Mikhail could feel every eye on him as he walked down the main road of the town, his leather boots shuffling over the broad yellow flagstones with every step. Even though it was a common occurrence whenever someone stepped out in a Kariai cloak he never got used to being watched like a criminal. Everyone knew about the Kariai, they knew that they were soldiers, but what they did exactly was anyone's guess. With their black uniforms, black cloaks, leather boots and visible weapons the Kariai were both well respected and feared as they moved from place to place in the shadows or as black animals whose eyes glowed with an ethereal internal light.
The people had taken to calling them spooks because they moved like ghosts and looked like nightmares; the Kariai could make you vanish without a trace and no one would ever find you again. Despite the fact that they were employed by the king the Kariai relied on a certain level of fear from the general population so even though Mikhail could have shadow traveled to his meeting he was walking. People dodged his footsteps left and right and even though it was a busy afternoon in the town center his path was clear and straight.
Mikhail could hear voices whispering as he passed but he could not see them, his large hood obscuring his face from the people as well as his own peripheral vision. He was going to a local inn where a man was supposedly waiting with important information for the Warden, the Kariai's leader, and Mikhail had been sent to retrieve it. The Watchman's Inn rose into his line of vision as he neared the center of the square, the people in the busy market place making way for him much like the people on the road.
As he reached for the inn's front door it swung open to reveal the smiling face of the owner. The man was short and round with the tell-tale tanned skin of a southerner, his thick black hair balding on the top.
"Welcome master Kariai to our humble inn. Please come in, have a drink, rest a while. I'm sure you're walk from the capital was long and tiring," the man said with a broad smile. Outside of the Kariai compound Mikhail was instructed to keep his face neutral but the man's smile was so genuine that he couldn't help returning it. The man's expression fell into one of shock before blooming into a look of pure joy. He motioned enthusiastically into the inn and insisting that Mikhail stay for a while showed him over to an empty chair.
"I'm sorry inn keeper but I can't stay," Mikhail said. He caught the man looking at him intently trying to see inside the hood but when he turned his eyes on him the man just smiled.
'And why is that master Kariai?" the inn keeper asked, his hands clasped in front of his large stomach.
"I must return to the capital immediately after I have my meeting. The Warden is not patient," Mikhail replied, his black eyes never leaving the inn keeper's. "Is the man here?"
"Can't it wait? I'm sure you're tired master Kariai; rest a while then have your meeting," the inn keeper insisted as he came around behind Mikhail to rub his shoulders.
"There is no rest for the wicked," Mikhail said with a smile. This caught the man off guard and he immediately removed his hands. "Please show me to the man." The inn keeper motioned for Mikhail to follow him as they walked through the large dining room to the back. A few doors lined the back wall which led to private rooms for the wealthier patrons who wanted to dine in private. The man walked over to the first one which had a gold handle and knocked three times before holding it open for Mikhail.
Sitting at the wooden table was a beast of a man with curly red hair and a busy beard who was dressed in clothes made out of animal skins. Mikhail reasoned that he came from the North but was probably a trader instead of a soldier, his frame hardly suitable for battle. Even though the man was two times Mikhail's height and three times his weight he felt no threat from him. There were stacks of empty plates dotting the surface of the table along with several beer mugs. A bowl of soup was sitting in front of the man and from the state of the table it wasn't the first.
"Took you long enough to get here," the man barked as Mikhail took his seat at the other end of the table. The man didn't seem to care or even notice that his hood was up and he couldn't see his face. Mikhail said nothing in response and waited for him to continue. "Well aren't you going to say something!?" the man demanded.
"What is your name?" Mikhail asked in a monotone voice. When meeting with strangers the Kariai were to always keep their hoods up and to keep all emotions out of their voices, a scare tactic that worked well in their favor. Mikhail saw the man physically tighten from his cold reception but he didn't say anything.
"Duncain," the man huffed, obviously put off by Mikhail's presence. "What about you? What's your name?"
"You will address me as master Kariai or nothing at all," Mikhail said. Duncain's face started to turn as red as his hair, his rage at Mikhail's passive response building.
"How dare you. What do you think you're doing with this silent and stoic act? Cut the crap and show me your face!" Duncain demanded. Mikhail's patience was running low with the Northerner; he just wanted whatever information the man had so he could go home.
He rose from his seat and began stalking towards Duncain as the man all the while hurled insults at him from his seat. Mikhail reached out a gloved hand and grabbed the man's beard roughly, pulling him forward until they were face to hood.
"Listen to me you fool, the Warden is very busy and I'm losing my patience. What kind of information do you have and why is it important to the Kariai?" he growled. Duncain's face drained of its color as he caught sight of the glow that was now emanating from his eyes.
"Majka protect me," Duncain whispered.
"Majka isn't here now," Mikhail said with a smile. Roughly he pushed Duncain's head down onto the table and placed his boot on the man's neck. "Now let me ask you again, what kind of information do you have?"
"It's about the king of the North," Duncain wheezed. The north had seceded from the rest of Synora almost one hundred years ago, they had their own king, own army, and own problems to deal with. The two halves had kept a friendly attitude despite this and it was easy to travel between them. Very few people moved permanently though from one to the other.
"And why do I care about the king of the North?" Mikhail asked. He pressed his boot down a little harder for emphasis.
"People are saying that he's dead," Duncain rasped. Now that got Mikhail's attention. He removed his boot and Duncain shot up from the table top as he took large gasping breaths of air. "Son of a -" he choked but stopped short when Mikhail fixed him with his glowing eyes again.
"What do the people say about the king of the North?" he asked.
"They say that he's dead and that the prince killed him. The princess is apparently missing," Duncain replied. Mikhail took in the information as he searched through his change purse for the appropriate payment. He threw three gold coins at Duncain before stowing the purse in a pocket on the inside of his cloak and moving towards the door to leave.
"Damn ghoul," Duncain murmured as he stowed his money.
"I'm a spook Duncain, please remember that. If you piss me off I just might come back to haunt you," Mikhail said over his shoulder with a smile.