It had been five years since the evil emperor had been slain. His plot to destroy the world had been foiled and the land rejoiced as the five conquering heroes returned home. On the journey to save their homes they often drew inspiration from their home towns and families. They relied on the comforting knowledge that once their quest ended they could return home.
Barnaby gripped his cup tighter as a fight broke out near him, his hands shook a little. Five year ago he would have done something to stop it. Five year ago he was considered a hero, instead of an occupied barstool.
A short walk to the bartender refilled his mug. One good thing about saving the world, free refills. Still, he didn't like going to the front. People always stared.
The fight broke up quickly when he came to the front of the bar. A little of his shattered reputation remained. This man was a hero. He could kill you without drawing his sword! He killed the evil emperor, what chance do you stand? Barnaby could barely stand.
He was thirty now. No longer the plucky youth who things just came to naturally, he couldn't wrap his mind around anything. Between the drink in his hand and the knowledge that the dead emperor had burned his village to the ground, he couldn't find anything to live for now that the quest was done.
Taking short, erratic steps he made his way to his customary seat in the corner of the room. He could hide under his ranger cloak and no one would think less of him. It was a gift from the elves, but even the elves' mastery of cloth couldn't get rid of the stench of beer and cheep vodka.
Someone was sitting in his seat. Barnaby started to turn, ready to avoid a fight. He just hoped the stranger didn't take his cloak. They took his boots and necklace when he passed out on the table a few weeks ago.
"Well look at you," a sly, cocky voice said. There was a musical lilt to it that made Barnaby remember his questing days, back when things came easy to his tired mind.
"Asher?" Barnaby said, not sure if it was really his old companion.
The rogue nodded.
"What are you doing here?"
Asher placed a worn out pair of elven boots on the table. The sole was coming off the once brown leather was a dirty black. "Found these on a traveler near Weston," he said. "Don't remember Lady Furelon saying you could give them away."
"He needed them more than I did," Barnaby lied, ashamed.
The rogue laughed, there was a slight clinking of fold coins accompanying it. "I doubt it," he said. "The man was filthy rich. Had a weird fascination with elven stuff, though. I told him if he wanted more of it I could sell him mine. Yeah, stole it back an hour later." He seemed proud of it.
"So what have you been up to?" Barnaby asked.
Ahser ordered a glass of red wine. "Well, I'm not allowed to go near Weston again."
"Isn't Halton living there?"
"Captain of the guard," Asher said grudgingly. "You know he was always big on justice. He only joined up with us because he saw all the injustices done by the old man. Now that he's cleared that up wants to try righting injustices the old fashion way. Found his true calling if you ask me."
"So why'd he kick you out, then?"
Asher winced. "Wasn't kicked out so much as issue an arrest warrant. Halton said if he ever saw me again he'd have to put me in chains.
"You should really stop robbing caravans," Barnaby said taking a long pull from his drink.
"And you should stop getting drunk all the time," Asher spat. "God man, I was here six months ago and you were sitting in this exact same spot, have you even moved?"
"The owner gave me a room upstairs," Barnaby said defensively. "A lot of crazy stuff happened during the quest. We didn't all bounce back after Hanna sacrificed herself."
"Shit, man, I'm sorry," Asher said, placing a hand over his heart. "I know you had a sweet spot for her. It sucked that she died, but that was five years ago. You need to get over it."
Barnaby nodded. "After this drink," he said, sipping it to savor the taste.
Asher sighed. "Whatever. I'm not here to scold you, I'm not your mammy. Came to tell you Carmella's marrying the prince tomorrow. Remember that old beggar the old emperor put a curse on? Turns out her was the heir to the kingdom."
"Go figure," Barnaby muttered into his drink.
"I give it a week," Asher said knowledgably.
Barnaby looked up from his cup. "They lasted five years already, what makes you think they're going to break up?"
"He's cheating on her," Asher said, laughing.
"Does she know?"
"Why do you think he's cheating on her? Remember that fiery temper she had? How she used to smack me upside the head whenever I tried to creep up on her? What do you think she does to him. Way I hear it, she likes it a bit rough. Likes to be in control."
Barnaby shook his head. "I still don't know how she figured out he was the lost prince. I mean, that was when she started taking an interest in the old man. I thought the curse could only be broken with true love?"
Asher snorted. "Yeah, she was in love with something, alright."
"Hey, do you know if Xin'thilenth is going to be there? I heard he went back to his home dimension."
"Didn't have no home dimension, idjit. Xin made it up. He was created by the gods to help kill the emperor and when he was done he didn't have any other purpose. Old scaly-butt wandered around for a bit but never settled down. Poor bastard, didn't deserve what he got."
Barnaby gasped. "Is he dead?"
Asher shook his head. "Worse. Joined the circus. He'll be at the wedding, but he'll be performing. Won't get to attend the actual ceremony.
"None of this makes sense," Barnaby said, pushing away his empty mug. "Why is all of this happening to us? Did the emperor curse us, too?"
"What do you mean?"
"All of this," Barnaby said, gesturing at the tavern he called his home. "Everyone's life has been turned upside down. Hanna's dead, Xin's a sideshow freak-"
"-I'm a drunk," Barnaby continued. "Carmella's about to start a dead end marriage because she doesn't love the guy, just his station. The only one of us to come through in one piece is Hatlon!"
"I do alright," Asher said defensively.
"Really? You keep on robbing caravans and you won't have anywhere to go. You're wanted in six, no seven cities now, four of them you got the death sentence for. I don't know how you plan on going to Carmella's wedding 'cause as soon as you show up they'd slap you neck on the chopping block quicker that you can say 'evil emperor.' And you think you came out alright?"
Asher didn't say anything. After a few minutes he rose, leaving his glass of red wine untouched. Without a word he stood up and walked out of the tavern.
Barnaby exhaled. Asher came by every so often and they had the same conversation. Asher came to him because he was the only one who put up with his antics. Barnaby called him a thief, Asher called him a drunk.
The former hero took a long drink from his cup. Life was so much simpler before the quest ended.
A/N:� This is why I don't think heroes should survive.