“That stupid sky rat broke my nose!”
The man sat cross legged on the ground by the tavern door, staring up at his visitor. She stared back at the pudgy, red faced little man, fully aware that he was drunk, but still intrigued by any news of a celestia.
“Really. Why did he do that?”
“Cause celestia are jus' plain evil. I was jus' trying to knock 'is block off, stab 'im with a knife, y'know, just mind'n my own business, and 'e slugs me! No respect fer their betters, let me tell you.”
“And why were you trying to stab him?”
“B'cause he... he... I dunno, I 'ad a reason then. But 'e still shouldn't 'ave slugged me. I got connections, y'know. I'll get that rotten sky rat yet!” The man weakly pounded his fist into the ground. “I'll get 'im. Y'll see...” The man's eyes slowly roved around the dusk shadows of the town. “Hey, could y' spare a guy a few coins for a pint? A celestia broke my nose the other day, y'know...”
The woman shook her head and walked away, disgusted by the drunken informant. He began singing an old tavern tune as she moved down the dusty street, so full of piercingly bad notes it seemed more like a form of torture than a form of entertainment.
"Pour me another one, rum ale or beer, and show me a woman, to help spread the cheer..." The man dozed off, leaning against the door of the tavern and snoring uproariously.
The traveler ignored him and went on. Wooden building after wooden building rose to meet her gaze until she noted a section of multi-hued dusk sky silhouetted by charred remains. The beams of the structure still remained standing, though barely. It looked like a recent fire; any sort of weather would've knocked it to the ground with no trouble at all.
“Excuse me,” she said to a passer by, “What happened with this?”
“Oh, you mean the Fighting Cock? Yeah, it burned down a couple days ago. Used to be a real successful tavern, way better than that hovel down the street. Not sure what caused it, a lotta people say that it was a celestia, but it might'a just been the drunks.” The stubby little woman lowered her voice and leaned in close. “But me? I think it was the Drunken Cat, that little bar down the street. Their business has nearly doubled since the fire, and they were barely getting by before.”
“Poppycock.” The traveler swiveled on one foot to face the new speaker, a man in fine clothes with a cultured accent and heavy purse. “The gossip of an old woman cannot be trusted. If you want to know the real story, ask someone who was there.”
“Who you calling old?! I'll have you know that I'm not a day older than...”
“My grandmother.” The man looked triumphantly down his nose at the irate woman, projecting an aura of snobbishness.
The old woman huffed. “Fine, you rich little whippersnapper, but if you're looking for someone who gives trustworthy information, ask me before you ask pretty boy here. Last guy he gave directions to ended up wandering in circles for a week before he showed up back here and this troublemaker wormed more money out of the poor guy. Then he asked me for directions, and he got where he was going first time!”
“Either that, or he wandered off a cliff.”
She stomped her foot. “Fine. Be that way.” She turned to the traveler and added, “When you get tired of listening to the con man here, come find me. I'll give you some real information.”
The wrinkled old woman stomped down the street, enraged. When a chicken got in her way, she yelled something unintelligible and whacked at it with her cane and carried on. The traveler turned back to her other would-be informant.
“So who did burn down the bar?”
“A celestia. Big one, he was, and I was the only one in that bar sober enough to notice. Why, without me...”
“Sir, please, what was he looking for?”
The man looked upset at this interruption. “Well, he was asking about a girl by the name of Anna. Probably wanted to kidnap her.” The man seemed to catch himself suddenly, realizing that he easily get money in exchange for his information. “Of course, a little cash never hurt my memory any.”
"Alright,” The traveler said, and pulled a few coins out of the purse she kept beneath her green poncho. “No money until you tell me everything, of course,” she added slyly.
“Of course,” the man said, his voice strained only slightly. She could tell that he wasn't used to dealing with people who paid after the fact, a trait only too common in con men. “Well, the only Anna that I know of is the daughter of a noble up in a town called Red Grove; nice girl, disappeared a couple years back. Big reward for whoever catches the kidnapper. So I told him and asked just why he was looking for her. He said that he was just a friend, a likely story. I, being so wise and considerate of my fellow humans, decided to point out that he wasn't human, and thereby saved countless lives from the celestia's savagery. He burned down the tavern with a candle though, and escaped. I received a reward for saving the town, and everyone went away happy.”
The man eyed her clenched fist hungrily. “Is that all?” she said, watching his face for a clue if he was lying.
“Yes, yes, now will you hand over that money?”
“All in good time. I only have one more question. Where is Red Grove?”
“Northeast of here, over Crueller Pass. When you reach the Sky Divide River, just follow the path north. You can't miss it. Now can I have the...”
“Certainly, sir. I thank you for your help.” She dropped the coins into his hand, more than his information merited, but she was feeling generous. Turning to face the northern edge of the town, she felt his hand on her shoulder holding her back.
“Ma'am,” he said, a tone of respect prompted by the extra coins in his voice, “May I ask you something?”
“Why exactly are you interested in this? For the reward?”
“No, of course not.”
“For the story, silly,” she said with a small smile, and headed down the dusty road north.