The Assassin Arrives by Nesthya


Under the cover of night, a hooded figure makes her way through the filthy alleyways. She hunts silently, stealthily, expertly, tracking her prey any and all obstacles that stand in her way, be they living or inanimate. In either case, they either move or are moved.

She finally arrives at the designated place, or rather, a safe distance from it. An open town square, illuminated brightly by burning lamps on the streets, with nothing inside of it to provide cover should it be needed. There, on one of the benches, sat her target, twiddling his thumbs and looking around eagerly, as if waiting for someone. His extramarital lover, no doubt, as Nesthya had been informed by his wife. She had long suspected an affair underway and had contacted Nesthya to investigate further. As expected, the man was seen several times having intimate encounters with this other woman. In her rage, the wife had ordered them both killed and paid an impressive sum of money for the deed. Without emotion, Nesthya had taken the money pouch and set off on her mission.

And there he was, waiting for his regularly scheduled nooky. He evoked no emotion in Nesthya; as far as she was concerned, he was simply game to be hunted, taken down as quickly and silently as possible so as not to alert others. Hidden behind some dense shrubs and covered by a tree, she drew back the string on her crossbow and leveled it to her face, placing the steel sights slightly above his neck. Her hands were steady, her breath was controlled, and she waited. She waited for the other target to appear.

Soon enough, the female lover came into view from one of the darker streets. She was dressed in a dark blue robe, contrasting with the man's flamboyant pink and yellow suit. He rose to greet and embrace her; Nesthya never allowed her sights to move from his chin. Eventually, the man was behind the woman, beginning his usual ritual of petting and caressing her body. "Even better," thought Nesthya. "One bolt will be enough." Following the man, the sights on her crossbow came to rest on the woman's chin, directly in front of the man's. For a second, the moonlight filtered through the leaves above her and reflected off the needle-sharp, steel tip of the bolt. She froze, afraid that the lovers would see the faint bit of light and realize something; but, no, they were too busy with each other's intimate caresses. Satisfied, Nesthya reacquired her sights, made some final, minuscule adjustments to her aim, and squeezed the trigger on the crossbow.


In a fraction of a second, the two bodies found themselves attached to each other in a way very different than the one they probably had in mind. The bolt had penetrated both of their necks smoothly, perforating their windpipes and allowing blood to seep into their lungs. Nesthya observed coldly from her hiding spot as they clutched at their necks, gasping silently for air, not knowing that they were just accelerating the drowning process.

In less than a minute, they were both dead and lying in a fairly large pool of blood on the floor, still joined at the neck. Nesthya waited patiently for a minute to see if anyone would come running to the scene. No one did. Satisfied that she had completed the task well, Nesthya ran over to the two corpses and began sifting through their personal belongings. The man had nothing but a few coins, but the woman was well adorned with jewelry and carried a small bag with an assortment of herbs and spices. With a sniff, Nesthya recognized them as aphrodisiac. They could be quite valuable to the right person. Picking up everything she deemed valuable enough to carry from them, Nesthya ran back off into the shadows.

She would not contact her employer again unless it was for another job. She had completed this one successfully and was content. Now, the only things left to do were sell the valuables and wait for someone else to be angry enough to hire an assassin...

After dropping off her loot with her usual merchant and getting the usual rates for it, Nesthya headed back to her home. It wasn't so much a house as it was a cabin, located out in the woods. It was sufficiently far off the path so that regular travelers wouldn't find it, but not so lost that it would be too inconvenient to head into town for supplies. Not that she did that too often, though; most of her weapons were handmade by herself so well that they needed little if any maintenance, and she knew how to fix them better than anyone. Any supplies she needed for living or repairs, she could easily get from materials in the forest, and the more exotic ones were in the hands of her specially-trusted merchants. They demanded more coin for their special wares, but it was usually affordable due to the money she made from selling loot. She made sure that the string on the crossbow was nice and taught, there was no significant wear on the weapon, hung it up on the rack next to her dagger and katana, and then sat back on her chair.

She admired her weapons rack. All three of the weapons had names and histories. The crossbow was True Sight, named after the spell, and with good reason. She had originally made it as a regular, albeit superior-quality, crossbow, to make hunting easier from a distance. In a particularly nasty mission, though, she had been sent to take out a mage. Not knowing of her target's magical powers, she had fitted a regular bolt into the weapon and aimed in her accustomed way, only to be surprised when the bolt hit what seemed like a solid wall on the mage's body and dropped to the floor, having hit a leftover Stoneskin. She quickly fitted another bolt into her crossbow and aimed at the mage, hoping to take him out quickly before he discovered her position. He, having discovered that he was under attack, began to cast True Sight and finished the final syllable at the exact moment that Nesthya let loose with the second bolt. An curious side effect then occurred: as the magical energy rushed towards her to reveal her hiding place in the shadows, for some strange reason it interacted with the metallic sights on the crossbow, apparently infusing it with the spell's power. Fortunately for Nesthya, the first bolt had done away with the Stoneskin spell so that the second one found its mark in the mage's chest, dropping him almost instantly. Since then, however, she had both learned a lesson in investigating her targets better, and a new respect for the weapon. The effects of the True Sight spell were manifested in whatever direction the crossbow was pointed, making even magically-concealed targets easy to acquire.

Her eyes shifted to the dagger, named Ecstasy. That history was also interesting. One of her first assassinations was the leader of a whore house in the city slums. She had made her way in by disguising herself as one of the pleasure girls and quickly learned where and how to find the chief. At the time, he was partaking of the special talents of a particular girl in his private chamber, and both of them were quite engrossed in it. Nesthya had snuck in through a window that had been carelessly left open and hid behind the couch where they were both having fun. Realizing that she might not be able to secure an instant kill with all the movement that was going on, she decided to coat the dagger in a special poison before attempting it. She ran the dagger along a rag that had been soaked in the lethal liquid, prepared herself, and lunged almost blindly. Sure enough, her dagger failed to gash the throat open completely, but Nesthya took off after that single swipe and disappeared into the night. The next morning, she learned from talk on the street that the man had died shortly after the wound had been inflicted, supposedly from poisoning more than the actual wound. Smiling inwardly, Nesthya later modified the normal dagger's handle so that, if the user pressed it in a certain way, it would secrete a poison of choice onto the blade's edge to prepare it for the attack.

