Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Chapter 2

Merrigan sat the gnome down on his desk and looked at him intently. The cage was meter long, and three hands high, it barely fit on The Captain’s desk. The wires were adorned with metal tigers, panthers and other big cats in various positions of the hunt, the clasps were ornate jungle plants. The glass of the cage was as thick as a brick, but clear like a hot day’s sky. The boat had already shifted its course to a port without a name in city Merrigan didn’t remember.

The crew had obeyed without question, as excited as their Captain about their newest acquisition. The men expected plunder, and instead received legend. That’s a poor trade for the long haul, but breaks the inevitable monotony of murder and the sea. Merrigan did not fear his crew, the same way they did not fear him. He was a warrior, longer than most of his men had been alive. They’d all seen him kill men, as a man and a Wolf, and he believed he’d seen every one of them kill a man as well. He paused for a moment and counted on his fingers, making certain he’d seen all twenty-two men of his crew kill a man. He had, there were no exceptions. His crew was made killers and cut throats, and each loved Merrigan truly. His ship’s name was The Savage, but people called it The Bastard, and no one on board was offended when they called it The Savage Bastard. His men were orphaned or abandoned, by war or life or bad decisions. Slaves and debtors manned the oars, set free with nothing but the ocean. Old sailors retired on that boat to die. Salty angry men who hoped to send gold home to restore names in disrepair. Merrigan had always been good to pass on pension to heirs or wives he’d felt had earned it, even sisters and brothers, if the man had made specific claim. Merrigan had read a story about ferryman on a river that separated the living and the dead. He’d boat from one side to the other, his simple wooden boat holding hundreds of souls, speaking in riddles to let his passengers know which side they were on. The dead sometimes forgot the troubles of the living, and the living never knew the troubles of the dead. The story was meant to remind priests or young people that their time was short and death was forever, but Merrigan always took it to show that living men should learn things, to make sure they’re not dead. Merrigon thought he’d stay on that boat forever, and wondered if he had. This, the gnome glaring at him coldly, reminded him of the warm waters and bright sun of the living, reminded him of things off the boat.

Still, some plunder, a fat trading boat from the human cities or Dock Rat’s Galley would have filled his crews pockets, and all killers are happier with fuller pockets, and probably less likely to kill.

Merrigan eyeballed the gnome, and decided he was worth it.

The gnome stared contemptuously. His eyes black specs of hate.

There were varying reports of gnomes’ intelligence. Some stories had them as smart as men, or smarter, outflanking hunters and trappers. Some portrayed gnomes as bumblers and buffoons, breaking into alehouses only to get stuck in mugs and teakettles and drown there, leaving a sad series of suicides for some shopkeep or wench. Others said gnomes were little more than animals. Mindless pests you could keep away with scarecrows or a big fat cat. Merrigan sized up his hostage. He didn’t know if he could kill a big cat, but he knew he was intelligent, because it was clearly scheming.

James walked in while Merrigan was setting his finger. He came in with a bottle of bright purple wine and wrapped paper full of dark purple weed. He walked in and organized the glasses and weed without looking towards the desk. He made eye contact with Merrigan, who held him there for a moment, then slowly dragged his eyes towards the creature in the cage. He pointed his wrapped up finger at the captive. “He smirked the whole time I was mending it.” he said. “Grinned like he was proud of his work.”

“You should drown the thing Captain,” said James hiding fear in his reason. “It’s a monster, I don’t give a damn if you like his damn shoes.” “I do like his shoes,” answered Merrigan, pretending it wasn’t an insult, and telling James he didn’t agree.

“The thing’s poisonous Captain, you might already be dead.”

Merrigan thought about the Ferryman.

“I mean it,” said James.

“That’s enough!” yelled the captain, and poured himself a drink. He took a big swig and turned back to the gnome. “Look at him, he’s terrific. He’s a miracle. He’s the greatest thing I’ll ever see.” James thought of all the shores that they had sailed to and the places they had seen. He liked every single waterfall more than this gnome.

“He might kill you.”

“I don’t think so.”

“He probably already has!”

Merrigan looked at his hand again, it did not look like the gnomebite he’d seen in the mountains. When he was a young Wolf, he was fighting in the steppes of the Northern Mountains and a woman brought in her father or husband to the camp. He was dried up and shrunken, and his skin sloughed off when pressed. Merrigan’s company had refused to let her in at first, fearful of the disease that caused such a body. The woman shouted Gnome, and the doctor chose to see the corpse. Merrigan had too. The doctor had always indulged Merrigan’s curiosity, even as a young Wolf only ever asking about softer spots to bite. That man had died from poison, he’d died screaming and sobbing with snot running out of his nose. His face was a bent mask of pain with the cracking veneer of spit and slime. That woman claimed gnomes had visited her house, casing the place like thieves or soldiers. She claimed she had seen them two days earlier, and had shewed them off. Her husband or father, or whatever the dead man had been boarded up the gaps in the cottage and lit big fires, but a couple of mornings later she woke to find him dying, loud and badly. The wound on the man’s ribs were nothing like this. They were two punctures, like fangs, swollen and hard. They were discolored, and the purple marks of dying veins branched out from them darker, then lighter as they stretched to his neck and heart. They spread all over the man like macabre maps of waterways. His hands looked nothing like that. They were ravaged like a turkey leg.

Merrigan put his face up to the glass. “Are you going to kill me?” he asked. He lifted up his hand the gnome had chewed on. He pointed to the bites with his splint. “These bites?” he motioned, “am I a goner?” The gnome looked eyes, but gave no hint to what he was thinking. Merrigan drew his thumb across his neck in what he thought was a universal sign for death. The gnome set there smiling, or maybe doing nothing, it’s hard to read expressions on a thing you’ve never seen.

James leaned in and asked the same thing in a handful of languages. James claimed to speak eight Languages, Merrigan thought it was closer to four, which was still very impressive and three more than he spoke. James rattled off inquiries from all around the globe. The gnome’s expression never changed. Even if James was faking, he knew enough of language to offer a handhold to anyone looking for a grip.

“Anything?” asked Merrigan.

“Nothing.” said James.

“And you…”

“Eight Languages,” said James proudly.

Merrigan said nothing. He got up and walked across the cabin, he pulled a long fencing blade from a scabbard on the wall, a long thin cut of steel no wider than a finger but sturdy and limber, deadly the way fancy blades are.

“What are you doing?” asked James with a concern that betrayed his sentiment from earlier.

“I’m asking hard questions.” said Merrigan, as he neared the cage.

The Gnome was smirking again.

Merrigan was called a smart man, and he took great pride in that, but he knew more accurately that he was only a curious man, and dedicated to finding things out. There were no authorities on gnomes, and he intended to become one.

He stuck the blade through the wires of the cage. The gnome move, but refused to panic. Merrigan jabbed the point into the little man who barked angrily and shot up to his feet pushing away the sharp point. Merrigan jabbed the point into the gnome again, who let loose another series of angry chattering. Merrigan looked at James and raised an eyebrow. “I can’t make anything out Captain,” said James, shrugging helplessly. Merrigan jabbed the epee into the gnome again, hard enough to pin him against the glass floor. A series of sharp chirps and angry chatter lit up the cabin. “I don’t know what he’s saying sir, but he’s saying the same things.”

“I thought so too,” said Merrigan.

“Yeah, they’re words,” he said, “they’re definitely words,” he listened to the chatter intently, “but I don’t know them.” James whispered in awe. “You see how that sound keeps showing up? The “oo” at the end of the first sounds? that’s probably…” Merrigan nodded half knowing and half listening.

The little man continued spitting those unknown words at his tormentors. James wrote them down. They did not sound friendly.

Merrigan poked at the gnome with his sword and snagged his shirt with the blade.

“What are you doing Captain?” asked James.

“I figured I ought to check this little guy out,” he said smiling, “I’ve already got him angry.”

James turned back to the table shaking his head. James drank a glass of wine and lit the purple weed cigarette with a match. He sat down with book of paper making notes.

Merrigan pulled the gnome’s shirt off with some effort. The captive fought to stay clothed, but when Merrigan hooked him, and started pulling him off of the ground, the gnome raised his arms and slid free from the shirt, landing silently and skilfully on the glass beneath him. He raised his hands like an unarmed fighter, keeping one fist tucked beneath his chin and chattering what Merrigan was certain were the foulest swears on every ocean. The Wolf smiled with every tooth.

He wanted to look in the little guy’s mouth, examine it for fangs, but he wasn’t going to put his fingers next to that maw again if he could help it. He pointed to the little guys stomach. “You see that?” asked Merrigan.

“What?”

“His navel,”

“Pardon,”

“His bellybutton, he has a belly button.”

“I know what a navel is,” said James, more confused than perturbed.

“Well, if he’s got a navel, he’s a mammal.” Explained Merrigan.

“Of course he’s a mammal,” said James, “Look at him,” he gestured without looking.

Merrigan snagged the gnome’s pantleg with the epee and picked him up from the ground. The gnome fought to maintain balance and control as he was lifted by, then suspended from the sword point, but he couldn’t. He struggled, then fell, his pants still hanging from the sword like a surrendering flag. He landed clumsily on the back of his head and neck. “He’s male,” said Merrigan.

“Of course he’s male,” said James distractedly, “He’s got a beard- Oh.” He stopped himself, realizing Merrigan’s new discovery. “Well, I suppose he is,” he added bashfully. The gnome stood furiously, his penis wagging proudly. “I’ve never seen a female gnome,” said James, instantly regretting it, remembering the statue they’d found on The Wizard.

“Me either,” said Merrigan, his eyes lighting up remembering his trinket. “I don’t know anything about gnomes. I don’t know if they all look alike like dogs, or if the girls are drab like birds, or great big like Trapper fish.”

Merrigan poked a time or two more. He had so many questions.

Merrigan shook the pants from his sword and let them fall to the cage’s bottom. The tiny man scowled and dressed with as much dignity as was possible. His shoes had fallen off in the Tumble. Merrigan took a drag off of the rolled weed and admired the gnome’s nimble hands.

“They seem awfully… human.” Said James.

“They do,” agreed The Captain. “I wonder how they work, and why we’ve never seen them.”

“Well, they’re awfully small.” James framed it as a question, but knew it was an answer.

Merrigan furrowed his brow, hoping that wasn’t it, hoping for something more exciting than reason.

“I wonder how they eat and breath, and if there’s a little heart in there.” He poked again at the gnome’s chest. The little creature cursed again, it shook with rage. Merrigan pulled out the sword. James was disturbed by the gnome, its anger scribbled the soft lines of its face, and ruined any cuteness in the thing.

“you could always cut him open and find out.” James said, as calmly as he could.

