“Of All the Gin Joints in All the World…”
The sun’s light was just starting to wane by the time Hugh actually made it to the inn that Petrus had suggested. He’d spent the rest of the day arguing with himself about whether or not to take the paladin’s money and try to make a run for it. Practicality argued that the man had found him once and could probably do it again. And if it came to that, he doubted he’d get the second chance that Petrus was offering.
He had to admit that there was something appealing in the offer – not of redemption, for he felt that he was damned by his own actions and would never be able to make up for it. But to try doing something for someone other than himself. He wasn’t sure he could use the power that had been the boon he’d received in exchange for his soul, but perhaps he could be useful in some other way. Furthermore, he couldn’t stomach the idea of going back just to face execution, either. The deliberation took many hours of walking before he finally made up his mind and pushed open the doors to The Rusty Axe.
The place was nicer than the name suggested, and the common room was busy but not crowded. Hugh approached the man standing behind the bar, clutching the paladin’s pouch tightly. The innkeeper was a human in his fifties, with glittering blue eyes, a persistent, hacking cough, and the heavy scent of tobacco. Something behind Hugh distracted the man momentarily, but he shook it off and turned his attention back to the young man – or at least the coin he carried.
“Room for the night, sir?”
“Yea,” Hugh answered. “For one. Please.”
“Not a problem, sir.” He started going through a ring of brass keys. “We’ll have supper on in a bit, if you’re hungry.”
“I- Yea, that’d be good.”
The innkeeper took the coins Hugh offered before handing him a key. “Second door on the right, upstairs,” he said. He made a polite bow, and Hugh held up the key in acknowledgement.
“Thanks,” he said. He cast his gaze around the common room looking for an empty table. His eyes stopped on a blue-skinned woman and a humanoid-shaped automaton made of metal and wood for a moment, the details of the pair not really registering. He blinked once before shaking his head and moving toward a small table toward the back of the common room that no one had yet claimed, pocketing the key on the way.
Once seated, Hugh propped his feet up on one of the table’s empty chairs, and turned his attention back to the strange pair that had been waiting behind him to speak with the innkeeper. The old man beckoned the woman forward, unable to keep awe from his expression as she approached. Hugh frowned as he noticed the woman looking at him for a moment before stepping up to speak with the innkeeper.
“Good day good sir,” she said, her voice melodic. “Might I find a room for my companion and I for the night?” Noticing the man’s expression, she added, “I assure you we mean no problem.”
“I … um … sure!” said the innkeeper, recovering from his initial surprise. “Of course.” He coughed, wetly, going back to his keyring.
The woman drew out a pouch of coins and asked in a concerned tone, “Are you all right sir? You sound a bit under the weather.”
“Somethin’ like that,” he muttered dismissively. “Are you hungry, miss? Supper’s almost ready.”
Hugh saw the woman wrinkle her nose for a second, reacting to the tobacco stench, he guessed. "Of course, thank you for the hospitality,” she told the innkeeper, as she paid him. “Blessings of St. Relonor be with you, good sir.”
She then turned to the automaton and said, “Detrius, please find us a table?” The constructed man scanned the common room. Hugh’s eyebrows rose as the thing pointed his direction, until he noticed that the only two seats available together at his table. He cursed under his breath.
“That would be fine,” said the woman. Glancing at Hugh again, she added, “He looks like he could use St. Relonor these days.” The automaton began to move toward the young man’s table, and the woman watched it walking. She put a finger to her mouth and said something too low for Hugh to hear. The young man continued to lounge in his seat, with his feet propped up.
As they drew closer, Hugh was surprised to hear the automaton called Detrius speak. “I would appreciate that,” it said in a vaguely male-sounding voice. Hugh presumed it was answering whatever the woman had said under her breath. “I was afraid I’d have to explain to him that I don’t eat…” The constructed man stopped talking as the pair reached Hugh’s table. The young man smoothed his frown, and adopted an expression of mild interest.
The woman smiled at him and said, “Good man, may we share this table? It appears to have the only available space.”
He seemed to consider for a moment before smiling cleverly. “On the condition that you buy me a drink.”
Her violet lips turned upward further into a smile. “Of course, sir. I will have one as well. May I get a name?”
“Hugh may,” he punned.
