Arcantonic and Brom slip silently into the night to do somethings that might very well break the prophecy they were sent for.
Adamant that she must do what she set out to do, Brom has little choice but to help accompany the ‘cute little demon’ of a gnomic girl.
THAT. WAS. AWSOOOOOME!“, Tonic half shrieked, half cackled with manic fervent and triumphant hysteria. “I can’t believe she held me.. No!.. She hugged me! The Riverin of High Woods, The Princess of Bari Na-ammen, the daughter of Ri Grandaleren and Rise Nadine Graciousward.. THE FUTURE QUEEN OF THE HIGH ELVES, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist herself, my twin sister by adoption, no less, and she hugged me! Oww my Gosh, she smelled so nice.. So warm.. And you know what? I think I will go visit her again, once this is all over. Just for more of that!”
“Girl.. She offered you the throne of Bari Na-Ammen, literally, and all you can think of is her hugs? I’ll be the first one to admit, she is a beauty, par to Wraiven, but really, now.. Your priorities are a tad eschewed.”, Brom said with a bemused tone.
“Look here, you little hobbit!”, she said pointing a tiny finger at him. “This here is the hair of a Princess. And not just any princes, but that of Alor’Nadien ne, herself! And not just a snippet, either. She gave me a whooooole strand!”
Her tiny finger, the one she was pointing at Brom, was nearly all black! Because her fingers were so small, and the Princess truly had had very long hair, flowing nearly all the way down to her feet. She had enlaced the hair around and around her finger until it had all but covered it.
And now, the little gnomic girl was skipping and hopping like she was the proud owner of one of the rarest wonders in the kingdom..
..which, she was!
“You are such a dork, Tonic.”, Brom smiled. “..And a fangirl!”
The two had left the huge Dorin guy and the beautiful, graceful, and pretty princess behind and were heading to their next, and hopefully, last stop for the evening; to the Great Arashkan Library.
Why was every officious building in the city named ‘Great’, Brom had wondered.
The Great Arashkan Courthouse, The Great Arashkan Library, The Great Arashkan Arena, The Great Spires, The Great First Lord Princeps Palace.. It wasn’t like there was another city just over the hill with a courthouse, a library, an arena, some spires nor another first lord that one would confuse, now, was there?
Or perhaps there were some ‘baby’ Arashkan courthouses, libraries, arenas, spires, and first lord palaces and hence, the ‘great’ ones had real and practical significance.
Brom couldn’t imagine a conversation where some stranger would ask; “Excuse me, mate, where’s the First Lord’s Palace?”, and get a reply, “Which one? I mean, we have so many!”.
Brom suspected, that conversation would devolve into something like;
“The ‘great’ one..”
“Yea, okay, but which one? We have a lot of ‘great’ first lords in Arashkan. You’ll have to be a bit more specific, mate!”
“How many First Lord’s do you have, in this city?”
“19,876 by the last count. We had a new First Lord spawn just the other day!”
Apparently, Brom’s live-imagination was at play again!
But there was, however, some truth in his creative perception. All these ‘greats’ didn’t make the city anymore endearing.. Only pompous! No one, it seemed, was near-honestly humble like hobbits in this world. Hobbits lived in nice, quiet, rolling hills. They didn’t build giant monuments, nor put awesome statues to impress others. Seemed a little like too much work for no gain at all. Hobbits made their homes in the hills and.. well.. they lived in them.. Happily too!
The near-honestly was because hobbits were just unenthusiastically lazy to be bothered by such frivolities!
Elves, humans, gnomes, dwarves.. none of them ever seemed satisfied with what they already had. Always they would thrive for more..
..and still, be unhappy.
Just how stupid was that?
“Brom.”, Tonic said sternly. “I know what she offered. Think of my history. I know what power is. I lived with my uncle for years. And I know what power can do to you. My uncle.. He had power. Lots and lots of it. Even his demons feared him and it really is hard to instill fear in a demon. And look what it brought him. Banishment to the depths of hell he is never coming back from. It is possible he is still alive. And burning perpetually there.. And Heavens willing, he should burn for more, and then some.”
“I.. can’t say I admire his disposition. But why? Why did Nadine banish him and not just kill him and be done with? Death seems kinda more permanent, don’t you think?”, asked Brom a bit taken aback by the little gnomic girl’s savage tone.
“No. Death is not always thus permanent. Not for guys like my uncle..”, she replied, her tone much more subdued now than just a moment before.
“Ow? How do you mean?”
“My uncle, Arcanton.. He made many deals with many beings.. Outsiders.. Creatures that do not belong to our plane of existence. Planes where time and space get distorted. You literally can’t kill those creatures, Brom. You can only banish them from your own reality and hope some fool will not summon them back.. At least not in your lifetime!”, Tonic said quietly.
“Hmm.. So Arcanton made deals with things out of our plane of existence. But so did Wraiven, come to think of it, did she not? I mean, The Raven Queen doesn’t exactly belong to our plane of existence either, you know.”, Brom said carefully.
