“Am I such a monster now?! What a trash-digging, feces-eating kobold,” Carric complained, making sure to scrunch his face and act stupid as he quoted the cleric. The darkening sky cast his shadow at a strange angle over the street.
“Hey!” yelled a kobold, his head poking up out of a pile of alley trash, his mouth stained brown and smelling horrid.
“Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean it!” Carric squaked out in a hurry.
“It’s alright, mate; let it be. You didn’t mean it like that and if that snot-eating gobshite thinks otherwise, he can go live with the rest of the nasties.”
“Yor’?” A fat goblin was sitting on the edge of the road, his finger in his nose, looking at them with offended eyes.
“Oh, shite. Just screw off, ya green-skinned runt. I’m in a bad mood and I’m not gonna apologize,” Bern scowled.
The goblin stared at him, shrugged and went back to whittling at wood with his dagger.
Yenrab looked impressed while Carric looked shocked.
“I gotta say, Bern, I would never have thought to act like that. It seems kind of mean.”
“Sometimes you just gotta,” Bern said, his face very serious. “Sometimes if you don’t, people will all just demand you apologize over and over until you can’t breathe. It’s all right and good to say you are sorry, but some of these guys, mate, they are like sharks. Sorry is just blood in the water and if you give that to them, they’ll bring their mates and rip you to shreds.”
“It is so interesting that the people of this land can turn into sharks,” Tracy said, skipping at the edge of the party. He put his arms above his head into a fin and made a beeline for Yenrab. “I mean, the Grand Sorcan could do that I guess, but even he would have problems making them breathe and move on land. Do they swim through the air?”
The party laughed and shook their heads. They crossed, in silence, from the sewer-stained streets they had been traversing to a straw-covered, sweeter-smelling merchant’s quarter. It was dusk, but that hadn’t stopped the stalls’ merchants from screaming their goods.
A scrawny boy came to them, a flaring torch in hand.
“A cop an hour, like as not; whaddya say then?”
Yenrab, Carric and Tracy all exchanged confused and helpless glances.
“Bugger off, yuh purse-snatching street weasel. I’d pummel yer mother if she ain’ted had a good pummeling already. Asides, we’re drop-cut bottom and looking to score,” Bern Sandros spoke, happy and having fun.
“Right-o, Guv’nor. No serpent’s den out ‘ere, though the widow be running trade. Have a winning season!” the boy answered, his rotted and warped teeth hanging out in a deep-dished smile.
Then he moved off to the next group without light.
“Umm,” Yenrab said.
Carric was excited, “Bern, was that thieves’ cant?” he asked very loudly, oblivious to his surroundings.
“Carric,” Bern said, a single finger to his lips. “Mind if you try not to advertise all of that out here, mate?”
“Oh, gods, sorry,” Carric murmured in a low voice.
“Umm,” Yenrab said.
“Were you planning a heist?” Tracy asked, adopting a stealthy crouch and padding forward lightly.
“What? No. Little mate there was planning a heist. I could see his plan from a kilometer away,” Bern Sandros said.
“What’s a kilometer?” Yenrab asked with a yawn.
“Oh, I’m sorry, that’s right. It’s miles everywhere else. Gonna be miles here in the republic soon too if it isn’t already. Feet and miles. What a bloody broken system,” Bern groused. “Anyways, it is like this. Little man uses his torch to light our way. We go, get drunk, then he leads us home, but really he leads us to a gang that beats us and takes our stuff. It’s very effective.”
Carric shivered. “I bet.”
“Was that all you guys talked about?” Yenrab asked.
“Nah, I let him know that we are damn near broke and also asked him about the local thieves’ guild and the black market. He said the thieves’ guild is gone for now and the Weeping Widow is the base of operations for black market and rogue stuff at present.”
“That’s good to know. Thank you. Now I know,” Yenrab said.
“And knowing is half the battle,” Tracy added wisely.
“So, Bern, what’s the plan? Are we ready?” Carric asked as they got closer to the Weeping Widow.
Bern nodded. “Yeah, mate. We’ll have Yenrab guard the door and Tracy, well, do Tracy stuff and I’m gonna pickpocket them while you go up there on stage, if they let you and sing. We’ll hit them from every angle, those righteous, uh”—Bern scanned around himself, seeing who and what was in the vicinity—“white-robed elven priestesses.”
With a gloop, three elven priestess, robed in white, broke from invisibility nearby, giving him a nasty glare as they continued on their way to the temple district.
“What in the world?” Bern asked himself and the gods above.
“It’s a plan, Bern,” Carric moved on, frowning slightly. “Is there any chance those priestesses are going to do something to mess this up?”
“Nah, mate, those cleric types have broom handles stuffed so far up themselves that they’d have us in temple confessing our sins right now if they’d heard any of it but the last part. They’re a bunch of sticks in the mud, like paladins.”
“What in gods’ names . . .” a holy warrior began, rising from his unseen spot in the queue of a stall.
There it was, again, the Weeping Widow. It was dark now, but so many lanterns hung about the place that it shone like its own moon. People hung around the outside, talking of the tournament and of the excitements life offers. Quite a few of them held pipes, sweet smelling herbs and tobacco smokes wreathing their heads as they drew and blew between tidbits of conversation.
