Drinks and a Fight
Riktus, the Hims Hems shop owner, scrutinizes his work with a furrowed unibrow. Tugging in all manner of places and pinning where the fabric dares to bunch up. He sighs heavily and says in a Ruvic accent “If his shoulders vere broader, maybe I could let him go without cloak, but I von’t allow him to leave my shop othervise.”
Niander looks at the long-faced, snuggle-toothed, unibrowed man with disdain. Aaron smiles and places a hand on his son’s shoulder, “Riktus, we have known each other many years, I invited you personally to the ceremony of my promotion to Commander. Your advice will be noted.”
Knowing when his boundaries are being shown to him, Riktus bows his head to Aaron, “Commander Badok, I meant no disrespect. That being said, as vendor of fine cloths I must at least attempt to make profit.” He bows again, this time from the chest. “That also being said, the young man vould cut dashing profile vith cloak,”
“He makes a fair point,” Aaron says looking at his son, “try one on, if you don’t like it you wont have to get it.”
Nodding his head, Niander allows Riktus to throw a knee length cloak over his shoulders. Folding the tan material in the appropriate fashion he pins it with a single silver brooch on his chest. The intricate clasp is shaped to look like a snake circling its prey. The way it gleamed with every movement you wouldn’t be surprised if it slithered away. Riktus, standing back and beaming at his work, smiles brightly and waves a hand expectantly. When Niander says nothing, Riktus huffs and reaches for another cloak, this one is lighter than the last and touches down to Niander’s ankles. He barely lets it hang before letting it drop to the floor and reaching for another which he only holds up for a moment before throwing it over a chair. The Ruvic man paces looking at the boys clothing, clicking his tongue he unfastens the vest he had been fitting for the better part of an hour and looks over the basic outfit.
“vhat is it you do?” he asks Niander. Seeing the confusion in the young man’s eyes he adds, “movement. Are you a fighter, a thinker, a tinker?”
“All.” Niander says still unsure of what is being asked of him.
Riktus looks to the sword leaning against counter. “I told Ring-Back it vas useless vithout you here. But now I see you.” The Ruvic takes the sword and fastens it to Niander’s waits. With an understanding chuckle he pulls an ornate vest and matching cloak from a shelf and hands it to Niander. “Vest has many pockets for many things, back allows for concealed daggers. Cloak is light but strong. More importantly it allows sword to hide but be within grasp.”
Niander fastens the four silver buckles on the vest and throws the cloak over himself. Riktus pulls a mirror in front of Niander and gives him direction on how to stand to better appreciate his new clothing. The cloak envelops him completely making it it nearly impossible to see any sign of a weapon. Feeling around inside he finds three pockets sewn into the lining, perfect for hiding an assortment of things. Riktus walks around him and throws the hood over his head, the effect is striking. To Niander, his profile is that of the great Ferian masters of ancient stories. The shadow cast over his face reminds him of Ferian Aden, protector of hell fire. A man so skilled at hiding that shadows are born under his hood and when ready the leave to populate the lands. Unable to stop himself, he smiles.
“Not a bad look for you.” Aaron says, startling his son. Niander throws back the hood and attempts to settle his face in a more humble manner. Laughing Aaron claps a hand on his shoulder, “honest.”
“vill there be anything more, Commander Badok?” Riktus asks with a bow.
“Yes, a set of clothes for events, a few more like this for shopping and making girls swoon. Also, if you can modify his tunic for hunting I would much appreciate it.”
“As you vish, I shall have a scribe valk them to your home as soon as they are ready.”
Out in the cold sunlight Niander is surprised to see a glimmer in his cloak. But not wanting to be stared at he throws it back like a cape and walks with a hand on the hilt of his sword. Aaron directs him towards a large pub where they would be meeting a few friends of his. Niander had felt nervous about this when his father had mentioned the meeting on their way to the shops at the edge of the Brink. But now, walking along his father, in his brand new clothes he felt brave. Deep down he knew how foolish this is, but there is something about a new set of fine clothes that makes a man feel powerful. Two young women, no more than eighteen, walking arm in arm smile sweetly at him. He returns a roguish smile, and watches them giggle and whisper.
A woman selling candles and incense waggles a disapproving finger at him, he smiles and bows his head to her. “Madam, what would you suggest as an appropriate gift to give those two lovely young ladies.” He calls out to her.
“A ring and a farm.”
“Something less permanent and damning to a young man as myself.” He says taken aback.
“You mustn’t think them too lovely if you say things like that.” She pushes a loose strand of hair away from her face and holds up two crimson candles. “These smell of warm fires and romantic whispers. Kiss the wicks before they light them and you will be in their thoughts all night.”
“Better take a half dozen.”
Aaron cocks his head curiously as his son pays and stows the short candles into his cloak. Without a word they continue towards the pub. An old man leaning heavily on a walking stick and fumbling with his purse yells at a tobacco merchant. The butcher waves at Aaron as she changes the prices on the sign outside her shop. A drunken noble staggers out of the Comfort Den, Niander can only assume this is a high end brothel. The noble sways as he looks around the street, calls Niander by the wrong name and walks back into the Den. A shop owner in waistcoat and tails locks his door and heads into the brothel for a midday snack.
