The man, who considered himself well-travelled, was slightly unsettled by the sight of the Purple Face. He tried not to let it show on his face when he walked under the swinging sign of a man being strangled by both his mistress and wife and into the tavern proper.
He was about halfway across the threshold when his suspicions were confirmed: this may have been the seediest tavern in the entire world. Aten protect him. He had spent a good portion of his career in and around seedy taverns, in the company of unsavoury individuals. He even fancied himself a bit of an authority on places like this. Until a few seconds ago, he could have lectured at length about how the seediness of a tavern stemmed entirely from the cast of dangerous and unpleasant characters that inhabited them. Yet the Purple Face defied all his prior experience – it was almost entirely empty.
Or at least, it appeared empty. It was hard to tell given the lack of proper light anywhere in the tavern. The stickiness of the floor, and the foul odour that assaulted his nostrils confirmed that the darkness was likely a cost and labour saving measure. He walked up to the bar, bumping into several stools on the way.
An ancient Half-Orc stood at the bar holding a rag and a flagon. He stood unmoving, either asleep or deep in contemplation. The man coughed. The Half-Orc didn’t respond. The man coughed louder, and continued coughing. The stench of the place seemed to be building up in his lungs. The Half-Orc snapped awake, and grunted.
“Hello” said the man. The Half-Orc nodded, almost impercepitbly.
“I’m currently writing a manuscript about the military history of the Bexellian Republic, and I was wondering if you know of anyone in the Keloth Regiment, 10th Company who might be willing to talk to me”
The bartender shook his head, this time even more imperceptibly.
“You don’t know of anyone in that Company, or you don’t know of anyone who would be willing to talk with me.”
The bartender didn’t appear to move at all.
“Frankly, sir, I find that hard to believe. This is THE Purple Face, is it not? Unofficial headquarters of the THE Underminers? I’ve heard the songs. I’ve heard the stories. The Underminers meet here once a year to swap war stories or reminisce or whatever it is veterans do. Now. I’ve travelled a great distance to be here, so I will ask you one more time before I lose my temper, and take my patronage elsewhere. Do you know of anyone in the Underminers who would be willing to talk to me?”
“He doesn’t know anyone because there isn’t anyone.”
The voice didn’t seem to come from the bartender, who had fallen back to sleep. Instead, it came from one of the few pools of light in the tavern. The way the light glinted off the man’s scratched metal vambrace, and the host of trinkets that adorned his body made the historian wonder how he hadn’t seen the man before.
“What do you mean?” asked the historian, turning to the stranger.
The stranger shrugged, and took a long sip from his tankard.
“They’re all gone. Dead. Missing. No one comes here any more”
The historian pulled out a chair, and sat down on it before his knees collapsed. He put his head into his hands. He failed. All of it was going to fail. His comrades in arms were going to die. He was going to die. The Revolution was dead before it could have really began.
“It’s over” said the historian, raising his hand to signal the bartender who was at his side with a tankard of sour-smelling liquor before he could put his hand down.
“Over?” asked the man.
“I’m not really a historian” said the not-historian, sighing deeply. He took a sip of his drink.
The drink was strong, and the not-historian had a mission to mourn. It was no surprise when one tankard, turned into two. Or when two turned into four. Before he knew it, the not-historian was trading war-stories with the stranger, who also happened to be a veteran. The more he drank, the looser his lips became. In slurred speech he bragged about his mission, and his rank within the burgeoning Borderland Resistance.
Posturing gradually devolved into sobbing when he remembered the failure of his mission. THe stranger listened with a smile, as he dejectedly recounted stories of the Underminers and their legendary exploits as sappers and saboteurs. Without their expertise, or mentorship, the Resistance was doomed to be crushed before it could even start.
The stranger patted him on the back, and grinned at him reassuringly through his bushy black beard. Apparently he knew someone. The not-historian smiled as he began to lose consciousness. The last words he heard were something about a Former Captain.