She arched an eyebrow. “Pardon?”
He winced at himself, and cleared his throat. “Hugh. My name is Hugh.”
Her eyes widened slightly, and she chuckled at the joke, now getting it. “Oh! So sorry! My name is Adara and this is my assistant Detrius. Pleased to make your acquaintance.” Detrius nodded his head, once. The chair squeaked as he sat down in it.
“Pleasure,” Hugh said, not getting up. He did, however, remove his feet from the other chair, which Adara dusted off before sitting poised upon it. She raised a hand to summon the serving girl. A young woman, not much bigger than a halfling, weaved her way over to get the order.
“Mr. Hugh, what will you be having?” she asked.
She nodded to the young woman then added, "I believe I’ll have a wine, thank you. Bring the bottle, please?” The girl shared a long, blank glance with the automaton before heading back to the bar.
“Mr. Hugh, I assume you will share this wine with me?”
“I dare not deny such generosity, miss,” he replied, smiling amiably. “But allow me to cover your meal, perhaps? It’s the least I can do.”
“A trade, then. Thank you, I will accept,” she said sweetly.
After their drinks arrived, Hugh gestured at Detrius. “So… There’s a story here.”
Adara smile at his query. “There is always a story sir. I assume you have one as well?”
The young man shrugged noncommittally, then he picked up his glass and took a blissful swig of the caramel colored liquor. He sighed happily.
Seeing he wasn’t likely to answer the question, Adara said, “Yes, back to tales to be told. We are from the Grand Cathedral.”
“Oh?” Hugh prompted. “What’s it like?”
“The Cathedral? It’s a wonderful place, I am the head archivist and artificer. High Priestess Adara.” She tilted her head in a slight bow, the silver, red, and black of her hair falling about her shoulders. “It’s a lovely and… well… Grand building…”
Hugh scrubbed a hand back through his own greasy hair and said, “Sounds lovely.”
Detrius had been scanning the room, searching for something and did not turn toward them as he reported, “The city is large. Quite crowded.”
Hugh eyed the automaton. “And…him?” the pronoun was pronounced very dubiously.
“I am Detrius.”
“He is my assistant. He was found in shambles, and I reassembled him into service. He is a wonderful blessing to me.” She appeared to remember something and said, “I’m sorry Mr. Hugh, can you excuse me for a moment? I need to tend to his knee joint real quick."
He smiled and shook his head helplessly. “By all means.”
The woman turned to her satchel and pulled out a couple of odd tools before kneeling beside Detrius. She began to tweak and turn the tool for a few moments before looking up at her metal companion. “Bend,” she ordered. He complied, eliciting a smile from Adara. Apparently satisfied with the adjustment, she returned to her chair and put her tools away.
“So sorry for the interruption,” she said. “I can’t have my defender wandering on a weak joint, though.”
“Much appreciated, Mistress,” said Detrius.
“No, of course,” Hugh said, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. He took another sip.
Adara turned to Hugh once more with a smile, taking a sip of her wine. “Won’t you tell me some of your own tale, Mr. Hugh?” Detrius turned his head abruptly to look at the young man, face expressionless.
“Oh, there’s not much to tell, really,” Hugh said, his smile fading. He attempted a deflection. “What brings you – the high priestess – from the capitol?”
The woman nodded her smile softening. “We are on our way to Kendal Keep.”
“Oh? Where’s that?”
Adara looked aloft for a moment as though thinking. “Well, it’s to the west, in Starri’s Hills I believe.”
Hugh quirked an eyebrow. “I see. Church business, I presume?”
She nodded. “Yes, church and personal in a way. It is a quest I have set myself upon for the church.”
“Huh. That’s…” He swigged the last of his whiskey. “That’s actually kind of fantastic. To have a direction like that. A goal.”
Both of Adara’s eyebrows arched at his response, then her brow furrowed with concern. “So Mr. Hugh, surely you have some reason to be traveling, as I assume you don’t live here as you are checking into an inn… Please, I offer an ear to hear your tale. I wish to only give you the ease of a kind ear to listen.”
