Duel, A Tale of Tri-Klops
By Drunken Fist (Based on Mattel's Masters of the Universe)
Tri-Klops was in a bad mood. Sent on yet another thankless task by Skeletor, the master swordsman’s thoughts of the Lord of Snake Mountain were not generous at the moment.
Tri-Klops had been dispatched to Scoria, a sprawling monstrosity of a village that lay three days journey to the east of Snake Mountain. It boasted a staggering number of taverns, and was little more than a haven for a gaggle of mercenaries and other assorted scum who wished only to drink and spend their recently-acquired money, wallowing in whatever debauchery they fancied until their pockets ran empty. Tri-Klops had spent a good deal of time in Scoria in his younger days, and so it was that Skeletor deemed Tri-Klops best suited for the journey to Scoria in pursuit of his latest whim.
There was an extensive black market in Scoria, and Skeletor had made arrangements to purchase a fragment of the Wraith Stone, which would increase his necromantic abilities. After being shown an image of his contact, Tri-Klops was given the details of the meeting place, and then sent on his way. He chose to travel on foot, eschewing the unique modes of transportation that would identify him as a servant of Skeletor. Such recognition caused fear in most, and sometimes, it provoked attacks by those who wished to make a name for themselves. Tri-Klops felt no desire to deal with either of those reactions, so he made his way to Scoria as an anonymous traveler, his identity concealed within the folds of a voluminous dark brown cloak. His sword was ever at hand, covered in one of the folds of the cloak, should he have need of it.
The road to Scoria was not particularly dangerous; no more so than the city itself, in any case. Tri-Klops found it rather odd that he was not challenged a single time on his way to the city, but then, his large, cloaked form did cut an imposing figure. Arriving in Scoria, Tri-Klops made his way through the dusty maze of poorly maintained streets to the Brawling Jackal. It had been many years since his last visit, but he still remembered the way. A battered, slightly rusty metal sign hung above the doorway, with a caricature of a drunken jackal proclaiming the name of the tavern. Judging from its atrocious state of preservation, Tri-Klops could swear it was the very same sign that had hung there all those years before.
As Tri-Klops entered, the familiar smells enveloped him: the odor of a hundred spilled drinks; the stench of stale, sweaty bodies; the unmistakable acrid scent of dried blood. If not for the ever-present burden of his years of service to Skeletor, Tri-Klops could imagine he had never left the city to begin with. Making his way to the bar, Tri-Klops surveyed the denizens of the tavern. Few paid him any heed, as the door seemed to constantly swing open and shut as people entered and left the establishment. One more wouldn’t draw much attention. Looking over the people seated around the main room, Tri-Klops saw the same manner of mercenaries and thieves he expected. Near the unlit fireplace, however, was seated a large man who seemed somewhat out of place among the others. His face and much of his body was hidden by a black hood and cloak, but his posture did not have the look of relaxed drunkenness seen in the other patrons. His tankard sat on the table in front of him, full and untouched. In the split second it took to take all this in, Tri-Klops sensed something vaguely familiar about the man. However, whatever it was that he recognized about the man eluded him for the moment, so he continued on to the bar and ordered a tankard of ale. Though his back was turned, he could sense the man watching him. This couldn’t be his contact; the man was far too large. Perhaps it was an agent of the anonymous seller, keeping watch on the man who was to make the purchase? As the barkeep handed Tri-Klops his drink, he glanced up into the hood. The look of recognition that flashed in the barkeep’s eyes was unmistakable, and he visibly grew a shade paler. Even in a place such as this, where dangerous mercenaries and assassins were a constant presence, an agent of the Lord of Destruction was something to be feared. Tossing a coin onto the counter, Tri-Klops walked to an empty table near a corner and took a seat.
The constant hum of conversation obscured all other sounds as he sat there, slowly sipping his ale. Tri-Klops didn’t have to meet his contact until the next night, so he had to find something to do in this city to pass the time. As his mind idly wandered, Tri-Klops was all the while watching the hooded man. After a few minutes had passed, the man rose and walked toward the table where Tri-Klops sat nursing his drink.
As he drew near, he quietly said, so no one else could hear, “You’re a long way from Snake Mountain, swordsman.” As he spoke, he raised his head slightly, and Tri-Klops had a good look under the hood. The bald head, covered with tattoos, was unmistakable. The vibrant, yellowish eyes regarded him calmly as he sat across from Tri-Klops. His dark purple skin appeared almost black in the dim light.
