• Graded • Promotion or Scolding?

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Vluharqih
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7th of Cylus, Arc 717
It didn't take long for her to get the summons. Less than a week after landing, the note appeared in her new shop with the familiar stamp.

She had told Warren to wait in the shop- she was still uncomfortable with leaving the place empty- after all it was the underground- but Warren could hold down the fort she knew. And though she didn't want to admit it to herself, she had no desire to have him meet her boss/master. She wasn't quite sure of her own relationship with the man, let alone how to bring her father/drug dependant servant with anger issues into that boiling pot.

Mr.Gardener and her had parted ways quite amicably- since the Cauldron had saved her, Mr.Gardener had seen that coming. A few trials of working with him, and he had kicked her out. She knew as much as he could teach her, he said, plus her skills seemed geared towards a different sort of business.

To be fair, her time had been in short supply, and her work there had taken the first hit- trying to set up the Laughing Potion had absorbed her days, nights and every bit between. Brain berries were abused, but all that was done now.

Val pushed open the door to the tavern, memories of her zipstick deal gone wrong flooding back to her. Shivering, she shook that off. She had done a good job here- no one knew that Evelyn had died from suspicious circumstances, and she had managed to make it in and out unseen. Considering what they had provided, she had more than delivered. She strode in brusquely, ignoring the 'subtle' guards for the hooded man. She tapped the client he was entertaining on the shoulder, jerking her head for him to leave.

When he was gone, Val slid into the vacated seat and leaned forward. She stared into his eyes, silent and waiting. He was gonna speak first, or she was gonna sit here till she died.
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The Hood leaned back in his chair and played the same waiting game for several bits. Finally, his perpetual scowl became more pronounced, heralding a comment. "Well, since you seem to be taking it upon yourself to decide how long I spend with each client, I assume you have something particularly distracting and confusing to toss into this discussion, before I begin listing the many things you did that nearly ruined the job we sent you to do!"

He had leaned slowly forward as he spoke, his voice becoming more of a hiss as he neared Valyeria's face; now only a foot away. "Oh don't look so shocked, dearie! Did you think we would not hear of your smooth landing in the streets of Andaris...Your smooth winged landing! Are you a complete idiot? Or are you such a fool that comparing you to an idiot would do an injustice to idiots everywhere...An Avriel! In the public streets of Andaris!"

He stood with a dramatic spin and wave as if he wanted to draw all the attention in the room to Val's humiliation; his laugh an angry taunt. "And that was only the BIG mistake! Tripping over a book, for Imps' sake!...Contradicting yourself regarding your alleged client's willingness to entertain counter offers...First it's: 'Should he disagree with the terms, he will not be doing any more negotiating.'...Then, no more than a bit later: 'I would be more than happy to take a counter-proposal back to my employer.'...Are you completely Daft?"

He performed his recitations of the words in sing-song mockery, "Then, having to go BACK?...To FINISH the poisoning?...You didn't see to it that ONE visit would be enough?...Then taking ship Directly to Etzos? No roundabout route! It is not an uncommon suspicion that Etzos is where our organization is based. Are you trying to provide PROOF of this suspicion? Well, thank you very much, but we would like to AVOID having this detail made public, if it's all the same to you!"

He loomed over her for a moment before slumping back in his chair, "It may come as a surprise to you to know that business discussions like the one you held with Lady Evelyn often have eavesdroppers at least. Sometimes arcane means are employed to register..."echoes", for lack of a better word, of the very words and voices that took part in them." His voice had calmed somewhat, now that he'd purged his need to belittle his initiate.

"It is to your benefit that we eliminated the eavesdropper and replaced him with one from our own ranks. Fortunately for you as well, the original spy was from a rival family, so there wouldn't be any ruckus raised over her disappearance. Just another whore undone by a sadistic customer. it's an old story." he sighed with feigned sympathy. Then again, with more sincerity as he rubbed his head in what looked like exhaustion.

"Okay...so, let's hear your side of it then...What went wrong?" To his credit, he looked as if he was actually prepared to consider circumstances with a fair and open mind now.
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Alex had learned her lesson with this one. She sat, doing her best to neither appear defiant nor cowed- a difficult task to be sure. When his frown deepend and he leaned forward, she mimiced his stance, their faces close together.

She listened, her face flushing as he pointed out the various places she had failed during her mission- as she had suspected, they had followed her. How close that person must have been to know all that this hooded man now knew.... She pursed her lips, waiting for it to end.

Interrupting him would not go over well.

It took all her self-control not to stand as he did, but she couldn't keep the snarl off her face- this wasn't fair. They sent her there with nothing- no contacts, no whispers of rumor that she could use. nothing. How can he blame her for stumbling her way around?

