Inside the Frosted Brew the warmth was welcoming. Rakhanar stopped just inside the doorway and let his eyes adjust to the darker interior as he surveyed the place. It was tastefully decorated, with a well-stocked bar along the wall to the left. There were a few tables to the right by a wide window with a view designed to make a patron grateful to be out of the cold and in no hurry to go back into it. Straight ahead against the back wall a set of stairs led up to the left, to another dining area above the bar.
The place had an air of coziness and a rich smell of meat roasting. Suddenly Rakhanar realized that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast by the pond with Siffy.
Siffy… Just thinking of the last time he saw the little fae brought the blood rushing to his face. He ducked his head and stomped snow off his boots, hoping no one would notice his sudden discomfiture.
There were few patrons to notice at the moment. The first one he noticed was a female, sitting on a stool at the bar. She was slender and light-haired, with fair skin and sharp tipped ears. Not entirely human, then.
Rakhanar had seen elves before, but he had always kept his distance from any but the fae. He knew very little about them. Actually, he knew very little about anything other than meditation techniques to calm his rages and the fauna and flora of Faydwer. The fae had no schools. What need was there for school when the fae gained all the knowledge of their ancestors the moment they reached maturity and merged with a spirit bud?
Until now he’d counted himself lucky for that freedom from the drudgery of school. Now, however, it might have come in handy to know more about what he was dealing with here in New Halas, especially when he saw the one he assumed was tending bar.
Behind the long counter of the bar was a creature he had never seen before. Human in shape, it had a face like a snow leopard. Its build was wide through the shoulders so he assumed it was male, though without seeing a female of this race he couldn’t be absolutely sure. He was dressed smartly in a blue uniform with white trim, a jauntily plumed matching hat perched on his head, covering one ear at a sassy angle. The leopard man looked up from the bar and showed his sharp teeth in a way that was apparently meant to be a friendly smile.
“Well, hey there, stranger! You look a mite chilled there.” Beckoning with a furred pawlike hand, he moved out from behind a pillar and peered more closely at Rakhanar. “Come on in and get comfy.”
Rakhanar looked around before approaching the catman and noted another patron of the Frosted Brew, seated at a table to his right. This was a human looking hairless being. His skin was as dark as Rakhanar’s but not as warm toned. He had a gunmetal grey hue to his flesh.
Looking back at the catman, Rakhanar nodded and gave him a tight smile, trying not to gawk and give away his ignorance. He strode toward the bar as casually as a shivering kid from Faydwer with bare arms in a snow zone could.
The catman didn’t miss a detail. He grinned. “Welcome to the Frosted Brew. Name’s Carroway. Something hot for you, young fellah?” Rakhanar bristled slightly at the reference to youth as he stopped to the left of the last patron, a male who appeared to be somewhat human, possibly elven. He forced himself to relax as he looked back at the friendly bartender. Considering he had no way of knowing how old this white-furred creature could be, he might as well assume that it was the way he addressed pretty much everyone.
“Aye. Whatever. Anything hot would be fine,” Rakhanar answered, making sure to keep his tone low and even. Adult. Think adult. Bored. Tired. Blah. Adult. He stroked his beard just to make sure he got the point across for his first impression here in New Halas. If he pulled it off no one would even think to ask his age.
But if they did, what should he say? He thought he could probably pass for early 20’s, but should he try? Would a littler lie be safer? Like, say, eighteen? That was the age he was supposed to have been before leaving the fae, anyway. He was only two years early.
He settled on to a barstool and turned around, leaning back on the counter casually, to find the hairless humanoid watching him, his gaze interested but detached. The robed being got up and walked over with a smile that was meant to be friendly but didn’t reach his eyes.
“New arrival, eh?”
Rakhanar looked down at his own bare arms and nodded. “Pretty obvious, huh? I’m not much for packing…” He gave him a wry smile.
“Ah. Looking for work then?”
