Spring, Year 113 of the Third Age
10 Months before the events of Animus Lost
Fritz strolled into the Muddled Mongrel, a small tavern on the outskirts of Crossing, and waved at the barkeep as he walked to the room he had rented a few nights before. He arrived at his door and fiddled around in his pockets for the room key. His fingers swiped across the ring he’d recently acquired, as he fumbled for the key, eventually bypassing it for the key itself.
Fritz didn’t like the ring, it gave off an eerie aura that reminded him of being underdressed in winter. But, he couldn’t argue with a ten-thousand gold reward for such a simple task. The Solomon Estate was mostly guarded on it’s perimeter, and Fritz didn’t even see any guards on the inside. Aside from the occasional servant or two—one of which he had to subdue because he had accidentally backed himself into a room—the place was basically dead. His employers had chosen an ideal time to give him the contract, as Lord Solomon and company were off in Cliffport for Imperial business.
Fritz took the key out his pocket, shaking off the cold feeling from the ring, and unlocked his room door. He entered the room and stretched before taking off his pack. After closing his door and tossing his backpack to a corner of the room, he moved to a coat rack and started to take off his overcoat, but was interrupted as a small metal clinking noise echoed throughout the room. Fritz glanced down and saw the 10,000-gold ring slip under his bed. Fritz sighed and hung his coat up before kneeling down to look under the bed.
Luckily, the ring was just about an arm’s length away from him, so there was no need to move the bed. Laying on his stomach, he reached his hand under the bed, blindly feeling for the ring. After a moment, he noticed it—slightly further away then he had predicted—so he began batting at it with his middle finger. Before he could react, the ring slipped over the top of his finger, and shot down to the joint where the finger met his palm.
Fritz recoiled in surprise as an intense burning sensation erupted in his hand and slowly crawled up his arm. All Fritz could do was clench his jaw, and try to apply as much pressure as he could as the pain kept advancing. After what felt like an eternity of agony, the burning reached his shoulder, and—surprisingly—stopped as swifty as it started.
Sweating, Fritz stayed on the ground for a few more seconds before taking a deep breath and slowly sitting up. He examined his hand, and found a burn mark on where the ring had settled, before torturing his arm; but the ring itself was gone. Instead, was a dark band had appeared, wrapped around his finger where the ring had been. After wiping sweat off his forehead with his other hand, he examined the rest of his arm: a serpent pattern had been burned into his arm, starting with its head on the back of Fritz’s hand, and running up to the top of his shoulder.
Fritz stood and began pacing the room, all the time reexamining the new “tattoo” he had acquired. He needed to get the ring off—if he could, he might still get paid for the job. But then, the contracted stated that they’d know if he tried to wear it, on purpose or not; he guessed that they had a good idea of what the ring would do, if worn. After several more minutes of thought, he settled on something that had worked a long time ago. He had to run, but he didn’t want to make the same get-away as last time. Fritz actually liked this new life of his.
He pulled out the chair of a small desk the room had provided, and pulled out a piece of parchment from his travelpack. He dipped his pen, and wrote:
Dear Geoffrey Finkel,
In light of recent events, I will be unable to complete my current contract. As such, I need you to pass on a message to Ashll Rad’yer. Tell her that she was right about the contract and to go into hiding as soon as possible. I fear that my contractors won’t just target me in this matter but her as well.
I ask you, Geoff, that you don’t just leave a note, but wait for her return and tell her personally. You can also regard this message as my resignation from the Guild of Deals. I thank you and your father for your support over the years.
After signing the letter, Fritz folded it, and placed it in an envelope. Once he had addressed it to Geoffrey, he sealed the envelope and grabbed all his gear. Fritz looked over the room to make sure nothing was left behind and, then, headed to the bar.
Fritz walked into the main room of the tavern and headed straight towards the bar. After sitting down, he looked around the room. There was nothing out of the ordinary. There were farmers enjoying their time off for the day, what appeared to be a very drunk monk, and a small group of mercenaries who were enjoying a game of cards. Satisfied that the room was safe, he addressed the barkeep.
“Hey Bloche,” Fritz called to the ‘keep, trying to keep an upbeat attitude as he placed a few gold pieces—and his letter—on the table, “I’ll be checking out tonight. Mind sending a letter off for me? I’ve included the price of sending it, and little extra.”
“‘Course, Fritz,” Bloche, a slightly heavy man who wore a dirty cloth apron, said as he walked down the bar towards Fritz, “mind if I ask why you’re leaving? You got the room for another night.”
“Finished business earlier than expected,” Fritz replied flatly, “Can I get an ale before I head off?”
Bloche nodded, took the coins and letter, then served Fritz a pint of ale before returning back to his business of cleaning mugs with a slightly dirty rag. Fritz liked Bloche, the keep was friendly and didn’t press for information. Over the past several days, he had come to know a bit of the man. If Fritz got this ring business settled, the Muddled Mongrel would be a good place to come back to.
Fritz took a sip of his ale and realized that one of the mercenaries, a Cambion, was observing him. Most specifically, he was eyeing the serpent’s head that showed on Fritz’s hand. Realizing that Fritz had noticed him, he casually returned to his card game. It was time to go. He wouldn’t put it past his unknown employers to hire mercenaries, give them orders to stake out the taverns of Crossing, and make sure Fritz was doing his job to the letter.
Fritz stood, mug in hand, and walked down the bar towards the drunken monk. He placed the mug, as well as a gold coin, in front of the monk. The monk looked up at Fritz, his eyes glazed over and his mouth slightly ajar.
“A gift from the ‘keep,” Fritz said, feigning a smile. “Feel free to get those fine gentlemen playing cards a round from me.”
“Mur drinks,” the monk mumbled before standing up and starting his journey to the barkeep. “‘M happier than a duck in a pond.”
As the monk got the ‘keep’s attention for more drinks, Fritz casually strolled towards the exit. Before he stepped outside, he heard the sound of the monk crashing into the card game, drinks in hand. Fritz smiled as he left the Muddled Mongrel, and headed towards the lightning rail station.
Fritz stood on an unusually crowded lightning rail station, for the time of day. He looked around the terminal for several seconds before finding his target. The train was going to arrive any second now, and Fritz needed a ticket without a paper trail.
Fritz approached an armored orc with a bundle of parchment sticking out of his belt talking to lightly armored human with bow. Fritz kept his gaze set on a point beyond. Once close, Fritz ‘tripped’ and bumped into the orc. He gracefully picked and pocketed the papers, apologized to the orc, and continued down the terminal. Once out of direct line of sight from the orc, he checked the papers. Viola, a few papers down was a direct ticket to Cliffport.
A few moments later, the train arrived. While passengers disembarked, a line formed to present tickets and board the train. Fritz made sure to enter the line several people in front of the orc he acquired his ticket from. After giving the conductor his ticket and being instructed to go to the third train car, Fritz boarded the lightning train.
Fritz entered the assigned traincar to see a an assorted bunch of mercenaries. Fritz froze in for several seconds before a rather short dwarf spoke. “Ye lost, lad?” The dwarf asked, looking up at Fritz, “This be th’ compartment for great adventurers and mercenaries goin’ to Cliffport, to protect mapmakers of the Cartographers Guild.”
Fritz smiled and sat down in the chair next to the dwarf, “Nope, not lost anymore.”
“Good, good,” the dwarf replied, sticking out his hand. “The name be Albin.”