Author Topic: Glass House  (Read 828 times)

Glass Cannon

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Glass House
« on: February 08, 2020, 06:28:49 AM »
Martira Bay, over a dozen years ago...

To understand the city of Martira Bay, one had to know that it is a city of immigrants and refugees.  No city in the Core since the fall of Il Aluk matched its diversity. Growing from a small fishing village to a thriving port city in the span of a dozen years, its chaotic sprawl was built with the newfound zeal and urgency of disaster escapees. The majority of the city’s inhabitants were human, but a surprisingly (perhaps to the more xenophobic-minded, even shockingly) large minority were not: halfling apartment-burrows built next to urbanised elf-villages grown besides gnome ghettos bordering dwarf homes testified to a variety of life and peoples you would be hard-pressed to match anywhere else in Darkon, let alone the rest of the known world.

It was a city of a dozen cultures, all living atop one another; some embraced this cosmopolitan nature, while others became insular in reaction to it.  Yet most of Martira Bay’s inhabitants shared at least one characteristic: they had all been running from something, be it as cataclysmic as the Requiem, or for more personal reasons…

Ludwig Glaese lay on his deathbed,  but still had the strength to throw his bedpan at the Overseer Witness as the priest attempted to administer last rites. The Witness retreated from the room with an indignant protest, the faint odour of urine wafting after him; Carina pressed herself to the side as he pushed past, her father’s arm protectively around her head.

“Julius, is that you?” croaked the dying patriarch, laying on cotton sheets.  “Come in… come closer. Hmm, good.  You’ve brought the little ones.  It’s right that they be here.”

The rest of the Glaese clan were already in attendance, filling the large bedroom.  It was some Lamordian or Darkonese tradition that warranted that all the patriarch’s family be in attendance when he died.  Part of this was mere practicality: to witness (and possibly contest) any last-minute change of the will that was uttered.  The more cynical wags would say it was to make sure the old bastard was truly dead at the end of it.

One by one, Carina’s siblings were presented to her grandfather, to say their good-byes.  The childrens’ manner was solemn: Lamordian stoicism was ingrained into them early.  Carina was twelve, and an early growth spurt meant she was taller than some of her brothers, though they would end up surpassing her height eventually in a few years.  As she came forward, her grandfather looked at her with pale blue eyes.

“Ah, Carina!  You remind me of your great-grandmother.  You’ll make a beautiful wife, some day.”

Carina rankled.  “I will be much more than someone’s wife.  I want to be a great mage like you someday, Papi,” she said.  The other adults gasped in shock at this effrontery, but a coughing chuckle from the old man put them to pause.

“That’s the spirit, girl.  A true Glaese, that one.  But remember: no man stands tall without a house; and no house stands without a solid foundation.”

With this, Carina was shuffled away. It was the last time she spoke to her grandfather.  He passed during the night.  His will stipulated that he be buried next to his parents, in the Martira Bay cemetery. That they were, in point of fact, buried back in Lamordia was rapidly glossed over by the Darkonese lawyer in charge of executing the will; this sort of factual contradiction was hardly uncommon in Darkon, and besides, the Glaese name was not so welcome back in Lamordia.  A few days later, Ludwig Glaese was buried in Martira Bay, besides the graves of his “adopted” parents.

It would be many years before Carina understood the wisdom of her grandfather’s deathbed aphorism.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2020, 06:37:30 AM by Glass Cannon »
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."

Glass Cannon

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Re: Glass House
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2020, 12:08:05 AM »
Martira Bay, under a dozen years ago…

It was a beautiful summer day, and while other children were playing, Carina was reading under the shade of the apple tree in the courtyard. The Glaese home was a large townhouse, well situated above the bay; her grandfather had bought it when most of the surrounding land was still fields.  Much of Carina’s childhood had involved watching architects, stonemasons, carpenters, and labourers toil around her home as the Requiem’s refugees grew the sparse fishing hamlet into a sprawling urban metropolis.

But the winds of Fortune blow one way and then the other; as his children made the most of that bright summer day, Julius and his three brothers sat at the conference table on the upper floor.  Though Claud was the eldest, the others looked to Julius for leadership -- he had always been the smartest and most charismatic. This fact was at the core of the frictions within the family; but of late, there were more pressing matters to address.  The numbers for the past two quarters were simply grim: for a while, the glass made by their factory had been in high demand, especially as it had been the best in the region; but the high influx of elves had brought with it elven glassmakers, and the simple truth was their Lamordian glassmaking techniques were not as sophisticated.  The Glaese factory had lost their market dominance; and at this rate, would be pushed out entirely.

