Burden of Duty

Burden of Duty

by Case Lopez

Constanzo Scarpa closed the door behind him as he walked out to the balcony. From this vantage point he was able to see most of the city sprawling out before him. His city… at least it soon would be. The air blowing from the bay filled his nose as he looked outwards to the west, over the rooftops of the Vodacce District and towards the Castilian buildings beyond. The City of Five Sails was a prize not to be given, but earned. After laying extensive preparations, he simply needed to reach out and take it. Five Sails would become his legacy, and the legacy of the Scarpa famiglia.

Crime in Five Sails is as thick as the salt air, as reliable as its stone foundations, and as established in its history and the ancient walls that circle it. Constanzo strolled slowly across the balcony, his ornate gilt knobbed cane tucked close to his torso as he surveyed the docks below. Colors of pirates and privateers flew next to those of merchant vessels, the flags of pirate hunters alongside the banners of the Vodacce princes. The city would not be easily controlled. The guards, as everyone knew, were always on someone’s payroll. And the Swordsman’s Guild with their rules of challenges? Too many loopholes, too many who did not care for the letter of the law. With the elections for the district governors only a few short months away, Constanzo needed to remain focused on bringing Five Sails’ criminal element to heel.

Constanzo took a deep breath as he looked back out towards the Castilian district. His rival, Gustavo Luis de Martinez de Ladera, seemed as inept in controlling the crime in the Castilian district as his name was long. Maybe de Ladera just didn’t care. Constanzo took a different tactic, one that could help win the election for him. His knuckles whitened as he gripped his cane tighter. He would ensure that the crime in the Vodacce district answered to him. That his duelists and bravos exploited the loopholes of the Swordsman’s Guild. That the guards of his district remained strictly on his payroll. Yes, he had earned the right to rule over this city through sweat and blood… so much blood.

The bells in the tower struck the hour. It was time for his council.

* * * *

The meeting took place in a darkened room in an inn not far from the Scarpa estate. Constanzo could not risk being seen with the likes of those he was about to meet, it could tarnish his reputation. But everything occurred according to plan, Constanzo’s plan. He would not have it any other way.

At the far end of a worn mahogany table sat the Numan, Cirilo Nauriparos. His black hair flowed above his stern brow and piercing eyes. Cirilo was a key component of the Red Hand, a gang that came to Five Sails with Cirilo from the island of Numa to the south. Next to him sat the fate witch, Cesca del Rosso, dressed all in black as per her station as a strega. The lashes that fate and a former employer had bestowed upon her had left her cruel and sadistic, two traits that Constanzo found comforting and reliable in someone of her abilities. Compared to those two, Aldo Bussotti seemed almost kindhearted, but Constanzo knew that Aldo’s mind worked purely in numbers. Simple issues of morality mattered not to him, only how they served the bottom line. The last two in the room were two of Constanzo’s three scions, Servo and Sibella. While he did not need their presence at the council, Constanzo wanted them to understand its inner workings and eventually sustain his legacy. He could never rely on his third offspring, Vissenta, whose sneaking around could at any time tarnish his reputation. But she was a loose thread to be cut at a later time.

Per custom, Constanzo sat at the head of the table. This meeting came about per his fiat, his council regarding his city. He looked upon the other five and took a breath. “Tell me.”

Cirilo shifted in his seat. “There was an attack near the Castilian docks, by the warehouses. The lost assets are negligible.”

“An attack? Someone challenging our influence, or simply someone foolish?” Constanzo asked.

“Neither, someone new,” replied the Numan. “What I have surmised is that a group of Musketeers from Montaigne have arrived in the city with the intention of causing trouble. Rumor has it that Ruggero has fled and abandoned his claim to the warehouses there.”

“Ruggero… was he the one with the poor taste in hats?” Constanzo said in a way that could have been punctuated by a chuckle, but his eyes gave nothing away but a chilled calm.

“Yes, he stole it from a Montaigne noble that he allegedly handled a few years back. Ironic that the Montaigne would be his downfall now. No matter, he will be tracked down and dealt with properly.”

“And of these Musketeers, such individuals just don’t wander into our city… any news on why they are here?”

To this, Aldo looked up from his ledgers, “There is a rumor that they are traveling with a young woman, a courtier, who has been making some very intriguing alliances. Asking many questions on behalf of a patron from Arrent. It seems the altercation was a favor to one of the Castilian merchants.”

“And how have the Castilians responded to such violence in their midst?”

“de Ladera remains unconcerned, which is not surprising. An upstart standing up to the threat of the ‘Red Hand’ does little to affect him personally,” replied Aldo. To this, Cirilo’s eyes narrowed, but he remained quiet. “Then there is the matter of the Cat.”

“Ah” Constanzo recognized the name “I have heard of this Soline.”

Cirilo waved his hand dismissively. “A charlatan who gets fortunate from time to time. She is merely a street rat, nothing more.”

Patiently listening to the conversation, Cesca calmly drew from her Sorte deck, revealing the Coins for the Ferryman card. “She comes from humble origins, but she is able to quickly adapt. Ever changing like the water around this city, the one they call el Gato should not be disregarded so easily.” Cesca’s words hung in the air, gripping the silence that followed. Sibilla Scarpa looked at Cesca with awe and wonder. Sibilla also was a strega, but nowhere near Cesca’s abilities. It was Constanzo’s hope that she learned.

“And of the General to the north?”

Servo smirked as he had been studying the events in the Eisen District. “He is a zealot, but Kaspar seems to have a charisma that draws people to him. His followers are loyal, but they are an unfocused rag-tag bunch. He seems to be more interested in chasing ghosts than any sort of political ambition.”

Constanzo’s expression did not change. He admired Servo’s desires and aspirations, but needed to focus his eagerness. “Even one without the inclination for politics may still have it thrust upon them. And he is a known and respected leader. We should keep an eye on him, distract him with more ghosts to chase. Perhaps the Boar and that witch of his could keep him occupied?”

Again, Servo grinned. The exploits of Yevgeni, the Boar of the Ussuran district, had almost become folklore at this point. He stood eight feet tall and twice as wide, with storms bowing to his presence, or so the stories went. No one quite knew what the Boar wanted, why he was in Five Sails to begin with. The idea of pitting the General of the Eisen district against the Ussuran Boar was very enticing.

Again, the sound of a card being flipped echoed in the chamber. This time, it was the Thrones. “Be careful of that one.” Cesca whispered “He is too stubborn to be lured by cunning traps. He is unconcerned about what is not directly in front of him. He can be manipulated, but someone else might already be pulling the strings.” Cesca’s eyes flashed with an unsettling look. “Someone, interesting…” again the words hung in the air for what seemed like an uncomfortably long period of time.

Heeding Cesca’s words but not wanting to engage further, Constanzo addressed the last of the districts of his city, “The Sarmatian Commonwealth’s district has been quiet lately. Any news on Tajana?”

“Tajana Wojtek is dead. It’s all but confirmed by her people.” Cirilo scoffed, “No one has heard from her in months.”

“The numbers do not lie,” Aldo warned, looking up from one of his ledgers. “There are very interesting trade patterns going in and out of that district. Food, weapons, books… Someone has to be directing it all, and it all has some purpose and nothing is being exported.”

On the table in front of Cesca sat a new Sorte card, the Magician. “Tajana’s fate is still being woven, and within long shadows her destiny is waiting. For what, I can not see…”

At this the table sat in an awkward, stunned silence, deeply concerned about something powerful enough to occlude Cesca’s visions. None of them wanted to admit their curiosity and apprehension about this somber revelation.

* * * *

In a small tavern, off the main roads in the Eisen district, a nervous looking man sat at the bar, quietly nursing his drink in silence. A wide-brimmed Montaigne style hat with a white ostrich plume obscured or shadowed most of the man’s features. The tavern keeper quietly tended to him and the few other patrons scattered about the cramped, sparse hall. A clinking noise startled the man, causing the ostrich plume to sway to and fro. To the man’s apparent relief, the disturbance was only a patron dropping a few coins on the table. Before leaving the tavern, said patron finished the last of his ale, gathered his coat and left out the front door. The door slowly began to swing closed when a hand shot out to stop it.

“Ah! There you are Ruggero! I have been looking everywhere for you,” Servo Scarpa proclaimed as he sat next to the man in the Montaigne-styled hat. “You are indeed a difficult man to find.” Servo gestured to the tavern keeper to pour two more drinks.

At this, it took all the effort Ruggero had not to wet himself. “My apologies, Lord Scarpa, I…”

Servo smiled a toothy grin. “Shhh, no need for formalities. I have just sought you out for some information. I need to know about the ones who attacked you. Then, you are free to go.” While Ruggero remained on edge, he nevertheless appeared to relax a little.

