This last week some friends and I had a go at a pre-ordered version of the roleplaying game; Dusk City Outlaws. Despite my devoted geek lifestyle I’d actually never played a game like this before and I really enjoyed it (I may even do a blog post on the experience but that’s for another day). The game is divided into several ‘scenes’ and, being the keen writer that I am, I thought I’d have a crack at writing them up – (bit of context, New Dunhaven is a bit like Renaissance Venice) enjoy! (ftr there’s a legal disclaimer bit at the end since this is from someone else’s ‘world’). Also, I’ll be changing some details to avoid spoilering the game!
The incision had already been made, exposing muscle, bone and cartilage, and now the truly unpleasant work could begin. In all honesty, Iago Corona wasn’t fond of this kind of job, but Papa had ordered it done, and so do it he would. He rolled up his sleeves and waited patiently for Dottore to widen the cut a little more, wondering irritably what his brother was doing right now. Antonio, the darling of Papa’s eye, was probably sampling blackberry wines with some merchant prince, or sweet-talking another banker into investing in his dicing-house, or listening to the latest of their father’s plans with that ‘rapt attention’ look he always wore on his pretty face. Iago grimaced. While I get left with this.
Dottore, his cream tunic spattered with red stains, stepped aside as Iago approached the bound man. Arente was little, perhaps a head shorter than Iago and a good two stones lighter. He made for a pitiful sight, it had to be said, lashed to a bottomless chair in the middle of an empty boatshed, with a puddle of his own reeking piss beneath him. Gorean, one of the largest, ugliest, and most reliable retainers of the Family, was holding fast the prisoner’s narrow shoulders, not that he seemed in any state to be fighting back. Though the weather was still summery their captive was shivering, and his watery eyes didn’t dare look up to meet Iago’s. The young enforcer looked down at him and told himself it was all justified. This dog had forced himself on Garegio’s daughter after all, along with some other docker that they still hadn’t tracked down. Garegio, wisely, had come to Abram Corona for justice, and then Papa had come to Iago, and now Arente was learning the error of his ways.
The tools had been left on a rickety table near the chair and Iago took them up as he moved closer to the helpless man. Spittle had drenched his chin around the leather strap that gagged him, and his breathing was coming out ragged. It would have been easy to pity him but Iago hardened himself. The man was scum and besides, Iago was more than halfway through his twenties and still had almost no real responsibility in the Family; if Papa was ever going to take his youngest son seriously, he had to show that he wasn’t squeamish about this kind of work. Iago took a breath and decided to just get it done.
He took a long step, placed the chisel into the open wound, and slammed the mallet hard on the wide end of it. Arente struggled desperately and tried to scream, but the gag ate up most of the sound and Gorean and the ropes were holding him steady as a rock. Iago ground his teeth and hammered again, and then again, until with a sharp click and a wet scraping sound, the cap of Arente’s knee came away and went skittering across the wooden boards. The wretch’s eyes were wide and frantic, and Iago knew he would be screaming the whole building down if he could. Fortunately the Corona’s repair sheds were a long way from unfriendly ears and even when the gag came off, odds were good no-one who mattered would be listening.
Iago moved to take the strap from his mouth but Dottore raised a hand to forestall him. Dottore, wiry, beady-eyed, grey-haired and soft-handed, had been questioning informers when Iago was still a skinny youth with oversized feet, and he knew this trade better than anyone. Papa’s youngest might tower over him now, but Iago knew better than to question the expert and so he waited patiently for the prisoner’s shoulders to slump, and his muffled cries soon devolved into hacking sobs. It wasn’t a pleasant thing to watch, but the image of Vallea’s bruised face helped to keep Iago’s mind focused on what kind of man this was.
After a short while Dottore motioned that he should remove the gag and Iago nodded back, pulling the strap down from the captive’s mouth before wiping his hand clean on the man’s torn shirt. Arente didn’t try to scream for help, though whether that was due to common sense or sheer exhaustion, Iago couldn’t have guessed. He knew Dottore would be watching him for this part and so he put on his best ‘no-nonsense’ face and kept his words clipped and to the point. There was always a chance the old man would tell Papa about this.
‘Vallea said there were two of you. Who is your friend, and where do we find him?’
The dog on the chair just wept and Iago slapped him hard across the face.
‘Who is your friend, and where do we find him?’
Still Arente just gasped and cried, and it was only when Iago hovered a fist over his ruined knee that he began to speak, his eyes bright with terror.
