The following writing may contain mature subject matter that some readers may find unsuitable for younger readers: debaucherous use of alcohol, displays of discrimination, depictions of violence, the use and abuse of drugs, expressions of mild sexuality, vocalizations of vulgarity, and other mature themes.
This writing is fiction. Names, characters, settings and events are either used fictitiously or are products of the writers' imaginations. Any resemblance to real events, settings or people, dead or alive, is coincidental unless stated otherwise.
Prologue, Scene I: Early Morning Murder
"Glazday, Month of the Tail, Day Four, Year CDXXXVIII
I just helped close doors for night. Had shoe away two drunk bard and damn fairy. Bards not playing well when drunk. Fairy not flying straight. I be tired. Night be long and oh dung person just walked in door--"
-- Taylor T. Tipsy's last and final, interrupted journal entry.
The gray quill fell gracefully from his hand, against the beige page in a smearing of unviscid black ink. And red joined black as blood spilled from the tavern owner's gruesomely severed neck. His curly brown hair was pulled back tight in a black-gloved hand. Iron studs glinted on the knuckles of the hand, as it slid the man's decapitated head into a large, black leather pouch. The pouch tightened, like a gaping mouth, as silver-threaded drawstrings grew tight.
His headless body slumped over the counter of the bar, dripping blood. The finely varnished wood was a rich red tone of pearwood, richer now with the crimson stains of blood. And the figure behind him, cloaked in a shadowy aura, left silently. The black cape billowed in the wild wild that blew in from the open door.
Toppled stools, wooden chairs and grog-stained tables lay as the only witnesses to the vile act. The chairs remained still, cold, without the warm bottom-flesh of customers upon them in merriment. The murderer left in a blur of dark movement, braving the cold wind of the early, empty hours of the morning. The sun was not yet up, and the street outside remained innocent.
It was a dreadful night indeed.
Prologue, Scene II: A Dreadful Knight In Deed
"Wanted: Query team to seek truth, justice and vengeance for the murder of Taylor T. Tipsy of the Tipsy Tavern Inn. Please report soundly to the tavern, taking the main road south. Payment of two thousand copper circlets (2,000c) will follow upon completion. See Ms. T. Tipsy.
Signed, Officer Edward Branchwald"
-- Posted in the town square, bulletin of notice for Her Majesty's Knights of the Undying Regent.
Day Five of the Month of the Tail was a Gleenday. It had begun with a murder, and that did not sit well with the particular Knight of the Undying Regent called to investigate. He got off his high horse and entered the bar.
Miss Tamantha Tipsy was sitting in the corner of the establishment, her robed body firmly stuck in the frame of a chair. She sniffed at the disturbance, and turned her head up from where it had rested in her arms. Her sleeves were wet with tears.
"Why have I been summoned?" The knight asked, looking around the tavern. He seemed oblivious to the gory mess upon the counter. "You posted a notice in the town square around noon, did you not, madam?"
Gravely disturbed by the man's ignorance, Tamantha stared up at him, armour shining in the sunlight that came in the tavern windows. And then she let out a hideous sob, eyes narrowing so that the bloody foreground of her husband's corpse blurred.
"Madam, is something wrong?"
With a plump hand, Tamantha Tipsy rubbed her tears away with a translucent blue-speckled shawl. She looked down at the crystal ball that was in the centre of the round table upon which her elbows rested. The mist swirled blankly, and the class barrier shone dimly, unscried.
Finally taking some initiative, the knight turned, armour clanking, and stared at the beheaded tavern owner and bartender. He frowned, "Oh, does this have you upset, does it, madam?"
Tamantha let out a violent sob, sparkling tears deluging the crystal ball below. And then she said to him, voice choked up, "Y-yes... p-please, sir, call me Tammy."
"Well, madam, I reckon this is nothing to worry about. I've seen battle wounds far worse than what this bloke has suffered."
Again, she wept, and the ball stared up at her blankly. And again, she got up the courage to speak, "D-do you have a young squire with you, sir knight? Who p-perhaps might not be s-so obtusely lobotomized?"
"Speak the Common Tongue, madam," he replied to the words he did not comprehend, "My squire died, ma'am. Just the other week. Took a mighty blow to the neck, he did. And he took it like more of a man than this poor old sap did."
The widowed fortune-teller buried her face in her hands, sobbing as only widows can. And, for the third time, she got up the courage to speak, "Begone, sir knight. I need not your chivalry." Your chivalry is dead, like my husband.
"The payment of two thousand circlets, ma'am?" Mortally offended.
