Day 35 of 100 Word Prompts: Contest
The slightly balding barkeep with tattoos running up his arms looked human enough, with one exception, his eyes had a barely perceptible white light emanating from his irises. Zhen waved his hand to get the barkeep’s attention and received a nod in response from the man as he poured a drink for another patron.
“What can I get you?” the barkeep asked as he sidled over, wiping the bar in front of Zhen.
“I’m supposed to meet someone here,” Zhen replied. “I was wondering if you knew them.”
“What’s the name?” the barkeep asked.
“Shen. Shen Jia, I believe,” Zhen replied.
“You believe? You’re not certain who you’re meeting with?” the barkeep asked.
“I was told to find them here. Can you please tell me if they are here?” Zhen asked as the barkeep’s face lit up with a bright smile.
“I’m Shen Jia,” the barkeep said, “What can I help you with?”
“My name is Zhen Drawl Feng, and I was told to find you to get out of Teshal,” Zhen replied.
“It’s nice to meet you, Zhen,” Shen replied. “How about we get you a drink and we can discuss your travel arrangements, okay?”
“That sounds good,” Zhen replied.
“What do you drink?” Shen asked.
“I don’t usually, so I’m not sure,” Zhen replied.
“I’d recommend the local mead. It’s sweet and light. I think it’s right up your alley,” Shen said.
“That’ll be fine,” Zhen replied.
Shen pulled a mug from under the counter and filled it with an amber-colored liquid from one of the kegs along the back wall before setting it before him. Zhen bent and smelled the drink, catching at first the sweet scent of honey, followed by hints of elderflower and cinnamon.
“Well, are you going to smell it all day, or are you going to drink it?” Shen asked.
Zhen lifted the mug to his lips and took a sip of the drink. It tasted sweet at first, with a slight burn in the back of his throat before the warmth of the alcohol spread across his chest. He tried to inhale to cool his throat but coughed instead.
“Easy there,” Shen said with a smile. “You really don’t drink much, do you?”
“I do not,” Zhen replied, shaking his head as the flavor lingered on his tongue. “Though that was not entirely unpleasant, it’s not really something I would drink often.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, I suppose,” Shen said with a chuckle. “So, where are you looking to go?”
“I don’t actually know,” Zhen replied. “I’m not sure where it would be safer for genasi like me.”
Shen leaned forward, the soft light of his eyes penetrating Zhen like he was looking into his soul. The look continued for a long moment until Zhen shifted uncomfortably.
“I may have an idea,” Shen said. “Have you ever heard of Ameshead?”
“No,” Zhen replied, shaking his head.
“Ameshead is a mountain in western Dostra. At the top is a monastery rumored to have one of your kind as it’s master,” Shen said, “but the trip there is long and difficult.”
“Why do you say that?” Zhen asked.
“First, you need to make it to one of the staging islands in the Amnet Ocean. From there, you’ll have to wait until the floating sky island reaches a good point above the islands. It’s not always a great place to be as pirates frequent those types of places. Then, to you’ll be carried from island to island by the aarakocra until you reach the mainland, thousands of feet up,” Shen said.
“That sounds like quite the journey,” Zhen said.
“That’s not even half of it,” Shen said. “To make it to the top of the mountain, you have to climb or fly. There is no half measure to climb that mountain. There have been countless aarakocra that have tried and failed, but failing isn’t as simple as not making it to the top. There are brutal, unpredictable winds that can rip you from the side of the mountain, or dash you against the rocks. There are no paths, and only the most dedicated of individuals can hope to make it to the top.”
“You said that there are more genasi at the top?” Zhen asked.
“That’s the rumor,” Shen said.
“Do you know if she is an air genasi, like me?” Zhen asked.
“I couldn’t imagine another that would be a master at a monastery dedicated to Akadi,” Shen said. “And I warn you. Be prepared for a contest of skill when you arrive. They always test people before they agree to train them.”
“Who’s Akadi?” Zhen asked.
“You likely already know her,” Shen said, “Just guessing from who you are. Air genasi are supposedly her chosen people.”
“But djinn makes us,” Zhen said.
“I’m not saying you’re wrong,” Shen said, putting up his hands. “I’m just a simple barkeep, what would I know of the world?”
“No, no, please, continue. How would I know her?” Zhen pleaded.
“You’re connected to the plane of air more than most,” Shen said. “I’m sure at some point she has touched you. If not, maybe the master in Dostra can help you.”
“How much will it cost to go there?” Zhen asked.
“It’s not expensive, but it’s a long journey,” Shen said.
“I don’t have a lot of money,” Zhen replied, pulling a nearly empty coin pouch from his belt.
“Ah, so expensive is relative,” Shen said.
“How much have you got?” Shen asked.
“I managed to collect forty-two copper and eight silver,” Zhen replied.
“So, barely more than a gold piece,” Shen clarified, rubbing his chin. “Alright, I guess I can make it work. I want you to hold on to your money for the moment. You’ll stay here tonight, and I’ll give you further directions in the morning. I need to speak to some people to ensure that I can get you there.”
“How much for the drink and the room?” Zhen asked, opening the pouch.
“Don’t worry about it,” Shen replied, waving him off. “If I can’t make this trip happen, we’ll talk about price then, okay?”
“Okay,” Zhen replied, sinching the pouch.