Many chapters contain brutal violence.
The Mantis Equilibrium - Book Two - 8. Chapter 8 - Intoxication
At the God’s Hole Public House and Tavern, the innkeeper who worked behind the bar was addressed by a customer whose voice he did not recognize.
“Do you know anything about that commotion earlier today at the market?”
The barkeep turned to look at the stranger. “What’s that now?” he asked.
“There were some officers who showed up. They were talking about murderers in Shifton.”
After Vion and his inquisitors were denied access into the neighborhood, they returned to their base of operations in the industrial district, and Vion changed into his most common garb. That night, he made his way alone back to Gate Town and found a street with several pubs. He entered one and casually asked the owner about the events of earlier that day.
“Heard mention of the disturbance,” the bartender replied, “but I weren’t there and couldn’t tell you what it was about. What’ll it be?” he asked.
Vion scratched his chin. “Brandy, neat. Have you heard anything about a group of killer Shifts?”
“I hear all sorts of things in here,” the man replied. He poured the beverage. “Don’t know nothing about no killers, though. The world’s a tough place,” he added, “but I reckon they’s just rumors. How’s your drink?”
Vion nodded and raised his glass to the man.
A group of teenagers at a table in the corner giggled together over a pitcher of mead. An old man with a half-drank glass of wine dozed alone in a booth. A couple of women with several empty glasses on their table were kissing passionately in full view of the other patrons, although, no one seemed to be paying any attention to them.
The tavern felt like a bust to Vion, and he left his brandy unfinished, as he turned and walked out the door. He entered the next establishment, but there was only a single customer talking to the barmaid. The man she was serving was already drunk and mumbling in a loud voice about a lost love. He was saying that everything was his fault and she was gone.
Vion growled to himself and left the bar without speaking to either person. The next tavern was down the block and he pulled up his hood to obscure his face as he made his way to it. He yanked the door open, and he was satisfied to see that quite a few people were inside. Customers sat at the counter and several tables.
He entered and took a seat among the patrons at the bar between a woman with her back to him, and a wizened old codger with a bushy white mustache. When the man smiled, Vion noticed that several of his teeth were missing.
“It’s a cold one out there tonight,” the man commented in a pleasant way.
The barkeep stepped up opposite Vion and asked, “What ye be ’aving?”
Vion looked at the taps. “Lager,” he requested.
“Good choice,” said the old man seated next to him.
“Yes,” agreed Vion in a dismissive way, and he dove right in with his questions. “Any chance you were at the market this morning? Apparently, there was some sort of disturbance. There was talk of Shift murderers.”
The man took a sip of ale. “Now, do you mean Shift murderers as in, someone who’s murdering Shifts?” he asked. “Or does Shift murderers mean Shifts who murder?” He chuckled to himself.
The bartender set a mug of pale beer in front of Vion and said, “A few people were in ’ere talking ’bout the market earlier. Don’t rightly know what all was involved, but them folks were in a right tizzy.” He paused and added, “They said something about some killers or something.”
“Yes!” confirmed Vion, more enthusiastically than he intended. He took a swig of beer, then added in a normal tone, “That’s what I heard, but no one who I’ve asked has known anything more about it.”
The bartender replied, “Let me check with some of the other folks,” and he headed down the bar.
“It’s a tough town,” the old mustachioed man said to Vion in a conversational manner. “I was born and raised here, meself, but Teshon’s always been rough. Stabbed someone once when I was a younger man, can’t remember now for the life of me what that was all about. Ain’t been in a fight for some years now, but I used to scrap in my younger days.” The man’s voice held almost a wistful tone.
A moment later the bartender returned and informed Vion, “There’s a woman down at the end of the bar who says she was there, but she’s already pretty wasted, and you’re not likely to get much information out of her.”
Vion nodded. He thought to himself that this confirmed it; the people who lived in the neighborhood were indeed talking about his appearance at the market that morning, even though no one he asked seemed to know about the murders.
The barkeep suddenly put a pair of shots on the countertop, one in front of Vion, and the other in front of the old man beside him.
“Ci, there,” he said, “he just ordered you each a mushroom bourbon.” He gave Vion an apologetic shrug. “Enjoy,” he added in an uncertain tone.
The old man was beaming at Vion with a gap-toothed smile.
“Ci?” Vion asked.
The two raised the tiny glasses, clinked them together, and knocked back the bitter beverage. Both men coughed after they swallowed, and the old man laughed aloud and thumped Vion on his shoulder.
“Blah, that stuff is foul,” Vion declared.
“But it gets the job done!” Ci hollered.
The drunken woman at the far end of the bar made an enthusiastic whooping noise of agreement in response to Ci’s boisterous outburst, and he gave her a thumbs-up.
Vion smacked his lips. “What did he say that stuff was?”
Ci did not answer him. “Next up,” he informed Vion, “we’re having a spicy infused whistlewhiskey!”
The hours of night slipped away, and Vion was very inebriated when he finally stumbled down the streets that led to his home. The winter sun was already starting to rise, and he shielded his eyes. The front door to the large dormitory-style building was not locked, and he pushed it open. He stumbled towards the couch, collapsed upon it, and passed out in a drunken stupor.
Morning crept towards noon, and Vion eventually awoke in a haze. The sun was gently glowing behind a thin layer of gray clouds, but to his hung-over eyes, it was blazing and horrible.
The clock informed him that it was almost midday.
The house was silent.
Vion lived with 18 other Messiahs in the large housing unit located in western Teshon City. The place should have been bustling, but no sounds came from upstairs, and the kitchen appeared to have been left unused that morning. Vion could not come up with an explanation for the calm state of the place, but he was appreciative of it. The alcohol was hammering the inside of his head.
He rose to his unsteady feet, approached the stairs, and pulled himself up to the second floor. His eyes were unfocused and his stomach was churning as he stepped into the hallway.
Two mutilated bodies lay sprawled in front of him✪
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