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The First Empire

The Black Ale Tavern

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a part of The First Empire, by Gawain.

A filthy place full of filthy business. Funny, how no one buys anything yet they don't close down...

Gawain holds sovereignty over The Black Ale Tavern, giving them the ability to make limited changes.

229 readers have been here.

Setting

A Tavern in the under-district of Ibn.
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The Black Ale Tavern

A filthy place full of filthy business. Funny, how no one buys anything yet they don't close down...

Minimap

The Black Ale Tavern is a part of Ibn, the City-state.

2 Characters Here

Mavik [2] Janus, the two-spirit spy. Red-haired, unimpressive, and used to being the cleverest man (or woman) in the room. He won't tell your secrets if you don't tell his. Have you seen Eleka?
Eleka [1] Janus, the two-spirit spy. Red-haired, elegant, and used to being the cleverest woman (or man) in the room. She won't tell your secrets if you don't tell hers. Have you seen Mavik?

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Character Portrait: Mavik
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#, as written by Gawain
The bouncer stood in front of the hardwood door with his arms crossed in the usual bouncer fashion. He displayed the hefty steel club just under his cloak to Mavik. "Password?" He asked gruffly. He was missing a few teeth, and it did not look as if he would keep the rest for much longer if he kept up his habits. Despite his poor hygiene, the bouncer was well muscled, plenty stronger than Mavik. If it came to the fight Mavik would not stand a chance.

The Black Ale Tavern, somehow it stayed in business though no one left drunk or seemed to buy any drinks. The brown-stained clay building stood in the poorer, crime-friendly district of Ibn. The Clerics knew of its existence, of course, like they knew everyone else in the city, but they understand that a healthy amount of crime is more useful than eradication. The White-Bloods, after all, were only another branch of the city government. "Well, friend?" The bouncer asked in a less than friendly manner.

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Character Portrait: Eleka Character Portrait: Mavik
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#, as written by Goldie
"Agda says to braid a red ribbon in your hair," said the little man, "and meet her on the hilltop at noon."

Mavik very much doubted that Agda was a real person, and did not particularly care. His information concerning this meeting was sparse, and its lack set him on edge, though the tension showed only in the rigidity of the hands half concealed in the heavy goatswool cloak wrapped around his shoulders. Eleka had pressed his employers for more, but they had nothing more to offer him.

Agda says to braid a red ribbon in your hair. What kind of nonsense was that for a password? But it felt right to him. He had a sense, born of long practice, for when things were right. The same sense made him uneasy about the second part of the password. And meet her on the hilltop at noon. He could not have said why it bothered him so.

He met the eyes of the bouncer, unsmiling - it was Eleka who smiled - and reservedly polite.

"You see, my business here is genuine. Teones is expecting me." His voice was no longer so steady. There had been ice on the washbasin when he had left his rooms, and that had been nearly an hour ago. He was shivering. "You would do well to let me in before I catch my death of cold."

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#, as written by Gawain
The bouncer stood for a moment. Perhaps that was not the password? He stepped aside, letting Mavik through. The heat hit him the same time the stench did, like a bolstered wall of sweat and long spilled ale. A fire burned in the middle of the room, a modest stack of wood, but luxurious nonetheless. Wood was expensive in the desert West. The little of it that grew was forbidden by the Clerics from harvest and never grew thick enough to be more than kindling. There was a thin man standing on the bar, drunkenly swaying as he spouted a strangely infectious string of alliterative sentences.

"Down the hall and to the left," another bouncer, more aged but equally muscled, said from his seat beside the door. This one had more teeth and probably could spell his name if prompted. The man standing on the bar was speaking to a beat, clapped out by the other patrons. Perhaps he was a bard? Or just an entertaining member of the White-Bloods.

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#, as written by Goldie
Mavik paused, watching the man on the bar. Pale lashes, long and thick as a girl's veiled his eyes for a moment. Then he turned and left the stifling, fetid heat of the common room. At least he was no longer cold, he thought, as sweat began to slick his skin under the heavy cloak. He paced the length of the hall in no hurry, to the door that stood ajar for him.

He had much to offer the White-Bloods. His quiet reputation as a secret keeper. To some, his reputation as a collector of secrets. Agon would never rise again, but it lived on in those who remembered it. Like Mavik. He flexed his hands, the joints still stiff from the cold, and stepped through the door.