“It must have been twelve or thirteen of them, of Musketeers! Each one a killing machine. I was able to hold them back for a short time, but there were just too many!”

“Yes, I can see now. A dozen Musketeers is certainly a troubling number, and you valiantly did what you could. Could you tell me any more about them?” Servo flashed a gentle nod towards the tavern keeper as she put down the drinks, one in front of him, the other in front of Ruggero.

“They were well armed, with unusual weaponry and gadgets, things I have never seen in Five Sails before. I have no idea what they were doing there… or why. It was an ambush! A challenge to the Red Hand. It had to be! I only… I only came here because I wanted to lure them away!”

“Maybe, maybe…” Servo whispered to himself as he listened to Ruggero’s ramblings. He let Ruggero’s words linger as he downed his drink, never leaving eye contact with the Red Hand member. He put down the glass, only briefly glancing at the counter-top. “Thank you Ruggero.” He paused again, bringing out a small coin purse and dropping it on the counter in front of the scared man. “Your insight in this delicate matter is greatly appreciated.”

“Tha-thank you, Lord Scarpa” Ruggero stammered as he reached for the pouch.

“Not you.” Servo whispered, his face suddenly stern as he quickly slid the pouch to the tavern-keeper. “You would have been difficult to find if not for the aid of our most obliging proprietor here.” The tavern-keeper quickly snatched up the coins and hurried away, a worried expression on her face for the impending denouement. “And now, dear Ruggero, I am a man of my word, you are free to go.” Servo slowly plunged the blade of his hidden stiletto under Ruggero’s ribs. “Go with my blessing and the blessing of your Don. May Theus take you to whatever Hell he wishes.”

Fool’s Gold

Fool’s Gold

By D.G. Laderoute

 I pride myself on finding things before they are lost.

–Soline El Gato

“Aren’t you drunk?”

Soline glanced sidelong at Sanjay and grinned. “Very. Why?”

“Because I think you’re walking straighter than I am.”

Soline laughed, but a burst of hurdy-gurdy music and raucous voices cut it short. The Pauper’s Joy was still open, it seemed. She and Sanjay had already put in a good night’s work at The Drowning Man, but the night wasn’t done yet—
“Don’t even think about it,” Sanjay glared pointedly at her, then at the open tavern door, then back at her.

“Sanjay, Sanjay—where is your sense of adventure?”

 

“It went to bed at least an hour ago. And I intend to join it there.” He held up a battered leather pouch. “Besides, we’ve already done a good night’s work, and need to count the spoils. Doubloons—which are easy—but there are also florins, and Vestin guilders, a few Eisen Marks, some shillings—” Sanjay stopped, opened the pouch and dug around in it. “And a couple of those strange opal pellets that everyone keeps claiming are Syrneth currency. Also some lint—” He dug around some more. “And a dead beetle.”

He plucked the latter out and dropped it into the street muck. As he did, a rowdy group of young men came swaggering around the next corner, all silken finery and bravado, stumbling and singing their way towards them. Soline and Sanjay stepped aside, but one of the dandies, clad in tight breeches spattered with mud and a ruffled silken shirt stained with wine, stopped and peered at them for a moment. He then proffered a wobbly bow, reached up and grabbed Soline’s shoulders.

“You should come w—with me, pretty one. I will—will take you to such—” He burped, giggled, then frowned. “Oh. Yes. I will take y—you to such heights of pleasure as you ever—” His words collapsed into jumbled nonsense, but kept going anyway. He finished on a broad grin, then turned to his companions, to make sure they’d heard him. They laughed and slurred all sorts of none-too-clever innuendo. Satisfied, he turned back to Soline and opened his mouth again.
Soline put a finger up to his lips.

“Hush, now, because I don’t want you to miss what I say, little one. I am going to count to three, and if you have not taken your hands off of me by then, I will break your left wrist.” She smiled as sweetly as new honey.

The young dandy blinked a few times, then barked a laugh. Sanjay sighed and stepped back, shaking his head sadly.

The dandy blew a gust of boozy breath into Soline’s face. “Fiery words, from—”
“One.”

“—from a fiery woman. And I like—”

“Two.”

“—fiery women. They are so—”

“Three.”

“—so fiery—”

SNAP.

The dandy shrieked, stumbling backwards. He crashed into his fellows, and three of them toppled into the street with a thick splat of piss-sodden mud and animal manure. Two more just stood and gaped.

Soline turned away and resumed walking. “Anyway, you were saying, Sanjay, something about florins and doubloons and beetles?”

Sanjay hurried after her. None of the drunken fops seemed inclined to follow them, and instead thrashed and floundered about, struggling to help their friend, who whimpered and wailed as he clutched his wrist, back to his feet.

“As I was saying, we need to count this,” Sanjay said. “Especially since these florins look like they’ve been filed down. Scoundrels, debasing currency like that—”

He stopped, frowning, then dug deeper into the pouch. “Huh. What’s this, I wonder?”

He’d extracted a slip of paper and unfolded it, revealing a few words scrawled in a spidery script.

Giovanni J.

Upstairs Florian’s Fine

Say Armand sent you

Soline read the paper over his shoulder. “Florian’s Fine?” She frowned. “Florian’s Fine—Florian’s—” She snapped her fingers. “Ah, Florian’s Fine Tobacco and Herbals, just off the Square of Carvallo, perhaps?”

“So what is there, upstairs and apparently waiting for word from Armand?” Sanjay mused. “And who, for that matter, is Armand?”

Soline smiled, sensing both opportunity and danger, and taking delight in both. “Ah, well, now that is what we have to find out, isn’t it?”

***


They waited until the following day, though, to pursue their little mystery. Soline had drank a lot of wine, after all, with some brown beer on top of it, and a few swallows of some Ussuran concoction that smelled like sweaty feet, and tasted
just as it smelled. Mysteries demanded clear heads.

And quick reflexes, in case something went wrong.

 

The next morning—late, when Soline finally pried herself out of bed—they set off for the Square of Carvallo. It nestled in the heart of a district of Five Sails where most of the sundry crime lords and bosses lived, making it the safest, most tranquil part of town. Occasionally, someone young, foolish, drunk, or just new to the City of Five Sails—or rarely all of those—would make the very bad decision to cause trouble here. It was a very bad decision they never made twice, being dead and all.

Along the way, Soline pondered the note, and what it might mean. She thought as well about the man whose pouch had contained it, a dour Eisen, all oiled beard and mustache and inflated self-importance. He’d fancied himself a hard drinker, claiming you had to be, if you were Eisen, because of the monstrous Horrors that terrorized his homeland. Soline had interrupted his bragging to pronounce to the entire tavern that these Horrors, the things that supposedly crawled and loped and generally lurked through the gloomy Eisen nights, were vastly overblown.

They were just exaggerated tales of ordinary animals, wolves and bears and such, designed to make the dreary land seem more interesting than it really was.
The Eisen had taken exception to this, which led to a spirited debate, which led to drinking, which led to more drinking, then a drinking contest intended to settle the matter of who was right. Soline had quickly discerned that the Eisen sought to outdrink her by cheating. He tried to use sleight-of-hand trickery to shift drinks about, replacing wine with a cup of unfermented grape juice he’d clearly placed on the table earlier. It was an old trick, a grift intended to entice people into drinking too much, making them easy prey. Sanjay, a skilled prestidigitator in his own right, had taught it to her long ago.

She rarely needed to use it, though, and just relied on her natural constitution to ward off the worst of alcohol’s effects. So she happily drank a great deal of wine, then abruptly switched to beer. The Eisen was too far into the contest to say no. The foul Ussuran liquor sealed the deal, leaving her opponent sprawled on one of The Drowning Man’s rough wooden trestles. After ensuring that The Eisen had indeed passed out cold, Sanjay deftly swiped the man’s bejeweled dagger. Soline, in a fleeting moment of practicality, relieved The Eisen of his belt pouch.

Sometimes, she wondered if there was someone out there who could drink her under the table, what such a person would be like, and what she would do about it.

Maybe she’d kill them.

Or marry them.

Or, as was more likely, eventually do both.

Sanjay cut off her musings. “There is the tobacconist, just ahead.” He frowned and rubbed his stubbled chin. “Suppose the Eisen remembers his note, and has already got here?”

“Then we’ll say our farewells and leave.”

“What if he comes along later?”

“Then we’ll claim he just followed us.”

“You have an answer for everything, don’t you?”

Soline smiled. “It’s how I’ve made it to this time and place alive and in one piece, my friend.”

