The Skeleton Throne

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Worms (Pt 2)

The healer skimmed through several books he’d brought with him in the comforting solitude of his rented room. He sat beside the window as dull light spilled in, rain gently drizzling against the glass panes in lazy, intermittent drops. A small oil-burning lamp rested near him, its light growing more prevalent as the world outside dimmed. His books were strewn about on every nearby surface he could utilize, several of them flipped open to choice pages for quick reference as the healer moved through them, looking for answers and ideas.

For all his searching he could find nothing to equate his current observations to, though many came very close. Always, though, some larger detail did not quite match up; the pallor of the skin, the oily residue, the odd, hollowed look of the body. He’d been reading for several hours when he felt his mind could take no more of text on paper, and with a sigh he turned to look out the window, resting his chin on his hand as he considered the damp world beyond the glass.

Obviously what he needed was not to be found in books. Mateo had always learned things more hands-on, had needed to experience, to study. The doctor rose from his seat, packed up his things, and headed out of his room once more. He did not know exactly what he intended to do, but his restless spirit told him he could not remain cooped up for much longer. He could hear voices as he descended the stairs down into the tavern and spotted Sabbis and Carmyle playing darts against the far wall. The rahkanna man’s ears swiveled at the sound of the healer’s arrival and Sabbis turned to regard him with calculating intent.

“Found anything interesting yet?” Carmyle asked with casual curiosity. She didn’t bother to remove her gaze from the dart board as she addressed the man across the room behind her, taking a moment to measure her shot before throwing her dart. It’s landing won a frown from her.

“Nothing helpful,” Mateo admitted, his hand tapping against the firm side of his medical bag quickly as the other gripped its strap for unneeded support. “I was about to head back out to see if I could get any more information.”

“You want to stay and play a round first?” Sabbis asked, his tone curt but his offer welcoming.

“I really should go while it’s still light out.”

“Fine, but it’s not as if they’ll want to see a healer who can’t help them,” the cat-man grumbled loud enough for Mateo to hear as he turned his attention back to the game. “Be sure you tell them you’re just there to make notes while they die. I’m sure they’ll love the company then.”

Mateo’s lips drew into a thin line as he tightened his hold on his strap. He saw Carmyle reach over and swat the rahkanna’s arm and heard her murmur a scolding “He’s trying, you twit,” followed by a distinctive hiss from Sabbis before the cat threw his own dart. His landed much more on point than Carmyle’s attempt.

“Well don’t work yourself sick out there,” Carmyle said as she turned to Mateo, casting him a wink over her shoulder. He acknowledged her with a nod and left the tavern as she turned back to their game.

Mateo tugged at the strap of his pack as he walked along empty streets and considered Sabbis’ words. He couldn’t argue that the rahkanna was wrong. Rain tapped gently on his head and shoulders. Regardless, the harsh statement had been unnecessary. He needed to do this work, it was what he was here for, after all. But Sabbis did echo thoughts that kept sidling into his mind while over at Panella’s. There was not much he could do for those already so far gone, and it was a concern that his presence would bring empty hope to those well beyond his reach. Still, he could not simply do nothing. Learn and move forward, this was Gah’lia’s way. The more information he collected now, the more lives he had the potential to save within the days and weeks to come. He let out a low sigh and continued on to try a few more homes.

The healer visited several more as the day darkened into evening. Some were not yet afflicted and he took note of them and asked several questions about the household’s day-to-day life: where were they getting their water from, what were they eating, were they taking any supplemental herbs or remedies, did they leave the house, what precautions were they taking, so on and so forth. Several other places he visited either recently lost or were in the process of losing family members. He asked those if he may enter and ask questions. Some turned him a way, few others allowed him in, but overall the information he gathered from them was nothing more than what he’d heard already.

Some houses were simply silent. He made note of those, too.

It was dark by the time he returned to the tavern, the air thick and damp with the promise of more rain to come. Barnen was standing reliably behind the counter as he entered but Mateo caught no glimpse of Sabbis or Carmyle.

“Have they gone to bed already?” He asked Barnen. The rotund owner gave a nod.

“Carmyle bought you something when you left,” Barnen said, turning to draw a bottle and glass from the shelf behind him. Mateo stepped over to the counter as the man poured him a bit of wine. “Said it was to help you unwind and maybe pay you back for her companion’s loose tongue.”

