tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Bonding Chronicles Ch. 15

The Bonding Chronicles Ch. 15

byPantherParabola©

***** A Meeting, Of Sorts *****

River Run was the place to go if you needed to sell illicit goods, or at least that was what Garthuk had been told. But, as he scanned the busy frontier town, he found that claim hard to believe. It looked like any other human settlement — poorly fortified, with too much land dedicated to growing crops.

Garthuk spat at the thought of eating plants, knowing that you were meant to eat that which grazes, and was once again reminded of how different humans were — how weak they were. As he made his way towards the center of town, he ignored the offended and frightened looks he received, choosing to focus on the two Imperial Guards that took up position several yards behind him. He rolled his shoulders and grunted as he maintained his pace, showing those frail humans that he was not intimidated by their presence.

He shook his head and scoffed, as he looked upon the sign that hung above the door where the black market was supposed to be. "The Fluffy Bunny Inn" was scrawled with comically-poor craftsmanship across the wooden placard, its rusty chains creaking as the sign swayed in the breeze. The building seemed so weak that he feared it may collapse, if the wind got any stronger.

As he took in the sight of that poor excuse for a building, Garthuk was forced to wonder if he had been lied to. His bicep rippled as he clutched the handle of his battle axe, his green skin stretching to contain his strength as he fought to control his ever-present anger. It had taken several days to arrive in River Run, and a grumble radiated within Garthuk's chest as he thought about what he would do to that merchant, if he had travelled all that way for nothing.

The common room was dark, and the air was rich with the unfamiliar stench of some unknown animal. It was not human, with their unmistakable cleanliness, and it did not belong to the elves and their overpowering floral fragrances — it was something new. It smelled of earth and soot, and seemed to cling to his senses with stubborn determination, as if to overpower him.

The innkeeper was busy sweeping when the door opened. The gentle-looking man turned his gaze towards Garthuk at the sound of a patron entering his establishment, and for the briefest of moments, there was surprise in his eyes. He hid it well when he took in the sight of the large orc, and as he walked behind the bar, he shook his head, mumbling under his breath while he scanned the empty room.

"What can I do for you, traveller?"

The gentle tone of the man's question hide his frustration well, but Garthuk could almost see it pouring out of the man's pores. It was carried in the tepid air, almost masked behind that acrid ashen smell that bothered Garthuk so. But, it was there, and the orc could not ignore it.

"Barter!" Garthuk barked, his deep voice announcing his desire with brevity and strength, as was the custom of his people.

The innkeeper took a deep breath, mumbling, "Fucking orcs," under his breath as he shook his head.

"Listen, big guy, we have a way of doing business around here, and I mean you no disrespect, but your kind must be more cautious of your comings and goings."

Garthuk recognized the fancy words of a well-educated man. They were rare among his people, often heard from Shamans and spellcasters, but he hated how those complicated words, with their unnecessary meanings, made his head hurt. The bartender took a step back as Garthuk unslung his travel pack, until the large orc pulled a golden idol from within its depths.

"I sell. You buy?"

The human's eyebrow raised, the unmistakable look of greed that Garthuk knew far too well, written across the man's face. He sighed and gave the door a casual glance, before pulling a key from behind the bar.

"You will be staying in room four, up those stairs." The kind-looking man pointed towards the stairwell in the back of the large room. "Knock on the closet wall three times like this." The pattern was simple, and after the human repeated it a couple more times, Garthuk beat the wood with a heavy hand, loosening a board and frightening the bartender, who had not been expecting such strength, given how casually the orc seemed to be rapping upon wooden counter.

"Very good, now go."

The words escaped the startled man in a rush, and as Garthuk approached the stairs, the front door opened. Two Imperial Guards entered the warm room, a fresh gust of air announcing their arrival. Garthuk vanished up the stairs, knowing that they were the same guards who had followed him to the Inn, and not wanting to lose his opportunity to sell his treasure, he decided he did not need to know what conversation would follow.

"How can I help you fine gentlemen, this afternoon?" The bartender's voice followed after Garthuk as he climbed the steps, becoming unintelligible as he turned the corner and entered the main hall of doors.

