Solo had never been described as beautiful, nor was she ugly, she was a plain girl and that was how she liked it. To hear men tell stories, women are rare creatures, few and far between, and those that do appear are either breathtakingly beautiful or else horrible old hags. In truth, the preponderance of flesh in the world was female. Men just choose not to see it. Plainness was a gift. To be a plain girl was to be invisible. Men would walk by her without a second glance, their eyes sliding off of her like water from a tin roof. A plain girl could walk freely, anywhere, and only the most desperate or depraved of men would pay her any mind.
Solo’s plainness had served her well throughout her career, as a thief, a mercenary, and a scout for armies. Later when she swore her vows to the church of Shar, Mistress of the Night and Lady of Loss, she was just as ignored, save by her sisters, who knew the usefulness of her talents for vanishing. The near-magical blindspot that men had for a plain woman enabled her to walk into their midst and do what needed to be done, with barely any suspicion on their part.
It thus came as no surprise, that now, years later, sitting in a seedy tavern in the small city of Phlan, fully armed and bearing all the trappings of the necromancer’s craft, no one, or at least no one male, gave her so much as a second glance. Solo almost sighed, almost laughed. All her years of training in stealth, subterfuge, disguises—all of it was basically pointless where men were concerned. All she had to do was sit there and trust in her plainness to hide her.
A serving girl, much less plain than Solo, as evidenced by the number of times she had been fondled while making her rounds, deposited a pint of beer next Solo’s elbow. Solo picked up the glass and took a sip. It was horrible stuff, pale, yellow, and flavorless. She would have much preferred a dark stout or a fine brandy, but good drinks drew attention. Asking for “a beer” was about as much a tool of not being seen as of quenching one’s thirst.
Solo had been in town for two days and had yet to find a job to her liking, so, she sat, alone, at a table, in a cheap bar, perking her ears for anything interesting. She had picked the table as carefully as she chose her innocuous drink. A booth in the shadows meant you had something to hide. A seat at the bar was asking for a conversation. A table, near the middle of the room, with only one chair, and a single, pale, piss-water beer sitting on it, meant you were just there to drink, and were thus no one special.
Then, her ears pricked. She turned to see a group of young would-be-heroes peering at a notice board and talking excitedly. She only looked up for a second, then quickly returned her gaze to her glass, hoping no one had noticed the vague resemblance of her profile to the wanted poster hanging there, and thanking Shar that, once again, the artist, probably a man, had been compelled to add distinguishing features that weren’t there. This one, at least, was quite flattering, with high cheekbones and long eyelashes, and therefore looked nothing like her, really.
As if sensing her brief agitation, the backpack stuffed under her chair shivered and a couple of skeletal fingers poked out through the flap. Solo gave it a subtle kick and whispered soft nothings under her breath, reminding the bagfull of claws that they were supposed to stay hidden. She then downed the remains of her drink in one swallow, grabbed the bag, and headed for the door, tossing a couple coins on the table.
Once out of the tavern, she adjusted the straps of her belt to swing her sword and axe out where they would be visible. Even inside the city walls, New Phlan was not a place to be seen unarmed. Phlan was a rough place, populated mostly by adventurers and would-be adventurers. Someone walking alone without a weapon drew as much attention here as walking down the street with a loaded crossbow would in any of the more civilized cities to the south. So, she put her blades where they could be seen and steered herself towards the center of town.
Solo had avoided the centers of power in New Phlan since she had arrived. With prices on her head from Waterdeep to Cormyr, she usually avoided any place where enforcers of the law were in close proximity. However, tonight, with dusk falling, and the watch on the outer walls being redoubled, she might just let herself have a peek at the famed Council Hall, or, more importantly, at the notices from the Council which promised riches and pardons to anyone who completed one of the many dangerous missions they regularly posted. Besides, she thought, the poor likeness of the wanted poster and the bad beer had given her a little more courage than usual.
Sure enough, the square was mostly empty. She hurried over to the Council Hall and glanced at the wall, quickly passing over the notices for missions that were too vague (find the source of the river’s pollution?), too dangerous (armies of nomads?), or insufficiently lucrative (kobolds?). Finally, her eyes settled on one with an impressively large payout, and right up her alley — investigating an undead-infested graveyard. She patted her bag. “Alright boys,” she said aloud, “looks like you’re going to get some playmates.”
Solo stifled a yawn, listened to her stomach growling, and looked up at the sky. She hadn’t slept well that afternoon, and that piss they had tried to pass for beer had been a poor breakfast. Still, it was a clear, cold night, and the moon, just then cresting the horizon, was black and new, a good omen. She glanced around to make sure there were not too many spectators, then raised her hands in praise of the Night’s Dark Lady. Even if the stories of several stouthearted adventurers disappearing in the graveyard were true, the undead held no fear for her…
But first, she needed some food. With the sun going down, the goblin market in the Slums would be just getting started, and she had heard many good things about the cheese made by the local goblin tribes. She headed for the gates, but found that they had been closed and barred for the night — typical behavior for sun-loving heathen. Numerous guards were posted on the walls, but their lanterns were all focused outwards, more worried about the numerous, obvious threats from without than any from within. She dunked her hands into a pouch of chalk on her belt and started to climb, easily finding purchase on the rough-hewn timbers of the wall. In a moment she was outside.