The Rat Cellar

It All Started in the Rat Cellar

Characters

Following Chapters

Story

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.

Conclusion

Results

Pellene

  • 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)

Ella

  • 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)

Kat

  • Test Customer-Wise 0/1/0
  • +1 Fate, for playing up the facial scar with your flavor text
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Fate in the Plaza

Characters

Preceding Chapters

Following Chapters

Story

As Kat walked into the square she was excited. I can’t believe I might finally get out of that dump of a bar… She looked around the square, watching the rich nobles relaxing by the grand fountain, listening to the distant banter of a slave auction at the other end, and watching a procession of clergy enter the gates to the Divine Palace. No sign of Bella yet, but Kat was early. She walked around the square a few times to make sure no one was tracking her moves then looked for a cool spot in the shade to wait.

It was almost two hours before Ella entered the square from the East wearing a blonde wig, an old sky blue dress, and a yellow shawl. She had adopted the disguise earlier that morning while asking around for Pellene, not wanting to be recognized should she find him. She had no success and it was already well after noon when she had given up and decided to head for the rendezvous. I wonder if Kat will recognize me. She thought as she stood in the middle of the plaza scanning the faces around her. She was frustrated by her lack of progress this morning, but hoped the girl would have more information.

It wasn’t long before Kat noticed Bella from her spot along the edge of the plaza. The wig would have thrown her off but there was something out of place with the way Bella carried herself. Something Kat couldn’t quite put her finger on. She stood and slowly walked toward Bella without looking at her. As she passed her she pretended to trip. “Oh! I am so sorry Miss. Please excuse my clumsiness.”

“That’s quite alright, my dear” Ella said before looking at the girl’s face. “Kat?! I take it that wasn’t an accident” she said smiling. “Shall we take a stroll around the square while we continue our discussion from the other night?”

“Sure…” Kat said while she looked around, “but let’s not stay in the plaza. The guards don’t exactly trust me.”

The two began walking toward the side of the plaza leading down to the docks as they talked in casual tones.

“As for the person you asked about, Pellene, he’s not much to talk about,” Kat told Bella. “He’s a scribe that was expelled from school for drawing the Gods as ordinary people. I’ve never seen him talk to strangers before. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was getting in over his head.”

“Interesting. I’ve heard of avant garde artists before, but never concerning the Gods. I don’t suppose you know what shop he works at?”

“Unfortunately I don’t,” Kat said as they neared the edge of the plaza, the shouts of the slave auctioneer carrying over the crowd nearby, “but I can try to find out. He may come back to the bar.”

“Thanks, I’d appreciate that. I know you hate working there, but our poking about might lead to some new opportunities. Speaking of which, what exactly are you hoping to get out of this, Kat? Do you even know what business the man I met with is involved in? I’d hate for you to get in over your head.”

Kat looked at Ella uncertain of how to respond.

Ella nodded. “I’d better not tell you too much, but let’s just say that man has a keen interest in certain information. I’m actually quite interested in finding out what he does with it. Perhaps this Pellene will know more.”

“That makes sense. He has met with the man a few times. What can I do to help?” Kat asked as she glanced around the plaza. “I’m sure I can do something and if it helps me get out of The Rat Cellar, I am in.” Her sentence trailed off slightly as her eyes lingered on the slave auction, she wasn’t sure what it was, but something there grabbed her attention and wouldn’t let it go. She turned to look more closely.

Ella noticed Kat’s wandering eye. “Slaving… an unfortunate business but a profitable one. I swear, most nobles wouldn’t know how to use a privy without one,” she whispered while thinking of the slaves in her father’s estate. I wonder if they’re still alive.

Ella’s musing was cut off by a sharp breath from Kat. It was the eyes, blue eyes like the mid-morning sky, piercing and full of life. Not the muscled hulk on the block being squabbled over by the nobles, but the thin young man behind that hulk, the next in line. An unassuming man, the sort that could easily get lost in a crowd, his wiry frame covered in bruises and lashes, telling the story of those defiant blue eyes. Kat recognized him immediately.

“Oh Gods…” Kat whispered as her feet pulled her towards the line of slaves…,“Fabine…” Her feet moved faster and eventually became as run as she screamed, “FABINE!”

