We exit the sewers the same way we came in. I tell the group to meet me at the Weeping Tootsie by 8PM for their payment. Elise begins some kind of diatribe about trust and payment, but she’s not giving me money for this job so I walk away. Greenbottle follows. As it turns out, our employer is one in the same. I give Greenbottle a quizzical look; he knew her name just as well as I did. He must have known he’d be meeting me. Why all the reticence? Methinks he’s a little paranoid. He seems more stressed upon entering the unfinished Gravebam clinic than he did in the sewers just a few minutes ago. It’s not like a mutated frog will eat him here.
Eliza is facing away from us when we enter. By the time she turns, we’ve crossed the length of the office to her desk. The office is roomy but spartan. The only notable items in the room are a large table, a finely-made swivel chair, and Eliza.
“Good morning gentlemen. That was quick.”
“Good morning sir. You provided me with a talented guide,” I said, my eyes drifting towards Greenbottle.
“And hopefully you provide me with the agreed-upon reward…er, sir,” said Greenbottle.
“The banker downstairs will see to that. Now, the samples?”
I set my bag on the table and began carefully covering her desk in small vials swirling with color and energy. “These nine are liquid samples. I’ve marked on this map where I took them. This last sample however, is something different. We encountered some curious fauna down there; it seems like something is mutating frogs down there. They grew teeth and, well, I figured I should take a bit.” I put down the vial containing the flesh sample. It contained a webbed foot larger than a normal frog.
Eliza perks up. “Well, this is something different. Very good Davis. I think I know some people that might be interested in this. Good work you two. We will be in contact when we need you again,” Eliza spins her chair back around to gaze out of the large window on to the city below.
“Thank you, sir,” I say before going downstairs to the lobby. There’s an impeccably dressed goblin in a well-tailored suit with a stern-looking minotaur towering behind him. The tiny goblin makes the minotaur look even bigger. Or maybe the giant minotaur makes the goblin look even smaller. Either way, I don’t want to know much more about the minotaur.
“Sir?” I said, approaching the goblin slowly, with my hands in full view.
“Yes? Ah, you look like you need to be paid. Account name?” said the goblin, quickly producing a large ledger from seemingly nowhere.
“Raby. Davis Raby.”
“Rabadash…. Rabbi…. Rabid… ah! Here we are, Raby. 100 gold.” he takes a small bag off his belt and hands it to me.
“Thank you,” I say as I grab the bag. I stepped back and begin to count while Greenbottle settles his account. There seems to be some discrepancy, but by the time I’m done counting, it’s resolved. Greenbottle looks grumpy and rushes off as fast as his little halfling legs will carry him. I tail him until he arrives at the newspaper, then double back to the Weeping Tootsie.
Inside are the rest of my compatriots, sitting in a corner of the bar. Telford looks glum. Well, his shoulders seem more pitched than usual I guess. Daud is drinking and Elise is trying to keep up. It’s not even 1PM. I put a sizable pile of 25 gold in front of each of them. Before Elise can begin to scroll through her worn rolodex of tired rant topics, I show her the 25 gold left in my bag.
“I think you’ll find that to be more than reasonable compensation for this mornings activities. Thank you again for joining. Woodleaf!” I gesture to the owner who is tidying up a section behind the bar. “You get a lot of people from all walks of life here for fight night. I’ve heard celebrities even come, in disguise. What can you tell me about the important people of this city? The rich, the powerful, you know. What are the names that people want to follow here?”
John Woodleaf looks me up and down and a small grin spreads across his face. “Well, if you’re looking, nobody throws better parties than Cassius Light. No one. Of course, his entourage is already pretty dense, so good luck getting close enough to be invited to anything.”
I stroked my chin trying to remember. “Cassius Light…. That name sounds familiar…”
“It should,” said Woodleaf. “He’s the CEO of Mizra. He’s a little too much of a playboy to run a company that big if you ask me, but run it he does. He’s been here before; in disguise of course. But even in disguise he carries an entourage, and they’re not disguising themselves. Couldn’t hide the size of their bets either. Good thing they think Daud here is a gruff street ruffian who will never win against anyone who looks like they have an ounce of class.”
