Outside, a wooden sign welcomes patrons to "The Open Arms" with faded lettering and peeling paint. Inside, any hints of what may have once been a respectable establishment have long faded as well, as the air is full of smoke, spirits, musk and too much perfume. The main hall houses a scattering of mismatched tables, some missing legs and having to be propped up with crates or barrels. Toward the center of the room, piles of mugs (and unconscious drunks) attest to the drinking accomplishments of the patrons, while shadowed tables toward the sides (where wall-mounted lanterns are left unlit) witness shady transactions. Behind the curtains of secluded booths to the side … or behind the doors of the roach-infested rooms up the rickety stairs … one can only guess at the activities inside. On the upper landing, accessible past the bar, past wooden stairs with two steps broken through, underdressed and overperfumed "ladies" beckon and wink to "gentlemen" below.
A bat, wearing four ceramic earrings in one ear and a ring in his nose, drunkenly stumbles to the bar. "Gimm' nuther," he sloshes.
It is mid-morning, and the staff of the Open Arms are just getting around to dragging the last of the prior evening's patrons out into the street after, perhaps, lightening their pockets first.
Tirro lightens the bat's purse by a few shekels, out of habit.
Toward the back of the room, in the corner booth, one of the few creatures capable of sitting upright sips tea, carefully raising the cup behind the thick veil that covers the lower half of shir face. It is Iaskafa, and shih appears to be waiting.
The bat seems to be at the drunken stage of can-hold-on-to-the-ground-with- both-hands. He drops several shekels too many onto the bar, pulls back his tankard, and weaves through the empty area back to his seat.
Iaskafa glances about the room as shah places shar cup on the table, eyes lingering momentarily upon the Kavi at the bar. The k'hu'an makes a sound of distaste low in shar throat before looking away.
"Ah," he says proudly, "have foun'… a reeeeeee-markable sight." He takes another pull on his beer. "An' all ah need is 'nuff money t' finan… finan… get the money for a ship."
S'Lezan, the rat proprietor, is nowhere to be seen. Instead it is Slyboots, a desert cat in a frilly silk shirt and heavy black boots, who leans over the balcony and surveys the morning crowd. He tweaks a whisker nervously.
The bat peers blearily to Iaskafa. "Ya wudn't happen t' have a few… a few… silvers, wouldya?"
Tirro watches the bat with amusement.
A fox in lacy, frilly attire a fop for sure prances in the front door, sporting a wide-brimmed floppy hat plumed with several thick and fluffy feathers stuck into the band. His choice of color is far from subtle pink and charteuse, with white lace and gloves. A sword hangs at his belt, and a cape of darker red swishes behind him, giving only a peek of his rusty vulpine tail as he makes his way toward the bar.
Iaskafa looks up at the creature. "Mebbe. But not for one as you", shah says quietly, before taking another sip of shar tea.
The bat wheezes alcoholically, in the direction of Iaskafa. His breath alone can be measured in proof. "There's a… iz a whole dirtball temple, and it'z made of… of gold! Pure an' shinin' in the sun. Ah'll even bring ya back a portion of the profits."
The fox steps up next to Iaskafa, his face frozen in a bemused grin, his eyes shadowed by the brim of his oversized and overdecorated hat. He slaps some coins on the bar, and does not even have to specify what he cares to drink. A bottle is poured for him by the hairy bartender, and apparently it's what the foppish patron had in mind.
Slyboots glances toward the fox with some signs of recognition, eyes narrowing, but then turns with apparent disinterest to watch a waitress.
The k'hu'an looks toward the door as the newcomer meanders in, saying nothing. The bat seems to have ceased to exist as far as Iaskafa is concerned, despite his weaving stance barely an arms-reach away.
The bat slurps down the last of his beer. He weaves and waves to the bar, hitting it on the third try. He opens his purse to find… nothing. Strange. It had been full just a few minutes ago when the sun had set, hadn't it?
A ferret ducks into one of the curtained booths. A short time later, a couple of dazed-looking canines stumble out, barely able to keep their feet. They stagger out to the street, while the ferret slips away once more.
"You are late, mebbe," Iaskafa murmurs to Caesar, before regarding the bat once more. "I am k'hu'an. You tell the wrong person of ruins you intend to raid."
