Making her way through the rows of refugees, Fiosa passed out food and water and checked on wounds as needed. The temple was getting crowded, and she was amazed that the Children’s “hideout” hadn’t yet attracted the attention of the Dotari. But considering the horrors that were on the streets and in the skies of Westcrown these days, perhaps it wasn’t so amazing.
Lost in her thoughts, Fiosa didn’t notice the pale, small halfling until she bumped right into her.
“Oh! Excuse me . . .” she started, until she recognized the face in front of her. Tysa, Viggo Blackbriar’s right hand and closest confidant.
“Boss wants to see you,” the white-haired girl said in that soft, haunted voice of hers.
“He’s not my boss,” Fiosa said, but the other had already retreated. Fiosa muttered to herself, handed her load off to one of the other Children, and ran to catch up.
“And what does his lordship want from me, might I ask?” But Tysa gave no response, leading Fiosa down into the temple’s cellar. In the dim torchlight among the boxes and bags of supplies, she saw a handful of halflings standing around near the entrance to the sewers. All were listening intently to the man himself, and every one had that feverish look in his or her eye, the one she had come to recognize and fear. Viggo’s people were slavishly devoted to him, more acolytes than followers.
Fiosa shuddered as she watched. The young halfling spoke to each of his people quietly. Tysa kept her far enough back that she couldn’t hear what he was saying. But at the end of each exchange, she watched Viggo shake a hand or touch a shoulder, and the listener would nod firmly and disappear, either into the sewers or up the stairs past her.
Finally it was just the three of them left: Viggo, Tysa and Fiosa. Tysa took her place behind the young man, whispering in his ear as she passed. He stared quietly at Fiosa, his intense green eyes bearing down on her like a weight. She forced herself to return his gaze.
He didn’t look like much, this man that scared her so. A halfling dressed in rags, like many in this city (even more now, she thought to herself). Down here he was stripped down to a sleeveless black tunic that showed his muscled, tattooed arms.
He probably did that to impress me, she thought and sniffed. Well, good luck, buster.
“Where’s Rufus?” she asked. That big talking mutt was the only thing about this little psycho that she liked. Despite his terrifying appearance, the dog was a sweet heart.
“He’s around,” Viggo said, his voice like gravel.
“Look, Viggo, I don’t have time to chit-chat. There are a lot of work to do upstairs, and . . .”
“I have a job for you.”
Fiosa’s face burned. How dare he! As if I was one of his flunkies, she thought.
“I don’t work for you, Viggo,” she hissed. “And I never will. We’ve gone over this before . . .” But he just stared at her until her voice faded out. Why did he scare her so much?
“I think you’ll like this job, Fiosa.” The sound of her name passing his lips made her shudder, cutting through her rage. “I’m starting something new. Something for our people. Something to help them out during this . . . trouble.” He shook his head. “But after too. After we’ve sorted all this out. After all this chaos is over, I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. So I’m going to start doing things to make sure they won’t.”
“What’re you talking about? We’re already helping people.”
“I don’t want to help people,” Viggo spat. “I said ‘our people’. Halflings. And other small folk, I suppose. That parts up to you.”
“What do you mean, ‘up to me’?”
He turned his back to her and began picking up his things.
“I don’t have time to do the nice stuff . . . the good stuff that needs to be done, Fiosa,” he said, strapping on a bandolier bristling with daggers. “And, to be honest, I don’t think I’m much damn good at it.” Viggo looked at her. “But you are. I’ve watched you with those people upstairs. They listen to you. They trust you.”
“But what about . . .”
“We have other people to take care of the humans. Hells, you can keep working here too if you want. But I need you to run the new place. A place where halflings can come for help, for healing, for protection . . . for other things.” He nodded at Tysa. “She’ll be there with you, my ears and such. But you’ll run things, Fiosa.”
“Wait a minute. You’re saying what? That you’re going to give me money, and I can help people however I want? With no interference from you?”
“Whatever you want. Buy what from whom for whom . . . whatever. Hire or recruit, pay the bills, organize . . . I don’t care how you do it.”
Fiosa’s mind race. With real coin, she could do so much. Save lives. Not just save them. Make them better. She could set up a school for the children, a sanctuary for the elderly. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This was Viggo gods damned Blackbriar. He was a killer, a lunatic. And he was offering her a chance to make a real difference.
His voice broke into her thoughts.
“I only have one rule.” The darkness was back in his eyes . . . if it had ever left. “Not a single coin goes to help a human. No matter what. They have their own people to take care of them. As long as you follow that rule, you do things however you want.”
“But where . . .?”
“I’ve got a place set up in the Regio Sacera. An abandoned merchant’s house.” Fiosa’s mind recoiled from the way he emphasized the word ‘abandoned.’ She knew what that meant coming from him. But . . .
Viggo threw his cloak of rags over his shoulders. The crazy thing covered him almost completely from head to toe. Pulling Tysa close, he whispered in her ear and lay a kiss on her forehead. Then he turned back to Fiosa.
“So do we have a deal?” Viggo thrust out a black-gloved hand.
Fiosa felt herself reach for his hand. This man was a devil, and she knew it. But how could she refuse? All the people she could help . . . all the good she could do. She clasped his hand.
“Deal,” she said softly. Iomedae help me. I think I’m making a big mistake. “So do you have a name for this things we’re doing?”
Viggo flashed a wide smile, something she couldn’t remember ever seeing before, and then pulled his hood up over his head, wiping the grin away.
“Of course. Halfling House.” And with those words, he turned and disappeared into the shadows.