Shirasiau Sai’Li: Epilogue

It’s the end of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign… and I had some loose ends to wrap up.  Hope you enjoy!

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Shirasiau Sai’Li sat on the tall chair that was the seat of power of the Jade Merchant.  It was her chair now, by right of combat.  There were some that had said as it was not by right of single combat it was invalid, but they did not speak very loudly after the first to question her position had vanished without a trace.

Of course, the transition of the title of Jade Merchant was publicly acknowledged in a far different manner.  It was the end of a week of celebrations, feasting, dancing and displays of acrobatics of all kinds, barring combat.  As the new Jade Merchant demanded; the martial arts were not to be shown.  To be completely accurate, she had mentioned that displays of grace and beauty were pleasing to her eye.  As she had never been seen to hold anything more substantial than a silken fan or paper parasol, the planners of the event had reacted accordingly.

She had to admit, the performances were quite pleasing and the dancers lovely.  Three in particular had caught her eye and one of them slept exhausted in her chambers.  The other two were kneeling close by, one holding tea, the other her kiseru and tobacco.

Sai’Li put out her left hand and the attendant placed the elegantly carved jade and silver pipe into it.  When she put it between her delicately tinted lips the same attendant held a coal over the bowl, allowing her to draw the scented smoke into her lungs.  Leaning back, she allowed smoke to trickle out her nostrils as she surveyed the room through lidded eyes.

The seventeen women kneeling before her sat motionless, waiting for her to speak.  She dropped the pipe and her attendant plucked it from the air without hesitation.  After taking a sip of her tea, the most powerful woman in Chen Yun snapped her fan in front of her face and leaned forward slightly.

“My dears.”  Her voice was resonant and pitched perfectly to carry but still sounded like a caress. “We are now at the dawning of a new era for the House of the Jade Merchant and for the Shirasiau family.”  At her words, the curtains parted, and the sun shone into the room, bright and cheerful.

Screams erupted from four of the women and they began to writhe as smoke burst from their skin.  They sprang to their feet, trying to escape from the punishing light, but Sai’Li vanished from her seat, stepping from the shadow of the nearest.  Black metal spiders the size of house cats were streaming from her sleeves as she slashed a fan with razor edges across the throat of her first victim.

“We shall not be tolerating the infiltration of the full breeds.  Only a select few of the males will be retained for the purpose of maintaining our strength of numbers.”  The spiders swarmed over the dying vampires as she spoke, holding them in the sunlight until they were burned to ashes.

Sai’Li sighed as the metal arachnids climbed back up her flawless obi and into her sleeves.  “I really do abhor having to resort to violence my dears.  It is a crude, crass way of dealing with problems and death truly is bad for business.  I have plans lovelies.  Won’t you join me for a nice cup of tea?”

The remaining thirteen women looked up.  They hadn’t moved from their positions as the others had died horribly around them.  Sai’Li flicked the blood off her fan before snapping it open before her face to hide her smile.  These women would be the future of the clan.  They had the discipline, the skill and the drive to perform.  Now if they only had the fortitude to survive bearing the next generation.

She needed daughters raised to respect the old ways.  Cunning but worthy of trust, ambitious but respectful, deadly but wise.  Her policy would be to reward rather than punish.  To encourage and nurture, to take the ideas she had learned during her time trading amongst the mortals and use them to create a family that would truly be legendary.

With a swarm of spiders still swarming behind her like a train, Sai’Li strode into the most important room in her house.  The battleground where she had fought and won most of the battles of her life.  In the tea room, she would court the mothers of her daughters.  She would earn their loyalty.

“Great Mistress.”  Keiko was bowing low, her white hair perfectly coiffed in the latest fashion.  The gray, blue and seafoam green of her kimono had koi swimming over the sleeves and across the back.

“Please Keiko.”  Sai’Li said, rising and taking her longtime partner by the hands.  “I have asked you only to address me formally when we are not alone.”

“Mistress of the Jade Chair, Brightly Blooming One, Flower That Opens in the Moonlight, One Who Stands in Daylight; emissaries from The Necropolis are requesting an audience.”  Keiko was still bowed low, “They are waiting in the antechamber.  I apologize Terrible Star, Princess of Spiders, Hand of Shadow Threads.  I do not yet know how they managed to enter unnoticed.”