What is she doing? Ella thought to herself as she feigned disgust at the impropriety of such a public outburst. She’s drawing so much attention to herself. She glanced around to ensure no one had noticed Kat speaking to her before staring a leisurely stroll towards the auction. I had best see what she’s all worked up about.

As Kat neared the auction, shoving the crowd violently out of her way and yelling for Fabine, his expression slowly changed from defiance to "He runs off so often, butbit still scares mesurprise. As he turned and watched her pushing her way to the front of the crowd his eyes became soft with concern. He shook his head emphatically trying to will her away.

Kat knew he was trying to warn her. Swallowing her need to rescue him she grabbed the nearest boy not facing her and spun him around. Going to her knee she said, “Fabine! Where…” She let her voice trail off as if she just realized this child was not who she was looking for. “I am so sorry! I thought you were my little brother.” Kat made another round of apologizes and slipped back into the crowd as if she were still looking for her “brother”. Even so, her eyes kept checking on Fabine as she moved around the plaza. What am I going to do? I need to get him free, Kat thought, I can’t believe I acted so stupidly. Now everyone is watching me. Surely I’ve ruined any chance of working with Bella. As she looked toward where she was last with Bella a gruff hand landed on her shoulder and she turned to look up into the narrowed eyes of a member of the city watch.

“Oh! Thank goddess! Officer, my brother has seemed to have gotten lost in the crowd. I thought this young man was him.” Kat started to cry, hoping this wasn’t an officer she’d met before. Thankfully the guard had thousands of members. “He runs off so often. I’m sure he is fine. I am so sorry to cause a distribance. I’m going to head home and see if he is there like always.”

“If it was an honest mistake then you won’t mind coming with me and explaining why you made a scene here to the captain, will you, street rat?” The guardsman said as he began to pull Kat in the direction of the slave auction.

“Absolutely not, but would you mind not pulling me quite so hard?” Kat smiled up at the guard hoping he would loosen his hold a little. As he snarled at her and pulled her gruffly along, she glanced around hoping the crowd or the start of the auction would give her the opportunity to cause another distraction and get away. When the crowd got too heavy for the guard to weave her through easily, she knew she had her chance. At first Kat looked around for a large man hoping to pinch him quite inappropriately on the rump inciting anger and hopefully a violent distraction. But damn it all if the guard didn’t drag her through a pack of gossiping hens. Rolling her eyes at her ill luck Kat went for it and grabbed a handful of the nearest woman’s sizable breast with a firm squeeze. It certainly got a reaction, not the violent outburst she was hoping, but as the woman shrieked and leapt away the guard turned to look and subconsciously loosened his grip. Kat’s skillful fingers left both the guard and woman uncertain as to what just happened and Kat took the opportunity to make a break for it.

Kat shot through the crowd like butter. Her small and adept body weaving easily in and out of them. She turned and looked over her shoulder to see the guard pushing the irate woman out of his way and struggling against the weight of the crowd. Kat was out of the square and down at least three alleys before she stopped, leaning against a wall to catch her breath. She smiled in a moment of ecstasy until she remembered Fabine’s battered face on the auction block, his head shaking slightly but desperately begging her to stay free. She brushed the tear out of her eye and regained her feet, deciding what to do next.

Kat was determined to find out what was happening to fabine. She looked around the alley and wiped her face with some soot from a fire pit. On her way back to the plaza she took some cloths of a line down another alley and ditched her old clothes on the go.

When she entered the plaza she tried to slip back into the crowd unnoticed, with her eyes and ears peeled for the guards in case her disguise was not good enough. As she neared the thickest part of the crowd she heard a woman’s voice behind her crow “you there, aren’t you that girl who got in trouble with the guard?”

Kat froze, hoping the voice was talking to someone else, until the hand landed on her should. The woman looked her in the eyes and said “I think I recognize that scar.”
“You have the wrong woman.” Kat said in a voice that was halfway between an old woman and a eunuch, and not particularly convincing either.

By the time the woman had started calling for the guard Kat had slipped out of her grip and deeper into the crowd. Half her attention was focused on escaping the woman’s attention and the other half on trying to eavesdrop on conversations that may have something to do with Fabine. Unfortunately everyone was talking about the big man on the block before Fabine or the attractive young woman after.

