Story #1 – Mrsha and Relc
(In the days after The Wandering Inn’s destruction, before Erin finished her holiday, Relc and Mrsha sit in a bar.)
“Out darn spot! Out, I say! You see, this is the part of the play where she’s imagining blood on her claws, kid. But it’s in her mind. You have to really understand the text and the play to get that from just the script.”
Relc Grasstongue turned to Mrsha, and pointed at the script of Macbeth. It was slightly altered and he was clearly not reading from the exact script as written in the Shakespearian verse, but it was close enough. The little Gnoll nodded as Relc continued following the Players of Celum practicing on stage.
“See, the messed-up thing is that she doesn’t even stab the guy. She’s just got a tiny bit of blood on her hands after taking the knives. I mean, come on. It’s definitely written for a Human [Lady], right? A bit of blood and she’s not even freaking out about disemboweling the old [King]? Weak.”
Another nod. Relc held out a fist and Mrsha bumped it with a tiny paw. She was a Plains Gnoll and he was a former [Solder]. And a Drake. They knew what was up. Relc turned back to the script and Mrsha peered over his shoulder, wagging her tail.
For some reason unknown to everyone, Relc was in charge of Mrsha for the day. It was a scenario few could have envisioned, including Relc and Mrsha themselves. But Erin Solstice was out of the inn on her holiday, and Lyonette was very busy managing…everything in Erin’s absence. And because the day staff of The Wandering Inn was also on break–the inn was currently being rebuilt after its destruction–Lyonette hadn’t been able to get them to babysit Mrsha.
Or rather, even her monetary offers had failed to get Ishkr, who’d committed to another job to keep the money flowing in during the break and Drassi, who was on a long holiday. And the other Gnolls and Drakes Lyonette employed, while good workers, weren’t familiar enough with Mrsha. And everyone else was busy.
So, Relc. He and she were sitting in a bar, watching Liscor’s members of the Players of Celum practice. After all, the magical door was confiscated. Or ‘being managed’ by the city since the inn was damaged. Of course, at the beginning the city had needed it to clean up the Bloodfields and so on, but now it was just ‘theirs’ and Lyonette wasn’t fighting them on it just yet. Erin was in Pallass and Relc was happy.
“Hey! Another beer for the table! And get one of those milks for Mrsha!”
He waved at a passing [Server]. The Drake nodded and came back with a drink. If there was something wrong about having alcohol in the presence of a minor, well, it was only to Erin or Ryoka’s delicate sensibilities. No one else had a problem, including Mrsha and Relc. She sniffed Relc’s drink, but she’d snuck tastes of beer enough to know it was bitter. Goat’s milk now–Mrsha lapped it up happily with her tongue and then drank. Relc, fascinated, copied her.
“Hey! That makes it taste better. Who’d have thought?”
The Drake’s long tongue flicked into his own drink. Then he gulped a mouthful down and sighed.
“This brings me back. Alcohol, a hot day in the camps…you know, I have a daughter.”
Mrsha broke off from watching the [Actors] to give Relc an encouraging look that said ‘do tell!’ Of course, she was vaguely aware of this, but she was humoring Relc. She swiped some more crisped nuts from the bowl he’d sensibly ordered to go along with the drinks as Relc went on.
“Embria, you know? I used to do just this. Well, not in a bar. And it was more like me and the squad sitting around. But she would sit just here. And it’d be great. Hm. Damn. I remember swearing a lot back then. I shouldn’t swear so much around kids, right?”
He looked at Mrsha. She shrugged. She’d heard worse. Relc nodded to himself.
“Just like this. She liked it, too. She was always asking what we’d done that day, even if it was just marching through crap. What happened?”
She grew up. Mrsha tried to sign with her paws. Relc eyed her.
“Yeah. Yeah, I know. You’re alright, Mrsha. Hey, you wanna go on somewhere after this?”
He waved at the play on stage. Mrsha blinked. Relc not wanting to watch the Players? The Drake correctly interpreted her look.
