Just a Couple of Loonies
"Could I get a refill of ale?"
"How much for wine with the meal?"
"I can't eat this soup! It barely has any meat!"
"We're running low on brandy."
Gilligania nearly ran as she served the patrons and answered questions. "Yes, five extra aurents, take it up with the cook, I'll check the cellar for another crate." Suppertime at an inn was always frenetic, but it would slow down as guests went to their rooms. Of course, the remaining guests would probably get rowdy, but rowdy she could handle. Gilligania ducked behind bar and descended through the trap door into the cellar.
She took a moment to revel in the silence afforded by the thick door, then flipped a switch on the wall, triggering a series of wires. Five candles were simultaneously lit by flint striking steel. Gilligania frowned. She would have to work on the ignition relay for the sixth candle. She found the brandy and hauled it up, blowing out the candles on the way back.
She emerged back into the bustling, noisy dining area. Noisy was good, because it meant guests, which meant more money. Those voices from the kitchen seemed a little too loud, though.
Gilligania walked in to see a guest arguing with Malthazar. "Preposterous! Soup needs meat, not tiny pieces of sausage! I refuse to pay for a meal that would barely sustain a house pet."
Malthazar's mouth twitched. "That 'sausage' is actually highly condensed meat. You'll notice the soup also has vegetables, purpleroot, and quinoa. It's enough to keep you on your feet for a full day's march. Is there another way you'd like to try to get out of paying?"
The guest raised his eyebrow. "Condensed meat? I've never heard of such a thing."
"That's because you're not a cook," snapped Malthazar. "So unless you want to learn how to cook for yourself tonight, I recommend you at least try the soup before complaining about it."
The guest grumbled but left for the dining room.
"A little harsh, weren't we?" asked Gilligania.
Malthazar shook his head. "Honestly, if I had an aurent for every person who made fun of condensed meat until they tried it, we could open ten inns. He'll try it, discover he likes it, and refuse to admit it, but at least he won't bother me again." He turned ladled soup into bowls. "By the way, Freckles, a big group just came in and they all want soup and ale."
Gilligania squeaked, grabbed some mugs, and ran toward the tables.
A few hours later, the last guest had finally gone to bed, and the foodrunners met in the kitchen.
Malthazar cleared his throat, and announced in a deep voice, "Now has come the time for the ancient ritual... of swapping gossip. Who has the best story tonight?"
A young runner named Pylia giggled and raised her hand. "I heard a good one. Apparently a wild mage decided he wanted to turn himself into a bird for a day. When he turned back he still had feathers, and he had to wait a week until they were gone!"
Everyone laughed, then a slightly older runner, Kelthin, took his turn. "I don't know about stories, but I might have a new record for the craziest theory I've heard about edgewalkers. This one guest insisted that edgewalkers come down from the moon, steal the body of the first person they meet, and dig themselves a cave to live in. Then they only leave at night to rain down fire upon unsuspecting travelers."
Welshai interrupted. "I don't know if that beats what his lady friend said. She thinks they come every ten thousand years to weed out the impure, then ascend to the heavens with the worthy. Then they let the worthy choose the course of destiny until the next cycle."
Thus ensued a fierce five minute argument about whether either of these arguments were more preposterous than the idea that edgewalkers were disguises created by amphibians secretly studying the workings of humanity. The argument was derailed when the last runner, Bruthae, decided to share her story.
"This one is kind of serious, but pretty juicy. It was those two clerics at the corner table. One of them said the Attalian Republic might be going to war with the Kingdom of Nimbor."
The room fell into silence. Bruthae glanced around, and spoke quickly. "Of course, it's probably not true. The other one didn't think it was. And he said it had something to do with The Forsaken, and you know how reliable those rumors are." She trailed off, and Welshai resumed the discussion about edgewalkers.
Gilligania and Malthazar glanced at each other. Inn gossip was notoriously unreliable, but every now and then you heard something important. A war between two of the biggest countries in the realm would be messy no matter the outcome.
Finally the runners left for home, and only Gilligania and Malthazar were left. Gilligania asked, "So what do you think of tonight's gossip?"
Malthazar shrugged. "Mostly the usual, I guess. I might try talking to the clerics if they're around again tomorrow night. Oh, did you get a chance to balance the ledger?"
Gilligania groaned. "Tonight was really busy. I'll get to it tomorrow."
Malthazar grinned. "Didn't you say that last night when you really wanted to work on the candle system?"
Gilligania sniffed. "I will have you know that the system will be useful to many people as soon as I work out that last ignition switch."
Malthazar pulled her to the ground, and a bolt of energy struck the wall behind them. Gilligania instinctively put on her goggles and turned to see what had happened. A robed figure stood behind them with an outstretched hand. Malthazar started whispering, and the room was cloaked in darkness.
By the time the cloaked figure conjured a light, neither Gilligania or Malthazar were in sight. The figure advanced into the kitchen, then walked toward the partly open back door. It emerged into the vegetable garden behind the inn. Behind the rain barrel at the corner of the inn, Gilligania finished mixing a potion. She threw it, and a cloud of sleeping gas wafted through the air around the figure.
The figure advanced toward Gilligania, unaffected. She pulled out her crossbow and fired. The figure easily dodged the bolt, then continued to approach her. Gilligania retreated to a nearby tree and pulled out another vial.
As the robed figure passed under the roof, Malthazar jumped onto it, channeling silvery light through his hands. For a moment it thrashed around, then Malthazar fell to the ground, clutching only a robe. Its occupant, seemingly, had vanished into thin air.
Malthazar stood up and dusted off his pants. "Well, I bet he'll return at an inconveniently dramatic moment. Sorry I couldn't be more help. It's a new moon, so I don't have many spells to work with."
"It," said Gilligania. Malthazar looked up inquiringly. "I don't think that thing was human."
Malthazar frowned and started folding the robe. "I think we need to start looking for someone to watch the inn. Just in case."
Title: “Just a Couple of Loonies,” chapter from “Knights of the Waning Moon”
Age range: 12+
Word count: 1189
Author name: [REDACTED] AKA Hermit Thrush
Synopsis: [REDACTED] – spoilers!
Target audience: Geeks like me, or anyone who enjoys fantasy
Bio: I was born in [REDACTED], raised in [REDACTED], and live in [REDACTED]. I went to school at [REDACTED] where I attained a degree in geology. I enjoy gaming, science fiction, and fantasy; all three influence my writing.
Note: due to a mix of shyness and paranoia, sensitive information has been redacted from the public release of this document. Missing information will be provided to individuals with sufficient security clearance upon request.