In Albion’s Trial – an MMO game where players plug their brains directly into the server – members of the Rabid Squirrels Guild work together as friends to find the best loot, defeat the toughest monsters, and brave the darkest dungeons.
Ormusen and Kalati hunt the Dire White Rabbit. The pesky, rare monster can run… but what is down the bunny hole? Adventure, absurd encounters, and sexual innuendo abound as the two friends dive head first into trouble!
On Rabbits, Holes, & Shivs is available on this blog for a short time. You can also find the ebook version at your favorite retailer.
ON RABBITS, HOLES, & SHIVS
The jungle was a cool place. Not only was it big and shady, and full of fun monsters Ormusen could one-shot from the shrubbery. The Varanga Jungle had it’s surprises, too.
Giant anacondas. Dire rats. Werespiders. Lizardmen.
Also, the Varanga lacked the extreme humidity of a real jungle. Ormusen was glad to not need to pull his undies out of his crack every few seconds. Sure, he had to carry water and food with him, but the minus five percent dehydration penalty was more of an annoyance than a game breaker.
The place stank like a real jungle though. Tree rot and undergrowth. Decaying animals. Giant mushrooms.
Okay, Ormusen wasn’t sure what a giant mushroom really smelled like, but the bitter skunk odor was a nice touch, if a tad overdone. The game designers had outdone themselves with the Varanga.
He crouched low to the ground, pulling one side of his handlebar mustache, and examined the footprints. A small set of feet, widely spaced apart. His tracking skill told him small mammal, maybe fox. Not much to go on, especially since he hadn’t put as many points in tracking as he should have.
But even so, it was plain as the yellow sun above the canopy that there were no steel-plated bootprints anywhere nearby.
Ormusen just had to find Kalati. He had whispered to her that he was coming to find her, and asked permission to enter her instance. She had granted it, with nothing more than a smiley emoticon.
Kalati enjoyed killing the Varanga monsters alone, for reasons unknown to Ormusen. He got lost regularly here, though his hunter skills came in handy when the entire group depended on him, oddly enough.
The nearby bushes moved, the ferns rustling and waving as if blown from a gust of wind. The jungle didn’t have any wind, as evidenced by the sweat on his brow (again, thankfully not on other places).
Ormusen raised his rifle, clicking a shell into place. He checked his belt, too, feeling the smooth ivory handle of his dagger. There was only one thing he disliked about this region.
The close quarters.
When he had the time, he could find places in the bushes and shrubs, or even better in the treetops. He loved sniping in the Varanga, if only because it was a different feel from being on top of a wall in the middle of a siege.
More primitive feeling. With lots of weird mushroom smells.
But Kalati refused to stand still while hunting here.
“I’ll find you,” she had whispered. “I know your hunting places.”
“Right,” he whispered back. “You’re the one who can’t find her way around town.”
“Look who’s talking, mighty hunter who can’t track?”
The bushes on the other side of him rustled too, now. He spun around, rifle aimed at the greenery. Another rustle from the first spot. Again on the other side.
“Kalati,” said Ormusen out loud. “Stop playing games and let’s go.”
The creature pounced as soon as Ormusen stopped talking. He expected a dire rat. But this was so much bigger. With floppy ears and red rimmed eyes. And fangs.
The infamous—and stupidly rare—Dire White Rabbit.
The creature was a legend in the game. Easy to kill if you knew where to hit. And dropped epic loot every time. And so very fast. At least two-and-a-half attacks per second.
And this one jumped six feet in the air and was on a trajectory for Ormusen’s throat.
He pulled the trigger without aiming. Shot the left foot. Drat! Fired again. Miss. Again. Middle of the chest.
Both ears had to be hit to kill the bloody thing. But Ormusen was out of time.
The DWR latched itself to his throat and started tearing.
Ormusen fell backwards, landing hard on his shoulders. He could feel not only his hit points being drained away, but also dexterity. The creature drained a random stat when it sunk its fangs in and attached. His dumb luck made sure it was his primary stat.
The bushes behind him rustled again, louder this time.
“Shit,” said the person in the bush. Right before a female warrior in blue armor leaped out, two-handed warhammer raised above her red-haired locks.
Ormusen’s life flashed before his eyes. Not really, since he’d just end up back in the Phoenix Dive Tavern. But still, getting killed by your own teammate on a regular basis tended to inspire images of your skull being crushed in. Ormusen hadn’t fully thought of it that way before.
Kalati landed with both feet on either side of his head. Wielding her warhammer like a bloated golf club on steriods, she smashed the DWR on its side.
