Dragonknights: Into the Birthright Frontier

On or Amongst Thieves part 2

An entry from the private log of Linden Falemon.

On or Amongst Thieves part 2:
The Vivisection of Reputations

There exists a certain seeming attached to stereotypes that remains difficult to shake. Black Tusk seems like a ferocious creature whereas in truth he’s something of a gentle pushover, whereas Gyynuwyne is possessed of a bloodlust and sexual drive that would shame even the most heathen and feral alpha male in any humanoid or animal pack. Gangs of thieves and murderers would seem, at first glance, to be unfriendly at best. You would believe upon meeting me that I wouldn’t be the kind of person to defraud two different competing brigands out of their worldly belongings. You wouldn’t expect your local apothecary to also be the regional expert in the rending of live flesh, or that your demi-evil drowish ninja companion would take up an interest in the chemical arts. Your core beliefs may remain unchallenged, as long as you stay on the boat.

I disembarked.

We arrived in Port Somethingorother for repair and resupply expecting to overpay for goods and services. Our initial encounter with local law enforcement certainly was up to the task, charging us a princely visitor’s sum — seven gold coins, each! — simply to make landfall. We also had to take bizarre oaths that we did not represent the spiritual interests of any gods or higher powers. As the guard specifically referenced the deities of the imported eastern religions I chose to adopt the narrow interpretation; I do not worship a named former-humanoid god and do not proselytize for the sake of religious conversion, took the oath, left my coin and wandered into the village main.

The purpose of the religious ban seemed reasonable given the explanation given, that various prophets and representatives of the banned organizations had a habit of sowing revolt and terror within the city as part of their ongoing efforts to harass or scare the population into adopting gods into their hearts, occasionally destructively or lethally. After the departure of the dragons, much of these lands became ripe for conversion by outside belief systems. It seems only natural that some of them would tend towards chaos and coercion and would take to any easy opportunity.

This isn’t to say that there’s necessarily a complete ban on clerical activity in the city, but rather that one must be “vetted” by the town’s leaders before being approved for operations. We ran into a representative of the Secular Humanoidists, a helpfully non-prophet organization focused on spreading a philosophy of self-improvement and philanthropy without worship. Is this just a kind of inward religion? I posited the idea to the group that had disembarked with me (Val, Ur, Armand) but our individual concepts of belief didn’t lend themselves well to proper conversation. Val seems to be under the impression that I worship a primordial but it’s not really like that, or that I espouse its tenets instead of just representing a core fundamental aspect of the natural world.

The familiar sounds of a scuffle in an alleyway drew us from the growing audience and behind the cartographer’s shop, where a lowly Dwarf was besieged by eight or so local toughs. This is where one of the major lessons in seeming should start: Remember the tone of Rolf’s voice. The casual placation, the silky smooth bargaining. Disappearing and reappearing randomly. Half lies and stories that seem to fit the situation too perfectly. The vulnerable street thief who bit off more than he could chew. Always in trouble and needing the charitable aid of those nearby. Remember Rolf.

So after some delicate words and indelicate smashing of barrels beneath Black Tusk’s girth we convinced the thieves (well Rolf is also a thief, so these fellows will be The Fellowship to walk away with their blood unspilled. Rolf, thankful, began bizarrely attempting to throw all of his belongings at us. He rewarded Val with some scrolls of unknown purpose, and then offered to sell us the items the Fellowship was hunting him for: Two exquisitely crafted swords, originally possessed by the deceased former leader of the . Rolf seemed to just be trying to solve his particular predicament by unloading the contraband upon adventurers strong enough to defend themselves from the Fellowship’s recover. It all seemed very reasonable indeed, nevermind that Rolf’s asking price was a fraction of the market cost of the swords, so low that in other circumstances it would immediately register as a scam.

Instead I attempted to do the honorable thing and broker a deal between Rolf and the Fellows where they would instead pay Rolf his discounted rate, Rolf would hand over the swords, and the two sides would agree to stop hunting and killing each other for profit. Would you believe that the Fellows and Rolf were both completely open to dialogue on the subject? And that both agreed to the opening negotiative volley without amendment? I believed it! It seemed too good to be true.

As it turns out, there’s no honor amongst thieves. Rolf slyly replaced the magical, amazing swords with mundane duplicates. He handed them over to me as a third party broker. The Fellowship arrived with eight thousand gold coins, also handed to me, as third party broker. Perfect! The Fellows approved of their wares without any hesitation and departed immediately, at which point of course Rolf unveils the hidden original weaponry and explains his entire fraudulent plot to walk away from the city with the money and the swords.

At which point I think Val put him to sleep so that Armand could make his case for retaining the swords in our possession as a kind of inconvenience fee for the whole endeavor. All I wanted was for these random strangers I’d have never otherwise known to be alive in the morning. The way to enable that outcome seemed to be to return the Fellows their gold, at which point they’re no worse off than before, and to make Rolf leave town with the swords, which he wouldn’t take back because I think, like most people we meet, Rolf became extraordinarily afraid of Armand after some casual death threats.

The Fellowship? As it turns out, there’s no honor amongst thieves. They apparently were expecting the deception, using the negotiation time to attempt to rack down Rolf’s hidden caches around the city to extract their value, and also preparing ambushes for Rolf’s expected departure. So standing there at the warehouse door, thousands of pieces of coin weighing me down, I decided to violate the first basic rule of escrow services: I kept everything. I kept the swords. I kept the money. Rolf had already run off by this point, and I didn’t feel particularly inclined to provide the funding for his or anyone else’s assassination. I suspect the Fellowship knew and didn’t care (or were intimidated, because Armand and vivsection). All I wanted to do was spare lives and I ended up with the infamous swords of a regional thieves guildhead and their blood money. We parted amicably, though I was furious and Val was amused and Armand was already imagining new and creative ways to flay with his new arsenal.

Only moments later, after a brief visit to Bill the Vivisectionist, we came across Lokaas strolling down the docks. No, not not-Lokaas Bedrier, my traveling companion. Actual Lokaas the actual Chronicler. The one that was supposedly dead. Hiring swordhands for his trip to Lysoria to pursue an impersonator.

Remember Rolf.

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