Warning: The following section is intended to set a dark tone for the campaign. It was not intended to offend or make light of its subject matter, but rather to provide a safe place to explore what it means to be human in a world that isn’t all gold and glory.
His fat pig face was getting uncomfortably close to hers. “Well now, girl, you really are a pretty one.” The words slipped from his mouth like worms, slimy and wriggling, and his breath smelt as foul as the grave.
Oh gods Ella thought can’t a rich fat old lecher afford some damn mint. Her fingers gently stroked her palms as she slowly backed away from the man, smiling with her trademark look of innocence. “Why, thank you my lord, I am flattered by your kind words.”
The fat man took another step forward his face now inches from hers, raising an eyebrow with all the subtlety of a flaming jackass. “Perhaps you would like another honor, serving girl.”
Crap, it’s still not working. I’m going to have to touch the pig aren’t I? Ella reached up with her right hand, her fingers lightly coated with sweat from her palms. She gently touched his wrist where her fingers could brush his skin. “My lord!” She proclaimed with false surprise “I hope you are not implying something unseemly!”
“You dare to tell me what is unseemly!” The fat man whispered menacingly, his oafish attempts at seductiveness replaced with a quick anger.
Ella’s eyes went wide then, this time not with false surprise. No no no she thought desperately this can’t be happening, why isn’t it working?
There was a struggle then, the fat man’s intentions becoming clearer by the second. This man was no mere lecher. Ella struggled against him, but the fat man was heavy, and stronger than he looked. As she fought hard against him she finally managed to get her right hand free, desperately she reached for his mouth, pressing the sweat from her wet palms against his lips, willing the fluids to take effect.
Suddenly the fat man leaped away from her. Thank god Ella thought, in terrified relief it finally worked. But then she saw his face, on his features was not the disgust she expected, but instead shock. There was a split second of stillness then, as the fat man stared at her in disbelief, his right hand touching his lower lip, he began shouting. “Thief! Criminal! Guards, Guards!” he shouted as he slowly backed away from her, his eyes wide.
Ella had no time for confusion. She gathered up what she could of her torn cloths and leapt for the window. She scurried down from the second story window, blood pumping in her ears, and scurried through the night desperately fleeing from the fat man and his guards.
* * *
Ella stashed her wig and torn serving girl costume at her small apartment along the riverfront, grumbling about the cost. Her eyes were dry from crying, and her throat and body sore from the run. She sat on the bed exhausted. “Why didn’t you work!” She yelled aloud, staring at the palm of her right hand. She punched it hard with her left fist and yelped with surprise at the savagery of her own anger. Damnit! she thought now I’m late. She went to the bucket of stale water beside the bed and washed the dried salt from her cheeks. She gathered together her usual slumming costume and wig, touched up her makeup, and headed for the door.
By the time she reached the ally behind the blacksmiths it was well past dark, and the alley was empty. Ella felt her empty coin-purse and considered whether she could afford another night without food. She could sell herself on the street, but she promised that no matter how hungry she got she would never be that desperate. She was pretty hungry though… No, her best bet would be to track down her employer and try to earn some coin with the knowledge she weaseled from that swine. She paid enough for that knowledge as it was, it better not go to waste.
She strolled along the river for a few minutes pondering where to look for her contact. As she walked her conscience nibbled at the back of her mind. What do these people do with the information you gather? a voice from her subconscious whispered what schemes are they plotting? She paused for a moment, uncertain, then she remembered the pigs foul breath and greedy hands, and she doubled her pace I hope it’s something awful for that pig she reassured herself and pushed her uncertainties back into her subconscious for another day. Listening to the sounds of a lively evening, the sounds of sailors, whores, and musicians making merry in passing inns, she remembered the Rat Cellar. She had met her contact there a few times before, it was as good a place to try as any.
* * *
It was easy to get lost in his thoughts as he sat at a table in the corner of the Rat’s Cellar waiting. This of course was dangerous in a place like the Rat’s Cellar. Pellene forced himself to look up from his napkin where he had been doodling and survey the scene. The bar was not crowded yet, it was occupied by its usual assortment of regulars…dockworkers and petty thieves. His contact was still nowhere to be seen. Unusual. He was nothing if not punctual. He considered leaving, but thought he would give the man a few more minutes. Pellene still did not know the man’s name. He simply referred to him as “The Stranger.” This was the first of Pellene’s underworld contacts that seemed genuinely interested in the information provided and not just looking for robbery tips or gossip. The payment was also much more than he ever had expected. That alone was cause to hold out for a few more minutes at least. If he saved up enough, perhaps he could eventually convince his father he was still worthy of inheritance.
Pellene looked up from his doodles and his thoughts again and noticed a figure in the far corner of the room that had not been there the moment before. It was the stranger. He was looking at Pellene with a subtle smirk on his face. Pellene realized that the man must have been sitting there watching him for a while as he sat oblivious. How embarrassing.
