The elven wine came in three different varieties; a green elven summer wine, an Evereskan red, and a dry white that seemed to have come from somewhere in Greyspace. Of the three, the summer wine was his personal favourite. He brought those up first. “I recommend this one,” he said to Luigi. “We used to drink it back home.” He coughed and cleared his throat. Then he went back down and hauled up the ale.
“Set it in the empty spot,” Luigi instructed him. In the meantime, the beholder had tossed some trash into the empty cask and he asked Shaundar to carry the full barrel that preceded it into the alley; which he did.
Shaundar saw the movement out of the corner of his eye at about the same time that the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He put the stack of waste barrels between him and the intruders. A small troupe of brightly-dressed street performers came into the alley; except that these so-called performers were armed with slings and belaying-pins. There were two humans, a mustachioed man and a hatchet-faced woman; a gnome with a respectably tall red hat, a scowling halfling, and a half-elven youth with a pencil-thin mustache. He resembled the human male somewhat.
“Good evening, Mr. Sunfall,” the man with the curly mustachios greeted him with a bow and a flourish. “The Juggler, on behalf of her friend young Mr. Kullek, sends her regards.” He grinned and they began to spread out, tapping their pins against their hands.
Kullek? Who in the Demonweb was Kullek? But the Juggler was a name he knew. She was one of the four legendary Underbarons of Bral; a leader of a criminal syndicate that often included swindlers and con men, according to rumour. He supposed that explained the performers’ outfits. “Don’t do this to yourselves,” Shaundar sighed. He had no urge to fight anyone; he was weary of death and bloodshed. “If you’re here for the little punk I threw out of the bar last night, he’s not worth the effort.”
The mustachioed man’s grin widened. “The Juggler takes the needs of her clients very seriously.” Shaundar saw with an inward wince that he had mistaken Shaundar’s reluctance for fear. They started moving towards him.
“To the Hells with this,” Shaundar said in disgust, waving a hand dismissively, and he turned to head out the other end of the alley.
“Please, one moment,” another voice chimed in, this one slightly accented. Everyone was equally surprised to find the other way blocked by a pack of five Shou men with rolled-up shirt sleeves and tattoos completely coating the visible parts of their arms to the wrist. Three were apparently unarmed and two had twin weapons that looked like some kind of billy clubs with handles so that they could be clutched against the long bones of the forearms. One of the unarmed ones clasped his hands before him and made a perfunctory bow. “Nai hao, konnichiwa, Mr. Sunfall. We represent Mr. Ozamata, who offers protection services for the inhabitants of the Low City. I understand you reneged on your agreement with your landlord?” He was crisp and polite.
Shaundar groaned. Mr. Ozamata was the head of the Shou Town criminal syndicate, the Yakuza. They were a dangerous bunch. The other guys probably just wanted to rough him up, but they might actually kill him.
“We were here first,” snapped the hatchet-faced woman to the tattooed Shous.
The Yakuza man smiled a bit more. “I am sorry to disappoint the Juggler and to deprive you of your fee, but Mr. Ozamata has an image to uphold. It would reflect very poorly on his business if he were to fail to provide the services he is paid for.” Now the two groups began to keep watch on each other as well as Shaundar.