The Midwest Wanderer: The Revelations of Oriceran (Midwest Magic Chronicles Book 2)
By Flint Maxwell & Martha Carr
Lightning flashed across the inky-black sky. The Gnome swore under his breath. He hated to get wet, it was the last thing he needed at that moment, but he was almost there.
Thunder rolled across the land, sending a jolt of vibration through his small frame.
Storms, he thought. Can today get any worse?
The short answer was yes, it could.
The Gnome’s name was Gelbus Cogspark. He had once worked at the library in the Light Elf’s castle, but he didn’t any longer. In fact, today was the one-month anniversary of Gelbus’s firing.
And Gelbus had to celebrate, didn’t he? Or at least drown his sorrows in pints of ale and sweet wine—if he was feeling particularly rowdy, he might down a shot of Firejuice, that would certainly be sure to take his mind off of his unemployment.
He passed a carriage on the road. A man sat behind the reins in a dark cloak. Gelbus said, “Good day, friend,” tipping his top hat.
The man didn’t so much as reply with a head nod. There was something off about him, but Gelbus didn’t let it bother him.
The carriage rolled by, the horses’ feet clop-clopping. Inside the carriage were two women. One older, the other perhaps in her twentieth year—the man’s family, no doubt. They looked at Gelbus with cautious eyes.
“Well,” Gelbus said once the carriage was a safe distance away, “not the friendliest bunch, are they?”
He walked on, his small legs aching from the journey. What he wouldn’t give for a horse and a carriage right then.
He reached inside his suit coat and pulled out a pocket watch. He read the time. “Oh, no,” he said.
He was going to be late.
He waddled on.
The sky grew darker and the thunder rumbled. The storm was getting closer.
As he breasted a hill, Gelbus saw the town sprawled out before him. It was a dinky place with a large lake flanking it, nothing like the Light Elves’ Kingdom, but it was where Elargo wanted to meet. Ashbourne has the best brew in all of Oriceran, Elargo had said in the letter Gelbus kept folded up in breast pocket, the letter given to him by that nice man in the tavern of Ves Ielan. As far as Gelbus was concerned, no storm or rude villagers could stand in his way of good brew.
“What got you in trouble in the first place?” Gelbus said under his breath. “That damn drinking problem.”
He smiled after the words left his lips. Didn’t his mother say admitting you had a problem was the first step to overcoming a problem? Yes, he thought she did.
There we go, Gelbus. You’re on the right track, admitting you have a dratted drinking problem! That’s cause for a celebration. I think two drinks are in order!
But it was never just two drinks.
Gelbus would drown in his cups until his tongue was looser than a succubus on Earth. That’s what got him thrown out of the library in the Light Elves’ Kingdom, what caused his wife to divorce him, and what caused him to get thrown out of the Abarract Club in his youth studies.
Gelbus didn’t have much to lose anymore, so what were a few a drinks with an old friend to him? A fun time, that’s what.
The lightning flashed again, and an instant later, he heard it strike the ground not too far away. He stopped.
“That was too close,” he muttered. “Maybe it’s a warning, an ill omen. Maybe you should turn around, Gelbus. Go back toward home…or at least sleep the storm away in that little inn you saw back west.” Then he shook his head. “Oh, no, Gelbus. You are talking to yourself.” He wished at that moment the Gnomes of the library hadn’t taken his top hat away, the one with the flower. That damn thing had grown to be one of his closest companions, and now…it was gone.
The air was still for the moment, and Gelbus’s courage came back to him. That, and his mouth was dry, very dry indeed. Not to mention, at that point in the Gnome’s life, he didn’t particularly have a home.
He walked on.
The thunder continued to rumble in the distance, the storm growing ever so closer. Gelbus saw no one else on the road for the rest of his journey, and not long after the last stroke of lightning had sent his heart plummeting to the pit of his stomach, he reached the gates of Ashbourne.
He had never been here before—at least he hadn’t remembered if he had. Much of the last month was quite a blur for Gelbus. There were a million small villages like Ashbourne all over Oriceran, a million places with a million pubs that Gelbus had drowned his sorrows at, so yes, maybe he might’ve been here before. Did it matter?
No, not this time because this time, Gelbus wouldn’t be drowning his sorrows alone. He’d be with Elargo and how nice that was.
No one was manning the gates. Gelbus did the polite thing and knocked three times, waited, then knocked some more. Nobody came.
Fishy, he thought.
An odd choice of words.
Perhaps it was the fishy smell in the air, from Ashbourne’s black lake. He might’ve once known this fact about the town when he was at the height of his knowledge, keeping the secrets of the world safe and locked away, but the brew had since flooded away much of that knowledge.
Lightning struck again. This time, he thought he heard something roaring in the distance after the brightness left the sky.
Gelbus jumped straight into the gate, knocking his shoulder against the iron. It creaked rustily and opened.
“Well, I suppose I should enter,” he said quietly. Then raising his voice, “Since no one seems to be doing their job!”
What was that pub’s name? Gelbus tried to remember. The Dancing Daemon? The Diligent Direwolf? Something silly.
He reached into his breast pocket and pulled the letter out. The dark sky seemed to open up, exposing one of the two moons of Oriceran enough for Gelbus to read his friend’s handwriting by its pale light.
“The Pickled Pepper!” he shouted. “Such a silly name.”
A drop of rain landed on his nose. He wrinkled it while he stuffed the letter back into his pocket. Then he looked up, noticing for the first time how abandoned the town of Ashbourne looked.
Must be the storm, he thought.
But as he looked around to the buildings on either side of the long, dirt road, he saw no torches in their windows. All of them were shuttered and dark.
