American Pie

A couple months ago I submitted two different short stories to the Los Angeles Public Library Summer Writing Contest.

I’m very pleased to announce that one of those stories, an allusion packed piece about life and music, was one of the winners of the contest. You can read my story here:

https://lapubliclibrary.short-edition.com/story/1m/american-pie

I’ll post the second story in a couple days. In a lot of ways, I actually liked it more.

So, my faithful kingdomites, give American Pie a read and let me know what you think. Does it resonate with you? How many song references can you spot? How was your summer in these crazy times?

Fantasy Football Part 36

Here we go again. You know the drill by now. Revis and I bring the words, you do the reading. It truly is that simple. And we thank you for your part in this play.

…..

Plex hurdled forward, weaving his way through the players and warriors. He heard some of them cheering him on.  That encouragement pushed him ahead with an extra burst of speed.  Glancing he back he saw that his sister was only a few feet behind him.  That was fine.  Perhaps she would be useful and at least he didn’t have to worry about her being heard.  Her feet were as soft and quiet as his own, if not more.

If the worst should happen, and the dragon hear him, then maybe she could find the weapon instead.  If the beast heard both of them, then it wouldn’t matter.  They would be dead and this opportunity to slay the beast would be lost.  The world would be thrown into another thousand years of her dark rule.  Perhaps it was better he and his sister should die side by side rather than survive only to face her wrath, her revenge.

Shaking his head, he pushed those thoughts aside.  They served no purpose but distraction.  He motioned to Gilania that she should create some space between them so they weren’t an easy target that could be taken in one strike.  She nodded and adjusted her gait slightly.  It wasn’t enough to be obvious immediately but as they moved forward she did become further apart from her brother.

Ahead, the dragon continued to thrash around.  Water poured from her mouth as the ice spell that had clogged her throat continued to melt away.  It wouldn’t be much longer before she’d be free of it and able to unleash more of her fiery breath upon her tormentors.  Plex needed to attack before that could happen.  It was the only way.

As he neared the beginning of the dragon’s pervious destruction, Plex slowed his pace and began to search for the football. He wanted to laugh but couldn’t. He didn’t dare make a sound.  It seemed ludicrous to slay a dragon with a game ball even if the ball was just a disguise to hide the true weapon.  Then again, Plex mused, of course it’s a football.  

They probably had been planning to launch the attack against the beast during a game.  Plex’s meddling, his unwillingness to accept what was and wasn’t, had scattered their plans to the winds.  Now they were all scrambling to take advantage of the moment.  Perhaps it wasn’t going as planned, but this still felt right.  

He would get the ball back in his hands for one final throw.  He could be the hero on a far bigger stage than the arena Lavandinarial had created for her entertainment.  With one throw, he could change the course of the world for the better.  First, though, he had to find the weapon.

Moving stealthily to the very edge of the carnage, Plex’s hope began to fade.  He couldn’t see the football anywhere.  There was nobody in hiding, clutching the weapon, waiting to hand it off to him.  A desperate despair gripped his heart. Plex couldn’t let that despair overcome him. Too much was riding on him. He needed to shoulder the weight of this burden and keep going.

Plex swept his eyes back and forth along the ground, searching for any signs that someone had once been there. Frukeld said that one of his people had it, so it would be near a person’s remains. As disheartening as that thought was, he continued looking for the weapon. Moment after moment passed and all he saw were blackened bits strewn across the ground. None of them held any shape that was even remotely recognizable. They all just looked like lumps.

Risking a glance upward, he saw that the dragon had almost dislodged the ice chunk from her mouth. Plex went back to searching in earnest. He had to find the weapon before the dragon was free. Everything depended on it, and everyone was depending on him. He wasn’t going to let anyone down, not if he could help it.

A whistle from where his sister had been searching caught his attention. Looking over at her, he saw her with the football in her hands. His heart moved out of the despair state that it was in and moved over to the joy side of the emotional spectrum. Then, it shifted back to where it had started because if he had heard it, so did the dragon. He started to shout out for her to run, but it was too late.

