There was blackness all around. He could smell fog. Thick, dense vapour. Musty. Mouldy. Damp. The air smelled moist and melancholy. Like he was outside, in a morose, boggy, quagmire, after a heavy rain. But he was laying down on something warm and soft. A bed? He was uncertain. He tried to recall where he had been, but his mind was blank, dark, and dreary. Empty. There was nothing but blackness. He opened his eyes, but immediately shut them once again. The bright, brilliant, blinding light contrasted starkly with the bleak blackness of quiescent sleep.

"Well, how you availing there, Sugar?"

The Elf heard a young woman's voice speaking to him as he opened his eyes. An intensely bright light made him squeeze them shut again. He hoped closing his eyes tightly would make white starbursts of light flashing behind his eyelids go away. Perhaps making it less painful to open them to the light of the world.

"Been wondering when you'd ever gonna wake you." The young woman placed her hand on his pale forehead. "Are you okay?"

"No." He covered his face with his hands, still holding his eyes shut and not looking at her or the room he was in.

"You took a wicked spell there. How you feeling?"

"Terrible. Where am I?"

"You're at the Mournful Lamb Inn."

"The what?"

"The Mournful Lamb Inn."

"What's that?"

"The Mournful Lamb Inn is a good quality, clean, medium-sized tavern. Prices are fair, food qualities is excellent. Sweet and savoury both. Drinks is surprisingly satisfactory. Delicious. Room sizes are medium, the quality of liquors is far above average, cuisine is variety is above average, the rooms are 24 occupied and..."

"You sound like an advertisement," the Elf said as he sat up.

"Thank you, sir. I try my finest."

"That's not what I... How did I get here?"

"Don't know. Just knows you were here when I got in for work today and I was instructed to look in on you."

"Instructed by who?"

"They said you walked in here all covered in blood and passed out."

"Blood?"

"You'all don't seem to be hurt none. Musta been someone else's blood on ya, they said."

"You're a Human?"

"Aye. And you're an Elf?"

"Am I?"

"Yes, sir. You are."

"I can't recall."

"You must be in shock. Was a right bunch of blood on you, it was."

"Where am I again?"

"The Mournful Lamb Inn."

"The Mournful Lamb Inn." Quaraun repeated what she had said, trying to remember why he had come here, but he couldn't remember ever hearing the name of this place before.

"Yes, sir."

"And where is that, exactly?"

"In The Swamp of Death."

"Swamp of..." He detested the notion of death, to the extent of not being capable of saying the word. "I've never heard of it."

"Few have. It's an out of the way place. Hard to get to. You kind of have to be dead to land here."

"Dead?"

"That's why they call it the Swamp of Death."

"Are you suggesting I am dead?"

"Must be. No other path to get here."

"No other..."

"Don't trouble yourself, none. Besides, everyone's dead around here. This is where people travel to when they die a powerfully violent death and can't move forward."

"A violent death?"

"Ah-uh. Murder. Suicide. Anything what would turn one into a wraith."

"Are you dead?"

"Oh my goodness me, yes. My husband murdered me four hundred years ago. I haven't come to terms with it yet."

"You haven't... uhm... You sure you aren't just insane?"

"Nope. I was strangled."

"You're... not alive?"

"Nope."

"I see."

"Do you?"

"Not really."

"How'd'you die?"

"I ... uhm... am... confused." He wasn't certain how to answer. But he decided it best to go along with what she maintained until he found out more about her identity and this inn. "Are you sure I'm dead?"

"You are in the Swamp of Death. What else could you be if not dead?"

"I don't remember dying."

"A lot don't at first."

"Indeed?"

"Yeah. Don't worry. It'll come to you in time."

"I suppose."

"So what should I call you, sir?"

"Call me?"

"Your name."

"Name?"

"Well, you do have a name, don't you?"

"I... I must have a name..."

"You don't remember your name, sir?"

"I can't recall that either."

"You really musta hit you head hard, huh?"

"I guess."

"Why, don't you come down stairs, get you something to eat. You'll feel better with a full stomach."

The Elf stood up and immediately passed out once again.

~o0o~

"The penalty for failing to uphold a contract in this town is the loss of a limb," the unknown man declared.

"What?" Quaraun turned to discover who had spoken, but the man had already fled. Or perhaps he was never there?

Was he hearing voices now?

Quaraun wandered aimlessly through the town.

Searching.

For something.

But he couldn't remember what.

Everything was a haze.

A heavy mist blotted away the sunlight.

Thick clouds hovered low, clinging to the pavement.

