Earlobe´s Tavern is a low, sagging building, located at the intersection of Low Street and Rose Alley, near the heart of the Lower Maul. The intersection, an irregularly shaped expanse of mud and weeds, surrounds the burned-out, stump-like ruins of the tower of a warlock of the Old Blood that was killed and burned in the Great Fire of the Maul. Here and there across the square the mortared remains of other buildings poke through the treacherous slurry of ash-mixed mud that coats the ground.
The earthen plaza (if such a grand name is applicable) is surrounded by high, haphazard buildings, constructed from driftwood and scavenged materials, and criss-crossed by wooden walkways and pier-like structures that serve to keep pedestrians out of the worst mud. The architecture is twisted and crooked, the houses lean drunkenly on each other, and a myriad small alleys and stairs radiate off in every direction. At night, it is lighted by hundreds of smoky torches and dented, rusted carbide lamps, mounted on the buildings, the ruins and stand-alone poles. Underlying the prevalent odors of rotting garbage and unwashed bodies is the more subtle, acrid stink of old, wet ashes.
In the lawlessness of the Lower Maul, this nameless square is an oasis of (relative) peace. The shop owners, whose small businesses fill the ground floors of the surrounding buildings, communally employ a huge Moloch half-blood to keep the peace around the square. The junkies, crazies and even the many street-gangs keep their distance from this bestial, club-wielding sentinel, who has shown his worth more than once. However, for as long as Earlobe´s Tavern has been here, even wild riots and gang wars seems, inexplicably, to take a detour around the square.
At the eastern end of the square, sits Earlobe´s Tavern, a squat, two-story barrack-like building, its corrugated sheet-metal roof sagging and rusted, and its half-brick, half-planking walls bulging and uneven. Its windows have long been boarded over, and the whole structure has, in some distant past, been slathered in slate-grey ship-tar, the bitumen giving it a half-melted, disturbingly organic look.
The Tavern now looks scabbed, salt-encrusted and mummified, the settling of its insecure foundation giving it a hunched-over look, like a massive, brooding beast, half-hidden in the shadow. Even the ever-present ivy that clings to the building like heaps of rusted barb-wire seems diseased and straggly.
The structure sits in a small pool of shadow, away from the street lights and on windy nights, the draft whistles eerily through the many gaps in the walls. The Tavern, built separate from the compacted mess of buildings around it, stands in the middle of a small, weedy yard, dotted with small, stagnant, reed-choked ponds, and riddled with half-buried blocks of masonry and sunken flagstones, relics of the Old Maul. The house stands in the middle of a large rectangle of old, mortared stone that appears to map out the plan of a much larger building that once stood here. A fine mist seems to cling to the yard, especially at night, making the building appear ghostly and insubstantial, and an uneven, flagstoned path leads up to its low entrance.
No one can remember the origin of the name; Earlobe´s, but the establishment has been a fixture of the Lower Maul for close to twenty-five years, and one of the first to be built after the Great Fire of 179. The ground on which the Tavern is built, is, as far as anyone can determine, the same location as where the Old Maul´s Hall of Warlocks, the centre of the magic of the Old Blood, once stood. Here, the fires that consumed the Old Maul and its inhabitants burned the hottest, and very little was ever found in the ash-choked mud afterwards.
Inside the Tavern
The interior of the tavern is low, cramped and dimly lit by a few scattered carbide lamps and candles. The floor sags in the middle, forming a central pit in which the refuse of ages has collected, and the air stinks of stale beer, vomit, soot, tar and unwashed bodies. Here and there across the floor rise odd lumps and plinths of the same ancient masonry that litters the yard outside, and in the middle of the room a massive, crumbling pillar of the same origin rises from the floor to penetrate the low roof overhead.
The wall to the left is taken up by a long bar, amateurishly built from long, unevenly trimmed planks. Several benches and tables, all with the look of pews, perhaps looted from some unknown chapel, is scattered haphazardly around the area. The serving room takes up the entire ground floor, with an oddly narrow back door opposite the front entrance, and a staircase leading to the second floor rising behind the bar. In the middle of the room, next to the mysterious pillar of ancient brick, an old pot-belly peat-stove burns, vainly trying to drive the damp chill away.
The second floor is a maze of small, cramped rooms that Torodak, the proprietor, rents out at a penny a night to the various crooks, vagrants, junkies and cheap prostitutes that frequent his establishment.
Below the Tavern, accessible through a trapdoor behind the bar, is a damp, rat-infested cellar that Torodak use as a storage area, and a brewery in which he produce the horrible, sour beer that is the only item on his bar menu. Oddly enough, the cellar seems to be constructed in finely dressed, tightly fitted stone, indicating that it is a part of a much older structure.
Torodak Deal, the unsavory-looking proprietor, spends most of his time behind the bar, cleaning mugs and entertaining his clientele with his impressive collection of tics and involuntary twitches. He constantly mutters to himself and his odd, wall-eyed stare twitch incessantly from one spot to another. He never, ever looks anyone in the eye, and hunches over as if dodging a blow whenever he´s spoken to. He built this tavern with his own hands back in the old days, and the common consensus of his customers is that he is quite, quite mad. They are right, of course, but there is more to Torodak Deal than what meets the eye.
