Friday, May 18, 2018

Diversion


The Heroes of Fannen-Dar, Chapter 23

What have I got myself into, Chester wondered as he trekked down the tunnel, following the underground river beneath the town. At first, he could barely see the thieves from the light that leaked down through the well, but soon he was relying on the sounds of their voices and footsteps, trying to strain his ears past the bubbling of the river. He hadn’t brought a torch, since he just planned on staying in the market square, but he wouldn’t have dared to light it anyway in case they spotted him. However, by the speed they were moving, he thought they might have noticed him anyway.

Then Chester heard fighting. He slipped behind a rock, but heard one of the thieves shout “Goblins!” Chester held his breath and his heart nearly skipped a beat. Goblins living underneath the town was a huge risk to everyone in Fannen-Dar. How long have they been here, and what are they planning? Not that goblins were known to plan, but they weren’t known to keep quietly to themselves either.

It wasn’t long before Chester saw the light from the chieftain’s cold-torch and heard the fighting stop. His stomach dropped when he heard a swell of goblin cheers, and realized that he had been rooting for the thieves. At least he knew what he had to do to stop thieves. Now, he needed to scope out this new threat.

Chester, thankful that he wasn’t wearing his noisy armor, followed the goblins on the edge of the light. The woman who had punched him turned and looked back at him, and he froze. He thought about hiding behind a stalagmite, but also considered trying to get her attention in order to let her know that help was on the way. But why should he help such scoundrels? Before he could decide, she got tugged by a goblin and turned back to follow their march. She hadn’t even seen him. Chester gritted his teeth and continued to sneak behind the group.

The goblins took the group back towards the river, following it until it joined another stream, then another. At this point, the river was several yards wide, and had eroded the tunnel to be a wide cavern with smooth, slick walls. The chieftain had started a chant, and the other goblins joined in to sing as they marched. They seemed jovial, and the rowdy group reminded Chester of a festival parade, except with the addition of prisoners being dragged along.

The cavern grew wider, and Chester saw an eerie glow ahead. He ducked back when he saw where the goblins were taking the thieves. The river led to a huge, swirling lake that seemed to be emitting dim light. They marched along the shore, around an outcropping of rock where Chester lost sight of them. He scanned the area, his eyes having adjusted to the miniscule amount of light available, and saw that there was a cliff that rose above the lake parallel to the direction the goblins had gone.

Chester considered what his plan was. Was there even anything to learn from spying on the goblins? Their presence endangered the city, as they clearly intended on capturing any other people they came across. Those thieves were vastly outnumbered, and even if they were able to take the goblins by surprise, a fight would likely not go their way. If Chester left now and brought the threat to the attention of the guards, they would surely take it seriously. Ignatius may want to help out the Firemen to line his pockets, but he’d gain nothing from aiding a tribe of outsiders. On the other hand, if he left now, the thieves would likely not survive.

He sighed. It was his duty to try and save them, even if they were lawbreakers. He had to face it, everyone in Fannen-Dar was a lawbreaker to some extent. If he wanted to protect the town’s citizens, these four should be no different.

After waiting until the voices had gotten farther away, Chester started to climb the narrow jut up to the cliff. He hoped the light would not reveal him, or if it did, that the goblins would be too focused on their captives to look up.

A rock fell loose and his hand slipped, almost sending him over the edge and into the lake. His arm hooked onto a stalagmite, and the rock plunked into the water with an echoing gulp. Chester also let out a gasp when he slipped, so once he had stabilized, he looked up towards the goblins. None seemed to have noticed him. He let go a silent sigh of relief, then continued climbing.

From here, Chester could see the chieftain watching over a gang of goblins tying the thieves up and forcing them into a small rowboat. The chieftain started to give a speech in Goblin, while two more dressed in fish scale armor threw scraps of food as far as they could into the lake. Chester watched as the glow that came from the lake intensified. Dozens of luminescent fish came to the surface, drawn by the scent of the meat scraps. Chester saw one leap above the surface, and saw it was a piranha with razor sharp teeth and spots of glowing skin among its scales. It devoured a chunk of feed. The chieftain finished his speech and the goblins cheered and laughed. Three of them pushed the rowboat containing the bound thieves so that it started floating aimlessly into the center of the lake, where the piranhas were impatiently waiting.

