Skulks and Ghosters

Thorn shoved his chair back and stumbled to his feet when the trio entered the common room. His dicing partners did the same, before they decided to go a step farther and scurry out behind the bar. Thorn almost said something, but was interrupted as his legs tangled themselves around his own chair and he found himself flat on his back.

“Peace skulk.” One of the three said. She wore a patronizing smile, as if he were a child jumping at shadows.

The inn emptied around him.  The newcomer’s stances were easy, relaxed even, but the trademark curved blades of their profession were at their hips. You didn’t take chances with Ghosters. Everyone else in the room had known it…which is why Thorn was alone. None of the three gave any chase and Thorn’s stomach turned, they were here for him.

“We’re here to talk Thorn.” The man in front said. He was substantially older than his apprentices and the only one not wearing a stupid smile.

“Talking is fine.” Thorn said slowly and didn’t move. He looked up at the man, taking in the grey at his temples and the firm enunciated way he talked. The Ghoster knew his name, which usually meant he was a dead man breathing. The long knife in his boot would do him little good against three assassins, he knew and they did too. “What do you want with me?”

“Stelle, go see if you can recover someone to get us drinks. Lad, sit down.” The young woman at his side gave Thorn one last condescending smile before moving out the way the rest of the inn’s patrons escaped.

“Your name then?” Thorn pushed himself to his feet but he didn’t sit. It was a foolish bit of defiance, but he didn’t like being bullied and the man hadn’t answered his last question. He believed they hadn’t come to kill him, which meant they might actually need him for something. It was bad, but better than the alternative.

“Josten Sierder.”  Josten slid into the seat across from Thorn’s unoccupied chair.

Thorn blinked. A surname was rare in the dregs of the united port, though so was the way Josten talked and the clean tailored clothes the three wore.

Josten’s other apprentice remained by the door, arms crossed over his chest and blocking the exit with a bored smile. Thorn sat and tried to keep from twitching every time the man breathed behind him. “What do you want then?” He repeated himself.

“I’d like to hire you; you’re a skulk after all. A difficult job fell into my lap and I need someone who can get us into places we are not supposed to be.” Josten looked to where Stelle had left and then back to Thorn.

“Why me? There are other skulks.” Thorn briefly considered the wisdom in antagonizing an experienced Ghoster, but he’d survived things laid out to kill him before, and it hadn’t been by trusting men with curved swords.

An exasperated breath was coupled with rolled eyes.  “Gods below boy, is this how you respond to all career prospects?” Josten twitched before Thorn could answer, half standing. The door to the back opened and the Harl, the innkeep was pushed in with Stelle close at his heels wearing the smile she’d left with. Josten relaxed and turned back to the table. “You were recommended. Loka at The Siren’s Soul said you knew the castle district catacombs. Which is specifically where we need to go. That is why you.

Harl set down two drinks between him and the assassin, giving Thorn a murderous look in the process. Thorn didn’t blame him; he’d brought a mess to Harl’s doorstep. That said, this mess was well timed, his last jobs pay had only gone so far and Thorn had a nagging feeling he should be eating more, he was looking less wiry and more skinny as of late. Besides Loka was a true sort, and should have no reason to sell him up.

“Are you interested?” Josten seemed annoyed Thorn was requiring this much prompting.

Thorn considered thanking the man for pretending there was a choice involved in the offer. You just didn’t piss off people who killed other people for a living. Instead he took the one option that was truly on the table.  “I’ll take half now. As in, half before you leave this bar. The rest after. Normal break, enter and lead pay?”

Josten nodded and pulled a thick purse from his grey coat. “This is half the normal, and a quarter.  That will double when we get back. Catacombs are not a safe place, so we make it worth it.”

“If it were a safe place you wouldn’t need a skulk.” But Thorn took the purse and tucked it away in one of his thin pockets. Josten drained his glass in one pull, impressive considering the taste of Harl’s ale. When the man stood he looked down at Thorn again. “See, just talking. Be ready tomorrow at nightset, on the west bridge.”

Thorn nodded. The trio left, vanishing through the door and into the dark of port streets. He wasn’t dead by curved blade and he had silver in his pocket. Better than when the night had started at least. The job tomorrow would be unpleasant, but then people didn’t pay to be taken into nice safe places.

Behind him, Harl cleared his throat. Thorn twisted to look at the spindly innkeeper. “You’re gonna regret that.” Harl said.

Thorn opened his mouth. Closed it, and then thought about it. “Probably. Couldn’t really say no though.”

Harl gave a half shrug, half nod. It was true. “Good luck Thorn.” He said and plucked the empty and full ales from the table. “Now get yer ass out of my bar. I don’t serve dead men.”

The innkeeper shuffled away and Thorn sighed. Time to find another bar.

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