Leaves chattered restlessly in the dying fires of day’s end, something was in the air, they said, but their words were scattered by the ghostly wind. Nobody seemed to question why the breeze seemed that much more biting than any other, as they pulled their cloaks tighter about them to ward off the chill. Nobody found it odd that it took several logs more to bring comfort to an otherwise cold house, and nobody seemed to notice the familiar street cat stop and stare frightened into the on-rushing night, and then quickly run away.
Even the tavern, its laughter normally spilling raucously out into the street, seemed to swallow it up, never letting it slip past the door. The laughter this night carried a different timbre to it, forced and strained, less joyous and more nervous than usual. Gaalbeck sat and listened at a table by himself, in the corner, close to the welcome heat of the tavern fire, sipping on a mug of hot, spiced wine. He could take in the entire room from this spot, focusing in on whichever conversation he chose. He had planned it this way, arriving early just so he could get this very table to do this very thing.
Most tables were benches where up to ten people could sit, then there were smaller ones like his around the edges where four people could sit, or just one like himself. It was not an extravagant place, it was functional and social, the log walls coated thick with years of smoke and grime. Opposite from the door stood a staircase leading to the rented rooms, while the wall to the left was where the fireplace crackled fitfully across from the bar and kitchen.
The walls, comprised of logs cut in half lengthwise with the flat side inward, were not decorated much, except for an occasional hide or stuffed trophy with a lantern placed here and there to keep things bright.
Gaalbeck listened, and he heard the uneasiness, the words quick to anger brushed-off with an unsteady laugh, the talk that turned to stories of superstitious things, of battle, and they did not realize what they did. They knew without knowing that there was something wrong this night, something unspeakable evoking their hidden fears with a darkened hand that had stretched out to cloud hearts and minds.
Then, draining the last sweet, warm sip of his wine, Gaalbeck stood up and strode unnoticed out of the tavern. Stopping to adjust his cloak against the night, he looked up at the swinging, creaking sign and read its ominous message, The Demon’s Lair Tavern and Inn. Yes it is, he said to himself as he disappeared into the dark. Yes it is.