City of Scoundrels

Market Forces

The principle is simple. The hammer is cocked and locked in place. The trigger releases the hammer. The hammer hits the firing pin and sparks the powder. The powder burns and releases gas into the chamber. The chamber is stopped by a shot. The gas pressure builds and pushes the shot out of the barrel.

Cannon, Musket, Pistol, Mortar, Rifle, Flintlock and Matchlock. All of them work on this same basic principle. Force

The principle is simple. People need things to live. What they can’t make themselves they get from others. The others set a price and the people must pay it or find another way of acquiring the goods. The more they want it the more they pay. The less they want it the less they’ll pay. The harder the want is to obtain the more it is worth.

Food, water, clothing, shelter, warmth, company and entertainment. All of them work on this same basic principle. The Free Market.

Two basic Principles. Weapons and Want. Two basic Principles that shattered lives and built empires. This was how the world worked. From the dawn of human civilisation, when man first discovered the killing power of rock and bone, this has been the way of things. We pay, we take or we die.

Vincent understood these principles. He had built his life around them. They were his bedrock and served to guide his every decision and choice. We pay. We take. We die. These thoughts galvanised him and hardened his resolve. He gripped them tightly in the centre of his piston and metal driven mind as these forces united to meet him. The Doctor’s want, the assassin’s weapons and the shot that passed into his leg. Skin parted for it as it passed. Muscle invited it into its midst and blood rushed forth to embrace it. In this moment of unity, as the product of industry, all that he had dedicated his life around, melded with him, he fell.

He hit the stairs side on and slide two steps before he could get his foot of flesh beneath him to halt his dissent. Above him, guarding the place of his merging, the assassin stood. The trails of the shot’s passing drifted from the barrel with the same indifference the assassin wore in his smile. He held the book in his stray hand, clutched as tightly as Vincent’s leg held the shot. In two steps he reached the summit of the stairwell and was lost to the uncertainty of the corridor beyond.

Vincent was left there to decide his own fate.

The doctor had long since departed leaving no sign of his presence save the distinct lack of him. Medical training was the one thing sorely missing from this building in the time of its greatest need. With just the metal in his leg, the sound of running and his own heart beat for company Vincent pulled himself into a sitting position against the balustrade. His teeth ground as he bit back the pain. Life leaking from the wound with every beat of his heart.

“Fuck.” He spat between foaming lips. The thumping grew louder as his heart threatened to explode before it got a chance to expel the contents of his veins. This was the path of most resistance but it was the correct one to take. You don’t end something like this by giving them what they have no right to ask for. The path that offered the best chance of retaining what was his. A shot in the leg to protect his sacred industry.

Boots on deteriorated floorboards heralded the arrival of Broken Glass’ thugs. They took the stairs two at a time leaving boots prints in his blood as it fled from him.

“Whus stabbt?” the tallest, baldest, dumbest one slurred at him.

“What?” He replied doing nothing to hide the irritated confusion from his voice nor the sudden tiredness that gripped him.

“Who’s stabbed?”

“The fucker shot me. That way.” He motioned up the stairs with a flick of his hand and the avalanche of stupidity charged passed him. The sound of their thudding boots disappeared down the corridor and left him where he had fallen.

He shifted his weight enough to pull himself away from the support of the balustrade and, using his own blood as lubricate, lowered himself down the stairs. The process was slow and careful, it had to be to avoid tearing the wound any further. Staying put meant bleeding to death but no help would come to him here.

Reaching the base of the stairs, he dragged himself along the floor towards the sofa, in by bloody inch. A nice piece of furniture new, now it was stained with years of neglect, such is the way of things, those with the most history are often the most stained. He added to this history as he lifted himself up and stained it with his blood.

Field medicine is rarely a long term solution. It is never pretty but it is always necessary. He grabbed the wine glass and smashed it on the floor and began collecting a few shatters of the glass with shaking hands. Steading his breathing with a few deep breaths he began to cut at the wound. The first slice was the worst, the deepest. He had to get the shot out or no treatment would save his leg. He sliced the wound and using nothing more than his fingers and a piece of glass worked it from his flesh. He was a ghost of himself by the time he’d finished but finished he did. He was not a man to do things by halves. Blood drained from his face and muscles as he lay back on the sofa. Powerless, motionless, dripping with sweat. With the last of his strength failing he produced a small pouch of powder. Just enough for one shot, hardly anything really but even small things can make a big difference if used in the right place and time. He poured the powder into the hole in his leg.