“Oh,” Mateo’s brow furrowed as Barnen slid him the drink. He took the glass and sloshed the red liquor in it quizzically. “I… guess I should thank her for that,” he said softly. The gesture was… thoughtful? Playful? She seemed to be making greater efforts in her attempts to connect with him. Perhaps he should more strongly consider stopping and speaking with her. He gave Barnen a nod and took the glass upstairs as he ascended for the night.

Sitting by the window offered little more light than the reflection of the burning lamp on the glass, but Mateo did not feel like moving his chair and table as he sifted through his notes. Outside the sky had opened and begun to pour down. The clouds overhead flashed and growled softly. He tapped the end of his pen to his half-filled journal page and squeezed at his lower lip idly as he thought. He was working on a list of approaches and other details to check, things that involved more than just sick people in beds.

He wanted to learn more about the town’s water source and find out what they were doing with the bodies of those already lost. Perhaps get information on any trade goods or food that was brought in before the plague first hit. Anything to give him an idea of where it all started. He set down his pen and reached for his glass of wine, taking a sip as his eyes remained fixed on the paper, only partially seeing what was written there as he thought.

Lightning flickered outside the window and he found his attention drawn to the silence before the thunder’s crack. The sky rumbled a low growl. Wood creaked from beyond his closed room door. Mateo frowned and looked toward the sound. It did not seem like the typical noise of wood settling but more like a footstep. Perhaps Sabbis or Carmyle were up and moving. The healer set his drink back down and returned to his notes.

There was another flash of lightning followed shortly by the soft roll of thunder. Then a deafening bang and his door rattled and bowed in from the force. Mateo nearly threw his book in his start, letting out a surprised cry, and stared wide-eyed at his room’s door. It did nothing more, sitting innocently in its frame. The healer cautiously closed his journal and placed it beside his drink before he stood and walked over to it. He halted before the structure, uncertain. It looked perfectly still and untouched. He reached out and took the knob, turning it as he opened the door slowly.

The hall was dark outside his room, the lanterns set on the walls blown out for the night. Mateo looked up and down the corridor but no one was present. He could see nothing that would have made the wooden door shudder and bang as it had. He frowned, shut himself back in his room, and returned to his book and table.

He dismissed the moment as a trick of his mind, perhaps a brief spell brought on by the wine or the storm disturbing his late night focus. He spent only another half hour or so awake before he finally dimmed his lamp and slipped into bed.

Mateo slept a little more soundly but his dreams were full of dark rooms and wheezing figures. He was surrounded by stacks of paper, fixated on searching through notes and trying desperately to find a puzzle piece he knew was present somewhere within the mess. All the while he could hear the ragged breathing all too clearly, as though it were right in his ear, something his mind could not process out no matter how hard he tried. The sound annoyed him, upset him, kept him anxious as he searched through journals and loose leaves. Worms fell onto his desk and he brushed them aside. His hands were covered in mud and dirt and he frowned. They kept leaving smears on his papers, blotting ink and covering words he knew he needed. He was frustrated, trying in his dream state to will them clean and clear again. All the while the wheezing loud in his ear.

When he finally awoke it was already nearly the afternoon and he felt as though his morning had been robbed from him. With a grumble he rolled out of bed, dressed, and headed downstairs to begin his day.

“Did you hear anything odd last night?” He asked as he caught sight of Sabbis and Carmyle sitting and enjoying a plate of toast. Barnen was dutifully behind the counter, looking as though he were about to doze off but perked up as Mateo walked down the stairs and over to the pair at their table.

“Like what?” Carmyle looked up at him, mouth full as she spoke. Sabbis leaned back in his chair and acknowledged the healer but said nothing to engage his question.

“Just a loud… like a loud bang, I think?” Mateo asked. “I thought I heard one late last night while I was reading.”

“You know there was a storm last night, yes?” Sabbis asked, a subtle impatience to his voice. The cat seemed perpetually grumpy, his attitude reliably snide whenever they spoke.

“Yes, I know there was a storm last night,” Mateo responded with his own dismissive impatience. “I was awake for it. But the thunder was soft, this was a much louder bang.”

Carmyle shrugged.

“Sorry, half the time I can’t hear anything over Sabbis’ snoring,” she joked with a grin. Sabbis huffed but did not argue. “What was the bang like?”

“Nothing. It was nothing,” Mateo dismissed the thought quickly. “It was late, probably just a trick of my mind. I just wanted to see if anyone else had heard anything, but if not then I guess that’s all there is to it.” He started toward the door, focused on heading out to check in at Panella’s, but paused and pursed his lips in brief thought.

