Terrin Halfdrake made her way through the district of Pratchetry, the last place decent people in the city of Anonymous would want to wander in. However, Terrin had never entertained the notion of being a decent person herself, so the Pratchetry was a perfectly suitable destination for her.

Her fur-lined black cape billowing about her in the wind along with her similarly dark hair, Terrin walked by the local Thieves’ Guild Hall. Normally, the sight of a busty female dressed in little more than knee-high stiletto boots and an armour-plated bikini would have incited suggestive shouts from the thieves hanging outside the Hall, but everyone in the Pratchetry knew Terrin. And everyone in the Pratchetry knew that unless they wanted to feel five feet of sharpened steel, known as Mani’A’Deth, running through them, they had best not comment on Terrin’s appearance, however alluring it may be.

As she continued on her way, it dawned on Terrin that she had no plan. She had left Falcrion’s lair in something of a hurry, fearing that one more second spent in Screaming Girl Mountain would have seen her mercilessly slashing through some unsuspecting low-level minions. She did not like the absence of a plan of action, even when an impromptu vacation was concerned. Not having a plan was likely to get someone, mainly her, killed or seriously maimed and she did not need that right now.

A stylishly written sign marking the entrance to the SansSaucy club caught Terrin’s roaming gaze. She pursed her lips; a good drink might help her formulate an itinerary for her vacation.

Stepping into the club, Terrin scanned the dimly lit scene before her. An assortment of the villainous and trendy were gathered in the SansSaucy. The club was the latest in a long series of establishment catering to the wickedly inclined clientele. Assassins, high ranked thieves, demons, vampires, and nightmare creatures were spread across the club.

Terrin smirked as her eyes landed on a form sitting by the bar. Good, there was at least one person present that she could bear talking to: many members of the usual crowd of villains and minions normally believed that being evil required one to be terrible at social situations.

The creature at the bar was covered in layers of ragged, dark robes. Seemingly of their own accord, the hems of the robes were coiling and floating around the foot of the barstool. As Terrin approached the figure, it lifted a hooded head. A pair of blazing red eyes glanced at Terrin.

“Terrin! Great to see you.” Long tendrils of hair spilled out of the creature’s hood, its voice was cheerful while holding a distinctive hiss.

Terrin greeted the Devourer of Souls with a nod. “Surprised to see you here, Souly. Are you still hanging out with the vampires?”

Souly’s eyes turned to the glass of red liquid held in its pale claws with two impaled olives sticking out of it. “This? It’s Vegetarian’s Vein, red wine, red grape juice and shredded frozen tomatoes. Haven‘t been around the vampires since they all went on a rampage during the anniversary of the War of Countless Buckets of Blood and Nasty Things. There‘s nothing worse than a coven of blood-drunk vampires turning into bats and leaving guano on the floors.”

”Why the red drink, then?” Terrin sat down next to the demon and signalled the bartender for a bottle of Icefire and a shot glass.

Souly shrugged. ”It tastes good. Besides, I’m trying to cut down on the soul eating, my tentacles feel all bloated.”

“You have tentacles?”

“I think I do.” Souly looked down at the hems of its robes. “Well, I haven’t been out of these robes in ages now, so I don’t really remember what I look like underneath. But I like to imagine that I have tentacles. Not that that would make much difference, being that a demon is a multidimensional entity whose true form cannot be perceived by physical and limited perception.”

Terrin sighed, pouring herself a drink. “If you have no idea what you really look like, why do you think you need a diet?”

“I blame society,” Souly said firmly. “Making everyone think that they have to be all reedy thin, with really dry souls, to be attractive. Naturally, I assume that I can’t meet that image, so I need to loose some weight. Even if me having any weight is just an illusion brought on by this world.”

Terrin gulped down her drink, feeling the clear liquid burn in the back of her throat. Demons, she thought, always making everything so overly complex.

“But enough about me,” Souly said, somehow Terrin could tell it was smiling. “What brings you to the big city from the Desert of Desolation?”

“Vacation.” Terrin leaned back against the edge of the bar counter. “I need a break from Falcrion.”

“Getting difficult is he?”

