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    Yeoldebard
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Elf's Hunt - 16. Helping Hands

The wolf rolled around on the bed, his fur leaving trails that fell from the mattress. It was childish, he knew, but he had been stuck inside for the last three days. With the full moon finally ending, his body was reverting back to his elf form. Elluin was free once more.

Panting in a pile of fur, the skinwalker shivered in the cold room. He rolled out of bed and began dressing, looking at the leftover fur in disgust. The wolf's mind always seemed so malevolent. The only reason he had been able to keep the wolf cooped up in the room was because the wolf was smart enough to know if he was seen, he'd be dead. He'd paid for his room by slipping a few gold coins outside the door the first night. The tavern owner hadn't come complaining, so Elluin figured his room was paid.

Grabbing his blade, the elf strapped it to his back. Briefly, he considered heading to the orphanage to see if it was still standing. Then again, Hope hadn't managed to burn it down before now.

With a quiet grumble, Elluin finally let himself realize the truth. The only charm Hope put on him was to get away. The rest of it, the feelings of pixies in his gut, the ceaseless thoughts about the tiefling, they were all just a crush.

And threatening to gut the tiefling if he ever kissed him again was probably uncalled for. But that was a whole different issue. The elf had been hunting fiends for years, and having one kiss him turned his stomach. Even if it also made his body more excited than it had ever been before.

Not that it was a challenge to do that. Elluin's life was devoted to sword and wizardry. He had no time for any other pursuits, let alone pursuits of the flesh.

And he had no time for it now.

With that thought, the skinwalker grabbed the rest of his things and moved swiftly out of the tavern. His feet turned in the direction of the Mages Guild. Maybe he could find a spell to add to his repertoire.

The guildhall stood tall and proud, bold letters painted over the doorway in various languages, each announcing the same thing. Barin the dwarf steward stood in the entrance hall with a smile on his face, nodding as Elluin stepped inside.

"Hello again. I was hoping you would stop by here again," the dwarf said. "Did you have any luck with your friend?"

"Yes. Unfortunately, it seems you were correct in your assessment."

Barin nodded sagely.

"I am rarely wrong about such things. What brings you to the Guild today?"

"I was hoping to take a look at some spellbooks," Elluin said, grateful for the change of subject.

"Ah. I am glad to hear you say that. You study the runic tradition, correct?"

Barin chuckled at Elluin's look of surprise.

"You have to store your spells somewhere. I just guessed it was your blade, which suggests runes. Based on your appearance, I say I got it spot on. I have a scroll with a pair of runes on them. None here can use them. You are free to have them for only five gold."

"Will you permit me to see the spells before I purchase them?"

"Of course," Barin nodded.

The dwarf led him through the hall, pointing him toward a flight of stairs. On the second floor were eight doors around a circular hall, each with a different symbol over it.

"You store all your scrolls up here?" Elluin asked as they walked around the floor. "Isn't that dangerous?"

"Perhaps, but with the number of wards over each door, it is unlikely any would be able to steal anything within."

Barin unlocked a ninth door, one with no symbol over it. They entered into a narrow hall lit with a chandelier, two other doors on the other end of the hall. As the two approached, Elluin heard a quiet voice beyond the door on the right, discussing the effects of some spell. From the sound of it, he was speaking of an arcane mark.

The dwarf led him through the door on the left, however, and into a large room full of tomes and scrolls, each apparently separated by language.

"The scroll is in the Dathric section, on the first level shelf. We figured that was the best place for it," Barin said. "If there are any other spells that interest you, let me know. I'm sure an arrangement could be made between us."

Nodding, Elluin made his way toward the section marked by the Dwarven tongue. It was entirely likely that the runes on the scroll weren't even of the Dathric language. Still, he wouldn't know if he didn't look around.

He moved past a gnome who was thumbing through a book of what appeared to be Dwarven songs. Finding a selection of scrolls, the elf began searching through them, easily finding the one he was looking for.

As he thought, the two runes on the page were not Dathric in origin. The elf actually had no idea what the language was. It almost looked like they had been sketched onto the velum with a claw in charcoal… Dragon speech? Elluin had only seen one sample of dragon writing before, in the Ajirin jungle. But this looked similar to it, spells that had been coded in magic, then transcribed into a rune that would only make sense to a mage knowledgeable about dragons. At least, that was how Elluin made his runes.

Maybe there was a dragon dictionary somewhere. He would have to ask Barin.