“Um, thank you,” he said, looking back over to Carmyle. She lifted an eyebrow at him. “For the drink you bought me yesterday.”

“Oh!” Carmyle exclaimed with acknowledgment and a grin passed her face. “Yeah, I remember doing that. You should totally join me for the next one,” she offered, leaning back in her chair as she smirked up at Mateo. He shrugged, giving his head a little tilt, and nodded.

“Alright, yes.”

“Wonderful,” Carmyle approved with a smirk. “Well I’ll see you later, then! Go save lives. Eat some toast.” She grabbed an untouched slice from their plate and offered it up to him. Mateo lingered hesitantly before he took the offering and continued on, giving the duo another small nod as he went by.

He made his way through the quiet town and back to Panella’s home, the cobblestone still wet beneath his feet. As Panella’s house came into view and he approached the front door, his gaze was drawn to the building nearby, the one he’d tried the day before that had given him no answer. Its windows were dark and empty. He thought of asking Panella about her neighbors, see if she could tell him anything about them. He was not certain if she would have much information, especially considering how busy her own household was with ailing family. And whatever news she had to tell him would not likely be very cheerful in lieu of the stillness the building carried. He turned his attention back to her front door and lifted his hand. His knuckles struck the door with a gentle firmness. Perhaps he would ask, just in passing. What could it hurt?

Something at the corner of his gaze flickered and he turned back to the darkened windows of the empty house. Nothing looked different about it. He narrowed his eyes at the glass panes as though the act would somehow help him pierce through the darkness and the reflected glare of the gray sky above. It did not. Likely it was still his mind playing tricks with him.

He registered yet another movement at the corner of his sight and turned his head back in time for Panella to open the door. The tired woman looked out, giving him a sad smile. She was even more dejected than the day before.

“Afternoon, sarei,” she greeted him softly.

“Afternoon, ma’am.” He gave her a polite nod. “I just wanted to come back and check in on Toby today.”

“Ah, yes...” Panella’s eyes moved downward. “Yes, of course you would be. I’m afraid he passed last night.”

“Oh.” Mateo hesitated. He was not surprised by the news but felt he should offer something. Perhaps apologize for not being able to help more. He did not want to come across as uncaring. “My condolences.”

Panella gave a slight shrug, her attention still downcast.

“So, there is that, sarei. Is there anything else we can help you with?”

“Um, actually...” Mateo hesitated again, drawing his mouth into a thin line as he weighed his next question. He already knew it lacked tact and he subconsciously gripped the strap of his pack tighter. “Is there perhaps any way I could take a look at the body?”

Panella drew in a deep breath, blinking as she reached a hand up to brush a finger gently beneath her eyes that were growing more red.

“Ah, I’m afraid the body’s already been collected this morning, sarei. Saia wasn’t going to do well with us keeping him around for much longer, you understand… You’ll perhaps want to go visit the morgue at the south end of town for any of that.”

“Yes, of course,” Mateo gave her a small nod, still wringing the strap in his hand. “Thank you, um… for that, ma’am.”

“I should be getting back to my sister now, sarei.” Panella excused herself and Mateo put up no objection as she stepped back into the house and closed the door. The healer let out a low sigh and consciously released his grip. He felt a little too aware of the fact that he was more accustomed to clinical note-taking than actually talking to people.

He stepped away and turned to go, casting another glance to the house next door. It hadn’t felt proper, asking Panella any more questions for the day. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in a few days. Or, he thought as he considered the dark windows, or maybe he could just try and take a closer look. Mateo gave the strap of his pack another squeeze before he stepped off Panella’s doorstep and headed over to the silent house.

He knocked again not because he was expecting an answer, but because not doing so felt impolite. He knocked and then he waited what he felt was the appropriate amount of time when expecting a response. None came, of course, and he heard no noises from within. With caution he gripped the doorknob. It felt wrong. It felt like trespassing. He hesitated. There was no reason to feel this way, he attempted to reason with himself. No one was there to disturb and he was only interested in taking a brief look around. He tried giving the knob a twist. It did not budge. He felt a bit of relief, like the decision was made for him. He could always ask about who in the city still owned the property, if he needed to speak to the Dosalda bank or if there was a figurehead who oversaw real estate. Obviously, he chided himself for not thinking of this before, there were proper ways to go about getting information even on this. He let go of the knob and turned, stepping away from the door and back into the street. He should head toward the morgue as Panella had recommended. Perhaps the final state of the bodies could tell him something about how to combat the disease.

