(Squid tentacles courtesy of BookScorpion, image to be found here. Thanks for use of your excellent stock photography!)
This article originally appeared at the Old School Heretic Blog.
Every good setting requires a selection of the Usual Suspects, a rogue's gallery of those lesser villains who are always running afoul of the forces of decorum and civility, the keepers of the peace and such-like. In a world where Mad Wizards vie with Insane Geniuses and Bizarre Adepts, not every criminal is a hardened miscreant just out of one of the Gulag-Asylums, nor are they all super-genius occult Masterminds of Crime like Navarre. Some of them are just bad people doing bad things badly. Others are just no darn good. Either way, here following are a set of Twelve Lesser (Yet Thoroughly Immodest) Petty-Criminals from Riskail. You might want to check your wallet.
Twelve Lesser Villains (Usual Suspects) of Riskail
A shriveled and twisted little man with an absolutely horrible skin-affliction that may well be the work of some lingering viruxive-hex inflicted upon him by some former, now deceased rival. He seems to be subject to many such clandestine-contagions. Not all of them are necessarily psychosomatic. Palj lives in a cellar below a third-rate bar along one of the backwater alleys behind the Third River-gate. Once a ruthless academic, Palj has dropped-out of Academia to pursue his personal investigation and immersion in a number of unsavory outre beliefs and odd theories free of the restrictions, censorship and all-too-frequent duels over his dwindling reputation and rejected doctrines. It's not that he can't defend himself, it's more a matter of how all the fighting was cutting into his research-time. Palj is a deadly duellist and only those with a deathwish seek him out for such things any more.
He is a spiteful, hateful being, prone to bouts of brooding and thoroughly addicted to the pungent concoctions of the Malagir root-barbers. His blood is now so foul with strange enzymes that he can no longer form functional clones or reproduce in any way whatsoever. In fact, anyone infected with Palj's blood will quickly suffer from a strange type of pernicious sterility that will eventually cause all cells removed from the body to self-digest into raw protoplasm. In time, this condition will accelerate and the cells will just start digesting themselves even if they are still all together, leaving the victim a writhing mess of non-viable and unrecoverable cellular debris. Palj is known to sell his blood on occasion, for use by the unscrupulous, but his major claim to minor-league infamy is his well known cultivations of connections to a wide array of separatists, rejectionists, nanihilists, faux-anarchists and other dissident groups, allegedy including Dershav terrorists who may, or may not have taught him some of their techniques for manipulating telluric energy currents as weapons. Palj is without conscience, without scruples and without honor. He will provide information on many obscure and dangerous things both esoteric and politic, and being an addict, he can be somewhat pliable and almost agreeable to those who offer to supply his ever-increasing needs. But no matter what you do, say, try or threaten, Palj will never willingly speak one word in regard to his own work.
Tall, twitchy and very, very yellow, Talill is the shambling wreckage of what once was a beautiful woman whose unhealthy complexion is covered in delicate spirals of decorative sores which ooze a wide variety of psychotropic toxins derived from frogs, toads, and bloat-slugs. Her body is a seething riot of conflicting viruxes that have become trapped in her as though she has become some sort of open-ended talisman or spirit-catcher, trapping any virux that she encounters in her pitiful meanderings. They torment her, but are no longer capable of further transmission. Each virux taken into Talill's body contributes to the ongoing (often painful) regenerative reformatting of her intrinsic biology. She has become a pestilence confined unto herself. An evolutionary dead-end of the grimmest, direst sort and entirely on a personal level.
She once was a Sibyl, but ran afoul of a mighty Venduu Ladymother and has since been horribly disfigured and indelibly tainted by the vengeful amphibious biomantry of the Venduu. She gives birth regularly to batches of toads, frogs, salamanders and other such things through her suppurating pores and sores and elsewise, even to the extent of vomiting forth offspring at times, but her internal, natural reproductive system is entirely intact, virginal and sealed within a scaly cyst, not that anyone would ever care to know this fact. She is disgusting, incredibly unhygienic and thoroughly unappealing. Few want to deal with such a wretched creature as what Talill has become. Most refer to her case as an example of why no one sane wishes to ever incur the wrath of the Venduu by harming their childspawn. Ever. She is a living, breathing, walking biomantric object lesson. Even the Penitent Gods give Talill a wide berth should they encounter her in their annual pilgrimage.
