Afield, adjacent densely spread rooftops and pale plaster walls, spired a marble monolith. “You may want to see this, Inspector Rylan,” spoke the carriage driver. The pair entered a broad clearing. “That is Avernus’s famous tavern there,” he said. “That be the Ivory Pawn.”

“I know of it,” answered the inspector, looking downward, onto a letter’s contents.

“Of course, sir,” said the driver, and he continued to blub in the same manner that one might utter vacant pleasantries. They were uninteresting comments Rylan ignored. He knew Avernus’s reputation. For good or ill, the city’s prestige preceded it throughout Sanctaphandri, and mostly for ill was Avernus best known in the County of Osthelia. Pilgrims who succumbed to corporeal illness or psychic ruin sought its purported healing services, and this was despite its history of phantasmic rumors.

“How much longer are we to the Alnwick Sanitarium?” asked Rylan. His thumb tracked across a lock of hair, sewn into the letter he held.

“Well sir,” stammered the driver, “we won’t make it there before nightfall. Spend the night at the Ivory Pawn, sir. I warn you against travelling Osthelia in darkness—as sure as Luna is chased by Sanguinis, sir—so too be those who travel at night.”

Rylan departed the carriage, his foot sinking deeply into slick mud formed from traffic that encircled the Ivory Pawn. He watched as evening crowds poured indoors. And as sure as the orbit of stars, when radiant designs filled the sky, so also did crowds fade from the streets. Rylan lit a pipe and contemplated on raucous laughter, laughter held in by the tavern’s doorway. His free hand, he planted snug in his vest pocket.

“Out alone, sir?”

Rylan, with sharp senses, scanned the direction of the noise. Despite his keen squint, he saw no one. He drew smoke in slowly and held it for the duration of pregnant silence.

“Best be turning in, sir,” said a man who cracked abright a torch with flint and steel. He drew the length of the torch up and lit a street lamp, beside the Ivory Pawn. His features were emaciated and pale. Rylan suspected the torchbearer to be of drasean descent, on account of the ghoulish length of limbs and a gaunt face blocked in black angles.

“Yes,” answered the detective.

The mann looked toward the city then suffocated the flame of the torch. He approached Rylan with a pitiful limp.

Rylan exhaled. “I was just going in.”

“So soon?” asked the mann with a lilting voice dressed in southern inflection. “It is so rare,” he added as Rylan moved toward the tavern, “that menn linger outside after nightfall. Oh won’t you pause a while more?” asked the man who Rylan outpaced.

Rylan slowed, and contemplatively, he palmed the door handle, but resolved ultimately to press inward, against the wishes of the entreating elder dras.

The source of the raucous tavern noises came from a table encircled by five jovial adventurers. Dotted at other areas were gamemasters who dealt cards, and rolled dice, and handled the transfer of coin. An innkeeper raised a hand, “Ho! Welcome!” then continued with prompt service of handing a beverage to a bar patron.

“Just a room sir,” spoke Rylan, and produced a sum of coin.

“We have an apartment just opened for the year,” began to hustle the innkeeper, but Rylan dismissed the offer.

Rylan, upon reaching his room, removed his heavy coat. Longest Night was imminent, but the chill snows had come to blanket Ashland sooner than the stars did herald. His room came with a woodfire stove, affixed to central-facing wall and to what Rylan surmised fed into a central chimney of the great and pale tower. The detective undressed, and supine on his bed read the contents of his letter.

Dear Papa,

Mother afforded me stay at the Alnwick Sanitarium, and I have agreed to accept treatment there. I know it will put pins in you to know I have taken her side, but know, Papa, I will always be with you, and with Osthelian doctors, I’ll soon be better.

In lieu of a signature was the sewn lock of auburn hair. Rylan pressed his thumb against the token, as if to substitute the tight hug he would give his daughter, if he could just see her once more. His dreams welled with looped grief—won’t you pause a while more—as the back of his daughter’s auburn head never turned to show her face.