"Archon Marriq," said a voice, and the archon stopped. He was just about to turn from Victory lane onto Loyalty street, where his house lay safe inside its high walls and magical wards. The guards moved up from behind him, forming a triangle around him: two behind, one in front. They blocked his view of the street ahead, but he didn't complain. It was, he understood, more important for them to be able to see what was happening, especially if there was about to be an attack.
"You have a problem, Archon," said the voice, and his guards were still looking around, still trying to place its source.
"If you're the problem," said Marriq, "then do whatever it is you came here to do... and let us resolve it. My time is valuable." He was uncomfortably aware that any number of magical attacks could engulf him and all three of his guards, but it wouldn't do for an archon to be cowed.
"I'm not the problem," said the voice. "I'm your solution. Your problem is the Silver Fox."
Marriq laughed. "Children's tales," he said. "Rumors spread by elvish criminals to scare us and reassure their people."
"And how many of your inquisitors have had to retire from public service owing to the mark of the Fox on their cheek? How much does your office spend on magically removing those marks? I've spoken with four, so far: two who still bear their marks, and two who had them removed. None of them felt that enough was being done. And I know full well that Vigo the Whisperer is offering a bounty... Perhaps his Highness the King doesn't feel that enough is being done, either."
"And you're here to fix that for me?" asked Marriq, gesturing the guards aside and stepping forward even as he reviewed the spells at his disposal. He was not a mighty wizard, but he was no mere bureaucrat either. "Very well. Show yourself, and let us deal."
A figure stepped out of an arched doorway that Marriq would have sworn was empty. "As you wish."
He was human, broad-shouldered and powerfully muscled, wearing a plain brown tunic and orange pants tucked into high brown boots. There was a heavy, curved sword at his side and a black cloak thrown back across his shoulders. "I can catch the man that nobody can catch -- if there's enough money in it."
Marriq raised his hands, palms up, to either side. "You know about the bounty already. Five thousand for the Silver Fox, another thousand for each of his companions. How much more do you want?"
"Double that," said the man, and there was something very disturbing in the way that he moved, stilled, stared. "I want twice the promised reward, and a public announcement, and a presentation to the king."
Marriq frowned, troubled. "I cannot promise any of those things."
"I understand," said the man. "Still, you can talk to the people who can make such promises. I will find you again in three days, and you will give me an answer."
"As you say," Marriq regarded the stranger. "I can do this. But why should I -- or Vigo, or the King -- believe you can keep this bargain?"
The man shrugged and smiled. "Because I can do things other men cannot. Your tormentor is hidden from people such as you, but not from me. And in any case, there's no loss to you if I fail."
Marriq found that he believed him. "I will... speak with the people I know," he said. "I will let you know what I hear back."