Chapter Seven - c.o.
Elle had elected, in fact, not to remove her clothes in order to divert any attention from her—goblins were not fond of human women anyway, and the magician certainly would wonder why a beautifully bare girl had wandered into his cave in the first place. Instead, she shouldered the bow and arrow and took off to the right, moving silently but speedily.
Gabriel and Bariz watched her closely.
“She’s got a fine rear on her, that one,” said Gabriel, quietly. “You’re a lucky one, mate.”
“Pah, she’s a bit above my pay grade,” grumped Bariz. “That’s enough out of you, ‘mate’.”
“Don’t you see she’s into that sort of thing? Manly types, yeah? She loves your beard.”
“If you don’t shut your bloody trap I’m going to remove your lower jaw,” said Bariz, straight faced.
Gabriel said nothing further. Bariz was actually dangerous, when he wasn’t shouting and roaring about honor and gold.
Elle, sticking to the shadows, had made it to the west side of the hall without being noticed by any of the goblins, who were focused rather intently on the magician. She notched an arrow and took aim at one of the primitive torches placed along the walls.
That’s when the magician got up to speak, and that’s when Elle saw the ring on his right hand.
Her father’s ring.
With a grin he couldn’t control, Gabriel noticed it too.
“Friends, goblins, countrymen—lend me your ears,” said the man, whose fiery eyes roamed his fifty-strong audience. “Well, those of you that have any left, anyway. It is time you left these dank caves, my comrades! It is time you flooded forth into a world that is rightfully yours!”
The goblins cheered, or at least made a sound that, if you cocked your head to one side and closed both ears, could almost be cheering; otherwise, it was just a chorus of incomprehensible gurgles and whines.
“And I, Malefure, will serve as your glorious leader!” cried the magician. “Follow me as we burn our way through Dram, our first stop in taking over the—”
“Oh, for god’s sake,” snarled Elle, and fired, knocking loose a torch positioned squarely over Malefure’s throne.
Had Malefure chosen, in his younger and more impressionable days, any other element to manipulate than fire, Elle’s plan would have worked perfectly. The torch would have landed neatly on his shiny crown,
But, as Fate would have it (and He always does), Malefure was a fire mage, and therefore simply gestured at the falling flame. It leapt from the torch, gathered itself into a small sphere, and hurtled toward Elle at high speed. She barely avoided the incoming blast by leaping forward—which, of course, placed her within reach of six or seven very angry goblins. She’d interrupted their speech, and goblins loved a good speech. Especially if they could understand it.
“Halt!” said Malefure, stepping forward. His face was young, but scarred; the remnants of his early experimentation with fire magic were all over his skin. “Who is this woman?”
Bariz, who had been watching the entire affair from cover, shot to his feet but had one thick wrist seized by Gabriel before he could get close.
“Stop—we’re going to need swords!”
“If they hurt Elle I swear—”
“They’re going to kill her if we don’t grab our weapons! Hold on a bloody tick!”
Gabriel slouched from behind cover and moved toward the throne, where their weapons were kept in a bag.
“Hold her still!” Malefure snapped at two goblins who were struggling with Elle. They couldn’t find a good grip.
Gabriel inched closer and closer to the bag with their equipment.
The goblins finally persuaded Elle to hold still by menacing her with a rusted sword.
“Now,” said Malefure, his eyes flaring brighter. He swept down from the throne, robes billowing everywhere, and neared Elle. “Who do you work for?”
“Better question: why are you wearing my father’s ring, you rat?” Elle growled.
“Your father’s—wait a moment. That merchant!” An awful smile cracked across Malefure’s face. “That was your father? My word!”
Elle’s face was a mask of shocked rage. “You killed him!”
“Oh, well, I had to, y’see. He stumbled in here and was off to tell Dram of our carefully considered plans,” answered Malefure.
Speaking of carefully considered plans, Gabriel had finally slunk back toward Bariz with their swords. Bariz snatched his up and hefted it across his shoulder.
