- - by Firth and Krelle
The world is full of fine lines... grey areas as it were. There is very little that can be colored starkly black or white.
There is a fine line between an assasin and a bounty hunter. Both kill for money. One mans good is another mans evil. Everyone deserves to die for something.... some more than others.
Firth had survived as a bounty hunter for so long because he followed three simple rules: Never bite off more than you can chew, never kill anyone for free, and you cant spend the bounty if your dead. Technically, forsaken proved the last rule wrong, but Firth didnt want to be dead or forsaken. Two of his three three rules were on the virge of being broken today, and that didn't bode well.
He found himself, much to his displeasure, seated in front of Baron Vardus. The Baron was one of the high muckety mucks within the crime organization known as the Syndicate. The Syndicate was a bit like the plague. Big, spread out all over the place, and out of control. They had their hands into all sorts of things, and had no qualms about killing anyone who got in their way, or didn't do their bidding. His presence here had been at the behest of three muscle bound goons who had informed him the Baron wished to see him, and made it clear no was not an option.
The Baron had not bothered with any formalities. Once Firth had been shown to his chair, the Baron had gotten right to the point. "I have a bounty I wish you to collect hunter." He had thrown one of those new fangled Gnomish "pictures" into Firth's lap. "Her.... I want her dead, and I want it done quickly." It was a picture of a youngish looking forsaken girl. "Her name is Krelle.... she can usually be found in Booty Bay."
Bounty Hunters were Azeroth's trash collectors. They did the dirty jobs that others were either too weak or too prissy to tackle. If the law men couldn't coral their perpetrator, they put a bounty on him... "dead or alive." They could have left the "or alive" part out, as generally everyone was happier if all he brought in was a head. Less complications. If a jilted lover was a bit over the top, she would accuse him of a crime and put a price on her former lover's head.... teach him to step out on her. If a business man was unable to compete, he would dig up some dirt on his competition and then turn the hunters loose on them. Everyone deserved to die for something.... some more than others.
Firth didn't worry too much about the whys. If the price was right, the target was good as dead. Let the gods separate the guilty from the innocent at judgement day. But you had to be alive to spend your bounty.
This target had plenty enough reasons to die. She cut a wide swath. He knew, because survival in this business meant knowing who was a nobody and who was a somebody. She was a somebody. A high muckety muck in the Grey Tiger Tong. The Tong must be making life difficult for the Syndicate, and they had decided it was time to send a very loud message. They had also decided he was to be the messenger. Guess they didn't want to dirty their own hands.... after all, bounty hunters were expendable scum... or so the mantra went.
He knew if he killed the girl, no matter how large the bounty, he would not live to enjoy it.... the Tong was not known for turning the other cheek. Firth looked up as the Baron and smiled.... "Thanks for the offer Baron, but I think I will pass on this one...." The Baron's reaction was quick and to the point, he backhanded Firth with his mail glove. "Perhaps, Mr. Hawk you will reconsider.... I would hate for my associates to have to show you how important this to me..." Firth looked at the three goons, and had no doubt they would love nothing more than "convincing" him to do as the Baron wished.
Sometimes the path of least resistance is the way to go. Firth looked up at the Baron and smiled. "Ok Baron, I see your point. I will take the job." "Good" said the Baron, "I hoped you were smarter than you looked. You have two weeks to get this job done and bring me her head. Should you fail, the next meeting we have will be considerably less cordial."
Firth rose to his feet and nodded at Baron Vardus. "I understand." He turned and walked away. "Well Firth" he thought to himself. "This is a fine mess you find yourself in. Everyone deserves to die for something.... Some more than others. I wonder how much the Tong would pay me for the Baron's head...."
The note was short and sweet.
Subject: Life or death.... yours
I think we should meet at your earliest convenience.
Krelle's eyebrows rose as she read the note, leaning against the cold stone wall of the Undercity's rogue quarter. Quick. To the point. Vaguely threatening, but with a promise of information. I like him already, she thought. She lifted the note over her head to let it catch in the green everflame torch, turning it at is burned to let the entire paper blacken to illegible ashes.
