Liturgy of Blood - Part VI
neading his fingers together, Wessex stretched his arms wide and yawned. It had been a tiring day so far, and though the sun was still shining just above the western mountains, already the lull of sleep called out to him. He fondly looked forward to retiring to his cell in the dungeon for some peaceful rest. Their plan to rid him of his nightmares so far had proven successful. Not since that night nearly a month ago had he faced the dæmons taunting his dreams. Phil had been right, the magical wards on the dungeon had prevented whoever was invading his sleeping thoughts from returning.
Yet, with every distraction plaguing him, from the missing pages in the Sudenhart Arcanum, to Llyn's sword, and now to Macaban, he'd barely had anytime to start his own investigations. At best, he'd discovered that Loriod's summer clothes were probably free from guilt, but that he'd suspected already. Behind them in the carriage were more of Loriod's possessions, each waiting their turn for an augury. But as it was, he'd need to rest for several days after the incantation he'd performed over Macaban before he could start.
The donkey steward of Lorland had proved more difficult to call back than Phil had several months ago, but like before, the method had eventually proven successful. The boy wizard could not vanquish the look of sheer terror on Phil's face as he'd continued the proceedings. Was the rabbit thinking only of when they'd done this to him? Did he know that when Wessex had pushed his humanity against the curse he'd erupted into flames all those months ago? It was not something he liked to think about. So close he had come to giving Phil's his human body back, and yet, with each moment, the curse had pushed back like some ponderous wheel towering far overhead, ready to crush him beneath its wide black berth as it rolled across all of Metamor.
Yet, in the end, Wessex had been successful, and Macaban was restored to his humanity, as much of it that could be given anyway. Phil had instructed Captain Hargrove to see that their friend rest for a few days before retaking on his duties. The collie had hastily agreed, appearing delighted to have this magical conundrum finally sorted out. Of course, none of them in the carriage felt it was over.
"You haven't answered my question, Wessex," Phil chided him as they sat towards the back. The great ape Rupert was guiding the horses, the clatter of their hooves on the roadway covering their voices.
The boy nodded slowly, running his small fingers across the edge of his boots. "I know. I suppose it is possible that more of those traps may be still on the Lorlanders. I had not thought it would be possible to subsume their humanity so effectively. At least this gives us one additional piece of information that we didn't have before."
"And that is?" Phil asked, chewing on a fresh carrot. It had been harvested after Loriod's demise, and so he felt perfectly safe munching on the delicacy from Lorland.
"If Zagrosek was indeed the one who laid down those spells, as I believe he must have, then he knows a great deal about the curses."
"But Nasoj has not been able to access magic quite that powerful since the Battle of Three Gates. And any time he has possessed the potential, we've taken it from him. How could one of his subordinates master its intricacies?" Phil's ears were completely erect, as his eyes scanned the distant tree-line. The roadway led through the forest up into the hills surrounding Metamor. About twenty metres on either side of the road had been cleared to prevent banditry.
Wessex shrugged absently, looking back up, his face crossed with mystery. "Perhaps he's not associated with Nasoj at all."
Phil blinked a few times. "Do you mean this Zagrosek is allied with another enemy?"
The boy shrugged yet again, tapping his knee thoughtfully with one finger. "It is possible. We are not the most beloved of people to the south. I cannot of course be sure of this, but something tells me that Zagrosek has nothing to do with Nasoj at all. Not even Nasoj has dared to trifle with matters of the Underworld, something that Zag has done repeatedly."
The rabbit nodded, chewing the carrot down to half its size. They were cresting a rise, and the highest towers of Metamor could be seen in the distance. "And just what is this Underworld? I have heard you talk about it, but never what it is."
"Well, that is because nobody knows just what it is." Wessex glanced at the distant trees, noting the reds and oranges of the leaves as they littered the ground. "Very little is known about it, as almost nobody has any experience with it. The Lightbringers claim that it is not the realm of their daedra, or the Fallen. Not even the Patildor want to claim it for their own hell. The only thing anyone is certain of that does come from there is Matthias's Shriekers."
