The diner had more the air of a bar in Belthor's opinion, having accompanied his father to a few back in South Shara. Most of the people inside he recognized from around the School, though many weren't initiates of his level. He waved as he saw Theron in a back booth, but he didn't think his roommate even noticed him.
If I had a gorgeous lady on each arm and another one across the booth from me, I wouldn't be paying attention to Theron, he admitted to himself. How does he do it?
"It is warm in here," Agnete said, as she took her seat. Belthor squeezed himself across the table from her, and was gratified when it was Sam who sat next to him instead of Tori.
"It's pleasant," Sam agreed. He loosened his scarf. "Compared to the blizzard out there."
"I quite like blizzards," Agnete said. She paused. "To watch, I mean. From the comfort of a warm fireside. Warmth is good."
"Hello Tori, Sam." The waitress, who appeared to be only a little older than Belthor, glanced to him and Agnete. "New fish?"
"Newest of the new," Tori confirmed. "This is Yvette, everyone."
"Hi," Belthor said, trying not to stammer and failing. He gave his name, and Yvette smiled, a big, glowing smile that radiated happiness at odds with her profession.
"Pleased to meet you," she said. "And the young lady?"
"Agnete." Belthor was positive she whispered the letters to herself very quickly afterward. "I am very new. I like gardening."
"And she likes blizzards," Sam said. "From a fireside."
"Well, you'll love it here," Yvette replied. "What'll it be?"
They ordered. Yvette spent a moment ribbing both Sam and Tori - evidently they got the same thing every time.
"I am fine," Agnete said, with a little smile.
"Come on, get something," Tori urged. "It's on us. You're new."
"What?" Belthor asked. "It's...no, it's not-" Sam shoved him, and he subsided, wondering when this became the plan.
"I do not eat much, and I already feasted," Agnete said. "I am fine." She paused. "Though I appreciate the kindness."
"Well, if you're sure," Sam said, tone dubious. Agnete nodded very certainly. "All right, then."
"You just let me know if you change your mind," Yvette said, still smiling. "I'd be happy to bring you anything."
Then the waitress was gone. Belthor took a deep breath of the musty diner air.
"It is warm in here," he said after a moment, slipping out of his heavy cloak. He left it draped over the back of his chair.
"Very warm," Agnete agreed. She picked up a knife from the table and idly began rolling it over in her hands. Belthor admired the way her slim fingers wrapped around the metal hilt as it turned over and over...
"So, you said you're from the Highlands, yes?" he found himself asking. Agnete glanced up, her brown eyes gleaming in the lantern-light.
"Yes," she said. "A little village, very far north."
"You don't have a Clan accent," Sam said. Agnete appeared to freeze.
"It is very far north, my village," she said, hurriedly. "I am not lying, I promise-"
"No one said you were." Sam raised his hands. "I'm sorry."
"I am sorry. You should not be." Agnete closed her eyes. "I am very sorry. I am not used to taking questions. Yes, I am from across the Iron Sea, in a little village very far north. On the border of elven territory, as it happens. I am very accustomed to snow and ice."
"Have any trouble with elves and drow?" Tori asked. Agnete paused.
"Most of the ones my people know are traders," she said. "Very much at odds with the typical depiction of them we hear from outsiders. They are as frightened of humans are humans are of them."
"I find that hard to believe," Sam said, frowning. "Elves are warriors, aren't they? That's what I hear."
"Master Protec talks about elves a lot," Tori agreed. "They've shed a lot of blood. If it weren't for all their war parties pressing from the north, it's possible the Clans might overpower Nurem in the Iron Sea - but they can't fight on two fronts."
"I have only ever known elves who had peace in mind," Agnete said, frowning. "The north is their home. I have friends in their villages."
"Okay, you're the expert." Tori nodded reasonably. "What about drow?"
"I..." Agnete seemed to struggle for words, and Belthor reminded himself about the language barrier instead of pressing. "I met a drow, once. He was a very old chieftain."
"Is it true what they say about them?" Belthor leaned forward. "That they're Vod-warlocks and witches, and that?"
"Vod is practiced widely among the elven clans," Agnete agreed. "They see it as a way of life. Not dark sorcery."
"I heard once that drow subsist on blood," Tori said, and Sam made a show of shuddering. "Especially the blood of maidens stolen in the night."
"That is impossible." Agnete's brow furrowed. "Why would the blood of a maiden be any more delectable to a drow warchief than that of any other? How do these people think the drow lived before humanity colonized the north? Where did the endless streams of maidens come from to feed the war parties?"