The thieves struggled, but could not escape their bonds. Chester instinctively put his hand to his side, but his sword and sheath were sitting at home. He surveyed the scene again, and realized he only had one option. He grabbed another loose rock, one as big as his fist, and brought himself up onto his knees. Chester threw the rock with all his strength, sending it flying over the goblins’ heads and towards a tunnel entrance at the other end of the cavern.

The rock clattered into the wall, and broke into smaller pieces, but caused enough of a sound that several of the goblins heard. Their heads turned quickly towards the noise and they suddenly grabbed their weapons. One called back to the chieftain, who also tensed. A small group divided off to investigate the source of the noise.

It was the perfect diversion. Chester stood up and took a step back from the ledge. One of the goblin mooks noticed him, and started trying to call back the scouts who just left. It was too late, though; Chester had already jumped.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tunnels

The Heroes of Fannen-Dar, Chapter 22

The blips and splashes of the river echoed off the cavern walls as Robin, Anzo, Gwynt, and Hudtan followed the flow away from the well. There were footholds along the bank, but barely. Robin slipped, and caught the wall to catch herself, but quickly withdrew her hands. The cave wall was slimy and probably had bugs on it. Robin wiped her hands on her pant legs, and became acutely aware of how raggedy her clothes were. Stumbling around in the dark underground was only serving to get them dirtier and more torn.

This isn’t too bad,” Gwynt said in a voice that was a bit too high-pitched to call calm. “We’ve got water, and I’m sure we can find rats or something to eat. Sure, it’s dark, but what good are colors anyway?”

Robin followed his voice. “Gwynt, don’t you have a smoke bomb or something? I think we should use that the next time we’re being chased by people who want to murder us.”

Doesn’t matter now!” Gwynt said, laughing briefly. “This is our home now.”

Could we light a torch?” Robin asked. “My bruises would be sincerely grateful.”

Hudtan’s voice came from farther ahead. “Do not. Someone is giving us pursuit. I heard another set of footsteps make contact after Robin’s.”

They can join us in our new life,” Gwynt said. “They can be the butler.”

We can lose them up ahead in one of these tunnels,” Anzo said.

Robin realized she was falling behind, and scurried to catch up. “You mean it’s not just a dead end? How can you tell?”

The echoes from the river,” Anzo said. “I, like you, dear Robin, cannot see in the dark. It will be up to Hudtan and Gwyntmarwolaeth to lead us to safety.”

I wonder if cave spiders make good pets,” Gwynt said with a strained sigh.

Okay, it’s up to Hudtan to lead us to safety until Gwynt’s mind isn’t broken.”

Robin put a hand out in the direction of Gwynt’s voice in an attempt to comfort him, but ended up nudging his face instead. She felt him reach up and grab her hand, then slowly moved it up and down in a formal handshake. “Don’t worry, Gwynt,” she told him, “we don’t have to live down here forever. We can head back up once night falls.”

If we can shake our pursuer,” Hudtan mumbled.

Are you sure that’s what you heard? I don’t hear anything,” Robin said.

Hudtan cleared her throat. “Please do not take dire offense to this, but your human ears compared to my elven ones are like a spider sensing every vibration on its web is to the vision of the fly that waltzed right into it.”

Wait, so my hearing is better than yours?”

No, the-It’s the other way around! You know what I meant!”

Please,” Anzo said, “if we are being stalked, the less sound we make the harder it will be to follow us.”

It’s so lovely to meet you!” Gwynt said in a sing-song voice, still gently shaking Robin’s hand as they walked. “Welcome to my humble abode. Can I interest you in some rock cake? It’s made from real rocks.”

Gwynt has the right idea,” Hudtan said. “Let us grasp each other’s hands and form a succession so that I may lead us silently.”

Robin and Anzo waved their arms around until they finally bumped into each other. Anzo’s half-ogre mitt almost completely enclosed Robin’s hand, but he held it without squeezing and tugged her in the right direction. They started moving away from the river. Robin could walk through the new tunnel while still standing upright, although it seemed Anzo was crouching. They then took a turn down another tunnel, and another, always with the sound of the river echoing around the walls, sometimes farther and sometimes closer again. How long had these tunnels been underneath the town, Robin wondered. And where did they lead?

