Chapter 44 - Jason

I can’t remember the last time I woke up to freshly cooked food. The smell of Pancakes and eggs fills up my room. I think I might be a morning person now. Yesterday I thought Kaiden was joking when he said he was a better cook than me. What would a kid know about cooking? We got paid and went to the grocery store, a diet based on takeout is going to get you out of shape really quickly. He wasn’t a fan of my baked chicken last night. I didn’t think he’d try to prove me wrong this morning.

I head out into the living room to see that he’s packed the table. Scrambled eggs with plenty of mixings; peppers, sausage, onions and anything else I might want. I’ve never seen a tower of pancakes like the cartoons in real life but here they were. I know we didn’t buy pancake mix, did he make these from scratch? The kid can be annoying and clingy, but I’d be lying to myself if I said he didn’t keep finding ways to impress me.

“Right on time, I was going to wake you up,” Kaiden takes a seat.

“Did you really cook all this,” I sit on the opposite side of the table.

“Yeah, I told you. I’m a great cook,” he smiles and stops short of patting himself on the back.

“I guess I underestimated you.”

“Take a bite, start with the pancakes, I promise they’re great.”

“Aren’t you going to eat?”

“Oh, I’m going to eat a lot,” Kaiden starts loading his plate. “But, a chef likes to see people enjoy their food.”

“Alright, but this better not kill me.”

I pour a little syrup on the corner of one of the pancakes. It smells good, but that doesn’t really mean it’s good. I break off a piece with my fork and my mouth instantly fills with saliva. This is so good. The kid can’t fight, and his magic is janky at best. But if there’s two things I know he can do it’s solve riddles and cook.

“Yeah you like it,” Kaiden laughs and finally digs in.

“Where did you learn to cook like this?”

“My nanny used to let me help in the kitchen, but I never got a real understanding of baking.”

“What? You had a nanny? Are you a rich kid?”

“Very,” he shrugs and takes a bite of eggs.

“Why would you run away from all that?”

“I guess I didn’t really belong there. When my nanny died, I felt like nobody there really knew I was there. I basically walked out in the middle of the day and nobody has found me. I’m pretty sure they aren’t even looking for me.”

“That’s crazy,” is the only thing I can say. I see it upsets him so I try to change the subject. “So we need to get back to finding the Orc.”

“Got any idea where he’s at?”

“Nope, but I’ve had Sorkina looking for information. I’m pretty sure he’s at an Orc Stronghold, but I can’t really just kick down the door of each one until I find him.

“What’s a stronghold,” Kaiden is puzzled.

“Well, in the old days, they were like little gated communities for the Orcs. They didn’t have cities, but they had strongholds which where smaller and usually held one clan. It’s the same today except instead of being out in the woods somewhere they’re usually a culdesac, or housing addition or something like that. Maybe part of an apartment complex.”

“So we just have to find which one.”

“Yeah, you don’t happen to remember anything else about the boss, do you? Any lady friends, addictions, favorite foods?”

“He had a brother. I think he has a convenience store. He always brought snacks and stuff for everyone even if he was just going to get in argument with his brother. He even brought stuff for me.”

“We can use that. I’ll tell Sorkina to look for an Orc with a convenience store.”

“Can I ask you another question Jason,” Kaiden gets super serious.

“Sure, what is it?”

“I saw this movie about a vampire hunter who was also a vampire. He dressed really similarly to you. Is that why you dress like that?”

“No, I just took some modified version of my father’s gear. He actually came up with the runes that are featured on my guns and knuckle dusters,” my father was also a big fan of Blade and I didn’t know that, but I can’t tell him that.

“Oh, well that’s cool. I guess maybe a lot of vampire hunters wear that gear. Those movies were weird anyway. There were vampires, but no werewolves and the vampires were just focused on killing other vampires.”

“Never saw it. But this food is great.”

Chapter 43 - Jason

“How many do you,” I ask Kaiden, as he stands on my shoulders.

“There’s just so many of them. Maybe 30 or 40. It looks like they’re just hanging around. They even look happy, like they’re joking. But they don’t look like Leprechauns,” he says confused.

“Well Sam isn’t a usual Leprechaun. He’s part Elf, and he’s a werewolf. What do these guys look like?”

