I don't own this franchise.

Chasing Through Hell

Ratchet Racket

For the hundredth time, someone bumped into Maurus and he pressed his hand to his side where his purse was hidden under his mail and leather, reassuring himself that the silver and gold was still there. His eyes narrowed into a glare, though it had more to do with the crowd and Ratchet itself than with the one who had jostled him. He was not fond of this city. Most cities confused and discomfited Maurus to some extent, claustrophobic and loud as they all were, but Ratchet had both Orgrimmar and especially Thunderbluff beat in that regard. The roads snaked through the city, widening and narrowing without rhythm and crisscrossing with only the vaguest sort logic, coming together into an irregular web that seemed spun by a drunk spider. Only the main road was straight, cutting a wide path through the city to the docks and that was useless unless you came had a ship waiting when you arrived in the city. The buildings loomed overhead, stitched together from metal and wood into ugly, rickety structures that always looked like they were on the verge of collapsing down on the crowded street.

All of Ratchet reverberated with the grating drone of industry, the shriek of metal, the buzz and crackle of fire and lightning and the occasional boom. The smoke belched from wobbly chimneys fouled the air, adding a heavy, burnt stench to the cloud of sweat and dust on the air and making the sky of the fading day look like blood and ash.

Ratchet was a warning of what the so-called civilized races could do to the pristine lands of Kalimdor. Some praised the enterprising nature of the goblins and he would not deny the brilliance and skill of goblins but he had already seen what they could do when they worked in force. Every time he saw a Venture Co. sign, his stomach twisted and his jaw clenched.

He pushed through the crowd to turn down a narrow street, his stride lengthening and getting more relaxed when he no longer had bodies pressed up against him. There were still a lot of people between the buildings, but now that they could, they seemed as eager to keep their distance as Maurus was.

There weren't a lot of businesses on this particular street. He passed between an engineering workshop and a smithy, the only thing distinguishing one from the other being the strange goggles hanging outside the workshop and further in there was a shop filled with all manner of small animals, proudly declaring itself "Best Pet Store, no dead parrots, guaranteed". There was another busy street ahead, past five regular houses, but thankfully, he only had to turn the corner to get to the door of "The Open Spigot". The inn and the surrounding street was one of the few things he liked about Ratchet. Much could be said of the city, but the booming business and the constant change in populace made for an interesting night life.

The inside of the inn was much like most others. Everything was made from solid wood, worn and scratched and stained by years of spilled drinks. Only the occasional splash of paint and the brightly colored bottles behind the counter broke the monotony of the dark wood, though the room was brightened considerably by the green and blue skin and hair in all the colors of the rainbow. In one corner a large, round target hung, dotted with holes and the occasional knife or axe, like the wall around it. Where the inn differed from most inns Maurus knew was illumination. The lanterns glowed with a pale golden glow, completely steady unlike the oil lamps or torches used in most of the world and he was sure that if Ratchet would ever do him the courtesy of going quiet, he would be able to hear their low buzzing. Like all the inns in Ratchet these days, it was crowded. Almost every seat was filled and a lot more people filled the floor, crowding around the tables where their friends sat. The air inside was not as tainted by smog, but was instead flavored with the scent of several types of pipeweed and the sour smell of old beer and wine, much more welcome smells in Maurus' opinion.

The rumble of conversation beat back the noise from outside and somewhere to the right, a gaggle of orcs, goblins, tauren and trolls were stumbling through 'Rogues do it from behind'. The corners of Maurus' mouth turned up just slightly at the bawdy song and he made his way to the counter and with a bit of rough shoving, managed to get close enough to slam a hand on the table.

"Wine," he barked at the fat, apron-clad goblin behind the counter. The goblin handed a large mug to another patron as he looked Maurus up and down with his bulbous eyes.

"What's the magic word?" he said archly.

"Screw you, Nott," he said, allowing a full smile to appear on his face. He dug out a few pieces of copper from a different purse he had hanging in his belt and laid them on the sticky counter. Nott again looked him up and down.

