//Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive.//
Those are the words that are going around Slaines head as she pauses at the door to the Shining Mermaid, just off Market Town. Those words aren’t because of anything the Half Pint mystic done – amazingly. They’re in relation to the investigation that she’s helping her new friend, Catriona with.
Someone is preying on the ships in the Falstead Expeditions. There’s a number of leads they need to follow, but perhaps the most concerning and the most dangerous is the one involving a Mister Croup and Miss Vandemar. They’ve a hidden, vested, interest in the pillaging having had smuggled cargo aboard the Fair Weather – the last ship in a line of ships to have been plundered by Horune Pirates.
This lead has been bought the two women here, The Shining Mermaid – a hive of scum and villainy – to see what other information they can glean on the two shady characters.
Taking a deep breath in, the tiny redhead pushes the door open and enters to find herself in a smoky, dingy taproom filled with … well yeah. They look like criminals or thugs – Human and D-Bee’s alike. “So… where do we start.”
Catriona’s approach was more wary than would normally be the case – inhuman durability and the capacity to turn into a ghost have given her more than a little confidence when it comes to poking her nose into dangerous situations. But this one, she’s acutely anxious to avoid having turn into a fight. Thus, she’s spent a little time scouting the area – masked by Subtlety, assisted by the preternatural reflexes that let her flow through crowds without making contact, and wearing the amulet acquired for her just the door before by Slaine. With that on, she hopes to be able to discern any mystical defences that might alert people in the area to things such as the presence of a psychic in stealth-mode, or a ghost passing through walls.
If there’s any place where there’s going to be wards in criminal hideouts, it’s Vesper. And yes, as it turns out this place is warded, but not against intrusion per se. No one has tried to turn this into a fortress. It’s warded against remote observation. The distant evesdropping that compromises privacy is apparently more of concern than a squad of Justicars kicking the door in.
Most eyes go to Slaine and Catriona when they come in. There’s a low rustle of murmurs that moves through the place like a breeze. A lot of people sort of turn inward. The intruders aren’t exactly welcome.
One man, a man in a thick peacoat in fashion with sailors is sitting in a corner booth, arms along the top of the bench seat and along the wall, openly watching them. He’s chewing on what looks like a cheap Dogwood imported cigar. “Well look what the tides dragged in…”
Dressing down to be in this place wasn’t hard for the mystic. She’s a trunk of old clothes that have seen better days or need mending. But still, she sticks out. It might be the bright red hair or might just be that she’s clean. The thought of being messy, didn’t appeal to Slaine.
So it’s no wonder that everyone looks at them. It certainly couldn’t be Slaines reputation – that she went into Vanished Point and was found, several miles away, several days later with no memory of what happened.
Glancing to Cat as the man speaks to man, she steps towards the booth. “Better’n Cat I’d say. People don’t seem to like strangers in here.” She’ll let Cat do the talking for them …
Catriona can’t help but assess the place and its inhabitants by scent as well as sight, her nose providing her with its oft-unwanted survey of prospective prey. Still, it might at least serve to alert her to anyone – or any*thing* – truly unusual in here. It takes her a moment to refocus upon sound, a brief smile twisting her facial scar. “They rarely do, in this sort of place,” she murmurs to the shorter redhead. “Mostly, I just lurk in a dark corner and look like I’m here to get drunk on my own. I’m not quite sure how to gather information. But I suppose that trying to buy drinks might be a start. Whiskey? It’s probably going to have enough alcohol to kill anything else that might be in there.”
“If yer buyin’.” The man says as he kicks a chair out. Only one chair but there’s more than enough room at his table. It’s an invitation of sorts.
“Calder.” That’s his name apparently. “Ain’t never seen the likes o’ either of you at the Mermaid before. What brings you down dockside?”
“We’re buyin’…” Slaine nods to Catriona, indicating the chair. She can sit, Slaine will stand … after she’s bought the whiskey’s.
“Slaine.” she murmurs, in answer to the mans name, heading to the bar. Leaving Wraith to answer and ask the questions.
Of course, the bar itself is quite tall, but fortunately a number of the shorter D-Bee’s attend this place and there’s boxes situated at convenient places, so they can be seen. The redheaded mystic, takes advantage of that, keeping an ear open for the conversation that’s about to occur.
