“I can’t believe we’ve stooped this low,” said Maeve, the woman sitting to Carver’s left. She sat slouching deep into her chair while mindlessly spinning a copper coin on the table. She was not as warmly dressed as Carver; wearing a collarless linen shirt that was a size too big and supposedly white—if she had ever cared to wash it. It was messily tucked into a pair of tight-fitting black trousers, held up by a pair of leather belt braces. Holstered to her hip was a pickaxe unlike any other typical pickaxe. It was larger and sharper to begin with; with the ‘pick’ end of the head coming to a much more precise—and deadlier—point; and the other end being flatter and more blunted, much like a hammer. It would be more apt to call it a ‘Pickhammer’ rather than a pickaxe. The shaft ran perpendicular to the head until curving at the hilt and forming a V-shape that would fit snuggly against the forearm; allowing for greater leverage when pulling the pickaxe out of whoever’s unfortunate head it found itself in.
She rolled up her sleeves in a way that seemed almost habitual at this point, then lazily pointed with her thumb and said, “I mean, look at that—that window doesn’t even have a glass pane in it. It’s just a hole in a wall.”
“I don’t think it was ever supposed to be a window,” Carver replied inattentively. He was currently preoccupied shoving his finger deep into his pouch trying to scrape out the last dregs of smoke-leaf, which he then crumbled into a rolling-paper he laid tidily on the table—only to have his efforts thwarted by a sudden draft. In a fit of frustration, he threw his pouch down onto the table and then hissed, “Well, we wouldn’t even be in this situation if you hadn’t got our Loot Mule killed.”
“Hang on,” Maeve snapped back, sitting up straight in her chair, “What do you mean if I hadn’t got our Loot Mule killed? How was I supposed to know Nugget set a trap there? If anything, it’s that little shits fault for wiring the whole place to explode… Speaking of, where is that fucker?”
They both turned their focus to the chair on Carver’s right, confident they saw Nugget sitting there a moment ago. Instead, they found only an empty chair looking back at them. They spun their heads, looking this way and that, scanning both the tavern floor and the air (in case somebody had mistaken him for a stool)—but before they had the chance to begin worrying, Connla, the barmaid, approached their table.
“Yer drinks, my dears. Two pints and a half-pint,” she said, bending her large frame over the table and soppily setting the tankards down with her meaty paws.
“Cheers,” Maeve said and flicked her a copper coin, which Connla caught with perfect dexterity.
Now, the expectation was, as it typically is, that the barmaid would leave after receiving payment—but Connla did not. Instead, she lingered. Standing silently with a close-eyed smile as if expecting something more, which was made doubly more concerning considering she stood at least a head taller than anyone else in the tavern.
Eventually, Carver piped up and asked, “Can…we help you with anything?”
“It’s a copper coin—each,” Connla replied matter-of-factly.
“Even the half-pint?” Asked Maeve.
“Shame tax,” Connla stated.
“Ah, my friend said he would pay for these two,” Carver said, gesturing to his and the half-pint.
“Aye, he paid for the half-pint.”
“Oh, of course he did. Bastard… Ugh, fine,” Carver looked to Maeve with an expression that said, I’m sorry, I don’t have any money, and I would really like not to die right now. Maeve responded in turn with a sigh, then begrudgingly took out her lack-lustre looking purse and flicked Connla a second copper coin—who caught it with the same extreme agility as before. With a sweet but obviously forced smile, Connla thanked them both and then quickly scurried off to deliver her next round.
Maeve held her eyes on Connla for a moment, watching as she made her way back to the bar, and then turned to Carver and said, “You see the size of her?”
“Aye, pretty hard to miss,” Carver responded, squinting his eyes as he cautiously inspected his ale.
“Like, there’s big…” Maeve continued, “…and then there’s whatever the fuck she is.” She paused to think, and then asked, “Do you think she’s all proportional?”
Carver screwed up his nose after giving his ale a quick sniff, and then coughed out a, “What do you mean?”
“Well, look at her. Everything about her is large and wide. So, I’m just wondering what else is like that…you know?”
“Dreamer’s breath… Maeve, what is wrong with you?”
“Look, I just feel sorry for any bloke that gets accosted by her—I’m sure it’d be like trying to push rope up a well.”
“Enough!” Carver snapped at her, “Can we just—drink our ales and be done with today? Please?”
“Alrigh’, fine,” she shrugged. “I’m just making some small-talk; a bit of banter, you know? No need to jump down my throat. If you wanna jump down anything, you can jump down her—”
Carver let out a long guttural sigh, as if he were both suppressing the last thirty-seconds and exhaling the weary dregs that have clung to his bones. He then took a large swig of his ale—and immediately spat it back out.
“What is this?!” He exclaimed in disgust, while his tongue tried to escape his mouth and the foul metallic taste within it.
“You get what you pay for,” Maeve sneered, making no attempt to hide her laugh. “How’s your hand though?” She then asked.
While still smacking his tongue against his lips, he pulled back the bandages on his hand to reveal a gash blackened with crusted blood and puss running the length of the back of his palm. They both watched as thin, sinewy strings of flesh began to take shape, darting from one end of the wound to the other, webbing and melting together until the gash closed.
“It’s healing at least,” Carver said, pulling the bandages back over his hand, “but it looks like it’ll scar.”
“That’s probably more egregious than the taste,” Maeve replied thoughtfully. “Still no sign of Nugget then? He could use a drink more than either of us.”
“I wouldn’t worry about him… He’ll show up one way or another.”
The very moment those words left Carver’s lips, a deafening rumble shook the tavern. A shockwave blasted the thin, wooden walls threatened to tear them down as new windows formed. The shattering of glass and panicked cries pierced the air as patrons leapt to the ground. Silence followed in its wake. Carver was one of the first to stand, rising from his hiding spot under the table, brushing the dust and debris off his shoulders. Maeve was less graceful as she stood. Her hair, which was previously knotted into a top-bun, had come undone and now resembled that of a bird’s nest.
“What the fuck was that?” She asked, blowing thick black strands of hair from her face.
Carver looked back at her with wild, frantic eyes and said hurriedly, “I think we should leave.”