If someone had told me once, when I was young, that I'd be scouring rows upon rows of jail cells filled with female dwarves in an underground tunnel, I would have asked them what on Asetra they were on, and if I could have some. Because I was certainly not expecting this to happen in any way, shape or form. I was expecting us to find Regis slumped over in her cell, awaiting the executioner's axe, whereupon we would descend like angels and free her from her prison, and in return, she would gratefully lead us through the Duke's mansion and to the Sea-Maiden.
Instead, we were gonna have to play twenty questions to figure out which dwarf was our dwarf, thank the gods that they were all female, if they were male, it'd be like trying to trim a forest. Dwarves had such...long, thick beards that covered the front half of their body, and if they didn't have breads, their chest hair was like the stuff of gods...or so I've read. I've uh, never actually seen a dwarf with chest hair, but I hear they're handsome! Anyway, so there Archer and I stood, wondering just how the heck we were going to find the real Regis in this mess.
"Okay," I began, "you can all see that I'm a demon, right?" There was a murmur of understanding throughout the crowd, and I took it as incentive to continue, "Well, at least you're all honest, but here's the thing though-"
"Are you here to free us?" One of them asked, and I'm not really sure which one spoke out.
"One of you." I replied automatically, but as soon as those words left my mouth, I immediately regretted it, all of these dwarves wanted out, and I basically told them there's only one golden ticket. Wonderful job Maleah, really, you are a brilliant strategist. Well, there had to be a way to salvage this, somehow, "But before that, can you tell me why you're all in here?"
As soon as I said that, there was an uproar of voices and, for a brief moment, I was worried that the guards would find out we were here, but through dumb luck, Archer had the foresight to head back over and close the trap door, meaning that the noise was damped, if only slightly. Still, if they kept this up, we would be discovered very quickly, so I quickly made a few shushing motions to make them quiet down. Thankfully enough though, they seemed to understand what was going on and what I wanted, because the mass of female dwarves began to simmer down after a few seconds.
"Okay, let's try that again." I pointed at some random dwarf near the front, "Why are you here?"
"I was arrested because I was "trespassing on holy ground." She replied, "Don't know how, I was sleeping in my home and tending to my young for most of the week."
I nodded, then pointed to another, "And you?"
"Some church men said that I was an affront against their lords, so they threw me in here."
"What about your husbands, children?" I asked.
"Mines." A few of them said at the same time.
"They got shipped away?" I asked, a feeling of surprise welling up inside me, but at the same time, an idea began to form in my head. Here we are, with a bunch of angry, misplaced dwarves, why, I would be willing to bet they'd be mighty grateful if somebody freed them and gave them a new place to live. So grateful in fact, their husbands might be willing to work in the mines of their mountains… Well, plans for later then.
Anyway, the dwarf I was talking to nodded in response, "Yes."
That was...confusing to me. This was clearly a mass arrest, but at the same time, there weren't enough people here to account for the majority of dwarves here. So, either Belva had a low dwarf population, or there were others holed up somewhere else, but more to the point, why dwarves? I don't much about human culture, aside from how to make them give into temptation and how to make them screw up, but aside from that? Not really. I always figured that Dwarves and Humans got along fine, since Elves and Dwarves hated each other, while humans were the plucky middle man who could get shit done, according to the books I read, at least. Were they wrong? That's a month of my life I want back then!
It was, um, kinda a long book, and I may have kept falling asleep every twenty pages or so.
"Huh." I rubbed my chin, "Well, regardless, I'm not here to free you…" I let them take it in, their faces morphing into disappointment and despair, then I added, "Yet."
"What?" One of them asked.
"My name is Maleah Sakall." I said proudly, "I am the demon Overlord of Andros, and I offer you this choice, be my subjects," I gave an appropriately dramatic and theatrical wave of my hand, "join my domain and I will offer you clemency, freedom, and the chance to see your husbands. Your loved ones can join you, you'll be free to pursue whatever path you want, or continue the path you're on." Their eyes widen in collective surprise, "However, if you do, there's something I want in return. Any able-bodied males would work in my mountains when it is safe to do so, however, before you proclaim this as simply trading one slaver for another, I will have you know that this will come with pay, this is not slavery, but a job offer."
Archer gave me a sideways glance, and I shrugged nonchalantly.
"Or, stay in these cold cells." I said, "It's your choice."
There was a...tense silence as the female dwarves took in what I said, however, one voice spoke out. It was deeper than the others, more confident, "It's not much of a choice now, ain't it?"
"Would you expect anything less from a demon?" I rebuffed, narrowing my eyes in an attempt to find the one who had spoken. It was hard though, there were so many dwarves that any one of them could be the speaker. But, some of them were starting to turn, looking for the speaker as well.
