“Anna, eh?” The bearded man scratched his chin thoughtfully for a moment, leaning over the tankard of amber liquid resting on the bar in front of them. “Nope. Never heard of her.”
“No? Well, thank you anyway, sir.” Micheal walked away briskly through the darkened, smoky room, careful not to bump his wings into anything. “The best thing about bars,” he mumbled, “is it's too dark to notice much, and whatever people do notice is dismissed because they're drunk.” Glancing over to a red-faced man singing and dancing on a table, he added, “Really drunk.”
“Hey, you.” Micheal turned to face the speaker. “You lookin' for a girl named Anna?”
“Do you know her?” Hope lingered in Micheal's voice at this, the first lead in nearly a month.
“Brown hair, green eyes, about so tall?” The man gestured vaguely, his face hardly visible behind the cloud of smoke puffing from his cigar.
“Yes! Have you seen her?”
“Nice girl. Last time I saw her she was living out in the east somewhere, but I don't remember exactly where...” A crooked smile appeared through the heavy smoke. “Maybe a little cash would help refresh my memory?”
Micheal sighed. Another con man was the last person he wanted to see right now. But if this man had anything he could use...
“Alright.” Coins clinked into the man's smooth hand.
He counted them with a glance, then resumed talking. “I believe it was a little town called Red Grove, her father was someone important there. No other family to go looking for her when she disappeared. Heard she was kidnapped.”
“I know all that. Can you tell me any more?”
“Hey, she's just one girl. The only reason I know about her is because of the reward offered for her kidnapper. Thirty thousand gold coins is enough to make research worth my time.” The man turned suddenly, eying Micheal suspiciously. “And why, may I ask, are you looking for her?”
“I'm... a friend.”
“Really. What was a nice girl like her doing to make friends like you?” The man's voice began to rise, just enough to attract a few of the less-drunk occupants of the bar. “Winged friends,” he added pointedly.
“Keep your voice down, please. I'm not after the reward.”
“How do I know that, celestia?” he whispered, grinning. “If I happened to point out that you are what you are, this bar would riot. I would get a reward for protecting the public from the likes of you.”
“Sir, please. I don't want a fight.”
“That's too bad. I want the reward.” The man immediately raised his voice, almost yelling. “Get away from me, filthy celestia! We don't want your kind around here!”
The entire bar turned to face them simultaneously. The angry glares signaled to Micheal that it was time to run. He whirled towards the door, no longer taking care to hide his wings. Unfortunately, the doorway was already filled with angry drunks.
He raised his hands, pleading with the furious crowd. “All I want is to leave peacefully. There's no need for a fight.”
“Too late, celestia.” The man he had been talking to earlier, now stone drunk, leered at him, overconfident even though he could barely stand. “We're gonna destroy you now.” Raucous cries of agreement came from all over the bar, drunken voices filled with blind courage. Micheal adopted a fighting pose, knowing negotiation wouldn't get him out of this one.
The first one rushed him, teetering wildly. Micheal dodged and clotheslined him with practiced ease. The second attacker came from behind and got catapulted into the ceiling for his efforts. A third picked up a chair, swung, and missed. He hit the con man square in the face and knocked the table over. The rest rushed en masse.
Flying bodies and broken furniture filled the air for a few minutes, as Micheal ducked and dodged, causing his attackers to hit each other instead of him. They finally managed to get themselves sorted out, forcing him back into a corner.
A man with a shining blade approached menacingly. “You're gonna get it now, sky rat.”
“Really,” said Micheal with a confidence he didn't really feel. “Isn't there any way we could sort this out peacefully?”
“Quiet, you flying trash!” One of the more drunken, and heavily bruised, patrons of the bar forced his way to the front. “You don't talk!” He slammed his fist down on one of the few tables that remained standing to make his point clear. The table broke, finally giving in to the repeated blows it had taken, and the burning candle resting on it fell to the alcohol soaked floor.
The wooden tavern caught like the firetrap it was. Mass chaos ensued as the crowd ran for the door, forgetting Micheal completely in their efforts to escape the crawling flames. Micheal moved with them, blending into the panic. As soon as he made it into the open air, he hid his wings as best as he from the light from fire and stars above that could illuminate them like a flare. He moved as quickly as he could through the gathering crowd, away from the blaze that filled the night with smoke.
Sitting on a hill about a quarter mile away from the tavern, he put his head in his hands. Blood from a cut on his forehead trickled down his arms, but he didn't care. “That went well,” he remarked sarcastically to no one in particular.
He let his thoughts wander, from the night he lost Anna to his forgiveness of the man who had taken her. A thought struck him, momentary fear piercing the veil of tiredness that blanketed his mind. “The reward! Thirty thousand gold coins... on me. Well, that should make things interesting.”
He fell back onto the grass under the tree, stared up at the bright crescent moon, and slept.