It felt worse than it sounded and it sounded like gunpowder being poured in a wound. With the last of his strength he ripped the sleeve from his shirt and bound it as tightly around the leg as he could. Lying back, as prepared as he could be for what was to come, he snapped his fingers. The powder in the wound ignited.

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Supply and Demand

He snapped his fingers.

The library erupted into flames. Every shelf, every book, every wooden feature around him became kindling as the room erupted into a sea of red.

“If you won’t leave, then stay!”

The doors slammed shut behind them. They were trapped in the burning library but so was the demon. The laughing fiends emerged from their hiding places. One of them ran straight for their group, murderous intent in its eyes, its body aflame. The assassin, fast on his feet and agile as he was, ran straight towards the charging creature. He leapt, leg extended towards the fiend with the intention of flooring it in one blow. At the last second the creature twisted foreseeing the attack. It tackled the assassin mid-air and they clattered to the floor grappling with each other. To his left another creature hurled itself from an upper balcony towards the Doctor. He turned, raising his hand in a gesture of power and muttered a word of ancient origin. The effect was negligible and the creature landed on top of him sending them both sprawling to the floor with the demon trying to wrap its hand around his throat.

Vincent rolled his eyes. Doctor, Assassins, demons, the army, things were very disorganised today. Movement to his right caught his eye. A large curtain fluttered and from behind it came one of the shrieking creatures. Vincent levelled his sword and stood his ground preparing for the assault. When the monster was no more than two steps from him he let his left knee fall to the floor and drove the sword forward. It went straight through the demon but it did little to stop the charge, fortunately he’d planned for that. He angled his shoulder and let its momentum carry it into the air as he raised the sword.

It arched over him and crashed to the floor on the other side, sword driven into the wooden floor beneath, his hands secure on the hilt pinning it in place. He looked up. The flayed woman was coming their way, dragging the young Lord Tygon behind her. Vincent snorted in derision.

Weakling.

The smoke was becoming thick, he had lost sight of the assassin among the flames and the burning demons. The Doctor managed to put his foot between him and his attacker and kicked the creature off him and into the fire.

Vincent looked down at the grasping freak at his feet. It lashed out at him as it burned but he kept it pinned with the sword. Grabbing it with both hands he pulled the sword upwards, dragging it through the body and the head, splitting the creature in two. It twitched one lost time then went limp.

The smoke and heat of the room was beginning to take its toll. His eyes watered and he was struggling for breathe. If he didn’t get out of here soon then it might overcome him. That or all the demons might devour his soul.

The flayed woman had not stopped her advance. Onwards she came, dragging the young Lord behind her. The doctor produced a knife from somewhere inside his cloak and with one fluid motion sliced his hand off. Vincent blinked in shock watching the mad man work.

I… just… what?!

The doctor waved his… bloody stump and muttered something.

Here we go again.

A wave of force rose from the floor and a ghostly hand appeared in the air before the flayed woman. A wall of shimmering energy extended outwards from the hand barring the demons path. Hatred and anger twisted her face as she pushed against the wall. Power built up in the room as two demonic forces clashed. There was a loud bang followed by a shattering noise as the doors to the library were flung open by the pressure in the room.

Oh great. Now she’s pissed.

Vincent turned to the Doctor.

“Run.” The Doctor shouted as he turned and ran. Vincent watched the masked demonologist flee from the room leaving a trail of blood in his wake. The cool air of the corridor hit Vincent’s face like a glass of ice water on a hot day. A stark contrast to the room ablaze. He turned back towards the demon.

The job’s not done.

He caught sight if the assassin moving out of the corner of his eye. Vincent lifted his sword on one hand. He did a quick guess at the distance between him and the restrained monstrosity and then spun the sword a few times to work up the required momentum. He released it at just the right moment and the sword went flying straight for the demon. A few tense seconds passed as he watched it arch through the air and embed itself in the floor, two feet too short.

