- 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
The Squatter Apartment, night
"So, how are we doing this?" asks Jackass after Victory describes her plan of entering the main trophy room via the rooftop route.
"It's just a narrow alley," Vic grins. "We jump to the roof and go for the ceremonial room window. Soulless Rooftop Crew, let's go!"
And before Jack has the time to voice his concerns, she leaps out of the window. And falls short, fingernails scraping on the gutter, plunging the two stories down.
Thankfully, she lands on some crates full of super-smooth leathery goods from Bad Rajetz, crashing them open. Apparently, the alley is narrower at the bottom than it is at the roof level.
Nobody comes running to check on the commotion as she staggers out of the debris, though, so she hobbles back to the tenement, cursing under her breath.
In the meantime, Jackass assembled a grappling hook and he manages to stretch a rope over to the Undercouncil Hall's roof by the time Vic limps up the stairs. He quirks an eyebrow at her.
Both carefully climb over the alley and creep towards the ceremonial room. Moonlight allows them to make out only a few nondescript shapes through the dark windows, but the room seems empty. Vic carefully unlatches a window with her dagger and both crawl inside.
There's a large-ish figurine posted right in the middle of the room, a horse. It is a mechanical marvel, with a winding key on its rear end.
Vic is more interested in the reinforced door of the trophy room, though. She takes one of her hairpins and with a little bit of fiddling, the door clicks open.
There are tens of dozens of trophies lined on shelves inside, but they are still blocked by a portcullis set just beyond the door.
"Jack, you do know how the Great Race trophy looks, don't you?" Victory asks as she meddles with the portcullis.
She stops and turns to him in disbelief, giving Jack the time to notice and point out the guillotine-like device that nearly sliced her hands or head off. They manage to disable it and walk into the main trophy room proper with no idea what to look for.
So they start to stuff anything that might be a Great Race trophy into a sack.
The Temple of Revoc, meanwhile
Atiin, dressed into the dead guard's uniform with bloodstains covered with food stains and wearing an outrageous fake moustache, steps into the temple. The horses are asleep, as are the few remaining stable personnel in the room. There's also a priest lighting candles near the altar and two guards that seem not quite sober.
However, there's something much more wrong with the guards. While their focus seems to be entirely devoted to poking each other's faces and giggling, Atiin realizes that something is going on with their flesh: It looks excessively soft, squishy, moist, malleable. Oh, fuck. That one guard's left eye is sticking out of its socket, as if it is the tip of a feeler of some kind.
Atiin stares for a second, but then decides to just push past them, pickpocket their keys and check out the nearby minor trophy room.
"Your mother was a hamster," he yells at the priest in greeting.
As he takes the keys from a guard's pocket, though, that guard stops giggling. He gives Atiin a very languid stare. Then he closes his eyes and opens his mouth, leaning slowly in Atiin's direction, as if he's misread the whole situation as a key moment in a rom-com. His tongue is protruding from his mouth, and it is slimy and abnormally big, like a tentacle.
The other guard clasps his hands together and, with a mellow expression, goes: "Awww!"
Atiin slaps the kisser: "Not in church, man, not in church."
"Guards!" the priest addresses all three of them, "what is going on over there?!"
Atiin doesn't deign to answer him and with the keys in hand, he slips deeper into the Hall. The minor trophy room is right the next door down the hallway, but unfortunately the key ring has a lot of keys.
Behind him, the priest approaches the mutant guards and a second later cries out: "OH MY SUN LORD! HELP!"
Atiin continues to fumble with the keys, but other guards have heard the shouting. He hides the keys behind his back as they turn the corner towards the temple.
"Hey! Are you okay? You look jumpy, man," one of the guards asks him.
Atiin adopts an expression of pure horror and backs away from the temple door: "Ther... th... they..."
The guards hurry to peek through the door he left open. From the looks of it, the stable boys have woken up and subdued the mutant guards. They are currently kicking the crap out of them. On the one hand, the victimized guards' elastic flesh probably makes it look worse than it really is; on the other hand, it sure is brutal.
The guards from the main hall rush in to intervene: "By Revoc and the Sun Lord! Stop it!"
"Back away from them! Dubnov! Little help here!"
