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Writer of schlock dressed up in some decent clothes.

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Solange - The Black Market

Money isn't the root; it's the nutrients in the soil that let beauty grow.

The walk to the market was brief but still gave Solange plenty of time to fantasize about the axle of the wagon splintering, the barrel hiding Neh’miah tumbling out of the cart, and it cascading into the bay where it would be swept out into the sea. In her fantasy, a marooned mariner desperate for food and drink would see a barrel wash ashore on their island prison, crack open the cask, and succumb to despair as the remains of the molding barrel thief leaked out. The thought amused her enough to fight off the urge to walk up next to the barrel and rock it herself, an action she was sure would be intercepted by one of Vargas’s thugs. It was even enough to keep her taunting tongue tied as she glanced over at Maréngo. She was almost impressed by his ability to stomach the irritant. Had she oversaturated it with coffee?

The sight of the market snuffed all thoughts of misery-making out of her head. Her eyes grew wide with greed as they consumed the stalls stocked with supplies and trinkets. Normally when she was in a market she was limited to shopping with her eyes and whatever discount she could swipe with her fingers. The parcel of gold grew heavy in her hand, the weight too much to bear. It needed to be spent. She ripped it open and an audible gasp was followed by a shuffling of hands as she stashed the money in a hidden pocket, well aware of the stickiness of the fingers of those around her. After Fontaine’s cut and the various expenses to maintain her botanical practices, it had taken Solange months of work to save up a tenth of what Vargas had just given. The stale performances weren’t even the worst of it—the amount of time spent in grueling, mind numbing conversations, so bad that she barely held back all of her urges to slash out their tongue or cut off her ears, compared to the price she was paid was pathetic.

Crunching how much time she’d have to spend listening to a sailor squawk about his shipmates to make the amount of money in that envelope made Solange’s stomach turn, her cheeks burn, and her fist tighten. Her face darkened as she glanced around the market, trying to spot her companions. When Vargas had talked about the money for the ship and the gear it seemed so abstract that she hadn’t even registered it. Now that she had a fraction of the number he’d mentioned for his price, she was bewildered. Were these thieves and killers always being paid so well while women in her profession got the scraps and the sneers? She shook and spied a jeweler across the way, the morning sun glinting off of the silver and gold. The knock-offs she wore didn’t even glimmer. Her breath caught in her throat. She deserved a treat, didn’t she? She started towards the stand.

Then she turned sharply. She would treat herself to fancy jewelry upon her return. Until then, she had to make sure she stayed alive, and the best way to do that was to prove to the others that she was of value. Ideally they would all come to their senses and see that she was worth dying for, but until then she’d settle for them at least wanting to keep her alive. She knew well enough that the best way to get someone to care about you was to seem to care about them.

Solange found herself at Ziva’s Apothecary Supplies. She knew Ziva well enough, having tracked down her stall whenever it was convenient to find remedies for Fontaine’s girls. Generally the fellow running the stall did most of the sales while Ziva prepped the packages, yet he always shied away when Solange started speaking of the girl’s unsanitary symptoms. He seemed to recognize her, because Solange didn’t even have to say a word to catch a scowl from him as he tapped Ziva on the shoulder and turned away. Solange saw Ziva as a sort of herbalism contemporary. Ziva, well…

“You do not learn? I would ask why you are here, but a blindman could see the amount of paint around your mouth. So, whose dirty little pecker did you put your pretty lips too close to this time?” asked Ziva, squinting at Solange with one eye.

“Darling, you know I do not kiss and tell. Although in regards to the blind, I am less concerned with the blemishes as I am with the fragrance of my flower. You see, this morning I thought someone had hidden murdered animal in my bed because…”

“Should really see to that delivery,” said the man as he hurried away from the stall empty handed. Solange and Ziva watched as he disappeared into the market.

“Has there ever been a better way to keep a man from infidelity?” asked Ziva, smirking. Ever since Ziva promised to share the occasional secret with her, Solange had accepted the role as the world’s most diseased harlot. All of it was to convince Ziva’s man that any working girl was a sickly, infested cesspit that was as likely to cause it to rot off as it was to get off. Solange did not know why Ziva didn’t trust the fellow. He didn’t seem like the whoring type, but watching him winge was enough to sell her on the premise.

“Castration, but that’s only fun once,” said Solange with a dark chuckle.

“So, are you here for one of the girls today?” asked Ziva.