Phil shuddered, wrapping his paws about himself as best his rabbit form was able. "Is that all that you know? It does not sound to be much at all."
Wessex shook his head. "I know that neither you nor I are very religious men." The rabbit gave what could only be described as a snort at that. "But I did do a little reading on the Patildor shortly after Father Hough arrived here. I wanted to be ready in case we ever managed to get into a religious discussion. Thankfully we have not, but that is another matter. What is important was that there is one reference made to the Underworld in their theological tracts."
"And that would be?"
"Well," Wessex began, stretching his arms again, stifling the yawn that yearned to be on his lips. "When their Eli made all that was, he had to pull Himself back to make room for something that would be of Him. It was all very theological, and quite ridiculous, but the passage concerning the Underworld felt so true, that I was unable to forget it. The Patildor claim that when their Eli pulled back, something came into being that was entirely not Him. Not just without His presence, but so opposite to it, that everything wholesome that had existed in Him was negated. I'm not sure if the Lothanasi possess something similar, but I intend to look into it."
"If indeed there is a higher power, then that description of the Underworld, from what you have told me, sounds like it would be accurate," Phil mused drily, finishing off the last of the carrot. "But we must assume what we know, and not base our understandings on superstition. Do you think that you can track Zagrosek's power to its source and end his threat?"
"If I can find the trail, then yes, I think I can."
"Good," Phil slapped his knees with his paws. "That is all we need to know. I shall do my best to make sure that you can."
Wessex nodded, and then peered past the rabbit at something in the distant woods. He could not see it very clearly, but there was an icy chill clutching round his heart. His breath caught in his throat as he stared, unable to break his eyes from those clustered woods, the leaves shaking in the wind, falling to the ground, passing through something, some shape that he could not see. The boy blinked a few times, rubbing his palms over his eyes as if to banish this sudden feeling, but it persisted, his heart going just as cold as in the predawn twilight when he'd glimpsed the Symphony upon that wall.
Yet, in the way the leaves fell, coalescing about that figure of blackness between the gnarled trunks, he could almost make out a face. Constantly shimmering in the wind, each new leaf at once where his eyes ought to be, and then the next that gaping mouth. All of them made up his face for every moment, a face that had grown increasingly familiar in his nightmares. It split into two smaller faces, each even more recognizable, and then it was gone, his heart stone cold.
"Stop the carriage," he barely whispered, the hair on his arms standing on end. He ran his hands across the chilled flesh, trying to warm himself, though it did no good, for his eyes were still locked on that spot in the woods by the road.
"What?" Phil asked then, his face curious. The rabbit's eyes scanned the horrified features of the boy next to him, and then turned to Rupert and called out in a loud voice, hardly befitting a former naval commander of Whales, but a commanding one nonetheless, "Rupert, stop the carriage!"
The great ape did as instructed, though he turned about once the horses had come to a stop, and began necking each other and sniffing at the ground for any trace of grass. He mimed a question, but Phil waved a paw at him, still focussed on Wessex. The boy had stood in his seat, and was staring at the woods a short ways back up the road, the spot firmly entrenched in his mind, just as much as that wall had become.
"What is it, Wessex?" Phil asked, his whole body alert, as any rabbit would be who smelled a predator about.
"They're here," was all the boy could say, before his body began to shudder at the terrible thought of what might lurk in those woods.
"Who's here?" Phil pressed.
"I –" Wessex began, but his tongue caught in his throat, as images began to flash through his mind. It was of a great underground chamber, vast in proportion, the distant walls barely visible in the wan red illumination. A black suppurating light emanated from the centre of the floor, through a crack that ran across its length. A circle of dancing figures stood there, nine of them, each marked by carefully sculpted figures, stile and slash. He could not help realize that they were the chevrons that decorated the censer. Nor did he fail to discern that several of the figures were very familiar. In the centre of the ring lay the supine form of a hawk – his own student Jessica. And the fourth figure in the circle was none other than himself, his face contorted with the mask of death.