Where was he?

How did he get here?

He didn't know.

He couldn't recall.

Why was he here?

What was he searching for?

He'd misplaced something.

Or was it someone?

"I'm looking for something," he whispered to himself.

He tried looking into the faces of the crowds around him. But no details could be seen. Like faces lost within a dream.

As he wandered slowly along, squeezing through the swarm of faceless no ones walking against him, his mind drifted.

Everyone was travelling the same direction.

The same momentum.

Crowed close together.

Too close.

Shoulder to shoulder.

No room between them.

Quaraun forced his way through them, shoving them aside. As he did, they tumbled off the sidewalk, plunging into the nothing. There were no streets beneath the fog. Just empty blackness. They fell endlessly forever, screaming silent shrieks of anguish.

Quaraun ignored the wailing as they fell. He continued pushing onward through the throng of faceless, black clad, hooded masses.

Walking against the flow. Like a salmon swimming upstream.

Quaraun could not help but acknowledge the individuals of this town suffered from a singular deformity. Many of them were missing a limb.

An arm.

A leg.

A hand.

A foot.

A head.

A head?

He paused and stared at the headless carcass, lumbering towards him.

It was grotesque enough for him to assume the leader of this place was a bloodthirsty bastard with a sadistic streak.

As Quaraun pondered this aberration, a voice whispered in his long, thin, pointed ear: "Communicate to no one on the highways. All is not as it seems. Make your approach to the Mourning Lamb Inn, check in for the night and request a chamber on the third floor."

Quaraun turned to address the speaker, but he was already sprinting across the roadway and into a dark ally. The man had been shrouded in black, shielding his features under a voluminous hood.

The avenues were too busy and cramped for Quaraun to continue after him.

Crowed with bodies.

Dead bodies.

Living.

Breathing.

Stumbling.

Walking.

Dead bodies.

The living dead.

So many dead people.

Dead people, their bodies rotted and decaying.

Shambling dead, their flesh falling from the bone as they lumbered mindlessly through the thoroughfares.

The shambling dead.

Rising up out of the swamp.

Their faces looked familiar.

Cloudy.

Blurry.

He could not make out who they were.

"Run back to The Mournful Lamb Inn." He heard a voice command. "It's the only safe place around here. The dead have arisen and seek to devour."

"The Mourning Lamb Inn?" Quaraun repeated the words.

Just then, someone bumped him. He stumbled from the sidewalk to the cobblestone lane. But the road vanished from beneath him as he went down.

Down.

Down.

Down.

Into the darkness.

Into the mud.

Ever down.

Finally landing with a splash in the oozy, viscous muck of an immense bog.

A great stench filled swamp.

Thick, chocking stench of rotting peat and washed up mouldering seaweed, mixed with the earthy fragrance of a decaying deadwood forest, crumbling into the ever expanding black, brackish water.

As he peered through the twilight, struggling to locate solid ground, he spied them.

A woman.

And four small children.

Drenched in blood.

Their throats slit.

Their chests split open.

Their hearts ripped out.

Screaming.

Wailing.

Crying.

Walking towards him.

With outstretched hands.

Reaching for him.

Quaraun stumbled backwards.

Fear filled his soul.

He knew them.

Terror seized him.

They were coming for him.

"Run back to The Mournful Lamb Inn." He heard a voice command. The same voice as before, but the voice was strange now. Echoing. Drifting across the swamp, floating on the wind. "Run. Quickly. Run. Run to the Inn. It's the only safe place around here. The dead rise and walk and they seek to devour your soul."

"The Mourning Lamb Inn?" Quaraun repeated the words.

~o0o~

"Yes, dear, that's where you are," answered a woman's voice.

"Where?"

"The Mournful Lamb Inn."

Quaraun looked around. He woke up in the bed chamber once again. He smelt food cooking downstairs. He heard the crowd of people talking in the tavern below the upstairs apartments.

The swamp was gone.

The woman.

Gone.

The children.

Gone.

The crowds.

Gone.

Had it been a dream?

No.

It couldn't have been a dream.

It was too real.

He had been there. To the bog. But when? Was it a memory?

"The Mourning Lamb Inn."

"Yes, sir."

"Is that where we are?"

"Yes."

"Someone suggested I come here."

"Who would do that?"

"A man."

"A friend?"

"No. A stranger."

"A stranger?"

"Dressed in black."

"Why would you listen to a stranger dressed in black? I'd be scared witless if a stranger clad in black told me to go to an inn in the middle of a swamp miles from nowhere."