"What is going on?"
But the last guard notices the keys in Atiin's hand. He raises an eyebrow.
"They are high or something and freaking out! Someone told me to fetch a trophy to try and distract them with something shiny, so it doesn't come to blows. Although I think a stiff breeze could take them," Atiin says and goes back to unlocking the door.
"The... what?" The guard comes closer and inspects him from top to bottom. "I don't think we've met before. When did you start working here?"
Atiin turns and salutes, dropping the keys: "Uhhhh... first day sir!"
"Really...? What is your name? Where were you stationed before?"
"Rodriguez, south harbor."
"South ha-? Stay where you are, you scoundrel!" the guard barks and blows his whistle.
"Uhhh whaaaa... Something's happening... Please, help..." Atiin clutches his stomach and then open his mouth wide and even wider, more than any human should be able to. Though it has nothing to do with hruz in his case, he could do it as long as he can remember. Used to freak out girls with it when he was younger.
The guard's face goes ashen white, he lets the whistle fall from his lips and shrieks like a little girl. Then he darts away and out of the Undercouncil Hall.
"What the actual fuck?" says one of the guards coming back from the temple. "Alesh and Janosh are in a terrible shape in the temple. It looks like the Weird got to them. Now who's that one fleeing? Should we give chase?"
"After them!" Atiin shouts.
The guard nods and runs to the security room. A few seconds later, three abnormally agile guards emerge from there, twirling and pirouetting their way out of the building, going after that poor frightened guard.
Atiin is left alone with the trophy room door and his ring of keys, once again.
In front of the Undercouncil Hall, also meanwhile
Tadz gives Edward a look when a scream can be heard from the Temple of Revoc behind them, but after a moment of deliberation, they don't do anything about it. They are lookouts, after all, so they should be looking out.
Instead, Tadz produces some beef jerky from his pocket, gives it a generous bite and offers Ed what's left.
"Thanks, Tadz. Ya think Atiin's doing alright in there? I figured he'd be the one gunning for lookout duty."
"I don't know. He's not the type to blow everything to shit at the first sign of trouble - not like someone I know, right?" He does a whole wink-wink-nudge-nudge routine at Ed. "So I'm not too concerned. But why d'you ask? Wishing you were there, risking your neck?"
"Just wondering. It's a bit weird to go from like, silk sheets to criminal lookout. Victory an' Jackass seem real well adjusted to all this though..."
"Bah, silk sheets are overrated, I can tell you. I wouldn't trade our current lifestyle for a ticket back to dad's Onion Tower. No amount of money can persuade me to go back to that. Not for money nor for a godling's blessing."
The Undercouncil Hall, on the roof
Back on the roof, Victory and Jackass decide to also check out the trophy vault adjacent to the Chief Undercouncilman's office, in case he has the Great Race trophy locked in there, prepared for tomorrow. If they just steal all the trophies, they can sort them out and find the right one later.
"Wait up, V!" Jackass whispers as they scale the top of the roof. "You got that vampy stamina I gotta keep up with!"
He struggles to climb properly with the sack full of trophies on his back, but it's Vic with her sprained ankle who slips on the wet shingles and goes tumbling down from the roof, again.
This time, they are both tied to a rope, though, and Vic ends up swinging in front of an upper floor hallway window.
A guard opens the window and shouts: "I think I saw you fall from the sky, ma'am?"
He holds his breath as long as he can, to no avail. He starts with a "tee-hee", only to burst out in hysterical laughter a few seconds later. From the next window, two other guards do the same.
"Oh yes, I am an angel, ain't I?" Victory tries to untangle herself, failing at first. "So, how do you do? Saw any interesting arena match lately?"
The first guard laughs so hard that he seems to be locked in a permanent grimace. He has last exhaled, what, ten seconds ago? He looks as if, should he not take a breath soon, he's going to asphyxiate.
There's a commotion downstairs, with whistling and shouting and someone running, but the guards do not seem to care. They're just laughing and mimicking the noises that are coming from downstairs, which makes them laugh even harder.
"Hey, wanna join me out here? The view is magnificent, you would love it!" Victory smiles at the guards. "Come on, you guys!"
One guard goes for it immediately, but he just bashes his head against the window and falls on his butt. They all keep laughing.
