From the Archives: We Three Rogues

The beginning of a standard fantasy tale involving three rogues. This was going to be one of those “continuing adventures” type serials, where this trio continued to get deeper and deeper into trouble as the series progressed. Oddly enough, my notes say that this was supposed to be a “dark comedy”.

Well, let’s see:


We Three Rogues


Yex raised the tankard to his lips and took a long, slow sip as he eyed the newcomer. The man had just strolled into the tavern and made an exaggerated show of looking around… completely unnecessary when the place was as empty as this one. He locked eyes with Yex and walked towards his table.


Yex had no idea who he was, but everything about him screamed ‘thief’ Rumpled, but nonetheless expensive clothes. A quick and perfectly silent stride. Shifty eyes that looked in a hundred directions while still staring straight ahead. Yex hated him already.


"Afternoon," said the man. His high, nasal voice matched his appearance… small and oily, like a rat. The fellow couldn’t have been more than 5’3" tall, and would have been easily dwarfed by Yex’s six foot frame had Yex bothered to stand. He didn’t.


The man eyed Yex’s drink.


"Ale?" he said. His voice winnowed under Yex’s skin like a sharp splinter. "I’d expect someone who’d just robbed the last Thelusi caravan to be drinking somethin’ with a bit more class. Gold’berry chablis maybe?"


"Don’t know what yer talking about," Yex lied. He eyed the man with feigned disinterest while his muscles tensed under his loose-fitting clothes. Would he have to kill this man? Probably.


"Where’d I lose ya? The caravan or the wine?"


"I know goldenbery, but I don’t know you."


"Guess I have you at an disadvantage, eh Yex."


Yex was one hair away from jumping up and snapping the man’s neck.


"Who are you?"


"You can call me Shift. If you weren’t new in town you’d probably know me… seein as our lines of work are related."


"Who says I’m new?"


"You did… when you asked me who I was. Look, let’s skip the preliminaries, okay?" Shift pulled out a chair and sat down. The movement, like all the ones preceding it, was perfectly silent.


"Let’s skip the whole thing altogether," said Yex. "I don’t know you and you don’t know me. Any changes in that arrangement could get dangerous. For you."


Shift chuckled. It was an annoying sound. A VERY annoying sound.


"Yeah, yeah," Shift said with a grin. "You’re Yex. You rob couriers and caravans. I’m Shift. I rob houses. There… that ain’t so dangerous, is it?"


"I’m afraid you got me mixed up with somebody else."


"No I don’t. I got it straight from the source, see. Lady Betain’s chambermaid owes me LOTS of favors. And if you noticed, she’s got very big ears."


At the mention of Lady Betain, Yex tensed. In his mind he was already moving… kicking this little gnome’s head off and dashing out the front door in one fluid motion.


"I’d be careful where I’d do my bragging next time," continued Yex. "Especially in this town. Never know who’s listening… and you never know who THEY owe favors to. But anyway, I got this proposition, see-"


"What is this… blackmail? If you know me so well, then you must know that I can kill you six times over before your brain even knew you were dead the first time."


"Yeah, yeah. But listen to what I’m sayin,’ here. I got this job, and I wanna cut you in on it."


Yex frowned.


"I don’t do odd jobs," he sneered.


"Well this ain’t sweepin’ stables, that’s for damn sure. I need somebody with your skills. You and me and-"


"I work alone."


"There’s money involved."


"Not interested."


"There’s a LOT of money involved."


"I’ve GOT a lot of money."


"Not from what I heard from Hinder. You remember hinder? Runs the secret little gambling room underneath the brothel?"


"More favors?"


"You could say that."


Yex looked around, and then leaned forward.


"How much?"


Shift smiled.


"Fifty-thousand gold. Split three ways."


"Three?"


"Yeah. I got the plan and the info, see… but I need a fighter and a mage."


"Not interested. I’m solo. That means I work alone… and when I don’t work alone I CERTAINLY don’t work with mages."


"C’mon, at least hear me out. It’s not like you’ve got anything else ta do… Lord Betain won’t be leaving for his evening hunt for another few hours."


"You think you know everything don’t you?"


"I know enough."


"All right. I’m listening. But I’m still not working with any mages. I’m not even going to be in the same room with one, so don’t-"


"Well that’s gonna be a problem,… see, I recruited the mage an hour ago, and he’s on his way here now to discuss the deal."


"Then there is no deal." Yex stood up, and just then the tavern doors swung open as someone entered. It was an older man, but his rigid stance and smooth, purposeful gait were more those of a man yet to feel the ravages of age. His face, however, looked like it was being held together with wrinkles. His silver hair was wild and unkempt, and Yex caught the occasional glimpse of black peeking through the unruly mop as the man approached.


He stood before the table and looked down at the annoying the if. He was tall, almost as tall as Yex himself. He wore a dark heavy cloak over his black pants and rust-colored tunic. Yex saw the unmistakable bulge of a sword beneath the man’s cloak. He assumed that this man was the mage, but it was very unusual for a mage to be carrying a sword.


