Lyra sat at the table of the tavern eating her dinner slowly while keeping a wary eye on the men surrounding her. Dinner was, if she had to guess, some type of fish and strange overcooked vegetable styled mush. It seemed a fairly common style dish for this tavern, she had eaten the same thing here all three nights since she had been sold here by Varisha the Lesser after having failed as an apprentice surgeon. The shame her failure had brought on her family would probably always haunt her.
The men she had only known for only a few days, Bhrahash the large dragonborne, the oversized half-orc Murook and Duriall the human. She didn’t feel comfortable with any of them, and understandably so after the whole ordeal at the hospital. She had been assigned to this slave retinue, known here as an esne, the last to join apparently. Murook and Bhrahash seemed to get along okay, both of them ganging up on the smaller human man, Duriall. He seemed a little off to Lyra but she still couldn’t quite put her finger on what was different with him.
Bhrahash leaned back and picked his large white predator’s teeth with a plain hilted dagger. His voice was gruff and deep and slurred around his jaw of sharp teeth. “Haven’t had a job with us, yet, have ya girl?” He said with us as if it were one word, slurred together and short. He looked at her and lifted his flagon to his lips, dribbling ale out the sides of his mouth due to the awkward shape of his jaw. Lyra had never met a dragonborne before but had heard rumors of them, large brutish humanoids with more brawn than brain, dangerous and destructive but deeply devout and loyal. Dragonborne were rare here on Dalivar but not completely unheard of. Most everyone in the tavern was trying to study the dragonborne without looking like they were staring. Dragonborne were known to have incredibly short tempers, too.
Lyra stared at him as he wiped the dribbles of ale from the sides of his green scaled face. His eyes were reptilian slits of gold and black and unsettled her slightly. She thought the question had be rhetorical but he seemed to wait for an answer from her. She sighed. Men. “No,” was all Lyra responded. She didn’t feel like getting chummy with people she didn’t plan on working with for long. She had other plans and these men were not a part of them.
He stared her with his strange eyes. “Not much for words, our new flower, is she?” He looked at her in an unsettling way with something that looked like it could be what passed for a dragonborne smile.
“Whadda I care long as she holds her own? I prefer my women to keep their mouths shut anyway.” Murook apprised her warily. “I still have my doubts, you know? She looks, I dunno, delicate-like. Fragile.” The half orc looked thoughtful and then shrugged. “What do I care, eh? She dies, no skin off my back.”
Lyra rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything. She was used to being treated as if she weren’t in the room. She had been an object, bought and sold for most of her life including this most recent time to the Esne.
Duriall had been quiet trying to avoid calling attention to himself. Most dinners were actually spent being cruel to Duriall. Also, he seemed to be transfixed watching the fireplace. A relatively handsome young man had been playing a lute nearby and Duriall had been giving him his full attention for most of the meal.
Lyra cut another piece of what she had come to think of as fish. She jumped as the collar around her neck buzzed lightly and a lightly accented female voice in her ear said, “Please report to the basement for assignments as soon as possible. Thank you.” Her hand jerked to her throat and she fingered the collar unconsciously. It’s weight was still uncomfortable and unfamiliar to her.
The others seemed to get the message as well through their collars. Duriall stood up and pushed his chair back in against the table, looking expectantly at Murook and Bhahrash. When neither of them made to move he started getting fidgety. “Come on, guys…you know what happens when we don’t show up fast enough.”
The dragonborne and the half orc shared a look with each other for a long moment. “Fine, friend,” Murook said finally, “but since you are rushing our meal perhaps to make up for it you might be purchasing our dinner, eh?”
Duriall made to complain but thought better of it and sighed, resigned. “Fine, but please, just go?”
The other men slowly climbed to their feet and Duriall rushed to pay the barmaid. Lyra stood up and followed quietly behind.
They walked down the main street and down several back alleyways in an odd pattern, zig-zagging around corners and streets obviously taking a less than direct route. She wasn’t sure if they were doing it on purpose to irritate Duriall or not. They approached a small vendor’s tent that appeared to be empty. The fabric in the back pulled away to expose a small narrow staircase heading down cut out of the rock of the building behind.
She followed them down. At the bottom the stair case opened up a little bit allowing them to all stand off of the steps. A large foreboding metal door stood in the wall, solid except for a small metal slide three fourths the way up the door. As they approached the slit opened up with a metallic swoosh. Deep blue eyes peered out and a small voice muffled by the thick door spoke. “Passsswooord?”
Murook sighed audibly. “Come on, Sharanga, you know we were summoned. Why the game, baby?”
“I’mmmm not your baaaby, half breed,” she said viciously. “Passsswooord?”
Murook opened his mouth to speak again but before he could say anything Duriall interjected “Iron Warden!” Murook shot him a dirty look but didn’t say anything else.
The slit whooshed closed with a clink as the door creaked open. Behind the door was a small woman whose face looked just a little off, almost serpentine. She stepped to the side to let them pass. As Murook passed by her he shot out his metal arm with a hiss of hydraulics apparently trying to grope her as he passed but she moved faster than Lyra had expected. Her hand shot out and grabbed his wrist just above his metallic hand and jerked him back hard, causing him to stumble. He caught himself on the wall and shot her a glare as he harshly pulled his hand back from her and pulled it to his chest, checking the joints with his fingers. Most of his left arm was a metal prosthetic, thick dull metal plates interweaving together with smaller plates to protect the joints. There was a small panel just below the inner wrist Lyra had noticed but didn’t know what it was for. His fingers were intricate metal rods and wires, small hydraulic ball bearings for knuckles. Copper wires ran from underneath the plate into each finger, the only things another color than the gray metal other than the panel at the wrist.
“I swear, Sharanga, if this is broken I’ll make you pay. Both ways, I mean, case you didn’t get the double entandre.” It almost looked as if Murook were pouting. He hurried down the hall continuing to check his hand.
Sharanga stuck out a slim forked tongue at him and then pulled the giant metal door shut behind them. She pushed her hand into an indent inside the door and turned her arm. Gears clinked shut as the door barred itself.
The dark hallway ended with another door. They entered into a small room that was lit only by a series of monitors on the far wall. There were at least 10 larger monitors on the wall, the gaps filled in with several monitors of varying sizes. They all showed random images, a field with a tree on one of the larger ones, two kids playing ball in a street next to a fountain made out of an old airship propeller, a door, one full of static. As they entered the door behind them closed, slamming shut with a scream of metal and clinking of the lock thrown home. Lyra looked over her shoulder reflexively.
The screens went black throwing the room into complete darkness for a moment. Then they all unified to show a dim background with a dark silhouette of a person centered in it. Lyra couldn’t make out any details of the silhouette and it unnerved her. She had only met the Shade one other time this way, the day she was sold into the Esne and received her collar and her crew.
They all stared up at the screens. Shade made a sound like clearing his throat. Lyra couldn’t tell if the Headmaster was male or female, the silhouette was vague and the voice scrambled to lose all recognizable features.