Unsung Heroes (Story)

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Unsung Heroes (Story)

Post  Quixoticus on Tue Nov 15, 2011 7:16 pm

In Old Town, at Garamund’s Tavern & Inn, six people are gathered a table playing a dice game. Two dwarves, an elf, two humans, and a gnome. They’re all stooped over with their hands pressed down firmly on the mugs that hold their dice, except for the gnome, who’s only tall enough to peer around the sides of the cup at the others. The elf gently raises the edge of his mug and looks down at his dice. He blinks, but beyond that, his face doesn’t move. He puts the mug down and turns to look at the dwarf sitting on his right.

“Eight sixes,” wagered the elf.

The dwarf fluttered his eyebrows. Then, he immediately turned to his right to look at the human sitting next to him. “Nine twos.” His beard shook as he spoke.

The human leaned to the side dramatically. He peered at his dice, then looked back at the dwarf, as if to gain some insight from his massive, unkempt beard. “Nine twos?” he asked.

The dwarf nodded. The human exhaled audibly, checking his dice again. He set the edge of the mug down and stared blankly at the metal stein for several seconds. “Twelve sixes.”

Everyone at the table shifted slightly. The other dwarf, sitting on the right of the human, was staring at him. “Twelve sixes?”

“Twelve sixes,” said the human, confidently. To the right of the second dwarf, the other human snorted.

There were less than twenty dice on the table now. Twelve sixes was risky enough, but raising it to thirteen was even more so. The dwarf shook his head. “No way. Call.”

The dwarf lifted his own mug. He only had one six, and no wilds. The human on his right, who had snorted at the other human’s wager, lifted his mug next, also showing one six and no wilds. Next was the gnome, who had a six and a wild. The elf showed two wilds. The other dwarf showed one six.

“That’s seven,” said the dwarf. “I hope you have five sixes.”

The human looked from the dwarf to his mug, and shook his head. The dwarf smirked. Then the human lifted his mug.

“I have six.”

Everyone at the table leaned in. The human showed two sixes and four ones. The gnome gasped. The other human snorted again. The dwarf who made the call cursed.

“Impossible!” growled the dwarf. “That’s the third time!”

“You should have raised,” said the human.

“You should stop cheating,” snarled the dwarf. He stood up from the table. Everyone fell silent. The human waved his hand.

“Take it easy. I’m not cheating,” answered the human. He was still sitting in his chair.

“Like hell,” answered the dwarf. He reached for the handle of the axe strapped to his back.

The human saw this. Before the dwarf could take hold of his weapon, the human lashed out with his right foot, kicking the dwarf hard just below the knee of his right leg. The dwarf lost his balance and fell forward. The human stood up, as did the others at the table. Other patrons around them, who had been enjoying their own gambling and drinking, turned at the sound of the scuffle breaking out. On the ground, the dwarf tried again to reach for his weapon. The human planted the hell of his boot on his hand as he got his fingers around the grip. The dwarfed barked a curse.

“Easy,” said the human. “It’s not worth it.” His right hand was poised on the handle of the mace on his hip.

“Dreis!” came a shout that cut through the din.

Another human was standing in the tavern doorway. His brown hair and mustache was peppered with gray. His dark, ankle-length coat and low-brimmed hat were the unmistakable garb of Stormwind Intelligence.

The dwarf craned his neck to look at the newcomer, then growled. “Alright. No trouble. Let off me.”

The human lifted his boot off the dwarf. Then he took his earnings off the table, pocketed them, and went to door.

“Good evening, Haydric. How’d you know to find me here?” he asked the other human waiting by the door.

Haydric smiled crookedly. “Because I know Stefan Dreis is a vulture. And Aaron told me where you’d gone after you left The Golden Stein.”

Stefan nodded. “Well I haven’t done anything.”

“I didn’t say you had,” answered Haydric. “I’ve got a case for you.”
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Re: Unsung Heroes (Story)

Post  Quixoticus on Sat Nov 19, 2011 10:03 pm

The floor, walls, and ceiling were all stone. It smelled like algae and piss. The only piece of furniture in the room was an overturned chair. Lying next to the chair was the bloody, shredded remains of a human. Stefan scoffed and carefully stepped over the pool of blood and began walking along the edge of the room. Haydric watched from the doorway.

“Interesting place,” commented Stefan. “How many more rooms are there like this?”

