The Vig

Tales from a goblin-infested brewery (home of Jake Thrash and Badsider Brew), and a lawyer-infested sports bar (home of Kalamere Ar'Din and The Line).

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Black Wizard
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The Vig

Post by Kalamere » Mon Apr 05, 2010 5:34 pm

In a bet there is a fool and a thief. - Proverb

Bookie's Rule #1: Don't take sides. There's a common misconception that your bookie is rooting for one side or the other; or worse, deliberately fixing the event to swing a certain way. I'm not going to tell you it doesn't happen, but it isn't common. There's too much risk in that and my whole job here centers around avoiding risk. There's enough of that in my social life, trust me.

No, you see, in my perfect setup there are equal stakes on both sides of a given bet. Take a fictional challenge match between Anubis on one hand, and Napoleon on the other. The rodent has a fan base, sure, but the smart money is on the slave trader. I can't have everyone betting on the Egyptian while I sit back and pray Napoleon wins, and if I were to drug Anubis nobody would come back and bet next week. That's where the point spread comes in. Even up, you'll all pick the skinny scary guy. Say I dock him 3 points though. Now it's a harder decision. The piRATe is outclassed, but is he that much outclassed? If half of the clientele goes one way and the rest go the other, then things are looking up for yours truly.

It's all about the vig. The take, the hold, the dirty money, the juice; call it what you will. That's where a bookie gets his cut. If you bet one hundred silver and you win, I give you a hundred silver. If you lose though, you give me one hundred and ten. The ten is commission and what keeps the business going. That's the vig. See? I'm not rooting against all of you, just half of you. Of course, we don't charge a vig over at the DZ Casino. SwordPlay is writing that off as an advertising expense.

To make all this work takes information. What kind of line, odds, over/under, do I need to set to have both sides look equally appealing. I need to know everything you know. I also need to know everything you think you know. Anubis is planning to wear his valentine heart boxers for the match and he's never lost in them? Sure, silly superstition. But if *you* believe it, then I need to adjust the line some more to get support for Napoleon.

I can't stay up on all the dirt I need by myself, so I recently brought on a light-fingered little half-elf by the name of Kattria. Technically she's working for Brandon and SwordPlay. B didn't like the idea of me being her boss. Something about "Standards of Business Conduct" and "inappropriate workplace advances by a superior." Lawyers.

Not only has Katt been an excellent source of information, but since she's been on the payroll there's been considerably fewer reports of lost purses inside The Line. Coincidence, I'm sure. The night before, I bumped into her in the arena and she passed off some coded notes for me to bring back to the office. Brandon had been a little concerned about sending her down to Badside on recon, but I figured she'd be alright. Nobody learns to lift the way she does without spending some quality time around a darker element.

Back at The Line, I deciphered Katt's notes and made some entries in my good old-fashioned pen and paper ledger books. I noted a few lines that needed shifting and looked for some other possible features I could add to the Battlefield Park match. Lots of bad blood there, so it's sure to be interesting. After I was done, I took the decoded versions, stepped out to the bar to fill a stein I'd stashed on the top shelf of the glassware rack with Badsider Brew, and then knocked on the door to the once vacant spare office. I didn't bother waiting for an answer before swinging the door open.

"Come in... Oh, Evening, Mr. Ar'Din." said the tech inside the office. The room buzzed with the light hum of computer cooling fans, overlain with the occasional indicator beep as a calculation program reached termination.

"Hello, Dan." Dan was another SwordPlay employee, hired on to run the demonic machinery crammed into the second office. I'm not supposed to go in there, but standing by the door is safe enough. "I've got some notes for you to plug in, and I brought you a beer," I said as I held up the offering.

Dan was quick to grab the paperwork, after all, that's what we pay him for, but he was hesitant to take the beer. "Mr. Fox says I shouldn't take drinks from you." I could tell from the way his eyes shifted from mine to the beer and back that he was tempted to ignore the lawyer's advice. He looked thirsty. I guess data entry is tough work, though it could have been from the thermostat adjustments I'd made earlier.

"He just doesn't want you drinking on the job. No worries, lad. We'll keep it between us," I assured him while offering my best friendly smile.

His conscience assuaged, Dan accepted the beer and took a good long pull. Jake makes a tasty brew and this room was probably fifteen degrees warmer than the rest of the building. Dan retook his chair and began rhythmically punching keys to enter Katt's notes into the system. I propped my shoulder against the door jamb and watched as he navigated from one screen to the next, deftly maneuvering mouse and keyboard to hop between menus and enter the new statistics.

"Anything good in there?" I asked, a couple minutes later.