“No,” said Merrigan. He dipped his head and peered at the gnome, “He’s done nothing wrong. Besides, you said yourself, he seems human.”

“Not for nothing sir,” James continued. “I’ve seen you open up more than a couple humans.”

The words hurt Merrigan’s feelings. He had killed twenty three men, twenty had deserved it, and he never shied away from his guilt, but it was unlike James to mention it. Merrigan focused his eyes on the gnome, and pulled out a drawing book he’d been keeping for years. He laid out the papers and started sketching with pencil. James sipped his wine and looked out the round window for some time.

Merrigan sketched the gnome with considerable skill, especially for a man in a splint. The small charge was sulking in a corner. Merrigan and James drank wine and smoked in silence until nightfall.

At night the crew chummed the waters. They threw buckets of half gutted fish and slop behind The Savage and hooted and cheered as sharks and jackalfish showed up behind them. They started at dusk, and by true sundown, the waters behind them were littered with fins and teeth and torrents of blood. That’s when Merrigan would dive in the water. He tied a chain about his waist and stood on the deck naked and growling. He’s removed the splint he’d worn during the day. Once he shifted, all of his minor aches and wounds would heal or fade away, that was the true gift of a bloodline, anyone who’d ever fought a Beast knew that aspect of the magic.

Merrigan had a cestus wrapped around one had, a bladed weapon attached to a weighted glove. A weapon like that is an ugly weapon. It’s designed ugly, on purpose. A hand weight weapon’s never employed by a force for justice, only a heavy hand ever thinks to grow heavier. A slim hand, or a reasonable hand, grabs a blade, or a pen, or anything more elegant than dead weight, even a hammer is a tool, with some grace and dignity, but a cestus, a spiked brass knuckle, loves to hurt and only hurt. Merrigan wore it grinning.

As a Wolf he could hold a blade, but it was difficult, and thrashing in the water he’d lost over a dozen. He could kill a shark with his teeth and claws and chokeholds, but not well, and not quickly enough when pulled behind The Bastard. A few years ago he’d discovered the cestus in the fighting rings of a slave city, he bought it and two slaves to teach him how to use it. It was easier than he thought and now he had two illiterate oarsmen who always wanted to fight, but they rowed particularly hard on nights he wore the cestus.

As the sun went down, Merrigan’s body twisted and contorted at abrupt and unnatural angles. The Captain growled and grunted with the sounds of battle, not of slaughter. He barked at the world, not his wounds. His teeth jutted from his mouth, his jaws swelled and shifted and locked on his face, his eyes cut wide and slit down the middle. He let out a ferocious howl. He stretched to the sky. His chest and arms swarmed with power, he struggled and flung himself from side to side. His hair hung about his neck and face, the rest of his body sported random patches of coarse fur, no more than he had as a man, but somehow more unseemly. The Captain looked more naked as werewolf, his skin taught and bright pink, heaving beneath his mass. He steamed in the cool air, and growled wildly. His men whooped at their monster. His hands had swollen, and the cestus fit tight around his grip.

James sighed when the Captain shifted. Still nervous of the poison he knew was in his system. Poison was something that can’t be fixed with a wolf’s beating heart. In fact the opposite is true. Merrigan had told James that shifting was harder when you were sick or compromised. When he was young, and first learning to control his changing, he did so drunk, and accomplished nothing but cracking ribs and shitting his pants. It’s still the most common ploy of a werewolf hunter to get a werewolf drunk and jump him at nightfall. When Merrigan’s body twisted and warped James unclinched his fists and breathed deeply for the first time all day.

Merrigan jumped up the plank the men had set over the ocean. He paced back and forth, sometimes on two feet, sometimes on four. His body was a vile machine. It rocked with power and potential. He paced to the length of the dock twice, the crew swooned as he neared them the second time, then he charged at the edge of the dock and leaped into the water. The men roared as he splashed into the bloody mess behind them, the ocean roiled with the bodies and fins of snapping monsters and roaring beasts. Blood, fresh and old, stank about the boat. Even the cool wind could not blow the death away as Captain Merrigan went fishing.

He clubbed and killed two sharks that night, and half a dozen jackalfish. It was more than the crew could eat. So they kept some to chum the water tomorrow.

He didn’t do it every night, but many. He said it hurt his teeth not to change. That night was a New Moon, and the call was less under a New Moon, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. The moons, and men’s understanding of them, are imperfect. It was rare Merrigan didn’t go out on Full Moons though. On days after he changed he was calmer and sharper and less likely fight, so of course, sometimes he held it. Merrigan had to be every tool out here on the ocean, and some jobs required a tool that was as angry, blunt, and inclined to action. Merrigan missed his Pack, or at least having one. Packs are good for growing, and learning and perfecting so many things, but they suck at adventuring, and experiencing, and any of the things Merrigan wanted to do now. Packs are good for killing, and for keeping yourself safe. Merrigan felt like those were the parts of him that needed the least improvement.

Merrigan whistled and pulled teeth out of his forearm. His men were butchering shark. He was already shrinking, and his face was slipping back to its normal position. He moved with the purpose of people perfectly exhausted. Merrigan was tired, and his body ached with the enlightened glow of a man with no more energy. His head was a white fog of serenity that only comes with breaking oneself well. He walked and stretched towards the stars that were hiding in the daylight.

He walked into his cabin, with a small chunk of seared meat he hoped to feed his gnome, whom he’d named Hangnail. He’d left him bread the night before, and some this morning, as well as water and even some of his wine, but the gnome ignored it. He hoped a fresh cut of meat might entice the gnome to eat. The creature was still hunched in a corner, leaning in a pathetic posture to uncomfortable to be identified as setting or sleeping. He slouched into a pile that camouflaged itself from anything. The little man was nothing but debris. Merrigan looked at him, and turned his head sorrowfully. He thought about the tumbles and turns and trauma they’d taken together. He realized he’d probably killed him. He walked over to the door and called for James. He came in a few minutes later with two bottles of wine and a pocketful of his weed.

“He’s quit moving,” Merrigan said, pointing to the gnome.

“I know Sir, and I’m sorry.” he really was. James wanted the Gnome dead, but that didn’t make it easier, just better. “I hope I didn’t do it with the sword.” said Merrigan. “Me too,” answered James, not really caring, “it was probably when you hit the water, and he wouldn’t have made that anyway.” James didn’t let any emotion seep into his voice. He knew Merrigan believed him more when he had no interest in an outcome. It made it very difficult when outcomes were interesting. He poured two glasses and rolled some weed.

“Have you poked him any more?” James asked. “I have, he’s unresponsive.” He looked at his hands, his previously broken finger flexed and bent soundly. He leaned his face to the window and put his finger up next to jaw. “See, good as new,” he spoke to the gnome in a friendly voice, but the creature didn’t stir. He finished his glass of wine.

“I was thinking,” said James, “you said you’d never seen a lady gnome.” Merrigan looked at James with big wet eyes. “Remember that…”

Merrigan was on his feet and across the room before James had finished his thought. “That bag from the wizard.” Merrigan said.

James hated that bag from the wizard, and that wizard. He was a wretched old man that had nearly killed the whole crew, and fought Merrigan, as a Wolf, to a standstill. James wanted to kill him and run from him and he didn’t care in which order. James hated that wizard.

They’d met him in a port town trading black spices. He eyed Merrigan as a werewolf, pulled a silver dagger on him, and cut down two of the crew. When Merrigan shifted into a wolf and grabbed the old man, he fought the captain’s grip off, hit him in the face with a fighting chicken, and taken a woman hostage. He sneaked back with a knife to the woman’s throat, and fell into a rowboat that nobody could track. James saw a glare in that wildman’s eyes he’d never forget. Something that made him believe in Crazy. It was real just like the gods of old women or desperate men. Crazy was real, and served its own purpose, and that wizard was into it deep. When Merrigan grabbed him his eyes went wide like a whore’s nethers. He was excited at the claws at his neck, and he slashed with fervor like lightning. As the Wizard sneaked away with his knife at the strangers throat, he was muttering. Merrigan was focused on fighting, the rest of the crew was focused on knives, but James heard the Wizard mutter. He was sad to go., and that held with the first mate now more than a year later. The old man with bright white eyes wanted to stay in that snapping trap, and only left because he had something to do.

James had spent a full year ignoring the chest with the bag from the Wizard. He’d even thought about destroying it, after he was certain Merrigan had forgotten about it too.

Merrigan flung things aside getting to the chest he’d tucked beneath newer or more important chests. He overturned a satchel full of coins. “Distribute these,” he said, embarrassed he’d forgotten them. James put them under his arm. He’d distribute half, the other half would repair a sail and buy good chain, the ship’s was lacking. Merrigan dug out a chest, and opened it, he pulled out a blazingly simple burlap sack. It was bound with a durable piece of what James prayed was leather. Merrigan undid the knot and opened the bag. It had a collection of trinkets inside, they’d taken inventory when they found it. The bag held a pouch of powder that exploded when exposed to the sun, a handful of seeds that killed the ducks he’d fed them to, a smaller leather pouch full of bird’s eyes, pressed flowers that made his hands itch when he touched them, a vial of water that smelled terribly and shook the snot and spit from your head, polished stones, and rock with a string wrapped around it. It also had a sharp silver and regular iron blade in there, and the finest purple weed Merrigan had ever encountered. That hadn’t lasted long. It also held a wooden figurine about as tall as a pineapple, a squat woman with a shawl pulled over her ears, but who bore a strong resemblance to this gnome. Merrigan pulled it out of the satchel and tossed it in his one hand, eyeing its craftsmanship and judging its size. “It looks like we’ve got a pair?” he smiled. James smiled back. He set the Gnome statue next to the catatonic living one. They seemed to be the same size, their clothing was of a similar style, and they looked to be, for all intents and purposes, a good fit. Whoever had crafted the stout little woman had certainly seen a gnome before. James pursed his lips and ground his teeth together thinking of the Wizard. Merrigan shook his head in awe.

The pile of gnome in the corner of a cage stirred a little, and started eyeing his fish.

Merrigan and James drank whiskey, and the smoke made them dizzy. They barely noticed when the gnome stood up and stretched silently. They didn’t notice as he righted himself and intently studied the statue the two were examining, and they didn’t notice when he adjusted his clothing, and ate the food Merrigan had left. It was cold, but he ate all of it.

Moments later Merrigan saw the gnome staring at them. “He’s up!” he almost screamed, half drunk and fully excited. James turned to look. He was smiling despite himself.

“I was sure he was dead,” Merrigan admitted for the first time. “Me too,” answered James, surprised to find out he cared. They bent down and smiled at the gnome. He looked up at the two monsters staring into his cage almost disinterested. They made large stupid noises, and the bigger one blew smoke in his face. He shook his head, and cleared the smoke with his arms. The smoke was thick, and tasted old, but wasn’t unpleasant. He’d had worse.