“They’re all over Stormwind,” answered Haydric. “They were part of the original sewer plans before the renovations. Beggars make use of them nowadays.”

“This man’s clothes are too nice for a beggar,” Stefan paused and made to inspect the corpse. “I think I recognize that vest. Tailor Erwin?”

“Beggars reported hearing screams. The body was here when Stormwind Guard arrived. No one saw anything,” continued Haydric.

Stefan inhaled loudly. “And the smell of burning ozone must have something to do with why SI:7 is here. Mage?”

Haydric shook his head. “There aren’t any signs of a fight. But there’s Fel residue all over the body.”

“Warlock, then,” said Stefan. “Some kind of ritual?”

“Except there aren’t indications of a ritual having taken place,” returned Haydric. “Even if the materials had been moved or destroyed, there would be left over magic residue. But the body is the only point of origin in the whole room.”

Stefan nodded. “Quite a mystery. What do you need me for, Haydric?”

Haydric shrugged coyly. “I thought you might ask around and see what some of your associates think.”

“Ah,” laughed Stefan. “My ‘associates.’ You’ve been around the nobles too long, Haydric.”

“Shut up,” said Haydric. “I need your help on this, Stefan. Just ask around for me.”

“What do I get out of this?”

Haydric groaned. “A favor from Stormwind Intelligence.” He turned toward the door. “I need to get going. Let me know if you find anything.”

---

Haydric and Stefan had been partners together in mercenary work for nine years, and then Haydric had decided he wanted to clean his act up. Stefan, who enjoyed the freedom of private contracting, had protested, but knew that he shouldn’t interfere with Haydric’s decision, because they had been friends and cohorts since they were children, and Stefan was certain that the decision wouldn’t affect their loyalty to one another. Since joining Stormwind Intelligence, Haydric and Stefan saw less of each other; usually, Haydric would contact Stefan when he needed to use “unofficial” channels of inquiry. Between Haydric’s position and Stefan’s connections to the seedier world of Stormwind under the radar, the two of them did well enough to manage the exorbitant costs of living in the Alliance metropolis. Stefan dreamed of when they could both retire and return to spending their days betting stables and drinking through the night.

Stefan reminisced on their nocturnal conquests as he made his way through Stormwind’s mage quarter en route to The Park. Beside the occasional night patrol, no one else was out on the streets. Stefan warded off most cutpurses with the two maces he kept on display from his waist belt. His only worry was running into a gang of thugs, but most of his enemies were in Old Town or the darker corners of the canal districts. In the mage quarter, all he ever ran into were young couples and nobles, who only spared him sidelong glances and upturned noses. Nice clothing was a waste in Stefan’s line of work, unless it was a disguise.

After arriving in The Park, Stefan went into one of the apartment blocks and climbed several flights of stairs to the third floor, went up to an apartment door, and knocked three times. The door, made of reinforced wood and metal lining, thumped dully. The hall was deathly quiet, so Stefan could hear movement coming from inside the apartment. A warm sensation passed over him as a scrying ward activated. Seconds later, the bolt clicked and the door slid open. By the dim light of a lamp inside the apartment, Stefan could see the face of a male draenei looking at him expectantly.

“Hello, Tahirus,” greeted Stefan.

“It’s three in the morning,” said the draenei.

“And you’re still awake,” answered Stefan.

Tahirus narrowed his eyes. “It’s still three in the morning.” The draenei nodded silently and stepped back to let him in. “Come in.”

A rug covered most of the floor in the first room. Shelves filled with books lined the far wall. To the right was a door that connected to the bedroom. To the left was a bay window looking out over the Park, and in front of the window, a large wood desk. The draenei went to the desk and sat in the tall-backed chair, then motioned for Stefan to sit across from the desk in one of the two guest seats.

“This feels expensive,” said Stefan as he sat down, sinking into the plush leather.

“It was a gift,” answered Tahirus.

“For a favor, I’m sure,” said Stefan. “That’s why I’m here at three in the morning. I need a favor, Tahirus.”

The draenei arched a brow at Stefan. “What’s so important that you couldn’t wait until tomorrow?”

“A murder,” started Stefan. “Fel magic’s involved. Naturally, I thought of you.”

“I’m sure you tell all the girls that,” said Tahirus.

