"Wanted: Dangerous Magi, Fae Nikia. Substantial reward. Inquire within."
The tattered poster had been hastily nailed to a wooden pillar outside the Kraken Den, a notorious tavern in the Market District of Thalburn. This was a borough that Cassius tried not to frequent; the establishments were seedy at best, and bounties were murderous at worst. He examined the paper thoughtfully, an icy rain piercing down from above. Despite his hesitations, he admitted to himself that the bounty seemed to fit his job description. "Dangerous Magi." "Substantial reward." He tore the sheet off of the nail and proceeded inside.
Instantly he was hit with a blast of warm air, a welcome contrast from the deadly wind in the streets. The tavern was dark, lit only by a few pots flaming with incense. Cassius could make out the figures of the tavern's patrons, but not the faces. He judged this to be intentional.
He spent little time in places like this. Indeed, he tried to avoid Thalburn altogether. Unfortunately, the nature of his trade made visits to the stone city a necessity. Nowhere else could he stock up on ammunition and gear for his hunt. He walked to the bar, his weapons clinking audibly against the straps of his cloak, and slapped the paper onto the counter. "I'm here about the bounty,"
he said, eyeing the innkeep through the slit in his mask. It was always wise to lead with a statement, rather than a question. Prospective bounty hunters could be turned away for little more than apparent indecision.
Rather than answering, the innkeep grunted and gestured to the wall beside the counter. In the dark, Cassius could make out the vague shape of a door. He nodded and set a coin on the counter then proceeded through the door, one hand on his rifle.
The room that greeted him was small and dank, no brighter than the main chamber of the tavern. A few paces in, a table separated Cassius from his potential employers. Seated at that table was a horrendously fat man, hunched over a collection of documents and deeds. Behind him, another man was dimly visible. His body faced away from Cassius, rendering him anonymous, and a tendril of smoke rose from a pipe in his hand.
As Cassius entered, the fat man's eyes lit up with recognition. "Cassius Drake,"
he exclaimed, his thick lips curling into a grin. "The Scarlet Huntsman! I knew one day you'd walk through our doors."
He continued before Cassius could interrupt. "Surely, you are here about the bounty?"
Cassius nodded, somewhat vexed yet unsurprised by the clerk's familiar tone. His name was known to many parties throughout the realm. He was considered the stoic scourge of the wicked. "I might be,"
he said, dangling his services like bait before a fish. "Your poster was somewhat vague about the circumstances of the bounty. I'll need more information before I agree to anything."
The clerk looked over his shoulder at his mysterious superior, who nodded. "Some time ago, there was an... incident, in the town of Middleseed. We believe this riot was instigated by members of the Ty 'Un Resistance. They attacked a patrol of Thalburn guardsmen, and the military responded in suit."
He leaned back and sniffed, putting on a grand show of indifference towards the Resistance. "We have reason to believe the attack was coordinated by Fae Nikia, whom we've long suspected of Resistance ties. As such, we sent out an assassin to dispatch him while we quelled the unrest. The assassin was unsuccessful... but I have no doubt of your abilities."
Cassius narrowed his eyes beneath his mask. "I was not aware of an uprising in Middleseed."
The clerk glanced at his companion, who remained silent. He turned back to Cassius, a comforting smile on his face. "The Thalburn have silenced all talk of the vicious attacks in order to keep the people of Middleseed comfortable and safe."
Cassius frowned. The man's tone was suspicious, but it was not above the Thalburn to censor information for their own purposes. He decided to dig deeper. "And where is this rebel now?" "We believe that he has fled Middleseed with the aid of at least one other insurgent. Reports are speculative, but several witnesses confirmed he was travelling with a woman. His whereabouts are unknown."
Cassius made a decision. He shook his head. "I hunt murderers, not rebels. Find another henchman."
He turned for the door. The clerk raised his hands and frantically pleaded with him.
""But- but- but that's not all he's done!"
he said, a bead of sweat glinting in the dim torchlight. Cassius turned around impatiently. "This man, he- he committed atrocities during the Ty 'Un uprising. He killed many innocents, we're sure of it!"
Cassius rolled his eyes and put a hand on the door, but was stopped by a loud thunk.
He turned around and was immediately taken aback. The clerk had placed a giant bar of pure gold on the table. "This will be yours if you kill Fae Nikia."
Cassius hesitated. By now he was certain of deceit, but he could make that gold do far more good than it would in the hands of the Thalburn. "I'll see it done."