than Frank, everybody on the wagon back to base was happy to get
out of Endrell. Reggie and his girls stayed behind again, but
mostly to verify that Claude's concession did indeed quiet the
populace. They were still mostly miserable, but they learned an
important lesson of talking things over peacefully and not
resorting to violence- a nice moral for children but very
inconvenient for the MST. Not that it mattered, as the palace
remained on high alert and any attack would have been suicide.
The Hageshoni had successfully defended the city and Reggie's
unit was ordered to return to base as soon as they could sublet
the office space.
a foregone conclusion to Frank, and leaving Reggie behind was
done not only to put it to rest, but also to account for
Donovan's absence. Frank reasoned that sending the entire troop
home except Donovan would have looked mighty suspicious to
Molly. He reasoned wrong as Molly didn't even ask, but he liked
to have his ass covered. Sending Donovan to court the dwarves
was a desperate move and there were all sorts of situations that
could lead to him not returning. Frank didn't know his lack of
concern for these was pretty consistent with everybody else.
got an update from Tulas, the mission was at a standstill. Frank
wasn't going to send anybody home until he received that update,
but he couldn't do anything but ponder the failures. The more he
thought about it, the more he realized that only one element
surprised him. The Hageshoni solution to the strike was not a
Hageshoni solution at all. Which led him to believe the
negotiator that freed the army to return to the palace was not
Hageshoni. That young man seemed unusual, and Frank realized it
was important based on one word- 'madam.'
actually went to see him?” Renee asked.
just let him walk away?” Yuki asked.
drink anything with alcohol?” Kathryn asked.
Frank stared into an unknown future, the rest of the troop was
in the back of the wagon, peppering Molly with questions,
excited about her blatant violation of Frank's rules.
yes, and yes,” Molly answered. Her audience exploded.
alkie,” Kathryn said, playfully punching Molly in the shoulder.
“Next time tell me when you're going bar hopping. I bet they
don't ID here.”
did he want?” Giles asked.
leaned into Giles and said, “What do you think he wanted? Don't
be jealous now.”
wanted to say goodbye,” Molly said. “That's all. I didn't think
about it at the time, but he and I did have a good working
relationship. He was nice enough to bail us out yesterday, so
I'll give him my time.”
really did that? I wonder why,” Yuki said.
neither of us are supposed to be here. Not every encounter
between a mage and a demon has to end with a fight to the death.
No matter what the MST says.”
said anything, but Renee and Kathryn each stole a glance at
Troy. He shook his head. “If he really saved us like that, then
Kathryn made a point of turning to him and frowning. “That's
funny, because I remember Ma-”
silencing spell stopped that. “Please drop it. I'm not in the
rise for the mighty commander!” Mindy shouted. She made a big
show of saluting and stood, bumping her head on the roof. The
others just watched Frank approach.
saluted back. “Nothing important. I just need to talk to Troy.”
sure.” Troy was surprised, but happy to get out of that
followed his father to the front of the wagon and asked, “What's
stared down the trail and took a deep breath. “You all know
somebody else here, don't you? Somebody helping the Hageshoni.”
looked back into the wagon. From their position, they couldn't
hear the conversation inside. He hoped the reverse was true.
“Um... yeah. Claude. He led the attack on the school. Urayoni, I
nodded, but didn't change his expression. “That would have been
important to know. In order to be successful, it's crucial that
we know what the enemy is planning. Having an Urayoni in the
picture changes their tactics.”
Molly told you before we went in. She said Renee was spotted.”
remember that,” Frank said. “I also remember that you somehow
knew who she was talking about.” He turned to his son, eyes
steeled. “Which means you knew he was here beforehand.”
tried not to panic, but those eyes were daunting. He turned away
from them and mumbled, “We may have run into him in town.”
didn't you report him?”
