"I never liked these kinds of meetings," Drake said. Drake, a member of the city guard, had found himself in a precarious situation. It was a humid summer night tonight, and Drake's sweat was starting to stick to his standard issue armor. His black hair had become mottled and no doubt he was starting to look like he ran laps around the barracks like he did the first day he joined the city guard. And the fog filling the city streets only continued to add to the ominous atmosphere.
This wasn't how his life wasn't supposed to turn out. He didn't expect to be barely compensated for risking his neck each and every day in the guard. He didn't expect to be given so much responsibility with no payoff. He didn't expect to find himself accepting a bribe from one of the most influential gangs in the city, especially not the Embers!
The Ashes were a force not to be trifled with. They had committed some of the biggest heists in Tanver City. First it was Rubies and Emeralds Galore, a jewelry shop in the merchant district. Then, it was Lindel's Smithy, where some very important and very dangerous weapon designs were stolen from.
That was when they started to look for bigger fish, slinking their way into important parts of the city. There were rumors that they had the magistrate and judges in their pockets only as a backup plan if one of their members had been caught. And not one of them has.
"Doesn't matter to me whether you like it or not," a voice behind Drake broke the eerie silence. Drake whipped around to see a man dressed in dark clothing. He was either short or crouched, but that was almost all that Drake could detect since the Shadow kept to the darkness of the city alley. But one thing that was so evident was his emerald-like eyes that seemed to glow in the darkness, like a black cat waiting for Drake to feed him what he required. "The only thing that matters to me is how much information you can give me," the Shadow said, with venom dripping in each word.
This is what made the Ashes the most formidable force in the city: Information. Bribery, blackmail, all of it was used to stage their heists and create contingency plans. And now Drake was becoming an accomplice in whatever schemes they were concocting, since being a guardsman didn't exactly pay for the roof above his head and couldn't feed his wife and expected child. He looked down at the pile of papers he had tied with a string. A collection of the recently printed patrol designations, absolutely detrimental to the city guard in the wrong hands. With this, the Ashes could figure out which heists were safest and had the best payoff.
There was no one else who knew this better than Drake, who had been helping the Ashes for a few months. Drake gained a reputation for being an honorable man among the guard, which made the knot in his stomach twist even tighter at the hypocrisy of the situation. But he reasoned that he has already eaten the poison, might as well lick the plate. And it is not as if the Ashes would ever let Drake out of the deal, not without threatening blackmail that is.
The Ashes weren't in the more merciful business of taking lives to get their way, they would rather ruin your life and leave you a shell of a man rather than end your misery. This was the most terrifying of their powers, it almost seemed like witchcraft of how much they knew of every single person in Tanver, and everyone had a dark secret that they would crumble if it got out.
With great reluctance, just like every time he made the exchange, he threw the papers at the foot of the Shadow, whom he had no knowledge of except that he was the leader of the Ashes. They got their hands dirty and never sent underlings, mostly because they would stumble over themselves getting here. But without saying a word, the Shadow always emitted an aura of menace and you could see his emerald eyes within the shade. There were tales that if he was angered, his green eyes would become snake-like and petrify any man he looked at.
The Shadow quickly lifted his head up, which always prompted a flinch from Drake. He couldn't see it but Drake could tell that the Shadow smiled in amusement each and every time. But the eyes seemed pleased with what they found and the Shadow deftly reached into his coat to pull a hefty sack of silver coins. "You continue to serve faithfully," the Shadow said, happy as ever. "Your compensation."
The Shadow threw the bag at the floor of the guardsman and a couple of silver coins rolled out. Drake quickly scrambled to get each and every one before they rolled away. As he finished collecting the coins, he lifted his head to find the Shadow and true to his name he vanished within them.
Drake sighed. "Creators, forgive me," he muttered, still fully aware that he was now nothing more than a pawn to people who were rumored to be dark spirits and shade for their actions. All because he was tired of eating stale bread.
What he wasn't aware of was that he was being watched by another, a woman who was wearing dark clothing with daggers at her side. She was informed to watch this man at all times to make sure he didn't squeal. She heard the silent footfalls of the Shadow creak on the wooden roof, purposefully making his presence known. If he was trying to sneak up on her, she would literally never know and she would be missing any gold she had.
The Shadow sneaked up to the side of the other member of the Ashes in order to observe the guardsman walking to his hovel, the noisy chainmail making itself known to anyone with keen ears.
"How can you be sure he can be trusted?" the woman asked impatiently.
"Because he is desperate," the Shadow replied. "You saw how hard he fought just to pick up each piece. My bet is the Blood Price has been racking up on him, as it has with everyone."
"Is everything you do just to tell if someone is feels this way or that?"
The Shadow smiled behind his mask. "Not that you need to know, Curio." Curio was a nickname that the Shadow gave her because of all of her questions.
"And would he accept our offer if extended?" Curio gestured to Drake as she asked.
"If it meant that he could leave this city without paying the blood price anymore? He will accept."
"If you say so,' Curio said with a dismissive attitude.
"I know so."
The Shadow and Curio spent the rest of the night sneaking across the rook tops in order to make sure Drake made it home uninterrupted.
Not one of them knew about the fate that would befall them in the coming days...