The hustle and bustle of the tavern in Bounty Bay was surprising. It had been ages since I had made his way to the southern jungles, but the trip had not disappointed me. This place was a hive of pirates, adventurers, scoundrels, and any other shady suspects you might find hiding away from official business.
“We’ve waited too long,” Iliera mumbled, shifting uneasily in her chair next to him. “We should get moving.”
“Give him some time,” I replied as calmly as I could. “No one shows up on times for these kinds of trades.”
Iliera didn’t agree, and she made a face to show it. I couldn’t help but smile. I knew that she was feeling especially exposed right now. I had convinced her to leave her heavy plate armor behind in exchange for a lighter cloth and leather outfit that would better conceal her identity.
The truth was, the two of us were outlaws here.
An unfortunate series of events several years prior had put us on the bad side of the entire SmokeWeasel Cartel, but with the Yunai invasion everyone had become distracted with other priorities. Enough time had passed now that I assumed the cartel had completely forgotten about us.
Another few minutes passed without any spectacular changes in the tavern, but just as I was considering listening to Iliera and abandoning our goal, a shorter man made his way over to their table and took a seat as though he had been part of our party the whole time.
Iliera looked like she might crawl across the table and destroy the new arrival, but I politely placed my hands on the table’s surface and offered a welcoming grin. “Hello, friend. How can we help you?”
“You the pair from Stonehaven?” the man asked.
“Indeed we are,” I replied.
“I got what you need.”
“I assume you will be asking for some kind of payment?”
The man smiled, his grin growing wide. “Oh, well yeah, but you’re going to have to talk to the right people for that.”
“The right people?” Iliera asked.
I suddenly realized something awful. The tavern had gone… silent.
I looked up from the man and saw that the bar was completely cleared of patrons. The doors were blocked by several large bouncers, and at least one creature that looked like a starved pig. Iliera started to move, but I placed my hand on hers and she instantly fell still.
“You see,” the goblin explained. “I had the wand like I said, but after I reached out to you about it I was contacted by someone else that had figured out you wanted it…”
“Baron Revelli?” I asked, already aware of the answer.
“The one and the same,” the goblin said. “He’s eager to have a chat.”
I frowned. I thought about the options we had in this situation. The bar had required we check our weapons at the door, so those were secured somewhere far away by now, but Iliera had the power of luminary magic and I was a Flamecaller, so we might be able to fight our way out of here if they went for it.
Then again, the chances of punching through unharmed were nearly impossible.
“What do we do?” Iliera asked.
“We humbly accept the Baron’s request,” I answered, bowing gently to the man at our table. “Lead the way, my friend.”
The man nodded his head in return. “Right this way, heroes.”
The Seasoned Seagrass Tavern was known for being a local hotspot for all kinds of dealings here in Bounty Bay. The reason for that, of course, was that Baron Revilgaz had made it the safest and most secure place to arrange such things. In hindsight, I realized that waltzing into the Baron’s own establishment might not have been the greatest idea, but I had genuinely assumed that three years was enough time to forget a minor crime against the cartel.
I had clearly miscalculated on that assumption.
The second floor of the bar looked friendly enough without any occupants, and it also made it a lot easier for the bartender to reveal a hidden passageway that led down a short hall and into a large office area.
A massive ornate wooden desk was placed at one end of the room, behind it a glass doorway led to a beautiful half-circle balcony viewing the city and cove. There was a large red leather chair positioned to the side, and sitting in it, only taking up half of the high-back height, was another man.
Not just any man. The man.
“Baron Revelli,” I said. “It’s an honor to finally—”
“You should keep that mouth shut, if you know what’s good for you,” the Baron replied, looking up at the pair that had been brought before him. His skin was deeply tanned with weathered patches that looked like they might be permanently callused over. His black hair was tied back in a ponytail, and he held a long dagger in his right hand, carefully using the tip to dig dirt out from his fingernail as he scanned them over.
Iliera and I stood there, letting him have his moment.
“Do you two know how much damage you caused me?” the Baron asked, slowly sliding forward so that he was at the edge of his large seat. “I mean, do you have any actual idea?”