a great question. It was a better question for Molly. Troy had
no objection to subduing Claude and throwing him at the mercy of
the MST. In fact, he would have liked that very much, and was
unhappy at Molly for not making Claude squirm. He had every
reason to explain this to his father and let Molly fend for
don't know.” What he really didn't know was why he was
hesitating. He understood why Molly let Claude go. It was the
same reason she had been easing off Troy. Whether it was the
constant run of violence, the loss of power or Kathryn's
influence, Molly was growing tired of all the conflict. She was
done instigating for the sake of instigating, even if it meant
letting Claude walk. After his brush with death, Troy could
respect the idea of not starting fights whenever the opportunity
Frank was going to be swayed by Troy's inner monologue. “Troy,
you realize that letting him go was seriously irresponsible. It
may have meant the difference between success and failure. Now
as much as I want to forget about it, I'm not making the same
mistake. I will report this, and you'll come across much better
if you explain yourself.”
as Troy respected Molly's newfound pacifism, he could sense his
father's disappointment. After he had just gained Frank's
respect after years of Molly stealing the attention, he wasn't
about to lose it for her sake.
stood up and said, “Ask Molly. It was her decision.”
returned to the back of the wagon, sat down and tried not to
make eye contact with anybody. Everybody stared at him. Nobody
wanted to be the first to ask.
of the ride was in silence.
their return to the base, most of the troop was left to suffer
through the boredom of having neither modern technology nor
Reggie to keep them entertained. Molly was dreading it. She knew
she was in for it if Frank found out she had visited Claude.
Therefore, she had to trust that either Frank was totally
oblivious and wanted to chat with Troy for unrelated reasons, or
Troy was going to be more loyal to her than his father. As much
as she had tried to give him a break, she wasn't optimistic.
Still, other than Troy she had covered her tracks well and it
was possible Frank wasn't suspicious. She had to pretend he
wasn't for the time being.
please come to my office.” Even via telepathy, Frank was firm.
Firm was his default setting, however, so Molly still couldn't
be sure this was what she was dreading.
She hid her trepidation as she reported.
seat, Molly.” She did without hesitating. He took a deep breath
and led with the fastball. “So who's this Claude character?”
steeled her face, knowing better than to show any emotion around
him. “He's an Urayoni demon. He integrated himself as a key
member of my student council at school, then helped coordinate
the Hageshoni in their attack last February. He's still working
with them, apparently, as he was with them yesterday.”
know he was here before yesterday?”
Troy and I saw him at the hotel the day before the bombing.
That's why I suggested that we should abort the mission. If he
recognized Renee, it would give away our plan.”
only said Renee had been recognized. Not by an Urayoni. And
certainly not by somebody who knows you all. That's vital
information. Why would you withhold it?”
found it harder not to flinch. “We were in a hurry. There was no
time to write a novel for you.”
didn't you report Claude the first time you saw him?” Frank
changed gears so quickly Molly couldn't help but stammer.
Molly fished for a moment for something that he could find
justifiable. “He provided information.”
didn't reply, only gesturing for her to continue.
struggled to remember what Claude had told her the first time.
“It wasn't as useful as I had hoped. He confirmed some of the
Hageshoni's methods and that they knew what the Hokoni were
planning. He also said that they were prepared for any follow up
attack, but that sounded more boastful than anything else. He
certainly didn't say anything about the bombing.”
not your job to decide whether that's useless information. It's
the agreements we made was not to tell our superiors about our
frowned. “Did you honestly trust him to keep his end of the
And yes, I did trust him. He worked for me long enough for him
to have as much loyalty to me as to the Hageshoni.”
to him, it would seem,” Frank grumbled.
tripped her up. She never considered that she'd owe anything to
Claude. He was her minion, not the other way around.
understand it,” Frank said. “The only reason he ever worked for
you was to keep tabs on you. He learned everything he could
about you, then attacked you all when he had the opportunity. So
now, rather than follow protocol, you for some reason believe
that he would have any interest in helping you and make an
agreement that gives us nothing and lets him continue to do
Molly wanted to say that Claude did still have some semblance of
loyalty to her. Maybe not compared to his loyalty to the Urayoni,
but to the Hageshoni. She wasn't sure she believed it herself.
All she knew was that Claude wanted a chance to talk to her.
“What would have happened to him if I had followed protocol?”
arrested and prosecuted. You know that.”
nodded. Frank may as well have said 'executed.' “I've seen too
many of my classmates die. Demon or not, I'm not going to be
responsible for another one.”
sighed, hoping he'd understand and let it go. But she knew
better, wincing the moment he spoke. “Molly, I didn't train you
to be compassionate. You exist to fight demons and protect
humanity. Your classmates don't matter. Now given the
consequences of this, I have no choice but to write you up. You
realize that if Bryce hadn't come through for us, your failure
to act could have gotten us killed.”
didn't insert the escape clause,” Molly blurted. It just came
out, a correction she felt compelled to make, not considering
any implications. Still, it was done and she was at least going
to spin it in her favor. “Claude did. He didn't want us to die
wasn't sure how Frank would take that, or even if he'd believe
it. He didn't give anything away at first. Finally, his response
was, “How do you know?”
tried not to give anything away with her face, but now she was
panicking. No way would Frank buy Claude's code words. There was
only one other way she could have learned that, and it involved
a violation far worse than what she was already facing. She also
couldn't blame Troy for this one.
wasn't sure if it was the way she breathed or a flinch of her
eyes, but Frank glowered. “Did you talk to him again last
her head and barely audible, she said, “Yes, sir. The Hageshoni
discharged him and he wanted to talk once more before he left
wasn't looking at her. He had turned away, hand clenched in a
fist. “You know, you had so much potential. I really thought
that you could have been the greatest mage of your generation.”
He shrugged. “And now this.” Facing her, he said, “I don't know
what they'll do to you. Whatever it is, I can't help you.”
expecting this, Molly was stunned. Her association with Claude
was absolutely against the rules and she knew that. She didn't
care, nor did she regret ensuring his safety. Yet she dreaded
the consequences. She dreaded knowing that despite everything
Donovan and Troy had gotten away with, she was up against worse.
She was facing discharge, recalibration, and an empty life with
a future she couldn't plan for. She was stunned that this wasn't
what she dreaded most. She couldn't stand seeing Frank this
disappointed in her. As much as she hated him, he had so much
hope in her. And no matter how many years it had been since her
harsh training, she still couldn't face letting him down.
there's nothing to justify this. Given what he did to us, you
can't defend it. You didn't gain anything, you didn't learn-”
of Laug.” It was was out before she realized it, and by then it
was too late. It was a reaction, some vocal muscle memory still
conditioned as a faithful soldier.
hated herself for saying it, but knew there was only one path
now. It didn't magically take the heat off of her, but it did
disrupt Frank's scolding. “W... what about it?” he asked.
gulped, steeled her face, and reported what she knew: “As I
said, he had as much loyalty to me as he does to the Hageshoni.
Since he was discharged, Claude told me their weak point. Take
that and apparently we control the orcs.”
scratched his chin. “Shrine of Laug...”
“Something to do with orcs obeying whoever controls their holy
site. I found it a bit far-fetched myself. I mean, orcs having
sacred ground where they can't attack? They're orcs. Either way,
I was planning on telling you once we got back here. As you just
said, you decide what's pertinent.”
didn't question how she could act so professional all of a
sudden. She always had that in her. Instead, she wanted someone
to punch her out of the charade.
know,” Frank said with a huff. “I'll look into it. For your
sake, you better be right. You're dismissed.”
nodded and said, “Yessir.” Molly left the room before she could
lose her composure.
Renee and Yuki were waiting in the living room. Probably Meg and
Giles too but Molly didn't see them. She only saw her unit, the
girls she had spent the last two years trying to keep alive. She
was dooming them to risk their lives in one more unnecessary
fight. They asked questions. Molly didn't answer, ignoring them
as she ran up the stairs and to their quarters. She fell on her
bed, face down and resisted the urge to break something.
knew she had done the right thing in letting Claude off, but she
hated him so much. His test was diabolical, and she had failed
it miserably. If the information was correct, and Molly somehow
knew it was, she and the entire troop would be throwing
themselves straight into orc territory for another battle
against the Hageshoni. She could have prevented it by staying
silent. Claude somehow knew she wouldn't. Now she would have
seen him killed a thousand times rather than keep her unit in
um... sorry.” She had dived onto her bed so quickly she hadn't
noticed that Troy was in the room. She was too startled by his
presence to recognize his apology.
didn't want to tell him we met Claude,” he continued. “I mean I
don't think it was a good call, but I got it, you know? You've
been getting into fights all your life. I imagine you must be
pretty sick of it.”
