Under the Thirteenth Revolutionary Council
Wealday, Oathday, and Fireday, 29th-31st Desnus, 4719
Travel in the streets of Isarn is a risky thing for smallfolk at the best of times; at night it's worse, and after curfew, well ... you'd definitely be taking your life into your own hands. That, however, is why the feline-faced Mordecai walks by your side. Mordecai is one of Androk's most trusted lieutenants, and the 'Black Cat' runs the day-to-day operations of the ex-nobleman's safehouse. Though somewhat prickly and standoffish, the exceptionally straight-laced and well-groomed tiefling is a demon (pun intended) for orderly processes, which is in part what makes him so very exceptional at keeping the place running smoothly; he's also punctiliously polite to each and every person in regards to their station and position in relation to himself, as if he had an organizational chart somewhere in his head, with lines and boxes and Mme. Mercuria's Primer For Proper Deportment memorized as to how each box relates to each other one.
The one truly unsettling thing about him (besides the fact that he does, after all, look like a black cat made human-sized and -shaped) is the fact that in torchlight or less, it's clear that his eyes have a fiendish glow coming from within, an uncanny intense emerald that, though it does not really cast light, definitely makes him noticeable. That glow, however, is an indicator of an ability to see through the darkness, which is one reason why Androk sent him along with you.
Not that Androk believes you can't take care of yourself, but ... he feels responsibility. And it isn't a short trip.
"Madame Karapetyan," he asks, addressing you with the same formality he always displays; 'Madame' because though you are unmarried, you are also clearly an independent woman and you run your own business and that done well, "may I be so bold as to ask a question?" At the end of the passage leading to the streets above, he holds the door for you, but not before taking a swift look through for threats. "The shampoo you sell, what goes into that?" Ah -- nothing terribly critical for the Conspiracy, but -- considering he has fur all over his body -- somewhat critical for him.
Having tallfolk loom over her is not her favourite thing, especially in the confined spaces of the catacombs, but Manush tolerates Mordecai well enough to suffer his company, at least for the time being. They have a few things in common, and she would be lying to herself if she didn't admit that she did feel a little better for his presence at this time of night. One had to take risks, yes, but no point in making them bigger than they absolutely had to be.
At his question, she throws him a sharp look, wondering not for the first time if he would start purring, should one tickle him under the chin. Probably not. "Why, master Mordecai, are you fishing for my secret recipe?" She gives him a small, thin-lipped smile, to show that she is only partially serious in her accusation, then shifts her gaze forward, watching for bumps in the floor or other obstacles. "I sell many kinds of shampoo, the trick is to customize the formula to the needs of the customers. For yourself, hmm, let me think." She flexes her fingers unconsciously as she goes over the ingredient list. "First, things I would not use, like lavender oil or other aromatic oils, as they might interfere with one's natural scent abilities. I would use an oatmeal base for gentle cleansing of the skin and hairs. Coconut oil for moisturizing and protection against parasites. Chamomile or rosemary to soothe sensitive or irritated skin." The gnome taps one finger thoughtfully against her lips as she walks, giving her companion a brief sideways glance. "For something truly special, a dose of winterbite."
It is a pleasant diversion to think of formulae and ingredients as they walk, and she is grateful for it. One would think that smallfolk would be comfortable in confined, tight spaces - or at least more comfortable than tallfolk, but the truth is that Manush is feeling quite claustrophobic underground. It would be a relief when they reach the open streets above, dangerous as they may be. But then again, in these times, everything is dangerous.
The black-furred 'feline' gives a thoughtful 'hmmm' for a moment. "That," he muses, "does sound better than what I've been using. I have something from one of the perfumiers in La Lumière Rouge," he explains. "And like you said, because of the ... wealth of my fur, the scent lingers rather more than with more normal folk. Though I've no particular ability to smell things more than others, it's ... annoying," he adds with an audible sniff -- irony, if unintended.
Glancing about once again, the dapper tiefling steps into the alley, turning towards towards your shop. He keeps up the conversation in his usual cultured tones, excepting only that he keeps to a low murmur. Not a whisper -- whispers can be heard for much further than one can hear a murmur, for the former is harsh, and the latter fades into the natural sounds of the river and the city.