"Not the magic word coming from you," he said glibly. He bent down, rummaging under the counter and came up with three bottles of wine. "But it does make me want to get you out of my face." He handed Maurus the bottles. "So, here."

"What, no glass?"

"Since when have you needed glasses? You chug that spill," Nott said, already turning around to answer another customer. Maurus shrugged, conceding the point even though Nott had his back to him now, and turned in the direction he'd seen a flash of blond hair. He shoved his way to the table, almost in the corner of the inn, where Arianna sat, studying a small, black book. Her staff was lying on the table next to her, next to an empty mug.

Mathias sat at opposite end of the bench from Arianna, facing two orcs and a grey tauren across the table. The trio was clad in red and brown leathers and their hair were in similar long braids, like thick rope. The thick muscles of their arms, bare from the elbows down, were tight with tension and their gaze was intent on the hand Mathias had pressed to the table, fingers spread wide. A rapid beat sounded as he stabbed a small knife into the table between his fingers in a rapid rhythm. There was a definite order to where the knife impacted, but Maurus couldn't quite see what it was at the speed Mathias was going. Mathias gave him a nod before he turned his gaze back to the trio opposite him, smiling smugly. Maurus found it a little disturbing how he so readily looked away from his game of pinfinger.

He edged past Mathias' opponents, who hardly reacted and sat down opposite Arianna in the vacant spot there, shrugging his bag off his shoulders to put it next to the bench. It was mildly odd that there would even be an open spot in the crowded tavern, but he had only just thought that thought when his leg brushed against fur and scales and he realized Ash was lying under the table. That was ample explanation for the open spot.

He put the bottles on the table and Arianna lowered her book, tilting her head in greeting. "Evening," he said. She pushed her mug forward silently and he raised an eyebrow. "Who says it's for you?"

"Previous experience," she said. "We've been pretty much sharing our 'loot'," she added, saying the last word like she was tasting something strange. Maurus sniffed, pulled the cork from one bottle and poured some of the almost black liquid in her mug. He glanced to Mathias' side, but he looked busy, so he just took a swig from the bottle. It was a very rich wine, one he'd had a hard time getting anywhere but Ratchet, though it was pretty cheap here, and it seemed to wash some of the bad taste of Ratchet away.

"How long has he been doing that?" he asked, gesturing at Mathias with the bottle.

"Long enough that they will soon be reduced to wagering their gear," she said before drinking deeply of her mug. "Though it wasn't knifing in the beginning."

Out the corner of his eye he saw Mathias handing over the knife. The orc in the middle was glaring darkly at Mathias who just smirked and flicked his eyes down to the table. The orc put a hand down next to a cup filled with dice and put the knife down below his thumb. The dark green fingers were already spotted with little specks of blood.

Maurus rolled his eyes as the beat of metal on wood began, quickly getting faster. He had nothing against at good little wager, but he cared too much about his fingers to engage in that sport. He took another swig from the bottle and watched the knife getting faster. The orc was doing well, though Mathias didn't look worried. His smile even widened a fraction when the orc looked up at him.

"Rogues do it-" Mathias said, trailing off as his eyes moved from the orc's face to a point just past his shoulder. Alarm flittered over the orc's face and his friends half-turned, just as the orc winced when the knife came down, cutting through the outside of his pointer finger. The knife clattered on the table as the orc looked over his shoulder and saw nothing but the same crowded room.

"What the hell was that?" the orc snarled, squeezing his injured finger with his other hand.

"It's a catchy song, don't you think?" Mathias said. He looked at the orc's hand. "Seems you lost again."

"You tricked me!" the orc retorted through clenched teeth.

"Come now," Mathias said, glancing around the room, "you can hardly say I'm more distracting than the entire tavern. It isn't quite a library is it?" A flicker of confusion went over the orc's face, mirroring Maurus own. Mathias continued before he could answer: "Now pay up."

Maurus could almost hear the orc's fingers crack. He looked ready to leap over the table to strangle Mathias. Instead, he sprang to his feet and slammed a coin down on the table.

