The Twelfth Knight Part 5

“You want me to kill a sniveling unarmed man?” Roscoe asked in what he hoped was a dubious voice. “That doesn’t really strike me as a good use of my talents.”

“Oh, we’re not testing your talent. Not yet, anyway,” Merlinus answered cheerfully. “We’re testing your loyalty, your willingness to do whatever we ask you to do. So, is there some reason why you aren’t killing that fool right now?”

Roscoe pulled out his sword and began advancing toward Worram. The wainwright backed away slowly. Behind him, and a little to Roscoe’s left, a tall stack of wagon wheels stood. It gave him an idea. With his eyes, Roscoe tried to direct the wainwright to back up into it. For a moment, Worram appeared to be confused as to why Roscoe’s eyes were moving oddly, but he eventually caught on and turned into the stack.

Once Worram backed into the wheels, Roscoe raised his sword, gave a yell, and smashed one of the bottom wheels with his blade. He heard the wood crack and the stack began to teeter. Roscoe pushed the wainwright away from the falling wheels, pulled on it to ensure that it did fall, and followed Worram away from the crash. All around him came shouts of alarm. He heard at least a half dozen distinct voices, including Merlinus. The mercenary leader was ordering his men to capture the two of them alive.

Roscoe cursed. He had known that Merlinus had people stationed around the warehouse, but he hoped it was only one or two. The number of voices he heard meant that it was highly unlikely that he would make it out of this mess alive. That thought was quickly pushed out of his mind. It was ok if he didn’t make it out. All that mattered was getting Worram to safety. Protecting the citizens of the Kingdom was his primary responsibility as a Knight of the Matticus Kingdom.

Worram cried out when Roscoe caught up to him, but to the wainwright’s credit, he kept running. Roscoe tried to pull him towards the closest door, but Worram wouldn’t quit heading in his original direction. Since it was his warehouse, Roscoe assumed that Worram knew something that he didn’t. It wasn’t worth fighting him over, so he continued to follow him down the rows of wagon wheels.

Suddenly, everything went dark.

Worram let out a panicked cry and fell to the floor. Roscoe had too much momentum built up an couldn’t stop in time. He fell on top of the cowering man and nearly lost his sword in the process. A yelp of pain told him that he probably had cut the man as he fell too. He didn’t have time to worry about it, however. There was a noise off to his left alerting him to a nearing enemy.

Roscoe took a deep, calming breath and struck out at the noise. He felt his blade sink into flesh and heard a cry of pain. In his mind, he tried to picture his surroundings from the moment before he lost his sight so he could at least have some idea of the landscape around him. He stood up, taking the blade with him. The person he had stabbed cried out again as the wound was opened further. A quick kick pushed the injured opponent off his sword and further into the blackness.

Another sound, this time coming from the opposite way, had him turning around with his sword ready. A whoosh of air alerted him to oncoming danger. Roscoe barely got his blade up when the hilt started ringing in his hands. Whoever had attacked him swung their weapon so hard that it almost knocked the sword out of Roscoe’s grip. Stubbornly, he held on. He tried to launch an attack of his own, but he went back on the defensive before he could. This time, he didn’t hear the danger coming as much as sensed it.

His intuition saved him, but it didn’t protect him fully. His sword didn’t block the next attack. It redirected it. Unfortunately for Roscoe, his arm was still in the path.

Fiery pain wracked him as his opponent’s weapon dug a deep cut into his left forearm. The only thing that kept him from dropping his sword was the knowledge that, if he did, he was going to die. Adrenaline pumped through his veins, strengthening the grip he had on the sword with his uninjured arm. Luckily, he was righthanded and he had practiced using his sword with only one arm.

Unfortunately, all the practice in the world wasn’t going to help him if he didn’t know where his opponent was. Worram cried out again. This time it sounded more like a mixture of fear and pain. The wainwright was in trouble. So was Roscoe. Whichever one he decided to help would have the best chance of survival. As far as Roscoe was concerned, it wasn’t a choice. He didn’t hesitate.

