The knight tilted his head back, savoring the last draught of rum that spilled from a wooden mug into his mouth. The crowd cheered as he slammed the mug on the bar counter. The barkeeper rolled his eyes but gave a slow clap anyway. “Another!” shouted the knight. The barkeeper shook his head, but he wasn’t one to argue with money. Uncorking the bottle, he poured a full mug of Selista rum while the knight threw a handful of silver coins his way. The crowd continued to cheer and pat the knight on the shoulder of his gilded steel armor. After giving the cup a loving look, the knight lifted the wooden vessel to his lips. The crowd grew even more fevered in their excitement. Some began to chant the knight’s name, “Bartholomew. Bartholomew!” As the knight continued to chug, the barkeeper looked to the barmaid and shrugged. This wasn’t the first time Bartholomew had been here. Another cheer erupted as the knight slammed yet another empty mug onto the bar. He held up a finger, which swayed unsteadily, and leaned back. “And, I’d like..." he said, pausing to look at the crowd, “...one more!” The crowd erupted with deafening enthusiasm and chants of support. A small group in the corner began singing a new ballad they had made in Bartholomew’s honor. Bartholomew approved, nodding along to the beat and showering the group with fistfuls of copper coins. # The Missive shifted her weight from side to side as she stood waiting in the shadow of the village square’s cathedral. The disgusting humans made her want a bath more than they made her nervous. She looked forward to cleansing herself after returning to the Queen. Suddenly, the sound of a chorus and merry cheering pierced the still, cool air. A light framed the silhouette of an armored figure in the tavern doorway opposite where the Missive stood. As the figure stepped into the bright midnight moonlight, the Missive could see gilded edges and brightly colored ribbons lining the suit of armor. She tensed, recognizing her target. As he walked past her, armored boots clacking on the cobblestone road, she stepped forward into the moonlight. Putting on her most timid, trembling voice, she spoke. “Can you help me, Sir Bartholomew?” The knight, stumbling around in a stupor, took a moment to turn and look her up and down. The robes she had chosen clung tightly enough to entice the boarish knight, but would keep other features hidden until the right moment. She smirked, but the veil of her dark purple robes obscured her face from the knight’s view. Bartholomew, the knight, swayed backwards and forwards as he took a moment to form a slurred response. “Weeeell helloooo looovely! Wha can I doooo foooor youuuu?” He paused for a moment before looking at her head, where an odd shape protruded from beneath the hood. “Got somethin’ on your head for me?” The Missive bit her tongue, holding back a laugh. Flecks of white foam caught in the knight’s bedraggled beard, along with his flushed cheeks, provided quite a contrast to the story she had heard of a fierce, capable member of the King’s Guard. Quieting her thoughts, she stepped forward and spoke without the fake accent. “You can die,” she said in her full, matronly voice. A dagger downwards slipped from the inside of her robe’s right sleeve. In one swift move, grabbing the blade’s handle as it fell, she made a swift strike at the point where the knight’s neck joined his head. Though he was drunk, Bartholomew’s trained reflexes still saved him from the Missive’s killing blow. The dagger cut a long, ragged ribbon of scarlet into his jaw and cheek while he moved his head down and backwards. “Bury me alive! What’re you doin’?!” The Missive only hissed in reply. # Bartholomew clutched his hand against face. He could feel warm, sticky blood flowing from the fresh, angry wound. Even with his alcohol addled mind, he could tell he had better take this seriously. Using some of the Alkahest he had been trained to feel welled within him, the knight countered the effects of the alcohol. As the rum-induced fog around his mind cleared, he noticed the pain from the wound lessened as well - a side effect of the Alkahest use. As he began reaching for his sword, the robed assailant drew aside her dark robes and threw off her hood, revealing dark metallic armor. Through its crystalline structure, a long, thin horn refracted the moonlight into a dazzling rainbow, while a short, thick tail swayed with menace. The knight tensed, eyes widening. “Islayan!” He began drawing his arming sword; however, the Islayan rushed towards him before he could raise his arm in defense. The Islayan rotated her hips, swinging her armor-clad tail around and slamming it into his stomach, causing him to double over as the wind was knocked from his lungs. While he was vulnerable, with his back bent and neck exposed, the Islayan struck. In exchange for a portion of Mana, a dagger appeared in the horned beast’s raised hand. Bartholomew tried reaching back to grab the blade, but he failed. Blood poured from both sides of the wound, as the hissing Islayan, with clawed hands clenched into fists, drove the dagger between the base of the knight’s skull and his neck. For only a moment, the knight tried to grab his neck, but he soon collapsed in an expanding pool of red. # David had been sleeping well, until the abrupt knock on the door to his room at the inn. He groaned with irritation at the sudden awakening. “What is it?!” “The Magistrate asked me to fetch you. He’ll meet you in the square,” said a rough voice from the other side of the door. “Blah! Tell the old codger to come get me himself if he wants,” said David. The voice waited a moment before replying. “If that’s what you’d like, Mister Blumenkrantz.” As his brain began to awaken, David swiftly replied with a much wiser answer. “Ack, I’m already awake. I’ll be there in half a candlemark.” # Reaching the village square, David was surprised by the throng of onlookers all eagerly focusing their attention on the center of the square and murmuring amongst themselves. “What’s all this about?” he asked as he pushed his way through the crowd and neared the Magistrate. The balding, elderly Magistrate, cloaked in the white robes that signified his position, inspected David with a piercing gaze. “Ah, Mister Blumenkrantz, how kind of you to grace us with your presence. Ordinarily, I would have rather left you to ferment in your hole at the inn, but this requires your attention.” The Magistrate waved his arm over the dead corpse of a knight clad in gilded armor. “Early this morning, Sir Bartholomew, a member of the King’s Guard was found dead, murdered, here.” David ran a hand through his flowing, hastily combed brown hair before slipping it back into the pocket of his traveling cloak. “Isn’t this the Constable’s business? I’m a scholar, not a man of the law.” The Magistrate gave a wry smile, savoring the revelation he was preparing to rain down upon the seemingly young David. “An Islayan dagger bearing the Missive’s seal was found to have killed him. There is a message nearby on the ground, drawn in the knight’s own blood, and it is addressed to you. Please, read it to us aloud.” As David stepped forward, a sheen of cold sweat appeared on his forehead. He walked to where the Magistrate stood, and glancing to the side of the facedown corpse, began to read the letter written in sanguine ink. “To a one ‘Mr. David Blumenkrantz’, we have not forgotten our last offer to you, and we hope you have not forgotten it yourself. You know where to meet us, and should you choose not to, we can simply meet you of our own accord.” A lengthy pause filled the air as David finished. What are those Islayans doing?! They’re going to get my banished for collusion! he thought. After a moment, he considered that, maybe, that was their intention after all. Turning to David, the Magistrate’s smile turned into a solemn frown. “Pray tell, dear Mister Blumenkrantz, exactly what devils have you made a deal with?” [AUTHOR'S NOTES] So this was a bit longer than the normal lore piece, but I hope it makes up for the longer wait. Enjoy, you all!