Now Rakhanar thought about the coins he was carrying, one or two gold and some odd coppers. It wouldn’t last long. Might not even be enough for a meal, here, for all he knew. It wasn’t as if he could have asked anyone at home without tipping them off.
“Aye,” he said, nodding.
The being dipped his gunmetal grey pate slowly, then met his eyes again. “You might be able to help me. Can you fight?”
Rakhanar played this one close to the chest. He knew he was big for his age. For any age, with all the raging rage hormones going through his body. He stared coolly into this curious creature’s eyes for a moment, slightly tensing and pulling his shoulders back, wider. “What do you think?” he said, with a sly half smile.
The dark humanoid’s eyes flickered, appraising him like livestock. “You do look strong enough.” He nodded slowly, seemed to have made up his mind about something. “Ah. Well. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Banedon Toran. Let me get you something more filling than… that…” He pointed to the steaming mug that Carroway had just set on the counter behind Rakhanar.
Banedon lifted his head and peered over Rakh’s shoulder at the white-furred bartender. “Got some soup on, Carroway?”
Carroway nodded and grinned his amicable catfanged grin. “Aye, we do, at that. Squash soup, hot and wholesome!”
“One for…?” Banedon turned to look at the young human.
“Rakhanar.” Rakhanar smiled and nodded, bent slightly at the waist, still seated. “Thank you, my Lord. I’m obliged.”
Lord Toran hitched a shoulder, eyes flickering. “It’s nothing.” He nodded to the tables where he had been sitting, a satchel overflowing with scrolls still awaiting his attention, one already out for current study. “Come have a seat. We’ll talk about how we can put you to use.”
Rakhanar turned to catch the scent from the stein. Hot apple cider, laced with a little something stronger. “Smells good. Thanks,” he said, nodding to Carroway and reaching to cradle the stein in his hand. His hands were still stiff from the cold, so he wrapped his other hand around it as well and followed the robed Lord to the table.
Lord Toran sat down and got straight to the point. “So. Are you up for adventure?” Lord Toran said, leaning forward and smiling like a salesman going for the closer. Rakhanar sat down across the table from the blue-black skinned Lord, nursing his hot cider. From his vantage point, he had a clear view of the light-haired female at the bar.
Rakhanar grinned, set down the stein and stared straight into the eyes of his intended benefactor. “I can handle anything you throw at me,” he lied. He was going to bluff this all the way through if it killed him.
Banedon nodded, apparently satisfied, and went on. “I am the leader of a guild. Elements. We seek out and retrieve rare artifacts and items of value to me, in my research.”
Carroway came out from behind the bar, bringing a plate with some fresh bread and a steaming bowl of the bright orange-yellow squash soup, and Rakhanar got his first look at the catman’s long tail swaying behind him. He set the plate before Rakhanar with his toothy grin. “See how that grabs ye, young lord,” he said.
Rakhanar smiled back at him and broke off a bit of the bread, saluting the catman with a wink before he dipped it in the soup and took a bite. It was well seasoned and the bread was still warm. He nodded up at the catman. “Mmmm,” he managed around the mouthful, approving.
Carroway beamed. “He likes the soup! Good man!” He gave a thumbs up and headed back to the bar. Rakhanar watched him walk away as he munched the bread and soup and couldn’t help but think how much fun it must be to have a tail.
The elven male at the bar now walked over to exchange a few words with the Lord. Lord Toran introduced him to Rakhanar as Vonotar, and the elf bowed politely, still maintaining a haughty air. His clothing was of an expensive tailored cut, his skin clean-shaven and light, his hair long and golden. Unlike Rakhanar, whose hair always seemed a bit ragged cut and wild, this elf had a well-kept, cultured style.
Rakhanar looked him over. High elf, then, not wood elf. The Lord and the high elf began to talk together about subjects that Rakhanar knew nothing of, and Rakhanar’s attention wandered.
His gaze strayed to the light-haired female at the bar as the Lord spoke. He could hear her soft voice as she addressed the catman bartender, but not really follow the words.
