Performance Review

With shadow and mist we slake our thirst, We revel this night in darkness and mirth For this time is ours to cheer and to sing As we drink and bear witness to what the night brings

A cheer erupted from the crowd punctuated by a bestial howl or two. A new employee had sauntered in with the procession, a spritely young blond woman who flitted about on gossamer katydid wings, taking drink and food orders amongst the patrons. Cassandra had forgotten the girl’s name.

The night seemed rather quiet with a smaller crowd than normal and she was perfectly fine with that. A larger group would have required her to lend a helping hand but on this night, it seemed perfectly acceptable to focus her attention entirely on Lily.

The Woman in Red smiled at the celebration. She hadn’t attended a Magic Hour in some time and the joyous gathering of Kin brought a smile to her tear stained visage. What a world to know, such sweet razor grins to embrace and such succulent celebration to witness. The night truly was theirs and she would want for naught. Despite everything, though, she felt herself scanning the crowd looking for a familiar young woman. No, she wouldn’t be so brash as to stay in one spot would she?

Her thoughts were interrupted by a flickering of the lights. A low murmur broke out over the crowd, vertical irises darting about nervously and blackened tongues wetting anxious lips. A sound reverberated through the room, echoes distant yet closer at hand. It was the sound of metal dragging on wood, pristine sliver scouring roughly against aged pulp. Some of the patrons knew what these signs heralded, some continued to feast, drink and talk with blissful ignorance. Lily Sangruer was well aware of these signs and she suspected the young bartender to be as well.

Lily stiffened and glanced about in a vain attempt to mask her nervousness. And then in the vacant stool next to her: the very air itself began to bubble and broil as though the stool itself was on fire. But no flames beckoned or coiled, no heat emanated, simply the warping of the very space itself. She appeared swiftly, materializing out of the vapor with just the slightest hint of shadow spiraling from nothingness into full form.

She spun around with liquid grace, her back to the bar as she took in the scene. She was grace and venom intermingled, clothed in a long black gauzy shawl and skirt interwoven with threads and spirals of gold and green. Her long dark hair hung loosely over slender shoulders, warm caramel flesh speckled here and there with tiny tattoos of eldritch script and symbols from an age old tongue. Tiny silver chains seemed to cling to her very form, dangling from her earlobes, her neck, her septum, her wrist and likely other parts hidden from modest view. They jangled musically as she turned and smiled, another flash of silver underlying her lips and dark eyes. She wore no makeup and exuded an ethereal desire of the most natural aura.

“Not much of a crowd tonight,” Talia Kandisha purred, a husky voice that seemed to reverberate on the very air itself.

Cassandra composed herself nervously and quickly turned back to the bar. “Miss K, what can I get you? It’s-so-good-to-see-you-it-was-busy-earlier-but-I-think-it’s-tapered-off-a-bit-but-it’s-OK-because-we’ve-been-taking-in-good-revenue-and-no-one-was-killed-so-I-think-”

“Hon-” Lily started.

Kandisha held up a hand, simple with no colors or adornments. Simply nails and flesh as she liked. “Everyone needs to relax. This is a good night, after all. Dear, pour me a cup of coffee if you will, black and fresh will do. That is all I desire.”

“Yes ma’am,” Cass responded nervously.

Kandisha turned towards the Woman in Red seated next to her. “Well now, Lillith Sangruer, what a delight. To what do I owe this most unexpected pleasure?”

“Oh, Kandy,” Lily started with a smirk. The Chained Woman bristled but managed a smile. “It truly has been a while, hasn’t it dear? How’s the hubby?”

“Oh dear, now which one,” Kandisha replied, eyes to the ceiling as though thinking hard. “Ah yes, Omar. He’s perfectly fine, love, thank you for asking. Last I saw he still had a shred of sanity left. I fear I’ll be looking for something fresh and new soon. Speaking of which, Cassandra my dear, how’s the coffee coming along?”

