A disgraced and exiled noble, stripped of his status, spends his days drinking and whoring in the exotic jungle colonies. When pressed to pay his debts he gets entangled in a deadly plot involving deceit, murder, and the dark magic of the deep jungle. Published in Storyhack Action & Adventure Issue 0
Fragrant smoke enveloped the tiny room. Small candles flickered throwing shadows across the paper walls bathing the small chamber in soft light.
Valan put the lit pipe to his lips and inhaled the sweet smoke, holding it in his lungs for several seconds before letting it out. He shivered as a wave of pleasure traveled across his body. Content he slumped back into the soft cushions. With his eyes closed, he could hear the pleasure girls soft breathing as she took her turn smoking. He heard murmurs of hushed conversation from the neighboring rooms and the hint of distant music from somewhere in the pleasure house. Sweat ran down his bare chest, a product of the tropical heat mixing with the mind-altering smoke.
"You treat your guests well," he said propping himself up to face the girl.
"We reserve the best service for esteemed lords like you Master Valan," said the girl, her accent betraying the rehearsed nature of the line.
"Indeed, I have been enjoying the best Angkasa has to offer. After being stuck on a ship for months I have quite the need for enjoyment."
The smoky haze softened the light in the tiny room, making the elaborate tigers and monkeys that adorned the wall appear to vibrate and dance. Focusing his gaze he watched the girl preparing another pipe. She wore her black hair up, held by bone picks in the style of native courtesans. No doubt manufactured to play up the exotic allure for her patrons.
"How long will you be staying in our beautiful city?" she asked, handing him the lit pipe.
"Until the company ships are loaded with spices and the Governor gets his cut," he said and inhaled the sweet smoke from the pipe. "But, let's not talk about that. Merchants, sailors, governors. I have no interest in that sort of nonsense."
Taking her cue the girl came closer and began to run her fingers across his bare chest. "I'm glad you chose to spend your time here with me," she whispered into his ear, "you will have the most pleasurable experience."
The euphoric effect from the smoke was reaching its peak. Valan could barely keep his eyes open. Every touch from her sent shivers of pleasure across his skin. He could hear her every breath, each inhale, each exhale. The smell of her body mingled with the smoke was spicy and intoxicating. In this drug altered state, he could forget the long voyage across the seas and the exile that brought him to this distant colony.
The sharp clack of the bamboo panel jarred him out of his reverie. Opening his eyes in time to see an old, stick thin man, walk into the room. He was dark skinned like the Kaff farmers who toiled in the tropical sun and looked to be well into his later years. Yet his face expressed a harsh, serpentine nature, accented by a long groomed mustache that reached down to the middle of his chest. Behind him, a monstrously large, shirtless native followed.
"Your services are no longer needed," said the old man, dismissing the girl with a glance. She gathered her possessions and made her way out of the room. The entire time her eyes were fixed firmly on the ground avoiding his gaze.
Valan tried to focus. His mind was still scattered by the drug. He sat up and tried blinking away his blurry vision. He had no idea who these two were but being caught shirtless in a pleasure house by two dangerous looking men was never a good thing.
"I was just about to start enjoying myself," he said and stood up.
The big man's fist caught him right in the mouth, sending him sprawling onto the floor. He tasted blood and for a moment felt like he was about to go unconscious.
"Sit down Master Valan, you are our honored guest," said the old man standing over him. His voice sounded distant through the ringing pain in his head.
Cautiously Valan brought himself to his feet and faced the old man and his huge partner. "Do I know you gentlemen?" he asked, rubbing his jaw.
"No, but we know you Master Valan. You have been enjoying the services of Black Tigers many establishments these past few weeks and my employer wishes to assure the payment for your many transactions."
Of course, this was about money he thought. These were nothing but local thugs here to shake him down for all the credit and goodwill he indulged in for the past few weeks.
"Listen, I haven't the vaguest clue who this Black Tiger is but my word is my credit. I'm the sixth Marquess of Lahnsted," he said, mustering the most official tone he was capable of.
The old man gave him a crooked smile revealing a row of rotten teeth. "Black Tiger knows about your unfortunate circumstance, that you are disgraced, landless, and exiled. Black Tiger is understanding, but perhaps men in your situation should not enjoy such lavish pleasures."
The conversation was getting tiresome. Somehow he had to talk his way out of this situation because shirtless and intoxicated he stood no chance fighting these two.
"If this Black Tiger, whoever he is, knows I have no money, what exactly are you doing here besides wasting my time?"
Another brutal fist connected, knocking the air from his lungs. Several more brought him down to his knees. He desperately tried to protect himself but the large man's strength and the drug haze made his efforts useless. The brute easily overpowered him, pinning him down with his body and forcing his head into the ground. Clearly outmatched Valan submitted.
"Master Valan," the old man continued, "you have until the end of the week to come up with sufficient payment. If you fail to reduce your substantial debt we will work out a suitable payment plan. Unfortunately, we can guarantee that you will not find those arrangements pleasurable."