"Ha!" The mysterious dwarf laughed, "I guess not. So, what would you want out of this Regis?"
"We're going to break into the Duke's mansion, steal the Sea Princess, and generally make a mockery of his party." I replied, "To that end, I need the dwarf who's been inside so the job will go that much quicker."
At this point, the crowds had located the speaker, and I followed their heads to the appropriate cell. There, in the back, leaning against the wall in a half slouch, twirling a makeshift shiv in-between her fingers, "Oh, yes, the Sea-Princess." The Dwarf lady said, and despite the dim light, I was able to make out a few features of this defiant dwarven discovery. Female dwarves, well, for the most part, plump and muscled, or muscled and plump. This was usually a consequence of mining, duh, and eating whatever they want. I don't know much about dwarven culture, beyond just "miners," but I was fairly certain that they could eat rocks if they wanted, so it didn't really come as a surprise to find that most of the women in here were of similar heights and builds.
But the one in the back? Well, she didn't really "fit the bill," so to speak. For starters, she didn't have a lot of muscle, or fat, for that matter, but she was rather strong looking despite this. I guess it was easier to say that she had a lot of lean muscle rather than the usual big muscles that dwarves tended to pack, her hairstyle was pretty different as well. As you might've guessed at this point, dwarves had a lot of hair, head hair, facial hair, and chest hair, yet were strangely paradoxical in keeping that hair out of their face. I guess it made sense, as they needed to work on mines or blacksmiths, but the dwarven rogue in front of me had little hair, in fact, I say all she had was a buzzcut and nothing more. I mean, it made sense, in a way. Stuffing all my hair in a helmet was tough as is, and Rogues probably wore some kind of head garment to conceal their identities, like a hood, for instance.
That would also explain her choice of attire. Most of the dwarves here were covered in heavy looking plain clothes, shawls, and all sorts of things that would inform an onlooker as to their profession. The dwarf in the back however, wore simple garments that were light, easy to move around in, and showed a fair amount of cleavage. A dwarf after my own heart, clearly.
"So, I take it you're Regis?" I asked.
"Maybe." She replied, tilting her head back and forth, as if considering what I was saying, "What if I were to say yes?"
"Well, you already heard the first pitch." I answered, "But I get the sense that you want something else. So, let me ask you this instead: What do you want?" It was blunt, but I got the feeling that doing so would endear me to my potential..."employee"
"Well, first off, all the gold in the world." She said, listing off what she wanted off her fingers, "Then, I want my own kingdom, and-"
"I'll let you ransack the Duke's house." I said flatly, narrowing my eyes in annoyance.
She stopped, looking over at me in surprise, before she did, I glanced over to Archer, "Hey, this her?"
"She matches the rumors." Archer confirmed with a nod of his head.
"...You could've told me what she looked like beforehand, you know." I pointed out, narrowing my eyes at the half elf.
"They were only rumors." Archer replied, "No way to know for sure, even now."
I bit my tongue, and conceded the point. Turning my attention back to the female dwarf, I placed a hand on my hips, "So, what's it going to be?"
The dwarf looked at me for a few seconds, then nodded once, "Aye, I'm your Regis." Nope, not making a joke off of that, it's been too long of a day for me to care. Anyway, I motioned for her to approach the cell doors. As she did, Archer walked over to the fallen body off the warden/random guard guy and lifted a ring of keys off his person, meanwhile, I approached the cell doors and smiled slightly at Regis, who, in turn, fixed me with a raised eyebrow. If I had to guess what was going on in her mind right now, it would probably be something like "How can I use this person for my own ends?" Truth be told, Regis wasn't the first rouge I would have to deal with, probably won't be the last either.
So, it really should come as no surprise when I reached through the bars and grabbed her by the back of her neck, hard. Pulling her close, I leaned down as I turned on my best glare, "Let me make this absolutely clear to you." I said firmly, my voice coming out like fresh steel out of the furnace, "If you try to backstab me in any way, shape or form, you will know a greater hell than this."
Perks of being a demon, you get the advantage when it comes to intimidation. It must have something to do with the voice. But, to her credit, Regis, despite being somewhat startled by my sudden threat and change of tone, kept her composure and nodded once.
"A-aye." She said.
"Glad we agree." I replied, smiling all the while. Stepping away, I glanced at Archer, who quickly tossed me the keys. Catching them in my hand, I approached the cell block and started to...well, unlock the door.
"What about us?" One of the female dwarves asked.