Rakhanar heard Banedon snort softly and turned his eyes back to find the Lord had followed his gaze. Oops. Vonotar was heading out the door.
Lord Toran leaned closer, conspiratorially. “You wouldn’t last a minute on that adventure,” the Lord said under his breath. It was spoken good-naturedly, yet with a serious edge to his tone.
Rakhanar just looked at him for a second, glanced back at the woman then back to Banedon. He wasn’t sure how to take that comment. He dropped his eyes and his mind went back to that life-changing moment with Siffy, by the pond. Had that really been just this morning?
Something clicked into place from his one dangerous peek into sexuality and he snorted softly. Staying power would be a desirable trait to a woman, wouldn’t it? Is that what Banedon is referring to? Maybe his training with the fae in mental control would come in handy for other things besides keeping his rages in check…
He glanced back at the female. She was slender, with a purplish glowing blade at each hip. Her face was hidden at the moment, but when he first came in he had gotten a glimpse of a very attractive profile. Was she known to be that wild? His first thought from that was somewhat racy and his first instinct was to rise to the challenge, so to speak.
Turning back to Banedon, he slowly grinned, then gave a sharp bark of a laugh. Banedon just flicked an eyebrow up and shook his head slowly.
Rakhanar’s smile faded slightly. There was definitely something he didn’t understand. He slid his gaze back to the female again. She seemed to have sensed his attention, as she raised a hand and smoothed her hair self-consciously, turning slightly on her stool. Finally she turned to look at him. He gave her a slow smile, warm.
Her gaze was icy. She stared at him for a moment, narrowed her eyes, then turned her back deliberately.
Rakhanar frowned and sat back, puzzled. This was not good. Was he not a suitable mate? He shook his head and turned his attention back to Banedon, filing it all for later.
Banedon marked the exchange with a sigh, shaking his head also. “Well. Then.” He slipped his hand into one of the voluminous pockets of his robe and pulled out an amulet with a black stone in the center. He looked at it for a moment, whispering something in some arcane language, and the center of the stone began to change to a bluish hue.
“This is our guild amulet, which you can use to contact the rest of us if you are in need, or if you wish to offer your services for a venture. You will be in the Element of Water, the Fighter’s class, headed up by Lady Lhasa.”
Lord Toran set it on the table in front of him with an air of solemnity. “If you wish to be one of us, all you have to do is take it.”
Rakhanar looked at the amulet, looked at Banedon. There was no going back, now. For a moment he found himself slipping into a state of hyper-mindfulness, completely present attention that he had been trained to by his fae mentors. He dropped his gaze back to reach for the amulet slowly, with reverence. It hummed as he lifted it to his palm.
Lord Toran smiled.
“The guild hall is in Freeport but we have access past the guards if you do not have the correct papers…?” He glanced questioningly at Rakhanar.
Knowing he couldn’t fake that one, Rakhanar hitched one shoulder and dipped his head to the side. “Ehh…” He had no idea where Freeport was.
Banedon was non-plussed. “No matter. We welcome all Norrathians, from all cities. Just remember, your first loyalty is to your guildmates. Here, I will show you the secret way to the hall.” With a quick glance around, checking to make sure no hostile strangers were about, he got to his feet, grabbing his satchel of scrolls, and headed toward the bar.
“Welcome our new member to the guild,” he said to Carroway and the female, now with a genuine smile. They turned to watch as Rakhanar followed Lord Toran through the opening in the counter toward the storage room under the stairs. Carroway gave him a friendly grin and a furry thumbs up, but the female just rolled her eyes and glowered. Rakhanar waved to the catman and grinned. After one quick glimpse, he avoided the light-haired elven female’s disapproving glare. He could still feel her eyes burning into his back as he turned into the dark opening.
Under the stairs was a door in the back wall, softly glowing.
Banedon waved his hand toward it. “There. Go ahead.”
Rakhanar nodded slowly and approached the door. Here we go… He put his hand on the door and felt himself being pulled through the elsewhere, somewhere else.
* * *
Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a The Real Me ))