So the DM of my new D&D campaign decided to allow us all to up the level of our characters to second instead of being first… so of course that meant I had to write a BUNCH more story to justify how he’d gotten that level… right? Right? Yeah… I was stuck at a spot in Post Mortem anyway so…
It had been a long and boring day for Fermin. Although he was one of the least reputable moneylenders in the city he hadn’t needed to crack one single skull yet and and that always put him in a bad mood. His hired toughs slumped in their chairs behind the silk curtains that hid their presence. Even though this was a disreputable place, there was money here to be sure and many of his clients were wealthy even if they weren’t noble.
The bell rang and he sat up straighter, lighting a cigar that was laced with Kreenweed that supposedly sharpened his mind, although he wasn’t sure if that was true or not. At first he didn’t see the client, but then he looked down and saw a young halfling coming up the four stairs to where his desk was.
“Four stairs. Lucky number!” The youngster said cheerily and proceeded to climb on a chair. He set his pack down and sat on top of it, affording him a much better vantage to see across the desk.
“What may I do for you today sir?” Fermin said smoothly, stroking his moustache.
“Ha! Those other guys said you were a crook, but they all called me Little Master’ as though I was a child from a noble house instead of a halfling! Of course I am from a noble house but that’s beside the point.”
Fermin looked him over with a practiced eye. No jewelry, although his ears were pierced. Short curly hair that looked as though it had recently grown in from being shaved bald. A lute that likely cost as much as a horse, if the instrument inside matched the fine quality of the case. Very fine silk robes, much too fine for a peasant… but he was carrying a traveling pack with rope and a bedroll. The last piece that didn’t fit were his hands. They were rough, callused and showed signs of broken knuckles.
“Well of course sir, I am the most talented and least discriminating of all my associates.” He said, tapping the ash from his cigar, “I would be pleased if I could render some assistance to a halfling man from a noble house.”
“Great! Ok, so here’s this thing I found. Can you tell me what it is?” He stood on his bag and pulled a roll of parchment from a belt pouch. It was tied with a piece of silk ribbon that smelled like perfume.
Fermin took the thing gingerly, it was high quality vellum and cut at a very precise size with perfectly square corners. Untying the ribbon, he rolled it out on the table. It was a receipt of deposit from the Grimmvault Repository written in a very obscure dialect of Banker’s Shorthand that entitled the bearer to remove “Any and all items stored upon remittance of the storage fee.”
Nobody stored anything mundane or inexpensive at Grimmvault. Of course, their storage fees were usually exorbitant and not listed on the receipts; to do so would be considered most uncouth. If you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it.
“I’m not used to being unable to read things, especially things that look like they should be written in Common but this looks all funny. Like it’s a little … I dunno, but I think this is a bank right?” The halfling pointed to the top right corner of the page where the Grimmvault logo was clearly emblazoned.
“Ah, this is merely a piece of discarded garbage from a bank ledger.” Fermin said, “I can dispose of it for you if you’d like.” He stroked his moustaches again and made as if to toss the vellum into a garbage recepticle next to his desk.
“Oh no, that’s OK.” The parchment seemed to evaporate from his fingers, re-appearing in the Halfling’s. The little man carefully wrapped it up and tied it again. “What bank is it from? I really want to learn this writing for some reason. It almost looks like it moves…”
“Really, there’s no reason for you to keep such a thing.” Fermin insisted, reaching for the parchment again, “If they know you have a sample of their code they might cause trouble for you, especially if they learned you were trying to translate it. Grimmvault is very particular about their cypher.”
“Oooo, Grimmvault? That doesn’t sound like a very cheery place.” He tucked the parchment back into his belt just ahead of Fermin’s reaching fingers, idly slapping the man’s hand away as though by reflex and not even seeming to notice he was doing it. “Not that banks are usually all that cheerful really…”
A mild commotion began to sound outside the shop, but Fermin ignored it. He had to have that deposit slip, if he could scrape together the finances to make the trip and pay for the storage fee the odds of this being a real find were just too good to pass up.
“Is the weather still sunny outside?” He asked, the code words alerting the men hiding in the silk covered alcoves that he intended to kill the client and take the goods.
“Sunny?” The halfling looked at him sideways. “How long has it been since you went outside? It’s been overcast for like a week.”
The sounds of scuffle outside the shop were muffled as the door was firmly closed and latched. The halfling looked around confused, “Why’re you shutting the door? Won’t it get stuffy in here with all those drapes and all those guys sitting in those little rooms? Blech, stinking human breath!”
