Posted by Darth Krzysztof
7 Planting, 595 CY
The Feral Dog was no different tonight – packed to the rafters with people, noise, and smoke. But with nearly everyone crowded around the dogfighting pit, Liberty was relatively free to squirm through the taproom to the beginning of a short hallway. The elven adventurer, Tirra, stood there, nudging the toe of her boot to the edge of a line drawn on the floor in chalk. A trio of men – grubby miners, not Kullen’s thugs – crowded around her; the things they said to each other were lost in the din, but the looks on their faces made the meaning all too plain.
As Liberty approached, Tirra squared her shoulders, then took a deep breath. Her hands flashed down to the trio of daggers sheathed along her belt, whipping them with blinding speed at a straw dummy at the end of the hall, thunking into the red spots crudely painted on its vitals. She smiled broadly as the miners pressed coins into her outstretched hand, offering her many colorful swears as the men made their way back toward the taproom.
All right, Liberty thought as Tirra went to retrieve her daggers. This is your chance. You can do this.
“That was impressive,” she said as the elf came back to the line. You want to compliment her, but don’t act too impressed, even though it was kind of amazing.
“It’s all in the wrist.” Tirra sounded throaty, especially for an elf. She might have been hoarse from all the shouting this place demanded from anyone who wanted to be heard… but it still made Liberty’s knees a bit wobbly. “And a good set of knives helps.” As Tirra paused for a moment to return her knives to their sheaths, Liberty realized that the elf planned to breeze straight past her, back to the taproom.
Stop her! Think! “Eir tahl las’nes yravia,” she said, and Tirra’s pace slowed, then stopped.
“That’s not bad, silanna.” Tirra seemed to find it amusing, more than anything else, but Liberty’s words had had the desired effect. “Your accent’s almost invisible. But do you know what it means?”
“Sharp blades and wild hearts bring good fortunes.”
“Eh. Close enough.” Tirra looked her up and down, eyes lingering on the shabby top hat. “I have to say, I didn’t think I’d meet someone who spoke Elven in this gods-forsaken town.” She looked Liberty in the eye. “Are you from here? You mind if I call it gods-forsaken?”
“I am. And no, I don’t mind; I hate it here. But the gods would have to know about Diamond Lake in the first place to forsake it.” She held out her hand. “I’m Liberty.”
Her handshake was strong and confident, but suffused with elven grace, her skin warm and soft to the touch. “Call me Tirra. Tell me, your dagger there, is it balanced for throwing?”
Liberty’s hand went to the knife at her own belt. “It is, yes. I’m not as good as you, of course.”
“Few are. You wanna have a drink? Toss some knives? Maybe I can teach you a thing or two.”
“I’d like that,” Liberty managed to say, even as fireworks shot from her heart to her brain. “No ale, though. The ale here tastes like tin.”
“Isn’t it awful?” Tirra grimaced. “They’ve got a Pomarj Black that I can keep down most of the time, though.”
Liberty nodded and went to the bar. I don’t want to get drunk, but I don’t want to be rude. And my nerves will catch fire if I don’t soothe them somehow. By the time she returned with a freshly opened bottle and two glasses that had probably never been clean, Tirra was sending a couple of would-be competitors away. Liberty poured the wine, knowing she was in over her head, wondering how long she could tread water.
She set a stack of three gold orbs on the rail, but Tirra shook her head. “No sense in throwing your money away, silanna.” It meant “kitten;” Liberty remembered that.
“What do we play for, then?”
“Keep me company. Talk to me.” In Elven, she said: “Talk to me in Elven. Where’d you learn to speak it?”
“From Allustan, the wizard here.” Since she used the language so rarely, Liberty was relieved to find the words coming so freely. “Most of what I know came from him.”
“You’re a wizard, then? You don’t look like one.” As Tirra toed the chalk line once more, she added, “Which is good.”
“No, I’m a sorcerer.”
In one smooth motion, Tirra whipped a dagger from her belt and buried it in the dummy’s eye socket. “Heh. Khellek hates sorcerers. Don’t take it personally, though; Khellek hates everybody.”
“The three of you are from the Free City?”
“Yeah. Let me see you throw.” When Liberty balked, Tirra spread her arms in welcome. “Nobody’s looking but me, silanna.”
“You’re going to laugh at me.”