The foppish fox silently grabs his glass and meanders toward the now-vacated booth, disappearing behind the curtains.
The hairy bartender looks over the coins the fox gave him. His expression is hidden under a pile of fur, but the coins are more than generous for the low quality of the drink ordered.
The bat peers at the k'hu'an. He thinks he likes the second one to the left the most, and smiles to shir. "It's… izzzsh a big whirrrld out there. An' only I know where all th' goel is."
The bat bows, or at least tries to. The world swims refreshingly. "Kurd Dran, atcher service."
Slyboots busies himself with cheating some morning ne'er-do-well would-be gamblers out of their shekels. "Ah! The First Ones have gifted me with luck," he murmurs with a twitch of his long ears.
A few dice clatter upstairs.
Iaskafa finishes the tea before rising, adjusting shar robes and poking both hands into the opposite sleeves, hiding them. Shah drifts past the drunken bat toward the booth occupied by the… fox.
The bat catches Iaskafa and stops shir. "At leassssht," he says, breath anesthetizing shir, "tell me yer name?"
Turning slowly, Iaskafa regards the hand on shar robe. "My… name?" Shah says quietly. "That is easy." Shar hand darts from the sleeve, a flash of silver showing briefly from the tip of one of shar fingers before it disappears into the bat's fur. "Call me Vision," Iaskafa murmurs, awaiting the powerful hallucinogen to take affect.
Kurd Dran slumps forward. "Wow… colors," he says, before passing out.
Tirro takes mental notes.
Iaskafa nods slowly, and continues on to the booth, secreting shar hands once again in shar sleeves.
A scraggly-looking feline with a torn ear and one empty eye socket which he scratches at occasionally sits on a stool near the booths. He glances about with a meandering gaze, watching noone or nothing in particular, as if lost in a daze.
Nodding once to the guard, Iaskafa drifts past, neither wanting or expecting a reply. Shah heads straight for the booth occupied by the… fox.
The thick curtains do much to provide privacy for the booth inside, only a few faint beams of light making their way in to provide any way to see for those without night vision.
The foppish fox reclines on one of the torn and stained cushioned couches, his fluffy vulpine tail sticking to one side.
Iaskafa slips between the curtains and settles opposite the fox, saying nothing. After a moment looking about in the gloom, shah raises a hand to the goggles that cover shar eye, lifting them to shar forehead. Dual glints of light are all that are visible of shar eyes, in the shadows cast by the hood.
"Once again, you are late," the k'hu'an says quietly.
The fox turns back toward Iaskafa with a face that is not a fox's at all. Instead, the rust-furred face is sitting on the table, being stroked by a gloved hand. "You took your time coming to the booth," the poodle retorts.
The poodle keeps the wide-brimmed hat on, and a lifeless fox tail still protrudes from underneath him. The mask lying on the table looks particularly real.
Iaskafa nods once, making no excuse. "You would like your… tea, mebbe?" The k'hu'an produces a small packet from the sleeve of the robe.
"I am a very busy man. I am detained from time to time," the faux fox says softly as he strokes the mask. "But I do not like to be kept waiting." He holds the mask in front of his muzzle. "It could hurt one's reputation. One would not want to lose face," he smirks, tossing the hide down to the table.
The poodle licks his lips hungrily at sight of the packet. It seems all he can do to retain his calm composure. "Of course. Tea would be most desireable." His glass of grog is nearby, untouched.
Iaskafa tosses the packet idly across the table, to land beside the mask. "Then let us talk while you drink?"
The poodle pours out the contents of the drink into a basin at one end of the table, and pulls a leather flask, the contents of which he pours into the now- empty glass. He adds the tea, fingers trembling.
The poodle's eyes stare at the packet as its contents slowly darken the water in the cup he watches, as if his gaze might threaten the water enough to make it absorb the contents of the packet more rapidly.
Iaskafa folds shar hands and watches, fingers steepled just in front of where one might imagine shar mouth is.
Iaskafa says, "I have heard there is an Exile in the Temple?"
"Of course," the poodle murmurs, digging into a fold in his vest. He slaps a very small cloth-wrapped bundle on the table, which lands with a faint "chink".
