Fantasy Football Part 31

Here it is everyone! The next installment of Matticus and I’s story, Fantasy Football is out. We hope you’re all as excited to read it as we were to write it. So, without further ado…

They waited until they no longer heard any more Honor Guards walking around. There may have been some more sneaking about, but they didn’t have time for caution. Plex had to get into the practice facility to find his sister. Without another thought, he nimbly dropped down from the roof he was hiding on and took off running.

He made it a few blocks before he heard the first call of alarm. Turning to look behind him, he saw that Baclem was still with him. Beyond Baclem, a few of the dragon’s people were on their tails. Not many, just yet, but he knew more were coming. Plex just hoped that he didn’t find the way completely blocked when he got there. If there was even the tiniest of openings, he had a chance.

His lungs burned from exertion. His legs started feeling weak. It had been a very long day and he didn’t have much energy left. Plex knew he couldn’t stop. Stopping meant his death, and his sister’s, at Lavalandinarial’s hands. That wasn’t an option. He began pulling from reserves that he didn’t know he had. As far as he was concerned, nothing was going to get in his way.

But then he came within sight of the facility, and he saw the number of guards between them and the entrance. His heart dropped. There were dozens. He had no chance of getting past all of them. Not with only him and Baclem. It was impossible.

Still, he kept going.

Baclem shouted for him to stop. Plex never slowed. He raised his sword out in front of him like it was a jouster’s lance, screamed at the top of his lungs, and awaited the impact he’d get from running into the closest Honor Guard, an orc. Ten paces separated him and the orc. Then five. Plex positioned his blade for a killing strike.

Suddenly, the orc vanished. When he came upon where the orc was, he tripped.
Plex landed hard on the ground. What little breath he had was knocked from his chest. The sword fell from his hand and rattled across the cobblestones away from him. He crawled forward trying to reach it. A glance back showed him what he had tripped over. It was the orc, who lay dead with an arrow sticking out of its eye. His gaze went to Baclem, who was looking at the rooftops behind them.
The entire area around him erupted into screams and shouted orders. A hailstorm of arrows rained down among the Honor Guard. Two other guards fell down beside him. Plex rolled out of the way of the falling bodies and focused his vision on the rooftops where Baclem had been looking. His heart, which had dropped moments ago, was lifted back up.
The elven queen, along with a handful of her best archers, stood there loosing arrows among the Honor Guard. She saw him looking at her and she smiled. “Go get them,” she cried out to him.

Plex scrambled to his feet and ran into the opening his queen just made for him. He scooped up the sword he’d dropped and then left the chaos behind him as he entered the dark hallways of the training facility.
All chance for a quiet start to their revolution had just vanished, in a hail of arrows. Plex didn’t know how his Queen had gotten word of the situation or if her saving him was in the best interest of that revolution but he was thankful for the chance to find out. He needed to find his sister and save her and as much of her team as he could first. Then he’d deal with the fall out.

It would be great, he knew that. Lavalandindarial would be furious. Her wrath would be swift and far reaching. A thought caught in his mind and nearly made him stumble. His life had just been saved, true, but the cost would be the death of countless others.

Plex clenched his fists, steadied his feet, and carried on. “I’ll make it worthwhile.”

The sound of thundering feet made Plex glance behind him. He knew what he’d see but he still smiled when he saw Baclem struggling to catch up.
Plex slowed enough to let the troll get beside him and then together they raced through the hallways of the facility, checking behind open and closed doors alike, looking for any sign of Gilania’s team. There was none, though. Every room and hallways was empty.

Finally, they came upon the doorway that led to the practice field. Plex’s elven hearing picked up the sound of whispers and the slight movement that came with shifting weights from one foot to the other. There was a lot of too. He guessed, before opening the door, that everyone had been rounded up and moved out to the field.

Plex put his hand on the door, motioned for Baclem to be ready for a fight, and then whistled for his sister. He no longer doubted that she’d be able to hear him. She had heard him before. She would hear him now, especially since she’d be listening for the call. Then Plex took three deep, calming breaths, looked again to Baclem to make sure the troll was ready and shoved the door open.
He moved to the side of the door after pushing it and was rewarded for his caution as three arrows screamed through the space he’d have been in if he’d followed the flow of the door. He hoped that the equipment he’d hidden behind was still where it had been and then rolled through the doorway, his eyes sweeping the field as he did so.