“Difficult?” Terrin let out a sardonic laugh. “I’d like anyone else to try and work with a villain like him and not get stressed. Thank the gods the job pays well, cause I’m not getting much job satisfaction telling Falcrion that you can’t destroy the world with a bucket of cockroaches. I don’t care, if he painted them black, no hero’s going to buy in to that.”

Souly‘s robes ruffled as it shivered. “I don’t know, bugs are kind of creepy.”

Terrin could not help but chuckle at Souly’s reaction, some terrifying demon it was. In general Terrin had found most demons to be exceptionally non-menacing, despite the growling voices, oozing slime and reality warping activities. They could eat one’s soul, but they could also serve as agony aunts.

“In any case,“ Souly hissed pensively. “I’d have thought you were here for the Atrance Joust-a-Mania Melee. I hear every battle mad warrior in Hypnosia’s showing up. Stick around long enough and you’re likely to see a preview brawl right here.”

Terrin shrugged. “That’s a happy coincidence. I might take part in it, unless the judges think it’d be unfair to the other jousters.”

“Oh, yes.“ Souly sipped at its drink. “I remember how all of the others, those who survived, thought you were too… What was the word? Eager to beat them to a bloody mess, wasn’t it?”

“It’s a melee; somebody’s going to crack a skull.”

“The last time around, you were the one doing the skull cracking. It was great fun to watch, but I wouldn’t call it all that sporting.”

Terrin was about to comment on how beating people to death with your weapon of choice was not exactly the picture of fair play and ideals of sport, but something drew her attention towards the small stage at the back of the club. Standing next to a grand harpsichord, singing in a low and soft voice, was a very attractive and slender man. He was dressed in a knee-length jacket with golden embroidery along the lapels and a white cravat tied around his neck.

“I’m far from sentimental.
In words ever so gentle,
I don’t want a dainty lady,
I’d rather do something shady.

I’m not looking for romance,
but laying down in blissful trance.
Give me heat and torn beddings,
not flowers and spring weddings.”

The young man walked back and forth at the edge of the stage, his dark lips spewing out sensuous words that had most of the females in the club swooning and following his every move.

Terrin, feeling a wholly foreign sensation in the bottom of her abdomen, leaned closer to Souly. “Who’s that?”

The demon’s red eyes widened. “Boy, you warrior people really don’t follow the culture scene, do you? That’s Iborian Rosenrove.”

“And?” Terrin raised her eyebrow.

“One of the headliners of Theatró Immortalis.” Souly threw its hands up, the torn sleeves of its robes flapping around.

“You mean that big theatre in the Hobbidian?”

“Yes! Don’t tell me you’ve never been there.”

“Actually, I haven’t.” Terrin glanced back at Iborian. “But maybe I should.”

“Absolutely,” Souly said, playing with the umbrella in its drink. “They’re the best troop in the world, have been for the last two centuries. And Iborian, if you think she’s singing well, you should see her act.”

Terrin nearly chocked on her Icefire. “Wait a minute, she?”

“Yes, Iborian’s a specialist in breeches roles. She’s the King of the Drag Kings.”

Terrin set down her glass long enough to pour herself another drink and take a proper look at the performer. Now she could discern the unusually refined features on Iborian’s face and the slight curve of her hips. A welcomed relief washed over Terrin, for a moment she had feared that her attractions had been severely misplaced.

“Why would a professional actor be singing in a club?”

“Off-season at the theatre,” Souly said. “A lot of the Theatró Immortalis people freelance in smaller venues to get a bit extra. And people obviously like Iborian.”

Terrin glared at the crowd around the stage, though she was not quite sure why. She certainly was not jealous when Iborian leaned to kiss an overeager female vampire on the cheek. Terrin was not jealous at all, she was above such emotions.

Then her sharp eyes landed on a group of identically dressed women, standing at attention on the far wall of the club. The group were watching the Iborian with a fervent interest that Terrin found almost unnerving.

“Who’re those people?” Terrin waved her glass at the group. “Her bodyguards or something.”