“Myself, actually,” said Solange. She caught Ziva’s glance and stepped back with a mock hostility. “Please, love, don’t give me that look like I’m an idiot, you know I can spot a social disease even before the belt is unbuckled.”

“I know you say that. So, what are you looking for then?”

Solange explained the situation of her trip without giving Ziva any ruinous details, and the woman presented several items to prepare for the most unfortunate of circumstances. A bit of back and forth later and Ziva was bundling up a package of inexpensive but proven medical supplies. She was about to tie it up with a ribbon when she looked up at Solange and said, “You do have something to ward off the sailors, correct?”

“If raising my prices aren’t enough, I have also begun to win the affection of a very big and very violent Tork.”

“I am not speaking of your virtue. I am speaking about the drowned. Ghosts of dead sailors. Sunken ships rising out of the depths, sailed by skeletons and spirits, seeking souls to consume before the night’s end. To go sailing without the proper equipment is suicide.”

“R-ridiculous,” said Solange, feeling a chill run down her spine. “If such things exist why have I never heard about it?”

“Sailors know not to speak of it; it is bad luck. Serves as a signal to the dead. Helps them find their ships. Even knowing it is dangerous.”

“Then why tell me?” barked Solange, her fingers rubbing at her throat as she felt it start to close. Did Maréngo know of such things? Why hadn’t Vargas been informed?

Ziva shrugged. “I thought you knew. But now you can prepare. Listen, I’ll tell you how…”

Solange leaned in, listening intently as Ziva explained the necessary rituals to perform and items to prepare to fend off the spirits of the sea. By the time her explanation was done, Solange’s bundle had doubled in size as it was packed with water blessed by holy disciples of Leathe and pounds of purified salt to ward and protect. The thank yous pouring from Solange’s mouth were the most earnest words she had spoken in months, and the way her eyes looked as if they were about to pop out of her head as Ziva said that even these precautions might not be enough told the apothecary that she could fleece Solange for anything right about now. Ziva pulled a talisman out of her pocket, a black rope fastened around a piece of jade to make a bracelet. She held it out to Solange.

“Wear this on your wrist. If you ever find yourself confronted by a spirit of the dead, extend your hand forward. The jade will do the rest. Here.” Solange reached forward as Ziva snapped the bracelet back. “This is a one of a kind spirit stone that protects the living from the dead. It’s incredible rare, worth over fifty gold, b—”

“Here!” Solange didn’t even wait to hear the price drop Ziva was going to give her. Already, Vargas’s coin had swapped places with the coin and the bracelet was hanging from her left wrist.

“You are a smart girl,” said Ziva, wide-eyed. She didn’t even bother to protest. The gem wasn’t even true jade, but serpentine stone. The rope tied around it was worth more. Ziva quickly wrapped up the rest of the transaction before Solange could give it a second thought, not that she would. Solange stared at the stone with awe as she shifted the bundle under her arm and found her next stop, purchasing a black leather cloak to keep her dry if she was even needed above deck during a storm.

Her final stop took her out of the black market and back to the legitimate storefront to stock up on general goods. She had also intended to seek out a book about the island of Gnok, either of some historical value or information on local flora. Solange instead found her nose in a book of maritime folklore and sea creatures called Faithless Fathoms: Living Below Leathe’s Light. She paid for the book, returned to the cart, and sat with her back to Neh’miah’s barrel and the book opened on her lap to a chapter about the Sumek. She reached back and tapped the barrel.

“You still breathing, love? Tap once if you’re alive, twice if you’re suffocating, and three times if—” Her words pitched up into a question and grew louder as she saw Maréngo and sat up with a curious face.“—you bought a monkey?”

Solange - The Faded Lantern Tavern & Inn

For fruit to grow, a flowers pollen must be spread.

Solange maintained a polite smile as the Sheriff refused her offer, even though she had already begun to pour the poisoned coffee. It was a shame to have wasted such a special blend, but at least the man was leaving. She thought about making a smart comment about offering the man something more appetizing and a larger plate just to see if she could get him to sit down and drink her brew, but the last man she’d done that to had hit her. Solange ran her tongue along the inside of her cheek where she had bit it and tasted the iron. Sometimes, it was better to let the game end early before a playmate got fussy.