"I hope the naga sinks your ship," he growled and the trio gave Mathias murderous glares before they stalked off. Mathias picked up the knife and the coin and moved a feet closer to Arianna and Maurus.

"You're not making a lot of friends," Maurus commented. Mathias held up the gold coin between two fingers.

"Can't be friends with the whole world, " Mathias said, flipping the coin over his knuckles. "And they shouldn't have bet if they couldn't do without the money."

"You could do without though," Maurus answered. "We're not exactly poor at the moment."

"More never hurts. Spending some wouldn't hurt either, Outland sounds like a whole different beast than Kalimdor."

"We're leaving in the morning," Maurus said. Mathias stopped playing with the gold coin and his expression turned serious.

"Finally," he muttered. Arianna turned a flat look on him and closed her book.

"You're the reason we didn't leave with the ships that left the day after we arrived here," she said bluntly. Mathias grunted in annoyance, but didn't argue and when Arianna looked at Maurus, there was a distinctly pleased look in her eyes. She gestured for him to continue.

"We're paying through the nose," he grumbled, "but that gives us a cabin rather than having us sleep in the hold."

"Extravagant," Arianna said, raising an eyebrow. "A little more so than when I came west." Mathias gave him a questioning look and Maurus snorted in annoyance. He hadn't expected any reaction except maybe a little pleased surprise to them getting just a bit more room than planned.

"I just might begin throwing people overboard if I have to sleep in a room as packed as theses streets are," he said darkly before drinking deeply of the wine. "I think this was a better option."

"When you put it like that," Arianna said lightly, pushing her mug forward again. He raised an eyebrow but filled it again and handed the flask to Mathias. His eyes fell on the book in front of her and a thought occurred to him, one that he felt guilty for not remembering sooner.

"Before you get too drunk," he began. An affronted expression settled on Arianna's face, but it shifted into surprise when he continued: "I guess you know how to write?"


"Could you help me write a letter?" he asked, reaching into his bag and grabbing a piece of parchment, a little jug of oil and a harpy feather.

"Of course," Arianna said, a slight question in the answer.

"I'm not very good with letters," he explained, pushing the writing supplies across the table. Instead of taking them, Arianna rose and walked across the table to sit beside him. Then she picked up the ruddy red quill with an absent motion and dipped it in the ink while she smoothed out the parchment with her other hand.

"I thought it better you didn't have to shout your letter across the table," she said in answer to his questioning look. He tilted his head in acknowledgement, opened the second bottle of wine and had another mouthful, cleared his throat and began: "To my honored Mother and Father-"

Mathias jerked to his feet, making him pause in surprise.

"I'll see if I can't make my winnings multiply," he said, stalking off with the first bottle, now half-empty. Maurus stared after him for a moment before turning back to Arianna, who held the quill ready.

He gathered his thoughts and continued: "I hope this letter finds you well. By the time it reaches you, I expect the news have reached you that the Dark Portal has opened. Your wayward son is going on a hunt and I expect it will take me beyond this world." He stopped, considering his words and watched with some admiration how fast the quill darted over the parchment. When Arianna's hand stilled he'd found the words again. "It will be some time before you see me again, but I will return triumphant and bring you back a trophy that will truly make you proud, taken from a foe both fierce and deserving of death." Again he paused, feeling his voice turn a little rough and took another drink as he waited for his voice to feel steady again. "Till then, I pray the spirits will watch over you. May the earth always carry you to water and shade. Your devoted son, Maurus."

He drank again as Arianna finished writing and, without prompting, read the letter aloud. She'd changed a word or two if he hadn't already forgotten what he'd said, but it sounded like it should. She touched a drop of ink next to his name before she rolled up the parchment and tied it with a little red ribbon he hadn't noticed before then.

"Thanks," he said when she laid the letter in front of him. Something heavy seemed to settle in his chest at the sight of it. It seemed to make the coming journey more real. "We're really going to Outland," he said quietly, as he packed away the writing utensils.

"Assuming Mathias' friends don't get their wish," Arianna said. Her voice was nonchalant, but there was something else in it that he couldn't quite place. One of her hands drifted idly along the dark wood of her staff.

