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The Skin Trade, part 2

by Marco Dalmonte

Willie Meets Armon

If the PCs decide to contact Wilhelm afterwards (this happens if Antares informs them of his existence and of their talk or if Antares herself wants to see him again), they can go to his house (Antares knows where he lived, and she's lucky since he never moved). Once they arrive they see it's a huge run-down building (see "Feuerbach House" section for a better description) near other warehouses and that there is a large black coach waiting in a nearby alley. After a couple of minutes a door opens on the alleyway where the coach is waiting and three people exit: one is Willie, while the other two are an old elegant man with a walking cane and a tall man with dirty blonde hair and a clumsy walk. The old man is talking to Willie and pointing his cane at him: he seems irritated and used at giving orders to others expecting to be obeyed, but Willie doesn't seem intentioned to satisfy him. The other man suddenly leaps towards Willie and grabs him by the collar, lifting him from the pavement with ease. Willie seems very frightened and tries to free himself but at no avail. The PCs can try to intervene or simply go on watching: in the first case, the old man orders the younger and stronger one to drop Willie when he spots the PCs and then enters the carriage followed by the other one, ordering the driver to leave. In the second case, the same scene happens just a few minutes after, even without the PCs intervention.

If the PCs approach Willie after the duo's departure and question him about them or about his real relationship with Giovanna Lizzieni, he backs away uttering something like: "Got much work to do now, we'll talk tomorrow!" and enters the house, closing and bolting the door behind him. No matter what the PCs will do, he won't open until they go away. They cannot do anything more here.

DMs Notes

Even though theoretically the PCs couldn't enter Willie's house since he closed every possible means of entrance, the PCs are renowned for coming up with unexpected solutions and they could even manage to sneak into the building to confront Willie. If this happens, refer to Willie's behaviour in the section "Fright in the Night" below. Obviously, what he reveals at this point won't be repeated once the "Fright in the Night" events occur.


Dinner Party

It is recommended at this point that some of the male PCs have made the acquaintance of the Aretus twins (Cassandra and Angela) and have caught their attention during previous encounters while staying in town. Tonight, the two girls officially invite the two most attractive males of the party (or those who impressed them in the precedent days, anyway) to a dinner at their own house, maybe to repay them for some courtesy or simply to know them better. Early in the evening, a coach approaches Thuriman House and the Aretus' majordomo exits, delivering a scroll with an official invitation for the two PCs to Aretus Mansion. His master, Lord Aretus, has sent him to fetch the two guests and accompany them to the mansion. Even if the party has other plans for tonight (for example sneaking inside Lizzieni House or inside the Morgue), the two PCs should realise that this is an important opportunity to make a good impression on two good-looking and wealthy girls, and should thereby excuse themselves with the other friends and go to the dinner as requested. The DM is encouraged to use the majordomo, Ariovistus, to reinforce on the PC the feeling that a refusal won't please the two girls and will surely annoy their father, who is a most influent man inside the community.

If the PCs go to the dinner, Cassandra and Angela show them great attentions, but each one in her own ways. Cassandra is more direct and sometimes even embarrassing with her advances, while Angela remains more silent, acting gently and blushing with delight almost every time one of the PCs praises her. The PCs also meet Lord Augustus Aretus, who questions them about their careers and heritage. If the PCs somehow tell him that they are renowned adventurers (which might be true or not, depending on the campaign), or better that they have noble bloodlines, he immediately sympathises with them, encouraging the two to spend more time with his daughters and trusting them as loyal "henchmen". If questioned about his job and status, Lord Aretus tells them that he is a wealthy merchant (he sells manufactured products throughout the country) and that he descends from a noble family which lost his lands due to machinations of the politicians of the country (in Darokin, this happened after the Great Merger which abolished feudal law inside the Republic).

Sometime during the dinner (at about ten in the night), visitors arrive to Aretus Mansion and are warmly received by Lord Aretus and his daughters, who also introduce the PCs to the two newcomers. One is an aged but very elegant man with a noble gait and a piercing gaze holding a black walking cane with a wolf shaped golden head. The other one is a large man of indefinable age, his visage being that of a youth on the body of an adult. The most disturbing feature of this man is the expression of his face: watery grey eyes staring at nothing with a hardened expression betray an abnormal mind. The new guests are Johann and Stephan Armon, father and son (though the resemblance is tenuous at best), the last members of the most wealthy and prominent family of the town ever since the first settlers came to the region. The twins briefly talk about the PCs' virtues and deeds (if they mentioned any) clearly trying to impress the Armons. However, only the old man seems to take their words into consideration, while Stephan is completely lost in his thoughts (even though the PCs can notice that now he's staring directly at Angela with some sort of grin on his face). Johann Armon gives a swift gaze at the PCs and sketches a compliant smile, then excuses himself and enters another room together with Augustus Aretus to discuss "pressing matters", leaving the PCs and the twins with his son. Soon an embarrassing silence envelops the room, but Cassandra breaks it by resuming the conversation with the PCs. Stephan would seem a flesh statue was it not for his eyes, which are always fixed on Angela following her wherever she moves. No matter what the PCs do or where they go, Stephan is always close to the girls staring at them in dumb silence: he doesn't speak unless addressed by the twins (and they have no intention of doing so). Some minutes after, the two old men return and Lord Aretus calls his daughters to the other corner of the room, where they have a quick private talk. Meanwhile, old Armon tries to know the PCs a bit better, with specific questions about the cause of their presence in town and about the other members of the party (if they mention them).

