The Tales of Quirkheart & Gotthold: The Longest Night ~~ Duskwood Chapter Five

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After speaking with Clerk Daltry, Quirkheart and Gotthold face the challenge of recovering the documents needed to solve the mystery of Stalvan Mistmantle. It’s a long shot, but the only one they have. 

~~~~

“Now,” Gotthold said, scanning the immediate area as they left the town hall, “we just need to get out of town before Ebonlocke gets nosy.”

“It’s my job to be nosy,” a familiar voice said.

To Gotthold’s credit, he barely flinched when she spoke, though his eyes did go a bit wide for a moment.

“Friend Gotthold, now would be a perfect opportunity to inquire about the perceived flavor of the Commander’s pants,” Quirkheart stage-whispered. “As stated before, none of my research into human clothing indicates what flavor designation they would have and whether that flavor would be sour.”

There was a surprised spluttering from the Commander as she stepped out from the shadows. She’d been in the corner where the stairs met the town hall entrance, instead of at the bottom of the stairs where she normally stood.

Gotthold turned a shade of crimson darker than even the scales of the dragons from the red dragonflight, and tilted his head back beseechingly at the sky.

Why me? he asked mournfully.

“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Commander Ebonlocke said firmly.

Gotthold looked down at her from his perch at the top of the stairs, and grimaced when he was confronted with her scowl. Her name was an apt description of her hair, dark, with the long locks parted down the middle. And just like most of the sunshine-deprived of the area, her skin was ghostly.

“Now, what business did you have in the town hall, outsider?” she asked, one hand steady on her weapon, while her other hand was in a fist and planted on her hip. Her shuttered lantern was on the ground nearby, flame snuffed out.

“Just chatting with your clerk about local history. Fascinating stuff, really,” he said, trying to be as vaguely truthful as possible.

Her scowl deepened, and her lips pursed.

“Once again, based on my study of human facial expressions, I would say she does not believe you, friend Gotthold,” Quirkheart said, her head tilting to look up at him.

“Yes, friend Gotthold, it would indeed appear that she doesn’t believe you,” Ebonlocke mocked.

The only reason Gotthold remained friendly (ish), was that her tone was aimed more at him than Quirkheart.

“You caught me. You were nowhere to be found, and we were looking for another job.”

It was still a sort-of truth, but the way Ebonlocke’s jaw tightened said she wasn’t buying what he was selling. Then her eyes landed on something beyond Quirkheart and Gotthold.

“Detlev!” she shouted.

When Gotthold followed her line of sight, it landed on the man they’d had the chat with in the tavern. The one with the ogre’s face.

“Yeah?” he answered, stopping so suddenly his buddies ran into his back.

“It’s, ‘yes, ma’am,’ to you, Detlev,” she corrected him. It sounded more rote than anything else, as though this were expected as opposed to something she truly cared about. “These two are looking for something to do. I received a report about some worgen menacing travelers near the Rotting Orchard, and Calor has been knocking down my door to get someone out there to do something about it. Take our fine adventurers from Stormwind out there, and see if they can make themselves useful,” she finished, then grabbed her lantern and walked away.

“What? No! I–” Detlev tried to say, and held out a hand as though to stop her.

Ebonlocke didn’t even break her stride, and disappeared into the gloom behind the nearest house.

When Gotthold looked back at the man, his hands were in fists at his side, and he was glaring daggers at the pair.

“Well–” Gotthold started.

“Not a word from either of you,” Detlev said, stabbing a finger at each of them. “Get your mounts and meet me at the south road out of town.” With that, he left his two very drunk friends leaning on one another as he headed for the stables.

“Well, this is a fine kettle she’s gotten us into,” Gotthold grumbled. “The only good thing about this mess is we needed to go there, anyway. She could have just given us directions.”

Quirkheart looked at the ground, then back at Gotthold. “We are not in a kettle, friend Gotthold. We are standing on the stairs of the town hall.”

“It means we’ve been put into a dilemma, Quirk,” he explained as they made their way down the stairs, then past the drunk, still immobilized pair.

“Ah, yes, friend Gotthold. That would appear to be correct. We will need to accomplish both tasks set before us. How do you propose we search for the documents without arousing suspicion?”

“We’ll need a distraction,” Gotthold said as they made their way to the stables. Then, a really awful, wickedly perfect idea came to mind as the wooden structure came into sight. “What’s that thing you’ve been researching recently?”

The blue glow of Quirkheart’s eyes brightened. “You mean the capability of sentient creatures to augment power through emotion, and what role it plays in–”

“Yes,” Gotthold interrupted her before she could continue, “that’ll do. I want you to enlighten our companion on that research and anything else you can think of.”

Any kind of non-stop chatter would likely do, but when Quirkheart started throwing big words into the mix, the effect would be too great to overcome.

“Of course! However, what will we do to distract him?” she asked, her head tilting quizzically, then there was a whirring sound. “Oh, I perceive your intention, friend Gotthold. It is rare for a layperson to fully grasp such concepts, and it will be a sufficient distraction while you search for the documents.”

“Exactly, my friend. A perfect plan, and the perfect person to execute it,” he said, then bent down to pat her shoulder.

He could have sworn he’d seen her blush, but in the perpetual darkness it was difficult to tell.

The Tales of Quirkheart & Gotthold: The Longest Night ~~ Duskwood Chapter Four

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Upon investigating talk of a man disturbing the townsfolk, our pair meet Tobias Mistmantle, who is searching for his missing brother. Thinking they can kill two gulls with one shot–helping the man find his brother, and seeing him off for the townsfolk once they do–Gotthold agrees to help. Now they just need to figure out what happened to his brother without being kicked out of the town themselves.

~~~~

“Where do you think we start our search?” Gotthold asked, as the town came back into view.

“It is my understanding that records are kept in libraries or clerk offices, friend Gotthold,” Quirk said. Despite her much shorter stature, the mechanical nature of her legs let her keep up with Gotthold’s longer stride with ease.

Gotthold responded with a rumbling hmm, as he rubbed  a thumb along his jaw in thought. “I don’ think this place has a library or clerk’s office–it’s not big enough.”

“Then the closest approximation would be the town hall.”

He snapped his fingers and grinned. “Good thinkin’, Quirk. Now we just gotta make sure that Ebonlocke don’t catch wind of what we’re doin’.”

“Why would that matter, friend Gotthold? We are attempting to help a citizen, perhaps even two.”

He grunted and shook his head. “Look, these people got the feel o’ Drustvar about them, and that makes them mighty superstitious. If their anchors are twisted in a knot over this Stalvan guy, chances are they won’t wanna talk about him, for fear of bringing something bad down on their heads.”

“That behavior is illogical, and unhelpful,” Quirk observed.

“That’s just people for you.”

“What does this have to do with Commander Althea Ebonlocke?”

“Well, I don’t fancy she’ll want us pokin’ our noses in this business. It makes people mighty angry, scared, or both. When it comes to her, my money’s gonna be on angry if she finds out about this.”

“It has been my observation that sentient beings, who exhibit such emotions in the face of their illogical behavior, are likely to be both angry and scared, rather than one or the other,” she said, her softly glowing eyes illuminating the darkness in front of her.

“Aye, you’re not wrong. Anger like this stems from fear, but I still don’t want to cross the commander,” Gotthold said. ‘Or say anythin’ like that to her face,‘ he thought with a grimace. People aren’t made commanders in forlorn places like this without knowing their way around a fight, and the commander’s blade looked sharper than her tongue.

As they made their way back into town, Gotthold kept his one good eye on the lookout for the commander, but she didn’t appear to be in the square right at that moment. When they made it past the fountain and into the entrance of the town hall with neither hide nor hair of Ebonlocke showing up, Gotthold breathed a sigh of relief.

“Perhaps this human with the unkempt mustache and tube brush eyebrows can tell us what we need to know, friend Gotthold,” Quirk offered.

“I beg your pardon?” Tube Brush asked.

Quirk’s description was, as usual, incredibly accurate. It was why he never asked her what she saw when she looked at him. He wasn’t a vain man by any stretch, but her observations could be brutal at times, even for him.

“And our pardon you have,” Gotthold said, ignoring the man’s affronted expression. “We’ve come here on business, and were wondering if you might know where we could get our hands on some local records.”

The man sniffed, and lifted his nose in the air to look down it. “I am Clerk Daltry, and any information you might seek would come through me.”