As it dawned on Kat that they were talking about the next slave on the block her eyes darted over and she saw that Fabine was no longer there. She looked frantically around the plaza for any sign of him. Then she saw a gnarled old man leading two burley guards who held the manacles of a small crowd of slaves. She recognized the man from a moment ago, he was manhandling Fabine as she entered the plaza. Kat started to move toward the group to get a better look and then recognized Fabine’s gate among the crowd.

They were almost at the edge of the plaza and Kat raced to catch up, while still trying not to draw any more attention. They had already disappeared down a road leading toward the West Gate when she flattened herself against the wall of an Inn along the plaza.
Peering around the corner her eyes locked with one of the burly guard. His eyes were suspicious and attentive and when he caught her gaze he immediately turned toward her. “What are you looking at street rat, care to join this lot?” he hollered with a booming voice as he snapped a heavy whip.

The loud sound startled Kat and with her close shave only a few minutes before, she lost her nerve. She disappeared down another side alley.

Kat knew that Fabine was probably enslaved for his crimes of theft, vagrancy, and being to poor to afford an advocate. He was too slight to be an imposing guard and too wily to be a trustworthy runner or house slave. Fabine was destined for manual labor of some sort, she was certain, and if they were headed toward the West Gate then it was likely on a farm somewhere outside the city. Farms always needed large numbers of slaves.

Kat wished that she could have somehow caught that old man’s name. She could head back toward the auction and ask around, but she was certain nobody would remember. To them Fabine would just be another broken down slave. They probably forgot him before they even noticed him. Besides there was too much risk that she would be recognized. But she knew that he was alive. That was something. Manual labor was hard and brutal, but Fabine was tough. Kat vowed then, as she walked among the alleys in the shade of the late afternoon sun, that she would find Fabine, and that she would do everything in her power to set him free.

* * *

Ella watched from the crowds as Kat was both apprehended and escaped. As Kat disappeared down a nearby ally Ella felt a presence next to her. “Interesting girl, she’s more resourceful than I would have initial thought, and those quick hands could come in handy.” Ella turned to see her employer standing casually next to her, his hands on his hips, looking toward the alley that Kat disappeared down.

Ella did her best to maintain her composure, but jumped slightly upon seeing her employer. “Yes, she’s an observant one, but obviously not very discrete. The scar doesn’t help, I’m sure. Do you any idea what she was yelling about?”

Ella noticed a smirk on the man’s face from the corner of her eye. “Oh, of course, but that’s not why I’m here.” The man turned and look directly at her. “You’ve been trying to track down Pellene, haven’t you Ms. Talsoon.”

She felt her heart skip a beat when she heard her real name escape his lips. How could he have found out? She kept her gaze on the auction, took a deep breath, and tried to mask the nervousness in her voice. “I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong name. It’s Bella, as you know. As for Pellene… well, I wondered if you’d catch wind of my inquiries. You didn’t really expect me to quit your game, as you like to call it, so easily?” She turned to meet his eyes, giving him the faintest of smiles. “You know how us girls love a bit of mystery.”

The man’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Unfortunately, for my business knowing too many people can cause trouble. And since you now know Pellene both by name and appearance it’s only a matter of time until you track him down. However, there’s one connection I can sever. You don’t know who I am, not really anyway.” The man smiled at her then, a flawless congenial smile. “From this day forth, you are cut off. I will not be speaking to you again, seeing you again, or buying from you again. If you care to make money in this trade then I suggest you do a better job of hunting down Pellene, because he’s the only client you are like to find.”

Ella flushed in anger at the prospect of losing her only source of income. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said curtly. “Could you at least satisfy a girl’s curiosity and tell me what my intel was used for?” she said while raising her hand to pat his bicep. Let’s see if my touch can coax some information out of him.

The smile vanished from the man’s face. “You think that I would trust you with my secrets when I don’t even trust you with your own? You’re a fool. It seems this parting was overdue. Good-day madam, and best of luck to you.” The man turned and began to walk away.

Ella nearly let an insult escape her tongue, but the surrounding crowd gave her pause. Instead, she tisked at the man, sending him off with two dismissive flicks of her hand. As she was about to turn away she thought she saw the glimmer of a smile on the side of the man’s face but then he was lost in the crowd. She turned and left the slave auction. Well, there goes my only source of income, she thought. Pellene better be worth the trouble.

