Before I jump into the reason for this post, I wanted to say a big Thank you to those of you who took advantage of the free ebook offer for The Summoning of Clade Josso. I hope you enjoy the book, and continue with the rest of us as we explore the Meridian and make our way to the Vein!
And now, the big reason for my post. Today I’ve got a special treat for you: the first chapter of my next book, The Summoning of Kran: The Third Descent into the Vein, for your pleasure. I hope it whets your appetite for more!
Enjoy, and see you in the Vein!
The window to the frozen outside gave Lecc a sudden shudder.
Despite the warmth that permeated his establishment-begun at the start of every day by the ignition of a wood-filled stove at the center of the dining area and amplified by the presence of the mostly regular patrons who made their appearances-the dead finger of winter always seemed to find an unseen crevice between pane and earthen wall, sneaking in and giving his neck a chilling tickle. He did not like the winter-at all.
Neither did the ha-bears, from the look of it. While a few of the steeds had plopped to the floor of their stalls for a nap, most of the others stamped and bleated with inflections that could only be interpreted as complaints about the lack of heat. The stable which housed them provided protection from most of the pounding currents of wind that filled the outside air, but the ha-bears were left to their own shaggy hides to keep them warm-something that Lecc’s patrons knew, and had the brains enough to keep their beasts well-fed and fat. Well, most of them did, anyway.
Around the corner of the stable came a figure, made obese by a patchwork of ha-bear furs sewn together and donned for heat. Atop his head sat a hood fashioned from the same material, covering almost the entire face of Lecc’s friend and business associate. In his hands was held the familiar cross-shaped sling that was kept in an alcove next to the kitchen door when neither Lecc nor his partner were checking for tumbleworms. But it was Enarv’s turn to take the watch, and that meant that the sling went with him. That wasn’t a problem for Lecc; the clientele who frequented this place were mostly Beings of a peaceful nature, who simply wanted a hot meal, a strong brew, and time to forget about working the nearby mines. Most had no time or energy saved for brawling.
Besides, if things did get out of hand, the cylindrical one-shot sling anchored to Lecc’s sash would perform its job in ending the life of anybody he deemed a threat.
Enarv faced Lecc, waving the weapon upward. Lecc gave him a wave in return, accompanied by a satisfied smile. No signs of tumbleworms anywhere in the snow: good. Lecc himself would go out in another half hour to take his watch. He had seen far too many ha-bears become maimed-or worse-because of these hideous things. And while Lecc had a sign hanging over the entrance to the establishment in place for a friendly forewarning to his patrons(Your ha-bear is YOUR responsibility, not ours!), he still carried with him a sense of duty about it. After all, even though his was the only public eating establishment in the area-and had been for well over a hundred Meridian years by now-he wanted his customers to trust him and come back. Lecc knew that bad service and an unpleasant environment could drive any Being into cooking their own meals at home.
“Can’t have that now, can we?” he mused to himself.
No, not at all. Cooking was his life, when he lived on Usib, owning a prestigious restaurant in the Northern Bloc, only seeing it come to ruin at the hands of dissenters during a demonstration against the war with the Southern Bloc; a demonstration that turned into a street-swarmed riot, full of Talusibats who either protested for a cause they believed in, or who joined in the ensuing vandalism simply for the purpose of fulfilling a destructive lust. Lecc cared nothing for any of that: he wanted to run his business and be left alone, to continue to be exalted by the people of the Northern Bloc as the great Tender Lecc-“Tender” Lecc, how apt that blessed name had been for him!-who could make a dish so savory that it charmed the palates of the Talusibat elite.
How quickly that dream had evaporated in the war!
It was no wonder that Lecc had jumped at the idea of signing a Pact to come here. The promises made by the mysterious Pact-makers had gripped Lecc; even though he didn’t understand all of it, the idea of starting over with a new life stuck with him, and once he sealed himself to the Pact, it became infectious, permeating his every discussion and decision, to the point where many of his family and friends considered him out of his mind. And even on the day he died on Usib-killed by a bomb planted in a military recruitment office while preparing to enlist-he prattled on incessantly to the other enlisting Talusibats about how much he was looking forward to cooking for the footmen of the Northern Bloc, bringing to the military menu a touch of class and savor.