“Look at that.” Said Merrigan, “doesn’t seem to mind it. Do you think he’d like whiskey?”

“Probably not, but maybe wine,” suggested James, “nothing but people drink whiskey.” Merrigan had a bottle of cheap wine in his cabin he liked to drink by himself when he told his crew he was reading. James wasn’t surprised. They poured the wine into a shot glass and set in the the corner of the cage. The gnome walked around it and dipped a finger in, he put it in his mouth suspiciously. He dwelt on it for a moment, before deciding to finish the glass.

“He seems to have a discerning palate,” James said from the corner of his mouth. “That can’t be it, or he’d never drink that ox piss.” They laughed for a moment, then nodded silent approval of their pocket-sized drinking buddy, and poured another glass. Merrigan lit another purple weed cigarette and moved to exhale into the cage. The gnome spoke with gestures and hard stares that told Merrigan it would have been a mistake. To all three’s surprise, Merrigan exhaled over his shoulder. The gnome gave a solitary dip in his eyes, and Merrigan gave the same. A while later Merrigan pushed the stem of cheap clay pipe stuffed with weed between two wires of the cage, and the gnome took a drag. Merrigan and James doubled over in laughter. The three creatures, accountable for a hundred deaths between them, drank and smoked together for most of the morning, but the gnome never quit looking at that statue. James had to go get another cheap bottle of wine. Merrigan began to doze while he was standing, his head bobbing and waking him. He’d been up all night in the ocean, killing monsters.

“You should sleep,” said James, and he was right.

“The little guy seems happier,” said Merrigan, mostly to himself.

“You keeping him?” asked James.

“I figure, maybe teach him how to talk.” He sat down in front of the gnome, his eyes drooping. “Wake me up early, I’d like to spend some time in the water tonight.”

“Will you change in front of the little guy?” James inquired, “you think it’ll scare him?”

“I doubt it,” said Merrigan, “He doesn’t seem afraid of anything.” He was his eyes and his breathing were fast asleep. His ears and his mouth were only dozing. “He’s probably a Werewolf too.” He smiled in that haze between wakefulness and sleep.

“That’s probably why they’re so hard to find,” James said quietly,”They’re just walking around looking like raccoons most of the time.” His smile slipped a little as he saw his friend was sleeping, and had missed his joke.

Merrigan cracked an eye open. “Weresquirrels,” he whispered, and grinned at his friend. He nodded the last chuckle, too tired to make sound, and let his ears catch up with his eyes.

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Chapter 1.

Merrigan knew what it was immediately, it was a gnome, a tiny man, expected to be magic and most likely poisonous. They may have different names in different lands, but everyone recognizes a gnome as something peculiar, and wonderful. When Merrigan saw one standing on the deck of his ship in the middle of the ocean, he had to catch it.

Merrigan had heard of people seeing gnomes, but never catching one, and he would be the first. The gnome was eight inches tall, fully clothed in a vest, trousers, a pointed green cap, and tasteful shoes, all small and detailed. He had a brown orange beard that hung to his belly, and a big nose. His hands and feet were pronounced, and the former were balled into fists. He was white, or close to white, and had bright green eyes that were keenly aware. He was fantastic in his typical nature. A gnome’s a creature both foreign and domestic, a timeless piece of magic as understandable as homemade bread. He stood there motionless, his eyes fixed steadily on Merrigan.

Merrigan dropped the papers and compass he was holding and lunged ferociously at the gnome, who moved too fast for reason. A blur of pumping arms and stubby legs shot away from Merrigan. Before the compass hit the floor, Merrigan had crossed the deck, but the gnome had streaked beneath him, too fast for even Merrigan’s unnatural reactions. He dove beneath a crate. The Captain upended it with one strong arm, sending it across the deck. The gnome split to one side and juked beneath his pursuer, leaping for the railing. He fell short, but darted along the edge of the boat, Merrigan close behind him. The Captain’s long frame closing the distance, The gnome leaped again for the railing and failed. Merrigan was within an arm’s reach. The gnome doubled back between Merrigan’s legs, cutting to one side like a vein of lightning. He latched to the man’s pant leg and pulled himself to the knee. He pushed off and jumped to the railing, leaping out towards the sea in a beautiful arc.

Merrigan snatched the gnome out of the air with preternatural speed. As soon as Merrigan grabbed the gnome, the little man broke free. He wrapped his hands around Merrigan’s index finger, and jerked in different directions, tearing the finger back and snapping the bones inside. The little man tumbled towards the sea. Merrigan growled his human threats and swung his other hand to catch him. A regular man could not have made the grab. This time the gnome bit him, and Merrigan shrieked. Gnomes are poisonous.

Merrigan screamed a scream that would have delighted his crew, and possibly cost him his ship. He pulled his hand back hurriedly, launching the gnome towards the sky. He cartwheeled in the air, and aligned himself into a dive. Without thinking, Merrigan bounded over the railing and dove in after him, his long frame laid out completely, his mangled hand stretched in desperation. Three fingers wrapped deftly around the gnome, one did so clumsily. Merrigan pulled the gnome into his chest as he collided with the water, all of his grace exhausted. He landed like a bird killed in flight. The Gnome continued to bite at his hand, and kick and pull and hate as they bobbed in the water. The thrashing and splashing alerted the crew, two men’s faces peered over the side, then two more and two more. “Are you alright Captain?” one shouted, “Sir!?” asked another. The men gathered on deck, not certain what was happening. “Sir?!” they continued, readying harpoons.

Merrigan wrested his jacket loose still kicking in the water, he folded it over. “Sir!” his men screamed now, harpoons above their heads. Merrigan wrapped the thing up in the coat and held it triumphantly in the air as he kept treading water. The package fought and writhed. “A Gnome,” screamed Merrigan “I caught a gnome!.”

“Drop it Captain!” yelled one of his men. “Gnomes are poisonous.”

The men brought the two on board. The Captain clutched the gnome like a treasure, a treasure that was ripping out of his chest. “It’s a Gnome!” he shouted “I’ve caught a gnome.”

“Drop it,” said James, Merrigan’s First Mate, and best friend. “Gnomes are poisonous,” he reiterated.

Merrigan was not so sure, “The little bastard’s bit me all to hell,” he said as he switched his grip on the struggling satchel, “and I feel okay.” He held up his hand at a few angles to show the gouges and tears the little man’s teeth had made. Jagged crescent moons littered his thumb and forefinger. James studied them dutifully.

“Sir!” James almost scolded, but the Captain wasn’t listening. He knew that James was scared was scared of things he didn’t understand, and there was no chance he could understand this. James turned and went below deck.

“Let’s see the Gnome!” yelled Crick, one of Merrigan’s bolder sailors. “A gnome!” shouted another. “Ask him about his gold!” yelled Wells, a sailor Merrigan was pretty sure was stupid. “Those are Leprechauns,” corrected Merrigan without judgement, at least not in his voice.

Merrigan walked to the middle of the deck. His hair hung loosely about his ears, his beard was long and unkempt. His body heaved and shook with exhaustion and the tremors laughter. His tall frame and broad shoulders cut such a fearsome form he was difficult to take lightly, even half naked and laughing. Merrigan was a Werewolf, and a remarkable Werewolf from a long reigning family. Even though he wasn’t a Wolf now, he was still a strapping and vigorous specimen. He’d never met a man who could best him in a fistfight or a footrace, and very few Wolves, or Bears, or Badgers, but this little guy had exhausted him, and that, was very funny. He stood there in soaking pants and ruined boots holding a bag full of violence, grinning. His mouth had too many teeth in it, and they jutted out at crooked angles. They told stories of their own. If someone paid attention to his teeth, and were particularly gifted with sums, they could decipher when he was lying, which was often. Fortunately for Merrigan, he spoke quickly, and people are bad at math. He was strong, and terrible, and the most wanted man, or Wolf, in The Empire. He had just caught a gnome.

His men circled around him. Some with nets and others with clubs one with a shovel. The gnome’s restraints were a lined jacket Merrigan had been wearing all season, it was worn and shabby but still strong fabric, and dramatically big. It had a high crested collar that made Merrigan feel like a captain, and seemed perfectly suited for capturing gnomes. Merrigan rarely wore shirts under his jacket, and only cheap trousers. As a Werewolf he shifted his form every night, and clothes were a bother he abandoned on the ocean. His boots were very nice, and he hoped this swim hadn’t ruined them. His boots were a vanity. Merrigan’s frame was difficult to clothe, and he had learned early that if he wore one thing well it was enough to convey etiquette, and conveying etiquette was all he ever had to do. Merrigan’s boots and belt buckles hinted at civility. If people feared his animal nature, they found solace in his reasonable shoes. They were the only loot he didn’t share with his crew, those, and the books and maps he took from every ship they sacked.

The men readied themselves and Merrigan shook out his jacket. The Gnome landed on hands and feet and bolted to the middle of the circle of sailors. Fifteen hard men, all armed and focused, closed in on the three pound man. A net flew at the gnome but he darted to one side, another sailed and he rolled out of the way. The Gnome feinted at the circle, testing for escape, but none presented itself. The Gnome spun growling and pulled a small knife from his belt. Sailors stood with nets, looking for an opportunity, others stood there with clubs, fearing one. The Gnome hissed and the sailors shuddered. Crick, a bald man with bees tattooed on his skull shifted his weight ready to club the interloper, when James emerged from below deck.

He was carrying a cage the men used for fighting birds or holding snakeflies. It was two glass panes connected by a series of wires with clasps at all four corners. It was strong and too expensive, and exactly what was needed. They had stolen it, and rarely used it. “This will hold him,” he offered. James muscled to the middle of the circle,and Merrigan knew why he was his favorite. James sat down the cage and opened it. The gnome surveyed the group and weighed his options. He spit on the floor, threw his knife into the deck, and stepped into the cage. He tested the wires, stomped on the glass, and sat down, dejectedly, cross-legged. Merrigan fastened the clasps.

The men murmured and lined up to look. Merrigan lifted the cage, “I’m taking him to my cabin,” he said, the men booed and grumbled. “I need to study this,” Merrigan almost cursed. James called for wine and weed, and the grumbles changed to cheers. The men drank too much, even for pirates, and set their sails to the nearest city, only two days away. Merrigan carried the gnome to his cabin, and called for James, and his finest wine, to come with him. James stooped down and grabbed the stinger sized knife lodged in the deck, and followed his captain. He had a lot to learn about gnomes. This one was going to poison his best friend.

When Merrigan found the Gnome

Posted: June 3, 2015 in Fiction

Chapter 1.