A little piece of Ormusen’s throat ripped off. The DWR still had its fangs deeply embedded.
“Please don’t do that again,” said Ormusen. Amazing how the vocal cords still worked with a big fucking rabbit chewing through them. When this was over, he was going to suggesting fixing that to the devs.
She swung again, this time knocking the creature loose. It bounced off her weapon and flew through the underbrush like a misshapen bird with wings on its head, taking the rest of Ormusen’s throat with it.
“I’m dying,” he said.
“A flesh wound,” said Kalati. “Get up, putz! We got to find him!”
“But, I can’t move.”
She hooked her fingers around his jerkin’s collar and yanked. Hard. Until he was back on his feet. She handed him two potions—one for healing hit points, the other for restoring stat loss. He drank one after the other in two gulps. Again, funny how that worked with part of his throat missing.
The potion did wonders. His throat got better.
“Feel better?” Kalati asked.
“Good. The DWR went that way.” She pointed with a gauntlet covered hand in the direction of where the monster flew off to.
“If you had used a smaller weapon,” said Ormusen, “we might already be carving up roasted rabbit.”
“Smaller weapon? Those are for wimps.” Kalati bounded off into the foliage, nimble for a chick in heavy armor.
“Can’t we at least use the trails?”
“Think of the loot!”
Ormusen grinned despite himself, but not because he was thinking about the DWR’s promised loot. He slung his rifle on his back and chased off after Kalati.
Kalati kept running, and he had a tough time keeping up. Not that he was winded or exhausted. But he was running at top speed, and she blazed just out of sight, weaving in and out of foliage and around giant trees.
“Why so slow?” She decelerated the pace enough to glance over her shoulder.
“Why so fast?” Ormusen yelled, shaking a fist as he vainly attempted to catch up.
Kalati sprinted ahead. A werespider jumped out of the trees right at her flank. The computer was freaky good at calculating angles and moving targets like that.
The werespider’s eight hairy legs were all a blur of movement, too fast to track each one individually. The monster clicked and hissed while it moved, the mandibles rubbing one another in greedy anticipation of a Kalati-treat.
Ormusen raised his rifle, finger on the trigger, took aim in the scope, and…
Kalati smacked the abonimation with her hammer, sending it flying back from wherever it came.
“Hey slow poke, whatever happened to those Boots of the Marathon I gave you during the Winter Festival?”
“Oh, bloody hell!”
Ormusen crouched and opened his backpack. They were in one of the slots, somewhere. Not in the first pouch. Second?
Bloody hell was right, the clock was ticking and he couldn’t find the right boots or a potion in his inventory to save his life.
Kalati turned, hands akimbo, tapping one booted toe rapidly. “Don’t you keep your special use gear in the fifth pouch?”
Snap! The Boots of the Marathon were right there, first slot in the fifth pouch. She knew his backpack better than he did, but Ormusen wasn’t about to tell her that.
He changed boots fast and they ran off on the DWR’s trail. Trees and bushes flashed in the periphery of his vision, all the lush graphic details of every leaf and fern a passing blur. By himself, he would’ve stopped and sniffed flowers, reveling in each little, carefully planted detail.
Kalati was the polar opposite. Rush! Rush! Rush! She didn’t care about the rocks and the angle of sunlight, or the ripples in the pond when you fished. She cared more about monsters going splat.
“Great Mustachioed Hunter! Hurry up!” Kalati ran backwards, sticking her tongue out and giggling as she ran ever faster.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Ormusen, pumping every last move per second he could get out of his boots, trying his level best to hide his own smile. Wasn’t too hard. Kalati turned away again, her red locks bouncing and swaying as she ran.
At least she understood his need to slow down and enjoy the views. Not many fast-paced players did. Kalati would simply run off, kill a few beasts while he sniped from the treetops, and rejoin him when they’d get to the harder fights. Back at the tavern, she’d jab him in the ribs while calling him a “Great Mustachioed Hunter”.
But this random event was too special to let slip from his lazy fingers. The DWR didn’t appear much more than five percent of the time. Ormusen never farmed for it, just too pointless and boring. But he wanted a chance at getting some nice loot.
Kalati stopped suddenly. Ormusen collided with her, knocking her over. She in turn reached around and grabbed him by the collar, pulling him down with her. He landed on top, their faces close together. Which would’ve been nice, if not for the momentum and the whip-crack speed his head knocked hers with.
“Why’d you stop, smarty?” he asked, lips dangerously close. He’d often thought of kissing her in game, but every time, he thought better. She was a guildie after all. More like a sister and friend.
