The Laughing Fire
"We're at The Laughing Fire, are you sure you want to do this?" Amarat was checking Flora's body language, finding nothing amiss as the two redheads spoke.
"Yes, I'm sure, we're not expected back for a week, so I can take it easy tonight."
"But that's why I'm worried, you almost never truly relax, so if you do it tonight, you're likely to go overboard."
"Noted, what kind of dive is this?" Flora bit her lip, she was normally the one taking the lead.
"This, my dear, is the The Laughing Fire, an after hours drinking club for sailors that's been around since 615."
"Oh, pedigree. And the management?"
"Part owned by the priesthood, ever since the last... incartade they had."
"So, who, besides the priesthood, rules here?"
"There's regular lifeguard Kon patrols."
"Aww, so it's not a truly lawless place? I'm diappointed."
"Lawless enough, Navy Kons get told not to come here alone, always come in pairs, that kind of thing."
"Oh, so I'm a peer?"
"You're a sorceress expected to test in top 100, I don't think anyone would make me feel safer, even another Kon."
"You're such a kiss-ass, Amarat. Isn't he, ?"
"You're drunk Mariwolfe, give him a break."
"We're here to get drunk, Levikins."
"It's not a race!"
"Spoilsport! My miptun's a spoilsport."
"This is going to be a long night!"
"Why do you say that, Amarat?"
"I'm the only guy on this dive-delving! There's gotta be heroism points in it for me."
All three women giggled. Then Flora added: "You can be our hero." She rolled his eyes at him.
"Come in, don't make trouble, and I won't sit on you." The enormous bouncer opened a door big enough to admit three at once, or one of him... Behind it, was two sets of stairs leading down.
"We'll be good, just Navy personnel out for a night out."
"Looking good, all of you, for that matter." The bouncer bit the words out. It was probably an understatement, the girls had gone for simple black dresses, which looked stunning when... filled properly. He'd gone with simple dark linens, like waiters typically wore, but much better tailored, after all, most waiters can't afford .
"So this place is dockside?"
"Two streets from Admiralty House, other side of the street from Megamisama Drydock Complex Plaza Number 4. Dock workers, off-duty just step off, walk ten minutes, then arrive here, where keeps an eye on things.",
"Who is that?"
"The doorman we just passed, retired border guard Kon, never made above quota, but just barely, 25 year career, decorations, seized sixteen million contraband over his career, and 65 million over other joint service arrests."
"So a serious law-enforcement officer, keeping the peace here."
"He can't be everywhere though, and I'm told it takes quite a lot to get him to come into the common room, someone has to be making quite a disturbance for him to walk down."
"And the others?"
"Senior Kons, two officers, all border or life guards, except for one, only one Navy Kon hired, and two 'emeritus'."
"Who'd be emeritus in a place like this?"
"Cousin Marhamat and cousin Tadros. Three Merits of Honour carry a lot of weight."
"What about hers?" Pointing to Mariwolfe.
"If two of her three weren't classified, I bet she'd get a few free drinks, she may still get them, but from patrons, not staff."
"What'll ya have?" Came the brash voice from the bar, who took a second look. "Err, Meritant-Zims, if you please, I intended no disrespect to the medal."
"We'll start with a bottle of Friulan Wine, white, Sun'ga."
"Have you got a table yet?"
"No, seems standing room only."
"Not for a meritant. I'll ask if you can have the Emeritus' table. Those green eyes of yours, you wouldn't happen to be related?"
"Marhamat Dandelion and Tadros Dandelion? They're related to the lady there." He pointed to Flora, deliberately lying by omitting that he was just as related, fourth cousin, and fifth cousin, respectively, but from different branches of the Dandelion family, as she turned, her own Merit ribbon, being lined with emeralds, glinted over her black dress. The bartender gulped, then disappeared.
He led them behind, to a smaller room, where a table was set. "This is the staff's room, I was just told the Emeritus are expected tonight, and I suggest you may want to say hi, since they're relatives of the Lady, but in the meantime, it'd be against house rules to let you use their table, so please use ours."
