Fabulous legs or not, these stiletto heels were straining and pulling my calf muscles tighter than an elf’s asshole. Word travels fast in the underground, especially when money is involved and I had probably less than a half an hour before some halfwit-junior-bounty-hunter was bound to stumble into me. I had to get out of this outfit and fast. Luckily the Academy’s general store was nearby and still open.
I grimacingly finished strutting my way across the grounds of the Academy and into the store whereupon I headed straight for the clothing section. I grabbed a set of gold and orange robes, a big pointy-ass wizard’s hat, and a set of nice, sturdy boots with belt-buckles and changed outfits in one of the store’s private closets.
Sweet merciful arch support of the gods! This was so much better. I packed Allie’s clothes into my backpack and made my way to the cashier where I grabbed a pack of smokes, some elk jerky, and some green, bubbly sugar water off the countertop.
“Four gold, sir,” the cashier casually said with his attention elsewhere as I laid down the money and went out into the calm evening air. The peaceful night air carried with it the fragrant notes of trees and flowers, with just a dash of salty sea air coming in from down on the bay.
“Always be prepared,” that’s what the bastards always say – and tonight I was. I took a seat on a bench that was tucked behind two spruce trees and nestled in a bed of blue, white, and gold flowers. Feeling comfortably discreet I reached into my pack with serious relaxation on my mind. My first choice was a fag; the one puff at Duke’s hadn’t been nearly enough tobacco for a day like today. With the cigarette lit I grabbed the rose tequila and poured a healthy amount into my green, bubbly sugar drink. Mixing the drink to my satisfaction I placed my beverage on the bench to my left and took out my journal and a brown bag of heroin, cutting up a couple of lines onto the back of the book which I immediately took up my nose.
This was much, much better.
With a little peace and quiet I reclined on the bench against my pack and began writing, trying to keep together as many details of the previous day as possible.
The Academy was a spectacular sight after sunset. The evening was mostly quiet, but with the occasional stoned young wizard sneaking outside for a quick hit of whatever and the odd young couple slinking about trying to find some private fuck nest every now and again there was just enough entertainment from my vantage point on the bench. The Academy, like Napier Amphitheatre, went back to the time of the elves, long before the humans settled here. A few of the grand old structures still stood intact, peacefully haunting the grounds in silent study. Marble pillars and other towering, incomplete remains lay about like raised middle fingers from a better age. The Academy had been cleaned up nicely, and it was almost possible to imagine that this place had never seen the horrors of the last six decades.
I took the opportunity for some downtime while I waited for the immediate search to lose its enthusiasm. I must have spent several hours there fucking fried out of my gourd.
My whole body feeling better, like a wet sponge elemental, I finally got up and sloshed and sashayed my way back to the print shop. I got only the occasional quick glance from the strangers I met walking the half-mile or so walk down to the Emporium. This city, after all, was used to seeing some pretty messed up shit.
I walked up to the door, but halted before reaching for the handle. On the small chance that I’d been tracked they would have had someone waiting in ambush for me inside, or possibly would have put a trap on the door. I moved around the building and checked out the windows and other ports of entry; if someone was in there Brook and the Chief looked pretty relaxed about it. Feeling reasonably safe I slinked in through the back door, making as minimal contact with the door handle as possible.
“Local drag queen murders orc in front of hundreds with library book,” the Chief stated calmly. “That’s what the headline is going to be tomorrow. And I’ve known you long enough to suspect that it might have something do with you stumbling in here, fried out of your skull, dressed like a wizard who failed their ‘Get Dressed’ spell.”
I slowly considered my response.
“Well, say something! Dammit Saretti, some of us are still on the clock and I know you know something about this. How much whatever did you do?”
Instead of verbally answering I simply shuffled up to the desk Chief was sitting at and laid out the vials, smiling proudly.
“Good for you, Raelin. Once more you’ve found new and exciting ways to get high. Apparently the thrill of murdering someone in front of five hundred witnesses and using the acoustics of the amphitheatre to make sure no one in the city didn’t know about it got a little stale, did it? Fan-fucking-tastic, Saretti,” the Chief grumbled.
