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Challenge #18: Art and Death


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#1 cmorgan

cmorgan
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Posted 05 February 2009 - 04:14 PM

A PbP character, a writing topic challenge, and a chance to mess around in an FR setting; I guess it is just irresistable. Some liberties taken with core WoTSC canon Waterdeep folks, but not many. I started the combat sequence, and then realized that that is an adventure for another day, when you folks pose a challenge that fits combat writing. Hope it gives a second or two of amusement. P.S. - caution - callous disregard for life and contemporary positive morality - but you knew that when you read the topic challenge "evil"- cmorgan


Art and Death


The flickering light from the candle did not do her justice, but then again, neither did the flecks of blue foam about her mouth. Or the greenish tint to her skin. Perhaps I had overdone it on the poison, but it is always tricky to dose the lipgloss to just the right level of toxicity. I was annoyed, though, because three pretty little playthings had died testing the topical ointment, and I had only bedded two of them. A shameful waste of good entertainment, and risky, as well. Commoners come a copper a dozen, but the last was the daughter of a relatively successful member of the Merchants League. The Guild frowns on harming the supply chain. They really have no imagination. But I don't see the point in having to take them all on at once, when I can bide my time and dispose of them one by one.

No matter. Ordinarily, dead is dead, but in the Court of Waterdeep the dead can speak. Especially when the dead happens to be a very young, very pretty Paladin of Tyr found obviously poisoned, obviously in a state of consummated passion, and so very obviously the daughter of a noble. The Masked Lords and Ladies would be involved, and that meant all sorts of questions that ordinarily are taken care of quite normally in the course of business. So it was time to move on.

Of course there was always the Guild. Even the simpering softhearts and softheads of the city could not interfere with the lawful execution of a contract (heh, a pun... I do so amuse myself). The Guild coverage for such business is quite complete. After all, assassination of a Waterdeep noble is just a warning, as restoration and resurrection is available to those with the means. And the Guild has a well developed sense of self preservation, so making the dead permanently so was very rare indeed. The most that would happen is one of the interfering moralistic hotheads would attempt to find the operative and extract revenge. Of course, there was a little hitch in that reasoning. I'm not Guild.

A quick twitch of the bedcovers to expose more of her young body, and a scattering of perfume and musk to hide the paralysis drug smell. Oh, I almost forgot - pick up the small flashstone carefully, and tuck it back in the hidden pocket. No sense leaving remnants of the spells used to lower her resistances. I really should study that magic some day, but then again there are no shortage of mages looking to gather coin for their experiments, and several low level spells stacked in an easy to use trapped stone was child's play to them. To build such useful toys myself would require study. And unless it is the female form, I really do prefer avoiding study.

The wineglasses and half-eaten meal were a nice touch, if I do say so myself. It is such a pity that she was fascinated by her inability to get a good read on my alignment. Perhaps she should have listened to her tutors more, and realized that some jewelry could be contrived that blocks such scrying. On second thought, it is more likely that she knew, and agreed to such an intimate setting for our meeting to get me to lower my defenses and remove such objects. If so, then she was a fool. Court intrigue is not safe for beginners, and I have had years more time at the game. Now there would be an obvious scandal.

The velvet tunic, the doublet and hose, the pointed dancing shoes, all back on. Now for the subterfuge. A step over to the closet, and my red herring to toss into the bed with her, similarly poisoned. A young half orc recruit, so no family to speak of, and something the rumor mill would speak of for months, whether or not the truth ever came out. Racism is alive and well, and a very useful tool for the unwashed idiots. It has no place in the business, of course; really, there are no races per se. There are simply marks, targets, and smart people. And so far, that means thousands of marks, a few select targets, and me. Well, perhaps a few others nearly as smart, and of course the Demarchess. But that last number was shrinking rapidly, and perhaps after this mess the Guild would have lost a few more of those. I regretted that, as it would have been much more amusing to do everything myself, but one must learn compromise if one is to operate alone. The bullheaded paladins would crusade, the Guild would counterstrike, and more of the people who knew too much about me would be out of the way.

