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Zadara's Planescape Story Hour: Updated 7/23/2009

Zadara

First Post
ATTENTION Planars, Proxies, Primes, Paladins, Pit Fiends, Puppies, and Persons otherwise:

I am pleased to announce the posting of my very own Planescape Story Hour! In the coming weeks and months, I will share but one of many exotic accounts of danger and intrigue I have come to know. I assure that you denizens will not be disappointed.

Business here in the Lady’s Ward has been slow of late, and your favorite Titan has time to write. The initial half of my summer had been spent away working/playing in Arborea, and it is with a resigned sense of duty that I return home. You may all eagerly anticipate my updates once a week. But alas, due to the fickle nature of my work, I shan’t assign a particular day of the week to post updates. After all, flexibility is key; everybody wants a piece of Zadara, and there is only so much of me (though quite a healthy amount nonetheless) to go around.

Speaking of people wanting a piece of me, I would also like to take this opportunity to quell vicious rumors (RUMOR Mongerin'! - Wizards Community) instigated by that vile hussy Shemeska. This is nothing more than a childish and desperate attempt to one-up me once again. It seems that whenever the dealings of the self appointed “queen of the crosstrade” seem to be in recession, she clamors for attention in thinly veiled publicity stunts. In a way, I should be flattered. After all, she does try (though miserably fails) to be…me.

She lacks the potential for commerce in the same way she does for storytelling. Her strength lies not in creativity or class, but in coercion. That is why I suspect that the exquisitely written Story Hour credited to her name is actually the work of a writer she has locked up somewhere in one of her many shabby headquarters in the Cage. Nice try you pseudo-arcanaloth, but could you be capable of such a work of art? I think not.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it is very nearly four hours till antipeak, and I have an executive meeting with Estavan and another leader of a large Astral conglomerate. I look forward to reading the messages of adulation from all of my loyal followers, feel free to post them on this thread.

Goodbye, for now.

Zadara the Titan
Leader, Merkhants
Golden Lord of Sigil
 
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Shemeska

Adventurer
Pfffttt! Oh please... listen, if you're still upset about showing up at Jeremo's last party "fashionably late" only to find out that not only was I already there with more arm candy following me around than you could carry, but that I was wearing the same dress (in a considerably smaller size), and you had to go home and change...

I'm not even going to address such a preposterous notion that I might have some of my published work ghostwritten. Please. Leave that sort of stunt to a shator.

I'd say more, but I have an appointment to have my claws painted by a contract-bound eladrin princeling (It's SO amusing when they touch me and burn themselves!).

Suffice to say darling, I'll have my eye on you, and I'll be quick to have you corrected on anything slanderous that sees print!
 

Zadara

First Post
Chapter 1: The Assassination and the Assassins

Just FYI- this story is not based on a campaign, rather the thoughts rolling around in my head that needed a form of expression.
 
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Zadara

First Post
Chapter 1: The Assassination and the Assassins

We begin with an introduction to two of the three main characters: Jurgen/Dei and Ceszar.

---

Dorl Drisbane was an insignificant man. He lived in an insignificant corner of Sigil’s Hive. He had an insignificant job. His virtues, sins, indeed his whole life was insignificant.

It was therefore ironic that his death held significance.

He was the first.

Dorl had just finished a long day’s work at the warehouse, fashioning leather and hide armor. Nothing seemed out of sorts on the way back home. The streets were dark and the thugs were out. Still, that was nothing new or really threatening for the tall, well built man. He had on a studded leather vest that he himself made. A sturdy broadsword scabbarded to his belt, in addition to a concealed stiletto inside a secret pocket in his left leather boot, assured that he would be prepared in case of trouble. There was apparently no need for this well armed, wary basher to be concerned on this night.

From Tea Street, he turned into a small alley that would eventually lead to his tenement. He passed a few Hive thugs right at the turn. They wisely gave him a wide berth, and avoided eye contact. People who walked around alone at this hour in this part of Sigil were either clueless, crazy, or up to no good. Fortunately for the large Dorl, the Hive thugs thought he was the latter of the three. He had been walking for about five minutes since he turned from Tea Street, and noticed this side street was unusually quiet. No worries though, he was almost home.

Footsteps.

He suddenly turned around, hand on the hilt of his broadsword. Within the second it took his brain to take in the information, he was startled, relieved, then confused to see the somewhat familiar, wholly unthreatening figure a short distance behind him… following him?

“Oh. What are ye doing here?” Dorl managed to blurt out, his tone more suspicious than he had intended.

“I had some work to do” came the uncharacteristically cryptic reply.

“Well, ye want something to drink? I’m heading back over to me kip, M’almost there.”