Such notes were not uncommon in her line of work. Although they're usually not threatening my life... still... Vague references to important information or potential threats always piqued her interest. Some of her most profitable jobs had come from seemingly sketchy leads.
These weren't normal times, though. The situation in Silvermoon had spilled out into the Hinterlands and Arathi, and the Tong were now essentially in a full out war with the scattered but vicious syndicate forces. The Syndicate's strategy of spreading out and trying for a war of attrition was one they had so far countered successfully - but only by being careful. The Tong was a small family organization - they had nowhere near the Syndicate's numbers. They chose their targets carefully and struck where it would be most effective - like the warlock, Serrin, or Dal's girl, Roshka.
They also tried to avoid the Syndicate's traps. After a Silvermoon officer had come to the office waving a warrant for Nerrok's arrest - two counts of murder and conspiracy against the crown - it had been clear that the Syndicate was striking back. They'd had the charges thrown out for lack of evidence (which was true, since Nerrok hadn't killed the two elves) but Krelle was waiting for the Syndicate's next move. The shop in Silvermoon was her baby and it was her job to keep an eye on the situation with the thugs up there.
The note was too obvious to be a set-up, but the situation too dangerous to walk into like a chump. Krelle could hold her own in a fight but she was small and not very tough. She excelled in other areas. Best to have large, burly orcs around her when she was meeting a stranger... If he wanted to meet, let it be on her ground. The Undercity and the 'Bay were both known stomping grounds of hers. Her note told him nothing he couldn't have found out just by asking around...
I'll be in the Undercity for a few days, then heading to Booty Bay. If you want to meet me here, talk to Jarvik. If the Bay suits you better, just introduce yourself at the dockside fishmonger's.
Krelle sat demurely on the huge iron anvil, chatting with Lucian in apparent idleness. The dark cotton dress and lack of visible weapons gave her a deceptively young and harmless look. It was a guise she enjoyed, on occasion. Facet was with her though he kept to the shadows as usual, preferring the company of a cigarette over the ramblings of the old Forsaken engineer.
"But it's the current that's so important," Krelle was saying. "If you put the splicer in first it'd just weaken the pulse."
"Bah, that's what the amplifiers are for," Lucian insisted.
"Hmm. Perhaps," she said, giving in. Stubborn old git won't listen. No wonder he blows up his workshop every second week… She looked up as an elf with short, reddish hair approached. He came indirectly, glancing over Lucian's wares as he made his way closer to Krelle. She watched him silently as he came to a stop just out of easy knife range.
"Hello Miss Krelle," he greeted her, speaking softly. "I trust your people… wherever they are… can see I am unarmed?"
This must be Firth. If he couldn't see Facet then the rogue had already slipped into the shadows. Krelle looked across the room. Kayce was glancing her way with a little frown but stayed back for now. It was a comfort to have the elves so close. "I'm sure they appreciate the gesture," she answered quietly.
"I wanted to stay alive long enough to discuss a few things with you."
Krelle noticed a bit of ash behind the elf blow away as though in an errant breeze. Facet had gotten around behind him. She smiled. "Shall we get out of Lucian's way? I've been blocking his work long enough," she said, hopping down from the anvil. Standing, she was just under five feet tall, barely reaching the elf's shoulder.
"That would probably be wise. Did you have someplace in mind?" he asked, looking about the Rogue's Quarter warily.
Krelle nodded, motioning vaguely towards a shadowy nook. "Just out of the way," she said, leading him away from the engineering station and the muttering old Forsaken.
The elf glanced about as they walked. He might be sensing Facet's presence but he couldn't see him. "Your people hide well," he said.
Krelle turned as she reached the alcove and stood with her back to the wall. "They'd better. It's what I pay them for. So what can I do for you, Firth? Your note seemed urgent."
