“’We can get rid of the pinkys with as little work as possible’,” Addi recalled Nadler’s words from the previous night as he dug into his lumbar region with his fingertips, searching for relief. His back felt brittle like driftwood and every time he bent to pick up another goblin cadaver, it popped and splintered.
“Hmmmm,” Nadler sat cross legged and studied his pinky dictionary.
A splash of dawn spilled from the horizon as the sun stirred. The early morning glow gently lit the rocky porch where Addison Trueheart labored with the dead just outside a collapsed crater in the side of the mountain. After their deadly visit last night, Addi and Nadler argued like siblings amongst the carnage of their peace mission while Ember pried her throwing weapons from the necks of two pinkys. After wiping and stowing the blades in her braided hair, she turned her attention to the treasure trove of human trinkets adorning the pinky corpses. Watching Ember dressed in black and peck at the goblins spurred Addi to action. He couldn’t bury nearly two dozen goblins and had no clue what pinky ritual demanded; but leaving the victims of Krewg’s bomb to rot in the sun and be fed on by vultures was a step too far. In the end, he concluded that burning the bodies would be respectful and still allow them to make it home in time for lunch. Nadler agreed and found a suitable spot to watch his friend work.
“’Don’t worry, Addi! Stick to the plan and nobody will get hurt!’” Addi laid the goblin wearing shaded spectacles in line with the rest of his tribe. The pinky’s little body was still warm as Addi crossed its thin arms atop its chest.
“Did what they say sound more like ‘Ahroohigg’ or ‘Awruhheeeg’? Anyone know? One is formed more in the throat, if it helps,” Nadler asked Ember and Addi but the former ignored him and the latter answered with a look as if Nadler had asked to be teleported home.
“You’re supposed to be the linguist! This whole plan to talk to them was yours!” Addi struggled not to pull out his own hair. His hands were covered in the gore of goblins again and he had learned already how difficult that stuff was to wash out.
“Hmmmm,” Nadler returned to his book. As the apple farmer added another body to the pile, Ember plucked the shaded spectacles off the little one Addi just dropped off.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Addi frowned.
“He doesn’t need them anymore and even mages have to eat,” Ember explained callously. “Tell your friend’s dad to lower his rates and I’ll give them back.”
“My dad’s rates are fair and without compare,” Nadler recited his father’s words without taking his nose from his dictionary.
“That’s because there’s only one room to rent in your entire town!” Ember replied.
“Not my dad’s fault. I don’t know how you pissed off The Dealer but you’re the first of his whores we’ve seen left behind so if you’re not a fan of our town, figure out what you did to him and next time, don’t do that,” Nadler was restocked with top shelf solutions and Ember forgot about her looting for the moment.
“His what?” she asked.
“His whore,” Nadler answered between a flip of pages.
“I’m not a whore,” Ember stated.
“Ok, prostitute. Working woman. Professional pillow-mate. Whatever you prefer. I’m the wrong guy to ask, though. I’ve never needed to pay for attention,” Nadler grinned over the spine of his dictionary just in time to see death approaching. He wondered, as he watched Ember stomp his way and dig in her hair, if the pinkys felt a similar terror when Krewg’s bomb was flying through their front door. Fortunately for Nadler, Addi played his part and rescued the bartender from his own mouth again.
“Hey, ok, ok,” Addi stepped between Nadler and Ember, keeping his eyes on the girl’s hands. The second he saw sparks, Nadler was on his own.
“Say it again!” Ember dared Nadler. “Say it again and I’ll cast a spell that’ll turn your parts inside out!”
“Why are you so mad? Calm down,” Nadler’s suggested from the safety of Addi’s back.
“Say it again! Come on! Do it!” Ember roared from the front.
“You shouldn’t be so sensitive about your work,” Nadler lobbed a final stone.
“Shut up, Nadler!” Addi wheeled on his friend. “Shouldn’t you be figuring out what went wrong here?”
“Looks pretty clear to me,” Nadler shrugged and surveyed a row of dead pinkys.
“You don’t even know what they were screaming at us!” Ember added. “’Chill the frozen one’? Give me a break!”
“So you’re an expert on goblin idioms now? Besides,” Nadler took a deep breath before proceeding. “I’m starting to consider that perhaps in the disorder of the moment, I might have misheard them,” Nadler conceded.
“You think?” Ember feigned surprise.
“I do. I’ve done additional research and I now believe that the goblins were chanting: ‘Grill their toes for fun,’” Nadler presented his revised conclusion.
“What?” Ember and Addi chorused.
“You’re saying these pinkys went crazy and attacked Windy Wood to burn our feet?” Addi asked.
“I think so,” Nadler said with the heavy tone of bad news.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard in my entire life,” Ember stated.
“Oh, that’s right,” Nadler smacked his forehead. “You’re an expert. I already forgot! Tell us, professor: what were they saying?”