“Well, they look like Goblins. But, they’re way shorter, maybe two or three feet tall. They’re also really pale, like a pinkish white color.”

“Yeah, those aren’t leprechauns.”

“Then what are they?”

“I don’t know, let me stand on your shoulder and look.”

“Ha-ha so funny. You don’t have a guess?”

“Yeah, they’re probably hobgoblins. Not really goblins, but they look alike. They mostly play pranks , but can be a real pain because they move in big numbers.”

“What are we going to do? You can’t beat them all up.”

“I could be up 40 hobgoblins. Easily. They’re small, and not really fighters. I could probably do it with just kicks.”

“Well, didn’t you tell me that fighting isn’t the solution to everything,” Kaiden does listen, even if he doesn’t seem to.

“Well, don’t worry. I got a different plan.”

“Alright, lets do it.”

Kaiden jumps from my shoulders. He lands on his feet and stumbles forward, I grab the back of his shirt before he face plants. We make our way to the door. I stretch and warm up. I don’t plan to fight but anything could happen. I take a deep breath and force one of the garage doors up before making our way in.

“Hey, who’s in charge here,” I yell out.

“Will you get a load of this guy,” one of the hobgoblins yells back, the others laugh along.

“I’m not playing,” I shoot a hole through the television. I’ve got their attention now.

“Woah, what are you doing? I thought you said you weren’t going to fight,” Kaiden whispers aggressively.

“I’m not. I got this. I’m just going to scare them out,” I whisper to him.

“You want us out,” a hobgoblin with a suit, a monocle and tiny top hat makes his way to my shins.

“Yeah, and if you aren’t out of here in twenty minutes, I’ll make all of you match that, TV.”

“Okay big guy, no need to get violent. Unfortunately, we can’t be bothered to leave. Some really good basketball games this time of year. So, you’re welcome to come back later without those little pea shooters and we can talk,” he smiles at me like he just won.

“I will smash you under my booth you little shi…”

“Jason, can I talk to you outside,” Kaiden pulls at my arm and leads me outside. “I think I got this. You said Hobgoblins are pranksters, right? They aren’t going to respond to threats. Maybe there’s another way.”

“You really think you got it?”

“Yeah, I can do this.”

“Alright, but if not, we’re punting them all for distance,” I follow his lead back into the building.

“Mr. Hobgoblin, would you please leave the warehouse,” Kaiden asks the one in the top hat.

“Ah yes, of course we can leave,” he smiles at Kaiden.

“Well, will you leave?”

“Under certain circumstances.”

“Well, what are those circumstances?”

“You have to answer three riddles.”

“Well, let’s do it,” Kaiden says cheerfully.

“Alright, riddle number one,” he pulls a slip of paper from his hand. “You can see me in water, but I never get wet. What am I?”

“Oh, that’s easy. A reflection,” Kaiden answers gleefully.

“Right, lets kick it up a notch, shall we?” The hobgoblin sticks his hand in a different pocket. “Oh, a good one. I am not alive, but bring to life love, beauty and strife. Though I don’t speak, I never fail to captivate you with my spell.”

“Don’t speak, spell. Bring to life. Hmm.”

“Time is ticking my boy.”

“I know it.”

“Then share.”

“The answer,” Kaiden drags out his words. “A book.”

“Very good. One more and we shall leave,” He doesn’t reach into his pocket and his face contorts into a mild rage. No longer smiling. “I don’t have eyes, but once I did see. Once I had thoughts, but now, I’m white and empty.”

Kaiden looks stumped. I know the answer immediately. Hobgoblins. They’re pranksters. They’re jokesters. Unlike Goblins. They look like smaller versions, and they live in large groups. One similarity that gets overlooked is that they can be violent. These days Goblins and Orcs are very different with how they’ve embraced the world. Goblins can still be violent, they were always stealthier than Orcs anyway. Hide in plain sight. Hobgoblins have not embraced the new world. They’re still the same. Charming, then they cut through your legs.

“I don’t know,” Kaiden whispers to me.

“What’s that? Did you answer? Time is up,” the hobgoblin smiles.

“The answers is a skull,” I speak up.

Rage fills his face, then quickly vanishes when I grip both my guns. “Very well, we will leave.”