"I have a bit of news you might be interested in," he said, getting right to the point. "It has to do with you." Krelle cocked an eyebrow at him but remained silent. He continued. "You know of the Syndicate boss known as Baron Vardus?" She nodded slowly. "He knows of you. Apparently he does not appreciate your undeath."
Krelle's lips quirked in a grin. "Not complete enough for him, was it?"
Firth nodded. "He has hired me to finish the job that the plague began."
Krelle felt rather than saw Facet slide between her and the other elf. She watched Firth closely from behind her mask but saw no sign of impending violence. "The plague was the best thing to ever happen to me, as far as I'm concerned. Come to do me favours then, have you?"
"I don't do favours. I do business."
Facet stepped out of the shadows and stood by Krelle's shoulder, slightly in front of her. "And I do impressions. Bad ones."
Krelle smirked at him. Facet's blades tended to leave deep "impressions" on whatever mark they found. Firth didn't bat an eye at the sudden appearance of the rogue though he tensed slightly. Krelle considered Firth's story. "Double-crossing the Syndicate is risky," she said quietly.
"Killing a Master is risky as well," Firth said with a faint, ironic smile. "I would not do either given the choice."
"Rough situation to get into, then," she commented. So they'd twisted his arm, had they? She wondered what they had on him.
"I am not being given a choice. I wanted to see if perhaps you can open up my window of opportunities. I have three rules, you see - the first is to never bite off more than I can chew, but the Syndicate is forcing me to break that one."
"Bold move, showing up and announcing the job you've been given. I could simplify my life somewhat just by killing you now. What are you offering me instead?" It was not a idle threat, it was a serious question. He'd forfeited his life when he'd confessed to being sent to kill her. She knew Facet would only let him walk away if he convinced them he'd given up on that particular task.
Facet lifted a jet-black brow. "Careful. You might get more than you bargain for, mate," he said in his faintly-mocking ironic tone. His hands rested on his sword hilts as he looked the other elf over.
"You could kill me," Firth acknowledged. "But then the next person the Baron hires would not tell you he was coming… would he?"
"The next person might never arrive, either," Facet murmured.
"What the next hitman does is academic. I'm not in the business of paying people to not kill me - and you said you were here for business," Krelle said.
"My second rule is to never kill anyone for free."
What if they really have it coming? Krelle mused. Instead, she said "Alright, I'll bite. What's your third rule?"
"That you can't spend a bounty if you're dead." Krelle laughed quietly as Facet pulled out a smoke, keeping a wary eye on Firth. "So here is what I wish to propose," the red-headed elf continued. "The Baron wants you dead. If I don't kill you, the Baron will kill me. I don't want to kill you… it sticks in my craw." Facet chuckled at that but Krelle just smiled. Unless he was a strangely sensitive type of bounty hunter, she doubted his feelings stemmed from some kind of reticence to harm her. She understood the sentiment, however. No one liked being forced into a job.
"Sounds like you need to decide which horse to back then, mate - before all bets are off," Facet murmured around his cigarette.
"Looks like he's already decided, I'd say," Krelle disagreed.
"It seems it would benefit us both if the Baron dies," Firth concluded. "But like I said - I never kill anyone for free." He looked at Facet as the black-haired elf snorted. "She's Krelle. Who are you?"
"I'm complicated," Facet introduced himself.
Krelle ignored the banter, weighing what Firth had said. It wasn't a very hard decision, as decisions went. "Well Firth, you sound like the sensible sort to me. As for killing things for free, I always reward people who do me favours - it encourages more of 'em in the future, see? I'm curious though - how would you go about getting to the Baron? He's not the easiest mark."
"The same way I would get to you. I would bide my time and strike when the opportunity presented itself."
Krelle arched a sceptical eyebrow as Facet snorted again. She looked to her fellow rogue and spoke softly in the Tong's Cant. "Think he can do it?"
"If this bloke fails, he solves at least one of our problems," Facet murmured back in the same cryptic tongue.
