September, 707 CR
Yvarra sighed, wishing she'd stolen a staff from someone.
She'd been in overgrown full-of-themselves keeps before, but Metamor took the prize. Not only did you first have to go through the shit town of Euper where all the dirty unwashed unworthies of heaven lived, you then had to walk a quarter mile up a damn slope. Then through the dead and echoing silence of what locals told her were called The Killing Grounds.
Yvarra missed her fedora.
She was surprised the vast empty space wasn't kindly decorated with the decaying skulls of those who'd had the audacity of attacking the keep. Or, what she expected the Duke would have preferred, those who dared try to come from the pestilent hole of the lowly earth and up to the rarefied realms where the rich and important people lived. At least they'd only charged her a toll to get on the road up to the keep. Or keep and town.
Yvarra stumbled on a loose cobblestone. She needed boots. Her hooves were killing her.
Though, given the long rocky road she doubted that she'd have been better off if she'd still had boots, or a staff, or even feet.
She snorted, hurrying through the depressing emptiness as fast as her tired limbs could move her. At least there'd been no toll at the lower gates. Apparently seeing the hard divisor between the haves and the have-nots was free of charge.
Her stomach grumbling — apparently the stew at the inn had finished working its way through to stomach B (the innkeeper had been a wealth of handy information) — she made her way past a heavily loaded wagon that had broken one of its wheels. The two horses just stood there, sweat clinging to their hides, as the driver cursed.
She sniffed. Was the cart carrying—? It was! Sacks of grain.
Her stomach — stomachs? — grumbled louder.
She knew of far too many arrogant bastards that would've starved before eating raw grain, but her life had taught her to be more practical. Just like the damn cult, whatever it was, had taught her to kill. And, just like she was going to work with what she had, and apparently with some gifts of basic abilities and simple sanity, rather than railing about things she couldn’t change.
Turning, she made her way over to where the poor soul was cursing the gods, and everybody else he could think of. "—name of the Gods, of Eli, why me? Why? Damn piece of crap picks here of all the godsforsaken places—"
"—to shat…" He sputtered to a stop and turned to look at her as she looked back at him. The man was still human, lucky him, a bit on the thin side. From what she'd picked up, he could have been a she, or maybe was just visiting. If the latter, he was probably screwed now, what with the time getting up here, and back down and out, and the delays the broken wheel would cause. Blushing, he bowed, and apologized. "Sor— sorry ma'am."
"Is there somebody in town I can talk to, to get you some help?"
"Oh— sure. Cartwright, name of Forgan. Sign of a broken wheel — one of the new places just inside the gate. Tell him that Guinevere is stuck in the middle of the Grounds and needs a new rear wheel. He'll know."
Guinevere? Cocking her head, she looked at him. Guess he was a local. "I'll do my best."
"Umm—" he kicked at the bare stone, "— I don't suppose you can do one of those 'taur things I've heard rumoured?"
She blinked. "'Taur things?"
"Guess not— Apparently some of the Keepers who have animal forms can change to a six limbed form — four legs, human-like torso. Able to rip down a wall with their bare hands."
She tried to picture it in her mind, but failed. "Sorry— Could I ask you a favour?"
"Why not, I ain't going anywhere."
She pulled out a silver. "I admit, it wasn't only your problem that made me stop, it was— well— I could really use some of your grain. Hungry you know."
"Sure! And don't you worry about paying for it. It's not doing me any good here."
"Just don't put it in a feeding bag."
He laughed, a rich sound consumed and transformed by the huge space into dull grunts of horror. He stopped. Drawing a knife, he cut a slit into the top of one of the sacks. "Help yourself, ma'am. I've got nothing to put it in, so take your fill. Best I can do."
"You, sir, are a saint!"
"After the assault last winter I think we're all saints. At least as blessed as any saint, given the divine favour required for us to survive."