“I do want something from you, but it’s not your drinks.” The voice was colder than Dorl had recalled.

Something was wrong.

Dorl began to retighten his grasp on the hilt of his broadsword, getting ready to draw it. He never got the chance. The hilt suddenly became extremely hot to the touch. As Dorl instinctively moved his hand away, he quickly realized that it wasn’t the hilt. His hand was still burning… but not just his hand, his arm, then shoulders. He screamed. It was as if his whole body was thrust into flames of the Abyss, but he could see no fire, nor smell any burning.

BUT HE WAS BURNING! Dorl couldn’t believe it. He had never been in so much pain before. It felt as if his blood was boiling on the inside, but looked perfectly normal on the outside. He couldn’t think properly through the excruciation. This situation didn’t make sense. He knew what he had to do.

A few seconds later, the unthreatening figure walked away from Dorl’s dead, awkwardly twisted body lying in the middle of the street. Blood was pooling beneath the base of his skull, behind the point where his hidden stiletto stuck out, still grasped by his own left hand.

He had killed himself.


---


Meanwhile… at Dshicas’Graz – A Baatezu Detention Facility in the prison plane of Carcerai:

It was midday in Carceri, and the third batch of mortal inmates had just been taken outside for their daily toil. There were only about a score of prisoners in each batch. The group walked out, all of them dressed in off-white prison rags that resembled bed sheets with two holes for the arms and one for the head. Adamantium shackles on their bare feet, interconnected via chains, made up the rest of their wardrobe.

It was hot. The parched, cracked earth reddened with blood and iron no longer seemed to bother the prisoners, most of whom had long since broken blisters and developed calluses on the undersides of their feet. Most of this batch were human or tiefling, though there was a Drow and two Githyanki to add to species diversity.

For the past three months, the prisoners had been tasked to continue the digging of a circular trench for the construction of an inner wall. Dshicas’Graz was already enclosed by a circular wall. New plans for increasing security within the compound were made due to increasingly aggressive Trocopota raids over the last year. At the completion, there would be two concentric circles of a stone- green steel blend of fortification. The prisoners worked long hours every day, and were allowed large water buckets and 10 minute breaks every two hours so as not to die from heat stroke. The rotation was such that a batch of mortal prisoners would not work in midday heat in consecutive days, but alternate between night and day.

The prison guards were specially trained kytons. They resembled rotting zombies with a large part of their bodies covered in chains. Slithering ever so slowly over the thier bodies and sporting wicked barbs, the chains promised a gruesome punishment to any prisoner who tried to leave. There were about thirty chain devils guarding the entire compound, four of which whom were to relentlessly scrutinize the prisoners that were digging the trench. Their human eyes with dirty, yellow pupils were filled with an indescribable hatred for the inmates. The only thing protecting the prisoners from being thrashed to death by the twisting chains was the strict hierarchy of the Baatezu. The superiors who commissioned Dshicas’Graz gave orders to keep the inmates alive. They had deemed these poor souls either too valuable or too dangerous to simply execute. The vast majority of the mortals were bargaining chips/ransoms to eventually be used as pawns, or until they outlived their relative usefulness. Among the group were leaders of cults, princesses, brigands and assassins, to name a few; however, here it didn’t matter who they were or what they did in their lives. This was all that remained until they were used. Or until they were killed. They were milked of any and all useful information by the prison warden – a kyton warlock named Tsi’das - who used creative methods of torture (an example: placing the prisoners into a pit of poisonous snakes, and slowly dripping a mixture of healing potion/antidote upon them) to break even the most obstinate of minds. Even without their secrets, these poor sods were still worth more alive than dead.

Among these unfortunates was a human male whom the Baatezu had nearly killed when they first encountered him in the gatetown of Rigus. Unlike most bloods who were interested in purchasing a particularly powerful and rare weapon from the city armory, this one actually had the jink and magical items necessary to barter for them. This combined with the fact that he was an unknown, led the armory to notify the authorities. He was promptly arrested, stripped of his possessions and readied for execution. No one but the authorities know quite what he told them to spare his life, but after a few hours in detention he was instead sent to Tsi’das for…further questioning.

He arrived at Dshicas’Graz unconscious and awoke inside Tsi’das’s interrogation chamber. Completely naked, his body was muscular, though not bulky. Short black hair and dark eyes perfectly matched the mysterious black tattoo of a phoenix rising from the ashes that was etched onto his pale back. A handsome, angular face, marred by dark circles under the eyes along with a cut body marred by a good amount of scars, gave the impression of someone from a nurtured past who was thrust too quickly upon the rough denizens and sad truths of the multiverse. He called himself Dei. His real name was unknown, but perhaps it actually was Dei; he continued to call himself so after Tsi’das’s torture. In the very first interrogation, the kyton slowly amputated his leg using a spiked chain that repeatedly circled his upper thigh until the final thread of the marrow snapped. Through his excruciating screams and blood loss, it was revealed that his wealth came from information brokering in the Outlands. He claimed to be purchasing the weapons for personal protection, both before and after having his legs and arms temporarily amputated, his loins flattened by metal clamps, and continuous thought probing. The kyton usually did not need more than one session to extract all the information he wanted, and the case was the same here.