The room beyond had little light, small and close, the windows shuttered. He shook back his cloak from his shoulders to show he was unarmed. Which was not strictly true.

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#, as written by Gawain
The room lead to a staircase down to a basement level. The basement was noticeably colder than upstairs. There was only one man in the room, large thug with no shirt and many white scars crossing his tanned skin. Sliver thin cuts ran along his skin, won from countless battles no doubt. His short square beard was brown and a black mark hung below his collarbone. It swirled in shadows contained by the usual pentagonal shield shape. Lark's Rune. Strange for a follower of the Reticent to be so out in the open. Stranger still for him to display himself so openly. The light from the lamp even focused on him. It took hard work to make one like him visible with a rune like that.

"What are you here for?" The voice came from Mavik's right. It was actually quite welcoming. A masked man sat, crosslegged in a corner. He held a small block of wood in his hand, carving it with his left-handed knife. He wore the Reticent's mark on his black leather vest, sewn in ruby threads. His sword lay across his knees, but he did not seem threatened. He did not even look up.

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#, as written by Goldie
"I was told Teones was expecting me," Mavik said, voice light and cool. He was not afraid of shows of force. Brown eyes slid over the thug, noticed him and all he stood for, and moved on. He was interested in the other, the one with the sword. "Either I have been mislead, or you are not Teones."

He brushed back his hood, uncovering the bright, betraying hair. There was nowhere to run, if he needed to run. They had seen to that. But what reason did they have to entrap him? What reason to harm him? Even if he had made a mistake, it could easily be passed off. He had made mistakes before, and had learned to cover them.

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#, as written by Gawain
"You are speaking to him," the masked man said, it was made from two pieces of ebony, cracked along the left eye and sealed with a red lacquer. "You're quite an angry little man. Far from what I expected." Teones set the block of wood, vaguely shaped like a human, on the ground, sheathing his left-handed knife in the gauntlet above his right elbow. He crossed his arms, sizing up Mavik with dark eyes. "Did your mother not teach you to catch flies with honey?"

The shirtless man stood, walking past Mavik with a stony glare. He had a pale gauntlet above his right elbow. He was threateningly close, closing the door behind Mavik. He was truly trapped now.

"I mean really. You expect us to be savages or something? We're people too, you know. We've got feelings."

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#, as written by Goldie
"She might have, if I had known her," he said, brow knitting. "Though I must say, I am not accustomed to being called angry."

He neither flinched nor turned as the door clicked shut behind him. Wrong. He had done something wrong. The password. It was the only explanation. Then why had they let him in at all? And how did this man know he had given the wrong password? He breathed in the stale air, a deep breath through the nose, carefully out between lips only slightly parted. He was very aware, as he always was in these moments, of the sound of his heart beating, and of the temperature of the air against his skin, cool here, but not cold and not damp.

"Am I the fly, then, that has been caught? What a shame, if I brought my news all this way only for you to kill me before I delivered it."

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#, as written by Gawain
"Where's the other one, then? We can't be having loose ends." Teones snapped his fingers, tilting his head. "Eleka was her name, yes? Bring her in and we can discuss properly, like the Clerics we all admire." The shirtless man sat back down on his stool, watching Mavik. Teones rested his hand on the hilt. He did not grip it. His, and the other man's bodies were relaxed. There was a tense moment of silence as they stared the blonde down.

"But, you have my curiosity. What news have you brought, Mavik." Something was definitely wrong. They should not know his Name. They should be expecting a member from the White-Blood cell in Agon.

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#, as written by Goldie
"Oh no. Eleka and I never work together." A thin smile crossed his face. He moved forward, passing very close to the bare-chested thug. So close he could feel the heat of the man's body on his cheek. Standing, the top of his head barely passed the thug's shoulder. With the man seated, he could look down on him. He paused to look him over with impersonal curiosity. "What a fine specimen you are," he said, and then went on towards Teones. His knives were hidden, and he did not reach for them. He would not get far if he did.

"That depends. Am I truly speaking to Teones?" He stopped before the masked man. "If indeed you were expecting me, as you should have been."

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#, as written by Gawain
The shirtless man met Mavik's eyes. If he was moved by the comment, he did not show it. "See?" Teones said, "That's what I'm looking for. Some decent respect. "And of course I am Teones. Is a man not who he says he is?" The masked man uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. "And yes I was expecting you. How many passwords does your organization keep?" He asked, a twinkling in his eyes. "Agda was an old friend of mine. Died ten years ago," he let the statement hang in the air for a moment.