Belthor laughed along with Tori and Sam. Agnete seemed lost, but she cracked a thin smile, looking around at the others.
"I said something amusing," she muttered, possibly to herself. "I did not intend to amuse."
"What was the warchief that you met - what was he like?" Belthor pressed with a smile. "You said he was old-"
"He was very calm and collected about himself," Agnete said. "He was frighteningly logical. And he had no patience in his heart for raids and war against humans, so long as they showed him due respect as well."
"What, did he want them to offer up maidens to him?" Sam and Tori laughed at Belthor's quip, and he carried on. "Or was it firstborns instead?"
"The drow do drink blood, don't they?" Tori asked. "That's not a myth."
"...no," Agnete finally said, after a pause wherein she appeared to be mulling the question over. "They do drink blood. They do not have much need of other nourishment."
"Is that why they worship dragons?" Belthor asked. "Do dragons do that? I didn't think so, personally, but..."
Agnete's face fell. "No. Dragons do not drink blood. Dragons drink ale, everyone knows this."
"And lots of it," Sam continued. "Do the elves-"
"Can we discuss a different topic?" Agnete asked, very suddenly. Belthor blinked as he saw her glance him to Sam to Tori. "I'm sorry. It just...I..." she seemed to struggle, very visibly. "I am not...I do not...I wish to..."
"You don't want to talk about this?" Tori asked, tone gentle. Agnete nodded, almost frantically. "That's okay. Can you tell us why?"
"I...I do not have words." She muttered something in that other language. "I...they are from my home, and I have come far to...to..."
"To get away from all that?" Sam asked. Agnete seemed to go back and forth for a moment.
"...yes," she said. "Yes, something along those lines. I do not have words. I cannot explain. I am confused."
"That's all right." Belthor raised his hands. "What do you want to talk about?"
Agnete hesitated, waiting as Yvette returned with Belthor's food. He eyed the steaming plate with anticipation, only to frown as he saw Agnete still with nothing.
"Are you sure you don't-" he began.
"Yes, I am very sure," she said, waving a hand. "I do not eat much." She fidgeted. "I do not know what to speak of."
"Well, it occurs to me," Tori said, "that Belthor owes us a story."
Belthor, fork in mouth, paused. "Wha?" he asked, mumbling around his mouthful. He paused to chew and get himself in order while Tori and Sam snickered.
"Midnight," Sam said. "How'd you get her patronage?"
"What? Oh!" Belthor smiled sheepishly. "I'm bad at telling stories. It wasn't that impressive anyway."
"I am interested," Agnete said. "I have heard some of this Midnight character since I arrived. I wish to know how you are connected to her."
"Oh, um." Talking to Tori and Sam was one thing. But if Agnete was interested... "Well, see..." Belthor took a breath. "So, it kind of all started when a couple of other students in Master Kulkas' company decided to knock me out of the running for the staff. They grabbed me from my tent, two of them, and..." he hesitated, taking in Agnete's serious eyes. "Well, I could have taken them. I know a few moves. But I thought I'd bide my time...get them out of the camp, you know, so no one else would get hurt."
"Excellent tactics under pressure." Agnete's eyes glowed. "You are quick on your feet."
"Well, I try to be modest," Belthor said, deciding not to mention that Argo and Chartreuse had literally dragged him out of the camp. Tori and Sam traded knowing looks, but he did his best to ignore them. "So, we got out into the forest, and they...they see Midnight, but she's all injured. And they, being bullies, decided to have a go at her." He tried not to fidget as he continued. "They were going at her pretty bad. So I decided it was time to make my move. While she was on the ground, I grabbed a stick and went right at them..."
Tori and Sam had snickered the whole time he told his story. But Belthor had watched Agnete's eyes, serious and excited, as he related an only moderately blown-up tale of his own exploits at Midnight's side. She'd been so impressed.
Not that he cared. No. It was just...for fun. She was nice enough. And Master Kulkas had basically told him to befriend her, so...
He reached the door to his dorm, staff in hand, happily smiling as he tried to forget Sam and Tori rolling their eyes. They'd rib him about it tomorrow, but tonight was his-
He paused as he entered. His eyes fixed on the two pairs of ladies' shoes by the door.
He heard a long, low moan from Theron's bedroom, and a lot of creaking.
Belthor shut himself in his room quickly, practically barring the door with his staff. He hurried to his desk, turned on his lamp, and pulled out his notebook and coursework. He set to work with vigor, trying to ignore the continued barrage of noise from across the dorm.
Another night where Belthor slept badly.