The Old LifeRoy GrahamZliv doesn't say anything when he comes in, just sits down at the back table he likes. He has his pick—[[he's the only one|slownight]] in the Hook and Grapple, after all.
(set: $limp to 1)
[[Bring him wine. Everyone likes wine.|wine]](set: $Iam to "compassionate")
I am <tw-link class='cyclingLink' data-cycling-texts='["compassionate", "aware", "committed"]' onclick='clickCyclingLink(this, "$peopleAre");'>$Iam</tw-link>."A lovely bribe, but I'm not here for inspections. The Lady wants her taxes, so bring out what you've got."
[[What you've got: an old tavern, a deal with the vineyard, a grave in the back and a thousand goddamn candles.|sure]]Slow night after slow night. You still light the candles, though. Classes the joint up.
[[Anyways.|Start]]"Sure. Times are tough," says Zliv. He takes a big swig from the glass you've brought him. If he didn't drink so much, you'd think he was one of the Queen's Cold Boys, considering the amount of sympathy he [[carried]] around. "You're a big guy, though. I'm sure you can rustle up coin somehow. If you're short, there's always the bank."
[[NO.|no]]All Zliv carries is that glass sword of his. You can see it on his belt now, glittering in the firelight. The pommel is stamped with the Queen's sigil, a serpent eating a bird.
[[Yikes.|sure]]It won't come to that. At least, not yet. There are other ways of making money. It's time to open up the cheese cellar.
[[Open up the cheese cellar.|cellar]]
[[Go to the bank.|areyousure]]Yeah, not much cheese anymore. Just weapons from the old life. Which one will it be?
[[A war axe, sturdy and honed to a razor's edge.|axe]]
[[A broadsword. Runes glow along its silver surface.|sword]]
[[A bow of dragonbone. Braley's old thing.|bow]]The food you serve may be fancy, but you've never been described as such.
(set: $axechoice to 1)
[[Time to be off, then.|scurling1]]Avaroth the Witchcutter? Something like that.
(set: $swordchoice to 1)
[[Time to be off, then.|scurling1]]He never liked it when you used his things. Not much say in the matter anymore, though.
(set: $bowchoice to 1)
[[Time to be off, then.|scurling1]]You close the Hook and Grapple for the day and hike out to the country to find some action.
A young colony of [[scurlings|scurling]] moved into the rotten, hollow trunk of the Evertree. You heard their clacking a mile out.
[[Take 'em down|scurling2]]Bodies like children, with waxy chitin all over. Ant jaws. Compound eyes. Bad.
[[Very bad.|scurling1]](if: $axechoice is 1)[You take the heads off three in one stroke. Nice. The last one you brain with the handle, spattering insect brain all over.](if: $swordchoice is 1)[You say something in Highspeech and What's-its-name bursts into white flames. The smell of charred scurlings is abysmal.](if: $bowchoice is 1)[Scurlings are tougher than they look, so you're going to be smart about this. No sense getting any closer than you need to. You put in arrow in every one of their compound eyes.]
At the center of the log is a pile of precious gemstones, some pried from jewelry, others dug up from the ground. Scurlings love shiny rocks. [[Weird goddamn scurlings.|taxpay1]]You pay Zliv, and even have some left over. Pork goes onto the menu of the Hook and Grapple for a while. Hell yeah. Braley really loved pork.
[[It's another season before he comes back.|zliv2]]Same table. Same dead eyes. "Evening, monsieur. Do you have taxes for the Good Lady?"
[[You sure do. Just enough left over—|raised]]Zliv shakes his head. "This was last season's rate. The Quiet Queen, our majesty, was forced to raise it, I'm afraid."
[[Raise it?! Why?|why]]"Something about a war? You're welcome to ask her yourself."
He laughs at his own joke, there. "But if you need to, there's always—"
Yes. You know. There's always the bank. If you need it. Which you don't.
[[Go to the bank.|waycourt]]There's a [[lich]] in the ruined castle of Ridian, because of course there is. It's a ruined castle. Kill this lich and next week, some mutant cult or lava dragon will move in. Can't keep those things out if [[your life depended on it.|lich2]]Dramonstine, the Umber Prelate, Shepherd of the Coming Dark.
[[Big name for some college grad who got his hands on a few forbidden secrets.|lich1]](if: $axechoice is 1)[The lich starts to weave a curse of extraplanar darkness, but you cut off his hands before he can finish. Good old axe.](if: $swordchoice is 1)[As you confront the lich, your magical sword leaps out of your hands and flies down the corridor. You look at each other awkwardly for a moment, before it finds and smashes his phylactery to pieces. The guy crumbles to dust in front of you. Was it...Lichcutter?](if: $bowchoice is 1)[You're trying to figure out how to kill a lich with a bow and arrow when you remember something Braley said. "Nothing likes being shot in the heart except true romantics." You miss Braley very much. You don't, however, miss the lich.]