Nodding, holding on the hat she no longer had, Yvarra walked over and plunged her muzzle in, sucking in a mouthful of the rich grain, and swallowing it almost without chewing. A second, a third, and then she was full. Damn stomachs— Pulling her muzzle out, she licked her lips, and then wiped around her nostrils with a hand to get most of the grain dust out. "Thank you— Guinevere."
"Notta problem. Remember, Forgan the Cartwright."
"I will!" For practice she slipped a silver into his pouch. She had lots, and with the time he lost today, he'd need it. And, kindness should be rewarded. Waving, she walked off, snorting a bit of missed grain dust out of her nostrils.
The gates that exited The Killing Grounds were typically massive and imposing. Things that stated Abandon Hope if Ye Dare Try to Pass and we Don't Want You. And, from the line up they were controlling entry in some way, and were being lutins about it. Of course, she had no way of knowing how typical this was, but she expected it was very. In front of her was another native, or at least she was pretty sure he was given that you don't see many kids driving wagons on their own.
She sniffed— apples? Oh my! She'd never cared for them before, but now— Now they smelled like ambrosia. Besides, there was nowhere else she had to be, and just the thought of crunching on one—
"Morning!" she called.
A dog poked its head up from the seat where it'd been lying, and growled. "Down, Avenger," the kid said.
She snorted. "A message?"
"You could say that—"
"I don't suppose I could sit up there and rest a while? Give my— umm— hooves a rest as it were."
Hmph. "Oh well. Never hurts to ask. Umm—" she sniffed, trying to keep her face expressionless, though she had no clue if it could even show expression, "Do you got any apples for sale."
"Sure. Sell you a basket for a gold."
Then he winked. "You look so cute like that, you know?"
She clenched her fist. "Fine." She didn't need the aggravation, and knowing her luck recently the cult was probably tracking their gold somehow anyway. Pulling out a gold she held it out to him.
This time it was his turn to blink. "Umm— I wasn't serious— Is that real?"
"I'm hungry, and it's real." She tossed it into his lap and he fumbled and caught it as the dog, almost a wolf, watched her every move. "I'll just find the basket on my own—"
"Umm— sure—" he bit the coin and stared at it. "Other side, take any— take any one—"
"Thanks," she said dryly. If not for the dog she might have tried something, but it wasn't worth it. She normally had sleep-poisoned darts for obstacles like that, but not here. And, she was a humble penitent trying to find a sage, seeking information. She needed to know what the hell she'd gotten shanghaied into.
She walked to the far side of the wagon as it lurched forward a bit as the line moved, and then found stacks of baskets apples. At least her new height had some use. Of course, the baskets were huge bushels, nothing small. Far more than she needed — she wasn't sure she could even lift one of them. Instead she cradled four apples in her left arm and held one in her right, and bit into the orgasmic sweetness.
She couldn't believe it, but she might have found something that was actually better than sex! Happily she munched on the apples as the line advanced. At least it wasn't long — she dreaded what it'd be like before the dawn market. She was just about to start the last one when a voice from behind forced itself into her thoughts.
"Son, I came to Metamor and it turned me into a newt! I didn’t' get much better though— And I am not a witch!"
It was such an odd turn of phrase and she couldn't help but see through her wider vision that it was indeed a humanoid lizard with a cane talking to a human boy. Who may have been an adult. Or a girl. Or— Yvarra didn't even know anymore.
It seems she needed to get some basics on the Metamor Curse.
The line advanced, and she moved into the gate, the cold stone looming above plunging her into deep shadow. She moved deeper as the road made a sharp turn, cutting off the sunlight.
A torch guttered and stank, hissing and crackling in its slot against one wall, its light pale. The portcullis and the massive iron wrought oak doors were open.
She'd made it to the gate.
There were guards there, of course. Two of them. One was a pig of some kind, the other a literal ox of a man. Licking her nose she sniffed, one of them — the pig — stunk of alcohol. Of course, it was an open question how many more lurked behind the murder holes above with crossbows ready.
"Yes, you! What's ya business at Metamor?" It was the pig who'd spoken.