He made an effort to shake off his trepidation. "That means this will be our last night in Ratchet for a while," he said, raising the bottle, "and there are lots where this came from."

Arianna gently bumped her mug against his bottle, drained her glass and reached for the third bottle. As she opened it, he asked: "What do you know about it?"

Arianna's knowledge of the orcs' old homeland was based on the stories of the few elves that had made it back from the exodus, but he still learned much more about it in the following hour. The way she described it, it didn't seem as much of a demon-infested hellhole as he'd expected. It still sounded barely inhabitable though and he found himself wondering how different it had been before the demons came. He'd never met an orc old enough to remember it and he wasn't sure he'd dared to ask if he did.

He noted with some surprise that Arianna kept pace with him pretty well, drinking a good share of the wine and when the bottles were empty, much faster than expected, they made their way to the bar. Somewhere along the line, the conversation wandered from Outland to Desolace.

"A kodo graveyard?" Arianna asked, wrinkling her nose. "I can't imagine the smell." She was leaning on the counter, her staff between them, her mug of wine raised in front of her. Ash lay behind them, much less effective at keeping people at bay now that they were where the booze was served.

"It's a sacred place," Maurus half-grumbled, giving her what was supposed to be a playful shove, but she had to take a step back not to fall over and wine splashed out over the counter. He jerked his hand out to catch her, but she'd already steadied herself when he got a grip on her shoulder, giving him a slight glare. He grinned a little sheepishly.

"It isn't somewhere you stay longer than you have to," he admitted, noticing the slight numbness in his fingers and the looseness in his arms for the first time. "It's-

He trailed off when he caught a glimpse of horns and dark wings behind Arianna. His pulse quickened for a moment before he noticed that the lithe winged shape was wrapped around a robed orc in a very affectionate way.

"What?" she asked, pushing his hand off her shoulder so she could turn in the direction of his gaze. He shrugged.

"Just spotted one of your fellows," he said. "He seems to know how to get hold of the more sensual demons."

"So do I," Arianna huffed irritably, turning back to Maurus. He tilted his head and raised the bottle to his lips again.

"I thought you couldn't, in the mountain?"

"That was hardly the best time," she snapped, resting her elbows on the counter. "And I wasn't getting the missing component in that crowd," she muttered into her mug.

"Huh?" Maurus asked. Arianna turned her head on her side and looked at him. There was a bit of color in her cheeks now and he silently counted how many bottles they'd had between them. Four. Or something like that. He turned the bottle in his hand upside down and only a single drop of wine dropped onto the counter.

"Could we forget that I mentioned that?" Arianna groaned as Maurus dug up a coin and held it out for a server to see.

"What were you missing," he asked slowly, smirking. She rolled her eyes, but he simply held her gaze and after a few seconds she muttered: "Felhounds are blood hounds. So blood goes into the summoning."

Maurus nodded as his coin was snatched from his hand and a bottle was placed next to his arm.

"Succubi," Arianna said, drawing out the word expectantly, making a circular motion with her free hand. Comprehension eluded Maurus for a few moments, but then his eyes darted to the orc warlock over in the corner and back to Arianna. He remembered one of the sessions with the shamans in the tribe, when they talked about symbolic links and sympathetic magic.

He burst out laughing. "To get that," he managed, pointing a finger vaguely in the direction of the orc and his succubus, "you have to-"

Arianna gave a little nod and smiled, seemingly in spite of herself.

"Seems to defeat the purpose," he chuckled. After a moment, Arianna let out a short, low laugh.

"I never considered that," she said. Maurus gave her a look, both eyebrows raised.

"Sure you didn't," he said, looking across the bar. On the corner opposite them, he spotted Mathias sitting between two other forsaken, a small flask of brown liquid in front of him. He was about to raise his bottle in salute when he noticed the crowd around Mathias draw back to admit two familiar orcs. He rose to his feet and Arianna tilted her head slightly in question.