“Almost, they’re her fan club,” Souly said. “Some of the craziest sort of people I’ve ever come across, the Theatró fans. They’re nigh militant and loyal to the death.”

“Can’t fault people for loyalty, I guess.” Terrin glared at the group behind her drink.

“That’s not all. Those women will profess undying love to Iborian, but their all married to men and they have kids. You’d never think middle-aged straight women would claim to love a woman who dresses like a man, but they do. Delusional, is what I’d call them. Delusional and dangerous. I once saw some of them attacking a theatre critic who hadn’t liked the Theatrós new revue.”

Iborian was swaying her hips with all the practiced bravado of a professional heartbreaker. A cocky grin was spread on her face as sang on, fully aware of her effect on the audience.

Terrin turned her eyes away from the stage. She was about to fall for someone who seemed to posses as much boldness as she did.

To bolster her resolve, Terrin muttered, “I don’t get the appeal of a being a cross-dresser. Kind of seems like being an antihero. You’re sort of good, but not really. And she’s sort of male, but not really. Can’t people just stick to one clear thing?”

Souly shook its head. “You mortals.”

“What about us?” Terrin gave the demon a weary look.

“You always have to define thing as either-or. Honestly, when I first crawled out of the Void, I thought I’d landed in the middle of a Village Idiots’ Union meeting. I still can’t believe how dualistic you people are.”

“Seems to be working just fine for us. Besides, all the talk about shades of grey is really confusing.”

“That’s what I mean. Mortals can’t handle a little ambiguity. Maybe there’s some paragraph in the Cliché Law that prohibits things from being anything but black and white. To me…” Souly downed what was left of its drink. “…to most demons, everything’s ambiguous. We don’t deal with male and female any more than good and evil.”

“Good for you,” Terrin said. “But I’m happier putting things in boxes.”

“This coming from the woman who’s more masculine than most male creatures I’ve encountered.”

Terrin narrowed her eyes.

Souly’s own red eyes sparkled slyly. It inclined its head, discreetly gesturing at Terrin’s posture. Terrin glanced at her widely splayed legs, then at the kill-demon drink in her hand.

Terrin shifted, feeling the straps of her five-foot sword rub against her spaulders. “I don’t see it.”

Souly’s shoulders shook with laughter. A laughing demon was a frightening sight to anyone unaccustomed to otherworldly entities. Souly’s laughter was a fusion of squawking, howling, and the perpetual hiss.

“You win the prize for deadpan comment of the century.” Souly signaled to the bartender to bring another round of drinks. “Suppose I can’t blame you people for having limited minds. Oh, looks like that preview match I told you about is happening!”

Terrin moved her gaze from the stage to the opposite corner at the back of the club. A human and a half-troll were glaring at each other, separated by a fallen table. The man held a broken wine bottle while the half-troll brandished a lamp that had been on the table.

There was a hungry edge to Souly voice, “Want to make a bet on the outcome?”

“I don’t bet on amateur fights. It’s all fun and no business. Wait till the melee and we can make all the bets you want.”

“If I wasn’t on a diet, I’d so be rooting for someone to die.”

A smirk played on Terrin’s face as she sized up the brawlers. Taking either of them down would not take her long. In any case, watching the SansSaucy security staff trying to break up a barfight would be far more engaging at the moment.

The human leapt over the table and tackled the halftroll. They rolled on the floor, knocking down more tables and provoking more patrons to join the brawl. A small team of security guards ran into the fray and started disentangling the mob. While opening a club for people who had a penchant for maniacal fits of destruction was an undoubtedly hazardous endeavour, it could also prove to be very lucrative. Obviously, the SansSaucy was doing well so far.

Meanwhile, Iborian did not appear fazed by the commotion. Though, for all Terrin knew, one could well see fights break out in a theatre, too, so Iborian could be used to such situations.

Eventually, the security guards tore the brawlers apart, carrying some of the worst injured individuals out of the club.

“Oh, they all survived?” Souly whined when two guards hauled an unconscious vampire passed the bar.

“What’s the point of a fight, if no one dies? Feels like it trivialises the art of violence,” Terrin sighed. “Amateurs…”

Terrin poured herself another glass and returned her full attention to the stage. She briefly reflected on the fact she did have something other than the lack of serious violence to occupy her mind for the time being.

