Not every day ended here.
No. Only the bad ones.
The candles had almost burnt out. Wax piles sported minuscule craters at their peaks with black wicks that clung to fading flames.
The grain in the glass stank with the bitter sting of a strong drink.
Around, the Tavern lay empty. Nin had long since closed shop and gone to bed. The door was barred and locked, the chairs and stools were up. Only a sour draft from an open window washed the dreary mood.
Mathias sat alone in the dimly lit room. Before him a bottle of liquor and a half full glass. He stared down into the liquid, watching it wash the walls in waves as he swirled it in his hand. Up it went, draining into the mans mouth and mustache.
It returned to the table with a thud. More liquid filled it.
“Troubling night gramps?” a voice called from the window.
The ex-keeper shot up from his trance, staring toward the window.
“Aliyah!” He exclaimed, sighing his way back into his chair. “You startled me.”
Ali giggled “It’s no fun if I don’t tease you every once and awhile” She gracefully vaulted through the open window, striding toward the table. Mathias pulled down a chair as she approached. She straddled the seat, resting her chin on the back.
“Its been awhile since I caught you drinking like this” She started, an eyebrow raised at the bottle “Something pretty bad must have happened last night.”
Mathias shook his head “Lots of things happened. I don’t even know where to begin.” he paused to take a sip from the glass. “Sometimes I wonder if the youngins ever think their actions through”
Ali rolled her eyes
Mathias squited, but then returned to his drink. “Tiska kidnapped a baby bear from the Zoo”
“The one that was with the puppies?” Ali inquired
Mathias raised an eyebrow. “Yes? I think so at least. She hid it in her cloak while we were fighting the assassin. It was there when we were saving Jane from the spiders too”
“You fought as assassin?” Her eyes grew big listening to Mathias’s tale.
“Yes yes we all did. That was only a few days ago really” He faintly smiled “Gave him a good rubbing i did.”
“Whats so funny young lady?”
“Nothing gramps” She giggled “go on”
“Right right, well during all that fighting the bear must have broken its leg. Mayhaps one of the spiders got it, or Tiska fell onto it. I cannot say for certain” He drank “Rel did his best to splint the wound, but it was awful bad and it got infected”
Ali’s lips frowned, eyes wide unwavering from Mathias
“The poor thing was in so much pain. When we got back to the Kitten it wasn’t doing very well” He swirled his drink, recollecting. he frowned “So Tiska and the others turned to unsavory methods to save it.”
“What did they do?”
“Rel’s friend, the bard, had some black market contacts. He worked out a deal for them in order to get the bear some penicillin. This deal involved Tiska killing a nobleman at first, along with an undisclosed second favor at the time”
he threw back the rest of the glass, slamming it down after. Ali jumped at the noise.
“Gotcha” he smiled and winked.
Ali pouted “Not funny grandpa!” She flicked his mustache. Mathias giggled at the display. The two of them smiled.
“What are you doing up so late anyways? The sun should be up soon” Mathias questioned
“Work” Ali sighed “I had a couple of late collections to make for my boss. They were troublesome compared to the usual, really had to work to get them to comply”
“Well I hope it wasn’t too much trouble” Mathias gave her shoulder a rub
“Nah, just tedious” She ran a hand through her messy black hair. “hey! You were in the middle of story! don’t stop now!”
“OH yes!” Mathias continued “Well the bard went off to get the medicine and the bear started dying. The others used everything they could think of to keep it alive. Orc blood, chest compression, and even forbidden magic.”
“Wait, in the middle of the day?” she sat dumbfounded
“Yes they were just upstairs. The effects of the spell flashed right through the floorboards. A mimic immediately figured it out and raced to arrest them. If it weren’t for Jane…” Mathias suddenly stopped. He cracked a grin and burst into a hearty laughter. “Oh my yes Jane how could I forget. For someone so small she is capable of some pretty grand feats”
“What did she do gramps?”