Tracy gagged, spotting before smelling a juicy mess of pink and brown splattered across the ground.
“Heyyo!” a drunk slobbered, spilling beer over Tracy’s leg, then falling into the mess. The man started snoring almost immediately.
“Well, mates, friends, are we going to do this?” Bern asked with his crooked smile, flexing and stretching to prepare.
“Hell yeah!” Carric said, pumping his fist.
“Sweet move,” Bern noted.
“Thanks!” Carric gushed.
“So, guys, we’re just doing this because they are bad people, right? I mean, this isn’t going to become a regular thing, is it?” Yenrab asked. His voice was shaky and his face was lined with concern.
Tracy scanned their faces and, without a word, walked into the bar.
“Just this one time, bro. We lost everything and we need to take it back,” Bern persuaded him.
“And besides, healing is magic! Healthcare should be a right! ‘Power to the People,’” Carric bellowed.
“Here, here… Power to the People,” a few drunks cheered and slammed their steins down on the barrel in support.
The three of them walked, following the same route that had been laid by Tracy. The patrons outside gave them glances, but no one was very interested. They were just adventurers. There was nothing novel, rare, famous, or female about them.
Its double doors were wide open and cool, fresh air drifted in from the outside. Yenrab led the trio as they entered together.
The tavern was crowded and was much smaller on the inside than its exterior had suggested. The people jostled for more space, or perhaps for a route to somewhere else. It wasn’t so difficult for Yenrab, though, who simply tore through the wall of bodies as he trod within to stand next to the door frame. They cursed, but their words fell silent when they saw the cause of their discomfort.
“Well, it sure is crowded,” Yenrab said, looking about with tribal innocence.
He checked his immediate vicinity after he failed to get an answer. His friends were already gone.
“Well, ya know, they could have said something,” he muttered to himself. Then he leaned up against the wall and began scanning for them. He knew what was going down and he readied himself in case things took another turn for the worse.
As the party entered, Bern glanced around.
This is an absolute gold mine, he realized, his eyes riding the heavy purses of drunk and well-to-do imperceptive townspeople.
A part of him didn’t want to. A part of him told him that street-filching in the borders of the Nemedian empire was something different from this. But that angel on his shoulder, wings caked with dirt and body skinny with malnutrition, stood no contest against the bulky, muscle-bound devil on the other. He grinned in dark comedy at the brief protest. He winked at Carric and he slipped into the crowd.
Carric’s head was in the clouds, thinking about that stage he spied in the far corner, himself standing on it and people cheering wildly. Bern had been winking at him about something and he winked back. It wasn’t worth the fuss to figure out what he meant.
The stage. It meant so much to him. Yenrab had said something. It didn’t matter. He charted a path between the pulsing horde and slid his way through. Destiny was in the air.
Tracy was still stuck in the crowd, trying to find his way to the bar. It was a losing struggle.Then he saw a blonde woman get up clumsily from her stool at a table of four. She walked to the bar without difficulty, parting the waves like some avatar of a goddess. His inner psyches shrieked.
You’ve gotta let me drive! his female self yelled.
Not fair at all! This is my turn! his androgyny kicked back.
I don’t get it. Why are they so afraid of her? male Tracy asked in bewilderment.
They stared back in wonder.
Haven’t you figured it out yet? they asked.
I guess not, he answered. His eyes followed the posterior of the woman as she moved on. The sway was hypnotic.
That! That right there! It’s even rubbed off on you! the two bellowed. His head hurt.
He staggered and he understood. Wow, he hadn’t realized.
Yeah, you didn’t, his female self snickered. Androgeny just gave him a pointed look.
Alright. I get it. You win, the man admitted.
Sweet, said his female id.
No way, woman, male Tracy said in victory. It is Androgeny’s turn.
Yay! Androgyny yelled, scrambling into the driver’s seat, large breasts sprouting to the shocked wonder of a baffled crowd.
There’s Tracy, Yenrab noted, seeing that he was a she again and that she was at the bar getting free drinks because of course she was. He still hadn’t found Bern, but there was Carric making his way confidently to the stage, his lute prepped and his harmonica wired to his head.
Everything’s gonna be fine, ya know.
Next to him, people were standing around playing a bar game with a weighted stick in one hand and a tankard in the other. They’d throw the stick straight and its lack of balance would throw it into a spiral. While in such a state, the players would try to get it to land lightside first into their mug.
“Derla!” they cheered as a skinny man in a ragged tunic hit his mark. “Bring the man a drink!”
It was an interesting spot to be ensconced, for it afforded him such a tremendous vantage point. His eyes toured the place.
A table of elven adventurers, well fitted, were all drinking wine out of goblets while poring studiously over some parchment.
Local toughs sat around a table in the corner, including the man who had beaten him at the fight. Dumbface McCheatington, the Champion Liar of Dumb Dumb land. Yenrab stared daggers at him, imagining the man’s twinkle toes popping, one by one. One day, he vowed, angry to have been bested by such an ugly, dumb, lazy and ignorant baboon-faced dunce.
Carric was now on the stage and that, though he hadn’t started yet, a group of humans had moved in to the dance space in front of it, their faces ablush with alcohol and a frisky will to shake and boogie.This looks absolutely promising in every single way, the big half-human thought, smiling in pleasure at his friend’s good fortune.
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