We Would Be Legends

Lek slowly approached the tree-home, his swords balanced over his shoulders and glinting in the fading sunlight. His eyes slowly swept over the surrounding forest, watching for any sign of ambush. There was little chance of it, but he knew he had to be careful. Even the smallest chance was chance enough to be wary.

But no ambush materialized. If elves still lived here in numbers, they were reluctant to approach. As he neared the tree-home, he realized it was old, cracked, falling to pieces. The bark was splintered and vines tangled the roof. Debris covered the walkway leading to the entrance, though Lek could see fresh tracks. Three had arrived before him; a goblin, a dwarf, and an elf.

He pushed through the rotting skin covering the doorway. The inside was dark and stunk of goblin. The jingle of mail and the sound of unsheathing steel filled the air. Lek held his swords out in front of him.

“I’m here for the job,” he growled. “Light a damn torch so I can see, dammit!”

“Yes, light one,” a cold airy voice said. There were grumbles from the other voices moments before soft sparks filled the air. A moment later a lamp wick burst into flame and cast flickering light over the room.

He was mildly surprised to see the room held five occupants. Two elves, a goblin, a dwarf, and a kobold. One of the elves, who had hair that seemed black in the dim light, held the lamp. He was lithe of body and gaunt of face, the tips of his ears ending in scabby scars where they had been sliced away and picked at constantly. Like the goblin that stood beside him, he wore rough, rusted chain mail and tattered clothes spun of spider silk.

The goblin was almost as tall as Lek and nearly as stout as the dwarf. As his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting, he realized the goblin was a goblienne, with patchy black hair and two cruel eyes set closely above her upturned nose. The goblienne carried a massive flail slung across her back, while the elf had two daggers strapped to his belt.

The dwarf sat alone in the corner, a quarterstaff draped across his knees. He was silent and had his eyes closed beneath his thick eyebrows. Lek would have almost guessed he was sleeping were it not for the way he sat up straight and ready to strike.

The kobold crouched to the side, leaning heavily on a staff. It looked old and decrepit and Lek wondered why it was even there. Its pointed snout twitched in the air and its large, golden eyes flicked back and forth nervously.

The final elf sat in the rear of the room, on a bench that had grown directly from the tree-home’s floor. The light barely reached him and cast ghoulish shadows over his face. His eyes flickered in the light like points of fire. He had a grim countenance.

It was this elf who finally spoke. “Thank you all for coming,” he said in a steely voice. “Now we must discuss how to kill Cacame Awemedinade.”

“Before we kill anyone, we talk pay,” Radi said. He looked over at Muspla, his companion. She nodded her head. “You promised gold to us, elf,” he said, pointing his finger at the elf in the back of the room.

“And other riches,” Muspla added, her voice deeper than Radi’s by an octave.

The elf gave a small smile and even that seemed an effort to him. “Of course,” he said. He reached to a pouch on his hip and opened it, spilling the contents onto the floor. Gold coins glittered in the flickering light.

The kobold leapt at them and began to scoop them up, but the dwarf lashed out with his quarter staff and knocked the kobold away. “Sorry!” the kobold screeched, cowering with its hands raised. “I sorry! Forget, forget! See the gold, I forget! I sorry!”

“Of course,” the elf said in a steady tone. “That is just a small sample of what I will give should we succeed. I have jewels and gemstones and all manner of riches for you. That is not even to speak of the loot you may take from Gamildodók once Cacame is dead. He is known to carry a mithril hammer of such value that any one of you could live a thousand lives and not spend what it is worth.”

Radi stroked his bare chin in thought. “Very well,” he said, “I think this is quite tempting enough. You have shown your wealth, that is clear. So, let us get down to details.”

“Yes,” Muspla interjected. “Like who you are.” She waved her hand at the others gathered. “And who they are.”

The elf’s mouth drew into a thin line. “Very well. Myself first, I suppose. I am Sapi Theleafedo. I was a noble of the elven kingdom of Ethonarena before that kingdom was sacked and destroyed by the dwarven kingdom Dôbar Odkish.

“My home was overrun with dwarves. My people forced to adhere to their sickening customs. But we fought back, valiantly. We counter-attacked several times. My wife took part in one of the attacks. She was captured and then made sport, when Cacame Awemedinade killed her.