“Find out.”  Sai’Li said, straightening her Obi and changing it to a formal affair of beautiful rippling metallic colors with a ripple of magic.  “Send them in.  Bring tea in ten minutes.”  She smiled behind her fan, “The black, flavored with jasmine and saffron.”

Keiko backed out of the circle of obsidian stones that surrounded the dais before straightening and turning to go.  In a few moments three figures dressed in folds of shadow and funerary wrappings entered.  They did not walk, but merely moved along the floor in utter silence.  Sai’Li stood gracefully and returned their slight bows with an inclination of her head.

“I extend greetings honored guests.”  She said, her voice warm as the sunlight that shone in through the high windows on both sides of the room.  “If I had but known of your visit I would have prepared for it.”

“We know.”  The foremost said, very obviously not flinching from the sunlight in a way that said clearly it wished to.  “This is why we have come unannounced.  It has come to our attention that you have been breeding.  We take exception to this.”

“The half dead are but a byproduct.  We do not appreciate your presumptions of superiority.”  The second rasped.

“Your beast has hunted an ancient bloodline nearly to extinction.”  The third whispered, its voice dry as ancient parchment.”

“Nearly to extinction?”  Sai’Li asked, arching a perfect eyebrow.  “I cannot imagine that my dearest Tiger missed any of my father’s spawn?”  She spat the word without honorific.

“You are the last.”  The foremost said.  “Centuries of knowledge and research has been lost and you are merely a half dead.”

“I assure you dear guests, I am not merely an anything.”  Sai’Li said, snapping her fan open to hide her annoyed expression.  “You stand in my chamber.  I require civility lest I become displeased.”

The door opened behind her and the aroma of jasmine blossoms and saffron stamen filled the room.  It was the scent of spring, of life and it cleansed the graveyard scent of her visitors from her nostrils.  Keiko carried a tray with delicate porcelain cups and a centuries old teapot that had belonged to her mother.

Chisara Yi’Tan was the first Empress of Chen’Yun.  Her reign had been a brief one; overthrown by one who had been stricken from the records; every evidence of her burned and all her descendants killed to the last.  Still, Yi’Tan had not been a virgin when she took the throne although her daughter was unknown to all save one.  Sai’Li had devoured the knowledge her father’s extensive diaries had held of her Honored Mother.

The three turned to glare at Keiko and in that moment Sai’Li extended a hand.  Black metal spiders flowed from her sleeves and the hem of her Obi and skittered into the center of the group.  Each one held a tiny sliver of brilliant glimmering light in their mandibles.  Sourcing Sunstones had been rather difficult, but they were most handy tools and her connections with prominent worshipers of Pelor ensured these were legitimate.

“Won’t you join me for some tea?”  She asked sweetly, descending the stairs to her dais with deliberate steps.  “Perhaps we might discuss this in a properly civilized manner.”  Unperturbed by the displays of hostility, rage and fear by the visitors, Keiko unfolded a lacquered table and began pouring the tea.

“Why are there so many cups?  Is your servant joining us?”  One of the emissaries spat, narrowing its eyes against the gleaming beams of bright light.

“No.”  A deeply resonant voice said in Draconic.  “You are not the only undead with an interest here.  I greatly appreciate the gesture dear Keiko.  My sincerest apologies for interrupting you Daughter of the Lost.”

“Coalbraizer, you honor my humble house with your presence.”  Sai’Li said, bowing as a form of swirling smoke stepped into the room, flickers that suggested a skeleton of a dragon that would fill half the room seeming to appear at the edges before vanishing and coalescing into an ethereally featured man dressed in a copper colored Obi.

“You three are not worthy of drinking this tea.”  Another voice, flat as the sound of a coffin nail being driven home.  A woman who would be quite stunning if she had not been so obviously deceased stepped from the shadows thrown by the glimmering Sunstones and they all dimmed to mere moonlight.

“Stileen!”  Sai’Li was barely able to keep the pleasure from tinging her voice, grateful for the fan to cover her smile.  “It is so good to see you again.”  A mental nudge brought her spiders back to their mistress.  She did not want to anger these last two; she knew and respected them.

“You three claim to represent the Necropolis.”  Stileen said, not yet acknowledging Sai’Li.  “Perhaps the three of you could explain which faction?”  Her voice was flat and dangerous.

“We represent the Black Quarter of the city of Argus.”  One of the three said.

“Quiet fool!”  The foremost said, “This is the Lady of Coastwood Mausoleum.”

“Coastwood?  That tiny seaside berg?”  The other replied with disdain in its voice.

