|No Goblins Allowed
|A Moral Compass [Story][Public]
|Page 1 of 1|
|Author:||M:EM Archivist [ Mon Aug 04, 2014 7:53 pm ]|
|Post subject:||A Moral Compass [Story][Public]|
A Moral Compass
Jackie DeCoeur was a respected woman.
At the moment, she was enjoying a frothy mug of… something. It tasted like Nog grog, but it had this sort of, spicy… Anyway. She was sitting in the high seats at a swanky stage n’ tap, watching some sort of show play out below her. She had the booth alone, at the moment, though she was certain company was little more than a purseful of coin away. This town - close enough to Verkell to actually host decent entertainment, but far enough away that she need not worry - knew her. Or, knew of her. Depending on who you asked, she was the greatest hero the Wastes had ever seen, or some common bandit. That was the way with the foxes - they never wanted to admit someone had them beat.
Oh, and she had them beat.
The law of the town was more likely to turn a blind eye to her dealings than cuff her, and she had shared a drink with the sheriff on more than one occasion. She was a good woman, Jackie supposed, and liked what Jackie had done with the place - of course, assuming the rumors were true. No one steals thousands of pounds of iron in less than an hour. No one runs the market into the floor by giving it all away. But, the rails were getting built and the business was pouring in. Even if the rumors were lying, the sheriff was more than happy to have someone to blame for it. Good woman. Bit of a lightweight, though.
She was living the good life, at the moment. Had a permanent deal with the owner of this establishment - her own room, private. More credibility than she could possibly know what to do with, and a fistful of legends following her whenever she stepped onto the street. Yes, Jackie Decoeur was a respected - and feared - woman.
Which is why it pained her to admit that what she saw next, she would never be able to pull off in a hundred years.
A smallish man took to the stage, and this was the first strange thing to happen. Jackie blinked, and checked her mug. Not even half empty, and she had not had a refill yet. She looked up again to be sure, and yes, there he was. It was strange because the various foxfolk and humans on the stage were giving him sour looks and - well, they all just scurried off as he said something to them. He turned on the crowd next, picking up a boom horn from behind one of the curtains and putting it up to his mouth.
“Fortune’s First Stop,” he stated dramatically, calling the establishment by name, “is closed.” Then, he threw the horn on the ground, reached into his jacket, and… put something into his mouth. Some sort of stick? He snapped his fingers, and smoke began trailing off- Gods, was that a smokey? “Get out!” He shouted, voice hardly diminished by the lack of the horn.
Jackie blinked. She, sure as a rattler lies, was not going to move. She doubted anyone else would listen to that big-eared, uppity-
Except that they were. All leaving, that is. Jackie stood, her drink forgotten, and narrowed her eyes at the crowd. They were… practically running to get away. It took all of three minutes, by her estimate, and then, everything was silent. She was the only one left.
Yea, Jackie Decoeur was a respected woman, but she would never be able to do that.
She glared at the man on the stage, who seemed to be rummaging in his coat. Olly was not going to stand having his -
She had the barest of warnings, and quick as a viper whipped her gun and pressed it flush against the forehead of the person sneaking up behind her. Her attacker was a small woman, but that was all Jackie could see in the half-light of her booth.
“Oh.” The woman breathed, looking put out.
“Yeah, ‘Oh.’” Jackie retorted. “I need one good reason to let you live and two more not to shoot you anyway.” The woman sighed.
Jackie’s six-shooter crumbled away in her hand.
“You’ve got a good ear,” The woman stated conversationally as Jackie reached for her other piece. Whatever sort of witchery- “I haven’t been caught for… oh, it’s been a long time.” Jackie took a step back as her second holster came up ashy and empty, and clenched her teeth..
“I’ll give you one last chance-” She began to hiss, before she bumped into something fleshy, cold, and decidedly not the edge of the booth.
“Let’s not coddle her, Lucy.” A voice spat from behind her. Two iron-strong hands clamped over her arms before she could move. “Sit.” The voice ordered, and thrust Jackie bodily back into her seat. “My master has business with you.” Jackie opened her mouth for a witty reply, then narrowed her eyes, and closed her mouth slowly. She got a better look at this man’s face, and she did not like what she was seeing. His features were all sharp edges, his nose, curved from an obvious break, turned up in disdain. But his eyes…
Well, that was something they had in common. Strange eyes.
“What’s a bunch of soulsuckers want with me, anyway?” She asked instead, and the man glared down at her, but did not respond. He folded his arms, the black leather of his coat creaking as he did so. The woman, however, sat down across from Jackie. “We don’t want anything. We would rather let you run around and do as you pleased… right, Mal?” The man behind her - Mal - grunted noncommittally.. The woman - Lucy? Really? - rolled her inky black eyes, and continued. “But it’s not up to us.” Jackie put her elbows on the table.
“...Right.” She deadpanned. “So who’s it up to?”
“Me.” And Jackie swore she saw Lucy jump out of her seat. That was right about when Jackie began to get a grasp on what she was getting into - anyone who could make a demon jump… The voice was all gravel and threat, and belong to a man with slick, black hair and sharp eyes. She recognized him as the man from the stage. He was short, with a funny-shaped head and big ears. His scowl was deeper than most graves she had dug, and, sure as the Wastes were hot, a smokey in his mouth.
He puffed at it idly, as if he was not burning a fortune into his lungs.