 

Hope stared at the brothel door silently. His time with Samuel had been so fulfilling, and his heart ached for it. He wanted, no, needed to feel loved again. To have someone care for him.

Ten gold coins clinked quietly in a pocket within his cloak, all he had left to spend. The rest had gone to the orphanage. Hope smiled silently as he recalled the looks of wonder on the orphans' faces. Arran had stared at him slack-jawed until the tiefling told him to close his mouth.

They were set for at least three months, as far as food went. Of course, Hope would have to bring the food to them. Arran was unable to leave the building due to a curse that made him weak in sunlight. A gift from a witch he had taken a copper from when he was a kid. It was a good lesson in being stealthy; unfortunately it made things a little harder for Hope and Jeanne. When Jeanne had still been there.

"Why do you do this to us?" he sighed. "Giving us a taste of success? You're just going to tear it away again."

And he couldn't throw money away on what would easily become an addiction. If it wasn't already. Turning around, Hope let his feet wander back through the city. Briefly, he thought about going to the Adventurers Guild. The gold wasn't going to last forever after all. But the last time he had gone there had almost ended with his death. Hope wanted to wait a bit longer before repeating that experience.

He shivered, remembering the halfling's eyes as she fell to his arrow.

"Okay, new topic!"

An elf jumped nearby, startled by his sudden exclamation. The tiefling barely noticed, feeling up the coins in his pocket.

He knew how to read. And he had money to be trained in a scribe's work now. Maybe he should take Elluin's advice and join the Mages Guild. It might end badly, but it beat running around scrounging for coins.

He had to talk to Arran about it first though. And that was not a conversation he was looking forward to. The elf was not doing well since Jeanne had been taken by that halfling. Losing Hope might push him over the edge.

Still, he made his way back to the slums, slipping once more into the shadowy world he called home. There was a discussion to be had.

Opening the door to the orphanage, Hope frowned at the sight of a man sitting across from Arran at their table.

"Um, Arran, who is this?"

The man rose to his feet, towering nearly a foot over Hope. The tiefling took a deep breath, calling the slightest bit of heat to his hand. Just in case.

He had the look of an adventurer to him, a strong one at that. His dark arms were branches of corded muscle, his face bore a scar that ran across his left cheek, and his hair was a tangled nest.

"Althair Naris, adventurer," he said with a voice that rumbled through Hope's chest.

A hand was offered, one that Hope shook firmly.

"I'm here to right a wrong that was committed against a tiefling that lives here."

"Ah. I am familiar with the tiefling in question," Hope said.

There was no way in the Nine Hells he was going to remove his cowl in front of a stranger.

"I am supposed to offer my… not inconsiderable skills in service to this orphanage. And a most sincere apology for the fate of the woman who used to live here. The one who requested her abduction had grossly overstepped her boundaries."

"Have you seen the children yet?" Hope questioned, letting the spell fade away uncast.

"They were sewing when he came in. I thought it best to send them to the sleeping hall while we talked," Arran said. "They seemed hesitant around him."

"I tend to make even seasoned adventurers nervous," Althair chuckled quietly. "It is a skill that is useful in a struggle, though less so when around children."

"You said you are an adventurer? What do you usually do in a party?"

"I am a healer. Not a cleric; the gods have never done good by me. But I am very handy with a bandage, and I know my way around healing herbs."

"Ah. I must say I almost took you for a barbarian."

"A simple misdirection. Smart foes always go for the healer first. If I make myself big and scary, they tend to keep their distance."

"Any particular reason the guild chose you to come here?" Hope asked.

Althair smirked slightly.

"I do not believe that I mentioned a guild, Hope the Tiefling."

"Shit…"

Hope sighed, removing his cowl. Althair stared at him openly, with not a small amount of interest.

"I have met many tieflings in my travels. But you are the first with this appearance."

"Many find me disturbing, so I tend to hide my appearance," Hope shrugged. "My question still stands."

"And, unfortunately, I am not in a position to respond. I will say that I do care for children, and have a soft spot for orphans."

"What do you think Arran?"

The elf shrugged slightly.

"He isn't as good looking as Jeanne."

"I'm still a catch in bed," Althair said.

Hope chuckled quietly.

"Unfortunately, Arran does not enjoy male company in bed. And I am not inclined to let my nether regions make decisions for me."

"Shame."

"You understand that we are poor. There isn't anything here that would interest your… friends," Hope mentioned.

"You have no reason to fear my friends. My presence here guarantees they will stay away. And I heard of your fight with Marie. I can assure you that I bear you no ill will over that."