Molly didn't respond. She wasn't sure if Troy was right. She
didn't mind getting into fights, but did all of them have to
have such dire consequences?
know, I just... couldn't stand the thought of letting Dad down.
It's...” Troy paused, failing to come up with the words. “It's
hard to explain.”
no need,” she replied. Still laying down, she turned to look at
him, shaking her head. “I know what you mean.”
we really need to stop meeting like this,” Uriel deadpanned on
the screen. “How'd your revolution go?”
glared back. “I don't want to talk about it. I need you to look
something up for me.”
know there are research team for that, right?”
guys take days. Even longer with the new academy term starting.”
sighed. “Yes, and it's not like I'm busy filling in for Miller
and half his staff while trying to keep tabs on my district.”
anything actually happening in your district?”
long pause, Uriel slumped his shoulders. “No. With Molly's unit
over there, it's back to the doldrums. Fire away.”
to find out how the Hageshoni took this world in the first
place. Molly came across some information that suggests some
monument in Ursu might be of strategic importance.”
been there how long and you don't know its history?”
the basics, but remember that the ruling faction here burns down
libraries for pep rallies. Exact records are hard to come by.”
nodded and reached for the phone, frowning the whole time.
“Someone should really make this sort of stuff accessible in a
dialed, Frank replied, “It's not online?”
shrugged, then spoke into the phone. “Yes, is this the library?
It's Uriel. Can you cross-reference Hageshoni military records
with Enriel?” After an awkward pause, he spelled Enriel for the
librarian. Uriel glanced back at Frank, surprised that he
maintained his composure the whole time. “Yes?” Uriel listened,
and nodded. “If it has information on Enriel it's a good start.
Can you zap it over to me?”
the response was, he closed his eyes in disgust. “Magic. You can
do that, right?” His eyes widened at the next response, not that
it made him feel better. “Oh. What do you mean by missing? Is it
checked out?” Another pause, then Uriel sighed. “Lovely. Well if
you find it or you think of any alternatives, call me.”
didn't sound promising,” Frank said.
book in the whole library that could help you conquer Enriel and
it's disap...” Uriel paused as he looked away from the screen.
There was a book under a stand of papers on his desk. The
binding matched the title the librarian had given.
picked it up and stared at the cover. The cover featured an army
of triumphant demons hoisting their weapons high as they stood
on the steps of a temple above a field strewn with their fallen
adversaries. “Well, I'll be damned.”
shook his head. “Always remember to return your books to the
didn't check this out.” Uriel checked the inside of the cover to
see if the check-out card was still in its pocket, but the
library had long evolved from such primitive filing systems.
“How the hell did this get here?”
“Whatever. What does it say?”
waited as Uriel checked the index and flipped through the book
slowly. It was not a large book, but it was dense with text. The
Hageshoni had taken a lot of worlds over the last millennium.
Some of them multiple times.
pointed to a passage and summarized, “Enriel... once shared
evenly by the four native races. Hmm... the Hageshoni actually
took control by attacking the orcs.” He skimmed further before
explaining, “They marched to the orc's largest city, but before
arriving the orcs mysteriously surrendered and pledged their
service... which gave the Hageshoni an army large enough to
conquer and hold Endrell.”
slow nod, Frank said, “What was the last place they took?”
a page, Uriel said, “Well... here's a record of the battles in
their campaign. Talk about anti-climactic... hundreds of troops
lined up in the Battle of Desolation Plain... bloody mess-”
up nicely though,” Frank observed. “A few flower patches and
it's not so desolate anymore.”
cleared his throat. “But the final battle had a listed army of
seven orcs. They were wiped. Three Hageshoni casualties. That
was someplace called the Shrine of Laug. No more hostilities
listed beyond that.”
goodness.” Frank cracked a smile. “Call up our support troops.
