The quiet bustle of the tavern had been Therion’s home for many years. For so long, all he’d do is sit and listen to what others had to say in hopes that he might glean something useful from their conversation, hardly ever coming to have fun. Now, however, things were different. With the fool’s bangle on his wrist, he’d found it increasingly harder to steal from others or even get near them without having them notice his true intentions. It was quite the issue, but for once in his life, the man felt as though he didn’t have to steal to survive. And so, at this point, it was an old habit that wouldn’t die, but who’s to say that he even wanted it to? He’d always loved the adrenaline that came with stealing, particularly with the bigger objects that some people lugged around. How stupid could people be to not realize that they’d gotten a harpoon stolen from them?
The man leaned back in his chair, causing it to creak softly. Taking a sip of mead and gazing up at the ceiling, he let his ears tune in and out of nearby conversations, catching words here and there, mostly snippets of things he didn’t care much about. But there was something about that fact that made him feel at ease for the first time in years. He could finally enjoy life without worrying about what his next scheme would be. After all, he had a journey planned out for him already
A familiar voice brought him back to reality. A month or two ago, he would’ve jumped and reached for his knife in this exact situation. But now, he gazed up at the man who’d appeared before him almost languidly. He raised a hand and gave a small wave as Alfyn sat down across from him at the table, his characteristically large, winning smile plastered onto his face.
Gods. How did his cheeks not hurt from smiling all the time?
Therion glanced from the larger man to the door, then back again, as if expecting more people to follow after him. “No H’aanit or Tressa?”
Alfyn lifted his satchel off of his shoulder with ease, placing it beside his chair with care. “H’aanit said she saw somethin’ strange at the edge of town earlier and wanted to check it out, and Tressa…!” The man’s brown eyes lit up with the brightness of a thousand suns, the smile on his face broadening even more if that was even possible. “We both found the biggest frog at the edge of the river! It was somethin’ like… I dunno, this big?” He made grand, sweeping gestures with his hands as he spoke. Therion was almost sure that he would knock people out on accident with them if anyone came by, but no one did. “I wanted to bring it here to show ya, but Tressa was intent on releasin’ the fella back into the river… Anyway, I reckon she’s lookin’ for bigger ones.”
“Mm…” Therion sipped some more mead, feeling himself smile the tiniest bit. Alfyn had been the second person he’d met on his journey, following H’aanit. The contrast between the two of them was quite astounding: H’aanit had been someone that he’d gotten along with relatively well from the start. Never a deadweight, she always did her part in battles. He never had to worry about protecting her or anything, and it’s not like she talked much unless she really had something to say, something he’d been grateful for. It was bad enough that he’d needed help robbing the Ravus Manor - he didn’t want other people tagging along with him, particularly useless people with too much to say.
But then came Alfyn. Clumsy, chatterbox, Alfyn. He was everything H’aanit wasn’t. He talked people’s ears off whenever they gave him a chance, he’d never swung an axe at a monster in his life, and he was always tripping over his feet. Much to Therion’s annoyance, he had to come to his rescue several times a battle. Plus, he’d always been so touchy-feely with everyone. He couldn’t stand it. And yet, hearing him talk two months after meeting him, Therion couldn’t help but feel himself relax. Maybe all of this traveling with a group was making him go soft.
“You been here long, Therion?” Alfyn asked, reaching for Therion’s mug. The other man, noticing the theft about to take place, pulled the mug close, making direct, vengeful eye contact with him as he chugged the remainder of the mead.
“Yeah. Figured I could get some alone time in before the rest of this traveling circus caught up with me,” he snorted, putting the mug down.
“Heheh, circus, huh? Does that make you a clown?” Alfyn laughed.
Gods, he laughed so loud. This was truly a man with nothing to hide, no secrets to keep. He wasn’t afraid of being heard; he never had a reason to sneak around. He was nothing like…
Therion shook the thought out of his head. Now wasn’t the time to ruin his own night. Instead, he focused on Alfyn’s laugh. His bright, booming laugh… He couldn’t help but chuckle a little, too.
“No, I’m the ringleader. You’re the clown.”
“Ah, I see!” Alfyn laughed again, waving the tavernkeep over. “Could I get a couple more mugs for me and this fella? Thank you!”
Therion leaned back in his chair again, thinking to himself as Alfyn prattled on in the background. The somewhat scruffy man was rooting through his satchel, now, taking out bottles and herbs that the thief could only assume he’d gotten that day. Soon, the tavernkeep returned with a few more mugs of mead.
“...And then Zeph slid down the hill faster than anythin’ I’d seen! We’d never seen that much rain in Clearbrook, so everything was muddier than we expected!” Alfyn laughed.
Therion leaned forward, concern furrowing his brow and arms crossed on the table. “Alfyn, how many mugs have you had…?”
The other man paused, staring blankly at the empty mugs in front of him. “I dunno, four? Five? I’m startin’ to feel a lil’ sleepy though,” he said before pausing to yawn, leaning his head close to the table. “How ‘bout you, Ther?”
Therion blinked. Ther? That was new. “I’ve only had two. It’d be damn terrible for someone like me to lose my agility,” he began. “If you’re tired, though, I think it’s time we call it quits and head to the inn.”
“Mmmhm…” Alfyn agreed, head slipping down until it was on the table.
Gods, he’d better not pass out here.
“Hey, don’t fall asleep here. Hey. Hey!” Therion leaned over the table and snapped his fingers in front of the man until he was sitting up, albeit extremely slouched. “You’ve got money, right?”
Alfyn stared at him with wide eyes. “No, I used it to buy the Purifying Dust and stuff i was showin’ you earlier…”
Therion froze, a hand reaching for the scarf around his neck and pinching and rubbing the fabric, a nervous habit of his. “... You don’t have any money at all…?”