Or was it? Despite Tsi’das’s confidence in his methods of torture, he had an odd feeling about Dei. All of the Baatezu intelligence available to the kyton warlock did not confirm nor deny the claims Dei made about his personal history. Moreover, his knowledge of certain Tan’aari strongholds and known infiltrators was as good as that of the Baatezu themselves. After about a month of psionic probing, Tsi’das did not really doubt any of the claims he made about his personal history… and that is what bothered him. Another odd thing the kyton warlock observed was that it took a lot longer to bring Dei to the throes of death (which meant longer interrogations for the poor sod), and he did not need nearly as much healing as the others Tsi’das interrogated. For example, reattaching amputated limbs was a slow and painful process that took days in every other prisoner, whereas Dei’s limbs were reattached and regained full function within 10 hours, or about a night’s rest. The kyton would never admit it to anyone, or even to himself, but deep within the unconscious recesses of his fiendish mind there was a real fear of what Dei could be hiding.

At this particular moment, Tsi’das was observing the batch outside via a scrying spell in his chamber deep within the compound. The shackled bunch appeared exhausted, but willing to endure so as not to draw the warlock’s wrath. Dei was once again working next to the Half-elf priest of Tyr, Rrask. For the month that he had been here, Dei had only opened his mouth to speak to Tsi’das or Rrask. The two had shovels and were quickly going about their work. Rrask was about Dei’s height, but much more slender. Were he a human, he would be considered emaciated, yet this type of build was typical of a Half-Elf. The two had been spending more time together of late, and this bothere--

Tsi’das was interrupted by his second in command at the door, a dodgy kyton simply designated as ‘Deux’ (The whole compound had a strict Baatezu hierarchy in which one’s rank was designated by number – from 2 to 30).

Still standing at the door, he started telepathically, “forgive my intrusion master, but Sar’atuu has requested the internment of a Ysguardian bariaur prince.” Like most Devils, Tsi’das loathed his superior, the cornugon Sar’atuu. Under Sar’atuu’s patronship, Tsi’das had been stuck at the same post for almost a century, without promotion or accolades. He knew the cornugon was purposefully stunting his progress through the Baatezu ranks.

“Hmm.. I don’t enjoy keeping animals. How long is it to stay here?”

“Under a month master, and the commission will be twice the regular rate” Deux relayed back telepathically.

“Very well, Deux, inform Sar’atuu that I have space for his request. And I want it in writing that it will not be for longer than a month”

“As you wish master.”

Deux left, quickly.

Tsi’das made it a point to lock his door before he resumed scrying. His chamber was soundproof and allowed him the privacy he needed to conduct his affairs. It also contained the official documents and blueprints of the current prison (including all the secret passageways and portals… some that only Tsi’das knew about), as well as the future blueprints for expansion. His chamber also had a special section devoted solely to torturing the prisoners. The kyton warlock kept his personal items as well as those which he confiscated from the prisoners (and seldom returned upon their release), right here as well. Tsi’das was highly secretive and had good reason to be. His subordinates wisely respected his privacy, almost never entering his chamber without the utmost precedent and caution.

When he finally resumed scrying, he realized something was wrong outside.

Three kyton guards had gathered around a fallen inmate, shackled right next to Rrask. It was Dei. The rest of the batch paused their shoveling to see. Tsi’das also got a good look. The human was on the ground in the fetal position, violently convulsing. The watchmen unshackled him from the rest of the batch and removed the sheet covering his body to reveal a slightly swollen, reddened stomach. The man was still shaking as one of the watchmen carried him away, towards Tsi’das.

“BACK TO WORK!!” Another of the watchmen screamed as he whipped the ground with a spiked chain, galvanizing the other inmates to quickly move their attention back to the task at hand.

Were Tsi’das was still observing the scene outside, he would have seen Rrask explain to the guards what he thought was happening to Dei. He would have heard Rrask say that the human was suffering from a rare type of heat stroke, and suggest they send Dei his bucket of water as well as Rrask’s own bucket. If Tsi’das had been observing this, he would have known the real reason Rrask would ask his water rations be sent to Dei.