“What do we see?” Aaron asks.
“Any good ones?”
“All of them.”
“Why don’t you tell me about them?”
“The old man with the walking stick.” Niander thinks hard and builds his story, “he was a farmer turned merchant. He inherited a piece of land miles away from home, never visited while still a young man, but after becoming a widower and having his son land back at home deep in debt with the wrong people he decided to take inventory and see if it was worth anything. To his surprise the soil was rich with copper. Making it worth ten times what his great grandfather paid for it. After paying off his son’s creditor, he sent the boy off on a ship and told him not to return until he had made a true man of himself.
“His son, nearing thirty, didn’t take this to well and swore to never speak to the father again if he sent him away. Thinking this would be a nice change of pace, the old man sent him off anyway. A month later he received a letter, it was from another creditor asking for payment. Along with the letter he found his son’s tongue. Now the old man is too poor to have a proper purse.”
“And what of his son,” Aaron asks.
“Oh he’s around, quieter though.”
“Ha! You have a dark sense of humor. The lads will like you.” Aaron opens the heavy door to the Pub, a sign nailed to it reads The Rude Ogre, and lets Niander go in first.
The sound of friendly shouting and music hits Niander like a brick. A Barmaid embraces him and hands him a drink. A stooped man says something incomprehensible, but his wide toothless smile makes up for it. Two portly men stand from different tables and burst into the same song, they laugh and embrace like brothers. A man at the bar grabs a barmaid’s behind and gets a slap across the face, she then grabs between his legs and whispers something that drains the blood from his face. He drops enough coin on the bar to pay a single round for everyone and leaves quickly.
“Aaron my boy, join us!” a deep bass of a voice booms over all of the noise. Niander turns to find the broad shouldered warrior holding a curtain to a private room open. Father and son make their way to the man. Aaron and the Worrier embrace. Aaron, not a small man, stands a foot shorter than the Worrier. “Come in Aaron, bring your boy, the others are waiting to meet him.”
Making his way into the private room, Niander sucks in a breath of surprise. What looked like nothing more than a curtain blocking a small cramped table from the outside turns out to be a comfortably large sitting room with plush chairs, crackling fire and a wonderful view of a small garden. More correctly this is closer to a covered patio than a room, but the vines growing along the walls give it a more sheltered feel.
A thin pale man in leather armor smiles as he stands to greet Niander and Aaron. “Hello boy, names Gabe. Nice to finally meet you.” His accent is strange to Niander, as if it was lost long ago but found recently.
“Look at this handsome young man, makes me go all warm in the breast.” A woman, also in leather, stands and embraces Niander. Up close he can see a deliberately set sternness in her face, only given away by her masterfully manicured brows and soft rosy lips. “My names Natalia, most call me Lia.”
“Don’t he look fancy in his sparkles,” another man, dark skinned and bearded, stays seated but raises his goblet in greeting. “Name might be Kehf if’n you like, otherwise call me bastard and see if’n I care any.”
The broad shouldered man with the deep base voice towers over Niander and pats him Heavy on the head. “They call me Bear, my mother called me Serith, but you can call me Bear.” He sits heavily in a chair large enough for two and motions to the other empty seats. “Off your feet and have a drink.”
“Thank you, but I got this one when I walked in.” Niander says taking a seat and holding up his untouched drink.”
“Bah! Hospitality mead is weaker than the breath of a day old lamb. You need whiskey, or at least three barreled wine.” Bear says wisely, he picks up a silver bell from the table next to him and before the second ring a barmaid comes through the curtain with drinks. “Aaron will have his usual and the young lad will have…” he trails off looking at Niander expectantly.
“A glass of Plum Wine, three barrel, and another of Summer’s Heat.”
“Brave boy,” Gabe says as the barmaid leaves, “Summer’s Heat is good this early in Vall, but Plum will knock you on your ass year round.”
“That’s why asked for both, one to bring my head spinning one way and another to spin opposite.” Niander waves his hand knowingly, “if they don’t cancel each other out with wonderful effect I’ll entertain you by dancing naked too close to the fire.”
“Sounds like your ol’ man when he was younger in seasons.” Kehf says into his goblet. “If’n I remember ol’ Aaron used to empty a cask before napping on the fiddler.”
“To be young again.” Aaron says staring far away.
“To be bold again,” Gabe says.
“To be stupid again.” Bear sniffs longingly, reaching into his steel gauntlet he retrieves a handkerchief and wipes at his eyes.
“So young Niander, tell us what your first act as a Master will be.” Lia asks. Her crossed legs and the way she holds her glass of wine unsettles Niander, her cocked brow doesn’t help matters.
“I don’t know, I guess it depends on which Master I become.” Unhelpful though it might be, it is as honest an answer as he can give.
