Tungjii’s Wash & Dry
(Or, Cleaning Up the Prowler Problem)
Part One: Pre-Wash
It was six months ago that Clive Wespie’s crime network in Tasuil Beor had abruptly been thrown into disarray with his arrest and sudden disappearance. His network of young boys & girls, called the Prowlers, had found themselves in a bit of a fix. With no leader, they split off into smaller groups, quickly being absorbed into various street gangs and lesser known groups of child thieves, information gatherers and spies.
Danny the Daft lobbed a ball of spit at a spider stalking a fly. It knocked the arachnid a few feet off the wall and into the alley, where it was set upon by a calico street cat. The cat was skinny, but quick. It had been following Danny for a few days, shadowing him in and out of the backstreets, waiting for him as he bobbed and weaved through the crowds at the Bazaar, nicking a wallet or belt pouch, then catching up with him as he sideswiped alleyways into the Farmer’s Market, where hanging around stalls saw vendors throwing fruits and veggies at him to chase him away, which he’d chase down before another street rat could snatch up his prizes. He’d share bits with the cat.
It was nice to have company after months of having friends drop out of sight. He hoped they were all right, even if they weren’t always nice or funny or even very friendly. The streets had become more dangerous at night, what with the Rat Bastards, Shadows, and Death Poppets all vying to be Number One. It was safer to be with a group than alone. But having the cat as a constant companion was nice, he admitted. It was smart, too. He’d learned that, when it meowed loudly, trouble was coming and he should hide. Danny the Daft was small for his age – thirteen, and only four feet tall.
He was given his nickname by some Prowler bullies who thought him to be too smart for his own good. They thought that by calling him Daft, it would bring him down a few pegs. Needless to say, it was a stupid assumption. What it did give him was a perfect cover to feign being feebleminded. Danny soon realized how amazing it was what people will say if they think you’ve only half a brain.
Today was one of Danny’s ‘free’ days, meaning the Shadows had no work for him until tomorrow. Having nothing better to do, he’d been following the calico’s lead. Not surprisingly, it seemed to find the odd lost coin or bit of pasty that someone had recently dropped. After a circuitous route which took them past the Main Square and the Temple of C.R.A.P.P.E.R.S. they entered an old neighborhood called High Dudgeon. He’d heard rumors of kids disappearing here, and figured it was probably like Orphan Alley – a hunting ground for slavers. But this place didn’t look anything like the Alley.
The houses were old, yeah. But they seemed to be in good repair – no broken windows, they all had front doors, and the streets were remarkably clean. There were even some flower boxes under each window of the biggest house, which occupied an entire block. He had gotten near enough it to try to peer inside when the cat meowed loudly. Hearing the danger signal, Danny ducked into the small alley on the side of the house, and hid in the shadows. He reached down to pet the cat when an odd thing happened.
Danny the Daft fell fast asleep. The cat leapt upwards and its extended paw pushed a brick in the alley wall. It entered The House of Many Tarts where someone was waiting to carry Danny the Daft inside, and where he’d be given an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Part Two: Choosing the Right Detergent
Frannie Dusa was sitting down for the first time in hours. The last few months had been hectic, exasperating and altogether wonderful. After she’d been rescued from the clutches of Tasuil Beor’s Prowlers, she’d been officially adopted by Fafhrd DeVenn, former gladiator and now a member of a group of do-gooders who called themselves the Understudies. Unofficially, she was also an Understudy, or so the mysterious Orc gypsy named Granny Ginny had told her.
Frannie (along with her adopted big brother Faff) had been put in charge of seeing that the kids that they’d freed from the slavers were settled into their new home, The House of Many Tots (formerly ‘Tarts’.) It had taken some of the kids several weeks to adjust to sleeping indoors, on actual beds. Cursalla Dustbuster, once the housekeeper of this ’historical monument’ but now referred to as ‘Madame’ Curry, had been cautious when feeding them, explaining that their poor bodies needed time to get used to having more than a few bites a day to eat.
Originally, there’d been 65 of them. Some were reunited with families, and others returned to the streets, too wary to believe in their good fortune. Faff had assured her that they’d come back. Perry Johnson, the head of the Understudies, had come by during the first few weeks along with his assistant Miss Mentos. They spent some time talking with Faff, then Miss Mentos had sat down with them both and asked a lot of questions, mostly about educating the children. Perry had gone upstairs to the third floor to talk with “Uncle” Erik Dorada, the dwarf that worked stone magic.
Faff explained to Miss Mentos that the Prowlers were leaderless, and it was time to take steps to put an end to the homeless kid problem in Tasuil Beor. She told them that Perry had anticipated that, and was leaving it up to them to take care of it – with the help of the Understudies, of course, if they needed it. During the meeting, the oddest thing had happened: Tungjii Luck appeared out of thin air right next to Frannie, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and disappeared. Miss Mentos fell off her chair, and Faff just laughed. Over the next two months, and after some rather amazing recruitment at the Old Priest & Rat Tavern, classes began.
Reading and writing were taught to the older kids by Talisa Del Kellov, while the younger ones were read to and taught their ABCs by Dave LaPlaid. Fafhrd taught self-defense, to help the kids get away from slavers and other lowlifes that might try to capture them. One of the kids, called “The Fly” showed Faff a form of running that involved bouncing, sliding, jumping and acrobatics that he called ‘street-coursing’ – he was soon teaching his own class. Kids with a feel for magic were taught by Murgul Flametongue, Art was taught by the kobold Snik Mudborne, and Amy Earthsoul taught History. Somehow, they’d even managed to get a Harriet from the 4 Aitches chain to teach Basic First Aid.
