Before Convergence #3 - The Kid In The Tavern

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: May 17, 2017

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Submitted: May 17, 2017

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A girl stood at the center of a forest clearing. Wearing a black, somewhat form-fitting full-body stealth suit, slightly oversized black gauntlets, and soft black boots, she would have been invisible in the night except for the fact that her entire head remained uncovered. Camouflaged in the darkness of her clothing was the utility belt at her waist, which held a random assortment of survival and combat items. Her pale skin, black eyes, black hair tied back in a ponytail, and emerging feminine features gave her a mature edge for someone who couldn't be older than fourteen at most. 

Her full attention was trained on the modest-looking redwood tavern she was facing. From the outside, the place looked small, but the girl had been inside before, knowing the place to be exceptionally cozy, especially as one sought shelter from the fog surrounding this clearing. She was back here again because, well, she really didn't have any other choice. This was the only place around here offering someone of her talents a job.

A guard wearing a black suit, white shirt, black tie, black slacks, and black dress shoes stood outside the entrance to the tavern. In his formal clothing, he stood out in stark contrast to the tavern's more homely appearance. As she approached, the man held his hand out, instructing her to halt.

"Hey," he said. "No kids allowed in here."

"I have not seen you before." The girl's voice was childlike, but there was a seriousness to it that spoke beyond her years. "What happened to the other guy?"

"I've only been here for a few days." Suspicion crept into his voice as he stared at her. "What about you? I've never seen you before either."

The girl locked gazes with him. "I am not here to drink. I am here for a job."

"You?" The guard laughed. "You're just a kid. What kind of job would you take at a tavern? Waiter? Cook? Dishwash-"

His mocking speech stopped as the girl's gauntleted right hand flicked upward towards him. A blade the length of her forearm extended from a hidden sheath above her wrist in less than a second, with the tip flashing dangerously close to his neck.

"Does this answer your question?" The girl asked.

"Saiya!" A deep voice rang from inside the building. "Good to see you again! It's been too long!" In moments, a man stepped out of the doorway to join the two. He was a stout figure in his sixties with shockingly white long hair that clawed slightly at his shoulders in curls and an almost ghostly pale complexion. But most interestingly, he wore a white lab coat and matching pants, with the odd-colored stain or two here and there on his clothes.

"Kelvin," Saiya said flatly with a curt nod towards the old man. 

Surprised, the guard turned his head slightly to face Kelvin. "You know this girl?"

"Of course I do." Kelvin's grin was broad. "And don't worry, she's not here to drink. In fact, her line of work is more akin to yours."

"I can see that." The guard's head turned back to stare at the blade still being pointed at his throat.

"Come along, Saiya." Kelvin gestured for the girl to come inside. "Stop scaring my new guard."

Saiya gave the younger man an exasperated look, then retracted her concealed weapon and moved past him, following Kelvin into the tavern. Upon entering, the young girl was greeted to the sight of a massive metal chandelier hanging above the main entrance. She knew it well: each individual candle on the chandelier was burning a color matching each prominent element of nature: red for fire, blue for water, yellow for lightning, green for wind, and others more. On the walls hung tapestries of prominent scientists, each adorned with artistic references to the discoveries they were credited with.

Past the main entrance, the odd pair entered the tavern proper. The running theme seemed to be an odd mix of rustic modernism, with wood furnishings for walls and floors, while the tables and seats were made of a futuristic-looking metal. The people too looked like a mishmash of beings from different eras and backgrounds, with at least a dozen patrons spread across the room. At one end table, a fully armored knight conversed with a sultan dressed in fine fabrics, while at another, an eastern swordsman wearing a simple tunic and pants spoke to a female astronaut wearing everything but her helmet. Everyone spoke in relatively soft tones, though there were three particularly loud individuals dressed in furs who looked like they might have been enjoying themselves a bit too much.

As Saiya approached the bar counter, Kelvin slipped naturally behind it, ready to serve. She took a seat in her normal spot: one of the half-dozen stools there, but hers in particular had a small dent in it that made most adults sitting there uncomfortable. She wasn't someone who took up a lot of real estate on these seats, and the dent made the stool perfect for her. She suspected Kelvin left it dented for that very reason, but she had never bothered to ask him. It just wasn't important to her.

"The usual?" Kelvin asked with a smile, polishing a small glass he'd picked up from below the bar.

"Yes, please."

