5 Planting, 595 CY
It had been only a day since he had acquired the map and Cornelius Drake was getting antsy to get it out of his hands for the time being. He had left note to his contact, Alexander Quinn, to get in touch with him as soon as possible. It was while he was staring at the parchment that he heard the shuffle of something at his door. He lumbered out of his bed and picked up the small slip under his door frame. The slip was plain and simple, saying “Meet me outside Lazare’s.”
Drake sighed deeply, and took stock of what he needed. He was probably being needlessly paranoid, but the man had promised riches with this map. Drake didn’t know what in the deepest hell that meant, but any chance at riches meant trouble in Diamond Lake. He grabbed his jacket, a few vials of liquids and his flask and made his way to Lazare’s, keeping his eyes open and watching every alley and shadow on the way.
* * *
Xan had received Cornelius’s message about needing to “store something of value” the night before but had been busy with babysitting a wealthy merchant at the request of Mayor Neff. Xan was a smooth talker, and he knew how to show visiting VIPs a good time. He was paid extra for this particular merchant every time he came in town, mainly to make sure that the man had no idea who was entertaining his wife on these nights. He collected his pay from Cubbin the next morning and then sent Cornelius a message to meet. The big man had been a big help in procuring alchemical toys that he used for his more covert activities. Cornelius was not a close friend, but was a trustworthy sort for the most part.
Xan arrived early at the meeting site. It never looked good to show up late for a business deal. While waiting for Drake, he began thinking about what it was that Drake had. The man was not particularly wealthy or powerful, and was definitely not one of Xan’s typical clients. If Drake had something that needed discreet handling, then Xan would be happy to do it for the right price. But he found himself more curious about the item than the sealed bags he normally held for people. Drugs, money, stolen properly… none of these things sounded like Drake.
Xan’s thoughts were cut short as he saw Drake approaching. It was time to negotiate. Drake shook his hand and got right to the point. “I believe I have acquired something of interest, Xan. I need you to keep hands on it for a while until I can figure out what to do with it.” Cornelius spoke plainly around his glowing cigar as he rummaged in his pocket.
Drake was never one for words and obviously, while quite well educated, he wasn’t one to understand how special transactions worked. Xan picked up on Drake’s lack of familiarity with this type of meeting, which once again made Xan wonder what Drake had stumbled onto. He quickly moved to put his new client’s mind at ease.
“No problem, Cornelius. You came to the right person,” Xan said with a genuine smile. “I’m flattered that you knew you could trust me with something so important to you. I just have a few questions so I know how best to handle the package. How delicate is this item, exactly?”
“Well it’s thick parchment, so I guess it is a bit delicate. Wouldn’t want it to get wet or burned or anything like that.”
Xan smiled at the response. “Not exactly what I meant, Cornelius, but that is good to know. What I meant is how dangerous is the item to hold onto? Is it ‘my girl would be angry if she found out about this’ dangerous? Or is it ‘men are hunting me right now to kill me and take it’ dangerous?”
“Well… honestly I really don’t know how dangerous it is, Xan. I was hoping maybe you could take a look at it and tell me what you think about it.”
Now it was Xan’s turn to be a bit uneasy. His clients never wanted Xan to look at the packages (even though he always did). And no one had ever asked his opinion about such things either. Xan was taken aback by Drake’s candor.
“Interesting. Okay, Cornelius. I’ll take a look… I should probably have some insight for you.”
Drake handed the parchment over, and Xan opened it up to take a look. It was definitely a map, but it was old and dirty. It took some moments to deduce what exactly the map was for. However, when Xan realized what he was holding, gold flashed in his eyes. Xan quickly formulated a much different business arrangement for his good friend Cornelius Drake.”
“Do you realize what this map is?” he asked, trying to not give too much away to the brutal man before him.
“No, I do not. What are we looking at Xan?” His inquiry was genuine and flat.
“Well, I’d say it’s a map to an uncharted and unexplored cairn. I wouldn’t get my hopes up, but there could be treasure within, if we’re lucky.” The “we’re” placed strategically so that Cornelius understood that Xan already considered himself in on this venture in exchange for his assistance.
“So you’re saying you want a piece? I am not opposed; a venture into an unknown cairn isn’t a place for a man alone.” Say what you would about the brute, but he was at least sharp. Tactless, but sharp.
“Ready what you can, and I’ll see what I can find out about this place and our best route there. In the meantime, we’ll need to deal with some of the Free City adventurers that are popping up. I’ve heard some girl named Tirra and her band are snooping around looking for similar things.
Drake looked wary at the suggestion. “I don’t think I could talk her out of much, but I may know someone who can. Let me know when you find out more… And thank you, Xan.” The heavy man left, floor creaking at his footfalls.
That man is trouble, for sure, but this may be my chance to garner a little more clout if what this map reads is even remotely true, Xan thought, already allowing himself a little excitement at the business venture. “There is much to do.”