Gotthold suppressed a groan and the desire to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Of course you are! You’re clearly a man of prominence, which was why thought it best to speak with you about the matter,” he said, trying to recover the ground they’d lost with Quirk’s comment.

Clerk Daltry’s watery blue eyes narrowed. “Is that so? You wouldn’t say it’s because I’m the first person you came across once you entered the town hall?”

“Ah…” Gotthold fumbled. He wasn’t a smooth talker, but even for him this was awkward.

“Clerk Daltry,” Quirk said, thankfully addressing the man by his name this time, “we come here seeking information on one Stalvan Mistmantle. Any help or documents you are able to provide will be conducive to our search.”

Fear flashed through Daltry’s eyes. He took a small, involuntary step backward, and brought the ledger he was holding up to his chest, as though to hide behind the blue, leather-bound book.

“You want to know about Stalvan?” he asked, his voice strained.

“Aye. His brother asked us to help track him down, and we decided to help, if for no other reason than to get an answer and get him out of everyone’s hair.” That wasn’t the real reason, of course, or at least not the main one. If they were going to spend a substantial amount of time here, getting in good with the locals was never a bad thing. What he said didn’t have to be completely true, just not a complete lie.

Daltry lowered the ledger and glanced between the two of them. “You’re not the first, you know–outsiders looking to help, that is.” Then he sighed, and looked around his small space, occupied by more barrels and pots than books. “Even if I wanted to help, you’re out of luck. Worgen broke into the town hall the other night, tore the place to shreds, and stole most of my archives!” There was outrage there, tempered by sadness. This was a man who liked what he did, and in his eyes monsters had taken that away.

“Oh!” Quirk said, her exclamation as close to excitement as she got. “We recently returned from helping disperse the worgen of Brightwood, and I discovered these documents while we were there. I thought they might be important,” she said, digging in her pack.

Gotthold had to suppress another groan. “Quirk, you think everything you find while we’re out is important. If you weren’t a mechagnome, you wouldn’t be able to haul that pack around without tipping over.”

“Was I not correct in my assumption, friend Gotthold?”

Despite how innocent the question sounded, there was an undertow of gloat there ready to drag him under, so he just glowered at his companion.

“By the Light! You were able to return from confronting those monsters? I must admit I’m shocked,” he said, gingerly taking the papers from Quirkheart. They were a little worse for wear, but the sheen in Daltry’s eyes proved that didn’t matter to the clerk. “Thank you for returning this to the archives.”

“Your thanks are not necessary. Will these tell us what we need to know about Stalvan?” she asked.

Daltry hesitated, then leafed through the pages. “Not completely.” He looked back up, then between them. “If the two of you are that serious about this, I’ll help you.”

“Sounds good. What else do you need?” Gotthold asked.

“The beasts gather in another place–the Rotting Orchard.”

“Sounds delightful,” Gotthold said sourly.

“Indeed. The other documents I need might be there, if they haven’t eaten them, or what have you,” Daltry said distastefully. “Find those, and I just might be able to give you the information you need.”

Gotthold nodded. “We’ve got a plan, then. We’ll be back with your documents, Daltry. Let’s go, Quirk.”

“I wouldn’t lay any wagers on the success of this,” Daltry said.

Gotthold just laughed, and clapped him on the shoulder, making the clerk stagger. “You Duskwood folks keep sayin’ that, and we’re gonna keep provin’ you wrong.”

With that, the two of them left the town hall.

~~~~

The Tales of Quirkheart & Gotthold: The Longest Night ~~ Duskwood Chapter Three

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After completing the tasks set by the townspeople, Quirkheart and Gotthold retire to the local tavern for a well-deserved rest. However, Gotthold’s unease lurks in the back of his mind. The more time the pair linger in this town full of whispers, secrets, and dark glances, the more Gotthold is determined to get to the bottom of what’s haunting Darkshire.

~~~~

“These wolf kebabs aren’t half bad,” Gotthold said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Though, I don’t think I care for Duskwood spider any more than I do Drustvar spider.”

The Scarlet Raven Tavern wasn’t terribly lively, but given the state of the area, Gotthold hadn’t expected it to mirror the bustling establishments of Stormwind. Still, the food was hot, the moonshine had a decent kick, and the roaring fire drove away the air’s perpetual chill.

“They are not as satisfying as Mecha-Bytes, but they are sufficient for keeping one’s energy levels within acceptable parameters,” Quirkheart said in pseudo-agreement.

When the food was brought to them, she’d pulled a canister from her pack and sprinkled something that looked suspiciously like rust flakes onto the meat. Gotthold had seen what passed for ‘food’ on the floating isle of junk, and it wasn’t anything fit for consumption by anyone but the mechagnomes and their ilk. Instead of commenting on Quirk’s opinion about the food, he raised his empty bottle toward the barkeep, asking for another. The barkeep nodded, and Gotthold turned his attention back to his food.

“–stirring up trouble again. I wish he’d just leave,” grumbled a patron behind Gotthold.

He slowed his chewing and stilled his movements. His mother had taught him eavesdropping was impolite, but his nan said that’s only the case if you’re caught.

“Have you said anything?”

“No! Of course not.”

“You’d think he’d get the message by now. Hasn’t that family caused enough pain?”

At that point, the tavernkeep walked up to their table, and put a new bottle of moonshine on the table.

“Everything turn out okay?” Tavernkeep Smitts asked, removing the empty bottle. The man was stiff as clothing covered in seawater and left to dry in the sun, and his expression was pinched.

“Aye,” Gotthold said, a pleased smile cracking his craggy features. “Best wolf I’ve had in ages, and the moonshine is almost as good as the brews back home.”

The tavernkeep’s shoulders relaxed, and a wan smile graced his face. “Well, it’s hard to compete with someone’s homeland, but I’ll pass the compliments along.”

“Thank’ee,” Gotthold said, picking up the new bottle and giving the man a nod.

Once he’d walked away, Gotthold stood up.

“Is it time to leave, friend Gotthold?” Quirkheart asked, looking up from her meticulously clean plate.

“Not quite yet, Quirk — I need to check on something,” he said, and headed over to a table with three men hunched over their plates.

They looked up at Gotthold’s approach, their eyes narrowing and mouths flattening to thin lines.

“Hello, gents. Fancy a chat?” he asked, waving the moonshine bottle at them, and laying on his thickest Kul Tiran charm.

The biggest one of the lot, who was furthest away, with a face ugly enough to scare an ogre, said; “No.” His tone was deader than his dark eyes, and almost as menacing as the hams the man had for hands.

“Now hold on a minute, Detlev,” the fidgety man closest to Gotthold said. His bloodshot eyes were darting between the bottle of moonshine and the man–Detlev. “There’s no harm in chatting.” The man already reeked of liquor, and his words held a slurred edge.

Gotthold would need to tread carefully here. It didn’t take much to incite restless and dissatisfied townsfolk toward reckless action, and he didn’t want to start any fires he couldn’t put out.

Keep ’em in hand, Got, or you’ll be drownin’ in fists and blood. The words of his old mentor echoed through his mind, from one of their many tavern trips in his younger days.

“Of course there’s no harm!” Gotthold said, clapping the man on the shoulder.

The fidgety man wheezed in response, his eyes widening just a hair at slight show of strength.

“I just couldn’t help but overhear your conversation, and thought my companion and I could be of some help,” Gotthold said, and put the bottle firmly down on the table.

The fidgety man, and the other who’d been quiet during the whole ordeal, both looked to Detlev. If looks could kill, Gotthold would be as skewered as those wolf kebabs, but Detlev must have seen something in his companion’s expressions, because he waved a hand for Gotthold to sit.

“Thank’ee. Now, who’s this person who’s causing problems?”

~~

The cabin in front of them was a shabby, one-room affair on the outskirts of town, not far from the gryphon roosts. As the two approached the front door, there was movement inside–a steady thunk of boots, moving back and forth in the small space.

When Quirkheart knocked on the door, the steps stopped, and there was a long moment before a man opened it. He was handsome enough, with blond locks and blue eyes, but his face was lined with worry, aging him beyond his years.

“Yes? What do you want?”

“Name’s Gotthold, and this here’s Quirkheart,” he said, jerking a thumb toward Quirk, who waved. “And we heard you was causin’ a spot of bother for the townsfolk.”

The man’s expression immediately turned to fury, setting off a spark of life in his eyes that wasn’t there before.

“I have done no such thing! They refuse to tell me anything about my brother, and I’m just trying to find out what happened to him,” he shouted at Gotthold. By the end, his chest was heaving, and he’d taken a step toward Gotthold without realizing it.

