Robert Salvatore: The Spine of the World

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    The Spine of the World
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Robert Salvatore

The Spine of the World

(Paths of Darkness - 02)


The smaller man, known by many names in Luskan but most commonly as Morik the Rogue, held the bottle up in the air and gave it a shake, for it was a dirty thing and he wanted to measure the dark line of liquid against the orange light of sunset.

"Down to one," he said, and he brought his arm back in as if to take that final swig.

The huge man sitting on the end of the wharf beside him snatched the bottle away, moving with agility exceptional in a man of his tremendous size. Instinctively, Morik moved to grab the bottle back, but the large man held his muscular arm up to fend off the grabbing hands and drained the bottle in a single hearty swig.

"Bah, Wulfgar, but you're always getting the last one of late," Morik complained, giving Wulfgar a halfhearted swat across the shoulder.

"Earned it," Wulfgar argued.

Morik eyed him skeptically for just a moment, then remembered their last contest wherein Wulfgar had, indeed, earned the right to the last swig of the next bottle.

"Lucky throw," Morik mumbled. He knew better, though, and had long ago ceased to be amazed by Wulfgar's warrior prowess.

"One that I'll make again," Wulfgar proclaimed, pulling himself to his feet and hoisting Aegis-fang, his wondrous warhammer. He staggered as he slapped the weapon across his open palm, and a sly smile spread across Morik's swarthy face. He, too, climbed to his feet, taking up the empty bottle, swinging it easily by the neck.

"Will you, now?" the rogue asked.

"You throw it high enough, or take a loss," the blond barbarian explained, lifting his arm and pointing the end of the warhammer out to the open sea.

"A five-count before it hits the water." Morik eyed his barbarian friend icily as he recited the terms of the little gambling game they had created many days ago. Morik had won the first few contests, but by the fourth day Wulfgar had learned to properly lead the descending bottle, his hammer scattering tiny shards of glass across the bay. Of late, Morik had a chance of winning the bet only when Wulfgar indulged too much in the bottle.

"Never will it hit," Wulfgar muttered as Morik reached back to throw.

The little man paused, and once again he eyed the big man with some measure of contempt. Back and forth swayed the arm. Suddenly Morik jerked as if to throw.

"What?" Surprised, Wulfgar realized the feint, realized that Morik had not sailed the bottle into the air. Even as Wulfgar turned his gaze upon Morik, the little man spun in a complete circuit and let the bottle fly high and far.

Right into the line of the descending sun.

Wulfgar hadn't followed it from the beginning of its flight, so he could only squint into the glare, but he caught sight of it at last. With a roar he let fly his mighty warhammer, the magical and brilliantly crafted weapon spinning out low over the bay.

Morik squealed in glee, thinking he had outfoxed the big man, for the bottle was low in the sky by the time Wulfgar threw and fully twenty strides out from the wharf. No one could skim a warhammer so far and so fast as to hit that, Morik believed, especially not a man who had just drained more than half the contents of the target!

The bottle nearly clipped a wave when Aegis-fang took it, exploding it into a thousand tiny pieces.

"It touched water!" Morik yelled.

"My win," Wulfgar said firmly, his tone offering no debate.

Morik could only grumble in reply, for he knew that the big man was right; the warhammer got the bottle in time.

"Seeming a mighty waste of a good hammer fer just a bottle," came a voice behind the duo. The pair turned as one to see two men, swords drawn, standing but a few feet away.

"Now, Mister Morik the Rogue," remarked one of them, a tall and lean fellow with a kerchief tied about his head, a patch over one eye, and a rusty, curving blade weaving in the air before him. "I'm knowin' ye got yerself a good haul from a gem merchant a week back, and I'm thinkin' that ye'd be wise to share a bit o' the booty with me and me friend."

Morik glanced up at Wulfgar, his wry grin and the twinkle in his dark eyes telling the barbarian that he didn't mean to share a thing, except perhaps the blade of his fine dagger.

"And if ye still had yer hammer, ye might be arguin' the point," laughed the other thug, as tall as his friend, but much wider and far dirtier. He prodded his sword toward Wulfgar. The barbarian staggered backward, nearly falling off the end of the wharf-or at least, pretending to.

"I'm thinking that you should have found the gem merchant before me," Morik replied calmly. "Assuming there was a gem merchant, my friend, because I assure you that I have no idea what you are talking about."

The slender thug growled and thrust his sword ahead. "Now, Morik!" he started to yell, but before the words even left his mouth, Morik had leaped ahead, spinning inside the angle of the curving sword blade, rolling about, putting his back against the man's forearm and pushing out. He ducked right under the startled man's arm, lifting it high with his right hand, while his left hand flashed, a silver sparkle in the last light of day, Morik's dagger stabbing into the stunned man's armpit.

Meanwhile, the other thug, thinking he had an easy, unarmed target, waded in. His bloodshot eyes widened when Wulfgar brought his right arm from behind his hip, revealing that the mighty warhammer had magically returned to his grip. The thug skidded to a stop and glanced in panic at his companion. But by now Morik had the newly unarmed man turned about and in full flight with Morik running right behind him, taunting him and laughing hysterically as he repeatedly stabbed the man in the buttocks.

"Whoa!" the remaining thug cried, trying to turn.

"I can hit a falling bottle," Wulfgar reminded him. The man stopped abruptly and turned back slowly to face the huge barbarian.

"We don't want no trouble," the thug explained, slowly laying his sword down on the boarding of the wharf. "No trouble at all, good sir," he said, bowing repeatedly.

Wulfgar dropped Aegis-fang to the decking, and the thug stopped bobbing, staring hard at the weapon.

"Pick up your sword, if you choose," the barbarian offered.

The thug looked up at him incredulously. Then, seeing the barbarian without a weapon-except, of course, for those formidable fists-the man scooped up his sword.

Wulfgar had him before his first swing. The powerful warrior snapped out his hand to catch the man's sword arm at the wrist. With a sudden and ferocious jerk, Wulfgar brought that arm straight up, then hit the thug in the chest with a stunning right cross that blasted away his breath and his strength. The sword fell to the wharf.

Wulfgar jerked the arm again, lifting the man right from his feet and popping his shoulder out of joint. The barbarian let go, allowing the thug to fall heavily back to his feet, then hit him with a vicious left hook across the jaw. The only thing that stopped the man from flipping headlong over the side of the wharf was Wulfgar's right hand, catching him by the front of his shirt. With frightening strength, Wulfgar easily lifted the thug from the deck, holding him fully a foot off the planking.

The man tried to grab at Wulfgar and break the hold, but Wulfgar shook him so violently that he nearly bit off his tongue, and every limb on the man seemed made of rubber.

"This one's not got much of a purse," Morik called. Wulfgar looked past his victim to see that his companion had gone right around the fleeing thug, herding him back toward the end of the dock. The thug was limping badly now and whining for mercy, which only made Morik stick him again in the buttocks, drawing more yelps.

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