Follow Hudtan, everyone,” Anzo said. “And make sure you stick with your buddy.”

Gwynt, did we lose whoever was following us?” Robin whispered.

This will be a lovely spot for the dining room!”

Would you snap out of it already-”

Hudtan suddenly stopped, causing Anzo to bump into her. Robin walked face first into Anzo’s back, and Gwynt stepped on her toes. “Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry!” he whispered.

Nnh...Why did we stop?”

Hudtan was silent for a moment, then whispered, “I think there is someone up ahead.”

Anzo tugged both Hudtan and Robin’s hands so that the whole group was flung against the tunnel wall. “Is it our pursuer?” he said. “Did they find another path that brought them in front of us?”

How am I supposed to know?!” Hudtan hissed.

Now Robin could hear it too: a quick series of footsteps that suddenly stopped before starting back up, short and quick breathing, the sound of something metal scraping against the cavern wall. It sounded like it was coming from every direction at once due to the echoes. Unless it actually is coming from all sides, Robin thought, just as her fears were confirmed.

Gwynt shouted and let go of Robin’s hand; Anzo’s grip only tightened. She heard a growl, but it sounded like a person imitating one rather than something a wild animal would make. Hudtan shouted, “Draw your weapons!” Robin held up her free hand and balled her fist.

What are we fighting?” Anzo called back. There was more snarling and chittering, and a clash of blades. He finally let go of Robin’s hand to draw his mace. She shook the feeling back into it and raised it up next to the other, in case something attacked her.

Goblins!” Hudtan shouted back. Robin heard one of them gurgle as Hudtan’s dagger found its mark, but still she backed closer to the wall. Goblins were a short, nasty people who were known for sowing as much chaos and violence as possible. It was not a good idea to get into a fight with a goblin, for they would not hold back from even the dirtiest of tactics.

Gwynt had drawn his rapier to fight them off. “Can’t even get any peace and quiet in my own home!” he said.

Robin scrambled to remove her backpack, searching for a torch or at least a match, anything to let her see what was going on. The elves and presumably the goblins could both see in the dark, so Anzo was the only other one currently blind. He didn’t seem to care; from the sound of the battle, he was swinging his mace in wide circles around him while telling off the goblins for daring to do battle against the mighty Bedlam. Robin dug around the bottom of her bag, but there was only some rope from the orphanage heist, the broken lockpick she found in the alchemical warehouse, and some “healing potions” that Gwynt had given to her.

Robin heard the wind get knocked out of another goblin with a sound like a tomcat not landing on its feet. “We’ve got them on the back foot!” Anzo said.

That’s great,” Robin replied, trying to find something to do with her hands. The other three were keeping the goblins away from her, leaving her to sit there feeling useless.

There was a chorus of goblin war cries coming from down the tunnel, and Robin heard Hudtan gasp and shift backwards while parrying the blows from at least two goblins in front of her. From the sounds of the footsteps, there was a huge crowd heading down to reinforce the troops currently fighting. Although, Robin realized, knowing goblins, it was probably not a military tactic, but rather that they had just heard the fighting and wanted to join in.

Anzo grunted as several bodies a fourth of his height leaped onto him, trying to drag him to the ground. Gwynt ran past Robin to assist on the new front, and a gurgling goblin fell at her feet, dying from the poison that tipped every one of his weapons. However, the horde had already overrun Anzo and now surrounded them. There was no one to get in between the goblins and Robin any more. She quickly bent down and felt for the dead goblin’s hand, grabbing his dagger and holding it up in front of her with two hands.

She heard a snarl and movement in front of her, so she slashed the dagger sideways. She felt contact and heard fabric tearing, and whatever goblin had charged her fell to the side. Another one shouted and jumped at her from the left, so she jabbed at it, and the dagger sank into its chest. There were more guttural mumbles around her, but the goblins now seemed more reserved and reluctant to jump at her. She couldn’t help but laugh. “Look at me, I’m fighting!” she said.