"A black hood. I couldn't see his face."

"So you obeyed to a stranger, attired in black, wearing a hood, so's as you couldn't see his face? Why?"

"I can't remember. He instructed me to show up here, and I did, but I can't remember why."

"I don't think so, sir. Only the dead can enter here."

"But I'm not dead."

"Are you positive?"

"How did I get here?" Quaraun ignored what the young woman had suggested. He refused to accept he had died. No. This was something else. Powerful hallucination magic. Had to be.

"I don't know. I wasn't here when you showed up."

"What transpired?" The Elf asked.

"When?"

"Just now. I was outside, in the bog."

"Swamp."

"Swamp?"

"Yes, sir."

"It looked like a peat bog. Sepia brown. Brackish. Briny. Black, goopy quicksand."

"It is The Swamp of Death, sir."

"Are you certain?"

"Yes, sir."

"How can you tell?"

"It's all around us, sir. Everywhere you look. It reaches for miles."

"Miles?"

"Miles. As far as the eye can see. It rolls on forever and ever. Tumbling into endless mists. There's no escaping from it."

"No?"

"No. Never. Not ever. Once you enter, you can never leave it."

"Like the Forest of No Return?"

"What's that?"

"A Faerie forest that keeps popping up in my life. Massive illusion built by Faeries to trap travellers."

"No. This is the Swamp of Death. It's where dead spirits wander until their soul can rest in peace."

"Alright. The Swamp of Death then. But, just now. I was out in The Swamp of Death and there were..."

"No."

"No?"

"No. You were right here. You tried to stand up. But you keeled over. I put you back in bed. And now you are awake again."

"Oh."

"You passed out, again."

"Again?"

"That's the second time you fainted, now."

"Yes. I do that often."

"Often? That is not normal."

"No. I've grown used to it."

"That's not the sort of thing you should get used to."

"No. Neither are all these cuts, but I got used to them too."

"What cuts?"

"These..." Quaraun pointed to his wrists. "They're gone. Where did they go?"

"Where did what go?"

"I cut myself."

"How did you do that?"

"With my dagger."

"On purpose?"

"Yes."

"Are you ill?"

"Yes. I've always had frail health. Light head. Weak stomach. JellyFish and Squid."

"JellyFish and Squid?"

"Thullids."

"The Squid Men from Neptune's moon?"

"Yes."

"Why do you talk of them?"

"The Thullid inside me is taking over. I'm losing my memories."

"You were injured. I think you hit your head. One often loses memories that way. They'll come back in a few days."

"No. You don't understand. I am a Thullid..."

"You are not a Thullid sir."

"No?"

"No."

"What am I then?"

"You are an Elf."

"Am I?"

"Yes, sir. A High Elf from the North by the look of ya."

"The Elf in me struggles to stay alive against the Thullid in me that yearns to kill it and everything else."

"You crave to kill people, sir?"

"I murdered my children."

"Why?"

"I can't recall."

"It is not healthy to murder one's own offspring."

"I murdered my children. And my wife."

"Why did you do that?"

"I slit their throats and cut out their hearts. I strangled my wife. I poisoned my children."

"Why did you do that?"

"I don't know. I can't remember. But I remember doing it. I strangled you."

"Me?"

"Yes."

"Are you sure?"

"I recognize you."

"Do you?"

"Yes."

"Who am I?"

"I can't remember. Why can't I remember?"

"You didn't kill me."

"I didn't?"

"No."

"Who did?"

"I told you already."

"Did you?"

"Yes. My husband killed me. He strangled me."

"They slaughtered my mother."

"Your children?"

"No. The JellyFish."

"The Thullids?"

"No. The Moon Elves. They smashed her skull open. My mother was the JellyFish. They killed her."

"How ghastly. Why did they do that?"

"She took up residence in the head of an Elf. Devoured its brain and replaced it with her own and they killed her for it."

"Was your mother the Elf or the Thullid?"

"Both. She was the Elf who gave birth to this Elf's body. The Thullid inside was my mother."

"Are you a Spawnling?"

"No. I am a Thullid."

"You don't look like a Thullid."

"No. And I never well. I am a new type of Thullid. But this body is weak, small, fragile. It is dying and I will die with it."

"Spawnlings can change bodies, can't they?"

"I don't want to trade hosts."

"Why not?"

"I like this body. It is exceedingly beautiful."

"It is that."

"I can't stand the sight of blood."

"But there is no blood here, sir."

"The nursery was covered with blood."

"What nursery?"