One last detail, set closely within the sheets - a few body hairs from Feraln. He had undoubtably left several other indications that he had been here - he was sloppy. He had not realized that I was the one hiring him to plant the papers and search the bedchamber; now his work and his presence in the room could be scryed. His strength was the artistry of the kill, not the setup. While his nerves were as strong as mithral and his skills as sharp as a keened blade, he was truly a weapon without a brain. Another level, so hopefully the Guild and the authorities would both be after him. I might get the pleasure of killing him myself, if he ran, but he had some stupid idea that a contract was a contract, and that the system would protect him. I encouraged that belief, of course. It is much easier to game the system if people believe it really has power. Especially when that person was your tutor in the arts of silent termination. He should not have taught me so well.

Pausing at the door, admiring my handiwork, I make a quick sign of Mask in the air. Not that Mask would care, but it was a great symbolic gesture, sure to get the minor functionaries of Tyr all hot and bothered. Stirring the ant's nest is fun, and a few religious zealots would make for much more amusing fallout. I was not going to be here to enjoy all of it, of course, for eventually they would sort things out by cheating. A few high level clerics would get together, someone would commune with the dead, and the story would come out in some form, no matter how many layers I placed in the way. But where is the artist if he does not do the job properly?

"Uuner! Uuner D'Toras! By the gods, you look absolutely smashing in that royal blue velvet! Do come and entertain me!"

Lady Sarah. Mask take her soul. Alright, she was a fine looking woman, for a human, but now of all times? I need a quick change of plan. First, the low bow, with handkerchief to the lips. Not that killing her would be a problem, but there is no artistry is such bald violence. Bad form. And besides, she owed me money from the evening cardgames, and I would need every platinum orb if I were to make it to the Dale Lands before the layers were unraveled. The telltale remnants of poison wiped away, the handkerchief flourished in the air, and the feathered hat sweeping the floor. Smooth the voice out and smile boldly, cheeks as flushed as my rouge can make my moonbeam skin, and we begin the game.

"Why, my dearest Lady Sarah, as I do live and breathe! How does such a vision of loveliness deign stir my senses at such late hour, and with such boldness? A tryst, perhaps? Something deliciously gossipy? Do tell. D'Aran? Or perhaps another? Or perhaps my poor body?"

Her chuckle was as dry as sand, and her dark eyes piercing in a decidedly new way. "My sweetling, darling D'Toras, as gallant and as fluttery as you always are. You may cease your foppish manner. You have been playing in waters a bit deeper than you usually do, and like a flock of darling grey doves, the little amusements you have sought have come home to nestle in your bosom. You have been swimming in the deep end, my darling, without the entry fee."

That was both unexpected and unpleasant. I have handled intelligence matters and manipulation for my father for most of my twenty six years, starting when he 'dismissed' his wifeÕs half-elven Lady in Waiting. He made his point, so to speak, at the edge of a stiletto. The blade poised at my throat made it clear he would have only have use for a living bastard half-elf if he could be trained to serve 'the balance of true neutrality, the law of power, the power of law' - in other words, his needs. Seeing my mother's fate, I learned quickly, and became very useful indeed. I have had years of court gentility, and my spy network was quite effective before I began disposing of it bit by bit over the past month. And of course, I was smarter than most of these simpletons. But she obviously had identified me as a wet-worker, bloodletter, assassin - something had gone wrong somewhere. I bowed over her hand, courtly flourishes in prelude to the kissing of her knuckles both camoflauge and cover as I rechecked my hidden weaponry. Deciding on what method of silently killing her would most entertain me was almost over before my lips met her hand. A wrist slice followed by throat cutting from the spring dagger on my wrist would be different. This would definitely complicate things. Would she be able to scream for assistance between the wrist and throat, or was I quick enough to do both? I had never tried this particular attack on a living being, unless one counted orcs as living beings. I tended not to. But complications are much more entertaining. I will charm her, first, I think.