“Coastwood is the gateway to the Bay of Souls.”  The foremost hissed, swinging its fist in a vicious arc that sent the other sprawling to the perfectly polished marble floor.  “My apologies Lady Stileen.  That one is less educated than it should be.”

“Please take tea with me and we can discuss any and all issues that Argus may have with me and my Family.”  Sai’Li said, gesturing to Keiko with the tip of the little finger on her left hand.  Keiko retreated to kneel on the floor, awaiting her mistress’s summons.

“It is only proper for us to be introduced formally beforehand.”  She said, giving the bow to visiting dignitaries within a hair’s breadth of the proper level.  “I am Shirasiau Sai’Li, known as The Jade Merchant.”

“I am Revnar, I hold the title of Justicar of Argus Below.”  The foremost, “It is the use of the half dead and their elevation to equal status that is at issue here.”

They sat, ignoring the still twitching form of the third emissary and tactfully not noticing that the second emissary remained standing behind Revnar.  Sai’Li folded herself gracefully to her knees, noting in satisfaction that the others couldn’t match her grace, although Stileen was close.

After they had all taken their first sip of tea, Sai’Li delicately wiped her upper lip and fixed Revnar with a significant look over the edge of her fan.  “Honored Justicar of Argus Below, is the issue at hand that you believe the half dead are undeserving of equal status?”

“Of course.”  He said immediately, not appearing to notice.  “Although technically immortal, they are inferior in every other aspect.”

“Do you believe that I am inferior?”  She asked, her voice not betraying one single iota of anger or discomfort.

“Ah, of course it was not my intention to give insult.”  He said, finally noticing that her cheeks had become slightly more sunken and her eyes had begun to fill with black.

“Nonetheless you have offered insult to me and my daughters beneath my own roof.”  She said quietly.  “You may have your choice of opponents and your choice of champion if you do not wish to fight yourself.  But there will be a duel to satisfy honor.”

She continued sipping her tea in contentment, watching the expression on the faces of the others at the table.  Those too ancient and set in their ways were far too simple to manipulate in such situations.  Now he had to fight and choose the opponent who would be considered to be the strongest or else be deemed weak.  It was almost too easy.

“Of course I will satisfy the needs of honor.”  Revnar said stiffly, “I will face any opponent of your choosing at a time and place of your choosing.”

“You shall face me.”  She said, standing with perfect grace.  “Now.  Here.”

No fool, he attacked without warning but there were suddenly five of her seeming to flicker in and out of existence and his deadly bolt of black energy passed harmlessly through one of them.  It blew him a kiss and vanished.  One of the figures behind him struck with a razor-edged fan and decades old blood splattered to the floor.

“You should not be able to cut me.”  He hissed in anger, striking out with a dagger made of the tooth of some long forgotten animal.  The blow struck another image and it flickered out of existence.

“Perhaps you should have brought your scythe if you came to give insult to ME or MINE!”  Sai’Li said, anger bleeding through her normally calm mask.  “If we were not at least equal to those of you trapped in the shadow we would have long since ceased to exist.  After all it is YOUR kind who create us and it seems as though it is YOUR minds that are susceptible to the madness of the world blending.”

She feinted left and cut horizontally across his face, following up with a downward slash that left a ragged tear that cut his chest to the bone from collar bone to bottom rib.

Revnar had been waiting for her next attack so he could identify which of her shadows was real.   With a snarl of triumph, he put a hand on her arm and threads of black shadows ran from his fingers to flow up and toward her face.

“Die half dead scum!” He shouted in triumph as his attack struck, filling Sai’Li’s eyes, nose and mouth.

Her body convulsed with a spasm of pain at the invading power but she didn’t fight it.  Revnar’s eyes widened as a delicate hand tightened on his wrist and the flow of his power increased.  He realized with shock that his opponent was intentionally draining him.

“What are you doing?”  Revnar screamed as he could feel his limbs weakening.  Sai’Li seemed to be taking one long, deep breath and her diminutive hand held his arm with bone crushing force.

Sai’Li tossed the withered corpse aside with contempt.  Flickers of darkness still hovered about her, looking more like black forks of lightning than shadows.  She licked her lips and turned to fix black eyes on the last remaining being from Argus.

“Are there any other opinions about whether I am your equal?”  She put just enough hunger and anticipation into her voice and saw a quiver of fear travel through its body.  A flick of her wrist closed her fan and cleared the ichor from it.  “Return and tell your Masters that I am not to be trifled with.”