It was time to get this deal underway. Pellene rose from his seat to go and join the stranger at his table. He stopped at the bar on his way and bought two flagons of ale. As he approached the table he offered a drink to the stranger and quietly exclaimed “You have my compliments sir, You truly are the most discreet associate I have ever dealt with. May I join you?”
With a nod of his head the man motioned to the chair across from him. “And you are the least,” he responded softly. “The entire establishment needn’t know our business. Sit and speak softly.”
Pellene sat a little embarrassed. “I thought I was speaking softly,” he said.
The man’s eyes narrowed as he reached for the flagon offered to him, he was clearly in a foul mood and seemed to be taking it out on Pellene. “Just tell me what you have for me,” the stranger said impatiently. There seemed to be no time for pleasantries or softening the man up, Pellene would have to get down to business quickly.
“Of course sir.” Pellene responded a bit sheepishly. He took out his drawing pad and removed a sheet with some sketches on them. Worked into the drawing was a code that explained the details of a few government documents that had been created at the Scribners this past week. There was also a manifest for a wealthy merchant detailing chattels scheduled for shipment to an outlying district that would be put up for sale. He also pulled the code key he created for deciphering the information out of his pad and held it in his hands as he discreetly said “and my payment?” He looked around a bit suspiciously at the mention of money to make sure nobody was observing them.
As he happened to look to the door he noticed a woman slipping into the room. He watched as her gaze landed squarely on the stranger, with an expression of recognition and relief. The stranger’s eyes narrowed in impatient frustration. They knew each other and the stranger wasn’t happy seeing her there.
Ella took a quick step towards her contact, discarding her usual discretion in her haste. She was halfway across the room before noticing the confused man sitting across from her contact. This isn’t good, she thought. I have no idea who this other man is, and neither look happy that I’m here. I’ll need to turn this around in order to get my payment. She knew she should have gone to the bar first to scope out her surroundings, but it would be too suspicious to alter her course now. Besides, she didn’t have any coin to her name and the Rat Cellar’s barkeep wasn’t known for his generous hospitality. She pulled a chair from a nearby empty table, sat down between the two men, and gently patted her contact’s hand while putting on her best smile. I hope my touch doesn’t fail me this time. “I can’t believe I caught you here. Who’s your drinking buddy tonight?” she asked while turning to the stranger sitting next to her. Not waiting for an answer, Ella extended her hand to him, preparing to use her gift a second time. “My name’s Bella. I’m sorry for intruding on your conversation, but it’s been ages since I’ve seen my friend around these parts.”
The stranger’s expression didn’t seem to soften. “My associate was just leaving.” he said turning to face Pellene with a cold expression “We’ll catch up another time, I’ll be in touch.”
Ella made note of Pellene’s face while he was getting ready to go. If he was meeting her contact then he was either a valuable asset or trouble–most likely both. Once Pellene was out of earshot, she turned to her contact, “I’m so sorry. I ran into an unexpected hurdle along the way, but managed to gather some precious intel. I presume you’re still interested…”
“Let’s see it” the man said, cold and short.
“Do you have my payment?” Ella responded cautiously.
The stranger’s eyes narrowed as he paused for a moment. “Let’s see it.” he said with finality. The subtext was clear, Ella had spent her good will when she arrived late, at the wrong location, and in the middle of whatever other business the man was engaged in. Whatever that business was, Ella assumed it must be important. Whatever the case, this was no game, and she was not haggling with an apple seller in the market.
Ella sighed. “Fine then, but I’ll have you know that this was very difficult to come by.” She reached down inside her dirt-stained boots and withdrew a copy of the trade manifest that she had memorized while working undercover in the nobleman’s chambers. “Here it is,” she said as she held the paper tightly clenched in her hands. “Everything you asked for.” She knew she should give him the paper and not concern herself with its contents, but her curiosity and conscious got the better of her. And so she asked that one question that every informant knows is off-limits, “What exactly does your client intend to do with this information?”
The strangers hard mouth turned slowly to a smile, a smile that did not reach his eyes. Without speaking he snatched the paper from Ella’s hands, stood, quietly dropped a small pouch of coins on the table and said “For the meal.” Ella sat nervously looking at the pouch, it looked to be the amount she was expected, which was good, but she wasn’t sure what the strangers cold smile meant. Had she crossed the line? She sat still as stone as the man slipped by her from his chair in the corner. As he passed he leaned down and whispered in her ear. “Your gonna have to get a whole lot deeper in this game if you want those answers. And, honestly, I don’t think you’re ready for that.” He pushed himself past her with a hand on her shoulder and a chuckle under his breath as he made for the door.
