13 April 2021

Fever-Dreaming in Marlinko, part 6

This is a game of Finders Keepers set in the city of Marlinko. The dramatis personae are:

  • Atiin Brigantia, a brilliant but lazy lunatic
  • Edward "the Wild" Bleestocles, a leper disowned by his wealthy family
  • Jacobin "Jackass" Valentin, a soulless bastard
  • Tadzio, an estranged son of a powerful mage
  • Victory Alder, a young vampire

 

From here.

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Atiin's apartment, afternoon
Eventually, everyone gets back to the flat - except for Tadzio and Edward, who spent the whole day here in a deep discussion about changing their names that led to nothing, because they were mainly just drinking away their problems and chucking empty bottles out of the window. With everyone present and all new developments shared, the gang now has secured a way to escape Jarek's wrath for at least a while and turn some profit at the same time.

Only Ed is still grumbling: "Sure, just gonna rub swamp water in my diseased flesh holes, surely that will help with my condition."

There's just one tiny problem - they don't have the money for the supplies that Atiin ordered. After some deliberation, they decide to finally have a proper look on the troublesome trophies still hidden in a sack under a bed, in case they could be somehow inconspicuously sold.
 

All drawings by Oddrick.


An abstract granite sculpture labelled from six years ago. Nothing special, really.
 


A horseshoe with the crest of the House Kladivo in bas-relief and a massive ruby embedded in a nicely crafted case. The ruby turns out to be quite easy to detach from the case.
 

 

A humble cup that could have belonged to a carpenter. Looks cheap, but has a certain aura of je ne sais quoi around it.

Also a strange amphora made of unknown material, apparently sealed shut with wax.
 

 

A heavy golden samovar with inlaid jade stones. Probably a relic from the north-eastern lands plagued with rival barbarian tribes. Likewise sealed shut, but the wax is old and crumbling. Would probably net a nice sum, but way too recognizable to be sold.
 


An obsidian sculpture of a mighty steed, one of its legs broken off. It has an inscription in Old Pahr on its belly, and luckily Atiin can read it: "I shall hold the world's shadow's reins."


A main de gloire seemingly making the V sign; there are two candle wicks sprouting out of those fingertips. The hand is obviously mummified and firmly planted on battered clay in a bowl of bronze. The tripod that supports it is made of some polished stone.

Victory goes to close the shutters and draw the curtains, then lights the wicks on the hand.

"What are you doing?" Tadz asks.

"I've heard these kinda hands only light the way for the one who holds them. Can y'all see the light?" she asks from the darkest corner of the room.

And the hand indeed doesn't shine for anyone but her, yet furthermore the rest of the trophies glisten with strangely coloured auras under the touch of the hand of glory's light, as does Jack's rapier, Atiin's knife and even Vic herself.

"These are odd trophies to be sure," Atiin mutters.
 
"Which reminds me, Tadz, have you seen this?" Victory says as she snuffs out the hand, taking out the Tiger Pit flyer she got from old Slinky. "I know how you like tiger wrestling and there's a special event tomorrow. I guess you shouldn't show yourself to Jarek right now, but we still have the extra clothes and false moustaches, if you'd like to go and watch."

"You know, I've been itching to go to the Pit, but I'm afraid I'll not be able to steer clear from the arena once I'm there. And yes," he smiles, "this is me admitting I might have a problem."
 

***

The South Market, late afternoon
The streets are crowded with people waving little banners with their district's symbol as Victory and Jackass make their way to the South Market again, this time to sell the big ruby and thus get enough money to pay for their already ordered supplies. It's a high time they take care of this business, as all the shops will be closing early tonight and in an hour or two, watchmen will be clearing the streets for the Race.

They find and enter The Němec Certified Jewelers' Society, ran by an elderly couple that seems equal parts cute and annoying. They take their precious time doing anything one can imagine - from greeting the customers to doing math. And there's always a rambling about events past thrown in for good measure, story upon story upon story and no point to them at all. They find Jack and Vic a beautiful couple, and they wish them a bountiful and happy life in lawful wedlock under the Sun Lord's merciful gaze.

They offer five hundred gold for the gem.

"Oh, we were hoping for something closer to eight hundred, isn't that right, honey?" Victory leans into Jackass. "You see, we found this cosy place, very close to the Západ Street, actually, and it would be simply wonderful for kids, I mean, fingers crossed that we should be so blessed by our Lord as soon as possible, but unfortunately it is rather pricey for us right now, plus the cost of a crib and nappies and all the extra clothing, however small and cute it is, I mean, you can surely imagine. It's the only reason we're even considering selling this, I mean, I'm sure my grandmother would approve, may the Lord rest her soul, as it is for the well-being of her grandchildren, after all."
 
The shopkeepers enters this state of silently conferring for a while, doing nothing more than stare at each other and make faces. The old lady makes several pleading faces, then a really impressive threat face. The old man has a shorter repertoire; all his faces are "but honeeeyy" faces.

"Eight hundred is more than fair," the old lady finally says.

Her husband sighs, puts on his best fake smile and start to count the coins. Slowly.

"It is quite impressive stone, after all," the lady continues. "Where did your grandmother get it, if you don't mind me asking, honey?"

"Oh, I don't know much about it, unfortunately. My grandma once told me it was a gift from my grandpa. He used to be a sailor and brought it back from his travels, from somewhere far south, I think."

"Aww. And what would be your family name, dear?"

"Al...nus. Well, it used to be," Vic smiles at Jack again.

"Such a lovely name, darling!" Jack exudes. "It's one of the things that lured me in," he tells the shopkeepers. "That, and her charming smile..."

They both start going through their respective mental files, looking for a respectable Alnus lineage. They're old and slow, and before they are finished, Vic and Jack take their money and bid the old couple a respectful fair-well.

While Jackass hurries to meet with Ed and continue on his duelling date with Kytel, Vic wanders the streets and eventually finds herself back at the Drunken Troll Inn.

The gate to the Tomb of the Town Gods remains open on just a slit, as no one since Fong'orr the barbarian had the guts to tamper with it. In the meantime, people have left a small altar made of religious trinkets in front of it. Maybe a way of wishing Fong'orr luck? Or rather mourning him?

More importantly, Victory finds Steelpike in the tavern proper, drinking by himself. She joins him at the table.

"Good evening, Mr. Steelpike. How do you do? Before you jump to any conclusions, there is no need for concern on your part. I am here only to ask a single question, and then I will be gone again.

Due to new developments that I'm not at liberty to discuss with you, my superiors have become interested in the whereabouts of the gentleman calling himself 'Xoxx'. As you're a known acquaintance of his, I would like to know if you have any information about his current residence here in Marlinko, or where would the League be able to find him? Your cooperation would be deeply appreciated by the League."

He avoids looking at her altogether, picking his nails. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he mutters.

"Ah, that is quite unfortunate. As I said, I am here only to ask a single question, and then I will be gone. We merely wish to find him." And she keeps sitting, smiling at Steelpike all the time.

After a while, he lowers his voice, puts both hands on the table: "Why? Why would you wish to do such a stupid thing?"

"In my line of work, Mr. Steelpike, I find it's not a good idea to ask why. I am told to do something, I do it. And if you help me, I can personally guarantee you that there will be no mention of your name anywhere, plus I will make doubly sure that nobody from us troubles you again."

She leans closer to him and lower her voice, too. "And just between you and me, if you can tell me why did my superiors take a sudden interest in that guy, I will be in your debt. I haven't seen someone... blue like him before and now I'm supposed to go looking for him all over Marlinko!"

"If Jiří wants to locate Xoxx, then someone must tell him that he is out of his depth. But I suppose that that someone is not gonna be you, miss."

Steelpike sips from his cup, takes a deep breath.

"Listen to me. I don't know where he is. He doesn't tell me anything, except when he wants to meet. But now that the..." he hesitates, his heartbeat speeds up. "Fuck it. Now that the map is once more in their possession, I don't think he'll feel the need to ever contact me again."

"Who's they? And that's not the League asking, that's just me, as I would love to know who or what was I sent after and Jiří most definitely won't tell me."

Steelpike is shaking. He finishes his drink in one gulp.

"Eld," he says. "They're called the Eld. I-I think they have their fingers in a lot of pies. I didn't know that when I set out to find their turf, you know. I didn't even know it was their turf to begin with. You'd think most of the traces of their presence in the Weird point to a long-gone people. I thought so at first. I'm sure Fraža still thinks so. He wouldn't want to mess with the sites on that map otherwise."

"Oh. I can't say I have ever heard that name."

"Count your blessings, then. And if you ever get dragged into a trip to the Misty Isles, you get the fuck out. You just go the opposite direction and don't look back. You hear me?"

