Game Over

Game Over

Postby CherryStatic » Mon Dec 21, 2015 9:17 am

Vixen pulled the heavy wool cloak tighter around her shoulders, eyes darting from one side of the street to the other as she forced herself to breathe evenly and place one foot in front of the other. Her paranoia had reached new heights in the past several days, having grown to the point that she barely slept or ate anything. She hadn't left her room in the Broken Dagger unless absolutely necessary for fear of running into Castor Montelle's henchmen in the streets, and when she did venture out, it was never without the bladed whip strapped to one thigh, hidden beneath her cloak.

But she had received a hastily scrawled note in the early hours of that morning, slipped beneath the door of her room while she was passed out from sheer exhaustion after starving herself of sleep for so long. It was written in the familiar choppy hand of Gloria Wynsee, the seamstress who considered her a friend even after learning the truth about her past. It implored her to meet the girl later that day in secret at the restaurant where they had eaten after her "accident" in the marketplace. The content of the letter was vaguely worded, and Vixen silently thanked Gloria for her discretion. It seemed that she understood the gravity of the dancer's current predicament.

She made her way towards the Kamoreta, feeling as though every passerby was watching her out of the corner of their eye. She kept her head down, pulling her hood lower as she reached the door of the restaurant and stepped inside, closing the door soundly behind her. She scanned the room of tables for a few seconds, seeing only unfamiliar faces chattering loudly with one another, and touched the arm of a passing woman wearing an apron.

"Excuse me, but I'm supposed to be meeting someone here. A miss Wynsee?"

The woman stopped, looked at her from head to toe, and raised an eyebrow, and Vixen slumped the slightest bit, trying to disappear into her cloak more than ever. After a moment, she issued a brief nod towards one of several doors in the back of the room.

"Private room. Second door. Table's set."

She moved off towards a group that was flagging her down, apparently having nothing else to say to the redhead. Vixen watched her go, wondering what she had done to prompt such a tightlipped response, before moving towards the door that had been indicated. She turned the handle and pushed the door open, her lips parted and a greeting ready to spill forth.

A hand grabbed her by her slender throat and pulled her inside, abruptly cutting short her words. She was unceremoniously thrown face-first onto a long table covered in white linen, dimly aware that the door had been kicked shut behind her. She moved to rise, crying out in panic, but the hand found the back of her head, winding thick fingers around the base of her ponytail and slamming her cheek against the hard surface of the table.

Her assailant's other hand moved to grab her wrist, but she was faster, fingers darting to where she guessed their waist might be, feeling blindly for a belt and whatever might be hanging from it. They alighted upon a handle, and she desperately grabbed for it, pulling free a knife in one quick jerk and stabbing viciously at the thigh pressed roughly against the back of her own. The man holding her bellowed in pain and wrenched her head backwards by the hair, and she yelled in spite of herself, dropping the weapon and clawing at the hand that held her. The second person in the room moved closer and drove a knee into her exposed middle, up under her ribcage. The air rushed from her lungs in an audible grunt, and she
again fell against the table, unable to recover.

She struggled to draw in a breath as hands traveled across her body. She thought, at first, in horror, that she was moments from being raped, but she quickly realized that she was being frisked. Her cloak was torn away, leaving her weapon in plain sight, and the coiled whip was pulled roughly from where it sat on her thigh, discarded to one side.

"Enough, both of you."

Vixen's head snapped up at the sound of the voice, hearing it for the first time in what seemed like decades. She found the familiar face of the half-elf seer, Michta Vess, staring coolly down at her from where he was seated at the other end of the table, lowering a teacup to a porcelain dish with a barely audible clink. Hatred welled up within her, and in that moment, she was once again the blood-drenched assassin from Mixalydia, staring into the eyes of the man who had arranged her death. The look she gave Michta was not lost upon him.

"Well, you seem to remember me well enough. So much for your convenient memory loss." He laced his fingers together on the table before him, offering her a thin smile. "You're looking well, Alcara. Or is it 'Vixen', now? I've received conflicting reports."

"Where is Gloria?" She hissed, struggling once more against the hands that held her. "If you so much as breathed a word of your poison in her ear, I'll tear your forked tongue out, you ribbon eating snake."

