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Fiction Fantasy

Glass shattered in a glittering shower of diamonds that tinkled off the ground. Tiberius landed on top of the glittering shards, rolling through the fall. Ignoring the stinging cuts on his face, arms, and the newest ones on his back and shoulders, he popped out of the roll and sprinted down the alley.

"Stop!" A shrill cry followed him. "Come back! You took-"

"Look out!" Tiberius dodged a man walking down the cross street as he burst from the alley.

"Sorry, sir," He gave an easy two-fingered salute to the offended-looking man and continued running, slower now that he couldn't hear any more yelling.

He was in the business district. The street was smoothly paved, the buildings were two to three stories of clean red brick, and the bodies he weaved around were in fine suits. This was where the accountants and lawyers worked and where all the fat constables patrolled. There seemed to be a lot of the latter around today. Tiberius slowed to a walk that fit the flow of traffic. He slumped his tall, lithe figure into his baggy second-hand coat and covered his eyes with the brim of his paddy hat. He kept pedestrians between him and the constables he passed. Most ate something from the food carts spread along the road for the dinner time rush. A few seemed to be paying attention but didn't see him through the crowd. Or, maybe they didn’t care about one more street urchin roving about.

Soon the smell of food carts and swanky folks was overcome by the salty docs. The men became rougher, and the road was pocked with potholes. Tiberius kept his hands over his pockets and took greater care to avoid touching anyone here.

"Wanna buy a shell?" a dirty face popped up in front of Tiberius while he was spinning around another person.

"Ah!" He shouted. "Damnit, Jane. I don't want no damn shells. Now move. I gotta get goin'."

"You never buy a shell." the dirty face sat under a pile of dirty blonde hair. Jane was a tall thin girl about Tiberius' age. They’d grown up together, despite Tiberius trying to run away from her most of the time.

"Do you have any shells?" Tiberius nodded to the bag on Jane’s hip skeptically.

"Nope!" Jane smiled brightly. She twisted and grinned innocently. The colorless, threadbare dress that draped over her twirled about her knees.

Tiberius rolled his eyes, "Move." He shoved past her.

"Where ya goin'?"

"I got somethin' to deliver," Tiberius said, walking fast. "No, you can't come."

"Awe," Jane whined. "Why not?"

"Cuz you don't like Luke."

"Luke?!" Jane squealed but didn't lose pace. "What are you doin' with him?"

Tiberius sighed heavily, "I told you. I have a delivery for him."

"But he's mean and ugly and smells funny."

"And he pays," Tiberius added. "Unless you insult him. Now go home and leave me alone."

"No," Jane set her jaw and walked up even with Tiberius. "I'm going to watch your back." Then she did a double take. "Why are you bleeding?"

"I fell down," Tiberius said flatly.

"You're always so clumsy," Jane tutted.

Together they walked along the docs. Apartments and shops became sheds and warehouses. The road vanished for a warped and shabby boardwalk. Piles of trash and drunks lay in the pools of darkening shadows as the sun dropped lower. A tall thin man with an ugly mustache was leaning against a pole. As they walked by, he started following them. Then a short man with thick arms and a large gut came from between two warehouses and fell in behind them too.

"Well, now you're stuck. No turning back," Tiberius told jane out of the side of his mouth.

"Why would we turn back?" Jane called out. "are you lost?" She began to turn around

"SHH," He grabbed her, keeping her facing forward. "No, I'm not lost. You’re just going to have to stay for my meeting with Luke."

"I told you I was coming. Why wouldn’t I stay?" Jane's voice echoed off the warehouses around them.

"Nevermind," Tiberius said, shaking his head. "Just be quiet."

They reached the end of the boardwalk and turned down the shabbiest doc, where a man waited at the end. Their two new companions ushered them down the dock. Tiberius didn't look back, but he was sure they were watching him and Jane intently.