They move quickly and efficiently to clear out everything they brought. I feel the malice in their little mayor, chief or whatever. The others are kind enough to wave goodbye. I almost feel bad for them. Almost. I still want to punt top hat into the nearest river.

“I thought you were going to have to shoot him.”

“Well, you were doing a good job. Didn’t want to ruin it.”

“We make a good team right,” he smiles at me again.

“We’re not a team. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“We’re a team. You like having me around. Admit it.”

“No, now lets go get paid.”

Chapter 42 - Jason

Sam brings out some burgers and fries for us. He said we’d only be able to have whatever he had as leftovers, but he cooked these himself. I can still see the oil on the fries. I spend the next few minutes answering Kaiden’s questions between fries. When I finally taste the burger, I don’t even hear what he’s saying anymore. He takes a bite of the burger and feels the same. Sam laughs at us from across the bar.

“Never had a burger so good right,” he asks.

“The best ever,” Kaiden yells out.

“What kind of meat is this,” I ask. I’ve never tasted anything like it.

“Just regular cow meat. I’m guessing you never had food prepared with magic,” Sam asks.

“No, I didn’t even know that was a thing. I would have worked harder to improve my magic skills,” I’m genuinely surprised.

“Yeah, I didn’t know either. Turns out here in the city, things aren’t as simple as they make them seem in the temple. There’s a ton of different ways magic gets used out here. Take those burgers for instance. They look cooked, and they are. Just like any other burger. But, with a little magic, the meat doesn’t realize it’s been cooked so the protein that breaks down when cooked won’t release until it’s in your mouth. Your minds are probably blown now. Wait until you find out about all the stuff technology can do. Oh, and some people are so smart they can combine the two. You’ve seen a TV and heard a radio, right? Well, I’ve seen a radio that’s able to create visuals of what’s playing. You must not have been out of the temple long if you’re surprised by a bit of magic cooking. Burgers must be good, most people tell me I’m long winded and cut me off by now,” he pauses waiting for us to respond. “A word of advice to you boys. People in the city suck. They’re assholes, not to be trust. But, there are still good people out there. Make friends, allies, you’ll need them. Things aren’t that simple. Get a car, traffic sucks, but if you aren’t driving during rush hour it isn’t bad and it might be faster depending on what you’re doing. Property is expensive, but your line of work pays well, buy yourself a house, condo or a nice brownstone. Rent is always raising in this city. Don’t forget what you boys learned at the temple, just understand things are different in the city and everyone reacts different. Take vampires for instance. In the country, they hide. Here, they flaunt their status. Werewolves are the opposite. Not a lot of open space which we thrive in.”

“I’ll keep all that in mind,” I interrupt. He could talk forever.

“Must have finished the burger,” Sam laughs again. He laughs a lot, unlike the permanent scowl on his face and tattooed skull.

“Yeah, it was great. Best one I’ve ever had. Thanks for the advice. I’ll look into a more permanent living arrangement,” he gave solid tips.

“But, I like our apartment,” Kaiden jumps in.

“We barely have furniture.”

“Well, Mr. Sam says your work pays well. So we should just buy some. How much does this job pay anyway?”

“You shouldn’t ask an adult how much money they make,” Sam stops Kaiden.

“We’re a team. I should know how much we’re getting,” Kaiden argues.

“No big deal Sam, I planned on giving him a cut anyway. So jobs are broken down by level. D Level are pretty easy. Usually they don’t require a ton of work or combat. The mission we picked is a D Level. They usually pay between $500 and $5,000. A lot of these are manual labor, puzzle solving, maybe finding a lost object,” The highest rank I’ve completed so far is a B-Level, so I wanted to ease back in.

“Who picks the levels,” Kaiden hands Sam his plate, but doesn’t take his eyes off me.

“The Shadow Syndicate, but they aren’t always accurate, and some jobs are unranked. The next level is C-Rank. These are my bread and butter. They pay between $3,000 and $10,000. A challenge here and there, but nothing that will get me killed, but I get to throw down. Most of these are going be guarding, bounty hunting, missing persons, stopping thieves or clearing out pest problems. Pests like vampires, occasionally werewolves, and assassinations.”

“Assassinations! Have you killed people,” Kaiden asks.

