Chapter 1: Welcome to the Tipsy Pelican Tavern (Arc 1)
It was becoming a busy night at the Tipsy Pelican Tavern, and that was an unusual occurrence.
It had been a year since we opened, and I could count the number of eventful evenings on a single hand. In fact, I could count the number of nightly guests on a single hand.
But the city's Tournament of Heroes had just ended, and after leaving the arena, the people of Meritas were in good spirits and the mood for a drink.
The tournament was a major event in the city. It drew the best fighters from across the duchy to compete in one-on-one matches in the city's grand arena. Thousands of citizens and visitors gathered to see them fight.
Understandably, the tournament's results were the talk of the tavern, and at one particular table, an argument had broken out over which of the Rules of Ruin had ended the final match.
"It was Rule Forty-Six. Must have been," said one man with a foam mustache gained from the mug of ale in his hand.
"Rule Forty-Six is Bane's Blade, you fool!" the man's friend said. He was the oldest but a fast talker, especially when it came to arguments. "Did you see a blade in Galston's hand when he delivered the final blow?"
"Bah, I can't remember all their names, but I'm sure of the rule's number."
"Well," said the older man. "I don't know about the number, but it was Hellion Hand, I say. Did you not see the speed of his strike?"
"Both of you are wrong," the third man said. His name was Amberly, the largest of the three builders at the table. He had arms the size of tree trunks and a beard that could put pirate lords to shame. "Galston used Rule Sixty-Six, Saffron Spear. The same spell the Stormblood killed the Demon Lord with."
I smiled to myself. They were in fact all wrong. Galston had cast Rule Seventeen, Paralyzing Palm in the final duel, and the Stormblood had not used any of Celeru's Seventy-Seven Rules of Ruin during his battle against the Demon Lord.
But I had no leg in the matter, so I simply asked, "More Honeydew Lager, boys?"
"Ah, Master Arch! You have impeccable timing," Bran said, raising his large wooden mug that was emptied of the golden liquid, but his mustache still held at least a mouthful. He wasn't quite as immense as Amberly, but he too looked oversized on my wooden chairs.
Both Amberly and Dalian also opted for refills after quickly downing what was left in their mugs.
"A full pour is the best pour," Dalian said as I filled his mug after finishing Amberly's. He had a couple of decades on Bran and Amberly, but he often outdrank both.
"Best to keep them mugs empty then," I said with my best tavern keeper smile.
"Aye!" Amberly said and clinked his mug with his two friends.
"Another empty over here, Master Arch!" said a woman's voice.
I turned to find Elsa sitting slumped behind the bar, clearly already intoxicated, with one hand outstretched, gripping a mug.
I walked over and filled her mug only halfway.
"Hey," she said, lifting her head from her arm to take a look at the contents of the mug. "That's not nearly full."
"You're supposed to be helping me with the customers," I said. "Not becoming one,"
A female customer on the other end of the bar turned to me as she heard my voice. I could not see her eyes as they were blocked by a white veil. She wore the robes of the White Church, and at her side, there was a sheathed sword leaned against the bar. I had pegged her as a white templar. This was her third time visiting this week.
I held the woman's gaze, or at least where her gaze would have been if I could see her eyes. She turned away and sipped on the glass of red wine she had ordered earlier in the night.
"I need energy if I'm going to work," Elsa said and took a big gulp from her mug.
"So eat something," I said, taking my eyes off the templar.
"I already did." She lifted her mug at me again.
I looked down and saw it was empty. "Good gods, woman, how do you drink so fast?"
She looked at me with a sudden seriousness that nearly made me take a step backward. Elsa had the type of beauty that could stop a weak heart. And with her violet eyes trained on me, my heart was getting adequately tested.
"Alcoholism is a skill that one must train for many years to master," she said with mock sincerity. "Perhaps, I will teach you one day."
"At least pour your own booze," I said, putting the pitcher in front of her. "Maybe you'll get in the habit and start pouring for the customers too."
"As you command, Heru," she said and pulled a strap of her dress that had fallen back over her shoulder.
I had to tell my eyes twice to look away before she could notice that I was staring. I let out a small sigh, annoyed at myself, and rubbed my head.
Despite my age, I still had the body of a nineteen-year-old, and since losing my powers, I was starting to feel the effects of my youth. All the effects. It was a problem that was becoming both irksome and bewildering.
"If you don't mind, I'll buy her a drink," said a broad-shouldered young man. I hadn't seen him around before. This was probably his first night at the tavern. I immediately put on my tavern keeper face and smiled politely.
"Of course, sir. Elsa would be happy to take your order."
I refilled my pitcher at the bar tap and headed to the two new patrons who had just entered the tavern.
Despite Elsa's perfunctory skills as a barmaid, she attracted many patrons who were eager to spend money to impress her.
Better yet, her liver seemed to be more robust than the Demon Lord's soul. And so Elsa and I came to a mutually beneficial arrangement. She got to drink what she wanted while making a small wage, and I got a busy tavern.