Sthax of Longtail Sharptooth

Sthrax leaned on his shield and searched the undergrowth with a critical eye.  Despite being separated from the others, this place was good hunting.  Watching one of the Older Brothers walk by.  He stood still, not seeing any reason to antagonize the beast.  There was no need to fight but no need to flee either; the massive shape moved off, leaving a trail of broken trees in its wake.

This jungle was different from his home jungle.  The smells were different.  The insects tasted different.  There were many more of the Older Brothers.  Islands surrounded by the salt water were strange places.  There was treasure here apparently.  The soft ones needed the shiny bits and the sparkle stones for status and power.

He fingered the multiple rings in his ears and the shiny studs in his frill.  They marked him as one of the successful and wealthy.  Or at least he had seen the soft ones do similar things to demark their status.  If nothing else, the red stones and golden rings glittered a fetching contrast to his scales with their mottled green, white and black patterns.

Sthrax wasn’t here for treasure though.  There were things here that needed to be destroyed.  Or there were rumors in the villages of the soft ones that there were ancient ruins that contained some of the things from the ancient evils he sought out.

“For the good of the tribe, This One goes forth to do the needful.”  He rumbled in his native tongue.  As they usually did, repeating these words sent him back to the first time he had heard them in that order.

“You think differently than we.” The Elders said in unison.  They had been sitting and speaking for so long that their voices blended together, their minds were the same.  “We have lived long and soon will depart.  We have decided the time has come to send One out to the lands of the soft ones.  This One must go forth and find The Accursed Thing.  This One may not return until it has found and destroyed The Accursed Thing.”

“Why?”  Sthrax asked, shocked into questioning them.  Nobody left for any extended time.  Hunting trips, trade missions where some of their folk went to exchange the hide and bone weapons and armor they created and the occasional forays against the Orc or Goblin kin that bordered their hunting ranges happened, but nobody left without a definite plan to return.

“Your mind is young and bends like reeds.  Ours is old and stiff as the oak.”  They answered, “A Darkness comes for the Longtail Fang people.  It will come after we end, This One must return to the tribe after we end to report to the Elders who have replaced us.  To let them know the way.”

“It has to be me?”  Sthrax was horrified.  He had never considered leaving the Tribe.

“A soft one who wears the shining skin will come.  You will help her.  She will show you the ways of the soft ones.”  The Elders said.  Sthrax noted that only two of the three were speaking now.  The third was staring off into the distance.

“She comes.”  The third whispered.  “This One is no longer of the Longtail Fang until This One finds The Accursed Thing of the Screaming Face and makes it into dust.”  As one, all three of the Elders turned their backs on Sthrax.

“For the good of the tribe, This One goes forth to do the needful.  This One must fight the greater evil.  This one must show no mercy for the wicked.  This one must prevail by any means necessary.  For This One to fail will mean the downfall of the Longtail Fang.”

He backed up in disbelief, walking backwards until he passed out of the tent, watching the three that he had based his entire life on act as though he no longer existed.  Outside, none of the others seemed to see him either.  The Longtail Fang as one had turned their tails towards him.

Sthrax ran blindly from the village, not even noticing when the branches tore at his tough hide.  When the fear had finally run itself out and he realized he was running from something that couldn’t possibly harm him and couldn’t be fought he stopped.  The pounding of his heart allowed him to hear the bright ringing of the weapons of the soft ones used and the cries of combat.

He unlimbered his sling from where it wrapped around his waist on instinct and dropped a stone into the pouch.  Rounding one of the Great Trees, he saw a figure made tiny by the contrast between it and one of the Two Heads that was swinging a club nearly as big as Sthrax himself.

It went against every instinct he had, but the words of the Elders held sway even if they had cast him out.  Sthrax whirled his sling over his head, releasing the stone with a shriek of reptilian challenge.  The stone struck the Two Heads on the arm with a sharp crack of splintering bone and the club swung wide, missing the soft one in the shining skin by a claw width.

A sweep of her large shining stick the soft one cut one of the Two Heads arms off.  Sthrax’s second stone landed squarely in the Two Heads chest, striking hard enough to break the skin.  The soft one used the moment of confusion to slice through its opponent’s belly.  As tough as Two Heads were, this was more than it could handle.  It took two ponderous steps backward before falling to the ground with a thud that he felt as well as heard even from this distance.