Gilania threw the football spear in his direction while the dragon’s tail whipped right at her. Plex found himself torn between catching the weapon and trying to help his sister. As much as he wanted to run to Gilania’s side, cold hard logic won out in his mind. If he didn’t catch the weapon and use it against the dragon, her sacrifice would be in vain. All he could hope is that she survived Lavalandinarial’s attack long enough for Frukeld’s healers to get to her.

His sister’s ability to throw the football wasn’t as good as his was, which is one of the reasons she played on the defensive side of the ball. Gilania had put enough power behind it, but her aim was off. Plex had to run after it. Using every ounce of speed he could muster, he chased the ball so he could catch it before it hit the ground. Lavalandinarial most likely heard him running, but he didn’t want to take the chance. 

Unfortunately for him, her aim was just a little too far off. The weapon slipped through Plex’s outstretched fingertips and hit the ground. When it landed, it made a sound that no real football would make. The sound of metal hitting rock echoed through his very being and Plex knew he had to move before the dragon reacted to the noise. 

Recovering quickly, Plex scooped up the spear posing as a football and set his feet. He saw the dragon’s tail swinging in his direction, charging like a blitzing linebacker. In his mind, Plex pictured the spot between Lavalandinarial’s eyes as one of his wide receivers. Time slowed down as he reared back and let it fly.

The ball spiraled away from his hand and then he lost its flight as the beast’s tail smashed the ground in front of him, sending shards of debris across his line of sight.  He felt splinters dig painfully into his hands and face but didn’t cry out.  He didn’t know why Lavalandinarial had missed.  Perhaps she hadn’t heard his final movement.  Perhaps he was just beyond her striking range.  In seconds, hopefully, she would never have a chance to hurt anyone again.

Plex tried to shift his gaze to where’d last seen his sister but he couldn’t spot her.  He hoped that was just the blood pouring down from a gash on his forehead he had just started to truly feel or from the bad angle he had to where she’d been.  He hoped.  That was all he could do in that moment.

And then the air was rent by a piercing scream that pushed Plex backwards.  He tripped over something and sprawled onto his back.  Only then did he see the football for what he had always been.

Sticking out of the dragon’s forehead, blood pouring from the wound, a silver spear sparkled in the light of the fires the beast had set around her.  She scratched at it with her massive claws but it was as though she had put the last of her strength into her scream. Her movements were disorganized and slow and did nothing to dislodge the weapon.

Plex was forced to wipe blood from his own face so he could keep his eyes on her.  He knew the wound on his face, and a few others that he could feel throbbing for attention, would need aid but he didn’t want to move.  He didn’t want to give her one last target.  He didn’t want to make the mistake of assuming it had been a mortal blow only to find she was faking it.  So, he remained on his back and watched.  

The mighty beast twisted in one final attempt to dislodge the spear from her forehead and then she slumped forward, landing with a resounding thud that rattled Plex’s teeth and caused a fresh wave of blood to course down his face.  He hastily wiped his vision clean again but otherwise remained still.  It could yet be a trap.

Then slowly a light began to build, seeming to come from the dragon herself, as if a dull fire was beginning to grow beneath her scales.  When a handful of her scales exploded outward, careening passed his face, Plex threw all other caution to the wind, found his feet and began to run.  

The fire wasn’t imagined.  Lavalandinarial was dead and her internal flames, no longer contained by her magic, her force of will, was consuming her from the inside out.  A cacophony of popping sounds resounded behind him.  Plex felt the woosh of scales flashing around him.  

Two fresh stabs of pain hit low on his back, his feet faltered, and he crashed to the ground.  He lay there in agony as hell rained down.

 

Fantasy Football Part 34

And on and on we go. Will this game never end? Oh… The game ended and now we are into a battle with a dragon?!? A dragon!!! Well, this should be interesting!

