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The piper's due (A story from Rookery Row)

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Joined: 28 Dec 2013
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Can Be Found: Rookery Row, the living catacombs of squalor in the shadows between Old Temple and Dockside
325.00 Silver Crowns


PostPosted: Mon Jan 06, 2014 12:47 am    Post subject: The piper's due (A story from Rookery Row) Reply with quote

It was well past the witching hour when Shepard loped silently across the ever amorphous boundary into the Row, booted feet kicking up kicking up the wet gray remnants of snow and his shoulder hunched against the invisible whips of winter air that lashed through the winding alleys. The cold wasn't as bothersome as the need to show some measure of normalcy or what passed for it in Rhy'din. The season and the hour made the loiterer's scarce, save for the beggings of the poor (or crafty) and the boastful brawling that occurred comfortably close to the warm glow coming from the windows of the few taphouses still open. Even's amongst the neighborhood's denizens, not many knew where it began or where it ended, surmising (if they even cared) that it belonged in equals parts (maps be damned) to the Old Temple and to Dockside, the latter of which had been the oft smiling man's choice.

It was a hard art to perfect, hurrying while appearing unhurried, but the navigation of gritty streets was second nature to him and each turn was taking with near unconscious ease as if the place had been drawn flawlessly on the canvas of his mind. Shepard knew he'd dawdled too long in the vaunted halls of armed combat beneath the Red Dragon Inn, playing the part of the would-be gentleman (a laughable notion) and flirting as dangerously with a different class of people as he had with that pretty elfess with the silver-white hair. A foolish dalliance, all around. Stupid, stupid.

And now he was late. Very late.

One last turn expelled him onto one of the broader avenues, all worn cobblestone in the street and wall crooked buildings jammed together to loom overall. They were all dark, save for the last, which stood as a beacon with warm yellow-orange light spilling through too many windows for area with such a reputation. Wrought iron shapes filled each pane of glass in the shapes of wild animals, mythical to mundane, creating dancing shadows upon the wide swaths of light stretching out across the ground.

The Glass Menagerie was aptly named (for more than one reason) and was still doing a steady spot of business when Shepard shouldered his way in, wiping away whatever trace amounts of trepidation had lingered and affecting a playfully malign mien. There were reputations to be maintained after all. The stinging curls and unpleasant stench of smoke made his nose wrinkle up, only adding to a facade meant to make the locals wary, with more than one shove of an elbow or butting of a shoulder opening a path towards the bar. Beneath a well groomed mop of silver-green hair, wintergreen eyes greeted him from behind the bar with a bemused accompaniment of, "Determined to try His patience this week, aren't we?"

The eyes and the voice belonged to one Oberis Frostpane, the frighteningly genial proprietor of the Menagerie who held him in light regard as he wiped down the bar's top. The man was tall and slight, with all the fine features and pointed ears of the fae born.

"Dallying with the dueling riff-raff again?"

Shepard's painted on smile curled deeper with the dangerous nonchalance that marked one among the many reasons he'd been chosen for the position he held. He said nothing at first, making a point in silence when he shoved a goblin off of it's stool and stretched himself out across the bar's top to collect a bottle from beneath. The glance given to the wrinkle faced offendee dared him to protest before his attention shifted back to the man tending the bar.

"I got distracted, Oberis. Happens from time to time. If the He needed me so badly, he would have sent one of the goblins. Or one of the cutpurses. He didn't, so it couldn't have been important." The cap was twisted off the bottle of rum, heavier fare than he had been consuming outside of the Row, and lifted for a deep drink. "So cut the 'you're in trouble' sing-song act, eh?" On any other night he would have known better, but in the aftermath of his departure from the Arena he'd grown agitated.

"Be that as it may, O' Vigilant," the faerie creature mocked him, unconcerned and smug. "You were given a few hours reprieve and not only did you squander it with pointless social banter far above your status, you took more than you were given. You of all should know what is yours to take and what isn't. The Piper won't be pleased, Shepard. Isn't pleased."