But Tsi’das was too concerned with the ramifications of having a prisoner unintentionally die on his watch to continue scrying outside. Sar’atuu would have yet another reason to undermine his advancement. No, he simply could not allow this human to die, not today at least; his credibility was at stake. He hurriedly went over to unlock his chamber door and started looking through the potent healing potions he used to keep his victims alive through days of torture. The kyton carrying Dei promptly entered and laid the human onto the chamber floor. Dei was no longer convulsing at this point, but had his eyes open wide and was foaming slightly at the mouth, making slow gurgling sounds. Another guard bought in two buckets of water – Dei’s as well as Rrask’s.

The guards were quickly dismissed, and the door hastily shut. Tsi’das was about to resuscitate the human, but wisely decided to detect his thoughts before he tried. Whereas before it had been exceedingly difficult to get even the vaguest personal thoughts from this man, the warlock was surprised at how easily he was able to read Dei’s mind this time.

It was all a ruse. Tsi’das’s mouth curled into a horrible grin. The human would suffer greatly for his antics.

Dei remained motionless on the floor, his stomach still distended and eyes still open wide. Spiked chains slithered from Tsi’das’s body onto the floor and viciously wrapped themselves around the man’s arms, legs, then neck.

“Perhaps you don’t feel as ill as it appears human… I will change that!” Spat out the kyton warlock in the harsh, guttural infernal language.

Another spiked chain began wrapping itself slowly around Dei’s expanded stomach. Oddly enough, the human wasn’t screaming as the blood was drawn from multiple limbs on his body. The chains eventually lifted the human off the ground and moved him vertically so that he was face to face with Tsi’das. The circles under the human’s eyes were especially dark today.

“Do it,” came the husky, unusually arrogant reply from a man who appeared to be in no position to throw verbal taunts.

Tsi’das was initially shocked, hearing such words from a man who to him always appeared weak and frail under torture, but he quickly masked his surprise with his sadistic impulses.

The chains tightened considerably around Dei, digging into his flesh, snaking around his limbs, slowly amputating them. As his stomach became pressed, he vomited – right into Tsi’das’s face.

A blood curdling scream that could have given a banshee’s wail some serious competition resonated within the walls of Tsi’das’s chamber. Loud hissing and smoke emerged from the kyton’s melting flesh. His eyes were burned out, he could not see. Holy water! Dei had vomited holy water onto the Baatezu’s face. With Tsi’das momentarily stunned, the chains had dropped from Dei’s body and began uncontrollably writhing on the ground. The warlock tried to keep control and began concentrating on a circular energy blast that would engulf the room. He heard quick footsteps, and a bucket being lifted. Then he felt the last thing he would feel.

As the entire bucket of holy water was emptied upon the kyton and he literally began melting to death; finally realizing his own folly through the anguish. The enigmatic Dei finally made sense, but it was too late. He had studied Tsi’das, when the kyton thought he had been studying him under torture. He knew that the kyton was secretive and arrogant – he would not allow other kytons into the room as he tried to resuscitate him. He knew that the other kytons would not go looking for the warlock until at least after a few hours, probably assuming that he was in the middle of an interrogation/torture. He knew. He must have been planning this since the beginning. Tsi’das did not have many weaknesses, and was much more powerful than the human. One on one, he should have destroyed Dei …easily… but the cunning human had completely exploited his weaknesses.

Soundproofing Tsi’das’s chambers served two purposes. The first was for his own secrecy so that he could cast spells and consult his superior in private, while the second was that so he could revel in his torture and no one outside could hear the victim scream. Today, the soundproof chamber served a third purpose. It allowed Tsi’das to be killed without alerting the rest of the compound.

The kyton’s flesh bubbled and stuck to the stone ground and eventually vaporized, leaving only a heap of spiked chains and magical items and scrolls.

Dei now had unfettered access to Dshicas’Graz’s nerve center, and all of the items and information within.

The kytons were in danger.

---

Meanwhile… at a corner table in a small, inconspicuous tavern in Sigil’s Market Ward:

Two people in hushed conversation. Al-Kharim was a bald, horned, dodgy looking tiefling dressed in expensive yellow robes that would more likely be found in the Lady’s Ward. His red-pupiled eyes bored intensely into those of the human sitting across from him. Ceszar the Kingpin, the leader of a very small band of assassins (Al-Kharim suspected fewer than ten members, when in actuality it was about fifteen) in Sigil. The human was covered in what appeared to be exquisitely-fashioned black dragon scale-mail. The shadows of the scales moved around quickly and unpredictably, giving the appearance of an insubstantial body. The armor served form as much as function, and complimented the human’s abundant jewelry and maroon cape. The cape’s design was a full-back embroidery of a black phoenix rising from the ashes. Al-Kharim’s intense gaze was met evenly by Ceszar’s cool black eyes. His face had a regal appeal to it. A delicate nose, square jaw, and short black hair neatly tucked to one side of his head gave the impression of a powerful man with taste… or perhaps too much time on his hands. The Kingpin was flamboyant, and handsome.

