Chapter the Forty Third: One First Must Get Dirty In Order To Become CleanAs badly as I wanted to return home, the thought of it merely brought the sincerest dread to the pit of my stomach. I was afraid of how it would turn out, moreso than I was afraid of assassins or ancient evils. I couldn't really place why and it felt terribly irrational, but still I feared the worst. Perhaps it was a fear of facing everything I'd run away from, or perhaps it was simply a manifestation of the guilt I felt over what I'd done.
It's all right... I can put it off a while longer. I've always planned to return one day... that day's just sooner than I thought. I tried calming myself with little success and, in the end, I decided to give myself the time I needed to grow accustomed to the idea. I had no shortage of places to visit or curiosities to investigate, and it would only make for an even better story to tell Frederick when I finally got back. Instead of heading straight for Black Root, I wandered down towards the Boil to see about that Sebastian fellow that Mr. Willoughsby had mentioned.
The guard stopped me quite rudely as I began to enter the Boil. I supposed that I could understand his desire to protect a poor, innocent woman like myself. Then again I was the pervert of Tarant, so I was probably off in my assumption. "Why not?"
He glared at me with an incredulous stare as if he couldn't believe I would ask such a stupid question. "That is the Boil in there! You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. You may enter at your own risk, but I wouldn't recommend it."
There was definite truth in his words. There was no other city quite like Tarant and even the worst parts of Black Root wouldn't compare to the filth of the Boil. I truly was headed towards the worst, most foul den of iniquity that presently existed, and yet... I couldn't really bring myself to care overly much. It was nothing I couldn't handle, and I didn't feel overconfident in thinking about it as such. "I see. I will take my chances, thank you very much."
He started chuckling at me cruelly, "Be my guest... but no one out here will heed your cries for help as you lay dying."
Is that because it's the Boil, because I'm a woman, or because you think me a pervert? I continued onward with a "Hrumph" and stepped into the bar labeled Malloy's. A man sitting at a table not far from the entrance beckoned to me as soon as I entered so I wandered on over to him. "Sebastian?"
I just want to find out what the hell Willoughsby is up to. "Well... I suppose you could call me a 'concerned' citizen..." I stole the line from Jenks, but it fit well enough.
He arched an eyebrow at me, "I see... Mr. Willoughsby told you of his... 'plans'... over here in the Boil?"
I nodded, taking a seat next to the man. "He mentioned them. Perhaps you might elaborate...?"
"Well..." he lowered his voice to a whisper and moved in closer to me. "Mr Willoughsby has his concerns about what's happening here in the Boil. Do you know anything about the place?"
Other than its well-deserved reputation? "Not much, actually..." I was preciously short on details.
I almost envied him for having such a luxury as to always be able to look before he leapt. He clearly hadn't been to places such as the Black Mountain Clan mines, or the Dark Fens. I didn't want to offend him, however. "I appreciate the tip, Sebastian. You were saying?"
He shrugged. "Well, the Boil is a rough place. There are two gangs here which control most of the criminal activity... one is Clan Maug, and the other is Pollock's Gang."
Although I was desperately beginning to crave a shot of whiskey I decided I could take care of that shortly. I listened intently as Sebastian continued speaking with me. "I see. Tell me a little about them..."
"Well..." he seemed to stumble looking for the words. It was fairly clear that there weren't many who either dared or bothered to ask such daft questions. "Pollock's Gang is a group of rag-tag ruffians who run things in the South Boil. Clan Maug is holed up in the Bentley, an old hotel just north of here. They're a tad smarter than the boys from Pollock's Gang, but no less deadly...
"As you can well imagine, Clan Maug and Pollock's Gang aren't very fond of each other. There's quite a few disagreements between members of the gangs, and most of them end up with people dead."
So it's like the slums of any other town, only about ten times worse. "Interesting. What does Mr. Willoughsby have to do with all of this?"
At last it made sense. Mr. Willoughsby didn't give a damn for the poorer section of town, he just didn't want it invading the section where he lived. "I take it that's where you come in?"
He smiled, a hungry and wolfish smile. "Exactly." I was beginning to see exactly what kind of work was being done here.
