Chapter 10

Steve leaned back and checked out her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She was dressed in standard concert fare: a black Rory and the Prairie Dogs ’25 City Tour t-shirt, a pair of army green cargoes, and her bomber jacket. She was wearing her pistol low on her hip on a finely crafted false-leather belt. Her curly auburn hair was mostly loose, save for a single barrette holding a section of it back. She had actually bothered to apply a bit of makeup, covering her freckles with a subtle base, applying a bit of kohl to her eyes and gloss to her lips.

“I don’t look good in makeup,” she said to no one in particular.

After a few more moments of inexpert preening, Steve gave up, strode to the restroom door, shouldered it open, and walked through. Zap and To’mas were waiting for her in the break room. Zap wore an outfit not unlike Steve’s: a t-shirt that said “Awesome Elemental” in a blocky font, a pair of jeans, and a black pea-coat. To’mas, however, was dressed in a black button down shirt, black slacks, and a beautiful long white duster. His normally blonde hair had been dyed white. When he saw Steve examining his outfit, he grinned and turned around. Steve saw that there was a pair of black cartoon wings on the back of the coat. She smiled and clapped her approval.

“You know we’re going to a rock and roll show, right To’mas?” she asked, still chuckling.

“Steve, I look good anywhere,” To’mas said, self-assured. “I am going to take somebody home tonight.”

“You’re awfully confident about that,” Steve said with a grin.

To’mas turned and gave her a predatory grin, shoving his hands in his pockets and leaning forward. Steve’s heart involuntarily skipped a beat. “Do you wanna put money on it, Miss B-Rank?” To’mas asked.

“Uh,” Steve said, and cleared her throat. “No, that’s ok.”

“Can we go please?” Zap asked, rolling his eyes.

To’mas gestured magnanimously and Steve hurried ahead, letting the boys follow behind her.

Bantering the whole way, the employees made their way out into the street, to the rail station, and onto the rail.

“Hey To’mas,” Zap said, smirking, “is it true that elves are developmentally challenged?”

“Only after meeting you,” To’mas shot back.

“Seriously though,” Zap said. “It’s been proven that along with a prolonged life comes a slower development cycle. You’re, what, sixty, right?”

“Fifty-six,” To’mas said, nodding. “It’s a little odd. I think there’s definitely truth there; it takes elves longer to grasp concepts than humans, age-wise. They can pick up skills as quickly as humans do, but stuff that relies on emotional and cognitive maturity takes a lot longer. Anyway, I’m not an elf.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Zap said.

“No, it’s relevant,” To’mas said, smiling. “I think that we actually get the best of both worlds. When I was a little kid, I developed only a bit slower than my human friends, but my aging has slowed down now. It’s more like my ‘teens’ and ‘twenties’ have lasted a lot longer.” He grinned more. “I’m reaping the benefits, I think.”

Zap laughed. “Okay.”

“Our stop,” Steve cut in. The three stood, preparing to exit.

A few minutes later, the employees arrived at The Three Gibbet Crossroad.

To’mas looked at the entrance. “Not too bad of a venue,” he said, smiling. “Alan’s band must actually have a bit of a name.”

“It’s kinda cold,” Steve said. “Awesome as it is to stand and stare at the entrance, I think I’m gonna go in.”

The three walked in and dealt with the bouncer. After paying the door fee, they were let in and left to explore the interior of the club. Immediately inside the building was the bar, an area with a fair bit of standing room. At the far end of the bar, a set of stairs led down into the concert area, which had a dance floor and stage. Suspended above the dance floor, just below the lighting rigs, were three cages designed to look like old rusty iron, held up by chains.

“I wonder if they ever put dancers in those,” Zap mused. To’mas beelined for the bar.

“This is an okay crowd,” Steve said. She was right; there were already enough people in the bar area to make getting across the floor a bit challenging. Quite a few of the patrons had colorful skin, each one representative of an element.

“Lotta mutants,” Zap noted.