"I wish to consult a sage."
Her ears flicked as the other whispered, "'Think she means tha library."
The pig grunted, "As though they'll let her in," in a voice he probably thought she couldn't hear. He coughed and she almost gagged at the stench. Only her happy apple filled stomach kept her from an unwanted reaction. "Do you have any papers?"
Of course she did! People were paranoid enough these days, that she was prepared. Of course, she'd paid for them to cover her coming here as man. She knew what they said, even though she couldn't read them, and couldn't have written them. Reaching into a pouch she pulled out the parchment and handed it over. For them it was probably just ritual, they certainly couldn't read—
The pig unfolded the paper and looked at it, eyes squinting. "Gives your name as Sarpadon. You don't look like a Sarpadon to me— Ellcaran?" He folded the paper up. "Obtainer of rare antiquities, eh?"
"Why do you think I need to talk to— visit the Library." She shuddered at how much hiring somebody to read for her would cost. And to think that this idiot was literate! At least she'd paid for the forgery to stand up, even if untoward things happened. It was far better to have some kind of history, some kind of voice speaking for one when visiting a strange place, than to have nothing at all.
"Don't think you'll be goin' back there any time soon!"
The ox guffawed.
She almost ripped the parchment from his hand before carefully folded it up. "My caravan was ambushed and my stay has been— longer than planned. Now, what's the toll?"
"Three copper. There's that sword though—"
Sword, oh right. The damn Swords of Songs. "What about it?"
"I need to make sure it's peace bound. Only Keepers and Watch are allowed with ready weapons. Security, ya know."
Peace bound— Nine hells! She'd never carried a sword in her life, until now. She hadn't a clue how to use the damn thing. Be humble. Show respect. Let them enjoy their petty power. "I'm sorry." She wracked her brain— how—? Wax. "Could you take care of it for me—?" At least she had a candle — backup for the witchlight. Normally she wouldn't trust this pair with a broken crossbow, let alone a candle and fire, but she was tired, and they needed their little power trip.
"Oh sure. But we don't—"
There was a candle in his palm. She probably shouldn't have, but the wonderful mood from the apples was rapidly fading. "I've given you a candle. If you'd be so kind, there'll be a silver to cover it and the toll."
The ox laughed, and the pig lit the candle from the guttering torch. She gripped her pouch tightly in one hand, holding the apple in the other, as he dribbled wax against the hilt. She'd have sworn the sword sighed with her.
"There are rules," the ox intoned. "Either be out or have a place to stay by dusk. The Ducal keep is off limits unless Kyia lets you in. Library's free admittance, but Mael-Murie's word is law. Thieving is punishable with lashes. Other crimes at the discretion of the Keepers. Don't make no trouble, and you'll have a pleasant stay. I'd warn you about the curse, but you've already got it, so you're safe. Any questions?"
"No. There are Inns?"
"It won't be a problem."
"There, all done. Just one thing though—"
She turned, sniffed the candle, decided she was better off to buy a new one. "Yes?" Her spine crawled — so many crossbows could be aimed at her skull. She hated going through gates.
"Ya gotta peace bond that too." He was pointing at her alicorn.
The ox sniggered.
"Peace bond, remove, or no entry."
Her fists clenched. Just the thought of some/thing like him touching it! She— Remember those out of sight— The apple. She should have been humble, should have asked him to do it, but she wouldn't let him near her alicorn!
And why was that? a part of her wondered. More questions for the library.
There'd be more apples. She tossed the last one sadly into the air, and speared it gently with her alicorn, so gently that it neatly plugged the edge. Filling her voice with sweetness, and calm, never forget the calm, she asked "Will that do?"
"Enough!" a voice boomed from above. "You've had your fun! You're on report — don't make me transfer you to number forty-one. Ma'am, you're good to go. You two— I am watching!"
The pair snapped to what had to be attention, though she wouldn't have bet on it. At least there were apparent limits of idiocy around this place.
