Time for the main character of the novel I’m drafting to get some time to play! Totally outside of the story, I have no idea what’s going to come or how she’s going to behave. But it’s a fun bit of writing (and getting to do some back-and-forth writing which is always a fun little break!)
Now, my story begins….
Bria Lana paused a moment, this space was unlike any she had found herself in before and she wondered just who had crafted it. It was a dream, certainly, but there were so many different kinds of dreams that just which sort of dream she she had stepped into was the real question. The fact that there were things, people, noise and laughter, made her wonder if perhaps it was a very real dream, a dream with no expectations, no external implications, no messages and no lasting effects. That would be lovely….
There were clues, to where she was, what kind of dream it might be. Her dress was a start, a simple gown that she actually owned. Not a figment of her imagination. It was that shade of dark green that Chana insisted helped to bring out the little flecks of green in her brown eyes. A simple traveling dress, one she wore when the care of her appearance might make a difference, and she didn’t know just who she might need to interact with. It was one of her favorites, easy to clean, never held a stain, allowed great mobility, was surprisingly comfortable and had been a gift from her brother. All prime selling points for Bria Lana. A dream where she was herself, not seeing a world through the eyes of another. That must was clear.
Her hair was the next check. A quick pass of the hand told her that it was neatly braided, with only a few artful wisps escaping. The braid was smooth and even. Yes, definitely a dream, with very little tie to reality. Even in those dreams her hair couldn’t be tamed. The braids never stayed smooth and neat — even after years of doing her own hair it never turned out quite right, and the escaping hair couldn’t be considered wisps, more chunks that decided to escape on their own to hang flatly around her head. If the hair didn’t decide to escape it’s confines on it’s own, she had a terrible habit of fiddling with it. She imagined that if she were to peek in a mirror she would find it also that perfect shade of brown, with the slightest hints of red that appeared only after some combination of the right lighting and the perfect amount of sunlight.
If this was really a real dream, then she could do whatever she wanted. Hold a conversation with someone that had no political underpinnings, maybe even do some magic without fear of the repercussions? Be herself? What a dream.
A distinct grin, one a select few were quite familiar with, made its way to her face. There was one way to test for sure. Clearly she let herself think the words: “Perhaps I’ll just draw them all into a story, paint the tale and bring them in.”
Usually such a thought would get some reaction… solidifying that this was just a plain old dream. Her grin grew to a broad smile as she looked around the room, rejuvenated with this knowledge, trying to decide where to begin.
After a moments deliberation it seemed like the bar might be the best place, get a drink and then start to move into trying to make conversation. Without a clear goal she was a little unsure what she would even talk about…. Something to worry about later, first she approached the bartender, smiling as she realized she had no idea what kind of drink would be appropriate to order in a place like that. There was really only one way to find out, though. “May I have a drink?”
Jon eyed the newcomer, not in a particularly unfriendly manner, simply sizing her up. He’d been leaning on the counter during his chat with Seth, so he kept himself lowered now so as to not spook the girl with his size. Tall, dark and bouncer was kind of his thing, but not the best for putting people at ease. “Are you of age, where you hail from?” His tone implied that it was merely a formality of the job, nothing personal.
Bria Lana smiled, “Thank you for asking, very flattering. Yes, I am. I just don’t know what kind of drinks you might have to offer here. I would love to have something other than cheap tavern ale, or champagne.”
Jon relaxed at her response- she had looked old enough, but it was hard to tell with some folk. He wouldn’t serve a serpent under the age of 40, for example. Damned kids were worse than Rook sometimes. But this woman seemed to know her way around a drink or two, so he settled in to give her “the tour”.
“We carry the usual suspects-Buddy, Sammy, Miller- and we serve the local brewery’s River Rat. They’ve got a seasonal out too, Dead Leaves- I swear they taste better than they sound. Brew Master just has an odd sense of humor. Mixed drinks and shots are available, too, but for those, you’ll have to sign a magic user’s release form. We keep a regulating syrup in the liquors, for the safety of our patrons. It’s harmless, wears off within a few hours, and is personally maintained by yours truly. No fear of magical outbursts from relaxed inhibitions.”
