“Dinner and a Meeting”
Not much happens in little towns like Daywood. Of all the cities in the nation of Lightfall, that town with a meager population of 35 is among the sleepiest. Even the most relatively energetic location in the entire hamlet, the Eight Fairies Inn & Tavern, there is very little that one could call “exciting.” However, there was one day some time ago that a sizable injection of life was given to the quiet farming village.
A young Ratfolk was seated at the tavern’s edge near a window as he tried to enjoy the pork stew he had ordered, to little success. Just before taking a single bite, he noticed a small, almost invisible hair on top of the broth. With a huff and a few stiff steps to the bar, he sat up on the barstool and presented his issue with his would-be meal.
“Excuse me,” he meekly called to the clearly-busy bartender, to no reply. Clearing his throat, the young ratlike man repeated, “Excuse me, sir,” again, with no answer. Grumbling and waiting for the bartender to notice him, the Ratfolk could smell something as he heard the entryway bell ring and the rusty hinges swing open. It was a sharp smell, like someone who had not bathed in days or even weeks, combined with the distinctive odor of a wet dog. Turning his scrunched expression towards the newcomer, he saw a tan-skinned human woman with black, matted hair and a small satchel around her neck.
The human in brown, seemingly stained clothing locked eyes with the Ratfolk, who looked at her with an almost disgusted expression. However, the human returned dirty glance with a look of bewilderment, as though she didn’t know if he was looking at her; almost as if there was some someone behind her giving him a look of equal disdain. Undaunted, she sauntered up to the ratlike young man, his expression getting more and more sour with each step closer she got. When she finally arrived at the bar, she looked at the irritated young rat-man and took a seat on the stool next to him.
She couldn’t help but look him over, as there was something very odd about his appearance. He wore a purple tunic and matching pants, black leather armor, a brown cloak with an also purple cowl, and a thick belt with a variety of bottles affixed to it. She continued to stare at him as the ratlike man’s expression shifted from disgust to defensive concern as he slightly reeled away from the newcomer.
The young woman kept looking over the Ratfolk until she could hear a gravelly voice call to her, “Hey! Are you going to order something, or just stare at the other patrons? Because if all you’re going to do is give weird looks, I’ll give you a look that’ll make an Undine take a mountain path.”
The young woman instinctively bit her lip; not out of intimidation, but to restrain herself from blurting out loud, “That is one of the stupidest freaking attempts at sounding badass I’ve heard in a long time, and I dare you.” Instead, she gave a quick chuckle and replied, “Sorry about that, I got distracted. But anyway…” She stared at the now-cold stew that the Ratfolk was trying to return and cheerfully said, “Whatever he’s having, I’ll have some of that. It smells really good.”
In return, the ratlike man scoffed and replied, “Are you serious? I’ve been trying to exchange this for quite some time now.”
Arching an eyebrow, the woman with a greasy hair asked with a laugh, “Why, what’s wrong with it? It looks fine to me. I mean, I doubt it’s made of people or anything.” Upon hearing the idea, the Ratfolk could almost literally feel his stomach turn. Grumbling and sneering, he quipped back, “Because there’s a hair in it.”
At length, the barkeep looked at the ratlike man and growled, “Then how about this: if she doesn’t care, the lady here gives me the money for the stew, and you just hand her the bowl you have. Save us all some time and drama, you know?”
Without missing a beat, the woman reached for her belt and laid some gold on the counter and grabbed the bowl away from the ratfolk. She abruptly asked, “Is that enough?” and she stated loudly eating the instant he nodded. The bartender shrugged off the noises of the woman clearly enjoying her meal, but the young ratlike man cringed and could taste just a bit of bile in the back of his throat. Shaking his head and groaning, he called to the bartender, “Yeah, screw this. Can I get a house mead?”
With a sly smirk, the barkeep replied as he handed him the mug, “Aren’t things easier when you’re assertive? One gold.”
Replying with a sarcastic smile of his own, the ratlike man went to the bag on his belt only to find that his burlap wallet was completely gone. He looked back at the bartender, who was drumming his fingers on the counter. He growled, “You don’t have the cash, do you?”
