I clapped the traumatized houseguard on the shoulder in the companionable way I’ve seen soldiers do before as I headed back into the sitting room – which was comprehensively smashed from the wrestling match with the demon-lion. Four of my bodyguards were in there looking mildly confused but wary and alert, along with a couple more houseguards who were just stunned. I called the rest of my crew in and then asked the Van Saar retainers if they could give us a moment. They shuffled out, probably without even thinking about it. It’s an odd thing, when people are in shock they’ll usually do whatever you ask them to do. It’s like their brains turn off except the part that follows orders.
“Gather around ladies, take a knee. You did some good work out here tonight, truth be told I would have liked if you showed up a little faster once the screaming started, but when you showed up you didn’t hesitate. You jumped into battle and you fought your hearts out. You grew up tonight ladies, you grew up. Whatever you were before you’re something else now. And this gets us one step closer to the goal. To get where we’re going you can’t take any days off and you didn’t take today off, you brought everything you had. No matter what anyone says, you won here tonight and you did in the trenches, by doing the dirty work, the hard work, the stuff that no one else wants to do. I can lead you, I can show you the way, but I can’t make you a warrior – that’s something you decide for yourself. And you did it here, tonight.”
One of the seven nearly identical faces looking up at me quizzically spoke up “What the fuck are you talking about?”
I shrugged “I don’t know I was just trying something. The watch should be here pretty soon, until then I’ll be looting.”
“It’s like stealing, only different somehow. I guess looting is what you do when someone’s dead. Yeah, that makes sense, you steal from someone who’s alive, you loot from the dead. Or wait, is that graverobbing? No, okay, what it is if they’re alive that’s theft, if they’re dead but unburied that’s looting, if they’re dead and in the ground and you have to dig them up that’s graverobbing. But they also call it looting when you take stuff during a riot, so . . . not sure on that one. It’s tricky.
“What are you talking about!?”
“Just tell me when the watch get here.”
There wasn’t much coin on hand, rich people are notoriously poor, but I found some good stuff. The find of the century though was a breathtaking original Saryah Phidaner gown, an original not a reproduction! Black and ecru lace with light blue silk trim and iridescent elf-stones. When I first saw it I couldn’t believe my eyes, I figured it had to be a really, really, really good knock off. But I examined it closely and it’s not. It’s the real deal. I’ll have to wash the succubus-stink off it of course but I’ll be careful doing it, very, very careful. You know it’s funny, if I were to, say let several people die to save this dress people would say that I’m a monster. But this dress is a one of a kind work of art, there will never be another like it. On the other hand there are lots of people and most of them are ugly. So which is truly more valuable? No one likes to take the long view. Holding the dress like an excited child I ran excitedly back to the front foyer where my bodyguards were gathered.
“You guys, you’re never going to guess what I found!”
The city watch had arrived and their commander – a goat-faced looking fellow with wild eyes – was the one who answered.
“What have you got there?”
“Nothing much, just a cheap dress that Crawdore said that I could have before a demon murdered him. I’ll glad you’re here, this is what happened . . .”
In the old days there was a lot of lying. I lied to the Duke of course about how interesting and virile and great he was. I lied indirectly to her wife and her “court” about being with the Duke. I lied about my extracurricular activities. I lied to block the schemes of others and advance my own. Sometimes I lied for no reason at all, I lied when the truth would have served me better. I couldn’t tell you why other than life among the idle right, but not truly one of them, is an odd existence. But one thing I didn’t do was lie to the authorities, the Duke was the authority. Now I do it so often it almost happens by rote. So that’s one thing that’s different.
There are a few keys to it. One is not over explaining. When you have all the answers that is suspicious because the more airtight your story is the more it sounds fake. Real life is rarely that orderly. Everything being tied up in a nice little bow at the end of the day is something that only happens in mystery novels. In the real world there are loose ends all over the place. Another good practice is to let them catch you in some minor deception, makes them feel better. Be wrong about a few things, “remember” the time an hour off because of some specific thing that isn’t quite right, say something was green when it was blue, things of that nature. Because anyone who deals with these things knows that eyewitness accounts are eighty percent reliable at best. And I mean at best. Unless you’re a trained observer you’re going to get a lot of the details wrong.