Merrigan knew what it was immediately, of course he did. They may have different names in different lands, but everyone recognizes a gnome as something wonderful, and peculiar, and when Merrigan saw one standing on the deck of his ship in the middle of the ocean, he had to catch it.

A gnome is tiny man, a creature both foreign and domestic, a timeless piece of magic as understandable as homemade bread. Merrigan had heard of people seeing gnomes, but never catching one, and he would be the first.  This one was eight inches tall, fully clothed in a vest and trousers, and a pointed red cap, all completely real. The Gnome’s brown orange beard hung to his belly, but he had alert fists, and stood on the toes of his small tasteful shoes; motionless, on the deck of the ship, almost invisible, with his eyes fixed steadily on Merrigan.

He dropped the papers and compass he held in one hand and lunged with ferocity at the gnome, who moved too fast for reason, a blur of pumping arms and stubby legs that shouldn’t make up for the pudgy fellow’s pudge. Before the compass hit the floor, Merrigan had crossed the deck but the gnome had streaked beneath him. He dove beneath a crate. Merrigan upended it with one arm, tossing it aside. The gnome split to one side and juked beneath his pursuer. He leaped for the railing, but fell short, he darted along the edge of the boat, Merrigan close behind. His long agile frame closed the distance, The gnome leaped again for the railing and failed. Merrigan was within an arm’s reach. The gnome doubled back between Merrigan’s legs, cutting back to one side like lightning. He latched to Merrigan’s pant leg and pulled himself to the knee. He pushed off of Merrigan up to the railing and leaped out into the sea in an arc beautiful and perfect and only three feet away.

Merrigan snatched the gnome out of the air with his right hand. A normal man couldn’t have made the grab, but Merrigan wasn’t a normal man, he was a Werewolf, and even though he wasn’t a Wolf now, he was a strapping and vigorous specimen. All Wolves are. He’d never met a regular man who could best him in a fistfight or a footrace, but as soon as he grabbed the gnome, he broke free. The tiny man wrapped his hands around Merrigan’s index finger, and jerked at his grip, tearing the finger in two directions. The bone snapped and the little man tumbled towards the sea. Merrigan furrowed his brow and swung his other hand to catch him. This time the gnome bit him, and Merrigan shrieked, everyone knows gnome bites are toxic.

Merrigan screamed a scream that would have delighted his crew, and possibly cost him his ship; men would not obey a wolf that made sheep noises like a sheep. He pulled his hand back hurriedly and launched the gnome skyward, who cartwheeled in the are, then aligned himself into a dive. Without thinking, Merrigan bounded the railing and dove in after him, his long frame laid out completely, a mangled hand stretched out in desperation. Three fingers wrapped deftly around the gnome, one clumsily clubbed at his side. Merrigan pulled the gnome into his chest as he collided with the water, all of his grace exhausted. The Gnome continued to bite at his hand, and kick and pull and hate. The thrashing and splashing alerted the crew, two faces peered over the side, then two more and two more. “Are you alright Captain?” “Sir!?” The men gathered on deck and readied harpoons, not certain what was happening. Merrigan swam like a wounded fish, and thrashed against something unseen. “Sir?!” they continued.

Merrigan wrested his jacket loose, and folded it over itself. “Sir!” his men screamed now, harpoons at the ready. Merrigan wrapped the gnome in the coat and held it triumphantly in the air as he tread water. The package fought and writhed. “A Gnome,” screamed Merrigan “I caught a gnome!.”

“Drop it Captain!” yelled one of his men. “Everybody knows Gnomes are poisonous.”

The men brought the two on board. The Captain clutched the gnome like a treasure, a treasure that was looking to burst from his chest. “It’s a Gnome!” he shouted “I’ve caught a gnome.” “Drop it,” said James, Merrigan’s First Mate, and oldest friend. “Gnomes are poisonous,” he reiterated.

“I’m not so sure,” said Merrigan, “The little bastard’s bit me all to hell,” he said as he switched his grip on the struggling satchel, “and I feel okay.” He held up his mangled had at a few angles to show James the rips and tears the little man’s teeth had made. Jagged crescent moons littered his thumb and forefinger.

“Sir!” James almost scolded, but the Captain wasn’t listening. He knew his friend was scared.

“Let’s see the Gnome!” yelled Crick, one of Merrigan’s bolder sailors. “A fucking gnome!” shouted another. “Ask him about his gold!” yelled Abel, a sailor Merrigan was pretty sure was stupid. “Those are Leprechauns,” said Merrigan without judgement. At least not in his voice.

Merrigan’s hair hung loosely about his ears, his beard was long and unkempt. His large body heaved and shook with exhaustion and laughter. His tall frame and broad shoulders cut such a fearsome form he was difficult to ever take lightly, even half naked and laughing. He stood there in soaking pants and ruined boots holding a bag full of violence, grinning and hooting. His mouth had too many teeth in it, and they jutted out at crooked angles. His teeth told stories. If someone paid attention to the angles of his teeth, and were particularly gifted with sums, they could deduce when he was lying, which was often. Fortunately Merrigan spoke quickly, and most people are bad at math. Merrigan was strong, and terrible, and the most wanted man in The Empire, and he’d just caught a gnome.

His men circled around him. Some with nets and others with clubs and blades. The gnome’s restraints were a lined jacket Merrigan had been wearing all season, it was worn and shabby but still dramatically big with the high crested collar that made him feel like a captain. Merrigan rarely wore shirts under his jacket, and only cheap trousers. His boots were very nice, and he hoped this swim hadn’t ruined them. Merrigan’s frame was difficult to clothe, and he had learned early that if he wore one thing well it was enough to convey etiquette, and conveying etiquette was all he ever had to do. Merrigan’s boots and belt buckles hinted at civility. If people feared his animal nature, they found solace in his reasonable shoes. The men readied themselves and Merrigan shook out his jacket. The Gnome landed on hands and feet and bolted to the middle of the circle of sailors. Fifteen hard men, all armed and focused, closed in on the three pound man. A net flew at the gnome but he darted to one side, another net sailed and he rolled out of the way. The Gnome feinted at the circle, testing for some escape, but none presented itself. The Gnome spun growling and pulled a small knife from his hilt. Some sailors held nets, looking for an opportunity, others stood there with their clubs cocked, fearing one. The Gnome hissed and the sailors shuddered, still certain he was poisonous. Crick, a bald man with bees tattooed on his skull shifted his weight and told with his posture he was ready to club the little interloper, right when James emerged from below deck.

He was holding a cage the men used for fighting birds or snakeflies. It was two glass panes connected by strong wires with clasps at all four corners of one side. It was strong and too expensive, and exactly what was needed. “I think this will hold him,” he offered. Merrigan knew why he was his favorite. James muscled to the middle of the circle, Merrigan with him, neither took their eyes off of the gnome. James set down the cage and undid it. The gnome surveyed the group and weighed his options. He spit on the floor, threw his knife into the deck where it stuck to the hilt, and trudged into the cage. He tested the wires, stomped on the glass, and sat down, dejectedly. Merrigan fastened the clasps.

The men cheered and lined up to look. Merrigan lifted the cage, the Gnome stayed stone still. “I’m taking him to my cabin,” he said, the men booed and grumbled. A wave of misunderstanding rippled across Merrigan’s face. He never would have believed his murderous batch or hard men would dance and sing about a gnome like children, but they did. And he did too. James called for wine and weed. The men drank too much, even for pirates, and set their sails to the nearest city, only two days away. They wrote songs about Gnomes, and Wolves catching rabbits. The next morning Merrigan was dead.

Chapter 2

Merrigan headed back to his cabin after the appropriate commotion. Merrigan ran a stern ship and his men we’re fiercely loyal, but no part of Merrigan believed fear kept people safe. He was happy they were excited, he would have been offended if they weren’t. They cheered when he boarded the ship, and gathered around him. Twenty-one sailors and swords, a cook, and his first mate, killers all, crowded shoulder to shoulder. Merrigan held his wriggling coat, it writhed with unreasonable strength. “Bring me a cage!” he hollered. Morton and Crick pulled a cage for housing lizards up from below deck, it was wooden with iron bars on the top and front. They propped the cage open and Merrigan shook out his coat like a rug. The Gnome clinched on hem and crawled up the whipping fabric, hand over hand, fast like a spider. He got to Merrigan’s hands with fire in his eyes, and wrenched at the werewolf’s grip. Merrigan pulled a hand back quickly and punched the Gnome in the face, he tumbled back in somersaults, collapsing in a heap. Morton slammed the cage and Crick closed the latches. “Son of a bitch is strong.” Merrigan said to himself, but loudly enough to share. He glared at the cage and the small man in it with an intensity like the bright side of rage. He grinned despite himself.

“He didn’t bite you did he?” asked Crick. “He did,” said Merrigan, “he chewed me up.” He held up his right hand, five or six crescent moons cut from his thumb to his finger. Blood ran from them, mixing with the saltwater, and dripping down his arms. “Gnomes are Poisono-,” Crick started, before Merrigan raised his hand to silence him. The crowd grew silent with the gesture. The racket of men discovering magic was replaced with nothing but the slap of waves. Eyes grew watery. “I’ll be fine,” he dismissed them, but he was nervous. “Turn!” suggested Harrell, a dark skinned islander who’d sailed with Merrigan since before the war, and all through it. “No,” said Merrigan, not looking back to apologize at his curtness. He walked towards his cabin. Harrell and the rest closed in behind him. James snapped to. “Get things around,” He yelled, pointing men to their positions. “We sail now, to the nearest port.” Merrigan nodded approval with the subtlest of gestures as marched forward, holding the soaking coat in his hand. “Bring me the Gnome,” he yelled over his shoulder. Crick and Morton grabbed the cage, The Gnome ran from corner to corner as lifted and tilted, looking for cracks. He lunged at the barred ceiling and hung there screaming in words high and indecipherable.

Merrigan stopped suddenly, “Do any of you understand that?” he asked. The men shot glances at and across from everyone, no one nodded the affirmative. “No, no,” said Merrigan, shaking his head. “I’ll sleep.” He turned and stood up as fully as he could, almost looming over his men. “I’m tired, and I need rest, but we can be to Host Port by morning.” The men weren’t going to Host Port, but that didn’t seem to concern them. They understood their Captain changing course. His men walked in in front of him, and placed the lizard cage on his table. “I’ll be up by dusk, we’ll plan and talk then.” He said, dismissing Morton and Crick, and closing the door behind him. Merrigan wouldn’t be up at dusk. He would be busy dying.

Chapter 3.