Nesthya looked at the third weapon, her katana Effigy. It was the only one of her three primary weapons that she had not made herself, but acquired from another person. Effigy was actually the first special weapon she had gotten in her profession, back when she was still learning the stealth and deception abilities of the regular thief. Nesthya had been invited to attend an underground fighting contest in which the best warriors and martial artists of the region were competing for a powerful magical weapon, Effigy. It was rumored that Effigy could actually make the wielder take on the appearance of anyone he or she thought about. Even if they did not know the exact face, such as that of a complete stranger's friend, it was only necessary that the observer know the face for the wielder to be transformed; such was the power of deception that the sword granted its user. After much bloody combat, and the occasional death due to overzealous combatants, a victor emerged and claimed the prize. The cocky woman rushed to the pedestal where the weapon had been placed, grabbed it, and started twirling it fancifully in front of the audience and other contestants. In her arrogance, she challenged anyone in the stands to a final battle for its ownership. Annoyed by that, Nesthya had stepped forward with her own quarterstaff to take on the champion. Everyone except her laughed at the sight, and the champion stepped closer to Nesthya, sizing her up. When she had gotten to within six feet of her, she suddenly changed appearance and became like Nesthya's mother when she was younger. The champion opened her arms confidently and spoke in Nesthya's mother's voice, pleading with her to hold back and not kill her. She did not know that Nesthya had killed her own mother for severe abuse when she was younger, and ended up only stirring greater anger in her. Though not all that fast, but unexpectedly, Nesthya whipped her staff forward at the champion and caught her flat on the chest, knocking her to the ground. As the other combatant fumbled for the katana, Nesthya took two strides forward, whirled her staff above her head to gain momentum, and brought it down hard on the other woman's face, ramming her nose-bone deep into her skull-- and brain. After a moment of involuntary twitching, the woman lay dead on the floor. Nesthya stepped forward and picked up the prize sword, getting a feel for its weight and balance. Satisfied that she could wield it somewhat competently with her then-limited knowledge of sword fighting, she walked back to the spectator area and exited the place silently; surprisingly enough, none of the observers tried to touch her or the blade.

After reminiscing for a few moments, Nesthya got up to prepare herself for bed. She performed her routine inspection of the doors, windows, and traps, and then headed for the bath in the back.

The following morning, Nesthya awoke to the shrill chirping of birds outside her window. "Another morning, another job. Hopefully," she thought. Business had been a bit slim lately, partly because of some blasted priests of Lathander and Helm who had been moving through town, preaching the wonderful word of light justice, teaching people the ways of morality, ethics, and justice. Idiots, all of them, both priests and listeners. If people were behaving themselves, then no one was angry at nobody else, and if no one held grudges, then there was no work for Nesthya. If there was no work for Nesthya, then Nesthya had no income, and if Nesthya had no income, then she would have to resort to the work of the common thief. She shuddered at the mere thought of the concept of going back to the life she once held of sneaking in the shadows, waiting for the wealthiest-looking person to come along just so she could wave a blade in his face and have him give up the purse. Of course, there was always the macho who thought he could take on a common thief, and it was quite possible, but Nesthya was anything but a common thief. Her extensive training and experience put her more than a few notches above just about any cutpurse and pickpocket, and that was without considering her combat skills. Nesthya had taken out her share of dutiful guards in her day; her proud record was offing four guards and coming out of it without a scratch. Not just any guards, mind you, but some of the personal bodyguards of some rich, renowned politician in Waterdeep. And she hadn't just snuck up on them, either, but faced them all in both armed and empty-handed combat. She was quite proud of how she dispatched them all; that particular memory still made her smile when she recalled it. The end result, however, was a disappointment: because she ended up alerting the guards, her target, the politician, had managed to escape during the battle. It had been her first, and she vowed to make it her last, failure. So far, she had kept the vow very well.

Nesthya threw off the sheets and got up from bed. Her light blue gown accentuated all of her best features: finely toned arms and legs, a strong yet very womanly torso, and showed just enough of her left calf so that one could see the elastic strap that held a dagger (not Ecstasy, but a normal one) against her body in case she needed it in the middle of the night. During the day, she would remove that dagger and replace it with Ecstasy, but it was too dangerous to have the venomous blade so close to her when she could easily twist over it and have it pierce her skin with poison. Not that it was any safer for a regular blade to be against her skin, but she felt naked without some sort of weapon on her. It was her custom to always go out with Ecstasy on her leg, the handle filled with a nerve toxin that would cause paralysis and fairly rapid death in the victim. The type of mission determined the type of poison, of course, but that particular one was a good all-around choice.

Nesthya walked to her closet to pick out her outfit for the day. Not much to pick from, really: she had several dark-colored robes, a few suits for special occasions or needs (gala ball, seduction, impersonation, etc.), and some suits of leather-padded chainmail. Long ago, she had discovered that if you take a regular suit of chainmail and stitch a layer of leather onto each side, it was both silent (no clinking sound) and visually concealed the fact that you were wearing armor. Both of these were important advantages in her profession. She picked out one such suit quite randomly, a sleeveless and hoodless robe, picked up Ecstasy from the weapons rack, and proceeded to dress herself for the day. She was going into town.

It was a half-hour walk to the town square, where many of the merchants set up their shop carts for business. She hid a smile as she walked past a bench with a rather noticeable stain on the ground in front of it; she always took pride in her work. Walking towards the other side of town, she stopped by a shady-looking place on a streetcorner and knocked on the wooden counter for service. A large, burly man came to answer her and made a slight hand gesture; to the untrained eye, it would have seemed like a rude "What do you want?" gesture, but it was part of an established hand code between Nesthya and her contacts. This particular motion was used to tell each other that things were all right within their circles. After returning the sign, Nesthya picked out a ripe apple from one of the baskets and dropped a gold piece in the man's hand. Without a word, she turned and continued on the road, munching on her apple. Her destination was just up ahead.

She finally reached her intended destination, a large wall that provided an close to a dead-end street in the slums. On the wall were various posters and notes nailed to it, even some messages scribbled directly on the stone, that called for thugs and hired assassins. She would normally not stoop so low as to check the "hitman classifieds," as some had taken to calling it, but when business was bad, you did whatever was necessary to keep things moving. After shuffling, sifting, and ripping through several pieces of parchment that were quite outdated, she found one that had been posted just the day before.