He blew out a breath, the heavy scent of whiskey wafting across the table. His tongue was sluggish as he began to speak. “I’ve made a recent…companion, who has business to the west, actually. I’m a bit…down on my luck of late. He has been kind enough to take an interest. Perhaps you even know him. He is a knight of St. Relonor – Petrus, by name. Do you know him?” Not waiting for a reply, he reached for the bottle of wine and poured some into his empty whiskey glass.
She gave him a warm smile. “No, I do not know him. I’m sorry to hear about your poor fortune. Perhaps assisting him will give you some of the purpose you seek?”
“No, of course you don’t,” said Hugh. “That was a stupid assumption. Just because you revere the same saint, doesn’t mean you know everyone who does. Worship the same saint. Relonor.” He smacked his lips absently, then looked excitedly down at his full glass, like he had forgotten it.
Adara smiled and sipped her wine, some more. “It’s quite all right Mr. Hugh. Quite all right. I am happy to have your company this night. Will this Petrus be joining us?”
“He…” Hugh squinted as he looked around the common room. “Should be? At some point? He had…errands.”
“Very well. I doubt we will be going far from here this evening. Perhaps a toast to St. Relonor is in order.” She nodded and said, “A drink to Saint Relonor, may our hearts be courageous and our travels fortuitous.” They drank to the Saint, and then Adara grew statue still and serene, only occasionally bending her arm to sip at her wine. A few moments passed in peaceful silence before Hugh spoke again.
“Your face,” he slurred.
She started, perplexed. “My… My face?”
“S’blue,” he said with a silly smile. “What’s up with that?"
Detrius finally turned to look at Adara, who chuckled lightly. “Why yes, Mr. Hugh, yes it is.” She sipped her wine again before continuing with a smile. “I am an astral spirit, known on this plane as a Deva.”
“Huh,” Hugh said. He then juked a thumb at himself. “I’ma human,” he announced proudly. His smile slipped suddenly. “At least, I think I still am…”
Adara chuckled a little more loudly. “That you are Mr. Hugh. I’m sure of it.” Her smile took a sadder edge as she caught his attitude. “Mr. Hugh, I believe you are human," she reiterated, prodding slightly.
He sipped more wine. “Maybe,” he muttered. “Maybe.”
“What else would you be?”
He pouted into his drink, like he was hiding his face. “I dunno. Nevermind. It’s stupid. Forget it.” A false smile plastered itself across his face and he said, “All human here.”
She smiled back and put a hand on his shoulder. “Yes, Mr. Hugh. All human.” She retracted her hand, and excused herself from the table.
In his mistress’s absence, Detrius tilted his head and regarded Hugh.
Hugh noticed the scrutiny and frowned. “What?” he sniped.
“Forgive me,” Detrius said, looking down at the table. “I am unaccustomed to social pleasantries. Mistress Adara has educated me, but I still find it…complex. And I have had little exposure to the world outside the Cathedral.”
“So, she found you. What are you?”
“I am warforged. As Mistress explains it, the Tiberian Empire created us to be their soldiers, but we rose up against them. The archival records suggest that I was… in storage for eight hundred years, but I have no memory of my previous existence. In that regard, Mistress and I have something in common.”
“Huh,” Hugh said. “So you might turn on Adara, then.”
Detrius tilted his head the other way. “I would sooner die, sir.”
“Mm,” the young man said, unconvinced.
“Or were you being facetious? I am still learning that, too.”
Ignoring the question, Hugh said, “Wait… no memory? She has amnesia or something? That’s…huh.”
“I misspoke. A deva is reborn again and again. She has glimpses… visions of who she was before, but no true memories of her past lives.”
“That’s even…huh,” Hugh said.
“I have about a year’s worth of memories; she, not much more. I cannot fathom how much you must remember.”
“I…Yea. Yea. A whole lot,” Hugh agreed. “Too much, sometimes,” he added quietly.“I sometimes wonder what I was, before. How I came to be in the Cathedral’s collection.”
“Spoil of war?” Hugh said, taking another hit of wine.
“It is the most reasonable explanation, but the records are… sporadic. Furthermore, am I…that, anymore? Would I want to be?”
“You’re an artifact,” Hugh said. “A victim of your history. We all are, really.” He paused for a moment. “I think you’re…fortunate not to know.”
“I seem to like you, Hugh. I find it an agreeable sensation.”
