Hodger stood on his toes as he leaned forward to blow out the candle on his staff before walking into the well-lit streets of Squaddlewog on Squaddlewog Street. Squaddlewog was a place that even he, a tiny Gnome, could blend in. Or, at the very least, be ignored. He wasn’t a real Gnome, of course, his father being Dwarfish and his mother being elf descent. Their drunk one night stand left his mother pregnant and not on speaking terms with his father, whom Hodger had never met. Hodger was vertically challenged even by dwarf standards and hairy on spots where you shouldn’t be. He had ears that were often past his bald head. The ears changed length on a day to day basis.
Even with Gnomes being fictitious as they were, people still believed in them, and often confused Hodger with being one. The tales of these fictitious magical creatures would often end in gold or cookies if they were caught. Those stories were wrong, of course, as the original tales of gold and cookies were of leprechauns and not Gnomes.
The original stories of Gnomes were often horrific. Normally ending in maiming or being devoured alive. It is because of these original stories Hodger took a great amount of effort to grow a beard, and then sewed together a hat that allowed his ears to grow and shrink as they please, put a candle on top of a stick and called himself a Gnome.
People tended to stray away from things that could hurt them, and fire was understood among the well-adjusted people that it could hurt. For this reason, Hodger carried around his candlewax staff with a wick on the end, learning how to quickly light it with a trick of his hand. When approached for gold or cookies, he promised evil, fiery things to those closest. When Hodger didn’t go through with his threats, however, people started to ask questions, and Hodger always seemed to leave before those questions could be fully answered. Some of those unanswered questions is what drove Hodger to hide within Squaddlewog in the first place.
Squaddlewog was the biggest city on the East side of the Giant River. Where it was built must have been an afterthought of the forefathers, as the ground was harder than stone and made it very difficult to dig into. And, as it is read often in the history of Squaddlewog, that the architect who wanted to build the homes was outvoted, and a law was passed that each citizen of Squaddlewog would need to build their own. The first, built a simple home, and relaxed. The second, built his wide, and then promptly made a fire with the remainder of his building material. The architect, not wanting to be outdone, attempted to build a basement got heat exhaustion, and died. Teaching Architecture became a crime after that. After all, telling someone to murder themselves ought to be a crime.
The law of the forefathers caused many beautiful and strange tourist spots within the city. The local watch maker had built his shop so high that it became the town clock. One side of the tower slumped, causing the minute hand of the clock to go slower between 7 and 9, making those hours seventy-two minutes long each. However between the hours of 1 and 3, the hand would randomly stop and click forward after forty-two minutes had passed, and people thought that was close enough. The watch maker had a difficult time making wrist watches that clicked in such a way to follow the town’s time and he eventually closed his shop beneath the clock tower.
The rest of the town was built the same way. As more people moved to Squaddlewog, land was scarce among the downtown district, so people built their own homes and built upward to have more space. Most people’s living rooms were in their attic, basement on the second floor, and each home had two to three levels worth of kitchen, depending on how high they had built.
The city was full of all kinds of people of races, shapes and colors. The streets were full of Men and Elf through the day, and at night the streets were littered with Dwarf and Fairy. There were a mix of other less friendly races throughout the city as well, but through the years they tamed themselves into agreeing their bark (sometimes literally) was more menacing than their bite. After all, how scary is a Zombie if you think it is just another person handing you a flier?
Hodger adjusted his personal bag and stepped into the bustling Dwarf booths of Squaddlewog Street and was promptly ignored. He made his way through the market stalls, not paying much mind to anything around him, looking for the sign that was always in a big city. When he finally got to the crossroad of Squaddwog and Fergal, he found the sign he was searching for, ‘All you can eat breakfast’. The Gnome quickly stepped inside.
A wave of delicious smells hit the Gnome’s small nose, though it was an unnaturally large for a Gnome his size. He shivered and stood on his tip toes again, slowly walking toward the dining area. He stopped following his nose as his eyes quickly focused on something more peculiar. A large rabbit sat at the front desk filing paperwork. She wore an apron and a little hat between her long ears that stood straight up. He walked up to the front desk and was ignored. He liked this place already. He stood there for some time to see if anyone would give him any attention, but it wasn’t until he rang the bell did the clerk even notice he had walked in. The rabbit looked around and then peered over the desk to see Hodger counting his change.
“Welcome to Bunnies Inn. What do you want?” The rabbit asked.
“A-a-a room please.” Hodger replied, wiping his mouth clean of the extra saliva.
“How long? The long-eared desk clerk asked.
“Full week, if you please.”
The rabbit tilted her head and examined him for a moment. She sniffed the air and then leaned forward closer and sniffed again.
“You a dwarf, or something else?”
Hodger adjusted his hat, “Gnome.” He said. His voice cracked.
The rabbit stared for a bit longer then shrugged. She prepped a room key as he placed a few copper pieces on the desk. She handed the key to the Gnome and motioned for him to go upstairs. He was about to comply when a young purple girl ran buy him, carrying several mugs and something sizzling. He wiped his mouth clean again.
“A-A-All you can eat breakfast?” He asked to no one in particular.
“Dwarf breakfast only has an hour left. Follow Lucille.” The rabbit said to him.
Hodger hopped before walking briskly into the dining room.
The dining room was large and was lined with benches and tables. A large stone fireplace separated the kitchen and cooks from the dining hall. There was a small hallway on the far end that lead into the kitchen, and Hodger groaned as he watched the girl Lucille disappear into the door. The rest of the room had a few guests spread among the tables including several dwarfs, a cat, a large rooster with a stringed instrument, and a chicken who was picking at a book.
