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Hail to the King, Baby

Hail to the King, Baby

The search for the Atlanteans was not going well, and Cindy was getting frustrated. They’d been traipsing around Discord for nearly a week now, and no one had even seen anyone who even resembled Gil or Muirne. And it wasn’t as if Gilveidan really blended into a crowd.

“Keep in mind,” Tommy said one evening when they were all sitting in the pub, “we might have arrived way after, or even before they were here.”

“I thought Cowell said he knew what he was doing.” Cindy tried to keep her voice from sounding too accusatory.

From across the bar, where he and Flora were going over inventory, Cowell perked up at the mention of his name. “Oh, I would say I do,” he nodded. “But there’s always an inevitable margin of error. You never can tell with these things.”

“Then the entire time we’ve been searching might’ve been a waste?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Niko leaned back in his chair. “Nice little vacation, all things considered.”

“I mean, I guess,” she conceded. “But I didn’t think we’d come here for a vacation. Our friends might be in trouble.”

“They’re gonna be alright, Cindy,” Tommy grabbed her shoulder. “They’re tough cookies.”

By this point, Cowell had abandoned the inventorying—much to Flora’s chagrin—and had sidled up to the table. “Actually, I might have some good news on that front.”

“Really?” Niko asked.

“What, don’t believe me?”

“I never believe you, so forgive me for being a little skeptical.”

Cowell shrugged. “You can believe whatever you want, but I did hear something through the grapevine earlier today.”

“You heard something and we didn’t?” Cindy’s eyes narrowed.

“Well, you two have just been running around the city for the last couple of days,” Tommy added. “That’s not often the best way to get info around here.”

“So you’ve been saying…”

“Anyway,” Cowell cleared his throat, “heard from a friend of a friend that there was a pretty bad tussle down at the Hole-in-One a couple of weeks ago. ‘Parrently, one of the culprits was a magus of some sort, bloke with a funny eye.”

“That obviously sounds like Gil, but he’s not really one to get into a fight…” Cindy frowned.

But Niko leaned forward. “What are you talking about?” he asked. “He probably said something really pompous and got himself punched out.”

“And then Muirne got out her sword…” Tommy groaned.

“Okay actually you know what that makes way too much sense.”

So the next day Cindy and Niko followed Cowell’s directions and came upon the “Hole-in-One,” which as it turned out was a pool-hall in one of the lower areas of the city. It stuck out amidst all the brick and stone that dominated Discord’s architecture somewhat with its tan, stucco walls and long lines of mildew stemming from its storm drains. The thought occurred to Cindy that she wasn’t even sure it ever rained in Discord.

“Nice sign,” Niko commented, pointing up to the text above the door, where the ‘l’ in ‘Hole’ had conveniently been weathered away. “Real classy.”

“This definitely seems like the kind of place Gil and Muirne would frequent.” Cindy rolled her eyes. “Fucking Cowell.”

“I thought that was your brother’s job?” Niko muttered, before clearing his throat as Cindy shot him a look. “Well, that would certainly explain how they got in trouble.”

“I’m afraid we’re going to get in trouble.”

“Only one way to find out, I guess.” Niko patted his coat reassuringly and opened the narrow, steel door, gesturing Cindy inside.

“Decided to finally start being a gentleman, huh?” she asked.

“No, I just don’t wanna go in first.”

So of course, prepared at any minute to immolate anything that looked at them funny, Cindy stepped into the hazy darkness that awaited them.

It was dim inside, made even dimmer by the thick cloud of cigarette smoke that hung over the room. Lined up in haphazard rows were the epitomes pool tables, all in various states of decay. Only a few patrons shuffled here and there over the crusty, star-patterned carpet to line up their shots, though there could have been more skulking back in the gloom.

It was worryingly quiet.

Luckily, none of the leather-clad patrons paid them much mind as they hesitated on the threshold. Quickly, the two bustled between the tables and made it to the bar in the back. If anyone knew about who’d been in and out, it’d be the bartender.

A particularly large man with a bandanna wrapped around his head shot them a dirty look as they pushed past him. Cindy almost squeaked out an apology, but all Niko did was meet his gaze before purposefully turning to the bar.

“Scuze me,” Niko leaned forward on the counter, but it still took the bartender a few seconds to look up, and even then he only gave a small grunt in response. “Maybe you can help us. See, we heard there was a fight here the other week.”

The bartender and the men at the bar all straightened abruptly. “What’s it to you? You the fuzz?”

