Friendship was a concept which Liam found frightening. In his long existence, he had only known a handful of people who genuinely cared about him enough to help him without asking anything in return. Universally, people who were that kind died young, though maybe Liam’s long lifespan skewed his opinion on what dying young entailed. When Simon returned to the surface, he took Liam with him, rather than making him walk up the steps all by himself. The trip with Simon took much less time and the stairs up the long dark corridor felt much less ominous while they walked together. Maybe, Liam realized, Simon had put their relationship into the cast of paying off a debt because he knew Liam wouldn’t understand any other sort of relationship. Thinking back on their time together, Simon didn’t seem to care about the monetary value of possessions all that much. Maybe, just maybe, Liam had found a home at last.
As they reached the top of the stairs, something black and furry with sharp teeth rubbed against Liam’s leg. As it’s head passed, Liam could tell it had sharp teeth. Somehow, he didn’t feel threatened, as though it was just saying thank you. Thinking back, Liam remembered the muffin and the chewing sounds which had seemed so threatening the first time.
“Awww,” Simon exclaimed, his yellow left eye turned towards Liam, “You made a friend! I’m happy for you Liam.”
Strangely, Liam didn’t feel like making a sarcastic retort. Maybe it was the coffee, or the lingering remnants of his hangover, but Liam just felt grateful for the experience.
Simon opened the door at the top of the stairs and the sunlight poured down the hallway, dispelling the darkness which before had seemed so cold, but now felt quite warm. Stepping out into the world with him, Liam gave Simon a head start before he followed him again. His path was much more direct this time. There were fewer twists and turns, and his steps were surer and less frantic. As they walked, Liam watched Simon’s back very closely. He still saw flitting images of something following, just out of sight.
They kept on like that until they reached a large apartment complex in Grenwich Village. Once he reached the front door, Simon stopped moving and looked back in Liam’s general direction. Liam slowly caught up and Simon turned to look at the front door, “I think this is an important question for you, Liam. How are you going to take responsibility for your actions? I know you didn’t mean to hurt them, but you did.”
Liam turned his gaze to the ground, “I think I’ll just be honest.”
Simon clapped a hand to his shoulder, “That’s a good start.”
Walking up the steps, Simon opened the door and stepped inside. The apartment complex was like nothing Liam had ever seen. The gnome village was all inside the building. Houses were stacked on top of each other and set into the walls. Small walkways started from the ground floor and worked their way up sets of stairs to different levels, allowing access to different floors. The outsides of the tiny houses were painted bright colors, like yellow or blue, but many of the houses had heavy damage and showed signs of burning. In the center of the room, which encompassed the majority of the apartment, there was a large stone pillar. Homes were set into the pillar, with stairs leading around the edge. Spread all around, in orderly corridors, were the streets and shops of the village. When the inhabitants caught sight of Simon, they waved and cheered. Liam noted there were fewer gnomes than he would have expected. Many of the shops and houses had sustained damage recently as well. Life continued for the gnomes, in spite of their losses. Two members of the Aliway family were working on restoring the houses on that floor as best they could. They entirely ignored Simon and Liam when they came into the village.
A human sized stair case went up to the next floor, and Simon led him up the stairs until they reached the fourth floor. In the middle of that room, in dire need of repairs, was the residence of the gnomish mayor. The street which led to it’s relatively sizable front had been made wide enough for Simon and Liam to cross. Once they reached the building, Simon tapped on it with his finger and waited. The gnome, Abram, which had met Simon earlier popped out of the house and closed the door behind him.
“Simon! My friend, thank you for all you’ve done. Who is this you’ve brought with you?”
Simon bowed his head to the somber gnome, “This is Liam. We talked at length about his involvement with your village.”
Abram peered up at Liam, pulling a pair of spectacles from his pocket to get a better look at his face, “Well, it’s nice to put a face to the name.”
Liam sagged forward a bit, “That’s a far nicer greeting than I expected.”
Tapping his foot, Abram looked around at the work on that floor, “Evil people don’t need excuses to do evil things. I explained this to Simon, and yet, he’s still mad. Your friend is a very serious man. Repairs are going well, and with the added protection we’ve been seeing a lot of new arrivals to the community. How long can we expect your guards to stay?”
Simon scratched his chin thoughtfully, “As long as you need them. Under the circumstances, it would be foolish to have them go. If my dad needs them somewhere else, I’ve got other means to watch over you.”
