Heart’s Desire, Part Four

As Donovan rung up pairs of size-changing shoes, mirrors that reflected the past, and lipstick that imbued the wearer with temporary omnilingual capabilities, Donovan’s mind was not on the present much at all. Physically he was on autopilot, engaging in polite conversation that he did not remember moments after they occurred, and ringing up products in memorized motions. He wondered how these things might change the lives of the purchasers, and how that might reflect in the magic labyrinth below. Would non-Skymoorians even impact the Soul? Were his theories about it even correct? Would these rash choices be worth it?

The nonsencial blur of conversation and curiosity snapped back into focus when Donovan found himself face-to-face with a vaguely familiar half-elf merchant wearing an enormous backpack, a flamboyant feathered hat that would make Nestor blush, a belt adorned with expensive-looking pouches, crystal vials, and a belt buckle made of dyed orichalcum. He placed a box full of Enigma Cubes on the counter and smiled a toothy smile.

“You’re the owner of this establishment, are you not?” the man asked. Donovan assured him he was. “This place is wonderful!” he said, extending a hand. “My name is Poe Dal Evenson, and I’m simply overwhelmed by the number of magical goods on display. Even the artificers of Kelcia Tower would balk at the craftsmanship on display here.”

Donovan gestured to the corner of the shop, where Nestor worked tirelessly on custom magical goods. “That’s all my business partner, Mr. Pinkly. The best artificer on Solkin, so far as I can tell.”

Poe appraised Nestor dubiously a moment. “That may be,” he conceded. “I must admit my greater interest is with the Wonders of Solkin exhibit. Trading is my trade, but culture is my culture, to put it strangely. So many rare goods gathered in one place…you really benefit from your choice in business partners, don’t you? Ah, but I’m beating around the bush. Are they for sale?”

Donovan hadn’t considered this possibility. “That wasn’t my intention,” he explained. “What catches your eye?”

“The whole collection,” Poe asked.

Donovan balked.

He named a price.

Donovan balked.

“Don’t you worry, sir. As sure as Sol shines bright, my word and my pocketbook are good.”

“It’s not that, it’s only…will you be around, Mr. Evenson? I need to think about that.”

Poe continued to beam. “I’ll be in Skymoore as long as you need me to be and, in all likelihood, in this shop until you can no longer stand me. The people in the hamlets of western Penscarop would pay a life’s savings for many of these goods.”

Donovan wrinkled his nose at this; back in Dera, there was no shortage of merchants trying to take advantage of their simplicity. But he wasn’t about to decline a customer, and certainly not one so…interested. He rung up the merchant, and let the line continue along. Their blockade was working marvelously, and passersby were building up outside, curious as to what all the fuss was about. On most days, Odd & Ends was a quaint curiosity. Today, it may as well have been the center of town.

For the next little while, he did his best to catch Linda’s eye across the room (she was mostly eyeing customers, in what was Odd & Ends’ first real act of asset protection), all the while doing his best salesmanship routine. “Do you like being the talk of the town?” he asked a gnomish woman from the surface. “Do you like having fun?”

“I do!” she said.

“Do you enjoy quality guarantees?”

“Who doesn’t love guarantees?”

“Then that Bonnet of Gravitational Aversion is an absolute must have! I know it’s a little pricey, I do, but only because it’s worth the cost. And you’d find it for much more in a surface city, trust me. Your gold is worth more here. Who knows when you’ll find yourself in Skymoore again? It’s not exactly on the way.”

The gnome examined her pocketbook, and looked over the frilly purple bonnet once more, biting her lower lip. “Oh, what the heck!” she finally said. “You don’t find a flying hat every day, now do you?”

“Certainly not!” Donovan agreed. He took her coins, neatly wrapped and bagged her hat, and sent her on her way. “And remember, tell your family and friends that if they want a hat just like that, we’ll be opening up delivery options soon! The address is on the receipt.”

He took a deep breath between every order, newly weary from each social interaction. He was skilled in the ways of pleasantry, but he could never stand it for long periods of time. It’s what made Emelthea and Linda and Asylum such good traveling companions – they could pass entire weeks on the road in silence without ever feeling lonesome.

Perhaps thinking of Linda willed some sort of preternatural bond between the two, because she finally, at last, met his commanding gaze between customers. She shuffled and gently shoved her way across the store, joining him behind the counter.