“Well done. You have successfully disarmed yourself.” The creature spat.

And distracted you.

The assassin finished his work at the wall and pried the gas pipe loose. With considerable and surprising strength he angled it at the demon and a gout of fire flowed like water from its end and engulfed the flayed woman and Lord Tygon.

Now it’s time to go.

He turned and strode from the room purposefully and controlled. He ran from no one. A trail of blood lead towards the back door they’d come in through. He ignored it and went straight for the front door. He grabbed the door handles just as the door was opened from the other side, coming face to face with two footman and the old Lord Tygon.

Wonderful.

“Who the hell are you and why are you in my house!” Lord Tygon demand.

“I’m a friend of your sons.” He lied in response. “He’s waiting for you in the library. Must dash.” He moved to pass lord Tygon and as he went tossed the severed foot he’d found at him to knock him off guard. It worked wonderful. He was halfway down the front staircase before Lord Tygon called out.

“Seize that man!”

Vincent spun on the spot and pulled his two flintlock pistols from his belt, levelling them at the footmen. They stopped in their tracks instantly. They had no way of knowing the guns were empty. Lord Tygon ground his teeth in frustration marched past the uncertain footmen, stopping just a few feet in front of Vincent.

“Your weapons might scare these men but they do not-“

Vincent flipped on of the pistols in his hand and cracked the Lord across the jaw, sending him sprawling like a sack of shit.

Demons, doctors, assassins and madmen I can handle. Nobles I despise.

He levelled the pistols at the shocked footmen again.

“Take his Lordship to the library.”

They moved quickly for fear of being shot and lifted the Lord. Vincent turned and continued down the stairs towards the carriage. The driver was clearly weighing up his options having watched the situation on the stairs unfold. He shrugged and motioned for Vincent to climb in, a practical man.

“Tumble-down hill.” Vincent ordered, climbing into the carriage. He was about to shut the door when the assassin climbed in behind him, flashing him a calm smile. Vincent grimaced and slammed the door shut as the carriage jerked into movement and set off down the pathway out of the estate. He relaxed for the first time in hours and reclined into his seat, letting his eyes slide closed. The smoke and soot clung to his clothes, his hair and his breath. His clothes were charred and frayed. Frankly he looked dishevelled. He briefly considered what might have happened to the doctor but he didn’t care much, the fool had probably died of blood loss already and all this was probably his fault anyway.

The day had not been a total loss fortuitously. His mind replayed the scene in his head. The assassin, gripping a pipe spewing flame. Add a canister and a nozzle and you could make it portable. A new type of weapon, one people would pay through the nose for. He opened one eye and glanced at the man who had given him the idea, smiling earnestly. He could picture it now, the flamethrower.

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The true measure of a man

Azar watched Vincent mutilate the burnt remains of the once-man. The golden mask concealed a faint smile – it seemed something good had come out of this day after all.

In his travels, Azar had at one point found himself at the eastern edge of the Mountains of madness, and the border of the Jade Empire. It was there that he first came into contact with he writings of the warrior poet Shan Yu. Live with a man fourty years, Shan Yu wrote, share his house, his meals. Speak with him on every subject – You still won’t know the man. But tie him up, and hold him over a volcano’s edge. Only then, in that moment, will you truly meet the man.

Azar had had his doubts about Vincent. Vincent was callous and cruel, and potentially intelligent but only interested in anything insofar as he thought he could profit from it. He displayed little patience and a staggering superiority complex. Azar had tried to work with him mostly out of necessity, as he owed the Watcher to keep his shrine there – and Azar knew too well the price of broken bargains. But in truth, he had spent many a private moment considering how to best be rid of his new landlord.

This day had at first only reinforced his concerns. Vincent had taken him to a filthy bar filled with unruly scum, somehow figuring that these drunks and ruffians who had no respect for coin or authority would somehow make for good troopers for the fight that was to come. After a close encounter with one of the Laughing Fiends, Azar would have thought that Vincent would know better than that.

And after that, of course, things have gotten truly bad.