Older boys and girls who showed a knack for mechanical things studied Blacksmithing, Engineering and Jewelry-making with Erik Dorada, the mage-ineer. It was in one of his classes that the very first triumph of the House of Many Tots was invented: prosthetic limbs. It allowed many kids who were physically disabled (or worse – been harmed by slavers) to do things that otherwise would have been impossible.
In the meantime, Frannie had been busy scouring the town to find clothes (with the help of Sarah Burnheart), ordering supplies with Madame Curry, investigating the neighborhood of High Dudgeon and introducing herself to the neighbors. Last week, she’d been given orders from Miss Mentos to find out if there were any properties that were unoccupied. She’d been astonished when she came upon an entire row of buildings and homes that turned out to be unoccupied. Erik Dorada, overhearing her reporting to Miss Mentos, told them he’d bought them a year ago, when it seemed like a group of ne’er-do-wells was going to ‘occupy’ them. When Miss Mentos asked him if he’d mind if Mr. Johnson bought them, the dwarf laughed and said, “I’ll give ‘em to ‘im, jes’ be sure an’ keep the riff-raff out!”
It was at that point that Tungjii Luck made another appearance, this time with a guest in tow – someone that made everyone stop and stare. She was no more than three and a half feet tall, but she was no child or dwarf. Her blond hair, gathered at the top of her head in a small waterfall, was shot through with white and silver. The most remarkable thing about her was her faun-like ears – long and slender, tapering to a tufted point, sticking out from her head at a 45-degree angle. A group of kids passed them in the hallway, and one of them – a little orc girl – stopped and pointed at her, chirping “Oooh! Oooh!”
The woman tipped her head back and laughed. Frannie thought it sounded more like tinkling bells. It was as if she’d stepped out of a flarey tale book. She came over to Frannie, her bi-colored eyes shining. “Well, when Tungjii’s your patron, you certainly get to visit some strange places. My name’s Anamariel Madoromi, and Tungjii thinks I should tell you about my business. You’re not as old as I had hoped you’d be, but no matter if your heart’s in the right place. And you,” she turned to Fafhrd, coming up just a head taller than his knee, “Must be her big brother, am I right?”
Fafhrd went to one knee, and her small hand disappeared inside his gladiator’s grip. “I am Fafhrd DeVenn, but my friends call me Faff. This is Frannie.”
“Call me Mamariel, all my charges do. Now, let’s go somewhere private, where you can tell me what you want to accomplish. Then we’ll see if what I’ve done in my city of Ul’dah can be of any use to you here.”
An hour later, when she had finished telling of her remarkable achievements, she brushed away a tear. “You’ve both got your work cut out for you. The first thing, I think, is to get all of them to work together. To do that, you’ll need kids on the inside helping you – and I don’t mean sending your own as undercover spies.” The sound of purring filled the room. “I should have known you’d come along for the ride,” said Mamariel. An enormous tiger-like creature appeared by her side, as did Tungjii Luck. “Time to go, I guess.”
She stopped, as the tiger and the god/dess disappeared with a ‘pop!’ “If you succeed, I’d like for you to think a little bigger. Help the homeless parents as well, and those who are addicted. It’s work that can be heartbreaking, but Tungjii willing, your successes will outnumber your failures.” Then she too disappeared. Fafhrd and Frannie were about to leave the room when something mewed behind them. It was a medium-sized calico cat.
Part 3: Filling the Tub
“Let me get this straight,” said Danny the Daft. “You want me to tell the Shadows that Wespie is back, but he’s deep underground. And that I overheard him telling Marduk the Mangler, former first Officer of the Prowlers and now head of the Rat Bastards, that’s Wespie’s got this scheme to make tons of money, but not in the child slave trade. He wants them to find out about Tasuil Beor’s dirty laundry? Real dirty laundry, not rumors or scandals or secrets? Seriously?”
Frannie, seated in a small room on the second floor, watched as Danny wolfed down three-day old gingerbread netherkins, part of a delivery from the Old Priest & Rat Tavern. He washed them down with Memcow milk, a donation from the popular restaurant Eggs R Us. The calico cat, which Frannie now knew to be a gift from Tungjii, lay on his lap.
“Yes, seriously. The restaurant’s tablecloths and napkins, the uniforms for the VFD and the Tasuil Beor Law officers, the religious vestments of every church or temple, Miners Guild – anywhere that might produce a lot of things needing to be washed and cleaned, daily or weekly. And Wespie wants you to report the results back to him. Whoever brings in the results is to come with you, and they’ll begin working directly with him.”
Danny looked at her. She’d told him her story, about how her ma had died and left her alone, about her being sold into slavery, her escape, and about how this group of do-gooders had broken Wespie’s grip on child slavery. He knew what the prowlers did, and Wespie’s fall from power made most of the street rats sleep easier. So, he was willing to listen.
“Why? Why would Wespie want to know about laundry? Why do you?”
“I can’t tell you. But it’s big, and it could mean a life off the streets, a bed of your own here, three meals a day if you want, education or apprenticeship or employment – or all three, and a better life. A better life for all the street rats, the orphans, and the chance at a family for the little ones.” Frannie watched as emotions played across Danny’s face.
