< Return to Balls Part 3
The ever continuing adventures of our fearless bard commence once more!
Derrek woke with a start. He could still hear the echoing threat ringing in his head. Immediately he reached for his crotch, sighing with relief to know everything was accounted for. He then looked around, curious to find himself in a familiar tiny room.
The rafters slanted overhead, the beams musty with the smell of mildew and age. A small wardrobe had been placed near the door just below the steps leading to the alcove that contained the bed. A writing table was directly across from the wardrobe.
However, his papers were not stacked neatly upon them. Instead, his supplies had been violently scattered across the floor. Dried ink ran down the long leg of the desk and fragments of ceramic told of the containers last moments. All his papers had been thrown about, caught in a small whirlwind that materialized with the apparent intent to destroy his stuff. The wardrobe doors were pulled open and clothes thrown forth as if the cabinetry had vomited them out.
Derrek pushed himself till he sat on his bed. Then he quickly clutched his head as the room began to swirl in his vision. He felt like he was free falling through the air and the walls were spinning like a child’s top. Strings of pain laced across his brain. He immediately felt like lying down again.
“Is this what it feels to be hung over?”
Derrek was not a stranger to liquor but possessed the enviable knack for never suffering from his drinking the morning after. It didn’t matter how much or little he consumed, he always woke bright and cheerful with the start of each new day.
This day, however, was far too different. He stomach seemed to flop within him like a beached fish squirming with its last strength for the safety of water. His body was sluggish and unresponsive, as if his thoughts were unable to make the journey to his limbs.
He turned to the window, immediately regretting the action as sharp pain responded to the blast of light filtering through the torn curtains. He immediately collapsed against his moth eaten pillow, seeking refuge beneath its stained comfort.
What had happened last night?
It felt like a bad dream and nothing was distinct. He remembered being surrounded by half naked men, really disappointing wine and some questionable acting. There was something else that skittered just at the forefront of recollection. A recognizable voice that made him think peculiarly of spoiled fish.
Also, there was something about orbs. Something that seemed important enough to warrant further investigation.
Ignoring the pounding of his head, Derrek tumbled from the twisted embrace of his blanket, crawling pitifully along the floor until he found some trousers and a decent tunic. Most his other clothes appeared in too disrepair, either torn and covered in dirt and ink, to be wearable.
He pulled on his boots and grabbed his lute and coin purse before stumbling feebly out his door.
He had to lean heavily upon the rail as he nearly rolled down the stairs. There was little activity on the main floor of the tavern. The matron was puttering about, sweeping beneath tables covered in chairs. There was a stirring behind the bar and Derrek stumbled his way over.
“Innkeep!” he hollered, his voice thick and slurred.
The large man stood up from beneath his counter. Derrek couldn’t help but reflect on how most innkeepers were often quite large and dressed in similarly stained aprons.
“I have a name,” the man grumbled.
“Your finest meats and cheeses, if you’d please. I have a busy day ahead!”
The innkeep eyed Derrek warily.
“First, I thought you said you’d given up on meat.”
“Your finest cheese then!”
“Second, you hardly look like you’re ready for any day, busy or not. Wild night?”
“I don’t remember,” Derrek said, slumping against the counter. “Think you’d mind adding a mead to the order?”
“I’ll give you water but I can charge you the same if it would make you feel better.”
“Unlikely,” Derrek replied, his lips flopping against the polished wood. He found if he rolled his head at just the right angle, the pressure of the counter seemed to alleviate sixty percent of the pain flashing about his brain.
“Will you be participating in the Challenge today?” the innkeeper asked, eyeing Derrek’s lute.
“I have aspirations,” Derrek muttered from the counter. He lifted his head as a small tray of cheese and a great mug of water were slapped down loudly beside him. “By the way, I didn’t happen to have any visitors last night. Either while I was here or away?”
“Don’t rightly know, I wasn’t working that late,” the innkeep said. “Marta! Oi! Did this fine gentleman have any callers?”
The Matron looked up, slapping the broom handle in her palm.
“What do I look like, eh? Some sort of fancy herald?”
“Don’t give me that lip woman! You know very well that he has been expecting friends for a few days now. Would you turn away all potential customers because you’d rather sit drunken before the fire?”
“Don’t take that tone with me! If it weren’t for my work this whole place would crash down about her piggish head!”
The pair’s raising voices weren’t helping with Derrek’s headache. He tried to politely wait it out by stuffing some questionable bread into his ears. He then focussed his attention on the aging cheese and peculiar water.
