Though her companions Boink and Solarys regarded the worsening environs with skepticism and mistrust, Brehan began breathing easier once they had escaped the long shadows of prestigious arcane and divine institutions, feeling a path of nostalgia for the rough-and-tumble, occasionally rancid, streets of the old city.
“I grew up in a place like this,” she shrugged when the nature-loving goblin and vivacious half-elf performer accompanying her asked. “Our scholarly friends may enjoy their great halls filled with books or the stuffy company of social elites, but we three—this is where we work.”
She caught the eye of an older child leaning against a street lamp, who was watching the crowd and paying particular attention to unfamiliar faces. Brehan struck up an animated conversation with the girl, talking about the city’s history. Her companions had never known her to be a talker, particularly with strangers, and especially about the finer parts of urban architecture.
“We’re headed to the Rusty Flagon, where we will introduce ourselves to someone of import; a big name around these parts—he’ll be the one who can get us everything we need before we set off again.
“That was the most boring exchange I’ve ever heard,” Solarys grimaced. “Do you know her or something?”
“She reminded me of someone I knew back home,” Brehan shrugged, electing not to let the gregarious and talkative minstrel in on the fact that thieving guilds across the planes have ways of communicating in the open, even about sensitive matters.
True to its name and the general appearance of the slapdash and ill-maintained part of town within which it sat—rarely thought of and never visited by the upper classes—the Rusty Flagon looked identical to the other run-down taverns and shady underworld hot spots. Inside, stains from spilled mead and worse sent the sharp-nosed Boink recoiling, and the general look of the patrons weren’t much better, by Solarys’ estimation.
Without hesitation or concern, Brehan strode up to the bar counter, with its conveniently-located platform for under-sized races, and ordered a round for she and her companions. “Yes, I think this place will do nicely,” she smiled, unfazed by the squalor of the dark and smoke-filled room.
“Brehan,” Solarys frowned, doubly so after trying the drink, “I’m always one to enjoy adventures but this place is a hot mess. What are you hoping to get here?”
“I’m just looking for a friendly game,” the halfling shrugged, not-so innocently shuffling her three-dragon ante cards. A smooth-looking elf seemed to materialize next to her, his confident gaze at odds with the dirty and fraying condition of his doublet.
They played three hands while talking idly about the strange, multicolored apparitions that had blazed across the sky three nights prior. Brehan lost the first round, sliding a good piece across the table. And then the second, which cost her three more shining coins. They tied on the third play, and both smiled at one another, seeming to have reached some sort of accord. As quickly as he came, the elf vanished.
“You aren’t exactly flush,” Solarys observed. “That little game just about tapped you out, didn’t it?”
Brehan shrugged, a small, wry smile on her lips. “Our bar tab is paid up—free drinks for the rest of the night.”
Solarys’ attitude immediately changed as, without a word, she rose and all but bounced over to the bar, ordering the most expensive wine on the menu. Boink held up a finger, and she pointed at a strong, dark bottle on the shelf. The bartender glanced to a shadowed corner of the room before pouring generous glasses of the requested drinks.
Distracted by the luxurious order, her companions missed Brehan slipping off her stool and approaching the dark corner.
“Zebulon, I presume?” She asked, taking the offered seat next to a dour-looking dwarf with piercing blue eyes and gold beads woven in a lush, dark beard.
“Brehan Silverleaf,” he grunted neutrally.
“Just ‘Brehan’,” she corrected, as much out of habit as preference.
“Brehan—what an interesting group with which you grace my corner of the city. Are you looking for something in particular?”
“Well, I felt it best to make a proper offering before making any requests. To show I’m here in good faith and that my companions—” she glanced over to see Solarys leading a large contingent of patrons in a rousing and lively rendition of “the Gods Smile on Us” while Boink provided table-top percussion—“aren’t intending on being a distraction to your dealings.”
“I’m impressed,” he smiled dryly, turning his head to her for the first time. “Most around these parts have forgotten the old rules of hospitality.”
“I’m not from around these parts,” she replied laconically.
“Very well then. I do have a small task to ask of you and your friends, and after you’ll have your choice of reward. Provided, of course, that you move on soon.”
“We’re not ones to overstay our welcome. Tell me about this little job you want outsourced and we’ll get squared up before,” she added, “Solarys drinks you out of house and home.”
Header image from Pixabay.com, a fantastic resource for royalty-free stock images.