“That’s because I am a gruff street ruffian!” Daud cheerfully bellowed before finishing his drink. He’s all smiles after a few drinks and a pile of gold.
“Thanks for the info. I’ll see you guys around; you know where to find me.”
The day is still young, so I decide to explore the city a bit. I’ve seen enough of the slums, so I travel in the general direction of nicer part of town. I meander up and down side alleys as grimy cobblestones are replaced by worn bricks, which are replaced by smooth concrete slabs. The buildings transform from ramshackle wooden buildings and densely piled slapdash masonry into palatial porticos and spacious walled estates. No one looks at you twice on the wrong side of the tracks, but the further I get into the upper class, the more I get stared at. The slums hang on me like a cloud of dirt and everyone can see it. Based on the looks they give, it seems like they can smell it. My clothes are simple dark roughspun cloth and I wear no jewels or gold. I don’t have a mana-infused hairstyle that defies both gravity and traditional hair color. I have no superfluous pet leashed to my side or poking out of a small sidebag. If I’m ever going to travel unnoticed in this part of town, I’m going to need some help.
I find a shop that isn’t in the centered in the lap of luxury and purchase modest, but nice travel clothes. They certainly fit nicer than my other set. I find my symbol of Jalad Verloren and pin it to my breast. Another walk around the promenade and I am getting far fewer looks of disdain. People now look past me, through me. I’m not so base that they display a reaction, but I’m not flashy enough to merit any attention. Perfect. There’s an alley full of hat stores branching off the main promenade. The smell of mana and chemicals faintly wafts out of the doorways. The hats are feats of architectural wonder; bits of cloth and feathers jut out at all angles. One of them looks like an inverted pyramid made of static-charged fuzzy fur that waved wildly at the slightest breeze. Another hat has a brim almost five feet in diameter and felt balls that orbit around the center at varying distances. The hatters seem to be in an arms race to see who can produce the most extravagant and expensive hats. A few shops boasted hats constructed from material custom made for them by Mizra textile designers. If I never need to truly fit in with these people, I’ll have to invest in some spectacular clothing and accessories. No use in buying anything before I need it; I bet the fashion in this city changes before anyone can even get home with their purchases.
With my new invisibility cloak on, I spend the rest of the day floating around uptown and absorbing the culture; watching the habits of the rich and comfortable. The only upper crust I know about is the generals and commanders of DynaMotor’s military. While they get to indulge in some finer things, they are not a luxurious folk. The people of Fairsea care about their appearance at all costs. Of course women are wearing makeup, but so are many men. The beards are dyed in fantastic colors and different types of fabric are woven in and out of the larger beards. Everyone eats artistically composed plates of food with small, delicate bites; no one comes away from a beer mug with foam on their moustache. Come to think of it, it doesn’t look like there are many people drinking beer in the bars and on the patios. Instead, most people have small, flower shaped-glasses filled with delicate, translucent liquids. Some of them are layered like a parfait, while others bubble with subtle effervescence. Many bars have a stage in the center, but they’re not caged and covered in stains and debris; instead, the stages host theatre productions. It looks like every bar has a loose association with a different handful of theatre troupes to give them a solid rotation of shows to put on. Around sunset I settle in at an intimate bar and watch an evening of theater; a drama and a comedy, both by a local bard named Shiversword. The crowd chuckled, gasped, and cried, all politely and daintily so as not to disturb anyone else’s enjoyment.
The moonlight makes the streets brighter than the candle-lit bar I step out of. By the time I stumble back to the halfway house, the lobby is again bereft of lodgers. The receptionist greets me warmly as I walk up to my room.