Once he finished cleaning the shot glass, Kelvin poured in Saiya's favorite: orange juice, and placed it on the aged oak countertop. She took it, taking measured sips while holding the drink with both hands like she was holding a cup of hot tea.

"So," Kelvin said, his hands resting comfortably on the countertop. "How is my favorite bounty hunter and assassin-for-hire doing these days?"

"Nothing much." Saiya took another sip. "In fact, I got a little lost on the way here."

"Really?" Kelvin laughed incredulously. "You? Lost?"

Saiya looked at him in mock annoyance. "You try navigating the crazy out there. I can't make heads or tails of it."

"To be honest, I haven't stepped outside my tavern in a while." As Kelvin talked, he removed his hands from the countertop and busyed himself polishing more pint glasses from below the counter. "The shipments come, but yeah, everyone knows how dangerous it is out there."

"No one's going to mess with you and this place," Saiya said confidently. "And I'm not talking about your new guard. I mean you."

Kelvin gave her a kindly smile. "You flatter me."

"I mean it."

Before Saiya could continue, their conversation was interrupted as one of the loudmouths from the noisy table came up to them and slammed his glass on the countertop. He spoke in a slurred voice, clearly intoxicated.

"Barkeep! What's this little girl doing here? I thought this was a respectable establishment!"

"There's no need to get upset." Kelvin's voice was calm. "She's a friend of mine."

"Hey kid." The second of the drunk men appeared on Saiya's opposite side, trying his best to get in her face. "Where's your mommy and daddy?"

Saiya didn't respond, calmly continuing to sip at her juice and acting as if the man wasn't there.

"This kid ain't talking, fellas!" The trio was now complete as the third popped up above Saiya's head, breathing alcohol into her hair. "What kid don't like talking?"

"My friend asked you a question!" The first was speaking once again, now completing the encirclement of Saiya by leaning towards her final open side. "Why aren't you answering him?"

Again, Saiya said nothing. Kelvin looked like he was considering his options, but Saiya sensed he was going to let this play out. That suited her just fine.

"Hey, kid!" The first reached for Saiya's shoulder. "I'm talking to you-"

When his hand gripped her shoulder, Saiya twisted in her stool and smashed her nearly finished glass of orange juice into the side of the man's face. He yelled and staggered back, his face cut open by the broken glass. In response, his two comrades attempted to grab the young assassin, but she dropped off the stool and went low to the ground on all fours. She aimed a precise kick at the knee of the second, the force of the attack bending his leg at an awkward angle. He screamed and started to keel over. Before he could go too far, Saiya wrapped one hand over the other and threw a two-handed punch into his gut, causing him to gasp and fall on his back. The third man managed to grab her right arm, but her left arm's elbow swung around and smashed directly into his nose, breaking it and causing a fountain of blood to erupt out of his nostrils. As he tried to retreat, Saiya executed a spinning kick, which connected with the man's temple, knocking him out cold just before he face-planted onto the tavern floor.

At seeing his two comrades so viciously defeated, the first man, who was now holding his cheek with his free hand, trying unsuccessfully to cover up the bleeding, started to reach for the broadsword at his back. Reacting to that movement, Saiya held her right hand out, about to extend her concealed arm blade.

"That's enough!" Kelvin's voice boomed throughout the tavern. There was something in his tone and mannerism that spoke to a hidden power, which immediately stopped Saiya and the first drunkard completely in their tracks. The other tavern patrons, who had found themselves watching the fight, knew it was time to turn back to their own conversations and drinks.

"But she-" the first drunkard protested.

"Get out," Kelvin growled. "Now."

Dropping her combat stance, Saiya relaxed and noticed that the guard from outside was now nearby. He nodded at her and tried but failed to hide a small smile of satisfaction. Clearly, he'd watched at least a portion of the fight and might have even developed a new-found respect for her skill.

The first drunkard said nothing, but dropped his fighting hand and glumly helped the guard drag his two injured comrades out towards the exit.

"I'm sorry about that, Saiya," Kelvin said with a sigh after the trio plus the guard left the serving room. "Those three have always been trouble. Relatively new though. Obviously, they don't know about you or your reputation."

"They know yours though." The faintest of grins formed at the corners of Saiya's mouth as she sat back down in her stool. "If they didn't, he would've continued to argue."

"Nah. I'd never actually take action." He winked at her, then leaned towards her and continued in a whisper, holding his right hand against the left side of his lips. "Not that they know, of course."