When Lecc had arrived in the Meridian, he found himself cold and lost, in the middle of a harsh blizzard, barely able to spot the small cluster of buildings that housed the miners of the little colony of Kallin. He trudged through the knee-deep snow, finding hospitality in this place, which had been little more than a pub to make and sell brew. Lecc volunteered to stay on and assist with the keeper of the pub-an Osmydi well-advanced in years, named Rebi-performing basic chores and duties in exchange for food and lodging. Rebi agreed, and even permitted Lecc to experiment with recipes in the kitchen; although, as the keeper told him with a somber tone, “Your cooking will prove to be little more than frustration, for yourself and for the rest of us.”
Lecc had found that to be only too true.
For an unending string of days and nights, he enslaved himself to the kitchen, searching for what few spices and herbs that Rebi possessed, both familiar and unfamiliar to him, and worked his magic upon the stove. The result was the same, whether the meal was a cut of ha-bear meat or a fresh batch of vegetables from Rebi’s indoor garden: a mouth full of flavor, followed by a hideous blandness that made Lecc gag and vomit the first time he had tasted it.
Undeterred, the bearded Talusibat sought other means, bartering with various patrons who had their own personal indoor gardens, combining a pinch of this and a spoonful of that, but no cuisine concoction could reverse it. The food, the drink, all of it poisoned by this ash-flavored texture that filled the mouth when more than two chews were performed on any bite of food. It was as if this entire place had a curse on the taste buds of the Seven Beings. Rebi later confirmed this with a hearty laugh about it, although at the time Lecc found the matter anything but humorous.
Defeated, Lecc apologized for the trouble he thought he caused about the whole matter. But before he offered to demote himself back to the mundane routine of cleaning, Rebi stopped him, complimenting him for his efforts and noting that the number of afternoon and evening patrons who came in had nearly doubled since Lecc had begun his doomed quest.
“You made them feel like they were alive again, son.” Rebi had mused, “Even though you can’t bring the tastes of our old lives back, at least you brought some of the look back. And that means something to them-and to me.”
From then on, Lecc didn’t look back. Every effort was put into improving the food, making it look more attractive, smell more inviting, even if he knew that aroma wouldn’t translate to the tongues of those eating it. As Rebi had said, it was something that reminded these people of what they had in life. A taste of home, even if it lasted for less than a moment in their mouths.
Lecc pressed on with cuisine, taking over the business after Rebi had lost his life. The poor old Osmydi had chased after a loose ha-bear one frigid night, and had stumbled into a roving trio of tumbleworms. One of the vicious animals could be dangerous enough. But three of them had made short order of the pub owner, leaping upon him and pulling him under the knee-deep snow, leaving little more than a muffled cry behind. Lecc had seen the whole thing transpire from the open back door of the pub and had jerked forward in an impulsive attempt to assist, but Rebi’s words about the tumbleworms filled his mind: Once they pull you down, it’s over.
And over it had been. Lecc stepped in as the new owner of the pub, running the business himself for the most part. A couple of Kallin inhabitants had come in to work for him, waiting on the staff and continuing the making of the brew while the Talusibat continued to do what he did best for the patrons.
Enarv had been one of those on the part-time staff. The thick-necked, shaggy Dekkan had arrived in the Meridian only twenty-five days ago, and already he had become a favorite of the regulars with his quick wit and enthusiastic attitude. He found work with one of the mining groups, knocking off about midday to come in and help Lecc out. His reliability in job performance and pleasant rapport with the hungry and thirsty off-duty miners prompted Lecc to offer him a place to crash: an enclosed lean-to on the far side of the pub, not very spacious, but clean, furnished, and-most importantly-warm, which was a claim that not all of the structures in Kallin could claim.
From down the call came the sudden glow of an open door, followed by the shadow of an entering figure. “That was weird!” came a shout.
“What’s that?” Lecc asked, handing a plate of steaming food to a raven-haired Juvan-Sarit, her name was. Her odd, orange eyes seemed to glow against her violet skin, making Lecc feel uncomfortable. She smiled and walked back toward a table of four Beings huddled over a table, sipping brew from their mugs.
