Greater of Two Evils, Epilogue

Friday, October 17, 2008 - 2:57 PM

I've had my head underwater for a little while now. This is a bit overdue, but here it is... enjoy.

Drifting unseen over the vast city of Yhelm, Tristan surveyed the spread of lanterns, fires and candles below him. It created a lovely webwork of warm, golden light that made the darkness surrounding it so much richer. Very soon, he would be leaving the city, but he had one final task to attend to before his departure. Then it would be west again, to meet with the Hierophant.

Over the years, Tristan had wrested a fair number of supernatural powers from dark spirits and demons. Not wanting to take them for granted, and preferring to stand on his own merits, Tristan did not use them often. Generally, he brought them to the fore only when needed.

But occasionally he did indulge himself. He could have walked to the north docks, and there was no need for haste, after all. Earlier, standing on the tower balcony with the wind in his hair, Tristan had craved the opportunity to fly, and so he chose to make his way to the north docks through the night air. He could not move as swiftly as Serina, but the speed was enough to suit him and it was in no way tiring.

So, slipping through the air like a pike through water, he drifted, floated and rushed his way over Yhelm, occasionally pausing to let whispers and words reach him. There was no hurry, and though he knew some of his servants would be concerned about his solitary wandering, he was not worried at all.

Some of them would eventually learn that Tristan never did anything unless he'd considered the risks and found them acceptable. He was careful, and preferred to think five steps ahead in all things. It was always refreshing to find someone else who thought so far ahead; those were the ones he preferred to recruit.

Sweeping silently down over the gloom of the docks, he spotted the isolated guard post he was looking for, and faded back into view as he landed. But when he approached the guard post on foot, he found it empty.

The slightly raspy voice that came from behind him was courteous but cool. “The only reason you are not dead is that you came here openly.”

Tristan smiled. “May I turn to face you?”

“No. Stay as you are, state your business, and then leave the city.”

Nodding, Tristan reached into his sleeve... slowly... and withdrew a folded piece of paper, which he dropped on the ground. “You already know that one of the Practical Ones has come to the city, but you haven't found him yet. That is where he is hiding.”

“Why give it to me?”

Tristan knew what the paladin Keira looked like, and in his mind's eye, he knew that her face would not have changed expression. She understood the need for masks, and he understood that hers would be one he couldn't remove. “He threatens one of my interests. I have the means to locate him, but I am not the law here. So I give him to you.”

“Clever,” came the calm voice, without much inflection. “Is that all?”

A few conversations flowed through Tristan's mind, but he dismissed them. It would be impossible to recruit Keira, as much as he'd love to do so. There was no compromise in her; she understood what he was, and far better than any other paladin in the city. Best to keep it short.
“No, that would be it. May I leave?”

“Seeing as you are here,” Keira said in the same level, slightly rusty tone,“... you have my warning. Never come back to Yhelm. The next time you do, there will be no talking. Now go.”

Pleasantries were also useless, so Tristan simply nodded, and strolled away on foot, back towards the center of the city. He and his entourage would have until morning to leave, and he fully intended to do so. The work in Yhelm was done. After walking briskly a good distance, Tristan faded from view and flitted back into the night air, heading back towards his balcony.

He knew Keira would find the Practical One, but not for him. It was an opportunity, and she understood opportunities. Most paladins, being armored of purpose and mind, would have immediately considered his actions a trap in some way, and utterly refused. But Keira had been an assassin; she knew that even among the wicked, there were laws. She would wonder at his interest, yes, but that was to be expected. But she knew he was not a fool, and that meant his offering was a tribute, a mutual interest and nothing more.

The ones Tristan had an interest in were the same as those Keira called friends, after all.

The Practical Ones were masters of death, subtle or unsubtle. Their prices were very high, their contracts very strict, and any failure of theirs would only be whispered, if at all. If Keira found and killed the assassin, the contract would be over, and the Practical Ones would wash their hands of the matter. If the Practical One killed Keira, Tristan could return to Yhelm sooner than later.

Either way, he had the Reeve to settle the difference, if need be, and the world would never know.

Yes, he thought as the wind whistled past him. Without men like me, there would be no heroes. I wonder how many heroes know how much men like me treasure them.

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