The Two Teeth Tavern was not quite as unsavory as it sounded. Sure, it was a little rough around the edges—you had to watch for splinters, every third table was uneven, and the innkeep had clearly misplaced his broom—but the food was warm and filling enough to require, in fact, an entire mouthful of teeth, not just two.
A few patrons sipped quietly at their drinks. There was no music, no conversation, and little movement. All told, the morose silence of the tavern was challenged only by the crackling hearth and the frigid wind outside until the entrance bust open with a bang.
Snowy curses and wet fur stumbled into the inn. A middle aged man with dark, tanned boots wrestled with the door. His merchant pack creaked ominously as he forced it shut, and his ice-crusted coat tinkled with every move.
“What a crypt-cursed year,” the man spat. “Can you believe this?” He struggled out from under his luggage. “Five years I’ve worked this route and never have I seen the like—snow! This early in the season!”
The innkeep shuffled out from the bar, looked woefully at the merchant’s dripping leathers, and pointed at a corner table that hadn’t yet been bussed.
“I’ll never make it into the mountains in time,” the man grumbled. “That’s an entire trade cycle, lost!” He sat down and raised a finger. A mousy serving girl swooped in with bored efficiency and plonked a mug of steaming cider down before gathering up the tower of dirty dishes and bustling off.
“Doesn’t matter.” A neighboring soldier looked over with tired eyes. “It’s the end of the world.”
Everything about the warrior was grey. His hair, his beard, his voice—all were flecked with ash. He wobbled under the weight of one too many drinks, but even that couldn’t drain the tension from him. He sat hunched, like he was expecting another sudden blow from Kismet, and fresh wounds seeped through old bandages.
“Oh, I hope not.” The merchant stopped mid-rant to crack a crooked smile. “That would be terrible on my profit margins. The name’s Denovan, by the by.” He thrust a gloved hand towards the warrior as if to shake, but the man just flinched and huddled closer around his mug.
“There’s no profit in these mountains, trader,” he whispered. “Only death.” The warrior stared deep into his drink. Haunted eyes stared back.
“I don’t know what they were, with their arms and mouths and sparkling edges. Viscous, round… all manner of things mixed up inside.” He scratched his whiskers with one hand. “I tell you, I’ve been around Entrath twice besides, and I’ve never seen the like. Made those strange portal beasts seem like kittens.”
He cleared his throat, half cough, half repressed emotion. “They killed my entire squad in seconds. And then our neighboring squad. And their neighbors. I only survived because I fell.” A trembling finger traced the familiar eye-patch on his brow. “The mountains are cruel, trader, but they used to be predictable. Not anymore.”
He took a long draught from his mug and grimaced. “Something’s pouring out of the Frost Ring, and I… I don’t think they’re going to stop. I intend be good and drunk when they get me.” His laughter was a dry, dead thing with zero joy to it.
“I suggest you do the same.”
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