Michta indulged himself in a sip of tea, rolling his eyes skyward over the rim of the cup and making a long-suffering sound. "Miss Wynsee has been more involved in this game of cat and mouse than I had originally anticipated, but she played her part in the end. She is quite unaware of this meeting, I assure you, and will remain so unless I decide otherwise."

"You don't want any witnesses to your dark side, is that it?" She grunted as the hand that held her by the hair forced her cheek roughly against the table. A drop of blood fell from her split lip to the pristine table cloth.

"I simply have no desire to further involve her in the affairs of our kingdom." He replied. "Unlike the Bloodletters, Mixalydia's crown avoids dragging innocents into its conflicts. That poor girl is under the ridiculous notion that you are some carefree spirit who dances for the amusement of others in the street. I all but laughed in her face when she first said as much, but it became increasingly apparent that she has bought into that angelic mask you wear over your black heart."

"You're one to talk." she spat. "You realized that Crucia couldn't control me like the others and you deemed me a liability because of it. You sent armed men to my bedchambers to do away with me, but here you sit, drinking tea like a lady of the court. You have as much blood on your hands as I do, and you know it."

Michta frowned slightly. "I'm afraid I don't relish the notion as you so obviously do. One of the bloodiest chapters of our kingdoms history was written in your hand, and murdering your king certainly didn't do much to polish your reputation, Blood Dancer. But I didn't arrange for you to be here just so we could debate one another's' actions." He waved a hand dismissively, and the man behind her released her hair. "Leave us. And take the whip with you."

Vixen watched the two members of the Hidden Hand step through the door, glancing back at Michta. She wiped the trickle of blood from her mouth with the back of one hand.

"I don't need that thing to kill you where you sit, half-elf. I promise."

"Certainly not." he agreed, motioning for her to sit. When she remained standing, glaring at him, he continued on, unperturbed. "However, I am your only means of leaving this establishment alive. If I do not walk out that door before you, you'll find yourself at the end of every blade the Hidden Hand wields. And they are more than ready for your tricks this time around. And from what those bags under your eyes tell me, you haven't slept much lately. If you attempt to Affect me now, you risk harming yourself in the process, and I'm not sure your mind would be able to bounce back from another episode of memory loss."

Vixen said nothing for several seconds, then reluctantly seated herself. "Where is the Hidden Hand's leader in all of this?"

An odd expression visited the seer's face, but was gone as quickly as it had arrived. "Captain Montelle is unfit for duty at the moment, which is unfortunate considering how very much he was looking forward to seeing you after all this time. It's all he's been talking about for weeks now."

Vixen chose not to respond, and Michta's smile fell away.

"Let me be entirely clear when I say this: you are here, sitting across this table from me, because I am done playing games. With you and anyone else that would interfere in the crown's business. You no longer have the excuse of Crucia's scheming to hide behind, and if you refuse to comply with my demands, then I will be more than happy to cut this meeting short."

The dancer gauged the half-elf's expression and was unable to find any of the put-upon sarcasm she had grown accustomed to in the palace. "I'm listening, Vess."

"Then I'll be frank: if you agree to cooperate with the Hidden Hand going forward, I am willing to offer you a public pardon from your crimes."

Time seemed to stand still in the room. When she finally spoke, her voice was uncertain. "I don't understand what you're saying."

Michta did not respond immediately. He instead turned his attention to stirring a lump of cube of sugar into his tea, then raising the cup to his lips and sampling it. Vixen knew from experience that he always used tea as a buffer in conversation that allowed him to piece together his thoughts before replying to someone. The half-elf brought a napkin to his mouth and looked her way.

"Between the two of us, Alcara, I never bore any great love for our former king. I am much more fond of his son, however, and I serve him to the best of my ability."

"In and out of the bed, right?" Vixen said quietly. Michta's look of surprise was quickly replaced by arched brows.

"Clever girl. You don't miss much. But let's not let ourselves be distracted by court gossip, shall we?" He sat back in his chair, smoothing the front of his robes. "As I said, the death of the former king by your hand was no great tragedy, in my opinion. He was little more than a barbarian sporting a crown. A powerful man, to be sure, but too stupid to realize that the wolves he fed would turn on him the instant they felt threatened."

