Chapter 2: A town of sour flavour, in which Lofan does not get into the bag.
Lofan had been awoken as they approached the town, the cart-drivers had not forgotten their saviour. Where there had been growth in the tunnel previously, the cavern Cozzlanga was in was stripped mostly bare by the comings and goings of various denizens. Indeed Lofan even caught sight of paved roads that lead down wider and more important tunnels than the one that went through his village on its way to Cozzlanga.
There was perhaps not quite as much hustle and bustle as a depths hick might have expected, Cozzlanga was after all a town and not a city, not even a particularly large town either, as it was once a mere resting point at an underground pool, now a glorified resting point, its inhabitants making a living from travelling merchants.
Cozzlanga actually had a bit of an unsavoury reputation, though not a sweet one either, no Cozzlanga had the sour flavour of crime. It wasn’t so much that the lawless folk waylaid travellers, more that a number of the travelling merchants had goods that were of suspect origin. Cozzlanga in short was a place where people offloaded “recognisable” goods before heading to more honest locals.
Most of the theft and other crimes that went on was between the various criminal groups and individuals. Regular denizens were generally left alone, an unspoken law of the lawless, oddly you were more in danger of getting mugged in a town other than Cozzlanga.
Of course in this period of Elcon, most denizens were lawless, there just wasn’t that much law to go around. The northern half however, had more in the way of nations and laws, part of why the vile villian known as the Firelord wasn’t making much progress in the north while in the south his name was feared.
As Lofan looked at Cozzlanga he felt it didn’t quite look in theme with its nature. The core of the town was a few pillars of ordinary rock that had stairs and dwellings carved directly into them, and clustered around these pillars, like children to their parents were completely square buildings of gleaming whiterock. Their doors were square, their windows were square, even some of their owners were square, well physically if not ethically.
Then at the foot of the whiterock squares was a random assortment of many coloured and shaped tents and other temporary dwellings, like discarded toys.
A thought struck Lofan.
“excuse me, i’m awfully greatful for you giving me a ride here sirs, but i wonder if i could trouble you for a good meeting place of adventurers or better yet a place where you can hire their services.”
The cart-drivers were still pleased with how Lofan had aided them, and the small coneperson’s manners went well with the shewpog and the fox. Lofan had even gotten their names before he had drifted off to sleep in the cart.
“Not a problem at all, fine fellow” The fox, Relds Relds, or as he liked to call himself RR said. Foxes as a whole are quite fond of names beginning with R.
“Yes, quite, you did save our us our jobs after all” The Shewpog, Haaruld Greenly (as his family’s fur was particularly green) added.
There was a moment of silence as the two basked in continued relief. Then they remembered that their saviour had actually asked them something.
“Adventurers eh? Hohum” RR began, stalling for time to think.
“Well, certainly Cozzlanga has its share!” Haaruld blustered.
The two racked their brains, as much as they had between them. It was Haaruld oddly that came up with the answer.
“I’ve heard that the Belly Up Hider has good deals on adventurers”
“Kind of a spidery thing with horns, heard they are very fierce make scary sounds.” Haaruld shivered, all of him, like some manner of furry pudding.
RR took this time to make himself look a bit better.
“Yes, I’ve heard of the place too, I can give you directions when we stop in town, actually I can get a porter to carry you in fact.”
Lofan thought it might be nice to be carried to his destination, but decided that he had received enough aid from these cart-drivers.
“i think just the directions would be fine thank you”
RR looked at Lofan agast, as if the coneman had suggested that fox-fur would make for a good hat.
“No, no, that simply won’t do, it won’t be any trouble at all, I must insist, besides the porters are supposed to carry stuff, people, things, well, maybe not people, but I’m sure they’ll manage, after all, they are paid to do that stuff”
Lofan got the feeling that carrying conepeople and their belongings was not a usual everyday task for porters, but it looked like RR wasn’t going to back down.
“oh all right, thank you” he replied.
In short order they had reached the deposit of the merchant RR worked for, an unmarked white square building.
“Thank you again Lofan, I’ll call the porter” RR gushed and floated off.