By the end of his little speech, he sounded rather bored. Just more “gotta do my job” business.
“Regulating Syrup?” Bria Lana paused, looking slightly overwhelmed for a moment, “I don’t know how that would work…. What does it do, exactly? A sharry sanagree would be delightful, but… I could try the Dead Leaves – that name doesn’t sound so bad, there is a certain beauty in the dying leaves. Is magic common here, then, that you’d need to fear people having some sort of outbursts?”
Jon winced. He’d forgotten the popular jargon of Lowtown wouldn’t be universal. On this side of town, everyone was used to the fey habit of mincing meaning and word games. Ah well.
But before he could answer, Seth leaned over and intercepted.
“What he means, my dear lady, is that the heavier drinks are laced with his own personal magic, so that he can be a good bartender and cut people off when they’ve had enough. Keeps the unexpected shape shifting to a minimum, for example.”
He held out his hand to introduce himself, a ripple of red scales chasing themselves over the back of his hand as he did so.
“The name is Seth, and I’m a red cobra. Many of the guests tonight will be shapeshifters, and those from my nest will be polite enough to “flash colors”, as I just did. We’re a friendly bunch, if you don’t mind the occasional unsolicited hug or such.”
It only seemed fair to warn her. Naj at least would doubtless greet everyone like a long lost friend.
Jon took the pause in the oh so charming serpent’s little speech to interject.
“It’s been a while since anyone’s asked for a mixer like that, but I can check the storeroom for you?”
He made a question, using his expression to ask if she was comfortable being left alone with her new friend, or if she’d rather Jon save her from the unsolicited advice. It was always hard to tell how a newcomer would react to casual shapeshifting.
“Oh… your own magic in it… Uhm. I guess it’s worth a try, I don’t know how introducing another person’s magic into me will work, but I suppose a little shouldn’t hurt,” she chuckled to herself at that, it could hurt quite a bit, but a sip would be enough to tell that. She could always switch to another drink.
“Thank you,” Bria Lana nodded to the bartender before turning her attention back to Seth. She shook his hand, “Bria Lana.” She looked at his hand with interest, “so you can shift shapes? I take it magic is allowed here then? Where is this place?” A tumble of questions had started to enter her mind – and she definitely wanted to figure out where she was before she started sharing anything much about herself. Back to delicately balancing of conversation, but at least she’d found someone who seemed like he might be able to answer her questions.
Jon smiled reassuringly. “That’s why it’s suspended in a tincture- you are essentially drinking a potion. It’s simply one that won’t activate until I release its effects. Be right back.”
Seth nodded as he shook her hand, drawing her attention back to him. “It’s a fairly common practice here, as is the shapeshifting.” He released her and let more scales chases themselves along his skin. “Rook’s bar is what we call a Haven- a place of safety for all things beyond the mundane. It’s considered rude to practice active magics here, since this is Rook’s personal territory, but shapeshifting falls under a different category. It’s a latent magic, inherited usually.”
He leaned back in his seat, giving her space to process. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Bria Lana.”
Bria Lana rested against the bar, looking over the crowd, “the simple introduction of anything – magic or not – can be problematic, but I’m continuing in the hope that this is a lovely dream where I get to be just a normal person who can have a… magic-suspended-potion in her drink with no ill effect.” She laughed, “since apparently it’s a dream where such a thing is normal enough.” She looked at Seth, “a pleasure. Sorry, I’m forgetting my manners, this is a little overwhelming. But, a welcome change, certainly.” She laughed again, “and I am pretty surprised that I am in awe of the idea of shape-shifting, of all the things that is what is catching my attention. Is it terribly rude to ask more about that?”
He chuckled darkly. “Not at all.” He held his up, turning it this way and that to watch the light glint off the scales. “It is beautifully hypnotic, certainly.” He dropped his hand to his lap again, to keep from distracting them both.
“Undoubtedly why my kind make such popular dancers. Would you like to meet more of us, or is one charming shapeshifter overwhelming enough for now?”
His smile was friendly, clear he did not mean to make fun of her with his comments. He was trying to be accommodating- this was all simply old hat to him. He forgot what this world must be like to an outsider.