Bad feeling about this. Should go back.
Gelbus was never one to linger if he had a bad feeling. That was one of the many things he’d picked up during in his long life. If you have a bad feeling about something, don’t push it away. Life is too short for that, he could hear his mother cawing in the back of his mind.
He turned around to head back out of the gate. The man with his wagon suddenly seemed like the nicest thing in all of the world. Maybe he could catch up to him and offer him payment for shelter—
“Where do you think you’re going, friend?” a voice said from his right.
His heart skipped a beat.
Had the man from the tavern set him up, the one with Elargo’s letter?
The voice did not sound friendly or welcoming.
He looked out of the corner of his eye and saw a hooded figure slinking in the dark shadows of the gate. His eyes glowed a fiery orange in the darkness, almost like the last dying embers of a great fire.
Gelbus stammered. “Oh, I-I-I must be in the w-wrong town,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” the man said.
That bad feeling was rampant in Gelbus’s head. He thought about running, then remembered how small his legs were. He wouldn’t get three steps before this man was on him. Best not to do that, he thought, best not to upset or offend this man.
But those eyes.
In all of his studies, all the countless hours spent in the Light Elves’ kingdom, he had never heard of such a thing—a man’s eyes glowing like fire.
He’d heard of red eyes, yes, those were eyes one wanted to stay away from. Those were the color of the Arachnids of the Dark Forest, a place one wanted to also stay away from—though Gelbus would’ve rather been there at this moment. At least he’d studied the Dark Forest and knew what to expect.
So Gelbus stood a little straighter and put on his most polite face, which, given his Gnome-like features (the long nose, ridged brow, and beady eyes) wasn’t too polite at all.
“Forgive me, sir,” he said, “I must be going now.”
The stranger chuckled. He stepped out of the shadow, and as Gelbus saw the man’s face for the first time, the fear gripped him, rooting him to the spot.
This man did not look like a man at all. He looked like someone who’d been in a horrible accident. His face reminded Gelbus of melted candle wax, the skin burned and folded over.
Then the man smiled. His teeth were mostly gone, but the few that were left crowded each other and seemed to be sharpened to fine points, the type of teeth normally seen on monsters and beasts, not men.
“I don’t believe you’re going anywhere, my friend. You’ve stumbled into our territory. When you’re under our skies, you belong to us.”
“I believe there’s been a misunderstanding,” Gelbus began, twiddling his thumbs. “I’ve only come to Ashbourne to meet a friend. His name is Elargo, do you know him?”
The man didn’t answer. His face went blank as if his brain was shorting out. Gelbus was finding it increasingly harder to look this man in the eyes.
Suddenly, the man jittered. “Elargo…” he mused, “oh yes, I know him. He was quite tasty.”
“Tasty?” Gelbus echoed, breathless.
The man nodded. A forked tongue escaped his mouth and swiped his charred lips, making a sound like pieces of deadwood rubbing together.
“Yes, tasty. I wonder if you’re just the same. Though, I’ve never had Gnome before.”
That was it. That was the last straw. Gelbus turned and ran through the gate. He got, much to his surprise, five short steps away before the stranger’s rough hands grappled him around the shoulder and threw him to the ground.
The sky broke open and the rain came down, stinging his eyes and flesh.
“No, no, my friend, you cannot run. Not anymore.”
The stranger fell on top of Gelbus.
Gelbus moaned, the wind knocked out of him.
“Ooh, let’s see how tasty you are. Let’s see—”
“Hunter!” another voice cut him off.
Gelbus couldn’t see who it belonged to, but he heard heavy footsteps over the rain and the distant rumble of the thunder.
“What do you think you’re doing?” the voice prodded.
“You were breaking the rules, that’s what you were doing,” the other man said. “The locals aren’t meant for you.”
“No buts about it. We follow the rules. Do you want to give up your eternity?”
The man-thing known as Hunter got off of Gelbus. He sucked in breath. It was a sweet relief. Then, not long after, the same rough hands yanked Gelbus up off the ground.
He saw the other man, now, the man who’d saved his life…for now. He had a serious face, none of the playfulness present on Hunter’s. There was a sigil burned into his forehead. It looked to Gelbus like a dragon. Where had he seen that sigil before?
He couldn’t remember.
“Lock him up with the others,” the man said.
Disappointed, Hunter murmured, “Okay. No fun. No fun at all.”
“Please!” Gelbus shouted. “Please! This is all a big mistake!” But the other man ignored him and looked out past the open gate, where the black lake shimmered in the distance.
“Not much longer now,” he said. “Not much longer at all.”
Gelbus was dragged through the streets. He bucked and kicked without much success. A Gnome’s physical prowess was not much compared to a man’s—a crazy man, at that.
“Where are you taking me? I demand you tell me!”
“Aw, don’t get your britches in a bunch, Gnome. I’m just following orders. Lucky Chrom came and saved yeh. I’m quite hungry. Like I said, never had Gnome before. Bet your reaaaal tasty.”
Fear changed to bewilderment. Humans eating Gnomes? Two moons! What has the world outside of the library come to?
“Aw, it shan’t be long now,” the man known as Hunter said. “The Dark One should be waking right as we speak. Then, my friend, all Hell is gonna break loose!” The man leaned back and cackled.
Gelbus tried his best to break free again, but was whacked across the back of the head. After that, much of the fight had gone out of him.
Hunter dragged him down the road as the storm pelted them and the thunder rolled.
Not far away, in the black depths of the lake, a great beast opened its eyes.
They were the same shade of fiery orange as the men who had taken the town of Ashbourne as their own.