Chapter Description: Tommy returns to Malacus to find the land changed.
Chapter 26- New Adventures.
You'll have a treasure if you stay there,
More precious far than gold.
For once you have found your way there,
You can never, never grow old.
In the great forge hall of the dwarves, Tommy stood aghast .“Leadshoulder?” All around, the great burning song forges of the dwarves were dark and cold. Where once great anvils hammered hot to keep rhythm of the magic forging songs, now were tremendously tall shelves Shelves wasn’t completely accurate, however.
When Tommy thought of shelves, he pictured flat surfaces with books resting on them in neat orderly rows. This was more like a wine rack with lattices criss crossing at diagonals creating fist sized diamond shaped holes. Rolled up scrolls made of ancient looking parchment took up each space, with bits of colored ribbon binding each scroll and drooping out of its resting place. Tommy had caught a glance and saw that the same dwarven runes were written on the bits of ribbon; the titles perhaps.
The great booming forge had become a quiet library. Dwarves who had once feasted and sang at the mead table now sat quietly at it, contemplating writing.
None of that caught Tommy off guard nearly as much as looking at
“Aye, Tommy, m’friend,” the dwarf nodded. “It is I. Why do you ask?” He still looked vaguely like Trevor Macintosh stretched over a dwarven frame, but there was so much difference that it was startling. No ornately runed armor, just a simple tunic with a hempen belt. In place of a battle helm was a floppy sack of a hat. Even his rough beard that he’d been so proud to have grown had shaved down to stubble. He’d gone from looking like something out of Tolkien to an extra in a Disney movie.
It was also a bit disturbing that he had an inch or two on Tommy, now.
“You look so...so...different, is all,” Tommy said. “No armor. No beard.” Looking around, Tommy saw almost none of the dwarves had beards. Most were white and barely wispy things compared to the thick and bushy beards that he remembered.”
Leadshoulder smiled politely. “It is peace time here in Malacus, m’friend.”
“And the beards and armor were only for war…” Tommy finished the sentence.
The young man curled his mouth to the side. “You didn’t mention all these changes before,” he said.
“It had been a long time since we’d had peace,” the dwarf replied. “Never thought we’d live to see it. But now elves and centaurs, and dwarves are all harmonious, thanks to you.” Tommy dug his hands in the pockets of his shortalls. “I see your garments are changed, too. No more armor.”
Tommy looked away. “Yeah…” As oddly comfortable as these clothes were, he really did miss his golden armor.
Seeming to sense Tommy’s discomfort, Leadshoulder changed the subject “What brings you here?”
“We seek a quest,” Nox said, plainly.
Leadshoulder clapped his massive hands together. “A quest! That sounds like a delightful way to spend an afternoon!”
Tommy felt the centaur’s strong hand on his shoulder. “It will be friend Tommy’s first.”
Trevor’s doppelganger’s eyes widened with a sense of nostalgia. “Your first quest! Oh you’ve come to the right place, then!” It vaguely reminded Tommy of when he was a kid and friends were telling him how great a certain flavor of ice cream was or a really good movie. ‘Oh you gotta try this! Oh you gotta see that!’. That kind of thing.
“What is a quest, anyways?” Tommy asked. “Why didn’t we do quests before?”
“I already told you, m’friend,” Nox began.
Leadshoulder silenced him and held up his hand. “I think I can explain it better, friend Equestrinox.” When the centaur did not object, he continued. “Malacus is imbued with magic; deep powerful magic.”
“Uh-huh…” Tommy said. “I know.”
“And on Malacus, Magic is a naturally occurring resource.” The dwarf was speaking kindly, but slowly, like he was explaining a basic arithmetic problem to a kindergartner.
Tommy wasn’t complaining. “Sure,” he said.
“In times of war, the magic becomes harnessed for war. Hydragons are bred. Elven mind control magic is spun.”
“Armor is sung into existence?”
Leadshoulder nodded. “It is raging river water being harnessed to power destructive mills.” Okay. Not the best metaphor, but Tommy understood. But when Malacus’s magic is left to its own devices during times of peace, it becomes a pleasant stream to take a swim in.”
Tommy scratched his head. He started to shift about slightly, but the crinkling sound from his hips made him self-conscious. “So it’s like a field trip? A field trip to find good magic?”