The PCs can (if they deliberately state it) try to look at the dialogue among the Aretus to catch a few words (maybe more with a Lip Reading proficiency check). The twins seem particularly upset, and while Cassandra vehemently protests with his father, Angela remains silent, glancing a few times at Stephan in fear. After a while the Aretus return and Lord Aretus tells Armon that he is sorry but he has to decline his kind offer (he doesn't specify what kind of offer he made and if asked later by the PCs he tells them it was a "business deal"). Armon seems displeased and sorry at the same time, while his son's eyes for the first time betray an intense hatred (Int check), though it is difficult to know who or what caused it since he's staring again at the wall now. Johann Armon then accepts the decision and bids the Aretus and the PCs farewell, exiting the house followed by his son.

If the PCs ask Lord Aretus or the twins about Armon, they only tell them that he's a very important person inside the town and they go on magnifying his virtues and intelligence without revealing anything more. If they ask the twins about Stephan, they tell them that he is completely loyal to his father and possesses the strength of a bear... but the brain of a small child. Apparently, he was born mentally weak and now lives in the shadow of his father. There is no future for the Armon family under Stephan's rule, and the old man knows it. For this reason Johann Armon has often tried to have Stephan marry one of the Aretus twins (Stephan seems to like Angela in particular), thus unifying the two houses, but the twins have always refused because Stephan scares them. If the PCs ask the twins about the "business proposal" Armon mentioned this evening, Cassandra (the one who normally speaks most) remains very vague, but in the end she says that it probably was a masked marriage proposal, without adding anything more. The topic is then considered closed.

The evening passes smoothly after this event, and it should be clear for the PCs that the girls feel now very close to the two. The two should start thinking about an official engagement with two of the most pampered heiresses of the community.

If the PCs don't go to the dinner, the Aretus family is really disappointed and cuts any further relationship with the party for this offence.

Fright in the Night

Right in the middle of the night, somebody starts battering on the door of Thuriman House. When the PCs try to find out who is the cause of this mayhem, they discover a naked and rather embarrassed Willie, who pleads them to let him in and to take refuge inside the house, also asking for some kind of vestment. At this point, the PCs will inevitably question Antares regarding Willie, and if Antares has not told them anything yet, Willie agrees to reveal that he is the one who sought Antares' help in the Lizzieni case. When the PCs tell him Giovanna's fate, he turns pale and falls silent, clearly in distress for the young girl's death. If the PCs ask him about his relationship with the dead girl, he says that he knew her and felt some sympathy towards the unlucky Giovanna, but is reluctant to explain how he met her and what his real feelings were. If hard pressed (threatening to stop the investigations or to tell the guards about his involvement is sufficient, even though in the second case he starts mistrusting the party), he tells them the whole truth (almost):

"I met her a couple of months ago. She had some problems because of a loan she had contracted in a period of extreme misfortune, and I had been sent to.. err.. well, to make sure she would pay. Hey, don't think bad now! I know this is not the best job in the world, but it's a job nonetheless. I ensure that those who make debts pay them, sooner or later. What's wrong with this, uh? Ah, forget it!

"Well, believe it or not, I'm damn good at my job: my boss has never complained about my work, but this time.. err.. this time was one of those "life stinks" cases, ya know? The girl was a kind soul whose only error in life was to have asked a loan to the wrong person when she really needed it. She was on a wheelchair, she barely earned enough to support herself with her work, often helped by her "granny", as she called her... that's her neighbour. She burst into tears when I told her why I was there and plead me to give her some more time, so she would have sold something and repaid the debts. But what could she sell, really? Don't know if ya saw her house, but I understood at first glance that there was nothing valuable in that shack... except from herself... And so I took a decision, a rather drastic one I admit: I offered her to pay her debt with my money to help her a bit. She would have repaid me when luckier times would have come, I said, and she smiled and kissed me and we agreed. I fell in love with that smile, ya know ...

"I visited her regularly during the week, always at evening both because of my working duties and because I wanted to keep my relationship secret... hey, I'm a shy guy, ya know? Anyway, we eventually became more than close friends, for she returned my love with joy and such a passion I had never experienced before. She was fond of me like nobody had ever been, and even if she knew what kind of man I was, she loved me anyway. We had great plans in mind: once spared enough money, we would have moved to the capital and sought out somebody who could cure her paralysed legs, a priest or a magician maybe, and then we would have travelled the world... But life stinks, I bet ya know it, and these proved to be easy dreams difficult to carry out. I tried to spare enough, I really tried hard, but it was never enough, especially since I owe a big part of my income to my boss.. But we never lost hope.. until yesterday morning..."