The Dekkan assistant pulled the hood away from his head as he walked into the kitchen, revealing an irregular arrangement of mangled, brown hair. “I saw something flash outside.”
“Flash? Like what?”
“Like a light.” Enarv gasped, gripping a full mug of brew left near the big black square that served as a stove. “Out by the Barrier. Weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Lecc shrugged, “Don’t know. There’s stuff about this place that I still don’t know about, and I’ve been here for a little while now.”
“Never seen anything like that before-Ugh!” Enarv gave a choked cough, grimacing at the mug in his hand. Lecc glanced at him, then gave a laugh.
“I still can’t get used to the taste of the stuff around here.” Enarv grumbled, setting the brew down. “Ain’t funny to me.”
“You’ll get past it. Just enjoy the smell of it all.”
“That’s the one thing I miss from New Dekka. I miss good food.”
“The food is good, Enarv.” Lecc answered, laying a slab of red ha-bear meat upon the stove. The black surface came to life with smoke and sizzle. “Hand me that powdered pineclove, please.”
Enarv took a glass jar down, filled with a powered material that carried a blue hue to it. “So that’s all you saw?” Lecc asked him, “Nothing else?”
“The snow picked up right after it happened. I couldn’t see anything else. That’s not one of those Cloud things that the miners talk about, is it?”
Lecc looked at him, “You mean a Cloud Specter? No. Not here, not this far away. You might see one cross between here and Sarphyx, but they don’t pass over us.”
“Oh. That’s good, right?”
The Talusibat cracked his beard with a smirk, “Yes, Enarv. That’s good. Cloud Specters have a tendency to crush anything that moves. I need some field vegetables cut; would you get them for me?”
The Dekkan gave his boss a nod. “And I didn’t see any tumbleworms out there, either.”
“Good. I’ll go out in a little bit for my shift, but right now we need to get some more meals prepped. It’ll be sunset soon, and that means Dollia and her crew will be coming in.”
“That little Shurin fellow who’s always with her-“
Lecc stabbed the steak with a two-pronged fork, picking it up to turn over. “Homec?”
“Yeah, him. I don’t think he paid for his meal last night.” Enarv frowned.
“He didn’t? I didn’t notice a miscount. The key to the treasury box is hanging up. You’re welcome to check the counts.”
“No, that’s okay. You’d know better than I would. I just didn’t remember seeing him pay, is all.”
Lecc gave his employee a sideways glance. “This isn’t about the chance game you lost a few days ago, is it?”
“Hmm? No!” Enarv snapped. “You think I’m some sort of grudge holder!?”
The Talusibat turned his eyes back to the cooking slab of meat, “Well, you weren’t too happy about that. I seem to recall you two nearly coming to blows when the word ‘cheat’ stumbled out of your mouth.”
Before the Dekkan could reply, a dark corner on the opposite side of the dining area opened wide in a rectangular slice of daylight, briefly drowning the dull, fire-lit yellow that painted walls, floor, ceiling, and patrons. Through the opening came a series of dark, diverse silhouettes.
“That you, Dollia?” Lecc called.
The foremost form brought a clawed hand up to a masked face, tearing away the layered strips to reveal a crooked-toothed smile, situated under a gruff, ruddy face and wide eyes that housed vertically-slit pupils. The rest of her entourage followed suit, with all but two of them being Osmydi, just like her. She threw her head back, loosening a long, braided ponytail of silver hair that grew from the top of her head.
“Got three more miners with me today, Lecc!” Dollia howled with a voice that could have come across as either excited or furious-or a little of both. “Bring a round of eight brews this time!”
A few of the other patrons gave Dollia and the other newcomers murmured greetings and nods of acknowledgment. She returned the gestures with her own nod and wicked smiles. Lecc could never get over that; the Osmydi seemed to have only two expressions: angry and angrier. Even when they laughed, they did it with a face that made one expect a swift punch in the nose to follow the chuckles. Still, it didn’t take too long to learn what set off Dollia, or any other Osmydi; and even though they could be much more patient and calm than Lecc had originally perceived, they still had their breaking points, and those breaking points could come a bit sooner than expected.