Donovan looked over at Karessa, who was across the store in Nestor’s booth, hoping for a similar connection, but no such luck. She was too busy reprimanding Nestor for something, it seemed. Embarrassedly, Donovan asked the human in line to please excuse him a moment, and pulled Linda aside.

“Absolutely not,” Linda said, after Donovan told her of Poe’s offer. “I can’t believe you even called me over here for that, di’ghir. Have you lost your mind?” Donovan must have appeared taken aback by her reaction, because Linda added, “I’m never one to get sentimental about our past, you know this. The great hammer of Oldifkein can rot in some fat cat’s vault for twelve centuries – I’m never wielding it again. But some of these items belong to friends of ours.”

“We could ask permission,” Donovan replied, “or…pay them back.”

“Have you gone mad?” Linda asked. “Of course we’d ask permission, but some of these people are queens.”

“Since when have you cared what a queen thinks of you?”

“I don’t, but you do,” Linda said. “You’re not thinking. I know you get overzealous, but I’ve never seen greed cloud your common sense like this.”

“It’s not greed!” Donovan yelled. He slapped a hand over his mouth, his glamoured face turning red as the skin underneath. “It’s not greed,” he whispered. “I’d use that money to help people. To strike back against the Cabal, to…”

“What?” Linda asked, as Donovan’s gaze looked beyond her. “Donovan?”

Just outside the window to Odd & Ends, Donovan saw something that made his head spin, then his stomach sink. A massive, stone wheel rattled quietly past, down the alley that led to Peach St. and the Pre-Market District. A moment later, a second wheel rolled past.

The blockades! Someone was moving the blockades!

By the time Linda looked behind her, they were gone.

“Sorry, Linda,” Donovan stammered. “You’re right, I’ve stepped outside of my head. I’m going to go for a walk…I’ve got something I forgot to take care of this morning.”

“What? I can take care of it.”

“Too time sensitive to explain!” Donovan thrust his branded apron at Linda, who looked at it skeptically. “Could you man the register?” He was already rushing toward the door. “I need to hurry.”

“What about security?” Linda called.

“Dovetail will take care of it!”

“Dovetail hasn’t been here in weeks!”

But Donovan was already out the door.

***

The first thing Donovan noticed when he exited Odd & Ends, was that the blockade thieves had stolen not only his traffic directors, but much of the interest they’d earned him as well. Instead of peeking through windows, people had shifted their attention to the alley leading down toward Peach St, which had hitherto been blocked by an enormous stone wheel. The wheel blocking off the Administration half of the Docks was also missing.

“Who did this?!” Donovan demanded.

“Them,” a bystander deadpanned, pointing a tentacle at the two figures running on top of the wheels as they turned a corner onto Leeker Avenue with impressive handling.

Another individual started pointing a wing eastward, and the crowd gasped to behold a couple of small individuals pushing the wheel blocking off Drumbeat Deadend with unreasonable ease. With an impressive display of acrobatics, the two managed to get astride the wheel and roll toward the crowd, freeing a drummer who had been trapped in the alley when Donovan and Linda placed the stone circle there (they were a druid, disguised as a cat at the time to ward off the mice who ate from the cheese wheel they used as a spare cymbal).

“What is the meaning of this?” Donovan demanded. The crowd parted around him, every individual concerned primarily for their own safety while Donovan stood there, shouting, as the gargantuan, building-sized stone hurtled toward him.

The two tiny individuals, who he recognized now as a halfling and a familiar bonnet-wearing gnome, did not relent. “Are you mad?” Donovan shouted. “Move aside! Cease this at once!” They did no such thing. Unwilling to take this particular game of chicken to its conclusion, Donovan did relent, and followed the crowd to safety as the wheel rocketed along the surface of Skymoore.

Donovan watched helplessly as the wheel sped away, and looked back down to Peach St manically. “Someone call the guard,” he barked at the crowd, pointing down the docks, “to stop that wheel!” He sprinted down the alley and into the Pre-Market District, where the wheel could do much more damage.

The Pre-Market District is where the people who did not have official Post-Market District licenses sold their wares in carts, stands, and pop-up shops in various warehouses during unofficially agreed upon hours while the city guard did not patrol the area. The muffin cart not far from Odd & Ends, for example, was acting in accordance with the Pre-Market District agreement, as Delia “Not the Actress” Findlesmith could not afford a Post-Market deed (the Market District itself is a secret, free-for-all auction of goods from an extradimensional space between the Pre-and-Post Market Districts, and is located in said extradimensional space. After a being that radiated pure, tangible evil that melted all matter in its home universe escaped for a few hours, the location of the Market District became classified, making it both illegal to speak or know about).

