Lius closed the door, and the group began to help Viv clear up the mess that was her shop floor.
When everything was more or less squared away, Viv muttered. “I’m fine. I’ll be able to finish off the rest of this. You’ve got some gnolls to go and see.”
“I think we do as well,” Lius said, his voice uncharacteristically determined.
“Indeed,” Dale agreed. “Do you have any idea where we’re going to find them?”
Viv shook her head. “They’ll probably still be somewhere in the Bazaar. I’m sure you won’t take long to find them. They haven’t exactly been subtle with their business.”
“It doesn’t look like it,” Reina grunted.
The quartet headed straight out, and it didn’t take long for them to find more stalls that had been ransacked. They followed the trail of destruction, until they reached an open square, where a large crowd had gathered around. The party pushed their way through the mass of babbling spectators to see a group of gnolls, orcs and goblins surrounding a halfling who was tied to a post.
“Daask in charge of Bazaar, now!” a hulking, grizzled gnoll was barking. “You give money to Daask! No Boromar!”
Dale stepped forward, drew his rapier, and announced, “My name, good sir, is Dale Hornsbuckle! You ruined my employer’s shop. Prepare yourselves!”
The nearest gnoll stepped forward, jabbing a jagged axe at Dale. “You! You give money to Daask!”
“I don’t think I do, good sir,” Dale replied. The gnoll glared at Dale, and growled something in gnoll. “Really? Then let’s see if your bark is as bad as your bite!”
The gnolls converged on Dale, who managed to spin out of the way of one attack, only to land in the path of another axe, which knocked him to the ground. Hooting and snarling, the gnolls kept at him, swinging down with axes and cudgels. Reina edged her way around the crowd, which simply stood and gawped at the unfolding spectacle. Lius cast a spell, and suddenly, a dazzling rainbow of lights sprayed from the crowd. Several gnolls and orcs fell to their knees, clutching their heads and wailing. The largest gnoll turned to Lius, roared, and pulled out two huge metal clubs connected by a thick chain. Lius staggered back, but with the crowd around him, there was nowhere to go, and the big chunk of metal struck him squarely in the chest. Letting out a great whoosh of air, the half-elf slumped bonelessly to the ground.
Reina suddenly sprung from the crowd on the other side of the square, sinking one of her daggers into a gnoll’s side. The beast let out a lilting yelp, blood seeping from the chink in its armour.
“Are you just going to stand there and watch!?” Reina roared at the crowd.
No one made a move to help, and taking advantage of the distraction, an orc barrelled into her. Reina nimbly dodged out of the way, and an arrow took it in the side. Another arrow whistled from the crowd, striking the lead gnoll. The creature roared and snapped the arrow which was jutting from its shoulder. It stepped over Lius’ prone body and began to stalk towards Ina, swinging its metal club.
“Me kill you!” the gnoll roared. It cracked Ina in the side of the head with its weapon, and the shifter was thrown to the floor, blood trickling from her crown.
Dale managed to slip out from the group attacking him, and jabbed up with his rapier, stabbing one gnoll in the throat. With a gurgling growl, it fell to the ground. Dale let out a cry of victory, but a cudgel swiftly brought down on the back of his head cut it short, and he slumped to the floor. Wasting no time, a goblin ran across and began to rifle through his things, eventually running off with his mirror.
Reina, spying Lius lying prone, ran through the square and began to drag the half-elf into the crowd. Lius’ eyes flicked open alertly, and he pushed Reina away. The redhead stepped aside, surprised, and Lius got to his feet, shouting an arcane word and throwing his hand out at the gnoll which was towering over Ina. The gnoll let out a cry and reeled forward, seeming to lose all coordination and falling to the ground.
The rest of the Daask seemed worried by this, and stepped away from the tied up halfling and the various members of the party. Reina sprung from the crowd and clubbed an orc over the head with the butt of her dagger. Lius cast another spell, sending a goblin spiralling to the ground. This seemed to be enough for the monstrous gangsters, who one by one fled the scene.