“Thank you, Simon. That’s the best news I’ve had all day,” Abram peered over his shoulder, “Does your friend like wine?”
“He dabbles,” Simon responded.
“Normally, I would council temperance, but with guests here and repairs well under way, it’s a day to celebrate.”
It hardly took a long time for the village to set out a feast. They must have been preparing it before Simon and Liam even arrived. Each family took their table from their house and placed it on the main street in a long row, so the whole community could eat together. Simon and Liam sat against the wall to stay out of the way. Liam drank more than a few cups of wine, but the cups were so small that it was going to take far more booze to get him drunk. Simon neither ate nor drank, he simply watched the gnomes celebrate their newfound friendships and the new birth of their town with a small smile dancing around his lips.
It was late in the day before they finally left. Liam didn’t know where Simon was going, but he walked slowly, as though he were lost in thought. Liam continued to follow him as arranged, but more closely this time. He was buzzing a bit from the gnomes wine, and tired after a long day of walking. Suddenly, Simon whirled around on his heel and punched with his right hand straight at Liam’s face. The change of pace was so sudden, Liam hardly had time to react at all. Simon’s hand went whirring by his head, grabbing at something Liam couldn’t see. With his right hand holding onto what looked like nothing, he repeated the gesture with his left. When Liam looked closer, he could tell that something was wriggling around in each of Simon’s hands.
“I should have known it was you two. You’re the only ones who could’ve stayed out of my sight for so long. You might as well stop fooling around now that I’ve got you in my hands.”
The air around Simon’s hands shimmered for an instant, and gradually two small figures became visible in them. They were tiny, winged creatures with sharp teeth and spiky hair. It was hard to tell, because they were so small, but they looked related to each other.
“What the hell are those things?”
Simon looked genuinely shocked for an instant, “These are two pixies. They came from Trash Island, which is not the nicest town. Their names are Snickers and Speed Queen.”
Liam scoffed, “It sounds like they were named after whatever their mother first saw after…”
“Pretty much. Pixies get names like that around there. These two are no good scoundrels. If they were following me around, they weren’t doing it for fun. Who asked you two to follow me?”
Just as Liam was wondering which Pixie was which, one of them spoke, “Hihihi, we just followed you because we were bored.” The other pixie frantically tried to fly from Simon’s grasp, as though she could get away through sheer force of her wings.
“I will pull your wings off and burn them if you don’t tell me who told you to follow me.” Liam realized that his friend would follow through on his threats.
“Denavi!” Speed Queen yelled.
Simon let them go immediately. Standing on the sidewalk, with the setting sun lighting them, he watched them fly off into the distance, vanishing before they had left eye sight with whatever strange ability had allowed them to become invisible in the first place.
“I guess we know who the culprit is, since they just gave us a name.”
Simon exhaled from the pit of his soul, “They told me nothing, and they weren’t going to give me any more information.”
Cocking his head, Liam looked at Simon, “He said Denavi. I only know one person who has that name and who would hire little fiends like that to follow you.”
“There are no more Denavis. There haven’t been for a long time.”
“Why is Adrian called Adrian Denavi then?”
“That’s a story for another time. Come on a walk with me, Liam. I have more work to do, and I don’t feel like doing it alone tonight.”
Liam followed him without another word as he walked forward. Somewhere in the last few years, Liam realized that he would follow that man anywhere. As the stars came out and twinkled down over them, breaking through the orange glow around the city, they visited the Mythic peoples. Everywhere they went, Liam saw many emotions played out all at once. Hope, fear, courage, sadness, determination and so many more, all because one man came to visit them. Somehow, a petty thief like Liam got to come along for the ride. Maybe this job was the best thing he had ever stolen.
“I want your help getting some information, Liam. It’s going to be dangerous, but you’re the only one I can ask.”
Simon’s voice cut through his thoughts as he followed him, “Sure. I can do it. Hey, how did you know they were going to follow you today?”
“I had no idea, but I figured you would attract the attention of whoever was following me with your distinctive face.”
Liam bristled a little at that, “So I was your bait? What a dick.”
Simon chuckled, “You would be madder at them then I if you knew the gestures they were making at you. Besides Liam, I knew you would be alright. I trust you.”
The world stopped, while Simon continued to walk away. Had anyone ever said that before? Liam felt determined to get the next job right, no matter what.