Willie has nothing more to say about his love affair with Giovanna, or better nothing more he wants the party to know.

If asked why he has come naked in the middle of the night to Antares' house (which will probably be the first thing the PCs ask), he tells the party that he has been harassed in his house. He was sleeping in his bed when he heard some noises in the hallway outside his chamber. Being a very cautious and prudent man he always locks his door from the inside, and this time it proved useful, since whoever (or whatever) was outside the room, once understood the door was locked, he tried to smash it. This gave Willie just the time to jump through the closed window and run for his life towards Antares' house. Willie never saw who was on the other side the door and frankly he doesn't regret it. If the PCs propose to return to the house to see if the intruder is still there, Willie seems really frightened, but will accept nonetheless if the whole party accompanies him and above all if the party seems powerful enough to handle an unknown menace. Whether they return to the house during the night or the day after, they won't find anyone inside. Refer to the description of "Feuerbach House" given below for more information on what the party finds inside the house.

Finally, if questioned about the identity of the people who were talking to him earlier in the morning (if the PCs went to Willie's house, see the section "Willie Meets Armon" above), he explains them that the old man is Johann Armon, the wealthiest and most prominent man of the town, and the other one is Stephan, his son. Decades ago the Feuerbachs were one of the major families of the town and shared their power with the Armons and the Aretus. Unfortunately Willie's father lost his fortune in some wrong investments and in gambling and now he, last representative of the dynasty, must earn his life working for a moneylender. Johann Armon sometimes pays him a visit, mainly to mock and tease him with strange proposals, and this was one of those times. On his part, Willie's preferred pastime is to disappoint Armon and to ridicule his dumb son at every occasion, and this too was one of those times. Willie won't tell anything more about their talk and will only reveal that Armon basically "owns" the town, so he must be dealt with carefully. He has so far avoided his wrath because Armon thinks Willie is too insignificant to be taken into consideration. As for his son, he's mentally not fit: a child's brain in a giant's body, basically, that's all he can say. The two despise each other.

Feuerbach House

Willie's house is a huge building that once served as a warehouse for heavy products (Willie's family owned it in the past). The ground floor is empty and run down, full of old cranks and webs, dusty and very gloomy. The living quarters are on the first floor, located some 15' above the ground and accessible only via a metal staircase inside the building. When the party arrives, they find out that the main double door entrance is still locked and shut (since the closing of the warehouse it has never been used anymore). The secondary entrance, a small door on the long side of the building, is also closed, just as Willie left it once he entered the house some six hours before. The door is locked from the inside (Willie didn't take the keys when he escaped) and barred with an iron bolt, so the PCs have to find another way inside. The only windows are located on the first floor, 18' high, and the one from which Willie jumped is clearly visible, broken from the inside. The PCs should use it to enter (either by Flying or by Levitating or by climbing the wall with a rope or by Teleporting inside). [NOTE: the PCs should note that Willie jumped from 18' high and didn't injured himself! Quite a feat for a seemingly weak person as Willie is..]

Inside the house, the PCs find out that the door of the sleeping room has been pulled off the hinges but not destroyed. The room shows no signs of struggle and Willie notices that nothing has been touched or removed. If they examine the door more closely they find clear marks, similar to cuts, both on the door and on the knob, probably left by a knife since the cuts are not so broad (but they're deep). Searching the other rooms (the kitchen, the near pantry, the recreation room, other two unused bedrooms and the bathroom) they find no traces of intrusion (everything is as it stood before Willie fled and the dust in some of them testifies that they haven't been used for a long while). Only if they examine closely the door of the bathroom (which is the only one open together with the bedroom one and the kitchen one), just in front of Willie's bedchamber, they notice that the knob on the inside bears the same "scars", cuts, as Willie's door does. However, inside the bathroom they find only a tub (bathtub), two buckets full of water, a stove with a few logs, a chest (with some shaving tools, oils and perfumes and washing towels) and a big mirror near it. Only the kitchen, the bedrooms and the recreative room have a window, and none of them is open (except for Willie's bedchamber that is broken). So how did the intruder get into the house and why? The PCs might become suspecting some magic is at work here, but so far they haven't clear proofs to identify it.

If questioned on who might want to harm him, Willie explains that he has many enemies, but none of them is daring or powerful enough to surprise him in his house in that way. He really seems puzzled and a bit frightened, and if it's still night-time he asks Antares to come to her house to spend the rest of the night there, where he feels safer. There are no reasons to refuse, but in case she does, then Willie tries to convince one of the PCs to remain with him. If he fails, he bids them farewell and secretly seeks another hideout for the night (but at this point he's becoming very disappointed by the group). Whatever the case, nothing more happens this night to Willie or the PCs... but somewhere else, somebody is going to have a dreadful awakening...