The Nighttime Visitor No. 8 – Ruffling Feathers

Rakel had immediately discarded the idea of working for one of the larger gangs. For one, the stunt she had planned wouldn’t work as well on them, and for another, if there was some sort of metaphorical—or, for that matter, literal—mage-eater roaming the city, she wanted to be as far as possible from organizations known to employ users of magic.

That had left the three local gangs, at least to the best of her knowledge. She got the sense that they were busy jockeying for position among themselves, while the large gangs ignored them, or occasionally incited the weaker two against the strongest to keep them irrelevant. A mage of Rakel’s caliber would throw off the balance, and in her experience upsetting the status quo usually led somewhere interesting.

She was finding the choice difficult. If she went by name all three of them sounded ridiculous. The Red Skull Thieves and the Shadow Brotherhood had that quality that suggested unintelligent men were trying to sound menacing. It might have worked if they hadn’t overdone it to the extent that they did. The Miller Street gang apparently lacked even that modicum of creativity. They would probably claim it was traditional.

Slightly more helpful had been the information she’d gathered yesterday and the day before. She had spent some of the time coming up with a rough map of the territory each gang held and some of the rest grilling people for opinions. By and large, the people living under the Red Skulls and the Miller Street gang had loudly and nervously proclaimed what a good thing the criminals were for them, protecting them from the other criminals, who clearly had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, thank you, and providing such wonderful entertainments. After a few drinks, there had been furtive glances and half-whispered complaints from the people in the Red Skulls’ territory. From those living under the Miller Street gang, she hadn’t been able to get anything more than an ominous, “Do you know what they do to people?”

The Shadow Brotherhood had been more difficult to get a feel for. The people in its territory had spoken of it with a curious detachment, as if they were talking about the weather or the price of fish that year—it was as if the gang only existed when enforcers were knocking on the door and demanding the month’s protection fee. It was perplexing. Rakel had never gotten the sense that the city’s criminals were good at subtlety, and if this Shadow Brotherhood had somehow picked it up she wasn’t sure that they’d appreciate what she was about to do.

On the other hand, if they had picked it up they had an impressive potential for growth and a name that actually fit, to boot. That was more than she could say for the Red Skulls, who seemed to take a relatively old-fashioned approach to criminality—lay down the rules, and bash in heads if someone breaks them.

Rakel sighed. Unfortunately, when she left danger to herself out of the calculation, the result became clear. Her mission demanded a gang on the upswing, one which wasn’t a tempting target now but which might, with her presence and a bit of prodding, become one. The Shadow Brotherhood it was.

She was justifiably unhappy at planning to anger people she hoped were capable, but there was nothing for it, and at least now she could stop thinking and start doing. She collected Two and its axe from behind the inn and set off for her target.

Banks had been introduced to the world by the elves, but both the elves and the banks had been capricious, greedy, and usually outright malicious. After the defeat of the elves, the dwarves had tried the idea with more success and exported it to humanity.

It took off, and had left Vrimderheimdalskaagerholmegvorrighrimdalholm with a robust banking system, so effective that it had forced the gangs out of the business of moneylending. The gangs had quickly adapted, and now banks were so critical to their smooth operations that the criminals spent more money on guarding them than they could ever hope to make back in protection money.

The one in front of Rakel was one of about ten stone buildings within a mile of where she stood, sitting alone in the middle of a square open enough to make being in it an unwise proposition if the bank’s crossbowmen didn’t approve. She saw them patrolling the roof, and would have put money on there being more of them at the windows on the upper floors. All the entrances were heavily guarded, and the square, too, was crawling with armed men.

Rakel intended to make a withdraw, and would not be stopped by something so pedestrian as the fact that she didn’t have an account. She grinned at Two. “Ready?”

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