Merrigan had told the men to leave him alone, so when there was a knock at his cabin door, he knew it was James. James was his First Mate, and the only person on the boat who knew a damned thing about running it. James was short, and unassuming, and brilliantly intelligent. He was also terribly unambitious and certainly a thief. “Come In,” yelled Merrigan. He was perched over the Gnome’s cage in just his shoes and trousers holding a rapier. He leaned over studying the Gnome and asking it simple questions. The Gnome looked up at him dejectedly. James opened the door with the key he had and walked up behind his Captain. “So,” said James, “let me see him.” Merrigan stepped away. James had brought a bag of surgical supplies, and a bottle of rum. Merrigan grabbed the bottle and poured himself a glass. James hadn’t looked back yet, but asked, “are you sure? with the bite?”

“I am,” answered Merrigan, looking down at the hand he’d bandaged. The broken finger hurt blindly. He continued to forget about and reach for things and curse his stupidity when he bashed into them. The bite were aggravating, but mild in comparison. They weren’t discoloring or puffing or seeping the way poisoned wounds do.

The Meeting

Posted: January 8, 2015 in Fiction

The Druid walked into the crossroads expecting some commotion. The place had been roaring earlier. An hour ago the woods had whispered to him of discourse and violence and the air told stories of blood, now there was nothing. He’d been walking for 3 miles, and hadn’t seen anything frantic or telling. There was nothing to know. The woods didn’t answer. It had moved on. He walked out of the forest deliberately where the two roads intersected. It would have been terribly dramatic, but nobody saw it. He dragged his staff disappointed.

At the crossroads was a tavern and hitching post, no horses were tied to it, but it looked well used. A satchel rested on the ground. The Druid walked over and prodded it with his walking staff. There was a bit of gold in it, a good bit. He left it there. He walked up to the tavern’s door, it wasn’t on hinges. It was a massive crosscut of wood balanced loosely against the frame. It rested ajar. The Druid didn’t feel like he was trespassing when he entered. The place was dark, and in utter disarray. Tables and chairs were thrown about like a rug had been tossed from beneath them, or like a wave had crashed and receded through the barroom. Tables rested on each other, piled up and fallen over. There were puddles of blood and a hand’s worth of severed fingers near the bar: a dead man with most of his face pushed into his skull rested behind it. The only structure inside that made any sense was the bar itself, and one stool that stood at its end, where a giant beefy monster sat holding a tankard of what smelled like rum and water. The green hue of his skin and the coarse hair all over his body marked him as a halfbreed, not all man. He was bigger than any human man The Druid had seen, but not so big as a true Orc. It was possible, even probable, he was the cause of this scene, but The Druid wasn’t nervous. The Monster seemed calm enough now. The robes on the Half Orc marked him as a holy man, and though they were ill fitting, they were clearly his. They were tailored to his frame. Holy men didn’t take kindly to druids, the woods wizard knew that, but, holy men didn’t take kindly to Half Orcs either, so this was, at least, interesting.

“Hey there friend,” said The Druid. The Half Orc looked at him over his shoulder. “Hello friend,” he said with his thick Orcish drawl. He smiled. Big square teeth stood prominently at the front of his mouth like they were on guard duty, and he swayed enough to know that if their duty was keeping strong drink out, they were failing.

The Druid righted a stool and sat next to the large Half Orc. His hands and knuckles were big like weapons, The Druid was a big man, and his hands looked like a maiden’s hands next to the brute’s. He measured them to be the right size for pushing faces into skulls. The Half Orc wore mail under the robe, or half mail, it was hard to tell on a frame that big. He wasn’t sure a quilt of mail would cover the man-ish thing next to him. The robes were blue and white, but The Druid didn’t recognize any of the markings. They were runic, like the writings of Dwarfs, but they weren’t the same. Dwarf emblems were simple, and sleek, these were frantic and raw. He could not figure them out. The Half Orc finished his glass of what was probably mostly scotch without looking at The Druid. He had a sword slung over his back that would have been too tall for most men. They sat there a few moments in silence. The Half Orc breathed heavily and eyeballed the bottom of his mug.

“You don’t ask a lot of questions.” said a voice from out of nowhere. It wasn’t The Half Orc, but the monster didn’t move when he heard it. The Druid couldn’t tell if the voice was behind him or above him or from outside. The words were simply in his head. The Druid asked every living thing that could hear his heart to help him look for who it was that was speaking. They couldn’t find him. The Druid didn’t move his head, he rolled his eyes around their sockets and absorbed anything that might tell him about the voice. Whoever it was, silence didn’t seem to be something it was afraid of. He waited awhile for some sound to give away the questioner. After too long to ignore it, The Druid offered, “It’s a good way to learn what’s important.”

There was a pause again, not as long as the first one, but long enough to matter, “You learn anything important?” it asked, again from nowhere.

The Druid din’t spin around, he knew he wouldn’t see the voice until it wanted him to, or until it was too late. “I doubt it.”

There was a pause. The room filled with nothing.

“Guy’s alright.” Said the Half Orc, breaking the silence like he was waking up. “Smells good.” He added.

The Half Orc stood up, his shaggy frame teetering a bit, and shook like a dog. He made eye contact with The Druid. “You’re going to do great things man,” The big creature leaned into The Druid’s face. His eyes were the size of fists. “You need to Unleash the Power Within.” He righted himself and burped, turned around and walked out of the door, moving the heavy crosscut with one hand. He reached under his robes, and pissed a mighty stream into the grass outside the tavern.

The Druid turned and a tiny man stood on the counter in front of him. A powerfully built fellow about 24 inches tall. He wore green leather that The Druid couldn’t recognize. His sleeves were rolled up to the elbow. The Druid couldn’t tell where, but he was certain the small man had a weapon at the ready.

“You got a name?” asked The Gnome.

“None of import.” said The Druid.

The Gnome grinned. “I like you, you’re funny.” He jumped off the bar with a glint in his orange/green eyes. He landed soundlessly and took two steps around The Druid.

The Half Orc walked back in. “We’re going to need to get out of here pretty quickly,” said the Gnome. The Half Orc turned his big head towards The Druid. “The drink’s gone here, and we’ve made no friends.” The Druid looked at the dead man behind the bar. He certainly didn’t seem like a friend. The Half Orc had the tattoos of a slave or an imprisoned warrior, but carried himself, at least in this state, as a sincere man. It’s hard to trust a man as kind when he’s in his cups. The Druid decided he liked the drunken priest monster, and the bold little tyrant. He hated it when he made decisions, he wanted to remain honest always, and decision clouded honesty, but these men asked little and said so much. He was embarrassed that he wanted to listen.

“We did this.” Said the Gnome from somewhere, The Druid had already lost sight of him. “We really didn’t want to.” He added and emerged by jumping to the top of an upturned table. It was the highest point in the place where he could stand. “One man died, but he was the first to draw steel… and there’s nothing funny about that.”

“Nothing,” agreed the Half Orc.

“We believe in a lot of things Wood Wizard,” said The Gnome, looking down at The Druid, “but I don’t believe in much that isn’t funny.” The Druid looked at the loose fingers and dead man. They did not look funny.

“You look like a man of action.” said the Gnome.

“I am not,” corrected The Druid. And he wasn’t. He was looking for balance.

The Druid had had dreams of the world tipping over. The Druid had had dreams of monsters crawling up from the bottom of the ocean and baking in the sun. He had dreams of cities being cut down like wheat and of giants caught inside of mousetraps.

The Druid thought of those dreams.

The Half Orc smiled drunkenly. “Follow us,” he slurred. “We’ll Unleash the Giant within.”

“I am flattered,” lied The Druid, growing nervous for the first time. “but, I am fine the size I am.”

“Grow!” said the Half Orc and patted him hard on the back. The Druid stepped away, even friendly pats from the Half Orc made his shoulder ache. “Dondo is a good man, a man of a faith!” said the monster pointing to The Gnome. The Gnome looked directly at The Druid and shook his head calmly no.

“Just a really good joke.” Dondo corrected. “Just a really good joke.”

“A Joke?” asked The Druid.

“A Joke.” The Gnome answered.

The Druid said nothing, but smiled.

The Gnome had fought a dozen men that day, his big friend had helped, but Dondo had crippled a man who would have mocked a fair fight. Now that man had fewer fingers. It was closer to a “fair fight” by whatever those fingers weighed. The Druid wanted to hear more.

“I want adventure,” proclaimed The Gnome. “I want to fight monsters, I want to catch demons, I want to crap in a Dragon’s mouth.”

The Druid laughed.

The Gnome looked at him.

“You think that’s funny you big shaggy bastard,” his tone took an unimaginable turn for such a tiny creature. It wasn’t deep or loud or angry. It was honest, and it came from everywhere, “I’ll shit in a Dragon’s mouth. Because it’s the funniest god damned thing on the planet.”

The Druid was glad to have found these two.

“I figure if I,” He waved his hand over his small stature, “can rest my pink little ass in a Dragon’s mouth, then the world’s not as bad as it should be.” He broke eye contact with The Druid. “Come on Tony Robbins.” The big Half Orc started to follow.

“I hope you boys will travel well,” said The Druid, he felt bad slowing these two down, but he didn’t want them to go, “how does one get to the inside of a Dragon’s mouth?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” said the Gnome, “being an innocent seems to work, but we’re going to travel to Egeos.”

The Druid contemplated that, “There are no Dragons in Egeos,” he said.

“No, but there’s adventure, the place is almost on fire. I figure it’s a good place for a man like me to start this joke.”

“I’ll follow the joke forever,” said the giant green hued Half Orc. “It’s a good joke.” He whispered, like a prayer.

“You’ll die for a joke?” said The Druid, mostly to himself.

“A giggle is a great way to start a life: it wouldn’t be a bad end.” The Gnome said and started for the door.

The Druid sat inside and watched the unusual partners walk out. He wrestled with urge to let them go, and the urge to keep them safe. They disappeared for a moment, then peaked inside the doorway: one head filling the top half of the frame, and the other poking out near the bottom. “Hey Wood Man,” said the Half Orc, “You leave a bag of gold out here?”

“No,” said The Druid.

“I’m gonna keep it if that doesn’t bother you,” said The Gnome.

“I figured that’s what started this,” said the man in the leafy cloak and leather armor, gesturing to the chaos around the barroom.

“No,” said the Gnome. “Idiot tried to rob us.” He pointed at the missing fingers. The Druid looked at the dead man. “Bigger Idiot tried to grab Tony,” he answered, pointing to the Half Orc. Tony tried to look solemn but smiled a little. “I don’t know why they tried to rob us. It looks like they had enough.” He held up the bag in an outstretched hand. It only cleared the ground by a half an inch. “I’m gonna keep it.” He reaffirmed.

“You should,” said The Druid, and stood up, “and I’d like to come with you.”