"The walls. The floor. Strange symbols written in blood. Blood magic. Magic sigils written in blood. Blood. So much blood. Blood everywhere. The blood of my children."

"Your children died a brutal death?"

"They did."

"Then they are probably here somewhere. You should look for them."

"I loved my children."

"Than why'd you kill them?"

"I don't know. I can't remember."

"Parents should never hurt their children."

"No. They shouldn't. My father hated me. Abused me something fierce. I didn't want to be like him."

"But you did."

"No. I never hurt my children."

"You killed your children."

"I killed my children."

"Why did you kill your children?"

"I loved my children," Quaraun whispered. "Why did I slay them?"

The Elf stared at his hands. Quaraun turned his head away. He wedged his eyes shut as if momentarily escaping some horrible scene. He opened his eyes again.

"My hands were covered with blood. I was covered with blood. Every inch of me. I was soaked in it. I remember that. When I entered into the Inn, I was covered in blood."

"There's no blood now."

"I can taste it. Copper. Iron. Death. It tastes of death. I ate..." Horror seized Quaraun's soul. "I... I... I ate them."

"Do you remember who you are, then?"

"What?"

"A moment ago, I asked you your name and you couldn't remember."

"There was so much blood."

"Do you know whose it was?"

"It was just everywhere. The entire room. Painted on the walls. A magic spell written in blood. Everything was covered in blood. There was so much blood. I can't stand the sight of blood. They raised me as an Elf. They didn't know what I was. They raised me as a peace-loving Elf. A hybrid Elder Brain. The Sacred Pink JellyFish. She wasn't born like other Thullid. They created her in a lab. Created by scientists. I was designed to kill. And rule all the known worlds. Lead the Thullids to victory, but like an Elf, I hate violence. I killed my own people to stop them from killing the world."

"The Moon Elves?"

"The Thullids."

"Hmmmm. I ain't seen a Thullid in years. Of course, I am dead. And they're chaotic evil on a stick, so they probably go straight to Hell and never come here at all."

"I hate blood."

"You said that."

"Blood was everywhere."

"You poor dear."

"So much blood." He held his hands out in front of him, staring at them in horror as though blood still dripped from them.

"There's no blood here now. Cleaned you up, we did. It's all washed off. You're alright now. The blood's gone."

"Someone else died."

"Who?"

"I don't know. I killed someone."

"Your children, you said."

"No. That was hundreds of years ago. I've killed someone else. Recent. Just before I came here. But I can't remember who. Or why?"

"What happened to them?"

"I can't remember. There was just so much blood."

"What happened? Where were you?"

"I don't know. I can't remember."

"Well, let's try getting you downstairs, get you something to eat. Here, let me help you." The woman put her arm around the Elf. "Stand up slow this time. Don't want you to faint again. You just went right out like a light last time."

"I'm so dizzy."

"Yes. I can see that. Don't think you've eaten in a while. We need to get something in you, so's you aren't so light-headed."

~o0o~

Quaraun felt no recollection of going downstairs. The old Elf just abruptly, suddenly, found himself seated at a table. The Mourning Lamb appeared to be nothing more than a secluded country inn. At first, the patrons seemed normal. But only because Quaraun paid no regard to the surrounding environment, as usual. He never paid sufficient awareness to anything.

The elderly Elven wizard stared at his hands. In his mind, they still dripped blood.

Quaraun sat and sputtered and muttered to himself about blood. Blood only he could see. Blood, which no one else saw.

"Bleeding," he whispered. "I'm bleeding. Am I bleeding?"

He checked himself for wounds. Nothing. Nowhere.

"No. I'm not. Who's bleeding?"

Slowly, he looked around the room for the source of the blood. He saw two women talking. Their conversation seemed odd for the setting.

"I will not be attending the dance, for I have no one to go with," said one woman to the other.

"Nor, I," answered the second woman. "For I've been there before. Because of that, I'd rather go elsewhere."

"Buying a new dress is expensive," the first added. "So by staying home I will save money."

The two women continued to talk about dances and dresses. Dresses and dances. Dances they would not be attending. Dresses they would never wear. These women appeared out of place here. Dancing, parties, and dresses were not matching the inn. These ladies belonged in high society. Nobles. Aristocrats. People like them would never dream of setting foot in an inn like this. Why were they here? So out of place. Very out of place. Suddenly, they both ceased talking and turned to stare angrily at Quaraun. Horror seized Quaraun's soul.