Wunted: a good shot with good sord-arm to go with it. Preevius expereence prefurred, must prove it. Chek wit Bollestus.

Bollestus, she knew that name. It was obviously a fairly high-level job, if the writer didn't even provide directions to find Bollestus; that meant that only people good enough to have known him before were supposed to apply. Well, nothing else seemed even remotely interesting on the "classifieds," although some of it was downright amusing in its pettiness. Someone was actually looking for a thief to steal 30 gold pieces from someone who refused to pay a bet? It was almost laughable.

After making sure that there was really nothing else that caught her attention, Nesthya let go of some parchment she had been holding up, took her last bite of the apple, tossed the core to some dogs who were already sniffing after it, and went to see Bollestus. Who knew, she might even break a sweat doing whatever it was.

Having gotten approval from Bollestus, Nesthya stopped by a few contacts' places before she embarked on the job, making sure that her trusted associates were ready for possible action. It was a short sidetrip; she didn't have many acquaintances who could be trusted to help her on her missions. Then again, she rarely needed their help, but she was not so vain as to think that she could take on everyone and everything without even the slightest bit of help. One of them was an experienced human thief; not experienced because of age, but because of a rough life. His name was Gadian, and he was basically a street rat who had actually been kicked out of his community because he was too "unruly," as they called him. Later on, it was discovered that he actually possessed an abnormal mentality that, while gifting him with heightened senses, had also made him extremely hyperactive and unpredictable. Several priests had told him that he could be "healed," but all of them found themselves with with their innards and bodily fluids spilling out before they could explain further. He was quite happy the way he was, thank them very much. He'd made his living by joining a local thieves' guild and assassinating the leader when he was able to get close enough. No one ever managed to prove that he was guilty, so Gadian continued to pull strings and slit throats to get himself that position. He had recently achieved it. His original connection with Nesthya was that the guild he presided over was the same one that she had been a part of during an earlier period of her life, and they had developed a mutual respect for each other as they worked together.

The other one was Kessie, a female elven wizard. She was considerably older than both Nesthya and the thief, three hundred years older at the very least, but was in both her physical and mental prime. Kessie was very beautiful by most standards (except dwarves' and gnomes', but who knew what they were thinking), and her mind was just as precious. She had received extensive training in her home village and even spent some time in the high courts of Suldanessellar, a very fond memory for her. However, she was forced to leave when it was discovered that she had been using her magical talents for darker purposes in the political arena. Eventually, she made her way to the human population and settled down to live a somewhat normal life, though always keeping an eye on the shady business that happened around her, hoping for a chance to at least partially achieve what she had failed to do before. That was how Kessie and Nesthya originally met: the mage who had unwittingly given Nesthya's crossbow its power was competing with the Kessie for control of a small network of magical contraband, scrolls, potions, exotic components, etc. Upon hearing of his demise, Kessie decided to pay a courteous visit to Nesthya to thank her; however, she ended up with Nesthya's Ecstasy blade already slightly inside her neck skin before she even knew of the assassin's presence. Having no reason to kill her and realizing that having such an asset could prove useful, Nesthya let the elf go with a warning to not seek after her, but that if her services were ever required, she would be compensated nicely. Grudgingly at first, Kessie agreed. So far, the arrangement had served both of them well: the duo had pulled off several jobs that would have been impossible to complete if they were working alone, and each had come out of them with what they wanted.

Having these two associates provided yet another bonus: they were each leaders of their respective cults. Gadian commanded a sizable number of professional thieves and thugs who, in the worst of cases, could serve as diversions and cannon fodder for Nesthya. They had their merits, however: many of the thieves were personally trained by Gadian himself, and he was one of the best. Likewise, many of the big thugs were ex-soldiers or ex-mercenaries who had left their previous lines of work to simply have at it on the street. Their past experiences, combined with the occasional high-level job that Gadian would give them, kept them nicely fit and ruthless. Kessie, by her part, had the support of a smaller, but no less powerful, group of spellcasters who served as managers for the contraband network. That network also provided her with most of the magical materials she ever needed, so spellcaster support was never really in short supply for either Kessie or Nesthya.

It didn't really seem like a difficult job: Bollestus had recently acquired the services of a shady accountant to facilitate the bookkeeping and payroll of his other "employees," a.k.a. low-level hitmen and cutpurses. Nesthya had nothing against them personally except for the fact that they were content just how they were, they had no drive or desire to achieve something more, as she had. She sighed mentally; some people would just carry the word "complacency" tattooed on their foreheads all of their lives.

This accountant had actually done a good job at straightening out Bollestus' money books; so good, in fact, that a recent deposit of sixty-two thousand gold pieces to his personal stash had disappeared without a trace, but the books were still running smoothly. Oddly enough, the accountant had vanished along with the money. To Bollestus, and anyone else with half a functioning brain, the facts were clear: his new employee had made off with his money, and he needed to get it back. Bollestus was a nasty sort of man to whom only two things were truly important: his life and his money. His problem was that he sometimes didn't know which one to give priority to. In terms of other people's lives, however, money was given top priority, and that meant that getting his sixty-two thousand gold pieces back and ending the robber's mortal existence was ever-present in his mind. Nesthya's mission, obviously, was to "retrieve" the accountant and the money; her reward would be a hefty ten thousand of that gold. The problem with that, however, is that people tend to spend their money, meaning that the man had already probably done away with a good deal of the wealth. That could certainly present a problem in retrieving all the gold.

Nesthya headed back to her house in the forest to prepare her things. As she walked back, she pulled out the note that she'd written during the talk with Bollestus about the mission.

Target: Liam Heskotch
Appearance: A bit over five and a half feet tall, normal weight, green eyes, dark tan skin, usually dresses in dark colors and a hood.
Habits: Has a superiority complex and will try to gain a position of authority or power over others whenever possible. Enjoys drinking and the pleasure of a woman.
Abilities: Average combatant one on one, no magical skills of note.
Known contacts: Some businessmen in the slums, possibly outside of the area.

