A myriad wall of sound assaulted Txori’s senses, but with a coil of essence writhing through her ears and nerves, she was able to hear everything clearly with no overlap. She scanned the crowd casually, hearing heartbeats and footsteps that made her gaze almost completely redundant. Even in pitch darkness, she could have put an arrow through an apple on each creature’s head in the massive marketplace.
And creature really was the right word. There were fae, ghosts, spirits, elementals, and beastmen all rubbing shoulders in this marketplace, where humans were bought and sold for parts or in their entirety. It seemed the lucky ones were put to work, while many others were slain with no waste, their bodies, blood, and souls each going to the highest bidder. It was horrifying to stare at, but Txori feigned a disinterested look as she glanced around. Her gaze fell over to Blake and Sam, noting a similarly cool look coming from them. All three had pale skin and hair, a slender stature, and black feather tattoos on each cheek, though only Blake looked this way before Sam had gotten to work disguising everyone.
Txori returned to scanning the crowd, and in the distance she could clearly something that caused her belly to tighten in horror.
“Children for sale! Pure, delicious innocence and delicate bones, available here!”
Txori hesitated for a moment. They were working to find leads on a monstrous meeting between Countess Candela and Fists Covered in Dripping Blood, representatives of powerful fae and undead masters respectively. This meeting could possibly spell the doom of all of Creation, so finding this information and sabotaging the meeting was of the highest important. And yet…
“Children for sale! Yes, you sir!”
Txori’s mind was made up in an instant. With a brief nod to her teammates and a vague promise of returning soon, she slipped into the crowd. Deftly navigating the crush of bodies, she was soon on the far side of the open market, standing before the vendor, an aging sallow man who radiated power. Txori approached, affecting an interested buyer, and saw a dozen children in crates of various ages, from toddlers to youths approaching puberty. The unfortunate offspring of parents too desperate or reckless to leave their children behind when attempting the pilgrimage up the Mountain of Fire and Miracles. Now they were dazed, overwhelmed by the swirl of monsters around them. Some were crying quietly while others simply looked around in shock. Not a single one of these children deserved any of the horrors about to occur to them.
“Hello sir,” Txori opened with as she approached. The vendor’s eyes lit up and a toothy grin split his face.
“Good afternoon madame. I’m Gokir, pleased to meet you. How can I help you today?”
“I’m in the market for a child. Which one would you say would fetch your highest price?”
“Well, that depends what you’re offering,” the vendor said, unable to contain the rising excitement in his voice. “If you’ll be needing the whole thing, I’ll be needing a taste of mortal blood in addition to a price of three obols, or perhaps a gossamer trinket I can trade for such wealth.”
Txori hid her smirk well, affecting a bland surprise. “Taste of mortal blood, sir, it looks like you get plenty of those.” And indeed the children’s arms were nicked with many scabs in various states of healing.
“True, but fresh blood from a new source is always a thrill.”
“So for two children you would need two different tastes?” Txori asked, effectively feigning a simple curiosity from trying to understand, rather than as a bargaining maneuver.
“Well, your blood looks sweet enough for two,” Gokir chuckled. “It’s really just for the thrill. In fact, for your taste and your asking price I would give you two, it excites me. Which child would you like? I have quite a selection, as you can see.”
Txori seemed pensive, then pulled a scroll out of her pack and scribbled onto the blank paper and held it high in the air, seeming to inspect it. Several people from the crowd glanced at it as they walked by, then held out their hands and she pricked their fingers one by one on an arrow head. Gokir watched with stunned amazement as she collected ten drops of blood on ten different arrows, then opened up a vein on her arm with another arrow. The smile was gone from her face as she strode forward, fanning the arrows out, including one soaked in her own blood, and with the other hand, produced a sack of jade that left no doubt how many obols were within.
“All of them.”
It took the rest of the day and a large part of the night to find homes for these children. Trips out to the shantytown below, trips to the caravans leaving the area, and still one boy, Hashum, finally volunteered to be sold into slavery for the Guild to honor Txori’s sacrifice for them all. This child was the oldest, brightest and kindest of the lot, and it broke Txori’s heart to accept a few measly silver pieces for this boy when he was worth more to her than all the jade in her purse. Still, he seemed likely to get apprenticed to someone at his next stop of Gem, which was a better fate than he had certainly been destined for earlier that day and certainly much safer than gallivanting around in an airship on their missions of death. Txori couldn’t resist but to scribble a few letters and tuck them into his pocket, telling him that one would give him food, one would give him wealth, and one would give him freedom, if he gave them to the right person at the right time.
She watched him go with a choking feeling in her throat, but she knew she had to keep busy. She had been so focused on the fate of these children that she hadn’t even stopped to inform the party what she was up to, and only after she was finally back within the marketplace did she realize she probably could have recruited the party to help rehome the children. Oh well, she reasoned, the distraction could have been problematic, and hopefully they had found some leads without her. They had probably gone to sleep at some point, but Txori was feeling oddly refreshed from saving some lives for a change, and decided to investigate the early morning scene at the Mortal Market.
As she reentered the marketplace, her incredible hearing once again picked up something relevant, but this time it was Welkin’s name. Two creatures were discussing Welkin in hushed Old Realm, and as she listened she tried to track it to the source. Soon she found what she was looking for: a cloaked figure, hunched over yet still very tall, surrounded by ten merchants and merchant bodyguards, standing around seemingly bored. One of the ten was mumbling to the towering, hunched brute, and Txori could now clearly hear every syllable. She slipped around a corner, breaking line of sight, seeing only with her ears.