Besides, kissing right after bumping heads was… weird. In real life they’d both be hurt.
At least the game didn’t give Ormusen headaches, except for the ones he brought with him after work.
“Why you staring at me like that?” Kalati smiled.
“Oh?” Ormusen stammered. He pushed himself off of her and extended his hand to help her up. “Umm. Sorry.”
“No hit points taken,” she said, taking his hand and letting him pull. The shiny heavy armor didn’t weigh as much as it should’ve. Kalati pointed with her gauntlet. “I saw something back that way. These things have holes or lairs or something? Right?”
“Yeah, think so. I’ve never encountered this before.”
“First time for me, too.”
“Had I known, I’d have been more gentle when I bumped you.”
Kalati smacked him across the shoulder. Hard enough to draw one hit point of blood. “Come on goofus. It’s this way somewhere.”
“That way somewhere?” said Ormusen. “Hold up and let the hunter find its tracks.”
“Okay mighty hunter. Just don’t take long. You know how I get bored and distracted.”
“More than you know,” he mumbled.
Ormusen crouched to the ground. They had ruined a number of tracks when they fell. But there were an incomplete set of tiny footprints, leading to some broken twigs.
He made eye contact with Kalati, putting a finger to his lips. Quiet, he mouthed. He pulled his gun off his shoulder and sneaked off in the direction of the tracks.
Ormusen wasn’t a master at sneaking like the rogue Lola. He had no hope anymore of getting that good, he’d already devoted his perks and points to other skills and didn’t want to go to the effort of changing stuff around. Retraining was too much farming for materials and gold.
No twigs snapped under his bootheels, and he was confident no creature in a twenty yard radius could spot him. Not bad.
Crunch. Snap. Crunch.
He winced and turned around. Kalati had her warhammer slung over one shoulder. She waved and smiled.
Ormusen waved back, trying his best to just focus on getting to the DWR’s lair without being spotted. Kalati made sure she’d be found first.
The hole was an unimpressive… hole in the ground. Easy to miss. Amazing Kalati noticed it while travelling at near Mach-three. She probably saw the circle of stones around it. The hole itself was on the side of a hill, a crude opening.
Ormusen couldn’t see more than a few feet into it, except that the near edges were steep.
“You have torches?” he asked.
“Does a warrior girl come unprepared?”
“By prepared, you mean three extra weapons and a shield in case you have to tank?”
Kalati grinned from ear to ear, her cheeks blushing slightly. “You’ve adventured with me before!”
“Yeah, too many times,” Ormusen grumbled. He smirked as he reached into his backpack and dug around for his spare torches. “Here. In case we get separated.”
She took the torches and stuffed them in her bag. “Will you be alright for five minutes if that happens?”
“At least I have torches.”
“You won’t have a massive hammer or a warrior girl.” She winked, crossed her arms in front of her chest, and jumped feet first into the Dire White Rabbit’s lair.
Ormusen dove into the DWR’s lair head first. Down he slid, deeper and deeper until the sunlight faded and disappeared entirely. All around him was a dank, earthy musk that crawled in his nostrils and soaked his tongue though his mouth was clamped shut.
He spun in midair, landing hard on his shoulder, and continued sliding.
He fell so long, Ormusen wondered if the game had disconnected him and he was having real dreams in his sleep. That had only happened once, and he’d dreamed of hunting bogglefishmen with Kalati in the Mernirum Swamp.
Such a strange dream, one he regretted wasn’t shared with Kalati like the game they shared every night.
This dream—falling into nothingness—was boring in comparison.
Just thinking of her brought up an image of her sweet smile, and he forgot about falling…
…Until he crashed into something hard and smooth. The something said oof and smelled of sweat and feminine hygiene spray.
Then she sneezed in his face. Ormusen wiped the drizzle off. Now he had more of his senses, he noticed the hard, smooth something under him was the smooth curves of her mithral armor.
“Those whiskers tickle!” said Kalati.
“Sorry,” said Ormusen. They both wiggled and rolled around and over each other, trying to get up in the dark, arms and legs tangling together.
“Hey, dude,” said Kalati, underneath him again. “I’m glad you decided to join me, but maybe we’ll accomplish more if you get off of me.”
“Oh, sorry. Again.” For the second time in a day, Ormusen was near Kalati’s face, practically touching her lips. He couldn’t even see her, but he could taste her hair in his mouth.
Ormusen tried to get up, to roll off, but a gauntleted hand held his head in place. A quick brush of lips met his, wet and moist. He puckered, anticipating. And her lips were gone, it was over far too soon.
