A near-ruin, the dimly lit safe house provided barely enough shelter and privacy for the meeting. Within its drafty walls, a peculiar odor wafted, riding the currents like an unwelcome ghost. As most of Kurz slept that night, several unknown individuals methodically took their seats for a meeting that will never be recorded on any ledger.
The leader slowly made his way around the table, holding a serious gaze with each member of the crew as he filled their glass from a flask of red wine. He needed their loyalty for the coming job and this gesture of camaraderie was the first step. Plus, it gave him another opportunity to weigh in on his choices of talent.
“I don’t need to remind you all of our troubles. We feel them even now. Cheap wine more akin to vinegar. Tattered clothing. Enough critters in this safe house to start our own damn menagerie.”
A leg on one of the chairs snapped, and one of the crew members tumbled to the floor with an undignified yipe. The room burst with laughter.
Putting a palm to his forehead in resignation, the leader continued. “That business with the locket went awry and cost us our bounty. Pickpocketing is scarcely bringing scraps to the table and we have yet to make a name for ourselves.” He paused. “Though that might work to our advantage soon.”
He looked around the table at all the curious expressions. A predatory grin grew across his face. “Gentlemen, an opportunity has presented itself in the form of an orc holding a chest full of gold.”
Their faces changed rapidly and the leader read them all like an open book. First was intrigue, then hunger, followed by the inevitable skepticism. “I know what you’re thinking, and believe me, I dismissed the initial inquiry as a mere prank. The orc has commissioned us to hit the Reliquary vault. That’s reason enough to slam the door in his face. But then with a cold confidence, he lays out his plan, hands me supplies, and left us with this.” The leader stepped behind the makeshift bar momentarily and reappeared to heave an open chest of golden coins onto the meeting table. Several pieces clattered to the table and rolled off the edge with the dramatic noise of inconceivable wealth.
“Two more of those wait for us when the deed is done.”
The crew’s wide eyes looked like several pairs of white orbs. Peering into them like a fortune teller, the leader saw that lustful greed warred with suspicion. They were interested. He just needed to ease their concern to seal the affair.
“Please don’t tell me the orc you speak of is the lunatic Ichor?” asked one of the grunts.
“That’s the one.”
“How can we trust anything that fool says? This could all be a setup to save his own hide!” shouted another.
“His coin is real enough. Also, his instructions were, well, surprisingly lucid and thorough. There’s clearly more to the orc than he lets on,” assured the leader as he paced the room. “According to the reports, he is just a wandering vegetable. Now you can understand why I listened when he showed up with a pile gold and a sharp plan. Ciren, I want you to verify these alchemical designs. If we are to be the hands of this operation, they are the heart.”
The slender elven man nodded pensively under his dark purple robe, set down his glass, and reached for the documents.
“Why didn’t he hire one of the large guilds like the Black Mercs or MECH?” asked a crew member.
“MECH wouldn’t take a contract like that. Hits only. And the Mercs? Ha! They aren’t exactly known for subtlety. Hell, they’d probably set fire to the place on their way out just for laughs. The orc wants this done quietly, hence why we have the job.”
“Hey, I’m not complaining! Just surprised is all.”
Ciren pulled back his hood and digested the documents in front of him. “All of this is needed to steal a mask? The alchemy formula is highly advanced. Though it injures my pride, I admit these measurements are beyond my skill.”
“The orc has already mixed the potions up for us. I just want you to confirm those designs aren’t a farce.”
“Is that why this room reeks of sulfur? Well, the alchemy is legitimate, but again, why necessary?” pressed Ciren.
The leader reached over Ciren’s shoulder and tapped his index finger on the documents. “Turns out the mask held in the Reliquary vault is a decoy. The authentic relic, what we are after, is also there, but only visible by drinking one of these.” From behind his back, the leader revealed a glass bottle and raised it in the air. Its sulfurous contents swirled with a golden hue to match the rising greed of the crew.
Everyone at the table looked at each other’s faces one by one. Reserved expressions turned into smug smiles and several nods. Their sullen spirits were beginning to be filled by something far more dangerous than wine. A job.