A tavern of high stakes and low virtues
Many devious denizens of the dusty city of leaning towers gather at the most ruthless tavern in existence to gamble, imbibe, and flirt with the ladies after a hard days work. The squeaky sign blows eerily upon the metal rod impaled upon the overhang that covers the big pair of red doors of which thick smoke bellows outward when they are opened. Fat cigars are a delicacy for the miners who strike it rich and there they sit playing cards and bones. Dart boards and billiard tables line one side of the room and everyone has an edge in their favorite game but he who is caught cheating is rarely seen again frequenting the seedy establishment known as the Swanky Boar.
The city’s name is Thuron and it stands atop a red rock bluff, beside a still lake that s spills over the side to feed the Silver River where great raft trains carry the valuable ore far downstream to more civilized lands. The deserted Red Lands present a place where only the toughest can make a living but a good living they can make if they survive the dangerous mines of the Red Lands and the dark streets of Thuron.
It was an especially harsh day when he arrived. A wall of airborn sand swept from the north and blanketed the city in dust as he crossed the arching bridge over the waterfall and approached the city. The man with emerald eyes and copper hair nodded with approval when he saw the zig-zagging streets and bizarre structures. Having been exiled from the country he once loved, he knew he had found a new home far-flung from the islands of the Daggens. He was a stout man of great stature. His name was Fist La’brau. Thieves of the underground guild look out. This man has no fear.
He let forth an approving grin and strode through the city gates. He was a man leaving a past behind and searching for answers to his future. Making his way down the main avenue lined with gritty folks he knocked shoulders with the most contemptuous hooligans that stood in his way while paying them little attention as they repaid him evil stares. After passing numerous unscrupulous street vendors who tried to beckon him and females with colorfully painted faces and gauzy costumes that tried to garner his attention, he found it.
The squeaky sign with the image of a boar wearing a long robe signified he had found the tavern renowned. The doors swung both ways and when he entered he sniffed the smoke and looked around the roomful of rugged reveling miners. There was music from a lute drifting from a dim corner but all about the room there were rugged men playing cards and bones except for the ones engaged in telling tall tales. The bartender was a crippled man with a bad eye and Fist made his way to the bar where he purchased a mug of ale.
“You’re new here, aren’t ya?” the bartender asked when he slid the mug toward Fist.
Fist nodded and took a healthy swig of the bitter drink.
“Strong stuff,” Fist said with wide-eyed approval.
“The men of Thuron demand only the stoutest,” the half blind bartender said proudly.
Fist guzzled down the rest then sat the mug back down on the bar.
“Another?” the bartender asked?
Fist shook his head. “Nope.” He leaned closer and spoke more directly to the bartender. “I would like you to tell me where I can find Ivan the Lipless?”
The bartender looked around. His eyes, one good and the other hazy squinted then he motioned with his head across the room toward a door.
Fist nodded and dropped some coins. He turned and walked across the room to the rather small door near a dark corner not far from the lute player and a few drunken miners throwing darts. There was a small sign on the door that read, “knock.”
Fist knocked lightly on the door and a few seconds later he heard a voice from beyond. He assumed it was permission granted to enter so he grabbed the latch and pulled the door open. Inside, the room was very dim and a chill drifted out. As his eyes adjusted he saw an object glowing violet upon a table and wisps of light smoke drifting upward from a pair of incense burners. Bizarre tapestries hung upon the walls and ceiling woven with arcane symbols.
Fist approached the table and then noticed a shadowy form sitting behind it and there was an empty chair on the visitor’s side. He pulled out the chair and took a seat and waited for the dark man to speak.
Fist glanced down at the object on the table and it was a pyramid-shaped prism with moving light and color within emitting the violet and lavender glow throughout the room.
Finally, the form seemed to awaken from a trance. The hood moved a bit and it cast a shadow over a hidden face. The voice was cold and had difficulty producing some of the harder consonants in the language.
“What is your name?” the hissing voice asked.
“What do you seek today?”
“I hear you are a person who can speak the future. I came to see if that is true.”
“For five silvarons I can tell you something about your fate, but be warned, that kind of knowledge is not always what you bargain for.”
Fist nodded. “I just want to know if I will ever see a certain white-haired man from my past as long as I stay in Thuron?”
“That is not how it works, Mr. La’brau. You give me silver coins and I tell you what the spirits say about your fate no matter what question you may have.”
“Perhaps I came to the wrong place,” Fist said. “By the way, why do they call you Ivan the Lipless?”
The man in the dark hood looked up slightly revealing his chin and then his lower face. The skin had been removed around his mouth by some horrible experience in his past revealing all his teeth no matter his expression. Wet swallowing and sucking sounds came unruffled from his partly uncovered jaws.
Fist nodded. “No words needed.”
“Do you want to know your fate or not?” Ivan the Lipless asked impatiently.
Fist was a little miffed. He had traveled all the way to Thuron to escape the cries of mankind so that he might be able to live a life for his own good.
“I was hoping you could tell me a little more specifically certain things about my future. There is a certain white-haired man I never want to see again.”
“Why do you not want to see this white-haired man?” Ivan the Lipless asked.
“When he comes, I know he wants me for my sword to do the bidding of his cause.”
“You are a man of great might and skill I can tell, Mr. La’brau. You seek to escape what he brings. The weight of the misfortunes of Mann seems to fall directly upon your shoulders. That must be a heavy burden. I can see how you would want to never see this wizard again.”
“I didn’t say anything about a wizard,” Fist replied.
“True, but he is one, isn’t he?”
“You seem very adept at reading my past. I thought you were good at telling the future.”
“I simply state the obvious,” Ivan the Lipless said shaking his head slowly. “People do not argue the past because that is all they can see. I have a gift and there is no difference between past or future–no doubting–no arguing–simply fact. So when I do not tell them the future they want to hear, they hate me. Five silvarons for the obvious, past or fate.”
“Well, since you already robbed me of five silvarons,” Fist began while yanking the coins from his pouch, “get on with the future I beg you.”
The hooded soothsayer stared into the prism as he spoke. “I see swords, many swords.”
Fist waited while Ivan the Lipless sat silently. “All you see is swords?”
“Many swords, dark swords.”
Fist furrowed his brow. “Anything else?”
Ivan sat motionless for a few moments then opened a box next to them. He withdrew a deck of cards but they were different from most of the gaming cards he had seen. These cards had arcane symbols on the back and were a little larger. Ivan the Lipless divided the cards into five stacks and sat them in a row.
“Turn over a card Mr. La’brau.”
Fist scoffed mildly at the man’s tricks but did as he asked. He reached for the pile on the far right and turned over a card. The card contained an image that looked like purple smoke.
“The card you have chosen, Mr. La’brau, is the card of Shadow. By turning this card you have chosen your fate.”
Fist squinted in doubt. “I chose a card.”
“You chose your fate. The swords I see represent conflict–the card you chose is the card of Shadow. Your chosen fate is a conflict with Shadow, Mr. La’brau.”
Fist shook his head and pushed the five silvarons forward. “Your information was worthless. I am in control of my own fate.”
“Are you, Mr. La’brau?” Ivan the Lipless said.
Fist could not tell if the man were smiling or frowning for he had no lip flesh to show it. He arose and strode away from the table.
“One more thing,” the soothsayer said.
Fist stopped but did not turn.
“I see no white-haired wizard ever visiting you in Thuron.”
Fist nodded and left.
– by J.Wade Harrell,
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