But there's a fourth voice coming from the hallway, a little ways away and out of sight: "You, morons! It's chaotic downstairs. I cannot believe you haven't noticed. What are you even doing over there?"
The one sober guards stops dead in his tracks as he spots Victory still hanging behind the windows.
"IT'S HAPPENING!" he screams. "THEY'RE AFTER THE TROPHIES!!!"
In front of the Undercouncil Hall
"Don't look now, but I think I see the nun-maenads over there," Tadzio nudges Ed. "What do we do?"
"Smile and wave?"
They both do, effectively revealing their position to the two women, who immediately head towards them.
"Oh fuck. That made it worse," Tadz hisses.
Ed shrugs and smiles at the nuns.
"Well, how are you faring, boys? Any developments on our little project?"
"We have located some... potential allies to help the particular cause," Ed says. "Non-believers, but the bleeding-lamb god works in strange ways. We're waiting for them to meet up."
"Recruiting already, huh? That's... good, yes."
"Yes, good. We can see you're doing the good work, brothers."
A high-pitched whistle sound can be heard from inside the Undercouncil Hall, followed by a girly scream. Then followed by a guard running for his life.
The nuns exchange looks.
"I'm still somewhat new around here," Edward says, "but is that a normal experience for this temple?"
"Pfft! The Revoc cult is a joke," one nun pulls a face.
"Ditto, sis," the other nods.
Upon hearing that, Tadzio launches into a spiel starting with: "Well, actually-" and continuing to point out the many interesting cultural features that the Revoc's cult expresses.
Edward just rolls his eyes.
Then three ridiculously acrobatic guards sprint right past them.
"Well," says a nun-maenad, "now I'm curious. I'm going to take a peek."
The other nun-maenad shrugs and follows her to the Hall's main entrance.
Ed exchanges a look with Tadz and starts a coughing fit, excusing himself profusely but making as much of a ruckus as he can. He hopes the others will hear it and withdraw.
The Undercouncil Hall, minor trophy room
"I knew it," says a guard just as Atiin finally unlocks and enters the trophy room. "I knew there was something fishy about you. You're coming with me, you-"
Unfortunately for the guard, he is standing at the other end of the hallway, so Atiin just flips him the bird and closes the door in his face, swiftly locking it again.
There are shelves and display cases with trophies everywhere. Really everywhere, with loads of trophies, and the guard is already rattling with his keys.
There is a second entrance, though, a smaller door leading back to the temple. Atiin grabs the two closest trophies and goes for the door, making it a fumbling contest of who finds the right key more quickly. Atiin wins, barely, and can enjoy the sheer fury on the guard's face when he closes and locks a second door on him.
However, the violent stable boys are still in the temple and they notice the commotion. They start after Atiin when he tries to walk out.
"Hey, you were here before this mess," one motions towards the bound pair of deformed guards.
"Yeah, you did something to them, didn't you? And who's that you locked in the trophy room, eh?"
In a single motion, Atiin turns around and pulls his firelock pistol: "Everybody back off!"
They back off.
"I'm leaving with the Great Race trophy and no one is going to stop me," Atiin shouts and runs out of the door.
In front of the Undercouncil Hall
Victory finally manages to free herself from the rope, and as nobody noticed Jack yet, she yells some insults towards the one sober guard to keep his attention and starts climbing down from the roof.
This time, her leg holds and she lands right in front of two raggedy, foul-smelling, middle-aged women. Then she turns around, lights a molotov and throws it towards the Hall's main entrance.
The women seem stunned to silence.
"Holy shit!" yells Tadzio.
From the temple entrance, Atiin comes out sprinting and disappears into a side street.
"Wha- wha- what is happening?" yells Edward, no longer coughing.
"We suck as lookouts, that's what's happening!" yells Tadz again.
That one sober guard has climbed onto the roof, but instead of following Vic's precarious route, he shakes his head and turns back to the window. Where Jack is crouching in the shadows.
Jackass puts down the sack of stolen trophies, stands up and start calmly walking towards the guard.
"You must be under orders from the Sullen Apiarian district," the guard says. "The Grandmaster of Hives tries to pull out something like this every year. Well, it's over now. Hands behind your back. We're keeping you here until the authorities arrive."
