Chapter the Fifth: A Hard Laborer's Search For WagesI woke up groggily in the morning after a fitful night's sleep. It felt like my entire body ached. Virgil was still asleep, if you could even call that sleep, so I took the extra time to draw up a nice, warm bath. I suspected the past week's worth of travels had made their impact upon my person and I wouldn't have the freshest of odors. That was just my excuse for languishing in the tub until the water grew tepid.
Virgil was awake and ready to go by the time I returned to our room. Although I knew he'd object, I felt it was only proper to inform him that I wouldn't be heading for Tarant straightaway. "After lastnight I'm not so eager to hit the road again quite so soon. Besides, my purse is getting awfully light. What say we ask around and see if there are any odd jobs to do before we continue on?"
He sighed a bit and mulled it over. I could tell he wanted to contact Joachim as soon as possible. He started to protest, but then thought better of it. I suppose he might've been afraid of making me angry again. All I got out of him was a half-hearted, "Yes, Madam." Even that was more than I expected, so I didn't press my luck. Wordlessly, I headed out the door.
My first order of business was to brush up on my fighting skills a bit. I caught a guard as he passed by and paid him a few coin for giving me a bit of advice. He seemed a bit put off at first, but when I explained my reasoning to him he acquiesced quickly enough. Woman or no, it's prudent for one to know how to fight if they're going to be traipsing all about the countryside... and who better to ask than a man whose very job is fighting?
It would also be prudent to find out where I might be able to learn a bit more. I couldn't be too careful when I knew there were assassins after me. "Where can I find an expert trainer for melee?"
Isle of Despair?! Good heavens! It seemed like my journey might have to stray towards Blackroot sometime soon. I wasn't overly familiar with the city, but it had to be better than the Isle of Despair and learning how to fight better was quite the high priority. I thanked the guard and started asking around for work.
The first place I came across was an interesting old shop with dozens of cute little knickknacks and gadgets. The shopkeeper greeted me eccentrically as I entered, "Good day, miss! It is a pleasure." His voice was nasal and he spoke just a bit too quickly. I didn't really like him, but it was important to always be polite regardless, "And you are, good sir?"
By the gods, that voice...! Listening to the man speak was like enduring the sound of nails against a chalkboard. His very demeanor was pompous and almost insulting. I tried to excuse myself, "Uh... no. I really just chanced to stop by..."
The man was really getting on my nerves. Not only did he seem incapable of proper speech, but his insistence that I browse his shop only made me want to leave all the faster. I gritted my teeth. If he was going to force me to stick around he could at least stop trying to annoy me to death. "Must you always refer to yourself in the third person?"
Make it stop. Pointing out his flaws only made things worse. If I had to put up with this I was damn well going to try and get something out of it. I cut right to the point, "Enough said, good man. A few questions..."
Surely if he deals as far and wide as he claims to he'll know something about the strange ring the gnome gave me. "What could you tell me about this ring?" I held it out in my palm for him to inspect, carefully prepared to pull it back in if he got grabby.
I suspected I wouldn't get anywhere by asking him about the initials, but since that was the real goal of my search I thought I'd try. "Do you know who the initials G.B. belong to?"
Ugh, I wanted to tell him to stuff it; I have no tolerance for the bourgeoisie. I wondered if I might be able to take advantage of his eccentricity, though. "What do you think something like this is worth?"
Not only is he a pompous windbag, he's also a cheapskate. "Forget it. What can you tell me about the imprint of P. Schuyler & Sons?"
Damned fop. He's going to hold it against me for keeping the ring. "Ahhh. Maybe you don't know as much as I'd thought." I hoped to trick him into blurting out what I wanted to know, trying to prove his worth...
...but the bloody bastard was as shrewd as he was eccentric. "Fine. What is it you're looking for?"
He scratched his chin thoughtfully as though he really had to think to answer the question, "Well... Ristezze is a collector of strange and wonderful things... perhaps there are a few objects you could add to Ristezze's collection?"
Good god, out with it man! "What things are you looking for exactly?"
Well, I did have a camera... but I was hoping to get around to fixing it up later. I do so enjoy tinkering with things. The other thing, though... that was a name I didn't recognize. Probably some backwater legend. "Who is Bessie Toone?"
Ristezze sighed as though it pained him to have to explain it to me. "Bessie Toone was the owner of the old mine just north of town. Rumor has it that one day she walked up to the mine, fired all of the workers, and disappeared into the caves. She was never seen again..." he trailed off.
Am I supposed to get all spooked now? "Sounds like a weird old crone," I muttered.
I knew it. Damned urban myths. What a bunch of hogwash. "Where should I look for her things? In the mine?"
Ristezze nodded at me slowly, treating me like a dullard for even asking. "Yes. Ristezze would say that is the best place to search."
It was a valid question, you dandy bastard. "I'll look into it and return..."
I left the shop and continued on my search for easy coin since the tightwad certainly wasn't going to be parting with any. I happened upon a friendly gentleman by the name of Lloyd Gurloes, a blacksmith by trade. He was rough and well-muscled, his voice clear and polite. This was a significant improvement from Ristezze.
I noticed a few rusty old locks sitting in a bin just inside his shop and a devious thought formed in the back of my mind. "Know much about locks, do you?"