But watching his new business partner fight for his life to prove a point about his courage, Azar felt like Shan Yu would agree that at this moment, Azar met the true Vincent Stranglethorn. And this man might just have the capacity to achieve his ambitions. And more importantly, he could be both willing and able to help Azar achieve his.

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Diversification

He pulled on a fresh shirt carefully, winching once or twice as the bandages around his chest rubbed against the burns beneath. The Doctor assured him that the burns would heal completely, but just to be sure he made a mental note of calling on the college of surgeons, just to be certain the treatment was appropriate. He didn’t exactly trust the doctor.

A perfectly reasonable afternoon had turned very bad very quickly. All he had needed to do was go to the Sad Cuck and get a few men together for a lynching mob. He’d thought that bringing the doctor along would be a good idea, give him an idea of how to handle deals with the underworld of the city. He had not expected the doctor to be so obviously hostile to the contacts. The deal had nearly fallen apart then and there, but when it rains it pours, particularly in this city.

He had begun to repair the damage to the deal, negotiate a price and the men available when out of the blue a man claiming to be some form of friend, murdered the contact. Vincent sighed and ran his fingers through his hair as he remembered the chaos that followed .The demon possessed corpse, the fire, the crowd, wielding a sword and cutting the corpse in half. It had been a very eventful afternoon, one he would have liked to avoid.

To make matters worse, the crowning turd in the water pipe, he was being called in by the King of Broken Glass to answer for the fire and the destruction of the pub. Fortunately that situation was not hopeless. If the king of Broken Glass wanted him dead he’d be dead already, he still had some wiggle room to come out of this on top. Unfortunately he’d be watched over the coming weeks, making sure he wasn’t up to something. That was a disaster. If there was one thing Vincent Stranglethorn hated it was being delayed and being watched would put back the weapons stockpiling by weeks.

All this, this fucking cock-up all because of one man who claimed to be his friend. A man who would suffer for meddling in his affairs.

The only useful piece of information he had received was that these demon things could indeed be killed, if not by powder and shot then by sword. He’d have to send word to the factory and tell them to diversify. Alchemical weapon’s would do little against such creatures.

Tonight they’d have a good old fashioned murderer hunt and then he could start putting things back on track. He’d just have to adjust the time scales slightly. Still, nothing he couldn’t handle.

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Just Business

Vincent leaned back in his chair and looked order the blueprints on the table. Work was progressing quickly which was exactly how he liked it. Efficiency and order in everything. Soon the foundations would be complete and then work would begin on the structure itself. Not just a home, not just and office, a nerve centre to command from.

He rose to his feet pushing the chair out behind him and crossed the tent space to the shelves. Four flintlock pistols sat, powered and ready to fire. He lifted one of a good weight and replaced the empty one on his belt with it. He was getting through shot at quite a pace and it was always good to keep a loaded gun on you. Especially when there were demon summoners and brainless murders on the land.

The sound of footsteps in the mud drew his eyes up from his work. A middle aged man in workman’s clothes stood at the entrance to the tent waiting to be addressed.

“Andrew.”

“Mr Stranglethorn.” The man bowed and removed his hat before stepping into the tent. “It’s 2 o’clock.”

“I’m aware of that.” Any normal worker would have been shot for pointing out something so obvious, but Andrew was a good foreman and, fear or not, good foremen were had to come by. “Give me your report.”

“The last of the timbers and ash has been removed sir and we are beginning to level out the ground. We should be ready to begin digging proper by the end of the day.”

“Good, if you need more workers to keep to your timelines then have them brought in.”

“Of course sir an-“

“And materials collected form the docks.”

“Yes sir, very good sir.” He turned to leave and Vincent went back to his work. “There is… just one thing sir.”

“Yes?”

“Might I… ask you a question?”

“You just did.”

“Yes sir, very good sir. Might I ask another… two?”

“Yes. That’s one.”

“Why this manor sir? There are so many prime homes and town houses throughout the city, much more important places to set up a home or offices. Why this manor? Why go to all the trouble of tearing it down and rebuilding on the land?”