Another key is to talk a lot, not over explain as I said, but talk a lot. Most people are nervous or excited or both when they’re talking to the law and that makes them a blatherskite, explaining their theories about people’s motivations and going down conversational side-streets that go nowhere and so forth. Give them one piece of useful information and then five random thoughts, stories, and jokes – but act like you think you’ve giving them gold.
The point is soon enough the city watch was satisfied with my tale, some of which was true, and they were on their way. I gathered all the Van Saar servants and houseguards in the front courtyard and thanked them for their service, telling them how lucky they were to have survived the dark events of that night and then telling them that their services were no longer needed – goodbye and good luck. A few of them seemed like they didn’t want to accept this, seeing as how it was in no way acceptable, but the bulk of them just took it. Either way what were they going to do? They gathered their things, no doubt doing a little looting of their own, and then faded away into the night. My bodyguards seemed eager to get back to the camp.
“Oh no, not yet, the night is still young. We have a lot to do still.”
I spent maybe an hour looking through Van Saar’s house hoping to find a letter he wrote about killing the mayor’s brother, but no such luck. I hate when my enemies aren’t morons. I probably should have kept looking but that was boring so instead we headed to luxurious third-story shack of Old Scatch. I sent a couple of the girls up to drag him down but they reported that his hovel was empty, empty of people anyhow, it was full of all sorts of other vermin. Before I could formulate a new plan light spilled out of the second story window and the bald head of the bird-keeper emerged. He helpfully explained to me that the theater troupe was at the Macourek. Since the rioting at had started they had been running four shows a day, including a midnight “event” – an original production about a city being torn apart featuring lovers striving to get to one another, an evil moneylender, and enough staged violence and brief nudity to really bring the people in. He claimed they were packing the place for every show.
We got to the theater maybe an hour before midnight, and no lie, there were people lined up outside waiting. I suppose in a time of crisis people want something to distract them, even if it is the mumbled shenanigans of a group of hacks, has-beens and never-wases. We made our way through the crowd to the doors where the tall grey-haired undertaker looking man (I never did figure out what he does here) was enjoying keeping people out until showtime with all the spiteful officiousness of a man with a tiny degree of power. I talked to him convivially for a moment and then told him I was here with the new chorus-girls. I was prepared to smooth-talk but he acted like they were expected and let us right in – I love it when people act like they knew about something that’s completely bullshit. It’s one of my favorite things. We made our way to the stage and I took a seat in the front row, gesturing to the right.
“Ladies, through there you’ll find the dressing rooms, grab whoever’s back there and bring them out for me will you.”
One of the cadre, I’ll call her #3 frowned “This doesn’t really seem like . . .” I took out a double handful of gold and tossed it out on the floor “. . . right away ma’am.”
They jogged off and one by one came back with the Macourek Theater Company, also known as the Dreamers, pulling them out and onto the stage confused and in various states of being costumed and make-uped. It was mildly amusing. When they saw me they were quick to want to chat but I waited until the entire company was there with my bodyguards fencing them in.
“Good evening friends, it’s good to see you doing so well. I saw the crowd out there, it’s really something, well done. The bad news is that your patron Crawdore Van Saar is dead, as is his companion Lypara. Now, I had very well intentioned plans of infiltrating your little group and ferreting out what happened but I got distracted by the violent uprising in the city, you know how that is. I never have the time to do things properly it seems, but I don’t want to waste your time with my bellyaching, you have a show to put on. I’m here because I know that some of you were involved with Lypara bringing drugs into the city, and I know that the mayor’s brother was instigating that and then disappeared, what I don’t know is what happened. So you’re going to tell me. I’m guessing that most of have no clue, but someone among you does, so just tell me now before things turn ugly.”
They all started talking at once of course and I had to cut them off.
“One at a time people. And here’s a ground rule, if all you have to say is that you don’t know anything you don’t have anything to say.” I pointed to a thin fellow with a riotous mop of hair and a waxed mustache that I believe they called Hound “You first.”