“Seressa did not make deals with the Raven Queen, Brom. Not in the sense that my uncle did. My pairs soul is her own. And belongs only to her. I doubt under any circumstance would she give up her soul to anyone.. or anything! Seressa is bonded with the Raven Queen via a pact. She does her bidding in return for her queen sharing a part of her power and knowledge with her. It is sort of a mutually beneficial agreement between two parties. She can, if she wanted, dissolve that bond. Yes, she will lose the Raven Queen’s favor and the power she imparts to her, but the fact remains; she can end the bond..”, Tonic tried to explain.
“So she can.. But I still don’t see the difference.”, said Brom as he squinted into the night.
“The difference is, unless you got more balls than brains, you literally can’t break the deals you make with Outsiders. Once the deal is done, your soul is on the market! It’s ‘Going.. Going.. Going.. Gone!’“, she said seriously.
“Well, that sucks.. I suppose. I like it that Seressa is free. I like her free. And she should always be free. Social rhetorics do her enough injustice and chain her as it is. She doesn’t need any more constraints.”, Brom said quietly.
The two walked on for some time in companionable silence. As it turned out, they ended up going the longest possible way around, taking the streets between the Officers District and Heaven Park, behind the Archery Military Camp, and by the Lights Temple. For some reason, the First Lords Palace and the streets surrounding it seemed to be teaming with burly, scowling patrols and neither Brom nor Tonic needed any complications or altercations with the city’s law enforcement’s that late, that night.
“Don’t.”, Brom said finally.
“Don’t what?”, asked Tonic, a bit surprised.
“Don’t ask the question you have been meaning to ask all night, Miss Tonic.”, he said with a destitute voice.
“Actually, I wasn’t going to ask anything.. And you really don’t need to ‘Miss’ me you know. Every time you say ‘Miss Tonic’, it sounds like ‘I miss Tonic!’ in my head, and that’s just weird.. and creepy!”, she said.
“Well, now. That is weird.. And creepy..”, mused Brom, but it seemed his mind was elsewhere.
“I did wonder though..”, Tonic began.
“And that.. is what I meant when I said, ‘don’t’!”, Brom frowned.
“You know. It isn’t fair you get to do all these psychoanalysis on me and then fend me off when I want to ask you some personal questions.”, she sniffed.
“I am not the one with the accumulated issues, Miss— Tonic.”, replied Brom, but there was no heat nor beration in his voice.
“So only people with decent backgrounds get to analyze others, then?”, asked Tonic mildly.
“No.. There just isn’t anything there to analyze.”, Brom replied allusively.
“Ahh.. I see.. So it’s perfectly alright if I did ask you a few personal questions, then?”, said Tonic with a victorious smirk.
“What? No.. How did you even get to that conclusion, girl?”, replied the hobbit feeling exasperated.
“Using awesome logic!”, smirked Tonic again.
“Using logic..”, snorted Brom. “You are not going to let this go, are you, girl?”
“Nope.”, replied Tonic happily. “So.. What do you see in Seressa?”
“Thought I already told you that. Just this evening. At least twice.”, frowned Brom.
“Yes, and no. Your description of her was a bit.. too intimate and heartfelt.. One could argue it’d make an excellent book cover, let’s say.”, said Tonic tentatively.
“I don’t know what kind of books you are into, girl, but I would suggest you read something that has actual literature in them.”, Brom scowled now.
“So you don’t like her, then?”, she blurted.
“Now why wouldn’t I like her? I mean, what is there not to like?”, replied Brom honestly.
“So you do like her..”
“Ow. My. Gosh, girl. You are going to push this in your direction whatever I say!”, exclaimed Brom, waving his hands.
“I just want you to give me an honest, and straight answer. Is that too much to ask? I mean, we are friends, right?”, persisted the gnomic girl.
“Just because we are friends, that doesn’t mean we share everything..”, said Brom exasperated.
“But you said, ‘We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!‘. Your words, not mine.”
Brom ‘hoo boy’ed.
The little demon was persistent.. and she stuck on him..
..like a tick!
“That is possibly the worst misuse of a friendly conversation, Miss Tonic!”, Brom said angrily. “But I will tell you, just to get you off my back!”
“Yeshh!”, Tonic fisted her hand into the air. “Victory!”
“When I see your pair.. No.. When I see Wraiven, I sometimes wish I was a taller man. And better looking, perhaps. ‘Cooler’, so to speak. Maybe a bit more muscular.. You know, the type girls like to ogle at.
I love everything about her and she sees me only as something that she can, perhaps, cute into her coin purse. Not that I would mind being pursed by her, but that will still not make her see me in the light that I would rather have her see me.. If that makes any kind of sense to you.
