Tayt scowled and watched Roshii eat another beaded silk pillow. The orange raptor sprawled across the center of the room, his tiny forelegs clutching the offending decoration. His long, streamlined head turned from side to side as he surveyed his prey, eyes half-slitted with ferocious intent.
Finally satisfied with his angle of attack, his head darted forward, wide mouth opening to expose an array of wickedly sharp teeth. Swiftly and viciously, he tore into the smooth pillow with the sort of glee he normally reserved for a fresh carcass.
The entire process was nearly silent, save for a few purring chirrups whenever Roshii found a particularly satisfying clump of stuffing to pull on.
This was his fifth pillow.
At first, Tayt had forced Roshii to stand at attention and behave himself. But after the first hour and a half in the opulent waiting room of the Grand and Illustrious Lady Tyrsdae Sunseeker, she’d let the raptor…relax.
She gave a small smile. Even if Roshii was burping up expensive beads for a week, it would be worth it. What sort of person requested a guest, specifically mentioning the importance of punctuality, and then left that guest sitting in a waiting room for…what was it now? Three hours?
An acquaintance who owned a small bar in Murder Row had mentioned a possible job, with an emphasis on the need for discretion. Now, sitting in the home of one of Silvermoon’s most influential families, she couldn’t help but wonder whether she should have just kept her thrice-damned mouth shut. A servant had answered the first ring of the visitor’s bell and immediately ushered her to this waiting room, admonishing her to be patient as the Lady Tyrsdae would be with her shortly.
Tayt snorted. ‘Shortly’, indeed. If this was how the high and mighty treated guests, she’d hate to see what sort of reception an enemy might face. Friend or no, this was certainly not the way to start a business relationship.
For what was probably the dozenth time since arriving in the opulent waiting room, she allowed herself to muse on what little she knew about Tyrsdae. She’d never met the woman, but all blood elves loved a bit of juicy gossip, and the Lady Tyrsdae was a popular topic of the rumor mills. From what Tayt had heard, it seemed that Tyrsdae had gotten herself into a bit of trouble on Draenor when she was very young, but the details of exactly what sort of trouble were hazy at best. Something to do with the draenei. And then, for a very long time, there was nothing.
Tayt frowned, frustrated. If she’d known that this was her destination, she’d have done a bit more research, paid more attention when the name ‘Tyrsdae’ was mentioned. But the letter had come just that morning and had insisted she leave immediately to begin following the instructions. The letter laid out a long and complicated route that she was admonished to follow without deviation. The route had taken her three times as long as it would have if she’d simply come straight to the Sunseeker home, and had involved some fairly specific and ridiculous requests.
“Retrieve a white stone from the mouth of the eastern fish fountain and throw exactly twenty-three copper into the pool. Do not make a wish. Deposit the white stone in the western bank into an account for a man named Reginald Pierce. The banker will then offer you an envelope addressed to Lilly Fairbanks. Accept it, but do not open it. Bring it to the enclosed address. Act natural and purposeful, do not speak to anyone of these instructions.” The entire situation had bordered on the absurd.
And not until she had reached the destination to deliver the Fairbanks letter to did she realize it was the home of the Sunseeker family. The only useful information about the only daughter of Sunseeker she’d managed to recall had been a bit of recent gossip. As word had it, she had recently dropped the mantle of warlock and had chosen instead to follow the path of the priest.
There had been a lot of loose talk and speculation on the subject. Why would a Sunseeker, a family known for producing powerful warlocks, voluntarily choose to abandon all of her previous training to become (of all things) a priest? And not just any priest – reports confirmed that she was concentrating on the healing arts, rather than the path of shadow.
Some said that she’d had a religious epiphany, turned away from the path of evil and instead chose to dedicate her life to the Light.
Others mocked that assertion, arguing that the Lady Tyrsdae Sunseeker had too much darkness in her soul for such piety. Despite their certainty, they offered no explanation of why she might make such a choice.
More tentative whispers hinted that she’d gone insane. That she’d gathered all of her demon minions together and slain them, one by one in a horrific demonic bloodbath, and now no demons dared answer her calls.
