One of the few luxuries afforded by Hollowroot was a rudimentary tavern. It didn't have all the amenities of a tavern back in the Commonwealth. It lacked most types of beers, food that didn't twitch, and a roof to start with. But it had chairs and a firepit and some tables and enough moonshine to get you hammered enough and really, what else could you ask for in a place like the Downside? Ignarius visited the place when he could. The barkeep liked him. He tipped extra in a good mood, and a trip to the tavern always put Ignarius in a good mood.
"And a round for the Tempers," he declared, "Give us something strong enough to peel paint off the walls. 'Cause we cleaned house."
They'd just won a Rite out on the Ridge. They knew, from the rumors, they'd need to win many more: the word was that the Nightwings were back in town.
"This lady isn't sure she should partake in this," whispered Lady River in a tiny voice.
"Aw heck, quit worrying, kiddo." Ignarius patted the wyrm on the back of the head. He took care with her. Her head only rocked forward a little with the strength, "The wagon's got wings, don't it? We'll be off and out to the valley before noon."
"Provided these poisons do not keep us in our beds," muttered Pfumfta.
"What, you going dry tonight?" asked Ignarius. "Then hand over your round. I'll give it a good home."
"We did not say that," said Pfumta, coiling a bit around her steaming mug.
All in all, life was looking pretty bright for Ignarius, in the firepit, surrounded by exiles all looking to drown away their worries and sing broken songs. He didn't notice the stranger when he slipped in. Ignarius must've been real toasted -- the stranger was a big one. A demon, even. The heavy cloak did nothing to obscure their broad shoulders or the forward sweep of their horns. They'd posted themselves at the table closest to the firepit, and seemed content to stare into it. Ignarius called in another mug for Lady River and shoved off his stool, sidling over with only a bit of a sway in his step.
"Yo, stranger," he said, "Been awhile since I've seen another set of horns."
The stranger said nothing, just lowered his head slightly. He was well into is transformation-- his heels high, his hooves fully formed, and his horns so long they nearly touched in the front-- at least, they would've if the tip of one hadn't been broken off.
"Not a talker, eh?" asked Ignarius. "Fine, gonna complain if I buy you a drink?"
The demon looked up. His bedraggled black hair slid over his shoulders.
"I gave that up when I came here," he said, in a deep, sad voice.
"Oh, buddy," Ignarius laughed, "You're living in hard mode, then!"
"As it should be," said the stranger, "It was an easy life that brought me here."
"You and me both, brother," laughed Ignarius. He ordered another round for himself. The stranger eyed the mug with some distaste, but didn't say anything when Ignarius knocked it back.
"I'm giving you company," said Ignarius, "Whether you like it or not. Folks like you and me, we gotta have each other's backs, yanno? And look, if you want a way back to that 'easy life' of yours, your ticket might come up soon enough."
"You speak of the Rites," said the stranger.
It was if all the warmth was sucked from the room. Ignarius put down his mug.
"Uh. Yeah. So. You... already know about 'em," he said, sheepishly. "You want in? We could use a swing."
The stranger laughed, a soft sound like crackling flame.
"Your excess concerns me," he whispered, "But your sentiment does not. The bog crone is strong, but tell me, why do you travel with the wyrm? Someone so small could surely be little but a hindrance to your cause..."'
"Oy," said Ignarius, his smile fading. He dug his claws into the table and glared. "Lay off the Lady. She might be the size of my hoof but she can throw down with the best of us. And that's what we are, the best!"
"I see," said the stranger. He sat back, tiredly. He may have smiled, but the shadows from the fire made it hard to tell. "Then, my apologies, brother demon. You do for your own, after all."
Whether or not it led to a fight, Ignarius actually couldn't say. That was about the time tenth mug of moonshine finally hit him, and anyway when his companions dragged him back to the wagon, none of them could confirm they'd seen another demon at all.