"Mr. Shift," said the man. "I assume this is our fighter." His voice was the exact opposite of Shift’s…. low and resonating. He had an accent that Yex had never heard before…. a strange twist to his pronunciation. Altogether, his voice had a certain quality that Yex couldn’t quite describe, though the word ‘sinister’ did come to mind more than once.


"Ah, Kahrellin! Have a seat."


"Yes." Yex stood and glared at the two who’d disturbed his quiet drink. "You two go right ahead. I’ll be leaving."


"Oh, come on!" Shift protested. The thief lowered his voice to a whisper. "We’re talkin’ money, here. Come on. Sit."


Yex looked at the mage. Kahrellin gave him a disinterested glance, apparently not caring whether Yex stayed or left.


Yex sat down, but kept his eye on Kahrellin. There were a lot of things about that man he didn’t like.


"Start talking," said Yex.


"Okay…" Shift looked back at the bartender, and eyed the other patrons. Then he lowered his voice even further and continued. "I used to run with this bunch of thieves-"


"Big surprise there," said Yex.


"Yeah. Anway, we gets this idea to kidnap Baron Morse’s daughter and sell ‘er back for a hefty fortune."


"THE Baron Morse? From Reswick?"


"Do you know of any MORE Baron Morse’s, Yex? Didn’t think so. Anway we do the deed and kidnap the girl. No problem. We set our demands and now we got it on good authority that the Baron is ready to pay."


"What ‘good authority’?" said Yex.


"We got a guy on the inside. Bribed one of the baron’s guards. He says the big guy is willin’ to do anything to get his daughter back… including paying the ransom."


"Which is fifty-thousand gold," said Yex. He noticed that Kahrellin wasn’t asking any questions. Odd.


"Riight. Fifty-thousand royal-mint gold coins, all free of enchantment."


"So where do we come in?"


"Seems these guys didn’t like the idea of splittin that six ways, so they decided to double-cross me. Said I wasn’t contributing anything to the operation."


"The were probably right," said Yex. He looked at Shift… the little man couldn’t possibly serve any purpose in a fight other than sword-fodder.


"Right or not, they double-crossed me and left me for dead. Nobody does that to me and gets away with it."


"Petty vengeance isn’t my game, thief," said Yex.


"Were you not listening when I mentioned the fifty-thousand gold? We’re not talking silver, copper or damned wooden tokens, here… I’m talkin’ about gold bullion! Damn near a third of the baron’s worth! Look… I know where these guys are, I know the layout of the place, and I know that they’re gonna make the switch with the baron three days from now, at noon. All we gotta do is get there just after they make the switch and take the gold. Then it’ll all be ours. Even split three ways that’s still a hell of a lot of money… more drinks and women than any of us could buy in a lifetime. How ’bout it, eh? Is that a plan or what?"


"This baron is rich, and we’re about to take a third of his money?" said Yex with a growing smile. Stealing from the rich was the thing Yex loved most in the world… he preferred their money, but their wives and daughters ran a very close second. Even though in this case he’d be stealing from other thieves, the fact that Baron Morse would be out of a fortune brought a grin to Yex’s lips. "I’m in."


"I thought you would be. What about you, mage?"


"This is a fool’s errand."


"Fifty thousand gold coins. Three ways. You in or not?"


"Someone will have to keep you two from ruining an otherwise good opportunity."


"What’s that, mage?" said Yex. "You saying something about me?"


Kahrellin opened his mouth, but Shift talked right through the mage’s comment.


"We got five men in a secret cabin hidden in the woods. Three fighters, and archer, and a mage."


"What kind of mage," said Kahrellin, who was suddenly showing more interest.


"What’s the matter?" said Yex. "You don’t think you can take another mage? Throwing spells at ordinary men is one thing, but squarin’ off against on a ya own-"


"An illusionist," said Shift. "But he’s good."


"A good illusionist is still little more than cheap party entertainment. He shall not be a problem."


"Uh-huh. I wonder," said Yex. "Shift, did you check this guy out before you talked to him? Is his magic any good… or maybe he’s just a old fraud. I assume you saw his sword… why would any mage worth his salt need to carry one?"


"My power is real enough. But perhaps Mr. Shift should be more concerned about a warrior who sits in a bar with no weapons of his own."


"Eh?" Shift turned a discerning eye toward Yex, and saw that there were no signs of weapons, hidden or otherwise, on his person. He even took a quick glance under the table. "No sword? No weapons? What gives here?"


"I am Yex. My hands are deadly weapons; I don’t NEED fancy toys."


"Oh Gods," sighed Shift. "Lady Betain’s chambermaid didn’t say he was an idiot! A warrior with no weapons… BLAST! I paid good money for his name and description, and I get the King of Fools!"


"No matter," said Kahrellin. "The two of us can suffice. As the fool here remarked, I am skilled in swordplay as well as magic."


"I BEG your pardon!" Yex shouted as he stood. The tavern’s few patrons turned towards the commotion, saw Shift and Kahrellin, and quickly turned away. "I am a master of the violent arts! YOU," he pointed at Shift. "already know of my deeds. And I performed them as you see me here… unarmed and alone."


"A fool," said Kahrellin. Shift nodded.


"Then what about YOU! On what basis are YOU here! Who are you to question my abilities when you’ve shown none of your own!"