“It’s not that I don’t wanna watch. It’s just that I’ve seen Macbeth like…thirty times? I know, but the last six times were all this week. I’d watch the Lady Macbeth Temile was telling me they were putting on, but he’s gone. Or dead. I heard he’s missing a finger. Tough. The thumb’s really important for holding the spear, you know? A pinky…”
Another shared nod. The poor [Actor] had lost one of the worst digits. Relc sighed as he watched the Gnolls and Drakes on stage. They were pausing to confer over the lines.
“I wanted to join. I’m actually on a backup list, in case all the [Actors] break their legs. And yeah, I thought about it, but I like them. Anyways, I’m a [Guardsman]. I’d have to quit to join up; I can’t make the time without it.”
Mrsha looked at Relc. She tilted her head sideways. So why don’t you? It’s what you like. Relc was unclear whether this was him picking up on her sign and body language, or the voice in his head.
“It’s simple, kid. I like my job. I like puzzles, and plays, but I’ve gotta be a [Guardsman]. You know? Even if Captain Z gets on my tail every other day. I don’t want to be in the army. But a [Guard]? I have to hit something. You know?”
Mrsha paused and shook her head. Relc sighed.
“Yeah, maybe you don’t. It’s hard to explain.”
Pensively, he stared out across the bar. Then he brightened.
“I know! Let’s show you! I know Lyonette said I should stay here, but it’ll just be a quick outing. What about it, kid?”
Mrsha blinked, and then nodded happily. Relc grinned as he got up, fishing for his coins and a tip.
“I knew I liked you. Embria was the same way. Follow me!”
Twenty minutes later, Relc was coaching Mrsha, his voice gentle.
“Okay. You’ve got the knife. But it knows you have a knife. So watch out. It’s gonna pounce. If it gets you with its claws, you’re dead. Dead. You’ve got a weapon, and your smarts, but it’s bigger and maybe faster. And it has a shell. Got it?”
Mrsha nodded. She eyed the tiny dagger she was holding in her paw. Unsteadily, on two feet rather than her usual four-legged mode, she waved the knife threateningly at the baby Rock Crab. It was…well, a huge crab. Usually, the Hollowstone Deceivers were giant, hidden monsters with huge shells. And they were longer than you thought when you thought of crabs–at least, to Erin and Ryoka. Not so much circular as elongated near the back.
Still, they had many crab-like features, including two claws, long legs, and a shell. They were in many ways typical crabs. Again, until you considered that these Rock Crabs were huge. Even the children! This baby Rock Crab that Relc had uncovered outside the city was twice as large as Mrsha and it had just been born! The rainy season that had precipitated so much life in the way of fish and so on had also let the Rock Crabs spawn their brood. And oh, what a brood!
The muddy Rock Crab may have been big compared to Mrsha, but it was weak compared to what it would become. Relc had dragged it out of the mud and now it sat, twitching, and clearly regarding Mrsha and Relc. Looking for a way to flee? Of course! This Rock Crab had no shell, and it was far too small to take on even a quarter of the weaker species living on the Floodplains. However…Mrsha faltered.
It was still big, and this Rock Crab would live off of rodents and smaller creatures until it grew bigger. Perhaps it would be fed by its parent? She glanced at Relc and the Drake cheered encouragingly!
“You can do it! Just stab it in the face! Everything hates that! Remember, it’s gonna jump! Let it get you and you’re dead!”
She really wasn’t certain, but the Gnoll cub nodded and advanced, wobbling on her two feet. The baby Rock Crab backed up, and Mrsha heard it clicking dangerously. She paused. Stab it in the face. She aimed Relc’s knife, took another step and slashed–
The Rock Crab leapt at her. Mrsha forgot everything she’d been told by Relc, dove, and slashed with the knife. The Rock Crab’s new carapace was too weak to fend off the blade and she gave it a deep cut. But the Rock Crab was attacking! Mrsha snarled and slashed with her knife, darting left, right, away from the Rock Crab as it tried to snap one huge claw onto her head or body and crush and tear her apart.