There was a low creaking behind him and Mateo stopped. He turned to look over his shoulder to the house once more. The front door stood partially ajar, yawning darkness visible beyond it. Mateo frowned, his brow creased. He’d literally just tried the door, there was no way it should be open now.

Facing the house fully he looked around, as though he could find the answer in the empty streets or within the stone masonry of the home. Was his mind playing more tricks on him? Like the loud bang on his door in the night? Or perhaps the knob was just stuck and he’d jostled the door open, he tried to reason to himself. He took a few cautious steps back toward the dark house.

“Hello?” Mateo called into the darkness as he stood before the threshold, trying to peer in. He reached forward and took the doorknob again, twisting it in his hand. It turned just fine. He frowned all the more and looked into the dim home. The air inside was stale and smelled musty, but lacked the scent of sickness that had been present in Panella’s house. He pushed the door open wider to allow more of the day’s light to shine in.

All that he could see of the home was the main room that the front door opened into. There was one window present as well that helped shed a bit more light on the abandoned area. Against the far wall stood a large bookshelf filled with dusty trinkets and books, and an unlit oil lamp hung beside it. Standing upon a thick woven rug was a table and set of chairs, all painted white and set off to the side so as to keep the center of the cozy room free to travel through.

Directly across from Mateo was a dark hall that led deeper into the house, though no light permeated its shadows. The healer hesitated to step inside. Partially due to the guilty sense of trespassing, partially due to the worry that the issue with the doorknob would be reoccurring and he would find himself stuck inside. He lingered in the door frame for a moment longer before curiosity got the better of him. He pushed the front door open wider and placed his heavy pack against it, satisfied it would be enough to keep it open.

He considered the oil lamp on the wall. If there was still fuel in it he may be able to find something to light it with. The healer retrieved it and listened for the sound of sloshing liquid inside before he glanced around for matches. With a little searching he found a box on the bookshelf and took them, heading back to the front door where he had enough light to operate.

As he passed by the dark hallway a small glint at the end of it caught his attention and he turned to look down into the inky blackness. Two pin points of white reflected back at him. Perhaps some decoration at the end of the hall catching the light from the door that he’d not noticed before, he mused. Maybe a mirror or more lamps hanging on the wall, judging by the height of the reflections. He would investigate them better when he had his own light source. Turning his back to the dark hallway he continued to the open front door, his attention now focused on the oil lamp in his hand as he checked its wick.

Behind him came an odd sound, something soft but fast and rhythmic, growing quickly louder. A thumping. He turned to look, confused more so than alarmed. The glinting lights were bobbing quickly, jittering in the darkness. It took his mind a split second to register the noise as running footsteps and then there was only a loud clattering as the oil lamp flew from his hand, tossed into darkness before him. He heard it collide against something with a dim thunk before it hit the floor. The approaching footsteps bore down harder.

Mateo turned and grabbed his pack, charging out the front door. It slammed shut behind him with a bang, the sound a little too familiar. The healer tripped in his panicked flight, stumbled, and rolled onto the cobblestone road. He pushed himself up, breathing heavily as he stared at the closed-up house with wide eyes.

His mind reeled, uncertain about anything that had just occurred. Part of him even wanted to go try the door again, as though he could affirm what was real and what was his mind playing tricks on him by whether or not the knob turned once more. More rationally he theorized he should head back to the Wayward. Clearly his mind was troubled, jarred even. Mateo pushed himself up, his hands and legs trembling more than he’d initially realized, brushed himself off, and staggered back to the inn, jumpy and anxious.

“You look like you’ve been rolling in the streets,” Sabbis drawled out in greeting as Mateo entered.

“No thank you,” was the healer’s only response as he walked past the rahkanna and Barnen, heading back up the stairs and to his room. The two exchanged a look but did not try again the engage as he vanished above them.

Mateo threw the door to his room open and moved quickly inside, slamming it shut harder than he’d meant as he let his pack drop. He fished his holy symbol out from his pocket and sat on the edge of his bed, looking down at it as he gripped it tight. His hands were still shaking.

“I hope this is not some part of the illness already,” he heard himself say. Nothing in his notes mentioned hallucinations. Then he sniffed and realized his eyes were burning. The stress of the town, of his work, was getting to him, he knew. As much as he wanted to be the calm, collected healer that could focus and be unfazed, he was quickly finding his nerves frayed and fragile. He rubbed at his eyes and let out a deep, shaky sigh.