Roscoe turned his back to the danger coming at him to try to save the helpless man.

Fantasy Football Part 25

“Just a couple more drills and then we’re done,” Plex heard a coach yell. “I know you’re all tired, but we need to be ready in case our next game ends up coming sooner than we expected.”

Plex and Vinyard followed the sound of the voice until they came upon the field. The two of them ducked down behind stacks of equipment while Plex looked around for his sister. It took him a few moments, but he eventually saw her on the other side of the field. He cursed under his breath. While it wouldn’t be impossible to move over to where she was without being seen, it was pretty close. There weren’t many places to take cover. Plus, there was always a chance that one of her teammates would inadvertently see him without even trying.

After taking a deep breath in, Plex let out a series of whistles. To members of the other races, it would sound like nothing more than a bird singing. To another elf, however, it was a series of signals. The particular cadence he used was one that was known only to the two of them. They had come up with it as children as a way of warning each other when they were about to get in trouble with their parents.

A few of the other elves on her team looked around when they heard it, but they quickly went back to what they were doing. Gilania had no reaction to his whistles. She hadn’t heard him. He was too far away and there was too much noise going on around her for Gilania to pick it up. Plex shook his head in frustration. How was he going to get her attention now?

He felt a poking at his side and found Vinyard next to him with a handful of small pebbles. Before he could ask what he was supposed to do with them, the gnome made a throwing motion. Plex looked at him in disbelief. The pebbles had almost no weight to them, so they probably wouldn’t fly all the way to where Gilania was. Even if they did, he wasn’t likely to be accurate with his throw because of how far he had to throw it. Any time you put extra strength into a throw, you sacrificed accuracy for it.

Plex was going to try to explain all of that to the gnome, but shook his head instead. He didn’t have a better idea. It was at least worth a try. At worst, he’d end up hitting one of her teammates by accident, but he was confident that he could hide before the teammate went looking for who had thrown the pebble. After shrugging his shoulders, Plex took a step out of concealment and let heave.

As he was afraid of, the pebble went nowhere near where he was aiming. Luckily, it landed on a part of the field not being used at the moment. Or, at least, he thought it did. Elves generally had better vision than the other races and even Plex had a hard time following the small pebble in the night sky. There were magic lights surrounding the field, but they mostly focused on the players and the ball. Anything other than that was spotty, at best.

Undeterred, Plex let fly again, this time adjusting his aim after what he’d seen on his first throw. The stone sailed true and pinged off the shoulder pad of his sister. He saw her flinch but otherwise ignore the tiny missile. She didn’t stop what she was doing. She didn’t look around. If she hadn’t flinched, Plex would have thought she didn’t even feel it.
Frustrated Plex ducked back behind concealment with Vinyard. He couldn’t stand out in the open and continue to pelt her with rocks. She was obviously too focused at the moment to be distracted.

Vinyard whispered harshly, “You give up too easily.”

“A lost cause is a lost cause and it is better to quit early than waste time,” Plex responded in his own harsh whisper. Then an idea occurred to him and he said, “Let’s find a better place to hide. We can single her out later after practice.”

Vinyard frowned and showed no sign that he was willing to following Plex’s lead. Then his head turned as the play on the field stopped for a second. Plex turned as well a moment later when his sister’s voice carried over to where they were hiding.

“I need a break coach. I’m going to go stretch and I’ll be right back.”

The sound of jogging feet drew nearer and then Giliana was on top of them. She couldn’t miss them and yet she acted as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Then she dropped to the ground and began to stretch. In little more than a whisper she said, “I heard your whistle. There was no need to throw rocks at me. You are a fool for interrupting our practice. What in the world are you doing here?”

“We need to talk,” Plex responded.

“Then talk. You’ve got two minutes while I stretch. At most.”

Not wanting to waste the time she had bought them, he said, “We need your help. A revolution is coming, an uprising against the dragon, and we need the best warriors on our side to overthrow the beast. Vinyard,” Plex indicated the gnome at his side,” and I need an audience with anyone on your team you think might want to join our fight.”