He came forward and bowed nervously “I assure you madam, I know nothing about any . . .”
He yelped and ducked as I threw the dagger I had taken from Van Saar’s house at him, which curved around through the air and flew back into my hand.
“Neat. I get that you’re artistic people so allow me to go over the rule again – I don’t want to hear anything other than the information I’m looking for, if you have nothing to say you have nothing to say. Is that clear?” I pointed the knife at Wexley “You had a lot to say that night we were cavorting and carousing, do you have anything to say now?”
He took a hesitant step forward “Well . . . that is to say . . . . I don’t exactly . . .”
With a sigh I hurled the dagger, hitting him in the stomach – which then pulled itself free with a splash of bright blood on the boards of the stage and sailed neatly back to my hand. He fell to his hands and knees gasping.
“Okay folks, here’s the deal, I know that most of you are probably just mingy artistic types who are having fun and taking drugs and living it up but at least one of you is not. Now, I don’t expect that person to come forward, why would they, but some of you have to know who’s pulling the strings on the drug smuggling operation. Just point her or him out, because I really do not want to spend the night torturing you sensitive creative sorts. So don’t make me okay?”
Several of them turned and pointed at a tall flat-faced fellow with stringy blonde hair falling around his face and one of those ridiculous tiny beard-patches on his chin. I walked up onto the stage and gave Wexley a healing draught from my Flask, watching his astonishment as his wound healed before it his eyes.
“Sorry about that Wex but you should be good to go for tonight’s performance. Unfortunately your friend here is going to have to miss the show tonight. I hope you have an understudy.”
We took patch-chin into one of the many strange superfluous rooms in the theater. They called him Fat Tom even though he wasn’t fat at all, I’m sure there’s some hilarious story behind that. He lied at first, and second, and third. Once I got tired of tripping him up I asked my bodyguards which among them didn’t mind inflicting pain on a defenseless man. One of them stepped up and kneed the man in the stomach – and I mean hard. I think I heard something break inside him.
“Good Gods woman, nice initiative, but dial it back. You have to start small and then escalate.”
Once he was done gasping for air Fat Tom told me that a merchant named Gridley was the one who brought in the drugs and he suspected that he was the one who killed the mayor’s brother when his cover was blown. He said that Gridley was completely enamored with Lypara and did whatever she wanted. When I asked him where I could find Gridley he said that his home and his business were all in the part of the city where the rioting was and that no one had seen him since they started.
“Thank you for your eventual candor Not Fat Tom, and look we’re wrapped up as the show is just starting – maybe you can make it on stage for the second act.”
One of the seven guards said that Gridley was in the camp, which is convenient, it would have really caused me a problem if he had been killed in the rioting. We made our way out of the city on the east side and back to the camp where Baron Elvyra’s men were quick to hustle us into a barn in the farm complex where the man himself was waiting.
“It’s done, I killed the demoness.”
“You can’t actually kill a demon, they just reform in the Hells.”
“Well whatever, I shot her a bunch and she went away. There’s a merchant in the camp called Gridley, he’s one of hers – not sure if he’s a cultist or just a minion or a dupe or what but you can ask him. And while you’re at it can you ask him what happened to the mayor’s brother?”
“What’s that have to do with anything?”
“Just ask as a favor to me will you? Now, if there’s nothing else I’m going to bed, it’s been quite a night.”
Funds: 53,775 gold
Inventory: Courtier’s Outfit, Noble’s outfit (5), Artisan’s outfit, collegium ring, Deadly Kiss (dagger) Belt of Incredible Dexterity +2, Endless Efficient Quiver, sunrod (2) Handy Haversack, +4 Armored Coat, Sergeyevna Kostornaia’s Light Crossbow, Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, masterwork disguise kit, covenant ring, Ring of Disguise, Boots of the Winter Jarl, Ring of Jumping, Walking Stick (Rod of the Viper), map, Badge of Last Resort, Healer’s Satchel, 28 tiny diamonds, +1 Returning Dagger, Headband of Alluring Charisma +2, Ring of Protection +2, Saryah Phidaner gown, Crown of Conquest, signet ring, Stone of Good Luck
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa