Howdy folks and Merry Christmas to you! I really wanted to finish the book by now, but I’m still not quite finished. I do have a few pieces of good news, though.
First, despite the delays I am closer to finishing the book. I don’t want to give another firm date because I keep missing them, but it won’t be long. Second, James Foster has finished audio work on Messenger of the Dark Prophet. We hope that it goes through audible’s system quickly and it will be available early in January. Third, as an apology and as a surprise Christmas present to you, here is chapter three of The Ogre Apprentice. This is the last preview chapter I’m going to post. Please enjoy and let me know what you think!
In case you missed it,
Chapter One HERE
Chapter Two HERE
Fist quickly donned his apprentice robes and grabbed Squirrel’s pouch. The little creature jumped in and he ran out the door after Darlan, trying to pull the leather glove onto his right hand with his teeth while holding his mace in his other hand. Thankfully, they hadn’t gone far. Mistress Sarine had paused just outside of the building and was talking away. Fist joined them, Charz and Alfred right behind him.
“ . . . And as I was saying earlier, I keep being struck by how much has changed around here. Don’t misunderstand me, dear. The new clock tower is lovely, as are the fountains in the center square. Just enchanting. But this entire side of the grounds with this testing center and all these warehouses . . . well, frankly they’re just an eyesore.”
The dwarf, Bill, was nodding and stroking his beard thoughtfully. “Well it wouldn’t be so bad, Begazzi, if we could go back in and add some scrollwork along the edges and perhaps redo the roofs with decorative tile.”
“Some colorful paint and some flowerbeds would help, too,” added Kyrkon. The elf was as odd as the dwarf in his own way, with brown hair cropped short and wearing the clothes of a common farmer. He also wore riding gloves and a thin sword with an ornate pommel was hanging at his waist.
“Oh!” said Sarine, clapping her hands together. “That sounds wonderful! What do you think, Darlan? Bill could oversee the work. He loves that sort of thing. Would the rest of the council have a problem with that?”
“I don’t see why they would,” she remarked. “Though Wizard Beehn is the main one you’d have to run it by. He is the one in charge of the grounds, after all.”
“Well, this is all exciting conversation,” Maryanne said, yawning with boredom. “But what I really want to know is where your archery range’s at.”
“It’s a school for magic, dear,” Sarine reminded her.
“But the academy has one,” Fist offered. “In their training grounds out behind the new barracks. They won’t mind if you use it. As long as it’s not already crowded with students.”
The gnome gave him a grateful smile. “See? Look at this big man, Sarine. He’s my hero.”
Fist blinked. Maybe she was confused by his clothing. “Uh . . . I’m not a man. I’m an ogre.”
“Oh, I know,” she replied, raising an eyebrow.
“Don’t you start on him, Maryanne,” Sarine warned, wagging a finger at the gnome.
“I’ll be at the range if you need me, Sarine,” the gnome replied. She brushed past Fist as she walked by and said softly, “You can join me there if you like,” before heading towards the academy buildings.
Oooh, sent Squirrel, his head peeking out of the top of his pouch.
Fist watched her go, his cheeks reddening. She had spoken to him in much the same way female ogres teased a prospective mate. Surely she wasn’t serious. Was she making fun of him?
“That didn’t take long,” said Bill, sharing amused looks with Kyrkon.
“Sorry, ogre,” the elf added. “She tends to fall for the muscular ones.”
Fist frowned. Now he was sure she’d been making fun of him.
Sarine sighed. “Oh my. I feel I should apologize for Maryanne. She is my newest bonded and she still hasn’t grown past a few of her former flaws, the poor dear.”
“Well I don’t like it,” said Darlan and Fist saw that her glare was following Maryanne’s lithe figure as the gnome jogged away. “See to it that you have a talk with her, would you?”
“Oh, don’t worry about her,” Sarine said, dismissing the idea with a gesture. “She’s harmless.”
“Uh, Mistress Sherl,” Fist said, wanting to change the subject. “I had something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about all morning.”
She didn’t look away from the gnome. “Yes, what is it?”
Fist knew how Darlan would react and didn’t want to go over all the details in front of everyone. He cleared his throat and stepped closer, speaking softly. “It’s about Justan. I spoke to him last night and I’ve got news.”
That got her attention. Darlan turned her gaze on him, her brow furrowed in concern. “Did they make it into Malaroo alright?”
“Well, he’s okay, but . . .” Fist tried to give her a look to tell her that he’d prefer to speak alone.
“But what?” she asked, making an impatient gesture.
“I just think that maybe we should-.”
“Stop making faces at me and tell me what happened!” she snapped.
Fist winced. His attempt at subtlety had backfired. Now everyone was looking at him. “Well, Deathclaw and Gwyrtha finally caught up with him yesterday, but when they crossed the Malaroo border . . . they were attacked.”
“Attacked by whom?” Darlan asked warily.
“Was it Jhonate’s father?” said Alfred.
“More basilisks?” Charz asked.
“Oh dear, what has that boy gotten himself into?” Sarine asked, bringing one hand to her mouth.
Fist groaned inwardly. “No! Well, yes. Kind of. They were there, but-.”
“Use complete sentences, Fist,” Darlan told him.
The ogre tried to answer all the questions, “There was an army of the wild people, the Roo-Tan. And they had merpeople with them. Justan and the others fought them for awhile and then some of Jhonate’s people showed up and helped them.”
“Jhonate’s people helped this army?” Darlan said.
“No. Jhonate’s people helped Justan,” Fist corrected. “They defeated the army of wild people together. But then, when the battle was over, the nightbeast snuck in and killed Yntri Yni.”
There was a moment of stunned silence after this statement. None of them knew Yntri well, but Darlan, Charz, and Alfred had met him while Justan’s party had stayed at the Mage School for a couple days. Charz had even shared a bottle of pepperbean wine with him.
“How horrible,” Darlan said.
“Yntri Yni?” said Kyrkon, his face pale and his voice strained. At that moment, Fist saw something in the elf’s eyes that told him Kyrkon was much older than he looked. “Of the ancient ones? But how?”
“The nightbeast snuck into the camp looking like one of Jhonate’s people. It . . .” Fist shuddered as he recalled the memory Justan had shown him. “It stabbed him while Justan was watching. It looked into Justan’s eyes while it did it.”
The elf swallowed. “This is a terrible blow. I should send a message to my sect.”
“You can send a pigeon from the Rune Tower,” Alfred suggested.
“Thank you,” Kyrkon replied. “I remember where it is. They haven’t moved it in the last two hundred years, have they?”
“Not that I know of,” said Alfred. “Some of the droppings look at least that old.”
The elf didn’t smile at the joke, but nodded somberly and began walking towards the tower. He gave Sarine a quick glance along the way and she gave him an encouraging look in return. Fist had been bonded long enough to know that a mental communication had just taken place.
“The Prophet will be so heartbroken,” Sarine said. “John knew that elf for a long time.” She frowned. “But why would someone send a nightbeast after one of the ancient ones? What would they have to gain?”
“It wasn’t after him,” Fist replied. “It was after Justan. Yntri Yni was just in the way.”
“Poor Justan,” Darlan said. “He must be wracked with guilt over it.”
“And just who sent a nightbeast after my great grandson?” asked Mistress Sarine. There was real anger in her voice now.
“Someone in Malaroo,” Darlan said. “We don’t know who for sure, but there is the distinct possibility it could be his future father-in-law.”
“The leader of the Roo-tan? And you let him walk right into it?” Sarine said to Darlan, dumbfounded.
“It’s wasn’t Jhonate’s father,” Fist said. “Justan met Xedrion after the battle and found out that he had nothing to do with it.”
Darlan’s shoulders slumped with relief. “Well that’s good. Does he have any other ideas who it could be?”
