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Skywolves

The Gahlan skies teem with all manner of rogues and renegades, dastardly pirates, cruel slavers, and mercenaries with discount loyalties. These lot typically populate the rosters of throwaway villains in those feel-good stage productions where a lot of goons need dispatching in a short time by a plucky hero who wasn't asking for trouble. The role of the Skywolf though, always brings with it a singular mystique that is coveted by any self-respecting leading Gahl.   Skywolves are human traffickers for hire. They are savvy operators who can ayrstrogate by gut instinct, and know how to smuggle people into the places where the men in uniforms and jackboots don't want them to go. The role calls for an infectious charisma, a sense of daring and panache, and the rebellious smile of a criminal you can't help but root for. Lacking that, a calculating mind and a stubborn jaw will suffice where slick words are found wanting.   In the stories, the skywolf operates in that grey area of morality that makes for complex characters, that also happen to look good in shirts with deep necklines. Despite the grim reality of their job, and their somewhat callous complicity towards the conditions that keep them in business, the service they perform is often to the benefit of the underdog. The reluctant smuggler with the heart of gold is a trope so well-trod that it's gone all the way through cliché, and right back around to downright mandatory. When an eager new playwright is shopping their script through the arts district, producers reflexively ask "Who's playing the skywolf?"   It's usually the playwright.  

The Tricks of the Trade

Those who know them through personal experience, rather than romantic embellishment, will warn that a skywolf is just as duplicitous and blackhearted as any thief or corsayr. Like any other criminal, they charge the kind of prices that any reasonable gahl would call extortion. They will pack their clients into cramped, unspeakable conditions just to make an extra bit of cash on a voyage, and cry crocodile tears as they claim that it's the only way to afford the fees and bribes. Book a trip on a skywolf ship, and you're likely to meet at least one quiet, timid person who keeps to themselves, and doesn't look like they want to be there. Some skywolves have a code of honor, sure, but if you want to last in the business, it's best to check that at the door. There are old skywolves and kind skywolves, but for whatever reason the kind ones never seem to reach retirement.   But the only thing worse than getting smuggled past the border with the help of a skywolf is trying to do it without one. To get past the patrols and checkpoints, a skywolf needs to have the right paperwork and mintmarks, or passable enough facsimiles to confound an agent and buy time to finagle a getaway. They know how to find the black-market coilrigs and flux stations where an ayrship can be refueled without too many questions. They know how to fly through the aethersphere at night without attracting unwanted attention from leviathan.   They're not pirates, but they ought to have enough vinegar in their spit to know a few, and be on good enough terms not to get boarded.

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