Judging from appearances, it would seem that the two were engaged in some kind of important, secretive conversation. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth:

“I’m telling you my good man, authentic platinum, and I got it for under a thousand septims,” goaded the urbane, articulate voice of Ceszar as he pointed to a gaudy ring on the middle finger of his left hand. “Ariel always gives me the best deals, it’s all part of being a loyal customer. I’m thinking about getting it enchanted – you know- to throw out fire or something, I think it’ll be even more marvelous then!”

“Ah, a great find indeed!” Al-Kharim said with feigned enthusiasm. It took nearly every ounce of willpower Al-Kharim had to not roll his eyes at Ceszar. He had to remind himself that dealing with the idiosyncratic Kingpin could be testing, but this man was powerful, and resourceful. He suspected it would take probably another ten minutes for the human to finish rambling about random, useless things, then they could get down to real business.

“Isn’t it though? I know you are jealous, oh but don’t be! I’ll put in a good word for you at Ariel’s shop, if ever you need to look your best, go to her and tell her I sent you! Not to say that you don’t look good enough as is, that yellow ensemble is definitely working for you my dear man, allow me to guess – the Silk Warehouse on Guvner’s Mile?!”

Al-Kharim was actually surprised that Ceszar’s knowledge of fashion would be THAT extensive. He didn’t need to say anything, but his wide eyes and surprised expression told the Kingpin all he needed to know.

“I knew it! Hahaha, that is an outstanding choice of clothier. See? You are more a fashionista than you thought. Perhaps you could specialize in a certain type of information brokering that involves dispensing your good taste to the 90% of those <nobles> who clearly lack fashion sense in the Lady’s Ward?”

They both laughed heartily, Ceszar at his wittiness, and Al-Kharim at how ridiculous the man sounded. As the laughter died down, an awkward silence came between the two of them.

“So…to business?” Al-Kharim asked quickly, not wanting the Kingpin to lose his good mood.

“Ah yes, of course.” The human promptly pulled out a slender stiletto that brightly gleamed blue with magic. “This is the murder weapon my agents… recovered from the Hardhead outpost in the Lower Ward. We are absolutely certain that they have not yet had a chance to investigate the item. Its absence should absolve your other client from any involvement in Professor Malthorn’s unfortunate…accident.”

For a split second, Al-Kharim’s eyes went wide open with surprise. Surprise at how yet again, the unexpectedly resourceful Kingpin had delivered on just about anything that needed delivering. He wasn’t going to even think about asking how Ceszar’s agents managed to infiltrate such a well guarded spot, he decided it better not to question his luck (nor Ceszar’s skill ), and take whatever he was given. He had expected that Ceszar’s group hadn’t finished the task, and the man was just about to give him some kind of update on the situation. Al-Kharim was pleasantly surprised. Being the savvy businessman that he was, the tiefling found it best not to betray too much surprise at nor appreciation for the Kingpin’s services, for none of it was free. Thus for only a split second, perhaps even too quickly for the Kingpin to notice, Al-Kharim betrayed his pleasure.

After the fraction of a second in which it took him to regain his composure, Al-Kharim was non-chalant as ever about Ceszar’s find.

“Ah, yes, certainly” he said flatly. He took the stiletto resignedly, not acting impressed at all. “I am sure you would like a healthy sum for your troubles?” Al-Kharim secretly hoped that coin was all the Kingpin sought this day.

“Perhaps my dear man, perhaps…” Ceszar looked thoughtfully at his gloved palms in front of him at the table. “But the compensation I seek is not monetary, no my fellow I have enough jink to accommodate even my extravagant tastes for several months without any income. What I need from you is information.”

Al-Kharim cursed silently. He did not appreciate being milked for his dark. It would probably not even be dark within the next few days – Ceszar was not exactly the quiet type. Nonetheless, he had to give the man what he asked for… he had no other choice. There was probably some kind of scrying spell to detect lies or his thoughts, and he found it counterproductive to work around it. That would only decrease the chance of future visits, and increase the chance of him getting on the Kingpin’s bad side…something he <really> did not want.

“Of course!” Al-Kharim smiled a horrible fake-smile. “I shall tell you everything I know about whatever you ask.”

Ceszar looked thoughtfully at Al-Kharim for a moment. “Very well, here goes. There is a facility in Carceri run by a kyton named <Tsi’das>, are you familiar with it?”

