Madame Everleigh had founded The Delicate Daisy more than a decade ago. She had fought tooth and nail to raise it to its current status among the elite establishments of Eaglefell’s Red Light District, sometimes taking drastic measures to ensure its success. Though none could see it, the good Madame’s hands were almost certainly coated in red.
She looked out from her balcony above the receiving room of the brothel. Below her an unusually large late afternoon crowd caroused, imbibed, danced and played a bit of grab-ass. Her girls were well trained (exclusively by herself, of course), and she spared no expense to bring in the weary, wild, and wealthy. She knew that these days the good money was in exotics. That’s why she’d just last month unleashed a new batch of half-orcs on her unassuming customers. Already they’d been a boon for business, though when one toes a social line like that one must also invest in tighter security.
Her clients privacy was absolutely her utmost priority as long as no one damaged the merchandise. She hadn’t had an incident in almost a year (the poor girl had to be let back onto the street after; there just wasn’t much of a market around here for scars like that) and she very much prided herself on that. She had all but Doreni’s most influential in her pocket and soon even they would follow. She had it on good authority that Mr. Blight and his cadre had recently taken a liking to the alabaster skin and remarkable variety that Changelings could provide between the sheets. She was making moves already.
Everything in due time.
It was in this moment of self-reflection and appreciation that she was interrupted with some very rude news. Liliana knocked quietly and the Madame beckoned her in, turning from the balcony and returning into her office. “Forgive the intrusion, Madame. There is a disruption in the top floor suite.”
Everleigh’s brow furrowed, “Nonsense, dear. It’s never an intrusion when these things happen. Be a flower and fetch me Samson and Nichols.”
Liliana curtsied in her too-short skirt and disappeared. It would take the girl a moment to round up the brawn, and the Madame had never been one to shy away from business threats before. She would see to this personally.
Their eyes fluttered open almost simultaneously. The air smelled of lavender and chamomile, the room light by nothing but candles and a single window with its curtains thrown wide. The whole affair was draped in burgundy, gold, and earth satin’s. The merriment from downstairs was little but a soft thumping of feet and the occasional shout, an effect likely produced by the hand of a highly-paid, and judging by the intent of the establishment highly-private, wizard.
Mat didn’t like it.
He was the first to sit up and get his bearings. Life had taught him not to be caught unawares, despite his uncontrollable luck. A quick survey found him still dressed in naught but undergarments and completely defenseless save for his hat. He touched the brim, a habitual tic at this point. He’d been around so much Magic lately he was starting to develop some kind of complex.
Reverence, ever vigilant, rolled out of bed and got low, eyes darting around the room. She counted the four others, Mat sitting up and the other three still supine. She noted the many candles, short lengths of velvet cloth on end tables, and the tall, gaunt man standing in strange, crisp black clothes. He was inspecting his fingernails.
She also noted the lock boxes at the foot of each bed, the long mirror running from one end of the room to the other on the opposite wall, the various poultices and jars of lotions on the dressers underneath the mirror—
“Oh,” she said softly, realizing she was in a whorehouse.
Maximus wasted no time in standing, searching only for the threat. He quickly found the man in black. “Why have you brought me here?” He spoke firmly, with a military calm earned through years of fiercely fought battles and demand for order. The Man in Black looked up from his fingernails, as if only now noticing that they were all stirring. He folded his hands behind his back and looked at Maximus quizzically.
“How would you know I’ve brought you here?”
Raelyn pulled the covers of the bed over herself in modesty and stood, wrapping them around as best she could. She spoke as she pulled them tighter around herself to keep the blankets from falling. “It’s a fairly simple logical deduction. We’re all indisposed, you’re fully clothed and watching us.” She paused and looked around. “Also, where are our clothes?”
Mat stood and stretched, lackadaisical about his possible internment. “Yeah, what the busty silver-haired girl said.” Raelyn shot a glare at him.
“Some of us are more than our physical appearance,” she spat.
His response was quick. “Yeah, and a log swings between my legs.” He looked over at Reverence and shot a finger gun and wink her way. “Lookin at you, taily.” Reverence ignored him.
“Be quick, human. I feel grave tidings from my temple. How may I return?” Reverence moved toward the lockbox, assuming her robes were in there and trying to open it. The Man in Black laughed heartily. Balthazar, the last to truly stir and fully intent on staying out of any confrontation, quietly rolled from his bed and stood, trying his best to meld into the shadows near his bed. He found this quite difficult given his size, scales, and enormous dragon tail.
“Human! Oh my, I haven’t been called that in very long.” Maximus took two long-legged strides toward the Man and put their faces very close to one another.
“You will tell me where I am, who you are, and how I may return to Neverwinter.” He would never harm the Man, of course. It was against his Oath as a Paladin. The Oath was, however, very vague on threats.
The Man in Black became very stern and leaned perhaps a little closer to the Paladin still. “A Paladin would do wise to mind his actions, lest they be brought to the attention of my superiors.” They stared each other down for a long moment. Mat was the first to break the tense silence, eyeballing Reverence as she squatted and fiddled with the lock.
“Hey, horns. You drink Oosquai?” Reverence flicked her hand toward Mat and something invisible smacked him hard in the face. He winced and rubbed his cheek. “It’s a friendship thing! I want to be your friend, you flaming chit!” Raelyn chimed in from across the room.
“I think you just want to wax your bostaff.”