…..

The dragon bellowed, a sound of rage and contempt, so loudly that Plex felt like his ears were going to explode.  There was little he could do to shield himself from the sound.  He knew it was as much her screaming into their minds as she was audibly.  

She filled the sky above them.  Lavalandinarial was enormous and seeing her airborne was a terrifying sight that one could never get used to.  Plex knew he needed to move, needed to get away, to save his ears as well as the rest of him but he couldn’t break free from the sight.

Then a hand tugging him downward managed to shake up the trance her arrival had left him in.  Looking down, Plex saw that Frukeld was trying to tell him something.  The dwarf’s words were lost in the bellow of the beast but Plex could read lips well enough and Frukeld was repeating the same thing over and over, “Distract her.”

Plex realized several things at once.  The dragon had made a mistake by not immediately attacking them.  She was wasting time by hitting them with her auditory assault.  She was underestimating those who had decided to stand against her.  He also realized that he knew just what to do get her attention.

“Lavalandinarial,” he snarled.  He knew only she would be able to hear him as her scream continued.  “You think your mewling can do us harm?  You thought you’d just have some fun with your food, playing with us a little before you gulp us down?  You are going to choke on us and those left, those who you couldn’t fit in your ugly maw will dance on your corpse.”

Her reply exploded into his head.  He had tried to brace for it, knowing she would lash out at him.  He hadn’t managed well enough and he was forced to take a knee to keep from falling over entirely.  Plex felt the steadying hand of Frukeld on his shoulder and that helped him fight off the worst of the pain.

“Elf!”  Her roar continued unabated.  Her words were for Plex alone.  “I’m so glad to see you again.  You’ll be the first appetizer in my meal tonight.  Yes, I am going to dine well.  I think it is you who underestimates me if you think I’ll fall to this pitiful group who would dare stand against me.”

Not quite sure how he found the strength to do so, Plex began to laugh.  It hurt every muscle in his body to do so for it was jarring against the enormity of her voice in his head.  Yet, laugh he did and it felt good to do so.  It felt cleansing.  And with each laugh, his strength returned more.

He returned to his feet and said, “You foolish old beast.  It is well past time for you to go away.  You aren’t needed here anymore.  You never were.  And soon the races of this world will fell you from the sky and drive you into the ground.”

While he spoke, Frukeld’s hand slipped off Plex’s shoulder.  The elf hoped that the dwarf had a good plan and was going to set it into motion. Plex also hoped whatever the plan was it would do some damage to the beast before she stopped her posturing and started attacking for real.

Plex heard the rush of air and turned his gaze skyward. Up above him, the dragon was right where she was moments ago. That could only mean one thing. “She’s about to breathe fire,” he hollered as he grabbed Frukeld and tried to push him toward the closest cover.

Frukeld stood his ground against Plex’s best efforts. Despite the danger he was in, the only thing going through his mind was how stout the old dwarf was. He looked back up just as the fire left Lavalandinarial’s mouth. Flames of enormous power roared down on him from above. His life flashed before his eyes as he waited for death to take him.

The flames never reached him.

Five paces above his head, the fire disappeared. Plex couldn’t describe what he was feeling. The absolute terror of the dragon’s flames turning into sheer joy as they went away before his eyes. It was the single most intense moment of his life. Especially when he wasn’t sure how long the miracle of his saving would last.

When Lavalandinarial saw that her breath had no effect, she screamed in rage. Then those screams of rage turned into screams of pain. From the same spot the flames disappeared, they came back. This time, they flew back at the dragon. The giant beast was soon engulfed by the fire. Her wailing intensified so much that Plex felt like his ears would start bleeding. It wasn’t until he felt a tugging on his arm that he realized someone was trying to talk to him.

“We created a barrier that would bounce any attacks the dragon made back at her,” Frukeld said after Plex leaned down next to him in order to hear. “We’re hurting her with her own power.”

