Uninvited Guest by Travis Anderson

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Shadows can hide many things. A drunkard goes unnoticed for days in a lightless alley. Trinkets and baubles are lost for years in the cracks and crevices never grazed by eye or sunlight. Night shields lovers and lunatics alike in its gossamer veil; prying curios left to wonder what exactly may be taking place a mere foot away. Are those the sighs of passion or moans of the nearly dead? Most will never know, not until the sun’s wandering glare passes overhead. Toskr always found darkened corners to be his favorite ink wells, so much easier to hear what others had to say. These two guards for instance…

“You’re tellin’ me a rat-pincher was found creepin’ through our Lord’s halls and instead of choppin’ his ‘ead off, we threw ‘im in one’a the cages?” The assassin never had appreciated that moniker very much, but it was hard to argue against. The tunnels had little else in the way of food; what else were he and his fellows to eat? Once his work was done tonight, though, they would feast on cave boar and sweet, succulent mushrooms. Listening in the dark, Toskr ruminated on new titles he could place upon these dwarves when everything had changed.

“It was Dolgrim’s orders,” said the fire-bearded guard checking over his cards. “What else was I supposed to do?” His flaxen haired companion shook his head and tossed a trio of glinting silver coins into the middle of the round table. “Besides, the little bugger said if he wasn’t given an audience with the Lord, he’d shatter his jewels and toss his head down the stronghold steps, crown and all.”

The blonde dwarf’s shocked expression drew a toothy grin from the rogue, a silent chuckle pulsing in his throat. He hadn’t noticed his free hand rimming the pommel of his deepcast blade, but at the mention of the soon to be beheaded king, Toskr felt invigorated at its touch. His other hand twirled Skelly between his calloused fingers – a gnarled lockpick of his own design – and he waited to hear the shocked man’s response. Gold clinked onto the table and cards were flipped.

“You ‘ave got ta be feckin’ jokin’ me?”

The ginger dwarf shrugged, wrapped greedy fingers around the smile stack, and pulled it towards himself. “What can I say, Norz. You’re shit at cards.”

Norz bolted up from his chair and slammed a fist down on the table, chair screeching across the ground like a newborn banshee. Toskr nearly bit through a bat-skin glove to keep from laughing at the stout guard’s loss of composure. Mighty and disciplined warriors those dwarves. He’d take a legion of gas-chuckers and spider-riders any day over these…rock munchers? Mud children? Nah, too simple.

“This ain’t about the damnable pot, Lorsk. The little pus-shit threatened to kill the King. Our King! Why in the bloody Hellmouth didn’t Dol chop the goblin’s head off and pitch it down an ore shaft?”

Toskr had wondered that himself. He knew it was a gamble sneaking into the stronghold, one goblin against an army of Ironguard, Mugbreakers, and enough rowdy soldiers to take down a cave mongrel faster than a freshly opened keg. Getting inside was the easy part. Small and slight, goblin’s had multiple advantages over their stout and stocky enemies. Their ability to hide nearly anywhere second only to their uncanny predilection for making themselves scarce. It was a trait they exploited often enough during tunnel skirmishes, but few took the time to master the skill as Toskr had. They often preferred overwhelming their foes with fire, hatchets, and incoherent screams. To each there own, he supposed.

After breaching the king’s home it was a simple matter of getting caught. The difficult part was doing so while keeping his skull un-splattered against the marble floor. They had found him in the kitchens not too long past his unseen entrance, hands overflowing with cheese-stuffed duck and jelly tarts. Captain Dolgirm, unsurprisingly unhappy, wore an expression of utter confusion that quickly cracked and gave way to murderous rage. Before he reached for his silver rune axe, Toskr made mention of decapitating his beloved king if he was refused to speak with him. If not for the ludicrous nature of his introduction, he was certain the dwarf captain would have severed his neck right then and there. As it stood, he finished a pleasantly bitter tankard of ale right before being escorted to a spacious cell in the prisons below. For a week he sat, whistling and humming and waiting. Now, he watched two dwarves ignore precious gold atop a table littered with coins, relaxing until he began his work.