Saiya nodded, then her expression changed to concern. "Oh! Sorry about breaking your glass." She started to pull out some cash. "Do you want me to-"

"No, no!" Kelvin drew back with a laugh and waved his hands in dismissal. "You've done me a proper favor dealing with those thugs. Besides, I have plenty of those little shot glasses lying around."

"Alright." Saiya stuffed the amount back in her belt, then shifted in her stool. "I didn't come here to fight your patrons, Kelvin. What jobs do you have for me this week?"

"Let's see here..." Kelvin took a look at the postings on his bulletin board, which sat behind the counter on his left. He took a step towards it, enough distance to allow him to run his hand across the many pieces of paper hastily posted. "Ferocious monster...missing bride...escaped convict..." He paused, his hand stopping.

"What is it?" Saiya asked.

"You know the answer." The elder man sighed, his hand slipping down to his side. "This dark fog...it's still by far the most requested and the most...rewarding."

"I...see..." For the first time, a small flicker of fear appeared on Saiya's face.

"Are you...afraid of it?" Kelvin wondered. "I mean, I know you're not someone who's afraid of anything, which is rare for someone your age, but-"

"I'm not afraid." Saiya hesitated. "Though...being out there...I've...seen things. Things I don't ever want to see again. Terrible creatures that live not in the forest, but in the fog."

"Creatures worse than us all being trapped in this eternally twi-lit forest?"

Saiya's gaze intensified as she spoke. "Kelvin, I don't think you know just how much of a haven your tavern is. Out there...in the woods...we're all prey to those things. They're beyond our understanding."

"Well..." Kelvin turned back to the board and started looking at the other postings. "I do have this lost treasure hunt that one of the other patrons-"

"All that being said," Saiya interrupted. "I will...I will do it. I'll take the job, or...jobs, that is."

Kelvin arched an eyebrow. "That's one of the biggest one-eighties I've seen in a while. And we get all sorts of people here."

"I admit it: this fog scares me, but something has to be done. We can't keep living like this forever. If we do, sooner or later Kelvin, you're going to run out of patrons."

"Don't I know it," Kelvin said gloomily. "In fact, you know why I got a new guard? The previous one, well, he disappeared."

"Like everyone else," Saiya nodded. "We're all slowly being whittled away at."

Kelvin let out another sigh. "This might not be the best time to tell you, but there are others who have tried to solve the mystery of the fog. Dozens even, and some in large groups. Not one of them has returned to my tavern."

Saiya tried to put on a brave face, showing more bravado than she actually felt. "None of them were me."

Kelvin grinned. "True enough!" His gaze turned to concern. "In all seriousness, though, do be careful, Saiya. I don't want to lose you. You're among the very best of my patron adventurers. A real top five in my books, and trust me: I've known hundreds of dime-a-dozen heroes."

Embarrassment colored Saiya's cheeks. "If you know where I came from, then you know I don't deserve that kind of praise."

"I know you've had a bloody past, but that doesn't mean you can't redeem yourself. Like what you're doing now for our community. Our...slowly shrinking...community, but a community nonetheless."

"A community of people surviving in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a mysterious, dense, and fog-filled forest covered in darkness?"

Kelvin laughed once more. "That's...certainly an apt description. Maybe one day, we'll find out the real cause, appease the spirits, and clear the woods, that sort of thing?"

"I'm certainly going to try." Saiya got off her stool, leaving a few coins on the countertop. "Thanks for the drink again, old man."

"Anytime!"

As Saiya headed outside, Kelvin could feel a sense of dread permeate throughout his entire body, giving him the chills. This whole situation, of his tavern being trapped here, of adventurers venturing in and out of the fog, and of the strange sounds everyone could hear coming from the forest at all times...Kelvin shook his head, their conversation moments ago still echoing in his head. If the current status quo continued, he didn't know how long they'd all be able to maintain their lives, let alone their sanity. And Saiya...while Kelvin fully believed she was amongst the very best of the adventurers who visited his tavern in terms of pure talent and skill, he still worried for her. Knowledgable and hardened as she was in the art of killing and tracking other human beings thanks to her past, she was just barely growing past the point of being a child. While he knew not to underestimate her, Kelvin couldn't help but wonder if he had just sent her to her death.


© Copyright 2018 T. J. Wong. All rights reserved.

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