Under the Thirteenth Revolutionary Council
Fireday, 31st Desnus, 4719
While there is no sort of 'official' time that everyone closes their shops, there are tendencies. Usually it's between the sixth and seventh bell after noon; some close earlier, a few close later, but even now, getting into the long days of the year, here in Isarn it's been found to be best to close up, and make sure you're closed up. Shops with windows are few and far between, and those are usually ones with a very, very strong understanding with the local hooligans -- they pay enough, and the hooligans actually do make sure that if their windows are busted out, the people who do it pay for it one way or the other, and usually both.
But it gives employees enough time to go home, get something to eat on the way, perhaps catch up on gossip at their local tavern (which is, after all, still the most common place to get your news). And for certain people, it gives them time to eat and do a few necessary things that their employees would find to be truly odd before they too go out into the darkened city.
Certain people ...
Athanas Sylvain watches the last of his employees leaving the office, his hands folded behind the small of his back. The sole window of his office's foyer is heavily crossed with crude iron bars, breaking up the scene beyond, but such is the price to pay for natural lighting in today's Isarn. The elf is tall and thin, his age-silvered hair flowing below his shoulders, his clothing the simple attire of the middle-class artisan--his surgery clothes are already off to the laundry of Le Remède, to be duly washed and returned the next morning. His bearing is statuary, his pale eyes unblinking as they follow the workers down the street. Only after they are beyond his view does he move, and then quickly: he draws a key from his pouch as he walks, and barely pauses to unlock the door to his office before stepping inside and relocking the door.
The office is well-furnished, if sparsely, but he does not dwell long within. Behind the desk, Sylvain crouches down, drawing a second key, this one from a thin cord around his neck. It fits just so in a crack between two of the floor's tiles, and turning it triggers an audible click as a section of the floor comes free on its hinge. With a final anxious glance toward the office's door, Sylvain opens the trapdoor and descends the stairs beneath, closing it behind him.
The hidden room is dark, but Sylvain knows well where he keeps his belongings here, and has established a routine. The flint and steel are set on a small table at the bottom of the eleven stone stairs, and next to them, a candle in its holder. The wick catches on the second strike, and he takes the light up to light other candles about the room. A human might have trouble navigating with such sparse lighting, but Sylvain's keen eyes fare well in the gloom. Once the candles are lit, he goes about his first order of business, settling onto the floor of the landing and sifting through the dirt.
It takes some time to unearth all the bones, but they are quickly formed into the proper spiral. Once they have been laid out, Sylvain pulls two small pieces of parchment from his pouch, strips on which he wrote names earlier in the day, during spare moments. One he sets at the outer end of the spiral: Emma Dupond, a girl delivered the day before in one of the rooms upstairs. The other paper, he lays at the center of the spiral: George Roche, who finally passed this morning, after many years of incessant coughing.
Sylvain chants, low and soft, as he moves around the spiral, circling about it, tracing his way into and then out of its curves, trailing the black scarf in which he keeps the bones. The hymns are Pharasmin, old and forbidden in this city. He has no book, but his voice does not stumble. When he reaches the place where he began his circling, Sylvain kneels and looks down, falling silent for several minutes, falling deep within himself.
Finally, the elf takes a long, deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling once. Le Boucher raises his head, his eyes gleaming in the flickering light of the candles. By now, the seventh bell has come and gone, and night is coming fast to Isarn. It will soon be the Butcher's time. His tools wait in his chest; his work waits in the streets.
In Isarn, despite the will of the Grey Gardeners and the Revolutionary Council, Pharasma is always present; in Isarn, life goes on, from birth to death, and a physician is liable to see more of that than most. Each life is infinitely precious to the one who holds that particular one ... and yet in Isarn (more than most cities, it would seem), life is also cheap.
Really, it's just a matter of who's willing to pay for it.
What Athanas has heard of late, however, is murmurs of the name of an increasingly unpleasant member -- or perhaps 'contractee' might be a better term -- of the Caydogs, that gang that dominates Sud Rivière and the Wine District. For the past couple of weeks your nightly forays have gone into looking into this 'Jacques Barbeau', a mid-twenties male human with that 'lean and hungry look'. Half a year ago, he apparently managed to get together enough cash to 'be licensed' by the Caydogs to 'run' a block or so worth of Sud Rivière, collecting rent, protection money, all the usual shills. Six months ago he wasn't much different than the guy who'd previously 'held' the territory: rough but fair, for a certain definition of 'fair'. But four months ago a shopkeeper came in with four cracked ribs, and three months ago a patient of yours 'fell down some stairs', and it's only gotten worse as the weeks have gone by. Some people just can't hold power in their hands without it going to their head.
