Digging Through HistoryEdit
Tension filled the air around the table. Tai's stony expression betrayed nothing as he waited for a response.
"Three nines, ace kicker" said Oleander, snapping her cards down with a smirk. The others dropped their cards back onto the table and Tai's gaze turned to Talula. The gnome was standing on her chair for a better view, her cards held close to her face.
"King high" he said, placing the straight down, one card at a time. No sooner did the queen hit the table than the air was filled with flying gnome and cards. "POKE HER!" she yelled, slaming an index finger down hard on the queen. Taai and Von groaned while chuckling came from Kya and Kennia.
"Lu," Kelle began, "That's not..."
"Nah-ah! You snooze, you lose!" Talula held up a small hand to stop her roommate. "But don't worry, I'll share the wealth." She reached across the table, ignoring the coins, and took all the nuts from the bowl in front of Tai. She winked at Krelle and tossed one to her before taking her overfull snack bowl and leaving the table. "Time to let someone else win for a while." She tossed a handful of nuts to Steeltusk and then crawled up into the chair near the stove.
Von gathered the cards for the next deal and Kya quietly said with a wide smile, "At least she's not playing for coin." The relaxed evening continued with both sides of the Tong enjoying each other's company.
"Hey! I have a question" Talula said to no one in particular. "I found a couple of names of Tigers when I was moving stuff around in the Stormwind offices but I've never met them. I was wondering what happened to them. Lets see, there was a Carabaris, a Carilly, an Onimoru, a Domo and a Booth. Oh yeah, and there was that huge guy that I only met a few times, what was his name? The one that looked like a bear."
"Beryc?" Kennia offered, looking at her cards.
"Yeah! That's the one" she said, looking from the table to where Nerrok sat, enjoying his rum. "What ever happened to all of them? Were you and Master Nerrok always Tiger Masters? Were there Tigers before all of you?"
Von paused midway through gathering the cards, letting them fall back onto the table. He closed his eyes, and said simply, 'Tai, you want to handle this one?'
Kya watched Von let the cards drop and then glanced quickly to Tai. She saw Tai's jaw clench, but he said nothing. Kennia was staring out the window, distantly.
Kya cleared her throat and spoke softly.
"Well, let's see. Carb was almost legendary while he was with us. I am sure he still is, in whatever he was doing. Kind of headstrong, I'd say." Kya smiled as she paused. "He was fond of getting lost for weeks on end, captured once... we all saved him. Huge rescue effort. I'm not sure he ever quite recovered fully from that. Great guy though...." Kya voice trailed off as Tai cleared his throat.
"Carilly, now - " Kya's eyes lit up. "She was about as high as you, Lu. And she had spunk, that girl. She did not like cats one bit, I clearly remember." Kya stopped to think, her eyes glimmering in memories of a cheerful Carilly in the way that only Carilly could manage. "I think she was like those intense candles that burn so brightly they use up the whole wick before wax can melt to catch up?" She sighed and started to gather up the cards Von had dropped. "I know she was close with Gornn... I think they were engaged to be married." Kya smiled softly at Kennia as she turned around, thinking maybe Kennia might add something to that.
After a moment, Kya continued, "I can tell you about Domo. He, well.... " Kya stopped and smiled in some fond memory. "He found the Light, I think." A huge grin spread across her face. "Or the Light found him. I think he became uncomfortable with some of the jobs we do and needed to chase other rainbows." At this Kya looked directly at Von with a gentle teasing smile as she spoke, "There was a time Domo's poetry moved me to... well, snort, really. He was wickedly defiant with a pen, and took great pride in that. I believe he holds the record for making Kennia's eyes roll most in any given hour."
Kya smiled as Nerrok grunted and grinned at her. "As far as Booth goes, well... I would have trusted him with my life back when he was with us before everything went so... wrong." A shadow crossed her face as Nerrok emitted a low growl from his throat. "He was charismatic and charming in certain unique way, and it was easy to follow him. Not sure I fully get what changed, but it was like he suddenly went bezerk... like something ripped inside him. I cannot imagine anyone ever humbling him, he was that strong willed. But he did run off almost as with his tail between his legs. Kind of a touchy subject around here about him, mainly because he left us all in the lurch so abruptly, I think." Kya caught Tai's eye and sent him strength in that moment to not burst out in anger.