And then the image was gone, just as suddenly as it had come. The carriage surrounded him, and the white face of his rabbit companion was pressed close to his. "Wessex!" Phil shouted, while Rupert stood over them both, gazing on in concern. "Wessex, what's wrong?"
The boy shuddered, blinking free that sudden flash, a flash of something he had never before seen, yet had filled him with greater terror than even that Symphony had. Whatever lay inside that crack was a greater danger to the world than anything that censer could have brought forth. "Zagrosek is here."
"What? Now?" Phil asked, scanning the roadside. The rabbit's whole body started to shudder and quake, very subtly, though it was clear that fear was filling his mind.
"Yes, in that forest across the way!" Wessex pointed, rising to his feet again. Rupert reached out one hand to snatch him back, but his mind was set. He would not be taunted by this maleficent wizard. He had the power over his own thoughts.
"Wessex, come back!" Phil shouted, darting back in sudden rabbity fear, as the boy mage jumped from the carriage and towards the spot of the tree line he had seen the spectral faces of both Zagrosek and Matthias only moments before. He could hear the great ape following after him, and knew that he would never be able to outrun Rupert.
Just as he let that thought grace his mind, barely three steps from the carriage itself, Wessex felt the ape's large, thick, hand grip him about his collar and drag him back. Wessex beat at the thick simian arm with his fists, but to no avail, as he soon was deposited beside the carriage where Phil had hopped down in agitation, eyes straining to that wood in terror. "Wessex, what has gotten into you?"
"That man is out there right now, I can feel it!" Wessex cried out, nearly breaking down in tears as the desire to face him and the knowledge that his friends would not let him tore at his soul. "He's taunting me and there is nothing I can do."
"And you say he is in that forest, right now?" Phil asked, his voice shuddering.
"Well, he was, at least a moment or so ago," Wessex tried to take his eyes away from where he'd seen the leaves fall, trying to shunt those images from his mind. That black pit though kept returning, as well as the fact that Jessica was the one who lay in the centre, a knife hanging over her heart, ready to be torn out in some bizarre ritual.
Phil appeared thoughtful for a moment, his ears standing straight up. That he was fighting his own fear just to speak was evident to both of his companions, but they were long since used to the difficulties of his nature. "Well, you said that they needed you to open that door, correct?"
"Yes, without me it will never open."
"Then, let us leave so that we dare not risk them taking you for that hideous deed." Phil stood up as best he was able to with his lapine body and urged the boy with one paw towards the carriage.
Wessex shook his head at the shivering Prince, a wan smile crossing his features."No, my friend. If he was out there, this may be another clue I need to track him down. I have to go out there. Rupert, can you come along and bring that anti-magic powder? If he is still there, then it would be very useful. I doubt that he would strike if such a lethal element were in play."
In moments, Rupert was brandishing the bag of deadly powder in one hand. Wessex had asked that he bring it in case it would be needed in the casting to restore Macaban's humanity. He was not sure of any complications that might arise, and was not willing to take any chances. Thankfully, it had proceeded smoothly, even though it had taken longer than expected. Now however, Rupert might have a chance to use it, a thought the boy mage did not relish.
Phil however, appeared even more frightened, hopping back as close as he could to the carriage itself, his face darkening with shame, his eyes on the verge of tears as he turned away form the woods, fighting all of his instinct to scurry into hiding.
Rupert looked down at his prince with his great simian eyes, and then shook his head to Wessex, pointing very firmly with his finger to stay here. Wessex stamped one foot in frustration. "Don't you see, this is an opportunity to take a stand against this man. Yet, I know that it could be dangerous, but we cannot hope to defeat evil if we only venture where it is safe. Rupert, I need you."
