Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chase

The Heroes of Fannen-Dar, Chapter 1

The town center marketplace erupted into a bamboozled commotion as a stall was overturned and six bodies sprinted down the streets and rocketed into shoppers.

The overturner in question was a massive-muscled half-orc, though judging by the size of his tusks he might have been closer to a three-quarters-orc.  He took up the rear of the chase, following close behind three scarred and burly thugs.  They all wore expressions of anger and concentration, but none were more concentrated than their leader.  His brow was clenched with fury, his fists scrunched up with an intense desire to inflict bludgeoning pain, and his feet hit the cobblestones like felled trees.

The focus of their rage was the panicked woman who had just tried to steal from one of the most powerful gangs in town.  This woman was Robin.

Robin shoved passersby aside in a futile effort to increase the distance between herself and her bloodthirsty pursuers.  The people on the street didn't see the need to move out of the way of a person who resembled a twig, no matter how much she flailed her arms and widened her eyes.  On the other hand, everyone jumped to the side, hands over their heads, trying to find cover behind a stall, when the beefy thugs rumbled towards them.  And that was just the reaction before they saw the anger on their faces.

Robin was having mixed feelings about her current situation.  First was the feeling of pure terror that kept her feet moving despite the onset of a cramp and the popping of one hundred blisters.  Secondly, though, she was ecstatic, because this was the first time she had actually gotten as far as acquiring the object she was trying to steal.  Robin was a thief; it was her calling, and she would even say she had been one since her childhood.  Others would say that you can't call yourself a thief if you've never actually thieved anything, but now they would have to eat their words because Robin held in her thin fingers the coin purse of Broos Bellinger.  Her first, and likely her last, heist.

Broos was the leader of the goons chasing her down (if you recall, the one with the face so scrunched up with anger that it looked like a pug had eaten one too many lemons).  He was the self-proclaimed master of the bloodroot trade.  It didn't take much to grow bloodroot, but the stuff was so illegal that money flowed into the pockets of whoever could grow the most.  That person was Broos, and he cultured his entire gang on the concept of preventing anyone else from providing the townsfolk with their muscle-enhancing drugs.

The chase led into the alleys among the workshops.  Robin's dark brown hair streamed behind her like an old and dirty flag of surrender.  She tried turning corners at every possible chance to make the thugs lose sight of her, but all they needed to do was follow the sound of her heavy wheezing.  Robin wasn't the kind of thief who often got into chases.  She was the kind of thief who often ate garbage because it was easier to steal stuff that people had already thrown out.

She turned another corner to find a tall brick wall.  If ends could be dead, this one was stabbed, poisoned, hanged, and shot full of arrows before being thrown in the well and sinking from its own limp, lifeless weight.  The footsteps were catching up behind her.  Robin thought of tossing the coin purse at them to appease them, but somehow she felt they'd want to beat her up anyway.  Her next thought was then to swallow the gold and feign innocence.  She was getting a little panicked.

Robin didn't have time for another thought, though, because just before Broos and his cronies turned the corner, a rough and massive hand wrapped around her mouth and dragged her backwards into a doorway that, from her brief scan of the area a second ago, she hadn't seen before.  A thick finger like a sausage of ogre proportions was covering her eyes, but she heard a sound like granite on bone and the edge of her vision grew dark.

The hand moved away, and Robin found herself in a pitch black room.  With a faint hum, a yellow light glowed on behind her.  Robin feared the worst; either the Bloodroots had found her, or she had just been grabbed through an interdimensional portal into a realm of tentacled horrors.  She turned around, and saw something much more awful.

Lounging on a golden throne in the middle of the room, lit by a pulsing yellow cold-torch, sat the leader of the most feared gang in Fannen-Dar...King Dominaurus.

There would normally be a detailed description of the elaborate hideout scene, but Robin's brain had become too overwhelmed with a combination of terror, idolatry, and enervation to pay attention to anything besides King Dom's knowing smirk.  That, and the glisten of gold from all around.

After a few seconds, she managed to open her mouth and speak.

"Hurng."

She heard shuffling to her right, and the hunched figure of an enormous half-ogre came into view.  All half-ogres are enormous (not as enormous as ogres themselves, of course), but using the word enormous to describe this half-ogre was still necessary, as he had to crouch to stand in a room in which Robin would have to jump to touch the ceiling, and only then with the tips of her fingers.  He was the one that had grabbed Robin through the secret doorway.  His hands were the size of shovels.

Robin looked back at King Dom, realizing she had her mouth open and was staring at a henchman's hands.  King Dom was known for his mastery of subtlety, and the look on his face managed to appear both amused and condescending.  Robin mentally slapped her tongue to get it to start working.  It sort of worked.

"I...You're...I was..."

"Cornered?" King Dom said.  By simply uttering that single word, he was able to simultaneously taunt, demoralize, and soothe Robin.  The smile on his face radiated waves of intelligence, and Robin knew just by looking that he was already seven steps ahead of her, which was even more impressive because Robin hadn't known they were competing at anything.

Since Robin still couldn't find many words, King Dom continued.  The poetry that came out of his mouth almost had a physical form, wrapping itself around Robin's throat.  "You are the girl who reaches, but never grabs, yes?" King Dom said.

Robin stuttered, but finally managed to verbalize an affirmative.  "Yugh."

King Dom looked at the purse still clutched in Robin's hand.  "It seems to me that you have finally broken that unfortunate quality of yours.  You have thieved."

