Pulling his thick travelling cloak closer, the stranger surveyed the small shop in front of him. A run down establishment known for its seedy business and underhanded policies. Just what he was looking for. Ekien took a moment to take in every details before moving inside. Swinging the door, the stench hit him immediately. Decay and heavy spices hung in the air. Breathing out sharply, he shook his head, trying to rid himself of the foulness. Unable to, he grit his teeth and continued. Rows of ill gotten gains lined the thin wooden shelves stretching across the store. There was no sense of order or arrangement, everything being dumped wherever it fell. Stalking through the rows, Ekien paused, glancing down. Sitting on one of the lower shelves was a small doll. Innocent enough except for the red stain across her dress. Narrowing his eyes, he kept going, his bare feet making no noise against the wooden floor boards. He was firmly focused on the shopkeep at the end of the aisle. A strangely thin man, he was leaning on the counter, flicking a small knife through his bony fingers.
‘See anything you like, friend?’ He grinned as Ekien approached the counter.
‘Not yet,’ Ekien replied bluntly, ‘but I have hope.’ Reaching deep into his pocket, he pulled out a long ornate chain. Swinging gently from the end was a large, bronze key. He held the key out a breath from the shopkeep’s nose.
‘I’ve information that you have in your possession a small ornate box that bears this seal.’
The shopkeep’s eyes widened as his jaw dropped. Stammering, he backed up slowly.
‘I’ve… never seen that before,’ he gasped.
‘You lie.’ Ekien countered swiftly, ‘I want it now and I will not tolerate another lie.’
‘It was sold two days ago. This is the truth, I swear.’ The man cringed under Ekien’s stony glare.
‘You will give me the name of who bought it and,’ his voice dropped low, ‘The name of who sold it to you.’
‘We don’t…’ the man begin before being silenced by Ekien casually flicking his cloak over his shoulders. Hesitation flooded his eyes. Suddenly he stood.
‘I’ll fetch the information for you now.’ He turned and practically fled to a side room. He re-appeared a moment later, clutching two parchments.
‘Who bought it,’ He stated, handing one scroll over, ‘and… who sold it.’ His hand shook as he slowly lowered the second scroll into Ekien open hand.
‘Thank you,’ Ekien reached into his cloak and flicked a golden piece across the dusty counter.
Turning, he swiftly exited the shop, longing for fresh air again. The stink of corruption often gave him a headache. Tucking the key safely away in his pocket again, he unfurled the second scroll. The scrawled writing simply confirmed his suspicions. He gave a grunt of annoyance as he slowly lowered the scroll… and paused. No longer was he in the village. Ruins towered around him and the unfamiliar stone under his feet was strangely hot. Sitting to the side, there were two women. One was not moving, the other panting heavily.
‘Get ready,’ she called out between breaths, ‘Your opponent will be here soon.’