A Tugg on the Heartstrings

Talya lingered in the shade of the awning of a rickety fruit cart, her wood-toned skin framed by shoulder length blond wavy hair through which the tips of her Elven ears emerged.  Nibbling on the pomegranate she'd bought, she breathed in the marketplace air. The scents of overripe produce were preferable to the stench of the sweaty bodies pushing through the crowded market square, or the piles of dung the cart horses calmly let loose as they went about their business.  She briefly wondered what the freedom to poop as you went about your day must feel like.  Freeing?  Messy, more likely.

"Brecklin, you said you picked these how many days ago?" she asked, grimacing at the soft spots in the fruit.

"Oh, miss T, I like you." grinned the boy. "Do not ask questions for which the answers displease you." He made a show of polishing the apples, subtly turning them to hide the largest bruises as he replaced them in the stack.

"Zhamu ghoi drykos o'myb." Talya muttered under her breath. The kid might be too young to hear such strong language, but it was doubtful he understood Goblin anyway.  And if he did? Well, he was welcome to wonder how one might extract the spikes of a spine dragon from his mother's rectum. She surveyed the crowd, assessing both threats and potential wealth almost as an afterthought. That half-elf there had a dagger concealed under his jerkin, and his coin pouch was secured with wire, not just leather straps. The tall human with the lanky hair and the slight limp carried a crossbow, but the tension arms were nearly shot from being constantly drawn. The elderly lady with striking red eyes and over-sized incisors (tiefling?)  walked with a confident balance that spoke of martial training.  Talya wasn't sure what she was looking for - but she knew she'd know it when she saw it. She always did.

"May the Sun find your face and the Rain find your crops, Brecklin." she said, wandering into the chaos of the market with a nod of her head. The fruit stand was a momentary refuge from the din of the Greengold market square, but ultimately she loved being immersed in that chaos - buffeted by the tides of people, and drawn by chance to her thuruyen. Interesting word, thuruyen. It was Celestial, and translated by laymen to "purpose". But perhaps more accurately it translated to "that which inspires one to live life to its fullest". It was important to Talya in a way that few other words were. To her it represented a philosophy for how she lived her life. She could plan for the mundane, but the big things in her life she left to the call of thuruyen. She trusted her inner sense to guide her in this, and that trust was complete. Her father never understood, but Venkar was both old fashioned, and incredibly averse to anything he might view as having been touched by chaos. In his mind there was no substitute for thorough planning, and an action made without a cost/benefit analysis was a mistake - regardless of the outcome.

Talya moved effortlessly with the tide of people. An Elf in Greengold was just another grain of sand on the beach. She was in her element - letting the flow of the crowd take it where it would. As she passed by Halmogin's (softest, flakiest breakfast biscuits in the entire town) the sounds of conflict broke her flow. 

"What  you lack in stature you make up for in  incompetence, you half-handed hairy-toed tree-licker!", hollered an irate Drow, striking a hapless Halfling about his curly-haired head. "If vegetables could talk they would mock you for your stupidity! I have seen piles of dog shit more competent than you!". For an older man, this Drow seemed to sport a pretty solid backhand, judging from the swelling eye of the target of this abuse.

Talya's attention turned to the altercation. She felt that call... the sense that no matter what the risks, this was her thuruyen. She eye'd the Drow patriarch critically. Full of confidence... probably rich, to beat a servant so publicly with no sign of shame and no indication of concern. No weapons, and nothing on him radiating magic... should be an easy mark, she thought. She sorted through what her subconscious had already cataloged: avenues of approach (direct and indirect), avenues of escape (on the ground and over rooftops), bystanders likely to intervene, routes the target might use to flee...

Her father joked that she was an "urban tactician" - and with good reason. There were very few situations in this sort of environment that Talya couldn't quickly and accurately evaluate and identify a means of exploiting. With a loosely-tied bonnet pilfered directly from the head of a matronly woman perusing eggs and a walking stick whose owner had propped it against a wall while resting a moment Talya became a middle-aged woman with a limp. "A coin? Coins for the misfortunate?" Talya's rendition of old beggar woman was award-worthy. More importantly, it let her work her way towards the commotion with people actively averting their eyes from her as they attempted to avoid being guilted into donating by her mournful gaze. 

