“The bar?” I repeated. “You mean Laure’s bar?”
I hoped my guess was correct because I certainly wasn’t looking forward to going back to Bunker any time soon. However, my question seemed to annoy the visitor, as she rolled her eyes and walked away, leaving the door open.
I gave the two others in the room a look of confusion.
“She obviously meant Laure’s bar,” Royin said with a chuckle.
“Do you know her?”
“She’s Maru,” Ardos said. “The delver of the Red Cross. Most people in the shard also know her for her infamous short temper.”
“Alright,” I said as I stood and stretched before heading for the door, but I paused as I was about to leave the office.
“I forgot to mention,” I said. “When I met Genoneva, she talked about how you had hidden me away and that she had been looking for me. You would not happen to know what she meant, right?”
To their credit, none of them reacted in an overtly self-damning manner to my question.
Royin shook her head, “Sadly, no. It does not make any sense to me, but they do say that she is mad after all.”
“I see… Well, I’m gone.”
I closed the door behind me, and while the red-haired girl was nowhere to be found in the lobby, I saw Bo sitting on the stairs by himself.
His ears perked up at my appearance and made me wonder just how aware beastkins were of their natural tells.
“Hey,” he said. “How did it go? They are not throwing you out, right?”
“Nope,” I said. “Just needs to be more careful from now on.”
“That’s good to hear, and the others will be relieved too. We were all waiting together, but since you were taking so long to come out I told them that I’d stay and to go have dinner.”
“What about you, you’re not eating?”
“I see. Um… Did you see where the girl with red hair went?”
“She went out,” he said with a nod toward the temple’s main door. “I heard she was supposed to take you to the Crosses’ bar? Would it be fine if I came?”
“… Why would you want to go there?” I asked in disbelief.
“I’ve heard a lot about it, but I’ve never been,” he enthusiastically said. “This is as good an opportunity to check it out as any.”
I thought about it for a second and didn’t see why not. Plus, it was hard to say ‘no’ with how fast his tail was wagging despite his poker face.
“Sure,” I said, and he stood with a smile.
We both left the warmth of the temple and went into the cold night. Thanks to the silver light of a full moon, I spotted the girl leisurely strolling down the hill.
For a guide, she’s doing a terrible job.
“People call her Spice,” Bo said after a moment of walking in silence. “Let’s just say messing with her is a bad idea.”
“She even has a nickname, uh.”
“You will soon get one too, you know. All delvers have one.”
“Really? I hope they don’t mess it up. Who decides those things?”
“No idea,” he laughed. “Pretty sure they just go with what sticks. Yours might be something like Sword Human.”
Night time in this world is strange, I mused. Haven’t heard or seen any insects or nocturnal birds.
It was just silence, and that made finding large groups of people an easy task.
The many lights of the settlement were easily visible from our position, and getting lost wasn’t likely if only for the fact that even with the distance her hair made Maru hard to miss.
“How is it?” Bo asked after a moment. “To be a delver, I mean.”
I glanced at him, “Why do you ask?”
“I am just curious,” he shrugged. “All the famous people were also delvers. I can’t imagine what it feels to help save the world.”
I raised a brow, “Save the world?”
“Yeah? Like how delvers work with angels to gather glory and convince the gods to turn the world back to how it was?”
“Oh, that,” I said, even though that was a detail of the picture I had been missing. “Well, I am personally not trying to save the world. I have plenty to worry about it already.”
“Oh, right. Of course,” he fumbled. “We heard about the thing with Genoneva.”
Of course they had. Me being a delver was probably told everywhere along with the fact that Genoneva wanted me for something.
“It’s just that when I was younger I wanted to be a hero,” he said. “Now that I see one in the flesh, it’s pretty weird.”
“I’m a lot of things, but a hero isn’t one of them.”
“It’s too late to pretend, we already know that you are a good guy,” he said with a mock punch to my sides. “And delvers are heroes by default!”
I almost asked him if he considered Genoneva to also be a hero, but decided against it. The boy was in very high spirits compared to earlier in the day, there was no reason to ruin it.
“Everybody was talking about how you protected Tamie from Ormidillio,” he continued. “They did not think that you had it in you to beat him and scare Soory shitless. Probably because of what happened when you first arrived. How did you deal with the aura by the way?”
“Nothing special,” I said absentmindedly. “He just doesn’t know how to fight.
I heard him whistle in admiration as I saw our “guide” disappear between two of the many makeshift houses that formed the settlement.
Thank God I still remember where it is.
“Why don’t they live in the city?” I asked Bo.
“Well, I’m sure some of them just do not like living there,” he said, to which I wholeheartedly nodded in agreement. “But it’s mostly a camp for delvers who want to stay close to the dungeons that are in the area.”
He waved in the direction of the empty lands that stretched beyond the settlement. It was the direction I had come from, where the Sunken City once stood. Beyond those hills, the land continued its transition into a desert and had nothing but cliffs and canyons.
Nothing seemed to live there.
