"-Leaving aside the burning thing-"
"Also the fact that he's an adventurer, and therefore a self-obsessed money-grubbing moron in severe denial about the fact that he's not the handsome prince in his own personal fairy story?"
A smug little gleam flashed in the glow of Meryl's eyes. "I know what this is about. You hate adventurers because you were originally killed by them."
"No I wasn't. I was killed by students. The adventurers just didn't help. And anyway, I've been killed by lots of things. Jumping off towers, tools in the skull, falling buildings ..."
"Yeah, but the first time's special. You never forget it." She cupped her chin in her hands and her gaze went somewhere else. "I remember mine. I was a burgeoning flower of womanhood. He was the weird kid who kept playing with his switchblade. We were both so nervous, but we figured it out together." She sighed. "I think they hanged him for it."
"Anyway," I said, changing the subject as fast as possible, "why shouldn't I hate adventurers? I think we're both entitled to at this point."
"Are you kidding? They dedicate their lives to helping people. They're heroes."
I rolled my eyes. "You have this thing about seeing things in black and white, don't you? Good and evil. Heroes and villains. Probably comes from that Binny upbringing. Life's more complex than that. There are no heroes or villains. There's just people who want money and people who want a bit more money."
"What about you?"
"What about me?"
"Wouldn't you say you're on a heroic quest?"
I looked at her, eyebrow raised. "I wouldn't call getting myself killed a particularly heroic goal."
"It's still a quest. And you've already had epic battles and stuff."
"Having a quest doesn't mean anything. Everyone's on a quest. I want to die. You've got your Borrigarde thing. And Thaddeus hasn't alienated everyone in the world yet."
"Your prattle will impress not the agents of the Almighty, creature of the deeps."
I sat up. "Actually, Barry's the one who's apparently got the backing of the Gods. And he's a lot more passionate about things than we are. Maybe he's the real hero."
Meryl blinked a few times. "Are you serious?"
"Of course not. You started an absolutely retarded conversation and I'm making fun of you. Do try to keep up."
The debate ended when someone ran down the street outside, loudly ringing a handbell, and every adventurer in the room immediately bolted for the door. Within seconds the three of us and the innkeeper were the only people left in the inn. All was silent but for the sound of abandoned chairs and barstools gently rocking on their back legs for a moment before falling over with a clatter.
"What was that all about?" wondered Meryl aloud.
"Gnolls are attacking," said the innkeeper, as nonchalantly as one would announce that the buns were being delivered.
It was my chair's turn to fall as I leapt to my feet in alarm. "Gnolls?"
"Mm, yes," the innkeeper nodded. "Whole tribe of the things live just outside town. This happens every few nights. Good thing all these stalwart adventurers are around, hmm?" He winked. The eyepatch spoiled the effect somewhat.
"Let's get out of here," I suggested.
"Scared of gnolls, are we, champ?"
"They're gnolls!" was the best argument I could come up with. This was the second time I'd been asked to justify being afraid of gnolls, and I still couldn't fathom why. It was like being asked to explain why old people should wear clothing.