It was easy to follow the wheels’ paths by noting the appalled citizens, excited day-drunks, and despairing merchants whose tents and wheelbarrows were crushed beneath their destructive momentum. It was not easy, however, to follow this path, the endpoint of which grew exponentially further every moment. As Donovan got deeper into the Pre-Market District, entire buildings had holes ripped through their center in the wheels’ wake. When he could be sufficiently certain that nobody was around to see him do it, Donovan climbed just such a building with unnatural ease to get a better vantage point.

From atop the ruined home, Donovan could see the two wheels, moving far less elegantly than before, careening through the Pre-Market district and making their way toward the Soless district, the heart of Skymoore’s night life. It would be relatively empty at the moment, which meant these madmen were at the very least not trying to kill people.

He mapped out a path through Skymoore as best he could, wishing suddenly that Nestor was by his side and feeling a pang of guilt about how he’d treated him earlier this morning. Away he went atop the rooftops, hoping dearly that anyone who saw him would mistake his athletic prowess for adrenaline. He also hoped dearly that that athletic prowess would be enough to do something once he caught up to them, or that he’d run into somebody who could.

***

Malleus Silverscale, having grown weary of Odd & Ends’ hustle and bustle, had taken a stroll to see what else the city of Skymoore had to offer. He’d heard so many tales of ritual sacrifice to Sol, barbaric dining practices, and alien creatures who gorged themselves on the gold of naïve travelers, that he’d never before set foot in the city. He was sure that these stories were exaggerated, as most stories were, but he still stopped to wonder, when he saw that banner soaring across the sky during his stay in the subterranean lakes of Garbenkkost, a dwarven colony in central Penscarop, if this Odd & Ends situation might be a trap.

He still wasn’t sure, truth be told. As friendly as that Nestor Pinkly was, and as quaint as this city seemed, some of the rumors held true. There really weren’t any inns, and the people really were giving surface folk the stink eye as they came into the city. And then there was that shop keep, Donovan Allman. He just looked so familiar. Was he some known criminal?

Still, suspicions or no, Malleus Silverscale was still the son of Gwyneveve Silverscale, and he was a man of dignity, trust, and manners. He would give this Skymoore the benefit of the doubt.

As he traveled further into the city, admiring the baked goods, curious curios, and city maps sold by pleasant, unusual, or pleasantly unusual merchants, he found that none of them had any interest in his gold, let alone intent to eat it. This left him up a creek, though, until a kind young man who looked something like a cactus crossed with an iguana pointed him in the direction of “Skymoore’s finest deep-fried bagels,” which took surface currency. The concept intrigued Malleus and the man seemed eager to leave his booth, so Malleus invited him along.

“You’re new to these parts, are you?” asked the cactus iguana man, who introduced himself as Farrow. “How do you like it in Skymoore? Are you moving in?”

Malleus shrugged. “I go where the road takes me! I may very well stay a spell, if it proves to remain as interesting as it seems, or I may be off tomorrow, driven by adventure as a ship by the wind.”

“Whoa,” said Farrow. “Cool answer.”

They found themselves at Yallop’s, the aforementioned bagel provider, and Malleus let Farrow order for him. His features, an unusual blend of spines and reptilian skin, were very unfamiliar to Malleus, but they weren’t unappealing by any means. It was likely that selling posters was not the man’s only trade, as his arms were built like a smith, or one accustomed to carrying large load. Malleus found his face growing hot as he dwelt on Farrow’s anatomy, and returned to reality when he approached with the crispy, deep fried, cream-covered bagel.

The bagel was good.

“How do you like Skymoore?” Malleus asked, as the two sat down at a bench together in the town’s pre-Market District Pseudo Hub, which they were legally forbidden from calling Town Square, lest it be confused with the small, collegiate Geometry District.

“Well enough,” Farrow said. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s got its quirks. But I don’t think it’s all that different from life on the surface, when you get right down to it. I may have to step around magic potholes into oblivion on my way to work now and then. But I still get up in the morning, go to work, and provide for my sister.” His cheeks darkened a little as he took in Malleus’s armor and cloak. “Though maybe that’s not such a normal life for you.”

“It has been,” Malleus said. “I understand your meaning. There’s not as much nobility in what you described as there is in gallivanting around the continent solving other people’s problems. There’s more. Caring for the people who love you…I think that’s the most important thing any of us can do. I hope so, anyway.”