He waved a hand in front of his nose and took a smallish gourd from the row of gourds strapped like a bandolier across the front of his chest. Popping the cork off, he took a big drink and belched a cloud of foul alcohol fumes across the desk.
“Sorry little master, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to take that piece of vellum from you.” The four men stood and stepped from their alcoves, each holding a wicked cudgel and Fermin took the crossbow from its holster beneath the desk.
“Oops!” The halfling had dropped his gourd and suddenly bent nearly double to catch it. The bolt from Fermin’s crossbow took one of his guards in the eye.
“Careful, thosh thingsh are dangeroush.” His speech was slurring, “Well thanksh for the help mishter.” He jumped from the chair and stumbled backward momentarily as he struggled with his pack. One of the guards broke his club over the edge of the table where he’d been standing just a moment before.
“Shorry, you broke your shtick.” The halfling bent to pick up the piece of club and swung awkwardly around apparently to offer it to the man but ended up catching him between the legs. The man grunted in pain and stumbled into another man who was running to help. They went down in a tangle and ended up in a motionless heap at the bottom of the stairs.
The last guard approached cautiously, but the moment he came close enough to attack, the halfling jumped into the air, bringing the heel of his foot down on the hand holding the cudgel, making the man drop it and then smashing his first thumb joint into his eye in a brutally efficient strike that made the sickening crunch of breaking bone reverberate in the room. The halfling landed slightly unsteadily on his feet with a mildly astonished look on his small face.
By this time, Fermin had reloaded his crossbow and held it carefully, watching the slowly swaying halfling. He looked at his fallen guards and then at the small person in front of him. He had his fingers twisted in a manner that made the finger and thumb joints point out at awkward angles, but Fermin could see that each of those jutting knuckles had hardened ridges of bone. It was ridiculous, but Fermin felt… afraid of him.
“Shorry fellash, I sheem to have made a mesh of thingsh.” He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, “Ooohhh… I think I drank the wrong shtuff. That washn’t water…” He fell heavily on his back, overbalanced by the pack and began to snore loud enough to make the ashtray rattle on Fermin’s desk.
Fermin walked carefully around the desk, keeping the crossbow trained on the snoring halfling. He had gotten close enough to cautiously nudge him with the toe of his boot when the door slammed open, revealing the bruised and bloodied form of a raging half orc carrying a wicked looking sword.
“BAHN YOU LITTLE BASTARD!!!” He bellowed, literally foaming at the mouth. “I HAVE YOU LIVER ON ROASTING SPIT!”
Fermin looked up at the interruption, his crossbow following his eyes unconsciously. “There’s no Bahn here. My name is Fermin and I deal in … information, among other things. I’d be happy to assist you in finding this Bahn character.”
“I don’t need help! HE RIGHT THERE!” The enraged half orc pointed his bloody sword at the comatose halfling.
“He has something of mine which I will confiscate and then you’re welcome to him.” Fermin said, reaching for the belt pouch.
“HANDS OFF!” The half orc yelled, advancing up the stairs, “Whatever he got MINE!”
At the sound of this less than melodious tirade, Bahn rolled over abruptly his bag swinging to strike the surprised Fermin in the knees. The man’s finger tightened on the trigger of his crossbow reflexively and the bolt struck the raging barbarian in the chest.
“Wha?” Bahn mumbled, staggering to his feet as Fermin drew a wickedly sharp short sword from his belt and prepared to defend himself. “Burn my bacon, how does he keep finding me?” He rolled under Fermin’s desk and discovered a cleverly hidden bolt hole. By the time they noticed he’d gone, it was too late.
Bahn emerged from the small tunnel in a back alley a block away. After a brief pause to orient himself, he trotted down the street toward the city gates, making sure to keep to alleys and less traveled streets. The sound of an angry crowd reached his ears and, as always, curiosity overrode good sense.
“I’m no demon you insolent mortals!” A ringing bass voice carried easily to Bahn’s ears, “I have noble blood in my veins!”
He peered around the corner and saw a demon shouting at a crowd of people carrying makeshift weapons. They all had fearful, angry looks on their faces. Bahn took a gourd from his bandolier and sniffed it carefully this time to make sure it wasn’t the flamewater the monks had told him never to drink. This gourd was the only one of the ten that held normal water.
The demon… probably was one of those ‘Tiffler Things’ he’d heard so much about. They supposedly had one parent from somewhere else, like Hell or something, and this one sure looked the part. His curling black horns looked for all the world like they had come straight from a stage set and the ruddy red color of his skin made him look even more unsettling, especially when coupled with the tail that twitched like an agitated cat’s from underneath his cloak.
