Time is a capricious thing.
It skulks along sluggishly…until you need more of it.
Then it reveals its true tempo.
The day faded in the distance, golden sunlight replaced by the wine colored plume of evening sky. Slowly, but surely, flickering lanterns illuminated the space between Tyria and the beyond.
Tap, tap, tap.
The familiar sounds of the bourgeoisie began to echo in the Upper City as the privileged began to stir from the comfort of their lush living arrangements. The common stereotype was that there were two types of people awake until the wee hours of the morning: criminals and nobles. Sundown was when the upper echelon gathered at lavish parties, hosted by some well-to-do family, or some egotistical politician, or another. Many times it seemed like a competition: who could best the previous engagements, who had the best food and drink, who had more beautiful women and men in attendance. Status was more important than anything.
A man sat in an empty hall, tapping a gold coin on the table beside him. An elegant seating arrangement furnished the place, with a specific and consistent décor choice that pervaded the design of the building and its inner aesthetics. He wore fitted clay colored leggings with matching boots adorned with purple trim. His silk shirt was worth more than most could afford to save their own limbs from rot. Golden streaked hair stood up on his head in a flamboyant way, riding high and sweeping back in a wave. Two earrings adorned each of his ears, and other fine jewelry decorated his fingers and wrists with brilliantly polished gemstones. He had strong bone structure in his jaw, with a lean face that accentuated it, and in the world of posh living, he was considered very handsome.
And he knew it.
The grand door, ornamented with an exotically foreign design, leading to his hall opened widely and a woman dressed in a simple deep blue gown stepped through. She was a towering creature and her massive stride moved her promptly from one end of the hall to the other. The man imagined how the sinewy muscles in her legs alone must have weighed more than three of him. The veins in her arms remained defined, as if she were constantly flexing. Her skin was pale and hair a deep black. One couldn’t be sure if her skin made her hair seem darker or vice versa. Crisscrossed tattoos coiled around her shoulders and her exposed strong clavicle and neck. They stopped close to her esophagus and shivered at every pulse. Her strikingly azure eyes were small and quick to analyze details. The norn woman stopped before him and peered down.
“What are you doing, Jude?” she asked. He knew they had somewhere to be this night. They were to make an appearance at a function in order to uphold appearances.
“Brooding, my dear Shula. Brooding,” he responded simply. His left eye looked strangely glossy and glasslike. His tanned skin grew darker as the natural light was all but gone. A subtle glow flickered in his lilac colored eyes as he continued wracking his brain about something unsaid. A relaxing reverberating hum kept the air from becoming too silent within the hall. What looked to be four asuran constructs situated in the four corners of the room continuously produced vibrations in the air.
“Do you think it can wait? I don’t want to be at this gathering long. Let’s get it over with, already.”
Jude nodded. “You’re right. Another night, another monkey’s ball. Let us grace the vermin with our presence, but quickly, as you say. I fear I might return with fleas.” The man removed a circlet from the table he sat at and placed it upon the crown of his head, a few locks of his hair swaying down in front of it. And they were off.
Upon their arrival at the event, Jude’s attitude changed completely. He was an expert at feigning true titillation when it came to the silly ego-filled soirées cultivated by Upper City night life. A scholar and an actor, his middle aged norn companion would say. He flirted, conversed, and danced with all manner of people of both genders. A rather tipsy maiden visiting from Beetletun couldn’t get enough of his attention. She chose him as her partner for the ballroom dance and playfully tried to remove the circlet from his head, which he disapproved of rather strongly. He managed to slip away from her, and Shula smiled wearily at the antics of the tiny nobles. It amused her how these overly self-involved people used the term “noble” as if it meant they were gods.
He was usually an honored guest even though some eyes watched him with disdain. Jude was not of old money. In reality, no one really knew what kind of coin this noble came from. One day he appeared and bought property, a tea hall, with another man who apparently was his uncle, taking residence close by. Jude always seemed to have a plan, although he remained highly secretive about his business ventures and personal exploits. It was this characteristic that made other nobles wary. Not to mention the norn who was with him every step of the way, who responded all too vaguely when questioned of her origins.
It was these things along with his mesmer charm that many women found intriguing. Jude spoke with men and women from all corners and political affiliations, claiming himself to be of the neutral party. All sides of every haughty alcohol-induced debate attempted to sway him to their ranks and he merely shook his head and smiled his charming smile. He was not concerned with aristocratic bickering. Choosing sides was bad for business. His one and only concern, which he and Shula shared, was money. And the two of them loved nothing more than coin.
“Ah, master Ordem! Jude Ordem!” a nobleman called out to him, taking his attention away from the group who engaged him in pointless conversation.
“Not nearly a master, my good sir. You look well this evening,” he mustered a smile, and must have been convincing, because the man beamed a toothy one back at him.