We are so impossibly different, yet she makes me simply not care. Which is the core of the problem. She doesn’t see me that way, period. I mean, what am I to her, really, but a bushy little hobbit?”, said Brom then fell silent. This night had offered him many wonders. Just not the ones he would have wished for.
Tonic stared at the back of the hobbit as they once more fell silent.
She had been surprised by this unscrupulous hobbit a few too many times this evening. But this last bit gave her a whole new insight about him because he hadn’t been staring at her pair for the simple visual pleasure of having ogled at a very beautiful, proportionately curvy, comely buxom, life inducingly vibrant, deservingly exhilarating, darkly mysterious, and honestly alluring figure, counter-underlined by some macho male animal instinct, but for something more. Something that was intimate. Something that had real depth.
Tonic suddenly felt angry and jealous.
For all her pretense otherwise, she didn’t feel like sharing her pair with anyone, even though she had taken her pair a bit too much for granted.
Then she felt shame.
The hobbit —No! Not the hobbit.. ‘Brom’, had done nothing but give his best to help a cranky, cantankerous, contrary, grumpy and surly little girl his all, and not just that evening, but carefully, every day, ever since they had met. And for some reason, Tonic didn’t think he’d done any of it to gain favor with her pair, by proxy. For all his seeming indifference towards everything, lack of base enthusiasm, exasperation level of sloth, and blatantly unscrupulous attitudes, he was smart, cunning, always seemed to show unsolicited kindness, and he was loyal, educated, and well-spoken, even though he hadn’t been to an academy such as Melshieve and thus far, he’d more than pulled his weight in fights.
Much better than she had!
Hells bells, he’d also played that lyre like a siren! She remembered all the times she’d thought he was just staring at her pair’s butt, while he had persistently claimed he was composing a song.. in his mind!
And he had been telling the truth all along.
‘The Endless White’.
The tune he had played, back at the inn that very evening was something that was simply ‘mad’..
..and Tonic had loved it!
And now she didn’t want to share her pair with him?
Like her pair was hers to give or not..
Just how arrogant was that?
“Yes.”, inner Tonic said. “You really are selfish, you know.”
“Whose side are you anyway?”, blazed Tonic but her heart hadn’t really been in it. She’d flared more out of ‘muscle reflex’ than true intent.
“Does it matter? It was you, who wanted to try ‘this way for some..’, wasn’t it? Now you want to quit? I wasn’t aware it would be this short. Must have missed the memo. Had I known you’d be this fickle, I wouldn’t have fought against it so hard, knowing you’d come around on the morrow..”, inner Tonic said, and she didn’t even bother with the sarcasm.
Tonic shut up.
From the inside!
No. The hobbit was not just ogling at a very beautiful, proportionately curvy, comely buxom, life inducingly vibrant, deservingly exhilarating, darkly mysterious, and honestly alluring figure.
Brom was staring at the heart of all that and desolately knew, he could never have it.
The ogling was just his way of fooling those around him..
“You could tell her.”, she braved mutely.
“To what end? There’s nothing neither of us can do about it, particularly if she doesn’t see me that way. If I tell her, all I will get is either the basic ‘You are my friend’, talk or the infamous ‘But I love you like a brother’, talk, which I would rather forgo and Heavens forbid, will never happen. However Seressa sees me, I never want her to love me like a ‘brother’..”, replied Brom, and not without a good dose of bitter disgust.
“So you are going to do nothing?”, asked Tonic incredulously.
“I never claimed to be a brave man, Tonic. As a matter of fact, I did say I was a coward, this very evening, I might add. Being refused by someone as awesome as Wraiven is not something I ever want to experience. I’d rather just ogle and make sure she sees me doing it.”, he said quietly.
“Make sure she sees you? Why? That doesn’t make sense.”, said Tonic befuddled.
“I don’t like sneak-peaking at her. Feels wrong. Feels like cheating.. Feels immoral —and yes, I am fully aware of the monumentally depraved irony there. That doesn’t change the way I feel, though.”, said Brom, frowning a bit.
“But.. but you are suffering and she doesn’t even know!”, bewailed Tonic.
“What’s got you so riled. It’s my problem. I’d rather look at that beautiful and wonderful, and beautifully wonderful girl with the impossible dream of a ‘chance’, than never to be able to look at her again when I get refused or be declared as ‘loved like a brother’!”, said Brom, gruffly.
Tonic ran up to Brom and stopped right in front of him and looked him in the eyes.
“That’s.. That’s just wrong, Brom.. and sad..”, she said with brimming eyes.
“Well. I am a sad sort of man. I got a problem, and I am using the cowardly way out. Nobody is feeling bad and no one is getting hurt..”, he said flatly.
“Accept you.”, she said quietly.
“Yea, well. There you have it. Chew on that psychoanalysis if you will, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom, brushed past the gnomic girl and with determined steps, started towards The Great Arashkan Library..
