How many parts should a fantasy football story have? Trick question! As many as possible, of course. And here we are with another installment.
“Why aren’t you at the game?”
Plex realized it was a ridiculous question to ask, given the circumstances, but he couldn’t top himself from blurting it out.
“Nobody ever pays attention to the comings and goings of gnomes,” Vinyard replied, somewhat coolly. But then he smiled and added, “That does have its advantages from time to time.”
Apparently seeing that Plex wasn’t satisfied with his comment, Vinyard continued, “I’m not at the game because I was needed more here.”
Plex frowned. Once again he had been caught worrying about that stupid game. It was a game he hadn’t wanted to play in the first place and then had gotten so involved that he had let his emotions get the better of him. That outburst could have landed him in the dragon’s belly but instead he had found his way to meeting with some sort of underground resistance.
“Look, maybe you can go around unnoticed,” Plex stated, trying to get back to the thread of the conversation he’d been having with Frukeld, “but my presence at any of the other teams’ training facilities will most certainly be noticed. I’m not even sure I’ll be welcome back with my own team…”
“We will have to see about that, yes,” the aged dwarf interjected. “Depending on the outcome of the game, Lavalandinarial may not care to punish you further for your transgression against her.”
Vinyard snorted, “Depending on the outcome of the game, she may just eat the rest of our team anyway.”
Plex hadn’t forgotten about the dragon’s promise to eat the team that lost by the greatest margin after the first round of games were over but with everything else going on it hadn’t been at the forefront of his thoughts. The gnome’s comment made his stomach drop. He felt helpless and afraid for his team and for his sister’s team.
Frukeld said, “That’s it. That right there. I can see the turmoil you are in. The people you recruit will see that too. Use it. Use it to add fuel to the emotions they are fighting as well. Grief. Anger. Righteousness. Bring them to our cause and together we can bring down the beast. Together we can defeat her and keep anyone else from becoming her next snack.”
Plex still had more questions than answers. Could he trust Frukeld and Vinyard? Why were they fighting the dragon? Could they really defeat her? Would the world be better off without her? How was he going to convince anyone to join this crazy crusade when it likely would lead to their death?
That was it, though. Those who would join up would have come to the same conclusion. Living under Lavalandinarial’s rule death was always present. From the wars she waged on whims, to the death sports she started for her own personal entertainment. Death was never far away. Fighting her at least gave the various kingdoms an option to start something else, to hope for something better, to try to create something better.
“Okay,” Plex said, “I’m in. How are you going to get me in to meet with the teams?”
“We’re not,” Frukeld said, confusing Plex.
“How do you expect me to meet with them?”
Frukeld smiled. “Plex, the elven quarterback, won’t leave his team’s facilities. Vinyard, along with a few others we’ve already recruited, will testify to that fact, should it come to that.” The old dwarf motioned to Vinyard, who had moved to grab something from the magic using dwarf. “But,” he continued, “one of Lavalandinarial’s Honor Guard will be going from team facility to team facility to talk to players.”
Vinyard stepped before him, an Honor Guard uniform in his hands. Absentmindedly, Plex grabbed it from the gnome. As his fingers touched the fabric, terror shot through his system. He gasped, the air becoming harder and harder to breathe in. His head swirled around and he felt his rapid heartbeat pounding inside his skull.
Then, as quickly as it came, the feelings went away.
Plex looked down at the uniform in his hands with contempt. It almost felt like it did when the dragon had messed with his mind before. He briefly wondered if the uniform had some type of magic attached to it, if what he had felt was the result of a curse put on the clothing to keep those not in Lavalandinarial’s employ from wearing the garment. Or, maybe what was being asked of him had caused him to have a panic attack. Either explanation could’ve been true.
“You want me to put that on?” Plex asked. Frukeld nodded, causing the elf to raise his voice when he added, “Are you insane?”
“You’ve already agreed to help us,” the old dwarf shrugged. “Why balk now when all we’re doing is giving you a disguise?”
