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No, Viv decided, she was being silly, thinking about chasing after Varsha. Varsha worked here, so she’d definitely be back later. There wasn’t anything urgent in Viv’s life right now anyway; no point in leaving now to get information about… what? Power outages? The neighbourhood?
In fact, every other place she could go tonight could wait too. The neighbourhood would be around later. She might as well have a second drink and enjoy her night.
Thus decided, she ordered another cider from the gargoyle bartender, and turned back to the stage, watching the dryad Susan working up the crowd.
“So,” Susan chirped, “here’s how it works! We pick a category, and the first person with their hand up gets to answer! We tally it as we go and by the end of trivia time, the person with the most right answers gets a reasonable boon from the Good Neighbours pub. Perhaps it’s free drinks or meals for a night! A gift card! Some of our merch! A chance to meet some of the performers backstage! Some fairy gold! Or something else of similar value—you get to pick the boon, and as long as it is a reasonable exchange for one night’s win, we will give it to you. However, the player with the highest number of wrong answers? Well, you’ll owe us a boon of equal value, and that boon will be our choice. So if you play once, you’d better keep playing—at least until someone gets more wrong answers than you. Keep in mind that one right answer cancels out one wrong answer, and vice versa—it’s all checks and balances. High risk, high reward, am I right?”
The crowd cheered. Viv took the drink that was handed to her and sipped, watching thoughtfully. Behind Susan, the Merry Gentry band had put their instruments down and were heading into the back room next to the kitchen, and even though she’d never heard of them before today, she was tempted to see if she could win to meet the band, because—why not? Bragging rights, maybe?
On the one hand, it was dangerous. Losing would mean owing a boon to the fair folk, and, she had to remind herself, for all their sweet talk, they could be as dangerous to bargain with as demons were.
But on the other hand, according to the rules, it was all checks and balances. She could listen and only answer if she was sure she was right. Just listening might get her more information, and playing a little, if she was careful, would mean she just didn’t win, not that she’d lose.
She put her glass on the bar and doodled in the condensation, drawing a line across the top. It wasn’t exactly cheating to use divination—it couldn’t give her any actual answers. But it could help her decide between two answers she was torn on.
“Our theme this week is… Halloween Media! Horror movies, spooky stories, local legends!”
Viv perked up even more. She loved spooky stories, and was a huge nerd for horror movies. Maybe she had a chance here. Sure, she couldn’t answer any questions about local legends—but sitting those questions out would still let her learn more about the city. Win-win.
“First question… At the Theatre of Dreams, Lithway is currently performing a play they said was inspired by some secret shadowfolk lore. What’s it called?”
Oh! Viv’s eyes widened. She’d just been googling the Theatre of Dreams this evening, and had seen it on her search. What was it again, The Anglerfish’s Light or…
The condensation was dripping down the right side of the line a little faster than the left. Her hand shot up.
“Lil miss pumpkinhair at the bar! Yeah, you, the human!”
Susan was looking right at Viv. Her face went red and she squeaked out, suddenly unsure of herself, “The Lanternfish’s Lure?”
“Bingo bingo! Lithway stars in The Lanternfish’s Lure! One point to Pumpkinhair! Hey, has anyone seen it yet?”
To fill out the hour, Susan was clearly going to do little bits between each question. Viv’s heart was racing, and she took another sip of her cider, the warmth of both the drink and of the right answer spreading through her. Susan was talking with a patron about the play, about how Lithway used their insubstantial shadow body and stage lights to play with the viewers’ perceptions as the Lanternfish stalked its prey (who was also Lithway; apparently Lithway ran a one-shadow show).
“Anyway, anyway. Let’s move on! In the classic 1968 horror film Night of the Living Dead, what is arguably the real monster of the film?”
Oh, she didn’t even need to debate this one, she knew classic horror inside out and backward. Her hand shot up.
“Why, we have a brave one tonight, folks! Pumpkinhair?”
She drew a breath. “Racism?”
“It’s hard to argue that one, isn’t it? All right, let’s give you another point there! Hey, who’d be up for a showing of Night of the Living Dead this week? We could project it onto the menu board!”
The next half hour or so went on like that—Viv didn’t know a good half of the questions, but she only answered the ones she already had a good idea of, and racked points up quickly. Even the ones she sat out for taught her a lot—where the highest level of reputed hexeries were in the city (Hazy Green, an area in the southwest of the valley very near the gate), the names of the two local vampire lords (Ranier Dupré and Angelica Roth), and much more. As she downed the last of her cider, waiting for the next question, she found she was much more confident that if she needed something from the city, she’d know where to find it.
“Next up, we—”
Suddenly, there was a commotion from the back room. Several people were shouting—she could recognize the voices of both the bassist from the Merry Gentry and the lead, Dandelion—and could make out just a couple of words before the buzz of the pub’s reaction drowned them out: Are you okay? and What happened?
Susan looked around nervously, craning her head toward the back room’s door, then gave a perky wave at the pub floor, tapping the mic to get attention and be heard over the crowd again. “Wow! Sounds like something’s up, huh? Well, let’s bring this trivia to a close a little early so I can go check on that, shall we? Shall we? And you can all enjoy your drinks and mind your business while we get that all sorted! Our loser for today is… Unlucky Frank Walters, yet again. Frank, I’m starting to think this is your fetish. We’ll get back to you with what we want.”
The crowd tittered. A young man, deeply drunk, let out a horrified groan. “It’s not,” he said, barely heard over everything else.
Susan’s joke had worked to distract the patrons, Viv thought, who were now laughing, watching Frank and muttering to each other.
“And our winner… Well, its wee miss pumpkinhair! What do you want for your boon? Hurry, hurry, answer us now or give your reward up for good!”
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