“Kill the Chosen One!” a voice squeaked. The trio of bickering humans spun around to locate the falsetto and found a live goblin standing before Addi’s pile of dead pinkys. He wore pants sewn for a toddler and extended his palm to Ember. “Now give me back my sunglasses.”
The pinky drained Nadler’s waterskin with a burp and tossed the empty pouch at the bartender’s feet. Addi, Nadler and Ember observed the resurrected oddity with wonder. The pinky had restored his sunglasses atop his stubby nose and kept a wary eye on the quickly shrinking shade of the mountain outcropping. Only Addi had spoken since the goblin rose from the dead and asked for something to drink and so far, the apple farmer could only repeat the same observation.
“You’re alive,” Addi said for a third time.
“Yes, I am,” the pinky finally replied, “despite your best efforts. But if I had to play dead and listen to another second of your stupidity, I was going to throw myself off the cliff after Gwerk and make it official. Do you have anything to eat?”
“No, sorry,” Addi answered.
“Well, that narrows the dinner choices some,” the pinky stood and stomped his feet on the ground inches away from the bodies of his tribe mates as if performing the opening of a goblin funeral dance.
“How are you speaking?” Ember asked.
“With my mouth,” the pinky answered.
“She means, how did you learn our language?” Nadler elaborated.
“With my brain,” the goblin clarified. “You should give it a try because your pinky-speak sucks.”
“Nuh huh,” Nadler retorted.
The pinky halted his clomping and aimed his ire at Ember. “And you should stick to grave robbery. ‘Turn your parts inside out’? Any mage that’s stubbed her toe on a textbook knows that no spell can directly affect living flesh. It’s one of the First Laws of Magic!”
“Nuh huh,” Ember deflected.
The pinky scoffed and slapped his feet on the ground several times more before plopping back down and adjusting his shades.
“What did you say earlier? About what were your friends chanting,” Addi pressed.
“’Awruuuhigg huc huuuuc.’ ‘Kill the Chosen One.’ And they weren’t my friends,” the pinky answered.
“Who is the ‘chosen one’?” Ember asked.
“Him, of course” the pinky pointed a scrawny finger at Addison Trueheart.
“Him?” Nadler and Ember chorused and eyed Addi with an insulting level of disbelief.
“Him. You,” the pinky confirmed.
“Why?” Addi randomly selected the word from a newborn litter of questions.
“’The Chosen One, the hero who would righteously remove the goblin scourge from the world, was once a humble keeper of the land alongside his father. Both men were large and thick-chested and each had heads of fire though the elder’s hair had been in slow retreat for years’,” the pinky recited The Book from memory and left Addi feeling exposed.
The goblin’s soothsaying was a bucket of ice water poured directly into Addi’s gut. Misfortune had already flipped his humble life upside down but now it wished to cast him in a role for which he never auditioned? Didn’t he get a choice? How could he hope to return to his former life if doing so made him a fugitive from both fate and goblins?
“Wait a minute! I recognize that style. The run on sentences, the overuse of descriptors; that’s a Broxton book!” Nadler posited.
“You guys read Landyn Broxton?” the pinky’s eyes doubled in size and for the first time since his rebirth, he actually looked alive.
“We love Landyn Broxton,” Nadler answered and Addi nodded dumbly.
“Really?” the pinky asked.
“Really,” the pair of fans promised while Ember watched the bizarre interaction and felt the foundations of reality crumble.
“Wow. What a small world,” the pinky said in awe.
“But what book is that? I don’t know that paragraph at all,” Nadler asked.
“It’s from his new novel, ‘The Chosen One,’ “ the pinky revealed.
“You live in a cave and still got a copy before us? How is that possible?” Nadler censed.
“Firstly, I lived in a cave. Past tense. As of last night, I am in between homes due to your unorthodox negotiating methods. Secondly, I own, or I owned, a copy of ‘The Chosen One’ because I paid for it. Yes, even us cave dwellers conduct business with the outside world. It so happens, a salesman traded it to me last month for a fistful of quartz,” the pinky explained and pointed to Nadler. “You should find him if you want to improve your pinky-speak. His goblin is better than my human-speak.”
“Did this salesman have a little moustache and like to laugh at his own jokes?” Addi asked.
“So you’ve met him,” the pinky confirmed and clapped his feet on the ground.
“Addi, The Dealer sold our book to a goblin,” Nadler said the cruel joke aloud but it didn’t burn any less.
“I don’t know any ‘Dealer.’ We call him ‘Huhkweee ke’ or ‘Mr. Moustache.’ And if you’ve actually done business with this man, you’d know he has a strict policy when it comes to reserving his stock without upfront payment,” the pinky lectured.
The impact of the information knocked Addi and Nadler onto their rears. All this time, The Dealer had been giving first rights to his Broxton inventory to a tribe of pinkys. The friends had spent countless evenings in the Kilson Tavern, cursing the stranger who regularly beat them to The Dealer’s bookshelf and guessing what city the super fan must reside in. The idea that their novels were forever entombed in a mountain behind their town confirmed to the pair of friends that the Goddess preferred dark comedy.