Cass shakily placed a steaming white, porcelain mug before her benefactor. Kandisha smiled, sniffed exploratory at the drink and took a sip of the scalding liquid. Her tongue emerged to lap at a stray drop, thin, pink and forked as a serpent’s. “Now, pleasantries aside, you know why I’m here, yes, Cassandra dear?”

“Yes Miss K, for my performance review.”

“That’s right love, all this time under my thrall, how do you manage?” she asked teasingly. “Now, now, I jest of course, you are here strictly voluntarily but we need to talk about your future aspirations of course.” She stood up in a slithering motion and motioned to the corner towards the grandfather clock. “Join me, shall you? And bring along your little friend.”

She motioned to Lily and smirked. Cass maneuvered from behind the bar, receiving an encouraging pat from Aislin. She followed the Chained Woman. Kandisha’s gait was noticeably less graceful than before as she almost limped at an unsteady pace towards the booth as though on hobbled hooves.

Lily paused a moment to finish the remnants of a glass of water. “Bitch,” she whispered and stood up shakily to follow the pair.

Kandisha glided into the booth moving with shadowy grace once again, chains clinking and chiming with ethereal music. The light under the red lace drapes seemed to hum to life as she settled into the plush velvet. Cass followed nervously followed by Lily whom had intercepted a stray martini left on a table from a bathroom bound patron.

Cass glanced about nervously; it was her first time in this booth, so close to the clock. Within its proximity, she could feel warmth emanate from the structure, a steady rhythm pulsing from the innards of the contraption with each tick. She knew then that she hadn’t been hearing the ticking of a mechanism, she had been hearing a heartbeat. The revelation should have startled her but to Cassandra, this felt like a welcome truth. Had she any doubt about the magic of the Night-Kin world before, this night, this mighty sentinel pulsating life in the corner would have settled any doubt. This was a new world and she was excited – if mind-numbingly nervous- to be a part of it.

Kandisha ran her hands over the velvet relishing the touch, caressing it as though it were a long lost lover. She rested her elbow on the lacquered wood table, propped her tapered chin in her hand and simply stared at the bartender.

Cassandra stared back nervously as Lily sipped at the martini. Kandisha didn’t blink, speak or breathe. Motionless yet fluid as the air rippled about her and her chains chimed despite the noticeable lack of motion. Finally with suddenness that made Cass jump, Kandisha snapped her fingers.

The blond waitress fluttered over, wings beating softly in the hazy air. Kandisha smiled at her: “Good evening Morgan, I trust the night finds you well.” Morgan smiled back with thin lips and spoke with her hands. Her pale fingers danced about in practiced motion signing to the woman that all was well on this night. It was an interesting concept, the Unspoken. Those from the outside might think them unfortunate or blighted with a physical malady, but they had simply adapted to speak in a universal language, motions that required no formal training to understand for what other alternative does one have when their spoken words could shatter minds. Kandisha grinned and motioned the girl closer. Unheard words passed between parted lips and dancing fingers as Morgan flittered off towards the bar. Kandisha glanced past Cass towards Lily. “Miss Lily, young Morgan there wasn’t part of our little family when last I saw you. Tragic story she was, rescued from a hunter’s snare. The bastard wished to poach her wings but I set her free… in more ways than one.”

“So it would seem,” Lily drawled, unimpressed.

“Shall we freshen your drink, dear?” Kandisha asked. “I don’t seem to recall you having that a moment ago.”

“Call it a generous donation,” Lily smirked.

Morgan returned with a tray that she placed before the trio. Kandisha thanked the young woman and spread the drinks amongst them. Another martini for Lily, a full pot of coffee for herself and for Cassandra: a silver tin mug. The liquid within bubbled gently and shot small sparks of light. Cass had never seen it before.

“May I ask…what this is?” Cass said inspecting the mug.

“Yes, you may,” Kandisha offered as she sipped her coffee. She offered no further explanation, only an expectant look dancing about in the silver and shade.

Cassandra took a sip and waited for the expected rush to commence. 

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