Karhrellin stood and took one small step back. Then he reached down and placed the tip of his right index finger on the table.


The wooden table instantly turned to hard, gray stone.


"I trust the demonstration is sufficient."


Yex also took a step back. Then he spun and brought his right hand down in a slashing motion. The ridge of his hand struck the table-


"Kiiii-YAH!"


KROOM!


The stone table split down the middle and fall apart, shattered by the force of Yex’s single blow.


Yex and Kahrellin glared at each other over the settling dust.


"Well…" said Shift. "Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, lets talk specifics. This cabin is about two day’s journey, so in order to make it in time we’ll need to leave right away and travel as late into the night as we can…"



"You realize you’re necessary, don’t you?" said Yex. He and Kahrellin were riding side-by-side down a narrow path, winding in the woods. Shift was just ahead, leading the way. They’d left within an hour of meeting in the tavern, and had traveled straight into the night. Torches and a bit of Kahrellin’s magic lit their way. The mage’s globe of light cast enough illumination for the Kahrellin to study his spellbook…. a massive leather-bound tome he kept tucked into the confines of his robe. When Yex spoke, Kahrellen closed the book and looked up.


"The very same could be said of you, fighter. But a wise man would rather err on the side of having too much instead risking the opposite."


"Wise? Him?" Yex jerked his head in Shift’s direction.


"I was speaking of myself," said Kahrellin.


"You just watch where you throw those spells," said Yex.


"Stay out of my way and you should be safe enough."


They rode quietly for another few minutes. Kahrellen went back to his spellbook, which drew more than a little curiosity from Yex.


"Why do you keep looking at that? You don’t know your own spells?"


"The ways of magic are far too fickle to trust to memory alone," Kahrellen said without looking up. "and far too complex to be comprehended by a simple ruffian like yourself."


"Simple ruffian?"


"You aspire to be more? Then it is best not to taunt a mage whilst he studies." Kahrellin turned a page in his book and pointed at a spell. He looked up at Yex. "Or would you like to spend the rest of your days as a gnat?"


"You try it," said Yex. "Go on. I’ll shatter your skull before you make the first gesture."


"Hey, hey!" Shift called. "You two save that for tomorrow. There’s an old campsite up ahead that I used on my way into town. We’ll stay the night there and get going at dawn. We’ll reach the cabin before noon. Then with a few minutes work we’ll all be rich." Shift rode on ahead


"I doubt it will be as simple as that," said Kahrellin. "Large sums of money rarely come as easily as Mr. Shift would have us believe."


"You don’t trust him?" said Yex.


"If you are asking if I am an idiot, then the answer is no. Even someone as obtuse as you must have his own reservations about this."


"Obtuse? You calling me fat?"


"I suggest you keep your eyes open and your…. fists… ready."


"I’m always ready."


"Many men have uttered similar words, Mr. Yex…. Usually just before encountering a nasty and fatal surprise." Kahrellin closed his book and threw back his cloak on one side, revealing a large leather pouch which hung from his shoulder. He placed the book into the pouch and pulled his cloak over it before Yex could see what else the mage was hiding. "Come… on to the campsite."



"Are you sure it’s safe here?" said Yex. It was a small clearing, surrounded by large hardwoods. Bare branches hung overhead… like the reaching claws of some monster. They blocked the moonlight almost totally.


"What?" said Shift. "Ya scared of the dark or somethin?"


"He does not trust the woods," said Kahrellin. "And neither do I. This is not a well-traveled route-"


"Shortcut," said Shift "Not many people know about it."


"A path for thieves and cut-throats," said Yex. "So they can travel from town to town without using the main roads."


"And we’re thieves and cut-throats, right?" said Shift. "Guess that means we can use the path, huh?"


"But with whom will we share it?" said Kahrellin.


"Frightened?" said Yex "Scared somebody’s going to come and snatch yer spellbook?"


"The main roads bear enchantments that keep wild animals from venturing onto the trade routes. I doubt Mr. Shift’s short-cut has such amenities."


"Men or beast… they all die quick enough." said Yex.


"And what do you plan to do against a rampaging forest bear, Mr. Yex. Punch it in the face? Give it a black eye?"


"Hey, didn’t we settle this back at the tavern?" said Shift. He had just started a fire and was warming some meat he’d purchased for the trip.


"I advise against that," said Kahrellin. "The smell of cooking meat could attract-"


"Whatever. Ya hungry, Yex?"


"Starved."


Everyone ate… including Kahrellin… and they settled down to sleep. Yex took the first watch, while Shift snored loudly and Kahrellin sat with his back against a tree. The mage didn’t move the whole night… except to open his eyes any time one of the others made the slightest motion. Yex wondered if the man was asleep at all. Shift took the second watch, and Kahrellin the third.


That’s when the wolves came.


The horses gave first warning, whinnying and pawing the ground loud enough to rouse everyone. Shift woke instantly and rolled to a crouching position with a dagger clasped tightly in each hand. His eyes darted from shadow to shadow. Yex leapt to his feet and locked his limbs into a rigid fighter’s stance while and Kahrellin rose slowly, like a wraith emerging from the grave.