The halfling was still cowering from his master, and fending off blows. "Apologies Master Greygull! Humble apologies! I did not see the horse manure in time to remove it from your path!" Greygull struck him once more - a solid back-handed blow made all the more brutal for the large electrum ring he wore on the index finger of his right hand. The amitrine in the ring matched that set into an amulet clasped tightly about the halfling's neck.

"You will never work off your covenant at this rate, Tugg. You know full well that allowing myself to become soiled adds a month to your time. Now wipe that blood from your face, pick up my satchel and let us resume our duties in this horrid cesspool." snarled Greygull.

Talya's temper rose to a white-hot rage. It was definitely time for Mr. Greygull's comeuppance. She trailed the pair down the road to the weaver's house and watched them enter. 

More detail...

In Venkar Okalaunui's story we find out that his daughter Talya crosses Maynard Greygull, taking "his money pouch, his jewel-hilted dagger and his footman, Tugg." This is that story!

"Time to take advantage of the early winter chill." Talya chuckled to herself, eyeing the steady stream of smoke that came from Dame Shelloc's chimney. She'd have to make this up to the poor woman later, but it would be worth it.

Abandoning her begger persona, Talya ducked into the shadows of a side alley and grabbed a waterproof leather tube from her pack. She carefully removed a roll of parchment which had been soaked in oil.  She unrolled a section about as long has her forearm and cut it from the roll with the razor-sharp dagger she kept against her left boot. Using the one at the small of her back would have been counter-productive, given that it was a flaming dagger. The two on her belt were her throwing daggers, and the one strapped to her right boot was definitely an "emergencies only" weapon. Intelligent weapons were cool, but this one was perpetually grumpy, and disliked being awoken if there weren't lives to be taken.

She slipped silently out to the larger road and grabbed a few chunks of horse dung from the road, and wrapped it in the parchment while ducking back into the alley. Talya effortlessly scaled the wall up to the chimney and dropped the package down it. Almost immediately the smoke became thick, black and foul. With a satisfied nod she dropped back down to street level and lingered by the corner. Just as she expected, Greygull came stumbling out, coughing, choking, and rubbing his eyes. She entered the flow of traffic on the street and brushed against him in passing. Her legerdemain was well-practiced, and did not fail her here. Moments later she rested against a cool stone wall in another nearby alley, admiring her new jewel-hilted dagger. Perhaps its loss would take him down a peg... but she'd keep an eye on him, to be certain.

A few minutes with the contents of her belt pouch, and Talya emerged as a young auburn pony-tailed Half-Elf a few inches shorter than her real height. Even her gait and posture were different. "Take pride in your craft, my dear!" her father always said, and she took it to heart.

She casually made her way back towards the scene of the crime, keeping an eye out to see if any of Greengold's Finest had become involved. It was always best to avoid the complications that the authorities brought. No guards were in sight, but her self-satisfied feeling faded quickly when she caught sight of the apoplectic fit to which Greygull was subjecting Tugg. The halfling's fear was clear even from half a block away.  Talya worked her way closer, pretending to consider the wares for sale from the street vendor. Suddenly the torrent of outrage changed its pace and cadence, becoming precise and structured. Greygull made a few gestures at the same time, and without being touched Tugg gave a howl of agony. Talya was familiar enough with magic to know a dark spell had been cast, and suddenly the call of thuruyen was clear. She must rescue Tugg.

Most of the crowd decided they had other places to be and did not want to be involved in the dispute. Dame Shelloc continued to apologize profusely until the Drow turned his icy gaze upon her. "Woman, cease your bleating and return to your spinning wheel." he said, speaking up over the sounds of the halfling's screams. "Your work is shoddy and I will look elsewhere for what I seek."

Talya's lingering in the face of this altercation would soon cause her to stand out. Ducking into the doorway of the nearby Crystal Goblet tavern, she uncorked a flask and downed its contents in one gulp. The sounds of a lyre and an enticing male voice filtered softly through the door. She made a mental note to return when she'd have time for an ale and a song, then stepped softly and invisibly into the street, moving quietly to within an arm's reach of Greygull. She considered drawing Bloodwrath from her boot, but taking a life was such a final step - and caused no end of trouble.