✱ ✱ ✱
Tell me again.”, said Brom with a mute, stoic voice. “What do I say to this Tinker-guy, again? And how in the blazes am I even going to get up to that window anyway? It must be at least fifty-five feet up there. Probably more, since this is a library. They would require higher ceilings to store all the books.”
Brom didn’t feel well. He had never wanted to divulge his feelings about the very tall, very dark girl to anyone. And certainly not to Tonic. Not because he thought she couldn’t keep the knowledge to herself, but perhaps, and because, he thought, she would keep it to herself.
“Damit.”, he thought. “Why now? Why tonight, of all nights?”
Had it been the tune he’d played to the audience that evening?
The one he’d named a tad grandly as; ‘The Endless White.‘
He knew he should have named it just ‘The White.‘.. or even ‘White.‘.. but white was just too generic.
Or perhaps it was the song he’d sang after that; Time.
In all honesty, Brom Bumblebrim knew, he just knew, it wasn’t him, who’d written that song. Unlike any other song he had written, this one had ‘come’ to him.. and in the most literal sense possible. Word by word, the song had written itself in his mind and heart during his two-year sojourn from Bowling Hills, all the way to Shakehands.. Which is when he’d met Cora. But tonight had been the first time he had actually put it on display, so to speak. And now, the song was out..
..and out of its ‘time’, Brom thought with a sardonic inner snort.
Or perhaps it was because of having met an angelic being.. or seen that dark, very sinister-looking man he’d ended up feeling ‘distaste’ at best, then getting all his emotions totally eroded when he saw the same, sinister man looking at the sweet little skinny girl the way he had. And the look she had given him had been emotionally ruinous all by itself for Brom.
He was a bard, damit, and love was the bread and butter for all bards.. But the thing between those two.. he found he couldn’t define it..
..because he could not comprehend it.
It had been so.. nubile in its beauty..
So primevally intense.
There had been no decorum to it. Only base, raw, savage, and somehow, awe-inspiringly tender and desperately lonely longing in the look the two, very unlikely man and girl, were giving one another.
And they were giving it in a sense that was singularly unique! It made other people’s love seem like they were merely and briefly lending their hearts to others, while those two had already and literally given theirs.
So much so that what beat in one, was actually the heart of the other..
What man, woman —or bard— could truly comprehend that?
The intermixed irony that was put under the broad beam of a bright spotlight was not lost on Brom at all;
One, inhumane human, and one, infinitely humane, inhuman!
It was likely that very destitution the two had, that’d sparked the fire that had previously been a mere and happy little kindle..
..into searing pain.
Tonic gave Brom an even look.
Whether she surmised what was really going through the hobbit’s mind, she kept it to herself.
For now, at least.
Which was a grace, all by itself.
“I have seen you climb walls before, Brom. That cloak of yours will more than suffice. If you want, though, I can give you a potion that will make you climb pretty much any surface. Another for you to pass through any gap, or to safely float down. I can send a rope all the way up there.. The window is in range.”, she listed methodically. “I suppose, if you want, I can bring out Mechaber. He can give you a fifteen feet head-start sort of a jump. But I haven’t really had the opportunity to field test that. And I can’t promise a quiet landing. Likely, it will bring a lot of patrols upon us. I am guessing you’d rather avoid that.”
“I am guessing, you would rather avoid that!”, scowled Brom.
“Yes. Yes, I would.. Very much.. The technology behind Mechaber is not out yet, and I would rather it didn’t. Not yet, and not until it’s perfected and certainly not until I install the self-destruct unit in it.”, she said seriously.
“The self— what?”, asked Brom incredulously.
“Self-destruct unit.. You didn’t think I would artifice something as dangerous and deadly as Mechaber and then hand it over to the irresponsible humankind, or have it stolen, now did you? I designed it. I must make sure it never falls into wrong hands..”, Tonic said like she was paraphrasing from a blood-signed doctrine!
“Ooookay.. Good, we got that cleared, then.”, Brom said.
“Mechaber is serious business, Brom. Nothing to joke about. The fact that you have seen it, let alone know about it is a sign of how much Seressa trusts you because if it were up to me, you’d have never seen, nor heard mention of it.. Well.. not for some time, anyway.”
“Ooookay.. Good to know where we stand too, then.”, Brom said with the same tone.
“Look, just because you like someone, doesn’t mean you hand over the nuclear launch codes to them, alright!”, she said with an exasperated voice.
“The what lunch codes?”
“Never mind.”, said Tonic. “Read it in some silly futuristic sci-fi book.”
“Psychic-what? What are you talking about, girl? Just what the hell kind of books are you reading?”, Brom asked.
“Look, the story begins when a pretty Erossian spy falls in love with a mad and delusional Camerican nuclear scientist—”, the gnomic girl promptly began..
“Tonic!.. It’s late. I am tired and in all sorts of ways.. Let’s just get this over with, shall we? I am sure Cora and your pair have noticed we have been too quiet by now and gone to your room to check and see as to why! I think the story about some mad psychic-whatsit can wait, don’t you?”