Looking around the alley, Bahn saw an advertisement for a traveling show plastered to the back door of a tavern. Inspired, he pulled the devil mask he had worn in one of the silly performances at the monastery from his pack and put it on. Pulling his cloak over his head, he shoved a bent stick through his belt in the approximation of a tail and pulled his lute from its case. Strumming a dramatic tune, he twirled and strode between the mob and their target.
The all gasped and drew back. Cries of “An Imp!” and “He has summoned allies!” Rippled through them, but then Bahn threw back his cloak and removed his false tail. He took a bow and pulled the mask from his face.
“Well done my friend!” He said to the … demon. “You have done a wonderful job of promoting the show, but now we must return to the wagons and rest before it is time to perform!” He flourished the parchment toward the leading person in the mob.
“That’s… makeup?” The man asked, snatching the paper from Bahn’s hand.
“Of course, what do you think, that he’s really a demon from the abyss who must be burned at the stake for his evil deeds against the” here he paused to imitate the … demon’s rolling bass voice “FOOLISH MORTALS!?” And then broke into a fit of laughter.
The mob began to shift uneasily and the … demon had the good sense to laugh along with them although his eyes still flashed with unsettling anger. He pulled his hood up to hide the distasteful sneer on his face.
“Come my friend, we must inform the boss about our successful promotion. Uh, half off if you present that playbill at the show tonight!” Bahn said, half reaching for the … demon’s arm before changing the motion into a gesture and striding down the alley away from the mob. He turned a corner and then broke into a run, the … demon following.
He heard the telltale sounds of a tavern and ducked through the back door into the invitingly dark interior, the … demon right on his heels. Bahn chose a corner table and when they sat, the torch above his companion sputtered and died out, leaving him obscured by dark shadows.
A barmaid approached and for once, Bahn just paid her instead of attempting to play for ale and a meal. He even paid for his companion, even if only so he wouldn’t have to take the chance of him revealing those huge horns. When she had gone, hips swaying saucily, he turned to his new … demon.
“So, you’re one of those Tiffler Things right?” He said brightly.
“My name is Mordai Creed. I am the First Son of the Creed Family. I am a Tiefling, the noble blood of dragons and demons runs in my veins.” Mordai said, “Although I could have handled those … mortals back there I appreciate not having to kill them.”
“Yeah.” Bahn said, “It’s usually better not to have to kill people cause then the mobs get bigger and they have torches and stuff. I’m Bahn Thistlefingers, you may have heard of my family. We are of a noble bloodline too.”
Mordai laughed, a rumbling sound much like a growl, “Noble halflings? Now I have heard every story there is.”
Bahn sighed, “Why does everyone always laugh? Oh well, it doesn’t bother me, I’m used to it. You could learn a lesson from that I think, all these humans are rude generally. You need to be able to ignore it because there’s so darn many of them. Usually if they insult you they do it out of ignorance, not because they’re mean.”
The barmaid returned with drinks and food and Bahn set to with a will. He was ravenous after his afternoon’s exertion. “But the mean ones are easy enough to deal with.” He said through a mouthful of roast beef and thick hearty bread. “Ya just trick ‘em and run!”
“I do not run from a fight.” Mordai said in a haughty tone of voice.
“Uh. Sure. Sure you don’t.” Bahn said, not trying to hide his amusement. He took a drink of his ale, “Look, when there’s a dozen there’s no dishonor or whatever in running. They’re the dishonorable ones for coming at you in such numbers!”
Mordai considered this for a moment, “You have more wisdom than I gave you credit for Bahn Thistlefingers.”
“I think that’s what the masters really meant when they called me a smartass.” Bahn said, licking the gravy off his fingers.
The rumble of Moradai’s laugh sounded again. This halfling was an amusing sort, he hadn’t felt this relaxed in days. He realized Bahn was still speaking.
“…anyway, I figure we should travel together right? I mean you with your demon powers or whatever and your awesome horns and stuff and me with all my talents I figure we could be good traveling companions.” He gave Mordai a big grin, only slightly spoiled by the piece of beef stuck between his teeth.
“Sure. Why not?” He could always ditch the halfling if he needed to, and besides… he swore he’d seen that face in a dream and his dreams had been so dark lately. “Where did you say you were headed?”
“I was thinking Greening.” Bahn said. Mordai couldn’t have been more surprised if the halfling had said he was traveling to his home city. That was the place he’d been feeling drawn toward. The place that filled his dreams with swirling darkness, the screams of the dying and the scent of brimstone. It must be fate, and only a fool fought against his fate.