Everybody else just ignores the problems here because they're "beneath" the rest of the city. Well, damnation, somebody's got to put a stop to it! Most people don't live here because they choose to! "Hmmm. Sounds like something I might want to get involved in..."
Sebastian's eyes narrowed at me curiously and intently. "Really? You think you're cut out for this sort of work, friend?"
The way he said it made me wonder if there was some aspect of it that wasn't intensely obvious, such as perhaps 'servicing'. "What do you mean... 'this sort of work'?"
That's a relief. It might be distasteful, but I can't just sit by and let these thugs terrorize the city's poor. I had to live like this once, too. "Ah. Well, I'm listening, Sebastian."
He smiled again, regaining his confidence in me. "Good, good. Listen, I know a little bit about you... Mr. Willoughsby knows much about what happens here in Tarant and abroad, and he keeps me informed." I'm not a damned pervert. "I'm not exactly sure what it is that you're looking for, but I might be able to help."
I hadn't expected that. Mr. Willoughsby knew more than he let on, it seemed. "What is it you're proposing, Sebastian?"
He cleared his throat and looked me in the eye, "What I'm saying is... you help me take care of my problem here in the Boil, then I might be persuaded to help you with yours. What do you think?"
I glanced down at the sword Sebastian was carrying along with the gun on his belt, "Sounds intriguing. Let's continue..."
Get to the details already. "I see. What are you looking to do?"
He sighed, then whispered further, "Well, usually with all of the fighting that goes on around here, the gangs tend to weed each other out. But lately, the word is that Clan Maug is growing more powerful by the day... that it's only a matter of time before Darien Maug takes over ALL of the operations here in the Boil.
"If Maug consolidates his power here in the Boil without any opposition, then what's to stop him from corrupting the rest of the city in the same manner? Get my meaning, friend?"
Of course I do. You don't give a damn about the Boil unless you think it'll start threatening the upper class. "Clearly. You want me to get rid of Maug."
"Done." I couldn't ignore that I'd at least be helping out the poor, even if I was the only one that cared.
He actually frowned slightly at my acceptance. "Good. Just... do be careful with how you go about this. These gangs aren't the only ones here in the Boil. Not everybody can afford to live in the nicer areas. When you've taken care of the problem, come back here and we'll talk further."
Well, now that was unexpected. So you do care, after all... you've got it, Sebastian. I stood up and stretched my legs, wandering on over to the bar for a quick shot of whiskey before getting things started. "Hello there, bartender. What's the name?"
"Nice to meet you, Caleb." I was about to ask him for a shot of whiskey when he suddenly leaned in closely and nearly whispered to me.
"Listen, you're new around here... a man can tell just by lookin' who knows the Boil and who don't. This ain't a nice place to be visitin', especially when you don't know the lay 'a the land..."
I wrinkled my brow, almost offended at the insinuation. "Thanks for the advice, but I think I can handle myself..."
He stood up and smirked at me, "Really, now? Think you know your way around the Boil, do you? I guess you won't be needin' my advice, then. Guess I'll just keep my mouth shut about what goes on around here..."
Fine, fine, rub it in. "Perhaps I spoke too soon, Caleb..."
"Well, go ahead, then. Tell me about what goes on around here." I sighed.
He leaned back against the bar comfortably and started filling me in, "Well, there're two gangs that pretty much run the show here. One's Pollock's Gang and the other's Clan Maug. Pollock's a half-ogre who runs a mish-mash bunch of Hooligans here in the boil - not too organized, mind you, but vicious and cruel.
"Darian Maug's Clan is mostly orcs and half-orcs. He plays it a little quieter, but you can't trust him anymore than a Bangellian viper. Either way, if you get involved with one, the other gang's going to be after your hide. A man needs to be careful about who he works for in the Boil."
"So?" I asked, almost amused, "Which one's the better gang to work for?"
"Well," he sighed deeply, "That's tough to say, lass. Once you decide, there's no going back."
Of course... if you've seen one slum you've seen them all... lowlifes running around in the biggest pack of ne'er-do-wells they can find, the only loyalty to be had one borne of fear... "Nevermind about that, Caleb. Just give me a shot of whiskey."