“She drank everyone under the table. A whole glass as big as she in a single sitting! I though she was going to drown in it, but she managed to drink the whole thing.” The smile warmed the room, Ali grinned at her grandfathers joy. “She was the life of the party for awhile, she even managed to slap Orgoth awake after he was knocked out by Buttercup”
“Oh Mr.Cup was here?” Ali suddenly cocked her head to the side
“yes… hes here often. Do you know him?”
“Yeah I visit him almost nightly for work.”
“Huh” Mathias stared at his granddaughter “That’s concerning”
“Hes actually a pretty sweet guy. Has a real soft spot for his mother”
“I never would have guessed” Another glass drained down his throat. “Anyways, Jane woke up to the flash. She an I followed the mimic up the stairs. He was peaking in on the others who were hard at work trying to save baby bear. I confronted him, but he flashed his badge and asked me to back off. I know better than to interfere with a fellow keeper, so I just watched”
“That’s just like you” Ali stuck her tongue out at Mathias. Mathias grinned and returned the gestures. The two chuckled for a moment. The man poured another glass. The girl pulled out a cigarette, lighting it swiftly
“Hey!” Mathias protested.
“Oh come on” Ali groned, her eyes rolled. “Its been a long night for me. I had three different pick-ups across the city!”
Mathias grumbled “Okay fine.” he relented “But no more tonight. Give me the pack” he telescoped his hand. She sighed and gave him the rest of the pack. “These are terrible for you you know”
“Yeah yeah, and all that drinking is keeping you so healthy” she shot back
“Watch your tongue young lady!” he pocket the pack. “Now where was I… Oh yes!”
Mathias threw back the glass, swallowing heartily. “So upstairs the rest of the group made the horrible decision to use that angelic magic again in plain view of the keeper. I think Zelkova was aware of his presence, but he say anything. So the keeper confirms the use of magic and busts into the room”
The cigarette burned, Ali ashed it onto the ground
“So the group starts to panic. Frantiska tried to forge a magic licence out of paper and pencil. It looked terrible. She did it right in front of me too! The nerve on that woman! The others tried to talk their way out of it. But this keeper is not having any of it.” the bottle emptied into the glass. “Turns out this guy was Constable Art-Work, I’d heard about him, but I had never imagined that he was so relentless”
“Art-work? Is he a teifling?” Ali inquired taking a slow drag
“Yes. A very infamous one too. Known for bringing in criminals with no remorse” Mathias looked up at the ceiling. “I was a miracle the others weren’t arrested.” He paused for a moment
“Then Jane staggered into the room and grabbed Art-Work’s ass”
Ali sputtered and gagged “Wait! What!”
“See what those do to you?” Mathias wagged a finger at her
“Oh piff! Are you serious about Jane?” Ali pressed
“Oh yes indeed. I was shocked she was so bold! So he looks down at her, and she suddenly projectile vomits all over his leg. Art didn’t take kindly to it that. He hoisted her over his shoulder and took her down the hall. I assume he was going to lock her in another room.”
Ali sat dumbstruck “Jane and I need to hang out more.”
Mathias snorted “It gets better. So Jane doesn’t like being man handled. She spins out of his grip, vomiting again as she gets to the floor. Artwork is covered in it now, dripping small puddles of filth. She runs down the stairs and he chases.”
Ali finished her cigarette, still absorbed in her Grandpa’s tale.
“So he catches her downstairs and Jane bursts into Sobs which catches Art completely off guard” The bottle raises to pour again, but nothing leaves its neck. Mathias sighs and places it back on the table. “I guess art must have a soft spot for halflings. The two talk for a bit, he calms her down, gives her some advice and gold and tries to get her to leave so he can make the arrest. Jane wouldn’t let him that easily, and I guess his feelings got the better of him. He set off a smoke stick and got everyone to run out of the tavern by pretending there was a fire.”