"Mighty kind of you, Sun'ga."
"Thank you Sun'ga."
"Thanks!" She hiccuped. "You're cute."
"Err, thank you Meritant Zim!"
"Hey, Mariwolfe! Stop flirting with the help, I'm your miptun, and your date, flirting with ME is expected." Growled
"Aww, sorry Levikins!"
"I know that chant!"
"That's a first pilot who just got his wings, Singing for their wings! Let's go watch!"
"Did you sing for your wings?"
"Of course I did, before you took me out for tea, even. I cleared for my wings while still at the academy, in my penultimate term!" That was before I did, Amarat growled to himself, and I'm a year older! Come to think of it, I sang for mine in private, I didn't have real friends to take me out back then.
"So you went out at the academy watering hole?"
"Of course, and got drunk like an otter, my roomies basically dragged me back to dorm."
"Oh, I wish I'd seen that."
"It's when I realized I had to be a lot more controlled, I'll tell you the story later, when we're alone..."
"Aw, Flora's a spoilsport too! Phtewey!"
"Mariwolfe, if you don't put a sock in it, spells may get thrown."
"Will any of you take anything to eat, you do know it's in the city ordnances you can't just drink, don't you? Anything with a star next to it is depending on your table, even tables get even items, well except the emeritus table, who gets the whole list."
"Tcha beef for me, with rice and black beer."
"Oh, yeah, you're on the emeritus table, I can get you those specials."
"Oh, not all tables carry the whole menu?"
"You're at the only table that does, actually, no worries. Our tcha beef is quite choice, and for you?"
"Same, but string tubers, not rice, and no beer."
"And for the redheaded lady?"
"Wien Beef on bread, with a salad, no beer."
"And for the last lady?"
"Chicken salad on bread, no beer."
An hour later.
The Sun'ga came back, asking Flora first, as was proper. Amarat had flagged him for another beer. Being a Namei(Prince) meant that no beer was really too expensive, after all...
"Any of you besides the Sorceror wanting a refill?"
"He's buying us drinks, I understand."
"Round of grain alcohol with starfruit."
"Thank you, I'll get on that right away. I'm Sun'ga Reinhold, by the way."
"Oh, how'd you know we like starfruit?"
"It's all the rage on broadcast, and you ladies are so fashion-forward."
The pilot's song abated, and the tavern's sound system started with "You're not real" fromon their album.
"Great Tune." Some of the people had shifted, and Flora was talking with Firrson.
"Yes, you've known Amarat for how long?"
"I was for all intents and purposes raised with him, my father was his mother's bodyguard, and when he passed, she had a cousin adopt me."
"Just from being adopted?"
"It also made me fourth, then third, in the line of succession of the."
"How'd you go up?"
"They tried to give the title to Amarat, who had to decline, by abdication."
"Isn't that like a major Eurani Principality?"
"It's the fourth largest domain that isn't a country, in Eurani. Twenty-four million people."
"And Amarat had to give that up?"
"Yes, he kept the largest domain that isn't a country, and the second largest. With a GDP just outside the Gubba-12."
"Wait, that's Benevent, isn't it?"
"He's the son of theor Mastareir of Benevento, depending on political movements in Benevento, they don't seem to agree if Auntie is zebigboss or zelilboss."
"That's cute. So Auntie?"
"I wanted her to adopt me, she almost did... But politics."
"How much higher would you have been, in the order of succession?"
"I'd be low single-digits. Amarat's adoptive brother? I'd have a keycard for the palace by now."
"Does Amarat have one?"
"He has a room, with a plaque, I've inspected it for jadebugs last Undeciem."
"The Master Bedroom, in the palace of Megamisama, belongs by law, to the Bameimeito. In that place, he is Sun'ga, even Megamisama is only a guest."
"Amarat doodle-bug has been keeping secrets." Firrson cringed.
"What did I say?"
"You called him doodle-bug."
"Oh, it's bad if I do that? I'm his wife..."
"Let's just say, it sounds better when you call him your Namei. There's memories about that name."
"I know Ninu dell'Auro calls him that."