She wondered who was speaking, though. Maybe one of those Keepers. More questions. She'd never planned to enter Metamor proper, hadn't seen any need to research it once she knew that she had to be in and out for her own safety. Hah! Like that worked.
Tossing the silver at the ox, leaving the bright red apple stuck on the point of her alicorn, she stalked out, the clicking of her tired hooves echoing off the stone walls as she passed a guttering torch, and another, and another. A curve, more open gates, more portcullises, and more gates, until she finally got back under the open sky. She'd just enough time to get out of the tunnel before a group of guards ran past her and out. It was the usual mismatch, a dog, a woman, a gray fox kit, a pig and a striped wolf thing. All arguing, and she could smell alcohol. Bah!
There was a large open square on the far side of the gate. Carts were set up, farmers selling their wares — no apples though — and tinkers and other small craftsman. It didn't take long to get directions to Forgan the Cartwright, and get that promise taken care of.
Now to her business!
It was almost noon and she gratefully sat down on a bench by one of the fountains. No wells anywhere, just the happily burbling water. She was almost ready to cry.
And why was that? Before— before all this, he'd never have thought of crying. But, now— How deep had the changes gone? She forced her emotions back.
What was with this place? It was like everybody could read! Shops were labeled in chicken scratches. She would ask directions, and be given names and words and it was all meaningless! It didn't help that there were obvious remnants of buildings everywhere! Cleared away foundations, filled in basements. Streets changed. Signs twisted.
Normally she'd have just paid some money, grabbed an urchin, and been guided to where she needed to go. But— there wasn't any of that! No urchins. No beggars. Wide open streets, no overhanging buildings crowding one upon the other so that you had to be lucky to see the sun.
She'd never seen anything like this!
The Killing Fields were like passing through purgatory to gain entry to Heaven.
She swallowed some of her apple flavoured cud. She needed help, and she had no idea how to get it—
People yelled, and she looked up as somebody sped by at an unholy speed on some kind of self-propelled wagon. She'd never seen anything like it, and it seemed not everyone else had either, given some of the curses that were sent after it.
At least that seemed more normal.
Cupping her hands, she took some water and lapped it up. And then some more, and splashed it on her muzzle to deal with the dryness. Before her in the water was her reflection. So beautiful, and so alone.
Cocking her head, she looked at herself. She needed something— An image flashed in her mind, a vision of herself. Her beloved floppy brimmed fedora, whip on her belt, repeating crossbow pistol. What had been on her forged letter? Obtainer of Rare Antiquities. Probably call the song of her adventures something like Raider of the Lost Cult. On her back, the Sword of Songs seemed to begin some kind of march—
She snorted. Nobody would ever care to hear about her.
All she would do was survive as she'd always managed to do. Alone. Proud. Doing what she had to.
Her eyes flicked up to the apple still on the top of her alicorn. Damn gate— Scraping her alicorn against the side of the fountain, the apple slid off and plopped into the water.
And she stopped.
She couldn't move.
The tip of her alicorn was — held? — in water that had suddenly gone still as crystal. All around her the sounds faded. They echoed and collapsed into deeper and deeper tones that slowed into silence. There was something in the water, some echo, and she could feel it. Somebody—
Like pulling a rope from a frozen barrel of molasses, she dragged her alicorn out of the silent water, and then everything snapped back into normality.
This wasn't her world, and the sooner she got out of it, the happier everybody would be. Especially herself. If she still had it, she'd knead her hat in her hands—
Reaching down, she grabbed the apple, careful to keep her alicorn out of the water. She took a bite from the dripping fruit and licked the wondrous taste from her lips. Her ears flicked and spun at the sounds of the dripping and burbling water, at a child's voice in the distance. She sniffed. Bread? She sniffed again. Fresh bread? Swallowing the last of the apple, she unswallowed and chewed on some more apple-flavoured grain mash.
Bread sounded good right about now. Sit down, relax. Then ask to try and find somebody to take her where she had to go.