It was difficult not to take a reflexive step back as the Sheriff pulled into her, but working for Fontaine had made her used to overly enthusiastic gentlemen failing to understand boundaries. Yet something told her that the Sheriff would delight in finding her afraid of him. Only two kinds of men would willingly throw away their dignity to represent something as broken as the law in this town: absolute imbeciles and complete monsters. The Sheriff didn’t seem like a total idiot. So Solange fought the urge to stick a blade into the bit of scruff he’d missed near his jugular as the Sheriff sniffed at her like she was a freshly baked blackberry pie. Instead, she took that step back, sharply drew in her breath as he leaned down to her, and put her hand to her chest as if she were in shock while using it to act like a bustier. To top it all off, she turned her head sharply and looked away, stammering out like his patheticness was any bit of a surprise, “S-S-Sheriff!"

The performance was enough to make her own skin crawl, but Solange wondered if the bait would land as he pulled away and started pretending like he was a professional again. If he would be seeing her again real soon, she hoped he’d think that she was afraid of him, that she couldn’t do anything to stop him, and that he’d feel empowered to get close enough for a shave he didn’t want nor wouldn’t see coming but certainly deserved. Still she had to respect him for not trying to make the law sound like anything more than threats. She curtsied as the Sheriff turned and made his exit, watching him navigate the tavern from the balcony, tiny splinters from the bannister pricking under her nails as they bit into the wood, relaxing only once she saw him leave.

She turned and snatched two tainted horns from where she’d left it on the table and stormed down to the common room of the Faded Lantern, the clouds around her parting as her feet touched the landing as she reset her composure. She helped herself behind the bar, one glance shutting down the protest from the morning bartender, and fished out a funnel. Solange found a stool, searched through the secret pockets of her dress for carefully wrapped package of empty vials, and began to undo the padding. She was happy to see that her confrontation with Skartsat left the vials uncracked; he would’ve found glass in his next breakfast otherwise.

Her back to a corner so that she could see the rest of the room, the front door especially, Solange set the funnel in the vial. She began to carefully pour herself a coffee to go, the other horn sitting on the edge of the counter close to her. Steam still rose from the rim, offering a tantalizing aroma of hazelnuts and cinnamon, begging to be consumed before Solange recycled it.

Have another dad. We need more dads!

Solange - The Faded Lantern Tavern & Inn

Lies aren't needed when others make the excuse for you.

“We must run in different circles, honey. All I ever heard about the Sheriff was that he was a man of strange taste and disappointing stamina,” said Solange with a half-smile that faded quickly as Nora’s icy stare flashed like a dagger from Skarsat over to her. The redhead stood up straight and cupped her hands together to stand like a proper, professional young lady with no hint of irony in her disposition. She nodded in acknowledgment to Nora’s departing statement, Solange’s tongue twisting in her mouth as she swallowed the desire to return the Zherpanian saying with a similar one she’d heard uttered by the followers of Voi—something about making water once the passions cooled. Neither, she realized, would be advice that would need to be followed at this moment.

“Any disputes? Darling, can you believe Miss Sunshine thought we were having a...darling?” Solange craned her neck to search for Skarsat, but her plaything had already slipped away. She exchanged a glance with Sheri and smiled sweetly. “Let’s head to the kitchen. After you.”

Solange had the misfortune of dealing with Sheri before, who’d taken it upon herself to explain the lives of every member of the staff to Solange like some kind of proud, doting mother. It amazed Solange how Sheri was able to know so much about the others, considering she never took a single moment to let someone else get a word in. However, seemingly the stress of dealing with the Sheriff was enough to silence the suffocating gossip who, much to Solange’s relief, fretted with her frock more than anything. Sheri held the swinging door to the kitchen open for Solange, who stepped through after telling the woman to wait outside.

The kitchen of the Faded Lantern was normally well organized but currently in complete disarray due to the prep done to provide the would-be treasure hunters with a bountiful feast that now would go unenjoyed by half of their party. Solange eyed a tower of dirty dishes, her tongue pressing into her bruised cheek as she fought the urge to send them cascading to the ground, porcelain shattering everywhere and ruining the day of some young kitchenhand who’d be forced to scrub it all up. Perhaps if the floors weren’t already dirty the temptation would be too much for her.

