Chapter 1

Brenday, 1 Zeanym, 1006 KR

They said people came to the Stop to die.

They said Death himself was a patron.

But Ceph didn’t trade in rumour. He just served drinks.

Byrday, 2 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“Seventeen? You old enough to own a bar, kid?” the man asked.

Ceph pointed to the hooded crow in the rafters. “The bird owns it. I just run it.”

Lorday, 3 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“Why does everyone shorten the name to the Stop?” She was a new face, her accent from upcountry.

“Bad luck to say the Angel of Death’s name aloud in the bar,” Ceph replied. “He might come looking.”

Uunday, 4 Zeanym, 1006 KR

Ceph wondered if the mists of Theore had kept the city alive all its history, a blanket of peace forced upon the metropolitan masses. Then the fifth bell would ring and he’d find that the mists just forced the chaos indoors, where his warm fire and booze awaited.

Sunday, 5 Zeanym, 1006 KR

The man pointed a newcomer towards the white ash cabinet in the corner. “Superstition says you leave an offering so Death hi’self don’t come for ye. Reality says you do it or the crow pecks yer eyes out.”

Danday, 6 Zeanym, 1006 KR

It was true that Azrael’s Stop got more than its share of deaths for a bar and inn. But Ceph did brisk business, so who was he to care?

Losday, 7 Zeanym, 1006 KR

They wondered if the crow was intelligent. A witch’s familiar, a lost soul, an angel. Or just a crow. Whichever, it was the spirit of the Stop.

Brenday, 8 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“I don’t know how he deals with all the death.”

“He’s a strange kid.”

“Old, for seventeen.”

“I like him.”

“Only reason I come back to this place.”

Byrday, 9 Zeanym, 1006 KR

Ceph woke to the crow’s call. Someone had died tonight.

He hoped it wasn’t Old Tom, who’d stayed there months. Waiting.

Ceph liked Old Tom.

Lorday, 10 Zeanym, 1006 KR

The Stop was loud tonight. Even Theore City would be affected by the latest embargo from the Angorians, and it reminded everyone that war was only one aggression away. So to forget about life, they came to Death’s bar.

Uunday, 11 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“Why would you choose to run a place like this?” he asked.

“I’m a very positive person,” Ceph said, straight-faced.

The feyling laughed.

Sunday, 12 Zeanym, 1006 KR

The ones who died there, Ceph usually got their stories. The last burden before Azrael came for them. Ceph had heard a lot of stories.

He found he knew less about his regulars than those he only ever saw once. They sat holding on to their drinks and their burdens.

Danday, 13 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“Survived another night,” Ceph said.

“Not for lack of trying,” Old Tom grinned. “Maybe tonight, eh bird?”

The hooded crow shat in response.

Losday, 14 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“I’m amazed this place runs so smooth without bouncers,” the dwarf slurred.

Ceph shrugged. “The crow’s pretty vicious.”

Brenday, 15 Zeanym, 1006 KR

Stone. Steel. Fire. Disease.

All flavours but the peaceful kind.

Some nights, Ceph couldn’t sleep for the dreams.

Byrday, 16 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“Where are your parents?”




“Other family? Friends?”


“Gods. How do you live with that?”

“I run a bar.”

Lorday, 17 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“Ceph!” came the call from a table. The bar had grown somber.

Ceph checked, nodded. “Safe journey.”

Everyone raised a glass, as the hooded crow called.

Uunday, 18 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“How come death doesn’t faze you, Ceph?” Old Tom asked.

“I’ve seen a lot. Here, it’s never forced. It’s just the next stage on the journey.”

Sunday, 19 Zeanym, 1006 KR

A series of caws broke through the din, and silence fell like a hanged man, sudden and jolting. Like they’d felt Death pass on his way out.

Danday, 20 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“That’s two this week.”

“Bad weather,” Ceph said.

The mortician snorted. “Most bars, people don’t die all the time.”

“Our drinks are better.”

Losday, 21 Zeanym, 1006 KR

A temple to Ishtar down the street chimed the hours so the whole bar could hear. Tenth bell. All stopped, raised a glass, toasted the dead.

It seemed appropriate somehow that the Mistress of Passions, of love and anger, the feelings of life, counted their hours in the Stop.

Brenday, 22 Zeanym, 1006 KR

The bar was empty during the day. Guests tended to go out. Silence in the Stop was too heavy for them. Too full of memory.

But Ceph had work to do.

Byrday, 23 Zeanym, 1006 KR

When everyone had cleared out in the wee hours, Ceph cleaned off the altar. Gave some to the crow. Took some to his room.

Lorday, 24 Zeanym, 1006 KR

The hooded crow watched, silent. It picked up dropped scraps. It drank the booze left at the shrine. It shat. And everyone respected it.

Uunday, 25 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“Where’s the bird, Ceph?”

“Probably out getting laid. No responsibility to its establishment.” The jokes were worth the birdshit in his bed.

Sunday, 26 Zeanym, 1006 KR

Old Tom put his first whiskey fey of the day at the shrine, settled into his seat with his second. The hooded crow watched in the rafters, silent.

Danday, 27 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“Bah, that’s just rumour,” Tom said.

“Falin died last week, at this very table.”

“I been here three months, waitin’. Nothing.” Tom shook his head. “Just rumour.”

Losday, 28 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“How do you feel about love?” The old woman’s voice was heavy with the fatigue of life.

Ceph sighed. Tonight, he thought, Azrael would come.

Brenday, 29 Zeanym, 1006 KR

“We’re closed,” Ceph called. Another knock meant Rye. Rye didn’t drink, but the hooded crow tolerated him anyway, for which Ceph was glad.

Byrday, 30 Zeanym, 1006 KR

They’d known each other long enough that sometimes they didn’t need to talk to know what each was thinking. They’d met long before the bar.

Lorday, 1 Gabrianym, 1007 KR

“Rye. It’s early.”

“You’re always up early.”

“Why don’t you come when I’m open?”

“I come to see you, not drink. But you know that.”


Uunday, 2 Gabrianym, 1007 KR

“…when my son moved to Icepeak—” Old Tom started, but Ceph interrupted with news of the border.

He didn’t want Tom’s story.

He was afraid.

…Continue Reading, Biggles and the Departed