Chapter 4

Lorday, 4 Drannym, 1007 KR

“People come here when they’re ready to die.”

“You weren’t ready, Rye,” Ceph said.

“Maybe I was. Maybe you weren’t.”

Uunday, 5 Drannym, 1007 KR

It was one of those days Ceph and Rye didn’t speak. One of those days Ceph could barely look at him—another life he had failed to save.

Sunday, 6 Drannym, 1007 KR

She was a regular at the Stop. Every night when she came, she asked herself why she did. Why she chose to surround herself with death.

Danday, 7 Drannym, 1007 KR

Rye watched Ceph work, silent. His physical needs had died with his body, but not his emotional.

Death could not stop love.

But it was not to be, it had never been. Ceph wasn’t fey, for one. But he was also broken, inside. He needed to be fixed, first.

Losday, 8 Drannym, 1007 KR

“We’re closed!” Ceph called. The knock repeated. He opened the door to let Rye in—but it wasn’t him. It was Lona. He shut the door again.

Brenday, 9 Drannym, 1007 KR

“…just like the Dawn War.”

“How do you know so much, Rye?”

“I paid attention in class.”

“Oh, is that what we were supposed to do?”

Byrday, 10 Drannym, 1007 KR

“Ye hear there’s an elven ship in port?”

“Royalty, I heard.”

“What’re they doin’ here? Star-addled buggers. This ain’t there land, it’s never been. Throw ’em out, I say.”

Nael stumbled over a chord change, and took a break. A delegation in Theore. Times were changing too fast. Memories still too fresh.

Lorday, 11 Drannym, 1007 KR

Nael dropped his guitar suddenly, fell against the wall. He could see them again. The elves, the blood. He could see them.

Uunday, 12 Drannym, 1007 KR

Ceph sent Nael home. Told him not to return until the elven delegation had left town.

He’d heard a regular mention the Twelve Day War.

Nael must have been pretty young…

Sunday, 13 Drannym, 1007 KR

Ceph didn’t understand war. Didn’t understand killing. Why fight when everyone will die anyway? When everyone faces the same journey?

Danday, 14 Drannym, 1007 KR

“The death of a friend is like the destruction of Castle Ward six years ago—jarring, but you move on. The world has changed, but you adapt.”

Losday, 15 Drannym, 1007 KR

The Stop seemed quiet without Nael. Ceph had come to rely on his music. He’d been right—to Ceph, it wasn’t just music.

Brenday, 16 Drannym, 1007 KR

“Death knows no borders,” the elf said. “This is his bar, and so this is where I must be tonight.”

“No politics here,” Ceph said, pouring the wine.

Byrday, 17 Drannym, 1007 KR

Nael’s return was unheralded. He didn’t speak of his absence. The music he played said everything—melancholy, powerful, aching.

Lorday, 18 Drannym, 1007 KR

The crow seemed to watch Lona as closely as Ceph did. He wondered what it knew. Wondered who she was. Wondered why he didn’t trust her.

Uunday, 19 Drannym, 1007 KR

“You say death’s the start of the next part of the journey,” Lona said to Ceph as he poured her drink. “What’s the next part?”

Ceph looked at her. It may have been the most she’d ever said to him. “The myths say you wander the Shadowrealm under Zelrhea’s rule.”

“Ever wandering, but ever at peace—yes. What if you don’t make it there?”

Ceph glanced at her, glanced away. “That’ll be twelve greens.”

She couldn’t know—could she? Couldn’t know that Azrael had come, but Cain hadn’t? That every day he wondered why Rye was still here?

Sunday, 20 Drannym, 1007 KR

“How do you know you’re ready?” Ceph asked.

“I have nothing left to offer,” Old Tom said.

“But how do you know?”

Danday, 21 Drannym, 1007 KR

The memory of his mother was an indistinct shade, the ghost of a smile, as she bundled him and his brother into her arms. Just that feeling.

Losday, 22 Drannym, 1007 KR

Glass shattered in the fireplace, Tom quivering, fist clenching and unclenching. Ceph gently touched his arm, led him to the stairs.

Brenday, 23 Drannym, 1007 KR

That day, Tom didn’t go out. He sat at the bar as Ceph poured him whiskeys. Both of them, silent.

Byrday, 24 Drannym, 1007 KR

“Why?” Ceph asked, softly.

Old Tom shook his head. “I’ve had a long life, Ceph. A long life. I’ve been waiting too long.”

Lorday, 25 Drannym, 1007 KR

Rye watched them die every week or two, with everyone else. Watched them pass into shadow, to the place he wasn’t allowed to go. Not yet.

Uunday, 26 Drannym, 1007 KR

Ceph never realized how much time Rye spent nearby—a ghost, invisible, watching from the edge of the world. Watching, yearning, loving.

Sunday, 27 Drannym, 1007 KR

In six months, Old Tom hadn’t died, and Ceph wondered—if he knew why, might he finally understand why he was here?

Danday, 28 Drannym, 1007 KR

The crow called, but their silent salute was disturbed by a glass crashing to the floor.

“Damn it!” Tom yelled. “Why does he get to go?”

Losday, 29 Drannym, 1007 KR

There were days when the last thing Ceph wanted to do was run the bar. But Death does not take days off—and so the Stop was always open.

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