"Thank you," she stands up and goes to leave, even as he drops a few coppers on the table for his drink and rushes upstairs.
 

***

The Yare Domesman district, evening
Jack and Edward get to Kytel's abode just as the Sun is about to set. It is a nice house with a well-kept garden at the front. Lavender and geraniums, mostly.

Kytel welcomes them inside. He seems worried.

"So," he says, "I've been reading about the matter of duelling, and it seems I've been going about it all wrong!"

He blushes. He's still holding that little book, 'The Art of Properly Duelling'. There are several pieces of cloth marking consecutive sections.

"To begin with, I must apologize to you, my friend, for I am at fault. I should have never proposed to you that we duelled like that, that is to say, out of the blue. That was the most ungentlemanly thing I could have done to someone who has been only decent since we first met, truly." He clutches Jack's shoulder in sincere contrition.

"According to this book, one should only challenge another man to a duel if he believes himself to have been wronged in one way or another. It must be something justifiable according to the rules of morality and/or accepted customs. Never, ever something to indulge for money or personal profit." And a tear runs down his cheek.

Jackass shakes his head. "Ah well. I was afraid you might go and better yourself morally. Still, it's okay - I don't think any less of you. You'll have to make it up to me by buying me dinner some time, that's all!"

Kytel is both embarrassed and grateful. So much so that he insists that Ed and Jack must stay for dinner now, at this very opportunity. That's when they're introduced to Kytel's Auntie Mimi, a nice stocky lady in her sixties. She entertains them with brandy and stories about Kezmarok as Kytel excuses himself for a while - he's the designated cook for the evening.

The dinner is delicious, the presentation exquisite. Both hosts make sure that Jack and Ed are having a great time - Auntie Mimi can be so much more entertaining after a few glasses of Němetzian wine. Her alcohol-fuelled trashy sense of humour seems to bother Kytel at first, but he eventually eases into it. Wine certainly helps.

At one point, the discussion turns to the duel that Kytel has called off about three hours ago. Auntie Mimi finds it ridiculous that her nephew has given up on that, especially as duelling - or at least the idea of duelling - is so obviously his passion. Kytel takes his time to explain that duelling is something to be considered if and only if one of the parties involved can legitimately claim to have been wronged or offended by the other part.

"But wouldn't you say," Mimi asks Jackass, following some rumination, "that you have been wronged by my nephew? After all, he enticed you to duel him - Cold Hell, he even got you to spend money on a weapon! - only to withdraw his challenge without consulting with you first."

She also adds this look that is at once kind and mischievous. There's even a wink there at the end that Kytel doesn't seem to notice.

"Why, you are correct good madame! Kytel, 'tis I who challenge YOU to a duel!" Jack exclaims gleefully.

Kytel is silent at first. It takes a second to sink into his inebriated mind. The realization coincides with him bursting out in tears. He reaches out to Jack, gives him a long hug. There's a lot of "I will forever be in your debt!" and other such gentlemanly statements.

Auntie Mimi discreetly wipes her tears with a handkerchief, declares: "Now, enough of this nonsense! Let us celebrate!" Out of nowhere, she produces a zither and begins playing a cheerful folk song.

The rest of the night is spent singing and dancing and drinking and generally just partying. Ed tries to teach Mimi how to dance this Kezmaroki forlana-like dance. Later on, when everyone's feet are already rather sore from all the dancing, Kytel decides to open a bottle of Marlankh Gold - a strong beverage, the speciality of only a few brewers in the Yare Domesman district. The group raises a toast to... something. No one can really remember to what.

It's a great night.
 

***

The Golden Swine district, night
Atiin goes outside to breathe some fresh air and have a look at the neighbourhood as dusk descends upon Marlinko. In a couple of hours, the Great Race opening ceremony shall begin. All the streets' clotheslines are teeming with the district's banners. Food vendors have their carts rolling to make a profit, the streets are getting ever more clogged with people and the barkers are doing a good job of hyping up the crowds for the upcoming event.

As Atiin squeezes his way through a cheerful crowd setting fire to a two-in-one jokey-and-horse dummy sporting the Sullen Apiarian's colours, he passes by a small clique of ruffians sitting on a rail with their legs wide open and bumps into one of those ruffians' feet.

That's all it takes.

"Oi! Whoss the idear here, you wuss? You kickin' Misha's foot on purpose, are you?"

"You tell 'im, Misha!"

"Bash 'is skull in, Misha!"

Atiin is pretty much boxed in by the crowd and the houses. If he was to choose flight over fight, he would still need to flee through those barbarians. If the ruffians are even associated with the Northern Shirtless Barbarians. Perhaps they just enjoy walking around shirtless. Frankly, at this point it is hard to know for sure. But they surely reek of booze.

Still, Atiin is in no mood for combat and bull-rushes Misha to open an escape path. His shoving technique is actually so effective that it cascades down to the other shirtless ruffians, who fall on top of each other like a line of tattooed, swollen-pecked dominoes.

As he darts away, he can hear them call each other "wanker" and wish all kinds of bloody murder on him. Before they get ready to give chase, though, he turns a corner and hides in the first unlocked door.

It's a soirée.

Also lo and behold, if that isn't Littlest Pavol right there, sweating profusely, with a crumpled piece of paper in his hand, which he reads and re-reads nervously, at the same time fidgeting at every brilliant turn of phrase delivered by the poet that is currently performing at the small stage in the middle of the room, surrounded by a bunch of ladies and dandies who are all trying hard to look unimpressed.

Littlest Pavol is standing by the stage steps, obviously up to perform next. Except he doesn't look ready in the slightest. He chugs deeply from a tankard of... well, something.

After he catches his breath, Atiin goes up to Pavol: "You got this man. Poetry is from the cosmos, you are a highly tuned instrument conveying that to the adoring masses, yadda yadda. You will do fine."

Then he notices that Pavol's precious piece of paper is blank.

"I-I... I can't do this... I don't feel well. Must be something I had earlier! I don't know," he looks at Atiin with big puppy eyes. "Maybe it's okay if I skip this one, right? They would understand. Right?"

"I understand, man."

Pavol smiles, somewhat relieved. "I... I got some hruz left here-" He pats his pockets. "-somewhere. Wanna help me find a cooking pot?"

"Sure bud."

Atiin follows Littlest Pavol to the kitchen, where their presence disturbs all the work, though the staff seems very good at concealing just how pissed they are about that. Not that Pavol would ever notice that. He grabs a pot and a bottle of wine on his way out, telling Atiin to get a couple of cups.

They navigate to this place's little library, which has a fireplace already stocked with wood. Atiin kindles the fire as Pavol takes care of their assorted cookware.

"I'm Pavol, by the way," he says. "People call me Littlest Pavol, since there are too many Little Pavols in Marlinko already. What about you? What should I call you?"

"I'm Atiin."

They fill their cups and have a drink. The wine is surprisingly good.
 
Then Pavol grabs a book from one of his pockets and opens it to reveal a carved-in hollow holding a metal case. Inside the case are two flasks; inside each flask is a snail.

Pavol is quite meticulous about what comes next. He picks one flask, uncorks it, shakes it to drop its content in the cooking pot. He corks the empty flask again, puts it away carefully. He repeats the exact same with the second flask. With a needle, he pricks each snail at one specific spot.

"You don't wanna think of them sizzling still alive in there. That's a recipe for a bad trip. Oh, there's some oil left in this pot. Good."

He hangs the pot on a hook over the fire. When it starts to sizzle, he sprinkles some wine on the snails. A minute or so later, he picks one fried snail and passes it to Atiin.

"You just let it melt beneath your tongue. That's how I do it anyway."

They both indulge and drink some more wine, chatting about nothing.

Half an hour goes by. Attin gets more and more sick in his stomach. He can feel it coming. He rushes to a corner behind a bookcase and hurls it all out.

Once he finally stops retching, Atiin sits by Pavol who is by now sprawled over an ottoman and giggling softly, eyes rolled back into the head and completely lost in his dreamscapes. This is a golden opportunity and Atiin knows that. He just isn't sure what to do with it.

Eventually, he starts to speak: "Listen to my voice. It's Atiin. I'm your best bud, okay? Remember it. Never forget it. You trust me completely, Pavol. You trust me with your life. We're buddies, you and me. You would never doubt me. Remember that. You trust me, you trust me absolutely..." And he drones on and on and on. The dregs of the drug keeps him going non-stop for hours upon hours, whispering about their eternal, unbreakable bond of trust.

When Atiin wakes up in the morning, the fire has completely died out. It's cold in there.

Littlest Pavol is gone.
 

***

Kytel's Abode, morning
Jacobin Valentin comes to on Kytel's couch. He can just barely recall having dreamt of his time at the Merciful Sun Lord's Saintly Orphaned Children's Choir. That is where he first learned that he was nothing but a soulless jackass, when every time he sang, it hurt the Mother Superior's ears. Yes, he was a cursed boy, a bastard through and through.