"Will not be paid," she sneered. "Least of all to you. Your assumptions are erroneous. I plan to keep the place open."
Prologue, Scene III: A Job Is A Job Is A Job
"Wanted: Charismatic bartender trained in the arts of conversation and close-combat. Tipsy Tavern Inn. Please report to the tavern. Take the main road south of town. Payment of fifteen copper circlets (15c) an hour. Two silver circlets (2,000c) extra will be granted for special task. See Ms. T. Tipsy when convenient for interview.
Signed, Tamantha 'Tammy' Tipsy"
-- Posted in the town square, bulletin of notice for EMPLOYMENT.
A young man in a rich, softly light-blue robe, dressed for colder weather, came strolling down the roadside. It was the south road, and led out of town, through the unsafe forest. And it was a rough neighborhood, being so close to the forest. The north and west ends of town were far more safe, as they bordered upon farmland. And the east end bordered upon the Violet Sea.
He paused. Across the dirt road, there was a sun dial. And the trees around it stood far enough back that it was quite usable despite being so close to the forest. Approaching it, he shaded his eyes against the harsh blue sunlight.
The sun dial read noon. It stabbed the sunlit air like a copper blade, covered in a beautiful patina that obscured the sixteen numbers that were spread around the ancient clock. And at that moment, a caravan sped by, inches away from his billowing, fluffy robe. And the dry dirt swept up in its wake, choking the air. It was uncomfortably parched.
The young man coughed, right arm clutching his chest as he leaned over the sun dial. His left arm reached up and fell. And when the dirt cleared, and he could breathe again, he looked at where his hand was pointing. A path towards the forest's edge led to a large house under the shade of the enormous trees.
There was a sign, hanging from the front wall on a slab of painted wall. 'The Tipsy Tavern & Inn'. He recognized the name, having briefly scanned the 'EMPLOYMENT' postings in town. It had not been what he was looking for. He had been looking for an adventure in the forest to pass the time, perhaps some magical encounter with something rare and mythical - or perhaps a quiet walk past inconspicuous animals and beautiful flowers.
And, by sheer and utter coincidence, there was indeed something magical which some might call mythical, but in no way rare. They stood two feet tall, angry and boisterously chatting in low voices. Their rounded, bulbous mushroom heads each covered in a psychedelic twist of spotted colors.
It made the young man jump to attention, and he landed gracefully with his sandaled feet firmly gripping the circular edge of the sun dial.
The mushroom creatures eyed him cautiously, and one pointed at him with a sharp stick, muttering incomprehensible curses in a low, forest dialect.
His toe nails curved downward in sharp silvery claws, that looked out of place in the sandals he had bought only so that he would be accepted into the 'Bed, Bread & Breakfast' establishment he had stayed in the night prior. A barefooted northling was a cause for rejection, in these parts.
And then the mushroom thing that had been examining him gazed up at the willowy, bony human figure. The raggedy shorts; which would clash dramatically with the fine robe that covered them to any human eye; hung on skinny, pale legs with thick dark brown hairs, almost black. The robe was light blue, speckled with snowflakes formed by stout, white feathers sown in a circular spread. The edge was thickly frilled with white, as thick as the tail of any fox. It was buttoned up with silvery clasps, each a unique snowflake.
From the window of the tavern, Tamantha looked on with interest. She found the young man intriguing, as he stood on the sun dial with a feral sneer. She had been waiting in the smokey entrance hall, her fortune-telling table plonked in the centre of the room.
Each silver snowflake clipped between the fabric and the robe opened completely, billowing in the wind. The young man's pale white chest was exposed, revealing several scars. The skin seemed deathly white, as if pigmented rather than simply left inside too long. And there was no body fat, and thus his modest musculature hung naked on his frame. And his slender hands withdrew two discuses from the inside pockets of his robe. They were unique - large silver snowflakes - twins. A rarity.
The snowflake discs whirled through the air and sliced two of the three mushroom creatures as they had begun to charge towards the sun dial with pointed branches and sticks flailing madly. The two fell to a pulpy mess as the discuses continued to fly across the lawn towards the tavern window.
Inside, Tammy ducked for cover as she reckoned they would shatter the window and come spinning towards her. However, after many moments of silence, she returned to her seat and looked back out the window. The silver discuses, sharp edges shining in the blue sunlight, flew back to the young man slowly, as if enchanted. The knight ignored me for being an oneiromancer. By the stars, now I see this magician, but a boy, and my heart sings.
"That's correct, little 'shroom, tell all your friends about me!" he called into the forest as the third mushroom into the shadowy depths of the forest - sheltered by a panoply of leaves. And then the young man looked back upon the tavern, nose twitching bestially.
