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Dec 07, 2021 6:18 AM
the second-least unique adventuring party in Pu’er
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In the Consulate of Stars, on the Pu’er continent, there is the city of Theophrastus. It contains 170,000 people, at any given time, packed loosely into twisted spires and crooked alleyways and more ordinary businesses and homes. In it, walking through one particular alleyway, there is a neko - androgynous and slender, with pointed cat ears and a slowly swaying black tail - and an improbably tall and athletic drow, walking beside him.

The neko - Jade - is considering going to a tavern.

This is never a good sign.

Some people go to taverns very casually; otherwise they would be a less viable business. This is fine, if you’re a relatively ordinary person. It might even be fine if you’ve been interesting for a very long time; hundred year old adventurers who’ve yet to learn their tenth secret can grab drinks without any particular concern.

Jade Bushida is only twenty three. He has already learned fourteen secrets. He is ordinarily far too sensible to go around visiting taverns.

But the other person in his head wants to, very badly, and so he is considering it.

‘... why do you want to go to a tavern,’ says Jade, internally.

Um,’ says the other person in his brain. 

Um’, they repeat. ‘We’ve been on the road for a while now, and, um. I thought it would be fun?’

Taverns are not fun.’

I, um. I’m sorry if this is a conflicting need, but I really want to go to a tavern and we’re supposed to have joint input on stuff and everything, so I think that we should do it.’

That is not an explanation.’

‘We just spent the last week trekking through the wilderness and I’m really very lonely and sad and I think a tavern would be better for me than just finding an inn?’

I don’t think that it will help.’

Um. I think that it’ll help, and I think that I’m still allowed to make decisions sometimes, even though decisions are hard, and I don’t think the overall risk estimate on going to a tavern is actually high enough for you to exert your veto?’

This is going to end poorly.’

I’m okay with my decisions occasionally ending poorly. You’ve also made decisions that ended poorly and I really don’t think that means that you shouldn’t make decisions at all or anything?’

‘... fine.’

 

He turns to his… traveling companion… what would even be the word for ‘the person his headmate is dating’...

“Kamin wants to go to a tavern.”

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“Cool! Does he, like, have one in mind, I’m not super familiar with the area but I super know a few places.”

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Jade sighs, slightly, and does a few consecutive pirouettes. His coat turns into a glittering swirl of glowing specks.

”By promise of night, I wait, until -“

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“- the promise of dawn has since been fulfilled.”

His coat resolves into a heavily embellished jacket, covered in rhinestones and elegant sunset gradients; the rest of his outfit is similarly embellished, if more subtly. His hair and his ears and his tail bleach to a pale blonde; his posture and his gait change entirely.

”Um! I don’t really know Theophrastus very well at all, I’m still mostly used to the southern coast, so I definitely didn’t have anywhere in particular in mind?“

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“I went to the Yew Berry when I was here for that basilisk thing but I dunno if you’d, like, like it. They have strippers and stuff. I super like strippers but they’re not super your thing and you’d maybe feel weird about it? - let’s go to Mal’s, one of the waitresses was cute but it was pretty tame.”

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“I don’t mind strip taverns in the abstract, but I don’t think that watching you give money to professionally attractive people would be very good for my self esteem? We can go to Mal’s.”

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“Cool.”

 

They navigate through several more alleyways, and eventually reach a large, bustling tavern. It has a alchemical neon sign in front of it, simply saying ‘MALEVOLENCE’; whoever decorated the dimly lit interior was clearly very fond of black leather, spikes, topless waitstaff, and tiny little aquariums filled with snails.

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Kamin is unsurprised by the fact that Zeke considers this sort of establishment ‘tame’. Jade sighs, inside of his head.

”It’s very, um, art mautalant?”

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They find an empty table.


“My auntie talked a lot about all that stuff, she kept asking my mom to redecorate the house and my mom was always, like, ‘no!’, and then she would drop it and then there would be something else next time about about the curtains or whatever.”

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“Are you two still in touch?”

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“I hired a teleporter to talk to her, and it turned out that she was super dead, so then I hired a medium and apparently she has a ghost girlfriend and stuff now and doesn’t wanna come back, so... not... really? Giant spider ate her. Lots of giant spiders where I grew up, they were scary when I was a kid but now I can murder them with my bare hands and they’re kinda adorable? I want one as a pet but I dunno any druidism stuff and I’d be really bad at it.”

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“I think that I would enjoy learning druidism, but everything that isn’t healing seems terribly inscrutable. Although I’ve been watching the way Jade does psionics and I think I might be close to figuring some of it out?”

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“You’re working on telepathy, right?”

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“Yup! Or, well, um, Jade is working on getting better at telepathy and I’m watching him do that? And I’ve also been watching him try to crack clairvoyance but that’s even less scrutable to me, watching him work on telepathy is like watching a painter when you don’t know how to paint and then watching him figure out clairvoyance is like watching someone, um - try to mold invisible clay? I can see his metaphorical hands but the rest is just inexplicable. And he’s also poking at teleportation but that barely makes any more sense to him than it does to me.

If I can figure out telepathy and clairvoyance I can learn how to do sense sharing, I think. I thought that might be - nice.”

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“... yeah.”

 

A waitress stops by their table; she’s precisely as topless as all the other waitstaff, but her general resemblance to a humanoid lizard makes this fact less relevant than it might be otherwise.

”Hello,” she says, in a bored monotone voice. “Welcome to malevolence tavern. We have food to sate your every dread hunger and drinks for your every dire whim. Do you need to look at our menu.”

”We’re, like, fine? I want two pints of beer and the mushroom bread, and my boyfriend can have whatever the spiciest thing on your menu is and a thingy of watered down mulsum wine.”

The waitress makes a vague affirmative grunt and proceeds to wander away, presumably in the direction of the kitchen.

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“- thank you!”

 

They eventually receive, and consume, their dinner; Kamin drops some hidden tension in his shoulders, listening to ambient laughter instead of ambient birdsong and eating warm food and in particular eating warm food that his boyfriend(!) ordered for him. Zeke orders a second round of mushroom bread and a marinated flank of lamb; Kamin nibbles on the incredibly spicy remnants of his incredibly spicy meal and stares at his boyfriend(!) and occasionally turns inward to respond to some comment or another from Jade. 

He’s so happy. Other people in the restaurant might not feel happier per se, but the neighboring few tables do feel a bit of a glowing restfulness on the edge of their souls.

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A human woman in an eccentric outfit approaches their table.

”Aren’t you two just the cutest little schnapps I’ve ever seen! Do I have to call the cuddle police?”

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“... we’re kinda in the middle of a thing, here.”

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She rolls her eyes and crosses her arms.

”The cuddle police cause three giggle fatalities a month in this jurisdiction and people like you just don’t give a damn! Why, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were a no-good scoundrel and a down-dirty cheat, Mr. Byrne. If that is your real name.”

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“That’s not... a thing... will you go away if I, like, punch you in the face? Super cool with doing that.”

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(Jade does not bother suppressing an exasperated sigh in the back of Kamin’s mind.)

“Um?”

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“You would strike a blow at a poor defenseless maiden, Mr. Birdiewhatever? For shame. I am but a humble servant of some person who definitely exists, sent on a noble quest to do nothing in particular.”

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“... are you, like, a bard. People who aren’t bards are, like, bad, at being this annoying.”

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“I’m a sugarplum pony from the magical realm of dreams, sent to fulfill your deepest wish!”

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Zeke attempts to punch her in the face. 

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She trips on a corner of her skirt at the precise right moment and ends up on the floor, remarkably unpunched.

”Foul! Foul! Mr. Brontosaurus -“ 

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