“The way I see it, we have three choices,” said Saul, the youngest brother. “Our first option is to cut our costs, go for the cheaper end of the market.  The elves won’t compete with us there, they’re too proud for that.  It will mean losing out on the big guild and church contracts, but we’ll survive.  There’s always a demand for cheap glass.”

The silence that greeted him in response was testament to the lack of enthusiasm for this proposal.  It wasn’t merely pride, Julius knew.  Cheap glass would not maintain the family in the standard to which it had become accustomed.  Belts would have to be tightened; sparing a glance at his brother Porthos, he reflected that this might not entirely be a bad thing. He gestured for Saul to continue.

“Our second choice: spy on the elves, learn their techniques.  This is risky and potentially costly; even assuming we succeed, we don’t know to what extent we’d hav--”

He was interrupted by Claud’s snort: “Glaeses learning how to make glass.  What next?!  Would you teach your grandmother to suck eggs? Father would have never stood for this!”

His three brothers bickered amongst themselves for a while.  Asking what their father would have done was fruitless, he knew.  When their father had moved here, virtually all the elves in the area were of the woodland variety.  Now Martira Bay boasted a sizeable community of their urban cousins.  That was then, this is now, he mused, mirthlessly.

He interrupted the argument with a wave of his hand and looked to his brother Saul.  “Tell me about the last option.”
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."

Glass Cannon

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Re: Glass House
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2020, 01:30:24 AM »
Martira Bay, ten years ago

“I will not marry him!  He’s ugly, he has bad breath, and worst of all, he’s as dumb as a dwarf brick!”

Carina’s younger sisters, Marguerite and Lavina, crouched behind a dresser, listening as the sound of the argument carried through the house; their mother, pleading, entreating; their father, stern, unrelenting; and Carina, furious, strident.

“No!” came a yell.

The two sisters listened in mute awe; it had always been implied that, when they were older, the sisters would be married to husbands of prominent families, their matches chosen and arranged.  Carina had always said she would not marry; their father had told her that it was not her choice.  Without a true test, those debates had fizzled fruitlessly, but now, at last, their elder sister’s defiance was being put to the fire.

The family had not done so well in the past year.  Ever since the mysterious inferno had raged through the elven warehouse district, misfortune had stalked the Glaeses.  It had all come to a head six weeks ago, when uncle Porthos had been attacked by a gang of thugs while out drinking with uncle Saul.  Uncle Porthos had been bed-bound and infirm ever since; and uncle Saul had gone back to Lamordia permanently.  Their father had not smiled in six weeks.  To the girls, this litany of tragedy was senseless, devoid of meaning.  They suspected their elder sister knew something, parsed some pattern to these events, but she never told them what insights she might have gleaned.

“I won’t become a baker’s wife!  I won’t be able to study--”

“Baker guildmaster’s wife--” interjected the voice of their mother.

“Whatever!”

“I don’t see why she should have to marry him,” murmured Lavinia to her younger sister.

“If she doesn’t, then papa will ask you to marry him,” replied the youngest sister, Marguerite, astutely.  Lavinia’s expression contorted into a grimace of disgust.

“That’s not fair!”

Their debate was interrupted as the door to their father’s study was thrown open, Carina storming out.

“I will not marry him!” she cried out as she retreated.  Julius Glaese was an even-tempered man, practiced in the art of patient discourse; rarely did he ever raise his voice, or feel the need to.  Yet now he shouted, face red with anger:

“While you live under my roof, you will obey me!”

“I won’t sacrifice my ambition to correct your mistakes!” she yelled back, spinning around.  Yet even as the words were spoken, her expression turned to dismay.  Unseen to the younger sisters, she had inflicted a telling wound; an immediate apology may yet have offered a salve, but Lamordian stubbornness and youthful pride stayed it.

“If you will not obey me as your father,” said Julius Glaese after a long, empty pause, his voice now calm and low again, but with an edge of coldness he had never before deployed against his own children. “Then you will not live under my roof.  Go.  Leave.”

With that, the argument was over, much as her mother might try to entreat her father for calmness and mercy as he returned to his study.

Lavinia and Marguerite, shocked, went to hug their sister, crying in disbelief and grief.  Carina hugged them as reassuringly as she could.  “It’ll be alright,” she told them, but her expression betrayed the superficiality of that sentiment.
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."