“And you’re right at home in this cesspool with the other vermin, Kheelan.”
The man called Kheelan winced, a look of mock pain on his face. “Is that any way to address an old friend, Tri-Klops?” As he smiled, Tri-Klops could see his teeth, which had been filed into points.
“I would hardly call us friends,” Tri-Klops replied. “We were competitors. At best, we tolerated each other’s company when it was absolutely necessary.”
“And tried to kill each other when it was not.” Kheelan smiled again. “But that was so many years ago. We’ve both moved on since then; can we not leave that in the past, where it belongs, and share a drink?”
Tri-Klops considered it. He did have time to kill, and he’d endured far worse company over the years. Kheelan also understood Tri-Klops better than most, as they had both come from very similar backgrounds. This was what had brought them together in the first place more than two decades earlier, and why they had even tried to work together, once upon a time. Though they had ultimately wound up as bitter competitors, they did have much in common.
“I can’t see the harm in that,” Tri-Klops said equitably.
“Good,” Kheelan said. “It will be nice to catch up, to talk about old times with someone who is actually worthy of my time. Most of the gutter trash in this city are little more than rank amateurs.”
Having looked over the crowd, Tri-Klops could only nod in agreement. “So,” he asked, “how is it that I walk in here today and find you in the same tavern we frequented so many years ago?”
“Oh, I can never seem to get away from Scoria for too long,” Kheelan replied. “Even if the company is usually less than desirable, this is still a city that brims with opportunity. I never seem to have trouble finding a job when I need one. There’s always some rich merchant passing through who needs more protection, or an ambitious nobleman or some such who needs a rival eliminated, or any manner of work for someone of my talents. I’ve had several lucrative offers for permanent positions with many prominent people, but I just don’t like the idea of being attached to a single job for too long.” He smiled. “In the end, I always come back here because this cesspool has been good to me. I’ve made many friends here, although most of them are gone, and I’ve gotten my best jobs here, too. For instance, it was at this very table I received the Verenus job.”
The left corner of Tri-Klops’ mouth lifted in what could almost be considered a smile. “I thought that one had your fingerprints all over it.” Baron Verenus had been a deposed nobleman of the Cathalonian kingdom. Using his wealth to amass a small army of mercenaries, Verenus planned to invade the kingdom that had served as his home and take its throne by force. Malvidius, the Cathalonian ruler, did not consider Verenus and his army a serious threat. However, Malvidius saw no reason to go to war when a bit of gold would buy the services of an assassin who would put an instant end to Verenus and his plans of conquest. When Tri-Klops had heard about how Verenus had gotten a Rokellian blade slid between his ribs in his private tent, despite being surrounded by his personal guard, he had immediately thought of Kheelan. The Rokellian blades he carried were his signature. Large and rather difficult to master, the unusual shape of the Rokellian blades left a distinct wound that would be difficult to duplicate with any other type of weapon. It was a source of pride to Kheelan that he was so adept at their use, and he always used them as a way of leaving his “signature” on one of his kills.
Kheelan nodded, accepting the underlying compliment in Tri-Klops’ words. “So exactly what is it that brings you here all the way from Snake mountain?”
This was a question Tri-Klops hated to answer. His current mission was little more than a glorified courier job, and a backhanded insult to someone of his talents. “I’m here on behalf of Skeletor to purchase an item.”
Kheelan grunted. “Sounds rather beneath you. Are things so slow in Snake Mountain that Skeletor has no better use for his finest warriors?”
Tri-Klops worded his answer carefully. “Skeletor does not always... utilize his resources in the best way possible.”
Kheelan nodded knowingly, then ordered another round.
As Tri-Klops made his way to the room at the inn, he reflected on the day’s events. It had been a while since he had drank so much, but his tolerance was high. His mind was still sharp, and his senses had not deserted him. Seeing Kheelan again had been far more pleasant than he would have expected. Tri-Klops had actually enjoyed reminiscing about days gone by, and old adventures. When he had first met Kheelan, Tri-Klops had been a young swordsman wandering the land, taking on any job that offered a challenge. He was arrogant in those days, and considered most others beneath him because of his fighting prowess. Kheelan was more experienced, but Tri-Klops had a ferocity and natural agility that allowed him to survive their first encounter. As time passed, they tried to work together as partners, and when that fell apart, their enmity grew. Hence, Tri-Klops had not expected the warm welcome he had received when he first spotted Kheelan earlier today. Perhaps Kheelan had finally matured over the years, as Tri-Klops himself had.