The dragonkin’s face must have grown somber, because Farrow drifted away from the subject, choosing instead to tell him about his other job, carrying and cleaning the massive shells of the hermit crab and turtle people who lived in Southern Skymoore. Malleus listened with interest, and told Farrow little about himself, save that he was there for the sale, and that it was nice. He could boast and puff his chest out in front of most strangers with ease, but when he found a man he fancied, he’d a tendency to pause.

“Well, if you do decide to settle in, Mr. Fancy Armor,” Farrow said, “Perhaps you could try my place?”

Malleus stood up immediately. “That’s very nice of you,” he said far too quickly. “But you see, there’s something I have to – what is that?”

Farrow went from dejected, to curious, to dejected in the span of a second. “That rumbling? I think it’s just the rock giant who lives under the Family Fun Center snoring. Or moving. Or sneezing. It’s hard to tell the difference from this angle.”

Suddenly, from across the square, Donovan Allman was running toward Malleus. “Mr. Allman!” he exclaimed, relieved for the reprieve. “May I help you?” He mimed punching the air. “Do you need some assistance at your shop?”

“Something like that,” Donovan said. “You seem like a strong fellow, and I need a strong fellow. A very, very strong fellow. I had these massive wheels blocking the way to my shop and somehow people are rolling them around town like an enormous bicycle with zero regard for property damage.”

“Oh yeah,” Farrow said, “I was wondering why you’d block your path with rodoms.”

Donovan gave him a strange look. “What? No, it wasn’t rodoms, it was these large, stone wheels from the surface.”

Farrow shrugged. “Yeah man, that’s what a rodom is.”

“What?!”

***

(A Brief Note on the Currency of Skymoore:

Shickles are the lowest form of currency. They are like copper pieces. Small in value, small in size, and look like little orange balls with a green glow within. Jerun Pollick found them in his basement one day, and everyone just accepted that they were currency because he works at a bank.

Feathers are, wait for it, feathers. But feathers that have been silvered by a government-appointed blacksmith. These come in all shapes and sizes, but you’ll know it’s real if it’s been stamped with the seal of the Cabal, which is illegal to know about, and thus impossible to recreate. Referring to it as “the government logo” is legally tenuous, but allowable in this context. These function like silver pieces for the most part.

Scales are the scales of a massive, multi-colored dragon that early Skymoorians killed to prove they could, when the first dragon happened across the floating city. Many people consider dragons to be god, so killing one is sacrilege. Displaying its body in a museum and using its scales as currency is something far, far worse, but the people of Skymoore don’t know that. They’ll be so upset if they find out.

Rodoms are the most peculiar currency of all. They are of varying value, ranging from two gold coins, to over a million. How this is determined is known only to bankers, and criminals who have used magic to draw these secrets from a banker’s mind. Unbeknownst to Donovan Allman until this very moment, they take the form of massive stone wheels from a civilization long lost to time. They’re too heavy to move unless you are One with Strength of Twenty, or a particularly cunning thief of presently-unknown identity, so they just keep them in one place in The First Bank of Skymoore, Also Called the Last Bank of Seamoore, Formerly Called the Second Bank of Seamoore. Ownership of them changes legally, without their physical location being altered. Usually.)

***

Donovan Allman dismissed Malleus Silverscale’s recognition as a case of mistaken identity back in Odd & Ends, but he knew full well who the impressive dragonkin was. They’d fought together once, in the O’grofkala Mountains, back when Donovan was the Suntouched. The young dragonkin had made a name for himself in the ensuing years, largely by striking against Donovan’s greatest enemies, but also by seeking out battles and callings of his own. It’s said that in recent years, he returned to his home in the O’grofkala Mountains and deposed a number of tyrannous landowners who had imprisoned their own people for dubious reasons. He was getting quite the reputation in central Penscarop.

The two were sprinting across Skymoore, taking the fastest route Donovan knew to the edge of the Soless district. It seemed likely now that they were headed toward the bank, which was right at the edge of the Post-Market District, one of the busiest sectors of town. If they could somehow stop the rodoms before they got through the Soless district, they could prevent loss of life.

As they made their way through the Post-Market, shouting at everyone to clear the area, they could hear the sounds of rumbling and crunching from the dead part of town, telling them they weren’t too late. The Soless district was made up of narrow, winding streets, perfect for conga lines and getting lost while wasted, and perfect for increasingly sloppy unicyclists to crash into buildings, taking out their corners, signs, and porches.