In the morning there is a newspaper under my door. Greenbottle’s written a piece asking some questions about manufacturing pollution in the city of Fairsea. I make a mental note to mention this to Eliza, as if she doesn’t read the local news. There’s some more information about the train heist, some fluff piece about a new pie shop opening, but something in the classified section catches my eye. Someone named Draven is openly seeking adventurers, to meet him in a park in the good part of town. Did someone detect me yesterday? Is this a plot to expose and run me out of town? I think about it for a while and decide that there’s no way anyone I saw yesterday knew I’m an adventurer or ne’er-do-well of any kind. There’s nothing from Eliza, so just around dawn I leave my room and congregate in the lobby. It’s mostly orcs and half-orcs, with the occasional goblin and dwarf. There aren’t many humans in the assemblage. At once, a crowd of about 20 departs together. I wait a moment and tail them, keeping out of sight. They all travel further into the slums, finally arriving at a cotton processing plant. The sign on the front says “Kata Corporation”. So far, everything about Rakan seems to check out. Maybe I should ask some of these orcs if they know anything about Grens Dolar; maybe one of them’s been recruited or has some insight into their long-term strategy that only an orc could imagine.
It’s not nearly time to meet Draven, so on the edge of the slums I duck into an alley and change into my disguise. I put on some makeup to age myself and put on my signet ring. It’s been modified to look like the Light family seal. Yesterday I watched; today I want to listen. I find a brunch place that seems full and lively. People are gossipping and chattering with no regard to who can hear them. The topic du jour is adventurers, with everyone referencing the updates to Kata Rakan’s kidnapping.
“What were adventurers doing on the train to Fairsea?” someone asked. They spit out the word “adventurers” like it was a bitter garnish they accidentally ate.
“Maybe they wanted some new clothes,” the diners erupted in guffaws.
“What were those Grens Dolar morons doing, leaving adventurers on the train?” said one particularly scrawny halfling.
“Imagine having to be saved by adventurers, imagine having to thank them; eugh, they would probably expect payment too,” extolled a lady whose hands were fluttering near the pearls at her neck.
“I imagine it beats having your head chopped off by a hulking orc,” I chime in, trying to hide the defensiveness in my voice. A few people give some nervous laughter.
“Grens Dolar doesn’t hurt people; why else would they empty the train?” comes a voice from somewhere behind me.
“Because,” I said, half-turning around, “Grens Dolar doesn’t hurt people that aren’t their target,” no one laughs at that. “I wonder actually owns the land surrounding Fairsea. I do not envy their wealth right now,” even fewer people laugh at that. Conversation continues, but at a more reserved and personal level. The bells chime three quarters of their melody; it’s 11:45AM. Time to go.
I find an alley to change out of my disguise. I may have been an asshole back there, but nothing that compromised my cover. This is a gossipy town, and if my middle-class getup was seen talking to Draven in the park, well, someone might put two and two together. No, drawing attention to myself as a low-class adventurer is the best option. I think back to the uniform I used to wear. That splash of color on my lapel designating me as a support unit bought me beers by the enlisted and cheers by the civilians. Everybody loves a bard. Those days are gone now though. They told me I can’t even play an instrument, lest someone recognize my playing and discover my past. I didn’t know I was that good.
I walk into Arkadios Park and spot a tall, nervous-looking man standing by a statue. He’s finely dressed in a traditional gentleman’s suit; clearly not a fashion chaser. He wears one bit of jewelry though; the red fire of Mund hangs from his lapel. His eyes dart around and his hands fidget awkwardly over each other, like a fly cleaning itself. I lean against the opposite side of the statue and open up the newspaper.
“So you need some adventurers? What for?” I say into my newspaper. Draven’ head peeks around the side of the statue to see who is talking. His long neck gives him the look of a praying mantis curiously examining its surroundings. I walk around the other side of the statue.
“Ah, yes, I suppose this is how adventurers like to do business….” he says.
“Only when you want to meet where we aren’t trusted. What’s the job?”
“Right, the job. Well, I need help clearing a property. It’s a day’s travel one way, and I’m expecting two days there.”
“What kind of property? What’s being cleared?”
“A large mansion; it’s been overtaken by bandits.”
