Trail of broken clues

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The tavern stood askew, its doorways and windows at odd angles and the entire building leaning alarmingly in one direction, such that staring at it for too long began to make the world feel off-kilter. It nestled between a row of other terraced buildings, which were the only things keeping it standing. A long child played in the puddles outside, while a raggedy dog ran in and out of an alleyway senselessly, as if it had lost its memory.

Pienya stood across the street with her hands deep in her pockets and the grey collar of her coat pulled up around her neck. The owner of the arena pit had given her the address; she'd given him little choice and had been at her most persuasive. Visiting the arena had been convenient rather than calculated - it had been on the route to what she had expected to be a more fruitful lead. Still, the reports of an unidentified 'outsider' had been too intriguing to pass up and it would have taken only an hour to meet the stranger and cross that possibility from the list.

Instead, the stranger had fled, disappearing across the rooftops and confirming his guilt. She assumed it was a he, for she knew the stranger to be Tranton Seldon. There would be no other explanation for the head-to-toe disguise - an outfit more likely to draw attention than anything else, which would only be adopted out of complete necessity. The dark outsider had somehow made his way to Bruckin, where he'd carved out an unlikely new career. It made a certain sense - he couldn't stay on the road forever and there wasn't much in the way of available employment which would tolerate him hiding his face. The theatricality of the arena was his only option, as unlikely as that sounded.

Thus she found herself on another filthy, cold, ash-strewn street in this city-scale smithy. She had been dreaming of Treydolain's lake and artful, flower-festooned streets and market stalls, of the sunsets from the mesas and her room in the palace. It would not take long for her to catch a ride back to the capital but there was no place for her there until her mission was complete. Finding Kirya was the priority - the ungrateful brat - but returning with Tranton Seldon in chains would most definitely be appreciated by the queen.

The initial shock at Kirya's disappearance, so soon after Tranton's, had quickly subsided, replaced with an excitement and anticipation of a new courtly reality in which the princess was no longer present to drive a wedge between Pienya and Queen Anja. With Kirya's jealous tendencies no longer a consideration, Anja would at last see Pienya's true potential. Fenris Silt vacating his post on the same day made for a memorable forty-eight hours.

Pienya crossed the street and entered the tavern. The Gamesmaster - he'd insisted upon that being his actual name - had claimed to know the location of Seldon's accommodation only via subterfuge, having followed his star attraction after successive games, building a picture of his movements over several weeks, despite Seldon having tried to keep his precise location a secret.

Ignoring the innkeeper, she moved through the dim, smoke-filled bar, eyes roving for any sign of Seldon, and ascended the stairs to the second floor, where she located the room. No sound came from within. Glancing back towards the staircase, she waited until the sound of raucous laughter emanated up the stairwell and then kicked the door from its hinges.

Empty, of course. There had been little chance of Seldon returning here. The man was a brute but he wasn't a fool. She picked up the door and propped it against the frame, giving her a semblance of privacy. It was a pathetic, dirty little room, with a sunken bed and small table. She pulled the mattress up, leaning it against the wall, in the process scattering the contents of a concealed envelope to the floor. A not inconsiderable number of coins clattered onto the floorboards, enough for almost a year's salary of any one of her city guards. The arena paid better than she had appreciated and Seldon had clearly been saving for something. Perhaps a ticket to another city, or even weapons.

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