“We won,” Giliana said flatly. Plex could tell that she was masking the emotions she was really feeling. He could pick up the subtle difference only because they were siblings. “Why would we want to jeapordize that? Why would anyone on this team want to risk what they have already achieved.”

“For those on the other teams who won’t win. For their families. For their people. For all the people who are forced to live under her rule. For the possibility that we can regain our own destinies and no longer suffer her whims. For all these things and more specifically for you because I know you want to help.”

She never looked to Plex while he spoke and once he was done, she stood up and said, “You assume too much.” Then she took two steps away before stopping and turning around again, twisting at her wasit to bend down to have her right hand touch the ground in front of her left foot. “Still…,” she started before going silent again. Plex could tell she was deep in thought.

Gilania’s voice softened, “Did you really think that I wouldn’t notice you doing badly on purpose during the game?”

“I didn’t care if you noticed,” Plex responded honestly. “I was just hoping that the dragon didn’t notice.”

“Why would you do something as stupid as that?”

“At the time, it didn’t seem that stupid. I thought that we were going to keep running up the score and I couldn’t do that. I had to make sure that the game was close. I couldn’t put you in harm’s way.”

Gilania scoffed. “By putting yourself in harm’s way?”

“You’re my sister,” Plex said. “There’s no harm I wouldn’t risk to keep you safe.”

A small smile worked its way onto her face as she shifted stretching positions once again. “You know, it makes me want to punch you when you get all mushy like that.” She paused before adding, “I can’t promise you anything, but I’ll try to get some of my teammates over here later, when the moon reaches its zenith. Now, get out of here before you get spotted.”

Plex had more to say, but his sister began walking away before he could speak. He thought about trying to stop her, but he felt a tugging at his arm. Looking back, he saw Vinyard motioning for them to leave. Once they were safely back out on the street, he asked the gnome, “What? Why did we have to leave?”

“You mean besides the obvious answer of us lessening the chances of being spotted?” Vinyard responded sarcastically. “We need to get back to our facility and make sure we’re seen when we do. If most of our team sees us in the facility, they won’t be able to tell the Honor Guard that we weren’t around all night.”

“But won’t they be mad at me for leaving before the game was over? There’s probably more than one of them who will blame my absence for the loss.”

The sarcasm immediately left Vinyard’s voice. “That’s a good point. A lot of those players were looking to use that game to improve their standing, not only in the eyes of the dragon, but also their own race. Maybe you shouldn’t be seen there.” After a brief pause, the gnome continued, “But I have to be seen. I have too much to do before my involvement becomes known.”

“Like what?”

Vinyard ignored him. The gnome had a strange look on his face. The words to ask what was wrong didn’t even make it to his lips when Vinyard asked a question of his own. “Do you smell that?”

“What?”

“Sniff the air!”

The force behind the diminutive gnome’s command startled him for a moment, but Plex did as he was told. At first, he didn’t detect anything out of the ordinary. The only thing that was slightly odd was that the was a stronger than normal smell of…

“Smoke!”

Plex looked into the air to see if he could determine where it was coming from. It was hard to tell in the darkness, but it appeared to be coming from their practice facility.

I’m Still Here

It’s been a few weeks (hell, pretty close to a month), since I’ve posted on this here blog. It’s not that I don’t want to, but it’s hard to find the time to get on here when you work between 9 and 10 hours a day, six days a week. This week was the first time since my last post that I’ve been able to take 2 days off in a week and, sadly, I feel more worn out coming back from those 2 days off than I did before I took them.

Anyway, I hope you’re all staying safe during this craziness. I also hope that things return to normal soon. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m a little tired of this virus.

Fantasy Football Part 23

Hey everyone! Need something to do while you’re stuck in quarantine? Read this story! It won’t make the world around you any better, but it’s something to help you pass the time!

Vinyard and Frukeld exchanged a questioning glance before looking back at Plex. “That was a very sudden change of heart,” the gnome said, his voice full of suspicion.