The first furry shape leapt into the clearing… and three others followed right behind it. They attacked without pause… so quickly that the fifth wolf trotted into the clearing almost without being noticed. The largest beast ran towards Shift. The diminutive thief let one of his daggers fly, and the beast died with a yelp. The shot was perfect… the blade sank into the canine skull right between the eyes. Shift stood and searched for another target. There was a wolf with its snout in the cooking pot. Shift fired his second dagger across the clearing, but this one saw his movement and dodged the missile. Snarling angrily, it ran straight for Shift. The thief reached for his belt just as the wolf leapt-


CHUNK!

YIIIP-


Krahellin’s sword sliced the beast cleanly in two. The mage moved gracefully, his sword trailing blood as he twirled and swung at another beast. The blade missed the wolf entirely, and the beast attacked with fangs bared. Kahrellen twisted around… one hand came free of his sword. The mage made a gesture that ended with his index finger pointing right at the snarling wolf’s face. There was a glimmer, and a jet of liquid shot from Kahrellin’s fingertip just as he stepped out of the charging wolf’s path. The liquid struck the wolf square in the face…. and the creature screamed and collapsed. By the time it hit the ground half of its skull was already eaten away by the mage’s acid.


Meanwhile, Yex found himself facing a snarling wolf on either side. One leapt for his throat while the other snapped at his foot. Yex snatched his foot out of the way. At the same time, he brought his hand left hand up in front of him while drawing back with his right. Just as the leaping beast bit down-


KA-SNAP!

YIIIIPE!


The upward punch ruptured the beasts organs in one powerful blow. Blood and gore blasted out of its mouth and coated Yex’s face and shirt. The second beast clamped down on his leg,


"ARRRGFH!"


Yex brought his fist down in a hammer-blow that shattered the thing’s skull.


All was still and quiet, save for the nervous movements of the horses.


"Dammit, I HATE dogs!" Shift kicked the nearest canine corpse hard enough to break a rib or two.


"It appears your fighter is injured," said Kahrellin. He wiped the blood from his sword and sheathed it with a flourish.


"I’m fine," Yex had shallow bites on his left forearm and right ankle. He’d slain both animals before either could get a good grip on him. Yex looked accusingly at Kahrellin. "You summoned those things, didn’t you? Wolves wouldn’t just walk into a campsite!"


"Not unless they are hungry and had no fear of man," said the mage. "A dangerous combination in a wild beast." Kahrellin sat back down and resumed his watch.


"What about the bodies," said Yex.


"Leave it," answered Shift. "We’ll be gone before they start to stink."


The rest of the night was peaceful, except for Shift’s constant snoring. They awoke at dawn and set out again. True to Shift’s word, they reached the kidnapper’s cabin at just before noon. The forest had just started to thin, and Shift brought them to a halt.


"Leave the horses," he said. "We can move stealthier on foot."


They walked for a while, and then came to a wide clearing with a carpet of luscious green grass. There was no sign of a cabin or kidnappers.


"This is the place," Shift whispered.


"What? There’s nothing here. Just open space."


"That is obviously what their illusionist wants us to see," said Kahrellin.


"Right," said Shift. "We won’t see anything until we actually enter the clearing."


"Where we will be quickly seen," said Kahrellin. "Easy targets for their archer. Mr. Shift, I assume you have a plan?"


"They’re all probably inside counting the Baron’s money," said Yex.


"No," said Shift. "These guys just ripped off the Baron for a third of his fortune. They wouldn’t be so dumb as to leave themselves unguarded."


"How do we know they’re even here?" said Yex.


"Because that was the plan! What… you don’t trust what I’m saying all of a sudden?"


"Not really, no." said Yex.


"Look, the front door of the cabin is directly in front of us… only we can’t see it. There’s no back door, but the woods are closer to the cabin in the rear… less open area. We could sneak around and-"


"Would they not watch their backs as well as their front?" said Kahrellin. Yex nodded in agreement.


"Look, I know what I’m-"


"Where is their archer?" said Yex "On the roof?"


"Yeah," Shift pointed to a spot about twenty feet in the air near the center of the clearing. "There’s a chimney. He was using it for cover. Why?"


"You’ll see."


Yex pulled a purple cloth from his pocket and unfolded it… revealing it to be a mask with wide eye-holes cut into it. He wrapped it around the top portion of his head, concealing everything above the tip of his nose. He knotted the trailing ends in the back


"What the hell are you doing?" said Shift. "What is that?"


"You’re a thief," said Yex. "You don’t wear a mask?"


"I never get caught, so I don’t NEED a mask."


"Then you have no flair," said Yex. "And no style." Yex stood up and jogged out into the clearing.


"WAIT!" Shift hissed. "What the hell is that idiot doing!"


"Apparently he has a plan of his own. One that involves being riddled with arrows and dumped into the nearest river."


"Damned fool!"


"Are you going to join him?"


"Frontal attack? Fine… as long as HE takes the arrows."


"Agreed."


