Lawrence Crane was a terrible name for an assassin. Not the worst he'd ever heard, and it was certainly bland compared to some of the other pseudonyms Bird had come up with over the years, but that was part of the problem. It lacked a certain panache, but it had earned a reputation that surely made up for any lack-luster qualities the name itself possessed. Besides, Bird enjoyed the humor of it, even if the joke was strictly private. Anyone that might have understood was long since dead.

"Mr. Crane?"

Oh, right. He was supposed to be paying attention. The man across from him was a medium blah, boring and average in every way. He was going for unremarkable, and hitting that mark with such accuracy that it was actually problematic. Then again, Bird was a bit of an authority when it came to illusions, so maybe he was being too hard on the hellspawn.

"More dim sum?" The golem asked. When Bird shook his head, the golem pushed the dish aside and pulled out a stack of papers, tapping it on the sticky table. Tacky- both the mannerism and now the papers. Bird sighed, muttering the golem's next words under his breath.

"Right to business then." Pass the papers. "My employers would like to blah blah blah." Bird snatched the dossier from the golem's hand, sighing as it kept right on with it's speech, even down to extending it's empty hands to give Bird the file he'd already taken.

"Xen," he said distractedly as he leafed through the pages and pages of words. "Wound you get this thing's owner on the line please? You know how I hate answering machines."

A coil of inky thought uncurled from the nest of shadows in the back of Bird's mind. The demon didn't literally reside there, but it was a useful visualization. It had kept Bird from going crazy thus far.

Xen stretched, yawned, and made a big show of having been asleep. Bird gestured to the still speaking golem, tossing a pointed look in its direction. Any time now, Xen. He knew his demon knew what he wanted, but that didn't stop Xen from playing games. It did keep Bird from further reaction, though. Getting cross would only give the damned thing a snack when it hadn't earned one. So he scanned the dossier, looking for anything vaguely interesting. So far, this was shaping up to be a waste of time.


The abrupt change in the golem's tone earned Bird's immediate attention. Ignoring golems was one thing. Ignoring clients was a stupid show of arrogance that lost more than it gained.

He couldn't tell anything from the sound or appearance—neither of which had changed, except for demeanor—about who he was now speaking to. Probably not an actual demon then, as they tended to be show-offs (and that earned a rumbling displeasure from Xen), but he wouldn't rule it out. As with any unknown, best to be polite.

"Thank you for taking my call." He didn't leave the sentence hanging, inviting the speaker to name themselves. If his contact wanted Bird to know who they were, they'd say so. Instead, he moved brusquely forward.

"I only work through certain agents, as I'm sure you know. Your golem has yet to identify which party it represents."

"We're not with your usual agents," the agitated voice cut in. Female? Hard to say through the "male" golem's voice. "But we did purchase a one time pass. However, your agent prefers not to be associated with this job in any way, unless it is successfully completed."

"Uh huh." Bird was bored again, uninterested in taking a suicide run. Because that was the only reason none of them would claim this. Should he survive, Bird would be calling the complaint hotline. Or executing someone. Or both.

"I assure you," she continued, "we have met all the proper requirements. It is the nature of the targets, not the mission, that is the cause of your agent's reluctance. Success or failure, either one is unacceptable by your agent's public face.

Ah, one of the politicians then. The target would be well known then, and that presented its own set of challenges. The thing Bird was really beginning to wonder was,

"Why me?"

The golem blinked once, twice, and when it spoke again, Bird knew the speaker had been female, because the new speaker was definitely male, and definitely demonic. Or otherwise unworldly powerful.

"The target is ex-Dai, and your reputation precedes you."

Oh. So that was it. Another clean up job. But it did recapture his attention, as his contact knew it would. Bird settled back and crossed his arms, going frighteningly calm as Xen greedily ate up his seething rage.

"I'm listening."

"There is a growing problem with supposedly extinct chimera emerging in a certain nest. It's led by a mate of wyverns masquerading as mere shifters—a hawk and cobra, to be exact—with a suspected mara or dragon lieutenant. The lieutenant is not a target, but I can't imagine he'll take kindly to you assassinating his nest leaders, so keep that in mind. Our order is researching the possibility of payment for him. We'll keep you updated on any contracts we can arrange. We have reason to believe the cobra is ex-Dai, which I'm sure comes as no surprise, so the usual buyers are interested if you can recover him alive."

His contact held up a hand to forestall any interruptions. "I know, I know. They've already been informed of your policy on Dai captures. My employer still recommended we seek you out for this contract, given the number of high-powered targets involved. It's currently a non-competitive contract, at least on our end, but these people have made a lot of enemies, so we make not guarantees."

"Are you done?"

The contact nodded, pushed back from the table, and abruptly left. They tended to talk too much as it was, and he was grateful this one didn't waste any time on goodbyes. The golem blinked stupidly as it reset itself, falling back on default exit protocol. Bird got up and left it in the middle of its "so happy to have met you," spiel. He suddenly wasn't in the mood for kung pao.