No. It was not their conversation that was odd. Quaraun could see it now. Both of the women had no eyes. Just gaping black holes where their eyes should have been. Blood streamed down their cheeks. Quaraun tore his eyes away from the women and searched the room for blood elsewhere.

"Don't take a chance on an unknown contender; vote for the proven success!" boasted a man on the other side of the room. No one was talking to him. No one was listening. Rattling and prattling on. Alone. Unloved. Unwanted. But he saw a crowd before him. Gesturing, he waved to the crowd that wasn't there.

Politics.

Government.

Quaraun hated both. Control freaks. That's all politicians are. Trying to control the masses. Despicable. But this was not Quaraun's major concern with the man. The man was holding in his hand, his own head. Quaraun cringed and looked elsewhere.

"Do you think he will come?" Said the young woman by the door, to another young woman. "I like coffee, but I don't like tea."

"What's that got to do with it?" asked the second woman.

"She invited me for tea. But I don't like tea. Drinking tea is something the old biddies do. Do I resemble an old biddy to you?"

"You look like you died."

"Yeah, I know. Sucks to be dead, don't it?"

"The guests started eating, before the wedding couple arrived," said the first, while gesturing to a nearby empty table. "So rude."

"Yes. Very rude."

Quaraun looked at the table in question. No one sat at it.

Both women were rotting. Rotting?

Yes.

Rotting.

Corpses.

Their flesh crumbling from their faces.

Quaraun cringed. He hated death. Avoided it. A Necromancer who avoids death. But every conversation going on around him connected, somehow to death. Everyone was dead.

"Have I been to the city of Fuckingham?" asked a corpse sitting near the front door.

"Yes. Before you went to The Godforsaken City, you had already been to the city of Fuckingham," confirmed the corpse sitting across from him.

"I will visit Florida by the time I'm 50."

"You can't."

"Why not?"

"You'll never be 50 years old."

"Why not?"

"Because you're already dead. Remember?"

"Oh yeah. I forgot."

Quaraun continued to glance around the room. Continued to watch people. Continued to listen to conversations. Continued to see dead people. Not living people. So many dead people.

Swollen eyes, from years of tears.

A sign hung on the wall. It read:

"To move forward is the one rule a successful person follows. Remember, if you are here, you are not in Heaven. But, you are also not in Hell."

Under the sign, two men argued.

"Hadn't he recited from the Holy Book?"

"Recited the Holy Book? What Holy Book?"

"What do you mean, what Holy Book? What Holy Book do you think, I'm talking about?"

"If I knew, I wouldn't ask. Would I?"

"The one I gave you."

"Gave me? When did you give me a Holy Book?"

"I gave it to you as a birthday present last year," said one.

"Last year. You are supposed to give one every year."

"I have already given you a gift."

Before them sat a box. Blood oozed out of the bottom of the box.

Blood.

Blood everywhere.

Quaraun closed his eyes again.

He didn't want to see blood. Didn't want to look at death. Didn't want to see dead people.

The old Necromancer opened his eyes again. Holding his hands over the candle on the table, Quaraun turned back once again to staring at them.

"Drunk. That's it. I must be drunk. None of this is real."

Quaraun tried to remember when he last had a drink.

"I killed someone," the Thullid infested Elf declared to himself as he stared at his blood-soaked hands.

"Of course ya did. It be why yis here," a thickly accented voice whispered through the fog. The same voice which sent him to this inn.

Quickly, Quaraun looked up.

No one was there.

He scanned the room.

None of the patrons noticed the voice.

Nor did they see the fog now thickly rolling into the open front door.

Quaraun stood and fled the inn.

Outside, there was nothing but confusion and fog. Only fog. Just fog, as far as the eye could see. Thick, gloomy, wet, depressing, heavy, vaporous mists.

The encroaching swamp was everywhere. There were no roads to the inn. No fields. No grass. No meadow. As if the entire planet had evaporated and left nothing behind, save this plateau of muck, mud, slime, sludge, and fog.

A sinking sensation brought Quaraun out of his trance. He was sinking. Quicksand. Black, oozing, peat bog, tar pit, gurgling and slurping as it sucked his feet down into its deep, damp, dark, dank, murky depths. Black specks of debris, dead rotten moss, silt, and soil stuck to his soiled pink brocade slippers. Slippery, slimy mud oozed between his toes. Felt the muck splatter on his moist, wet skin.

"Annoyed?" The same icy voice he'd heard before drifted across the moors.

"Who are you?"

"Go back to the Mournful Lamb Inn."

"No!"

"Ya'll be safe there."

"The inn is full of dead people."