He pushed himself away, and she let him go. Ormusen sat on the balls of his feet, glad he couldn’t see her, wondering if she were watching him.
Of course not, doof. She’s a human and doesn’t have night vision.
“Did you lose your torches?” said Kalati.
“No, why do you ask?”
“Because it’s dark in here.”
“That it is.”
“You know what happened in the beginning?”
“Some dude with a torch made light. Hurry up with it!”
“What makes you think I can find this shit in my backpack? In the dark no less?”
“Leave it to a man. Fine.”
They lit their torches at the same time. The fires licked the damp cave air, casting orange light in a five foot radius. Outside the warmth and light, long and slender shadows danced.
“Put yours away,” said Ormusen. “Don’t want to burn them too quickly.”
“You sure?” said Kalati. “I mean, I can handle my torch. Question is, can you handle yours?”
“I handle my torch more than I care to admit to.” He clamped his teeth shut and thought briefly about smothering his face with the fiery end. Not as if it’d do permanent damage.
“Sure you do,” said Kalati, nodding slowly, face askance so part of her profile was in shadow. She repeated the obvious for good measure. “Sure you do.”
She snuffed out hers with a gauntleted fist, her cherry red fingernails just visible, twisting the end as if she were squeezing water out of a rag.
Ormusen waved the light around, getting a better idea of where they were.
“One way from here,” he pointed to the the single opening in the chamber, besides the hole they fell through from. The cave narrowed drastically. They’d have to crouch. “You got any weapons smaller than a warhammer?”
“Some longswords,” said Kalati.
“Here, take this,” he whipped out his ivory handled dagger and offered it to her.
“So we downgrade from torches to daggers?” Kalati smirked. “You’re not impressing me, buddy.”
“I’ve got a shiv, too. Want to see that?”
“I’ve seen smaller.”
“No problem, big guy.” Kalati patted him on the shoulder, fingers squeezing. She let her hand linger for a moment too long, and let go when the silence was too awkward. “But seriously, do you think my name is Lola? I don’t want your dagger, no pun intended.”
“Kal,” Ormusen said, pointing at the narrow cave with his torch. “How are you going to swing your swords in that narrow crevice?”
“My babies can stab, too,” she winked, straighened her back so her armored breasts poked out. She made a quick, jerky motioned with her wrist as if running him through with a sword.
“Fine,” he said and sheathed his dagger. “Do it your way. But it’s not like you have to beat this thing to a bloody pulp. You just have to hit the ears.”
“Fine,” she said, grabbing the ivory handle. Her hot breath warmed his cheeks. She yanked his dagger back out of the sheath. “I’ll do it your way.”
The tunnel wound for what felt like hours. Down. Ever down. Narrow, confining space—Ormusen had just enough space over Kalati’s shoulder to aim his rifle.
She walked in front, crouching low to keep from bumping her head on the ceiling, torch in one hand and his dagger in the other. Her backside nearly touched the middle of his body. Ormusen fought hard to not “accidentally” grab her. He imagined how good it would feel… the smooth leather covering her ass, the curve that seemed just big enough for his hand…
She turned her head, speaking softly. “So why are you using that big rifle, and making me use this little dagger?”
“Huh? Oh. You’re a fighter, I’m a hunter.”
“So what? I’m a girl. I’m guessing you’re a little boy.”
“You know it,” he mumbled.
“No really, why?”
“Because I can fire over your shoulder. If you used that hammer, you’d smash my skull in after collapsing the ceiling on yourself.”
“Maybe I’ll do that anyways.” Kalati jabbed the dagger over her shoulder, missing his nose by a hair. “Besides, you’re just making up for it.”
“You know, your shiv.”
“That was a joke.”
“But I took it seriously,” she said innocently, the corner of her mouth curling up, making her eyelid wrinkle in a way Ormusen found too cute. “All guys like their shivs. Even if they’re more like… rods or staffs.”
“Yeah, us guys and our one-track minds. Just be careful. When I fire my gun, it’ll hurt your ear.”
“Then don’t aim it at my ear. Goofus.”
“I’ll try not to blow your head off. Deal?”
“Deal, Great Mustachioed Hunter.”
Down they went, further into the literal rabbithole. The torch sputtered and died. Ormusen lit a new one.
A minute later, he ran into Kalati, getting a good feel of her lower back on accident. He braced her by the waist, where her cuirass ended and her belt began.
“Why’d you stop?” he said quietly in her ear, not quite ready yet to move his hand.
“Up ahead,” Kalati said between her teeth. “Something moved.”
