to take over the security of Lady Titanna while we are stationed here, till he can be sure there are no more... spies or assassins in the estate."

"Sergeant Mills, you will set up a duty roster for the men to guard Lady Titanna," Trism said. "Work with Lady Titanna's personal guards for a schedule and what are the dos and don'ts."

"Next, Knight Captain Judis had been kind enough to arrange a meeting for me with the Stalkers," Trism said. "My plan is to meet up with the Stalkers and negotiate a cease of the contract on Titanna."

"The time for the meet will be just before midnight," Trism said. "At one of the alleyways in the old city quarter."

"Since we have no UAV support here, I will plant an audio tracker on the person who is meeting me," Trism said. "Hopefully, this will lead us to the hidden stronghold of the Stalkers."

"Claymore One will take up positions around the area beforehand and provide overwatch," Trism nodded to Sergeant Tyrier. "They will follow the tracker and see where it leads us."

"Once we have confirmation of where they are hiding," Trism said. "Claymore One will sneak in to collect as much information as we can. Do not let them detect your presence and ensure that the enemy does not find out your identities."

"Secondary objectives are to kill off the leadership of the Stalkers if possible," Trism continued. "If unable to do so, grab whatever information you can and extract from the enemy's hideout."

"Sergeant Mills's Marines will follow along and create a perimeter and provide cover for a retreat if Claymore One gets detected," Trism added. "Hopefully all goes well and we can settle all this before this weekend."

"It will be interesting if we can gather all the ringleaders at the party and..." Mills gave a savage smile. "Take care of them all at one shot."

"That's the general idea," Trism said. "I will brief Lady Titanna later on."

Mills stopped Tyrier when they left the office. "What do you think of this?"

"Too many unknowns..." Tyrier sighed. "But that's the only lead we have."

"Yea..." Mills agreed. "Stay sharp, tonight is gonna be a rough night."

-----

Members of Claymore One left the Rothschild Estates in three teams as quietly as possible. One team hid in the back of a wagon on its daily supply run to the market, while another team, disappeared through a hidden side gate and made their way through the game forest towards the city.

The last team had one of the more trustworthy household guards leading them in a secret tunnel that led to the outskirts of the city. After the teams had left the Estate, they will rendezvous near the location of the meet and settle down to wait for nightfall.

Tyrier dressed in local homespun clothing wore his combat harness over them and had a thin cloak to cover his body. His suppressed carbine was hidden in a long case slung over his shoulders and he had a short sword strapped to his side. The rest were similarly dressed and armed like him and they easily merge in with both the locals and foreigners in the city.

To ensure they were not spotted by the Stalkers, Tyrier and his men had arrived at the location just after the city's midday bell. The three teams took up three positions in a triangular formation and stayed out of sight of the street and its crowd.

Tyrier settled down in the shadows of an arch that gave him sight into the alleyway of the meet and he whispered into his throat mike. "One to all, what's your status over?"

"Two, to One, in position. Eyes on the other end of the street."

"Three, to One, in position. Overwatching the entire street. Give a wave."

Tyrier looked up towards the roof of the building across the street and waved.

"Three, looking good there, boss!"

"One to all, go silence. Stay alert, its gonna be a long wait ahead!"

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