Money was a peculiar thing. Each actual denomination wasn’t worth more than the face-value of the raw materials that comprised the representation. A piece of copper, tin, zinc, bronze, brass…or gold even…was just an elemental metal drawn from a vein, smelted into an ingot, and banged into a coin. In some places a copper circle represented 1 unit. In others a copper circle represented 5 units…or fractional units. Can you believe that? One copper — worth less than a copper!
Coppered be the grip,
Of this wooded land,
A crude cold gauntlet,
Hides the bony hand…
Tears once warmed the ground,
Torn out of eyes that could cry no more,
Compassion for the Wind to take,
Oh doth pity the bastard poor…
Civilization never made much sense to Tyvernos Oriflamme and society, sometimes, seemed to make even less. If a small metal circle meant one thing in one place then why could that same small circle mean something entirely different — or nothing at all — in another place? Would there ever be enough flavors of…well, anything? Tyvernos might be content to never understand. It wasn’t ever something he worried about because it never really affected him. As long as friends like Oric and Cava were around he never really need to have money or use money or even think about it. He had been missing Oric for long enough that the pangs started to subside. Missing Cava, however, was altogether new. And it hurt.
The gnome was a creature of nature; and at his core — his most basic, intrinsic functioning — he represented the untamed wilds of Palladium. He represented the Forces of Nature that could not be controlled or conformed or corralled or even contained. Even he, Gnomish Avatar of those Forces could no more control the World than an ant could control the sun or a king could control his subjects. These were the illusions of mankind. These were the illusions that erected socially acceptable divisions between castes, classes, skin-colors, races, and even denominations of coin. These were the illusions of Fear. And Fear was the currency of the Dark. Cava had dedicated his life to fighting Fear. He had dedicated his life to protecting the world against the Darkness. And his path had coincided with Tyvernos’s for almost two years. And now he was gone.
What good would copper do a man who was starving? Inherently, the money was representative of a value that men agreed upon. Men! So civilized! So tame! Docile and domesticated! . They exchanged goods, services, and money to meet each others needs. No, money wasn’t very valuable but the things it could obtain were. The things it could buy very much were indeed! And right now Tyvernos wanted very badly to obtain a slice of heaven that would smother his bottleneck of emotion and suppress the consequent gushing that thrust itself upon his fragile little psyche…which meant buying entry into this house of ill repute. After all, it isn’t every day one witnesses the macabre machinations of a doll-loving child molester and his cute-as-two-buttons-fucking fetish. The tears began to well up immediately and Tyvernos knew his grip was tenuous. He desperately needed some rotgut-booze and some giant-sized pussy…stat!
Tyvernos gazed upward at the towering structure that loomed over him and shrouded the alley in lascivious shadows. Muffled moans beckoned him from within; their sultry siren’s call alluring the way griddlecakes wafted into the olfactories of an orphanage breakfast horde. A two-foot tall blond head of tousled locks shivered with barely contained desire. His eyes were glassy, glazed over, and Tyvernos began to salivate. The goddess, from her vantage, had to tilt her shaggy head downward to meet his gaze…reproachfully. Otto’s sloshy jowls hung with an excitement of their own and the Gnome raised an eyebrow. He turned from deific scrutiny and addressed his other companion.
“Tranny, ‘Ye Olde Arcane Sundries Shoppe and Mystical Magic Emporium’ is a figment now that Oric is gone,” Tyvernos explained with a sniff. The ten-foot tall invisible air elemental essence fragment shrugged invisible shoulders. “Now that Cava is gone I’m penniless. I don’t expect the Bismarck to understand until I can’t afford to put food in her belly…or brandy in her cask. That new collar will be tightened a notch or two if the shag starts trimming down.” The gnome took a deep breath.
“I know she had her heart set on being the lounge-lizard figurehead of wall-supporting laziness.” Otto whined. “Oh please!” he quipped and continued pleading with the ten-foot fragment. “You see Tranny if I’m to open a house of ill repute then I must frequent as many as possible and glean the invaluable experience offered therein.” Otto chuffed and shuffled his feet. “Well I see your point,” the gnome announced while emptying his threadbare pockets. ‘’Without Cava I am at an impasse and Oric’s generous endowment is an investment that’s currently tied up in Avramstown.‘’ He looked upwards at the elemental and waggled a finger. "Don’t hold out on me Tranny! I know you’ve got a secret stash hidden away. What have you been doing with all your babysitting money?" The essence fragment remained silent.
“I don’t pay you to babysit Otto? Since when? Well if you’ve spent it on transient transparent dalliances I’ll be the first to withdraw my stone-casting lot from the bunch.” Otto snuffled a glass-houses sniff and the gnome went on, “Well we should pool our resources. I don’t know about you guys but I intend to actually go inside the Den of Iniquity instead of gaze longingly at her open curtains. And, I’ll send a pigeon to liquidate my…well, Oric’s stake in my shop in Avramstown. That should be enough to start my own erm…business.”