Accursed and biohexed beyond redemption or recovery, Talill rarely remains in one place or one particular state of consciousness for very long. A gifted medium and channeler, Talill chants three different litanies of gibberish while carrying on any conversation and her responses may be to someone -- or something -- else on another planar layer, so it is difficult to know for sure when she's actually engaged in conversation with you or otherwise. When threatened or disturbed, which happens far, far too often, Talill resorts to threats and insists that she is the Maidenmother of an entire army of angry spirits who'll be here soon. Sometimes, when she's truly put-out, suffering from a particularly painful delivery, or excessively ecstaticized, she has been known to send forth some unseen advance unit from her spirit-army to harass or assassinate competing mediums. The only thing that Talill hates more than Venduu are mediums. Just placing a lock of a medium's hair in her path will sometimes get her to notice them, and it often goes precipitously downhill after that. Few consult this disgraced and disheveled ruin of a wise-woman. But few others know the things that she does about the Venduu and fewer still are so caught-up in the sordid, covert and criminal affairs of so many other planar layers. You could learn much from Talill were you to intercede on her behalf with any of the shop-keepers or merchants along the Street of Sibyls whom she threatens, blackmails and shoplifts from constantly in order to survive. But do you really want to know what this giggling, garrulous beggar-sibyl has to tell you, and where might it lead? And why does she fear the Umbrach of Mishtang?
A giant with sinister oily-green-gold eyes and the powerful voice of a demagogue and rabble-rouser. Badallu affects the dress and means of an Aristocrat, but confines his efforts to the lower three Tiers of the city. He can often be found along the Low Esplanades, regaling strangers with his tall-tales and spreading the memetic seeds of dissatisfaction, civil-strife, and revolution. He has recently become a convert to the cause of Kuchimbra, the Cthonic-Madonna of Bitter Tears, whom he has decided is his Muse. His retinue is made up of reprogrammed thralls, drones and various sorts of robots, all draped in the violet robes worn in commemoration of the Pale Lady of the Underworld.
More of a civic nuisance than much of anything else, Badallu is a catalyst for petty acts of civil unrest, property damage, nuisance-making, and protests, most of which rarely last more than a few minutes at best. As a self-declared (yet un-registered) Tribune of the Laborers, Badallu seeks admittance to Parliament, but his 'constituents' have never formally acknowledged him. He preaches sermons of dissent and political reform that are contradictory, recursive and convoluted to the point that even he himself cannot quite fathom just what it is that he is after or has said. What matters is action. So long as someone somewhere has been moved to act, then his words will have been validated, no matter how hypocritical or meaningless they might be in and of themselves. Politics lives in actions, not rhetoric, or so Badallu has often stated, though he himself seems to wallow in rhetoric and conjecture, theories and heated discussions, often-times taking on both sides of an argument just to keep the dialogue flowing. Anyone can talk to themself, Badallu passionately argues two or more diametrically opposed viewpoints simultaneously with no need for any outside input. Just an audience. Badallu loves his own voice, but he loves having it heard over all else.
Badallu is always urging the weak-willed and those impressionable or vulnerable to his wiles and guile to commit acts of pointless violence, begin protesting, picketing various establishments, calling for change, and so on. And for a suitable contribution to The Cause, one can hire him to descend upon or gate-crash any event, so long as it is public and guaranteed to get him further exposure. The Trade Unionists have been known to utilize his services from time to time, and the Craftsfamilies of the hereditary Guilds abhor and denounce him, publicly. He also teaches a course in Applied Political Science once a week at the Academy. It is almost always full.