Time slipped by while more drinks slipped down Terrin’s throat. Her eyes rarely left the sight of the gender bending singer. Terrin blamed the ever-growing sensation of a small rodent running around her stomach to the insane amounts of Icefire she was drinking. Funny, she had always been a heavy consumer of Icefire, but it had never caused her any feelings like this. Maybe she was coming down with something.

Souly swayed on its barstool and brandished its twentieth Vegetarian’s Vein around. “And I told Lurker that sending Shrieker to therapy would only make things worse. We had to drag poor Shrieker out of the group session, it wouldn’t stop howling for a week and the whole town went temporarily deaf.”

Terrin rolled her eyes as Souly kept ranting about its emotionally crippled and severely oversensitive friend. Why were demons so amiable with each other anyway? One would have thought that they would hate other demons, and everything else that came their way.

Souly moaned. “Oh Void, I’m going to have such a hangover tomorrow! Assuming I can get one in the first place. But I’m fairly confident that I’m drunk, so logic dictates I’ve got to be hung over the following morning.”

“You are acting pretty drunk,” Terrin commented.

“Why thank you.” Souly giggled. “I’ve had several centuries to perfect this skill. So, are you going to make your move on Rosenrove?”

“My move?”

“I may only have two of my eyes open, but I can see you ogling her.”

“I’m not ogling her,” Terrin said between clenched teeth. “I’m enjoying the entertainment.”

“Right,” Souly drew the word out.

“It’s true. I don’t make moves on people like some flighty elf.”

“Okay, then you better not make a move soon, cause she’s done on stage.”

While the two had been talking, the music had stopped and Iborian had taken her bows. Terrin quickly turned away from the stage, not wanting to be caught staring. Love struck little girls stared at people, not mighty warrior women. Soon the sound of fine leather shoes echoed behind her. That accursed rodent in her stomach did a backflip, Iborian was striding towards her, with the sort of confidence no man could ever possess.

The shorthaired performer came to a stop next to Terrin and gave her a sidelong glance.

With a gripping panic, Terrin realised she had never before dealt with the issue of coming up with pick-up lines. In the past, all women had naturally gravitated towards her own pull. Now, at the face of an object with far more pull than her, she was befuddled as to what to do.

Her atypical uncertainty was broken when Iborian spoke, her voice brisk and every bit what one would expect a mature tomboy would sound like.

”Nice sword,” Iborian said, indicating Mani’A’Deth.

”Thanks.” Terrin nodded, trying to hide her burning interest at the drag king.

Iborian flashed Terrin a smile that seemed to be the very personification of cheekiness. ”Perhaps you’d care to find out, if my sheath would suit it.”

Terrin raised her eyebrows, then shrugged in a manner she thought was appropriately nonchalant. ”I doubt my blade would be big enough for your sheath.”

”Well, one could always compensate the lack of size with the number of blades.” Iborian looked down at Terrin’s hands in a way that, apart from the ostensible cheek, was coy.

Were it not for her ardent belief that she was incapable of the stereotypically feminine reaction, Terrin would have sworn she felt herself blush. She balled her hands into fists, as if hiding something unseemly.

Finally, she managed a smirk. ”I do like matching weapons with people.”

”Then why don’t we go find some nice and private sparring grounds and stir up some dirt?” Iborian bowed and held out her hand. ”I would be very grateful, if someone as fair as you were to take me away from my eager admirers.”

Terrin looked over Iborian’s shoulder to see the members of her fan club standing a respectable distance away, awaiting their idol's approach.

”By all means, noble sir,” Terrin chuckled, taking hold of the offered hand.

Giving the fans an arrogant smirk, Terrin and Iborian sauntered out of SansSaucy. Yes, Terrin thought, this vacation was shaping out to be a fine one. Who knew, she might even develop a taste for higher culture by the end of it.

Next Month: The Hymn of Omens

Stories and artwork Copyright 2009-2010 by Mette Pesonen. Copying in whole or in part is prohibited. However, you may link to this page.

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