“That is why I have brought you five together. You five are the best assassins and sell swords in the entire land. Muspla, goblienne warrior of great renown, who has killed the cyclops Otheta Twinklingbright, and her son, the elven assassin Radi, who has struck down over twenty dwarves in his battles.” He turned to the human. “You, Lek, a human hedge knight known for fighting gibberlings, goblins, elves, other humans. And always surviving.” He turned to the dwarf. “Dîbesh, dwarven monk of Nethgön, god of death and blight, who travels from country to country slaying the unworthy.” Finally he turned to the kobold. “And you, Srubus, a great kobold thief who has stolen from the hordes of Milu Breachpaints the Competition of Right and Mol Agedbook the Lens of Ivy and many others.

“You are all the best. Together, we can infiltrate the fortress of Cacame Awemedinade and bring down destruction on his head. Alone, none can do it. But together, we all can.”

Muspla snorted. “All of us for one puny dwarf?” Dîbesh snorted again, continuing his peaceful facade. “Who is he that gives you so much fear?”

“I am surprised you have never heard of him,” Dîbesh said quietly. His voice was distant and hollow, echoing with the wind of a barren mine. “He is no dwarf either. He is an elf. The elven king of the mountain homes, as he is known to my people. Or Monipatholi, the Immortal Onslaught, as he is known to our host’s people.”

He remained sitting with his eyes closed, listening to the sounds of the room. The elf and his adoptive goblienne mother muttered to each other. The kobold’s breath came in ragged bursts. The human’s heart beat at a steady, but accelerated, pace. Only their host remained calmly composed.

“He is an abomination,” Dîbesh said softly. “Nethgön has long sought his blood as a sacrifice. And though my own kingdom has exiled me for my service to Nethgön, they too would see this Cacame’s head upon a spear. He has corrupted these dwarves he rules over. Twisted them into creatures of his madness. They build temples to him. Erect monuments to his greatness. Heap praise at the feet of a weakling elf who has never broken stone with his pick, never smoothed stone with his hands, never worked an anvil and felt the heat of molten iron.”

“So, what makes him so dangerous?” Lek asked. “If we’re so great, any one of us could kill him, right?”

“He has slain a dragon with two blows of his hammer,” Sapi said. “He has faced down an army alone and routed them. He is not to be trifled with singly. We all must face him.”

“A mandate for glass with no sand,” Dîbesh added. “Gamildodók is a mountain fortress. It is impenetrable even by dwarven standards.”

The kobold chittered. “No. Nothing is impenetrable. Always a way. Always! Some crack. Some hidden way. We can make it in. I can find. Always can!”

Muspla grunted. “So, the sneakling is to get us in. The rest of us is to kill him. Yes?”

“Yes,” Sapi said. “I have been inside before, as well. Once we penetrate the fortress, I can lead you to Cacame’s bedroom, deep in the heart of the earth.”

“Truly?” Radi asked. “If you have been there before and this Cacame is as deadly as you say… How did you escape?”

“The grace of Íle,” Sapi said, holding his open palm before his face. “Cacame is a terror, but his minions have grown soft from serving him. Cacame would kill captured elves for sport. Sometimes four or five at a time. I had been caught along with my wife, and though Cacame had dragged her to his fighting pit first, I followed not long after.

“But while he dealt with my fellows, I managed to slip away. One missing elf? They did not ever know I was gone.”

“So, you are truly a coward,” Dîbesh said. “Flying from death while your fellows bravely faced it.”

“I am alive,” Sapi bristled. “And I can have revenge. That is all that matters.”

“Perhaps it is so,” Dîbesh muttered. “But to flee death is a folly. Every living thing comes to death eventually. Even you elves, who believe yourself immortal, will succumb eventually to death’s reach. Why fight the inevitable? Nethgön says it is so.”

Lek laughed. “Who gives a shit? Death, revenge, all this is crap. We’re supposed to be the best? Well, I don’t know about these other four, but I sure know I can’t be beaten in a stand up fight. I’ve had gibberlings grabbing at every limb, but I killed every last one of them. No elf scares me.”

“Nor I,” Dîbesh agreed.

Radi growled. “No dwarf-loving elf, at least. Nor any elf-loving elf. I’ll kill this Cacame myself if I have to.”

“So would I,” added Muspla.

