[A story for my friend, Cord. May it prove a distraction.]
The gauntlets were too big.
“Trouble, Half-Man?” the snake-eyed woman cooed, her fingers curled around his shoulders.
“Nope…nothing…no problem!” Mobius stammered his small hands almost rattling inside the pitted blue-steel gauntlets.
Mobius was small statured, a halfling in the common parlance. His grandmother always said that the proper name for his race was ‘Kender’, but his mother and father always gave such sharp looks of disapproval when she had used the word that Mobius dared not. From his boots to the tip of his wild hair he was only three and a half feet tall. This put his head just below the breasts of the snake-eyed woman who stood behind him. When she exhaled, they dipped ever so slightly, brushing the sides of his head — causing pronounced eye dilation and small puffs of smoke to erupt from his ears and from somewhere just south of his belt buckle.
“You promised me that you could get us in, thief. You promised me that locks would fall open when you whistled ‘Valleydown,Susannah. That you could smell traps, hear ambush, see the gleam of gold through a mile of dark catacomb,” Varatene’s hands moved from his shoulders to his bare neck. “You promised me.”
The touch was silk, but Mobius heard the jagged, bloody steel in her words.
“I got it, Vara. I got it…just …just need a minute,”the halfling said with desperate cheer.
The thief and the snake-eyed lady stood in a circular room, golden blocks of rough-hewn sandstone. Stairs led downward to the Temple of Silent Flames and hundreds of Sarmadi acolytes of Nasirah. Mobius and Varatene had taken advantage of the holy festival in the city beyond for this night’s endeavour.
Most of the acolytes were busy in the city, leaving only a small guard inside the temple. Easy enough for a halfling of Mobius’ talents to move from shadow to shadow, evading the sparse patrols. He had taken great care to wait until the last possible second to scoot around each patrol, finding the most elaborate way to remain hidden. Handstands, last minute flips behind columns and tall urns, a long swing on a crisp white banner over the heads of two guards with axes. He had ended each escape with a surreptitious glance at his lithe partner, Varatene. He was showing off as hard as he possibly could, it would have been a waste of energy if his efforts were not being suitably enjoyed.
She smiled at him once or twice, but focused mainly on remaining unseen herself. Kissing each shadow, an alluring absence.
The top of the tower was just as she had described. A massive door fashioned from marble and steel – a glorious sun. A stone column, top sheared off to make a simple table was in the center of the room. A pair of gauntlets riveted to the top of the table were the only other feature of the room.
Mobius had inspected the door with every ounce of unruly skill he possessed. He was convinced that the only way to open the door was with the gauntlets, somehow they were the locking mechanism. Cunning pressure plates were installed at the pad of each finger, just the right amount of pressure was required.
But the gauntlets were too big for his hands.
Even if my hands were the right size — I’d have to know the exact weight of each finger. This thing’s probably set for a very specific pair of hands, whoever runs this place probably. Mobius spread his fingers as wide as he could, but still could only manage to cover three plates in each gauntlet.
“I hear someone.” Her lips were at his ear. “Two pair of leather sandals and the butt of two long-axes hitting the stone floor. Guards, soon, here.”
“….what?” the thief managed. “Oh! Guards. Yeah, guards are bad.”
He could feel her lips bend in a thin smile. “Do you find me distracting, thief?”
“A…a bit? But in a really, really, really good way.”
“Ah, but you must focus, Sir Mobius. The boots are coming closer, and the long-axes with them. We are cornered here and will not last long against the acolytes of Nasirah, Goddess of Law and Fire. You must open the door now. Now, Mobius.” Varatene delicately began to bite down on the lobe of his right ear.
“Grrruhh?” Mobius said.
The snake-eyed lady pulled back and whispered again. ” Open the door, thief. And I will ravish you. I will show you pleasure that will be spoken of in hushed, reverent tones as a holy sacrament of lust. I will leave you a shattered husk, stumbling and blinking through all the remaining years of your life as a man long blind who first sees the sunrise.”
“I will do that thing. I WILL DO THAT THING.” Mobius declared, and immediately brought his head down as hard as he could on the stone slab in front of him.
Mobius’ grandmother had always said that he was a little ‘touched’. That he had something in his blood, a little touch of the old magic. It was mostly useless, he had decided as a kid. Sometimes he could guess what color underwear his cousin was wearing without looking, sometimes he could throw a rock in the dark and hit a passing bat dead between the eyes, sometimes the wind would blow just a little when he wiggled both pinkies.
But sometimes, when he really needed it, his touch would help him. Mostly in dreams, but sometimes he could see over the horizon — in the fields of the world, and in the folds of time.
And he needed this. Bad.
The pain in his temple was sharp and his head rang with pain. But he saw it. Like a mummer’s show through a fog, a man in long white robes painted with a red and gold flame entered the room, and placed his hands in the blue-steel gauntlets. Mobius could see each of the mans fingers inside the gauntlet as they pressed down on the pads.
Still in the fog, he reached up and took Varatene’s hands. He slid them into the gauntlets, and laid his smaller hands carefully on top of hers. The woman’s hands were fine, but large enough for the purpose.
The tramp of the boots, the thump of the long-axe handle.
Mobius looked up, as he gently guided Varatene’s fingers with his own. Her eyes, flat and empty looked back. “You…you wanna…make out a little?” he said shyly.
Their hands moved slowly into place, as he guided the pressure needed — the dream-fog fading in his brain. There was a sharp click and the sun door slowly began to slide open.
Varatene smiled and pecked his brow. “Later, thief.”
She spun away, pulling him behind her. In two breaths they were through the sun door and Mobius pulled a nearby lever. The door quietly began to shut again.
The halfling started to shrug out of his vest, his hands going to his belt buckle.
“What are you doing?” Varatene hissed.
“Uh. You know? The lust thing? The thing you just said, back in there.” Mobius nodded his head towards the gauntlet room as it disappeared behind the closing door.
“Now?” the woman said with exasperation. “Right now?”
The halfling’s pants hit the ground.
“That never happened, Mobe. It never ever did.”
“Yeah it did, JJ! Gods honest truth, it totally happened.”
“She did you right there, on a pile of gold and jewels?”
“Well, there wasn’t a whole lot of gold, some weird thing about the Sarmadi — they think gold is evil or something. But there was a hell of a lot of opals and rubies. And a big pile of silk, where we Did the Deed. Twi…Three times,yeah. Three times!”
“That don’t make no sense, Mobe. And you know it!”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“You think I’m stupid, or something? How did you start this stupid story? Huh?”
“HAR. I gotcha. I’ll bet her gauntlet was…”
“Shut your fat face!”
“HHAH HHA—hey, why is it windy in here all of a sudden?”