They say that people come to the Stop when they’re ready to die.
They say that Death himself is a patron. Certainly, that’s where the tavern got its name.
Azrael’s Stop. Watering hole for the Angel of Death.
There’s an altar in the corner, a white ash cabinet with a statue of the angel. It’s simple, but stands out—most taverns don’t have altars to Death, after all.
They say you’re supposed to leave an offering on the altar, instead of tipping. Not wanting to risk attracting Death’s attention, most do it. That’s also why most avoid the name, and just call it the Stop.
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.
Biggles and the Departed
“Welcome back to the Stop,” Ceph said.
“Thank you! Um… back?”
“You’ve been here before.”
While Ceph prepped for the day, Rye wandered. Gazed at the altar. Pored over the wine selection. Taunted the crow. Watched Ceph.
Elegy of the Twilight Prince
It was a particularly rough night for Ceph. No matter what distraction he sought, the faces of the dead lurked behind his eyes.
“You all right?” Old Tom asked.
“You don’t sound it,” Nael said.
“It’s a good myth. Cain. But it’s just a myth,” Ceph said.
Nael shook his head. “No myth is just a myth. No song is just a song. No story just a story. Telling it gives it meaning. Hearing it gives it meaning. Gives it power. There is great power in story, in music. There is truth in even the most blatant fiction. You find the meaning you need.”
That night, Ceph closed the bar early, kicked the patrons out, poured himself a drink. The crow watched him, head cocked, as he made his way to his bed.
The sheets needed cleaning; they were browning from sweat. He hadn’t been sleeping well.
The crow could feel it. Could hear the uncanny sounds of a low, soft voice, speaking indistinguishable words that are at once calming and terrifying. The sounds were far away, indistinct, as if they didn’t quite belong.
“People come here when they’re ready to die.”
“You weren’t ready, Rye,” Ceph said.
“Maybe I was. Maybe you weren’t.”
What I See
Glass shattered in the fireplace. The bar grew quiet and heads turned to Old Tom, standing by his usual table, fist clenching and unclenching. He was in his seventies, and his shoulders slumped from the weight of years, but he was still a large man; the Stop was always dominated by his presence.
The crow’s call rang in Ceph’s head, over and over. After all of these months, Old Tom was dead. And Ceph had lost another friend.
It felt different that night. Empty, though the bar was crowded. A vacuum where once a giant had stood.
The elf was a local—he’d lived in the City of Mists for forty years, though he’d been born in Enlanuin, and lived there a hundred years before. He spoke of his long life, of the trials he’d witnessed; he spoke of the elven myths of the age when there were more than just a scattering of stars in the sky.
“Where’s the minstrel?” Trin asked. She hadn’t been there.
“Gone,” Ceph said. “He couldn’t live up to his own words.”
Jack Frost and the Hooded Crow
Ceph stoked the fire. The bar was mostly empty—he’d started to get a few patrons some nights, but Azrael’s Stop was hidden down a little alleyway near Temple Ward, and Ceph didn’t think anyone would ever find it. Only that old man, Tom, was nursing his whiskey in the corner with a friend.
In the Shadowrealm, all was an oppressive bleakness, a black depression on the land where the dead walked. Lona could feel the same, here at the Stop.
The Soulbinding Oath of the Dranae
As night drew on, Lona stared into the shadows of the bar, scratching absently at the scars on her arm as she repeated the Soulbind Oath to herself. As she reminded herself of what she had lost.
Nael stood at the end of the alley on Candle Street. The oaken door of the Stop was a barrier, a test—could he bring himself to walk through it again?
Eggs and Masks
Ceph looked at the thing Trin had put in his hands. It was egg-shaped, he supposed, but filled with some kind of green jelly that looked anything but appetizing.
“What is this?” he asked again.
The pain in his lungs had been growing steadily worse. He knew he wasn’t long for the world. He needed something to ease the pain, to ease his passage—he needed company, and he needed a drink.
He turned a corner, found a bar—but a sign declared it closed.
He slumped against the wall. Pained. Alone.
A man stood on the road in front of Lona, faintly illuminated by the lights of the city she’d left behind her. He had the milky eyes of the blind, but he didn’t feel of the world. She drew her silver blade…
Cold rains lashed the windows. The Stop was open, but Ceph was absent. Nael had taken to running the bar when Ceph didn’t. When he couldn’t face the world.
Ballad of a New Dawn
Nael had spent all night at the university. He’d tossed a gold coin at a studying student, asked her to accompany him to the library.
She’d brought him old tomes, read the stories to him in a hushed voice as the moons rose and fell over Theore. She’d found music for him, which he took to Duskrise in the morning. He’d found an old teacher of his. “Teach me,” he’d said, holding out the scroll.
The Stop was a quieter place than it had been in earlier days. Fewer regulars, fewer stories. Ceph was quiet behind the bar. Going through the motions. Like everyone was waiting for something to change, no one changing.
Speaker for the Dead
That night, everything changed.
Cold wind blew snow down into the alley at the end of Candle Street, piled it up against the wall as if leaning there for support. Trin trudged through it, the cold creeping up her legs, and she pulled her cloak tighter around her.
The snow melted as the rain returned. The mortician came, along with the Guard. And Ceph took the journal out into the city.
“We never blamed Isabelle,” the mother said. “But thank you for bringing this to us. Our girl will meet her in the Queen’s Land.”
And Ceph felt that he had done something.