Clockworks Chronicles of Zahn: The Immortals’ Game
1) Along Comes a Spider
This was another night in Grandeur City like any other night. The city had been busy rebuilding after the ill-fated coup attempt by High Lord James XVI of Calador two months prior.
Murielle Alexander, accompanied by two Shadowmen guards, entered the Cog and Gear Pub. Her top hat and long coat were as black as a lump of coal. She entered the bar not for the drink, or music or the ever-present game of darts. No, she was there looking for a specific person. As her eyes swept the room, she saw in the back of the room her target. A woman who’s head of long black hair with streaks of gray were topped by a black suede top hat. The woman’s hair attracted her eye, but the glasses clipped to her nose confirmed her identity.
Her name was Tara James. Murielle didn’t know her real name, but then again, many such individuals used aliases for protection against magical attacks and tracking. Tara was a bounty hunter. Not just any bounty hunter but one who specialized in finding those hard to find and killing those who were hard to kill. What most didn’t know was she was so good because she had been doing it for over 150 years. You see, Murielle had found out Tara was a demi, the child of an immortal.
Murielle also knew that the name Murielle Alexander was probably on the top of Tara’s list, so she had to proceed very carefully. She went over to the woman and asked, “Tara James?”
“Da.” Her smokey Slavic accent was obvious and she nodded.
Murielle nodded and sat down across from her in her booth. Then got the bartender’s attention and held up two fingers then pointed at Tara’s martini.
The bartender nodded and started preparing two vodka martinis.
Murielle then turned back to Tara and said, “I’m…”
“I know who you are Miss Alexander.”
“Good. Then introductions will be quick. I have a job for you.”
“Currently, YOU are my job. You do realize that? There’s a bounty on you that almost borders on the obscene.”
“Yes, quite.” Murielle said with a chuckle. She then looked at Tara intently and said, “I’m prepared to offer you one hundred thousand sovereigns to track down and capture one Calvin Cooper. You see, he has something of mine that I desperately want back.”
“And why would I go after the Empress’ man?”
“Because he has a sword that, in the hands of an immortal, can kill other immortals. The very sword that killed your father.”
Tara took a long drag off of her cigarette and blew the smoke directly into Miss Alexander’s face, “And this means what to me?”
“It’s possible that it was Cooper who killed your father. No other immortal has had this sword in their possession since my great, great grandfather forged it.”
Tara maintained her ‘Devil may care’ expression on her face but if you knew where to look, there was a barely perceptible change in her ice blue eyes. They shifted to a cold glint that could freeze one’s soul. The very look that Miss Alexander tried to keep in her eyes whenever dealing with dangerous clients. However, for Tara it appeared to be a natural expression, not a deliberately practiced affectation.
As Murielle saw this, she pondered one of the long-standing questions among very select circles; Was Tara the bounty hunter really just another alias for Malice the legendary assassin? She didn’t think so, but she was betting her life on it. Dealing with Tara was like petting a sleeping lion. Malice, however, would be like trying to pickpocket an enraged sabretooth with a porkchop around your neck. A throw of the dice she needed to win, because Malice would definitely recognize her lie
Tara shrugged and said, “Perhaps I’m interested, perhaps I’m not. What is to keep me from collecting the bounty on you then going after Colonel Cooper?”
“Only I can destroy the sword. It has to be destroyed by one of the blood that was forged into to it in the beginning.” Murielle said while trying to match Tara’s cold glare.
Tara was confident in her ability to tell if someone was lying to her. She didn’t see a lie in Alexander’s eyes. She concluded that Alexander was either telling the truth as she believed it, or she was a very accomplished liar. She did, however, know that Miss Alexander wasn’t telling the whole truth either. She continued to glare at Miss Alexander while she thought it over before she made her reply.
“Very well. I will take job but I require half in advance.”
Miss Alexander smiled coldly belying the relief that flooded her being.
“I anticipated and prepared for that.” She held up her hand and the man standing to her left reached under his coat and unbuckled a belt pouch that was obviously heavy and set it in the middle of the table. It made a hefty thud and jingle sound as it was set down.
Tara reached over and unbuckled the bag’s clasp. Opening it revealed a wealth of gold coins.
The other man with Murielle waited until the first man finished then he repeated the actions of the first, with the same results.
Tara smiled subtly and said, “Very well. This will engage my services. But, once our particular business is finished and you have destroyed the sword, I will be hunting you again. I cannot forget my duty.”
Murielle smiled and said, “Fair enough. But until then I will feel immensely safer knowing that you are not actively looking for me.”
Tara reached up and removed her glasses to put her cold glare on full display and said, “If I find that you are lying to me, there will not be safe place on Zhan for you.”