The soft one sank to one knee, the shining stick planted on the ground before it.  It began making the strange hooting noises that passed for its speech.  Sthrax knew some of the words but none of them seemed to make sense for the situation.  Was it thanking the Two Heads?  It was thanking someone.  Perhaps it was thanking him.

He strode down the side of the hill to see if it would share the flesh of its kill with him in the thanking ritual but before he reached it the soft one fell sideways and did not move.  The shining skin on its head fell off and a shock of black hair almost like a crest spilled out.  There was blood on the soft one’s face and leaking from its shining skin.

Hoping that it reacted to the same kind of herbs and remedies that his kind did, Sthrax set about finding the bindweed, thistle down and saproot that would help stop the bleeding and save its life.  Provided he could remove the shining skin of course.

In the end, he had been able to save Kinrik’s life and she had spent four years teaching him to fight with sword and shield as repayment.  Discovering that his shield could be used as a weapon changed everything about how he thought of combat.  Kinrik was stronger than he, but his advantage in speed eventually made the difference.

Gradually, he gained a better understanding of her language and during their travels Kinrik showed him how to navigate the outside world.  By far the most important thing she gave him was understanding though.  One evening while sitting around a campfire she had asked him why he had arrived when he did on the day he saved her from the Two Heads.

“This One was cast out.”  He said, still feeling the anguish of the rejection years later as he described the events in detail.

“You were not cast aside Sthrax.”  She said, working a chip out of her sword blade with a whetstone.  “You were given a task.  No other in the Longtail Fang could do what was needed, and although you were sent away you only need complete the quest before you are allowed to return.  Your people need you.  That’s something most cannot say.”

For the first time since he had run from the Elders, Sthrax felt the burden on his shoulders shift.  Instead of the punishing stone given to those who broke the tribe’s laws, it felt more like a kill he was bringing back to feed the hatchlings.  In that moment he felt the claws of the Great Old Ones fill him with Purpose.

Sthrax shook his head to clear it of the cobwebs of memory.  Far below a ribbon of water cut a deep valley into the mountainside.  It was time to find his way back to the others or back to the ocean.  Preferably without attracting the attention of any of the Older Brothers.

Where there was water, often there were people of one type or another.  Fanning his crest in decision, he made his way carefully down the slope.  This river would, he was sure, lead him to his goal.

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 3

Sergei turned and saw a man in an impeccable suit, a fedora, dark sunglasses and carrying a cane swaggered through the door.  The locked door.  Around him, shadows gathered and flickered as though there was a campfire burning on every side of him.

“I fear the young lady has misled you.”  His voice was smooth and urbane.  “What she has taken cannot be returned without proper recompense.”

“Excuse me friend, but the bar is closed.”  Sergei asked, feeling somehow less intimidated than he thought he would.

“Yes.  How fortunate for me that there will be nobody to see.  Nobody to stop what must be done.”  Ethad said, his voice still silky smooth and calm.

“You won it in a game correct?”  Sergei asked with a smile.  “Well then I challenge you.”

“What do you wager?”  Ethad asked, pulling out a chair and sitting at one of the tables.  He pulled a long thin cigar from an inner pocket and bit off the tip before lighting it with an old fashioned strike anywhere match.

“My bar.”  Sergei said, “It’s my life’s work.”

“That’s an interesting offer, however I don’t need real estate.”  Ethad said, blowing a smoke ring.  “I’m thinking of something a little more valuable.  After all, what the young lady has stolen is worth more than you can imagine.”

“What did she steal?”  He asked, “I never was clear on that.”

“It does not matter to you.”  Ethad said, “But if you must know, she stole knowledge.”

“What do you want me to bet then?”  Sergei asked, “And what game will we play?”

“To keep it interesting, we will play a game that matches your abilities.  Since you own a bar, we shall play a drinking game.”  Ethad took off his sunglasses and where his eyes should be was nothing but pits of utter darkness.  “You shall bet your immortal soul of course.”

Sergei swallowed hard, but a glance over his shoulder showed Corva’s large frightened eyes and his spine stiffened.  “Is that all?  I’m pretty sure that’s long gone to many a vice or broken promise.”  He moved to the bar and took the half full bottle of Laphroig down along with two glasses.

He sat down across from his opponent and poured them each a shot.  Something settled over him; a power with a force beyond his imagination.  The pact had been made.  The stage was set.  What had he gotten himself into?  Still, his blood boiled with excitement.  He had never felt so alive.

