The Face: 2. Façade

    Chapter 2: Façade

            The group of six companions moved quickly through the streets of Thebes. The sun had fully set and the streets were shrouded in darkness with only a few lanterns lighting the streets. Loran stuck close to Façade, he didn’t completely trust the rest of their companions and he didn’t quite understand what he had gotten himself into. At least Façade knew what he was doing. They made their way towards the Mages Tower near the center of the city.
            As they were walking, Loran took the time to study the others he was now traveling with. Two elves, a man and a woman all following one of the tallest dwarfs he had ever seen. Eldaran was wearing what Loran assumed were adventuring clothes, many pockets and buckles adorned his outfit and a long rapier hung from his side. It looked as though he was ready for pretty much any encounter and Loran was glad to have someone who at least looked competent on the outside. He couldn’t say the same for Vera, however. He was wearing a simple black cloak and he carried no visible weapons. Loran caught a glimpse of a tattoo on Vera’s wrist underneath the sleeve of his cloak. Other than that tattoo, he was fairly nondescript. Perhaps he was a monk or a pacifist, Loran couldn’t be sure.

            At this point, the group was nearing the Mages Tower, the silent sentinel looming above the city. Loran had traveled through Thebes frequently during his many travels, the Mages Tower being the only notable attraction in the city in his opinion. From their spire, the Mages Guild oversaw the training of the many magical users from the surrounding area and carefully handled a large collection of magical devices. Thebes itself was situated on the coast of the continent Opheon, and therefore had a bustling port with travelers, and goods, coming and going constantly.
            Loran looked towards Syre hoping to ask her how a former adventurer became a lowly barmaid at a tavern in Thebes. He was shocked to see that in the time they had been walking, she had somehow slipped away and changed out of her barmaid’s clothes and was now dressed in all black, a crossbow hanging from her back. Her body was tense, every movement had a purpose, her eyes were constantly glancing down every alleyway and street the party crossed ready to leap into action at the slightest hint of trouble.
            “Façade, where exactly are you taking us?” Vera’s voice cut through the silence.
            Loran looked up and was surprised to find that the Mages Tower wasn’t looming in front of them anymore but was off to the right, still a ways away. They had taken a wrong turn somewhere and Loran hadn’t noticed.
            “I am taking you to the Mages Tower, of course. Follow me, we’re almost there,” replied Façade, his voice betraying the satisfaction he had in leading a group of bewildered travelers through the streets of Thebes.
            After a few more minutes of walking, Façade stopped in front of an unremarkable butchers shop, still five blocks away from the tower.
            “Here we are, everyone inside,” Façade declared.
            “The Mages Tower? This is a butcher’s shop,” said Vera tentatively.
            “Right you are! Come on everyone, inside,” said Façade confidently.
            Loran stepped into the cold interior of the shop. The smell of succulent meats and other delicacies entered Loran’s nostrils and a smile creased his lips. The rest of the group walked into the shop, Syre grumbled about being led on another wild goose chase. Once the door had closed, Façade knocked three times on the floor at the back of the shop. At once, a head popped out of the floor through a hidden door Loran hadn’t noticed.
            “Oy, took yah long enough,” the head said, not revealing the rest of its body through the door.
            “Well we’re here now aren’t we? Move out of the way Flandon,” Façade said, making a shooing motion with his hands.
            “Right,” and the head disappeared down through the door.
            The six of them dropped through the door one by one entering a dark and dank tunnel underneath the shop. Once everyone was inside the tunnel, Flandon, the head had a body and a name, reached up and closed the door in what was now the ceiling.
            Façade had produced a magical ball of light in his hand and was now walking down the tunnel taking the light with him. “Come on then, it should only be a few minutes more,” he called over his shoulder.
            The light from the magical ball danced along the walls of the tunnel. There were a few other passageways that connected with their tunnel. It was pretty obvious the Mages Guild maintained an extensive network underneath the city for their own secret use. They saw a few mages walking through the tunnels, each one focused on their own respective tasks, some muttering in hushed tones to themselves. One mage even bowled into Flandon at the back of the party and walked away apologizing profusely.
            As they crossed an intersection of two passageways, Loran thought he caught a glimpse of a gold cloaked man walking down the tunnel to his right. Loran knew he recognized the cloak but he couldn’t remember from where. Loran paused for a minute to think and then walked back to the intersection, looking down the right hand tunnel. The man had disappeared. There was no one in the tunnel.
            His memory had been giving him all sorts of problems recently. This was nothing new, Loran could only remember the last ten years or so and even then, there were large gaps in his memory where he just couldn’t remember where he was or what he was doing. That was why he had traveled to Thebes, to meet with the Mages Guild to see if they could restore his memories. They had agreed to see him only if he could deliver a message to the Wardens of Opheon first. He had spent two days searching and asking around Thebes before he had found them in the tavern this evening. He would have delivered the message too but Façade had commandeered the Wardens before he could even get a word in. Loran supposed that if he was with Façade when he delivered the Wardens before the Wizenmage, his part of the deal could be considered fulfilled.
            Loran shook himself back to reality and looked down the hall the group had been traveling down. There was no one to be seen, he couldn’t even see the light from Façade. A rush of fear and desperation washed over Loran, they must have made a turn somewhere. He looked to his left and saw a torch in a wall sconce lighting the intersection. He grabbed the torch and started running down the tunnel after his companions. Loran passed a number of side passageways as he ran, each one empty, some continuing into darkness, others ending in a doorway. With each empty passageway, his heart beat faster and faster.
            At the seventh or eighth intersection, Loran came to a halt, his chest heaving, his head spinning. He looked to the left, just another tunnel that continued on and on into the darkness. He looked to the right. There was a staircase at the end of this hall, and at the very edge of his vision, ascending the staircase, Loran thought he saw the bottom of a particular gold cloak flowing over each stair as it rose out of view. He started running down the corridor towards the stairs. He didn’t know why the gold cloak had jogged his memory but at this point he had to cling to anything he could.
            Loran reached the stairs at a full sprint and started racing up them two at a time. He could see light at the top of the stairs so he threw the torch he was carrying down the stairs behind him and put every effort into reaching the top of the stairs. After what seemed like over a hundred stairs, Loran finally reached the upper landing. In front of him was a lit hallway with a door at the end of it. As he focused on the door, he could see that it was slightly ajar and the corner of a gold cloak was peeking out on the floor.
            “Hey!” Loran called out.
            He started walking briskly toward the door calling out every couple of seconds. As he came within ten feet of the door, the corner of the gold cloak slipped inside and the door shut completely. Loran reached out for the handle of the door and leaned in trying to open the door. It didn’t budge. He knocked once, twice, three times. He heard footsteps on the other side of the door. Loran knocked again, this time more forcefully to ensure the person on the other side heard his call.
            Slowly the portal creaked open.

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