Lucy pulled out the chair she had been sitting in for the smoking man, and he nodded curtly as he took it. He gazed at Jackie for the duration of his short walk from the entrance of the booth to the table, and flicked a bit of ash off the end of his cigar as he sat down. Wordlessly the two demons who had accosted and disarmed her moved to stand behind him.
And he just stared, smoking, at Jackie.
She stared right back.
He opened his mouth,
“Were you born with eyes like that, doll?” He asked, and she could not help but smirk.
“If you’d like to think so.” She responded. He grunted at that, smoke trailing out of his nostrils.
“Name’s Fisco Vane.” He stated, nodding at her. “And you’re one Jackie DeCoeur. Or, as I hear, Red-Eyed Jackie.” Ficso snorted. “Not very creative, are they?”
“Well, you know what they say about creativity,” Jackie replied, and Fisco arched an eyebrow in silent question. “it’s only good for solving problems, or causing them.” She clarified. He chuckled humorlessly.
“And whether you solved the problem or caused it depends on who you ask, right?” Fisco pointed out, tapping at his smokey.
“Now you’re catching on.” She sat back in her chair, and folded her arms. Whatever this old man’s game was, it was time she stopped playing it. “But you’re not here for idle chatter. You know who I am, but I’ve never heard of you. What,” and she fixed her eyes directly onto his. “do you want?”
Bored, he sucked at his cigar. The tip glowed placidly. Normally, Jackie had the benefit of making those she dealt with feel uneasy. As the man exhaled, returning the gaze with an ancient and well-practiced look of disinterest, she experienced the feeling herself, instead.
“Imagine my surprise,” he responded, eventually, “when I get wind that the iron market in Verkell has been turned completely inside out, and I’m losing money faster than a Nog drinks it away.”
Oh, it was about that.
“Right - and you want a piece of Jackie’s hide like every other paper-pushing priss down in Verkell.” She replied, beginning to stand. She had dealt with people like this before. People who thought they had the right to her head because their vaults lost a tenth of their contents. Well-
A hand grabbed her shoulder, roughly, and forced her back down into the chair with a grunt. She shot a dirty look at the woman, who smiled sweetly at her. What was worse, she had not even seen her move.
Alright, most of the paper-pushing prisses down in Verkell did not bring demons to the negotiations.
Nothing she could not handle, though.
“Imagine my further surprise,” Fisco continued as if she did not say or do anything, “when I get here to investigate, all that reaches my ears are rumors about a single woman, who single-handedly stole a train, and single-handedly robbed one of the single most well-guarded warehouses of iron in the entirety of the wastes.”
“I’m imagining.” Jackie responded, smirking.
Fisco Vane cracked a smile at that, hollow though it was.
“Good.” He handed the cigar, half-finished, off to Mal, who took it without flinching. It vanished in a puff of black smoke. Jackie tried, and failed, not to calculate how much money this man had just wasted. “See, you’ve put a dent in my operations here-”
“Vane, I’ve got four dozen people looking for my head and all of them are a lot bigger and meaner than you.” Jackie interrupted. Fisco’s gaze remained unimpressed, so she went on. “I can’t let you kill me, it wouldn’t be fair to all of them.” Jackie rapped her knuckles on the table, and smiled sardonically. “Now what do you say we part ways before things get… violent.” Fisco scowled.
“Ok, first thing’s first.” He said, and she saw the first real emotion on his face - anger. He pointed a gloved finger at her, eyes all narrowed in well-managed contempt. “Don’t threaten me.”
“Right now I'm just giving you a friendly warning,” she said, returning his glare, her voice suddenly pointed. Then she gestured at the demons. “But, given that you're apparently the type who lets others do their fighting for them, I suspect that we are going to get to the real threats sooner rather than later. I'd hate to think you sold your soul just to get back at Red-Eyed Jackie DeCoeur, but if you're too much of a coward to face me under your own power-”
Fisco Vane stood, waved his hand, and very suddenly, she could not speak. She clamped her mouth shut and settled for glaring at him instead.
“Malzeth” He said evenly, and the man next to him, who had been flickering in and out of the shadows, nodded. “Lucrecia.” The woman responded in kind. “Leave.” He ordered.
Jackie lunged, the knife she kept in her sleeve sliding easily into her hand.
She met empty air as she leapt over the table.
No, not completely empty. She was surrounded by thick, black smoke, where Fisco Vane had been standing. She tried to growl in frustration, but no sound came out of her mouth. His spell was still in effect, then, but where had the old man gone off too… There!
Jackie dropped her knife.
Fisco Vane materialized out of the smoke, which billowed off of him in great, thick clouds. Similarly, thick waves of palpable fear emanated from him. He was larger than she thought, face full of shadows, coat full of screams. She backed away, mouth working silently, before she inhaled too rapidly and choked on the thick, ashy smoke. No amount of hacking cleared her throat, and she went to one knee, wide-eyes streaming, heart hammering-
Then, there was silence, and the sound of her ragged breathing.
She felt Fisco Vane standing over her, and she glanced up. His hands were clasped behind his back. She could not make out his face in the dim light.
“I face everything,” He informed her lowly, voice sinister. “under my own power.” He unclasped his hands from behind his back, and offered her one. “Now, if you’re done telling me about what I want to do, maybe you’d like to hear what that is?”
Still unable to speak, Jackie considered spitting on his shoes. Of course, no one who knew her ever accused her of stupidity. Instead, she nodded, and took Fisco Vane’s hand. He pulled her up easily, and offered her the chair he had been sitting in. She glared at him, silently willing him to say something about her shaking legs so she had an excuse to hate him more.