“I’m rich, Jude, what do you think?” he remarked, looking about him to make sure everyone had heard him. The prudish chuckles that followed satisfied his need for attention. Jude’s smile lost a bit of credibility then.
“Ah. Yes. You are.”
“That’s not what I wanted to speak with you about though. Please. Join me for a glass of wine,” he said and pulled the mesmer’s arm, leading him to a maid carrying a platter with tall glasses filled with the finest grape liquors prepared in Shaemoor. Jude shot a glance at Shula, who shook her head slightly as he disappeared from view. Once away from the crowd, the man’s demeanor stiffened.
“What is it, Cole?” Jude asked frankly.
“Just wanted to update you on our situation,” he said and Jude winced.
“Your situation. You know how I do my business, Cole…I provide you with a service, and you speak nothing to me of any outcome or results. I don’t want an update.”
“No, you need to know, because I’ll be needing more of your service. I found your information to be true. My wife was cheating on me. That ungrateful wench, how could I have been so blind? No matter. She will be replaced. My dealings with you are simple, really,” Cole had a cruel gleam in his eye. “I’ve…dealt…with the situation. Now I need one of your gutter-rat contacts to help me dispose of the mess I’ve made in the basement of my estate.”
Jude’s jaw tightened, “Well…I’ll be sure to have Shula speak with someone who may be able to help you. I’ve heard enough.” The mesmer bowed his head slightly in a sarcastic way and turned to leave.
“Jude!” Cole yelled at the back of the man’s head.
“Cole,” he replied dryly, halting, but without turning around.
“…Thank you.” The sneer on Cole’s face was more than apparent.
Someone needs to wipe the smugness off of his face, he thought. It wouldn’t be him, though. Bad for business. Jude said nothing more and walked away.
He rejoined the party, but became more numb to the festivities than before. Shula could tell his mood had changed and spoke up while among a group to initiate their exit. She lied about another gathering they had to make a stop at. The hours flew by and half the night was already over. Jude gave her a thankful nod as the hosts shook hands with the duo before they took their leave.
“Too much information?” Shula asked as they headed back toward the tea hall.
“Always too much information,” Jude replied softly.
That was the nature of his occupation. He was an information broker, one who would trade intelligence for coin. No matter whom the customer was. Many a time his service was used for less-than-savory agendas, but the most important thing to him was his revenue at the end of the day. His uncle had taught him how best to utilize his magical gifts, and the fact that he had not always been a nobleman allowed him to know people in the right, or perhaps the wrong, places to secure the productivity of his business. As of late, he had adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to dealing with his customers. The times were dark in Tyria as of current, and this darkness was becoming a standard reflection of the people. Defectors called bandits, centaurs raiding and pillaging, dragons…
At times Jude wondered if the bleak times they were facing warped the people, or if they had always been that way, and the age of dragons gave them the medium to be their true selves.
True self…he laughed at the notion. He knew all too well that humans had much to hide.
They arrived back at the tea house and Jude took his seat at the front, where he would sit during the day when his other business opened. He liked to people-watch when time allowed him. He had other reasons to be up late and waiting this night, though.
“So you think he’s coming…tonight?” Shula asked. She disappeared into the backroom for a moment.
“Oh, yes. Yes, indeed,” Jude replied. He thought to himself for a moment, then smirked. His guest would certainly provide the most honest excitement he’d experienced in a long while. Being wealthy was the ultimate high, but there was a whole other life that he knew. A whole other life that offered him a different type of exuberance. The opportunity to ascend. “I apologize, Shula, for getting you involved in this part of my life, but I fear it is best that you stay by my side.”
Shula emerged from the back rooms donning her metal plated armor pieces, stained with a cerulean hue. Her favorite color. She unsheathed a greatsword and balanced it up and down, feeling the weight of it. It had been a while since she last used the thing on a person. She hadn’t forgotten how, though. “I’ve always been there for you, Jude. No need to apologize.”
It was then that the most dazzling of butterflies flew in through the crack in the window. The insect’s wings were glasslike and it perched itself on the hall’s center table before fizzling and shattering, returning to the ether it was derived from. The glass-like glaze in Jude’s eye faded and he smiled. Well then. His guest had arrived early. He was already in their company.
“Show yourself. Assassin,” Jude commanded. Shula’s brow furrowed as her eyes darted from corner to corner. The mesmer removed his circlet and placed it down on the table, reaching under it and removing a fine steel rapier. It was light, and it had proven its effectiveness plenty of times before. The two heard a definitive footstep in the center of the room. He appeared so suddenly that it felt as if he had been there before the mesmer had even thought of his arrival.
The assassin stood in the middle of the room, unmoving. Jude tilted his head back and squinted. Shula looked to him, her confidence unwavering. Stealth was a trick she’d seen plenty of times before on previously living foes. She was not intimidated by his shadow arts.
