Monday, May 18, 2009

Chapter 2, Part 1

Losthaven was a city of crossroads, where people and cultures from across the continent of Almeria mixed into a confusing melange of sights and sounds that made many a fist-time visitor gape in awe. The city had long ago been a simple market town, where farmers from the surrounding area came in order to trade their wares with each other, and some of the old types of commerce lingered in the various quarters of the city. But the city had also long since outgrown its common roots as visitors from across the various lands had come through the city in increasing numbers, first as a stop on the road to more glorious locations, and then as a destination in and of itself.

Through the years, Losthaven gained a reputation as an open city, allowing anyone inside its walls as long as they remained relatively well-behaved. The city had seen its fair share of orcs and elves existing and doing business alongside the occasional oddities such as demons, pixies, or even dragons. The all-welcoming nature of the city lent it a cosmopolitan air, even despite the fact that the existence of so many different races and cultures gathered side-by-side led to inevitable conflicts, keeping the Losthaven Guard very busy.

Porphyria stood in front of a relatively nondescript building in one of Losthaven's poor quarters. Had she not known better, Porphyria might have passed this building with no comment, much like thousands of people did every single day, as it appeared almost identical to many of the other dwellings on its block. The building was a squat, single-floor house that had obviously seen better days, as the little paint that was left on the exterior seemed to be clinging on for dear life, as if a stiff gust of wind would cause more of the well-worn wood to shed its dirty-white coat. The window shutters were slightly off alignment, and the gaps between them and the window frame showed open windows whose owners were too poor - or too cheap - to afford glass, with sheets of rat-gnawed leather keeping the window frames from simply being empty. The front door was about the only part of the house that appeared not to be in utter disrepair, and even it looked as if it had served honorably as a shield in some forgotten conflict between ogres.

Porphyria walked up to the door and knocked on the deeply-rutted wood. As she waited for an answer, Porphyria allowed one of her fingers to trace the furrows in the age-stained wood. She could hear a faint rummaging behind the door and a moment later a small head-height window opened in the door. "Who's there?" called out a squeaky voice from behind the door as a grey eye and the top left quarter of an oddly-wrinkled face appeared in the small window.

"You know me, Cynlew, now open the door and let me in," Porphyria said impatiently.

"Not before you tell me the password." the voice answered, cracking with suppressed amusement.

Porphyria sighed, "You know as well as I do that any competent mindreader could pick the password right out of your brain, so what's the use of one?" Porphyria concentrated for a moment before answering, "The password is 'Chicken Cacciatore. You miss lunch today, or what?"

A moment elapsed before Porphyria heard the door's bolt drawn. The door creaked open, revealing a small, profoundly unattractive creature of no more than ten dimins (1 meter) in height, and of almost equal width. Porphyria wondered again to which race Cynlew belonged -- he seemed to be a cross of some sort between a goblin and a gnome, or perhaps a pixie and an orc. Porphyria once again convinced herself not to ask, more for the possible horror of the answer than for any particular sensitivity towards Cynlew's feelings. "Malkeshni promised me that mindshield was one of his best," the small figure grumbled before breaking into a smile and motioning Porphyria in through the door. "Come in, my sweet. It's been too long since I've seen you."

"And the same to you, Cynlew," Porphyria said through a genuine smile, allowing herself to be led into the house by the diminutive creature. The interior of the Discordian safe house was much more opulent than the exterior, and much larger. Cynlew had built the house on a natural warping in the local dimensional topography, and had been able to place much of the construction on the plane of the Exoma -- the ever-changing and twisted plane of chaos. As a result of its strange construction, several of the house's proportions and interior angles seemed oddly unsettling, their seemingly-impossible geometries nagging at the back of any mind unaccustomed to the exotic physical laws of the Exoma. One of the doors towards the back of the house was heavily-barred and carried a warning sign in brightly-glowing letters that exhorted its reader against opening the door, as the Exoma lay beyond. Needless to say, knocks at that foreboding door were rarely answered. Porphyria felt right at home, the Discordian safe house reminding her of the home in which she spent most of her childhood.

"Haven't I told you before not to trust Malkeshni? And what's with this password business, anyhow? You don't recognize your old friend anymore?"

"You can never be too careful," Cynlew said, waggling his finger in Porphyria's direction, eliciting a bemused smile, "you taught me that much, at least. Well come and have a seat. I was just about to dig into a snack when you showed up. Want some?"

Porphyria looked at the mess of strange shapes and colors that presented itself upon the plate which she found suddenly thrust under her nose. The smell alone would have made even the most adventurous eater take pause, and the combination of sensations was almost unnerving. The maggots in the cheese were probably the worst bit, as they appeared to still be squirming. For perhaps the first time, Porphyria felt glad that her new metabolism was unable to digest almost anything aside from blood. "No thank you," she squeaked, "I can't really handle solid food anymore."

Cynlew nodded and withdrew the plate, shoveling a piece of the maggot-ridden cheese into his mouth while the plate was in transit back to the table. "You been doing well? I heard tell that you got yourself into a bit of trouble with some Justicars not too long ago."

Porphyria chuckled, "More like they got themselves into a bit of trouble with me... That's why I'm here, actually... I need you to put me in contact with a friend of yours."

Cynlew, despite his ungainly and somewhat disturbing appearance, had a great many friends, making him one of the best fixers to be found anywhere. Cynlew had parlayed a great and nearly-paradoxical personal magnetism into a network of contacts that spanned both continents and alternate planes of existence. It was rumored that Cynlew could procure just about anything, if the price was right, and Porphyria was one of his more frequent customers.

"I figured that you'd be here for business, and not for pleasure," Cynlew grunted, vulgarly patting his groin in consolation as Porphyria suppressed a gag, "well, who are you looking for, then? We may as well just get down to business."

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