"Can you honestly blame me for what I did?" Vixen stood abruptly, almost knocking her chair over. "He gave me orders from the very first day Crucia brought me to the palace, and they always ended in killing, every time. Then he invited me to break bread with him at his table, like I was some cherished daughter, as if I hadn't just bloodied my hands in his name. And after years of service to him, he follows your advice and sends assassins to my room to cut my throat while I slept! But you think I responded inappropriately!"

"Oh, sit down." Michta flicked a hand in her direction. "I've seen more than enough theatrics over that wretched man's death than I care for." He rested his narrow chin on the back of one delicate hand. "Whatever your reasons, regicide is one of the most ghastly crimes a person could commit, and at this point in time, I am the only person keeping the headsman's axe from your neck. You would do well to remember that in the near future."

"The people will never accept a public pardon for what I did." Vixen's brow furrowed. "You know that. I know you do."

Michta smiled thinly once more. "While the Bloodletters are well-known as a whole throughout the kingdom, there are certain details that are not known to those outside the palace walls. Your immunity to magic, and effectively Crucia's control, for example. We need only say that you were under the influence of her power when you killed the king. Not everyone will believe it, but magic is a mystery to the masses, something they would all too often rather shy away from than question. You would appear to be innocent, to an extent, and the kingdom's hatred for the Bloodletters, and Crucia in particular, would be incensed. Two birds with one stone, and minimal effort on our part."

"Even so, members of the king's court are more than aware of my abilities. They would never fall for something like this."

Michta's frown returned. "When you fled the kingdom that fateful night, I thought that the lords and ladies of the court would be up in arms over what had occured. And some were, certainly, but it seems that you were considered by many more to be a valuable asset to the kingdom, a treasured blade to dramatically wield in the face of opposing nations. You have quite a few patrons within the king's court, and his majesty has held his tongue on the matter. If anything, you would be welcomed back with open arms, as contrary as that might seem. I certainly didn't predict that the fops who frequent the palace halls were foolish enough to want a killer in their midst, but if Branson is unopposed to this, then I am as well."

"But this only happens if I agree to cooperate with you." she ventured.

"Correct." he said, giving her a gentle nod. "I recently became aware of a new threat, one that could potentially overshadow even the Bloodletters. This threat has already resulted in the injury of Captain Montelle and the theft of one of my divination instruments. These two incidents put the Hidden Hand at a distinct disadvantage while we remain in Myrken, and so I thought to enlist you instead of killing you outright."

"But what could I do that a mage and a trained swordsman couldn't?"

"The threat is of a magical nature. A woman, whom I suspect to be a witch, easily overpowered the Captain with a spell. You, with your immunity to magic, seem to be the perfect answer to this problem. I want you to reclaim the crystal ball she stole and put an end to the threat. That shouldn't prove too difficult for an assassin of your caliber, should it?"

Vixen sat quietly, thinking for a minute. She didn't want to give an answer before determining what the half-elf's angle was, but she knew that she was as good as dead unless she agreed to help him. After a long pause, she sighed in resignation.

"If I go along with this, I have two conditions."

Michta blinked slowly. "You are hardly in any position to bargain, Blood Dancer." He paused, then shrugged one shoulder. "But you've been civil enough, so I might as well humor you."

"First, you have to promise to keep Gloria out of harm's way. I want members of the Hidden Hand to trail her and keep her safe at all times."

"Very well." he agreed, sipping his tea. "We can spare at least two men. And your second condition?"

Vixen hesitated. "You have to hire the bounty hunter Bern to work alongside me."

"Ah, miss Clydell. If I'm not mistaken, she is the one you kidnapped, is she not?" Michta tilted his head in curiosity.

Vixen didn't reply, dropping her gaze to the table between them. "Yes or no, half-elf?"

"I don't have a problem with it. We have the necessary funds to hire outside assistance. If you think that she will willingly work with you, then I will send someone around to contract her this afternoon." He raised an eyebrow. "Anything else?"

"No. That's it. Thank you." The last two words seemed forced.

"Very well. I'll see to your requests once we leave. In the meantime, I suggest we come up with a plan." He offered her a smile. "I'm so glad to be working together once again."

Vixen had nothing to say.
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