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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.
The only real haven for Attilla was at the Darvel home. He stayed over there a lot of the time, and was always treated kindly. Penn would read through books on the nights Attilla had to go home, searching for some kind of way to make his friend better. Things never got better for Attilla in Brentwood. In fact, things got remarkably worse as he got older.
One day while playing in the woods near Brentwood, Burge spotted two orcs with rusty swords drawn. He quickly got the other’s attention and showed them what he had seen. Six sets of gnome eyes were watching the orcs as they lumbered about. Suddenly the orcs stopped and squatted low, as if to hide from someone. Penn couldn’t believe what was happening. Popo, a girl that always wanted to hang with the boys must have followed them out into the woods. She was heading right toward the crouching orcs without a care in the world. Penn and the others were paralyzed with fear, but Attilla came out of hiding with a scream and ran straight at the orcs. Each footfall seemed to drive another quill out of his back, as his therian rage flooded over the gnome. By the time he got to the startled orcs, he was half gnome and half porcupine. It was the farthest any of his friends had ever seen him go into his hybrid form.
The orcs were not ready to do battle with a therian, even if they didn’t know it. Attilla jumped in between them forcing them apart. A few quills stuck one of the orcs, but that only seemed to make the brute angry. Popo, now seeing the danger, turned and started back for the safety of Brentwood. Attilla broke off a quill from his shoulder and used it as a dirk, stabbing the orcs repeatedly. The gnome had never been in a fight where he could truly die, not many of the gnomes in the area had. Orcs, unlike the gnomes, were brought up to battle. By the time an orc had reached young adulthood, he had most likely killed several of his peers just to survive. Attilla had courage, but the orcs had skill. The deciding factor, however, was the tainted blood that ran through the gnome’s veins.
The first orc tried to grab the little creature, but that only got him an arm full of spines. He threw the therian to the ground and cut him across the chest with his rusty sword. The battle should have been over, but it wasn’t. The wound closed itself almost instantly, but the orc paid no attention. He was too busy pulling the thick quills out of his forearm. So Attilla jabbed his makeshift dagger into the leg of the other orc, but that orc scored a hit on the gnome-porcupine as well. It was a kick into Attilla’s ribs, which sent him flying. The orc believed the fight finished, for he had felt the bones give way under the force of his boot. It was a gross miscalculation, and it cost him his life. Attilla’s ribs quickly healed themselves with a sick grinding sensation, but after the initial pain he was fine. The overconfident orc stood over the therian, stuck out his leg, and went to pull the quill out. Attilla jumped on his leg, grabbed his shirt, then tucked his chin and jumped right into the orcs face. His quills buried deep into the unsuspecting orc’s neck and face. The orc fell back, instantly dead, and took the gnome with him. Attilla used the momentum to roll off, and went right after the first orc. The orc wisely ran the other way. Attilla followed.
It all happened so fast that the others still hadn’t even moved. However when Penn saw his friend chasing an orc into the woods, he bolted after them. The others followed as well, but they were not nearly as fast through the woods as Penn. When Penn got to his friend, Attilla was on top of the orc’s chest violently chopping him with his own sword. From what Penn could tell Attilla had been at it for a while. There wasn’t much left to identify it as an orc anymore. Tears were pouring down the therian’s face, and it took Penn a moment to determine if his friend was injured or not. He realized that Attilla was fine, physically at least. Penn went to his friend and gently, for he didn’t want to be victimized by the quills, placed his hand on Attilla’s shoulder.
The therian stopped his insane hacking, and collapsed into his friend. His rage had played out and he was ashamed. Instantly, for he was a true therian, Attilla was back in gnome form. He cried with heavy sobs into Penn’s chest. Penn didn’t say a word. Even at that age, he understood that sometimes just being there was enough. After a few moments, Attilla wiped the blood, tears, and snot from his face. He stared at his friend and thanked him without saying a word. By this time the others were finally arriving.
Rumors spread like wildfire through the small town. After the incident people started getting scared of the therian gnome. Parents instructed their kids not to hang around with him. Attilla was the hero that day, but people couldn’t accept that. Even the boys that were there, except for Penn, altered the story so that it painted them in a better light. Sometimes lies are easier to believe than the truth, especially when the truth goes against the natural order.
A dragon clutched a smooth moss agate stone in her claws. It was the Heart of Carinth, a magical stone that gave whoever held it power over the earth magic of the island. The dragon dug a small hole in the soft ground; she used her long slender claws to easily move the earth. Then, she gently placed the Heart into the small pitted area. She pushed the dirt on top and patted it down with her heavy back legs.
The dragon said a long string of magical phrases, while she stood over the buried stone. After several moments of repeating the mantra, the spell seemed to take hold. The ground seemed to ripple, like a stone tossed into a puddle. The small waves rolled out into the forest. Birds were unsettled from their perches, and monkeys clung to the trees as it washed over them. The dragon was satisfied with her work, but she was exhausted. She laid down on top of the buried stone. She knew she was vulnerable, but had little choice; the magic had drained her. The large violet dragon fell asleep.
A small fungus creature felt the ripple beneath his feet. He felt the call from the Heart of Carinth, and he could not deny it. His feet, which almost resembled those of a horse, carried him out from the hollowed log that had been his home for many months. He grabbed a thick staff, and headed toward the buried stone. His thick fingers picked up a pile of feces which he had been saving, and he shoved it in his mouth. The mushroom capped creature knew that he would not be coming back.
A thick creature, covered in bark, had been rooted in place for some time. The shock wave knocked him out of his comfortable slumber. With a disgruntled shake, he pulled his legs from the soil and made his way slowly toward the beacon call. The creature backhanded a couple of frogs from their leaves as he passed. He knew his new mission would require work, and he did not like to slave for another.
Munkus had been waiting for the call. He sensed that something big was happening on the island. Munkus knew the call, and sprinted on all fours toward it. He was the first to arrive where the dragon nested. At first, the groundling was surprised. A dragon held the Heart of Carinth. He would serve the most powerful creature on the island. Munkus watched over the sleeping dragon until the others arrived. He was proud to serve, and he was good at it.