Without hesitation -- and having tucked away the small red-shining lantern he'd been holding with his cat's tail, more for your own convenience than for his -- he leads you out into the night, which for him is as bright as daylight. There are, of course, a few necessary pauses when it becomes necessary to make a decision on which way to go: the 'safe' route away from the ever-burning lamp-posts at major intersections, but through alleys which may have their own dangers (though away from the potential complications of interference by the gangs), or the 'fast' route through those intersections, risking exposure after dark.
If safe, give me a DC 18 Stealth check.
If fast, give me a DC 22 Stealth check.
(It's like a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book!!)
"Mm." remarks Manush noncommittally to Mordecai's musings. "I will prepare a sample for you tomorrow to try." She lets the tiefling talk as much as he likes, replying in monosyllables for most of the time. It is late and she is tired, looking forward to sinking into the bed waiting for her at home, neatly made with fresh-smelling sheets, a couple sprigs of lavender under her pillow to help her sleep... The gnome almost stumbles as she starts dozing off on her feet, blinking hard a few times and clenching her fists until her nails dig into her palms. Stay awake, just a little longer.
As tired as she is, one might be tempted to take the fast route towards the comforts of her home, but not Manush. Not when one is a gnome, and a woman, and accompanied by a furred tiefling. So she uses small hand gestures to indicate side alleys and darkened streets, attempting to keep the noise to a minimum.
Mordecai doesn't talk all that much, especially as things get less certain, the cat-headed tiefling leading you through back alleys, dark hallways, and an occasional burned-out ruin. He is not as quiet as you are, but with those feline eyes, he often sees trouble long before it can reach you, and draws you aside to wait for it to pass.
Once he reaches your door, he gives you a courteous, if abbreviated, bow. "There is no need to prepare anything while plans are in motion, Madamoiselle Karapetyan," Mordecai states. "Even I recognize that the concerns of one's toilette --" this is meant, of course, as the care one takes with one's cleanliness, scent, neatness of outfitting, and such "-- must take second when more critical things are to occur in a timely manner. A very -- close -- second, but second nevertheless. Until Fireday evening, madamoiselle, I bid you good hunting."
It cannot be said he vanishes into the evening, but the long dark coat which ripples around his dark-furred form makes all of him blend into the night with fair rapidity.
"Good night, master Mordecai, and thank you for your company tonight." replies the gnome before softly closing the front door, barring and latching it from the inside. She does a quick check of the premises before scribbling a note for her apprentice that details the recipe for Mordecai's shampoo. She was not going to spend time on it herself, but the concoction is simple enough that Takuhi should manage it with no supervision. And who knows, they may be able to market it to others who find themselves with an abundance of pilosity.
This done, Manush finally heads towards her bed and her well-earned rest. Alone in her dimly-lit bedroom, she undresses, putting some of her clothes in the laundry basket, others folded carefully on the top of a chest to wear again later in the week. Wearing a thin cotton shift, she brushes her hair meticulously, stifling a yawn or three, then applies a generous layer of her Moisturizing And Nourishing Face Mask For Nightly Use (proprietary formula) before finally sliding under the covers and going to sleep.
Except, sleep does not come. As tired as she is, one would expect to quickly sink into temporary oblivion, but as time passes it becomes more and more obvious that oblivion is being fashionably late. The side of her left leg itches, but when she scratches it the itch just moves to another part of her body. It is too hot under the quilted cover. Her heart thunders in her chest for not apparent reason, and it is too quiet in the house. Thoughts swirl in her head like flocks of birds, swooping closer and drawing away, making elaborate patterns against an imaginary sky - patterns that elude her just as they tease her with understanding, with illumination.
In the end, Manush gives up the futile endeavour and gets out of bed, lighting a candle and shuffling into her office. She needs to set her thoughts in order, then maybe she'll be able to sleep. No point wasting a fresh sheet of paper on this, so she uses the back of an old bill and scratches a few letters connected by lines.
"MB ---- AB? ---- K"
"SC ---- ??"
"FA ---- M&P"
Satisfied, she brings the flame of the candle to the scrap of paper until only flakes of black ash are left of it, which she carefully brushes into an empty ceramic pot, to be used for some concoction or other.
Potential usage of teams: manager as detailed above, apprentice to write some silly rhymes and do her best to get Joubert/his people to repeat them publicly, maybe as a ditty of some sorts. This may make him appear frivolous in Sœur Cendre's eyes. Drivers and Labourers to seek gossip/rumours about Belmont, again under the guise of pursuing a potential business relationship.