It was not for nothing that Lecc kept that single-shot sling on him. His hand made an unconscious and inconspicuous trip down, fingers pressing against the weapon in reassurance. He almost trusted Dollia.
“Good success today, Dollia?” The question was called out from one of three Fyryn seated near the open fireplace that provided the heat and light for the dining area. The slender, purple form of Sarit began to move in and out of the tables, taking meal orders with a discreet tone.
“Great success!” She bellowed back, rubbing her fingers together. “Five carts full of ore this morning!”
A round of approving hums came from the others. “Thanks to Peteri and Belis here, our two newcomers!”
Dollia gestured back toward a thick male Osmydi and a middle-aged Cyrconi with barely enough hair crossing over his head to cover the scalp. The Osmydi gave the others a proud, painful grimace, while the Cyrconi shrugged and dropped his head in apparent embarrassment.
Enarv emerged from behind the bar area, carrying a tray of clay mugs. “I don’t see Homec with you today, Dollia.” He said to her as he passed out the drinks. “Nothing happened, I hope.”
“He stayed behind at the mine shacks, doing some chance games with the afternoon shift of miners before they start working.” She answered, “But he did tell me to pass on a hello to you.”
Enarv gave a nod and half a smile to Dollia, “Give him a hello back from me.”
“And,” she added, with a grin, “that he’d love to give you another opportunity to win your coins back-if you’re not given to name-calling again.”
The half a smile disappeared. A couple of low laughs came from Dollia’s fellow miners. “We’ll see,” Enarv muttered before heading back toward the kitchen.
Lecc brought out a platter of steamed vegetables, mixed and sprinkled with a blend of hypnotizing aromas. A round of grunted thank-yous came from the hungry miners, seizing the bite-sized portions with greedy glee. Lecc appreciated that, even though the sweet and spicy savor went not much further than atmospheric aroma.
“Hey, Lecc-” Dollia whispered. “What’s with the two in the corner?”
Lecc gave her a puzzled look. Dollia turned her eyes toward a table on the other side of the room, her gaze settling upon two hunched figures, one significantly smaller than the other, arrayed in what appeared to be thick blankets that draped over the front and back of their bodies, their hooded heads protruding through holes cut in the center of the insulating material.
Lecc shrugged. “Don’t know. I think they’re Sect members.”
“They are,” Dollia murmured with an agitated voice that bothered Lecc. “Those cloaks they’re wearing-they’ve got stuff written all over them, right? Black and blue writing.”
“I-I guess so. Can’t say I’ve really spent much time talking to them. They come in every six or seven days, eat, and leave. Funny though-” Lecc turned his head toward the kitchen, from which could be seen the square of cloud-covered daylight that shone through the window. “They’re usually here at night, now that you mention it, long after you guys are gone.”
The Osmydi female gave a subtle growl. “I don’t trust them.” she sneered, “If we had an Order in Kallin, I’d go tell them about these two. Don’t they have those weird sword weapons on them?”
Lecc sighed. “I don’t know, Dollia,” he answered, his distaste for the subject coloring his tone, “I don’t go asking about that stuff with my patrons. You know my policy about weapons: don’t use yours-“
” ‘-and I won’t use mine.’ Yeah, I know.” She finished. “But those two are trouble waiting to happen.”
Lecc brought himself upright, placing his body between Dollia and the two targets of her disapproval, “Well, they’ve not started anything in here yet, and I’d like to keep it that way. If you’ve got an issue with them, take it outside in the street.”
Dollia threw him a surprised look. “I’m hurt, Lecc!” she exclaimed with a sarcastic wound in her face, before resuming her grin of jolly rage. “You know I respect you too much for that!”
“I’m touched.” he smirked, “But seriously, from what I understand, those Sect fellows know how to handle themselves well in a fight. You might want to think twice before starting any kind of assault.”
“Now I’m touched. You watching out for me?”
“No,” he answered with a wink, “I’m watching out for my business.”