But today, the dream was different than before. Today, he looked up at the Mother Superior as she raised her cane to strike, and he yelled at her. From the top of his lungs, he let out this string of the worst insults he knew. He persevered at it even as his mouth stiffened and increasingly refused to follow his intent. At a certain point, Jacobin became aware of a slight shift in the scenery: the Mother Superior was somehow also Revoc, the razor-tongued god.

He was not offended by all the cursing, oh no. Indeed, he seemed to be quite pleased by such demonstration of guile and... soulfulness? He held his belly as he laughed, as a father would laugh about something amusing his little child did or said.

As a reward, his razor-bladed tongue whipped Jacobin in the face, shredding the skin and drowning Jacobin's vision in blood. That is when Jackass woke up.

Kytel is already preparing them a hearty breakfast and Auntie Mimi is upstairs, finishing all the morning preparations that women of certain social status seem to require.

Only Edward is unaccounted for.
 

***

The Tomb Plaza, still the previous evening
Victory resupplies her cigarettes at a tobacco stand.

There are many now in the streets, peddlers specializing in all sorts of goods, the majority of them predictably gravitating towards the Town Council Hall, where the opening ceremony of the Great Race is taking place. There are streamers hanging from a multitude of lines criss-crossing the night sky in most streets, and somehow they managed to do the same with that patch of the Tomb Plaza that faces the Council Hall building.

This is by far the largest, most regal building in all of Marlinko. On a work day, it would be teeming with bureaucrats, solicitors, guild representatives and the occasional grandmaster or undercouncilperson scheduled for an appointment or a speech at one of the chambers. Throughout the day there would be a meagre but steady influx of unemployed adventurers stopping by the big board to check for new gigs. Sometimes, a convicted felon would be escorted out of the building after hearing the judge's verdict and straight into one of the four Undercouncil Halls, where they will serve their life sentences as convict-jockeys, training without respite to bring the district that has their custody the next year's Great Race trophy.

This is how it goes during ordinary days - not today, though. Today the jockeys are not treated as convicts, but as heroes. There they are, being cheered left and right as they are led to the scaffolding structure assembled in front of the Hall. Soon, the Head Councilman will speak, then the Chief Undercouncilman for the Golden Swine district will speak. Then the contenders will line up before the public. Then the Head Councilman will extol their bravery, their selflessness. Then he will declare this year's Race open, even though it will not start until dawn. Then there will be music and before long everyone will be even drunker than they already are.

Victory strolls around the Tomb Plaza until she spots a group of rakes joking around near the Tomb. She joins their group and soon they are trying to one-up each other and show off.

"Oh, I'm sure you could beat two of Jarek's tigers with your hands tied behind your back," Vic flutters her eyelashes, "but you know what would be really impressive? I bet you wouldn't put a foot into the Tomb over there! Yeah, where the crazy barbarian broke in. That guy had some guts!"
 
She leans into one of the rakes, then moves towards the door and pulls him with her.

"Come on, pretty boy! Don't tell me you'd be scared of the dark," she giggles.

The bro-dude gulps and looks around. People nearby have now taken notice of what's going on with this little group. A dozen commoners stop what they're doing to watch. The remaining rakes cannot make up their minds about stepping ahead or back, but eventually decide to take several teeny-tiny steps back, hoping that no one will notice the receding line of bro-dudes getting farther and farther away from the Tomb.

The one dragged by Vic, though, throws his cup over his shoulder, hits a random passer-by, and steps ahead of her, not to be humbled by a pretty girl.

He grabs a torch from another bystander.

A few teenagers start to cheer for the two of them. Other people beg of them not to do anything stupid.

All of this gets to the guy, he trembles with every word addressed to him. When he cautiously pushes the door, there must be about forty people gathered around for the unexpected show.

Victory and the rake cross the threshold together. They disappear into the darkness, their torch illuminating just a sorry small circle on the dark floor.

The door closes.

Everyone gasps.

Nothing happens, only the Great Race celebrations continue in the background.

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30 March 2021

Fever-Dreaming in Marlinko, part 5

This is a game of Finders Keepers set in the city of Marlinko. The dramatis personae are:

  • Atiin Brigantia, a brilliant but lazy lunatic
  • Edward "the Wild" Bleestocles, a leper disowned by his wealthy family
  • Jacobin "Jackass" Valentin, a soulless bastard
  • Tadzio, an estranged son of a powerful mage
  • Victory Alder, a young vampire

 

A map of the way to the Frog Demon Temple.

 

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The Medacious Mercator district, later that morning
Atiin and Jackass are walking down the streets towards the South Market, looking to get some preparations done for an expedition to the Frog Demon Temple.

The group is not so sure that Jarek will be fooled by a disappeared valet - or for that matter, that the lost valet won't be blamed on them, even though they are say 50% culpable at the very most - and thus has decided to let the things in Marlinko cool down and settle for a while. And what better way to run away from problems than to go earn a nice reward for a treasure-hunting job.

But they need supplies to make the venture happen, and that is a job for Atiin and Jack. All the way from the Golden Swine district, the two have noticed the numerous preparations for the Great Race slowly getting finished. The rails, flag poles, bleachers and death traps are practically all in place.

They have also noticed four urchins, though, following them for at least the last five minutes or so. The urchins are no older than fourteen, two girls and two boys.

Atiin and Jack speed up.

What follows is a walking chase through the crowded streets, neither party willing to break into a run and cause a ruckus. Eventually, the urchins end up splintering in three different directions, disappearing into the narrow alleys along the way.

Be that as it may, Jackass and Atiin successfully reach the South Market without further incidents. Hundreds of customers are clogging the hallways and shops here today. The Chicken Scratch, a map and miscellanea store, is one of the few exceptions. They are greeted by a bespectacled woman in her thirties - dark hair and skin, a mole near her nose, thick lenses.

"This the place for maps?" Jackass asks.

The shopkeeper looks at the shop sign featuring not one but two maps, then back at Jack, but eventually just nods: "Sure, and all things adventuring, too. What d'ya need?"

"Yeah, we were thinking 'bout catching some fresh air away from the city, so... You have anything on the swampy area west of here?"

"Ah, looking for trouble in the Frog Marsh, I see," the shopkeeper grins. "I mean, you can always take the western road, that's just a dozen miles. Or you could take the southern road if you're going for the cautious approach. It would add barely six miles and it doesn't cross the hills. But if you really want a detailed map, I think I have something in here," she says as she opens a drawer.

"A detailed map would be nice," Atiin chimes in, "I would even pay extra for some annotations about specific dangers, good camping locations, that stuff, you know?"

"Yeah, the more detail the better!" Jackass agrees.

Then he turns to Atiin: "Speaking of paying extra... I think I can get a nice fifty gold piece bonus to help us prep for this trip. Let me go find Kytel and take care of business, then hopefully we can go on a shopping spree." And he leaves Atiin to finish up with the map seller.

The shopkeeper examines a piece of paper that she has produced from the drawer.

"Hmm, yeah. Hmm, that's what I thought," she mutters to herself as she scratches her chin. "Here's the deal: I have a map that will probably come in handy. It has a bunch of valuable notes on the area. Usually I'd sell it for no less than a hundred, but these notes are more than five years old, which means some of them could be outdated, especially if it is the Weird in the hills we're talking about. So... seventy gold. What do you say?"
 
"Fifty and we will return with an updated map for you," Atiin offers.
 
She deliberates for a moment, but then reluctantly puts the map over the counter and takes the coins. "Make sure to return, then."

"You also got supplies and stuff?"
 
"Sure, but supplies depend on your route and travel time. So many surprises can lurk on the roads, you know? If you want a really fast and safe journey, you should be taking a boat down the river. I know a man who would sell you as many boats as you need, if you're interested.

Oh, and don't forget to carry a handful of antitoxin with you at all times when you get to the swamp. Never know what sort of venomous creatures will try and sting you once you're there. I can get you a flask for just fifty gold, and if you buy at least three, maybe we could discuss a discount? Speaking of which, I also have this special ointment, very effective against insects..."

And they sit down to haggle over a growing list of necessities.

***

The Sullen Apiarian district, late morning
"That's preposterous!" a very neatly groomed man wearing a bonnet and tunic says as he jerks his arms about, indignant; "I will not hear any of it! You cannot possibly be maintaining that the Cat Lady is actually related to the figure of the Other Mother. The belief systems built around each of them are rooted in completely different premises!"

"You misconstrue my meaning," says an old tiger as he puffs on a hookah. "It is functional equivalence rather than genealogical identity what I'm referring to. In that respect I very much doubt that we will find any room for disagreement, don't you think?"