Glass Cannon

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Re: Glass House
« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2020, 10:09:00 PM »
[CW: implied threats of sexual violence]

Martira Bay, two years later

The docks weren't lit very well;  the lamplighter here was notoriously slack.  Carina stood in the darkness, cursing impatiently, while in the distance, far above the bay, fireworks exploded in the sky, briefly illuminating their surroundings in coruscating colours.

"Where is he?" she muttered, impatiently.

The new year's festivities were in full swing, and everyone from lowest beggar to highest noble was busy revelling in a manner that otherwise austere Darkon society rarely permitted.  The Darkonese, after all, knew the reality of death all too well, and thus the value of celebrating new life and fresh starts.

Everyone was revelling, that is, apart from a few enterprising souls who saw the festivities as a great opportunity to tout their wares to merrymakers.  But even the front-line suppliers were running out at this point in the evening -- or morning, depending on your perspective --  which is why Carina found herself on the docks waiting for Varnji the Bedazzler  (a halfling illusionist masquerading as a gnome who supplied magical entertainment and other services and goods besides), that she might resupply.  She'd had a good evening, but without her own source she was reliant on Varnji (which was, of course, to his advantage; she paid him half of what she earned).

With her was Gaius, a dull if relatively harmless burgher's son who seemed slightly enfatuated with her, whom she had allowed to accompany her.  The docks weren't safe for a lone person, after all, despite whatever petty magic she might have learned.  If nothing else, perhaps, he expected a complimentary sample of supplies a a reward.  Carina wouldn't object to that;  better than a kiss.

"Where is he?" she repeated, as if such repetition might shorten her wait.

Perhaps if she'd been more intent on her surroundings and less on fruitless complaints, she'd had seen them coming.  Two shadows moved, and suddenly a strong arm was around her waist and a dirty hand over her mouth.  She tried to scream, but it was stifled.  The grip tightened.

"Well, well, if it ain't Varnji's little 'elper," muttered a rough voice.  Carina looked over desperately in Gaius's direction, but the boy had been struck at the same time, and was laying on the ground, his temple bleeding where he'd been stuck by the second brute's blackjack.  Carina tried to scream again, eliciting a dry chuckle from her captor.

"Sorry, sweetheart.  T'ain't nuffin' pers'nal.  Jus' that little git Varnji gettin' a little too greedy, y'know what I mean?"  The hand holding her moved over her stomach, and she heard him smacking his lips.  "But, tell you what, seein' how it's the new year, why don't we 'ave a little fun, eh?  Would be a shame to cut your throat too quickly..."

Carina's survival instincts took over at that point: she stamped down on her captor's foot as hard as she could, then threw her head back, hearing a crack as she hit his nose.  He cursed loudly, but released his grip enough that he let her go.  The second thug made to lurch at her, but she incanted a Flare spell and threw it into his eyes, then ran for her life.  The thug staggered and tripped over Gaius; then, as Fortuna would have it, the first thug tripped over him in turn.

"Idiot!  Catch 'er!  Kill 'er!"

But then she incanted another spell, and disappeared into the night, running like the wind.

* * *

Gaius's body eventually washed up further along the shore a few days later after the waves had brought it back in.  The local fisherfolk simply pushed it back out to sea for the fish:  after all, dead revellers thrown into the bay by their muggers were common enough after new year's.

Varnji's body washed up a few months later, but this did cause great debate: whether such wounds could have been caused by fish, or whether some painful torture had been inflicted upon the halfling before his death.

By then, Carina was long gone from Martira Bay.
« Last Edit: July 30, 2020, 10:28:52 PM by Glass Cannon »
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."

Glass Cannon

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Re: Glass House
« Reply #4 on: August 06, 2020, 02:02:05 AM »
Lamordia, five years ago

Uncle Claud had died that winter: a nasty cold that clogged up his lungs, they said.  Being the eldest son of his father, he had been a boy when they settled in Martira Bay; his false memories had told him he'd been born in Darkon all along, but his soul yearned for old Lamordia and thus, unusuallly, his will had stipulated that his body should be taken back there upon this death.  The family remembered the fact of the existence of the Glaese crypt, in the old cemetary north of Ludendorf, but only once they had escaped the reach of Darkon did the cognitive dissonance resolve itself and Claud's siblings born in Lamordia recall that, of course, their mother had been interred there, too.

The younger generation of Glaeses -- born in Darkon, and therefore immune to its memory-warping effect -- said nothing.  To draw attention to this phenomenon was considered one of Darkon's highest taboos.

