The masked man had visibly relaxed when the final two guests, Wanderer and Sheshmetet, finally walked out of the door of the Open Palm. He sighed, finally alone, no more obligations. Not even Syl was around to bother him. Even still, he'd kept sweeping the floors long after everyone had left. Despite his growing exhaustion he was determined to leave the place spotless, never one to have a job half done. It had taken another two hard hours of sweeping, mopping, organizing and tidying up before he was satisfied with the quality of his work and dusted off his hands.
Now Grimjack glanced around one last time, eyes lingering on every nook and cranny as they wandered, appreciating the place in a way they'd been unable to when it was full of people or while he'd been cleaning. There really was something special about it: a sense of community and kinship most other places didn't have. He could understand why Hazel had been so keen on offering her help. It was almost enough to root him to the spot. Almost. But he didn't belong here, and so he tore open a worldgate to the spired chateau his employer called home, and stepped through without looking back.
The moment he stepped through to the other side he was greeted by immaculate tiled floors and white marble walls dozens of feet tall. It was a level of extravagance only the extremely wealthy could claim, and yet it was also unusually sparse, causing his steps to echo back to him in lonely discourse. The main room in fact sported only a grand piano, a bookcase, and a table with an accompanying divan upon which his employer was now seated.
The Lady Vermillion, ever graceful, sitting with her legs crossed while a dainty, gloved hand scrawled across an artist's sketchbook. She purred as her hand flowed effortlessly over the pad, bringing to life things only she could see and so kindly sought to share with the rest of the world. The only indication that she noticed his arrival was the faintest twitch of her firran ears.
"Lorrik is currently outside, trimming a few of the more aggressively encroaching cedars. We have some time to ourselves." She hummed.
Grimjack opened his mouth to speak but found the words stuck in his throat. Despite having served her on and off for a few years now it seemed he still found it difficult to speak to her.
She chuckled. "Come now, it is unkind to keep a lady waiting. Where are you manners?"
"I thought I didn't have to do that around you." He mused.
Her drawing stopped for a moment as she looked up from her sketchbook. "You don't. But it is still polite."
Grimjack sighed, only to be treated to another warm laugh.
"Still such a petulant child." Hazel said, resuming her drawing.
"Hardly a child any longer."
"You will always be a child to me." She said seriously.
"I--" Grimjack's tongue caught in his throat again. This woman.
She lifted the quill from her pad, and with an elegant flourish of her hand gestured for him to continue. "It is quite alright, take as much time as you need, but do try to hurry I do so wish to hear how your night went before I die of old age."
There'd been a time when he truly hadn't understood her at all, this young firran who called herself old. But now, he felt it too. Gods did he feel it: that weight in his soul, like a brick threatening to drag him deep into a cold, dark ocean.
He exhaled slowly, then began. "You were correct in your assumptions, for once. It is a lovely place full of lovely, kind people. I did my best to help, as you asked. I tried to lighten their burdens with humor, but I don't know how well I was received. He chuckled. "Suppose I'm an acquired taste."
She nodded along. "Good. Tell me of some of the people there. What did you learn? Who did you help?"
Grimjack took a deep breath and recalled the people he had met. "The host, Wanderer, is a warm and kind harani who's real name is Vahn. However, he seems to have some severe social issues. I tried to expose him to the worst aspects of people, pestering him ceaselessly and making him generally uncomfortable before the event started. Perhaps in light of that by the time he assumed public speaking it seemed much less daunting in comparison. I'd hoped he'd be eager enough to get away from me that he'd welcome the stage gladly. I'm not entirely certain it worked, but I daresay it was a stellar performance on my part.
He shifted slightly."There was a woman there, Sinestra, her exact occupation remains a mystery to me, but she was dressed extremely provocatively. She seemed to make him uncomfortable by her mere presence, to the point that he was unable to even look in her direction. I bid and won on an auction with her, and I hope that if I get her to spend enough time with him he might acquire a bit more confidence with women like her."
At this Hazel threw her head up and laughed, uncharacteristically boisterous for one with her grace. "You ought to be careful with 'women like her' little Jack, I have known many in my line of work. From the sound of things I dare say she may even be too much for you to handle, let alone your new friend."
He tilted his head, amused. "Please, compared to your constant annoyances I'm sure it'll be hardly a challenge."
"Hmm, ah yes." She hummed. "Eager to face any scantily clad challenge, are you? Well, for now face the challenge of continuing your tale."