Gotthold kept his expression calm, and he could tell the moment the man realized he was nearly close enough to bump…well, not chests. Gotthold was getting a bit round in the middle these days, but the principle was the same. The man’s eyes widened, and he took a step back, covering his face with his hands.

“I’m at my wits end here,” he said, shoulder shaking. “I received this letter from my brother, and when I showed up, the townsfolk told me he was dead, but refuse to say anything else on the matter.”

Gotthold’s heart twisted. He wasn’t sure there’d be a town left standing if he’d been treated the same in regards to his sister.

“The people of this town would very much like you to vacate the premises,” Quirkheart stated, when Gotthold said nothing. “How can we bring this situation to a peaceful conclusion?”

The man looked up from his hands, face wet with tears, and sighed. “I will not leave until they tell me my brother’s fate, and they refuse to do so. Perhaps the two of you could be mediators and look into this? I’ll be more than happy to get out of everyone’s hair once I know the truth.”

Quirkheart and Gotthold shared a look, then both of them nodded.

“Aye, we can do that. What are your names, by the way? They refused to tell us.”

The man scowled once again, but said; “I’m Tobias Mistmantle, and my brother is Stalvan. They act as though speaking my name or my brother’s is some kind of curse.” At that, he cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders. “Thank you, by the way. It’s been a while since anyone has spoken to me with any kindness.”

“Bein’ kind costs you nothing in the long run. There’s always room for mean later,” Gotthold said with a grin.

The man managed to crack a small smile in return. “Too true.”

“Should we depart, friend Gotthold?” Quirkheart asked, heading toward the door before he could respond.

Instead of answering, Gotthold waved to the man and followed Quirk outside. Once they were out of earshot from the cabin, Gotthold shook his head.

“He spoke of a curse, and I can’t say I disagree. This whole town’s got a bodement hanging over it, mark my works,” Gotthold said, then spat on the ground and made an X across his heart.

“Do you have data to support your hypothesis, friend Gotthold?” Quirkheart asked.

“Of course not, Quirk,” he said, rolling his eyes. “It’s just a gut feeling.”

“Then there is nothing to substantiate this ‘bodement’ you speak of. It is likely just the lack of sunlight I mentioned earlier effecting your brain chemistry. We should focus on gathering all information related to one Stalvan Mistmantle, so that we may assist the townspeople and the outraged crying man in the most efficient manner possible,” she said.

Gotthold just sighed and said; “As you say, Quirk.”

~~~~

The Tales of Quirkheart & Gotthold: The Longest Night ~~ Duskwood Chapter Two

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Having arrived in Darkshire, Quirkheart and Gotthold were quickly put to work by the townspeople and local militia known as the Night Watch. However, Gotthold is unsettled by more than just the endless night, as whispers of heresy and evil ring in his mind as they head out to complete their tasks.

~~~~

“There seem to be a substantial number, friend Gotthold. However, they are spaced out in such a way, combined with the low visibility, that we may efficiently cull their pack,” Quirkheart observed.

They hadn’t gone far from the town before encountering the Nightbane worgen. In fact, all they’d had to do was crest the hill to the west before finding them. Gotthold had gone into a prone position, and waited for Quirkheart–who didn’t really need to crouch–to use her mechanized-enhanced sight to scan the area.

“It still don’t sit well, this killing worgen,” Gotthold grumbled.

“Do you wish to enter into a discourse with them, friend Gotthold?” she asked, facing him.

Her mechanized goggles glowed a cold blue, and the soft whirring of her arms and legs was barely discernible over the wind rustling the leaves overhead. Her armor and tabard were cut to keep from interfering with the gears that powered her every action, and she was always moving in some form or fashion. Despite her analytical nature, though, it was the slight head tilt along with the question that proved, deep down, mechagnomes still harbored echoes of their gnomanity.

He turned from Quirkheart to scowl at the worgen down the hill. He wasn’t big on moral quandaries, in engaging in them, or thinking about them. Yet, here they were.

“Maybe, but we should be–”

There was a soft whoomph of sound, followed on its heels by a much louder thud, as Quirkheart leapt right into the camp of the two worgen below them.

Gotthold’s eyes widened. The worgens yelped and snarled in shock at the sudden intrusion, and they scrambled backwards to get away from the tiny creature who stood before them. One of them barely missed singing themselves on the campfire, dancing away from the flames just in time.

“Greetings, worgen of the Nightbane pack, I am–”

Two things happened at once: one of the worgens rushed forward, claws raised in the air to slash downward at Quirkheart, and Gotthold, who had charged down the hill not long after Quirkheart, intercepted the blow with his axe.

The worgen yowled in pain and staggered back, clutching the remains of its bloody paw. After that, things turned from bad to worse for the surprised campers. By the end of the encounter, there were two dead worgen, and Gotthold was swearing between strained breaths.

“I hate running,” he groaned, sitting down heavily on a log not far from the camp. The handles of his two, two-handed axes weren’t far from his reach, and he kept one wary eye open as he drank from his water skin, just in case more showed up.

“You have not been following the exercise regime I created for you, friend Gotthold,” Quirkheart observed, standing at an angle from him, her back to the hill they descended. She scanned the night around them, not looking at him as she spoke, and certainly not out of breath with nary a hair out of place. While her words were nothing more than observation, Gotthold could almost detect a slight air of accusation in them.

“I’m too old to spend my days runnin’ around in circles that go nowhere, for no better reason than the pleasure of bein’ prepared to follow your fool-lead into battle. Why’d you do that?” he asked, his annoyance getting the better of him.

“You said you wished to enter a discourse with them–”

“I said ‘maybe’,” he interrupted her, “and if you’d have let me finish, I would have suggested a more cautious approach than leaping into their midst and scaring the fur from their hides.”

Quirkheart turned her attention to the corpses of the worgen. “Their fur is intact, friend Gotthold.”

Gotthold put his elbows on his knees, and his face in his hands, while muttering; “Tides give me strength.” Then he sighed, and stood from the log. “Either way, I think we can safely say these worgen are not from the same stock as King Greymane’s people.”

“Yes. They do not appear to have been cured of their mindless state,” she agreed. “Does this mean we will do what the man with impressive sideburns has asked of us?”

Gotthold scanned the darkness around them, his thoughts still not settled about the men who spoke of heresy and claimed righteous justification for their actions.

“Yeah, but I want you to keep a weather eye on, and a keen ear out for anything shady,” he said, and picked up his axes.

“Based on data collected before our arrival, the weather patterns in the area remain unchanged–”

“Nevermind, Quirk. Let’s just watch each other’s backs, eh?”

“From my limited understanding of human colloquialism, you want us to make sure that nothing unfortunate happens to each other, correct?”

Gotthold couldn’t resist a small smile. “Aye, Quirk–that’s what I meant.”

“Then we will do so, friend Gotthold.”

“That’s the spirit. Now, let’s get this over with. Those wolf kebabs won’t make themselves.”

“Of course not, friend Gotthold. Food requires at least some level of–”

Gotthold turned from the camp and headed deeper into the grove, with Quirkheart and her chatter trailing not far behind him.

 

The Tales of Quirkheart & Gotthold: The Longest Night ~~ Duskwood Chapter One

The woods are gloomy, dark, and dead, and our intrepid adventurers, Quirkheart and Gotthold, have finally arrived in Darkshire. Soon, they’ll find that not all is as it appears in this cursed land, and if they wish to see daylight again, they’ll need to keep their wits and weapons about them.