“Commonly called Wraith, myself,” Catriona provides, wishing that she could remember (if she’d ever known) a lot more about how to deal with people socially. She accepts the offered chair, gracefully folding herself onto it. “Trying to get a… feel for how things work here. I’m new in town. And I want to make sure I don’t do anything to… stand on people’s toes. Or at least make sure I have some idea whose toes I might be treading on if I do.”
“Well there’s people and then there’s people.” Calder says, helpfully. Or perhaps less so. “You go ’round your business in Vesper, prolly won’t make anyone too upset with you. Now if you //have// business in Vesper…” The way Calder emphasises it there can’t be any doubt that he means illegal business.
“Then you’re going to want to know who’s who. Black Market. Nighthand. All them. Gotta watch out for the big fish when yer jus’ a minnow, you know? Elsewise you get a visit from folks. Folks you don’t never want to see.”
It takes Slaine a moment to get the bartenders attention and it takes a little longer for the order to be filled. Don’t ask where the redhead keeps her money – suffice to say, she’ll never be pick pocketed.
By the time she returns to the table, three glasses of whiskey in hand, the conversation is underway. Setting the glasses down in front of everyone, she leans a hip against the table. The whiskey, isn’t great stuff, actually it’s pretty awful, likely to strip paint of the walls if it ever makes contact.
Catriona nods – to Calder, and then again to Slaine when she returns with the drinks. They smell pretty much as she’d expected… but she’s confident that her consitution, at least, can cope with it. “I’ve heard a few names – Nighthand among them,” she affirms. “But… who’d I really want to make sure I never saw?”
“The folks what come when you upset important people.” Calder says, leaning forward. He accepts the whiskey and knocks half the glass back in one swoop. “Folks like… mmmm…”
He has to think about that one for a moment and then snaps his fingers. “Folks like Mister Croup and Miss Vandemar. Funny how you never see ’em just ‘around’. But when someone has business, they show up plenty quick.”
The only thing that Slaine can smell is the mass of unwashed bodies and spilt acohol. She’s trying not to breath too deeply, as a result.
Wetting her lips with the whiskey, barely taking a sip, the redhead watches Calder wondering if the show in remembering, was just that. A show. The names though, has her glancing to Catriona. Seems they’re on to something here.
Catriona nods slowly, trying to look encouraging. Unsettlingly and tough, she suspects she’s permanently stuck with nowadays, but at least they rather fit her present surroundings. “And what’s so bad about them in particular, that they come to mind first of all?”, she asks quietly.
“Well… all o’ the ‘trouble shooters’, they have their methods. An’ mostly folks talk about em. Break knees. Cut off fingers.” Apparently the underworld here can be a tad brutal but then… organized crime often is.
“The thing about Mister Croup and Miss Vandemar, though, is you never slip ’em. You never stay ahead of ’em. They always just show up. They find you, even when they shouldn’t be able. And when they find someone who’s been making trouble… well, no one wants to say what they do. But some folks say the screaming can go on for hours…”
That matches with what Gran had told them. Except the old woman hadn’t been quite so … graphic. Slaine shudders as Calder explains, nearly spilling the whiskey. Straightening, taking her hip off the table, the small mystic pushes her back from her face – a nervous gesture, one she’s had since she was child – and looks to Catriona again.
There’s so many questions, but it’s best for one of them to do the asking. Who, or what type of people, do they work for. How would you contact them. Do they work for just person or group, or are they less selective.
As Wraith, Catriona has been known to feast upon fallen enemies… but she has always rather firmly preferred for them to be dead at the time. She looks a little unsettled, albeit by the cruelty rather than the prospect of gore. “Hrmmm. Delightful,” she murmurs dryly. “And do they work for anyone in particular? Or might they, ahh, show up connected to just about any field of *business*?”
“Well they’re not ones to talk much… er, well, Mister Croup is. He’ll talk for hours but nary a useful word I’ll warrant. Word is they work for one of the bosses in the Nighthand. Maybe they work for the whole Nighthand. They even say that if you want someone… mortified…”
The emphasis on the world clearly does not mean ’embarrassed.’