Carina, somewhat the black sheep of the family, came to Lamordia separately and arrived at the family crypt while the ceremony was underway.  A religious service in Lamordia was itself something of an exotic aberration, but the Darkon Glaeses had, to varying degrees, embraced the Overseer in an effort to integrate in Martira Bay.  The dull yet comforting droning of the Overseer Witness performing the ceremony made onlookers gawk in disgusted horror; and indeed, that part of the Glaese clan who had remained in Lamordia stood in mute shock and polite, unvoiced yet obvious aversion as the priest spoke the eulogy.  Yet the Witness seemed to be doing his job: Carina's more immediate family were aided along the course of their grief by his gentle (if, to Carina, hollow-sounding) words.

Her father caught sight of her as she stepped into the gas-lit crypt, but merely frowned before looking away.

Eventually the service came to an end -- to the relief of more than half the gathered Glaeses -- and individually or in pairs began to file past Claud's casket to pay their respects.  When Carina's turn came, she stopped a moment to stare at her dead uncle's face.  His expression was peaceful, a state of mind which had been alien to him for much of his later years.  She wondered at their relationship.  Of her three uncles, he had been the most distant: reserved and aloof in a way he had never been with her siblings, never praising nor criticising her.  He had treated her with all the warmth of a statue, and while in her youth she had been wounded by this, age had brought understanding: she saw now that she had reminded him of his own father, her grandfather; and their own relationship had been frought.

With this retrospective, she had come to see his treatment of her as the deepest of compliments, even if it had not been intended as such; for she admired her grandfather more than anyone, and she, of all people, could understand the hurt that could stand between parent and child.

"Farewell, patruus," she murmured, leaning down to kiss his forehead and leaving a small silver ouroboros ring in his hand.

As she left the crypt into the cold spring air, she was virtually tackled by a shorter, duskier Darkonese woman who began to shower her with kisses.

"Mother... you'll smudge my make-up," Carina managed with a demure smile, under the maternal assault.  But she returned the hug; that part of her where she bottled up her loneliness aching almost unbearably for a moment.  And she then endured the following barrage of questions with uncharacteristic good will.

"Yes, I am eating properly.  No, I'm cooking for myself, it is Borca, after all.  The school is fine.  No, I've not asked for a raise.  The money's fine.  Maybe I will next year."

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her father watching them.  When she turned in his direction, he moved away, she was sure, with a supercilious sniff.  Her heart filled with resentment; no doubt he considered her chosen role inferior to being some fat burgher's broodmare--

"He does love you, Carina," said her mother, interrupting her thoughts.  Carina turned her gaze back to the older woman, meeting her eyes.

"Is that why he threw me out?" she asked bitterly.  "Mocked my ambitions?"

"He wanted what he thought was best of you," her mother said, softly, who then smiled and stroked her daughter's cheek.  "But you must forgive him.  We love you.  We're your family."

Family, Carina contemplated bitterly.  What does that even mean?  But before she could articulate the thought, her sisters interrupted them to introduce her to the mewling babes and infants that were her young nieces and nephews.  Much as she usually disliked children, it was a relatively pleasant distraction from the precedent subject.

* * *

She eventually found refuge from it all with her uncle Saul.  Her father's youngest brother had always been the easiest to like, the most avuncular and understanding.  And this time, as they sat alone in the study of her distant cousin, slowly drinking his expensive brandy by the fire place, he patiently indulged her as she ranted, mostly about her father.  It was only as he sensed she was reaching the natural conclusion of her paroxysm, that he interjected strategically, "But you know, he's got a point..."

The lure caught, and Carina turned to him, blue eyes briefly furious.  Before she could catch her breath, he pressed his advantage.  "What are you doing with your life?  Right now?"

"I'm a teacher," she said defensively.  "A language teacher.  What's wrong with that?"

Saul gave her the candid look of the semi-inebriated and shrugged.  "Nothing.  If that's what you want to be.  Is that what you want to be?"

"No," she allowed lamely, then sighed in exasperation.  "You know what I want to be."

He nodded.  "So why are you a teacher?"

"Because it pays.  Because I need money for my private studies."

Saul gave a knowing nod.  "If that's what you're after, there's better ways of making money.  And I'm not talking about the amateur nonsense you were involved in back home."

He had her attention now, and she tilted her head, asking, "What do you mean?"

