A Bouquet in a Bar
- --by Vesperal
* * * * *
They say all pubs and taverns have a ghost about them. A friendly spirit of some bygone time, or perhaps the good cheer mixed with the sweat of the patrons over the years sunk into the wood of the stools, tables and chairs. It all broils into a steam that permeates the rafters, gives the very bones of the thing a character all it's own, a certain smell and quality of light that gives the place it's own... personality.
The Aged Saber was no different. It had seen better times, and worse times. It had seen many patrons and more than a few owners in it's time in Anduin's City. It had gone by many names and served many spirits and vintages. Right now it was serving one patron a draft ale, dark and rich, a touch of golden cheer.
This patron was a woman, and she was searching for something right at the moment. Sadly it wasn't ale, but spirits and the potential for conversation might make for a good start. Dark green eyes reflected the candle flames of each of the tables and from the chandelier as she scanned the room. She'd spoken to a few of the tavern-goers already, listened to a few tales, some true, some not.
She'd just gotten done meeting with the usual idea men. The ones who slink about the periphery of society, who listen at the eaves of the city and hear much... even if they don't always comprehend what they hear. She had learned to read between the lines of all talk, however, to glean valuable information from what would otherwise be a tide of chatter and senseless gibbering.
It was a cheerful night at the Saber this eve. And while many were having fun, it was not destined to be her fare for this evening. In fact, so far most of the leads she'd gotten were dead ends, or worse, false starts to begin with. She wasn't in the mood for chasing geese though, so for now, perhaps just to sit and drink would be advisable.
She closed her searching eyes for a moment, and weary from the pursuit, barely heard the barmaid set something on her table. She hesitated in opening her eyes, expecting it to be her evening's tab- which had grown fairly substantially due to the need to grease some of her contacts' lips on more than one occasion. When she did finally dare to look at what had been set before her, she was somewhat shocked to find that it was not her tab... at all...
One might say the Saber, like all pubs and taverns has it's very own unique bouquet about it...
But staring at an actual bouquet of flowers in a place like this? That was just downright odd.
And at first it was just that, a bouquet of flowers laid on her table quite randomly. She looked around for a moment, trying to ascertain if some old sod was winking at her suggestively from some obscure corner of the room, but no such seedy types obliged her search. It was simply a Bouquet in a Bar.
A bouquet in a bar.
A deliberately arranged bouquet.
A bouquet of peacebloom, kingsblood, dreamfoil...
A bouquet with a bit of parchment attached to it.
A parchment that had six words upon it in a particularly delicate hand:
Tea. Blue Recluse. Four O'clock. Tomorrow.
Facet had been absolutely right. This guy did have a language all his own, Kya stared at the parchment for a moment, and was tempted to ask the Barmaid how this had come to be on her table, but the gesture really said everything she needed to know.
* * * * *
The meeting had occurred weeks ago. Kya had simply put it out of her mind. It was always easier to do that than face a particular weakness, but now it was time to pull the truth out to examine. Kya had been careless. She'd sought out the greatest master of alchemy she could find to answer her questions about poppies. What she had not counted on was the nature of where this would land her. Kya came entirely unaware of the poppies’ underground appeal and significance. Her questions had prompted him to test her innocence and placed Kya in an unbelievable bind.
She'd allowed the contact to meet with her alone, and then found herself facing a life or death choice from a master of alchemy. Select the wrong choice and she’d die. How stupid can a person get?
Kya calmly pondered her options. If this man killed her, he’d have a whole den of Tigers on his heels and he’d be torn to shreds. If she caved in and showed her cards, her company would be exposed for what it was and it would be all her fault. Kya thought of her vows and narrowed her eyes.
As Kya sat at the garden table before the master of alchemy, she faced him with the steel of her convictions. Her odds were not good, but Kya also knew another thing this man did not know. Her body was in supreme shape. Whatever effects the poison incurred, her toned body would withstand it better than he expected. She had Kayce to thank for that, as he’d about run her into the ground for the entire past month. Nothing like a little friendly competition to push someone past their threshold – and Kya was now inordinately grateful.
Under the influence of the poison, Kya felt herself begin to deteriorate. She’d taken a stance, though, and had to follow through. Kya recognized it as a test of her word and her claimed innocence and sincerity.
Kya recalled long ago in her training a time when her sensei had sent a dashing foreign agent to test her in her off hours. She was attending a party for a friend and had one small drink. It was enough to let her defenses down and she was not expecting any kind of test. The agent came from a distant land and had a language barrier. He’d danced with her and tried all the typical body language come-ons, pushing her further to anger her on purpose. She repeatedly told him a firm no, but he continued to try to cross the lines with her. Finally he pinched her in a place she normally would have flattened a man’s nose for, but as she turned to him, fist swinging, he abruptly caught her wrist.
