Deo clambered up the ladder, cautiously stopping a head a shoulders above the gap in the floor. The only sounds in the room were the whoosh-snap of the fire and the patter of his blood on the cold stone floor at the foot of the ladder.
(Deo manages exactly a 15 on his DC 15 Streetwise roll.)
“I know you,” Deo ventured, a bit of boldness in his voice. “You’re that priest from the Tiempo Mattutino who confesses the Manuccis.”
Fra Otto Piedini raised his eyebrows in surprise. “That I am, honored guest. I’m afraid you have me at the disadvantage, then. You know who I am, but I don’t know who you are.” The friar poured a second glass of red wine and set it on the varnished wooden table before him and gestured toward it.
Something didn’t ring true to Deo. He pulled himself up from the portal in the floor and saw that on this side of the room, a trap door could be moved to cover the tunnel to the magazzino below. “Don’t pretend surprise,” he continued. “If I’m the thief you think I am, I’m here because I know who you are.”
“Either way the result is the same,” Piedini replied. “Please, join me for a glass of vino.”
(Deo attains a 22 on his DC 15 Streetwise roll.)
“I’ll drink your wine, brother. And I may owe you an explanation, but you owe me the same. By rights, I should be dead, or in the archcanon’s dungeons, but here I am in your… apartments?” Deo took a sip of the offered wine and sensed nothing untoward. It was a calculated move, intended to show confidence and dominance. He hoped it wasn’t false bravado.
Sweat glistened on the friar’s brow, reflecting the firelight. Deo saw that the priest’s face was lined with late middle age, that ink stained his fingertips as he grasped his glass of wine, and that his eyes were ringed with many years of sleeplessness.
“You’re no fool, I see,” Piedini continued. “You’re not in the archcanon’s dungeons because I want to know who you are. No, you’re no fool, so you weren’t below the temple looking for a few relics to pawn off on a mutuante. You were there looking for something. What.” This last was a statement, not a request.
Papers lay scattered across the priest’s vast desk, with several inkwells open in various places on the surface and a number of styluses in various states of usability. The desk itself was massive, heavy, made of dark wood. It didn’t look like it would fit easily through the sole exit from the friar’s apartment — an exit that led directly to an ascending stair. How far down was he?
“I wasn’t stealing for my own gain, you’re right. But I don’t have anything more to say about that.”
Otto Piedini shrugged, his narrow shoulders moving underneath his stole while the garment remained still. Deo felt he could easily wrestle this priest to the ground if it came to that, but he quailed at the notion. “Then I can offer you nothing in return. No protection, and certainly no safe passage from my home. To both secular law and canon law, your corpse will appear as that of a burglar.”
“I haven’t threatened you, fratello,” Deo riposted. At least, not out loud. It was a minor edge, but it was his.
The priest’s eyes narrowed.
(Deo gets a 20 on his DC 15 Streetwise roll—three successes! Halfway there!)
“So you’re not here to kill me, you’re not here to steal for yourself, and you’re not going to tell me who you’re working for,” Fra Piedini snarled, his nerves fraying at Deo’s evasiveness. “Then we’re not much good to one another. Or, rather, you’re not much good to me as a proven intruder who won’t tell me what I want to know.”
Deo knew he was on the ropes, but also knew that he had the upper hand in the conversation, at least for the time being. “Whatever you do with me, it’s not going to send my mystery employer from sending someone else. Let me walk and they’ll never know anything went wrong.”
“An interesting proposal. But if you don’t return with whatever it was they sent you to steal, they’ll know that you failed and suspect that I’m onto them.”
An artist’s sculpture of the Redeemer, hanging in agony from the cross to which his tormentors nailed him, peered down from its place above the mantle. His wounds appeared ghastly, his agony evident on his face.
Deo countered. “Unless I tell them that it wasn’t here. They’d have no idea.”
(Deo gets a 12 on his DC 15 Streetwise roll.)
“And then you’d just return to try again.” Fra Piedini seemed to be losing interest in the options Deo has offered him. He turned back to his desk, on which some sort of writ had previously occupied his attentions. “You know where the door is. You may try to leave any time you wish, contravventore.” The priest picked up one stylus from among the many.
That didn’t sound good. “Let me take something back, then. Let me tell them I have their premio, and only too late will they find out that they have a false relic.”
(Deo gets a 6 on his DC 15 Streetwise roll — a natural 1. Ugh. Two failures, one of which was as bad as possible.)
“Ah, so it is a relic your masters are after,” Piedini whirled around to face Deo again, a predatory look on his face. The fire’s shadows seemed to become longer, the look on the priest’s face vulpine. “And since the Tiempo Mattutino is a reliquary, I have only to move them all to buy myself time.”
Deo made a desperate gamble, trying to force Fra Piedini’s hand. “Then you’ll have to kill me. I’ll go back and tell my garante that you’ve moved everything. That’ll get me off the hook and tip them off to the fact that they’re right, and you do have the relic they’re seeking.” He mentioned the relic again to remind Piedini of that bit of information he had sloppily let drop, hoping to feed the priest’s vanity.
(Deo gains a 23 on his DC 15 Streetwise roll. Back on track!)
“I’ve killed for less before, ladro. But you’re making a compelling case. Who would have thought that a villain breaking into a church would have the upper hand in freeing himself?”
“I’m not coming out of this in an enviable position, fratello. I have to go back to my employers and lie to them. Not only do I have to protect their secret here, I have to protect the second lie you and I have concocted there.” And this was all true. But at least it bought him time. He’d figure out how to wriggle out of the double-cross later — but he had his skin intact for the present.
(A 22! The sixth success! It’s ugly, but it’s vindication.)
“That you do. And I’m going to watch you, see you twist in one noose or another. At the very least, you’ll foul up and end up dead, without your blood on my hands. And at best, you’ll stumble somewhere, showing me who’s got his eye on Brother Eight-Feet’s legacy. Who knows — you may come crawling back to me to sell me a triple cross once you’ve found yourself in the merda with your wretched masters.”
“I can only hope you’re right, fratello,” Deo said through pursed lips. He may have squirmed out of this, but they say what escapes the frying pan ends up in the fire.
A short while later, Deo emerged from the Tiempo Mattutino into the humid, pink pre-dawn of a new day, his mind reeling with the implications of his next step.