Dragon Castings Rough Draft

Posted: December 30, 2014 in Fiction

Claude and Gus were Wyrm Farmers, and they were hunting for a Casting, a big ball of steel and bone that Dragons couldn’t digest, and barfed up in the fields and forests after they’d eaten. They wanted to find it and sell it for materials. They’d come along way, and were going to make a lot of gold. If they found it.

They had been walking for 4 hours and Claude hadn’t seen the sun. The canopy of the woods was thick, and so high it made the sky seem green, like they lived inside a giant jade globe that stretched into the nowhere of space. He imagined the sun scraping across the tops of that trees, he hoped they’d start a fire and burn the woods down. He hoped it would topple and crash and kill every stupid bug and crawling thing in this hot sticky Hell. He hoped it would kill Gus too. He hoped flame and ash and cinder would reign down on Gus’s fat frame and set the old man alight like a tallow torch. He envisioned the meat and grease sliding off the old man’s bones in piles and streaks. He dreamed of Gus’s idiot smile peeking through his flabby cheeks in a yellow fire. He hoped his eyes would melt and the the goo would slide down his skull like egg yolks. He could almost hear them pop.

“You thinking about girls are you?” Gus asked, “You’re smiling like you’re thinking of girls.”

“No,” answered Claude.

Gus was wearing a leather vest over his white cloth shirt and a river of sweat ran down his ass. Claude had stripped to just a simple shirt and untied the collar. He trudged behind Gus dragging the sled. It was big, but not heavy. It was made of the spongy durable wood that grew back home. The boat that had brought them here was made of the same stuff. It had brought them from island to island for the last 3 months, and Claude hoped this would be the last one. The fat old man kept singing his drinking song. Claude looked at the vague warm glow from where the sun must have been overhead, and hoped for a spark. Claude was a long lean youth, or he had been. Now he rested at that spot between a young man and a full grown man that could take between 6 months and 20 years depending on the person. If Claude had married he’d be a man now, or he’d killed a man, or made enough money or slept with enough girls, maybe then he’d be a man now. But he hadn’t. He hadn’t done anything but drink and gather debt. In the 3 years he’d been in the city he’d done nothing but drink himself into stupors and lose 3 teeth fighting, now it had come to this, Wyrm Hunting.

Wyrm Hunting? Claude snickered when he thought about it. More like Wyrm Hiding. That’s what the job really was. Claude’s only action in the 3 months on the boat had been having to take the sails down quickly twice to not gain too much ground on the flying Wyrm. Gus was a cautious man, not that Claude was complaining, he’d seen those flying murderers eat up whole riverboats and barnyards. They ground up little kids and warlocks.

He never understood the people who lived in these burner towns. These spots on the river they kept traveling through full of death and sadness. The Hill Folk made sense, he even liked the Hill Folk. They lived in caves and woods like these (with less bugs) where Dragons couldn’t swoop down and gobble you up too easily. They didn’t have a lot, but they didn’t get eaten up like the fools in these towns sprung up from nowhere to fish or plant fields or whatever, and then hoped the Dragons wouldn’t come: the Dragons always come. The only safe places were cities, where enough people together could make enough noise to scare them away, and with walls and towers and enough bows and slings and scorpions to drive them back. There, and here; in the wake, sifting through wreckage and picking up shit. He knew it wasn’t shit, but this, trekking through wrecked towns and lives, through shores of corpses and this hot miserable forest, this: this was shit.

It was their third day in the woods, and Claude didn’t think they’d find anything. They hadn’t seen the Dragon touch down on this island, and he didn’t know why Gus was so certain it had. “These trees are the tallest things I’ve ever seen,” the old scavenger had said, “and these big bastards love to get way up there and retch. We might find two or three Castings” But they hadn’t found one, and Claude was sure they had to be at least to the middle of the island, and he hadn’t seen or heard anything from the Wyrm. He didn’t care how high those trees were, they couldn’t hide that monster. This Dragon was the biggest he’d ever seen, even Gus had been excited about the size of him. “That son of bitch might cough up an Old Coin, or hero’s sword.” He’d laughed. Claude laughed at the hero’s sword, even he knew that was legend, but he’d heard Old Coins had shown up in Dragon Castings. You could buy a whole town with an Old Coin, you could buy a good block of city. Gus said he’d never seen one either. As much as Claude hated the old man, he wasn’t a liar. “What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?” Claude had asked them on one of the few pleasant nights on the boat, a night where the wind was with them and the shoreline they were traveling down was easy to track. The Dragon was leagues ahead of them. They’d gotten a little drunk and smoked some of the weed they’d brought. “Most valuable thing I’ve ever found was a ring, a big ring with a ruby in it the size of a fingernail,” he said, waving his finger at him to emphasize how big a fingernail really is. “But the weirdest thing I ever found was a monkey in a suit of armor.” “What?” yelled Claude. “I found a monkey skeleton in a suit of armor. I swear to Every God,” said Gus sincerely. Claude laughed. He knew you found skeletons sometimes, most times, but he never imagined you’d find a monkey skeleton. “Do you think he was fighting?” Claude wondered out loud, clearly stoned. “No,” Gus laughed this time. “I’m sure some idiot Lord or Captain had a suit of armor made for his pet, or somebody trained one to perform in a show,” he pondered aloud, pretending he hadn’t spent most days of his life since then wondering how that monkey gotten into a suit of armor and then how it had gotten into a Dragon’s belly. Claude hoped he’d see a skeleton. He knew there wasn’t coin in skeletons, but he wanted to see one. He didn’t want to see any meat, but he knew that happened too. The big ruby ring Gus had found was on a hand inside a lobstered gauntlet, a big soft pink hand that had bloated and puffed up and lost most of it’s fingernails Gus had told him. It made Claude sick. It must have been some noble’s expensive armor he figured, which also would have explained the ring. He wondered how good the steel was. He didn’t ask Gus, he knew if Gus wanted Claude to talk he’d ask, otherwise talking was exclusively a means for Gus to tell you things he had already figured out. “A find like that’s not what we’re after though,” Gus went on getting serious. “What we need right now’s a lot of steel. Armor’s fine, but swords are better. Where we’re at, steel’s more expensive than anything, and that big bitch ate the shit out of that last castle.”

Claude hated how people from outside of cities called anywhere with walls a castle. Leago had been a town with a fort in the middle and two dozen knights to protect it. That had been a week ago. Those knights were dead now. Those knights’ armor, and hopefully swords, were resting inside of that Dragons stomach, making it ache and itch until it threw it up a sick twisted mess of steel and bone and that gross thick char. They hadn’t found much armor or anything in the ruins of Leago, just a few cooks and tradesmen packing up to head to the city and a couple of drunk looking women who Claude hoped would go with them, but was sure would disappear into a nearby burner town to get chased or eaten next season, or maybe even later this season. One of the women was pregnant. She had looked at Claude for a long time and cried silently. Her big wet eyes made Claude uncomfortable. They wouldn’t turn away from him.

“What is it we’re looking for?” Claude asked, snapping back to the present. “I told you, a Casting.” Gus answered, cutting right back to his song. It was about boats and leaving your family far behind. The old man always talked about family, which was ridiculous, because he didn’t have any. Claude had two brothers he didn’t talk to. They might be dead. His older brother was at home the last time he’d left, and Claude suspected if he hadn’t died there yet, he would soon. His middle brother had left on a boat a lot like he had, but he left for a war, not a city. He was almost certainly dead now. Claude liked thinking his brother made it, maybe he’d climbed up the ranks of a little mercenary company, or as a soldier in a marching army. He liked the idea of a mercenary more. He could have done well anywhere, his brother was strong and tall, stronger than Claude and Claude was very strong.

“I know it’s a Dragon Cast,” Claude spat, “but what’s it look like?”

“It’s a Casting,” Gus corrected, “Or a stone or a pellet.” He went on. “It’ll look like a big lemon made of coal.” “Yellow?” asked Claude. “No, Black, with specks of green and blue… but mostly black, the char covers everything. You’ll see some blades and armor or other stuff in too. Like sandstone, but much harder and burnt black.”

“How big is it?”

“About the size of a horse cart… hopefully. It might be a couple small ones, but I’m hoping for a big one.”

“If it’s even here.” Claude moped. Something rippled and ran across the top the underbrush then cut deeply into it. A long ratty tail flopped into the air for just a moment before darting under the grass and roots and moss that covered everything.

“It’ll be here.” Gus assured him. “Where else would a he go?”

“Anywhere,” Claude answered. There were more than a dozen tiny islands that Dragon could have gone to. They’d passed a tiny burner town on their way to this island, too small for a name, but not too small for a Dragon to come down and gobble up, snatch fisherman off their boats and gobble up the goats Claude had seen there. It’d crunch up the chicken coop because it smelled like life and burn everything else to ash and ghosts. It could have headed out to deeper ocean or cut back into the mainland. It could do whatever Dragons want to do.

“No, it’ll be here. They like to get up high after a big meal,” Gus said and pointed to the canopy, “that ol’ boy’s up their up right now.” Claude looked up and pulled the sled. Gus lugged the pick ax and the backpack of tools. The old man was thick like a tree stump. They’d left most of the tools on the boat. They couldn’t bring the cart through the brush, and the heavier stuff would have slowed them down. As it was, Gus was still carrying an awful lot of weight. Claude wondered if he could fight the old man. He was taller, and most certainly faster, but the old man was thick with muscle, and he moved like a man who had never been afraid in his life. It’s hard to get old walking like that, Claude thought.

They hadn’t brought much water and no food, luckily Gus had an incredible knack for finding little pools where water gathered, and he knew what plants you could cut and find wet pulpy flesh. Claude’s years as a drunk had inured him to eating garbage, and the bugs here he could grind up and fry so crisp and salty they were even good, but more work than they were worth. He wanted out of the woods.

A short while later when Gus spotted it, the Casting. He pulled the ax from over his shoulder and pointed the head at what looked like a big rock. It was blacker than night. Claude wouldn’t have seen it. It was so dark it hid, it pulled the light around it snug didn’t let go. If you looked at it too long you lost it in your eyes and it ceased to be.

It was big, 6 feet around at the middle, taller than Gus. It had torn limbs and branches down with it as it fell, and it crashed gracelessly in a pile of green and yellow flora. The impact hid some of it, and buried it with the debris. The Casting was covered with divots and bumps. It rippled like fish scales. Parts were smooth like glass, and other’s rough like stone. Claude could see twisted armor and what looked like the bindings of a barrel. Two swords were bent backwards around the Casting along it’s vague roundness. Thousands of shapes ran into each other but became one mass. Claude ran up and touched it. He pulled his hand back. “It’s still hot,” he yelled to Gus. He looked up at the unbroken canopy. Gus lumbered up with the backpack, and the sled Claude had abandoned. “I found one was that was still on fire once,” he said, “it glowed bright green and I had to wait a full day for it to cool down.”