Iliera’s eyes squinted. I could feel the energy building within her and I knew that the Baron was testing the her patience. To Iliera, there was only the good and the bad. If you weren’t in one… well, the point was that the Baron was not in the good camp. Still, she remained silent, clearly smart enough to know the Baron’s questions weren’t mean to be answered by either of them.
“It’s a lotta gold,” the Baron answered himself, finally standing and rounding to the front of his desk. “You infiltrated one of my best warehouses, destroyed my supplies, injured dozens… dozens of my guards, and marched out of there like you were some kind of champions for all that’s good and right in this world.”
Here, Iliera’s power flickered. The Baron seemed to sense her wavering conscience and locked on immediately. “That’s right,” he said, meeting eyes with her. “It might have been one thing for a holier-than-thou paladin to come romping through my operations if they were doing it for the good of their people. No, that’s not who sent you to mess me up, was it? It was those lowdown scummy pirates!”
“Our friend had debts to the Baited Buccaneers,” I spoke up, admitting our crime. “We were only trying to get him out of danger, not start a war with the cartel.”
“Yeah yeah,” the Baron said. “I told you, I looked into the situation. I know all about your friend, the rogue with the golden heart… mixed up with the wrong people… it’s endearing what you did. I actually respect the steps you took to get him out of harm’s way. It’s an admirable quality to take big risks for your friends.”
“I agree,” I replied, “but I sense there’s more here than just a pat on the back.”
“How astute,” Revelli said, lifting the dagger so the blade pointed upward, leaning back on his desk casually, and then pointing the weapon at each one of them.
“I could slit your throats, right here and now, if I wanted,” he said calmly.
“I doubt you’d live to tell the tale,” Iliera responded, her voice firm.
The Baron looked her over and shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“You’re not going to kill us,” I said, as much as to calm Iliera as move the conversation forward.
“Why didn’t you run?” Revelli asked. “Down there on the main floor? You had the ability, I’ve heard about your antics. You fly to other worlds, fight the Yunai. What in the heck made you come to face me?”
“I’m ready to resolve this,” Iliera answered before I could think up something. “We’ve kept our heads down and avoided your cartel for long enough. We assumed you might have forgotten about us by now, but clearly you hadn’t. Running would only prolong this eventual meeting, so it was time to get it out of the way.”
“So you let my goons capture you?”
“That’s right,” Iliera said with a nod.
There was a long silence between the three of them. The Baron seemed to be genuinely considering his options. Perhaps he had expected us to fight our way out. Now that he had us here he wasn’t sure how to proceed… or perhaps this was his plan all along. Either way, I knew there were at least ten guards between us and the main exit. If things got nasty, we could push forward, hit the balcony, and take to the streets. If we could get lost in the city, we might be able to evade capture again.
“Well, here’s the deal,” the Baron said, pulling me back to the moment. “I’m not a fool. I know all about your little organization, your Academy as it were, and I know you’re superstars in with Udiria and Stonehaven. Killing you is more trouble than it is worth. I acknowledge that. There would be retaliation, more damage control, wasted time recovering assets, and anything else your fans might do to me. So no, I’m not going to kill you.”
“Wonderful,” Iliera said. “Now that we have that resolved we—”
“We haven’t resolved anything,” Revelli said, cutting her off. “You still cost me a lot of money and I dare say you owe me a debt. So, I want us to work things out… civilly.”
“How do you propose we do that?” I asked.
“The way I see it, you’re some pretty powerful folk. I got people in various places of the world that are causing me problems. To be frank, I want them out of the way. I was impressed with the damage you did to my own warehouse back in the day; I can’t imagine what you’re capable of now.”
“No,” Iliera said firmly. “I refuse to do your dirty work. I already regret helping those villainous pirates.”
The Baron squinted and nodded his head slowly, as though he understood where she was coming from. Then, he glanced at me and raised a brow. “What about you?”
I closed my eyes. This felt like a repeat of the very events that had gotten us into this mess in the first place, but I knew what turning down the Baron would mean for us. Just because he couldn’t kill us didn’t mean he couldn’t make our lives miserable.
“No murder,” I said. “You want me to stop your competitors, I can do that, but you have to let me do it my way.”