She peeled herself away and found what she’d come looking for: an iron kettle filled with black, muddy coffee. Its bitter flavor would do well to mask the taste of the leaves of iris that Solange had squirreled away for a day when her sister had deeply annoyed her. She pulled the leaves out of her tiny herb pouch, casting a glance over her shoulder to make sure that none of that staff was poking their head around. Grabbing a bowl and a wooden spoon from the pile of dirty dishes, Solange pulverized the leaves until they made a fine paste, loosened it upon with a bit of water, and mixed it in with the coffee. It might add a bit of grit to the brew, but it’d be difficult to differentiate between it and loose coffee grounds.

The poison wasn’t lethal—killing her sister was out of the question, and killing the Sheriff would be bad for the local businesses—but it would ruin the better part of the morning by keeping him contained to the loo. Most likely the Sheriff would reason that the cooking was bad or that he had too much to drink the night before and not even consider that someone would dose him. She stashed her makeshift mortar and pestle in with the rest of the dishes and grabbed the wooden handle of the kettle. Popping out of the kitchen, she nodded to Sheri and followed the woman’s gaze up to the balcony. Her nose wrinkled as she caught sight of Sheriff Gerranti gesturing with a piece of bacon to one of the guards seated with him.

Solange adjusted her dress and sashayed her way up to the pig trough. She heard a bark of laughter and paused outside of the sliding door, taking a moment to come up with a story. Nerves steeled and a phony smile painted on her face, Solange pulled on the handle and found three men with crumbs on their lips staring at her. She stepped gracefully through the threshold with her chin high, casting a quick glance at the two nobodies before focusing her gaze upon the Sheriff. Normally she’d move to a spot where she could have her eyes on the door, but she needed to be able to see the main hall.

“Gentleman, I am so pleased our staff saw fit to serve you breakfast after my partner so quickly turned you away the other night. It is always so wonderful to see them take ownership, especially when it comes to taking care of a respectable man of the law. My name is Solange Belgard, Lord Vargas’s new business partner. Sheri took it upon herself to inform me of everything. I’m afraid we’d be here well past supper if we were to wait for Lord Vargas, but I may answer what questions you have in his stead. However, before that…” She placed her hand on the back of an empty chair and leaned forward, squeezing her chest up as she raised the tainted kettle, her blue eyes narrowing. “...who needs more coffee?”
Solange moved a hand up to wipe the blood from her lip and kept it there to cover her grin as Skarsat let loose. What he called foolish arrogance she viewed as confidence. Still, it wasn’t the first nor would it be the last time a man viewed her own self-assurance as something that threatened their standing. She’d hope that Skarsat wasn’t quite the simpleton he appeared to be, but sometimes the simplest solution was the right one. There were only two reasons for a man to ever get so upset at a woman for, as far as she was capable of seeing it (as Solange was incapable of ever seeing her own faults), nothing more than a little teasing.

The first reason she thought of was that Skarsat hated women. Yet while he had undermined Nora by striking Solange, there wasn’t enough evidence beyond that. He solely seemed to hate Solange and Solange only. Thus the second reason became the only reason, and it brought so much joy to Solange that her hand could no longer hide her bloody smile. Skarsat had a crush on her, and like a young boy pushing a girl he liked into the mud he was confounded by his feelings and could only express them through sheer aggression. Goodness, she couldn’t wait to be stuck on a ship with him! How fun it would be to break his oversized heart.

“Sweetheart, with how tall you are I fear the reason some of you arrows may miss is because you are simply firing over your target’s head. With all of your experience, it confuses me as to why I must be the one to tell you that maybe you just have to aim lower,” she said, her eyes catching his foot tracing the ground towards her skirt. As Skarsat turned to move away from her as well as wallop her with a sharp kick, Solange deftly stepped over his foot and moved out of the chair as she joined him at his side. In stark contrast to her advice to him, he really should’ve aimed higher. She dragged a sharp finger down the side of his arm, leaving a faint trail of her own blood, and whispered, “Do you believe I’m afraid of others hating me? There's no difference between being loved or being hated. Either way, I'm the only thing they can ever think about.”

Solange moved quickly out of his reach, cast one glance back at Skarsat as Sheri entered the room to ask for Percy, and then Solange pretended to be more interested in plucking a plum from the table than avoiding a smack that would surely come if her touch lingered for another second. She spun around to lean against the table, set the uneaten plum down, and pulled out a compact mirror and a handkerchief. She glared at the bruise forming on her cheek, and then wiped the ruined lipstick and blood from her mouth.

