Grimsby sat alone at a table that partially blocked the stairs. This alone wasn’t of particular interest, but the tables nearest to Grimsby’s table were also empty. Spotless, as if they had not been used in some time.
Aranza, Temperance, and Monty had gone best out of five on several games of chance to see who would be the one who had to approach Grimsby to inquire about a room. During that time, a handful of the tavern’s other patrons had shot confused and somewhat judgemental looks their way. A few realized what they were doing, and one or two gave a murmured acknowledgement of the task ahead.
One quietly commented on having affairs in order before approaching Grimsby.
Grimsby sat on his barstool, a gnome of sub-average height, his gaze fixed on something not quite in the physical space of the tavern. When he blinked, it was one eye at a time.
“That’s a gnome that’s been through some dark shit,” Aranza said as she tried to avoid eye-contact.
“We need a room,” Temperance said. “This is hardly the time for such childish foolishness.”
Monty held up a finger, eyes narrowed. “I certainly don’t see you, oh brave Paladin, tripping over your overly shiny armor to address the gnome.”
Temperance recoiled. “I, well…” she replied. “I was just about to do exactly that.” She turned, but hesitated.
Aranza sighed as she walked around Temperance. Grimsby’s focus remained on whatever he’d been staring at since they’d arrived, and did not shift until Aranza cleared her throat.
Grimsby let out a piercing, horrible shriek, eyes wide.
Aranza leaped back, daggers ready to be thrown at a second’s notice.
Grimsby blinked–actually blinked–and then his gaze shifted upwards to Aranza. A lazy, slow smiled crept across his face.
“Greetings, weary traveler,” Grimsby rumbled in a deep baritone. “The red crow caws at midnight, and the mist covers only that which we desire to not see.”
Aranza took a step back. “Sure, they do those things,” she replied. “Sorry to bother you there, you were obviously doing something important.”
Grimsby cocked his head, the tavern’s torchlight reflecting brightly off of his bald head.
“If it’s not too much trouble, the two idiots I’m traveling with and I need a room,” Aranza blurted out. “Gryphonshit, did I say that out loud?”
“And what perils paved your path to this fine purveyor of ales and place of rest?” Grimsby asked.
“Guild business,” Aranza answered automatically. “Not wanting to die. The two are related.”
“Friends of the Guild?”
Aranza shook her head. “We tried to rob them and we made a deal so we didn’t dance at the gallows,” she replied. “Not the Paladin. She’s stuck being our holy nanny. Damn you.”
Grimsby nodded. “Room’s on me tonight, but your drinks are up to Aloysius.”
“Stop giving out my name like it’s your business to share!” the bartender, Aloysius, shouted across the tavern. “Give them a room, but only one room. Giving away business like you own the damn place.” Aloysius continued the conversation at a low grumble under his breath, his attention returned to the other patrons.
Grimsby winked. “I do own the place.” He reached into his vest pockets, rifling around for an improbably long time. He produced a small leather pouch, which he replaced into the pocket, a sliver of metal that transformed into a startlingly sharp dagger before, and then finally a plain brass key.
“Up the stairs, second door on the left,” Grimsby said. “You do good things, you get to stay. You cause trouble, I charge you double. No need to relay your tales. The tide of your worth shall be determined by the cosmic push and pull of good and evil that you release into the world.”
“Sure thing,” Aranza said, taking the key. She walked back to Monty and Temperance, who had turned away.
“You deserve a drink,” Monty said. “You’ve been through a lot.”
Temperance shook her head. “I prefer to not indulge in such things,” she replied. “I need my wits about me so as to ensure neither of you fall into your wicked old ways.”
Aranza laughed, clapping a hand on Temperance’s shoulder. “Sounds like she’s afraid of a challenge,” she said. “Hey, Al. Three of your strongest ales and three shots of Dragonfyre, if you’d be so kind.”
Aloysius clenched his jaw, but went about retrieving the requested drinks. He placed them on the bar, then held a hand out for payment.
“I’ll cover first round,” Monty said.
Aloysius raised a hand in protest. “The half-orc with a whole lot of humor can pay,” he said. “Not even my friends call me Al.”
Aranza shrugged, producing six gold. “Struck a nerve?” she asked, plunking the gold down in Aloysius’ hand. He eyed it suspiciously for a moment before he dropped it somewhere beneath the bar and out of sight.
“Breakfast is between when I get up and when I don’t feel like cooking for you ungrateful heathens anymore,” Aloysius shouted over the crowd. “I’m closing up. If you’re staying, don’t wreck the joint. If you’re not? You don’t gotta go home, but get the hell out.” He grabbed a bottle of translucent green liquid as he walked toward the door at the end of the bar, popped the cork and took a swig, then shut the door behind him.
A number of the patrons shuffled out with only a handful moving cautiously past and up the stairs.
“All right, the rules are simple,” Aranza said.
“I’m familiar with the rules,” Temperance interrupted.
Monty raised his eyebrows.
“Go!” Aranza shouted. She threw the Dragonfyre back, then started to drink the ale. it was a dense, dark beer, and she couldn’t quite place it. It was probably one of those small batch ones, she figured, with a name that included Bogwater. She chanced a sideward glance and raised her eyebrows.
Monty was taking his time, as he did. His fair cheeks were already several shades redder than usual, and his eyes glassy.
Temperance was well over halfway into her ale with no sign of slowing. Aranza doubled down on her efforts.
The two slammed their mugs down at the same time.
“By the Heavens, it looks like you have some competition, ‘Ranz,” Monty slurred, dribbling ale down his chin. “Whoops.”
An older woman stepped forward, clearly unaware of the half-dwarf and half-orc sizing each other up, and slapped a rolled scroll down onto the bar. She shuffled out of the tavern without saying anything.
Temperance broke the scowl-off first.
“Damnation,” she muttered, grabbing up the scroll.
“What’s the problem?” Aranza said, her words and the sudden impact of the Dragonfyre enough to make her sway gently as she spoke. “Feeling a little wooo?” She waved her hands by her head for effect.
Temperance raised an eyebrow. “What? No, I wish,” she replied. “We’ve just been served.”
Monty leaned forward, his eyes level with Temperance’s forehead. “We what now?”
Temperance held out the scroll, pointing at the wax seal holding it shut. It was the Guild’s emblem. Beneath it, through the rolled parchment, the words “Wanted: Alive or Dead” were visible.
Aranza exhaled deeply, frowning. “The joy’s left me like the wind gone from a lost ship’s sails,” she said. “Let’s get some sleep. Looks like we’ve got our first side-quest to complete. Already.”