Chapter 3: Chapter 3

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: The Nocktian Circle

Reads: 296

 

‘You think they feed those often?’ Rovus pointed to one of the dracor sitting atop the city wall. A red lizard with birds’ feet and dragon wings, as well as a horrid temper and a crocodile’s maw. That would be the best way Anzu could describe a dracor.

‘Depends, do you smell smoke and beef?’ Anzu answered. Rovus sniffed and looked suddenly distressed. Anzu smiled and raised a brow. ‘It’s mostly the buffet and general location. They feed them four times a day in the nesting dungeons.’

 

Bolvorg happened to have been placed atop a concave volcano. It was mostly dormant, perfectly happy just bubbling and spewing ash. In it, the dracor nested before they were tamed, the volcano proving to be a perfect incubator for their rock-hard eggs. Furthermore, Bolvorg had no sewers, they simply dumped anything akin to waste into the fiery pits below through select grates in the streets. Probably adding to the generally unappealing smell of the place. The volcano itself, and the city, were both named after the ancient dragon of fires and destruction Bolvorg, the flaming maw. Naturally, the ruling family, Dracoris, had not only made the dracor their preferred mount, but also made it their family name and lifestyle.

 

Anzu hadn’t visited the city an awful lot, but he had been there just enough to know where to go. In the streets, they called it the Belly of the Beast. It was a black market sort of deal, where graverobbers and highwaymen alike put up stalls to sell all manners of goods, sometimes still with the hands of their previous owners clutching around them. If one were in the market for, say, dracor horns, which happened to be punished with death if one were caught with it in the Crater, one had but to ask the right person. The whole marketplace lay on a lowered floor, in a similar manner to a buffet, and most days it was tightly packed with shoddy market stalls covered in dirty, colorful rags. As for what the guards were doing, well… What they didn’t know, didn’t hurt them.

 

‘Few ground rules.’ Anzu said before walking down the steps to the main floor of the market. ‘No eye contact, no staring, no considering purchases. Got it?’

 

‘Got it.’ Rovus nodded, looking suddenly very focused. A fitting look, Anzu thought. With that serious frown, not a single man in the Belly would be able to tell him from everyone else. Apart from the whole two paces tall thing.

 

The two walked at a brisk pace through the market, bypassing all manners of bead-peddlers, uneducated cooks, and fortune tellers. Rovus’ curious eyes wandered quite a bit, though he managed to catch himself right before catching the eyes of some dirty rug merchant.

 

After a lot of pushing and slipping between people, they made it to the very back of the market, where the lights hardly reached, and any form of guard was but a distant memory. People openly gambled for counterfeit just a few steps away from where Anzu stopped. He was faced with a heavy steel door, marked with a waning moon slashed in the middle by a line.

 

‘This it?’ Rovus asked.

 

‘Yae.’ Anzu nodded, turning to the bull. ‘Let me do all the talking, even if you’re talked to.’ Rovus nodded slowly, drawing his lips to a thin line. ‘And don’t look anyone in the eyes.’ The rogue added quietly.

 

‘Will they stab me if I do?’ Rovus let slip.

 

‘No, they’re all just very ugly and dirty.’ Anzu shook his head and turned back to the door. ‘And they have memories as strong as Vargr.’ He knocked on it like it was made of glass.

 

A man opened the door to the extent of a slidelock, looking suspiciously at both of them. ‘And who’d you be?’

 

‘An old friend.’ Anzu bared his shoulder, showing off the top of his tattoo.

 

‘And him?’ The man behind the door asked. Rovus just caught the stench of tobacco and oils, twisting his nose at the unfamiliar smell.

 

‘With me.’ Anzu put his hands on his hips.

 

With a grumble, the man closed the door and unhitched the slidelock, opening the door for them. ‘Welcome back, Shadow.’ He gestured for them to enter, making sure no one had followed or watched before closing the door after them.

 

The inside seemed to be a regular tavern, though with less light than usual. Men sat hunched over tables wearing all black and drinking, and Rovus could spot one explaining how he brutally murdered someone with jokes and elaborate arm movements, eliciting laughter from the group gathered around him. He didn’t see anyone gambling, however. Some of the men stared at them pass by, and in particular, at Rovus’ uncle.