Vincent turned to him and regarded him for a moment. Andrew seemed to shrink under his stare. In one fluid motion he lifted a chair and set it down in front of his own with a dull thud.

“Take a seat and I’ll tell you.” Vincent returned to his own chair as Andrew crossed the tent carefully and sat down. Vincent steepled his fingers while he regarded Andrew. He was known to do that when deep in thought. After a minute of tortuous silence for Andrew, Vincent finally spoke.

“Do you remember 10 years age, the siege of Rai’ta?”

“Yes sir. It was all over the papers. Bunch of rebels rose up and took over the city, killed the nobles and proclaimed an equal society.” Andrew shifted a little in his seat under Vincent’s stare. It seemed as though his boss was trying to read whether or not he supported their views.

“Correct. I had a small firm at that point and the army, understocked and unprepared as it was at the time purchased every weapon it could get its hands on to try and take back the city. Naturally I wanted to see how effective our weapons were so I went to the siege. The fighting was fierce, it lasted for weeks. They had mortars shelling the city”

“I recall sir.”

“One day I decided to get a closer look at the action, try to see if I could find any way of improving our weapons so I headed into the city.” His eyes became distant as he watched the past replay. “I found a small school. When I got there it was a sports day, or had been a sports day. You know running races, long jump, and picnic, that type of thing. It looked like it had been a really lovely day, until someone decided to use percussion cannon balls in the mortars and dropped two on the playing field. Mortars are very inaccurate. One strong breeze and they’ll go miles off course. Any way, one was quicklime and one was Blackfire, I don’t know how your Alchemy is.”

“Blackfire?”

“So the idea of the mixture was to stop people getting masks on. The Blackfire burnt the hands and faces of the children. Melted the skin which allowed the quicklime to attack the breathing muscles. A lot of the kids had lung tissue around their mouths and on their faces. That was the first time I saw alchemical weapons being used up close.”

“And… you supplied these sir?”

“No, no sorry no, I had nothing to do with it, no that’s not the point at all. I started selling Blackfire after that event. Because of it. I saw what everybody saw, I saw 112 children and 58 adults, but, and this is the point, where they was tragedy, I saw opportunity. I. saw. Business. So when everyone else looks at this hill and see fear, suspicion, demons, devils, foreign witch doctors and mad scientists tell me, what do you think I see?”

“Opportunity.”

“Exactly.” Vincent rose from his chair. “Now not that I don’t enjoy talking to you Andrew but would you be so kind as to return to your duties, we are on a schedule.”

“Of course Mr Stranglethorn. Thank you for your time.”

“Not a problem Andrew, any time.” He motioned towards the exit of the tent and the foreman obliged him by leave promptly. Allowing him to return to his work.

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Reasons to be Fearful, Part 4
To take us up to the moment...

The trial and acquittal of Lord Stumble-bum has been and gone with surprisingly little comment. The investigation was over and done with in a day, after which the Prince’s council has been quick to reassure the populace that rumours of witchcraft and sorcery were heavily overblown. A mere cultural misunderstanding to be dispelled by the light of understanding and sincere inquiry.

Indeed if anyone were to blame at all, it was certainly the ex-Lord Blackheath, a man heavily involved in the party arrangements but who didn’t show up on the eve. Did he plot the whole dark affair in order to sew wickedness and misunderstanding between the good people of Mellanford Key and the Caliphate? We can only assume so! Regardless, the good folk will be reassured to learn that Blackheath’s lordship has been stripped, and awarded to one Oswaldo Fall, whose testimony was considered critical in the acquittal of Lord Stumble-bum. Blackheath allegedly didn’t even show up to defend himself, a sure sign of guilt.

Whilst most of the city has accepted the party as all blown over, the noble Tygan family has found itself at odds. Tygan the Younger, another critical witness at the inquiry, has come out firmly in support of the Caliphate ambassador and culture, whilst Lord Tygan is rumoured to have nothing but bad to say about the affair, and the Caliphate in general. Strife between family members is always hard, and the city hopes that Tygans elder and younger will reconcile soon.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to almost all, a carefully-written letter is passed from perfumed hand, to courier, to spy, to watcher, to master and, eventually, into the sight of the Caliph himself.