“Gah’lia, help me. I wish I knew how to handle this,” he admitted to his symbol. It was only his second day here. He didn’t want to feel like he was in over his head, like it was all too much for him, like he had made a mistake leaving. Mateo rubbed his thumbs firmly over the symbol, focusing on the smooth texture of it in his grip.

His crying had stopped already but as brief as it was it left him feeling unresolved and foolish. He let out a sigh. He was exhausted but he knew he should head back out into town, to check out the morgue and perhaps stop by a few other houses. For the moment, though, he just wanted to rest. It’s not as though the town was going anywhere, he reasoned to himself. He tucked the symbol of his goddess back into his pocket and laid down on his bed. Perhaps a small nap and then he would get back to work.

“Tell me about Gah’lia.”

Carmyle sat across from Mateo, her chin propped on one hand as the other lazily swiveled a bottle of ale on the wooden table top. It was much later in the day, already dark out when Mateo awoke from his nap, and he’d decided against heading back out for the night. Instead he’d been convinced into sharing a drink with Carmyle after she’d arrived to check on him.

“Sabbis said you looked like a mess,” she’d told him when he’d answered his room door. “Guess he was right,” she’d added as she looked him up and down.

Shortly after that the healer had cleaned up and now they were both downstairs at a small table tucked against the wall. Barnen was across the area from them dutifully attending the counter that no outside patron would be coming in to visit. Carmyle took a drink from her bottle, watching Mateo through rich brown eyes flecked with light forest green.

“You’re from Her temple, right?” She prodded, following her previous question. “Why don’t you tell me what’s so great about Her?” She sounded a cross between bored and tired, but her attention was undivided.

Mateo let out a low breath of a sigh, his focus drawn to his hands as he fidgeted with his fingers and tapped at his own bottle.

“I’m not entirely certain where to start,” he admitted. Most people did not ask him this and it made him feel a little on the spot.

“What makes Her so much better than Omed’ra?” Carmyle pressed, a smirk playing at the edge of her mouth. Mateo felt baited, though to what purpose he was not yet certain.

“Gah’lia is...” He hesitated as he worked over his words. Anything religious was a topic that could quickly get out of hand and he was not interested in taking the few acquaintances he had during this quarantine and souring them to him. Sabbis was bad enough already and Mateo was not certain if he’d actually done anything to offend the rahkanna in the first place. “Well, She is compassionate and supportive.”

“And Omed’ra isn’t?” Carmyle asked, taking a drink from her bottle. Though her posture remained lax, her eyes betrayed the look of someone who fully and eagerly understood what she was trying to start.

“I didn’t say that,” Mateo countered with a sigh.

“But you follow Her over Him,” Carmyle challenged with a grin as she held the tip of her bottle to her chin.

Mateo drew back to give the woman a tight-lipped grimace, trying to measure her aim. Did she want a fight? Was she just bored?

“I’m not certain I want to have this conversation with you.”

“Please? Come on!” Carmyle’s eyes lit up all the more, her face an expression of eagerness and excitement. “I’ve heard rumors about followers of Gah’lia, but you’re the first I’ve ever met.” She set her bottle down on the table and leaned forward, her smirk broadening as she looked up at Mateo. “I am dying to hear what you have to say. Look,” she leaned back in her chair again, holding her arms wide in offering. “Pretend you could convert me. Tell me what they told you at the temple. Tell me all the things no one will say because they’re afraid the Sun will send beasts after them or burn them away or something.”

Mateo drew in a deep breath. In most cases he could admit to himself the desire to speak plainly was there. And she did sound earnest in her fascination to hear what he had to say, even if her interest appeared driven by some form of odd amusement. He took a drink from his own bottle to help bolster his nerves before he spoke.

“Omed’ra is an absent and egotistical overlord who cares more about blind devotion than the advancements and betterment of people worldwide,” he blurted out in one long breath.

“Yes!” Carmyle slapped her hands together and let out a loud guffaw as she tilted back in her chair, hooking her leg around the table to keep herself balanced. “There it is! That’s amazing!”

“I’m being serious,” Mateo responded firmly, uncertain if he should be more offended or encouraged by her delight.

“I know you are!” Carmyle said, pitching forward. All four legs of her chair hit the ground with a solid thunk. Her grin was broad and her eyes bright as she leaned onto the table. “That’s why I love it so much! It’s bold! It’s practically blasphemy!”

