I’ve mentioned this before: My long lost hobby of gaming and creating a world world rich with characters. I enjoyed coming up with different characters to vex my players. To make those who walk the thin line between right and wrong. One of those characters was Maverick Dupraine. Once second in charge of the local Thieves Guild in a city I named Meccoban. I had him betray the leader when he found his direction lost. The leader died, made a pact with something sinister, and came back for revenge. The trick was getting the players to care about saving Maverick from a greater evil. Yeah, they hated it and in the end they turned Maverick in for a reward instead of seeing his redeeming qualities. Greed, it seems, lives in the veins of adventurers.
On the website, now with no home to post it, I gave the tidbits for the players to move the story along. This is one of them. The Ranador, descendants of the original tribes before the city of Meccoban came to be, rule the underworld. Any activity the thieves or other ilk do must be approved with a tithe. The story begins with the elders. Enjoy (I hope).
Secrets Kept Hidden
Macuja nodded to his guest, Hagi. A small candle burned in the middle of the table, flickering against the wind pouring through the cracks in the boarded up window. For more cycles than the city stood their kind had protected their way of life in an ever-changing world. Now another rising threat had put a strangle hold on their beloved Haudhen, the Barrow of the Gypsies. Macuja put a cup of burning incense to his nose, waving the smoke in with his hand. Inhaling deeply, a sense of calm washed over him as he passed it to Hagi. He repeated the ritual before setting the cup down on a three-pronged pedestal.
Ranador they called themselves in the old days. A name they only shared with their kind. Outsiders would never understand the significance, the tradition that kept the Halls from crashing down on Haudhen. Rumors and legends shrouded the truth if their existence, this Macuja knew, but he preferred for those not of the circle to whisper their mindless ramblings throughout every tavern in Meccoban. It kept the curious out, it kept them away from what they truly were. Descendants of a strange coupling between Sedah warrior and a willing elf maiden. Their carnal love threw away the forbidden, giving their offspring the primal fighting instincts of the sand devils and the cunning intellect of the forest nymphs. All traces of the slender race had melted away over time but the dark skin of their desert brethren remained.
“Not many of our kind are left, Hagi. I wonder how long we will lay down and allow this scourge to continue to desecrate our homes.” Macuja poured a bright red liquid into two oval cups to either side of the candle. Both men tasted a small portion from the tip of their small finger before hooking them in a simple shake.
“Another brother sent to judgment. Notiri cut down in the same manner as the others. Our emissaries disappear without a trace. This being who stalks the Barrows cares not for our ways or beliefs. Greed drives him.” Hagi took a slight sip from his cup before taking in a whiff of the incense again. Spitting into his cup, he swirled it around and a grim look came over his face. The crimson color deepened to black, thin lines of gray criss-crossing. “His warnings are not for us as much as they are meant for another.”
“He will not heed our warnings. Something spurs him as well.” Macuja repeated the process and his eyes saddened. “To drive this being back to the realm of the dead he will need help from those he does not trust.”
“Broad is that pool, Macuja.”
“It is the path he has chosen. He will never be more than what he has become as this is what the fates have planned for him.” Macuja lifted a piece of parchment off the table behind him and scrawled in quick easy strokes using the red liquid as his ink. It dried rapidly and he rolled it up, pressing his thumb in the wax the lit candle provided. “Make sure this gets to him.”
“And if he refuses it?”
“He will not if he values his life.”
Macuja and Hagi traded their farewells, both appearing much older than their true cycles of life. As the candle burned out, a shadow came out of darkness. He fingered the message left blantantly on the table. Obviously the two old gypsies were well aware of him eavesdropping but he merely shrugged. Time slowly ticked away from his life and with no other alternative, he prepared himself for the trip that most certainly might end his life.
“A death of my own choosing, old man. Do not mock me with martyrism in death.” A ray of light shone on the mysterious man as he picked up the missive and headed back into the embrace of the shadows. Maveric’s eyes were hollow and his face a block of stone. One way or another this would end for him. To hell with pleads of mercy and to hell with the Halls. Death would claim him before they ever dragged the knowledge of this infectious disease numbing the city out of him.
Maveric splashed through the muck of the sewers, expertly avoiding the alcoves brimming with powerful creatures best left undisturbed. His fingers curled around the hilt of his short swords as he stalked the dizzying tunnels. He had long figured out the patterns on the sewer floor. An old code to days gone past, even the Ranador kept their mouths firmly shut on the matter only fueling Maveric’s theory they knew more than they offered up. He never questioned them further. Their long laid out truce would crumble if trust faltered. His want to honor that treaty had him spaying his arms out wide when three forms shuffled toward his position.