"Well," he said as he stopped typing and turned to look at me. "According to this, we'll have to put a pretty big handicap on Baron Neo. And," he paused to finish off the beer and rifle through the paperwork. I kept one eye on the clock as he did, counting down the seconds. "Where could she have gotten this information about valentine heart boxers?"

"Three, two," I murmured under my breath while Dan's face quite suddenly drained of color. "One," and, on the last, Dan fell sideways out of his chair to land nose down on the golden line running along the floor of the room's entrance. He was still breathing, but had passed out cold. This was probably the real reason he wasn't supposed to take drinks from me. Live and learn.

"Rath!" I shouted into the other room to summon the brute. I could hear the glassware behind the bar shake as he passed through on his way to the back offices.

"Rath here," he said, helpfully. There really isn't much chance of missing an eight foot tall, six hundred pound half-ogre when he's standing three feet from you. Rath was dressed in his SwordPlay-issued duds. Dark, pinstriped suit, hand tailored and somehow managing to make him look even larger than he was to begin with. His red and black tie was done up in a perfect double Windsor knot. It was a clip-on, but of a high enough quality that it took some looking to be able to tell. Most people are afraid to look directly at Rath for that long, so his secret was pretty safe. Pinned to the left front pocket of his suit jacket was his staff tag which (today) read: Rath: Payment Incentivizer.

"Rath, Dan doesn't look to be feeling well. How about you sit him back in that chair and roll him into the corner where he'll be more comfortable?"

With as much effort as you or I expend picking up a kitten, Rath hefted Dan back into the chair, but had to struggle a little bit to keep him in it. After a minute he seemed to find the right balance and proceeded to roll Dan into the corner for the remainder of his nap.

"Now," I said before Rath could turn for the exit, "I guess I should finish up what he was working on. Could you move that keyboard all the way to the edge of the desk here, please?"

Rath dutifully pulled the keyboard closer, but couldn't get it quite as far as I'd hoped without pulling the cord out of the back of the machine. "No go more," indicated Rath. I tapped a thoughtful finger against my chin while considering how I might reach it without my left hand entering the room.

According to Brandon, I should be able to get almost entirely into the room to use these machines. It's not me they have issue with, it's the ring I wear on my left hand. The ring is a blackened metal band with a blood red ruby inset. More importantly, it is heavily imbued with blood magic. If I took it off I could probably get into the room without a problem, but that's not really an option. It does come off, but doing so is bad mojo and then I have to deal with the voices in my head. It's a long story. No, I'm not crazy. Stop looking at me like that.

"Ok, Rath, step into the hallway here and help me out." The keyboard was only inches out of my reach. Once he was back in the hall, I held up my left hand. "Hold my hand and keep it from crossing that golden line while I lean forward into the room." Flat black eyes narrowed as Rath looked back at me quizzically. "Look, do this and we can put that dog show you wanted to see back on one of the view portals."

"Rath like puppies." he said as he reached down to take my hand, his black tongue licking the tips of ivory fangs to emphasize his words. The question with Rath wasn't whether or not he liked puppies. The question was whether he liked them medium or well done.

With Rath holding onto my left hand, I leaned as far into the office as I could manage. I had to have him support all of my weight to get maximum reach, but I managed to get my other hand on the keyboard. "Hold tight now, I don't want to go falling over." Rath squeezed.

A little piece of advice. When you're dealing with someone who could probably lift an ox if it was in his way, your two hundred some odd pounds aren't likely to phase him. Keeping that in mind, I strenuously recommend not telling him to grip your hand tightly. I could practically hear the bones in my fingers grinding together and could certainly feel the edges of my ring break through the skin of the neighboring fingers, releasing a small trickle of warm blood. "Less tight!" came my manly squeal.

I took a shuddering breath and attempted to regain some measure of composure so I could refocus on why exactly I was leaning into the computer room with my weight supported entirely by one meaty grey-green hand. I stretched out the fingers of my right hand and started hitting keys to move around the menus. I'm not terribly good with computers, but I managed my way through the interface and continued the search.

Brandon has something up his sleeve. I know this because it's Brandon and he always has something up his sleeve. He's got notoriously full sleeves. These computers had been magically infused to reach through the Nexus and link up with other machines in other dimensions. The various techs who work the keys had all been suitably impressed and I'd overheard one of them talking about having access to the SwordPlay network. Brandon had to be streaming information from here back to his main offices. With a little luck maybe I could figure out what it was. With a lot of luck maybe I'd find a card to play against him when the time was right.