Her uncle looked at her, and smiled.  "How much do you know about the great merchant syndicates of the Western Core?"
« Last Edit: August 06, 2020, 02:08:03 AM by Glass Cannon »
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."

Glass Cannon

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Re: Glass House
« Reply #5 on: August 16, 2020, 05:13:39 AM »
Western Vallaki Outskirts, Barovia, last year

Carina would rarely admit it, but she liked the Outskirts.  The eclectic, cosmopolitan mix of outlanders all going about their self-interested, sometimes incomprehensible business reminded her of home.  The high proportion of do-gooders made it relatively safe, and as a market place, it was almost unmatched.  And, to an arcanist of Lamordian descent, the superstitious and violent Barovian prejudice against magic were relatively straightforward to navigate: she merely dressed like everyone else, hid her penchant for literature outside of the Outskirts, and minded her own business, and was left amply to her own devices.

What wasn't there to love?

Still, she could see the place's limitations, too. The constant influx of new arrivals, drawn here for whatever unfathomable cosmic reason, offered a ready clientele in need of supplies.  But these new arrivals were not well off, their purses stretched by the variety of their needs.  As a wholesale market, it would always guarantee some revenues.  But as a retail market, the real profits were elsewhere.

That evening, she wrote to Captain Sylvanos of the Red Vardo Traders in Port-à-Lucine...
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."

Glass Cannon

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Re: Glass House
« Reply #6 on: August 23, 2020, 09:00:37 AM »
Port-à-Lucine, March 775

Carina sat in the Captain's office, staring at the cloak in her hands, lost in thought.  This was meant to be a badge of pride; a token of rank.  Yet she felt uneasy, understanding the responsibility it represented.  She had ambitions, yes; but she'd hoped to have time to learn.  To grow into the job.  To build contacts and gain experience.

I'm not ready, she acknowledged privately to herself.  She could only do her best with what she had; and she would try.  If Carina had become one thing over the years, it was a survivor...
« Last Edit: August 23, 2020, 09:50:40 AM by Glass Cannon »
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."

Glass Cannon

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Re: Glass House
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2020, 12:41:08 PM »
It might surprise the average cynic to know that the Red Vardo internal motto was, "Family Above All".  Was the concept of family, warm and welcoming as it implied, truly something one could associate with that group?

Yet every outfit needs forces to pull its members together, and ambition and greed alone could only go so far.  The Dementlieuse branch, in particular, were a group of outcasts who came to Port-à-Lucine looking to belong, to satisfy needs that wealth and power couldn't mollify in a society characterised by its false openness.

Family implied protection.  Narcisse, something of an outcast by his very birth, had walked away from that protection; when he had most needed it, Carina was unable to offer it, bound as she was by his choice.  She'd sat on the sidelines, fuming impotently, her clever schemes all for naught.  Yet that protection had failed Rory in turn...

Family, after all, was rarely egalitarian; Carina knew this better than most, given her blood relatives.  And thus the slightly-above average cynic might revisit the motto and read it under a different light.  There was a tension there, and part of it was destructive.  Carina, whatever her faults, instinctively shied away from destruction and waste; yet she'd be a fool not to recognise that it existed within that phrase.  "Family Above All."

Thus she pondered, as she considered another phrase, reading it over and over, trying to decide what to do next...
« Last Edit: November 30, 2020, 06:20:34 PM by Glass Cannon »
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."

Glass Cannon

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Re: Glass House
« Reply #8 on: February 16, 2021, 10:52:45 PM »
A "Barovian thieves' guild".  Alanik Ray's words stung Carina more than they should.  Not because they were fundamentally wrong; rather, they echoed the nagging doubts in the back of her mind.

Was it all for naught?  Could she truly change the nature of the thing?  She had made it her career -- and it had made her rich, though she wasn't in it for the money (well, not just for the money).  Ironically she had held out little hope for the prospect when she was first promoted, but with every step, every success, she began to believe it might be possible, after all.  Her aspirations were like seeds: starting small, but growing as they were watered; and with the fruit of her successes came new confidence and purpose where, previously, she'd been faking what was expected of her.

She saw Dementlieu without the blinkers of nationalistic pride, as it truly was.  What better grounds for their plans?  "Barovian thieves' guild"?  Such limited imagination...
« Last Edit: February 16, 2021, 11:09:00 PM by Glass Cannon »
"Aristocrats and criminals have a lot in common. They’re both selfish, get bored easily, and have access to wads of cash they didn’t have to work honestly to get. The topper? Neither have any interest in bourgeois rules or morality."