 

~~~~

“I don’t know, Quirk–somethin’s a bit dodgy ’bout these Duskwood folks,” Gotthold observed.

He’d stationed himself not far from the fountain in Darkshire’s town square, watching passerby. Everyone went about their business with a wire-tight wariness in their posture, and their eyes moved with a constant sense of vigilance bordering on paranoia. When their gaze landed on Gotthold–who was clearly not from around these parts–the skin around their eyes tightened, and more grim frowns than grimaced smiles greeted him.

“The term ‘dodgy’ is not quantifiable, friend Gotthold. Though evidence has proven that a lack of sufficient sunlight can negatively impact the moods of sentient beings. Perhaps these fine citizens merely need more sun,” she informed him.

Gotthold did his best not to bury his scarred face into his calloused palm. “Quanti-whatever, or not, this place gives me the same willies Drustvar does. What did that Commander want us to do? I want to get the job done and be gone before this gloom sinks into my bones.”

Quirkheart had moved about the shabby town, seeing what was to be done. They’d been sent to Duskwood from Stormwind, though the call board had been rather thin on the details. When they’d arrived, they found a land and people shrouded in eerie darkness, roads patrolled by people bearing torches and swords, and dilapidated buildings surrounded by dead countryside. It was a wonder anyone lived here, and subsequently it wasn’t a wonder that ‘thriving’ wasn’t in their vocabulary.

“Gloom has no capability to–”

“Quirk,” Gotthold said, stopping her before she could get much further.

“Yes, friend Gotthold?”

“What did the Commander want?”

“The Commander has tasked us with culling the Dire Wolf population surrounding the town. The death of at least twelve wolves has been requested. However, given my research of human facial expressions and speech patterns, I would calculate that Commander Ebonlocke has determined our success rate will be below a preferable percentage.”

Gotthold grunted. “She don’t know us then, do she? Wolves should be easy enough. Anythin’ else?”

“The man with black sideburns that are at least thirty-seven percent thicker than the average human male has expressed his concern over the efficacy of a group known as The Night Watch.”

“You mean the group led by Commander Sourpants? Why?”

“I cannot confirm whether or not Commander Ebonlocke’s pants can be designated as tasting sour. None of my research into human clothing–”

“Quirk,” Gotthold said. “Why does the man with impressive sideburns have concerns about the Night Watch?”

“Rationale unclear. He spoke of the expulsion of evil and heresy to keep the citizens safe, and that if we wished to assist him and one called Master Carevin, we must prove ourselves worthy.”

“Sounds like the hogwash some of the crazy tidesages spout off about,” Gotthold spat. There’d been a rare few tidesages Gotthold had gotten along with over his long life, and when people with power like that started talking heresy, people tended to start swinging in gallows.

Before Quirkheart could ask about why tidesages would be talking about the water pigs were washed with, he stood up straight from where he’d been leaning on the corner of the smithy, and said; “What do we have to do to prove ourselves worthy?”

“Kill Nightbane worgen, with the death of at least seven being sufficient.”

Gotthold frowned. “He say why these worgen deserve to be killed?”

Wolves was one thing, but worgen were allies of the alliance. Gotthold wasn’t sure he wanted to start off his journey of the Eastern Kingdoms in the Stormwind Stockades, all because some crazy, backwoods fanatic asked him to kill King Greymane’s subjects.

“He stated they were ‘monsters’. It is my understanding that some of the worgen never regained their sanity. Perhaps these worgen are some of those?” Quirkheart suggested.

“Mayhaps,” Gotthold said, still wary. “We’ll take a look-see for ourselves and decide what to do when we come across them. Is that all?”

“The cook at the inn has also offered us food, and the recipes of local delicacies, in exchange for a harvest of wolf and spider meat.”

Gotthold’s ears perked up at the mention of food. You didn’t get to be his size without harboring an appreciation for good cooking, and though spider wasn’t his first choice, the wolf recipe sounded promising.

“We’ll already be killin’ the wolves, and we’ll keep an eye out for the spiders. You ready to head out?” he asked.

“Yes, friend Gotthold–I am ready.”

“Then let’s be off.”

~~~~

Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) with Ashton & Darby ~~ May & June 2020

April < — ||

 

May 1st
Prompt: Ragpicker

“Us pixies gotta make do with #ragpicking and ratting,” she spat.

“That’s why you took the gnome?” Ashton asked.

“He was trespassing!”

“If they promise to stop, will you agree to release him?” Darby asked.

“Mostly. He may have lost a finger, or two, along the way.”

May 2nd
Prompt: Rainwater

“The water spirits are fighting,” Darby said.

“Happens with the #rainwater floods, when they get washed into each other,” Ashton said.

“They could try to get on.”

“Your home is flooded and you have to bunk with your territorial neighbors, how well would you react?”

“Fair point.”

May 3rd
Prompt: Baked

“Evanora #baked for you again,” Ashton said.

“We might be partners, but that doesn’t give you the right to open my post,” Darby grumbled.

“When are you going on a date with the witch?”

“Or know everything about my personal life.”

“Fine, but you’re sharing the scones.”

May 4th
Prompt: Bathos

“I thought you’d like this writer,” Ashton said.

“Their portrayal of the supernatural is pure #bathos,” Darby said.

“I have no idea what that means, but it sounds terrible.”

“You’d think a vampire would do better.”

“Might be pandering to the humans.”

“Even worse.”

May 5th
Prompt: Argle-Bargle

“Don’t start that #argle-bargle again!” the woman said.

“What are they arguing about?” Ashton asked.

“A woman.”

“Why did you call us?” Darby asked.

“She put a spell on ’em!”

“Dump a tub of saltwater on them.”

“That’ll work?”

“Even if there’s not a spell it’ll get them to stop.”

May 6th
Prompt: Horses

“Something’s eating #horses in Bodmin Moor,” Ashton said.

“Might be a púca, a shapeshifter.”

“Why would one eat horses?”

“There have been cases of them doing it as retaliation against humans.”

“Why go after the horses?”

“They’re expensive.”

“Smart shifter, then.”

May 7th – June 14th : Hiatus

June 15th
Prompt: Carrel

“There was a carrel hidden in the back of the library, and that’s where we found the warlock’s tome,” Darby said to the detective.

The detective looked to Ashton, who just shrugged. “I don’t know half the words he uses. Just nod and write it down the best you can.”

June 16th
Prompt: Benthos

“They’re the most likely suspects,” Ashton said

“The morgens haven’t drowned anyone in a century. Now they cultivate their #benthos gardens for scuba tours, or to sell to aquariums. Why risk it?” Darby asked

“We’ll just have to poke around to figure that out, won’t we?”

June 17th
Prompt: Constellate

“How could they do something on this scale?”

“Though it’s rare, sometimes shadow people will #constellate to form a larger entity to attack a victim.”

“Wonderful,” Ashton muttered. “Priest, medium, or necromancer?”

Darby looked around at the wreckage. “All three?”

June 18th
Prompt: Ingurgitate

“Lamias tend to…#ingurgitate children,” Darby said, nearly choking on the word.

“Hence why they’re almost extinct.,” Ashton said.

“I thought they were only in Greece, though?” the shaking woman asked.

“Most, but not all.”

“Lucky us,” Ashton replied sourly.

June 19
Prompt: Periapt

“Evanora wanted me to give you this,” Darby said, handing over the necklace.

“What is it?”

“A protection #periapt, or charm.”

“I’m touched she’s concerned for me,” Ashton said, then; “Did you finally take her on a date?”

“That’s none of yours.”

“That’ll be a yes.”

June 20th
Prompt: None — seems they skipped a day

June 21st
Prompt: Submontane

“The Oreads keep to the #submontane, or lower slopes, of mountains,” Darby explained.

“So they’re more likely to run into people,” Ashton said.

“Yes. If they’ll speak with us, they might be helpful in finding our murderer.”

“Let’s hope they’re feeling chatty, then.”

 

Twitter #vss365 (Very Short Stories) with Ashton & Darby ~~ April 2020

March < — > May

 

April 1st
Prompt: Chicken

“I’m sorry, it’s a flock of what?” Darby asked the caller.

Ashton raised an eyebrow, questioning.

Darby scribbled on a notepad, then held it up: ‘Flock of decapitated #chickens roaming downtown.’

Ashton couldn’t help but laugh, while Darby rolled his eyes at him.

April 2nd
Prompt: Kicking

“How can we trap it if it won’t stop #kicking and headbutting?” Ashton asked with a scowl.

“Be happy its wings are clipped,” Darby said, eyeing the chrysomallos, who bleated at them.

“The ram’s wool might be gold, but there’s pure murder in its eyes, the bloody thing.”

April 3rd
Prompt: Rock

“Them gargoyles was hurlin’ #rocks at me!”

“Did you provoke the attack?” Ashton asked.

The man mumbled something.

“What?”

“He said he threw a bottle of whiskey at them,” Darby said.

“What a waste,” Ashton said, cuffing the man.

“And those weren’t rocks,” Darby added.

April 4th
Prompt: Orange

“Why does this happen to me?” Darby moaned.

“You irritate people,” Ashton said. “Though, I liked the purple skin more.”

Darby had stuffed his fluffy, tiger #orange hair beneath a cap.

“Oh, back so soon, dear?” the shop-woman asked when they walked in.

Darby glowered.

