Posted by GnomeSplosion
14 Planting, 595 CY
The door opened into the dark hovel and a large shadow blocked the meager light coming through the doorway. The shape slumped and practically fell through the doorway, a jug hanging from one hand. A skittering noise rasped on the floor and a bundle of beaked fur slammed into the shape’s legs as he stumbled in knocking him over and began clawing up his shins drawing specks of blood here and there. “Gods be damned, Devil! Hell-off-a-me.” And the form shoved the pup owlbear off of his legs. Cornelius Drake stood up, closed the door to his shack-home and slumped against the door, barring it with his own weight.
He had gotten back to Diamond Lake and set up the owlbear cub in his home earlier, laid out some raw meat slivers and scraps and water for the beast. Then he’d grabbed his sack of gold and set out to the closest place to buy a drink. Being dry for two days was not okay with him, and he planned to drink himself into the Nine Hells if he could, so that’s what he did. He now found himself, in the middle of the night, slumped, taking heavy pulls off of a half full gallon of grain alcohol and trying to forget every second of every vivid dream he’d endured sleeping in that abandoned office at the Whispering Cairn. Liquor wasn’t helping much and the memories of his life burned before his eyes, he retched onto the floor; hot, burning spirits issued forth from his gut – hot like fire, hot like blood – and he forgot everything in one instant and all was black, and he found peace.
* * *
When he awoke, Drake didn’t know how much time had passed but it was light again. He lay on the floor of his ramshackle home, his cheek stuck to a pool of drying bile as he tried to force his way up. Moving was a monumental feat, and as soon as he was upright he retched again. He dropped back to forearms and knees and heaved in long body-wracking coughs until bits of blood and spittle flecked the floor and his arms supporting him. He felt a weight press into him and turned to see a blurry ball of fur and feathers nudge something to him, it was the bowl of water he left, half gone and mixed with blood from the food he left for the beast. Drake didn’t care; he drank deep if only to have something to retch back up – which he did – but it was enough to revive him slightly. The water’s cool balm on his burning tongue and ragged throat helped rouse him enough to seek out more to recuperate.
After a bit of jerked meat and bread to calm his acidic stomach, Drake lay down on his mat and thought about how cleaning his place was going to be a task. The smell alone was beginning to overwhelm him. He pressed a wet rag to his head and began to consider another drink when there was a bang on the door. “Goway,” he rasped, his throat broken from the dry heaving. The knocking came again. “Fuckoff an’ let me die ‘n peace.” His voice caught in the middle and broke a bit. The knocking stopped.
Drake lay his head back and closed his eyes and then heard the lock begin to rustle as someone attempted to force it. He swung to his feet and staggered to one side. The door swung in and through the bright doorway he could make out figures, multiple men, and in the front a vaguely familiar face. It dawned on Drake when he saw the figure’s crutches as to who he was. “Oooooohhhh…” Drake slurred as three men came in around the man with the broken legs, the man he had beaten bloody outside the Midnight Salute, the man from whom he had taken the map to the Whispering Cairn.
The man grinned widely and gimped in on his broken knees and canes. “Last I found ya, eh Cornelius? Took mah map? Took mah treasure?! Took mah legs!” One of the burly men now astride Drake hit him in the leg, forcing him to take a knee. The door to the house closed. The alchemist looked the crippled man in the eyes as he hobbled up to him and leaned in to stare him in the face.
“Smells like death in here powder-man.” Drake felt bile rise into his mouth again, and he spit it into the cripple’s face. The intruder reeled and scratched at his face, wiping the vile fluid from it frantically. At this, a flurry of claws, beak and fur launched from the bedside and began tearing at one of the burly men’s arms, trying to reach his face. Drake took this moment of chaos to make a move, clumsy as it was, and brought his fist hard into the other flanking man’s knee, cracking it and bringing him down to his level, then landed another blow into the man’s face, crushing his eye-socket. Then a sharp crack resounded through his ears and his vision blurred and he saw the little hobbled man bring one of his canes down onto his head once more and all went black again.