A stammering, pale adolescent herm with tawny-eyes and an insoucient pout upon their perpetually crooked lips, Tairo rarely raises their voice above a muttering mumble. Tairo's aura is so polluted with trivia and resonant nonsense that their presence is very much like a cloud that infects any group or gathering with confusion and spontaneous bouts of mass-glossalia. There are rumors that Tairo was subjected to some sort of process derived from the old Rager programs, or that they are a precursor to the Ragers, someone who was manipulated and experimented-upon before the techniques were perfected. No one has confirmed any of this, so far, and seeing as how Tairo is caught-up in a cloud of confusion and gibberish, it is highly unlikely that anyone will ever get to the bottom of the matter. At least not easily. Tairo is a master pick-pocket and a thief who specializes in lifting things from people in the midst of crowds, in broad daylight and walking away scott-free. Tairo absolutely adores festivals and often slips into private galas and parties in order to ply their trade or to practice new techniques they've recently developed. Tairo is very well-known to the pawn-brokers along the sea-side Waterfront Districts. The dronecops likewise recognize Tairo immediately and are unfortunately (for Tairo) immune to the confusing influence that Tairo tends to exert upon crowds. So far Tairo is only a penny-ante, petty crook, never rising aboove the level of a minor nuisance down along the Low Esplanades, however, they've been increasingly noticed making the rounds along the High Concourses and that could lead to all sorts of complications and repercussions. In the process of making a name for themself, Tairo might just get embroiled in some things that are far, far out of their league.
Savage, wicked and prosthetically-maintained without his original heart which he actually does keep in a special 'box' hidden in some undisclosed location, possibly in a safe-deposit box within the Luddoro Vaults synthecosm. A failed poet with the viruxively-implanted eyes of a pig courtesy of a former paramour and sworn enemy, Mondino is imbalanced and cruel in his infliction of doggerel upon his chosen subjects with a crude, hand-wielded blade that he has extracted from some antique industrial tool stolen from a museum. He carves his verses into the flesh of his victims. Then he seals the wounds with a polysheath compound derived from the same materials used to enshroud asteroids or moons such as is used around the moon Voj, for example. He also makes use of a proscribed neuroscrambler to hack the victim's nervous system in such a way as to lock-out their own immune functionality and to encrypt the wounds so that it is extremely difficult to erase, remove or modify them without killing, further maiming or completely scrambling the victim so as to render their recovery extremely problematic and difficult. Mondino exults in proving that he has beaten the system. But his gloating will eventually come to an end as his depradations have gained the notice of certain elements within the Ministry of Decorum, the Ministry of Social Hygiene, and the Bureau of Editorial Standards.
Mondino has refused to take up a true weapon at any time, thus preserving the fiction that he is not a violent person, and he is registered as a pacifist and out-of-bounds for all duellists, though there are hundreds who lodge challenges against him anyhow. A semanticizing scoundrel, hiding behind cliches and warped re-interpretations of artistic expression, using 'tools' as part of his art and not weapons in his crimes, Mondino's days are numbered and his ouvre will soon come to an end, and this is his plan. Mondino is working his way up to a crowning achievement, his final piece de resistance. But what will it turn out to be? There are those who secretly admire this outlaw artist and have been giving him covert support so that he might complete his body of work. There are collectors who are already bidding on the collected works of Mondino. Discussions of his depradations/aesthetic expressions have been incredibly heated and divisive amongst the Nobility, Aristocracy, and other cliques, cabals and clades. Quite a number of duels have been precipitated by the mere mention of this social deviant.
RuperThe emancipated clone of a personage based in Bazra, and with whom he is in business with as a relational consortium of clonically-conjoined mutual interests, Ruper has direct, personal connections across many solar systems, all of them his own clones. As Ruper is found of saying; “If you want anything done right, you've got to do it yourself.” And in his way, he does just that.
