The intensity of the blizzard we walked through made it difficult to walk, let alone see. Small shards of ice blew across our faces and sliced open our skins with minuscule razors. Then again such climate was normal in the Wayfarer Foothills, especially since we were so close to winter. Daniel and I found ourselves donning our coats while Serenity was forced to remove her armor. The plate metal was making it hard for her to move and it would have started giving her frostbite. Fortunately she had a spare set of thick clothing specifically made for this type of weather.
So far the situation was in our favor… to an extent. Of course we could not see further than a couple of meters in front of us, and we were forced to walk in a line to make sure we would not get separated. We were not under attack however, so at least we did not have to fight in these conditions.
“Any signs of a road?!” shouted Daniel as the bursting gale nearly silenced his voice.
“I think so!” I replied as I looked back at the human. “Mostly covered by the snow but it is a road alright.”
“We should stay alert!” warned Serenity. “Sons of Svanir frequent these areas, trust me, we don’t want to fight them out here!”
“I will remain alert!” I said as I continued to lead the group. We could see faint traces of an outline in the distance. We were close to a way out of this frozen wasteland, visiting Hoelbrak was never one of my favorite assignments, mainly because of the lands on the way there. The excessive amounts of snow made movement difficult and the freezing chill even made me shiver. Fortunately we were just about to leave this frozen land behind us.
“Just a little further!” we entered the chasm and managed to escape the blizzard. It was quite dark, but mostly due to the fact that the sun was beginning to set.
“About time we got here!” Daniel removed his hood and swiped the snow from his shoulders. Serenity mirrored his actions.
“Don’t worry, Daniel. It will all be worth it,” her honeyed words always seemed reassuring; I suppose speaking to others was her specialty. Good thing she never used her words to manipulate Daniel and I, something told me that she had been able to seduce multiple individuals before with her voice alone.
We continued to walk through the chasm, before long we could see the massive walls of ice split apart and reveal the darkening sky. We were very close now. The rocky surface of the road began to change into soft damp soil. The ferocious gale was now a gentle breeze, and we could hear the subtle sounds of distant individuals.
Then we made it out, and before us was a small outpost. We began to see multitudes of norns walk about accomplishing their daily tasks; the grand majority was out hunting. Homesteads were perched above hills with the sound of songs and the smell of mead in the air. There was a moot going on alright, of course such events were frequent with the norn.
We went on and advanced further into the outpost, soon we found yet another road, but this one veered out of the outpost and into a set of massive, wooden gates in the distance. Finally, we could get some rest.
Serenity took the lead and began to make her way towards the city gates, Daniel and I followed her keeping a steady pace.
We once again came into a snowy scenery as we officially entered Hoelbrak. We were met with massive wooden lodges, statues of different creatures made entirely of ice, and the occasional inebriated norn. I do admit that the journeys to this area were tedious, but it was always rewarding to finally arrive. Sightseeing was normally held off until after we had received our reward though. Serenity motioned us to stay closer as she pulled her hood over her head. Daniel and I did the same; overall the walk was not much, we only needed to travel to the Trade Commons, that was what our contractor had instructed us to do at least.
We did our best to act inconspicuous, or as inconspicuous as three hooded figures could behave, fortunately it was quite crowded in the area so the task was much easier than it sounded. Then we spotted our contract. A human clad in a black hooded cloak, from the looks of it he was looking at the stand of meats right in front of him.
This next part required subtlety. We allowed Daniel to take on the next part of our contract, he always did have a knack for moving about unnoticed. Serenity and I decided to move to a jewelry stand and pretend to be interested in the goods. Meanwhile, Daniel slithered into the crowd avoiding everyone while blending in. I spotted him nearing the human in black, with one swift movement Daniel placed the letter he was holding into the hand of the other human. Then I heard a thick gruff voice call out through the crowd.
“By Ogden’s hammer, what savings!” he made his voice sound exactly like a Norn. It always surprised me how well these individuals could mask their voice. We received the hidden message within his outburst and began to make our way out of the area as quickly and as calmly as possible. In no time at all we were outside of the trade commons and making our way towards the city center.
It never ceased to amaze me how the Secros would be so independent yet so connected. The transportation and trade of information was a simple yet elegantly intricate process.
First comes the one with the information they want transported, we call these the Meddlers. They search for an Informant. Once they have established a business arrangement, the Meddler normally begins with “I need someone who can carry a secret”. The Informant, also known as the Trader, sends the Meddler to one who we call the Contractor. They carry all the jobs, once the Meddler discusses business with the Contractor he informs the Secros around the area that he is available for business. Once the Secro accepts the job, he goes and fulfills his part of the task.
Once the Secro arrives to his target destination he either takes the message to who it was meant for, or it is given to a Raven. The Raven is one who is trusted between all members of the Secros and they handle the partition of the rewards. And finally there is one that is not mentioned much if at all, and these are the closest we have when it comes to leaders, they are called Observers. They are masters of deception and subtlety, and they never reveal their true identity. The Observer is normally hidden in plain sight as he looks over all the Secros in the area. They work in unison with a Trader as a source of extremely confidential information, and through the Trader the Observer can update every single one who is part of the Secros of vital information.
This information can vary, it can be either a particular Raven has gone rogue or even a specific Meddler is to be avoided at all costs. Everyone relies on the Observers and they are always watching. That is basically how the hierarchy works. All of it working under the public’s nose, disguised as common sayings or odd gestures. Like I said, simple, yet elegantly intricate.