He wrenched her wrist to pull her face close to his, his breath covering her face in professionally contained composure. In accented common he whispered to her, “You break my nose now, you show me your exquisite training. I know you are trained killer. You show all your cards.” Kya had never forgotten that lesson.
Calling the Tigers in for backup would signify certain death and blow the whole deal. Showing fear and backing out would lose her not only face but also the entire mission. There was no reason for this master to know anything more about the Tong save for their willingness to complete a task outside the ordinary boundaries. Kya clung to one thought alone: The master was bright enough to poison her; he’d not be without anecdote.
Sure enough, as Kya’s body fought off the poison, the master waited just long enough, then adeptly applied the anecdote.
“Forgive me,” he’d said with a touch of annoyance at her determination to play his little game so well. “It was the one way I could be convinced you were sincere.”
Kya managed to convey that there were no hard feelings as her body slowly returned to stable. And as a result, she and the master shook hands. He would help her procure the poppies and the deal would not be squandered. Kya had faced worse before. Her amusement was guttural as the pun formed in her mind: This poison she’d just ingested was nothing compared to Nightshade.
* * * * *
Kya walked out of the Booty Bay office, her mind on the arena and already starting to pull her focus into center. It had been a while since Kya had tested her skills with Roh and she was greatly looking forward to seeing him. Excitement and anticipation surged through her veins. The moves he’d taught her were still foreign to mind, but only practice would improve that, and she’d not had much time for practice lately. In spite of this, she was mentally sequencing moves in varying ways to come up with tentative strategies that might surprise him. More than anything in a fight, Kya embraced the sensation of creating surprise.
She wasn’t expecting to hear her name shouted out through the typical background noise of Booty Bay. Craning her neck around and squinting from the glare of the angle up, Kya saw the owner of the openly pompous voice. It was one used to obedience, dripping with sarcasm and intimidation. The speaker was puffed up in attitude and next to him stood a woman glowing so golden, she almost looked like an angel. How ironic, Kya thought, that the woman with the gentle request and voice would appear that way. With Kya alone, she was well-mannered, soft and almost angelic. Here, next to her man, Asheran was taunting, gloating and sure of herself. So that’s how it is; she’d cut my throat with a kiss on my cheek and a fake tear in her eye.
Now that Kya knew everything she needed to know about these two, she flashed a confident grin up towards them. Tai had given her the grace of a good stalling technique and she’d have to thank him for that later. Kya kicked herself for not following up on the poppy mission. She’d been battling sand storms in the desert and trying unsuccessfully to reach Tellas, the pretty boy. Hunting stone cats did not seem too terribly treacherous, but Tellas seemed to think there was going to be trouble along the way. Whatever the story was behind his cautious frown, Kya was intent on being there. Kya trusted Tellas’ instincts more than just about anyone’s.
In the midst of all this, she’d forgotten the poppies set to dry out on her back porch. It had been just her luck that the hot summer winds blew in, stirring up conditions ripe for torrential tropical afternoon downpours. And while Kya and her co-workers were parched in the desert, the poppies were soaked to the stem, hanging limply with tearful dripping faces. Kya had forgotten them and now it was impossible to ship the dried flowers on time.
Kicking herself, Kya smiled soothingly up at the sardonic couple and lied through her teeth, “I wrote you a note about the delay, did you not get it?” She hoped her innocent act would garner a softer edge. Instead it seemed to backfire. After all was said and done, Veras instructed her to wipe the smile off her face with the arrogance of a man used to seeing through guises.
He’d given her until the end of the week to deliver, so Kya had been granted the extra time she needed; but from now on she’d have to kiss up to him in a major way, as he was accustomed to. Stinking men of prestige, Kya thought - always needed to force a woman to her knees. It was this thought that made Kya clench her jaw as she turned to head up to the arena. Under her calm exterior and quiet watchfulness, Kya was plotting her own relief, superimposing Veras’ face on every opponent. Poor Rob and Roh had no idea what was behind her whirling blades that night. Little did anyone but perhaps Von know what fueled Kya when she was shining in her mode. Let them think it was simply skill, she mused, her eyes flickering with intensity.
* * * * *
Facet watched Kya from afar. This was his accustomed position. A position keener, more educated minds, kin to those that populated such venues as the Ironforge Explorer's League might call it "the anthropologist's stance".
He'd seen her spars with Roh from this stance, and had, as a half-sleeping cat always keeps an eye open languidly to better watch his surroundings, watched her at the Tong's meetings. There was a fire in her, a willingness to take reckless chances, and while she passed it off her successes as pure, calculated skill, Facet knew better.
After all he'd been quite used to passing off his own dumb luck as nothing less all this time, hadn't he?
We're all just shadowboxing, he thought to himself curtly, and gave pause to remember the man who first uttered the phrase to him, a man less lucky and more skilled perhaps than he would ever be...