“I dunno,” he said at last. “I’ve lived on the streets for three years. No one’s given a tinker’s damn about me or the street rats. Not even the church folk. Life on the street is hard, and cruel sometimes, and you could die just from being so hungry that you fall asleep in the garbage heap you’re looking through for the littlest bit of food, only to be gathered up by the cleaners the next day and burned with the rest of the trash. I know, ‘cause it happened to me.” He carefully rolled up his ragged pants, to show her his leg, scarred from horrible burns. “Why should I believe that you aren’t scamming me, or all of us?”
Frannie looked at Danny’s leg. It must hurt when he walks on it, she thought. The skin looks so tight, it must be impossible for him to run without pain. “Look, I’ll take you around this place, and you’ll see what we’re doing. You won’t believe the…”
“I can’t risk it,” said the teenager. “I just can’t risk losing…”
As Danny continued to list his objections, the cat sitting on his lap winked at Frannie, jumped to the floor, and then began licking Danny’s still-exposed leg.
“Stop that! It tickles,” laughed Danny, who tried to brush the cat away. But his hand passed through the cat. When the cat was done, the scars were gone, and the leg was healed, showing no sign of injury or burn. On it, however, was a faintly glowing golden heart tattoo, which faded away after a minute or so. It was Tungjii’s mark.
“God-touched? Me?? I don’t believe it!” he exclaimed.
“Neither did I at first,” said Frannie, who rubbed her right cheek where the god/dess had kissed her. A golden heart winked, then vanished. “Do you believe me now?”
“He’d better, or else I’ll be very disappointed,” said Faff, entering the room.
“Mr. DeVenn!? You’re involved with this? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Hey, hey, hey! You’ve grown, little man. And gotten a very hilarious nickname as well, I understand,” said Faff, who was being given a rather huge hug from Danny the Daft. Danny hopped from one leg to another and shouted for joy, “It doesn’t hurt!”
“No, it shouldn’t,” Faff agreed. “Frannie didn’t tell you because I wanted you to choose to help us for no other reason than because it’s the right thing to do. I needed to know that you could trust her as much as you trust me. But, I guess having an old wound healed by divine intervention has made up your mind, huh?”
The cat leaped up onto Faff’s shoulder. “We need your advice as well as your participation. You know most of the kids on the street. You’ve got a good memory, and are a pretty good judge of character, if I remember correctly. Who in the Death Poppets should we approach? He or she will be gathering info on food waste from Market square, the Royal Kitchens, grocers and restaurants. And who in the Rat Bastards should we approach to find out about places that could use young workers or apprentices? What businesses already have kids working for them, and how well do they treat them?”
“I really want to know what you guys are up to!” said Danny.
“We can’t tell you yet,” answered Frannie, “But if it all comes together, it’s going to be amazing.”
Part 4: Wash
Wily Wilcox could see the stupid cat, standing on a garbage can, his precious bag of sharpies in its mouth, jingling in the street-piss scented breeze. He had vengeance on his mind. He’d been humiliated, interrupted, made to run across half of Tasuil Beor and, to make matters worse, robbed of his bag of knives, needles, pins and nails.
He’d just planned the trajectory of the poison pin that he would send into the calf muscle of the orc who was carrying a crate of gold into the Bank of Beor. It would have paralyzed the brute instantly, and he’d have dropped the crate on the street, which would break up, sending coins everywhere. Mad Millie, Greedy Goldie and Pyro were hidden in spots that they’d worked out would be where the most coins would roll. He had the pin ready, positioned in the wooden tube and was about to blow when the stupid cat showed up.
Wily felt something slip twixt his legs, lost his balance and sat back on his ass, looking up just in time to see a calico cat with his bag in its mouth running up Golden Avenue and headed towards Orphan Alley. He’d let his breath out when he fell, and looked up, only to have the poison-tipped pin fall onto his cheek. “Don’ leth th’ stu’id ca…” he began, as the paralysis took effect. Millie collapsed in a giggling fit, Goldie kicked him in the shins and Pyro took off after the cat. The Bank’s security guard noticed the commotion, and after taking a good look at the three of them, booted them out of Avenue.
They walked to Winding Way, only to be met by Pyro, who was balancing in his hand a small fireball shaped like a falcon.
“Ah tried ta find it, ah did, but it jus’ dis’peared. Sorry, Wily. Whatcha’ gonna tell Marduck, ‘uh? ‘uh? ‘e’s gonna kill ya fer sure, ‘e will!” reported his fellow member of the Rat Bastards. Mad Millie giggled again.
‘’Shut yer face, Fartfire!” shouted Wily, glad that the paralysis was finally wearing off. “Lights out, ‘member? Else you’ll get your magic snipped.” The fire falcon went out in a puff of smoke.
“Pyro’s right, W-w-wily,” Goldie stuttered, “What are you g-g-g-gonna d-d-do?” She’s worried about me, thought Wily. She might be greedy, but it’s because everything was taken from her by her parents, who were addicts. She finally ran away, to hide in Orphan Alley. They’d tracked her down and tried to sell her to slavers, for more drug money. He & Pyro had been on Night Patrol for the gang, and Pyro had incinerated them. Goldie had joined the Rat Bastards that night.
“S’okay, no worries. I’ll find that stupid cat, get mah stuff back, an’ skin it alive. I’ll make you a sack from it, jes’ like mine.” Goldie gave him a peck on his cheek, whispered “Come back alive” in his ear, and kicked him in the butt.