As I passed by the builders to show the new patrons to a table, I overheard the men continuing their argument over Galston's Tournament.
"Hellion Hand doesn't increase the caster's speed," Amberly was saying. "Therefore, it had to be Saffron Spear. He moved lightning fast."
"I still say it was Rule Forty-Six," Bran said and took a big pull from his mug. "I swear I heard him name the number as he called the rule. Perhaps Rule Forty-Six is Saffron Spear."
"No, it's sixty-six!" Amberly shot back. "It's the one the Stormblood used it against the Demon L-"
"If it had been Saffron Spear, the entire arena would have been destroyed," said a new voice. A woman's voice—it was the templar sitting at the bar.
"And," the templar continued. "It is not known which spells Archibold Stormblood conjured in his clash against the Demon Lord since there were none to witness it."
My ears perked up at this. Whoever this lady was, she was sharp and knew her lore.
The builders at the table eyed her. They glanced over her robes and sword and were undoubtedly wondering what a white templar was doing in a tavern, as I did.
Nonetheless, they did not say anything in return as she was wearing the whites and carrying a sword. Everyone knew church templars were dangerous folk to be involved with, and they'd not risk speaking to one.
Not yet, anyway. The night was still young, and the ale had only just begun to flow.
Bran finished his second mug and began waving for a third. I quickly hopped over.
"Mmm…" Bran hummed as he finished a deep swig of his newly filled mug, leaving a new film of foam on his bushy mustache. "This must be the best honey beer I've had in the city. You must tell me how it's brewed, Master Arch."
"It's honeydew beer, Bran. And it's a trade secret, I'm afraid." I gave him a humble smile that hid the pride I felt underneath. I'd spent months working on it. The latest iteration was my best batch yet.
"I'll have some of that," said a young man with his mug raised at a table beside the builders.
I reached him swiftly and filled his mug. He put it to his lips and took a sip.
"My, this is awfully cold," the young man said. "You must pay a mage a bright coin to chill this brew, Master Arch."
I nodded. "Worth the cost, I'd say."
This was a lie. I cooled my own brew.
The young man nodded in return, looking over at the table of burly men who had been discussing the tournament. He seemed a little eager, adjusting his fine linen tunic.
"Ahem," he coughed. "If you men would like to know which of Celeru's Rules of Ruin Galston used in the tournament, I'd be happy to ask him. He happens to be a friend of my father."
The builders said nothing. Bran drank his drink with a big smile on his face as if he hadn't heard the boy. Amberly murmured an intelligible joke to Dalian, who burst out laughing.
The young man was a lordling called Herwin. He had come to the tavern on and off over the months, but recently he was in regular attendance for reasons only the gods know why. This was no place for nobles—namely because commoners generally found nobles to be a load of stuck up arseholes during most interactions and thusly avoided them, and in turn, nobles tended to be a load of stuck up arseholes who avoided mixing with those of the lower social classes.
But Herwin seemed bent on becoming part of the tavern's slowly growing regular crew. I had had no quibbles about it, a nobleman's coin was good as anyone else's. If anything, their coins tended to come with better shines and larger sizes.
Just the other night, Herwin had bought the whole tavern a round of drinks with a silver shimmer. He'd gotten the same response from the men as he was getting now. Which is to say, he got no response.
"Ahem," Herwin coughed again, his mouth quivering as if battling his nerves. "I could even ask Galston to come by the tavern tomorrow night if anyone would be interested in meeting-"
"You're friends with Galston the Gallant?" Amberly said suddenly, looking at the boy.
"Err… yes… As I just mentioned-" Herwin said.
"Gods, why didn't you say so earlier!" Amberly said, standing now and making his way to Herwin to clink his mug.
"Cheers!" Bran was now also suddenly standing next to the boy. "I'm Bran, and you are?"
"Herwin..." the young man said, now looking uncertain about the sudden attention.
"Herwin! Good name!" Amberly laughed and threw a big beefy arm around the boy. "So you're bringing Galston tomorrow night, ey? It'll be a riot."
"Ah... Well…" Herwin said. "I'll need to ask my father..."
"How about tomorrow night at sundown?" Bran said with a big friendly grin on his face.
"We're carpenters, you see," Dalian said. He'd joined the group. "Got work on the city walls before then."
"Ah, I see… I'm not sure-"
"Excellent!" Bran said. "Master Arch, get this man a shot of brandy. On my tab!"
I smiled and headed behind the bar, poured four shots, and handed one each to the newly formed group.
"On the house," I said.
"There you go!" Amberly said. "You've got to come here more often, Herwin! Master Arch is never this kind to us."
Herwin smiled shakily, likely thinking that he had come five nights out of seven for the past month.
"To Herwin and Master Arch!" Bran said, raising his shot. Amberly and Herwin held their glasses to Bran's, then they each swallowed them in one swoop.