Reina tied up the lead gnoll with her rope, while Lius darted over to Ina to see if he could help her. A woman pushed her way through the crowd, and said, “I know a bit. Can I help you?”
“Yes!” Lius said. “Please.”
The woman crouched down and began to look Ina over. Reina checked on Dale, and seeing that he was in no immediate danger, walked over to the bound halfling. She plucked the gag out of his house, and he sucked in a few deep breaths.
“Gods… damn it…” he panted. “Thank you very much for the assist.”
“So… who are you?” Reina asked. “And why are you tied up?”
“My name is Nikau,” the halfling grunted. “I’ was supposed to be checking up on the Boromar situation in the Bazaar. Seems these stupid dogs got wind of who I was, decided they were gonna make an example of me.”
“Seems they’ve got the upper hand over you guys at the minute,” Reina observed, nicking the rope with her dagger. Nikau took a step forward and stretched.
“Did you get the big one?” he asked. “I couldn’t quite see from where I was.”
“He’s… not going to be clubbing you over the head anytime soon,” Reina replied.
“What do you mean by that?” Nikau asked gruffly. Reina nodded over to the tied up gnoll. “Ah. You’ve got him alive. Excellent.”
“What are you going to do with him?” Reina asked.
The halfling grinned savagely. “Probably gather up a few of my mates and we’ll do what he was gonna do to me. Make an example of him.”
“That’s my rope,” Reina said. “Can I have it back?”
As Nikau tied the gnoll up with the very rope he himself had been bound with, Lius asked what had happened to the Boromar presence in the Bazaar.
Nikau shrugged. “Had a bit of a run-in with the Daask down in Fallen, the rest of the boys who were here. No idea what happened to them.”
“What was that business all about down there?” Reina asked. “That’s the one thing I can’t get my head around.”
“I dunno,” Nikau shrugged. “I wasn’t part of it. What do you know?”
“There were a lot of dead gnolls and halflings down there,” Reina said, “back when the whole undead thing was going on.”
“And now it seems to be goblinoid controlled,” Lius added.
“Yeah?” Nikau said. “Where’d you hear about all that, then?”
“We didn’t hear about it,” Reina replied. “We saw it.”
“What?” Nikau scoffed. “You were down in Fallen?”
“We were,” Lius confirmed.
“What were you doing down there?” the halfling asked.
“Investigating,” Reina said.
“Hm,” Nikau said contemplatively. “You guys seem to know how to handle yourselves. How would you like to work for me?”
“Like… full time?” Reina asked sceptically.
“Yeah. You know. We’re a bit light in the Bazaar, as you know. Could use some extra muscle.”
Reina shot a glance at Lius. “I tell you what. Give me your contact details, and we’ll come see you if we think that’s something that’s gonna work for us.”
“Yeah? Well, if you need me, I’ll be in the Bazaar. You’ll be able to find me. Just ask for Nikau.”
Before they parted, Nikau advised Reina and Lius to take Dale and Ina to the House Jorasco enclave in Stormhold. They did so, where they were greeted by a middle-aged halfling, who took one look at Ina and Dale, currently bundled into a barrow, and exclaimed, “Good Gods, what happened to these people!?”
Reina struggled to think of something, so Lius jumped in. “Drunken brawl. You know how it is.”
“This seems like quite a serious drunken brawl,” said the halfling, looking them over.
“Yeah,” Lius said. “They get really passionate when they’re arguing about things.”
“Well,” the halfling said, “what do you want us to do with them?”
“Heal them, please!” Reina replied.
“We can tend to their wounds,” the halfling said. “Or there’s magical healing. Which one are you willing to pay for?”
“I don’t know,” said Reina. “We were sent here by Nikau.”
“He assured us you’d be able to help,” Lius added.
The halfling looked from Lius to Reina to the unconscious pair in the barrow. “Why didn’t you say so? Come with me.”