I thought for a moment, pausing in my action as I did, "I'll drop the keys in the cell, give us five minutes to cause a distraction somewhere else, then, make for the town of Andros, it's south of here, about a few days walk from here, less so if you have a horse."
"Is that wise?" Archer asked.
I shrugged, "For better or worse, sides, I don't like to go back on deals."
Once I had finished with the lock, I swung open the door, allowing our new thief to hustle on out the door, "Thank ya kindly." She said, walking towards me as she did.
"Just don't go back on our deal, and you're home free." I replied.
She gave a sideways glance towards Archer, who regarded the half elf warily, "That...won't be necessary." She said, "Not while ya got him with ya."
I spared a glance back at Archer, who shrugged in return. Okay, hold the hell up, remind me again, who was Archer? He was Serina's travelling companion, right? A good shot with a bow, and probably a city dweller at that.
And...that was about it, that was all I knew about the enigmatic archer next to me, I mean, it was understandable since I only knew him for a couple of weeks, but...was there something about this guy I should know? Well, questions for later then, and by later, I mean two seconds after we're safe, I don't care if Archer had some bad or awful past, what I need to know if his present will affect me in any way, shape or form.
"Right." I nodded slowly, making sure to keep my gaze on Archer for the time being.
"Anywho," Regis spoke up, "What'cha planning for the Duke's party?"
I smiled, and shrugged, "Well, I was planning on winging it for the most part."
"...Really?" Regis asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I don't wanna ruin the surprise." I said, pouting.
Regis fixed a gaze on me, then shifted her eyes to something behind me, "What about him?"
"What about who...oh." Following her gaze, I saw that the guard we had knocked out was slowly coming around. Flopping out of his chair onto the ground with a painful sounding thud, the guard raised a hand to his head as he tried to right himself, "Stinking...what hit me?" He asked himself, blinking as he did. Slowly but surely, his vision returned to his eyes, so, when he saw a demon and a half elf in leather armor, a hall of dwarves, and a recently freed prisoner all looking at him, I imagine his first thought was either "Oh shit" or "What was I drinking?"
I'll admit, I don't really know, because the first thing I did when was finally coming around was run up and kick him in the face.
I must confess with some trepidation, that while I was a monster in many ways, there was one thing I wasn't very good at. I mean, if you were to ask me to charm the pants off a guy, find a loophole in a deal, or figure out a good defense strategy, then I was your girl. But, here's the thing, despite my short and sordid history, I was never very good at actually planning things out. I mean, I could set my sights on a goal and head towards it, but I'm not good at...well, let give you an analogy, I could see the goal, but I have difficulty seeing the path, it was something I would have to improve on this coming days.
Something that I was keenly aware of as we hauled the fat guard guy up and over the ladder and into...what was it again? The mess hall, the main office? I forget, but I guess it doesn't really matter now, does it? Anyway, like I was saying, me and Archer were hauling the fatass up the ladder, Archer pulled, I pushed, and by some miracle we managed to get him all the way up to the ground floor.
"Is this...Ha...Really a good idea?" Archer asked, breathing heavily.
"Find me another scapegoat...and...and then….For...Oh jeez my spine…" I groaned, pressing a hand against my back for support, still in the underground prison while Regis stood next to me, "For my upcoming arson...and then we'll talk." At this point, you might be wondering what I was planning on, but I think you already have enough clues as is. More to the point, the real concern that my newest thief wasn't helping us. Something that I was also keenly aware of as she chuckled wholeheartedly.
"Lass, if you're hurting from that, then you've got no chance in hell with rescuing that Sea Princess." Regis shook her head in amusement as I turned to her, finger raised.
"Listen you," I began, "I will have you know that I have like, four PH.D's, so shut it!"
"I thought you said you had three." Archer called down from...above.
"You shut it too, you good looking half elf!" I replied scornfully. Okay, yeah, that wasn't the best comeback, I admit, but give me a break, I'm not known for my wit under fire.
"Good looking?" I heard Archer repeat, but I just shook my head in annoyance.
"Okay, come on. The sooner we can get this guy towards something flammable the sooner we can leave." I said, placing a hand on the ladder.
"So, that's your plan." Regis said, crossing her arms, "Ya gonna blame it on him so that you can cover our escape. Won't somebody notice the large, foot shaped bruise on his face though?"
"Not if there's a bottle of alcohol nearby." I replied, "Besides, if the guy fell asleep on the job, he probably has a history of something like this."
"Making a lot of assumptions here Red." Regis returned.
"Red?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Your eyes, your hair?" Regis said with a raised eyebrow, "Don't tell me you ain't never been called Red before."