Ormusen removed his hand from her waist. Gripping the rifle, he moved forward one step with his friend.
The shadows just outside their torch’s radius moved. A pair of red eyes opened.
He loaded a shell into his rifle and fired over Kalati’s shoulder.
Square in the middle of the eyes. The echo reverbrated in the tunnel, hurting his own ears. Bits of dust and dirt fell on their heads. Kalati moved her head away from the barrel, dagger backwards in her fist, using her wrist to rub at the ear.
The red eyes closed.
Ormusen put a hand on Kalati’s shoulder. “You okay?”
“Yeah, thanks,” she grinned, clearly in pain but the glint in her eye hardly faded. “Good shooting, farmer boy.”
“No problem, little lady,” Ormusen tried his best impression of a cowboy accent. Didn’t work out so well—the voice algorithms in the game didn’t allow for much variation once you picked your character’s basic vocal properties—but still got a laugh from Kalati.
“I think it’s still laying there,” she said. “Check it out?”
They crept forward. Kalati thrust the dagger blade out. Ormusen loaded another shell.
The Dire White Rabbit lay stretched out on its side as if asleep. If by asleep, one meant the rabbit had bad nosebleeds at night. Easily it was five feet in length, with big floppy ears and a cute pink nose. The white fur around the face and ears was stained red.
“He’s kind of cute,” said Kalati.
“Hope you’re not allergic,” said Ormusen.
“I had a bunny when I was a girl, you know? Fred the Famous, I named him.”
“How was he famous?”
“He was a star in my mind,” Kalati knelt beside the DWR.
“I wouldn’t touch that if I were you,” said Ormusen.
Dagger turned backwards again, Kalati petted the DWR’s ear with the tips of her fingers. “He’s real soft. Like a cozy pillow.”
The thing peeped open one eye.
“And his fur is so pretty…”
The DWR sprang back to life. One moment it was just a dead monster, more like a stuffed animal (with blood splatter on it, but still). The next, the thing stretched its mouth wide open, razor sharp fangs the size of extra large shivs poked out.
It seized Kalati’s wrist, crunching through the gauntlet. She dropped the dagger. The mithral popped open like a tin can, blood spurting from Kalati as she screamed.
“Holy shit!” The cavern echoed with her cries. “Orm! He’s on me!”
Ormusen raised his rifle to hip level, aiming to the right so as not to accidentally shoot Kalati—where was a healer when he needed one?—and fired.
The bullet tore off a piece of the DWR’s puffy cotton tail. Bits of fluff and gore showered the air.
The monster didn’t stop or let go. Eyes squinted from the strain of holding on, it crunched down on Kalati’s wrist even harder.
“Eat it, bunny!” She pressed the torch into the rabbit’s face, scorching his white fur black, baking the ears to a crisp.
The DWR raised a paw, claws extended, and scratched at Kalati’s arm. She could do nothing to parry. The leather and mithral chains covering her bicep were in shreds.
Ormusen flipped his rifle upside down and slammed the butt into the DWR’s spine. Again. And again.
How many hit points did this thing have?
Finally, the spine fractured. The monster’s head snapped back horrifically, twisted at an unrealistic angle. The fangs broke off, still in Kalati’s wrist, the DWR’s head lolled to the side. Unconscious, for the moment.
She held her arm close, face pinched against the horrible loss of blood she had sustained. Kalati squinted as if holding back tears.
Ormusen placed his hand on her shoulder. He had seen her take a lot of punishment in their many adventures together. Rarely did she sink to her knees and cry.
“You okay?” he asked softly.
“No,” she said. “I lost my strength.”
“It’ll be okay. You got another potion, right?”
“No,” Kalati rolled her eyes up at him. She shook her head, rolling her shoulders. “I’m screwed for this quest.”
Ormusen squeezed her shoulder. She shrugged him off.
He planted the butt of his rifle at the base of the DWR’s head. He couldn’t help but press it in a little, breaking a few more fragile vertebrae.
“You do the honors,” Ormusen said.
Kalati threw the torch to the side, raising her weapon hand slow and easy. She grapsed the DWR’s floppy ears in one fist.
“You’re nothing compared to Fred,” she sobbed. Kalati gritted her teeth, and sliced off the Dire White Rabbit’s ears with Ormusen’s dagger.
The body disintegrated bit by bit. First the fur fell away, then the skin sloughed off. The bones collapsed on themselves and turned to dust. From the dust pile a red portal appeared.
“I guess the treasure is in there,” said Kalati. “Go on without me.”