April 5th
Prompt: Classic

“It’s #classic skin-walker behavior, but we’ve never had a case here,” Darby said.

“Is it impossible?” Ashton asked.

“Improbable. They’re native to the Americas.”

“Then someone brought it here?”

“Maybe, and if they did, I doubt they have anything nice planned with it.”

April 6th
Prompt: Chrome

“Isn’t #chrome a little modern for you?” Ashton asked.

“It does ruin the aesthetic,” Darby admitted.

“The broom is in the shop,” the witch said. “Now, are you here to criticise my transport, or question me?”

“Why not both?”

“Aren’t you cheeky,” she said with a smirk.

April 7th
Prompt: Crane

“This is where I draw the line,” Ashton said, squinting up at the #crane. “Dragons aren’t in my contract.”

“Technically, it’s a wyvern,” Darby said.

“Technically, I don’t care. No fire-breathing lizards.”

“They don’t–”

“Still don’t care.”

“Rent is due.”

“Damn it!”

April 8th
Prompt: Club

“Get the troll away from its #club, and I’ll knock it out with whatever Evanore put in the water balloons,” Ashton said.

“That’s not a club–it’s a tree! Why can’t I throw them?” Darby protested.

“I called bagsy, and you can’t throw.”

Darby glared, then moved forward.

April 9th
Prompt: Telegraph

“You can’t #telegraph your moves like that,” Ashton said with a jab.

“I-” Darby said, ducking away, “hardly think I’ll be engaging in hand-to-hand combat with a werewolf!”

“You never know, and it won’t hurt.”

“It does if I can’t move tomorrow!”

“Pain is good for you.”

April 10th
Prompt: Isolation

“Most of the more powerful beings live in #isolation,” Darby said idly, reading a book.

“They don’t play well with others?” Ashton asked.

“More like territorial. They need to make sure their food supply isn’t being eaten by others.”

“And we’re the food?”

“Exactly.”

April 11th
Prompt: Rescue

“It’s not a #rescue if the kelpie drowns us along with the kid,” Ashton said.

“Just distract it long enough for me to get its bridle,” Darby whispered.

“If it dives before you can?”

“Hold your breath?”

“I owe you a beating when this is through.”

“That’s the spirit.”

April 12th
Prompt: Desperado

“He’s a bit of a #desperado.”

“You would be, too, if you’d been accused of murder,” Darby said.

“He’s a criminal.”

“Of selling body parts, not of killing the owners of said parts.”

Ashton sighed. “You want to help him, don’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I was afraid of that.”

April 13th
Prompt: Road

“Robert Frost must not have met a supernatural,” Ashton said.

“How so?” Darby asked.

“He says to take the #road less traveled by, and that’s the best way to get killed, eaten, or both.”

“He was being metaphorical.”

“Well, he’s *literally* going to get someone hurt.”

April 14th
Prompt: Shelter

“How are we supposed to remove goblins from a bomb #shelter?” Ashton asked.

“Do you have any gold to tempt them with?”

“Fresh out. What do goblins like to eat?”

“Man flesh!” came the reply from the shelter, followed by a chorus of cackles.

“McDonald’s it is, then.”

April 15th
Prompt: Tumbling

The screeching of the children and the sprites could be heard a block away.

“They just came #tumbling out!” the woman cried.

“We are talking about the sprites and not the children, correct?” Ashton asked.

Darby elbowed him at the woman’s glare. “Of course we can help.”

April 16th
Prompt: Desolation

Ashton whistled. “They really did a number on the office.”

“It’s just utter #desolation,” Darby moaned.

“Because it’s clean?”

“Yes! I’ll never be able to find anything.”

“Well, that’s a bit dramatic.”

“Who said the brownies could stay here, anyway?”

“You.”

“Damn.”

April 17th
Prompt: Arrested

“Have they all been #arrested?” Darby asked, bursting through the door.

“Seems so,” Ashton said.

“We can’t tell Kara unless we’re sure they got the entire coven.”

“Kara, is it?”

Darby blushed, and Ashton chuckled.

“I’ll put a call in.”

“Thank you.”

“You owe me.”

April 18th
Prompt: Blue

“The British grindylow is #blue-black, has a mouth and gills similar to the brook lamprey, and tangles its prey in weeds to hold it down while it decomposes,” Darby said

“Lovely. How many are there?” Ashton asked sourly.

“Ten.”

“We’re not getting paid enough for this.”

April 19th
Prompt: Street

“What’s the word on the #street about the rogue vampire?” Darby asked.

Ashton just shook his head.

“What?” Darby asked.

“Someone like you should not use that phrase.”

“You’re circumscribing me within a stereotype, why?”

“Because you use words like ‘circumscribe’.”

April 20th
Prompt: Dab

“You’re supposed to #dab, not wipe,” Darby said.

“Do I tell you how to apply your ointments?” Ashton griped.

“She told you not to touch her belladonna.”

“I didn’t think she meant the plant.”

“You are such a satyr.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“Please, don’t.”

April 21st
Prompt: Ruby

“The phoenix stone is a lesser version of the philosopher’s stone. It is still #ruby red in color, but can only heal minor wounds,” Darby said.

“Still sounds useful to have,” Ashton said.

“It’s also been linked to human combustion, hence the name.”

“Perhaps not, then.”

April 22nd
Prompt: Radio

“Dred Perception has topped the #radio chart again,” Darby said.

Ashton grunted. “Easy enough to perfect talent when you live forever.”

“That’s why vampires have their own category in music award programmes.”

“Strange name, though.”

“They’re vampires.”

“Fair enough.”

April 23rd
Prompt: Oddity

“You two are an #oddity.”

“Oh?” Darby asked.

“Fate has a funny sense of humour, is all,” she said, her milky, white eyes sparkling. “Here’s your mince pies, dearies. And I’d avoid the tube today. Going to be some nasty gremlin business.”

“I think we will,” Ashton said.

April 24th
Prompt: Damage

“He should pay for this!” the man said.

“As part of your lease you were informed a poltergeist was here, and waved #damage claims,” Darby said.

“You have to help. It broke my PS4!”

“Sure it wasn’t your girlfriend?” Ashton asked.

“I don’t have one.”

“How surprising.”

April 25th
Prompt: Mittens

“Tell your mother thank you for the #mittens,” Darby said, handing him a wrapped box.

“What’s this?” Ashton asked.

“Petit fours from Hazel’s Enchanted Cakes.”

“I can’t give her these. I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“Why?”

“Because I only got her a tin of biscuits.”

April 26th
Prompt: Heavyweight

“We can’t take the boggart on,” Darby said.

“They’re not #heavyweights,” Ashton said. “Horseshoe, bit of salt, and you’re right as rain.”

“The child gave it a name.”

“Well, shite.”

“Exactly. I’ll ring Evanore.”

“You’d like that.”

“This is business!”

“Sure it is.”

April 27th
Prompt: Killing

“… and everyone wonders when the #killing will end,” the news reader said.

“What do you think?” Ashton asked

“The Ripper imitated revenant attacks trying to stir up trouble,” Darby said.

“So, it’s a revenant, or a copycat of a copycat?”

“Just so.”

“How uninspired.”

April 28th
Prompt: Resurrection

“It’s a true #resurrection?” Darby asked.

“That’s the rumor,” Ashton confirmed.

“There’s only been a handful of those. I doubt this one is real.”

“Stranger things have happened.”

“Didn’t take you for a believer in divine intervention.”

“Like I said: stranger things.”

April 29th
Prompt: Guitar

“The devil plays a fiddle, not a #guitar,” Ashton said.

“Sugar, if I were the true devil your mortal body would have disintegrated,” she said, her southern accent as sweet as her predatory smile.

“You play well,” Darby said.

“Immortality is a drag without hobbies.”

April 30th
Prompt: Alcoholiday

“I need an #alcoholiday,” Ashton groaned.

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“I had to wear a dinner jacket. And make a speech.”

“You did save those kids from that pack of hellhounds.”

“Post the award, then.”

“You’re being terribly dramatic.”

“They had no liquor.”

Darby sighed.

World of Warcraft Class Micro-Stories ~~ Warlock

A quiet humming fills the exceedingly tidy and small work space. A fel green glow gives off barely enough light for anyone save a Night Elf, or the occupant, to see by. There’s a short break in the humming, which is replaced by grumbling and harrumphing.

“The combination is still too unstable.” The voice is raspy, as it tended to be for some Forsaken, but most days Alzira was thankful she’d been left with her jaw, if not her joints.

