Part 32: InterludeInterlude
The Tavern of Broken Dreams (Music)
Idly Oudilin Ovariis plucks the strings of his lyre. A languid tune, sweet with regret and bitter with unfulfilled joy, keeps the crowd shifting in their stools in an uneasy silence.
You sop up the last few smudges of gravy with the last bite of a roll, and pluck the last tender mushroom from your plate. The fare was a bit saltier than you had expected, but still it is hard to find a meal this fine in the Hive. Better than stewed cranium rats, certainly.
"Well?!" G'mir's gruff voice breaks the silence. The little firebrand had hopped on his stool once again. "Get on wit' it!"
Oudilin clears his throat and flushes gold with embarrassment. "I must confess, good gents, that this was the final chapter of the journal. Only a few blank pages remain, and though I have consulted many a seer and scryer, nothing remains of the rest of his tale in this humble volume."
The snarls of the crowd could only be expected, but still you reel back and take up a defensive stance when the mismatched throng set off pounding the tables and throwing mugs. Feral beast-men reveal their claws and demons snarl, huffing fire and smoke as eyes redden with fury. You only hope that no one is foolish enough to pull a dagger: once steel is drawn in a crowded bar the only thing left is a mass slaughter and some new bodies to warm the beds of the Prison for the Mercykillers.
Indeed, steel is drawn, but not by one of this unwashed rabble. Shara Six-blades draws a gleaming curved sword from under the counter and, with a hefty swing, spears it six inches deep into the surface. With the ear-splitting crunch of wood against steel, A hundred pairs of eyes turn to stare at a stone-faced marilith drawing out another two sickle-curved blades. Even the uppity G'mir seems to be thinking twice before starting anything.
Shara purses her lips and nods in satisfaction at the ensuing silence like a stern den-mother quieting her unruly children. With one taloned hand she points to the deva, "Master Ovariis. You've performed well in this tavern for as long as I've known you, but this is the first that I've seen you act so crass as to leave a tale unfinished. Do you care to explain yourself?"
With a smile of supernatural calm, the bard fingers his lyre and steps gingerly among the shards of shattered mugs at his feet. With a silver smile and a polite bow, he addresses the crowd, "Apologies, Mistress Shara, good sirs and ladies. But the power is not within me to continue this tale. However..."
Again he pauses for emphasis, and a hundred craning necks lean towards him.
"Just get on with it!" a voice snarls from the back of the bar.
Oudilin coughs. "Ahem. Tales of the Nameless One have been scattered throughout the Planes in the years since his legend was flesh. Some are dying echos, a hundred times removed from the original source. Some," he gestures to the journal perched next to his seat, "are left as his true legacy, scribed memories fresh with his experiences and heavy with the corporeality of truth."
He leans over to take his chalice of tawny golden wine, still standing even after the crowd's fury. The room simmers as he takes a delicate sip, enigmatic eyes glancing over the rim of the glass. "It was said that the Nameless One drew suffering to him as a lodestone draws shavings of iron. The same can be said about that which bears his mark."
The crowd whispers as Oudilin sets the glass on his stool. He scans the throng, "By beginning this telling, I believe events have already been set in motion to draw the story to us. It is my hope that, perhaps, another might be able to pick up the tale."
The crowd shifts uncomfortably. Winged demons glance suspiciously at fire elementals, githyanki snarl at their calmer, meditative bretheren. A shaman, decked in a hundred rattling bones and strips of fur, breathes, and the air ripples in front of him in patterns that might have been of running stags.
Just when Oudilin begins to scratch his hair, suddenly nervous, Scii-tavakis dusts off her leather breeches, balances her obsidion-tipped spear over one shoulder, and stands. You lean back in an attempt to avoid getting poked in the eye by the glassy, bloodstained tip, but Scii-tavakis holds herself with an expert grace and a keen awareness of those around her. You feel that if she had to, the woman could've danced the spaces between raindrops.
"Aye, well, it seems that I may have to speak after all."
Though Oudilin still attempts to keep himself dignified, you notice his lips part in the slightest sigh of relief. He smiles, bows, and retreats from the stage as the elven woman steps up. With a harsh snap of her fingers, she points at a plump barmaid, who gasps and scurries off to fetch a drink.
"I care little for telling tales. Words do little to fill bellies and tomes are of small worth in trade. But when you race the desert winds of my world for three full days under a dying red sun, respite with good company and the sharing of stories is a good way to fill a still night."
When the wench returns, Scii snatches up the mug, and tilts her head back to down the ale in one clean go. Not a drop spills from her lips.
Sighing contentedly, she sets the mug down and fishes about in her belt pouch as she speaks, "I had little idea when I was crawling through the ankheg's burrow that the oaths I muttered would bring me to such strange lands: a city with a Sorceress more powerful than any other, and many times more dangerous. These Planes are lands to be wary of, but they are still lands fat with water."
She smiles as she pulls out a small cube, "In time I took odd jobs here and about. Fetching this for a wizard, that for a sage. I stole an enchanted hourglass that told time in blood for one magus, then assassinated him for the very rival I stole it from."
For one who has no taste for storytelling, Scii is more than proficient. A tilt of the head accompanies every sly word, and sharp blue eyes glint mischievously with her dark confession.
"I had spent three weeks in a verdant grove, searching for a strange puzzle-box for an aged sorceror. I found it in a long-abandoned den, buried under age-old bedding of straw and twigs. When I returned to claim my prize, it turned out that the old man had died in his sleep. I kept the box for payment and as a reminder to claim at least part of the reward for my work beforehand in the future. At the time I had thought it was some odd, meaningless trinket.
"Over time, however, I began tinkering with it. A press here, a twist there. Some runes would seem to shift along the carved stone while others remained in place. Soon I became entranced, toying with it at night, coated with the dust of the day's work. Those who made clever remarks of a warrior working out a puzzle I left bleeding in the streets."
She smirks, and licks her lips as if suddenly thirsty for the savor of blood as well, "Soon though, I discovered the pattern." Scii twists the box in her hands as she speaks, pressing points here and there just so. The puzzle-box clicks with each deft flick of her fingers, which dance across the surface with a practiced precision. "And with each new face I unlocked, the puzzle-box told a new chapter of a story, beginning with a journey into a land where walls were piled high with refuse."
As the box twists in her hands, from a distance the surface of the puzzle seems to writhe, as if hundreds of ants were crawling over the smooth gray-green faces. With a satisfied nod, Scii-tavakis holds up the puzzle-box for all to see, the odd runes now arranged in clear, distinct lines encircling the surface and crawling at a readable pace.
"Thus continues the tale of the Nameless One..."