You know where he works; you know where he lives, where he relaxes, where his mistress entertains him. The question is ...
... is this the night where he's the one who pays?
In his cellar, the Butcher prepares. Apart from the dirt floored landing is the true vault of the old bank, and it is now his war room, with a chest of tools for his bloody trade. The lock on the front is a clever contraption, and he draws the key from his throat again. But this time, he draws the cord taut and inserts the back of the key into the lock. A quick and practiced series of twists later, and the click of the tumblers signals access.
First are the daggers. Tonight is a night of action: his recent work has been gathering information, learning names, surveying places. Tonight he strikes, and for the Butcher to do his work, his knives must be sharp. There are six: five long and lean, with blades made for death and blood. The last is his finest tool, a heavy blade with a jagged edge on the spine, made as much for ripping and hacking as slicing. He draws them all against the whetstone, meticulous and precise, smooth motions that ready the edges for the work ahead. Only after he judges each against a spare strip of cloth, growing shorter with each stroke, does he slide them in their sheathes. Two will go in his boots, two in the spring-loaded holsters strapped tight to his forearms, and two to his belt, easily drawn and visible to the enemy.
Next is the costume. He knows it is a costume, but he knows it is necessary: the Butcher can wear whatever he wishes, but the clothes make the man, and they give him the power of mystery and terror--one and the same, when people fear what they do not know. The smaller mask is first, black cloth with slits just enough for the eyes, covering his face from brow to the end of his nose. Next comes the wig: his long silvered hair is gathered and tied with a small leather thong, and covered with a shoulder-length mop of black. These are not necessary, he knows, for they should not be seen under his hood, but they are needed in case. An added layer of deception. Secrecy is security.
The visible costume has been acquired over time, pieces added and taken away until an image of horror came to fruition. The leather armor, studded with iron, is not hidden, but the apron which goes atop draws the eye with its crude stitching, patches, and bloodstains. His hood is that of the executioner, rough burlap and heavy clock, stitched with thick thread in a haphazard way; more stains add to the patchwork, and it smells as much of death as the apron. The knives are belted and sheathed, and his pack goes over his shoulders, holding his other tools: tools of healing, tools of pain. Into a pocket of the apron he places two small vials, containing a dark and viscous liquid. These are his voice, and he will drink one when he nears his quarry.
Finally, he is ready. It takes time for the Butcher to ready for his work, but that is good. Preparation leads to success. He must be prepared against danger, against surprise. He must protect his secret, and taking time aids in that protection. When he leaves the vault, it is quietly; he steals up to the second story, and looks through the barred window to the alleyway to ensure no one will see when he leaps down, pulling the bars shut again behind him.
Tonight, he seeks a man called Barbeau. A young fool, who thinks himself special for buying a piece of the city from the Caydogs. He feels that purchase has given him authority, security, the right to prey on the people of the Sud, but he is wrong to think that. The Butcher has watched men like Barbeau wither and die, whether at the end of the knife or simply the end of their days. But death will not wait long for this thief, this wretched leech on the good people of Isarn. Death comes in a sheath on the Butcher's belt.
And so, in the Isarn evening, an elf in a mask of terror stalks the streets. He makes for where he believes his prey will be tonight: a place Barbeau frequents, relaxing in the pleasures he has purchased with stolen coin, paid for with the sweat and blood and tears of the people. The Butcher recites Pharasma's words in his head as he goes, remaining as dispassionate as he can, reminding himself that this is the work of life and death, insuring prosperity for those Barbeau would maim or kill. But he is also eager, for he hopes this will be a good night of fine work.
The people of Isarn are not, unfortunately, good; it is the baying of their voices that keeps Goss in power, it is the bloodlust that a generation of Galtans have grown up with, from which a second generation will need to be weaned.
But that is not for tonight, that is for the future. It is not quite a matter of simplicity for you to locate Barbeau, to confirm he is in the place he frequents, but eavesdropping for half an hour helps to certify that he is indeed inside. The problem lies in the fact that it's, well, 'after hours', and he's likely to be in there for a while ...