Below those notes was a rough sketch of him, drawn by one of Bollestus' artists. Nothing seemed extraordinary about him as she went over the information, he seemed like a regular thief who had just gotten lucky with his employer's money. Her eyes lingered over Liam's habits for a bit longer; she might be able to exploit those. He enjoys drinking, so it would be a good idea to start searching in the local bars. He enjoyed the pleasures of a woman? Nesthya could exploit that one quite nicely, if she did say so herself. A few men could attest to that... if they were still living, that was. She smiled to herself. "Pubic-brained fools." She had no qualms about using her womanly features and charm to achieve her goals, though she did not consider herself a whore at all. No, whores were those women who engaged in physically intimate activities with anyone for money; Nesthya did it with some restrictions. What they were, though, changed according to the mission circumstances and her moods. She was not one to completely abstain from such activities simply for their pleasure. She smiled again.

Once she returned to her cabin, it was time to begin the preparations for her travels. She most probably wouldn't be coming back to her home until the mission was over, so she had to pack everything she needed. The usual loadout, as she liked to call it, would probably be sufficient. She walked over to her closet and picked out two hooded robes with long sleeves; another suit of armor besides the one she was already wearing; a light green, sleeveless dress that was very low-cut on both sides; and a thin, leather sash with sheaths in the front and back for Ecstasy and Effigy, respectively. As for Ecstasy's poisons, she might need something more than just instant death for this mission, so she picked out a pair of tiny sacs with a concentrated type of chloroform for sedating, and another pair of sacs with strychnine that she'd extracted herself from some plants near her cabin. She readied Ecstasy by sliding off the bottom of the hilt, pushing a sac of the sedative into it, and replacing the bottom. Now, if she pressed on the hilt from the bottom, the removable part would push against the tiny sac inside and squirt a tiny amount of the liquid through a hole on the other side and onto the blade.

She took off her robe to slip into the leather sash. Adjusting it so that fit snugly against her chest and back, she slid her two blades into their respective places on it and continued to prepare her other items. The robes, armor, and dress went into her pack, forming a good cushion for the crossbow, True Sight, and a small amount of its steel-tipped ammunition. Nesthya had some other, special bolts whose metallic tips would actually split open when they hit, latching onto their target and making it a far more painful and damaging affair to pull them out. She rarely used those, however, mostly because they were too expensive. Her regular choice was usually adequate, though.

She would be working within civilization, so food wasn't a large concern. Rather, it was the gold needed to pay for it and any lodgings she might need. "A good three hundred pieces should suffice," she thought, and proceeded to put approximately that amount into a small bag that went into her pocket, along with Ecstasy's "ammunition."

Well, that seemed to be everything she would need. Even an experienced assassin and traveler like her could never completely shake the feeling that she was forgetting something, but she had long ago learned to ignore it when she had to. Putting her robe back on to cover her weapons and shorts, Nesthya laced up the pack and slung it over her back. After making a final inspection of everything in the cabin, she exited though the back door and headed back into town. She had some slumming to do.

Nesthya arrived some hours later in a seedy part of town, not all that different from the place where she had seen the advertisement for Bollestus. The area wasn't that large, but the sheer density and concentration of thieves, beggars, drunkards, street prostitutes, one-room bars, whorehouses, and wooden shacks made it seem so. There seemed to be an infinite number of all the aforementioned and too many people for each: the bars held twice as many people as they could, several drunkards were fighting over a single bottle of stale mead, and the prostitutes were like dogs in heat, each one being followed around by a pack of smelly, dirty, anxious males. It was a disgusting place, but a good place to start searching nonetheless.

Nesthya did not pretend to think that she could keep herself clean in such a place, nor would it suit her to do so. She was trying to blend in, after all. After a hard swallow and clenching her muscles, she waded into the filth, almost literally. Pushing past bums who thought she was a whore and whores who thought she was stealing their business, Nesthya made her way to one of the busier-looking bars in the area. It was slightly larger than the others, sporting an exterior terrace and an indoors area that was larger than twenty feet square. She walked up the two steps in front and went to get a drink at the bar inside, ignoring wolf whistles from the males around here. Looking around inside, she noticed a comparatively well-dressed man at a corner table, sipping on a mug of something frothy. She sneaked a peek at her note; no, it wasn't Liam, he was too tall and well-built. By the way he was dressed, though, he seemed to be better off than most around there. One of the accountant's contacts? Perhaps. Nesthya walked over to another stool in front of the bar and took the seat.

"Bartender! Get me a large mug of Dienne ale, if you please." Glancing at the man in the corner again, she noticed that he was actually looking straight at her. Well, some parts of her, anyway. A smile crept onto her face. "And send the gentleman in the corner another one of whatever he's having, on me." Nesthya picked up her drink and raised it to her lips, her eyes not breaking contact with the man's. She arched an eyebrow at him, her smile still hidden by the large mug. The smile widened when she saw the man's reaction at receiving the free drink. He raised both eyebrows at her and raised the cup slightly in a gesture of thanks. Nesthya only nodded slightly in his direction and continued to down her ale.

After a few minutes of silent observation, Nesthya finished her drink. She noticed that the man was still there, and still appeared to be interested in her. Keeping her head forward but looking at him out of the corner of her eye, she put the mug on the bar and fished out enough gold from her pocket to pay for both drinks, as well as a small tip. She raised a slender finger to wipe a bit of the drink off her lips, stood up from the stool, and walked towards the man in the corner. She was already formulating a plan in her mind; a Plan B, but it was probably going to be used anyway. Subtly looking around the room as she approached the man, she saw a few couples in dark and not-so-dark corners engaged in... Well, yes, they were. "Ugh. At least we won't stick out, if I have to go that far," she thought at the moment she sat down next to her newfound companion.

"Hey there." Nesthya smiled at the man as she dropped her pack to the floor, next to her legs. She hoped that no one would try to steal it, as that might ruin "the mood." Most of the people around her seemed to be either passed out or busy with someone else, so she was somewhat confident that it would be left alone. She discreetly slipped one of her legs through the straps, though; one could never be too careful, especially in a place like that.