"Oh well, ya got me," Jackass shrugs and fakes a stumble, shoving the guard.
The guard manages to keep his balance even on the slick shingles, though, and draws his sword. "Stand down, you fool."
"Stand down? Heh," Jackass grins and unsheathes his new rapier.
They circle around each other, eyes locked and legs carefully searching for steady footing. The stoned guards cheer them from the windows.
Then the sober guard lunges, deceptively fast, and Jack is a fraction of a second too slow in his parry. He feels a trickle of blood running down his left arm where the blade cut through his sleeve.
"Stand dow-" the guard tries again, but Jackass just strikes out. The rapier seems to push the other sword out of the way and slides right through the guard's mail shirt and torso, cleanly piercing his heart. Then it vibrates, still stuck inside of the dying guard, and the guard's eyes go blank. Like, literally chalk-white.
An ominous wind blows when Jack pulls his weapon out of the corpse and lets the body slide down from the roof. The rapier feels different, somehow.
With the stoned guards too stunned to do anything (and some still laughing), Jack drops the sack of trophies to Ed and Tadz, then follows Victory's path down from the roof. They all turn the corner into a back alley just as the team of the unnaturally nimble guards returns back to the Undercouncil Hall.
The two nun-maenads exchange a glance.
Atiin's apartment, the small hours of the night
With the stolen trophies safely and imaginatively hidden under one of their beds, the guys all crash it for the night. Even Edward stays, sleeping on the couch this time, everybody too tired to complain about his stench.
Only Victory remains awake, sitting in an armchair, unable to sleep ever since she was turned. She bandages her ankle, still hurting from the fall, and then takes out the vial of hruz-head blood she had collected earlier. Maybe this could be a way to unwind. She gulps it down and the world around her slowly falls apart, replaced by a whirlwind of hallucinations and memories.
She dreams of Edward.
Edward knew Victory in a previous life, though not in the metaphysical sense. For him, it was a previous life as it was before being diseased and expelled from his family. For her, it was a previous life as she was still a human, then. Once a week, she used to deliver meats and sausages from her father's butchery to the Bleestocles mansion. Sometimes, she would see Edward there, though he had probably never noticed her. She was just another servant, after all.
She might have even fancied him, in the way that a girl fancies a young bachelor well above her station.
She used to work at her father's butchery and would have inherited the shop and the job. Sure, it should have been the eldest son, but Vic's father only had her and her two younger sisters.
She used to hate butchery. "It's unbecoming of a young lady to slaughter animals and cut them apart," she thought to herself. As if she had been a lady.
Then one night, Victory went to a dance and found herself a tall, dark stranger. He told her how he could whisk her away from it all, to see faraway lands and dance in palaces instead of taverns. She invited him to her home.
He drained her father, her mother and her sisters before her eyes, and then he bled her, ever so slowly, to death. When she finally drew her last breath, he gave her three droplets of his blood and she woke up at midnight three days later.
For a year she served her Master's every need as he took residence in the house of her family. Her Master spent all the money her father had saved up to give his daughters a better life, and then he made Victory go beg for loans from every friend and acquittance she or her family had. She helped him pick up women for his nightly snack and when he was done, she cut up the bodies and disposed of them. She deflected every question and concern for her family, until people stopped asking. She killed the debt collectors and loan sharks.
Eventually, the hunters found them. Victory was too young a vampire to shrug off a crossbow bolt, but also too young to be finished off by the garlic extract infused into it. She slunk off into the sewers as they set fire to her family house.
When she recovered enough to come limping back, the house had been burnt to the ground and there was no sign of her Master to be found. She never learned what became of him, or the hunters. She was alone and she wandered the streets for a long time, lost in her sudden freedom. She didn't know what to do. She was not only dead, but also deadened.
Then she saw Edward, barely on his feet due to disease and booze, and followed him to an inn where the rest of his friends were drinking. The next morning, she passed out in this very room for the first time, having drunk more slivovitz in one night than her father had drunk in his entire life.
Somehow, she felt like she could learn to belong.
Atiin's apartment, early morning
Victory wakes up to incessant, angry banging on the apartment door.