Looking him dead in the eyes and not blinking, the Ratfolk replied, “Of course I do. The problem is, I left my wallet at the other seat.”
Skeptically, the bartender replied, “You mean the one by the door? Fair enough, go get it. But…” as he spoke, he lifted a crossbow up from underneath the counter and pointed it at the ratfolk. “But if you try to go for anything but the money—for example, the door—one of these bolts is going in your ear. Am I clear?”
The young man’s eyes suddenly went wide as saucers as he meekly replied, “Uhhh, y-yeah! As a c-crystal, haha…”
Meanwhile, the human woman had barely finished her stew when the crossbow was revealed and swiftly raising her arms, she said in a stern yet hushed tone, “Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let’s all calm down here, alright?” Sliding a gold piece onto the counter, she said to the bartender, “Let’s call it even, alright? Here’s your gold, now put down the crossbow and let me talk to him, okay?”
The barkeep groaned but slowly lowered his weapon before sliding the mead over to the woman. With a grunt and a smirk, she thanked him and quietly walked over to the near-panicked ratfolk. She sat down and asked the young man to do the same as she stared at him, smiling. She handed him the mead and smiled as she chimed, “Drink up, cheers, or whatever you prefer.”
With a wide but nervous smile, he leaned back and began drinking when he heard something else hit the table: something muffled yet metallic. In between gulps of mead, the young man tried to get a look at what was placed on the table, but all he could see was the woman leaning over with her hand covering whatever it may be. At length, he softly placed the half-full mug on the table and asked with a grumble, “What is it? What are you hiding? What did you put on the table?”
Smiling wide, she replied, “One question at a time, Mr. Mouse.” Just before he could retort, he could feel something sharp scraping against the inside of his leg. Wincing, he looked back to the woman who smarmily said, “That sharpness would be my sickle, and what I just put on the table would be your wallet. Now here’s the deal: You give me a ten percent share of what’s in there, and you get to walk out of here not bleeding out. Okay?”
The woman still had a smug smile on her face until she realized the reaction she got from the ratlike man who was covering his mouth and trying his hardest not to laugh. He snickered, “Do you realize how stupid that would be? I mean, you saw the bartender; he has a crossbow ready to go. And what about the other people here? Do you really think they would just let you walk out of here with my money and blood on your hands? Now here’s what’s actually going to happen: you’re going to give me back my gold, get that damned sickle off of my leg, and walk out of here like nothing happened. Understand?”
The woman hung her head and sighed before putting the sickle back on her belt and said, “You know… you’re a lot smarter than you look. You’re bad at lying, but I can tell when someone isn’t. And you certainly aren’t. Take your money back; I can tell I have more than you anyway, so it really doesn’t matter to me. Let’s be honest: how much gold do you even have? Four pieces? As opposed to the 100 I have?”
“Heheheheh… there’s actually 40 in there. Or, 38 after today. Nice attempt at appraising, though.”
“Dammit,” she cursed under hear breath, “wasn’t even close.” The young Ratfolk grunted in response as he finished his mead before looking to the bartender and proclaiming, “I’d better go before there’s any more trouble.”
The bartender leaned over the counter and growled, “You’d best take your lady friend with you. I could see what was going on over there, and you’re lucky I don’t call for the city guard for theft, ‘Madame.’ Because we don’t look kindly on thieves in Daywood.”
Reeling back slightly, the woman smugly replied, “Alright, I guess we’re off. But thank you for being polite to me by calling me that.” As she finished her statement and headed for the door with the young Ratfolk trailing behind, the ratlike man began snickering almost uncontrollably. The woman looked behind and asked him, “And what’s so funny, rat-boy?”
As the pair exited, he replied, “He wasn’t being polite; a Madame is the owner of a brothel, haha!” With a quick growl after an even more sudden realization, she took a quick swing at him, only for the young ratlike man to quickly duck the blow. “Nice try,” he snarled, “but you’ve got to be quicker than that if you want to touch me. And just a fair warning: don’t try it.”
