Haley scowled and took another swig from the bottle, which contained only the finest apple juice* if any of the adults happened to ask, and decided that this was easily the worst annual picnic that the Thieves' Guild had ever had. All of the small children and apprentices had been ruthlessly Organised into playing demeaning party games (Haley was far too sophisticated and mature for such things, and also had been banned from them for life for what she had done to one of the judges with a sand-filled sap three years previously), the adults were sitting around having conversations that she wasn’t allowed to join in, and annoyingly, it didn’t even look like Greysky City was going to live up to its meteorological reputation and rain them out.
(*Technically not a lie: it had certainly started out that way, and nothing had actually been added to it over the fifteen-month fermentation process…)
'Haley. Nice dress. Very… black. Matches your hair. Suits you.'
Ah. One of the central tenets of life in Greysky City: whenever you think any situation cannot possibly get any more boring, embarrassing or irritating, along comes your Dad's annoying apprentice, just to show you you're wrong.
Just look at him. Ew. Halflings were slightly creepy at the best of times, with their weird proportions, adult faces on too-small bodies and horrible fashion sense, but Hank just had to kick it up a notch by wearing a revolting little soul-patch (Haley was pretty sure halflings weren't even supposed to be able to grow facial hair!) that looked exactly like a dead gerbil stuck to his bottom lip, and following Haley around like some sort of undersized lost puppy. She glared across at him (she was seated on a picnic blanket and he was standing up: their heads were still on roughly the same level, and how gross was that?) in what she hoped was a suitably regal and mysterious manner.
'Hank. For the last time. The name. Is Dark. Mistress. SHADOWGALE!'
'A thousand apologies, beautiful lady.' Hank flopped down on the rug beside her and reached for a handful of smoky-BBQ-hydra-flavoured crisps, cheerfully oblivious to the fact that Haley was attempting to spontaneously combust him using only the powers of her mind (plus the large amount of beaten-silver occult jewellery she was wearing).
'Any chance we could kiss and make up this little tiff before we disturb the harmony of this lovely company picnic, Dark Mistress?'
Haley fiddled with her eyebrow ring and scowled. 'Hank, seriously. You've asked me out I don't even know how many times since you started working for my Dad, and —'
'Fifteen. Sixteen, if you count the time with the rain barrel as two, 'cause I don't think you heard me the first time what with being underwater and all.'
'Fine. Sixteen times, and I've said 'no' on each and every one of those occasions. Why, exactly, do you think I would agree to kiss you here and now, at my father's company picnic?'
Hank considered this. 'Because otherwise, I'll tell your Dad what you’ve actually got in that bottle of apple juice?’
Haley threw her head back and laughed. 'Hah! You do know that he bought it for me, in the hopes that it’d keep me quiet so I wouldn’t try to interfere in the kids’ egg-and-shiv races like last year? Nice try, short-stuff. '
'Oh, Mistress,' Hank looked up at her, lip quivering slightly above the dead gerbil. 'A joke about my height? Never before have I heard such cruelty from anyone in Greysky City. And so painfully original, too…' he trailed off mock-sadly, blinking up at her through watery blue-green eyes.
'Short and a terrible over-actor' she told him firmly, taking another draw at the bottle and refusing to share it with him when he held out a hand to ask for a sip.
'Hmm. OK, how about because you're secretly wildly attracted to shorter men, as indicated by your pathetic harping on my height as a form of denial, and you just need to find the right halfling to help you get over your terrible prejudices?'
Despite Haley’s best efforts, a smile briefly darted across her face. 'Sorry, guess again.'
Hank grinned evilly. 'OK, final reasons. Because a) this picnic is the most boring thing since flumphs were taken out of the monster manual, b) if I have to play one more party game that involves using a deadly weapon for an amusing novelty purpose I’m going to end up sticking it in my own eye, and c) if the two of us get caught drunk off our faces on apple cider and making out somewhere nice and semi-public by someone sufficiently high up in the Guild, your Dad will never bring either of us along ever again'.
The next thing Hank knew, he was on his feet and racing across the picnic ground, following the long black hair and swishy black skirt as his very own Dark Mistress led him to a private (but not too private) clump of trees.