... but you are here for him, after all, so a few hours' wait isn't too much of a burden, is it? A good hiding place with a view on the likely exit, shifting from time to time to check on the tavern's back door, and your patience is eventually rewarded.
1d4 ⇒ 4
1d5 ⇒ 5
Now I need a few checks. In order:
Stealth, DC 20 (for hiding)
Perception, DC 23 (for spotting)
Stealth (for sneaking up on your prey)
The DC 23 for your Perception is because he leaves from the back door (a 5 on 1d5). 4 is the number of hours you're hanging around waiting. The Stealth is likewise increased by 5 because you have to catch up.
Perception, DC your second Stealth roll: 1d20 + 6 - 2 + 5 ⇒ (16) + 6 - 2 + 5 = 25
Presuming you beat his Perception check, you'll catch up and can post how you snatch him off the street. If you fail by 5 or less, he won't hear you, but you'll have to make another roll to actually get close to him; if you fail by more than 5, you'll spook him and lose him in the maze of streets, and need a Perception (DC 18) check to find him, then another Stealth to catch up and snatch him.
Perception, DC a Stealth Roll you might not need to make: 1d20 + 6 - 2 + 5 ⇒ (3) + 6 - 2 + 5 = 12
That PER roll says that even if you roll a 1, you're going to succeed. ;)
As the Butcher stalks through the shadows, he dwells on the sounds of the night. It is true, there are few good people left in Isarn. Too many cheer for the rolling heads that tumble from the Final Blades. Too many are filled with the bloodlust that empowers Goss and his ilk. Le Boucher scowls beneath his hood at this thought. Many believe him to be ruled by that same bloodlust. But it is not thirst for violence which directs his blades. In a city that cries for death, a city of folk who treat their fellows as little more than stock for the charnel house, the Butcher may be the most sane of all.
At least, that is what he tells himself. It is the truth he holds onto as he lurks outside a tavern, crouched low in the darkness, listening and watching. And so Le Boucher waits, slipping from shadow to shadow as he checks the various exits. It takes hours, and it is darkest night in the city before he finally sees his prey. There. Barbeau is smart enough, at least, to leave through the back door; he might have slipped by, were the Butcher not diligent in his vigil. But as the man makes his way from the tavern, a shadow joins those behind him, creeping closer as he waits for the moment to strike...
But a door opens, light from within spilling into the street. Barbeau turns, and the Butcher is there, cast in shadow but visible, and the man runs. Le Boucher curses, and slips from the light. He can find the man again, he's certain--he knows all his hiding places, all his ways to go to ground. It is simply a matter of where he will run, and for how long he will think he can evade the fate now close at his heels.
(5 ranks+3 class+3 Dexterity)
Perception for Spotting: 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (20) + 10 = 30
(5 ranks+3 class+2 Wisdom)
Stealth for the Takedown: 1d20 + 11 ⇒ (2) + 11 = 13
Perception to Relocate: 1d20 + 10 ⇒ (4) + 10 = 14
Pfft. Apparently Barbeau isn't meant to die tonight after all. At least he should have gotten a good spooking.
All right, let's do this -- time to put that Vigilante Renown to use. ;) We're going to do a 'Batman shakes the trees' sort of thing -- you using your Intimidate to Influence your Opponent's Attitude to persuade them to 'give information' -- basically we're using Intimidate's version of Diplomacy's 'Gather Information'. With a DC equal to 10 + HD + Wisdom Modifier, I'll call this a general DC 12; it'll be higher for some people, lower for others, but 12 is a good average.
Your Take 10 is 10 + 11 + 3 + 4 = 28 (with Masked Symbol and Renown), so I daresay that you'll shake the hell out of the trees. Since we're using this as Gather Information, and since you've hit +16, we'll call that your Diplomacy roll. However, this is slower than actual Diplomacy, because you have to smack people around and hang them off buildings and intimidating stuff like that. ;)
Time Taken (Hrs): 1d4 + 2 ⇒ (3) + 2 = 5
With the time roll above (4), that'll put it at +9 hours after you start -- which, I vaguely recall, was around 9:00 PM, right? That'll put your 'gotcha!' scene around 6 AM, which is when the first full bells of the day ring.
