It’s not that we don’t have enough time, it’s that we waste most of it. It’s a tragedy to never think of your own death. We need impending doom to know what’s important.
- Excerpt from “The Path of The Longstrider”
20 Minutes Later (Lighthome Time) - Saga - Secret Tavern
The room is hot, and spinning, and full of loud gnomes. My body is trying to tell me something, but I don’t understand. Maybe I should go outside? It’ll be cool, and quiet, and maybe I’ll hear what my body is trying to say.
I stagger into the night. Feel a little better. Spew a couple gallons of schnapps. Feel a lot better. That’s what my body was trying to tell me. That I was dying of alcohol poisoning.
Mystery solved, I decide to stretch my legs. Sober up a bit. Would flying work faster? I know crashing sobers me in a hurry. I keep walking.
Near the ladies loo, I find an elvish arrow. Ominous. Pick it up, sniff it. Sleeping poison. Probably. Maybe. I don’t actually know what sleeping poison smells like. This is one fruity smelling arrow, tho. Better take it to Presto.
I mosey back into the tavern. The party has thinned out. There’s just Presto, Cy, Oak, and a dozen of the oldest gnomes . Mostly longbeards in robes, with a few woodsy looking fellows like Oak or Presto. I don’t see Copycat. That’s not good.
Presto’s engaged in some kind of lightning fast pattycake game next to a pile of loot. I sidle up next to him and whisper his name. He flinches, gets slapped in the face.
He rubs his cheek and looks longingly at the pile of loot. “Dang, I wanted that vest. Good game, Willow.” He turns to me, smiles. “What’s up, Saga?”
I hold up the arrow. “I found this. Is this bad?”
Presto gives it a sniff. Looks around the room. Frowns. “Dammit. Cy! Up lad! Iggy’s got Copycat!”
“What? Fuck.” Cy shambles to his feet. Grabs an old gnome’s head to steady himself. He was drunk twelve hours ago. “And this rescue party was going so well. Do we know a travel spell to Wreckworld?”
“There’s only one spell to Wreckworld.” spits Presto. “You have to sacrifice something you love, and have a symbol blessed by Wrecker.”
“What? Where the fuck are we going to find a symbol blessed by Wrecker?”
Presto pauses. Sets down his beer. Unfinished. Turns to Willow.
Willow sighs. Pulls out a black skymetal sword crowded with gem encrusted runes. Lays it on the table between them. It’s edge glows hot and smokes a little.
“Oh wow.” I'm impressed. “Is that an item blessed Wrecker?”
“No. He’s threatening us.” Presto looks tired. “At least he’s not lying.”
Well, that’s awkward.
Willow shakes his head ruefully. “The sleeping poison was in her drink. There’s no reason for an arrow to be left behind. But Iggy does love his drama.”
Cy looks confused. “What’s going on?”
“They gave Copycat to Wrecker.” says Presto. “They’re not invading the lower realms, they did a deal.”
An already quiet room gets deathly silent.
“You sold our guest?” gasps Oak. “Damn you, Willow. You’ve made oathbreakers of us all.”
“It had to be done.” Willow says sadly. “Her bounty bought us a home on Wreckworld. Thousands of years for our families. No invasion, no fighting, no losing people. She saved us.”
It takes a second for this statement to soak through the alcohol in the room.
“The fuck?” Cy shambles forward on his makeshift cane. “Saved you? You poisoned and sold her!”
“She was a criminal.” growls a grumpy gnome. “We collected her bounty.”
“Fuck you. We’re all criminals on Wreckworld. Your fucking cowardice has made you delusional. Wrecker’s never gonna honor a deal.” Cy straightens, tosses his cane aside. White hot fire forms in his hand. “Give me the symbol.”
A few gnomes edge towards the door, but more stand to square on Cy. Willow shakes his head sadly. “We need it. It’s our future.”
“Wrong answer.” Cy pitches the fireball at Willow, who catches and snuffs it. The gnomes around us growl. Willow ignores it all. He's focused on the beardless old gnome sitting across from him.
At some point, Presto’s battered, scarred, practice sword has been placed opposite Willow’s masterblade. He’s carving another layer of runes on it with slow confident strokes. The woodsy gnomes snarl and morph into giant wolves. Cy glares hate and growls out purple smog. The beardy gnomes pull out smoking wands. The bar gets thick with swirling clouds of bees.
Dang. This is gonna get ugly. And I almost died when this crowd was happy drunk.
Willow keeps his eyes locked on Presto. “Peace, Longstrider. We need this. Don’t go back to your old ways.”
Presto continues his rune carving with serious, deliberate, strokes. “Trust me, Willow. I’m more new me than I’ve ever been.”
The table’s kicked aside and they clash in a burst of sparks and smoke. Blades twirling and striking faster than my eyes can follow. Two master swordsmen meeting on a field of desperation, betrayal, liquor, and old grudges.
A dire wolf snaps at Presto’s back, but gets kicked into a U-shape by Cyan. Fire bolts shoot wild as gnomish wizards get swarmed by bees. Another wolf flies by. Wow. Cy can sure handle giant wolves. He goes down under four snarling brutes. Maybe not.
“Should I sing my song of peace?”
“No.” Cyan grabs a wolf by the skull and beats the others with it. “Watch for Oak. Take him out if you can.”
“Right.” I peer through the smoke, smog, and sparks. Find Oak. Yeah, I can take him out. I scoot over and scoop up his wee crying body. Carry him out of the tavern. He weeps into my shoulder. Poor guy. It’s tough when family fights.
We aren’t the only ones to leave the bar. Wizards scamper out under mantles of bees. Flaming wolves burst through walls on flat trajectories. The Great Tree feels like it’s rising and rising. My ears ache like I flew too high. No, we’re not moving, it’s just the air getting thin.
It’s cold and hard to breathe. Dark clouds form, squeezed from the thinning atmosphere. Uh-oh. I crouch down, shield Oak with my metallic wings. Wish they weren’t so metallic.
A massive bolt of lightning craters the bar. The mighty bough supporting the gnomic village cracks, twists, and shrieks. Jeepers. I’m pretty boozed up, but I don’t think this branch is level anymore. The Great Tree groans and shifts as the air pressure evens out and wind whips around us. I stagger over to the smoldering hole that was the tavern.
I see Cy in there, kicking through the rubble. Last man standing. Eventually he grunts, and fishes Presto out of a pile of smoking wreckage. “That was sloppy. You really have forgotten how to call the lightning.”
“It’s coming back to me.” Presto flips a wrought iron glyph to Cyan. “Bless you.”
Cyan looks at it. At the ruined village. “I guess the sacrifice has been made. Shall we?”
Presto's looking at me. He’s worried. “This spell may leave you behind. I don’t want to abandon you.”
“You’re not abandoning me. I actually live around here.”
“Oh yeah. Right.”
I pull him in for an intense head hug. “Go. Free Copycat. I’ll help fix this mess.”
Presto presses his forehead to mine. “Thank you.”
We disengage. Cy and Presto each grab hold of Wrecker’s symbol.