On the way back through Krim’s welcome area, Ellison took the opportunity to reset his avatar, so he wouldn’t have to go back in wearing his old, dirty clothes and his old, tired, body.
He still kept his same look. The body was his, back before the explosion that killed him a little more than five years ago. The clothes were Krim’s default assassin outfit. It was comfortable, the black didn’t show stains, and it came with lots and lots of pockets filled with a variety of poisons, a blow gun, a garrote, and several sharp stiletto knives. Best of all, since it was part of the default avatar collection, there was no extra change.
He stepped through the central gate onto Krim’s central square, filled with merchants selling everything from weapons to home-spun shirts bearing the logos of local pubs.
He looked around for a top hat. Norbert Hawking typically hung around the central square, selling treasure map, plague cures, and dragon repellent.
And there he was, in the south-east corner of the square, across the street from The King’s Arms.
Ellison fought his way over through the crowd and waited patiently while Norbert sold a leprosy salve to a newcomer.
Norbert must have just finished explaining the symptoms of leprosy and how many people had died of it in the middle ages, because the newcomer was starting to look a little green around the face. Or it could have just been a natural reaction to being on Krim and breathing in the greasy combination of aerosolized human and animal excrement, congealed cooking fat, and soot that was the air in the city center.
“This salve is made with chaulmoogra oil, which dates back as a treatment for epilepsy all the way back to Ayuverdic medicine,” Norbert said. “Don’t swallow it. It will make you vomit. And definitely don’t take it via enema. It’ll give you anal fissures.”
“Isn’t there anything else?” the noob asked.
“Other treatments for leprosy include scarification, bathing in blood, and castration.”
The noob considered the options. “I’ll take the blood.”
“Good choice,” said Norbert, putting away the salve and pulling a flask of blood from another pocket. “Five silvers.”
“That hardly seems like enough blood for a bath.”
“It works just as well diluted,” said Norbert.
“Has there ever been a case of leprosy on Krim?” asked Ellison after the noob walked away with his purchase.
“No, because my salves work,” said Norbert, looking Ellison up and down. “New outfit, I see. The usual?”
Ellison nodded, and began emptying his pockets of the poison vials and weapons. He didn’t know what Norbert did with them all, and never cared to ask.
In return, he got several small bags of flea powder, which did, in fact, work on Krim’s fleas. It also worked on bed bugs. It was probably slowly killing him, too, but it wasn’t like he was going to keep this particular body long enough to notice.
Before he stowed away the last bag he sprinkled some on his clothes, because he could already feel the tiny insects creeping up his legs. The thought of it made his skin crawl.
When Ellison got to the King’s Armpit, Matilda was already there, regaling the other patrons with tales of fun things that happened while she was helping torture Trozganoth.
Now that Ellison had seen that Trozganoth looked like a kindly kindergarten teacher in real life, he was even less enthused about the torture and pulled her away to a back booth.
“Did you get any info about where Gervis is?” he asked her.
“Nope,” she said happily. “But do you want to see the latest addition to my collection of toes?” She reached into her coat.
“No, no, please don’t,” Ellison said. He swallowed back the acid rising in his throat. “I’ve got a plan for finding him.”
He laid it all out for her. Announce a reward for the jewel, ostensibly from a rival mercenary guild. And as sweetener, throw in a raiding party to go and rescue the prisoners.
“The only thing that’s missing is the reward,” he said. “Rodge said that he didn’t want to negotiate with terrorists, right?”
Matilda waved off the concern. “He’ll go along with it once we explain that it’s a trap,” she said. “Worst case, I know some other guild masters who’ll happily offer a reward to get the jewel for themselves. Actually, I’ve got a guild in mind already. They’ll go along with it.”
“If Gervis goes off-world, he’s going to get a message to go to the post office. There will be a letter there addressed to Jimmy Joe.”
“That’s his middle name in real life.”
“Anyway, we can spread the word here, as well.”
“And then we’ll nab him when he goes to the post office,” said Matilda. “Of course, we won’t know what he looks like. And they won’t let us grab him inside.”
“I’ll wait for him outside,” said Ellison. “I’ll be able to spot him.”
“By how he walks, right?”
“Something like that.”
“Unless he gets someone to go and get the letter for him.”
“So we write a letter that convinces him to show up somewhere,” said Ellison. “How about this. A rival guild leader agrees to meet him at some neutral location — say, city hall. In return for the jewel, the rival guild will stage a raid on the Armsforge Guild and then he and Trozganoth can leave Krim — or sneak out of the city and live in peace somewhere in the countryside — until everything blows over.”
“Sounds like a plan,” said Matilda. “I’ll go talk to my pals at the Sightless Crossfire.”
“It’s a mercenary guild. Located in the pig slaughter district.”
“Are they good enough to take on Rodge?” Ellison asked. “The Armsforge Guild is pretty well defended.”
“Well, we’re not actually going to go through with the attack.”
“But Gervis has to believe that it’s possible,” Ellison said. “Though he must be pretty desperate about now.”
“Why do you think I’ve been going around town talking about how Trozganoth is being tortured?” said Matilda.
“I thought you just liked to brag about torturing people.”
“Well, that too,” said Matilda, raising her beer at him. “Nothing wrong with mixing business with pleasure.”
“Right. If he’s still around the area, he’s probably paying close attention to the gossip. He must be getting frantic.”
Matilda tossed back the rest of her beer and stood up. “See you back here tomorrow?”
“Sounds good. I’ll go back and talk to Rodge. If anything has changed, or if they found Gervis or the jewel already, I’ll let you know.”