"I take it you heard of the contract from one of the barkeeps?" the man asked. "Yes." A lie. It tasted foul in Mischa's mouth. It was not the Orcish way. A saying from her tribe, the Dm'rohk, translated into Common: Speak plainly, speak the truth. And she had not spoken the truth. And, as it was with lies, one often beget another. Lies disrespected the spoken word. And it hurt that she had to say one. But it was easier. More succinct than the truth. And so she lied. Mischa Ven'rohk and the man who called himself Isaac sat at a table in the combination tavern/inn named The Journey's Respite. Taverns and inns still puzzled her, but this one was aptly named. Her journey had been long. All the way from her betrayal of Marcie at the Sunken Tomb to Bhathairk and Alliria and the caravan and the ambush and into Vel Anir and her near fatal ordeal involving Ynsidia, Conjurer of the Ink and the weeks and weeks of recovering and surviving and more odd jobs to earn the coin to live and all the while awaiting the next vision from the Great Holy One. And then it came. The vision. Abrupt and spontaneous, as it always had been. A brief glance. She just so happened to see Isaac walking along the street in Anir Square, and the vision came swiftly. That Which Makes Pure filled her with a sense of purpose. Showed Mischa sitting and talking with Isaac, as she was now. Showed Mischa dressed not in her armor but in flowing cloth. A silence following, but a feeling of assurance, of trust. And then the Key. In her hands. Joy. And the Great Holy One showed her what the Key unlocked... The man called Isaac regarded her. Nodded his head. "I think you'll be a good fit. Just what I'm looking for." "Why is that?" she said. "You're an orc. Fierce fighters, yeah?" A smile from Mischa. "Strength is the way of the world. The weak are crushed underfoot." The man chuckled. "Spoken like a true orc." Mischa let out an amused grunt. Said, "Tell me how one speaks like a true human." The man rested his elbows on the table. One of the two barmaids came around with their drinks; he'd bought them each a simple beer. He called it a 'friendly gesture'. Mischa just stared down at the mug dubiously. She couldn't understand the fascination with these drinks. All alcohol did was make one dizzy and stupid. Inept at fighting. And worse, disrespectful of the spoken word and honorable decorum. Her tribe had no time for such a frivolous thing. In truth, she had never taken a drink in her life. "Well," said the man as he lifted his mug and took a hearty drink of it and set it back down, "As far as I can gather, one would have to talk like a real son-of-a-bitch." Mischa just smiled again. Entertained his attempt at humor. Nodded toward his mug. "Then that will help." "Always does, Mischa. Always does." She watched him take another drink. Didn't touch her own beer. And though she knew the answer, she asked, "The barkeep said only that you needed help 'unlocking' something. Do you know what may be inside what you seek to unlock?" And there. One lie begetting another. A disdain for herself in that moment. For setting aside conviction for expedience. The lack of discipline, and the giving in to the temptation of ease. The man set his drink down again. Entwined his hands. Grinned in an amicable way. Said, "The same thing that is always under lock and key. Something valuable. And a whole lot of it." Outwardly, a friendly face. Inwardly, Mischa felt contemptuous of the man. Humans and their trinkets. And they had the gall to make up tales of dragons and other creatures which hoarded all manner of shiny baubles and coins and call them covetous. Maybe a fabled knight could slay a dragon, but his most dreaded foe was a mirror. No. Mischa knew. The Great Holy One had shown her. And maybe there were trinkets and treasures and coins and all else humans and other city-dwellers were so infatuated with inside the Vault. But there was something else too. A monster. Waiting. * * * * * "I take it you heard of the contract from one of the barkeeps?" Isaac asked. "Yes," said the small orc girl. Good. Things were going well. Isaac had put out the word of a job to several of his preferred and trusted barkeeps in Anir Square. Not uncommon. It was one of his many functions for the Crentor family. He was an agent. A liasion. And, more often than not, the man they called upon to get things done. Dirty things. If there was a problem, he 'fixed' it. So Isaac ensured that the Crentor's business interests didn't get fucked with by any means necessary, and they kept their hands clean by dissociation so they could keep on schmoozing with House Virak, Weiroon, and Pirian. But he tired of it. The constant wearing down of his soul. And he figured it was time to come clean. Isaac Makalov and