The great ape shook his head firmly again, and stood next to the cringing white rabbit. Phil was ducking so close to the ground, his whole body shaking, that a bit of the dirt from the road was smearing across his paws.
Sighing, Wessex could feel the burning desire filling him. Holding out his hand, his fingers unfurled, he gazed menacingly at the great ape. "Then give me the powder."
Rupert glanced to Phil, who only nodded briefly, staring at Wessex in anxious curiosity. Wessex then turned about, and began the trek towards the woods, intent on seeing what was there for himself. His fingers worked at the knot on the sack in his palm, slowly undoing the drawstring.
Phil watched the boy head towards that forest. Though he could not see anything out of the ordinary, it simply felt wrong, terribly wrong. Closing his eyes in humiliating shame at the fear that had clutched around his heart, preventing him from moving from that spot by the carriage, he tried to find that human still inside of the rabbit. Was he more than an animal? Wessex had given him back his humanity in his most horrible hour. And here, when the boy needed him, he was returning once more to that feral state, being just a bunny.
Pushing down the fear that would not leave him, Phil turned back and stared after the boy. He would need help, but Rupert would not abandon the Prince's side as long as they were out here, even if Phil ordered him to. Shaking with the ever present terror, more fitting a rabbit than a man, Phil leaped forward, digging his claws deep into the earth, as if that would somehow siphon his fright away.
The boy stared back at them both, Rupert quickly following after his master. Wessex smiled then, and breathed a sigh of relief. "Are you coming after all?"
Phil nodded, though did not let himself come to a full stop just yet, for fear he would turn back and flee from this phantom nightmare. Rupert took the satchel of anti-magic dust form the child mage, who appeared to be most grateful to no longer have it in his possession.
Wessex then turned on his feet, friends squarely behind him, and firmly glaring at the spot where the faces in the leaves had been. It was a rather unremarkable break in the tree-line, two oaks standing several shoulders apart, their branches decorated with bright orange leaves, and their roots creeping up out of the grassy soil, even out of the pile of discarded leaves that they had already shed. Past the first few trees were the stouter trunks of a few hickory, but beyond them was darkness. It was already moving on twilight. In another hour this road would be a shadowy haunt, not to mention the creeping blackness of the woods.
When they were but a few ells from the first branches of those two gnarled oaks, Rupert stopped them both and tested the air with one finger. Satisfied, he slightly opened the powder, and released a few of the sparkling particles into the air. They floated along the currents of the wind, between the two trees trunks themselves, and then quickly descended into the pile of leaves. Where they touched, the reds and oranges became a crumpled brown, and then an ash as the particles of anti-magic sucked every last drop of essence from them. None of the particles moved past those two trees, a fact which caused Rupert to take a sharp intake of breath.
"What does that mean?" Wessex asked. Despite his vast knowledge of things magical, this expensive and rare powder from Whales was still a mystery to him.
Phil shivered slightly in his white fur, trying his best not to bolt in panic. "It means that you were not just imaging things. Somebody has cast magic here, and upon those leaves."
"I saw faces in the leaves," Wessex added softly, stepping a bit closer to the trees. The rabbit was right behind him, while Rupert refused to let any go before him, cantering nearly up the oaks himself, peering into the darkness clutched within those sombre branches.
"What sort of faces?"
The boy shook his head, pressing one hand against his temples. "The first one I cannot say. I know that I have seen it before somewhere, and I was sure I knew it when I glimpsed it, yet it is gone now. The other two were the constant banes of my nightmares, Matthias and Zagrosek."
Rupert picked up one of the desiccated leaves and examined it. All that remained of it's substance were the veins running through it, the rest was a flimsy grey sheen. The ape showed it to Phil, who peered at it curiously, his eyes scanning the nearby trees though, listening with his large ears. Wessex heard nothing though, only the sounds that any forest might make. Having never spent much time outdoors, he could barely catalogue any of them. Every frog's croak was a laugh of derision to Wessex, just as every owl's hoot was the threat of a sudden attack.
