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Qabian

[WR] Minor Justice

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Brinnea made her way through the tables set too closely together and found a seat in the shadows of the dim tavern, away from the bar but with a clear view of the door. She wasn't a regular, just passing through, but the nameless town on the road based its existence travelers like her, so even the icy glow of her eyes in the darkness didn't particularly draw attention. 

Brinnea didn't protest when the barmaid set a full mug of something beside her, but also didn't drink it. The death knight wasn't there for the drink or the food, or even the chance to be off her feet, but for the chance to listen quietly to patrons for news of the road, for the opportunity to learn if anyone was actually following her, and hopefully, though she knew it was a gamble, be left alone.

A ragged looking night elf plunked out a tune from a decrepit piano in a corner of the room beside a large fireplace with a comfortably roaring fire. The music would probably have been cheerful if the piano's poor tuning didn't seem to drop everything into a minor key. The handful of other patrons watched the musician idly as they spoke quietly amongst themselves or drank in silence.

Eventually, a human man burst through the door, causing the music to stop and the scattered patrons to all turn to stare at him. If he was the one Brinnea suspected was following her, he paid her no mind whatsoever. Instead, he charged up to the bar, grabbed the bartender's collar, and yanked him half over the bar, knocking a glass onto the floor with a shatter.

Brinnea's hand went to her sword, but before she could judge if the encounter was worth interfering in, the stranger grumbled some angry inaudible words in the bartender's face, then pushed him roughly aside then stalked back out of the tavern. The door slammed shut in his wake. Brinnea looked curiously between the bartender and the patrons, all of whom looked shocked and uncertain.

The bartender straightened his apron and handed a broom to the barmaid who had rushed to his side as soon as the other man had left. She obediently began sweeping up the broken glass as the bartender walked among the tables to stand in front of the piano, where he raised a hand and cleared his throat.

"If anyone has seen Jonas Branson or knows where he is, the Red Blades are looking for him. If they don't find him by dawn, they're going to start breaking down doors," the bartender announced. Then with slumped shoulders, the he shuffled back to his place behind the bar.

A murmur went through the room as people looked to each other with questions on their faces. Brinnea narrowed her eyes, watching them carefully, but nothing else seemed to come from the announcement.

As the piano player adjusted his bench, an old man came up from the crowd and put a hand on the night elf's shoulder and spoke to him quietly. The night elf simply nodded.

The old man stood in the place the bartender had just left. "Hello everyone," the old man declared. His voice was stronger than the stoop of his body would have suggested. "I know none of you know me, but since we've all just been interrupted anyway, I have something I'd like to say. My name is McCallum. Today should have been my daughter's first birthday." 

Brinnea blinked. If what he said was true, he couldn't possibly be as old as he looked.

"I don't think there's any one of us," McCallum continued, "that hasn't lost a lot to violence and war, even if we tried very hard to live good lives and take care of our families. It's even harder when we know who is responsible and that there is nothing we can do to stop them from ruining more lives and tearing apart other families." He choked on his words, then composed himself. "But I thought maybe, just for one small moment, we might look back and remember fondly those we've lost, in honor of my sweet Joy." He took off his hat and wrung it between his hands, looking down at the floor.

A hush went over the people in the bar, all of whom paid the man their attention and their respect. Many of them closed their eyes and lowered their heads prayerfully.

He didn't let the moment go too long. He lifted his head and smiled. "Thank you. Thank you, everyone," he said hoarsely, then patted the piano and nodded his thanks to the musician before heading back to his table where he sat alone and the poorly tuned piano took up its mournful melodies as murmured conversations picked up again.

Brinnea stared at McCallum as the man slumped over his table, then began silently sobbing into his elbow, the evidence in the tremor of his shoulders. Brinnea signaled to the barmaid and asked her for a cup of tea. When the woman brought the drink, Brinnea stood, taking her cup of tea and the mug that had earlier been brought to her, and carried them over to McCallum's table.