As to the bread, well, she'd just follow her nose!
It wasn't long until she'd followed the delicious, well, almost as good as apples, scent to a new stone building. She could smell the fresh cut cedar for the beams beneath the mouth watering scent of fresh bread. Somebody must have pulled a fresh batch out of the oven.
She stopped. Umm— where did you buy the bread. No window, no bread set just out of reach to lure customers in— just an open door.
She was supposed to go— inside?
A brown rat in fine clothing walked past her and padded through the door.
This place just made no sense— Shrugging, she followed.
Inside it was large and airy. A number of small round tables with various chairs and stools, beams of sunlight and dancing flour in the glistening light. A black and white tabby, well, somebody transformed into one, was sweeping the floor, tail ticking back and forth as he watched the rat talking to— something— to a pig-rat? Yvarra had no clue what it was. But the bread—
Her hooves clicking on the wood, she pulled out one of the stools and flopped on it, finally finding a seat the right height for her lengthened legs, and with lots of room for her long tail to hang down. It didn't take long for the patron to get a muffin, pay for it, and walk off, nibbling, whiskers twitching and tail wiggling. The— rat thing walked over to her, brushing flour off his clothing.
"Good afternoon, Miss— How may I be of assistance?"
Yvarra watched the cat watching her, its tail swinging back and forth like a pendulum, as she looked up at the— man she presumed was the baker. He certainly smelled like he was. "Yes. Some bread. Maybe some honey if you have it. Some beer — I don't care at this point. And help."
"Assuming you've the same diet as deer, I've some fresh acorn bread you might like. Got the honey, got the bread. Rather than beer, may I suggest some hot apple cider with cinnamon? As to the help, well, it depends."
She drooled. "That would be wonderful! As to the help, well, I'm new here."
"Oh?" he called as he went into the back.
She sighed. All rehearsed lies. And they all seemed so wrong here. She couldn't afford the risk though. "Got attacked outside Euper, delayed me a bit too long— I just want to get proper clothing, boots, visit a— the library, get an idea of what I've become."
"You've asked for directions?"
"Of course!" If only that damn cat wouldn't keep watching her. "They give me names, they point, and as soon as they're out of site I'm lost again. What I need is a guide, and I haven't found one. I can afford it, but—"
He came back out with a tray containing a sliced loaf of steaming bread and a bowl of honey, and a steaming mug of apple cider. With a flourish, he clapped it down on the table she was seated at. "That I can probably help you with then. Brennar!"
The cat stopped sweeping.
"You've cleaned enough for the day, I think. You want to show the lady around?"
"Just make sure he behaves himself. He can probably use the exercise. Oh, and call me Gregor. Everybody does—"
That had to be it!
Like a lightning bolt, it had hit her as she cocked her head and looked at the comfortable and familiar leather fedora balanced on her forehead.
It was all out of military expediency!
An invading army would be used to invading typical cities and towns. Tiny thin crooked streets, pictorial signs. They'd be used to having potential allies in terms of the street urchins and beggars — those who'd have no loyalty to the existing regime.
Metamor was intentionally designed to screw up those preconceptions!
A bit brutal having to drive the urchins and beggars out of the city, but the security! Yvarra almost had to admire the genius of it, if not for the cold bloodedness it would take to execute.
She frowned as she tried to wedge the hat down more. Damn alicorn— it was just in the way—
The shop clerk looked at her as Brennar watched, tail waving back and forth. "You know, miss, I think we could cut a slit in the brim— make room for your— natural accessory.
She pulled off the hat and looked at it. The thing was floppy, ill formed, not quite the same as her lost one, and yet— it felt right. But, the shopkeeper — the clerk — she played with the odd sounding word — was right. "I guess a slit then."
The clerk nodded and the Sword of Songs dinged in satisfaction.
"I hope you're better behaved in battle," Yvarra muttered.