In earnest, he was glad to see she'd come through the other side of the meeting he'd sent her blind and groping into, with scarcely more than a hair's breadth of foreshadowing. I knew he'd like you, luv... he thought again to himself as one of his patented grins split the otherwise placid attentiveness of his expression.
...but you need to learn the importance of detail with blokes like these.
He watched the pair approach Kya in the shade of the underdocks, not far from the fast-becoming-infamous Tong-run "Blowhole" pub. Keen jade eyes picked out the predatory sheen in the eyes of the woman, the false smile, the pretension, the gloating expression of one who spies an opportunity to come out on top with the least effort possible- a moment of weakness.
He was far less concerned by it than he was by the piercing stare of the man- it reminded him too much of his own teacher: studied, calculating, and full well and willing to cut his losses wherever he perceived them in the slightest degree. A stare that now undressed Kya in all her various charms and subtleties.
He turned the package over in his hands, knowing that he'd gain no points with her for doing what he was about to do. He knew the fire, danced on the edge of it, felt it's impotent rage.
Hate me later, darling, he thought. And with that he tossed his butt to the ground, all in one motion turning on a heel to approach the group as he ground out the smoldering refuse...
* * * * *
"Wipe the charming smile off your face, tigress," the man said, "a cat may play with it's prey, true enough, but you're stalking something much larger than you, my kitten," and the older man's eyes bored into her- in a way that mere sorcery failed to adequately explain. Sure of his cards, certain of his superiority in perception, he began to tuck Kya neatly into his pocket with his next turn of phrase...
"Oi! No need for that, Guv. And what sorta bloke fails to appreciate the finer points of a woman's smile anyway?" Facet pronounced the query loudly, and his voice rung clear in the underdocks, like a bolt out of the blue- it was enough to take the elder man off guard. It was all he needed, "then again, we are in the Bay..." he added while the other man stumbled on his words- a circumstance Facet perceived he clearly was unused to, "...a place what's filled fulla blokes who spend months on end crammed on some dinghy with nuthin' but other blokes fer company..."
The other man was dumbstruck, and Facet knew the spell wouldn't last long. Before he could regain his footing, added, "...does strange things to a man, I 'ear, eh Guv?" Facet then turned to Kya, and pushed the package into her hands, "You forgot these on the sill, luv," and he leaned in slightly, in part to grin at her, "seems they're dry enough after all," and he then whispered softly in Kya's ear, "gift from a friend..." before he deftly stepped to the side, leaving all parties a bit out-of-sorts, which was absolutely the effect he was aiming for.
He could see the elder man was used to seeing through charades. But Facet was studied enough to know that seeing through them was only the first step to wisdom... you had to learn to play the game. And play it well.
We're all just shadowboxing, he reminded himself again.
Returning his attention to the pair he dismissed himself, "Nice to meet you miss, and..." he paused for effect, saying the next word with a slight quirk of his brow, "...mister. But for now I've got to blow along. 'Ave fun Miss Nali, and don't do anything I wouldn't do luv, eh?" And with that he shuffled down the docks, hands in his pockets...
Kya glanced down at the package in her hands, and in a familiar delicate hand was written upon a parchment attached to the package:
For Miss Nali...
* * * * *
Kya was stunned when Facet arrived on the scene. It wasn't so much his appearance there; Kya had known he was one of those dangerously silent types with a lot more going on between the ears than he let on. It was the sudden rush of realization that he had known every step along the way. For him to have brought her this box now, he must have been aware all along and watching it all unfold, entirely keen on where she had failed and having the foresight to fix it in a timely manner.
The thought occured to her that the contents might be a ruse or another stall, but she took one look at Facet's back as he shuffled away and knew in her gut she could trust him. Kya blinked, thinking how odd it was to perceive his typical laid back assuredness in perfect harmony with this now modestly retreating male.
Kya flushed both with shame over his knowledge of her weakness, and with relief and gratitude that he had covered her back as he had done. She'd have to thank him later when no one else was around. She knew enough to know he'd not tolerate nor enjoy a clamorous public display of gratitude. She'd find a way to thank him that didn't spook him or set him ill at ease.
She swallowed with emotion looking down at her name scrawled on the box, then put her act back on and trotted over to deliver the box to Mister Smugpants Veras.
The letter attached to the package read:
I offer once again my humblest apologies for the strained circumstances of our earlier meeting, it was necessary to me to determine your intentions. You are certainly not the first to inquire about powerfully addictive substances, substances whose worth therefore exceeds the pale. However business endeavors concern me less than the lay of the city. Stormwind is a mesh of such interests, and it concerns me to know the balance of such things.
In any case, I have enclosed with this letter a package with the flowers properly dried, a sample for you to further learn the art of it. I hope it is helpful to you.
Yours in Twilight, Vesperal Swiftshade