When he asked her, Alex waited half a beat- was he actually going to let her speak now? Or was he just waiting for her to try so he could belittle her again? There was something about this man that got under her skin like no one else.

Alex rubbed her cheek and sighed, trying to let go of the feelings, but she was only partially successful.

"Where to start? First, I got mugged on my first trial there and thrown in jail, so any chance I had of escaping before that was gone- you couldn't have sent me somewhere that my shapeshifting would've been useful? No, you had to send me to Andaris, the city that likes to shoot down birds and tear off their wings!"

She realized her voice was nearly shouting, and she sighed again, letting the tension out of her shoulders.

"No one put the landing together with the kill- it was an unrelated event. And I made it back here fine, didn't I? So they never caught the Avriel, but that does nothing to tie it to you or this place," she said, slapping the table with an open palm.

"And," she continued in a hiss, "the contradiction was necessary. In any business deal, what do you do as a lackey? You don't make any decisions. What was I supposed to say, 'Oh, that's unacceptable,' or perhaps, 'that is unfortunate, but we will not be making a deal with you'? Either of those and that woman would've caved and agreed to the demands- and the only thing worse than my two tongued nature is the lip time that tale would've garnered."

She paused, thinking over her next words. "The going back was needed- would you have preferred me not? I tested the candles out previously, but something was different with that woman- its not like I had time to get close to her to do actual tests, nor would that have been something subtle at all. A brand new friend the same season she died? And yes, a ship right back. I know there's a detachment in Rynmere, so they wouldn't be looking for me to head back here, IF they knew who I was, IF they somehow knew I had killed that woman, and IF they could figure out that it was a contract. Those are a lot of ifs."

Alex leaned back in her chair and sighed, scrubbing at her face with both hands. "I did the best that I could with limited time, resources and contacts. If you wanted someone who knew the location and could do it better, you could've sent someone from the Rynmere division. But instead you sent me- why. What reason did you have for having me go there? And don't give me that "You created a rukus so we wanted to hide you" bull. You could've made that go away, or I could've hidden. So why did you have me kill that woman?"
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"...and that woman would've caved and agreed to the demands..."

Prior to these words being spoken by the defensive initiate, The Hood was nurturing a look of boredom; as if excuses were a taxing, but frequent, affliction upon his patience. But with the words, a look of subtle interest crossed his face. He sat up just slightly more erect, his eyes narrowing, and flashing briefly to the side.

He continued to hear her out. Had Alex been less focused on her tirade, she might have noticed the signs that he was only partially listening to any details. It was not until she mentioned the number of "IFs" involved that his scowl focused back on her.

"IFs have a nasty habit of becoming facts, which have a nasty habit of becoming testimony against you. And what testifies against YOU can all too easily become testimony against US! Our enemies are not fools, sweetheart, they can put two-and-two together. And when you have they authority they do, it does not have to add up to four to ensure a conviction!"

He stood and paced as he said this, which was an uncommon thing for him. His pacing was not symmetrical either. With each pass back, his orientation got closer and closer to one of the tables. It was not until the third time that the man at the table took notice of it. A look of alarm crossed his face, and then chaos erupted briefly.

An untended chair came from nowhere, thrown in The Hood's direction, as he ducked in anticipation. Chairs scraped from all around as everyone scrambled to take up a position of readiness for either defense or aggression, depending on how things turned out. The man that had been sitting at the table now pulled an ugly-looking knife and backed toward the door, insisting that "it was all a mistake, or a lie."

The Hood cackled softly and looked at Alex, "He's calling you a liar, sugar. What do you say, trial by combat? You kill him and I explain what's going on. He kills you, we take his word for it, and save me the trouble." As he spoke, the disposition of the patrons changed to one of forming an impromptu ring around the two of them. "Somebody call one-two-three-go." The Hood suggested casually.

As one, the patrons roared "ONE, TWO, THREE, GO!" and the cheering began as the man with the knife charged Alex.
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Alex merely inclined her head to his rant- it was true, but she knew that itd never get to that point. The moment she was anywhere close to being convicted, or her link to the Cauldron exposed, she would be dead. Whether it was an application of force against a guard's family that forced him to kill her, a poison slipping into her food to make her mad, or any other myriad of events, she knew that testimony tying her to the Cauldron would never surface, nor would she ever sit trial. After the events she had seen, she had an unshakable faith in the power of the Cauldron.

It took her a moment to realize he was pacing- in all her time here, she had only once seen him rise, and that was merely to yell at her, before returning to his seat.

