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Heat on Celsius, S1A1E3

Heat on Celsius, Starset RPG living lore

This story is a part of Starset: The Great Dimming's living lore. To learn more about the living lore of Hoodwink's Starset RPG, click here.

A remarkably normal old man named Celsius struggled to restore the nightclub. Fluids clung to the floor, sticking everywhere he stepped. The air hung like a moist blanket, misted with sweat, that clung to his clothes as he moved. A couple tables were broken in the corner of the dance floor, and tiny pieces of glass littered the area next to the bar from where drinks had fallen. In all, it had been a civil night.

Nero, Slimy Snitch NPC stats, Starset RPG

The creepy new kid with horns was still behind the bar, inventorying drinks and tallying the final receipts in the registers. What a freak, Celsius thought to himself. The kid brought customers in alright. But he was a creep, even by the club’s standards. What was his name? Nero, that was it. Behind Nero, a hologram display projected a flat screen, flipping through the evening news cycle.

“Hey,” the kid said, pointing at the screen. “Hey, that guy was in here last night.”

Celsius kept his eyes on the floor, mopping. “Everyone comes through here, kid. You’ll learn that eventually.”

“Even terrorists wanted for sedition?”

The older man propped his mop against a table and lumbered over. Sure enough, a flickering projection of a man circled in the air. He had dark skin, a nearly bald head, and was missing part of his left ear. Words scrolling across the bottom of the screen listed accusations of inciting rebellion and petty acts of violence. They ended with the apparent murder of a Marquis baron in the city of Stratis. Hardly petty.

“Stratis… That’s only about a hundred miles from here, isn’t it?” Nero murmured. “Hell, that’s one dangerous fella.” He shivered and licked his lips with that coiling, forked tongue. It was Celsius’ turn to shiver.

“Get back to work.”

A knock came from the door across the club, just barely echoing over the whispers of the broadcast. Celsius went back to his mop, hoping whoever the drunkards were would get the hint. They did not.

After the third round of knocking, he finally walked across the beleaguered dance floor and unlatched the door. “We’re closed –”

The words died in his mouth. A trio of brutes stood in the tunnel steps leading down to the club door. In the shadows, it was hard to mark out details. But he saw the tarnished barrels of weapons and the block “T” of the Trojan mercenary group.

“Don’t worry, Celsius,” a woman murmured gently from the front of the squad. “We’re just here to talk business.”

Ataraxia, Trojan Investigator NPC stats, Starset RPG

“Nero,” Celsius called behind him.

“Yeah?” he heard the kid answer.

“Get out.” Celsius did not turn around. Instead, he waited until the shuffle and footsteps faded, and he stepped aside. The three mercenaries shouldered past, ducking the low ceiling until they made it onto the dance floor and club proper. It was eerie. People came to club for the security and comfort of being surrounded by a huge space on a lonely night. But the same huge space, empty except for three familiar and unfriendly faces, had the opposite effect.

“It’s nearly five in the morning, so I am not going to screw with wires,” the woman said, using a popular phrase. She had white hair, cut to a buzz on her whole head except the back, where it ran in a long white braid down her back. “Your loan from the Count is up. And he hasn’t seen a penny of the interest.” She shrugged, picking up an empty whisky glass from the bar and inspecting it. “So we’re here to talk.”

Words spit through Celsius’ head as she talked. This conversation had been on his mind for days, but he was still entirely unprepared. He opened his mouth and flinched at what came out.

“Well what do you expect? Nobody wants to spend money since the new levies he’s charging. The taxes are driving out business, people, investment, everything. I can’t even get a full set of rooms since he –”

The woman gently planted a hand over his mouth. “That sounds like a serious problem. But it’s your serious problem. And I’m here to remind you of another one. You have a loan to pay.” She looked up from his wide eyes and glanced around the club. “A place like this? In this dump of a city? You must turn a million credits through that door every month. Hm?” She slowly slid her hand away from his face.

He furrowed his brows. “Even if I did, that isn’t profit. Do you know how much it costs? Security, repairs, alcohol – not to mention taxes! I can’t turn that into the profit you need.”

“Then you shouldn’t have turned it into the loan you needed.”

Celsius swallowed. “What if I can’t pay?”

A fighter behind the woman smirked beneath the metal blast visor that covered the top half of his face.

“If you can’t pay,” the woman started, “then the count will appeal to the Marquis for repossession of your club. It should cover… Oh, 80 percent of your debts?”

“And the other 20?”

It was the woman’s turn to smirk. “Well. Your accounts will be drained. Your assets sold. How much would that add up to, Celsius?” He swallowed again. She knew the answer. “And, if you still prove a liability to the throne, you’ll be taken to the Republic Judicator to settle your debts. Perhaps sold into labor to be a better asset to your community.”

“You can’t do this,” he whispered.

She stepped forward until their noses nearly touched. Her eyes were dark, like pools of black ice filling his swimming vision. “I’m not doing anything,” she whispered in return. Her breath was cold against his cheek. “But you better believe I will.”

“Wait!” Celsius stepped away, colliding with the bar counter. He rubbed his eyes and raised his hands frantically. “Wait, wait. What if I could give you something else? Something worth a fortune?”

The woman scoffed. “What could be worth what you owe?”

“Information,” he shot back. She cocked her head. “The terrorist,” he started, pointing at the hologram screen that still flickered, even though the face he was describing had long since disappeared. “A terrorist named Ajax. The Count is hunting him, isn’t he? Reports say he murdered the Baron of Stratis, and that he’s coming for the Count next.” The last part wasn’t strictly true – but the truth lacked the urgency he needed.

The woman turned to one of her companions, her braid whipping behind her. The other mercenary nodded. She directed her attention back to Celsius. “What of him?”

“What if I told you he was here? What if I could tell you who he met with? If I could tell you where he was going next, I think the count’s life would be worth a few debts.”

The woman pursed her lips. Drawing a knife from her belt, she traced the blade across her lips pensively. “You know. You might be right.”

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