Imaginary Heroes

The dying light of day slowly receded from Hommlet, leaving many of the buildings cloaked in shadow. Two figures, neither of them exceeding three and a half feet in height, strolled hand in hand down a winding dirt road. A nearby torch revealed both of them to have brown hair and eyes. However, while the pointy-eared figure was a young child, the person beside him was not. A rapier hung at the man’s belt and his demeanor indicated that he was fully proficient in its use. Suddenly, the half-elf boy stopped before a building that loomed over the nearby houses.

“This is it,” he stated.

The short man next to him stepped forward and whistled. “Wow, that’s quite a library,” he muttered as he craned his neck upwards. “Is it open?”

“Nope,” the boy chirped. “Mister Tinivias closed early tonight… I have to go now. Mommy’s gonna miss me. Good luck.”

“Thank you very much, Garrick.”

“No problem. Bye, Mister Tarquin!” With an exuberant wave, the half-elf wandered back down the road. The gnome waved back, then set his sights on the front doors. He squinted an eye at the locking mechanism.

“Bah… who closes early on Freeday? Oh well, I’ll be in and out in no time.” The rogue shrugged his small shoulders while reaching into a pouch. He withdrew a set of picks and was about to insert one into the lock when a glint of sunlight caught an extra mechanism attached to the door. “Security, eh? Nothing I can’t handle.” Tarquin dexterously plied his tools until the small lever was carefully moved out of alignment. He strode into the main lobby and frowned. While his gnomish eyes allowed him to move about in total darkness without stubbing toes, he wouldn’t be able to read books he sought. The brunet sighed heavily and rubbed his temples. As much as he hated to deprive the community of its literature, he wouldn’t be able to find his information in here. Besides, how often did the people of Hommlet want to look at birth records anyway? Hopefully, he would be able to return them before anyone noticed they were gone. Now, he just had to find them… Tarquin pulled off one of his gloves and trailed a hand along the first of hundreds of shelves. His vision went spotty as all the lights in the library came on and a grinding noise bounced off the walls. When his eyes adjusted, a tall red-haired man was stepping off a ladder.

“May I ask why you are fondling my geography texts?” he asked, cocking his head. Tarquin gazed at the book in his hand – A Traveler’s Guide to the Lortmils.

“Impossible,” the gnome breathed. “How did he know I was here? I didn’t make a sound…”

Tinivias grinned. “You seem distraught… I trust you managed to disable the gadget inside the lock.” The trickster nodded. “Ah. I knew that wouldn’t deter a particularly determined thief, hence the reason for the secondary alarm.” The librarian pulled an amulet from under his robe. In its center was a glowing jewel that produced a high-pitched whine.

“Huh… That’s pretty clever.”

“Thank you.” Tinivias crossed his arms. “Now I’m going to have to ask you to leave… and to put the trap back where you found it.”

Tarquin’s jaw dropped. “But – ”

“If you force the matter, I will summon Elmo who, might I add, is very cranky when interrupted during dinner.” He glanced down at a pocket watch. “You have thirty seconds.”

“You don’t understand!” the gnome protested. “I have to find my parents!”

The librarian cocked an eyebrow. “And… how will my books help you do that?”

“It’s a long story…” Tarquin eyed the watch nervously, which the redhead snapped shut. The brunet plunked down in a nearby armchair. “I was raised by my aunt and uncle in the Kronn Hills. They told me my parents were moisture farmers in the Bright – ” Tinivias burst into paroxysms of laughter, clutching his sides. “… Lands. What’s so funny?”

The redhead wiped a tear from his eye and took several deep breaths. “I’m sorry… but…” He straightened to his full height – over six feet tall. “Your relatives are terrible liars. Gnomes usually don’t elect to live under the rule of tyrannical archmages. There’s no indigenous population to speak of in the Bright Lands and even if there was, they’d never be moisture farmers because the nomads can find their own damn water.”