“So?” Steve asked.

“So nothing, just noticed.”

“Hey!” To’mas shouted from the bar. He held up his hands and beckoned. “You two going to do this shot with me or what?”

Steve and Zap hurried over to To’mas. In front of him were three perfect spheres of faintly luminescent white liquid floating in the air, just above the surface of the bar.

Steve gaped. “To’mas, that’s … Aura!”

“Does appear that way, doesn’t it?” To’mas said, grinning.

“You bought us Aura shots?!” Zap said, eyes wide. “Aren’t they expensive?”

“This is what I save for, kids,” To’mas replied, bowing his head magnanimously and placing a hand to his chest. “Well. This and merc training.”

“You know, To’mas, I’ve been meaning to ask about that,” Zap said. “A lot—”

“Wait wait wait hang on,” To’mas interrupted. “You’ve got a ball of Aura with your name on it sitting right there and you think it’s trivia time? No no. We drink.”

“Right, of course,” Zap agreed.

“May I recommend we do this the right way?” Steve asked.

To’mas held up three fingers to Steve. Steve nodded.

The employees gently cupped their hands under the floating spheres and lifted them. They carefully maneuvered, intent on not dropping the balls of Aura, and formed a triangle facing each other. Some of the other concertgoers noticed the impending tavern ritual and stopped nearby, watching.

“As all things have a beginning, middle, and end,” Zap said.

“As all things are born, live, and die,” Steve said.

“As all things are less, more, or the same,” To’mas intoned.

“We celebrate the rule of three,” the employees said, joined by several of those watching.

“One,” said Zap.

“Two,” said Steve.

“Three!” To’mas shouted. All three employees brought their hands up to their face and pushed the balls of Aura into their mouths. The nearby concertgoers cheered. A slight glow passed over each of the employees after they swallowed the liquor, and they all held still as the sensation of the Aura’s magic passed through them. All three were silent for several seconds, their eyes closed.

“Oh wow,” Zap murmured.

“It’s like an orgasm wrapped in a cashmere blanket,” Steve purred.

To’mas opened his eyes and looked at them. “You’re welcome,” he said happily and turned back to the bar to order his next drink.

Zap’s eyes fluttered open and he looked over at Steve, who opened her eyes and looked back at him. The two immediately averted their eyes, daunted by the Aura-augmented intensity of each other’s gazes.

“Iyesu,” Zap said. “You ever done that before?”

“Only once,” Steve said. “They don’t serve it many places. What’re you having next?”

“I think a whiskey and cola of some sort,” Zap said. “I need something profane to bring me back down.”

“Not me,” Steve said dreamily. “I’m going to have a Sword Dancer.”

“You and To’mas are going to be broke by the end of the night,” Zap retorted.

“A small price to pay for flying in the clouds,” Steve said, walking back to the bar. Zap followed.

“I’ll have a Grabet and Go,” Zap said to the bartender, who nodded and grabbed a bottle of Grabet brand whiskey.

“A Sword Dancer when you’re done with that,” Steve said.

To’mas leaned in from the side. “Hey kids, you should meet my new friend,” he said. He grinned and pulled a pretty elven boy with long blonde hair close to him. The boy was smiling and clearly a little tipsy.

“This is T’y,” To’mas said. “He saw our Rule of Three ritual and thought we did it very well.”

Steve grinned. “I’m glad I didn’t take that bet, To’mas,” she said.

“You bet your ass you are,” To’mas said proudly. “T’y’s girlfriend is here, and he’s going to introduce me to her as soon as she comes over.”

“Hey, look,” Zap said pointing. “It’s the opening band.”

Steve leaned around To’mas and T’y to look at the stage. T’y turned, and To’mas twisted so that he could see the stage without removing his arm from around T’y. The band was a small group of humans with torn clothing, odd hairstyles, and cheap instruments.

“They must be punk,” Steve said.

“Must be what?” To’mas asked.

“I wonder if they’re any good,” Zap mused.

They weren’t.