Nesthya placed both arms on the table, lacing her fingers together in front of the man. She turned her head at him suddenly, flicking her black ponytail over her neck and onto the opposite shoulder. Oh, she was good, and she knew it: Only two words had been spoken and the man was already fidgeting in his seat. She continued to look at him, allowing her eyes to run up and down his body to further entice him. Nesthya cocked her head somewhat playfully at him, as if prodding him to say something to her. When the only response she got was his hungry eyes, she spoke again. "I'm Nesthya. I sort of noticed that you were looking at me over there. I, umm... I noticed you, too. What's your name?"

The man seemed to snap out of his trance. His eyes jumped from Nesthya's chest to her face, a bit startled. "H-hmm? Oh, my name! Yes, yes, uh, my name is Tirios." Tirios nodded jerkily, as if trying to reassure Nesthya that it really was his name. "But my friends call me Teary sometimes, just because I get all teary-eyed with sensitive stuff. Y'know, I'm in contact with my female side. You know?" Tirios looked anxiously at Nesthya, hoping that his lie was having some effect.

"Oh, now that is pathetic: A man who tries too hard to get laid," Nesthya thought as she maintained her smile. Well, why not test him a little bit? No sense in making it too easy for him, after all. "Really? I've always thought that men should be the strong, silent types, and leave the sentimentality to us women. I mean, if the gods had wanted men to be as emotional as us, then they would have... Well, I just don't think they did. You know?"

Tirios seemed a bit taken back by her response; his smooth talk had apparently worked perfectly with other women in the past. "Well, yes, you could have a point. Truth be told, I've been toughening up lately; don't want to seem to soft around my buddies, now." Tirios straightened himself and puffed his chest out a bit as he said that. If one strategy didn't work, use the other, right?

Nesthya gave a wenchy laugh at his remark. "No, we wouldn't want that, now would we?"

After another moment of awkward (for Tirios) silence, he spoke again. "So... What are you doing around here? I come here often, and I don't think I've ever seen you. Are you looking for someone in particular?"

Rather than provide the oversexy response of, "Yes, I'm looking for you," Nesthya decided to begin dropping hints. "Yes, actually. I heard that I could find a good businessman around here, a Mr. Heskotch. Do you know of him?"

Tirios snapped out of a momentary trance again and returned his eyes to make contact with Nesthya's. "Heskotch! Liam Heskotch? Why, yes indeed! Liam Heskotch, one of the best moneymen I've ever had the privilege of knowing! He's very good at his accounting, which is what he mainly does. A bit of a shady character, though; I wouldn't trust him with too much money. But he can categorize and distribute it just as well as he can put it into his pocket, which is saying quite a bit. What sort of business are you looking to have with him?"

Should she tell him something? Obviously not her true intentions, but should she begin to develop her lie? No, not yet, lies were always a last resort, what with the sometimes messy business of having to make them true later. She would simply continue to imply and avoid the subject. She raised one hand from the table and ran it through her ponytail a couple of times slowly. "Something... Let's just say that we owe each other mutual favors. I want to pay mine back first. Could you tell me where to find him?"

And that was the moment that Tirios became another check mark in Nesthya's "Pubic-brained fools" list. "Well... I think so, but I don't remember right now. Maybe I'll remember in the morning... Can you wait until then?" Tirios placed one of his hands on the one that Nesthya still had on the table and looked intently at her eyes, for once in their conversation. Nesthya pondered what to do: It would be so easy to slip her other hand down from her neck and into her robe, reaching for Ecstasy but making Tirios think otherwise. Once the weapon was in her hand, it would be the easiest thing in the world to lean close to him and "force" the information out of him, but she didn't want to do it in public. Granted, there were many other things going around them that wouldn't be accepted in other places, but she wouldn't risk a public killing or threat. No... Why not go along for now?

"In the morning? You mean I can come back and meet you here tomorrow, and you'll tell me where I can find Mr. Heskotch?" Nesthya played the coy female for Tirios, letting him know that she agreed with him but wouldn't say it outright. She smiled again, parting her lips just enough to attract attention to her mouth.

"Actually, I won't be here in the morning. Why don't you... spend the night at my place nearby?" Tirios continued with the implication.

Nesthya widened her smile, showing a bit more ivory. Gracefully, she bent down to pick up her pack from the floor and stood up to put it back on, not breaking eye contact with Tirios. He, predictably, stood up as soon as she did, looking a bit too eager. She adjusted the straps on her shoulders and took a step towards him, leaning in close to the side of his face. Her lips just barely touched his skin, and he could both hear and feel her warm breath in his ear. She whispered silkily into it.

"Show me where this place of yours is..."

Nesthya awoke again, this time at Tirios' house, and in his bed. The sharp prick of Ecstasy against her skin stirred her from her slumber, and she silently berated herself for having kept it on; she hadn't disrobed completely during the night. It would have been too complicated to explain to Tirios, drunk though he was, why she was wearing those weapons and armor. At least Ecstasy hadn't penetrated her skin with the liquid inside, and even if it had, it was only loaded with a sedative. But still...

She looked to her left at the man who was laying next to her. It was a rare occasion when Nesthya's bedmate looked as good the morning after as he had the night before; this was not one of them. His face showed the effects of the hangover, which was probably why he'd been rather strange during... the night. His five o'clock shadow had progressed to a full-blown midnight stubble, and it didn't fit him at all. Looking more closely at his pillow, Nesthya could see that he was drooling a little bit into the cloth. Why the hell didn't I just force it out of him on the way here last night, and leave his body in some alley?

Nesthya ran her hands along herself, making sure that everything was still where it should be: Armor, weapons, and general clothing were all good. Looking down beside the bed, she saw that her backpack was still there with everything in it, which was also good. Satisfied that her equipment was in good condition, she adjusted her robe to cover up some of the skin and turned to look at Tirios closely, scrunching her nose slightly at the scent that was a combination of both morning breath and alcohol, not pausing to think that hers might be equally bad.

Wake up, sleepyhead. It's morning, and I think you wanted to tell me something in the morning...

Nesthya poked Tirios gently in the ribs to wake him up. When all the response she got from him was a snore, she shoved against him to see if that produced an effect. Still nothing; Nesthya sighed and grabbed his genitals hard with one hand. That woke him up.

Hey! Uh... unh, oh, heyyy, baby! Tirios looked goofily at her, smiling through groggy eyes. Didja have a good time last night? Because I did... He pulled one arm out from under the covers and reached over to caress some part of her, not really seeing straight. Nesthya kept her one hand on him and intercepted his with her other one, squeezing it even harder.