* * *
As the door to the rat cellar closed behind the mysterious man a serving girl named Kat quickly and calmly moved across the room to where the young woman was still seated. “Can I get you anything?” she asked.
I can’t believe I’m finally talking to her. Kat scanned the bar to make sure no one was making a move toward them.
Ella turned towards the serving girl while covering the coin pouch with her hands. “No thank you, darlin’. I was just about to leave.” Ella pushed out her chair, turned her back to the girl as she stood, and discreetly slipped the coin pouch into her inner pocket. She put on her usual disarming smile and turned to face the girl again, “Actually, I forgot to catch the name of my friend’s friend—the one with the pad of paper. I don’t suppose you’re familiar with him?”
“I’ve seen him around. He likes to draw. I’ve seen you around too…” Kat lowered her face using her hair to hide her scar. “That man seems dangerous. You should be careful.”
“I appreciate the concern, but I can take care of myself. What makes you think he’s so dangerous anyway?”
“There is something in his eyes.” Kat stood up straighter and looked Ella in the eyes. “I know I may seem young, but I’ve been around long enough to know when someone means trouble. He means trouble.” Gods! What am I doing?! Just say something before she leaves. “…I…I…Bella, I know you don’t know me but I have seen you around. I need to get out of here. I will do anything. Please.” Kat looked down, covering her face again. “I cant stay here any longer.”
Ella didn’t know how to react. The Rat Cellar was certainly no place for a young woman, but what could she do. “A lot of people around these parts mean trouble. I wish I could help you, but I’m barely scraping by myself.” Perhaps this girl could be of some help. She’s certainly observant. She knew me by my alias Bella even though I don’t believe I ever mentioned it. Ella made to go then paused, reaching inside her coat pocket and pulling out a coin. “If you find out that artist’s name or hear anything about the man you think is dangerous, I’d be very grateful,” she said while handing her the coin. “Meet me at the center of God’s plaza at noon tomorrow, and we can discuss this more privately. Oh, and I never got your name?”
Kat shook her head as if she didn’t know what Ella was talking about and whispered, “They call me Kat. I’ll meet you there, and so you know you can trust me…” Kat handed back the coin, “His name, the one who draws, is Pellene.” Then louder, Kat said, “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Have a good night Miss.” As she turned to head back to the bar, Kat gave a slight nod to Bella and went back to work.
How interesting, Ella thought. She buttoned her coat, pulled up her hood, and made a hasty exit for the door in hopes of catching up to her contact.
* * *
Pellene watched from the shadows as the stranger slipped out of the Rat Cellar and into the darkness of the night. For a second Pellene considered following and asking about his payment, but decided that probably wouldn’t be wise. In truth Pellene was waiting patiently outside the Rat Cellar out of curiosity regarding the woman. Who was she? Does she work with the stranger too? Or is she some prostitute or something of that sort?
Pellene only had a few moments to ponder that before the woman herself exited the building. Pellene turned away from her direction trying to look like he belonged there, in a dark alley, in the middle of the night. Fortunately she didn’t seem to notice him. She looked about intently for a moment then she started walking quickly down the narrow street.
Pellene followed, keeping his distance and trying to look disinterested, as if he just happened to be going the same direction at the same dark time of night. He followed her out of the alley and down a few streets, but it wasn’t long before the woman glanced back in his direction. He quickly looked away and pretended to be busy looking for something on his person. When he looked up she had already slipped down another street somewhere up ahead. He tried to hurry and catch up with her, but as he passed the next few streets he saw no sign of her.
As Pellene meandered back to his small apartment above the shop where he worked during the day he thought about the young woman. From the direction she was headed she must live, or at least have some business, in one of the less pleasant districts of the city. He new the neighborhood, not well, but by reputation, enough to avoid it when walking alone at night. He also concluded that the woman must in fact be working with the stranger in some capacity. The stranger wasn’t pleased to see her, and the fact that they left the shop at nearly the same time and after such a short period suggests that their meeting was no coincidence. Oh well, Pellene thought, a mystery for another night.
As Pellene opened the narrow door leading up to his apartment and stepped inside he kicked something at the foot of the steps. Looking down he saw that a small pouch was laying at his feet. Did I drop this on my way out this morning? he thought as he bent down to pick it up. The pouch jingled as he lifted it from the ground, and as he peered inside he knew it for what it was, his payment.
- Test Etiquette 0/0/1
- Test Perception 0/1/0
- Test Inconspicuous 0/1/0
- Test Speed 0/1/0
- +1 Fate, for using good etiquette to start the conversation (1st Instinct)
- Test Forte 0/1/0
- Test Beguiling Touch 0/0/1
- Test Speed 0/1/0
- +1 Fate, for attempting to determine how the information is being used (3rd belief)
- Test Customer-Wise 0/1/0
- +1 Fate, for playing up the facial scar with your flavor text