Firth frowned, catching their tone if not their words. "Have your doubts. You reward me when I give you his head then - deal?"
Krelle shrugged. "I'd rather have someone after the baron than me, obviously, whether you succeed or not. This is a nearly risk-free proposition you're offering me, I admit."
Facet nodded. "Sounds straightforward enough to me, luv."
"I doubt the Syndicate will give up or go away because the Baron dies," Firth cautioned. "So neither of us will be truly safe. But they might think twice about screwing with either of us when the Baron shows up dead."
No, Krelle thought. They'll try to kill us both. For me, they'll send someone who can do the job. Or who thinks he can. "They'll be after you, if they find out it was you who did it," was all she said.
"Depends on the manner in which he goes away," Facet murmured.
"Do you have suggestions? I'm all ears," the bounty hunter said, a bit tartly.
"Indeed," Facet agreed.
Did Facet just make fun of his ears? Krelle wondered. "If I were you, Firth, I wouldn't let the hit get traced back to me."
"I plan on killing everyone around him."
"That oughtta help…" she murmured.
Facet eyed the other elf appraisingly. "Sounds like you plan on a bloody awful mess then, mate."
"It's already a bloody awful mess," Firth muttered. "I didn't ask to be dragged into it. I just plan on cleaning it up a bit."
"Ah well," Krelle said dismissively. "You gotta shake things up a bit sometimes, Firth, see what falls out."
"So do we have a deal?"
"I believe we do. You show up with the Baron's head - or other proof of his timely demise - and I'll pay you well."
"If you don't hear from me in the next two weeks… then I failed, and someone else will be gunning for you."
Krelle nodded, appreciating the timeline. "For that, I ought to tip you now," she suggested.
"No, payment when the job is done."
Krelle shrugged as Facet blew a smoke ring at the red-head. "If I don't hear from you in the next two weeks I'll be sure to determine the nature of your silence, and act accordingly," the elf said.
"Yes, I imagine you would." Firth looked between the two of them, then over his shoulder. Kayce's plate armour creaked softly as he came up behind the bounty hunter. "You all stick together. A family, as it were."
"We do," Krelle agreed as she exchanged a nod of greeting with Kayce.
Firth gave her a small bow from the waist, without looking away. "Well, I have been duly warned by your shadow, Miss Krelle. I shall leave now."
"He's a comfort. I look forward to our next meeting."
"Good luck, mate," Facet murmured around his cigarette, giving Firth a nod.
The bounty hunter nodded back. "I hope to end our business favourably in the next fortnight. If not… watch your back."
Naturally. "Shadows keep you," Krelle said as he turned away and started back through the dark, damp Rogue's Quarter of the Undercity.
"Well" he thought as he walked away, "that went about as well as could be expected."
The Lady had been receptive to his proposal. When he brought her the Baron's head she would reward him. Her muscle had been a bit of a pain, but perhaps that was the purpose, to see if he could be rattled. Either way, it was the Lady Krelle that mattered, her dogs could bark all day, but they wouldn't bite unless she told them to.
He had no doubt he had chosen the right path. The Baron had left him with no options. Either way he was going to be a hunted man. From what he knew of the two organizations, he would rather be hunted by the Syndicate than the Tong. The Syndicate was larger, but tended to rely on a lot of mindless muscle. The Tong was a much tigher organization. Smaller, but in many ways much more dangerous. That was why they could hold their own against a mob as big as the Syndicate.
If he did this right, and impressed Lady Krelle with his ability to live up to his promises, she might even consider hiring him to kill more Syndicate. As it was, with the Synidicate hunting him, he would be forced into killing them anyways.... better to be payed.
The Slow Blade
Krelle slowly paced the packed earth floor of the Tong's Orgrimmar headquarters as she thought out loud. "...but Cel hasn't been in touch. She claimed the Syndicate wouldn't ever run the show at the thieves' den, but I wonder just how close she is to Dal. Killing Roshka might have been more of a provocation than we intended..."