Lorsk cocked an eyebrow, head tilted. “First off, sit your arse back down and deal out a new hand.” Norz glared at his companion, but sat, reluctantly. Lorsk continued over the sound of shuffling cards. “Second, calm your bloody self. If you get any more worked up I’m going to have to assume you’re one of the King’s new pebble-lickers.”

Norz made to rise again. “Don’t make me tell ya twice, or do you want to be pullin’ cage cleanin’ duty for the next month?” Toskr watched the two bulky men stare each other down, light and dark holding in a stalemate above glittering silver and gold. He wondered if he’d see some bloodshed before starting his work. It would save him some trouble, certainly. Sadly, Nors yielded and dealt out the cards.

The burly guard palmed his new hand and snorted. “Good. Now what in the Devil’s Forge are you getting’ all riled up about? It’s just one slippery gobber looking for some grub.”

“Then why in the name of the Sacred Smiths wasn’t it skewered on the spot?” Norz spat.

Rolling his eyes, Lorsk threw down two tatter edged cards and palmed two more. “I already told ya, he threatened to cut off the king’s head if he didn’t get to speak to him. Captain thought it’d give the man a good laugh to hear what the cave-rat had to say before smashin’ its head in himself.” He chucked three gold pieces into the centre of the table. “Check.”

Nors shook his head, braided locks rustling in consternation as he threw gold in to match his companion. “I’m tellin’ you, that little bastard’s trouble. Never heard of a gobber sneakin’ into the king’s feckin’ stronghold before.” He laid his cards down face-up. “Knights carrying maidens.”

A snake of a smile slithered across Lorsk’s face as he turned his cards over, Norz’s curse echoing in the guard room. “Those poor knights never stood a chance against a dragon flight, my friend.” He swept his winnings over to his side of the table, chuckling. “If it’s any consolation, old Ladbin arrived this morning, so you can spend less time worrying about that nearly dead filth and more time learning to stop being shit at cards.”

At the mention of the king, Toskr placed Skelly back into his ragged trousers and grabbed a handful of pocket magics. The powders were hard to come by, but corpses raised alarms where slumbering guards raised ire. He stepped out of the shadows, the two dwarves in a clattering tangle around the card table, and cleared his throat. His other hand rested on the pommel of his dagger, still sheathed.

“Evenin’ gents,” he said, the high-pitched greeting slicing even his pointed ears. “I’d ask fer directions to the king, but I think I already know where to find ‘im. Thanks for the chuckles, though.”

Confusion quickly turned to fury on the dwarves’ faces, both reaching for the sharpened axes at their belts. Toskr hurled purple mist at the guardsmen and remained where he stood, a wide, toothless smile stretching across his face. Lorsk fell where he stood, sleep unavoidable as the powder washed over him, but Norz moved two lethargic steps toward his prey before the mixture did its work, forcing him into the land of dreams. Only when they fell to the floor, eyelids shuttered, did Toskr draw his blade.

He showed his teeth than, yellow and sharp as the point of his dagger. “Fancy a shave, boys?”

Toskr left the box of a room a few moments later to wander the corridors in search of his target, coin purse fatter from the taking. He kept his right hand gripped firmly on the knife, but stroked the coarse hair of the two newly collected beards with his left. They sat in his belt now, the tips collecting dust and grime from the stronghold floor. He hoped they would bring inspiration for a new slur, something he could triumphantly whisper into the king’s ear before slitting the man’s throat. All he could think of were the same words that played in his mind every time he dealt with these bastard children of the earth.

Stupid dwarves, he thought, grinning. Stupid, stupid dwarves.


I wrote this for a monthly writing contest in the Fantasy-Faction forums back in March 2015.

 

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