Kender raced toward the screaming, more like the squeal of an animal at the slaughter. The closer he got, the more he felt the carriers, many of them. Turning the corner he found a few thugs pushing around several idiots, one of the thugs prying open the hand of the screamer.
“Hey,” yelled Kender. “What are you doing?” He reached the one pulling at the idiot’s hand and jabbed him in the ribs with his staff.
The man let go and drew back. The other two stopped. The screaming ceased, and the idiots pulled away from them. One had a drooping lower lip as wide as his face, his eyes fearfully darting around at the ground. Another had a round face in a perpetual pout and stared vacantly. None of them looked normal, but they all wore the bluish-green garb some of the idiot havens were known for. The screamer looked sullen, and although his features were inferior, his eyes focused unusually well for these kind.
“Mind your own business, turnip sack.” The thug snarled through his ratty beard. His buddies flanked him, the one on the left with a significant scar across his cheek, the face on the right was womanly. It irked Kender to sense the shards each of these brutes carried, pulling him toward them.
“Turnip sack? Really?” said Kender. “Well, I was going to admit my mistake and leave, but now you’ve called me a turnip sack, I can’t as a matter of pride. You hurt my feelings.”
“Wait,” said Kender. “What’s your name? I like to know the name of someone before I throttle them.”
“Name’s Gursh, and—”
“And you’re excessively mean to these poor idiots. Say you’re sorry for calling him an imbecile.”
“There’s three of us against you, you dumb ox,” said one of the others.
Kender shrugged. “I don’t have time for you to gather seven more to make it fair. Now apologize to the idiots, or get throttled.”
“This idiot took something of mine,” said Gursh.
“Oh, really,” said Kender. “He’s a carrier and so are you, and you’re trying to get more than your shard.” Kender bared his teeth. “That’s not going to happen.”
The womanly one pulled a dagger. Kender spun and swung, cracking the dagger hand with his staff and knocking the knife to the ground. The man grabbed his wrist, and to his credit did not yell out, gritting his teeth and eyeballing Kender with hate.
“Right,” said Kender. “Let me explain a few things to you.” He felt Lana approaching from behind before looking back and seeing her. “You’ll probably meet a few soft, monkish types carrying their shards to the gathering, but you should know some of them are pretty well trained. But I wasn’t supposed to be a monk, so I didn’t get any of that training.”
Scar face smirked.
“I trained for the king’s guard,” Kender said.
The smirk dropped, but the womanly one looked even meaner.
“Say you’re sorry.”
Gursh grumbled his apology. “But he has my—”
“Gursh, you little turnip lover. Don’t try to lie to me again.”
Gursh’s eyes glanced side to side, obvious humiliation in front of his pals.
“We’re all going to the same place,” said Kender. “Soon you’re going to have to choo—”
“We know,” said Gursh. “Believe me, we’ve chosen. We’re going to take you and—”
Kender cracked him across the jaw. The way his staff gave, he was pretty sure he’d broken Gursh’s jaw. He jabbed him in the ribs and kicked him to the ground. Two quick jabs at the other two bruised or broke a few ribs, discouraging them from converging upon him. Kender held his staff to Gursh’s nose.
“You only choose when you choose. So I guess we’ll see.” He lifted his staff. “Get out of here.”
Gursh pushed himself off the ground and scrambled away with his buddies.
“You going to do that to me if I choose wrong?” asked Lana.
Kender looked at her with genuine worry. “I hope we never know.”
The idiots were happy to know him. They smiled brightly as Kender shook each of their hands, and Lana reticently clasped them after. Kender chuckled. “They rarely bight.” He concentrated hard to remember their names, Bodel, Chensy, Darbus, Kepper, Joss, Boleg, and Hampet.
Every one of them had a shard of Safera, and he marveled at the notion that they would all participate in the final gathering—as long as they weren’t robbed by someone else.
The last thing Kender wanted was some guardianship over these idiots to hold him down. “You should travel with me,” he said.
Bodel, the one whose scream started it all, withdrew and shook his head. “Mwa. Mwa.” The others huddled behind him.
“Don’t be afraid,” said Kender. “You don’t have to.”
“Kender,” gasped Lana. “You can’t let them go.”
They already pottered away as a group.
“I can’t force them.”
Lana scowled. It was one of her most beautiful looks. They watched the idiots down the street.
“We’re all going to the same place,” said Kender. “Chances are they won’t get far off.”
“I don’t think my people will be with you at the choosing,” she said.
“That will be unfortunate for all of us.”
Lana grabbed his arm and lay her head on his shoulder, sending tingles up his back and neck.