I hope to have an even better time today. Remember, you said you'd tell me where I could find Liam Heskotch?

Tirios seemed confused at why a woman was grabbing both his hand and genitals, and a kinky thought crossed his mind. A sudden squeeze to the point of pain in both of his held areas wiped the smile off his face and brought him back to reality, though. Nesthya hissed close to his face in much the same way she had done the night before, but her voice carried a more sinister tone this time.

Tirios, you are nothing but a weak, disgusting, wriggling little worm, and I mean that in every aspect imaginable. I asked you for information. You said you would give it to me on the condition that I spend the night with you. I did, so now you need to hold up your end of the bargain, even though you might be incapable of holding anything else up. Nesthya's voice seemed to bore deep into Tirios' head, as if trying to extract the information from his mind. He was wide awake now and wondering just what he had done or stopped doing to anger this woman so much. Deep in the recesses of his mind, along with the information on Liam Heskotch, his male pride was hurt by Nesthya's remarks. Tell me where and how I can find Liam Heskotch, Tirios. She released her hand from his privates and moved it inside her robe to unsheathe Ecstasy from her chest strap. Once it was out of the sash, she pulled it out and held the blade close to his face, the tip just pushing into his right cheek and running down to his neck. His eyes went wide at the sight of Nesthya holding the dagger to him.

All right, all right! For heaven's sake, just put that away! Nesthya did not oblige him; instead, she pushed Ecstasy a bit harder into his skin, producing a tiny speck of red blood. She arched her eyebrows at him, indicating that he should really consider the idea of telling her what she wanted to know. OKAY! Okay, look, when he's not working for someone, you can usually find Liam out in Trademeet, I mean, that's the ideal place for an accountant, right? Lots of business and stuff like that going on over there, right? So, y-yeah, you can find him there. Okay?

Nesthya thought over the information for a moment; it seemed credible, and she had learned that weak-minded people (or pubic-brained fools) would usually tell the truth to the extent of their knowledge when they were threatened with certain death. Her hold on Ecstasy loosened and she put the dagger back into her chest sheath. She looked at Tirios with softer eyes and even the beginnings of a smile; she actually looked like she was sorry for him. Oh, Tirios, I'm so sorry I threatened you like that. I just get excited over certain things, you know? Come here, it's all better now... She extended both hands towards the trembling man and held him close to her, his head next to hers. She continued crooning in his ears, reassuring him that everything would be all right; all the while, she was positioning her hands on his face and shoulder. Good, no cleaning off bloodstains this time.

Just as Tirios appeared to be calming down, she pulled back on both of her arms with a sudden jerk, twisting his body in two different directions: His head spun to the left, and everything below the neck lurched to the right. A rather satisfying, muffled crack was heard from Tirios' neck as every bone in that region went in the wrong direction, grinding with others, and tearing tissue as they moved out of place. Nesthya released his lifeless body a moment later, letting the head fall to the bed at an unnatural angle from the body. His tongue rolled out of his mouth a bit, contributing to the already considerable drool stain that was on his pillow. Nesthya threw off the covers and went to clean herself off in his bath. Once she was cleaned up and wearing some fresh clothes, she helped herself to some breakfast from his pantry and valuables from his drawers. That done, she slung her pack over her back again and exited the house, looking back only once at the corpse. Thank you, goodbye.

With Trademeet as her destination, Nesthya set off in that general direction. She took the more inconspicuous way out of town, wanting to avoid any unnecessary attention by the drunks or whores that might link her to Tirios' death, whenever he was found.

After a few hours of uneventful travel through the woods, she finally sighted the steeple of the Waukeen temple in Trademeet. Relieved to see signs of civilization after hours of nothing but vegetation, she quickened her pace and entered the town a few minutes later. Partially charming her way past the weapons-inspecting guards, she proceeded to head to the nearest inn with a bar. Such places were always good bets if you wanted information on people, mostly because the people you met there were already drunk to the point that they would reveal anything. It also helped that some of the regulars were usually involved in the shady businesses and could either tell you all you wanted to know-- for a price-- or point you to someone who could. Either way was just fine with Nesthya.

She entered the place and found it to be much more pleasant than the grime pit she had been in the day before; everything was fairly clean, the environment seemed friendly and familiar, a bard in the corner filled the air with a rather catchy tune, and there seemed to be none of the accustomed hostility and fighting among the men. Quite pleased, Nesthya took a seat next to the female bard who was singing about some beauty of nature or other, and accompanying it with music from a strange-looking string instrument. After ordering a selection of simple appetizers and a drink from a waitress, Nesthya sat back to enjoy the melody. She wasn't particularly fond of such types of entertainment, but the bard made the harmony between her voice and the music sound so good that Nesthya found herself actually enjoying it after a few minutes instead of becoming irritated like she usually did. Munching on a morsel of grilled meat, she waited for the bard to finish her latest tune. When she did, the assassin tossed a few gold coins into the collection hat and initiated conversation.

Very nice, bard, very nice indeed. You seem to possess a natural talent for this, something that is becoming increasingly rare these days.

The bard turned her head to smile at Nesthya. She was a pretty little half-elf, with slightly pointed ears, wavy golden hair of about Nesthya's own hair length, slender but not frail, and had a sort of air that made one want to smile just from being around her. Well, thank you very much, miss! I thank you for your praise and your coin; in fact, I've decided that I like you. In fact, I like you so much that I'll play whatever you want for my next tune! Tell me, miss, what'll it be? I can strum just about anything out of my baby here, and sing well enough to go with it!

Nesthya returned the smile, not putting any particular warmth into it. Actually, I was thinking that maybe I could ask you some things. You look like you've been around, right? You must have seen many things and many places in your travels.

The bard laughed heartily. Me, been around? Why, I've been around as much as a snail, miss, and a particularly slow one at that! Why would you think me to be experienced in the ways of the world?

Liar. Well, a few things. Your belt buckle has the symbol of Torm on it, and he's not too popular around these parts. This particular type of studded leather that you're wearing is made by only two craftsmen that I know of, and they both reside in Waterdeep; expensive fellows, too, so I doubt you could have just picked this up from a street cart. Those beads in your hair seem to be polished beljurils, a considerable rarity anywhere. And lastly, those bracers on your forearms are engraved with runes of the Harm spell, only known to be possessed by Harper druids. That's some pretty nice equipment for someone who claims to not have traveled much in her life. Nesthya sat back in her seat while keeping her eye on the bard, observing her reaction.