Robin dumbly followed his gaze to the pouch.  "Mhm," she said.

"You know," King Dom said, and his elbow shifted on the arm of his golden throne.  The movement itself said, I am better than you.  I am using you.  I can help you.  I know you know, and I want you to know, but I know more.  Do not resist.  King Dom continued, pretending to ignore the message his elbow sent, "this town is no place for a thief on her own.  Unless, of course, you belong to a gang.  To which gang do you belong?"

Robin shuffled from foot to foot.  A while ago, she had managed to piece together a leather outfit from scraps and handouts, and she had always been proud of how cool it made her look.  Now, however, under the scrutinizing and benevolent gaze of King Dom, she realized it made her look like a five-year-old in a school play.  "That depends on what you mean by 'belong,'" she said.

King Dom gave her a hard look.  It had never occured to Robin before that looks could have callosity, but his crystal blue eyes were giving her one as impenetrable as a diamond.  He said, "I mean what it means.  Nothing more, nothing less," but of course he meant much more, and Robin knew this, and she knew that he knew this, and that he knew she knew he knew...Her head began to spin.

"Uh...then, I'm pretty gangless, I guess," she mumbled.

"Then you are at a severe disadvantage.  You have no team to organize large heists.  You have no scouts to keep watch while you're concentrating.  You have no allies to support you when you get into a mess like this."

"But...you're helping me.  Right?" Robin said.

King Dom smiled.  It was a smile he had been holding behind his back, knowing exactly when he would need it.  "That I am, but you are not part of my gang.  Dominaurus is exclusive.  Elite, even.  Someone of your...talents...does not quite fit.  Therefore, my help comes at a price."

Robin looked at the bag in her hand.  "Would about fifty silver cover it?" she ventured.

"For starters," King Dom said.  He nodded to the half-ogre, who held out one of his continents expectantly.  Robin dropped the pouch into it.  It made a bright clink that sounded like a happy farewell.  Even money didn't want to be on her side.  King Dom continued, "However, that will not nearly be enough.  You owe me, thief."

"Robin," she muttered.

King Dom laughed.  "A robber called Robin!  I'll have to remember that one.  And you will have to remember your debt.  If the time comes that I beckon you and you do not come, you won't have time to feel guilty."  Robin audibly gulped.

A knock came from the left, and Robin realized that the room had a door.  King Dom nodded and the half-ogre opened it, revealing a slimy wood elf.  He wasn't just symbolically slimy, with thin slits for eyes and hands that looked like they'd steal your socks while you thanked him, but also literally slimy, as sweat was pouring down his high forehead.

"Got a guest, y'do," the elf said, looking rapidly from left to right and back to King Dom.  "Broos Bellinger, it is.  Wants to talk 'bout a certain loss he thinks you might have 'quired."

King Dom raised his eyebrows.  "That man is smarter than I thought," he said in a way that assured everyone he had known how smart the man was all along.  "Let him in, please.  And Robin," he said to the woman who was frantically running her hands along the brick wall, "it's best you stay for this."

Robin was very sure it was not best for her at all, but she was pretty positive she had no choice.  The wood elf left for a moment before returning with Broos Bellinger swaggering behind him.  His face was still set in a frown, but some of his rage had subsided.  He now looked merely livid.

"I knew it," he said when he saw Robin cowering in the corner.  The half-ogre was standing somewhat near her, so he hesitated before simply charging and punching her in the face.  Instead, he turned to King Dom.  "You always have a hand in everyone's pockets.  What do you want this time?"

"This thief is under my protection," King Dom replied.  "I want you nor any member of your gang to harm her, or else our current peace will be broken."  He smiled.  "It's as simple as that."

Broos could barely contain his fury, and he waved his hands over his head.  "Why?!  What use could you possibly have for a..."  His hands continued waving, more vaguely now.  "...useless person!" he finished.

King Dom waggled a finger.  "That's not part of this deal."

"What deal?  You're just making a threat!"

"I wish," King Dom said after a heavy sigh, "that you wouldn't point out the obvious ulterior meaning of my words.  It's quite a waste of everyone's time."

Broos growled to himself, but then said, "Fine.  She stays safe, your boys stay the hell away from my work, and we go on as usual.  But before I go, she at least owes me the coin she stole."

Robin looked up to the half-ogre.  He held up the purse with his thumb and forefinger.  It looked like a hedgehog dangling from an elephant's belly.  Without a word, the half-ogre spread the rest of his fingers on that hand, wrapped them around the purse, and squeezed.

Broos's face went ashen as the half-ogre poured the bent and twisted silver into his open palm.  Robin also let out an involuntary whimper at the sight of perfectly good money gone to waste.

"Fine," Broos said again.  "You made your message, as usual."  He shoved the wood elf aside, opened the door, and stormed out.

Robin cleared her throat.  "I suppose I'd best be off too," she tried to say in her most casual voice.  It came out sounding like a kitten stuck under a blanket.  She stepped towards the door.  The half-ogre moved into her way.

"It certainly is time for you to leave," King Dom said, "but not through the front door."

Robin was used to being thrown out of places, usually after attempting to pilfer something right under the owner's nose.  She had been kicked to the curb, thrown on her back, chucked into dumpsters, and shoved off more times than she could count.  This, however, was the first time she could ever remember being blindfolded, tied up, forced into a sack, and dumped in a sewage drain.  She had to admit, the king had style.

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Chapter 2, Schemes >>

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