“You can talk now.” He informed her as she sat down heavily.
“Choke on a rope.” She replied, lifting her hand in a rude gesture. Fisco cocked an eyebrow.
“Look,” Fisco began, “I know you own the rails out of Verkell. I know you’re still sitting on a fraction of the iron you stole from Brax, and I know you have money…” He paused, scratching his chin. “More money than you know what to do with.”
“...If you’re honestly trying to sell me something, I may ask you to shoot me here and now.” Jackie growled, but shifted uncomfortably in her chair. While it was true she was filthy with gold, she rarely bothered dipping very deeply into that fortune. Sure, she could settle somewhere far from Verkell, live extravagantly off the interest, but… Well, life without the threat of a bullet between the eyes was hardly worth living in her opinion.
“On the contrary, I’m looking for a…” He thought carefully for a moment, then, “business partner.” Jackie scoffed.
“You’ve got an odd way of starting negotiations.” She accused. Fisco shrugged.
“I keep to myself.” He told her. “Malzeth does most of the negotiating for me, usually.”
“I’m flattered.” Her tone made it clear she was anything but. Fisco rubbed at his face, sighing. He finally took a seat of his own, across the table, his back to the balcony - where she had been sitting.
“Look, doll. I needed to make a statement.” He explained. “People have been forgetting who I am, and I can’t have that.”
“I’ve never even heard of you.” Jackie pointed out. Fisco smirked, then, and folded his hands over the table.
“...Haven’t you?” He asked, and Jackie opened her mouth to retort - then stopped. Fisco watched her, eyes hooded, still smirking.
There was only one person. Only one person who would have demons licking at his boots. Only one person with eyes like flint, who could vanish into the dark of night with nothing but the acrid smell of burnt leather. Only one person who could scare an entire stage’n’tap out onto the street with a word.
Only one person who would even think about actually smoking a smokey.
“...You’re pulling my leg.” Jackie murmured, throat dry. Fisco chuckled, reached into his coat, and pulled out another cigar. He lit it with a touch, and placed it in between his teeth. Grey smoke trailed into the air and hung heavy above his head. “...Burn me alive.” Jackie managed. “You’re Ol’ Smokey himself.”
Fisco tipped an imaginary hat.
“Not very creative,” Fisco replied, “are they?”
Jackie licked her suddenly very dry lips.
“Alright, you’ve got to tell me,” Jackie said, leaning forward. “did you really kill an angel?”
There was a beat of silence as Fisco Vane blinked.
“Doll,” he replied, “I’ve killed enough angels to make a living selling pillows stuffed with their feathers.”
And Jackie laughed.
And she laughed, and laughed.
Fisco stared blankly until she finished, smoke curling out of his mouth, and then gestured for an explanation. Jackie took a deep breath, grinning.
“Vane, you’ve been a ghost story since before I was born.” She told him. “I’ve seen grown men skirt entire city blocks at night because they smelled smoke. I once knew a fox that wouldn’t go anywhere near a wood fire. There still isn’t a single soul up in Verkell that goes anywhere near the north edge of the city. And now, you -” Jackie gestured wildly at him, shaking her head. “- Smokey himself, show up in front of me to say you’re looking for a business partner.” She leaned back, then, and folded her arms, chuckling briefly. “I’ve only got one thing to say to that.”
“And what’s that?” Fisco asked indulgently, holding his cigar between two fingers.
“Where do I sign?”
This time, it was Fisco’s turn to laugh.
Jackie quickly learned three things about Fisco Vane.
The first thing she learned was that he disliked stupid questions. She could sympathize with the sentiment, but his definition of a 'stupid question' was broad enough to smother a baloth. He did not talk about anything but business, and anything else fell strictly under the aforementioned stupid questions blanket. It was not that Fisco was particularly touchy about certain subjects, or that he was not willing to indulge her less-than conservative nature, but that he was... efficient. Fisco was not one to waste money, time, or breath, and so, no stupid questions.
The second thing was that Fisco Vane was filthy rich. If she felt like dying, she would probably have set Vane up as the next target for her various illegal activities. She was under the constantly uncomfortable impression, however, that she could rob him blind, take all of his assets out of Verkell, pen all of his operations in the Wastes under her name, and steal the case of cigars he kept in his jacket to boot, and he would still have more money than she had ever seen. She came to this conclusion because he bought Jackie two new pistols. That were inlaid with sangrite. With two dozen sombrax laced bullets.. And he bought them out of pocket, on the spot, no haggling. All Jackie could do when he offered her the guns was take them slowly and chuckle. Gods.
The third thing Jackie learned was that nobody – nobody – denied Fisco Vane anything.
“No.” Jackie denied resolutely as Fisco scowled. “Absolutely not.”
“Look-” He began, and Jackie cut him off.
“Last time I put on one of those,” She told him, gesturing at the offensively silky dress Fisco had presented her. “It was do or die. I'm not wearing one ever again.”
“I can make it do or die.” Fisco threatened lowly, mouth set in a snarl. Jackie looked down at him, nose an inch from his.
“Bury me,” she growled, “in my boots.”
“Gods, DeCoeur.” Fisco muttered, pulling away. He tossed the presumably very expensive, and now, very wrinkled, silk dress to one side. “Haven't you ever worked a crowd before?
“I'm not the epitome of charismatic behavior, Fisco.” She replied, folding her arms and leaning against the wall. Really, she did not think Fisco was going to kill her over something stupid like a dress – efficient, after all – but she could tell he was irritated that she refused to cooperate. “Too much of a temper for the upper crust.” She explained. Fisco pinched the bridge of his nose and squeezed his eyes shut.
