From the swamps of Wufrod to the shores of Solene, and the desert lands of Dosku and Shalgrim, the land of Aphing is a varied place. Crimson forests of eternal flame light the lands of southern Allona. Mountains and cliffs keep the kingdoms safe from the mysteries of the western wilds, and the forest of Sylvin holds dark secrets few dare to explore. Yet, despite all of this, some things always remain the same in Aphing’s Kingdoms. Every kingdom hosts a major city, every city has a tavern, and every tavern has a corner that is especially dark. That’s where they gather. Every day it starts with one, then another, until a swarm of them have all clustered together, fighting for space as menacing eyes glare at the tavern’s patrons. They are many, they are strange, but not all of them are the same.
Heavy black boots trudged through dew-covered grass as hazel eyes fixed on the ground beneath them. Dark hair clung to pale cheeks, and a well-practiced frown matched with a furrowed brow. The young man’s shoulders were hunched up, his hands shoved into the pockets of his oversized coat while its tail rested against the back of his knees. A black belt wrapped around his waist, matching with the darkness of the coat’s fabric, and his trousers that were slightly less black, but were on sale that week. Everything he wore was black. His gloves were black. His socks were black. Even his underwear was black - in case he got embarrassed again. He was true to his ensemble, and he sought out every dark shadow that crossed his path, which unfortunately made his gait look a bit ridiculous. Nevertheless, one couldn’t help but admire his tenacity.
Familiar wood stood before him, the smell of freshly cooked eggs filling the air. The sun had only just risen, and most of the lights in the tavern were left dim, a simple sign that there was someone there. A flicker of a smile found the young man’s lips, but he quickly lost it again, reminding himself of his training. Slowly, he took a deep breath and opened the door.
The tavern was empty, save for the bartender, and only the most thoroughly committed alcoholics. Those men and women had a different kind of training, one the young man had no interest in. The bartender opened his mouth to greet him, but he paused, and let out a sigh, pointing wordlessly to the dimly lit corner in the back. The young man nodded. He knew what to do.
Slowly he meandered his way to the corner, practicing his glare while no one was looking, and he leaned back against it, staring forward. He shifted slightly, making himself comfortable as well as he could, and he adjusted his coat’s hood to cover his eyes. He folded his arms, menacingly, and he waited, watching his surroundings like a stalking animal.
Most of the drunks were still sleeping off the liquor of the night before, their heads resting on the bar with towels beneath their cheeks to save the bartender from cleaning up their drool. One was much further than the others, a man with ginger hair that was passed out in a corner booth with a goat. The scent of alcohol exuded from him like he was some sort of walking distillery, and the young man grimaced. He thought to speak to the bartender about him, but he focused on his brooding instead. Surely the dark energy he was no doubt pouring into the atmosphere would drive him away, and besides, the idea of talking to the bartender made his throat feel weird.
The distraction of the drunk drew his attention from the sound of the door opening and closing, and he didn’t notice the other presence in the tavern until a body pressed up against his side, wiggling into the corner beside him.
“I- Hey! What are you doing?!” he hissed at the interloper, pushing back against him to take up more of the corner.
“I- what does it look like I’m doing?!” the other pressed, “This is the brooding corner, isn’t it?!”
“There’s three other corners to choose from! Why choose mine?!” the first spat.
“They all got lights in ‘em," the other explained, “Besides that, this is the broodin’ corner. Just got designated last week.”
“Desig- what are you talking about?!” the first pressed in bewilderment.
“Ah, you must be new," the other nodded, “First day broodin’? This here’s the broodin’ corner. It’s a lot nicer than the old one. It used to be over there," he nodded to another corner that was much brighter, “But then a tree fell and the sun got in, so they put curtains up near this one.”
“Why didn’t they just put up curtains near the other one?” the first asked.
“Owner said it was somethin’ to do with feng shui," the other explained. “Is this your first day, then?”
“I- well...” the first rubbed the back of his head, “Yeah...”
“Bet you didn’t get registered yet either,” the other nodded, “It’s alright, I won’t tell anyone.”
“What do you mean registered?!” the first’s eyes went wide.
