The office the woman led the group to was furnished lavishly with paintings, suits of armor, and bookshelves lining the walls. Set into one wall stood a large brick fireplace, several logs prepped and ready for ignition. With a nonchalant wave of her hand, the woman generated a small ball of fire and sent it towards the logs, catching them quickly ablaze and casting the room in a shifting glow.
Oh lovely, and she’s a mage too. Fantastic, thought Garn with sarcasm.
As the group made their way in, the woman took a seat on one of the thickly cushioned couches arrayed around a low-sitting table and began to talk.
“Please, have a seat.” As the others took their own seats about the table, she continued. “I realized that I have been a slightly rude host to you all, failing to introduce myself. Please allow me to do so now. My name is Miral Nocht. And thank you for agreeing to come on such short notice.”
A twitched finger summoned a servant into the room, holding a tray with 5 glasses and a pitcher of dark red wine. Doling out a glass for everyone present, the servant then withdrew quickly.
Garn found the idea that their coming was anything other than a demand a bit amusing. Self preservation made voicing that discrepancy unwise, however, so he remained quiet, content to hear out the inspiration for their summons. He did recall that House Nocht was one of the ruling class for the city of Phirra. This recollection married well to his impression of her as one not to be underestimated.
“Andras dear. Please introduce your friends.”
Acquiescing to her desire, Adras spoke for the group. “At once, Mistress Nocht. It is my pleasure to introduce Maia, Zaak, and Garn,” gesturing to each as introductions were made for the party the second time that night. Keeping his own advice from earlier, Andras did not continue speaking afterwards.
“Well met,” Miral purred, eyeing each of them up and down in an almost predatory gaze that followed Andras’s gestures. She lingered on Garn an extra moment longer, before returning her eyes back up at Andras.
“And what is your purpose in Phirra?”
Garn was a bit shocked by the blunt directness of the interaction. Certainly not one to mince words, is she, he thought.
“Ah, that,” said Andras. “We are here to participate in the trials. Garn here has been tasked with entering the rift on behalf of his master, Lord Dinsala.” He continued, gesturing at the other two and himself. “We are here as support for him in that endeavor.”
So much for not volunteering extra information, thought Garn.
“Oh good,” responded Miral. “In that case, I can make use of them as well.”
“Excuse me? Make use of us?” Garn didn’t like how dismissively the woman before him took for granted the concept of ‘consent’. “We aren’t your puppets to move as you please. What exactly did you have in mind by making use of us?”
Miral paused for a moment, eyeing Garn with a contemplative look as she digested his response. She raised a finger to her lips, then chewed her upper lip for a moment as she decided her next words. Her eyes shifted to watch the fire crackling away. After another moment, she returned them to meet Garn’s hardened stare, an apologetic smile finding its way onto her face, not quite reaching her eyes.
“Forgive the presumption,” she said. “I’m not used to dealing with those not already beholden to me. Allow me to make an offer, then.”
Garn huffed slightly at the backpedal. “Alright then,” he responded. “What’s this offer? What is so great a need as to have Andras here specifically summoned, and dragging us all away from our drinks and the merriment we were all thoroughly enjoying?” He laid it on a little thick, but she didn’t seem to mind or even register the sarcasm in his voice.
She took another sip of her wine. The others had forgotten their glasses altogether except Andras. Setting her glass back down, she began her response.
“First, my need with Andras is none of your concern. Your presence here is merely coincidental, albeit a rare opportunity. I will speak with him later. As for you as a group, what I would ask of you is a small thing.”
She paused again. Garn’s patience was running thin, and this must have shown on his face, for she began again immediately.
“There is a man registered to participate in the trials by the name of Femir Sedah. Should you come across him during the… socializing… of the event, I’d find myself in your debt were he to fall upon fatal conditions. And I pay my debts quite handsomely.”
Garns brows furrowed. Wait, did she just offer to sleep with him? No, that can’t be it. His mind ran back to the small pouch she had thrown down to the victorious mage earlier in the night, and his mind began to race at what this reward could mean.
“Could you possibly be just a little less cryptic on what that’d entail?”
She began to laugh, a chuckle at first but growing in force until she had to set her glass down or else risk spilling it. The group exchanged an awkward look with each other, unsure how to digest her response. Andras looked like he wanted to be sick, his pallor implying that no one ever dared talk to her like that.