The clientele is the regular, rag-clad, rough and hard-drinking types one would expect from the environment, with one or two oddities. In one corner, their great, matted manes brushing the low ceiling, sits Tawl and Moke, two Molochii brothers. While they currently work as bouncers or bodyguards on a day-to-day basis, they are in the Maul to find their sister, Ama, who came to Locastus a year ago. They are using the Tavern as their base of operations, renting one of the small, cramped rooms on the second floor. Tawl, an apprentice spirit-talker shaman of the Fire and Salt Sept, is using his scrying arts to find her, but has so far had little success. Both brothers are in a constantly foul mood, and the other customers avoid them carefully.
Standing out among the human clientele is a small group of people that, while also renting rooms above, meet in the common room every evening, conversing in low voices in a dimly lit corner. While they certainly are dressed as the locals and use the same Maul slang, something in their bearing and manners suggest that everything is not as it seems. They have the hard-eyed stare and nonchalantly intimidating presence of something far deadlier than a common Maul thug.
All is not what it seems..
Torodak Deal, Warlock of the Old Blood
Beneath the Tavern, their bones and ashes buried in strata´s of gelatinous mud, the spirits of the Old Blood Warlocks live on. They are angry, pain-filled entities, fuelled by the need for revenge and destruction, and would, if freed, rise in the forms of great clouds of cinders, ashes and bone fragments to lay waste to the Maul, and possibly all of Locastus.
Torodak, one of the few surviving people of the Old Blood, and - at the time of the Great Fire - an apprentice Warlock, has for the last 25 years been using his shamanic Arts to appease the Warlock spirits, and kept them from rising. He was quite young, then, when he came upon the spirits trapped beneath the grounds of the razed Hall of Warlocks, and, initially, began his life of servitude out of a true sense of duty and altruism. It is a sacrifice that has cost him his sanity, his health and his decency, but there have also been certain rewards.
Tutored by the whisperings of the malign spirits, Torodak has been able to complete his training as an Old Blood Warlock, and is now possibly one of the most powerful in the history of his race. Torodak, however, for all his power, can no longer comprehend a life without the perverse, ever-present rage of the spirits and the humiliating, painful rituals he must go through to ease their pain. Should he perish, the warlock spirits would rise within a matter of weeks or months and begin to extract their revenge on the living.
Torodak regularly performs human sacrifices in the chamber beneath the Tavern, temporarily slaking the blood-thirst of the spirits. He chooses his victims from the ones among his clientele he knows will not be missed, and there are many of those. Should he be found out, or attacked, Torodak will respond with an extensive repertoire of Old Blood magicks. He will let nothing get in his way in his duty to the spirits, even though it is no longer the altruistic, honorable act it once was.
Name: Torodak Deal
Location: Earlobe´s Tavern, Lower Maul
Descripition: Torodak is a small, scrawny fellow with sallow skin and huge, blackened horse teeth. His dark, blood-shot eyes look off in opposite directions, and his beard is sparse and straggly. His many tics, twitches and obsessive-compulsive habits make him seem on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He mumbles incessantly under his breath, and constantly wrings his hands. He is never seen without his small, silly fur hat, and spends most of his time behind the bar, nervously cleaning mugs with a greasy rag. Beneath his threadbare, high-necked coat, his body is horribly scarred and riven by the many perverse self-mutilations he has inflicted upon himself to appease the angry Warlock spirits.
Deal is, in reality, one of the few fully trained Old Blood Warlocks left alive. Should he or his Tavern come under threat, he has an impressive arsenal of spells and cantrips at his disposal. His animistic magic can play havoc with people´s minds, turn their own muscles against their bones or make them spontaneously burst into flame. In a truly desperate situation, he can also raise the spirits of the dead Warlocks that rest in the ground beneath the Tavern, and set them loose on his enemies. This is something he has never had to do, and even Torodak himself is not sure he could control one of the vengeful spirits, once its freed.
Torodak usually plays the part of mad, inoffensive barkeep well, but can, in his frequent bouts of absentmindedness, let slip a hint or two about his true nature. Customers has sometimes seen him light the lamps in the common room with a nonchalant wave of his hand, or stop an aggressive customer dead in his tracks with a bare glance. So far, Torodak has been able to convince these eyewitnesses that they are hallucinating, or that they need their eyes examined.
The few in the city that knows his secret considers him too powerful (and at the same time too worthless) to act upon. Besides, he performs a valuable service keeping those angry spirits from rampaging through the Maul if they were all to be raised at once, even the Bloated Moon herself would have her hands full.
The Rats in the System
Using Earlobe´s Tavern as their base of operations is a squad of the infamous Maul Rats, working undercover to further the agenda of their commander, Cyrus Brennan, who has, after a political defeat, been banished along with their Regiment to a humiliating, politically removed post in the Nascogiban colonies. The squad, following Brennan´s orders, has spent six months preparing the removal of his political enemies, foremost among them the sorceress and Duchess Isardi Kain and her sycophant Lord Finiteus, current Head of Cabinet.