In any case, Tri-Klops had other matters that required his attention. He still had yet to complete his mission, and in the meantime, he needed rest.
Despite bedding down at such a late hour, Tri-Klops was up before the city itself had fully awakened. The streets were still deserted, and it would be hours before the buzz of activity filled the city as it normally did. Tri-Klops still had a lot of time before he had to meet his contact, so he had to find something to keep himself occupied. After an hour of meditation, he checked over his travel gear once again, more to pass the time than anything else.
Heading back to the Brawling Jackal, Tri-Klops saw that Kheelan was nowhere to be found. He had put away much more ale than Tri-Klops; he was probably still sleeping it off. With nothing to do at the tavern, Tri-Klops decided to head to the marketplace to pass the time.
Located near the city’s center, the marketplace was a cluttered jumble of hundreds of little booths and tables at which merchants hawked their wares. Nearly anything from weapons to clothing to food to magical items could be found here, all of varying quality. In one very crowded area, a shabby stage was constructed, and this is where slaves were held for auction. Even in the dark hemisphere, there were many who considered slavery reprehensible, Tri-Klops included. However, its legality was determined within each individual domain by its respective ruler, and in a chaotic land such as the area in which Scoria was located, anything that brought more currency into the city was fair game. Tri-Klops found the whole idea distasteful in the extreme, and avoided going near the auction, lest his temper get the best of him. He was here to purchase the Wraith Stone for his master, not to destroy the local slave trade.
Browsing one merchant’s stock of weapons, Tri-Klops came across a Rokellian dagger. A hobby of his was seeking new weapons to master, and he had always intended to master the use of the unique Rokellian weapons, but had never actually gotten around to it. Perhaps it was running into Kheelan that brought it to the forefront of his mind again, perhaps not; either way, Tri-Klops purchased the weapon. Next, he visited a leather worker to craft a sheathe for the weapon, as the sheathe that was included with the dagger was substandard, in Tri-Klops’ opinion. He promised the man a generous bonus if the sheathe was ready before second moonrise. That would give him plenty of time to pick it up before he met his contact to purchase the Wraith stone.
And so the day passed, or at least what passes for day in the dark hemisphere, as Tri-Klops kept himself occupied with one distraction after another. Finally, the hour of the pre-arranged meeting grew near. As the merchants in the marketplace were beginning to close down, Tri-Klops made his way back to the leather worker’s booth. The sheathe was completed, and it was an exquisite piece of work. The ornate designs etched into the leather exceeded Tri-Klops’ expectations, and the dagger fit inside it perfectly. Tri-Klops tested drawing the dagger quickly. The sheathe was snug, but did not prevent the weapon from sliding out quickly and smoothly. It was excellent work. Tri-Klops paid the man the promised bonus, plus a little extra for the surprising quality of the sheathe. Reaching under the folds of his cloak, Tri-Klops attached the sheathe to his belt, then began to walk toward the prearranged meeting place for the purchase of the Wraith Stone.
It was still some time before his contact was supposed to arrive, but Tri-Klops wanted to arrive early and conceal himself, so he could survey the meeting place and make sure nothing seemed amiss. There was always the possibility of a trap, and one could never be too careful. He was to meet his contact in the bowels of the Acold Havens, the city’s slums. There was a large population of poverty-stricken unfortunates who dwelled in Scoria, and the Acold Havens served as low-cost housing for them. The squalid dwellings in this area of the city existed in deplorable conditions. The streets were lined with those who were even more destitute, begging for coins from passers-by, and in many cases, resorting to violence in their desperation.