Fist shrugged. “Justan has no other enemies that he knows about.”
“It still has to be someone in the Roo-Tan,” Darlan said. “Someone that doesn’t want an alliance between their people and the academy. When you speak with him tonight, tell him to look into any other people among the Roo-Tan that have the kind of wealth needed to hire a nightbeast.”
Fist nodded, but he was pretty sure Justan and Jhonate were already doing just that. “Okay.”
Darlan turned to Sarine and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Please excuse me, Mistress Sarine. I’ve just realized that I have more matters to attend to. I’m sure Alfred can show you the rest of the changes in the school without me.”
“I would be happy to,” the gnome warrior replied with a short bow.
A slight bit of irritation rippled across Sarine’s features, but she put on a polite smile. “Of course, dear. We will have plenty of time to discuss things later.”
“That we will,” Darlan replied, returning her smile. Then she grabbed the arm of Fist’s robe and yanked him in the direction of the Rune Tower.
Fist followed along meekly, relieved that they were leaving the bonding wizard behind. Fist had found the old woman troubling. She had an intangible quality about her that made her presence overpowering. Perhaps it was a family trait because Darlan had it too. With those two women standing side by side, the large ogre had felt positively small.
Darlan headed straight for the moat around the Rune Tower. They followed along its bank until she was sure that they had moved out of eye and earshot of her grandmother. Then she stopped and turned around to face Fist.
“Alright, listen. I had to get you away from her before you blurted something I hadn’t prepared her for.”
“You mean, about the Scralag?” the ogre surmised.
“I haven’t told her about that yet. I told her about the rest of Justan’s bonded earlier, but not that one,” she said. Darlan reached up and rubbed at her temples. “I haven’t told her about Artemis yet for a few reasons. First of all, I barely know the woman. I have no idea how she’ll react to the news that her husband’s soul is still around, trapped inside my son’s chest. Secondly, I am angry at her.”
“You seem angry a lot of the time,” Fist remarked, then winced, regretting the words as soon as they had left his mouth.
Stupid, Squirrel agreed. The ogre braced himself for a dressing down or perhaps even an incineration but, to his surprise, she chuckled.
“Oh Fist, if I’m angry with you it’s because I care. I don’t waste my emotion on people I don’t care about.” She poked his chest with a stiff finger. “I am still furious with you about the trick you pulled earlier, by the way.”
“I know. I’m sorry,” Fist said.
“What got into your head?” she asked.
The ogre shrugged. “I wanted to try the spells again, but I thought you’d be in a meeting all morning, so I got Charz. I knew that I couldn’t hurt him with them and I didn’t think I’d hurt myself.”
“You think your spells didn’t hurt him?” Darlan said, an eyebrow raised. “His skin was smoking when we got there. Patches of his back were glowing hot. Sure he healed up afterwards, but you owe him an apology.”
Fist’s face blanched. She was right. He had known that the spells would cause the giant pain and he had ignored the fact. “I will try to make it up to him.”
She folded her arms. “So what went wrong with the spell?”
“I tried my other spells first and I think I used up too much of my magic,” he said. “I made the cloud and built up the lightning but when I let it go, I didn’t have enough earth magic left to protect me.”
Darlan nodded. “That’s a danger with large spells like cloud lightning. They are usually used as a last defense and you are often already exhausted by the time you’re in a situation where you need to use them. You need to learn your limits or you will kill yourself one day.”
“I understand,” the ogre said.
“Hmm. I think it’s time we trained your stamina,” Darlan said, stroking her chin as she thought. “Alright, this is how I want you to do it. Each night, just before you go to bed, drain your magic completely.”
“How?” he asked.
She smiled. “It’s an old trick my master once taught me. What you do is you make a ball of light. Then you focus on keeping it as dim as possible.”