Stefan laughed. “Well the funny thing is it smells like a summoning ritual, but it doesn’t look like one. There weren’t any visible signs of a ritual having taken place. There was just the body, and a lot of blood. It looked like something had forced its way out of the guy.”

Tahirus leaned forward. “Now that is interesting. In my experience, rituals can’t be performed without the necessary supplements. Cleaning up the aftermath isn’t easy. Making it disappear is impossible.”

Tahirus and Stefan sat in silence for a while. Eventually, the draenei spoke again.

“Judging by your description of the body and the remnants of the Fel, the victim was likely under some kind of demonic possession.” Tahirus’ eyes lit up. “But the ritual of summoning took place somewhere else.”

“So there’s a demon loose in Stormwind,” followed Stefan.

Tahirus nodded. “And a summoner, too. Most successful warlocks are careful not to perform a summoning ritual on his or herself. Who was the victim?”

“Don’t know,” answered Stefan. “Might be hard to identify him. There isn’t much left of his face. But he had nice clothes. Probably had money. Someone will miss him.”

“Find out who he is, then come see me,” said Tahirus.

“So you’ll help?”

Tahirus nodded. “As soon as you know who the victim is. He’s the only connection you have to the warlock who summoned the demon, and that’s your best chance at finding the demon. Now please go. I don’t like to entertain guests at three in the morning unless they’re spending the night, and you’re not my type in the slightest."
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Re: Unsung Heroes (Story)

Post  Quixoticus on Thu Jan 05, 2012 7:45 pm

Stefan didn’t have the resources to find out who the victim was. He left that up to Haydric, who would be able to go through missing persons reports, and if human was a noble as they suspected, someone would probably be missing him soon enough. After talking with Haydric, Stefan returned to Old Town to try a different angle. If he couldn’t figure out how the victim was, he could try to figure out who the warlock was.

“No. Hell no.”

As the gnome sitting across from Stefan said this, he leaned back in his chair and stood up straight. He gave Stefan a cautioned look. Stefan waves his hands nonchalantly.

“Why not, Lou?” asked Stefan. “I’m not asking for much.”

Lou scoffed. “The last time you said that, this happened,” he answered, running a finger down the length of a scar next to his left eye. “So unless you can guarantee that you’re not getting into someone’s business that you shouldn’t be, this conversation isn’t going any further.”

“I’m not chasing down some game, Lou. This is different.”

Lou made a face and mocked what Stefan said. The two sat silent as a bar maid approached their table and dropped off two flagons. They smiled at her, and when she was gone, Lou turned back to Stefan and sneered.

“It’s different every time, Stefan. Last time, a scar. Before that, my apartment got turned over. I see a pattern. You’re going to foot the bill for my broken legs.”

Stefan raised a hand for him to pause. “Lou, trust me. I really doubt there’s any game involved. You heard about the body in the canals?”

“Yeah, I did,” said the gnome. “What about it?”

“Well, I’m interested in the death. It’s very…unique.”

“Yeah, I heard that too. Fel magic.”

“Sound like something Ivan the Ferryman might have his fingers in?” asked Stefan.

“No way,” answered Lou. “Even Dirty Barry keeps his hands clean of the Fel stuff. That’ll get the whole city coming down on you if the word gets out.” Stefan made a face of intense interest, to which Lou groaned. “Alright. Alright. I see your point. But if I get the slightest hint that I’m walking in on someone’s racket, I’m out.”

“Deal,” said Stefan. “All I’m asking you to do is ask around and see if anyone new’s in town.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” answered Lou. “I’ll get back to you tomorrow or the day after. The sooner I’m done with you, the better my life expectancy gets.”

---

With Haydric, Tahirus, and Lou working angles, Stefan had no resources left to tap into. He had time to himself, at least for the afternoon and maybe even the next day. Stefan decided he should take the time to take care of something he’d been putting off for some time.

“Two fucking weeks!”

A woman was shouting down at Stefan from a second-story window. She repeated the phrase several more times, adding and exchanging colorful profanities each time. Stefan held a hand up to shield his eyes from the late-afternoon sun and smiled, though he groand under his breath.

“I was busy, Lorelle! Work’s been really busy—”

“Work? You don’t have a job!” cut in Lorelle.

“Well, not an honest one,” answered Stefan.

“There isn’t an honest thing about you, Stefan!”

