Here we go again. Another piece of this fantasy football story… Getting more into the fantasy and less of the football, but so it goes. Enjoy!
The crate smashed into the guard’s head. The gnome hadn’t even managed to get his hands up to try and reduce the impact of the blow. Crate and gnome crumpled to the ground. The trash that had been in the wooden box spread away from them in a clattering noise that grated on Plex’s nerves. The initial crash and resulting echoes thundered up and down the dark alley, shattering the stillness of the night.
“Great,” Plex mumbled. “Hopefully that doesn’t bring more of the beast’s guards running.”
The elf stepped through the scattered refuse to check on the downed gnome. Weary of a trap, he prepared to spring away should the Honor Guard member only be pretending to be unconscious. A quick shake of the gnome’s shoulder produced zero reponse, however, and then Plex noticed two small trickles of blood. One coming out of the gnome’s left ear and one coming out of the gnome’s right nostril.
“Great,” Plex repeated with a low sigh.
“We’ll have to kill him.”
The sentence came from behind Plex. The elf was so surprised that he whirled around in a defensive position expecting to be attacked. His heart raced. His body tensed.
Vinyard stepped closer and Plex, despite his still racing heart, managed to ease out of his stance. His teammate had somehow managed to sneak up on him. That was something very few people could do with his enhanced hearing. Perhaps, the elf thought with a frown, his approach had been covered by the sound of the wooden crate smashing into the Honor Guard.
Keeping his voice steady, hoping to hide how frightened he had just been, Plex asked, “What did you say?”
Vinyard said again, “We’ll have to kill him now. Hurry up and get it over with.”
“What? I’m not going to kill him. Why would I do that?”
“You have no choice,” Vinyard replied, a hint of exasperation in his voice. “He is an Honor Guard member. If he is alive to tell his tale, the dragon might kill every elf in the city in her quest for vengeance. An attack on one of her Honor Guard is an attack on her authority, an attack on her directly. You have to kill him, now.”
Vinyard sighed and drew a small dagger from somewhere behind his back and stepped up to unconscious guard. “Blood will be spilled in the coming days. The dragon will not be conquered without it. And your hands will get dirty in the process. If you are lucky. If you are unlucky, you’ll be dead before you have the opportunity. I for one,” Vinyard stooped and slashed the guard’s throat, “very much hope to be alive when this is all over. Blood on my hands is better than dead.”
Vinyard cleaned his dagger on the dead guard’s uniform and then returned it to where he’d pulled it from and began to walk away. He called out over his shoulder, “Come along, elf. There is still much to do tonight and time is working against us.”
The casual way Vinyard killed the guard unnerved him. Plex would never have thought that his teammate was capable of such a thing before now. Then he remembered that he had only met the gnome a few days ago and didn’t really know him at all. He shook his head at the absurdity of the whole situation. Here he was, in a life and death struggle against the most powerful creature in the world and he had hesitated to kill someone.
Vinyard was right, he knew. After thinking about it for a moment, he had to admit that leaving the guard alive would’ve been a stupid move. Sure, the dragon would be angry when she found out one of her Honor Guard had been killed, but she’d have no description of the assailant now that the guard was dead. Of course, the dragon might just take out her rage on innocent people because she didn’t know who was behind the killing.
He couldn’t think about that. Those were the kind of thoughts that pushed doubt into his head, and he knew he couldn’t afford to have any doubts. This was the right thing to do. It had to be done. He needed to pull himself out of the mindset of a football player and put it back into one of a warrior.
Before Lavalandinarial had introduced the world to the game of football, he had been a highly regarded member of the elven army. He wasn’t one who planned the attacks, or anything like that, but he was one of those that they called upon to carry them out. Plex was fairly skilled in stealth tactics and most weaponry, though he was much better with ranged weapons than getting up close and personal. He had been focusing so much of his time on getting better at being a quarterback, his other skills had obviously began to atrophy.
It was time to change that.
Plex followed in the gnome’s wake, sticking to the shadows and moving as quietly as he could. At one point, Vinyard looked back at him, causing a tiny smile to grace his features. If he had been so quiet that even the gnome had to turn around to make sure that he was still there, he was doing something right.
They continued on until Plex began to recognize the area they were in. It wasn’t too far from the training facility that his own team had practiced on. He passed so close to it that he picked up on a few familiar voices. Plex briefly wondered if the gnome was leading him to their own facility first, but they walked right by it without slowing down. A little further up the street, he began to hear the sounds of football again. People were whistling, coaches were yelling, and players were grunting.
As they got closer, and the practice field came into view, Plex saw Gilania’s team on the field running drills. That seemed odd considering that they just finished a game. The only reason he could think of for them to be doing that was that they had won the game and they were preparing for the next one. His heart sank for a moment when he thought about his team losing. Then, he kind of chuckled, wondering if he even cared anymore.
Vinyard, seeming to guess at Plex’s thoughts, whispered, “Your sister’s team won. The dragon made sure of that. I think she might have been content to let it play out however it would once the game had gone into overtime but after you shrugged off her attempts to control you, she favored your sister’s team heavily.”
Plex said nothing.
The elf was glad his sister’s team had won. If all of this went wrong, at least he wouldn’t have to worry about her being eaten by the dragon on top of everything else. Assuming Lavalandinarial even carried through with her promise, threat, to eat the team that lost by the largest margin after the first round. She had never not kept her word in such regards before but these were strange times and if she had to put her energy and focus on curtailing an uprising she might pardon, as it were, the losing team in the hopes that they would show her loyalty in return.
It was twisted logic that made his head hurt. He shook himself out of his thoughts to find Vinyard staring at him intently. “What?”
“You are an interesting case, elf,” Vinyard responded, somewhat dryly. “During the game I believe you attempted on at least occasion to influence the outcome in your sister’s favor but then you also resisted the dragon’s attempts to do the same. I would have expected you to rejoice that your sister had won and would therefore be spared a gruesome fate as the beast’s meal but you took this news with barely a response at all. You clumsily allow yourself to be spotted by an honor guard member but then sneak behind me so well that I lost sight of you.”
Plex shrugged. “I am not who I used to be and never will be again. And I am not who I will become.”
Vinyard frowned and it was hard for Plex to be certain but he thought the gnome had rolled his eyes as well. The gnome mumbled something that sounded like “whatever” and then knocked three times on a section of the training facility wall.
Plex was going to ask what he was doing but then saw a small section of the wall begin to move aside. It was a false door. There’s no way Lavandinarial would have allowed the facility to be used by the team if she had known it had such secret entrances, which meant it had either been added recently with magic or the dragon hadn’t been aware of it.
Before stooping to duck into the small entryway, Vinyard looked back to Plex and held a finger over his lips to caution quiet. Then the gnome disappeared into the opening. Plex, considerably taller than the gnome, had to crawl through the small entrance and, even then, his shoulders scraped the wall on either side.
Once he was through, Vinyard motioned that Plex could stand again and the elf, relieved, quickly complied. Then, following stealthily behind the gnome, Plex sensed more than saw or heard the doorway close in the wall while they left the small room they were in and ventured down a hallway. At the end of the hall, Vinyard cracked open a door and peaked around the edge, then motnioned for Plex to follow again and went through. The door had led to the field where all of Giliana’s team was out working on drills.