Bernie brushed the dirt off the front of his jacket, stirring the air with a damp, earthy smell. The odor was always clinging to the old gnome.
He stepped off the curb at Lavaca near the corner of West 4th, still trying to take in that he had captured the compass and identified another elemental. “A Peabrain no less,” he muttered. “I thought that part was a myth.”
He heard the screech of tires before he saw the car hurtling toward him but he was well over a thousand years old and had seen a little bit of everything through the ages. He quickly held up his arm as a streak of gold escaped his fingertips and a trail of large, translucent bubbles bobbed along, hurried by the gnome puffing out his cheeks and blowing them around the cars as they screeched to a halt inches from him. The surprised driver of a red Subaru laid on his horn as an afterthought before putting his hand to his face in shock.
A mother turned around to see if her kids were okay in the back of her white minivan, yelling at them to stop arguing.
“Blast! Not a phone.” Bernie spotted the phone in a pedestrian’s hand, already recording the entire thing. He waved his hand again and bright streaks of gold shot out, surrounding everyone in the area till they glowed in unison for just a moment. The light quickly faded as one by one, the bubbles popped snapping everyone back to reality. The Subaru driver smiled and turned up her radio, waving at Bernie as he finished crossing the street. The kids in the minivan settled back and looked around at the nearby shops, the argument forgotten as their mother let out a deep sigh.
Bernie snorted, satisfied at his handiwork and kept walking toward Republic Square Park and the necessary patch of wide open space.
He looked up in time to see a flash of gold and a familiar face heading back to the park. Another gnome.
Bernie grimaced. “Great! I’m definitely going to hear about this one. Car didn’t even touch me this time. You get bruised in a smash up once and hear about it for a millennium.” He quickly made his way down 4th street getting closer to the park, patting his shirt every few steps to make sure the precious compass was still with him. He felt the small metal object and took an easier breath that abruptly caught in his throat as he locked eyes with a man with silver hair, wearing a green puffy coat. “Simon…” gasped Bernie. The gnome thought he’d done a better job of hiding from the trackers.
Someone had spotted him and relayed the message to their leader, Simon Wesley.
Bernie grimaced, realizing things were getting worse. It wasn’t like Simon to approach him in public like this. After all, he had secrets to hide too.
The gnome was still too far from the park to be able to escape. But there were too many people around to pull off any magic and still have time to make them forget. Not if he was going to fend off an attack at the same time. He pressed his hand to his shirt and picked up speed, even as Simon dodged traffic coming down 4th street running toward Bernie. He caught the glint of light off the knife barely hidden in Simon’s hand. That must be meant for me. He’s getting sloppy. He must know about the compass.
Bernie knew the consequences if he was to battle Simon out in the open. Too many Peabrains would witness it. There was a chance one or two might wake up and convert. It was Rule Number Two, no assisting humans to remember they’re magical. The punishment was imprisonment. “Like that could happen on this broken down blue marble.” He knew the governance committee would never hear about it. At least not till they could find all the parts to fix the machinery. No one was going anywhere and no information was getting out. Might as well stand his ground. The compass was too precious.
He turned just as Simon caught up to him and swung his right arm, slashing one of the gnome’s suspenders and pricking his skin. Bernie winced but didn’t back up and people on the street scattered, some screaming as they ran away. The gnome narrowed his eyes and wiggled his fingers sending a streak of gold pocked with sharp thorns. The magical vine wrapped around Simon’s arm and yanked him backward but he was already whispering into existence a series of bubbles. They split into two group, one streaking away. Bernie looked at the watch on his wrist. It wouldn’t take the messenger bubbles long to alert others in Simon’s group. The street would be overrun soon and chaos would break out. He had to end this, and do it now, by any means necessary.
“No half measures!” he shouted, balling up his fist and landing a solid punch on Simon’s jaw, momentarily dazing him. He didn’t hesitate, lifting Simon over his head like a ragdoll and shaking him, even as Simon slashed through the open air.
Bernie let out a cry of pain as the tip of the knife cut along the back of his hand. A thin stream of blood instantly appeared and he felt a surge of anger as he tossed the man into the middle of the street.
Simon hit the ground hard, the wind knocked out of him and rolled to one side, struggling to stand. He wasn’t done yet.
Bernie rubbed his large, thick hand against his jacket. “Bo-back-slappy-ass!” It was one of his favorite words he’d learned from the Peabrains. It could apply to almost any situation. He reached inside his coat, ready to pull out the sharp, small scythe.
“No, Bernie!” The gnome he had seen heading to the park was nearly by his side, running as fast as his stature would let him. He was still obeying Rule Number Two.
“Blast it, Jack! I have the compass, bend a rule once in a while. Use the bubbles!”
Jack covered the ground between them and pushed Bernie behind him. “No, you’re a Huldu. We don’t break the rules!”
Bernie was flustered and said the first thing that came to mind. “I’m a gnome, you’re a Huldu!”
“Potato, potato. We are the caretakers! Go on brother, change behind me and get away. I’ll hold off Simon and clean up this mess.”