"Why, my dove of perfection, whatever do you"

My eyes caught the glint of a little silver pinky ring on the dainty hand I was kissing, and I froze in place. Such a small detail, a small symbol turning me from hunter to hunted in a millionth of a second.

The Demarchess.

Lady Sarah's voice was amused, but infinitely scornful.

"So you know on whom you have trodden, my darling dearest boy. Those sweet grey locks and steel grey eyes mask a sharp brain, all pun intended, my lord. The worship of that shadowy god will not help you in this case, and all that puffing of feathers and rattling of lace to conceal your claws is quite transparent to me. If you had bothered to try it, you would be quite dead. Now where is the enjoyment in that?"

Her hand drew mine up automatically to her side, as she took my arm and leaned her head on my shoulder.

"The Demarchess has found your little intrigues and machinations amusing, my sweet. And you have been so successful that she thought perhaps you were almost seasoned enough to become one of her little birds, darting hither and yon, adjusting the relations between the kingdoms, fathering countless little fledgeling spies, and actually being useful instead of a minor diversion on rainy afternoons. But you have crossed the line, dear one, and she is not quite so amused. After all, what would your father say?"

Time to think quickly. The Demarchess was as far above my level as the young paladin was below me. I had often sparred with her birds, both hens and coques, and she had never interfered before. Then again, this was the first time I had actually placed a plan into motion and carried the assassinations out myself. Where had I crossed the line? And was I to die quickly, die slowly, or could I salvage the situation?

"Come now, sweetling, walk with me, and let us talk of absolutely nothing at all." Lady Sarah's voice was a cat preening and purring over a saucer of milk, and my body followed hers in proper form, matching her stride and taking her arm with every outward sign of chivalrous and courtly manner. My mind went into that odd clarity that only happens when the thrill of imminent death cuts through life. I must know how deep my danger is. A pawn, a snippet of information sacrificed for possible future gain...

"My dearest Lady, I am surprised beyond all measure. I had not seen you as a player in this game, and certainly not as Her courtier. What is it that I have done, that I might make amends?"

"Why, D'Toras, you overreach. Your sharp wit and sharper tongue have not laid my poor breast bare to you, all my secrets revealed? Most certainly you have done so with so many of the young ladies at court. Was I simply too old for you, or perhaps my lord does not realize his eyes are too close apon the fledgelings and not sharp enough on the watching hawks? My darling boy, you are good. Very good, in truth. But you are still playing in the skirts of the true powers, and I am afraid your father will have to be brought into this latest experience. He will be unhappy that you have displeased the Demarchess."

Point one, to me. Whatever this is, it is not what I thought. After all, dear father was much too busy arguing with Kelemvor over the disposition of his soul at the present time, and his decapitated body was entertaining itself by lying in a pool of slowly congealing blood in his inner sanctum. No one would ever find the head, since by now it was undoubtably completely dissolved in the acids of the otyugh's stomach. So whatever this was, it was an error not directly tied to my plan for revenge on the simpering fools that surrounded me and yet did not let me in to the true games of power. I might be able to negotiate a quick death. Or make myself useful enough to purchase time to escape, before my patricide was uncovered and my plans to spit on the honor of the UnMasked Lord were all undone. Even the Demarchess would not use a tool so sullied - there would be too many adversaries. But if not dear pappa, and not the sweet little softhead now dead in her bedchamber, whom did she know I had killed?

"Lady Sarah, I do most humbly assure you that the error was entirely my fault. Your beauty blinded me to your wit, I most ashamedly concur. I beg of you, just one answer, that I might know my error of thought or deed. I ask again; how have I displeased the Demarchess?"

Sarah's red velvet gown swirls about my legs as we enter a small antechamber on the west wing of the palace. Her eyebrows arch high, and the smile that dances about her face is not matched by her eyes.

