GURPS Banestorm revived

This is the narrative thread for the GURPS Banestorm game.

Current players are:

@fnordius as Jean-Pierre Marie Pepin, an enthusiastic young swordsman from Araterre, and

@MalevolentPixy as Hayu, a scruffy vagabond of mysterious origins.

If anyone else wants in, let me know and we’ll add another PC.

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We begin in Hadaton, a prosperous city in the northeast of Cardiel, seat of the current ruler, Prince Crivelli.

While Cardiel is the most cosmopolitan of the nations of Ytarria, Hadaton is something of an exception. The city’s history as the launching point and last holdout of the Megalan crusades gives it a culture somewhat distinct from the rest of Cardiel, with a much stronger Megalan and Catholic influence. Nevertheless, the population of the city is still heavily mixed, split roughly evenly between Catholic and Muslim, Anglish and Arabic.

Newly arrived in the city, Hayu and Jean-Pierre have both responded to a job opportunity. Following instructions, you present yourself at a small coffee shop in the Islamic quarter of town, where the server directs each of you to a small table in the back.

Jean-Pierre arrives first, and is seated alone when Hayu approaches.

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Câlisse. This was either someone looking for a tour guide or another group job. Given the way the last one ended…

She drifted past the table to a corner near the door to the privy. Nobody ever paid attention to a wretch just quietly seeking shelter from the midday heat, provided you didn’t stink too much or hassle patrons for money. Straight walk-up without casing the joint was a rookie move; she hadn’t tried that since she was ten years old. Never get into anything where you didn’t know all the exits and who was in the crowd. Basic common sense, really. Right up there with “never trust a nun with a ruler”. How sheltered did you have to be to not know that?

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Ah, Cardiel! Jean-Pierre had heard tales of it! The young man had arrived to the port of Hadaton as an escort/bodyguard for a man he believed to be a Jewish merchant, but in the end was something else entirely, it seemed. Still, a good chap, and Jean-Pierre did get paid. Now he was alone in this strange city, where everyone spoke this strange language, where the food used different spices, and even the incense in the church when he went to mass smelled different.

After a day of wondering what to do next, the young man asked about where to get a job. “Go to this little coffee shop,” a woman selling cooked rice told him. “There, you will find a job fitting for such a fine lad as yourself.”

And so young Monsiuer Pepin, aspiring cavalier, found the place, and took a table. There he now sits, his eyes wide with amazement, and sipping at the coffee as if it were something new and exotic.

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After a short delay, a middle-aged man in Wazifi robes enters the cafe, and is pointed towards Jean-Pierre’s table by the server. Approaching, he pulls up a chair and addresses Jean-Pierre in fluent Aralaise.

“I am Waleed; you are here looking for work, yes?”

“Are you alone? I was told there would be two of you”.

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Jean-Pierre, seeing the man approach, stands as a sign of respect, and sits when the man sits.

“I am Waleed,” the man says in fluent Aralaise, “you are here looking for work, yes?”

“Good day to you, sir! Yes, as it happens, I am here without employ, and would appreciate a job.”

The man raises an eyebrow. “Are you alone? I was told there would be two of you.”

“I know of no other, monsieur,” Jean-Pierre answers. “If another were to join us, I would not mind, but I am afraid I know nothing about this. Should I be on my guard?”

The young swordsman looks at the newcomer with a small bit of awe, still fascinated by the way people dress here. Note: I imagine the man is dressed in a Tunisian barnous over a jebba, respectable but not overtly rich of flashy.

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“I like to know who I’m working with.” Hayu spoke about an inch from behind Waleed’s shoulder. Would he acknowledge someone in the rags of a beggar? Would he toss her a coin to make her go away while he discussed ‘serious’ business with this… over-washed and over-dressed for the climate, toff? Did this guy even know that there were only two ways out of this place, if you didn’t count the windows which he wouldn’t fit through in that get-up, and one of them involved going through the kitchen – in other words, the exact place you’d send a couple of goons to cut someone off and filled with knives and fire.

And of course he’d sat himself in a space where he had a bad view of anyone on approach, with a look on his face that screamed “rob me”.

On the other hand, she needed money, and it was a sin to sit by and let people get killed in at least two religions that she knew of, and this kid was definitely a lamb standing in front of an altar right now. Of course, whether he was smart enough to realise that, was another story.