“Yes, he’s with two Night Feathers and the traitor,” mumbled the merchant prince, his jaw clicking a bit oddly for the words coming out of his mouth.
“Anyone else?” The deep rasping voice of the hulk set Txori’s teeth on edge. This was a creature of great power.
“There are at least two back at the ship. Perhaps three, the dreams show seven. Though one is the spirit of the ship.”
“Or perhaps the other is still loose,” the brute choked out, almost as though human words were distasteful, despite being Old Realm words.
“Perhaps. We will continue our surveillance. Keep to the shadows. They are keeping a watch, so they fear attack, but we shall be vigilant. Once they attempt to disrupt the meeting, you shall crush them and eat their bones, while we shall escape with the box. Perhaps we shall be lucky enough to add one to our number. We like the youngest one best.”
“Hurry. The sun will come soon.”
The merchants ambled off, and Txori could hear from their footsteps that they were driven by a singular consciousness, though there were indeed ten separate bodies, each walking and breathing like a human. These things had to go, and all ten of them for certain. If even one escaped, perhaps it could replenish its numbers.
Thinking quickly, Txori scurried ahead of them and waited until they were in an uninhabited alley. Whirling around the corner, Txori loosed four arrows in less than four blinks of an eye, felling the three largest and the one that had been speaking. Quick as a whisper she was back into the shadows, as the creatures cried out in pain and surprise. The other six drew weapons of various kinds and fanned out, but Txori could clearly hear their footsteps and knew where they would be before they did.
The terrain was, however, unfamiliar, and making a mental map by hearing echoes was pushing the limits of her supernatural hearing. Txori also sought to have no witnesses for each of her kills, and also prioritized any one that tried to run back to warn their huge friend. So it was a cat and mouse game of over an hour before the last one finally had an arrow in its head. The last one to die uttered an unnatural shriek, and writhed on the ground until Txori walked up to it and put a holy arrow in its chest, and with a blast of light, the creature was still.
Txori debated whether to go back to Grey to get his input on what these things were, but she felt she had dawdled far too long and needed to catch up with her teammates. “They had set a watch” and “two more at the ship” meant they had probably stayed in a room at one of the inns overnight, so she headed there.
As she walked in the hallway of the inn, she heard talking coming from a room, and recognized Sam’s voice. She picked up the pace but then froze as she realized it was only Sam’s voice and another, that of Iselsi Kagami. Blake’s heartbeat was also emanating from the room.
Txori smirked. So, you’ve had a change of heart, then, eh Kagami? Wonder how that happened?
Kagami was trying to convince Sam to leave with him to begin preparing to stake his claim to the Scarlet Empire, but Sam was reluctant to leave the mission they were on now. Fate, the fate of all Creation in fact, depended on this meeting, and Sam’s first duty was to all Creation. Txori marveled silently at Sam’s resolve, and appreciated his sense of duty not just to the world but also to his teammates. Not bad for a Dragon-blooded.
After a few more minutes of this discussion, Kagami shifted gears, saying he was going to Paragon to build an army for Sam for when he was ready to begin the work of saving the Empire. He then asked to speak with Sam in private, and Txori managed to duck around a corner in time to avoid being seen by Blake as she left. What followed was Sam’s induction into the rituals needed to contact Tike Myson, the God of Knockout Punches, and the Patron of the Iselsi. This god could pass information to any Iselsi, and now Sam (and Txori) knew how to contact him and send their messages to each other.
Afterwards, Kagami bid Sam farewell and walked out the door and down the hallway, while Sam went back to his own room. Txori took a step to follow Kagami, but with a subtle hesitation and a very slight increase in heartrate, Txori knew she was found out, and managed to leap backwards out of the way just ahead of a blue spiked chain snapping around a corner. Kagami appeared right behind it, eye blazing with hatred (the other eye was magical and was just blazing with blue essence). Txori put her bow away and put her hands up, trying to signal for a truce, and after a moment and a pulsing blue eye’s recognition, Kagami became still as stone.
“What do you want?” Kagami’s voice menaced, but Txori stood firm.
“I want to help you. We want the same thing. We both want Sam on the Scarlet Throne.”
Kagami scowled skeptically but made no further move. Txori continued after a moment.
“I can help. I have resources in Chiaroscuro. Servants, land, money, jade. Enough to help place agents in the right places.”
“What agents are you referring to?” Kagami said suspiciously, and Txori knew that alluding to Iselsi spies was a big gamble, since Kagami might decide that the secrets of the Iselsi belonged only to the Iselsi and the dead, but this was too important.
“You have agents. Many, I’m sure, and skilled. But to really get close to the Perfect and the Tri-Khan, smoke and mirrors will not do. They must have the trappings of wealth that will withstand any scrutiny. I do mean any.”
“The Tri-Khan? What does he have to do with this?”
“That’s the other thing I can offer: knowledge of the South. I know who is vulnerable, who is useful, and who will have to be… eliminated.”
This was the biggest risk. Txori was fairly sure she could escape Kagami if he tried to continue taking the fight to her here in this inn, but if she had misjudged him, he would be the kind who could bring her down. But of course, his own agents would also be coming forward…
“We will have to plan carefully.”
Txori smiled graciously, though it was really one of relief. “Let us meet my ally, Grey. You remember him, I’m sure. He can help us make the necessary preparations.”
Kagami nodded, still keeping eyes carefully on Txori. “Lead the way.”
In-game effects: Txori returns from a leave of absence. Her resources have been reduced to 4 but now has Contacts: the Iselsi 3 and Spies (Iselsi) 3.