He’d no sooner left his fellow Rats when the cat was in front of him. It winked at him. The gods-be-damned stupid cat effing winked at him! He started after it, and his feet hit a patch of gravel in the street and sent him flailing to keep his balance, knocking someone else down as he reached out to steady himself. That someone else turned out to be a street cleaner. Before he’d had a chance to apologize, the street cleaner had sent the contents of his filthy, aromatic bucket of water cascading over him. The cat, noted Wily, was carefully cleaning its paw just a few feet away, before winking at him yet again and running eastwards.
Drenched and stinky, Wily took off down Market Square. Had he been less focused on his quarry, and more focused on his pathfinding, he might have avoided stepping on the rotten crackleberries that had fallen from someone’s basket. Well, needless to say, he was and he wasn’t and he didn’t. The berries made him slide a good six feet to his left, sending him into a barrel full of lamprey eels, which he encountered backwards – meaning he lost his balance again and sat down in the barrel. Briefly, mind you.
By the time the furry little effing feline fiend had run him through a flower stall, a bread and baking supplies vendor, a leather tanning demonstration, and a “Beor’s Best Fertilizer” Contest, Wily was so turned around, be-floured and manure bespeckled that he was not surprised that at some point he’d left Market Square behind and was standing in front of an alleyway in High Dudgeon. In the back was the cat, who’d dropped his sack. Now, he watched as it pushed the sack a few inches towards him. It stood perfectly still as he stumbled in the alley and bent forward to pick it up. The lower he bent down, the more exhausted he felt. In mere moments, and just a few inches from his bag of sharpies, Wily Wilcox fell sound asleep.
Part 5: Rinse
“How bad is it?” asked Frannie. She was in the House of Many Tots’ (the HMT’s) ‘Family’ Room, as the kids called it, along with the members of the Understudies group that were not already working on assignment. Frannie wished Fafhrd were here. He’d left her in charge, and even if Tungjii himmerself had confidence in her, she was still only 11 years old. She stared out the window at the three glowing, smoking areas around the city. Every now and then she saw a spout of flame that must be at least twenty feet high.
“It’s bad as bad can be, lass,” said the dwarf Erik Dorada. The HMT and most of the buildings in High Dudgeon belonged to him. An inventor and engineer, he also practiced stone magic, hence his nickname ‘the Mage-ineer.’ He was also Clive Wespie’s cousin. “Clive’s henchmen hit all three hideouts at once. There wasna’ time to warn any of ‘em.”
Frannie started to cry, and found herself hugged tightly by Granny Ginny. “It’s not your fault, my dear. None of us are at fault.”
“Like Nether we’re not!” said Memnos, slamming his hand on the huge table that dominated the room. Ever since they’d learned about the fires, he’d begun walking agitatedly back and forth across the floor. “We come in to Tasuil Beor, from nowhere, and throw the head of a crime empire in jail who then escapes, and expect no fallout from it? We throw his name around, spreading false rumors about him and expect him to not find out, and if he does, oh no problem, he’ll just let us go on without any consequences?”
Frannie had never seen him so furious. “This is directed at us! We’re trying to help these kids, kids who were either his potential slaves or potential cronies. So, what could be crueler than to strike out at them, and not us? To hurt them, and not us? How many more of these kids have to be hurt, or worse die, by our…”
“Beggin’ your pardons, ev’ryone,” said Madame Curry, out of breath from running up two flights of stairs, “but there’s an army of kids outside wantin’ to come in and…”
A scruffy teenage orc with a broken nose, and his face covered in soot and ash, pushed past her. “Which one o’youse is Frannie?”
Frannie stepped forward. “That’s me.” Wheels began to turn in her head. “Wait a minute, you must be…”
“Marduk the Mangler, at’cher service, lil’ missy. First thin’s first. Quit yer cryin’, ‘cause outside ‘r the Rat Bastards. Most of us, anyways. Wily is checkin’ the lair, makin’ sure all’s clear, and when e’s done, ‘e’ll come ‘ere. Behind the Rats is the Poppets, an’ Kissyface Kareya says ‘ello an’ that you better ‘ave rooms with mirrers fer ‘em. Lastly they’s followed by the Shadows, an’ the Daft One’s makin’ sure the body catchers leave plenny o’ corpses to make the asswipes who started these fires think they’ve killed us all.”
“Anyone gots some water, cause me an’ the gang are powerful thirsty,” he rasped.
Granny Ginny was at his side immediately, water jug in hand. “Oh, I like this one, Memnos.”
Frannie stood up on the table so that she could be seen by all, and announced: “Cursalla, wake the kids that aren’t already awake and tell them all they’ll be sleeping double tonight. Erik, you and your apprentices fill some of the tubs with water and bring some rags so we can get all the newcomers cleaned up. Talisa, could you see that clean clothes are available to them as well? Granny, as they’re taken care of, could you please take some with you to the new block and clear the floors? And blankets, we’ll need blankets. Can we send a courier to the Old Priest and Rat Tavern and one to Eggs R Us in Valridge? We’ll need a miracle to feed breakfast to over 200 kids. And strategy meeting, here at just after dawn tomorrow.”
Part 6: Second Wash
Danny the Daft and Wily Wilcox slipped from shadow to shadow. It had become a game, to see which of them could hide in the smallest shadow without catching the attention of the poor street cleaners. It was stupid, and dangerous, and altogether exhilarating. It was also a necessary bit of fun to shake off the tension and fear from last night’s inferno. They’d watched as friends were cut off from escape, as precious mementos of their families and former lives – a portrait, a toy, a blanket – were lost forever in a fire that just kept growing.