“Hey! I have no idea what’s in there,” said Ormusen. “Could be just a chest. Could be the grandpa bunny. Either way, I need you.”
“What am I going to do? I’m as good as a mage bitch-slapping the monsters to death.”
“But you’re the girl with the warhammer.”
Kalati looked down at her destroyed wrist, the broken fangs still sticking out of her skin. “I mean it, Orm. My strength is gone. I don’t know if I can raise the hammer above my head, much less do anything useful with it.”
Ormusen crouched next to Kalati. He grasped both her shoulders and turned her to face him. “I’ve got a first aid kit. We’ll clean that mess up. You can have one of my healing potions. Then we’ll go through the portal together.”
“But Kal. We’re guildmates. Friends?”
“Friends,” she smiled at him, pulling a red lock behind her ear.
Ormusen yanked the fangs out one by one, and stitched his friend together again.
The red portal hissed as he worked.
Ormusen patched up Kalati best he could, but her armor was unfixable without a forge or the right tools. Worse, she was fighting without a strength modifier.
But perhaps killing the DWR was the hard part. Maybe whatever was beyond the glowing red portal was cakewalk.
Or maybe not, Ormusen couldn’t help repeating in his head.
“I’ll go first,” he said while readying his machete on one hip. He didn’t enjoy being “the fighter”, but if he had to…
“Haven’t you ever heard of ladies first?” said Kalati. Her longswords were sheathed on both sides of her hips. The warhammer was nowhere in sight, presumably stuffed into her backpack.
“You’re hurt bad.”
“A temporary setback. Call it a flesh wound if you must.”
“Your armor is shredded.”
Kalati hooked her fingers around his jerkin’s collar and pulled him close. Oh so close to those lips.
“Look,” she said. “You wanted me to follow you. So I am. But what am I supposed to do? Get out my pompoms and sing praises to your manhood?”
“Well… You have pompoms?”
“I’m going first, because I’m the warrior of this duo.” Kalati jabbed her forefinger in his chest. The effect wasn’t real impressive, without her strength modifier.
“After you,” Ormusen held out one hand, indicating her to jump through the portal. She faced it, putting one hand through. A gleeful, quirky, slightly insane little smile spread across her face.
“Get your shiv ready, boy,” she said over one shoulder. “You’ll need it.”
Kalati bounced off one foot and leaped into the portal. Ormusen unslung his rifle and followed.
The world erupted in a psychedelic flash and a hiss, and Ormusen landed on his feet, as if falling two inches.
“Oof.” He loaded the rifle. “You’d think they’d fix the portal jumping. Make it less jumpy.”
They were in a tunnel, the rock walls rough and the ground uneven. Water dripped from overhead somewhere. Lanterns and torches were scattered periodically on the floor, lighting the way forward.
“Quit whining,” Kalati said. “Come on.”
She drew her swords and ran off down the tunnel. Ormusen sighed and ran to keep up. Kalati got like this near the end of dungeons and quests. Eager to get to the boss, throwing high-minded concepts like strategy and diplomacy to the winds. If she couldn’t bash the endgame minions into submission, the quest wasn’t worth it.
Suddenly, from light-speed to zero miles per hour, she stopped running.
Ormusen bowled into her. He had seen her stop soon enough to slow down, but still had too much downhill momentum. Good excuse as any to grip her waist and “steady” her.
“Do you see this?” she said, chin up and eyes roving the massive chamber they had stumbled upon. “Where the hell are we?”
“Wowza,” said Ormusen, peeling his eyes off Kalati’s hair and really seeing the dungeon around them.
To say the cavern opened up was an understatement. A long, rough hewn staircase wound downwards, large firepits lining both sides. Evergreens and ferns filled the massive chamber. Bright orange and purple flowers blossomed along the paths. Light streamed from holes and crevices in the high vaulted ceiling.
Far away—across acres of underground forest and criss-crossing paths—was a throne on a dais. A big man sat on the throne. Too difficult to see from the distance, but Ormusen could tell the guy had his foot resting on a big box with a rounded top.
“Treasure chest,” said Kalati, giving words to his thoughts.
“Guess so,” said Ormusen. “Put your swords away, maybe he’s a quest giver.”
“Yeah? Maybe I have nothing on under this armor.”
She smirked as she sheathed both swords. He might have missed her wink, had her head been turned away just so.
“I thought you wanted to stay behind,” said Ormusen. “What happened to that strength drain? And your shredded armor?”
“Got your attention,” she backhand smacked him. “Yes, I still think I’m screwed, but I’m glad you convinced me otherwise.”
“Me too,” he said.