“I’ve killed at least two dozen vampires, 2 werewolves, and one Orc for sure. Killing isn’t my first option. Usually it’s injure, and neutralize, but killing happens. Some folks get a kick out of it, and try to kill on every mission. I don’t. Every kill I’ve made has been self-defense,” every one of them was self-defense; but the list is longer than I told Kaiden. The temple was big on killing anything hostile. But, I’m not at the temple anymore.

“But you carry a gun.”

“I do. I also carry knives, flashlights, sun grenades, some explosives and a bunch of other stuff. Guns are a tool. You don’t have to kill a person with every shot. Besides, the ammunition I use is specifically for things like Vampires, Werewolves, demons or whatever.”

“I’m one of the people who kills everything that gets in my way,” Sam shows Kaiden a twisted smile with a few extra canine teeth, showing his werewolf side. “Now eat up,” he sits down a few pieces of cheesecake before heading back to the kitchen.

“B-Level almost always involve fighting. Usually with someone strong. The mission types aren’t much different than C-Level. Although at this level you might get involved in some espionage, and some of them are long term missions. Pay for these around $15,000 and $20,000.”

“Woah, you must be loaded from all the missions you did with the temple.”

“No. The temple kept most of the money. I’m certainly going to keep most of the money from jobs we do together, because I’m going to do the heavy lifting. No offense, but I’ll never short you the way the temple did us. If we were to do a job for $20,000 and the temple would pay us $100 each.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah, it did. Now A-Level missions might even be from a politician or local figure. Might even be joining an army for a while. Pay for these is usually between $25,000 and one million.”

“Did you say one million?”


“We need to do some of those. Let’s look at the jobs again,” Kaiden says swallowing a big piece of cheesecake.”

“I haven’t really gotten to that level yet. You have to complete a certain number of missions before the next level is available to you. I’ve only gone up to B-Rank. Now, the last rank is S-Level. I can’t even tell you what the missions are like there. I can tell you the pay is at least one million, and they usually pick you out for these missions.”

“Any more questions?”

“For now, nope.”

“Good, let’s go evict some Leprechaun. Sam, what do I owe you,” I ask as he takes the plates.

“You don’t owe me nothing. You’re Dalia’s boys. Just promise to come if I call you for a favor,” he extends his hand.

“I’ll make sure to give you my number when I get a phone,” I shake his hand.

“Get a damn cell phone boy. You’re going to be screwed without one. Now take care, and if you hear from Dalia, tell her old Sam is still waiting.”

Chapter 41 - Jason

“Jason, I can’t go in a bar,” Kaiden waits at the door after I walk through.

“It’s not a bar, it’s a tavern. Besides it’s noon, nobody is drinking at noon. Now come on,” I take his shoulder and guide him in.

“No kids in my bar,” a gruff looking man calls out from behind the bar.

Based on Dalia’s description this is Sam. Half Leprechaun, half elf, full werewolf. His appearance looks it for sure. A bald head with faded Celtic tattoos, a wild and fiery red beard. Tall as an elf but as muscular as a Dwarf. His belly hung over his belt, but the muscle was there still. I could see the fire in his eyes, ready to fight even if he was older now. Still ready to fight.

“We’ll be quick. I promise,” I plead with him.

“I ain’t got nothing for kids,” he argues.

“We should go Jason,” Kaiden turns to leave, I pull him back.

“Kid goes where I go. Dalia said I could find work here. I’m just here to check it out,” I stare back at him matching his intensity.

“Sweet, sweet, Dalia sent you,” the intensity turns to passion.

“Yeah, I’m Jason, this is Kaiden. I’m exiled, he’s...lost.”

“Well, any friend of Dalia’s is a friend of mine. Should have just said so. If you’re looking for work, I’ve got work,” he hands me a menu and snaps his fingers.

The food items vanish and the letters rearrange. Instead of a menu, the pages hold job listings. New Jersey Devil sighting, Springhill Jack Wanted Dead or Alive, Demon haunting boarding school. Vampires holding orphanage hostage, Werewolf terrorizing the zoo. Vampire Clan seeking the return of an amulet stolen by exiled member. Assassin wanted. This is the kind of stuff I live for. If I had known this place was here, I would have been working these jobs instead of making sandwiches.

