Whistling, badly formed, slipped clumsily out of a man's lips and echoed in an upstairs apartment in the Outer Rings. Kane Harkess's room was simple, any important items were usually stowed away in secret compartments, one could never be too careful in the slums. In the middle of the room sat a single mattress and pillow, on which Kane now resided. He had been tinkering with his equipment for some time now, making sure everything was in order for the shit day he was bound to have. While he finished loading his pack, Kane reflected uncomfortably on how he was mysteriously contacted the day before.
Harkess had been closing up the bar (The Basement) he partially owned, which occupied the downstairs portion of his abode, when he received a message from one of his former runners from The Crows. How the runner had found him? Kane had no idea. Nonetheless, he was told about the "job," and without an explanation, the runner said his farewells and exited The Basement as quickly as he had appeared.
Floyd, a man in his sixties, that shared joint ownership of The Basement with Kane, had looked up from cleaning a rickety chair and asked, "what was that all about?
Kane, who had been cleaning the bar, reached back into their supply of booze and poured himself a shot, without answering. Only after forcing down a few potent gulps of alcohol did the man finally speak. "To be honest Floyd. I don't know, but Damian, that boy, shouldn't even know that I'm still around. Hell, The Crows shouldn't even be operating anymore, which means one of my sources must have been bullshitting me this whole time..."
Kane wasn't one to visibly show he was distressed, but Floyd knew his mannerisms at this point, and quirked an eyebrow when Harkess ran his long fingers through his slicked back hair. "Does this mean trouble for us?"
Kane sighed and replaced the alcohol in its respective spot and wiped down his shot glass, "For you and The Basement, no. But I don't like the idea that someone knows exactly where I am and how to get under my skin. You know my history Floyd, I have too many enemies, anonymity is an advantage I can't afford to lose."
Floyd carefully inspected the younger man, his wrinkled face scrunched up as he scrutinized the former gang leader. "So, what are you going to do then? You're The Baron, you can find out anything you want, can't you?""It's not that easy, I've been out of the loop for a while, half the reason I'm here is because I needed to get away from all of that."
Something flashed in his eyes and he white-knuckled the rag he was cleaning with. "I needed to... Recover."
As soon as it was there, the haunted look he wore disappeared, he regained his composure. "For now, I'll play this person's game. I'll do what I do best, get information. Then, I'll swing this to my advantage, kill them if I have to, like I always do."
There was no narcissism in his voice, just cold and certain determination. Floyd grinned, "You're the type of man only the slums could produce, Harkess. It's no wonder they think you came from the Abyss."
Kane allowed a small smile to dance across his lips. "Who says I wasn't?"
After closing up The Basement, Kane informed Floyd that he had some business to attend to, and that he might be away for a while. Left with the responsibility to watch over the bar, Floyd retired for the night to his wife. Kane, on the other hand, entered the black hole of the slum night-life. Armed with his Relics and a heavy jacket, he confidently strode through the crowded streets, which were still alive at this hour in the early morning. After seeming to walk aimlessly for some time, Kane found the place he had been searching for. He knocked a patterned rap on a rusted metal door to one of the more scummy brothels in the Outer Rings. It was advertised to be a strip club, but those with hefty coin could receive a more, pleasurable end to their night. It also used to be a black market outpost for The Crows. One of his former bodyguards opened the door, Mikel, if he remembered correctly. Mikel was just about to slam the door in his face, claiming the club was closed, before he recognized the man in front of him to be none other than The Baron. This led to the predicted stuttering, before he finally managed to spit out, "B-Baron, what have.. What are.. Please, um, come in, make yourself comfortable."
Kane rested a hand on the giant shoulder of Mikel, who visibly flinched at the contact, and patted it softly. "It's been some time, Mikel, find me a drink would you? I love what they've done to the place. The Crows must be doing well if this place can afford renovations all the sudden, yes?"
A warning showed in his gaze, testing the grit of his former bodyguard.
Mikel, still thrown off balance, struggled to form the right words. "Right, well uh, business has been doing well recently. I'll go find you your usual drink."
With that, the man bounded off to the back of the building. Kane calmly took off his jacket, revealing his all-black outfit. Finding a spot in an unoccupied couch, he sank into it, coat perched next to him. A woman approached Kane soon after, obviously not recognizing him, though she did hesitate when she make eye contact with his dark gaze. Up for a challenge, she strutted up to him and placed a hand on each of his knees, giving him a coy smile she cooed, "you look like you could use a dance."
Kane curled a finger towards himself, and the woman moved so she could hear him over the pulsing music of the club. Kaleidoscope strobe lights blinked in and out, making movements almost trance-inducing. Kane leaned forward and whispered something into the woman's ear, who immediately recoiled as if she'd been burned, before shakily stalking off. Kane, as if nothing had happened, reached into the jacket at his side and wriggled out a small tube of antibacterial gel. After squeezing a small amount into his hands he proceeded to rub it in, looking up from his work as Mikel returned. With him was a strong bottle of spirits and a man Kane didn't recognize. Standing to his full height, Kane held out his hand to what seemed to be the new owner of Club Fantasia. Standing around a half a foot shorter than Kane, the owner of Club Fantasia was a skinny little thing. He had beady eyes that were placed too close together, disheveled brown hair, and crooked teeth that he flashed nervously. "It's an honor to finally meet you, Baron, I'm Randy Fields eh, what brings you here? Would you like a dance? As you can see we have many, uh, fine women here at Fantasia."