"Lets just say you passed the quiz but failed the test. The only reason you're alive is because your woman is still at large, and because, despite your sloppiness, you've shown skill. Now, tell me this news, Mavik."

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#, as written by Goldie
"Ah. The creeping sensation of faulty information is never wrong." Thank Phaedron for Eleka. His hands ached. They usually did when his nerves were on edge, every sense heightened so that he could hear the breathing of the two men in the room, the deep rasp of the thug's and the lighter, hollow sound of the man behind the mask. The very fabric of his shirt stung his skin. He stood very still, every muscle under control.

"There is a faction in Agon moving against the Clerics. They trust me. I cannot reach the Clerics, but I can reach the White-Bloods." Pieces of the truth were far better than lies. There were always unhappy factions in the ruins of Agon. "I am a connoisseur of secrets, Teones, as no doubt you know. Allow me to offer you the use of services."

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#, as written by Gawain
Teones stretched his arms in a yawn, leaning back against the wall. "Moving against the Clerics eh? Someone's always moving against the Clerics. Cinonain before you, Dwarthe before him, you get the idea. You do know what happened to them, correct? We White-Blood do enjoy our not so secret employment with the Clerics. You wish to betray this faction then? Give us a Name and we will pass it on."

He turned his head, looking to the shirtless thug. They held eye contact for a second before Teones looked to Mavik again. "Why would an information broker come to us? Did this faction forget to pay its dues? No! Let me guess, they threatened your poor lover. What was her Name again? Eleka. Yes. Well let me tell you, your services are more than welcome. The White-Bloods do love their contacts and you would be no exception."

The shirtless man stood, picking up the stool he sat on. "I have a more important job for you, though. Information is welcome, but I know where your skills really lie. Yes. They say you can talk your way out of any situation. Let us put that to the test."
The shirtless man lifted the trapdoor he had been sitting on. A sub-basement? He moved to grab the lamp from the ceiling, watching Mavik with stony eyes, and lit the way down. Mavik stood, but did not sheath his sword right away.

Downstairs was a wet musty, dirt walled, box of a room. It was even colder than above. Mavik could see the shirtless man's breath and his own. He cast the light on the only other thing in the room: a woman, naked and covered in more scars than the shirtless man. It was hard to see, but she had a rune tattooed over her scars just above her left breast. Her eyes were closed, but her chest did not move. Beside the body was a gauntlet and sheathed sword made in the fashion of the Reticent. The looked worn, but maintained.

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#, as written by Goldie
At the bottom of the stairs, Mavik hesitated. Whatever he had expected, the sight that met him was not it. The circles he moved in were full of strange and frequently unpleasant things, but there was usually some amount of logic invested in them. He would just have to find the logic here. In the space of a heartbeat, drawing his cloak closer about his shoulders, he retraced the steps that had brought him here. A mistake with the password, the man Teones therefore not nearly as welcoming as Mavik had counted on, and his apparent disinterest - the only thing not surprising - in Mavik's "news."

And the man had called Eleka his lover. It was laughable. Either the brute thought him incestuous - he wouldn't be the first - or he had not done his research nearly as well as he should have.

The heartbeat passed. He stepped fully into the room, eyes still unflinchingly on the woman, seeking some sign of life. He had not bothered to answer Teones' taunting, but turned his mind to whatever task they expected of him in this basement. Was she their last prisoner? Did he have to talk his way out of this room past Teones and his meaty friend?

Or was she the one he had to convince to release him?

"It's awfully cold down here," Mavik said, without apparent feeling. His skin felt robbed of blood, blanched and cold. "She should at least have a blanket, for pity's sake."

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#, as written by Gawain
"Never seen a corpse before?" Teones sighed, "Well that's not really fair to the boy now is it?" He seemed to be speaking to the shirtless man, who set the lamp down by the dirt ramp that lead up to the basement. Their shadows cast over the girl, flickering. Mavik could almost see her white scars shaping and changing with the light, making confusing images. Teones knelt, delicately lifting her hand by the wrist. He brought to blade to the pale flesh. "You wish to join us, Mavik? Drink." He delicately sliced the corpse's thumb, glittering silver-white blood dripped from the wound. "Your woman will have to do the same ritual, until then you are forbidden from speaking to her about our business." The red lacquer of his mask glinted in the waxing light, like blood from ahead wound. "Understand?"

