Curse of Strahd

Prelude: Lillian

The Art of the Deal

The knocking at her door was soft and panicked, startling the Tiefling woman from her reading. Her rose colored lips pursed into a tight frown and her eyes crinkled into silver slits as she uncurled herself and brushed at her evening clothes, taking her time to collect herself. Whoever this was, they weren’t supposed to be here. She straightened and spared a glance at a pair of gloves on the reading table before her frown deepened a little and she headed toward the door.

The rapping occurred again, a little more frantic this time as if it could speed her steps toward the door. This only gave her pause to consider why someone would be on her doorstep at this time of night in such a panic. The pale woman reached the door and slid the peeking slot open harshly and peered out into the dim lamp-light, metalic orbs widening to search for the interrupter of her peace. Down her gaze fell, lower and lower until she was looking at a tousled mop of hair atop some small humanoid’s head. The pools of mercury crinkled tight again as the bedraggled head tilted up and looked into them and the small person squirmed under the effect of an involuntary cold chill.

The Tieflings voice was monotone and cool “Please state your business.” The gnome looked over her shoulder to the empty street beyond, then back to the icy eyes in the door “I was told you could… h-h-help…” The eyes in the door changed almost imperceptibly from cold scrutiny to irritation “You are in the wrong place and this is not the time, come to my office tomorrow if you wish to discuss assistance with a business transaction.” She interrupted while sliding the cover closed.

Feeling she has said her part the Tiefling managed about two steps back toward her warm hearth, inviting chair and book, before the knocking began again, this time with more haste. The temperature of the room dropped mildly as her ire gathered in a tangible frost around her. She walked pointedly back to the door, the knocking growing more frantic as she reached the portal to her home. She gripped the handle and took a deep breath before steadily opening the door to reprimand the intruder one last time before-


A crossbow bolt sat at an angle in her door just at the position where the small person’s head had been had she not ducked into a squat. Before she could react, the gnome (as she now recognized her) leapt past and into the safe haven of the apartment as another bolt bounced off of the threshold of the doorway and ricocheted inside. There was a tense moment before sense came back to the horned woman and she slammed the door and dropped the latch closed followed by another sudden THUNK!

“Ohhhh… You are Lillian the Red Handed!” the gnome cried out excitedly as she jumped to her feet and proffered a hand toward Lillian who clenched her blood red hands into fists. “Oh, manners, manners, Master Urudu always says to exhibit proper manners toward your host when visiting the confines of their… Is it getting cold in here? Can we move to the hearth to talk about business?” She barely noted (or dismissed altogether) that the tiefling woman’s stance had gone rigid, fists clenched into balls and was staring death at her. The gnome skipped toward the hearth and sat on the stone stoop beside it to get warm.

Lillian took several deep breaths and composed herself once more before gracefully moving back to the living room where she stood, foot tapping, arms crossed, eyes staring down the little person with a glare that caused even the hearth fire to shrink away. The gnome smiled up at her once more “Okay, let’s begin. That out there? That was Geddy’s men. Geddy’s men decided to take the easy way out of this situation by getting Geddy what he wants for him, but I want what I have and what I have is what he wants. Get it?” The gnome looked up at Lillian happily for a moment before looking shocked “OH! I’m Artel the Apprentice Artificer, pleased to meet you! You’re Lillian the Red Handed, I know that already and so do you so now that introductions are out of the way do you get it?”

The scowl on the statuesque tiefling deepened “What is it you want brokered? Why are you here with thugs on your tail hunting for your blood?” The gnome sighed “I told you, Geddy wants what I want despite that I want it and so his men have come to collect but I don’t owe!” Lillian shook her head “So you want me to get you out of this mess because criminals are trying to kill you for what’s yours? That’s pretty cut and dry, go to the guards.” She began walking back toward the barred door to open it and Artel let out a squeal “Okay! Okay wait! Okay so maybe it was Geddy’s and Urudu’s by property ownership but I acquired it in the dig through finders because finders are keepers and all that so I kept but they want…” Lillian didn’t slow down her pace to the door so the gnome spoke faster “it-back-for-themselves-but-they-won’t-even-give-me-any-credit-for-the-find-and-that-doesn’t-do-me-any-good-for-my-career-andI’llpayyou20goldnoquestions!” The hand stopped at the door and Lillian looked over her shoulder at the gnome “That’s the retainer fee, we’ll discuss my final fee after I get rid of these gentlemen.”

The red hands went from the bar on the door to the view-plate and slid it open a bit “You’re boss Geddy wants something that my client has. I have been retained as a diplomat and call an accord with your payer in order to reach a suitable agreement for both parties in order to facilitate peace. Please carry this message to your employer in order to best maintain good reputation as an honest dealer. Inform him to meet at the office of Lillian the Broker at sun-up to work toward an agreement that is mutually beneficial for all sides.” A quiet rabble could be heard by a pair of voices before a shout “You feckin’ wot mate?” Lillian put her hand to her face and shook her head in disbelief before shouting back through the plate “Promise to a cease of hostilities and I will step out to explain further instead of shouting through a door.” There was another pause followed by “Oi a’ite.”