Frukeld held his hand up to stop any further comments from Vinyard. It appeared that the old dwarf was about to say something in Plex’s defense, but he began speaking first. “Maybe you were right about me being afraid,” Plex admitted. “Maybe I was so afraid of what the dragon could do to me that I didn’t stop to think about whether or not the dragon had any right to do those things in the first place.

“I only started playing football because my queen instructed me to,” the elf sighed. “She told me to do the best I could in order to make the elves look good, to move the elves forward. I know she meant that she wanted me to do well so that the elves could move up in the hierarchy set forth by Lavalandinarial, but, the more I think about it, the only way for the elves to move forward, to have a better life, is for the dragon to be gone. No elf will ever reach their full potential while living under the dragon’s rule.

“So, Vinyard, it wasn’t a ‘sudden change of heart’. It was a sudden realization that I wasn’t fulfilling the mission my queen gave me in the best way possible.”

“Well said,” the dwarf agreed. “That’s all we want. That’s what we’re fighting for. We want our lives to be ours. We want to be our own masters. We want the things that happen in our lives, for good or for ill, to be of our own making and not forced upon us by a bully.”

Vinyard nodded to Frukeld’s words. Plex thought the gnome was going to add to them, but instead told them, “I’ve got to get back to the arena before they notice I’m gone.”

“Go,” Frukeld ordered. “You know what you need to do?”

“I know,” Vinyard answered as he casually flipped his hand and walked out of the room.

Once he was gone, Frukeld chuckled. “The other races are too quick to dismiss the gnomes. They are far more formidable than we give them credit for.”

Plex thought of Coach Sprout and his gift of strategy. “I’m beginning to realize that.”

“Good. Having your eyes open is always the best way to see.” Plex rolled his eyes at the statement of the obvious. “But, like Vinyard, we have to get moving too. It’s not good to stay in one spot too long. It’s easier for the dragon and her magic users to track us if we linger.”

“I’ve cloaked us from her scrying magic for now,” the magic using dwarf stated, “but that won’t last. We need to get you to the meeting point.”

“The meeting point?” Plex asked.

“The spot where you’re going to meet up with Vinyard. Once he’s finished with the game, he’s going to sneak out of your facilities and meet up with you. From there, the two of you will move to your first stop.”

“And which team is that?”

“Your sister’s.”

Plex’s mind raced. He wanted to trust the dwarf but he couldn’t picture how starting with her team was the right call. If they had just won the game, they would be loath to do anything to jeapordize their current elevated position, among the teams, with the dragon. If they had just lost, they would be angry and afraid and very few good decisions are made while in such a state. They would be distrustful of him.

Plex knew if he were in that position he would think it was some sort of trap designed to test their loyalty. And, if it wasn’t a test, then they might try to use it as a bargaining chip. If they could turn over Plex and his cohorts to the dragon perhaps that would keep them from being eaten after the first round of games were over.

Plex opened his mouth to question this decision, to at least hear the logic behind it, but shook his head and said nothing. The dwarf had already started to move away and Plex needed to move quickly to stay with him.

What followed was a series of twists and turns through half-lit or completely dark passageways and back alleys that Plex, even with his heightened awareness and honed senses, would have been hardpressed to keep track off. He would never be able to find his way back to where they’d been. Not that it matter. He assumed that he would never have a need to return to that spot. If it was, as they said, that they needed to move often, they probably never reused the same meeting places again.

Giving up keeping track of his whereabouts as a lost cause, Plex went back to trying to puzzle out how he would approach his sister’s team, win or loss.

“I think you’ll find,” the dwarf stated, startling Plex out of his thoughts, “the team will be receptive to what you, what we, are offering regardless of the outcome of the game.”

“Were you reading my mind?”

The dwarf chuckled softly. “No. I do not possess the necessary skill in my craft to read minds. Nor would I ever do so without an invitation first. Minds are tricky places to go poking around in uninvited. Plus,” the dwarf added more as an aside, “I know of no magicians who could have cast such a complex spell while traversing the corridors we have walked.”