They are sitting on the side of a street, right under the district's banner displaying a great yellow-and-black beehive and a mopey deodand. Similar banners started to pop out all over Marlinko since ten or fifteen days ago, when the street-level preparations for the Great Race began. The street is as usual for the Sullen Apiarian - lofty and decadently elegant and peppered with dandies hopping from tavern to salon to secret meeting to tavern. There are so many glorified servants running errands and even more proud aristocrats without a penny left swaggering like they own the world.

It's cloudy today, so being outdoors does not bother Victory, even if she still carries her parasol, just in case.

The scholar turns his head to look at her as she is about to walk past them: "Well, what do you think, ma'am? Would you say that the Cat Lady and the Other Mother are functionally equivalent?"

There is a hint of mockery in his tone.

"Would you say, sir, that a mountain and a hill are the very same, of the same substance, or related yet different?" Vic smiles in return.

The old tiger laughs: "Looks like you found yourself a subtle one, Kirill."

The scholar barely stutters a response. Something to do with how everything depends on whether you're looking for an eidetic or a hyletic difference, but interspersed with ehhhs and hmmms and stammering.

"Ignore him, I beg you," says the tiger, more than a little amused. "Otherwise he will never leave you alone. My name is Slinky, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, sharp young lady."

"I'm Victory Alder and the pleasure is all mine, master Slinky. Forgive me my curiosity, but aren't you an associate of master Jarek? I have heard whispers that he has high hopes for today's Great Race and the chances of victory for Sullen Apiarian. I myself must confess to be quite intrigued. Say, will you be attending the race, too?"

"Oh, indeed, I used to work for Mister Jarek. If you're from around town, chances are you've seen me perform in the Pit. I'm freshly retired, to be honest - almost a year now, but it feels... longer," Slinky sighs. "Heh, people in this neighbourhood surely put a lot of energy on the Great Race, don't they. I mean, look at what happened to the Golden Swine Undercouncil Hall. I would bet my one good fang that that was done under the Grandmaster of Hives' orders."

Kirill bursts out: "Now that is quite the bold statement! You must have some solid piece of evidence to support it, I'm assuming."

"Oh yes," Vic says, ignoring the scholar, "I wouldn't be surprised if it was the Grandmaster who ordered the burglary. But I haven't heard if they caught any of the culprits? They couldn't have slipped away unnoticed, could they?"

"Yes, yes," Kirill jumps at the question, "they are believed to be still at large and, as far as the criers know, unidentified. That comes as no surprise. Most of the Undercouncil's guardsmen were under the influence of that nasty hruz paste! Some of them claimed to have witnessed a rain of beautiful women!" He laughs out loud. "Frankly, the types they manage to recruit these days. Well, I guess it is on brand for the Golden Swine, isn't it?"

"Well, Miss Alder," the tiger interrupts, "to answer your previous question, no, I will not be attending the Race, as I'm sure to find it boring and... exploitative, as one would expect. But I will be attending this special wrestling event Mister Jarek has put together at the last minute." He gently lands a paw on one of the many flyers littering the street. "I would like to say hi to some friends there."

"To be frank, I have never really frequented the arena. But if you say there is a special event planned for today, I might try to come."

"Not today, no. According to this pamphlet," the tiger pushes the flyer in Victory's direction, "he will not be throwing this 'special event' until the race itself has come to a conclusion. That would be tomorrow by twilight. Am I correct, Kirill? The Great Race should be wrapped up before evening, shouldn't it?"

"Correct, my dear friend. And it will begin by dawn, when the first sunlight will touch the start line. In fact, that is a tradition that dates back to th-"

"I... have mixed feelings about the Pit myself, but you will not hear me say such things in the presence of this district's big shots. You see, I have spent all my life in the Pit, so it is hard for me not to look back fondly on those days. So many fellow felines have lost their health, their lives to that barbaric sport. Yet here I am, watching the sons and daughters, and grandsons and granddaughters of my fallen brothers and sisters tread the same path..."

He snaps out of it, clearly embarrassed. "Oh, but forgive this old cat's rambling. You must have your own important affairs to see to, and I would not dare hold you hostage of my idle reminiscing."

"Well, it was a pleasure to make acquaintance with you both. Maybe we will meet at the arena?" Victory smiles and takes the flyer. "Which reminds me, you wouldn't know of a fellow named Glamdalf, would you? I was told I might be able to find him around here?"

The two of them exchange awkward looks. Kirill lets Slinky have another go at the hookah.

The tiger puffs, then says: "Oh, my dear, I'm afraid you are not going to find that man unless... well... unless you're willing to... uhm... risk your reputation, so to speak, by... uhm... peeking inside one of the Bathhouses. He has been causing his fair share of trouble there, you see."

Kirill nods: "Yes, a most inappropriate gentleman, if you ask me. I'd give him a wide berth if I were you."

"Ah, I haven't been told that. Never mind, then, and thank you," she leaves the two behind and goes to find a Bathhouse.

***

The Medacious Mercator district, brunch time
Apparently, the urchins from before were still lurking around. The second that Jack leaves the South Market behind, they are on his tails, and this time there's no way of shaking them off.

He tries to cut through an especially thick crowd and then jump into a back alley before they can find him again, but suddenly there are three urchins right in front of him and the others are already coming from behind. Even worse, this particular alley is, well, not populated at all. It is only Jackass and the kids.

The biggest boy among them draws a knife.

Jackass draws his rapier.

"Hello children," he grins.

They keep staring each other down for a little while. Jack slowly moves his back to a wall, where he can see all of the brats.

The big kid eventually chuckles: "Whoa, geezer! No need for that! We wus jes kiddin'!"

"Yeh. Jes' go on yer way," another urchin says and they shuffle to the sides, letting Jack slip through.

He nods, but keeps the rapier out until he leaves them well behind and gets back to the busy streets. Thankfully, nobody follows this time.

Strange vibes come off the people in the Tomb Plaza as Jack arrives there, and it's not just that they're looking forward to the Great Race. A small group huddles before the door that the pantsless barbarian went through just the other night. He hasn't emerged from the Tomb of the Town Gods since, and people are speculating like crazy about what might have happened in there. No one else has dared to take a peek inside, even though the door is not locked any more.

Moving on, Jack finds Kytel reading at the Drunken Troll. He marches up to Kytel and reveals his rapier with a big smile: "How's this for a duelling weapon?"

Kytel immediately drops his book, wide-eyed, and discreetly wipes the corner of his mouth. He takes a second to compose himself before responding: "It would be my honour, sir, to face you in a proper duel. Just tell me when and where and I will be there." He pauses. "But first, tell me, where did you find this beauty? Can I... Can I touch it?"

"This sword's a rare find, and you can touch it after," Jack grins excitedly. "Let's do it now! Find a nice clear duelling space, maybe by the Tomb?"

"Oh, I'm so excited!" Kytel nods, but then stops himself. "Although maybe we should put some more thought into it. I'll grab me a trusted and honourable fellow to act as my second. You should do the same. They'll handle the place, time and terms, as well as everything else wager-wise. How does that sound?"

Jackass calms down a bit: "Fine, that sounds good I guess. I'll be going out of town shortly, but I'll see what we can do... Find you back at your place later?"

"Brilliant, brilliant," Kytel shakes Jack's hand and grabs his book. Jack gets a short glimpse of the title: 'The Art of Properly Duelling'

When Kytel's about to step out of the tavern, he shouts back to Jack all across the room: "This is going to be so great!"

***

The Sullen Apiarian district, before noon
There are three bathhouses in the Sullen Apiarian. In fact, they're the only ones worth mentioning in Marlinko. They are massive and expensive, sprawling buildings that each takes up a whole block. The Punctilious Polevik, a nice and clean palatial structure, where the aristocrats from the Overkingdom usually stay for long periods; for leisure and to undergo assorted therapies. The seedy-chic Black Pomegranate, complete with black banyak out-houses for those who wish to have a full retro experience. And finally the dimly-lit Mongotarium, the shadiest of them all and all the fun and games.

This last one is said to be the guildmasters' favourite and is also the one where Victory starts looking.

Mongotarium ranks the second in size; the main entrance is the tallest archway Vic has ever seen. She is greeted by an impeccably well-dressed half-ogre. His raspy, guttural voice is oddly well-adjusted to the Němec accent one would expect from the aristocratic clientele in most Sullen Apiarian establishments.

On Victory's request, he consults his little book for Glamdalf. No luck, but he knows the man: "Master Glamdalf favours the Black Pomegranate above any other bathhouse, ma'am, I've had the opportunity to hear him say that myself. Also according to his own words, he spends most of his time in the library that they keep there."