They entered the shop, slamming into a thick, rich wall of warm, earthy aroma. Apparently there were many types of tobacco, along with many other herbs that could be smoked, sniffed or chewed. Some of them were supposedly quite relaxing, and a few were said to even expand one’s consciousness. Soline, however, didn’t especially like deliberately breathing in the smoke of burning leaves, so she mostly abstained.

They waved off the shopkeeper, presumably Florian himself, and clumped upstairs. A different sort of reek tinged the air of the narrow, rickety staircase. It was acrid, with a bitter edge that made Soline’s nose twitch. She heard Sanjay, coming up behind her, cough.

She reached the door at the top. One hand resting lightly on the pommel of her sword, she knocked.

Thumps sounded within, then the clatter of the latch. The door cracked open, and a man’s face peered back.

“What?”

“Armand sent me.”

The face gave her a narrow-eyed stare, then vanished, and the door swung open. Soline entered, Sanjay once again behind her.

They both stopped, gazing around them in wonder.

Cracked, stained tables sported a maze of glassware—tubes, beakers, crucibles, and flasks. Flames guttered under a few. Viscous fluid dripped from an alembic into a bowl. Books and scrolls inscribed with arcane symbols lay scattered about. A thin, bluish haze fumed the air, making Soline’s nose tingle, and her eyes water.
The only other furnishings were a narrow bed under a small, dingy window, a wash-basin, and a few battered chests, one open to reveal shabby clothing. An old man sat on a stool, poring over yet another tome and scrawling notes in its margins. The man who’d opened the door, a younger fellow with a neat beard and eyes as unblinking as a snake’s, smiled an equally empty smile. Soline thought he might be from Vestenmannavnjar, or perhaps Avalon.

“So Armand sent you,” he said.

Soline smiled right back. “No. I just happened to make up that name, and stumbled to this place by chance.”

The old man turned, scowling. “Jennus, who are these people? What do they want? And why are you all making so much noise? Can’t you see that my studies have reached a critical juncture?”

The man named Jennus turned and offered a shallow bow. “My apologies, Master. They are friends of a mutual friend. We will enjoy our reunion elsewhere, so as to not disturb your important work.”

Jennus gestured for them to follow him. He led them back down the stairs, through Florian’s shop, and into the street. They all fell into an easy, methodical pace, just three acquaintances on unhurried business of their own.

“So Armand sent you,” Jennus said.

“Haven’t we established that yet?” Soline replied.

“Very well. Then you know what we want to do.”

“Armand was thin on detail, as he usually is. And I was drunk.”

Jennus gave another of his thin, taut smiles. “It is very simple. Master Fitzroy believes he has made a breakthrough in his studies, and can transmute lead into gold.”

Soline and Sanjay exchanged a glance. Soline turned back to Jennus.

“He believes he can.”

“Yes. He can’t, of course, because it can’t be done, it’s all utter nonsense.”

“So he’s—an imbecile?”

“No, he has seen results. He has, indeed, changed lead into gold.”

Soline shook her head. “Wait. He either did it, or he didn’t—”

“He didn’t. I used some trickery to make him think he succeeded. Now, he intends to provide a demonstration for a selected group of merchants and minor nobles, who will throw vast sums of money at him if it is successful.”

“Vast sums of money. I like the sound of that,” Sanjay said.
Soline lifted an eyebrow at Jennus. “Ah. So you are a grifter, who seeks to capitalize on an old man’s delusions.”

“Does that concern you?”

“Not at all. I just wonder what you need me to do, and how much you will pay me for it.”

A glimmer of a genuine smile touched the man’s face. “My sleight of hand skills are sufficient to deceive a half-blind old man. I’m afraid they won’t suffice in front of a crowd of skeptical onlookers. Armand assured me that he could provide such an individual. Was he wrong?”

Soline shrugged. “Yes, and no.”

Jennus slowed, frowning. “What do you mean, yes and no?”

“Yes, he was wrong, because my skills aren’t up to the task either. And no, because Sanjay here—” She clapped a hand on Sanjay’s shoulder. “—is more than capable. He could switch around your mustache and beard, and no one would be the wiser.

Isn’t that right, Sanjay?”

Sanjay sighed. “I have a feeling we’re going to find out.”

Jennus frowned at Sanjay’s less-than-enthusiastic response, but Soline slapped him across the back.

“Sanjay, you must stop this infernal false modesty of yours. I’ve told you, no one believes it, and it just makes you look arrogant!” She grinned at Jennus. Sanjay brightened.

“Oh, fine. Yes, this should be a trifling task for me. Just tell me what to do, and when to do it, and it will be done.”

Jennus stared a narrow-eyed moment longer, then nodded. They made arrangements for another meeting that evening to work out details, then Jennus turned back towards the alchemist’s shop.

“Are we actually going to split the take with that man?” Sanjay asked.
“What do you think, my friend?”

***

They spent the next day with Jennus, working out the details, and practicing the con in his rented room near the alchemist’s. The gist of it was that, under the cover of an eruption of smoke and stink from Fitzroy’s ‘great work’, a small ingot of lead would be switched with a similar one of gold. That was Sanjay’s job. Soline’s would be to spirit Fitzroy away immediately thereafter, to avoid any awkward questions and maintain the air of mystery. While Sanjay and Jennus scooped in the ‘investments’ that would follow, she would put old Fitzroy aboard a ship heading for Vestini, passage having already been arranged.

Soline liked it. Simple, straightforward, and potentially very lucrative, just like all of the best things in life.

That evening, while Sanjay continued to ingratiate himself with the alchemist, Soline met with Jennus in an out-of-the-way tavern. Ostensibly, they were there to finalize the details, but an apparently very drunk Soline foolishly challenged Jennus to a drinking contest, the winner taking a bigger share of the loot. Like the Eisen had the night before, Jennus tried to cheat. And, like Soline had the night before, she ensured it made no difference.

When Jennus had finally slumped over the trestle, a pair of roguish figures sitting at a corner table stood and moved to join them.

One of them, a pale man with long, dark hair, poked at Jennus’s shoulder. “This is him?”

Soline held up a finger and drained the last of her cup. Then she clunked it down, wiped her mouth, and nodded.

“No, Lorenzo, I am undertaking a multitude of drinking contests here tonight.”
Lorenzo’s companion, a swarthy woman with a wide-brimmed hat that hid much of her face, reached down and lifted one of Jennus’s eyelids. He didn’t react. “And you would like him to be elsewhere for at least two days?”

 

“Three would be even better, Maya, my sweet.”

“Elsewhere? As in, in the harbor?” Lorenzo asked.

Soline tapped a thoughtful finger on the table, then shook her head. “No, he’s a greedy and manipulative scoundrel, but if we started throwing the good citizens of this city into the harbor for that, there would be no room left for the ships.”

***

“I wonder what happened to the Eisen, the one who Armand actually sent?” Sanjay asked. He and Soline wended their way across the crowded Square of Carvallo, on their way to Fitzroy’s laboratory for the big event.

Soline shrugged. “He was very drunk. Perhaps he forgot about it.”

She imagined the poor man frantically trying to remember where he was supposed to go. Hopefully, he wouldn’t just return to Armand, or that Armand was far away, in Montaigne, or even Avalon. Of course, that assumed that Armand existed in the first place, and wasn’t just a code name.

“I must admit, I am still concerned about my part in this,” Sanjay said. “A single error, even a fraction of a second of timing gone wrong—”
Soline just clapped his shoulder. “You will do a fine job, Sanjay, as always. I know no one more deceitful than you.”

“Oh. Well, thank you for that, Soline—” He furrowed his brow and shot her a frown. “I think.”

They arrived at Florian’s, and made their way upstairs, to ensure the alchemist was ready to perform his ‘miraculous transmutation’. Shortly thereafter, the ‘investors’ began to arrive. They were a motley group, selected by Jennus for their wealth—which was a lot—and their brains—which were much, much less. Soline had a bad moment when she saw they included a foppish dandy in tacky brocade. She briefly thought it might be the popinjay whose wrist she’d broken, or one of his companions, and would that be—well, rather funny, actually, but in an unfortunate sort of way. But she decided she didn’t recognize him after all. More importantly, he showed no sign of recognizing her.

Soline closed the door and called for attention, introducing Fitzroy first, and then Sanjay.

Fitzroy peered at Sanjay. “Who’s this?”

“Why, Master Fitzroy, it’s your faithful apprentice Sanjay. You know that, of course,” Soline said, turning to the audience with a conspiratorial look that said, just indulge him, he’s brilliant, but addled.