Ileira’s glowing eyes turned to me and I saw the concern within them. I was going to have to deal with that after I was done getting us out of this mess.
“Likewise,” I added. “I’m not doing anything that gets us in trouble with the people we just spent all our time getting squared away. We’ve worked too hard to get on their good side to risk having them hunting us instead of the cartel.”
The Baron seemed to think this over for a moment, so I glanced to Iliera and gave her my best comforting look. She was hesitant for a moment, but then her face softened as she clearly came to the same conclusion that I had.
“What if I tell you that’s not an option?” The Baron asked.
“Then I refuse your offer,” I answered. “We proceed accordingly.”
“I can call the whole cartel down on you. You would never be safe outside of Stonehaven again.”
Sionis took a deep breath and nodded. “Or I kill you here. Maybe I die too, but you’ll have no criminal empire to worry about if you’re dead. Either way, my problems with you end here.”
The Baron frowned.
“That’s right,” I pressed. “Iliera and I defeated the Yunai. Do you want to test our power?”
The Baron laughed. He cracked a wide smile and wiggled the tip of his dagger at me and then gave a long relaxed laugh. “You, Sionis, I like you a lot.”
I raised my brow. “Well?”
“Well, I think you’ve got yourself a deal. You help me deal with my competition, on your own terms, and the SmokeWeasel Cartel will release you of your crimes against us.”
“I accept the offer,” I replied.
Iliera remained silent.
The Baron looked her over and his smile faded again. “You’re a serious one. I can respect that. You’ve done a lot of fighting in your life. I looked into your background too. It was harder to find since you’re not from… around here. I admit I’m more scared of you than I am the Flamecaller.”
“Thank you,” Iliera said, no sign of humor showing. It almost made me laugh.
“So what say you?” the Baron pressed. “This is a one time offer and it requires the two of you to accept. I’m not letting just one of you off the hook.”
“I want the wand.”
Iliera relaxed a little bit. “You have a wand that belongs to a friend of mine. I want it back.”
“Oh right, the wand,” Revelli said, the smile returning to his face. “You know what? That’s a fair request, Iliera. I’ll throw in the wand you thought so important to come all this way in the first place.”
I kept my best poker face, but that would have likely been worth the cost alone. I had completely forgotten about the wand in all of this nonsense, but Iliera was here playing the game to her favor.
I loved her for it.
Of course, Iliera still didn’t agree.
For a moment, I started to worry. Iliera had become steadfast in her decisions lately and she might just throw this opportunity away without thinking through the ramifications. I wanted to express that, as best I could, with a gentle facial expression, but by now Iliera’s glowing eyes were locked on the man in front of her, rather than me. I looked to him and saw that the Baron’s hand had tightened on the hilt of the dagger while he continued to stare right back at Iliera. The two of them had become entangled in some kind of soul-searching stare and I wasn’t sure what was about to unfold.
When no one had spoken for over ten seconds, I decided to flex my hands, preparing to weave the first magical spell if this all went south.
Then, thankfully, Iliera spoke.
“I accept your offer, Baron Revelli,” she answered, emphasizing each syllable.
The Baron smiled, slowly this time, and his grip relaxed once more. “That is good news. I gotta admit, this has been one of my more interesting meetings as of late.”
“We thank you for your time,” I said. “I assume you’ll have someone else arrange a list of the organizations and locations where we need to concentrate our efforts?”
“That’s right,” the Baron said. “I’ll get someone on it this evening. For the time being, you go ahead and stay here at the tavern tonight. We’ll get everything sorted out and have you on your way in no time.”
The Baron turned from them and started making his way back around his large desk. As he did so, the doors to his office opened and one of the bouncers from earlier stepped up, taking each of them by an arm.
“Release me, if you wish to live,” Iliera said, her voice as cold as I had ever heard it.
The bouncer let go without hesitation. “I’ll show you to your room,” he added, clearly flustered by her tone.
“Thank you,” I said, offering a smile. “It’s been a long day. We could use the rest.”
As we left, we met eyes for a brief moment and I saw the concern on Iliera’s face. I tried to convey, silently, that everything was going to be okay, even if we had a new problem to deal with. We had done it before, we would do it again.
Everything would be fine.