As he neared the meeting place, Tri-Klops took to the rooftops, so no one would see him approaching. Crouched on the rooftop above the street on which the meeting was to take place, Tri-Klops observed the area, his cybernetic eye taking in every detail. This area was mostly deserted, save for a few huddled vagrants. And, in the shadow of the building directly across from the one on which Tri-Klops was perched, one man was lying motionless in the street. Tri-Klops’ eye detected no heartbeat, although it perceived that the body was still warm. So, he hadn’t been dead long. Tri-Klops could see that the man’s clothing was exactly what his contact was supposed to be wearing. The man’s build was right, too. It would be unwise to leap down to the street, since whoever killed the man may still be watching, waiting for him to appear. The men huddled on either side of the street could even be waiting in ambush for him. On the other hand, if the killer took the Wraith Stone, the trail was growing colder with each passing second. There was no real choice in the end; he had to risk it. His muscles tensed for a moment, then he was leaping from the rooftop, landing gracefully in the street. He whipped off his hood so his other two eyes would give him a panoramic view, preventing anyone from sneaking up behind him as he searched the body. Turning the man over, Tri-Klops conducted a quick and efficient search. Nothing. Not even a weapon, which was foolish in this city. Perhaps it, too, had been stolen by the murderer. Having finished searching the body, Tri-Klops turned his attention to the wound. Immediately, he gritted his teeth in irritation. The wound could have been caused by nothing but a Rokellian dagger. Its appearance left no doubt of this. Only the unique shape of that style of blade could have created this wound.
Tri-Klops realized, however, that he could be jumping to conclusions. Kheelan was the obvious suspect. He was in the city, and he was one of the rare few who had mastered the Rokellian blades. However, he was far from the only person expert in their use. This murder could even have been committed by someone who wished to set Kheelan up. Before he began hunting anyone down, he had to be sure. And there were several potential witnesses on this very street.
Walking over to the nearest person, Tri-Klops saw that he was sprawled on the street, right up against the wall. He was unconscious, and reeked of cheap alcohol. Tri-Klops could not rouse him. Eight paces away, another man sat in the shadows, leaning against the wall. He saw Tri-Klops approaching and grew visibly nervous, his eyes flitting left and right, searching for some avenue of escape. “Easy,” Tri-Klops said. “I only wish to question you.” He was now standing over the man. The man was obviously frightened. Removing a gold coin from under the folds of his cloak, Tri-Klops absentmindedly rolled it back and forth across the fingers of his left hand as he spoke. “Did you see what happened to that man lying over there?”
“I kinda remember something like that,” the man said gruffly, his eyes now following the coin. “But my memory’s not what it used to be...”
“Let me help jog your memory,” Tri-Klops said. He removed another coin from his pouch, flipping both into the man’s lap, where he eagerly grabbed them and slid them into his pocket. “In addition to that, you will have the gratitude of one who has the ear of the Lord of Snake Mountain, should you ever need a favor. Now speak.”
“All right, the guy that did him in was here not long before you showed up. He was big, wearing a black cloak, and he used Rokellian steel--”
”You’re absolutely certain?” Tri-Klops cut him off. “You recognized a Rokellian blade?”
The man laughed hoarsely. “I haven’t lived on this street my whole life. I’ve seen those swords before. You don’t forget something like that. I wasn’t really watching, so I don’t know how he got close to the guy. I heard that guy--” he gestured toward the dead man on the other side of the street, “yell, and that’s when I turned around and looked. I saw the big guy put the sword back under his robe, then he was gone. I didn’t see his face, but I did get a quick look at the end of his nose sticking out past his hood when he turned to leave. The skin was dark purple.”
A large man with expert use of a Rokellian sword, a black cloak, and purple skin– that was enough to confirm Tri-Klops’ suspicions. He tossed the man another coin, and took to the rooftops once more. Once he was approaching the main hub of the city, he returned to the street. A quick check at the inn where Kheelan had told Tri-Klops he was staying revealed that he had left with all his belongings shortly before nightfall. It was apparent to Tri-Klops that Kheelan had then proceeded to the Acold Havens, murdered his contact, stole the Wraith Stone, and probably left the city. A quick check with the gate guards confirmed that a man matching Kheelan’s description had, indeed, left the city not long ago.
Tri-Klops would not return to Snake Mountain without the Wraith Stone, so there was only one option. He persuaded the hostler at the inn to sell him the finest steed in the stable– dropping Skeletor’s name helped out here– and gathered his belongings from his room at the inn. After purchasing some provisions, he mounted his steed and left Scoria, following Kheelan’s trail.
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