"Maybe?" I shrugged, have to admit, I don't actually know if anyone ever called me that, I mostly kept to my own thoughts when I was a kid and didn't really care for what others said or thought of me. Aside from my roommate during my college years, that is. Regardless, I shook my head to Regis, "Besides, we don't need to worry about whether or not he's a model guard, all we need to do is make sure that the dwarves down there have enough time to escape."
"Sure, have a bleeding-heart Red." Regis replied, walking towards the ladder and brushing past me, "But ya sure keep strange company." Placing her hands on the ladder, Regis almost threw herself up the ladder.
"I am strange company." I muttered under my breath. Giving one last look the dwarves, who had started to unlock the doors to their cells, I nodded at them, "Remember, five minutes."
One of them nodded at me, not sure which, and I took that as my cue to leave.
Climbing up the ladder, I found that the scene hadn't really changed all that much, but Archer was peering out a window while Regis pressed herself up against the wall near the door.
"Maleah." Archer called softly, "There's a wooden store house, we can use that as a distraction."
"Good eyes." I whispered in reply, walking up to him and peering out the same window as him. I found that the window he was peering out of was actually facing the outside area, and true to what Archer said, there was a wooden store house nearby, and going by the way it looked, rickety and barely holding up, it would burn nicely.
"Thank you." Archer replied.
"Is there an easy way out of here?" I asked, looking around.
"We might be able to push him through the window." Archer mused.
"Too noisy." I replied, "Maybe I should just set fire to it from here."
"No, the plan won't work otherwise." He said, then paused, "Though...maybe if he had a bottle of alcohol on him…"
"Two bottles…" I muttered, following Archer's logic, "But that wouldn't explain the distance...maybe if we dragged him closer…"
"Oi, Red and Silver." Regis's call caught our attention, and turning around, I saw that she had taken to leaning up against the wall, near a wooden cabinet, "Have ya ever heard of the phrase, "Simple is best?"
"Well, I often find that...wait, why?" I asked, frowning as I did.
"Because if there's one thing I learned during my life, it's that smart people like you always tend to overlook things." Regis continued, then tapped the cabinet with her elbow, it recoiled with the blow and was pushed back slightly. At first, I was confused, but there, I noticed a current of wind flowing through the room. No, not one originating from the windows, but an entirely new one, walking over to Regis, I placed my hand on the cabinet and gave it a hard push. Sure enough, it gave way and I saw what Regis was trying to show me. "Huh." I clicked my tongue, "How did you know that?" Behind the cabinet was a very large hole in the wall, one that we could use to escape with barely a hassle.
"I'm a thief, what makes ya think I wouldn't?" Regis replied, checking her fingers as she did, as if we were discussing the recent news.
"Well, I see you're not bad at your job, at least." I smiled in return, "Now move this thing out of the way, so we can drag this fatass through."
Regis obliged my request and pushed it over gently, sending it to the ground with no more than a soft thud.
Soon after, we managed to push the bastard through the hole, which was no small feat mind you, I looked to Archer and said: "Alright, you go first."
Archer looked ready to protest, but he sighed and followed my instruction. See, the thing about the hole was that you had to crawl through it, hands and knees. Regis had no trouble getting through the hole on account of her size, and as I've previously established, we had a hell of a time pushing the guard through, and as for why I had Archer go first...well, we would have to move our cloaks over so they wouldn't get caught on the rocks.
And if Archer got to stare at my chest, well, I would get to look a little too. To my disappointment though, Archer slipped through with a cool guy slide on his...side. I don't know how he did that, but that did make me want to try it.
Needless to say, I wound up smacking my head against the wall.
"Ooohhhh…." I said, laying on the ground and rubbing my head, Archer had thoughtfully dragged me out of the jail while I recovered from giving myself a concussion.
"You okay?" Archer asked, leaning over me.
"How did you do that slidey thing?" I asked, still in a daze.
Extending a hand towards me, which I took, Archer heaved me up with a shrug. "It's a skill." He said with a short shrug, don't ask me how he did, it just sorta looked that way.
"Well, you'll have to teach it to me sometime." I said, giving him a soft smile.
He snorted and looked away, which I took as a refusal. Geez man, at least say no to my face. Regardless, it wasn't very long before we got to work. We dragged the guard to the storehouse, snatched a bottle from the inside, and then spilled it across the ground a little bit before setting it in his hand. With a quick-fire spell, I set the storehouse ablaze.
Not before we raided it for goods first, mind you. We really couldn't take anything valuable with us, like a heavy looking pile of rations, since they would probably realize something was stolen when they put the fire out and thus, suspect foul play, but we did steal a few bottles and other Knick knacks. But, back to the present, the flame burned nicely as we walked away from the jailhouse and towards the hills. The night air came with a chill, and the dull pain from before returned. Pressing a hand to my head as we watched the jailhouse from a hill, I tried to will the pain away, but to no avail.