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Get Out Alive

Lord Stumble-Bum did something he had not done for a very long time, not since he was a child. He ran. In two long strides he jumped from the carriage at the gates to his manor and ran up the path towards his home. The grounds were a mess. Burned tent still lay where it had fallen in the mud and blood. Boot prints, smashed flowers, discarded shoes and gloves. There was also still some bodies lying around and groups of police patrolling the grounds but he payed little attention to these, he was too busy panicking.

He bounded up the steps and barged through the front door with a crash.

“SULLIVAN!”

He roared at the top of his voice, he did not have time to be subtle. He strode into the living room looking wildly around himself.

“SULLIVAN!”

“My Lord, are you ok?” Big Martha had emerged from the kitchen, meat cleaver in hand. “We were not expecting you today.”

“You, cook woman, pack your bags now.”

“My Lord?”

“I said pack your bags, we’re leaving. Where the hell is Sullivan?!”

“He’s in the drawing room your Lordship.”

F. ran from the living room towards the drawing room, panting and sweating in his desperation. He found Sullivan shuffling through with a tray in his hands.

“You called sir?”

“Sullivan!” He grabbed each shoulder of the butler. “We’ve been deceived! The whole city is out to have me killed, I’m at war with the King of Eyes and I didn’t even know it, people think I’m some kind of sorcerer carrying out black magic and to top it all off those… those Vagabonds, those scoundrels and villains I called friends, who I took to my bosom and provided a haven for when all others wanted their heads, have tried to steal my land out from under my feet. Vipers, lairs, thieves.” He shook Sullivan so violently he dropped the tray.

“And what do you intend to do my Lord?” Sullivan replayed impassively and composed.

“I am a general in an army, in a war I didn’t even know existed, and, like any sensible man in a war, we’re going to desert. Pack your bags, have the big carriage brought round, tell Bottle-berry or whatever his name is to go out into the street and let it be known that Lord Stumble-Bum is selling his manner. I cannot protect it when I’m not here and I am not staying to wait for another, literal dagger in my back.”

“What of the Vipers sir?”

“I will deal with them” He said with a face of thunder “now go, hurry we must be gone within the hour!”

He released Sullivan and ran for the stairs, galloping up them two at a time. He ran for his own room, flustered and distressed he didn’t stop to open the door and rather, went through it. Splitters scattered everywhere as he grabbed several bags and filled them with everything he thought he’d need, clothes, boots, papers what little coin he had, he threw it all into the bags in a hurry. He looked around his room, the room that had been his fathers and grandfathers, the room he now was forced to flee, all because of those damned dogs.

He strode from the room purposely, fists clenched, jaw tight. He reached the doctor’s room first. Putting his foot to the door it opened with a crash. He walked straight through the room and pushed open the window. Taking in hand everything he could he began tossing everything that belonged to the doctor through the window. He worked quickly, going through the draw and cupboards, looking under the bed, throwing everything he could find through the window into the mud below.

When he had sated his ire for the doctor he headed towards the Diplomat’s room. Again he forced the door and stormed through the room towards the window, flinging it open. He began to ransack the room, taking everything that looked valuable, shiny, gold, and stuffing it into his pockets, down his trousers, at one point he had to leave the room and return with another bag. His intention had been to fling everything that did not look valuable through the window and take the rest but when he had finished and the bed lay flipped and the cupboards laid bare, there was nothing really to throw through the window. Instead he took all the gold as recompense for the betrayal done to him.

Finally he headed for Grey’s room. It had not escaped his notice that the boy had eluded the authorities and not come to aid in their predicament. He put his weight behind his shoulder and crashed against the door only to find that it wasn’t locked or even closed. He fell through it onto the floor and was met with the site of an empty room. Nothing remained of the manservant, no trace at all. He pulled himself to his feet and left the room feeling unsatisfied that his anger had not found its outlet.

He met Sullivan in the main hallway, the butler was dressed for travel while Lord Stumble-bum was ladened down with bags full of his own possessions and all he’d liberated from the foreign devil.

“Sullivan, are we ready?”

“We are your Lordship, the carriage has been brought round.”