His hand raised and removed the hood from his head revealing his wild silver hair and his unnaturally emerald eyes. His gaze cut with the precision of a diamond blade, and Jude realized he had goose bumps. He was enjoying every second of this.
“So you came, just like I thought you would. I suppose it was a good move on my part to make sure Shula was here with me. Ever since I completed that job for you the last time you were in Divinity’s Reach,” Jude said, taking a step forward. “Looks like business isn’t looking too well for you, eh?”
Dhalik said nothing, but continued to look at Jude, who was unsure if he was being sized up or not. All he knew was that if the fool of a thief were to shadowstep anywhere near him…
“You better speak now, before you lose your head, assassin,” Shula said, brandishing her great sword and moving closer. “You don’t know what you’re up against. If you make me, I will put you down.”
The assassin stepped forward and Jude snapped the rapier to attention, thrusting it forward, pointing it at the intruder. “Did you really think I wouldn’t be prepared for this? I employ a specific policy with my customers, but there was just something too unusual about your request. Why would someone really want to know so much about the Ministry Guard? The charr delegate that recently arrived in Divinity’s Reach…Bloodpaw. The same one that ended up murdered in the streets. I never turn down a full coin purse, and I figured you a fool for the information you requested…but I would have never thought you were that kind of fool.”
“You were part of the group that assaulted the delegates residence. You killed Riksor Bloodpaw and in return, his personal escorts killed your anarchist brethren. What a messy tale. Why come here now?” Shula asked, a fire burning in her winter eyes.
“I know why, my friend,” Jude spoke up, sneering. “You need to tie up loose ends. Unfinished business. Your associates probably aren’t happy with the bloodbath that took place. You might be replaced, or better yet, they might be out to kill you. I’m your last point of contact so without me, you begin to clean the trail you left behind.” Jude smiled. He waited for the man to speak, and then he finally did.
“Are you finished with your speech?” Dhalik replied. Jude exchanged a surprised glance with Shula.
“Yes. Let’s hear yours.” The both of them kept their guard up. They thought it could be one of the assassin’s tricks.
“I’m not here to fight anyone. The truth is…I need your help,” the assassin said calmly. His posture was relaxed and non-threatening, which baffled the mesmer and his guard. “I’m willing to pay for you to do one last job for me. If I fail in what I set out to do, I won’t be coming back to visit anyone. Never again.” The man looked at Jude, his features remaining hard as stone. The mesmer did not know what to make of him.
“One last job?” he asked. He flinched when the silver haired man reached into his coat and flung something at him. The mesmer reached a palm out, wrapping ether around the object, ready to deflect a projectile, but calmed to see what floated before him. A small coin sack filled with gold.
“It’s basically all I have left. I’m going to need a bit more information from you, but first I must head to Beetletun. I’m not even sure if I’ll survive this trip…but it’s necessary for me to achieve my goal. I’m paying up front for your services.”
Shula blinked and said nothing. She was watching what Jude would do more so than keeping an eye on the intruder at this point. It truly seemed as if he had no intent on attacking anyone. Jude spun the purse about him, waved his hand down, and allowed the money to land on the table behind him. His brow furrowed for a moment and then a slight smirk formed in the corner of his mouth.
“How can I trust you?” he asked staring at the man.
“You can’t,” he began, “but if it’s any consolation…my name is Dhalik. I am an assassin. I was tasked with killing three people, which included Riksor Bloodpaw. I failed to kill one of my targets, which led to us being spotted the night of the Bloodpaw operation. I’m now a wanted man. The Ministry Guard would have me hung. The Seraph would have me stand before a firing squad,” Dhalik’s face softened a bit as he allowed his gaze to falter, “I am a man without options. And I believe you’re the only one who can help me now.”
Jude was speechless. “Help you…with what?” He broke his own rule.
“I intend to scratch off a few more names from my kill list before I am found out.
Shula scoffed. “What makes this target so important? Why would we be interested?”
Dhalik sighed and continued, “I have reason to belie-no. I have evidence that the Gold Legion has infiltrators here in Divinity’s Reach. No form of military here has found them out.” He wondered if this would be enough to sway the two, and although they dealt with a variety of shady characters, a tip-off that the outcast charr faction roamed the city made Jude experience a coldness down his spine.
“Go on…” the broker replied. This was information he could not go without.
“They are a warband of Gold Legion charr led by a hulking brute with a scar on his muzzle and lacking fur on his left arm.,” Dhalik’s eyes met Jude’s once more, “Sometimes when you misuse a blade, you cut yourself.”
With not another word, Dhalik returned the hood over his head and exited the tea house. Jude stared at the door for minutes until Shula spoke.
“What now?” she asked with a heavy sigh, allowing her great sword tip to touch the ground.
The mesmer nodded slightly and closed his eyes. He thought for a moment and then laughed aloud.
“Business as usual, then.”