“Right..”, said Tonic and blushed a bit. “Just tell him what I told you. Don’t loiter. Don’t chit chat. Get in. Tell him. Get out. And..”
Brom cocked one eyebrow.
“..And, thank you. I made you do things tonight you would rather not have done.. At least not with me, nor for me.. So.. Thank you..”, she said with a small voice.
“You are welcome, Miss Tonic. And no, I wouldn’t have done any of this, not tonight, not ever, but not because of you. I just wouldn’t have done them because I would rather have taken a light snack, cleaned and tuned my lyre, and then went to sleep. Thanks to you, it is unlikely I will find any light snacks nor find the time to neither clean nor tune my lyre. And because it’s nearly the end of the night, I will not be getting any sleep either..”, Brom said.
Tonic frowned.. and felt a bit.. hurt..
“But I did do all the things I would rather have not, and I am now a better man for it.. All because of you.. So.. Thank you!”, he added with a smile.
Tonic’s eyes teared.
“Go.. Now.. Or I shall call you an ass and totally ruin the moment, Brom Bumblebrim!”, she sniffled.
Brom smirked, turned around, pulled his magic cloak around him..
..and started climbing up the side of The Great Arashkan Library like some odd lizard or possibly, an arachnid!
✱ ✱ ✱
Who is there?”, a slightly tenoric male voice whispered harshly in the darkness.
“It is I, The Ghost of Silent Hills Past, Present, and Future!”, spoke Brom, with a hoarse, hollow voice as he produced a very high, very eerie, screaming tune from his lyre.
The poor antic instrument wept at her misuse.
Brom had found the ‘Tinker-guy’ with relative ease. The gnome was taller than Tonic but while the gnomic girl was proportionally slim, this gnome, the possible great, great, great-something grandson of Prince Gordigon was a bit on the stocky side. Though he looked quite young and robust and had keen, intelligent, and pursuing eyes.
Brom had thought of a dozen different ways of approaching the gnome, including stepping up to him and saying, “Hallo there, matie. Got somin te tell yer! Go there them Silent ‘ills an’ grab what’s there fer yer self and be quik ’bout tit! And while at tit, quit mawnin’ ’bout things ‘cuz non wuz yer falt! But I’d suggis yer watch yer arse cuz sum fellers wantsit!”
And now he was gnawing his knuckles, hiding a few rows, behind and above him, stuck on the ceiling!
“Whot?”, the gnome, Tinker-guy, said in a baffled and spooked voice.. And one of his hands formed claws as a huge ball of fire appeared in it!
“Ow crap!”, thought Brom. “A trigger happy fireballer!.. We are in a bloody library, damit! Who uses a fire hall in a library? That is a universal reason for contempt, almost akin to speaking aloud in a theater! Doesn’t he know there’s a special kind of hell for people like that? And this idiot is the heir to Silent Hills?”
He produced his own Wand of Ice, just in case the fool actually did fire his ball and he had to put out the fires!
And just then, they heard a monotonous, matronly voice echo.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, OR YOU WILL BE FINED! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“What the..”, said the gnome, Tinker-guy.
Brom snickered. Ow, this was going to be fun!
“It is I, The Ghost of Silent Hills Past, Present, and Future!”, he repeated, with the same hoarse, hollow voice.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 50 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“And I have come to give you tidings from the beyond, young Tinker-guy!”, hallowed Brom.
The gnome, Tinker-guy, cocked an eyebrow, his face puzzled.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 100 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“What the hell?”, the Tinker-guy said.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 150 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Brom snickered, some more. If Tonic caught him doing this, she’d have his hide, and then some!
“You shall go to Silent Hills.. There you will find your kin..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 200 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You must reclaim your heritage..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 250 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Ow. My. Gosh!”, exclaimed the Tinker-guy. “Can you please stop?!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 300 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“No. I can’t!”, moaned Brom.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 350 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 400 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..am the Ghost of Silent..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 450 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 500 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BARRED FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A WEEK. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..Present and Future!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 550 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop!”, cried the gnome!
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 600 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“And you shall do my bidding..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 650 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop. Just stop!”, shrieked the Tinker-guy in desperation.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 700 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“No. I can’t..”, repeated Brom, his eyes shut, his face flushed and he had started doing strange, snorting, bubbling noises.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 750 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BARRED FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A MONTH. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You shall go to Silent Hills, and into the Demon Fog to reclaim your birthright..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 800 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You must also know, young Tinker-guy..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 850 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop! You are going to get me permanently..”, cried the gnome.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 900 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Brom could hardly breathe by now.
“..what befell you in the past..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 950 CREDITS! PLEASE BE ADVISED; YOU ARE NOW APPROACHING CONDEMN LIMIT. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..was not of your doing!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1000 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BANNED FROM THE GREAT ARASHKAN LIBRARY. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Whot?”, exclaimed the gnome and there appeared a haunted expression on his face. A face that bespoke of shame, self-loathing, relief, pain lived, and pain endured..