The chair flew into the air, nearly crashing into Alex, who was still sitting. She leapt to the side, turning to face the source of the chaos.

"What? What did I lie about?" Alex nearly shouted, staring towards the hood and the man. She didn't like the look of that knife. Things seemed to be spiralling out of her control.

The man leapt forward, his blade outstretched. Alex staggered backwards, tripping over the upended chair behind her, and earning herself a shallow score across her chest. The man showed no emotion, moving forward again with a swing.

Alex rolled and ducked, smashing into the ground heavily, but somehow winding up on the other side of him. Her hand fell to her new belt, searching for the pouch. Her fingers found it just as the man lunged again, and Valyeria twisted sideways. The blade dug into her arm just as she ripped open the satchel, spreading the powder all across the man's face.

She yelped as the dagger pierced her arm fully, but the jerking motion served to yank it from the man's grasp. Blood poured down the wound, and Alex staggered backwards several steps. Her hand pressed hard around the wound, and she grimaced for a second before pulling the dagger out. A flicker of light escaped the wound, but only the most observant would notice.

The man, meanwhile, fared far worse. His screams had been choked off almost instantly, his hands scrabbling at his eyes had left bloody rivulets down his cheeks The poison destroyed the larynx and the eyes within a matter of trills, leaving the victim unable to scream.

Alex pursed her lips and stared at the Hood for a trill, before clenching her jaw and walking over to jerk the blade across the helpless man's throat. Blood poured out, soaking her feet.

She knelt down and cut a slice from the bottom of the man's shirt which she used to bandage the wound on her arm up. It was beginning to go numb from the blood loss, and she was feeling woozy.

Alex rose, unsteadily, and grabbed a nearby mug of ale which she downed before returning to face the Hood.

"Now what was he talking about."
OOC: Made mention of the fact that she uses this particular poison in this thread, and stated that it's a standard one she carries on herself. Writeup will come at a later date.
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It probably was quite annoying to Alex that The Hood, as well as pretty much everyone else in the room, seemed to be scrutinizing the victim as he gasped and grasped at his face, more than her. Soon his fingers dropped away, limp and bloody to slap the floor. The Hood nodded to himself and came back to the table, motioning for Alex to resume her seat.

There was an odd look to his face, one Alex would find difficult to recall ever seeing on his face before. He did not look her in the face immediately as he began, "I hope that you can appreciate this moment, Miss McKay. It is not every trial that I find myself compelled to apologize to anyone. The difficulties you faced in Andaris now appear to be exactly as you stated."

Now he looked up, raising his hand to forestall the indignation he assumed was about to burst from the woman across from him. This same hand then pointed vaguely at the body now being dragged away, "Droogley there was supposed to have informed you that we wanted the deal to be agreed on by Lady Andaris. You and Droogley were both in consideration for advancement. So we put you both on the same job."

He shook his head with the closest thing to regret Alex had ever seen, "That way, you both had an opportunity to make the other look bad. We were genuinely curious to see what techniques you two might employ. OR you may instead have arranged to exaggerate each others' competency favorably. Then, of course, there was the possibility you might team up for a lucrative betrayal of our organization. I'm glad to see you did not decide on that course."

A grimace of sympathetic embarrassment crossed his face, "It appears now that he did not even make contact. I'mmmm...really sorry about that. Anyway, it's pretty obvious now that you simply did your best to complete the mission." A smile in Alex's direction turned to a scowl in the direction of the newly dead body. "While Droogley's "report" on your mistakes, and his failure to inform you of our desire regarding the deal, was supposed to make you look bad so he'd get the advancement."

The face beneath the hood now seemed shockingly friendly, "The advancement we are now going to give you." He gave a fairly heavy sigh, but ultimately shrugged, "It is a shame that the deal was not finalized before you put her down. Poison compounds were planted on a merchant we wanted implicated, to throw internal suspicions into an opposing network that is fronted by his commercial bloc. For the deal to have been made, and THEN have her die, would have made the set-up far more suspicious. They'd have torn themselves apart, accusing each other of ambition and treachery."

He sat back now with a look of satisfaction on his face, "I'm not going to give you any more details about our...competition...at this stage. You did a good job; especially considering Droogley's attempt to sabotage your efforts. We don't generally approve of such in-fighting. But I'll be honest enough to admit that if it shows some considerable creativity, and shows that the victim is really not very smart, we'll overlook the hint of betrayal. By the way, you handled the sudden hostility pretty well."

The satisfied expression went blank as he leaned forward, "So, if you'd like to launch into an angry tirade about being mistreated, I'll give you a five bits. Otherwise, if you'd prefer to demonstrate the maturity and fatalism to accept that such things are a part of the trade, we are prepared to offer you command of a team of your very own."