Black Pomegranate, then, is a sumptuous old building where everyone is trying too hard to look casual. There is a young woman at the much less impressive entrance, sitting on a stool. Next to her is a shabby old table and on top of that a jar full of silver and copper pieces.

It is labelled 'Tip me 10 gold'.

Victory takes out a gold coin. "Hello there. Can you tell me if I would find one Mister Glamdalf in your establishment?"

The young woman replies with a thick accent: "Aw. Myy. Gawd! This is Saw. Crass. I'll tell yaw this? If yaw want taw be privy to what gawes on in here, yaw have taw at least be able taw, like, act like yaw belong? Besides, if yaw don't have the mawney, maybe yaw shouldn't be here? Yaw being poor makes us, like, look bad and all? But I totally get if yaw can't afford yawr way in. I feel bad for yaw? I'm, like... sorry?"

Victory just barely keeps a smile on her face and continues right past that woman and inside the bathhouse.

She fake-gasps: "Fine? Be a bitch? See if I care!"

But she takes no action to stop Vic, who proceeds through a long corridor to a massive rotunda. There is a wooden, multi-levelled staircase leading up and a dozen doors along the walls. Random clients are leisurely walking in or out of the rooms, chatting. Some are wearing robes, most others are wearing towels wrapped around their waists. Vic continues up the stairs and there is the library, right at the end of the top floor hallway.

As Victory gets closer to its large double door, she can hear a muffled argument going on inside. The door are not fully closed and she can see a middle-aged man wearing tight trousers, a plaid shirt, a beanie and sporting a twirled, greying moustache. He is standing on a table, stomping and yelling at someone who's just out of sight.

Vic stays by the door.

The twirly-moustached man curses: "You know damn well that this is my fucking work! I put in the hours! Makes sense that I can do with it as I please, don't you think?"

A very calm female replies, her every sentence ending with a vocal fry: "We've been through this before. The vellum. The sewing. The binding. All ours. The book stays. Now please, step down and lower your voice."

A charged silence ensues.

"What if I don't?" the middle-aged man growls, eventually.

"Ludevic," says the woman, "deal with it, will you. My head hurts, I think I'm going to rest for a few minutes back there. Let me know when it's over."

Some door inside opens and closes. At that, Victory steps in and address the beanie-wearing man: "Excuse me, would you be master Glamdalf?"

The plaid-shirted man is currently in the middle of performing some abstruse gestures. A harsh wind is picking up inside this room, creating a small tornado around this other, big and burly man. Books fly open, shelves lose their footing. It all comes to a sudden halt when Vic speaks, though. Flying scrolls and books fall flat on the floor everywhere and the tight-trousered man on the table looks her way, startled: "Huh? Who's asking?"

The second man takes advantage of it and charges, screaming like a madman. The table topples and they both end up entangled on the floor, pulling at each other's moustaches.

"Excuse me?" Victory says. "Is this how you behave in the presence of a lady?"
 
The magic man manages to kick the big guy off of himself and scrambles back. He mumbles something in an Old Pahr dialect and immediately an invisible force knocks his adversary back against a wall.

He dusts himself off and turns to Vic: "Don't like what you see, look the other way!"

Then he grabs the disputed book from where it fell and heads out. He keeps walking quickly, Victory following close behind.

"You wouldn't believe how many people stop dead in their tracks when you mention something about being a lady," she remarks.

He gives her a sidelong glance, then says: "Yeah, yeah, I'm Glamdalf. What d'you want?"

"I've been told you might be selling some alchemical products? Explosive ones?"

"Who told you that?" He's keeping the pace fast.

"Little bird," she smiles.

"Well, I guess I should stop bragging and drinking," he says. Then a couple seconds later: "Which one do you think I should forgo?"

"Neither. If you hadn't been doing that, I wouldn't have found you. Plus it depends, are you bragging or are you telling the truth when drunk?"

"Little bit from column A, a little bit from column B."

They get out of the building and with Glamdalf leading the way, continue to the Mendacious Mercator. There they begin zig-zagging their way inside a few blocks, meandering between old houses and abandoned buildings located at the edge of the district. Whenever climbing up fences or walls is required, Glamdalf just does his thing and whoosh - a particularly strong and pointed gust of wind carries both of them beyond the obstacle at hand, landing them gently on the other side.

Eventually, they get to what Victory recognizes as the House of the Nine's backyard. This abandoned mansion was once the base of operations for the infamous adventuring party known as The Nefarious Nine. Even though all of its members have been gone for a while now, no one has ever claimed the building.

As far as Vic know, that is.

Glamdalf's lab is down in the basement; disorganized, furnished with multitudinous flasks, test tubes, pipettes and other arcane implements. A half dozen bookshelves line the walls. The ceiling is rather low; Victory has no trouble with it, but he has to duck here and there in order to avoid hitting a beam with his head.

"What are you planning on doing? Gonna blow up Fraža's safes, strip them off of their mountain of gold? That'd be something I could get behind."

"Nah, we're going to the Frog Demon Temple. Wanna make sure we're not stopped by any ancient locked doors."

"Explosives are not cheap to produce, you know?" he says as he puts his book down on a counter. No title on the leather cover or binding.

"How much?"

He gives her an appraising look. "Fifteen gold a shell. That if you're looking for a sheer, uncontrolled explosion. Other kinds of bomb can cost you more."

"Wonderful! Now, you mentioned Fraža's treasury before. If you have info, I have a willing and capable crew. We blow up a safe, you get an equal share."

"Godling's shit, you're really up to no good, aren't you?" He laughs. "I mean, good to know, but I'm not an insider or anything. I just hate me the guts of those fucking sharks, that's all. And it sounded like something worthy one would be able to accomplish with bombs, busting those safes open, wiping them clean."

He studies Vic, a little taken aback, but mostly amused.

"Now, what's it gonna be? Simple explosives only? Maybe some sort of flaming ammunition, holy water bombs, timed explosions? I got shit with acid. If you got the money, I can make you a spell bomb. Depends on the spell, but we can try and work it out. Or maybe I just sell you a scroll, if you can read Old Pahr."

"A spell bomb sounds nice, but probably not now. What about two breaching charges, a canister of sleeping gas, a vial of sleeping poison and a vial of something more deadly? I will give you thirty gold pieces up front, the rest when you deliver."

"Wow, that's... a lot. Fortunately I've got everything I need to get started, otherwise I'd have to ask for half upfront. But yeah, I like your face, crazy one. And you're going to the Frog Demon Temple, we might still work on a steep discount if you agree to bring me something from there. I'll update you later. Still getting acquainted with my primary sources and all. You know how it is," he gestures toward the bookshelves.

"Sure, you can find me at Gorz's tenements. We will probably be leaving in a day or two, so until then, we can talk. It was a real pleasure meeting you," she smiles.

***

League of the Free Handed HQ, around noon
With all their travelling supplies ordered and to be delivered tomorrow, Atiin decides to drop by the League headquarters and say hi. Tiny Tomáš welcomes him once again in the over-cramped office.
 
"I hoped you would stop by. So, the boss has not changed his mind about having a team break into Lady Szara's manse and steal that axe that he claims belongs to his family. That offer stands, if you're up to it.

However, there is a more pressing matter that requires the League's attention right now. You must have gotten a word that the fancypants' district has orchestrated an attack against our Undercouncil Hall. Not many people know about the details, but they have stolen a total of eight quite valuable trophies from previous years of the Great Race.

Now, even though the majority of our agents were assigned to various public security jobs for the duration of the upcoming Race, we have put together a team that is looking into the theft as we speak. What we don't have is a team in charge of striking back. 'Cause you'll agree that we gotta hit 'em hard, hit 'em now, hit 'em where it hurts."

And it sounds like Tomáš has spent some time rehearsing this little discourse in his mind. The delivery is hammy at best; still, he's quite passionate about it.

"I'm interested," Atiin says, keeping his voice as professional as possible.

"Very well. Good. Yeah. Good. That may work. I figured you and your crew would be a good fit for a such a job, considering the way you've dealt with that Steelpike guy the other day."

He lowers his voice, leans over the desk. His sheer ape-like body makes the wood creak and moan under his weight.

"One of the most well-kept secrets in Marlinko," he begins, cupping his mouth with one giant hairy hand, "is where that hruz crap comes from." His eyes dart from left to right a few times. "You would think we are the ones on top of that operation. Makes sense, right? Big bad One-armed Jiří and his goons keep the town in the gutter, sedated, impoverished and coming back for more.

But no. It's all Kladivo, you see. It's always been Kladivo.

That's not to say that his work as the head of the Accipitaries' Guild is a mere front. It certainly isn't. But there's this whole other thing going on in the shadows. And it secretly funds the whole Sullen Apiarian district."