Sure enough, the bard was surprised, almost shaken, by Nesthya's conclusions. Well now, miss, you seem to have gotten around a lot more than myself, methinks! And not just in adventuring, aye? You've really got the right equipment, if you catch my drift, eh? A cold stare from Nesthya made the assassin change her insinuating tone. Ahem... Well, if you must know, yes, I've had my share of escapades. The bard lowered her voice so that only the two of them could hear it. What of it? I lie about my adventures precisely to avoid unnecessary ones, but it seems that you're determined to get me involved in one again. Is there any way at all that I can avoid it? I'm quite fond of the lifestyle I have right now. Perhaps if I... give you my hat? The bard smiled slyly and shifted her eyes to the feathered hat in front of them, fairly full of gold and the occasional gem.

Nesthya gave her another cold look. I have no need of your money, bard; my own means provide me with a good income. What I need is some information on this man. Do you know of him? Nesthya pulled out the note with Liam's sketch and information and held it up for the bard to see.

After musing over it for a moment, she shook her head. I'm very sorry, miss, but I can't truthfully say that I recall ever seeing his face. I'm quite good with faces, if I do say so myself, so I think I would remember such a handsome man. I am very sorry. With that, the bard put on her jovial smile and began to sing again. A hand on her shoulder made her stop rather abruptly, ruining a high note.

Do you know who might know him?

The bard sighed and lowered her voice again, obviously uncomfortable at seeing people stare at her because she wasn't singing. Miss, I already told ye, I don't know him, and if I don't know him, how would I know who does? Seeing that Nesthya was not removing her hand from her shoulder, she said the last thing she could think of. Look, I don't know, right? I don't really know many people who would fit the description on yer little note there. She, however, might. The bard pointed discreetly at a woman who was sitting at the bar, downing a mug of something. She's also been around, though I'll leave it to you to find out in what kind of way. If, IF that man is in these parts, she would probably know. And that, miss, is the true extent of the help that I can give ye. Once again, I thank you for your praise and coin; now, I'd appreciate it if you let me earn those things from other people. With a sly wink, the bard ended the conversation and stood up with her little instrument again, resuming the practice of her bardic profession.

Heh. Taking a final, somewhat envious glance at the bard and her possessions, Nesthya flicked another gold coin into the hat and stood to go speak with the indicated woman.

Leaving the bard to her work, Nesthya approached the woman at the bar who could supposedly help her find Liam. The green-robed lady seemed to be a human in her forties, but well-kept. Light brown curls gave her a fairly mature look, not going any lower than the neck, and her pale, blue-veined skin told Nesthya that she had spent a good deal of her life indoors; wide hips and faint bruise marks on the arms told her everything else. I guess I know in what way she's "been around." The assassin walked up to the woman, not bothering to take a seat on the stool next to her, and tapped her on the shoulder. Good afternoon, ma'am. I heard that you might be able to help me find a certain man. He is--

You think I can help you find a man? The lady interjected loudly in a high-pitched drawl. Girlie, I find men or they find me, and then we're both happy, but I don't make it none of my business to go looking for men for other women, all right? See, that would actually make me lose business, y'understand? She seemed to regard Nesthya as a young prostitute.

That, of course, did not sit well with Nesthya. Looking at the lady with a serious face, she spoke quietly and firmly. I don't think you have to worry about me stealing your business, ma'am. I am in quite a hurry to find this man, though, and I think you might be able to help me. Now, if it would not be too much to ask for your eyes that have no doubt seen so many men and so much of them, have a look at this drawing and tell me if you have ever... encountered him.

Looking very annoyed at the relative youngster, the lady snatched Nesthya's note from her hand and read over it. She gave a coarse laugh. "Enjoys drinking and the pleasure of a woman," ah? Is that why you think I might've had contact with him? Listen, girlie, I'll have you know that that description applies to just about every male who walks in here through those doors, and I don't need to tell you that I haven't had 'em all. And as fer that little picture you got there, I could say it's my ex-husband, my latest client, or the mayor of Trademeet, and I could be telling you the truth as far as I knew. I'm that bad with faces. That's sort of a requirement in my line of work, you know. She turned her face away from Nesthya and raised her mug to her mouth again, taking a long chug of the drink. Something on her finger, though, caught Nesthya's eye as she raised her hand.

That's a nice ring on your finger, ma'am. I don't think I've ever seen the likes of it before. Where did you get it? Nesthya looked at the whore inquisitively.

Oh, the ring? It was payment by one of my recent clients. The stingy bastard wanted me to take a few gold coins, but I knew that the night had been worth a lot more than that, so I demanded more. He wasn't too happy about it, no way, but he seemed to be wanting to keep a low profile around here, and the threat of my screams and loud complaints got the best of him, so he gave me this ring off this finger. It ain't too bad, is it? I'm thinking I can pawn it for a hundred fifty, maybe two hundred gold pieces to the right buyer. She admired the band for a few seconds, then suddenly looked at Nesthya suspiciously. An' why are you interested, girlie? No way you're getting this off me, unless you pay me what I said or cut my finger off. She took another drink from the mug, keeping an eye on the assassin.

Nesthya arched an eyebrow at the mention of cutting off the finger, but didn't say anything. I don't want to do either, lady. I just noticed that the ring is engraved with the symbol of the man I'm working for, the man who wants me to find and retrieve Liam Heskotch. This is the only ring that's ever escaped his organization while still on a living finger. So, I'm guessing that you did indeed spend some business hours with Liam and simply don't want to tell me. I don't know why you would want to protect him, but I do suggest you tell me where he went. And yes, I do think you know; men in bed often tell things that they would not dream of revealing inside an iron maiden. So... Nesthya eyed the whore inquisitively again. If you do know, please tell me. I don't really feel like killing someone for the second time in one day simply because the person was uncooperative. Seeing the reaction on the woman's face, Nesthya pressed her point forward. Yes, ma'am, that is what I do, so I don't think you need to worry about this girlie here stealing your business any time soon. She raised both elbows to the bar and interlaced her fingers, waiting for an answer.