The thieves, who had seemed so competent before, were losing traction atop the rodoms. They could be seen much more clearly now – one was an avayla man, resembling a flamingo, and the other was a Dillish elf, judging from their thick skin and wildly dyed hair.

“Got a plan, Donovan?” Malleus asked. “I don’t think stopping those with our bodies will prove especially fruitful, my daring friend.”

“What? No, that’s not what I want your strength for. Here, grab that sign!” In front of Walk the Plank, a nautical themed bar, was a tall wooden board made from the actual plank of some wrecked pirate ship. Hega mentioned once that it dated back to Seamoore days. They wrote all of their daily specials on it, and it was an iconic staple of the Soless district.

Donovan was going to ruin it.

With Malleus’s help, they took down the plank and stood at either end of the street, locking their bodies into place. They probably wouldn’t stop the rodoms, but if they could at least topple them, the structural damage would be preferable to the civilian damage that could lie ahead.

They braced for impact as the rodoms neared, and Donovan grew nervous at the thieves’ lack of concern as they headed for the board. When the rodoms hit it, Donovan and Malleus were flipped onto their backs from the force of impact, but the board remained untouched, except to spin in the air, until it formed a perfect ramp-shaped board, allowing the wheels to soar into the air in what seemed a complete defiance of logic, physics, and probability.

Both thieves were cast from their rodoms, which landed harshly upon a water fountain depicting Pulldrid the Riser, crumpling it beneath their massive weight. The elf landed prone on the roof of a shop that sold bead necklaces and other tacky accessories, while the avayla flapped its wings and landed back on its rodom.

Donovan knew what this was: his curse, which ensured that his every act of heroism must fail. He couldn’t do this at all.

“I’m no hero like you, Silverscale,” Donovan groaned. “You’re going to have to take care of that one without me.”

Malleus stood to his feet, and helped Donovan do the same. “Even pursuing these wrecking balls while others fled was heroic enough. You do yourself a disservice, Mr. Allman. I will handle things from here.”

Atop the rodom, the flamingo was running in place, trying to get the massive stone moving again, but it seemed to be having some difficulty this time. Donovan could see now that it had some kind of clear, viscous material lathered across its surface like an ointment. Gears began turning in his brain as he realized what this might just be.

Back when he first started adventuring with Emelthea, the two pursued a legend about a sub-tribe of Dal Elves who ran like the wind and glided across the very sea. It turned out there was a great deal of truth in this. The Rikadian Roadrunner, a large, flightless bird from a faraway continent, had migrated to Penscarop’s eastern coast from across the sea some time ago, and settled with this particular tribe of plains-traveling elves. Their excrement, when utilized properly, produced a fluid from their body that allowed objects to emulate the bird’s own penchant for swift travel. By applying it to their shoes and using them like skates, the elves were able to match the roadrunners’ speed and take them across the sea. It was a laborious, disgusting, and time-consuming process, which made the ointment invaluable. The elves’ entire livelihood was sustained by selling it to traders in Castiron.

So how did it wind up in Skymoore, and who was using it to steal rodoms? Whoever it was knew their stuff or was taking a risk on the rodoms’ value, because that much ointment would run hundreds of thousands of gold, if not more.

Malleus, unburdened with these questions, grabbed ahold of the wheel.

“Be careful, Malleus!” Donovan warned. “The wheels are –“

GRIPPA” Malleus growled. A bright orange sheen overcame his greaves and his gauntlets, accompanied by the unmistakable metallic sound and smell of transmutation. Sharp metal appendages like a spider’s legs grew from his ankles and his wrists, embedding themselves in the ground and in the wheel. The avayla finally got the wheel in motion, but it sputtered as soon as it moved. He tried again, to no avail. Malleus was creaking and groaning with the strain, but his strength was greater than the ointment’s speed.

Then, to seal the deal, Malleus began to pull downward, rotating the wheel toward him, and throwing the flamingo off balance. Out of options and out of luck, the flamingo hopped off and flapped its wings gently as it descended toward Malleus, talons flailing. It tore at his cape and found purchase in the scales of his neck. Malleus grunted in pain, but he held firm, refusing to give this thief his toy back.

