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After much setup, the caravan undertakes its next big venture to return gold to its purse. With a bit of chicanery, a large amount of bottles and paint, and a whole heap of gurr-shit, the caravan begins The S’vargan Job.
First, Narue the mercenary procures an alosin, a long-necked, maned thing with sound, sturdy hoppin’ legs. She’s familiar with the thing and able to lead it easily enough, before the rest load it down with “Miraculous Concoction.” The beast is a rather helpful feature to have; though the bottles clatter as it hops, it certainly carries more than the lot of them could. Besides, it can easily trot at walking pace to reduce the odds of a big old mess in its saddlebags.
On the way towards the city wall, Vasht directs the group around to a side-gate. It’s a bit more obscure, and makes it seem less like the group is coming from the caravan. On the way through, some of the sleepy guards startle, then scoff at the display.
“Loony foreigners,” one chainmailed shasii mutters.
“Just peddlers, mister,” Narue says, with a disarming smile.
“Right, right, get on with you then,” the guard huffs, waving them onward. “Don’t steal anything.”
Inside the walls, the architecture is of much the same style. Even the low buildings are overwhelming, with their own spikes and spires all adorning the top. And somehow, each building is built with its neighbors in mind. It’s such that the toothlike pattern of one rooftop blends with the next, each piece complementing one another. It’s as if one artist had his way with an entire skyline, sculpting it to his whims.
The streets are crowded near the gate, bustling with merchants and locals alike. The crowds are almost exclusively shasii, though tzuskar and huikkarans are also occasionally seen. It’s a good thing the group didn’t decide to include any callosians; they would have stuck out like a sore thumb.
It’s a short walk to reach a square near one of the outlying markets. Jiselmo, despite being dressed as a beggar, often points for the proper street or alleyway to take. He seems to have a rather good sense of the place, however long its been since he last navigated the winding streets. A couple of times, he even manages to divert the group away from a group of cutthroats, who tend to wear gentlemanly garb that matches their stilettos.
The clearing is a perfect medium; near a market to get good foot-traffic, but not adjacent any apothecaries or herbalists. There aren’t even many guards around to hassle them. What’s more, a fountain in the center serves as a rather nice draw, with people tossing coins into it as tribute to their god, the Wanderer.
Upon arrival, the group shifts its gaze towards Ane.
Jiselmo waggles his eyebrows. “Shall we begin?”
Ane parks one silver-ringed hand on her paste-gemmed hip, and gives the group a firm nod.
They all nod to one another, and commence setting up. They park the alosin in front of the fountain, where Narue bids it to sit. Vasht lays out a blanket and begins setting bottles all along the edges. Jiselmo runs away to beg.
Korin finds a dry spot on the fountain’s base, and pins up the glorious sign:
DOCTOR LARTIMUS ~and~ HIS MIRACULOUS CONCOCTION
(the heat lets you know it’s working!)
He strides proudly into the middle of the display, and motions for the others to flank it. Even before he begins to speak, people stop and stare — mostly at the sign and its oddly-dressed attendants.
Korin puffs out his chest before belting out a thick, booming voice.
“GREETINGS, CITIZENS OF S’VARGA! It is I, Doctor Lartimus,” he declares, with a sweeping bow, and a tone that implies he’s known by all. At his call, a few obedient souls begin to gather in front of the display.
“I have come from far and wide,” he continues, “And borne witness to a terrible plague: FATIGUE, APATHY, IMPOTENCE, and worst of all, CURDLED HUMORS.” He leans forward, wiggling his hands in a most menacing fashion. “Through the finest alchemy and most importantly, vitogeonomy, I have derived a cure: MY MIRACULOUS CONCOCTION!”
He raises up one of the carefully-sealed bottles.
A shocked crowd of house-peoples and errant servants watches in awe, exchanging blank looks. None of them have heard of “vitogeonomy,” but it sounds enough like something important that it has them hooked. Korin has a rather stately look about him, too. Truly, a face as dour and serious as his couldn’t be that of a con-artist. Void, just looking at his scowl makes them feel ill.
Now that he has everyone’s attention, Korin begins to rattle off his pitch.
“With MY MIRACULOUS CONCOCTION, all of your ills shall be CLEANSED and HEALED!” He clenches his fist for emphasis, shaking with passion as the other holds his life’s work. “It reduces boils, it regrows hair, it puts the vim back in your vigor and the spring into your step! It even cleans dishes! All you need to do is take a swig, gulp it down fast, and swish it ‘round in your belly! And remember folks…”
As if compelled, his “assistants” shout in one voice.
“The heat lets you know it’s working!”
A crotchety howl rises from the crowd.
“I DON’T BUY IT! Yer conkeckshun works? WELL PROVE IT, BEANPOLE,” heckles an old beggar, with a mud-smeared face and a neck encrusted with boils. Underneath all the grime (and generous slatherings of greasepaint), Jiselmo’s fine hair and youth are unrecognizable.
“Very well, good sir, step right up,” Korin urges him, motioning for the man to approach.
