Provisional Junior Executive Blingg scowled as he stomped up the path to his front door. To call his company living quarters “modest” was far too generous. “Hovel-rific” was how he thought of it. The Consortium provided accommodations for its employees based on their previous year’s performance, and by all accounts Blingg’s previous year warranted not so much a house as a skritt hole.
“PJE Blingg, returning home,” he called. He discovered the hard way that if he didn’t announce himself before opening the door, the Consortium-provided home security golem would knock him down and stand on his ears until it verified his identity. Some Consortium executives considered such golems perks of the job. Blingg’s was more of a punishment/spy/bullying overseer put over him for the abysmal year he’d had.
The interior of Blingg’s hovel was silent and still. “Didn’t you hear me? I’m ho—” he started, but a hard-soled boot slammed into the middle of the asura’s back and sent him skidding across the rough wood floor. The door slammed shut, leaving Blingg gasping in the darkness with a face full of abrasions and a throat full of fear.
“Subdirector Blingg.” The voice was soft, cultured, and disturbingly calm. Blingg recognized the speaker and choked back his rising panic.
“Canach?” Blingg squeaked.
The intruder struck a match, revealing his cold, expressionless face. It was indeed Canach, and the sylvari mercenary was every bit as grim as Blingg remembered.
As soon as he saw recognition in Blingg’s face, Canach extinguished the match with a flick of his wrist and the room went dark once more.
“Noll.” Blingg hadn’t heard the sylvari move, but Canach’s voice now came from behind, directly in Blingg’s left ear. “Where is he?”
Blingg struggled to sound formidable. “I, uh—I’m not telling you anything. That’s how I got demoted in the first place.”
“Noll,” Canach said again, punctuating the word with the metallic sound of a dagger sliding from its sheath. “Where? Another freelance decommission team ambushed me last week. Two humans and a charr came for my head, saying, ‘Noll sends his regards.'”
“That has nothing to do with me.” Blingg hoped he sounded braver to Canach than he did to himself. “And where’s my golem? I’m responsible for it, you know.”
“Never mind the golem.” From behind Blingg, Canach struck another match and tossed it over the asura’s head to the floor. It landed next to a coarsely woven sack sitting between Blingg and the door, large enough that Blingg would have needed to sling it over his shoulder to carry it. The sack held three irregular shapes inside and had a small, dark stain seeping through the bottom to form a puddle beneath.
“Noll won’t get the head he was expecting. But I have these for him instead.”
The match sputtered and began to burn out as Blingg continued to stare at the grisly bundle, fixing on the pair of horns that had punched out through one side. He tried to come up with something to say that wouldn’t get his own throat cut. “Oh,” he said finally.
“They underestimated me. And now I’m going to settle things with our old colleague. If you don’t give me something I can use, I’ll take part of you with me when I go.”
“Southsun Cove.” Blingg licked his lips anxiously. “Noll’s establishing refugee settlements to give the unfortunate victims of the Molten Alliance a fresh start.”
“Which means they haven’t been able to sell enough vacation packages to the island.” Canach was close enough for Blingg to hear leafy hair rustling and smell the scent of freshly cut grass. “Or that they need a fresh influx of cheap labor.”
“Both, actually.” Blingg decided coming clean was his best chance of surviving the night. “And it’s not going well. Most of the settlers would have left already if not for the contracts they signed.”
Canach was silent in the darkness for a painfully long time, and then he said, “These contracts. Are they on Southsun Cove?”
“The originals are. Copies, too, if I know Noll. He’ll have filed them at HQ and with the Archives department.”
Blingg heard Canach’s dagger slide back into its sheath. Hope began to gnaw at the edges of his fear. “Does this mean I get to live?”
The door to Blingg’s hovel opened and waning daylight streamed in. The bloody bundle was gone from the floor, but the puddle remained.
Emboldened, Blingg snapped, “Wait. What about me? They’re going to scramble me like one of Owain’s omelets for talking to you.”
Canach paused in the doorway, the gruesome sack hanging heavily from his hand. “I don’t plan on telling anyone I was here. Neither should you.”
Blingg’s annoyance overrode his self-preservation and he made a dismissive, obscene noise. “Great plan. Let’s just say nothing and hope for the best.” He paused, and when Canach didn’t kill him or threaten to, he continued. “And what about my golem? I have to pay for it if anything—”
“Start saving your coins, then. I have something in mind for your tenacious metal friend. Rest assured, I’ll put it to better use than you ever could.”
The door slammed and the room went dark once more. After a few moments, Blingg exhaled loudly and dropped rump-first to the floor. He could report the golem missing, with no idea of where it went or why, and it would be 100% true. As a loyal Consortium employee, it was also his duty to find a higher-ranking executive immediately and warn his former colleague Noll what was coming his way. He should have leapt up right then, run straight to the home office, and told them everything.
Instead, Blingg eschewed the oil lamp by his night stand and fumbled around in the dark until he found the bottle of rotgut grog he kept under his bed.
“Good luck, Noll,” he said aloud. He uncorked the bottle, toasted to the dark and empty room, and took a long pull. Blingg shuddered as the fiery liquid burned all the way down to his gut. “You’re going to need it.”