Shift and Kahrellin rose and scrambled after him. Kahrellin, however, managed to ‘scramble’ gracefully. They entered the clearing a few yards behind Yex. As they did, the entire scene changed. A dark one-story cabin stretched out before them in the shadow of a huge oak tree. Just as Shift predicted, there was an archer on the roof. He was already aiming his bow at Yex, and fired just as Shift and Kahrellin saw him.


Shift started to shout a warning, but decided against it. If the archer hadn’t already raised an alarm, there was no reason to do it for him.


The arrow flew. Yex was looking up at the archer. He made a quick motion with his hand…


…and caught the arrow in mid air, just inches away from his throat. Yex held the arrow tightly in his fist, then tossed it to the ground.


"What the Hell?" Shift, Kahrellin, and the archer all said at once.


"How’d he DO that!?" added Shift.


"It seems your shot was too slow!" Yex shouted to the archer, "I caught it EASILY! Would you like to try another? Perhaps with a bit more tension to give it more speed?"


"Great!" said Shift. "The fool just shouted his OWN damned warning! Get ready, mage!" Shift drew his knife and ran around to his right, attempting to circle around. The front door of the cabin burst open just as the archer fired a second shot. Yex twisted out of the way, as if dodging a slow, clumsy punch instead of a speeding arrow. Meanwhile, three men burst from the cabin. Two were armed with swords, and one was unarmed. The swordsmen charged Yex, while the other made a sly smile and began a series of gestures.


"Hmmmm…." said Krahellin. He looked around for Shift, but the thief was nowhere to be seen.


"Gentlemen!" Yex said boldly. "We be here for the gold!"


Both swordsmen drew their weapons and charged. Yex just smiled and settled into a fighting stance… bare hands raised before him. The archer had a third arrow aimed at the side of Yex’s head, but didn’t release it for fear of hitting his comrades. Instead, he swung around and pointed it at Kahrellin, who was standing motionless at the edge of the clearing.


Suddenly, a huge black serpent erupted from the ground just in front of the cabin. The thing’s long body shot into the air, towering above the cabin and the combatants like a tower of dark scales. It’s triangular head turned towards Kahrellin. Its jaws… wide enough to swallow two men whole… opened wide, revealing fangs the size of long swords. It made a hissing roar that rattled the very ground beneath it.


Kahrellin threw the counter spell that he’d memorized in preparation for the illusionist’s predictable attack. His hands glowed with a sinister blood-red light… a light which also surrounded the illusionist’s phantom serpent. The serpent twisted and turned back towards the illusionist, who looked up at it in surprise.


"Wha-" he started to exclaim. Then the ‘phantom’ shot forward and clamped down on the illusionist. It was then that he learned that his illusion was now quite real, and under Kahrellin’s complete control. He started to scream, but the serpent bit him cleanly in half and swallowed both pieces in one gulp. At the same time, its tail made a whipping motion in the air. It demolished the cabin’s rough stone chimney, sending the archer tumbling.


He hit the ground hard, breaking both legs. He was crawling away screaming when the snake’s jaws closed around him, neatly scooping him up and sending him cascading down the creature’s gullet.


Kahrellin smiled a wicked smile, and looked around for another target. Unfortunately, his spell expired before he could get any more usefulness out of it. The red glow around the snake vanished… and then the snake vanished as well.


Meanwhile, Yex faced the two swordsmen. All three of them were distracted by the death of the illusionist and the archer, but Yex recovered first. He charged the closest man. The second one shouted a warning. The first man swung his long sword in a wide arc, which Yex deftly avoided. Yex spun out of the way and threw a kick which caught the back of swordsman’s hand. Delicate bones cracked and the sword fell, but the second man was already making a downward chop intended to remove Yex’s leg. Again, the rogue spun and narrowly avoided injury. The two men faced off. Meanwhile, the first man quickly snatched up this blade with his uninjured hand and circled around to Yex’s unguarded back.


"Where is your weapon, fool!" said the second man. He made a series of thrusts, trying to maneuver Yex back towards his cohort. "You come to a fight without a sword!"


"Guess that should make it easy for you, huh? But you’ve both had your first strikes and I still stand."


"Not for long!"


The second swordsman charged with sword extended. Yex waited until the last minute, then twisted and struck at the blade with his hand, knocking it aside. He continued his spin and brought his elbow to the back of the man’s head.


"UNGH!" the man stumbled forward.


Yex kicked at the charging swordsman behind him. His quick reflexes caught the man with three hard blows to the stomach, but the sword carved a long, shallow gash on Yex’s side.


"ARRRGH!" Yex stepped backwards, but rather than retreat, he attacked the first swordsman, who was temporarily distracted by his own pain. A kick to the face sent him staggering, and a leg sweep put him on the ground.


The second swordsman was swinging his blade. Yex was gone a split-second before it would have taken his head. He ducked, then ducked again. The man thrust with the weapon. Yex twisted and blocked as he’d done before. He spun again, but this time he struck at the man’s exposed neck with the ridge of his hand.


"Hiiii-YA!"


CRACK!


The man crumpled like a puppet with cut strings. His head lay at a sharp, odd angle to the rest of his body.


The remaining swordsman made a clumsy but silent charge. Yex almost didn’t hear it in time. As the man struck, Yex stepped forward into a full split. He found himself at crotch-level with the swordsman.