 

‘Amrys! One cup of your finest grog. And make it snappy.’ Anzu demanded, taking a seat by the bar.

 

The bartender turned around slowly, running a washrag through the inside of a dirty glass, an impatient and tired look on his face quickly turning into a bright smile. ‘Anzu! Long time no see!’ He put the glass and washrag down. He had bright red dreadlocks, an orange headband, tired, red eyes, and a pale, thin face with a silver ring in his lip. ‘There’s a rare sight. Who’s your friend?’ He nodded to Rovus. ‘Marc not with you this time ‘round?’ He put two bottles and three clay jars on the bar.

 

‘Nah, he decided to take over the estate.’ Anzu said, leaning his head in his hand.

 

‘Ah. Shame.’ The bartender nodded. ‘Want me to whip up the cook?’

 

Anzu looked at Rovus, who nodded sheepishly. ‘Sure, we can eat.’ He said. ‘And, uh…’ He pointed at Rovus, and the bartender raised his brows at him. ‘You didn’t see him.’

 

‘Aah, alright. Amrys, pleasure.’ The bartender nodded knowingly and reached out a hand to Rovus.

 

Rovus looked uncertain at Anzu, who made a motion as if to lock his mouth shut and throw away the key. He nodded shortly, and shook Amrys’ hand.

 

‘Greenhorn, eh? Been a decade since I last saw one of those.’ Amrys grinned. Looking into his eyes, Rovus felt that he was somehow… Wrong. Not in anything he said, or the way he acted, but he was somehow wrong. ‘Oy! Parval! Fire up the oven, break’s over!’ Amrys walked briskly into the kitchen behind a wall, shouting atop his lungs.

 

‘Did he seem…’ Rovus leaned close to Anzu, whispering below his breath. ‘Weird… To you?’

 

Anzu glared around the room briefly. ‘It’s understood that we don’t ask questions like that here.’ He whispered back. ‘Everybody who knows Amrys personally is either dead or works for him.’ He glanced cautiously at two stone-faced men further out, who were still staring at them. Amrys’, probably.

 

‘Oh.’ Rovus’ shoulders grew tight.

 

‘Don’t worry, he doesn’t blurt things like that out to the public.’ Anzu explained, keeping an eye on the kitchen door, from which the arguing between Amrys and his Gobbie chef sounded. ‘You’ll have to dig for it.’

 

Amrys emerged from the kitchen, shaking his mixing cup with a grin. ‘Gobbie workers, am I right?’ He chuckled. ‘Fun crowd, just a little rebellious.’ He opened the mixing cup and poured the contents into a bucket behind the bar, then filled it up with whatever was in the two bottles he put on the bar. ‘So how’ve you been? Done any good runs lately? See your wardrobe is upgraded.’

 

‘Yeah, I had a bit of luck in the past. Enough to upgrade, at least.’ Anzu showed off his detachable shoulder on his left arm. ‘Makes identification easier at least.’

 

‘Looks comfy, too.’ Amrys nodded, adding a pinch from each of the clay jars to his concoction.

 

‘It is. Flexible silks.’ Anzu pulled at his collar and showed the inside of his cloak, and the bartender shook the mixing cup while nodding.

 

‘You’d make any alleylurker jealous, Shadow.’ Amrys said, pouring his concoction into a clean glass and passing it to Anzu. ‘Here you are, drink up.’

 

Anzu smelled the drink, then took a sip, his face twisting as if in disgust. ‘Ugh! What did you put in this?’

 

‘Balthur’s swig mixed with Ranthur’s poison, and a tinge of firemint, dracor’s breath, and widow’s weave.’ Amrys answered. ‘Why, you think it’s too much?’

 

‘No, I love it!’ Anzu stared at his cup in disbelief that he hadn’t died as of yet.

 

Amrys chuckled. ‘It’s fairly popular in this little circle in here. They say I’ve “done it again”.’

 

‘Oh my god, I want twenty.’ Anzu took another careful sip of his cup. He may have wanted twenty, but chances were he could barely hold one.