Sanjay suddenly beamed brightly. “Of course the Master knows me! I have learned so much from him, an august scholar of the natural philosophies, and eagerly look forward to learning even more! He is master not only in title, but in truth!”

 

Fitzroy blinked at him, then nodded. “Oh. Yes—yes, of course. My apprentice.”

“And who’s she?” a portly merchant asked, jabbing a fat, ringed finger at Soline.
Sanjay swung his bright grin onto Soline. “Why, she is my lover. Such is the depth of her passion for me that she cannot bear to have me out of her sight, even briefly!”

Soline drove her gaze into Sanjay like flung daggers. “Yes. That’s it exactly. Even now, I’m thinking of the things I wish to do to my beloved.”

Sanjay blew her a kiss.

A hatchet-faced woman draped in a riot of colored silks spoke up. “And where is—Jennus, I believe he was named? The one who arranged all of this, claiming that he was Master Fitzroy’s apprentice?”

“I am afraid he’s tied up elsewhere,” Soline replied. “So, while he is off doing the Master’s business, I have agreed to help the Master and my—my lover, Sanjay, conduct this demonstration today.”

She turned to Fitzroy. “Anyway, these are all busy people, Master, so we shall not waste their precious time. These good men and women have come to see you perform your miraculous transmutation.”

Fitzroy stared blankly. “My—?” he began, frowning, but then brightened, and nodded again. “Yes, of course.” He turned to the people crammed into his stinky little apartment. “Of course. You see, I have discerned that the natural derivation of mercury, when distilled and collected while the Dragon Star is ascendant, and the Moon is new, will combine with the essential sulfur to—”

“Yes, yes, Master, this is all very interesting,” Soline said, taking Fitzroy by the elbow. “But you do not wish to give all your secrets away. And, in any case, these good people have come to see what you have accomplished. The how of it can come later.”

“Eh?”

Soline gently, but firmly turned Fitzroy to the worktable, where fluids bubbled away in glassware, wisping noxious vapor into the air. “Master, your transmutation. That is what they have come to see.”

“I—ah. Oh. Yes.”

Soline pointed at a small ingot of lead in a shallow pan, poised beneath the spout of an alembic. “The Master will cause this lead, this basest of all metals, to transmute into the purest gold.”

Skeptical mutters and whispers rippled through the gathering—and for good reason. Alchemists claiming to have changed lead into gold, or iron into silver, or any number of less valuable things into more valuable ones, were a guilder a dozen. And if it really did happen as often as claimed, why was Théah not awash in valueless gold and silver and electrum by now?

But Soline knew what thoughts passed through the minds of these gullible fools. What if? What if, this time, it were true? The money to be made would be beyond imagining. In other words, there was skepticism, critical thinking and good sense—and then there was greed. And guess which almost always won out?

Fitzroy began to putter with his apparatus, adding reagents to beakers, mixing them, decanting them into flasks, dripping in more reagents, all while consulting several battered and stained old books and scrolls and muttering under his breath. Soline just crossed her arms and waited, her jaw set. The reaction that would raise the billowing smokey stink was only moments away. Sanjay did an excellent job of looking attentive, and even appearing to offer assistance to the old alchemist.

They reached the critical moment. Fitzroy decanted a small amount of crimson fluid into a crucible bubbling away over a retort. Soline tensed, her hand near her sword in case it all went wrong—

A sputtering, greenish flame suddenly erupted from the crucible, raising a thick, dank fume. Brackish fluid oozed from the alembic’s spout, gooey droplets splatting onto the lead ingot and hissing furiously away. People, Soline among them, coughed and waved at the smoke. Slowly, it dispersed.

When it had cleared enough to see properly, they all peered at the ingot.
Sure enough, what had been dull and metallic grey now gleamed as brightly gold as sunlight sparkling on water.

A moment of stunned silence. Even Sanjay did a good job of looking wide-eyed, and deeply impressed. Then the room erupted into a clamor of voices, a sudden thrust of hands towards the gold ingot.

That was Soline’s cue. She pushed her way to Fitzroy, took him by the arm, and shepherded him away. “The Master needs fresh air, and time to recover from his exertions. I will take him into the street and for a short walk. Sanjay will see to your questions and—your other needs.”

As soon as Soline and the would-be alchemist exited the laboratory, Sanjay commenced prying money out of these hapless ‘investors.’ Leaving Sanjay to his grifting, Soline escorted Fitzroy to the waiting Vestini ship destined for Vodacce and far away from Five Sails. Jennus had already told the old man that a wealthy Count there wished to make him his Court Mage, a fact Fitzroy only remembered as Soline steered him to the docks. He’d also assured Soline that he had arranged for friends to take care of Fitzroy along the way. She wasn’t sure what take care of meant, exactly, but chose to assume the best.

Along the way, she had to listen to the old man prattle on about his alchemy, about how only certain derivations of phosphorous were crucial to imbuing the mercury with the first transmutative property, and so on, and so on. Soline just smiled and nodded, and said “Uh-huh, uh-huh,” over and over again, as she steadily herded him towards the docks.

***

Their timing had been perfect. Fitzroy had boarded the ship, a Voddace galleon, just as it was preparing to make way. His feet had barely touched the deck before the gang-plank was pulled up, and a pair of lighters crewed by beefy rowers warped the ship away from the quay. She watched as the galleon’s crew scrambled into the rigging, letting the canvas fly and catch the wind. The lighters cast off the tow-lines, sails flapped and billowed, and the ship hove over and began making her ponderous away south.

Soline, whistling, turned and started back. By now, Sanjay should have collected the initial ‘investments’ from the audience to the transmutation, and would be meeting her once again in the Square of Carvallo.

She wondered how much these ‘investments’ would amount to. A great deal, she hoped. But she shrugged, plucking an apple from the stall of an inattentive fruit vendor. Even if it wasn’t a great deal of money, all of it would be profit—and it had still been a most entertaining way to spend the day.

Chomping on the apple, she saw Sanjay at their agreed upon meeting place, pacing to and fro. As soon as he saw her, hurried towards her.

Soline swallowed. Something was wrong.

She cursed. Would they have to lay low? Perhaps even leave the city of Five Sails for a while? It wouldn’t be the first time, and left her pondering where to go if they needed to depart quickly. She knew a man in Soldano, the quartermaster of a mercenary company, who owed her money. She should be able to parlay that into a place to stay, a few meals—

“Soline!”

“Tell me, Sanjay,” she said. “What is it and, more to the point, how bad is it?”

“I—am not sure.”

She frowned. “You’re not sure? What do you mean?”

“What I mean is—I couldn’t do it.”

“Couldn’t do what?”

“I couldn’t swap the ingots. The old man’s foot was in the way. And, like I said, if the timing was off, even an instant—” He shrugged. “Anyway, I couldn’t do it. I never switched the ingot.”

She sighed—

Wait.

“Um, Sanjay. If you didn’t do the switch—”

He nodded vigorously. “Right? And, yet, one instant, the ingot was lead, and the next it was gold.” He opened a pouch full of coins, most of them gold. “The investors were pleased, but—” He looked back at Soline. “Do you think that the old man made the switch somehow?”

“What do you think?”

“That he could barely stand upright. Years of exposure to those vile fumes of his have softened his brain.”

Soline’s frown deepened. “So then how—?”

They both stopped, their eyes going wide.

“We must catch up to that old man!” Sanjay said, turning towards the docks.

But Soline put her hand on his arm. “He is well out to sea now, Sanjay, on his way to Vestini.”

“But—fine. We just book passage to follow him!”

“Sanjay, do you really think he is going to survive the trip?”

“I—but—we—” Sanjay said, then stopped, just blinking dumbly.

Soline spent a moment of her own just staring.

Then she began to laugh.

Because it was either that, or cry.

Kaspar Dietrich

Kaspar Dietrich

by Fred Wan

Kaspar practiced.

Every morning, without exception, Kaspar made the time to train. The exercise helped to wake him up for the day to come, before the morning sun became uncomfortably hot. So, in the quarters he and his wife Daniella shared on the top floor of the Trinken House, Kaspar practiced his swordsmanship. Today he focused on fencing.

It had thankfully been months since he’d needed to rely on his bladework, but this was a reprieve, not a release. There would come a time when he needed to rely on steel once again, and when that moment came, he would not have the luxury of time to prepare in advance.

So he followed a daily routine to keep his skills sharp, and let his mind wander as repetition honed reflexes, starting once again with a response to an initial attack.

Riposte. Parry. Thrust.

Edeline Trinken kept a fine inn and was supportive of both his public efforts on behalf of Eisen, and his private, personal side projects as well. She was straightforward, brooked no nonsense, and spoke her mind. Of like minds, the two had built, if not a friendship, an understanding built upon honesty.