The flamingo displayed impressive strength of its own as they flapped their wings desperately and, thanks to the ointment’s assistance, began to slide Malleus off the ground and along the surface of the rodom. When he was a sufficient distance off of the ground, Malleus yanked backward with all his might, throwing the avayla back into the air and managing to lift the rodom off the ground. Donovan exhaled sharply with amazement as Malleus twisted in the air, rotating the wheel onto its side, and throwing it back onto the ground with a shattering crack! Donovan winced as what was left of Pulldrid was reduced to dust.

The flamingo made another go at Malleus and shrieked, seemingly motivated by anger more than anything. The dragonkin grabbed the creature’s leg, and grounded it with ease. “APPRENDUS!” he barked, and one of his gauntlets left his hand, reshaping itself into a massive manacle, binding the flamingo’s arms to their sides. For good measure, Malleus did the same to their legs. Satisfied, he turned to Donovan and put his arms on his side, grinning with pride.

“These gauntlets sure come in handy, eh, Mr. Allman? Maybe you should get some of these in their shop, for the next time hooligans try to destroy the city. Then again, they’re only as useful as the person wielding them.”

Donovan could not help but admire the bravado. “Wouldn’t want you to lose your edge now, Mr. Silverscale. That was some incredible work. Linda would be envious, did she not consider magic items ‘cheating.’” Donovan slapped his forehead. “Malleus, wait, our work isn’t done yet! There’s another rodom on the loose, down by the docks.

“No there’s not,” came the voice of Hega Perdugal, from just across the ruins of Pulldrid Plaza. “There’s three more.” The sharp-looking, one-eyed, one-armed dwarven woman appraised the plaza with disappointment. She was accompanied by five members of the city watch, their green uniforms covered with thick brown dust and slick blue ooze.

Donovan’s face fell. “What? Hega, what are you doing here? Why is there slime? Three more?!”

“Donovan, pull yourself together. Let me hit those in order. I’m cleaning up your mess because you cleverly but dubiously exploited a zoning loophole. The slime resulted from chasing one of the eight rodoms on loose around town through the colorful ooze pits in the agriculture district. And yes, three more, because we already stopped four of them, because we’re professionals. I appreciate your help, Donovan, but this is reckless.”

Donovan crossed his arms. “I’m cleaning up my own mess just fine. With Malleus’s help.”

Hega rolled her eye. “Men. I’m not asking you to prove your worth to me, Donovan. I’m too busy for games. Thank you for apprehending the rodom thief, but I’ll handle things from here.”

Malleus dutifully saluted Hega and the guards. “My apologies for interfering with this town’s proper authorities, madam. My intention was only to prevent danger befalling any of Skymoore’s citizen and averting further crisis.”

Hega held up a hand. “No need for apologies, sir, we do appreciate the intention. Now please be on your way; the ‘proper authorities’ will take in these criminals.” Two of the guards started climbing the roof up toward the mountain elf while one pulled the flamingo off the ground. “Donovan, a word,” she added sharply.

She pulled Donovan into a side alley, where someone had done graffiti art of the great bear, Orso, towering above a defenseless hamlet. Hega admired the art with interest a brief moment, then turned her eye to Donovan. “Sorry for the show back there,” she said, and Donovan deflated a little. “I don’t want to look like I’m supporting vigilantism but, the thing is, I am. We could really use your help.”

Donovan’s eyes widened. “My help? Why? I’m just shop keep.”

Hega waved him off dismissively. “Don’t play games with me, Donovan. I saw you stab a gorilla demon with cutlery. The town guard means well, but they’re incompetent at best and actively destructive at worst. All the folk who can do the job safely are down on the surface, making sure none of your visitors get kidnapped by the Army of Below. Please warn someone next time you’re going to risk the safety of so many others like that.”

Donovan tried to ask her a question, but she headed back toward the guards and beckoned for him to follow. She ordered the guards to cordon off this district while she escorted Donovan to safety, and thanked them for their work.

“What’s going on, Hega?” Donovan asked. The dwarf was still powerwalking to some unknown destination, and Donovan struggled to keep up. “Where are we going? Why do the guards listen to you?”

Hega laughed. “Didn’t anyone teach you manners? One question at a time; have a conversation, my guy. We’re going to the bank, because that’s almost certainly where these clowns are going. And the town guard listens to me because I didn’t lose an eye planning safety drills for school children. I worked for the guard for a long time, and they’ve still got some built-in respect for me, I suppose.”

Donovan raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that vigilantism?” Hega only shot him a smirk, and walked faster.

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