Stepanos DelaCroix's Nightmare...
Like molten metal from the Great Forges of Ironforge, the Pandarian liquid slid down his throat - clawing and scouring everything in it's path. It was glorious. A warm friend on a cold night, filling his soul with fiery love for the beverage. His only friend, his true friend - liquid Light in a bottle.
Stepanos leaned back in his chair. Kicking his bare, mud-stained feet atop the table, he wrapped his hands behind his head and sighed. Sweat stained his arm pits, darkening the already dirt-caked silken shirt that no longer resembled anything fine - adding to the garbagescent stench that permeated his entire person.
"This is the life," he said, watching the door for Swan's return. No responsibility, no need for order or discipline. He couldn't ask for anything more. He sighed and wiggled his toes, noticing the yellowish mold growing beneath the nails. So nice not needing to care about cleanliness. Who needed that when one had Soju.
"We are the best of friends, are we not, Stepanos?" the bottle in the middle of the table said. While being plain, the label featured a fuzzy black Pandaren wearing a conical straw hat, and surrounded by dense jungle. It stepped from the scene and walked across the table toward Stepanos.
"That we are, Soju!" Stepanos said to the tiny Panderan figure. "I thought I'd lost you during my dream." He returned the chair to it's four legs, and extended his arm so the little Soju could walk into his palm. "It's good to have you back."
"Yes," Soju said, his voice deep and wise. "Soju is all there is in life, Stepanos. You should remember this always." The former paladin nodded, his eyes transfixed on the Pandaren. "What have I always said?" Stepanos scrunched his eyes in thought, then nodded and smiled.
"Slow down," Stepanos said. "Soju is to be savoured!" The panderan clasped his hands together as if in prayer and bowed.
"You are most wise, Stepanos," Soju said. "Life is Soju, and Soju is life."
Crunching of gravel interupted the conversation, and Stepanos looked toward the door. A growing shadow appeared, lengthening into the tavern. Soju jumped from Stepanos's hand and ran to the bottle, leaping into the scene and freezing in place.
"Welcome to Green Stone Tavern!" Swan said, placing the glass she had been drying upon the bar. The figure said nothing, though Stepanos could not see the face, as it was hooded. Swan cleared her throat.
"I said welcome to Green Stone Tavern," she said again, this time stepping from behind the bar. "Can I help you?"
"No," the figure said, clearly female from the pitch and tone of her voice. "I do not want your help, Panderan. I am looking for someone."
"No one here," Swan said, glancing at Stepanos. "Only bum. And he need bath. I try to make him leave, but..." The woman raised a gloved hand into the barkeep's face, stopping her words.
"Silence!" the woman said, walking toward Stepanos's table. "I did not come here to talk to a bear."
Stepanos ran filthy fingers through his scraggly beard, then adjusted his adventurer's hat. Banded with a spotted cloth, it was supposed to resemble the skin of a fierce jungle cat. Instead, it looked like something found dead in a wagon rut after five days underneath a boiling sun.
"You looking for me, schweetheart?" Stepanos said, then motioned for the woman to have a seat. She stared at him for a moment, harsh eyes piercing into his from beneath the darkened cowl. She dusted the seat with her hand, and sat - glaring at him. "I have soju!" He glanced at the bottle and saw the Pandaren shake his head, then return to a static position. Was he scowling?
"Or maybe not..." The Panderan smiled.
"I did not come here to drink, Stepanos," the woman said, lowering her hood. "I came here to see why you never showed up at the Tian Monestary, like you planned." Stepanos shrugged, and reached for his glass. Interestingly enough, it was full. The Pandaren winked, and Stepanos smiled. A TRUE friend.
"Meh," he said, lifting the glass to his lips. "I tried to climb that never-ending, bloody stone staircase, and made it to the first landing." He drank, curling his lips around the glass's edge so as not to spill any of his friend. "After that, I told the Monk to bugger off and let me be."
His shirt pocket buzzed, warmer than the previous time. Bloody bedbugs, he thought. I should say something to Swan. How could anyone stay in a tavern infested with those creatures?
Nineeve shook her head, her lips pursed in disgust. "Pitiful," she stated. "And here I thought you were changing." She cocked her head. "What of my offer? Did that mean nothing to you?" He paused mid-swallow, as a thread tugged from deep within his brain, almost pulling his eyeball into his head.
The Pandaren on the bottle... growled, it's face flashing to that of a wolf, before returning to the wizened gaze of his friend. The tug faded, and Stepanos sighed. Still friends. All's good in the world.
"Nope," he said, though the words seemed weaker than his others. He took another drink. "You're dead anyway, so your offer was never real. Besides, why would I change when I have everything I could ever want right here?"
Nineeve laughed, draping one arm over the back of the chair as she twisted - her hand patting the wooden chair-back. "Living in filth?" she said. "Wallowing with yaks? Drinking that vile poison?" She nodded. "Yea, some life, High Commander."
He frowned when she insulted his friend. Rage built within his chest, and he absently reached for his missing mace. Damn yaks. He saw the Pandaren nod toward Nineeve. RIght. Have to deal with her. Now.
He burst from his chair. Which in his current state, meant he wobbled and crashed into the wall, sending the chair careening to the floor. Steadying himself, he stood upright and pointed at Nineeve.
"OUT!" he bellowed. "What right do you have coming in here and insulting my friend?!" She looked toward Swan, who was ignoring the conversation completely by drying glasses.
"What friend?" she said, looking back at Stepanos. "You surely don't mean me, as I wouldn't insult myself." She cocked her head. "Who are you talking about?" He blinked, seeing that Nineeve was beginning to spin in her chair.
"Get," he said, reaching for his glass. "Out!" He threw the remaining liquid at Nineeve, splashing her in the face before she could block with her hands. Nineeve shattered into hundreds of crystal shards, mixing with the droplets of Soju and spraying across the room. Broken images of a shocked Nineeve disappeared as they met the floor, tinkling like broken bells.
Stepanos stared at the scene, wobbling in place as his breathing returned to his control. The rage faded, and he looked toward the table. What the fel was that? Soju hopped from the bottle and laughed, grabbing his belly and throwing his head back as he did so.
"That will teach her to insult your friend, Stepanos," Soju said, once his laughter was finished. He pointed toward the bottle. "You should have more. Your glass is empty." Stepanos looked at the glass, and noticed Soju was correct. It was empty.
"Yes," he said, reaching for the bottle. "I think I will."
It was full. As always. Never empty, friend without end.