“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.”
The dark but inviting room served as a bastion against the whipping winds, continuously knocking against the door.
“Another.” a gruff and quiet voice muttered, seemingly oblivious to the sand storm beating on the door.
The bartender eyed the lanky stranger, already on his fourth whiskey, wondering how he ended up here. The man made it clear he wasn’t a local with his pre-War suit and boots that couldn’t have been worn before. He wore dark glasses without any scratches and some old relic around his neck resting motionless on his smooth but tanned skin. “What brings you you to Treight in the summer? Surely you’ve heard this is storm season” he pried, pouring the only patron another drink. With his eyebrow cocked, putting the bottle under the bar he chided the man, ” You know, this storm isn’t going away anytime soon. Might as well pass the time with conversation.” He handed the man the glass, listening to the quiet clinking of ice as his only response. The bartender sighed, turning his attention to the storm outside instead. These dust storms picked up the heavier sediment just enough to look like giant red and yellow waves, rolling over the town, swallowing the long-abandoned houses lining the empty streets.
“I’m here on business, I guess you could say” the voice said, breaking the silence.
Pouring himself a drink, the bartender smiled wryly,” Well I could have told you that. No one comes out this way for much else anymore.” He paused to taste the sweet and stinging liquid. “The name’s Bart. What can I call you, stranger?”
The man chuckled “What kind of a name is Bart?”
“The kind my folks gave me, I suppose. It’s supposed to be some saint or something-or-other. This town was founded by the early pilgrims, you know. So what kinda grade-A name you got?”
The stranger shrugged and nodded with an elusive accent “You’re right. I’ve heard stranger names, to be fair. You can call me Tuar.”
Bart nodded his approval. Pouring himself a drink, he said “A grade-A name, indeed. Since you don’t look like you’re part of the demo crew, mind if I ask you what line of work brings you all the way up here?”
Finn’s slight smile flattened, leaving a solemn look on his face. After taking the last of his drink, he responded simply ” Work I’d rather not be doing.”
Bart chuckled “Doesn’t much narrow it down, now does it? Hey it’s not my business anyway. Hell, I’d take just about all sorts in this ghost town these days. Just a sign of life is a nice change of pace. With the damn cult in the mountains and the mines drying up, there’s hardly a pack of us left. If things don’t change, I might have to head out to East Aisling, though I swore I never would.”
“A cult, you say?” Tuar murmured, disinterested.
“Eh, they ain’t so bad. Bunch of fools want to run around in a mountain praying to some Natives that ain’t never been there, that’s fine by me. But I’ll be damned if kids don’t eat that shit up. My neighbor’s boy went on up there last summer. Luckily, the cold nights whipped some sense into him and sent him back down. He said all they did was dig all day, looking for some ‘buried city’.”
Tuar scoffed. “A buried city? They figure the refugees that founded this place had enough credits to build two cities?”
“Heh, nah. Like I said, they’re Native-worshipers. They scour this Red earth, looking for any validation that their saviors are out there, waiting for the believers to seek them out. Figure just because they ain’t like us, they must be enlightened. Shit, can’t say I blame ’em. When I was younger, I mighta been out there too. Be lying if I said that wasn’t at least part of the reason I made the trip up here…” Bart reminisced, trailing off, polishing off his third liquid distraction.
Tuar stood up, obviously sober and swiped his card. The beep of the transaction brought Bart back to the present.
Incredulous, Bart exclaimed “You’re leaving? In this storm?”
Tuar smiled with an unsettling, toothy grin ” Don’t worry about me. Where I come from, there are worse things than dirt and wind. Thank you for the company; in return, I’ll give you some advice: Go to Aisling. Leave this place. This storm is not a finality but a warhorn, spurring forth a fury so swift, you would not have time to fear it. .”
Tuar pulled off his glasses to look Bart in the eye, revealing the strangest eye augmentation Bart had seen out this far from the city. His eyes were richly golden, with no iris; only gold and pupil, peering straight through him.
“Heed my words, friend. You will regret staying in this damanata town around to see me again.”
Causally, the stranger turned and slowly walked to the open door, put his glasses back on, and disappeared into the shifting wall of sand.
Bart sat on his stool, drunkenly trying to process what had just happened. After a few minutes of confused shock, he poured himself a last drink and walked up to bar the door.
“Mars always brings out the fucking crazies.”
As he shut and latched the door, the gust of wind caught a scrap of paper by the stranger’s bar-stool. On one side were sketches of ruins and on the other, words that made little sense to the bartender. He threw the paper on the bar and leaned back on the bar, listening to the sounds of the insatiable storm while he wondered what life in Aisling would be like.
Impostors are singing songs of other’s triumphs,
As an answer,
A puzzle-key turns,
And my cell door swings open.