To catch up on the exciting adventures of Minty the Bard, start here!
“Uh, greetings, fair...um, creature,” he began, then paused. He supposed he ought to say something about meeting here in this strange place, but he didn’t even know whether or not it could understand him. The customary exchanges between travelers didn’t really seem applicable here.
But before he could come up with anything, the badger sat up on its hind legs. Minty took a step back, although there were still several yards between them. And then the air around the badger started to ripple. Minty blinked a few times, sure it was the flickering torchlight that was causing the illusion. But no, something magical was happening. Minty could feel it. As he watched, feeling queasy, the badger seemed to melt. Minty closed his eyes against the nausea rising in his stomach.
After several moments, there was a small cough. Minty peered out of one eye, the other tightly closed in case whatever he saw really would make him vomit. Then he opened both eyes in surprise, because he saw, not a melted badger, but a gnome.
The gnome stood at a little more than half Minty’s height, and was clothed in black and gray. Minty wasn’t altogether sure its suit wasn’t made of badger, but the gnome also wore a brilliant belt of white gems around its slight waist. They were grinning, and seemed pleased as punch that they had fooled Minty.
The natural bardic inclination for improvisation notwithstanding, Minty was at a loss for words.
“Oh man, you should have seen the look on your face,” the gnome giggled. Their voice was high but surprisingly robust, although Minty wasn’t sure he could be surprised by much else at this point. Slowly regaining his sense of self, Minty shrugged and allowed himself a quick smile.
“I live to entertain,” he said shakily, and the gnome laughed again.
“But can you…..see?”
As Minty said it he realized it was probably a terribly insensitive question, but he had noticed that the gnome’s eyes, like the badger’s, were milky white.
“Sorry,” he stammered, but the gnome waved their hand dismissively.
“It takes more than eyes to see, especially down here, Stoneskull.”
Minty frowned, not in the mood to be teased by a shape-shifting gnome badger. But he wasn’t about to turn his back on a stranger, so he dipped into a bow and introduced himself.
“Aminton Erenstein, Bard.”
The gnome cocked their head and smiled.
“Tremeldonna Garrick,” they replied, “but you can call me Brock.”
Minty had known few gnomes in his life, but he knew about their affinity for names. Most gnomes went by their chosen nicknames, which had nothing to do with their given or clan names. It was quite confusing.
"Thank you, Brock. It is a genuine pleasure to meet you. Not everything in this tunnel has been as...polite.”
“Of course not, Stoneskull,” Brock laughed, and Minty realized with a sinking stomach he had just been granted his own nickname. “Why bother hiding something if it was easy to get to?”
“Then you know about the…” Minty gestured knowingly, expecting Brock to nod wisely. Brock just looked at him.
“You know, the…..” MInty nodded and winked several times, his gestures becoming more obvious. Brock was silent.
“The treasure!” Minty blurted, then regretted it instantly. His voice echoed throughout the tunnel, and several small lines of dust fell from the ceiling. There was a pause.
“Well, yeah,” Brock replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Minty gaped.
“Well, then, why aren’t there more people here, trying to get it?”
“You think there haven’t been? It’s not like people don’t try to get the treasure. They just can’t.”
“You know how many people have died here? Bergin of the North, Master Thomel son of Tamer, the Warrior of Garlong, Lady Illora Yngeral, Paterson Hamstring, Frank…” the gnome was counting on their fingers. Minty felt the nausea return.
“Ok, ok, I get it!”
Brock stopped, looking sly. Minty sighed and ran his fingers through his tousled hair.
“Minty, you Stoneskull, why did you agree to this? You know you’re not cut out for this kind of thing. You should never have fallen for it. There are other Elven wizards out there…”
“But you don’t have to die here.”
Minty froze, turning back to Brock.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, those Stoneskulls didn’t listen to me.”
“Yes, me,” Brock replied, looking put out.
“And why would you help me if you didn’t help them?”
“I didn’t say I didn’t help them,” Brock said. Minty frowned. “But I will help you, for a share of the treasure.”
“The treasure isn’t for me,” he said finally. Brock looked incredulous.
“Then what in the four corners of the sky are you doing here?”