"Miss, Vena! Welcome back!"
"Aye, Vena. It's been a while sweet heart."
"Yo! Vena! Over here!"
"Molo, Vena. Kuye mzuzwana, abe na?"
"Welcome back, miss snake. What'll it be tonight?"
"I told you," Vena replied. "It's not snake. It's Vena. Give me a caipirinha."
"You know I can't do that," the bartender replied. "Besides, even if I knew how to mix that, a girl your age shouldn't be drinking alcohol."
"Come on," Vena said. "They let me drink back in Vorgas."
"Vorgas is a town without morals. Don't compare this place to that scar."
"Fine," Vena sighed. It was no use arguing. Vena knew no matter how much she pushed; he wasn't going to give in. "Any news worth sharing?"
The bartender shook his head. "Nothing. Not unless you're interested in what's going on over in Graton."
"How boring," Vena answered.
"I thought as much," the bartender said. He placed down the glass he was drying and picked up a bottle with a strange red liquid in it. He poured some into the glass and passed it to Vena. Vena smiled and accepted it.
"So, how did the visit to Verdale go? Did you find the answers you were looking for?"
Vena took a sip of the red liquid which she now figured was some kind of juice and shook her head. "No. It's a small place without anything there." Vena turned away, taking note of the large number of people within the diner. She focused her attention on the band playing on the stage opposite where she sat She hoped he wouldn't ask where her partner was.
"I see," The bartender sighed. "I guess you and Wraith will just have to look elsewhere. Where is Wraith any how? He'd normally be glued to your side when you come here."
Vena froze. Just as she had feared- no, more have expected- he had asked the question. She thought for a moment of what to say before turning around, a forced smile on her face. "Wraith? Oh, he just decided to stay in Verdale a while more while I came here for more information. He said he was alright with this since Verdale was so close. That's where he is." Vena knew it wasn't the greatest lie, but she hoped it worked.
The bartender said nothing. He continued working on the counter, cleaning and putting away glasses. Vena could see the skepticism in his face, half expecting him to call her out. He didn't, only continuing to clean.
"If you say so," he finally sighed. Vena breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't need to make an enemy of him, but she didn't want to face reality either.
"That's the way it is, so yep!" she pushed. Vena spun back around and took another large swallow of juice. "Well, I guess I'll just talk to everyone else then." She placed the glass on the counter and leaped off the stool.
"Please don't bother the other customers," the bartender called after her. "And stay away from the alcohol, regardless what anyone says."
"Yes mother," Vena said, rolling her eyes. She disappeared before the bartender could say anything else. She knew most everyone in attendance and greeted many as she passed. She wove her way between the tables, looking for one in particular. As she drew closer to the stage, she turned towards the back of the diner and rested her eyes on a table with a single patron seated. She dashed over and took the seat opposite.
"Well, if it ain' missus Venam. How ya doin' kiddo?" the man said.
"Hey Garth," Vena said a smile on her face. "I'm good. What about you? Anything new?"
"Naw, nuthin'," Garth replied. "Say, tha' boy who was always witcha, where he at now? Didn' kick no bucket yet, did he?" Vena just smiled. There was no way she could lie to Garth. The elder farmer had a way of seeing through people.
"Hmph, 'n' ah always did like tha' boy. He was ah good kid. Ah, lil odd 'n' smilin' too much but loyal." Garth took a swig from the glass in front of him. He sat the glass back down with a heavy hand and looked away. "How've ya been doin'? Ah, mean wit 'im gone 'n' stuff."
"I'm doing fine," Vena said. She smiled, hoping Garth would move on to something else.
"Ah'm sure ya 're," Garth said, gently patting her shoulder with his weathered hand. "Ya always was ah tough girl." He gave a smile that seemed to calm Vena down a bit. The elder farmer felt like a father to her, something she had grown up without. She knew if she could talk to anyone, it was probably Garth.
"Hey, I have something I wanna ask," Vena said. "Would it be alri-"
"Excuse me, but I'm looking for Mr. Garth," a voice interrupted. "I was told I would find him at this table." Vena turned to see who had rudely cut her off, only to quickly turn around trying to hide her face. H-how? He should still be stuck in that cave! Or on his way back to Verdale at least! What's he doing here? The thought hit her clear as day. Of course Arakne must have left some kind of clue for him. She often did it before when taking interest in someone.