“The game is an old one.   It is called by many different names, but I call it Flip.”  Ethad smiled and withdrew an old belt dagger from a sheath beneath his suit coat.  The weapon was worn, but obviously well cared for.  The edge glittered wickedly.

Sergei raised an eyebrow and waited, amazed that he was feeling so calm and collected.  Perhaps it was the sheer absurdity of the situation.  Maybe it was Corva’s apparent dependence on him.  More likely he’d just lost his mind.

“The game is played by flipping the blade a certain way a certain number of times and having it end by sticking point down into the wood of the table.”  Ethad said.  “If you fail to stick the blade, you must take a drink.  Every five flips you must take a drink.  The game ends when you are incapacitated or bleed to death.”

“Bleed to death?”  Sergei asked, “Why would that be an issue?”

“Some of the flips later in the game require very good aim.”  Ethad said, “Shall we begin?”

The first few flips were simple.  Held in the hand, off the back of the hand, off the thumb, off the wrist.  The blade was very sharp and Sergei did accidentally cut himself more than once, although they were more of an annoyance than anything else.  After five flips, they each drank.

Now the challenges were more difficult, but Sergei found the balance of Ethad’s blade to his liking and the game was a fun and interesting one.  Five more flips and they each took another drink.  Sergei began to sweat as the moves became harder, but he managed to stick another five and they each drank again.

“You are showing more skill than I had anticipated.”  Ethad said, “It appears the bottle is almost empty.  It has been years, decades even since I have enjoyed myself this much.”

Sergei missed the next flip, recovered and made the next three and missed the fifth.  The bottle was empty and the alcohol was beginning to cloud his dexterity.  Ethad seemed to be unaffected and flicked the point of his knife into the tabletop with almost contemptuous ease.

“I’d better get another bottle.”  Sergei said, rising unsteadily.  “We both have to drink after that last move.”

He walked to the bar and took another bottle of Laphroig.  His fingers shook as he was unwrapping the foil.  Reaching into his apron pocket he took out a tissue and wiped the sweat off his forehead and tossed it into the trash.  Picking up the bottle and a new pair of glasses he walked back to the table where Ethad sat calmly.

Sergei poured them each a shot and couldn’t help but savor the whisky as he drank it.  Even if it was bringing him ever closer to being killed.  To being worse than killed.

Ethad had tossed back his drink and picked up his knife for the next move.  A strange look crossed his face and he lost his grip on the aged wooden handle.

“What did you do to me?”  He snarled, his voice a dangerous rasp.

Sergei blinked in surprise, noting that a red flush had begun to spread from the other man’s alabaster white neck.  Ethad began to make a choking sound, each breath becoming more of a struggle.  The realization of what must have happened struck him.

The tissue.  The wood sliver.  Corva had said it was hawthorn and it had hurt her.  She was somehow the same as Ethad.

“You left some of your hawthorn in her wound.”  Sergei said, feeling a sardonic grin slide over his face.  “It must have found its way into your drink somehow.  What a shame.”

Ethad stood, his clothes bleeding and changing into a cloak with a deep cowl.  His dagger lengthened and changed, shaping itself into a wickedly sharp scythe with a handle made of the same dark wood as the knife hilt, the butt end sharpened to a needle point.

“You have forced me to shuffle off that which allows me to tread on mortal earth once again Trickster.”  The moniker rang in Sergei’s head like a silver bell.  “Your accomplice can keep the knowledge of Fire she stole.  For now.”

Death faded from view, the gleaming silver of his scythe with its handle of hawthorn being the last thing to vanish.  Sergei spun to look at Corva, and instead of a wounded girl in layers of jackets a large raven perched on the back of the chair.  She cocked her head at him, one eye deliberately winking.

“You remembered your blood in the end.”  She said, her voice sounding no different for coming from a bird’s beak.

“Just lucky.”  Sergei said, “I didn’t remember anything.”

“Blood doesn’t forget, even if you don’t remember Trickster.”  Corva replied and flew up and out the door as it opened to admit Chelsea.

“Sergei?”  She said, surprise in her voice.  “What was that wind just now?”

“Never mind the wind.”  He said, sitting down hard, but feeling the sardonic smile come back.  “Come and have a drink with me.”

~fin

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 2

Sergei picked her up and carried her to one of the plush chairs in the small lounge area and set her down.  She weighed even less than it looked like she should.  Although she didn’t protest, she gave him an exasperated look.  He knew he should be asking more questions, that he should be doing something else, but the situation was so bizarre that he wasn’t sure what to do.  Where had she been hiding?