“I almost missed this,” she waved her arms high, her eyes roaming the cavern. “This is beautiful.”
Ormusen shrugged and took her by the hand. She didn’t pull away.
“We should talk to big and ugly,” he said. He coughed. “Let me do the talking.”
“You afraid of me embarrassing you?”
They both laughed as they descended. At the base of the stairs, he picked an orange flower and sniffed it. Kalati kept walking, pulling him along by the hand.
Ormusen dug in his heels and pulled her back. He stuck the flower behind her ear.
“That better not be poison, mister,” she said.
“There was only one way to find out,” he replied.
“I can think of a second way. I’d pay you a gold to eat the flowers here.”
“Keep the gold, Kal,” he picked a purple one and wrapped the stem around her other ear.
Kalati smiled. Where she had gone pale from her injuries, her skin turned pink now.
I wish you could see how beautiful you are, Ormusen thought of saying, but kept it to himself, unsure of how that would go over. Not like that’d be a compliment of the woman behind the character. He had no idea what she like in real life, what she looked like, if she was even single.
Ormusen wasn’t entirely sure what Kalati’s real name was. Riseera mentioned it being Lindsay once, but he had never asked Kal directly.
Amazing how I’ve gotten to know her, without ever knowing her at all.
“What’s the matter, Great Mustachioed Hunter?” Her face relaxed, brows loose and cheeks full from laughter.
“Nothing,” said Ormusen. “Just wondering why big and ugly hasn’t reached for his axe yet.”
The man on the throne still sat in the same position. Chin resting on fist, foot propped on the treasure chest. Closer up, Ormusen got a better view of him.
And he wasn’t pretty. He was big, for sure. And so was his belly, which hung over his wide belt buckle. The man’s pectoral muscles were limp, as were his biceps and thighs. His scraggly, greasy red mane hung over his flabby shoulders.
Strapping end boss he was not.
“He hasn’t picked up his axe,” said Kalati, “because he’s waiting for you to kill me with your mad diplomacy skills.”
Ormusen pulled at his mustache, smiling. “Let’s get it over with, shall we?”
They walked hand in hand to the dais.
“Halt, peasants” said the beefy man. “You shall not pass by the order of the highland barbarian horde…”
“We just want the damned treasure,” blurted Kalati.
Ormusen refrained from bursting into laughter. Instead, he plastered a serious look on his face and scowled in her direction.
The big guy didn’t take her abruptness quite so easily. He stood, axe suddenly in hand, and bellowed. “Do you know whom you address, peasant?”
Kalati nudged Ormusen in the side before he could say anything.
“A dude with a bad attitude,” she said. “And a worse haircut.”
“I am Grignr,” said the man on the dais. “Slayer of the Emerald Ooze! Killer of many kings! Lover of more wenches than…”
“Whatever,” said Kalati. “I’m already bored.”
Ormusen readied the rifle before Kalati drew her first sword. Grignr had them both beat.
He sucked in a breath, expanding his extensive gut even further, face turning bright red from the exersion. One moment, Ormusen and Kalati were on the dais. The next, Grignr bellowed at them, a mighty gust of hot air blowing them ten feet back.
Ormusen landed wrong on his neck. The sprain only tingled a little, the pain sensations easing as soon as they hit. A few hit points, nothing serious.
Kalati was slower to get up, but she still had both swords in her hands.
“You will get no treasure!” shouted Grignr. Amazing he had any air left in his lungs.
Ormusen raised his rifle, adjusted the sight quick, and fired.
Direct hit on Grignr’s throat. The flabby skin enveloped the bullet. The barbarian raised his axe above his head, revealing hairy armpits and a stench matching the worst stink-bomb from a goblin alchemist.
Grignr shouted, flexing his mighty arms. A red aura surrounding him as he went into a rage.
“Good job,” said Kalati, wicked grin spreading across her mouth. She crossed her twin swords in front of her, ready to pounce. “You really pissed him off, did you?”
Grignr directed his fury at Kalati. He raised the axe over his head and leaped at her.
Kalati dodged, parrying the attack and guiding the axe away from her body.
“Ha,” she said. “Your bunny minion didn’t drain my dexterity!”
The flabby barbarian howled and swung the massive axe with one hand. Kalati knelt at the last moment. Whoosh! Right over the top of her head. The axe cut the end of her hair before her locks settled back around her shoulders.
Ormusen was amused the flowers hadn’t fallen out yet. He loaded his rifle, clicking the shell in place with a clean motion. Shooting from the hip, he fired one after another.
Click. Bang! Click. Bang!