We know our target.”
the evils of the Hageshoni, one of their most positive
contributions to Enriel was the construction of a proper road
connecting Endrell with the mountainous region of Tulas. It was
for selfish reasons, of course: as determined as they were to
strike a deal to purchase weapons and raw materials from the
dwarves, they failed to consider a good method of transportation
once an agreement was in place. The dwarves were more than happy
to take money from outsiders, but were less cooperative
establishing a supply route. The Hageshoni spent the next twelve
years clearing plains, chopping down trees and blowing up
mountains in order to create a nice gravel road to Tulas. For
some reason, the elves had a problem with this, but that's why
the bombing of the Hokoni was called the Fourth Endrell Massacre
and not the first.
made Donovan's journey easier, but not faster. Even after Bryce
secured a wagon a few hours in (he never explained how), the
trip still took two days. It may have gone faster had Donovan
not commanded Blaine to stop and hunt for food every few hours,
but they arrived safely at the Tulas border where the road
the dwarves did not permit an interstate highway in their
territory, Hageshoni traders had left clear directions at the
border leading to the dwarven mines. They also had
“accidentally” cleared over a few trees, while vandalizing
others to create subtle road signs. Donovan ignored all of this.
Blaine and Bryce couldn't stop admiring the handiwork.
the secret road turned up into the mountains. The hike would
have become very difficult if Donovan hadn't given up halfway
and cast a flight spell to levitate to a giant door embedded
into a cliffside. Ancient markings lined the surface, slightly
pronounced but faded in the elements.
back!” Donovan declared, stepping closer to the door. “I will
attempt to translate.”
got close enough to read the markings, however, his Lucidrol
kicked in and their secrets became a clear message: “Shipping
and Receiving Only. Visitors Use Front Door.”
where's the front door?” Bryce asked.
pounded on the door anyway. Blaine said, “I feel like we should
start looking for the other entrance. I doubt they'll let us in
unless we're delivery guys. I'm sure they're set in their ways
you say you're FedEx, Donovan can be UPS and I'll be Estes.”
opened. Nobody was surprised that a dwarf answered, but all
three had trained their eyes straight ahead and had to look
down. Nothing about this particular dwarf was unusual, down to
the dirty beard and generally miffed look on his face. They
probably should have asked why he was carrying an axe, but it
fit the stereotype.
it's about damn time,” he said, shaking the axe. His voice
carried over the muffled sound of iron being struck inside. “We
were beginning to give up on you lot. We've got three months
worth of product sitting here and we'd like someone to pick it
up and pay for it. We all got families to feed, you know.”
stammered. “Uh, actually, we're not-”
about that...” Donovan interrupted. He glared down at the dwarf.
“The powers that be have made other arrangements and we would
like to negotiate an alternative.”
dwarf stared back, an intense look in his gray eyes. He blinked,
then turned into the compound and shouted, “Mike! Get yer arse
“Operations Manager,” the dwarf replied. “Right good tosser.
I'm Tony if you actually need something done 'round here. 'Scuse
me.” Tony walked away, leaving the door open.
shook his head. “Dwarves named Mike and Tony... Renee would be
throwing a fit.”
did not wait for Mike. He stepped inside. He grinned at the rows
of armaments awaiting him. Racks upon racks of swords, axes and
halberds, blades reflecting the light from the many torches
along the wall. The cave was supported well, but open earth
still dominated the walls. Several tunnels led further in; some
went down. Most had tracks, some with elevated walkways adjacent
to them, roped off to prevent accidents. Blaine was jealous that
the dwarves cared more about occupational safety than Donovan.
“Excellent... the arms have already arrived,” Donovan mumbled to
appeared out of one of the walkways without tracks, the only one
that led up. He was taller than Tony, just about approaching
Blaine's height in fact. His beard was cut short at chin level,
not counting the field of stray hairs on his neck, a fashion
faux pas that never quite reached the steps of Tulas.
speak of the bloody devil,” Mike said, his accent distinctly and
inexplicably Liverpudlian. “I was just sitting down to a meeting
to discuss what to do with you lot.”
say they want to review the agreement,” said Tony.
why don't you join us? Tony, grab these men a cup of tea and
let's hash something out.”
didn't move at first, but Blaine and Bryce followed obediently.
Only after the minions led the way did Donovan follow at a safe
distance. The tunnel gave way to scaffolding overlooking the
main factory line. Other than being inside a mountain, it
reminded the minions of the conditions in the Endrell factory.
The mountain had been hollowed out enough to prevent the smoke
from interfering, but it was still dirty as all hell.
pointed at the pile of finished product loaded into a cart.