Perception, Terrified Paranoid Thug: 1d20 + 6 + 2 ⇒ (6) + 6 + 2 = 14
All right, give me a Stealth roll with a DC of ... hah. 14. If you beat it by 5, you can do the 'comes out of the darkness behind him' thing. ;)
Oh, Barbeau has escaped -- for now. Le Boucher has done his research, and though Barbeau does not go to any of his usual places -- sometimes a reputation can be a two-edged dagger -- he cannot somehow magically vanish all of the people who have seen him, the people who know him.
The people who hate him.
The Butcher is not strong, but Athanas knows that speed trumps strength, that knowledge trumps speed -- that you don't have to be able to one-hand a half-orc by the throat over the edge of a roof if you know exactly where the nerves come closest to the skin, if you keep your other knives sharp enough to slice leather for the asking -- and if you can do that without cutting the skin beneath. (Unless you want to; that's the lesson given there.) It takes time, though, to find a person who's seen something.
But sometimes it takes surprisingly little terror to persuade people to talk.
Le Boucher is not the madman some believe. The brutality of the killings, the apparent randomness of the targets and locations; these are carefully chosen, a crafted appearance like the hood over his mask. Misdirection and mystery. Le Boucher is methodical, he is cunning.
Barbeau does not return to his places of habit, his routine holes where he might go to ground. Clever, for once, the Butcher grants him. But Isarn is full of eyes and ears, a city of whispers and pointing fingers. For fifty years and more, all of Isarn has been ready to turn on itself, every man, woman, and child raised to betray their closest friend should the time come. There is little honor among the common citizens, let alone the thieves. It isn't a matter of if someone talks, only a matter of how much pressure it takes to break them.
- - - - -
The first man is a thug, stumbling from a bar where he's likely lost his coppers in dice games. He's little more than a common man of the street, but he works for Barbeau. He breaks down, blubbering, as soon as he sees the Butcher's patchwork face. He confesses sins already known, and is left in the alleyway clutching at the ragged remains of his gut.
The second and third fare little better. They, at least, put up some resistance. Le Boucher is disciplined, but his knives do ache for blood on a night like this. When one takes a wild swing with his own dagger, the Butcher grins beneath his mask as he slashes the man's wrist, blood spurting as the dagger tumbles to the ground. A spinning knife catches the other man in the back as he runs, but neither have concrete information. Two more bodies for the spiral. Had they not fought and run, he might have left them as he left the first: with a chance.
Dawn is well on its way by the time the Butcher finds his information. Another thug, but one he's seen with Barbeau many times. A cousin, perhaps, not terribly competent, but loyal and, for whatever reason, trusted. A mistake, plain and simple. He goes through the cheap wooden back door of his apartment and sprawls in the street, heaved more by his own weight than through what strength the Butcher has. He already stinks of piss, and the stain spreading across his thigh is soon joined by a darker color, as a knife plunges deep in his leg.
The man looks up with nothing but sheer horror in his eyes. You can't--
The knife presses just a bit deeper, drawing a breathless, silent scream. I can. I can leave you here to bleed to death like the pig you are. Or I can call out, and someone might reach you in time to stem the bleeding. Or I can cut your throat and have done with it. Le Boucher stands above him, a visage of death. La Mort. His face betrays no emotion, for it is a face of blood and leather and cruel stitching.
Where is Barbeau?
- - - - -
The fifth bell has tolled, the sixth will soon, as the Butcher finds his prey. It has been a long night, longer than he would have liked. The deed should have been done hours ago. But fate is a tricky thing. Men cling to life as though they know they are dying all the while, refuse to give up that which was never truly their own. Le Boucher will pry their fingers open, or cut them free.
So he stalks, quiet. He dare not make for the most impressive of entrances, the grandest of reveals. Appearing just behind in the shadows is a fine trick, a powerful tool, but Barbeau has escaped one such attempt tonight. He will not have a second chance.
Athanas has also imbibed one of his gravelly tonics, if it wasn't clear, so Le Boucher can have his unnaturally low voice during at least some of the interrogations. For the others, he just lowers it himself. Technically the tonic also gives him an additional +5 to the check, but given the process would probably take longer in any case than the 1 hour duration, I don't think it would be fair or make sense to have it apply. He won't drink another one for Barbeau, because he's planning to kill the man anyway--in theory, there won't be any witnesses to discuss the voice.
