Serena paid close attention to everything around her in the pub. It was their fifth night on stakeout. Thus far, their efforts had been fruitless. Still, she was optimistic. After all, she had been the one who’d really pushed for them to stay and help. She didn’t want to leave without having found anything. More importantly, Lynai had seemed really nice and she wanted to help.
Inés was on the other side of the pub, chatting with a pretty server. Serena considered interfering, not because she minded Inés’ flirtations, but because she had promised Sylvie to keep her on track. However, she also had to consider that she could create a scene and draw attention to the two of them, which they definitely didn’t need.
She looked away and tried to examine another area of the pub, promising to talk with Inés once they were back at Demeter’s Temple.
The Inn was bustling with both elves and visitors enjoying a meal and some music.
“Whadda ya mean you don’t got proper rooms?” A troll demanded, pounding her fists on the elevated area the proprietors used as a desk. The clerk looked distressed, examining the wood for any sign of damage.
“Like I said, Madame,” he stated. “Our rooms are within the tree itself. Please show some respect.”
“That right there is the problem!” The troll declared, keeping her voice just as loud. “You damn tree dwellers care more about keeping your stupid trees alive than you do about making a proper comfortable place to sleep. We’re surrounded by these massive buggers. Would it really hurt to cut a couple for some proper cabins?”
“Cut a…” the elf was incredulous. “Madame, this forest has lived longer than any of us have been alive. We couldn’t possibly…”
“There you go again,” she snorted. “You’re talking like they’ve got feelings.” She stomped heavily on the wood. “Hey, Tree, if that hurt just say so! No? How about this?” She grabbed her axe and swung down.
The blow was parried by Sylvie’s rapier. “Enough!” Sylvie declared. “If you don’t want to sleep inside of a living tree then I suggest you turn around and go home instead of throwing a tantrum like a particularly bratty child.”
“You stay out of this, Human!” the troll demanded, getting in Sylvie’s face.
“You’re drunk!” Sylvie declared, getting a good whiff of the woman’s breath.
“And you’re a bitch!” The troll exclaimed. “Butting into things that don’t concern ya.”
The two of them heard the sound of a throat clearing behind them. A well-dressed elf had approached the desk. “I understand that the accommodations aren’t to your liking, Miss,” he said, looking at the troll. “Unfortunately, they’re all we offer. If you’ll go two buildings down and ask to speak with Lex, I’m sure that he can do something for you.”
“That’s more like it,” she said. She threw up a rude gesture at Sylvie and stumbled out.
“Lex?” Sylvie wondered.
“He’s a law enforcement official,” the elf explained. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to pick her up on disorderly conduct.” He bowed. “But I haven’t introduced myself. Loriul Goldeaf, my husband and I run this Inn.”
“Sylvie Fortunio, travelling priestess.”
“Thank you for your help, Miss Fortunio,” Loriul said. “For the duration of your stay in Het Wald, consider your meals our gift to you.” He knelt and rubbed the floor. “You did save Einshwere a good deal of pain, after all.”
Inés gently tapped Serena’s shoulder and sat down. “See anything?” she asked.
“Nothing yet,” Serena answered.
“I’ve been chatting with the server,” Inés whispered, putting her lips close to Serena’s ear. “She’s heard multiple people speak out against the Royal One’s decisions. The strange thing is that there’s only one at a time, they’re always attractive and they always find someone young and strong to talk about their issues with.”
“Really?” Serena asked. “I thought you were just…”
“What?” Inés asked. “I can find information and flirt with a cute girl.” She looked around. “Trouble is, I don’t think this little group is gonna approach a human. Otherwise I could do something to draw their attention.”
“So, we just have to find a likely candidate,” Serena said. “Now that we know what to look for.”
“Sounds good,” Inés agreed. “I saw a cute girl with some muscles on her in the back. I’ll go watch her.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Serena said. She looked around and noticed a muscular young elf three tables away.
Inés watched her mark without looking like she was. She’d mastered the art of glancing in the general direction of a pretty woman without looking directly at her, but also taking in everything there was to see.
Normally, she used it as a flirting technique, dropping some unsubtle hints to the woman in question to let her know that she was interested. This time, she had to be on guard. After some time had passed, the woman was approached by another woman, this one even prettier.
The two introduced themselves and began talking quietly. Inés carefully moved closer, not wanting them to notice her.
From what she gathered, the newcomer was talking fervently about the Royal One and crying, rather unconvincingly, Inés thought, about something or other. The muscular woman was trying to comfort her, getting visibly worked up. Bingo.
“Hey, You!” Inés called. The beautiful woman turned and ran Inés followed in close pursuit.
The woman ducked into a crowd and Inés noticed her features shift and change.
She hurried to keep up when the young woman, if indeed she was either; her features and form had both gone fluid, tossed some dirt up at Inés. This caused Inés to momentarily lose sight of her target and they were gone. Hidden somewhere in the crowd.
“A skin changer,” Inés muttered. “That’s gonna make things difficult.”