Kelthar’s old lodgings can be found in one of Wyrmroost’s shittier areas: Greycourt Square. Decades ago, extravagant housing designed to expand the marketplace turned out to be too extravagantly priced for the lack of demand. Public outcry over the promised increase to taxes ensured they were never levied and the underfunded project performed a sort of reverse alchemy. Opulent designs transformed into squalid slums, appearing suddenly and alarmingly, like an open wound, infected and festering with crime, on the edge of the market district.
Today, Kelthar enters his tenement. His purse is heavy with his latest score, and he has sown shut the pocket that holds it. The building is crowded, and the hallways a cacophony of the fierce arguments and crying infants whose noises osmose, dulled and muffled, through thin doorways, cheaply made and rarely maintained. The occasional junkie slumps at a landing; his limp body leans against flimsy rails that could give way and send him toppling at any moment.
Waking the addicts as if charged by the gods, Ms. Laverne Coralis stalks the stairwell, wielding her broom like a divine hammer. Her gray hair whips around her head in unruly brambles as she cracks the ribs of drug-addled “freeloaders.”
“I’ll charge you rent for this fuckin’ landing, you fuckin’ junkie bum!” she screams. She nods quietly to Kelthar as the fleeing man stumbles past the half-elf. Kelthar tips his hat to Laverne and winks, tossing her a recently stolen coin.
“I’ll have the rest of the rent on time this month,” he promises. He is lying.
She knows he’s lying, but she lets him get away with it. She charges him far more than she legally should, anyhow. That’s the price of silence. But, to be honest, she’d have stayed silent for a lot less. Criminals are risky business, but Kelthar at least makes her laugh. He smiles as he passes her.
“You always cheat,” she says.
“Yup,” he says.
“Noon,” she says. He grins. At tomorrow’s game, he will cheat ten times. The ladies will catch him twice. Elderly eyes aren’t normally so sharp, but in the tenements they have to be.
Kelthar reaches his door on the fifth floor and mutters the incantation to disable the spell that protects it. He can hear his neighbors listening from inside their apartment across the hall. He pulls a rock from his pocket and tosses it at their door. The clack resounds down the stairwell and the door springs open. Two halflings, a man and a woman, stand in the archway. Dreadlocks hang down like beaded curtains over their shoulders. The man swipes his hair back and the cascading beads click in rapid percussion. His name is Gelf Swiftfoot and his wife is Seline. Seline smiles at Kelthar and gives him the bird. Kelthar smiles and returns the gesture. Gelf sticks his tongue out.
“We weren’t listening,” he says.
“You’ll never break in,” says Kelthar.
“Maybe we already have,” Seline posits. Kelthar stifles a laugh.
“If you ever manage to get past the door,” says Kelthar, “remember to sprint in.”
Kelthar unlocks the deadbolt, slides his apartment door open, takes a deep breath, and sprints in, slamming the door behind him. Inside, from either side of the doorway, two rigged crossbows fire, low and high, their bolts sinking into the walls, which are pockmarked with bolt holes. Kelthar inspects the keyhole, no signs of picking—the poisoned needle is still there.
Across the hall, the Swiftfeet plot their next break in; their contacts, servants and cooks in the wealthier neighborhoods, have told them who plans to be away for a time.
“Do you think he’s ever been in our place?” asks Gelf.
Seline smiles and opens a drawer in the table. Gelf looks inside and sees a message, crudely carved by a dagger.
“Kelthar 1, Swiftfeet 0”
Gelf chuckles and makes a mental note to figure out how to disable the needle he saw when he last inspected Kelthar’s lock. He should simply ask Seline. She figured it out two days ago.
In his apartment, Kelthar takes a small pouch of gold from his jacket. He crosses the room, slides his dresser a foot to the side, and loosens a floorboard. He throws the gold into the hollow. The rent will not be on time this month.