“Huh. I… Yea. Me too. Wine?” he offered. “Oh, I…suppose not. Sorry.”
“No. Thank you. We are not designed to need food and drink. Nor can we enjoy them.”
“That, ah… That’s terrible, Tree. Can I call you ‘Tree’?”
“Tree. Oh. An abbreviation. Something more familiar. Yes, I find this acceptable.” After a beat, Detrius added, “‘Hugh’ does not leave much room for abbreviation, I don’t think.”
“Heh. S’pose not.” His grin returned.
Around that time dinner was brought out, a well-armored, very ordinary-looking man walked up to the table. “Oh, good,” Petrus said as he approached. “Just in time.”
Hugh blinked up at the man, then said suddenly, “She bought it!” He pointed across the common room to Adara, who was returning to the table herself.
“Who bought what?” Petrus asked, taking the empty seat. Detrius started to say something, but Petrus was fixed on Hugh.
The young man fumbled at his belt for the pouch of coins, and put it on the table. “I only used some for the room. The lady, um, Adara – there she is!” he exclaimed in relief as she arrived at the table. “Um… bought… the wine?” he finished weakly.
Adara smiled down at the man in her seat. “Oh, another guest,” she said, catching the serving girl’s attention to request another chair be brought. She smiled at Hugh and said, “Yes, I bought the wine.”
Petrus looked up at the deva. “Oh! I’m sorry, was this your seat?” Detrius ground his “teeth” a little. Hugh just looked nervous.
With the barmaid’s help, Adara found another chair, and the space around the table got a little more crowded.
Petrus ordered himself some food, turning his attention to the strangers.
“Adara, Tree, er… Detrius. This is Petrus,” said Hugh.
The deva smiled warmly. "I am High Priestess Adara, and this is my companion Detrius,” she said.
“Petrus Tolinson,” said the man, waving his hand. “Sworn to St. Relonor, at your service.” He handed the sack of coins back to Hugh, muttering, “Hang onto this, at least for now.” Hugh replaced the pouch on his belt.
“I think winter’s done with Silverland,” Petrus commented. “In the morning, we’ll be on the road.”
“All right,” Hugh said, sounding much soberer all of the sudden. The deva looked back and forth between the pair as they spoke. “Adara is heading west, too,” the young man added. “Where did you say you were going again?”
“Oh, we are headed to Kendal Keep,” said the priestess.
“Right, yea,” said Hugh.
Petrus nodded. “A happy coincidence, then! Hugh and I are also headed there. The Knights Templar travel the roads between, but there is always more safety in numbers.”
“Oh really?” said Adara. “Such a thing is a blessed coincidence indeed! Blessings to Saint Relonor to find such lovely travel companions on our road.”
“Indeed,” replied the paladin. The single word, by itself, was hard to read.
“Why, may I ask, do you find your way to Kendal Keep?" Adara asked. At the question, Hugh took another drink, then focused on Petrus.
“To see my cousin, Sir Reynold Tolison, a Knight Templar himself."
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to impose, but since we are going the same way, would you mind if we imposed upon your travels with our own?”
“Not at all,” said Petrus, shooting a brief sideways glance at Hugh.
Adara likewise glanced at the young man. “Mr. Hugh? We don’t wish to impose…”
All eyes focused on Hugh, who’d slouched down in his chair. He slowly sat up and nodded absently. “Yea. Yea, of course." His smile turned genuine as a thought occurred to him. “After all. You bought the drinks.”
“I’m sure we can be of some assistance,” Adara assured them. “Detrius can handle himself and can carry a goodly amount. I myself bring blessings of St. Relonor and his works. We will not be a detriment.”
“I’ve no doubt,” said Hugh, nodding acknowledgment to the warforged.
Adara drank some more wine, then said, “Please, Mr. Petrus, have a drink yourself.” He accepted gratefully.
The main course arrived, a tray laden with porkly goodness. Adara bowed her head before commencing the meal. “May the Saints bless this food and our travels. May our new friends find their path and may we assist them as best we can. In your name we pray.” She lifted her head and smiled. “Let us eat.”
“Well spoken, sister,” Petrus said, and the meal began in earnest.
After supper, the new companions retired for a very thorough night’s sleep in their respective rooms. The left for Kendal Keep early the next morning.