"And he usually recoils whenever someone mentions her calling him like that, even her sisters."
"What, it's a ..."
"It's a reference to a specific event, at a party, in Montaco-di-Cassino, Ninu, Annunzia and Natalia had staged a pillow fight amongst themselves, then used the couette to pin Amarat down, and they stripped him, in full view of everyone. Said his naked legs wriggling reminded her of a doodle-bug. Ninu... expected the party to continue, after she stripped his pants off, she only references the event when she wants to prod him."
"What, that's almost rape. And it's certainly unvoluntary exposure."
"Not by local laws in Montaco, it's not 'legal' but the legal burder of proof there is enough, no one tried. Besides, trying to bring suit against the daughters of the thenand Mastarna of Bramant-Reigundy would... probably require more fortitude than most attorneys would muster."
"He was both?"
"Yeah, and before you ask, he's my adopted mother's second cousin."
"And Mikhala became Mastarna of Benevento?"
"Yeah, he wanted one for each of his daughters, but Natalia wanted something she had more control over, and not just inherited. She married the Mastarna and Hetman of all Sarn, Sarnath, Ralt and Luxem, and that disqualified her for Beneventi, Natalia thought it'd go to Annunzia though. Ninu's not in line for Bramant-Reigundy, Benevent or Friuli, though, because that gambit failed, the Benevent just said: 'next candidate', and that was that."
"Just how much of Arnd does 'Auntie' rule, even indirectly?"
"Maybe three hundred."
"Err, sorry, three hundred million people. If you go by kloms, maybe as much as 3 million square kloms. I'm counting Kagomei, and it's almost 2 million in there, obviously, since she's number two."
"Well, it's not like she and Amarat don't have influence there. If you added your first cousins' lands, would it move?"
"No more than another million square."
Flora winced. "Like that's not a significant number."
"Adding my second cousins' lands pushes it up past ten million though."
"Wait, I thought Sarn was only two..."
"Yeah, but Natalia got elected first of Eurani. And her father... Let's just say he doesn't quite rule Brescia, New Etrusca or Sardé but little happens there that he doesn't profit from."
"Oh, geez, this is so complicated, and so... I guess, so fancy, so..."
"Aristocratic? Yeah, exactly how I feel. All I know is that Dad wanted so bad to protect Auntie to die for her, and mom had died having me, so that left them with my only family."
"Your adopted parents?"
"Died, non-zero chance of a political assassination, but nothing I can prove."
"Oh, I'm so sorry."
"And now Amarat wants to be friends... We've been in the same city for a year, and yet..."
"That's my fault..."
"I'm a high-maintenance low-born lady, I'm not letting him out of my sight often..."
"And I'm a priestess, just barely above his level, he's not getting to pollinate around..."
"Elements above, you're above his level?"
"About 1 per cent higher in every category."
"How close a match to his mother's power are you?"
"My rated ceiling is around her known power."
"Just how much higher does Aumhivina Kautanissian rate?"
"You might get to ask her..."
"The ladies that just came in, in matching sapphire blue and turquoise dresses, probably from?"
Firrson took a glance, the pair was striking, the 1m45 petite woman and the 2m10 definitely less petite woman walking arm in arm would have stopped conversation anywhere. But then they walked up to the Emeritus Table, and the petite woman greeted first, but not the tall one. Firrson rubbed his eyes, that wasn't supposed to happen, he tried to listen in.
Greetings and Honours
"Greetings from on high, Elements most graceful and mighty bless all of you heroes." Firrson gulped. 'Auntie' greeted people like that. When she was trying to be the very nicest she could be, and usually dressed like a gemstone mine to do it. Whoever it was was important, but she was the less important of the pair!
"Shining Holy Elements bless your kicks, Mistress of Rites and Striker of the." Added someone else, with only a single Merit.
"Elements bless this assemblage." Replied everyone else with... just one green ribbon. To themselves, in a sense. They must have practiced, but it's not like a meeting of this many merits outside an actual Honour Convention happened often...