“Even though we haven't seen you in forever, we're still running
at full capacity. What else can we do with these slobs? Scale
back and let 'em starve?”
continued up the walkway, through another tunnel and a side
door. The three humans followed him in. Donovan failed to duck
and banged his forehead. Inside, twelve dwarves sat around a
stained oak table. Ancient runes were carved into the front
wall, translated as “1) Mining 2) Forging 3) ????? 4) Profit.”
Gesturing to nearby chairs, Mike said, “Have a seat. Meet the
board of Tulas Enterprises: Ed, Ted, Brad, Chad, Al, Hal, Sal,
Larry, Gary, Gerry, Gerald and George.” All twelve looked at the
humans with disdain. All were dressed very well compared to
Tony, some even with suits that would have passed for stylish in
the capital. Brad, Sal and Gary didn't even have beards. Gerald
walked to the front of the room. “It's fortunate our guests
showed up as we're trying to head off a total hash-up in the
making. Despite solid sales growth in refined minerals and an
increase in materials productions, our Q2 sales are projected to
dip a ton year over year. Now I assume you lot read Ted's
assessment report, but let's have Ted give it a go.”
nodded and opened a report of at least 200 pages. “Our
conclusion is that it's due to our top client not purchasing or
picking up its contracted shipment since the last month of Q1.”
Legal looking into that?”
clear breach, but as the client rules the world, they may be
hostile to litigation,” Gerald replied.
wouldn't they want our product?”
answered, “We weighed a number of different metrics and
determined that outside conditions should be very favorable to
sales. Recent unrest down south should be boosting demand, but
the numbers don't back that up.”
“Wait...” Bryce said. He was loud enough to get their attention,
but his voice became hushed once he did. “You guys know they
have a factory in Endrell, right? They're making their own
pause, the entire board erupted. All thirteen looked around,
yelling about how this happened, the implications of lost
production, and lots of talk about earnings reports, stockholder
trust and downsizing. It was chaos.
sat back and grinned. “Well done, Bryce. Now this is a council I
a while for Mike to calm the board down, mostly because he
patiently let them get their grievances off their (thick and
hairy) chests. He called for order only upon the threat of one
of the dwarves flipping a table. He did so by shouting until the
others stopped, then pointing at Donovan. “You! Explain
grinned. “It would seem they have altered the deal... pray they
don't alter it further.”
smacked his forehead. Bryce said, “Donovan, have you even seen
think you can march in here and gloat about this?” Mike shouted.
“We need those sales dollars!”
why we shouldn't lob your head off,” Gary said.
plenty of shiny new axes downstairs thanks to you!” added Al.
“Excellent,” Donovan cooed. “For we are not here on behalf of
your oppressors. We are here to raise an army to fight them.”
hushed them up real good. Mike leaned in towards Gerald and
asked, “Can we do that?”
That's an civic matter,” Gerald replied.
start lobbying for action,” Larry suggested.
we're broke,” Chad said.
pointed at Larry and Chad. “Not necessarily. If we can lobby the
high council to begin a conflict, they will then need a supply
of weapons, which we can then supply to them, thereby funding
our lobbying effort!”
appreciative nods followed. The board seemed very happy with
such innovative thinking.
remote fantasy village, they're sure learning quickly,” Blaine
that's the oldest trick in the Hageshoni playbook,” Bryce
raised a hand. “What if the war effort fails?”
won't! Our steel is better than theirs!” Mike proclaimed.
still buy their steel from us.”
waved him off. “Even if we lose the war, we'll have sold enough
to salvage Q2. We can worry about Q3 in Q3.”
meeting continued like this, mostly concerned with creating a
lobbying budget and figuring out the accounting behind that. It
was all tedious; Bryce nodded off halfway through. Either way,
the end decision was to hammer out a final proposal to vote on
in a week.
the backing of an influential corporation (regardless of their
motivation) only helped Donovan's effort at getting the dwarves
to join the war effort. So naturally, Donovan was displeased and
protested to Mike as soon as the meeting ended.
you stand for this circus? We must strike now!”
took it in stride. “I think you came to the wrong place. I mean,
we'll see if we can't get things started for you, but we're not
in charge of the army. Hell, I don't even know if Tulas has an
army. We don't get out much, if you haven't noticed.”
only glared back. Mike wasn't intimidated by the figure towering
over him. Instead, he scratched his minimal beard. “Have you
actually tried talking to my granddad? The chief? It'll take us
a while to come up with a formal proposal. If you go up and
explain everything, he might come around early.”
don't you?” Blaine asked. “You're his son, and you run a major
business here. You'd have more of an in.”
shrugged. “Like I care about any of this. I'm just giving the
rest of the board an excuse to crunch numbers. Keeps 'em busy.