Tayt wasn’t sure which (if any) of the rumors was true. Surely, the hints that the woman had killed all of her demons seemed a bit far-fetched, even by the standards of the admittedly seedy bar that she’d heard the rumor in.
Idle speculation wasn’t getting her anywhere. Frustrated, Tayt watched Roshii slowly demolish the pillow – which was probably worth more than she made in a month – and drummed her fingers impatiently against the arm of her chair.
That’s enough. She cracked her knuckles and straightened her shoulders, a look of resolve forming on her face. She may be an ignorant hunter, but what she DID know was that if the Lady Tyrsdae needed a hireling, she would have to find someone else. Tayt was done. This waiting had passed rude and ventured into insulting at least an hour before. She was through with this farce – the meaningless written commands and the offensive treatment. If this was some sort of game played by the wealthy – see just how far you can push a random person before they break – she was done with it. Let Tyrsdae find some other random person to push.
She clucked her tongue once and Roshii’s head lifted, his long tail brushing hopefully across the plush carpet, disturbing a mound of pillows. Tayt stood and the raptor echoed her motion, dropping the half-gutted pillow on the floor and purring happily. He hadn’t liked waiting either. She brushed a short lock of orange hair out of her eyes and leaned over to run a hand down his head and across the leathery slope of his back, fingers tracing the path of the vivid teal stripes on his skin.
Behind her, a voice spoke up. “Follow me.”
Startled, she turned, but the speaker hadn’t waited for a response. All she saw was her back, retreating around the corner of the doorway. It had been the same servant who had escorted her to the room : a tall blood elf, with long blond hair and a haughty look on her face.
For a moment, she toyed with the idea of ignoring the woman and just going home. Roshii trilled questioningly at her. She sighed and gave him a quick pat on the back, then half-ran to catch up with the servant. She had no doubt that the woman had not paused to see if she followed.
Sure enough, saw the servant was already halfway up the stairs. Speeding her steps, Tayt managed to catch up to her. Damned if she was going to run, though.
The woman gave no indication of noticing the trouble her pace had caused Tayt. She simply kept walking, long icy blonde hair swaying gently with each step.
Tayt wanted to strangle her with it.
The woman finally came to a stop at a doorway, lifting aside the draped curtains and immediately walking through. That was particularly rude. What servant did not hold the drapes aside for the person they were escorting?
Clenching her teeth, Tayt entered the room. She’d give Lady Tyrsdae a piece of her mind, and then leave, just see if she didn’t!
But the room turned out to be unoccupied – empty, save for herself, Roshii, and the servant. A single desk and chair stood at the far wall, with no chair for visitors. The other woman moved forward purposefully and sat behind the desk in a smooth, practiced motion. She snapped her fingers, sending a small spark of light sailing from her fingertips. From behind the desk, Tayt heard a small sound of complaining wood as a drawer of some kind opened. The other blood elf removed something – a folder – and the door shut again in response to another crisp snap.
That was no servant.
Was that…could that possibly be the Lady Tyrsdae Sunseeker?
Without looking up from the folder, the other blood elf spoke. “Come closer.”
Now, who could say no to such a politely phrased request? Tayt rolled her eyes, but obligingly stepped forward.
The other elf continued to scan her folder, completely ignoring Tayt.
She stood in silence before the desk, refusing to let her posture or expression indicate how awkward it was to just…stand in front of a desk. Roshii, less worried about propriety, simply lay on the floor and sighed heavily. Why would anyone have a meeting in a room and then not give the guest somewhere to sit?
After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Tyrsdae (for there was now no doubt in Tayt’s mind) spoke again. “You know who I am?”
“Good. You are Taytania, youngest daughter of the whore Naeresa and and any one of her many callers. You have no family name, no family prospects, and you have spent the last ten years seeing just how far into debt you can get yourself playing stardice on credit with men who do not take kindly to tardy repayment. You are now three months behind on your debt. You make money where you can, doing odd jobs and selling meat, fish, and herbs that you gather while you travel, heavily augmented by clever confidence scams and forgeries.”