A smile plays on the poodle's lips. "An Exile. You have heard? Yes, there is. A most peculiar fellow."
Iaskafa makes no move toward the money… yet.
For a moment, the tremble of the fingers ceases, and Iaskafa's 'guest' seems to forget the teabag, as he stares at the curtain. "I hear he fancies himself a knight. A great hero, who leads armies and saves entire kingdoms. Chivalrous to the end, honorable and upright." His nose wrinkles and his lip curls into a sneer.
The poodle looks at the empty eyeholes of the mask. "… quite unlike the previous owner of this, of course."
Nodding, Iaskafa says "Whispers from the dark say he mebbe hides something. Was it this, that he thinks himself a knight?"
Iaskafa glances toward the mask, the movement of shar eyes barely visible in the shadows.
The poodle's hand trembles again, and he glances at the cup of water. Still not dark enough. Lip quivering, he looks back across the table. "Yes. Whatever his tales, he at least has prowess with the sword. He alone slew two assassins who struck within the Temple."
Iaskafa grows very still a moment, then says, voice low, "Tell me of this?"
A smirk curls the poodle's lip again. "Yes, he seems bent on making enemies as quickly as friends. His tongue knows no control. Yet he earns favor with the ladies. Even with a noble's daughter … and now, I see, with Melchizedek's own consort."
Iaskafa says, "He is no longer in the dungeons?"
The poodle's eyes rimmed with dark stains glance repeatedly toward the glass, then back to Iaskafa. "The dungeons? The fool never set foot in there in the first place. He was not nearly so bold, it seems, when he was first introduced to our dear Inquisitor. No, he has been serving the Temple to pay off his processing fee. If he lets his tongue out of control again, however, I shall at the very least add another year to his servitude." He smiles at the notion. "I may even be doing him a favor, after all."
"Speaking of favors," the poodle licks at his lips, "I think you may be able to help me do a good deed."
"I'd like to get rid of this troublesome knight… " he grins.
Iaskafa inclines shar head? "I am always of a… charitable nature… "
The poodle nods. "We need to show this misguided fool the light… " He can hardly contain himself as his eyes dance. He takes far too much glee in whatever he has in mind.
"I am glad," Iaskafa murmurs "to hear of one who leads so happy a life."
A bit of spittle shows at the edge of the poodle's mouth. He glances back toward the darkened contents of the glass. His fingers jerk toward the glass, but he holds them back. Suddenly, they snap toward the glass as if of their own accord, and in a swift motion, the poodle downs the contents, almost choking himself in his haste.
"Slowly… slowly," Iaskafa chastises. "It is less beneficial to your health when taken so fast!"
The poodle wipes at his mouth, then sucks on his fingers. His body shakes as his eyes dance toward Iaskafa. His mouth opens, letting out a too-loud laugh.
Iaskafa says, "As for your friend with the sparkling eyes, I mebbe have the gift you look to… reward him with."
His shoulders still heaving, his laughter sighs away, and his eyelids drop, as does his chin. He sways, lost in a stupor. At last, though, his eyes snap back open again. "You have yet to disappoint me."
"But why," the poodle asks, "did you care to ask after the fox in the first place?"
Iaskafa rummages within shar robes, emerging with a small phial sealed in green wax. "To be given as always, with food or drink."
Iaskafa says, "Curiousity, no more."
"I would like, mebbe, to meet this one?" Iaskafa murmurs. "It is not often one has chance to speak with Exiles."
The foppish-looking poodle nods, and secrets away the phial. "Of course. Curiosity. If you are so curious, you shall have plenty of opportunity, I am sure, to learn more about this fox once he is … more agreeable." He snort- chuckles. "Of course, you'll have to act quickly. You know how it goes," he grins.
Iaskafa regards the phial as shah speaks, holding it in one of the beams of light admitted by the curtains.
The poodle frowns, realizing that he didn't have the phial at all. What has he stuck in his vest anyway? He grimaces, pulling out something unidentifiable which was lying on the table, and flings it to the floor. He looks somewhat dazed. His 'tea' seems to leave him not in the greatest state of alertness.
Iaskafa nods slowly, and moves to pass the phial over… then stops. "There is another matter I wish to discuss, mebbe."
The poodle's fingers grasp at the air in front of the phial, and he grumbles, "Discuss."