"Peaceful dead people. Not angry deceased women. Not departed individuals who seek revenge."

"Seeking revenge?"

"Vengeance. Retribution."

"Why?"

"You murdered them."

"Did I?"

"All of them."

"Everyone?"

"Everybody in the swamp. Everyone in the inn. The entities in the inn have forgiven you. The groups outside roaming the morass, seek to drag you into its depths and drown you."

"What about the ones in the town? On the streets?"

"They were murdered by others."

"Is that why I couldn't see their faces?"

"Yes. It is."

"Why are the people I killed here instead?"

"Because The Swamp of Death is their Purgatory, but your Hell. They are here to haunt you. Remind you what you have done."

"Am I dead?"

"You are wandering the brink of death."

"Why? How? I don't remember dying."

"You slit your wrists. You decided to kill yourself. You're not yet dead. You linger, clinging to life still. But close enough to death, that you have arrived here."

"Why am I here?"

"To learn."

"Learn what?"

"Things you can not understand otherwise. Things you encounter daily and choose to ignore."

"Who are you?"

"A friend."

"If you are a friend, then show yourself. Why are you hiding?

"You will see me in time."

"When?"

"When you are ready to."

"If you won't reveal yourself, then I've no reason to stay and take notice to you any further."

With that, Quaraun turned and strode into the bog, stepping carefully on the grass clumps, avoiding the sludge.

"To walk in the middle of the swamp is not safe at all," the disembodied voice called after him.

"Why should I listen to you?" Quaraun shouted angrily.

"To obey me is wiser than to stand sinking in the Swamp of Death."

He could feel his feet slowly descending into the slick clay. But he could not see his feet.

The vapour was too heavy.

Thick heavy fog.

Nothing could be seen through it. The coast was nearby, for he could smell sea salt in the air. The sent of rotten crabs and mouldering kelp. Mixed with the acidic scent of waterlogged decayed tree stumps.

"You are not safe out here."

"I'll not stay here."

"Go back to the inn."

"No!"

"Go back of you're own free will or I'll send you back myself."

"Leave me alone. I'm going home."

"You have no home, Quaraun. Don't you remember? Every one you loved is dead. You killed them."

Blindly, the Elf ignored the voice and stepped forward into the dense, rolling, grey mist. Struggling to pull his feet from the viscous brown muck with every step, Quaraun had enormous difficulty gaining his footing. But he had scarcely started walking when, instantly, he found himself back at the bar as though he'd never left it.

"I didn't come back inside? How did I get back inside? Magic. Someone is trying to trick me. I don't appreciate it."

Quaraun got up and wandered back out of the lodge and into the marshland.

Again, he was suddenly back at the dinner table.

"This can't be happening."

Quaraun tried a third time to leave the inn, but had hardly set foot outside before he was mysteriously back at the table, yet again.

"Excellent, great, abso-fuckin-lutely, fucking fantastic. I really am going insane," he said as looked down at his hands again. "And I'm still covered in blood. There's so much blood."

Thick red juice. Frozen red crystals.

Frozen?

Thin silver and white veins spidered across the blood, freezing it solid. The blood on his hands crystallized.

Sparkling.

Shimmering.

Glistering.

Cold.

So cold.

So unusually cold.

There was a sudden change in temperature as the area grew exceedingly cold. The fog froze and fell in blue ice crystals to the ground, shattering into snow and glazing the floor with glass-like sheets of ice. Ice crystals formed on the wall as frost crackled across the windows. A deathly chill filled the room.

Lich, Quaraun thought immediately.

Quaraun searched around. A new patron entered the Mournful Lamb Inn. The Elf recognized the newcomer. The same man he'd encountered on the street. The one who directed him to this inn. Or rather, he identified the hooded cape. The cynical Moon Elf couldn't see the guy beneath the black velvet hood.

Images of blood flashed across Quaraun's mind. The inconsolably depressed Elf tore his eyes from the icy stranger back to his hands. The faint-hearted Elf stared down at his hands. H saw them dripping with gallons of blood.

Quaraun was still staring blindly at his hands when the waitress brought a plate of braised hare. Beside it, she arranged a side dish of diced red cabbage and blood-red rhubarb. Both served with white potato bread, spread with soft, gooey Brie. Also on the table was a frog-leg pie, a tureen of asparagus soup, and platter of scrambled eggs. Steamed small flat acorn noodles with leopard. Star anise and mango-nut-spice bread with a side of diced potato and avocados. Owl with acorns, cumin and cherries on a bed of steamed tundra turnip, cooked shallot and pears. Served with peach cider, gingerbread with apricot jam. Collard green pie and pine nut soup.

