Ten minutes later, Vasht the knife thrower is well at work gathering the ingredients for the big plan. Gathering materials and accomplices for a scheme is always quite an undertaking. Even now, Vasht knocks urgently on Brair the fire-eater’s door. When the door opens, Vasht speaks in a hurried clip.
“Brair, I need some liquor, some hot peppers, and all your empty bottles.”
“Uh, sure,” the scaled callosian mutters, moving slowly to grab something from behind him. He moves at an almost glacial pace, causing Vasht to bite his lower lip with impatience.
Vasht rushes in, followed by a clattering noise, then rushes back out with a heap of liquor, bottles, and izash peppers piled into his empty laundry hamper.
“Thank you, Brair, I’ll tell you later, goodbye,” he bids him, and wanders off to the next task.
“Alright… Sounds fun though, gotta be a scheme,” Brair grumbles, and wanders back into his wagon before shutting the door to nurse his hangover. “I wanna do a scheme…”
Next is the clown. Vasht cringes at the notion of having to talk to him. As social as the knife-thrower can be, he really doesn’t like the vibe of that man. He simply can’t fathom asking him for anything…
So instead of doing that, he wanders up to the clown’s window and picks the latch.
After that, it only takes a bit of pawing around towards the huikkaran’s “vanity” to find the paint. At one point, his palm hits a rubber nose, causing a loud, “Squee-wook!” A shiver runs all the way through Vasht, and he dashes off with the paint (and an empty bottle from the clown’s dresser full of something he’d rather not question).
As for Dynkala’s pestle and mortar, well… he knocks on her window shutter, and in seconds, the smiling, wizened face is there to greet him.
“Dynkala, I need your … Bowl, and, uh, grindy thing, to, erm, herbs,” he explains, mostly with hand gestures. “Urgently.”
“Why, sure dear,” she agrees. Shortly, a scarved limb hands it over from out of view, followed by a strange monotone:
“Enjoy the shenanigans. It is good to enjoy one’s youth,” Vaidna drones. “Also, here are the bottles you forgot,” the scarf-covered interrupter adds, and pours several into his basket.
And then, off he goes.
Now for recruiting. For these, he hits each wagon rapidly in order. First, the actors:
Knock, knock, knock… Creeeeaaaak.
“Korin, I need you — and your pet blabrel — to go to Ane’s wagon in an hour. Bring empty bottles.”
“Whaa-” Korin stammers.
“Ooh, a grift!” Jiselmo chimes.
Then again… This time, the conjoined dancing triplets.
Knock, knock, knock… Creeeeaaaak.
“Wila, Vila, Zila, I need all of you to go to Ane’s wagon in an hour. Bring empty bottles.”
“What?” “Why?” “SURE!”
Knock, knock, knock…
“Wait. You don’t have a room,” he mutters, realizing that he’s just knocking on a storage wagon’s door.
“It’s open!” Narue the wagon-less mercenary calls from above, and peers over the edge of the wagon’s roof.
Vasht blinks at her.
“I need you to-”
She flaps a hand lazily.
“Yeah, yeah, get all bottles and go to Bones’ wagon, I gotcha,” she tells him. “Really, as if I couldn’t hear you from up here!”
“Errh. Damn.” He looks around. “Slam.”
Then he runs off.
A half an hour later, there’s more insistent knocking — this time on Ane’s door.
When she glances out, there is a ridiculous crowd of people, including Vasht with a basket full of stuff. The triplets float nearby, and the actors sit on the edges of her wagon’s small porch. Narue is standing off to the side, and the monk managed to invite himself — even without a formal invite, he seems to have tagged along regardless.
“Assembled,” Vasht says grumpily, and blows a pinion off of his cheek. The bottles in his basket clatter together with the motion.
Ane pokes her head through her still-broken door. She’s wrestled it aside for the occasion, all the better to allow for easy ingress and egress for the ragtag troupe. Her arms are full of a veritable riot of water-stained silks, balding velvet, and faded cotton — enough that she has to crane her neck to see everyone.
“Alright… You,” she says, pointing at the callosian Eternalist with her elbow, “You lot are good at writing, right? Neat letters and whatnot?”
Generally, the whole group looks pretty bewildered.
The monk looks pensive for a moment.
“Well, we are all taught to write from a young age. I’m not the best at calligraphy in my class, but I am passable,” he replies.
“Great!” Ane replies eagerly, as she drops the pile of clothing on the threshold of her wagon with a flump.