“No worry, it wasn’t important anyway.”
“Look, woman! Now you’re upsetting the clientele!”
“Me? He looks positively sick after eating that foul mess you call food!”
“Well, we could serve some decent meals if you learned to cook like a proper wife!”
“Just add it to my tab,” Derrek smiled, pushing himself to his feet and staggering towards the door.
“Hold on a sec,” the Matron called. “There were some folks asking around for you the other night I believe.”
“A woman and two men?”
“I don’t remember all of them,” the lady replied, scratching her frazzled mane. “But I do remember the fat one. Carried an instrument like yours. Seemed to suggest you were old friends or the like. Wouldn’t have let him near your room otherwise.”
“Much appreciated. Oh, and if the three I described before do come, tell them to wait for me up at the Academy.”
Derrek stumbled out the door.
He wasn’t sure where he was headed but given his present state of mind he wasn’t sure of anything. He mostly acted on the urge to find some decent drink and the growing certainty that if he didn’t find some money soon his current room and board would catch on that he couldn’t afford the tab he was quickly accumulating.
And so he did the most foolish thing one could possibly do in the City of Roads.
It was a well known idiom that even if one knew where they were going it was unlikely they would get there in Etreria. The streets had the knack of swallowing up the aimless. Citizens treated the lost posters as just another form of decoration, often besetting on the poor pamphlets with their brushes and paints to make them more decorative than actually participating in any search for the lost souls.
Likely, there was little effort made for the vanished because most knew it was pointless. To say there was a seedy underbelly in Etreria would give the mistaken impression that there was a respectable body to be blemished. Because of so many clashing cultures, no one knew how to properly regulate them. Most foreigners arrived with their own preconceptions of what the laws of the land should be. It was joked that Etreria was home to the most courts and fewest magistrates in the lands.
The original fort still stood, a tiny bastion of lawfulness that, instead of attempting to clean up the bursting civilization growing around it, merely just walled itself in and hid from the ever growing problems. If anyone was ever caught breaking the law, it was almost impossible to figure out how to punish them.
Instead, the wealthiest merchant families turned to hiring their own guards and mercenaries to protect their interests. Thus the main artery roads that saw the most trade were heavily watched but the further one strolled from those main thoroughfares, the more the laws descended into the rule of the wild.
“Und stratz mit ze uldensackt, flutens.”
Derrek paused, noticing his addresser emerge from beneath the tattered remains of a long abandoned stall.
The man was a dirty sort; the kind that found his bed beneath the awnings of forgetful merchants at night and sorted through the wastes for his food. He had distinctive tattoos printed upon his face in pale imitation of the markings of the eastern gangs. Though his clothes were grimy and worn, his fur rimmed hat looked perhaps the most aged.
A startling wave of nausea washed over Derrek and he tipped, leaning against his confronter and looking up at him with bleary eyes.
“You… you look travelled.”
“What are you on?” the man asked, his eyes narrowing as he pushed Derrek back. Derrek leaned against the stall to keep himself upright.
“Leboe. Dian. Take.”
It wasn’t perhaps his most comprehensible sentence, but he hoped the message still got across.
The thug looked at Derrek with confusion. He drew a rusted knife from his belt.
Derrek shook his head.
“No. No, need Dian…”
He would have continued more but felt the muscles of his throat begin to contract and he turned, the remnants of his breakfast and whatever he had consumed the evening prior ejecting upon the ground.
The thug merely turned to his compatriot waiting in the shadows and nodded his head further down the dank alleyway. Derrek just waited, still hunched over as his digestive system worked over what little else it was holding. However, after ridding himself of the undigested food, he begin to feel a slight alleviation in his headache and his stomach felt less like it was tossing on the open seas.
Soon, the sound of stamping feet echoed down the back alley. There was incomprehensible grunting and one of the men pulled Derrek upright. He wavered before a rather rakish individual with much cleaner clothes and a large black patch tied over one eye.
“Take him,” came the stern reply.
Almost immediately, Derrek was hoisted upon someone’s shoulders and bounced down the alley. He really couldn’t gather where he was carried, but there was the sound of a scratching gate before he was pushed through a door into a dank basement.
He heard orders shouted as his lute was pulled from him and he was hoisted upon a table. Hands pinned his limbs as old One Eye appeared above him, peering down with its concerned namesake.
A cup was lifted to his lips as a hand opened his mouth. Derrek felt the burn of the liquid wash against his throat.
And then he felt nothing.
Continue to Balls Part 5 >
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