Iaskafa says, "Other whispers have tickled my ears. Of a death in the Temple."
The poodle looks toward Iaskafa. "Death? DEATH? Take your pick. Death is no stranger to the Temple. Speak more clearly of what sort of death is so special to have caught your ears?"
"That of an Inquisitor," Iaskafa says quietly.
The poodle frowns. "Reports of Inquisitor Melchizedek's demise if you have had occasion to hear of them have been greatly exaggerated. And I don't think there is much that you would be able to do about that."
Stroking at the mask, the poodle frowns again. "Oh dear. I think there is a patch here rubbing bare. Perhaps I'll have to get myself a new mask. I so much enjoy being a fox… " His frown turns to a grin as his eyes glint at the notion.
Iaskafa says, "I did not say Melchizedek. Someone high enough, though, that the Zelak burn Darkside looking for the killer. A canine… "
Twisting the phial slowly, Iaskafa says "I ask a name, and nothing more."
The poodle squints his eyes. "Do you speak of the past … or hint at the /future/?"
Iaskafa says, "Past. None can speak for future."
The poodle sinks back into the couch, breathing a sigh, looking far more relaxed. His eyes glaze a bit as he stares off into space. "Oh … of course. A great shame. He was a good friend… "
If Iaskafa notes the poodle's relief, the k'hu'an doesn't show it.
"Rabasteo Lu Vorde," the poodle whispers. "He had such great taste … and he knew SO well how to enjoy himself. No inhibitions whatsoever."
"Killed by a wolf, the rumors go," he waves the statement off with a gloved hand, almost losing his balance in his seat. "But servants have been mistaken in hysteria before. Covered in blood, they say. Yes. Red with blood… "
Iaskafa nods, and places the phial on the table.
The poodle swipes at the phial and misses. He sinks back into the torn cushions for a bit, while his eyes defocus even more, his mouth twisted in an idiot's grin. "We'll catch the killer. Melchizedek thinks he will, but he won't. He hasn't a chance. … no, not a chance … "
Iaskafa takes the coins from the table, not bothering to count them.
Fumbling in a pocket, the poodle produces a tiny corked bottle which he tries to set on the table, almost hard enough to break it in the process. It rolls from his grasp, toward Iaskafa. "I wanted to show you this … " he slurs. "Find what it is. Very important." Within the glass can be seen a viscous green liquid. "… more in it for you if you have something to tell me of it."
Iaskafa pauses, hand halfway into shar robes, and blinks, the twin sparks of shar eyes momentarily going dark before reappearing.
Reaching carefully for the bottle, Iaskafa holds it to where one might reasonably assume shar nose is, and smells the cork.
The poodle seems lost in his hazy visions, head tipping to one side, eyes darting about randomly.
Iaskafa says, "Where did you come by this?"
If the poodle hears Iaskafa's voice, he gives no sign of it.
Iaskafa examines the bottle…
The poodle stirs, wiping drool away from the corner of his mouth. "I … feel so much refreshed," he croaks. He reaches out for the foxhide mask, and twirls it about in his hands, as if trying to figure out which end is which.
Iaskafa stares at the bottle a little while, then tucks it away in shar robes, somehow unable to shake the feeling that shah is being set up. Shah glowers across at the poodle for a bare instant before looking away.
With a bit of work, the poodle replaces the mask and adjusts his cap. Once more, he is the foppish fox, perpetually smirking, eyes shadowed by a far-too- wide floppy brim of his hat.
The fox slides out of the booth and away, without further word.
From another part of the back room, someone calls out, 'Snake eyes! Seven- eleven! Don't let me down, tonight… '
Iaskafa mutters "Aphaetha apahd!" as shah adjusts shar goggles and, a moment later, slips from the booth as well.
Once outside, in the main part of the bar, the bat snoozes peacefully in his underwear. Tirro picks his teeth idly with a knife.
Slyboots looks over the railing and growls to the bouncers, "Get that drunk out of here!"
"It's not the fumes I mind," the desert cat confides to his gambling mates. "But it's the eyesore I do!"
Iaskafa glances toward the bat, then the Kavi, and, wiping shar hands as if to clean gloves distastefully soiled, glides to the door and is gone.