At the moment, they were standing in the back of a high-end boutique that was close enough to Verkell to claim it followed the fashions, and far enough away to pretend they were not gouging the prices. The tailor herself, a petite red fox with dextrous hands, had been commissioned beforehand, apparently. How in the sun-blasted, ever-murdering Wastes Fisco had gotten her measurements was beyond Jackie.
“Look.” He said, sighing. “You are the 'upper crust'. I don't care if you think so or not – your near-monopoly of the rails out of Verkell puts you in a decidedly legal position of power over just about every, damned aristocrat in that sun-blasted city.”
“And that legality necessitates the dress, does it?”
“It necessitates,” Fisco stressed the word through gritted teeth, “your appearance at the gala that I have painstakingly coerced several key merchants into attending. You need to strongarm them into selling my product because they can't move anything Wasteward without your say-so.”
“I pictured something a little more exciting than intimidating 'key merchants' when you approached me, Vane.” She shrugged. “Besides, I don't-”
“Manage the rails directly, I know that.” Fisco's fingers twitched against the lapel of his coat, and Jackie figured he was craving a cigar. But it would be difficult to keep a low profile with a Smokey sticking out of his mouth, and Jackie knew that he knew that. “I've already got the paperwork drafted up from your managers at the railhouses. They have orders to cease loading specifically marked goods assuming the papers are returned to them - signed by you.” Jackie snorted.
“Sure it's not me you're working for, Vane?” She remarked. Fisco glared at her, but she had learned after their first meeting when he meant his threats and when he did not. Her gaze was flat and even. “No, really – why am I here? Sure, it's been funny running around playing dress-up, but you've already proven you don't need me. Business partner? It's nearly been a week, and we've done nothing but plan a party. I've been watching you work, and I've seen what you can do. If you wanted the rails under your control...” She rolled off of the wall with her shoulders, and put her hands in her pockets. “...why not just take them from me?”
Fisco stared at her like she was stupid, and, in hindsight, she had probably let her pessimism and mistrust of Ol' Smokey get the better of her.
“I told you I had a chat with Presto, right?” Fisco asked, and though it was mostly rhetorical, Jackie nodded anyway. “Smart fellow, didn't have to lean on him much to get him talking about you – but that was only because I told him I wasn't trying to kill you.”
“He always was a gullible old cuss.” Jackie muttered fondly. Fisco grunted.
“Didn't have to persuade him much after that.” Fisco went on. “You've got people who want you dead, sure, but you've also got people who like you. People who are loyal to you, and they're that way for a reason. And that reason, I reason, is because you,” he nodded, “treat them right. You're a killer, a thief, and outlaw – really, who in the Wastes isn't? - but you've got the back of the people who have yours.” Jackie felt her eyebrows raise of their own accord. Was that a compliment? Fisco's glare snapped back into place, and he took a step forward. “We're 'playing dress-up' because I want this to go smoothly.” He jerked his head at the forgotten dress. “But it won't. It never does. I chose you, not because of the rails, but because I need someone at my back who isn't going to stab it.”
There was a brief, uncomfortable silence.
“I'm touched.” Jackie drawled sarcastically.
“Don't be.” Fisco replied, shrugging. “If I think for a second you'll cross me, I will bury you.” He glanced at her feet. “Boots and all.”
“Right.” She glanced at the dress, and grimaced. “I'm still not wearing it.”
Fisco pressed his eyes into his palms, sighing in disgust. Luckily, she was saved from his continued displeasure by a high-pitched shriek, followed by Lucy materializing in a swirl of shadow and the tailor being thrown on the ground in front of them. Jacke had gone immediately for her gun when she heard the scream, and when she looked from the fox on the floor to Fisco, she saw he had one out as well.
She... had not been aware he was armed.
“Hey, boss.” Lucy gave that empty, dimpled, black-eyed smile that made Jackie's skin crawl. Fisco just grunted. The tailor had begun to scoot away as Lucy spoke, and Fisco pointed the gun distractedly at the fox. Lucy continued. “Strangest thing – she had a direct line to Verkell upstairs! Had some stories to tell about Miss Jackie over here.” Fisco nodded.
“Get Mal. Secure the shop, drive out any more customers.” Fisco ordered as the tailor began whimpering. He scowled at the fox, but turned his attention to Jackie as Lucy vanished. “Nothing ever goes smoothly, doll. Never, ever does.”
“I got all that iron pretty smoothly.” She pointed out. Fisco snorted, and crouched next to the fox. Before he could talk, though, Jackie cleared her throat, and holstered her weapon. “Allow me.” She offered.
Fisco stood, and stepped back, pulling out a cigar. Wastebound showoff. The fox's eyes widened.
“All yours, Red-Eyes.” He turned his back as Jackie suppressed a laugh. Fisco Vane certainly had a flair for the dramatic. Jackie grabbed the fox by the collar and deposited her squarely on her feet.
“Who were you talking to?” She demanded, staring the fox down. The fox, of course, had started crying and backing away. The smell of smoke had just crept over to wear Jackie had the fox cornered, and the unfortunate tailor began weeping frantically.
“Oh, no. No, no, no!” The tailor shrieked, eyes wide with terror. Jackie sighed.