“Stay mobile! Don’t let it get behind you! That’s the way!”
Relc roared, following Mrsha and the Rock Crab as they fought in the grass and mud. Mrsha nearly had her knife in one of its eyes when she saw the Rock Crab lower. Too late, she backed up, but the bleeding, cut Rock Crab leapt. Mrsha twisted, but one claw seized her paw. And the Rock Crab was pinching hard, as it drew her closer–
Relc kicked the Rock Crab so hard Mrsha felt only the impact–then she was staring at the Rock Crab’s pincer, still attached to her arm. Nothing else. A bit of blue blood trickled from the stump. Mrsha looked around and saw the Rock Crab land. It was…dead. Relc wiped one foot on the ground and turned to Mrsha.
“You nearly had it, kid. If you could have stayed on your feet better, I’d have given you a buckler. But that wasn’t bad! Embria took ages before she could hold a spear–we used to give her this cut-down one. Whaddya think?”
Again, Relc’s grin and tone would have earned him an immediate smack or kick if any other of Mrsha’s caretakers or mother had been there. But Mrsha just smiled and nodded as she gingerly prized the pincer off her arm. She felt invigorated! Pumping adrenaline, the feel of the fight–it was like being on a hunt with her tribe all over again.
And Relc knew that. Mrsha looked up and nodded at him. He sighed.
“Yeah. But don’t you go fighting anything else! But you get it, right? I can’t just give this up.”
He sat down as Mrsha licked her cut arm. The Drake eyed her.
“How bad is it? Wanna potion?”
He pulled a healing potion out, but Mrsha refused it. The cut and bruise on her right arm was a mark of pride! She smiled at Relc and he grinned at her.
“You gotta fight. Too many monsters in this world not to. You can run away and leave it to someone else but–aw, hell. Even Erin fights, right?”
Mrsha nodded. And so she sat for a while with Relc on the muddy hill, staring at the dead Rock Crab. In the end, Relc brought it back to the city since you could make something out of it! Unfortunately, Lyonette met them, having been looking all over for the two. And she put two and two together in an instant.
She did not in fact, smack Relc. But she did go for her sword. Mrsha’s mark of pride was healed in a trice and Relc had to flee at speed. He was no welcome in the inn for the next six days, which was too bad. Because he and Mrsha did understand each other.
And after a dinner of Rock Crab stew, which was very good, Mrsha had the Rock Crab claw in her room, polished of meat, but a trophy of her victory. Until Lyonette found it and made her throw it away. But the ensuing tantrum and fight was so bad that it ended up in Relc’s apartment.
A little reminder of an evening spent between an unlikely pair of friends. And two souls who remembered what it was like to be wild.
Image of Rock Crabs by Enuryn the [Naturalist]
(Click here for high-resolution image!)
Story #2 – Tersk and Dekass
(About an hour before the Wyverns attack Pallass, Tersk and Dekass of the Armored Antinium reflect on why they’re visiting Liscor.)
Wyverns flew towards Pallass. The Wandering Inn was reopening. Erin Solstice had just been placed under arrest. Wherever you looked, there was something interesting happening. And it was going to be an interesting day.
However, if interest was a sliding scale, nothing had tipped so far in the grand scheme of people’s day in general, in either Liscor or Pallass. True, some had witnessed the strange, sad, blue flame from the ninth floor. But those who had been able to see it from afar were very few compared to the majority who were as yet, experiencing days that were varied and not unified by any common denominator of interest.
For now, smaller things were fascinating. Like the reopening of The Wandering Inn. Two Antinium standing around and staring at the crowd, the other Antinium eating, and the hustle and bustle felt very fascinated. And out of place.
Both the Prognugator Dekass and Tersk of the Armored Antinium felt as close to naked as an Antinium could get out of their customary, steel armor. And that was only one of the artificial shells that members of their Hive wore. But they were undercover.