“Isn’t she immune to her own flames?” Plex yelled back.

“The parts of her body covered in scales can’t be hurt by the magic of her flames,” Frukeld admitted. Then he smiled, “But her wings have no scales.”

“She’s a firebreather. How is she not immune to it?”

“As I said, her scales are immune to any kind of fire. The leathery hide that makes up her wings is immune to any sort of natural flame. It is resistant to magical flames, but not completely immune. If the magic behind the fire is powerful enough, her wings can be hurt by them, and there are no more powerful magical flames than those from her breath. With her hatred of you, she probably put a little bit extra behind that blast too.”

The shrieking from above was becoming more intense. Just as the flames died down, a loud crashing sound cut through the dragon’s screams and the ground beneath their feet lurched. Lavalandinarial became silent, but her bellows were replaced by the shouts of hundreds of people. Two large fires sprung up from the direction of the people’s shouts. It took him a moment, but Plex finally figured out what they were.

They were Lavalandinarial’s wings.

Two thoughts struck Plex simultaneously.  We need to flee now while we have the chance.  We need to stay and finish her off now while we have the chance.

He was too stunned by how fundamentally she had been wounded by her own weapon to choose one over the other.  It seemed like he stood staring at the flaming hulks of her wings for an eternity while the air was still rent with the beast’s screaming and the ground swarmed with chaos.  While it felt like an eternity it was only the length of a blink and then Plex sprang into action.  

This was why Frukeld and the other revolutionairies had chosen him.  Plex was decisive when such a rush to action was needed.  He had proved that on the battlefield of the football game.  He had decided on his own to try and save his sister.  He had taken matters into his own hands to thwart the dragon.  He had done so willingly, without wasting time by conferring with others, without the threat of the consequences slowing him down, slowly down his decision, slowing down his action.

“How is she still in the air?”

Frukeld responded, “Her magic will hold her up for a few minutes and then she will either need to retreat or meet us on the ground.”

“Will your shield bounce her away?”  Before Frukeld could answer, Plex continued, “It doesn’t matter.  We need archers to target her eyes now.  Let’s hurt her more.  Let’s blind her so she can’t see us coming when she does come down.”

A bow was thrust into his hands and Plex eagerly took it.  He didn’t need to know where it came from.  He didn’t need to know that the quiver full of arrows that followed had been magically enchanted to pass through the barrier above him.  He just needed to test the weight of the string and find it to his liking and feel the swirling air to understand how it would change the path of his arrows and to take careful aim.

The first arrow nocked and held at the ready, Plex waited for his opening.  He pushed aside the smell of Lavalandinarial’s charring wings.  He pushed aside the ferocity of her agonized screams.  He pushed aside her voice that he could once again feel trying to crawl its way inside his head.  

Above him, she thrashed in the air, free of the worst of the fire since her wings had been lost but now in the throws of the pain that comes with losing a limb.  Her eyes were closed as she snarled and screamed and spat.  When they opened, they would present only the briefest of targets.  If he managed to get one, it would be the greatest shot of his life.

He couldn’t wait for them to open.  He would need to fire before they opened.  Plex closed his own eyes and waited.  Then he felt it, the slight shift in the dragon’s voice.  She hadn’t grown used to the pain but she was ready to do something about. 

Plex’s eyes flew, he tracked her movements for another moment and then let the arrow loose, nocked the second one and let it fly as well.  

Time seemed to slow as they raced upwards.  Her eyes opened, searching once again for the elf that had dared to stand against her openly, dared to allow these insurgents to hurt her, and she missed the first missile until it pierced the flesh of her left eye and buried itself all the way down to the fletching.  Her right eye closed instinctively, her scaled eyelids snapping the second arrow as it began to strike.  The damage had been down, though.  Her eyelids forced the arrowhead downward, scratching away most of the surface of her pupil.

Plex smiled.  His aim had been true.  The beast was now wingless and blind.  