In the silence you could have heard a rat scurry by. Kya turned to Von and gave him a pleading look with her eyes. "Anyone want to tell the Oni story?" Silent faces surrounded her, and in that awkward silence, she managed cheerfully, "I know Bear was much loved. Maybe in his advanced years he had a hard time keeping up with Tai's long running stride." Kya said this with intent to illicit some laughter and lighten the mood.
At the mention of Booth, Krelle looked down, busying herself shelling the nut that Lu had tossed her. Her attention, however was on Nerrok. The big orc's face had gone stony at the name.
She could answer that one - but she held her tongue. It would be more interesting to hear the story from someone else. The truth was, she was also curious about these mysterious names from the past. Her family had a habit of burying things under carpets and tacitly agreeing to never speak of them again.
She popped the nut into her mouth and munched quietly, listening.
Nerrok would not be the one to break this particular silence. The mention of old names and past friends, one in particular, didn't leave the orc in a very talkative mood to say the least. The hunter would simply settle in deeper to the hammock he was casually strewn out on with a quiet growl, legs crossed over one another, as he pulled the wide brim of his hat a bit lower over his face...Leaving just enough room to occassionally raise his liqour jug to his lips as he listened.
Tai glanced over at Von, and tapped the table twice with his index finger, encouraging the elf to continue the game and deal the cards. Von grunted softly and begin spinning the cards out across the table, two cards to each player.
Tai let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding, grateful for the respite Kya had given them all. Some of those names were like a spark in Gnomish fuel depot, and Tai could see the smoldering in Von, Nerrok and Kennia. Folding up the corners of his two cards, he kept his face passive: a king of diamonds and a four of spades. Eh, a hand worth sticking around for, he thought, calling Ollie's raise.
As the betting came back to Von, Tai looked down at the table, playing with the pile of silver coins, and spoke in a low voice, not angry now, but perhaps a hint of sadness, "I forget sometimes, over the years, that not everyone knows the family from the beginning ..." The only sound in the room when Tai paused was the light scraping of the three cards in the flop landing on the table and Krelle crunching a nut between her molars. Tai noted the four of hearts that landed (between the nine of clubs and the two of hearts), but continued.
"When I think of those no longer with us, I think of them very differently. There are those who have fallen, like ..." Here Tai paused, lookin down for a moment, before continuing, " ... like Kaelodin and Za'Baal - both good Tigers who deserved better fates." He gave Kya a sympathetic glance at the mention of the old dwarven warrior Kaelodin, who had taken her under his wing, albeit with his usual gruff manner. At the mention of Za'Baal's name, he looked to Kennia and saw the pain in her face, still feeling a burden of guilt for not seeing Booth's deception.
Tai cleared his throat, "And then there are those for whom we await. Carilly, Beryc, Esthian, Tsao Pei, Lesander, Fetch, Su'jin, and old Zolrin ..." Tai tried to say these names hopefully, but he was, by nature, a practical man. As much as he missed them and had looked for them, there was a time to move on. Looking around, he realized some of the names must sound strange. He smiled and began rambling as Von raised, doubling the pot: "Esthian, or Raven, is sharp as an eagle's talon, likely out working some con job; Tsao is loyal as can be, and Kennia's Vanguard, a master of martial arts ... but he's drawn back to the north to try and find what he can about his family, or what's left of it; Les, now there's an elf who enjoys the finer things in life, trained in the ways of a druid but now eager to sample the various tastes of life - and I hope holed up somewhere with some concubine and fine wines; Fetch ... and her rabbit Hops ... " Tai paused, tossing in coins, calling Von and raising him a few silver, just to keep it interesting.
"Fetch always seems ... so vulnerable to me, but she's a survivor, probably running deliveries in some far off lands; Su'jin is all troll in the best ways, smart and sassy - and, no doubt, cutting some deal with a goblin somewhere to get information on Zolrin's location; and then there's Zolrin, the troll whom we began all this with, an old friend and a Tiger Master ..."