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After Hayu speaks, Waleed grins.

“The lady speaks wisdom; choosing your companions carefully is very important. Would you care to take a seat at our table? I, too, like to get to know those that I associate with”.

“I am in need of some assistance with a matter of importance, and I am willing to compensate you for your time. Shall we explore the matter further?”

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As the young woman spoke, Jean-Pierre started. He did not expect the nondescript woman to be so impertinent. He tensed, but Waleed’s calm reaction left the youth feeling embarrassed. His cheeks flushed with anger at himself for his misjudgement.

And yet! Here he was, not yet nineteen years of age, his chin barely starting to show a beard, and already this respectable foreigner was willing to hire him! He might have been the youngest back on his father’s farm, but he felt confident he would even outshine Uncle Armand, who regaled him with tales of his travels when he was younger.

And so the young man moved over to make room for the strange woman, whose Aralaise was just as fluent as his. He was intrigued, but too tongue-tied to dare speak to her as he shifted his stool to make room for her. Instead, he looked at Waleed, hoping to hear more of the task.

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“I’ll stand, thanks.” It allowed her to keep her back to the wall and feet unencumbered by the table and chairs, for one. Always be ready to run. Another good piece of common sense. It had served her well, ever since ‘run’ was more of a toddle. They couldn’t kill what they couldn’t catch. And Hayu liked being alive. It was much better, in her opinion, than not, regardless of anything a priest might say.

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Waleed grins again, and nods.

“As you wish, m’lady”.

“I require the services of assistants who can move throughout the city without attracting undue attention. Your job will be to investigate and report back to me; you will be well compensated for your work. It’s nothing illegal, and if you succeed you may save many lives.”

“Are you willing to take the job?”

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The young cavalier listened, rapt. “I understand, monsieur, it is just that I am not from this city. My accoutrements, my accent when I speak Anglish, they would draw attention, no? It is gracious, and saving lives, well, it would be an honour to…”

Suddenly, the young man grinned, and slapped his forehead. “Ah, but I am stupid! Of course, you have considered my being foreign in your little plan! I am as dumb as a broom, Monsieur Waleed! No one would think twice of a foreigner asking around, it is only normal! You are a genius, and I accept! If lives are on the line, I play this little part for you!”

He looked to the young woman, saw her seem to consider it. Jean-Pierre could not read her face, did not know if her look meant he had made a faux pas, or if the offer was wrong, or if she was simply considering.

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“Exactly what are we supposedly poking around for?” Oh this child was going to get himself killed the first step he took into a back alley. Sure, asking questions sounded easy until you asked the wrong person the wrong one. Then you either learned your lesson quick or you didn’t ever learn anything ever again.

Besides, nothing safe and legal ever started with “It’s nothing illegal.” Those words were what you might call a clue. Just because something didn’t necessarily break the law, didn’t mean the law was what you had to worry about crossing. Plus, it was the oldest trick in the book. Get someone to do you a simple favor. Just take a package down the street. Then another… just pass on this message to Monsieur Laurent… then next thing you know you’re helping move a heavy bundle of rugs down to the dock and trying not to show that it’s a little too heavy and the wrong kind of squishy.

And that was why you never took a job without the details. Really, how naive could one person be?

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Waleed quickly glances around the coffee shop, then continues in a slightly lowered voice.

“Over the last month, there have been a series of fires in the city. First, the theatre. Then a week later, Egbert’s Inn; a week after that, Guinevere’s house. Yesterday, Father Ignatious’ church.”

“All of these fires happened exactly a week apart; it appears that we have an arsonist at play. And all of them happened in the Newmarket neighbourhood…”

Waleed’s tone and raised eyebrow on the last sentence implies some deeper meaning, but he catches himself when this gets no response.

“Ahh, I forget that you are new to this city. Let me explain the situation…”

“Hadaton can be thought of as roughly divided into four quarters. On the riverfront to the west” he says, gesturing vaguely over his shoulder, “is the palace, cathedral, customs house and mages’ college.”

“Behind that, the southwest holds the houses of the nobility and the leading merchant houses. Here on the eastern riverfront is Oldmarket; this is where the followers of the true prophet, peace be upon him, are constrained to live. South of us lies Newmarket; this is the quarter for the common people amongst the infidels.”

