It was either the yellow skin or the fact that she was female, but it was immediately clear that the woman who entered the Slag Tavern did not belong. She didn’t seem to be disturbed by the dozen or more sets of appraising eyes that immediately fell on her. She ignored them all with a cold, practiced haughtiness.
She scanned the crowd and immediately locked in on the back of the Tavern. As she moved, swiftly but with elegance, her attire sparse enough to make the drunken patrons tip back in their chairs, she could no doubt feel the silence in the bar.
The man she had come to see sat in shadows in the tail of the bar, his back to the wall.
“You’ve gained some admirers,” the man said as she approached his table.
Evil-Lyn shrugged. The beard of the nearest man began to smoke, and he quickly dipped the end of his beard into his drink with a sizzle.
The bar murmured and then the attention shifted away. She placed her hands on the rail of the chair. “Am I to stand forever?”
He gestured, and she sat with a dramatic flair.
“Thank you, no. I only drink from clean glasses,” the witch said.
The man at the opposite side of the table smiled slightly and nodded. His black hair contrasted with the white jacket he wore. He was handsome in a bland way, probably older than his fine skin would attest to. In front of him was a short glass of some red-tinted liquid. “What can I do for you, Evil-Lyn?”
“So you know me.”
“Scarce few on Eternia would not know Skeletor’s wench.”
If she took offense to that she didn’t show it. She only said flatly, “I belong to no one.”
“As you say. So why would a woman of your… stature… be slumming in a place like this?”
“Maybe I’ve come to kill you.”
He didn’t blink. “Me? Hm. I would think it’s an honor to be killed by one so illustrious. My name could be etched onto some grand tablet somewhere. Please, make me legend then, but be quick about it before my tab needs paying.”
She threw back her head and laughed. It was play-acting, but he enjoyed it, so he allowed her to finish. He admired her beauty, but was repulsed by her at the same time. “You’re a brave one,” she said when the laughter ceased. “Your reputation precedes you.”
“I’m only a humble royal dentist, milady. Surely you’re thinking of someone else.”
She sat forward, the humor gone from her face. “There’s a war coming. Any fool can see the sides. Skeletor. Hiss. Horde. And the free people of Eternia.” She said this with such derision it practically had a scent. “When the war comes, there will be no citizens. There will only be soldiers. Many will die, a few will survive long enough to suffer, fewer still will be something greater than what they ever were in the new age to come.”
“Is Skeletor surrounded by so much betrayal that he’s recruiting now?”
“Soldiers are always an asset in war. And soldiers such as yourself…”
“Hold it lady,” the man said, sitting forward, almost spilling his drink. “I told you. I’m only a dentist.”
“Oh, yes, I know all about your dentistry. The Dentist of Death, they called you.”
He was unable to bite down on his shock before it spilled across his face.
He leaned back again, but his hand was shaking. “I never killed anyone.”
“No? Well, maybe not. I won’t argue the point. I am all too aware of the need to recreate one’s self. Maybe the stories I’ve heard aren’t true then.” She grabbed his drink, brought it to her nose, sniffed it, and then set it down. “Stories can be lies just as easily as truths. You want to hear the story I heard? There was a man whose family was attacked by Beast Men. And not the regular Beast Men; as deadly as they are, they can be controlled. This was a wilding pack, feral and aggressive.”
The man ran a hand through his jet black hair and stared at the drink.
“His family was killed, but he was left alive. Barely, but alive. Now, he did what any man would do in that situation. He began the hunt. He hunted down that wilding pack of Beast men for months, tracking the carnage they left behind.”
“Finally, he found them, this Dentist of Death. And you know what he did?”
The man shifted in his seat, staring at the glass of red swirling liquid.
“He captured them. Alone. By himself. One man against seven near-feral Beast Men. He broke their legs so they couldn’t run. He broke their arms. And he pulled their claws. And then he plucked their teeth from their head. One. Two. Three. Again. Again. Each and every one. Can’t you hear their screams of agony? I wonder if it paled in comparison to the screams of his family. I wonder.”
She smiled at him. “The man who could do that… that man is a soldier. And the war that is coming needs a soldier like that. There will be a shift of power after the war. Things once believed impossible will suddenly be possible. Barriers once thought impregnable will be breached. Maybe even the barrier separating life and death. Maybe that man’s family could be returned to him, if he chose the right side.”
The bar murmured behind the Evil Lyn. The man was quiet. He stared at his glass.
“Screechvine wine. Heard of it? The berries are plucked from a single vine that grows in the deepest part of the Haglock Swamp. People have died harvesting those berries. You know what types of creatures live there, I’m sure. Shadow Beasts fear that place.”
“This man you’re talking about… he was a drunk. A drunk and a wreck. His family was everything, and when they were gone, he had nothing but drink and revenge left inside him. And then the revenge was gone, and he only had the drink. It’s not a new story, but it’s a stubborn one, and many men fall to it. But he made it out the other side. He let go of the hate, and therefore the need for the drink left him again. Because he did things under the influence of the drink he will never come away from.”
“But every once in a while, once a moon’s cycle maybe, this man tests himself. One glass. That’s all it would take to start him down that path again. So he tests himself. One glass. Each time he leaves it behind on the table — still full. Because he’s not that man anymore.”
The man plucked the side of the glass, and it responded with a sharp ping. The Screechvine wine began to glow as the harmonics of the pinging glass interacted with the phosophorescent qualities of the wine. The red glow lit up the man’s face, painting his white jacket. It looked like blood.
“He’s not that man anymore. Go back to your master, Evil Lyn. You found no soldier here.”
Evil Lyn’s eyes searched him, and then she smiled and stood. She pushed the wooden chair back up to to the table. “You of any man should know that once teeth go bad, they are never good again, dentist.”
He watched her leave, as did the other patrons, though with more hesitancy than when she entered.
The dentist leaned his chin on the table and stared at the swirling, glowing liquid in the glass. He could see his own reflection in the glass, red and shifting. He wondered who he saw in that reflection. He wondered how that wine tasted, after so long without.
Previous installments of Fwoosh Flash Fiction:
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