“Percival is doing his job. It’s one of the admirable things about him,” said Solange. Percival had a knack about giving himself deniability, knowing the less he saw the better his day went. He’d slipped out the moment the room had turned hostile. She looked towards Skarsat who was supposed to be waking Neh’miah with the man but held her tongue. Voi must’ve been playing a game with them. If everyone had been even a bit more timely, they probably would’ve walked right into the Sheriff while leaving the tavern. Solange just worried as she twisted the ring on her finger that the goddess wasn’t done twisting fate’s thread yet this morning. She tilted her head towards Nora.

“Darling, you said yourself that Vargas wants everyone on that ship, and none of us would dare disappoint the Lord, ” said Solange as she began to touch up the bruise on her cheek with makeup. “I doubt I could knock as loudly as our Tork friend or cool the passion between two lovers as quickly as you, but if you would like I could return with dear Sheri here and help ensure that the only thing the Sheriff and his men get this morning is a free meal. Alternatively, I can meet you all at the ship. It’d give me plenty of time to turn what would’ve been poor Neh’miah’s cabin into a drawing room.”
For the briefest of moments, Solange thought that perhaps Skarsat was actually comforting her. She wiped away the traitorous tears with a flick of her finger and looked up to meet his gaze as he lowered himself to be almost face to face with her. She tried to muster up a flirty smile that faltered and slipped away through the floorboards as his words mocked her own. Solange caught a look in his eyes. Violent men wasn’t something she dealt with often while working for Fontaine thanks to the protection she offered through the reputation of her enforcer alone, but there had been one altercation with a man from her hometown who happened to stop by the brothel. Unlucky that she was working that night, really. What were the odds? His eyes were forever burned into her mind. Skarsat’s eyes didn’t look so different.

If she went back the momentum would take her to the ground, so she ducked forward instead. If Solange was quick, Skarsat’s hand would run through the waves of her hair and she could try to weasel out from under his arm. She wasn’t quick enough. The smack echoed throughout the room as his hand smacked across Solange’s cheek so hard that if not for his other hand to catch her she would’ve been knocked from the chair by the momentum of her head whipping. She bit down on her lip so hard that it bled; her pained scream twisted in her mouth and morphed into a defeated chuckle.

She squirmed in her seat and looked away from Skarsat, half her face covered by her hair where it had been knocked once he’d hit her, her cheek already changing like a chameleon to match it’s reddish tone. A tear from her eyes lost a race to her chin against a droplet of blood from her lip. It was strange, but he didn’t frighten her as much as Nora. Once the threat of violence was gone and all that remained was the pain it wasn’t so bad. Pain was a dear, old friend.

“Thank you, love. I was being hysterical,” she said softly, the same defeated tone she’d given to Nora just moments ago. However, unlike with the bandit woman she looked up at Skarsat, a shimmer in her eyes that wasn’t the tears. There was a certainty to her that shouldn’t have been there, an undeserved sense that she was coming out of this exchange on top. Striking her would have consequences, even if not immediate. She smiled at him, her teeth stained red with blood and lipstick. “Now, would you like to continue telling me about how I’m the one imagining putting you to my breast like a suckling babe, or is mommy’s big boy going to wake up Neh’miah like he was told?”
The childish giggling became a nervous chuckle and then died quietly, snuffed out by Nora’s shadow that now loomed over Solange. Eyes widening, Solange adjusted herself against the legs of the chair so that, if needed, she could easily bolt under the table and out the door. She was clever enough to realize that a mistake had been made, but too immature to accept that she’d been the one to make it. Vargas was to blame, then, having hired a woman incapable of being the butt of a joke. The late sleepers deserved a thrashing as well. If not for their irresponsibility, Solange wouldn’t be here, on the ground, wincing.

A sound of surprise like a mouse being pounced upon by an alleycat squeaked out of Solange’s lips as Nora dug a finger into her shoulder. She felt her body seize up as if she’d just stepped into an ice bath. She stopped fidgeting, although she drew her right leg up towards herself as her eyes jumped from Nora’s darkening stare to the woman’s fingers settling upon one of her blades. Solange’s right hand slid from her lap and came to a rest on the floor as she began to do some bloody calculations behind the fear in her eyes.