The team was there, surrounded by a handful of guards. There were far fewer of them then had been outside and none of them had been armed with bows. Lavalandinarial’s Honor Guards must have thought they’d capture any attempted rescuers outside before they could get this far.

That was good.

A moment later, Plex was safely behind the stacked equipment that was where he’d remembered it being. That was also good. A glance back to the door showed that Baclem hadn’t followed. Plex wasn’t sure if that was good or bad but decided the troll had proved himself self-sufficient already this evening more than once.

Calling over his shoulder to the team on the field, Plex said, “Fight! Fight for your lives. They are planning on taking you before the dragon and if they do that you will all surely die.”

Without waiting for any kind of response, Plex hurled himself out from behind his momentary protection. His sword was raised and he was screaming a war cry. He met the first Honor Guard head on. Their blades locked. Plex stepped back and launched into a combination stroke that started off coming in from the side, then changing to go down at the knees.

The troll he was fighting was good. A lot better than the Honor Guards they’d come across so far. It blocked the side swipe and backed up in time to dodge the attack aimed at its knees. Plex came on in a fury, going into attack after attack, hoping to overwhelm the troll with his speed. At first, it didn’t look like it would work. The troll kept pace with him. Then, to Plex’s great relief, he managed to sneak his blade through the troll’s defenses to cut a line across the left side of its face. As it reacted to the cut, Plex finished it off by neatly cutting through the front half of its throat.

He turned around and found a second Honor Guard waiting for him. This time, it was a fellow elf. Plex inwardly cursed. It was highly unlikely that the tactics he used against the troll would work against an elf. The other elf was probably just as quick as Plex was. While he made a few rudimentary attacks to gauge his opponent, he tried to think of a way to end this fight quickly. “You don’t have to fight me,” he said, hoping to reason with the elf.

“The dragon commands,” a distinctly female voice hissed, “so it shall be done.”

Plex found himself caught off guard by the femininity in the angry voice. He didn’t know why. There were females of every race in Lavalandinarial’s Honor Guard. He was also well aware that females could be just as deadly in combat as males, if not more. Why did this shake him so? Maybe he just thought that he would never hear a female elf so vehemently defending the dragon. No matter the reason, he needed to get his head back into the fight. She had used his hesitation to draw blood with a small cut on his shoulder.

This is why I prefer my bow, he thought to himself as he got back into the proper defensive position. “Why should we listen to the dragon?” Plex asked. “All she does is create pain and suffering.”

“Strength should be followed and she is the strongest.”

Plex sidestepped another attack, but made no move to attack her in response. “Crazy shouldn’t be followed, and she is the craziest.”

“Lavalandinarial’s will must be followed.”

“Even if it means killing your own kind? Your friends? Your family?”

The angry facade slipped for a moment and Plex knew he’d hit upon something. “She’s already made you do it, hasn’t she?” he deduced. “She made you kill someone you love. Who was it? A parent? A sibling?”

“It doesn’t matter now,” she said in a tone that was as angry as it was sad. “You can’t win here. You’re not facing her raw recruits anymore. You’re facing her seasoned veterans. She’s accomplished her goal.”
Before he could ask what that meant, the sounds of fighting from outside the facility became louder than those inside the facility. He knew what the female elf was talking about now. Lavalandinarial had used her worst fighters to give him and the rest of the rebels the confidence to come out of the shadows. She had baited them.
And Plex had put a lot of people in danger because he fell for it.

Fantasy Football Part 29

Hey everyone! Need an escape from the real world for a little while? I know I do. If so, feel free to read the next part of this story, written by Matticus and myself. It won’t magically make everything all better, but it will hopefully take your mind off of things for a few minutes.

After the squad of Honor Guards passed them, Plex was once again led through a series of alleyways and corridors. He didn’t even try to pay attention to where they were or where they were going. It didn’t matter at that point. They’d get him to where he needed to go.

His mind was focused on other things at that moment. He was going over everything that happened in the past couple of days, replaying the events and searching for something he may have missed. While his body was just going through the motions, Plex tried to take everything he remembered, everything he had learned, from that time to try to figure out what was going to happen next. There was just one problem with that, and it was a big one.

Nobody could predict what Lavalandinarial would do next.

