The grandfather clock in the corner chimed, and its tiny, worn brass bells tolled nine times. Samui, setting out an assortment of drinks on the bar, looked at the clock with some surprise.
“Nine already? Time flies when you’re having fun,” she muttered, not without some sarcasm. She paused to brush a stray strand of hair out of her face before continuing towards the cupboard behind her. “Baku!” She scolded as the black cat walked in front of her, blocking her way. Giving the cat a little push to get it out of her way, she opened the cabinet. Just as she was reaching for the shot glasses, the bell attached to the door jingled. “Sorry, but we’re closed already,” Samui said without turning.
“Very fucking funny,” the potential customer all but growled, sitting down before the bar. “Now serve me some drinks before I decide to leap over this thing and kick your sorry ass from here to Pluto.”
“Oh, hello, Dachend,” Samui greeted as she stood and turned, glasses in hand. “And hello, Draco-x’ian.” she looked behind them, but saw no one. “Where’s Katt?”
“Hey,” returned the sword. “Katt’ll be a bit late, but she’ll be here.”
“And here I was beginning to think that those two were attached at the waist,” Samui half-joked, opening a bottle.
Dachend scowled. “Shut up or I’ll rearrange your face.”
As Samui poured a drink for Dachend, the demon hunter planted a foot on a neighboring stool and frowned at how it protested. “Still got these hundred-year old things?”
“I’ll replace them as soon as you can tell me where I could buy some,” Samui countered, slamming the drink in front of Dachend.
“I don’t know about suppliers, but I do know some collectors who would pay a fortune for those,” the just-arrived Ryan remarked from the door. “By the way, cute cat you’ve got there.”
“But retiring with more money than I know what to do with would be boring,” Samui replied, getting another glass ready. “Good evening, Former Commissioner Ryan.” She gave the cat that had jumped onto the bar an affectionate rub on the head. “Thanks. I found him outside about a month ago.”
“Evenin’, and you’re welcome,” Ryan answered, tipping an imaginary hat. He jabbed a thumb to the door. “And look who else I managed to dig up.”
“Hi,” Sable said with a brisk salute.
“Well, well, well, if it ain’t Mr. Rock Star,” Dachend noted. “Where’s your guitar?”
“And risk damaging a valuable antique?” Returned Sable.
“Behave, you guys,” Samui ordered as she poured more drinks. “I don’t want my tenants calling the cops on us.”
“Why not?” Ryan wanted to know. “We haven’t had a bar fight in here in ages.”
“NO.” Samui glared at the men, and for a few seconds they swore they could see frost gathering at the edges of the drinks. Samui then poured herself a small glass. “Thank you.”
“Man, after all this time that look of hers still creeps the hell out of me,” Dachend mumbled.
“That, and Katt when she’s mad,” Draco-x’ian snickered.
“What’s that about me?” Katt asked, leaning against the doorframe.
Ahlen also entered. Taking one look at Dachend, who was still scrambling to look innocent, Ahlen burst out laughing. “Ah, hah, hah, hah!” He chortled, holding his stomach with one hand and pointing with the other.
“Watch it, kid,” Dachend warned. “I’m still a couple of millennia ahead of you.”
Katt crossed her arms. “Will you two give it up already?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Dachend and Ahlen chirped, although it was obvious that neither one of them meant this.
“Where’re Lyta and Kokutan?” Samui wanted to know.
“Kokutan’s keeping an eye on the shrine, and Lyta’s trying to convince L-sama not to make her the next Knight of Chaos.”
“I wish her the best of luck,” Sable said with mock seriousness. “And I definitely hope she won’t have to learn that Giga Slave thing.”
There was a collective shudder at the thought.
Samui clapped her hands together. “Okay, since all the people who can be here have arrived, let’s get started.” she refilled all of the drinks, then tipped her glass to Dachend. “Since you were here first, you can go ahead.”
Dachend took a took a deep gulp, then shrugged. “You know, it’s the same fucking routine: travel to some place, kill a few demons, cause some property damage,” he grinned. “Piss Katt off,” he took another swig. “I’m done.”
“Okay.” Samui took a small sip, then pointed to Draco-x’ian. “Your turn.”
“Pretty much what Dachend said, except the part about pissing Katt off,” the sword reported. “And Dachend ‘convinced’ the DCD Chief to give everybody unlimited access to Genesis.”
“Eva was thrilled to find out, right?” Samui asked with a smile.
If swords could blush, Draco-x’ian would have turned beet red.
Samui smiled even wider. “Let’s just move on, shall we?” she nodded towards Ryan.
“I’ve been getting some pretty lucrative offers from heads of companies interested in my ‘skills’, but I think I’m still going to work freelance for now.” Ryan emptied his glass. “At least, until my pension runs out. And that’s pretty much it.”
Samui emptied what was left of the bottle into Ryan’s glass and opened a new one. “Sable?”
“Well, rock’s making a really big come back, so our band’s albums are selling better than it was when it was still around.” Sable chuckled and held out his glass to Samui, then emptied that one as well. “I don’t know whether to feel flattered or depressed.”