Lillian then grabbed her gloves and gestured for her new bankroll to stay put in the house as she slid the sheathes over her hands and forearms and resettled her spectacles and slowly opened the door and stepped outside. There in the shadows of the poorly lit street shadows stood a pair of men in rugged outfits that belied their natures as roustabouts. One held a crossbow and the other had daggers in his belt and they shifted eagerly as though waiting for a fight. Lillian knew this meant danger but also knew that she had a job to do.

“Ahem, gentlemen.” She began “I, Lillian the Broker, have chosen to take up the contract for Artel the Apprentice Artificer who wishes to parlay with Mr. Geddy on the topic of the object unearthed. This will remain beneficial for all parties should you return to him with the instructions to come to my place of business on the morning to work out a deal.” Crossbow leaned toward daggers and whispered something before daggers muttered under his breath “Nah, s’just un horney-headed git, w’can deal wit it ourselves.” Whether he realized it or not, Lillian watched him clearly in the darkness as he unsheathed a dagger and hefted it to throw as crossbow took a step back. With a sigh and a muttered incantation the dragon blood welled in Lillian and frost bolted from her fingertip and struck the knife in dagger’s hand and spread, painfully up his arm eliciting a surprised cry. “Witch! It dun used hel-magiks on meh! Don’ jus’ stand there Giddeon! Kill er!” Giddeon or crossbow or whomever loaded a bolt and let fly as swiftly as he could, but his nerve was lost and the bolt struck over Lillian’s shoulder.

Another swift muttering later and Giddeon’s ass found the cobblestone road beneath him as the ground became icy and his feet slowed. Daggers took the opportunity of the sorceress attention focused on his friend to redouble his efforts and lunged toward Lillian again, his movement slowed as his muscles stiffened in the preternatural cold. He closed the distance clumsily and swung his knife heavily, the strength drained from him. His sharp blade caught the tiefling’s night-clothes and opened up the shift just beneath her breasts, causing it to droop and reveal a pale belly and under-curves. Lillian gasped in surprise and daggers coughed out a chuckle as he regained his fighting stance, preparing to strike again.

Deciding that enough was enough, the horned woman focused her energy and chanted an incantation, her blood freezing in her veins as she called up a dragon’s cold and released an orb, blue-white in color, at her attacker. Daggers didn’t have long to contemplate what was occurring, aside from the fact that he could do nothing about it. The orb struck him in the chest and frost burned his skin black and blue. His eyes widened in fear as he gasped for air into lungs that crackled and broke like frost crystals under their own movement. He clutched at his chest as his heart slowed, freezing, pumping ice into his veins and eventually stopping dead, unable to beat for the stiffness of it. He collapsed into a curled heap as though trying to warm himself from his core.

Lillian daintily began to remove her gloves for effect and approached Giddeon, holder of the crossbow who was attempting to scuttle along the ground away from her, unable to nock another bolt for how hard his hands were shaking. She revealed her blood-red hands and he shook his head back and forth “Ye are, I’m srry, I told Edgar not ta’. Told im I thot ye were who ye were, I’m srry…” He jerked his gaze down and away from her. Lillian then knelt beside Giddeon and put an icy red hand to his jaw and lifted his eyes to hers. “Now, your boss only has to pay one of you. Carry the message that Edgar tried to commit murder during a peace negotiation to his benefit and was dealt with accordingly. Tell him to meet at the aforementioned place at the aforementioned time for a peaceful negotiation at the hands of Lillian. Collect your… Edgar… and remove yourselves, I’ve no time to deal with discussing your activities with the guards this night and you don’t end up with a watch bounty on your head to go along with the events that transpired.” She released him gently and stood, walking back to her door and stepping around Edgar on her way. She entered her home to see the gnome swiftly moving from the door to the hearth again as she closed the door to the hustled sounds of a body being shouldered and hauled away.

“20 gold for my retainer, right now.” Lillian demanded coldly. The gnome nodded, lips pursed tight. Lillian then realized the state of her attire “1 more gold to replace my night clothes.” Once more the gnome nodded. “50% of what he agrees to pay you, whatever it is.” The gnome didn’t nod. Lillian gave Artel a steely stare “You will only make this worse.” The gnome remained still, lips pursed and a sliver of fear edging in behind her eyes. Lillian holds up her deft red hands and begins counting off on crimson fingertips “You barge into my personal residence uninvited. You attempt to hire me outside of business hours. My door suffers damage from bolts meant for you. I negotiate your safety outside of office hours. I am forced to murder in self-defense on your behalf…” She looks at the gnome sternly “60% now and I’m still being generous, I suggest you take it.” Artel swallows audibly and nods again, a grimace on her face, no more swift words to rattle off. “I’ll draft the papers right now then.” Lillian replies, and goes to gather her things from her table and begins to write up the contract. Tomorrow should prove very profitable indeed.



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