Welcome (at last) to part three of my stories from the roleplaying game; Dusk City Outlaws (disclaimer at the end). This was a brief intro scene we played for the third and final member of the crew, the Mummer/Singer/Assassin, Lartessa Pulchinella – enjoy!
Lartessa Pulchinella sang without words. Lesser performers would recite poems or warble ditties about love and war and other such nonsense, but not her. For Tessa, music was at its best when kept pure, and ever since she was a child she’d had a gift for understanding it. The little crowd at the Rosethorn was held spellbound by the sound of her voice, and Tessa, as ever, took care not to enjoy it too much. The secret of her song was in letting oneself become lost in the music, and if she grinned at her success or let smugness enter her mind, then the song would lose its truth, and the spell would be broken.
The Rosethorn was not a large theatre but it simply screamed good taste. The seats were dark-stained oak with just the subtlest hint of gilt at their edges, and with cushions of deep crimson patterned with elegant black swirls. The chandelier had only twenty hanging crystals, all perfectly cut but none so large as to be considered ostentatious, and the curtains draped about the place were soft velvet rather than the silk one often saw in more vulgar places. Though if the theatre itself was appealing, it was a grey wasteland compared to the performer.
Tessa had been called beautiful before, and it was true enough after a fashion. Her skin was smooth, her eyes bright and her hair a cascade of dark brown curls. Her fitted dress, patterned with green and blue diamonds and decorated with pearls, showed a figure both slender and womanly, and more than one man in the audience had gawped at her when she’d walked on stage. But this city was full of women like that, and pretty girls could be bought and sold for half a purse of silver. Women like Tessa, however, were rare; women with the gift of Music.
She continued with her singing, building slowly to a crescendo that would turn her audience into drooling saps, and her eye was drawn to a movement at the rear of the chamber. It was hard to see clearly, the house lamps had been dimmed, but she was sure she saw a figure slip inside and loiter just beside the door. Whoever it was they were garbed in something grey and shapeless, and Tessa almost let herself be curious about them. But this was no time for distractions. She let go of her voice and let it float on the air, allowing the music to travel through her and into the world, where a room of conceited aristocrats were being willingly hypnotised. Tessa resisted the urge to smirk. Her fellow Harlequins would be waiting for them the moment they entered the foyer, and in such a dream-like state it was almost too easy to rob these wealthy fools. Not that they’d all be relieved of their gold here of course. All along Harper’s Way they had other cutpurses waiting, ready to pounce on the delirious gentlefolk as they staggered out into the street.
The song built and built, pouring forth from her like water from a hot spring, until at last, with a final trilling note, the Music reached its peak and Tessa almost collapsed from the effort. The crowd leaped up, or stood up anyway, and began applauding with almost unsettling enthusiasm, and scores of red roses were hurled at the stage by desperate admirers. Tessa smiled her most girlish smile and curtseyed delicately. The fools would cheer themselves hoarse if she remained on the stage too long and so she gave her bows for only a minute or so before exiting with a final wave. Their noise could still be heard as she walked down the narrow passage, and showed no sign of abating when she reached her dressing room.
She breathed out a sigh as she walked in, a performance like that always left her exhausted, and the pink-coloured wine on her dressing table was just begging to be drunk. Then a voice like cracked leather came from behind the door.
‘You were lovely tonight, my dear.’
Tessa spun in place with the grace of a dancer, whipping the pin from her hair in a single fluid motion. Curls tumbled to her shoulders but Tessa ignored them as she levelled the tiny blade at the intruder. It was an ancient-looking hag draped in a mess of grey rags, with a stooped back and lopsided shoulders, and a face that might have been hacked out of dry bark. She might have passed for any beggar or crippled crone at a casual glance, unless, as Tessa did, one looked at her eyes. Her eyes were those of a woman eighty years younger, and they spoke of youth and intelligence. And amusement.
‘At least you have not grown slow.’
Tessa looked at the shining blade and shrugged.
‘One cannot afford to get sloppy, Magoria.’ She lowered the weapon and paced to the dresser. ‘Even if music is an easier way to make money.’
Tessa laid the knife on the table and filled two glasses with the pink wine, largely to give her time to think. She and Magoria might be on good terms but she was a dangerous woman, and Tessa wasn’t fool enough not to be afraid of her. Leaving aside her many powerful connections, Magoria was either an alchemist or a sorceress of some kind, and bad things tended to happen to those who showed her disrespect. It had been a good two years since she’d seen her last, on a Strike job with Cassia, and the crone seemed to have aged a good decade since then.
The retired assassin turned to her guest and offered her a glass. Magoria took it with a nod, sipping daintily before she spoke again.
‘Of course, the game you play has a limited lifespan.’ She tilted her head a fraction, approving of the wine. ‘Sooner or later these lords and ladies will make the connection between your performances and their missing purses. You may not be leaving evidence but your audiences will shrink, for all your unique abilities.’
Tessa sipped at her own wine and began removing her earrings, though she left her silver bracelet in place. Magoria was right of course, but the Strike game was dangerous, and the Music was her only other talent.
‘Have you come here with some suggestion as to how I can make them stay?’
Magoria smiled a crooked-toothed smile and raised her narrow glass once again.
‘Not exactly my dear, not exactly…’
Legal Disclaimer bit (not sure if this is 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 and if anybody involved is offended by it then I’ll take it down. Thanks goes to all the people here: https://scratchpadpublishing.com/#home-section for making the game interesting in the first place!