The stranger was on his knees, clutching at his throat as if it had been cut and writhing in agony. His strangled gasps brought only laughter from the bar's few other customers, the cruel mirth of a torturer at his charge's discomfort. If he'd been able to feel anything but the fire in his throat, the ashen youth would have been afraid, for that laughter had an edge to it as dangerous as any blade.
The dry laughter dried up as the stranger ceased his struggling and began to get his breath, if not his voice back. Looking up from the steaming pool of vomit that stained the floor, he at last found time to be fearful. The one who had bought him the bottle of vile poison stood over him, looking down as if he were something the giant had trodden in. As the stricken and no longer so fresh faced youth attempted to rise, the beast grabbed him by the hair and hauled him onto the tips of his toes.
"Feelin' a little sick, Uphiver?" he spat the word, as if it sullied his mouth. The others obviously found this amusing.
Suddenly, another voice was raised, not in laughter this time.
"What do you care, Morgan? You want him yourself, maybe?" Gordo turned to face the newcomer, letting his pale and glassy eyed victim crumple to the floor. The stocky figure he addressed said nothing. "He's an Uphiver, too" The tall man continued, again speaking the word as if it were bile. "After you's all done y'awl could talk about old times back above the wall while ya smokin' ya cigarettes." The nervous laughter that followed Gordo's dig told him not to push it, but he didn't really need telling. Uphiver though he may be, Morgan was highly respected and feared. If Morgan was offended, though, his level and weary voice did not betray his feelings. "Just leave him be. Look at him: he's only a boy, for gods sake! Real killer rep you'd get for toppin' that! He'd make a fine trophy, I'm sure."
The boy just stared at him a while, saying nothing. Eventually, though, he found his voice. "Jadek, sir." He croaked. "Jadek Van Saar".
Jadek sat in the corner of the booth and shivered. His face was still deathly white, his eyes still slightly glazed over with left-over terror. He didn't look up as Morgan returned from the bar, didn't stir as a glass was placed before him. Eventually, Morgan spoke. "Don't worry about Gordo and his lackeys. I've told the barman to put the word about that Morgan said you're not to be touched. Unless he wants more trouble than you're worth, he'll stay away." He raised his metal tankard to his lips, whilst across the table, Jadek said nothing.
Morgan poured his own drink from it's dark bottle and broke the silence once more. "How come you're down here, kid? The Underhive aint no place for our kind, that's for damn sure. Even after twenty years I'm still Uphiver," he spat the word as Gordo had "to most people round here. I've had to work hard to get myself a reputation, damn hard."
Jadek seemed to have noticed the drink before him for the first time. He looked at it, then Morgan, with a suspicious eye. Morgan Laughed.
"Relax, kid! It's only water. You don't look like you've been down here long enough to stomach the best liquor this town has to offer, never mind Second Best. I aint surprised you chucked your guts up!" Jadek raised the slightly grubby glass and hesitantly sipped the clear liquid. Yes, that was just water. He took a gulp and looked visibly better for it. "Thanks" Jadek breathed, quietly. Morgan smiled faintly and nodded. " 'salright, boy. I know what it's like." Jadek took another sip, looked up and asked, "What the hell have we got ourselves into, sir? My family thought we could start again down here, but everyone hates us just for being from Uphive. What can we do?"
Morgan laughed again, a slightly cynical and bitter tone to his voice. "Aint that the truth!" he sighed. "Ok, kid, here's the deal. I'll give you the low-down on livin' down here, an' in return I want you to stay alive long enough to thank me. Sound okay?" Jadek stared blankly at his half empty glass for a moment before looking up into Morgan's eyes. Hesitantly, a weak smile crept across the boy's pale features and he looked away with an almost imperceptible nod.