“Yup, many thanks lad, and thanks to you, RR and me are gonna team up, get this cart fixed up a bit and we’ll be making better time than before, safer too, with the pair of us. We might even end up bringing stock to more merchants”
“it was my pleasure haaruld, i hope you two do well” Lofan answered.
Then a great shadow fell over Lofan. He slowly turned around. Someone had placed a wall of fur, with huge claws. Lofan gazed up at what was to him a giant.
It was a white bear wearing a battered red quilted top hat and tan shorts with black braces over his shoulders. The bear glared at him though one blazing blue eye, a bronze medal was over the other eye, kept on by a red strap.
The bear had behind him a brown sack.
“Bag. In. Get in the bag.” He said gruffly.
It was fortunate that Lofan was as brave as he was, otherwise he would have ended up in the sack, as it was, he almost tipping over, met the bear’s one eyed gaze and spoke.
“ah, you’re the porter then? i’d prefer to walk than go into the sack if that’d be all right.”
Lofan knew that he was in no danger from the porter, no matter how grizzly he seemed.
The bear gave a toothy grin that would have caused more than just conepeople to faint.
“I like you kid, you get to ride on top”
“the tophat?” Lofan guessed “that sounds very nice thank you”
The bear hid Lofan’s bag of loot under his hat, and then gently put Lofan on top of the tophat.
“thank you for everything” Lofan said to RR and Haaruld.
“Pish, posh we are the thankful ones Lofan” RR objected again.
“Yeah, I’ll even name my next kid after you, if you ever find yourself in Drippledirt village, just ask for the Greenlys, we’ll give you a right good home treating” Haaruld explained as the bear porter walked off.
“So, kid where you headed?, floppyfox there just told me to carry some coneman.” the bear growled as he strode off purposefully, as if he already knew the answer.
“the belly up hider” Lofan squeaked.
The bear stopped.
“something wrong?” Lofan inquired.
“Yeah, gotta head the other direction to get to there”.
RR and Haarold waved as they went past them again.
“Whats a fearless coneman like yourself doing with an adventurer meet like that place?” the bear grunted, as they made their way through the streets.
“business, hiring” Lofan said, having the sense to not talk about a rare artefact like the kindling.
The bear chuckled.
“Fair enough, lots of folks here got business o’ all sorts”
In short order, they were before the Belly Up Hider. It was yet one more of the pristine white square buildings. Lofan wondered how the town had ended up with such uniform buildings. This one however had a small blemish, painted in messy black letters was tHa BeLli up HYdr.
Lofan however, had no idea that this was a misspelling, as like many denizens in elcon he couldn’t read, he had wanted Petil, his village’s resident bookworm and beginner enchanter, to teach him, however she had been far too busy with getting lost in the tunnels, and then with learning magic.
Often there would be a pictorial sign on buildings, and that was how most Elconic denizens knew what place was what. This building however had no sign of a belly up hider. The doors were of some manner of black wood. The bearporter opened the door and went in.
The first thing Lofan and the bear noticed was the Hider, it was hanging from the ceiling belly up, gently honking as it swayed. The thing had a big leathery abdomen, and eight brassy hornlegs which lead up to a body of twisted pipes connecting to the abdomen. Its head however was particularly fierce with its flute mandibles and sharp teeth in a trumpet mouth.
“How in the lock did that thing get in here” The bear had noticed the second thing.
In one of the corners of the tavern was a mass of claws, teeth and muscle, it was hard to make out what it was from them, but it filled the corner and was clearly too big to have gotten in the doorway of the building.
There was a heavy sigh from the bar counter, it was the barman, a navy shewpog with dark blond hair that stood up in spikes as tall as his own body. He wore a white apron and jade goggles.
“Everyone asks that their first time here, I don’t know how she does it, and she isn’t a thing, her name is Alflaya, say hi Alflaya”
Alflaya waved a few claws.
“Hello” she said sweetly.
The barkeep refilled a mug a flung it back to its owner.
“She is a bit shy, but a nice girl, great in a fight, if you don’t mind the collateral, you can pay her in meat too”
Lofan looked over the motley collection of adventurers before him. He was finally in position to begin the first part of his plan.
Now though he wondered if it was really such a good idea to hire some adventurers.