“You're stealing my thunder here, Smokey!” Jackie shouted over her shoulder. Fisco let out a bark of laughter, but that was his only reply. Jackie growled, and turned on the fox, shaking her until she was paying attention again. “Right, it's obvious you're on the wrong side of this deal, because you're dealing with Ol' Smokey himself and Jackie Decoeur, so can we both agree that you've made the biggest mistake of your tragically short life and talk about this like respectable adults?”
The fox babbled something incoherently.
“How,” Jackie shouted over her shoulder again, this time louder, and more frustrated, “do you get any information when their gibbering like heat-addled idiots!”
“They're usually more willing to talk to the demons!” Fisco called back from somewhere behind her, farther away this time. Which caused the Fox to blubber even more incoherently. This was a train wreck – and Jackie knew a thing or two about those.
“I am going to give you ten seconds to shut up and calm down, or I can't guarantee Smokey won't just sic his demons to pull the secrets from your soul.” Jackie threatened the tailor slowly, then, “Ten... Nine... Eight...”
The fox managed to collect herself around four, still hiccuping occasionally.
“Who were you talking to?” Jackie asked again, folding her arms.
“T-they asked me to k-keep an eye out f-for you, in case you came by, w-which I thought was c-crazy because R-red-Eyed J-jackie doesn't buy c-clothes-”
“They?” Jackie interrupted. The tailor nodded repeatedly, eyes squeezed shut.
“Th-the Union. M-merchant's Union. I j-joined up last month and th-they've been trying to t-track you down ever since y-you... I d-didn't know you h-had it in w-w-with Ol' Smokey!” And the tailor began weeping incoherently again, so Jackie sighed and left her to it. Merchant's Union... she had not heard of it, but if it had been around for a month... She turned and left the fox to her weeping.
“Vane!” She called, “Does the Merchant's Union ring any bells to you?”
“Yes.” Fisco stepped out of a back room with a book in one hand. He raised the book. “I figured it was them. She,” he nodded at the fox. “keeps detailed notes.”
“Who are they?”
“The key merchants I mentioned earlier.” He explained.
“...And why are they looking for me?”
Fisco opened the book briefly.
“I think they want you to join.”
Jackie thought about that for a moment, then walked back over to the tailor. After not being immediately and messily murdered, she seemed to have calm down a little more, even if she was still sitting on the floor, scared and dejected. Jackie crouched in front of her.
“I'm going to go meet with your bosses.” Jackie told her, smiling mischievously. “And I want to look good for the occasion, so here's what you're going to do...”
|Author:||M:EM Archivist [ Mon Aug 04, 2014 7:53 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Re: A Moral Compass [Fisco Vane][Jackie DeCoeur][Jakkard][Public]|
And that was how she ended up stepping out of a lacquered acridian-drawn carriage wearing a slimming, black dinner jacket and slacks that gave the illusion her legs were far longer than they really were. She could not say she approved of the attire - it would wear out in only a few hours of hard riding, so it was practically worthless - she was glad she could actually hide her guns in the jacket. Her hair was pulled back into a tail, and she had spruced up one of her better hats for the occasion. Fisco had looked her over once, shrugged, and that was that.
She did not mention she was still wearing her regular boots, and neither did he.
For his part, Fisco dressed almost exactly like he always did. Expensively. She had a sneaking suspicion that the accents on his jacket were horse hair, and she did not even want to fathom the absolutely staggering amount of gold that would have cost him. He stepped out of the carriage behind her and muttered something to Mal. The demon, who was posing as the driver, nodded, whipped his reins, and was off onto the main road.
Fisco glanced at Jackie.
The night was hot, of course. The faint lamplight of the mansion courtyard they had rolled up in did little to reveal what he was thinking. Jackie bowed dramatically to him.
“Age before beauty, Vane.”
He snorted, and obliged. Jackie followed him up the stone steps and towards the front door, hands in her pockets.
“Names?” Asked a decidedly pompous centaur that Jackie had the urge to punch immediately in the teeth. In a staggering display of self control, she smiled cheekily at him instead.
“Jackie Decoeur.” She tipped her hat, bringing the shade off her eyes. The centaur suppressed a startled whinny. “Plus one.” Fisco did not react. The centaur nodded, cleared his throat, and stepped aside. “Oh, um, yes, Miss Decoeur. You are, uh… expected. Welcome, welcome.” He trotted to one side, eyes flickering to Fisco. Vane gave his best, winning smile, and the centaur wisely decided not to ask any questions.
“First time I’ve come into one of these things though the front door.” Jackie murmured to Fisco as they walked up a small flight of steps.
“Didn’t take you for a partygoer.” Fisco remarked.
“Sure I am.” She said as they reached an impressive set of oaken doors. A nog, standing to one side, ducked her head and opened the door for them. “Everyone always wears the nicest jewelry...”
Fisco chuckled, and they entered the ballroom.
It was all very impressive, in the sort of way that made Jackie’s eyes flash with greed. She remembered Fisco mentioning who owned the manor, but she could not remember much about them except for that it was some old fox. She wished she had paid more attention - it would be worth casing this place later.
The majority of those in attendance were foxes. A smattering of humans made their way around the room, either dressed as guests or in the uniform black of the service staff. The low hum of polite conversation filled the air as she gazed lazily about.
“The nog over there is Harmon.” Fisco murmured, nodding towards a wizened nog who was braying at a joke she could not hear. A lopsided pair of glasses adorned his snout, and his mane was gray and unkempt. Those around him seemed to be tolerating his presence, but no doubt wished he would just go away by the looks on their faces. “Makes a living selling brass instruments. Crafts them himself. His store is near central Verkell - little antiquities shop, you know the kind. Sells his instruments, trinkets, liquor, wine…” Fisco trailed off meaningfully.