“Hello?” Ember needled her companions. “So he got your book, who cares? What about the whole ‘raiding your town’ thing?”
“I didn’t raid your town,” the pinky stated.
“Well, your friends did!” Ember shouted.
“Once again, they weren’t my friends. Why ask questions if you don’t listen?” the pinky said and eyed the edge of sunlight creeping up the mountainside. He scooted further away and stamped his feet when he got to his new spot.
“Fine. Roommates? Roommates. Your roommates attacked their town. Why? Because they think Addi is a ‘chosen one’? What is a ‘chosen one’”? Ember grappled to maintain her sanity.
“Not ‘a chosen one’; ‘THE Chosen One.’ And it is nothing, of course! Just a character in the first book of Broxton’s promising new trilogy,” the pinky explained as a trio of rainbow shelled cockroaches, each larger than Ember’s thumb, scampered out from under the collection of goblin corpses behind him. As quick as a lizard’s tongue, the pinky crunched a fleeing roach under each of his feet and scooped up the third between his thumb and forefinger and squeezed until his food quit kicking.
Ember’s stomach squirmed and the pinky smirked as he saw her nose curl. He took his time with the cockroach and turned it in his grip as if inspecting a rare cut of a gem.
“While I was mastering the path of a polyglot, Gwerk the Burned and his gang of bullies chose other pursuits. When they weren’t farting in my bunk, they were busy cave diving with whichever females were in estrus, if you comprehend what I am describing,” the pinky winked at Ember and popped the roach into his mouth.
“Gross,” Ember scowled.
“Exactly. However, when everyone was in their bunks for the day, who do you think they begged to read them bedtime stories? You guessed it. Well, wouldn’t you know? Those idiots loved Broxton. They were especially crazy for his new novel. So crazy, in fact, that after a single chapter, they spent the next week gossiping about The Chosen One and riling up the whole tribe until Gwerk had everyone terrified of the protagonist in Broxton’s book. Unfortunately for your town, Gwerk and his buddies never asked me to explain the concept of fiction and I would have been wasting my time anyway. Once one of them spotted you working on your farm, The Prophecy was real and action was required to save the future of our children,” the pinky threw his arms wide for dramatic effect.
“I was wrong. That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life,” Ember declared.
The pinky tipped his shades and looked over the dark lenses at Ember. “I didn’t write the story. I’m just telling it.”
The pinky finished his performance by kicking each of his feet into the air. Twin cockroaches flew in arching paths that ended perfectly in the awaiting maw of the goblin. The pinky chewed and smiled at Ember with a collection of spiny legs wedged between his teeth. Ember retched and felt the sting of bile in the back of her throat.
“Ok, I’m done,” she said and landed beside Addi and Nadler.
Addi waited until the pinky had swallowed his dinner before asking: “If you understood us all along, why didn’t you say something at the meeting last night?”
“Were you at the same ‘meeting’ I was?” the pinky raised a naked eyebrow. “Did Gwerk the Burned strike you as someone that values others’ input? Try living in a cave with him your whole life and then get back to me. No. As a general rule, I avoid all interactions with Gwerk and his brainless pals. Now, if I had known you had brought a pyromancer who was set on obliterating my home, maybe I would have interrupted Gwerk. Maybe.”
“Why did you destroy Old Tanner’s Bridge?” Addi arrived at the final question on his list. He asked calmly but Ember caught his tell once again. Where Addi’s arm rested alongside his thigh, his hand tightened until his knuckles looked fit to rip.
“Tanner’s Bridge? Doesn’t ring a bell but again, I didn’t destroy anything. As you can imagine, I was not invited on Gwerk’s crusade. Now, I think I’ve explained enough of your world for you. You shared your water, sure. But you also blew up my cave and killed everyone I’ve ever known so who got the better end of this deal? Who can say? Not me. I’m just a goblin after all,” the pinky stood and immediately walked several steps away from the encroaching sunlight.
The trio of humans groaned all the way to their feet and shook their limbs until the tingling in their extremities ceased. None of them had provisions packed and if they did not hurry back down the trail, their lunchtime meal would become another casualty of their peace mission.
“Do you need help finishing this?” Addi asked the pinky and nodded to the tribe of cadavers.
“No, I think you’ve finished enough,” the pinky answered.
“Yea, well, sorry for blowing up your home,” Addi said and turned with his friends to begin the hike to Windy Wood.
“Don’t worry about it. I hated it here anyway,” the pinky called after the humans and for the second time in their conversation, his voice was utterly free of sarcasm.
When only Addi’s oversized, flaming head was visible over the crest of the trailhead, the apple farmer turned, cupped his hands, and hollered a bonus question: “What’s your name?”
“Komit! And I hope we never meet again!” Komit, the bilingual pinky, squeaked back.
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