“Wait he broke the law for Jane?” Ali was in awe.
“Yes I was amazed too.” Mathias stopped “Oh yes, and during all that the bear died.”
“Yeah I knew”
Mathias raised an eyebrow. “Well anyways they fed its body to Shade and then everyone lept out the window. Or just walked outside” he finished the rest of his drink, crowning the bottle with the empty glass. “Buttercup was there, unconscious. He had pissed off Orgoth and the two got into a brief scuffle. Buttercup was vicious and used glass on Orgoths nether region”
Ali giggled “Yeah he mentioned that. Sounds brutal”
“Indeed quite brutal. Rel stitched it up in front of everyone later. It was better not to look” Mathias sat back in his chair. “We went to Orgoth’s apartment. The bear was dead but we were still indebted to the stitchers because of Frantiska’s rash actions. The bard showed up a few minutes later and gave the penicillin to us.”
“So you guys actually went to kill a noble?”
“No! Thank Tune we didn’t. Apparently the noble wasn’t coming anymore so instead we had to fight a big stitch and then meet with the leader of the dark carnival.”
“Rotrer?” Ali’s eyes lit up “Shes incredible.”
“You know her?” Mathias was surprised
“Yeah I’ve had a few meetings with her. She’s very nice. And gorgeous too. Its small wonder she out danced Yoko”
“Hmm.” Mathias hummed “Well she is certainly quite something. So we decided to wait for the carnival to appear. Everyone got some good rest during which the bard dropped off some masks for us.”
Ali grinned “Was there a bear mask?”
Mathias squinted at her “How would you know what the bear mask is for young lady?”
She quickly looked away, blushing “Oh I don’t! I just was curious!”
“Right…” Mathias continued to glare “We did have one. Shank took it”
Ali stifled a laugh, Mathias shook his head
“So we went to the carnival. They were never in the field before so this was actually my first patrol of the place. What a nightmarish chaos it is.” Mathias stood and walked to the bar, stumbling only slightly as he searched for another bottle
“It’s not that bad” Ali chimed “Everyone who goes there is just looking for freedom I think”
“I wouldn’t call that free-dAAAHH” Mathias suddenly reeled back, stumbling onto the ground. Ali stood, reaching into her jerkin for something.
Behind the counter, the roughspun sack of Shade appeared. The shadow creature bubbled some inconceivable babble before waddling out from behind the bar. Ali sighed, returning to her seat. Shade extended a clawed hand and helped Mathias to his feat.
“You scared me shade, be more careful at night!” Mathias lectured. Shade’s eyes drooped and he dangled his arms in front of himself shamefully.
“Now now, dont be upset little guy” Mathias reached out and tussled his sack. Shade’s eyes beamed at him. He revealed a fresh bottle, handing it to the ex-keeper.
“Why thank you!” Mathias beamed. Shade Saluted him. With a goofy little waddle he waltz over to the table where Ali sat. He waved a limp hand at her. She giggled.
The creature hoisted itself onto the table. Standing straight up, his sack head slowly decended, swallowing up the black branch-like limbs below. Before long the sack head rested itself on the table, Shades eyes in an open and beaming.
“Strange little creature” Mathias stumbled back to the table.
“I Think hes kinda cute” Ali returned, A fresh cigarette smoldering between her fingers
Mathias cocked his head, then frowned. he reached into his pocket, finding nothing but dust and lint.
“Young lady” He said sternly, extending his hand once more
Ali groaned “Alright fine” She tossed the pack into his hand.
“And?” he remained firm
Ali gumpily put out the cigarette and gave it to him
“Thank you” He sat, filling his glass once more. “So we walked through the carnival. People were dying and trading illegal items and practicing magic all around us.”
“And fucking!” Ali shouted. Mathias choked on his drink. He pounded his chest, trying to catch his breath. Shade garbled intermittently
“I Beg Your Pardon!” He exclaimed “You are far too young to be saying such things!”