Unless Skarsat intervened, Nora could easily see her dead, yet if Solange saw the flash of steel she might be able to clip through Nora’s heel with her own dagger. Solange would be dead, but Nora’s career would be killed if the injury crippled. Perhaps she could live out the rest of her days working for Fontaine instead. Judging by her tone on the word harlot, she’d love it. The image of Nora painting her face and dressing in lace was almost enough to inspire Solange to make the move first. Her hand pressed against the fabric of her dress, but didn’t slip under it yet. Nora’s bitter laugh smacked a bit of sense back into Solange. Strangely, Solange found Nora’s commitment to her duty admirable even as it was leveled against her. The threat of butchery didn’t terrify Solange nearly as much as the promise of her being kept for Vargas. If it came to that—it wouldn’t, she was sure.

Solange pulled her hand back away from her dress and lifted herself up into her seat. Her head hung in silent dejection for a moment. She knew she should put on a brave face, swallow her pride, and, even though she clearly did no wrong, apologize and diffuse the situation, spinning it into a thread she could pull at later. It would be the clever thing to do, but even if she were clever her damned luck would see her fail. It always did.

“I understand,” she said with a choke, looking down at her hands. A teardrop leapt from her eye and splattered violently on the back of her hand. Solange stared at it in horror, sniffled, and dug her nails into her thighs. Once Skarsat and Nora left she’d be able to quickly recollect herself and smother her embarrassment, but for now her shoulders shook. She felt utterly pathetic. She couldn’t even bring herself to meet Nora’s eyes. “Wake the others. Neither of us wants to disappoint Lord Vargas.”
With her back turned to the Tork, Solange could only pray that her body was blocking his view of the grape that she’d just plucked pop between her fingers as he asked her if she’d ever tried being silent. His words had cracked open her shell and poured salt onto her exposed skin, her face shriveling into a horrid expression of contempt as she milled the guts of the grape between her thumb and forefinger and imagined it was something of more personal value to Skarsat. Her shoulders tensed as she turned her head to look over them, her eyes narrow like the arrowslit of a fortress under siege, a deadly look nocked and ready to be fired. Solange saw the smile, her shoulders relaxed, and the standoff ended without bloodshed as she shook her head and chuckled.

“Absolutely incredible, truly, absolutely incredible. You nearly got it on your first guess. So close,” said Solange with a wag of her finger. Using two hands and a bit of willpower she grabbed the large plate—a serving platter, really—and gently handed it to Skarsat without spilling any of the contents on him. “Only I said it was one of the three best things I gave, darling. Shut up and feed me?” Solange rolled her eyes yet maintained a playful smile. “Those would qualify as two of the things men most commonly demanded of me, with the third thing being for me to lie to them about how amazingly, wonderfully, unbelievably and incredibly big—”

At that moment Nora walked in and Solange briefly stopped talking, which must’ve been much to Skarsat’s relief. Solange tried to return Nora’s cold nod with a warm smile, but she couldn’t control her eyebrow from raising in a look of curious amusement as Solange wondered how it was possible for Nora to look so annoyed so early in the morning. Solange glanced down at the feast, got up from where she was leaning against the table, and gave Skarsat a wink, mouthed “fun’s over”, and said, “Can you believe it, love? They gave us this wonderful fruit yet forgot the key ingredient to make sangria. I doubt either of us would have much hope of actually enjoying this meal without it.”

Solange’s exit was quick but not without grace, and she returned partway into Nora’s conversation with Percival, a glass of wine in her hand. One glass, specifically. Skarsat was a big man and she’d already played serving girl for him once already, so he could get his own damn drink. Solange hated not being up to date on the latest gossip, so she used the opportunity of crushing randomly chosen citrus into her glass and calling it breakfast as an excuse to listen in on Nora’s conversation. Neh’miah sleeping in late? How scandalous! Solange yawned and was about to tune out. She was glad she didn’t.

“I will attend to our two other lost colleagues. The hour is too late for lazy depravity, we have much to do before we set sail, and precious little time for foolishness such as this. I know where Y'Vanna hides, I know her many vices, and I know how to handle her when she had her fun."

“Sweetie, if I didn’t know any better I’d be so bold as to say that you’re jealous,” cooed Solange, her hair twisted into a tight coil around a finger, her eyes joyfully dissecting Nora. “If it’ll help ice your bruise, I didn’t get an invitation either. Lucky me, really. I would’ve hated to break their hearts about as much as I would’ve hated for Lord Vargas to then break their necks. Oh, but I’m sure there’s a good reason for you not being propositioned as…”

Wait, that annoyed look earlier now made so much more sense. Solange’s cheeks puffed out and her eyes crackled with a mischievous energy. No amount of contouring and lipstick, no number of revealing dresses and risque poses, and no utterance of suggestive sentences and flirty winks could prevent the image of a young, immature brat breaking through the mask of a seasoned seductress as Solange lifted her finger, pointed it at Nora, and squealed with delight as the pieces perfectly clicked together.

