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The tavern was silent

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The tavern was silent. Calponia stopped at the top of the stairwell, unable to completely banish the dread that settled in the pit of her stomach. The feeling increased as she descended the creaking stairs to find the bar empty, until it sat like a stone crushing her from the inside.

She found Mack sitting alone at one of the tables, staring at a misshapen tankard as if he expected it to explode. He waved her over without looking up. Calponia cringed. This was it. She was about to be fired and cast out, with no home and no prospects.

She sat across from him, unable to look him in the eye. Sitting on her hands kept her from twisting her fingers into knots. Calponia waited for the proverbial ax to fall; the minutes crawling by until she couldn't stand the pressure and chanced a peek at her boss.

Mack stared at her with an intensity that pierced all her defenses. The second her eyes met his, she was stripped to the bones, her nerves jangling as he flayed open her soul, scraping away everything but her bare essence. It felt akin to a mental meat grinder. Calponia whimpered.

He blinked.

The awful sensation stopped. Calponia took a deep gasping breath. What the hell just happened? Her eyes flicked over Mack's face, unwilling to risk a second direct stare, but she began to wonder if her boss was actually human.

Desperate to break the tense silence, she asked the obvious question. "What happened to the customers?"

Mack raised an eyebrow at her. The more she thought about it, she never saw coin exchange hands between any patron and Mack in the week she'd worked here. Did they pay? Or did the Edgewise have a slew of epic tabs on file? If that was the case how would Mack pay her wages? Her heart sank further. She'd been so grateful for the job and so busy acclimating to the work, they never discussed her wages. Now she was homeless, about to be unemployed, and, likely, thoroughly screwed out of her pay.

"You're turning blue, Calponia, take a breath."

She sucked air in through her teeth, afraid to open her mouth or she'd start begging and ranting. Mack watched her, a frown of concern on his bearded face. He gestured to the room, which on second glance wasn't as empty as she thought. The Munch continued to doze in his corner, uninterrupted.

"I sent the bulk of our clientele home," said Mack, absently spinning the warped tankard with his free hand. "You and I need to have a serious conversation about the bête noir."

That again? Calponia's hands were falling asleep beneath her thighs. She shifted, putting them on the table, her fingers tapping against the worn wood to regain feeling.

"Are you going to fire me?" She blurted.

"That is no longer possible," said Mack. He looked unenthusiastic at the prospect.

Calponia blinked at him, confused, possibly insulted, but mostly relieved. She shouldn't question it, but damn if her curiosity didn't get the better of her. "Why not?"

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