Read Time: 6mins
“Do come along, it is already eight minutes past the hour. Must I remind you, Bloom and Scorch are expected to behave professionally, so your lack of urgency casts us, once again, in a less than desirable light!”
His temperament betrayed the small and irritable oakthorn’s well-spoken manner; bouncing around his sizeable, rocky companion with relentless vigour, he stopped only to push against the heel of the great everok to no success. Slowly, Bloom and Scorch made their way through the lower pass of the Citadel.
“Broken.” The deep, simplistic rumble of the everok’s voice came like a rockslide.
“Quite so, apparently at one time, this was THE place to live, the very pinnacle of high society,” Glancing down a gloomy alleyway, the smaller of the pair noticed something agile and scaly disappearing into a pile of debris, “how times change.”
Finally, the partners stopped their procession; in front of them stood yet another dilapidated building, similar to the fifty or so they had passed only moments before, only from this one hung a sign cobbled together from old pieces of wood, the words ‘Reckless Spirits’ carved into the boards. The building’s aged, wooden frame misshapen to the point that it leaned heavily into the alleyway, looked as if it might collapse at any moment.
“Here.” Boomed the monstrous everok, attempting to peer through a crack in the building’s wall, his words neither a question nor a statement; at the same time, his small friend strided towards the door before drumming his hand against it.
For a moment Bloom and Scorch stood in silence, then with the sound of a heavy bolt creaking, a small wooden slat, situated at the top of the door slid open. A gruff, purple muzzle and bloodshot eye pushed against the hole, searching for a moment for the source of the knock, before slamming closed.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” The oakthorn pointed towards the ground.
Without a moment’s hesitation, his companion dropped to his knees as his spritely friend scrambled onto his back; knocking once more upon the door.
The eye quickly found its place, once again, at the door’s viewing slot.
“What?” Came a deep voice from the other side of the door.
“Good evening barkeep, I request entry to your charming establishment to purchase refreshment for my travelling companion and myself.”
The single eye locked on to the well-spoken oakthorn. “We’re closed,” Then once more the viewing slot slammed closed.
The patrons of the decaying tavern came in all shapes and sizes; a pair of chimchu spoke in hushed words with a mysterious stranger, while mari musicians tuned peculiar instruments. In the darkest corner sat a single yikona, shying away from a pack of energetic kreebal pounding their hands against a thick wooden bench, sending ale splashing in all directions.
The kreebal’s excitability grew to an uncontrollable roar as the soundly bolted door was suddenly torn from its hinges, sending shards of wood and dust in all directions as the pair made their entrance.
“Sorry to impose,” Came the nonchalant call of the oakthorn, hopping onto a bar stool. In a quick well-practised gesture, he dropped a hefty bag of coins in front of the less than amused bartender, his single eye now actively avoiding the oakthorn’s gaze.
Stepping further into the tavern the everok’s head struck a chandelier which broke away from its aged chains, crashing to the floor.
The room plunged into silence as another bag of coins clattered onto the table.
“Now that you’re all paying attention, your assistance would be very much appreciated in the apprehension of one Khione Velon.” The oakthorn paced across the bar. “Bloom received reliable information that he frequents this establishment with concerning regularity. So if you would all remain seated and enjoy your drinks, this will be dealt with as quickly as possible.”
“Possible.” Repeated the everok.
Several of the tavern’s patrons turned their attention to their drinks, as Bloom and Scorch made their way through the pack, their eyes moving from one nervous customer to the next, each one shuffling their stall out of the way as they passed.
Then came a clattering of bottles, as the reclusive yikona attempted to make his escape from the closing pair. Sprinting from the table, Khione found himself caught in the whirlwind of excitable kreebal, the pack cheering for his pursuers, and what had now become an exciting evening.
Dropping to his knees, Khione slid under the bench, which was immediately sent crashing across the room, shaking the very foundations of the building as it impacted against a wall.
“Come along now sir, let us talk this through like the gentlemen we are,” Bellowed the little oakthorn, as he trailed only inches behind the fugitive.
Dashing for the doorway, the yikona found himself within arms reach of freedom, only to be sharply torn backwards by a large stone hand on his collar. The hand lifted him effortlessly from the floor, leaving him swinging awkwardly from his thick furred jacket. Then with a jolt, he dropped onto a stall.
Opposite the nervous man, Bloom and Scorch took their position. The smaller of the pair leaning upon the table.
“Three cups of your finest.” He shouted towards the barkeep before turning his attention back towards Khione.
“A pleasure to meet you Mr Velon, as I’m sure you are now clearly aware, Bloom and Scorch are paying you this visit at the behest of Mistress Shadeborn. I must ask, do you recall the deal that was struck between the lady in question and yourself?”
The shellshocked yikona sat in silence.
“Mr Velon, your cooperation will make this process considerably smoother.”
“Yes, I remember.” The man’s voice came as little more than a whisper.
“Good, good.” A grin crept across the oakthorn’s face.
“And you remember the contract that was signed?”
“Yes.” He murmured again, his eyes never breaking their gaze from the table.
“Well Mr Velon, I do hope the arrangement has been to your satisfaction. However, Bloom and Scorch are here to collect payment on said contract, which I believe comes in the form of…” The gleeful oakthorn, pulled a scroll from his pack, unravelling it all the way to the floor as his eyes scanned the text.
“Soul.” Came the call of the, until now, silent everok.
“Yes, Yes! Quite right, one soul. The aforementioned soul is now the property of Mistress Shadeborn.”
“But she tricked me!” The man yelled in desperation. “This isn’t what I meant!”
“Now sir, Bloom and Scorch are not here to discuss the finer points of your arrangement. You are conversing with simple collectors of valuable objects, delivery men if you will, moving items from one owner to the next, however…”
The oakthorn took a large swig of the dark brown liquid that had just arrived on their table. “Bloom is not without a vice of his own. How about a wager? If you win, then, unfortunately for Mistress Shadborn, you were never found. You disappeared somewhere into the wilds. But, if Bloom wins, your soul is forfeit, as is the whereabouts of the stone.”
For the first time, Khione looked up from the table, his eyes wide, reluctantly he nodded.
“Good, good. A simple wager then, one that offers you a choice. Would you prefer to compete against Bloom in a test of wits or a test of strength?”
The nervous man looked down at his small opponent, weighing up his options.
“Strength.” He called, mustering all of the courage he could find.
“Are you sure of that?” The oakthorn asked through gritted teeth. Once again the yikona nodded, his breathing growing more rapid by the moment.
“As you wish,” The oakthorn turned to his associate, “Bloom, please see that Mr Velon’s request is fulfilled.”
“But I thought…” Came the call of the man, his voice suddenly cut short, as the imposing figure of Bloom dragged him in one swift movement from his stall towards the shattered doorway.
Finishing his drink, Scorch jumped from his stall and made his way to the exit; stopping only to throw another purse of coins towards the bartender.
“May Bloom and Scorch wish you all, the most delightful of evenings.” Scorch bowed cordially, then disappeared into the night.