The dragon was erratic. Quite often, her actions made no sense to anyone other than her. Trying to guess what Lavalandinarial would do next was a fool’s errand. Still, it was something that Plex thought needed to be done. If they waited until the dragon did something, then reacted to it, they would be starting from behind the entire time. They couldn’t afford to do that. No, they needed to take their best guess on what they thought Lavalandinarial was going to do and base their plan of attack on that. It may come back to bite them in the end, but it was better than waiting for the dragon to kill more innocent people.

The sound of heavy footsteps beside him pulled Plex out of his thoughts. Baclem, the troll, was plodding along to his right. “What happened?” Plex asked in hushed tones.

“The Honor Guards showed up and said there was a criminal on our team who was poisoning the minds of the rest of us.”

Guilt tore through Plex’s stomach. “Me?”

Baclem shook his head. “No. It was Coach Sprout.”

“Coach Sprout?”

“The Honor Guards slapped him in irons and started leading him away. A few of our teammates shouted at them that they were being unfair and the leader of the Honor Guards ordered the rest of them to kill us all and burn the facilities down.”

Plex was confused. Why was the dragon going after Sprout when he was the one she was angry with? Was this some ploy to use guilt against him? Did the dragon think he would rush off blindly to rescue the gnome? While he would feel incredibly guilty if something happened to Sprout, he wasn’t going to throw himself in the dragon’s mouth in order to save him. Not only had he only known his coach for a few days, there were only a few people who he was willing to give his life for, no matter how long he had known them. He was having trouble coming up with anyone other than the elven queen and his sister, Gilania.

“Gilania,” he whispered harshly, remembering that he was supposed to meet up with her and her team. Finally taking the time to look around and see where he was, Plex saw that he was heading away from her team’s facilities.

Vinyard was still leading them through the twists and turns. Plex sprinted to the front so he was right behind the gnome and when there was a moment, pausing to catch their breaths, Plex asked, “I need to get back to my sister’s training facility.”

Vinyard shook his head vigorously, “No, it’s too risky.”

Plex objected, “We can’t just brush her off. If we miss this opportunity, she and the teammates she’s talked into meeting us will be harder to convince to trust us. Showing up exhausted and injured from our recent fight might go a long way to convince them to join us now before the dragon can turn on them.”

“Or it will scare them into submission and they will capture you and hand you over to Lavalandinarial and that will be the end of you.”

“This is important,” Plex pressed.

Without answering, Vinyard motioned for everyone to follow him again and sprinted off on another series of turns up and down the darkened alleys of the city. Plex held his anger in check. He understood that Vinyard was doing what the gnome needed to do to ensure the survival of the rest of the team. Plus, he still had time to make it back to his sister’s training field before she’d give up on him showing up. He could wait a bit longer and see if Vinyard could be convinced before he turned around and did what he wanted to do anyway.

The next time they stopped to ensure that everyone was still together, Plex found Vinyard studying him intently. The elf simply raised his eyebrows. The gnome continued to look for a moment longer and then turned away, seeming to study the darkness they were going to run into next. Then the gnome turned back to Plex and said, “You might be right. It could very well be foolish to miss this chance to bring your sister and some of her teammates over.”

That wasn’t exactly permission but Plex understood that if he let the gnome continue talking it was likely that Vinyard was getting there all the same.

“I think it is foolish. Perhaps what I think is irrelevant. We each have our part to play and you were picked to be a leader. I should trust that. Go then. Go and meet with your sister. I think it will end poorly for you and I am not often wrong about such things. I’m very good at calculating odds, which is why I made such a good kicker. I could run the calculations to make the kick precisely as needed.

“And now my math says you are going to get captured. Luckily, you’ve seen too little of our operations to do much more harm than losing you as a potential leader. So, yes, go on if it is my permission you are waiting for. I wish you good luck and I doubt I’ll see you again.”

Plex nodded in sort of thank you and then turned down the next alley, keeping to the shadows and doing his best in the darkness to pick up on another landmark he recognized. Shortly enough he found one and then changed his course to head back to Giliana.

He did his best to keep the smile off his face as he heard Baclem trying to keep up with him. It was humorous listening to the troll trying to move silently behind him. Also, he had to admit, it made him feel a swelling of pride that Baclem thought so much of him that he’d blindly follow Plex into possible danger without being asked, without asking if he could. Maybe it was things like this which had the dwarf, Frukeld, to deem him an important leader to his rebellion.