"You okay?" Archer asked me, holding up one of the bottles of alcohol to me as he did.
"Just a headache." I replied, taking the offered bottle and giving it a swig. The taste wasn't the best, but it dulled the pain a little. At this point, my wound had healed slightly, but I knew that it would be weeks before it would completely heal, but such was my lot in life, slight bursts of action followed by long periods of waiting.
"It's amazing you're still upright after what happened today." Archer remarked, "Demon physiology is truly something."
I shrugged, "Pain's an old friend."
At my side, Regis snatched the bottle out of my hand and took a drink for herself, but then coughed violently as she did, hacking up some of the liquid that she just drank.
"Ugh, why didn't you warn me this was swill?" Regis demanded.
"Because you took it away from me before I could get a word in." I replied with a roll of my eyes.
"So, what should we do know?" Archer asked.
I thought for a moment, "Well, we have our thief, now we a way in and out."
"If I had a guess." Regis spoke up, "I'd say that the Sea Princess was in the castle pool, it's the only viable place for someone like her. Unless the duke stuffed her in a giant jar and filled it with water, that is."
I snorted, recalling that I once had a similar line of thought, "If that was the case, then we might as well just steal everything else, make the guy go bankrupt."
There was a noticeable pause between the three of us, "That's...not a bad idea, actually." Archer said, "If we could find some blackmail, we could force him to free the Sea Princess for us."
I nodded, "That's definitely a backup plan, but it would look better for us if we returned the Sea King's daughter to him personally rather than through blackmail."
"You're really set on this." Regis noted.
"Refuge in audacity." I replied with a whimsical smile, then turned to the tree's behind us, "Come on, let's get going before they figure out what's really going on."
As I did, Archer spoke up, "Looks like those dwarves got out."
Oh, right, I had forgotten about them. Turning, I saw that a small line of dwarves had escaped from the building through, would you believe it? The front entrance. The guards had chosen to come out the back exit, and were now surrounding the currently on fire storehouse, calling for water to put it out. Good try suckers, hellfire doesn't go out so easily.
Oh, and the dwarves escaped too, that's nice.
Once we got back to our little hideout, I discovered that yes, they left the lights on for us. Well, there was still a few candles alit and I could spy some movement in the house. Nothing too major, really, which was odd, because we were returning after midnight, or true dawn if you will. So, realistically speaking, there shouldn't have been anyone up unless...there was a robber? If so, why were there candles lit up? I liked to think that a proper thief didn't need light to see...and for the record, I am not a proper thief, I am now a proper jailbreaker, there's a difference...I think.
Regardless of my terminology conundrum, I couldn't help but sense the same sort of dread I had when we first snuck into the jailhouse, it was for this reason that I motioned for Archer and Regis to pause in their tracks.
"What is it?" Archer asked.
"Do you know Serina well?" I asked.
"Only for a few weeks." Archer replied, "Why?"
"I was hoping you'd know if she had any late-night sleeping habits." I said, then nodded at the house.
"I don't think she does." He said slowly.
I thought for a moment, "Why don't you head up the house? See if everything's okay and call us over if there's nothing."
"And if it's not?"
"Then just yell really loud and we come running." I said confidently.
"Away, that is." Regis snarked.
I gave her a half second glare, but gave Archer a nod. Returning the gesture, Archer headed towards the house in a casual walk while we took cover in the bushes. There, he knocked once, and was greeted by what appeared to be a sleepy looking Serina. They exchanged a few words I couldn't hear, but after a pause, Archer signaled us to come over.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I stood up from my little hiding spot, making sure to grab Regis by the arm as I did, pulling her along to our little hideaway.
"Not so rough Red!" Regis said out loud, swatting my hand away and rubbing the spot where I had grabbed, "Jeez, you're stronger then you look."
"No so much." I shrugged, "But, I want you to tell me something."
"What is it?"
"How do you know Archer?"
At this, Regis snorted, "As if you don't know." Turning to her, I gave her a look that said, "No, I don't." At this look, Regis blinked once, then just sighed sadly, "Who've you got with ya is one ain't some random archer, he's cartel, a "Babayaga."
A/N: Heyo everyone, sorry for the late update. Looks like I won't be able to upload as frequently as I want to, I have...other stuff going on. College, life, the holidays, practicing my artistic skills, etc. Anyway, thanks you all who reviewed, all two of you, and please, keep reviewing. Feedback is very important to me.