Dollia gave a raucous laugh that attracted the attention of half the patrons in the pub. As her voice died down, the door through which she and her fellow miners had come opened again. A hooded form came through the door.
“Come on in!” Lecc called out, moving toward the kitchen, “Sit where you’d like and we’ll be right with you!”
The face remained hidden from view, but the grotesque form of a naked, muscular left arm and clawed hand that protruded out from under the insulating, scarlet cloak betrayed the identity of the newcomer as an Osmydi. The rest of his upper body remained as concealed as his face, although the manner in which the cloak draped over the unseen right shoulder gave it a deflated, shrunken appearance, as if the unseen limb had been cursed with some sort of deformity. Legs encased in pants that crisscrossed strips of drab green and black, ending in heavy black boots, carried him across the floor.
The door returned to its closed state as the stranger approached the bar, seating himself upon a stool with a smooth, almost arrogant motion. Dollia and her party gave the secretive Osmydi a scrutinizing glance before returning to their food. Lecc emerged from the kitchen, holding an empty mug in his hand.
The two presumed Sect members in the corner neither said nor did anything indicating interest in the new arrival.
“Brew?” he asked with a grin.
“That’ll be fine.” The voice coming from under the hood held a deep tone that did not sit well with Lecc. The Talusibat maintained his friendly demeanor, preventing a worried look from shadowing his face.
The miners had returned to their food, but the eyes of each one of them, including Dollia, drifted in the direction of the newcomer, with looks that alternated between curiosity and suspicion. Absent-minded conversation drifted among them, something about the things that needed to be done for tomorrow, words falling on ears that paid only partial attention.
Lecc set the brew-filled mug before the stranger. “It’s two coin, but you can wait until after you eat to pay if you want.”
The clawed hand reached up in silence, wrapping the talon-tipped fingers around the handle of the mug. Lecc did not receive an answer either way with regard to wanting any food; somehow, that did not surprise him.
He gave another pat on his one-shot. “Enarv!” he called back to the kitchen, “Get me another-“
A choked gurgle, followed by the sound of liquid being spewed in disgust from somebody’s mouth, cut off the rest of Lecc’s words. He turned to see the stranger, stiff and upright, having soaked both the chest area of his cloak and the top of the bar with rejected brew, the mug laying upon its side near a pool of it.
“What sort of garbage is this!?” snapped the stranger. The agitation in his words rang out, and Lecc got the impression that this particular fellow had a quick temper, even for an Osmydi.
Enarv came out from the kitchen, “What happened here!? I-“
Lecc waved him off. “Are you a newcomer, fellow?”
The back of an angry hand wiped away the moisture from a toothy Osmydi mouth. It was the first time Lecc had glimpsed any of the stranger’s face. “This drink you have is putrid! Are you trying to kill me!?”
“Newcomer,” Enarv nodded. “It’s the way of food and drink in the Meridian. Nothing we can do about it.”
“Pathetic!” the Osmydi sneered again. By now, even the Sect members showed interest in the scene. looking on. “You have better than this, I trust!?”
“I don’t, sir.” Lecc responded, wiping away the spill with a dingy, brown cloth. “And I’ll forgive you this, one since you’re new. But if you decide to get-“
“You’ll forgive me?” The Osmydi growled, leaning toward the tall, thin, bearded Talusibat. “You give me this excuse for a drink that’s worse than swamp water, and you say you’ll forgive me!?”
“Hey!” Dollia called out, “Why don’t you lay off him?”
The hood opening turned in the direction of the female Osmydi. “You have a reason for involving yourself in this matter, Pipiti?”
Dollia’s eyes flared with widening pupils, her body becoming rigid with tension for a moment before catching herself. “I suggest,” she began with a controlled tone, “that you watch your language in here, fellow.”
“Or what?” the stranger challenged.
Below the table, something nudged against Dollia’s leg. With a subtle, downward stroke of her hand, she recognized the object: the stock end of one of the slings from her fellow miners-maybe Sandet or Neka. She sat on the end of the table, in a good position to jump up and plant a bolt in the chest of this brash fool. Yeah, she mused, One good shot. Gotta watch that other arm, though. He might have a one-shot waiting under there for me.