Herwin coughed violently, and Amberly rumbled a laugh, slapping the lordling on the back, which only made the young man cough more. Bran grabbed his beer and chugged it too. Dalian just grinned toothily as his cheeks turned pink.
I smiled. The night at the Tipsy Pelican had finally begun.
The doors banged open and three figures entered. My smile dropped. I recognized the three men instantly, and they spelled trouble.
The man at the front and the leader of the little pack was called Mideon. He had come by three nights prior and tried to take Elsa home with him. Forcibly.
She had declined at first. Then he had grabbed her arm and tried to drag her out of the tavern.
Elsa did not like that one bit and split one of my tables with Mideon's back.
The problem now was that he had returned with two pals.
Bran twitched his eyebrow at me to let me know if I gave the signal, he, Amberly, and Dalian would send them packing. But the real problem was that Mideon was the son of a somebody. Somebody who could cause a lot of trouble for a tavern keeper.
And that wasn't all. There was also the fact that Elsa refused to take help from anyone.
The first week I'd hired her, some pervert grabbed a handful. When I took him by the arm, Elsa pushed me off of him and told me not to get involved.
Then she broke the pervert's nose.
The next week, it happened again with a different pervert, and again I tried to throw him out. She pushed me off of him, threw him through the window, then quit on the spot since I had "interfered."
It took two more weeks for her to return and ask for her job back. But she demanded that I promise I would 'mind my own business,' which I found ironic since the tavern and everything within it was literally my business, even if customers inside my business were thrown through the window and out of my business.
But I relented.
Things had been fine since then. Elsa was a strong young woman that could fend for herself, but I wasn't sure it would be true tonight.
The two men that Mideon had brought with him were nearly Amberly's size, but not quite. More problematically, one of them seemed to be emitting aura.
"Sir Mideon!" I said, meeting the three men before they could get further into the tavern. "Good to see you again. Unfortunately, we're entirely full. I believe the Grand Taphouse is open down the street if you are in need of a drink."
"Where is Elsa?" Mideon hissed as he scanned the room. There was heavy liquor on his breath. His eyes stopped when he reached the bar and a malicious grin appeared on his face.
"Elsa is busy," I said in a monotone.
"Elsa!" Mideon screamed. "Elsa! You're coming with me tonight!"
The whole tavern went silent.
I let out a small groan. Now things were going to get ugly.
"You bastard," Elsa said from behind the bar, an opened bottle of brandy in her hand. "How dare you show yourself here again!"
Wait… was she drinking that by herself? Directly from the bottle? I squinted. Was that the good brandy she had opened? Who told her to open that!?
"My gods, you look sensual tonight," Mideon said, running his beady eyes up and down her body.
"What's this about?" said the broad-shouldered young man she'd been speaking with.
I sincerely hoped he had purchased the brandy for her.
Both he and Elsa stepped up to Mideon and his men, while the rest of the tavern seemed to separate from their path, pushing up against the tavern's walls.
Even Bran and Amberly did not make a move now that they realized Mideon was here for Elsa. They'd been coming to the Tipsy Pelican long enough to know not to get involved with Elsa's "business."
Unfortunately, Herwin was passed out between them. It would have been good to have the lordling as a witness if something happened.
Mideon's father was the ward superintendent, but Herwin's father was a bonafide baron—an actual noble. His word would mean something if things really took a turn for the worse.
"You better walk out of here while you still have two working legs," Elsa said.
Her cheeks were a little red, which was not a good sign. I had never seen Elsa vomit or collapse from alcohol no matter how much she consumed, but when her cheeks were red, it was a sign she could fall into a nasty and violent mood with sudden ease.
Most people made the mistake of being blinded by the beauty and missing the building danger in her darkening eyes and drunken complexion. Mideon had done just that three nights before, and it looked as if he still hadn't learned his lesson.
"I'm not going anywhere without you, baby," Mideon said. "I'm taking you home tonight, Elsa. We'll go together, all four of us and have some fun. You'd-"
"How dare you insult this lady's honor!" The broad-shouldered young man said and threw out a protective arm between Mideon and Elsa that lightly brushed her leg. "I challenge you to a-"
He didn't get to finish his sentence because Elsa took his arm, draped it over her shoulder, and threw him through the table beside her. The wooden legs snapped under the force of the throw, and the table split in two.
I sighed heavily. It was one of my nicer tables with fine engravings in the wood.
Bran and Amberly, who in the past had each gone through a table themselves for the same protective action, shook their heads in empathy at the young man.
Mideon and his two men looked at Elsa with their mouths hung open. In whatever way they had expected things to go, it wasn't this.
"Sorry about that," Elsa said lightly to Mideon. "Now that the interference is gone, what were you saying?"
Mideon was still open-mouthed.
"Elsa..." I said with warning in my voice. "Please be more mindful of my furniture."
She shot me a glare like I was going to be next to go through a table.
"Why don't you all take this outside, where there are no tables?" I suggested. "This isn't the tavern's business, after all."
"Fine," Elsa spat. "That'll give us more room for a proper brawl."