Tugg's screams abated in a minute or so and he attempted to compose himself. "As you say, Master. I shall do my best to ensure you are not soiled further, and that your vision is not obscured." his amulet gave off a faint glow, and Greygull responded with an evil smirk.

"There now, Tugg. Control your temper, lest  you lose another finger. The Bondservant Amulet  gives me great leeway in how our arrangement is enforced, as you well know." Greygull crooked the index finger with the electrum & amitrine ring and Tugg's face went white with fear. "There's a great deal of satisfaction in getting to watch you sever your own finger when you break the terms of our agreement."

The man was evil, and Tugg must be freed. A plan began to form. She gently cut most of the way through the Drow's coin purse cord, leaving it precariously attached, then moved quickly away before her invisibility faded.

For the next several hours she tailed them through Greengold, occasionally changing her appearance or slinking through the shadows, or gliding across the rooftops to ensure she was not spotted. She needed them to go into a building with a fairly specific requirement. And she was going to want a long, long bath at the end of the day if all went well.

As the pair went into Just the Right A-Mount and Talya nearly cheered out loud. The taxidermy shop was exactly what she needed. She squeezed herself into the storm drain on  the left corner facing the entrance, and verified that peering out the narrow opening street level allowed line-of-sight over the cobblestone road to the front of the shop. She removed a pair of thin gloves from her belt pouch, pulled them on, and settled into an uncomfortable crouch in the narrow, damp, stench-ridden drainage tunnel that led under into the underground sewer system.

Twenty minutes later she was just shifting to relieve the cramping in her legs when Tugg emerged holding a large stuffed badger followed by Greygull who was admonishing him not to drop it. Talya could not have hoped for a more perfect set-up.

With a quick jerking motion she pulled upon the coin purse she'd previously cut most of the way through, sending it falling into the sewer opening to her feet. She ducked out of view.

"Balls of the Martyr!" swore the Drow. "Can this day get any worse?"  He knelt beside the opening and extended his right arm in - blindly grasping for the pouch. "One debacle after another, and now here I am - crouched in the gutter like a beggar." He grumbled.

As his arm dangled before her face in the recess of the tunnel Talya deftly removed the ring from his finger with a delicate touch. No reaction; he continued to strain his arm down towards the bottom, coming comically close to brushing against Talya's face as she crouched just out of reach.

"Tugg, hand me that damned badger and slide into that sewer like the gutter rat you are and fetch my coin pouch. And don't think to help yourself while crouched down there in the dark - I know the contents to the last copper."  Greygull's arm retracted and Tugg's light steps could be heard approaching.

Talya's eyes lit up. Surely she couldn't be this lucky? She'd never seen a stronger sign of the divine guidance in her thuruyen. The halfling resignedly backed feet first into the narrow drain entrance. As his head squeezed through his eyes widened as he caught sight of Talya crouched nearby, and his mouth opened as if to call out. Talya made a shushing motion with one hand and held up his master's ring with the other. "Follow me!" she whispered.

A spark of hope brought life to Tugg's face. He grabbed the coin pouch at his feet and followed as Talya crawled down the filthy sewer drain towards the larger tunnels at the heart of Greengold.

From behind them they could still hear the Drow's angry exhortations. "Tugg, be quick about it! The damn thing can't have gone far, there's been no fresh rain in days. Don't think to try any trickery while out of my sight. You know that will count as oathbringing and I will bring you to heel quick as a whip if I... Thundering Trumpets of the Abyss where is my bondservant ring!" he shouted with fury. "Guards! Constable! Robbery!".

As Talya reached the tunnel junction the sound of running water drowned out the faint echoes of Greygull's rage. A smile cracked Tugg's face awkwardly - as if those muscles hadn't been used in years. "Thank you, mistress. I don't know who you are or why you've taken an interest in me, but I owe you my freedom, and owe you a great debt." He paused, with a hitch in his voice. "I must ask one more favor though, if kindness and mercy is in your soul, please put that ring on and command this amulet to release, so that I might be free of its ever-present malignancy."

Talya was quick to comply; his plight pulled on her heartstrings, and she was always happy to do a good turn to someone in need.

They made their way through the sewers to the eventual outflow into Lake Encarthan. Even sore, wet and covered in shit it was possible to feel pretty good...