Then, of course, the money ran out. He was back to scrabbling to pay rent and eating bread and going without dinner every now and then. He had a job, but it didn't pay well and his boss didn't like him. It was likely he'd get the talk that goes like, 'Oh, you've been such a good worker, but we really need to cut back on the spending and we're afraid we have to let you go.' Nevermind that they'd be hiring someone else a day or two later. He wasn't bitter. It had only happened once. Well, twice. Or possibly three times, he couldn't remember. Anyway, it wasn't paying enough, and screw those people, he didn't need them. He could smuggle things.
He didn't stop being good at it. He also didn't stop getting paid. And life was pretty good when he got paid. He didn't have to worry about making rent all the time, didn't have to constantly play the math game with every scrap of cash. Hell, sometimes he didn't even haggle, it felt great to just say, 'Yes, I'll take four' and not waste time on anything else. But the guy that had given him the first job got himself arrested and Veron didn't have things to smuggle. Or people to smuggle them for.
Right, well, he's a self-made man, he wasn't going to let that stop him. He knew the people to talk to, talked to them, and bam, he was back to smuggling. Life continued to be good. Until it didn't, and that happened when people started to ask him to smuggle dangerous things. He still did it, because by then he hadn't had a proper job in months and didn't plan on starting anytime soon. But it bothered him. Smuggling poisons and weapons and all sorts of - horrible things.
He solved that problem by going to certain folks and asking for things that they wanted. Being the guy that would go and find things and bring them in, instead of the middle man. That way, he had more control over what was going on. It worked out great, too!
For a while.
And then he was asked to smuggle a ton of fancy candles. He didn't think anything of it, they were candles. Candles didn't hurt anyone unless someone slipped while holding one and burned their house down. Anything could kill you if you were an idiot with it. He didn't have anything against candles. Who cares if someone wanted some fancy ones?
Well. It turns out that a specific kind of special candle, when used in the right way by the right person who knew all the right things were extremely dangerous. Not because of the candles themselves. Because of what the candles could be used to summon. Shadowy things. Shadowy things that were then sent to threaten people for protection money or used as backup or - any number of nasty things. Veron was not pleased. He was going to go tell the guy that he wasn't going to smuggle in any more evil fancy candles, but...
Then he realized that it was probably a bad idea to piss off a guy who summoned shadow things and set them on people. Veron kept his mouth shut. He smuggled more candles. In fact, he was in the middle of doing that right now - knock knock, creepy shadow guy, candle delivery.
(Ugh. He'd go to the paladins if he didn't think he'd be arrested too. And he hadn't known! That should cut him some slack! But this was the real world, and that didn't work in the real world.)
"At first? And then he was the - scary guy with the shadow things and I do not want to piss off a scary guy with shadow things."
"You could have come to us."
"And be arrested for smuggling?"
"Do you know what woke shadows do?"
"... Kill people? Probably?"
"Sometimes. Not usually. More often they give people intolerable nightmares and whisper awful things into their ears while they're awake. Sometimes those are bad enough to kill outright, and we find people dead of fear in their sleep. Sometimes they drive people to suicide or violence. Sometimes they're just bad enough to torment the victim until they've placated whoever controls the shadow."
"Oh," says Veron, in a small voice, appropriately cowed.
"And now for every set of candles you brought him there are a few shadows, loose now, and after I've turned you in I'm going to have to track them all down and destroy them, because otherwise they will never stop."
"Um. Sorry?" Pause. "... Do you want help?"
"I would like you to tell me what you know about how many shadows he may have made and where they were sent, who they're hurting."
"Sixty seven candles in all, not counting the ones I just smuggled. And he was desperate there, so he probably used all the ones I brought before. I - think I know some people they're after for sure, I can guess at some others, do you want names or places, ooor..."
"Places is most important, names might be useful too. Why are you not counting the ones you just smuggled?"
"Because they're not an issue, you took care of them? When I say just smuggled I mean just smuggled, I'm pretty sure I still have some of the wax on me, I don't hang around places after I smuggle things, that would be stupid. Places - the area around the docks? Ebonwood street, near where it crosses the river. There's a spot near the bar, the, the one whose name I can't remember, Silver Short, or something? About a five minute's walk south from an inn, the one with the white trim?"
"I may ask to borrow you from the mayor so you can show me these places."
"I did just offer to help," he points out dryly.
"Yes, but you're under arrest and can't go around helping people on your own recognizance. You see, the last time you were allowed to help people on your own recognizance, you helped a shadow-waking mage. Hence, asking the mayor."
"You understand, I'm sure."
"Yes, perfectly, I will not see the light of day again, I'm excited. Do you think they'll feed me moldy bread or watery porridge? The question's just so pivotal to my daily life in the future, you see..."
"I haven't inquired after the prison conditions. It's not really my end of the whole business."
"Winter Light doesn't care about the end results of going and paladining at things?"
"We can't be everywhere and do everything. We can stop dark things from being made and kill the ones that are around anyway, which is important, unambiguously good, and uniquely requires a paladin's skillset. We must trust those we work with to appropriately handle what we cannot personally take responsibility for."
"Well, what happens if they screw it up?"
"Then they will have screwed up. I'm needed elsewhere handling dark things. Mishandled prisons can be fixed by people other than paladins, and there are not so many paladins around as all that."