"Whoa!" Atiin's jaw nigh-literally hits the floor. "Uhh... X'cuse muh," he mumbles as he fights to close his all too flexible mouth again.

"That was gross, lad. Good Sun Lord."

"Sorry sorry, no offense meant."

"Anyway, the boss wants to take control of Kladivo's operation. The plan is simple: the old goat will do anything for his kids, the eldest in particular - Eliška, the pretty daughter. So we're gonna kidnap her."

"Oh my."

"We can pay you four hundred for the job alone. But if you pull this one off, my-my, big things will be waiting for you. The League takes care of their own. You'll be looking at some well-deserved promotions, that much you can be sure of. Overseeing your own crews. A salary. A break in all that non-stop hustling life of yours. I'm talking a modicum of stability here. You get it, right?

So, how's that sound?"

"Sounds amazing! That gal, though, I have heard things... Sounds like a smart cookie. What about stealing that brother - what's his nuts - the poet. He seems like an easy score, and if this guy is as much into family as you say..."

Tomáš mulls over Atiin's counter-offer for a long while: "Hmmm. Yeah, I see what you mean.

Problem is, we would have to run that by the boss. And I see why he thought of the girl as a target instead of that dumb kid. Eliška is the most likely to inherit the crown, so to speak. Or at least that's what the dad is counting on. So I guess that would make more of an impact. But I'll take your idea to Jiří.

I'll send you a message later today or first thing tomorrow. You will know by then whether or not to proceed with the job, and who's the target."

"Good. And let me know if you have any news about the Undercouncil thievery and need a care taken of that," Atiin says.

"Will do. Thanks for stopping by, kid. I have a good feeling about your future in the League."

prior | next

20 March 2021

Even More Magical Trinkets

Here is part 1 and part 2.
 


d50 Trinkets

  1. A jar of d10 leeches. Each leech can suck out either a curse or a memorized spell from a person. If the leech is then squashed, the magic is unleashed on the nearest target.
  2. A bottle of liquid soul. Pour the potion on something to grant it sentience. If you first add a piece of a brain into the potion, the newly sentient object will inherit memories from it. You could also drink it, I guess.
  3. A potion of purification. Violently removes all impurities from a liquid it's mixed into (salt from sea water, cells from blood).
  4. A potion of impregnation. Any surface treated with the potion repels water strongly enough that droplets will bounce right off. Might have really weird effects when drunk by a female due to the magical principle of paronomasia.
  5. A vial of pure concentrated mana. Has an equal chance of supercharging any magic, or making it dangerously unstable and unpredictable.
  6. A vial of magic cement. Contains a cubic meter of liquid cement which will harden within 10 minutes even underwater.
  7. A dragon's breath in a bottle.
  8. A barnacle armour. Grows into your skin, cannot be removed. Starts as leather, but if well fed and cared for, will eventually mature into plate-equivalent. Can infect other people, but their barnacle armour starts very small, with no bonus at all.
  9. An armour of ice. As plate, but light enough to float on water. Melts into lesser armour types if damaged by fire, but will slowly regrow when provided water.
  10. A ring of returning. Anything you throw, drop, or even just put down will return to your hands.
  11. A ring of lock-fingering. You can use your finger as a lockpick.
  12. A wand of necrotic healing. Heals a creature to full hp, but also permanently decreases their maximum hp by 1*. When empowered, heals to full +d6 hp.
  13. A wand of magnetism. A target metallic item becomes strongly magnetic, one at a time. When empowered, can either be used on multiple items at once, or affect even non-metallic items.
  14. A scroll of advertisement. Every time it's read, it contains the directions to the nearest shop. May burn up if used too often.
  15. A retroactive love letter. Write the name of your target on it and then your signature. Suddenly, you will have had an affair.
  16. A cloak of fresh air. You seem to be always standing in a slight breeze. Smog, smoke and gases will part around you.
  17. A craven cloak. Will scream loudly when danger is imminent - you are about to be ambushed, you would step on a trap, etc. It will be constantly shrieking in combat, making communication and concentration quite hard.
  18. A dress that, when taken off, teleports you into the nearest wardrobe.
  19. A tattooing needle that requires no ink. Can also be used to transfer tattoos from one person to another.
  20. A quill that erases any writing it touches. If the writing was magically binding, the quill burns up but negates the binding.
  21. A serpent staff. Can transform into a snake and back at will. The snake will translate from serpent-speech if you treat it well.
  22. A chaos shard spear. Roll for a random damage type every time you brandish it.
  23. A dagger of soul trapping. When you slay a creature with this dagger, their soul will be trapped in the gem on the pommel. The soul will be pushed out and released when another creature is killed and a new soul trapped.
  24. A razor of quick-shaving. Anything with hair or fur can be shaved completely in a single round.
  25. A soot-stained sword of low-grade iron. Grants immunity to fire, extra +d6 fire damage and sets you aflame for as long as you wield it. Probably found in the hands of a blazing, naked madman, his armour and possessions burned off long ago.
  26. The sword of Babel. Anyone struck by the sword has one of their languages exchanged for a random one.
  27. A humongous sword, twice as long as you are tall. Deals d20 damage, except if anyone realizes it should be impossible to carry, let alone swing around that easily, they will only take 1 damage.
  28. A rusty firelock pistol. Doesn't shoot bullets - when the trigger is pulled, both the wielder and the target gain a random curse.
  29. A short scabbard decorated with blue and white semiprecious stones. When filled with water, it freezes in the form of a dagger. This icy dagger acts as if made of steel, but will melt quickly once removed from the scabbard.
  30. A shield bearing the depiction of a bulwark. Can project an illusory wall in the direction it is held; the wall moves with the shield.
  31. A timecube. Shatter it to split the timeline. You have exactly 3 rounds to do as you please. When the time runs out or you die, everything will revert to the moment you shattered the timecube. Only you retain the alternate memories.
  32. A pouch of dust of worthlessness. Anything sprinkled with the dust will seem unimportant on casual glance.
  33. A pouch of fireflies. They live in the pouch and will obey its owner.
  34. A spiked black leather choker that projects a bubble of force around your head (and your head only). Permeable to clean air, but nigh impenetrable otherwise.
  35. A cigar box that once belonged to a serial killer. While you smoke, you can read the thoughts of all nearby potential victims that would fit the late killer's modus operandi (d4): 1. young women, 2. rich men, 3. children, 4. prostitutes.
  36. A pack of cigarettes. The smoke will depict the most cherished or most regretted memory of the smoker.
  37. A painting of yourself. It's bulky and fragile, but will absorb the first injury/madness/curse you suffer, if it happens in its presence.
  38. A stone of spirit splitting. When touched, instantly removes all foreign spirits from a creature's body (demons, curses, diseases, spells), but they are incarnated into a physical body.
  39. A circle of fine chain made of blessed silver and engraved with runes of warding. Like a quick-to-deploy circle of protection.
  40. A phoenix down, said to bring back the dead. It cannot do that, but it will instantly wake up anyone asleep, unconscious or even in a coma if their nose is tickled.
  41. A shadowlander's lantern that sheds darkness instead of light. The quality of the darkness depends on the combustible - cheap oil will dim nearby lights and lengthen shadows while a strong, pricey alcohol can make darkness so deep not even darkvision will penetrate it. Weird oils might shed weird dark.
  42. A troll tallow candle. It regenerates quickly if not completely burnt. If left alone for too long, will regrow the whole troll.
  43. A mummified severed hand holding a candle. Its light is only visible to those who are touching it.
  44. A black candle that releases impossible amounts of acrid, dense, oily smog when lit.
  45. A cursed lantern that constantly releases colourless, odourless, explosive gas when not lit. When you try to light it...
  46. A magic lamp with an imprisoned fire elemental. It provides unlimited light and warmth, but it's quite irritable and will try to warn your enemies if given half a chance.
  47. A runed candle pierced with a rusty needle. Anyone touched by its light is blinded.
  48. A coral candlestick that can be set alight only underwater, but then provides very bright light and makes all water as far as its light can reach crystal clear.
  49. A bright pink candle. When lit, releases a lightly pink gas that acts as an aphrodisiac and a weak narcotic.
  50. A beautiful tea set. If you perform an hour-long tea ceremony, drinking the tea will grant you a boon based on the type of tea used. Black tea removes all exhaustion and sleepiness, leaving you refreshed as if you had just woken up. White tea must be shared with another being - as long as you sit and sip the tea, you can understand each other. Green tea cleanses the body, granting a bonus Save against one poison or disease afflicting you. Yellow tea stops your ageing for this day and protects against unnatural ageing effects. Herbal tea makes you drift off to sleep and enter the dream of the trees, where many druids and Folk can be met. Fruit tea is just preternaturally delicious. Using a cheap, poor-quality tea instead results in a curse.