Great, now we’ve lost two of them to madness,” Hudtan said. She then yelped, and Robin heard her fall to the floor.

The cave was suddenly bright with light, and Robin held up a hand to shield her eyes. The goblins took the opportunity to rush around her and grab her arms, pulling her to her knees. When her eyes adjusted, she could finally see their faces. They had green and purple skin, wide faces with smiling mouths, showing off their crooked teeth, and most had little or thin and wispy hair. The light was coming from a cold-torch, held by a goblin standing at the back of the throng and dressed in furs that seemed to be from rats. The others looked to this one for their next instructions.

The chieftain surveyed the scene. Anzo was struggling still, but eleven goblins were sitting on him to hold him down. Hudtan and Gwynt were both similarly restrained as Robin, and Hudtan had a long red gash on her arm. The chieftain pointed down the tunnel, in the direction of the river. They said something in the goblin tongue, and the others started dragging Bedlam away, literally in Anzo’s case. Robin looked over her shoulder at the way they had come in, wondering what they had got themselves into.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Team

The Heroes of Fannen-Dar, Chapter 21

Rivka ran up to the last spot where she had seen those pathetic low-lifes. She would call them traitors, but she knew they weren't exactly on her side. She knew that when you forced someone to do your dirty work with no promise of reward, they'd find any opportunity to escape. If the only thing keeping them in line was a threat, then she had to follow through on that threat, which she couldn't do if those other idiots got in her way!

She saw one of them now, Broos Bellinger, swinging his head around like a tomato caught in a windstorm. She marched up to him, pushing aside an elderly man who dared to step in front of her with an empty mug. When Broos saw her, he pointed a beefy finger her way. Before he could say anything, Rivka was by his side. To anyone looking on, it would appear she had just grabbed his ear, perhaps a scorned wife chewing out her cheating husband. Broos and her were the only ones who knew there was a hidden blade pressed against the base of his skull.

"Listen, you foul dog-ended piece of slime," she hissed at him. He looked into her eyes like a grumpy child. It used to be that he would have been quivering beneath her, but now he was merely annoyed. They both knew that she couldn't kill him, what with their agreements with King Dom. Neither wanted the wrath of the King to come down on them. Still, she wanted to make him feel as miserable as possible. "I had a good thing going with those Bedlam fools, but now you and that daft dwarf have gone and ruined it!"

Broos slowly grabbed her wrist and removed it from his neck. "How was I supposed to know you had claimed them? When I got to them, they didn't mention anything. As far as I knew, they were working exclusively for me!"

"They played us all!" Rivka snapped. She was then interrupted by a throaty roar. They turned around to see Tasgall, the dwarf leader of the Axe of Justice, in a bow-legged stance a few feet away from them.

"I knew I'd find you two at the bottom of this! Scoundrels!" he bellowed. "It's high time I punished you for your crimes!"

"You can't do that here," Rivka said calmly. "You know that the town guard considers you just as much a criminal as they do us. Well, at least Broos. They don't know about me." Tasgall gibbered in rage, causing Rivka to roll her eyes. "You really don't know the meaning of subtlety, do you?"

Tasgall held back the next string of expletives he was about to issue, then crossed his arms. "I had that group of ruffians working for me, on the side of good! And then you corrupted them into betraying me! And now you've helped them escape! I'm going to find them, and kill them for being unfaithful traitors! So...take that!"

"Idiot, we want them punished too!" Broos said. Tasgall just wrinkled his nose in confusion.

Rivka sighed. "They had agreed to work for all three of us, without any of our knowledge. And now they've escaped without any sort of punishment."

"Well, if you're going to follow them," Tasgall said, "I'll let you go this time. But I'm not going to try and chase them down that way!"

Rivka held up a finger. "Hold on. Did you see which way they went?"

Tasgall looked blankly at her for a second, then broke out with a nasty grin under his beard. "Ohoho, you didn't see, did you?"

"Tell us or you'll regret it."

He shrugged with a chuckle. "Fine, like I said, chase them if you want. They headed right down the Well of Luck." He then grunted, his attempt at a sarcastic laugh. "I bet they worship her too. No good, namby-pamby goddess. Not like Justice!"

