A Night at Pat's

Anwita Vasanth Koodalithazhathuveedu

Well, that’s it for today.

I dust myself off and store my latest project in a container my friends made for me, making sure to fasten all the clasps and tighten all the straps (alchemy is a volatile thing, after all). 

“Where’re you going, Ed?”

My roommate is still toying around with a pipette full of something rather unpleasant looking, strings of white sliming through the murky greenish-brown.

I guess the sewer clean-up isn’t going well.

“James, it is almost 11 in the goddamn night. On a Friday. I’m heading off to get something to eat, and then I am out for the night.”

“Let’s see if you can finally fix up that sleep schedule of yours, huh?”

I scoff at the idea as I sling my bag over my shoulder. 

Not likely.

I duck under the low-hanging sign of my favourite tavern (a little, middle ring hole-in-the-wall called Pat’s) and am greeted by Pat himself- a cheery redhead built like a bear, with the voice to match. 

“Eddy, my man! Got somethin’ cookin’ out back if you want it?”

“Sure, Dad- uh, Pat. How much?”

“C’mon, Ed, you know better than that! It’s all on the house, kid. And, uh-”

He fidgets a little, then slaps me on the back.

“Just Dad is fine. We’ve known each other for years, kiddo! Ain’t no place for formality in ‘ere.”

I relax, muscles easing out of the usual assignment-induced tension. 

“I, uh, don’t think that’s how relatives work,” I start, hurrying to make my point as Pat’s (Dad’s) face starts to fall, “but hey, who’s checking? The Unseen Administration?”

He guffaws loudly and hands me a bowl of soup and a big chunk of bread, wiping a mock tear from his eye as he bustles over to take someone’s order.

My soup is only really half finished by the time I’ve scarfed the last of my bread, and I pick up the bowl, ready to drink the rest of it. 

“Hey there, friend.”

There’s someone sitting next to me at the counter. Their bleached hair falls over a face a bit too young (about my age- maybe a little older) for it to be grey by nature. I don’t really pay attention to what they’ve said- I’m distracted by a strange, mechanical lizard scurrying across their shoulders, a pair of mothmice in hot pursuit, their black-and-brown wings fluttering angrily.

The stranger catches me looking and chuckles, scooping the mothmice into their palm.

“Lilli, Zeke, behave.”

The little creatures twitch their noses and flutter into a little pocket of an abysmally maintained suit-jacket.

“Sorry about that. I’ve been trying to get him- the lizard, you know- to pick locks. Lillian and Ezekiel- those would be the rather upset mothmice in my pocket- they aren’t really all too fond of the lizard. No clue why.”

They shrug, then startle.

“Anyhow, I’ve gotten distracted with their little feud and completely forgotten why I came over to pull you away from your soup.”

The soup in question is starting to get cold, and I quickly slurp it up, motioning for the rather eccentric character to wait for a second as I do.

“See, I couldn’t help but notice that you and your father over there were joking around about the Unseen Administration. Not a huge fan of the ol’ UA?”

I tense up, immediately on edge, my mind racing.

I’m a student of the University of Alchemy, that should afford me some protection for if- when- the government comes calling. 

Why did I have to go and-

“Hey now, hey now. I mean you and yours no harm- it’s the same with me. In fact, there’s a lotta people like us out there.”

I finally manage to find my voice; it shakes a little but otherwise holds firm.

“What do you want from me? Actually, start with this one: who are you and how many people were absent in your life that didn’t teach you that it’s good manners to introduce yourself when you’re talking to strangers?”

The figure raises their eyebrows, then starts laughing, leaning back so far in their chair that I feel like they might fall over.

“Oh, they’re going to love you back there.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“I’ll tell you in a bit. But to answer your questions, my name’s Nnethnen Mouns. And there wasn’t really anyone missing, I’m just forgetful. 

“Right, so onto the nitty-gritty. Remember those people who I was talking about? The ones who aren’t the happiest with the Unseen Administration? There are a lot of them. So many, in fact, that they all decided to form a group.

That’s us. The Inquisitors. We’ve had our eyes on you for a while, and we believe that we could help each other out.”

They spread out their arms.

“You tell us a little about goings-on at the University, we get you money. Lots of it.”

I mean. I could use the extra cash…

Ah, what the hell.

“You’ve got a deal.”

Nnethnen grins, rubbing their hands together excitedly.

“There’s just one thing that I may have just forgotten. As the Spymaster, you’ll be reporting to me. Or rather, we’ll be working together. I’m not too big on authority, if you haven’t noticed.”

The little mothmice- Lilli and Zeke, I remember- scurry out of Mouns’ pocket and fly around me, chirruping and squeaking excitedly.

“So, from me and from the rest of the higher-ups, welcome to the Inquisitors, my friend.”