 

‘And him?’ The bartender nodded at Rovus.

 

‘Nah, he’s too young for this stuff.’

 

Amrys raised a brow. ‘Really now?’ The rest of the room quietly looked on. ‘Hey, back to your cups! This isn’t a play!’ The bartender shouted, and the men turned away.

 

‘Which is another reason why you, or anybody here, didn’t see him.’ Anzu said.

 

‘Alright, let’s just keep quiet about it.’ Amrys turned back to washing dirty glasses and cups. ‘Let’s instead discuss you.’ He looked lopsided at Anzu. ‘Because I know the Shadow himself doesn’t stop by the Belly without a purpose.’

 

‘Mm.’ Anzu finished his cup, his face once again twisting oddly. ‘Maybe in the back?’

 

‘Here is your buttal hjerrkúr on a plate.’ The Gobbie chef, a creature with scraggly fur, a flattened bear’s enraged face, and a wooden leg, waddled out of the kitchen, putting two dishes with potatoes, bread, and meat on the bar. The Gobbie were one of the few sentient beast races in Nocktes. About a third the size of an average man, round heads, long, round rabbit-ears, horns, a flat snout, a short fur mane, and furry bottoms with a poofy tail. Their bodies were shaped kind of like bells with thin arm widening out towards the hands. They had their homes underground, but were famously enamored with human culture, often mimicking their mannerisms and societal structure. It was also this appreciation of human culture that drove many of them to seek a life above ground. Though something told Rovus that this one in particular had long since lost that fondness.

 

‘Hey. Language.’ Amrys warned. The chef shook his head and scratched a bare patch on his head, waddling back to the kitchen. ‘Fine. Out back when you’re done.’ The bartender pulled the washrag through his belt and walked into the kitchen.

 

‘Eat up.’ Anzu put one of the plates in front of Rovus and dug into his own. The two sat eating in silence for the rest of their stay.

 

 

By nightfall, they stood out back, in an alley far into the slums of Bolvorg. The roof of Amrys’ bar dripped after a short spell of rain, and the alley was packed with both dirt and crates of different fungi and mosses. They all bore the same mark the front door did, which presumably was the reason they were allowed to stay untouched out in the open like that. Amrys stepped out the backdoor with a book under his arm.

 

‘You looking for someone specific, or something?’ He put the book on a nearby upturned empty crate, one reeking of the southern spices he had ordered a long time ago.

 

‘Not sure yet.’ Anzu crossed his arms. ‘I’m here on account of a failed thievery at the Oracle’s temple.’

 

‘Ah, that was you then?’ Amrys pulled a smaller crate with wine stains to the other, sitting down and fluttering through his book.

 

‘The gem in the pool has this symbol.’ Anzu gestured to his shoulder. It didn’t surprise him at all that the bartender already knew. He was perhaps the only person who wasn’t a mage with a network of informants all over Ajilatel, if not all over the known world. ‘I want to know if anyone, at any point between now and ten years ago, came by here with this symbol.’

 

‘Of course, I’m looking at him right now.’ Amrys snickered.

 

‘Don’t crack wise.’ Anzu warned, leaning against the stacked crates lining the wall opposing the tavern. ‘It’s about the Atz Vaka, try to take it seriously.’

 

‘Ah. Atz Vaka.’ Amrys fluttered more confidently to a certain page in his book. ‘Now there’s something you don’t hear often…’

 

‘I think one of them might have placed the ruby there on purpose.’

 

‘Yeah? Yeah…?’ Amrys nodded, going down a list of names and character descriptions. ‘Did you ask them?’ He looked up at the rogue.

 

‘I’m not going to ask the Atz Vaka, they’re filthy!’ Anzu wrinkled his nose and expressed disgust at the mere mention.

 

‘I mean you’d save yourself a lot of trouble and searching…’

 

‘Don’t.’ Anzu pointed a stern finger at the bartender. ‘Even mention it.’

 

‘Alright, whatever suits you.’ Amrys exposed his palms in defeat. ‘There’s been a couple of people here with that mark. Ah, one fairly normal man, cloaked, mage’s robes, red and black, pale with black hair.’ He paused. ‘Mark on the underside of his wrist. Puffed on a pipe his entire stay.’ He skimmed so fast over his notes, Anzu barely noticed the bartender’s uncertainty.