He compared the symbol on his key until he found the matching symbol on a wooden door with peeling paint and mismatched boards. The door unlocked and opened with ease. If anything, Garthuk was afraid he may pull the thing off its hinges with how much it creaked and strained against his lightest touch.

The room was spartan, even by orcish standards, containing just a bed and a recession in the wall where travel gear was meant to be stored. Garthuk walked to the "closet" and stood, looking at the back wall while he tried to remember the pattern he was supposed to use. His hand was heavy, and his strength undeniable as he rapped upon the sturdy wood, but despite the short simplicity of the pattern, he was struggling to remember its exact rhythm.

It felt like forever, but after a few failed attempts, Garthuk beat out the appropriate pattern, and was greeted by the sounds of latches and bolts being unsecured from the other side of the wall. The moment the cleverly concealed entrance cracked open, the large orc was consumed by that unpleasant smell he first noticed when he entered the inn, as smoke and stale air swirled into his room.

There was a short stocky man in chainmail standing within the narrow corridor that had just been revealed, who took a long pull from a fat paper-wrapped bundle of herbs that grew bright as the small man breathed in its smoke. "Took ya' long enough, lad," the squat man declared amidst a billow of haze.

Any question about where the acrid ashen smell had been coming from was answered in that moment for Garthuk, who watched the short man with confused wonder. He had never seen a being so small, who seemed to be so sturdy.

"Barter?"

"Just about there, laddie," the short man said with a smile, pointing further down the narrow passage with his cigar, before adding, "Just gotta' get thatta' way, then take dem' stairs down."

There was something about the way the man spoke that reminded Garthuk of a healer from his village; a short woman with a kind heart, but beyond their similar stature, the resemblance was lost. He had never met a member of that race before, but there was something that felt almost cliche about the way it spoke. With only a moment's consideration, he chose not to dwell on that thought.

"Thanks."

Garthuk looked down the narrow corridor, realizing how well the passage had been constructed. The wood was thick and sturdy, held together with expert attention to detail. For all the frailty and dilapidation of the building, the secret passage was an unexpected marvel, and gave Garthuk the hope that perhaps he may yet make the money he had been promised.

With some effort, the large orc hunched and wiggled his way down the tight walkway until he found the reinforced stone steps which led down. His axe dragged along the wall, the thick, hard wood barely showing a scratch as his steel slid along its smooth surface. He descended far longer than he expected, the air growing cool and unfamiliar as he continued his journey, until he began to hear the telltale sounds of laughter and music, the unmistakable sound of a lively bar resting just ahead.

Garthuk's pace was increased by the thought of satiating his thirst with a stout drink, and the prospect of selling his golden treasure. Before long, he pushed through a finely crafted door, where he was greeted by the familiar sounds of a ruckus bar, and for the first time since he left the arena a week before, he felt at home.

He was never able to explain it, but there were only two places where Garthuk truly felt himself. First, it was only within the pitched and frenzied throes of combat, where his blood ran hot, providing an outlet for his simmering anger. As he grew older however, and began to explore the more pleasurable sides of life, he discovered the second, in the bitter and delightful taste of ale. A truer love story had never been written, and in that dark, burning liquid, he found an escape from his demons, a way to silence the rage that demanded blood at any cost.

Stale air was masked well with perfumed ladies and well-prepared food. The scent of alcohol hung heavy in the breeze, and while many of its shades were familiar to Garthuk, there were almost as many new aromas that promised exciting flavors for him to discover. With almost no consideration, he stepped down the last few steps on the other side of the door, not noticing the many strange people whose attention was drawn to the large orc that had just joined them in their merriment.

Had he been paying attention, he would have seen the leather-clad elf who sat in the corner, nursing a flagon of mead while idly stroking his fingers across a direwolf's furry neck. The large creature lounged beside its master, a rumbling growl building in its throat as it sensed the change in mood that was spreading through the room. The elf, despite all appearance, could tell that something was amiss.