“I lead,” chittered Srubus. “Get you in, that is all I do. Can’t do much fighting.” It tapped its left leg with its cane. “Last time I get in a fight, I mangle this. Never healed right. Still limp. But can still sneak. Move so no one sees. Move so no one hears. Am invisible. Can make you invisible too.”

“Then it’s settled,” Sapi said. “We should depart immediately. When this is over, you will be legends.”

The human insisted on fire. He alone could not see in the dark. Muspla growled that he should be left behind more than once. But the foppish elf who was paying them insisted he come. The light from the torch burned Muspla’s eyes. It made them water. At one point, she snatched it away and threw it into a murky pool.

Lek had cursed her for it, but the others were surely thanking her. Especially the sneakling, who stared at her with longing for several minutes while Lek fumbled to get another torch lit. When he did, he swung the torch in her face. Muspla unslung her flail at that and took a swing at Lek for that, but the human nimbly avoided it.

Radi stepped in between them, urging Muspla to stand down. With a regretful grunt, she did so. Lek eyed her with suspicion, then sheathed his own blades. They kept their distance from each other the rest of the way.

It was near morning when they finally neared Gamildodók. It was Radi who spotted it first, the towering colossus bursting from the treeline. “What monster is that?” he gasped.

“What?” Lek asked. “What monster, I can’t see.” He had his swords out and was turning slowly, peering at the edge of the fire for an attacker.

Muspla chuckled at the human’s weakness. “There is a giant,” she said slowly. “But not one of flesh. It is stone and metal, for it is cold. Except its eyes, which glow with evil heat.”

“The dwarves’ monument to Cacame,” Sapi said. “His colossus. It it is nearly two-hundred feet tall, though only half is above ground. It stands over the only bridge into Gamildodók. The rest is ringed by a deep pit and inside the pit is a tall wall.”

“Some crack in the wall,” Srubus muttered. “Hole in the pit. Way through. We’ll find it there. For sure, for sure.”

“Perhaps,” Dîbesh said skeptically. “Dwarven engineering is nearly flawless. But for dwarves who subjugate themselves to an elf…”

“We will find it there,” Srubus repeated. “For sure.”

Muspla grinned. This sneakling amused her. “I am sure we will,” she said, “if the sneakling is so sure.” It chittered in happiness.

“Enough talking,” Sapi said. “We must get closer to the fortress. Once we do, we shall rest, and then move in when the sun is high.”

The crack was so easy to find. Srubus spotted it plain as day. Right there. Between the wall and the ground. The pit had been dug in front of the wall and some soil had crumbled away. A tiny little hole. Just enough to squeeze through. She fit through easily. No problem. In and hidden and no one would ever know.

But the others didn’t like it. Too small. Not big enough. “I can’t get through that,” Dîbesh growled. “I doubt even Radi could squeeze through.”

“Dîbesh is right,” Sapi agreed. “None of us can fit through there but you, Srubus.”

“Dig more,” Srubus said. “Make bigger. Then fit. Easy.”

“No,” Dîbesh said, “the dwarves will hear the digging. Dwarven ears know how to hear digging. It’s more obvious than a goblin’s stink.”

Muspla didn’t like that. She grabbed her big flail and swung it. Dîbesh knocked it away with his long stick. They were going to fight. Srubus squeezed back through the hole and cowered, but Radi made peace again. Srubus squeezed back out and hopped from foot to foot.

“I look around,” she told the others. “Find way in. Be back soon. You stay hidden, like I show. Don’t move around, else they see you. Be careful. Be back.”

She squeezed back in. They yelled for her to stop, but she ignored them. No distractions. A dagger glinted on the ground, half buried in the dirt. She plucked it up, tossed it from hand to hand. Put it in her pouch.

Went back to searching. Heard water running, found a stream. Saw it vanish under ground. Found fallen logs too. Pushed logs into water, watched them vanish under ground.

Stairs led down into the dirt, down into the under ground. Saw something glinting in the underground river. But snakes hissed at her, so she ignored it. But the logs were there, floating past. She scurried back up. Found the hole again.

“Way in. Need to swim,” she said.

“We can’t swim in armor,” Lek growled. He was still blind in the dark. She grinned. He looked around randomly in the dark. Funny.