The duo made their way back to the practice facility of Gilania’s team. On more than one occasion, they had to stop and duck deep into the shadows to avoid Honor Guard patrols. The presence of Lavalandinarial’s guards became more frequent the longer they were out. Plex swore. They had to have found the guards that he and Baclem had helped kill. Moving through these patrols, especially with a stealth challenged troll was possible, but it wouldn’t be easy.

While they were hiding from one such patrol, Plex whispered some tips on how to move silently to Baclem. It wasn’t likely to sink in with words alone, but he hoped that hearing the words, and also seeing Plex putting them in action, would speed up the learning process. From everything he’d ever heard, or read, trolls weren’t the brightest or most graceful of the races. He hoped that Baclem proved those generalizations untrue.

Once the patrol passed by, Plex looked up at the sky. It was much later than he hoped it would be. Because of all the hiding they were having to do, it was taking them much too long to get to their destination. He hated being late for anything. Being late for this was driving him crazy. It was too important. They had to pick up the pace.

Plex hurried forward, barely making more noise than he had before. Baclem did his best, but it sounded like he was bumping into everything along the way. He winced every time the troll did it, waiting for Honor Guards to rain down on them at any moment. But, they never did. With each passing sound that Baclem made, a feeling of unease built up in his stomach. This wasn’t right.

The Honor Guards were made up of some of the best from all the races. Any one of them should have heard the troll coming from blocks away. Yet somehow, with all of the patrols that were out, they hadn’t done that. Why wouldn’t they….

Realization hit him like a kick to the face.

He told Baclem to stay behind while he scouted ahead. Once he was sure the troll would comply, he rushed forward as quietly as he could. It was only five blocks from where he left Baclem to the training facility. Once he was a block away, he began seeing them. Dozens of Honor Guards surrounded the facility. They wanted to not only get him, but to get Gilania’s team as well.

Plex let out the whistle he used to warn his sister of trouble. As soon as he did, the elven Honor Guards called the others to attention. He watched as they began moving forward towards the practice facility with their swords drawn, ready to kill everyone inside.

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.

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.”

Fantasy Football Part 21

Hey everyone. That dastardly thing known as “real life” has bombarded both Matt and I with its evil, preventing us from working on this story as much as we’d like to. We have, however, finished with this installment and are ready to share it with all of our wonderful readers. We hope you enjoy it!

—– —– —– —–

Plex followed the dwarf to the end of the alleyway. Another dwarf stepped out of the shadows. The new dwarf waggled his fingers in Plex’s direction and mumbled some words under his breath. After a moment of this, Plex’s skin began to give off a faint pinkish glow. Before he could ask what was happening, the glow disappeared.

“Follow us,” the two dwarves said in unison.

He wanted to stop and demand to know what had just happened, but he knew that it would do more harm than good at that point. Not only would it give the dwarves an excuse to leave him behind, but it also increased the chances of someone spotting them. If one of the Honor Guard saw him huddled in a dark alley with a couple of dwarves, it would probably be the death of all three of them. Reluctantly, he silently trod after them.

The duo of dwarves ducked into the cellar door of the house at the end of the alley. Once he made it to the bottom of the stairs, he was led to a wall on the opposite side of the cellar. The dwarf who had used magic before recited another spell. A section of the wall in front of them swung in, revealing a long, narrow hallway. Without thinking, Plex followed them past the doorway and further into the unknown. It wasn’t until he heard the wall close up behind him that he questioned whether it was smart to continue chasing after these dwarves.

After all, he thought to himself, it was entirely possible that these were members of Lavalandinarial’s Honor Guard that he was walking behind. There were certainly magic users who weren’t controlled by the dragon, but the majority of them, whether willingly or not, worked for her. This could all just be a trap, an easy way to make him disappear, and his anger at Lavalandinarial had made him walk right into it.

Had she counted on that? Had she set this all up knowing that he would be so blinded by rage that he’d walk straight into the obvious trap?

“Hurry up!”