Plex snorted. It all made sense of course. It had just been uncanny that the dwarf had hit upon the very topic he had been dwelling on. “I hope you are right,” Plex replied a moment later, with a sigh.

“We spent long hours trying to decide where to start. In the end, while we all didn’t agree, the majority of us decided that if we could recruit you, your sister’s team was the best place to start. Of all the other angles you are probably trying to wrap your head around, it came down to the simplest one. She is your sister and can vouch for you.”

Before Plex could respond, Frukeld spun on his heel and walked away. “Wait here for Vinyard,” the dwarf called over his shoulder.

Plex found himself in a dark alley and ducked deeper into its shadows. He wasn’t sure how long he’d have to wait for the gnome, but he wasn’t about to do it out in the open. As time passed, he ran around in circles in his head about whether or not he was doing the right thing. His heart told him that trying to get rid of the dragon was the best thing to do, not only for the elves, but for all the races. His mind, on the other hand, was telling him that this course of action would likely lead to his death.

Then again, the dragon probably already wanted him dead, so what did he have to lose?

While his mind wandered, he paced back and forth. His eyes darted around, looking for any movement. Plex’s nerves were starting to creep up on him. Not only did he have to avoid the Honor Guard on the way to see Gilania’s team, but he had to try to convince a group of strangers to join him in a fight that might get them killed. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to convince his sister, let alone the rest of her teammates.

As he thought about what he was going to say, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Plex stopped his pacing and ducked down into the shadows. A lone figure was approaching from the other end of the alley. For the moment, all he saw was the figure’s outline. In the darkness, it was hard to make out any features on the person. The only thing he could say for sure was that it was someone of short stature. A moment later, it became clear that the person was a gnome.

Plex stepped out to greet Vinyard when an alarm began screaming in his head. It wasn’t until he had revealed himself to the gnome that he realized that Vinyard didn’t wear his hair the way that the shadowed gnome approaching him did. It wasn’t until he stepped out and got a better look at the figure that he saw the blood red colors of Lavalandinarial’s Honor Guard. It wasn’t until the figure yelled at him to stop moving that he grasped the scope of his mental error.

“Who are you?” the Honor Guard demanded. “And what are you doing in this alley?”

Plex opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out. He knew there was nothing he could say to talk his way out of this mess. His eyes scanned the area around him. The only thing close to him was a wooden crate with some refuse in it. Without thinking, Plex leapt forward, grabbed it, and launched it at the gnome’s head. That’s when it dawned on him that he just attacked one of the dragon’s Honor Guard.

He hoped he lived to tell the story.

The Twelfth Knight: Part 4

Roscoe had patrolled these streets for years and thought he knew every inch of the city. As he followed the man after leaving the tavern, he found that he still had a lot to learn. There were times he would see a familiar landmark, and he would recognize the general area he was in, but it was at an angle that he had never looked at it before. He was confident in the tavern because he thought he would know where he was going. Now, he might be heading into the unknown.

That wasn’t a pleasant thought to him.

Still, Roscoe knew he had a job to do, so he trudged on. The menacing man didn’t say a word as they made their way from one back alley to the next. Roscoe wasn’t about to complain. There was something about the man that frightened him a little. While Roscoe was both taller and more physically imposing, there was something about the other man that was unnerving. As far as he was concerned, the less interaction he had with the man, the better off he would be.

A building came into sight that he recognized. It sat on the outskirts of town. The building was a storage facility for the man who made and repaired all of the wagon wheels for the castle and the surrounding town. Roscoe had known the wainwright for years and couldn’t believe that he was involved in something like this.

A shudder ran down his spine.

He had known the wainwright for years. If the wagon maker was involved in this, he would be in the building and would recognize him immediately. His plan to infiltrate the mercenary group of Merlinus might be over almost as quickly as it began. Then again, he still wasn’t sure if he was going to Merlinus’ group. It was possible that the group he was on the way to meet was being led by someone else.