Yex punched. The swordman’s delicate organs turned to warm jelly


"EEEEEEEEEE!!"


The sword tumbled harmlessly from the man’s fingers. He tried to step back, but ended up falling instead.


Yex rose, and inspected his wound. It wasn’t serious, but it needed to be bandaged. He ripped off his shirt and tied it tight around his waist.


"Imagine how much easier that would have been with this," said Kahrellen. He had his sword unsheathed, but apparently there was no one left to use it on. "It may have saved you that scratch."


"A badge of honor… worn by men who fight like MEN."


"And yet you have no scars," said Kahrellin. He nodded at Yex’s smooth, flawless skin. "How odd."


"I am not injured often, mage," said Yex. "And I heal well."


"I think there may be more to you than there appears… and yet still less than you boast. An interesting mystery."


"Think what you want. I’m going to find the thief."


Yex strolled into the house, with Kahrellin not far behind. Just beyond the door, they found Shift removing his knife from the chest of the last kidnapper.


"One man?" said Yex. "The mage and I killed two each. And it was the same with the dogs. You don’t seem to be cut out for this thief."


"That’s why I brought YOU TWO along," said Shift. He wiped the bloody dagger on the dead man’s shirt and returned it to its place on his belt. "What kinda loot did those goons have on ’em?"


Kahrellin raised a gray eyebrow, and Yex simply looked confused.


"You DID search the bodies, right?"


"We’re about to steal a fortune in gold coins," said Yex. "And you’re concerned about pocket change?"


"It’s a matter of principal," said Shift. He relieved the corpse of a small pouch containing five silver coins


"I’m surprised you know the meaning of that word," said Yex.


"Yeah, sure. Let’s find the loot."


The cabin had two rooms… a large open area with a smaller room to the right. The kidnappers had left their equipment in the large room, where they cooked and slept. The door to the other room was closed and locked.


"Hmmm…" Shift took a few moments to examine the lock. "Locked. No traps."


Again, Kahrellin raised an eyebrow… as if something had struck him as odd. He watched the thief carefully.


"Maybe one of the men has the key," said Yex. "I’ll look-"


"Don’t bother." Shift produced a pair of lockpicks and opened the lock with a few seconds of work. He pushed open the door, revealing a room furnished only with a small bed and a large cabinet.


Tied to the bed was a half-naked woman… she was blindfolded, and her wrists and ankles were bound together with a leather cord. The cord also looped around the bedposts, making it impossible for her to squirm off of the bed.


"What the-"


"The Princess!" gasped Shift


Kahrellin frowned.


"What trickery is this, little man? You said the ransom would have been paid!" He pointed at the woman "This is no chest of gold!"


"Gold, no. Chest, well, now…"


The torn rags the woman wore had fallen away from her chest, revealing a pair of firm, inviting breasts. She was unable to scream due to her gag, but she moaned and squirmed vigorously when the rogues entered the room… which caused her breasts to quiver in a most arousing fashion.


"Aye," Yex nodded.


"So we got here a little early," said Shift. His eyes hadn’t left the bound woman’s chest.


"What’s the big deal," said Yex. "WE’LL just make the trade instead of these guys. I’d love to see the look on Baron Morse’s fat face when we ride off with his gold!"


"Or the look on his face as we are captured and beheaded," said Kahrellin. "Which is the more likely outcome. The appeal of this little adventure was that we could capture the gold with a minimum of risk. Now that that has changed, I think it is no longer worthy of my interest."


"In other words, you’re a coward."


"Call it what you wish, but even if we KNEW the particulars of the trade… the place… the time…. Baron Morse will likely arrive with soldiers and mages in tow."


"Well THESE guys thought they could get away with it," said Yex.


"They were fools, as are you."


"Well what do YOU think, Shift?"


Shift had entered the room and was standing at the foot of the bed. He stared at the princess and licked his lips lustily.


"If you can pause long enough in your fantasies," said Kahrellin, "Perhaps you can tell us your opinion… Yex appears unable to form a logical one of his own."


"Ordinarily I’d say forget it," said Shift. "Take the weapons and whatever loot these guys had on ’em and leave the wench here. But this IS fifty-thousand gold coins we’re talkin’ about. That’s a lot of money." He turned to face the other. "I say we go for it. They were gonna meet at the edge of the woods at noon."


"It is past noon," said Kahrellin. "Why are they not there? The arrangements have obviously changed."


"We’ll make new ones."


"Wait… I left one of the men alive outside. We could ask him what the new plan was."


"Alive?" said Shift. He frowned. "You left one alive?"


"He was unconscious."


"Why are you so concerned, thief?"


"What are you trying to suggest, mage?"


"Only that if you were truly in league with these men, you would have known if this door was trapped or not without having to check it."


"Huh?" Yex and Shift said at once.


"This guy’s crazy," added Shift.


"Look mage, if you don’t want in then you can leave now. Shift and I will split the loot TWO ways instead of three."


"Perhaps it was the thief’s intention not to split the gold at all?"


"You’re paranoid," said Shift.


"And it has served me well over the years."