“There are other similar camps on the other sides of the valley,” Bo continued. “Like the hunter camp Lima goes to every morning. That’s where she leaves her gear.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “I was wondering though, do people have a rule against clearing dungeons?”
He seemed confused by the question.
“Of course. The only dungeons that are allowed to be cleared are the real ones or those that are in the shallows. For the first case it’s because they won’t go anywhere, and for the second it’s because they are technically not part of the shard.”
“I figured,” I nodded.
Without such a rule and access to renewable resources, I imagined that it wouldn’t too long for everybody to starve.
“But I heard that the warriors are just waiting for the ferryman to arrive,” Bo whispered. “Anyone left here will die anyway, so some people are planning to clear the easiest dungeons for the rewards.”
Which means that the charon’s arrival will create chaos.
If everything went well and Ardos’ became a delver, help would still probably arrive long after Genoneva’s leave.
We will have to either stock food or defend the dungeons that are essential, I thought with a sigh.So many things I hope Royin considered.
We finally arrived at a settlement with a very different atmosphere than it had on my first visit. There was no urgency in the air or people frantically adjusting their armors as they ran past us.
It was the opposite. I found them all overly relaxed, as I once again wasn’t able to locate any sentinel, guard or just anyone that seemed to give a damn about who entered and left the camp. Every person we walked past, whether they were part of a rowdy group or minding their own business under a tent, seemed to be some level of drunk. It gave me the impression that we had entered a village in which a particularly happy wedding had been celebrated.
The bar was the heart of the camp, the source of most of the ruckus and without a doubt the cause of its inebriety. Weapons of all kind were laid against the front porch in an intimidating fashion, signaling that they were probably forbiden inside.
Our entrance caused a few heads to turn but went unnoticed otherwise. The patrons were too busy eating, drinking and insulting each other to take interest in the two kids zigzagging between the tables.
That, or because they are used to it, I thought as I saw Maboru’s daughter serve a handful of tables in swift motion before heading back to the kitchen. All with her seemingly permanent disinterested face.
Considering the importance given to delvers, the fact that she was doing menial work said a lot about the importance of the bar for the Red Cross.
“Woah,” I saw Bo whisper. His eyes were wide open as if he was trying to take in everything that was happening at once.
Despite the rough appearances of the people surrounding us and the nature of the establishment itself, I noticed that the banter was kept at a moderate intensity.
We managed to get to the serving bar, behind which was Laure, the beautiful half cat woman who owned the place. But while spotting her was easy, managing to get her attention was a whole different issue as she was incredibly busy dealing with alcoholic orders.
She wasn’t kidding when she said it got busy at night.
I had wondered a few times about the job offer I was neglecting and I now felt much less guilt about it.
“Laure!” I called as soon as I noticed a lull in the flow of orders.
Her vertical pupils landed on us, and her eyes lit up with recognition.
“Edward, the one who got away!” she laughed. “Get over here, did you come to claim your spot? I can put you to work right away if you want.”
“I think I’ll pass,” I said with a smile. “I was called here by Bokwen for a deal I made with him.”
She rolled her eyes, “Heard about it. The old man can be annoying, but he looks out for his own. You won’t have to worry about Genoneva, trust me.”
That first part might be true, but nothing tells me he considers me one of “his” just yet.
I couldn’t blame her for thinking that way, however. After all, she was his adoptive daughter, without a doubt one of those Bokwen was trying to save with his deal with me.
“Kolyn! Never heard of a bar so wretched that people with plenty of coins can die of thirst on its floor!” Someone screamed from the sea of tables using Laure’s other name. “Bring out the ale!”
“Shut up and wait! It’ll get there when it gets there!” she roared, causing a few laugh. She then pointed at Bo, interrupting his reverie, “You. You’re from the temple?”
“Um, yes ma’am,” he blurted out.
She threw a tray in his hands and placed half a dozen mugs filled to the brim with a brown liquid.
“You’re in luck and got hired,” the woman added matter-o-factly. “Bring this to table six and come back here quick.”
The boy took a few steps back, confused and struggling to balance all the drinks, before looking at me for help. I raised both hands to indicate that I was as powerless as he was.
“I heard the pay is good,” I said with an apologetic smile. “Just bear with it and treat it as a test.”
“B-but which table is table si-”
“Hey, brat! The hell you’re waiting for?” the voice interrupted.
Slightly worried, I was watching the boy hesitantly move between the patrons with lowered ears when Laure tapped my shoulder.
“I’ll keep an eye on him,” she said. “My father is in the back.”
I nodded and went through a door behind the bar. It closed itself behind me, muffling the incessant chatters and making me strangely self aware that the deserted corridor I was standing in wasn’t somewhere I was supposed to be.
I reached the room at the end, and the stench of the alcohol that had already been much less intense was now dominated by the smell of hot cooking food.
At the center of a clean white room was Bokwen, who was focused on slowly stirring the content of a metalic pot over which he was hunched over.