* * *

Pellene closed up shop shortly after sunset has he did every day but God’s day. His hands were sore from writing and his eyes tired from staring at pages all day. He put away the parchment, sealed the ink pot with wax to keep it fresh, and placed his last bit of work for the day on the master’s desk. As he locked the outside door and walked the 10 feet to the door leading up to his apartment he was lost in thought. How could he track down that young lady, and should he even if he could. He was curious but also wary of offending the mysterious man.

As he opened the door he heard a soft rustling and realized that he had kicked a small piece of parchment. That’s the second day in a row someone has left something for me behind the locked door of my apartment, perhaps I should consider a better lock he thought. He reached down and retrieved the parchment. It contained only an address. No explanation, no request, nothing else helpful in any way. That’s awfully mysterious Pellene thought as he stuffed the note in his pocket and proceeded up the stairs to a meager stew and some stale bread and little drawing before bed.

Conclusion

Kat

  • Will 0/1
  • Disguise 1
  • Soothing Platitudes 0/0/1
  • Falsehood 0/1/0
  • Customer-Wise 0/1/1
  • Sleight of Hand 1/0/0
  • Speed 0/1/0
  • Inconspicuous 0/0/1
  • Stealth 0/0/1
  • Streetwise 0/1/0
  • Used 3 Fate
  • Used 1 Persona
  • Gain Fate: Belief expressed, need to find someone that can get me out
  • Gain Persona: Belief resolved, fabine is alive and Kat knows he’s a slave
  • Gain Persona: Workhorse
  • Gain Persona: Embodiment

Ella

  • Circles 0/0/1
  • Disguise 1/0/0
  • Beguiling Touch 0/0/1
  • Gain Fate: Belief expressed, need to find out how the information is being used
  • Gain Fate: Instinct expressed, stayed innocuous when Kat was causing a scene
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Mutual Benefit

Characters

Preceding Chapters

Following Chapters

Story

Pellene stood on the far side of the street looking back and forth between the note in his hand and the rundown art shop across the street. He knew that the longer he stood here in the street the more conspicuous he would become. Besides, someone gave him this address so they would obviously be expecting him…wouldn’t they? He decided to risk it. If it looked at all suspicious once he got inside he could always say he was just looking to buy some ink. He crossed the street and went through the main entrance into the shop.

A tiny bell rang mutedly on the door as Pellene stepped inside. A thin man with an eccentric mustache leaned over a counter to peer around the corner with raised eyebrows and a bored expression. “May I help you, sir.”

Pellene flowed up to the counter and spoke in a confident tone. “Good morning to you sir. A message was delivered to my home inviting me to pay a visit to this establishment. I was wondering if you might in fact know what this invitation was in reference to.” Pellene looked sheepishly at the thin man and quickly added “Oh, I’m sorry. How rude of me. My name is Pellene Fuomodo…and you are?”

The man cocked his head slightly, brows still raised. “Cedric” he responded, “I do not know about a note but oddly enough a buyer did come into my shop looking for works of art from a Pellene. Are you by chance an artist?”

“Oh, well I am not officially licensed. I would not be able to sell anything. I work mainly as a scribe, but in my own time I try to keep up my skills at illustration. Would you happen to know who this buyer is?”

“License?” The thin man laughed a little too enthusiastically. “Does this look like a church? Do you see a priest? We don’t do religious art here, you silly little man. We may as well sell curtains or chairs as far as the church is concerned. License! You are hilarious.” A rueful expression briefly crossed the man’s face. “Though I admit the extra coin of proper licensing would be nice.” Then his face dropped instantly, and without warning, into a serious blank stare. “No you may not inquire as to the buyer. However, I will permit you to bring your little doodles here, and if someone purchases them you will be paid a percentage, if no-one purchases them you can either take them back or I’ll burn them when I’m tired of looking at them. That’s the deal, take it or leave it.” The man paused for a moment rapping his fingers on the counter and before Pellene could speak said. “Out with it, I haven’t got all day.”

Pellene was a bit shocked at the insulting manor in which he was being addressed, however he was beginning to become familiar with the no nonsense way the denizens of the slums handled their business. He hesitated only momentarily before he answered with “I gladly accept your offer Cedric. It will be nice to know that someone other than myself might find some enjoyment out of my…” he paused for effect “‘little doodles’. I have a small selection in my sketchbook you may look through now, however there are more in my apartment I could bring around later as well.”

