Ergiz peered through the arrangement of lenses, squinting in the last of the evening's light as he glared at the scrap of cloth in his hands. His stitches just did not
want to lay properly today, and each one he made seemed to pull every other one around it out of alignment. Perhaps a table outside the Blue Recluse wasn't the best place for this sort of work, maybe frustration with the work had built on itself over the course of an entire day to the point where he subconsciously wanted to destroy it, or it could just be a run of bad luck.
Whatever the reason, it had beaten him today. The last rays of the sun finally disappeared behind the city's skyline. Ergiz set the cloth down and began packing his needles away with a frustrated sigh. He'd just strain his eyes if he tried to work in the twilight with only a flickering streetlamp or two to illuminate his work, which would prevent him from picking it up again the next day.
The whole situation rankled; he was supposed to have this order completed hours ago so he could move onto other things. Enough people were clamoring for the minute gnomish needlework that had become his hallmark to keep him buried under a steady supply of orders. The bit of irony amused him. He always saw being smaller than everyone else as a curse, but in this case it allowed him a degree of precision that no one else could match. The custom-made array of lenses mounted on swiveling arms augmented that skill into an art while at the same time deepening the irony. Anything else even remotely mechanical he touched would fall apart in an instant (assuming it didn't just explode), but not glassware. He'd retained at least that much from his youth.
The gnome leaned back in his chair, rolling the stem of his wineglass between his fingers. The truth was he hadn't felt altogether comfortable the whole day. It wasn't anything he could put his finger on, just a feeling. Like someone was watching him from behind, setting his nerves on edge. It was probably just his imagination, but he couldn't shake the feeling.
Ergiz sipped at his wine, staring through the glass out at the lawn underneath the Wizard's Sanctum. It was an unusually quiet evening. Normally traffic going both ways would be filling the air with a constant buzz like a hundred tiny gears whirring. But tonight there were only a few people moving about, and most of those were lamplighters carrying their long wicks and poles from lamp to lamp to keep the streets lit even as the twilight faded.
It was something of a surprise, therefore, to spot Dartien walking across the lawn, seemingly engaged in conversation with someone on the other side of him. "Seemingly" engaged because even thought there was barely enough of the human to obscure a lamppost (the joke among compatriots was that if Dartien were to miss his next meal people would accuse him of being a necromancer) Ergiz couldn't make out who he was talking to.
It took Ergiz three tries to hail Dartien from across the square. Finally, having gotten his attention, Ergiz was able to see what had the man distracted. Walking alongside him was a particularly buxom quel'dorei who was otherwise every bit as slim as the human previously obscuring her. Dartien said something to her that Ergiz couldn't quite make out given the distance between them, and was rewarded with a throaty laugh from the elf. She leaned against a nearby wall, idly toying with the hem of her sleeve as Dartien hurried across the lawn to Ergiz.
"What?" Dartien asked, obviously trying but failing to conceal his irritation. Ergiz set his glass down on the table, blinking in disbelief. It dawned on him that he probably interrupted a tryst of some sort. Not that such a thing would be very surprising; the man had always been rather... "xenophillic", to put it politely. But normally his sense of propriety would have at least warranted a formal introduction.
Of course, why would he want to introduce his companion to Ergiz? The thought hit him like a slap. If Dartien was trying to impress this woman, it would hardly do to make it known he associated with a gnome of such terrible repute as Ergiz. The reputation was dearly-won, true, and designed to keep the wrong sort of person at bay, but Dartien knew better.
At least Ergiz assumed he did. And it was no excuse for such rudeness in any case.
"Nothing. Never mind." Ergiz dismissed him with a wave of his hand, releasing him to whatever activities he had planned for the rest of the evening. Dartien turned to go, looking a little relieved, then stopped for a moment and stared at Ergiz. The human swallowed his question though, and walked back over to the elf without another word.
The whole situation struck a raw nerve with Ergiz. It was bad enough to have everyone around you pressuring you to attach yourself to whatever single female happened to be nearby. Even people you made it quite clear would have a siphon tube jammed up their nose and molten lead piped into their empty skull cavities as a prelude to being dumped in a lake if they should ever speak to you again felt it necessary to make their opinions on the subject known. This situation with people flaunting their... their conquests that were either too good to introduce to their friends or so transient that such an introduction would be pointless was almost intolerable.
It didn't help that he was usually seen in the company of one attractive female or another, or that most of those women were at least ten years his junior and, more to the point, showed no signs of any romantic inclination toward him whatsoever. It was beginning to grate on him that he should have to feign ignorance every time some unwashed mouthbreathing idiot suggested a pairing. It was the only way to avoid complete humiliation, though, and therefore necessary.
And if playing the fool in front of other people wasn't bad enough, it was also necessary to curb his own impulses for fear of crossing into the realm of impropriety. So he'd bitten his tongue instead of saying anything too complimentary when Rosei had come by earlier to show off her latest tailored creation: a matching skirt and camisole, both richly embroidered, that left a wide swath of her stomach bare. It was a beautiful set of clothing and a credit to her training. Ergiz's first thought was that he should acquire the design to make a gift for Nozz, an idea which was quickly squashed. Even though the style of dress was fully accepted by the societé arcanum, that was a standard set by humans and elves and he didn't think it was entirely appropriate. It seemed to Ergiz that giving a gift like that would be crossing a rather significant line... again.
Ergiz took a long drink from his glass, letting his head thump back against the wood of the chair. The last thing he wanted to think about was romantic entanglements, past or present. The whole ordeal was starting to give him a headache. He brought the glass up to his lips, intending to drain the last of the wine as his eyes drifted shut.
... no, I can do it! I can hold it...
The wineglass shattered in his hand.