 

Fantasy Football Part 32

And we’re back! Did you miss us? Of course you did. That was a silly question. Nothing silly about this story anymore. The battle has begun…

…..

Plex whistled to his Queen, a signal that meant it was a trap and retreat should be strongly considered, not caring that the momentary lapse in his concentration on the battle would give his opponent an opening to exploit.  He had to save her and as many of his people as possible.  As he whistled, he wondered if Vinyard had known and if that was why the gnome hadn’t wanted him to come.  But surely if Vinyard had known then he would have tried harder to talk Plex out of coming to save his sister?  

He laughed at himself.  Vinyard had told him this would likely turn out poorly.  Plex realized that Vinyard let him come because the gnome knew there was nothing he could say that Plex would have listened to.  Even if the gnome had said it was a trap that wouldn’t have deterred him.  He had set out to save his sister and perhaps there was still a chance to do that.

“What are you smiling about?”  The guard hissed as she lashed out with her sword.

“My own foolishness,” Plex replied, dodging the attack.  He wanted to search the field for his sister but didn’t dare give his opponent another opening.  She hadn’t take advantage of the first one.  He doubted she would make that mistake a second time.  “All of our foolishness, actually.”

Plex moved left with his feet but swung his sword across from the right in an upward motion.  She did not move with him and easily blocked the stroke.  Then she shifted her own weighted and brought her sword down towards Plex’s arm.  He disengaged and moved back a step, narrowly avoiding injury.

“Why are we all fools?”  

The sadness and anger still remained.  Plex was sure she knew what he meant but went ahead and said it anyway.  If he could throw her off balance mentally it might give him an opening physically.  The two were often linked.

“We are all fools for having allowed ourselves to be tricked by Lavalandinarial.  She isn’t the strongest.  She has just made us think she is.”

“You’re wrong on that.”  

She swiped towards his left leg and then brought the swing up sharply towards his ribs.  Plex had already been in motion though and easily moved beyond the strike.

“No,” he responded firmly, for he suddenly realized it was true.  She wasn’t as strong as she’d made them all believe for so long.  “She’s clever, I’ll give her that.  But, I withstood her magic today.  If I can, others can as well.  And we could overthrow her.”  

“That’s not possible.”

She faltered.  It was hardly more than a hesitation in her movement but Plex’s sharp eyes picked up.  He had once again hit upon something, a weakness in her armor.  He made as if he was going to spear her with his sword and she moved to block.  Plex shifted into a spin and used the momentum to strike her sword near the hilt and then follow through with a flick of his own wrists.  The move worked and the sword flew from her hands.

Then, to his surprise, he found himself not following up with an attack of his own. Instead, he stayed his hand and looked at her. “Yes,” he said. “It is possible.”

She appeared like she was on the verge of saying something before her face contorted in anger. A snarl escaped from her lips as she took a menacing step forward. Plex couldn’t believe his eyes. He held a weapon. She was unarmed. Yet, she still advanced on him anyway. Why would she do that?

The answer came to him almost instantly. It was so obvious. Magic. It had to be magic. Somehow, Lavalandinarial was controlling her Honor Guard magically. 

Plex stepped backwards in order to avoid her attempt to grapple with him. He couldn’t kill her, he knew. She wasn’t in control of her actions. It wasn’t right to kill someone because they were forced into doing something that they didn’t want to do. Besides, he had an idea. If he was able to snap her out of the hold Lavalandinarial had on her, maybe he could do it for others as well.  Having some of the dragon’s Honor Guard leave her side to join his would help their rebellion out tremendously. Not only would they thin the dragon’s numbers, but they’d also gain skilled fighters.

Plex thought back to what had caused the momentary breaks in the dragon’s hold. The most obvious one, and the one most likely to work, was what he said about Lavalandinarial killing one of her family members. “Who was it?” Plex asked. “Who did the dragon kill? Your mother? Your father? A sibling?”

