A Light in Darkness
The Staggering Stallion
|Huge granite blocks form the blank smooth front of the Staggering Stallion. Aside from the sculpted stone depiction of a horse being torn down by plains cats there is no ornamentation on the outside. Several large brazers of coal burn smokily near the large front entrance leading up several steps to the double doors thrown wide. There is a ten foot raised stone walkway between the building and wide Shirokaya street that runs parallel to the front the structure. Far off to the right you see a smaller outbuilding alongside the main structure. The outside building seems to flair out getting wider towards the river, narrow alleys run along either side toward the water.|
Pet / Animal Entrance
|On the right side of the building a narrow covered stone walkway leads up and out the back of a small structure that seems to have been built alongside the main building. A normal sized slightly rusty iron door is shut and a single covered stone brazer burns with a smoky orange light.|
|Following the narrower alley on the east side of the Staggering Stallion you see a ramp leading up to a side entrance and the rest of the ally leading down to the water. The nearby buildings are typical of the region in that each seems designed to catch the eye and the interest of wandering men in search of debauchery.|
|Moving with the crowd past a group of large scowling men with truncheons and heavy vests you enter a small sweaty foyer with a counter on the right hand side. Across the foyer is an arched stone opening with a raised iron portcullis above it. Another set of four guards stand to the sides of the foyer. One chants over and over in a board singsong, “Check your weapons at the counter! No blades longer than your palm, no bows, no damn darts, no fucking staffs or clubs or any shit to bash in your fellows! If it’s blood you want than pay to see the professionals or get in the ring yourself. Anyone caught breaking these rules will be beaten, hauled off, thrown in the river and basically whatever the fuck Dorisz feels like doing with you…”|
|He goes on in this manner, most people wander straight through seemingly unarmed but a few head over to the counter and surrender weapons for chits to a couple bored clercs. Through the arch ahead you can see a see of milling people. The sounds of laughter, cheering, shouting, drumming and the general din of a crowd at play greet you.|
(2) Main Hall
|The huge main gaming hall of the Staggering Stallion stretches out in all directions around you. Nearby you can see busy table games of tossed dice, passed coins and flipping cards. Crowds block your view of much of the room but you can see there are several large side rooms overlooking the floor to the left and a wide staircase leading down to the right. From where you stand it’s impossible to see what is across the room but there appear to be several more ways into and out of this area to other parts of the building.|
|The smell of pressed sweating excited humanity is strong. There is a palpable atmosphere of frenetic desperation. You cannot help but compare the coins being tossed about here to the crushing poverty you had to walk through to get here. Here are people whose hope for escape from the hell of their lives rests on a good night at the tables, the alternative is hunger and disease. The room is large and the ceiling almost twenty feet high but somehow it feels almost cramped. The ceiling and upper floors are supported by wide heavy brick arches that give the space a cavernous feel. Light is provided by stone bowls set into the wall filled with flaming oil, the smell is strong but the smoke rises to swirl around the ceiling. From somewhere in the crowd you hear the sound of heavy vigorous drumming in a primal energetic rhythm.|
Wandering men with deep baritone yells and heavy drums wander through the crowd performing throbbing energetic rhythms.
Many games can be found and played here. Most are games of chance and some skill. The side booths can be reserved at the info counter for 10 gp / hour and are often tied up by fighters or lords and their retinue.
The giant bars are crowded and have no seating since people are encouraged to go sit at a gaming table instead. A staggering variety of ales, meads and strong drinks from around the core are available here but the main hall bar doesn’t keep expensive stuff out.
Access to the fight rooms costs 2 shoes for the lower level, 1 spur for the ground level and 1 bridle for the second balcony. Customers can buy a color coded pass at the info desk or just pay to get in. Up until the main match for the night customers can leave and come back, they are given the appropriate pass back when they leave the designated area and can use it to come back in. Just before the main fight starts no more passes are handed out for that evening. The passes are small metal tokens painted copper, silver or gold and stamped with the emblem of the Staggering Stallion.