She put the mug down and pushed it against his elbow. He looked up at her then, his face red and wet. "Oh. Thank you, my lady." He took the mug from her and began to drink it down hurriedly as if he hadn't had anything to drink in weeks.

The death knight didn't respond to his words, and eyed him curiously as he chugged the ale. When he put the mug down empty, she asked, "Another?"

He nodded, looking a little sheepish, and Brinnea waved for another mug to be brought. She sipped at her tea in silence as she watched the man drink the second with a little more patience.

"You lost your family, too?" McCallum asked in between drafts.

She nodded. "Some," she said, but didn't elaborate, and he didn't press her for details. Some of those details could be seen in her eyes. "Who was it?" Brinnea asked.

He knew what she meant. "They made it look like bandits, but..." McCallum trailed off.

"You don't believe it was?"

"No," he said. "It was a blood elf of the Horde. He decided I was his enemy for reasons I may never know."

She nodded again. The man was holding back details, as she did, but she could understand a lack of trust in strangers. 

He sunk back into silence.

"You may not find justice while you live," Brinnea offered. She had only meant to give the man the drink she had no intention of drinking, but she took the chance to give him some hope on his day of mourning. She stood to leave even as she spoke words she wasn't entirely sure she believed. "But there will always be someone out there fighting for it even after you're gone."

The man put his hand on her arm, feebly grabbing her elbow as she stood. "Like you?" he asked, his wet eyes staring up at her.

"No. Not like me," she said. She pulled out of his grip, gently but firmly. She took a few coins from her belt and placed them on the table to pay for the drinks, then made her way out of the tavern.

Outside, the evening had darkened into night and it had begun to rain. Whoever had been following her had been thwarted by her entering the tavern, either because they had no wish to enter the enclosed space or because something had finally taken them off the chase. She needed to be certain of the latter. She began to walk through the slick mud of the dirt road, then slipped into an alley, making a circuit of the town's few buildings, watching for signs or sensations she was being still being observed.

It was difficult to know how much time had passed before she heard the voices arguing back the way she came. The absence of light and the rain removed any sense of the hours. She pulled her cloak down around her ears and determined to keep her distance, until the scream. At the sound, she let her hood fall back in the rain, drew her sword, and stalked back into the alley.

Two men stood over a third, kicking their victim repeatedly through his staccato wails. The man on the ground was smaller and... older? When Brinnea recognized the man they were mercilessly beating as the man from the tavern, she didn't offer a warning. She ran the first attacker through with her blade, then slammed his groaning form into his partner, bringing both of them to the ground. She lifted her sword again to strike the other, but she could see from the way his head had hit the ground that he would not be getting up again.

"Who-- Who are you?" McCallum stammered from the ground. There was recognition on his face, but also fear.

"Nevermind that," she said. "Why were they attacking you?"

"The-The man they were looking for earlier, Jonas Branson, was my brother-in-law. He's why I came here," he explained as Brinnea helped him to his feet. "I've only been here a couple days, but I still haven't found him. I don't know where he is. Wherever he is, he must be in bad trouble."

"And now that trouble is your trouble. And mine," Brinnea said, looking down at the bodies. "Are you all right?"

"Just a few bruises," McCallum said. "I'll live." He straightened his sleeves as he shuffled against the wall of the alley, trying to get out of the rain.

"Only if you leave town," she said matter-of-factly.

He nodded, sighing. "Maybe I can come back after whatever is going on gets solved, although it seems like even if I find Jonas, he won't be able to help me."

She frowned. "Do you have a horse?"

"Yes," he said.

"I'll take you that far. Then we both better leave this place far behind us."

"Yes," he said again, looking down at his feet for a moment before putting his hand on her arm for a second time. "I think you are wrong, and you are the kind who will fight for justice after I'm gone."

"Maybe," she said quietly, letting his steps take the lead, but holding her blade at the ready. "But I doubt the families of those men in the mud behind us will feel the same."

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