She could get him first-if she needed to. But not yet: for Lecc’s sake, Dollia wanted to bring this matter down to a controllable level. Brawls in the pub were rare, but costly for Lecc. That wasn’t fair to Dollia and her miners; they wanted him cooking, not building.
She turned more of her body toward him, keeping her hand and the sling out of sight, under the table. “You’re a new arrival; that much is obvious. And for that we should cut you some slack, not knowing our ways and all.”
The hooded figure shifted his body toward her as she continued to speak. “So let me explain a little bit about us. We’re miners, who make our living by digging out metal ores and underground vegetable gardens and trading them with another city to the north of us, in exchange for money.”
A gulp from her brew interrupted Dollia’s words for a moment, “We’re generally not the violent type-a little rowdy sometimes, yes; but we don’t look for trouble. The regular trip we make between this little town and Sarphyx is difficult enough for us to manage as it is, and that’s enough excitement for most of us to take.”
“So you’re not wanting any trouble with me.” The stranger answered with irritated gravel in his throat. “Is that the gist of it?”
Dollia chewed her lip for a moment, “I think it’d be more correct to say that you wouldn’t want any trouble with us, but that wording aside-yeah, you get the hint.”
“Ohh..” the expression of understanding carried with it an almost reptilian tone, not attempting to hide its condescension. “So, this is all for my benefit? That I don’t fall into trouble?”
“That’s the long and short of it, yes. So you either eat and drink that food without another complaint, or be on your way somewhere else. This Talusibat-” Dollia cocked her head toward Lecc, “-works hard to serve us. He doesn’t need ungrateful patrons in here. Neither do the rest of us.”
The hooded figure shifted his head up and down in a nod of understanding, bringing his body around with a lethargic turn toward bar, lowering his gaze to the place where the brew had been. Lecc headed back toward the kitchen with the empty mug, not anticipating a call from this stranger to refill it.
Dollia kept her eye on the stranger’s back, squinting her eyes in preparation for any trick or aggressive move, but none came. With a satisfied sigh, she turned back toward her co-workers, who tried to resume their conversation with a proposal to visit one of the lot caster houses down the street after the meal for a round of chance. She nodded at the proposal; there was nothing for her to rush home to, just like every other night in Kallin-or even in Sarphyx for that matter. Not for her. Sarphyx had a lot more glamour and glitter than Kallin, appealing to several of her fellow miners, but Dollia kept her life simple. That’s how it had to be in the Meridian; pleasure here was an illusion at best, and a desperate, futile attempt to chase after the shadows of a previous life at worst.
Enarv returned with another tray of overfilled mugs, trading them for empty ones. Dollia was not quite ready to give hers up yet. Still half-full, and she couldn’t let any brew ever go to waste. In her life on Osmyd, it was the same way: cherishing any drop of pleasure, savoring it in order to slow down time, to forget about a World with a society that could be as cruel and as dangerous among friends as it could be among enemies. Compared with the nightmare that was a life on Osmyd, the mines-though by no means paradise-could be downright relaxing, even though they had their own perils that had to be guarded against. She took to anything that didn’t remind her of her old life, which probably explained why she preferred to work with other beings besides fellow Osmydi. They reminded her too much of what she was, of what she came from.
Like this stranger here did.
As if hearing her thoughts, the stranger turned toward her. “I have a question for you, Pipiti.”
Dollia mashed her teeth together, unable to fully conceal her fury at the foul-mouthed insult hurled by this arrogant newcomer. Her fingers tensed on the unseen sling. “And what’s that?”
The hood came up, revealing the ghostly glint of an Osmydi eye that stood out in the remaining shadow that hid the upper part of the face. The mouth formed a wide, maniacal grin.
“Who says-” he whispered “-that I don’t want to look for trouble?”
Behind the bar, Enarv looked at the stranger, then at Dollia, “Wha-?”
The female Osmydi sprang up from her chair, bringing the sling to bear on the stranger. Under the cloak, something moved and gleamed in the light of the fireplace.
