Darius eased the door to the tavern open, squeezing the shoulder of the small figure beside him as he did so. The door creaked open, wafting the pair with warm air and the sound of the bustling inn, a shaft of yellow light illuminating the night outside.
“You stay where I can see you, alright?” he said, looking down at the girl by his side. She nodded and took a seat at an empty table in the tavern’s corner as he crossed to the bar. He pulled his hood down as he did so, revealing a quiff of brown hair and sprinkling the ground behind him with a few wayward droplets of the outside rain.
“Whatever’s cheap,” he said, leaning over the counter and resting on his elbows. The bartender, a heavyset woman with a mop of curly red hair, nodded and bent down to retrieve a flagon. Darius cast an eye over one shoulder, surveying the establishment. Nobody he recognized, but all rogues and scoundrels, plain to see.
They weren’t here yet.
There was a dull thud as the bartender set a flagon down in front of him. “That your girl?” she said, gesturing with her head to the back of the tavern.
“She’ll…be alright in here?” the woman asked. She had a concerned expression on her face.
Darius turned and looked. Malbryn was sat, back to the wall like he’d taught her, scanning the tavern with wary, reddened eyes. Under the table, he caught the muted glint of her knife. “She can handle herself,” he said with a slight smile, turning to face the bartender again.
The woman’s expression softened, but a worried look remained. “If you’re sure. Just don’t want her to get in any trouble. Mistport’s not much of a place for a kid,” she said. Darius raised an eyebrow in agreement. “She a dark elf?” the bartender asked, her voice quieter.
“Something like that,” Darius said. He placed a handful of coins on the counter, picked up the flagon and took a seat at an empty table.
He wasn’t waiting long before the door opened again, and two men entered the establishment — one tall and well-muscled, the other shorter and leaner. The shorter of the two cast his eyes around the tavern until noticing Darius, turning to speak to his accomplice before crossing to the rogue’s table. The tall man leaned against the wall by the doorway, watching from a distance. Malbryn kept one eye fixed on him, seated only a few feet away.
“Darius,” the shorter one said jovially, taking a seat, “glad you made it.” He had a well-styled head of blond hair, a striking face, and two ears that curved to a slight point at the tips. Darius found his cheer disconcerting.
“Course I made it.”
The half elf raised one side of his mouth in a smug half-smile. “You’ve really stepped in it this time.”
“Look, things were…complex. I had to improvise.”
The man chuckled slightly. “See that’s the thing,” he said, his expression quickly changing back to neutral. “We don’t pay you to make things complex for us. We pay you to solve problems.”
“You never told me there was three,” Darius said, quietly dropping one hand to the knife at his belt. His expression remained stony.
The half-elf smiled, then looked over his shoulder at his accomplice. The man crossed from his position by the door to the empty seat at Malbryn’s table. The young dark elf bristled, and locked eyes with him as he did so.
“Tell your man to back off,” Darius said, watching the girl closely.
The half elf raised an eyebrow and gave another devilish smile. “Merely an…insurance.”
“He’s scaring her.”
“Mirk’s a scary man.”
Malbryn looked from the man beside her, sat leant back in his chair with a grin on his face, to Darius, then back to Mirk. Her expression was solemn, and Darius could still see the glint under the table.
“What do you want?” he said impatiently. “I killed them, didn’t I? I’m sorry there was more of a mess than you might have liked but maybe next time you give me the information I need to do my job.”
The half elf smiled. “You think the mess was the problem?” he said. calmly yet with a wild look behind his eyes, “The mess wasn’t the problem. We just want what you took from them.”
Darius was silent for a brief moment, contemplating how best to proceed. “I held up my end of the deal,” he said.
“Stealing from us,” the half elf said, making a gesture over one shoulder, “wasn’t part of the deal.” Mirk snatched at Malbryn’s arm across the table, and both tables leapt to their feet. Malbryn and Darius brandished their knives. The tavern grew silent, as all the patrons stopped to watch.
The half elf had a smile on his face.
“You seem on edge,” he said, “just give it back to us and we’ll forget anything ever happened.”
Darius didn’t reply, circling around the half elf and backing away slowly until he and Malbryn were a few feet from one another. “It’s alright,” he said to her. She kept a firm grip on her blade.
The half elf shook his head, keeping pace with the rogue as he backed off. “You’re making a mistake,” he said. “Just hand it over, and we won’t have any trouble.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Darius said. There was a flash behind him as Mirk lunged towards Malbryn, then a thud on the ground. A pool of crimson spread out at the child’s feet, her dagger laced with blood. The tavern erupted into a mess of shouting and yelling, and Darius turned on his heel, scooping Malbryn up and dashing out into the cold night outside.
“Are you alright?” he asked.
Malbryn nodded but didn’t say anything.
Behind them, the half elf’s voice echoed in the Mistport streets. “You’re a dead man, Darius! Dead!”
He heard the door from the ship’s deck creak open.
A slender woman, skin a dull grey, with a length of cold, blue-white hair falling upon one side of her face, stepped carefully down the stairs, her footsteps making no sound. She was covered head to toe in dark, supple leather, a long, flowing grey cloak, etched with a spider’s web, trailing behind her from intricate silver pauldrons, her eyes rimmed with red as if she had been swimming in saltwater.
He looked upon the striking face, its smooth skin disrupted irregularly by thin scars. He remembered how she had received them. He remembered how his heart had leapt into his throat each time, and the many days he had spent tending to her wounds. He remembered the long scar that ran down her right eye. He remembered the man that had given it to his daughter, and the last expression upon his face after he had finished with him for it.
He remembered teaching her to shoot. To fight. He remembered the way her skin would crack and burn if they spent too long in the sun. He remembered the month they had in Verium, the house. He had tried to leave who he was behind, to give her a normal life. Working long, arduous hours by day, tired from the late nights he would spend teaching her to read and write, when she was most comfortable. He hoped that might be their life, but fate, as it did so often, had different plans.
He remembered when she lost her first fang. He could feel it against his bare skin now, suspended on a thin leather cord around his neck. He remembered what it had meant to him, before. What it had come to mean to him now. And he remembered what she did to him.
He hated her, and he wanted her to die.