“Fellow Antinium of the Free Hive Pawn, is it customary for Antinium to eat as they please here?”
The weary voice came from Pawn, a smaller Worker. He was eating at a table with Yellow Splatters, Dekass, and Tersk. The two guests from the other Hive were being hosted by the Free Antinium as the first visitors to use the newly-constructed passage that would in theory link the Free Antinium to the other Hives.
It was still being expanded to allow mass-transport, but a small number of Antinium could currently make the long, long trek underground. That only two had after the tunnel’s construction was a sign, in Dekass’ opinion. It proved the Free Antinium were not that useful to the other Hives. He, personally, could not fathom why the Free Antinium as a Hive existed. They were so…inefficient. Their Hive so small. And they were poor allies of the Armored Antinium.
Not that the Hives weren’t all united. Of course not! They all served the Grand Queen and they were all complete allies. Absolutely. And the Armored Queen did not have her quarrels with other Antinium Queens, especially not the Twisted Queen and the Flying Queen and their Hives. If anyone asked, Dekass would absolutely explain that to them. It was one of the reasons he had blended so seamlessly into Liscor, posing as another Antinium without anyone noticing.
Anyone at all. It was also probably why Pawn had to stop and poke himself in the head every now and then. Probably a defect in the Worker. Dekass had pity for the Free Antinium, but only in an abstract sense.
He was, after all, a Prognugator, and he evaluated purely on the logic of what he saw. The Free Antinium had little to boast of. The Painted Antinium just wore…paint. The strange [Sergeant], Yellow Splatters, despite having a voice, was still inferior to a Prognugator’s creation process. And Pawn?
“I am waiting to experience the manifold benefits the Free Antinium—I mean, our Hive has to offer…us.”
Dekass looked around, sitting with military stiffness. Pawn’s antennae waved and he looked around. He met Tersk’s gaze, then Yellow Splatters. Wearily, Pawn replied.
“I am sure you will enjoy the food when it arrives, Dekass.”
“Waiting around for food is extremely inefficient. We have already waited two minutes and fifteen seconds. Is this delay customary of…our Hive?”
“This is not our Hive. This is an inn. We are visiting it and it is very busy.”
“For optional nutritional supplementation. Tersk has explained it to me, but I still do not see the benefits. Why do Antinium need additional nutrients? Is the Hive’s resource that low?”
Challenging questions from Dekass. He was pleased to note that Pawn put his head in his hands. All four of them. Clearly, Dekass was exposing many flaws of the Free Antinium. He didn’t quite understand why Tersk kept glaring, but Dekass would make a full report to the Armored Queen. The Free Antinium had nothing valuable! Nothing except their strategic location under Liscor.
And…Klbkch the Slayer. Dekass clicked his mandibles softly together a few times. He looked around warily. And him. But everything else? No.
For some reason, the conversation kept ending abruptly. Dekass, waiting impatiently as he surveyed the inn, decided to keep probing the two Free Antinium. After all, they had to wait for their food. What an inefficient system! And this Yellow Splatters had insisted that the other Workers and Soldiers be served first. But this table was filled with the most important Antinium!
It boggled the mind. What had changed Tersk so after visiting this place? Dekass clicked his mandibles before speaking.
“The two week delay we encountered on…not arriving in the city was regrettable. However, I have toured the Free Antinium’s facilities thoroughly.”
Pawn agreed. Yellow Splatters rumbled behind him.
Dekass decided to ignore that last comment. He looked at Tersk.
“When will we depart, Tersk? We must return to our…designated work area soon.”
“When we have eaten food.”
Tersk replied absently. He was locked onto the Drake and Gnolls circulating the room with trays. Dekass did not see the point. He folded two of his four arms.
“We have imbibed sufficient nutrients each day in the Hive. I do not see why—”
“Sorry for the delay! Four bowls of soup! Here you are Pawn, Yellow Splatters!”
A bright voice made all four Antinium turn. Pawn uttered a prayer of relief as he turned to the server.