Well, it was unlikely anyhow.
Reflex Save, DC 15: 1d20 + 2 ⇒ (20) + 2 = 22
... but that I did not expect.
In a tiny, unlit garret in Sud Rivière above three floors worth of flophouse, Jacques Barbeau crouches and peers out of its small window at the coming dawn. He's made it through the night, says his body language, which also says he's sure that if he can do that, then he can survive the day -- and the week, and the months to come. Nodding slightly as the ringing of the bells cascades across the valley in which Isarn sits, the haggard man stands upright, tugs straight his tunic, steps to the garret door and unlocks it, and opens it -- to come face-to-face -- or perhaps face-to-mask -- with the very horror he's spent his night evading. A shriek comes from Barbeau as he recoils, though he keeps either the presence of mind or just the coordination of body to remain on his feet. Though there's a bang of his head against a rafter, he snatches his dagger from its sheath, holding it in front of him with ... comparative expertise.
Not compared to you, though.
Initiative, Barbeau: 1d20 ⇒ 8
Initiative, Le Boucher: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (19) + 5 = 24
You have the initiative, monsieur!!
Barbeau: HP: 18, AC 13 (FF); F +2, R +2, W -1; Dagger +3 (1d4+2)
Barbeau's shriek is like music to the Butcher. It is indeed his face the man sees, for the face of the Butcher is one of patchwork and blood, a face of fear and death. There seems to be only darkness in his eyes, inhuman and unsettling. The knife Barbeau draws is of no consequence, worth not even a glance from the Butcher.
For Le Boucher has his own weapon. A wicked thing, meant for carving flesh, hacking through bone. The ragged back of the blade could saw through most anything, given enough time and effort. The carcass of a sinful man will pose little obstruction.
And so it does. Barbeau may know something of desperate knife fights in alleyways, or slipping a blade between an unsuspecting target's ribs. But he is no match for a trained fighter, a man who has spent lifetimes manipulating fine steel with the purpose of rending flesh. Barbeau's feeble defense is useless before the Butcher's blade. In a flash, he closes the distance, and Barbeau is left stumbling back with a deep slice just under his ribcage.
Jacques Barbeau can only collapse, his legs giving out beneath him, helplessly clutching at his torn stomach. Blood soaks him from chest to groin, his entrails barely held back by his failing efforts. He can only look up at the face of his killer, kneeling before him, impassive and haunting.
"So you, too, join the charnel." Le Boucher's voice is grating, horrid, and awful in its lack of passion. However much the Butcher may revel in his work, he does not let it show in his speech. "Death comes for us all, Barbeau. Those who deal in it must accept their own in turn." The sawback of the blade presses to Barbeau's throat, and the man suffers consciousness for only a little longer as the flesh is ripped to shreds.
Attack: 1d20 + 12 ⇒ (8) + 12 = 20
Damage with Reduced Hidden Strike, Improved Precise Strike: 1d4 + 8 + 5 + 3d4 ⇒ (2) + 8 + 5 + (4, 1, 1) = 21
I'll also hold off on posting further actions in case that shriek alerted anyone; hopefully what I put above isn't out of line, since there are no more immediate combatants.
In a bloody tableau, Jacques Barbeau keeps his innards from spilling out, looking up at the man who's already killed him; the sudden shock of the overwhelming violence keeps him from crying out again for the few seconds before the pain hits. And when the pain does hit, Le Boucher's sawbacked dagger is already poised at his throat, and only the barest whisper of agony emerges before that too is gone ...
A few minutes later, the Butcher of Sud Rivière emerges from the garret as the scent of death seeps slowly from the room. A single shriek is regrettably common in Isarn these days, typically as reported 'traitors' are seized from their beds and dragged off, soon to face a judge and, more often than not, Madame Margaery. One more howl of terror is merely a cause to wake up from an uneasy sleep, then to be glad it isn't you. And so Le Boucher can fade even as do the songs of the bells ...
Now that you've located, gutted, cut the throat, then (presumably) spent a few minutes chopping up Barbeau, feel free to sketch what you might do for the next day and evening. If you aim to do any of the more involved stuff (negotiate a contract, gather information, etc.) go ahead and make the roll for me, though I'll need to let you know how you do.