"Uuner D'Toras, Ceremonial Court Captain of the Watch, my apologies to you. You did surprise me, and doubly my mistress. Neither of us anticipated that you would go experimenting with termination so boldly. Everything in your... character... indicated you would bide your time for several more years before you decided that manipulating people and information was not enough of a thrill."

My gaze swept the antechamber, looking for the assassin. I could discern no attacker, no hidden trap. She was supremely confident, but then, she had every right to be. So I listened quietly, taking my role as the scolded pageboy, my smile a death mask.

"I congratulate you on creating such a wonderful and entertaining diversion for us. I do so enjoy our little talks, our little cardgames, and the Demarchess has been twice as entertained in the retelling of your escapades. Your little adventures kept our days from growing ennui."

"Unfortunately, my dearest boy, you have the intemperance of youth. We have heard of your little experiments on the military campaigns, determining the exact moment at which a humanoid's willingness to remain faithful to its belief is outweighed by sheer pain. Your playing in and among the guard as caused mischief that is occasionally useful. The simpering fools who work to get to Court and then find themselves cradled in your claws provide drama and entertainment, and your family has risen as a result. Though, of course, that does not please you so much as frustrate you, for your fatherÕs true son will be the primary beneficiary. The minor little incidents of molestation and debauchery, and that little difficulty with that inn near Luskan..."

I broke in, impatient with the cat and mouse play. It is enjoyable to give, but no so to receive.

"Surely, my Lady, the spoiling of a wedding dowry cannot be held against me as an assassination. I had no idea that the lantern was there, and even less that the entire family would burn to death. I merely was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Besides, the maid had bedded others before me, no matter what her fiance claimed. And it was he who demanded the duel. It was beneath my honor to accept the churl, but he pushed, so what is a gentleman.."

The sharp sting of a fan slapping across my face stilled my tongue, and made me very glad that I had not attempted the quick kill earlier. That motion was so fast that I could not see it, let alone anticipate it. I let the blood drip from the cut high on my right cheek, and waited for the burning sensation of poison attempting to work its way into my veins. But Lady Sarah snorted contemptuously at my impertinence.

"A common whelp and her family. Really. I had thought you smarter, D'Toras. You might as well ask if the color of your codpiece is unacceptable to her ladyship. Kill, spoil, pillage, burn, manipulate, abandon, these are just words and tools. If you had kept to inconsequential beings, you would never incur her wrath. She has no care for such trivialities. It is when she loses a valuable operative so carefully placed that she becomes piqued."

My mind raced carefully over the past few months. The daughter of that ThunderDragon retainer? I had not killed her, merely destroyed her reputation and had her removed from Court. The Red Wizard's apprentice? She had enjoyed the game greatly, and had taught me some new uses for combinations of the female form, leather, and ice - no, she had been killed by her Master when she did not return quickly enough from one of our dalliances. Whom else had I removed?

The light dawned behind my eyes, and despite all my attempts at controlling my face, Lady Sarah laughed. Her voice caressed my inner ear, sliding in among my thoughts, rearranging a small piece of my life that I had not paid any attention to at all.

"Yes, D'Toras. I see you finally making the connection. That 'merchants league daughter' persona had taken seventeen years of careful training. The merchant had to be set up and blackmailed to accept her as his own, and her backstory was nearly foolproof. The girl in question was tasked a minor dalliance, just to keep an eye on you, a minor sharpening of her skills while waiting for her true mission. Your caprice apparently made her a living doll on whom to test your growing fascination with dealing death personally. You should have learned in your playpen, dear boy - play with other's toys only with permission, or suffer greatly."

My anger at myself was complete. I had missed the obvious, and it would now make all my plans nothing more than a common murder of a father by his bastard son. Everything I had worked for was in chaos. There was no point in dwelling on the failure. Perhaps I could return service for my error.

"I am at your disposal, Lady Sarah. I apologize for not having the wit to see the game pieces, let alone the game. Is there perhaps a way I can atone for my sins without that consequence being my immediate death? Or perhaps for a mercifully quick one?"