Kalati dodged and weaved and parryed blows. She was a swift blue shadow. There one moment, gone the next. Grignr shifted his focus one way, Kalati moved the other.
Ormusen gave her credit for putting points into dexterity. Not all fighters did that. Most relied on their armor bonuses to soak up damage.
She swung both swords—one scratching Grignr’s thigh, the other poking his armored shoulder—and side-stepped another axe fall.
Ormusen had a hard time adjusting his shots. He’d aim with the sights, and get the shot off too slow to do any good. He’d shot from the hip, but risking an inaccurate shot going astray. Too many times, he held back his attack, for fear of accidentally shooting Kalati.
This fight was going nowhere fast.
Eventually the dumb barbarian would wear her down. She’d get bored, or sloppy, and he’d chop her in half.
Ormusen dropped the rifle and drew his machete.
“Hey ugly!” he yelled. “Stop picking on girls!”
Both Grignr and Kalati stopped fighting and turned.
“I mean, uh, pick on me for a little while!”
Ormusen charged, weapon at the ready, fully expecting a massive head injury at least. Instead he got a face full of Grignr’s elbow. In a real life brawl, Ormusen might have lost his front teeth. In game, he got knocked backwards on his butt. He sat up dazed.
Grignr made a side-sweep whirlwind manuever, twirling in place like a fat ballerina with an axe. Kalati stepped backwards, out of the way, her cuirass getting a deep gouge cut from it.
Ormusen evaded the attack by laying back. The axe whooshed by above his head. Next he knew, Gringr kicked the machete out of his hand, and stamped a massive foot on Ormusen’s chest.
The weight was unbearable. His hit points trickled away one by one. Ormusen wrestled with Grignr’s foot, but he couldn’t move the unmovable object. Nor could he breathe.
Grignr stood above him, holding the axe up and to the side as if he were about to tee off on the golf course. Ormusen waited for the inevitable axe drop.
A blue blur with two swords slammed into Grignr. Kalati could not push him off with her limited strength, but she knocked him off balance at the right moment.
The big man stumbled, the heavy axe pulling him away and off Ormusen’s chest.
He gulped in air and tumbled away. Back on his feet, he resorted to his secret weapon. Or not so secret, as the case may be.
Grignr spun. Mouth wide open, yelling bloody murder, the barbarian charged Ormusen.
The hunter reached behind his back. In a flash, a tiny steel blade flew from his hand.
And sunk in Grignr’s eye.
“My eye!” he yelled, pressing his hand to the wound, the shiv’s little handle poking out between his massive fingers. Blood oozed down his face.
A set of longsword blades pierced through Grignr’s torso. Up between his heart and throat, the other coming out of his solar plexus. Kalati placed her foot on his backside and yanked her swords back out.
Grignr fell to his knees.
“I shall return,” he said, dropping his mighty axe before falling face first into the dirt. “Sluts.”
And he died.
“I told you I had a shiv,” said Ormusen. He yanked the little weapon out of Grignr’s eye.
“Oh,” said Kalati. “I thought you were refering to something else.”
“I’m sure you did,” he said, crouching on his heels. He rummaged through the dead guy’s loot. “He’s got a few coin pouches. Want those?”
“Nope,” said Kalati, testing the axe with a few swings. “I got a shiny new weapon. Unless you want it?”
“Sure? It has some nice stats on it.”
“You earned it, Kal.”
Ormusen smiled up at her. She smiled back, the flowers still tucked solidly behind her ears.
“Thank you,” she said.
He looted Grignr and tossed her a coin pouch. “For armor repairs,” he said.
“Now for the good part,” Kalati glanced at the treasure chest by the throne.
They bounded up the dais steps, bumping shoulders and elbows as they fought to get there first. Ormusen won.
“Hmm.” He fumbled with the lid, making it rattle in place.
“What?” said Kalati.
“Stop teasing me,” she said while pushing him out of the way. She popped the lid.
Ormusen and Kalati stared into the chest.
“Well, that’s interesting,” she said.
“I’ve never seen…”
“You’re ruining the moment,” said Kalati.
Each item inside—weapons, armor, and jewelry—sparkled with raw power.
Ormusen moved his mouth a few times, struggling to think of something to say that wouldn’t ruin the moment.
He didn’t need to.
Kalati turned around, cupped his face in both gauntlets, and kissed him.
Copyright 2015 by: D. Anthony Brown
Published by: Hermit Muse Publishing
Cover image by: Subbotina Anna/BigStock Photo
Cover design by: Hermit Muse Publishing
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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