Claude ran his hand along one of the blades he could see. “How come it’s not melted?” asked Claude. “Don’t know,” answered Gus. “Guess it’s not hot enough.” Claude could see few more swords as his eyes scanned it up and down. Everything in the Casting was steel or iron, but he saw burnt lumber and splintered pieces of tools and weapons scattered about, things that must have fallen from the Dragon as well. A charred piece of debris that might have been an oar hung in a tree 100 feet above them. “How’d an oar make it?” Claude asked. I’m sure a Dragon’s gut’s too hot for an oar”. Gus grinned and pulled his tools from the bag. “The stuff in the ball,” Gus said putting his hand on the Casting, “is the stuff they can’t burn up or digest, but they bring it up and flush out all the stuff that gets stuck in their throats.” He poked around. “I usually see a few swords that are melted to the handle, I think those are ones that got stuck in the the throat and not swallowed down, or maybe stuck in their teeth. I don’t where it’s hottest. I hope I never do.” He said smiling, “But I don’t see any here.” He tossed a spike and hammer to Claude. “It’s huge.” Claude said. “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen,” Gus agreed, “see how the swords are bent?” he pointed. “Those are from pushing up through his neck,” Gus said acting out the process. “This one’s big ’cause he’s so big.” Gus pushed grass and a fallen tree limb away from the Casting. “How are we going to move it?” Claude asked. “We can’t,” said Gus, “We’ll have to break it apart and take pieces.” Claude was too excited to even care about having to come back to the woods. He stripped off his shirt and found footing on the big black stone. Gus took a spike and and hammer and drove it near the younger man’s feet. Claude brought down the ax on the spike and took a nick out of the mass. He wedged his pick underneath a bent sword and pulled a blade free. They did this again and again. The young man’s back ached, but he didn’t slow down. They pried pieces loose and estimated their worth.

After an hour of driving in the spikes and chipping away, The steel mass cleaved like a hinge. The Mass stunk. The men went to work on the other side. Claude picked up a piece of the dark char and looked at it. The crust was inches thick between and inside the armor.  “It’s when they eat, they can’t get through all this good iron, but this stuff eats up everything else.”  Gus said pulling out a mace head that had come loose from its handle. “It’ll burn if you get it hot enough.” Gus said, holding up a piece of the black flake. We’ll bring some of this too. It sells for tons in the trade towns.” They pulled out more and more armor and swords and laid them out on the sled. Gus put some of the greasy iron in his back pack and filled the rest with the stone glass. It would be a good haul. Claude looked down at the take. This would bring more coin than Claude had ever had. Claude was rich. He was going to buy all the booze he could when he got back to the city, and a new whore every night. He drove another ax strike in and heard a satisfying clang. Both men’s eyes swelled. “That was a good ting,” Gus smiled. It was rich and strong and the mark of good steel. Gus was whistling. They pried at the Mass. A Knight’s helm was pressed inside the giant stone. It gleamed strong and perfect. It didn’t even dent where Claude had brought down the pick. The men pried it out and Gus held it to the dying light. “This is great” he said, a giant eagle crest was the visor, with its powerful wings stretched backwards majestically, “You could still wear it,” he said, and tossed the helm to Claude.

Claude caught it and opened up the visor. He vomited. He dropped the visor and fell off of the Casting. “Easy kid,” Gus said. “There a skull in there?” he teased, knowing full well there was. Maybe even a head, that Helm was terrifically made. Claude struggle to his feet and retched again. “Oh come on boy,” Gus laughed. The helm had rolled face up and Gus looked down at it. It was a bloated face with one gangrenous eye hanging loose from its socket. Skin had bubbled and flaked off from the lips. Even disfigured and rotted as it was, Gus could see pretty clearly, the face looked just like Claude.

It’s my brother Claude said. They packed up and walked through the woods without talking.

Dragon Castings: First edit.

Posted: December 29, 2014 in Fiction

Claude had been walking for 4 hours without seeing the sun. The canopy of the woods was thick. It was so high above them it seemed to make the sky green, like they lived inside a globe that stretched into the blackness of the universe. He imagined the sun scraped the tops of the trees. He hoped they would catch fire and burn the woods down. He hoped it would topple and crash and kill every stupid bug and crawling thing in this hot sticky Hell. He hoped it would kill Gus too. He hoped flame and ash and cinder from this dark green prism would reign down on Gus’s big fat frame and set the old man alight like a tallow torch. He envisioned the meat and grease sliding off the bones of the old man’s fat face in piles and streaks. He dreamed of Gus’s idiot smile peeking through his flabby cheeks in yellow fire. He hoped his eyes would melt and the the goo would slide down his neck like egg yolks. He could almost hear them pop.

“You thinking of girls are you?” Gus smiled. “You’re smiling like you’re thinking of girls.”

“No,” answered Claude.

Gus was wearing a leather vest over his his white cloth shirt and a river of sweat ran down his ass. Claude had stripped to just a simple shirt and untied the collar. He trudged behind Gus dragging the sled. the sled was big, but not heavy. It was made of the spongy durable wood that grew in their homeland. The boat that had brought them here was made of the same stuff. It had brought them from island to island for the last 3 months, and Claude hoped this would be the last one. The fat old man kept singing his drinking song. Claude looked at the vague warm glow from where the sun must have been overhead, and hoped for a spark. Claude was a long lean youth, or he had been. Right now he rested at that spot between a young man and a full grown man that could take between 6 months and 20 years depending on the man. If Claude had married he’d be a man now, or killed a man he’d be a man now, maybe even if he’d made enough money or slept with enough girls he’d be a man now. But he hadn’t. He hadn’t done anything but drink and gather debt. Through the years he should have been learning a trade or raising a family, he’d drank himself into stupors and lost 3 teeth fighting, now it had come to this, Wyrm Hunting.

Wyrm Hunting? Claude snickered when he thought about it. More like Wyrm Hiding. That’s what the job really was. Trailing dragons and picking shit. Claude’s only action in the 3 months on the boat had been having to take the sails down quickly twice to not gain too much ground on the great flying Wyrm. Gus was a cautious man, not that Claude was complaining, the last thing he wanted was to get close to one of those gargantuan murderers. He saw the ruin they laid to whole towns. They ate up whole riverboats and barnyards. They ground up little kids and warlocks. He never understood the people who lived in these burner towns. The Hill Folk made sense, he even liked the Hill Folk. They lived in caves and in woods like these (with less bugs) where Dragons would couldn’t swoop down and gobble you up too easily. They didn’t have a whole lot, but they didn’t get eaten all the time like these fools. Claude had gone to a Hill Folk village during a full moon, and drank a good deal of very strong wine with some hunters and his friend who was from the Hills, but these burner towns sprung up from nowhere to fish or plant fields or whatever, and then hoped the Dragons wouldn’t come; but the Dragons always come. The only safe places were cities, where enough people together could make enough noise to scare the Dragons away, and with walls and towers and enough bows and slings and scorpions to drive the Dragons back. There, and here; in the Dragon’s wake, sifting through wreckage and picking up shit. He knew it wasn’t shit, but this, trekking through wrecked towns and lives, through shores of corpses and this hot miserable forest, this: this was shit.

It was their third day in the woods, and Claude didn’t think they’d find anything. They hadn’t seen the Dragon touch down on this island, and he didn’t know why Gus was so certain it had. “These trees are the tallest things I’ve ever seen,” the old scavenger had said, “and these big bastards love to get way up there and retch. I’ll bet we find three or four.” But they hadn’t found one, and Claude was sure they had to be at least to the middle of the island, and he hadn’t seen or heard anything from the Wyrm. He didn’t care how high those trees went, they couldn’t hide that monster. This Dragon was the biggest he’d ever seen, granted, he’d only seen three, but this one was bigger than the other two by half, and even Gus had been excited about the size of him. “That son of bitch might cough up an Old Coin, or hero’s sword.” He’d laughed. Claude laughed at the hero’s sword, even he knew that was legend, but he’d heard Old Coins had shown up in Dragon Castings. Gus said he’d never seen one. As much as Claude hated the old man, he wasn’t a liar, and Claude appreciated that. “What’s the best thing you’ve ever found?” Claude had asked them on one of the few pleasant nights on the boat, a night where the wind was with them and the shoreline they were traveling down was easy to track, and the Dragon was leagues ahead of them. They’d gotten a little drunk and smoked some of the weed they’d brought with them. “Most valuable thing I’ve ever found was a ring, a big ring with a ruby in it the size of a fingernail,” he said, waving his finger at him to emphasize just how big a fingernail really is. “But the weirdest thing I ever found was a monkey in a suit of armor.” “What?” yelled Claude. “I found a monkey skeleton in a suit of armor. I swear to Every God,” said Gus sincerely. Claude laughed. He knew you found skeletons sometimes, most times, but he never imagined you’d find a monkey skeleton. “Do you think he was fighting?” Claude wondered out loud, clearly stoned. “No,” Gus laughed this time. “I’m sure some idiot Lord or Captain had a suit of armor made up for his pet,” he giggled, or somebody trained one to perform in a show,” he pondered aloud, pretending he hadn’t spent most days of his life since then wondering how that monkey gotten into a suit of armor and then into a Dragons belly. Claude hoped he’d see a skeleton. He even hoped he would. He knew there wasn’t coin in skeletons, but he wanted to see one. He didn’t want to see any meat, but he knew there was that sometimes too. The big ruby ring Gus had found was on a hand that was still inside a lobstered gauntlet he had told him, a big soft pink hand that had bloated and puffed up and lost most of it’s fingernails. It made Claude sick to think about it. It must have been some noble’s expensive armor he figured, which also would have explained the ring. He didn’t ask Gus, he knew if Gus wanted Claude to talk he’d ask, otherwise talking was exclusively a means for Gus to tell you things he had figured out. “A find like that’s not what we’re after though,” Gus went on getting serious. “What we need right now’s a lot of steel. Armor’s fine, but swords are better. Where we’re at steel’s more expensive than anything, and that big bitch ate the shit out of that last castle.”

That last castle was a week ago, and it had hardly been a castle. Claude hated how people from outside of cities called anywhere with walls a castle. Leago had been a town with a fort in the middle and two dozen knights to protect it. Now dead knights. Now knights who’s armor and hopefully swords were resting inside of that Dragons stomach, making it ache and itch until it threw it up in a sick twisted mess of steel and bone and that gross thick char. They hadn’t found much armor or anything in the ruins of Leago, just a few cooks and tradesmen packing up to head to the city and a couple of drunk looking women who Claude hoped would go with them, but was sure would disappear into a nearby burner town. One of the women was pregnant. She had looked at Claude for a long time and kept crying silently. Her big wet eyes made Claude uncomfortable, and they wouldn’t turn away from him.