The statement wasn’t true, but it wasn’t entirely false. Stefan decided he was better off remaining silent and just nodding slightly. Then, to the tragic fault of many men before him, he decided to speak.

“Can I have my things?”

Lorelle obliged in swift turn. From the window came an assortment of linens, the clothes that Stefan had left behind over the month that he had been seeing Lorelle. Some of clothes landed on the sidewalk, but just as much landed in the gutter.

“There you go! Anything else?”

Learning from his mistake the first time, Stefan remained silent and shook his head.

“Good. Now get lost and piss off some other woman.”

Lorelle retreated into her apartment and closed the shutters behind her. Stefan began retrieving the clothes from the ground that were still salvageable. It didn’t bother him that things were over for he and Lorelle. The sex was good, but they never seemed to get along well.

Not like he and Vera. They had gotten along just fine. Lorelle was like Julia before her, and Bea before her; poor attempts at finding something like he’d had with Vera. That’s what Stefan thought about as he headed back to his apartment. He smelled the clothes he had rescued from the street, smelling the vague scent of Lorelle beneath the freshly added fragrances of the street. He sighed, then swore under his breath. He stopped at a trash bin and tossed the clothes in.
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Re: Unsung Heroes (Story)

Post  Quixoticus on Fri Jan 27, 2012 5:53 pm

Haydric was the first to get a lead. The letter he sent Stefan told him to meet at the Plastered Pony just after noon. When Stefan arrived, he saw that Haydric wasn’t sitting alone. Stefan judged by the newcomer’s fit and manicured appearance that he was a noble. When Haydric introduced them, Stefan’s fears were confirmed.

“Stefan, this is Gerald Crese,” said Haydric.

“The Noble House? Those Creses?” replied Stefan.

Gerald, who did not hear Stefan’s sarcasm, but surely suspected, tilted his head and smiled. Haydric looked between them, and sensing an impasse, continued. “Gerald thinks he may know who the victim was.”

“Do you?” asked Stefan.

“A colleague of mine, Argyl Klein, failed to show up at the Noble Bonfire last week,” explained Gerald.

“Noble Bonfire? What is that, a cult?”

“A gathering of Noble Houses comprising Stormwind’s majority import and export industry,” replied Gerald, appearing unfazed by Stefan’s jab. “As leaders of industry, it is the responsibility of the Houses to ensure the abundance and availability of Stormwind goods. Argyl Klein never missed a meeting.”

“That was the night before we found him,” added Haydric.

Stefan nodded contemplatively. “When did you see him last?”

“Not for some time,” Gerald shrugged. “A week before the meeting, maybe two.”

“What about House Klein?” asked Stefan.

“I spoke to them the day after. They were under the impression that he’d been abroad on business.”

“You don’t think that’s true?”

Gerald shrugged. “If he had been away on business, why did he end up dead in a Stormwind sewer?”

---

After Gerald left, Haydric and Stefan reconvened. They both agreed that while Gerald helped them establish a vague timeline, it did not get them any closer to figuring out where the demon was.

“If there is a demon,” said Stefan. “What if the whole thing is a misdirect? What if it’s just a murder made to look like some summoning ritual, and the real trouble is a Stormwind noble power struggle? It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“You suspect Gerald?” asked Haydric.

“I suspect all Stormwind aristocrats,” answered Stefan. “They all stand to gain from eliminating the competition.”

“Well, if it is a misdirect as you say it is, then this case goes out of my hands and into the paws of Stormwind Internal Affairs,” explained Haydric. “Who knows what happens to the investigation after that.”

“It’ll disappear. Those shitheads are bought and paid for by the Stormwind Court,” sneered Stefan. “This has to stay with SI:7, even if it is strictly political. Fel is Fel. You can’t fake it. That’s good enough grounds to keep it your jurisdiction, right?”

“Nothing is sacred in Stormwind politics. If they really want to take this out of SI:7’s hands, they’ll throw jurisdiction rules right out the window,” groaned Haydric. “If we want to see this through, we need to do it quickly. Gerald Crese probably won’t keep quiet about it, whether the nobles are involved or not. I’m sure they’ve all got skeletons they’d like to keep from prying eyes.”

“You can’t be a Stormwind noble without a few skeletons,” said Stefan. “I have a contact that should be coming through for me in the next day or two. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
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