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A Long Night
Many people consider familiars to be the exclusive province of wizards. They believe that only at the height of magical ability does one acquire the talent for charming the majestic beasts of the wild. This, in actuality, is total hogwash. The fact of the matter is, it takes very little in terms of actual magical talent to entice some wild animal to serve you as a familiar. It takes a bit more to convince such a creature not to rip you limb from limb as soon as you fall asleep, but still, you hardly need be a bonafide wizard to accomplish such a feat.
I know this because, while I possess very little in the way of magical prowess, I do have a familiar. I never went looking for one, nor did I even realize I was capable of acquiring one at the time. And if I had, perhaps I would have been a bit more...selective in my choice. Thats not to say I'm not fond of my familiar, but at times I think something a bit more in line with my own personality would have been more appropriate. A lion, maybe, or a dire wolf, or perhaps a noble Eagle perched upon my shoulder, ready to fly into the face of my enemies, talons flashing. Not, I think, a lazy, fat chipmunk named Erdin. In his defense, however, I am quite resolute in my opinion that he is the absolute fiercest chipmunk in existence. The difficulty was in keeping his ferocity focused on someone who wasn't me.
I gave the object of my musing an affectionate pat as I continued down the dirt road. He glared at me. Erdin sat on my shoulder, as he often did, wide eyed and fixated on any and everything we chanced to pass, the very picture of an inquisitive chipmunk. Utter rubbish, of course – Erdin is one of the most cynical creatures I have ever chanced to meet – but he's convinced it makes him look cute. The village road we traveled was nearly abandoned as twilight descended, but our destination for the evening was only a few minutes away.
“Hurry up. I'm thirsty.” came Erdin's strangely deep voice in my head.
“Theres water right there.” I responded, pointing at a nearby water trough.
“Not that kind of thirsty, dimwit.” came Erdin's extremely unchipmunklike voice in my mind.
The curse of the familiared. While the ability to communicate psionically with your familiar is very handy in a tight spot, it can be decidedly inconvenient to have a wild animal burrowing through your vocabulary and experiences any time he chooses. Especially when he has a penchant for bad jokes. Certain things are simply beyond their primitive minds, as I often remind Erdin, generally seconds before falling victim to a vicious chipmunk bite.
Finally, we arrived at our destination; a singularly dilapidated tavern, in a town of dilapidated taverns. While I'd never ventured into this particular establishment, I could tell at a glance it's reputation as a den of depravity was well earned. The paint was either peeling or covered in filth, the door showed clear signs of being kicked in more than once, and there was significantly more traffic in cockroaches than people. I'm hardly a stranger to rough crowds, but even I couldn't help but feel a certain reluctance to enter such a place. “You think they'll let us move in?” came the wistful thought from the chipmunk on my shoulder.
As I entered the tavern I considered the company, noticing a sparse few determined drunks staring fixedly into their drinks, and a somewhat rowdier group in the back. I noted an ideal table in the corner, with half the table covered in garments in various stages of sewing repair, complete with needle, thread, and a pair of scissors. A frilly pink dress was in prominence. Perfect, I thought to myself – half the table taken up means less chance of someone sitting next to me. This was not to be a social calling.
The barkeeper, a slender, shifty looking fellow with a particularly sly set of eyes, met me after I was scarcely seated.
“Lets see your coin, then.” he said. I dropped a few coppers on the table.
“A mug of ale, and an empty bowl.” I requested.
The innkeeper nodded. “You can't have that in here, you know.” he said, gesturing towards Erdin, who now sat up in plain sight.
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, I can.” I replied, letting a few more coins bounce onto the table.
“I suppose you can at that.” said the man, flashing a yellow toothed grin and quickly collecting the coinage off the tabletop. A few minutes later he returned with a wooden mug and a bowl.
I poured half the ale into the bowl, and watched with some small amusement as Erdin practically dove in headfirst. The stuff looked and smelled horrible, but the furry fiend didn't seem to care. While I still had business to attend to, I had a sinking suspicion my familiar intended to get sopping drunk. I say sopping because he's generally not happy until he's dripping ale; he's a very enthusiastic drunkard.