Calming down after a minute, she responded through a smile. “You know, the candor with which you respond is rather refreshing. Alright Garn, here is my offer. With an amended reward, just for your pleasure. You kill the man, or arrange him to have an accident, or whatever, and I’ll give you a choice. Option one: I help you in the future with an as-of-yet unnamed task, provided it doesn’t betray my own interests. Option two: I hand you a big sack of gold coins. Option three: I’ll pass to you a small nugget of raw thaumetic ore. Upon completion of the task, return to this estate for your reward.” Raising a finger to cut off a response before she was done, she continued. “I’ll warn you, however, that while declining the offer is an option, since you so clearly made known your lack of willingness to be a pawn, discussing the details of this meeting would be...unwise. You do not want me as an enemy, Garn Kelmar.”
Zaak stiffened slightly as she finished speaking. Looking towards him, Garn could tell that Zaak was disturbed by something. Replaying her words in his head, he realized something.
“Andras… Andras never told you my last name. How did you…”
Miral only smiled. “Your answer?”
“Well, I do have several questions.” Garn began counting off on his fingers at each point as he made them. “First, why us? With the resources at your disposal, why not just hire an assassin or something? Second, why him? What’d he do to deserve death? Third, isn’t just commissioning death, I don’t know… frowned upon in this city? Wouldn’t there be repercussions towards us or something?”
Garn wasn’t opposed to killing people. He had done it many times in his life. Sometimes some people were in a better state, for society as a whole, when not breathing. Morality wasn’t so much the issue here. His complaint was the logic behind the request.
To her credit, Miral looked contemplative for a moment before responding.
“In order then.” She also counted off on her fingers, similar to how Garn had. “First, it isn’t just you. I have many resources allocated to this end. To his end, rather. I figure that a layered approach is more likely to get the job done. So if you want to cash in, get there first.” She gave a quick smile to accent her point before continuing. “Second, none of your business. If you want the reward, there’s the task. That’s all you need to know. Third, deaths during the trials do happen. It is a combat-oriented event, after all. Just don’t make it look too intentional, and you’ll be fine. As for if it were done outside that scenario, then yes. You’d probably be hunted down for murder, and barring some daring rescue or escape, would die in a hole somewhere.” She gave another short smile.
Well she’s the epitome of charming, isn’t she? I bet she’s a delight at all the parties.
Garn looked to his companions. Maia was staring into her lap. Zaak gave a short shrug when he met Garn’s gaze, and Andras was busy finishing his second glass of wine. Or possibly third. Garn wasn’t actually sure.
Not seeing any immediate downsides, Garn sighed after another moment of contemplation, then answered. “If it comes across my path… or rather, if he comes across my path, I shall consider what you ask. I make no promises, since randomly killing people isn’t exactly my norm, but we’ll see what happens.
Her smile returned in full this time. “Excellent. Now that that is complete, I have further business to tend to.” She stood up, and after a moment the others did the same.
“If you would like to stay the night, there are extra rooms that can be made available for your use. Or you can return to that inn where Nico and the boys picked you up from. Either way, your decision affects me not. Let Nico know your decision as you depart.” She then turned her head towards the door they had entered from and called out. “Nico, come here darling.”
Entering the room from just outside the door, where he must have been standing guard, Nico addressed his mistress. “Yes, my lady?”
Miral turned to look at the group expectantly.
“We’d like to stay, if that’s alright. Better rooms here than at that inn, I’d bet,” said Garn. Andras’s face flashed a pained grimace for a second, before he schooled his features back into control.
“Very well. Nico, could you show them around so they know where things are, and then to some rooms?”
“At once, my lady.”
Addressing the group, she continued speaking. “Feel free to explore or use the manor as you need, be it food, baths, whatnot. Guards will stop you if you venture somewhere you shouldn’t be. Have a pleasant evening,” she ended with a note of finality.
Not seeing any reason to remain, the four began to file out after Nico, who had begun walking his way towards a wing of the manor the group had yet to visit. Andras took up the rear of the group making their way out of the room. Before he made it through the door Miral spoke again, her back to the departing party, staring into the fireplace, still dancing away merrily.
“Oh, and Andras, dear? Would you stay a moment? I have something I’d like to discuss.” Her tone didn’t convey it as a refusable request.
A resigned smile found its way to Andras’s face. “Of course, my lady.”
The office was lit only by a small candle atop a large oak desk. Rain had started late in the night, quickly progressing into a thunderstorm that occasionally accented the meager light with bright flashes. On the top of the desk also sat a short note. The writing covering it was in a thin, elegant script, obviously penned with care and precision.
The broad-shouldered man sitting in the chair at the desk smiled after he read it. Things were in motion, and soon the unification of Ursei would begin, under his command. He couldn’t afford to get ahead of himself, however. Not when care and precision were so needed.
Glancing down at the note again, he tightened one of his hands, previously resting next to the note, into a fist of victory. Patience. And he was a patient man.
‘Andras has returned. I’ve passed along his next task. And the son will be dealt with soon. My debt is paid.