“Ahhh! Sage advice my friend! We should hire a financier to manage our resources. I remember Oric mentioning his banker to me once…I think. Hmmm…what was his name? Dowdy Jeeve Warbucks Money Management Loan and Laundry Service.” Tyvernos cocked his head as if straining to listen to the clouds. “Yes! Yes, of course Tranny! The alias is an integral part of the plan. Thank you for reminding me. I shall be Master Fizzlenos Oriflamme! Gnomish Proprietor and Madam of the Falcon-Donkey Paunch!” He paused for a moment. “What? Oh, I have to change my last name too? Oh bother! Alright. And you don’t like the name of the establishment?” Tyvernos huffed. “Well I never! Hmm…how about Whizzcrank Snizzleban? Too Gnomish? I agree. Zedworth Soulthrottle? Too evil. Lubello Hextorque? Too weird. Gaffigan Bandersnatch? Too CrIsis. I need something that will sound innocuous and innocent and in no way connected to saving the world. Can you do that?”
Otto gave his best Wookie warble.
‘’Yes! That’s perfect! Something having to do with the winds. And…and with Bennu! The Phoenix!’’ Tyvernos wrung his hands conspiratorially. “Mmm! I can see it now! Phoenix Dream, Phoenix Scream, Dream Master of the Phoenix Cream!”
Tyvernos blinked. There, standing before him, was a burly man only a few feet shorter than Tranny. He was a massive wall of fat and hair that concealed considerable girth and muscles that had clearly seen the business end of a bad bar brawl.
“See? Toldja. Poor sod’s lost his last nut. The sap’s a bloody lunatic. What wif talkin’ a hisself in da streets. You want I should rough ’em up a bit and escort him kindly off premises?”
Tyvernos looked at Otto in bewilderment and whispered, “I think it’s trying to communicate with us!” Tranny cracked her knuckles and stepped forward to interpose herself between the gnome and his 8ft ogrish would-be bouncer. She didn’t take kindly to threats of violence against him.
“Ah, good sir,” the gnome began while developing that slight crick in his neck when conversing with…well, everyone but Overkill for an extended period of time; it is the little-known and poorly documented curse of the vertically-challenged. “Please excuse the behavior of my manserv…sorry, WOMANservant. She’s a little overprotective and,” he leaned in conspiratorially, “is a little sensitive to gender-reference faux pas.” Tyvernos cringed with an innocent, disarming smile. “Nevertheless, an introduction warrants an introduction while the pleasantries be damned and cordiality steals my tongue. I am Sir Occo Haboob, Mistral of the Gregale Bora Simoom,” Tyvernos announced with a bow. "And these are my companions, Puppy Chow and Peggy “Sue” Storm, The Invisible Woman."
“…that’s quite the titular title,” lilted the most musical utterance that had ever piqued his lobes. “Sobriquet?” It was the voice of an angel! Nay! A choir of angels! Tyvernos’s neck ratcheted down a notch or seven to look Heaven in the eye. She glittered. A woman stood before him — the top of her head reaching mid-calf of an ankle-oak bough. She had a robust build, rosy with a warm complexion — hale and hearty under the yeoman’s yoke — solid and reassuring in an alley of shadows.
“…Aaah. Ahchm…erm, uh, no thank you. We’ve just eaten,” he stammered dumbfounded. Eyes as big around as orbs that orbit the sun reflected saucer pools of azure radiance.
“I see,” she replied with a smile that beamed the moon’s brilliant dalliance from the mouth of a debutante. It creased the corners of her eyes and touched every prurient inch of her upturned lips. Tyvernos’s wee heart pitter-pattered off-pace and skipped a pregnant beat. “I am Madame Fenix.”
No. This can’t be. This must be some trick of the gods! Madame Fenix? It sounded exotic. French even. Bennu smiles on me!
“Phoenix you say?” he rasped, blinking.
“Fenix, there’s an accent you’re not accustomed hearing. Rest-assured, Master Haboob, it’s rather exotic and requires a most-dexterous and talented tongue to prrroperly…prrronounce.”
Now she was just showing off.
Oooh! But it did sound exotic! Where could she be from? We Gnomes tend to travel far and wide for the sake of adventure. She must have a very interesting story.
“Ah, forgive me, Madame Fenix yours is an accent I’m unfamiliar with as well-traveled a merchant as I am. Surely, wherever you’re from, exotic accents and ravishing Gnomes go hand-in-hand.”
Her cheeks took on a slight rouge as she extended her hand. “That they do.” Tyvernos reached out and took the offered hand in his own bowed his head and lightly grazed the top of her hand with his lips. When he rose her gaze met his, taking a measure of him, and smiled genuinely.
“A merchant with manners. How provocative! Chivalry must not go hand-in-hand with Knighthood wherever you hail from or ‘Sir Occo’ isn’t your courtly title of evasion. Very refreshing.” She stole a breath and her chest rose, drawing his attention back to business. “Well, Sir, you find yourself standing before the Harlot’s Hen and its ogreish bouncer, Cock. Your,” she paused for a moment as if searching a lexicon for the precise descriptor, “eccentricities…have drawn unwanted attention to the establishment and I must admit that Cock, here, has a point. Master Haboob, I extend a formal invitation to you and your companions to be my guests tonight at the Harlot. Please, I insist, the Hen’s hospitality is second-to-none and your coin purse need never be opened. Rest from the road, traveler, lighten your load.” Madame Fenix winked.
Tyvernos became painfully aware, just then, that he hadn’t let go of her hand. It felt smooth and warm and inviting in his own when she spun, without awaiting his response, and pulled him along over her shoulder. There was a mesmerizing bounce in her step as he glanced furtively at Otto and mouthed a silent, “Thank you!”
Someone up there still loved him.
Written by Tyvernos on…an unknown date, in the 69th year of the Wolfen Empire.