Bria Lana laughed again, “I wouldn’t mind meeting more people, though you are certainly charming enough. It isn’t often that I get to just talk with people, or meet someone else with unique magic – at least, unique sounding to me. I suppose it isn’t so unique here but…” she shook her head, getting a bit of a mischievous glint of her eyes, “it is a fun new thing for me to learn about.”
He stood in a boneless movement only serpents had perfected and held his hand out again. “By all means then- I’m sure my brother will be ecstatic to meet the first guest.”
Jon coughed behind him. “A moment, Seth. The lady needs her drink.” Seth looked amusedly chastened. “By all means. I’ll have one myself, since you went to all the trouble to fetch the wine.”
Jon smirked. “I know how you love your wine, you lush.”
“Hush you, it’s good for business.”
“That it is,” Jon laughed. He opened the side panel by where Seth had been sitting, taking the short way around the bar. “Southern Whiskey or Irish?” he asked as he opened the amontillado.
“Ladies choice,” Seth said with a small bow.
“I’m not sure – I am guessing that they have different names where I am from. Southern, I guess. This isn’t just some dream, is it?” Sighing, but before either could respond, she continued, “oh well, repercussions be damned.”
“I don’t know what vehicle gets you all here, but it’s not “real”, if that’s what you’re asking. At least, I’m pretty sure that was Rook’s plan… Hard to tell with that bird.” Jon shrugged and poured the ingredients into a shaker with ice.
Seth patted her shoulder reassuringly. “I wouldn’t worry about it too much. My Creator has a bad habit of dragging me into various “outtakes” as well, but it always seems to work out in the end.”
Bria Lana looked a bit relieved, if slightly confused, “It’s more a question of… oh, it’s unimportant. I’ll just try to enjoy myself – since all are certainly more interesting than many of the people I’ve been dealing with lately. This evening is certain to be a great deal more fun.” She blushes slightly, “I’m rambling.”
Seth outright laughed. “My dear, -no one- rambles like my dear Creator. I am -quite- accustomed to it.”
Jon shook his head, but he was also grinning. “Here you go, two Sherry Sangree. I won’t put you on the spot, but do let me know when you’re finished if they were to your taste. We can always find something else if they don’t agree with you.”
“Certainly,” Bria Lana hesitantly took a sip, pausing thoughtfully, took another sip and shook her head slightly, speaking almost to herself, “yeah, not real… but real.” She rolled her eyes a moment, closing her eyes as a slight frown passed over her face. Then she opened them again, turning to give a genuine smile at the bartender, “it tastes lovely. Thank you.” Turning to Seth, “On to meeting more shape-shifting individuals? I can already tell I’ll have some fodder for some truly unbelievable stories when I see my niece next.”
There was a softness to Seth’s smile at the mention of nieces. “If she’s anything like mine, she does dearly love her stories.”
He had a sip of his own drink and nodded in approval. “Summery. Keep it around, Jon, it’ll go over well in the warmer months.”
“So glad I have your approval,” Jon said drily.
Bria Lana looks between the two of them with an appreciative smile, “old friends, I assume?” To Seth, “Oh, and she does. Her brother too, but at nine is far too old for the silly fables his aunt spins – so he informs me after I’m done telling them.”
“Rook and Jon are long time friends of my nest. I haven’t belonged to Asylum nearly long enough for us to be “old” friends, but we get along.” He shot Jon a look through lowered lashes. “Most nights.”
“Well, most nights your hawk keeps you in line.” Jon said gruffly, turning away to see to other patrons. Seth shook his head and started to move Bria Lana to the dancers table.
“I’m afraid I’m a bit out of my element,” Bria Lana admitted quietly as they made their way to the table, “will you give me some sort of warning if I begin to make a fool of myself? Usually I have someone to keep an eye out for that in places where I am so… clearly… the fish out of water. Not that it always stops me but… good to be aware at least, right?”
Seth reached over and patted her arm reassuringly, “No worries – we’re all performers at this table. We’re quite accustomed to rendering admirers speechless. Or worse.”
Bria Lana laughs, “Excellent. I’m just not used to being rendered speechless. Not normally my problem.”