"Whoever was here has left, Wessex," Phil then said, his voice slow, carefully measured, though aghast. "We need to move on, there is nothing more we can find here. We shall take some of these leaves with us so that you might examine them. I will tell the Duke of this if you wish."
"No, please do not do that, at least not yet." Wessex turned to his friend, his eyes a plea. "If you do that then Thomas will send out scouts to look for him. I am afraid that they would only die at the hands of Zagrosek. We must do this alone, at least for now. We know almost nothing about him. Perhaps these leaves can give us more insight into his power."
Phil nodded then, and placed a wary paw on his friends shoulder. "I shall share this burden with you alone then for sometime longer. But if anything unusual happens, please, do not keep me again from coming to your aid."
Wessex lowered his head, shuffling his feet in the fallen leaves, "I shall not. Let us leave this place though, for I do not wish to stay here any longer."
"Nor do I." Phil looked back to the aide, "Rupert, can you collect these leaves and put them in a sack? We do not have much time."
The ape nodded, but only collected a few in his arms, as he would not take the time to retrieve a sack until he was sure his charge was safe. Although he could not be sure, the boy could have sworn that the wind blew a few of the leaves away from the great ape as he watched. The rabbit hopped over to Wessex then and pressed himself into the boy's side a bit involuntarily. "Come away from this place, my friend. You cannot chase your dreams here. Perhaps your enemy taunts you because he is afraid you will be able to defeat him now?"
Wessex leaned back into the rabbit, helplessly. "I do hope so." And then the two of them walked briskly away from the trees. Phil however quickly outpaced the young mage, reaching the carriage and shaking with the repressed fear that had flowed like blood through his veins. With a cry of horror, he began to hack and cough, phlegm dislodging from his throat as he stood hunched over. Wessex stood and stared at his friend of many years. He knew all too well the burdens the rabbit wore, and this was the one of shame.
Lake's Head Inn was a modest establishment just a short distance from the wharfs and ferries that crossed the Bozojo Lake in the western portions of the Southern Midlands. Benlan Rais prided himself on providing all travellers with a warm meal and a clean bed, be they Kelewairian merchants riding north to sell their cloths in Landon, missionaries from Sathmore on their way to the Outer Midlands where their influence had waned in the last century, or even the occasional Flatlander knight roaming the countryside. However, the cloaked figure seated towards the back of the main hall was a mystery even for him.
Benlan Rais considered himself a well educated man, having spent many of his younger days working the Inns of Kelewair and watching the procession of dignitaries, merchants, and other well-to-do citizens make their rounds. He listened in on their conversations while cleaning tables and scrubbing floors, learning of life in other cities and other places, some he still had never seen, and probably never would. Besides, being the Master of Lake's Head Inn brought more than his share of the world to him every night.
Bozojo, being situated on the northwestern shores of the most important lake in the Southern Midlands, saw quite a bit of the trade routes flow past her docks. Caravans to the Outer Midlands often would make a stop in their humble town before continuing eastward. The trader's district was full of Kelewairian merchants, each trying to find the easiest way to ship their cloths and carpets out to the sea for trade with Sathmore and Whales. Aside from Ellcaran, Bozojo was the largest trading town in all of the Southern Midlands.
Yet, despite all of this, never before had Benlan Rais put up with a visitor quite like the cloaked man sitting in the back and slowly eating through his supper, as if he cared not whether the morsels ever made it to his belly or not. Whereas Benlan himself was short and balding already, barely past the age of thirty, the man shrouded beneath the tightly woven cape, of a design he could not recall seeing among any of the tailor's shops in the Trader's District, was tall, lithe, and had long, strangely luminescent black hair that dangled about one of his angular cheeks. He'd never seen the colour of the man's eyes, only the shape of his jaw-line, a rather triangular construction coming to a smooth, narrow chin.