He overturned an hourglass to let her know that the five bits had begun if she chose to use them.
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Alex took the seat opposite the Hood, resting her elbows on the table as she leaned forward slightly. The blood spattered across her cheekbones was ignored, as was the periodic drip from the scrap of fabric tied tightly around her arm.

His gaze was odd- evasive. Something this man had never been before. Arrogant, yes. Cocky, yes. Loud, yes. But this unsurity? She shifted in her seat slightly, settling down as she realized the man was awkwardly trying to apologize. She did her best to keep the smug grin that threatened to escape, off her face. That definitely wouldn't help the situation, and had she been in his position, she likely would've done similar actions.

Understanding bloomed across her face as he explained. Competition within the ranks, an interesting way to go about it. Only the strongest would survive, in turn keeping the organization strong. She nodded along subconsciously, smirking as he talked about betraying them. If he only knew how long she had wanted to join this group. Thought she wouldn't have hesitated to smear the other's name- all's fair in love and promotion, right?

His apology earned a small snort from her at the rather drawn out aspect of it, though she quickly stifled it.

For the first time Alex had ever seen the man look, well, almost friendly. It was odd, in a slightly unnerving sort of way. Alex wasn't sure she liked it.

"That would've worked far better," Alex agreed as the Hood leaned back. "If I had known...well my job would've been far easier."

She, again, kept her peace as the Hood cautioned her against infighting. It probably wasn't the best start she was off to- that woman that first trained her, and now this Droogley fellow had both had issues with her. Was this how it was destined to go?

With a jerk of her head, Alex cut that line of thought off. She wasn't one for self-pity, and she liked it that way. She looked up at the Hood, catching the end of his speech- a command of her own?

"Sorry, what was that?"

She looked over at the hourglass, furrowing her brow. "What would be involved in a command of my own? How many people would I be in charge of, what are my responsibilities- that sort of thing?"

Logistics were the best bet to focus on. The idea of her actually having some sort of seniority was too much to focus on right now.
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The Hood smirked, assuming that Alex was making him repeat himself out of spite. "You heard me, damn you. A command of your own. Call it a 'cell' if you want. What do you think it involves, you bloody Loodie? You have men...you command them. If they refuse, you kill 'em."

The atmosphere continued in unabated revelry as he sat back, his eyes rolling. "Good preachin' lords, you dumb slut; you need to know how many breaks you have to work, or something? Your responsibilities are whatever it takes to make money and avoid betrayal. Alright, brass tacks then...I'll give you three loyals...One of 'em will be Crellian. He seems to like you, and he's a shape-changer to boot. Maybe the two of you can switch crotches and have some kids."

He waved off any offense Alex was about to put voice to and stood up. He waved and a number of men and women stepped forward. "We've got Trixie; she's got skills in the bedroom, and connections in the towers and bordellos. Then there's Sweats. He's an actor, that has somethin' wrong with him. He doesn't feel pain hardly at all. Good for interrogations and givin' false information. He knows how ta scream when he's tortured, but it's all an act. But he's a good bodyguard too."

He walked past a skinny fellow with equally skinny fingers and a goatee, "You want a lab assistant, and a craftsman, you can take Gernie. He's one o' them that can not only mix up a poison, but can create some ingenious ways o' gettin' it where it's supposed ta be; whether it's a trick cup, spoon, candle, or a special crossbow bolt, or a handle on a spear that pricks the hand o' the one that snatches it up and drops 'em dead five ticks later."

He stopped at a point where there had only been shadow a moment before, but suddenly revealed what appeared to be a small child. The child stepped out into the light, and seemed to grow to adult height before Alex' eyes. "This is Pug. He's one o' my best 'eyes an' ears'. Folks just don't see him, or pay no attention to 'im. Hears a lot o' useful shit."

He named a few others, whose talents ran the gamut of skills across the globe, citing one last detail, which basically encompassed loyalty that was able to be shifted from one cell to another. "There are some that are not going to wish to work for someone else. Some won't care, as long as you serve the Cauldron effectively. This means coming up with ideas of your own, and implementing them without having to come to me for aid. It also means knowing when you DO need to come to me first."

He sat back down, waving Alex to rejoin him there. "Now, of course, you're always free to recruit others to your cell. But if you don't clear them with me first, they're liable to get killed if they get in the way of any of my men. You don't technically answer to me, but I DO come before you in the organization. Someone will call upon you some day to let you know just exactly who you DO answer to."