"Whatever," said Shift. He turned back to the woman. "Lemme take care of some business here and we’ll start talkin’ about plans."


"Business?" said Yex.


The the if began unbuckling his belt. He motioned his head toward the woman, who had stopped moaning, but was still squirming in a most delicious manor.


"Yeah… ya know… business. Never had a princess before!"


"And you will not have one now," said Yex. He stepped between Shift and the bed.


"What? What the hell?"


"She is a bound and helpless woman…"


"Yeah, just like I like ’em"


"Leave her be, and slake your lusts on some whore once we return to town."


"What… she a friend a’ yours or somethin?"


"There is no honor in-"


"Oh, PUH-LEASE!" said Shift. "Honor… YEAH, RIGHT! Get outta my way. You’ll get yer turn when I’m done."


"If I wanted a ‘turn’ I would not touch ANY woman who’d been mauled by a common street-thief and rapist such as you."


"Whatever. You don’t wanna go, then step aside and let me work."


Meanwhile, Kahrellen stood in the bedroom doorway and ignored the argument. Instead he focused on the room itself. He mentally compared what they’d seen of the cabin’s interior with what he would have expected from the outside. Something was not right.


"I said, outta my way!" Shift tried to push Yex away.


Not only would Yex not budge, but he hit the thief with a spinning side-kick that propelled the man to the other side of the small room.


"UNGh!" Shift grunted as his back slammed into the wall. He wasted no time in retaliation. Before the pain of Yex’s kick had even hit him, he’d snatched a dagger from his belt and sent it flying toward Yex’s throat.


zzzz-SNATCH!


Yex grabbed the dagger out of the air and tossed it to the ground.


"Attack me again, thief-"


"If you two are finished," said Kahrellin. "Perhaps one of you would help me move that cabinet away from the wall."


Yex and Shift both looked at him as if he were crazy.


"Ahh… I see that you are NOT finished. Carry on… I shall see to it myself."


He entered the room and started investigating the cabinet.


"Look, I’m just trying to have a little fun, here." said Shift


"By throwing daggers at me?" replied Yex.


"You kicked me. I’m willing to overlook that until after we get our gold… as long as you get away from that bed and let me-"


"Never." Yex moved closer to the bed.


Kahrellin tried to moved the large cabinet, but it was too heavy. It had obviously taken more than one person to move it to its current position. He stepped back and pulled his spellbook out of its special pouch and opened it. He flipped through the pages and came to the spell he needed… a little-used Transform Wood enchantment. It was a verbal spell; the mage studied the words for a second, then replaced the book.


"Quogave Nudio Irdur." he pronounced. He touched the cabinet, and the hard, heavy oak changed into lightweight balsa. Kahrellin then shoved he cabinet aside with weak push. He began to examine the wall behind it…


"Oh, come ON!" said Shift. "It’s just a woman! Lemme have her!"


"No."


"What’s WITH you!?!"


Kahrellin knocked lightly on the wall, and felt a hollow place. He looked closer and saw a well-hidden seam. A little more investigation revealed a tiny latch concealed in a wood-knot. He undid the latch and eased the hidden door open a crack. He peered into the room beyond. There was a pile of rags on the floor, and atop the pile of rags was something QUITE interesting.


"I won’t allow you to sully this woman," said Yex. "We’re here to return her to her father in exchange for a third of his fortune, NOT assault her virtue like common thugs"


"You ARE a common thug, muscle-brain!"


"AHEM!" Kahrellin grunted.


"WHAT!?" said Yex and Shift.


The mage eyed the princess, and then looked up at Yex.


"Perhaps you should step away from the bed," said the mage.


"SEE!" blurted Shift "HE’S on my side! Even HE want’s to get in on some action here!"


"Bah! The mage is too old to even-"


At that moment, the ‘princess’ leapt from the bed. The leather straps broke away from her arms and legs as they were intended to do. With one hand, the woman snatched the blindfold from her eyes, and the other grabbed the knife that had been concealed underneath her. She swung the knife at Yex’s throat, and he barely had time to react. He twisted away, and the blade sank into the meat of his right shoulder.


"AAAAGGGGH!"


The surprised rogue staggered back, but not before the woman yanked her knife free and made another slash. Yex narrowly avoided losing his throat. The woman started making a series of short slashes and quick jabs… she was clearly an experienced knife fighter.


Yex just gaped at her as she backed him into a corner.


"Well what are you WAITING for, dammit!" Shift yelled. "Kick her ass!"


"What!? I can’t hit a woman!!! WHOA!" Yex was a hair too slow in avoiding a slash, and now had a red line across his right forearm." "Ouch!"


"Oh, GREAT!!"


"I don’t know WHO you are," spat the woman. "But I’m PERFECTLY capable of killing all THREE of yo-"


Suddenly the woman’s head burst into flames. Kahrellin was spraying her with a thin stream of fire from his fingertip. She ran for the door, patting frantically at her burning hair and skin. She tripped on something and hit the floor… knocking herself unconscious.


"Put her out!" yelled Shift. "Maybe we can still trade her!"


"Do not bother," said Kahrellin. He threw the secret door open. "THIS is the real princess."