He frowned and scratched at his cheek nervously, "Funny you should ask for that, lass."
He seemed to pause, waiting for me to say something. "Give me a shot or tell me a story, but don't just sit there."
I grumbled to myself. Of course. All I want is one lousy shot and he's not got a drop of whiskey in the whole damn bar. "What can I do?"
He grinned, "Well, I need someone to go and pick up the whiskey for me. I ain't got a drop left and that just won't do at all. You go pick it up, and I'll give you 500 gold pieces when you get back here. What do you think?"
"Make it 500 and a free shot." I winked at him and he smiled. "What do I do?"
He pulled out a small slip of paper and scribbled some notes on it while he talked, "You're to go out to the middle of the Garrillon Bridge, near the towers, meet up with a man named Biggs. I'll send a boy over there, and tell him to be waitin' for you. Watch yourself, lass... the Boil ain't a place to be gettin' careless, you hear me?"
I took the sheet of paper from him and stuffed it in my purse. "You don't have to worry about me, Caleb. Whiskey's at stake, I'll be taking the utmost precautions." He grinned at me as I turned around and stepped out of the bar without another word. I certainly wasn't about to make my move against Maug without first getting a good drink in, so the Garrillon Bridge was my first stop. I noticed the dwarf by the two towers right where I expected him to be, and I also noticed the obvious orcish gang members on either side of him just waiting for something to happen. I loosened the clip I hung my axe from and approached the dwarf.
This is going to get messy fast, isn't it? "Yes... I'm here for the whiskey."
The dwarf nodded nervously, "Yeah, Yeah... I've got it right here. My delivery boys keep getting mugged on their way to Malloy's... hopefully you'll have better luck."
I took several bottles of whiskey from him and stuffed them into my purse. It looked like pretty good quality whiskey, too, but I suspected there was a lot of demand for the strong stuff down in the Boil... almost as much of a demand as there was on the Isle of Despair. "I don't think I'll fare much better than your boys, Biggs, but I come better prepared. You'd best make a run for it before things get messy here."
"You don't have to tell me twice!" He, too, had noticed the orcs closing in, but it was too late for him to be clear of them.
I nearly spat at the man's feet. A half-orc and three full-blooded orcs... no doubt this is Maug's work. "I'm picking up some whiskey for Caleb Malloy." ...and you'll not bloody stop me.
He grinned, pulling out a rather lengthy blade from behind his back, "Well, that's a problem now, missy. You see... this here is my territory, and no one brings any whiskey through Malek Nebb's territory without askin' me first. I think I'm going to have to take that whiskey from you..."
I pulled my axe loose from my belt, already swinging it as I answered, "I don't think so, Mr. Nebbs. This whiskey belongs to me, to Caleb, and to any poor bastard with sorrows so great they can only be drowned in the Boil."
Of all the things I'll tolerate, robbery of my damned whiskey is NOT one of them. I wiped my axe blade clean on the fallen thugs' clothing and changed directions back towards the Boil, whiskey safely tucked away in my purse. Caleb seemed particularly intrigued when I walked back in.
"I've recovered your whiskey, Caleb." As I spoke I pulled it out of my purse, bottle by bottle, setting each bottle down on his bar.
"I welcome your money, Caleb, but what I really want is a damned shot." I smiled at him.
He grinned back in return, "Fair enough, lass. A deal's a deal." He put a clean glass on the bar and topped it off extra full with that whiskey. I could tell from the odor alone that it was every bit as good as I'd thought it would be, and the taste only confirmed it. It burned like only a good, strong whiskey can.
I set the glass back down on the bar gently once I'd finished. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Caleb... now if you don't mind, I'm going to see about administering some just rewards to those who made that shot so difficult to acquire in the first place."
He gave me a wink and turned around to wash out my empty glass. As the alcohol started to cloud over my mind I began to develop a particularly crazy idea. It didn't strike me as wise to take on the whole of Clan Maug single handedly, especially when the gang was comprised largely of the worst of the worst. It didn't get any worse than orcish thugs.