No answer came. There was no outward sign of emotion either. It wasn’t any of the things he mentioned. If it was, he would have been able to tell. Two other options immediately popped into his head. Plex went with the least horrible of the two to start with. “Your husband or lover?”

This time, she hesitated. Plex was thankful for that. While losing a lover was really bad, his next guess, losing a child, was the worst thing he could imagine. Still, this woman had lost, and he needed to break her free from the dragon’s grip. He asked the question again. She pulled her hands back from trying to grab him and held them in front of her face. Her eyes went back and forth over them as if seeing them for the first time. 

Plex took that break in his confrontation to view the fighting around him. He was surprised that none of the other Honor Guards had descended upon him yet. His survey of the battlefield told him why. Gilania and a few of her teammates had rallied the rest of their team and were savagely fending them off. The remainder of Lavalandinarial’s forces gathered together to take them on. They must’ve seen the Gilania’s team as a bigger threat than him on his own. 

Plex turned his attention back to the female elf, who was still staring at her hands. “The dragon killed your lover, didn’t she?” he asked again. 

She continued to stare at her hands and Plex nearly asked a third time.  Then with a sudden flick of her eyes she was staring at him, a fire burning behind her pupils.  He knew he still had a battle to fight before she spoke.

“You may have been able to stand against my will, puny little elf.  My faithful guards can not.”

“We’ll see,” Plex said as casually as he could.  He wanted to project confidence but hearing the dragon’s voice coming from the elf he had been fighting was more than a little troubling.  He realized almost immediately, though, that the dragon must have stepped forward because she wasn’t certain if her guard would remain faithful or not.  Smiling, Plex added, “I stood up to you.  Now I know it is possible and those who will follow me will know it too.  Soon, you’ll find it harder and harder to force your will upon any of us.”

The dragon laughed, the sound was unnatural and horrifying coming from the elf she had taken over. “I do not think you’d be able to stand against me a second time.  Perhaps we will find out once you are captured and brought before me.”

“I think you are going to be disappointed.”

Plex needed to bend the conversation back to the guard’s lost love, to get her to fight against the dragon and regain control of her body.  Then he saw that she already was fighting.  Her hands were clenching and unclenching as if the dragon were trying to force her to do something, to reengage most likely, and the elven guard was refusing.

Lavalandinarial had begun laughing again.  Plex noticed a hint of unease in the vicious snarling guffaws of the beast.  She was having to exert more of her will to keep control of the elf she’d taken over.  Lowering his sword, Plex leaned forward  and in a near whisper urged the elf to defy the will of the dragon.

“Fight her.  Banish her from your mind and body. If you can push her out now, and I believe you can, then think what all of us can do if we stand against her together. No more dead fathers and mothers. No more dead brothers and sisters. No more dead lovers.”

The dragon stopped laughing, the sound cutting off in a harsh scream of anger and frustration.  Then, from that scream, the elf’s own voice came piercing forward until it was her voice alone screaming.  

“Keep to it.  Push her out.  Fight her off.  For your sake.  For the sake of the whole world.  For your lover and them alone if that’s what matters most.  You can do it.  Banish that foul worm now and forever!”

The elf’s scream died away, she swayed uneasily on her feet, blinking her eyes and looking like she was going to fall over.  Plex steadied her with his free hand and she turned towards him.  For a moment the fire was still there and then it was gone and the elf was entirely herself again.

She smiled at Plex.  It was a heartbreaking smile of thanks and sadness.  Then she said, “He was to be my husband.  We had loved each other for many long years but fate had kept us apart.  Then, finally, our chance to wed had come upon us.  Lavalandinarial made me kill him the night before our wedding to prove my loyalty.”

Her eyes closed and she would have sunken to the ground if not for Plex holding her upright.  Her smile faded as she opened her eyes just wide enough to connect with Plex once more.  “Flee while you can.  She is coming.”

