The house was quiet, except for the creeping figure by the fireplace. He cast a long shadow across the floor as he paced back and forth, mumbling to himself. The man was unimpressive in nearly every way. He stood around six feet, and his weight was average. No fashionable clothes or expensive armor adorned his frame. He held no weapons, staff, or wand. When he turned to stare once again at the full moon, however, the impressive nature of the man became obvious. It was the eyes. His milky white irises were barely perceptible from the rest of his eye. Normally, it kept any emotion the man felt hidden from the world. However, the fear and apprehension could easily be seen in his eyes on this night.
“Better to know”, he repeated softly to the darkness, as if the night was palpable and alive.
Then, as if repetition gave power to the words, he unfurrowed his brow and the lines of worry disappeared. The middle aged man finally seemed to believe that litany.
He looked around the room at his possessions. Each item reminded him of a certain time in his life. Some of them brought tears, while others brought a chuckle. A hammer on the wall, too heavy for the man to use, was a gift from a dwarven smith in town. The seer had a vision some years back that saved the dwarf a lot of money and his reputation. A tapestry, hung on the far wall, was given to him by an elf after he had rescued her daughter from an abandoned well. A simple wooden carving sat on the mantle, given to him by a strange woman visiting from afar. She had been attacked and left for dead, but the seer had found her. Then his eyes fell on a painting, a cursed reminder of the darker side his visions afforded. His life had been rich and satisfying, but it was going to end tonight.
The man slid down into his comfortable chair, another gift. His hands were still shaking as he lit his pipe. He raised his pipe to his mouth as it gently smoldered with tobacco. He took a long puff, and heard a voice call out to him.
“Come to bed. My feet are cold and I want you to warm them up,” his wife called from the bedroom of their modest home. “Mr. Cantor, I don’t know what you were planning when you sent our son to stay at Pnils, but I sure didn’t think it was pacing by the fireplace reminiscing ’bout the good ole days.” She said the last five words in a mocking voice.
Cantor smiled, but it was a smile etched with sadness. He couldn’t tell her. He knew the futility of fighting destiny. So he had written it all down. If he had to die, some good would come of it. The lantern would absorb his soul as he died, and Pnils would take possession of it.
As he slowly lifted himself out of the chair, he was terrified by his wife’s sudden painful cry. His pipe dropped out of his hand, and he ran for the bedroom door. “No! Can’t be, it comes in the front door,” his thoughts raced through his mind. Before he could open the door, it flew open. Splintered wood showered the seer, as he was knocked backwards. He saw his mangled wife lying quietly by the open bedroom window. She never liked the smell of tobacco. The seer barely had time to steal a glance at the lantern before the werewolf pounced on him. Darkness flooded before his pale eyes.
The seer could feel himself being pulled toward the lantern. He fought the pull, until he heard the familiar voice of his wife calling, “Come to me, my husband. I am scared.”
The seer went eagerly to his wife. As he wrapped her in his lifeless arms, he stammered, “This changes everything.”
The werewolf lingered a moment too long, sniffing the embers of the spilled tobacco. The dark figure hunkered there motionless, as if lost in memory. Then the lantern, impregnated by the two fresh spirits, lit itself with a small magical flame. Its light fell upon the hunched hybrid, and instantly the monster began to claw itself violently. The magic of the lantern ignited the blood of the lycan, incinerating his flesh from the inside out.
A light breeze blew in through the open window, and blew the ashes of the werewolf to the fireplace. No sign of seer, wife, or werewolf remained.
Once again, the house was quiet.
“Ya can throw a lil’ tantrum, but ya still ain’t getting it”, stated a dwarf with complete confidence. He wore simple clothes of earthen tones; a loose fitting tunic which overlapped his broad chest and buttoned on his side, and loose pants. His posturing, however, suggested he was anything but simple. The dwarf was standing slightly on his toes, ready to move at a moment’s notice. He had his hands on his hips with his legs spread shoulder width apart. His skin was dark, like mahogany, which was contrasted by the stark white beard that hung all the way down past his belt. Under his feet a broken pot laid with dirt strewn all over the wooden floor of the dwarf’s home, which at first seemed as simple as his clothing. However, there was a distinct beauty to the place. Ancient dwarven symbols were painted on small banners around the house.
A small tree, with roots exposed, seemed to be the victim of the “tantrum”. The dwarf stood face to face with a young man who was kneeling as if he had tried to save the tree at the last moment. The contrast in the two faces was amazing. The dwarf’s face was calm and caring, almost sympathetic; yet the young man’s visage was red and flustered.
