Fantasy Fiction Adventure

From the back of a dusty tavern booth in a forgotten corner of the city, Jesper bided his time.

His biding came easiest when telling the stories of others. While most preferred the fables and legends of heroes from faraway lands, he found himself enraptured by the ordinary. He believed every person was themself a book, and with quick glances between bitter sips from an old pewter mug, he attempted to read their chapters.

He started with the pair sitting in an adjacent booth. While together they told a story of friends reunited after a long journey, hidden meaning could be read between their pages. One, a woman, wore traveler’s clothes, boots bearing fresh mud from the road. She had a sack of coins and a small toy, clearly made for an infant, down at her side. A plain laborer’s tunic draped the man’s rigid posture, and on his wrist he wore a tattered bracelet fashioned together with small bits of multicolored string. Forced smiles veiled tightened jaws, and Jesper felt that neither of them would stay here for long.

His view of the pair became abruptly obscured as a hulking mass stood from another table, blocking the last few rays of the setting sun as they pierced through the window. This man was more akin to a large sack of meat; he’d long outgrown his jacket and trousers, and his gut protruded from behind tortured silver buttons like a old dam forestalling the tide. The wooden floor planks groaned with each step as the man began to head toward the bar.

Just before he passed the booth, Jesper rose from his seat, stepped out in front of the man, and slammed a fist into his jaw. Despite Jesper’s wiry frame, the man dropped like an anchor, hitting the ground so hard it spilled the drinks on the tables nearby.

The bustling tavern froze. Chatter descended to below a whisper as everyone turned toward the unfolding scene. The musician next to the bar appeared to have broken a string on his lute, and in silence the crowd regarded Jesper with eyes widened in shock. Jesper felt like a logger who’d casually felled a tree across the middle of the Highmarket District.

Two more figures rose from the meatsack’s table. They lumbered towards Jesper, cracking their knuckles and bearing deep scowls seen even through their silhouetted faces, thanks to the evening glow outside. Towering over Jesper, one reached out a meaty hand. Jesper smiled nervously, and as the hand gripped his shoulder, he quietly whispered “light illumine the sleepless stars.”

From the back of a dusty tavern booth in a forgotten corner of the city, Jesper bided his time. He realized, however, that the traveler and the laborer were not just simply estranged; there was a tension seeping from behind those smiles. Cold exchanges of pleasantries seemed to hide both the woman’s anxiety and the laborer’s indignation, each barely keeping their tempers bridled. These were the kind of people who refused to admit to a silent war between them, a boiled fury simmering just beneath a cordial surface.

The meatsack rose from his seat once more and began to stumble toward the bar. This time, Jesper remained in his seat, allowing the man to pass unhindered. Jesper usually preferred the direct approach, but he’d yet to see it prove successful tonight. As soon as the man arrived at the counter, he began to loudly berate the only barmaid working the floor, a young girl not quite into her third decade. She’d apparently been too busy dodging ale spills and unsavory glances to bring him his next round.

Startled, she looked up, paling at the sight of him. He wore a deep black and crimson uniform with silver epaulettes on his shoulders. A small silver emblem of a kite shield pinned to his chest meant that no one in the room would likely step between them. Her shoulders dropped and she began to tremble, buckling under the weight of his gaze. Her eyes met the floor as he disparaged her, calling her names she should’ve been too young to understand.

While many still called this city Paragon, Jesper felt it no longer deserved that name.

Unable to wait any longer, Jesper stood and walked over, saddling up on a stool next to the raging officer. The musician had begun playing louder in a subtle attempt to drown out the shouting. As the man reached for a club at his waist, Jesper grabbed his arm. “You know,” Jesper said, voice smooth but raised over the music, “if you leave the young lady alone, I bet there’ll be an extra mug on your table for the trouble. Whaddaya say, friend? Mind giving her some breathing room?” While the words felt sour in his mouth, he’d try anything to get this man away from the girl.

The man turned, and in a moment of surprising dexterity, locked a massive hand around Jesper’s neck. He then began to squeeze.

Unable to speak, and feeling as though his eyes might pop out onto the ale-stained counter, Jesper placed one hand underneath another. The pads of his fingers touched, forming a serpentine shape. Gripping tightly, Jesper pulled on them as hard as he could.

From the back of a dusty tavern booth in a forgotten corner of the city, Jesper bided his time. Rubbing a phantom pain in his neck, he realized now that despite the present hostility, the woman and the man hadn't always been enemies. In fact, as he looked again toward the pair, he now saw they were—

Gone. In their place sat a woman, staring directly at Jesper. Her long dark hair flowed down a resplendent green dress. She wore a sinister smile, her opal eyes locking with his in unwavering intensity.

“Light illumine the sleepless stars.”

The woman’s smile deepened.

He interlocked his fingers and pulled hard.

She chuckled. “They say someone who repeats an action over and over…”

“Is heralded with renown for their awe-inspiring perseverance?”

She scoffed loudly and stood, crossing the floor toward his table. The uniformed meatsack stood as well, beginning yet again his infuriated saunter toward the counter. The woman turned, her expression icing over as she glared daggers toward the man. He froze, eyes wide, and slowly sunk back in his seat, eyes dropping to his empty mug.

Jesper frowned. “You must have me mistaken for another.”

“I find that doubtful.” She replied without turning to him, keeping her gaze on the man. She leaned in, placing a hand on the table. “Look for a neglected hole in the ground, find the nearest tyrant, and here you’ll be, attempting to liberate the downtrodden.”

“You don’t know me.”

She turned back to face him. “Come now, Lucius,” She answered mockingly. “While the irony is not lost on me, we unfortunately don’t have very much time.”

That name had been dead for a century.

Then he saw it: on her hand she wore a gold ring, engraved with small runes and symbols. He couldn’t read them, but he’d recognize them anywhere. The gem set atop the ring was glowing softly, blue light pulsing from within the stone.


She’d changed quite a bit since he saw her last. Although, back then she was wearing a different body and had been trying to kill him.

“Pack your toys, Lightsworn," she said. "The Highbearer requested an audience, and if I recall, we’re about a hundred years late.”

Jesper sighed, shoulders dropping. Holding her stare, he reached over to the vase of flowers on the table and retrieved a small hourglass from behind. He didn’t need to look at it to know its own soft blue glow had faded. Jesper had made many assumptions this night, the greatest being that he was the only Bearer in the city.

He stood as Lairna ushered him to the door. The meatsack continued to stare at his mug, seemingly unaware of his previous rage. As Jesper walked through the thick oaken doors of the tavern, and the last vestiges of light warmed his face, he realized something:

For the first time in his life, Jesper preferred the choking grasp of an evil man to the smile of a beautiful woman.

June 25, 2022 01:57

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