Something didn’t add up, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. “What’s the pay?” I ask
“Each person gets 25 gold per day. Including travel days.”
I thought for a second. “Okay. meet me at the gates, where the slums start, at 8PM. I’ll let you know if I have a crew,” I put my newspaper away and walk off without waiting for a response.
Where is my “crew” anyway? Well, Daud shouldn’t be far from the Weeping Tootsie and I can ask after Telford at the church of Vera if I need to. I might as well head to the Weeping Tootsie and put a word in with Woodleaf. Before I can reach it however, I stumble upon the remains of what looks like a pie eating contest. Daud, Greenbottle, Elise, and that androgynous demon child were all looking stuffed to sickness, with Daud looking particularly prideful for some reason. But still stuffed to sickness. I grab a piece of mince pie off a nearly-demolished buffet and take a bite of slightly congealed but still tasty savory meat pie.
“Good afternoon, everyone. Mm m m, this is some darn good pie,” I offer the piece with a bite taken out to the group. “Anyone want to try some?” I asked, trying to suppress a smirk.
“Oh gods no.”
“Never again. Never again.”
“Maybe, but I probably shouldn’t; I do want to drink today.”
I shrug and take another bite. Beats the hell out those delicate whipped cheese omelettes for five gold apiece. They charge an extra five silver per extra topping.
“Elise, you should open a swanky brunch place; you’d rob people blind,” I say
“Will you stop talking about food?! Besides, I wouldn’t be caught dead serving those rich, elitist, speciesist, ostentatious, peacocking, arist-”
“Okay don’t work yourself up so hard that you vomit; I had a cat that used to do that,” I turned to the rest of the group. “I have something to ask you guys.”
“Let’s walk and talk. Or better yet, wait til we get to the Weeping Tootsie,” said Daud.
“Of course. Do I have to roll you guys?”
“VEEEEEERY FUNNY WISE GUY!” Elise said loud enough for Mund to hear.
Somewhere along the way Greenbottle peels off, probably to write about how much he ate in the contest. When we get to the Weeping Tootsie, we grab the corner and Woodleaf starts opening bottles for Daud.
“No no no, just the one for now. Well, and that other one you’ve opened, no sense in letting it go to waste.”
“You tryin to turn over a new leaf, Daud?” says Woodleaf. He almost sounds worried.
“Nah, just a little fuller ‘n usual is all. I just won a pie eating contest!” Daud says as he tosses a gold to Woodleaf, who tosses it into the pot. “The pot” is just that; a big pot, a cauldron, sitting on the back bar. Inside is enough coin to pique a dragon’s interest. It is under no particular protection, nor warded in any way. The last time a traveler joked about stealing it, every single person in the room stopped what they were doing to look at him. It was fight night. Daud was just about to land the finishing blow when he dropped the near-lifeless body of some poor kid with a angle he couldn’t sell to stare at this outsider, dead in the eyes. The kid got up to stare too. And then Daud slammed the kids face into the cage.
“So, I have another job, if you guys are interested… wait… have you guys seen Telford?” I look around. I’m not sure why I expect to see him.
“No idea, haven’t seen him all morning. We’re not his babysitters ya know,” says Elise.
“I’ll tell him later. Anyway, I have a job. 25 gold a day for the next four days. That’s 25 gold for each of you. Clear out a mansion that’s been infested with some bandits,” I look from face to face. “You guys in?”
Elise is quickest. “Now, it’s not that I’m afraid of no bandits, cuz I’m not, I’ll kill me some bandits dead, don’t you worry. But I do have to ask, why do you keep coming up with all these jobs? Why do you keep draggin’ us into all of this shady ‘job’ business,” she makes exaggerated air quotes around the word “job”. “You know who has a ‘job’? Rich people! The swine who exploit us! You want me to be one of these high-falutin snobs with a ‘job’?!”
“By all means Elise,” I say calmly, “you’re welcome to stay here and try to make a living pickpocketing Woodleafs customers.”
“Eh?” Woodleaf looks up from the glass he’s washing.