Lecc walked into the dining area, hearing the clatter of Dollia’s chair strike the floor. He saw her in motion, preparing to let loose a metal bolt. Behind her, the other miners were rising to their feet, with at least two of them raising another pair of slings. From the corner of his eye, he saw the movement of the stranger, flinging away a section of his cloak, revealing something irregular and metal.
Then the light drowned it all out.
A wavy beam of energy that carried an alternating tint of brilliant green and a deep violet exploded from the end of the stranger’s weapon. The beam collided with Dollia, driving her body backward, off her feet, the energy consuming her body into nothing. The stranger shifted his aim, bringing the beam to bear upon the two others who had raised their weapons. Before either sling could be deployed, the worming light disintegrated their bodies as well, causing the unused projectile-throwing weapons to drop to the floor with a dead clatter. Three of the patrons who had not entered with the miners made their way to the exit in a frustrated stumble over chairs and tables, choosing to carry their thick, bulky overcoats with them rather than take the time to put them on as they slammed into the door, igniting the room with a rectangular blast of overcast daylight, accompanied by a spilling of frigid air and stray flakes of snow.
Back inside, the remainder of Dollia’s mining team remained where they were, hands raised in the air, not daring to venture another step in any direction, squinting as the smoke that had been Dollia and the other two reached and stung their eyes. The two presumed Sect members eyed the beam-wielding stranger with wary caution, but neither moved nor spoke.
The stranger threw back his hood, revealing a bald head on the left side, with an ear that came to a point at its top. On the right side of his face was a form-fitted metal plate, with an artificial, circular red lens placed where his right eye should have been. He exhaled a tired breath, but did not lower the tip of the weapon that protruded out from under his cloak.
“Are we still wanting trouble, fellows?” The odd-looking Osmydi asked-or rather, almost shouted-in a gruff voice. A couple of shaking heads and low “no”s came back in response.
Enarv made a quick motion toward the sling kept in the kitchen, but another slithering bolt of green and violet collided with the wall in front of him, leaving behind a singed, flame-traced scar. The Osmydi has his malicious, artificial eye focused upon the Dekkan.
“I trust,” the Osmydi said, “that you prefer to live as well?”
Enarv gave the Osmydi a brief stare of defiance, but backed down when seeing the end of the strange beam weapon pointed at him. He backed away from his intended goal.
“A wise move, my friend.” The Osmydi chuckled, turning to Lecc, “And you.” he began, “That little tool on your waist: you don’t plan on trying to use that on me, do you?”
Lecc glanced down at the one-shot sling. “Yes,” the Osmydi murmured, “That one. How about you and your server here just place your hands on the bar top for the time being, yes?”
Enarv and Lecc looked at each other, then back at the Osmydi. Lecc complied first; Enarv followed suit.
“Good.” The Osmydi faced the remaining patrons, eyes sweeping over them in a suspicious examination. None of them changed positions. He peeled his lips back from his haphazard teeth, raising his weapon in a sweeping arc.
“I intend to leave now.” he announced with triumphant arrogance. “Refrain from making any move at all while I am here, and perhaps-perhaps-I will spare you. Of course, when I return-” he threw another disgusted look at Lecc, “I will see to it that the food in this place improves in quality.”
He paused, casting another one-eyed sneer at the helpless faces that stared back at him. “Good enough for a deity, it will be.”
With that, his left hand pushed against the door, letting in a blast of arctic wind that whipped and rippled his cloak. The Osmydi stepped across the threshold, pausing only to pull the ragged top of his hood back over his head. The door slammed shut, which prompted the suspected Sect members to jump up from their table and over to Lecc and Enarv.
Sarit’s head full of midnight hair popped out from behind the kitchen doorway. “What just happened?” she asked.
Before the bearded Talusibat could answer, a bag that crunched with the sound of coins within it dropped upon the bar top. “We’ll pay for the damages.” One of the Sect members announced to Lecc. She revealed to him a plump, rounded face, similar in design to Enarv’s, but capped with curly, brown hair that came down to her shoulders.
Enarv looked at the bag of money, then at the two cloaked figures. “Is he one of yours?” he asked.
“No.” the other Sect member-now plainly seen as a male Shurin-answered as they walked toward the door, “Not yet, at least.”