“Logs. Toss them in, hold on. Get sucked underground. Get out fast, because there’s snakes. But we can get inside. I saw it.”

She led them to the river, where it passed under the pit and the wall. The elf Sapi went first. Hung onto log and dunked under water. Srubus went back to the hole. Squeezed through. Found Sapi on the other side. Wet but alive.

She went back and told the others. They were too ashamed to not go now. Lek went first. Then Dîbesh. Radi and Muspla went last, but went together. The log almost sank with them on it, but it carried them underground just as well.

Srubus found them on the other side, sputtering. Blood was in the water. Two dead snakes, two others hissing. Srubus scurried up to the edge of the water and reached in. Grabbed the glimmering thing, pulled it out. She frowned. Just an arrow head. Tossed it back in.

“Come on, stay quiet,” she said. “Move like this. No one hears you.”

“Follow me,” Sapi said as they emerged from the underground river room. A long channel diverted some of the flow from the river. The group followed it until they came to a metal grate.

“Great,” Lek muttered. “Blocked off.”

“No,” Sapi said. “The grate can be opened. There’s a lever on the other side. Srubus can squeeze through and open it.”

Srubus did as told and moments later, the gate rattled open. Everyone cringed at the sound, except for Sapi. “They’ll have heard that,” Lek growled.

“No,” Sapi assured them. “We’re still too far away. It’s another hundred feet before we get to the well. We can climb up through there, but no one will hear us.” The rest exchanged uneasy looks. “This is how I escaped the first time. Trust me.”

“I trust your gold,” Radi grumbled.

“And riches,” Muspla added.

They followed Sapi down the channel until they reached the well, just as he had told them. Srubus dived into the water. Five minutes later, she returned, dripping wet. “It’s safe,” she said. “Giant olm chained up above, but makes no noise. Snaps, but no one to see or hear.” She dove back down.

Lek jumped in after her, his head and shoulders just above the water. He ducked under the stone circle of the well. Radi and Muspla went next, with Dîbesh last. When they were all through, Sapi followed, emerging inside the well. He grabbed the chain and slowly climbed up.

The other five were already waiting for him, dripping wet, grim faced. He made a smile at them. “You’re wet and cold now, but you’ll be plenty warm once you kill Cacame and find his treasures.”

They all mumbled their agreement and Srubus led them sneaking through the halls. The sounds of a forge could be heard some distance away, but few dwarves were in this part of the fortress. One passed them by, totally undetected, as they followed Srubus’s instructions to the letter.

“Magic,” Lek muttered.

“No,” Srubus said with a grin. “Just good sneaking.”

Finally, they came to a chamber. Sapi pushed ahead and snuck into the chamber. He returned a moment later. “Cacame is just through there,” Sapi said. “Rush in and take him. He will be awake, but the five of you together can surprise him.”

“Don’t you want to witness it?” Dîbesh asked.

“I’ll be watching from the entrance,” Sapi said.

“Enough talk. Let’s go!” Muspla growled, charging forward into the chamber. The others followed behind her…

And found nothing in the chamber.

Radi whirled to face Sapi. “Where is Cacame?” he asked.

Sapi smiled. For the first time, it was genuine one. “Why, he was before you the entire time.” His eyes burned like magma as he pulled a lever. A hatch slammed shut, blocking off their escape.

Moments later, a panicked pounding came at the door. Screams of pain soon followed, but they ended quickly.

Sapi turned and walked slowly away, his hands clasped behind his back. He went down several levels, to the massive throne room of Cacame. He picked up the horned helm sitting beside the throne and placed it upon his head, lowered himself into the throne, and laid a mithril war hammer across his lap.

A dwarf warily entered the room shortly after. He wore rich purple robes and his beard was long and elegantly braided. “King Cacame,” the dwarf said, “it is good to see you returned.”

“It is good to return, Baron Sodel,” Cacame said. “Have grates installed over the mouth of the river. I believe some debris was accidentally swept inside.”

“Of course, my liege.”

“And the magma room has been filled. It will need to be drained when there is labor to spare.”

“There always is, my liege.”

“Oh, and that problem we discussed has been taken care of,” he added, unusual mirth in his voice.”No assassins shall ever threaten my reign.”

“Very good, my liege.” Baron Sodel waited for more to be said, then hurriedly scurried from the room to see King Cacame’s bidding done.

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