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1100 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Those who put your heritage into desolation sent their minions to slay ye and yer line..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1200 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
The gnome’s face paled. He tried to speak, but words utterly failed him.
“..to ensure, none would ever bring ‘voice’ to Silent Hills..”
And now, Brom wasn’t snickering anymore.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1300 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Hence an evil plan they hatched.. A heinous plan.. And they brought down your home and buried you, and yours..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1400 CREDITS! PLEASE PLEASE BE ADVISED; YOU ARE NOW APPROACHING CIVIL RIGHTS LIMIT. STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Tears appeared in the Tinkey-guy’s eyes and ran down shamelessly.
“My mother? My father? My brothers and sisters by the dozen? Terrah Doodlebellz? All my friends? My neighbors? —They all died because of me?”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1500 CREDITS! THE CIVIC GUARDS ARE ON THEIR WAY. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT AND WAIT FOR DETENTION! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Nay, young Tinkerdome. They all died because someone slew them. They all died to kill your line. Make their sacrifice worth the world, young Tinkerdome..
Reclaim your Heritage.
Reclaim your Hills.
Reclaim your Kingdom.
Reclaim your Throne.
Reclaim your Destiny.
Reclaim your People.
And be a King!“
And with a job well done, Brom Bumblebrim silently climbed down the ceiling.
Quite as a mouse, he brushed past the devastated Prince Gnine Tinkerdome, the great, great, great-something grandson of Prince Gordigon, got out the window, and skimmed down the walls of The Great Arashkan Library..
✱ ✱ ✱
WHAT DID YOU DO?!“, nearly shrieked Tonic in panic as she grabbed the hobbit and started running back the way they came. “The place is suddenly crawling with civic law enforcement!”
They ran past the Lights Temple, along the Archery Military Camp, and cut through the street between Heaven Park and Officers District.
“I said, just talk to him, say the things, and get out!”, spluttered the gnomic girl.
“Which is pretty much what I did, girl!”, panted Brom, his face flushed and he truly felt tired, both physically and emotionally. And he was scratching the upper end of one leg, near the buttock, just where he couldn’t see.
“What is the matter with you?”, Tonic asked, her eyes wild now.
“I got bit.. Again!..”, spat Brom, and mumbled to himself, “This is the last time I fall for a cute face!”, as they heard someone shout “HALT!“, from behind them.
“Never.. mind.. Not a story.. for now..”, Brom said with a harsh scowl.
“RUN, THEN!“, hissed Tonic. “WE CAN’T GET CAUGHT DAMIT! OW. MY. GOSH!“
Aaaand the gnomic girl was about to get hit with a full-blown panic now!
Something neither of them needed at that very moment.
“Calm.. down.. girl!”, said Brom harshly, as he huffed, and puffed.
The marching footsteps were getting closer.
“HALT! HALT I SAY! HALT IN THE NAME OF THE FIRST LORD!“, repeated the same voice from behind, but much closer now, than before.
“Can.. you.. disappear?”, Tonic gasped as she ran next to Brom.
“Umm.. Yes.. But only myself!”, breathed Brom heavily.
“Ok, then.. Go.. Shoo! Vanish! Scram!”, she said.
“NO! Not.. leaving you.. Not happening..!”, Brom breathed.
“I can.. take care of.. myself.. damit!”, snarled Tonic.
“Together.. or not.. happening.. I.. never want to.. face a Wraiven.. with you.. missing!”, he gasped.
“Damit!”, she said, produced two vials with green, vaporish something in them, and a tightly packed clay sphere out of her artificer’s satchel. “Here, drink this in ten!”, she said and handed one of the vials to Brom, as she tossed the clay sphere behind her.
“You know, disintegrating civic guards is not a good idea, Tonic..”, Brom said lightly.
There was a stunning bang, and the civic guards on their heels dropped to their knees and slumbered face down.
“Neat..”, admired Brom.
“Won’t keep them down for long. Now shut up and drink! The effects of this potion should last about an hour, possibly more. I am usually generous —or heavy-handed— with ingredients, depending on your point of view.. Meet you at the inn.”, she said and topped her own vial.. and suddenly, Tonic fell apart!
“I like you, Brom Bumblebrim.”, she said in a warbling, escaping, gaseous, and fading voice. “If you are so bent on martyring alone, I shall abide by your wishes. But you shouldn’t decide for Wraiven without bothering to ask her. That truly is cowardly. And not really any different than all the other animals out there who only see the pinks and never wonder what’s in it.. I made that mistake and it cost me—”
Whatever it had cost Arcantonic, she couldn’t say.
Her form drifted away in a hazy wisp of smoke!
Brom scowled after the now gone gnomic girl.
“Inserting a last word right before the disappearing act.. Cheap, Miss Tonic. Very cheap! Well, I am warning you now, girl, there’s a whole slew of pain coming your way..”, he said darkly and drank his own vial..