Her nod was sharp, and stopped my worry about poison. Her voice, however, dropped all pretence and mannerism, and for the first time I heard a voice fully as ruthless as my own inner monologue laying forth terms, conditions, and expected result.

"Of course. Entertainment. You will be gone by morning, but the method of that disappearance will be an amusement for the Demarchess. Do not bother with the Amulet of Translocation on your left ankle, for it is blocked on the palace grounds as of an hour ago. If you survive your walk from this chamber to the servants entrance, you shall be allowed to remove yourself from the city by whatever means you wish until sunrise. Then the Guild learns that you have been practicing on its territory. Needless to say, the Guild will not be offering a place for you in their organization. Do not bother to inform your father, for the Demarchess has plans of her own for him."

More than I expected. A play put on for her benefit, but still a chance at survival. A note for future encounters, if I survived - the lady liked drama. A weakness to exploit. And while the Demarchess was definitely smart, she was not infallible. She held to that silly notion about contracts, agreements, and rules of conduct, at least in appearance. Perhaps a little clarification was in order befoere I went about blending survival and art into a new adventure.

"Alas, my lady, it appears I will not be able to play cards this evening after all. You have dealt me an entirely new hand, and yours holds trump. I understand. Just to make the conditions clear, am I allowed to defend myself? I would not want to accidentally damage any more of other peoples toys, and be forced to fly forever among the unknown and unwashed, should I survive."

"Ah. Yes. You are encouraged to do well, Uuner. Especially well, on my behalf, of course." Lady Sarah's cold tones warm slightly; "The Demarchess has a few diversions for you on your way out, but they are either expendable or there because they have displeased her as well. Tonight is a sort of housecleaning, you see. Hunt well, or die well, but by Mask, do it in an entertaining fashion. If you do not, I will simply have you resurrected and tortured. At least that way there will be some mild enjoyment gained."

My bow is respectful, for she has actually managed to teach me. But my rapier is already out, its adamantine blade glistening. My poignard, dull, flat, black, and practically invisible, would be useful as well. I am glad of the risk I had taken to add a fine layer of poison on it. There is no point in pretending any more. I raise it to my lips and salute her, which seems to please her, for she gives me a moment more of her time.

"Now, Uuner, darling, whether you live or die, take comfort in the knowledge that your name will no longer be the elven word given to you by your father, 'nobody'. It will mean someone, at least. It will be spoken often in the places that truly count; the Night Masks, the Shadow Thieves, and many other true seats of power on Faerun. I am sure with your ingenuity and skills, an arrangement can be made, and Guild dues paid in retrospect should you so choose. But not at this court, my dear boy. Not ever in this city. Go now, and think of us often. Enjoy your excursion among the sheep. I must go, as I have two platinum orbs wagered on your survival, and it is twenty to one odds that you will try for the path through the front palace stairs."

Her skirts rustle as she walks away, leaving me with a choice. I feel the giddy excitement rolling up like a sea wave cresting inside of me, and my feral grin threatens to split my face open at the corners. As always, I think I shall chose the hard way, and take the front palace stairs. After all, what kind of an artist would I be if I did not paint my canvas with full broad strokes?

#2 Shadowhawke

Shadowhawke

    Starlight Seeker

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Posted 07 February 2009 - 03:47 AM

Wow.

Just, wow.

The insights given into the way your character thinks and acts, the metaphor of art, the brilliant glimpse at the politics and mechanics of the game you've let us glimpse - absolutely brilliant work. I must admit, I always have problems writing/picturing the thoughts of evil, but you've done it extraordinarily well here. Thanks so much for an incredibly enjoyable - and polished - read. :D

Through lightning, travel shadow,
Through hell and all above,
Surviving sword and arrow,
Bound stronger by the love

***

And in the end a witness,
To where the death has lain,
Silent through the sorrow,
Where innocents lie slain