After depositing her to rest comfortably, Sergei returned to the bar to get his glass and his pipe.  It wasn’t responsible to smoke in the same room as a child, but he needed a pipe if he was going to be able to get through this.  When he returned, relit his pipe and took a drink of whisky he finally looked her in the eye.

“Corva.  Who is this man and why does he want you dead?”

“He calls himself Ethad, but I’m certain that’s not his real name.  Who he is and what his motives are do not matter.”  She saw the set of his jaw and sighed, wincing halfway through.  Reaching a hand under her layers of jackets, Corva removed a wadded handful of bloody rags and was about to throw it on the floor before he stopped her and got a waste basket for them instead.

“You’re going to let me look at that wound.”  He said firmly, “While I do you can tell me about why Ethad wants to kill you.”

She rolled her eyes and began taking off layers, dropping each jacket on the floor.  Sergei went to the bar and retrieved a first aid kit he kept there and by the time he got back, she had taken off three cashmere coats of consecutively smaller size, removed a pair of flannel shirts and unzipped a hooded sweatshirt.  When he approached Corva lifted her undershirt to show an angry looking puncture just above her waistline.

Sergei knelt to look, swabbing the wound with a cotton swab and peroxide.  As the wound fizzed and bubbled, he continued to swab it out.  After a few moments, he put the swabs aside, smeared some antibacterial ointment on it and taped a large pad of gauze over the top.  Before she pulled her shirt back down he could already see the blood seeping through.

He wrapped the soiled swabs up in a napkin, frowning at a small sliver of wood the size of a sewing needle sticking out of one of them.  Wondering what it was, he folded it into another napkin and tucked it into his apron pocket just in case it was evidence.  Chels would be proud.

Corva looked up and saw he was still waiting for an answer and twisted one of her dreadlocks around a finger.  “Long ago I stole something from someone.  That I only took some of it doesn’t matter any more than the fact that it made a large difference to my people.  The only way he can get it back is by taking it from me.”

“Why don’t you just give it back?”  He asked, blowing a plume of smoke to one side and taking a drink of whisky.  “Wouldn’t he leave you alone then?”

“Because he can’t get it back unless he TAKES it Sergei.”  She said, sounding frustrated.  He noticed that she had taken the glass from his hand without him noticing and had drained it in one long swallow.  “Can I give the whisky back?”

“No.  But I can’t take it back either.”  He countered.

“Well the one I stole it from originally couldn’t either, and he didn’t really care.  But last year Ethad won it in a bet.”  She shuddered, “Ethad differs from you both in that he does care and he can take it back.”

“Is he like you?”  Sergei asked, “You just walked out of nowhere Corva.  How am I supposed to be able to defend you against something like that?”

“You have something not many people do Sergei.”  She said with a smile that seemed to cut across her like a blade.

“What’s that?”  Sergei looked at his empty glass, thinking about getting another.

“I’ll tell you later.”  She said, smiling a mysterious smile.  “Are you going to help me?”

“I’ve helped you already.”  He said, “But I’m not killing anyone.”

“Then will you protect me?”  Corva pleaded.  He felt the intensity of her gaze and it touched something inside him.

“I will try.”  He said.

“Good.  Because he’s here.”

Part III

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 1

Hi all, I’m practicing writing short stories… I already failed since my goal was to tell a story in less than 1000 words, but hopefully I can keep it under 3000.  Knowing the way I write, it’ll probably end up being a novel. Hope you enjoy!

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Sergei wiped the bar top with a clean white rag, polishing the last bit of wax to a perfect shine.  He looked over the bar and smiled in satisfaction; everything was ready to go and he still had a half hour before it was time to open.  After all the things he’d been through and done, this pub was the only thing he was truly proud of.  The small silver bell over the door chimed and he frowned.  He didn’t think he’d forgotten to lock it.

“Serg.  Just checking in.”  A familiar voice preceded a familiar set of footsteps and Sergei grinned and pulled a pint of his own home brewed root beer for the early visitor.

“Officer Ordean, to what do I owe the pleasure?”  He asked placing a coaster on the counter and the root beer in the center.  Chelsea Ordean was a powerfully built woman who had earned her way in the force by equal parts skill, luck and brains.