“Cigars?” Jackie supplied smoothly, and Fisco hummed in acknowledgement.
“One can hope.” Something caught his eye across the room, but she had trouble following his line of sight, because he immediately snapped his attention back to her. “Start with him. You know the plan.”
She watched him walk away curiously, then sighed. Already she could see several of the partygoers eyeing her with interest. It was going to be a long night, so she decided she may as well get started. She headed for Harmon.
It took her a mortal hour to get there.
For someone who was within throwing distance, this struck her as ridiculous. But the moment she had stepped forward, she had been practically swarmed with polite greetings and introductions to various people she would not be caught dead with in public. Given the very public nature of the event, Jackie momentarily mourned the death of her reputation as she replied with each advance with an increasingly brittle smile and stilted response.
The worst part was, every other person inquired about the railroads. How was business? The lines to the south, what was the asking price per car? How long would a shipment out to Bull Mountain take, and could the time be doubled? Jackie had a head for business, in that she knew who best to hit and when, but these particulars were outside of her depth. She caught herself glaring fatally at Fisco several times. The man himself had taken to the party like a snake to sand, grinning, laughing, and - gods, he wore that mask well. She wondered how someone so terminally ill-tempered managed it.
Maybe he would teach her a few of his tricks, because this was ridiculous.
When she finally managed to verbally fight her way through to the nog, she was in a foul mood. She was glad Fisco had let her bring her guns, but that had the side-effect of making her feel the need to pull them more than once. As it was, she found herself scowling down at the old nog, who was much shorter than she was, before she corrected herself and held out a hand.
“Jackie DeCoeur.” She managed with the barest minimum of politeness. Harmon blinked owlishly at her before honking and shaking her hand heartily.
“Harmon!” He greeted. “Ix. Harmon Ix, it’s a pleasure Miss Jackie. I said, I told them, I said, ‘they should really make a point of inviting that lovely Miss DeCoeur to our little gala this evening’, and there was such a fuss!” His small body shook with delighted laughter as Jackie raised an eyebrow. “A fuss, I say! Never seen so many foxes go for their handkerchiefs at once.” Jackie smiled slowly.
“I’m not very popular, I imagine.” She told him, and he nickered.
“Oh, not at all, I say. Not at all.” He shrugged. “Frightened our fussy fox friends, no doubt, no doubt.” He glanced around, completely unsubtle, before leaning forward and muttering conspiratorily. “Between you and me - me and you, that is - I was going under before the iron market opened up. Mighty thankful for that bit of business, mighty thankful.”
“Thankful enough for another bit of business?” She asked carefully. “I’ve got some merchandise I’m looking to move and I’d appreciate if you sold it for me.”
“Miss Jackie.” The nog said, oddly and suddenly solemn. “You send me that merchandise. I say, you send me that merchandise tomorrow, and I will buy it there and then!”
...That had been easy.
“...Just like that.” Jackie asked, suspicious. “No questions asked?” Harmon harrumphed.
“Not a question asked of you, I say, and not a question asked of me!” His eyes twinkled as he grinned widely at her. “The fussy foxes may not like Jackie Decoeur, but your little rail operation is the best thing to happen to Verkell since the wastes opened up. I say, real opportunities for the poor. Real opportunities, because you’re fair. And that, I say, and that is what the Merchant’s Guild is - or should be - all about!”
“Opportunities?” Jacke asked, admittedly surprised by the nog.
“Fairness.” Harmon clarified, snagging a drink off a passing staff member. He drained it almost faster than she could follow, throat bobbing.
“Miss DeCoeur.” Fisco’s voice cut into the conversation so smoothly that it took her a moment to recognize it. “A moment of your time?” She nodded, and apologized briefly to Harmon, who waved her away good-naturedly. Admittedly, he had provided the most interesting conversation she had thus far.
Granted, that was not saying much.
“This,” Jackie murmured to Fisco emphatically, “was an awful idea. I think I hate everyone here.”
“Quiet.” Fisco ordered sharply, quietly. Jackie was in just a poor enough mood to be irritated by it, but Fisco continued to talk before she could express her displeasure. “We’ve got trouble.” Jackie bit her tongue.
“What kind of trouble?” She asked lowly instead.
“Outside. Two bulls and a vash. Then there’s the sorry cuss over by the staff entrance that’s been glowering at you since we arrived.” As he talked, he feigned a smile and gestured to the opposite side of the room, away from the man in question. Jackie did not turn to look at him, and was sorry to say that she had not yet noticed.
“I’ve been getting ornery looks for an hour, Vane.” Jackie deadpanned. “What makes him so special?”
“The fact that no one knows who he is or what he’s here for.” He laughed, a sound which, up close, sounded fake, and clapped Jackie on the shoulder. “I haven’t been completely honest with you.”
“I hadn’t expected you to be.” She informed him, smirking. “What, got a guilty conscience?”
“Someone,” Fisco continued pointedly. “has got it out for the Merchant’s Guild. I figured If I got enough of them into one place, I’d be able to flush out some action and get some answers - and by the looks of it, I have.” He scratched at his ear, then smiled at a passing woman. “Mal got a hold of the vash outside.” Jackie winced. “Said the plan was to burn this place to ash with everyone inside - but they won’t do it as long as you’re here.”