*) Assuming Into the Odd amounts of hp. Increase for more hp-bloated systems.

2 March 2021

Fever-Dreaming in Marlinko, part 4

This is a game of Finders Keepers set in the city of Marlinko. The dramatis personae are:

  • Atiin Brigantia, a brilliant but lazy lunatic
  • Edward "the Wild" Bleestocles, a leper disowned by his wealthy family
  • Jacobin "Jackass" Valentin, a soulless bastard
  • Tadzio, an estranged son of a powerful mage
  • Victory Alder, a young vampire

 

Renaissance room by shutupandwhisper


prior | next


Atiin's apartment, early morning

Someone bangs on the apartment door, hard.

Victory, abruptly roused from her hruz-induced dreams, makes sure that she's properly dressed and groomed and goes to the door. While it doesn't have a proper peep-hole, there is a certain design flaw to this door where it doesn't exactly fit its frame. Looking through the draughty crack, Vic can see the source of the ruckus - it's Gorz, their landlord, frowning and sweating and anxious and generally just being his usual self.

He keeps pounding on the door: "Atiin, I know you're in there! Rent is overdue and I've waited long enough! Y'know I'm a reasonable man, people got their own problems, but still! A man's gotta make a living, so please, pay what you owe." And after a short pause, in a manner calculated to sound like an afterthought: "Oh, and you're not allowed to bring any more people in without telling me first! If more people are going to start using the quarters, then we'll have to renegotiate the price!"

Vic walks into Atiin's room and kicks his bed: "Wakey wakey, Gorz is here and really wants a chat with you."

Atiin sticks his head out for a second to give Victory a death glare, then hides back under the covers.

"Well, as there's nobody living in this apartment but you," Victory grabs his quilt, "if anyone is going to go talk to Gorz, it should be you."

After a moment, Atiin groans, gets out of the bed and puts on a robe. He cracks the door open just enough to squeeze outside of the flat, then shuts it behind him again.

"Ahhh, good day, Gorz," he says. "How are you? You are looking lovely and is that a new cologne? Smelling sharp, my man."

Gorz sniffs his armpits: "No, uhm... I mean, good morning... I mean, thank you. Yeah, new cologne, sure."

He attempts to flash a smile that telegraphs that he's a chill guy, but fails miserably. His whole face is covered in shiny beads of sweat. Same goes for his skull, which he is likely having a hard time covering beneath that atrocious comb-over of his.

"Ahem... So... Heh..." he says. "If it's just the Checkered Mage's son and yourself this month, it will be six gold, according to our previous agreement. But, uhm, if you're bringing in new tenants, it will be an extra three gold per extra person. A-and I will need their names, of course."

"Just the two of us. Here's this month's rent and last month's rent. I'm working on the rest."

Gorz takes the money from Atiin, not too happy about the fact that he's just letting the gang off the hook once more. He lives on the same floor and knows all too well that there are many more people living in the flat, but he can never really bring himself to force the issue. But hey, two months of rent squared off in one go, that's new.

He turns to go, but then realizes: "Oh, I almost forgot. There's a gentleman downstairs, he said he'd like to have a word with you."

"Thank you so much, master Gorz," Atiin says.

Gorz does this awkward half-bow and vanishes behind a corner towards his apartment as Atiin goes downstairs. Waiting there is one of Jarek's valets or butlers or who knows what they're called. They all look the same with those yellow tailcoats and bow ties and powdered wigs.

"Good morning," he says in a bored tone. "My employer has sent me here to check on you about a delivery - one that is due today, is his understanding."

At about the same time, Victory decides that the coast is clear enough for her to join Atiin and not be seen by the landlord. No need to give him too much incentive to press them for more money.

"Good morning!" she addresses the valet. "I don't believe I have seen you around? Who are you looking for?"

"Ma'am," the valet says as he bows, but he doesn't answer the question. Instead, his eyes dart around aimlessly, eventually meeting Atiin's.

"Don't look at me," Atiin mutters, "I don't even know who your employer is."

Taken aback, the valet stammers: "I- eh, apologize if I came across as rude, ma'am, sir, but I have business to discuss with Misters... hmm, Tadzio, Jack... ass... and Edward."

"Yeah, well, no idea," Atiin yawns and stomps back upstairs, returning to bed. He closes his door loudly enough to rouse Ed who has been snoring on the couch.

No matter how hard Edward tries to slip back to unconsciousness again, a few dozen flies keep tickling him awake as they repeatedly land on his festering abscesses. Jack and Tadz are still asleep, though, piled atop each other on the bed in the other room.

"Aww, hells." Ed brushes away the bugs and prepares to go outside to find some more medicine, or at least something to eat. "Morning every- oh. Must be downstairs. Hope they're getting breakfast."

However, he stops on the stairs when he hears his name.

"No need to apologize, my good man," Victory said moments earlier. "If you are here to wait for somebody, would you care to join me for a morning tea in the meantime?"

"I... appreciate the offer, ma'am, but I'm, unfortunately, not allowed to deviate from the task at hand."

An awkward silence lingers long enough that Ed gets to the stairs in the meantime.

"By the way, that gentleman I was just talking with? That wouldn't happen to be Mr. Jackass or Mr. Edward?"

"No no, that was my neighbour, Mr. Atiin. And I'm sorry if I'm overstepping, but Mr. Jackass? Are you sure you have the right name? Or the real name?"

"Real name? No, not in the slightest. But those are the names the gentlemen I was sent to deal with go by," the valet says as he unfolds a piece of paper, reads contents and glances back at Vic. "Are you telling me that no one by that name lives here? What about Tadzio?"

"I don't think I can help you with that name either, sorry."

"But the landlord, he seemed so sure about the names when I asked him to go fetch the people living at this address! And now you're telling me that the person he sent downstairs is not even the right one," he sighs deeply. "You know what? I think I better see to this myself. Thank you very much for your help, ma'am."

"No problem at all," Victory smiles at him as he bows and starts climbing the stairs.

She steps out of the house, staying by the door in the shadow of the building. There she lights up a cigarette and pulls on it with a genuine smile. As she breathes out, she makes the smoke flit around her as grey butterflies.

The valet bumps into Edward, still standing on the narrow stairs, nearly immediately.

"Oh. And who would you be?"

At that, Ed starts coughing and runs back up. The valet follows, never raising his pace. As Edward rushes into the apartment and slams the door shut, there comes knocking.

"Hello? Mr. Tadzio? Mr. Edward? Mr... Jackass? I know you're here, at least one of you. I've seen you just now, running upstairs. Please let's talk. We have business to take care of."

Frantically looking around, Edward finds no inspiration for the next course of action at all, so he sheepishly opens the door again: "Ya, I'm Ed. Let's talk."

The valet steps in, but instantly reacts to the stench collected inside. He brings a handkerchief to his nose and coughs discreetly.

Jack and Tadzio are just coming out of the second bedroom, still sleepy-eyed and squinting.

"Uh, good morning! Is it time for breakfast or...?" Jack yawns.

"Oh, that's great," Tadz mutters as the sees the valet.

The valet says: "I presume that's all of you I see before me. Your little stunt at the Undercouncil Hall is the talk of the town. My employer is curious to know if that means you have the prize."

The three guys just look at each other awkwardly.

"Ah, yes," Jack starts. "You are here for the trophy? Of course! I mean, of course we have it! Eddie, show him to the goods please, over there..."

He points to the wardrobe in the corner.

"Over... there?" the valet asks, incredulous.

But he turns around and Jack smacks him over the head with a vase. The valet goes down, out like a light.

"Wait, why didn't you just give him the trophy?!" Tadz sputters.

"Just needed to buy us some time to think," Jackass retorts. "I don't know which trophy he wants! Do we even have the right trophy?"

"Yeah, no. We don't. I've found a second piece of paper that Jarek sent with the Undercouncil Hall map. Here's an illustration," Ed helpfully provides.

"Oh! So that's what we should've been looking for!" Jack says.

"What if we give him all the trophies we have?" Tadzio ponders, clearly uncomfortable while the three of them stand over the unconscious valet.

"Don't think Jarek will have any of that. Okay," Jack ruminates, "maybe someone can dress like our buddy here, and leave with a trophy. Then, we say we gave the valet what he asked for and figure he musta turned on ol' Jarek. Yeah, he tried to sell it for himself..."

"Oh, good idea," Ed nods.

Tadz raises an eyebrow: "Uhm... Or we could just dump all these trophies on Jarek's desk, as I said. Like 'Here, we don't have the trophy but we got you all these other trophies. And we caused a buncha trouble back there, so that's gotta count for something.' C'mon, guys?"

"Yeah, but, umm..." Ed ventures, "he's knocked out cold and prolly about to be quite pissed off? What if we put 'im up in an alley with a trophy and a bottle of booze..."