“Do we look like the fuzz to you?” Niko frowned. “Get a new pair of fucking glasses, buddy.”

The bartender adjusted his glasses self-consciously.

“We’re just looking for a friend of ours, think he got caught up in the middle of it.”

“His name’s Gilveidan,” Cindy added, trying to be helpful. “Tall guy, yellow eye.”

This was, apparently, the wrong thing to say. Within a singular blink, there was not one, but several large men surrounding them. “Yeah, I think I might remember the skav. What’d he call himself? A warlock? Fucking magus trash. And you said you was friends with him?” The largest of the men cracked his knuckles.

“Well, friends might not exactly be the right…” Niko was slowly reaching under his jacket.

Not subtly enough, it seemed, as at that moment one of the thugs shouted: “He’s got a gun!” and aimed a punch right at his face.

Niko ducked, and Cindy quickly squirmed out of the circle as one of the other men grabbed Niko’s arms to pin him.

Cindy didn’t think, she just aimed and sent one of the pool tables flying in their direction. Maybe she should have done more of that though, as she was lucky someone was in between Niko and that table, or he might have been the one who got knocked several feet with an unpleasant crunch.

“Dammit, Cindy!” Niko shouted. “Don’t bring the whole damn place down!”

One of the thugs was heading for her, but Niko came up behind him and whacked him on the back of the head with a pool cue. She realized what he was doing then: giving her time. Time to think of something to do that wouldn’t cause mass destruction.

Ducking behind one of the still intact tables, Cindy’s mind raced. She couldn’t use her stupid baby jail (was that really what she was going to keep calling it?) like she had back at the arena, there were just too many of them. And fire was absolutely out of the question. Come on, there must be something, something she hadn’t tried before...

“Hi there!” Someone jumped over the pool table and landed right in front of her. She was so surprised that it took her a second to realize who it was.

And there was no mistaking him. “Wait… Doug?” she asked, quite unable to believe her eyes. “How are you here?”

“I could ask you the exact same thing. But listen:” his white hair bobbed as he gestured wildly. “I need a favor.”

Cindy blinked several times. “What, now? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of in the middle of something.” Glancing over the table, they both winced as Niko got socked in the face.

“Yes, now,” Doug continued. “Just don’t ask questions,” he added as Cindy opened her mouth in protest. “Okay, so you can do like, magic-y shit, yeah?”

Cindy nodded.

“Cool, cool, cool. How ‘bout like, uh, illusions or whatever. I dunno this D&D nerd shit.”

“I’ve never tried it,” she admitted. “But maybe?”

“Okay, this could work.” Doug glanced nervously back over at the brawl. “I need you to make everyone here think I’ve got a pair of goat horns.”

“Goat horns… like, on your head?”

“Yeah, they start about here and curve back kind of like… like this… and…”

“Uh… okay…” Cindy placed her hands on the top of his head and tried to imagine herself gripping a pair of horns there. She was entirely unsure if that’s how it worked. But she must be doing something right, for as she slowly traced the shape she imagined them to be, they slowly appeared. They flickered in and out a little at first, but grew more solid as she kept going.

“There…” she nodded as she finished the tips. “I think I’ve got it.”

Doug felt around the top of his head, before sighing. “I don’t know why I’m doing this they’re not actually there. Alright, wish me luck.”

“Luck?” she frowned. “With what?”

But Doug had already stood up and thrown his usual sweatshirt at her, before he leaped up onto the pool table they’d been hiding behind. “Excuse me, gentlemen…” was all he said, yet as they looked over in his direction, the bar suddenly went dead quiet. “What’re you doin’?”

Cindy glanced over at Niko, but he looked just as confused as she felt as a thug abruptly let go of him, causing him to stumble backwards.

“Anyone?” Doug asked as the bar remained quiet. “Bueller? Okay yeah nobody’s getting that reference. You!” He pointed to the original goon. “Just what the hell’s goin’ on here?”

“W-well, see…” he began, and Cindy’s confusion only grew when he refused to look Doug in the eye. “Those two twerps were trying to pick a fight wif us.”

“Picking a fight with you!” Doug’s eyes widened in mock shock. “The half-pint and Sabrina the Teenage Witch? Terrifying!”

“Why do people always call me that?”

“They said they was friends wif another bloke what was in here the other day, but he put up more of a fight.”

“Right bastard he was,” one of the other thugs chimed in. “His girlfriend nearly chopped me ‘ead clean off. And he called Ned an ignoramus, isn’t that right, Ned?”