Fist frowned. Making a ball of light was one of the first spells she had taught him. It required only a low amount of focus, but it was very inefficient, taking a lot of energy and making a bright light. Dimming it required tightening up the spell, which meant pouring more energy into it. That was why wizards still preferred to use candles or runed light orbs. Still, there had to be faster ways to drain his magic.
“If I try to make dim it, it will just go out,” he complained.
“Then you’ll just have to expend more energy to keep it going,” she said. “The dimmer you try to keep it, the faster you’ll drain your magic.”
“But why will that help?” Fist asked.
“Think of it like training your muscles,” she replied. “The more you push your limits, the further your limits grow. You won’t be able to increase your magic’s strength very much, but you can increase your capacity. In addition, you will better learn how to tell when you’ve exhausted your resources.”
“Okay,” he said, his brow furrowed thoughtfully. This would send him to bed completely exhausted each night. How would that affect his conversations with Justan? Would it be harder to use the bond over such a long distance if he was that tired?
“Alright, now I wasn’t lying to my grandmother when I told her that I have things to get done. I want you to go to the library and study until lunch time. Then we’ll speak again,” Darlan said and turned to stride away. “And when we do, you’re going to tell me all about how Justan’s meeting with Xedrion went.”
“Yes, Mistress. Oh! But what about my punishment?” he asked.
Stupid, said Squirrel, shaking his head.
Darlan stopped. “I imagine that the pain you went through, added to the guilt you must feel are probably punishment enough.” She turned back to face him again and her look was deadly serious. “But next time you feel the compulsion to train behind my back, think of this. Most people don’t learn the spells I have taught you until they are mages. Some of the spells, like cloud lightning, are only used by a handful of full wizards.
“I didn’t decide to teach you advanced war spells just because I like you. I do it because you’re bonded to my son and Justan needs you. Most of the council thinks I am crazy, but I do it anyway despite their objections. If you screw up like this again, whether you live or not, I am the one who will have to face the repercussions. Do you understand?”
Fist swallowed. “Yes, Mistress Sherl.”
“Good,” she said and strode away.
Fist stood there alone for a moment, staring into the water of the moat as the dark forms of the perloi swam lazily by. He wouldn’t let her down. He couldn’t. She was right. Justan needed him.
That was the real reason he wasn’t with Justan in Malaroo now. Fist needed to become stronger. Another war was coming. The prophet had foretold it. Sooner or later the Dark Prophet would walk on the land again. John had told Fist that Justan would need his strength when that happened and the ogre hadn’t forgotten.
Tightening his fists in determination, Fist followed the moat around to the Rune Tower’s main gate. Once there, he passed over the bridge into the tower and strode down its gilded halls towards the library.
The Mage School in Dremaldria boasted one of the greatest libraries in the known lands, topped perhaps only by the enormous libraries in the Gnome Homeland. Scholars had debated which was greater for centuries, arguing whether it was the number of the books or quality of the books or size of the structure that mattered.
As for size, the Mage School library was huge. It was as long as the Magic Testing Center and six stories tall, with wide staircases connecting each level. Hundreds of bookcases stood in rows radiating out from the circular main desk. A half dozen students wearing assistant sashes stood behind it, checking out and bringing in books.
The main desk is where Fist had his eye because that is where Vincent lurked. The gnomish head librarian did not like Squirrel and the ogre wanted to avoid a scene. To Fist’s relief, Vincent was not in his customary seat.
It was mid-morning now and most students were in classes, but the library was bustling with activity. The long polished tables were crowded with students of every rank preparing for their afternoon classes. It was considered impolite to raise one’s voice in this place, but the room was filled with the low roar of a hundred whisperers.
Fist turned to the right of the main doors and faced a large wardrobe that had been repurposed as the official library weapon closet. A new rule had been instituted after the war. Anyone that wanted to use the library had to leave their weapons inside. Fist thought it a silly rule. What were they worried about? Sword fights breaking out over books?