Benlan found his eyes drawn to the object of his contemplation, peering curiously at the black cloaked figure sitting quietly in the back. He wasn't the only one in the Inn to notice him, as many of his other patrons, a few merchants, and one traveller dressed in bright garish clothes with a long slender sword strapped to his buckler, had also taken to staring at this enigma.
The stranger had selected a table in the far end of the main room, beneath the stairs to the loft that was reserved for private dinners, and so was only illuminated by the two flames dancing in the sconces set next to the stairwell. The loft only covered a small portion of the main room, the rest was open to the higher ceiling, decorated with trophies and animal heads, as well as plenty of braziers and the overhanging chandelier. The selection allowed the stranger to remain in solitude and gave him free room to watch the other patrons. Benlan knew that those who chose such a place to sit were the sort who did not wish to be disturbed.
Even despite his unusual appearance, the facet of him that most startled Rais was his voice. It had been as tender as the dulcet tones of a flute, yet as firm as any of the Innkeepers he had served under in his youth. Despite the fact that the stranger had only asked so far for a meal, the impression had been quite profound. Earlier in the day, when the swashbuckler had trotted in and loudly declared his need for a meal and a place to bed for the night, as if he believed himself to be the most important being in the room, Benlan had expected he would have to watch over him and prevent him from starting trouble with the rest of his patrons. Now, it appeared that all anyone could do was stare fixedly at this even more unusual sight.
Purposefully drawing his eyes away from contemplation of his guest, Benlan continued to lean on the counter behind which he worked. The scent of the lake air was blowing in through the open doors. The chill of the night was already upon them, but the season was still warm, and would be so for a few weeks more. Glancing to his side at a sudden movement, he saw one of his serving boys carrying an ale towards the far side of the room. Grabbing the boy's shoulder, he yanked him back and glared in his suddenly frightened face.
"Where are you taking that, Akin?" Benlan Rais snarled.
Akin, one of the newer lads to come into his employ when his father drowned just a short ways off the docks, was not used to his master's swings of temper quite yet. In fright, he nearly dropped the mazer. As it was, he spilled a bit of the frothy ale across the floor, eliciting another snarl from the Innkeeper. "I'm sorry, master. I was just brining Master Greylin the ale he requested."
Benlan took the mug from his charge and sniffed at the liquid, eyeing the garish individual who was busy drinking from another mazer. Sir Greylin did not notice their conversation, as he was too busy eying the cloaked individual on the other side of the room. The black-clad stranger appeared to know that others were watching him eat, but he did not seem to care. "Take this in the back and water it down by half. Then clean this spill up."
"But, master, I already watered it down by half," Akin protested.
Benlan secretly smiled that his young charge had come to understand the business of running an Inn so well already in his short time here. He'd make a fine lad and worker when he was a few years older. Yet, Rais had an image to maintain, and an Inn to run, and compliments were not to be given in front of the patrons. "Then do it again! And don't forget to clean this spill up. I don't want Sir Greylin to be drinking anything but watered down ale the rest of this evening, do you understand?"
The boy nodded, his short blonde hair dirty from tending to the horses in the stables earlier in the day. "Yes, master." He then darted back through the door, clutching the mazer of ale very carefully between his hands.
There was a stirring behind him, and when Benlan Rais looked up past the counter, he saw the black cloaked stranger standing there, his gloved hands bearing the plate of food he'd been served. His thin set lips opened almost imperceptibly. "Your meal was quite well prepared. My compliments to your chef and to your dutiful servants who brought it to me."
The Innkeeper blinked in confusion for a moment before stuttering out a prideful sentiment. "Well, here at Lake's Head, you only receive the best." This man unnerved him greatly. He was reminded of the hounds his first master had kept – slavering beasts that would bark and snap at him if he dared come too close or disturb their kennel. There was something powerful about this figure before him that made him quake as he had done whenever his master had ordered him to feed those hounds.
"Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?" he finally asked, gripping one side of the counter to steady himself. Though he could not see the man's eyes, he could feel them studying his balding figure and short stature, as if he were deciding whether or not to snap at him like those dogs once had.
The man folded his gloved hands on the counter before him, pulling the cloak tighter about his chest. His fingers were long and slender. "I have heard it said that you are a man with his ear in many places, Master Rais. Is this not so?"
Benlan watched Akin hand Sir Greylin his ale only to have the garishly clad man swat at him ineffectually. The boy had ducked out of the way and scampered back towards the kitchens. The traveller appeared to be uninterested in pursuing the rebuke, and settled back into his drunken stupor. Returning his attention to the stranger before him he replied, "One could say that I suppose. Are you interested in what I have heard?" Both of their voices were soft now. Despite the familiarity of the terrain, Benlan still felt wary revealing his second trade – secrets.
"I am interested in one or two things, yes, Master Rais." Those bell-like tones left him uneasy. "Would you prefer to conduct your business in the open, or shall we adjourn to a more private setting?"
Benlan normally conducted his business of this nature behind closed doors. Yet, he was not sure he wished to be alone with this creature. For a brief moment he wondered if this was one of those monsters from Metamor, but the smooth jaw-line hinted otherwise. This was not an animal-man, but something else. Perhaps a traveller from the distant east. His accent was strange enough to merit such a locale. Very little was known about the people living beyond the Åelfwood. At the very least, little was known about them in Bozojo, and certainly to Benlan Rais.
Instead of answering directly, he decided to stall for a moment, to better gauge his quarry. "I suppose that really depends on what your intentions are. Many seek information, but it is what you do with it that determines whether it is an honest pursuit or not. The choice is then yours, my good sir. The choice is yours."
For a moment, just a moment, he thought he saw a smile upon those thin lips, as if this was all a pleasant game of rings and hatches, and Rais had just made a startlingly clever move. But before he could respond, a third voice lurched into their conversation. "Hey, what are you two talking about?" Greylin demanded as he slouched towards them, ale spilled across his brightly coloured tunic. "Are you talking about me?"
Benlan saw Akin come through the kitchen door once more to clean up the spill he'd made. Rais waved a hand at him, motioning for him to get back. The boy, saw the two figures on the other side of the counter, nearly dropped the damp cloth he carried, and stumbled back through the swinging door. "We are having a private conversation. It does not concern you. Return to your seat and to your drink," The stranger ordered without so much as a glance at the inebriated hooligan.
"I think it does concern me, stranger. Maybe you'd like to show yourself and we can discuss it face to face." Greylin then swung a fist towards the cloaked figure's head. Benlan stepped back, reaching for the cudgel he kept beneath the counter for just such occasions. It was thick enough that it usually convinced the drunkards to take their brawl out into the streets.
Yet the stranger was faster than he, stepping deftly to the side and reaching out with one gloved hand and pressing softly to the man's shoulder. Greylin spun on his heels and collapsed to the floor, his head striking solidly against the hardwood. Yet, in that moment when the stranger had moved, a bit of the torchlight had flashed across the rest of his face, illuminating his features for just a brief second. Those angular eyes, hooked nose, and hard yet delicate features were not those of a man at all, but of something... else.
Benlan Rais slipped the cudgel back beneath the counter top, his mouth dry. The stranger turned to him, the golden eyes once more obscured behind the shadow of his cloak. His voice was almost sardonic, "I believe we ought to take this behind closed doors, lest interlopers continue to interrupt us."
"I agree," Benlan nodded, while two of his boys came forward to help Greylin out into the streets. Calling to the eldest of the two, he instructed him to watch over the Inn while he was busy discussing matters with the stranger. And then, he turned and led the black clad thing into one of his back rooms, oddly beguiled that something so strange in this world would pass beneath his eyes this once.
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