The Face: 1. Façade

    Chapter 1: Façade

            The tavern was like any number of taverns Loran had frequented during his lifetime. The lighting was dim and his nose was overwhelmed with the scent of alcohol and overcooked food. There were a few unsavory characters loitering in the darkest areas of the room but most of the patrons were simple folk unwinding after a long day of work on the docks.
            Loran took a swig from the ale in front of him, looked into the mirror on the wall behind the bar and sighed. A long and jagged crack ran the length of the mirror splitting his image in two. How fitting he thought. He finished off his ale and began to turn off his bar stool to leave. Before he fully left the stool, a group of three sitting in the back of the tavern caught his eye, two elves and a man in full plate armor. Now that was certainly an interesting combination of accomplices. Perhaps they were the individuals he was trying to find. He looked around for the barmaid thinking she might know who these characters were. Loran spotted her cleaning up the food she had just spilled into a customer’s lap. He shook his head and started across the room towards the booth the group occupied.

            A cool and salty sea breeze blew into the tavern and Loran looked towards the door. In the doorway stood a tall dwarf wearing a dark brown robe with what looked to be golden thread weaved throughout. He was also wearing a pointed hat. The hat completed the dwarf’s ensemble, screaming, “Yes, I am a wizard and I don’t care who knows.” The dwarf glanced around the room and started towards the same table Loran was headed towards. Whoever this new addition was, Loran would have to include him in his conversation if he wanted to secure the services of the two elves he was looking for.
            Loran quickly walked over to intercept the dwarf before he reached the table. “A moment of your time sir,” he said.
            “Yes?” said the dwarf, drawing out the word as if he couldn’t be bothered with any interruptions.
            “It looks as though we were about to talk to the very same group of elves sitting in that corner booth over there,” said Loran.
            “What of it?” the dwarf said impatiently.
            “Well, I was thinking, perhaps we could approach them. You know, together,” said Loran
            “What business could you have with two of the Wardens of Opheon?” asked the dwarf.
            Loran did not welcome the dwarf’s haughty attitude but continued on anyway, “My business is my own. I simply thought you were an acquaintance of these elven gentlemen.”
            “I had hoped to make their acquaintance if I hadn’t been interrupted by the likes of you. Now, if you have business with these gentlemen, I suggest you get in line,” said the dwarf, ending the conversation with a swift spin towards the table.
            Loran reluctantly fell into step behind the dwarf and they approached the table where the two elves and the man in plate were enjoying drinks. The smaller of the elves had four dinner plates in front of him, two of them already devoid of food.
            “Are you Vera and Eldaran Moonwisperer, Wardens of Opheon?” asked the dwarf nodding towards the two elves.
            “I’m Eldaran Moonwisperer, and who might you be?” asked the short elf.
            “Yeah, and how did you know we were Wardens?” added the taller elf.
            “My name is Façade and it does not matter how I knew you were Wardens. My employer does not overlook such prominent guests in Thebes,” replied the dwarf.
            “And who might your employer be?” asked the man in plate.
            “I was sent by the Mages Guild to bring you to the Mages Tower before sunrise. My masters wish to speak with you.”
            “I hope you mean all of us, because I’m not going to leave Jax so soon after running into him,” said Eldaran.
            “My instructions were to bring the Wardens and any others who might be travelling with them,” Façade said.
            Loran noticed the man in plate, Eldaran had called him Jax, squinting at Façade as if he were trying to look right through him.
            “Do you gentlemen want anything else from the bar?”
            Loran might have jumped six inches off the floor. The barmaid had snuck up behind him and was waiting for the others to reply. How could a barmaid who was so clumsy be so silent as to sneak up on him?
            “Syre?!” Eldaran exclaimed, surprise brightening his face.
            “Eldaran?!” the barmaid looked just as surprised as Eldaran. Vera looked confused and completely overwhelmed at all the people who had suddenly appeared at his table. Jax was still staring at Façade and had a puzzled look on his face.
            “What are you doing here Syre?” asked Eldaran.
            “I’m working,” Syre said in a huff, “now do you want anything else from the bar?”
            “What? No. I mean, why don’t you sit down for a bit.” Eldaran said.
            Syre sighed and slumped into the seat across from Eldaran. “Who’s he?” she asked gesturing in Loran and Façade’s direction with her thumb.
            “Dunno, but he says he was sent to bring us to the Mages Tower.” Eldaran replied.
            “Huh, sounds more interesting than tending this bar. Mind if I join you?” Syre said.
            “I thought you were working,” Vera chimed in.
            “Yeah, working at this place is awful. I’m a terrible barmaid. I miss adventuring.” Syre said with a sigh.
            Loran remembered how hopeless Syre had looked as a barmaid and couldn’t imagine how adventuring could be any more fruitful than serving food and cleaning tables. He shrugged and focused on the conversation again. At this point, Jax had stood up and was examining Façade closely, poking and pulling at his beard.
            “How can we trust you if you aren’t truly who you say you are?” asked Jax after a particularly rough pull of Façade’s beard.
            “Excuse me!” shouted Façade as he pulled his beard out of Jax’s reach, “I haven’t the slightest idea what you are talking about!”
            “This man is not a dwarf! He’s a man!” exclaimed Jax as he turned towards his companions looking like he had made a world-shattering discovery.
            “I am certainly a dwarf! I don’t know what you’re getting on about!” shouted Façade, his voice rising above Jax’s exclamation.
            “Jax, what are you talking about?” said Eldaran, exasperated.
            “All I’m asking is why we should trust this man when he’s clearly not telling us who he really is.” Jax said.
            “My name is Façade and I am an envoy from the Mages Guild here to bring you before the Wizenmage! Now are you ready to leave or are you going tell me I’m a halfling now?!” Façade’s voice boomed throughout the tavern. All attention was on the shouting match that was happening in the corner of the room. Façade’s chest was heaving but it seemed as though his irritation had subsided. Jax was once again seated.
            “Um, Façade, who is he?” Loran had almost forgotten Syre was at the table, she had been so quiet. She was nodding in Loran’s direction.
            “Him? Pay him no mind. He will be coming with us too. The more the merrier,” answered Façade. The dwarf spun away from the table, his robe billowing out from behind him and walked to the door of the tavern and turned to wait. The rest slowly gathered themselves and began to get up from the table. Eldaran shoved two more bites of food into his mouth and was the last to get up. On their way out, Syre shouted towards the bartender, “I quit!” And with that, they all stepped out in the cold night.

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