The man lowered he head to the pages before him and said dismissively. “Pleasure doing business with you, you may leave anything you wish to sell on the counter, come back in a few days or a week and we’ll see how you’ve done for yourself.”

* * *

Several days passed while Ella searched fruitlessly for Pellene. She had reached the point where she thought she must have asked the same contacts the same questions at least 2 or 3 times. For the last day Ella had suspected that she must not know anybody that had ever heard of Pellene or would know where to find him. True, most of her associates were illiterate con-artists, whores, and thieves, so it probably made sense that none of them would know a scribe or even really where to look for scribes. She even tried asking around randomly and had visited 2 or 3 scribners. They had some knowledge of their competitors, of which there were at least several dozen spread throughout the enormous city, but they were reluctant to direct potential customers to them. And when Ella brought up Pellene’s name there wasn’t even a spark of recognition. From this Ella could only conclude that he wasn’t very important.

That was perhaps the most frustrating thing of all. Now her main source of income was apparently dependent on an insignificant scribe, and one that she was utterly failing at tracking down. By the evening of the third day of her search Ella decided to revisit the Rat Cellar. She suspected that she had as much chance bumping into Pellene there as randomly searching all the scribners in the city. Besides her focus on Pellene has kept her away from seeing Kat for the last two days, assuming she hadn’t gotten arrested, and Ella still felt there was unfinished business there.

* * *

Kat was anxious. Where was Bella? After the first day Kat assumed she probably had some very important business and Kat just went about her serving at the Rat Cellar as normal.

When Bella didn’t visit the Cellar the second night the anxiety really kicked in. Did I blow it? she had begun to think. Did my recklessness when I saw Fabine drive her away? Kat wasn’t certain but she tried to convince herself that she was being silly, and anyway, if that Bella girl didn’t want to have anything to do with her, so be it, Kat could find someone else to help her rescue Fabine and get her out of the Cellar. Who was she kidding?

Fortunately Kat’s anxiety didn’t last long. Early on the evening of the third night the door swung open and the woman named Bella walked in.

* * *

Ella walked into the Rat Cellar wearing her usual peasant disguise. She knew Kat was her best chance of finding Pellene, and was delighted to see she wasn’t captured by the city guard.

Kat knew that playing it calm was the only way she would get a chance to work with Bella again. As Bella took a table, Kat grabbed a tray and went to clean a near-by table first. When it was successfully cleaned, she walked over to Bella’s table. “Good evening. What can I get you?”

She smiled as Kat came to take her order. “A slice of pigeon pie and water, please. And tell the barkeep not to give me the usual swill he serves from the horse’s trough. I don’t feel like spending tonight bent over my chamber pot.” She raised her eyebrows, giving Kat a knowing look, “After all, I have important business to conduct tomorrow.”

“Right away Miss. I’ll get it myself. There are only so many people you can trust these days.” Kat said as she walked away.

In the kitchen she was happy, but unsurprised to see it empty. No one worked here when they were supposed to. As she thought about how to get Bella alone, she realized more than ever how reading and writing was something she needed to learn to play these games. But that would take time so she would have to find a way to get Bella what little information she had since that boy, Pellene, never returned. She had a feeling Bella may still want to find him if she hadn’t already.

As she returned to the table and served Bella she said, “I hope this is to your liking. There haven’t been many customers ordering the pie these days. Even that scribe hasn’t been in to order it and I think its his favorite.”

“I suppose the scribe and I share similar interests,” Ella said while looking skeptically at her plate. “How old is this?”

“At least a day…”

“Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose,” sighed Ella as she grabbed her fork. “So why the hasty exit last time we met?”

“Well, I…” Kat scratched her scar on impulse, “…I saw someone I thought was dead in the slave auction.”

“Oh no, that’s terrible! Given your reaction, I’m guessing this particular someone was important to you?”

“Aye…” Kat gazed off into the distance as she remembered the first day she met Fabine. “He saved me when I first ran away from the orphanage. He taught me how not to starve.”

“An important skill to have.” Ella paused. “I’m sorry, Kat. I can only imagine what you must going through.” She leaned across the table and whispered, “No one should be kept a slave, ever.”