Ina and Dale were taken into the enclave, and the halfling offered Reina and Lius a heavily discounted rate. He asked about the situation down in the Bazaar, and Reina assured him that things were better now.
Ina and Dale’s treatment took but a few minutes, and they were escorted out into the waiting room.
“You did yourselves proud, guys,” Reina said, standing to greet them.
“Are you kidding!?” Dale exclaimed. “I took down a gnoll! That was amazing!”
“You weren’t the only one,” Lius mumbled. “By the way, a goblin took your mirror.”
Dale began to despair, so Lius gave him his mirror.
The party were discharged, and together, they headed back to the Bazaar and Viv’s shop.
“Oh!” the gnome said. “You’re back! That was quick. Did you find them?”
“Yes,” Reina said flatly.
“They’re taken care of,” Lius assured her.
“Marvellous,” Viv said.
“We even got offered employment with the Boromar,” Reina scoffed.
Viv raised an eyebrow. “Really? I thought they’d all cleared out of the district.”
“Apparently not,” Reina said. “Apparently, they’re a bit more diverse than I thought.”
“Perhaps they’re desperate,” Lius suggested.
“I don’t know,” Dale said. “I like to think I fit quite well.”
“_You_ might,” Lius hissed.
“Sure, the Boromar are mostly halflings,” Viv said. “But the further down the chain you go, the more diverse you’re likely to find it. Seeing as pretty much every criminal in Sharn’s had dealings with them at one point or another. It goes without saying that they’re going to branch out slightly.”
“Down the rungs we would be,” Reina agreed.
“What exactly did they offer you?” Viv asked.
“I think we got the offer to be dumb muscle,” Reina said.
“They didn’t offer us any sort of payment or anything like that,” Lius added.
“I imagine if it’s dumb muscle in the Bazaar,” Viv said, “they’ll want you to be collecting all the protection money and such. And keeping any more Daask from the district.”
“I don’t fancy that,” Lius said.
“Not an enviable job,” Viv agreed. “But I’m sure it could be a rewarding one if you’re willing to do that kind of thing.”
“Well,” Reina said. “Let’s see how desperate we are when rent’s due next time. Speaking of which, are you feeling squared away enough to have a look at some merchandise?”
Viv flipped over the sign on the door, and looked over the gems that the group had lifted from the Bountiful Lass. Viv said that she would be able to find a buyer fairly easily, and asked the group to return in a couple of days. She also said she would forego her usual cut, as thanks for the help with the Daask situation.
Dale and Ina returned to their various lodgings, while the Lius stayed behind to help Viv around the shop. As they worked, Viv quizzed him for details about the scuffle in the Bazaar, and Lius was happy to provide her with information. Reina, meanwhile, headed back out into the Bazaar, where she saw a newly erected wooden stake, with a fresh gnoll skin hanging from it.
The next day, Lius was tasked with minding the shop while Viv fenced their goods. Reina elected to come along and help.
“I’ll make sure he doesn’t burn the shop down,” Reina said with a grin.
“Very good, dear,” Viv said, before whispering to Lius, “Make sure she doesn’t talk to any customers.”
Lius set about tidying the shop, while Reina sat behind the counter, reading a book about dragons. It was about an hour later when the first customer entered the shop, a man who browsed briefly and then left. The next couple who came in asked Lius a few questions, and he helped them find a book they were looking for.
“You’re actually pretty good at this” Reina observed after the pair had left.
“I try,” Lius said modestly.
A short time later, a tall, slender man entered, and nervously asked, “Is Viv about?”
“No,” Lius said apologetically. “She shouldn’t be too long. Can I take a message and get her to contact you?”
The man considered this, then said, “No. I’ll come back later.”
An hour or so later, Viv returned. She looked around with a wry smile, and said, “I see no one’s managed to burn the place down yet.”