“That’s not just a disguise,” Plex spat out. “That’s a symbol of the dragon’s power. It’s a representation of her rule, her law. Do you remember what happened to the last person who got caught wearing that uniform without being one of her people? The orc launderer who thought it would be funny to take one of the uniforms he was washing?”
Frukeld lowered his eyes to the ground briefly before looking back up. “Yes, I do. The dragon took the orc to each of the race’s lands where she burned the poor orc until it was almost dead, then healed it so she could do it over again at the next one.”
“And I’ll share that fate if I got caught in it.” Plex stopped. “Actually, mine would probably be worse because the damned dragon is already angry at me to begin with.”
“So, don’t get caught in it,” Vinyard chimed in.
“Thanks for the helpful tip,” Plex shot back.
“This is how the dragon keeps winning,” the gnome chuckled sadly. “That fear you’re feeling? The one that’s keeping you from simply putting on a uniform? That’s how Lavalandinarial keeps us all in check. She uses that fear like she would her foot, crushing us all underneath it. It has us pinned down, unable to move. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of living in fear. I’m tired of being afraid all the time.”
“I don’t see you rushing to put it on.”
“First of all, I’m a gnome. That uniform is far too large for me. Second, you’re not the only one taking a risk by doing this. Do you honestly believe that I’ll escape the dragon’s wrath if she catches me helping you? Hell, she could have me tortured and killed if they notice me gone from the sideline, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take if it means the possibility of living a life without being under the dragon’s heel.”
“I don’t like it,” Plex stated flatly. “I wouldn’t trust anyone wearing this uniform. Why would anyone else? That would be just like the dragon to try and trick people into betraying their hidden desires to dethrone her.”
“There’s that fear again,” Vinyard replied with a sad smile and small shake of his diminutive head.
“I’m not afraid. I’m logical. I try to avoid doing foolish things when some clear moments to think could come up with a better alternative.”
The gnome said nothing further but the sad smile remained.
Plex glared at Vinyard and then shifted his head to look at Frukeld. “Sure. You’ve been at this game longer than I have. You’ve already had the moments to think this through clearly. Obviously, right? That’s how you already have the uniform. You’ve thought through all the best ways to build your army and this is the conclusion you’ve come to. This is a suicide mission.”
“Only if you fail,” Frukeld said.
Plex was furious again and practically screamed, “How can I not fail?
“You are painting a target on my back by wearing this uniform. Even if I make it in to see each of the teams, they will report back to the dragon that they met one of her honor guard and she will know there was an imposter. She will know something is going on.
“She will find me and destroy me! She will destroy you all!”
“And if she does,” Frukeld said through clenched teeth, “then those who survive will raise up stronger and they will be the ones to destroy her.”
“Or the kingdoms will spend another thousand years under her rule.”
Vinyard said quietly to Frukeld, “Perhaps he is not the leader we were looking for.”
The dwarf strummed his fingers together in front of his face, apparently in deep thought, while his eyes seemed to pierce through Plex. Plex held the dwarf’s gaze. He wasn’t sure why he was so opposed to this course of action but he would not be bullied into changing his mind. As he had said before, he was logical and would take the necessary time to think things through.
The weight of the uniform in his hand seemed to grow. He wanted to toss it aside and yet he did not. He could not let it drop to the floor. The idea of letting it get tarnished, an insult to the dragon herself to sully the uniforms of her honor guards, was something he found difficult to do.
Perhaps I am afraid, the elf mused.
He let his own eyes slide away from the dwarf and gnome to rest on the uniform once more. If he could set aside his own concerns, the uniform would offer him a great opportunity to strike at the dragon. His Queen had requested he join the football team to help bring honor to the elves. If he could help orchestrate the downfall of Lavalandinarial that would bring even more honor, and a chance for the elven nation to rise out of the shadows and become prosperous again.
Plex, without further comment, pulled the uniform on. “I am the leader you’ve been looking for.”