“Right,” he grunted. “Can I kill the bloody goblins now?”
“Shh,” Gabriel replied. “Two at a time. Quietly. Jerk and slice. We have to get closer or that bugger will burn us alive.”
“Which, unfortunately, so have you, for some reason,” Malefure continued. “Which means you’re going to have to die. Very sorry. Very unlucky.”
Gabriel gestured at the two nearest goblins, who were cheering on the impeding execution. He and Bariz crept from behind their cover (insofar as Bariz could creep,) seized the indicated creatures by the throat, jerked them backward and cut their windpipes, all in a single, practiced motion.
“What are you doing all this for?” demanded Elle.
“Goblins are fascinating creatures,’ Malefure replied. “Wonderfully twisted things. Perfectly willing to follow someone who fries a few of them in a show of power. And if you have a bunch of….worshippers…well, what’s a man to do but make use of them? Dram’s just the start. It’ll be glorious.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Elle had spotted Gabriel and Bariz finally sneaking along, downing goblins as they went.
“You know what I’m obligated to say here, don’t you?” she said to Malefure.
“Surely you know, being a prospective evil overlord?” she asked. “You have to know these things, Malefure!”
“Will you just go ahead and say it?!” he snapped. Thin trails of smoke began to curl upward from his ears.
“Well, of course you, the villain, having explained his evil plan, are now perfectly poised to begin your evil work and all,” said Elle.
“If you don’t hurry up and say whatever it is you’re going to say, I will burn your flesh from your bones!” Malefure snarled.
Gabriel and Bariz had murdered their way along the peripheral of the room, where torchlight didn’t reach, nearing the throne from the right. They slipped behind a pair of pillars.
“Now it’s my job, as the good and true heroine of the tale, to say you’re never going to get away with it,” Elle said, sweetly. “Which is perfectly true. Bariz!”
Several things happened at once:
Bariz burst through the pillar he was hiding behind, cutting a swathe through the small army of goblins as he charged Malefure. Gabriel continued along the wall until he was positioned directly behind the throne, flanking the mage. Elle disarmed the goblin threatening her with a flourish, ran him through, then lunged after the fire mage. Malefure, in response, raised his fist and slammed it into the ground; an explosion hurled both Bariz and Elle to the ground, where Bariz frantically swatted at a small fire that had caught in his beard.
“Bariz, are you alright?” cried Elle.
“Fine!” he replied. He’d gotten the fire out, at least.
Malefure, in a rage, was rapidly gesturing and muttering, preparing an enormous fireball which hummed in the air in front of him. Goblins, often the victim of the mage’s wrath, backed away hurriedly.
Gabriel, in the rear of the action, bounced off of the back wall and grabbed the edge of the massive throne, slowly pulling himself up…and…over…
The thief fell like a thunderbolt, striking the unsuspecting mage across the back with a vicious chop.
Malefure arched in pain, and the fireball, no longer under his control, careened upward into the ceiling, where it dissipated against the stone. He crumpled, wailing.
“Gabriel! The ring!” said Elle, climbing to her feet.
Gabriel snatched it from the mage’s hand. That gemstone was massive.
“Your father was a rich man,” he said. “Oi, you want to get a stab in for the old fellow? The mage isn’t going anywhere.”
Elle was about to respond when they heard a rumbling from deep in the rock.
The dumbstruck (and confused) goblins immediately fled the room.
“The fireball!” cried Bariz. “The magic must have disrupted something!”
“So the evil lair is about to fall apart?” said Elle, in disbelief.
“About the size of it,” said Gabriel. “Shall we?”
They hurried from the hall, where shortly after, the entire place caved in—which is just as well, since goblins never build anything to code.
The corridors were not any better; the fire magic in the rock was causing spurts of flame to erupt from random places, which the party had to dance around in their mad dash for the exit. The roaring only got louder and louder, which finally prompted the panting Bariz to glance backward—
Only to discover a river of fire rolling toward them.
