THEN A PENGUIN WALKED IN #43

LITTLE MEN AND BIG NEWS - PART THREE
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The Dread Lord Hob; Scourge of the West, Defiler of the East, Plague of the North, and Overlord of the South had little to do at that point but eat as he waited for news. And eat he did. He hadn’t realized just how hungry he was and so he tucked in like a professional. The cook had outdone herself, and as Lord Hob finished eating, he prided himself on finding her.

Laneita Gard had been working in a small inn outside of Carttown near the foot of the Gargush Mountains in the southern jungles of Nembly. Lord Hob, back before he’d been Lord Hob, had taken a room there one night and had fallen in love with the food. Once he had come into power, he’d gone back and had offered Laneita Gard a job cooking for him. She’d accepted, of course, and his stomach had lived happily ever after.

Once finished eating, Lord Hob found himself wandering the Keep. He’d checked in at the armory and hefted a sword or two, swinging them back and forth, and watching himself in the mirror as he held various weapons. Most rooms, hallways, walkways, and even closets in Grimwald Keep had mirrors in them. But even the thrill of seeing himself wielding a double bladed ax died and boredom forced him to move on. Eventually he ended up in the bowels of the Keep where Kraxull lived.

Kraxull, the Great White Dragon of Grimwald Keep had been found by Lord Hob when he was only a hatchling. The newborn dragon had been abandoned my its mother, as dragon mothers tend to do, and had been forced to face life on his own, as newborn dragons tend to do.

A newborn dragon is a very fragile thing. Not many of them survive infancy, which is why there aren’t that many full grown dragons around anymore, which most people think is quite swell.

Kraxull had been near death when Lord Hob had come across him. Hob, himself only a boy at the time, took the creature home to care for him. Their story is long and somewhat twisty, so going into the entire affair here would only serve to pad out the total length of this story, and as that’s not strictly necessary, we won’t get into it. Suffice to say that the two formed a strong bond and leave it at that.

The dragon’s home had been carved out of the very bedrock beneath Grimwald Keep and being inside it was like stepping into a ball big enough to house three dozen elephants in comfort. The only adornments in the room were the straw that covered the floor and the walkway that encircled the circumference of the ball at eye level . . . Kraxull’s eye level, that is.

There were only two ways into the chamber. There was the dragon door, which led to the outside and was used solely by Kraxull. It was unguarded, and large enough for a dragon, but any human without the sense given a whelk that decided to venture into a bone-fide dragon’s lair deserved what they got. The other door was made for humans and could only be accessed from within the Keep. It opened up onto the aforementioned walkway. It was this that Lord Hob had used to visit his friend.

Kraxull lay among the stray, his back to Lord Hob.

“Good morning,” Hob said, leaning on the railing of the walkway.

“Afternoon,” Kraxull replied in a voice that was, for a dragon, subdued, yet still managed to shake a few rocks lose from the ceiling. He didn't raise his head, nor turn to face Lord Hob.

“I’m sorry?” Lord Hob said. His face became all scrunchy, a look he wasn’t happy with, but tended to happen when he became confused.

“It’s past Noon,” Kraxull said. “Not before. That makes it afternoon, not morning.” There was something in Kraxull’s voice, something off that Hob was able to detect in that part of the brain that notices such things but does nothing about them.

“Is it?” Hob said in a distracted sort of way. “Guess I lost track of time.”

“It was morning earlier,” Kraxull said, still facing away from his friend.

“Yes,” said Lord Hob. “I suppose it was.”

“Hours ago,” Kraxull continued. “When you got back.”

“Have I been back for hours?” Hob was genuinely confused. “I guess I hadn’t realized.”

“And now you come to see me,” said Kraxull.

“What?” Hob said. “Are you mad at me for not coming to see you right away?”

Kraxull did not reply.

“Wait a minute,” Lord Hob nearly laughed. “Are you actually pouting?”

“Why didn’t you take me with you,” Kraxull said.

“Are we back to that again?” Lord Hob said and then sighed. “I thought we had this all worked out before I left.”

With that, Kraxull moved, his man-sized head rising so that the dragon could look Hob in the eyes.

