They say that people come to the Stop when they’re ready to die.
They say that Death himself is a patron. Certainly, that’s where the tavern got its name.
Azrael’s Stop. Watering hole for the Angel of Death.
There’s an altar in the corner, a white ash cabinet with a statue of the angel. It’s simple, but stands out—most taverns don’t have altars to Death, after all.
They say you’re supposed to leave an offering on the altar, instead of tipping. Not wanting to risk attracting Death’s attention, most do it. That’s also why most avoid the name, and just call it the Stop.
But that was all just rumour, and Ceph didn’t trade in rumour. He just served the drinks.
Only seventeen years old, small, thin, Ceph looked perpetually tired.
He’d seen a lot of death in his short life. Maybe that’s why he was here. No one really knew.
No one really knew much about the Stop—like why a hooded crow lived in the rafters of the common room. That’s why so many rumours sprang up.
But they were just rumours, Ceph said.
Except, of course, that every couple of weeks, someone died at Azrael’s Stop.
Losday, 30 Kornym, 1006 KR
The Stop was busy tonight. Outside the heavy oak door, the famous mists of Theore City blanketed the metropolis in muffled quiet. Inside, the common room was kept warm by a slowly burning fire and the closeness of bodies, like the cramped space was designed to remind everyone that they were still alive.
Ceph poured an old dwarven tanner a glass of heavy Running River mead.
“Need a room? I haven’t seen you around.”
The dwarf shook his head, his grey braided beard swaying. “Nah, I live in town. Just needed a new scene. Something calmer, y’know?”
“If you want calm, just don’t piss off the crow,” Ceph said, without a hint of a smile. The dwarf watched as the crow flew down from its perch, and stole a drink of whiskey from someone’s glass before flying away again. He snorted.
“How come it don’t caw, ever?” he asked.
“No one’s died yet.”
The dwarf stared at Ceph, but Ceph moved down the bar to help someone else.
Someone else might have asked the dwarf why the change of scene, but most of Ceph’s patrons didn’t like to talk about their problems.
Ceph had seen the darkness in the tanner’s eyes, the downcast look, the weariness. Someone close to him had died recently; the dwarf was here to grieve.
Alone, surrounded by people. As they all were at the Stop.
“Ceph!” Old Tom said as Ceph brought another glass of whiskey fey to his oldest regular. “I meant to tell you, the shutter in my room was stuck this morning.”
Ceph wasn’t sure how old Tom was. He was probably in his seventies, though still a big man, his hands engulfing the small glass. He’d had a few already, tonight—this was the third time he’d mentioned the shutter.
“Blame the crow,” Ceph said. “Something about a safety hazard. Don’t want you dying on us, eh?”
Tom laughed. When he had first come to the Stop a few months ago, he said he’d come because he was ready to die. “I like you, Ceph. How’d you get so smart, being so young?”
“I was cursed by a gnomish warlock. I can still hear the ticking of his infernal clocks.”
Tom laughed again, and Ceph moved on.
He didn’t know much about Tom, but they got along. He didn’t want Tom to die.
Not like everyone else had.
There was a momentary break in the orders for drinks, and Ceph leaned against the rack of bottles behind the bar. His hand automatically went to the copper amulet around his neck, the design it once bore worn smooth by his thumb over the years.
He was tired. He was always tired.
His regulars wondered what had brought a seventeen-year-old kid to run a bar like this. What they didn’t know was that he wondered the same.
He didn’t know where he was going. Barely understood where he’d come from, all he’d come through.
So much death.
It haunted him. He was always tired.
He watched the hooded crow. It cocked its head at him.
“I’m fine,” Ceph said under his breath, as if to the crow.