“With the Brooder’s Guild of course,” the second explained, “Everyone’s got to get registered. How else would we all know how to brood properly?”
“I- what?!” the first nearly chirped.
“Calm down. This isn’t exactly brooding standards of conversation," the second sighed, “You’ve got to be angrier. Menacing. Come on, tell me your name.”
“I-... Wendel," the first muttered.
“No, no, no. Your brooding name," the other explained, “For example, my real name is Garson, but my brooding name is Puppet-Master-One-Three-X.”
“Wh- why the numbers and extra letter?” Wendel blinked.
“Puppet Master was taken," Garson shrugged. “You try.”
“Alright...” Wendel muttered, “Err... how about... Black... rose... eleven?”
“You want to be named after a flower?” Garson blinked.
“They have thorns, okay?! They’re sharp!” Wendel snapped.
“Oh, I like the energy!” Garson grinned, pointing at Wendel, “That’s what I’m talking about! Menacing!”
“Look, I- wait... you really think so?” Wendel blinked at him.
“Well of course, I- Hey!”
An unfamiliar nudging was what cut Garson off, and the two pushed up against it, trying to block the new interloper from joining them. He pushed back, wiggling his way between them, and Garson growled a bit as he tried to worm his way back into the depths of the corner. At this point, it was almost certain that a knife fight would have broken out, but none of them knew how to use one.
“What’s the idea?” Wendel growled, “This is our corner!”
“It’s the only corner," the third huffed, “So make room!”
“But I wanted to be in the middle!” Garson whined.
“I was here first!” Wendel exclaimed.
“First or not, I’m here and that’s that," the third folded his arms as he settled in, “Besides, I’m having a rough day so I’d appreciate it if you let me brood in peace.”
“We’re all having a rough day," Garson scoffed, “That’s the whole point of broodin’!”
“You think I don’t know that?” the third argued, “I’m a third-generation brooder, first-class and everything.”
“Oh, look at the fancy brooder with the formal education," Garson held up his arms in faux surrender, “Next you’re gonna tell us you can afford real leather.”
“I can," the third smirked.
“Wait, you can’t?” Wendel blinked at Garson, who shook his head. “How? There are cows everywhere. One just walked up to me earlier and licked my face.”
“It’s the dying bit," Garson explained, “Black dye’s hard to come by.”
“Ah, yeah," Wendel nodded before pausing, “What about purple?”
“Well- Don’t bark it like I was suggesting bright pink!” Wendel huffed as he folded his arms, “It’s a nice color... dark.”
“Yeah, but it’s not exactly broody isn’t it?” Garson pressed, “It’s more... flowery.”
“Would you two mind?!” the third snapped, “I’m trying to brood here.”
“Right,” Garson shook his head.
“Right, gotta look menacing,” Wendel nodded, and the two both began to scowl.
The three glared together, nestled against one another in an insidious cuddle. Wendel’s arms were still crossed, his brow furrowed as deep as he could make it without fearing it would be stuck like that, and Garson held his chin in a more thoughtful glare. Their new acquaintance was a true professional, his shoulders hunched and one hand shoved deep into his pocket while the other gripped the handle of a large knife. He was the most dangerous of the three, if only because his knife was the biggest and he forgot the sheath at home.
Wendel was forced to squirm away a few inches to avoid getting poked when another brooder began to squeeze in, and the three all grumbled in protest as they tried in vain to keep him out. Soon another joined them, and another after that. It quickly became impossible to count exactly how many brooders were stuck in the corner as they began to flock, and Wendel started to find it rather hard to breathe.
“What’s the big idea?!”
“Move over, you’re hogging up all the dark!”
“I was here first!”
“No, he was!”
“Alright, whose leg was that?”
Wendel’s heart pounded in his chest as he got lost in the gathering, and his breathing grew sharp and shallow. The world around him began to blur as the other brooders bickered and fought for the optimal places, and sweat dripped from his paling face. He could barely make out the sounds of harsh words and vague threats, but they deafened in his mind. He didn’t hear the softer words that were lost in the chaos, but he felt the strange hand that grabbed his wrist. His breathing hitched. He was pulled out of the crowd, and the tavern suddenly fell into memory as his unknown savior freed him from chaos.