"I don't care about your religion, dwarf," Broos said. He sauntered off towards the well, and Tasgall followed at a short distance. Rivka was already there, sitting casually on the side of the well. Broos ignored her and peered over the edge, one hand gripping the leg which held up the roof, in case Rivka decided to try and push him in. He withdrew his head, a sour frown on his face. "Nothing there now, but it's damp and unpleasant down there."

"They'll have to come out eventually!" Tasgall said, grinning and gripping the handle of his waraxe that hung from his side. Rivka, however, shook her head.

"The well draws water from an underground river," she said. "There are tunnels beneath Fannen-Dar, carved by that river, that they could follow. They might be anywhere."

Broos slammed his fist on the wooden leg, causing the whole roof to shudder. "Dammit! I wanted to bust their faces in."

"They'll be back, I'm sure of it," Rivka said. She stared up at the clouds drifting lazily overhead. "Nobody from Fannen-Dar ever leaves Fannen-Dar."

"And nobody from anywhere else ever stays, so they say," Broos said. "Yeah, yeah, we've all heard that one. They could go into hiding though. With a town this big, we'd never find them. Plus..." He lowered his voice and quickly looked over his shoulder at the crowd before turning back to the well. He spoke so only Rivka could hear him. "They have some sort of protection from Dominaurus."

"What?!" Rivka said.

"What? What?!" Tasgall said, sprinting up after pretending he hadn't been trying to listen in. "What did he say?!"

"Did you know this before you tried to use them?" Rivka said, ignoring the dwarf.

Broos shrugged. "Yeah, but I wasn't going to let him find out."

"Idiot, he finds everything out."

"King Dom?!" Tasgall shouted. Rivka and Broos both held their fingers up to their lips and shushed him.

"If he really had claimed them, we don't want him finding out we tried to take them out from underneath his nose," Rivka hissed. "Even you know not to cross Dominaurus." Tasgall nodded solemnly.

Broos then chuckled. "It's kind of ironic. We three haven't spent this long together without trying to kill each other in years, yet we can still agree we hate King Dom."

"Who said I'm not trying to kill you?" Rivka said with a smile. Broos's fell away into a stoic stare, but Rivka just laughed. "Yes, it does make me miss the days when we used to work together. Before Tasgall got all righteous and you got all...big-headed."

Tasgall grunted again. "I needed to atone for my sins, daft woman." He sighed. "But I still do find myself wishing you would see the light and join me once more."

"I merely saw the kind of coin I could make from dealing in bloodroot, and you thought that was somehow 'narrow-minded,'" Broos said. "Then you tried to sabotage my operations left and right! You're the one too big-headed to see why I hate you now."

"Aww, you don't hate me," Rivka said, pushing Broos a little. "You hate how good I am." She looked back and forth between the two men. "You know, this gives me an idea. We all want King Dom off our backs, right?"

Broos and Tasgall nodded slowly.

"And we all want some revenge on Bedlam, right?"

Broos and Tasgall nodded rapidly.

"Then I have a little proposition. We stop interfering with each others' plans. For now!" she added when she saw Tasgall open his mouth. "We can go back to bickering like children later (well, you two are the children, I'm the exasperated babysitter in this simile). But until then, when Bedlam resurfaces, we inform each other and team up to find a...solution...that works for all three of us. And if my guesses aren't too far off, they should resurface in a matter of days."

"What makes you say that?" Broos asked.

Rivka laughed, a high, shrill laugh that reminded the others of a socialite playing nice while she secretly played politics. Broos hoped she wasn't also playing him. Rivka said, "It's my opinion that they weren't trying to get the best of us, but that they were just too stupid to end up in a better situation. Anyone that dumb won't be able to lay low for long."

"Team up?" Tasgall said, rubbing his hairy chin. "I don't like it. Sounds sinful."

"Think of it as us agreeing with you slightly more than we did before," Rivka said.

Tasgall's face lit up. "In that case, I like it!"

"Excellent." Rivka stood up. "It's settled then. With all of our resources pooled together, Kind Dom and his gang will find it much more difficult to pull our strings.” She began to stroll away from the well. “Fannen-Dar finally has it's own Thieves Guild."

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Chapter 22, Tunnels >>