“He’s kidding! He’s kidding! Ha ha ha, what a funny guy this Davis, what a joker!” says a mildly panicked Elise.
“Question: Why does it take four days to clear a mansion of bandits?” says Daud.
“It’s not. One full day of travel there, one full day of travel back,” wait….
“So why does it take two days to clear a mansion of bandits?” Damnit. There it is. That’s what’s been bugging me about this.
“That’s a good question, Daud. I’ll be sure ask myself.” I say
“I can’t do four days. I have a fight in three.”
“If I shave off that day, will you come.”
“Sure, why not.”
“Good. I’ll make sure we get all four days of payment if we come in early. I’ll try to work in a bonus too.”
“What… what… what are these bandits going to be like?” says a small voice behind Daud.
I peer around Daud’s torso. “Oh, it’s you. And what interest do you have in killing bandits? Scratch that, what’s your name.”
“Oh, uh, well, my name, my name is… Torment,” he said meekly.
“Torment? Well Torment, I have to be perfectly honest; I don’t have much faith in your, ah, fighting ability. You remember the train? You seemed a little less than, shall we say, in control of your abilities.”
“But… but… I did put most of the enemies to sleep,” he stammers out. “And… well, I could really use the gold…”
Damn kid and his damn sob story. “Alright, alright, you can come. But don’t set my robes on fire; you better have a handle on your shit. I have a feeling this won’t be easy.”
“What won’t be easy?” says a familiar voice. I turn to see a robed figure in an owl mask. I consider how easy it would be for the church to infiltrate and swap out operatives.
“Telford! Just the man I wanted to see. Look, next three or four days we’ll be traveling to a manor to clear it of some real nasty bandits. Real good pay, you’ll get 100 gold out of it. We could really use you; I don’t need to tell you that though. You’ve saved my ass plenty of times.”
“Maybe. Ill ask the church if I can get away. But I think I need your help today.”
“Well sure, Telford, what do you need?” I know there’s no pay in what he’s about to suggest, but I owe Telford my life dozens of times over; not to mention that stunt with the sewers yesterday.
“I’ve been investigating a recovering addict, Ironjaw. I couldn’t find him at his house since we got here, and I just came from a mana den where I heard he’s been.”
“A mana den?!”
“Are… are you trying to die?”
“Son of Mund, they let you walk out?”
“Telford, why didn’t you have me go in? I thought that’s the reason you kept me around,” I say with concern.
“Yes, it was risky, and I know I can’t go in again. That’s why I need you guys. He’s probably going to be back by 6PM. I need to get him to check in with the church and I think I need your help.”
“Absolutely, my man. I think Daud would be useful to help confront an addict. I can wait in the shadows with Telford and we can block him from going back in,” so Vera keeps a list of addicts and recovering addicts. I wonder how much of that is on paper.
“You always try to exclude me! You’re not the boss here, if I want to come along, I will!” shouts Elise.
“It’s just your ability to stay quiet and hidden that I question,” I snap back. I could tell her how Vera compensates in benefits more than gold. But just because you can do something, should you? Before she can respond “I wouldn’t dream of keeping you from doing something you wanted. Unless that something was pickpocketing” I say with a wink. “You coming, Torment?”
“Uhmmm, yeah, I guess. I could put him to sleep,” did he just wink? I think he winked.
We sit hidden outside of a seedy stairwell leading down into a suspiciously well-made door. 6PM came. Then 6:15PM. Then 6:30PM. Then 6:45PM. Still no Ironjaw. Telford leads us the short distance to Ironjaw’s apartment. Inside is a shambles; an addict’s apartment that was clearly already messy has been torn upside down. There are syringes and still-full mana vials on the kitchen table. Chairs are overturned and dishes are shattered in the sink.
“Oh no….” says Telford.
The window at the foot of the bed is shattered; from the inside, by the looks of it. There’s some blood still wet and red on some of the points. From below I hear the sound of a trash can crashing to the ground echoing through the alley, followed by an anguished roar getting further and further away.