 

‘Name?’ Anzu made note of the description.

 

‘No name. Very secretive, more than the usual lot I mean.’ Amrys rubbed his chin and bit his lip. ‘Seven years ago. Never came back. Not heard of him since.’

 

‘I see.’ Anzu closed his eyes and tipped his head up. ‘Suppose I’d have to ask the Atz Vaka for him.’

 

‘Probably.’ Amrys nodded. ‘The other was young, messy white hair, ears like yours…’ He paused. Anzu didn’t have the longest ears, and wasn’t even nearly related to an elf, but somehow the Atz Vaka all had small sharp ears, though some less than others. Mock Elf Ears, they called them. ‘Red and gold robes, very itchy it seemed.’ He gestured to his cheek. ‘Fell flat after half a drink, softest I had, said a few things he probably shouldn’t have. Let’s see…’ Amrys turned to a page in the very back of the book. ‘The Atz Vaka are apparently panicking, running all over Ajilatel, looking for something.’

 

‘Name?’ Anzu stepped forward.

 

Amrys turned the page back to his list. ‘Vilis.’ He said.

 

‘Vilis… Vilis…’ Anzu muttered. ‘Never heard of him…’

 

‘Maybe a new recruit?’ Amrys shut his book and crossed his arms, leaning back against the tavern wall.

 

‘No, I wouldn’t think so…’ Anzu shook his head. The only people allowed to join the Atz Vaka were women and those born into it. It made some sort of sense to Anzu, obviously they wouldn’t want inbreeding in their shadow-phasing super soldiers. If this Vilis was a new recruit, he’d have to be under a decade old, or kept in secret from him since birth. Or the Atz Vaka simply never told him about the boy, which, considering his stance on the Atz Vaka, was also a possibility.

 

‘He was here only a week ago. A real hoot, that one.’ Amrys chuckled to himself.

 

‘Did he say where he was going?’

 

‘Hm hm.’ Amrys laughed with his mouth shut, the kind of laughter that spelled ill intention to anyone familiar with it. ‘Suppose he might have.’

 

‘And there’s a price.’ Anzu sighed.

 

‘Yup.’ Amrys shrugged. ‘I don’t gossip, Anzu, I hold secrets hostage.’

 

‘Right, uuh…’ Anzu rifled through his pockets and coin purse. He had already shelled out for an afternoon meal and drink, so it was significantly lighter than before. Rovus took a breath and stepped forward with a raised finger, reconsidering when the bartender’s curious eyes fell on him. Anzu shook his head. ‘You’re not paying.’ He commanded.

 

‘So we’re done?’ Amrys brushed off his arm. ‘Or do you want to set up a tab?’

 

Anzu handed him everything he had in his purse. A couple silver coins, and five copper. ‘If it’s not enough.’

 

Amrys shrugged. ‘I’ll let the rest of it go on goodwill.’ He smiled. ‘Because you’ve had it rough, and because we get well along.’ He waved one of the coins in front of the rogue’s face and gathered his book.

 

‘Thank you.’ Anzu sighed in relief.

 

‘Southwards. To Melvore.’ Amrys said, pocketing the coins, and putting a hand on the doorknob. ‘Oh, and… Don’t get used to this. Next time, it’s doubled.’

 

‘I won’t.’ Anzu swore with a hand on his heart, and Amrys disappeared behind the steel door to the tavern. ‘You caught his eye.’ He turned to Rovus, who seemed flustered.

 

‘I’m sorry.’ Rovus said quickly, fidgeting with his hands.

 

Anzu lingered on his expression and shook his head. ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He gestured for the boy to follow, stepping out of the alley. ‘You didn’t talk, and I told him to forget you. Had you talked, you would have been a bullet point on his lists.’

 

‘Something about him just seemed…’

 

‘Dirty.’ Anzu said, stalking onwards to the city gates. ‘Very, very dirty.’

 


Submitted: March 24, 2018

© Copyright 2021 TordenFaaret. All rights reserved.

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