“Oh?” the woman asked, trying to hide her surprise at his remark. “Why would that be?”
With that, the ratlike man opened his cloak and revealed a crossbow of his own. He proudly proclaimed, “Because at this range, I don’t really have to aim. Now what do you have to say to that?”
With a quick laugh, she smugly retorted, “I have magic on my side. You didn’t see it in there because if I did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
As the two walked further out from the tavern, the pair began to grow silent. It wasn’t until the Ratfolk noticed that the woman was following him was the silence broken. The young man wanted to ask why he was being followed, but before he could get the first letter of his sentence out, she asked, “So… what’s your name?”
Jaw slightly agape and with an eyebrow raised slightly, the young man replied slowly, “…Sepia. So what’s your name, and why are you following me?”
“My name is Tixtapa, and to be honest… I don’t really have any place to go.”
Sepia grumbled, “Well, how about that? Neither do I and you just got us thrown out of the only inn for miles. Not to mention, the sun is setting. So do you have any plans to get us some shelter for the night? Because if not, piss off!”
Tixtapa raised a finger as if to have a biting retort ready for the young rat-man, but nothing escaped her lips; all she could do was lower her hand and hang her head once more. With a huff, Sepia shook his head and said as he began to walk away, “That’s about what I thought.”
Still, a now-growling Tixtapa stayed in tow of Sepia before she hissed, “Now listen here, I actually do have an idea to get some shelter tonight. If you follow me, then I’ll show you.”
Intrigued, Sepia thinly smiled and asked Tixtapa as he followed her towards an alley, “Alright… what’s your master plan?”
The moment she ducked into the alley, she whispered, “Keep an eye out!” before sitting down on the ground and removing her boots. Sepia could only massage his temples in confusion, but before he could ask what she was doing, Tixtapa’s body began to morph and shift into that of a fox walking on its hind legs. As she shifted, Sepia stared wide-eyed at the shapeshifter in shock until the transformation was complete.
After a long, loud stretch, the woman looked down at Sepia and whispered, “Did anyone see me besides you?” After Sepia shook his head, Tixatapa replied in a hushed tone, “Good. Maybe we’ll see each other again someday. But until that day happens—assuming it does—this is goodbye, Sepia. It was… interesting to know you, I guess.”
As Tixtapa wandered away, the Ratfolk only stared at her, stammering and shaking his head. “Wait, hold on!” he said as he began to give chase, “I have so many questions right now!”
Tixtapa chuckled, “To answer what I’m sure is several of them, yes; I’m a Kitsune. And to answer another one, I’m going to get myself a room at that inn. Again, buh-bye, Sepia. May we continue this conversation never!”
“Wait, do you seriously think they’ll just let…” Sepia called out to her in a hushed tone before trailing off, but to no avail; the Kitsune woman had already made it to the inn where minutes ago, they had first met. Sighing, he counted under his breath as Tixtapa entered, “Three… two… one…”
Just as Sepia had finished counting down, there was a commotion from inside the tavern. After a few moments of incoherent yelling and shouting, Sepia could see the Kitsune get literally thrown out of the establishment as the innkeeper shook his fist and shouted, “Don’t you dare try to come back in here or it’ll be your neck! You hear me, you damned witch?!”
As she stood up and brushed herself off, she looked back and screamed, “I’m not a witch, you jackass!” before grunting and seeing Sepia standing before her, arms crossed and with a sickeningly smug expression on his face. The expression quickly turned to one of terror as one of Tixtapa’s fists began to glow with a strange purple aura and she hissed, “Don’t you dare say another word, understood?!”
Sepia stood wincing at the display of magic until a sharp whistling could be heard from one of the houses nearby. As the pair turned their attention to the noise and the aura on Tixtapa’s hand faded, a man from inside signaled the two over and softly called, “I have an extra room, but in return, I also have some work for you. And the way things seem to be going, it’s either stay with me or sleep outside. So, do you want honey or vinegar?”
The pair didn’t need to discuss or even look at each other. The choice was obvious.