Failure With Honor

by Saul D. De Leon

Walking past the crates of equipment for mining, and wagon carts filled to the brim with ores, I made my way to the mine. The miners around me were enjoying their mid-day meals. Some stopped their eating to wave at me. I waved back and continued forward. I was instructed by the Lord of Bratice to clear out some pests in the nearby cave system. Three days ago, there were reports of creatures so foul, so dangerous, that they terrified full-grown men. I'm the man that the village looks for when something must be done. The Lord instructed me to take on this task due to my previous successes. Once I hunted down a pack of wild boars that were running the village's crops or that one time I saved a group of kids who had wandered off into the woods and were being attacked by an enormous crazed bear. Nevertheless, I was positioned to be a guardian of sort for the village Bratice, or as I see it, the man who does tasks that fall on short ears to the Lord for I do all the tasks that are expected from me; all without pay. I've been a servant to a Lord before, however, things did not end too well. That's past me now.

As I got closer to the cave entrance, I couldn't help but hear a distained comment on the Lord.

"I wish the Lord will come here to see what's going on", said a miner with a shaven head. The man sitting across from him on a wooden table replied, "The Lord never leaves his home, not even if the town was burning down." The two broke out in a chuckle.

Once I got to the cave, I spotted two men yelling at one another. I approached the tall and lanky man and asked what was going on. His clothing appeared a size too large for he pulled up his trousers every so often.

"These creatures… they must've been at least eight feet tall and with glowing red eyes" he stammered.

Glowing eyes huh?. "Any other features of these 'creatures'?"

"Well," the man said as he scratched his chin, "The creatures were hairy and - ", but before he finished, a brilliant violet flash came from within the cave. Startled, I turned to face the cave entrance. The campsite fell silent; their gazes fixed onto the cave as well. Concerned, I yielded my knife. I had never seen a light be emitted like that aside from a firework display.

"You're going in with that?" cried the lanky man.

I looked down at my knife, confused at his question. "It's all the Lord will give me", I said as I shrugged. I turned to the campsite and instructed the men to return home. I didn't want whatever was down there to come out and cause hell above ground.

I placed my hand against the dampen cavern walls. Pieces of mining gear laid sprawled out on the ground. Weathered pickaxes remained hooked onto the wall as if whoever was mining stopped halfway. The torches that illuminated the cave directed me deeper into the cave. The surrounding walls grew tighter and tighter until I reached an opening. I squeezed through and surveyed the area. I saw the many paths the miners had dug out. Unsure which one to choose, I waited for another flash of light. That light would lead me to the perpetrator. I listened for any odd sounds but aside from drips of water and the sound of an echoing pebble, there was nothing out of place.

I stepped forward when suddenly, sounds of footsteps came from the path to the right of me, and they were coming fast. The walls of the cave begun to shake; bits stone fell on my head as the rumbling increased. I turned and was met by a battalion of… gnomes. I lowered my knife which I had raised. They poured out and surrounded me. All worked up, for this? A smile couldn't help escaping my lips. Strangely, they had a visible aurora of purple mist. They were up to my shin, no visible weapons. I raised my knife again and slashed the bed of gnomes around me. Instead of slices of gnomes at my feet, violet vapor filled the air around me. The vapor then dissipated back into the path on the right.

A voice echoed from the right entrance, "Curses, do you know how long that took me? You will pay for that!".

I positioned myself in a defensive stance but before I could ask any questions, a young man in a robe appeared. His robe gleamed in the darkness of the cave like a ray of light through a wall of clouds. I backed up but he closed in. He pointed his staff at me and out came a purple flash. The light struck my chest in an instant and I flew back; I hit the cold, cavern wall, and slumped down. I looked down to see my once metal chest plate now had a large hole in the center of it. I hastily removed my chest plate for it got unbearably hot. I groaned in pain but pushed myself up. Now I was furious; there, like the flash itself, went my months of saving to purchase an armor chest plate. I wouldn't let him get the best of me.

He put his staff away and appeared to be in a summoning stance. He was down on one knee, right hand over the left, left hand on the ground. My eyes widen. What was he about to do? I didn't wait for an answer. Instead, I dashed towards him. With my knife poised to attack, I was ready to slice him up.

"Fire Pillar!", announced the young man. In a panic, I side-stepped and slipped onto the ground. Fearing I would be burnt to a crisp, I looked up towards the young man. The ground glowed a fiery red, a hot iron ready to be wielded. However, only a puff of smoke rose from the ground.

Quickly, I threw a dagger from my pouch at the man's shoulder. He yelped and fell back. I got up with a grin on my face. As I walked over to him, in my most menacing voice, I asked, "Give me one good reason I shouldn't kill you right now."

"Please no! I thought you were one of those creatures!"

I crouched down to be at his level. "Creatures? Tall and hairy creatures? Am I that hideous?" I slapped him across the face, and he gave me a scared look.

He yelped in pain. "Yes! Err, no not ugly! I'm sorry. I should've been more careful." He lowered his head like a sad dog.

I removed a patch from my pocket and after swiftly removing the dagger, the patch on the wound.

"There, that should prevent your wound from worsening." I pulled him onto his feet, but I held him in place. "I was sent here to find those creatures, but since you're the only one here, and injured, I'm taking you to my back to my village."

"Will I be thrown into prison?" the young man asked.

"No, you won't, but don't think I'm letting you run free." I took his robe and his staff and then tied his hands up with rope I had in my storage pack. "Don't worry, these will come off soon."

I led him back out into the daylight, blinding me for a second. "Just continue down this path, any funny business and perhaps you will find yourself in prison." He let out a low but audible gulp. I still got it.