4.) “Go away.”
Marston sat alone at the long bar, though a crowd filled every other table in the establishment. There wasn’t anything outwardly threatening about him, but most people instinctively sensed the danger, looking sideways at him, continuing their conversations as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
Yet, there he sat, alone in the middle of a brightly polished mahogany bar. The bartenders stood back, not quite looking at him, no doubt wishing he’d go away so they could get their usual tips from the throng.
He was a small man, hunched over, quiet and reserved. He had a nice smile, but the emerald eyes never changed, always cold, always observing. He was dressed in all in white, his long blonde hair seeming part of his get-up.
I plopped down next to him, waved off the bartender who reluctantly approached.
“I’m not talking to you until you’ve had at least three drinks,” Marston said.
I signaled the bartender back, order a glass and a bottle, and with my back to the mirror, consumed my quota in silence. It was quite companionable—until I glanced over at Marston and then the conviviality vanished, replaced by a vacuum.
I looked away again and concentrated on getting drunk.
I felt the skin around my eyes loosen, my neck become slightly wobbly. “I am sufficiently inebriated,” I said.
“Good… now go away.”
“That wasn’t the deal. Hear me out, my old friend.”
“We are not, and have never been, friends.”
“By the Mirror God, you can hold a grudge!”
He finally looked at me, and I felt a chill at the back of my neck, running halfway down my spine. It was a good sign that it didn’t run all the way down my spine and into my legs and feet, that I wasn’t already halfway to the door.
I decided a fourth drink was in order, and immediately after, a fifth.
With the courage thus supplied, I looked at him again, stared into his eyes, and grinned. “I am your only friend, Marston. Isn’t that worth something?”
“I have no friends. I want no friends.”
“Fine, whatever. I have a proposition for you that has nothing to do with friendship. I intend to lead an expedition beyond the Shield Wall.”
I could tell there was just the tiniest flicker of curiosity. “Why?”
“Moregone has vanished. I don’t think it’s right for one of the principalities to disappear without someone looking into it.”
Marston straightened up, drained his drink. He was the first person I’d told who acted like he’d actually heard of Moregone. “I like that place. It’s the end of nowhere.”
“Then we are agreed. The world needs the end of nowhere, otherwise we are in the middle of everywhere.”
He smiled and I thought I saw the faintest glimmer of life in his eyes. “There is nothing you could have said to me that would convince me to help you. Except that.”
“We leave from the Gate of Rust at dawn on Friday next,” I said.
He merely nodded and took a sip.
I left him alone in his hellish solitude.