the small orc girl named Mischa sat at a table in the combination tavern/inn named The Journey's Respite. One of his favorites. The barkeep was a swell guy. The two barmaids were cute, and one of them loved to fuck him. He wasn't quite sure if it was for the generous coin he tipped or his dashing good looks or if she really did like him, but that hardly mattered in the sheets. It was just after noontime. Slow. Not a whole lot of people in the Respite. Could count 'em all with only two hands. All the better. Made for less ears. Still, he had a room already rented upstairs. For discussing the particulars of the job. He wanted to come clean, yes, but he also wanted to be set for life. Maybe he wasn't such a good soul after all, but what was the harm in stealing from the Crentors? They were plenty rich, and he was their shadowed hand, and if he knew one thing in the world, he knew that hand was bloody as all hell. So fuck 'em. And Isaac knew just how to do it. The Crentors had a tradition of theirs. The passing down of 'The Key' from father to firstborn son. Isaac had overheard enough to know the Key unlocked the Crentor family Vault under the city, in the tunnels leading to Vel Tenebria. But he didn't think he could lift the Key alone. No, he needed a few helping hands. Outsiders. People without a stake in Vel Anirian politics. Isaac looked at Mischa, studying her. Damn if she wasn't the smallest orc he'd ever seen--not that he'd seen too many. Still, he nodded his head and said, "I think you'll be a good fit. Just what I'm looking for." "Why is that?" she said. A little flattery never hurt, right? Poor girl. Not big and strong like all the others. Had to be rough. Probably why she was in Vel-fucking-Anir of all places. "You're an orc. Fierce fighters, yeah?" It worked. She smiled. "Strength is the way of the world. The weak are crushed underfoot." Isaac chuckled and said, "Spoken like a true orc." She grunted. That was probably the closest thing to a laugh he'd get out of her. And she said, "Tell me how one speaks like a true human." Isaac rested his elbows on the table. Zeri came around with their drinks. Set them down on the table. And Zeri winked at him before slowly sashaying off. Those gorgeous hips of hers. Damn he was going to miss her. Hell, maybe if this thing went right they could make a midnight escape with enough coin and treasure to last a lifetime. Talk about sweeping a woman off her feet, huh? The world could be their oyster, as it was said. Wouldn't that be nice. Start a family. Take up a new trade. Something peaceful. Something actually good for the gods' sake. Fix things, instead of 'fixing' things. Vel Anir was a hell of a city. What'd Mischa say? The weak are crushed underfoot? Slight correction to that. In Vel Anir, the good are crushed underfoot. That was the world Isaac knew. "Well," Isaac said as he took a long drink of his beer, "As far as I can gather, one would have to talk like a real son-of-a-bitch." A smile from Mischa again. Hey, how about that? Building rapport with an orc. She nodded to his mug and said, "Then that will help." And damn was she right. In more ways than one. "Always does, Mischa. Always does." Hmm. Maybe she didn't like beer. Wasn't touching hers. Didn't all orcs love beer? Goddamn hard to keep track of what was actually true and what as a stereotype in Vel Anir. Regardless, the orc girl said, "The barkeep said only that you needed help 'unlocking' something. Do you know what may be inside what you seek to unlock?" Gods it was beautiful. The Crentors would have no fucking idea. They didn't give a damn about anybody who didn't have highborn blood, much less the rumors and ramblings in a few select taverns. Hell, that was Isaac's job, to keep his ear to the ground for them. So he could be so damn bold as to use the word 'unlock' in his vague description of the job to all the barkeeps. Their ears were too high up in the clouds to hear it down here on Arethil. He knew what he could get away with, and what he probably couldn't. Hence the rented room upstairs. A proper precaution once he had to mention the Crentors by name. Isaac took a drink and set it down again. Entwined his hands. Grinned a cordial grin. Said, "The same thing that is always under lock and key. Something valuable. And a whole lot of it." He knew it. He knew she'd like the sound of that. Look at her face. See, orcs weren't all that different from men when you got right down to it. Lump in elves and dwarves and all the rest too. What'd everybody want? Security. That's right. Security. People's minds were at ease when things were certain. And nothing made things more certain than coin. Heh. Strength. That was another part Mischa got wrong. Coin. Coin, my friend. Coin was the way of the world.