(3) Fight Room — Balcony One
|Entering the crowded fight hall you can feel the crowds pent up aggression, the stink of anger. The floor slopes down towards a railing near the middle of the room and seems to overlook the floor below. Knots of men gather around small standing tables between the heavy arches. There is a narrow passage leading out of the room to the south and two arched open doorways in the brick walls. A smaller stairway leads down on the south wall. You also see a small side room accessible only by going through a double set of heavy iron barred doors with a space between them. There is a large bar at the far side of the room and a tall iron cage in the north west corner.|
The bet cage in this room allows customers to place bets of any size on any match. Odds are given by the house.
(4) Dining Area
|Passing the info desk and the small room shop you enter a large dining room. Several corridors lead off to the north and a stage lines the south wall. A group of performers plays a snare and a base drum accompanied by a woman playing a trilling flute to accompany the two part brutal lyric poem being recited about the wars of Nova Vaasas past.|
Food from all over the core is prepared here but it almost all tastes of coal and pitch. Roasted meat, crusty breads and boiled vegetables are the order of the day. That and, of course, plentiful strong drink.
(5) Pawn Shop
|You enter a small side room shop with a standing-room-only foyer in front of a wide stone counter. The man behind the counter is protected by heavy iron bars that run the height of the opening leaving only a small space at the bottom where items and money could be slid underneath. There appears to be a lock and hinge that would allow most of the assembly to swing open to let larger objects through if needed. An ununiformed burly thug stands in the corner with the heavy truncheon of a Stallion guard. Behind the counter is a strange assortment of shelves of completely random goods. Jewelry, gem studded scabbards, rare pocket watches, fancy canes and so on. A shriveled old man with a walnut face and snow white mustache perches on a narrow stool behind the counter.|
Customers hard up for cash can sell personal goods here for about half what they are worth and buy them back the same night for 30% more. Unclaimed items are sold elsewhere for a profit.
(6) Smoke Shop
|This small side room is clouded with sweet smelling or acrid white smoke drifting up and out of vents in the ceiling. Sweaty men with scruffy faces buy pouches of a variety of tobacco products and smokable herbs from the men behind the barred counter. Small pinches of various products with odd sounding local names are available for sampling before purchasing. The common sight of burly men with truncheons standing in the corner of the room is almost unnoticed.|
Tobacco costs 5 sp – 3gp / lb (or fraction thereof)
Sweetleaf (marijuana) costs 1 gp – 10 gp / lb
Madak costs 5sp – 1 gp for a pipe full
|As you approach the barred iron outer door of the side room the man inside behind the counter shouts, “You want in?” You can see a small space, then a second barred iron door, then a slightly larger area in front of a counter.|
|Inside the dispensary the man behind the counter glares over a swollen bloodshot nose and puffy veined cheeks. A large boil on his neck seems to cause him some pain as his head is tilted habitually to one side. Behind the bars that separate you the area behind the counter is shelf upon shelf of strange and wonderful bottles, boxes, tins, vials and odd looking pipes, lamps and other contraptions. “What can I intersst ya in?” he growls.|
|The combat pit of the Staggering Stallion is nearly as large as the great hall except it is ringed by two high balconies overlooking the lowest level. Long bars and caged betting areas ring the outside of the room but it’s the center of the room where everyone’s eyes are focused. An octagon forty feet across made of ten foot high iron gates topped with jagged rusty spikes fills the center of the room. Leading from the east wall a fully covered barred tunnel appears to be the only way into the octagon. Within the large walled outer cage is a smaller raised cage five feet off the ground and fifteen feet across. The small cage on the platform is fully enclosed in iron bars with two ramps leading up to gated platforms on either side sporting a single stool each.|
|The large room is supported by more tall brick arches and huge smokey fires burn hot along the pillars. Smaller reed torches send plumes of black smoke up toward the high ceiling and are affixed to the large cages at regular intervals to provide light. Over the course of the evening powerful ripping drums and stirring epic tales have filled the time between battles between men and beast, man and man, beast and beast.|