Auchendale Nights, Part 1
by Nick Schlenk
Renko sat at the bar in silence. The Drunken Unicorn was nearly deserted, most of the regulars weren’t even there. At least, not any Renko could recognize. There were perhaps half a dozen patrons beside himself. He was alone at the bar. Things have been real quiet since those adventurers left the other day.
“Can I get you anything else, big guy?” Renko looked up from his empty mug at the bartender. He shifted his weight on his stool.
“Shure, jus’ one more ale.” He was able to eek out those words with some effort. The bartender nodded and waved his hands over the mug. Right before his eyes, the mug was full again. Renko stared, jaw agape.
“Oh honey,” The bartender said, lifting Renko’s chin and closing his mouth shut, “Every time with you, I swear…” The bartender trailed off as he moved away to clean the bartop.
He downed the mug of ale in two swigs. Still not enough. He can still see that thing, that robot, in his head. What was he? Godot. Godot is his name, Renko remembered. More so, why was it dominating his mind? How could someone be so selfless, to, in the heat of battle, tend to your enemy? It made no sense!
Renko stood up from the bar. Even with all he drank, his massive frame meant that not even a hint of drunkenness overcame him. He had enough of this bar. It was time for some fresh air.
He stepped out of the bar into a cool, clear night. It was late. Later than he thought. The moon was high in the sky, easily reflected off of the river just on the other end of the street. A gentle wind flowed across it. It felt nice on his face.
There was only an occasional guard patrol on the streets at this hour. They gave him a look as they passed by him, and the bar. Renko was used to those looks. He didn’t mind them anymore. Renko plodded across the street and climbed down the slope to the bank of the river. He took a seat among the reeds, took off his boots, and let his feet dangle into the cool water.
He sat there for a while, listening to the gurgling of the water and the chirping of the crickets. He never heard those sounds were he was from, in the circus. Even after he left, he never really listened. It was calming. It settled him down a lot.
The wind picked up for a moment and brought the smell of the river right into his nose. His only thought was nice. It calmed him even more.
“Stupid Crimson Fist,” He said to no one in particular, “What’m I gonna do now?” It was the truth. After the other night he had no desire to see his companions again. All they did was berate him, and hit him. He didn’t realize it, until that night, when Godot helped him. How was he going to repay that?He was done with shards. Done with shakedowns. Done with the money. They never let him keep any of it anyway. He’d spend the last of his pocket money on beer. It’d probably be another night sleeping under the stars.
In the distance from some way up the river, Renko heard a shout. It didn’t sound like anything particular, just someone yelling out. He looked up from the surface of the river, but nothing seemed to have changed. A second later, another, different yell came. It was more shrill. A girl. Not really knowing what charged him to do so, he pulled his feet out of the river and shoved them back in his boots. He scrambled up bank of the river back onto the street. Where did that sound come from? He started to run along the river street toward the center of town.
After a minute or so, he saw it. Just before the square he saw one of the town guards splayed face down on the ground underneath a torchlight. Advancing away from the body was one of the biggest wolves he had ever seen. It was facing away from him, inching toward an alcove between two storefronts to his left. It was snarling, but not at him. It didn’t see him.
It was snarling at a little girl, cowering in the alcove. She couldn’t be more than nine or ten. At the sight, some unknown courage swelled from within him and he shouted out. “Hey! If you want sum, meat, jus’ come right ’ere!” He peeled off his tunic and threw it on the ground.
The wolf turned to face the bare-chested man. Renko assumed a wide wrestling stance. He had done this before, in the circus. Wrestled animals. Certainly not a wolf of this size, nearly as big as he was, but the concept was the same. He rubbed his hands and taunted at the beast. He was ready, and it was taking the bait.
The wolf snarled and bounded forward, much faster than Renko was expecting. As it lunged, Renko barely had the moment he needed to duck left and avoid the teeth and claws. The wolf, clearly intending to have tackled his prey, sailed over Renko’s shoulder and hit the street, rolling across the cobblestones. It got up at an instant.
He could so some sort of fire in the wolf’s eyes. Some evil, intent to get him. It nearly flinched his resolve, but he remembered the girl now behind him. He braced himself again.
The wolf charged again. Knowing what he’s up against now, Renko knew what he had to do. The wolf lunged. Instead of ducking to the side, he dove backward. The wolf descended on him, but he passed the claws before they could encage him. He instead reached out and hugged its chest and twisted mid-air. With just enough strength to pull such a feat off, he and the wolf slammed into the torchlamp, breaking it entirely, and landing hard wolf-first onto the ground.
But try as he might, the wolf was too strong even for Renko. It rolled right, back into the middle of the street, taking Renko with it. He tried to get it into a headlock, but the head was just too big and it was flailing around too much. Without any other option, he curled into a ball and kicked the wolf away. This was not without consequence, however, because as they disengaged the wolf caught the large of Renko’s back with one of his paws rending him deep. He howled in pain as he himself rolled next the the guard.
Renko managed to kick the wolf far enough that it rolled down the river bank, and it was briefly out of sight. He stood up, painfully. He could still move, but he could see the blood, and he was losing a lot of it. He was getting dizzy. With a snarl, the wolf bounded up the riverbank. Its breathing was clearly labored, and it looked angry. Renko couldn’t go toe to toe like that again. He didn’t have much energy left.
The wolf began to charge. This one was it. He can’t brace himself for this one. He had no energy left. There must be something, he thought. Then, in that split second, he saw the remains of the torchlamp at his feet, still lit at one end. The wolf was nearly on him as he, in one single motion, twisted low, grabbed the torchlamp, and swing it right onto the wolf’s face as it lunged. The entirety of the torchlamp shattered, and he heard a snap as the wolf’s limp body slammed into him. They both fell limp against the wall of one of the shops. As his consciousness faded, he thought he saw the body of the guard moving…
“He’s stirring, sir” Renko heard, far off. He felt like he was floating, sleeping for a long time. He opened his eyes. A figure was standing over him. Realizing who it was, he jumped. Or he would have, if his body would listen to him. He remained still.
“Settle down, shard hunter, no need to be worried!” The man said calmly.
“I ain’t no shard hunter no more,” Renko said, “Why are you here?”
“Well,” Mayor Chamith said, “I suppose a thanks are in order.”
Renko couldn’t hold back his tears.
The girl in the alley was Sunny Nicklewood , Mayor Chamath’s daughter. She was out on an errand for her mother when she encountered the wolf.