Fist opened the wardrobe and fumbled briefly with the mage staffs that threatened to spill out. Grumbling, he placed his mace inside and walked to the center desk where he waited in line for his turn to speak with one of the librarian assistants. He was only five back in the queue, but he did not make it to the front.
“Droppings!” accused an aristocratic baritone.
Fist winced at the sound. He knew that voice. He turned to see Vincent’s long nose hook over the top of the desk. The gnome peered up at him, his eyebrows twisted with irritation.
“You! Ogre! Come here this instant!”
Fist walked around the desk to the place where the gnome was crouched. Vincent backed out from under the desk where he had been when Fist had entered the library. His tall and slender frame uncoiled as he stood. The gnome was nearly seven feet tall and gaunt with dog-like droopy ears and a two pairs of glasses perched on his high forehead.
“Droppings!” The gnome announced again, shoving his hand out to Fist palm up. “Do you concur?”
There was a scattering of tiny raisin-like ovals on the gnome’s palm. “Uh, yeah,” Fist said. “Those look like poop to me.”
“Indeed they are,” Vincent said accusingly. “And I have been finding them everywhere. In my chair. In-between pages of my books . . !”
“You might have mice,” Fist suggested.
“Mice? Don’t be absurd,” Vincent said.
“Maybe rats, then?”
The gnome’s eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips, wrinkling the pencil thin mustache above his lips. “There hasn’t been a mouse or rat in the library for decades, young ma- . . . ogre! No, there is only one rodent that has been allowed in this auspicious space and that is your little pet!”
Squirrel squeezed out of his pouch and scurried up to Fist’s shoulder where he affected a look of surprise, pointing at himself. Me?
“Gosh, I don’t know, Mister Vincent, sir,” Fist said. “Squirrel is really clean. I don’t usually find his poop anywhere.”
Squirrel snorted and nodded in agreement and Fist suddenly became suspicious. Where did Squirrel put all his droppings? After all, he was constantly eating. They had to go somewhere.
He shook the thought away. He really didn’t want to know. “I think those are rat poops.”
“Again, I say to you, absurd,” Vincent insisted, tossing the handfull of droppings onto the desktop in front of him. He picked up a thick book from the desk and leafed through it. “I researched the matter. This is Bierbaum’s Twenty Third Treatise on Flora and Fauna in Dremaldria and the Region Thereabouts. It belongs on floor two, aisle thirty six. My evidence is on page two hundred and eighty seven. It is a chapter on the distinction between rodent droppings.”
Fist wrinkled his nose. Someone wrote books about that?
“Bierbaum says here in paragraph two, very clearly I might add, that there is a distinct variation in shape and color between the various squirrel species and the common rat. He states . . .” The gnome cleared his throat and began patting his chest with his free hand. “Where are my glasses?”
“On your head,” Fist said.
“Right,” Vincent said pulling a pair down onto the bridge of his nose in a quick manner, causing the other pair to fall off his head and land on the desk in front of him with a clatter. He gave the end of his nose a tug. “I quote, ‘The common rat lays ovaloid droppings usually black in coloration in much the size of a grain of rice. Squirrel droppings are much the same size and shape. However-!”
The gnome raised a skeletal finger and there was a smattering of laughter from the students nearby. “‘Squirrel droppings are slightly lighter in coloration because of their more specific dietary choices and, whereas rat droppings are marked with an angular taper on both ends, squirrel droppings have a distinctive rounded edge.’ Close quote.”
He picked one of the droppings up of the desk and held it out to Fist. “See? Dark brown, not black, and with rounded edges. You may think that this not conclusive proof, but wait, there’s more.” He placed the dropping back on the desk and picked up another book from a nearby stack. “Pritchard’s Animal Almanac volume seven. From floor two, aisle thirty-six, row four, page hmm, let’s see . . .”
There was more laughter from the students and Fist turned his head in time to see that Squirrel was mimicking the librarian’s gestures, fiddling with an imaginary pair of spectacles and moving his mouth along with the gnome’s.