That honesty had prompted her, months ago, to conclude that he had no business furnishing his quarters. She’d simply declared that, for both the House’s reputation and his, she would take charge of the matter. The only concession he winnowed from her was to leave a large corner clear, so he could go about his morning routine without needing to go out. He didn’t want an audience while he practiced.

She considered the empty corner an eyesore, but conceded when Daniella firmly asserted that Kaspar needed the exercise in order to keep encroaching age from reducing his muscles to flabby uselessness. The two women had come to an agreement, and that was that. Kaspar once again gave thanks that his wife’s persuasive skills and wordplay rivaled his own puissant skill at the bladed arts.

Counter, elbow, feint.

Having colleagues, friends, and companions with good judgment mattered. So much hinged on being united in purpose, yet free to act. Like in the finally ended Theus-accursed War.

Kaspar snorted. His countrymen called him brilliant, lauded him, claimed he’d won engagements that should have been unwinnable. Even his foes—those who survived—honored him for leading his forces to victory. It seemed almost perverse.

The proclamations and medals meant nothing. The praise was hollow. His troops had relied on him to find a way to win, to bring them home. Every single one that was hurt, maimed, or killed became and would always remain his failure. That saving them all was impossible wasn’t the point. They’d fought, they’d won, for themselves and their families, and the glory and honor of Eisen. But even in hard-won victory, too many now had sorrows to carry. And, to his grief, the battles weren’t over.

Even now, as Eisen sought to heal, new and darker threats emerged. Ones that required a commander’s eye to fight against, because precious few among the living had the insight that came from experience.

He’d been a soldier, a leader, a hero. Neither he nor Eisen needed him to be that anymore, so he stopped. Both man and country needed him to take on new duties.

Close, engage, clash.

So much of Kaspar’s life was built on trust. It had to be. He therefore made a point of ensuring that people and things were worthy of that trust. Trust in his skills. Trust in himself. Trust in his comrades. And most of all, trust in his causes. Earning the trust of others was not easy, but it was attainable. It just required commitment and effort. It didn’t require a noble bloodline and its attendant high station.

Kaspar paused in his drill, left hand raised. He glanced at the ancient but still gleaming work of the fighting arts encasing his hand up to the elbow. His people, his nation, were right to be proud of their craft. His panzerhand had protected him and previous wearers for decades in countless duels and battles, but was still as functional and beautiful as the day it was forged.

His gaze wandered down to a box, sitting on his writing desk. He wasn’t a superstitious man, but the box seemed almost… accusatory. For a moment, his shoulders slumped. He could—he would have to—attend to it later.

Stab.

Kaspar preferred a shorter blade than usually wielded by a swordsman trained in the eisenfaust style. He found something smaller to be easier to handle, to carry, and if necessary, to conceal. Short blades better reinforced the appearance of a successful merchant and dignitary, hoping to use his skills to return prosperity to his homeland. They complemented his training nicely.

Kaspar finished his routine. He glanced down, resentfully, at the gift box on his desk. He sighed. Time to clean himself up, get dressed, and deliver it.

****

Kaspar descended the stairs from his quarters towards the exit. He had obligations to meet.

“Kaspar, a moment.” called out a familiar voice.

He paused on the stairs, and turned to look upwards at Daniella, standing at the top of the landing. She glanced at him, frowned slightly, and joined him on the stairway. He looked down at himself, second-guessing his choice of attire.

“Am I not dressed appropriately?”

Daniella shook her head. “Not your clothes. Your bearing,” she gently chided. “You look like you have been asked to carry the weight of the world, and are making no secret that you begrudge the burden.”

“I’m sure Camille,” he lifted the box, “would rather have Mathieu back.”

Daniella ran a finger along the rim of the box. “The way you are sulking, you will just make it worse for her. And this,” she put her hand under his, lifting the box to eye level, “mght help give purpose to the pain.”

She lowered her hand again. “But you won’t be able to provide clarity if you’re so miserable that she has to make you feel better.”

She put a finger to the side of his cheek, turning his face to directly meet her gaze.

“Are you going to comfort her, or are you going so she can comfort you?”

Kaspar looked down and grunted, conceding the point.

“Precisely. If you can be bothered to pay your respects, don’t add to her grief. Weep on your own time, not on hers.”

She walked around him, inspecting both attire and posture, occasionally pulling on a sleeve or fixing a collar. Eventually, she patted him on the shoulder, signifying he’d finally passed this inspection.

“Kaspar, we are no strangers to this. Why does it bother you so?”

“We’d spoken a few times. Mathieu was eager to talk about bladework, and he was beginning to listen to me. He would have had potential for us. If only…”

Kaspar sighed, and headed for the door.

“Mathieu would have learned caution eventually. Now, all we can do is give Camille something to help with her grief.”

****

Kaspar gave his friend a hug.

“I’m sorry, Camille.”

“Thank you, Kaspar. I miss him.”

Camille Keiner’s meeting room was furnished in a manner befitting a woman of high station. Even distracted by grief, her gaze remained clear and her expression focused. Although he never regretted time in her company, Kaspar deeply regretted the events that brought him to her.

“What happened? Your message lacked details.”

After her servants brought a tray of refreshments, she waved them away, and gestured for Kaspar to sit. “You know that group Mathieu spent time with?” She crooked a finger, inviting him to take what he pleased from the tray.

Kaspar thought for a moment. “Young, wealthy, bored?”

“And with a tendency to dare each other to do more and more foolish things.” She sat down opposite him.

The moments stretched to minutes.

Kaspar waited. He had made the time to visit, he could certainly make the time to wait until she was ready to speak further.

“I wish he had followed your advice.”

He smiled wistfully. “About what? He asked a lot of questions.”

“Knowing the difference between panache and extravagance. And… .” Camille looked out the window, gathering her thoughts. Her brow furrowed, and her mien hardened. “Knowing when to seize the initiative and when to hold back…and being daring purposefully, instead of whimsically.” She took a freshly sliced apple from the tray. “You know they picked fights with other youths?”

Kaspar nodded. “Mathieu was a very talented duellist. Sadly, he knew it.”

“They thought themselves swashbucklers. Going to places, starting duels over petty slights, making daring escapes. Dilettantes amusing themselves. He began making a name for himself. But he wanted more excitement. They recruited a sorcier, relying on magics that invoked evil spirits. With her help, they became even more adventurous, confident that they could always escape.”

Kaspar nodded. He’d clung to the hope that he was wrong about what happened. Sadly, his instincts had been right.

“While carousing at some noble’s estate, they got into a ‘friendly duel’ with some other youths that turned bloody. The other group had more friends than Mathieu’s. The sorcier opened a portal so they could escape. Someone fired a pistol at them while they were retreating.”

She grimaced. “The sorcier was killed while Mathieu was entering the portal. It’s been days since.”

Kaspar closed his eyes. What a waste. With the sorcier who opened the portal dead, Mathieu would be condemned to wander through the walkway with no way out. Even if Mathieu stumbled out, it was well known that there was something unnatural about those portals, and that there were… things, predators and tempters, living within them. Mathieu was at the mercy of that place, and its inhabitants. Doomed to search in vain for an exit until chance or fate took mercy on him, or finished him off.

Another victim of taking sorcery for granted. All because leaving through a door wasn’t stylish enough.

“I’m sorry, Camille. I should have forced the issue, made him understand.”

Her eyes narrowed in consideration. After a moment, she gave a dismissive wave, turning away both his protestation of guilt and his apology.

“You never could have stopped him. He was enjoying himself too much. If you tried, he’d simply have stopped listening to you.”

Kaspar found he couldn’t bear looking into Camille’s teal grey eyes. He turned away, staring out a window into the street. Even though she was burdened with loss and wasn’t angry at him, Camille had an intensity about her. A formidable woman, even at her worst.

The two grieved. They discussed the possibility that Mathieu might still be found, and that if he was, the hope that the scars on body and soul could be healed.

Eventually, Kaspar produced the box, pushing it across the table to Camille. She looked at it, then inquiringly at Kaspar.

“If Mathieu emerges, we’ll find him and bring him back. But this,” He sat back. “It’s for you. I know how much this hurts, but the suffering doesn’t have to be in vain.” He nodded at Camille before departing her estate.

****

Camille opened the box, and inspected the gift contained within. She ran her hands over the contents, apprising it. Inside was a simple but finely crafted object, forged of steel and varnished a deep black.

A Prophet’s cross.

****

Kaspar knelt and prayed before the chapel’s humble wood-end altar.

“Forgive me.”