“So how’s Dalia,” Sam asks leaning over the bar and sucking in his stomach as if she were here.

“Don’t know, I got exiled. She sent me a kid and a letter.”

“Teenager, she sent you a teenager and a letter. But, she’s doing just fine,” Kaiden answers.

“Still gazing into that crystal ball,” Sam asks.

“Of course,” Kaiden laughs.

“Yeah, I miss her. I used to have a thing for her. Always wanted to make love with her. Then Elsar had to stick his nose in the business. Swept her right off her feet.”

“Ew,” Kaiden whispers under his breath.

“Yeah, that’s nasty,” I add.

“You had to see her back then, smooth warm sepia skin, smelling like the perfect mixture of cocoa butter and peppermint. She had legs for days, that wasn’t even her best asset because when the she would put on a...”

“HEY,” I stop him before he goes further,” she raised me. You’re basically talking about my mom so chill out.”

“Yeah, she took care of me too. You really gotta move on. She’s an old lady now,” Kaiden adds looking mortified.

“Whatever, I’m going to grab you some food. We’re not serving lunch yet so the cook isn’t here. Don’t expect anything fancy. It’s on the house before you say anything, doesn’t seem like you can afford to pay,” he vanishes behind a kitchen door but his laugh keeps going.

“I don’t like him,” Kaiden whispers.

“Well, he’s all we got for real work.”

“We gonna go kill some vampires?”

“You’re not ready for that yet.”

“Then what are we gonna do?”

“Something simple. We’re going to go clear out some Leprechauns. They’ve taken over a warehouse.”

“The little magic guys who play with coins and fix shoes?”

“Some of them. Most of them are like Dwarves, but skinnier and they can do magic. The shoe thing started because that’s the extent of the craft skills. They never bothered to practice weapon making making because they had magic. Should be an easy job that pays well. They don’t fight as much as rumors say.”

“Is anyone going to look like what I think they do,” Kaiden asks.

“Probably not, I remember my first class on the super natural as they call it. Fairy tails don’t really do anyone justice. I thought Elves were the guys in Santa’s workshop,” I can’t help but laugh. “Whole time, Elsar was an Elf, or at least half.”

“You think he and Dalia were really a thing?”

“I could see it, even if I didn’t want to.”

“Who pays us for these jobs,” Kaiden asks.

“Depends on who listed it. This one is just cash on delivery. So the person who issued it will pay us. Others are listed by the Shadow Syndicate. They’ll get paid a fee for listing and about 90% of the money will come to us.”

“Shadow Syndicate? What is that,” Kaiden looks confused.

“A long time ago, a wizard, a mercenary and an adventurer came together as friends and took on jobs as a guild. Sometimes they hunted creatures, sometimes they hunted treasures or even people. Eventually they expanded and began to give out licenses to determine who could take these jobs as a they were dangerous. There’s a test you have to pass, do some hours with a mentor, complete a group quest with others who manage to get a provisional license. There were and still are other guilds, but they all follow the Shadow Syndicate’s license policy. Just to make sure everything flows smoothly.”

“Wait, so all the missions aren’t to kill vampires?”

“Nope, there’s so many more. There’s courier, treasure hunting, security, even medical and cooking.”

“That’s crazy. When can I get a license?”

“Well, you’ve got the test to pass, so you’ll need to study for that and score at least 1500. You can do that, you seem like a fast learner. After that there’s a skills test. It changes every year so I can’t give you an answer what that’ll be. Sometimes it’s sparring, sometimes there’s a massive game or puzzle to solve. Just show your skill. Lastly you’ll need to complete 10,000 hours of supervised training.”

“10,000? What? That’s insane. How can anyone do that,” Kaiden is overtaken with fear.

“Well, most people at the temple start missions when they’re around 16, so when they turn 20 they can receive their license. The training from 14-16 is mostly to make sure they can pass the knowledge test and skill tests. You’re a little behind so if we start now, by the time you’re 23 or 24 you’ll have a license. Some people wait until 40 to even try so don’t get discouraged.”

“This is a lot to take in, and I feel like I don’t know half the stuff I need to,” Kaiden seems to worry a lot about little things, then completely ignores the big things. He was worried about books, but not the fact that he blew up a treehouse.