“Whadda ya think, Frag? Did any o’ the lil’ uns git out?” asked Ole Eandra Armbuster. The orc street cleaner pushed a pile of ashes with a near-strawless broom into a dustpan, dumping it into a huge cart.
“Dunno.” Fragmented Slate replied. “It’s awful quiet.”
“Yeah,” Eandra agreed, “S’ like cem’ tree quiet. All them kids, burnt to a crisp.”
“More like the whole city’s holdin’ its breath.” Frag sloshed his mop around in the bucket, removed it, and began scrubbing soot from the cobblestone street.
Black water ran in rivulets down the network of grout between the stones. It wouldn’t do for me to get my feet wet, Wily thought. He started to slink into a nearby shadow, away from the oncoming water, then slipped back into place as fast as he could. He practically jumped when he encountered Danny, who’d moved to occupy the same spot. Somehow, they both managed to squeeze into the one shadow, which was getting smaller as the morning sun continued its ascent. Danny was spooked. He used Street Rat hand signals to say: [Do you see that?] [What the hell is that?] signaled Wily.
An impossibly thin shape had peeled itself from an alley wall, joints bent in odd angles slowly straightening out; a cloak covered the rest of it, as a hood was drawn over what had seemed to be an insect-shaped head with mandibles. It placed something hidden in a pocket over its face. A stone pendant glowed around its neck, and suddenly what had been six feet tall shrank three feet, and a dwarven face appeared under the hood.
“Cleanerssss, a moment. Wesssspie lookssss for ssssurvivorssss. If you ssssee sssome, tell them to come to Sssslainte tonight by sssseven o’clock to the Ssssevered Head Tavern, if they want to join hissss new Prowlerssss. But they need to ssssee the traitor in the Ssssquare firsssst.” The ‘dwarf’ threw each a pouch of coins. “Sssspread the word, ssssisterssss.” Then it ran down the street and was gone from sight.
Ten minutes later, Wily & Danny entered market Square. When they saw what Wespie’s creature had meant, they returned to the House of Many Tots just after dawn – exhausted, shocked and filled with a fury that no fire could ever hope to match in its intensity.
>> *********** <> *********** <<
Frannie looked around the table. She’d gotten little to no sleep, and would have been sound asleep if it were not for Chef Royler at the Old Priest & Rat Tavern. As soon as he’d gotten the request for breakfast, he personally went to Eggs R Us to collect several cartloads of food, which – when added to the food donated by the Tavern – was enough to feed the kids for a week. Better yet, he’d brought several bags of koppee and made a huge vat of hot chocolate with ghost peppers.
Sipping the hot chocolate was a little like getting a kiss followed by a punch in the face. Frannie saw Granny Ginny, Talisa Del Kellov, Erik and Cursalla, Kwan Dooley (aka Memnos), Marduk, Kissyface Kareya, Sillo Ette (leader of the Shadows), Amy Omore Earthsoul, Prescot Koda, Sarah Burnhardt, Murgul, Dave LaPlaid, Snik and The Fly. Lucky the cat lay on the windowsill. Finally, the two volunteer scouts she’d sent out returned.
Wily never made it to his chair. Instead, he picked one up and threw it through a window. He then picked up another chair, and smashed it against the floor. People began rising, to make their way to his side when a wall of fire surrounded the boy.
“What the…” began Marduk.
“Stop it! Do you want to set the house on fire? Haven’t they seen enough fire for a lifetime?” cried Sarah.
“No,” said Murgul, “I’ve got this. I know this anger. I felt it when I found my mentor, slain by the gnolls. I almost incinerated hundreds of them until my friends talked me out of it.”
Wily was screaming as his hands tried to beat away the flames, to break out of his prison. But each time he tried, he seared his skin.
“Please,” begged Sarah, “He’ll hurt himself.”
“You’re just learning control of your own fire, Sarah,” said Murgul, “Learn from this. He has a different kind of fire inside of him – rage! He has to accept whatever started it, or he’ll be out of control and hurt innocent people!” The fire mages watched as Wily Wilcox continued to flail at the fire encircling him. Finally, he collapsed onto the floor. The firewall disappeared as the cat bounded into his lap.
“Stupid cat,” he said, scratching Lucky under the chin. He picked up the cat and sat down at the table. “Sorry ‘bout breakin’ stuff.”
“You a’right?” asked Kareya.
“Yeh, much as I kin be, I s’pose.”
“Am I late?” asked a lilting voice. A cloaked figure approached the table, and sat down at the other end, opposite Frannie.
“What is the meaning of this?” demanded Prescot Koda.
Granny Ginny stood up and curtsied deeply, to which the new visitor responded with laughter. “Agent Gin Anne, I am here, as requested.”
“Everyone, may I present to you His Majesty, Prince Ampersand,” said Granny Ginny.
“I beg your pardon, Your Majesty, but I’ve had no sleep, and this meeting must begin promptly. There are questions to be asked, information to be shared, and plans to be made. Then you can clap me in irons for my impertinence,” yawned Frannie. “Oh my, I’m so sorry! I can’t help it!”
Marduk, Kareya and Sillo explained that there were several things that saved Tasuil Beor’s street rats that night. Most important among them was Lucky the cat, who had howled like a banshee at each hideout just before the fires started, waking everyone up and getting them on their feet. They all saw the smoke first, giving the leaders time to send everyone to the secret Escape Routes.