“Only if it’s funny.” Tirra sent another dagger flying into the dummy’s chest. “Come on, show me what you’ve got.”
She drew the weapon, deftly flipping it from hilt to blade in her fingers. Tirra backed up a few steps, taking up her wine glass as Liberty got into position. Liberty raised her arm and threw; the knife spun end over end down the hall, the hilt bouncing off the dummy’s head.
“Too bad,” Tirra said after drinking deeply from her glass. “That would have been a kill, but you loosed too soon. Back up, and I’ll show you.”
Liberty leaned back against the rail to make way for Tirra. She sipped at her wine to find its strength positively wilting. I’ve got to chug this down like medicine, she thought with a sigh.
The elf drew her third dagger, slowing the motion so that Liberty could see. “You bring it up like this,” she said, “and you loose it here, when your arm’s straight out, with just this tiny flick of the wrist. Like this.” In another blur of movement, she sent her third dagger into the dummy’s crotch, causing Liberty to dribble wine from her mouth. That sent Tirra into merry laughter, which continued until she returned with the thrown blades. “Your dagger, milady,” she said, offering the weapon’s hilt to Liberty. She took it, blushing fiercely, then took a long swig from her glass.
“So if the three of you are from Greyhawk,” Liberty began, eager to alter the focus, “then why in the Hells are you here?”
“For adventure, of course.” She doesn’t want to talk about this. She doesn’t trust me, but I’ve amused her enough to keep her from being rude about it. Tirra drained her glass and held it out for Liberty, who poured until the wine nearly spilled out.
“Not a lot to be found around here, far as I know.” The wine burned going down Liberty’s throat, blooming in her stomach. “The abandoned mines are locked up tight, and most of the cairns throughout the hills have been picked clean.”
“That’s what we’ve found so far,” Tirra said, snapping her daggers back in place. “But Khellek believes there are hidden cairns that nobody’s ever robbed.”
You can do this. “Does he know about the Stirgenest Cairn?”
Liberty leaned close enough to Tirra to catch her scent, like lavender with the hint of spice beneath; the green of her eyes was something never put into words in any language. “When I was studying with Allustan, four men from Dyvers came to ask him about the Stirgenest Cairn. Supposedly, they’d found clues in Maure Castle about a great treasure that was buried there. Allustan didn’t know anything that helped them, so they went on their way. Far as I know, no one ever saw them again.”
Tirra glanced down at her glass. “How long ago was this?”
“About three years. Allustan shooed me out of the room, but I heard most of it.” She was ready to describe all four of the men, if necessary. The leader even had some backstory.
“So maybe they died in this Stirgenest Cairn. Or maybe they found the treasure; it’s not like they had a reason to come back to Diamond Lake. Did they say what it was?”
“Not that I heard, but they were eager to find it. Like it was really valuable.” That should appeal to your rogue nature. “And with most of the other cairns looted, it could be a place to start.”
One of Tirra’s knives had found its way into her hands. As she played with it, she asked, “If we go out there, we’re not cutting you in, silanna. Whether you’re a sorcerer or not, divvying loot up three ways is already more than I care for.”
“Sure, sure. I just wanted to help is all.”
Tirra’s green eyes twinkled. “Are you sure that’s all you wanted?”
She’s harder and rougher than the handful of other elves I’ve met, but she’s still far more sleek and graceful than all the miners and whores who make up this sorry town. “Well –”
A sudden scream out front was lost in a sea of cheers and shouting. “That’s usually my cue,” Tirra sighed, finishing her wine. “This place gets crazy after someone gets pushed into the dog pit. Been a pleasure, silanna. I’ll see you around. Maybe for another lesson. Sweet water and light laughter until next.”
Tirra slipped past Liberty like a shadow, then she was gone.
“Constance was wrong,” Liberty told herself, still in Elven, before finishing her drink. “I am a terrific liar.”
* * *
Tirra told Auric and Khellek about her encounter at the Feral Dog. Predictably, Auric laughed like a madman.
“Does she not know you’re straight?” he asked once he could breathe again.
“No!” Tirra snapped. “Shut up. It’s – I think it’s kind of sweet. Poor kitten.” Being around humans was like being around infants, but at least Liberty could speak and walk and dress herself. Still, she was barking up the wrong elven tree…