It wasn’t until the dwarf gruffly barked at him that he realized that his steps had slowed while his thoughts were bouncing crazily in his mind. Plex quickened his pace. If this was a trap, he was already too far into it to go back now. He had to see this through, no matter how it played out. Besides, it was almost a certainty that the dragon was going to kill him. If this wasn’t a trap, it was the only chance he had at escaping death.

The hallway finally ended at another wall. While the wizard dwarf spoke more words of magic, Plex took the time to take in his surroundings. The first thing he noticed is that the hallway was perfectly lit. That wouldn’t normally be something that people would question, but he didn’t see any torches or magical lanterns. Somehow the hallway was perfectly lit for no apparent reason. It unnerved him, but he couldn’t figure out why.

A scraping sound announced the opening of the wall. The dwarf who had originally spoken to him stepped aside and motioned for Plex to enter the room. “Frukeld is waiting for you,” he said.

A flicker of a memory flew across Plex’s mind. He had heard that name somewhere before. He couldn’t immediately place it, though, and didn’t have time to dwell on it. The dwarves flanking the opening did not look to be in the mood to give him time to second guess his presence. He couldn’t blame them. If they were planning something against the dragon, they were risking as much trusting him as he was trusting them.

Stepping through the opening in the wall, Plex was once again put off guard by the perfect light that seemed to come from nowhere. It had to be an enchantment but, if so, it was one he had never encountered before. This Frukeld, or those who worked for him, had unlocked sorcery that the greatest elves had not.

“Thank you for coming.”

The greeting was spoken by a very old dwarf. Not only did Frukeld’s beard touch the floor, even though it was tucked into the belt circling his wide belly, but the dwarf’s elongated eyebrows came close to doing the same. Wrinkles rolled through the few empty spaces where his face wasn’t covered in hair. And white tufts sprang from his ears. Plex was sure he had never been in the presence of someone older. He bowed low, for that alone, in a show of respect.

As he stood back up, Plex asked, “Why am I here?”

“Better with us than in the beast’s belly.”

The comment was made seriously but mischief sparkled behind the dwarf’s eyes and that set Plex at ease. He was among friends even if he wasn’t sure why he was there.

Chuckling briefly, Plex replied, “Any place is better than that monster’s gut. So that isn’t saying much. Yet, I feel like you think I can help you out with something and that will somehow help me out of the predicament my anger put me in.”

“Yes, exactly,” Frukeld said. “Exactly.”

“So what can I do for you?”

Frukeld smiled and his wrinkles thinned out, making the dwarf suddenly seem much younger. “We were you today. You are a leader. That alone made us take notice of you but then you showed that you didn’t appreciate Lavalandinarial interfering in the game and, most interesting of all, you were able to fight off her magic.”

“And if I ever dare to stand up to her again, we both know what will happen.”

Laughing, his beard and wrinkles bouncing wildly, Frukeld said, “We aren’t asking you to take up a lance and charge straight at her. No, that would truly be a waste. But we do need help organizing those of us who might be willing to do just that, or a version of charging at her that would be more successful.

“Your natural charisma and your leadership qualities will serve us well in that regard. Your defiance will inspire many who were already on the fence about the beast and that inspiration will lead towards loyalty.”

“I’m not a fighter,” Plex interjected.

“We aren’t asking you to be one. Though, in truth, I suspect you are one whether you think you are or not.”

Plex wasn’t sure whether or not to take that as a compliment. In his experience, nothing good had ever come from fighting. Every battle, every fight, he’d been in, or seen, had done nothing more than lead to unnecessary bloodshed and death. There was no good reason for it, and the gain never came close to being worth the cost.

Then again, every fight he’d been close to had been either at the dragon’s command, or because the contestants wanted to move up in the dragon’s hierarchy. Perhaps being a fighter against the dragon would be a good thing.

“I’ve been in my share of fights,” Plex admitted, “but I’m no warrior. I’m no great strategist, either. Not on the battlefield, anyway. The only time I excel in that type of thinking is on the football field.”

“A battlefield and a football field are more similar than most people think. That’s a discussion for another time, though. As I said before, we’re not asking you to be a fighter. Not yet, at least. We’re not asking you to lead our troupe into battle either. Right now, what we’re asking of you is to be our recruiter.”

“Your recruiter?”