“I don’t like this place,” a deep, yet wispy voice calls from the doorway.

“Me neither. Too much damp. We’ll have to set up shop somewhere else, and soon,” she responds absently.

The hulking void creature, bound into shape through its heavy-plated vambraces, made no response. Not that Jhazgorg ever did to something that wasn’t a command or question. And not that Alzira ever noticed.

“I need something to stabilize it,” she said, and sat back from the desk.

Though she didn’t feel the cold, Alzira still had a preference for long-sleeved robes, as a bygone comfort from her previous life. She folded her hands into the sleeves, bony fingers tracing the now familiar paths of sinew, patches of skin, and exposed bone. She hummed a nonsensical tune again, as her eyes scanned over the parchments on the wall. It was more from habit than actually reading the notes, as they’d all been committed to memory at this point.

After many long moments, she shook her head and sighed. “There’s no use for it. I need to talk to Grelx. No fighting with Yaznar this time, Jhaz.”

“Cannot resist,” Jhazgorg rumbled.

“Fine, but don’t break anything in Grelx’s workshop, or I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“As you command.”

 

***

 

“How many times I gotta tell ya, ‘Zira. The fel and the arcane just don’t like to play nice. We can brute force it, but don’t expect nothin’ delicate,” Grelx said, examining the vial. “Without order and control, the arcane is unstable, and won’t work. Fel energy is chaos, and naturally destabilizes the arcane as it subjugates it. The line where the arcane goes from useful to useless is finer than fancy elvish underwear.”

“Are you telling me it can’t be done?” Alzira asked, watching the goblin swirl the fluid.

The amethyst liquid was iridescent and sparkly, and was immiscible with the bright green portion, like oil and water. They churned as though agitated; a visual example of what Grelx had said.

“Now, now,” Grelx said, looking up, a gleam in his void dark eyes. “I never said that. We’ll either come up with this miracle potion, or a combustible so powerful the Horde and Alliance both will scramble to get their hands on it.”

“Aren’t we at peace right now?” Alzira mused.

Grelx snorted. “Like that’ll ever last. I mean, they even got the peace, love, and panda people to choose sides,” he said, and put the vial on the cleared space of his alchemy table. “No, it won’t last, and they’ll need something else to kill each other with. Especially now that the over-sized doorstop has outlawed the use of azerite except for his pets.”

“I think you mean, ‘champions’.”

“Hah! Champions of chaos, maybe. Half the messes they clean up are their fault in the first place,” he said, then shook his head. “Anyway, let’s see what we can come up with.”

Just as they were getting settled around the table, Alzira tilted her head.

“Does it seem quiet to you?”

“Hmm?” Grelx said, then his head shot up. “Jhaz! You fat, lumbering blueberry! Did you eat Yaznar again?”

“I must feed,” came the reply from somewhere outside.

“Well, at least they weren’t fighting,” Alzira said, an edge of humor to her words.

“Whatever. Dismiss that walking garbage bucket so we can get started,” Grelx said.

Alzira knew the only reason he didn’t blow up about the newest tally in Yaznar’s death counter, was because he had a puzzle in front of him. The only thing that could garner his ire now would be interrupting him while he worked.

“Go for now, Jhaz,” Alzira said, her mind already turning in the same direction as Grelx’s.

“I…am…void…where prohibited,” Jhaz said, then diminished in size before disappearing through a portal.

“What a comedian,” Grelx muttered. “Yaznar! Get back here, and bring some fel with you!” Then Grelx looked to Alzira. “Can you get more of this?” he asked, and pointed to the purple liquid.

“Of course,” she said.

“Good. We’ll need plenty, and cross whatever fingers you have left that we don’t blow ourselves up before figuring this out.”

“This is why I came to you Grelx: you’re an optimist.”

Book Review: Schooled in Magic, by Christopher G. Nuttall

Emily is a teenage girl pulled from our world into a world of magic and mystery by a necromancer who intends to sacrifice her to the dark gods. Rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic sorcerer, she discovers that she possesses magical powers and must go to Whitehall School to learn how to master them. There, she learns the locals believe that she is a “Child of Destiny,” someone whose choices might save or damn their world … a title that earns her both friends and enemies. A stranger in a very strange land, she may never fit into her new world …

…and the necromancer is still hunting her. If Emily can’t stop him, he might bring about the end of days.” — Schooled in Magic, from Goodreads

 

Schooled in Magic is the first book in Christopher G. Nuttall’s series by the same name, and it follows the main character, Emily, as she tries to adjust to the medieval magical world she’s been kidnapped into. She’s being hunted by a necromancer named Shadye, who wants to sacrifice her to the Harrowing, because he believes she is a Child of Destiny and her death would be a powerful offering. It’s a very classic, world domination plot, and the necromancers are the current Big Bad, with the faeries being the background, Ye Olden Days Big Bad. Before Shadye could go through with the murdering, Emily is rescued by a sorcerer named Void. After the rescue, it’s discovered that Emily has powers herself, and is promptly enrolled in the–impenetrable from everything but plot–magical school of Whitehall.

Okay, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. Yes, it comes across as a story that borrows heavily from Harry Potter. In fact, if I had to give a brief description, I’d say it’s all seven Harry Potter books with their major highlights pulled out and rolled into one. We start with, “Yer a sorceress and the Chosen One, Emily,” and finish with the, “Battle of Hogwarts, er, Whitehall.”

We have the one loyal friend from the beginning (Ron/Imaiqah), and the bossy friend who was befriended through a harrowing experience, (Alassa/Hermione). Though, the intelligence level of the characters is swapped, the parallels are there and incredibly obvious, as are all the other ones: History of Magic, the McGonagall character, a Dumbledore character, a Defense against the Dark Arts type class, Care of Magical Creatures type class, Alchemy (Potions), Charms, and so on. The author also makes no bones about his incredulity of how other fantasy novels of similar ilk portray their worlds. However, he should keep in mind to not bite the hands of those who helped make fantasy more mainstream.

That said, here are my pros and cons, which include **SPOILERS** so reader beware:

Pros:

  • Because the main character was kidnapped at a more mature age, and wasn’t cloistered away for most of her life like Harry, there’s more real-world comparisons between the magical world and her own. She compares the writing of spells to computer coding, which, as someone who writes scripts, resonated with me.
    • In the same vein as above, because she’s put in a medieval world instead of a magical world hidden within our own, there’s more opportunity for her to try and introduce real-world concepts, (bookkeeping practices, Arabic number systems, stirrups, and a few more), into this world. She theorizes that development is stunted through a combination of magic, and a medieval class system, and she’s probably correct. It’s interesting to watch the waves she creates by introducing these things.
  • The magical system was laid out more in-depth. It gave us a more technical look into how the magic system works, and was like putting icing on an otherwise delicious, but barren, cake (Harry Potter world). Such things are explored in Fan Fiction of J.K. Rowling’s works, but the author herself didn’t touch too much on how magic functions. To be fair to Rowling, though, her target audience in the beginning was much younger than Nuttall’s, which means he had more leeway with attention-span for such details than she did.
  • It was interesting, for me, to draw comparisons between Harry Potter, both obvious and not, and see how Nuttall interpreted or changed those references. And there’s no doubt that, despite the low level of scorn displayed by the main character for unbelievable aspects of other fantasy novels at certain points, the book played on the nostalgia of people who enjoyed Harry Potter.
  • I enjoyed that their History of Magic was an actual discussion on the topic, rather than memorizing and spitting out facts. More history classes need to be taught like this, to be honest.
  • The main character is relatable, in that her reactions make sense given her new environment, and likeable enough for a teenager.

