A light tapping drew everyone’s attention to the front left corner of the tavern, where a tall half-elf with blond hair stood with his ear against the wall as his knuckle bounced off the wood. He wore a leather vest and linen pants supported by a belt with far too many pouches attached to it.
“Can I help you?” Aislan asked.
The half-elf shook his head, waving him off with his free hand as he continued to rap against the wall.
“We’re kind of in the middle of something here,” Davine said, walking toward him as she adjusted her black leather armor.
“I know it’s around here somewhere,” the half-elf said without turning around, “Give me a second.”
Gladian looked at Peyton with a frustrated look, shifting his gleaming armor so he could lean closer to the barkeep.
“Did you see him come in?” Gladian asked.
“No,” Peyton replied. “I’m fairly certain the door didn’t even open.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Aislan said, stopping a few feet from the half-elf. “Can I perhaps help you find what you’re looking for so my friends and I can get back to the task at hand?”
“You can’t protect her,” he replied, moving his way up the wall. “You’re mission has been false from the beginning.”
“Who are you to tell us such things?” Aislan asked.
“Oh, right,” the half-elf said, spinning around to face her, “The names Varis. Varis Moonwhisper.”
Varis extended a hand toward Aislan with the same level of enthusiasm that one would expect from a child asking for candy.
“Nice to meet you, Varis,” Aislan said, casting a glance over her shoulder to the bar. “Why can’t we protect the girl?”
“She’s not what you think she is,” Varis shrugged as he eyed Aislan suspiciously. “You wouldn’t have seen a gnome around here, about this tall, with patchwork clothes? Goes by the name Doucel?”
“No, I’m afraid not,” Aislan replied, “What do you know of the girl?”
Varis turned back to the wall and resumed his search. “She was sent here. By the bad people. I know it’s here somewhere,” Varis stood up, took a deep breath, and bellowed at the slats, “DOUCEL OPEN THE DOOR!”
“She was sent here? By who?” Aislan asked, signaling to Gladian to join her.
Gladian sighed and downed the remainder of his drink, “I’ll be back for another.”
Varis tapped his foot on the floor with his hands on his hips as he stared at the wall.
“There’s no door here, friend,” Gladian said as he walked up. “Why don’t you carry on down the road to another tavern. I’m afraid this one is full at the moment.”
“Don’t be nonsensical,” Varis replied, waving the armored man away. “This tavern is not even a little occupied. Don’t you know who I am? I’m the Bard of bards, the bender of reality, the helper of the gods even! You don’t ask me to leave. If I’m here, and Doucel won’t open the door, it must be the gods’ will.”
Varis spun around to face everyone in the tavern and leaned against the wall. He smiled with only the left side of his mouth and crossed his arms.
“Who?” Gladian asked.
“Varis. Varis Moonwhisper,” Varis replied. “Seriously? You’ve never heard of me?”
“Can’t say I have,” Gladian said.
“Nor me,” Aislan said. “Can we get back to the girl, please? Who are the bad people?”
“You don’t want to be here when they get here,” Varis said. “Trust me. I’ve crossed their path a few too many times already. I know I don’t want to be here.”
“Why are they coming here?” Aislan asked.
“Sounds like a crazy fool, sister,” Gladian said.
“Stop, Gladian. We have to hear him out. If he has information that might be useful to us, should we not listen?” Aislan replied.
“The bad people are the ones taking people all over the empire,” Varis said, “Haven’t you two been listening to the criers? Entire thorps are going missing, and this girl is the precursor to all of it.”
“What do you mean?” Gladian asked.
“She always shows up just before. She tells some sob story about her family dying, then says they are coming, or vice versa, and then they come. One hundred percent of the time. It never fails,” Varis said.
“What makes you think she’s been sent?” Aislan asked, “She’s just a young halfling girl. Why would she be involved in this?”
“She’s not a halfling girl,” Varis said, looking up as though he could see the place she was sitting. “You can’t see her for what she is, but that undead thing is not a little girl. She is an omen of misery for this town.”
“Undead?” Gladian asked. “I didn’t see anything that would suggest undead.”
“You wouldn’t,” Varis said, tapping his temple. “Doucel upgraded my eyes awhile back. Made it so I can see things for what they really are. That bartender is hiding a wand under the bar. Upstairs, the ‘girl’ is using a sending stone to communicate, and at the wall-”
An explosion ripped through the neighborhood outside, shaking the building as rubble landed in the street.
“There they are,” Varis said, pulling out a chair. “I’d recommend running. Unless, of course, you prefer to be kidnaped and sacrificed to whatever it is they worship.”
“What about you?” Aislan asked.
“I’ll be fine,” Varis replied, “Doucel never lets anything happen to me. He’ll be around to scoop me up any time now.”
“I should check on the girl,” Gladian said, looking to Aislan.
“I wouldn’t,” Varis replied, looking up. “she’s already transforming. Trust me. You want to run. That revenant will tear you apart, literally. You could hang out here with me for a few more moments, and perhaps Doucel will let you in his study.”
“They’re everywhere!” Peyton yelled from behind the bar as he looked out the window. He reached under the bar and produced what looked like a golden willow branch, only about a foot long. “What do we do?”