“Good, lets get out of here, who knows when these assassins might strike.”

He headed out through the main doors, he’s trusty servant in tow. Ahead of him, at the end of the pathway a large carriage strapped with luggage waited for him. He could make out Martha’s well-built forearm waiting within for himself and Sullivan. This sight was not what held his attention however. Standing between it and him in the middle of the pathway was a middle aged man with a beard. He was well dressed in a waist coat with his shirt shelves rolled up and his hands clasped behind his back. He stood straight and tall, a commanding figure.

Lord Stumble-Bum Stopped in his tracks and looked the man over.

“And who might you be?”
The man put his fingers to his lips and whistled. From the end of the pathway two large men emerged carrying between them a sizeable chest. They struggled with the weight as they walked, finally coming to a stop before the man and dropping the chest on the ground. Each of them grabbed the lid and flipped it open revealing a chest full of silver.

Lord Stumble-Bum gasped in awe and shock. The man waved one hand loosely and his two servants shut the lid and carried the chest towards the carriage. The gentleman in charge produced from within his waistcoat a piece of paper and advanced up the pathway, presenting it to Sullivan.

“My Lord, it’s a bill of Sale.”

The Lord looked at the man and smiled

“You could not have come at a better time.” The man did not respond, his features did not change as he produced a quill and handed it to Lord Stumble-Bum who eagerly signed. He did not wait for the ink to dry before he took off down towards the carriage with Sullivan behind. The Manor or the bodies in the grounds were no longer his concern.

He climbed into the carriage, pausing briefly to look back at his ancestral home. There had been many happy times here but now, he left the city a much richer man, if a lot less safe. He banged the side of the carriage.

“South Marford Driver, and don’t spare the whip.”

The carriage took off down the lane towards the city gates. As they left he heard another whistle ring out and what looked like 50 workers carrying sledge hammers appeared from side streets and headed towards tumbledown hill.

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Reasons to be Fearful, Part 3
Better late than never!

The night of Caliphate themed festivities on Tumbledown hill has kicked off a bit of a fad in the city. Street vendors hawk painted trinkets and bone idols they claim to be of ancient Sumerian origin, and real antiquities are moving off the shelves faster than they can be stocked. The stories of Lord Stumblebum’s party have been so outlandish, bizarre, and interesting that for the first time in a generation, people of the city are beginning to take a genuine interest in cultures outside their own.

Those who have managed to acquire genuine protective artifacts might find themselves better served than expected. Reports of a number of strange and brutal murders throughout the city are spreading through the fledgling public press, who will print stories on anything that bleeds. Just another aspect of the ongoing gang war? Some psychopathic serial killer? Or something out of this world entirely?

Certainly the city’s security services aren’t doing anything to catch the culprit. The sudden and unexpected disappearance of the Lord Goodheart, the King of Eyes and premier ruler of the underworld has thrown the usual groups of uniformed thugs into internecine chaos as they struggle to agree on a successor. Much of the city is still in disbelief, choosing to trust that the King will shortly return, and unwilling to support anyone else against him. But unless he returns quickly, a full-blown collapse in the precarious structure he built is likely.

And in a rare, happy story of rags to riches, the popular foreigner Oswaldo Fall seems to have come into a significant amount of money recently. Surely the society columns will be clamouring for an interview with this newly-eligible bachelor.

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Late night mussings

“Hello?”

He walked allow the corridor, candle holder in hand, nightcap on head. His slippers muffled the sound of his footsteps but not the creaking of the floorboards as he slowly advanced through his home, looking for the source of the noise. Over the last few days he had begun to notice more and more voices in the Manor. At first he’d put it down to the patients in the doctor’s clinic and the workmen busily repairing and refurbishing the home. At night though, when there was no-one around after everyone had gone to their beds he still heard them.

The voices always seemed to be coming from the next room along. If he pressed his ear to the wall he could hear them more clearly but still couldn’t quite make out what they were saying. When he went to investigate who was hiding there the rooms were always empty. Someone was playing a game with him, either that or they had lodgers.