Cons:

  • I had a couple of main grievances, one being Emily supposedly introducing the concept of bras to the world. That one had me going, “Oh, come on!” While the modern concept of the bra we know today was introduced in the early 1900s, women have been binding their breasts as far back as ancient Greece, or farther. Is he trying to tell me that a woman never stopped to think, “Gee, it’s really uncomfortable to walk around like this, guess I’ll not try anything to make myself more comfortable.” I’d believe there was an alternate world with magic in it, before I believed any species with breasts went thousands of years and didn’t think to give themselves some support.
  • My other main grievance: the numbers don’t add up. What I mean by this, is we’re told by Void that necromancers outnumber sorcerers. We are also told that a necromancer functions by using murder to gain massive amounts of power. “Drain the mana, then drain the soul.” (Mana is the magic of the world.) It’s this massive amount of power being channeled through their minds that drives them mad, and they end up destroying themselves. However, one of the linchpin moments in the end is Emily being forced by Shadye to sacrifice someone to make her a necromancer, but the person has no mana, so it doesn’t work. Maybe I missed something, but here are my issues with this:
    • If regular humans don’t work, and sorcerers are in short supply, how in the world are these necromancers even a threat? Who are they sacrificing in massive amounts to gain enough power to be a threat to the allied lands?
    • We’re told in a story from one of the teachers that the necromancers were sacrificing people by the thousands, and rulers were sending shipments of people to be sacrificed in an attempt to bargain with the necromancers. As I said, the numbers and plot point don’t add up in the slightest.
    • All they’d have to do to win is put everyone with significant mana behind wards like in Whitehall, and let the necromancers tire themselves trying to get in and access the only sources of power they can use.
    • It could just be the population is half-magicless and half-mana capable, but not enough to utilize it. However, I don’t think that’s ever stated, leaving this plot hole wide open.
  • In the beginning we’re told a General Kip is in charge of Combat Magic, but later, when the character is in said class, no one of that name is there. Instead, we have two Drill Sergeants: Harkin and Miles. It’s another point to a lack of consistency that occasionally crops up.
  • The author seemingly uses a lot of terms interchangeably, like elves/faerie/Fair Folk, sorceress/witch/sorcerer/wizard, and so on. For the latter, I’m assuming it’s sort of a power structure, as Imaiqah states she’s a magician which is less powerful than a sorceress. However, since it isn’t really explained, it created a somewhat jarring, and less than smooth transition when giving the history of things.
  • The overall technical aspect of the writing left something to be desired, and more rigorous editing was needed. There were grammar mistakes, homophone mix-ups (knew instead of new), and a lack of consistency with capitalization of certain things, like goblins/Goblins. While even the best editing can leave a few flaws, and I don’t tend to nitpick to this level, there were enough to be rather noticeable.
  • The secondary characters have, well, character, but most feel as though they fall just short of being three dimensional.

CONCLUSION

I want to give it 3.8 out of 5, but the number system doesn’t work that way, so we’ll round up to 4/5.

The book was enjoyable for what it was: a play on Harry Potter’s popularity, but beginning with a little more maturity and critical thinking, as well as more depth with the magic.

The later books have higher ratings, and from what I’ve read in other reviews Nuttall’s technical writing gets better as it goes on. Given the fact that he has seemingly written 17 books in this series in a span of 5 years, while also writing other series concurrently, my only thought is that his man is either a magical machine, or a beast that never sleeps.

In the end, I’d recommend this book to anyone who won’t be offended by the obvious Harry Potter similarities, won’t get too hung up on the technical writing, and enjoys a reasonably good book about a magical school and saving the world. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but I do think I’ll be purchasing more books in the series, so there’s that.

Enjoy!

Short Story ~~ Love Thy Neighbor

Written for a contest. 3k word limit

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The steady creak of the rocking chair on the worn floorboards of the porch mixed with the rustle of dead leaves across the yard. The breeze was cool and gentle, calling for no more than a light jacket and jeans. It blew the occasional strands of auburn hair across her face, tickling her until she tucked them behind an ear.

The sun was low on the horizon, and by Faye’s reckoning it was getting on to five. She had a pot of stew on the stove that’d be ready soon, and the scent of it drifted out the window to wind around her like a needy cat.

Despite the idyllic country scenery, perfect fall weather, and her mawmaw’s famous stew cooking on the stove, Faye was downright ornery.

“You’re just riling yourself up. No good will come of this,” Holt said. He came to stand next to her chair, which, like the small house, was built by her granddaddy.

“So says you,” Faye countered, and jutted her chin up, refusing to look at him.

“I just think you’re being stubborn about something that’ll likely amount to nothing,” he reasoned, and shrugged, the fabric of his long-sleeved, plaid shirt rustling.

“I just don’t like it,” she said, the words near to a growl.

Holt huffed. “You don’t say.”

She turned to look at him then, and angry hazel eyes met calm brown ones. The color was the same as the rich earth deep in the woods that were twenty steps from the back of her house. The acres of land had been in her family for over two-hundred years.

“I’ve tried talking to him, Holt, and he was having none of it. What else was I supposed to do?” she asked, her hands gripping the arms of the chair so tight her knuckles were white and the wood groaned.

“Oh, I don’t know. Let it go?” he asked, his sarcasm creeping in as it inevitably did. The corner of his mouth quirked up at her responding scowl, and she turned away from his teasing.

“You know I can’t do that, and you know why.”

Before he said anything else, a truck crested the hill off in the distance. The weather was unusually dry for this time of year, so the vehicle kicked up a cloud of dust from the dirt road in its wake.

Holt sighed. “I don’t need to be here for this,” he said, resigned, heading inside.

It wasn’t long after that the sheriff’s tires crunched over the gravel on her driveway. Faye stood from the rocking chair, and stepped down from the porch as a bear of a man unfolded from the vehicle. Barrel-chested, and with a laugh that boomed from him like a canon, there was hardly a soul that didn’t get along with Sheriff Clyde Gresham.

“Faye Lynn,” he greeted, and nodded at her as she approached.

“Sheriff Gresham,” she replied, and tilted her head back to look up him.

“Now, Tammy told me you called in about your new neighbor. Said something about him spyin’ on you?” Gresham asked, voice rumbling, reading from a notepad he’d pulled from his jacket pocket.

She pursed her lips and crossed her arms. “He’s setting up a bunch of cameras, and I think some are pointed at my house. I don’t appreciate that, Gresham,” she said, voice low.

He nodded. “I understand that, Faye. Have you spoken to him?”

“I surely did. He told me to mind my own business. I didn’t want to go over there in the first place, because people these days are downright crazy, but I didn’t want to bother you if I didn’t have to,” she said, her eyes straying to the neighbor’s house every so often as she spoke.

Gresham leveled a look at her. “Is that all?”

She scowled at him. “What are you implying, Sheriff?” she asked, shifting her weight to one foot and gritting her teeth.

“Come on, Faye Lynn. I haven’t met a single person in a fifty-mile radius that hasn’t been on the wrong end of your bad temper and sharp tongue a time, or two. Were you truly being neighborly, or were you your usual, charming self?” he asked, and raised an eyebrow.

Faye harrumphed. “I was neighborly enough for me, I suppose. But it still don’t give him the right to do all that.”

He sighed and closed his notebook. “I’ll go and talk to him, but I won’t be happy if I have to come back out here because you’re harassing the man.”

Faye’s jaw dropped. “Me? He’s the one setting up cameras pointed at my property!”

“Which I will address, but if I don’t find any problems, I don’t need you taking matters into your own hands,” he said, keeping eye contact.

Their eyes remained locked for a few heartbeats, until she finally dropped hers first.

“Just get him to stop invading my privacy, and there won’t be a need for that, now will there?” she said

Gresham shook his head, but said nothing else. He made his way over to the neighbor’s house, which, despite the amount of land the properties had, wasn’t terribly far away from Faye’s. The other house had once belonged to another branch of her family. Cousins on her father’s side. The houses weren’t so close that you could carry on a conversation, but not so far that you could leave your curtains open without someone being able to see your business.

She waited there, halfway between the sheriff’s truck and her porch, but Gresham’s comments combined with Holt’s wormed their way through her mind. All too soon, in her opinion, the sheriff was making his way back to her. She tensed, and waited for the words of dismissal.

He didn’t disappoint.

“I checked his cameras, Faye, and none are pointed at your house,” Gresham said, trying for reassuring.

Faye’s expression darkened like the clouds of a thunderstorm on the horizon. “And what about the back of the property?” she asked.

Gresham frowned. “You mean the woods?”

She nodded, and he raised an eyebrow. “Unless you’re running around your woods naked, Faye, I can’t see how that would matter.”

“So he does have one pointed there,” she accused.

Gresham studied her for a long moment, and something passed through his eyes. A flicker of thought she couldn’t readily identify, but suspicion sat heavy in the air between them.

“He’s trying to find what killed his brother, and I can’t fault the man for that. We never caught the bear that tore the poor man apart. You have some information about that you haven’t shared with us?” Gresham asked.

Her scowl stayed in place, not letting on to the thrill of fear that shot through her. “What information could I have about a rabid bear? Does it look like I have it for a pet running around here?” she asked, and gestured toward her house.

