Slothenburg Confidential; Chapter 1

Ever since he could remember, Thigpen had wanted to be a constable. He had always been in awe of the men that patrolled the city, swaggering with bold self-assurance, wearing their black uniforms with shiny copper buttons and boasting a shiny red and copper badge on their chest. When all of his friends were playing soldier, Thigpen was busy pretending to be a constable. He had his little siblings pretend to be criminals and victims, and he would solve cases and hunt down the perpetrators. One year he had been given a small metal-working kit as a gift for his birthday, and Thigpen had melted down some of his father’s coat buttons to make a crude replica of a badge. He even painted it red. The paint flecked off as Thigpen got older, but he still hung on to that first emblem of power and authority.

These days, Thigpen had his very own badge, not a fake one crafted by an eager child, but a genuine badge. Thigpen had realized his dream of becoming a constable. As a half-orc he was perfectly suited to keeping the peace in the greatest city in Slothjemia. His own hometown, the bustling and never-resting metropolis of Slothenburg, was where Thigpen now patrolled. He had been on the job for four years, and thus far everything was going well.

His mother had been an orc, and Thigpen had inherited her quick mind and her curly, unruly hair that was naturally oily, a trait goblinoids valued. His father was a human, and from him he had gotten his very unorcish nose and quiet demeanor. His complexion was more orc than human, and his physical strength was clearly from his goblinoid lineage. He was also fast, an accomplished warrior when push came to shove, and had a tendency to notice details others might miss. Everything about him made him an excellent law enforcement officer.

UrbanBadge

Urban Constabulary Badge

 

Thigpen was still walking the patrol he was assigned as a rookie, scheduled on a position in the first shift of the day. As a constable first class, he could have chosen to move to a more exciting shift on a more challenging beat, but he liked his routine. He worked from six in the morning until two in the afternoon, five days a week. He had been expected to be available should there be an emergency on those days off for the first two years, but now his free time was his alone. He liked to fish in the swamps beneath Slothenburg, and occasionally he would kill time in one of the taverns on his patrol route just to unwind and hang out with folks in a capacity other than their morning constable. As much as he enjoyed being a constable, Thigpen was keenly aware that he didn’t have any close friends. The uniform and badge made him a valuable member of the community, but nobody had ever expressed any real friendship towards him when he was off duty. This was probably a common issue for many constables, but Thigpen hadn’t really bonded with them, either. Other than Queller, the detective sergeant who had served as his mentor for the first year he was on the force, Thigpen hadn’t spent time off-duty with any of them.

Slothenburg was an enormous city. Built on a scattered collection of solid rock islands in the swamps of the Slothjemian coreland and linked with a jumble of boardwalks, causeways, and pilings. Over the centuries the city had grown into an almost solid mass over the fetid waters. Creatures who preferred the darkness lived, worked, and thrived under the wooden streets of what was considered the main level of Slothenburg. Above the pilings other races dwelt, building great wooden buildings on the portions of the city that sat on the wooden supports, and more substantial stone buildings on the parts setting on the rock islands. There was a maze of stairs, ramps, and hatches that connected the upper and lower parts of the city. The constabulary was responsible for all of it.

The sun was just coming up over the mountains to the east when Thigpen stepped out of the 42nd Precinct tower, and into the upper city. The tower was made of wood, was four stories tall with a huge clock in the very top as was the custom for every constabulary tower in the city. While not sitting on solid ground, it did reach all the way down into the swamp below, the foundation resting on huge wooden pilings driven into the mud deep beneath the fen. There was a gate down below into the lower city as well, and there was a mooring for small boats to tie up. Thigpen liked to start the patrol on the upper portion, doing two or three passes, and then go below to see that everything was alright there. The constable would, at a fairly leisurely pace, cover his territory with time to spare in the course of the shift, every hour on the hour. He would spend that time talking to the people that depended on him to keep order, when everywhere lurked the threat of chaos.

Before setting out, he checked his equipment, and as he walked, Thigpen tried to contain his enthusiasm for a job he had been enjoying for four years. His tunic had many pockets, and in the right breast pocket he kept a small ragged notebook and a stubby pencil. In his hand, he carried a two-foot long mace, what constables referred to as a truncheon, that had a cylindrical head with half-spherical iron studs spaced around it, to give the weapon more impact should the target be wearing armor. On a small chain around his neck, he had a metal whistle for alerting other constables that he needed help, or to send other signals. In times of emergency, such as a riot, the constables could find armor and heavier weapons in their precinct towers. There was another constable on his beat during the shift, an orog named Monklar. Sometimes they would meet for a meal while on duty, but usually they tried to keep enough distance between them that they were half an hour or so apart.