“You don’t know which post you’ll take?” Gabe asks without any attempt at hiding the glibness to his voice. “Why not both?”
Niander’s eyes darken and he stares at Gabe unblinking, “now that you mention it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea. Why waste time teaching a peasant our ways when I can do the job of both.”
“Strong words coming from a pup just off Agatha’s teat.” Gabe says sardonically, taking a swig from his cup “your little show last night was entertaining, but all you did as hold a girl in place.”
“Really, was that all?” Niander’s eyes go black as he focuses on the mans cup. Slowly the liquid inside smokes and bubbles.
“How quaint, ruining a man’s drink before he can… before he can finish.” Gabe’s expression changes from sarcastic to discomfort in the space of a breath. After another it changes to ill, and then to pain. He places a hand over his stomach as smoke wafts out of his mouth.
“To answer your question more fully, Lia.” Niander says without taking his eyes off of Gabe, “I was not expecting the opportunity that was given, but I suppose either post would fit me just fine. My family tree is laden with Fell and Ferians of note, I would make them proud either way.” He releases his power over the wine and smiles at Gabe’s reproachfully stare.
“Gabe, do you need a hospitality mead to settle your stomach?” Bear says hiding a smile.
“Maybe a soothing root to chew on?” Kehf says chuckling into his goblet.
Just as Gabe’s anger rises its claws, a scream from the main building stiffens the Worriers. Bear stands, pulls his war hammer from a table, Lia throws her quiver over her shoulder, Kehf takes his hand axes and makes his way out the door behind them. Gabe, still looking dangerously at Niander, does not move. Aaron unsheathes his broad sword and gives the unwilling Warrior a stern look, making him stand.
“Stay here,” Aaron says to his son as Gabe picks up his mace and walks out of the door ahead of his commander.
Niander walks to the curtain expecting to hear a brawl between two drunken men, but instead hears a sound so otherworldly, so wretchedly evil it sends a chill through Niander. It is a roar, a scream and a howl all in one. Noise stolen from its many victims, it is the noise made by a Death Mother.
Patrons burst into the private room. Niander is forced to the banister separating the room from the garden. His father yells from the main street. A man ten times his age tries to claw up and over Niander. A barmaid is knocked down and trampled. A young boy carrying a lute cries for his mother. Pinned to the banister, fearing the safety of his father and hearing the sounds of a Death Mother breaks something inside of him.
His fear steps back in his mind, allowing a calmer more ready part of his psyche to take control. Lifting a hand the mass of frightened people part. The old man trying to climb over him clutches at a idle of Baktu strung around his neck and moves away from him. Niander steps calmly through the private room and into the brightly lit pub.
Light spills in through a cart sized hole in the front wall. Bear is getting to his feet and wiping blood from his forehead. The Death Mother thunders again. Niander walks through the hole and gazes up at the monster towering thirty feet in the air. Its gray leathery skin taut around the face and body. Its foot long claws gripping for Lia as she scurries around shooting arrows into it. Its heavy tail misses Kehf and shatters a pile of barrels. Gabe, on the roof of the brothel leaps high over it and lands squarely on its hideous head. He strikes it between the horns but does little, if anything to stop its rampage.
Aaron, pulling himself out of the rubble that was once the Butcher’s shop, runs directly at the beast. With Bear as a distraction, Aaron slides under the Death Mother’s defenses and stabs it in the belly. She reaches down and takes hold of him.
The calm part of Niander’s mind bellows in anger. His eyes mimic the darkness of well on a starless night. The Death Mother pays him no attention and tries to squeeze the life out of Aaron, he screams in agony. Niander walks over the rubble of the pub and towards the Death Mother. She see him and tosses the limp Aaron aside. Words, ancient and unknown to him, appear in Niander’s mind. When they are whispered in a voice not his own the Death Mother changes. She becomes transparent and he sees her natural form. A nude woman floating in the ethereal plane, every one of her features delicate except her eyes. They show a rage so intense flames would run from it. They show a hate for everything so deep rooted it’s seed must have been planted eons ago. She moves towards Niander.
Lifting his left hand hand again, Niander calls for the wind. It howls and rips through the road, tearing roofing tiles away in its haste to do his bidding. It hits the monster holding the Death Mother’s natural form, but does little more than push it a single step. Niander Raises his Right hand and calls for Lighting, but only thunder sounds in the cloudless sky. The Death Mother swats Bear away easily, Gabe still hacking away at her head and Lia emptying her quiver.
The natural form laughs a cold laugh. She is taunting him. She lifts her hand, challenging him. He takes his sword from its sheath and calls for its steel. The blade shatters into thousands of metal shards and rise high into the air. Twisting his wrist elaborately he thrusts the hilt and handle in the direction of the Death Mother. Not the monster but the natural form inside, points directly at her rage filled eyes. Gabe throws himself off of her just as the metal shards penetrate the monster and sink deep into the woman inside. The thing makes its otherworldly noise before falling, not dead but at the brink. Niander drops his broken sword and falls unconscious.