The bartender paused and then leaned in, lowering his voice before whispering.

"He had plans for this night, boy. Business for the Beast and you are very much aware that he can't have you gallivanting as you will when the creature of the tattered cloak is doing his will. It would be your death and as much as I would enjoy hearing some drunken troubadour singing of your grisly demise, I too answer to his whim. Pity He likes you so much." Oberis' smile widened for the sudden subtle change in Shepard's gaze, though the expression never changed. "You still owe the Piper His due. A message awaits you in the Grotto."

There was no reply from the man he taunted, a last mouthful of rum (perhaps two or three) swallowed down before he eased away from the bar. Instead he did as he was instructed, shoving a few more loudly celebrating patron's aside and reveling momentarily in the wide berth they so suddenly gave him. With a hard push to set the door open, he stepped back out into the frigid solitude of the night.

Another night of giving the Piper His due, which wasn't terribly different than giving the Devil His.
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Can Be Found: Rookery Row, the living catacombs of squalor in the shadows between Old Temple and Dockside
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 16, 2014 10:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The Grotto itself was just that, literally named and little more than a deep watery cave someone had long ago cut into one of the deeper recesses of the sewer. It was a message hub (of sorts) for many of the Piper's more trusted associates. For all of it's simplicity, it was an eerie place of fell magic and discomforting shadows.

Beware the tides of change,
Crashing upon the blue stone shore,
The swell a silver-white weaving,
O'er twins of coral for deceiving,

Mind the blade and guard your secret,
'Ware the rags and steel your spine,
Double so for whispers dulcet,
Both will seal your fate.

The pitch and roll of the words themselves were as steady as a ship on the open sea, mesmerizing to the right ears. Especially in refrain and echoing off wet walls. The origins of the ominous words were a mystery, as were a great many of the messages passed through the halls, and made for a haunting arrival. Haunting but not intimidating.

Shepard was a hard man to cow.

But here he didn't have to wear any masks. No charming smiles and no witty retorts. No judicious bully tactics disguised in concerned words and no regretful tuts as a vigilant hand. Instead he took a knee at the waters edge, out of necessity and not reverence, to listen to the chant and play it over in his head. His face was a mask of emotionless calm; casual disregard for... everything. Or nearly so. A thing sorely lacking in humanitas.

The voice of the Grotto spoke in riddles as often as plain speech, but there were times when neither made much sense. Sometimes it was the Piper's will and other times pure gibberish. To him, the disjointedly poetic offering felt like more of the latter. But were that so, then why was he here?

"Not bein' very helpful tonight, are we?" It wasn't uncommon for Shepard to speak to the voice like it was some grandparent in it's dotage, prone to rambling without rhyme or reason. (Alright, there was one regretful tut. For the sake of the moment.) "There wouldn't be a potential lash of the tongue, of the whip, for some of your hoodoo jibberish. And the Piper himself wouldn't want me informed and then out of the Beast's way if it weren't important. So, give it a spit or I'll be on my way. The Courtesan's Smile might be better for somethin' warm. Or someone."

He tilted his head, mucking through the moment and raking free the half measure of a smile, more playfully condescending than mirthful. No answer came, save for the continued echo of the same words. Over and over. Minutes passed. "Alright then," he said eventually, when patience for the moment was finally exhausted. "A hot drink and jiggling bosum it is."

Shepard rose and turned to depart with the intent to pay the situation no more mind.

Warton Miles. Selling information to constabulary to pay the Piper's tax. Deal with it.

With a flicker of irritation, he glanced over his shoulder. "Understood."

So much for the jiggling bosum.
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Can Be Found: Rookery Row, the living catacombs of squalor in the shadows between Old Temple and Dockside
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 17, 2014 10:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Two nights later.

Warton Miles thought he was so smart.