“He wait for you. Come.” The creatures flanked Maveric, their skin laying in tatters against white bones. He made no move against them even though his hands hovered near his many weapons. This was a treacherous path and Maveric knew trusting the man at the end of this walk completely would cost more than his life. Turning his eyes to the floor to track where they were, Maveric jerked his head back as a dagger pressed against his throat.
“Eyes not on ground.” The undead man drew blood to make his point and Maveric clenched his jaw but kept his eyes forward. Lost in a maze of turns, Maveric knew he wouldn’t find this place on his own again. The corridor dimmed, the natural glowing moss stripped from the walls. Grating stone sounded over the sloshing water and Maveric was pushed ahead. They gripped his arms and started leading him into the darkness. Maveric fought the urge to rip free and draw his swords. His feet become unsteady at the sudden loss of sight and he stumbled along with his escorts. They released him and Maveric squinted, putting his hands up to shield his eyes as a bright light flared to life.
“Remove his weapons. All of them.”
Maveric held his arms out as the undead minions stripped him of anything remotely resembling a weapon. As they jerked and tugged them off, he stared hard at the man he came to bargain with. Barber. His skin had a translucent palor to it and his eyes glowed an unnatural crimson. Maveric gagged a little as they tried to rip his cloak off and finally he broke his stance to allow his nimble fingers to release the brooch. Scowling wryly, he spread his arms out again, wiggling his digits to show Barber he held nothing. His former employer seemed not impressed and waved at his underlings impatiently. Fabric tore as the undead servants shredded Maveric’s billowing tunic leaving him shirtless. His corded muscles tensed as the dampness of the sewers cooled his skin.
“We are beyond mutual trust, Dupraine.” Maveric snickered slightly as his arms were tied back his back and they forced him down on his knees. Barber laced his fingers together and set his elbows on the table, his stare locked on Maveric. “Now we may find the reason you gave yourself up so willingly along with your life.”
“Because this is between you and I, Barber. No one else.”
“How presumptuous of you.” Barber chuckled. “Perhaps at first I thought of only giving you what you deserved but things change.” Barber held out his hand to his left and a smallish woman came out of the shadows. Her doe eyes darted around but she took his hand, cradling it to her chest as she nuzzled up beside him. Her fearful look at Maveric turned baleful in a matter of seconds, her eyes giving a far away gaze.
“I thought you promised me the dagger would kill him.” Her nails bit into Barber’s hand but he paid it no mind even as the blood began to well. “Why isn’t he dead?”
He stroked her hair absently, an evil grin etched on his face for only Maveric’s eyes. “My dear, you have so much he needs to be punished for. Death is merely the end of the tale. So many we have yet to see come to fruition.”
“Your breaking of the truce with the Ranador has not gone unnoticed. If your attempt was to pin it on me, you have failed.” Maveric felt the ropes tighten on his wrists. “Your threats mean nothing to me, Barber. I am beyond your control unlike others.”
“Ah yes. The amulet. Your precious little heirloom I cannot touch nor see. Good for things up here.” Barber tapped his temple knowingly. “This needless blood shed all because of one person taking it upon himself to disobey me. I have let that matter drop as what I desired fell into my lap but my lady friend here, I’m afraid, sees more than I so in this.” She rose at his words as if her actions weren’t her own. Circling Maveric, she dragged her fingernail along his neckline, leaving a trail of blood behind. He curled his toes, ready to spring, but the woman cold-cocked him alongside his head driving him to the ground dazed. Barber slowly walked over as the woman viciously kicked the prone Maveric.
“I’ve read many things on lore while the children I liberated from your clutches spread my blessing onto the city.” Barber’s voice bounced continuously across the room over Maveric’s cries of pain from the onslaught. “One in particular involves a ritual where a sacrifice must be made. Normally one of pure blood must be used but if you use someone with a line of taint, the results are endless. I have no interest in your amulet, Dupraine. Your mind is of no consequence.”
Barber leaned into the bloodied face of Maveric as his female companion stalked like a caged animal, babbling incoherently. Reaching into a pouch on his belt, Barber pulled out a black powder and blew it into Maveric’s face. The new Uncle of an elite gang of children convulsed on the floor as the RDK coursed through his system. Barber patted his former second in charge, chuckling.
“You’re beyond redemption, Dupraine.” Barber whispered in his ear. “But not quite well enough for my purpose. I knew those fools would send you to me. I knew once the knowledge hit your superior intellect, you’d rush to the aid of your beloved city and your damn brats. Welcome to hell, Maveric, and your undying life to come.”