"Sore losers," he muttered, jerking a thumb in the direction of Mathias before he began making his way around the counter. The crowd was thick and stubborn, not very willing to allow him passage. With his height though, he had had little trouble seeing over the crowd when the front orc, the one who had lost the last game, spun Mathias around. He clearly heard the shout, slightly slurred: "Give me my money, you cheat!"

Mathias raised his hand and said loudly: "I only have my money. But you can have a drink." He laid his hand on the counter and opened it, revealing a handful of silver. "In fact, everyone gets a round!"

A roar of approval went up at the announcement as Maurus reached the edge of the crowd. A small space had been cleared around Mathias and his two assailants and there was a buzz of excitement in the air.

"That's my money you're using!" the orc shouted, grabbing Mathias with both hands. Mathias just grinned his rictus grin, seemingly unconcerned, despite the other orc moving close, his hands closing into fists.

"Make it two, barkeep!" he called out, as Maurus walked up behind the orcs. Mathias didn't look at him and the orcs didn't seem to notice until he slammed a hand down on the shoulder of the shouting orc and pulled so he had to lean backward to avoid falling.

"I'd take the drink," Maurus said lowly, glaring down at the orc's upside down face. The orc returned the glare, a hint of surprise in his brown eyes, before his snarl changed into a slight smirk as he looked to Maurus' left. He turned slightly, only then noticing the hard stomp of hooves and rocked backwards when a fist connected with his face. His muzzle numb, yet throbbing dully, he backed a few steps, seeing the orc fall to his back out the corner of his eye as Mathias leapt at the other orc. He was more concerned with the tauren in front of him though. He had been more focused on the orc when Mathias had been playing pinfinger, but now he got a proper look at the grey tauren. He was slightly shorter than Maurus and just slightly leaner, but he stood heavily on the floor. His leathers were faded and worn, but very well-crafted from what Maurus could tell and the few places they had been patched showed skillful work. His horns rose from his head in a slight curve, the color of bleached bones, scratched, but whole and well-cared for. There were a few scars on his forearms, easy to spot with how he had his hands raised up to just under muzzle where a thick steel ring pierced his nose. The sight made the scar on Maurus' own nose tingle under the blood running from one nostril.

"That's my friend, Grimtotem," the tauren growled, speaking the tribe name like a curse as he lashed out. Maurus blocked the punches with his forearms, hardly feeling them.

"What's wrong with the Grimtotem?" he asked darkly, forgetting both Mathias and the fact that the tauren had his tribe wrong. He lunged to the side before sending two blows into the side of his opponent and stepping back out of reach.

"You're fanatics, stuck in the past," the tauren snarled, attacking again. Maurus blocked and dodged the first three strikes, but the fourth and fifth got past his defense and dug into his stomach. He exhaled sharply, his stomach aching from the blow but he felt a spark of vindictive satisfaction when the other tauren winced. If nothing else, wearing the mail today made it painful to punch him.

"You'd rather the Venture Co. have free reign to level the mountains? Poison the water?" he asked as they went round in a slow circle. To his right, Mathias was holding the two orcs at bay and he noticed that the crowd was watching with rapt interest.

"I'm at least not stupid enough to fight poison by getting help from plaguebrewers!" the tauren spat when he noticed what Maurus had looked at. The words hit him harder than the physical blows had, dredging up a memory he'd rather forget. Again his eyes flicked to Mathias and the inattention cost him when the tauren lunged forward. He kicked forward into Maurus' shin and punched him in the side twice before Maurus pushed him off, getting an elbow to the side of the head in the process.

The pain shook him out of the moment of disquiet and anger overrode any other emotions he felt. He stormed forward, batted aside one punch and took the other on his right shoulder before he reached for the tauren's face.

"You're stupid enough to have that," he snarled, one finger looping around the nose ring. "And this", he added, grabbing hold of one of the braids with his other hand. He pulled hard on both and the tauren was forced to follow as he spun. He released the hold after a full turn and his opponent was half-hurled away from him to crash into a table. Mugs, bottles and glasses were launched into the air as the table tipped. The patrons leapt back to avoid the splash of beer, wine and other drinks, barreling into the people around them and a moment later, one of the spectators threw the first punch. Like a wave, fighting erupted through the crowd and by the time Maurus had turned around and made his way back to Mathias, who was still fighting the two orcs, the inn was in a riot. He felt the strange exhilaration that often accompanied anger and he grinned at Mathias when he grabbed the orc again, this time with both hands. The surprise in the orc's expression as he hurled him backwards made him bark out a laugh.

