Monday, November 9, 2009

The Necropolis of Alkhezzar - Part I

Smoke from the cheap wood crumbling to nothing in the fireplace across the tavern common room mixed with the oily ringlets of gray puffed out by the wide-eyed traveler. He leaned in, hooked on every nuance and intonation from the lanky man seated opposite him. Small stones and bits of animal bones were strewn in an indecipherable pattern on the table between them. A few dice and a bit of string rounded out the casting. The seer was dressed in a loose fitting cotton shirt with a short hooded cloak pulled over his head as if it were a ward against stray eldritch energy. From an unseen pocket he pulled a slim deck of cards and flipped one onto the table.

"There is a shadow creeping across the face of the world," whispered the man to the traveler, indicating the card. The traveler blinked and leaned back from the table.

"That's a sun," he pointed to the card.

"You have to have light to cast a shadow, " insisted the reader as twitch of a frown crossed his features.

"The people on the card look happy," the traveler said.

"It's ... uh ... upside down ... inverted." The man made an esoteric gesture and pushed the word out in a husky whisper.

"No. It's not. It's a sun and the people are smiling." The traveler pushed himself back from the table.

"You have to look at it from this side ... it's inverted. They are all frowning." The would-be seer paused for additional effect. "There is a doom coming."

"Ratman piss," A new voice interrupted the reading. "Just tell him he is destined for happiness and get his money already, Fafnir. Before he figures out you are a charlatan." The voice had the honeyed tenor of someone who could talk the rain out of falling. The halfling owner, a short and round opposite to Fafnir, hopped up on a nearby bench and looked at the chaos of junk spread across it.

"Oh wow," he laughed, "Are they still falling for your bag of stones and bone bits? Don't any of your marks know anything about fortune reading?" The question was followed by another chuckle.

"Pops, dammit." Fafnir turned to the halfling with a pleading tone. "I am with a client."

"No, you aren't," Pops said with a cackle and pointed. The traveler had risen and moved away, muttering to himself.

"Wait! Sir?" cried Fafnir, "The shadow..."

"It was a sun, you hack," The traveler said over his shoulder as he stomped off.

"Pops, you bastard. That was my meal coin." Fafnir reseated himself dejectedly and began gathering his stones and bits into a small bag.

Pops laughed again. A smile was wide on his face and it made his eyes sparkle with mischief.

"Here," he said, and flicked a coin at Fafnir. Fafnir snapped it out of the air in an eye-blink then stopped and looked at the small golden disc in his palm.

"A gold half-crown? What are you playing at?" he asked the halfling.

"Pips, mostly. I just can't seem to lose tonight."

Fafnir gave Pops an icy stare. Pops fidgeted.

"Everything was on the up and up," Pops defended himself. "Mostly. I mean ... I didn't take much."

"If you are doing so well, then why are you over here chasing away paying customers?" Fafnir asked with surly frown.

"Well, one," Pops ticked off reasons on his small but dangerously deft fingers, "You are better than this garbage stuff. You should be selling the real thing. And two, I ... uh ... might have been a bit ... too ... good. Honestly, they were happy to see me step away." The last bit was said in a muttered rush.

"I don't believe you." Pops feigned shock at the statement. "So," Fafnir said with resignation. "How long do we have until two huge guys come over here looking to get their coin back?"

"Oh ... minutes at least," Pops replied.

Fafnir scanned the room. The hood of his cloak fell to his shoulders. "And by minutes," he said with a sigh, "You, of course, meant from the moment you came over here?"

"How many?" Pops asked with an air of curious indifference.

"Three. Dammit. I was hoping for a quiet night."

Fafnir looked quickly at the room over Pops' shoulder and gauged their options.

"Hey, night's young," Pops said sneaking his own glance. The twinkle rekindled in his eyes.

"Fair enough. You have a plan?" Fafnir asked.

"I was thinking a Horse's Mouth might be in order."

"Ok." Fafnir said in agreement.  "Ghost up. Now."

Fafnir cleared his throat and returned to picking up his things from the table. Pops hopped off the bench and was instantly lost in the mill and press of a few busy nearly tables. The moment Pops vanished, the approaching trio stopped and looked around. The brief pause was all Fafnir required.

The three goons were near a bench home to a few equally thuggish drinkers when Fafnir threw his voice and said, "You three come as a pretty set or do we hav' ta pay fer extra pillows?" Followed immediately by, "Pull up a bench, pull up your shirt, and let's get to known' each other." The results were predictable. In moments the center of the common room was a cloud of dust, splinters, broken crockery, and swinging fists. Pops reappeared at Fafnir's side as he slowly circumnavigated the brawl.

"Very nice, Fafnir!" he chuckled. "Smooth as silk."

"It's just one more tavern we have to avoid for a while," Fafnir muttered in reply. "Think it will pull the watch?"

"Not sure," Pops said at the same moment as a meaty thunk and distinctive groan sounded from the center of the fight. "Check that. Yeah. This is going to get messy. You really hit a sore spot this time."

There was a soft scampering noise and a small bundle of fur hopped from a nearby ledge on to Fafnir's shoulder.

"What's the story, my friend?" Fafnir said quietly to the lynx balanced comfortably next to his head. The lynx purred and something passed between the two of them. "All is not lost, Pops. I think we have some interesting prospects tonight after all."

"Oh? Of what sort?" the halfling asked.

"Not sure just yet. Something old and ... tingly is the best way to describe it."

"I don't think it is. What's tingly?"

"Lynx for vaguely mystic in origin I think. See that group slipping out the front? Chibi says they have a lead on something interesting. And..."

"Tingly...got it." Pops sighed. "You know ... you don't have to make up stories to get me out of this perfectly crazy room." A piece of a chair spun past Pops as he spoke. "I have zero issue with leaving." He laughed and smiled.

"For truth, my friend. Our rapidly vanishing 'friends' have a very old piece of parchment," Fafnir explained and picked up his pace toward the door.

"Like a map?"

"Would you like it to be a map?"

"Maps are interesting. I've sold my fair share of maps and I can tell you..."

"It might not be a map." Fafnir interrupted. The pair twisted past a handful of onlookers screaming drunken encouragement at the fray.

"Well, why are we following them, then? There are four of them and two of us and they look armed to the teeth." Another chair smashed into the wall next to Pops.

"Treasure, mystery, adventure Pops." Fafnir explained with a bit of drama. "That's line item one in the manifesto. Come on."

"Your manifesto," Pops countered. "Mine starts with beer. Then ale. Then cheese, sausage, and beer in that order."

"Four people are on the ground over there and I am reasonably sure that the people you robbed aren't among them. Come on, Pops." Fafnir said with a sly smile.

"Hey, hey, hey." Pops protested as Fafnir practically pulled him out the door and into the night. "Rob is pejorative. It was a friendly game of cards."

"I thought you said pips."

"It's not my fault they didn't know the rules."

The whistles of the watch sounded in the distance as the noise of the fight intensified. Fafnir and Pops slipped into the night and faded away.

 

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Geek - Gamer - Librarian - Writer. Only awesome at one of those things at a time, unfortunately.

About Fading Interest

After writing op-eds and travelogues for several years, after finishing a few books, and after failing to get the ball rolling with project after project I stumbled into an idea that might just hold my interest long enough to enjoy some level of satisfaction with my writing.