“It’s mine,” the angry teen claimed through clenched teeth. “I can unlock it’s…”
“No, Brooks. It’s mine ‘til yer ready.” Pnils interrupted.
“But… I am ready, Pnils!” Brooks raged as he quickly stood up.
“Doesn’t this prove that ya aren’t, though,” Pnils, the dwarf, turned his thick palm up and passed it over the broken pot. The absurdity of Brooks’ statement caused the dwarf to chuckle. It was a good natured chuckle, with no harm intended. However, it was not received that way.
“Soon enough we will see who is laughing, Master!” Brooks spat the last word with such hatred that the dwarf’s amber eyes narrowed, all mirth lost. The young man recognized the look and for a moment returned it. However, when Pnils took a step toward Brooks, he quickly ran out of the house. He left the door dangling on its hinge after crashing through in his wild flight.
Pnils cleaned up the mess, lovingly repotted the tree, and quickly fixed the door in silence. He then went out to a small pond in his yard, and softly spoke to the two koi that swam there. The dwarf stripped off his brown shirt, leaving only the loose pants drawn together at the waist by a small rope. Pnils was pure muscle, and his anger only added to the definition of his arms and chest. Almost all dwarves like to claim certain physical characteristics of rock and earth, but Pnils truly could have been carved from jasper stone. He had spent over two hundred years preparing his body and mind for battle.
The dwarf started a workout routine, yet his mind was not focused on the task. He longed to understand how to handle Brooks and the cursed lantern that his best friend had left in his care. Self-doubt and a certain level of fear clouded his mind, yet his kata never missed a movement. Anyone watching would have never known the turmoil behind those eyes. Hours went by as Pnils punched, kicked and twisted his way through a series of forms. So lost was the dwarven monk in his thoughts, that he never heard the men enter his home through his broken door.
Brooks ran quickly to a part of town which he had never travelled before. Pnils had warned him that only the worst sort of people ventured into those streets. Brooks had made his mind up, yet as he busted in the door of the Kraken’s Wake, he had to steady his nerve. The Kraken’s Wake was the worst bar in Shadowmire, and easily could have been the worst in all of Delphia. It was a dimly lit place, for people didn’t want to see what was going on or be seen doing it for that matter. The young man drew the gazes of almost everyone in the main room of the bar. It was obvious he did not belong there.
Fueled by anger and ignoring all the lessons Pnils had taught him, Brooks stormed up to the barkeep and demanded a drink. He slammed his fist down and glared at the barkeep, who never even acknowledged the newcomer. The barkeep wouldn’t waste his alcohol on someone who probably wouldn’t make it five minutes in the Wake.
“I want a drink now,” Brooks repeated, but the barkeep didn’t even flinch. The young man was so angry that he didn’t even notice the two men as they positioned themselves on either side of him. The men reeked of fish, sweat and cheap ale.
“Whatcha doing here, boy?” said one of the men. The few teeth he had were crooked and jutted out at strange angles.
“You made a mistake coming here alone,” the other added. Although he was lucky enough to have all of his teeth, he was in desperate need of a bath. Brooks wondered if the man slept on top of a heap of dead fish.
“Let’s see whatcha got that will make me not want to cut you,” the first continued. “Better be something good.”
Brooks felt the man on his right, Toothy, press a dagger into his ribs. The young man took a quick breath, and steadied himself. He was more aggravated than scared. Brooks believed that a fight would certainly slow down his agenda, although in truth his next actions would only expedite the process. Brooks slammed his forehead into the head of the man on his right. Almost simultaneously he shot his left elbow into the chest of the other man, Stinky, stealing his breath. His right arm caught the unconscious man and laid his head on the bar. The winded man on his left also had his head laid on the bar, but with enough force to also knock him out. It all happened so fast that no one even seemed to notice, and two unconscious men laid on the bar was nothing new in the Kraken’s Wake.
The barkeep certainly noticed, and he had a drink in front of Brooks quickly.
“So what are ya wanting here, laddy?” the barkeep asked as he wiped the bar around the heads of the two men. “I can plug you in with the right folks.”
“I want someone gone,” Brooks answered. The man behind the bar looked at the two motionless bodies laid on his bar, turned his palms upward and motioned toward them. “I cannot do it myself. He is no common street thug. I cannot do it myself,” he repeated as he slightly lowered his head.
“Used to be that you could find a good assassin in here. Pricey tho. Everyone who used to be into that line of work now works for the city guard.” The barkeep laughed at the irony, but Brooks did not see the humor. “Anyway, now it’s just easier to talk to a certain someone about things like that.”