It was way more food that Quaraun could have eaten in a week. But it smelled delicious. And brought back memories of something. He couldn't remember what.

No.

Not what.

Who.

It reminded him of someone.

Someone he had known years ago.

Decades ago.

But who? He wasn't sure. A chef. He was certain it had been a chef. He could remember living with a chef. Maybe.

His thoughts were interrupted by the waitress continuing to pile plates of food on his table.

"I did not ask for any of this." The absent minded little Moon Elf muttered disapprovingly.

The young woman continued to place items on the dinner table. In minutes, she piled the table in front of the ancient wizard with plates of cuisine. Most of it, food no Elf would ingest. Elves were vegan. They did not eat meat. There was quite a collection of meat here before him.

"Nor did I call for the House Special Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew," the dismayed Elf said.

She placed a carafe of said drink in front of him. Quaraun noticed nobody ordered this drink, yet everybody in the building received it. This raised the paranoid old Elf's suspicions. The thick draught was ruby coloured with ochre specks.

House Special Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew.

Quaraun had never tasted it before, but he recognized it from the menu. What was it the menu had said?

"House Special Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew. It smells of walnuts and honey, but tastes like peaches and raspberries. The thick draught is ruby coloured with ochre specks," Quaraun recited what he had seen on the menu.

He stared at the glass on his table.

Its crimson colour reminded him of blood. He pushed it aside.

"Madame, I ordered nothing."

"No sir," the waitress agreed. "You didn't order anything."

"Then why did you bring it?"

"The man at the other table, Sir." The girl pointed to a monstrous, gargoyle-like beast across the lodge.

"That's a man?"

The azure eyed Elf wizard stared at the grey-skinned creature across the room. It resembled a granite statue come to life.

"He requested it for you. He has ordered drinks for everyone, sir. You have received this at no charge. I can bring you the alternative liquor as well if you'd like."

"No, this is fine. Wait... What other liquor?"

But she was already gone.

Quaraun looked down at his drink and gasped. Blood boiled over the rim of the glass. Boiled and bubbled and pooled endlessly to the floor, burying everything. Every mug in the room did the same. Blood ran freely, rushing down the tables. More blood dripped from the windows. Blood streamed down the walls of the inn.

Quaraun closed his eyes. Silence drummed in his head, like a pounding headache trying to escape his brain.

"Don't faint," he told himself.

He felt as though he was passing out. He squeezed his eyes shut tighter and waited for the blinding white flashes inside his head to go away.

When he opened his eyes again, the blood was gone, so too was the blood on his hands.

Quaraun looked up to see the gargoyle staring at him. Quaraun stared back at the gargoyle. He felt the creature had produced the illusion.

The stone man-beast nodded to Quaraun and smiled.

A curious character indeed. He seemed a cheerful fellow with slitted grey eyes that glowed blue and Lich-like.

This was the man who had just entered the Inn. Beneath the black cloak, he was absolutely naked and every inch of him devoid of hair. He looked to be carved out of stone. He had a grey granite colour to his skin and the grotesque gargoyle features of his face and pointed ears. His hands ended in claws instead of fingers. Long, sharp fangs prevented his mouth from closing entirely. From his back grew a pair of enormous, grey, leathery, bat-like wings.

The creature got up from his own table and joined Quaraun at his. Up close, Quaraun could observe that his stony granite grey skin was translucent. The blood circulating beneath his skin glowed in a luminous pale blue.

Normally, watching blood coursing through veins would have bothered Quaraun. But right now, the absence of hair bothered Quaraun more. Quaraun liked hair. He loved long hair. Quaraun liked men with long hair.

Another memory. This was good, right? Remembering more things, he would better understand the situation he found himself in. Wouldn't he? He tried to remember why he liked long-haired men. Or rather, why that was the first thing he thought of when looking at a bald man.

But that was beside the point. This wasn't a man.

"Lich," Quaraun said out loud.

"Yis one who likes Liches."

"You're one of the Lich Lords."

"Does ya see Lich?"

"You have the frigid breath of a Lich," Quaraun said to the stone coloured, winged visitor. "You froze the room when you arrived."

"Un yis Lich hunter."

"Am I?"

"Aye, ya is. Ya hunts de lich wat did gone un broke ya wee lil heart."

"I don't recall."

"We remembers."

"We?"

"We does also be remembers yis do be afeared of blood."