Once again, Alfyn shook his head. The thief found his grip on the scarf getting harder.
“Dont’cha have money from stealin’?”
“No, because I’ve been buying shit for everybody else this whole time!”
“Okay, hows about other people in here? Don’t they have stuff?”
“I checked, and everyone’s carrying around Healing Grapes!”
“No one’s carryin’ stuff like family heirlooms that you could trade for mead?”
“I told you, that was only once! And no, I’m pretty sure that’s not how that works!”
Therion looked around the tavern. There were maybe only five people still there, excluding himself and Alfyn. If it were just him, he’d be able to up and leave right now. He knew full well that he was fast enough. But then, there was the clearly drunk Alfyn. Gods. Shit. Fuck. He pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d been counting on one of his… comrades to pay for drinks that night. How the hell was he supposed to sneak out with a guy almost twice his size?
“Hey, Al - oh, gods damn it.”
He’d turned back towards the other man only to see that he had fallen asleep, head resting on his arms and already snoring loudly. Therion, feeling his very soul leave his body, put his head in his hands. He knew by now that the apothecary was extremely hard to wake up once he hit the hay. He couldn’t imagine how hard it’d be to wake him up when he was like this.
Gods damn it. You’d think someone with as much medical knowledge as him would know his limits with liquor.
Heaving a sigh, Therion got to his feet, looking around once more. The few remaining people in the tavern were all still yammering away and swigging their drinks, the tavernkeep with his back turned toward them. If they were gonna make a run for it, now was the best time to do it. He walked over to Alfyn, carefully putting both of the man’s arms around his neck and holding onto them. He then took a step forward only to feel his knees shake ever-so-slightly.
He was strong, but he had hardly given enough credit to how big Alfyn was compared to him. This only served as a reminder as to why he liked working alone so much. In all fairness, he was rather small due to his stunted growth from never eating enough, but that was beside the point. Grunting, he dragged the man behind him and walked as quickly as he could towards the door.
“Wait, you there.”
Therion’s blood went cold, but he didn’t turn around. He knew how this story went. He knew he’d find the tavernkeep staring at him, and then whoever else was still in the tavern. He also knew that, with Alfyn out cold, there was no way to beat all of the people in the tavern in a fight. He’d be forced to defend himself and the apothecary.
“You haven’t paid, have you?”
The thief glanced at the tavernkeep with a sour expression, not turning his body all the way. “What’s it to you?” he muttered, opening the door and walking as quickly as someone can when they’re carrying a friend on their back outside.
He quickly heard shouting from inside the tavern’s doors, a sure sign that he needed to get out of there as fast as he could. Grimacing from Alfyn’s weight on his back, he adjusted the man’s arms around his neck and started speedwalking along the river’s edge. He briefly thanked the gods that it was dark out, but knew that the darkness would likely hardly shelter him for very long. After all, he could hear the tavernkeep and his patron’s shouts coming closer already. If he could just get to the inn, they’d both be safe…
“Therion! Hey, Therion!”
Tressa waved at him from the river’s edge, a bright smile on her face. On a log nearby sat H’aanit, Linde curled at her feet. The pair gazed at the coming thief with mild amusement.
“Tell Alfyn that I found more of those frogs! And…” Tressa paused, eyes widening at the sight of the mob of people running after Therion and shouting. H’aanit and Linde got to their feet, Linde’s ears flattening to the side of her head and her tail twitching. Therion ran past the three of them, Alfyn’s feet dragging in the mud and leaving marks.
“THERION! What did you do?!?” Tressa shouted after him.
Therion slammed the inn’s door shut behind him, causing things set on shelves to shake precariously and the innkeeper to look up briefly before going back to reading the newspaper. The thief panted heavily, standing at the door for a moment before dragging Alfyn up the stairs and towards their room for the night. At its door, Therion readjusted the man’s arms around his neck again, placing his right hand on them to keep them secure as he snatched their room key out of his pocket with his left. With ease, he unlocked the door with a click.
Alfyn’s voice was a little raspy, but he was awake. Slowly, he rose to his feet, keeping one arm around the thief for balance. Glancing at his arm, Therion couldn’t help but notice how much bulkier it was than his own, and how free of scars and marks it was.
“Yeah, that’s my name,” he mumbled, feigning slight annoyance and pushing the door open. He walked in slowly as to not cause the other man to fall over, but with grace.
Alfyn went quiet for a moment, stumbling a little as Therion guided him towards the bed closest to the door. “I’m sorry for passin’ out back there…” he said quietly. “I reckon I drank too much…”
“Mm.” He sat Alfyn down on the bed before making his way towards the other one and sitting. There, he carefully unwound the scarf from his neck and took off his poncho, setting them at the foot of the bed.
Silence. It was strange, not having him talk his ear off.
“You’re a mighty good friend, taking me all the way here by yourself,” he finally said, causing Therion to snort.
“What, you think I’m gonna leave someone there that can be traced back to me? I’m no fool,” he scoffed.
Alfyn laughed, quietly this time. “Yeah, but you didn’t have to…” Sleep and drunkenness slurred his speech as he laid back in bed. Therion gazed out the window at the starry night sky.
“Call it force of habit. I used to have to do this kind of stuff with D…” the name caught in his throat, his mind racing. He didn’t want to think of that man ever again. “...Someone else.”
More silence. A yawn from Alfyn’s side of the room.
“You really are a good friend, Ther -” another yawn cut him off. “I love you, buddy…”
Therion’s eyes widened as he heard those words, but by the time he turned to look at Alfyn again, he had passed out for the second time that night. And so, there he sat, left to think to himself for the rest of the night.