“No, fuck me dead! You are jealous! Like, jealous-jealous!” Solange cackled. She fell back into a chair, head back, hand on her forehead, and sunk low. Her accent slipped from its affected poshness she’d learned at the brothel and slammed back into her small hamlet accent referred to by the girls of the house as “bitch bumpkin” as she continued to howl with laughter, tears beginning to stream down her cheeks that were turning the shade of her hair. “Piss on the treasure, this is gold. Now have ya known her or didja wanna know her? How’s it feel, knowing that salty son of a whore’s probably knowing her right now?”

The mad laughter cut to a halt as Solange, who'd laughed herself so hard she'd slid out of the chair and was practically sitting on the floor, looked up at Nora with delight. "Ooh, that why you're in such a hurry then? Gonna ruin their good time, or didja plan on jumping in with hopes to expedite that their depravity? Hear that, big guy? You get to kiss sleeping beauty and she gets the orgy. Hardly a fair trade."

Solange - The Faded Lantern

It would raise too many questions to leave the Red Sail with packed bags. Solange spent the night with the chair jammed underneath the doorknob, worried that her sister would wise up and try to convince her to stay or, worse, flap her gums and prompt unwanted attention to turn her way. Even after the jambori had settled down and the music stopped, Solange hardly slept, drifting off only to jump alert at the sound of footsteps passing by her room as some overnight guest struggled to find the loo. The night dragged on for what felt like an eternity, and she slipped out at first light to the Faded Lantern, lugging two packs brimming with dresses, journals, and alchemical supplies. She had heard enough horror stories from the sailors she’d slept with to squirrel away a few extra days worth of rations for herself, too. Knowing her luck she doubted it’d be a smooth sail.

It was already sweltering even though the sun’s golden rays had just begun to crest above the bay. Solange tugged at her collar and huffed, shifting the weight of the packs to try and ease her burden as she passed by the handful of sleeping revellers that’d failed to party until dawn. She imagined that most of their pockets had been picked clean by now, and the strain of the bags made her not want to dawdle. She quickened her pace and entered the Faded Lantern, abandoning her bags to Percival as quickly as she could. Secreted away in one of her hidden pockets was an itemized list of what she’d packed. She figured ol’ Percy lacked the guts to try and snag a tip, but she would rather play it safe.

A delectable aroma wafted from the meeting room and Solange felt her stomach rumble at the cornucopia set out for their band of rascillions. However, as difficult as it was to not satiate her appetite immediately, it was even more difficult to not notice the large Tork man despite his efforts to try and blend in with the wall decorations. It appeared that he was the only one to have arrived so far besides her. A devious smile flashed across Solange’s face. How perfect! It was difficult to pull the strong, silent type out of their shell while in a loud setting. Alone, he had no choice but to be wrapped up in her web.

“Good morning, darling! I am pleased to see that you felt no reservation in helping yourself to the food this morning,” said Solange.

Her hand flicked out and snagged the back of a chair, the leg scraping across the floor like an alarm harbinging the end times for Skarsat’s wallflower days. Solange sat down far enough as to not immediately burst his bubble, but close enough so that looking at the floor would be the only way to escape her presence. She sat with her legs crossed, her billowing dress slit just above the knee, and fingers idly playing with the strings on her bodice as she locked eyes with Skarsat.

“Sleep well, I hope? Did they ever get you that hammock? I was so excited I could hardly rest. I’m sorry I did not have more time to get to know you last evening, but you didn’t strike me as the type of man who’d enjoy playing dress-up—at least not with your superior in the room,” said Solange, her lip curling into a warm smile. “Of course I am referring to that Zherpa woman, my dear. I might be Lord Vargas’s business partner, but that doesn't mean you and I aren’t equals. If there is anything that you need, please do not hesitate to ask.”

“Believe me, love, I’ve been told that advice is the third best thing that I give. I’ll leave the other two up to your imagination...for now,”
she said, standing to peruse the food. “Would you like another plate, dear?”
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