I sauntered over to a table where two orcs were sharing ales and I quite firmly planted my axe in the center of the table. They jumped up to their feet, spilling ale all over the floor. Sorry, Caleb. "Tell me how I can join up with Clan Maug and I won't have to get even more violent."
I picked up my axe from out of the table. "I'll do that. Good bye." I had a feeling they'd respond to that. Thugs only respect what they're afraid of... ask nicely and you'll get nowhere. I slipped the axe back onto my belt and wandered over to the dwarf the orc mentioned. He had two more orcs on either side of him, which should've been a surefire sign that he was a Clan Maug man.
"Muggs, is it?" The dwarf growled at me as I approached him. "One of your boys told me to come talk to you about a job."
His growling ceased and he looked up at me curiously, "Well, well... looking to join up with Damian Maug's clan, eh? Good choice. Healthy choice too, if you get my meaning. I got an easy job for you, collectin'."
"I'm listening." It was unpleasant, but I was willing to play along with his little game long enough to climb my way to the top. It sure beat chopping my way there the hard way. I had a feeling a woman with my talents would climb the ladder quickly once they realized what I was capable of... and then I'd be alone with Maug.
Pathetic. You call this work? "What if he doesn't have it?"
The dwarf shrugged, "Kill him."
I thought this was Clan Maug, not Pollock's Gang. Pah, like there's a real difference. "Alright, where's this fellow live?" I had no intention of fully complying with the dwarf's request, but I had to make it look like I was.
"His shack's up Northwest boil a tad, on the left." Muggs seemed to be particularly bored with me. I imagined he was trying to somehow break me, but it wasn't going to work.
"I'll return with his money or his blood." Even I surprised myself with just how violent and thuggish I sounded. I was becoming quite the actress. I shoved my way out of the bar rudely and forcefully to complete the illusion, following Muggs' directions towards Larrs' shack. The smell of urine was nearly overpowering but I pushed my way inside regardless. Larrs seemed to know why I was there.
Good heavens... he's not even a gang member. I took a good look around the shack and at the trembling man in front of me. This was exactly the reason I was going to so much trouble to clean up the Boil. "Don't worry about it, I'll pay your debt for you."
He fell to the ground and started grabbing at my hand, trying to kiss it. "Thank you! Oh, thank you so much! You don't know how much this means to me and my family!"
Oh, but I do... I do all too well. I turned around and left the shack, heading straight back to Malloy's. Muggs looked at me suspiciously as I sauntered back over towards him. I tossed him 200 coins. "Larrs paid up after a bit of 'persuasion'."
Well that was a short ladder indeed. I headed straight back out the way I came and looked around for the hotel that Muggs mentioned. Truly, it was difficult to miss. It was about the only building that commanded any respect in the entire Boil. I strolled over to it purposefully, but when I finally got there I was blocked off by a gnome. He reeked of perfume and I would've laughed in his face, but he had more than a few scars and he looked like he knew how to use a dagger. He spat on my shoes and taunted me, "And just what precisely do you think you would be doing here?"
I tried to shrug off his insult, remembering just how little I wanted to have to cut apart the entire gang one by one... not to mention how poor my chances were of actually succeeding at such a task. "Muggs told me to come see Damian. I just did a job for him."
The gnome sneered at me, "Well, madam, I am Milo, Mr. Maug's man Friday as it were. No one enters here without my say so."
My curiosity finally overtook me and I absolutely had to ask, completely out of the blue, "If you don't mind me asking, what is a gnome doing in the Boil?"
Hmph. A likely excuse. More probable you're not allowed in polite society. "Interesting. Well, if you'll just step aside, I'll be going on in."
He placed his hand on his dagger threateningly, though instead of feeling scared I merely wanted to laugh at him again. "I decide who enters, as I have already told you. Do not cross me, I become rather unpleasant when angry."
Good heavens, get over yourself. "I was told to see Mr. Maug. Enough of this silliness!"
He pulled his dagger off of his belt, "If you keep pushing me, you will be extremely unhappy."
Yes, I suppose I would be unhappy if I had to bury my axe in your skull... mostly because it would ruin my plans. "Fine. What do I need to do to get inside?"
