Burden of Duty

By Case Lopez

Constanzo Scarpa closed the door behind him as he walked out to the balcony. From this vantage point he was able to see most of the city sprawling out before him. His city… at least it soon would be. The air blowing from the bay filled his nose as he looked outwards to the west, over the rooftops of the Vodacce District and towards the Castilian buildings beyond. The City of Five Sails was a prize not to be given, but earned. After laying extensive preparations, he simply needed to reach out and take it. Five Sails would become his legacy, and the legacy of the Scarpa famiglia.

Crime in Five Sails is as thick as the salt air, as reliable as its stone foundations, and as established in its history and the ancient walls that circle it. Constanzo strolled slowly across the balcony, his ornate gilt knobbed cane tucked close to his torso as he surveyed the docks below. Colors of pirates and privateers flew next to those of merchant vessels, the flags of pirate hunters alongside the banners of the Vodacce princes. The city would not be easily controlled. The guards, as everyone knew, were always on someone’s payroll. And the Swordsman’s Guild with their rules of challenges? Too many loopholes, too many who did not care for the letter of the law. With the elections for the district governors only a few short months away, Constanzo needed to remain focused on bringing Five Sails’ criminal element to heel.

Constanzo took a deep breath as he looked back out towards the Castilian district. His rival, Gustavo Luis de Martinez de Ladera, seemed as inept in controlling the crime in the Castilian district as his name was long. Maybe de Ladera just didn’t care. Constanzo took a different tactic, one that could help win the election for him. His knuckles whitened as he gripped his cane tighter. He would ensure that the crime in the Vodacce district answered to him. That his duelists and bravos exploited the loopholes of the Swordsman’s Guild. That the guards of his district remained strictly on his payroll. Yes, he had earned the right to rule over this city through sweat and blood… so much blood.

The bells in the tower struck the hour. It was time for his council.

The meeting took place in a darkened room in an inn not far from the Scarpa estate. Constanzo could not risk being seen with the likes of those he was about to meet, it could tarnish his reputation. But everything occurred according to plan, Constanzo’s plan. He would not have it any other way.

At the far end of a worn mahogany table sat the Numan, Cirilo Nauriparos. His black hair flowed above his stern brow and piercing eyes. Cirilo was a key component of the Red Hand, a gang that came to Five Sails with Cirilo from the island of Numa to the south. Next to him sat the fate witch, Cesca del Rosso, dressed all in black as per her station as a strega. The lashes that fate and a former employer had bestowed upon her had left her cruel and sadistic, two traits that Constanzo found comforting and reliable in someone of her abilities. Compared to those two, Aldo Bussotti seemed almost kindhearted, but Constanzo knew that Aldo’s mind worked purely in numbers. Simple issues of morality mattered not to him, only how they served the bottom line. The last two in the room were two of Constanzo’s three scions, Servo and Sibella. While he did not need their presence at the council, Constanzo wanted them to understand its inner workings and eventually sustain his legacy. He could never rely on his third offspring, Vissenta, whose sneaking around could at any time tarnish his reputation. But she was a loose thread to be cut at a later time.

Per custom, Constanzo sat at the head of the table. This meeting came about per his fiat, his council regarding his city. He looked upon the other five and took a breath. “Tell me.”

Cirilo shifted in his seat. “There was an attack near the Castilian docks, by the warehouses. The lost assets are negligible.”

“An attack? Someone challenging our influence, or simply someone foolish?” Constanzo asked.

“Neither, someone new,” replied the Numan. “What I have surmised is that a group of Musketeers from Montaigne have arrived in the city with the intention of causing trouble. Rumor has it that Ruggero has fled and abandoned his claim to the warehouses there.”

“Ruggero… was he the one with the poor taste in hats?” Constanzo said in a way that could have been punctuated by a chuckle, but his eyes gave nothing away but a chilled calm.

“Yes, he stole it from a Montaigne noble that he allegedly handled a few years back. Ironic that the Montaigne would be his downfall now. No matter, he will be tracked down and dealt with properly.”

“And of these Musketeers, such individuals just don’t wander into our city… any news on why they are here?”

To this, Aldo looked up from his ledgers, “There is a rumor that they are traveling with a young woman, a courtier, who has been making some very intriguing alliances. Asking many questions on behalf of a patron from Arrent. It seems the altercation was a favor to one of the Castilian merchants.”

“And how have the Castilians responded to such violence in their midst?”

“de Ladera remains unconcerned, which is not surprising. An upstart standing up to the threat of the ‘Red Hand’ does little to affect him personally,” replied Aldo. To this, Cirilo’s eyes narrowed, but he remained quiet. “Then there is the matter of the Cat.”

“Ah” Constanzo recognized the name “I have heard of this Soline.”

Cirilo waved his hand dismissively. “A charlatan who gets fortunate from time to time. She is merely a street rat, nothing more.”

Patiently listening to the conversation, Cesca calmly drew from her Sorte deck, revealing the Coins for the Ferryman card. “She comes from humble origins, but she is able to quickly adapt. Ever changing like the water around this city, the one they call el Gato should not be disregarded so easily.” Cesca’s words hung in the air, gripping the silence that followed. Sibilla Scarpa looked at Cesca with awe and wonder. Sibilla also was a strega, but nowhere near Cesca’s abilities. It was Constanzo’s hope that she learned.