“I don’t know!” Fisco hissed irately, then shortly reasserted his facade. “All the vash knew was that they have orders to keep you alive and leave you alone.”
“Awfully kind of them.” Jackie remarked, and Fisco snorted.
“Worst part is, I don’t even know where this Merchant’s Guild cropped up from.” Fisco muttered, reaching up to run a gloved hand through his oiled hair. He stopped short, however, sighing. “One day, everyone’s squabbling for a profit, and the next, a whole slew of Verkell’s wealthiest are trying to protect one another’s interest - out of, what, benevolence?”
“Harmon seemed pretty sincere.” Jackie informed him, shrugging. Fisco snorted, paused, and then laughed lightly, shaking his head.
“Gods, DeCoeur, but you take all this in stride.” He murmured.
“It’s just - this all doesn’t affect me much.” She gestured around the room. “Sort of nice knowing I’m the only thing keeping these people alive, though. Too bad I can’t blackmail them with it.” Fisco chuckled again, rubbing at his neck. Again, he sighed.
“Well, someone is playing a long game, here. And someone else is playing against them. But I’ll be damned if I know who it is, or what the stakes are.”
“Let me guess,” Jackie said, folding her arms. “you want to find out?”
“No.” Fisco told her quietly, eyes troubled and distant. “I want to stay out of their way.” Jackie was only barely successful in hiding her surprise.
“Something got you spooked, Vane? I didn’t take you for-”
She was interrupted at that moment by the sounds of all hell breaking loose.
First, there was a wordless shout from Vane as he shoved her to one side and simultaneously reached into his coat. After that, however, there was mostly just screaming and gunfire. Fisco had thrown her off-balance - he was surprisingly strong - and when she regained her feet, guns in hand, Fisco was on the ground. Another few gunshots sounded, and she whirled around, keeping low.
Almost directly behind her was a corpse with a single hole in the head. Their gun was a few feet away, partially concealed by the panicked, running feet of the gathered merchants. Jackie swore Fisco Vane for a fool, then scanned the room for more shooters.
Looks like the minotaurs Fisco had mentioned earlier had barged in, bellowing and - what in the wastes was that? It was - Jackie felt the blood drain from her face as she recognized it.
It looked almost exactly like Presto’s Machine. Smaller, yes, and most certainly for a different purpose, but the similarities were terrifying. There was no strange accordion-like lift, but…
Without much thought, she fired both pistols at the minotaurs. She must have hit them at least once, because one burst into flame and the other flew through the wooden wall. She could only hope that had been enough to stop them from turning the blasted thing on...
Gods, that waste-awful clattering.
She threw her guns on the ground.
Jackie whirled around, and in one smooth motion, lifted Fisco over her shoulder and made for the window. She heard Fisco grunt against her shoulder, so at least that confirmed he was still alive, but something warm was seeping into her brand-new jacket. Really, after all the trouble she had gone through…
There was a small explosion behind her. Briefly, Jackie prayed that all the rumors about having a demon’s luck were true, and leapt out of the window.
She followed the shattered glass twenty feet downwards, riding the heat and roar of an explosion behind her. She could see the ground, illuminated, far below her, and the fire in the mansion reflecting off the cascading shards. Time slowed down for a moment, then the ground rushed up to meet her, and she knew no more.
When she came to, she was no longer wearing her boots.
This was the first thing she noticed, because she had expected both her legs to be broken, but the only thing she felt were her feet exposed to open air. She opened her eyes, and looked around.
As far as waking up after near-death experiences went, this was not so bad. Everything was dusty, but the bed she was laying on was sturdy. It looked like the room of some sorry tavern. Her hat was nowhere to be seen. Her jacket - suspiciously, not bloodstained - was folded neatly on a wooden chair across the room. Standing in the corner beside it, was Lucy.
“You sleep soundly for demonspawn.” Lucy informed her immediately, voice strangely solemn and menacing. Jackie cocked an eyebrow, but did not particularly feel up to antagonizing the demon. She could feel the weight of exhaustion deep within her bones.
“Where am I?” She asked instead.
“Safehouse.” Lucy told her, and then, abruptly, grinned cheekily. “The boss is downstairs. Said you should come down when you’ve collected yourself.”
So, Fisco had survived after all. That explained the warm reception from Lucy - she doubted she would have lived very long, what with being unconscious and having demons hovering about her. Lucy vanished after that, and Jackie sighed. Better to not keep the old man waiting.
She found her boots beside the bed, and slid them back on, before heading out the door.
The hallway was old, and also dusty. Fisco probably did not use this place much, but it looked like her suspicions had been correct. This looked exactly like some sorry tavern. She headed for the stairs, and paused when she heard voice.
“...’m fine.” It was Fisco, and he sounded as grumpy as usual. “Should see the other guy.”
“Very well.” This voice, Jackie did not recognize. It was clipped and formal. She tried to peer down the steps to get a better view. “Try not to strain yourself.” Jackie creeped a few steps closer. It was definitely a woman talking, and her curiosity had been piqued.
“Right, right.” Fisco muttered off-handedly, and - was that an angel?
Jackie must have made a surprised noise, because both Fisco and the angel immediately turned to look at her. The angel was dressed in black armor, with her hands folded neatly behind her back and her wings folded above those. She did not react to Jackie’s presence other than to gaze at her. Fisco rolled his eyes.
“I’ll be along shortly - Fiora, I think.” He muttered to the angel, who nodded, and vanished as Fisco waved his hand. Jackie opened her mouth, and then decided that she was much, much too tired for this, so she just closed it and walked forward.