Long ago, before anyone now living can remember, a series of tunnels had been dug under the streets – some went through the sewers, some were connected by vast underground caves, and some wound their way both above ground and underground, exiting somewhere in the city. This knowledge was shared by the leaders of the street rats, in a compact renewed whenever necessary in blood and sealed with the oldest magic. It had helped the kids survive crises in times long past – floods, earthquakes, and government purges.
The exit for the Death Poppets was near the Mews, and they counted Prescot Koda of the Hunters’ Guild among their friends. He had used the hawks and falcons to alert the Fire patrol about the fires. The distraction the Patrols created allowed the Poppets to escape the assassins that were following close on their heels. The death toll for them stood around 42 street rats (most under the age of four), 11 Fire Patrollers and 6 assassins. Unaccounted for: 8.
The exit for the Shadows had been by the Royal Guards’ barracks. They encountered a small patrol, and when they told them what had happened, and where they were bound, they gained an escort to High Dudgeon. Danny the Daft had led a small group of volunteers back into the tunnels to search for stragglers and survivors. They’d managed to save about twenty-five or so, many of them victims of smoke inhalation, and slay a number of assassins. Death toll stood at 32 street rats, 3 Royal Guards, and 10 assassins. Unaccounted for: 12.
The Rat Bastards exited right at the entrance to High Dudgeon, much to their surprise. Marduk had just enough time to set a trap for the assassins that he’d assumed would come after them, and caused a tunnel to cave in on their pursuers. When Marduk told those gathered that the death toll for his gang was 22, he was interrupted by Wily.
“Twenty-three,” he croaked, and he and Danny told them about their encounter with the creature, news from Wespie, and their gruesome discovery at the Square. “They’d cut off ‘er ‘ead, an’ stuck it on top o’ the flagpole. They left ‘er body to rot on the ground. An’ there was a sign they’d nailed on ‘er chest. It said, ‘She betrayed you as easy as you did me. Stay wi’ yer new Masters, an’ you die. Tasuil Beor is mine.’ Goldie’s dead. She was mah fren’, an’ she was no traitor.”
“Wespie’s trying to trick us,” said Danny, “To make us all suspect that we have traitors in our ranks.”
“I am certain,” said Ampersand, “that your Goldie was a victim, and not a traitor. Tasuil Beor belongs to no one. It’s time we put this dog down. I shall proclaim Clive Wespie to be an Enemy of Beor, and a traitor to the city.”
“Pardon me, your highness,” said Danny, “But that dog has lots of fleas in the city. As long as they’re here, they’re gonna bite when he tells them to. He’s not here, but he managed to have his goons kill over a hundred people in one night, most of them kids.”
“I think,” said Frannie, “that Fafhrd can help with getting rid of the goons, Your Highness. He knows a lot of folks in the Hall of Justice that are on Wespie’s payroll.”
“Yes!” said Talisa, “Thanks to his famous ‘powers of persuasion!’ I think I can use mine to ferret out any possible ties in the diplomatic corps.”
Sarah Burnheart added, “You know, if Snik and his artist friends painted a few street murals, we might convince some of the more well-known Wespie contacts to leave town of their own free will!” Snik nodded vigorously. “Some of my students” he said, “could help as well.”
“I could compose a few colorful tavern songs to make people aware of the scallywags in their midst!” offered Dave.
“I’ll talk to the carriage horses and pack animals to see who they’ve seen Wespie with,” Amy chimed in.
“Amp,” said Granny Ginny, “Listen…” and looked around to find several mouths hanging open. “What? I’m his several times Great Grandmother – long story, which I’ll most likely NEVER tell you, so give me a break!”
“Don’t ever change, Grandmother!” laughed the Prince.
“Now, kiddo,” she continued, “I’ve got a few ideas about that proclamation…”
Part 7: Second Rinse
The Beor Bulletin proudly provides you with
A Royal Proclamation
By the Prince
Whereas Clive Wespie, a citizen of our country of Beor, and a resident of our capitol city of Tasuil Beor, has openly and brazenly admitted to acts of murder, treason, arson, bribery, and illegality including but not limited to:
- Escaping from the Very Deep Dungeon and failing to serve out a legally decreed term of imprisonment for child slavery;
- Seeking to disrupt and undermine the everyday affairs of the Crown and citizenry of Beor;
- Kidnapping, mistreating and selling into slavery innocent citizens as young as 3 years old;
- Taking money from citizens under false pretenses;
- Using said money to bribe public officials, fund illegal magical research and to assist other nefarious criminals and criminal organizations;
- Organizing minors to provide information and assistance leading to the enslavement of other minors;
- Hiring individuals in the Fleshly Arts to gain information from, and leverage on, their high-profile clients;
- The torture, murder and improper burial of said individuals;
- Committing arson on the living quarters of the poorest of Tasuil Beor’s young citizens;
- Hiring assassins to kill any of said citizens who might safely escape said arson;
- The murder of 115 of said citizens, 11 Fire Patrollers and 3 Royal Guards in said arson;
- The beheading and public desecration of a citizen’s body on public property;
- Threatening the Royal Family and claiming ownership of Tasuil Beor;
And Whereas It has come to our attention that certain citizens, in government positions and in both business and private endeavors, are currently acting and/or have previously acted in collusion with Clive Wespie, and/or knowingly had prior knowledge of them and willfully refused to report them, We therefore proclaim the following:
- Clive Wespie, through his actions against the Crown, Country and Citizens of Beor, is stripped of his citizenship and all rights and privileges of said citizenship; is banished from Beor in perpetuity; and is declared a traitor whose life is forfeit the instant he sets foot in this land, either deliberately or accidentally.