She disappears back into its interior, before emerging a moment later with a folded-up bit of cattail paper. Leaning over to hand it to the man, she points to the brocade tablecloth staked out on the spongy ground. “Take this, and the paint, and do it to that. Don’t worry about what it says, just work on making it look professional. Wila, Vila, and Zila, take the peppers and mortar and pestle, and get as many of them mashed as you can. Jiselmo, Korin, Vasht, and Narue, come inside for a minute. ”
The monk puzzles over the tablecloth.
“You mean copy? Like a sign?” He asks, while the others bustle into the huddle.
“Just like it is on the paper!” Ane calls out, as she heads back into her wagon.
The triplets all shrug in unison, and take the materials. Wila begins the task dutifully, while Zila curses and mutters.
“You’re making it splash, sis! There are nine eyes to watch out for here.”
As for the other four, they all give each other a look, before stepping forward into Ane’s wagon. The three tzuskar all have to hunch low and fold their wings tight, lest they knock something over or flap each other about. Jiselmo, being a shasii, just ducks down under the rest of them and crouches on the floor so he doesn’t take feathers to the face.
Once inside, they are greeted by the sight of…
A lot of laundry. There are several piles, none of which seem to make sense. Nonetheless, Ane begins doling them out, carefully choosing who to allocate which pile to.
“First, Korin,” she says, handing the dour tzuskar a velveteen greatcoat, linen trousers, silk cravat, muslin shirt, and long brocade scarf.
He furrows his brow at the clothes, with a mutter.
“This looks like something Jiselmo’d wear…”
“And Jiselmo,” she continues, handing him what looks like the dregs of a city’s rubbish pile. There might be pants and shirt in there somewhere, but it’s hard to tell under all of the stains and patches.
“This looks like something Korin’d wear…” He snickers.
“And Narue,” she moves on down the line, handing the mercenary a tiered skirt, ruffled bandeau, and wide, painted leather belt with ribbons for laces.
“Oh my. It’s fancier than all the dances I’ve ever crashed,” she comments, plucking at the ribbons.
“And Vasht,” she hands him what may have once been either a heavy skirt or the bottom of a long coat of patterned velvet, cut to knee length, and a pair of silk scarves.
“I get to wear clothes with this, right?” Vasht asks, though no one answers.
“So… Find somewhere to put those on, I’ve got stuff to do and there’s no Void-damned room in here.”
While they dress, she rummages through her stash of herbs. There’s the puffroot, of course, maybe some mint and fennel seed. Nothing too exotic or expensive, and just enough of each to make their fragrant presence known. The triplets are mashing the peppers, the monk is lettering, everyone else is trying to figure out what in the name of Animus she’s dressing them as, and Ane…
Ane is beginning to fill bottles. All the bottles, mismatched as they are. There are bottles of ale, jugs, little bottles that once held resin gum, amber tincture bottles, swirled glass lachrymatories… No bottle goes ignored.
First, a generous dollop of spicy izash pepper paste. Then, an equally generous helping of shredded puffroot. She tops each one off with a heavy pinch of powdered mint, and another of fennel seed. Lastly, she pours a generous measure of Brair’s surrendered liquor into each.
A short time later, they all return wearing the required outfits. Jiselmo and Korin are now doing impressions of one another’s affects, and they are really far too good at it — with Korin flipping his hair, and Jiselmo sniffing and furrowing his brow. Narue does a spin in her new outfit, feeling rather elegant this evening. As for Vasht, he shoved on the required outfit and decided to follow instructions. As a result, more of him is on display than he seems strictly happy about — from a tattooed expanse of chest, to his toned lower legs. Still, he seems willing to shrug it off. It’s no different than a half-light show.
Ane holds an armful of different bottles of the clown’s paint, filched from the monk in the midst of his writing. She can’t see the colors in each, but it doesn’t really make a difference for her purposes.
“Now, Narue,” she says, as she dips a finger into the greasy mixture. “Take these two bottles, and paint yourself wherever you can reach. Like this.” she draws a white line around the other woman’s upper arm, fringing it with small triangles and lining it with fingertip-width dots of color.
“Ooh, I get the fun job,” she says with measured joy, and gets to painting her self with triangles, squares, rhombuses and the like.
“And Va-,” Ane dips another fingertip in a different bottle — red, though she can’t tell — and turns to the knife-thrower. She pauses, frowning at him quizzically for a moment as she hums him over. “Animus alive, when’d you get so big?”
Ane doesn’t often leave her tent during Half-Light Shows. In her mind, Vasht had never stopped being a skinny, mop-haired teenager — just taller, grumpier, and with more scars. In lieu of a demonstration, she just thrusts a pair of bottles at him before turning away to continue assembling the rest of the plot.
