A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 24: Night

Hobble woke. In his dream, he had been juggling stones. Lots of stones. And he excelled. Still, the sleep had been fitful. He yawned, stretched and went to the window. It was past midnight, and the streets were quiet. Large drops of rain fell and made lazy tapping noises on the windowsill. Gilmir lay in his bed, sleeping with his back to the room. At least Hobble thought he was asleep. It was hard to tell. The slender elf did not make a sound. Hobble shifted his gaze towards the door.

They needed money. In a pouch, hanging from his neck, he had the stone from the dead man. He slid the string over his head and took the stone out. Dark and smooth. Possibly a powerful artefact, but Hobble did not feel anything while holding it. Disappointing, really. He was in possession of a magical item, and as far as he could tell, it was useless to him. Gilmir was probably right, that the shard fortified some magical abilities one already possessed. Since he had none, magnifying them would not help him much. Maybe he should sell it? The right person would no doubt pay good money. The quality of his stone was perhaps not that great. However, he knew about more stones. Perhaps better quality, doubtless of more worth. And also something he could use?

Hobble dressed in silence and picked up his staff by the bedside. He inched the door open and slid out as soon as he fit through the opening. Stepping out in the dimly lit hallway, he paused. He looked up and down the corridor. Closing his eyes, he listened. The tap tap of the rain on the roof and a rhythmic rumbling was all he heard. Apart from the room he was staying in with the elf, five other rooms were emanating from the corridor. Last night, three of them had been occupied. One of the remaining vacant rooms was down the hall to the right. Hobble stalked down the passage. The number ‘5’ was painted on the wooden door. The rumbling was the sound of someone snoring. Like the noise of rocks falling on rocks. It had to be the dwarf.

The door was solid, and the lock appeared to be of acceptable quality for a tavern bedroom door. Hobble leaned his staff against the door frame and felt around the edges of the door. When he came around to the right side, he took out a little flask of oil and with a small rag, he worked the oil into the hinges. Then he inspected the frame and the lock. After finding everything to his satisfaction, he produced his tools and started picking the lock. After a few moments, he heard the expected click. The door was open. Hobble put his tools away and listened. For long moments, he stood utterly still, reaching out with his senses. The snoring dwarf kept tumbling stones.

Finally, Hobble put his hand on the handle. This was always the scariest part. He took a deep breath and pushed the handle down. While he pushed the door open inch by inch, he hoped the hinges would keep quiet. Suddenly something stung his hand. A yelp crossed his lips, and he withdrew. The snoring stopped. A small needle protruded from a spring-loaded arm in the door frame by the handle. A single drop of blood showed where his hand had been pricked.

Hobble rubbed at his hand. Thoughts racing through his mind. The needle could have been there to wake the dwarf, relying on the fact that the sting would cause the intruder to make a sound. Although it worked that way this time, Hobble held no illusions. There would only be one, real reason for a spring-loaded needle in the door frame. Poison.

Hobble smelled the wound. A faint smell of water and plants, almost like a swamp. He bent to take a closer look at the needle. His hand started to prickle. Hobble frowned, looking down on his hand. It was going numb. Balls!

He turned and started back towards the room he shared with Gilmir. The numbness spread. Both arms and feet felt weird now. Troll balls!

His breathing became laboured. His right foot buckled. He fell to one knee. The world was spinning. Disease-ridden, foul-smelling troll balls covering your face and strangling you!

As he came to his feet, his entire body seemed to shut down, and he fell forward. Unable to dampen the fall with his hands, he crashed to the floor face first.

Gloves. You incompetent excuse for a burglar—use gloves!

With those final thoughts, the world stopped being.

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