"Elements look down, deeds of might are celebrated, and honourable minds dwell within." Firrson wondered if he'd hear this greeting, the ritual salute of Meritants to even higher Meritants, ever again, in person, at any rate. Amarat had told him he would, when he'd stood as Auntie's side as her bodyguard, since as Nameihomei, and therefore, a Star-Emerald Knight of Kagomei, she was the only person guaranteed to rate this response, even from someone with multiple Merits.
Amarat had not told him the whole truth, what came next shook Firrson to his core.
"As the Secretary of Merit, Valour and Honour, I would write deeds of Greatness, but I must pause, those written by those in this room are already so mighty, I need more Green Ink"
Marhamat Dandelion, silent until now. "My assistant, I will write, while you locate the materials, Honour never waits... And Valour dies sometimes unheralded." Seeing the Valour-Keeper of Kagomei with a small handbook in his paw, and an octogonal pen, each facet lined with emeralds, at the ready, told anyone who knew about the honour convention what to expect.
Firrson had to pull his jaw back up. So that's what that meant. Thewas in the house, as well as the Secretary of the order of Kagomei, and enough Meritants were in the place to be considered a quorum of the Honour Convention. His mouth dried. No one below a Nameihomei or Empress was ever guaranteed to even see this in their lifetime... He'd seen two in a year, he must be keeping a better class of associates lately...
"I stand humbled, your deeds, and mine, have earned recognition from the Elements most Holy. Let us pray." Everyone in the room knew it was their cue to kneel, but of course, most people in a Bar didn't get that cue from the Aumhivina Kautanissian, the highest religious authority for a third of the continents in Arnd. But, as Megamisama was a Holy City, it was rare, not unbelievable.
After everyone stood back up. "Step-son."
"Step-son." It felt weird when the two women, arm-in-arm, called Amarat that, but he said nothing. They'd been dating for half his life by now, and that wasn't strange, it was their marrying his dad that left him in conniptions.was strange like that, and so were circle marriages, that is, a whole circle's ritual marriage to keep them from fighting each other.
"Step-daughter." They re-saluted Flora next, now that the formalities were out of the way. Amarat's and her Merit were a legal land-mine of sorts, best to get it out of the way. "Firrson Moray." The clipped tones would have worried someone with ten times his seniority, but someone spoke up. "Please, honoured and high ones, we intend no disrespect, but in this place, these worthies..."
"I know, worthy Sun'ga, you carry my honour."
Oh, of course. Sothlee De Byzance,would legally be the one to carry the contract that let the place, well, keep a liquor license despite all the fights, disputes, attempted drug trafficks and other less-legal activities. Most of which were deliberate stings, entrapment and other, not so obvious ways to help law enforcement. It probably helped that the Emeritus were not employees of the bar, harder to pin anything on them. And their being chosen for meritorious deeds, yet at the same time, not being officers probably helped. Flora's nomination to the Emeritus notwithstanding, most members were non-commissioned officers. Sothlee soon was joined by another priestess, almost as slight as Rei, but more athletic in her way, her red curls like fire over her turquoise dress, her arm around a muscular brunette man's arm, with familiar grey eyes, thought Flora.
"I am Dan Ma, I salute you Meritants, including Meritant-Son, Meritant-Daughter." He adressed the elephant in the room. Flora had never met him person before, and Amarat only twice, and in official contexts.
"Uncle." Firrson tried to keep some of the bitterness in his voice, but failed.
"Oh, put a sock in it Moray." Marhamat's daughter piped up, from next to her dad. "Honoured Dan fought by your father's side, that he didn't die might not put him in line for a medal, but unlike a lot of folks, he did protect your 'Auntie'.
"Firrson, you've risen, wait, the only person who didn't rise is probably me and Sothlee, and in her case it's probably because she ran out of places to be promoted to..."
"You've got the same problem, Hérévallin, not many places up from."
"I'm... mostly wishing I could know the esteemed Earlmage better, he's in town so rarely."
"Have you all met Rucca, defender from the Dunkehl Elements?"