"Good GODS!"


Yex winced.


Shift grimaced and averted his eyes.


Baron Morse’s daughter must have weighed well over 400 pounds. She looked like a cow in a torn silk dress. The huge woman was gagged and bound at the wrists. She looked out at the men with wide, fearful eyes.


"Well at least they left her clothes on," said Shift.


"Close the door," said Yex. Kahrellin pushed the secret door shut.


Shift pointed to the now-dead woman still smoldering on the floor. "But who the hell is SHE!?"


"One of the kidnappers," said Kahrellin. "A decoy. A decoy which YOU should have known about if you were actually part of this group."


"Yeaaaah…" said Yex. He and the mage both approached the the if… and all three of them ignored the stench of burning flesh coming from the female kidnapper. "How come YOU didn’t know about it, thief."


"Ummm…. " Shift looked around nervously. "Maybe I did know. Maybe-"


"Maybe I’ll kick your teeth in so hard they’ll come shooting out the back of your skull," said Yex.


"Okay, well… ya know when I said I was in with these guys? Well… I wasn’t exactly in with ’em."


"What were you… exactly?"


"Look… one of ’em was in town and couldn’t keep his mouth shut around the local ladies," said Shift. "He’s talkin about how he’s gonna be richer in a few days. One a those ladies owed me a favor, and…"


"And told you all about it," said Yex.


"Yeah. So I followed the guy out to this cabin, and stuck around to try and figure out what was going on. They’d already nabbed the princess… and were setting up the ransom. Once I found that out, I came back to town and got you guys. You know.. maybe I got the day wrong for the exchange… but everything else was like I said."


"Why did you lie?" asked Kahrellin.


"Why not?" answered Shift.


"That’s as good an answer as we can expect from a common the if," said Yex. "So now what. We’re here… we got the princess…"


"Gods, there’s enough meat on her to make THREE of the one we just killed," said Shift. "She’s starting to stink, by the way. And I don’t mean the dead one."


"I say we go ahead with the exchange," said Yex. "The thief’s lies don’t really change anything. We find out when the exchange is… and make the deal."


"You expect Baron Morse to make the exchange without a fight?" said Kahrellin. "Doubtful."


"I said these guys had a man on the inside. One of the Baron’s guards. He assured them that the man will do whatever these guys say."


"You remember that but didn’t happen to catch what DAY the exchange was, huh?"


"I caught what I could… which is a LOT considering I was creeping around in the woods. So are we doing this or not?"


"Absolutely," said Yex. "Wouldn’t miss this caper for the world."


"Mage?"


Kahrellin pondered for a second, and nodded.


"Someone will need to extract the required information from the remaining kidnapper," he said. "I have more experience in such matters."


"You do?" said Yex. "What kind of experience?"


"Bring the man, here… and take that body outside."


"Yes, SIR, Mr. Kahrellin, SIR!" Shift mocked.


"Hmph."


Shift struggled to drag the still-smoking body outside, while Yex grabbed the unconscious kidnapper, threw him over his shoulder, and carried him into the cabin’s bedroom. Kahrellin tossed some water over the man’s face, and he came around.


"If you will excuse us," Kahrellin shut himself up in the room with the kidnapper while Shift and Yex waited outside.


Five minutes later:


"AAAAAAAAIAIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIOHGODSPLEASESTOP! PLEASE!! PLEASE, I’LL TELL YOU ANYTHING!!!"


Five minutes after that, Kahrellin walked out with a satisfied, and slightly amused look on his face.


"The thief was off by one day. The exchange is tomorrow at the edge of the woods. The kidnappers have no reason to believe there will be an ambush… though that is not a guarantee that there will not be one."


"What the hell did you DO to him?" said Yex.


"We should make some preparations for the exchange," said the mage. "It would be imprudent for all three of us to stand out in the open at once.


"Someone should scout the area first for hiding places," said Shift.


"What did you do to that man?" asked Yex.


"You would be best suited for that," said Kahrellin.


"And leave you to here with the princess?" said Shift. "What… you think I’m stupid?"


"The MAN! What did you DO to him?"


"Then perhaps we should all go."


"And leave the princess unguarded here by herself?"


"We’ll take her with us."


"Kahrellin!"


"I’M not draggin’ her fat ass all the way across the woods and back! Forget it!"


"What did you do- oh, forget it…" Yex peered into the bedroom to see what had happened to the kidnapper. "Oh," he said after he looked inside. "I- He- Never mind."




[end of file]

Not particularly dark OR comedic. Oh well…
This story did have ONE lasting contribution to my existing library: Fast forward a few years and Yex turns up as a member of the Night’s Bloom! Yes, this is him as I originally saw him. In the Night’s Bloom, he’s sporting a magic ring with a lot of different abilities. He had those abilities in THIS story, although they weren’t ring-based and he didn’t actually use them. I also borrowed the mage for several other fantasy story ideas, but none of them saw the light of day.

Reason for abandonment: The story pretty much sucked, and for a comedy it really wasn’t all that funny. I could probably re-write it and do it justice today (and probably not as a comedy), but as it exists now it’s not worth spending time on.

What do you guys think?


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