Thigpen had a very diverse neighborhood on his beat. There were people of virtually every race and creed, businesses of varied descriptions, and that was just what was going on above the boardwalk. Below it, things were even more intriguing. There was a tavern above, but four taverns below. There was also a bordello, a market for items of “questionable ownership,” and a private club owned by the Torkezahn crime family. Several fishermen lived down here, setting traps for swamp-water shellfish along the pilings, and line fishing along the lower plank ways. Due to the myriad obstacles in the water, everything from garbage to broken lumber, net fishing was impossible. But these intrepid fellows managed to make do with what they caught. On his off days Thigpen spent a fair amount of time with them, and felt a comradeship that he didn’t feel with anyone except his fellow constables. It wasn’t friendship, but it was pleasant.

After making three rounds topside, Thigpen went down to check on things in the undercity. He adjusted his black leather kepi with the copper “Midnight Skull” on the front, and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. His infravision came in very handy down here. There were a few light sources, holes in the wooden walkways above, lanterns here and there, occasionally a candle flickered on a small boat or in a shanty. There was a hook at the bottom of the stairs, and from it hung a small well-worn lantern engraved as property of the Slothenburg constabulary. Thigpen lit the lantern, and took it from the hook.

Holding the lantern in his left hand, and his trusty truncheon in his right, Thigpen began to make his way down the rickety walkway away from the stairs. The boardwalk was about ten feet wide in most places, but some of the boardwalks of the undercity were twenty feet wide or more to allow for more traffic. Handcarts were sometimes employed by the denizens of the lower city, or even small wagons pulled by dogs. Most heavy cargo though was either boated in or lowered down from above through large doors. Not all of the buildings in the undercity were ramshackle, devised from leftover lumber and debris. Some were simply continuations of the buildings up above. This made navigating the lower city easier once a few of the landmarks were identified. One of the biggest buildings in the precinct was a perfect example. It housed several businesses and apartments on the topside, and down here it served as a food market and butcher shop. Most of the structures crammed into the lower city were two stories tall, reaching from just above water level to where the upper walkway formed a wooden sky. The light from the lantern cast shadows everywhere, and it was not altogether welcome to all that dwelt down here.

At this time of morning this part of Slothenburg was quiet. There were some people fishing, as always, but not many others out and about. The market was bustling, and upon reaching this point Thigpen took a few minutes to chat with the various vendors. Most of the people that lived in the lower city did so full time, rarely if ever venturing up to the city above. They were almost always newcomers to Slothjemia, such as orcs or other goblinoids that had fled neighboring countries, or former underdark dwellers such as dark elves, or they simply did not wish to be seen. There were always language barriers to overcome but just about everyone did their best to blend in. The shopkeepers of the lower city were the most likely to speak Slothjemian but every now and then Thigpen would be pleasantly surprised to encounter a person who was clearly trying to learn the language, but hadn’t quite mastered it yet. Thigpen always appreciated their efforts. He couldn’t speak any other languages, and had no desire to even try. It took a certain courage to tackle a new language in a new place.

Today things were going well at the market. After some small-talk, Thigpen made his way down the walkway past some boats that were moored. These had been converted to homes, and sat lazily bobbing up and down on the waves and ripples. The swamp waters were generally calm as mud, but once one boat started to move they all did. Thigpen took note of each mooring, and paused to see that everything was quiet. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

Further down the walkway the passage he was on intersected with a much larger passage, a reflection of the streets laid out directly overhead. This larger walkway was where Thigpen found more activity. He turned and walked down the wooden boulevard. He liked this area. He called it the swings. Up above the roadway were a myriad of small houses hanging by chains from the horizontal supports that kept the upper roadway in place. There were always colorful lamps here. These hanging boxes were home to a sizeable community of urds, a winged variant of the small lizard-like kobold. Urds liked to be out of reach and they liked the darkness, so the hanging shacks did them just fine. The splash of color was just to add some festiveness, for these urds were a terribly cheerful lot. Down below their swinging huts on this main passage were several industries including a blacksmith, a brewery, and two clothiers. Thigpen didn’t spend much time here, but he did smile and say hello to the folks he recognized from being here most every day.

Thigpen continued down the wide passage until a smaller walkway branched off to the right. He paused here, taking a good look around. Mostly the buildings here were domiciles, perhaps with a street vendor here and there. Not many people were out and about now, though. Thigpen turned and went down the smaller walkway.

There was something not quite right here. Even though he was only half orcish, Thigpen’s hearing was quite excellent. It wasn’t what he heard that bothered him, it was what he didn’t hear. Normally there were frogs croaking in this area. On the right side of the walkway, were storage buildings and a tavern. The tavern was closed at this hour. There were a few skiffs tied up on the left side of the walkway. There was nobody within sight. He held the lantern up higher, and strained his ears to their limit.

Nothing. He could hear the boats and the walkway creaking slightly, and the water lapping almost imperceptively. Thigpen took a few steps closer to the water, and bracing himself against a piling he peered into the darkness. The water looked black, like ink, and there wasn’t any other light to be had here.

There, against a piling several yards behind the boats. What was that? Thigpen felt a shiver work its’ way up his spine. He knew what that was. It had been awhile, but he’d seen that before. It was a body floating there. Probably trapped against a piling. It was hard to tell from this distance, but Thigpen was sure that his day had just gotten unpleasantly interesting.

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