“Thank you, Lyonette.”
“No problem, Pawn. Let me know if you or the Antinium want seconds! I’ll come back later, but it is busy—Relc sit back down and get out of the kitchen! I’ll get you more food!”
Lyonette ran off. Dekass noted Pawn’s head turning to follow her. That was another peculiarity. Of course, his cover was perfect, but the Human hadn’t even looked twice at the Antinium. And Dekass had seen Drakes and other species before. They had screamed and fled. Or died.
The thought made Dekass restless. This was one of the few times he’d been deployed out of the Hive on a non-confrontational mission. The Armored Antinium did not do ‘stealth’, so reconnaissance was limited. And Prognugators were far too valuable to waste.
What if this sustenance was poisoned? Tersk had talked about it nonstop, as if it was somehow more nutritional somehow. But Dekass eyed the steaming bowl and frowned.
“Tersk. Has this bowl been thoroughly tested for—”
He looked sideways to see Tersk practically dumping huge spoonfuls of soup into his mouth. Dekass stared. Then he looked around. Pawn, Yellow Splatters, and Tersk were eating. Tersk was ravenous, but Pawn and Yellow Splatters ate with a controlled grace. But their waving antennae and raised mandibles told Dekass they were enjoying it.
Dekass looked at the hot bowl of acid fly soup he’d been served, complete with sausage and a very nice spread of veggies mixed with white rice. All tied together by a flavorful, hot broth. No gluten; the Antinium were allergic to it. He gingerly opened his mandibles and ladled a bite of soup into his mouth. Suspiciously. And then—
Flavor. Dekass paused as the soup hit his internal taste receptors. His entire body stopped. He began to shake. Pawn stared at Dekass and sighed.
About twenty minutes later, Belgrade arrived at the inn. The Antinium hurried into the inn and looked around. It was packed. But he saw Yellow Splatters at once and hurried over to the table.
“I apologize for the delay. Anand delayed in taking over my shift. He expresses his fervent desire for food. And he wished to take my spot.”
“Is he upset?”
Pawn looked up anxiously. He and Yellow Splatters were eating a second bowl of the warm soup. Belgrade nodded.
“Yes. However, I won the chess game three times out of five, so I have the right to visit on this day. Anand wished to speak with Revalantor Klbkch anyways. Food is secondary for him. Is Erin here yet?”
“Not yet. We are eating. Please, sit.”
Belgrade sat. He saw Pawn turn and wave at a passing server. But the Worker couldn’t help but notice a…pile. Of dishes. Next to him. He turned his head.
The Antinium shared food equally. One Antinium didn’t eat more than the others. Of course, Pawn visited the inn more than the others, but he never asked for anything the other Antinium didn’t get. And he shared Lyonette’s treats, even brought food into the Hive. And he conjured his magic bread each day.
So it was a bit…odd…to see the pile of plates, bowls, and cups in every conceivable container stacked neatly next to one chair. It looked like someone had eaten half of the inn’s dishes—and then tried to lick the table clean. Without a tongue.
“Pawn, are you substantially underfed? Yellow Splatters?”
“No. Tersk and Dekass were experiencing food here.”
Belgrade’s mandibles lowered noticeably.
“Ah. Are they here?”
Tersk was one thing, but Dekass another. But Pawn smiled.
“I believe Dekass has understood the merits of Liscor at last, Belgrade.”
“Oh. Good. I still do not like him. Where are they?”
Pawn pointed. Belgrade looked around just in time to see two very stuffed Antinium waddle over to the bar.
Drassi was happy. The [Gossip] may have had her class as a vocation, but she had any number of lower-level classes. Liscor’s mandatory [Soldier] class, a [Receptionist] class she’d had for all of eight levels before she got fired for chatting too much at the Adventurer’s Guild and her latest class—[Barmaid].
And now, she’d evolved her class into [Bartender]. And Drassi was happy. Bartending was a great job. Sure, you had to know how to mix drinks and she was still learning, but Erin was bad with alcohol and her idea of good bartending was Drassi filling mugs, not mixing drinks. And meanwhile, Drassi could chat.