“No, see, that’s-” Mateo let out another deep sigh, raking his fingers through his long hair. “That’s literally what I’m talking about. He demands so much unquestioning obedience from people that just thinking, let alone saying something to the contrary can get labeled as an attack rather than an observation!”

“I mean, those words were pretty loaded,” Carmyle pointed out coyly. “It’s not like you were looking for the polite way to get your point across.”

“Maybe, but that’s only come from lifetimes of written accounts and experiences,” Mateo countered. “If He would actually do anything that made a real difference in the world, then perhaps His expectations of us would be seen as more reasonable!”

“Oh yeah, a ‘real’ difference,” Carmyle agreed in jest. “I mean, He only made, like,” she raised an arm up to gesture around them in a play of bored motion, “everything here.”

“No. No he did not!” Mateo gripped his bottle tighter and tapped a finger defiantly on the table top. “He didn’t make this table! Or these chairs! Or this inn! He didn’t form this bottle or brew this beer or any of those things! Sure, He laid out the base of everything, but after that? All of our advancements and societal changes and progressions into medicine and invention and understanding? That came from us! And if Omed’ra had His way, we’d all be sitting around praying for these things to be dropped from the sky for us instead of going out and finding out how to make them and learn them and advance them ourselves! Gah’lia wants us to move forward, to not have to rely on Her for all of our accomplishments and prosperity.”

“So why even follow Her at all?” Carmyle watched Mateo with deep interest, resting her cheek on her hand. She seemed to enjoy his worked-up state. “Why follow a Goddess who won’t even give you anything and expects you to get it all yourself? What even is the point of Her, then?”

“Because She protects our interests. She protects the knowledge we gather.” Mateo paused to pull another drink from his bottle, his head feeling warm and loose.

“Gah’lia’s temples are libraries.” He explained as the bottle left his lips again. “She guards our works from loss, from fire, from the wear of time. She makes certain it’s all preserved for future scholars and priests to go through and add to and learn from and build upon.”

“She’ll make certain the works are preserved but not the people, then.”

“What?” Mateo’s brow furrowed as he looked at Carmyle. She was regarding him with wide eyes before she took another drink herself.

“What I mean is, She won’t even stop a plague. Think about if this illness had hit your temple, right?” She set her bottle down and leaned forward once more, her form crouched over the table as she grinned up at Mateo. “Gah’liah’s gonna let everyone die… But at least your books would still be good.” She drew back again and took another long pull before letting out a post-drink sigh of satisfaction. “So in that way, it still sounds to me that Gah’lia cares more about what you do than She actually cares about you.

Folding her arms, Carmyle kicked her legs up onto the table, reddish brown leather boots thudding against the wood as Mateo drew back to make space for the sudden intrusion.

“And Omed’ra seems similar enough, if all He cares about is that you’re busy worshiping Him. Both care about services more than people.”

Mateo felt in his gut that the comparison was false but the alcohol was clouding his mind too much to work out how to argue it. Instead he managed the most clever of responses to her assertions.


“So I just feel like we’re due a better option than gods who just want us spending our time doing things that make them happy,” Carmyle stated, closing her eyes as she got comfortable in her position, chair balanced carefully back on two legs. “Someone who just goes ‘Hey, what do you want to do? Okay, wonderful. Here, now go do it.’”

“Well,” Mateo started, staring with partially drunken offense at the soles of her boots. “That’s just not how it works,” he grumbled as he stood from his seat, pausing to steady himself against the table as he checked his balance.

Carmyle let out an unimpressed hum at his statement. She opened a lazy eye as she felt him move away.

“Are you going to bed already? Again?”

“Well it’s too late to go out,” Mateo looked over at her, pausing in his amble toward the stairs. “And you got me drunk, anyway. I’m going to sleep this off.” He gestured at her lounged position. “You should do the same. In your bed. Where you won’t fall over.”

“It’s cute that you seem to care,” Carmyle responded with a grin. The healer let out a vexed sigh.

“Of course I care. I care about this whole damn town, I just can’t do anything for it,” he muttered, combing a hand through his hair as he turned toward the stairs again. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Hey, thanks for joining me for the drink.” Carmyle called after him as he ascended. Mateo did not respond. “And the talk!” She called out louder. “You should get more worked up about things! It’s very becoming of you!” She shouted after him as he vanished from sight.

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