“And of the General to the north?”

Servo smirked as he had been studying the events in the Eisen District. “He is a zealot, but Kaspar seems to have a charisma that draws people to him. His followers are loyal, but they are an unfocused rag-tag bunch. He seems to be more interested in chasing ghosts than any sort of political ambition.”

Constanzo’s expression did not change. He admired Servo’s desires and aspirations, but needed to focus his eagerness. “Even one without the inclination for politics may still have it thrust upon them. And he is a known and respected leader. We should keep an eye on him, distract him with more ghosts to chase. Perhaps the Boar and that witch of his could keep him occupied?”

Again, Servo grinned. The exploits of Yevgeni, the Boar of the Ussuran district, had almost become folklore at this point. He stood eight feet tall and twice as wide, with storms bowing to his presence, or so the stories went. No one quite knew what the Boar wanted, why he was in Five Sails to begin with. The idea of pitting the General of the Eisen district against the Ussuran Boar was very enticing.

Again, the sound of a card being flipped echoed in the chamber. This time, it was the Thrones. “Be careful of that one.” Cesca whispered “He is too stubborn to be lured by cunning traps. He is unconcerned about what is not directly in front of him. He can be manipulated, but someone else might already be pulling the strings.” Cesca’s eyes flashed with an unsettling look. “Someone, interesting…” again the words hung in the air for what seemed like an uncomfortably long period of time.

Heeding Cesca’s words but not wanting to engage further, Constanzo addressed the last of the districts of his city, “The Sarmatian Commonwealth’s district has been quiet lately. Any news on Tajana?”

“Tajana Wojtek is dead. It’s all but confirmed by her people.” Cirilo scoffed, “No one has heard from her in months.”

“The numbers do not lie,” Aldo warned, looking up from one of his ledgers. “There are very interesting trade patterns going in and out of that district. Food, weapons, books… Someone has to be directing it all, and it all has some purpose and nothing is being exported.”

On the table in front of Cesca sat a new Sorte card, the Magician. “Tajana’s fate is still being woven, and within long shadows her destiny is waiting. For what, I can not see…”

At this the table sat in an awkward, stunned silence, deeply concerned about something powerful enough to occlude Cesca’s visions. None of them wanted to admit their curiosity and apprehension about this somber revelation.

In a small tavern, off the main roads in the Eisen district, a nervous looking man sat at the bar, quietly nursing his drink in silence. A wide-brimmed Montaigne style hat with a white ostrich plume obscured or shadowed most of the man’s features. The tavern keeper quietly tended to him and the few other patrons scattered about the cramped, sparse hall. A clinking noise startled the man, causing the ostrich plume to sway to and fro. To the man’s apparent relief, the disturbance was only a patron dropping a few coins on the table. Before leaving the tavern, said patron finished the last of his ale, gathered his coat and left out the front door. The door slowly began to swing closed when a hand shot out to stop it.

“Ah! There you are Ruggero! I have been looking everywhere for you,” Servo Scarpa proclaimed as he sat next to the man in the Montaigne-styled hat. “You are indeed a difficult man to find.” Servo gestured to the tavern keeper to pour two more drinks.

At this, it took all the effort Ruggero had not to wet himself. “My apologies, Lord Scarpa, I…”

Servo smiled a toothy grin. “Shhh, no need for formalities. I have just sought you out for some information. I need to know about the ones who attacked you. Then, you are free to go.” While Ruggero remained on edge, he nevertheless appeared to relax a little.

“It must have been twelve or thirteen of them, of Musketeers! Each one a killing machine. I was able to hold them back for a short time, but there were just too many!”

“Yes, I can see now. A dozen Musketeers is certainly a troubling number, and you valiantly did what you could. Could you tell me any more about them?” Servo flashed a gentle nod towards the tavern keeper as she put down the drinks, one in front of him, the other in front of Ruggero.

“They were well armed, with unusual weaponry and gadgets, things I have never seen in Five Sails before. I have no idea what they were doing there… or why. It was an ambush! A challenge to the Red Hand. It had to be! I only… I only came here because I wanted to lure them away!”

“Maybe, maybe…” Servo whispered to himself as he listened to Ruggero’s ramblings. He let Ruggero’s words linger as he downed his drink, never leaving eye contact with the Red Hand member. He put down the glass, only briefly glancing at the counter-top. “Thank you Ruggero.” He paused again, bringing out a small coin purse and dropping it on the counter in front of the scared man. “Your insight in this delicate matter is greatly appreciated.”

“Tha-thank you, Lord Scarpa” Ruggero stammered as he reached for the pouch.

“Not you.” Servo whispered, his face suddenly stern as he quickly slid the pouch to the tavern-keeper. “You would have been difficult to find if not for the aid of our most obliging proprietor here.” The tavern-keeper quickly snatched up the coins and hurried away, a worried expression on her face for the impending denouement. “And now, dear Ruggero, I am a man of my word, you are free to go.” Servo slowly plunged the blade of his hidden stiletto under Ruggero’s ribs. “Go with my blessing and the blessing of your Don. May Theus take you to whatever Hell he wishes.”