- A bounty of 10 million gold is hereby placed on his head, to be given only upon his death and the confirmation of his total and irreversible demise.
- All properties, real estate, possessions, documents – including correspondences to and from -, and money owned by former citizen Clive Wespie is now property of the Crown. Refusal to turn over any of the aforementioned to authorized agents of the Crown will be considered a crime, and the impersonation of any such agent is punishable by imprisonment of no more than 25 years or 75% of the impersonator’s natural lifespan, whichever is longer.
- Clive Wespie, as an enemy of Beor and its citizens, is to be denied asylum in any country, kingdom, principality or island nation (including sailing vessels) and any such entity that does so will also be considered an enemy of Beor and its citizens, and shall be treated as such.
- Any citizens who are colluding and/or have previously colluded with Clive Wespie shall be arrested and tried for treason. Those citizens who have had their criminal terms shortened by the bribing of officials by Clive Wespie will have their cases reopened and be brought in for questioning and possible reincarceration. You have been warned, and Justice will be served.
By my hand, Ampersand Etcetera, Prince of Beor
In the Year After Mountain Fall, 1438
The Proclamation quite literally took the city and Clive Wespie by surprise. The Prince had called upon the publishers of the Beor Bulletin just a few hours before noon, and although they had not been supportive of the Crown before, Granny Ginny (who’d insisted she accompany him) convinced them to cooperate when she (1) told them the stakes, and (2) promised to tell them, sometime before her death, the story of her being related to his Highness the Prince.
The Bulletin delivered over 5,000 free copies – paid for by the Crown, of course – of the Prince’s proclamation, which were distributed in bundles at the HMT to the combined memberships of the street kid gangs. Just before dawn they positioned themselves at predetermined spots prone to heavy foot traffic. By noontime, the proclamation had spread across the city, and by nightfall across the country. That night, Dave LaPlaid sang in every tavern in Tasuil Beor his new bawdy and catchy tunes that told of greed, lust, and acts of murder traceable to Clive and his associates. Murals appeared in streets and on wagons and carriages, depicting Judges taking bribes from Netherlings with Wespie’s face, and well-known businessmen and women in flagrante delicto with practitioners of the Fleshly Arts.
What went down in history was a painting by an artist known only as S.M. He was rumored to be a kobold, and his style, though primitive, was perfect for the scene it portrayed, occupying one whole side of the Hall of Justice. The title was painted across the top: ‘Silence=Death.’ It showed a street scene – the very street it was painted on, actually. It showed a gaping hole in the wall, surrounded by flames and billowing smoke. In the center of the conflagration, soot-covered young faces appear, eyes entreating, full of tears and desperation, the skin cracked with heat bubbles, scorched or blackened. Hands reach out for help, but are ignored by eyeless people walking by. A single well-dressed child, with eyes, points at the helpless children and tries to get his mother to see, but in vain. Across the street is the Hall of Justice, draped with black cloths. A giant-sized Clive Wespie sits on the Hall’s great Dome, which is partially collapsing under his weight. He is laughing. Judges walk past with their eyes covered by black blindfolds, their robe pockets filled with gold and gemstones.
The Hall of Justice, which had neither seen the image beforehand, nor given its consent to be painted upon, petitioned the Crown to have it removed. The Prince reminded the Hall of how its employee roster had diminished dramatically over the past few days. There were no further petitions. It remains there still, though the paint is fading. The original study for it, signed by the artist, hangs in the House of Many Tots.
Part 8: Spin Dry
Clive Wespie was surprised, all right. He had been promised that his luck would change, that he’d be unstoppable. His luck, however, continued to be rotten and without question, he’d been stopped in Tasuil Beor. He’d made some inquiries, though, and he still had a way to crush them all. There were places where the Prince’s proclamation held no sway, places below ground. He hadn’t decided yet if he wanted to side with the bugs or the netherlings. In the end, though, he decided to side with the bugs.
Most everyone had been fooled by his message in the Square. His men in Slainte had reported that only 10 or so street rats had made the journey, only to find a rather bloody end to life. Three companies of the Royal Guards, including one led by that insufferable Captain Thews, had scoured the town for days before giving up. The fact was, Clive Wespie had never left Tasuil Beor. After he escaped from the VDD, he did the unexpected. Clive became Civilee Spew, and got a job in a candy store making chocolates. As a woman.
As a male dwarf, he hated shaving his beard. As for his undercover profession, it was what his mother used to do every day. He’d come in and watch her work after school. The owner paid her very little, ‘under the table.’ She didn’t get days off. She’d died while walking to work one day in winter. The blizzard made it hard for her to see, which explained why the wagon driver for a brewery did not see her crossing the road. He’d been 8 years old, which was when he’d been grudgingly taken in by his Aunt Agate, Erik’s mother.
Time to go, he thought. He had to admit that whoever had been behind the public smear campaign was very clever, as he cursed them all. He put on his special jacket, told his employer good riddance, and started walking south. Posters of the proclamation were everywhere. He clutched his bag of magicked stones that he’d managed to secret away from the now-defunct First Dwarven Savings Bank, and reached the edge of town. He didn’t look forward to masquerading as a woman for a week with only one set of clothes, but…
A hundred feet or so in front of him, he saw an older woman, pushing an enormous cart with squeaky wheels. Her progress was slow, so he caught up with her in a matter of minutes.