Brook, meanwhile, had let his attention linger on the vials for a little while before speaking. “Chief, these aren’t drugs. They’re magickal metallurgical elixirs – I know my potions pretty well and have only ever read about these. I could only guess at what’s in them.”
“So the idiot got ripped off trying to score….”
“No, not just kind of expensive. They’re worth more than this print shop and everything in it. Where did you get this, Raelin?”
So I told them the story from when I’d last seen Brook up through the day’s events, until the Chief finally interjected, “So we can sell them then?”
“Not a fucking chance,” I said. “I have no doubt that the sale of this stuff leads to nothing but us being disemboweled publicly down in The Fence. There’s now way this stuff is sellable in this city without word of it getting back to the Blacksmith.”
“So we’re just supposed to give up a fortune?”
“Not necessarily. Whoever that was down under Duke’s is making a run on a tribal princess and apparently looking to do a complete sweep of some old ruins. There has to be money in that.”
“You mean the guy you peed on, Saretti.”
“Or the other side. I’m sure the tribals would be willing to let us at some of at that treasure for this knowledge. If I bring these back to the Blacksmith, there’d be a real shot at learning more about the specifics, and less risk of having that bastard bash our brains out of our skulls.”
The Chief pondered this for a long, silent moment before speaking, “Okay, Raelin. You can do this, but you keep me posted and check in to let us know you’re still alive, because if this backfires and you get yourself killed I get dibs on all your gear. Especially the stuff I know you’ve been ‘acquiring’ from around my shop.”
“Deal!” I said, thrusting out my hand to shake his, as Brook took and locked the vials in the print shop’s safe. The Chief didn’t look long for this world and so he made his way to bed, whereupon Brook and I made our way out into the night air. He suggested some place where they wouldn’t know us, but where was the fucking fun in that?
Despite my balding, pint-sized companion’s urgings to the contrary, I decided on the Salty Dog. Below the Emporium on the water’s edge sat Docktown, and right smack in the middle sat The Salty Dog. If you were into idiots, thugs, thieves, and pirates getting shitty drunk, punching each other out, and then buying each other drinks, this was your kind of place. It was a large, two-story building with an opening in the second story floor that looked down onto a large dance floor that was always just as likely to see mass drunken combat as anything you could call dancing. A piano rested next to a small stage across from the first floor bar and had seen many young, starving musician types over the last few years – it was only ‘occasionally’ that some poor shmuck was bad enough to be outright knifed. Brook and I slid up to the bar and grabbed a stool.
The bartender, a slender twenty-something blonde half-elf breed, took notice of us and came down the bar, sighing as she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Boss says it’s twenty gold before I can pour you a drink on account of what you did to the bathroom last night.”
“Those toilets got what was coming to them,” I shot back.
“And what exactly did the toilets do to deserve being ripped right out of the ground and smashed to pieces?”
“Is that what that ruckus was?” asked Brook.
That part of my memory was hazy at best. I quickly looked down, trying to either remember what exactly had happened or to come up with a plausible enough lie.
“Vampiric sewer spiders,” I said flatly.
“We do not have vampiric sewer spiders in our bathrooms.”
“The fuck you don’t. They were the size of an ogre’s fist. Mean. Big. Hundreds of them, and what do you suppose is the first place they bite for as they leap out of the plumbing? If it hadn’t been for me everyone here would have been killed that night, and then what would this place be? It’d be the place where dozens of Vincinni citizens went to their death crotch-first into the gaping maws of hundreds of angry, foul-smelling arachnids!”
“And the reason you ripped the urinal out of the wall and ran screaming out onto the docks to toss it into the bay was….”
“That’s where the ringleader was, the devious little dick-biting bastard. It’s the only way to command their respect, god dammit! It’s only on account of my good taste and upbringing that I decided not to print and tell the story. I have a duty to the public and the truth, you know, but I chose this place’s well being. It’s not a decision I made lightly, and I’d hate to have to regret it.”
She looked me over and sighed deeply and slowly. “Five gold, you tip me really well, and we just move on with our lives.”