Fantasy Football Part 30

Back again with more. More fantasy? More football? Well, no, not really. More awesome writing from Revis and your favorite jester? Absolutely. Enjoy!

….

There were too many to attack outright, it would be suicide.  While his sister was one of the shortlist of people he would give up his life to save, it didn’t make sense to rush the guards without knowing if it would in fact save Gilania.  

Plex swore again.  He needed to think fast.  He needed to do something more than sit there and watch his sister’s team get captured or slaughtered.  

It didn’t make sense.  Her team had won.  Lavalandinarial would want them to play in the next round of her games.  Something else was going on here.  It couldn’t be that the honor guard was going to take them all into custody.  Perhaps they were just there to intimidate, to ferret out the few bad apples they suspected and scare the rest back into obedience.  

And to set a trap for me, Plex realized.  If I go dashing in guards will come out of hiding from behind me and grab me before I can do anything.  

Now that he’d had the thought, Plex could hear and smell the guards in hiding that he should have noticed before.  They were very well concealed but he could her them shuffling in place and smell the sweat on their brows.  Plex moved further into the shadow he was crouched in just as the first of the swordsmen reached the entrance to the practice field.

There was nothing Plex could do but watch as the guards began their task of searching the field and the facility and turning everything inside out.  He needed to get out of there.  Vinyard had been right.  But he wasn’t sure he could leave without being spotted.  Plex needed the hidden guards to make the first move.  

He fervently hoped that Baclem wouldn’t hear the commotion and come bumbling in.  If they moved to intercept the troll, Plex would have to intercede.  Baclem was there to help.  It wasn’t help that Plex had asked for but that didn’t matter.  Often that was the kind of help that needed to be honored the most.  So far, though, Baclem had either learned to be much quieter or had listened and was staying where Plex had left him.

A small gust of breeze suddenly shifted through the alley and the smell of the guards became much stronger.  They’d snuck up behind him.  Plex rolled backwards, towards the source of the smell, hoping to catch them off-guard, and swung out with his sword at the same time.

A spear smashed into the ground where h’d been crouched and his sword sliced the arm off of the elf who had wielded the spear, even as Plex collided with the guard.  Then all became a jumbled mess of flailing limbs and screaming for a moment.  Plex tried to silence the injuried elf as quickly as possible but it took longer than he would have liked before he could steady himself and plunge his sword through the wounded guardsman’s neck, cutting the cry instantly.

Back on his feet again, Plex could hear steps running towards him from the direction of Gilania’s training facility.  The rest of the guards were coming.  He needed to flee or he would surely be captured and taken before the dragon.  Sprinting back towards where he’d left Baclem, he came up short, as two more guards stepped in front of him. One was an orc, the other an ogre. Individually, he had no doubt that he could best either of them quickly. Together, he might triumph, but not quickly enough to avoid the rest of the guards coming his way.

Before Plex could make a move against either of them, the orc went flying away. Baclem turned and grabbed onto the ogre’s sword before it had a chance to bring the weapon against him. Plex leapt forward to help the troll out. While the two larger creatures wrestled over the ogre’s sword, Plex shoved his blade up underneath the ogre’s armpit, where the armor didn’t cover. The ogre howled in pain and dropped to the ground. 

Baclem moved in to finish it off, but Plex grabbed his wrist and shouted, “No time!”

Plex hated having to do it but he ran away from Gilania and her team. There were a lot of Lavalandinarial’s guards around. Too many for him to get to the practice facility. At least, not from the direction that he was going at the moment. He was going to have to circle the area and see if he could find an opening. 

After a few twists and turns, Baclem began to realize what they were doing. “It’s too dangerous,” the troll whispered. “We stay, we die.”

“Damn it, man,” Plex whispered back harshly. “My sister is in there! I can’t just leave her to the dragon’s minions. I have to help.”

“Us being killed is helpful to her?”