Faces haunted Kaspar. Of people who served alongside and under him, along with those who fought, suffered, and perished at his command. He remembered dreams unfulfilled, kindred left mourning, and battles that were not done, not for him, and not for those he commanded.

Kaspar wept, silently and without shame. Someone had to remember the fallen, particularly those whose passing would go unheralded. Who better than the person who could have saved them?

“I’m sorry.”

Kaspar’s mind turned to reverie. To his country and his cause.

Eisen… the nation had seen better days, but its people remained unbroken. They just needed opportunity. And he would give them the opportunity. To be fed, to prosper, to be spared the whims of fate, and to be protected from the various things that were awakening.

So he fought. And sent others to fight and die. And mourned the repeated failures.

Kaspar continued to pray.

****

Kaspar’s meditations were interrupted by a knock at the chapel’s door. He rose, and exited to greet Otto and Rosine, two of his associates. The two briefed him as they headed back towards the Trinken House.

Otto adjusted his spectacles. “Makepeace said he’ll buy as many casks as we have to sell, and he’ll pay even more if the next shipment is stronger. He’s a strange one, but he pays well!”

Kaspar nodded. The Avalonian trader was eccentric, and his antics were even more unusual than his name, but he didn’t seem… dangerous. Just strange. Doing business with him would generate useful funds, and would make it easier for Kaspar’s operatives to keep tabs on him. He turned to Rosine, flanking his other side.

“I sent Phillip and Terrel to investigate the complaints the merchants had that their food stocks were raided by unusual looking animals. Those weren’t animals, but they won’t bother anyone anymore.” Her lips curled upwards, happy to be sharing the news.

“Any other rumors?”

She produced a note. “We’ve heard several reports of sailors and fishermen being attacked by some form of aquatic beasts. They claim the monsters appeared from nowhere.” She glanced at Kaspar. “When we’ve dealt with them, I’d like to study one of the corpses.”

Kaspar considered for a moment. “Send Uwe. We’re past the point of subtlety anyways.”

The three approached a corner of the street. For a moment, Kaspar paused, looking back at the church. He’d given his due to the dead and his failures. Time to turn his attention back to the needs of the living.

Kaspar planned.

And prepared.

Odette Dubois d’Arrent

Odette Dubois d’Arrent

by Nancy Sauer

Odette de Dubois d’Arrent surveyed the room with a quick sweep of her eyes. The parlor looked much the same as it did on her previous week’s visit: well-made but not ostentatious furniture, an embroidery frame with a newly-begun project in the corner, and books piled on nearly every table in the room. The exception was the table located near the window that looked out over the house’s inner courtyard, neatly laid with table service for two.

“I am so happy you could join me this afternoon,” her hostess said. “Our discussions are always so entertaining.”

Odette smiled at her. “Your emotions exactly mirror mine,” she said. “I was gratified to receive your invitation.” It was a complicated truth. Urraca de la Murrieta was a young woman of many interests and a charming way of speaking about them; Odette enjoyed the time she spent with her. Urraca was also the daughter of one of Five Sails’ wealthiest merchants, Guillen de la Murrieta, a man who Odette very much wanted to ingratiate herself with. He controlled a number of shipping contacts that would be very useful to her patron back in Montaigne.

“I have been reading the book you lent me!” Urraca said, moving towards the table. “Will Marie ever escape the castle? No, don’t tell me, I want to read it myself. And you say that there are more?”

“Several more,” Odette said. She seated herself at the table. “I think I will be getting another one when my mail from home next arrives here.” She casually waved at the goblets and plates set out before them. “I take it that your father will not be able to join us?”

Urraca wilted a little. “He will not. He says he has no desire to meet you.”
Odette didn’t know how to react to this. She accepted rebuffs as part and parcel of a courtier’s life, but rarely had she received such a blunt refusal. “I am sorry to learn that I have offended him so,” she finally said.

“Oh, it isn’t you personally,” Urraca said. “It’s because of the bandits.”

“Bandits?”

“Well, really a street gang. They are led by a man from Montaigne, it is said, and they are causing trouble at some of Father’s warehouses. He’s taken it into his head that all the Montaigne in the city are in league against him, and he won’t hear a word otherwise.”

“I am so sorry to hear about your father’s problems,” Odette said. “But let us speak of happier things. Tell me about your embroidery.”

* * *

 

When Odette finally left the house of de la Murrieta she found one of her musketeers, Jean Urbain, waiting for her at the gate. The other three musketeers had predictably wandered, across the street, joining the locals in drinking and gambling with dice.

“So how did your meeting with the rich merchant go?” Jean asked. “And did you hear any word about our elusive lady?

“Not a single word, though I am even more convinced that Urraca’s social connections will be of great help in the search. And I didn’t meet her father at all.” She quickly summarized the problem of the street gang.

“Most unfortunate,” Jean said.

“Indeed. I will need to find out more about this man, if he has any patrons or family that I could use to influence him.” Odette flinched a little. She would have to go to her patron’s other agents in Five Sails and ask for another round of favors. So far none of her plans had come to fruition, and she was running thin on goodwill.

Jean touched her arm slightly and smiled. “Powder your face,” he said. “I have seen you in darker times than this.”

Odette returned the smile. “I usually try to forget such things,” Odette said.. “But sometimes it is good to be reminded of them. Let us collect the others and go visit the merchants of knowledge.”

* * *

 

Odette had taken a suite for herself and her musketeers at the Hotel Precieux. It was located on the edge of one of the seedier districts of Five Sails, which made it both fairly cheap to rent and convenient for dealing with the city’s more unsavory inhabitants. It was thus perfect for her needs. Her office was furnished, like the rest of the suite, with furniture that had once been of high quality but had begun the gradual slide into shabbiness. The large, ornately carved desk contrasted with the rest of the furnishings. A map of the city and random piles of documents obscured much of the desk’s rosewood surface. While her musketeers amused themselves, Odette read through her many reports.


 

“He isn’t even from Montaigne!” Odette suddenly burst out. All around the room the others stopped what they were doing and stared at her. Henri Michelet had been practicing a new song on his lute, Jean was reading a philosophy tract, Leontine Giroux and Bastian Girard were playing cards. Leontine was in the process of raising a cup of wine to her mouth.


“His loss,” Henri said.

“He’s not?” Jean said.

“Wasn’t the merchant supposed to be Castilian?” Bastian said.

“Who are we talking about?” Leontine said, and finished drinking her wine.



“The criminal troubling de la Murrieta,” Odette said, laying the report down on the desk and spreading her hands flat on it. She knew she shouldn’t let her frustration get the better of her, but it remained an ongoing struggle. “He isn’t from Montaigne, he is a member of the Red Hand gang from the Vodacce district. He’s been nicknamed The Montaigne because of his hat!”

“Unfortunate for us,” Henri said, “but a sign of good taste for him.”

Odette ignored the observation. “He seems to be trying to raise his stature in the Red Hand by making raids in the Castilian district. If he can succeed in gaining a foothold there, the gang will become even more influential in the city and he will become more powerful within the gang.”

“What is his real name?” Leontine said.

“Here’s a list,” Odette said, “you can take your pick. He uses a different one in the gambling houses of each district, and he owes money to all of them.”

“If he owes many people money, then he could be bribed,” Jean said.

“That will work until he gambles it all away again,” Bastian said. “Then he will be back at work troubling honest merchants. Or somewhat honest merchants, as we are in Five Sails.”

“And I could not get enough money to pay off all—“ Odette paused, a distant look on her face. Her musketeers were silent: they knew what that look meant.

“It’s somewhat risky,” Odette finally said, “but manageable, and failure will harm us little.” She reached for her writing kit. “Bastian, I need you to find me a professional rumormonger and an actor who can present himself as a Castilian gentleman. Henri, I need you and Jean to go to our patron’s moneyholder to obtain some funds.”

“How much?” Henri said.

“As much as you can. Be persuasive. Leontine, I need you to take a note to Urraca. We need to know if there is a pattern to The Montaigne’s attacks on her father’s warehouses.”

“We are musketeers, not errand runners,” Jean said.

“Never fear, my friend,” Odette said. She wrote a note in a swift, decisive hand. “You will be showing your worth very soon now.”

* * *

The moon had risen just high enough to be seen over the roofline of the buildings around them. Jean could hear the murmur of the nearby sea and the soft tapping of shoe upon cobblestone as one of his fellow musketeers moved, shifting their weight from one foot to another. Two nights ago, rumor had it that The Montaigne had lost heavily at gambling. Tonight, Odette gambled on him keeping to his usual routine after a loss.

A crowd of about a dozen people came up the street, led by a man in a Montaigne hat.

