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Earlier tonight, I was browsing some old files on my computer, and I came across this short fragment of a novel I started writing back in the day, set in the Principalities of Glantri.
My friend and I came up with an idea based on a character we envisioned as a private investigator in Glantri who was not a magic-user, but who got into all kinds of trouble and survived on the basis of his wits and cunning. Our working title was "Mundaner Investigator"
Anyway, I only got as far as a few pages, but it was fun writing it, and brought a smile to my lips when I rediscovered it, this evening. Thought I'd share it with you guys.
Glantri fragmentby Demos Sachlas
The twilight air was filled with the delicious aroma of Boldavian cuisine. The walks that lined the canals were crowded with Glantrians out for a stroll along the tavern-lined streets of the Boldavian quarter. Others observed the passerby from their candlelit tables inside the open-fronted establishments before turning to mutter to their drinking companions.
This was always the last part of the city to retreat indoors before the nightly curfew - though the denizens of this district scarcely got more sleep than citizens elsewhere in the city. This fact was known well to the man who wended his way past the groups of people hopefully consulting travelling fortune-tellers and the smoking barbeques roasting tidbits of meat skewered on thin sticks of wood. His destination was the gambling house.
Robert of Klantyre.
The ownership of the gambling den had reverted to Boldavian managers, following the death of Henri d'Amberville, who had enjoyed only a brief time as one of the Princes of Glantri. Henri had surreptitiously taken over the business in order to help finance his political climb, a fact that, though not publicized, did not go unnoticed by the local constabulary.
Now that affairs were under a new hand, rumors had found their way to the ears of constabulary informants that a deadly game was indeed being played somewhere on the premises. Boldavian Roulette often resulted in the painful death or hideous transformation of the loser. Robert had no doubts that this had been going on even while Henri had been in charge, but the new owners were neither as meticulous in their affairs as Henri, nor had they as many "friends" among the magistrates.
Coming at last to the sunken doorway that led into the newly remodeled casino, Robert ducked his tall frame and entered.
It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the dim interior, but he had been expecting that as he made his way into the establishment without spending any time advertising his presence at the doorway.
"So you've returned to lose more money, eh Nikolai?" sneered a seedy-looking individual from close at hand. Robert stepped up to the man and jabbed a fist in his face.
"At least I've got crowns to do with as I please, Sergei!"
Slowly, he opened his grasp, letting the chiarascuro of light emanate from between his fingers. The other man's eyes widened appreciably.
"You farking crook! If the Fellowship hears you've been freelancing..."
"Who said I was stealing? My rich uncle died and left me his estate - got it?"
"Yeah, I got it. Farking Pouch'll catch up to you sooner or later, though"
Robert left the man and pressed through the revellers. Most were drinking magically augmented elixers. Ripples of light spread from goblets and splashed colourfully around the walls. The effect was actually quite unsettling if one was sober.
The scotsman took care not to finger his amulet. The device was cloaking his figure in a phantasmal disguise, and was not visible as part of it. Any unexplained movements might give him away, and he felt that if he could successfully carry off his manner as a big spender, the establishment may deem him a worthy candidate to send downstairs.
An employee was bellowing by a huge disk levitating vertically by a table strewn with ducats and glowing crowns.
"Play the wheel, spin to win!"
Not his style. He headed for the tables where people were cutting tarot. At least he didn't have to fake losing money. He made his way to a table where the stakes were visibly running quite high.
Seating himself, he appraised the others. They regarded each other with unshakeable glances. It appeared that at least one might be an arcaner, his uncalloused fingers giving him away. The other two looked like swarthy Boldavian types. Robert couldn't be sure of the background of the mage. One of the Boldavians had a very attractive woman giving him a sensual massage.
"Tasteless", muttered Robert, the faintest hint of a smirk tugging at one side of his mouth.
"Dealing yourself in, mundaner?" glowered one of the players, the one Robert was now sure was a mage.
"I've got it to blow, so why not?"
"Let's see it up on the table then" said one of the Boldavians, impatiently. He wanted the game to keep moving.
For the greater part of the next few hours, Robert dropped a lot of coin. Once he hinted that the arcaner had something questionable to do with his losing, but that only garnered glares of scorn from his companions. He did notice, however, that at least two individuals that had wandered by on separate occasions seemed to be keeping an eye on him this evening. Doubtless they had noticed him on other nights in the past few weeks.
With a curse, Robert sprang from the table, hitting it once with a fist as he did so. "Shag this farking pit. I'm heading out." He had just lost another hand, and so the outburst seemed in character.
"Much obliged for the company" smiled one of the players.
Without looking around, Robert checked his pouch, made a brief show of counting, and resolutely began striding from the room.
"Not thinking of leaving so soon?" he heard a woman's voice behind him, then felt a hand on his arm. Turning, he saw a raven-haired wench. This was interesting, he thought.
"What's it to you, wench?" growled the man, trying his best to sound irritated. She was quite beautiful - but he doubted that was her real face.
"Boris is being a bore" she said, tilting her head in the direction of an elegantly dressed gentleman commanding a lot of attention by one of the tables. "Let me buy you a vial."
Robert slid one hand around her waist, trying to act obnoxious and arrogant. "First good hand I've been dealt!" he snorted, inwardly grimacing at himself.
The conversation was predictably lame and laden with innuendo, but the woman surprised Robert by cutting him short.
"So, do you like to take risks?"
All of his senses were immediately heightened - this could be it!
"I'll take a risk with you, lass!" he said as he leaned forward into her.
"Ah, but will you risk . . . the rest of your purse of crowns?"
This is it! Or else we're on totally different wavelengths, thought Robert, but all he said was "What! Are you feebled or something? I've lost two-thirds of what I came in with! The bums who live in this place are more skilful than I"
She smiled, as if he had passed some test, and relaxed only just visibly. "I'm talking about a different kind of skill" she murmured, "one in which you have to trust your intuition, not your luck at the tables with those sharps".
He looked at her with what he hoped was translating into a quizzical expression. "What are you talking about? Boldavian Roulette?"
"Here? Truth to tell, I thought Vagio was lying"
For the first time, she faltered "Vagio said something?"
"Well, he was drunk at the time..."
"Oh, he'll be drunk all right, once he's been liquidated by the boss" she snarled.
"Hey - forget Vagio, where's the show-down"
She looked at him, almost carefully, with those thick lashes
"This way" she said as she grabbed his hand. Suddenly, they were in darkness. Robert experienced a sudden pang of uncertainty. Would his phantasmal disguise be dispelled?
Then they were in a dank corridor.
"What gives? You an arcaner?" he asked, genuinely surprised.
"Just a simple device, we've only taken a dim-door down a bit. You're still under the establishment"
They approached a door at the end of the hall. Sounds were coming from it that indicated that several people were beyond it. Pushing through, Robert took a look inside.
There was a huge black table in the center of a large chamber. At either end there was a man dressed in robes, facing away from the table. At their backs, spread out on the table at either end, were a dozen wands.
Robert joined the congregation to one side of the long chamber. There were at least a dozen individuals arguing loudly and placing bets. Robert joined in, but now he was thinking.