As for the rest, to be honest it's still kind of your turn to post; you did your 'before I sleep' bit, which is fine, but really you need to do the next day -- Manush being up and active, giving directions to her teams, going out to talk to people she thinks might have the information she needs. Planning is fine, but be active -- post asking Kethe about Belmont and/or asking Kethe to go talk to him; post directing your apprentice to work on something humorous or mocking. Post going to the Theatre District to talk to your parents. While things will happen around you, I'll not be throwing your two targets, Ardoise and Belmont, at your feet ... ;)
A little bit of thought was, apparently, just the thing; before you know it, Sarenrae's light is framing the curtains, the first full bells of the day are clanging across the city. Bread is, no doubt, being delivered to shops all over the city from the massive industrial 'bakery' that is its basket -- bread that has no warmth by the time it arrives, no spirit, none of the life that a good baker, a great baker, can put into it. No, this bread will nourish only the mouths and stomachs that it goes into, not the mind and the soul.
Which makes for another reason to end this damne'd revolution.
Manush is up well before the light of the day fills the windows, dressing herself in a plain but serviceable outfit, and tucking her hair under a clean bonnet. The gnome washes her face and hands thoroughly, an old habit from when she was still working with food every day and which she hasn't changed because, well, it's healthy. Although she hasn't gotten much sleep the previous night, she cannot make any alterations to her daily routine, for fear of what questions might arise. Besides, there is much to do today.
Her apprentice is still sleeping, so she heads for her manager first, the dwarf woman already busy with tallying the orders and preparing to open the store. So refreshing to have people around who understand the value of hard work, Manush thinks as she walks behind the counter to greet Kethe.
"A good morning to you, my dear. Let us go over any items that require my attention, but first I had a question for you." She pauses to leaf through the ledger, making a cursory inspection of the latest entries. "I would like to expand our operation a little bit, we have been doing well enough. I hear of this merchant, Monsieur Belmont, quite well-off. A self-made man, and his reputation seems solid. You know of him?" She gives the dwarf woman a direct look with the question; Manush knows of Kethe's religious affiliation, and Kethe knows that she knows. If Belmont is an Abadarian, a fellow worshiper might be a good source of information.
After the conversation with Kethe, Manush takes a small stack of bills and paperwork that require her personal attention to her office to work on. It isn't a lot, as her manager is quite efficient and by now there aren't really that many things that Manush couldn't delegate to her if she wanted to, but keeps doing herself either out of habit, or because she likes being hands-on with the business. Once that work is done, she wraps a dark grey woolen shawl around her as she prepares to brave the streets of Isarn.
"I will be out for a little while, my dear. Tell Takuhi that I have no practical tasks for her today, so she should study Messegue's 'Le Grand Herbier'." There. A tedious task, even for Manush, and Takuhi had already covered the ponderous tome in her studies, so such an assignment was practically guaranteed to have her apprentice seek out more entertaining activities. And if Manush knew Takuhi at all, those activities would involve writing irreverent verse. Perhaps something that could be used, perhaps not, but she had long ago given up on trying to channel the little bundle of chaotic energy. Just unleash her and see what happens - and pray that the damage is not too great.
That little thing sorted, she leaves her workshop to head towards the Theater District and pay a visit to her family. A slim chance that one of them might know something of a certain smallfolk who is fond of coin tricks.
Let's see -- your Bluff +7 means your Take 10 is 17, which hits the 'pass secret mesage' DC of 15. Kethe, presuming Bluff is a class skill she's bought fully into (and presuming even a -1 CHA modifier), her Bluff will be a +5, allowing her to hit that DC with a Take 10 herself.
Manush Perception: 1d20 + 16 ⇒ (20) + 16 = 36
... damn. Though I am reminded that a Nat20 on a skill check is not an autosuccess, in this case it's definitely a success ... ;)
The dwarf female Kethe sniffs slightly, barring the extending of your hand for the ledger for a moment while she carefully blots and sands the fresh ink she'd just laid down; after a moment, she taps and blows off the sand, passing the ledger over to you while she eases herself down from the wide chair and goes to the front door to let in one of the herbalists, tapping on the door. She listens to your request as she comes back, meeting your gaze with a slight, almost archetypally dwarfish frown. While the dwarves do not revere Abadar as they do Torag, there is a primal level of respect for the Master of the First Vault; some of Torag's own works are held within Abadar's repository as perfect examples of craftsmanship; that Kethe is more a follower of the Gold-Fisted than the Forgemaster is unusual but not worthy of comment -- among dwarves, anyhow, and the dwarves rarely talk about their unusual members to outsiders anyhow.