It was the strangest sensation he had ever felt.
It was like his whole body was flying apart into tiny, dust-sized bits! He felt the hair on his bushy head rise on their ends, accept he had no hair left either. Every part of him just.. puffed into smoke, and he got carried off with the slightest wind.
Now all he had to do was somehow steer himself in the general direction of the inn, preferably away from the scores of civic guards.
✱ ✱ ✱
Had a good evening, did you?” asked Cora as she stood in the hallway up the stairs to their rooms in the inn.
Her arms were crossed.
She was scowling at the little hobbit.
And her lips had that pout again.
Brom was smart enough not to comment on how cute Cora looked when she pouted.
Or rather, when she pouted while she was angry!
“Ummm.. Had a good evening yourself, did you?”, replied Brom, as he peered into their room.
The room was a wreck!
Everything, including bits of the floorboards, the windows, the window sills, the curtains, the flower pots, the walls, the feather bed, the nightstand, the lamps.. were either broken to bits or were cracked beyond repair. Feathers from the bed matres and the former pillows floated about and covered everywhere while food crumbs, empty and broken plates, bowls, and further cracked mugs and bottles were tossed and scattered haphazardly.
“This is not mere destruction.”, thought Brom in awe. “This is very nearly art! I could literally write an epic on this!”
“What did you do, Brom Bumblebrim?”, she fumed from her nose as she loomed over the hobbit, glaring down at him with her glacial blue eyes.
“Again with the ultimatum name use! What is it with my name and ultimatums, girl?”, asked Brom, frowning a bit. “And, I could ask you the same thing, Cora Sleet!.. What did you two do here?”
“We had a girls night. What does it look like? Seressa said we had to wreck the room at the end, so we did.. Was fun like I never had in my life!”, she replied seriously.
“And did you wear pinks too? I know for a fact, neither of you had pajamas!”, smirked Brom.
Cora’s eyes blazed and her face pinked.. just a little.. Barely visible, really, and if Brom hadn’t known the barbarian girl for as long as he had, he would have totally missed it.
“So.. how did you like it? The pinks, I mean..”, he asked blandly, and secretly kicked himself for having missed perhaps the only chance he would have ever gotten to see a Cora Sleet in Seressa’s mini pinks!
“It was a bit drafty but otherwise comfy!”, she replied with a straight face.
“Any chance for me to—?”, he asked.
“Never happen!”, Cora replied and now she really was scowling. “WHAT. DID. YOU. DO. BROM? We left you so you can calm Tonic. Not make her cry more!”
Brom sighed. He’d really wanted this to be kept between himself and the gnomic girl. Just to preserve her dignity, if nothing else. He didn’t want the cute little demon, as she at times became, to be seen as a ‘break down’ or a ‘cry baby’ and hence, an unreliable ‘loose end’, but there was no going around Cora when she got stubborn as she did now.
“Best way is to pull at it fast and sharp, and get it over with.”, he thought, took a deep breath, and spoke his piece.
“Before, she was crying for dubious and barely justifiable reasons.. I, on the other hand, gave her a genuine reason, so now, she is crying for real!”, said Brom and sure as he was a short, bushy-haired hobbit, his voice was now quite low, unsophisticated, and kind. “I am sorry Cora, but the current storm is inevitable. Once it blows, however, she will be done. She will then thank me because she will be feeling much, much better, and be stronger for it!”
Cora looked down at the hobbit. But the ice in her glacials were gone and she was looking at him, not with her looming glare, but with the one that said..
‘You and I..’
‘We are equals.’
“Something happened.”, she murmured softly.
“No.. Maybe..”, Brom replied evasively.
“Must I drag it out of you, my friend?”, she said with part annoyance, part amusement, and part.. wonder, perhaps?
“I’d rather you didn’t. This one isn’t about me, Cora.. Please.. Let this one go..”, he said without looking up at her.
“Grilled you, did she? Alright, then, go.. You look beat. Missed me in pinks, though.”, she smirked.
“Yea. Missed a lot in pinks tonight.”, he mumbled quietly and left for his room.
✱ ✱ ✱
Tonic, luv..”, said Seressa softly. “Do tell me what’s wrong. It pains me to see you thus.”
Seressa had silently entered the room they had planned on staying that evening like a whisper. She had skimmed the wooden floor, went over to the large, feather bed, scooped up her pair, and cuddled her in her arms.
And like a broken little girl, Tonic had clung onto her very tall, very dark pair and shook violently as she’d wept.
“Tell me, luv. I am your pair. We share.. Share me your hurt.. Please..”, she’d said into her ear.
Arcantonic Palecog clung to pair, spluttering with uncontrollable manic and desperate tears, unable to form words.
“He saved him.. He brought him back!”, was the only thing Seressa could discern out of her.