Thankful that the mask hid his redness, he continued. "There was an elf there, Alexander. He seemed interested in my scepter, not a euphemism, and bid for me in the auction. I don't know exactly what he wants but I will try to help him in whatever way I can."
Hazel nodded approvingly. "Careful that he does not seek you only for magical power."
Grimjack nodded. "A particular standout was a girl by the name of Kora. She seemed, angry, or perhaps abrasive is a better word. Some of the people there seemed to hold a negative opinion of her, but I never got the sense she was a terrible person. I bid and won her auction and I hope that I can help alleviate whatever pain she's facing. There was however one small inconsistency. At one point she was talking to the barkeep and referring to herself as the owner, yet later I learned that the real owner is a large warborn man who goes by the name of North Light. Currently, I am still uncertain what Kora's exact relationship is with the Open Palm."
Hazel looked up from her pad, raising an eyebrow. "So, this North Light is the true owner? A warborn? Interesting, as far as I am aware that's not strictly legal. I do hope he avoids any serious trouble."
Jack nodded. "As far as I could tell, yes, he's the owner. However, it may be he won't remain so for much longer. I overheard a conversation between him and Vahn in which he left the Open Palm in his care. North Light, as he puts it, would rather pursue a theatrical career, or perhaps something to do with music. He was set to make his way towards the Yorland Theater in some attempt to pursue his dreams and convince the world something or other about the warborn."
The firran woman raised a dignified hand to her chin. "Hrm. The Yorland Theater is not known to be a very kind place. I should be very much relieved if you would agree to keep an eye on him from time to time."
Grimjack bowed deeply. "Of course, my lady."
She purred, "Good."
"The rest of the auction went well. There was a male firran named Khoshekh who was rather amusing, a master brewer as well should you ever need such services. A firran woman I believe I annoyed rather intensely by the name of Sheshmetet, and then yet another firran woman who seemed to take kindly to me towards the end. Tahmoh, I seem to recall being her name."
He continued. "Vahn accepted your donation rather graciously, and during his conversation with North Light I overheard him say their financial troubles would be assuaged for a while."
She nodded gratefully.
Jack sighed, a bit of his fatigue escaping his lips."After the event ended, I stayed behind a short while to ensure the place was cleaned. So many people in a building tend to have a sort of destructive effect. But I made certain everything was proper and tidy before I left."
Hazel put down her sketchpad and gave him her full attention now. "And, did you apologize to Vahn for your actions yesterday?"
She raised an eyebrow.
"Well, he accepted -an- apology at the very least."
The woman sighed, but left it at that."And..." she averted her eyes to the floor. "What of... before the auction?"
Grimjack tensed, the mood suddenly growing dark."I dealt with everything just fine."
She glanced up at him, biting her lower lip in concern. "You are sure?"
"Yes." He replied stoically.
"I--" She hesitated. "You will no longer have to do such things soon. I believe I can--"
Jack interrupted her before she could finish. "I know what you're trying to do, but you'll never convince my father. Keep your wealth, it's hardly worth wasting on someone like me." He waved away her concern with a flick of his wrist.
"It is not your father I need to convince, you foolish boy." She insisted.
"Just leave it!" He snapped, eyes flaring.
Hazel stared at him in silence before the unbroken eye contact proved too much and she turned to hide her face. Eventually, she stood and made her way towards the staircase, the swishing of her dress the only sound in the room until she finally stopped at the foot of the stairs and said. "I think I shall go to bed now." She climbed the extravagant flight with an air of royalty, composed and dignified except for the fact that her voice trembled as she called back. "Never a waste, Jack."
He watched her ascend the stairs stoically, not daring to even breathe, though his face was flushed with heat underneath his mask. When she was out of his line of sight he exhaled at long last, the tension leaving his body. Now, with his patron out of the room, his day over and his obligations truly at an end, Jack allowed himself to sink into the divan. Exhaustion permeated every inch of his body, it felt as though a boulder weighed down each of his limbs, pushing him into the soft cushions. He'd almost be content to lie there forever, gaze lost in the marble ceiling. Surely he'd earned a few hours of rest?
But, no sooner did he close his eyes than he heard that all too familiar voice in his head. The one that told him to keep going, to never stop. The one that told him he could rest when he was dead. He sighed. Ah well, he thought. Suppose I'll sleep another day. Jack shoved himself off the divan, and hopped to his feet, forcing a smile on his face as he shrugged off his exhaustion. And with that, he tore open another worldgate, then stepped through without looking back. Because if he did, he might glimpse the monster.