Al-Kharim was very familiar with it. “Hmm.. I think I have heard a thing or two about it, now what was it’s name? Dc’agazz? Dsharasz? Dz-”

“Dshicas’Graz” Ceszar interrupted.

“Ah yes, that one. Well what would you want to know of it?”

“How does one reach it via portal?” Ceszar’s voice took on an impatient urgency.

Al-Kharim let out a soft sigh, and began describing the location and portal key. As he was doing this, an overweight human buffoon sitting alone at an adjacent table was sexually harassing an attractive barmaid. As she leaned over to place yet another drink on his table, he quite nearly put his nose in between her breasts. She quickly said “enjoy” and started off, but not before he grabbed a good sized portion of her rear-end.

Ceszar interrupted Al-Kharim yet again, and immediately got up from his seat. “That is enough!” His voice was dangerously contained.

It took some time for the buffoon to process the source of the sound (distracted as he was by the barmaid’s buttocks) but he eventually turned a confused, then angered look at Ceszar. “Huh?! Pike off!!”

Ceszar did not back down. Moving quickly towards the buffoon’s table, he was now standing exactly where the barmaid was seconds ago. The balding man was almost three-hundred pounds, and smelled like rotting goat-cheese. “Wut n’ the nine hells d’you think yer doin’?” His breath also reeked.

Ceszar briefly pinched his nose and sniffed conspicuously, insulting him with body language before he did with words. “That barmaid deserves an apology for your ungentlemanly antics…immediately!”

The buffoon looked confused again, then started laughing. “AHAHAHAH!!” A few onlookers joined in. Even Al-Kharim could not help but crack a grin. “Oooh, ungentlemanly! Wha-what is that s’posed to hurt m’feelings?”

It was Ceszar’s turn to look confused. “Why…I could not possibly think of a greater insult!”

This time, more laughter filled the large room… about twenty people. The only ones not laughing: Al-Kharim, the bartender, the barmaids, and two very, very large bariaurs standing near the entrance. Unlike everyone else in the bar, the bariaurs did not even seem to notice the scene. Instead they nonchalantly looked straight ahead.

The buffoon started “Look ‘ere flower boy, why don’t ye go prance back te yer garden an’ have some tea. Let th’ real men chase th’wenches.”

Ceszar simply smirked.

The buffoon was angered at Ceszar’s apparent non-reaction. “Alright, I’m gon’ count t’ three, and if ye ain’t piked off by then, I’ll <make> ye pike… ye git?”

“Oh, no no no. I have every intention of picking a fight with you. I will, however, give you the choice of who to see once you leave here… will it be a healer or a Dustman?”

Again it took some time for the buffoon to process what Ceszar had said. When he eventually did, he pushed the table away and got up with more speed than Ceszar expected the man could. The sudden move from the buffoon elicited a flinch from one of the bariaurs at the door, but nothing more.

Ceszar and the buffoon were face to face.

----Two minutes later ----

No one in the bar was laughing now, though the barmaids were smiling.

The buffoon was unconscious on the ground with two black eyes and perhaps a broken wrist. The violated barmaid walked up to Ceszar “Thank ye kindly cutter, yer’ a true gentleman!”

“No thanks necessary my dear, it was my duty!” He kissed her hand, and she blushed.

As a result of the scuffle, there was a broken chair (which the buffoon landed upon as he fell to the ground). Ceszar yelled to the bartender that he’d settle that as soon as he was finished with the business at hand.

Ceszar quickly went back and sat down across from Al-Kharim. “Pardon the interruption my dear man, now where were we?”

They resumed their talk of Dshicas’Graz. After another five minutes, Ceszar had all the information he needed.

“My thanks Al-Kharim, I should be on my way now.”

“But wait… please. I don’t mean to be nosy, but could you tell me what exactly you plan to do there?”

Ceszar sighed. “Well, if you must know, I am just going to pay a friend a visit. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.”

Before Al-Kharim could ask any more questions, Ceszar quickly walked away towards the bartender, a dark-skinned tiefling named Brun.

“Eh.. sorry about the chair Brun. You can take that out of your tab for this month.”

It may have seemed odd what Ceszar had said, but the tab he referred to was a monthly protection fee (eg. extortion) that Ceszar charged about twelve venues in this locale. Almost all of the businesses were relatively lucrative for their size, and Ceszar cashed in a hefty sum every month. They included a blacksmith, two magic shops, two bars, some restaurants, grocers, and an inn. The rules were simple, in return for a tribute, <guards> from Ceszar’s band would patrol this area, and make sure the <protected> businesses would be safe from thieves or worse.