The crowd closed around them, a tumultuous whirl of bodies and noise and Maurus lost himself in the brawl, side by side with Mathias. His blood pumped through his veins, his muscles felt loose and ready and there was a buzz in his whole body. He punched a troll into the side of a different tauren, almost fell over an orc and saw a goblin flying, shrieking, through the air. Not long after that, from where he'd fallen on the floor, he saw a troll fly in the opposite direction before he was helped up from the floor by two green hands and shoved towards another tauren.

He laughed and roared and punched and wrestled, his movement through the crowd only half his own choice. He had ended up back at the table he'd toppled with the other tauren at the beginning of the brawl when a boom and a blinding flash of light suddenly lit up the room. He reeled back, both from the assault on his senses and from the kick to his stomach from a goblin who had launched herself from the toppled table. The noise died down unevenly, but swiftly. Where the air had been alive with noise a moment ago, now there was only the rapid breathing of the crowd, the clatter of a single, miraculously intact bottle rolling across the floor and the ringing in Maurus' ears.

As he blinked spots from his eyes, he heard someone near the door exclaim drunkenly: "Damned groinbiters!"

"I heard that," a squeaky, but distinctly male voice said in a deceptively pleasant tone. The words were followed by a loud crack and a pained wail and the crowd parted quickly, allowing the five goblins to walk through the open space towards Maurus. They were clad head to toe in mail and all five carried a spiked mace, half as long as they were tall. Four had their weapon casually slung over their shoulders, but the fifth one was lifting it from the broken leg of a whimpering orc near the door. The entire group carried themselves with the assurance of someone several times their size.

People called Ratchet's bruisers groinbiters, but only the stupid did so to their faces. Every single one of them was a mean little crazy who would gladly crush the kneecaps of those that annoyed them and the skulls of anyone who they decided deserved it. And they did, in fact, live up to the name occasionally, if the rumors were true, which was a horrifying experience for all involved.

"Hey there, hero," the front goblin said as he came to a halt in front of Maurus. His expression was one of casual interest but his eyes locked on Maurus with dark intensity and his words had only the thinnest sheen of friendliness. His nose was crooked, one ear had a large chunk of it missing and his face was blemished with shallow, healed craters. Despite his size, the scars made him look grizzled, not ridiculous.

Maurus knew not to underestimate goblins and he knew this one. For the second time that night, he recalled an ill-advised undertaking a few years back and something twisted in his stomach. It came out as anger.

"Don't call me that, Sprack," he growled. He'd hoped to avoid any bruisers that actually knew him. Ratchet was a big city; it should have been possible, even if this visit had drawn out more than usual. But it had to be this one that appeared.

Sprack ignored the protest and drawled: "I don't know if this is a step up from your Grimtotem buddies." Maurus followed Sprack's gaze and saw that Anistriana and Mathias had appeared at to his left. Mathias looked ruffled, his nose bent oddly and a there might have been a cracked tooth that had been whole before. Arianna looked like she'd avoided the brawl but looked irritated. They both looked ready and able to support him though.

"Cutting out the middleman and dealing straight with the plaguebrewer this time?" Sprack asked. Maurus clenched his fists, the twisting in his gut making him feel sick.

"I'm not of the Society," Mathias said, before Maurus managed to find any words. He put a hand on the pommel of his sword and added: "I go for the simpler approach."

"Good, good," Sprack said casually. His eyes narrowed. "Then again, that's what you'd say either way, right?" Mathias shrugged, showing no concern, despite the hard stares the goblins directed at him. Maurus noted that the two forsaken Mathias had been drinking with had now joined them, leveling the cold stares only the forsaken were able to make on the goblins.