He nodded, "That I do."
I smiled sweetly, "Know much about picking them?"
He eyed me up and down, reconsidering his initial impressions. "A bit, perhaps. What makes you ask?"
"Well... I'm not as young as I once was. It's been a few years since I had any practice and I was wondering if you could teach me anything. Locks had to have advanced a bit over the last decade..."
He gave me a stern look and shook his head slowly, "I'm afraid you're asking the wrong person, Madam. I'm just a country blacksmith."
I thought for a moment then asked, "Do you know where I might find somebody who knows more?"
Hmm, Blackroot again? Sorry, Virgil, Tarant will definitely have to wait. "May I indulge upon you to answer more questions?"
He nodded, softening a bit at my politeness. "Certainly, Madam. What else can I help you with?"
Now was my chance to ask him about a job. "How has business been lately?"
Perfect. I was headed that way anyway. This'll be easy money. "What type of ore do you need?"
Now that was a proposal I hadn't considered. Well, he IS a blacksmith. "A dagger would be wonderful, good sir. That sounds like a good trade... I'll do it."
He nodded respectfully, "Take care of yourself, Madam."
"And you as well, sir," I replied.
I next happened upon a strange little shop a bit distant from the rest of the town. It made me feel uneasy to approach it, but Shrouded Hills wasn't a very big town and I was rapidly running out of options for replenishing my dwindling coin purse. Inside I smelled burning incense, a foul and pungent smell. There were assorted vials scattered about messily and a few scrolls sat on a shelf. Now I understood what had made me feel so uneasy.
"Good day, sir. Might I ask who you are?"
I cut right to the chase. I didn't want to spend any more time in this weird old shop than I had to. "It's a pleasure to meet you. Might I be of assistance?"
He raised his eyebrow at my question, "Well... perhaps. I've a problem here in Shrouded Hills of a most delicate nature. Strictly confidential, if you get my meaning..."
Ooh... this sounds like it'll pay well enough. "Of course... might I ask you a few questions about it?"
He chuckled darkly, "Certainly."
I wasn't afraid of getting my hands dirty, and it was obvious that's what this was going to take. Travel gets expensive, and most strangers aren't granted the luxury of credit. "What is the nature of your problem, Mr. Dunne?"
I was intrigued to say the least. What was it with Gnomes and being so damned melodramatic anyway? "Interesting. And exactly what seems to be going on...?"
His face turned to a dark scowl as he explained his troubles to me. "This whole town is out to get rid of me. They've been brainwashed by that Constable Owens, and now it's only a matter of time before I'm forced to leave."
This was almost too much, but if I didn't play along I wouldn't be getting any money. "I see. What has Constable Owens done to you?"
Ah, there it was. He was struggling with the very thing that I was struggling with just by entering his shop... but while his magicks merely made me uneasy the presence of truly modern technology could indeed run him out of town as he feared. He was a bit self-centered, perhaps, but his complaint wasn't without merit. "I see. You're speaking of the nature of magick and technology..."
"Of course I am," he grumbled. "And that Constable Owens is weakening my powers. There was a time that I was the most powerful man in all of Shrouded Hills!"
I couldn't help but let out a laugh the moment he said it. I tried to cover my mirth with an exclamation, "Goodness! A big place like this!" There's self-centered and then there's ridiculous. This man was the latter.
I didn't like it, but at least it would be a job. "What exactly are you proposing?"
His voice lowered to a barely audible hush, "If you could find a way to disable that infernal machine, I might be able to part with a couple of healing potions. What do you say?"
Damn it all! Does nobody pay gold in this town?! At least I could sell the damned potions if Virgil couldn't make use of them during our travels. I had to take what I could get and it's not like I cared what happened to the steam engine. It might even be fun to take apart if I had the chance. "It's a deal."
He nodded, "Return when it's done."
I sighed, the contempt heavy in my voice, "Very well. Good day, sir."
The morning fog was clearing up underneath the afternoon sun when I exited the shop. In the distance I could see a great big rock that I could only assume was the famed 'Bessie Toone'. I wandered in that direction. On the way I encountered a particularly spacious house situated not too far from the mine. It looked to be an excellent target for a good plundering. I tried the door and it was unlocked. Perfect.
Not only was somebody home, but there were two somebodies... and one of them was a half ogre! This wasn't such a good place to plunder after all. He does look like he has money, though... "What is your name, sir?"
Suddenly the man began to look very nervous and sweat formed on his brow. "I... I am Percival Toone. Why do you ask?" he stammered.
Good god, man... you're the one with the half ogre guard and you're afraid of a woman? "Why are you so nervous?"
I gave him a sideways glance. Something didn't feel right here, but I already agreed to destroy a steam engine and whatever he was about to ask couldn't be any worse. "Your mother's ghost?"
"Perhaps I can help free your mother's ghost." Why do I never think before I speak? I know I'm desperate for money, but just what the hell am I offering to do? I don't know the first thing about ghosts.
500 coins! Now we're talking! "I will return when I have looked into this matter." I didn't know how in the bloody hell I was going to get rid of a ghost, but for 500 coins it was damn well worth a shot.
Bessie Toone, here I come...