The Lich touched the brim of Quaraun's cut crystal tumbler.

Quaraun looked down at his drink.

The bubbling red liquid was now the same shade of glowing blue as the newcomer's blood.

Boiling, smouldering, but icy, freezing. It was numbing his hands. He set the mug back down on the table. Instantly the maple wood froze as white shimmer ice crystals sunk into and penetrating the pulp.

After a few moments, he picked the glass back up again and eyed the suspicious drink. Quaraun held up the cup for the gargoyle to see. "What is this?"

"Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew, as she calls it, eh?" the grey-skinned beast-man with large leathery demon wings said to the pale Elf.

"I know what the name of it is. I saw the name listed on the menu, when I came in here..."

"Ya said ya no remembers coming in here."

"How do you know I said that? I didn't say that to you. You wasn't even here when I got here."

"We is one whom set ye here to dis place. Does ye no remember dat?"

"I remember that. But that's not what I was talking about. I want to know what you put in this drink."

"How does ya suggested we dids put something in de Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew?"

"You did. I know you did. I don't know how you did it, but I know you did it."

"Still paranoid as ever, ain't'ch'ya?"

Quaraun leapt up from his chair, moving to be nearly nose to nose with the creature.

"I. Am. NOT. Paranoid."

"Oh, no, of course not. Ya just likes to run around accusing strangers of putting something in ya Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew, because ya is being just so damned perfectly sane un fucking normal."

"I know you altered it."

"Did we? St ya ass down."

The creature shoved Quaraun back into his seat and the Elf sat fuming.

"This brew was boiling and hot. Too hot to sip. Like tea. Now it's smouldering with dry ice and biting cold. Too frigid to consume. It was red when they gave it to me, and now it's blue. How do you suggest it did that?"

"It be mystery, hence de name being Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew."

"Do you have to keep saying that over and over again?"

"What? Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew?"

"Yes."

"Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew smells like de lovely pink rose perfume. Un Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew, she does tastes metallic like liquid mercury. But leaves delicious eftah taste of bananas un pine on yar tongue."

"Now you're just trying to annoy me."

"Is it working?"

Quaraun ignored his answer. "I didn't ask you what it tastes like. If I wanted to know what it tasted like I could just drink it myself. It's sitting right here in front of me after all. And I can see what it looks like. Again, it's right here in my hand, right in front of me. And I can smell what it smells like, because oh look, here it is in front of my nose. I can even hear what it sounds like, because fucking look at my ears! I can hear every damned sound within ten miles of here!"

"Aye, rabbits ain't gots ears long as yars."

"Stop changing the subject and pay attention to the stupid question. I asked you what it was."

"Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew tis a drink."

"A drink? I can see it's a fucking drink!"

"Ya askit what de Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew do be un we tells ya. Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew be drink. What more ya wanting to know?"

"Faeries," Quaraun sputtered angrily to himself.

"Eh?"

"This is Faerie food." Quaraun was once again addressing the creature sitting beside him.

"Ya sure?"

"It's Faerie Wine."

"Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew looks nothing like Faerie Wine. Faerie Wine is green. Beet juice steeped wid wormwood and anise. Many much a splendid thing Faerie Wine is."

"Faerie Wine can look like anything the Fae want it to look like. Green is the colour of it without an illusion glimmering over it. This is a glimmer spell."

"What make ya says so?"

"I am Faerie Sighted. I can see through Faerie illusions. Faerie spells don't work on me."

"Ya says there be Fae here?"

"I think you are a Faerie."

"We is Faerie?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"What do you mean, why?"

"By what twisted jelly brained sense of logic does ya t'inks I be Faerie?"

"By the jelly brained logic that this Angelic Ecstasy Mystery Brew showed up here same moment you did."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning I think you are causing all of this."

"Like dis ya means?"

The stone man touched the cup again. The blue drink swirled into a toxic deep emerald absinthe green colour. Then transformed to brilliant orange with chunks of chocolate floating in it.

"Why are you doing this?"

"Did ya knows, de horse's hoof is de nail for one toe. Meaning we only has one toe on each of our hooveses. Hooveses? Dat no right."

"No it's not. It's just hooves."

"Hooves. No. Hooveses soundeth much de better. Any hoo, what dis all be meaning is dat when horse run, him do be running on hims wee lil' tippy-toes. Did ya also knows horses can'na vomit, so one should never be getsing a horse drunk, aye?"

"What?"

"What?"

"Stop trying to confuse me."

"As we does recall, it no take much to twist ya already twisted brain in knots."