Tai had to stop. His voice was no longer hopeful, and he knew he, of all people, needed to sound hopeful about those names. Kennia had sensed this was coming and had moved up behind Tai's chair, gently massaging Tai's shoulders. Tai looked back with a smile to Kennia and then looked back to table, his voice stronger and a bit gruffer now.
"And then there are those who have retired - those who wanted to leave but understood that oaths are forever," Tai said. Kya burst out, flabbergasted, "You mean we can leave?" Tai grinned back at her, nodding, "We're reasonable people here. As long as you keep your oaths, keep your mouth shut, and not get in the way of the Tong .... sure. Gilleon and Keans, both former Masters, went that route. So did Kazei, Defearon, Carbaris, and Oni - if those three can keep their big mouths shut, and that's a big if." Tai grinned, though his eyes were serious.
Von dealt out the turn, an ace of spades. Tai picked up a coin, flipping it between his fingers, "And then there are those who have crossed us, foregone their oaths ..." He looked over to Nerrok, who was reaching for his bottle of rum. "Aside from Booth, Domo has me concerned. He left implying he would rat us out if we went ahead with that job for Tiberre." Tai shrugged, "I wasn't about to let him dictate what work we take but I didn't exactly advertise that we went ahead with it. But that leaves Domo's status very much up in the air. Same with those other Tigers. If they start flapping their gums, they can go from my 'do no harm' list to my shit list in the blink of an eye." Tai said this last sentence, even his cussing, in a cold, matter of fact tone.
Tai called Ollie's bet, and looked to Von, waiting for the elf to deal out the river, completely forgetting he'd said he'd explain who Onimoru was.
Talula slowly munched on a handful of nuts, listening to the story unfold and watching the faces of the family. What they didn't say was almost as telling as what they chose to reveal. Still, the details attached to some of the names were quite vague, their stories only hinted at.
"So the Tong were started by you and this troll Zolrin? Where is he now?" Talula asked Tai. Her desire to know surpassed her better judgement to let the matter drop and allow the cards to continue.
Von paused in the deal, looking to Tai. It was Tai's turn to close his eyes. Opening his eyes, Tai turned in his chair, so he could face Talula as he spoke, "Zolrin is like a brother to me, and Talula I wonder the answer to that every day." Ollie, perceptive as always, picked up the bottle of brandy and refilled Tai's glass as he continued, "I know I can thank a goblin for introducing us, and I would bet Kennia's last dress that a goblin at least has the answer to your question ..."
Kennia nodded gratefully to Ollie and picked up the glass, handing it to Tai. She'd heard this story, and considered Zolrin a dear friend as well - and knew Tai would need the drink. Tai took it and continued, his voice weary, "I met Zolrin down in Booty Bay, at a sit down with Jarkil, a goblin who works for the big boss down in Undermine. Seems the boss had sussed out potential candidates to revive the Tong, and wanted Jarkil to scope us out - and the Nether knows who else. I don't know if they offered it to someone else and they refused or if we were Paxelfram's first choice - I just know they brought Zolrin and me down to Undermine ..."
Tai took a drink, as if reflecting on something, "We came back and the two us began to put together our crews. The first two Tiger Masters in a long time ..." Tai smiled, as if amused at this perspective on himself, "Anyway, I'm rambling like an old man. Thing is, working together, we relied on each other, neither of us truly trusting any of the goblins, running contraband, taking care of business ..."
Tai noticed Krelle was listening closely and it made him self conscious, "Not quite a year ago, he just ... disappeared. Su'jin, his number two, went looking for him, and found that one of the other merchant princes had been undercutting us, trying to buy out Zolrin's crew one by one ..." Tai trailed off, trying to control his anger. Kennia finished for him, her own eyes flashing, "Suj took charge and cleaned house, one rat by one rat ... and then she went missing."
Silence fell across the room. Tai broke it, looking back to Von and nodding to the cards, "Make that a useful card, eh?" As he turned back to the table, Tai said, "After Suj, came Booth, and thankfully, Nerrok." Tai grinned at the orc, trying to lighten the large man's mood.