The two men took up position on either side of the figure, waiting. Their host was shorter than Jane and Tiberius, but he was lithe and fit. He was clean. He was always clean. A spicy smell wafted from him. His brown hair showed in the waning light, and his brilliant white teeth flashed like a torch when he smiled at them.

"T!" the clean man called, holding out his arms for a hug. He stepped close, saw Tiberius' state, and stepped back again, putting his arms down. "You made it. Did you get it?"

"It wasn't the easiest thing to get," Tiberius said, looking from one man to the next giving all three of them equal attention.

"It was supposed to be a quick in and out. What happened?" that bright smile sharpened like a predator.

"He was home, Luke," Tiberius glared right into the glittering blue eyes of the shorter man.

"Oh no," Luke feigned concern in his tone. "Are you OK?"

"Do I look OK?" Tiberius's words were getting harsh.

Luke's smile vanished. His eyes turned hard as stone, and he stepped into Tiberius, speaking deathly quietly into his ear, "For someone that broke into a wizard's house while they were home? You look really damn good. Better than you will if you ever talk to me like that again."

Tiberius turned his head away, grinding his teeth.

"Seems to me," Luke backed away and started talking loud, like to a crowd. "Like you are trying to imply something, T. You bring your little pet here that keeps mean muggin’ me, and then you suggest that the job I sent you on was too difficult. Are you trying to shake me down for more money? Cuz we already agreed on the rate before you accepted the work."

Jane glowered at Luke and growled like a small dog.

Tiberius glared at Jane, silently cursing her for following him. "No, Luke," He tried to control his tone. "It was just more challenging than I expected, and I'm a little sore and tired, is all. I meant no disrespect."

"Maybe you should be better at your job and not take your shortcomings out on your customers," Luke sneered. "It'd be a shame if no one hired you anymore and you and your mom couldn't make rent. Your landlord has already been so lenient with the late payments."

Luke was their landlord. Half of the money Tiberius was going to get from him today was going back into Luke's pocket, and Luke probably knew it. But there were no other options. Tiberius’ mom couldn't work anymore. Her hands were too arthritic to make and mend the fishing nets; even before that, they couldn't afford to escape the slums. And Luke owned them all.

"You're right. I’m sorry." Tiberius made an effort not to bite off the words.

"Don't worry about it, kid," Luke waved it off like a swarm of flies. "Now, where's my product?"

Tiberius pulled his protective hand from his pocket and showed Luke a glowing purple bottle.

The purplish glow showed on Luke's lecherous smile, turning it sickly and ugly. "There it is," Luke whispered as he reached for it.

"And the payment?" Tiberius asked softly.

Luke snapped out of his infatuation and scowled at Tiberius briefly. However, the venom in the look drained away as quickly as it appeared. "T, buddy, a little faith, please. We have to make sure it is what it's supposed to be. You know how it goes."

Jane spoke for the first time, "What about your faith in him?"

"T,” Luke scowled at Jane. “shorten that leash," he snatched the bottle.

A crow cawed overhead as Luke popped the cork. Bird droppings splattered the taller henchman behind Luke. "Awe, disgusting!"

"Shut up," Luke snapped "you've been covered in worse!" He brought the bottle to his lips and took a long pull.

"I tried to tell you," A reedy voice came down the dock catching everyone's attention—a bent old man leaning on a cooked staff with an emerald cloak hanging off of him. A white beard flowed out from under the hood, but his face was obscured. "That was my hair growth formula."

"What!" Luke screeched.

Tiberius looked in time to see perfectly groomed eyebrows explode into a bushy unibrow. The shiny slicked-back hair exploded into dandelion fluff on Luke's head, and his hands grew hair that looked like dog paws.

"Biggest side effect," The old man's voice carried down again. "is the hair on the tongue."

Luke started coughing and gagging. Spit and snot started running down his face as hair sprouted and grew into a full-face beard. He stuck his tongue out, and it looked like a chipmunk trying to crawl out of his mouth. "AAHH!" Luke screamed. "Kill them!" He cried around the hairy tongue.

