Chapter 29:

Chapter 29


Flutes, violas, lutes, and drums. The clapping of patrons mixed with busy conversations. A large, crackling fireplace in the center of the dining room. The tavern was certainly bustling with noise and camaraderie. People from all over Ethros were in attendance. Orcs drank with dwarves. Elves talked with humans. Dragonborns danced with tieflings. The only race seemingly missing were mimics, but who's to say? Elizabeth approached the front counter, Isaac and Vera in tow. The floorboards creaked with every step, and with every squeak of wood a sense of familiarity and belonging washed over Elizabeth. That could be said about the whole tavern. The air, the atmosphere, it was just different compared to the rest of Ethros. Warm and cozy, not bleak and chilling. She rang a small brass bell on the counter. An elderly woman perked up, spinning around in a dizzying fashion away from her work.

"Good evening! And welcome to the Hawthorn Hideaway! Will you be staying with us tonight?" The old woman spoke. Her words flowed like a warm, sickeningly sweet syrup, ensnaring all those who listened.

"Yes!" Elizabeth answered cheerfully. "We'll take two rooms for the night."

"Oh, lovely! And will you be eating dinner in our mess hall? My son is an excellent cook."

"We'd be delighted too." Isaac leaned over to Elizabeth while she took out some coin.

"Two rooms? Doc, there's three of us." He whispered.

"I know. But between us eating, restocking supplies, and generally you two having money when this is all over, I want us to save as much coin as possible."

"Us two? What about-"

"And don't worry, Vera and I will share a room. You can have the other one to yourself." She clarified, cutting Isaac off.

"Alright, perfect! I'll have your rooms prepared and your keys available whenever you're ready! Just stop by the counter again, after you've eaten of course!" They all shared a light chuckle before saying their thanks and departing. Finding a roundtable in the center of the hall, Elizabeth and Isaac sat together across from Vera. The soft glow of a single candle helped illuminate the space. A bit of wax melted and dripped down, pointing to a silver plate holding a couple of bread rolls. Underneath the plate was a small stack of menus. They each grabbed one and began skimming through the paper.

"So what are you guys thinking about gettin?" Vera asked. "I'm personally looking at that trout dish!"

"I think I'll go with the vegetable stew. It's not much, I know, but I kind of also wanna order some sweet rolls for dessert."

"Ooooooo!" Vera beamed.

"Sweet rolls?" Isaac questioned. "Why would we order that?"

"Because I've been busting my ass off trying to keep you guys from dying! I think I deserve a little treat."

"Yeah, come on Isaac. Let the girl have her sweets."

"They're like seven silver for a whole pan! What happened to saving money?!"

"This is... different!"

"Uhhuh, sure. In that case I'll order the smoked wyvern."

"What the hell?!" The two girls shouted in unison.


"That's like 2 gold pieces!"

"Did you have to order the most expensive thing?!"

"Oh so now spending money on food is a problem!" Isaac defended himself.

"You are unbelievable sometimes, you know that? At least our dishes barely crossed copper range!"

"Oh, actually mine costs a few silver." Vera sheepishly admitted.

"Hey guys!" The barmaid introduced herself. "Can I get you any drinks?"

"Mead." Isaac quickly ordered.

"Ale." Vera coldly followed.

"Wine." Elizabeth fiercely finished. "Oh, and we're ready to order."

"Smoked wyvern, fried trout, vegetable stew, and an order of sweet rolls, correct?"

"Yes? How did you know?"

"You three are talking extremely loud." The barmaid brutally answered. The three heroes all hung their heads in shame.

"Oh..." They all said, embarrassed.

"Hey, I get it! Going on an adventure makes you feel like life's main characters. But do keep in mind, majority of our other patrons are on a quest too."

"Sorry." They all apologized together.

"It's alright. Let me get you your drinks." The barmaid swiftly left with a wink. The party sat in silence. Fiddling with the table, they waited for their drinks. And soon the barmaid returned, setting each drink down in front of its recipient of intoxicating refreshment. Each hero took a swig in an attempt to further forget their behavior. Each swig was followed by another, and another, and another, and another, and another. Cups filled the table in a constant stream, barely being held back by the barmaid from consuming the entire surface area. Plates of food fit as best as they could, where they could. The dishes were near instantly devoured. Their complexity and rich flavors weren't considered. Only the mere existence of substance to fill the stomach mattered.

"Alright, alright, alright." Vera drunkenly slurred. "Liz, who's your ideal partner? What are you looking for in a date?"

"What?! I can't answer that!" Elizabeth protested, lightly buzzed.

"Why not?! It's a simple question that I feel like, as your friends, we deserve to know!"

"I don't know. I guess I haven't given it much thought, not recently at least. It's not something I'm focused on anymore." She tried her best to answer. Answer without giving away her fate. Not here. Not now.

"Fine." Vera begrudgingly gave up. "Isaac!" Only to immediately pivot to a new victim. "Who's your ideal partner?"

"My ideal partner?" He began, equally as wasted. "Someone strong, and confident. Self-assured, you know?" He paused for a second, taking off his helmet before continuing again. "I mean, I've always had an affinity towards mages. I like the balance that brings. Someone that can do something I can't, and vice versa." He closed his eyes, getting more lost in his thoughts. "And I'd like her to be slender, athletic. With long, dark hair." He began making motions with his hands. "Sparkling eyes and tanned skin. A warm smile that compliments an equally a warm heart. Sure, on the outside she seems a little arrogant and argumentative, but on the inside, she's really caring and sweet. And you start to realize how fun she is to be around. And then over time you realize, you actually started to like her because of those apparently negative traits." Isaac smiled, sighed, and open his eyes. Immediately his expression changed from happy to horrified. Elizabeth and Vera stared at him, shocked, stunned.

"Oh... my... god." Elizabeth mouthed with hushed breaths.

"What? What did I say?" Isaac stammered; his face now just as red as Vera's. Because whether he realized it or not, his description matched Vera to a tee. Then, in one swift motion, Vera lunged over the table, grabbing Isaac by the collar and pulling him in close.

"I'm so glad I asked before you could ask me." She purred in his ear. "Just so I could see what I'd look like when I describe you."

"Do, do you two need a moment?" Then, the two embraced, kissed, more passionately than one would hope. "Okay! Let me... I'll just... yeah." Elizabeth quickly stood up and left the sobering experience. She wandered around the tavern a bit. She watched the bards and performers. She gently clapped her hands as a poor attempt to dance along. She enjoyed a stray sweet roll here and there, left by tables long gone. She did really anything to pass time. When there was not much left to stall with, and night had long set in, Elizabeth decided to make her way up to her room. She greeted the old woman again and took the one key oddly left behind. She walked upstairs to the room. Down the hall, counting the engravings to find her match. But as she rounded the corner, it was apparent which rooms were hers. Isaac's armor, strewn across the floor. Elizabeth approached one of the rooms, went to try the handle, and immediately pulled back when she recognized a distinct squeaking. "Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope." She pivoted, placed the key in the other door's lock, turned, opened, and hunkered down in bed.