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Leven Thumps #03: Leven Thumps and the Eyes of the Wantby Obert Skye
A Stern Warming
The Red Grove moaned softly, releasing the last bit of warmth it had held onto from the day. The thin veins of heat were smothered quickly by the cold. Trees shook, and their leaves curled like startled snails as a light wind drifted cautiously through the chill.
The air thinned.
All manner of creatures and beings looked for shelter beneath the roots of trees or in holes hidden in the tall cliff walls. The Tea birds remained in their nests, afraid to fly for fear of their shadows freezing and leaving them stuck in the air.
The night blackened.
The rambling forest of the Red Grove was circled by tall, jagged cliffs from which the dark night had stolen all outline and definition. A weathered cottage squatted at the edge of the valley. The tavern's tiny windows glowed from the activity inside as a small wisp of smoke oozed up from the chimney. When the smoke rose high enough, greedy plum trees reached out to pull and twist it in their branches like taffy.
Beneath the trees' canopy, a rough stone trail ran from back to over across the dark valley. The sound of hooves echoed off the rock walls as three onicks raced closer. The onicks stopped in a clearing a hundred yards away from the tavern.
"Easy," Geth whispered to his onick. "Calm yourself."
"Is that it?" Leven asked, pointing to the cottage.
"Should be," Geth answered softly. "If our contact in Cusp was telling us the truth."
"At least it looks warm in there," Winter shivered. "I never knew it could be so cold."
"Your gift kept you warm," Geth said, his long hair hiding his eyes. "Now you must feel the elements of winter just like everyone else."
"I feel like half a person without it," Winter said. "I can't shake the feeling of being incomplete."
"You look whole," Leven joked. "Don't worry — if Jamoon was able to steal your gift, there must be a way to recover it."
The onicks they were sitting on shifted.
"So we just march in?" Leven asked, diverting the conversation from Winter's condition.
"I was thinking we'd march quietly," Geth said.
"Let's go, then," Leven replied impatiently. "We've got to stop that secret. It could be selling itself right now."
"I don't think it is," Geth whispered. "It's held its tongue this long. It is an unusual secret that recognizes what it has. This one is waiting for the right buyer, and, if what we were told in Cusp is true, we know that buyer has not arrived here yet. Besides, the secret's scared. It won't be standing in plain sight. Look for it in the corners or the rafters. It's waiting for the right moment to show itself and make the deal of its lifetime."
"Let's hurry," Winter said, blowing on her stiff hands. "It's freezing."
"Remember," Geth said. "If you spot the secret, don't react. Don't let it know that you know it's there. And Leven, you must keep your face and eyes hidden. It will recognize you easily."
"Got it," Leven said.
"What if it runs?" Winter asked. She was wrapped in a dark brown robe tied around the waist. Her long blond hair spilled out from under her hood, circling her green eyes and once pink, currently blue, lips.
"Then we chase it," Geth said with enthusiasm.
"There must be..." Leven stopped to count the creatures tied up outside the tavern. "There must be at least twenty people in there."
"Perfect," Geth whispered, slipping from his onick and sounding like the toothpick he once had been.
"Last time I counted, we made up only three," Leven said calmly.
"Nobody in there will give us trouble unless we ask for it," Geth said.
Leven smiled at Geth. It was still not easy to believe that the toothpick Leven had toted around for all that time was now a man taller and stronger than him. And not just any man, but a lithen, which was about as close to royalty as Foo got. Geth's long, dusty-blond hair hung down in front of his blue eyes. The hood of his green robe was pulled back off his head, and his kilve hung from a thick leather strap over his shoulder. When Geth had first stepped from the ashes and back into his former self, he had looked far more royal and polished. He now appeared much more roguish and up for adventure.
"I wouldn't mind a tenth of your confidence," Leven whispered.
"You're not scared, are you?" Winter asked. "I mean, you have multiple gifts; all I have is this kilve."
The wooden staff Winter held looked dull under the dark night. The top of it emitted a weak amber glow.
"Don't worry. Fate will see us through, and by the time you both take your places in Foo, you will have the confidence to do anything you please," Geth smiled. "Now, let's go."
Leven pulled the reins tight on his onick. His hands were bigger than they had been when he had first stepped into Foo — in fact, his entire body was larger. The experiences he had struggled through had caused him to grow rapidly, aging his body by a couple of years at least. He felt like a smaller version of himself wrapped up in a body two sizes too big.
"Let's snuff that secret out," Leven said.
Geth clicked his teeth and maneuvered his onick down the thin stone path through the trees. The onick Leven was riding moaned and hissed, causing those tied up in front of the tavern to moan back.