He slid has chair back to where he could lift his feet into the table top, "So, take your picks, or choose all your own from somewhere else. You've got a shop on the other side of town. I'll keep to this side, you keep to that side and we'll be fine. Oh, and by the way, I'm not entirely sure I trust that 'Warren' fellow you have hanging around. Don't let him get you lightened by a head."
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A grin threatened the corner of her mouth as the Hood discussed the particulars. She fought valiantly to keep it down, but it was impossible to smother. Her eyes danced with excitement as he began to point out those she could choose from.

Trixie seemed decent- those kinds of skills were so far removed from anything Alex could do herself, that they would definitely be useful. She mentally filed Trixie away with Crellian into the "taken" slots, and rolled her fingers on the countertop as she thought about who else she needed.

Sweats would be helpful to give up false information, and a decent bodyguard based on his lack of pain, if nothing else, but she already had Warren who was totally dependent on her. Gernie would be really helpful, and it was one she was debating. Another person with more poison experience, specifically the implementation would be useful. Alex had no problems whipping up pretty much anything, but she didn't have the experience to actually poison the person.

Pug, stepping out of the shadows, cinched it. She was decent at hiding, but this man... he took it to a whole new level. His face was uninteresting, and her eyes didn't want to focus on him for some reason. Odd.

"I'll take Trixie and Pug with Crellian," she said, pausing as she turned to look at them each in turn, "Provided you're good with that?"

"Figure it out? Sounds good- where do I bring the money we make?"

His comment about Warren made her smile and she nodded. "No worries there- I keep him on a tight leash." Her eyes danced darkly as she said that, and she glanced down at the scarred tabletop momentarily.

Her chair squeaked against the floor as she pushed it backwards and rose. "Thanks for the time," she said, nodding towards the hood. She walked quickly towards the door, gesturing for her new subordinates to follow her as the door slammed shut.
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Come and get your Loot!

(There's plenty more where that came from)


VLUHARQIH:
Rewards:

  • Story: +5
  • Collaboration: +5
  • Structure: +5

Knowledges:

  • Crellian: Yludih Liaison Between Your Cell and The Hood
  • Detection: It's a Good Sign When The Hood Sits and Listens
  • Discipline: Enduring a Dressing Down by The Hood
  • Discipline: Disregard Serious Wound to Impress the Boss
  • Etiquette: Don't Bring Warren to Meet The Hood
  • Intelligence: The Cauldron Has Rival Factions
  • Intimidation: Cauldron Disputes Resolved in 'Trial by Combat'
  • Intimidation: It's a Bad Sign When The Hood Starts Pacing
  • Intimidation: The Shoulder Tap and Head Flick to Say "Leave"
  • Intimidation: 'Trial by Combat' is Initiated Instantly and Permanently
  • NPC: Crellian: Underling in Your Cell of The Cauldron
  • NPC: Pug: Underling in Your Cell of The Cauldron
  • NPC: Trixie: Underling in Your Cell of The Cauldron
  • Negotiation: Cauldron Offer to Freely Gripe or Gain Advancemenmt
  • Negotiation: Leaving 'Gardener's Grace' is for the Best
  • Poison: Many Lethal Compounds Don't Hurt Yludih
  • Politics: Cauldron: Betrayal is Okay if its Only For Advancement
  • Psychology: The Pride in Earning a Cell of Your Own
  • Pug: 'Eyes and Ears' - Master of Stealth and Disguise
  • Storytelling: Complications in Andaris.
  • Storytelling: "Winging it" on a Cauldron Job.
  • Tactics: Cauldron: Come Back from a Job by Roundabout Means
  • Tactics: Poison Pouch as a Weapon
  • The Hood: Always Ready With a List of Your Mistakes
  • The Hood: Tough and Rude, But Ultimately Fair
  • Trixie: Seductress with Contacts High and Low
  • Unarmed: Take the Hit to Deliver a Worse One
  • Unarmed: Brawling: What You Trip Over Can Hinder Your Enemy Too

Loot:

Your own cell and 3 underlings


Loss:

A half pouch of contact poison


Injuries:

Serious knife wound on the arm.


Fame: -10

Within the Cauldron you got a massive boost, but to the outside world, they will notice how disreputable folks now seem to give you a wider berth.


Devotion:

Pffft...none of that crap


Comments:

If you want to write-up Crellian, Trixie and Pug, focusing their skill points in the areas indicated by how The Hood described them, feel free. Consider them personal NPCs that each start with 150 points instead of the usual 100, and can start with up to 45 in a skill.
I am considering this to be because they are already trained and experienced members.
They will cost the usual 10gn per season; and can gain the benefit of +10 xp per season with 2 significant thread appearances, per The NPC Guide.
PM me with any comments or concerns.
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