“You see that lil halfling?” the man asked as he motioned with his chin. It wasn’t polite to point, even in the Kraken’s Wake. Brooks jammed his hands into the pockets of the thugs, and laid the money on the bar. The two of them exchanged a nod, their business was done. Brooks wished he had not put his hands on the thugs, for now they too smelled like rotten fish.
The young man walked briskly to the booth where a very attractive female halfling sat silently. She was dressed in fancy clothes and wore expensive jewelry. Her eyes were done up with makeup that made them unnaturally beautiful, and the same went for her lips. She seemed very out of place in this bar; like she more belonged in the king’s court. It was obvious, even to Brooks, that she had power. She turned to him as he approached, and gave him an inviting smile. He paused for a moment before she motioned for him to sit.
“Need a bump, eh?” she asked as she swirled her drink around in tiny circles.
“A bump?” The phrase was new to Brooks, and he couldn’t hide his ignorance.
She chuckled, but not in a way that demeaned the young man. It was as though she thought the innocence of the young man was amusing and somewhat attractive. It was the second time in the same hour that someone had laughed at him, but this time it didn’t bother him. Women have a certain effect on young men, making them think a little less clearly at times.
“You just tell me who and what you are willing to pay.” She got right down to business. The halfling knew that nothing good ever came from outsiders lingering too long in this particular tavern.
“Pnils Silentstone,” Brooks stated clearly and without hesitation.
The name caused the little halfling’s eyebrows to rise. “A favored in the courts of Jericho. That will cost you dearly, my boy.” She was intrigued and fearful at the prospect of taking down one so highly esteemed in Shadowmire. It had to be worth the risk, and somehow she doubted the young man could provide. Also, no therians would dare go against the dwarven monk. They feared him, all of them, more than they feared even the king.
“I give you my life,” said Brooks confidently.
The halfling leaned in close to the young man, her breath ripe with fine wine. He could feel her breathing. No woman had ever been that close to Brooks and he found it seductive in a way. “If I wanted your life, I would have already taken it.” It was a statement of fact, and Brooks knew it. She sat back and took another sip of her drink. “No, it will take much more than that.” The halfling once again swirled her glass around as she eyed Brooks with those beautiful brown eyes.
“After he is gone, let me find a single item from the house then you can have everything; the land, the house, and everything inside.” Brooks felt like this was a reasonable price to pay for his unreasonable desire.
“Everything except the item which you seek, which is no doubt the most valuable of the dwarf’s possessions,” the halfling scoffed.
“Certainly it is the most valuable to me,” the young man admitted. “You see, it was a left to me by my father.”
The halfling gave a dismissive wave. She didn’t care about the boy’s father. ”It is yours to give? The house, the land, the property?” she asked mockingly.
“If he dies, it goes to me. He took me in, so it would indeed be mine to give.” It should have pained Brooks to think of Pnils dying. The dwarf had raised the young man, but Brooks was blinded by his need to get his hands on his father’s lantern. Brooks remembered little of his father. He was just a boy when the werewolf had killed his parents. Pnils had indeed taken Brooks in, as a son. Now it seemed to the young man that the dwarf was trying to keep him from learning about his real father. He was keeping Brook’s heirloom as his own. Brooks was forgetting the countless hours Pnils had spent training the young man in the ways of the monk. His youth had caused him to be blinded for a moment by anger, forsaking all of the good the dwarf had done and focusing only on the bad. The halfling planned on seizing that moment.
“Then we have a deal.” The halfling produced a rolled up parchment from her sleeve and spread it out on the table. “Give me your arm.”
“A contract?” Brooks asked, hesitantly extending his arm.
“Of sorts. This is a blood trail map.” She ran her finger along his arm creating goose bumps. Then she quickly ran her fingernail across his skin, drawing blood. Brooks didn’t flinch, however. He had been trained to ignore pain. As the blood started to drip, she went on to explain, “This will now show me exactly where you are at all times. After our dealings are successfully completed, I will destroy this. But until then…” She let the threat hang between them. As Brooks watched the parchment, lines of crimson started magically creating a map. She quickly rolled up the map and said plainly, “We are done for now. Don’t just sit there and bleed.” A few awkward moments passed before she waved him away. “You are dismissed.”
Brooks left the Kraken’s Wake with a flood of emotions washing over him. He vowed never to return to the seedy tavern with its shady patrons. As he walked, the young man tried not to focus on the events he had just set in motion. It was already done, and he would pray for forgiveness another day. For now, he focused only on his father’s lantern.