“Well, the good news is we’ll be able to work on everything at once since we’re not at the temple.”

“Okay, where do we start,” there’s his eagerness.

Chapter 40 - Jason

“The fact that magic can set up a whole little bubble world in broad daylight is so cool. You could have a whole city, hidden to normal people, this is so wild,” Kaiden is amazed by their small little hiding hole.

“If we sneak around back, we can sneak right into the room where they keep all the valuables,” Terra says.

“I’ve got a better idea,” they won’t like it, but I need a fight. More fights, get back in shape.

I start making my way to the gate surrounding the tiny wooden fort that looks more like a treehouse with two log cabins at the bottom. Fort is way too big of a word to describe what is going on here. They’re giving these people too much credit. Maybe because they’re young and haven’t seen much, but to me this is laughable. They can’t have that many people inside and from what I’ve been told it’s just a bunch of angsty teenagers who want to live in a version of the past that never was.

I walk up to the big wooden wall and start to kick. It isn’t long until two Wood Elves with bows pop their heads out from above. I’m not sure if they’re shocked that someone is here or that someone is kicking on the door. Either way they’re frozen; they don’t know if they should shoot at me or call for help.

“Open the gate, I want to talk to who’s in charge,” I make the choice easy for them.

“Go away,” one says not so sure of himself.

“Open the gate, or going to break it down.”

They disappear back inside. I hear some muffled yelling a little banging. Kaiden and Terra join me waiting outside the gate. Soon it opens up. A few plots of vegetables that aren’t growing well. The two roughly assembled log cabins. A massive treehouse that looks as if it would have been majestic if the blueprints were followed by actual carpenters. Looking around it’s clear to me that they had some incredible plan here. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have the skill needed for a reasonable follow through.

“Who do you think you are, coming into my kingdom,” a slighter larger than average Wood Elf approaches me. Crooked crown and tattered cape. Is he playing king?

“I do.”

“Well what do you want?”

“I want you to give back everything you stole,” a simple request.

“I’ll do no such thing,” he laughs. The others join in.

“Okay, I want you to return everything you stole. Then I want you to apologize to these two.”

“Oh, you mean the thieving wicked wench and the fetal Earth hugger,” more laughter.

“Yeah, them,” I point to Kaiden and Terra.

“And what if I don’t,” he steps closer.

“Well, I’ll just have to make you,” I flick the crown off his head. For some reason he’s shocked.

“How dare you,” he reaches up and slaps me. Did I just get slapped by a teenager?

“New, plan,” I take his arm and wrench it behind his back before tossing him into the dirt and placing my boot on the back of his head. “Will you shut the fuck up,” I ask him. “Now, for the rest of you, if you want a fight. You’ve got one. Unless you bring out everything you stole.”

“That wasn’t the plan,” Terra yells at me.

“Is this a good idea? There’s a lot of them,” Kaiden asks.

“It was always my plan,” I snatch an arrow out of the air. No real power behind it. Big children playing make believe.

Eventually they go all out on an attack. This is what I’ve been waiting for. Not the same thrill as facing down Orcs, vampires or werewolves. Still, just enough adrenaline rush. I could wipe all these kids up by myself. I want to keep it competitive so I let them land a few blows every now and then. Tera is holding the archers at bay, she’s good with the magic spells. Kaiden isn’t doing great. Really need to teach that kid how to fight. But, he’s got determination. He doesn’t stay down and eventually he just tires them out to the point he can beat one. It’s funny and inspiring at the same time. I guess taking a beating is part of learning. When I feel like they’ve had enough practice I start taking out the kids one by one to wrap this up.

A massive explosion shakes the ground and grabs everyone’s attention. The fighting comes to an immediate halt. Someone has upped the ante from petty squabble to a fight to the death. I turn around to see the massive treehouse now burning with other pieces dropping to the ground. Who the hell could do this. I turn to see Kaiden holding out his right arm, aiming at the treehouse. Of course, he did it, he did the same thing to the Orcs. I don’t have time to ponder on it. I guess their little pocket world wasn’t strong enough to hide the sound of explosions.

“Kaiden, please stop trying to use magic for now. Get your books. We need to get the fuck out of here. Yesterday.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that,” he rushes off with Terra to the cabin that holds all the loot. Nobody tries to stop them.