“So, I haven’t seen Erin, but between you and me, I know where she is. Pallass Hunting. It’s some fancy hunting experience for Gnolls and Drakes. She was talking with Rufelt and Lasica after her inn broke and they sent her over for some actual rest and relaxation.”
She was leaning on her bar, chatting with Elirr and Krshia. Everyone had come by to ask Liscor’s number one chatterbox about Erin. Even Lism! The grumpy Drake was sitting with Olesm and Drassi was glad he wasn’t pestering her about ‘that darned Human’. But Krshia and Elirr were friends.
Elirr looked blank as Drassi explained the concept. He shook his head along with Krshia.
“City Gnolls, no? If they want a hunting experience, have them come to Liscor. Our [Hunters] can show them the experience of running away from Rock crabs and avoiding Shield Spider pits.”
“Well, I think the point is that it’s easy. But I hope she comes back soon! The inn’s not the same without her, right? I was just thinking—oh! Sorry! One second!”
Drassi saw two people standing at the bar out of the corner of her eye. She turned—she was working and Lyonette had had words with her—and stopped.
“Hello. We are ordinary Antinium. We would like to peruse your supply of liquids.”
Tersk and Dekass stared at Drassi’s bar. They stared at the drinks. They stared at Drassi. She stared back. The Drake’s mouth opened. She looked at Krshia and Elirr. The Gnolls blinked at the…strange Antinium. They’d been wandering around the city and the Council had been asking what was going on, but they did have a deal with the Antinium.
“Um—you want drinks?”
“Yes. We have money. You have liquids. I am told it is customary to drink.”
One of the Antinium looked at Drassi challengingly, as if she was going to dispute the facts he’d been informed of. She hesitated, but Drassi was never going to miss this prime gossiping experience.
“Uh—of course! Sit down, anywhere you like! On this side of the bar. Drinks! For money! Yeah! That’s how it works! I have never had an Antinium have a drink here. That’s amazing.”
The two Antinium froze as they sat on stools. They looked at each other quickly, and one of them raised his hand.
“Ah, but we are ordinary Antinium so any misapprehension you have is clearly your fault, Miss.”
“…Right. Uh—what do you want to drink?”
“What liquids are customary?”
Dekass craned his neck to see the menu on the chalkboard. An actual drinks list. Drassi beamed.
“Well, most people get an ale, but I know Antinium have this thing about gluten. So—we have stronger stuff. Gin, rums—whiskeys, although they’re hot—”
“What is the point of drinking a liquid other than water? Is there an enhanced nutritional benefit? Does it taste good? That is important information.”
Dekass interrupted urgently. The Antinium had food all over his mandibles. Drassi thought she’d seen him inhaling food. She paused.
“Well—yes! They’ll make you fat. Believe me, I used to drink half my meals. I had this awesome time with Selys when we were—ahem. Yes, they do taste different too. Some people don’t like the taste! Erin hates ale. And she doesn’t drink, which is weird for an [Innkeeper]. Then again, if you’ve met Peslas—he’s another [Innkeeper], you can appreciate not having a gut like—”
The two Antinium were just staring at her. The [Gossip] realized they had no idea what she was saying. And for once, she was stymied. She—she felt a pang. She had to up her [Gossip] level! Until she could chat with Antinium! But for now, Drassi gave them a proper explanation.
“The main thing is alcohol. People like to get drunk.”
“Drunk? What is this phenomenon of which you speak, [Bartender] Drake? I am currently undecided on your gender, by the way.”
Drassi looked at Tersk. She looked at Dekass to make sure they weren’t joking. Slowly, she reached for a cup. She’d thought Antinium had tough lives recently, but now she was convinced Erin was right about them. It was just like Numbtongue. Drassi was going to cry about this later! And tell all her friends!
“Why don’t you…try this?”