We continued onward towards the location where the Raven had ‘pointed’. A Raven rarely ever carries the reward with him unless if there is an urgent exception, but this was not the case; so we merely go to a ‘Drop Point’(all of this is specified by the Contractor before we set out). In this case, we were told to travel towards the Hall of Legends. We immediately made our way towards Vheratha’s tavern, a small area that was out in the open, large kegs of beer were lined along the edge of the tavern and it also lacked walls. The support beams were all that held the roof up, so snow was common place in this tavern. Fortunately there was a small area where one could sit down next to a fire, so we decided to choose this spot so we could get rid of the chill that had seeped into our muscles.
After a short rest, I signaled one of the barmaids. The norn approached us with an empty tray and a hearty smile. “Whot can I getcha’?” She asked with an arm on her hips, the sound of her voice was very thick and gruff.
I decided to take action on this part of the transaction. “We would like something that can get rid of the burdens of past curses.”
That was all she needed to hear, she crossed her hands and began to speak without the sound of her voice being altered. “Alright,” she said in a soft serene voice, “wait right here my travelers.” The barmaid disappeared to the back as we moved to an empty table.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that voice changing thing they do,” said Daniel in a hushed tone, “I mean, how do you know they’re using their real voice?”
“You can tell if they talk in their sleep,” said Serenity, “I used to share a bed with one… then I blackmailed him.”
“What did he say?” I asked.
“Well let’s just say that it was enough for me to be a hundred gold pieces richer the next day.”
We all shared a laugh as we noticed the barmaid returning. “Enjoy!” she said returning to her disguised voice and placing two large mugs on the table, however instead of mead the mugs had a brown leather sack on the inside. Daniel and I took the considerably large pouches and checked the contents, Serenity was right, this job did pay well. We both stored our winnings into our packs.
“Anything else ya want?” the barmaid offered. Daniel placed a silver coin on the table, “I’ll have some mead and some stew would be good.”
Serenity did the same, “I’ll have what he’s having,” She jerked her head towards Daniel. I retrieved three silver coins from my coin purse and placed them on the table as well. “Something warm and without alcohol, and meat, lots of meat.”
The barmaid left us as she went to retrieve our order, in no time she returned with a tray full of food and drinks.
“I believe now would be a good time to discuss the complications we faced on the jouney,” I said right before I took a bite of the roasted beef.”
“I agree,” said Serenity taking a large swig of her mead, “It concerns me how quick they were to attack again. Also assassins are very bad for business.”
“So either they want to cripple your company,” said Daniel, “or they just want Anavari and me dead for surviving their last attack.”
“It is most likely the latter,” I said, “I could remember their leader saying that they could not allow us to live because we have seen them. Also, that we are delaying their search for a very valuable target.”
“So our stalkers have a bigger prey in mind,” Serenity began to stir her spoon around her stew as she thought, “but who is this unlucky bastard?”
“Unlucky or no,t we have a bigger problem,” I added. “He knew about our line of work, he knew about the Secros.”
I noticed Daniel and Serenity’s eyes widen. They both exchanged a glance of worry before either of them spoke.
“How can that be?” asked Daniel in disbelief, “we take all the precautions, no one is supposed to know about us!” he caught himself before he raised his voice any further, “so how could these guys find out about the Secros?”
“Now that’s a good question,” said Serenity, “we even train ourselves to remain secretive when we’re drunk… I don’t see how any information could have possibly slipped…”
Just then a thought had occurred to me, it was highly unlikely, for anyone in the Secro business might as well be someone you can trust your life with… But it was not a completely ludicrous conclusion. “What if these assassins have someone who is sending information from the inside?”
“What are you saying, Anavari?” asked Daniel. I leaned in and Serenity and Daniel did the same, I then lowered my voice to a whisper. “The assassins could have sent someone to join us, and it is possible that he or she may have succeeded. Of course I have no evidence, it is just a theory.”
Both of my companions realized the possibility of our network being compromised, it was not something any of us wanted to admit but our complex society was not perfect. We had to inform everyone, and I could tell that both Humans were thinking the same.
“We’ll have to do a bit of Singing,” said Serenity. Singing was a term we used when we wanted to spread a message as quickly as possible. “Do any of you two know a Contractor in this city?”
Daniel and I froze from the question. “D-does it have to be a Contractor?” asked Daniel with gritted teeth and a smile.
Serenity simply looked at both of us with suspicion and said, “Well yeah, we need someone who can contact the Ravens with little effort. Besides I don’t do much business in this part of Tyria so I don’t know many people around Hoelbrak.”
Daniel and I sighed. We knew a Contractor alright, but it did not mean that we enjoyed doing business with him.
“Well there is someone we know,” I said. “But-”
“Fantastic!” Interrupted serenity, she downed the contents of her mug and stood from her table. “I’ll go fetch a few Ravens while you two go get him, we’ll meet in The Great Lodge.”
With that she left Daniel and I alone in the tavern. I rested my head against the table as I rubbed my temples. “There’s no way out of this is there?” I asked Daniel who had his hands buried in his hair.
“Nope,” said Daniel. “Can I please kick him?”
“Ugh! You never let me have any fun…” the Human sat back on his chair as he pouted.
“He’s a Contractor,” I warned. “We cannot afford to upset him.”
“Fine, I’ll try to behave…”
Fortunately for us the Bear Lodge was nearby. However, fortunate became an extremely relative term for the both of us. The reason for this is because this Contractor was a norn who went by the name of Argus.