All but two of Ceszar’s ‘protectorates’ usually paid at the end of the month. Ceszar planned to travel to Carcerai later today, but not before he paid a visit to these two venues. He had no qualms with Brun’s tavern, as it was one of the reliable sources of income.

“Are we good then Brun?”

“No problem Ceszar.. but uh.. I don’t think my cleanup crew is really trained for that much garbage.” He eyed the downed buffoon, still unconscious on the floor.

“Ah, of course – Mast and Hull, please.”

The gigantic bariaurs immediately went for the buffoon and lifted him with great ease (one of them could actually have done it himself, but Ceszar knew that the twin bariaurs liked doing things together).

“Good day to you,” managed the Kingpin as he walked out.

The bariaurs experienced some difficulty exiting the place, as their nine foot-tall, twelve foot-long frames barely fit through the seven-foot tall door when they bent to get through. Nonetheless, they were careful not to inadvertently make the tavern door any wider as they came out into the street. They currently wore no armor, nor shirts, and carried massive broad-swords on their belts. Their impressive, muscular frames could be seen a mile away in clear weather, though that wasn’t the case today. It was four hours till antipeak, but it seemed much later. The skies were a chilly dark-gray and it would rain soon. Even the overall buzz that was common for the Market Ward at this hour seemed subdued.

The buffoon’s body was dumped into a nearby garbage heap in a small alley right off Enchanted Avenue. It hadn’t even left the bariaurs’ sights when urchins hidden in the shadows came swarming in to strip the body. Ceszar and the bariaurs then walked into < Squeaky’s Wands> right across the street.

Squeaky was a mousy looking fellow, a fact accentuated by his pointy chin and buck teeth. His oily hair was slicked back, and everything about him screamed <greasy>. He was reclined behind the counter and nearly jumped when Ceszar entered. The shop was empty otherwise, and wands of every variety lined the walls as well as a wide shelf that took up the center of the small shop.

“Uh Ce-Ceszar!! So great to see you” he nearly squealed out. “Y-You too boys” he shot an unreturned wave at the bariaurs.

Only the Kingpin spoke. “How’s business Squeaky?”

“Uh, not so good these days, unfortunately. I’ve be-been really busy trying to make ends meet, I might even take up a second job heh.” The high pitch of his voice seemed to detract from the credibility of everything he said.

“Oh really...yet again? Hmmm. That’s not what I hear from my sources” purred Ceszar, “my agents tell me that at night, your place is one of the busiest.”

A telltale bead of sweat dripped down Squeaky’s oily forehead. “Uh..yea, I mean, people come in to do window shopping, but no one ever buys anything!”

“Ah…I see.” Ceszar replied back, outwardly annoyed but secretly amused by all this. “Well, you see Leem, I was counting my tributes this month, and you fell short yet again, by more than 4,000 jink.”

Squeaky’s eyes darted back and forth, up and down, looking around at his wands. It almost appeared as if he would have an epileptic episode right there and then. He and Ceszar had been through this a few times before, and Squeaky only hoped that the Kingpin wouldn’t extort too many of his high-end wands.

“I am a flexible man, though, and if you <really> don’t have the coin, I can once again accept.. other items.” Ceszar was already eyeing the wares even as he spoke.

“Hehe, no, no I can give you the coin if your really need it!!”

Ceszar gave him a dangerous look. Again , on the outside he appeared angry, but inside he was having a lot of fun; Squeaky was truly an enjoyable fellow. “What is that supposed to mean Squeaky? I <always> really need it, the fee is set every month – there is no option. We’ve been through this several times before Squeaky. It seems as if you really do not want my agents protecting your establishment.”

“O-of course I do, what would make you think I don’t?”

Ceszar smiled dangerously. “Good to hear because…I’d <hate> to see something happen to your store, or worse… you,” he warned with fake concern. “So do you have the jink or not?”

“On-One second lemme go check”

Squeaky emerged shortly with the required funds. Ceszar quickly eyed them and found them sufficient.

“Excellent Squeaky, I knew you wouldn’t disappoint.” Squeaky was visibly relieved. “Now … seeing as how you’re usually late with your payments, how about an advance for next month?” To Ceszar’s satisfaction, his demeanor went from tense to calm then right back to tense.

Squeaky once again became darty. “I uh.. wish I could provide, really I do, but what I just gave you is basically all the extra income I have; I need the rest to eat and pay rent!”

“Oh you poor thing! Don’t you worry, how about you keep the coin. I had my eye on this wand of <improved invisibility> anyway.”

