Tuesday, September 9

Loyal to the end

Aleister had seen his share of bad years. But this one was particularly bad. He sat at his desk, the wood worn bare from centuries of use. He adjusted his spectacles as he examined the leaves of parchment, and shook his head. He lifted the black glass bottle to his lips and took a swig, and puckered as he set it down slowly. He turned the bottle to examine the label. "Ach. A Suicide. 1832. A very bad year." He shook his head as he held the bottle to his chest. "Lean times, mein sad friend. Tavern fare. Mein stocks are low...zee Dolls...zee Ogres...zee Reanimator...ein more year like zis und I vill have to hunt..."

He was unaccustomed to the silence. Normally his servants would keep his clocks wound for him. But to do it himself would mean less time caring for what little stock he had left. Was that the buzzing of wings his preternatural senses heard?

A knock. He most definitely heard a knock. It continued in an uneven pattern. Yes, it was yet another Ereb'ai ritual. Begging forgiveness of the local Lord for a necessary intrusion. Did his descendant come to quibble with him over the quality of the last cask? Or was it about the lost drone? He grumbled as he shuffled across the hall to flip open and unhook dozens of locks. None of his ornithopters would ever veer off course..

It was a blue lobster. Most unexpected. He recognized the ring of the Sommelier immediately. His bloodshot eyes grew wide as he gazed at the sapling in the beast's claw.

"Beg paahdon, Suhr," croaked the demon. "Boot thees tree does need a beet mauhr wharmth..."

"ACH! Come in! Quickly!" He hurriedly gestured the demon to enter and slammed the door behind him and latching the largest bolt. "It is rare to meet a fellow connoisseur! Und here you haff a whole tree! Am I correct in assumink you vish me to kepp zis in a safe place for you?" He rubbed his nose having caught the scent of the crustacean's blue ichor, which was as palatable to any vampiric creature as, say, turpentine.

The crustacean gave a few slight bows, being as close as it could do to nodding without a neck. "Gut Suhr, as you know, zee entire stockpile of zee Midas is lost..." Aleister nodded sadly. The whole Northern reach of Winterfell was now littered with shattered casks, bottles and half-obliterated dolls. "Save feur zees tree, und zees bottle of zee Obsidian King's Special Reserve!" The demon reached into his apron with his free claw and drew out a blood-red bottle with a gilded seal and parchment glowing with runes wrapped around the cork.

Aleister covered his mouth in amazement. "Zee First Press!"

"Indeed Suhr. Zees are zee remains of my life's vork...Zees tree is like mah child..." His antannae began to flail as he held back a long whimper.

Gently, Aleister wrapped a his pale hand around the trunk of the sapling under the claw. "Of course, mein Herr, I vill treat zis vit zee utmost care! Und zis prized bottle.." He extracted the bottle from the demon's grip. He felt a tingle in his arm as he realized that the bottle's seal was made from a human soul. "Zees vill bring zee tree to full bloom! Vee shall recover zee art of Bloodwine fermentation from extinction! Together vee vill..."

The lobster's prodigious waist rotated from side to side in an approximation of shaking his head NO. "Mah work ees done...save for an errand at behest of zee late Blootvink himzelf!"

Aleister bowed in a sweeping motion, setting the First Press on the floor as he did so. "Herr Sommelier! Hyu are a demon of great honor und dedication! Hyu haff mein eternal respect!"

The blue-shelled one bowed in return. "Before ah take mah leave, hwould you bee so kahnd ahz to pwoint mee zee way to Schteelhead?"

He felt the excruciating crunch of silver and steel between the joints in his carapace. The man in black with the facial hair who had claimed to be the Sheriff gloated at him as he fell to the ground and his shell cracked further under the weight of his boot. He was dangling the amulet over his eyestalks, laughing maniacally at his failure. He took one last sigh and his world went black.

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