The door swung open as he walked in, and the smoke of incense wafted from behind the door. Madam Tipsy squinted to make out the silhouette of the young man as he eclipsed the harsh blue sunlight from the roadside glen.
"I do not want yourr worrk," he intoned immediately, thick with a northling accent. "I hear you read fates."
She cackled proudly, sitting straight in her chair, "You heard right, boy."
He sat down in the chair opposite hers.
"You remind me of a man I once knew," she said, sadness in her voice. "Or the son I could not have." She was draped in gloomy shawls and a dark gray sari. Clearly, a woman in mourning.
"I knoww of him. News trravels fasst in thiss little town., ma'am." He looked down at the crystal ball. And the dark mist shifted, as if it knew it had his attention.
Tamantha had the experience not to say anything, noticing the focused gaze his eyes projected. This will be an interesting reading of the probable fates!
Then he took her eyes in his, with a single movement of his head. His striking nose scared her, as the nostrils flared. And he moved a hand to block his own view of the crystal ball. Then he smiled, "I do not like wwhat I sseee. You wwill not r-rread my future, nor wwill I rrread it any more than I alrrready have."
She frowned, and took on a pessimistic tone, "Why do you smile, boy?"
"I am to be yourr barrtenderrr, ma'am."
She cocked her head slightly, on a diagonal tilt, "A job is a job, and this one has a string attached."
"What kind of ssstrring?"
"Job within job. That means, a job is a job... is a job."
He nodded, "What kind of job, Tammmy? Can I call you Tammmmy?"
She, too, nodded, "You have great wits, boy, for you know magic. Thus I know you are right for this. And you can fight - though perhaps not as well as some of the rough crowd."
"I beg to differrr." A coy twitch, an elegance to his eccentric features, hair slicked back, looking frozen. A polite growl in his last word.
"About which part of my assessment?"
"We shall sseee. What iss yourr job within thiss job which iss a job?"
"As bartender, you must schmooze freely, talk up every customer you can - and you will hear a great many things. And there are a great many things I need to know."
"You wwant me to gatherr inforrmation abou--"
"Yes, boy, about my late husband's murder." Her tone was firm.
His head bobbed in surprise, not the answer he expected. His black brow furrowed, "What willl the Tipssy Taverrn cusstomerrss knoww about hiss murrderr?"
"Everything," she said.
"Everrrything?" Incredulous. A curious growl.
"Yes, Alopex Lagopus of the North," she grinned, a broad smile of teeth and gold that seemed to be teeth.
"Reading my mind is not polite, oneiromancer."
"I may only learn what your mind lets me learn."
"And that is why you need me? To get at what they won't tell you? And what makes you suspect them?"
"Questions, boy. Questions." she stood, pushing back her chair and walking back behind the counter. The blood stain had left a large permanent mark on the finish. She withdrew a bottle from below, "This is your answer."
"Grog? Rum?" Is she crazy?
"Hah," she smiled, "No. Not crazy. There was a kiss of black lipstick upon the head of my husband when they found it in the town well. My friend got a chance to smell it - it smells exactly like this stuff. The Tipsytail secret ingredient. Served only in the Month of Tail. And to have that smell on your lips, penetrating lipstick, is the mark of a regular inhabitant of either this bar - on a nightly basis over the past three days, or of this forest where the err-- ingredient grows."
"And you trrusst thiss - frriend?" Alopex asked.
"He swore upon a copy of the Sacred Scrolls. And yes, I believe him. My husband's murderer will be among the memories, if not the company, of the drunkards tomorrow night when the bar re-opens."
"Good, something to keep my mind busy pouring drinks and casting the water in the air into ice."
"Hydromancer of the Cold, are you?"
"Do I or do I not have a job?"
"Do I have more than a bartender?"
"Fine, do I have a job within a job which is, as a whole, a job in itself?"
The fortune teller nodded, and raised a plump middle-aged hand, each finger strangled by rings, to tap her chin with long, painted nails. A job is a job is a job.
"I will be your eyes and ears."
"Ever worked in a bar?"
"Ever been a hydromancer?"
The woman grinned, walking off, "And if you find an older man in the bar as handsome as you, give me a shout." And her sarcastic jest finished with a cold edge of grief.
And then, alone in the bar room off from the front hall, Al' pulled a tough rag out from a basin of water under the counter. And he began to rub away at the stain of murder upon the pearwood counter-top, dreaming of the stories vagrants would be telling him.
A job is a job is a job.