Making Lots of New Friends

A suspicious mind is a healthy mind!
— Evocation to the Immortal Emperor

The acolytes hear half-a-dozen not-too-stealthy footsteps come up the stairs, and quietly loosen their weapons. The door bursts down and half-a-dozen ratty thugs armed with pipe lengths and assorted blunt weapons charge in. The acolytes are grazed but Calpurnia slashes a large and ugly brute in return, left and right, and slays him. Aenid repeatedly fires her shotgun at close quarters, sending a red mist as she cuts another ganger in half — and seriously damages the flimsy hotel. At this point, the three remaining invaders try to flee in a panic. One makes it out until Calpurnia shoots him in the stairs. Another trips over a dead body, and the third in pinned back; these two are captured.

"Draylock sent us! It was Draylock!" the two prisoners wail. Downstairs, they hear the front door slam; through the holes in the wall, they see Draylock's wife run off into the night. A moment later they hear he muffled scream, then no more.

While Rollando goes looking for Draylock and Aenid stands guard, Calpurnia interrogates the prisoners, Mord and Lug. She learns that Sykes the Reclamator apparently is the guy who knows everything and everyone. Aenid is pretty sure these are not hardcore gangers, just out-of-work scavengers. They say the entire district is haunted; people started disappearing since the Blackout Fire and everyone is afraid to speak. They say the ghosts are rumoured to have glowing red eyes.

Rollando finds Draylock downstairs in his office and drags him upstairs; Aenid can tell he's stoned on spiral black, a cheap derivative of obscura. He wearily admits that he sent the thugs to kill his guests, because he thought he would earn more this way than from their short stay.

According to Aenid's excellent knowledge of Imperial Law suggests that the Tantallus Combine has not provided the minimum care and protection it should have to its many remaining indentured servants — perhaps as many as a few thousands. Mord reveals that the Tantallus Combine still has a rudimentary alms house operated by a guy named Moran, who provides gruel once a day. No one likes him much. Calpurnia agrees to keep the prisoners under the protection of Corblast Assay for the moment.

The rest of the night passes uneventfully, and in the morning Draylock is a little more coherent and looking shifty. He's trying to cut a deal; he has a tale of body-snatchers and confirms that scores of people have gone missing. People desperately want to leave, and the Magistratum does nothing; even Narco Boss Luntz over at the Third Workers' Union won't do a thing. Calpurnia reluctantly agrees to promise to let Draylock live and to have Corblast Assay buy his contract if his information turns out to be useful.

With directions from Mord and Lug, they head for HabStack 717, where Lily Arblast lives. They walk past the transit station, and notice a new sign that says "Track closed for maintenance." HabStack 717 is now decrepit but they can still see defaced murals representing happy workers under the kind gaze of nobles dispensing bounty.

Under a piece of furniture, they find a trembling woman in a house coat, hiding. Rollando and Aenid turn on the charm while Calpurnia tries not to look too threatening. Asked who were her brother's associates, Lily says he typically hung out at the Third Workers' Union, which is actually a bar, and occasion to the alms house — both of which she finds shady and creepy. She says this is her brother's dormitory, she was here for the night in the hopes that he would come back but when she tried to go back to her own apartment, she found that someone had broken in and ransacked the place, so she came back to hide here.

She tells them to speak to Everd Zed, one of Saul's friends. She had seen him recently but saw him the previous day at the templum when she went to light a candle for Saul. She thinks he drinks with the cleric there.

They try to think of place to hide her safely, and debate talking to the Magistratum. Lily mentions that when she had approached Warden Locan in the market, he was actually helpful after a first refusal. Since Lily is skilled as an Adept in accounting and bureaucracy, the acolytes decide to rent her contract from her current employer so they can justify her protection.

They go the market and easily spot Warden Locan, but to Aenid's practiced eye, he's clearly stoned on obscura. The acolytes and their retinue follow him for a while, waiting for him to sober up, but soon they find themselves followed by enforcers from the Magistratum. Rollando approaches them cheerfully but they try to shoo him off. He "accidentally" trips one to slow them down; as they are about to close up on him, he throws a handful of thrones (coins) in the air. This creates a frenzy in the surrounding crowd of paupers, and a handy distraction.

Meanwhile, Aenid approaches Warden Locan to ask access to the Magistratum's communication system. He's still pretty blurry and tells her the Magistratum's vox-coder is not working. He does not want to admit to having reported Saul Arbest's death, but he allows himself to be led by Aenid, back to the Coscarla Hostel where the rest of the group also heads back. They find Draylock dead, and replaced as "owner" of the "inn."

When he sees Lily there, Locan pales. He wants the acolytes to let him leave before he gets killed along with them. He doesn't know who calls the shots, but he says every single one of his men has been replaced and the newcomers are killers, not magistrates. He was a junior officer at the time of the Blackout Fires. Although the Tantallus Combine had built a good alms house, after the fire it was gradually nearly abandoned as services were shut down. He does not know why his report on Saul Arbest's disappearance made it "out", but not his other reports.

They finally agree to let Warden Locan go, in the hopes that whoever wanted him alive until now will continue to feel that way. They let him out the back door while providing a distraction at the front door, in case.

After she is alone with her two colleagues, Calpurnia shares a suspicion: perhaps the reason Saul Arbest's case was reported is that whatever he was used to smuggle was missing at the arrival point. She even suggests that Medicae Interrogator Sand himself could be unreliable. Certainly, he instructed them to keep complete silence on their investigation, and since they arrived at Port Wander so early, they will not be missed for many months if they disappear.

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