The hand held in Rath's massive paw was starting to go numb, but I kept punching keys in search. Dan's replacement was due in an hour, so I had just so much time to work. I was pretty sure that I was getting somewhere when I spotted the SwordPlay logo on one of the menus and began picking my way through the contents.

"Kal, you back there?" came a voice from the bar.

"Aye, Jer. I'm a wee bit busy right now though." I replied, because I was. Jerry was the bartender on shift. I don't have a very large staff working the common room at The Line, but drinks make the gambling crowd happy and happy gamblers make more bets. I spotted some interesting file names in the directory I was perusing and it looked like this might be Brandon's area, so I kept moving through.

"Yeah, umm, Kal? There's somebody here to see ya."

"Tell 'em to come back in an hour." I was on to something here and I really didn't want to deal with someone complaining about the lines I'd set. It continues to amaze me how many competitors think the lines are intended to insult them. Complain to the folks placing bets, I'm really just the middle man. Another key click and a new file listing popped up.

* Aviary

This might not make much sense to you, but I'll give you a pass this time. There's a disturbing trend in my life for things to be named after birds and it's just the type of thing Brandon would use as code.

"They're pretty insistent, Kal. Really could use a hand here." I muttered a few curses at the continued interruption and then a few more when I found the file to be password protected. I should have seen that coming really, Brandon's just not that dumb. I figured maybe I could still dump the file to a disk, though, and bring it to somebody who knows more about this type of work to see if they could crack it. First though, I needed to see what Jerry's problem was.

Rath pulled me back out of the room and I headed for the bar. "Jerry, what part of busy wasn't clear there? What's the... " I began to ask before taking a good look around the room. As my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, the situation was readily apparent. "... problem?" I finished. Rhetorical at this point, but what can I say, I'm a completist.

The problem, as it happens, began with the one man holding a knife to Jerry's throat, continued with the three by the door holding heavy crossbows aimed at Rath and me, and was brought to conclusion by the two standing on the other side of the bar. All six wore a common military uniform, dark green with high collars and white insignia. Of the two by the bar, one was a monster of a man. Nearly my height but built like a house. Normally that would be intimidating, but not so much with Rath in the room. In comparison, he looked as much like a doll as the rest of us, just maybe more the action figure type. He had a closely trimmed beard and dark hair that fell straight, not quite covering his ears, which left revealed the fact that most of the right one was missing.

"Evening, gents," I said, resisting the itch in my hand that so badly wanted to reach for a knife while also placing a calming hand on Rath's chest. I dredged up a smile and turned my eyes towards the action figure. "How've, you been Agvar? Hear any good jokes lately?" I just couldn't help myself. I have issues.

Agvar predictably reached for his sword, took a quick step forward and had it halfway out of its sheath before, just as predictably, the bald man beside him grabbed his arm. Aggie's a little sensitive about the whole missing ear thing and tends to blame me. My theory is that if he were a better swordsman he'd still have both ears. He should really take that up with his trainer. "Settle down, Captain," spoke baldy, his voice rich and deep, the kind of voice meant for giving speeches and inciting troops. If the voice alone didn't indicate who was in charge of the merry band, the two extra swords stitched into his collar would have. When in doubt, more swords always wins.

"Is baiting him really necessary?" he asked as he turned ice blue eyes my way.

"Aye, Harris sets a high standard and I need the practice."

I guess the question was rhetorical because he ignored my answer. It was also pretty doubtful he knew who Harris was and that's probably for the best come to think of it. He held up a hand in what almost looked like a gesture of peace, though it clashed somewhat with the crossbows still aimed at me.

"We're here to talk business, assassin, not to take vengeance. Will you listen?"

Being something of a captive audience, I guess I had to.

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Post by Kalamere » Sun Oct 31, 2010 10:21 pm


The room grew slowly darker as the misty surface of the view portals began to swirl with life, as if sucking in the illumination from the rest of the bar room. The bluish haze drifting on the mirror surfaces brightened and more colors coalesced. Figures took form as the magic bound into them awoke to create an entrance to the scenes on the other side.

Ok, fine, that didn't really happen. Work with me, I'm trying to introduce back story here. Take a walk with me through the portals to the past so I can shed some light on this military band that's paid a visit to The Line.

The scene is set inside the audience chamber of the Duke of Westridge. He's the bald guy we left back in the bar. The chamber itself is a massive piece of gray stonework, spartanly decorated and dimly lit. The duke sits upon a dais at the end of the chamber, Agvar standing at his side and two polearm wielding men-at-arms stationed below. A score of other soldiers line the walls, armed with crossbows and pointing them at me as I approach. I hate crossbows.