“Now just see here! What the hell is this? I don’t have to stand here and take this sort of–” A sharp look from Tyrsdae cut her off. The woman’s eyes were eerie – still and cold and heartless as an emerald.
“Actually, you do have to stand there. You have no way of repaying the money you owe and you have a deadline of midnight tonight to hand over your late payments in full before your debtors take a contract out on your head. Unluckily for you, your debtors have agents in every major city, both Alliance and Horde. Despite your skill with hiding in plain sight, you would almost certainly be found and killed.”
“You waited for three hours and twelve minutes in that room with no contact, refreshment, or indication that you were even remembered before deciding you would leave. And despite that, you still followed me here, and are still standing here now.”
Tyrsdae’s gaze never wavered. “So yes. Yes, ‘Tayt’. You do have to stand there. I am your best chance of still breathing tomorrow. It is now too late to perform any crime which might have payoff enough to settle your debts – I’m sure you’ve already thought of and rejected a dozen options. If you had any other choice, you would not be here. And yet you are. So if you have any other objections to what I am saying, I do not wish to hear them. Either you stand in front of me and listen, or you leave. There is no third option. Do we have an understanding?”
Tightly, Tayt nodded. Tyrsdae didn’t even see the gesture, so certain was she of the answer. She was already looking at that damned folder again.
How could she possibly have attained all of that information? It had been less than a week since Tayt had even heard about the job opportunity.
“Your past job contacts have described you as swift and reliable. You have a quick mind and are not opposed to hard work. In your illegal dealings, you only steal from those that fit your personal requirements for ‘deserving’ to be stolen from, a moral rule that seems to be quite flexible, depending on the situation and amount of debt you find yourself in. You are pretty but not exceptionally so – those who remember you are rarely able to describe you with any sort of detail. They remember your hair or your smile, but never your face. You have a dozen aliases, and a knack for making people trust you. Despite your gambling habit, you have never developed a taste for alcohol, nor have you been known to engage in idle gossip or the desire to brag about your accomplishments.”
“You followed the directions in today’s letter without faltering, without giving in to idle curiosity, and without objection. You sat in that waiting room for longer than I had expected, showing a remarkable amount of patience.”
“In short, you are exactly the sort of person I am looking for.”
Tayt scowled, crossing her arms over her chest. “You forgot to mention my favorite color.”
“How could you possibly…!”
“This is not a game, Taytania.” Tyrsdae favored her with a frown before continuing as though nothing had happened. “You have the letter.”
It wasn’t a question, but Tayt nodded anyway pulling the missive from her pack and leaning forward to offer it.
Tyrsdae accepted it without giving it a glance.
Irritated that all the trouble she’d gone through to get it was apparently unnoticed, Tayt spoke. “Don’t you even want to make sure I didn’t open it, or something?”
Tayt reached to her side and dropped the letter into a flickering brazier to her left. The letter smoldered once, then burst into a puff of sour-smelling green flames. Ignoring the smoke, Tyrsdae smiled – the sort of smile that a cat might give to a wounded and cornered mouse. “I do not have to ask. If you had opened it, you would be dead.”
Tayt’s eyes widened. What in the name of the twisting nether had she gotten herself into?
“The ‘job’ I offer is not one that you are allowed to speak of in public. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, you came here for a job today and I refused you because of your gambling habit, are we perfectly clear on this point?”
Tayt scowled. “You don’t even know that I’m going to accept the job!”
Her objection earned her a sardonic glance.
Tayt sighed, giving in to the inevitable. At this point, she was fairly certain she wouldn’t be allowed to refuse the position, even if she had another option for paying off her debt. “Yes.”
Tyrsdae stared at her, obviously waiting for more response.
“Oh for the love of…yes. It’s clear. Crystal clear. Like a pool that has never known the slimy touch of a murloc, it’s so clear you can see the other side of the world through it! It’s clear! We’re clear! Can we move on, please?”
Ignoring her outburst, Tyrsdae steepled her fingers. “Good. You and I will have no further face-to-face contact unless I initiate it, which will be exceptionally rare. Should you find yourself in trouble and invoke my name, I shall deny all knowledge of your existence, and shortly thereafter you will find yourself dead. This is non-negotiable.”