“… Oh. Well… I figured they were making it up. That’s why I wanted to check out the birth records for the area around the Kronn Hills… just a hunch.”

Blue eyes twinkled with suppressed merriment and the librarian beckoned the gnome forward. “Come. My genealogical texts are in the back.” The redhead sidled down the aisle, Tarquin right on his heels. Tinivias halted before a horribly dusty shelf of books. Long fingers twitched anxiously. “Could I have your date of birth?”

“Harvester the 17th, 536 CY.” The redhead closed his eyes in deep concentration. Tarquin interjected, “But they lied about my parents! Why wouldn’t they just lie about the date too?”

“Because they’re uncreative idiots,” Tinivias mumbled. His eyes snapped open and his long fingers wrapped around a book binding. “Here we are.”

Small brown eyes widened in shock. “Verbobonc City?”

The librarian thrust the text in the gnome’s arms. “Turn to page 176.” Tarquin deftly flicked towards the back of the book. To his amazement – right in the middle of the page – an anonymous male child had been born on his exact date of birth! To a particularly dark and mistrustful gnomish mother, no less! This must be it! “So my mother is… Mystie Wobblewocket?”

“Unfortunately, no.”

“Huh?”

The redhead let out a sigh. “The name your mother provided is a false one. It’s the name of the heroine in The Magic of You.”

“Ah… is the book any good?”

Tinivias pulled a face. “Only if you’re a fan of trashy erotica.”

Tarquin pondered and flicked through the pages of the archive absentmindedly. “How did you know exactly where to look?”

“I’ve been the custodian of these books for almost a decade,” the redhead mumbled. “I know each one of them intimately.” The gnome’s face contorted in disgust as two pages stuck together and he donned his right glove again. “Get your mind out of the gutter.”

Tarquin nodded, then replaced the book on the shelf. “So… how much do I owe you?”

“Nothing. This is my job after all.” Tinivias shrugged his slim shoulders.

“But you’re not on the clock.”

The redhead grinned. “Don’t worry about it. Rufus and Burne pay me a weekly salary. Besides, it didn’t take very long… Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to return to my studies.”

“Of course.” The gnome made to turn on his heels, then paused and stared at the librarian. “I never properly introduced myself. I’m Tarquin.”

“… Ah, so you’re Garrick’s ‘imaginary friend.’ I had a feeling…” The two shook hands. “So, I assume you’ll be heading to Verbobonc straight away?”

“Soon – I promised Vesta a few more performances at the Welcome Wench. Maybe I’ll see you there?”

The redhead glanced about hesitantly. “… It’s possible… I suppose.”

“Great! See you then!” Tarquin made his way to the door. “Oh, and I’ll be sure to put your alarm back when I leave.”

“I would appreciate that. Thank you.” The librarian heard the door click shut, then walked in the direction of his basement study. He had just settled at his desk when he heard footsteps and shouting on the floor above. The redhead bolted up the stairs to face a flushed Elmo.

“Is everything okay?” he panted. “The alarm went off,” the ranger made a face, “right as I sat down for dinner.”

“The gnome’s hands must have slipped,” Tinivias thought. “Everything’s fine, Elmo. Must have been a false alarm. I’m sorry to have interrupted you."

The captain let out a very deep breath. “Oh, thank goodness. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll have to be getting back. I’ve got company…”

Tinivias smirked playfully. “You don’t say…”

“It’s not what you think. My sister’s in town.”

“Mister Elmo!” a childish voice shouted from outside the open door. “Mommy sent me to come look for you. She says your chicken’s getting cold.”

“Thank you, Garrick,” Elmo shouted back, before turning to face the grinning librarian. “What?”

Blue eyes twinkled. “Oh nothing. Tell your "sister” I say hello.” Elmo huffed before turning on his heel and storming out of the library. Clasping his amulet between thumb and forefinger, Tinivias concentrated and all the lights in the library died down.

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