Kat inhaled. Bella was the first person to ever express something like this to her. Was it a trap? Or was she being sincere?

“I just wish I could find out where he is and see if there is a way to get him out. Its already been two years since he was arrested. What if he can’t take anymore?”

“That will likely depend on his master,” said Ella as she thought about the lashings her father used to give slaves. He wasn’t the cruelest slave owner, but his temper often got the better of him. “Perhaps we can help each other out. My employer… ahem, former employer, was none too pleased about us meddling into his business. If you can help me locate our aspiring artist, I will do my best to help you locate your friend.”

“Ok. I don’t know much more then I have already told you, but I am willing to do anything to get my friend free. Thank you Bella.”

* * *

The following day Ella met Kat in the Rat Cellar. She brought along a short list of scribes she had compiled over the last few days, apprentices and shop owners in areas that she was familiar with. She presented the list to Kat. Kat scanned the list once or twice and handed it back to Ella.

“I can’t read.” She said.

Ella apologized for her presumption and then read the list to Kat hoping that one of the names would sound familiar.

“Tulsin Farrow… Farrow. Where do I know that name from?” Kat said aloud. After dwelling on the name for what seemed like hours, she remembered that Fabine used to be friends with a boy named Farrow, though she didn’t think the first name was right. She remembered that Fabine had even involved him in a couple of petty thefts before his parents, merchants of modest wealth, forbade him from associating with the local riff-raff.

It was the best lead they had so Ella and Kat visited the shop where Tulsin worked. Seeing Kat, Tulsin nearly called the town guard. He was a cousin of the Farrow that Kat had known, and was quite familiar with the trouble that had been caused by the association. Ella quickly soothed the situation and insisted that they would be out of his hair quickly if he could just tell them if he knew a scribe named Pellene.

He grumbled at them but quickly identified a man named Pellene, an illustrator of ill-repute who was kicked out of religious school and became a scribe. Tulsin had briefly worked in the same shop as Pellene before leaving for a more lucrative offer. Ella and Kat left the shop with Pellene’s location, filled with both hope and anxiety.

Ella wanted to make an impression on Pellene, and decided to wear one of her mother’s gowns that her father had kept after she passed away. Though she was loathe to do so, she sold most of the dresses and jewelry she took with her before fleeing to Olivius, using the profit to buy various disguises and fill her belly. She was offered a handsome sum for her current gown, but couldn’t bring herself to sell it. She loved how its intricate golden inlays meandered through the smooth moss green fabric. She wore a blonde wig to match the inlays, as well as a simple golden necklace with a ruby pendant. A trained eye would recognize the gem as a well-polished red garnet, but its proximity to her cleavage ensured decent folk wouldn’t give it much scrutiny and the indecent ones would be looking elsewhere.

Ella and Kat met at the Rat Cellar once again. Kat was overwhelmed by Ella’s dress, struck speechless. It reinforced her conviction that Ella was a person to stick with, there really was more to her than met the eye. As Kat stood there Ella offered Kat a slightly less soiled dress to wear and ushered her into her small room off the bar. Kat changed quickly and then left with Ella to meet up with Pellene.

“Well, Kat” said Ella as they walked, “I’m guessing I don’t need to tell you how important this meeting is. I have a knack for procuring valuable information, but that information is useless without a buyer. Pellene is my only possible avenue for selling secrets or finding new clients. Without him, we’ll both be spending our nights in the Rat Cellar. He can’t know how dire my… sorry, our situation is.”

Kat nodded, all the while wondering what Fabine was doing now. Was he healthy? Sure Kat was interested in Ella’s business, it sounded profitable. But for now she figured the sooner they met Pellene the sooner Ella could focus on looking for Fabine.

It wasn’t long before they stood outside the shop where Pellene worked. They looked at each other for a moment, then Ella nodded and stepped forward into the shop.

Pellene looked up from his work at the sound of the bell on the door. A woman of obvious wealth had just entered the shop with an attractive servant woman at heel. The woman was so well dressed that Pellene wondered what she was doing in a shop as small as this.

[Pellene, feel free to introduce yourself]

Conclusion

Kat

  • Circles 0/1

Ella

  • Circles 0/1
  • Spent 2 Fate
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