Plex resisted the urge to punch the troll. He knew Baclem was right. If they stayed and tried to find a way into the practice facility, they would almost certainly be captured or killed. But, he also knew that if he ran away and left Gilania to her fate, he’d never be able to live with himself. He’d spend the rest of his days wallowing in guilt and shame. When your race lives for hundreds of years, that’s a daunting penance to look forward to. 

He also bit back the scathing retort that almost flew from his lips. Instead, he said, “I appreciate everything that you’ve done for me, Baclem, but I can’t run away from my sister when she needs me. If you don’t want to do this, you’re free to leave now. I need to do this, though.”

Baclem shook his head. “I don’t know how your race got so high in the dragon’s hierarchy when you make such dumb decisions.”

“I wish you luck, Baclem.”

“I didn’t say I was leaving. I’m still going with you. That doesn’t make it less of a stupid decision. It just means I’m dumb too.”

Plex smiled. He wasn’t sure what he had ever done to deserve this loyalty, but he vowed right then to make sure that he earned the honor Baclem was giving him. With a clap on the troll’s shoulder, he said, “At least we’re stupid together. Now, let’s find a way into the facility.”

Sprinting through the streets, Plex kept his speed in check to ensure that Baclem would be able to keep up with him.  The elf was pleasantly surprised that the troll wasn’t slowing them down all that much but still mortified by the sounds that emanated from Baclem.  The troll heaved in heavy, rasping breaths, and his feet thundered on the ground.  They were going to have a hard time losing their pursuers if they couldn’t get some distance from them but the sound of pursuit never seemed to grow any further off.

It made sense, of course.  Lavalandinarial’s guards would be fit enough to trail them for days on end.  While they were weighed down by their armor, some of them would be as fleet-footed as Plex himself.  If he could go his top speed, he might be able to lose them.  With his speed checked, however, Plex realized that they were never going to be able to slip away simply by hoofing it.

Plex wracked his brain for a solution, something the guards wouldn’t be expecting, something that would let them slip away while still staying close enough to the facility so he could get in and find his sister or rescue her should she and her team be taken captive by the guards  like his own team had been.  Nothing came to him immediately.  A hint of panic crept up the back of his spine. 

They couldn’t run forever.  His sister didn’t have forever, anyway.  The guards had already begun to enter the training facility.  Even though it felt forever ago, Plex knew that not that much time had yet elapsed.  Still, the longer it took him to come up with something the more likely it seemed this fool’s errand would end in capture or death.

An image of the alleyway his team had briefly hidden in while being led away from danger by Vinyard flashed in Plex’s mind.  While that particular hiding spot had been magically enhanced, Plex was sure of that, the idea of hiding to let their pursuers pass them was a good one.  It was risky, yes.  If they were discovered they would have to fight against extreme odds.  However, if they weren’t discovered it would buy them some time to scope out the facility without as many guards standing in their way.

Plex changed direction, needing it to seem like he and Baclem were trying to leave the area rather than circle the facility.  He wanted the pursuers to think they had decided to flee.  Then his eyes began to sweep left to right.  He was looking for guards still, yes.  He was also looking for an opportunity to hide.  

An open door, an expecially dark alleyway, a roof they could climb onto quickly.  They passed each of this in quick succession and each may have worked but they were still too close to the facility.  The timing wasn’t right yet.

They went another two blocks and then Plex saw another low roof they could easily scramble onto.  He nudged Baclem and indicated the troll should follow his lead and then, with a tall leap, Plex grabbed the edge of the roof and pulled himself up.  A second later Baclem was beside him.  They moved backwards out of sight, and waited.

The sound of their pursuers got louder and louder.  Plex hoped that they hadn’t been seen and that they hadn’t made so much noise scrambling up that whoever was within the building came out to see what was going on.  Then again, the guards were making so much noise on their own, whoever was inside might stay inside just to not have to deal with them.  One way or another, Plex and Baclem would know soon enough.