You did not just insinuate what I think you did... ugh, if I were a worse person I would be only too happy to make you pay for that remark. "I'm not much for that sort of thing, do you have any other work?" I didn't suspect that he did, but I wanted to test just how much higher of a standard Maug's gang held themselves compared to Pollock's.
The gnome spat on my shoes... again. "You would prefer something along janitorial lines, perhaps? We're a gang, fool. We only maintain power through fear and intimidation. If you're too squeamish for this line of work, perhaps you should just run along."
That only served to confirm my suspicions that Maug and Pollock were just two sides of the same coin. Thugs are thugs no matter the dressing. "If there wasn't a choice, then why'd you offer one? I asked for a job, now are you going to give me one or not?"
He shrugged casually and I only wanted to harm him further. There were few that could get on my nerves quite as powerfully as that damned gnome. "You know, the usual rival gang killing and all that. A swarthy gentleman, who it just so happens belongs to that dreadful Pollock gang, has taken a liking to my girl. I would like him removed from this world."
I laughed right in the gnome's face, "Your girl? You have a girl? I find that a bit difficult to believe."
I figured I could probably find a convincing way to go about the task without killing, and if things came down to violence then I could only feel so bad about removing another thug from the world. "It depends. What is the pay for that sort of work?"
He shrugged, tossing out the first number that came to his mind, "Let us say 500 gold, shall we?"
I frowned, tapping my foot impatiently, "That sum is a bit light for 'rough work'." In truth, I just wanted to extort the bastard for whatever I could.
He frowned back at me, fingering his dagger again, "That's what it is worth, and it is the only way you will get inside the Bentley. What will it be, then?"
Looks like 500's the limit. Guess it'll have to do. "Alright, I'll do it. Where can I find this bloke?"
...and Maug's clan is supposed to have a problem with orcs or something? Bloody hell, there's an orc standing right next to you! "Consider him deceased." I turned and stalked off to the south Boil, displeased with how this particular plan was going.
"Virgil," I started chatting with him as we walked, "I just want you to know, I'm only doing this to minimize the amount of violence we have to commit. I... I want to help clean this place up, and there just isn't any way to do it without getting my hands a little dirty. They weren't clean in the first place anyway, you know."
His response was unusually quiet, even for him, "I understand, Samantha. I know your heart is in the right place. You don't have to worry about me, I'll stick by you."
Vollinger joined in the conversation as well, considerably more jovially, "I trust you know what you're doing. We've been traveling together long enough that I'd like to think I know you a bit better than these thugs do. I can tell you've got something else in mind."
I smiled, feeling honestly relieved at the trust they were giving me, "Thank you both, I-" I forgot completely what I had been about to say as a massive serpent beast darted out of a nearby house and attacked me.
I quite reflexively turned about and cleaved him in two with a single strike from my axe. As his body crumpled to the ground in an expanding pool of blood it changed shape, slowly shrinking and forming into the body of a half orc. Well... I suppose that's done... and he did attack me first. I sighed, wiping the blood off of my axe yet again, and turned back towards the Bentley. I tried to remember whatever I had been trying to say when I was interrupted, but it was long gone. I couldn't even remember the first word of it by the time I was at the Bentley again. The Boil wasn't exactly large.
The gnome nearly applauded at my return, but it was more mocking than genuine. "The gallant warrior returns! Pray tell, are you here to deliver me Treat's head on the proverbial platter, hmmm?"
Stuff it, gnome. "You conveniently forgot to mention he could shape shift!"
It struck me that if I had such an easy time with the shapeshifter and the gnome would've had a considerably harder time, then I would have a rather easy time taking down the gnome if I had to. That was not new information. "Deal." I preferred to avoid what violence I could, even still.
He counted out the coins and placed them in my hand, "Oooh! Splendid! Here's your 550 gold. You are welcome to enter the majestic Bentley, home of the Clan Maug!"
Hmph. Majestic... I'm sure. Finally, it's time to meet the man I'm supposed to kill.
Bonus ContentIt's not much, but here's a random bonus picture. The second you choose to join one gang, the other instantly knows that you're a member. It would've been so much more fun to play both sides, and so fitting of the character.