I moved at a painfully slow pace, keeping my hands visible and forcing my boot heels to sound off the marble floor with each step. It felt unnatural, but they needed to hear me coming and see I didn't pose a threat. I didn't want one of those lads getting spooked and taking a shot at me. As I reached the bottom of the dais I could better see the duke and his captain who were quietly conversing and moving objects around on the battle map spread out before them.

"Ahh, the assassin returns," spoke Westridge. I had been standing there close to twenty minutes at this point, the soldiers glaring at me while their crossed polearms barred my path. "I trust you didn't have too much difficulty getting around the siege force surrounding my keep?"

"Director of Human Resources," I suggested as an alternative job description. Assassin carries such negative connotations. "And, no, finding my way in wasn't a problem, though it might have been nice if your wizards had left the pathways open." Being under siege, the Duke's arcane forces were preventing any portals from being opened into his keep. You can't really blame him for that, but it did significantly increase my commute time.

"A minor inconvenience, no doubt," as if he had some experience scaling walls in the dead of night and sneaking past a dozen guards on both sides. "I wasn't sure if you would answer my summons. Do you know why you're here?"

"You're paying my tab, Andy." Using his first name earned me a reproachful look from those eerie ice-blue eyes. "While the contract is in play I come when called. Assuming I'm not busy, of course." Truth be told, I had no idea why he'd summoned me here. The task he had retained me for was perhaps the easiest of my career. It consisted of doing nothing. Literally.

Usually, in a siege situation like this, I'd get a job to derail the attacking force in some way. Maybe add my culinary expertise to the troop's meals, pay the attacking general a late night visit or compare technique with a standout soldier; that kind of thing. Being sure he could outlast the siege until his remaining forces returned from campaign with the King though, Westridge wasn't looking to pick up any of my more expensive services. He didn't want me assisting Duke Frostwatch's attack either though, so we agreed on a partial fee where I simply stayed out of the game. Like I said, easiest job ever.

"I want to discuss our contract, Kal. I don't believe you've been honoring it." The duke's voice was as calm and even as ever, but I could see Agvar tensing and his right hand began to edge close to his sword hilt. My easiest job ever was taking a turn for the worse. This was especially bad, because I'd come unarmed except for a few throwing knives secreted inside my cloak.

"Your Grace, I'm sure that I don't know what you mean. I have abstained from entering my services into this conflict, quite as we agreed upon and at some financial disadvantage I might add." Mostly in the form of an enlarged bar tab since I had nothing better to do and Duke Frostwatch had never attempted to make contact.

"We found an intruder the other day, by luck if I'm to be honest. Are you aware there is a hidden entrance to my bed chamber?" I offered my best noncommittal expression. Of course I knew. "I am sure you are. My maids, however, were not and stumbled across it the other day causing the door to swing open while cleaning. This, in turn, exposed the intruder lying in wait. A man of enviable convictions, he slew the three young women immediately, but not quite fast enough to prevent the last from raising the guard."

"I did warn you, Duke Westridge, that I am not the only ... human resources specialist who works this area." Those had been my exact words actually. "What makes you think I had anything to do with this?" I asked, casting a nervous glance back towards those lads by the wall.

"We were able to apprehend this night blade before he could escape. Again, at the unfortunate loss of a few of my soldiers." He was torn up; I could tell by the way he casually sipped his wine before continuing. "Alas, he managed to escape my dungeon before I could extract much information. He did give me a name though."

"He gave you my name? You can't believe that. A low level hire will always try to give up a better known member of the profession."

"No no, it wasn't your name he offered up. It was his own."

"His own?" I was sure this was relevant in some way, but I was a little distracted by those crossbows still.

"Yes, his own. The man's name was Settrin Ar'Kal."

Oh. Ok, yes, this was bad. See, my last name is Ar'Din. The man who taught me all he knew, brought me up in this dark world and still acts as my mentor on those occasions I need advice is named Dinias. Ar'Din, roughly means: 'student of Dinias'.

I'll give you one guess what Ar'Kal means.
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Post by Kalamere » Fri May 06, 2011 5:56 pm


There was a lot I wanted to do with this story and I can’t seem to find the time or inclination to continue it. I hope to. Some day. But there are other current event type things that I would like to put up from time to time and this story is keeping me from doing that, in the sense that I didn’t want to destroy continuity. I’m giving up on that now. One day I’ll come back to it, but since it will be in the past you do have the spoiler that Kal lives through it =) For those who have read and commented to me, thanks for reading. My lesson learned for planning out more than I can write in a single post.

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