"Thank ya kindly... Mr. Alec, was it?" Garth answered, oblivious to his company's reaction.
"It's Alex," Alex replied.
"Well, Mr. Alec, why dontcha take ah seat in that chair o'er yonder. C'mon, don' be shy now. Ah'm pretty sure ya ain' got paid by ole Merrick yet. Go on 'n' pick somethin'. Ah'll treatcha." Vena felt a chill go down her spine. The last thing she wanted was to dine with the person tracking her down. Idiot or not, he was the only one who's ever found her twice. She took advantage of Alex's momentary absence to hide her face behind her hair.
"Ah, Where're ma manners," Garth said once Alex returned. "Ah forgot ta intraduce tha' both ah ya. This young missus 'ere is Vena. She's ahn adventurer. Been everywhere ahready. Seen 'bout half the world now, she did. Why dontcha tell 'im 'bout one ah yer stories, eh? Give 'im ah taste ah th' kinda girl ya 're ." Vena sat nervously behind the sheet of hair now covering her face down to her nose, only just able to make out Alex's features. It looked like he hadn't yet recognized her. Maybe she could get through it after all.
"H-how do you d-do?" Vena said tentatively. "I-it's a pleasure t-to meet you."
"Ah, I remember now," Alex said. "You're the girl who robbed me and left me in that cave." Vena felt the words pierce her without mercy. As if it wasn't bad enough, she could also feel Garth's judging eyes now fixated on her.
"Oh, but I guess if it wasn't for you," Alex continued, oblivious to the other's reactions. "I wouldn't be here right now. Not to mention you saved me from whatever that beast was you were worried about. I guess I do owe you for that. But then, of course, you drugged me twice, abused me, tortured me, took my supplies and my gold, and left me no way down from that cliff. I nearly broke my neck when I slipped." Vena averted her gaze, trying hard to pretend she was innocent.
"Well, hang on there jest a minute," Garth interrupted. "How d'ya know it was missus Vena who did tha' stuff t'ya? Missus Vena 'ere won' hurt ah fly. Th're ain' no way she's gonna hurt a person. Maybe there coulda been some look-a-like 'r somethin' ya know? Someone lookin' ta ruin missus Vena's rep in this place. Ah ain't fer a moment gonna believe ya got yer butt kick'd by this lil lady 'ere, got it?" And with that, Garth leaned back in his seat, a silencing glare fixed upon his face. Vena silently thanked the old farmer for taking her side and breathed a sigh of relief.
"But, jest 'cause ah said it, ah ain't sure tha' yer all innocent yerself, missy," Garth suddenly continued. "Ah ain't gonna hol' ya t' nuffin' but ya best think 'bout tha thin's this lad here is sayin'. Tha guilt'll be on yerself. It'll be up t' ya what yer gonna do." Vena turned back to face Garth, but the resolution was clear in his eyes.
Vena sighed again and faced Alex, moving the hair from in front her eyes. "I'm very sorry for all those things I did. I didn't meant to cause you any trouble." She bowed her head and waited to hear Alex's reply.
"I guess I don't have much of a choice," Alex sighed in reply. "It's not like I can do anything anyways. Especially not when you have vio- oww!" Vena's kick hit its mark just in time. She glared at Alex with a dark intensity, challenging him to continue.
Garth raised an eyebrow but said nothing. "Well, no sense 'n pushin' tha' problem more," he said. "Now where's tha' stuff ole Merrick dun sent ya ta give ta me?" Alex handed him a box wrapped tightly in brown paper, save for one corner. "Well shucks. Ya'll ready took ah peak. Ya migh' as well go 'n tell me wuts 'n 'ere."
"I-I-I..." Alex stammered.
"Ahm jest messin' whitcha, kiddo," Garth said jokingly, placing a hearty slap on his back. "Now lets eat. Ahm starvin'! Bart, ah round ah yer best roast beast, if ya will!"