With all the money you make from hocking the lich's tomes of dark power, you have more than enough for the Queen's taxes. This time, though, you resolve to save the rest for Zliv's next visit. All except for a bouquet of flowers, which you leave on Braley's grave behind the restaurant. All except for the bottle of fine wine you'll need that night, because going out and killing monsters [[reminds you of him.|zliv3]]When Zliv returns, he asks for twice what he did last time. You plead, you argue, you even yell in his face. The other patrons slink out the door of the Hook and Grapple, frightened to be seen with someone treating a man of the Queen like this.
Zliv doesn't mind, though. He just shrugs and tears off a hunk of bread to swill in his drippings. "You know the deal. There's always—"
The bank. The Intruder. But you're not that desperate yet.
[[Go to the bank.|waycourt]]You've heard about an [[arbitrex]] flying lower in the mountains than normal. It takes you the better part of the day to scale the cliffside and find the nest.
The creature is gone when you finally arrive. [[Maybe this will be the easy one.|arbitrex2]]A crow, but worse in almost every way. Serrated teeth, twenty foot wingspan, and an abiding love of magical objects, which it collects from the bodies of dead wizards. [[Thankfully, you're no wizard.|arbitrex1]]You're shoveling enchanted goblets into your bag when you feel a terrible pressure cinch around your shoulder.
Your chest is jammed up against the cliff like a doll, and in your periphery you can make out the arbitrex's steak knife teeth [[digging into your flesh.|arbitrex3]]You let go of the cliff face with your only working hand and jab your thumb into the bird's eye. It shrieks, lets go, and the world slows down [[as|fall1]]You let go of the cliff face with your only working hand and jab your thumb into the bird's eye. It shrieks, lets go, and the world slows down as
[[you|fall2]]You let go of the cliff face with your only working hand and jab your thumb into the bird's eye. It shrieks, lets go, and the world slows down as
(set: $limp to 2)
[[fall|pause]][[...|damage]]Three broken ribs. Your ankle, obliterated. Your shoulder, of course. You even left the bag of goblets up there.
You know Zliv will come tomorrow to collect. If you want to keep the Hook and Grapple, you don't have any more choice in the matter.
[[Go to the bank|waycourt]][[The Waycourt Bond and Trust|bondandtrust]] building is not any larger than its neighbors, but there is a sense of uncomfortable depth. When you (if: $limp is 1)[walk](if: $limp is 2)[limp] in, you're greeted at once by a man with black-green hair and a suit the color of thunderclouds.
He is beautiful and smiling. He looks like Braley, in a way he shouldn't. Like they know. Like they want you to trust him.
"Welcome, welcome. We've been expecting you, friend! Shall we go over the terms of your contract?"
[[You don't have a contract.|contract]]You remember the early names for this place, when it first appeared on a city block that no one could remember building. Before any of their deals and contracts, they were only [[the Intruder.|waycourt]]Not-Braley leads you through the halls of the bank, which seem to shift slightly any time your back is turned to it. It's almost as if the whole building were made of mist.
Eventually, long after you've lost your sense of direction, you step into a room with a [[stone table.|stone]] There's a chair for you, but your host prefers to stand. From his pocket, Not-Braley draws a tube of paper from his pocket and [[flicks it open expertly.|pastpresentfuture]]Looks almost like a [[sacrificial slab.|contract]]"For the amount you're seeking, we believe this is a fair deal." Not-Braley gestures to the paper in front of you. "You'll pay with past, present and future. Of course, the specifics are negotiable."
In front of you, the ink on the paper curls and writhes like insects. You can feel it in your head, reacting to your thoughts, shaping what you already know you will surrender. This is what they say:
(set: $past to "The day you met Braley.")
<tw-link class='cyclingLink' data-cycling-texts='["The day you met Braley.", "Signing the lease of the Hook and Grapple together.", "The names and faces of your parents."]' onclick='clickCyclingLink(this, "$past");'>$past</tw-link>
(set: $present to "Your sense of humor.")
<tw-link class='cyclingLink' data-cycling-texts='["Your sense of humor.", "Your dreams.", "Your love of wine."]' onclick='clickCyclingLink(this, "$present");'>$present</tw-link>
(set: $future to "Five years of your life.")
<tw-link class='cyclingLink' data-cycling-texts='["Five years of your life.", "A moment of true peace.", "A second chance at love."]' onclick='clickCyclingLink(this, "$future");'>$future</tw-link>
"Just tell me when you're [[ready|snatch]]," says the creature in front of you.Not-Braley snatches up the paper in front of you, and with it everything you've promised him. Past, present and future run out of you like smoke.
"You'll find the money in your account, friend. Wonderful doing business with you," he says, smiling far too wide. "Until [[next time.|end]]"There is, as promised, plenty of money. You pay the Queen's taxes. (if: $limp is 2)[Your body starts to heal. ]The Hook and Grapple hits its summer rush, with brave young souls running into the hills to fight whatever they can find.
You've made it another day, and sometimes that's all you can hope for. It wasn't the way Braley would have wanted it, but he's not around to have his say anymore.
ENDAre you sure? There's no coming back from this.
[[Maybe I'll check out the cheese cellar.|cellar]]