“Don’t worry,” Reina said. “I’ll tackle him if he tries anything.”
“Well,” Viv said. “A great success. It seems like your gems were hot property.”
Viv plopped a bag of coins down on the counter. Reina took it and gave it a feel, estimating that the bag contained at least 100 coins.
“A tall gentleman came in for you earlier,” Lius said to Viv. “He said he was coming back later.”
Viv nodded. “Ah, yes. I’m sure he will.”
“It doesn’t feel right you not taking anything,” Reina said, holding out a handful of coins. “Here’s 20%.”
“No,” Viv said. “Absolute nonsense. I won’t hear of it. I told you I’d be doing this as a favour to you.”
“Well,” Reina sighed. “We really appreciate it.”
“Besides,” Viv said, “with the Boromar having a low presence in the next few weeks, I imagine I’ll be able to take a bit more of a cut than usual.”
Lius and Reina headed over to Tumbledown and dropped Dale’s share of the money off, before they returned to the apartment. Lius took ten gold from Ina’s share and from Reina, before heading down to Brian’s office.
“Oh,” he grunted as he opened the door. “Hullo, Lius.”
Lius handed over a handful of coins. “That’s the rent for this month.”
“Oh!” Brian said, clearly surprised. “Thank… thank ya very much.”
He stood there awkwardly for a moment, and Lius attempted a little conversation, but when it went nowhere, he bid him good day and headed back upstairs.
Ina, meanwhile, headed down to Fallen to assess the situation. She noticed that there were far fewer people around than usual, but more watchmen. When she reached the centre of the district, she found a rather large garrison had been set up. Instantly on edge, she quickly made her way back up to Broken Arch.
A short time later, Reina headed down to the Bazaar. As she wandered the stalls, she spied Nikau, who walked over to her and said, “How’s it going? Have you thought anymore about my proposition?”
“Yeah,” Reina said. “We need to discuss with a few people, and see which way the land lies. Have you spoken to any of your people now the Daask are hopefully taken care of?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Nikau said. “We’re… y’know, we’re slowly filtering back into the district. Got it all under control. You know how it is.”
“Good,” Reina enthused. “It’s better with you guys than with… those others. I saw the token in the marketplace, by the way.”
Nikau grinned. “Oh yeah?”
“Hopefully that’ll get the message across,” Reina said.
“Yeah. Should think twice now about messing with us. Buy, you know, if you do wanna think again on my offer, then let me know. There’s benefits to helping us out. I mean, what are you looking for in particular?”
“I’m just browsing.”
“Yeah? Well, as it would happen, we get a bit of a discount. Look after the merchants, the merchants look after us. So, just have a think on that. Alright?”
“Definitely. Will do.”
“Well. Be seeing you, Mya.”
“Hi,” Lius said eagerly when Reina returned to the apartment.
“Hey,” Reina said.
“Did your… errand go well?” Lius asked curiously.
“Yeah,” Reina said. “Fine. I ran into that guy again. Nikau, the halfling.”
“Oh,” Lius said. “Okay.”
“He seems pretty insistent that we help him out. It’s kind of creepy. He kept being like ‘ooooh, name drop me.’”
“Well… I’m not sure we want to get tied in with a criminal gang.”
“Yeah. Damn criminals.”
Lius frowned. “You know what I mean.”
“Yeah. I’m not comfortable with the violence.”
“Maybe we should consider it. On a… not on a permanent basis…”
“Maybe we should see exactly what he’s got in mind.”
“Can you really say no to these people without them holding a grudge?”
“I have no idea.”
“I assume the worst.”
“Well, that’s probably sensible. Look, let’s just see how it goes.”
“Try one thing for him and see if we wanna carry on working for him?”
“if we see him again, we can ask. If we don’t happen to run into him, then it’s no big deal.”
“Okay. Okay, maybe. Yeah. Yeah, I can just about handle that.”