Dekass and Tersk stared at the tumbler full of deep rum. They looked at each other, and then Dekass reached for the glass.
Four minutes later, Tersk and Dekass sat at the bar. They were drinking. And talking. Both sipped from the rum as Drassi had shown them. They were enjoying themselves. And talking.
“That was…a unique experience, Prognugator Tersk. I begin to understand. I had been unimpressed so far, but now I am impressed. Yes.”
Dekass nodded a few times at Tersk. He wasn’t tipsy—yet. But he’d eaten so much he was entering the first food coma any Antinium had ever experienced in Izril. Well, outside of the Queens. Tersk waved one antennae at Dekass, very pleased. He’d eaten almost as much as the younger Prognugator.
“The Free Antinium have little in the way of military might or other unique military resources, Dekass. That is what I observed of my time there. They have more unquantifiable attributes. Such as…morale. And, I think, an understanding of the facet of living that escapes even the Armored Antinium.”
“I did not comprehend. But after eating that…food, I did. I begin to finally agree with your point, Tersk. Is this what you wished to show the Armored Queen?”
The older Prognugator of the Armored Hive nodded. He waved one hand around the inn. Dekass was enjoying the rum. It had a pleasant quality.
“As I mentioned to you, Dekass, the Free Antinium are weak. Weak in shell and number. But…they have this. Bartender Drassi, another shot, please.”
Drassi filled their tumblers as she hurried along her busy bar. The two Antinium stared at the second shots of dark rum. Then both Antinium lifted the glass up and drank it down efficiently. Drassi blinked.
“Wait. I told you that doing shots isn’t—you drink and socialize, remember?”
“I recall your lecture, female Drassi [Bartender]. However, I have socialized adequately without this liquid. It is somewhat tasty, but I must experience this new phenomenon of which we speak. We will then imbibe until drunkenness begins. Will this be ample funding?”
He reached into his bag of holding he had been issued for this mission. Drassi was protesting.
“Look, I know you’re Antinium, but I can’t be in trouble if you get drunk. And if all the Antinium at the bar want a drink, I don’t know if Pawn’s budget—”
“We are paying for ourselves. This is our funding. Is it ample?”
Dekass slapped a handful of gold coins on the bar. Drassi stopped mid-sentence. She looked at Dekass, at Tersk, and then at Lyonette. The [Princess] pointed, and signaled Drassi as adeptly as Mrsha.
“—You know what? We can work with this. You want to get drunk? Let’s just see how many alcohols Erin has…”
Before the Wyvern attack commenced and Zevara charged into the inn to demand Lyonette grab the door, and Tersk’s secret scrying orb was compromised by Wistram’s alert, the inn was lively and full of laughter. And part of the entertainment for the people still deprived of Erin Solstice was seeing two increasingly drunk Antinium talking louder and louder at the bar.
They were obviously, obviously ordinary Antinium. As Dekass kept trying to reassure people. He was enjoying himself. And what was the harm?
Many dismissed it as the usual Antinium oddity. But at a table, a discretely watching Antinium slowly thunked his own head onto the top of his tankard. Repeatedly. He only stopped when a Drake leaned over. Relc eyed Dekass and Tersk as they began asking how they knew they were drunk.
“Hey, Klbkch. Who’re those new Ants? New types of Soldiers in your Hive? Come on, you’ve been in a bad mood all week. Lighten up, lay it on your pal.”
Klbkch turned to stare at Pawn. The Worker raised his arms helplessly. He’d done his best. Klbkch shook his head.
“I do not wish to talk about it.”
His head hurt. But even so, he sat back. At least the two Prognugators hadn’t done something shockingly idiotic. Just mundanely stupid. And Tersk and Dekass enjoyed themselves. The Free Antinium were weak in military might, but they had food. And that…that was worth something.
For a moment, everything was peacefully entertaining. On top of his tower, Bird stared at the sky. But the big birds were long gone. He sighed.
“Life is very sad today.”
About seventeen minutes later, the Wyverns attacked.