The brutes weight on top of him was oppressive. He couldn't take a breath to offer a reply. His mind raced trying to make sense of the situation but the effects of the smoke left him unable to form a coherent thought. His vision blurred and went dark as he went unconscious.
Valans head throbbed and his body ached as he got up from the puddle of vomit he was laying in. Looking around he realized he spent the better part of the night unconscious in the garbage pile behind the pleasure house.
"Looks like you had a rough night Sir," Bartholomeus said. The big man, dark skin made darker by his tattoos, leaned in offering to help Valan steady himself.
"How did you find me?"
"I always find you in some gutter after a long night."
Bartholomeus was not the most traditional of servants but he was honest and loyal. Valan found his forward demeanor and soft-spoken honesty refreshing. Besides, the fact that he was a beast of a man with a penchant for effortless violence came in quite handy in numerous situations.
"We happen to be in quite a predicament," Valan said retrieving his crusty shirt from the garbage pile. "It seems our credit has run dry in Angkasa."
Walking through the early morning streets Valan filled him in on the previous night's events. The first light of the sun illuminated the narrow unpaved streets of Angkasas port district. Everywhere they looked peasant Kaff farmers were bringing heavy loads of product, tightly bundled on their backs, towards the trading houses. The Kaff grew in the deep jungle of Angkasa. A tough tropical crop native to the islands, grown by the locals and traded to the company merchant houses. The ripe Kaff was dried and roasted, then sailed back to the empire to be sold for exuberant profit.
"Where are we going to get the money to pay off our debts?" asked Bartholomeus.
"You mean me, you don't owe anything."
"I'm your partner, we are a team."
The enthusiastic loyalty always amazed Valan. He was penniless, an exile wasting his days in pleasure houses and taverns, worlds away from his home but he somehow managed the loyalty of a good man like Bartholomeus. A not insignificant part of him felt unworthy.
Reaching the main wharf they made their way through the already busy docks. Company marines stood guard with rifles watching sailors and workers while they loaded heavy bundles of Kaff onto the company ships. Even at this early hour, Angkasa was busy with commerce. Merchants were haggling with fishermen over the morning catch. Native women were bringing baskets of jungle fruit for sale. The smell of the many exotic spices blended with the salty smell of morning sea was an intoxicating fragrance unique to Angkasa.
Valan led them to a small Kaff shop overlooking the bay. The place catered to colonial merchants and other foreigners. Inside the shop, it smelled like sweet roasted Kaff, spice, and cacao. They grabbed a table and ordered two mugs of the roasted Kaff from the old man behind the counter. Luckily word of his financial situation did not spread beyond the pleasure houses.
"We need to come up with a plan," he said, taking a sip of his hot drink.
"Let's run. Take a ship to another colony."
Taking a ship off Angkasa was an option Valan considered. Unfortunately, he had no money to pay for even the shortest trip and no discernible talent to barter as payment.
"We could," he said, "but I don't think we can scam our way onto a ship in the next few days."
The bitter spiced Kaff warmed him. It calmed his nerves and eased the pain from last night's beating. No wonder Kaff was such a valuable commodity, it was an amazing substance. The Empire had several colonies devoted to growing the Kaff that flourished only in hostile jungles. Hundreds of company ships filled with the valuable bean made the perilous journey. Fulfilling the ravenous demand and making the company merchants extremely wealthy.
"Don't worry friend, I will think of something to get us out of this," he said taking another sip.
Valans thought was interrupted when a group of company sailors walked into the small shop. To his displeasure, they were led by Captain Henrick. Henrick was a successful young lord given command of several company ships due to his ambitious nature, charming personality, and significant family wealth. He was a driven and responsible man, quite the opposite of Valan.
"Master Valan, you look like you spent the night sleeping in an outhouse," Henrik said.
"Alley actually," replied Valan raising his mug.
Henrick was wearing the formal uniform of a company captain. Powdered wig, blue overcoat trimmed with gold, and a ceremonial sword hanging from his waist. He held his feathered hat and ordered mugs of Kaff for his equally sharply attired men.
"Look Bartholomeus, Henrik is making his crew practice for a dress up parade."
"Actually, I am wearing formal attire because tonight I will be attending the ball at the Governor's Plantation. It is my duty as the ranking company representative to attend." Henrik took the Kaff he ordered and led his men towards the back of the shop, away from Valans table.
"The Governors ball, how could I forget," said Valan.
"Well, you did enjoy a lot of local entertainment. It takes its toll."
Governor Jansen, one of the wealthiest men in the colonies owned a massive plantation outside the port city. Due to his control of the Kaff trade, he wielded immense power and styled himself an imperial lord over Angkasa. Proud of his status and eager to display his wealth he was known to host lavish parties, inviting company officers, merchants, and dignitaries from the Empire.
"I think I have a plan," he said smiling.
"We're going to work for the governor?" asked Bartholomeus finishing his drink.
"No, we are going to rob him."