For a long few moments, Kethe considers your expression, your directness, your words, and then nods thoughtfully. "Belmont. Hm. Rings a bell, but I can't say for certain. Want for me to ask around, pass a few notes?" She may not know Belmont personally, but she's willing to send a few messages to others of her faith to find out information for you -- presuming he actually is, as you're implying, actually an Abadaran.
Otherwise, of course, she concentrates on the business of the day and of the week. Though she is more than passably capable -- a merchant herself, and were Le Mélange Efficace her own she would be capable of slowly building it into something she could pass on to her own offspring -- you are, after all, quite a better merchant than she is, and she takes every opportunity to at least try to learn why you direct her to some of the less-certain activities and investments. That you're a gnome is often explanation enough; that you're an alchemist who experiments with psychoactive tinctures can explain others, but ... she still seeks to understand. After all, the striving to better yourself is important, is it not?
Takuhi enters in time to hear her assigned reading, and Manush will leave Le Mélange to the sound of the young gnome whining about how boring it is in counterpoint to the dwarven woman's iron resolve to get the girl set down in front of the oversized book and reading away. That paper, ink, and quills would be in reach is not something that Kethe quite manages to consider ...
For a gnome, travelling the city during the day is something akin to navigating a forest where the trees are moving and don't care of they kick you. Well, all right, that's an exaggeration, but only a minor one. With Crumb peeping on your shoulder, flitting to the ground to pluck up a beetle wounded by a passerby or other such fallen victim, her dark eyes (and often herself) keeping moving as you make your way along the streets from the Industrial to the Theater districts. Going to the Karapetyan family home, however, means passing the Isarn School of Fine Arts, the slow-crumbling edifices having seen forty years of disuse, misuse, and maltreatment. It's also the home of the Starving Artists, amongst whose ranks can be found your niece Farrah, Paramaz's daughter.
Who you just happen to catch sight of emerging from a doorway in the company of another gnome. With both you and they moving, the visual is impossibly brief, a sight-line past two humans, through a gap of a kiosk and a food-cart. The only question is whether you try to catch her and talk to her -- not to mention trying to get her to at least visit her worried-sick father and chronically-sick mother.
At Kethe's question, Manush raises an eyebrow. She would not have asked if she didn't want the dwarf woman to do something about it. Surely that was known by now. In response, she snaps the ledger shut and passes it back to Kethe. "See what you can find. Success in business is part wealth, part connections, part reputation."
Manush is just thinking of her niece as she passes the Isarn School of Fine Arts, wondering what the child is up to these days. As if summoned by her thoughts, she spots their subject across the street and hurries her step to try and catch up, trotting as dignified as possible as she dodges passers-by and carts.
Using Take 10 roll results (Per 26, Sense Motive 24) for the below.
Hurrying to spot -- locate -- follow your niece is relatively tough amongst all these long-legged tallfolk -- a gnome amongst mostly humans -- but your quick eye keeps tabs on her for the block or so necessary for you to catch up. Whether you call her name or catch her sleeve, she'll turn and give a slight start of surprise. "Aunt Manush!! I - I - I didn't expect to see you here!!"
Her companion turns as well, dropping the copper coin that was in -- or perhaps on -- his hand at that moment, and scrambling after it. After he manages to snatch it back from between the cobbles of the street, he regains the sidewalk, blinking at you with an uncertain standoffishness -- you'd guess dubous servility (the lot of many smallfolk in Isarn) instead of banked aggression.
Her sharp eye taking in the coin, Manush decides for a slightly different tack in the conversation with her niece. The girl was young, useless to pontificate to her about filial duty.
"Farrah, my dear, how are you? I was just on my way to see Mother and Father." Turning to her companion, she gives him an appraising look, trying not to spook him too much. Youngsters could have strange ideas about their elders, depending on how they had been raised and what ideas got into their heads. And especially artist types could have a lofty disdain for people like her, coin-pushers and tradesfolk with no appreciation of Art.
"Good day to you. I am Farrah's aunt, Manush." She avoids calling him 'young man' - young men generally do not appreciate that. "Are you two in a hurry? If not, let me treat you to a meal, I'd like to catch up with my niece a little." There - a food bribe, which a 'starving artist' was unlikely to refuse. And if they accept, she will find a way to steer the conversation to performance arts, juggling and coin tricks.