“You pour them straight up and use the good stuff out of the secret cabinet and we have ourselves a deal.”
Before she could decide I heard the clanking of platemail on platemail with a subtle undertone of a second pair of leather boots.
“SARETTI!” boomed a loud, grunty voice that sounded like it belonged more to an ogress than any lady worth dropping your pants for. “I thought me and my partner made it clear that scum-sucking, candy-ass losers like you aren’t welcome in here. Or do we have to beat some more respect into you?”
“Shit…” I thought. FUCK! It was that bitch Heather, and that meant Von Sydow, her plate-mailed pet whom she led around by the dick, was also nearby and probably looking to let out the kind of ultra-violent sexual frustration that only the Holy Guards are capable of.
“Looks like we got us another one of them gods-damned rogues tha’ don’t listen,” said a voice that I didn’t have to turn around to know belonged to her partner. Looking forward I quietly gripped my beer bottle with my hand upside-down, ready to smash it into a makeshift blade, when a voice emerged from behind them.
“OOooh, isn’t this excellent. Thank you, guards! You find me a real slum bar and some real low-class characters, and already the night is progressing into a real show. Excellent, excellent,” said the voice.
I didn’t have to turn around to know it belonged to some pampered little-bitch noble who’d be curled up in tears if it wasn’t for the protection their money bought. “And what kind of filthy commoner are you, good sir and… uhm… gnome? Yes, I believe you’re a gnome. How go your little lives? Would either of you be looking for a venture partner? Mumsy says I should try to accomplish something with my superior breeding and education, but I honestly don’t think a military life fits such a fine, intellectual specimen as myself. So I’ve decided to seek out adventure with some of you lesser types.”
“Your mother’s a whore, your guards are pricks, and you’ve got the kind of face only a giant, non-sentient flame slime could fuck. The lot of you can go fuck yourselves right off and leave us alone,” I said.
“Oh, my word,” said the noble with a subtle, but noticeable drop in his voice. “I had heard all kinds of strange and fantastic rumors about – what do the others call it – ah, yes, slumming. But a real-life rude offspring of some harlot and a common street rat certainly is more than I could have expected. Bravo, good Sir and Lady Knight. What else is this bastard street urchin capable of?”
“Street rat?” I replied, gathering myself. “Street rat. You anemic-blooded, weak-hearted, powdered-bottomed, degenerate, little coke-nosed shit weasel.”
“Filth-blooded, common, lower class, corpse-robbing beggar –”
“High nosed, cousin-fucking, couldn’t fuck a spread-eagled slut without a butler to show you how –”
“Buy you a drink?” he asked.
“But sir, this vagrant is unwelcome,” interrupted Heather, the bitch.
“Three whiskeys and two waters,” I said to the barkeep. Mr. Fancy-Pants took a seat on the stool on the opposite side of Blair, laid down a pile of coins, and took his drink, sniffing at the brown liquid as the blonde poured the rest of our drinks.
“Most excellent, commoner. Whatever this foul, rancid liquid is that has humorously been labeled whiskey might actually be, I propose a drink to our Dear Princess. May Princess Falcoria reign forever, or I’m not Stockland Prosey, of the Debonshire Proseys.”
He tapped his shot glass on the bar top and raised the glass as I followed suit and added, “To the hopeless cause, as long as it lasts.” The noble coughed and hissed as though a cobra had started in on his trachea, but Blair and I quickly took the liquid down and watched until the cursing and sputtering stopped.
“This filthy, commoner liquid certainly packs a punch,” said Stockland between gasps for air. “But it’s all part of the experience, I suppose. First, that red-haired mud-blood being executed in the Arena by the wolves, then a search for a murderous drag queen, and now drinking real lower class alcohol in a real lower-class bar. Well this certainly does beat another one of the maid’s oh-so-tedious grammar lessons. I swear, if I have to memorize one more filthy, awful species’ lower grammar I’m just going to lose it. Heather, Max, you two MUST certainly find me something more interesting to do with my time than grammar lessons from the help.”