The man hobbles forward, supporting his weight on a gnarled stick. His gait is slow and unsteady, his course to the front is agonizingly slow. When he reaches the front, Korin shoves an unsealed bottle into his free hand.
“Toss it back, good sir, and you’ll feel like a lad all over again!”
“BEH! We’ll see,” the codger scoffs, accepting the drink.
He brings it to his lips and tosses his head back. The man makes loud, noticeable gulps, as his adam’s apple dips up and down theatrically. Fortunately, the group’s audience misses the small bag pooched beside his cheek, concealed under his palm. It receives all of the drink, draining the bottle over halfway, before he gasps with refreshment, wipes his lips, stealthily flings the bag into the fountain in a feat of cunning legerdemain.
“Well, it sure does hekkin’ burn,” he mutters, looking at the drink appraisingly.
People in the crowd begin to look at one another in suspense, expecting something to happen. There are raised eyebrows and exchanged whispers, as gentlefolk all peer over one another’s shoulders to see.
“Why… I feel a… a TINGLE,” the codger declares with a whoop. His limbs begin to shake and tremble, so much so that he tosses his cane aside. His posture straightens, vertebrae by vertebrae, until he stands tall like a young man. One can almost hear the popping sound of each snapping back into place. He lets out a wild howl, frantically patting his hands across his neck. When he moves them aside, the makeupped-on boils and blemishes are gone.
“WOOOHOO! I’MA GO TO THE BROTHEL! SEE YA LATER, FOOLS!”
With that, Jiselmo breaks off into a full, sprightly run towards the nearest alley. He’s gone in a flash, leaving behind nothing in his wake but an audience of awed viewers.
There’s a pregnant silence. Ane can feel the tension settling on her like an itchy blanket — as her hum roves over the expectant faces of the crowd, she bites her lip to bottle her tense, unwilling laughter.
Korin clears his throat, blushing.
“Now, you too may have MY MIRACULOUS CONCOCTION, For the LOW, LOW PRICE of only TEN MI-”
“I’ll take five!”
“I’ll take ten!”
“MARRY MY DAUGHTER, Doctor Lartimus!”
“-FIFTEEN MITRES!” Korin concludes.
Suddenly, the group is positively swamped. S’vargans surround the group on all sides, grabbing for bottles. Narue and Vasht can only barely keep them back. Korin holds up a small basket to receive payment, and begins getting pelted by gold. People are throwing away their monthly salary, their allowances, and even the money servants receive to pay for their master’s groceries.
Korin looks back to Ane with a smile and a sly wink as the coin begins to pile up.
Ane smiles broadly. It’s all she has to do to avoid applauding his performance as she begins handing out bottles and collecting money.
“Ten mitres, thank you,” she says with a saucy flutter of her hum and coquettish cock of her hip as bottles and money change hands. Sometimes, it helps net a few extra coins at the tail end of a card reading. Today, there simply isn’t time — the demand is faster than she can keep up with.
“Th- Ten mitres, thank y- That’ll be ten m-.” Had she many limbs, like the Progenitors, she might be able to pass out bottles and collect coins fast enough. Since she does not, it takes a considerable effort to keep the crowd from fighting over the rapidly-vanishing bottles of “concoction.”
The money is piling up at an almost alarming rate.
The way we’re going, Ane thinks dryly to herself, half of these poor bastards are going to end up signing on to be caravan guards just to recoup some of their coin.
Time passes, as bottles and coins continue to fly. A generous pile accumulates in Jiselmo’s basket, and about a third of the bottles are gone. Korin smiles as the coins glitter, though he maintains his stately composure all the while. Had it been Jiselmo, he’d have the look of a grinning Daezra by now.
Someone is shouting at the edge of the crowd, but they can scarcely be heard over the din of sales being made. Only snatches of words come through.
“… Not true! … Vitogeonomy isn- It’s all… Nonsense!”
No one in the crowd is listening, of course, and they continue to pay vigorously.
Vasht and Narue look to Ane for direction. Apparently they consider her to be the one that decides how long they all stay in.
Ane’s lips form a frown as she hums over the crowd, trying to pinpoint the voice of the dissenter. It might be a little early to drop the ruse just yet, but it might also be a good time to figure out how to maneuver that voice into the fountain…
Of course, her vigilant scrutiny serves another purpose, too. The second she spots a guard uniform, it’s high time to cut their losses and hie back to the caravan.
Peeking about, Ane’s able to spy the source of the voice. It appears to be a portly old shasii, gray in the hair and red about the face. He seems absolutely furious, though no one’s really listening to him. He’s certainly no guard, though his impotent rage doesn’t threaten to lose steam anytime soon.
She doesn’t move her hum from him, as she leans over and mutters to Vasht.
“The second that codger leaves or a guard shows up, we’re out.”
Vasht nods dutifully, keeping his eyes sharp.
The sales continue, and the gold piles up without slowing. It even overfills the small basket, and Korin is left collecting it in the pockets of his jacket and trousers. The others are stuffing it into the saddlebags of the alosin, stashing away as much as they can.