The colporteur's shop was barely modest by more than a few degrees, comparable at best to an over glorified newsstand recessed into the shop faces looking outwards into the avenue and with his trade painted sloppily on the dingy windows. Not one of the busier avenues in Old Temple, mind you, but busy enough to make a man hungry for patronage but passed by often enough by all but a handful who wanted little more than to haggle over yesterday's edition of the Rhy'din Post. Despite the religious moniker of the district, very few were interested in devotional literature. This time of year it was hard to eek out a living and still pay the type of protection money required to prevent a total loss.

So some time previous, the forward thinking man (which was really something of a stretch) had started to serve coffee and tea inside the tiny little shop in addition to his typical purveyance. It netted Warton very little money but boasted the clever (but not very original) idea of allowing him to listen to gossip. Much to his pleasure, the biting chill of winter chased more than a few talkative souls in. Thinking even more (alas, one can have all the ideas in the world but not the common sense to use them properly), he'd found himself one constable of the Watch with a desire to build a reputation and a generous purse...

But there was an old saying about what loose lips do.

It was well past nightfall and the shop's typical time for closing, but as older men were want to do, he would ramble on when anyone was of a mind to listen. Tonight it was one Tom Bottry, of an age and just as verbose, so the pair had prattled on for sometime and had become oblivious to the hour. The soft tinkle of the door's bell became the sudden reminder, drawing both men's attention briefly when a black coat and a gray stocking cap disappeared down one of the shop's few tall aisles.

"I supposed you should be off then, Tom," Warton nodded his head towards the door, "and I should be closing up and getting home to Eunice. After one last sale, perhaps." He added with a dry laugh and a slap of a leathery hand down upon the counter top.

"I suppose I should, Wart." His friend adjusted his scarf and made for the door with all the unhurried grace of an old pack mule. "Give Eunice my best. The children too if you're too see them soon."

"You and yours too, Tom."

The bell tinkled again when Tom left, leaving the proprietor's attention to shift to the random sounds of wet boot soles on linoleum flooring, the only real reminder that he wasn't alone. He was growing impatient, in the piss-and-vinegar tone that was the province of old men. "Come on now, son, get a move on. Either you want something or you don't. This isn't a wayside, it's a shop. Do we have business?"

"No purchase on the agenda tonight, Mister Miles," the patron said casually, much in the same vein of one who knew something the other didn't. "But we do have business."

The casual indifference. The dark blue-green-gray of his gaze, like placid seawater before a storm. That smile.

"Y-y-you're..." Warton stammered at Shepard, who rounded the aisle until only the counter lay between them. "The money is paid. I paid it yesterday!"

"You've had quite the windfall lately, Mister Miles." Shepard's hands were tugged from the pockets of his peacoat and planted atop the counter, allowing for an easy lean forward. Closer. "Doin' better than you should be for such full shelves. And our benefactor's money on time too?"

"I swear, shepherd, I..." The words were choked off from the sudden strangling grip of strong fingers wrapped around the old man's throat. Watery eyes bulged, lifted fearfully to the set dangerously close to his.

"No cliche exchange, Mister Miles." The larger man's smile hadn't faded, but his tone held a heartless chill. "I don't have the time to turn this into a witty discourse. We're gonna make this simple. A name. He wants a name. Who?"

The grip relaxed, offering Warton enough breath to gasp a name.

"Rillin Flet. Rillin Flet!"

Shepard's grip loosened further, until the other man was free and stumbled back against the wall with a cry. Pawing at his throat, he struggled to find his breath and compose himself as the smiling one turned his back. He made for the door.

"Does... does this mean I'm forgiven?" One Warton Miles dared to hope.

A hope that was dashed when Shepard locked the door.

"No, Mister Miles. The Piper still requires his due..."

It would be well past midnight when Eunice arrived at her husband's little shop, concerned when he wasn't home for supper, and further worried when the hour grew far too late. The simple turn of a key let her in, her curious call of his name becoming a sudden shriek when she found his body behind the counter. The continuous sobbing scream that followed eventually produced the Watch and a number of questions.

Witnesses? No one saw a thing. Or perhaps they weren't inclined to share.
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