I took another minute to gauge my surroundings as I pretended to sip my drink. The table at which we sat was a rickety affair, littered with holes and barely standing. It was one of the nicer pieces of furniture in the room.
After an hour or so I ordered another ale. I had little choice but to settle in for a potentially long wait. A few minutes after having my mug refilled, I noticed a particularly large, stupid looking man approaching my table, who was most definitely not the man I was waiting for. Which meant he was trouble. I sighed to myself, and nonchalantly grabbed the pair of scissors from the assorted sewing equipment littering the table. As the man reached my table, I noticed he was even bigger and less intelligent in appearance than I had first imagined, and clearly suffering the effects of an excessive amount of bad ale.
He looked me up and down, smirking. “You're at my table, little man.” he said, stepping closer, in a manner I assume was meant to be threatening.
“Ah, how foolish of me. Clearly, I should have known this was your territory.” I said, pointing at the pink, frilly dress still occupying half the table. “You might as well have written your name on it. My apologies, madam.”
He looked at the dress, looked at me, and I watched his eyes go squinty as he processed the fact that he had just been insulted. “You're gonna pay for that, little man.”
The man's eyes were glued now on Erdin, and a smile exuding stupidity spread across his face. I could see his intent plainly. I probably knew what his next move was before he himself realized it. With a flash of thought towards Erdin, who had been watching the proceedings with a mild sort of half interest, I prepared him for the inevitable. He moved perhaps 2 inches to the left. The big man spread wide his fingers and moved to smash Erdin flat, but such an action made two very erroneous assumptions. One, that he was somehow, in his drunken state, faster than a creature known for scurrying out of harms way near instantaneously. The second, that I would simply allow this to happen. Even after half a bowl of ale, Erdin had no difficulty dodging the descending hand, drawing blood with a vicious bite as he did so.
I, on the other hand, had decided to make use of the poor condition of our table. I poked the point of the scissors through a hole in the table, half an inch from where Erdin perched, easily in the path of the descending appendage. The drunk roared, instantly pulling back as his hand was pierced clean through by the neatly hidden makeshift weapon. He brought his hand to his face and stared in wonder at the gaping hole, his eyes still partially glazed with drink. Then he peered down at the table, where Erdin sat staring, face the image of chipmunk ferocity, twin fangs still dripping blood from the bite he had inflected.
“Devil creature!” the drunk yelled, and backed away, tripping over a chair in his haste to reach the door. Moments later he fled the tavern, still screaming of killer squirrels.
Such a scene would have surely seen us escorted from the premises of any respectable establishment. As it was, half the patrons hadn't even bothered to look up, and it certainly hadn't been enough to elicit comment from those who had. Erdin licked the blood from his front teeth, and went back to his bowl, which he seemed bound and determined to finish by the end of the evening, no small feat for such a tiny creature. Once more, I settled in to wait.
The tavern was slow to empty, but eventually the last and most intoxicated dragged themselves out the rickety front door. Erdin lay curled up in his bowl, sleeping contentedly, the only ale left in evidence glistening wetly on his fur. I gave him an affectionate scratch. At least one of us had achieved something this evening. It seemed my night had been wasted. I finally stood, dropped another coin on the table, and reached for my incapacitated chipmunk.
“You Varsis?” came a voice behind me.
My hand paused in midair. I turned, finding the shifty eyed bartender addressing me. “It's possible.” I replied.
The bartender nodded. “He said you'd be a stranger, and the last to leave. Got something for you.” He said, motioning toward a small door behind the bar. “It's in the back.”
I raised an eyebrow. “You couldn't have asked me my name three hours ago?” I asked under my breath, moving towards the small door. I spared another glance for Erdin, still sleeping peacefully in the wooden bowl. “Defend that bowl with your life, chipmunk.” I mentally commanded his tiny sleeping form, as I followed the man into the back.
We entered a small storage room, littered with empty ale casks. The bartender walked to a shelf and pulled out a poorly sealed letter. “Here. Ugly fella left this for you this morning.”