The clerk came back in a few minutes with the hat neatly cut, and a quick and neat sewn reinforcement to keep the tear from going any further. She plopped it down on Yvarra's forehead and brushed a bit of her fine silken mane out of the way to make it sit better. Tilting her doe-head, she looked at it, first one side, and then the other. "That works."
Yvarra looked into the mirror, cocked her head, and then shook it a bit. The hat stayed neatly in place. She felt so much better having it back. And, it felt right. No other way she could describe it. Recently she'd learn to trust her feelings. A lot more than in the old days anyway. And, especially, when the gods were involved. "You're right, it does." And so did everything else. She looked down at the soft leather boots she was wearing, laced up and cunningly crafted to go past her hock and up almost to her knees. They were comfortable, and fit neatly around the lobes of her hooves. Felt weird, pressing and pulling on the soft flesh between her hoof lobes, but oddly comfortable. She'd picked up a basic white linen shirt, a leather vest, and some shorts — with her fur she didn't need anything more. Just one more thing, then to have a night on the town before risking the library. She looked around the leather shop. She'd almost never used one, and she had no idea why she felt she needed it. But, it seemed that somebody knew, and that somebody wanted her to act. "Miss, do you have a whip?" She'd seen one, but she wanted to know what was offered.
It didn't take long for the clerk to come back with a pair of whips, both made of tightly bound leather. One was a bit larger. "I think the smaller one might be better for you, but it depends on your strength. We don't have any place you can really try it—"
Yvarra looked at them both. Held one in each hand. If only she knew more. Heavier would be awkward, but could do more damage with less control; but the lighter would be easier to control. She handed the bulkier one back — she'd never been one for brute force.
The clerk nodded. Pulling out a piece of vellum — what was with that — and a piece some metal, she scratched stuff on the vellum, tapped, and then said, "That'll be 23 Gold Suns and a Moon." A haughty look filled her rabbity face. "We don't deal with small change."
Yvarra opened her mouth to offer a lower number, but she'd found out the hard way that was frowned upon around here. It marked one as positively provincial. And, that wasn't unreasonable for quality work. If she'd been fencing it she'd have started at about forty gold. Nodding, she started counting out the coin.
One almost had to love fighting against cults, as long as they were rich cults.
The sun was setting by the time Yvarra got out of the leather shop. She'd have to go to a weaponsmith to try and find a scabbard — at least the typical specialization existed in this madhouse. She'd almost been afraid that she'd be taken to a general store that carried everything, or even something like a department store that had each individual merchant in a separate department under a single roof.
How could people live like this?
She wanted so much to leave this mountain, go back to Euper where there were only insane people trying to kill her, rather than everything being so topsy turvey
Brennar looked at her, tail moving back and forth. Didn't he ever bend it? It was always like a piece of wood or a fence post, and always, always, swinging.
Where did she want to go? Well, she'd done enough shopping. There were a couple of places they'd passed which promised to wash her mane and style it, but she figured she'd be dying it all a greasy black in a few days anyway. She didn't want to waste the cult's money that badly. Leaning backward, she stretched, old bones, or was that new bones, creaking. She needed a break. To relax. And she certainly still had the coin to do it.
She rubbed her hands together in anticipation. Odd, how a little thing like a tuft of hair at the back of her palms made such a simple action seem so very different. At least knives were thrown by the fingers so it didn't screw that up. "Brennar, how would you like to meet some women?"
The cat gave no apparently reaction.
"What I mean, Brennar, is that I'm in the mood for some relaxation, and I'll pay for you too. Time for you to experience life as a man!"
Still no reaction.
Yvarra blinked. "Umm— you know— Women of ill repute? Ladies of the night? Oh, I want men, but the good places always have both." Had she really said men? She examined that thought, poked it around in her brain. Yup. Men. Seemed doing it with a woman had no appeal to her. Or well, she could be dominant on either side.
And still no reaction.
She sighed. "Fine. Just take me to a House of Ill Repute."
Brennar just stood there.
"You know, a whore house? Paid sex? Bangs for coin?"