“They are very reliable criminals,” Bastian said.

“The biggest one is mine,” Leontine said.

“That is a fine hat,” Henri said.

“It’s time,” Jean said, and he strode out of the shadows of the de la Murrieta warehouse. The others followed him. When he reached the center of the street he stopped and held up his hand. “No further, good folk,” Jean said in a loud, friendly voice. “You should turn around and go home.”

The gang’s leader stopped, giving a signal to his followers. “And why should we do that?”

“I have heard that there are criminals moving through this area, and I would hate for you to fall afoul of them.”

“Very amusing.” The man known as The Montaigne drew his rapier, a blade with an ornate basketweave hilt-guard but no other ornamentation. “I have business at that warehouse, but it doesn’t require me to kill you. Leave now and I’ll cause you no trouble.”

“If you have business at this warehouse then your business is with us.” Jean’s tone remained friendly, even as he drew his own rapier.

“The four of you against all of us? They say a dog’s bark is louder than his bite.”

“Well, that is true,” Jean admitted. He tilted his head slightly in Henri’s direction. “But our bark is very, very loud.” Henri smoothly raised his musket out of the shadows of his cloak and brought it into firing position.

The crowd was still and silent for a moment, and then a number of them started to edge back down the street. “Stand your ground!” their leader shouted. “They can try to shoot me if they like; I’m not afraid of them.” Henri adjusted his aim and pulled the trigger. A booming roar tore through the night, followed by a man on the edge of the crowd screaming as he collapsed.

“Ready your steel!” Leontine cried as she sprinted towards the tallest of their opponents. Jean and Bastian followed close behind. Henri took the time to carefully resling his musket and then he, too, charged into the fray.

The fight soon organized itself into several knots of activity. Several of the gang members were trying to help the man who had been shot. Leontine busied herself with a man half a foot taller than her and twice as wide. She locked his sword up with her blade catcher and then used her rapier to make several quick slashes to his arm and chest. Her opponent shouted something that was probably Vodacce, and likelier obscene, as he tried to free his blade. Leontine let it go before he could pull the blade catcher out of her hand, and then sprang in to continue her attack.

Jean duelled with The Montaigne, turning aside his opponent’s blows and making quick replies that threatened but never actually landed.

“Coward! Are you going to do anything else but dance with me?”

“I’m waiting for you to do something interesting,” Jean replied. His words had their intended effect, goading The Montaigne into a series of attacks that Jean easily parried. “Surely you can do better than that.”

Henri had intercepted a woman with a heavy saber moving in to come to her leader’s aid. They circled around each other warily, blades flashing in the moonlight, and the musketeer quickly realized that at some point in the past she had been given formal lessons in swordplay. That made her potentially dangerous, as someone half-trained with a sword could be wildly unpredictable. He grinned and brought his blade up for an attack. Tonight would be more entertaining than he thought it would be.

Bastian was engaged with two opponents who threatened him from opposite sides. The one on the left slashed boldly, but ineptly, at the musketeer, who parried the swing and then continued in to deliver a deep cut to the man’s arm. The one on the right tried to move in for a blow, but Bastian snarled her blade with a flourish of his cloak, quickly pivoting around her to kick her in the back of the knee. She crashed forward, entangling her comrade and pulling him down as well. Without a pause Bastian drew a pistol out and shot at a man who was sneaking up behind Henri. He missed, but the noise had an immediate effect.

“He has a pistol,” yelled one of those lurking in the back of the crowd.

“I have more than one,” Bastian said, and flung back his cape to reveal the other resting in its holster. There was a burst of shouting from different people, and then the men tending the fallen bandit picked him up and started running away. Then the remainder of the gang turned and fled, with their leader following and cursing at them.

Stillness and silence reigned for a few moments, and then Odette emerged from the shadows. “Well done, musketeers.” She spoke loudly, to make sure she could be overheard. “Let us go to the Gilded Darkness to celebrate our victory.”

 


* * *

 

The Gilded Darkness was one of the more popular coffeehouses in Five Sails. Odette had chosen it after careful calculation: elegant enough to discourage open violence, but with a slight underlying disrepute that should make The Montaigne comfortable enough to show up in person. She sipped her coffee and waited. Leontine was at the next table, drinking a much larger cup of coffee and making her way through a plate of pastries. Bastian, Jean, and Henri had taken seats in different parts of the coffeehouse where they could keep an eye on Odette and in turn be not easily spotted by anyone entering the premises.

“He’s here,” Odette said in a voice just loud enough for Leontine to hear.

The musketeer glanced up for a moment and then returned to studying the pastries in front of her. “Powder and flint, he’s wearing some kind of armor under that tunic,” Leontine said quietly. “I owe Bastian a guilder.”

The Montaigne strode directly to Odette’s table and glared down at her. “You have made yourself an enemy tonight.”

Odette raised an eyebrow, looking slightly puzzled. “Shouldn’t you be busy arranging a way to get out of Five Sails? The city must be very dangerous for you now.”

He stopped in mid-word and looked at her intently. “What do you mean by that?”

The courtier shrugged slightly. “Tonight a Castilian was at Madame Grimaldi’s Fortuna Felix, paying off your debts to the house and setting you up with some extra funds. And tomorrow morning it will be all over the dock areas that you had been bribed to set up the Red Hand for an embarrassing defeat.”

“None of my brothers and sisters in the Red Hand will believe that,” he said.

“Oh?” Odette picked up her coffee cup. “Many were hurt in tonight’s fight, but you aren’t even scratched.” She drank her coffee, watching him over the rim of her cup. His face flushed red from anger and for a moment she feared that he would attack her. She wasn’t afraid for her safety, not with several of her musketeers within arm’s reach, but a fight in here would have consequences she didn’t want to deal with.

Slowly his color edged back to normal. “You think you are safe,” he finally said. “Because you have your hired swords here with you.” He glanced over at Leontine, who didn’t bother to look up from her food.

“I think I am safe,” Odette said mildly, “because you have much more dangerous enemies in this city tonight.”

“I’m not sure that is true,” he said. He swept off his hat and gave her a deep bow. “Until we meet again, poisonous lady.” Before Odette could think of a reply he turned on his heel and started walking towards the door.

“He’s smarter than most,” Leontine said. “He will be trouble for us.”

“Only if he lives,” Odette said, dismissing him from her mind. Tomorrow she would send a delicately worded note to Urraca, letting her know that the problem had been taken care of. Then she could arrange a meeting with Guillen de la Murrieta and advance her own plans. She smiled to herself as she savored the last of her coffee.

The Art and Story of  7th Sea: The City of Five Sails

The Art and Story of 7th Sea: The City of Five Sails


Cover Art by Charles Urbach

 

My name is Case Lopez, Designer and Creative Director for Pine Box Entertainment’s new original card game, 7th Sea: The City of Five Sails. My job focuses on themes that bring the writing, design, and art into one cohesive vision. Past articles for this project have shown the game’s card types, as well as a introducing the communal City Deck. Today I am going to pull back the curtain a little and show off some of the amazing art that we have commissioned this project. I will also discuss the story that we have set to go forward, and hopefully provide a taste of what is to come. 

 

Art by Sally Grew

 

So why Five Sails?  Like many of you, I played the original CCG produced by AEG that coincided with the 1st edition of the 7th Sea Role Playing Game. But while that game was enjoyable, I felt it only represented a fraction of what the world of 7th Sea was. By focusing the story and interaction to a single location, we can keep the interaction between the factions going without the downtime of roaming the vast open seas. The City of Five Sails, named in the 7th Sea RPG books as “Théah’s most interesting city,” is the perfect location for our story moving forward. It serves as a major trade hub, a place where heroes and villains congregate and has laws that defer wildly depending on interpretation. It is said that within Five Sails, a dishonest man can earn an honest coin, and the opposite is true as well. Setting our story within the city of Five Sails allows us to still keep the pirates, privateers, and explorers of the original CCG. At the same time, we can bring in politicians, merchants, musketeers and more to truly represent the 7th Sea world of adventure and intrigue all within a constantly changing, high-pressure environment. The fact that Five Sails is a port city also gives us the advantage of having the vast world of 7th Sea come to us. You never know who will show up, or what they will bring with them.