“All of the fires so far have been around Newmarket. Not only buildings have suffered; lives have been lost. Dozens of women died in the burning of Guinevere’s house alone.”

“The people of Newmarket are grieving, they are afraid, and they are angry. And I hear that they are convinced that these fires are the work of my people here in Oldmarket.”

His expression darkens into a scowl.

“This is not true; my people would not do such things. But I fear that if the situation continues, the anger in Newmarket may boil over, with tragic consequences for my brethren. This city is a tinderbox in more ways than one.”

“In order to prevent this, we must discover the true cause of these fires, and we must do it soon. This is why I wish to contract your assistance.”

Waleed leans back and looks back and forth between the pair of you.

“For your trouble, I can offer you room and board for the duration of your employ, and a reward of $500 each should you succeed. Will you accept the job?”

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Jean Pierre listened to the man speak, amazed at what he heard. Fires being deliberately set! Innocent people being harmed! It stirred his sense of decency.

Dieu me garde, Monsieur! I cannot let innocent people be harmed! I am no detective, I am but a swordsman, but I cannot refuse! And your offer comes at an opportune time, as I have not yet found lodgings, as I expected to sail again.”

The lad shook his dirty blond mane. “No, I cannot leave, not if you need my help!” He then looked to the scruffily dressed young woman standing next to the table, and as he saw her roll her eyes, felt his cheeks burn red. Again, he had the feeling she disapproved of his gallantry.

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The dramatics are annoying but what the kid didn’t realise was the true seriousness of the problem. People were dying, yes, but that was what people did. All the time. Every day. This was different. Either someone was trying to send a message, or someone was trying to start a war. If it was a message, there’d be chatter: no point in sending one that nobody could see. It’d be easy enough to find out the who, what and why of that – just find out who nobody wanted to talk about and there was your guy. But a war… there was nothing simple about that. The kind of people who started wars were the kind of people who were nothing like normal people. Guys like the first might control a neighbourhood and its guard, but war people… those were the kinds of people who owned entire armies or gave decrees to the pope.Câlisse. That wasn’t the kind of thing you could just sit and do nothing about, either. “Okay, I’m in. But half payment up front. Other half when it’s over or we decide it’s too big. Comprendez?”

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Jean-Pierre swelled with relief, and more, he noted that the young lady said “we”!

Mais bien sûr! Ce qu’elle a dit!” (But of course, what she said!)

*A note on the Aralaise/French spoken by M. Pepin: unless otherwise noted, “you” is the formal “vous”. The informal “tu” will be noted when used.

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Waleed momentarily rolls his eyes, but his grin is undisturbed.

“Very well; half now. But do not think of taking the advance and running. I am not a man to be casually trifled with.”

He gestures towards a stairway at the back of the coffee house.

“Your rooms are upstairs; Usman here will show you where to go” he says, indicating the server.

“Once you have settled in, I suggest that you might wish to explore Newmarket and see the damage for yourselves”.

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“Thank you, Monsieur! You will see, I am a man of my word!” He picked up his bundle: his cuirass, which served as a shell around his spare clothing, a blanket, and other gear kept in a sailor’s pack. The young man stopped just as he tucked his broad-brimmed hat unter his arm, frowned in thought, and turned around, bowing. “Until later, or, how do they say in your tongue, ‘ma’a as-salamah!’ I hope I have said it correctly!”

He grinned, then, and turned to ascend the stairs that led up, eager to follow the man his new employer called Usman. It was almost an afterthought that he glanced to see if Heya would follow, but suspecting the young woman would be distrusting, he bounded up, leaving the loud, exotic sounds of the domino players and old men arguing, well, whatever they were arguing about in their Arabic tongue below him lest he lose sight of the servant.

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Hayu left the way she came in. Rooms were… not her style. She’d see the kid when he came out and catch him there. He was so green, he’d left her with his share of the advance.

But she’d given her word to Waleed, and unless you were running a game, a deal was a deal. But maybe she’d spook the kid a little if he thought she’d pulled a runner, and wipe some of that shine off him. Better it come from her than someone with no compunction about leaving him facedown in an alley.

Meantime, she could get started. Find a quiet place and just listen. It was amazing what you could learn with a closed mouth, open ears, and nobody knowing you were there at all.

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