During his years of exile, Brennan, following the agenda of his mentor General Titus Hinge, has devised a strategy to come back to Locastus in force and overthrow the sitting government. To achieve this he plans to reinforce his troops with Nascogiban natives (not an easy feat considering their hostility to the invaders of their homeland), but also by effecting the pre-emptive removal of his political (and personal) adversaries.
The Rat squad in the Tavern, hand-picked by Brennan himself, is commanded by the infamous lieutenant Squeak, accompanied by a group of six veteran Rats, namely: Daunt, Cord, Knot, Wisp, Pearl and Heach; all of which grew up in the Lower Maul, and has no problem blending in with the rough, desperate population.
The squad has chosen their hideout carefully. They are aware of Torodak´s clandestine activities, and know that the Tavern is one of the few places in Locastus they will be free of government spies and agents. Torodak, in an uneasy truce with the Rats, has agreed to use his Warlock powers to shield them from scrying and arcane interference. Only time will tell how long this unholy alliance will hold up.
The timing is not yet right for Brennan´s return, but until that time comes, the Rats will bide their time.
Status: Squad Leader, Maul Rat
Description: A fiery, freckled redhead, Squeak, at first glance, looks too pretty to be a soldier. She has a hard, set glint in her eyes and a temper to match her complexion. She has, over the years, earned a reputation of mixed respect and pants-wetting terror within the ranks of the Maul Rats. While short-tempered, Squeak is a very competent officer, hand-picked by Brennan himself to lead this crucial mission, and she rules this little squad with an iron fist.
Status: Maul Rat
Description: Cord is a tall, lean man with wiry, curly hair, a walrus moustache and a pronounced lantern jaw. Next to Switch, he is the best sniper in the Maul Rats, and has brought with him his immensely complex (and ridiculously oversized) long-distance breech-loader, hidden together with all their weapons and martial gear in a cache buried in the back yard of the Tavern.
Status: Maul Rat
Description: A short man of medium build, but with a head oversized for his frame. His receding hair is a nondescript mousy brown, matching his mud-colored eyes. An indifferent shot and melee combatant, Knot is a master at throwing things like coins, nails, pebbles and blades with great accuracy, an ability that is a minor Talent in its own right.
Status: Maul Rat
Description: A large, burly man with the tell-tale signs of Molochii blood, Daunt is the muscles of the Rats of the Tavern. He looks out at the world with small, amber piggy eyes from under a great overhanging brow, features that make him look significantly more stupid than he really is, a notion accentuated by his burlap vest and stained leather pants.
Daunt, one of nature´s brawlers, carry numerous blades, clubs, jacks, whips, chains and knuckledusters on his person at any given time. Anyone who´s seen him fight cannot believe that such a large, ungainly man can move so fast.
Status: Witch, Maul Rat
Description: Pearl is a short, dark-skinned woman with long, raven hair and stunning, epicantal eyes. Her heritage is unknown, but possibly includes blood from the Autumn Kingdoms, way to the west of Locastus. Her Talents, while mostly minor, include a peculiar form of scrying called cartomancy, which means that she, in effect, can locate a person or an object by use of a map of the area where the target is thought to be. Her role in the current mission is to chart the movements of Brennan´s adversaries in the City, in preparation for the upcoming strike.
Status: Maul Rat
Description: A tall, slightly fox-faced woman with spiky, short blonde hair and currently dressed in the revealing outfit of an upper-end prostitute, Wisp is charged with managing connections between the Tavern Rats and Brennan´s various supporters around the City. Her disguise allows her to move unchallenged in most parts of Locastus, from the residences of the rich to the squalor of the slums. In addition, she also possesses good lock-picking and cat-burglar capabilities, skills earned during a hard childhood on the streets of the Lower Maul.
Status: Maul Rat
Description: A short, stocky man, youngish-looking despite his 40-something years, with sandy blonde hair, dark eyes and a golden, tanned complexion, Heach is a pure-blooded ancestor of the Old Blood. He claims to be the first son of the last Chief of the Old Blood tribes, although evidence suggests that this might be confabulation.
Heach´s field of expertise lies in the use of poisons and other intricate methods of assassination. He carries with him an extensive supply of various alchemical concoctions, for use later on.
This is one of my favourite locations in my Locastus setting, a place I keep coming back to over and over again. While all the stuff in here makes perfect sense to ME, I realize that it might not be all that clear to someone who doesn´t share my chaotic brain. As I add more posts, some of the loose yarns in this one will be gathered up, but at this point, I just needed to get it out of my system so I can move on to other things. It helps if you´ve read my other Locastus posts, primarily the Maul and the Maul Rats submissions. It is my hope that I now may move on to other parts of Locastus, but you never know, the Maul might demand more write-ups. I swear, this setting has a mind of its own….