“What is it we’re looking for?” Claude asked. “I told you, it’s a Dragon Mass.” Gus answered, cutting right back to his song. It was about boats and leaving your family for behind. The old man always talked about family, which was ridiculous, because he didn’t have any. Claude had two brothers he didn’t talk to. They might be dead. His older brother was still at home the last time he’d left him, and Claude suspected if he hadn’t died there yet, he was bound to soon. His middle brother had left on a boat a lot like he had, but he left for a war, not a city, and he was almost certainly dead now. He liked thinking that maybe his brother had made it, maybe he’d climbed up the ranks of a little mercenary company, or even just as a soldier in some marching army. He didn’t know why, but he liked the idea of a mercenary more. Running away to become a soldier seemed like lost rebellion.

“I know it’s a Dragon Mass, but what’s it look like?” Claude spat. “Like a great big lemon made of coal,” Gus said. “Yellow?” asked Claude. “No, Black, with specks of green and blue sometimes… but mostly black.” “And how big is it?” “About the size of a horse cart… hopefully. It might be a bunch of small ones, but I’m hoping for a big one.” “What? it might not even be here!” Claude screamed and something rippled and ran beneath the underbrush. A long ratty tail flopped into the air for just a moment before darting under the grass and roots and moss that seemed to cover everything. “It’ll be here.” Gus assured him. “Where else would a dragon go?”

Gus was right. They’d seen the ruins of the rivertown, it was most certainly a dragon. No army could have dismantled and burned so much of a place, and kept other parts so unspoiled. Buildings would stand as piles of ash that looked like ghosts right next to ones completely untouched. The ground around the ruins was untouched and showed no trace of the many men it would have taken to bring so much destruction. Claude pulled their sled while Gus lugged the pick ass and the backpack of tools. It was so hot.

It was forty five minutes later when Gus spotted it. He pulled the ax from across his shoulder and pointed the head at what looked like a big rock. It was blacker than night. Claude wouldn’t have seen it. It was so dark it hid. It pulled the light around it snug and it ceased to be.

There it was. It was big. 6 feet around at the middle, with divots and bumps all over. It rippled like sun off of fish scales. Parts were smooth like glass, and other’s rough like stone. Claude ran up and touched it. It was warm to the touch. He looked up to the unbroken canopy and wondered where it could have come from. Claude asked.

“Dragon’s wretch’em up you dummy.” Gus grinned and pulled his tools from the bag. “I mean,” Claude kept looking confusedly towards the sky, “it’s still warm,” he finished. “They’ll stay warm for years.” He said smiling, and tossed a spike and hammer to Claude. “It’s huge.” Claude said and pushed against it. He couldn’t budge it. “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen,” Gus agreed, “but that doesn’t mean anything.” He said pushing the grass and a fallen tree limb off of the Dragon Mass. “How are we going to move it?” Claude asked. “We’ll have to break it apart and take a piece.” Gus said. Claude was too excited about the mass to even care about having to come back to this miserable woods. He stripped off his shirt and climbed on top of the mass. Gus took a spike and and hammer and drove it into the mass near the younger man’s feet. He brought down the ax and took out a nick from the mass. They did this again and again. The young man’s back ached, but he didn’t slow down.

After an hour of driving in the spikes and chipping at the mass, it cracked open with a hiss. The Mass stunk. The men went to work on the other side. The crust of the Mass came off in flakes. Claude picked up a piece of the dark char. It felt smooth like glass but strong like steel. The crust was inches thick, nearly a foot at points. He drove another ax strike in and heard a clang. Both men’s eyes swelled. They pried at the Mass. A Knight’s helm was pressed and dented inside the giant stone like mass. The men pried it out and Gus held it up. “This is great” he said. “It’s still wearable.” He opened up the visor to see a chalk white skull.” “Holy Hell” exclaimed Claude and turned to vomit. “Get over that whelp,” Gus giggled and swung at the Mass with his beefy frame. They chipped through more and more of hot glassy steel. “So this is Dragon shit?” Claude asked. “Don’t you listen to anything I say boy?” Gus asked. “It’s when they eat, they can’t get through all this good iron,” he said, “it all gets smashed down until they barf it up.” “That’s so gross,” said Claude pulling out a mace head that had come loose from its handle. “This stuff will burn if you get it hot enough.” Gus said, holding up a piece of the black flake. We’ll bring some of this too. It sells for tons in the trade towns.” They pulled out more and more armor and swords and laid them out on the sled. Gus put some of the greasy iron in his back pack and filled the rest with the stone glass. They trudged through the woods.

Claude remembered why he’d gotten so angry. He hated those fucking songs.

Dragon Mass

Posted: December 28, 2014 in Fiction

Claude had been walking for 4 hours without seeing the sun. The canopy of the woods was thick and so high above them that he liked to imagine the sun scraped the tops of the trees. He hoped it would catch fire and burn the woods down. He hoped it would kill every stupid bug and crawling thing in this hot sticky woods. He hoped it would kill Gus too. He hoped the fire would reign down on Gus’s big fat frame and set the old man alight like a tallow torch. He hoped the meat and grease would bubble and fall of the old man’s bones in piles and rage. He imagined Gus’s idiot smile engulfed in the yellow orange of fire growing bigger and blacker as it slid out from underneath his bulbous cheeks. He hoped his eyes would melt and the the goo would slide down his greasy neck like egg yolks. He hoped that uneven beard would catch fire first, and he hoped it would hurt.

Gus was wearing a leather vest over his his white cloth shirt and Claude could see sweat literally pouring off his ass. Claude had stripped to just a simple shirt, with was untied around the color. He trudged behind Gus dragging the sled. It was big, but not heavy. It was made of the lighter wood from their homeland. The spongy, durable wood that had brought them across the sea to this sticky forest. The fat old man kept singing his drinking song. Claude looked at the vague warm glow from where the sun must have been overhead, and hoped for a spark. It was their third day in the woods, and he didn’t believe they’d find anything. “What is it we’re looking for?” Claude asked. “I told you, it’s a Dragon Mass.” Gus answered, cutting right back to his song. It was about boats and leaving your family for behind. The old man always talked about family, which was ridiculous, because he didn’t have any. Claude had two brothers he didn’t talk to. They might be dead. His older brother was still at home the last time he’d left him, and Claude suspected if he hadn’t died there yet, he was bound to soon. His middle brother had left on a boat a lot like he had, but he left for a war, not a city, and he was almost certainly dead now. He liked thinking that maybe his brother had made it, maybe he’d climbed up the ranks of a little mercenary company, or even just as a soldier in some marching army. He didn’t know why, but he liked the idea of a mercenary more. Running away to become a soldier seemed like lost rebellion.

“I know it’s a Dragon Mass, but what’s it look like?” Claude spat. “Like a great big lemon made of coal,” Gus said. “Yellow?” asked Claude. “No, Black, with specks of green and blue sometimes… but mostly black.” “And how big is it?” “About the size of a horse cart… hopefully. It might be a bunch of small ones, but I’m hoping for a big one.” “What? it might not even be here!” Claude screamed and something rippled and ran beneath the underbrush. A long ratty tail flopped into the air for just a moment before darting under the grass and roots and moss that seemed to cover everything. “It’ll be here.” Gus assured him. “Where else would a dragon go?”

Gus was right. They’d seen the ruins of the rivertown, it was most certainly a dragon. No army could have dismantled and burned so much of a place, and kept other parts so unspoiled. Buildings would stand as piles of ash that looked like ghosts right next to ones completely untouched. The ground around the ruins was untouched and showed no trace of the many men it would have taken to bring so much destruction. Claude pulled their sled while Gus lugged the pick ass and the backpack of tools. It was so hot.

It was forty five minutes later when Gus spotted it. He pulled the ax from across his shoulder and pointed the head at what looked like a big rock. It was blacker than night. Claude wouldn’t have seen it. It was so dark it hid. It pulled the light around it snug and it ceased to be.

There it was. It was big. 6 feet around at the middle, with divots and bumps all over. It rippled like sun off of fish scales. Parts were smooth like glass, and other’s rough like stone. Claude ran up and touched it. It was warm to the touch. He looked up to the unbroken canopy and wondered where it could have come from. Claude asked.

“Dragon’s wretch’em up you dummy.” Gus grinned and pulled his tools from the bag. “I mean,” Claude kept looking confusedly towards the sky, “it’s still warm,” he finished. “They’ll stay warm for years.” He said smiling, and tossed a spike and hammer to Claude. “It’s huge.” Claude said and pushed against it. He couldn’t budge it. “It’s the biggest one I’ve ever seen,” Gus agreed, “but that doesn’t mean anything.” He said pushing the grass and a fallen tree limb off of the Dragon Mass. “How are we going to move it?” Claude asked. “We’ll have to break it apart and take a piece.” Gus said. Claude was too excited about the mass to even care about having to come back to this miserable woods. He stripped off his shirt and climbed on top of the mass. Gus took a spike and and hammer and drove it into the mass near the younger man’s feet. He brought down the ax and took out a nick from the mass. They did this again and again. The young man’s back ached, but he didn’t slow down.

After an hour of driving in the spikes and chipping at the mass, it cracked open with a hiss. The Mass stunk. The men went to work on the other side. The crust of the Mass came off in flakes. Claude picked up a piece of the dark char. It felt smooth like glass but strong like steel. The crust was inches thick, nearly a foot at points. He drove another ax strike in and heard a clang. Both men’s eyes swelled. They pried at the Mass. A Knight’s helm was pressed and dented inside the giant stone like mass. The men pried it out and Gus held it up. “This is great” he said. “It’s still wearable.” He opened up the visor to see a chalk white skull.” “Holy Hell” exclaimed Claude and turned to vomit. “Get over that whelp,” Gus giggled and swung at the Mass with his beefy frame. They chipped through more and more of hot glassy steel. “So this is Dragon shit?” Claude asked. “Don’t you listen to anything I say boy?” Gus asked. “It’s when they eat, they can’t get through all this good iron,” he said, “it all gets smashed down until they barf it up.” “That’s so gross,” said Claude pulling out a mace head that had come loose from its handle. “This stuff will burn if you get it hot enough.” Gus said, holding up a piece of the black flake. We’ll bring some of this too. It sells for tons in the trade towns.” They pulled out more and more armor and swords and laid them out on the sled. Gus put some of the greasy iron in his back pack and filled the rest with the stone glass. They trudged through the woods.

Claude remembered why he’d gotten so angry. He hated those fucking songs.