* * *
Waking hurt…again. Shaking the fog from his head Drake found himself incredibly uncomfortable, his arms shackled. He hung from the wall of a small room, his muscles and joints ached to move, indicating that he had been like that for a while. When he came to, someone in the room shouted, which sent his thoughts reeling once more from the banging in his head. The little vile man appeared again and came close to Drake, but not as close before. “Got’cha now, ya dog. An’ I’m gonna bleed you dry. The little whelp cub fetched us a fine fee, a good amount to pay off a bit of what ye owe me even with its broken leg. Still owe me though. Eye for an eye, an’ all that. Ye killed mah man, crushed his head with that fist of yours. Now I’ma crush yours. Sorry, powder-man. Just business.”
He approached Drake menacingly and prepared to begin the beating when a knock was heard at the door. “Go on with ya! Private property!” the man shouted.
“I own this property, Reggie. Open up,” the voice of Smenk, the foul mine owner, called through the door. Reggie froze, and then limped to the door and opened it up.
Smenk bustled his way in past Reggie, looked at Drake, back at Reggie and frowned. “Now, now, now… This will not do. This is no good at all, Reggie. What would Cubbin do if he found you linked with all this blood on your hands?”
Reggie frowned and stared at Smenk. “I see your gears are turning now. Good for you. Now think it through. You and Mister Drake were last seen arguing – violently – in public. If he turns up dead, you are the prime suspect. I would hate to see you end up in the stocks or pits…”
Reggie’s face dropped and his mouth worked but no sound came out. “Good boy Reggie,” said Smenk. “I knew we could come to an understanding. Mister Drake and I have a few things to talk about. Run along with your little gang now.” Reggie didn’t even have words. He just stared, then began to make his way, stopping to stare daggers at Drake one last time before stepping out.
When they were alone, the mine manager turned to face him squarely. “Mister Drake, this is quite the predicament you’ve gotten yourself into.”
Drake squinted at Smenk, trying to figure out the man’s game, but fell short. “Get me out of these chains and tell me what you want,” Drake grunted through clenched teeth.
“Oh now, Mister Drake. Unlike our dear friend Reginald, I am no fool. I would like to make you an offer.” Drake looked up at Smenk, knowing himself at a disadvantage. “You see, I am in need of men who can follow orders and know their place. I am in need of some extra muscle and you…” Smenk paused to look over Drake’s powerful physique. “You would do nicely. You also seem pretty good in a scrap. Of course, you would have to be good in order to survive your recent…endeavors.”
Drake looked up again at the toad of a man and grunted. “I’m not about to work for you. I’m not your lackey.” Smenk appeared nonplussed by this, though Drake thought he looked thoughtful, if a swine could look thoughtful.
“You know, Mister Drake,” Smenk began as he stepped closer to the chained alchemist. “I have been meaning to talk to you about something. It is not a big thing, just something I seem to keep recalling every time I hear your name… Drake.”
Smenk paced a little and the alchemist watched, confused. “Drake. That surname sounds awfully familiar. Didn’t your father work the mines?”
Drake grew wary of the banter, but the mention of his father piqued him and he raised his head to make eye contact with Smenk, a burbling guttural growl issuing forth from behind clenched teeth. “Why yes! I seem to recall some accident where he burned to death in the mines one morning,” Smenk said. “Something about his powder…some alcohol…a cigar… It sounds incredibly painful. Bad luck, that. Or perhaps less misfortune and more…premeditation. I would not be surprised if someone saw what happened. A man burning to death is not something that is likely to go completely unnoticed.”
Drake’s mind raced, his memory blurred from pain and years of trying to forget. Had someone else been there the day he killed his father?
“What do you want, Smenk?” he uttered grudgingly.
“It’s very simple, young man. I want you to work for me.”