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#, as written by Goldie
"I'm afraid I keep nothing from Eleka," he said, not moving closer. The sharp scent of blood stung his nostrils. "That is non-negotiable. By working with me, you work with her."

He looked down at the woman, dead or alive, it did not matter. It would be a shame to die down here, a crushing disappointment. He had a different sort of death entirely in mind for himself, when the time for death came. He wondered, fleetingly, if things would have been different if Eleka had come here instead of Mavik. No, likely not. The White-Bloods were not known for being discriminating. At least not that kind of discriminating. They would kill a woman the same as a man.

"I admit, I like challenges, Master Teones, but it is hard to play a game one does not know."

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#, as written by Gawain
Teones produced a small metal cup, catching the droplets of silver-white. "Then you will bring her here within the day or we will hunt both of you down." The wound closed quickly, leaving a white scar behind. Teones left the glistening cup by the corpse, standing to face the crippled man. His sword was pointed dangerously close to Mavik's throat. He did not speak further, his dark eyes flaring in the light behind Mavik. Then he sheathed his sword, laughing. His arms splayed out high as he turned. "Life is a game one does not know. The voice of an empire goes silent and the world keeps playing. We still play our parts, passing the bucket over the flame. You wish to join the White-Bloods? Provide information to the Clerics on factions in Agon? These are the rules: Drink the blood. Get your mate to do so as well. Serve Teones. You can start with the precious information you ever so nicely brought for us."

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#, as written by Goldie
"What happens if I drink?" he asked, taking the cup, cradling it in one twisted hand. "I presume, if I do not drink, I die. You will have to wait longer for Eleka. She is out of the country, therefore of no concern to you." Eleka was working elsewhere. He looked down at the blood, white blood, and wondered fleetingly if his blood would turn white if he drank. If he killed Teones, would his blood be white? Mavik had no runes to protect himself from this, only Eleka. Only his own clever brain run up against a game whose rules he did not know. The world ran on rules he knew, but twisted groups like these...

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#, as written by Gawain
"You join the White-Bloods. Was that not obvious?" Teones looked to the shirtless man. "Was that not obvious? Should I be more specific?" The man shrugged making a matteroffact face that seemed to say 'I thought it was pretty obvious.' Teones sighed. "You came to us to sell information yes? Well we do not hire outsiders. You either join us and adhere to Teones and the Reticent, or we kill you for knowing our passwords and location." He said it simply. These were the facts, not veiled posturing with threats.

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#, as written by Goldie
"Yes, that much I had gathered for myself. I see I will learn nothing more until I pass the threshold." He lifted the cup to Teones. "Your health," he said, and drank. It looked like milk but tasted like blood, bright metal and salt, the memory of pain. He drank it to the dregs, head tipped back so the muscles of his neck stood out like cable.

He more than half expected something to happen, some crippling agony revealing his deceit, or for their control to seize hold of his bones. For truth to come spilling from his lips. But he drank and felt nothing but the deepening cold. Lowering the cup, he sought the eyes behind the mask, and resolved to strangle his pathetic informer.

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#, as written by Gawain
"Good. Now, you have information, White-Blood?" Teones said. The light flared as the shirtless man picked up the lamp, climbing the dirt ramp up to the basement. "I believe we should discuss this over a cold glass of ale." His eyes were still sharp under the mask, though, watching Mavik carefully. "We will also have to arrange your tattooing. The mark of the Reticent is the symbol of the White-Bloods, after all." Teones patted Mavik on the shoulder and lead him up.

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#, as written by Goldie
That was going to be awkward. If he had no choice about the tattooing, Eleka would never be able to come here.

"I would prefer not to wear any mark on my skin," he said, following comfortably along. To all the world, he looked perfectly at ease. "My work requires me to at least maintain the appearance of neutrality. I do hope you weren't expecting me to give up everything to serve the White-Bloods. Do you know how many knives would skewer me if I showed such explicit allegiance to any one side?"

They had come out now into the relative warmth of the room in which he had met Teones. Shaking back his cloak again, he braced himself for the common room beyond, its stink and stifling heat. It was the sort of room Eleka liked, but not Mavik. And Eleka only pretended to like it.