There was an odd pair who sat at the bar, a frail-looking woman draped in dark robes, whose eyes seemed to send a shiver through anyone she turned her gaze on. Her dark hair and pale skin acted as a stark contrast to her companion, who himself was adorned in similar robes of white. His hood was pulled back, revealing shortly cropped blonde hair and piercing blue eyes, which seemed to make his smile shine all the brighter.

Garthuk struggled not to notice the white-robed man, not because of his contrast with his dark and foreboding companion, but because of the half-plate armor and two-handed mace he concealed within his robes. It was strange for a man of holy orders, as Garthuk assessed the man to be, to be so heavily armed.

By the time the large orc saddled up to the bar, slamming the golden idol onto the sturdy and well-worn wood, the room was filled with whispers. Garthuk stood out among the patrons, being the only green-skinned humanoid within the place, and as he waited for the bartender, his keen senses warned him of danger.

"That's a pretty little trinket you got there, friend."

Garthuk didn't need to look to recognize the tone of a shifty-eyed thief, and a poor excuse for one at that. The short human who had made the comment grew uncomfortable as the orc ignored his presence. After a few seconds, he sat at the bar beside Garthuk, seeming to assess the rest of the room rather than look at the rude orc who sat beside him.

"What can I get you?" asked the bartender, a friendly-looking human, who seemed to not consider Garthuk as anything but a customer in need of good service. A smile and happy twinkle in the man's eye told the orc that anything he wanted was available for purchase.

Garthuk had a tendency of drinking to excess, and had learned over time that it was always better to settle his debts before he was too far gone to know what they were. So, when he reached for his money pouch at an unexpected time, he was almost as surprised as the thief when he felt the warm touch of soft fingers that were busy at work with the metal clasp that held his well-earned coins to his waist. Before the agile pickpocket could withdraw his hand, Garthuk wrapped it in his iron grip, easily keeping the small hand in his fist while his thumb and forefinger undid the heavy clasp that secured his purse to his side.

The demure man screamed out in pain as Garthuk's immense strength broke most of the bones in his tiny hand. The boy, as Garthuk had began to think of him, was turned around as his far arm was pulled across his body by the massive orc. It was not until the orc's hand was in the center of the dark-wood bar that the boy's hand was released, the sound of Garthuk's money purse landing upon the solid surface sounding out alongside the relieved cry of the young man who withdrew his ruined fist.

A few people gasped at the sight of the boy's crumpled and broken fingers, purple and blue bruises already appearing around the mangled digits that jutted out in strange and unexpected directions.

Garthuk watched the bartender, unsure what the man's reaction would be to what he had just done, and was relieved when he saw the anger in the kind man's face as he looked at the thief who fell back onto the floor.

"You would be wise to leave, Billy. You've already been warned, and this stranger's punishment will be a kindness, when compared to what I will do if you ever return."

Billy stammered and blubbered through his tears, as he struggled to make sense of how things had turned sideways so quickly. It was clear to most of the patrons that the boy was new to his trade, and had just learned a vital, if painful lesson. His retreat was hasty, and punctuated with a profound amount of swearing, but within moments, the small thief had vanished through a door on the other side of the room from where Garthuk had entered.

The bartender pushed Garthuk's purse back towards him, before saying, "Save your coin, friend. Allow me to make amends for the crime which had almost been committed against you." He looked around the room, ensuring that most eyes were on him before he completed his statement, "My patrons are under the protection of this house, and as such, I will not tolerate any trespass against them while they reside within these walls."

Garthuk grunted, glad to see that the bartender understood the appreciation the simple sound represented. "Ale, please."

Within a moment, Garthuk was taking a deep swig from a large flagon filled with the bitter liquid, and as the heat spread across his chest, he knew that he was in for a fun night. While the sound in the room returned to its previous frivolity, Garthuk could tell that something was not quite right. It was like the room was holding its breath, waiting for something of importance to happen.

"If you're looking to sell that statuette, I may be able to point you towards a buyer."

Garthuk nodded his head before tipping back and finishing his ale. The bartender pointed him towards a booth near the back of the room.

"How much for ten more?" Garthuk asked, rattling his flagon upon the dark-wood bar.

"One gold," The bartender said with a smile, knowing well why the orc had asked, and why the large purse sat on the bar before him.

