Kyla Vertrane sat in the corner of a loud, seedy bar, booted feet up on the table, picking at her fingernails with a large, curved knife. She was still on Endragar, in the city of Allavaisca, and she was supposed to meet someone here. This person was someone she was a little terrified of, so she was doing everything she could to hide her fear, and hopefully make them a little afraid of her. It was one of the most important lessons she’d learned from her short time with Treben Holkas; never let people see that you were afraid of them, especially when you were. It was advice that had served her well in the past year.
She hadn’t been waiting long when three people entered the bar and started walking toward her table. Two of them were clearly bodyguards; massive hulks of men with long, greasy hair and studded leather jackets. They weren’t visibly armed, but Kyla wasn’t sure they needed to be. Just their presence would have made most people think twice about attacking them. But Kyla wouldn’t have bet a single trinar against the possibility that they were packing serious firepower under those ridiculous jackets.
They didn’t matter, though. The one who mattered was a middle-aged woman, handsome rather than beautiful, with shoulder-length dark hair, dark eyes, and a stern expression on her face. Just like the last time Kyla had seen her in a seedy bar, she looked completely out of place, but it wasn’t so much that she didn’t belong in the bar. It was more that the bar didn’t belong around her.
“Well, well, well,” Kyla said with an insolent smirk as she approached. “You just have a knack for turning up in pits like this, don’t you, Verdek?” One of the guards growled menacingly, and the other one cracked his knuckles loudly, but Verdek just smiled a cold smile and sat down.
“You’ve grown up, I see,” she said calmly. “No longer the frightened child hiding behind the coattails of the great Treben Holkas, you’ve struck out on your own and become a respected smuggler in your own right. Well,” she stopped, and smirked knowingly, “maybe ‘respected’ is too strong a word, given your line of work.”
“Oh, I don’t do it for the respect,” Kyla said with a grin. “I do it for the money.”
“Of course you do,” Verdek said, her demeanor suddenly ice cold. “And is that why you murdered Vor Shen? For the money?”
“I killed Vor Shen,” Kyla began, her grin deepening wolfishly, “because it was his life or mine.”
“I see,” Verdek said. “So you do admit killing him. How bold of you.”
“No point in denying it,” Kyla said with a shrug, “You wouldn’t have believed me if I had, right?” Verdek’s eyes narrowed slightly, but she didn’t respond. “That’s what I thought.”
“I do believe I told you that if you abandoned the mission I gave you, you’d be marked for death, didn’t I?” Verdek asked.
“You did, but I preferred to take my chances with potential death down the line rather than accept certain death there in Haasadis Ventelin’s villa.” Kyla crossed her arms and grinned defiantly, as if daring Verdek to strike her down right then and there.
“You seem to think that I can’t kill you here and get away with it,” Verdek said, arching an eyebrow.
“You can’t,” Kyla replied bluntly. “Half the people in this bar are members of my crew. Make a move on me, and you’ll be dead before you can blink.” She glared at Verdek, all traces of a smile gone from her face. Verdek stared back at her without expression for a few moments, and then a cold smile appeared on your face.
“I thought as much,” she said, a slight trace of approval in her voice. “You have grown up. Well, it is fortunate that I don’t desire your death at this very moment. I’m here for information, not vengeance.”
“You want to know where Treben Holkas is.”
“Very astute of you,” Verdek said with a nod. “Yes, I suspected once I learned about Holkas’s wife and child that he would choose to take revenge against General Shen rather than carry out his assignment. I had hoped the lure of vast riches would be enough to sway him, but alas, I was wrong.”
“Wait,” Kyla said, taking her boots off the table and leaning forward intently, “if you thought Holkas was going to kill Shen, why didn’t you stop him?”
“I have my reasons,” Verdek said with a small, mysterious smile. “Suffice it to say that my loyalty is to Midigal, not to any one man.”
“That makes even less sense,” Kyla said, shaking her head in confusion. “You hired us to kill the king of Midigal!”
“Enough!” Verdek said sharply. “I am not here for you to interrogate my motives. Do you know the whereabouts of Treben Holkas, or not?”
“Unfortunately, I don’t,” Kyla said with a sigh. “We parted ways as soon as we left Midigal, and he was supposed to contact me two weeks later. I haven’t heard from him since.”
“And where did he say he was going?” Verdek asked.
“Minisca,” Kyla said. “He’s long gone from there, though. I went there about a month later, and couldn’t find a trace of him.”
“Minisca, huh?” Verdek said with a small frown. “Well, it’s a start.” She stood up and brushed herself off, a small sneer appearing on her face. “I thank you for your cooperation, Kyla Vertrane.”
“I didn’t do it for you,” Kyla said coldly. “Let’s just say that there’s no love lost between Treben Holkas and I.” Verdek flashed a knowing smile and nodded farewell, and then turned on her heel and left the bar, her two thuggish bodyguards following close behind. As soon as she left, another large thug approached Kyla’s table and sat down.
“Whattaya wanna do, Cap’n?” he growled. “Should we let her go?”
“For now,” Kyla said, folding her arms thoughtfully and placing her feet back on the table. “We may need to do something about her eventually, but that can wait.” She turned to the thug and eyed him appraisingly. “Did you find out anything yet?” In response, he grinned and pulled a tablet out of his shirt pocket. She took it, scanned its contents, and a few minutes later, she too was grinning widely.
To be continued…