Ruper maintains a cluttered, old fashioned shop, usually in a run-down or disreputable part of town where he does business with all manner of unidentified, unrecorded and unknown individuals. He keeps no records and will buy or sell, trade or acquire anything. Absolutely anything.
His operation is professional, well-known and protected by friends in very high and extremely low places both. An antiquarian and collector, Ruper handles everything under the sun except weapons. He leaves the ironmongery to his associates, people like Parsons of Aegron or Grimvaldo of Morvai. Ruper is more interested in works of art, well-made artifacts of obscure cultures, historically significant relics, and so forth. Expressions of creativity, not destruction. Ruper can usually refer clients who've mistakenly come to him with something that is more along one of his contact's line of work or interests and his referrals are often the sort of thing that money just cannot buy. When Ruper vouches for someone, they are vouched-for beyond question. Period. He's a quiet, unassuming sort, but very worthwhile to get to know.
Rotund and jowled like a bulldog, Fat Sydney wears only the most impeccable of hand-tailored suits of the most expensive cut. His cigars are hand-made by the biothralls of Sierra Havana who keep with the oldest traditions. He drinks scotch older than many of the cultures he has business dealings with, and he is not a man to trifle with at all. Thoroughly connected and aware of almost all illicit activities in Devukarsha and nearly all of the other city-states of Riskail, Fat Sydney is a man who likes to keep things in the family, so to speak, and he employs a large cadre of specialized clones, all of whom he refers to as his sons. Fat Sydney's Sons travel across the Known Worlds looking for objects of extreme value, hunting after clues and leads for fabulous treasures and amazing objects, all of which they seek to acquire discretely on behalf of their father. Of all the ways to earn their father's implacable wrath, indiscretion is the topmost sin for which he will terminate them coldly, ruthlessly and immediately. After all, a man can always have another son, especially a shrewd businessman-of-the-world like Fat Sydney. There are few treasures, long lost or otherwise that Fat Sydney doesn't know about or have an interest in. He is also known to sponsor discrete, preliminary archaeological expeditions to areas that have not yet been explored by established or Academic groups. Knowledge of newly discovered ruins, old ghost-town colonies, failed settlements, and the like is always of interest to Fat Sydney and he can be quite generous to those who provide him with information regarding such things. Though, if you deliver too much of a good thing, you might incur the enmity of his sons who dislike being upstaged.
A disgraced Aegronian Noble who was able to cover-up all the details beyond the lingering taint of having been disgraced. Few bother to investigate into the nature of her disgrace as she takes a dim view of such intrusions and will either warn off such ill-advised inquirers or have them eliminated. Carnodet is not squeamish, nor hesitant to make full use of her powers, connections, or knowledge to defend herself or to advance her aims and schemes. A stern and somewhat shrewish woman known for her determination and seriousness, Carnodet is considered an ice-queen and a deadly opponent. Her rivalry with Marataud is legendary and the source of numerous clandestine and suppressed documentaries.
Carnodet is very heavily investd in the development of ports, docks and markets up-river from Devukarsha along the twelve great river-gates. Her people are often having to deal with their rivals who work for Marataud. Things often get ugly between these two groups.
A depraved cultic rival to Mondino, Grigmar and Jaalkis, Bertrand is an artist of middling to no real ability who slavishly imitates those whom he feels are Great Masters only to be consistently ignored, overlooked or labelled a hack if anyone bothers to review his 'work'/crime scenes at all. This frustrates the would-be artiste and has driven him to attempt increasingly heinous crimes, all of which he has somehow botched, bungled or failed at miserably. He practically worships the Three Geniuses (one of whom is likewise a very minor criminal and not a genius by any real standard), and seeks to mimic their documented habits, visit their favorite places, eat their favorite foods, etc., etc. all in the hopes that some measure of their so-called 'genius' might rub off on him someday.