While Garthuk counted out eight-silver and twenty-copper from his purse, the bartender refilled his flagon, and once their transaction had been completed, Garthuk slung his travel sack over his shoulder and picked up the golden idol along with his prized ale, before sauntering across the room.

It didn't take the orc long to come to terms with the merchant, finding the man pleasant, and getting the strong sense that he had been treated fairly. While he was in the small room making his trade, though, a few more shifty-eyed characters came into the bar. Unlike their unskilled predecessor, it was clear that these men were well versed in the shadier ways to make a living.

They were settling into a dark corner of the large room, placing an order with a barmaid, when Garthuk made his way out of the merchant's quarters and returned to his place at the bar, his purse heavy with his latest earnings.

Over the course of a few hours, day turned to night, not that the denizens of the bar had any idea nor care, and over that time, Garthuk become well and truly drunk. Despite pacing himself, he had downed almost all of his ten additional flagons, the last few drops of his ninth drink just vanishing into his mouth when he heard a whisper to his side, "You should know better than to fuck with 'The Shadow League'."

Garthuk turned his gaze, looking the shifty-eyed predator in the face, and broke out with laughter. "Shadow League!" escaped his mouth amidst the bellowing laughter, causing several patrons to snigger and laugh as they watched the unfolding scene.

A bark and yelling could be heard behind Garthuk, as the direwolf dragged another cloaked figure to the ground by his leg, a dagger, which had been intended for the orc's back, lashing out and barely missing the dog's face. As if by design, the man who stood before Garthuk stabbed out from within his cloak with a long and deadly dirk, which was destined for the orc's green-skinned chest.

The assassin's eyes grew wide when he saw the rage within Garthuk's eyes, the powerful orc's anger burning away whatever haze the alcohol had provided. He was further shocked as his blade burrowed through the open palm of the massive orc, until his hilt rested within the orc's grasp. The strength of Garthuk's hand was undeniable, and like the younger thief who had come before him, the assassin was forced to listen as the large orc crushed every bone in his hand, and watch as not a single trace of pain crossed the barbarian's face as he performed his task.

Garthuk wanted to succumb to his anger, and allow his darker desires to tear those men apart, but he knew the unspoken rules of every bar. Most notably, if you must fight, you do not use weapons, and you keep damage to a minimum if you ever want to return. So with a bit of sadness, Garthuk turned his attention to the bartender who was watching the scene with a shocked gaze.

He was interrupted from asking his question by the wailing cry of a different thief who screamed out from across the room, and as all eyes turned to the whimpering and sobbing man who lay twitching on the floor, they realized that he had been about to loose a crossbow bolt at Garthuk. It didn't take long for everyone to see where the man's suffering had originated. The thin woman with dark hair and dark robes finished her incantation just in that moment, and sat back down while rolling her eyes at the attention she had drawn. She took a drink from a bottle while her companion laughed at her discomfort.

Garthuk returned his attention on the bartender, and asked, "So?" while he inclined his head towards the assassin who was punching at his wrist with ineffectual strikes.

"If you can knock him out, my men will take care of it from there."

It took Garthuk more hits than he had wanted to render the assassin unconscious, and as he looked upon the bloodied face of the supine man, he felt as if the room was spinning. His eyes turned towards the dirk which was still skewered through his palm, and before he could pull the tainted steal from his flesh, he collapsed to the carpeted stone floor, joining the assassin in darkness.

***** Unexpected Encounter *****

"That is such bullshit!" Stew cried out from his side of the couch.

The rest of the room broke out with laughter. Empty soda cans, plates with half-eaten slices of pizza, paper, and dice were scattered across the room, speaking of the evening Andrew and his friends had been sharing.

"There's no way that poison could have taken me down like that. I'm Garthuk, the mighty."

"Mighty unconscious, more like it," Allison added with a snicker, as she sipped from a cup of coffee. She was not sure what she enjoyed more — Stew's frustration at having succumbed to the assassin's blade, or the fact that her character's spell had worked so efficiently.

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byPantherParabola© 32 comments/ 18603 views/ 68 favorites

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