“… then you leave a note and a whole lot of money under a flat stone outside the Dragon’s Gate. And then they take care of it. Never tried it myself though.” Calder seems to be up on the gossip if nothing else.
“Ugh…” Slaine can’t help herself, that word comes out of own its accord. Looking startled, she drops her eyes to the liquid in her glass. The level hasn’t changed much, if at all.
Being mortified, might be a nightmare for the small mystic.
Another look to Catriona, seeing if the woman has any more questions. Slaines considering chiming in and asking if there’s any rumours on the Falstead jobs.
She’s also wondering if they can contact these … despicable … two using the same flat stone method.
Catriona’s making reasonable progress with her own rotgut, albeit rather absent-mindedly. “Mmmm. So, independent enough they do some freelance work. Even if I’d guess the Nighthand might take a… consideration in return for turning a blind eye to it. And if I were to be keen to avoid catching their attention, would there be anything they’re known to be interested in at the moment? I’d imagine that when they show up, people might take note and pass on word to steer clear.”
“If’n there’s any warnin’ ‘tall, folks might pass that word on yes. But if’n Mister Croup and Miss Vandemar are sniffin’ ’round, there might not be. And if’n they’re on business…” Calder just shrugs.
“Can’t rightly say I’ve ever heard of ’em bein’ real friedly, is all I’m sayin’.”
And yet they’d been… friendly enough with Slaine and Catriona. Creepy, yes. But friendly. Ish. Croup had talked a lot. And they’d seemed keen to solve the problem without killing anyone. Possibly because killing wouldn’t have helped.
Maybe that was it. Or maybe they needed the two women alive for a moment to achieve their ends.
Finally speaking up, Slaine looks at Calder, then Wraith and then back to Calder. Wraith can continue her questions but Slaine has one of her own “Is there any rumours on the Falstead Expedition incidents? Where these people might have an interest?” It’s tipping their hand and a little clumsy.
Catriona nods pensively to Calder, wondering quite what had earned them such courtesy (and in a public place, to boot), then glances up to Slaine as she provides a specific name for their own particular interest. Fortunately, her poker face isn’t too bad, and she settles for just looking quizzically back to their informant.
“Falstead? I can’t see what that Caitlyn Falstead would have anythin’ to do with the Nighthand…” Calder muses. “She’s straighter than an Academy ruler…”
After a moment he frowns though. “She had to hire a few new captains last year, though. Her business was getting bigger. They wasn’t the most upstanding of folks. Retired… well, retired pirates was the rumor. They said twas nothin’ but talk or if it was more then it was a long time ago. Folks always kinda wondered though…”
So maybe one of them had an arrangement with the Nighthand. Or maybe all of them did.
“I didn’t think there was a connection to the Nighthand directly…” Slaine murmurs again, looking into her glass for a long moment.
Slaines leaning towards all of the Captains being ex Pirates. That would explain four ships getting hit, much more neatly than just one Captain feeding information. Might be worthwhile for Catriona to visit the Captain in the Restorium again.
Giving Catriona a slightly apologetic look, she keeps quiet again. Although she does wonder how much you’d have to pay these two, to look after a job.
The bosun in the Restorium might well know more about his captain’s past: at the least, he seems likely to know something of the reputation and rumour surrounding Falstead’s recruits. Still, Catriona’s intrigued as to what sort of falling-out there might have been within the criminal underworld that Croup and Vandemar are now being polite on one side, and Horune pirates are running rampant on the other, with possibly-former pirates (and their new crews and new employer) caught in the middle.
“How long have Mr Croup and Miss Vandemar been around?”, she asks, allowing genuine curiosity to show in her voice. “Have they been a, umm, fixture of the city for long?”
“s’long as I can remember, that’s for sure…” Calder says after a moment of thought. “You two steer clear o’ them. Ain’t nothing good can come of getting mixed up in whatever darkness they live in.”
He seems quite convinced of that. “Now if you ladies will excuse me… I need to go heed natures call…”
He… may have been drinking here for a while.
Attempting to learn a little more about quite what it is that they've got involved with, Slaine accompanies Catriona in search of information on the mysterious Mr Croup and Miss Vandemar.
December 13, 2409
Shining Mermaid, Vesper