Add two parts adrenaline, one part fear, and one part sheer frustration at how badly your day is going, and you get a burst of incredible speed, if you should ever need it and Bariz had at least three doses of that concoction running through his system by now. Lowering his head, he broke into a dead sprint, snatching up Elle under one arm and Gabriel under the other as he went.
“We’re not going to make—” cried Gabriel.
“Oh shut up,” snapped Elle.
Bariz took a flying leap through the entrance of the cave. While this looked dramatic, it wasn’t strictly necessary, because his sheer dogged run had placed him well ahead of the flames. They licked and crackled out of the cavern’s mouth for a moment, then disappeared back inside.
“How in the hell did do you do that, Bariz?” breathed Gabriel.
A few hours later, having distanced themselves properly from the cave, the party set up camp between two small hills.
“You know,” Gabriel said thoughtfully, over the campfire. “That ring’s probably worth more than ten pounds of gold.”
Elle grinned. “In a way, yes.”
“So what’s to stop us from taking off with that instead of the money?” Gabriel asked, who felt he deserved a bit more than the agreed-upon payment, since he had also saved the town of Dram.
“Gabriel, I’ll have no part in—” Bariz began.
“Because I’ve got a better deal for you yet,” Elle said.
Both men turned eyes on her.
“Well, I think we made a pretty good team back there,” she said. “We just saved the world, as far as I can tell.”
“Are you kidding? That snot-nosed mage wouldn’t have made it past the nearest farmhouse,” snickered Gabriel.
“You never know,” Elle continued. “But that’s not the point. The point is, gentlemen, I think we work well together, and thus I’m proposing a partnership.”
“How, exactly, is this more profitable than simply stealing your ring?” Gabriel demanded.
“Well, the ring will fetch you a single payment, which knowing you, Mr. du Vuerte, will last exactly three days, at which point you’ll be looking for more work. Poor Bariz here will remain broke because you’ll have snatched every pence.” She flashed a sweet smile at Bariz before moving on. “My proposal, on the other hand, is to start a mercenary company, which means constant work for constant profit.”
“And constant danger,” Gabriel said, glowering.
“I don’t know,” said Bariz. “I could do with some honest work, rather than raiding goblin and orc camps the rest of my life.”
“You could also do with another smile from y’lass here,” Gabriel retorted. “That’s the only reason you’re going along with it.”
“Certainly couldn’t hurt to keep some of the loot I’ve worked for,” Bariz returned.
“You wound me, Bariz.”
“Shall I finish the job?”
“Gentlemen!” interjected Elle. “This is business, right? Gabriel, you can’t deny the money would be good.”
“And I’ve got a nice place in Elesia we could use, my father’s old building,” she continued. “Nice living quarters, no more paying for rooms, and imagine how the impressed the barmaids will be that you’re a mercenary!”
“Fine!” Gabriel conceded. “Fine. But the food had best be excellent, or I’m leaving the next day. And we’re still getting the gold for this job.”
“It’ll be the first job of the company,” said Elle. “What are we to be called?”
“The Knight’s Sword,” said Bariz, suddenly speaking up.
“What?” said Elle and Gabriel at once.
“The Knight’s Sword,” he said again. “Like you could say, if you need something done, hire the Knight’s Sword!”
Elle turned the idea over in her mind. She liked it. Then again, she liked Bariz.
“Bariz, where did that come from?” Gabriel asked.
“Dunno,” Bariz admitted. “Just somethin’ that showed up in my head.”
“Well, I like it,” said Elle. “Is it agreed?”
“Whatever you want to call it, as long as I get paid,” Gabriel said.
“Right,” said Bariz.
Everyone shook hands, and in a small valley south of the sleepy village of Dram (who would be talking about the cave’s implosion for days after) the mercenary company The Knight’s Sword was born.
Thus the world was made a, if not strictly better, more interesting place.