Chapter II

So, what I want you to evaluate on this chapter is whether or not it captures your interest. That’s all. Just whether it captures your interest. Grammar and spelling help is still appreciated, of course. This chapter’s shorter, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Anyway, happy reading.

recap from last week: Captain Drogo Corentin arrives in Below.  Goes to find a friend of his, who sends him off to Sentinel Watch to find a dwarf who knows wtf is going on.

II

Corentin, of course, wanted to leave immediately. The issue with this was the fact that his entire crew was busy getting drunk and going home with women of dubious morality. As this rather impeded Corentin’s ability to leave, he decided to float around Below for a few days; or, at least until his crew could be rounded up.

It was this decision that led him to the Hanging House.

Universally considered the trashiest tavern in Below, the Hanging House was named aptly, hanging suspended by several badly made chains from several streets in the darkest parts of the Ramshackle. Though most of Below was lit by an odd series of lamps, created by a combination of magic, chemical reactions, wind power, and wishing really hard, the area around the Hanging House was dark. Most of the lamps had long ago been either broken by vandals or stolen and sold. The dinginess served the area well, however, as no one really wanted to see it in a good light.

The only method to access the Hanging House, apart from flying or jumping, was a decrepit staircase, more akin to a rope bridge than a real staircase, covered in grime and in the habit of swinging back and forth whenever it was descended. It was this staircase that Corentin gingerly stepped down, hoping to all the gods who might be listening that the ropes would hold.

Carefully, he lifted his foot and placed it on another stair. The plank produced an ominous creaking. The ropes holding it together squelched blatantly, as if to taunt Corentin with the fact that ropes really should not squelch.

You know, self, reflected Corentin, compared to this, it was probably a better idea to just jump. It was only about ten feet, after all. And they had a bale of hay set out to land on. Very hospitable of them, really.

Well, yeah, he replied, but the hay was green. And slimy. And we’ve no idea what was living in it. Anyway, we’ve got to continue now, if only because one of the stairs fell out behind us and we really don’t feel like leaping.

Corentin ceased his mental conversation. Arguing with himself could come when he wasn’t suspended over nothingness on a bit of rotting wood and soggy rope. He took another step, onto a plank thankfully less decayed. It appeared that the steps further down were less decrepit than those above, though Corentin could think of no logical reason for this. He tested his theory with a few more steps, and, finding himself correct, scampered quickly across the remaining stairs to the platform upon which the tavern sat. He paused to catch his breath.

The tavern itself was in a state similar to that of its staircase. A few wooden structures served as walls, with a canvas roof, propped up in a vaguely triangle formation to repel rainwater. The walls had what could be termed windows, but were probably more accurately referred to as gaping accidental holes.

Corentin walked slowly through the door-hole, allowing his eyes to get accustomed to the light. The interior of the Hanging House was slightly lighter than the surrounding gloom, if only because of a dimly lit fireplace, blatantly against Below regulations. It was filled with tables and figures in various states of shabbiness, drinking and gambling and swearing.

Walking up to the bar, Corentin caught the attention of the barkeeper. “Your staircase is missing a step,” he informed the man. The barkeep grunted in response. He was a large man, grotesquely fat and unbearably hairy. He occupied himself by washing a dirty glass with a dirtier cloth.

Corentin sat down, and looked around. There didn’t appear to be much of interest in the tavern, although in the corner several men were playing some form of card game. Corentin could probably beat them, though they might stab him for the slight. They didn’t look like particularly pleasant people.

“Hey, puny, yeh gonna order?” grunted the barkeep.

“Oh. Uh… one ale, please,” Corentin muttered distractedly. He slid several coins across the counter. The barkeep bit one, determined it was real, and went to fetch the captain his drink. Corentin continued watching the group in the corner.

After several minutes of slowly sipping a bad ale, the captain reached a decision, and wandered across to see what the men were playing.

Taking up a position behind one of the players, he watched for several hands. It was a game he knew well, Auj. A relatively simple partnered trick-taking game, the entire point was the take the deuce and the trey of as many suits as possible. The issue with this was that the deuce and trey were the two lowest cards, so most of the strategy was relegated to playing a point card on your partner’s high cards. Corentin could see they were playing a southern variation, in which the kings suit was trump. Though they were playing with six players, any even-numbered combination was possible.

As he watched, the leading player threw out an eight of dwarves, his last card. Two of his opponents followed suit, playing a trey and five of dwarves. His partner threw a deuce of winds. Another opponent had no dwarves, but could only play his final card, a deuce of lords. The game came around to the last player, who grinned through a grimy beard and played a trey of kings, winning the trick.

“That gives me four points, friends. Looks like we win…” said the player in question, pulling the formidable pile of coins at the center of the table toward him. The rest of the players glowered at him, excepting his partner, who was flipping a coin up and down and watching it with rapt attention. The dealer reached across the table slowly, grabbing the four extra cards left undealed.