Mat grinned and pointed at her. “She jokes!”
“SILENCE!” The Man in Black’s voice boomed throughout the room and rattled the mirror behind him. The candles dimmed for a moment and then returned to full light. Everyone turned to look at him, all but Maximus jumping at the sudden loudness. The latter remained ever stoic, doing nothing but folding his arms across his barrel chest.
“We have little time, “ the Man continued. “You have all been chosen for a greatness that has been woven for millenia. The weapons you received will be integral to your part. I cannot provide you answers to the questions you surely have, but understand it’s not for lack of desire. I simply do not have them. I am an agent of the Cosmos, sent here to ensure your path stays true.”
Reverence noted that final phrase. She had heard that somewhere very recently. In the wheat field, from the scarecrow. Her eyes narrowed. The Man went on.
“You are in the Kingdom of Doreni, the port town of Eaglefell. You are here to kill the King. Questions?”
Mat raised his hand.
“About your mission, Matrim.”
Mat raised his hand again, eyes narrowing suspiciously. “How do you know my name?” The Man waves him off.
“It is not important. You will all complete this mission post haste. Do not dally as our window ever-closes. You will go and meet a man in a dark robe at The Prancing Pony, notable by the long scar that runs from his eye to his chest. He will be drinking a dark, Elvish wine.”
“You can’t tell it’s Elvish without drinking it,” Reverence absentmindedly added as she continued fiddling with the lock. The Man closed his eyes and took a deep breath before continuing.
“Understand me: You will not fail in this. You cannot fail. Try as you might this is your destiny and I’ll be hung that you will do anything to stop it. Too many hands have worked too hard. We are in the Final Act and the future of existence rides on…you all.” He looked around dejectedly. “I guess.”
“Talk about a vote of confidence,” Maximus snidely barked.
“I, for one, am offended,” Mat joked in turn.
“I will return once your mission is complete. The keys in your palms will open the lockboxes, wherein you will find your armor and weapons. May the Gods remain.” With that, the Man snapped his fingers. Distant thunder rolled and the light in the room dimmed to almost blackness, despite the curtains thrown wide. The once blazing sunlight temporarily blocked from pouring its warmth into the room. As quick as it disappeared it returned. Mat looked around.
The room remained the same, save for a new light dusting on the mirror. It stretched left and right of where the Man had stood and formed the shape of great, feathered wings. Raelyn’s stomach sank. Reverence swallowed. Mat looked thoughtful with his finger on his chin.
“Hey, everyone? I’m starting to think we’re in a whorehouse.” He paused for a moment, then continued, “And I’m fairly certain this is an orgy room.”
It took only a few minutes for everyone to gear up. It was mostly silent, despite Mat’s many attempts to strike up conversation (particularly with his new silver-haired companion, seeing as the one with horns refused to respond to his advances). Just as Maximus pulled on his last piece of armor, there came a loud ruckus from behind the door to the room and then it swung open.
In stumbled a large-bellied man with a mug of ale in one hand, arms around the shoulders of two woman at least half his size. He was laughing heartily until he saw the battle-hardened faces of the rooms occupants. His demeanor changed quickly, first to confusion and then to anger. “I’ve rented this room, you lot. I’ve got eight more girls coming up and I’m not liking to share.”
Maximus put his hand out, an expression meant to calm the man. “Pardon us, sir. We were just leaving.”
“Now hold on a second,” Mat said, pushing past Maximus. “I don’t think he can handle 10 on his own.” Reverence grabbed Mat’s ear and yanked hard once, earning a yelp of pain, and then released him. She spoke calmly.
“Like he said. We’re leaving.” They all made toward the door and the drunken man, perhaps thinking they were going to jump him, stumbled backward and shoved the women toward the group as he fled the room. Matrim caught both girls and wrapped his arms around their waists. He grinned handsomely at them.
Before he could make a move a rather bosomy woman strode confidently into the room with a hand on one hip. Noting the two girls Mat had in his arms, she spoke directly to him. “I assume you paid for their time?” Mat looked at both girls and back at the new woman.
“Well, I…” She cut him off before he could continue.
“I personally rent this room out and I don’t recognize any of you. You will leave my establishment. Now.” She stepped to the side and pointed out the door. Mat relinquished the girls and sadly followed his new cohorts. As they left they passed two large, leather-armored men coming up the staircase. The men stopped in front of the bosomy woman expectantly. She smiled softly at them. “Never mind, boys. The problem resolved itself. Do me a favor and hunt down the gentleman who rented this room, would you Samson? And Nichols, send Liliana and Teray up along with the other girls. We’ve got a bit of damage control to do.” The two men nodded silently and disappeared back down the staircase.
Madame Everleigh strode into the room to inspect it. She closed and locked the lockboxes, quickly made one of the beds whose sheets had been removed, and closed the open curtains. As she turned to leave the room, she saw the wing-shaped dust on the mirror and stopped in her tracks. Her stomach dropped and her heart started slamming in her chest.
It had been a long time since she’d seen a wingspan like that. It never bode well. She thought back, far back, to the last time. Before The Delicate Daisy was ever a thought in her mind. The time she was offered true salvation and turned down the Gods.
She couldn’t have this in her town again. Not now, not ever. She shook her head and cleared her throat, patting down the creases in her blouse. She would deal with this, too, in due time.
Everything in due time.