“… an OUTRAGE!”
Right at that moment, the merchant screws up his swirls, then turns and dashes off. There’s practically steam exuding from his long, droopy ears, while his coattails flap behind him.
As soon as he turns, Vasht gives Korin the signal.
“Well sorry folks, I must be away to go give alms to the orphanage! FAREWELL, AND GOOD HEALTH!”
The doctor then leaps up onto the alosin, swinging a leg over it and mounting the stirrups. Narue and Vasht tear down the banner and tuck all the gold safely away, moving with swift efficiency borne from years of dodging guards.
Ane scrunches her face as she clambers aboard the creature. There are no stirrups left for her, so she tenses her legs around the saddlebags and loops her arms around Korin’s waist.
“It was believable until the bit about the orphans. Anyway, let’s go!”
“Orphans are important!” He shouts in protest, and kicks the alosin into a running leap. “Hyah!” He shouts, sounding much less gallant than most.
“Sure!” Ane shouts back, “But I can’t picture you dropping sacks of gold off to ‘em!”
With the alosin and the speed of flight, the entire group moves far faster than the old merchant. It only takes minutes for the animal to bound out the city gates, slowing only for Korin to wave to the guards. They wave back, before he kicks off again at full speed.
By the time everyone reconvenes at the camp, there’s no sign of guards on their tail. In fact, they looped around so thoroughly, that even the wall guards could never have followed their course. Korin practically stumbles face-first off the alosin, planting into a fuzzy patch of mycelium on the ground. Vasht and Narue arrive a few moments later, landing next to the others.
Jiselmo is already there when they arrive, still in his beggar’s garb. He’s smoking a pipe filled with puffroot; most likely “borrowed” from Ane’s wagon.
“Compatriots, partners in capitalism! How go the earnings?” He asks, while offering a hand to help Korin up off the ground.
Ane bounds nimbly down from the creature, before gently massaging a spot on her lower back. She doesn’t ride often, if she can help it — alosins are useful saddle animals, but, at high speeds, their scrambling hop is far from comfortable. Even after what amounted to a short jaunt, her back and thighs ache.
“Beats me. It seemed to work pretty well, though I’ve no idea what we’re going to do with the rest of these bottles,” she admits.
Narue wanders over and pats one of the saddlebags. “One of us could try to hawk it on a black market. We’d get much less for more risk, but it’s an option,” she figures.
“I could do that. What do you think, Ane?” Jiselmo asks, taking a drag from his pipe.
Vasht’s expression seems disapproving.
Ane hums at the saddlebag for a long moment. They’re not nearly as bulgey as they were before — they must’ve unloaded at least a third of the concoction — but it’s still a lot. Having some extra doesn’t bother her much, each bottle was made with only a few copper bits’ worth of ingredients — but they do represent a lost opportunity.
She exhales a sigh that puffs out her cheeks, before giving the saddlebags a dismissive flap of her hand. At this point, she’ll be happy to be well shut of the whole affair.
“Vasht knows how much money Jarrik needs to pull our asses out of the fire. Do what you want, I’m going to go wash this mess off.”
Vasht raises a hand and speaks up, “Wait! Before you go, there’s one last matter… the take.” He looks towards the saddlebags containing the coins, all bulging conspicuously at the bottom. “There’s probably about seven-hundred and fifty gold in there. Most people probably lost about ten gold in the robbery. How much goes to us, to the caravan, and to the people who lost in the raid?”
He looks towards Ane, raising an eyebrow. This of course makes his eye-wing flutter, bapping his cheek.
“I’ll defer to Ane,” Jiselmo says in a puff of smoke, “Though I personally enjoy getting paid for a grift…”
Ane turns around, paused halfway to leaving. She gives Vasht an annoyed frown and another, more dramatic wave of her arm.
“How’n the Void should I know? I tossed all my money in the costume closet, pawned two bags of puffroot off on some ugly bastard, and he fucked off. You know how much money Jarrik needs for guards, you do it.” She turns around again, grumpy from a combination of saddle-soreness and hot, itchy greasepaint with bits of alosin hair stuck in it, and begins to walk off mid-mutter.
Vasht shrugs turns back to the group. In her absence, they deliberate about what to do with the money. At some point it gets Korin and Jiselmo into a theatrical tussel, but that’s the tenor of just about any negotiation they’re party to.
As long as they don’t get put to the sword in the next bandit attack, Ane considers a bath a far more pressing concern. While they argue, deliberate, and haggle over their respective cuts of the gold, she finds a spot on the bank of the geyser-fed stream, a sliver of soap, and a clean washrag to begin scrubbing clown paint from her skin. They water has an oddly sulfurous, mineral quality that’s makes washing clothes and dishes a bit of a challenge (scrubbing the paint from her tablecloth is going to be a struggle), but it certainly feels nice on sore muscles.
It’s a brief return to relaxation.
(Thank you for reading! Please like, share, and comment below if you enjoy! Best, P&R.)