"I told you he was ugly," Jane said as the two henchmen loomed down on them. She spun around to look at the top of the dock. Her bag spun and hit the tall man in the gut, doubling him over. Then she shot her hand up into the air smashing into the man's jaw. As the tall one went down behind her, Jane started waving, "Hi, old guy."

The short goon went after Tiberius. He was ready to engage when Jane spun around with a grand pirouette. Her foot caught the charging assailant in the side of the head, and he flew off the dock and into the water.

"I think he's a nice old guy," Jane said. Then she looked around, confused, "Why’d everyone fall down?"

"AAHH!" A primal scream shattered the air as luke charged them with a knife.

Tiberius saw light glinting off the approaching blade. He didn't know where it was coming from now that it was so dark. And then he thought about how strange it was to think about these things before a knife stabs you in the chest.

But it didn't

A crooked staff fell across Luke's wrist with a wet crack, and the knife disappeared. Time snapped back to normal, and Tiberius remembered to breathe again.

"You broke my wrist, you senile old piece of-" a solid crack stopped the slurred insults, and Tiberius saw the old man wiping blood off his staff’s end.

"No, Tiberius, I didn't kill him," the old man said as he looked up at Tiberius. His hood fell away, revealing a smooth head. He had clear, sharp blue eyes and liver spots all over his face. "I just tried to instill some manners."

"How do you know my name?" Tiberius asked dumbly.

The crow landed on a pole nearby and cawed at the group. "A little birdie told me," the wizard said. "Along with where to find you."

"That's so cool!" Jane danced to the crow. "Can I pet your bird, old guy?"

The wizard chuckled, "That will be up to him."

Jane swiped a hand over the bird and scratched at it. They started chirping and chittering at each other.

"What are you going to do to me for stealing?" Tiberius asked.

"You were under duress," The old man stated simply. "I don't feel slighted by you." He gestured to Luke, "I think he got what he deserved."

"Why did luke want hair juice?" Jane asked, the bird seeming interested in the answer too.

"He wanted an enhancement potion I've made," the wizard explained. "It looks a lot like the hair tonic."

"Oh, That makes sense," Jane turned back to the crow.

Tiberius looked at the pile of hair that was Luke. "Mom and I are screwed."

"That's another reason I'm here," the wizard said. "You were more than efficient at getting into my lab, finding what was needed, and taking definitive actions. Would you want to be my assistant?”

"What?" Tiberius couldn't believe his ears. "You're offering a job to someone who stole from you?"

"Where do you think wizards come from? Some kind of school? No! Existing wizards find apprentices." The wizard smiled at Jane and Tiberius. "I find that interesting apprentices make the best wizards. I can provide lodging until you find something in the business district." The old man continued.

"How am I supposed to afford that?" Luke scoffed.

"I'd pay you, of course," the wizard said slowly. "Did you hit your head when you ran from my lab?"

"Deal," Jane grabbed Tiberius by the arm and started dragging him up the dock.

"What are you doing?"

"We have to pack and get your mom," Jane said, then looked at the wizard. "I think he did hit his head. He’s always been clumsy."

“Splendid,” The wizard said, “the griffon will be so happy. He thought you were incredibly fun to play with."

“That thing tried to kill me!” Tiberius gulped, placing a hand over his scratched arm in remembrance.

They left the boardwalk and the slums and didn't look back.

December 15, 2022 03:20

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2 comments

Wendy Kaminski
19:10 Dec 18, 2022

Fun story, and good forward action! I really enjoyed it. :)

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Daniel E Gagné
02:58 Dec 22, 2022

Great story! The action kept my attention all the way through. Your characters are well developed and their individual personalities are interesting. This story feels like an introduction and leaves me wanting to hear more about Tiberius, Jane and the wizard. Little editing bits: Luke showed up once with a lowercase 'l'. Doc or docs was used in the beginning but changed partway through to docks. Otherwise great read! Really fun.

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