Roscoe shook his head slightly. It was times like this that reminded him why he was still the Twelfth Knight of the Kingdom. If he was a better planner, he might’ve moved up by now. If he got out of this mess, he vowed to spend more time studying strategy instead of using all of his time practicing swordplay.

“What?”

Having been paying attention to his own inner monologue, it took Roscoe a few moments to recognize that the question had been directed at him. The menacing man had stopped and was staring right at him. “What?” Roscoe echoed back.

“Why were you shaking your head?”

He put on a look of defiance. “It’s none of your concern.”

“I’m about to introduce you to some very dangerous people,” the man said, slowly moving his hands toward the small of his own back. “People who could make both of us disappear very easily. You’re not worth dying for, so your business is now my business.”

His mind racing almost as fast as his heart, Roscoe somehow remained calm on the outside while he blurted out the first thing that popped into his head. “Look, I know you’re just being careful, but this maze you have us running is getting ridiculous. I just want to get where we’re going and get this over with.”

The man eyed him suspiciously. Roscoe couldn’t tell whether or not the man believed him, although his gut said that he didn’t. Still, all the man said was, “In this business, being careful rarely gets you killed, but being sloppy always does.”

The man walked him over to the door on the wainwright’s building and opened the door for him. He walked in, but not without keeping the man in his sight as he did so. There was almost no light in the area he was in. No windows could be seen. All he saw was a lantern hanging from a stack of wagon wheels off to his left. An indistinguishable figure stood at the edge of the light. Not knowing what else to do, Roscoe walked toward the lantern.

As he got closer, the figure at the edge of the light was revealed to be the wainwright, Worram. Fear covered Worram’s face. Obviously, the wainwright was being held here against his will. The amount of fear radiating from Worram was almost enough to make Roscoe run up to him with a comforting hand, but he caught himself before that happened. If he did that, they were both dead.

When Roscoe reached the light’s edge, more lanterns flickered on all at once. There were no people standing next to them, meaning that they were lit magically. It was a move that he knew was meant to put him off balance and, unfortunately for him, it was working. With magic in play, almost anything could happen. There were too many variables to even begin to formulate any kind of plan. All he could do was hope he could improvise a way out of this situation.

Worram looked at him and the recognition lit up his eyes. Roscoe winced, thinking that the wainwright would blow his cover, but Worram surprisingly stayed silent. Standing next to Worram, just inside of where the darkness was, an older man looked Roscoe over, sizing him up. Apparently satisfied, the older man began to speak.

“I hear you wish to join my crew,” the old man said.

“No,” Roscoe responded. “All I wanted was a job. Maybe if it goes well, we’ll talk about me joining permanently. Until then, I’ll stick with just one job.”

“Sorry. We don’t do just one job. You’re either all in or all out. And people who know about us have to be all in or they’ll become all dead.”

“Merlinus,” the menacing man said as he gestured for the older man to lean down.

Roscoe couldn’t believe his luck. The old man was Merlinus. He had done it. He’d found the mercenary leader that Revis and Matticus had been looking for.

Then he remembered that the assignment was only to find out if the rumors of Merlinus being in town were true. He wasn’t supposed to make contact. And here he was, in a storage facility with the mercenary leader and at least one of his henchmen. Who knew how many others were hidden in the building? All he could do now was keep himself in Merlinus’ good graces until he saw a chance to escape.

“So,” Merlinus began after the menacing man was finished whispering in his ear, “do you want to join my crew or not?”

“It doesn’t seem like I got much of a choice, does it?”

“Excellent,” Merlinus exclaimed happily. “In order to join my crew, you have to perform a task.”

“He already told me,” Roscoe said, pointing to the menacing man. “I’ve got to fight one of your other hopefuls.”

“Oh, no. I’ve got something different in mind for you. Call it a test of your commitment to our cause.”

“And what is this test?”

Merlinus smiled widely. With a flick of his hand, he pointed at Worram. “Kill him.”