Squeaky was at a loss for words. Ceszar seized the moment, quickly thanked him and curtly left. The three found themselves outside Enchanted Avenue once more, Ceszar might have heard a muffled curse come from inside Squeaky’s shop, or it might have been his imagination. He had one last place to visit amongst his protectorates on Enchanted Way. A short walk down, two buildings away from Brun’s tavern and adjacent to the <Enchanted Blacksmith> (which also happened to be under Ceszar’s authority) was <Mama J’s Diner>. This was probably the oldest building, not just among those under Ceszar’s jurisdiction, but in this entire quarter of the Market Ward. The outside was heavily eroded. Unlike the adjacent venues, the entrance sign was a wooden plank instead of a magically illuminated permanent cantrip. The bariaurs knew to keep outside and away when the Kingpin entered this place. Despite the worn exterior, the inside was well maintained – though the furniture and utilities were dated. It was almost like stepping into a museum, or back in time. Mama J’s old tables and chairs still had the original paint on them from the decades back when they were made. Though the paint was faded and slightly chipped on nearly all the chairs, it still had a warming charm. The main room was large, nearly one and a half times as big as Brun’s tavern, yet the attendance was scarce. Only a couple of old cutters were sitting at a corner table, chatting loudly with each other in a slightly antiquated version of the common tongue.

Ceszar walked through, unnoticed by the patrons, towards the kitchen counter in the back. This counter was actually a bar-style table with circular stools which served a to nicely contrast with the separate tables and chairs everywhere else. The smoky smell of some kind of fish was emanating from the old oven. As he came in close to get a better whiff, he saw the elderly lady stooped over a large basin, intently scrubbing a rusty cooking pot. Even her simple, old-style clothes looked like they could be part of a historical re-enactment. Ceszar, being the fashionista that he was, knew of a <vintage revival> movement that was gaining popularity amongst some in the Lady’s Ward, whereby some hipster would dress in old clothing to appear ironically fashionable. Yet there was nothing ironic about this woman, just a hardworking honesty and a charming simplicity.

“Mama J!” Ceszar cried to get her attention, being careful not to surprise her, just loud enough so that she’d hear. The woman looked up. With her chubby fingers, she moved a large batch of hair from her eyes. Her bright, but tired eyes deeply illuminated the Kingpin’s soul in the short seconds they made contact and her wrinkled visage curled up into a warm smile. Ceszar smiled a warm smile back.

“How are ye my dear?” Mama J sweetly asked. “I haven’t seen ye or Jurgen here for at least three weeks!”

“It’s been a really busy few weeks for me, sorry I don’t pass by more often. As for Jurgen, he’s been on vacation.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes Mama J, but if all goes according to plan, he should be back later tonight!”

“Oh that’s good to hear, ye boys need to come try some of me smoked Arborean wildfish steak.”

“Mmm, is that what I smell cooking right now?”

“Ye dear, I’m trying a new recipe…err well actually it’s an old recipe, but I just haven’t used it in nearly a decade.” She started croaking with laughter. “Hahaha, I guess ye know yer old when ye start measurin’ in decades!”

Ceszar joined in the laughter, but it wasn’t forced or insincere (unlike most of his laughs). “Aah, it’s good to see you though Mama J, listen I’m sorry I can’t stick around for too long, but I just wanted to ask if you had any issues with the - have they been doing their job well? Any unwelcome stragglers come by? Are they too obvious? If you can tell they’re there or you can recognize them” (most of Ceszar’s guards patrolled in plain clothes) “then they’re not doing their jobs right.”

“Hahaha, no, no my dear, yer guards are doin’ a good job, I feel as safe as ever, thank ye dear! I do…however still have an issue with ye refusing jink fer yer services!” Her tone became as one of a nagging mother. “How do ye manage to git by without charging? I hope yer eatin’ properly, ye’d best not be skimming off yer food intake ye hear me?!”

“Yes Mama J, don’t worry, I really don’t need that much to get by, and actually I receive more than enough for me and all my guards from the other …clients.”

“Well ok then, but tell ye what, from now on, anything ye or yer friend Jurgen order is on the House, ye hear me?”

“Hahah, no Mama J, I couldn’t possib-“

“That’s final Ye hear me?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Good, now I wont hold ye up any longer -off ye go…Wait! Would ye like anything for the road?”

“Not right now, I just ate!!!” Ceszar lied.

“Alright then I’ll talk to ye later dear.” The woman smiled another warm smile that was immediately reciprocated by the assassin.

As he walked out of the diner, Ceszar noticed someone badly disguised as a street Urchin lurking in the adjacent alley.

“You need to do better than that Kitana, you don’t look dirty enough. Go roll around in some mud or something” he teased his hidden operative. All he got in response was an exasperated <Eww>.

Without wasting any more time, the Kingpin caught up with the bariaurs. “Let’s get ready. We’re going to Carceri.”
 
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Presents for Goblins

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