The consortium doors banged open. Noses lifted from oaken counters, distracted from their paper-stamping and coin counting. Three pairs of boots stamped in, trailed mud and snow. They clicked, hobnailed, on the stone tile.
The leading pair belonged to a cutter in a leather duster. A considerable amount of something red and drying clung to his leather chaps. A fresh split leaked on his unshaven lip. He licked it as he walked, dragged a sack of something dense and clinking.
Of the boots which followed, only one pair walked with a steady gait. The first was a spindly woman with scarred, outsized knuckles. The second, a man with gore and vomit in his beard, leaned on her. A thick girdle of stained bandage bound his belly. He stumbled, wretched occasionally. A crass scent of spoiled potato drifted from the pair.
A pimply clerk looked to the man in the duster, smiled feebly. “What can Tiber and Fellowes do for you, Master?”
There was grunt and a crash of coins. The countertop shook. “Ewan Hallson, of Jengory,” said the man, sneering as his lip stretched. “With Rowan Per, of Statton, and Chaemus Blake, of Down. Returned from the venture to Leeland Haunt.”
He took a leather license fold and tossed to the counter. A rolled document followed. The clerk plucked them up.
“This says you departed with a Sam Perryton, as well.”
“The good Master Perryton didn’t make it. Ragman stuck him in the groin. Bled clean out. We got him outside, on the mule, if you wanna see.”
The clerk peered around Hallson, out the open door. A mule was roped outside. A figure wrapped in carpet was tied over the beast’s rump. Atop it, a raven pecked idly.
“I’ll arrange a coroner.”
“Best ye do,” said Hallson, dabbing at his lip with a filthy kerchief. Behind him, Chaemus wretched. A greasy red gob fell to the scarred woman’s boot.
The clerk stretched a thin smile. “Report?”
“Hill was filled with ragmen. Distilling some piss. Approximately eight.”
“Hard to tell. Rowan boiled some,” said Hallson, pointing back with a thumb. The woman smiled with yellowed eyes, waved with a twisted hand. Her knuckles clinked audibly.
“I see. Casualties?”
“Well, the chap on the mule. And Chaemus got shanked in the guts.” Behind Hallson, the bearded cutter groaned, wretched again. “He’s fine.”
The clerk scratched something in a ledger. “Thank you. Yield?”
“Some silver on the ragmen. Whole pile of coins under the midden. Some foreign.”
“No antiquities or items of exceptionality?” asked the clerk, looking to the other two. Rowan shook her head. Chaemus whimpered.
“Noted. Your standing and reputation with Tiber and Fellowes are high, which would have earned a fourth of ten percent,” recited the clerk, scratching a pink pimple. “Due to fatality, your shares will be adjusted to a third of ten percent.”
There sounded a series of wheezing, wet gasps. Rowan made a disgusted face, dropped her retching comrade. He wriggled, clutched his gut, produced a spout of red and pus-filled fluid. He wriggled, went limp.
Rowan stepped round the pooling vomitus, pressed two fingers to his bearded neck. She shook her head. Hallson shrugged.
The bank clerk tried a consoling expression. “My condolences. Five percent, each.”
On a high veranda overlooking the sea, a dozen folk had met. Folk in suits of pitch black and bloody scarlet, clutching flutes of wine darker than the placid waves. They milled, idled with eager smiles, as if sharing in the presence of some secret.
A high tone struck the air, clear above the murmur of surf. Heads turned. At the railing, a woman in apple red tapped a knife on the bell of her glass.
"Good evening, everyone," she smiled. "As Vice Director, I'd like to welcome you to this celebration of our year's success."
A general tittering of approval went up. Glasses raised, flashed in the low sunlight. A single, fat mouse, leaning by the door, applauded.
"This has been a time of outstanding growth for Péridot Firm: Our manufacturing investments hold strong. Lending in the Belvirinian conflict is seeing massive returns. And our ventures in the Sea of Grass have been unprecedentedly fruitful."
The Vice Director nodded, accepted more gentle applause. "In that distant land, our venture on Tacenda Gate has breached a fifth level of the complex. Treasures beyond reckoning have been found inside. Some are arcane and will take time to decipher. Some are simple. The wine we are enjoying now was found in those antique halls."
A gentle exclamation rose from the crowd. Folk peered into their glasses. A woman by the railing gasped.