“Oh come on grandpa, Im 16! Most girls are already married by 16.” She protested.
“Yes but most often not by choice!” Mathias rebuffed
“That hardly matters in this place”
“ANYWAYS” Mathias tried to regain his place. “The most of us were uncomfortable and we made haste to the center. We did stop to buy some items, but not for very long. In the center we found the Stitcher’s Union.”
“I don’t like the stitchers” Ali sighed “What they do is unnatural”
“I agree. Their leader is as monstrous as his creations, viewing his union members as nothing more than parts” Mathias started to pour a glass, then stopped. He raised the bottle to his lips and took a hearty swallow. “Ahhh… The beast we fought was an abomination. 13 limbs!” he shouted abruptly “Well, 12 when i finished with it. But still! Horrifying” He looked at Ali, her focus on the unlit cigarette in his fingers. He sighed, handing it back to her. She smiled, relighting it.
“So we defeated the beast. Its maker wasn’t too happy with us, but we did what we were told.” He raised the bottle again to his lips as Ali took a drag. Both exhaled together, engrossed in the memory. “Afterwords we had to meet with Rot.”
Shade suddenly exclaimed a noise, something akin to bees stuck inside of a tuba that was filled with robins. The pair looked over to him as he stood up. The wiggly creature walked into the middle of the table shoulders All hunched over. he looked left, then right as if he was paranoid someone was watching him. Suddenly he jumped to the other side facing where he was once standing. now positioned menacingly, he slunk forward miming drawing a dagger from his belt. moving back Shade raised his hands shaking his head, trying to keep this invisible attacked at bay. He lept again, now raising the mimed dagger above his head. It came down with force! Slinking under the descending attack He reached one hand up trying desperately to prevent this grim fate. Struggling against his own form, the dagger broke through! Stabbing him clear in the chest. Shade stabbed himself over and over again, before collapsing into a heap.
Ali began to clap. Mathia’s took a sip of his drink. Shades body folded in on itself over and over again until finally it disappeared with a soft POP!
“That’s right I had almost forgotten.” Mathias started. “On our way to Rot, we were attacked by a large crowd of assassins”
“Really? From the guild?
“Indeed” He shook his head
“How did you survive? That guild has a very nasty reputation” Ali went wide eyed
“Incredibly, Zelkova managed to talk them out of killing us”
“Bullshit!” she shouted
“Language” mathias commanded
“I don’t believe it!”
“Nor would I have if I had not been there” Mathias took another swig. “Our elven companion has a sweet and silver tongue. I bet he could talk a dragon out of it’s horde”
The two sat for a moment.
“After that near death experience we made it to Rot’s tent.”
“How’d that go gramps?” Ali asked
“Surprisingly well, but also disturbing” He continued “She had intimate knowledge of all of us. Even me.” his hand trembled
“,She talked about my sons in worrying detail.” he pressed his hand against the table. desperate to ease the shake “I’m worried somethings happened.” He looked up at Ali.
“I’m sure they’re fine grandpa. They’re strong men.” She reassured him.
“Yes.” He tired to agree “Still, I can’t shake the feeling”
Ali reached out, placing a calming hand on her grandpa’s shoulder. The shaking slowed, then ceased all together.
“Thank you” He sighed “Well after meeting with her, we went to go home, but we were hopelessly lost. I spotted some men on a nearby roof and thought to go see what they were about”
“Oh grandpa” Ali shook her head “Those old Keeper instincts of yours are going to get you killed”
“They almost did” he admitted “Turns out the guys on the roof were slavers. Their weapons made to capture not kill. They managed to catch myself, shade, and Jane.”
Ali gasped “Not Jane”
“Hey! I got caught too” He protested
“Yeah but I know you can take care of yourself!”
“So can Jane!” Mathias wagged a finger at her. “We managed to escape, barely. But that wasn’t the end of it…”
The candle flickered, then went out.