He was dressed like a prince, and nobody would suspect him; or, more important, nobody would find him. The thing about necromancers was that they- by nature- had a tendency to deal in shady affairs, to touch on matters to which no other soul would dare, to wrap themselves in swathes of death and finality and love every second of it. Shady affairs, in turn, attracted the shadiest of people, some of whom could shed a favorable light on even a necromancer: vagabonds with desperate desires, ordinary merchants of questionable honesty, influential high-society of extremely questionable morality. They came from all classes of humanity, of all manner of backgrounds, with all manner of methods to persuade and to bribe, for a necromancer’s services were unique, hard to come by and, consequently, not all that affordable. However, those foolish and desperate enough to contact and/or raise the dead were usually more than willing to fork out the funds. And typically, so long as someone was willing to pay and had the necessary means to do so, a necromancer would not hesitate to perform the services that the client sought (and would leave the poor fool to deal with the consequences himself, and then be on their way). Vitali Kristeva was no exception to any of the above, except for one small additive fact: while he was just as (if not moreso) amoral than his death-meddling kin, he possessed a sharper sense of how particular consequences unfolded and, thus, did not always see fit to play things up to the best interest of the client. Particularly not when they had a noteworthy hunger for power that should not be theirs to wield, a weakness for corruption, a finish primed to tarnish. Such traits were most commonly found in- ironically- those who already weighed heavily with power: kings and queens and the wealthy, governing families of cities and towns through the Northlands, and they weren’t hard to pick out. They were the ones who, in the deepest dark of night, arrived with a sack full of more gold than any mere commoner could dare to imagine, coming forth with their willingness to provide a very generous down payment, should their request be accepted. In fact, the most recent fool client to approach Vitali had been so eager to have his wish fulfilled, and so confident that the necromancer simply couldn’t turn him down had paid- and handsomely- up front. And Vitali Kristeva- who was nowhere near daft enough to turn down enough currency to easily keep himself luxuriously afloat for approximately a year on the road- accepted the job. And stole away that very same night, money securely tethered to his side underneath the long coat, without so much as a whisper of his departure or tracks to follow. And without fulfilling his end of the bargain. There had been murmurings of him throughout the tavern all afternoon; not of his name, however, for he gave it to no one, not in a very long time. But even if they had known his name, he would not have registered as familiar, nor did he fit his own image anymore: his ink-black hair, once long and in a perpetual state of tangled or tousled, was now cropped to his neck, and the tattered, threadbare longcoat that had clad his medium stature for almost a decade had been discarded for a rich black blazer lined with glittering gold trim, ornate enough to be dashing but thick enough to be useful. The tailor who had crafted the suit fit for royalty had asked no questions when he had offered double the payment to have the outfit ready within a day, as he was eager to be well on his way before it finally dawned on his client that he had been cheated out of his money. And, so as to ensure the old man’s secrecy, he’d slipped him a few extra coins before taking off into the night. So it was not the necromancer of whom this hostelry was full of curious murmurings, but of the unfamiliar aristocrat in his place. “Ha’e ye seen that bloke? Th’one who been drinkin’ for hours?” One of the tavern’s regulars leaned across the counter to murmur to the Whistling Willows’ owner-and-barkeep, whisky already strong on his breath. “He been here longer th’n me, now! Hasn’t moved in hours! Maybe his ale finally took ‘im under?” The barkeep glanced up at the man in question. While he could only see the back of his dark head from that angle, the drunk had a point: it had been a good hour, at the very least, since he’d moved a muscle. And the bar-maids must have refilled his mug five times since he’d pushed through the doors, earlier that afternoon. “Y’think he’s some kind o’ royalty? Look at them pretty clothes. Not e’en his Lord Township comes a knockin’ on a tavern door in threads like thems!” “I don’t know. But the clothes really aren’t my first concern.” Heaving a sigh, the barkeep walked around the counter , with every intention to attend to yet another inebriated fool who clearly didn’t have the good sense to know when enough was enough. Pretty clothes or not, no one was going to lounge about in alcohol-induced unconsciousness in his establishment. “Come on, now. You can’t just sit here and-” No sooner did his hand encircle the rich-looking young man’s upper arm that he turned to stare at the barkeep, very much awake and- judging by the clarity of his unusually bright eyes- very aware. “Is there a problem?” He asked in a velvet-smooth voice laced with subtle ire, looking pointedly at the hand on his arm as though he desired nothing more than to burn a hole in it. “Oh- ah, no. No, I guess there isn’t.” Quickly unlatching his fingers, the barkeep took a step back and bowed his head in apology. “My apologies, Mister… uh…” “Rochefort. Baron Ilium Rochefort.” Emphasis was put on the title of Baron, and Vitali looked and acted very much the part, brushing off his sleeve as though the barkeep’s fingers had sullied the fine material of his blazer. “I am traveling through your town on my way to attend some important business affairs and thought I might take some time to myself before I resume my ventures. Although, it seems as though a man isn’t permitted to enjoy a quiet afternoon in a tavern which- I have been told- is supposed to be quite reputable.” The barkeep was positively red in the face, at this point, and wrung his hands while his flabbergasted mind raced to better this positively embarrassing (and, possibly, detrimental) situation. Should someone as affluent as a Baron spread word that his establishment was not accommodating, then the Whistling Willows would nary see another wealthy traveler walk through its doors. “Please accept my sincerest apologies, Baron. I beg your forgiveness for this misunderstanding… Here.” Before Vitali could comment, he withdrew a plain cotton handkerchief from his pocket, clean and white and looking just as neat as the day it was made. In the corner, the initials E.H. were stitched with gold thread. “Whether or not you’ve got a room for the night, take this to the hotel across town- the one with the bright green doors. It’s our best accommodations, and the lady who runs it… Well, she’s fancied me for a while, see. Show her the handkerchief and tell her that Rhys sent you, and you’ll get a room on the house. It’s the least I can do…” “I believe the least you can do would be to waive the fees on the beverages, to top it off.” Pulling off the best aristocratic scowl he could muster, Vitali took the handkerchief and rolled his shoulders back. “Do see that this indignity does not happen again.” More sputtered apologies followed, then faded into the background when the barkeep returned to his spot behind the counter, and the necromancer returned to what he had been so focused on as to have appeared to be asleep. The broken pocket watch in his hand- one that he had confiscated off of a recently fallen cadaver a few days back- spoke to him faintly, but not yet clearly enough to discern its story. Its previous owner simply hadn’t been dead long enough; perhaps the spirit was still stuck in a post-mortem state of denial, something not uncommon among the newly deceased. Since he was getting nowhere with it (and probably look more than a little out of sorts, staring at a broken watch for hours), he replaced the trinket in a pocket on the inside of his blazer, contemplating refilling his mug one last time before he would be on his way. But he’d already done so about four too many times, and undoubtedly that had been the reason as to why the barkeep had wandered over in the first place (after all, it wasn’t exactly a common trait to be as impervious to the effects of alcohol as he was). Figuring it best to stop while he was ahead, the necromancer rose and made to leave the Whistling Willows, holding his posture straight and his chin high as any aristocrat would. Really, with the right clothes and the right attitude, it wasn’t so hard to come across as one of the affluent socialites with whom he’d had many dealings in the past. As long as he was careful, nobody would suspect him as the necromancer Vitali. At least, he had to count on that, until such a time that he left the Northlands completely. When you double-crossed people in power in this Kingdom, paving a new path was the wisest decision to make. Because if Vitali knew anything about people with more money than they had brains, it was that they did not forget.