“Think of the bright side,” Ahlen advised. “At least you can still collect the royalties.”
Sable rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”
Katt went next. “Well, I don’t have much to add to what Dachend and Draco-x’ian already said. I wish I could tell you guys that we were able to find out what happened to those people who we still have nothing on, but—” Seeing everyone tense and reach for their respective weapons, Katt turned around.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” Thickett said with a wave of his hand.
Katt felt her clothes shifting into her battle armor. “How dare you show your face in here?” she demanded through clenched teeth.
Thicket ‘hmphed’ and began pulling off his gloves. “Are you still sore about that? How many of you were even in Capow when the takeover happened?”
“This is a private party, sir, and you weren’t invited,” Samui told Thickett, her voice cold.
Thickett pretended to be hurt. “What, can’t I even be a paying customer?” He took another step forward to the sounds of several weapons being unsheathed.
“This establishment is closed,” Samui stated, enunciating each word. “I can—and will—legally refuse you service. Furthermore, I must ask you to leave.”
“By whose authority?” Thickett challenged. “This city’s? The STRA’s?”
Samui’s expression did not change. “Ours.”
The standoff continued for what felt like eternity. Even Samui’s cat, sensing the tension in the room, joined in and began hissing at Thickett.
Thickett ‘hmphed’ and donned his gloves. “Forget it. I can tell when I’m not welcome.” With that, Thickett turned and left the bar.
“Damn,” Dachend said, feigning disappointment. “I was kind of hoping he’d stay so I could kick his ass.”
“Then you could have helped me get the bloodstains out of the carpet, too,” Samui replied. She downed her drink with an unusual viciousness. “He was right, you now.”
Katt de-transformed and took a deep breath to calm herself before starting again. “In more cheerful news, the Dark Elves will be leaving us alone now, since my father died earlier this year and basically said in his will that as far as he was concerned, I didn’t exist.”
“I never really liked Katt’s side of the family anyway,” said Dachend, downing his fifth drink. Katt responded by cuffing Dachend in the back of his head.
Ahlen snickered at Dachend before taking his turn. “Aside from what’s going on with Lyta, there’s nothing really new, either, and you already know what happened this morning.” Sympathetic nods were shared all around.
“If those developers show up again anywhere near the shrine, you know who to call,” Ryan reminded Ahlen.
Sable, who was by now a little bit more than drunk, tipped his glass towards Samui. “And now, for our most gracious hostess.”
“Flatterer.” Samui smiled and poured another round of drinks. “Talon’s quest to remove Capow’s ‘Indefinite Level III Quarantine’ status continues.”
Dachend snorted. “There’ll be a 50-fucking-foot blizzard in Hell before that happens.”
Samui smiled slightly in response, and was about to continue when she was struck by a sudden wave of dizziness, and would have fallen over had not the bar intervened.
“Are you all right, Samui?” Katt asked, rushing around the other end of the bar to help Samui stand straight.
“Well, I, uh.” Samui wobbled a bit. The walls looked a lot older and more worn, the tables were broken and its bits scattered over the floor, and the bar deserted.
“Man, you really can’t hold alcohol worth beans,” Dachend teased, although his tone was a bit worried.
“Why don’t you go lie down for a while?” Ahlen suggested. “You don’t look too good.”
With Katt’s support, Samui managed to walk to a nearby table. “I’ll, just take, a quick nap.” She sat down and rested her head on her arms. She couldn’t understand why she felt so exhausted. She shivered.
Katt touched Samui’s forehead and gasped. “Why, you’re burning up! We have to get you to a doctor, quick!”
“Jus’ let me sleep…” Samui slurred, her eyes closing. She felt herself slip from the chair and land on the ground, but she felt no pain.
“Don’t you pass out on me!” Katt shook Samui. “Hey! Come on now!”
But Samui didn’t want to stay awake. She was just so tired.
“Hey! Hey! Miss? This building is condemned, and we’re here to take it down.” The construction worker gave the prone figure on the ground a light prod with his boots, but got no reaction. The black cat next to her body nuzzled her and yowled. “Miss?”
His partner walked in after him. “I think she’s dead, Jiro.”
Jiro picked up the woman’s limp wrist and tried to find a pulse. After a while, he set the arm down and stared at the woman. “My God, Saitu, you’re right!”
“Who do you think she was?” Saitu wondered.
Jiro shrugged. “Probably some homeless woman that was trying to take shelter in last night’s blizzard.”
“Yeah, it sure was freezing,” Saitu agreed. “But it’s not that much warmer in here, either.”
Jiro shook himself out of his shock. “Anyway, we need to get rid of this as quietly as possible. The last thing we need is for any potential buyers to find out that someone died here.”
With a grunt, the two men picked up the woman’s body and carried her out. Saitu noticed with some surprise that the woman was wearing a gold band on the ring finger of her left hand, but he didn’t put much thought to it, and soon forgot about it altogether. The two men made sure that there was no one else in the building before setting the charges and clearing the area.
Moments later, the building once known as the Lurker’s Retreat crashed upon itself, but no one was there to mourn its demise.