The crowd was a little livelier than Darvydia expected for sundown. She strummed her lute lightly and trailed off in a chorus of "And that was the last drink he had." Stooping to gather some stray coins tossed in her direction, Darvydia caught site of a new rather sordid group that had clustered at a table. With a sidelong glance, she gathered her things, and made her way towards the bar.
Passing the miscreants, she could not help eavesdropping on some of their conversation. "Aye mates, she would fetch some coinage at the Golden Web...that is as long as she kept 'er mouth shut." The laughter that followed caused her skin to crawl. A jeer called out in response, "Nice little child toy, Dango." Darvydia fought with every ounce of willpower from turning to the group with a smart retort. Wrapping her cloak tightly around her she nudged her way to the bar.
'The Golden Web....' Darvydia bit her lip pensively, 'sounds like a place worth investigating.' Catching the barkeep's eye, she waved him over. "Cailin, I think I will be on my way now."
Smiling broadly, he placed a pouch of coins in her hand. "Whin can I 'spect ya agin miss?" Sliding her a mug of ale, "Ya really liven up the place."
Darvydia tilted her head slightly to the side she replied brightly, "Come now, Cailin... You know I do not operate that way." Pausing to take gulp of the proffered ale, "I will be around sooner than later."
Cailin allowed a mirthful laugh to spill forth from his belly and winked at Darvydia. "Ya got me thar child."
She leaned towards Cailin and whispered, "Can you tell me how to get to the Golden Web?"
A look of dismay and then horror crossed Cailin's face. "My dear, 'though ya may find interestin' stories thar, the Golden Web is no place for the likes of you. Where did you hear of that thar pit?" Cailin looked beyond Darvydia and noticed the riff raff sitting around a table ten feet away. "Never mind, just don't go there Darvydia. It just isn't safe."
Darvydia placed her small hand over his large callused paw, "Don't you worry about me, Cailin. I am a lot tougher than I look." His eyes softened with a sorrowful gaze in her direction. "And in spite of my current appearance, I do know how to blend into a crowd. I would dress appropriately. Now please give me directions to the Golden Web."
He reluctantly scribbled directions down on a piece of paper and gave it to her, grasping her hand firmly. "Take care of yerself." As she left the pub, he waved a scruffy looking man over to the bar. "Follow 'er Dougal, an' make sure she comes to no harm." The man nodded and followed Darvydia out.
Taking a brief detour to her room at the inn. Darvydia donned her new wardrobe and briefly admired herself in the mirror. 'Not too shabby... maybe I can enter this Golden Web unnoticed.' Rummaging through her cloak, she pulled out a small pouch and placed a few coins in it. 'No use bringing all my money... someone is liable to lift it.'
Skipping down the stairs, Darvydia passed a scruffy looking dock man sitting at the bar. She could feel him watching her as she left. Darkness had fallen, and she walked briskly from lamplight to lamplight, avoiding the deepest shadows. She had the sense that she was being followed, but whenever she turned to look she was greeted by an empty street.
Entering the Golden web, she was greeted with several hostile stares and a lot of indifference. 'They must have a normal crowd here.' Walking in with an air of confidence, Darvydia had a seat at the bar. Lowering her voice slightly, she called "An ale, barkeep." Taking a deep drought of the warm ale, she turned on her stool to face the room. Her guarded gaze was met with several hostile leers from the patrons of the bar.
The Web held all that the rumors had promised and more. Cutthroats, mercenaries, thieves, etc... 'Wait, now there is an oddity...' Sitting at a table by herself, a woman with fire red hair broiled while nursing a very potent spirit. The other patrons neither looked in her direction nor invaded her personal space, a curious mixture of fear and respect showing in their eyes whenever they passed her table. 'Now she must have an interesting story...'
Easing herself off of the stool, Darvydia was bumped by a large scruffy man. Grabbing her by the arm, he dragged her outside the bar. "This isn't tha place for the likes of you, Darvydia." Squinting against the lamplight behind him she vaguely recognized him as a regular at Cailin's Place. "Nah, go home...before ya gets yarself hurt." He gave her a gentle shove in the direction of the center of town.