‘Bruno! Bruno Toranto! His name is Bruno Toranto, it was Bruno, he…’
But Iago raised one hand and the babbling stopped. It was a gesture he’d seen Papa use a hundred times and he’d been practicing it carefully. Dottore gave a tiny nod of approval.
Arente nodded fervently, and Iago found he could see the whites all the way around his eyes. Their man was enthusiastic about the answer at least. The enforcer spoke slowly, his voice as calm as Arente’s was frantic.
‘And where do we find this man?’
The man in the chair proceeded to tell them everywhere that Bruno Toranto had been in the last year, or so it seemed, and Iago was glad when Dottore’s rasping voice cut him off.
‘Yes, but where is he now? Today.’
Arente took a moment and composed himself, or composed himself as best as a man can when he’s half-naked and tied to a chair, with his bare feet splashing in his own urine and one kneecap lying ten feet away across the floor. Iago thought he did rather well, all things considered.
‘Probably at the Dead Man’s Hand. He drinks there most days when we don’t have work.’
Iago nodded and held back a sigh. He didn’t want to have to do things this way but orders were orders and Papa had left no room for doubt; they were to take both men in and send a clear message when they spat them back out. He turned his gaze to Dottore and the torturer obeyed the order before it was given. Carefully, he replaced the gag in the prisoner’s mouth and then took up his little knife again. Arente looked from one captor to the other, first in confusion and then in panic, but Iago avoided his eyes and Dottore was absorbed in his work. With his usual precision, the grey-haired man began removing the flesh from around the other knee while Gorean kept a grip on the prisoner’s arms. Muffled cries came through the gag and the youngest Corona made a show of pacing impatiently, largely as an excuse not to look at him. The bastard has earned this, remember that. And remember what Papa will say if he thinks you lack steel in your blood.
It was only because he was pacing that Iago found himself closer to the door than he might otherwise had done, which meant that when Vannio came crashing through it he almost collided with him. Iago stepped back quickly and the minder thudded on the boards, blood leaking from one side of his mouth. The irony that a man known as ‘Vanni Cracktooth’ had just had his teeth cracked would have made Iago smirk in other circumstances, but right now survival instinct was overruling his sense of humour. He was still in his shirtsleeves and had left his coat, with its hidden dagger, on a chair across the room. His sword-cane was resting beside it but for all the use they were right now, they might as well have been on the moon. Iago dived away from the shattered door and whipped the tiny stiletto from his boot. It would be a feeble weapon against almost anything his assailants might be carrying but it was a damned sight better than nothing, and the enforcer held it ready, calling out behind him as he moved.
But even before the big man’s steps began pounding the boards Iago had raised an open hand to call him off. Standing in the broken doorway, dressed in her usual heavy grey coat and cloak, was Magoria.
If someone had told Iago that Magoria was just a hundred years old, he’d have assumed she had led a hard life to wind up looking the way she did. Her face was a mass of weathered lines, her nose long and crooked, and what hair poked from under her hood was white and stringy. Her hands and arms were stick-thin and bony, and the teeth in her thin mouth were few and stained. Beneath the coat her breasts seemed to sag down to her stomach, and the odd way that she bent made them look strangely lopsided. A fool would think that she was a creature to be pitied, some ancient widow or beggar come up from the slums to sell trinkets and read palms. That fool would have regretted his mistake.
Magoria had power. Even Papa didn’t know who she truly was or where she’d come from, but she had an impressive magical talent of some kind or another, and those who valued their safety took care to treat her with respect. Apparently Vannio, still lying senseless on the boards, had caused her some kind of offence. Iago sheathed his knife quickly and bowed his head.
‘Magoria, to what do I owe this visit?’
The old woman didn’t cackle the way crones were supposed to. Instead she gave a wheeze that could just about be interpreted as a laugh.
‘Come now, Little Boots. I am Mags to you, am I not?’
Iago was quietly glad that Vannio was unconscious. Few people outside the Family still called him that. Even as a child he’d always had massive feet, and Antonio had thought the nickname was endlessly witty. Which tells you most of what you need to know about Antonio! Iago had not agreed but he’d been in the minority, and the name had stuck for an irritatingly long time. He decided not to mention his displeasure here though. He didn’t have enough men with him to risk offending Magoria. Instead he gave her his most charming smile.
‘Mags, of course.’
Iago remembered his manners and made a courtly gesture towards an empty chair. Magoria’s eyes, the only thing about her that looked young and bright, flickered to the bound man and then back to Iago again.
‘Thank you but I can see that you are busy, Little Boots. I came only to pass on a message.’