That sounded like the right man. I took the letter and opened it, quickly skimming the contents. It seemed my business associate had a pressing concern with some people trying to kill him, and was reluctant to stay in one spot. Not surprising, as I was pursuing a very similar trail of thought myself. I finished the letter and folded it back up. “It says here he left something, a cheap piece of jewelry, In the envelope. It's not here. Any idea where that might have gone?”
“Haven't a clue,” said the barkeeper, his eyes refusing to stay in one place. “He said you'd pay me for seeing you got that letter.” I noticed him reach a long finger up and scratch his nose at that point, a finger quite obviously wearing a gaudy, cheap ring with a huge fake stone in it, exactly as described in the letter. Was the man truly stupid enough to be wearing a freshly stolen piece of jewelry in front of the man he was stealing it from? Yeah, probably.
I took a step towards the man. “I want you to look down at that cheap piece of crap on your finger and take a moment to consider, very carefully, whether or not it's worth dying for,” I said, putting as much ice into my voice as I could manage.
The barkeeper looked at me for a long moment, then glanced down at his finger. “I guess it's not worth it after all,” he said, reaching his left hand over to pull off the ring.
Really? Lines like that never work. Perhaps I was more intimidating than I gave myself credit for. I allowed myself a moment of self satisfaction while the man removed the ring. It almost cost me my life.
Instead of pulling off his ring, the man reached into his sleeve, pulled out a nasty little dagger from a hidden sheath, and charged me. I'll give him credit, he was a lot quicker than I would have expected. I was caught completely flat footed. Unfortunately for him, while he was fast, I was much, much faster. Despite being surprised, finely trained reflexes took over. My right hand drew the dagger at my belt almost before I realized there was danger, and his long reach was completely negated as I stepped neatly towards him and to the side, evading his stab, and buried six inches of steel in his chest. I retrieved my dagger and ring as the man lay dying on the floor, and considered my situation.
This was bad. Why had the idiot jumped me over something so trivial? Never mind that the ring was actually layered with powerful enchantments, rendering it a potent magical artifact worth several dozen times the cost of the tavern I stood in; the man had no way of knowing that. He'd tried to kill me over a truly ugly piece of jewelry, worth a few copper at best. Pathetic. And now my difficulties were compounded. Not only did I hate killing people, but half a tavern could place me at the scene of the crime. This death was a completely senseless and unnecessary problem. And I hadn't even gotten paid for it.
I took a moment to lament my woes and give in to general self pity, when I was disturbed from my revelry by the piercing sound of shattering glass. I drew my dagger once more, and stepped wearily into the main room of the tavern. I was greeted by the sight of my faithful familiar, standing on uncertain legs. He was poised behind a bottle of distilled spirits, drunken eyes scrunched up in concentration, and with a mighty heave he sent it hurtling toward the floor. Another twinkling of breaking glass. From the impressive display of glass and alcohol saturating the floor, I could see he'd been at it for some time. It was then that I noticed the oil lantern perched precariously behind Erdin, inches from falling square into the middle of a puddle of highly flammable alcohol.
Then it clicked. “Genius creature!” I said aloud, truly impressed. “And here I thought you were passed out in a drunken stupor! Of course a fire is the perfect way to hide the dead body in the back. I should have thought of that. Remind me to have a little more faith in you, Erdin.”
It was then, I think, that he noticed me for the first time. He stared up into my face, barely recognizing me. As his eyes met mine I came to a sinking realization. My chipmunk was bombed. My pride filled bubble abruptly burst as I realized there was no way he could have come up with any type of plan whatsoever in his present state. He was just smashing things. Oh well, at least he'd given me the idea. He pushed another bottle onto the floor, watching it smash to the ground with evident satisfaction.
“You KILLED a guy?” came his disjointed voice in my head, confirming my fears. I sighed and scooped him up, tucking him into my pocket.
“Go to sleep,” I sent back, fastening the flap on the pocket. I peered at the puddle of alcohol on the floor, and shrugged. It should be enough. I stepped out of the front door of the tavern, and with a satisfying snap of my fingers, I let what little magic I possessed spark a flame behind us. Moments later, the tavern was a flaming inferno. Good riddance.