“I’m going to get a drink.” She informed Fisco flatly, looking around for the bar. Fortunately, there was one - she just hoped it was stocked. Fisco did not inform her otherwise, so, prospects were good. He seemed to be in good health, from what she could see. He had changed his clothes since she had last seen him.
He followed Jackie over to the bar, and sat down at it. She moved to the other side and began rummaging around for something with alcohol in it.
“So what happened?” She asked as she searched. She heard Fisco put his elbows on the bar with a thump, and then a heavy sigh.
“Some sort of assassin. Recognized them as a merchant, but didn’t think they had a gun or the guts to pull it. Don’t know who put them up to it, though.” Jackie paused in her search momentarily.
“So, we’re back to square one.” She muttered, shaking her head.
“Looks that way.” He muttered, and she heard the fluttering of a small flame, and shortly after, smelled smoke. “June used to keep his best stuff beneath the stool. Hidden hatch.” He informed her.
“June?” She asked as she moved the stool to one side and searched the floor.
“Centaur who used to run this place.” She heard him drumming his fingers on the bar as she found the hatch and flipped it up. “Passed away last month.”
“My condolences.” Jackie told him, resurfacing from behind the bar with two bottles of whiskey. Premium vash Honeyswill. “But your friend had excellent taste.”
She pulled two glasses down from behind the counter and blew the dust off of them before uncorking the whiskey.
“So, that bullet was meant for me.” Jackie stated, pouring herself a glass. Fisco said nothing, just puffed at his cigar. “And I’m guessing I wasn’t in such good shape when we got here.” Again, Fisco was silent. “And I’m guessing you had your mystery angel friend patch me up.”
“Get to the point, DeCoeur.” Fisco growled.
“I don’t have a point, just stating some facts.” She tipped her head back and poured down the drink, wincing a little as the liquor burned her throat. “You’ve got a strange moral compass, Smokey.”
“I don’t have a moral compass, Red-Eyes.” Fisco muttered.
You’ve got one alright, it’s just a little off North.” Fisco’s eyebrow twitched, but he continued to stare behind her. “We have that in common.” Fisco’s eyes flicked to her briefly.
“Is that so?” He muttered introspectively. Jackie shrugged.
“I don't know how yours has worked out for you.” She paused thoughtfully. “I figure mine has cost me more gold than I can count, a tooth, and three bullets in places you don't want bullets.”
She pulled the stool over and sat down across from Fisco, offering him the bottle of whiskey - which, after a moment's hesitation, he took.
“You got off cheap.” He murmured, and poured himself a drink.
“That's what I've always been afraid of.” She replied with a sigh.
They finished off the dead man’s bottle in silence.
“You’ve still got product to move?” Jackie asked, eventually. Fisco nodded, leaning onto his elbows. “...You want me to move it?” She offered.
Fisco laughed bitterly.
“I have,” he stated slowly. “Six dozen crates of cigars, and no one to ship them to.”
“Sounds like a challenge, Smokey.” She pointed out with a grin. Fisco sat up straighter, and looked her in the eye.
“Let me cut you a deal, Jackie DeCoeur.” He took a long draw from his cigar, and then exhaled. “You move every last one of my crates in two months time, and you can keep all the profit.” He offered his hand.
“And if I can’t?” She asked.
“I get your boots.”
Jackie laughed loudly as they shook on it.
Fisco stood from the bar, and snapped his fingers. Immediately, Mal and Lucy materialized out of the shadows. Lucy was grinning like a maniac, of course, and it was difficult to tell exactly who Mal was trying to murder with his gaze. Fisco flicked his cigar onto the ground, and stomped it out.
“You two work for Miss DeCoeur while I’m away.” He told them, and Jackie blanched.
“Now, wait a minute-” Jackie began, standing up. Fisco held up his hand for silence.
“You answer to her and she answers to me. Do whatever she says, and keep me in mind while you’re doing it, because I don’t want to show back up here and be unhappy.” He looked meaningfully between the two demons. “Am I clear?”
“Crystal.” Mal snarled through gritted teeth.
“You got it, boss!” Lucy chirped, soulless eyes resting malevolently on Jackie. She swallowed.
“Good.” He turned back to Jackie, fishing for something in his pocket. “You’ll need this.” It was a small, gold coin, with a hole in the center. She hardly looked at it.
“Vane, I’m not sure I want to be saddled with-” She began again, but he flipped the coin at her and she had to stop talking to catch it.
“Mal and Lucy do good work. You won’t be sorry. And hopefully,” he said smirking, “neither will I.” And with that, he turned to leave.
“Put a fire in the coin if you need me.” He called behind him.
“Where are you going?” Jackie shouted angrily, tired of being ignored. Fisco glanced over his shoulder as he reached the door.
“Come on now, doll,” he drawled, “do you really think Jakkard is the only place Old Smokey runs a business?”
And with that, he vanished.
Jackie stared at the empty space, then at the demons, then back at the door.
“Your boss,” she told them, “is a showboating pile of acridian dung.” Lucy laughed, but Mal only settled back into his comfortable grimace. Jackie sighed, picked up the unopened bottle of whiskey, and uncorked it with one hand. She drained half of it in one go, and smiled evilly at the two demons when she paused for breath.
“Right then, you two.” She growled. “Let’s see what sort of mischief we can get up to.”
And as she led the demons out of the old tavern, she wondered idly what stories they would be telling about Red-Eyed Jackie DeCoeur next.
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