"That works," Jackass decides and goes rummaging though the cupboards, looking for a spare bottle of liquor.

Tadzio kneels by the valet and checks his breathing: "At least he's not dead..." Then he checks the valet's pockets for a wallet or a coin pouch, but no such luck.

"Also strip him of his clothes," Edward says. "No benders finish with a full set."

"Of course, sir. Right away, sir," replies Tadz, already putting on the valet's lavishly embroidered coat. He proceeds to take his wig and unbutton the man's trousers. And these are some nice buttons on the trousers, too! Expensive.

"Heeh! Th... tickles, Anna," the valet slurs and giggles, eyes rolled back into his head.

"Make sure to pour some of that on him and some in his mouth," Edward advises as Jack returns with a bottle half full of something reeking of bad alcohol.

Then they lift the half-naked valet and carefully manoeuvre him out of the apartment and down the stairs. At one point, Jackass steps on a particularly creaky board. It moans and echoes throughout the building. A door opens and closes, but no one comes looking.

"Nah... Cat Lady's scary," the valet grunts, Tadz noticeably fidgeting at that.

Victory does a double take as they emerge from the house, but then moves to the end of the street, keeping an eye out for any watchmen or nosy neighbours as the three guys haul their load to a nearby smelly back alley.

"This has better work," Jack sighs as they put the valet down on a heap of trash.

"Nuh, I don't wanna, nuh..." the valet mumbles, coughs and then opens his eyes, staring up at Jack, Ed and Tadz, completely baffled.

Then he screams: "ARE YOU INSANE? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"

"More booze! Keep pouring!" Jack pushes the valet back.
 
Tadz follows the order, forcing the liquid down the valet's throat. Things are getting tense, the victim is starting to fight back. He even manages to knock his wig down from Tadz's head.

The struggle becomes quite loud, enough that it starts to draw attention. Victory comes to check what went wrong, but there's also an ancient little grandma who peeks out of a third story window above the alley. She opens her mouth wide, as if to scream for help, but then her eyes roll in their sockets.

She stiffens her posture, her face turning from frightened to stern. From her mouth, a hoarse, authoritative male voice projects itself down into the alley, as if it had been uttered by someone standing right beside each of the listeners: "Tadzio, stop this nonsense at once!"

Tadz drops the bottle as if slapped: "D-dad?"

Speaking through the old lady's toothless mouth, František the Checkered Mage addresses everyone at once: "I know I'll regret asking, but what are you even doing to this poor man?"

Edward creeps a few steps away from the valet and then feigns surprise: "Oh no, I blacked out! Where am I? Who are you people?"

"Shenanigans," Jackass grumbles, but doesn't let go of the valet. "Sorry to have disturbed you, ah- sir? See, there was a misunderstanding about a dead tiger and now we're trying to patch things over..."

"Disturb... me?" responds František's voice. "I'm afraid you lot have accomplished considerably more than that. I have been contacted by Jarek the Nagsman a couple of days ago, so yes, I'm aware of the dead tiger. I thought we had an agreement, Tadzio. I though you had promised to leave the tigers alone."

Tadz's face and eyes are red with shame and anger and tears.

"Tadzio," says Jack under his breath, "is this really Dadzio?"

Tadz nods, furiously wiping tears off his face.

The Checkered Mage booms: "What will be the consequences of letting this peasant go? Will you put yourselves in an even more precarious situation than your current one?"

The valet has actually stopped struggling for now, too shocked and bewildered to fight.

"Something about wrong trophies and subsequently missing kneecaps..." Edward replies, "ehm, sir."

"Yes, sir," Vic steps in, "as my companion here mentions, the unfortunate consequence of releasing the valet in his current condition is likely to be the removal of your son's kneecaps, or his forced participation in the Great Race. Even if we managed to make the valet forget this... unfortunate incident, nothing changes, as we still didn't manage to obtain the Great Race trophy that Jarek requested to let your son and these other two be.

On that note, if I may be so bold to ask, sir, what is your attitude towards master Jarek? Perhaps we could remove the problem at its root and save your son all this trouble?"

An urchin appears behind Victory, also speaking in the Mage's voice: "So it is true. You are the ones responsible for the break in and depredation at the district's Undercouncil Hall. Jarek has put you up to this."

A long silence ensues as the child puppet puts on an utterly serious face, very much unsuitable for this body's age. It is not anger, no. It is... disappointment.

"Now, listen to me carefully, you morons," František reverberates. "The city does not know the identities of the ones responsible for the attack. They do not know their whereabouts. Not yet. Given your recklessness and general stupidity, a moderately competent constable should be able to find you in no time." He makes a dramatic pause. "Fortunately, there's no such thing as a competent law enforcement in Marlinko. I will not make things worse for you, Tadzio. But I will offer you no aid. This is your mess. It is yours to clean."

Regardless of these words, the child approaches the valet, offers him a hand, helps him get on his feet, and whispers something to his ear. All of a sudden, the valet walks out of the alley half-naked and blank-faced.

"There. Now you're on your own, son," child speaks once more and the grandma overhead loudly closes her window.

The kid blinks and spits on the ground: "Whatcha lookin' at, you twats?"

He runs when Tadz throws a tantrum. He shatters the bottle against a wall, screams at the top of his lungs. His hand is bleeding. He, too, flees the scene.

Victory starts after him, but he is quick in his agitation. Tracking him is not terribly hard, though. He has left a sparse trail of blood drips behind him as he stormed his way through the streets. Vic finds him at a random alley with a rake in his hands, grunting, cursing, crying, raking the dirt as if he intends to dig a hole to the Cold Hell itself by this method.

"Hey... Hi," she says. "I want to say that I know how you feel right now, but that would be a lie. I..."

She sits on a crate.

"When I was turned, my sire expected me to do everything he asked, immediately and flawlessly. I was supposed to help him pick up women at the tavern. How do you even do that? When he was done, I was supposed to somehow make the bodies disappear - snap - no trace, no questions, no witnesses. I fucked up. All the time. Again and again, he looked at me, not really angry, just... disappointed. I could imagine him thinking: 'Why do I even bother?'

But you know what? I didn't ask to be dropped into the world like this and he never even offered to teach me, to help. He never even deigned to consider that I might have no idea what I'm doing, that I'm in over my head, that I'm completely lost and drowning...

It never occurred to me, not until he was gone, that I didn't need his approval. He made me into what I am, but he has no say in what I will become. I can fuck up my life as much as I want, because it's my life.

So maybe just... You do you?

And if it would help, we can go and set your dad's house on fire," she smiles at Tadz.

They stay there for what seems to be the longest time. Tadz has smashed most of the rake before Vic even got to him - most of its teeth lie splintered all over the ground. Hyperventilation has waned, the sheer rage-infused shuddering appears to be dying out as well. He wipes his nose, drops the wrecked tool. More placated now, he is about to say something, as his prefatory deep sigh suggests.

The shopkeeper from the place Tadzio has snatched the rake from beats him to it though: "You know you gotta pay for that, right?"

That's also when Edward, Jack and even Atiin find them.

"Maybe if you offered all the other trophies to Jarek, he would be more willing to listen to a reason? Or we could all get out of the city for a while," Atiin is just saying as they round the corner.

"Unless we can get Jarek a replacement tiger," Jack sighs, "I doubt he'll accept any substitutions for the trophy. But we can try. Shall we gather up the lesser trophies and bring them with?"

"I think you need to take all of the trophies we have and give him those," Atiin shakes his head. "They are worth something after all. Meanwhile, I can try to track down some sort of map of the areas around that frog cult. If we need to get out of Marlinko and Fraža is willing to pay, we might as well."

"So how about we pin the robbery on that heretic guy we have to disparage, Tadz?" Ed pats Tadzio on the back.

"Oh, heh, that's a plan," Tadz flashes a weak smile. "But we don't know much about that guy yet, do we?"

"I figure we take one of the less valuable trophies, break in to him, hide it under his bed, then pass around a rumour or tip off someone that the guy was involved," Edward continues, not really listening. "But we gotta do more recon first. Also might wanna start with... changing our names or something... I dunno. Jarek's a weird one and he might wanna bust our kneecaps anyway even if he does think the valet turned on him and disappeared with the big trophy."

"I think this trophy business will wear off eventually. The Great Race opening ceremony is tonight, and tomorrow morning all Jarek will care about is how well his district is faring, same as every year," Tadz glances at the shopkeeper, then back at the gang. "Yeah, wait a sec. Imma pay what I owe, then you can... uhm... elaborate on this whole name-changing thing. Not really sure I follow there, but I'm listening, sure."

And as he goes to pay the shopkeeper, he gives Victory a quick nod and a smile.

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