One day Bertrand's mangled body is discovered in the stairwell of a disreputable garrett-style gallery along the Misericorde canal and his 'heroes' not only become instant suspects, but potential next targets as well. They begin to consider hiring someone to help them clear each of their names, to locate the actual killer, or to interfere with official investigations in order to boost their respective reputations. It gets complicated. Did Bertrand Polignac have Life Insurance or will his recovery take decades through the Helical Cathedrae? Or was something done to make him unrecoverable? And if one of the three idols didn't knock the dumb kid off, who did? And why?
A vicious old man who never leaves the baths overlooking Dalmaffi Courtyard where the gate leads to Izhar and the solar system where he was once assassinated by his arch-rival Carnodet. The details are a bit obscure, but could be pieced-together by anyone taking the time to cultivate an acquaintance with Marataud and who doesn't mind spending hours on-end in the steamy mineral baths, brinepools, therapeutic showers, and other facilities of the public baths. The feud between Carnodet and Marataud is old, deep and extremely dangerous to get caught-up within. Each of these bitter rivals employ a vast array of agents, mercenaries, contract facilitators, freelancers, and others to spoil, foul-up, compromise or disrupt the plans of the other. No matter what one does, the other tries to interfere, if only on general principles. But their feud is outside the confines of Devukarsha. Neither of them will directly attack the other within the boundaries of the city-state for three gates out along the river-gates. It is an old feud, a deeply ingrained and very established, even ritualized affair that has been steadily escalating step by step as though a coordinated dance like the waltz. Both of them have a very long view of things, and both of them work along multiple lines simultaneously. They both expect to outlive the other, though it does rankle Marataud that he was assassinated, if unsuccessfully upon Izhar by Carnodet's people. He very much wishes to return the favor, if only to re-establish some sense of balance to their game of back-and-forth terror and violence. Anything that Carnodet invests in or shows any interest in, Marataud is quick to follow. His only friend is Vitrom Cufo, who comes to play telechess with Marataud once a week. There are rumors that Marataud may be considering sponsoring an expedition to the Inner Cinders as Vitrom Cufo has been advocating for decades. This may well lead to some strange confrontations as Carnodet is certain to sponsor her own group to either beat Marataud's people to the Inner Cinders, stake a prior claim, or to disrupt their efforts. Neither is counting on what might be awaiting them there, however, nor how those previously unknown forces might have schemes of their own.
Sly, shy and consummately elegant, Jalise is a consort-concubine of mixed Solmiri parentage. She possesses an ugly mind which she confines to an intricately warded gemstone that she wears only on special occasions. It was once her master, an AIlect who mistakenly pushed her too far and discovered as most such tyrants do, that they had wrought all too well. Jalise now makes her way through Polite Society, attending various pleasant functions and disappearing before anyone can connect her to any wrong-doings. She remains free, clear and innocent, even though it is fairly certain that she is truly none of those things in the least. Her primary vice is jewels, or so she has openly stated numerous times in the past. Those wishing to secure her interest or to interview her or gain her assistance would do well to present her with a gift of rare jewels. She is alleged to be able to ascertain any gems true worth with but a glance. Do not send her fakes.
It is said that Jalise is obsessed with the Mad Wizard Mengwa Zal and the so-called Jewels of Zal, though this may be baseless and ignorant superstitious nonsense. She also enjoys attending the opening night performances of Jarpha Operas.
A waif in a wrinkly white suit that hangs loosely upon her girlish frame, Pale Ludmilla is something of a conundrum down along the Estuarial Region's many back channels, canals and bridges. She is not a suicidenymph, though some conjecture that she may be some sort of related apparition, others believe that she is some sort of virtghost or telepresent avatar. In truth she is none other than one of Idris Varegant's necrofactured forms out wandering the islands surrounding her cellular prison within he Asylum-Chateau Diodatti, one of the Secular Gulag-Asylums located down amongst the islands of the Estuarial Region. Idris is the long-lost sister of Xemo Varegant, noted accomplice of the criminal mastermind Navarre. Her condition has deteriorated badly, and her mind has begun to splinter into several separate and unstable aspects, the most dominant so far is Pale Ludmilla. But there are others.