Makes 'em feel important. Come on, I'll take you to his office.
He's usually not doing anything.”
them out. Blaine mumbled, “Wow, he is a tosser,” then snuck a
wind gust at Bryce's head to wake him up.
the factory, Main Street Tulas was very open and bright for an
underground city. The ceiling was lofted and supported with
steel columns decorated with brass plating. Strands of lit
torches bridged each column, illuminating the road between the
mine and the domed town hall on the other side. The hall was the
largest building, but not by much. The entire street was lined
with stores, each stacked with one or two floors worth of what
could only be described as condominiums.
stores ranged from essentials to luxuries. At least a third sold
some sort of jewelry. The human visitors were amazed at how
frivolous so much of this merchandise was. Several dwarves sat
on benches, smoking cigarettes as they read books or magazines.
Blaine was pretty sure one was looking at whatever passed for
neither commented nor showed any interest in giving them the
tour. He led them through the street as if it wasn't bound to
raise a hundred questions. Donovan had none, and was likely
struggling to remember why they were there. The minions were
looking in every direction but forward. Bryce was impressed when
a woman on the second floor emptied a chamberpot out the window
and into a drainage pipe that led well away from the street.
Partially because of the effort at a waste management system,
partially because he'd never seen a female dwarf before.
was large, but not decorated as elaborately as the one in
Endrell. Inside, it was little more than a simple office
building. Mike led them upstairs to a large door with a brass
plate reading “Dimsgrud the Elder.” He knocked and opened the
door in the same motion.
Gramps, got some outsiders that want us to start some trouble
with the other regions.”
couldn't see the figure on the other side, but heard the gruff
reply: “Who doesn't these days? Let 'em in and I'll deal with
yours,” Mike said to Donovan, stepping out of the doorway and
walking away. Donovan and his minions entered to find a stark
brown room with little more than an oak desk, chairs and a row
of cabinets. The desk had a tray with a few sheets of paper, two
books and a tankard of something alcoholic.
Tony, Dimsgrud fit the stereotype. He hopped from his chair and
walked around the desk to get a better look at his visitors. His
beard had gone gray and his cane had an extension at one end for
adding a blade.
a long look at the three and said, “So you want us to take arms
against the Enriel leadership, huh?” It sounded threatening,
like the wrong answer would lead to a beheading.
answered, “Indeed. They have disrespected you by refusing to
agree to your contract. They must pay. It is the only path to
only laughed. “Domination. You sound like all the rest of these
entitled brats. It sounds like such a good deal, doesn't it?
They get their steel and we get all that Endrell money. 'A new
way of life!' they said! Well, we got it. You saw all that noise
factories have money to burn, so the rest start making junk to
sell to get a piece of it. That's what it's all about now. We've
totally forgotten who we are. First sign of the money drying up
and they want to charge out and get it back.” He scoffed. “Kids
these days. Don't even know how to name themselves anymore. The
hell kinda name is Tony?”
Donovan, Bryce nor Blaine had any idea where to start trying to
persuade Dimsgrud that the kids were onto something with their
naive mentality. But Donovan tried anyway, “Why stay inside and
starve? Go forth and conquer! With us, you shall prove
yourselves the mightier than the elves or felines!”
sighed and gestured for them to sit. He returned to his seat
behind the desk. “It's too late. There's already been a movement
to break out and conquer the surrounding lands. The opinions of
us old timers don't seem to matter anymore. I'm little more than
a figurehead nowadays. If these people want a war, they'll
listen to someone who will give them one.” He looked up past
Donovan and frowned. “Someone like you.”
hadn't heard the door open, but they felt someone's presence
behind them. Before they could turn around, they heard his
greeting. It was unmistakable, and even though he couldn't mask
the surprise in his voice, he did not waver from tradition.