“We have a number of magic users among us. We don’t have the magical firepower to take on the dragon yet, but we hope to soon. What we don’t have, are many able warriors. That’s because most of the best warriors of each race are on one of the football teams. We think this is done purposefully, to keep them occupied so that they don’t rise up against Lavalandinarial.”

“I don’t think so. After watching them, I think it’s just because they’re the best players..”

“Perhaps. Or it could be a combination of the two. Regardless, while having magic users is crucial to taking down the dragon, so is having capable fighters on our side. We’d like to get close to them, to try to sway them to our cause, but we can’t get close enough to them. Lavalandinarial has increased the security, both physical and magical, around the sites that house the football teams. If we tried to infiltrate those sites, all we’d probably accomplish is announcing our presence to the dragon. You, on the other hand, can get close to them.”

Plex laughed. “I can get close to my own team, but there’s no way I’d get close to any of the other teams. They’d never let an opposing player in their facilities. They’d be too worried about me seeing their plays and formations. It’d be impossible for a player to get into another team’s facilities.”

“No, it’s not.”

Plex jumped. It wasn’t Frukeld who had said that. His eyes darted back and forth, searching for the source of the new voice. It was familiar to him. He knew he’d heard it before, but he couldn’t place it.

From behind the old dwarf, a figure stepped out. Now, Plex knew why the voice sounded familiar. It belonged to someone he recognized. He briefly wondered how he hadn’t seen him before, but he’d been victim to this person’s sneaky tactics before.

It was Vinyard, his team’s gnomish punter.

Fantasy Football Part 19

Hey, everyone. I’m a little bit later in getting to this story than I wanted to be, but between the new job and being sick, I just didn’t have the time or energy to do any writing on it for a few days. But, I got back to it and we have a new part for you to read on this here Christmas Eve. Hopefully, you enjoy this little present, because it’s all I can get for you all. And, no matter which, if any, holidays you celebrate, I sincerely hope that enjoy them.

***** ***** *****

“Go in!”

Plex didn’t have to look around to know the source of the voice was Coach Sprout. Before he could ask what the gnome was talking about, he felt the little man’s hand on his back trying to push him onto the field. “Go in and block that extra point,” Sprout implored.

He slowly started walking out onto the field, seeing that their coach had also been shoving on Glavven’s backside too. Plex’s eyes flicked up towards the dragon. It had raised up to full height and was watching the duo walk off the sideline with a mixture of anger and amusement. The duo quickened their pace to get into position before the ball was hiked.

It was quick thinking on the gnome’s part, Plex knew, that had prevented Glavven from being inside Lavalandinarial’s mouth right now. Had they remained on the sideline, the dragon would’ve come down and picked the minotaur up and swallowed him whole. By sending them out onto the field, Sprout had, at the very least, delayed it. While it was true that the dragon could do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, it was much less likely that she would act openly while there was action out on the field. It was obvious that she wanted to have a hand in the outcome of the games, but it was also obvious that she didn’t want it to be known that she did. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been so subtle in her magic.

The duo was still running up to the line of scrimmage when the ball was hiked. Plex stopped, thinking that they were too late to even make an attempt to block it. Glavven didn’t stop, though. The furious minotaur bellowed out a roar of rage and charged the line. He watched as the minotaur blew through the entire line, pushing away teammates and the opposition alike on his way toward the kick. It was an impressive display of power, made even more impressive because Glavven was doing it with an injured knee.
Boot hit ball and the kick went streaming at the uprights. Glavven planted on his good leg, let out another bellow, and jumped with all of his might. Plex found himself holding his breath through the display, but that changed when he gasped in shock. Glavven had done it. The tips of his outstretched left hand grazed the ball. It wasn’t enough to block the ball completely, but it did change the ball’s trajectory.

The entire stadium watched as the ball veered wildly to the right. By the time it got to the end zone, it was almost twenty yards wide of the uprights. The kick was no good.

All around him, his teammates jumped up and down in celebration. Plex wanted to join them, but he instead looked up at the dragon. All traces of anger were gone. It was smiling that cocky, superior smile. He dropped his head and started to shake it. This should’ve been a moment of celebration, but he couldn’t. He knew what was coming next.

With the blocked kick, the score was now forty-two to thirty-nine, a three point difference. If the other team recovered their soon to be attempted onside kick, they couldn’t win the game with a field goal. They could tie it, though, and he knew that was the dragon’s plan. Lavalandinarial was going to find a way to make the game go into overtime.