As to who had saved whom, or brought who back, Tonic’s comprehensibility had ended there.
Clutching something in one hand, she’d wept and wept until she’d slumbered right there in her pairs arms like a cotton doll, as the exhausting venture of the night, unbeknownst to her pair, had finally caught up to her.
Seressa had hugged her pair to her heart’s content, long, long past her slumber with all the love and compassion she could muster, then sighed, “My little luv. You mean the world to me. Please understand that.. And never cry. Be happy!“.
She got up, and lightly limped as she carried her pair, and slowly put her into her bed.
“Hmm..”, she frowned. “I could have sworn I had taken her shoes off before..”
Being careful with the left one, she unlaced her little, cup-sized boots, took them off, and put them down near the bed.
Then she went to the wardrobe and pulled down a heavy quilt and covered her pair with it. Tonic looked more like a sad little kitten, curled up the way she had. Even smaller, the way she slept in a feather bed six times her size and eight times her length.
Seressa walked up to the window and pulled the curtains and closed them. The sun would dawn soon and her pair needed sleep. So did she, for that matter.
The very tall, very dark girl wondered if her pair would mind if she curled right next to her. The feather bed was certainly big enough and the idea appealed to her.
It had been one hell of a night. If she’d known girls nights was this much fun, she’d have patronized Tonic into one, years ago. She did feel a bit guilty though. Her pair had been stuck here and crying all night while she and Cora had partied like there was no tomorrow. Seressa felt like she’d abandoned her pair at a moment of her dire need.
Then she inevitably smiled.
Damn, that barbarian girl knew how to party, though!
She thought she would also have to find a proper way to thank the hobbit, Brom, as well, for keeping Tonic company while she and Cora had dismantled a goodly part of the inn. Seressa loved her pair, but she was not totally blind to her shortcomings, either. She didn’t need to bet to guess her pair had probably made the hobbit’s life miserable during his stay with her.
Tonic sighed in her sleep and lost grip of the thing in her clutch. It rolled off the bed and dropped on the floor.
Seressa looked down and frowned.
It was a very, very old, tattered, and crumbled scroll now.
And it looked vaguely.. familiar somehow.
Seressa had a very good memory for things; what people said, their faces, and objects she’d seen, which was why she’d rarely bothered taking any notes back at the academy. She could recite the things her tutors and professors had said almost verbatim, and identify an innumerable variety of objects and readily label them.
It sure had drawn the envy of many of the other students to no end. Seressa had given them a good lesson on ‘humanity’ that being pretty and somewhat ‘silly’ and ‘honestly vain’, didn’t equivalate to ‘stupid’.
Seressa liked feeling ‘pretty’ and ‘beautiful’, and ‘pretty beautiful’, damit..
Deep down, though, she knew her appearance was mere ointment for the blunt void she felt at never to have felt the love she desperately wanted. The love she wanted had to emanate from a man like the heat from the core of an oven. Like it had to be something that was tangible.
The only problem with that was, the oven was there, men just weren’t emanating the fire.
Only.. temperamental and ephemeral sparks..
Men, it seemed, were definitely into her. And that’s about it. They were never interested in what went through her mind, nor her heart. And none of them wanted a dark, lumbering klutz of a girl with horns, a tail, and a fetish for pinks looming over them for a mate. Only as a plaything, at best..
Might as well be an obsidian doll!
Which is what she was now.
She didn’t mind the ‘play’ part. She was very nearly sure it’d be fun. But it was the ‘thing’ that turned the whole idea stale. She just refused to be a ‘thing’ for anyone.
And no one worthy should be seeing her as a thing anyway, right?
She’d gone after the pretty ones. When that failed, she’d gone after the smart ones.. Apparently, whether they were pretty or smart, neither equivalated to ‘heart’, where men were concerned.
But then, what did? What did really equivalate to a heart?
Seressa felt bitterly cheated in life.
And sorely confused.
She was given all these amenities.
They just weren’t of any use..
She perpetually felt like she was a beautiful flower who only attracted pests and wasps, but never the bumblebee..
She sighed, and silently she reached down and picked up the rather worn scroll and carefully, tenderly, even, she unrolled it, and with a shocked expression, she read the very old and tattered scroll that had somehow been preserved through centuries, persevered against impossible odds, and had traveled all the way from the depths of Ritual Forest, through a bloody, demon-infested war zone, to here, to find its way back to her pair..
“Dear, dear Bumblebrim..”, Seressa said softly with brimming eyes, and a curvy little smile, as she finally figured the ‘who’ in ‘whom’, and remembered too, when and where she had seen the old scroll before; some relative eight hundred years ago, when they were waiting for Tonic, and the Prince Gordigon had given this letter, rolled into a scroll, carelessly laced, but not cased, in the hopes that the ‘courier’ herself would read it!
“I have no idea how you did it, but you have given back my pair a life, and a world of joy.. Thank you, for you are truly, and inexplicably amazing, luv.”