“Mud blood?” I inquired.
“Ah yes, Detective Le Salle found some traitorous half-elf, half-human and had him put to death in the Arena. Dear father runs the fight you see, and apparently the poor little thing’s death was deemed urgent. Normally I prefer at least a little evenness in the matches that I attend, but it was apparently urgent that the little red-haired nobody face off against a whole pack of war wolves to get his comeuppance. The whole thing hardly seemed fair. But oh well, I suppose the good detective had his reasons. And Heather here tells me I missed quite the show at the Napier Amphitheatre just hours before – some drag queen beat some poor half-orc to death in full view of a whole audience, and I missed it. Well that’ll teach me to spend so much time in the closet of my private estate choosing my outfit, won’t it?”
Here I had one slut-tongued noble with an urge to spill his guts to the gods and country. Where before I had looked forward to a quiet evening of drinking, and quiet, whiskey-induced contemplation, I now saw a real opportunity.
“What other rumors are spinning about the wheels of the,” I asked before taking a gulp of air and breathing out my nose as calmly as I could before finishing, “the Nobles and gentry?”
“Sir, we really have to take him,” said Heather as she reached a gloved hand onto my shoulder. I looked up from my empty shot glass up to the barkeep.
“Leave him alone,” the blonde barkeep said.
“But nothing,” the blonde barkeep said. “My word is law here. So you just leave him alone. But speaking of rumors….”
Fancy-pants Prosey and I leaned in curiously as she started, “Well, right after noon this strange old man in a black and silver mage-cloak slithered into the bar, muttering about ‘The coming of the reign of the God of The Storms.’”
“Some crazed old coot?” I inquired.
“I don’t think so, you guys. Right before he showed up the whole sky shook with thunder and lightning. It didn’t feel right. But anyways, he comes in, makes his taunts, and as he leaves the otherwise clear day rings again with thunder. So I go on break and I’m talking to Jessica – she works down at the far end of the docks at The Shipyard Brewery – and she says about the same time another figure wearing the same black and silver outfit showed up making the same threat. Said the next ship to leave harbor without making the correct ‘contribution’ to the Temple of the Storm God would meet a violent death. So Jessica and I ask around. Apparently a lot of these bars down here at the same time got the exact same message from people dressed the exact same way. The sailors and pirates are putting on a good game face about not being scared, but I can tell there’s real concern there.”
“I thought that storm earlier today seemed kind of queer. Well, certainly we can’t have any of those Storm Priests running about in our fair city making threats and threatening our sea commerce,” said Prosey. “Heather, Max, escort me back to the Noble quarters so that I and the other worthwhile people might hold a discussion on this topic.”
“What about him?” asked Heather, looking really huffy as though she hadn’t yet given up hope on fucking up my evening.
“A tongue like his is only fit for cleaning sewers, but let that foul-brown muck in his glass be punishment enough for now.”
“This isn’t over yet, scumbag,” said Heather, as the trio packed up and headed for the door.
And as they made their way out the door I turned to Brook, saying, “When I return those vials I’ll pump the big, evil bastard down there for information. In the meantime why don’t you stay down here on the docks and keep tracks on this whole Storm Devil thing. Probably just some made up bullshit, but just in case let’s keep our eyes open.”
A bottle of good enough whiskey (fuck that noble and the silver spoon that should have been jammed up his ass instead of down his throat, or at least jammed up his ass first) and a few pitchers of beer later, Brook and I paid our tab, tipped well, and made our way back to the shop to fall asleep.
When the morning sun rose up in the East I groggily got myself out of bed and moving. I went through my morning routine, grabbed the vials out of the safe and stuffed them into my pack. I headed out once again for the Fence, hoping that those bastards who stood guard at its entrance weren’t the uptight kind of bastards who held a grudge.
Well fuck me.
Read previous entries in this series:
Raelin Saretti is a resident of Vincinni and is currently employed as an official Bard and Crier. He has no relatives to bother him, thank the gods, and can usually be found amusing himself in The Dreamscape or at one of the local taverns down in The Emporium. He responds well to cash.