Goliath hunched over the table and pulled his hood low over his eyes. The green cord that usually held back his raven-black hair was safely tucked away in one of the inner pockets of his robe; his bright green cape was bundled up in his pack. It was never a smart idea to flaunt one’s allegiance in Goblin Town, no matter its authenticity.
The noise of the tavern ebbed and flowed around him. At the end of the bar, a scrawny, heavily inebriated goblin was telling anybody who would listen about how he got his jollies from making regular trips into the Quantum Shadow. His fellow goblins at the bar were bellowing their disbelief. They were unlikely to be his friends – Goliath didn’t think that goblins ever really had friends – and from past experience he knew that if the scrawny one didn’t shut his gob, the night would quickly become violent.
The goblin hiccupped, blinking as he tried to focus on his larger companions, then peered into his empty tankard in disbelief. He began trying to knock a few coins off the price of his next drink; the barkeep was energetic in his counter-arguments.
Goblins loved to haggle; it was practically a religion to them. The thriving Black Market in the town centre was possibly the Runiverse’s worst kept secret. But what wizard – councillor or not – would dare to try and shut it down? The Black Market almost single-handedly supported a host of dishonest or down-on-their-luck magic-users, through the illicit trade of potions, spells, artefacts… sometimes even Rudimentals.
A better-kept secret was the alliance the goblins had formed with the bands of brigands who roamed The Thorn and controlled the southern stretches of the road that ran up past Frog Master Marsh and through The Carnival Pass to the lands in the north.
Goliath kept an eye on the bar, hoping that things didn’t kick off before he could glean more information from the three wizards across the room. If there was one thing that goblins liked even better than haggling, it was fighting….
He tucked his right hand into the opposite sleeve of his robe and stroked Davina’s long, sinewy body. The green asp’s tongue flickered against his wrist, receiving her orders. She slipped noiselessly from the folds of fabric and along the bench next to him, winding her way up a gap between the wooden pillar and the wall, where the plaster had fallen away in large chunks.
As he waited, Goliath turned his attention back to the three wizards. The eldest wore a long, dirty robe, and kept the hood pulled up – like many of those who met in these dives on the seedy side of Goblin Town, away from the prying eyes of the more presentable areas, where the tourists came to get their wares.
Goliath knew that despite the bushy iron-grey beard covering most of the old magician’s pale face, there was not a strand of hair on the top of his shiny head. He had been tailing the elderly traveller since he got off the boat at the town docks the day before. He looked familiar, but Goliath could not place him. The name the magician had given the goblin port guards was certainly an alias – whoever heard of a name like Richard Starkey? Regardless, the identity of anyone using a fake name could be important information for his master.
The two younger men with him at the table were both of darker complexions and had the unmistakable lustrous skin of the Atlantis Hydromancers. Goliath recognised Louis of the Field despite the hood shadowing his face: their paths had crossed several times in the reaches of Kelpie’s Bay. Yet he doubted the dreadlocked Hydromancer would remember him – after all, Goliath had only been a crewmember. It had been Zarq, the smuggler captain, who had tried to swindle Louis.
The youngest of the three – a handsome man with a honey-gold face – made no attempt to hide his identity. He sat straight-backed, surveying the room with a challenge in his eye, daring anyone to interfere in his business.
Goliath averted his face. He did not need to look upwards to know that Davina had by now slithered along the broad ceiling beams that hung low over the room – he could already feel the tell-tale vibrations starting in the tattoo on his wrist. He placed two fingers over the tattoo and closed his eyes, concentrating on the pattern of her signals. Despite how close Davina was to the men, their conversation was still hard to decipher above the din of the rowdy tavern, but broken snippets of speech still found their way to him. Goliath hoped that they would make sense to the First Disciple.
“…armies massing at the… Falling Star… …see familiars… unholy… wiped out… seek the King’s aid…” (the old magician)
“…warn your father… allegiance… I will bring… Pillars have made a decision…” (Louis, speaking to the handsome man)
“…take you to Atlanta’s Pool… Atlantis… to your aid… aggression will not stand…” (the handsome man to the magician)
“…your debt… time to lose…” (the old magician to the handsome man)
The two younger men clasped arms and touched their foreheads together. Hushed words passed between them; Davina dangled her head from the beam, trying to catch their whispers, but only muted tones came back through the bond. Then the dreadlocked Hydromancer separated from his companions, weaving his way through the crowded common room and out of sight.
Goliath hesitated… Was what he had learned enough to bother the Necromancer with? The other two men were now heading for the door. Goliath dropped two coins on the table and pushed his way through the crowd. As he passed the table where the men had been sitting he lifted one arm in the air. Davina dropped lithely into his sleeve, twining around his forearm.
Exiting the tavern, he saw the magician and his companion duck into an alley on the other side of the muddy thoroughfare. Louis was nowhere to be seen. Goliath hitched up the hem of his robe and hurried across the street to peer cautiously around the corner of the alley. The more information he could take to Crackerjack, the better.
Prologue: Wizard #777
Part 1: Wizard #4298
Part 2: Wizard #292
Part 3: Wizard #2261
Part 4: Wizard #3911
Part 5: Wizard #1177
Part 6: Wizard #2876