Part 3 of 8 – 900 Words
This work of fiction contains strong elements of horror and violence. Reader discretion is advised.
Ambroys bolted behind the bar and collapsed over a basin. His guts splashed out against the weathered wood in great rolling heaves. There was little but bile and whiskey in him which left an acid burn from the back of his throat all the way down his chest once he was finally able to take a few gasping breaths.
His sides ached right down between the ribs. Jelly-legged, Ambroys pushed himself to his feet. He pulled a napkin from underneath the bar and wiped the vomit from his lips. It left a foul greenish yellow smear on the white rag. He lifted his eyes back to the room to find a crestfallen Milton standing next to Walter Ozzen, Candle of the Vigil. “Sorry,” muttered Ambroys to Milton with a cringe. Both napkin and basin had been recently cleaned.
“What in the hells are you doing?” shouted Ozzen. The dwarf was a full foot and half shorter than Ambroys but stared the taller man down with a pugilistic squint that made Ambroys feel like a guilty little kid. Ozzen chewed on the end of the hand-rolled cigarillo that lived perpetually wedged between his molars. “You’re an Eye of the Vigil, son! Pull yourself together! Now gods damnit!”
Ambroys snapped to attention, eyes fixed into a thousand-yard stare. “Eye Wester reporting from Bywater Patrol Viper, Sentinel Felgrim patrol leader,” he called out at a clip that barely left distinction between each word.
Ozzen eyed him hard for a long breath before giving the younger soldier a curt nod. “That’s better. Now, son, you look rougher than the only whore in a harbor. Take that seat by the fire and you can catch me up on what I missed.”
Ambroys would have sprinted back to the chair if he had not been afraid that Candle would ream him for his lack of poise. Instead, he marched, straight backed as stone like he had been taught in training not so long ago. Sitting on the first third of the chair, still rigidly upright and staring blankly into the fire, he waited as Ozzen pulled over a chair for himself. Ambroys’s pulse drummed as he fought to keep his breathing even. How does he do it? How does that stump of a dwarf make me want to piss myself with just a stare?
Ozzen settled into his chair just at the edge of Ambroys’s peripheral vision. He was leaning forward, elbows on his knees, and fingers laced. The firelight poured over his left side leaving the other half of him in deep shadow so that only that eye gleamed out from the dark. He shifted his cigarillo from one side of this mouth to the other. “Alright, son, let’s have it.”
Ambroys reported everything he had told to Anton eyes locked dead on the fire, unfocused and unseeing. His whole body clenched as he tried not to tremble in front of Candle Ozzen. Showing weakness had never succeeded in endearing anyone to the weathered veteran.
“Woah there.” Ozzen lifted a broad hand and brought Ambroy’s report to a pause. He leaned back still watching the younger soldier through his permanent squint and rubbed the clean-shaven edge of his jaw. “That’s one hell of a yarn, son.”
Ambroys felt the Candle’s eyes prodding at him like a child might poke a dead bird to see if it would flinch. He clenched his teeth. I’m not dead yet, you son-of-a-bitch.
Ozzen pushed himself standing and waved Ambroys to stay seated with a perfunctory “as you were”. He sauntered over to Anton chewing his cigarillo like a cow might chew its cud. Then he lifted the whiskey jug and refilled Anton’s cup before walking to the bar. He laid two clean glasses on the varnished wood and poured a few fingers in each. He fished a shining coin from inside his clean, pressed tabard and laid it on the bar with a nod to Milton.
Ambroys was trying not to look down at his hands which had been balled into white knuckled fists when Ozzen held out one of the whiskeys. Ambroys risked a glance up at this commanding officer. Was this a test?
Ozzen took a sip from his own. “Like I said that’s one hell of a yarn, son. And before you get to telling me just how you managed to get yourself out of that particular hell, I would say it is only fitting and proper that we toast the fallen. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Ambroys furrowed his brow. This felt like a test.
The whiskey glass jiggled. “Now, son, are you going to make me toast alone? Seems a might unhospitable seeing as you’ve already had one. That is why I smell alcohol on your breath, isn’t it? You and Anton were honoring the departed.” Ozzen raised an eyebrow and miraculously managed to keep squinting.
Ambroys’s saliva went to glue again. Swallowing the sealant, he took the proffered glass and stood up as did Anton. The three held their cups aloft and Ozzen said, “To the fallen. Rest well. Though your vigil is done, our watch goes on.”
Ozzen licked the whiskey off his lips and gave a look of almost begrudging approval towards his glass. Then he seated himself back down in his chair and leaned forward again, fingers wrapped around his cup. He gestured for Ambroys to take his seat. “Alright, son. So how did you make it out?”
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