“Then what does it matter if he has a camera pointed at the woods?” he asked. When she didn’t answer, he continued; “In fact, I was happy for it, and told him to let us know if he catches it on camera. Something like that ain’t good for any of us. ‘Course, with the small arsenal he has in that house, I doubt he’d take the time to let us know before going after it.” They both looked at the house at that proclamation. “Can’t say I’d do any different.”

Holt was right; this wasn’t helpful at all.

“Well, thank you for coming out, Gresham. I appreciate it,” she said, doing her best to make the words sound genuine.

Gresham snorted. “Right. At least try to be sympathetic, Faye. The man lost his brother, and we don’t need you pulling out your crazy and waving it in a grieving man’s face.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Again, thank you, Sheriff.”

He just shook his head one last time, and headed to his truck. She watched him back out of the drive, and head back up the dirt road toward town. As she turned to go back to her porch, though, her new neighbor was making his way toward the wood fence separating the property.

It was inevitable since she’d called the sheriff, but she didn’t want to talk to him again.

“You didn’t have to call the sheriff, you know,” Jeremiah Chastain said when they met at the fence. His thick eyebrows were knotted in a frown, and his jaw was tense, as though trying to hold back less polite words. The setting sun shone against his black hair, and made his forest green eyes glow.

You told me to mind my own business, and cameras pointed at my property are my business,” she insisted, holding her ground, arms still crossed.

He mimicked her posture, crossing muscular arms over a well-defined chest. “They aren’t pointed at your house, just at the tree line.”

“I don’t want any of them pointed at any of my property.”

“The sheriff told me I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I’m just trying to see if that bear is still around. I’ll be heading into the woods soon, but figured I’d put the cameras up first. He was killed in the backyard, and anything that bold might strike again.”

Her eyes widened and her breath hitched. “What do you mean, you’re going into the woods? You need to stay out of there. It’s not safe.”

He raised an eyebrow, and amusement quirked the corner of his mouth in a small smile. “Concerned for me?”

She growled and dropped her arms to her sides, hands clenched into fists. “No. I just don’t want police crawling all over my property again, or dealing with yet another new neighbor when you get eaten, too.”

The mirth fled from him as quickly as it came. “My brother and I were raised in the woods near our home, we’re both accomplished hunters, and we both served in the military. I refuse to believe any rabid bear could catch him off guard. He was too cautious for that. I will get to the bottom of this, and bag that animal,” he said, his voice low and with conviction.

“No good will come of this,” she said, echoing Holt’s words from earlier, and put a note of pleading in them.

He searched her face, though she didn’t know what he was looking for. Whatever it was, he didn’t find it, and stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans and shrugged.

“Even so, I have to do this,” he said. Then he nodded, and turned on the heel of his boot and headed back to his house.

Faye’s hands clenched as she stomped her way back to her house, boots thudding ominously against the porch. She jerked open the screen door, and went inside to find Holt at the two-seater kitchen table, waiting.

“Well?” he asked, trying for relaxed, but failing miserably.

Now that she was in her house and away from the stubborn man, her shoulders slumped, and that was all Holt needed.

He closed his eyes and the corners of his mouth curved downward as he sighed. “That’s it, then,” he said, and drew in a shuddering breath.

“I can’t make any guarantees, Holt, but I’ll do my best to make sure he doesn’t get hurt,” she said quietly, and set about putting the stew away. She wouldn’t be eating it tonight.

Holt didn’t say anything in return.

 

<***>

 

“Damn that stubborn woman,” Jeremiah muttered, and glared at the microwave. It was bad enough his brother was dead, and he was stuck in the middle of nowhere with a crazy neighbor, but there was no takeout here to boot. He was a terrible cook on a good day, but at least back home he had access to pizza, curry, and egg rolls. There was nothing here but microwave dinners, and being subjected to the delicious smells of his neighbor’s cooking was near to torture.

The microwave beeped, and he sighed in resignation as he grabbed the food and headed for his laptop. He couldn’t wait to finish up here and get back home. Not that there was much there except takeout, but at least that was something. His brother was all he’d had, and some stupid fucking animal had taken that from him.

He put the food down and opened the laptop. The camera feeds came up on the screen, but before he could pick up his food and settle in for the night, something moved on the outer edge of the camera pointed toward the neighbor’s tree line.

“Damn it!” he said, and slammed a fist on the table, rattling his fork. A small, upright form was headed into the woods.

His chair scraped loudly across the floor as he pushed back from the table, and set about grabbing what he needed. He burst through the back door, and headed toward the part of the woods he’d seen the fool woman heading into. He jumped the fence easily enough, and in no time was at the edge of the trees. It didn’t take long to find the path she’d taken. It was worn, but small, and not easily noticeable unless someone was looking for it.

He kept the rifle barrel low, and pointed at the ground, his finger off the trigger. She couldn’t be too far ahead of him, and with his much longer strides he should have caught up to her by now. There was a clearing up ahead, so he slowed his pace, and crouched at the edge. A quick sweep didn’t yield anything, but it was dark and difficult to tell.

Just as he twitched to start forward again, something stirred on the other side. It made no sound, but it moved like shadows given life. Two eyes appeared, yellow, along with a feral snarl of sharp teeth, and then the largest, black wolf Jeremiah had ever seen stepped into the clearing.

Two things flashed through his mind then: there wasn’t currently a confirmed wolf population in Tennessee—he’d researched potential predators when he knew he’d be coming in the woods here—and that he was upwind. In those precious few seconds it took his brain to catch up, the wolf had already crossed the clearing.

Jeremiah fell back and tried to bring his rifle to bear on the animal, but the best he was able to do was hold the weapon horizontal against its neck. Jaws snapped inches from his face, as it growled and thrashed. He tried to push it back and butt-stroke it to get breathing room, but when he pushed and twisted, the wolf pulled back enough that Jeremiah missed. Then it lunged forward again and bit deep into his arm.

Searing pain raced up his limb as though he’d stuck it straight into a fire. He screamed and dropped his weapon, trying to punch the wolf’s nose with his free hand. It connected, and the wolf reared back, shaking its head. The reprieve was only momentary, and it came at him again, jaws open wide to finish him off. Then it was gone in a flash of red, followed by yelps and snarls.

He didn’t have any time to think about it, though, as his eyes rolled back in his head. Darkness and agony ate the edge of his thoughts, and he passed out.

 

<***>

 

Sunlight stabbed through his eyelids, and he groaned. He went to lift his arm to cover his eyes, but something was on it, stopping him. He cracked an eye open and looked to his right. Panic shot through him like a rabbit flushed from the brush, and he jerked away from the naked, sleeping form of his neighbor. The motion caused her to stir, and when she rolled over to face him, dried blood coated her from her chin on down.

“What the—” he started, and tried to scramble further away, but pain lanced through his hand. He collapsed with a gasp, and then brought his shaking hand up to look at it. It was red, swollen, and torn from the wolf’s attack. Memories from last night slammed into him, and his breath left him in a rush.

A small movement caught his attention, and his eyes darted up to see Faye crawling to him. She stopped just beyond his reach.

“I’m so sorry, Jeremiah,” she whispered, eyes mournful. “I tried to keep you out of the woods. My granddaddy has been sick for a long time, and you and your brother paid the price. But he won’t hurt anyone else, I promise.” Her breath hitched at that, and her eyes shone with unshed tears.

Granddaddy? He frowned, brain trying to catch up. It was a wolf that attacked, not a person. Jeremiah opened his mouth to speak, but something over her shoulder made it fall all the way open.

“H-Holt?” he whispered, voice strangled. His brother stood not five feet from him.

“Hey, little brother, good to see you,” Holt said, and a lopsided grin graced his face for a moment before it faded. “Don’t get your hopes up,” he continued, voice as sad as Faye’s eyes.

“Why?” Jeremiah demanded, trying to grasp for something solid in the whirlpool of emotions dragging him under.

“Werewolves can see ghosts,” Faye explained, her voice tight.

“Werewolves?” he repeated, the word weak and disbelieving. He looked from his brother to her, trying to find the joke, but their grim expressions sent his heart racing. “Then…”

Faye drew in a shuddering breath, and locked eyes with him. “Welcome to the Pack.”

His silence was thunderous in the quiet woods. It was a long, tense time before he sighed, his pragmatism winning as his stomach grumbled. “Does this mean I at least get some of that stew?”

It took a moment for her shock to wear off, and her chuckle was weak, but she nodded. “Absolutely. Let’s head home.”