Oh, s-so you mean that... you're really gonna... OH!!! Oh, forgive me, I'm so sorry, if I'd known, I never woulda kept you like that, and of course you know that those remarks about stealing my business were in jest, yeh? So you got it, I can tell you what you wanna know about 'im, and anything else, because--

Why must people always react like that? Nesthya sighed inwardly. Shut up. The whore promptly shut up, looking at Nesthya fearfully. Speak.

Okay... So, you wanna know where he might've gone, right? Well, he just said he was planning on spending some time at a friend's place here in Trademeet, but that he had some urgent business to take care off out in the forest a little east of her, so he'd be leaving by tonight. Off into the east forest, he said. I don't know why he told me that, but like you said, men say a bunch of strange things in bed. Uh... The whore glanced up and down, left and right, and then nervously back at Nesthya. Is that what you wanted to know? She prayed silently that her response had been satisfactory, fiddling unconsciously with her ring.

Nesthya smiled at the woman. Indeed it is. Thank you for your time, ma'am; I hope I didn't take you away from business for too long. Have a good afternoon. With that, she adjusted her pack once again and turned to head for the door. She hesitated for a moment, not knowing whether or not she should tell the woman that her new ring was probably worth more melted down and made into a nail than as a piece of jewelry. Nah... Nesthya grinned and exited the establishment with another goal on her mind.

She was somewhat surprised at how late it was when she met the outdoors again; perhaps it was the sudden cloudiness, or the heavy shadows being cast by some nearby trees. In any case, it was getting late, and Nesthya did not really want to spend the night inside some public inn. She much preferred to spend her nights outdoors and/or hunting her target while on a mission. She had packed nothing in the way of a sleeping bag or blanket, but she was comfortable sleeping against a tree or in some crevice between rocks. If it was cold, she had her hooded, long-sleeved robes; if it rained, well, she would get wet. She didn't really mind, though; her past experiences had taught her that common luxuries must often be sacrificed for better maneuvering in the wilderness. Having packed things for sleeping and comfort would have only added unnecessary weight to her pack and slowed her down.

As Nesthya approached the east gates of Trademeet, she saw a cloaked figure run through the shadows and out of town. Normally, she would have thought little of it, but her current hunt demanded that she investigate anything suspicious like that, even if it was only a common thief. Scurrying silently after the figure, Nesthya finally saw her come to a stop at a bunch of boulders a few minutes out of Trademeet. Staying in the shadow of a large oak, she observed what the figure seemed to be doing. It appeared to be a magical ritual of some sort: The woman was sprinkling some unnaturally shiny dust in a circle around her, and chanted arcane words as she did it. After the chanting was complete, the circle around her began to glow a bright yellow and form a column of light that extended upwards, surrounding the wizard. A sudden flash of light exploded from the circle, momentarily blinding Nesthya and making her grunt in surprise. Disturbed by the presence of the stranger, the female wizard turned in Nesthya's general direction, mumbled a few more words, and vanished into thin air. At least, that is what seemed to happen; Nesthya knew little of the magical arts, but her experiences had taught her that mages usually did not leave such flashy activities unattended. The mage was probably magically concealed, looking to chase away or eliminate the stranger: Nesthya. That would not do.

Aware that the mage already knew her general location, Nesthya dropped her pack and quickly pulled out True Sight and loaded one of the emergency bolts that was strapped to its bottom. So armed, she peeked slowly out from the shadow, her crossbow leading every inch. After a few tense moments, she spied none other than her acquaintance, Kessie, still looking around for her and with a rather large ball of bluish energy in her hand, no doubt ready to be launched at whoever was perceived to be a threat to the mage.

Kessie, put that down before you hurt someone, you silly elf, Nesthya revealed herself, still keeping her crossbow trained on the wizard. I thought I told you that I had a job and would need you to stay put for a few days in case I needed you. What in the good name of whatever deity you elves have are you doing out here? Nesthya was very annoyed.

Recognizing first the voice and then the face of Nesthya, Kessie dropped her invisibility and sighed relieved at the assassin. I never cared much for our deities, actually, but I'm here because I saw an opportunity to expand the market. Noticing that she still held the increasingly unstable ball of energy in one hand, she rubbed both of them together as if dusting them off and blew away the final wisps of magical energy. You rarely call anyway, so I did not think that you would miss me if I took a few days of leave from my strenuous job of waiting for you, and took some initiative for my own business.

Oh, really? Nesthya lowered her crossbow but continued to glare at the elf. And what sort of great opportunity is it, then?

Kessie seemed insulted. I do not inquire as to your own operations, and you have never taken a particular interest in mine. Let us keep it that way, shall we? Suffice it to say that I heard of a rather juicy stash of magical items in this area whose owner had recently died, and it was up for grabs. I am fortunate enough to have arrived here ahead of many other rival mages, but it does me no good if YOU INTERRUPT MY DIVINATION SPELL TO FIND THE WELL-CONCEALED ITEMS!

Nesthya sighed; she had to admit that wizards could be very handy sometimes, but they could also be some of the most arrogant, self-important people in the realms. All because they could make shiny things come out of their fingertips. Well, much more than that, of course, but she still kept a healthy air of superiority over them, as she did over most everyone. Well, I don't think I was going to need you for this job anyway, Kessie. I'm sorry if I interrupted your precious divination. By all means, get back to work on it; I have my own work to do. Let's try to stay out of each other's way, hmm?

Kessie gave the assassin a sort of "hmph" and went back to recasting the divination spell. Nesthya rolled her eyes as she turned away and went to pack True Sight back into her pack. I swear, Kessie, one of these days we'll meet and kill each other before we know who we were shooting at. For future occasions, how about... Kessie? Kessie. The elf had suddenly disappeared from the area. Nesthya sighed again and muttered. Fine, be that way. Hoisting her pack on her shoulders to keep going for a while longer before she had to finish for the night, she heard a faint noise come from behind her. She whipped her head around to look, but saw no one and nothing moving. It must be the breeze.

Nesthya began walking off in the same direction as before, looking around for anything that might indicate the presence of other people in the forest. Suddenly, she heard the noise again. Oh, for--

Her thought was cut short as she saw, for a millisecond, something large and round coming against her face. Then she saw nothing.