The man clasped Kane's outstretched hand, who promptly squeezed the living hell out of the poor guy's hand. Choking down a yelp, Randy paled slightly."Quit the bullshit, Randy, I'm here because I have some questions about The Crows, and I hope for your sake that you have some answers."
Kane was all business, he radiated intimidation, a skill he perfected over the years. Releasing Randy's hand, he snatched the bottle of spirits from Mikel, who took that as his sign to leave. "But first, why don't we, get to know each other a little better?"
Kane drank directly from the bottle, before tipping it towards Randy as an offering, who quickly declined. "I don't drink,"
the man claimed sheepishly. Harkess chuckled and shrugged, "You will after tonight... Now tell me Randy, what do you know about The Crows?"
Randy licked his lips before speaking, his voice cracking slightly. "Besides knowing you used to be their boss? Not much."
Kane rolled his eyes and deliberately took a sip of his drink, the action raised his shirt slightly to reveal a pistol tucked into his pants. Randy's eyes widened, realizing how serious Kane really was. "Randy, the first skill you must learn to survive around here is how to lie. How did you even end up working here?"
Glad to be onto a different topic, Randy took the bait."I'm the new manager, Tony passed away sadly."
If Randy thought Tony's death would strike some emotion in The Baron, he was sorely mistaken. Like a hawk swooping down on a mouse, Kane pounced. "Speaking of new bosses. Tell me about the new head of The Crows."
Harkess had assumed someone would take his place after he went MIA, he also assumed that new boss was the one leaking information about The Baron, information like where and how to find him. Reeling from his mistake, Randy opened and closed his mouth like a fish out of water, not being able to come up with a feasible response. Kane took another gulp of burning nectar, and at the same time snaked his other hand out to grip Randy by the neck. Just like he did to Randy's now sore hand, Kane began to squeeze. Randy instinctively grabbed Kane's offending appendage, but Harkess didn't budge. Any onlookers didn't make a peep, things like this weren't out of the ordinary in places like Club Fantasia, in the slums you kept your head down and your eyes forward.
After giving Randy and ample amount of time to really think through his next response, Kane released the man, grinning, waiting for the information that was bound to come. Harkess had come to recognize the look of defeat in another man's eyes. Finally, after a few ragged slurps of air, Randy squeaked out."Jaxon Jaegar, their new leader is Jaxon Jaeger."
Now it was Kane's turn to be shocked. The name sent him spiraling into unwanted memories.A flash of metal, pools of dark ruby, two bodies sprawled facedown in an alleyway. Kane, being held down by multiple men. Flecks of gore on Kane's outstretched hands towards the bodies lying in blood. Jaxon Jaegar, standing over the corpses of Harkess's wife and child.
Kane slammed down his bottle abruptly, exploding glass and alcohol all over the floor. Again, the two received but a few muted glances from bystanders. Randy, nothing but a jumbled sack of anxiety at this point, recoiled. "I see. Here's how this is going to go. I'm going on a job tomorrow, and when I get back, I expect you to know everything about this new leader of The Crows. And when I say everything, I mean everything, I want to know what time this guy takes a shit every day and what he got for his fifth birthday. Have I made myself clear?"
Randy could only nod, eyes wide.
Kane, who was now bundled in his jacket again, turned to exit Fantasia, pausing once before being swallowed by shadows."Good.'
Now fully packed and ready to go, Kane slung his pack onto his shoulders and stood, giving his room a once over to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything. Satisfied, he exited the room and sauntered downstairs to The Basement. Floyd had already arrived and was serving beverages to a few day-drinkers. He looked up to see Harkess slink by and called out to him as he exited the bar, "I hope you find what you're looking for, Kane."
Kane, not looking back, mumbled, "I hope so too."
And with that he was gone, melding into the pit of the Outer Rings, just another face in a sea of nobody's. He could tell from the palpable tension in the air that the Magistrates had been causing more trouble than usual for slumfolk. Their presence there was heavier then normal, due to the fallout of 26 and the popping up of these "Witches." Having played this game before, hundreds of times, Kane kept his head low and minded his own business. Knowing the streets like the back of his hand, he needed no guidance on how to get to his destination. Once he neared the rendezvous, he slowed his pace, becoming more alert. If Jaxon had anything to do with this, then Kane had better keep an eye out. Reaching into his back pocket, Harkess retrieved a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. In seconds he had a lit cigarette in between his lips and a steady stream of nicotine to slightly ease his mind. Rounding the corridor of the rendezvous, he prepared himself for the worse, only to be delightfully disappointed.
What he found was a woman who looked to be more Jacks than human, a kid riding a junked looking robot, and an otherwise empty street. Not wanting to rush into anything without knowing what he was getting into, Kane perched himself against one a side of the corridor, leaning against a metal wall. He seemed to blend into the drab colors of the slums, though his black clothing stood in contrast to his pale skin. Harkess's hair was untamed as usual, slicked back but wild, his dark eyes pierced everything. His jacket covered the pistol nestled in his pants, and his brass knuckles weighed down its pockets. Kane kept his eyes trained on the kid and woman, what was this? Some kind of joke?