“No time for drinks today Serg.  Just looking for some girl who supposedly got stabbed at the eighth street subway station.”  Her face was grim and despite her words, she slugged down half the root beer in one long gulp.  “You haven’t seen anyone in here have you?”

“Just me so far.”  He frowned, “I thought I’d locked the door though.  Maybe check the restrooms?”  The Rambler was his pub, but the layout wasn’t his design and the toilets were on either side of the entry door.

“The door was not locked.”  Chelsea said, unsnapping her pistol but not drawing it.  “Let’s go have a look.”

“If someone was stabbed wouldn’t there be blood?”  Sergei asked, following her up to the entry.  The bar itself was three wide steps below the entrance.  “Knife wounds bleed Chels.”

“She was apparently wearing a thick woolen jacket.  I’m just checking places that folks know they can get help.”  She said, giving him a sidelong glance.  They both knew he wouldn’t turn someone in need away; even though it was almost time to open.

They swiftly checked the bathrooms and found nothing.  “You need to check the rest of the place Chels?  I don’t think anyone came in while I was bringing up kegs but I thought I’d locked the door too.  You got the run of the place if you need it; you know where everything is.”

She nodded her thanks and moved through the pub, checking in the back office, the storage room and even the cold storage although that was the only place he’d have been able to miss someone coming in.  satisfied, she clapped him on the back and walked out.

Sergei dumped her root beer, cleaned the glass and straightened his apron before making his final pre-opening checks.  He hoped Chels would find the girl before she bled out.  Knife wounds were no laughing matter.

The usual ‘last call’ crowd were finally stumbling out to their taxi’s and fumbling for their subway passes.  Sergei smiled in satisfaction.  It had been a good night, his regulars had been joined by a decent crowd of businessmen attending some conference who apparently had gotten the green light to drink on the company tab.

He closed and firmly locked the door behind the last of his patrons and turned back to the bar.  There was just a bit of cleaning he needed to do before the he headed out himself.  The voice nearly startled him out of his skin.

“I heard some of them talking Sergei.  They all said that you used to do things before you came here.”  It was a girl’s voice.  Not a young woman, but a girl, likely only barely into her teens.  But he couldn’t see anyone.  “Is it true?”

“Show yourself please.”  He said calmly, walking back to the bar and taking down his bottle of Laphroig.  He always had a double shot of the smoky Islay single malt scotch after closing along with pipe of Molto Dolce tobacco.  “If I can assist you I will endeavor to do so.”

“I need you to kill someone Sergei.”  A tiny slip of a girl stepped out of the shadows.  Literally out of shadows, there was no room or place to hide.  She had the darkest skin he’d ever seen; a perfect rich dark chocolate and her hair was in twisted dreadlocks that stuck up from her head like ruffled feathers.  “I need you to kill him before he finds me and finishes the job he started.”

“I’m sorry girl, but I am not a killer for hire.”  He said, tamping the tobacco down in his pipe.  “I suggest allowing me to call my friend Chelsea Ordean.  She’s a very competent officer and can handle anything the wrong side of the law can throw at her.”

“I’m not a girl, I’m older than you are.”  She said with a glare, “As for your officer friend, I’ve taken her measure and she can’t handle this.”

Sergei barked out a laugh and snorted pipe smoke out his nose.  “You can’t be older than fourteen.”  He said, looking at her critically.  “If Chels can’t handle it I don’t want any part of it.”

“My age and appearance are irrelevant.”  She snapped, “She would follow procedure, and right now I’m going to bleed to death before procedure can be of any use to me.”

“You really have been stabbed?”  Sergei asked, setting his pipe and his glass down and moving to her side.  His years patching up wounds since he seemed to be the only one who had the knack tried to come to the surface, but he ruthlessly shoved them back down into the darkness.  That was the past.

“It’s nothing you can help with.”  She said, “He used hawthorn.”

“Is that a poison?”  He asked, pulling back her coat and finding another coat underneath it.  She had layer upon layer of clothing on.  “What is your name?  I can’t just keep calling you girl.”

“Stop that, you don’t need to look at the wound.”  She said, “You can call me Corva.”

“What good is killing this man going to be if you won’t let me stop the bleeding Corva?”  Sergei asked, “You said yourself that you don’t have time to wait.”

“If he is stopped I will be able to get proper help.  If he lives no place will be safe for me no matter what.”  She looked at him with eyes so dark gray they were almost black.  “I need your help and you’re the only one who can help me.”

Part II