“Stop it, Squirrel!” Fist whispered, then sent through the bond, You’re going to get yourself banned from the library again. Luckily, Vincent hadn’t seen Squirrel’s little performance. He hadn’t even looked up from his book.
The gnome flipped a few pages. “Ah, here it is, page one hundred and thirty-six, paragraph two. Quote, ‘The common rat also has the distinction of leaving its droppings scattered here and there without any discernible pattern as they defecate as the urge hits them. Squirrels, on the other hand, are neater and tend to leave their droppings in piles.’ End quote.”
He looked back up at Fist. “And there you have it. Piles of droppings under my desk. Piles of droppings in my hat-.” He lifted a felt hat with a short brim from the desk and jiggled it so that Fist could hear the tiny droppings rolling inside. “And piles of droppings in my pockets!” Vincent reached onto the breast pocket of his tweed vest and pulled out a tiny handful of droppings that he then piled onto the desk in front of him. “Proof definitive! This was no mouse or rat.”
Fist looked at Squirrel and the little beast gave him an exaggerated shrug. The ogre could feel the intensity of his amusement through the bond. The ogre swallowed and said, “I don’t know how it could be Squirrel. Because I keep him close when we’re in the library and Squirrel stays with me at night.”
“He’s got a good point, Vincent, sir,” said one of the assistants standing nearby. “That’s a lot of droppings and he’s just one squirrel.”
Fist nodded in agreement. “Yeah. And how could he have got them in your pockets? Squirrel’s too big to fit in your pocket.”
The gnome’s thin lips twisted into a scowl. “I do not have a full explanation, but it is obvious that the little devil placed them in there somehow.”
“I will talk to him, sir,” Fist promised. “But he says he didn’t do it.”
Squirrel shook his head innocently.
“Nah, it wasn’t Squirrel,” said one student.
“Oh please don’t tell me we have rats,” worried another.
Vincent frowned at all of them. “I’ll find more proof,” he argued. “Why I am sure that there is more research on the second floor. Perhaps in Professor Varder-.”
“Vincent, sir?” Fist interrupted, remembering one of Justan’s tricks. “The reason I came here was that I want to research the War of the Dark Prophet.”
The gnome blinked for a moment and his demeanor changed. He was suddenly quite professional. “Histories, then. Floor three, aisles fifty through fifty-five. It’s a broad subject. What part of the war specifically?”
“Oh, uh, the Prophet’s companions,” Fist said.
“Aisle fifty-two, then. Look on the third shelf. Grennedy did some of the best work,” the gnome said. “Watch your step. Your feet are quite large for those stairs.”
“Thank you,” Fist said and turned towards the staircase. The gnome’s politeness at the end had made him feel guilty for lying. That was close, Squirrel. You need to stop being so mean to Mister Vincent.
Mean? Squirrel replied. He didn’t see it that way. Funny.
Well, he doesn’t think so, Fist replied. How did you carry all your poop in here anyway? Squirrel started to send Fist a series of memories and the ogre cut him off part way through, his stomach turning. Just don’t do it again.
“Fist!” shouted a loud male voice. drawing a frown from Vincent and the attention of the students nearby. Fist saw that it was Roobin, one of the academy graduates on guard duty at the school. He was dressed for battle in full chainmail, with a broadsword at his belt and he was breathing heavily.
The guard trotted up to him. “Good, Wizard Sarine said you would be in here.”
“What, Roobin?” Fist asked. He didn’t know the man very well. He had fought along side him during the war but hadn’t seen him much since.
“There’s a group of ogres at the wall,” Rubin said.
“Ogres?” Fist said in surprise. “Are we under attack?”
“We don’t think so,” Roobin replied. “There’s ten of them and we have them surrounded, but they say they’re not here to fight. They want to talk to you.”
“Me?” Fist asked. “Why?”
“One of them says he’s your father.”
END CHAPTER THREE