Talula gave Nerrok a calculating look and then turned the gaze on Tai. She couldn't tell if the anger in the room was directed at those responsible for ending family members or if it was at the Tigers themselves for leaving, whatever their fates might have been.
Cracking open another nut, she watched in silence as Taai won with two pair. She knew that asking for more stories about Booth would kill the evening entirely, although she was interested in knowing more about Tong Enemy Number One. Still, Kya had mentioned one other name.
"So what's the Oni story?" she asked, watching Kennia shuffle the deck.
Taai sat backwards on a chair next to Talula, watching the gnome lay down her cards, tossing in her own pairs of Jacks and nines, but the rogue's attention focused extremely on Tal's peanuts.
She had an appointment with Doc Mixilpixil and her bouts of 'seasickness', as she had come to refer to them, in three more hours. She had asked Nerrok if he felt good after eating one of those Monster Omelets.- Pfft.. said he thought he had seen one moving so never chowed down! Joost her luck, she would end up turning into an ugly beastie with tentacles and scrambled eggs for hair! Glancing around the other members, she stared at Kya, distinctly remembering her nibbling on the food. Mmmm...she would have to see if she was getting sick too.
She listened to Tai speak about previous members, learning the beginning of the Tong history, mixed with fascination and images coming to mind with their names, having known most of them.. but not all.
Picking up a handful of nuts, Taai began licking the salt off them. She sucked on a few, making a pile, wanting only the salty flavor. Soon the bowl was devoid of bar food, the glistening mound of cleaned peanuts, rested neatly next to the dish, as she started to lick a fingertip, swirling it into the container to get the residue white crystals.
Taai scoffed and chuckled with a huge grin. "Oni lost all his money ta me, couldn't play poker ta save his life."
Justyc crept in, her back sliding along the wall, using the flickering shadows to hide her. She slowly pulled herself up to perch on the top of a keg to listen.
She cursed herself mentally. What was she doing here? Why? She didn't like people, didn't need them. She'd felt drawn here though, so she had come.
She leaned her back against the wall and watched the people, the cards, listened to the voices, trying to squash the soft wistfulness growing someplace within her heart.
A beautiful melody began just within her hearing. She allowed it to soothe her and gradually forgot to hold the shadows quite so close.
Krelle decided to try and change the topic. Old tigers - whether lost or left - were almost never a cheerful thought. One of the perils of their line of work, perhaps.
She reached for a nut but paused, stymied, seeing that Taai had eaten them all. Or licked them all. Either way, the nuts were hers now.
With a philosophical shrug she pulled out a small wax-covered cheese wheel from her satchel and set it on the table, carving off a small chunk for herself and motioning for others to share.
She was actually in the mood for jerky but... yeah. There was a Booth story to tell Talula later.
"I wonder what tha new kids will say 'bout us when we've gone, eh?" she said in a lighter tone, speaking around a piece of cheese. "No doubt they'll tell stories about how amazing we were. I can just picture Tellas talking about Korttie." She grinned and pitched her voice lower in a fairly good immitation of the elf. "I was nervous, meeting them for the first time - and to make matters worse I couldn't understand a thing the troll was saying! And the whole interview that freakishly huge snake just stared at me..."
She gave Tai a teasing grin at the snake comment and tapped the table to be dealt back in. "You guys meet Tellas yet? First Sin'Dorei we've hired, as far as I know."
While the tension was eased inch by inch with the others opening up some to talk about lost and otherwise gone Tigers, Kya sat back in her chair and went into her favorite observation mode. She felt compassion for the tiny Tiger whose curiosity rivaled her own. Talula was so inquisitive, and she would have expected nothing less from her analytical mind. Even more than that, she was fair in her calculations, a gift not always sidled next to the propensity for schematics. Despite her need to know, Talula's face held a tiny twitch of conscience that remained reflected in some of the faces around her. There was nothing quite like the sensation of having a kodo in the middle of the living room and no one brave enough to acknowledge it.
Kya cleared her throat, "You know, I think it's healthy to talk about difficult things sometimes... air it out. These people who once touched our lives, no matter how it all panned out in the long run, once had what it took to be a Tiger. They were each special and remarkable when things were good. It's like I used to hear Momma talk about all my sisters' various fathers..."