The man presumably named Ned nodded vigorously.

“And what do you think the word ‘ignoramus’ means? I’m just so genuinely curious.”

“Dunno,” Ned admitted. “But it can’t be anything good, the way he said it.”

Doug pinched the bridge of his nose, and sighed.

Slowly, Cindy was beginning to pick up on what was happening, and suddenly the request for horns was making a lot more sense. But to be frank, she was surprised. She hadn’t imagined that Doug was such a good actor. The way he spoke, the way he moved, even just the way he held himself was entirely different to the boy she had literally just been talking to a few seconds before.

“Alright, why don’t you all just shut your goddamn traps and listen to me for just a few, precious seconds.”

The thugs nodded, like they were naughty school boys getting a lecture.

“Travelers, otherwise known as ‘tourists,’ are the life blood of this town, okay? Without them, it’s just the same old fucks day in and day out. Now if travelers, especially yunguns, get harassed constantly by shit-heels like you guys, what do you think happens?”

“They uh… stop coming?” One of them hazarded a guess.

“Very good!” Doug mocked them again, though whether the intricacy of his tone had penetrated their meaty skulls was still up for debate. “Now I’d go into the complexities of economics, but yeah now your eyes are all glazing over. So, long story short: don’t fuck with kids. Easy enough to remember? Alright! Then get the fuck out of here, all of ya! And if I see you pulling this shit again I’ll stick you in the goddamn labyrinth. Or maybe it’ll be something worse if the gears start turning. I’m thinking of adding a hangman back on the payroll, so at the very least, he’ll have some thoughts about it.”

The thugs lumbered out of the pool hall very quickly. Doug then turned to the bartender and snapped his fingers. “Hey you, take five.”

The man nodded and slipped out the back without another word. But as Doug made to return to the only remaining occupants of the room, he jumped when he discovered a gun pointing directly at his face. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” he raised his hands in the air.

“Niko, what the fuck?” Cindy took a step towards them.

“Sorry, Cindy, but I don’t trust this Bailey fucker farther than I can spit on him. He let us waltz right into Abigail Hodge’s trap back at the syrup factory, remember? Sacrificed us all for the sake of his stupid little revenge. He could have gotten us killed.”

“Okay, yeah, that was pretty shitty of him, but maybe you should look at the situation we’re in…” she glanced pointedly back over in Doug’s direction.

Doug grinned sheepishly. “Yeah, I hate to say it, but pointing a gun at the Lord of Discord is probably not the best look.”

“I’m sorry, the fucking what?”

“Niko… they think he’s Bacchae.”

Frowning, Niko took a second to compute that information, before his eyes widened. “That whole thing that happened just now suddenly makes a lot more sense.”

“Do you have a concussion?” Cindy asked, pointing to his remaining eye, which was slowly turning black and blue.

“No, every once in a while it’s just my turn to get handed the idiot ball.” He sighed, and shoved the gun back into his holster. “So what, you want us to bow to your excellence or something?”

“Please don’t,” Doug relaxed. “And if it makes you feel any better, I’d be sticking a gun in my face if I were you too. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a bit of a dickhead. But anyway, from what I’ve heard, you two’re looking for Gil and Sonia, right?”

Cindy was flabbergasted. “How did you know that?”

“We haven’t been very subtle,” Niko said. “The whole city probably knows about it.”

“Surprisingly, I don’t think the daemons really care that much about two kids and their missing buddies,” A mysterious smile spread across Doug’s face. “I only know as a perk of the job.”

“So you really are ‘Bacchae,’” Cindy frowned. “You weren’t just faking it for our benefit.”

He shrugged. “Well, ‘really’ being relative, of course. But, yeah, daemon deals are pretty fucking nuts, all things considered.”

Groaning, Cindy rubbed her temple. “You made a deal with a daemon? Ugh, of course you did. Please don’t tell me you asked for this.”

“Of course I didn’t. This whole charade is my payment.”

“Hold on, wait a second,” Niko interjected. “If you’re the king, couldn’t you find Gil and Muirne just like that?” he snapped his fingers in demonstration.

“Mmm, I couldn’t,” Doug shrugged after thinking about it for a minute. “But I know a lady who might.”

“Lady?” Cindy asked, a sinking feeling in her stomach. “You don’t mean Kei, do you?”

“Well yeah,” he said sheepishly. “Who do you think I made the deal with?”

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