The three of them dismounted and loosely tied their onicks to the wooden post in front. The cold wind twisted up both of Leven's legs and ran down his arms. He wished both for warmth and for Clover.
Clover had not returned since he had run off to take care of some other sycophants that the tharms had tied up. Leven had allowed Clover to leave freely, but had he known then what he knew now, he never would have let Clover depart. He could think of little besides the safe return of his close friend.
"He's fine," Winter said as she stepped up next to Leven and touched his hand.
"Clover's fine," she smiled. "Even if the whole of Foo knew how to harm him, he could stay hidden. Besides, we'll put a stop to the secret and there will be no reason to worry."
"About Clover," Leven specified.
"Sure," Winter said. "There will still be plenty of other things to worry about."
"That's what makes fate exciting," Geth said, sounding like a philosophy teacher and motioning for them to follow. "Who knows what's coming next?"
The three of them walked quickly to the door of the tavern.
"Hide your eyes," Geth instructed Leven as he pulled on the hood of his own robe.
Leven flipped his hood up onto his head and tugged the front of it down over his brown eyes. Tiny bits of his long, black hair poked out of the edges. Leven still felt uncomfortable wearing a cloak. It seemed to be the standard dress in Foo, but every time he saw himself he felt as if he were dressing up for a play or for Halloween.
The door to the tavern opened by itself.
Like steam, the smells of roasted sheep and body odor flooded over the three of them. A short nit with a face full of woe sat in the corner playing a slow tune on an accordion. The tavern master looked up from the counter he was wiping to stare at them. He was tall, with a back as bent as any reputable hook. Confident they were no threat, the tavern master growled and went back to wiping down the counter.
Leven looked over the crowd.
The fire was humming along with the accordion, providing a nice background noise for the raucous laughter coming from those drinking and eating. There were two nits throwing sticks in the corner and two tables where single patrons sat somberly drinking. A young woman with long purple hair walked between the tables flirting in an effort to up her tips. She stood tall and put a hand on her hip while winking in Geth's direction.
A group of six souls were sitting in the far corner. Two of them were rants, covered in large black robes; two were cogs, their blue foreheads appearing almost green in the light of the fire; and the other two were wide and oval shaped. Below the hems of their thick wool skirts, plump, mushy ankles topped their rounded, nublike shoes. They had no necks — instead, their shoulders rolled up into their dome-shaped heads, on which just a few straw-looking strands of hair grew upward in a jagged fashion. Their skin was pale and thin, and their facial features were flat and almost translucent.
"Eggmen," Geth whispered in surprise.
"The candy makers?" Leven asked.
"The ones Clover's always talking about?" Leven said with excitement.
Geth nodded again. "They usually stick to the Devil's Spiral and almost never associate with rants," he whispered. "The rants' unstable condition can prove dangerous for them and their brittle skin."
Leven glanced at Winter. She was slowly looking over the room and rafters with her green eyes.
"We should find a place to sit," Geth said, still looking at the Eggmen.
They all moved to a square table at the far end of the room. The fire hummed louder just so they could properly hear it.
"I wish Clover were here," Leven whispered. "I know he has some candy ideas he's wanted to get to the Eggmen."
"I doubt those two have much affiliation with the rest of their race," Geth said softly. "Eggmen are loyal and stay together no matter what. Seeing two alone like that is not a comfortable sign. I've never enjoyed dealing with strays."
"Any sign of the secret?" Leven whispered.
Both Geth and Winter carefully shook their heads.
"You know we've been riding for hours," Leven pointed out.
"Thanks for the report, Lev," Winter joked.
"What I mean is, I wonder if they have a bathroom."
Geth motioned with his right hand to a small red door near the back of the tavern.
"Keep your eyes hidden," Geth warned again.
Leven pulled his hood so tight he could barely see out under it.
The waitress with the purple hair sauntered up to their table and took their drink orders. She then apologized for the other company in the bar.
"The cold brings the elements in," she smiled.
Leven looked around and marveled at where his life had come to. He had traveled a long way from the Rolling Greens Deluxe Mobile Home Park and Sterling Thoughts Middle School. Gone were bullies like Brick and Glen, and in their place were Eggmen and whispered secrets.
Leven definitely preferred one set of problems over the other.
"What can I get you to drink?" the waitress asked.
"How about three pints of fuzzy cream," Geth answered. "And a bar of shaved mint. Oh, and some roasted sheep."
"Of course," she said, winking.
Leven stood and headed to the red door.
Text copyright © 2006 by Obert Skye
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