"It wasn't exactly planned that way," Nerrok grunted. "Sit down, Squirt, you're making me dizzy."
Krelle sighed and sat on the ground, leaning back against a sawed off log by the firepit. She looked around herself at the smokey tent. The Slow Blade was a weapons shop that the Tong had bought years ago and it was about as safe a place as the two masters could find these days. Not that they were hiding out - there was business to be done in Orgrimmar - but it was comforting to relax a bit, at least. The huge tent was guarded, trapped - fel, it was even enchanted, and that had cost a fair bit of coin. They also had an "understanding" with the Burning Hand crew across the Cleft. Still. She'd once claimed that no place was truly safe from the Tong. She wouldn't underestimate her enemies.
"We're going to have to convince them that it'd be in their best interests to get a ceasefire going," Krelle continued grimly. Nerrok just chewed on a plug of tobacco. "This turf war is killing the profit we're making from the shop up there. If they keep at us it won't be profitable to operate out of Silvermoon much longer."
The old orc hunter looked at her, an eyebrow up. "What're you thinking?"
Krelle shook her head. "Not sure yet. We've been lucky so far not to have anyone bite it - you remember the close call with Ariyana. Almost botched the job and nearly lost an agent... Not to mention Roshka blowing you off the ramp with a shotgun."
Nerrok grunted noncommittally. There were fresh pockmarks on his shoulders and arms where the buckshot had lodged into his flesh. He'd been wearing his flak vest for that job, though. "We can handle them."
"I know, Ner, but we shouldn't have to! It's eating up manpower and money, and wearing people out. It must be costing them even more, but they don't seem to care." Krelle frowned, her fingers beating a rapid staccato on the log as she thought. "We either have to convince them that we're there to stay in Silvermoon and that they'd better get used to it, or else we ought to pull out of there."
Nerrok nodded. The Syndicate had been behind some trumped-up charges against the orc, trying to get him arrested for murder and conspiracy against the crown up in Silvermoon. The city's most expensive lawyer had earned himself a fat paycheck for having the charges thrown out - but it had been too random a charge, too easily overcome. "The Silvermoon shuffle," he said quietly.
"They're trying to keep us busy with these half-assed attacks," he continued, frowning at Krelle. "They're up to something."
Krelle "hmed" her agreement. She'd been thinking the same thing. The Syndicate's random, scattershot attacks had been too stereotypical. They were faking dumb, she was sure. "Maybe it's about time we get up to something, then," she decided.
Nerrok grinned evilly. "Not pulling out?"
"Nether take that idea," Krelle said. "Too much money in that city to let them have it all. Not to mention how deep in the hole we'd be to Mr. Big if we bailed on the shop now. We're just gonna have to convince 'em to back off." Her gaze wandered over to the worktable she'd set up in the corner, piled with new engineering materials from Gadgetzan. The table was as far back from the fire as it could get, and covered with explosive and potentially explosive materials.
Nerrok eyed the table. He was no slouch at engineering either. "Could get messy," he suggested. "Who's the target? Dal?"
Krelle shook her head slowly, thinking. "No... he and Cel ran Silvermoon's underground for ages. Neither of them are truly in the Syndicate, just working with them. And as pissed as he might be that you offed his little package-running girlfriend, he's a practical man. He's not the one behind this crap. Someone else is running things for the Syndicate in Silvermoon - I'm guessing someone with a personal grudge against the Tong. What we oughtta do is find them and take'em out." Before they take us out, she mentally added.
Nerrok nodded in approval. The Tong had been operating defensively in Silvermoon, countering the Syndicate's moves as the larger organization had come into their territory. But wars weren't won from defensive positions. "Think the elf can handle Vardus?"
"No clue. Either way though - we're both marked until they give up."
Nerrok growled protectively. "All the more reason to get busy."
Krelle grinned at her adoptive father. "Well then. Why don't we do that?"