Hope nodded shortly.

"What exactly can you do to help the children?" Arran asked.

"You say you are poor. I can secure funds for you."

"We do not condone stealing," Hope warned. "Save for in the most dire straits."

"There are other ways that I can obtain gold. And I would can take the children out to learn trades during the daytime. No offence, Arran Detoire."

Arran stiffened in his seat, his eyes wide.

"I have contacts. We can make this a place to be proud of, even if the location is less than perfect."

"Well, considering the conversation I intended to have with Arran when I arrived, I would say welcome to the group Althair," Hope said.

"You do seem like a good person. And we could use another pair of hands around here, as long as you can pull your own weight,"Arran said sharply.

"No worries there. I will not eat you out of home."

"Nagiri! Aiden! Jace! Come out here please!"

The door opened, Aiden the first to walk through. Jace and Nagiri followed closely, confirming Hope's suspicions that they had been listening the whole time.

"First of all, it is rude to eavesdrop," the tiefling frowned. "Second, say hello to Althair. He'll be helping out around here."

Jace and Nagiri said, "Hello," while Aiden waved.

"Jace and Aiden are brothers. I found them hiding out when they were ten," Hope explained. "Aiden-"

"- Is deaf," Althair nodded. "I've been wondering where these two vanished to. No one would tell me."

"Really?"

Hope frowned slightly at the news. Had he picked up recruits of the Thieves Guild without knowing it?

"Don't look so concerned. They were free to roam until adulthood. We do not claim those who are underage,"Althair chuckled. "Honestly, I am overjoyed to find you two here. And of course I know young Nagiri."

The half-orc smiled shyly, hiding behind Hope.

"Oh, that sounded bad. I'm sorry. My friends and I have been keeping an eye on your home, trying to keep you safe," Althair said.

"You don't have to worry about him," Hope smiled reassuringly. "I'm sure once we get to know him, Althair will be as much a part of our family as Arran is."

"And if not, you'll convince him to leave, right?" Jace said.

"Right," the tiefling nodded.

"I hope I can hold up to your expectations," Althair said. "Why don't you all tell me a bit about yourselves?"

As the large man sat down to talk with the kids, Hope beckoned Arran into the bedhall.

"I'm not sure I trust him," Arran said quietly, eyeing their new guest through the open door.

"If he causes any issues, he's out of here. Listen, I need to fill you in on some things that have happened. You know I got the gold."

Hope took a deep breath, looking through the door to make sure the others couldn't hear him. This was not a conversation they should be privy to.

"I'm not sure how much to tell you without getting you in trouble-"

"I know he's a thief, if that helps."

Hope nodded slightly.

"I was… instrumental in the deaths of two of his acquaintances, as much as I try to deny the one. We got the gold, apparently because when I killed a halfling who tried to have me killed, I did the guild a favour. I do not know how, and I doubt I ever will. Nor do I want to know."

Arran nodded slowly.

"That explains your absences."

"Yes. I was sent to Four Pines. Along the way, I stumbled into some sort of monster house that tried to eat me. While I was fighting my way out, I accidentally cast a spell."

Arran sucked in a quiet breath.

"So it is magic then? The things you can do?"

"There's more to it than that. You are familiar with an elf by the name of Elluin?"

"There was an elf who gave me a silver for information on you," Arran admitted quietly.

"I am glad you took it," Hope said. "He saved my life. He also gave me a book with a spell in it. The same book in the chest. I can cast that spell."

"And you want to go to the Mages Guild for training?"

Hope nodded.

"You know our situation. I can get in for ten gold, out of my own pocket. But I will be gone, I don't know how long. If I don't do this, we will run out of gold eventually and be right back where we started, destitute and starving."

"Fine. Go."

Hope blinked at the sudden caving. He hadn't even had to fight.

"You're right. Besides, you want this. I know you do. You might even figure out what it is that gave you your powers," Arran said. "I do not want to take that away from you, and with Althair here, as much as I don't really trust him, I have little reason to ask you to remain."

"You'll be okay with this?"

"I've dealt with worse," Arran shrugged.

Hope embraced the elf with a quiet sigh.

"I… I think I'll stop by the Adventurers Guild first," he said. "Maybe I can get a couple more gold for you."

"Do as you will. And be safe," Arran said quietly.

"I will return as soon as I can," Hope promised.

Copyright © 2020 Yeoldebard; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Well, it seems that Hope's service to the Thieves Guild is a gift that keeps on giving.  Better pacing in this chapter.

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