He slowly shook his head.
"No? What do you mean, no? You won't take me?"
"You can speak to me you know! Don't tell me there aren't any such places on this damn rock—"
He shook his head.
She stopped. Stared. Impossible. No place, no place could be that screwed up. She swallowed, licked dry lips. "Brennar, are you saying that there are no whore houses in Metamor Town?"
She stared. She blinked. "No whore houses—"
He shook his head.
Yvarra screamed. How could people live like this?
She needed a drink. A big one—
"So, I can stay here?" Yvarra asked.
She looked at the wide two story wood-frame building. It looked almost normal. Except for the sign that was covered with chicken scratches. "What's the place called?"
She was starting to wonder if he could speak.
The cat held out a furred palm.
At least some things never changed. She popped two silver into it and he purred and waved.
"Cats—" She looked at the— door, shrugged, and then turned the hatch and pushed it open. There was no sound, at least the hinges were well oiled — that reminded her, she'd need to get some oil somewhere — and looked in. It was a large room, well lit by candles on an overhead chandelier. Maybe five tables, a bar, various stools. There was a fireplace, unlit, but then it was an unseasonably warm day. Ten people or so, plus a number of — children? — serving. Of course, around this place, children could be almost anything.
A girl in a rough-spun dress ran over to her. She looked about twelve, though it was hard to be certain. She curtseyed and asked, "How can The Shoeshine Inn be of service to you?"
Odd name that. She thought for a moment of talking down to her, but then, who knew what her real age was. "Well, yes. Two things actually. One, a room for the night. Two, the thickest, ugliest, most potent brain rotting liquor you have."
She scratched her chin in an almost cute pout. "Yup, paying for the room first, then, is wise. You want to get really soused? Out of your head soused? Snoring on the floor soused?"
"You got it, miss."
"Got one single left, three silver. Our best rot grub runs a bronze a mug. I would ask that you put that sword of yours in your room first though—"
The Sword of Songs chimed.
"Sorry, with all the Keepers around, we can't take the chance of the rough housing getting that out of control. Daggers fine, sword not."
Yvarra needed a drink. She really did. She swallowed. "Umm— how about I leave it behind the counter—?"
"Hmm— yea, we can do that."
A happy flute crescendo came from the sword on her back.
The girl blinked. "How are you doing that?" She pointed at the alicorn. "That?"
"Not really me. Don't let it worry you—" she unbuckled the sword scabbard from over her shoulder and passed it over along with five silver. "Start the drinks coming."
"Your body." She led Yvarra to an empty table and motioned her down. "I'll bring some bread sticks on the house. Try to stay under control. There are Keepers here."
"Don't worry about me."
It didn't take long until someone else, a boy with hints of white fur behind his ears, brought a tray with a pair of heaping mugs. She could smell the rich spicy scent and licked her muzzle in anticipation. "Ma'am, I've been told to warn you to take 'em slowly. They do have a surprising kick."
She started to say something, but then forced it down. Maybe there was a point — she was in a new body. Slowly at first to get a feel, then it was time to get roaring, stinking, drunk. Grabbing the mug in one hand, she took a sip. The liquid was rich and heavy, thick and spicy with— cinnamon, a hint of pepper, and some others she couldn't identify. It even had a slight effervescence. A glow of warmth flowed down from her forehead as she swallowed the rich liquid.
It hit her stomach like a warm brick. But that was it. Nothing else. No sensation at all. No dizziness, no faintness. Nothing.
Guess the drink wasn't that tough after all. Tasted pretty good though. She swallowed the rest, letting the last bit swish around in her muzzle before she swallowed. At least it did warm her forehead nicely.
Just to be safe, she sat for a bit, and nibbled on one of the bread sticks. Maybe it took a few moments to kick in—
She finished the breadstick and chewed some spicy cud. Nothing.
Hmph! She took the second and threw it back. Nice taste, not as good when it wasn't piping hot. Against the nice warmth on her forehead.