"All these successes have been informed by our mutual friend," said the woman in apple red. "He has guided us since the beginning. Join me in saluting our founder. Our Director."
She raised her wine, turned to face the water. The others followed, mimicked her. "Our Director."
Far below, something tremendous listened, dark beneath the gloaming sea.
To many, a bank is just a counter. It has a scale, and a grille, and a lot of papers and stamps. It has a clerk, who's likely bored, who will give you loans and banknotes and lock your golden savings safe away.
Few guess the truth of banks. Few know the crushingly dull titan of bureaucracy which keeps their pennies holds clout to rival nations.
While the patronage of a thousand laborers looking to borrow a crown may earn a bank a tidy sum, the interest on a single loan to the War Department of a foreign country may rake in millions. Every coin minted by a Coastal nation will likely see its day in the vault of a bank.
Banks, however, are not satisfied by their immense reach. While lending and investment may churn an appreciable sum, there remains more to be had.
Not all the money in the world is yet exploited. In the antique depths of tombs
* and hidden places, untapped sums languish in the dark, ownerless and ripe for the picking. All an enterprising financial institution need do to make a bit of extra wealth is pay some fools to go and pluck it.
Many banks operate on the Coast, but only those who find profit in venturing are the richest.
- Mantilla Profiteers is a Mapolitan institution. The mercenary bank is notorious for serving the highest bidder during times of war. In the past, Mantilla hasn't balked at such tasks as paying for and raising its own troops to support their chosen side. No price is too high for the Profiteers, if it ensures the survival of their military debtors. In these times of relative peace, Mantilla hires cutters as privateer crews. Their stated goal in naval venturing is seagoing security, but has ofttimes slipped into the bounds of piracy.
- Péridot Firm is a new influence on the Coast's economic sphere. Through a series of uncannily powerful moves, the group has expanded from a small band of gem buyers to a massive player on the financial stage. It has made these advances solely through calculated, meticulously-researched raiding of ancient sites. Cache after vault of hoarded wealth has been breached and claimed by the skilled cutters of the Firm. Some have wondered at the accuracy with which Péridot targets and cracks ancient sites. Whispers say a single source of ancient knowledge serves as the Firm's guiding light, illuminating darkened riches with secrets of the past.
- Tiber and Fellowes is an old bank. Its power has risen and fallen with the iron-bound pound of Firlund, its mother state. T&F nearly saw their end some two hundred years ago, when one of the country's famously mad kings refused to repay debts accrued while hosting near-constant tourneys. Now, the institution keeps friendly ties with the North's powerful salt-mining families, granting it a steady, profitable ally. T&F are deeply involved in colonial efforts. From frontier settlements, the bank organizes and sponsors thousands of cutters on hundreds of monthly raids into the tomb-filled Gorathian Mountains. Above all other banks, good standing with Tiber and Fellowes is most certain to guarantee a Cutter a hearty share in any venture's yield.
- Lagão Treasury is an Alagórian firm with a certain reputation. The bank's stricture to Avethan ideals dictates that it deal only in business with human partners and customers. Thus, mice (let alone other, uncommon folk) are shunned by the zealot Treasury. In more cosmopolitan locations, the bank will, at best, offer non-humans substandard rates. Though Lagão deals mainly in civilian lending, they have made concerned venturing attempts on ancient sites of Avethan significance. The may be found, represented in the consortium of any Southern frontier settlement.
I use banks as quest givers. In many games, a tomb-venturing sign-on with, for instance, T&F may serve as an entry point to a larger mystery of the past. In other games, banks serve as easy sources of side jobs for characters. The unpredictability of raiding tombs, coupled with the gamified element of tracking standing, can be a fun game, on its own.
Some time in the future, I'll have to post a system for determining bank standing.
I imagine that a group of characters, upon finding a ruin, might feasibly sell its location to a bank. This will have to be the starting point of an article on cartographers.
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* Tombs are a notable historical phenomenon. Few cultures bury their dead (rather than burning them) due to the prevalence of plague
. A tomb is, rather, a place for secrets best forgotten, but too beautiful to bear destroying. The ancients, though they dearly wished to, could not kill their secrets. They built Tombs, that they might die and slip from memory. More on this, another time.
** "Cutter" is a term for hired specialists and mercenaries, usually of a sort who delve tombs and wilderness locales. More on that here.