The smooth stone was cool on her cheek, and she savored the feeling, even with her neck bent at such an awkward angle. Could a person love a wall? Irrelevant: she could. You never let me down, Wall. Even her thoughts slurred. She giggled, relishing the absurdity of her new romance. Not that there hadn’t been romance in spades earlier. How many boys had she kissed? How many had fallen victim to her roving hands?
She rested her palms on the stone beside her face. Don’t worry, Wall, that’s all behind me. I’m all yours—at least for tonight.
She turned and slumped to the ground, head lolling to the side. For an interminable amount of time she couldn’t be bothered to do more than breathe, engrossed with the satisfaction of long, deep breaths that ended with great, huffing exhales. She would pay for it in the morning, but what was one night? The Festival of Plenty came only every three years, after all, and so what if she’d brought herself to a similar state just last week? She was already practically at her post. Denny could just kick her awake. Or maybe he’d join her on the floor. She could wheedle him into one secluded corner or another, couldn’t she?
She could feel his lips on hers in the visceral way only dreams and the most drunken of stupors could evoke. His blond mustache tickled her upper lip, even though he hadn’t grown it yet on the single occasion she’d managed to trip him into bed. Gods, men could be such prudes, especially the young ones!
He couldn’t refuse her in her dreams though, and she once again ran her hands along the hard muscle of his stomach to the blond trail beneath his nave—
The voice echoed through the darkness, accompanied by the ring of metal on stone and registering with Shayla even before the realization that someone had tripped over her legs. She had scarcely ordered her jumbled senses before hands were groping at her, clumsy in the darkness. Buy a girl a drink first! She thought, made unflappable by the drinks she’d bought herself and would pay for later.
Light found them before she’d had to endure too much pawing. It swelled down the hallway, pushing away the darkness by degrees before finally popping into a full glare from behind a pillar.
Shayla threw an arm up to protect her gritty eyes and felt the searching hands withdraw. “Don’t shtop on my account,” she slurred. It wasn’t Denny. He was much more tentative in his advances—or was it more resistant to hers? Regardless, it was festival night! It would be downright uncharitable to turn away someone who might want a tumble. Wall wouldn’t mind, she was sure. Wall wasn’t the jealous type.
“Hey now, there’s no rush!” she called out to the figures within the light as they hustled toward her. “There’s plenty of Shayla for everybody!” It was Festival Night; what could anyone be in such a hurry for?
“That’s what you get for running ahead, Reymond. Just because you can doesn’t mean it’s wise.”
“I know this hallway like the back of my hand, Daida. It’s hardly my fault they’ve retiled with drunkards.”
Shayla opened her mouth to protest that she was drunk, but she didn’t get a chance. Instead she found herself being hauled to her feet as if she were an errant kitten. She felt a stirring of fear at that, and finally resolved her focus on the face in front of her. The features stood stark in the half-light, and there was no mistaking them. Was there a corner you could turn in the entire capital without seeing it in one form or another? She gaped, unable to bring anything resembling rational thought to bear.
The man turned them both toward the light. “Tor, some help here?”
“Nothing doing, Reymond. Nothing above a spright will respond. Half my Classes are useless.” The speaker was no more than a shadow to Shayla, at least until her eyes adjusted.
“Daida, I think that means you’re healing.”
“Like hell I am!” came another voice from behind the light.
“Well, can you at least help us with our besotted friend here?”
Shayla’s head was still a whirl, so full of names and the stories that accompanied them there wasn’t space for anything else. It was all happening so fast.
The spell-assisted transition from drunk to sober was jarring and unpleasant. Shayla’s head spun as her balance was restored.
“There. Are you happy Reymond? I didn’t even leave her a headache, though she deserved to keep it. Happy Festival, guard.”
Shayla gaped at the woman. Daida of the Searing Light had just—and she herself had just—
She turned to Reymond. Lord Reymond. Lord Reymond, Sarvaal’s Shield. Lord Reymond, recent recipient of her bawdy tongue.
Unable to consider another course of action, Shayla snapped to one knee, which had the unfortunate effect of bringing her forehead directly into the bridge of Lord Reymond’s nose.
“Shit, woman!” he cursed, but Shayla wasn’t going to be dissuaded from kneeling. A respectful bow had the added benefit of hiding her face.
“Do we really have time to waste with this?” said the third voice, and Shayla’s gaze flashed sideways before she could stop it. Torgun of the Most Enviable Title. The absurdity of the appellation had always made Shayla sure he’d be one hell of a bloke to drink with, but in the deep shadows cast by the light hovering over Daida’s head the man’s face might as well have been a casting of Hannick’s own from one of his blood-soaked temples.
“Right,” Reymond responded, his voice nasal as he checked for damage. “What’s your name, guard? Oh, for gods’ sakes, stand up!”
Shayla bolted to her feet, but this time Reymond kept well clear.
“Um, Shayla, sir. Private First Class. Ma’am. Sir.” She bowed to each of the three in turn and wished she were still trying to stare down the floor.
Torgun growled impatiently.
“It’s going to have to be ‘Hero of the Realm’ tonight, soldier,” Reymond said, and a dialogue popped into being before Shayla.
Lord Reymond, Sarvaal’s Shield and Hero of the Realm has invited you to his party.
Do you wish to join?
Wilson A. Bateman was raised all around the world, but predominately in Utah. Never able to constrain his interests to one field, he has degrees in German, Biology, Professional Writing, and Computer Science. He thrives on mixing Psychology and Philosophy into his work, and has recently made his debut in the Fantasy and LitRPG genres with his books: Auger & Augment and Serpent & Spirit.
He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his beautiful husband and their three hideous children.