Hodger decided to sit near the chicken. It was close to the fire where he could be alone and warm his body up after numerous nights of walking. He leaned his staff against the table, putting himself between his candlewax staff and the fire to prevent any unnecessary melting. He looked around the room, everyone happily ignoring him, and the girl with the tray of goodies had yet to return.
He quietly kicked off each boot one at a time, stretching his toes against the cold stone floor. As he looked down to move his boots next to his staff, two lights shined down onto his feet. Hodger looked toward the light and saw two large yellow eyes look at him and blink. He panicked and lifted his arms as he yelped and fell backward.
Lucille grabbed him by the collar and sat him back up.
“You’re not supposed to take off your shoes, mister.” She said. Her eyes looking down at her pad of paper. The paper lit up with her gaze.
“I-I I am so sorry, I’ll put them back on.”
She lifted a pen to her mouth and chewed on it, “It’s not a rule, per se, but this floor only gets cleaned once a week. Keep’em off if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya. Now what do ya want to eat?”
Hodger took a breath and then turned to the bright eyed girl, “Whatever you had on that tray would be nice. And a couple of those mugs you had as well.”
“That’s some sizzling raccoon and some Murky Water. Be right back!”
She closed her eyes and smiled. Hodger couldn’t help but notice her fangs before she turned and bounced away. It was then he realized what she had said, he turned in his seat to correct his order.
“Don’t worry about it.” A voice said behind him.
Hodger turned, but didn’t see anyone paying him any attention. He went to turn back around when the voice spoke to him again.
“Murky Water is just an ale,” the accented voice spoke again, “It’s just a rather unfortunate name.”
Hodger looked again, above and below the table, but couldn’t see anyone.
“My, my, you are a dolt.”
Hodger looked at the chicken, and noticed the chicken turn the page of the book.
“What… What are you doing?”
The chicken didn’t look up from the book but it replied, “I am reading. What does it look like I’m doing?”
Hodger scoffed, “I didn’t think chickens could read. A-are you a chicken?”
The chicken looked up from the book, “That’s a bit rude, isn’t it? Asking ‘What are you?’ as if you can’t tell that I am damn well indeed a chicken.”
“But you sound like a –” Hodger said.
Lucille walked through the kitchen door again, the sound of the sizzling made Hodger forget his question of unnecessary details and focused on his food. She set two mugs down first, then the plate of the sizzling meat mixed with a variety of colored vegetables.
Hodger took the mug and started chugging, only getting a small taste light ale poured into his system. He immediately felt a light buzz as he looked down to his food. He grabbed his fork and took a big piece and bit into it.
“I’d be careful,” said Lucille.
Hodger chewed his food and watched Lucille sit across from him. She grabbed the second mug and took a sip before placing it in front of her.
“The sizzling raccoon is spicy.” She finished, taking another drink.
The gnome started to feel the heat of the food as he swallowed his bite. He looked at his empty mug he had just chugged and then over to the second one, which Lucille has now claimed for herself. He hadn’t expected to be sharing. He stuffed a few vegetables in his mouth and chewed. After sweat had appeared on Hodger’s face, she poured some of her ale into his mug, which he drank immediately.
“So what are ya?” She asked after his second bite.
“Excuse me? Hodger said. He squinted as the light of her eyes roamed around him.
“I asked, what are ya? You a Dwarf? You don’t quite look like a Dwarf.” She said, her eyes squinting at him, “You don’t quite look like anything I seen ‘fore.”
Hodger looked over at the chicken, “My friend here thinks it’s rude to ask what you are. Don’t you chicken?”
The chicken said nothing, but Hodger could almost see a smirk within the beak.
“I am Hodger.” Hodger answered, “A powerful magically inclined Gnome.”
“Neat!” Lucille bounced in her chair.
“He’s lying.” The chicken said.
“And how would you know? Have you ever met a Gnome before?” Hodger said.
“No,” The chicken answered, closing his finished book, “but I’ve read about Gnomes. They are fictitious creatures.”
“He can’t be that fictitious, he’s sitting right here,” The purple girl responded.
“That’s right!” Hodger said. The sweat on his brow dripped, he wiped it with his hat and placed it back on his head.
The chicken looked at the girl, and then back at the Gnome, “Even if you were a fictitious creature from Fairy Tales, you aren’t magical. Gnomes are never magical in the stories.”
“What a studious little chicken.” Hodger said, “I have a staff.”
“Yeah, he’s got a staff!” Lucille said.
“What does that have to do with anything?” The chicken said.
“Staffs are magical.” Lucille said, nodding triumphantly.
“Staffs have nothing to do with magic.” The chicken replied, “Not directly anyway. I would know.”
“And how would you know?” Hodger asked.
“I am magical.” The chicken said.
“How so?” Lucille asked, her shining eyes forcing the chicken to squint.
“I am a talking chicken.” He said.
“Since when has talking been magical?” Lucille asked, “Seems to me that is just something people do.”
“But I’m a chicken. Normal chickens can’t learn to talk.”
“Now that’s just a rude thing to say about chickens. I’m sure they all could if they tried.”
The chicken rolled his eyes, “Just like this ‘Gnome’ can learn magic?”
Lucille nodded, failing to hear the sarcasm.
Hodger finished his meal and quickly stood, excusing himself and grabbing his room key from his pocket. Just as he was about to exit the dining hall, Lucille grabbed his sleeve and turned him around, putting the chicken in his arms, “Don’t forget your studios chicken, what would you do without him?”
She smiled again, unintentionally revealing her fangs. Those, with her bright yellow eyes, caused a shiver of fear to go through Hodger, “Th-th-thanks, but…”
The chicken plucked the key from Hodger’s hand and walked toward the stairs, “Room 27.”
Hodger turned back to the smiling Lucille and gave a nervous smile back before following his new roommate up the stairs.