And then— nothing.
"Hey! Some more of those spicy things!"
It didn't take long for the girl that had greeted her to come. She looked at Yvarra, at the empty mugs, at Yvarra. "You drank them?"
"I did. Quite tasty." She cocked her head. "Not much of a kick though."
The girl blinked.
"I'm starting to think you may have not quite given me your best stuff."
The girl put her hands on her hips. "Ma'am, I do not care for what you're insinuating."
"Well, these things of yours don't do much!"
"Ma'am! You see that drunk by the fireplace?"
She pointed, and Yvarra looked. There was a bear of a man, literally like so much around this madhouse, and he was snoring in the table, his breath bubbling and gurgling in half a spilt drink.
"That was his third. And you're telling me—?"
"That's what I'm telling you." Though, Yvarra was starting to have a sneaking suspicion— No. She refused to believe that the universe could be that cruel. "You know what, I'll make you a deal. You bring me three of those things. I'll drink them all here, one after the other, straight down. If I'm still on my hooves — and that'll be five mind — I get those three for free. If I'm out, I pay double." With that, she pulled out ten bronze and clunked the coins on the table.
The girl looked. "Seems a bit more than double. How do I know you're not using magic?"
"Miss, I want to get drunk. I need some relief, and my first plan failed. This is my second. If there is magic, and you could be right, I sure as hell don't want it! I need confirmation though, because if it is what I fear it is, I'm not going to be happy with somebody. Oh, don't look like that. I won't deal with it here. But, she will hear of my displeasure."
The girl looked from the empty mugs, to the coins, and back. "I'm sorry. I'd like to, as I know what these do, but I can also smell a set up. You want the drinks, you buy them. I will lug your body up to your room, though."
By this time a crowd was watching.
Yvarra sighed. "Wise girl. Fine. Make it five more then, take an extra bronze for your trouble. Six total."
She nodded, and came back a short while later with a heavy tray of foaming mugs. She thumped them down, and the rich cinnamon scent wafted into Yvarra's nostrils. "I got father to put a double dose in these. So, either you're under the table, or you're using magic."
"I ain't using magic. I ain't got none. At least none that I've been taught. And none in items other than a witchstone and that sword you took. If it is me, if mind, it sure ain't by choice." With that, she lifted the first mug, and threw it back. Nice warm spice, nice hot liquid, and a pleasant glow from her forehead.
"One!" somebody in the crowd called out.
"Hmph!" said the innkeeper girl.
Yvarra grabbed the second and threw it back. And then the third—
"Two!" "Three!" More were watching now.
And still nothing. Absolutely nothing! Yvarra was getting pissed.
Yvarra was feeling a bit full, and might need to ask for a bucket and a private corner soon. And, her nostrils were getting a tad sensitive from all that cinnamon. But, she was still rock steady.
Yvarra slammed the mug down. "Eli damn this to all the Nine Hells!"
"Magic," the girl said.
One of the others, a scruffy wolfman, called out. "You'll fall over if you stand. Get up on those dainty cloppy things and prove to us you're good."
Yvarra was pissed. Pissed, angry, depressed, and not the least bit drunk. No girls, no drink— She was not having a good day. In a swift move she stood up, drew a knife, and whipped it across the room where it thunked into the bullseye of the worn dartboard on one wall. "Any other questions?"
Silence greeted her.
Yvarra sat down, squashing her tail against the back of the chair, and winced at the pain. "And that's not from the damn drink!" She lowered her voice. "Oh, it's magic. But nothing I want or choose. But, it seems I'm stuck with it. So, I want my sword, my dagger, and something to eat, and then I'm going to bed."
The girl looked at her. "Fine. Another bronze for the service, and two for the meal."
Yvarra pointed at the table and the girl pocketed the lot. Then she looked up at the sky. Lady Tarathana, you had better be paying me an Eli damned lot for this job!
She sighed and nibbled on another breadstick. There really was only one word appropriate.