"I've met Firrson, and Amarat, and Sothlee and Rei. I'm glad to meet Meritant-Flora and these other worthies." Rucca was blushing, who had caught her attention wasn't obvious, but she had definitely seen something she liked, as she burrowed into Amarat's father's arm. Amarat thought she had a crush on Firrson... He was wrong.
"Welcome among the honour convention, to all those that haven't seen one. Please keep your pants on, we put them on one leg at a time, just like you do."
"Valour-keeper, we hear your words, but we hardly compute them..." Amarat blurted out the words, all that practice did come in handy...
"We're not worthy." Rucca said, she had started as a fan, now her Team Manager had texted her about an Honour Convention and she had showed up... Pity he was so obtuse, but... maybe it's a good thing too, or at least, that his wife wasn't more... perceptive.
"Even if we were, this would be heady company..." And that was the truth, the last time this many medals had been in one place was a funeral of Meltran Kagomei, where Marhamat had earned his own Merit, and where just getting an invitation required bribes, there were just not enough seats in the local holy place...
"Lead us, Secretary."
"I'm busy writing, remember?" That was Marhamat, who was having a great time, his eyes twinkling.
Purpose / Function
The Laughing Fire was founded with coin from the Elemental Circles to provide a "relatively safer" dive for people to drink their sorrows away.
Senior Armed Services members, especially non-commissioned members, tend to drop in, and make sure it stays that way. The owner, noticing this, and noticing they were impressive-looking, serious folk who treated his staff well, decided to create the The Laughing Fire Emeritus, to encourage this.
The building's basement, enlarged every decade or so, since the opening, is now truly one cavernous room, held upright by spell-sealed titanium-alloyed beams of impressive size, those are not covered, and add to the rough-and-ready atmosphere of the bar.
The dance floors in each the corners often sit ignored, but as part of the double-centenary anniversary, they are expected to see use as part of special celebrations.
The ex-police and ex-military staff on hand do not have any heavy weapons, but good stout sticks do wonders, and the odd sorcerer on staff as a bouncer, there's two, can kick in for truly excessive situations.
Waiters and waitresses, as a rule, do not count, but most of them are military trained, know martial arts, and do not tolerate violence.
Founded on Meihomei Day in 615, after a particularly spectacular bar brawl at(now shuttered) that left two dead, and started a fire, which ownership decided to honour(it's an element) in the name.
The Laughing Fire is a tourist attraction, having lasted 200 years now, and is determined to bring the year 815 in with a bang, complete with masquerades, happy hour until closing, and other celebrations. Tourists enjoy the appearance of it being an illegal dive(the passcode, underground location, long served as markers of clandestine or illegal activities, in Kagomei and aboard). They enjoy even more the iron-hard, predictable enforcement of the rules by what amounts to retired police and military personnel.
Visitors from the rest of Asirania are the Majority, few in more far away places like Rhuthen, Loro or New Lolland having heard of the place.
Tour guides organize tours of the nearby Megamisama Drydock Complex Plaza, Number 12, ex-Kagomine Admiralty House, Secretary of Defense's official residence, Megamisama Drydock Complex Plaza, Number 3, and many also include the , on this tour, since it's only a short distance away. Security at all places is excellent, provided by special ceremonial units, the and , hand-picked troops from Meihomei's Own Fleet Detachment, considered by most experts, the most elite part of the elite . First and second Meihomei are however, almost never picked for Spec Ops taskings by , at Meihomei's explicit request. First-and-Second, as they're often referred to in the media, have showy parade uniforms, all in Black and Emerald Green, with many having earned ribbons and distinctions. Of especial note, the Kagomine Aiguillette of Distinction is an unwritten requirement for acceptance in those, experience being considered heavily for admittance. As such, it is seen on every guard, and it being very visually distinctive, is much appreciated by pictographers.,
These elite troops are never far, while on duty, and many find the idea of a drink with colleagues after work attractive, they're in turn, an attraction for tourists, foreign, or native Kagomine civilians, who see the knots of colour in the bar and stare at the many decorations. The Kagomine Aiguillette of Distinction, especially, attracts foreigners.