“Hey, you’re not supposed to do that!” said the winning player, leaning forward in his chair.

“Watch me…” muttered his opponent. Corentin had by this time maneuvered himself behind the dealer, and saw the extra cards. They were a four of knights, a deuce of dwarves, a five of men, and a six of winds.

The dealer looked up, glaring at his hairy opponent through vaguely bloodshot eyes. “I dealt you this five of men… friend. You switched cards on us.”

The winner was now slightly panicked, and stuttering. “You… you can’t have known that! You cheated too!”

The dealer stood, and moved his arm calculatedly. The light of the fireplace glinted briefly off metal, and a dagger pinned the bearded man’s hand to the table.

In another flash of movement, the dealer’s partner produced another dagger and held it to the throat of the stricken man’s partner. “You have anything to do with this, schmuck?” he grunted roughly.

It struck Corentin now that the former winner’s partner was rather out of place. While the entire population of the tavern existed in the dubious space between shabby and composting, the man now held at dagger-point wore a clean leather tunic, with a short sword buckled at his side. His beard was neatly trimmed, and his brown hair was close-cropped. Around his neck was a pendant of obvious value, an intricately crafted silver object with all manner of mind-boggling spirals. The fact that it had not yet been stolen was a testament to the fact that the surrounding ruffians were rather uncomfortable with anyone clean.

The well-groomed man, who had thus far been paying no attention whatsoever, now gave his situation some small bit of notice. “Oh, no, I had nothing to do with it. Just met the man today… slightly before we sat down to play, to be honest.”

His would-be attacker grunted dubiously, but sat down. Two bouncers, a large man and a massive minotaur, ran over to remove the wounded man. The other five sat down, and began their game again.

“’ey, you,” said the apparent leader of the gang – the man who had stabbed his opponent. Corentin realized with a start he was talking to him. “We’re short a player. Ever played Auj?”

Corentin nodded, and sat.

They played for several hours. Corentin was an experienced Auj player, and he could see that his opponents were very good at the game; although they seemed to be better at circumventing the rules. The captain had to pleasantly remind the dealer several times that he had, for example, accidentally dealt from the bottom of the deck, or that he appeared to have dropped some cards in his sleeve.

What was odd, however, is that Corentin’s partner appeared to be a perfect player. He constantly led the exact right things, to the ire of his opponents. Even when dealt a hand full of fours and fives, and devoid of kings, he managed to gain several points. Though he and Corentin were by no means winning, most likely due to the efforts of the dealer, they were losing much less than could be expected.

The current hand was going badly – Corentin’s team had three points, compared to both of his opponents, who had five each. Each player had a single card left, and the dealer had led an ace of kings, essentially guaranteeing victory for his team. The cards were played: an eight of dwarves, a deuce of kings, a deuce of swords, and a six of kings. It was Corentin’s partner’s turn to play.

He smirked slightly, and threw out a deuce of winds, which, by an obscure rule, was the only card capable of taking down the ace of kings. This won the game for him and Corentin, as well as a substantial amount of money.

The card table immediately exploded with outrage.

“There’s no way in the seven hells you could’ve had that!” shouted the dealer angrily. In the blink of an eye, weapons were drawn all around. The table had, in the commotion, been overturned, spilling a large pile of coins all over the floor. This was immediately set upon by the scum of the surrounding tables, and the scene quickly degraded into complete anarchy. Several of the bouncers began toward the group, intending to intervene.

“Run!” shouted Corentin to his former partner. The two ran together through the mass of writhing bodies, reaching the door just as one of the bouncers, a minotaur, struck down a card player who had been threatening him. A fight broke out between the card players and the bouncers, with the card players obviously losing.

Corentin and his friend escaped quickly, running over the decrepit staircase. It fell behind them, the stress of bearing so much weight too much to handle. They caught their breath on the street above the Hanging House, watching the chaos from a safe distance. A small Underfoot was defenestrated as they watched, falling for several feet before the wind caught on his clothes and he drifted to safety.

Turning to his newfound friend, Corentin extended his hand. “I’m Captain Corentin, of the Lucinda, by the way. Who are you?”

“Padrig Gensemerse Saruch of… well, not really anywhere. Call me Padrig.”

“Lovely. I’m going back to my ship to get some damn sleep. You can come, if you like.”

“I think I will.”

The two set off toward the Lucinda.

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2 Comments

  1. May 20, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    Nice well-thought-out rules for fictional card games. That’s always cool, and it definitely grabs attention. Running up the staircase as it collapses could be made more dramatic.

    Padrig is cool, too.

    Once 4th edition comes out we have to get an Alara campaign together.

  2. tuskedchimp said,

    May 20, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    ‘k, I’ll bulk out the staircase bit a tad. Thanks for the input! It’s nice to know that the card game was interesting, I was a bit worried that it would be boring to those of us not addicted to Euchre.

    Oh hellz yaw.


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