Plex turned around jogged back to the touchline. “Coach, leave me for the return. In fact, put in all of our players with the best hands. We need to make sure whoever the ball hits they can grab it and hold onto it.”

The gnome studied his quarterback and nodded once and began issuing instructions. The line that got sent out was nothing like the normal kick return unit. The special teams coach put up some fuss that his guys should be trusted with the task but Sprout quickly silenced that outburst with a look where his eyes first trained on the special teams coach and then flicked towards the dragon.

This kicking team lined up and for the first time ever, because this hadn’t even been a scenario in any of the practices, Plex found himself on the field facing the entire kicking line. Without his own row of offensive linemen protecting him, Plex was surprised how scary it was staring into the eyes of minotaurs, orcs, goblins and dwarves. They would be coming full force and the ball would be bouncing around chaotically.

Plex was near the center of the field so it was unlikely the ball would come to him. Looking left and right he saw looks of determination in all of his teammates. They knew what was coming and what was expected of them. To a man, they were set on making sure they did not let their team down.

The whistle blew and the kicker did a short run up before side footing the ball. It smashed into the ground at his feet and began to bounce and spin wildly. Plex watched it, like he would have from the sideline, until the movement of his teammates reminded him that he needed to act.
The field became a blur as everyone rushed for the ball. As fast as he was, Plex didn’t think he’d get there first but he was certainly going to try. The kicking line came in at crushing speeds. The teams on the sidelines were shouting. The spectators were on their feet yelling. And Lavalandinarial had once again lifted her head up to gaze intently upon the action. Plex saw all of this and none of it at the same time.

His pace outstripped most of his teammates. The ball, nearly within reach, still danced and spun and then it disappeared under a dwarf from his team and a minotaur from the kicking team. Without thinking about it, Plex threw himself on top of the minotaur, his eyes darting around looking for the ball, ready to grab it should it pop free.

And then someone else smashed into his back. And then more weight was added. And then more until it felt like everyone from both teams was piled on top of him. It burned to breath. His senses were assaulted by the smells and feel of so many players. He pushed as much of it aside as he could and scrambled to keep his arms free and ready to haul in the ball should he see it. All around him, arms writhed intent upon the same.

Then a series of short whistle blasts pierced through the pile and slowly, the weight was removed one player at a time while the Honor Guard worked on trying to figure out who had ended up with possession of the ball.
Sitting in the middle of this massive pile of people was starting to make him a little claustrophobic. Sure, there were some big piles on offensive plays, but nothing like having almost two full teams of players on top of him. It was almost enough to make him panic, but he controlled his anxiety and breathed in as deeply as he could, slowly and calmly. Plex kept reminding himself that this was just a part of the game and it would be over soon.

Eventually, the last bit of weight lifted off of him and he was able to stand up. His whole body ached, though whether that was from just the pile or the whole game he wasn’t sure. Thoughts of pain were pushed to the side momentarily as he looked at the remaining two players on the pile. Only the dwarf and minotaur remained. Plex peered intently as the Honor Guard surrounded the pair, blocking the majority of his view. One of the Honor Guard that were on the opposite side of the pile from him, a fellow elf, glanced up at Lavalandinarial. Plex followed his gaze and turned his head in time to see the dragon’s eyes flick over the sideline of Gilania’s team.

When Plex looked back at the pile, he saw one of the Honor Guard pull the ball from the dwarf and punch him in the stomach. As the dwarf doubled over, the elf bent with him, whispering harshly in the dwarf’s ear. No doubt, they were threatening him to keep quiet about what really happened on the bottom of the pile. Nodding his head vigorously, the dwarf appeared stunned when he was punched in the stomach again after the elf helped him up.

With a wave of his hand, the Honor Guard called the healer over from Plex’s sideline. Anger was building from within him and it took all he had to keep himself quiet. This was becoming ridiculous. If he wasn’t so sure that the dragon would eat him if he tried to do it, he would’ve walked off the field and quit right then and there. Football was pure. It was a game of skill, athletic ability. It was a game of strategy that was dependent on how well you blended all of that together.

What it certainly wasn’t, and should never be, was scripted.

The outcome of a game should never be determined by anyone other than the players on the field. Even if that someone else was the most powerful being in the world.