Vasht shrugs his shoulders.
“I have to throw heavy things,” he explains.
“If you’re done painting… I need you to take these candles, and seal the bottles,” she says, offering him some of her cave bee wax candles. Wasting them on sealing bottles will deplete her store, but having candles to burn isn’t nearly as important as having guards to make sure they don’t all get murdered in their beds.
The callosian monk, having finished his prior task, now stares down with abject confusion at the candles and bottles. Rather than ask questions, he figures he ought not interrupt, and begins to seal each bottle, making trips into the wagon to melt the wax on Ane’s stove.
“Vila, Wila, and Zila, once Narue’s done painting herself, I need you to do her hair and makeup. Everyone else’s, too — the more disguised, the better. You can use mine, I’ve got enough of it lying around. I’ve got a few more things to do.”
“Not a problem,” Wila says with authority. She’s been doing the makeup for the other two for years, and she presses her sisters into service helping her do-up everyone else.
Soon enough, they all finish with their respective tasks. By the time the triplets are finished, practically no one looks like themselves — even down to the occasional added birthmark, longer nose, or carefully-applied bit of prosthetic putty.
As soon as the last forehead is daubed with pancake makeup, Ane emerges from the costume cabinets at the rear of the wagon. Like the others, she’s dressed up in a barely recognizable fashion. A wide indigo scarf of nubbly raw silk trimmed in silver embroidery serves as a skirt — a paste gem brooch secures it at her hip, leaving a generously long opening for one pale, painted leg to emerge. Like Narue, she has a ruffled bandeau tied around the swell of her bosom, and bold, geometric designs adorning her arms. A brass chain encircles her stomach, with a large, teardrop-shaped glass pearl dangling just below the shallow dip of her navel. Her hair is still braided with its twists and flourishes, now fixed in place with silver pins capped by more glass pearls. The effect is, at the very least, unusual — any onlooker would have trouble pinning down whatever corner of Uruvalei she hails from.
“Alright,” Ane says, adjusting one pearl-decked pin. “So, you’re all probably wondering what this is all about. Monk,” she nods to the man, “Hold up the sign.”
When he does, his handiwork is unfurled for all of the others to see:
DOCTOR LARTIMUS ~and~ HIS MIRACULOUS CONCOCTION
(the heat lets you know it’s working!)
They all gasp in awe.
“You, Korin,” she gestures to the actor with a painted hand, “Are the good doctor. Jiselmo,” she says, turning to his compatriot,“Is the one he’s going to heal. The three of us are your assistants from a foreign land, there to make sure you don’t get fucking robbed or decide to spend all the money on props.”
Korin puffs out his chest and adjusts his collar. “My mum always did want me to be a doctor…”
“And my mom always told me I’d be a beggar or an invalid. Now I can be both!” He grins. “That’ll show ‘er, eh?”
“You’re a regular overachiever, Jiselmo,” Ane says flatly.
Narue, now fully makeupped and painted, speaks up.
“So, do we just… Go to a town square and start hollering?”
“Pretty much,” Ane shrugs, “Preferably one far away from a legitimate apothecary.”
“Good idea,” Vasht agrees. “We might have to make a break for it, if some sort of Union or Guild comes after us.”
Narue nudges one of the bottles. “How are we going to carry all of these? Vasht’s laundry basket?”
“I’d hope not. My clothes would smell of izash pepper for months,” he replies.
“Pinch a handcart? Load up an alosin?” Ane suggests, “There’re some crates full of old costumes in my wagon that we could use, but we’d still be carrying them all by hand.”
Narue smirks, flapping the attendant wing.
“Not a problem. The guards get a couple of alosins; we can just use one of those. I’ll grab it on the way.”
“Well, everyone in the camp probably knows about this anyway,” Korin sighs. “We haven’t been subtle or anything.”
Ignoring Korin, Vasht adds, “And the alosin means we have a quick get-away. Jiselmo and Ane can use it in a pinch, while the three of us fly away.”
Ane flaps a hand.
“We’ll be fine. Just get the alosin and some saddlebags, and let’s get this over with — this paint is heavy and sticky, I’ve no idea how the clown stands it.”
“Insanity,” Korin says flatly.
And on that note, the triplets and the monk all head off and pretend none of this happened. There’s the sound of banter as they exit, though it’s hard to tell which sister the callosian is talking to.
For everybody else, the grift is underway.
(Thank you for reading! Please like, share, and comment below if you enjoy! Best, P&R.)