“Sorry everyone, this got a little out of hand,” I feel like I should say something. “Go home to your parents,” I add. That was stupid, I’m really glad nobody is listening to me.

Chapter 39 - Jason

The Orcs are still extorting business around here but they’ve packed up and moved to a different location. They didn’t have much choice, Kaiden shot a hole through their building. Nothing but dust and old crap left inside. I thought about bringing Kaiden a sword, but I don’t think Orcish swords were ever any good. Something about them always breaking, used more for smashing and hooking than cutting. Besides, he needs to learn how to use his fists first and figure out how to use magic without taking out a whole building. I had hoped going through this place would help me find out more about where they’re heading, but I got nothing. I’ll have to track down leads other ways.

For now, I’ll make my way back home. I’m supposed to head down to the basement. There’s supposed to be a drug lab. If it’s anything like the last drug lab, it’ll probably be more Dwarves down there making weapons. I’ve noticed the landlord has a habit of exaggerating things. Whatever, it works out better for me that way. Less work to do, and he thinks I did something amazing. Is this what city life is like? I could use a little more excitement.

Those Orcs beat the crap out of me, but I have to admit I loved every second of it. Not the beating or the pain. Just fighting against something, anything. I could actually see things happening every time I threw a punch or slammed an Orc. I don’t know what if it was adrenaline or I’m some kind of masochist. For the first time, I got that rush that I’ve been missing since I left the temple. I should look into some of the places that Dalia said I could find some more work. I’m a sick man, and I’m laughing at myself on the bus. I’ll just get off now and walk the extra two blocks. I don’t know why, but I’ve finally started feeling happy here in the city. The same way I did sneaking out here when I was younger.

I hear talking inside, Kaiden must be watching TV. I thought he was going to the park today. I open the door and nothing is what I expect. Kaiden is sitting on the couch, ripped shirt, black eye and dried blood around his lip. Next to him is the Dark Elf girl who called me a pervert on the bus a while back. She’s taken a beating too. I’m less concerned with why they know each other and more concerned about who put their hands on them.

“Hey Jason, this is Teranonu,” Kaiden says when he sees me.

“That’s my Elven name, humans usually just call me Tera,” she says.

“And you usually pervert on the bus,” I interrupt her before she can say more. “Kaiden, who beat you up?”

“Well, there were these Wood Elves. Tera stole some wallets from them, but they were stolen. She was trying to take them back when she ran into me. They beat us up and took the bag with the books you gave me. They’ve got a fort in the center of the park. The little forest part. We were hoping you could help us get them back.” Kaiden tells me everything right away.

“He didn’t need to know all of that,” Tera chastises Kaiden.

“Well, if we want him to help us, we should be honest,” Kaiden argues.

“He’s right. Let’s go,” Kaiden hops off the couch and follows me.

“Are you two serious? What’s wrong with you,” Tera argues, but follows.

“I like to take a proactive stance on problems,” I call the elevator. “If we’re fast we can make it to the bust stop before the next bus comes.”

“How can you live in a place like this with no car,” Tera asks.

“You don’t have a car either. Do you mind sharing an elevator with a pervert?”

“Do you two know each other or something,” Kaiden asks.

“Yeah, I saw her on the bus, all beat up with burnt sleeves. Like right now. I asked if she needed help. She called me a pervert. If she had said yes back then, this would have never happened.”

“I’m sorry about the pervert thing. I was having a rough day. Thanks for helping us out here,” Tera tries to be nice.

She gets me caught up on the situation during the bus ride. Young Wood Elves, teenagers. Maybe twenty of them. They’ve decided to go back and live the way they would have before the Wood Elves and High Elves aligned during the Elven Wars. Problem is, that was centuries ago and none of them have any clue what life would have been like back then. They think living in some stupid treehouse, fort or whatever and stealing from people is the way to go. They’ve got another thing coming.

“So why are a bunch of books so important any way,” Tera asks as we make our way through the park.

“Jason got them for me as a Christmas gift.”

“It was not a Christmas gift. We didn’t even celebrate Christmas,” I interject.

“Yeah, sure. Not a Christmas gift, that you gave me three days before Christmas. Whatever you say big bro,” Kaiden responds.