 

Art by Kou Yang

 

The City itself is surrounded by the borders of five different nations, and while they do have some influence over the city, they do not control her. Instead, the city is a melting pot of different districts and customs from all over Théah. This gives us a lot of freedom to feature different cultures. In fact, diversity has been one of our priorities from inception moving forward. Having the location of our game set in a free and bustling port city gives us a lot of leeway to bring in different aspects of Théah. Expect characters from every corner of this world including the new lands of Khitai. Our story begins with five factions that operate from different districts. Each faction has their own goals, methods, and style with how to cultivate and expand their influence. Odette, a Montainge courtier new to he city, has a group of loyal musketeers that make up with steel with what she lacks in connections. Kaspar from Eisen is a surviving general from the War of the Cross, looking to expand the ranks of his new army to fight creatures plaguing the lands. Soline grew up on the streets and canals of the Castile district of Five Sails, and with her crew of tricksters and thieves seek out any advantage afforded to them. Don Constanzo is a well known diplomat and politician from the Vodacce distict who has an army of henchmen at his call. Finally there is Yevgeni, a giant of a man from Ussura, with no known past who seems to answer to the whims of the world itself.

 

Art by Sergio Villa-Isaza

 

Now I’ll discuss something I am extremely excited about, the art! While we are using many fantastic existing art pieces from the 7th Sea 2nd Edition books, we have brought in a number of amazing artists to help to start to tell our story and help to bring the city of Five Sails to life. Artists such as Charles Urbach, Jason Behnke, Kou Yang, Sally Grew, Greg Bobrowski, Terry Pavlet, and many more help introduce the characters and vibrantly bring the game to life. Some of these pieces I chose to showcase here, but this is just a random assortment of the fantastic art that is being created.

 

Art by Fabian Parente

 

One thing that I desired from the very beginning, was a large, expanding, and interactive story. At launch, we have five factions who are vying to expand their influence throughout the city, each one with their own desires, reasons and goals that they strive to achieve. The story will be heavily influenced by the actions of the players. Organized play events, major tournaments, side competitions, online votes, will have says in whether your favorite faction will make forward progression on their goals or lose footing within the city. The ebb and flow of control within the city is truly up to you.

 

Art by Jason Behnke

 

Be on the look out for more news and information for 7th Sea: The City of Five Sails, including insight into our combat system and upcoming announcements of our launch. From all of us at Pine Box Entertainment, welcome to the City of Five Sails!

Doomtown as A Deadlands Action Deck

Doomtown as A Deadlands Action Deck

 

Greetings pardners! If you followed the new Deadlands: The Weird West Kickstarter, or were one of the backers, you may know fulfillment has begun on getting out the stunning new version of this beloved RPG. To celebrate, we’d like to present some ideas on how you can use your Doomtown cards, while also playing Deadlands.

 

Those new to tabletop RPGs or the Savage Worlds game system will find that combat initiative uses a unique system of each player receiving a playing card from a regular 54-card poker deck. Not only can you use your Doomtown cards to fulfill this function, it can also operate as a tool for the Gamemaster.

 

The deck featured here on dtdb.co, presents a deck that you can use for the Doomtown card game. You can also shuffle this deck to produce random dudes, deeds, goods, or events that can occur within your Deadlands game. You can either shuffle the deck and pull from it at random, or divide the piles into suits. Need to identify what weapon your baddies are using in a particular fight? Draw randomly from the hearts for your Goods! Need an NPC to appear to interact with the posse? Draw from your spades for an inspired Dude to enter the scene!

 

 

Jordan Caves-Callarman, Marshal of the WildCards Deadlands live show on Twitch, explains his usage of Doomtown cards with the RPG:

“I use Doomtown cards for all sorts of things when I’m GMing Deadlands. They can be great visual aids for NPCs or enemies like I used them in our game for the Deadlands Kickstarter, and when I ran the Twilight Protocol event games my players got a kick out of being handed cards representing items and relics they came across. There are also a ton of colorful location cards you can lay out to better illustrate the places your posse visit – set them up as you would in a game of Doomtown to create an easy map of a frontier town’s main street!

 

Having visual aids at the table is great, but what I really like about using Doomtown cards as a GM, are all the details. Between the colorful names, the card art, and the flavor text, there are plenty of jumping-off points on any given card for coming up with memorable NPCs, items, and locations – you can use them as-is, or just keep what inspires you and drop the rest. Grab a couple of Action cards to lay down when there are complications in your players’ best-laid plans, or use them to spark ideas for fun plot wrinkles to add to your session.”  

 

 

Jordan Pridgen, who portrayed Gabriel Pryor in the WildCards show adds the following:

As an RPG player, your character is everything. Whether you’re sitting down for a single one-off session with some new friends at a convention (remember those?) or building something for a long-term campaign, you want your character to really have legs. Sure sometimes you have the perfect idea right off the bat, but if you’re a new player who isn’t used to the scope of the Weird West, or an experienced dice-slinger who feels like they want to branch out, you won’t find a better font of cool character ideas than Doomtown.

Personally, I’ve found Doomtown to be flush with inspiration. You can basically pick any dude from any set and start the sparks of character innovation burning. I mean sure if you base a character off of “Dynamite” Jacc you might want to have a spare ready, but even a card as simple as the wonderfully named “Androcles Brocklehurst” could lead you to build an old-school southern lawyer with money and connections (and maybe a little bit of corruption if you dig deep enough), who frankly I know I’d have a great time playing.

On the other end of the spectrum, the stylish masked burglar Jim Hexter, or the unconventional besuited martial artist Feichi Suitcase” Lee, could make for unforgettable PCs with quirks that will really help you motivate and drive your personal story. Heck, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that cards like “Quaterman” and “Post-a-tron” were part of the inspiration for my character Midas Buchanan’s mechanical child “Christopher” on Wild Cards. So if you’re thinking about getting into Deadlands RPG, or even just looking for some new takes on the world, give Doomtown a look. And hey, come join us for a few games on the discord while you’re at it!”

 

 

We recommend the following list to start out, or make your own pardner!

 

Smith & Robards Trade Show (Out for Blood): You can include this with your Clubs or Diamonds.

 

Dude (13)

1x Theo Whateley-Boyer (Ghost Town)

1x “Mahogany” Jackson (Ghost Town)

1x Henry Moran (Ghost Town)

1x “Thunder Boy” Nabbe (Blood Moon Rising)

1x Adrián Vallejo (There Comes a Reckoning)

1x Johnny Brocklehurst (There Comes a Reckoning)

1x Agent Provocateur (There Comes a Reckoning)

1x F1 Burch (There Comes a Reckoning)

1x Cooper Grannon (Hell’s Comin’ With Me)

1x New Varney Nosferatu (Welcome to Deadwood)

1x Clementine Lepp (Base Set)

1x Funtime Freddy (Frontier Justice)

1x El Grajo (No Turning Back)

 

Deed (13)

1x Walters Creek Distillery (Ghost Town)

1x Epitaph Branch Office (There Comes a Reckoning)

1x Gateway Station (Out for Blood)

1x Rham’s Readings (Hell’s Comin’ With Me)

1x Land Purchase (Welcome to Deadwood)

1x The Town Hall (Base Set)

1x Stagecoach Office (Base Set)

1x Cattle Market (Base Set)

1x Bunkhouse (Base Set)

1x General Store (Base Set)

1x Telegraph Office (Base Set)

1x The Mayor’s Office (Election Day Slaughter)

1x Huntsmen’s Society (No Turning Back)

 

Goods (13)

1x Jael’s Guile (Dirty Deeds)

1x LeMat Revolver (Bad Medicine)

1x Tusk (Ghost Town)

1x Essence of Armitage (The Curtain Rises)

1x Bowie Knife (Blood Moon Rising)

1x Scattergun (Out for Blood)

1x Peacemaker (Base Set)

1x Pearl-Handled Revolver (Base Set)

1x Flame-Thrower (Base Set)

1x Legendary Holster (Base Set)

1x Holy Wheel Gun (Double Dealin’)

1x Outlaw Mask (Faith and Fear)

1x Idol of Tlazolteotl (Immovable Object, Unstoppable Force)

 

Action (13)

1x Framed (Ghost Town)

1x Putting The Pieces Together (The Curtain Rises)

1x Calling The Cavalry (The Showstopper)

1x Hostile Takeover (Too Tough to Die)

1x Frontier Feud (Hell’s Comin’ With Me)

1x As Nature and God Intended (Welcome to Deadwood)

1x Hired Guns (Base Set)

1x Ambush (Base Set)

1x Kidnappin’ (Base Set)

1x Bounty Hunter (Base Set)

1x A Coach Comes to Town (Base Set)

1x A Secret Tunnel (Base Set)

1x Ol’ Fashioned Hangin’ (No Turning Back)

 

Cards featured includes those up to the recent Welcome to Deadwood expansion, available now from the Pine Box Entertainment store or your FLGS!

 

To get caught up on the status of the Weird West as it related to Doomtown, check out our new video detailing more ways in which Deadlands ties into Doomtown!