You had it all worked out,” Kraxull said. More rocks fell from the ceiling. “You ignored my arguments and left me here. Alone. With the cloyne. Have you tried talking to the cloyne?” Kraxull shook his head like he was trying to dislodge a bad memory. “Those guys are creepy.”

“Look, I’m sorry,” Lord Hob said. “But whenever I take you along to a siege you have it all done in moments.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“Well, no,” Hob said. “Not in regards to efficiency and cost. But it’s hurting morale.”

“Not this again,” Kraxull rolled his eyes.

“Look, it’s a fact. The army feels like I have no need for them if I’ve got you. They’ve gotten lazy, undisciplined. They needed a win, their win. You understand that, don’t you?”

The great dragon sighed, which nearly blew Hob off of his feet.

“Okay,” Kraxull said. “I suppose I can understand that.”

“Good,” said Hob. “I appreciate that.” He smiled. “Of course, it turns out that you were right.”

“How do you mean?”

Now it was Hob’s turn to sigh.

“Well, it seems that the One made an appearance.”

“The One?” If a dragon could be said to look surprised, Kraxull was doing it now.

“Indeed. One man, and my army fled before him like most other armies do before you. I could have used you there, Krax,” said Hob. “I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

Kraxull smiled, a sight that would make most any other man lose control of his bladder, but as stated before, Hob and the dragon were close.

“Thanks,” said Kraxull. “You didn’t have to said it, but I appreciate it.”

Hob smiled back.

“What do you plan on doing about the One?” Kraxull asked.

“I have Douglas gathering news from the Relay. Did you know that Finn was gone?”

“Finn?” Kraxull said. “No. Why would I?"

“Yes, I know you don’t care about the comings and goings of my minions,” Hob said.

The two talked until the afternoon stretched into evening and then into night. It wasn’t until Kraxull announced that it was time for him to feed that Hob even realized how late it was and retired to his own chambers.

He found a tray of biscuits and dried meat on the table next to his dresser, his usual evening meal. His stomach growled and so he gobbled them down before preparing for bed.

He blew out the lamp next to the bed and was asleep within moments of his head hitting the pillow. He didn’t dream. He never dreamed. Instead, he woke after just four hours of sleep to find a horror staring down at him.

Lord Hob lashed out, striking the creature with a fist as he launched himself from his bed and went for the dagger he kept by the lamp at his bedside.

He had no trouble locating the dagger as the lamp had been lit, which he found odd. Whatever had come to kill him had lit the lamp. Why would it do that?

The creature picked itself up off the floor where it had fallen from Lord Hob’s blow. He recognized it.

“Douglas?” Lord Hob had found his rage. “What in the Nine Hells are doing?”

“I have news, Dread Lord,” Douglas said. He stood as if nothing untoward had just happened. Hob wanted to strike him again. “From the Relay.”

“The Relay?” It came back to him. He’d sent Douglas off to get news from the Relay in residence. “What took you so long?”

“I did as you instructed, Dread Lord. I did not harm the Relay.”

The cloyne’s statement, Hob realized, was meant to explain the delay. And he supposed it did. Had Douglas been able to harm the Relay, he may have gotten the information quicker.

“Fine, whatever,” Hob said and waved his hands. “What did you learn?”

“Arakis has been stolen, Dread Lord.”

“What? Stolen?” How could that be? “How could that be?”

“A woman posing as a chamber maid took it while the One was in the bath.”

“While he was in the bath?” That made no sense. “That makes no sense.”

“It is the truth, Dread Lord. The Triumvirate has assembled a party to find the sword. They set out in the morning.”

Lord Hob scratched at his chin. This was unexpected news. The One returns and then promptly loses the Black Sword of Power.

“We must find the sword before the Triumvirate’s group does,” Hob said. But how to do it?

The answer came to him at once. He didn’t like it. In fact, the thought scared him more than the cloyne gave him the creeps. If he wanted to gain the upper hand, he’d need that sword. He had no choice. He had to take the risk.

“Douglas,” said the Dread Lord Hob. “I need you to wake the Sightless.”

The look of fear that crossed the cloyne’s face almost made the risk worth it.

Here ends Chapter Ten