Darvydia sulked in the direction that she was sent and looked back to see the man slip back into the bar. Easing herself into the shadows, she waited for the mysterious redheaded woman to leave the bar, determined to learn her story, or at least see enough to make one up.
She'd seen the bard within the Web, and she didn't like the way the woman looked at her—like she was some new project for the bard's attention, the subject of a mindless ditty of spurious lyrics and questionable musicality. No, she didn't like it. She had more than enough problems and people to deal with as it was: the Scholar, the Sexton, Kit, and of course, there was always Striker. She frowned, raised a fresh mug to her lips, and pursed them instantly. Bitter, too bitter. She wondered briefly that the place had any business at all serving the swill it did, but quickly remembered that her taste was far different from most, and that the Web didn't exactly rely on the quality of its spirits to stay in business. Twisting her face in displeasure, she dropped a fair amount of crushed moonseed into the beverage and gave it a chance to dissolve before trying the drink again. It improved the taste, if not her mood, and she finished the mug as she had all the others—alone and in silence.
She'd almost reacted when one of the patron's took the bard by her arm and forcibly escorted her outside, but the bard hadn't called for help and the man had let her go once they crossed the threshold of the tavern. It was strange, to be sure, but it didn't concern Quaralyn. Not that that ever made a difference before. The man reentered the tavern alone and with a small, but self-satisfied smile. The woman remained outside. Cocking her head slightly to one side and narrowing her eyes, Quaralyn could still see the bard standing outside the Web. But she didn't stand still for long. Quaralyn was about to mentally compliment the woman on exercising at least a modicum of good sense, albeit rather tardily, when the bard took two leisurely steps to the side and slipped into the shadows pooling on the darkened street.
Quaralyn rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly, but managed to just avoid the urge to sigh in quiet frustration. 'Does no one even pause for thought any more?' The thought loosed her restraint, and she gave in to the previously restrained urge, sighing heavily as she realized that the woman was waiting in those shadows. 'No, apparently not.' Telling herself that it wasn't her concern, she ordered another mug, added another measure of moonseed, and continued to stew in thought.
She finished the mug as she had the rest, and still felt no better or worse than she had when she entered tavern. Given her surroundings and company, it was hardly a surprise. Truth be told, she didn't know why she had come to the Web. It was a place she usually made a point to avoid, but it had two things to speak in its favor late in the evening: it was open, and no one asked questions. But even these points only went so far and Quaralyn reluctantly accepted the fact that there was no solace to be found within either the walls or spirits of the questionable establishment.
Rising to her feet, she dropped a handful of coins on the table, knowing that no one would touch them—not here. She was given a wide berth as she passed through the tavern—a small privilege of her rank—and reached the door without incident. It opened with a small groan of protest and she stepped outside without looking back, allowing the door to fall closed behind her with another groan and a soft thunk. The night air was considerably colder than atmosphere withassed by one particular patch of shadow off to the right. She'd developed sharp senses over the years. She'd had to. And she knew the bard was hiding in that small patch of darkness. On another night she might not have cared, or she might have even approached the woman directly. Either would have been a better option for the bard. But it wasn't another night, and she'd been simmering too long within the city, the guild, and even the tavern with the result that she no longer quite herself, or perhaps she more herself than she cared to admit. Either way, it didn't bode well for the bard who was now following her.
It didn't surprise her, but Quaralyn mentally chastised the woman for her decision. She was quiet, true, even stealthy to a degree, but only the foolish followed a cat in a quest to see how it spent the rest of its nine lives, and not all of those who followed returned. Somewhere in the crueler corners of Quaralyn's mind, an idea began to form—a small, harmless, but utterly twisted idea. It might have been her mood, or perhaps the spirits from the Web, but whatever its source, it had taken hold now, and a deliciously wicked smile spread slowly across her face as she pressed ahead into the darkness, taking the bard off the beaten track of the city streets and into an ill-omened game of one-sided amusement.
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