Tayt felt the urge to object again, but bit her tongue. She was out of her league here, and she knew it. Nether-damned Garvis and his thrice-twisted stardice. His games were rigged, she was certain of it. If it hadn’t been for him, she wouldn’t be in this mess.
“You will not contact me, ever. I will contact you via letters, as I did this morning. They will be unsigned, and you will read and memorize them, then burn them. Regardless of what you had been doing before getting the letter, you will follow the instructions immediately.”
“The final instruction in all of my letters will lead to your payment. I do not think I need to explain what will happen should you fail to follow the instructions in order. I expect perfection, and I pay generously for it.” The hint at what happened to those who failed to provide said perfection was less than subtle.
Tayt nodded again. Never had she met such an uptight, self-satisfied and infuriating woman in all her life. This entire situation bordered on the insane, and she wasn’t certain that the woman on the other side of that desk hadn’t already ventured into that territory once too often.
Tyrsdae reached into her bodice and removed a gold coin, sliding it across the desk and leaving it on the far side, a bright disk of color against the red wood. The hunter reached down and accepted it, examining it surreptitiously. Was it another trick? Hollow, perhaps, but with some kind of poison inside? Wild imagination aside, it was…just a gold coin. Old and a little worn, with a deep scar across the face, but there was nothing special about it.
As informed as Tyrsdae seemed to be about her affairs, if she thought a single gold coin was going to pay off Garvis, she was sadly mistaken.
“If asked, that was a token to cover the trouble of your visit today. You will leave here and immediately take it to the Salty Banana pub in Orgrimmar and begin a game of stardice using this coin. You will continue to play until you have earned exactly seven hundred and fifty-five gold, and then you will immediately go to Garvis and pay him seven hundred of it, covering not just your late payments but the following month’s dues as well. You may do as you like with the remaining fifty-five gold, and I will contact you again when I am in need of your services.”
Tyrsdae closed the folder with a smooth gesture and replaced it in the drawer, pulling out another folder – a much thicker one – to read in its place.
After a silent moment, during which Tayt simply stood, not sure if she should wait for further instruction or just leave, Tyrsdae looked up, an expression of mild surprise on her face. “We are done here, Taytania”
Tayt swallowed a retort before it could hit the back of her teeth (Light, she hated that name), then turned to leave, tossing a beckoning gesture at Roshii to follow.
Haughty, pretentious daughter of a motherless boar. She seethed as she made her way out of the building. Running her fingers along the scarred face of the gold coin, her frown shifted from anger to thoughtfulness.
Could she really work for this…woman?
After a moment’s thought, she had to admit that she could. And if the woman paid almost eight hundred gold to move a rock from a fish’s mouth to the bank, just imagine what she might pay for something that took actual skill.
Some small part of her was excited at the thought. Whatever flaws this woman had, thinking small was certainly not one of them. She was an elf with a plan. A goal. And whatever it was, she was willing to pay dearly to achieve it. Ambition led to opportunity, and it was no bad thing to be following the skirts of someone on their way to the top. And if one was clever, one might even manage to set up a situation in which the collapse of that rising star worked to one’s advantage. A small smile curved her lips at the thought, and her eyes glowed brighter with anticipation. She would be a difficult mark, and the scam would have to be truly devious. But wouldn’t it be something, to pull one over on the illustrious and celebrated Lady Tyrsdae Sunseeker?
As she made her way to the wind-rider master, she again thought about the rumors of Tyrsdae’s shift from powerful and respected warlock to half-mocked holy priestess. She certainly didn’t act like a woman overcome with the power and goodness of the Light. No. A flash, a memory of those cold, still green eyes. No, it was definitely not holy zeal which burned those eyes in her memory.
But the suggestion which had seemed so absurd before – that she’d brutally murdered her demon minions – that particular rumor seemed a bit more believable now.
She put the gold coin in her pocket, and wondered just what the Lady Tyrsdae Sunseeker would ask of her next, an almost cheerful bounce to her walk.