Everything really had gone downhill since those new people moved in. The doctor brought all manner of peasant through the front door with his work. A strange, unnerving man. When he looked at you you never felt that he saw you, rather, he saw your organs, your conditions. He saw possibilities. The foreigner made the place untidy and generally seemed to be taking over the manor with his own designs. He also had a strange manor to him. It was really no surprise that he had been sent to this manor. No other Noble would dare take him in. Then there was the new servant. That one was a problem. She was constantly around, getting in the way, preventing the proper running of the manor. She was up to something definitely. He’d have to keep an eye on her.

He preferred the way things used to be, when it was just the three of them. It was a quiet life, a poor life, but a quiet life, straight forward, with a nobility all of its own. Easily managed. No-one takes notice, No one tries anything. They can just live out their last days happy and quiet. But no, instead these new people came along and-

“SULLIVAN”

Lord Stumble-Bum’s voice boomed throughout the house. Sullivan sighed and turned, shuffling back down the corridor clutching his candle holder.

“Coming sir.” His lordship would be having more problems with his foot. “I’ll get the doctor.” Things were never simple anymore. This party was going to be a disaster.

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And tonight's entertainment is....

And thus began the part he always loathed. The seemingly long walk through makeshift corridors comprised of wagons and tents. There were peasants that lived in finer housing than his master, still – not the title makes the man, man fills the title with fear. The agent had served under many Gates but this one was special. He always laughed about the rumours the common folk would spread about the Caliph’s elite – offspring of the gods, witches, demons; all powerful, immortal and awe abiding. A fun story over a good beer usually but this time he wasn’t too sure if he shouldn’t join the peasants in their naïve fear, after all it kept them alive and he always has been fond of remaining breathing.

This lust for life was what had made him one of the best in his craft. Even though well aged by now, he was looking back at a glorious past of fearlessness, bravery and commitment. The visions of his past were utterly disrupted by the tremble in his hands. He nearly had made it to the main tent and fear was shacking him like a young tree in a storm. Walking these simple halls had the same grandeur he would feel when walking through the enormous temples of his childhood. This, however, was a cursed temple of shadows – its incense the vicious smell of the back alleys, its gold the dirt on rotting fabric, its divinity soaked in death.

He took a deep breath and steadied his mind. His hands produced the invitation from his robes and with the decisive step that was so typical for him he entered. As was caliphate court protocol there would never be a source of light, any direct conversation and no eye contact with the Gate of the West. Swiftly upon brushing through the veils and cloths that separated the hall and the main tent he would sit in a humble position and bow as deep as his nimble but broken body would allow him to. He always has been curious, it was his nature and – as has been tradition – he took yet another well concealed look into the darkness whilst bowing.

He filled his research with the nonsensical and strenuous greeting that was so loved by everyone at home. His people loved titles. Then he saw it – the silhouette in absolute darkness, the silhouette that seemed to devour the black around it, shift in its form and be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Struggling to keep his composure he began his report. “The ambassador has received his instructions. He has already been very useful. He is a fool but he will be of service.” he said whilst unrolling the invitation to the Stumble-Bum fete.

Silence befell the scene. He had done his reporting but it did not feel like he was done. He knew he was waiting, they all had for years now. Impatience was messing with his posture and he was fighting his body to remain still. In the swirling of anticipation and restlessness he almost forgot where he was when a voice cut through the silence. It was a sweet female tone though it resembled nothing of the nurturing, motherly nature one would expect to hear carrying with it.

“It is time. Tell the others.” the voice whispered and the room sank back into black silence. He could feel the darkness bending into a malicious smile. Leaving as the shaken tree that he had arrived as he made his way back through the unholy halls of this foul temple. Mumbling, he recalled his earlier thought “not the title makes the man, man fills the title with fear.” And by the gods, how afraid he was.
Only a few hours later the Stumble-Bum Manor’s request for exotic evening entertainment had a satisfying response. Sallah, to honour the arrival of His Excellency Azrael al-Ahmad, had procured Madame Desdemona and assured the good Lord Stumble-Bum that her show had never failed to absolutely dazzle. Furthermore, for the purpose of service and wellbeing of the many guests, Sallah offered the helping hand of a dozen of his most trusted and capable servants.

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