“Hello, dearie. Do you need some ‘elp with that?” he asked.
“Oh, how sweet of you! Yes, that would be very nice. My name’s Elryssa.”
“Civilee. You wouldn’t have any water, would you?” Clive asked. As Elryssa bent down to grasp the water bottle that was hanging from a peg in plain sight, Clive reached around, and ‘puddly, piddly, poof!’ snapped her neck. He dragged the body to the side of the road, and stripped her of her simple but well-made clothes. She was a striking woman, he admitted. He’d have to take the blouse in a bit. His melons were shrinking as the days went by.
He’d not gone but a half a mile when the dead woman appeared smack in front of him. Her neck, which should have shown some sign of its new, unfortunate inability to hold up her head, was straight and held her head high. Oh, and she was surrounded by a golden glow.
He stepped out from behind the cart and faced her without fear. “Can’t you stay dead?” Her eyes went wide when she looked at him, and then she smiled a very, very disturbing smile.
“Sucks to be you right now, doesn’t it?” said Elryssa with confidence. “To answer your question, no. It’s one of the perks of being a demi-goddess.”
“You can’t hurt me. Nothing can,” said Clive, with slightly less confidence than before.
“Wrong on both counts, I’m afraid. The jacket doesn’t protect you from diddly. It belongs to my husband. I had it made to protect him. You see, it’s one-of-a-kind. My husband is the only one it will protect. So, I’ll be taking that.” And the jacket suddenly appeared in her hand. “Now, back to the Great and Powerful Ooze with you!”
And that was the end of Civilee Spew, aka Clive Wespie. Maybe.
Part 9: Tungjii’s Wash and Dry
With the addition of nearly 150 kids, High Dudgeon was no longer the quiet, semi-abandoned neighborhood of old stories and scandalous encounters. The House of Many Tots expanded its dormitories and classrooms, turning High Dudgeon into a bustling center of learning, reverberating with the sound of laughing children.
Frannie & Fafhrd took all the information that Danny, Wily and Kareya had given them, and set in motion the plan they’d made with the help of the otherworldly visitor Anamariel Madoromi. The plan worked out, albeit not quite the same as it had for Anamariel’s enterprise in a far-away place called Ul’dah.
Tungjii’s Wash and Dry was the very first laundry business in Beor. Any child or teenager who wanted to could work at the Laundromat, and they all earned the same hourly wage – but there was a catch. They had to take classes, they had to refrain from all criminal activity, and they had to volunteer at least an hour a day at either a hospital for people or an animal clinic, or do public service such as working in a park or helping the elderly. In exchange, they’d get free meals & clothing, free health care, and a bed to sleep in. They could leave any time they wanted, and return at any time, no questions asked.
Frannie worked alongside Granny Ginny and Talisa to create partnerships that benefited the HMT. Restaurants donated food that was uneaten and chef apprenticeships; farmers in Market Square donated food that had not sold by day’s end, along with job opportunities at harvest time; Hospitals and clinics gave services and offered training at steeply reduced rates; the Royal Guards donated excess leftovers daily, and provided a security detail for High Dudgeon. Even the Hall of Justice extended internships for the older, better educated kids – mostly as file clerks.
Of course, the incentive of receiving laundry services, either free-of-charge or at a very reduced rate, was a big factor in the establishment of successful partnerships. Erik Dorada and his team of young mage-ineers invented several useful contraptions to wash and dry the ever-increasing wagonloads of laundry. Tungjii Luck enjoyed a sudden change in status – in the Temple of C.R.A.P.P.E.R.S. hisser statue was moved to the Hall of Popular Gods, placed between Bisso the Benevolent and O’Shawnessy, God of Blarney.
A year or so later, Frannie Dusa was walking down the 2nd floor hallway in the HMT when she encountered an orc girl carrying a book in her hand, who stopped in front of her and offered her the book. The girl, her errand accomplished, turned and skipped back down the hallway. Frannie entered the ‘Family’ Room and sat down, waiting for the rest of the Understudies to arrive. The Old Priest and Rat Tavern was undergoing another renovation, expanding their infirmary and adding a small magical laboratory, so the usual meeting room was off limits. She looked at the old book the girl had given her.
It was bound in a strange kind of leather. The title, embossed in gold letters in a very flowery script, was “Tales Of Eorzea, by Yoshi-P.” She flipped it open, and on the page was an illustration that looked very much like Anamariel Madoromi. At that moment, Lucky the cat jumped onto her lap, and fell asleep, purring loudly.
That evening, she dreamed of large chicken-like birds with riders on their backs; magical beings who caused destruction on a massive scale; and of a huge, walled city in a vast desert. When she awoke, Lucky the cat slept beside her. She picked up her hair brush from the nightstand and with the first stroke, the brush hit something. Reaching up, she pulled from her hair a long, yellow feather. Suddenly it zipped out of her hand, and flew at Lucky, who jumped to catch it with its paws, but missed.
Lucky made a few more attempts, and then sprouted wings to better chase the feather. The sound of the god/dess’ laughter rang through the House of Many Tots all morning long. A flock of birds flew overhead, noticing the faint outlines of a huge golden heart around the district of High Dudgeon, winking in the sunlight.
(Author’s note: Anamariel Madoromi was one of my many alts in FFXIV. I created backstories for several of them, but hers was one of my favorites. Tungjii’s Wash & Dry came into being in her story. Recreating it in Beor was a singular pleasure; I do hope you’ve enjoyed this Beorian Tale – Eorzea was never this much fun.)