“You two are funny,” Terra laughs. “But get serious. We’re right in front of their gates. They’ve got a magic barrier up so it’s invisible to the naked eye. As soon as we go through this fallen tree, we’ll be right outside their front door.”

“You ready,” Kaiden asks.

“Don’t have to get ready if you stay ready,” I tell him before making my way through the tree first.

Chapter 38 - Kaiden

Jason said he had to take care of a few more things on Dalia’s list and had some work to do for the landlord. He suggested I go out and sit in the park for a while to calm down and meditate. I don’t even think I’m hyper. He just way too calm about everything. Still, I guess I can sit here and read a book, but I’d rather go to an arcade or something. I haven’t been to an arcade for a long time. Jason got me some really cool books. Just need to find a place in the shade to chill out and read. I don’t remember there ever being 60-degree days in the middle of winter, but here we are.

Crap, I fall forward and barely get my hands out before landing on my face. I look back and see a girl. She must have run into me. She looks Elven, but not entirely. Her skin isn’t the usual pale white, it’s more Oh, she might be one of the Dark Elves. Her sleeves are kind of burnt. That means she’s using fire magic, she’s a Dark Elf for sure. She’s filling her bag with all these pocketbooks.

“Hey do you want help with that,” I ask.

“No, they’re going to catch me,” she says still stuffing her bag.

“Did you steal those?”

“I stole them from people who stole them,” she grabs her bag.

An arrow flies right through the bag before she can put it back on. Okay, there’s more going on here than I thought. Now would be a good time to take my leave. If another arrow didn’t block my tracks, I would have been out of here already.

“Stay down, I’ll make sure you’re safe,” she guards me.

“Don’t worry, I can protect myself,” I drop my bag and stand beside her.

I can’t really fight. I watched Jason practice some moves, but that’s it. I don’t know anything. But, I can’t look like a chump. She’s kind of cute. Besides, how bad can it be. Actually, it can be really bad. Who shoots arrows in the middle of a city? More Elves make their way up and surround us. Different than High Elves or Dark Elves. Copperish skin with some green hints. Bows and arrows, oh these are Wood Elves. I’m really wishing I had started with the book on different martial arts styles.

“Give back what you took from us, and we’ll let you go,” one of the Wood Elves yells.

“You’re a no-good thief Eradis. You stole these and I’m giving them back.”

“Last chance before we beat you senseless,” Eradis yells back at us.

“Good luck with that,” she threatens him.

They rush at us, can’t be more than six of them. They’re fast, really fast. Why are they so fast. I try to land a punch and miss. I don’t know how many times I got hit, but it was a lot. They didn’t hit me while I was on the ground, but they hit me while I was falling. I tried to blast off some magic from my left hand. I was better with the sparks with my right hand. I saw her blast off some flames, but it didn’t do much. Some kind of defense magic they had. I’m way out of my league here and all these kids look my age. The city has changed a lot in the last few years.

It’s over in a moment. They’ve laid out both of us with no problems. After the third or fourth time, I just decided to stay down. My ribs were hurting too much. I grabbed a few of the pocketbooks and stuffed them in my bag. It was the least I could do to help. She didn’t last much longer after I fell. My face is pounding, and I can tell I have a bloody nose without looking. Every time I try to breathe through my nose blood gets caught and chokes me.

“I told you to run,” the girl offers me her hand.

“I wasn’t going to let you get beat up.”

“Well, we both got beat up.”

“Yeah, but I snuck some of the pocketbooks in my bag, so that’s a start,” I reach for my bag.

“Well, they got that so tough luck.”

“No, I need that bag, where are they?”

“They’ve got a fort deeper in the center of the park. It’s their little hideout. A bunch of kids who think they’re living how the Wood Elves should.”

“Well, I’ve gotta get my bag back.”

“What’s so important.”

“I had some books in there, I really needed them.”

“Well, they’re lost, you can get new books.”

“We have to go,” I argue with her.

“We got beat by six of them, there’s way more at their fort.”

“Then we’ll get some help. C’mon let’s go.”

“What? I don’t know you like that. I’m not just following you.”

“Then you lead, and I’ll follow you. But, I’ve gotta get those books back.”

“Fine, where are we going?”

“We’re going to get my big brother.”