Sprack turned to Arianna and looked her up and down, pausing at the top of her staff, which seemed to glow more brightly than usual, before his gaze came to rest on Ash standing at her feet, growling low in his throat. He smiled, a white crescent without any warmth. "And a warlock. For a defender of the natural world," he said, sneering the three last words, "you sure choose funny friends."

Maurus finally found his voice and ground out: "I choose my friends carefully, Sprack."

"Doesn't look like it," Sprack said flatly. He glanced around the bar, at the overturned chairs and table, the bruised and battered patrons and the shards of glass and clay littering the floor. He slung his mace down in front of him so he could hold it with both hands and his men followed his example. Maurus put a hand on his own mace. The crowd around them held its breath and he thought he could feel Arianna draw up magic. "Doesn't look like you know how things work anymore either," Sprack continued as all trace of civility fled from his face, leaving no expression except for the naked hatred in his eyes. Maurus' finger closed around his own mace as Sprack tightened his grip on his. "Might be you should hobble out of the city after we've refreshed your memory."

"Sprack, relax!" Nott's voice cut through the tension like a knife and Sprack jerked his gaze away from Maurus to the goblin that had waddled to his side, unnoticed by either. "Do you have a screw loose, Sprack? If we have less than a couple of brawls in a week, it's slow going. This isn't an offence worthy of getting worked over by you, is it?"

Nott glanced up at Maurus, grinning smugly. "Particularly when I know that he can pay for the damages. Right, big guy?"

Maurus looked down at the innkeeper, too stunned to answer for a moment, and then nodded slowly. Nott's smile widened and he turned back to Sprack, spreading his arms in a friendly, conciliatory gesture.

"See, no problem. The worst that happened here are glass stuck where it shouldn't and some broken bones, and one of the latter is on you people."

"If that is what you want, Nott. It's your inn," Sprack said flatly. He turned his gaze on Maurus and Mathias and added: "If I catch you near any of the wells, broken bones will be the least of your worries. You'll thank me by the time I put you up next to the pirates."

With that, he turned and walked out the inn. Maurus' gaze followed the goblin, his anger ebbing away, leaving him feeling simply drained.

Nott poked Maurus in the side and he winced as the bruise forming under the mail protested. "You can pay, right?" he asked seriously. Maurus nodded again. "Good," Nott said, nodding to himself. "It seemed that way from how your friend was spending, but, just making sure."

He noticed the still silent crowd and resolutely walked over to Mathias. "Now, this here fella," he said, clapping a hand onto Mathias shoulder, "promised two rounds."

The crowd again shouted in approval, though it sounded weaker than before, many of the voices hoarse or muddled by broken noses or sore throats. Nott held up a finger.

"But nobody gets anything before everything you lot knocked over is right side up again!"

The sound of wood scraping on wood filled the in along with a rising din of conversation as the bruised and battered patrons righted tables and chairs.

"They fight over spilled beer, but promise them more and they do as they're told," Nott chuckled. The comment failed to brighten Maurus' mood. He turned and looked down on Nott.

"I'll pay you in the morning," he muttered.

One of Mathias' forsaken friends tilted his head. "What about happened to those other three? They had a hand in this too," he said, half to Maurus, half to Nott.

The innkeeper shook his head and Maurus sighed but Mathias spoke before either, his tone rather smug: "I won all their money."

"Not enough that they couldn't get too intoxicated to consider their actions properly," Arianna said.

"I tried," Mathias said. His tone was casual, but the quick look he gave Maurus betrayed some curiosity. "But I earn my money, I don't mug Horde." His eyes followed Nott as he waddled back towards the bar. "Speaking of money, let's spend some more."

Maurus shook his head and put a hand on Mathias' shoulder and his other on Arianna's. "I'm done for tonight," he sighed, "thank you for the help."

With that, he turned, ignoring Arianna's curious gaze, and made his way across the room, grabbing his bag before trudging up the stairs to the room their room.

Well, this is the next one. I hope you like it and whether you like it or not, throw me a line. Any input is appreciated. And I think I just barely managed my deadline of three weeks, yay.