There are places I remember all my life, Though some have changed Some forever, not for better Some have gone and some remain.
"... something like that, anyway." Kya shrugged and smiled at Lu with compassion for her gumption. Kya turned to both Kennia and Tai. "I know it might seem like some of us just don't want to talk about the painful things, and loyalty is always difficult if it's been betrayed. I don't imagine anyone out there is actively trying to kill one of us off from sour grapes or anything." Kya bit her lip and glanced straight at Tai, "Though not too long ago I really thought Tai was done for." Kya's eyes were sparkling with relief over the fact Tai's wounds were not imminently fatal.
Kya's tummy growled out loud right then as it was prone to do. Her glance swept over to Taai, who was happily gobbling all the nuts and licking her fingers. She had a certain indistinguishable glow about her that reminded her of when her Momma had a new sailor, but it was more than that. Her eyes shifted over to Nerrok then, seeing him grumbly still, but as Taai's smile to Nerrok spread across the space, Kya saw Nerrok's features melt into pure mush. Yep, the mighty orc was way beyond smitten. For once, without his stiff gear on, he looked even vulnerable and human to a large degree. This made Kya nearly giggle. What an odd law it seemed to be when lovers began to grow to look like each other.
A flicker of movement caught in Kya's peripheral vision. There, atop a keg was something... or someone. Ah, it must be Justyc. Even though Kya could not see her features plainly, she offered a smile to the female, hoping she would not bore a hole in this keg and flood the room.
Kya leaned forward and gratefully took some of the cheese Krelle had laid out. As she nibbled at it most unmouselike, Kya smiled thinking of a way to give more than she took, this couple thing still being rather new to her. "Did you guys know? Von's learning to cook! Lucky me!" This was clearly news to Von, who flashed her an aghast look. "Yep, we're going to have a dinner party and he's cooking! Y'all want to come?" Kya's smile widened as Von started to protest and got even wider when he turned back to the cards with a settling sigh and a slight smirk.
"Now, about this Oni guy...." Kya stopped nibbling the cheese. "I will be the first to say that his leaving left a hole in the heart of the Tigers. He could be so much fun at times, and enjoyed being with us. I've been around long enough to have seen some of those good times, and he was very talented. No one here will dispute that. It seems he began to distrust and stopped enjoying our work as much. I think it's fair to say some conflicts arose which never got settled but blew way out of proportion in the heat of the moment."
Kya continued, looking at her hand of cards, which were absolutely useless, "It was likely a good thing to split ways; I know he must be happier now. I wish it were possible to change someone's perspective when it starts to deviate off course, but sadly, we cannot really do that. Nor would we want to, really, in the long run. I mean, if a Tiger remains with us, it's free will and a choice made to commit to the long haul of things, right? Anywhere you work is going to provide drama and reasons to create gaps in understanding." Kya folded and waited for a better hand to come her way.
Kya paused a second and summed it all up as Von shuffled yet again. "I suppose that old saying about not controlling the hand dealt to you, but HOW you play it - is what really matters, hmm?" Kya looked to the others to see if her truth sounded as true as it felt inside her heart.
"As for you, Krelle, I hope Fel itself freezes over long before you're gone. So don't you dare leave us! We love you far too much, right, guys?"
"And bring this Tellas dude in! We need to send him some Troubble perhaps?" Kya's eyes glowed with the concept of sicking her belligerant little sister on a new Tiger wannabe.
Krelle listened closely to Kya as she spoke, secretly glad that she was willing to finish the story. The idea that someone had left due to a misunderstanding struck at her, and she glanced covertly at Sannia.
Kya's compliment and the good-natured agreement of the others caught her off-guard. She blushed, a bit flustered, and folded out of her hand.
"I'd never leave, Kya. I'll be the one to blow out the lights and shut the door when it's all said and done... unless, you know, I get eaten by a dragon or something," she added lightly.
A derisive snort came from under Nerrok's hat. "Like a dragon would bother - you'd hardly make a mouthful."
She made a face at him as the others laughed.