Leadshoulder’s smile was nearly identical to Trevor’s: Kind. Patient. And slightly condescending. “Exactly. For some on Malacus, questing becomes a kind of professional sport. Try to complete the most quests in a day for example”
“Oh...okay…” Tommy said. “So what quest should I do?”
The dwarf gestured to the racks of scrolls. “You pick a quest, m’friend!”
“Pick a quest?”
Nox clip-clopped forward. “Whenever enough magic pools in an area to create a quest, a questing scroll forms.“ As if on cue, a new roll of paper materialized in an empty slot. Nox pulled the scroll and examined the ribbon without opening it. “Harvest and eat world’s biggest turnip…?” The intonation made it sound like a suggestion.
Tommy arched an eyebrow. “Why would I want to do that?
“If you can eat it, you can eat anything,” Leadshoulder said. “Literally.”
Nox picked another scroll. “Staring contest with the queen bee?”
“Why would he want to be able to turn anything he touches into honey?” Leadshoulder scoffed.
The gears in Tommy’s head finally started turning. He stepped forward and between his two magical friends. “So you mean that if I finish a quest, I get superpowers?”
Both of them looked supremely amused. “Aye, Tommy.” Leadshoulder said. “Why else would you try to get a bee to blink?”
“THAT IS SO COOL!” Tommy was practically bouncing.
“No freezing powers, m’friend.” Leadshoulder said. “Not allowed. Too close to warlike. If it were winter, you might get a snowball power but…” Leadshoulder stopped. A beefy finger poked Tommy lightly in the chest. “That’s it!”
“What’s it?” Nox asked.
“The dragon! The quest of the dragon! It’s right there on your tunic! It’s a sign!”
Tommy looked down. “Dragon?” It was slightly obscured, but sure enough, there was a tiny green dragon on Tommy’s shirt. Had that always been there, he wondered.
“It’s impossible.” Nox argued. “No one ever does it because they’ve long given up.”
“Which is why friend Tommy should try it! He could do it! The lad is very clever! VERY clever!”
“Excuse me,” Tommy said. “What is the quest of the dragon and what happens if I complete it?” Considering anything martial was out, Tommy very much doubted that it had anything to do with breathing fire (or acid or lightning or cold).
Nox sighed. It was a defeated gesture; very much like a teacher who’d been run ragged. “Flight. Anyone who can solve the quest gains the ability to fly so long as they’re in Malacus.”
Flight! Like Peter Pan? Oh how wonderful would that be! Tommy wracked his brain. There was a catch. There was always a catch with this sort of thing. “What happens if I can’t complete the quest?”
“You’ve wasted a day.” Leadshoulder gave nox a knowing elbow to the flank. “No risk beyond frustration.” He reached over and withdrew a very old looking scroll; it’s paper yellowed, it’s ribbon golden. “Unwrap it and it’s yours to undertake m’friend.”
Tommy pulled the ribbon and unrolled it. Nothing. Right there in front of Tommy’s face was just old, yellowed paper with no writing on it.
Flashes of golden light blinded Tommy causing hims to shout out. As his vision cleared, he saw the glowing runic letters flashing and cooling into dark black ink. “So cool!” Tommy said. He stared at the writing a bit longer, waiting for some other sign. “Uh...what do I do now?”
“You read it,” Leadshoulder said simply enough.
Tommy stared at the runes. They were little more than stylized chicken scratch to him. “I can’t…”
“Here lad,” Nox took the scroll from Tommy’s hands. “Allow me.”
“What’s it say?” Tommy asked.
The centaur squinted. “What has a mouth but never talks? Always runs but never walks? What has a bed but never sleeps? Has a head but never weeps?”
“It’s a riddle,” Leadshoulder proclaimed.
“Aye,” Nox agreed. “But what’s the answer?”
“Perhaps a Wabberjocky.” The dwarf speculated. He noticed the confused look on Tommy’s face. “Nasty things. They just lie around and scream all day. Terrible nuisances.”
“It’s a river,” Tommy said. “Mouth of a river. Running river. River bed. The head of a river.” He’d known that one forever. “Is there a famous river in Malacus?”
A light of recognition came to Nox’s eyes. “The boy’s a genius! To the River Bank!”
Tommy was so proud in that moment that he felt he was glowing. His skin was hot and tingly, but in a good way. So proud was he as Leadshoulder slapped him heartily on the back and lifted him back up onto Nox’s rump, that he almost didn’t notice how his Goodnite was starting to sag just a little more.