The pair shared a bottle of wine that evening, and when Lius went into the bedroom, there was a box on the bed. When he opened it up, there was a mirror and nice outfit, neatly folded, inside it. He turned to see Reina standing in the doorway, smiling.
“Present,” she said.
“Why?” Lius asked.
“‘Cos you lost your mirror and your outfit,” Reina said. “I tried to get as close as I could. You can show your titties off in this.”
Lius smirked. “What, so you can get into more fancy ships?”
“I help you,” Reina said, “and I am in turn helped by you.”
“Thank you,” Lius said, walking over and hugging her tightly. “I don’t have anything for you. Do you want a book?”
“What’s it about?” Reina sked, smiling down at her friend.
“Pirates,” Lius said.
The next morning, Lius had barely put on his new clothes when there was a knock at the door. He opened it to see Dale standing in the hallway.
“Hello,” Dale said.
“Oh, hi,” Lius replied.
“Just wondered if you were doing anything about this Nikau situation,” Dale said.
“We still haven’t decided,” Lius admitted, standing aside and letting Dale enter the apartment. “Be quiet, the ladies are still asleep.”
“I figured as much,” Dale said, sauntering over to the sofa and taking a seat.
Lius sat down opposite him. “We can’t decide what to do.”
“But Lius,” Dale insisted. “They’re a great bunch of lads.”
“Just… given who they are,” Lius said, “I’m just dubious at the moment. Reina and I were saying we might see what it is he wants doing first, and see how well we work. Just because I don’t want to enter into some kind of contract with him right away.”
“I expect he’ll want the same thing from us,” Dale observed. “He isn’t gonna give us full-fledged membership to a criminal syndicate just for falling over and getting injured. Either way, if you guys aren’t gonna go for it I probably am.”
Lius woke up Reina and Ina, saying, “We need to discuss what we’re doing about the Boromar.”
“That’s why you got me up!?” Reina asked. “I thought we talked about this.”
“Well, we need a definite answer,” Lius said. “We need to know what we’re doing. Are we all going to go with it?”
“Look,” Reina said. “Let’s talk to him and see what he proposes, and then we can either say ‘yes, that sounds great’ or ‘thank you, but we’ll have to pass on this occasion.’”
“Okay,” Lius said. “Well, we should do that today, then.”
“Fine,” Reina grumbled. “In a few hours. Now where’s my breakfast?”
The group headed down to the Bazaar, where they searched around for Nikau until they were directed to a small tavern called the Talon. There were several halflings in the tavern, including Nikau, who was sitting in a corner, talking to a couple of others. He nodded to the group, motioned for them to wait for a moment, and then, when his conversation was over, walked over to them.
“Good to see you,” he said. “So, have you decided to come on board, then?”
“What did you have in mind for us?” Reina asked. “I’ll throw it out there right now; we’re not particularly comfortable with violence.”
“Well… hopefully it won’t come to that, you know?” said Nikau. “You just, you know, you need to keep an eye on the Bazaar. Make sure the Daask don’t decide to move in. Make sure that if there’s anything going down, the Boromar gets its fair share. That kind of stuff.”
“Sounds amenable,” Dale said.
“Yeah,” Lius agreed. “I think we can do that.”
“Alright,” Nikau said, smiling. “Great, then.”
“What’s the… remuneration situation?” Reina asked.
“Well, it’s… commission-based, mostly,” Nikau explained. “You know. You do the work for the Boromar, you bring us a gold, we give you a silver.”
“As long as we don’t have to sign any contracts or anything,” Reina said with a nervous laugh.
“Nah,” Nikau said. “Nothing that formal. But, look, if you’re having second thoughts about this, then fair enough. Ain’t gonna hold you to anything. But once you’re in, you know, we’re gonna expect you to look after us like we’re looking after you.”
“Absolutely,” Dale said.
“That sounds perfectly reasonable,” said Reina.
“Well, great, then,” Nikau said. “Come in, have a drink. I’ll introduce you to the crew.”