Iago couldn’t help but glance down at Vanni Cracktooth and Magoria smiled in a way that was surprisingly girlish in so gnarled a face.
‘Oh that,’ she shrugged, ‘he told me I had to wait.’
Iago nodded slowly, grateful as ever that Magoria seemed fond of him for some unfathomable reason. His mind flashed quickly to the white bull tattooed beneath his sleeve. Is it really so unfathomable? He brushed the thought away with an effort. Now was not the time.
‘My apologies on his behalf, Mags.’
The old woman nodded.
There was a slight pause and Iago used it to wave away Gorean.
‘Go and help Dottore. I’ll be over in a moment.’
The big thug grunted an acknowledgement and plodded back to the wretch in the chair. After a few moments the sounds of struggling and gagged cries began again, but Magoria didn’t react to them and so neither did Iago. She took a few steps away from the others and the youngest Corona joined her. When she spoke again, her voice was quiet.
‘If asked, you can tell them that my message was one of thanks to your father, for the shipment of redrye last week.’
Iago nodded, expressionless, and the crone went on.
‘I have come to offer you employment. It is nothing against the Family of course but neither would you want them involved, I think.’ She smiled. ‘We would not want Antonio taking credit for it, now would we?’
Iago almost smiled. Magoria might use magic for many things, but she didn’t need it to manipulate people. She knew full well how he resented his brother, and even as he felt himself being drawn into a con, he couldn’t help but gesture for her to continue. She smiled again.
‘I will give no details to you here, but it is a most lucrative job. Dangerous of course, but well within your capabilities I am sure.’
Once again the image of the white bull came to Iago’s mind and it took a conscious effort not to touch his forearm.
‘You say you can give me no details?’
Magoria shook her head.
‘Not here. A meeting is being arranged. There are others who must also be told.’
But Magoria cut across him with a lazy gesture of her withered hand.
‘You should listen because I am telling you that this job will do you great good, Little Boots. It would reap a greater reward than anything brought to the Family so far, by your generation.’
Iago fought to keep his face plain. He had played people enough to know when it was happening to him, but all the same it was hard not to be curious. Magoria had never led him wrong before, and the temptation of outshining Antonio was almost irresistible. It couldn’t hurt to attend a meeting, surely? If Magoria wished him harm she had far easier ways of doing it, and if what she promised was true…
‘When and where?’
Her thin lips turned up in satisfaction.
‘Old Yellowtooth is the man you and the others need to see. He will be in the sluice chamber beneath Inkwell Lane tonight.’
Iago couldn’t help wrinkling his nose. A sewer? Of all the criminal organisations in the city the Coronas were arguably the wealthiest, and while that might make them a target, it also meant they had largely outgrown the need to conduct business meetings in such places. But if there were other cartels involved, then perhaps it was for the best. One had to take care whom one was seen with, after all. He covered his expression up quickly but Magoria saw it and raised a ragged eyebrow.
‘Too base for you?’
Iago tilted his head at her.
‘I have clothes that I can burn afterwards.’
Magoria wheezed at him again.
‘That’s my boy. You will attend then?’
‘If it is at your advice, how could I not?’
The old woman’s young eyes shone and she bowed her head to him, stepping away.
‘It is always a pleasure to speak to one of the Family, Master Corona.’
Iago saw the show for what it was and answered casually, albeit in a slightly louder voice.
‘We are always pleased to see you, Mags. I shall of course pass your regards on to my father.’
The witch bowed again and began shuffling away, walking her odd, lopsided walk. Iago watched her go for a moment. What did this mean? Magoria had said little enough but what had been left unsaid was intriguing. A job working with other cartels? Work that was to be kept quiet from the Family? For a moment he wondered if it was some kind of operation against the Crown, and that was why she was keeping it from Papa, but he dismissed the idea almost at once. Direct action like that was in nobody’s interests. But indirect action on the other hand…
A hundred different scenarios began playing out in his head, but Iago forced himself to put them from his mind. It was still morning and he had a full day of work for Papa to get done before he could indulge himself with theorising. The young enforcer sighed. He could ponder on this new job opportunity this afternoon. Right now there was a rapist who still had one kneecap left.
Legal bit (not sure if this counts as proper fan fiction or whatever but figured I should put something like this in) – this is a story based in the world of Dusk City Outlaws and not a world of my own invention. I’m not getting any money for writing it, I’m not calling it my world etc, this is entirely for entertainment purposes, based on stuff my friends and I came up with while playing this game. Thanks goes to all the people here: https://scratchpadpublishing.com/#home-section for making the game interesting in the first place!